Leo completed the form flawlessly before bowing to his teacher.
Gravid sighed. “Well, I suppose it will have to do.”
Leo bristled. He suspected that Gravid did it on purpose to get a rise out of him and as a result was even more determined to not show any irritation. “Would you like me to run through it again, Sensei?”
Gravid waved him off. “No, you’re probably as good as you’re going to get.”
Leo stomped down another flare of irritation. “As you say, Sensei.”
“I said stop calling me that.” Gravid huffed, despite having no actual need to breathe. “I suppose that’s sufficient for the moment, but understand that you’ve just gotten your feet wet. By no means is this training comprehensive.”
His heart leapt. Did this mean he was done? Could he return to his family now?
His elation dimmed some as Gravid gestured him to follow towards the decrepit tower in the heart of the ruined fortress.
“Sensei, if you’re finished with my training for the moment…”
“It’s not done until I’ve tested what you’ve learned. If you show up and get yourself killed in front of everyone it won’t do your family any favors and reflects badly on me.”
Leo snorted. “Can’t have that.”
“Watch your tone boy.”
Leo sighed. “Hai, Sensei.”
Gravid led him to a large empty room with a small cube in the center of the floor. It was blue with intricate metalwork decorating the outside.
Gravid turned to face him. “I’ve always had a fondness for the Jedi system of testing its students. Very organized and comprehensive. Being properly systematic lets you cover all your bases.”
Leo looked around the empty room skeptically. “So my test will be…?”
“Tests.” Gravid crossed his spectral arms over his chest. “There are technically five in total, but I’m giving you a pass on two of them.”
Leo raised an eye ridge. “Uh…thanks? Should I even ask?”
“Put a cork in it and listen.”
Gravid began to pace. “The five trails are typically skill, courage, flesh, spirit and insight. After the beating you received at the hands of that tin can and his flunkies back on your home world, your three-month nap and subsequent lengthy convalescence of whininess, I’ll count that as flesh. I suppose it proves you can recover from a serious blow.”
Leo felt his eye twitch as Gravid glibly summed up one of the most difficult periods of his entire life. Only watching his father die and seeing his world sucked into a black hole really compared. “You are too generous, Sensei.”
Gravid either didn’t catch the sarcasm or blatantly ignored it. “I know, I know, but we are working on a time table here. And since you faced down your worst enemy and got over yourself on that little trip to la-la land…”
“You mean my vision quest in the astral plan?”
“…yes, that, I’ll let that stand as your trail of spirit. Which just leaves skill, courage and insight.”
Leo personally believed that there must be more elements of his life that could count towards those too. How did blowing himself off the TCRI building during the first Kraang invasion not count for courage? It sure scared the shell out of him at the time. And there’d been more than enough fights that could demonstrate his skill. All the same, he knew better than to argue. Gravid would do what he wanted anyway. So he held his tongue and let his teacher continue.
“Fortunately, a bunch of nutjobs have fixated on my fortress and keep coming here to leave all their bits of junk. Mostly useless trash mind you. But every now and again, they leave something worth keeping.” He gestured down towards the cube in the room. “I have selected three that I think will suit for your trials. Just keep going down the hallway to the next room when you finish each one.”
Leo frowned. He didn’t doubt he’d succeed. His family needed him sooner rather than later, but Gravid was a mercurial instructor, so it was best not to assume. “If I fail, do we resume training?”
Gravid laughed bitterly. “Boy, if you fail, you’ll be dead. It’s not much of a test if you aren’t fighting for your life now is it? Good luck kiddo.”
But Gravid vanished into a puff of red vapor and the corners of the box began two twist and come apart, like a self-disassembling, 3D puzzle. As the pieces flew apart, drifting in the air, a blue light emanated from the center.
After a brief, blinding flash, the box parts were gone. In its place stood an alien woman, her outfit gave no room to doubt that. The flowing skirt over strategically-holed leggings, connecting to a top that barely covered her chest, left very little to the imagination. Her pale green skin was decorated by blue, tiger-like stripes that matched her wild mane of hair.
As her yellow eyes locked onto him, she activated a double-bladed saber-staff and began to circle him. He ignited his own blue and purple blades.
Her eerie laugh echoed through the large empty room. “I can see your weakness. I know what you fear and it is delicious.”
