"Ivo is demanding subjects for his new Roboticizer. However, I am unwilling to give him more than a few of the soldiers we already employ. His machines are efficient, yes, but they have limitations. They cannot think strategically without orders, and they are denied any manner of biological enhancements. Regardless, it may be useful to have a cotingent of his machines for the coming project. Lucien and that irritating teleporter have a proposal for me regarding this issue. I need to consider it later."
The explosion had woken up anyone who might've fallen asleep in the city, and within seconds crowds and news vans were gathering around the former site of the theatre to witness a very unusual spectacle. Even in the bustling, active and exciting metropolis of Las Venturas, there had never been a sight quite like this.
A large green circle had been placed around the destroyed theater, and the more reckless spectators and police officers quickly found they couldn't enter the circle. One of the cops tried shooting at the huge walking statue, only for his bullet to be deflected. There would be no help from the ground for the three operatives.
Link grabbed Casey and dove out of the path of the statue's hand just before it crushed them flat. Dimentio's giant glove lifted itself off the ground and tried to squash them again. Link dug into his backpack and pulled out the plasma pistol Aven had given him. Taking quick aim at the threatening hand, Link fired a round and hoped it would slow the thing down.
It didn't, and Casey had to run out of the metal glove's path again. Jimi zapped it with Thunderbolt, but all it did was short out the neon that lined the moving sign. Aven was busy firing rounds at the other hand, but they were just as useless and the hand quickly tried to break him. It took a moment for Link to register why the attacks were ineffectual – this wasn't a living being or even a machine. It was an inanimate object being moved by magic. They might as well be firing at rocks rolling towards them.
Aven was pinned under the hand as it tried to crush him like an insect. However, Dimentio didn't count on Aven being so strong. The Sangheili held up the huge glove, gritting his teeth and forcing the metal thing back up and away from him. As soon as his hands were free, Aven switched tactics. Digging into his armory, Aven produced a small purple ball and chucked it at the neon-lit glove. Dimentio didn't notice the weapon chucked at him, and the hand didn't move to dodge the small orb.
That was a mistake.
The Plasma Grenade stuck to the hand and detonated, blowing a huge hole in the metal appendage Aven could see through. The framework that made up the hand collapsed, and the entire thing fell to the ground completely useless. Aven smirked before noticed a huge shadow overtake him.
Link saw Aven's actions and quickly got another idea. After dodging another swiping attack from Dimentio's other hand, he ripped his crossbow out of the backpack and notched a red arrow to the device. Casey was quite surprised to see how quickly he was able to get his gear.
Dimentio, now slightly irritated, tried another tactic. Lining up his huge hand parallel to the ground, he slammed the tips of his fingers into Link's chest and managed to knock him back several feet. The jester laughed for a second before the boy got back up and fired the red arrow at the hand. Why isn't he broken?! Dimentio thought angrily.
Before he could come up with an answer, the arrow hit the other hand and burst into flame. The hand disintegrated, revealing the framework that Dimentio's magic simply wasn't sophisticated enough to control. The entire thing fell to the ground, and Casey and Link caught their breaths before turning around.
The body of the statue was still standing on it's huge black feet, it's grinning face leering down at the three four small attackers before it. It looked rather silly without it's hands, but somehow it still looked very threatening. The jester who reanimated the statue growled at them from behind the neon-lit head.
"I'm a reasonable individual. Return the Prognosticus to me and I'll let you live the rest of your short lives."
Aven responded by firing another blast from his modified plasma rifle. He hit the neon giant's coxcomb, just a few feet shy of the real Dimentio's head. The crazed jester sighed and cast another spell on the statue, making the entire thing shimmer for a second.
The entire thing began to lumber forward, trying to crush the foursome with it's huge boots. Aven rolled back and threw another grenade at the giant's grinning face, hoping to blast that insect out and finish him.
The grenade flew directly to the neon-mask, but it didn't stick. It came into contact with the same shimmering Dimentio had cast earlier before bouncing back down towards Aven. The minor elite saw it coming and jumped out of the way. "MOVE!" he yelled to his fellows. Link, Casey and Jimi obeyed immediately.
