Tirinia, perched up on the top of a nearby console, let out a sigh. “Me.”
“Me too.” replied Rena as she spun idly in her chair. “They say it’s the waiting that’ll kill ya.”
Glancing at Jek, Tirinia considered just incapacitating Rena and continuing on their mission. As much as she wanted to finish their mission, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Rena seemed nice, and if she were injured because Jek and Tirinia had knocked her out, Tirinia would’ve felt horribly guilty. The Galden woman’s mask was up, revealing a mess of blonde hair that nearly looked white in contrast to her tanned skin.
Tirinia swung her legs over the side of the console. “This isn’t exactly how I pictured spending my time as a member of the Security Force.”
“It can’t all be combat and honor.” Rena laughed. “I know it’s got to be tough, being a tigreth and all.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Tirinia asked, a bit ruffled.
Rena replied, “I’m just saying that tigreth are a lot more active than the Galden, that’s all.”
“Longshore’s a big place,” Tirinia said defensively. “I mean, there’s all the other tribes: fional, lupere, tauren, the sourian-”
“You know,” Jek commented idly, “There’s a theory out there that Shorans are the only species truly native to Vinta.”
Now it was Rena who was bristling. “What about the Galden? For that matter, what about idestans?
“Well, according to the theory, the idestan and the vuestan peoples were both descended from the elvari, who were brought here by the sentient tribes. The Galden, on the other hand, are supposedly descendants of the Glyche, and-”
“We are NOT descended from the Glyche!” Rena snapped angrily.
Tirinia couldn’t blame her for responding with anger. The Glyche caused quite a bit of chaos thousands of years in Vinta’s past. Although pretty much all Vintan technology was based on what the Glyche left behind, the Corruption was definitely a dark period in Vinta’s history that no one was likely to forget anytime soon.
Jek raised his hands, saying defensively, “Hey, I didn’t say it was MY theory. My dad was talking about it with Seed Gelanis the other day.”
“Jek!” Tirinia said before she could stop herself.
Before Rena could respond, a shudder ran through the facility.
“What in Nocturnes?” Jek said aloud.
Rena activated her radio and asked, “Is everything all right, sergeant?”
When the radio responded, the sound of laser blasts made it hard for Kevin’s voice to break through. “It’s not terrorists! It’s not …”
“Sir!” Rena said after the static broke, “What’s attacking the facility?”
Tirinia thought it just a garbled communication, but noticed that the name made Rena’s face go pale. The galden officer slapped her mask back down over her face and unslung her energy rifle.
“Ready your weapons!” She said, quickly moving behind a console, “Take up flanking positions, but stay out of sight! If he sees us, we won’t have a chance!”
Tirinia looked at her rifle a moment. Much like Mikaen, she was more accustomed to one-on-one fighting than projectile weaponry.
Rena looked at her as though she were mad. “Didn’t you hear Kevin? Blackal Suon’s heading this way!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Jek interrupted. “You can’t be serious. Blackal Suon? The comic book character?”
Rena stared at the two of them open-mouthed for a moment. Tirinia had the distinct impression that their cover had been blown. Fortunately (or rather, unfortunately), any further conversation was cut off as the doors to the facility were blasted open. Tirinia, Jek, and Rena leapt for cover as the metal door came hurtling along the floor of the facility, smashing through consoles as it came.
A man floated through the now open doorway, black tendrils of energy whipping around his floating figure as his arms hanging limply at his sides. His eyes were solid black, and his skin was covered with numerous cracks that revealed nothing but more darkness within his body. Just looking at the man-made Tirinia’s fur stand on end.
Fortunately, the man didn’t seem to notice them. It floated by the three of them without so much as a word, the black holes that were its eyes focused on the glowing power core.
After it passed, Rena stood up from behind her console and opened fire. Her aim was true; the energy burst hit the man right between the shoulders to absolutely no effect. With a wave of the man's hand, a tendril of dark energy shot forward and grabbed Rena by the waist. It lifted her clear from the ground and drew her closer until she was only a few feet away from the man, struggling in vain.
Then the man spoke, his voice a horrible whisper that seemed to pierce the air as though it were a scream. “Did you really think we could be brought down so easily?”
The black tendril slipped around her, binding her hands and legs until she couldn’t move.
“Oh well …” The man sighed, a sound somehow worse than that of his voice, “The energy from you and your child will be an appetizer to the feast I shall have on this power core.”
Rena’s eyes went wide. “M-my child?”
The tendril around her constricted, covering her completely with the same dark energy as the creature. She let out a scream that made Tirinia's hair stand on end.
Tirinia looked at the rifle and saber. Energy weapons weren’t going to work against that thing, as it would just absorb the plasma energy. Fortunately, she had something else.
Tearing a gash in the side of her uniform with her claws, Tirinia drew Mikaen’s Justice. The synchrome blade extended the moment her hands gripped the hilt.
Leaping off the machinery with a grace only a tigreth can possess, Tirinia shot between Rena and the creature and severed the dark tendril with a single swing. As the rest of the dark energy surrounding dissipated, Rena’s body fell to Jek’s waiting arms.
Tendrils of dark energy raced after Tirinia, but by the time the black strands smashed through the machinery where she had been standing, she was already airborne again.
Years of training with the Muonsol Marauders slipped seamlessly into place as she flew through the air. Dark tendrils continued to shoot toward her, only to get slashed and batted aside as though they were errant kyons. Try as he might, the darkling couldn’t get even the quickest tendril past her defense.
Leaping and bounding over the consoles, Tirinia concentrated her energy into Justice like her combat instructor had taught her. As she swung Mikaen’s sword, an arc of light burst from Justice and sped toward the dark figure. The beam hit her foe dead center, tearing across his chest and sending him hurtling across the facility. Tirinia hit the ground running, Justice ready to strike the final blow.
