RotG: Dark Menace
Chapter 03 - Deadlocked island
Locke followed the narrow rocky path between the cliffs. Repeatedly he turned around and tried to make out possible followers in the slowly approaching darkness of the late evening. Not that he had been worried about an attack - he knew how to defend himself quite well as long as he didn't have to stand his ground against a whole army - but he was afraid someone could have followed to find the current location of the fugitives.
A small trail of blood crossed his way and led a bit higher uphill. With a queasy feeling he followed it with his eyes but let out his breath in relief when he detected the carcass of a smaller rockland creature. Just some escaped or leftover prey.
"Don't even think about moving", a female voice called behind him and he heard the clicking of a released safety catch. Locke didn't dare to turn around but there was something very familiar about this voice.
"Kali? Is that you?"
"Who wants to know that?" She tried to sound cool but he could hear a hint of fear in her voice.
"It's me, Locke."
He heard a silent gasp, seconds later the sound of a secured gun - only then he found it safe enough to turn around. At first Kali stared at him as if she had seen a ghost then she closed the gap between them with a few steps and pulled him into embrace, careful and lightly enough so she wouldn't squeeze the bundle she carried in front of her chest.
"Oh dear Aurora, I wouldn't have recognized your voice anymore. It has changed again so much since I saw you the last time", she whispered.
No wonder it had changed, he also wasn't a fifteen year old boy anymore.
"Where have you been all this time? Where is Spectre? Is he alright?" She moved away a bit so she could look him in the eyes but he could only shake his head despondently.
"All things that had happened within the last year have been erased from my memory thanks to ... an experiment. My knowledge about the other Guardians' whereabouts is as good as yours."
A sudden movement in her bundle distracted him and although it was already too dark to make out details he knew what she was carrying. A little part of his memory returned but this time he felt neither pain nor sickness - it was a warm happier memory that had nothing to do with the creature inside of him. He could remember Spectre's proudness when he had told them Kali was expecting their first child, had seen her a few times with her baby belly but also was sure that no one of the Guardians had gotten the chance to see the little puggle.
Kali interpreted his silence correctly.
"She is called Voni like Spectre's mother. That was his only name wish, no preferences in case it would have been a son." She sighed and bleakly continued, "I wished my little baby girl didn't have to start her life like this - her father and the rest of the Guardians disappeared without a trace months ago, her mother a refugee, the cities in ruins. Well, it is as it is and I can't change it."
"But maybe we Guardians can", Locke stated and tried to sound boldlier than he actually felt. "After I have found the others I mean."
He started looking around again. The darkness made him nervous though he feared only for Kali's and the child's safety and not his own.
"Do you have a safe place to stay?"
"Yes, our refugee camp down the road."
"If I understood Tyler correctly there must be a few of you so why did they send a mother with a baby to hunt for food. Or if they didn't have another choice why didn't you leave her in the safety of the camp?"
"Safety?" She chuckled dryly. "In our camp there might not even be as many Echidnas as in an average nomad tribe so it's already hard to defend the camp under normal circumstances. Out in the wildnerness with me alone my daughter is in as much danger as in the camp. And yes, I don't have any other choice. Just very few of us are able to move far enough to find food - of course Tyler and his crew didn't let anyone escape unharmed and some are still wounded. It could have been even worse if Lara hadn't joined our group since none of us has ever lived in the wilderness of the desert."
"Lara is with you?" Locke asked and his heart was racing.
"Yes, and I also wanted to ask you to come with me. She will be bubbling over with joy to see you again."
"What has happened during the last year?" Locke asked when they wandered down the path, the prey with them, a hand full of Chaos energy lighting their way.
"You really can't remember a thing?"
"No, I had some flashbacks in the past few hours. Figures made of light, Thunderhawk ranting about something and ... pain. But I'm not sure what exactly has happened or what triggered all of this."
"Yes there these figures that looked like they were purely made of Chaos Energy appeared several months ago. They caused destructions in the city and soon also started attacking Albion in Echidnaopolis' name. Meanwhile Albion countered the attacks but not against the energy figures but the city itself. The last attack on Echidnaopolis was a double attack not even a whole day ago - as far as our informant could tell us the energy creatures destroyed a part of the city and only a few hours later the jets from Albion arrived. The people blame everything that happened on the Guardians simply because they are the most well known Chaos triggers, people who still keep their loyalty to the Guardians are targets of all the hate as well."
"So that's what Tyler wanted to tell me..."
"Tyler? According to Davis he's a rookie who joined the EST mere weeks before the first attacks but soon thanks to his knowledge of how to hold big speeches became more and more powerful and influental. He fuelled the people's fear until it turned into panic and hate."
