Chapter 38 - Decisive Battle
A beam of light shot from the joined Headache units, piercing through the thick clouds overhead.
One stood motionless as the dragon rumbled forward. Teria grabbed his arm, but he held his position. "Wait for it!"
Moments later, the Final Fantasy erupted from the clouds, moonlight shining off the smooth metal plating as it sped toward the Breath of Fire. With a thud that rattled the floor of the forest, it landed a few dozen feet in front of One and Teria.
Wasting no time, One leapt into the air and landed on the Final Fantasy's outstretched hand. Hopping inside the cockpit, he strapped himself in and closed the blast doors.
He glanced at one of the numerous camera screens to see Teria and Tirinia slipping into the cavern, Mikaen in tow. Teria gave One a thumbs up before disappearing inside.
One nodded with satisfaction and turned his attention to the Breath of Fire just in time to see the Breath of Fire take flight. Gritting his teeth, he said, "Let's see if all those modifications I made were worth the effort. Activate Impulse Mode!"
Wires shot from each console, each connecting to part of One's gear: Headache, the tek-boots, the harness, and the visor. With a toss of his head, he moved his hair away from the final connection point; the shiny datajack just behind his right ear. A cord shot from the main control consol and jabbed into the port.
One winced; the sensation of the long metal rod sliding into his skull wasn't painful, but it was far from pleasant.
The view of the cockpit faded and was replaced instantly by a magnificent panorama of the forest. He could even see the distant city of Muonsol, the city lights glimmering in the night sky. The visor overlay was faintly visible, displaying heat signatures of the people on the forest floor and the massive form that was the Breath of Fire.
The Breath of Fire stared back at him, or rather, the Final Fantasy. The sudden appearance of another dreadnaught had taken it by surprise, even though the Breath of Fire was nearly twice the size of the Final Fantasy.
Under One's direct control, the Final Fantasy leapt above the advancing Breath of Fire and landed on the dragon's back with enough force to knock the beast flat against the forest floor.
Seizing one of the Breath of Fire's wings in each massive metal hand, the Final Fantasy pressed its feet against the small of the dragon's back and began to pull.
The dragon fought to throw off the smaller dreadnaught, twisting, turning, and knocking down massive trees as it tried to loosen the Final Fantasy's grip.
The base of the wings slowly began to tear free from the Breath of Fire, sparks flying in every direction. With a final wrench, the Final Fantasy tore the wings from the Breath of Fire's body.
With a roar, the dragon reared up on its hind legs. Having nothing to hold onto save the now disconnected wings, the Final Fantasy fell back and landed with an earth-shaking thud.
Staggering to its feet, the Final Fantasy jerked its head up in time to see the Breath of Fire rushing at it on all four legs.
"Daah!" The Final Fantasy rolled aside moments before the Breath of Fire crashed on by, reducing a dozen trees to kindling.
It occurred to One that Luck had been right; the Breath of Fire was a combat model whereas the Final Fantasy was a multi-purpose unit, designed for adaptability. Luck was always right, but unlike her sister Fate, she never gloated about it.
He found himself thinking about all the times she had been there for him. She had stayed with him day and night after he caught the flu during a particularly nasty assignment. She had cheered him up after Ukaroh left the Elsewhere. She was always willing to talk with him, even when he was being grumpy.
He had always thought she was teasing him with the flirting and the advances, but looking back, he couldn't help but feel like he was fooling himself; he had always felt something for her, from the first day she had accidentally walked onto his floor.
This is an unfortunate side effect of the Impulse system: the direct neural link tends to stimulate the mind, particularly in the areas of memory. An experienced pilot can learn to keep his mind focused, but One hadn't activated the Impulse system in over a century.
One was so preoccupied with thoughts of Luck that he didn't notice the Breath of Fire until it was almost upon him. It tackled the Final Fantasy to the ground, talons tearing across the recently replaced plating.
Feeling as though his own chest had been slashed open, One impulsively raised the Final Fantasy's foot and gave the Breath of Fire a swift kick in the midsection. His dreadnaught may have been the smaller of the two, but that didn't mean it didn't have a fair amount of power; the dragon was thrown back, reducing another group of trees into kindling.
As the Final Fantasy clutched its damaged chest, One swore at himself for losing control; yet even as he did, Luck swung back into his mind. Luck had been direct with him about her feelings. After skirting the issue for so long, wasn't it time he did the same?
"Agh!" One clenched his eyes shut and shook his head. "Focus, One!"
As the Breath of Fire rushed forward, the Final Fantasy met it with a swift blow to the head that sent a rain of scales to the forest floor. The dragon-machine retaliated with a sweep of its claws, but the Final Fantasy caught them in time.
At first, the machines seemed matched in strength. Slowly, however, the Breath of Fire began to overpower the Final Fantasy.
As its claws inched closer and closer, One suddenly remembered the prototype fusion blade he had installed back when Teach was trying to convince him to help Mikaen.
