The Depths of Despair
As Andreas collapsed onto the rough, cracked ground, his enlarged arm muscles and toned legs returned to their original sizes, restoring normal blood flow to his worn body which already had dropped to dangerously low levels of the critical life source. The intravenous crimson liquid flowed from within and stained the ground an unmistakable red tint.
Meanwhile, Julius, back still to his fallen foe, staggered on tired legs, his cracked sword threatening to topple his entire scarred frame. After some time spent settling himself, Julius let his remaining arm fall to his side along with the massive sword in its grasp. This battle was over; all that remained now was to claim his prize. He slowly turned around and dragged himself forward until he stood over the unconscious Andreas, casting an eerie shadow over the former Captain. Lifting the hilt of his sword to eye level, Julius was ready to plunge the blade into Andreas' spinal cord and through the veteran warrior's neck entirely; Andreas' head would be a fine trophy.
The blade descended on the nape of Andreas' neck, Julius putting the little energy he had left into this one final action. As the end neared and steel pressed flesh, there was nothing to prevent the inevitable... until the already cracked blade of Julius' sword suddenly shattered, leaving nothing but a blunt stump of metal in Julius' hand. At the last moment, something had flashed into the picture and flew clean through the now defunct weapon; Andreas' head had just barely been saved as blood leaked from the puncture created by the blade's tip, dripping ever so slowly into the pool of the crimson liquid already present.
Julius looked over his shoulder, scanning the previously empty area for the source of the interference. "Since you're here, I take it that means..." Julius began as his eyes landed on the young man behind him.
"Yeah; he's dead." the young man's voice responded. It was Bo; he was kneeling on one knee, an arrow nocked and ready to fly using his cheek and shoulder for grip and release.
Bo looked to his rear with a look of pity and cast his eyes on the barely conscious Jecht. Approaching with caution in case of one last desperate attempt at this ending in both of them dead, Bo retrieved the custom made tonfa from the weak grip of his latest adversary. "These are fine weapons. They deserve a worthy owner; that could've been you had you not thrown your life away."
With that said, Bo turned to find a way out of the pit he was stuck in and check out the progress of Andreas' fight. But, he felt something lightly tugging at the bottom of his pant leg. Looking down, he saw Jecht still struggling, a bloody smirk plastered goofily on his face. "W-We're not... done yet. I... b-broke the l-locking... m-mechanism. The beast is... fr-ee." he stammered out.
Bo didn't have to wait to find out what Jecht was talking about as a loud creaking drew his attention to the colosseum wall where Jecht's last bullet connected. 'Well, at least I don't have to worry about how I'm getting out of here anymore.' Bo mused as he laid eyes on the beast before him, standing at almost three times Bo's height, emerging from the dark passageway hidden away behind the rising, iron gate. The monster's deep set eyes held a ferocious glare from above its threatening maw, its jaw strength likely enough to crush boulders even without the jagged rows of flesh tearing, razor sharp canines. The solid scales covering its muscular body and thick, barbed tail provided good defense while the wing-like protrusions behind the forelegs made its full offensive capabilities unknown. Additionally, the smell of roasted human flesh - all too familiar to Bo from the incident on his home island - accompanied the creature, drifting from the depths of the passage behind it.
Bo had just enough time to restring the staff into a bow before the beast released a low, warning growl. He wasn't about to let such a dangerous animal get serious about someone in its territory, charging the creature head on and jumping right at its eyes. He landed on its snout and was launched into the air when the beast cried out in a fit of anger, landing just outside the pit on the solid ground above.
"Now, step away from the old man or this arrow will go through your heart." Bo commanded.
"Hmph; so now you wish to fight me." Julius scoffed in response. He was in no condition for another fight, but Bo was clearly only slightly better off.
"Not at all. The old man brought all these men here for his personal vendetta; if he lost, that's his weakness." Bo declared. "But, I will return his body in one piece, he was strong enough to have earned that."
Julius dropped the hilt of his broken sword and stepped aside, choosing to focus on wrapping his more serious wounds to slow the bleeding as opposed to interfere with Bo's objective. However, when Bo stepped past him, he noticed the two tonfa hanging from the young pirate's waist, immediately recognizing them as the ones he gave Jecht.