The grenade detonated uselessly on the ground, and Dimentio let out another chuckle. "Was that the best you could do? A simple barrier could defeat that thing. Now it's time for some REAL magic!"
Sparks appeared around the jesters glove, and before the attackers knew what was going on, Dimentio fired a stream of purple lighting directly at where Aven was standing. The elite didn't see it in time to dodge, and the spell struck him hard. The lighting seemed to explode when it hit Aven, and the heavy Sangheili was flung back forcefully. He landed on his back, winded but still alive. Dimentio laughed and fired again.
Jimi's thunderbolt intercepted the attack, and the lighting detonated several feet away from anyone. Dimentio snarled with frustration and moved to crush another target. Link ran as quickly as he could away from the huge foot, and readied another red arrow.
Aven glanced at his armor readings. That blast of…whatever it was had almost depleted his armor. He needed to get to cover and let his shield recharge before that accursed jester hit him again. The elite looked around and saw a piece of the theatre that still stood up. Aven got to his feet and ran behind it.
Link fired the arrow at the statue's head, instincitively between the eyes. The arrow hit the same barrier that Aven's grenade had bounced off, but the glass casing exploded on impact. Unfortunatly, the flammable fluid didn't tocuh the statue, simply sliding off the barrier. The ground underneath the statue burst into flames, while the statue itself lumbered forward unharmed. Link didn't have time to reload as Dimentio flung out more purple lighting at the boy.
Casey had found the remains of the destroyed dropship on the edge of the wreckage. Among the burnt metal was a large box with it's lock destroyed. Casey kicked it open and discovered several of Aven's spare guns, slightly burnt but still functional. Without thinking twice, the former rocker picked up the one that most resembled a human gun and aimed it at Dimentio, pulling the trigger hard.
The plasma rifle's rounds hit the barrier, causing no visible damage to the statue. Dimentio laughed again, some of his good humor returning. "Aheheh. You can't hope to beat me. And yet you fight, like self-righteous bees attacking a foraging bear."
"SHUT UP, SICKO!" Casey screamed before firing one more shot at the jester himself, perched on the statue's shoulder. She would've hit him (in the shoulder, at least) if it wasn't for the barrier. Dimentio countered with several volleys of yellow balls that Jimi had a tough time shooting down quickly enough.
A fire arrow slammed into the barrier right in front of him, the flash of fire blinding Dimentio for a second. In that second, Aven –his shield recharged - broke cover and threw another grenade at the statue. Aven's aim was off, and the grenade hit the barrier around the statues foot. The purple orb fell to the ground nearby, and Dimentio shook his head clear and renewed his magic attacks.
Then the grenade went off. The force of the explosion tore a small hole in the statue's foot – evidently their guns and other projectiles wouldn't work, but the splash attack of grenades or a strong enough area effect could penetrate the barrier. Dimentio didn't notice, but Aven did, and he quickly got an idea.
Dimentio fired multiple volleys of the explosive orbs and purple lightning, keeping all the attackers on their toes as they dodged or deflected as best they could. Link rolled and ran around the grounds as most of the blasts seemed to focus on him. He needed a moment to breathe and grab something else, but Dimentio wouldn't give him that moment.
Suddenly, Dimentio disappeared from the statue's shoulder. One second he was there, firing magic attack after magic attack, and the next he simply wasn't. The statue kept lumbering around, nearly crushing Jimi, so no-one registered the jester vanish for a critical moment.
That was what Dimentio wanted. Let these pests play with his giant toy. All he needed was the Prognosticus back, and he could just vanish into the night and continue his plans. He knew instinctively the boy was carrying his precious book in his backpack (how terribly tacky) so he teleported right behind Link just as he was finished dodging the volleys from moments before. Not wanting to waste a second, the magic simply thrust his magically charged hand through the backpack and groped for his book.
His hand felt something else. Something sharp that caused such pain that he cried out and withdrew his gloved hand.
Link heard Dimentio right behind him. In a second, his hand reached behind him and grabbed the handle of the sword he carried. The blade of evil's bane, the Master Sword. In one movement, he unsheathed the sword, whirled around, and slashed the stunned jester right across the chest. Dimentio screamed in shock and pain before teleporting back to his perch on the statue, a long cut in his motley.