Suddenly she vanished from view and he spun, searching to room to locate her. Midway through the turn, she burst forth from the shadows of the poorly lit space and he braced himself for the attack. Except it wasn’t her.
“Karai?” He barely got the name out before she plowed an armored foot into his chest, knocking him back into the wall.
Lean and sleek as ever, she stalked him. “It’s been a long time, Leo.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “How? I don’t understand.”
Her golden eyes narrowed at him. “Why? Because I’m a mindless serpent back on Earth, waiting for you to let the world get destroyed?”
He flinched, but kept his blades up as she circled him.
“Do you want to know a secret? That mind control worm didn’t make me attack you and your pathetic family. I wanted to do that. I wanted to kill them. I wanted to kill you.”
He could feel his chest constrict as she confirmed his darkest suspicions.
She threw a spray of kunai at him and he barely got his sabers sup in time to vaporize them.
“Why? How dare you ask me that? I trusted you. You were supposed to save me. Instead you dropped me into a vat of mutagen. It’s your fault, Leo, and I will have my revenge.” She whipped out her tanto and his lowered his sabers slightly, reluctant to fight her.
Every word she’d said was true. He’d failed her when she’d been counting on him the most. How could he hurt her now? Instead, he halfheartedly dodged away as she attacked, barely evading her strikes.
Grief-stricken, his mind and soul reached out to her, but found nothing in the present room. Instead his consciousness stretched all the way back to Earth, connecting briefly with her mind, feeling her pain, sorrow and rage. For the briefest of instants, she welcomed his presence before abruptly flinging him out of herself.
He came back to his senses, just in time to catch her tanto on the handle of his saber before it sunk into his throat, bucking her off of him as he flipped back to his feet. When had he ended up on his shell?
She circled him again. “I needed you and you abandoned me!”
No. That wasn’t right. Karai. Willful, independent Karai. She would never admit to need and weakness, no matter the truth of it. This was how he felt about her, a distorted version of her true self. One his subconscious tortured him with.
Glaring at her, he took a more solid stance. “You are not Karai.”
Not-Karai smirked wickedly at him as her tanto morphed into the red saber-staff that the alien had wielded earlier. “But can you kill one that looks like her.”
Taking a series of deep calming breaths as she stepped carefully around him, waiting for an opening, he looked at her. Really looked at her. The illusion of Karai melted to a thin veil and he could see the alien woman beneath. His true opponent.
She thrust the staff at him and he fluidly batted the strike aside with one sword as he blocked her follow-through with the other end, using his remaining sword. During the motion of his second block, his foot shot out, jamming a heel into her chest, hooking the handle of her staff on his ankle as she flew back and wrenching it from her grasp.
Slicing it to unusable pieces, mid-air, he charged her. She tried to flip out of the way, but he was faster, shoulder checking her into the wall and pinning her with his blades just short of her throat.
She spoke to him in Karai’s voice. “Leo, please no. I need you.”
His eyes narrowed. “Karai doesn’t beg.”
Then she gripped his sword handles and tried shoving them back into him with Force-enhanced strength. Unwilling to die here, like this, he pushed back for all he was worth, driving his blades back into her.
She vanished the moment they touched her and he cut deeply into the wall. Behind him, he could hear the now closed cube clatter to the ground.
Gravid’s voice seemed to emanate from everywhere and nowhere. “Well that was probably the sloppiest Trial of Insight ever, but technically you did defeat Darth Phobos, so I’ll give you a pass on it. Get a move on to the next room boy.”
Ahsoka flinched back as the illusory jungle and music vanished into a glaringly bright, white space, stark and sterile.
“Oh dear. Apologies. I need to run some maintenance on the holoroom.”
Fugitoid’s voice echoed over the loud speaker and Mikey rubbed his head sheepishly. “No worries Professor.”
Reality came crashing back into her with almost physical force, staggering her as she processed what had just happened. What was she doing? What had she been thinking? She hadn’t been thinking. That was the point. She hadn’t wanted to think anymore.
She looked over at the friendly turtle, grinning towards Fugitoid in the observation window and was violently struck by the memory of her master’s fall with her and Mikey super-imposed over Anakin and Padme. Was this how it started?
Love could be brave and selfless. There’d been a handful of people in her past whom she would have risked her life for without hesitation. But recent events had taught her it could be selfish and self-destructive as well.
