Chapter

15

Toby grabbed at a fried chicken wing and stuffed the succulent meat into his mouth. He was starving and living off to-go food for the last month was not his idea of keeping well fed. "Slow down human or you'll surely get an abdomen ache." Claptrap said. Toby looked at the robot, and then jammed the wing into a small opening.

"Mmmmm, my sensors are telling me that his creature would taste quite nicely!" the robot exclaimed.

The gang sat at a long table in the dining room of the large castle. A fire crackled nearby, though to Toby's surprise was completely digital. It looked very real and gave off heat and the faint smell of burning cedar. Interesting he thought.

Rosmuth finished her small portion of dinner and waited patiently for the others to do the same. Nobody really spoke, though they couldn't if they had tried. Their mouths were stuffed with food the entire time until they had finished their plates. And once finished, Rosmuth punched in a couple keys on her holo-pad and called, "Bring in the others. They'll want to see Abaline."

At the sound of her name Abaline cocked her head at the elderly woman. She processed the sentence and then just as she had realized what it meant a pair of doors burst open and in walked two ladies. Abaline craned her neck and spotted the women and let out a gleeful squeal.

A trio of squeals rang through the room as the girls hugged each other. Toby and Vex looked at one another before rolling their eyes in embarrassment. "Well aint ya gonna introduce us?" Toby broke in.

"Oh right, sorry," Abaline said releasing her friends and turning to the gang, "guys these to bitch'n gals are Heather and Charlize."

Heather; who stood to Abaline's left, was a whole head and a half taller than Abaline. She pretty much had the same body build; tall and lanky. She had fierce yellow eyes and wild blond hair. Heather was about in her mid thirties and looked it.

Charlize, to Abaline's right, was the opposite of Heather. She was shorter than ever one there. Her jet black hair fell in short bangs over her violet eyes as well as curve to her round face. It was obvious she was young. Toby guessed around twelve or thirteen.

The Sirens waved at the gang, "This is Niamh, Vex, Toby, and Claptrap." Abaline said pointing to each as she named them. Heather snickered and whispered into Abaline's ear. The Siren quickly blushed and Toby could hear her shout in whisper, "No he's not my boyfriend. But yes, he is cute!" This amused Toby.

"So what if I may ask are you planning on doing now that you have returned our long lost Siren" Nathanial inquired.

Everyone settled in at the table, Vex leaned back and folded his arms, "We are after the Vault Key pieces."

Rosmuth's eyes widened, "The Vault you say? Why the interest in that place?" she asked.

"We actually don't have any interest in the Vault," Niamh said, "we are more interested in gathering the key pieces and hiding them from mankind."

Rosmuth let a smile slip, "I see, a very noble thing to do."

"There is just too much people out there who are power hungry and will anything to attain an 'ultimate power' if you know what I mean." Niamh replied.

"What is to say you won't be tempted to take that power once you have the complete key?" Mr. Fowler asked.

"Well I'd have to say we are all pretty happy with the life and 'power' we already have, speaking for the group." Vex answered, with the nodding approvals of Niamh and Toby. There was a silence in the air; Rosmuth looked satisfied by the gangs answer.

"So Heather, Charlize," Toby started, "what's yer powers?" he asked.

"Toby!" Niamh scolded.

"What?" he defended.

"It's okay." Heather said, she stood and walked over to Roleena and let out a small blast of spherical light from her body. The light washed over Roleena's figure stopping her in mid blink and bite. "I can Phaseclock, otherwise known to you simple folk as time control." she said.

Toby let out a whistle, "Impressive."

"I can speed up, slow down, or stop the time that is connected to life forms through the Netherworld." said Heather.

Toby slapped his thigh, "That is deadlier than an elderly woman behind the wheel." he exclaimed. "What about you little one?" he said to Charlize.

"Phasewalk." she answered. Toby and the others looked confused, just then there came a loud crack like thunder and a burst of fire swirled about. Toby's shields flickered as he looked around the room. But Charlize was nowhere to be found. Just then the same crack and flame burst from behind him, and there stood Charlize.

"Amazin'," Toby said clapping his hands, "simply amazin' you two."

"Rosmuth," Abaline butted in, "that reminds me, we were attacked by another Siren."

The old woman's cheer faded and she wore a grim expression, "Nevaeh…" she said. Rosmuth got to her feet and began pacing. "I was afraid of this." she mumbled.

"Nevaeh… Afraid of what?" Abaline said trying to figure out what Rosmuth was rambling on about. "Who's Nevaeh?"