A blast of dark energy rocketed from where the figure had landed, narrowly missing Tirinia. Leaping aside, Tirinia landed gently on top of another console, Justice poised at the ready.
“You have strength,” said the dark figure, the deep tear in its chest healing before her eyes, “But not nearly enough.”
At once, the darkness crawling over the figure began to concentrate over its arm. From its hand erupted a long metal blade covered in runes that emanated an even darker energy.
The effort seemed to drain most of the darkness from the figure, now quite clearly a man. He collapsed, the blade fused to his hand by the emanating darkness.
Realizing that she had only moments to act, Tirinia leapt forward with a swing that would take the man’s head off. The man’s blade came up as though of its own will, blocking Tirinia’s killing stroke.
Before her eyes, the dark energy began to seep back into the man. “Oh, no! I’m not going to make it that easy for you.” With a flick of his massive blade, he sent her flying across the chamber.
She caught herself on another console and ran toward the man again. Their weapons met with a mighty clash, sparks flying in every direction.
“What in Nocturnes are you?” Tirinia hissed, the man’s weapon edging uncomfortably close.
“I am the darkness that lives in the heart of every being. I am the corruption of spirit! I am Blackal Suon!”
He pulled his blade back for a fraction of a second before swinging again, black energy surging through the blade. As the blades met, Justice seemed to explode, sending Tirinia flying across the room again.
Blinded by the burst of light, Tirinia managed a rather ugly landing and staggered backwards against a machine, her hand still tightly wrapped around the hilt of what remained of Justice.
Blackal Suon was on her in a second, his blade held to her throat. Tirinia’s eyes darted to what was left of Justice. Her hand was still gripped to the hilt, but whatever Blackal Suon did had left only a foot of blade.
Blackal Suon followed Tirinia’s gaze. His eyes narrowing, he said, “Not a chance. No Streamer technique from that sword could possibly hurt me.”
He lifted his sword to prepare for the final plunge. That was all Tirinia was waiting for. Rolling aside, she shot another energy blast from the broken blade of Justice. As Blackal Suon had said, no streamer technique from a broken blade could possibly do any damage ... but that didn’t mean it was totally ineffective.
The blast engulfed Blackal Suon, knocking him back with the force of a small tornado and giving Tirinia ample time to get back to her feet.
Dropping the broken sword, Tirinia leapt toward Blackal Suon before he could recover. Landing over his recumbent body, she dug her claws into the villain, tearing deeply through cloth and flesh.
The massive blade lashed out toward her, but Tirinia was airborne in an instant, somersaulting through the air and landing gracefully a safe distance away.
Breathing heavily, Blackal Suon said, “You put up a good fight, tigreth. Tell me, what is your name?”
“Maria Soleil,” Tirinia replied instantly, deciding a name from Mikaen’s past would be significantly harder to track than her own.
To her surprise, Blackal Suon laughed. It was a horrible sound, especially to a tigreth’s sensitive hearing. Tirinia stumbled backwards, clutching her ears. A dark tendril shot through the air and caught her tightly before she could recover.
“Don’t lie to me, girl,” snarled Blackal Suon, “The good general keeps his beloved quite safe from such as myself.”
Tirinia’s eyes went wide, mostly because the tendril was constricting around her chest and making it difficult to breathe.
As her vision began to fade, she heard someone shout, “Eat this, freak!”
Tirinia heard a shot ring through the air. Her eyes caught on the passing projectile, a spinning disc with a bar in the center. It zoomed past her in a blur of light, followed a moment later by a scream of pain from Blackal Suon. Without further warning, Tirinia was falling through the air, too startled to even flip around.
Someone caught her before she hit the ground. Opening her eyes, Tirinia found herself in the arms of a man whose skin and armor were covered by a series of blue leylines that pulsed in time with those of the facility.
“No time for that now, Miss.” He set her down and turned to Blackal Suon. Was it Tirinia’s imagination, or did the villain actually hesitate?
“Blackal Suon. I see you’ve found another host,” said the blue man.
Blackal Suon laughed, the sound making Tirinia’s ears twitch in pain. “You’re starting to get a bit slow. Perhaps your new costume takes longer to don.”
The blue man shot forward, little more than a blue blur in the air. With a single swing, he sent the dark villain crashing through a row of consoles.
Blackal Suon pushed himself up, coughing out dark blood. “You’ve become stronger. Excellent! Perhaps now you’ll actually be a challenge!”
The sword dissolved into black energy that quickly rejoined with its host body, cloaking Blackal Suon once again in darkness.
“Come then, hero!” he said, motioning the blue man to attack. “Let’s see your new-found strength.”
Beams of energy emerged from the blue man’s hands as he took a defensive position between Blackal Suon and Tirinia. “Get moving! I’ll cover you!”
Without waiting for a response, the blue man forward with is blades at the ready.
“Tirinia!” Jek shouted, limping toward the nearest door with Rena in tow. “A little help?”
Tirinia hurried over to him and helped him carry Rena. She was still unconscious, and though she was breathing, her dark skin felt clammy to the touch.
“She’s breathing … barely.” Jek said, looking worried. “You don’t think ... what he said about her child-”
Tirinia and Jek jumped as a burst of dark energy smashed a nearby console into rubble. The fight between Blackal Suon and the blue man was getting fiercer by the second.
“Come on!” Tirinia shouted over the sounds of battle.
As they rushed out of the facility with Rena in tow, Tirinia couldn’t help but take a final glance at the blue man and Blackal Suon as they fought in front of the massive power core. Shaking her head, she followed Jek toward the entrance of the facility.