Mikey had been a good friend to her, one she’d desperately needed. In a few short days, he’d managed to work his way deeper into her defenses than she would have thought possible, helping her find the strength to face everything. And she’d repaid that generosity and kindness by using him to escape herself. Selfish.
He turned away from Fugitoid, smiling broadly at her.
No. She refused it happen. “Mikey…about what just happened. I think that maybe we should…”
His smile slipped some, but he kept it up somehow, the expression a mask now. “…pretend that in never happened? Uh, yeah. Totally. I get it.”
She flinched internally. If she hadn’t been able to sense the thread of hurt and self-recrimination radiating off him, she might have believed his nonchalant act. This was her fault. She’d done this. After all the complications with Lux Bentatori when she’d been young and naïve, she was well aware the trouble romantic feelings brought. She knew better and she’d screwed up anyway.
He cleared his throat and hopped to his feet. “I, um, better check on Donnie. He can get so lost in his projects that he forgets to eat, you know. Catch you later.”
Before she could reach out and catch him, before she could apologize for the mess she’d created, he was gone.
Frustrated she punched the floor. Enough of this. Ever since she’d awoken she’d been reeling like a helpless victim from one blow after another. No more.
She was Ahsoka Tano. She’d been trained as a Jedi. She’d faced down deadly political intrigues and betrayal. She’d forged her own path and undermined an empire. Warriors like her were not victims and as of now she was done playing at one. The past was done, but the future was not yet set.
With a deep cleansing breath, she let go of her old hurts and the life she’d known. There was only the future now and she would make the best of it. Fueled by new determination, she climbed to her feet and headed towards the bridge. It was time to familiarize herself the galaxy as it was and determine how she fit into it. It was time to retake control of her life.
Mikey shuffled into Don’s makeshift lab. Despite what he’d said, he hadn’t actually needed to come here, but it wasn’t in his nature to be alone, even when he thought he wanted it. So he approached his brother, working feverishly at his desk, with the offering of a slice of pizza on a plate. Technically it had been a whole pie when he’d started out, but he’d stress eaten a little, or most of it, along the way.
Don’s head snapped up and he juggled the small handheld drawing machine that was like all the paper ever all at once. It slipped through Don’s fingers and Mikey’s hand reflexively shot out to catch it before it shattered on the floor.
“Oh, hey Mikey. I’ve been running through some possible designs for robotic bodies. There are so many possibilities, especially knowing that these data chips are sentient. Do you think he’ll be anything like Metalhead?”
Mikey handed the device back to Donnie with a genuine smile. “If you’re asking if he’ll be an awesome and loyal friend, then yeah, I absolutely do. Will they have the same personalities? Probably not. I mean their different people…sort of.”
Donnie shook his head wistfully. “Right. This isn’t about getting Metalhead back.”
Mikey clapped an encouraging hand on his shell. “But I can’t wait to meet him.”
Don smiled. “Me too.”
Donnie, always to full of thoughts and ideas, abruptly remembered something else exciting, if his expression was any indication.
“Oh, check this out.”
Mikey watched as his brother picked up a clunky pipe, constructed from ship parts, white and smooth as the rest of the Professor’s fancy, tech stuff. In Donnie’s hands, it flared into a purple laser staff and Mikey had to restrain himself from flinching away from its similarity to Maul’s.
“The balance is a little different, but I’m already pretty used to it.” Mikey raised an eye ridge.
“Uh, why? You can’t have had that thing very long.”
Donnie blushed and shut it down. “Remember when I had that growth spurt and kept tripping all over myself in practice?”
Mikey couldn’t help laughing. “Remember? Aren’t you still tripping over yourself in practice, dude?”
Don huffed indignantly. “Not as badly. Anyway, I tried practicing in my room to…you know…avoid you guys. Since there really wasn’t enough space, I used a pipe about this length to simulate my staff. I thought that if I could get good enough in secret that you guys would…think better of me.”
Mikey winced as he realized what a sore point this was. “Sorry D.”
Donnie shrugged. “Not like you’ve never taken any flack. I know I really gave you a hard time about the shellacne.”
Mikey grimaced quickly suppressing the memory. Ugh. “Yeah. I guess, since we’re brothers, it’s our job to get under each other’s shells.”
