Story Update: -Revised portions of Chapters 3, 6, and 7. Story Overview: An Avali biased against Humanity? A Human trying to save the universe? What happens when you make the Human steal the Avali's ship to escape the destruction of planet Earth while the Avali happens to be on the ship? A story happens. Intro Sequence 1015; Terrene Protectorate Facility on EarthRanaka: Ranaka was peeved: the last few months had not been good in his opinion. First his father, Kani, had come to Ranaka's pack with his friend, Halyo, and together they split Ranaka's pack of four in half. Kani and Halyo left Eikoli and Eitun with the Avalon Exploratory Fleet but took Ranaka and Nezami to Earth, of all places! They had been on Earth for two months now, and according to Kani and Halyo, things were about to get very interesting for Ranaka. After pestering them for days, they finally told him that they had spoken to the Grand Protector in hopes of making Ranaka the first Avali Protector! That was a week ago now and they were all sitting in an auditorium full of Protectors waiting for a graduation ceremony to begin. Obviously Kani and Halyo were attempting to make peace with the Humans, but why did Ranaka and Nezami have to take part? And why couldn't the rest of their pack come along as well? To make matters worse, Ranaka would have to speak to the Grand Protector immediately after the ceremony was over, like an interview. As of the moment however, the four Avali were seated in the back row of the auditorium and had to stand on their seats to even see over the field of heads. Ranaka looked at Nezami, who was to his left, she was watching the empty stage and listening to the chatter around them. She was wearing garbs one would expect on a diplomat, even though their pack was trained for combat instead of politics, in fact, Nezami didn't even have her weapons on her. Her plumage was arranged in a long pony-tail like fashion. Her feathers were red and she had tan colored fluff with a violet trim. To Ranaka's right sat Kani, then Halyo seated to Kani's right; they were quietly talking to each other. Kani was wearing only blue combat armor, and had his FM4 Firelance strapped to his side. He did not carry any melee weapon. His plumage was bunched up near the back of his head; he had violet feathers with dark blue fluff and a yellow trim. Halyo wore diplomat wraps like his daughter Nezami, and was also without weapons. He had plumage forming some kind of misshapen mohawk; his feathers were red and he had a trim of gold, with blue fluff. Ranaka himself wore combat armor like his father; unlike Kani's gear, Ranaka also wore a combat helmet and had colored his gear red. Also unlike his father, Ranaka only had titanium armor inserts whereas Kani was equipped with durasteel inserts. Ranaka's gun, an AR3 Blizzard, was strapped to his armor on his right side and his hammer, an SK3 Glacier, was strapped to his left. Ranaka's own plumage was violet in color and in a mohawk-like pattern down the back of his head instead of on the top. Ranaka had a light green trim across his body with light blue fluff. All four Avali were augmented to survive Earth's temperature and had augmentations that allowed them to even breathe on the planet. Ranaka huffed and crossed his arms, causing Kani to stop his conversation and look at him. “I know you don't want to be here, Ranaka, but try to understand this is for the good of all Avali. Just think of the honor you would earn if you were the first Avali Protector! New paths could be opened between our species and the Humans!” Kani exclaimed. “Father, I don't care about the paths we might have, I want to leave this planet. Have you forgotten what the Humans did to us?” Ranaka argued. “And how do you know that it was the Humans who uplifted us? How do you know that the evidence we have is not just to throw our anger onto the Humans so the real culprit could escape?” Kani questioned Ranaka steadily. Long ago, the Avali only lived on Avalon peacefully, but an unconfirmed species accidentally uplifted the Avali. They then proceeded to correct their mistake by beating down the Avali, only to fail. Technically, no one was certain who the species that brought the Avali into the stars was, but the few remaining bits of evidence pointed squarely at Humanity. Humans, of course, denied this, and the two races had an unsteady relationship with each other. Ranaka himself believed Humans to blame, even though the rest of his pack thought otherwise. That was one of the main reasons Ranaka did not want to be on Earth. “The Humans say that it was not them, but have never shown proof it was not them.” Ranaka stated defiantly. “And if they had evidence would you believe them then?” “If it was strong, yes.” Kani seemed to accept that as an end of the argument and went back to conversing with Halyo. Ranaka was becoming impatient, the ceremony was supposed to have started by now. It actually only five minutes since the ceremony was supposed to start, yet no one was on stage. “Everything will be fine Ranaka,” Nezami stated. “You will see.” “How can everything be fine? We already lost half of our pack, soon we will lose each other.” “I promise to see you as much as I can.” “Then after the ceremony, we will not see each other for at least a month.” “Ranaka, you worry too much. You need to calm down, you are too tense.” “The ceremony should have started by now.” Ranaka digressed. “Sometimes setbacks occur, we must move on.” Ranaka looked at Nezami: “Since when do you speak like that?” “Like what?” “Like-” At that moment, a Human strode onto the stage in full Protectorate gear. They held a strange object in their hand. Kani leaned over to Ranaka: “That is the Grand Protector.” The Grand Protector stopped at a pedestal at the center of the stage. From his seat, Ranaka could see a young male Human with spiky, blue hair in Protectorate clothing eagerly waiting on the steps for stage right. Some stupid young Protector graduate. The lights turned off except for a spotlight that remained on the Grand Protector; a silencing hush fell over the auditorium as they began to speak. “My fellow Protectors... Today we come together to witness the Protectorate grow. For 500 years we have stood proud here on Earth, drawing together the races of all kinds in the name of peace. Our task: to protect our fellow beings; to support, house, and educate those that seek our aid, and to foster accord between those that aspire to it.” The Grand Protector raised the object in their hands over their head: “Today, in the name of peace, we welcome our newest compatriots, and present them each with our greatest tool... “The Matter Manipulator.” As the Grand Protector spoke those words, a rumbling began that shook the whole auditorium and caused the four Avali, who still had to stand on their seats, to fall. “Huh? What was that?” The Grand Protector questioned no one in particular. Then, an even greater shaking occurred, much worse than the last. This was accompanied by the sound of breaking wood. Screams lit the air as giant tentacles exploded through the floor and walls. From their position on the floor, all four Avali were spared any damage of flying wood and bodies. Ranaka managed to return to his seat to survey the mayhem. The were two giant tentacles sprouting from the seating areas and another two were hanging through the walls behind the stage. “Wha- What the...” Said the stunned Grand Protector. Ranaka stared in shock as the Protector was lifted by another tentacle that had sprouted faster than the eye could see right underneath them. “Ranaka!” Kani yelled in his ear. “What?!” “You remember my ship?” “Yes, why?” They had taken Kani's ship to one of the Protectorate launchpads so they could arrive on time for the ceremony. “Get to it and prepare it for flight. We need to get out of here.” “What about you?” “We'll stay here and help any of the wounded. Go! On the stage, take the stairs on the left, it's a shortcut!” Kani readied his gun and fired it at the nearest tentacle. “Alright, come on Nezami!” Ranaka yelled. “No! Nezami's with us, Ranaka!” Kani argued. “But I might need backup!” “Just hurry!” Kani turned back to the tentacles. Ranaka decided not to push it and hopped into the aisle and sprinted for the stage; the Grand Protector was gone and there was a dark hole where they had been. Upon reaching the stage, Ranaka climbed up and took the stairs on the left. The stairs led down into a side room. On one wall was a row of pictures of previous Grand Protectors. Or at least, it was a row: most of the pictures had fallen and were strewn all over the place. Just past the pictures was a hallway blocked by a mound of dirt that caved in through the ceiling, though someone had already cleared a path through the mound and had opened the door on the other side. Passing through the obstacle, Ranaka took more stairs leading down and entered a room flooded with water up to his waist. He moved to the door on the other side of the room and heard an alarm going off on the other side of the door. He tried to open it but it just wouldn't work, so he checked his surrounding and saw a ladder for roof access. He went up the ladder. On the roof he saw tentacles all over the city. They were huge, as tall and thick as a skyscraper. Ranaka moved east, toward where he knew the shuttle would be and passed a dead Protector. He entered a vent and dropped back into the building, on the other side of the room with the alarm. He continued east and moved onto a bridge between building. Halfway across, the roof had also collapsed and more dirt blocked the path, but as before, someone had cleared it away. Progressing forward, he reached a cargo hold that had conveyor belts and status pods. Across the room he saw an open doorway leading onto a launchpad. The launch had Kani's ship on it. Ranaka saw something else, too: a Human was getting into the ship! Ranaka sprinted across the room and onto the launchpad; he hurried into the ship and his tail barely managed to get in as well before the door closed. “Human!” Ranaka yelled, readying his hammer, the SK3 Glacier. Most Avali prefer to deal with threats from a distance, but there was something in charging the opponent that Ranaka found satisfying. It might have been the fact that his enemies always seemed confused about how to react to a small 3-foot-tall alien swinging a hammer at them. The Human in question was definitely a Protector, and from what Ranaka could remember, it was the same male Human waiting on the stage stairs for its graduation. It also had that peculiar object, the Matter Manipulator, at its side and was wielding a giant, but also broken, broadsword. It seemed startled by Ranaka. Just then, the ship sputtered to life and began an ascent away from the launchpad. Ranaka realized that the Human was not only stealing his father's ship, but also preventing him from saving the others he had left behind. He leaped at the Human in rage, only to miss as the Human sidestepped and kicked him in the side. Ranaka was only shoved to the wall, the Human however, was clearly not expecting Ranaka's titanium armor inserts and was hopping on one foot and rubbing the other. Ranaka prepared to leap again when the ship abruptly angled upward into escape velocity. That caused both the Human and Ranaka to fall to the back of the ship, near the teleporter room. Ranaka was still fine, but the Human was clearly still in pain, though it seemed to realize that the Avali was still ready for more combat. Ranaka sighed and pulled out his gun, the AR3 Blizzard. It looked like he would have to dispatch the intruder with his gun if he wanted to return to the launchpad quickly. The Human's eyes went wide upon seeing the gun and swung his sword at Ranaka, only managing to hit the gun, but still knocking it out of Ranaka's hand and flinging it upwards, toward the cockpit only for it to slide past them into the teleporter room. Ranaka growled and swung his hammer at the intruder who barely stepped back in time and swung his broadsword at Ranaka. The sword hit Ranaka in his left side, but his titanium inserts block most of the damage. At that moment, something struck the port side of the ship, knocking both combatants to the deck. Soon after, something even larger than the last impacted the ship, flinging the two all over the ship and knocking both the Human and the Avali out. The ship carried on in its escape, the Avali S.A.I.L. had been damaged by the impacts, allowing the Human S.A.I.L. to take over. Soon after, the ship escaped the atmosphere, continuing on to an unknown planet in its quest to save those on board. Sequence Overview: The Human and Ranaka escaped Earth's destruction, but at what cost? And where are they now? Eventually they'll have to wake up, but who will first? And what will they do next? Day 1; Time 1812; Avali Ship Orbiting Tetjas Senior IIIXavier: Xavier groaned, coughed, then rolled onto his side. He'd been knocked unconscious in the impacts on the ship and was just now waking up. He stood up and saw the unconscious form of the small alien that attacked him. It seemed to be about three feet tall, with a tail about the same size. It had red armor and a red helmet, and Xavier knew from experience that the armor was strong. He'd kicked it and was lucky if he didn't break any toes. Then again, he was lucky he didn't break his neck when the ship was hit by something. The small alien also had violet feathers on its arms, like wings, and also had violet on its back, but lower down on the body it had light blue fluff instead. It seemed to also have light green lines across its body in various spots, like accents. Xavier looked himself over: his Protectorate uniform was fine, if ruffled; he had managed to find a torn strip of flag and was using that as a cape. He didn't seem to be hurt seriously. “SA.I.L?” Xavier asked hopefully. “System is down, please reboot,” S.A.I.L. responded from a console on the wall. Xavier walked over to the wall console: “Uh, what now?” “Please reboot the system.” “Right... Hmm...” Xavier looked at the assortment of buttons and decided to press one randomly. “Rebooting,” S.A.I.L. responded. “I am S.A.I.L, your Ship-based Artificial Intelligence Lattice. I manage the maintenance of your ship.” “I know, we've spoken before-” “I am also programmed to offer you information and advice. Earth was attacked by an unknown force, and was subsequently annihilated.” “Oh,” Xavier muttered. “Well what should-” “The ship's navigation systems were damaged in our escape. Our location is currently unknown. It also appears that this ship is of Avali design; I have taken the liberty of converting the air recyclers to oxygen so that you do not suffocate.” “Thanks, is that alien an 'Avali'?” Xavier asked, pointing at the still form. “Yes, it appears that this was its ship before you commandeered it.” “Me?! You told me to get in the ship so I could escape!” “I am programmed to offer advice, any and all consequences received due to advice taken is solely placed on the user.” “Thanks for that.” “You're welcome.” “So what now?” “We are currently in orbit around an unknown world. The ship is heavily damaged and we are unable to leave orbit. I suggest you beam down to the planet's surface using the teleporter, and search for supplies and perhaps a means of repairing the ship.” S.A.I.L. advised. “I'll do that.” Xavier looked at the Avali, it was still unconscious, but when it woke up it might be hostile. Maybe he should kill it now? No, he'd leave it. If it woke up it would need to come down to the planet as well. Xavier picked up his broadsword, still broken, and his Matter Manipulator. He then checked the ship's locker. Inside was a flashlight, which he took, and ten torches, he took five of those. There were also four sealed cans, but the labels were in a foreign language, probably Avali. “Those cans contain food fit for an Avali. I suggest not eating their contents.” S.A.I.L. provided. Xavier closed the locker and strode to the teleporter, beaming down to the surface of the planet below. Day 1; Time 1934; Avali Ship Orbiting Tetjas Senior IIIRanaka: Ranaka was sore. He must have been thrown about quite a bit during the impacts. He slowly picked himself up from the deck. The ship lights were on, which was good. “I see you have awakened from your unconscious state,” an unknown voice said. Ranaka whirled around, expecting to see the intruder Human, but was surprised not to see anyone at all. “Who said that?” Ranaka questioned. “I am S.A.I.L, a Ship-based Artificial Intelligence Lattice. I manage the maintenance of this ship,” the voice responded. “You sound different than how I remember.” “I am not the original S.A.I.L. that came with this ship, the original S.A.I.L. was damaged by an impact against the ship and I replaced it.” “Great... Well, where are we?” “The ship's navigation systems are damaged and we are orbiting an unknown planet. I suggest beaming down to the planet's surface and searching for supplies, be aware however: the planet below is abundant in oxygen, and your survival rate will drop significantly if you beam down without the proper equipment. I suggest using an Environmental Protection Pack.” “An EPP? I don't need one. My augments will do.” Ranaka replied. He wandered over to the ship's locker and opened it. Inside were five torches and four cans of food. “I fear that you will have to stretch your meals out as long as possible if you want to survive as long as possible: you appear to have limited amounts of food on the ship and life forms on the planet below indicate they are an incompatible food source.” S.A.I.L. provided. Ranaka sighed, taking two torches and all four cans. He closed the locker and looked for his weapons. His hammer, the SK3 Glacier, was near the door to the cockpit. He wandered over and picked it up, only to find, to his dismay, it was broken. It must have snapped in half during the escape. On impulse, he checked his armor inserts: all were destroyed. Maybe not beyond repair, but definitely useless. He search for his AR3 Blizzard. The gun was hidden behind the teleporter and at first glance it seemed find, but further examination showed that it wouldn't shoot. “Great, somehow, all of my gear, my titanium gear, is now useless.” Ranaka stuffed the broken weapons and armor inserts into the ship's locker and beamed down to the surface of the planet. It was evening, and Ranaka was surrounded by a field of grass, broken by a few areas where trees and bushes sprouted. To the west was a large hole in the ground, leading to a cave that Ranaka couldn't quite see into. To the far west and ranging down to the south east were mountains. To the direct east was a hilly region, and the plains continued in every other direction. In Ranaka's immediate surroundings, there was an Inventor's Table a few feet south, with a Foraging Table to its left and a wooden chest to its right, there was a spinning wheel to the right of the chest. To his north was a primitive furnace with an anvil set up to its right. At the center of the camp, there was a campfire with a log placed near it for sitting. Out of curiosity, Ranaka moved to the chest and examined its contents: six copper bars and three iron bars. Ranaka did the math: he would need thirteen iron bars to both replace his titanium armor inserts with iron inserts and make an SK1 Glacier out of iron. He would also need the spinning wheel to make fabric that would also be used to make the armor inserts. The copper bars were useless to Ranaka. Or maybe not... If he could make a basic copper pickaxe, he might be able to mine some iron ore. He would prefer to make an Avali pickaxe, but that would take a lot of iron that he didn't even have available. He walked over to the anvil with the six copper bars and looked around for something that would make a good handle. He settled on a large stick and started to craft a copper pickaxe. When he was finished he stood staring at the final product. It looked terrible. Ranaka sighed, he had no idea on how to properly make a pickaxe. Fortunately, what he had made would suffice. He left the camp and walked over to the hole in the ground to the west. Hopping inside, he searched for iron ore. Day 1; Time 1937; Avian Village on Tetjas Senior IIIXavier: Meanwhile, some distance east of the camp, Xavier had discovered an Avian village. He had been spending most of his time here fulfilling odd jobs and earning money and buying supplies. Now however, he had just hired Chitlan, an Avian janitor who was willing to work on the ship. After Chitlan beamed up to the ship, Xavier decided it was time to head back to camp and start resting for the night. And so he traveled back west. Almost ten minutes later, he was back in the camp. He laid out all of his gear and started preparing his dinner. Ranaka: Ranaka was done mining for ore. He counted all the iron and decided it was enough to replace his armor inserts and hammer. He would have to wait to replace his gun, though. He climbed out of the cave and walked towards the camp. He halted several feet from the perimeter upon seeing the Human cooking over the fire, the Human had his back to Ranaka. All Ranaka had was his pick, but he could make it work as a weapon. He started to creep towards the unsuspecting Human. Xavier: Xavier was cooking some meat and pearlpeas to eat and thinking about the day's events when S.A.I.L. interrupted his thoughts. “I believe the alien intends to kill you,” it said to Xavier. “Uh, what's that supposed to mean?” Xavier asked. “I mean that I think the Avali sneaking up behind you with a copper pickaxe is planning on killing you,” S.A.I.L. informed him. It took a second for Xavier to realize what S.A.I.L. had said but then he looked over his shoulder and saw the Avali from before standing several feet behind him with a pickaxe. “Woah!” Xavier exclaimed, he quickly stood up and turned to face the alien. He grabbed his sword, which had been resting against the log beside him. “S.A.I.L. why didn't you warn me?!” “I did. I said that I believed its intent is to kill you,” S.A.I.L. responded. “Be more specific next time!” Xavier exclaimed. He stared at the alien, it hadn't moved since Xavier noticed it. It still wore the same red armor from before, but it seemed to be dented from whatever impacted the ship. The only reason Xavier survived his first encounter was because they were both knocked unconscious