Chapter 35 - Breath of Fire
No one moved: not One, not Mikaen, and not the dragon.
Recovering from the initial shock, Mikaen whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "What happened to them not getting it working for weeks?"
"So I made a mistake. You can sue me if we live." Flashing a quick glance at Mikaen, One added, "Not that I have any money."
"You've got twenty-five shards."
"Fine, you can have my twenty-five shards when-" One rolled his eyes, saying, "This isn't helping."
"Just trying to lighten a tense situation." Mikaen kept his eyes focused on the dragon; it was still watching them.
Snapping his fingers, One said, "I've got just the thing; wait here."
The Dreamer ran forward and stopped a short distance from the dragon. Striking an impressive pose, he raised his hands and shouted, "TURBO CHEESECAKE!"
The dragon slowly walked toward him, it's growl very much like the rumble of not-too-distant thunder.
"TURBO CHEESECAKE!" One shouted again. There was a definite note of panic in his voice.
The dragon began to inhale large amounts of stream energy from the surrounding air.
"Please turbo cheesecake?" One started to edge backwards.
Swearing, Mikaen ran forward, grabbed One by the back of his uniform and hauled him away from the dragon moments before it let loose a torrent of blue energy that melted the rock beneath where the Dreamer had been standing.
"I said 'turbo cheesecake' you stupid hunk of scrap! You're supposed to shut down!" shouted One, still being pulled along by Mikaen.
The dragon crouched down, its massive wings opening until they seemed to fill the entire cavern.
Mikaen pulled One to the ground moments before the dragon shot by, its claws missing them both by mere inches. Without a backwards glance, it rushed through the tunnel, vanishing in the darkness beyond.
Mikaen and One looked at each other, their faces only a few inches apart.
"Well, that was certainly interesting." said One.
"Get off me."
One hopped up and pulled Mikaen to his feet. They ran toward the tunnel, the deep claw marks gouged into the smooth rock walls all that remained of the dragon.
Thinking through the more immediate questions, Mikaen chose, "What's turbocheesecake?"
"Huh? Oh, the shut-down code. Yeah, we set these things up to go inert in case they fell into the wrong hands. Mikaen, you aren't going to believe this, but I got a good look at the circuitry in that thing before they shooed us away and the dragon's-"
One looked slightly put out. "Yeah, the Breath of Fire. How did you know?"
Mikaen patted the symbol etched above the knight's insignia on his right arm. "I saw this symbol etched into the claw and remembered our talk about Crash. It's his symbol, right?"
"Yeah. He put it on pretty much everything he ever made."
"But how did it get stuck in the floor of a cavern on Vinta?"
One shrugged. "Dunno. Coincidence?"
"Coincidence? Are you joking?"
"Just trying to lighten a tense situation."
Mikaen couldn't resist the urge to chuckle. "All right, fair enough. C'mon!"
As they neared the mouth of the cave, a Galden soldier came running toward them.
Mikaen started to reach for Truth, but the soldier ran past them, screaming "Run for it, mates! The bloody dragon's gone wacko!"
One and Mikaen traded glances as the soldier disappeared into the depths of the cavern.
As they walked over the lip of the cave, however, they saw what had terrified the soldier so. The entire camp was in flames. The fire had already spread to the nearby trees, encircling the area in a blaze.
One poked Mikaen in the side and pointed; the dragon, a sleek black shape against the light of Everblue, dove toward the camp. With a loud rush of air, the metal beast let loose a blast of flame at a group of soldiers who were trying to escape.
Mikaen swore and started forward.
One grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. "Are you nuts? What can you possibly do to that thing?"
"I don't know!" Mikaen wrenched his shoulder free, "But maybe I can save some lives!"
"You mean the people who set that thing off in the first place?"
"They're still people!"
For a tense moment, they just stared at each other.
As another blast of fire sent another tent up in flames, Mikaen turned, saying, "I don't have time for-"
One interrupted, "You should be able to stop the fire blasts with your energist abilities. I wouldn't waste energy tossing them back; that thing's probably flame-proof. If you can, try and get the Galden soldiers into the forest; there's at least a little more cover there. Oh, and watch out for more drones; the Breath of Fire held at least twenty of the damn things."
Mikaen smiled and nodded. "And the dragon?"
"Let me worry about the dragon. You just take care of yourself so I don't break my promise to your girlfriend, okay?" One turned and headed toward the rock wall, where a door had just appeared.
"How are you going to stop a dreadnaught?" Mikaen called out as One started through the CPD.
Grinning, One said, "Can't let you in on all my secrets, can I?"
As One slammed the door shut behind him, Mikaen drew Truth and started running.
Though it was difficult to see through the haze, Mikaen made his way through the burning camp. It didn't take long to find a group of soldiers.
Sergeant Jures was carrying Rael through the haze, Jinne following not far behind.
Glancing back, Jinne shouted, "It's right behind us, sir!"
"Stay focused, Jinne!" Jures shouted back.
With a roar, the dragon dove toward them.
Rushing past the group, Mikaen held out both hands just as the dragon let out a blast of fire. It shot forward with frightening speed, yet stopped just short of him as though hitting an invisible barrier. The dragon gave out an angry shriek and flew away.
As Mikaen brought his hands down, he heard the clicks of three energy rifles behind him. Turning, he saw all three soldiers had their weapons trained on him.
"You're welcome." He said, ready to throw a bolt of lighting should they attack.
"Who are you?" demanded Sergeant Jures. "Biggs was no mage."
Mikaen pulled off his helmet, letting his white-tipped hair fall against his back. "My name's Mikaen."
To his surprise, the man lowered his rifle. Glancing at his fellow soldiers, the man said, "Easy, fellas! Don't know why he's here, but this fella just saved our lives."