Dimentio breathed hard for a second before snarling viciously at the youth, who had his sword in one hand and a crossbow in the other. The jester fired a stream of purple lighting directly at the irritant who had just hurt him. Jimi intercepted the lighting with his own Thunderbolt and the magic shorted out harmlessly. Having lost all pretence of patience or jest, Dimentio sent a multitude of the yellow magic orbs at the small mouse. The Pikachu started blasting them down with more of his electric attacks, but there were so many orbs. One of them had to hit.
One did. The magic attack hit Jimi full-on, and the creature was rooted to the spot as powerful electricity coursed through his body. Dimentio took the opportunity to fire another set of orbs at the annoying youth with the sword.
As the orbs closed in, Link readied his sword. When they were close enough, he swung the Master Sword, batting the projectiles aside. Repelled by the sword's mystic energy, the attacks flew away from Link in several directions. One of them went straight back to it's caster.
"Wha-?" Dimentio was surprised by his attack backfiring and didn't dodge it in time. Suddenly the electricity that had stunned Jimi was now going through his veins, causing his body to spasm painfully. However, he maintained his position on the statue's neck.
Aven quickly relayed his plan to Link. "SHOOT THE GRENADE!" he roared as he chucked his last plasma grenade right at the demented jester. Link quickly responded, immediately readying his crossbow and firing at just the right place at just the right moment.
Dimentio recovered from the zap, and he saw the grenade come towards him. The jester laughed aloud as the grenade came up to his face. "They say insanity is – "
He didn't finish. Just before the grenade bounced off the force field, Link's arrow struck it and it detonated prematurely. A powerful explosion of plasma and flame occurred right in front of the laughing jester. The field wasn't able to block the force of the explosion, and Dimentio was blinded and thrown off his perch. He landed on the ground hard, gasping for breath and trying to clear his eyes. However, the explosion tore at the statue's neck, and the weakened steel caused the huge neon head fell to the ground right on top of the demented jester. The multicolored maniac disappeared under his own grinning head.
The rest of the statue stayed upright, although it stopped moving. Casey took the moment to pick the stunned Jimi off the ground, and all four of the operatives looked at the fallen head with the psychopathic clown underneath.
Suddenly the head shifted, and Dimentio reappeared atop the remaining statue's chest. The magician was battered and his outfit was wrecked, but he still had that damned smile on his face. His voice, however, was filled with rage.
"Precocious insects! That was just a…a…an appetizer! Let me get to the main course!" he rasped, summoning a huge ball of magic energy above him. The group, too weary too counter, braced themselves…
But Dimentio never cast his spell. A barrage of powerful plasma attacks hit the statue, their sheer power piercing the barrier. Blast after blast tore holes in the empowered statue, the entire thing collapsing onto itself. Soon, the huge effigy of the murderous performer was completely destroyed.
Aven turned to look at the source of the blasts. The Master Chief was hovering close by, it's huge bulk shadowing the entire area. Five of it's cannons were assaulting Dimentio's statue, tearing holes where there were already holes. At the cockpit, Arbiter looked down on the disintegrating statue with pure fury and hatred, keeping the targets locked on the accursed performer's likeness and the performer himself.
Dimentio knew the fight was over. Cursing under his breath, he waved at the huge ship bearing down on him. "Well, it's been fun, but I have more important matters to attend to. Ahehehe…Ciao!"
And with that, he was gone.
It took Arbiter a moment to register that there was no point in firing anymore. He still kept his hands on the trigger before McCloud and a bandaged Lara gently pushed them off. After taking a few deep breaths, the Sangheili commander looked down at the four operatives below. They were alive. Very good. That was good, at least.
"Pick them up with one of the dropships. The Master Chief cannot land here." He ordered, nearly succeeding in keeping his voice calm and controlled. McCloud nodded and moved to another part of the ship. Arbiter slumped in his chair, suddenly feeling very weary.
There was a silence for a few minutes as the dropship approached the four young operatives to pick them up and return them to base. Silence was just what Arbiter and Lara needed right now. Lara touched her bandaged side and winced, but said nothing. Arbiter took his helmet in his hands and looked it over.
