Tall, dark evergreens swayed in near perfect unison on the whim of a strong wind that whistled through the forest like some merry spirit delighting in the otherwise silent night. The shadows of the dancing trees played, carelessly, against the ice blue sides of a large, canine zoid, taunting the moonlight that glistened off it's back.

"Man," grumbled the zoid's pilot, nervously, "Why is this forest always so creepy?"

"Probably, because you're a chicken, Soph," teased a male voice over the intercom, as a Redler swooped overhead.

"Oh, shut up, Meino! You'd be creeped out too if you ever got your head out of the clouds long enough to have some common sense!" Sophie rubbed her forehead, "Oh, why did I ever agree to this mission?"

Meino chuckled, "As if you could resist a chance to impress Captain Wit 'Dreamy' Teufel back there."

"What exactly are you implying, Mr. Moving Target?" Sophie threatened.

"Nothing, nothing at all!"

"You better not be."

There was a long moment of silence then Meino's voice came over the communicator again, "Sophie and Wit sittin' in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g~!"

"Meino!"

The Redler pilot laughed.

"Errgh, let's just get this over with," Sophie pushed the Wardog into a run. The large zoid, happily, obliged her command racing the flying zoid overhead and easily maneuvering through the wooded area.

"Careful, Soph, we're not far from the bandit's territory now," Meino's Redler ascended so that he wasn't readily visible from the ground, "I can give you support from up here but this old thing isn't good for much else."

"You say that," Sophie sighed, "But you and I both know the minute the fighting starts you'll be right in the thick of it. Just like always."

"Life's meant to be lived, lovey."

"Don't call me that."

"Whatever. How's Cirrus keeping up down there?"

A cheerful growl gave Sophie the answer. "She's fine," she informed Meino as the black and white organoid zoomed past the Wardog's head on her powerful wings, "She's faster then she looks."

Sophie slowed the Wardog's pace as she approached a deep gorge. Cautiously, she half allowed the zoid to slide down an incline to the bottom of the dark crevasse and crept forward. Keeping her eyes open for the bandits that she had been sent to deal with.

All was silent, even the wind had stopped. It was suffocatingly quiet, Sophie almost wished Meino would chime in with some bad joke, but the silence was probably better. It meant that she could catch any out of place noise.

Such a noise was not long in coming. Cirrus landed on the Wardog's back and let out a ferocious roar, just as the zoid's sensors flashed warnings of an incoming missile. Sophie frantically pulled the zoid's shield up. She managed just in time as the projectile exploded on the energy field.

"Well, well, what have we here?" crooned a disgustingly, whiny voice, "A little Imperial?"

Standing above Sophie on a large cliff was a black Helcat, balanced perfectly on the edge, "You must be one of the bandits hang out around here, hm?"

"Ah, yes, you would call us that," that voice was gonna get on her nerves quickly, "Bandits is a harsh term, I prefer collectors. See, me and my crew really just want to collect interesting zoids and other artifacts, and your zoid, m'dear, looks very interesting. Mind if I take it off your hands? That organoid, too, I assure you I'll take good care of them."

"You want them?" Sophie smiled to herself, "Come and get 'em, Bandit. Cirrus!"

Cirrus spread her wings and leaped into the air for a moment before turning into a near angelic light and fusing with the Wardog.

The Helcat leaped from it's perch and stalked forward a few steps, "I'm amused you think you can take me, little girl. You realize I'm not alone, do you not?"

"Of course, I do, just as you must realize that neither am I!"

The Redler swooped down and took out an unfortunate Heldigunner who had just made it's appearance atop the wall of the gorge. The explosion of the lizard zoid's weaponry echoing through the canyon as the zoid collapsed on it's side with an anguished cry.

The Helcat's pilot seemed unfazed, "Impressive, but a little Redler isn't going to be able to protect you."

The Redler swerved to the side as a series of shots nearly clipped his wings and several more Heldigunners approached the rim of the canyon.

Cirrus growled.

"Right," Sophie nodded, "Let's go, Cirrus!"

A touch of a button and ammunition flew from the zoids weapons blasting several of the lizard zoids away. As the barrage settled, the Helcat attempted to slip around the Wardog's defenses and attack from behind. Sophie spun her zoid about to face her opponent, this amateur wasn't getting past her and Cirrus's speed.

The Wardog sprang toward the Helcat at the simple brush of the controls. Shield still up Sophie rammed the zoid into her enemy knocking him backward. She would have pinned his zoid to the rock wall, but quick thinking saved him as he pushed off the shield and dodged to the side.

"Close, girly, but not close enough," that annoying voice again, "You're going to have to do much better then that!"

"Don't you dare think you're getting away with calling me 'girly'!" Sophie growled.

The Wardog charged the Helcat again. The smaller zoid sprang to one side then scurried backwards to avoid being hit by a Heldigunner that had been knocked off the cliffs above. The zoid slowly backed up, it's pilot examining the situation. The Heldigunners that had survived Sophie's earlier barrage were being picked off one by one by Meino's exquisite aim, it seemed that the Helcat would soon be the only bandit zoid left standing. The pilot seemed to make a decision, the Helcat stood up straight and took off running down the gorge.

"Ah! Wait!" Sophie moved to follow the lead zoid.

"See you around, girly!"

Sophie hesitated a moment, looking back at Meino. He seemed to be holding his own against the last few Heldigunner and had them well distracted with his hit and run tactics.

He could handle this situation on his own. If she could take out the leader, they would be able to weed out the rest more easily. Right, that settled that.

She raced after the Helcat.

The Zoids thundered down the dark crevasse. The dark feline Zoid bounded off rocks and even off the walls of the gorge, dodging the shots fired by it's persuer.

All the while that weaselly voice kept making smart comments.

"Whoops! Missed me again, girly!" The Helcat leaped into the air to avoid another attack and dashed onward.

Sophie charged after the black zoid. This was getting her nowhere. She would have to pick up the pace if she wanted to catch this guy, "Cirrus!"

A concerned growl. It was true, if she used too much more speed she wouldn't be able to stop quick enough if something went wrong. Still that was a risk she was going to have to take, "I know, just do it Cir!"

Cirrus growled an affirmative and suddenly Sophie was thrown against her backrest as the Wardog accelerated past it's normal limits. The Wardog was soon directly behind the Helcat. A moment more and she would have him. Just a little more speed.

Suddenly, the Helcat leaped onto the side of the canyon and the maw of the earth crumbled opened up under the Wardog's feet. Before Sophie could think she was swallowed by the dark pit.


Author's Notes

Enjoy, everybody, I'm probably gonna get shot for that cliffhanger XD

To be continued . . .