Mikaen nodded briefly at them. "We should head for the tree line; it'll be harder for the dragon to track us."
Jures stared at him for a long moment before nodding. "Okay then; you lead the way."
As a group, they quickly moved toward the relative safety of the trees without sign of the dragon. Mikaen was worried; if that beast made it to Muonsol, it could raze the entire city to ash in a matter of hours. The Center would no doubt be able to fight it, but the city would likely be devastated.
The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly prickled.
"Everyone down!" He shouted, falling to the ground. The soldiers followed suite, and note a moment too soon; the dragon's claws swiped through the air as it flew over them.
"By the Creator!" Jures shouted, helping the others up, "Does that damn thing have an eye out just for us?"
As the dragon spun, preparing another blast of fire, Mikaen shouted, "I'll hold it off! Get to the trees!"
As the soldiers started running, Mikaen gritted his teeth and prepared himself for the coming blast.
Back at the Elsewhere, Two was lounging in the Matinee, his hands clenched tight around a game controller as he navigated an onscreen persona through a horde of zombies. He had been playing for several hours now in an attempt to beat the game without saving once.
"Come on, come on," He muttered feverishly, his eyes bloodshot from lack of blinking. "Just a little further … just a little bit …"
A CPD appeared on a nearby wall. When One slammed it open, Two tossed his controller into the air, shrieking like a frightened child.
One rushed by him, in too much of a hurry to pay attention to his friend's strange behavior.
Two peered out from the back of the couch as his friend and partner ran to the dreadnaught bay. "One? What the hell are you …"
Two's attention went back to the panel television, where his persona was being ripped asunder by zombies. "Son of a flat-chested lesbian!"
One closed the door behind him. As he approached the central console, Rebecca's hologram flared to life nearby.
"Could you show me the …" One stopped. Rebecca wasn't looking at him. "Er, hello, Rebecca. Having a good day?"
She acted as though he had just appeared in the workshop. "Oh, hello One. I'm doing okay, I guess. Did you need something?"
"Could you show me every satellite and space station in orbit around Vinta capable of launching a dreadnaught?"
She flickered out of existence. A moment later, a large hologram of Vinta sprung to life in her place. It was surrounded with numerous small satellites and a few space stations, some of which began to glow bright red.
One pointed at a station that was currently above Ircandesta, saying, "There! Yaevin Station! How long will it take to configure the launch bay to accommodate a dreadnaught pod?"
"The Yaevin Station already is equipped with a Launch bay for dreadnaught-type vehicles." said Rebecca, reappearing beside One.
"Really? How … never mind. It's not important right now." Shaking his head, One said, "Please prep the Final Fantasy for transfer."
The door that led to the main part of his floor opened.
"Not now, Two." One said without turning, "I'm in a bit of a rush."
"What's going on?" asked a feminine voice.
One turned to see Luck standing just inside the bay, her hands on her hips. For the first time in One's experience, Luck did not look happy.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Some nut's activated a dreadnaught on Vinta, damned if I know how it got there. I'm just making sure the playing field's even." He gave her a grin. "Don't worry. I've updated every system in the Final Fantasy at least a dozen times. The Breath of Fire's been stuck in rock for who knows how long. It'll be a piece of cake."
"Stop me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the Breath of Fire built as a strictly combat model? The Final Fantasy is a multi-purpose dreadnaught. Even with the upgrades, it's going to be a tough fight."
"She's got a point, One." Rebecca commented idly.
Rolling his eyes, One said, "You stay out of this."
Rebecca shrugged and vanished without another word.
"So the Breath of Fire may have a little more power than the Final Fantasy." One said, trying to sound as though this were a minor detail. "Big whoop. I'm an experienced dreadnaught pilot. I'll bring the Final Fantasy back without so much as a scratched plate."
He started to walk over to the Final Fantasy, but Luck caught his hand and held it fast. "I'm not worried about the Final Fantasy, One! I'm worried about you!"
"Well that's great but …" His voice fell flat as what she had just said made it through his brain. "You're worried about me?"
"You push yourself so hard." She slowly traced the rune on the back of his hand, continuing, "You run yourself ragged trying to help everyone without so much as a thought about yourself."
"As flattering as that is, you know it's not true." said One, his face growing hot, "I snuck off to Vinta to avoid to work. If Mikaen hadn't shown up, I'd probably still be asleep under my tree."
"And yet you ended up helping Mikaen find his true love and a place he can truly call home. Now you're rushing off to save him."
"Well, I can't just let him get burnt to a crisp or crushed after all the work I've put into this, can I?" One chuckled, but he wasn't able to keep his nervousness out of his voice.
"One …" Luck put her hand gently against One's cheek. "You don't have to hide from me. I need to know if there's a chance … for us."
One's heart felt like it was about to beat out of his chest. He put his hand over hers, whispering, "Luck …"
The transport pod enclosed the Final Fantasy with a loud clang, making both of them jerk away.
"I have to go." he told her reluctantly.
"I … I understand." Head bowed, she walked slowly toward the main room, where Two's shouting could still be heard through the door.
One knew he had to say something. He knew she deserved more than silence, especially after spilling her heart out to him.
"Luck!" One called out.
She turned, looking hopeful.
"Could you stay here? In the Matinee, I mean. Until I get back."
A small smile appearing on her face, she said, "Sure, One."
Turning, One saw Rebecca watching them. As he walked by, he asked, "Are we ready for transport?"
"As soon as you're in contact with the transport pod, I'll send you to the Yaevin space station."
As both he and the pod were absorbed by the glowing light of the transporter, One muttered, "Mikaen thinks his life is complicated."