Bo noticed the expression Julius gave him as he passed and looked to the veteran before commenting, "Your subordinate was a good fighter; he possessed unimaginable potential, but he threw it all away for you. If you survive, make his sacrifice worth something. In the meantime, I'll hang on to these until I find a worthy successor for them."
Julius could only grunt his reply, he lacked the strength or clear headedness to do any more than remain standing and scowl.
Bo ignored the displeased glare singeing the hairs on the nape of his neck and situated Andreas' unconscious body across his back and shoulders in a sort of inverted fireman's carry. He was fairly open to attack in this position, but there was nothing he could do about that at the time; the only thing left was getting back to the coast as fast as possible, luckily his legs were still in fair condition. 'Shaad should be heading for the coast with the kids and the center forces already, and Ray should be there shortly as well.'
[A Few Minutes Earlier - Central Road]
"Let me go! Ugh, ya ain't got no right to be treatin' me this way!"
"Will you shut up, kid; yer annoying? I already told ya you're coming with me."
"Don't I have a say in the matter!?"
"Course you don't. Now calm down and enjoy the ride; osahaha."
"Aah, that hurts! Put me down!... AAAH, THAT HURTS YOU BASTARD!"
"See, that second one was much more convincing. Learn to act... but watch the language, will ya. Now, just sit there like a good boy; you see how calm your little girlfriend is... eh, maybe traumatized is more accurate."
The entire interaction, though muffled, was understandable in the distance, including the irritated and dissatisfied grumblings that followed. Of course, Kaleb's voice was the clearer of the two, and that voice served as a beacon away from the light that beckoned so. In particular, the boy's howls of pain spurred on the life blood that had run cold and stoked the embers of vigor that drove the wounded forward. That all too familiar energy pulled at his very heart, and from underneath the rubble of an entire five story building, Kayden began to stir.
Jumbo's senses whirred back to life as well when he heard the stone slabs jostling around and being pushed aside. He had already turned around to head back to the Central Tower and undergo maintenance, but now he looked over his shoulder to see the hulking frame of Kayden, bloody, heavily bruised, and leaning on the sledgehammer retrieved from the back of Rhino, standing defiantly on the massive pile of brick, concrete, and metal beams.
Kayden looked so shaky that Jumbo figured he was already dead on his feet and was going to leave him be, but continued movement got the presumed victor to turn completely around. Unfortunately for the monstrous cyborg, Kayden was no longer at that spot. The rebel's stone soldier moved with unprecedented quickness for his size, appearing in Jumbo's blind spot in that single instant.
In the next instant, Kayden's sledgehammer crashed up and into Jumbo's face with resounding force, knocking the imposing Shadow onto his back a considerable distance away. "Zzzt! Zzzt! W-Wu-Wumbooo." With that single strike, Kayden had completely shattered Jumbo's steel jaw and disrupted the electrical wiring running through his cheeks, sending electrical surges through his mouth and slurring his speech.
"Don't be mistaken; the head of this is made of a composite metal almost as hard as diamond and it alone weighs about four times as much as me. A single hit from this sledgehammer is worse than a full strength punch from my stone fists." Kayden detailed, his voice and gaze devoid of every last ounce of his usual kindhearted nature. His sentiment apparently didn't get through, though, as the wounded Jumbo lifted himself back up to his feet, marginally oblivious to the pain running through every fiber of his being thanks to all the experiments he'd undergone to get to this point. "I'll make sure you never hurt anyone again." Kayden seethed while approaching the rising giant, hands firmly gripped on the hammer's handle.
Made desperate by the turn of events, Jumbo lunged for Kayden before the rebel could reach him. Jumbo reacted by bringing the sledgehammer down on the center of his back crushing him into the ground and creating a crater upon impact. Evidenced by the highly audible sound of bones crunching, the blow was by far enough to splinter at least a few of Jumbo's vertebrae, sending him crumpling to the ground a broken mess. Suddenly paralyzed, there was nothing the monster could do to stop the next blow from digging into his battered flesh and obliterating the right side of his ribs along with the metal plating that protected them. That strike landed solidly and knocked Jumbo onto his back.