Donnie laughed. “A job that you’re especially good at, Dr. Prankenstein.”
Mikey snorted. “Puh-leeze. You guys love my house calls.”
Donnie shook his head and started to go back to his work, before stopping and really looking at Mikey, making him squirm. “Are you ok?”
Whoa. He must be losing his touch. Generally, none of his brothers knew when something was wrong unless he wanted them to. His first impulse was to slap on a smile and deny everything. But the truth was he did kind of want to talk about it a little. And he had promised Donnie not to shut him out a while back.
“I may have done something stupid.”
Donnie’s eyes widened. “Tell me you didn’t put space bugs in Raph’s bed. Is that why you’re hiding here?”
Don looked around protectively at all his projects, but stopped when an oddly bitter chuckle found its way out of Mikey’s mouth.
“No. No pranks. That’s only when Raph has to blow off steam. That’s not what he needs right now. Have you ever done something, something that you knew was a mistake, but you did it anyway?”
Donnie fought to smother a laugh. “Are you really asking that? Where do I start? Going with April alone to find Dr. Rockwell. Following April after we mutated her dad. The rocket launcher bo.”
Mikey did laugh along with him as he held up his hands in surrender. “Ok, you’ve made your point.”
But Donnie did continue. “And you know that Raph tends to make poor choices when he’s mad, though not as often as he used to.”
Mikey sighed. “Yeah. Never gonna forget the Spiderbyte incident.”
Don smiled. “Even Leo.”
Mikey snorted in disbelief. “If you’re talking about his heroic dialogue when we’re facing down enemies, I’m pretty sure he still doesn’t think that’s a mistake. Somehow.”
Donnie shook his head. “Karai.”
Mikey blinked. That was right. His perfect brother had repeatedly been downright idiotic whenever Karai was involved. Like the way Donnie made a fool of himself over April or how Raph melted into silly putty every time he thought about Mona. They were all so cute.
Maybe it was just some super power that girls had to obliterate good judgement. After all, that was the root of his lapse. He knew that it was the worst possible moment for it and that he should have backed off the moment Ahsoka started leaning in towards him, but it wasn’t very often that a pretty girl wanted to kiss him and he could still feel the aching emptiness left by Renet, demanding to be filled. How someone he’d known so briefly could have left such a huge void in him, he didn’t know, but between the longing for what he’d lost and the lure of what he’d been offered, he’d completely ignored the little voice in his head that suggested it might not be such a good idea.
“I may have made a big one and I don’t know how to fix it.”
Donnie looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “Ahsoka?”
Mikey flushed and looked away from Don’s scrutiny, only to feel his brother’s arm wrap around his shoulders.
“It will be ok, whatever you’ve done.”
He blinked, looking up at Donnie in confusion. “What?”
Don smiled. “I know from experience that it’s impossible to stay mad at you for long. She’ll come around.”
Before Mikey could think to respond, Raph’s voice sounded over the speaker system. “Everyone to their bridge stations. We’re leaving.”
Ahsoka stepped out onto the bridge, surprised to find it empty. Yes, the ship could run perfectly fine off auto-pilot, but it seemed strange to her to find what was essentially the vessel’s brain so vacant.
She was on her way to one of the side consoles that contained Professor Honeycutt’s databases, when the doors opened behind her. Raph was rushing in with purpose while April staggered after him, clutching her head and that necklace she wore, seemingly in pain.
“You can sit down after you put the coordinates in.”
April wasn’t in too much pain to glare at Raph’s unforgiving tone, before gritting her teeth and maneuvering to her station.
Raph pressed a button and spoke into what could have been a speaker. “Everyone to their bridge stations. We’re leaving.”
Then he noticed Ahsoka and redirected his attention to her. “Sorry, you’re along for the ride, but you can wait in the ship if you want. That Sith bastard, Maul, isn’t your problem.”
He might as well have thrown ice water in her face. Darth Maul was alive, in the present? No, not Darth. Not anymore. But he was and always would be a monster, steeped in the Dark Side. Well, if he was alive and active, any plans he had, did not bode well for all innocent life in the galaxy.
New purpose, flooded through her, washing away the tide of uncertainty she’d been drowning in since awaking. She was here and now for a reason.
