Last part tomorrow!
Gallen Aldarus ducked under the rim of the shuttle as he stepped into the cockpit. â€œThe shields are disabled, and I've rigged the sensors not to notice. It'll take us about twenty seconds to re-engage them â€“ long enough for the hull to maintain internal shielding after we launch.â€
â€œGood.â€ Galas Indira didn't look over to him. â€œYou should get to your hiding place. I'll signal the all-clear when we're ten seconds from takeoff.â€ She returned her attention to the instruments in front of her, working feverishly to bring the ship's systems on-line. A moment later, she spoke again. â€œAldarus, don't try to convince me to leave this to you. Just get where you're going.â€
Aldarus tensed. â€œIndira... this isn't your duty. It's mine. I'm the ship's security officer, I should be the one putting myself at risk.â€ He shook his head. â€œWhy are you intent on dying?â€
â€œBecause this is my fault. If I had just turned off the beacon...â€ Indira shook her head. â€œPlease. Don't make this any harder for me. Just go.â€
Aldarus hesitated a moment more, then nodded heavily. â€œI'll see you in a couple of minutes. Don't do anything stupid before that.â€ The thought crossed his mind that she could simply power up the shuttle and flee, but he didn't think that she would. He laid a hand on her shoulder. â€œBe well, Indira.â€
â€œAnd you, Aldarus. It was nice to have met you. Even with all of this.â€ Indira still didn't turn to look at him. Aldarus nodded heavily, turning and walking back towards the hatch of the ship.
Only to see the hangar doors hissing open across the way.
â€œOh, Dragons above.â€ Aldarus ducked for cover behind the hatch. â€œIndira, what's your status?â€
â€œOne minute, fifteen seconds!â€ Indira called back. â€œWhy?â€
â€œWe're dead.â€ Aldarus took a deep breath. Across the bay, Kaltos was striding purposefully towards the shuttle. He had fitted himself into the commander's jade breastplate, which glittered white with splashes of blood in the hangar's dim emergency lighting. As if to punctuate the situation, the lights flashed red twice to indicate that only five minutes remained until the ship self-destructed.
Aldarus took a deep breath. â€œI'll slow him down.â€ He reached for his sword, ready to spring. â€œIn our next lives, maybe we'll meet again.â€
â€œThat would be nice.â€ Tears almost choked Indira's voice, but her actions never paused. Every second would count, and Aldarus didn't expect to buy them more than a handful of such.
Kaltos was now halfway towards them, his lips curling into a smile as he saw the engines warming up. He called out to the shuttle, â€œDidn't quite get it in gear, did you? Nice try â€“ I didn't think you would have the guts.â€ As he approached the hatch, he started to peer inside. â€œWhy don't you come out and line up? I'll kill you quick if you do.â€
â€œMy pleasure.â€ Aldarus froze, about to leap out and strike, as fire suddenly blossomed around Kaltos. The deathknight cursed violently, spinning in place to meet the sudden threat, as Lieutenant Yumis rose casually from her hiding place, tossing aside her now-useless firewands, and grinned at him. â€œThink you can reach the shuttle? Think again.â€ She drew another pair of firewands from her uniform.
Kaltos laughed. He swooped forwards, a dark angel of death impeded only slightly by his wounds as he swept down on the lieutenant. A blast of flame arced past his head, and his fist caught the second firewand as it was about to discharge, turning it down to send gouts of fire across the deck. â€œTrying to stop me, Lieutenant? Very noble of you. Let the others escape on the ship.â€ He laughed darkly, twisting slightly to prevent her answering attack, and grabbed her tightly, pushing her into an impossible position as she strained to escape. â€œBut not noble enough.â€
â€œYou'll die out here, monster!â€ The words were choked out, and Kaltos laughed again.
â€œOne of us certainly will. I only wish I had time to do more than this...â€ He casually twisted her head, and her eyes bulged for a moment before the pressure he was bringing to bear snapped her spine. He turned his attention back to the ship. â€œNow, where was I?â€
â€œPowered up. I can lift off as soon as he...â€
â€œDo it now, Indira.â€ Aldarus spoke softly. Still kneeling, he drew his boot knife and carefully wedged it into the hatch, preventing the door from closing. Across the deck, Kaltos was picking up speed.
â€œWhat? But the plan...â€
â€œNew plan. Re-engage the shields, load up the Kever's Sky manuever, and execute it!â€ Yumis had sacrificed herself. She hadn't known Aldarus was still on the shuttle. And now there weren't any security officers onboard, and if Kaltos killed him, Ryland and Croft would die, too. Aldarus took a deep breath. There was only one chance.
â€œAlright.â€ Indira, fortunately, didn't question him. She just pulled up the manuever in question as the shuttle began to lift off. Aldarus ran into the cabin, and pushed off the chair to brace himself against the roof.
Kaltos reached the shuttle at a dead sprint, even as it began to breach the perimeter of the ship. The engines flared as the shuttle passed beyond the edge of the Grace of Ledaal's Wyld shielding and began to feel the strain. The corporal pulled himself into the hatch, an unpleasant smile growing as he triggered the hatch to close. â€œNice try, kids. But you didn't quite make it.â€ He frowned, looking into the cockpit. â€œWait, wait. Where's everyone else...?â€
His instant of hesitation was exactly what Aldarus had needed. He shouted out as he leapt out from the cockpit, slamming into Kaltos with all of his force as he screamed â€œNow!â€ Indira reacted with military-trained precision, slamming the port engines into full reverse while charging the starboard into overdrive. The result was that the shuttle spun like a top, just as Aldarus's bull rush carried him and Kaltos out the back hatch â€“ a hatch that should have been closed, and would have if Aldarus hadn't already jammed it open. Caught off-guard and unprepared, the deathknight grabbed out for balance, one hand grabbing at Aldarus's boot. Aldarus grabbed for the hatch's rim as the ship finished its spin. For a moment, he thought that the force would tear his arm off, or the deathknight would pull off his leg, but he clung for his life, trusting in the sheer force of the spinning shuttle to cast the monster below him off. The shuttle's shields, now flickering online, were just powerful enough to protect him, but they didn't stretch past the length of Kaltos's arm. Without protection, he would be mutating rapidly. Aldarus couldn't bear to watch â€“ he simply closed his eyes and focused on holding on, even as the bones in his leg splintered and his hands began to go numb.
And then, the moment came. Kaltos lost his grip, and with a roar of fear and rage â€“ a roar barely recognizeable as human, sailed out into the Wyld. Somehow, it had worked. For an indefinable time, Aldarus simply clung to the edge of the hatch, and then found the energy to grin, despite the staggering pain in his leg and hands.
Aldarus turned his attention to to hatch; the shuttle's engines were calming, their spin all but stopped, starting to reverse course back to the ship. By then, he wanted to be back in the shuttle. He brought his other arm around, and began to pull himself in.
And then something grabbed at his other leg. Aldarus looked back in horror, as a long, slimy tendril took a hold that he could not break, and another fixed itself to the edge of an engine. A claw-rimmed mouth spoke out as the chimeric beast that had once been Kaltos began to climb back towards the ship, its body shifting and mutating even as it did so, the tendrils shrinking only to bring it closer at an ever-growing rate.
â€œYou think you're safe? Not yet, Gallen. Not ever!â€