Kayden then planted his foot on Jumbo's chest and pushed down to still the large fighter for a fourth strike from the demolishing sledgehammer, this time to the left side of the ribs.
With the consecutive shots to the ribs and Kayden's foot weighing down on him, Jumbo's internal organs were far from undamaged. Yet Kayden still chose to step back and rain down a volley of devastating hammer smashes, striking almost every part of Jumbo's metal body except for the upper head. Somehow, despite the destructive potential of the weapon, Kayden did an adequate job of localizing the damage inflicted, pushing it to the brink but being sure - whether consciously or unconsciously - not to kill the target of his violent onslaught, although completely decimating to the point of wishing for such mercy.
Through it all, Jumbo's pained cries filtered through the air and spread across most of the island, immediately sickening and frightening every person who heard it as each fearsome howl was accompanied by a bone crunching collision and the sound of metal being decimated with every swing. From the rooftops, even the seasoned Mage (veteran of a number of horrific scenes) had to admit the sound, and sight, churned his stomach, enough to briefly divert him from watching over Leon's fight in order to put a stop to the punishing ordeal Jumbo was on the receiving end of.
Jumbo was already no more than a sniffling pile of bones, flesh, and metal, incapable of screaming much less making a coherent sound, when a light mist engulfed the area and Mage jumped down, appearing in front of Kayden near Jumbo's now deformed head. To Jumbo's credit, most people would have been long dead or unconscious and just on the brink between life and death, but, thanks to the artificial augmentation and his own mental fortitude, Jumbo was still capable of being saved and had yet to pass out from the intense nonstop surges of unfathomable agony. Unfortunately for him, no help was coming, thus he was left with only the torturous option of slowly dragging himself along the scorching, spike filled road of searing pain that would lead him to the sweet release of death.
"He's done for. Now drop the weapon, Kayden." Mage attempted to calm the raging madman. Kayden's vicious gaze left the defeated and crumpled Jumbo after a short pause. However, Kayden then shifted to glaring daggers at Mage, killing intent still pouring off the usually peaceful giant in waves, but Mage didn't yield a single step as the stone soldier slowly ambled forward.
Mage gripped the short sword on the back of his waist, but refrained from drawing it. He would much rather end this without having to fight. Sadly, the paralytic poison his twin daggers were coated in would be useless since the daggers would be unable to pierce Kayden's thick and solid earthen exterior, and because of that, if their standoff escalated into a conflict, he'd have no choice but to fight with the intent to kill; he'd rather not have to face the consequences of those actions. "I'm not your enemy; I'm with Bo's group." Mage stated. At the mention of Bo's name, Kayden's scowl softened a bit, but his eyes were as aggressive as ever. "We shouldn't fight. I don't want to have to kill you."
Mage had obviously made a misstep with that statement as Kayden swung the dangerous sledgehammer around, attempting to blast the black clad fighter into the distance with one strike. The strike landed squarely against its target, and… went through Mage? The image of Mage that Kayden struck disappeared and a short ways behind it Mage stood tall having finally drawn his short sword, and he held it ready between himself and the solidly muscled, eight foot titan as he continued trying to reason with him. "Think about the others, Sir Andreas... your brother."
Just as Mage thought he'd have to fight, Kayden froze. Slowly his grip on the massive sledgehammer loosened and his eyes finally softened. "Is my brother okay?" he immediately asked, the gentle tone of his voice present once again.
Mage cautiously relaxed and after a few seconds, put away his short sword. "Your brother's fine; he's at the coast with the rest of the crew." he answered, pointing the way to outside the city with all the usual roads in the vicinity long destroyed.
With that settled, Kayden followed the indicated path and Mage returned to his post overseeing the scene of Leon's engagement.
[At the coast]
"Sooo, where's the ship?" Kaleb complained. "You said it'd be here."
"And it will." Shaad tiredly responded as he attempted to relax against a tree. "Just be patient." 'Whoa, I can't believe I'm telling someone to be patient.'