before. There was nothing to help him now. “What's it doing?” Xavier whispered to S.A.I.L. “I believe it is planning to kill you,” S.A.I.L. repeated. “I know that! I mean, what's it doing right now?” Xavier asked, he was becoming exasperated. “Planning,” S.A.I.L. repeated, Xavier sighed. The alien abruptly lunged at Xavier, its pick raised high over its head. Xavier stepped back, almost into the fire, as it leaped onto the log and swung its pick down at Xavier's head. Xavier blocked the swing with his sword and they remained locked in that position. “Hey, we can talk about this!” Xavier pleaded to the alien. “Because of you, I failed my mission!” It yelled at him. “I'm a failure for being unable to finish my mission and I'm a failure for being unable to defend my father's ship! The least I can do now is to kill the Human who stole it and ruined everything!” “If we stayed on Earth we would have died!” Xavier defended himself, though hearing it from the small alien made Xavier feel guilty. “I'm sorry we left your father, but if we didn't leave we'd never be able to make things right by finding out what happened to Earth!” “I don't care about Earth! All I want is to see you dead!” The alien cried as it raised its pick again and swung down much harder than before. As before, Xavier blocked it. “S.A.I.L. how do I beat him?” Xavier questioned. “The Avali confirmed to me that all of its gear was damaged and unusable. That would explain why it is attacking you with a pickaxe instead of its hammer or gun. Its armor was also damaged so it does not have a strong defense anymore,” S.A.I.L. responded. “That armor doesn't look damaged!” Xavier said while eyeing the red armor. “Avali armor functions differently than other species' armor. In order to function properly, you need to insert special units called 'armor inserts.' This Avali was equipped with titanium inserts but is now vulnerable due to the inserts being damaged and removed,” S.A.I.L. informed Xavier. “You'd better be right!” Xavier exclaimed and kicked the alien in the chest, knocking it backwards off of the log. Unlike before, his foot didn't hurt from kicking the little thing, S.A.I.L. must have been right about its armor. Before Xavier could even get some rest, the Avali popped back onto the log and swung at Xavier again, this time horizontally. Xavier barely managed to blocked the pick with his sword. Xavier's sword met with the pick where the copper and wood met, the earlier damage to the pick caused it to break apart, leaving the Avali defenseless. “Now calm down,” Xavier said, thinking the alien unable to fight. “Let's just talk about this.” But the Avali had other plans. It leaped directly at Xavier and shoved him into the fire. Xavier's momentum pushed him right through to the other side, his pants were still alight, however. He fell to the ground and tried to beat out the flames. Ranaka: Ranaka stood on the other side of the fire and stared at the Human through the flames. The Human was a male. He was tanned and had spiky, blue hair. It was dark now, and the only real light came from the fire between them. Ranaka decided that burning the Human was good enough. “Excuse me,” said a voice Ranaka recognized as the Human S.A.I.L. “I recall that you have a limited amount of food and that your ship is damaged. Without the Human there is no way that you can successfully repair your ship before your supplies run out. If you spare the Human, together you can repair the ship faster than alone. Possibly even before your food is depleted.” Ranaka thought it over. Even if he only ate a can a day, he would still only have four days. Definitely not enough time to repair the ship alone. Ranaka sighed, he would have to spare the Human. For now. “Alright, I won't kill the Human. But if he gets in my way again I won't hesitate to end him,” Ranaka warned. “Thank you,” S.A.I.L. responded. Across the fire, the Human was just finishing with the burning clothing. Ranaka glared at him through the flames. He would have to kill the Human after he wasn't needed anymore. Oliver: Oliver and his two thugs sat outside the camp watching the whole battle go down. Now seemed like the perfect time to ambush them. The Avali's feathers and fluff would make a hefty price. The Human would make a decent slave. He motioned his goons in. Xavier: Xavier stood up. His pants were singed, but he was alive, and the Avali seemed to have decided not to kill him. Things were looking up again. And then they both noticed three bandits coming in from the north, all were armed with scary looking swords. “Kill the alien, enslave the Human, you boys know the drill!” Said the lead bandit as they closed in on the duo. And then a sharp copper pickaxe head impaled itself in the leader's eye socket. Xavier and the two remaining bandits stared at the now collapsed body in surprise before turning to look at the Avali. He had taking his pickaxe's broken head and thrown it at the bandit leader, killing him instantly. The Avali looked at Xavier. “Well? You can fight can't you? Help me!” He yelled and charged one of the bandits, both of which were just coming out of their stupor. Xavier raised his sword and attacked the other bandit. The bandit facing off against Xavier was good with his sword. He had Xavier blocking and parrying but left Xavier unable to go on the offensive. Then a small rock hit the bandit's head and distracted him. The Avali facing the other bandit had taken time out of his own fight to assist Xavier. Xavier wasted no time and lanced the bandit through the chest with his sword. After freeing his blade from the dead bandit, Xavier turned to help the Avali in time to see him punch the bandit in the nuts. He then stole the bandits sword and drove it up its former owner's head. The Avali let the bandit fall and just left the sword in his head. “Aren't you going to take a weapon?” Xavier asked him. “I prefer a hammer. And besides, even if I wanted a sword, I wouldn't take weapons that belong to these wretches,” he replied and kicked the bandit he just stabbed. “Help me clean up the mess,” he continued and started to drag the bodies away from the camp. Day 1; Time 2003; Xavier's Camp on Tetjas Senior IIIXavier: After Xavier and Ranaka had finished removing the bodies from the campsite, they returned and were seated at the fire. During this time, they had finally exchanged names and Xavier learned that it was S.A.I.L. who convinced Ranaka not to kill him. Now they were discussing the terms of their alliance. “Okay, I won't kill you if you help repair my ship and you don't steal it again afterwards,” Ranaka stated. “Alright, I'll help repair you ship and I won't steal it again,” Xavier agreed. The two sat in silence. They were seated at opposite ends of the log, probably because Ranaka didn't seem to like Xavier at all. In fact, to Xavier it seemed that allowing him to live wasn't actually Ranaka's own choice. “I think I should tell you that I also recruited an Avian to the crew,” Xavier said. “YOU WHAT?!” Ranaka yelled and stood up. “Relax! We'll need all the help we can get!” Xavier said, he was starting to dislike when Ranaka directed his anger at him. Ranaka visibly calmed himself. “Fine, what's his job?” “He's a janitor!” “A janitor? You hired a janitor?! Why?” “To clean the ship, of course.” “You know what? Whatever,” Ranaka said and sat back down. That was when Xavier noticed his food was done cooking. He took the meat off of the spittle and set it on a makeshift plate. He glanced at Ranaka, who was staring at a can he had just taken out of his pack. Xavier recognized the can as one from the ship. It didn't seem fair to Xavier that he was about to eat a full meal while Ranaka was stuck with a single can of food. So he decided he would offer to cook something up for Ranaka. “Hey, you can have this and I'll just make more for myself,” Xavier offered his plate of food to Ranaka, who just looked at Xavier and his food suspiciously. “Come on, just try it.” “No,” Ranaka said bluntly. “Why not?” Xavier asked. “The Avali cannot eat the same things that Humans eat, Xavier. Your food would probably just poison him,” S.A.I.L. informed him. “He does, however, have four cans full of food that he can eat.” “Just four cans?” Xavier asked. Ranaka looked at his can again. He looked sad and it was making Xavier even guiltier for having this meal. “There has to be something on this planet he can eat.” “No. I have done a partial scan of the planet. I have detected nothing edible to him yet. The full scan will be complete in the morning,” S.A.I.L. answered. Well now Xavier knew why Ranaka had changed his mind about killing him. He was slowly going to starve to death unless Xavier helped finish repairing the ship fast enough. “How long do you have?” Xavier asked. “If I stretch out to a can a day, then I have four days,” Ranaka responded. He sighed and took off his red helmet and put it beside him. He opened the can and started to eat quickly. Xavier turned to his food and ate as he thought about how he could save Ranaka from slowly starving to death. Day 1; Time 2017; Xavier's Camp on Tetjas Senior IIIXavier: After they had both finished eating, they lay in their respective beddings as the fire died. They were a few feet from each other as they stared up at the stars. “So... Why were you on Earth if you hate Humans so much?” Xavier carefully asked Ranaka. Ranaka was quiet for a moment before responding. “I was to be the first Avali Protector. We were supposed to speak to the Grand Protector after the ceremony, but... well... you know what happened next. My father told me to get his ship ready so we could evacuate the wounded. I had to leave the others behind to get to the ship.” “There were other Avali?” Xavier asked. “Yes. When we grow up, we are put into packs. My pack was split from four to two when we left for Earth. It was just me, Nezami, my father, and one of his own pack members. All of which are probably dead now,” Ranaka stated. “Do you think we're the only ones who escaped Earth?” Xavier asked him. “I don't know.” “Well, I'm basically a full Protector now. I could teach-” Xavier tried to say. “Just stop, Human. I don't care,” Ranaka stated and turned on his side, away from Xavier. “This Human has a name, you know!” Xavier said. “Don't care.” Xavier gave up and stared at the stars again. Why did Ranaka hate Humans so much? Is being a Protector really that bad? Xavier eventually fell asleep amid all the thoughts running in his mind. Day 2; Time 0640; Xavier's Camp on Tetjas Senior IIIXavier: Xavier awoke to the sound of metal being worked on. He stood and stretched and spotted Ranaka at the anvil making something. Walking over, he saw Ranaka was making a new hammer and armor inserts out of iron ore. “Already working?” Xavier unnecessarily asked. “Yes. Your S.A.I.L. has something to say,” Ranaka replied. “What's up S.A.I.L?” “My scans indicate there is some kind of archaic energy source on this planet. I estimate a 32% chance that it is worth investigating, and a 98% chance that you have nothing better to do.” “Fair enough,” Xavier admitted. “I'm not going,” Ranaka said bluntly. “Why not?” Xavier asked him. “I have to fix my ship.” “Come on, who knows, maybe it'll help fix the ship?” Xavier said. “I doubt that.” “At least help me investigate it!” Xavier pleaded. “Fine, but it'd better be useful. We should make better gear first, though,” Ranaka said. “Alright.” While Ranaka finished making his hammer and iron inserts, Xavier made himself breakfast. When they were done, Ranaka waited while Xavier made some iron armor and fitted them underneath his Protectorate uniform. “Ready? Which way S.A.I.L?” Xavier asked. “Head west. The signal is not far from your camp,” S.A.I.L. responded. Twelve minutes later they were standing at the base of a very large arch. The arch was made of some form of brick. There was a raised platform at the center of the arch with a terminal attached to it. Ranaka walked onto the platform and investigated the terminal. “Hey, careful! We don't know what it does!” Xavier cautioned him. “Calm down, it has no power,” Ranaka said. Xavier walked onto the platform with him. “My scans are picking up an unknown radio signal around this archaic energy source,” S.A.I.L. stated. “I will patch it through to you now.” “If you've picked up this message, you must have found an Ancient Gateway,” said the voice of an unknown woman. “Please use it to come and find me. You can power up the Gate with Core Fragments.” “I have scanned for nearby Core Fragments. They appear naturally within the geology of this planet; readings suggest numerous ore clusters deep below the ground, near the planet's center,” S.A.I.L. informed them. “Great, more things unrelated to repairing my ship,” Ranaka groaned. “Well, maybe this woman can help us. You never know,” Xavier said. “Exactly you never know. I assume you're going down to get the fragments?” “Well yeah. Whoever that person was, surely they can help us? What do you say?” Xavier asked Ranaka. “Fine. Let's go.” “Hmm... Maybe if we head down that cave we can get to the fragments,” Xavier said, pointing to a nearby cave. Together they proceeded into the cave. Day 2; Time 0713; Caves of Tetjas Senior IIIRanaka: They were only in the caves for about an hour when Xavier's Matter Manipulator broke open the wall of a tunnel to reveal that they were just above a huge cavern. The cavern had huge plateaus that seemed to be emitting some sort of light, maybe from luminous mushrooms? They were too far away to see. “Hey, there's a ledge we can follow to the bottom over here,” Xavier pointed out the ledge. It followed the edge of the cavern all the way to the bottom. Or at least that's what it looked like, there was no way to tell for sure except to follow the ledge and find out. As they were walking along the ledge, with Xavier taking the lead, they were passing over a nearby plateau when the ground underneath Ranaka gave way and he plummeted into the depths of the cavern. “RANAKA!” Xavier yelled while watching helplessly as Ranaka fell. Thankfully when Ranaka was falling he was able to use his wings to guide himself to the plateau and prevent himself from breaking anything. “Hold on! I'll find a way down!” Xavier called to him. Ranaka looked at his surroundings and was surprised by what he saw. The plateau had miniature houses all over the place. Each house only came up to Ranaka chest, which was saying something since Ranaka was only about three feet tall. It also explained where the light was coming from. There were tiny lampposts all over the place. Ranaka looked at the other plateaus; there were so many that Ranaka couldn't count them all, but each had a light source on it. “Who built all these houses?” Ranaka wondered aloud. He was started to hear a thudding sound, like heavy footprints. It was coming from the other side of a boulder that was on his plateau. Around the corner came a giant robot that stopped when it noticed him. It had a spherical body with two blue eyes and two legs. It didn't have any arms. Upon noticing Ranaka its eyes turned from blue to red and it charged him. Ranaka dodged out of its way, where he accidentally landed on a house and knocked over a second building. The robot slammed into a rock wall. “What is that thing?” Ranaka asked no one in particular. “My database indicates that it is called a Bobot. No one knows who built them, but it is known that they are hostile and attack by charging their opponent,” S.A.I.L. responded. “Yeah, I got that much,” Ranaka muttered and drew his hammer. Time to test his new SK1 Glacier. It was made of iron, unlike his SK3 Glacier, so it wouldn't be as powerful, but it should still work. The Bobot turned towards Ranaka and charged again. Ranaka dodged a second time, crushing another building. The Bobot itself crashed into half a dozen of the little things. Ranaka dashed up to the Bobot and slammed his hammer into its back twice before it turned back to him. He retreated a few steps and waited for it to charge again. When it did he prepared himself, but instead of dodging again, he did an uppercut with his hammer. He timed the attack perfectly and his hammer connected with the bottom of the Bobot's body, launching it into the air, up and over Ranaka where it landed on the ground. Ranaka hopped onto it and slammed down hard with his hammer. The Bobot started to zap electricity and Ranaka leaped off just in time because it exploded shortly afterward. Xavier came dashing up to Ranaka. “Are you okay?” He asked Ranaka. “I'm fine.” “So, what's with all the tiny houses?” “I don't know. Let's just get going,” Ranaka said. Xavier lead the way back to the ledge and they continued downwards. Day 2; Time 1307; Core Layer of Tetjas Senior IIIXavier: Several hours later, the duo made their way into the core layer of the planet. “Man, it's pretty hot here. What do you think?” Xavier asked, he was starting to sweat quite a bit. He turned to Ranaka, who was now leaning against the wall and panting badly. “Are you okay?” “I'm fine... Just hurry up... So we can get out of here...” Ranaka said, still suffering from the heat far worse than Xavier was. Xavier continued on alone to collect some Core Fragments. Half an hour later, the duo left the core layer, much to the relief of Ranaka, with the Core Fragments. On their way down to the core layer, they had passed through the cell caves. Luckily they weren't attacked by anything on their way down. On their way up, however, they were just about to leave the cell caves when they heard sounds coming from behind them. They turned to see a dozen monsters chasing them down. “Those are Crutters,” S.A.I.L. informed them. “I'll fight them,” Ranaka said, readying his hammer. “But we could just run,” Xavier told him. “No! I'm fighting! You can flee if you want, Human,” Ranaka said. The Crutters were closing in on them. Xavier look at the Crutters, then at the path up to the surface. “I should inform you that Crutters attack from a distance by launching venom at their targets. Their venom is deadly even in small doses,” S.A.I.L. informed them. “I suggest leaving.” “I can't just leave!” Xavier exclaimed. “Just go, Human.” Xavier thought hard and quickly decided to help Ranaka in the fight. He drew his sword as the first Crutter launched venom at them. Ranaka lunged forward, followed by Xavier. Together, they made short work of the Crutters. In fact, neither of them had been harmed in the battle at all. “Nice job, Ranaka. Glad to see your swinging a hammer at something other than me for once!” Xavier joked. “Don't try to hide it, Human. I know why you stayed to help,” Ranaka said. “What?” “You know you can't get out alive without me. So you stayed to help,” Ranaka accused. “I can get out of here on my own just fine! I stayed to help because we're a team!” “For now,” Ranaka grumbled and continued onward. Day 2; Time 1702; Mini Village Layer of Tetjas Senior IIIRanaka: The duo were passing through the mini village cavern again with Ranaka in the lead this time when something shot a laser at the ledge in front of them, knocking them both off the ledge and onto the plateau below. Xavier hit the ground hard but was mainly unharmed; Ranaka managed to land gently again. “You're making me wish I had wings. What did that?” Xavier asked. “I have no idea,” Ranaka admitted. They had landed in the middle of another tiny village. Off to one end of the plateau they heard a thumping sound coming towards them. “What's that?” Xavier asked. “Another Bobot?” Ranaka suggested. The thumping was getting steadily louder. “Bobot?” Xavier asked. “I do not think so. Bobots don't shoot lasers,” S.A.I.L. informed Ranaka. The thumping was very close now. “Can someone tell me what a Bobot is?” Xavier pleaded. “You'll see,” Ranaka said, readying his hammer. From around a boulder near the edge of the village came a Bobot, though this one was slightly different from the one Ranaka faced earlier. Namely, its size. It was twice as big as the Bobot Ranaka had faced. Another difference was that this one had arms. Its left arm ended in four claw-like finger; its right arm ended in what appeared to be a cannon. It didn't seem happy to see them. “Is that a Bobot?” Xavier asked, looking up at the tower. “No, that's something else,” Ranaka said. Now he felt even smaller than normal. “My databases have no information on this adversary,” S.A.I.L. admitted. Suddenly, the robot itself spoke to them in a deep, robotic voice. “I am the Mega Bobot. I was created to defend the gnomes against intruders such as yourself. It is unlikely that you would have information on me since I was built just recently to defeat you if you returned to this cavern.” “So, wait a minute. One, you know English? Two, these houses belong to gnomes? And three, what do you mean you were just built?” Xavier asked the Mega Bobot. “The buildings in this cavern house the gnomes. The gnome translators managed to judge your language based on the conversation you had in the cavern previously. I was built after you passed through the cavern the first time,” the Mega Bobot informed them. “So you mean to say that the people that live in these tiny houses built you in just a few hours and that they decoded the entire English language just from one small conversation?” Xavier asked. “Yes and not all of the language,” the Mega Bobot explained. “I don't suppose you'll just let us go?” Ranaka asked. “I was created to terminate you if you returned. Not doing so would mean a failure of my mission,” it said. “Yeah, I know the feeling,” Ranaka whispered and readied his hammer. Xavier got the idea and drew his sword. “Prepare to be exterminated,” the Mega Bobot ordered and took a step forward, its clawed hand started to spin extremely fast and the cannon hand seemed to light up, as if it were warming up. Ranaka dashed at its right leg and slammed into it at full speed with his hammer. Xavier tried to do the same with his sword but the claw hand stopped him from getting close. Ranaka gave two swift slams into the underbelly of the Mega Bobot before falling back to Xavier. “I can't get a good hit in!” Xavier exclaimed. “I can,” Ranaka said. “I believe it is about to fire!” S.A.I.L. warned them. Sure enough the cannon arm launched a laser at them, though they both dodged. The cannon continued to track Ranaka and fired at him again. He wasn't expecting a second laser so soon, however, and he failed to dodge and was