"She is a troubled girl, her soul is in constant battle between good and evil." Rosmuth said, "And for the time being it looks as if evil has the stronger grip."

"She was here before your brief time here my dear. She's been employed with Maliwan for the last ten years, hunting Heather and Charlize, any Siren she can snatch up for her boss Ji-al Qaiera the CEO of Maliwan. A woman obsessed with using the powers the Sirens poses to better her company's weapons program for her personal means." Rosmuth picked up a ring from the table and presented it to Abaline. "What's this?" inquired Abaline.

"I see you have lost your old Eridium ring, this one doesn't have the stone yet." Rosmuth said sliding the ring on Abaline's finger. "You'll need to see Jeff, he will craft you another Eridium stone to fit in the crown."

Abaline nodded to Rosmuth. "Now scoot along with your sisters and get that stone." the old woman said, "The rest of you should go see the town. It's bigger than it looks." Rosmuth said to the others.

"I'm down like James Brown, with an upside down frown, to look around." Vex said goofily to the others, who agreed to explore as well.

"Why not meet back here in four hours and I'll show you where your rooms are." said Rosmuth. And with that Vex, Niamh, Toby, and Claptrap exited the building.

The three Sirens gossiped over news, boys and other such things as Heather led them down a large spiral staircase and out a back door. The three giggled and reminisced about the time they shared before Abaline's kidnapping. Across a beautiful courtyard they strode lit with floating lamps and into an adjacent house the three went. Heather opened the door and Abaline walked in to see a young, handsome man dressed in a jumpsuit that he had rolled at the waist.

"Abaline!" he exclaimed extending his arms.

"Jeffory!" she copied.

"I've missed you mamasita. How have you been?" Jeff said in his strong Spanish accent.

"I'm good now that I've come home." Abaline replied.

"Well it's good to see you in one piece, I was afraid those Maliwan bastards might have probed you a little too hard." he said with a chuckle. Abaline blushed at Jeffory's comment. "So my dear you are hear for a new Eridium rock for that gorgeous ring." he said grabbing her hand and examining the ring.

"Yes." she said. Jeff slid the ring off and set it at his table.

"If you ladies want to just hang out for a few minutes I'll get your stone cut and fitted in nice and snug."

"Sounds good to me." Heather said stripping Jeff with her eyes as she did almost every day. Jeff left the room and the ladies took a seat on a set of plush couches.

Meanwhile out in Temple City, the gang moseyed from building to building looking at all the shop's goods; window shopping the different cafes and bars. The trio ended up at a vending machine before long and upgraded their weapons and equipment. The residents that weren't out and about were tending to a variety of things around their houses.

After nearly an hour of exploring, the gang found themselves drawn to a bar at the edge of town. A rocking beat was pumping from the building labeled The Dark Horse.

"Sounds like some good tunes." Toby said snapping his fingers.

"Let's have a look." Vex said. The gang entered the tavern. Inside the building expanded far back and high up to a second story. Everywhere posters were plastered on the walls with the picture of a man giving the universal rock sign with one hand and riding a crazy guitar with the other. His hair was long and pulled out of his face with a bandanna. He sported a large, puffy, fur jacket. Tight leather pants hugged his hips with random tassels and cloths hanging from his bullet ridden belt. Below the man was the name Eli "Winged-Tiger-of-Death" Ferrari.

"Quite the name this guy has." shouted Vex over the music.

Just then the light blinked off, then began to strobe as a figure appeared at the center stage. The gang found some seats at the bar and ordered a round of drinks and prepared for the spectacle.

"I can tell this is gonna-" Toby started but was quickly drowned out but the sudden blast of a guitar.

Two small orbs floated four feet above Eli and vibrated as they delivered ear-splitting sound. "I WANNA ROCK!" shouted Eli. The crowd roared in reply. "What was that? I can't hear you." the singer teased. The crowd's roar grew louder.

Vex felt a sudden nudge and found Toby clambering on the bar screaming at the top of his lungs. "I want to rock!" Eli sang out to the audience. The band went to town shredding their rifts and tunes into the ears of the crowd. The lights flashed and pulsed to the music and created amazing effects alongside the mist flowing over the stages edge.

Eli Ferrari was a culmination of sex, rebellion, and loud music filled with lyrics that would make even the vilest person cringe. Girls loved him, and fathers hated him. Vex could tell the singer was wasted; if this performance were held at a shop for perfume, it would still reek of alcohol stemming from Eli.

Water droplets sprinkled over his body from above giving Eli's skin a shiny, glistened look as he rubbed himself and belt out a chorus of derogatory lyrics.