Eventually, McCloud's voice tentavely came onto their commlinks. "Arbiter?"
"Speak." Arbiter sighed.
"They…got it. They got the Prognosticus. It was here."
"Understood." Arbiter sighed even deeper. The stage performer Casey mentioned. Hiding in plain sight. Unbelievable. What were they even doing out here? This was the second time that chronicler had somehow 'saved' the operation. How did they even…Arbiter came up with an answer very quickly.
Mission accomplished, Sofia, Arbiter thought bitterly. The Sangheili clutched his chair handle tightly, nearly crushing the metal. "Return to base."
"A military command as recompense? I admit that the offer is very intriquing, but I cannot help but feel there is more to this than Eleanor has told us. Hm. Well, I will accept your decision to join this 'league' and arrange a more political-minded Sangheili to the issues on Sanghelios on one condition. I am to join you there."
Back at Rapture, Mario straightened his sore back as his subpod approached Hephaestus. Just a few more holes to cover, and this job would be finished. This mysterious burglar wouldn't be able to interfere with anything important in Rapture, and the league's handymen would feel much better about it.
In retrospect, he probably should've done this area first. Hephaestus was the 'core' of Rapture, situated nearby an active volcano and using geothermic vents to power and heat the entire underwater city. Any damaging actions here would be catastrophic, which was why the security here was tighter than the rest of Rapture. There were cameras everywhere looking for intruders, and several Hunter guards wandered the corridors on the lookout. Mario had passed by a few, and they were every bit as intimidating as he heard.
But then, the security never registered any activity of the burglar. Whoever she was (Aven had claimed it was female), she had no interest whatsoever in the power plant. She seemed more interested in the barracks, labs and weapon rooms, though nobody was sure why. Every so often someone would hear a noise in the vents, a childish giggle in the shadows, the feeling that they were being watched. It wasn't exactly threatening, but it wasn't exactly comforting either.
Mario shook his head clear and started looking for vents nearby important areas. Truth be told, part of the reason he and his brother put this place off until later was that it terrified him. The entire area was bathed in crimson red light and very hot, making it very uncomfortable to work here. There were no cheery posters or bright lights like in the rest of Rapture, making the entire place very stark and heartless. It all amounted to a very unnerving working environment.
Mario shook his head clear and pressed on. A job was a job, and he got started on a vent near one of the generators. A few minutes later, the hole was covered and Mario felt safer moving on.
He was approached the geothermal control when he heard a small noise in the back of his mind. Was there a rat in the vents? Had the burglar suddenly taken an interest in this area? Or was that just Luigi? Just when he was asking these questions though, the noise silenced. Mario took a breath and kept working.
Another noise caught his attention. This one he could place. That infernal scraping noise the giant made echoed through the corridors so loudly it was hard to tell if he was several feet away or just around the corner. Mario became a great deal more tense. Was he being followed by Pyramid Head?
He shook the notion out of his head. That terrifying man had ignored him last time he saw him. He wasn't after him. No. Regardless, Mario quickened his pace towards Rapture Central Control, his last job before he could leave this place.
While he was passing the recently-cleaned trophy room (although no amount of bleach could get rid of the horrible images) he was abruptly startled by the voice on his commlink.
"The Master Chief is returning to base. Repeat; Master Chief has returned. Hopefully, the mission has proved successful. Phantom will connect in 15 minutes. Please stand by."
Mario got his breath back and opened the door to Rapture Central Control. One more vent and you can leave. Mario looked down to ready his tools for the job when he heard someone curse. The handyman looked up sharply. Someone was here! And there was something in the room that didn't belong…
Before he could activate his commlink, a heavy metal thing came down on the back of his head and everything went black.