hit by the laser. He was knocked back several feet and failed to stand up again. Xavier: “Ranaka!” Xavier called out to him. He received no response and continued to lay prone. Xavier turned back to the Mega Bobot. It lanced its clawed arm at Xavier's face but he managed to block with his sword and he was able to lock the claws from turning. The Mega Bobot refused to pull its arm back from Xavier's face so he had no choice but to keep his sword in its spot where it was blocking the arm from advancing on him. “It's preparing to fire again!” S.A.I.L. warned him. Xavier looked left and saw the cannon arm come over and aim at his head. It started to light up again in preparation to fire at his face. He couldn't move because if he did the claws would get him, but if he stayed the cannon would. Maybe Ranaka was right in saying that he wouldn't be able to get back to the surface on his own? Just before the cannon fired, a hammer slammed into the forearm of the cannon arm and forced it to aim at the ground just as it fired. The laser caused an explosion of dirt and rock that flung Xavier away from the Mega Bobot. He stood up and grabbed his sword. Next to him, Ranaka was standing up again, hammer in his hands. He looked pissed off. There also seemed to be more violet on him than usual. Xavier realized it was Avali blood. The blood wasn't pouring out of him, in fact, it seemed to be almost dry already. Either Avali blood dries quickly or the laser basically cooked the blood dry. Xavier looked back at the Mega Bobot and saw that its cannon arm was damaged. It was hanging limp at the elbow joint. “I think you broke it!” Xavier said. “Not yet I haven't!” Ranaka yelled as he charged the cannon hand again, this time swinging at the shoulder joint horizontally so that it would be crushed into the main body. The hit was successful and the cannon arm became disconnected and fell out of the socket. Xavier saw the claw hand start spinning at high speeds again as it flung itself towards Ranaka. “Look out!” Xavier yelled, he lunged forward and drove the point of his broadsword through the forearm of the claw arms and continued forward until his sword point, now completely through the arm, drove into the main body of the Mega Bobot and pinning the claw arm against the body. The claws were still revolving at record speed but they were also cutting a hole into the Mega Bobot's body. Ranaka ran to the other side of the robot and destroyed the claw arm's shoulder socket with his hammer, disabling it and causing the claws to stop spinning. “Get away!” Ranaka yelled and Xavier dodged out of the way as Ranaka took his place and slammed Xavier's broadsword even further into the Mega Bobot. The Mega Bobot started to spasm and release electrical shocks. Ranaka dove for cover just as the Mega Bobot exploded into many metal shards. Xavier's sword was still intact but was flung several feet away. After retrieving it, Xavier went to Ranaka's side. “Are you okay?” He asked Ranaka. “I'm fine,” Ranaka replied. “You don't look fine. You look pretty beat up,” Xavier admitted. “It's nothing, the laser missed me, but not entirely,” Ranaka stated. “At least let me bandage you.” Ranaka said nothing for several moments. “Alright, but no funny business. And let's get out of this cavern first.” So Xavier led Ranaka back to the ledge and helped him across both gaps until they were finally back in the caves just below the surface. “Do you even have any bandages?” Ranaka asked him. “Of course I do,” Xavier said. Ranaka took off his helmet and his combat armor. Xavier realized what he just made Ranaka do and turned away in embarrassment. “What's the matter?” Ranaka asked him. “Uh... Nothing, it's just... Can you do it yourself?” Xavier asked him. “Yes... Are you okay?” “I'm fine. Here,” Xavier reached into his pack and pulled the bandages out. Without turning around he handed them to Ranaka. Several moments later Ranaka was bandaged and dressed again. “Are you sure you're fine?” Ranaka asked him again. “Yeah, I'm good. Let's go,” Xavier said while already moving onwards. Day 2; Time 1740; Ancient Gateway on Tetjas Senior IIIXavier: The duo was now standing near the terminal of the Ancient Gateway. “Finally, that took forever!” Xavier said. “Actually, your adventure didn't even take a day,” S.A.I.L. informed Xavier. “Actually, it was a figure of speech,” Xavier informed S.A.I.L. “Let's just get this over with,” Ranaka sighed in exasperation. They both walked onto the raised platform and Xavier stood in front of the terminal. He placed the Core Fragments into the terminal's power compartment and the whole thing lit up. “You appear to have successfully activated the Gate,” S.A.I.L. said. “And it appears another message is coming through.” “Please come,” said the woman's voice from earlier. “I urgently require help: the universe depends on it. Use this Ancient Gateway and meet me in the Ark ruins, just past the Outpost.” “Why does it sound like she needs us more than we need her?” Ranaka asked. “Maybe because she does?” Xavier answered. “If she does then I doubt she can help with my ship.” “The message mentioned an Outpost,” S.A.I.L. reminded them. “Even if the woman can't help you, maybe someone at the Outpost can.” “Fine, I'll tag along for just a little longer,” Ranaka sighed. “Right,” Xavier said before turning to the terminal and warping them both to the only location on the database: the Outpost. Day 2; Time 1747; Ancient Gateway near the OutpostXavier: The warp took a few minutes to get them to their destination. The landed on a similar platform from the one they left, it was also underneath a similar Ancient Gateway. Their immediate surroundings were the same as what they had left, but their distant surroundings had changed drastically. Instead of a lush green planet, they seemed to be on a large meteor of some sort. In place of the evening sky they had left there were just plenty of stars. There didn't seem to be any specific sun. To the north, west, and south the meteor steeply curved down, making east the only viable direction to go in. To the east the was a large building with a smaller building in front of it. “That must be the Outpost,” Xavier said, pointing at the large building. “You think?” Ranaka said sarcastically. Together they walked to the smaller building in front of the larger one. It was a convenience store named Infinity Express. There didn't seem to be much traffic going in or out but there was a dog playing by itself just outside; it paid them no mind. Xavier turned to the larger building and proceeded to enter. “I'm not going with you anymore,” Ranaka suddenly said. Xavier stopped and turned back to him. “Why not?” “Because we don't need each other anymore. You can do whatever but I need to repair my ship,” Ranaka stated. “Well, are you sure?” Xavier asked him. “Yes.” “If this is what you wish, Ranaka,” S.A.I.L. interrupted. “Then I will disconnect myself from your ship. I must remind you that there is still a crew member on board.” “I'll deal with him later,” Ranaka said. “Are you sure you don't want to come along?” Xavier pleaded. Ranaka just stood still and stared at him with a determined look on his face. “Okay, well... If I see anyone who can help repair ships I'll tell them to be on the lookout for you.” Ranaka: Ranaka watched Xavier turn back to the Outpost and walk inside alone. Ranaka made his way inside of the Infinity Express and asked around to see if there was any food he could eat; there was nothing. He left the store and stared at the Outpost. Sighing, he walked inside. Maybe there would be some food or at the least a way to fix his ship. Day 2; Time 1752; Ark Ruins near the OutpostXavier: Xavier stood at the bottom of the steps leading to what appeared to be the Ark ruins. He had walked through the Outpost without taking too long of a look. He had mostly just glanced over things as he hurried to the ruins. The only person he had spoken to on the way out of the Outpost was a person named Penguin Pete, and the only reason he had done so was because Pete looked like he worked on ships. Upon confirming this with Pete, Xavier told him to be on the lookout for Ranaka. Continuing on, Xavier walked farther away from the Outpost and up some stairs that were made from some form of brick. As he walked up the stairs he passed some ancient-looking lights; at the top of the stairs there was a teleporter and a strange blue light seemed to be emanating from the ground. Xavier moved on, across the platform and down a long set of stairs. At the bottom he passed some sort of hologram of a faceless figure holding up some planets and a moon. This intrigued Xavier but he passed it by. Traveling up more stairs he passed a second hologram. It appeared to be of some form of spherical creature with a giant eye. It possessed many tentacles and was destroying planets in the hologram. Xavier paused at this hologram and recalled the tentacles that had destroyed Earth. Shuddering, he looked behind the hologram and saw a pair of giant stone legs. Looking up revealed a giant figure. It looked like the figure from the first hologram was fighting a stone version of the creature from the second hologram. Xavier pressed on up what seemed to be the last flight of stairs. At the top he saw a giant, stone door of some sort. The frame closely resembled an Ancient Gateway. He noticed that the stone frame had faces of seven species on it, with a place for an eighth that had broken off. The center of the stone door had an emblem resembling a star coming over the horizon with six small holes surrounding the star. At the base of the structure there was a woman in a floating chair watching him. Xavier walked over to her. “Hello dear!” The woman said. It was definitely the woman sending out messages through the Ancient Gateways. “Judging from your outfit, you must be a Protector,” she continued while gesturing to the Protectorate uniform he was wearing. “Do you have a Matter Manipulator?” “Yes,” Xavier answered and showed her his Manipulator. “Excellent, so you are a Protector and not an impostor. Sorry, but you can never be too careful nowadays,” she apologized. “I'm sorry to say, perhaps the last, after the... the terrible destruction of Earth...” “Aren't there more Protectors who weren't on Earth?” Xavier asked. “I hope so. Until then, you are all we have. It's sadly inevitable that we should meet now... My name is Esther Bright, retired Grand Protector,” the woman said. “I left some years ago, an impossible decision; but my research could not be neglected.” “What was your research?” “I, along with my partners, discovered things long forgotten that weigh heavily on the present. Long ago, there was a force known as the Cultivator, it maintained balance in the universe. Under its influence, harmony reigned. So it was for aeons,” Esther told Xavier. “But this tranquility proved finite. A being arose, one of hate and destruction. It was the Ruin. The Ruin could not abide life in any form, and reaped destruction upon the universe. It fought to blot out all life, and would have succeeded, but for the sacrifice of the Cultivator. The Cultivator rose against the Ruin, and succeeded in sealing it away. “But in doing so, the Cultivator exhausted its power completely. Before its last energies dissipated, the Cultivator gifted six chosen races with precious artifacts. These six artifacts, when united, form the key that opens the gate to the Ruin. The defenses are crumbling. We must unite the artifacts, reach the Ruin, and truly destroy it. “This is a lot to take in dear, and a huge request to make of you... But I would like your help. The artifacts are scattered across the stars, my partner was on Earth when it was destroyed and I haven't received word from him since then. I can't find the artifacts alone. We must find them and eradicate the Ruin, before other planets go the way of Earth,” Esther finished. “Of course I'll help, what kind of Protector would I be if I just sat around doing nothing to stop this?” Xavier asked. “Thank you for joining me dear. With your help I know we can triumph,” Esther said. “First things first dear, you need a ship in good working order. Who knows how far you'll have to travel.” “Alright, do you know where I can get one?” “You don't already have one?” Esther asked, clearly she expected him to have one. “Well... no. I know someone who does have one though. We escaped Earth together; we split up once we got to the Outpost because he didn't really want to work with me anymore, so I don't know if he's still here. His ship was damaged though, so he couldn't have gotten far,” Xavier told Esther. “Well, the first thing on our agenda is to find him and convince him to help us. If you find him but can't convince him yourself try to bring him to me, maybe I'll have better luck,” Esther said. “Alright, but knowing him he probably won't care about our problems.” Day 2; Time 1750; Beakeasy below the OutpostRanaka: Ranaka was beneath the Outpost. After Ranaka checked for food at the Infinity Express he had entered the Outpost. He searched the whole inside of the Outpost but was unable to find food or any way to fix his ship. Eventually he traveled to the lower section of the Outpost and after wandering around he came across the Beakeasy. Aside from the penguin bartender, Ranaka was the only one there. He sat on one of the stools as the bartender just watched him. He had been offered drinks multiple times, even just plain water, but Ranaka turned down all of it. He told the barkeep that unless there was liquid ammonia around that he could drink, he wouldn't be having anything. Such was the life of the Avali, every other species drink water, the Avali drink ammonia. So he was sitting on the stool, thinking about how he was separated from his pack. Avali that are isolated from their pack tend to suffer from something called 'pack-loss,' which is a form of insanity that occurs because of the strong relationship within the pack being broken. “Rough day?” The barkeep asked him. “You don't even know,” Ranaka groaned and dumped his head on the counter. “I might have something to take your mind off of things. I might even have something in the back for you if you can do it,” the bartender offered. Ranaka lifted his head and stared at the penguin. “I'm listening.” “Well, if you look around you'll find that this place is missing something. There aren't any customers. It's not that this place is too out-of-the-way, it's because all of my regulars are on the run from Dreadwing and his band of crooks. Can you go and defeat Dreadwing for me? I can send ya right to him.” Ranaka thought for a second. Up to that point he was too busy to be affected by pack-loss. Now that he wasn't doing anything there was nothing to distract him from suffering just as any Avali would. If he wanted to survive this situation and get back to the Avali Exploratory Fleet he would need his sanity. He decided he would face this Dreadwing fellow in order to distract himself from his impending pack-loss. “Alright, I'll do it,” Ranaka agreed. “Great! I'll send you there now,” the barkeep promised and pulled out a data pad. After several seconds of waiting for the penguin to finish, Ranaka felt the familiar tingling of a warp. Day 2; Time 1754; Dreadwing's Base on an Unknown PlanetRanaka: When the warp completed itself, Ranaka was left on some unknown frozen planet. It was cold, just the way he liked it. Dawn was just coming around, there weren't any clouds in sight, and snow and ice were everywhere. “Ya there? Head east, Dreadwing's base isn't too far. Watch out, though. He'll know you warped there,” the barkeep said through Ranaka's communicator. “What is it with everything being east?” Ranaka whispered to himself. He drew his hammer and walked east. After walking only several steps, he stopped and listened to his surroundings. Ahead of him there was movement. There seemed to be three creatures moving to intercept him. Ranaka had no idea what they were, Avali eyesight wasn't the best. Ranaka considered hiding and awaiting their arrival, but decided against it. His red armor would stand out against the white snow. The next best option? To go and meet them himself. He sprinted towards the sounds. Ahead of him, three small, blurry shapes revealed themselves to be penguins in what appeared to be combat armor, though really, armor was a bit overkill for just a helmet per penguin. Each also carried a gun. They seemed to be assault rifles of some sort, though Ranaka was unsure of alien weaponry. Upon seeing him sprinting at them, they became startled. Clearly they didn't expect him to come to them. They quickly recovered and aimed their weapons at Ranaka, though it was already too late for them, Ranaka was already directly in front of them. Using his speed and momentum, he placed his hammer ahead of him and slammed it into the lead penguin. The momentum allowed Ranaka to use the penguin as a slide to get behind the other two, who were startled again, though they quickly recovered for a second time. Ranaka checked the penguin he slammed into to make sure it was out of the fight, then he turned back to the other penguins. The one on his left aimed his gun at Ranaka again, so Ranaka kicked snow into its face and eyes. Ranaka leaped at the other penguin and smashed its face in with his hammer. He took its gun and aimed at the third penguin; it had just gotten the snow out of its eyes and had just enough time to register Ranaka aiming the gun at it before the battle was ended with the pull of a trigger. Ranaka left the gun at the battle site and continued on with just his hammer. Ahead of him, there was another sound. It was a rumbling noise, like an engine. Ranaka sprinted towards the source and heard a distant boom followed by a whistling sound streaming towards him. He side-stepped but didn't break his pace and the whistling passed him. He heard an explosion behind him along with the sudden cessation of the whistle noise. So something ahead was launching missiles at him. Ahead he saw a green blur shift into a tank. There was a penguin piloting it as its cannon turned to aim at him. Ranaka sped up and heard a click sound coming from the turret. He jumped into the air just as the cannon fired another missile into the ground where he had been. The penguin in the tank looked up in time to see Ranaka land hammer first onto his face. Before Ranaka could press on, he heard a heavy humming sound coming from the east. It was moving towards him, but it wasn't at ground level, it was somewhere above him. Looking up, he could see a blur of dark gray floating against the blue backdrop of the sky. It appeared to be a flying saucer of some sort. From the bottom most part of the saucer, a blue warp beam shot straight down. When it touched the ground it revealed a miniature penguin with another gun. Ranaka looked at the tank he was still standing on. He dragged out the dead penguin pilot and aimed the cannon at the little penguin. Once it was in the sight line he fired a missile at it, ending its life. He aimed up at the flying saucer which was now starting to shoot at him. He moved the tank back, but was only able to save the turret, the treads were destroyed by the pellets from the saucer. He carefully aimed the cannon and fired. His missile hit the saucer and caused it to wobble, though it regained balance quickly. He took another shot at it and managed to open a hole in the bottom part of the saucer. Next, it flew down to ground level and tried to ram him and his tank, but Ranaka leaped onto the top part of the saucer as it crashed into his tank. At the center of the saucer was a cockpit containing a penguin. Upon seeing him on the saucer it pulled out a handgun and aimed at Ranaka. He swung sideways at the cockpit and broke the glass; the penguin, probably Dreadwing, fired its gun at Ranaka but the bullets glanced off his armor. Ranaka swung his hammer again and dislocated the penguin's neck. Without anyone to fly it, the saucer crashed into the ground. Ranaka managed to hang on while it slammed into the ground and he escaped harm easily. When it was done, he teleported back to the Outpost. Day 2; Time 1756; The OutpostXavier: Xavier had already returned to the Outpost and had done his best to find Ranaka but everyone who spoke of seeing him had said that he had just walked by them, never talking. It wasn't until someone suggested that he might be below the Outpost that Xavier decided to search there. Xavier walked until he came to a bar called Beakeasy. There wasn't anyone inside except for the bartender, a penguin. “Have you seen a small alien come through here?” Xavier asked the barkeep. “Yeah, I sent him after Dreadwing,” the bartender replied. “Dreadwing?” “Yeah, he runs a pirate gang.” “You sent Ranaka after a gang leader alone?!” “Hey, I offered, he accepted. He knew what he was getting into.” “Send me after him.” “Why should I?” “Because we're partners.” “He never mentioned you.” “Fine, we were partners but not anymore. But I need his help so can you take me to him?” “Alright, I'll send ya to Dreadwing's base,” the barkeep allowed, pulling out a data pad. A short time later and Xavier was warped to a frozen planet. It was cold and Xavier wasn't wearing anything that would effectively keep him warm. “Dreadwing's base is east of your position,” the penguin said through Xavier's communicator. “He'll probably know you're there.” Ranaka: Back at the Outpost, Ranaka warped to the 2-Stop Teleshop. He had just beaten Dreadwing and made his way to the Beakeasy. Once arriving, he noticed a change immediately. There were several penguin mercenaries relaxing now, compared to earlier when it was just the lonely bartender. “Hey! You did it! Thanks,” the bartender said upon seeing Ranaka. “Now that Dreadwing is gone, business can return to normal. I expect you'll want your pay?” Ranaka walked over as the bartender lifted a heavy crate onto the bar. “What's inside?” Ranaka asked. “Food.” “Then it's probably useless to me. I can't eat the same food as you.” “I know. This is Avali food,” the barkeep said. “Turns out I had some in the back. I can get some supplies loaded onto your ship and talk to my contact about getting you more food.” “How about the Avali Exploratory Fleet's location?” “I don't know. I can check and see.” “Alright thanks.” “Hey, we little guys have to look out for each other, ya know?” The barkeep said. “That