The women in the audience melted at Eli's feet as he stood at the edge of the stage, swung his guitar over his back, and reached down and brushed his fingers along their cheeks. Vex and Niamh found themselves enjoying this break in their constant battle, a vacation away from the mission.

Vex gulped down his beer and ordered another, he held the fresh bottle in his hand when all of the sudden it shattered. Beer spilled all over his lap, but before he could muster the emotions to be upset, a woman's body flopped into his lap. He was stunned, really? he thought. He lifted the girl, but she felt strangely limp. Vex examined the woman closer then dropped her body at the sight of blood oozing from her chest.

"TOBY!" Vex screamed reaching for his rifle, but it was too late, Vex saw his shields flash and he was jerked sideways as a round impacted his shoulder. There was a sniper somewhere and he was aimed in on the Marine. A scream rang out as a crowd member saw the body lying on the floor. Panic spread quickly through the audience as people began floating in the air, then without warning fly across the room into walls and furniture.

Toby hopped behind the bar and grabbed his Jakobs shotgun. Shots soon rang out in the tavern pelting random civilians and the walls. Bodies were being suspended and thrown every which way. Toby peered over the bar, that's when he saw three figures walk through the doorway of The Dark Horse.

Lightly armored gunmen stood in the tavern entrance, guns blazing, body's glowing. Toby watched as a pedestrian began to glow a dark blue before being tossed into the air. He put two and two together; the men had some sort of psychic powers. "Vex they're contrillin' people with their minds!" exclaimed Tobyhalf excited, half terrified. Vex had grabbed Niamh and tumbled over the bar for cover after Toby. The Marine peeked over the counter and witnessed the same thing Toby had.

"How the hell are we supposed to fight that?" barked Vex in frustration.

"I don't know but we need to fight now if we want to stop this slaughter." Niamh said. And she was right, defenseless people were dropping like flies.

Just then the entire tavern was deafened by the sound of earsplitting rock. Shots rang out and Eli's voice boomed in the air, "Take that you mother Rakk'r!" he sang. The gang—minus Claptrap, who was hiding in a barrel, saw bright red lasers flashed across the room and ricochet of an invisible field around the three intruders.

Eli Ferrari had two pistols pointed at the strangers and was firing a hailstorm of super heated bolts of light. CRACK, POP, FIZZLE, the overwhelming amount of fire combined with the type of ammo being fired was too much for one of the intruder's psychic protective field and took five bolts to the chest and abdomen. The man's shield disintegrated as well, but before Eli could deliver the finishing shot the man next to the wounded jerked his hand horizontally sending a blue Ferrari across the ground and into a table.

"I'll fire first and draw their attention, once they toss me Niamh you fire, then Toby." Vex said as he stood and pulled his rifle's trigger. Bullets slammed into the wounded man dropping him to the floor permanently in a puddle of black blood.

"That's one of the targets we're after." said one of the figures. The second foe grabbed a small lighter from a pocket in his suit; pressed a button and light the flame. A small fire ignited, the man waved his free hand and twirled the fire from the lighter into a spiral and tossed it at Vex. The flame grew into a tremendous funnel as it exploded towards the Marine.

Vex dove behind a turned over table for cover just in time to avoid certain death. The inferno continued to scorch the table without letting up. Niamh knew she had to do something fast or Vex would be toast… literally. She pressed her armor's button and activated her panther suit. The metal consumed her human figure and she leapt over the counter and onto the man controlling the fire.

He had no time to react, no time to bring his force field up. Niamh made quick work of his shields, but before she could deliver her lethal strikes she felt herself drop to the ground as the man underneath her disappeared and reappeared next to her. He reached back with a glowing fist and slammed it into the metallic cat's side.

The blow strangely didn't hurt as much as Niamh was prepared for, but did send her heavy form out of The Black Horse's front doors.

Toby had waited long enough; he stood and fired all his shotgun rounds into the first offender. The shots scattered away from the man, who blocked them with ease. Again lasers began flying downrange striking Toby's opponent. The man ducked and swiped knocking Eli's feet out from under him, then sent Toby soaring through the air and slamming into the musician. The two were slow getting up, but got sent to the floor again. The man raised his gun and pulled the trigger. More lasers shot out, this time from the enemy's weapon. But nothing was happening to Toby or Eli.

Vex tossed his Orbital Recovery Ball (ORB) to Toby. It floated about the two super charging their shields and healing their wounds. Vex tackled the unsuspecting man. He sat up on his opponent's chest and thrust a perfectly aimed strike into the man's throat. The enemy coughed and choked and tried to fight back. But Vex was more skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and had already disoriented his prey.