Meeting Raph’s eyes, unflinching, she responded. “No. Count me in.”
Raph stared at her unconvinced. “Seriously? This guy is not a push over. Ever since we first ran into, he’s been freaking fixated on us, and we haven’t really come out ahead against him much. No offense but wallowing in self-pity isn’t gonna do much against him and we can’t afford to babysit you.”
Ahsoka’s jaw clenched at the barb of truth in his words. Maybe she had been wrapped up in herself lately, but that was about to change.
Instead she focused on the important piece of intel Raph had let slip. Maul was fixated on his family. She already knew that Mikey was practically a Force beacon, even if he didn’t know it. And the other brother they’d mentioned…they’d wanted her to train him when she’d first awoken, which implied he had talent too. Enough that even they, without almost no knowledge of the Force had recognized it.
Now that she looked at Raph, really looked at him with all her senses, she could feel it in him too. Strong. Not as intuitive and natural as Mikey but there and powerful and at least partially in his awareness. It wouldn’t surprise her if their other brother, Donnie had it too. She hadn’t been paying attention before but it was glaringly obvious now.
Maul wanted this family of untrained, naturally gifted Force-sensitives and she would not let that stand. She remembered his avarice when he’d very nearly corrupted Ezra. Not again. Not to them. Not to Mikey. She refused to allow it.
“I’m more of a warrior than you know. I’ve fought Maul before and won. I know how he thinks and how he fights. I can counter his methods better than anyone else on this ship. If you want to win this, you’ll take me with you.”
Raph looked at her with new eyes, seeing what he hadn’t seen before. The woman she used to be. “You know him?”
She nodded. “He was a menace, one of many but formidable, that plagued the time I came from. I know him. And I believe know what he wants with you and your family. He will not get it.”
Raph’s eyes widened at that, but the determination in her voice was solid. He accepted her word with a curt tilt of his head. “Good. You’re in.”
Excellent. She’d take Maul down. Then she’d fix the harm she’d done Mikey. Things were finally getting back on track.
Leo stepped cautiously into the next room, much like the first, where a red pyramid with gold metal decorating the edges in a pattern, lay in the center. Knowing what to expect now, sort of, he waited as the object activated, twisting itself apart to summon his next opponent.
He stared in momentary disbelief at the small, greyish-blue alien before him. Its ragged clothing hung loose on its emaciated frame, almost too small to support the creature’s massive head, arching back in large cone from behind its wide, wrinkled face. Although, given the large, multi-legged exoskeleton it wore, lifting it high above the ground, meant his body didn’t actually need to support the weight of its head. The overall effect, reminding him of a long-legged spider, though he only had half the mechanical limbs necessary to make that illusion authentic.
Its milky eyes narrowed at him as it activated a blue, saber-pike. “You are not welcome here.”
The alien raised its real hand, the one not holding the pike, and piles of junk and scrap that Leo had previously failed to notice littering the floor of the room, formed into nightmarishly mismatched soldiers. They swarmed Leo, who cut them down in droves with a flurry of slashes, but they continued to reform and reassemble as fast as he could destroy them. Sooner or later he would tire and they would have him.
Letting his body respond to the barrage of attacks on reflex, he reached out desperately for help and was surprised as his mind brushed up against his father’s. The contact was brief, but long enough for Sensei to grasp his plight.
Fight your true enemy, my son.
That was right. The machines were a distraction. There was only one foe here that he needed to take down. The one hiding at the back, watching him struggle.
With a cry, he unleashed a concussive blast of Force, shattering all the droids surrounding him to pieces, for the moment. But it cleared him a path.
As the lot of them began to reform, he rushed the alien, using his intuition to nimbly dodge its four metallic limbs while freezing it long enough with his will to cut the Pike away. Whatever the creature was didn’t have the power to resist him while still controlling the horde of junkbots.
Sensing the danger, the alien turned its robots, into shrapnel projectiles.
Dividing his concentration, Leo maintained his hold on the alien while shielding himself from the first volley. Unable to keep that up, with one hand he rapidly sliced the soaring chunks of metal to nothing as he attacked the alien with the other.
Just before the encroaching mob of remaining robots closed on them, Leo buried his purple blade deep into the alien’s chest, ending the challenge as everything in the room vanished back into the pyramidal container.