reminds me, a Human came in looking for you. Said he needed your help.” “Did he have spiky, blue hair?” “Yeah.” “I know him,” Ranaka admitted and sighed. “Where is he?” “He wanted to help you beat Dreadwing, so he insisted I send him after you.” “Well, maybe he'll come back because I'm not going back after him.” Xavier: Xavier had just warped to the 2-Stop Teleshop. He had seen the dead penguins and the demolished saucer. He didn't find Ranaka's body so he assumed that Ranaka must have also returned. Now it was just a matter of finding him, and if Xavier had anywhere to guess, Ranaka would have returned to Beakeasy for payment. Xavier jogged through the Outpost, traveled down the access chute, and continued to Beakeasy. Inside, he saw several penguin mercenaries lounging about. Several eyed him suspiciously but otherwise paid him no mind. Ranaka was seated at the bar and was eating some food. “Ranaka!” Xavier called to him and walked over. “What do you want?” Ranaka said, not even looking at him. The barkeep carefully cleaned a glass mug. “I need your help,” Xavier said. “Why should I help you? You've already ruined my life once, why should I take the chance that you'll ruin it again?” “Okay, admittedly, stealing your ship was a dick move, but we would have died if I didn't. I just found out that whatever destroyed Earth is on the verge of escaping its prison. If we don't stop it then the whole universe will be destroyed,” Xavier explained. “Oh yeah? Well if it's still locked up, how did it rip open Earth? And why Earth? Why not somewhere else?” “I don't know, maybe because it knew the Protectors would try to defeat it.” “Well, you're a Protector. Good luck with that,” Ranaka said and turned back to his food. “Look, I'm not entirely sure who Dreadwing is, but if you took him down single-handed then you'll be a powerful teammate against the Ruin.” “The Ruin?” “The thing that destroyed Earth. Look, at least come and hear Esther's explanation, she knows what's going on,” Xavier pleaded. Ranaka stared at the wall for several seconds. “Alright, I'll come and listen. But if I decide it's a waste of my time then you can look elsewhere,” Ranaka agreed. “Okay, follow me,” Xavier said and led him to Esther. Day 2; Time 1801; Ark Ruins near the OutpostRanaka: Ranaka had followed Xavier out of the back of the Outpost. Along the way they passed someone who looked like they worked in ships but Ranaka kept following Xavier. Xavier had better have something worthwhile, Ranaka was passing up the chance to have his ship fixed. Xavier led him past several holograms, one of which resembled the tentacles that obliterated Earth. The stairs led to a stone gate similar to the Ancient Gateway Xavier and Ranaka had activated with the Core Fragments. There was a woman in a floating chair waiting for them. “Ah, Ranaka. I didn't expect you to be here,” she said. Ranaka glared at Xavier. “You told her my name?” “No... Do you know her?” Xavier asked. “Ranaka probably doesn't know me,” the woman said. “But I knew his father, Kani. We were partners researching the Ruin.” “You knew my father?” Ranaka asked. “I did.” “Back when you were asking for my help,” Xavier interjected. “You mentioned your partner was on Earth when it was destroyed. That was Kani, wasn't it?” “Yes, that was Kani. He was on Earth to help Human-Avali relations,” the woman said. “He wanted me to be a Protector. Why couldn't he just do it himself?” Ranaka asked her. “I'm not sure of the specifics, but we were busy researching the Ruin. He was too busy to set aside time to training as a Protector.” “But why me? Why not Nezami? Or Eikoli or Eitun?” Ranaka asked, referring to his two other pack members. “Maybe because you were his son. Maybe because he felt you would best represent the Avali. I don't know Ranaka.” “But I hate Humans. I would be a terrible representative.” “Maybe he thought you could change. Think of it like this: if your father had no faith in your abilities then why would he choose to make you a Protector?” The woman pointed out. Ranaka sighed. “I don't know,” he said. “I don't know anymore... Whatever. What's this about the Ruin? And who are you anyway?” “Forgive me, I am Esther Bright. I was the former Grand Protector, but my research forced me to leave. Kani and I were researching the Cultivator. A powerful entity that brought peace to the universe. It maintained balance for aeons. Our research revealed to us a second entity called the Ruin. “Where the Cultivator brought balance, the Ruin brought destruction. It abhorred life in all its forms and focused on its destruction. If it weren't for the sacrifice of the Cultivator, the Ruin would have succeeded in its quest and we would not be here. “The Cultivator sealed away the Ruin, but not without cost, it used almost all of its energy to do so. Fearing that the Ruin might eventually break free of its prison, the Cultivator bestowed upon six chosen races precious artifacts that could open the Ark when united. The Ark's defenses are crumbling. We need to find the artifacts and open the Ark and destroy the Ruin once and for all. “I'm sorry for the loss of your father. He was going to help me collect the orbs, but... You know... I've already asked for Xavier's help but without a ship neither of us can do anything to collect the artifacts. I would like to ask for your assistance with collecting the artifacts, Ranaka. The fate of the universe depends on it,” Esther finished. Ranaka thought to himself for a moment. Helping them could save the universe and also allow him to destroy the thing that eliminated his father and one of his pack members, Nezami. “Alright, I'll help. But my ship is destroyed.” “Very well, return to the Outpost and talk to Penguin Pete the shipyard captain. He can fix your ship,” Esther said. Ranaka and Xavier left and walked back to the Outpost. “So... We're partners again,” Xavier said. “Just don't get in my way and we'll be fine,” Ranaka said without looking at Xavier. “Hey, why can't you at least try to be nice? All I've done is help you, there's no reason for you to be a jerk.” Ranaka stopped walking and Xavier stopped too. “First of all, you haven't just helped, you've gotten my father and a pack member of mine killed in your rush to flee. By all rights I should kill you right now.” “Then why haven't you?” “Because I respect my father's wish to not outright harm Humans except in self-defense. So if you're so ready to die, go ahead and hit me, because I can promise you the fight will be over much faster than you can expect. It'll also end with you dead, because if you attack me I won't hesitate to kill you anymore,” Ranaka threatened him. “Why do you hate Humans so much? Is it just me? Or all of Humanity?” Xavier asked him. “Maybe I hate all of you because you slaughtered my people!” Ranaka yelled. “I didn't slaughter your people!” Xavier defended himself. “Maybe not you, but Humans uplifted then began to kill my people because they thought we were a mistake that had to be corrected!” “How come I've never heard of that then?” “Because if you knew about it you'd be ashamed, as you should be. Since they don't teach you about it they think we'll be fooled by your ignorance into believing that Humanity didn't uplift the Avali!” “If we uplifted and then proceeded to kill the Avali don't you think other species would have stepped in to stop us? Or at least help you recover?” “We don't need help recovering and no one stepped in because they didn't want to be seen as helping you! So just accept it and shut up!” Ranaka yelled and left Xavier there. Xavier: “Damn it. Did Humans really do that?” Xavier asked aloud. “There isn't a lot of info in my database on this subject, but judging from the data that is available, the Avali were accidentally uplifted by an unknown species who subsequently decided to correct their mistake by eliminating the Avali species. It is unknown which species uplifted the Avali, but what little evidence there is aims the blame on Humanity,” S.A.I.L. informed Xavier. “Well... How strong is the evidence?” Xavier asked. “I don't know if the strength of the evidence is why Ranaka hates you, but just the fact that it aims at Humanity.” “Well, maybe I can convince him I'm not so bad?” “He really hates you. If you push too hard he will probably kill you.” “Yeah, I got that.” “Ranaka displays aggressive behavior atypical of most Avali. He prefers to run into combat instead of hanging back to deal with opponents from a distance. I suggest tackling him and defeating him in battle as a show of strength. Doing so might make him respect you more,” S.A.I.L. said. “But didn't he say that he'd kill me if I attacked him?” Xavier remembered. “Yes he did.” “Then why would you suggest I attack him?” “I am programmed to offer advice, any and all consequences received due to advice taken is placed solely on the user,” S.A.I.L. reminded him. “Gee, thanks. I'll keep that in mind,” Xavier sighed. “You should probably catch up with Ranaka before he leaves you behind,” S.A.I.L. advised. Xavier ran to catch up with Ranaka who was already waiting with Penguin Pete. Ranaka didn't look at Xavier. “Yeah, I can repair your ship, but I'm gonna need twenty Erchius Crystals to do it. You'd better get over to the Erchius Mining Facility. Do you have a S.A.I.L. that I can send the coordinates to?” Penguin Pete asked Ranaka. “No.” “Ranaka, I can act as the ship's S.A.I.L. again, if you'll allow me into its systems again,” S.A.I.L. told him. “Fine, but don't get comfy, eventually I'm replacing you,” Ranaka said. “Of course,” S.A.I.L. confirmed. It was silent for several seconds. “I have received the coordinates for the Erchius Mining Facility. You can teleport there by returning to the ship and using my mission interface.” Ranaka: Ranaka and Xavier returned to the 2-Stop Teleshop where they warped back to Ranaka's ship. That was when Chitlan, the Avian janitor that Xavier had hired earlier, was discovered by Ranaka. “Why is that on my ship?” Ranaka asked Xavier while pointing at Chitlan, who was standing by with a broom, though he appeared startled by Ranaka. “Ranaka, this is Chitlan. The janitor I hired, remember?” Xavier reminded him. “Fine,” Ranaka said and turned to Chitlan. “If you so much as break anything, I'm ejecting you from the ship.” “I- I understand...” Chitlan fearfully said and looked at Xavier. Apparently Xavier had failed to warn Chitlan about Ranaka. Ranaka walked passed him to the S.A.I.L. interface and Xavier followed. They passed a bedroll and a crate that probably belonged to Chitlan. “This facility is the central source of Erchius Crystals, which can be used to upgrade your ship's FTL Drive,” S.A.I.L. said. “Just get us there,” Ranaka said. “Warping you to the Erchius Mining Facility,” S.A.I.L. said as they were teleported to the new location. Day 2; Time 1811; Erchius Mining FacilityXavier: The teleport took them to a moon-like surface. There was barely any light coming from the distant sun. To their east was the door to a small building. Ranaka led the way to the facility. “Kind of small, isn't it?” Xavier asked. “It's a mining facility. It goes down,” Ranaka said in an exasperated tone. “Oh, right.” The door opened for them and they could see a red light further into the building along with a siren. They ran to the room with the light which appeared to be a control room. There was an access hatch leading down. “All life readings emanate from a great depth below the surface. The readings are... Difficult to define. Congratulations in advance for your courage,” S.A.I.L. informed them. “Great, this has 'bad' written all over it,” Xavier complained. “Just be quiet,” Ranaka said and drew his hammer. Xavier followed suit by unsheathing his broken, yet somehow still intact broadsword. Ranaka opened the access hatch and dropped down with Xavier following. The room they climbed down into was another control room. East lead to another access hatch dropping further into the facility and beyond that was a restroom. West just had a third access hatch. “Where is everybody?” Xavier asked. “Dead?” Ranaka offered him bluntly and went to the west access hatch. Together, they climbed down into a hallway; west of them were the barracks, east lead to a ramp leading down. “It appears lockdown has been instigated,” S.A.I.L. informed them. “You must locate a breaker to restore full power. Please proceed with caution in conditions of low light.” The duo walked down the ramp, weapons ready, and walked over a sealed access hatch. Above them, a sign displayed the word 'offline' in big, easy to read letters. The walked to the other side of the room and into a small room. Almost immediately they passed a ladder leading back to the surface and further on they entered another room with a locked door. “How are we supposed to get this door open?” Xavier asked. Ranaka looked up and Xavier followed his gaze. There was a loose vent panel in the ceiling that looked like it could get them passed the locked door. Xavier boosted Ranaka up into the vent and waited for him to open the door. Ranaka: Ranaka dropped from the vent on the other side of the door. He was in a dark, medium-sized room. The only light came from the other side of the room; it was a red 'offline' sign. Ranaka could hear a distant sound coming from above him, a... moaning sound? It was hard to tell, even with enhanced hearing. Ranaka walked over to the display and spotted a switch underneath it. He flipped the switch and the sign changed to 'online. Ranaka heard a thud behind him and turned to see a disfigured humanoid. Almost immediately upon seeing Ranaka it aimed its arms at him and sprayed him with some sort of goo. When the goo landed on him it burned to the touch, though it seemed to be more acidic than heat. The spray was quickly over and Ranaka lunged the the creature and slammed his hammer into its torso, knocking it onto the floor. He finished it off with another blow to the head. Ranaka raced out of the now open door back to Xavier. He had been fighting two of the creatures on his own. One was dead on the ground and Ranaka arrived in time to see the second get stabbed through the chest and killed. “Hey Ranaka, where did all these things come from?” Xavier asked him as he ran up. “No idea, but I restored power,” Ranaka told him. “I detect both Erchius chemical signatures and Human DNA in these entities,” S.A.I.L. interrupted them. “High likelihood of behavioural volatility predicted.” Xavier and Ranaka walked to the access hatch at the center of the room. It was now open and the sign that used to read 'offline' now showed 'online.' “Do you wanna go first?” Xavier asked Ranaka. “Let's just get this over with,” Ranaka said and hopped down the chute. Xavier followed close behind. Day 2; Time 1816; Erchius Mining FacilityXavier: The duo hadn't gotten very far into the mine when they encountered their very first person. They had just fought through an entire cavern of the mutants and had gotten to the back where they found a room illuminated by a red light and inhabiting a single miner. The room had another access hatch on the floor with a switch on the wall behind it. “I'll get the switch this time,” Xavier said and walked over the hatch and flipped the switch. Immediately the hatch opened and Ranaka looked to the ceiling abruptly. He dodged to the side just as another mutant fell from the ceiling. Ranaka finished it off before it could stand up. “How did you know it was going to fall?” Xavier asked him. “I heard a vent or something open above us,” Ranaka said. “I didn't hear anything.” “We Avali have enhanced hearing,” Ranaka explained. “It makes up for our eyesight.” “Ah... Well, I'll go first,” Xavier said. “Hold on a second,” the miner stopped them. “I don't know how these things got into the mine, but I do know that they came from below. So I think the further down you go the more you'll encounter.” “Alright, we'll be careful,” Xavier assured him before leading Ranaka down the chute. Day 2; Time 1827; Erchius Mining FacilityXavier: Xavier and Ranaka had made a lot of progress in only thirty minutes of being in the mines. For one they had gotten deep into the tunnel system, and for two they had saved several miners and cleared a path for them to reach the surface. They were about to drop down another large shaft, though this one had no access hatch. “Erchius readings have reached 94 rad. You are in peril,” S.A.I.L. interrupted their thoughts. “Your peril level is currently 14,607 morts.” “Uh... Is that bad?” Xavier asked. “Sorry about the AI, dears,” Esther said to them from Xavier's communicator. With that, Ranaka dropped down the hole and Xavier followed him. They landed in a metal hallway. There were two door across the room from each other and there was a switch near where the pair had landed. Xavier pulled the lever and both doors opened. Through the door to the east there was another mutant, though this one had a hammer. “Is it just me or are they getting smarter and tougher?” Xavier asked Ranaka. “Just you,” he said and lunged at the mutant as it dashed towards the duo, hammer raised and prepared to crush them. Ranaka performed an uppercut with his hammer just as the mutant slammed its own hammer down onto him. The two hammers met between them, the impact threw Ranaka's hammer onto the ground and the mutant's hammer into the air. While the mutant was stunned, Xavier rushed in over Ranaka's head and pierced the mutant in the head and killed it. Ranaka picked up his hammer and they stared at the mutant together. “Look at them: prolonged contact with the Erchius crystals seems to have denatured their very being!” Esther said to them. “The poor creatures have lost themselves completely.” “What did this to them?” Xavier asked her. “I don't know, dear,” she admitted. “I assume that if you continue to progress you may eventually find out.” “Alright then, you ready Ranaka?” “Of course I am.” Day 2; Time 1834; Erchius Mining FacilityXavier: The duo had found another group of unchanged miners and fought two more of the stronger mutants, both had hammers, before finding another shaft going straight down. There were Erchius crystals sticking out of the walls of the shaft, giving the whole thing a strange purple glow. The two were only halfway down when S.A.I.L. spoke to them again. “Erchius readings have reached 101 rads,” it informed them. “Your current peril level is 18,472 morts.” Ranaka and Xavier both ignored S.A.I.L. for different reasons: Ranaka because he simply didn't care and Xavier because he was feeling a strong sense of foreboding and was too creeped out to respond. “Hush!” Esther stopped it. “You're not helping.” At the bottom of the chute they only found a single door with a switch next to it. The door opened when Xavier pulled the switch and a very short room lay beyond it. At the other end was a security door. When it was closed it looked normal, but when open it had a shield that could only be passed through in one direction. Ranaka lead the way through the security door and they dropped into the largest chamber yet. Currently, Xavier and Ranaka were on a catwalk at the top of the chamber, across from them was a sealed door leading out of the chamber. There were platforms along the western and eastern walls to allow access from the top to the bottom of the chamber. There were two switches placed on the western platforms and two on the eastern platforms. Exposed from the northern wall was a giant Erchius crystal. It had a crack in the center that revealed a giant eye; inside the crystal there were shadows that looked like people. On the center of the floor there appeared to be a plasma cannon aimed at the crystal. Ranaka hopped down the platforms to the ground, though Xavier stayed above him at the top of the chamber. Ranaka inspected the plasma cannon and the eye inside the crystal. Abruptly, the ground started to shake, almost knocking Xavier off of the platform. The shaking stopped shortly after it began. “What was that?” Xavier called down to Ranaka who just pointed his hammer at the crystal. The crystal had caused the shaking and was now looking at Ranaka and Xavier. Abruptly, a field of energy split the crystal vertically, but instead of destroying the crystal it seemed to emanate from inside of it. The field separated the east and west halves of the chamber, with both Xavier and Ranaka on the west side. Before anything could be done, the transparent wall of energy started to spin clockwise (if you were facing north), it was revolving around the eye as the center point. “Conventional weapons have an estimated 0% chance of damaging the Erchius crystal,” S.A.I.L. informed them. “You are invited to devise another means of attack.” “Any ideas, Ranaka?” Xavier called to him while following the field to the east side of the chamber. “The plasma cannon,” Ranaka said and pointed to the device aiming at the crystal. “We'll need a way to activate it.” They both looked around the room. “How about those buttons?” Xavier asked and indicated the four buttons located around the room. “Those might work. Hit the two on your side and I'll get these two,” Ranaka told him and activated the bottom west switch. Xavier dropped down to the top east switch when it was safe and pressed the button on the platform. There had been a red light above it but it changed to blue when Xavier pressed the button. It didn't take long for all four buttons to be activated and for Xavier to reach the plasma cannon. He noticed four rectangular lights stacked vertically on the device and a button. “Ready?” Xavier called up to Ranaka. “Just do it!” Ranaka yelled at him. “Okay, sheesh,” Xavier whispered and activated the cannon. As soon as Xavier pressed the button, the four lights on the device turned of and a plasma burst launched out of the cannon and hit the crystal and caused several chunks of crystal to fly off and the energy field from the crystal disappeared. Shortly after two more energy fields appeared, also pivoting at the crystal's eye; the fields separated the room into four segments. “It didn't work!” Xavier called to Ranaka. “We'll just have to keep doing it til it does work!” Ranaka called back. Ranaka was in the top segment of the room while Xavier was at the bottom. The fields started to rotate around the eye in the same direction this as the last time. On the way up the west platforms Xavier hit the western buttons, and Ranaka pressed the eastern buttons