The enemy threw a chop but Vex blocked it with ease and held his arm, drew his large talon knife with his other hand. But instead of stabbing his own victim Vex hastily threw the blade at the other man's back. The knife burst through the foe's barely recharged shields and dropped to the floor. Toby, Eli, and Niamh all focused their attack on the one helpless standing target. But before they could end him, both attackers vanished.

Vex stood up and brushed himself off, "What was that?" he asked. The tavern was in ruins. Bodies lie strewn across the floor in pools of blood. Vex's ORB was busy mending all that had survived the ordeal.

"I have no idea, but they were looking for you… or us." Niamh said as her armor returned to its normal state.

"Did ya'll get a look at their crazy cool powers? Ain't seen nothin' like it." Toby piped in.

"I have to say I've never came across any dudes like that before either." said Vex.

"They're from Maliwan." Niamh said. Vex and Toby looked at her quizzically, "They had the Maliwan emblem on their armor's shoulder pad." she finished.

"They must be here for Abaline." Toby said.

"We need to find her and see if she's okay." ordered Niamh.

The gang was on their way out of The Black Horse when Eli stepped in their way, his arms held out. "You've got talent my brothers and sister." the signer said, seemingly unfazed by the event that just occurred. The gang looked at him in bewilderment, "You've got the rock god in your souls. The flower of mayhem blooms inside you. I like it."

"Look man, you put on a rockin' show, but we ain't got time to smoke your dope. We gotta' help our friend." said Toby.

"I dig it my brother, we're fighting the man." Eli said, trying to maintain his posture, or footing for that matter.

"Did he just say 'we'?" asked Vex.

"I believe he did yes." Toby replied.

"Come on panther girl, let's get your friend and stick it to these Maliwan assholes." Eli said.

"Sir, you can't come with us. This isn't a circus." Niamh said shortly.

"My name's Winged-Tiger-of-Death." the singer said in his drunken stupor, "And danger gets me off pretty lady."

Niamh grabbed the boy's arms and dragged them out of the tavern. Eli followed. "Eli, err, Flaming-Dead-Tiger, or whatever. You can't come with us." said Niamh, her voice raised.

"Stop me, I dare you." Eli tossed back.

Niamh's temper flared which Vex caught and intervened, "Alright man, you can join. But if anything happens it's on you."

"That's it brother, gracias." Eli thanked. "Don't worry over me love," he said looking at Niamh, "I've been around the galaxy, I'm still kickin', strong if you know what I mean."

Niamh snorted and rolled her eyes and stormed back to the castle. Toby, Vex, Eli, and Claptrap hurried after.

Abaline and her friends were sitting in a lounge talking with Rosmuth and painting their nails when Niamh and the others barged in. Their clothes covered in dirt and blood. Abaline rushed to her friends, "Are you alright?" she exclaimed at their rag-tag apparel.

"We're fine, but are you okay?" Vex replied.

"I'm fine," Abaline said, "What happened?"

"We were attacked. Some new breed of Maliwan warriors infiltrated this place and attacked us." Vex informed.

"They're here looking for you, for us." Toby added.

Rosmuth shook her head, "How could this be?" she asked. "Our defenses are impenetrable. I'll speak with Roleena at once."

Just then the gang heard a thunderous crack come from outside. "What was that?" asked Niamh.

"Sounds like cannon fire." Vex groaned. "We need to get out of here."

Toby ran outside and into the courtyard for a better view at what was going on. Up in the sky was a large ship floating above the city. Six cannons lined its side and were firing down on the city. But the city's shields held fast.

Each explosion bathed the dome shields in coats of acid. The constant burning wasn't strong enough to eat the shields away, but it wouldn't let them recharge either. Soon the shields would fall, and whoever was in the ship would have free access to the city.

Toby rushed back in and explained the situation. "Let the tiger out of his cage, we'll mess these pigs up." said Eli ready for another fight.

Just then the gang heard the sickening sound of shields shattering. "They're in." came Roleena's voice over the ECHO COM. The gang paused, "There are a shit-ton of them." Roleena crackled. "They have laser technology… wait… there are a few whew are lifting objects… lighting things on fire."

"No, we have to help her!" Vex exclaimed as he stormed to the door.

"Vex, we need to protect Abaline and the others. Roleena can take care of herself. Her team has her back." Niamh said stopping the Marine.

Vex looked to the three frightened Sirens, "You're right. Rosmuth get us out of here."