Locke only silently shook his head. He couldn't explain the reason behind all this. Why would a member of the EST, an inhabitant of Echidnaopolis do something like that? Was he only a power hungry loud mouth who had seen his chance in the latest events? Or maybe his actions had something to do with the energy creatures and the beginning war...
"I only wished the island would move again", Kali said. "Maybe if we got out of their reach..."
"Wait, the island isn't moving anymore?" Locke interrupted.
"Not since a few months. It's like the Master Emerald has suddenly run out of energy - still enough to keep the island afloat but too less to make it move. Maybe we - I mean the refugees - would have contacted the Guardians but at that time all of you already had disappeared mysteriously"
Locke stared at the little energy flame in his hand. Indeed he had felt weaker than usually but so far he had blamed it on his "experiment". Could the Master Emerald really lose energy? He had to check that. And he also needed to get to Albion, somehow try to talk to the high council there and make the attacks on Angel Island stop.
And he also wanted to see Lara again. Just wanted to make sure she was still alright, hold her in his arms and only forget about everything even if it was only for a few mere seconds.
Walking through the camp at the foot of the hills the young Guardian saw why they needed to send someone like Kali to gather food. Tyler had been eager not to let anyone leave alive and the few camp inhabitants had scarcely made it. He felt the gazes of the injured on him - not the hostile stares he had received in the city but gazes full of hope as if their one and only saviour had just arrived between them. Locke felt a lump in his throat. They all put their trust in him but he had absolutely no idea what to do or where to start.
"Locke! Y-you are back. You are really back!"
Lara rushed over to him and fell into his arms. Locke burried his muzzle in her hair, never wanted to let go of her anymore - at least not for this short moment. He had never seen her cry - someone who spit into Moritori's face wasn't really one of the whiny kind - but right now even she looked as if she was choking back tears.
"Where have you been the last few months? I thought you were dead. Killed by these ... things."
"I wished I knew", Locke mumbled. Since his last memory flood hours had passed and though he didn't miss the pain that came with them and it meant the creature inside of him hadn't become any stronger the lack of memory didn't make it any easier to find traces of the missing Guardians or find out why this all was happening.
"It doesn't matter as long as you are back and alive. If only all of us were that lucky."
He understood what she meant. Not all of the refugees had made it out of Echidnaopolis alive, some might have died on the way or in their new hideout, it was unsure if Voni would ever know her father.
"Where do you think you need to go next?" Lara asked. She already knew he hadn't come to stay for longer.
Locke stared into the darkness that surrounded the small camp. Haven had already given him two clues - the Chaos Chamber and the sandstorm close to Albion. Thanks to Kali understood both of them a bit better. He had to travel to Albion and somehow make them stop the attacks and he had to find out what was wrong with the Master Emerald. But which of them was more important and which could wait?
"Albion", he decided. "The island is still floating and hopefully will keep doing so for the next few hours but the people of Albion could be preparing right now and attack while the island is still asleep."
"There is someone who still wanted to see you before you leave", he heard Kali's voice.
She was standing a few steps away, supporting Davis. The former leader of the EST looked as if he had been shot, several times, his wounds were barely covered by bloody bandages but he still stood as upright as possible saluting as if disregarding the ettiquettes in front of a Guardian would lead to the end of the world.
"It is good to see one of the Brotherhood returning. Commander Davis at your service, ready to fight at your side like we did in the battle for Echidnaopolis."
He interrupted his salute because his legs gave in and he had to use both hands to cling to Kali.
"At least as soon as I can stand upright again", he added with a meek smile.
"Hopefully a fight will never happen", Locke said.
"I'm not so positive about that", Davis said. "Over time it only became worse and now it looks like a storm is coming."
Probably he was right. Missing Guardians, Tyler, Chaos creatures, Albion - if all of them were combined a storm would come over them and it would rage like it hadn't done anymore for centuries.
"I will make sure that at least five winds will blow as one", Locke mumbled.
It had been a short goodbye. He had wanted to stay for longer, at least for hours because who knew when or if they would see each other again but none of his plans would become easier with time and the longer he waited the higher the risk of an attack on Albion's side became.
Travelling to the edge of the island and then gliding down would have been the option costing the least Chaos Energy but it would have taken too long to get there so Locke decided for the faster teleportation option taking the risk to be completely defenseless for a while after arrival.
The collision with the ground was much harder this time and Locke was sure he had blacked out for at least a few seconds. When he came back to his senses he could hear calls of surprise and people hectically running around. Weapons were drawn and probably also pointed at him but he was too weak to look up yet, could only see the boots of the Echidnas surrounding him.
"What is this ruckus all about?" a voice asked.
"This guy suddenly approached mid air and fell down, sir. It could be an intruder from Echidnaopolis", one of the Echidnas in front of Locke answered.
"Since when do intruders appear in mid air?"