as he went down the east platforms. This time Ranaka activated the plasma cannon while Xavier was at the top of the room. Several more shards of crystal flew off and the energy fields dissipated again. The crystal wasn't done, however. Like last time it created four energy fields that split the room into four segments; unlike last time, the fields didn't rotate in a clockwise direction, instead the top two sections of energy closed in around Xavier and the bottom two closed in around Ranaka. It didn't last long however, as they went back to normal then proceeded to close in horizontally, which allowed Xavier to reach the top two buttons and Ranaka to get the bottom two. Once all four buttons were activated Ranaka leaped to the cannon and fired it again. The plasma burst hit the crystal like the other two and first caused several more chunks of crystal to fly off, but after several seconds the entire crystal exploded and sent large shards of crystal straight into the walls. Luckily, neither Xavier nor Ranaka were hit. The crystal also released five humanoid bodies. One of which seemed to be an unfinished mutant body and appeared to be dead. The other four bodies were Humans. Three of them seemed to be injured, though the four appeared relatively unharmed. Xavier dropped down to Ranaka and they walked over to the group. “You saved us!” The miner said. “I thought we were done for when that thing captured us. You're my heroes!” “Well, you're welcome. Glad we could help,” Xavier said. “Well, I guess I'd better start fixing up the mine now,” the miner said and looked at the injured miners. “And fixing up you guys.” “Alright Ranaka, let's get going,” Xavier said. They climbed up the east side of the chamber and the sealed door from earlier opened as they walked over to it. They went through and saw a chest a few feet away and a mining drill positioned over a large deposit of Erchius crystals. The drill was currently off; Ranaka went to the drill to turn it on while Xavier examined the contents of the chest. There was a book titled 'The Erchius Horror' inside. Xavier put the book in his bag and decided he could read it later. There was also a diamond in the chest along with two tech cards. He pocketed all of it and closed the chest. He looked over and saw that Ranaka had activated the drill and was standing by. Xavier walked over to him. “Nice job in there,” Xavier complimented him. Ranaka grunted. They stood there awkwardly as they waited for the drill to mine the crystals. Xavier spotted a teleporter beyond the drill. They could probably use that to get back to the Outpost. “So how do you feel about the Ruin?” Xavier asked Ranaka. “I still haven't decided if this is a waste of my time,” he responded. “What?! The whole universe is at stake!” “You're taking the word of some person we just met who, by the way, provided no evidence to the Ruin actually being real. It could just be a translation error.” “I could say the same thing about you...” Xavier muttered under his breath so that Ranaka wouldn't hear him. But Ranaka did; the Avali's enhanced hearing heard the whole sentence as if he said it normally. It was just Ranaka's choice to stand there uncomfortably as they waited for the crystals to be mined so they could leave. Outpost Sequence Sequence Overview: The duo have escaped the planet and reached the outpost, now upon clearing out the Erchius Mining Facility they've got the chance to finally repair the ship. Now all that's left to do is wait a few days... Day 2; Time 1849; The Outpost Ranaka: “Three days?” Ranaka asked Pete. They had just returned to the Outpost and were already talking to Penguin Pete about repairing Ranaka's ship. “Yep. I know how to fix Avali ships, but I've never actually done one,” Penguin Pete said. “If you want me to do it correctly then I'll need three days to do it.” “What are we supposed to do until then?” Ranaka asked him. “I'm sure you'll think of something,” Pete said. “And another thing, your S.A.I.L. is telling me you have a crew member on your ship. He needs to get off while we're repairing it.” “Ranaka, I have already informed Chitlan and he is warping to the 2-Stop Teleshop now,” S.A.I.L. informed him. “Right, whatever,” Ranaka said. “Just hurry.” “Don't worry, I will,” Penguin Pete assured him and turned to his workers to start explaining what they were going to be doing. “We should go get Chitlan before we return to Esther,” Xavier said to Ranaka. “Fine, let's get the bird.” They walked into the Outpost and saw Chitlan standing by the 2-Stop Teleshop. When he saw them he walked over. His feathers were magenta, and his plumage pointed straight back and met at the tips. He had white fluff on his either side of his beak. He wasn't wearing janitor clothing anymore, now he was wearing a white t-shirt and brown jeans. He had a medium-sized backpack on. “Hi guys!” Chitlan greeted them. “Hey Chitlan,” Xavier said. They both looked at Ranaka but he just crossed his arms and looked away. “Right, well, we're about to go see Esther, do you want to come along?” Xavier asked him. “Sure! S.A.I.L. already told me all about the Ruin, and I'd really like to see the Ancient Gateway,” Chitlan admitted. “Let's go then,” Xavier said and lead them to Esther. Day 2; Time 1856; Ark Ruins near the OutpostRanaka: They walked up the final steps and saw Esther waiting for them. Chitlan stopped to admire the hologram of the Ruin and the Ark while Xavier and Ranaka walked over to Esther. “That was no mean feat, well done, dears,” Esther said to them. “Once your ship is in full working order we can get started on the task at hand. Until then, you should find something to keep yourselves occupied and try not to cause too much trouble. Xavier, do you remember how to use the Matter Manipulator's scan mode?” “Yes.” “Good, there is a lot to be learned from your surroundings, and the Outpost is no exception. Go and scan things around the Outpost, let me know how you get on!” Esther told him. Xavier walked back to the Outpost. “What about me?” Ranaka asked Esther. “Unfortunately, the Outpost doesn't have anywhere for you to rest, so you should set up camp somewhere nearby,” Esther advised. “But what is there to do?” “Hmm... Maybe you can find something,” Esther said. “I'm sure there are things people might need you to do for them.” “I'm not an errand boy.” “I know you aren't, but it was just a suggestion. You should find something to keep you occupied until you can get back to your pack.” Ranaka was silent. “How long do you think I have until I lose my mind?” Esther was silent for several seconds. “I'm not entirely sure,” Esther admitted. “And I don't know when we can reunite you with your pack. I suppose you shouldn't dwell on it, dear. Try to find something to do. And don't be so hard on Xavier or Chitlan. Maybe they can help fill the hole you must have until we can get you back to the fleet.” Ranaka was thoughtful again. He didn't want to spend time around Xavier any more than he had too, but he knew that eventually he would lose his mind if he didn't return to his pack. He was already suffering, in the Erchius Mining Facility when they were fighting the mutant with the hammer he had forgotten Nezami was no longer with him and had assumed she was behind him in battle. When he had lunged at it and stunned it he had expected her to finish it off, so when Xavier appeared instead of her it all came back to him. And just now before Xavier had left, he thought he had heard Eikoli telling one of his jokes about how Ranaka was the only Avali who didn't scan the environment for cover during combat. But when he had turned to look at Eikoli there was just empty space at his side. One thing was for sure, he would need more than a distraction if he was going to survive this. Ranaka turned away from Esther and started to walk back to the Outpost. “Chitlan,” he called out as he walked passed him; Chitlan was still examining the Ark in awe until Ranaka spoke to him. “Set up camp for all of us here. Then you can explore the Outpost freely.” “Alright Ranaka,” Chitlan said. Part of him was excited that he would get to explore, another was annoyed that he couldn't start immediately. But it was his job to listen to the captain, and that's what he'd do. Chitlan emptied his backpack and started to set up three small tents. Day 3; Time 0804; Beakeasy below the OutpostChitlan: Chitlan was busy underneath the Outpost. He had already explored a bit of the Outpost when he had discovered the Beakeasy. Now he was playing an arcade game called 'Mazebound64'. Technically he had already beaten six other times and he was on his seventh go, but every time you won the game gave you a ticket. Chitlan wanted to collect one hundred tickets. Chitlan wasn't the only one in the Beakeasy, there was the barkeep and there were two penguin mercenaries just hanging around. Even Ranaka was down there, he had been down there already by the time Chitlan had walked in. He had seemed lonely so Chitlan invited him to play but was ignored. Eventually, Ranaka left the Beakeasy without telling Chitlan where he was going. Chitlan didn't question this because he didn't want any trouble. Around his twentieth play through, Xavier came down into the Beakeasy carrying a bundle of something. “Hey, Chitlan, have you seen Ranaka anywhere?” Xavier asked him. “He was here but then he left. I don't know where he is now,” Chitlan admitted. “What have you go there?” “Oh, Chitlan this is Musket,” Xavier said and held out the brown bundle for Chitlan to see. “That doesn't look like a musket.” “No, it's a cat!” Xavier explained. As he spoke one end of the bundle rose to reveal a cat's head. It seemed to have just woken up. It was mostly brown, but had black fur on the outside of its ears, it had black paws, the tip of its tail was black, and it had a black tuft of fur on its chest. “Oh, hello Musket,” Chitlan said and slowly brought his hand to Musket's head. Musket sniffed his hand and licked it once. It shook its head and hopped down from Xavier's arms. “Where did you get him?” “Terramart was having an adoption. Musket is only a year and a half old,” Xavier explained. “Aren't you worried that he'll wander off?” Chitlan asked as Musket looked around the Beakeasy. “No... I hope not,” Xavier admitted. “Hmm... I wonder where Ranaka went... Here, Musket!” He said and crouched down, Musket went over to him. “Follow me Musket, let's go look for Ranaka.” Together they walked out of the Beakeasy. Chitlan went back to the game. He was still trying to get a hundred tickets, after all. Ranaka: Shortly after Ranaka had left the Beakeasy, he had noticed a door in the hallways underneath the Outpost that he hadn't noticed before. The door was very close to the ladder that led to the Beakeasy but because the only light that illuminated it was flickering constantly it was very hard to see. Ranaka walked up to the door and opened it to reveal a mechanical shop of some sort. Immediately to his left were a ladder leading up, possibly to the surface, and a circular sign of some sort of machine. Inside the room there were machines working on robotic parts to something; mainly there were two workbenches, one of which had a hologram of what appeared to be a mech suit. At the center of it all was a penguin wearing glasses. Ranaka walked over to the penguin. “Hey there, friendo! I'm Dr. Akaggy, and I deal in robots!” The penguin said. “So I have this experimental modular space mech in need of a test drive and my usual pilots are... indisposed. Could you do me a favor and fly it through my test course?” “Okay, first of all, don't call me 'friendo'. And second, what's in it for me?” Ranaka asked. “Well, I might be able to give you your own mech. How about it? Are you willing to fly the course? I built it in an abandoned freighter I stumbled upon.” “Fine, whatever,” Ranaka said. “Excellent!” Dr. Akaggy said took a data pad from off of one of the benches. They took several moments to finish whatever it was they were doing but then Ranaka was warped away to the course. The different thing about this warp was that instead of Ranaka just warping down on his own, he was inside of a small container. Specifically, he was sitting in a mech inside of a container. It was uncomfortable for his tail, since there was barely any room for it. Suddenly, the container broke away from the mech and Ranaka was tucked away from the vacuum of space only by a single glass window. There was a hud on the window that showed several different things. At the top there was a blue bar, there was nothing to indicate what it was for, so maybe it was the air supply? At the bottom left there was an image of a robotic arm with the name of 'Cannon'. On the bottom right there was another image of an arm, this one's name was 'Shield Drone'. Directly in front of Ranaka, not on the glass, were a set of controls, most likely to control the mech. In the middle of the control there was a small, blue hologram of the mech. Directly ahead of it was a small green arrow, possibly an objective marker. “You are now suspended in a zero-gravity environment,” S.A.I.L. informed him. “The mech you are piloting is designed to travel through space. I would strongly advise that you do not attempt to exit the vehicle for now.” “Right,” Ranaka said and started to play around with the controls. One lever aimed the left arm, the 'Cannon' arm, and the other aimed the 'Shield Drone' arm. Each had a button on it and when Ranaka pressed the left stick's button a bolt of plasma shot out and hit the wall of the freighter. The movement controls were at his feet and he was just barely able to reach them. Once he got familiar with how everything worked, he flew the mech through the course in the direction of the green arrow. As he flew he came to a wall with an inlet, inside of the inlet was a very obvious target. Ranaka shot the target and it blew up. “These targets can be destroyed with your mech's primary weapon,” S.A.I.L. informed him. “My probability matrix as concluded that destroying them may allow you to progress.” “Yeah I got that,” Ranaka responded. There were two more targets in the general area and once Ranaka destroyed them a door opened that allowed him to progress through the course. On the other side of the door, there was a field of energy. When Ranaka flew through it, gravity re-initiated and the mech fell to the ground. “Your mech switches to a ground-movement configuration when in an environment with gravity,” S.A.I.L. said. “I would advise you continue to proceed in your mech.” Further into the room there were two more targets. When Ranaka blasted them, an access hatch opened in the floor. Ranaka fell down the hole into another room. At the end of it was another energy field and beyond that was space again. As Ranaka walked to the field, S.A.I.L. spoke to him again. “Please be aware of your mech's energy reserves, visualized as the blue bar at the top of your hud,” S.A.I.L. informed him. Ranaka looked back at the blue bar and saw that it was only a tenth of the way empty. “Your mech's energy will deplete over time or when the mech takes damage.” When it was finished, Ranaka walked the mech back into space. It was a small chamber with nothing in it and at the end was another gravity field. The room contained by the field was small and almost immediately there was another field leading into another zero-gravity area. Ranaka went into this next chamber just as S.A.I.L. spoke up again. “Hostile entities also exist in zero-gravity environments. My cosmonautical records indicate that defeating them may result in obtaining an energy battery, which your mech can absorb.” “Great, now I have to fight,” Ranaka complained. “This thing is already hurting my tail...” Ranaka noticed two red dots on the hologram representing his radar. Those were probably enemies. The markers were faint, until he flew in their direction. Once he did so they started to get more solid. He looked out of the window and saw two blurry shapes, as they got closer his poor vision started to make them more detailed. They were two small ships, about his size and they were about to ram into him. Ranaka aimed the reticle at one of the ships and destroyed it with one bolt of energy. At the same time he propelled the mech upward and the second ship sailed passed him. He twirled the mech and took out the other ship. “Well, that was easier than I thought it'd be,” Ranaka said and proceeded to the green marker. The next part was easy, he was in a gravity section when he was attacked by two floor turrets; both were destroyed in a single hit. He moved on to find another target, when it was destroyed a door opened and revealed a smaller door that his mech couldn't fit through. The objective marker was aimed through the door. “The mech is too large to continue through this area,” S.A.I.L. informed him. “I can see that.” “There is a button above you that will allow you to exit the mech,” S.A.I.L. continued. “I advise that you proceed on foot.” “You know, I was thinking the same thing,” Ranaka said as he looked for the button. When he found and pressed it, the glass slid into the mech and allowed him to exit. He walked through the door and saw a teleporter. “You appear to have completed Dr. Akaggy's test course,” S.A.I.L. said. “I must declare that I am curious as to how such a large ship came to be abandoned, but my records present no conclusion.” “Maybe Akaggy killed everyone on it,” Ranaka said as he entered the teleporter. S.A.I.L. did not respond so Ranaka teleported back to the 2-Stop Teleshop. Day 3; Time 0818; The OutpostRanaka: Once Ranaka got back to the Outpost he made his way back to Dr. Akaggy's workshop. “You made it back! That's not surprise in my voice, it's elation!” Dr. Akaggy asserted. “Right, I think I can hear the difference between surprise and elation,” Ranaka said. “Ahem,” Akaggy coughed. “As a reward, I can give you enough spare mech parts for you to deploy your own mech for space travel! Head over to that mech assembly station to customize it,” Akaggy said and pointed to the station in the center of the room. The station had a console allowing Ranaka to customize his mech with very basic equipment. For weaponry, all he would get was a drill arm and a flak cannon arm. “Another thing,” Akaggy said. “I noticed you were uncomfortable with the mech body, so I think I can modify it for you. Instead of the Venture-00 body I can create a Venturer00A model, for Avali users. I’d create this new model because honestly I don’t have any potential bodies for an Avali to be comfortable in like I do for other species.” “And I doubt you’d ever get your hands on one,” Ranaka bluntly stated. “No offense to you, but I doubt the Illuminate out our technology.” “Yes, the Illuminate. That's your government correct?” “Yes, but it doesn't control all Avali,” Ranaka said. And turned back to the console, ending the conversation. He decided to make his mech's primary color red and the secondary color violet. “Well, back on the subject of mechs, the Venturer-00A will give your tail some room instead of squashing it and possibly breaking it. I can also moved the pedals up for ease of access.” Ranaka hoped that these changes would be good enough. Not that he ever planned to use his mech, just that if he ever had to then he'd hopefully not be crammed. Ranaka then remembered Esther telling him to start treating Xavier like a pack member. As much as he hated to admit it, he would need to do so to help prevent his eventual loss of sanity. Not that he knew if accepting Xavier as a pack member would actually help, but he really had no choice. Thus said, if someone had to use a mech, he would rather it not be him. “Akaggy,” Ranaka called out. “Yes?” “Don’t make the adjustments for me,” Ranaka says. “Keep the Human model, the mech will be for a… teammate of mine,” Ranaka had to force the word out, it was hard for him to accept help from a Human, let alone call them a teammate. “If you say so friend,” Akaggy agrees. “Don’t call me friend.” “Alright, alright.” Ranaka, satisfied with the outcome of the situation, turns away from the console. Exiting the lab he climbs back down to the Beakeasy. Chitlan: Chitlan was halfway done with his quest to get one hundred Mazebound64 tickets. The process wasn't hard, it was just repetitive. He was basically just doing the same thing over and over again. He was already sick of it but he still wanted those one hundred tickets, so he pressed on. Xavier and Musket had returned to the Beakeasy because they were unable to find Ranaka, so they just sat at the bar and waited to see if he would return. Most of the penguin mercenaries that were in the bar when Ranaka had left were still there when he finally returned almost twenty minutes later. “Hey Ranaka!” Xavier called, which caused Chitlan and several others to look over. “Why are you still playing that Chitlan?” Ranaka sighed as he saw Chitlan still playing the same game. “I'm trying to get a hundred tickets,” Chitlan responded while continuing to play. Ranaka sat down at the bar near Xavier and everyone went back to whatever it was they were doing. The barkeep glanced at Ranaka but when he didn't ask for anything he went back to cleaning. Xavier turned to Ranaka. “Hey, where were you? I was looking for you earlier.” “I was getting us equipment.” “What did you get?” “I got us mechs.” “You did?!” Xavier asked, clearly he was surprised that Ranaka had gone out of his way to help. “Don't act so surprised,” Ranaka rebuked him. “Oh, sorry... It's just that you don't seem like you'd just go and help without being asked,” Xavier apologized while at the same time insulted him. “Right, whatever,” Ranaka said and ignored the hidden insult. “Why were you looking for me?” “Oh, right,” Xavier said and held up Musket for Ranaka to see. “I adopted a cat!” “Why?” “Because we need a mascot!” Xavier exclaimed. “Isn't that what the bird janitor is for?” Ranaka asked him, and Chitlan heard and turned to them. “Hey, I heard that!” Chitlan said. “I'm sure you did,” Ranaka agreed. Chitlan decided to let it pass. “Alright, fine. We have a mascot now,” Ranaka relented. “But why did you name it Musket?” “Well, I didn't, someone else did,” Xavier admitted. “But I still think he's cool. And he's a boy, by the way, not an 'it'.” “Well, I'm happy for him. Are you gonna change his diaper, too?” “Hey, what's your problem today?” Xavier asked him and set Musket back onto the