"Follow me," the old lady said shuffling through the room and into a corridor to the back of another the room, "we will take the underground tunnel through hills Furnas Caverns."

Rosmuth led the gang out of the room and down a flight of stairs overlooking a cliff face. They entered another room and proceeded to the next door when Roleena came over the line, "It's Fowler, he betrayed us." her voice sound horse and weary. "He's trying to cut you off before you reach the tunnels."

Just then soldiers broke into the room through another door. "Light these mother's up!" Ferrari sang out. And the gang did so. Wave after wave dropped, until the gang had to reload. That's when Fowler stepped in holding a rocket launcher, two Psy Ops at his sides.

"Nathaniel why would you do this?" Rosmuth gasped.

"Because I get a share of the power my dear." the man replied. "I've got the money, but I want raw power." His eyes appeared dark and menacing. He looked at the Sirens, "Get them."

The Operators immediately brought the dark blue glow upon themselves and lifted Heather and Charlize into the air, slammed them against the wall knocking them unconscious, and brought the girls to Mr. Fowler's feet.

"Get Abaline out of here." Rosmuth said to Vex. "Go get the suits from the armory and get to the bottom of this building, fall through the X and take the tunnels through the caverns."

Niamh hurried Claptrap, Toby, Abaline, and Eli through the room and to the stairwell. "What about you?" Vex inquired.

"I'll delay them the best I can." she replied, "The safe on the west wall… you'll find what you're looking for." Rosmuth turned to the men and pulled out a pair of pistols and fired at the three intruders. The bullets bounced away and Nathaniel sighted in. Vex ran down the stairs to catch up with his gang when the sound of Rosmuth's end echoed down the stairwell. He knew the old woman never stood a chance.

Vex quickly caught his team and hoisted Claptrap up to his side as the robot was having a hard time keeping up rushing down a flight of stairs. "I have a very important secret to tell you human!" the robot exclaimed.

"I know, safe on the west wall." Vex said skipping two, three steps at a time.

"… Why yes. With my superb mind powers I planted that information in your head without you knowing!"

"Right…" said Vex. He and the others rounded a sharp corner at a V in the corridor. To the right led further down, to the left lied the armory. The gang rushed into the armory and slammed the door behind them.

Abaline burst into tears. "Don't worry beautiful child, this funky sex-panther is gonna erectify this problem with that suit and his cronies." Ferrari said.

Abaline looked at the man confused through her tears. "Don't mind him chubs, he's just tagging along." Toby said hugging the Siren. "I promise the first chance we get for a counter strike we will get your friends back and put an end to Maliwan."

"That's right." Niamh concurred. "But first we need to get to a safer place."

"Let's get these suits on and get out of here." said Vex climbing into his own suit of armor. The sharp, cold pain struck his body then subsided; the HUD screen appeared with all the same features. Vex scrolled through the teams vital stats until he reached Roleena's. She was still alive. Vex sighed with relief. He walked over to the west wall and found a box sitting on a mantle. Vex opened the box and found a stone with inscribing all over it. "We got another key piece guys."

Vex grabbed a few grenades and ammo clips and loaded a bag, then tossed it to Toby. He handed Claptrap the key piece and the robot stored it in his belly. Niamh grabbed Claptraps hand and Vex and Eli posted at the door. "Activate your suit's camouflage." Vex ordered. The party disappeared into their surroundings.

Vex opened the door and the team cleared out of the entrance. Shots zipped through the open door illuminating the adjacent wall in blues, reds, yellow, and greens as it rained elemental bullets. When the fire subsided Vex and Eli crept out and up to the pair of Maliwan soldiers. The soldiers never saw their deaths coming.

Vex thrust his combat knife into a soldiers gut and Eli pistol whipped the other soldier until his head was mush. "It's clear, let's move." came Vex's voice over the helmet's internal speakers. The gang moved out and down the hallway, back to the fork.

But as they made the turn to continue down the next set of stairs they heard a strange voice call out from the shadows, "I see you."

A man appeared in the light; Uzi's pointed at the party's heads. "Snake Eyes always gets his target." the man slithered.

Toby pulled the pin to a Flash and Paste grenade and let it roll to Snake Eye's feet. The grenade exploded in a bright flash and sprayed the hallway with a thick, heavy, muck.

By the time Snake Eyes could see again his targets had left. "Nooooo!" he cried trying to move his body through the thick sludge.

The gang jumped down the remaining stairs and found a phosphorus X on painted on the floor. Toby and Abaline fell through the floor first, then Niamh and Claptrap, and lastly Eli and Vex.