"Ugh... Mission accomplished. The target, the Dark Prognosticus, was recovered in Dimentio's headquarters in Las Venturas. 'Cursory examination' proves it's the real deal, according to Lara at least. So, yay for another victory. As for events in Albion…Arbiter and the others aren't talking to me. Lara's badly cut up, I can see that, but she'll pull through…is there something wrong with me? Two assignments in a row where I got to see kids die at the hands of sickos. It's just…I feel really sick, and I think the others are just as sick…oh, I'm rambling. Better shut this off…"
Sofia was expecting Arbiter to demand about why he had sent Link, Aven and Casey to Las Venturas without his knowledge. She had already prepared an answer – every lead had to be investigated, no matter how obtuse it seemed. The book was that important. Furthermore, taking Lara's 'hiding in plain sight' to it's logical conclusion meant the Dimentio could've been hiding in plain sight as well. If the Prognosticus was at Bowestone Castle, no harm done. If it was in Venturas…the army could handle whatever was waiting for them, correct? She was expecting a few questions, especially since the communications between Rapture and the Master Chief had been oddly quiet.
She wasn't expecting this line of inquiry.
"You KNEW it was a decoy!" Arbiter snarled as he grabbed Sofia by the collar, dragging her up to his face. The Sangheili's eyes were a look of purest fury, and Sofia suddenly became a little frightened.
"Whuh-what? I had my suspicions, yes, but there was no way either of us could've…"
"DON'T LIE TO ME!" he roared. "You had to have known! Why would you send MY operatives to investigate this damned performer who had the REAL target if you didn't know!" Arbiter threw her aside, and Sofia landed on the floor hard. Arbiter was very strong, she had to be careful here.
"I was following a lead! Every lead had to be…"
"SILENCE! Rtas is gone, and so is almost every member of our backup! The Castle was a trap by that demon!"
Sofia blinked. "What? They're…gone?" This was bad. Arbiter and Rtas had been good friends to since they'd fought together in the Halo Wars. Sofia knew from experience that no-one was completely rational immediately after a loss like that. But Arbiter was intelligent…maybe reason would still work. "B-but why would I…"
"You've undermined my authority before, and I KNOW what kind of person you were! Someone in here placed the box in my quarters, someone who knew how to disable the cameras. Who else but the former mother of Rapture? You're trying to retake this city, make yourself ruler again! All you had to do was get rid of…"
"Arbiter, listen to yourself. Why would I eliminate almost all of those soldiers to retake Rapture? Why would I take Rtas? You've been in coups before. What logic is there to eradicate the soldiers and not my opponent?"
"You…you…" Arbiter was beginning to see Sofia's point. Dimentio was only interested in the soldiers…he didn't seem to care if Arbiter, Lara or Snake had survived. If Sofia wanted to destroy him to get her city back, why would she focus on the backup and soldiers and not the leaders? "But…if that demon had set the trap by himself, how could he have…no…someone had to help him…you…but…"
Sofia readjusted her glasses. "I know you don't like me, Arbiter. But hurling wild accusations at me because of a personal dislike will not help any of us. Now take a deep breath and tell me what happened."
Arbiter fumed for a moment. He couldn't shake the notion Sofia was manipulating him somehow. But was she manipulating him to trust her, or just to calm down? Did she really do this? The more he thought about it, the less sense it made. If he was Sofia and wanted to overthrow him, it would make more sense to simply kill Arbiter, cover her involvement and take charge in his absence. Why kill the soldiers? If she took power, she'd want MORE followers, not less. And Rtas was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt…why take him?
Eventually, the Sangheili sighed and relayed all the details he remembered. The castle, the search, the vault, the ambush, the bomb, the jester, Aven's transmission, Las Venturas. And the total number of operatives they had know.
"All we have left is McCloud's team, the official operatives, the Chronicler, a handful of soldiers and what few guards were stationed here." Arbiter groaned. "Dimentio's attack was costly…I CANNOT believe we let that damned clown hurt us like this!"
"There was no way of knowing." Sofia replied.
It didn't make Arbiter feel any better. "Something is wrong here, Sofia. I would simply assume Dimentio had teleported here with the package, but he'd need the coordinates. If he sent in underwater, someone had to bring it inside. I still think we have a spy in our midst."
"And how do you propose to ferret him or her out?"
Arbiter glared suspiciously at Sofia. "I have ways of interrogation. And you are still not above suspicion, Sofia. I'll have every soldier report to the brief – "
His plan was suddenly interrupted by a thick Italian voice screaming into the commlink. "ARBITER! SOFIA! We have a problem!"
"Mario? What is– "
"There's a bomb!"
"Gordon's planted a bomb in Rapture Central Control!"