floor. Ranaka was silent for several seconds. “I'm fine,” he responded. And so the rest of the day passed without much event. Chitlan completed his goal for one hundred tickets, Xavier took Musket out for several walks, and Ranaka sat on a bar stool for most of the day. Day 4; Time 0750; Near the Ark RuinsChitlan: The area where Chitlan had set up their tents was near the Cultivator hologram. There were three tents, one for each of them. At the center of their campsite was a fire pit with an extinguished fire. Chitlan was the first to awaken out of all three of them, though Xavier and Musket awoke shortly afterwards. “Hey, Chitlan,” Xavier said to him. “When you're done eating can you take Musket for a walk?” “Sure,” Chitlan responded and watched Xavier crawl back into his tent. Musket stayed outside with Chitlan. Together they ate and when they were done Chitlan lead the way to the Outpost. Instead of going down, Chitlan decided to go up. He went up two flights of stairs. Along the way he passed several people. Some were Floran, some were Apex or Glitch. He even passed a few fellow Grounded. He took Musket to the top floor and walked out onto the balcony so they could look at the view. On the balcony was a shop named 'Ursa Miner'. It's was apparently run by a large bear and his kid. The adult was standing outside of the shop facing away from Chitlan, so he walked around him to see what he was looking at; he was trying to calm down his crying son. The bear glanced at Chitlan. “Hello, my Little Dipper lost his teddy bear,” the father said. “I just can't finish setting up shop with him like this. Can you help me get a new teddy bear for him please?” Chitlan looked at the little bear, who was watching Chitlan as he walked up. Chitlan didn't want to see the little kid cry but he had no idea how to help. Then he remembered his backpack that he left back at the campsite. He had an old teddy bear in there. He didn't want to give it up, though. Chitlan thought for a second, then decided that it was time for him to grow up. “Sure, I'll see what I can do,” Chitlan told the father. “Thank you,” he responded and turned to his son again. After walking back to the camp again, he noted that neither Xavier nor Ranaka had woken up yet. He walked to his tent, Musket trailed behind him, and he reached in and pulled out his backpack. He unzipped it and looked inside. The first thing he saw was the container full of Mazebound64 tickets. The second thing he noticed was the picture of three Avians standing together; there was a man, a woman, and their child. Chitlan was the child. He stared at the picture for a second before gently setting it back and pulling out the third and final thing in the backpack, his old teddy bear. His parents had given it to him when he was younger and it was one of only two things that he had to remember them by. The picture of them all together was the other thing. He held onto their picture and the old teddy bear to remember them, but maybe it was time to let go. No. Chitlan’s hands shook as he held the teddy bear, unable to give it away. Every time he thought about his parents it hurt, and this teddy bear was one of the last things he had of them, nothing could make him get rid of it. Chitlan quickly stuffed the plushie back into his backpack, grimacing both at the memories and the fact that he almost gave the bear away. Chitlan stood up and Musket rubbed against his leg. “C’mon Musket, we need to go find a teddy bear.” Musket meowed in response. Chitlan scooped up Musket and walked away to the Outpost. Inside, he looked around curiously, hunting for anyone who might have a teddy bear to give away. And that’s when he saw her, a young Avian woman with bright orange feathers holding a duffel bag as she looked around as she waited next to the TerraMart. Chitlan blinked and swallowed in response to seeing her, thinking that she was very pretty. Mustering up his courage, he walked up to the Avian while Musket just laid snuggly in his arms. “Um, hi,” Chitlan said after walking up to her. She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Yes?” She asked. The Avian wore a black leather jacket and a dark blue skirt. Her feathers on her body were all neatly pruned into being only an inch long each, except for her plumage, which all stuck straight back and was allowed to grow up to five inches long in stark contrast to the rest of her feathers; her right forearm didn’t even have any feathers at all because she had them trimmed apparently, and her bare skin now revealed a tattoo. “Um, sorry, I just wanted to say hi,” Chitlan admitted in embarrassment. He looked down at Musket to escape her gaze. Musket just looked up at him and mewed. The Avian looked down at Musket. “Cute,” she casually reached in and pet Musket before she withdrew her hand and looked at Chitlan. “Well I guess I have some time to talk,” she looked at the empty TerraMart vendor. “Really?” Chitlan looked at her. “I’m Chitlan.” “Zyaotl,” the strange Avian replied. “Are you waiting for TerraMart to open?” Chitlan asked, looking at the vendor. “Just waiting for that Floran to get back with my stuff.” “What stuff?” She looked at him. “Quite nosy,” she commented. “Sorry,” Chitlan crouched down and let Musket out of his arms before he stood up again. “What are you doing here?” She asked him before he could say anything else. “Well do you mean to at the Outpost or here specifically?” Chitlan asked. Zyaotl just shrugged in response. “To be honest I need a teddy bear,” Chitlan rubbed the back of his neck. “A teddy bear?” “Yeah…” “Like this?” Zyaotl just casually pulled a teddy bear out of her duffel bag. “Well… Yeah, actually,” Chitlan admits, wide-eyed as he looked at the plushie. “You have one with you?” “Don’t you?” She asks seriously. “Uh…” She shook her head and handed Chitlan the plushie. “Take it, I sure as hell don’t need it anymore.” Chitlan looked down at it. “Are you sure?” She nodded. “I just said I don’t need it.” “Well, thanks Zyaotl,” he looked back at her. “Don’t mention it, seriously.” The Floran vendor returned from the back of the shop with a few cartons of chicken eggs. “Now get out of here,” the female Avian told Chitlan. “Thanks again Zyaotl.” “Right.” Chitlan turned and walked away, leaving the strange woman to her dealing with TerraMart. He lead Musket back to the Ursa Miner and handed over the teddy bear to the kid, who brightened with joy at the stuffed animal. “Little Dipper is happy now!” The father said. “Thank you, now I can finish opening up the shop. Oh, and here,” he continued and handed over a bag to Chitlan. “It won't help me but maybe you can do something with it,” he said and turned to finish setting up his shop. Chitlan opened up the bag and pulled out a square box. It was mostly white but had a thick red stripe that traveled from the top side, down the front, and ended on the bottom. There were also two green dots on the front. Chitlan recognized it as an Upgrade Module. Ranaka could definitely use this. So Chitlan decided to walk back to camp, put it in his pack, and continue to explore with Musket, who dutifully strode beside him. Day 4; Time 0914; The OutpostXavier: Xavier had woken up an hour earlier and had eaten some food. It didn't look like Ranaka was awake yet, so when he was done he walked to the Outpost to try to find Chitlan and Musket. He still hadn't explored all of the Outpost so he decided to check out the second floor. It was then that he opened up a door to reveal a room full of holograms and computers. At the center, working on a data pad, was an Apex scientist. The scientist looked up from his data pad as Xavier walked up to him. “Hello, I've been developing technology that will enable the user to swiftly dash from one point to another,” he said. “But I'm looking for a few crucial components for my prototype. Could you help me by bringing me ten copper bars?” “Uh, sure,” Xavier said. This might be interesting. Xavier checked his inventory, he had plenty of copper bars left over from the Avian village and from digging to the core. “Here you go!” “Wonderful! With these the Dash Tech should be ready for action,” he said. “But there's only one way to be sure...” He handed Xavier a Manipulator Module and continued on. “My Dash Tech needs to be properly tested before I can go into mass-production. Would you mind putting it through its paces obstacle course?” “Sure.” The Apex looked back down at his data pad and pressed some buttons that eventually warped Xavier to a teleporter in an enclosed room. The only things in the room were the teleporter, a button on the floor, and a door near the button. “This obstacle course requires the use of the Dash Tech you have been given,” S.A.I.L. told him. “To use it, just lunge in any direction.” “Cool.” Xavier stood on the button and the door opened. He quickly dashed through just as the door was closing. The next room was longer than the last, the button was in the middle of the room and the door was at the far end. Xavier stood on the button and the next door opened; he was able to get through by dashing twice. The next room was about the size of the first, unlike the last two doors the next door seemed to slide into the wall and the button was also on the wall. As Xavier pressed the button the doors opened to reveal a second, now open, door just beyond the first; between them was a pit that Xavier probably didn't want to fall down. He quickly pressed the button again to open the doors and was barely able to dash through both of them. Ahead of him was a way to drop down into the next room and when he did so he landed on a button and a door right in front of him opened. “These doors appear to be on a very limited timer,” S.A.I.L. observed. “It is laudable that you intend to persevere through such frustrations.” “Uh, thanks?” Xavier said and dashed through the door. The next room contained some more wall doors with another button on the wall. He ran at the door ahead and slapped the button in as he ran by and used his dash to get through the doors. He had to do the same thing two more times. In the next room he had to jump up onto a ledge to continue. On the ledge he saw a floor button and two strange devices embedded into the floor between him and the next door. “Readings indicate that these are cryogenic blasters,” S.A.I.L. informed him. “They are not lethal, but any contact will significantly slow your progress.” “Alright then, now it's time to dodge stuff,” Xavier said and prepared to dodge stuff. He started his run and stepped onto the button, immediately both devices shot out a wall of ice particles that forced Xavier to stop dead in his tracks. Abruptly the first one shut off and Xavier dashed over it to the second and it also shut off; he quickly made his way to the door and passed through it. The next room was basically the same, but this time he had to hop off of a ledge and pass through another cryogenic blaster before hopping back onto a second ledge. He quickly surpassed the room and proceeded into a small room with a button on the wall and a door next to it. He pushed the button and the door opened to reveal a teleporter. He walked onto it and used it to return to the 2-Stop Teleshop. Once he returned to the Outpost he went to the Apex scientist again. “The Dash Tech appears to be functioning perfectly! Wonderful! Please, keep the tech as a token of my thanks,” he said. “I also have other prototypes that need testing, so if you're interested, bring me ten silver bars.” “Alright, I don't have any but I'll remember to come back here once I get some,” Xavier promised. “Xavier, the console in this room is configured to alter the tech abilities you have equipped,” S.A.I.L. told him. “Interacting with it will allow you to install new tech.” “Hmm, I'll check it out then,” Xavier responded as he walked over to the console in question. Activating it he saw that there were three tech slots available: head, body, and leg techs. He saw that he only had the Dash Tech for the body slot so he closed the console and left the room. He recalled that Ranaka could move at incredible speeds, lift incredible weight, and jump supremely high. Maybe Ranaka also had his own techs. Xavier remembered that he had been looking for Chitlan and exited the room. He eventually found the Avian janitor near the TerraMart, alone. “Hey Chitlan,” Xavier crouched down and pet Musket a few times before standing. Chitlan turned to Xavier. “Oh, hey Xavier. How are you doing today?” “So far so good,” Xavier admitted. “I have this new dash tech ability, it’s pretty neat.” “That sounds cool,” Chitlan said. “Might be useful in combat?” Xavier nodded. “Definitely. How have you and Musket been?” “We’ve been good,” Chitlan told him. “We gave a kid a teddy bear to cheer him up.” “That was nice of you.” “Yeah, but I didn’t get the teddy bear on my own, someone gave it to me,” Chitlan admitted. Looking around, he continued “I came back to thank her but she doesn’t seem to be around anymore.” “I wonder where she went,” Xavier also looked around but not knowing who to look for he wouldn’t be of much help. Chitlan sighed. “Oh well. I guess I’ll thank her if we meet again.” Day 4; Time 1944; Near the Ark RuinsXavier: It was nighttime and the whole crew was around the campfire. They had just finished dinner together and were all looking into the fire. Ranaka was off to Xavier left and was sitting cross-legged with his hands on his knees, his eyes were closed but his ears were pivoting slightly every once in a while. Chitlan was to Xavier's right and was sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him and he had his arms on the ground behind him so he could lean back without falling. Xavier was also sitting cross-legged with Musket laying in his lap, purring as Xavier softly pet him. The only thing missing was the sound of animals. They had been like this for some time now and all had been content to keep it like this until Chitlan suddenly spoke up. “So Xavier?” He asked. “Hmm?” “What was it like? When Earth was destroyed I mean?” He asked. “If you don't mind talking about it?” “It's fine,” Xavier assured him, Ranaka kept his eyes closed. “Well... We were at the Protectorate graduation ceremony. The Grand Protector was giving a speech and had just presented the Matter Manipulator to the audience when the Ruin struck. It was so sudden,” he paused for a moment. “I feel so bad, I was with the Grand Protector when they died. I just took the Manipulator and ran; eventually I found my way to Ranaka's ship and took off with it. He barely got on in time.” “Did you have any friends?” Chitlan asked. “Yeah, I did. I have no idea if any of them are alive,” he said, his voice growing sad. “As far as we know I'm the last Protector, though that's unlikely, I'm sure there are others who weren't on Earth.” “I guess you're right,” Chitlan agreed. “There's gotta be some out there somewhere.” “What about you Chitlan?” Xavier asked. “What's your backstory?” “Well, my parents were already Grounded when I was born, so I've been part of that for all my life,” he started. “Apparently I was born in a major Grounded settlement; but when I was six or seven I remember we were with a bunch of other Grounded and we were traveling through space to get to a newer, smaller Grounded settlement in order to help it thrive. “On the way, though, our ships were attacked by a Stargazer patrol,” Chitlan paused as he remembered the details. “They absolutely demolished our defenses and boarded our ships.” He started to choke up. “I- I remember my mom pushing me into our only escape pod as my dad and several others fought to the death against impossible odds. As far as I know I'm the only one to survive. “Eventually my pod hit a Grounded settlement. Not the one we were going to, but the one I was basically raised in. It's the one you found me in,” Chitlan paused. “I only have two things to remember my parents by. A picture of us when I was younger and a teddy bear they gave me.” He pauses again as he looks into the fire. “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I'm good,” he assured Xavier. “Sorry to make you remember all that.” “It's alright, I like to remember them. It reminds me that the Stargazers took them away from me and that they wanted me to grow up away from that kind of thing.” Chitlan seemed to be done, so Xavier turned to Ranaka. “How about you Ranaka?” Xavier asked him. Ranaka hadn't opened his eyes to look at either of them as they spoke, but his ears were aimed at both of them to listen. He was silent for several seconds as he thought about what to say; that, or he was ignoring them. Chitlan and Xavier were both watching him to see what he would do. “Avali don't necessarily raise their young,” he started, his eyes remained closed as he spoke. “We are raised in packs, usually with four Avali each. We aren't siblings, at least, not normally. But we grow up together, like a family. We form a strong, unbreakable bond together; we know each other inside out. “I was on Earth because I was to be the first Avali Protector. For any other species that would probably be a great honor, but not for an Avali,” he said quietly. “Long ago, the Avali were uplifted from Avalon by an unknown race, and were subsequently slaughtered by said race. No one truly knows who did it, but all the evidence we have blames Humanity. That's why most of us dislike Humans and it's why I don't want to be a Protector. “Before my father and one of his pack members left for Earth, they split my pack into two parts, taking Nezami and me to Earth but leaving our other pack members, Eitun and Eikoli, behind with the Avalon Exploratory Fleet. Then, at Earth, when the Ruin was destroying it I was tasked with getting my father's ship so we could evacuate survivors. I got on board in time for it to take off when Xavier hijacked it. “As I said Avali are raised in packs; we grow up closer than family, to the point where we aren't complete without the rest of our pack members. If we are separated, we slowly lose our sanity until we can either be re-integrated or just lose it completely,” he finished. “So that means you're suffering, too, right?” Xavier asked him. “Yes, I've already hallucinated hearing one of their voices,” Ranaka admitted. “It's only a matter of time until I start seeing things or having conversations with something that isn't actually there. Of course, it wouldn't be so bad if I could access the Nexus.” “The Nexus?” Chitlan asked. “Most Avali are augmented, one of the augments we receive allows us to uplink with the Nexus, which is a virtual world parallel to this one,” Ranaka explained. “If I had access I could try to contact Eikoli or Eitun at the Fleet from here. But I can't, the Nexus terminal on the ship was damaged. You can't just enter the Nexus, you need to have something the can link you up nearby. Most Avali ships and settlements have such terminals.” “I didn't see any terminals like that on the ship,” Xavier said. “It's built into the wall,” Ranaka explained. “We don't physically link to it, we just need a functioning one nearby in order to project a signal strong enough to enter the Nexus.” “Do you think Penguin Pete can fix it?” Xavier asked. “I'm surprised he even knows how to fix the ship at all. If he could fix the Nexus terminal I'd be suspicious.” “I guess that makes sense,” Xavier thought. “Yeah... I think I'm going to sleep now,” Ranaka said and got up and entered his tent. “Well, I guess we should sleep, too,” Xavier said and stood up, Musket slid off of his lap. Chitlan told him 'good night' and went to bed with Musket following. Xavier stood alone in the dim light of the campfire and looked up at the sky. Loneliness crept over him as he tried to make out which star might be the Sun but his futile effort lasted for only a few seconds before he sighed in defeat and looked down at the campfire directly. He hadn’t told the others about his life on Earth, he wasn’t directly asked. Shaking his head, the Protector turned and entered his tent to sleep for the night. Day 5; Time 1040; The OutpostXavier: Xavier and Ranaka were standing by Penguin Pete's shipyard having a conversation with him. Chitlan and Musket were somewhere inside the Outpost doing something hopefully interesting but harmless. Earlier that day, at about dawn, a ship had arrived carrying some passengers. They had apparently had escaped from Earth as it was being destroyed. The ship itself had left, but the survivors it had left behind were from an assortment of species. Floran, Hylotl, Apex, Avian, and some Glitch. Xavier and Ranaka hadn't spoken to any of them yet, as they were talking to Pete, but they planned on it, or at least, Xavier did. “It's almost done, Ranaka,” Pete assured him. “Unfortunately there seems to be a bit of tech that I don't know what to do with.” “Is it built into the wall?” Ranaka asked. “Yes.” “Then just leave it,” Ranaka told him. “I can get it fixed some other time.” “Alright then, if that's all I'll get back to work,” Pete said and started to turn away but turned back to them. “And another thing, I noticed you have two crew members. You qualify for a Sparrow License. If you bring me two Upgrade Modules I can upgrade your ship.” “I don't have any of those,” Ranaka admitted. “I have one,” Xavier said. “You do?” “Yeah, Esther gave one to me after I scanned the Outpost.” “Well, you need two, so if you can scrounge up another, just come talk to me,” Pete said and walked away. “Maybe Chitlan has one,” Xavier suggested. “Whatever.” “Uh... Xavier?” Xavier's communicator beeped. It was Chitlan. “Yeah?” “We have a problem in the Outpost.” “What is it?” Xavier and Ranaka were both looking at the communicator. There were people talking in the background, they sounded worried. “Just come to the Terramart, you need to see this for yourself,” Chitlan said and ended the communication. “We'd better go see what's going on,” Xavier said and Ranaka nodded. Together they walked into the Outpost. Something was wrong, normally there would be people walking around. Even the 2-Stop Teleshop booth was empty. Xavier and Ranaka exchanged worried looks and ran to the Terramart. They automatic door opened and they saw a large crowd of people gathered around the front of the Terramart. They were all looking towards the center but the crowd was too thick for Xavier or Ranaka to see what was going on. “Hey, what's going on?” Xavier asked aloud. Everyone in the