Breathing hard, Leo staggered back as he shut his sabers down. That was closer than it should have been.
“Sloppy. Sloppy.” Gravid’s disembodied voice taunted. “But you did take Paratus down, so I’ll have to give you the Trial of Skill. Try for a better showing on the next one.”
Ahsoka strode cautiously along the curved hallway of the space station, occasionally glancing over at her companion, April, who was grimly fighting her way through a migraine as they went.
Back on the ship in the hanger bay, where Professor Honeycutt awaited them, she’d attempted to feel the presence of the captive woman they’d come to save, but this place obscured everything and smothered her senses. Probably Maul’s doing.
April, seemingly a power unto herself, would not have been hindered by the same means, but her headache was such that both Casey and Donnie refused to let her try, preferring to systematically search the facility. Probably a bad idea, considering her past encounters with this particular foe, but she would not have wanted to see April permanently harm herself in the effort and no one seemed to know the extent and limitations of her unusual abilities.
She and April had taken one side of the station, which appeared to be comprised mostly of sleeping quarters, while Raph and Mikey had taken the other. Casey and Donnie had gone towards the center where the Professor suspected the station’s engineering facilities would be located.
She’d expected to be paired off with Mikey on this mission, which probably would have been a mistake, given the current awkwardness between them, but Raph seemed to have noticed Mikey avoiding her and swapped his original partner, Casey, out for his brother. Which of course had left Casey and Donnie fighting over April until Raph had given April to her and stuck them together, possibly as punishment. Maybe not the best leader reasoning, but she suspected they’d both have a better chance of staying on task without being distracted by the young woman.
She reached out to press the button that would open the door to the next room, her fingertips just barely grazing the surface.
At the exact moment her senses flickered in warning, April called out. “Get back!”
April was already flipping away from the door as she spoke. Ahsoka leapt back with enhanced speed, using the force to push back and deflect the flying debris from the crude explosion. So Maul had trapped the place. They’d have to proceed with more caution. Meeting April’s eyes, she knew that the girl was thinking the same thing.
Once more she wondered at April’s abilities, so similar to the Force on the surface. But April wasn’t connected to anything. Her telepathy, telekinesis and intuition, seemed wholly self-contained within her person and were somehow still intensely formidable. How could it be possible? What was she?
As though sensing her thoughts, April managed a strained smile. “You can ask if you want to.”
Ahsoka frowned thoughtfully. “Your abilities? Do many others have powers like yours?”
April chuckled ruefully. “No. Only me. Back on our home world, aliens from a different dimension of the multiverse have been experimenting on people for millennia. I’m the culmination of their tampering, though I turned out to be much less cooperative than they had hoped.”
Ahsoka’s eyes widened in surprise. “You were intentionally created?”
April pursed her lips in distaste. “I suppose that’s one way of putting it. Although they made for…chemical purposes, I guess. I’m pretty sure that the mental powers are an unintended side effect.”
In some ways it was hard to believe that an individual as powerful as this girl could have been created by accident. But then again, it wasn’t the first time arrogance had backfired and probably would not the last.
April took a breath and looked ahead through the ruined doorway. “We’re lucky it didn’t breach hull. Come on.”
Accepting the hint that April was done explaining herself, Ahsoka followed, actively on the lookout for further traps.
Irritated at being stuck with Casey of all people, Donnie marched single-mindedly towards the center of the station where the generator powering the facility was most certainly located. Perhaps there he could find controls to remotely operate the station and properly search it without needing to endanger anyone.
Casey’s smug attitude at the assignment wasn’t really helping. The lunkhead would probably be bored if he weren’t so amused by how much he annoyed Don. Great. This was going to be fun mission. Why couldn’t Maul just leave them alone for a change? Their deadline was getting closer and they honestly didn’t have time for all these distractions.
“Look out, D!” Casey grabbed him by the back of his shell, firing off his hover skates to rocket them both back a fraction of second before the descending plasma barrier would have sliced him in half.
“Thanks.” Grateful to be alive, but resentful that Casey was the one responsible, Donnie managed to force the word out.
Casey laughed. “Well don’t overwhelm me with gratitude or anything. Where’d your ninja senses go?”
He flushed and looked away. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
Casey smirked. “Yeah, kinda got that. Sure we shouldn’t have left you on the ship with Fugi-dude?”