"Shut up, I'm going back for my brother." Kaleb declared, storming off.
Before he could get even two steps away, Shaad was in front of him. In the blink of an eye, Shaad had Kaleb tied to the very tree he was just resting on with a thick chain.
The rest of the group, who had long since accepted the current situation and were just waiting for the next step, stood by and ignored Kaleb's endless string of curses vying for his release until one bystander actually had the wherewithal to ask Shaad where he got the chains. Shaad blankly responded that he figured everyone carried chains or rope for specifically that reason, causing the entire group to sweatdrop. Their attention was taken from Shaad's simple minded answer when one of the White Knights pointed in the direction of the right gate and asked, "Hey, isn't that your captain?"
Rose looked up to where the knight pointed, taking her mind off the battlefield they just left and the people she was unable to help for the moment, and it was indeed Bo stumbling towards them with weak, tired steps.
When he got closer, everyone noticed the state he was in and Rose immediately rushed to him. "Are you okay? Stand still; I'll apply emergency first aid."
The rest of the division, minus Shaad and Kaleb (who was tied up at the moment), ambled over and also saw the state Bo was in. "I'm fine, but is there anything you can do for him?" Bo asked, nodding towards Andreas, bringing attention to the unconscious figure on his back, before gently placing him on the ground for Rose to inspect.
Rose instantly realized the problem while the others clamored around. "He's lost far too much blood; he needs an immediate blood transfusion, but-"
Her diagnosis was cut short, though, as numerous White Knights stepped forward from the panicking crowd and tried to get a word in. "I'll give him some of my blood. We must have the same type; he gave the blood for a transfusion I needed when I lost my hand in battle years ago."
"You're already injured. Take mine; I still owe him for saving my brother's life."
"What are you talking about? You can't donate; you don't even have the same blood type!"
"What do you know? He had his kidney transplanted to me, and James and I have the same blood type."
"Stooop! Rose screamed out to get the bickering soldiers' attention. "The issue of type is only one problem. I don't know how he's still alive, but he'd need a full blood transfusion; unless we had at least three donors, the donor would be in serious trouble."
"I'd gladly give my life to save Sir Andreas."
"I as well."
"Of course; I would too."
"We all would; he's meant just that much to this island and its people."
"No, you don't understand. I can't-"
"Quiet, all of... you." Andreas' voice suddenly spoke out, though it was strained, raspy and weak. "Can't an old man... die in peace? This is... my fault, anyway; I... never should have ... involved you all... in attacking the city."
"No, we all wanted this." the crowd protested.
"You've done so much for us. You didn't deserve to lose everything like that."
"Hmph." Andreas smiled weakly before hacking up blood just seconds later, inciting new panic in the onlookers. "This... is my decision. You all... just need to escape... Live the rest of your lives... Please... forgive my selfishness. His voice trailed so at the end that most didn't hear his final words, but nonetheless the crowd erupted into a storm of muffled wailing and tears as Andreas' eyes closed for the final time. Each member of the White Knights fought back tears as well except for a few members whom openly wept. None could believe that this was the end for such a great man, each lamenting that they didn't do more; some even openly laid blame on those members of the right vanguard, who were told to turn back, for not defending their leader and hero.
"Stop! There was nothing we could do anyway; we just don't have the necessary equipment here." Rose tried to explain as tears began to fill her eyes as well. But, her words only drew ire from members of the crowd as many still refused to accept their savior's death.
"This is no time for tears;" the strongest of the remaining White Knights declared, "we will not disgrace his many sacrifices by crying over them now. There is still much to be done, and Sir Andreas wouldn't want our tears. Be proud; a great warrior such as himself deserves an honorable death. We will send him off properly."
Some minutes later, Andreas' dead body lay on a makeshift pyre. "Thank you!" the head Knight proclaimed while raising a torch high above his head.
"For everything!" the rest added before the pyre and Andreas were set ablaze. The rebel forces were wrecked with sadness at the loss, but unfortunately there was no time to linger. This was neither the time nor the place.