group looked at him, and upon seeing his Protectorate outfit, they all cleared a path. At the center of the group of people, Chitlan and Musket were examining a dead body. Xavier and Ranaka ran to them. The corpse was a Floran female. “What happened Chitlan?” Xavier asked him. “No one knows, she just kind of fell,” he explained. “But there is one thing, she didn't just die.” He flipped the body onto its stomach so they could look at her back. There was an incision, clearly made by a knife, at the nape of then neck. “She was murdered,” Chitlan said. “No one knows who did it?” Xavier asked. “Nope.” “Is she one of the new arrivals?” Ranaka asked him. “Yeah, her name was Akhaki,” Chitlan answered. “And she had this in her hand.” Chitlan pulled a rectangular slip of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Xavier. It was just barely able to fit into his open palm and was white on both sides. It was a little thicker than normal paper, but that didn't seem to matter. There was writing on one side, it was a message. “There's writing here,” Xavier observed. “Esther, don't try it, A N of O.” Xavier and Ranaka looked at each other. “Who is A N of O?” Ranaka asked. “I don't know, but something tells me Esther does,” Xavier observed. “Chitlan, stay here.” “Okay,” Chitlan said and laid the body back onto its back. Day 5; Time 1045; Ark Ruins near the OutpostXavier: “I can't believe someone would just murder someone else like that,” Xavier said to Ranaka as they walked up the stairs to Esther. “The universe can be a scary place sometimes,” Ranaka responded. “I think the question right now is, who's next?” “You think they'll kill someone else?” “Why target that Floran? And it must be one of the newcomers,” Ranaka observed. “Everything was fine until they showed up this morning.” “I guess it's possible,” Xavier thought it out. “But we shouldn't jump to conclusions.” They finished walking up the stairs and saw Esther looking at the Ark. They walked over to her. “Esther,” Xavier said and she looked at them. “Hello, dears. Is there something going on?” “Yeah, someone was murdered!” Xavier exclaimed. “What? Do you know who did it?” “No, but whoever did it left a message on the victim. It's for you,” Xavier said and handed her the slip of paper. She took it and read the message. “A N of O... Hmm...” Esther thought aloud. “Do you know who it is?” Ranaka asked. “I have a pretty good idea on who it is that made the message, but I doubt she did the murder,” Esther explained. “Who is it?” Xavier asked her. “Asra Nox.” “Who is Asra Nox?” Xavier asked. “The leader of the Occasus cult,” Esther explained. “The Occasus cult?” Ranaka questioned her. “I've heard of them,” Xavier remembered. “They're a Human supremacist group, aren't they?” “Yes, and the exact opposite of the Protectorate,” Esther said and examined the message again. Xavier was staring at the paper in her hands when he noticed something was off about it. “Hey, can I see that slip again?” Xavier asked and Esther handed him the note. He examined the top edge of the paper and confirmed what he thought he had seen. There was a hidden opening; he reached in and pulled out a picture. That would explain the unusual thickness of the slip. “There's a picture in here!” “Of who?” Esther asked. Xavier examined the photo, it was of a male Hylotl's face. They were looking at something off the left side of the picture causing their portrait to not quite be a profile view. “It's a Hylotl.” “There's something written on the back,” Esther noted. Xavier flipped the paper over and read the note. “1052... What's that?” “Maybe it's a time,” Ranaka suggested. “It could be,” Esther said. “What time is it now?” Xavier checked his communicator for the time, it was 1048. “It's 1048.” “You had better get back to the Outpost, and hurry,” Esther told them. “I'll keep the message but you keep the picture.” Together, Xavier and Ranaka ran back to the Outpost. Xavier glanced at the picture as he ran. If they were right, this Hylotl was next, probably in a few minutes. They'd need to secure him so that no one could harm him until they found the murderer. Or they could be wrong about this whole clue. Day 5; Time 1049; The OutpostChitlan: “Yoshirou, is it?” Chitlan asked the Hylotl that was part of the newly arrivals. They were alone in the restroom on the third floor of the Outpost and Chitlan was interrogating him. “Yes,” the Hylotl responded. He was barely an adult, he had light blue skin and his fin was shaped kind of like a Mohawk, his fin color was a light green. He seemed a little anxious, as if he was worried about how the questioning would go. “Good, now, how well did you know Akhaki?” “Uh... not very well I guess. I don't think any of us on the ship knew each other before getting on,” he answered. “Right, so, did you two get into any arguments?” “No, nothing like that,” he said. “We rarely even spoke to each other.” “So are you saying you actively avoided her?” “No! We just never spoke, honest!” “I wasn't accusing you, but you're kind of throwing yourself under the bus here.” Yoshirou sputtered something out that sounded like just plain gibberish. “Okay,” Chitlan said. “Did anyone else on the ship have issues with her?” “No...?” “That doesn't sound very assuring,” Chitlan observed. “I wouldn't know! I never paid any attention to her!” “Right, well... I guess that's it,” Chitlan said. He didn't know what else to ask. Yoshirou audibly sighed in relief. “Unless you have something to add?” “N-no!” Yoshirou stammered. “Alright, you can go now,” Chitlan said and Yoshirou walked out of the restroom. “This detective stuff isn't easy...” Musket meowed at him. “Musket, why are you in the sink?” Chitlan asked right before he heard a thud echo from the bottom floor and some accompanying yells and even a scream. Chitlan rushed to the door. When the door opened he stared through the metal grating all the way down at the first floor. People were crowding someone's body, but from Chitlan's position he could see it all. The grating acting as the floor was only parted by the ladder leading down the whole shaft. Somehow, Yoshirou must have slipped and been unable to grab the ladder, where he fell to his death and landed on the first floor. “Uh-oh,” Chitlan whispered. “That can't be good.” He started to climb down to the first floor to inspect the body. Ranaka: The duo ran into the back of the Outpost and saw another crowd had formed, this time around the ladder chute instead of in front of the Terramart. They ran to the scene and saw that the Hylotl from the picture was lieing down on the ground in by the ladder chute. Chitlan was examining the body as they cleared a path. “What happened Chitlan?” Xavier asked. “I don't know, I was talking to him in the upstairs restroom and he left. Then I heard him fall and came to look,” Chitlan said. “He's lying,” said an unfamiliar Apex at the front of the crowd. Both Chitlan and Xavier looked up at him while Ranaka started to examine the body. “That Avian was the only one up there with him when he fell and he was also there when the Floran died. He was poking around both bodies, probably to remove evidence and hide his tracks!” Chitlan stood up to defend himself. “I didn't kill them! I was interrogating him because I wanted to know who murdered the Floran!” Xavier stood up as well. “That's right, he's with us.” The Apex, however, wasn't buying it. “I don't care if you vouch for him, he's the prime suspect!” Someone in the crowd called out: “If he's the murderer then why didn't he murder people before you and the others showed up?” Someone else said: “Yeah, he was here for several days and he just starts killing people now? I don't buy it. Clearly one of you new arrivals is the killer!” The Apex didn't say anything but he was clearly furious; he stormed away. “Thanks for having my back, Xavier,” Chitlan turned to him. “No problem, but I thought I told you to stay with the body.” “I just wanted to help...” “It's alright. Where is it anyway?” “I put it behind the Terramart for now.” “Xavier, come look at this,” Ranaka called to them. They both crouched down to examine the body. By now most of the crowd had dispersed on its own, though a few people remained. Ranaka had pointed out the neck of the Hylotl to them. It had a knife wound in it, just like the Floran. “He also had this in his hand,” Ranaka said and handed a second slip of paper to Xavier. Xavier found the message on it's side and read it aloud as Chitlan read it over his shoulder. “Esther, don't try to stop us, A N of O,” he read. “Who is A N of O, though?” Chitlan asked. “Esther said it means Asra Nox of Occasus,” Xavier explained. “The Occasus cult it a Human supremacist group lead by Asra Nox.” “So we're searching for Asra Nox?” Chitlan asked. “Not necessarily,” Ranaka answered. “Esther doubts that Asra Nox would come here. Though it is a Human supremacist cult, so I doubt the killer isn't Human.” “Good point,” Chitlan said. “But that leaves us a problem.” “What?” Xavier asked. “None of the new arrivals were Human.” Chitlan finished, the others let that sink in. “So it's either one of the people already here or someone hiding in the shadows,” Ranaka said. Someone from the dwindling crowd walked up to them, a female Glitch. She must have been one of the new arrivals. “Concerned. I may be able to help,” she said in the classic Glitch monotone. “How so?” Xavier asked and the trio stood up to face her. “Concerned. I was on the ship with the other new arrivals and may be able to provide assistance.” “Well alright. Can you think of anyone that would want to harm these two?” Xavier asked. “Thoughtful. No, none of us knew each other until we boarded the ship.” “Who else was on the ship?” “Thoughtful. Akhaki, the Floran; Yoshirou, the Hylotl; Olli, the Avian; Davrion, the Apex; Rustoak, the other Glitch; and myself, Songknave, a Glitch.” “Hmm...” Xavier thought to himself. Ranaka heard a sound off to their left, he recognized it as the subtle sound of the door at the back of the Outpost, by the Teleshop. He turned to inspect what made the door open but his poor eyesight rendered him unable to identify the cause. He nudged Xavier with his elbow. “What?” “Do you see anything over there?” Ranaka asked and pointed at the Outpost's back door. “Yeah, hey Songknave, is that Rustoak?” Xavier asked her and pointed at something or someone standing by the door. “Certain. Yes, that is the other Glitch from the ship,” she responded after looking over. “Bothered. He never responds, even when asked direct questions.” “Huh, strange,” Xavier whispered. At least now Ranaka knew why he couldn't see anyone over there, the Glitch must be blending into the Outpost's gray walls. “What's he doing?” Ranaka asked someone. “He's just standing there watching us,” Chitlan answered. Xavier looked at the slip of paper and checked for another hidden pocket. Finding one, he pulled out a second picture. It was of the Apex, Davrion. The back of the picture had the time 1054. “Thanks, Songknave, you can go now,” Xavier said. “Cautious. Please be careful,” she said a walked to the front of the Outpost. “Ranaka, Chitlan, this picture is of that Apex, see?” He showed Chitlan the picture, then Ranaka. “So?” Chitlan asked. “He's the next target,” Xavier explained. Suddenly, Ranaka heard the back door open again and turned to see a blurred figure walk outside and out of view. “He's gone isn't he?” Xavier and Chitlan both looked to the door. “He is,” Xavier confirmed. “What now?” Chitlan asked them. “Okay, Chitlan, go get Musket from wherever you left him,” Xavier ordered. “Ranaka and I will find Davrion.” “Alright,” Chitlan said and climbed back up the ladder to the third floor. “What about the Hylotl's body?” Ranaka asked. “We'll have to leave it for now,” Xavier regretfully said. “We don't have a lot of time to find Davrion.” Day 5; Time 1054; The OutpostXavier: Xavier and Ranaka had just left Yoshirou's body and were walking to the front of the Outpost to hopefully find Davrion along the way. The Terramart's room had plenty of people in it, all were talking about the murders. Just as the two of them were walking passed the front of the Terramart, everyone in the room heard a loud buzz, followed by a click coming from somewhere above them all. Most of the people in the room had enough time to look up and see a crate falling from the crane attached to the second floor ceiling. The crane was lined up so that the crate fell and landed somewhere behind the Terramart. When it hit the ground, a few people who could where it landed yelled in surprise and fear. Xavier and Ranaka ran around the Terramart's side and took in the sight. They could see the Floran's corpse placed neatly and directly behind the Terramart. The crate itself had landed next to the body, but it was clearly resting on something other than the floor. “Oh no... Please, tell me what I think happened didn't just happen,” Xavier whispered and looked under the crate. He choked at what he saw. Davrion's body was definitely crushed underneath the crate. He must have come to inspect Akhaki's body on his own. Ranaka tapped Xavier's shoulder and pointed to the second floor when he turned. Xavier looked up and saw that Rustoak fellow standing on the second story platform where the crane controls were located. He was staring down at them. Xavier stood up and Rustoak held out his hand, it was clenched shut, then he dropped something. Xavier caught it as it fell to their level. It was a rock with a slip of paper tied to it. “Protector, leave the artifacts and stop your quest, A N of O,” Xavier read the message. He pulled open the slip and looked at the picture of the next target. “Oh come on...” “Who's next?” Ranaka asked him. Xavier glared at the picture. It was taken when they were talking to Songknave, clearly by Rustoak at this point. The picture was zoomed in on one person in particular. “Chitlan,” Xavier whispered. Ranaka and Xavier exchanged glances before running to the ladder chute to get to Chitlan. Chitlan: Chitlan was in the restroom with Musket, who had not gotten out of the sink since Chitlan had left the first time. Finally, with some coaxing, Chitlan encouraged Musket to hop out of the sink so they could return to Xavier and Ranaka. Chitlan was just about to open the door to the ladder chute when someone opened it from the other side. It was that Rustoak fellow from before. He shoved Chitlan back into the restroom and almost caused him to fall backwards. “Hey,” Chitlan yelled. “Watch it!” Rustoak closed the door behind him and reached up and pulled off his own head. Forgetting that Rustoak was a Glitch he made a disgusted noise... Or was he a Glitch? Underneath the Glitch head was a Human head. Rustoak(?) threw the 'head' at Musket who dodged it and ran to the other side of the room. The man had a purple eye tattooed on his forehead, the pupil was a thin vertical slit. “Jerk!” Chitlan exclaimed, glancing at Musket to make sure the kitten was safe before reverting his gaze to Rustoak quickly. “Wait-” The man sighed. “Boy, does that feel good...” He rolled his neck and his shoulders. “You try wearing a Glitch costume for three weeks straight. Cause, damn, does it get uncomfortable.” Chitlan stood up and glared at the man. “Who are you?” “Me? I don't have a name, but you can call me Hunter,” he replied. “There are many of me, but I am here, here to hunt you...” “Are you a robot or something?” “Nope, Human,” Hunter replied and drew a hidden knife from the back of his belt. “And you're the next target.” He readied his knife to throw it. Chitlan had barely managed to dodge the hunter’s thrown knife, escaping by only a few centimeters, though a few of his feathers were brushed harshly. He quickly unsheathed his own knife, which he always carried and hid behind his back at all times. “Ha! I can’t believe you dodged that!” Hunter laughed as he pulled out a second knife, this one having a green sheen on the blade. “Is that poison?” “The murder weapon,” Hunter affirmed. “Poisoned just in case the death blow misses the kill zone. With a grimace, Chitlan readied his own knife as the hunter quickly took a few steps towards him. Behind the hunter, the restroom door opened to reveal Xavier and Ranaka, but it was already too late, as the hunter made a stabbing motion at Chitlan’s chest. Chitlan, having backed up a bit, had shoved his blade up into Hunter’s forearm just as the Human had tried to strike. Chitlan’s attack was successful in that he managed to prevent getting hurt by the hunter’s stab but his foe’s blade still managed to tear his shirt in the upwards motion and cut some of his feathers. “Chitlan!” Xavier called just as Ranaka reached the hunter. The hunter was spun around abruptly as the small Avali had grabbed his hip and swung him in a circular motion. Glaring up at the Human, Ranaka simply raised his hand and grabbed the hunter’s wrist as the assassin tried to plunge the blade down into Ranaka’s large eyes. It was all Chitlan needed, he raised his knife and stabbed it into Hunter’s neck, causing the heavy man to collapse downwards, only to be tossed aside by the Avali easily resisting him. Xavier walked up, rubbing the back of his neck, and looked at Chitlan. “Are you okay?” He asked Chitlan. “I am,” Chitlan wipes the blood off of his knife with a rag and sheathes the blade. “Am I glad that’s over,” he continued, looking at the hunter’s body. “Am I glad that's over,” Chitlan said. “You can say that again,” Xavier sighed. “Come on guys, we have some funerals to plan...” Xavier lead the way back downstairs and this time Musket followed. The rest of their day was spent digging graves and holding funeral services for everyone who died except for Hunter. And of course, as the janitor, Chitlan had to find and clean up any spilled blood. Floran Sequence Sequence Overview: The ship repaired, it's time for the crew to begin the first step of their new journey. They must find a Floran tribe and use the Matter Manipulator to scan Floran objects to uncover clues about the Floran relic's possible location. Day 8; Time 1314; Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: After the funerals were complete, which didn’t take long, thankfully, the trio went about moving their belongings back onto the ship. After they were done, Xavier just happened to remember that Penguin Pete had offered to upgrade the ship if they had two upgrade modules and he asked Chitlan if he had one. Lo and behold, he actually did have one. So Xavier and Ranaka went back to Penguin Pete and told him that they had both of the required modules to upgrade the ship with. They were forced to unpack the ship, again,and wait several more days for it to be finished. Now that it was finally done three days later, Xavier and Ranaka were on a planet covered almost entirely by a forest and were hunting for Florans. Actually they were hunting for Floran artifacts in order to scan them in order to find a different Floran artifact in order to start a collection of other artifacts in order to save the universe. It’s going to be a tedious journey, Ranaka thought. Together, they pressed onwards through the forest. Neither had their weapons drawn, Ranaka because he didn’t hear anything threatening nearby and Xavier probably because he assumed there was nothing threatening nearby. Chitlan was up on the newly enlarged ship with Musket doing something that was supposedly helpful. “So,” Xavier said as they walked, trying to start a conversation. “Do you think there are any Florans on this planet?” “Maybe, maybe not,” Ranaka said. “If there aren’t then we’ll just look elsewhere, right?” “Yeah, I guess so,” Xavier said. Ranaka walked tensely, his ears pivoting to and fro, trying to hear anything unorthodox. His body wasn’t quite stiff, but it was close. His tail was just recently no longer sore from that annoying mech suit he rode in. Xavier on the other hand, strode casually behind Ranaka. He was staring around at the foliage and up into the trees. The trees were tall and thick, stretching high into the sky and blocking a lot of the sunlight from the ground below. Still, there was some sun coming down that allowed bushes and other plants to grow at the tree trunks. There were plenty of animals around them, birds, butterflies, squirrels, and the occasional spider. The two of them were walking on a suspiciously worn path that would either lead to civilization or a river where animals could drink from. They had been walking down the path for several hours and hadn’t seen any signs betraying civilized life but they still had a long way to go before they reached the end of the path. Just incase they were unable to reach the end before nightfall, Xavier was carrying a backpack filled with two tents, water, and some food for them to eat. It had only been a few hours since Xavier had asked his question when Ranaka heard something move in the forest to the left of them. It wasn’t a bird, it was larger, as large a Human. Ranaka stopped and looked in that direction, pivoting his ears as well to enhance the sound. Xavier halted just behind him and was smart enough not break his concentration by speaking, instead he stared into the forest as well. There was nothing there except plants. Which was exactly what worried Ranaka. At least, that waswhat worried Ranaka, until he heard something on the other side of the path, behind the duo. Ranaka’s lower two ears turned to listen behind them so he could hear from both directions, but other than that he didn’t move. He didn’t hear anything at all, just wind and Xavier’s breathing. Which is what worried Ranaka the most, because it meant the animals around them had fled. Xavier had heard the sounds to the right of the path, so he turned to face them, drawing his weapon as he did so. Ranaka readied his hammer and continued to gaze out to the left. Above them, Ranaka heard rustling in the tree branches. Looking up, he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary because the tree branches were too far up to focus in his poor eyesight. It was the only moment in Ranaka’s life where he wished he had augmented eyes to enhance his vision. “What do you see up there?” Ranaka spoke softly to Xavier. Xavier glanced at Ranaka before looking up to the forest roof. Before he could respond to the question, a dart whisked out of the forest and planted itself in his neck. Xavier had just enough time to pull it out before collapsing