Gratitude lost to irritation. “And what would you do to gain access to the ship’s computer systems? Hit the terminal with a baseball bat?”
Casey grinned. “You’d be surprised by how often hitting stuff works.”
Donnie just shook his head. “I live with my brothers. Hitting stuff means another scavenging trip to find replacement parts.”
Casey turned back to the force field that had been rigged to catch them, poking it with a hockey stick, only to watch the edge of the wood disintegrate away at the touch. “So how’re we getting in?”
Donnie cursed inwardly as he realized they were on the wrong side of the barrier. “Speaking of fixing things by hitting stuff, start banging on the panels around the edge of door and let me know when you find wires of any kind.”
Casey gave him a mock salute and went to work on the left side with almost manic glee.
Shaking his head, Donnie ignited his new staff and started in the right.
Raph moved through the curving hallway faster than was probably wise with Mikey following at his heels. But it was hard to think of anything but Mona. She was so close. He could feel it, although he couldn’t pinpoint her location, as though his senses were shrouded in fog.
“Down!” Mikey flattened him a second before the automated turrets at the door started firing.
Reacting without thought, they both rolled out of the way, dodging lightning-fast laser blasts as they backed out of range. Almost halfway through the hallway back, the turrets stood down and Raph struggled to tamp down his burning fury. Anger was a dangerous ally if not controlled. He’d learned that the hard way, but with Mona so close and probably suffering, he couldn’t find his focus. He had only a desperate need to be by her side as soon as possible.
All of a sudden he could feel Leo with him, a part of him. Instinctively sensing his brother’s need, he opened up and gave Leo access to the ever-burning fire within, almost able to feel it fiercely burning through Leo’s veins.
In return, Leo’s mind was like a refreshing rush of water, washing away his panic and frustration in its flow as it cooled the edge off his anger, making it manageable once more.
Able to focus now, Raph looked carefully at the turrets, identifying their positions and range of motion, remembering the speed at which they aimed. He could do this.
Pulling out the jitte that Don had modified for him, so that the plasma blade surrounded the core spikes like a blanket and arching along the curved connection at the bottom, he noted that they were perfect for catching and disarming light sabers now, as jitte and sais were intended to be used. They were also now more than capable of searing through problematic, robotic firearms like a knife through warm butter.
Legs coiled, he launched himself, back into the hallway, his newly regained focus fueling his righteous anger into the will to win. Fast as thought, he darted between the plasma blasts until he made it close enough to fling one of his jitte into the left guardian droid, severing the turret completely from the base as weapon embedded in the door, heating the metal to the point of being molten.
Only peripherally aware of how that played out, he continued his charge, flipping forward into the air as he drew near, moving too fast for the weapon to adjust. Too far inside the gun’s range to be hit anymore, Raph came down on the turret, burying his jitte into the top of it two-handed, as he severed the machine in two, straight down the middle.
Thank you, Raph.
Leo’s voice echoed through his head and he responded in kind.
Anytime. Now get your shell over here.
He could feel his brother’s determination.
And just like that Leo was gone. But Raph didn’t feel any sense of loss. They’d be reunited soon.
Mikey jogged up, just as he was yanking his jitte out of the wall. “Nice one bro. You were moving like crazy fast and dodging those blasts like you knew exactly where they were gonna be. That was ca-ray-zee.”
He had what? It had been so natural at the time, but now that he thought about it…
“So…Leo?” Mikey waggled his eye ridges at him.
Raph eyed Mikey, wondering how the little nutball had known. Maybe it didn’t matter. Mikey had always been inexplicably intuitive in between being an utter numbskull.
Mikey grinned. “Good. Now let’s find Mona.”
Raph couldn’t have agreed more.
Leo trudged into the third room, knowing without asking that Gravid wouldn’t allow him the time he needed to meditate some of his exhaustion away. Three mortal battles, back to back suited his teacher’s style. Well, he wouldn’t give Gravid the satisfaction of his loss.
Another blue cube sat in the center of this room and he drew his weapons as he waited for it to activate. All that remained was the Trial of Courage. He couldn’t imagine what Gravid had in store for him here.