"Worth a try." One activated the system, praying to whoever was listening that the prototype would work.
The Final Fantasy's right hand transformed into the prototype's configuration. Moments later, a beam of energy shot from the Final Fantasy's right hand, narrowly missing the Breath of Fire's neck.
The Breath of Fire released the Final Fantasy and quickly backed away, its eyes staring straight at the glowing energy blade.
One rushed at the Breath of Fire, swinging his new weapon for all it was worth. Mere seconds before the prototype weapon would have sliced through the scales of the Breath of Fire, the energy blade sizzled and died.
The Final Fantasy skidded to a halt. Even the Breath of Fire, standing only a few yards away at this point, seemed a little confused at this turn of events.
One gave the hand with the weapon-arm a shake, muttering, "Stupid prototype!"
The Breath of Fire leapt forward, claws outstretched. As the Final Fantasy took a step back the energy blade burst back to life. The dragon veered away, but not far enough to keep the tip of the energy blade from tearing through its side.
With a scream of pain, the Breath of Fire spun around, swinging its heavily bladed tail. The force of the blow tore a gash across the Final Fantasy's front torso armor plates and made the humanoid machine stagger backward.
No doubt sensing an opportunity, the Breath of Fire rushed toward the Final Fantasy. One brought up his hands to shield himself from the blow, but he knew it wouldn't be enough. The Breath of Fire tackled the Final Fantasy to the ground.
One winced from the impact as the Final Fantasy hit the ground. He braced himself for the pain of the dragon's claws ripping through the Final Fantasy's armor, but it never came. Slowly, he opened his eyes a crack.
The Breath of Fire wasn't moving. The glowing red eyes had gone dark. The deadly claws were lying limp on the ground on either side of the Final Fantasy.
With a grunt, One pushed the Breath of Fire off the Final Fantasy. One's energy blade arm, still partially embedded in the Breath of Fire's power core, flickered for a few moments before dying again.
It took One a few moments to fully register what had happened, but when it did, excitement rocketed through him with the force of a thousand dreadnaught power cores.
"I won!" he shouted, inadvertently making the Final Fantasy dance a small jig. Quickly coming to his senses, he deactivated the Impulse system. The world outside the Final Fantasy vanished, leaving him once again staring at the glowing consoles of the cockpit.
Punching the hatch release button, One undid his harness and leapt out of the dreadnaught. Landing lightly on the ground, One glanced around to see Teria and Tirinia approaching, Mikaen walking unsteadily with an arm around Tirinia's shoulder.
"I told you I'd take care of it!" One said, pretending to brush the dust off his shoulders.
"Not bad, for a Dreamer." Teria's eyes suddenly widened. "One, watch out!"
Before One could ask what was wrong, Mikaen thrust his hand out at One. A lightning bolt shot from his hand and blasted the claw of the Breath of Fire mere seconds before it would have crushed One to a pulp.
His eyes wide, One slowly stood up and looked at the inactive claw a moment before turning back to Mikaen. "Uh … thanks."
Mikaen immediately collapsed.
Tirinia knelt by his side, fear in her eyes. "Mikaen! Mikaen, can you hear me?'
One knelt down beside her and checked his pulse. With a relieved sigh, he said, "He's just asleep. Poor guy's had a hard night."
"Oh, thank the Creator." Tirinia whispered fervently.
One stood and popped his stiff neck. "Tell you what: I'll send you back to Muonsol; I think we've all had enough exercise for now."
One closed his eyes and concentrated. When he opened his eyes again, they were all in Mikaen's room in Muonsol Palace.
As he hauled Mikaen's unconscious form onto the bed, Tirinia said, "Thank you, One."
One waved it off, saying, "Ah, this is nothing; I've carried heavier parts for the Final Fantasy."
"Thank you for keeping your promise … and for bringing Mikaen and me together." She gave him a small kiss on the cheek.
"Well, I'm glad I could help." One said, his face feeling unusually hot.
The door was suddenly flung open, revealing an extremely disheveled Jyle. He looked around the room; Mikaen asleep with his white wings cupped against his back, Tirinia sitting by his side, and Teria and One standing by the bed. Everyone except Jyle was dressed for battle.
"Little red hearts?" Teria asked, her eyes on the Cygros's boxer shorts.
Jyle ignored her, his eyes homing in on One almost instantly. "Narrator Number One. Why am I not surprised? Perhaps you'd like to explain why the delegation from Jai Vye and Rimstak just arrived with a small troop of Galden soldiers?"
One considered this for a moment before turning to Teria. "You know, it's late, and I think I'd better be heading back before the others start to get worried."
"Oh, no you don't!" Jyle lunged at One, but the One was already back in the forest, standing beside the Final Fantasy. He hated to ditch the Cygros, but Luck was waiting. As far as One was concerned, she had waited long enough.