"I-I'm a Guardian and teleported here from Angel Island", Locke rasped. If only his head would stop spinning and he could regain control over his muscles. "I ... need to speak with ... the High Council."
"So he is from Angel Island and a bearer of the Chaos Force. What shall we do with him, sir?"
"Get him to my office, what else?"
"But sir, he said that he is from..."
"He said he is a Guardian. Guardians are neutral. Besides, can't you remember anymore? It was this boy who fought among us during their last attack several days ago."
"And what about the Chaos Force? Couldn't he have turned..."
"The creatures clearly claimed that they had been sent by Echidnaopolis. Since when does a Guardian let himself be sent around? Now let that poor boy take a breath and lead him to my office whenever he feels fit enough."
Locke still had barely seen more than boots and didn't know who had probably just saved his life but he started to like this grumpy commander. Finally someone who had witnessed an attack with Chaos Force but didn't immediately think the Guardians guilty of it. Hopefully the members of the High Council shared this guy's opinions.
Much to his surprise Locke wasn't led to any ordinary office as he expected. The building he followed one of the guards through was no other but the White Halls - the residence of Albion's High Council.
The Echidna waiting for him in the room he was led into looked at least 60 years of age. His dark brown fur stood in sharp contrast to his white guard uniform. When he spoke to offer him a seat Locke recognized his voice as the grumpy commander's.
"You are ... a member of the High Council?" the Guardian asked surprised.
"No, I just broke into this building to see what sitting in an office like this feels like. Of course I am. I'm councillor Newton."
"And you are also a member of the guard team."
For Locke it was hard to imagine someone from the High Council wandering through the streets at night guarding a town.
"You can be glad that I am or else you wouldn't be able to talk to the council at that time of the night", Newton said. "I think the others wouldn't even crawl out of their beds if I set their sheets on fire. Now tell me, what did you want from us."
"Sir, though we Guardians as the protectors of both, Angel Island and Albion, are and remain neutral I still have to speak in the name of Echidnaopolis. We never have started any attacks on Albion. The Chaos creatures that have been mentioned attacked us too. I don't know who or what they are or what they are planning but we definitely didn't send them."
"You sound honest, boy, but when I gave the commander of your EST a call to discuss the same matter with him he confirmed what the creatures had said and officially declared war on us."
"Who was that commander?"
"As far as I remember his name was Tyler."
Locke felt his heart pound. Only one thing was spinning through his head: Why?
"Tyler is a traitor", he said. "He nearly killed the former commander of the EST, is out for everyone who doesn't share his beliefs and keeps the people under control by spreading fear."
Newton rubbed his chin.
"These are grave news, my boy. In this case the High Council has to get together immediately, no matter the time. It's worth a try - I'll burn their beds down."
That moment the comunicator on his desk crackled.
"Sir, the sandstorm, I mean, it's no sandstorm", the voice of a young Guard was heard. "It's raging Chaos energy that's whirling up the sand. They are coming back."
Locke lept to his feet.
"Sir, discuss whatever is necessary to stop the attacks on Angel Island. I'll take care of the creatures."
'Or I can at least lure them away and hold them up as long as possible while trying to survive', he added in his thoughts. Alone he would never stand a chance.
Taking a look back at the white city he could see the silhouette of Angel Island in the night sky hovering nearly over it motionless. If the Master Emerald was really becoming weaker and the island dropped sooner or later it might not hit Albion directly but the earthquake and flood following the impact would erase it as well. He shivered at the thought that the fail of one emerald would cause the extinction of nearly the whole Echidna race.
Facing the canyon he activated a Chaos shield around him, not only to be prepared for sudden attacks but also to protect himself from the whirling sand. In the darkness he could only move slowly, anxiously trying not to make a wrong step and fall down somewhere but at least he knew where he had to go. The felt presence of the Chaos Force led his way.
A sudden burst of energy lit the canyon. It broke Locke's shield and hit him to the ground. Before he was prepared for another shield or a counterattack another blast hit him, made him nearly slide off the edge of the platform he was on. Quickly he rolled away from it a few steps. Oh yes, he knew how to glide but only when he was prepared for it. However he didn't know how long it would take to activate glide mode when he was suddenly pushed off somewhere.
The sandstorm had stopped now and as far as he could see there were two glowing figures rapidly coming closer. He shot an attack at both of them but they were quick at avoiding it. The next blast hit Locke square at the chest and slammed him against a rock wall. He dropped to his knees, quickly activated another shield though he knew how useless it might be but the expected attack didn't come. Carefully he looked up. Both figures stood a few steps away. Now that they were finally standing still he could clearly see their shapes.
"Why do you still try to resist", one of them asked.
But Locke couldn't speak, couldn't even think anymore - within a blink his mind was like whiped empty. All he could do was stare at those familiar figures in shock and disbelief, listen to this well-known voice.
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