The cube opened and the man that stood before him wore an almost medieval looking red tunic and pants set that frilled up to create a tall fan around the sides and back of his neck and flowed into a long cape behind him. His tall thin head was grooved deep with vertical lines, carving out his pale flesh. Red markings smudged around his solid black eyes, contrasting against the black, three-pronged triangle that spread down his long forehead. One hand held a large, red lightsaber, while the other wore a massive metal tower shield that molded around his arm, like an extension of his body, narrowing at the bicep and spreading wide over his forearm and hand.
Leo could feel in him a rage, hatred and barely contained hunger for violence, so similar to the Shredder’s, that the sensation of it physically staggered him back.
His opponent’s dark laugh sent shivers up Leo’s shell. “You really expect to defeat me? Me? You will die screaming for mercy, you pathetic child.”
He was sore, exhausted and largely spent from his previous two battles, but experience told him not to show any kind of weakness or the battle would be over before it began.
A quick glance told him that the empty chamber held no objects or terrain that could be used to his advantage and the space was too small to give him the maneuverability to capitalize on his speed and agility. Without his brothers to back him, this came down to a contest of straight up combat skill. Starting the battle fatigued from his earlier bouts was not a good thing. The unnerving sensation of his opponent’s Shredder-like aura was another mark against his favor. But his family was counting on him.
As Leo weighed strategies, his adversary rushed him. With his flagging reserves, he tapped into the Force once more to anticipate the strike and bolster his speed, but gained no advantage from it. His opponent was clearly doing the same.
Leo caught the red blade on his blue one, but couldn’t bring his purple saber to bear in time to slice free the shield. Instead the wall of metal slammed into his side with Force enhanced strength, sending him reeling back. At least his shell had taken the worst of the blow.
But now he was on the defensive, barely keeping up with both his weapons to hold his opponent’s single sword attacks from cutting him down. Unable to abandon enough caution to chance a reckless attack and knowing that there wasn’t much left of his flagging energy, Leo began to panic, an experience worsened by the sensation of his enemy’s hate and aggression seeping into the cracks of his consciousness. Never before had Leo wished Raph’s nickname for his was absolutely true. Fearless. That’s what he needed to be.
Catching the alien’s sword between his two blades and pushing back on the shield with raw will, Leo managed to maneuver them into a momentary deadlock. It wouldn’t last, but he didn’t need much time for his last ditch effort to save himself.
Reaching out with purpose this time, he sought his brother, dependable no matter the odds. Their minds connected in a rush and his natural calm and patience washed over Raph’s frustration giving his brother the focus he craved while Raph’s bold confidence and fresh energy flooded him. With Raph’s help, he captured and controlled the wispy threads of his opponent’s rage that were bleeding over into him.
Clear-headed and a little cocky, Leo released his pressure on the alien’s sword and shield, catching his opponent with a vicious kick to the midsection as he toppled forward, unable to catch himself quickly enough from the unexpected move. With his enemy stumbling back, Leo took the initiative and rushed in.
Shrouding himself in Force-made armor, he extended his senses, seeing the fight play out in tiny micro-instants ahead of the present. Willing himself to be strong and fast beyond limit, he beat his opponent back, throwing him on the defensive. One blade slashed the shield off his arm while the other pounding against his enemy’s impossibly rapid blocks.
The alien man, with his arm newly freed of its shield, hammered down upon Leo but was deflected by his Force-protected shell. The jarring reverberation that resulted, gave Leo the opening he needed. Sweeping his free blade upward at an angle, he cut under his opponent’s outstretched arm, straight through his chest and out his neck. The warrior vanished with a howl of rage.
Thank you, Raph. He spoke mind-to-mind with his distant brother.
Anytime. Now get your shell over here. In this state he could feel the goodwill behind Raph’s gruff response.
I’m coming. Leo promised as he released his brother and sagged against the wall in relief.
“Fine. Fine. You’re brave. I’ll give you that. Even if you didn’t take down Desolous completely alone, I’ll say you passed.” Gravid’s mutter echoed all around him.
Leo smiled. “We’re all stronger together.”
Gravid laughed as he materialized in front of Leo. “Yes, I’m seeing that.”
Leo straightened and addressed his teacher. “Can I go?”
Gravid nodded. “You’re as ready as can be under the circumstances and even if you weren’t, time runs short. Go.”
Fast as wind, Leo raced from the fortress, back to his ship.
Hold on Raph. Everyone. I’m coming.