on the spot. Ranaka spun around quickly to face the other side of the forest but instead of facing an emerging opponent there wasn’t anyone to face. Instead, a rustling sound came from above Ranaka. He glared up and saw a blurry form falling directly above him. At first he was unable to make out the object, but as it got closer he recognized it as a Floran. He tried to raise his hammer to defend himself, but realized it wasn’t going to be fast enough. He sidestepped just as the Floran landed and swung his hammer at its side. He connected and it was flung back down the path. Ranaka prepared his hammer for a second strike but a whoosh came from his left and was accompanied by a prick in the side of his neck, in a spot where his armor didn’t cover. It was a dart, he yanked it out but it didn’t matter. Ranaka started to feel heavy and his eyelids closed. The last thing he saw before he fainted was the Floran standing up and walking over to him. Day 8; Time 2017; A Floran Camp on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: When Xavier was walking down the forest path with Ranaka he figured that Ranaka would be the first to discover danger and would alert him of it. Well, he was right. Somehow, when they were waiting for whoever was stalking them to reveal themselves, neither of them came up with the idea that their stalkers might have ranged weaponry. At least, not until Xavier was shot in the neck by a dart. After that Xavier fell unconscious. When he awoke the first thing he saw was that it was dark now. It had been afternoon when they were on the path, now it was sometime after sunset. The second thing he saw was the cage he was locked in. The cage was outside, with a solid steel plate for the roof and the floor, but instead of walls there were steel bars. One of the walls had a lock on it and Xavier saw that it was actually a door. The cage was barely big enough for him, luckily he was the only one locked inside. He noticed that his clothing seemed lighter than usual, and upon glancing down, he realized why. While he was unconscious someone had taken off his Protectorate uniform, stolen his iron armor, and put his uniform back on again. It was strange to think that someone had undressed him while he slept, it was stranger still to know that they had the decency to put his clothes back on when they were done. He noted that his sword was also taken from him, as was his communicator. Looks like he wouldn’t be able to receive any messages from S.A.I.L. or Chitlan for the time being. His cage seemed to be in a forest clearing, near the treeline. All around his cage there were tents. They filled the whole clearing, sometimes they seemed to be placed in an organized fashion while in other places they were strewn up randomly. One of the tents was bigger than the rest, probably the leader’s. A large bonfire was centered in the camp. Xavier saw plenty of Florans wandering about, though none of them paid him any mind. Xavier spotted a cage a few feet from his own, it was similar in structure and also made of steel. Inside was Ranaka. He was awake and facing away from Xavier, he seemed to be muttering to himself. “Hey, Ranaka!” Xavier whispered so he wouldn’t draw attention from the Florans. Ranaka didn’t look at him, he seemed to be distracted by something, but Xavier couldn’t see what he was staring at. Xavier saw a small rock near his cage and stretched through the bars to grab. Once it was in his hand he tossed it at Ranaka and it smacked his back. Ranaka spun around to face him, he had a dazed look on his face. “Ranaka!” Xavier urgently whispered. “Are you okay?” Ranaka took a few seconds to respond, the daze slowly melted away. He shook his head. “I’m fine,” he finally responded. “Good, what were you- whoa!” Xavier exclaimed loudly and quickly turned away from Ranaka to look at something else. “What?” Ranaka said and looked around for whatever it was Xavier had seen. He saw nothing of interest near him and everything else was too dark or far away for his eyes to focus on. “You’re naked! Again!” Xavier said, refusing to face him again. The Florans that kidnapped them had taken Xavier’s armor and weapons. Apparently they also took Ranaka’s. But while Xavier had clothing over his armor that the Florans had given back to him, Ranaka had nothing to wear now. Ranaka glanced down at himself. “...So?” He asked, not understanding. “It’s impolite to be naked!” Xavier told him. “Well it’s not like I have a choice,” Ranaka pointed out. “Besides, I have feathers and fluff to cover myself. And anyways, Avali don’t care about that kind of stuff that much anyway.” “You don’t?” Xavier asked. “No. Our culture is based around sound, not sight,” Ranaka explained. “We only wear clothing because of the colors.” “Just the colors?” “Well, our eyesight is terrible… Well, actually, there are Avali with augmented vision, but otherwise it’s terrible,” Ranaka explained. “We Avali like contrasting colors. Look at my feathers and fluff, dark violet and light blue with a light green trim. I like to wear bright red armor.” “So, you only wear clothing because it’s… eye candy to you?” Xavier asked. Ranaka actually laughedat that. “Well, I guess you could say that. I guess there’s also the fact that everyone else wears clothing so we kind of have to.” “So do you wear your armor all the time then?” Ranaka looked at Xavier strangely, like he said something wrong. “You know I don’t wear my armor all the time, Eikoli... Is this leading up to a joke? Because if it is, it’s a weird joke. Then again, you areEikoli,” Ranaka asked Xavier. “Uh… What did you just call me?” Xavier asked. He was so surprised he looked back at Ranaka. He saw that Ranaka’s dazed look had returned to him while Xavier was looking away. As Xavier stared at him, he noticed other details about Ranaka he wasn’t used to. Along with Ranaka’s dazed eyes, he had a relaxed stance, which was completely foreign to Xavier since Ranaka always seemed tense and alert. It was a completely different Ranaka, a side that Xavier had never seen before, and something in Xavier told him he shouldn’t have been allowed to see this side of Ranaka, at least not yet. Ranaka normally spoke to Xavier like he was annoyed, but right now he was speaking to Xavier like they were old friends. And what did he call Xavier? ‘Eikoli?’ As Xavier stared, Ranaka’s eyes started to clear up again. He shook his head and his stance went from relaxed to tense. When he was done, he seemed to be back to normal, at least, he was back to what Xavier was used to. The whole transformation was so amazing to Xavier, he just stared in awe. Ranaka stared back at him like he was an idiot. “What are you doing?” Ranaka asked him in his why-are-you-the-way-you-are voice. Xavier shook his own head and responded. “You called me Eikoli.” “No I didn’t,” Ranaka said matter-of-factly. “You just called me Eikoli!” Xavier defended himself. “Yeah right,” Ranaka dismissed him. “Why would I call you Eikoli?” “I don’t know,” Xavier admitted. “We were talking about why Avali wear clothing when you asked me- asked Eikoli if he were leading up to a joke.” Ranaka didn’t answer, he just thought for a second, then tensed up even more, if that were possible, as if he realized something worrying. Xavier suddenly remembered something Ranaka had told Chitlan and him at the campfire a few days ago. He had said that Avali separated from their packs slowly lose their sanity unless they’re reunited. Was Ranaka calling Xavier ‘Eikoli’ a sign of this? It had to be, it was too unorthodox from Ranaka’s normal behavior to be an honest mistake. The two of them stood in an awkward silence for several seconds before they both realized that a very large group of Florans had gathered around the cages and were watching the show. Xavier counted at least a dozen and a half before losing count. A Floran near the front of the group walked up to the cages. “Are you two done?” He asked with a smirk. He was green all over, with deep green skin that looked like plant matter, though that was normal for Florans so Xavier wasn’t too worried. Certain parts of his body were covered in leaves that were colored red. On top of his head was a large yellow mushroom. His chest and legs were covered in leather clothing that was bound with some sort of dark gray metal, probably durasteel. He had a spear strapped to his back. “Well? Are you?” He asked again; he was speaking in the Floran language, which was alright since Xavier was taught to speak it. His smirk must have been permanently glued to his face. Something about it made Xavier sick. “Uh… Yes?” Xavier answered. Ranaka was watching the Floran, too, but he didn’t seem to be ready to answer. Or maybe he didn’t know how to speak Floran. “That’sss good!” He said a little too quickly. “Now you’re awake, Greenfinger will ssspeak with you!” “Who’s Greenfinger?” Xavier asked. The Florans laughed. “Sssilly Human,” the Floran said. “Greenfinger not name. Is title.” “Oh,” Xavier said. “Well what’s your name?” “Ssadradi,” the Floran said and moved aside as another Floran walked up. This one came from the back of the crowd, which parted to allow him passage. This Floran had dark violet skin and green leaves. The most intimidating part about him was his ‘hair.’ He had a giant Venus Flytrap that was colored red where hair should have been. You could fit a whole person in there. He wore the same kind of armor as Sadradi. “I am Greenfinger Kainam,” they said, also in the Floran language. “I lead tribe.” “Great!” Xavier said. “Can we go now?” Kainam laughed. “We let you out, but not yet,” the Greenfinger said. “When then?” “Tomorrow at dinner. Human and other alien will be dinner guests,” he said.Kainam possessed a smirk similar to Sadradi’s. Now that Xavier looked around, he noticed all the Florans in the camp had the smirk. It made him very uneasy. Xavier suddenly recalled something from the Protectorate Academy: Florans ate people. Not all the time, but the wild tribes would hunt other sapient species sometimes. Xavier had been fine with this, even now when he was in danger of being eaten he was fine with them for hunting other sapient species. He figured if he was eaten it wouldn’t matter if it were by a Floran or a wild lion. But there was something off about their smirks, like he didn’t have all the info. “Look, Kainam, I understand you hunt sapient species sometimes,” Xavier said to him. “But my friend and I,” he gestured to Ranaka, who stood silently and listened, though he scowled when Xavier said ‘friend’ so maybe he did know the Floran language, “Are trying to save the universe. If you eat us then you’ll all die.” Kainam laughed. “We know we die. We do it later ssometime!” All the Florans laughed like it was a joke. “We were going to hunt other food, but Human and ssmall alien got in way.” “We were on the path!” Xavier exclaimed. “Not in the way!” “You missundersstand, Human,” he said. “We going to a different camp. Alienss walk in our path, we intercept them.” Xavier sighed. “Don’t worry Human,” the Greenfinger said. “Human don’t taste asss good asss other Floransss do, but we ssstill enjoy taste.” “Wait, what?” Xavier said. He didn’t quite catch that. “And ssmall alien iss exotic meat,” he continued. “We will ssplit it in feasst tomorrow!” “Wait, go back a minute there,” Xavier told him. “Did you just say Humans don’t taste as good as Florans?” “Sssorry, Human, it isss true,” he answered. “Are you saying you’re a cannibal?” Xavier exclaimed. “Yess! Floran iss besst taste! I ssay we go to different camp but alienss walk in our path!” “I thought you were going to one of your own camps!” “No, thisss iss only camp,” the Greenfinger said. “Other camp iss food for uss. Food in camp iss weak, too ssoft. Trying to be ‘civil,’” Kainam spit out the word ‘civil.’ “Other Floranss can’t protect sself; we hunt, we eat.” Xavier didn’t know what to say. He was fine with the Florans hunting others sapient species, they werepredators after all. But cannibalism was too far. Now he understood why their smirks were so off. They wouldn’t just eat prey, they’d eat their own kind just for the taste. Part of him wondered if all Florans were cannibals, the other part wondered if all cannibals had that same smirk. “Enough talk,” said Kainam. “Ssleep now, eat tomorrow!” The Florans all cheered excitedly and went back to whatever it was they did between feeding time, leaving the two prisoners alone. There weren’t even guards, that’s how bad their situation was. Their captors were confident enough to leave them unguarded. “Great…” Xavier muttered. “What now?” “We wait,” Ranaka unexpectedly answered. He seemed to be willing to talk again. “For what? For them to eat us?” “No,” Ranaka said as if Xavier were the one going crazy. “I didn’t get dragged out into the middle of nowhere to be eaten by plant people that hiss like snakes.” “Oh... Well, that’s good because I don’t want to get eaten either,” Xavier said. “But how will we escape? There’s, like, almost twenty of them at least. Plus we’re stuck in these cages and don’t have our weapons or armor.” As Xavier said that, he remembered that Ranaka was naked and he turned away. “There’s actually about three dozen of them,” Ranaka corrected him. “And like I said, we wait before making our move.” Ranaka sat down in his cage and waited. “But wait for what?” “For them to sleep,” Ranaka answered. “Now shut up before one of them hears us.” Xavier shut up and sat down. He too, waited for them to sleep. Like Ranaka, he didn’t feel like being someone else’s dinner. Day 9; Time 0213; A Floran Camp on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: Ranaka and Xavier sat still in their cages for hours. Most of the Florans had gone to sleep, all except the camp guards, who patrolled the perimeter of the camp. Ranaka could only hear about five of them, which left the other thirty sleeping in their tents. The fire in the center of the camp had dimmed down but wasn’t quite extinguished yet. Xavier was slumped over in his cage, clearly trying very hard not to fall asleep. Ranaka had to admit, it was hard for him too. He had never been abducted then forced to wait until his captors fell asleep before, either. All in all, things seemed to be going well. Or at least about as well as being caged can be. Ranaka decided it was time to make a move, so he stood up and shuffled over to the door of his cage. Xavier noticed his movement and watched him. Ranaka grabbed two bars that were next to each other and attempted to pull them apart. “That won’t work, Ranaka,” Xavier told him. “These are steel bars.” Ranaka ignored him and continued to pull the bars. “Ranaka-” Xavier started to say. He was interrupted by a low groan from the bars Ranaka was pulling on. He stared in awe as Ranaka pulled them apart to make a hole he would be able to fit through. Ranaka slipped through the new opening of his now dented cage and walked over to Xavier door. “How did you do that?” Xavier asked him in astonishment. “Augments,” Ranaka said and held up his arms. They actually looked like organic arms. Thanks to Avali technology their augments are able to be disguised as natural parts of the body. He lowered his arms and grabbed Xavier’s cage lock. He carefully peeled it off of the door with minimal noise and allowed Xavier to walk out. He crouched down by Ranaka. “What now?” Xavier whispered to him. “We should get our stuff back,” he answered. “Where do you think it is?” “Somewhere in the camp,” Ranaka replied. “Was that a joke?” Ranaka didn’t reply, instead he turned to the center of the camp and listened. Ranaka could hear the five guards spread around the perimeter of the camp, though even he had to strain his ears. Other than the guards, only a few Florans were still still awake. Three were around the campfire while there were at least two others awake in their tents. “Okay, listen,” Ranaka turned back to Xavier. “There are five guards surrounding the camp, they shouldn’t be a problem, at least not yet. I can also hear five other Florans within the camp that aren’t sleeping. If we’re careful we can get our gear and get out without getting caught.” “But do you even know where our stuff is?” Xavier whispered back. “Nope,” Ranaka admitted. “We’re going to have to find it ourselves. I can’t see the camp very well, do you see anywhere it could be?” Xavier stood up and cautiously peered over the tents. “I guess somewhere near the fire, or maybe near that big tent,” he said as he knelt down again. “Okay, we’ll split up,” Ranaka offered. “Do you want to go to the fire or the tent?” Xavier thought to himself before answering. “I’ll go to tent, I think you’ll have a better time trying to hide around the light of the campfire.” “Alright, let’s go,” Ranaka said and walked away. He crouch walked down an aisle between two rows of tents. Inside were sleeping Florans. His eyes weren’t good, especially in this dark scene, but even he could see the light of the fire. Plus he could hear where basically everyone in the camp was. He snooped closer to the fire and stopped just outside of its revealing grasp. He was right behind a tent with one of the few Florans still awake. He recognized the voice of Sadradi, who was supposedly the tribe’s second-in-command. Ranaka could hear him speaking to himself so he decided to eavesdrop; luckily Ranaka could understand and speak Floran. “No, too tight,” Sadradi muttered. He must have been trying to wear something. “Need to make bigger.” Curious, Ranaka found a gap in the tent’s fabric and peeked through. Sadradi was alone, which Ranaka already knew, and was trying to fit into armor that was far too small for him. Way too small, in fact, it took Ranaka only a second to see why it wouldn’t fit. Sadradi was trying to wear Ranaka’s armor. It was a stupid attempt because Ranaka was half Sadradi’s size but oh well, let himfigure it out. Only, he wasn’t figuring it out. Apparently he was trying to cut open the side of Ranaka’s armor so that he wouldn’t have to try squeezing it on the normal way. It was a pitiful attempt. He clearly didn’t know about the iron armor inserts, though even if he did it wouldn’t matter because even without them Ranaka’s armor still wouldn’t be able to be cut open by a knife and a spear. Ranaka wondered how many hours Sadradi had been attempting to get into his armor. In frustration, Sadradi growled and threw down his knife. He stood up and tossed the armor to the other side of the tent, it landed near where Ranaka was peeking through. “Hammer,” Sadradi suddenly said. “Alien’ss hammer will work.” He continued and left the tent through the opening, which was on the other side of the tent from Ranaka. Ranaka crawled through the gap in the tent and picked up his armor. The whole set was here, the suit and the helmet. He wondered why Sadradi had tried to wear Ranaka’s obviously too small armor instead of Xavier’s armor, which probably would have fit. He shook his head and decided that Sadradi was just plain stupid. Day 9; Time 0220; A Floran Camp on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Xavier was snooping around the biggest tent in the encampment and trying to hear what was going on inside. There was a lantern on inside, so he was certain whoever was in there was awake. He assumed that since it was the biggest tent, the Greenfinger, Kainam, was the one inside. He was carefully leaning against the fabric of the tent when he heard someone walking down the aisle between the two rows of tents. Xavier flattened himself against the ground. “Armor too sssmall,” said the voice, which sounded suspiciously like Sadradi. “Need hammer.” The figure stopped at the entrance of the big tent. Xavier peeked around the corner while low to the ground and saw that it was indeed Sadradi. He was standing in front of the tent, but he wasn’t looking at it. Instead, he was staring at a chest, which was off to the side. Xavier hadn’t seen it before because he had arrived at the opposite side of the tent. Sadradi opened the trunk and pulled out a hammer, which was definitely Ranaka’s. Sadradi shut the chest and walked back down the path. When he was gone, Xavier stood up into a crouch and stalked to the trunk. It was unlocked; he opened it and peered inside. His armor and sword were inside, and there were also two data pads, his and Ranaka’s communicators. He grabbed them all and gently closed the chest. Walking back around the tent, he took off his Protectorate uniform and replaced it with his iron armor. He felt self-conscious about changing clothes in such a strange area, but he needed to be ready for battle just in case. After his armor was on, he pulled his Protectorate uniform on over it and equipped his sword. He placed both communicators in his pockets but kept them off. He stood up and walked back into the aisle. Silently, he wandered in the direction Sadradi had gone, to the campfire. Ranaka: Ranaka had searched the entire tent for anything useful. He found some credit chits inside some of the Floran’s bags, he wouldn’t know how many pixels were actually on the chits until he found his data pad though. He found Sadradi’s spear and knife, neither of which he grabbed, but he couldn’t find his hammer. That confirmed it, Sadradi had left to get Ranaka’s hammer. Maybe he could steal it back from Sadradi when he got back. He could hear Sadradi walking back to the tent, his footfalls sounding heavier than when he left. Sadradi walked over to the tent’s flap and pushed his way in. At first, he didn’t notice Ranaka, apparently he was thinking to himself, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that there was an intruder. “You!” Sadradi said, clearly surprised. “You esscaped?!” “I did,” Ranaka said and leapt at Sadradi’s torso. His plan was to knock him onto his back and steal the hammer. Once he had his hammer back he could silence Sadradi and escape with Xavier. But it didn’t happen that way. Out of reflex at seeing Ranaka lunge at him, Sadradi stepped back and swung the hammer horizontally, knocking Ranaka to the side of the tent. Ranaka was stunned, in more ways than one. He hadn’t expected that. “Thief!” Sadradi said and tried to make himself appear taller. “Give armor back!” “You’re the thief,” Ranaka said and stood in the center of the tent again. Ranaka glared at his foe through the red helmet of his armor. The blow had hit his left arm and shoulder. He watched as Sadradi reached down to pick up his spear, that was when Ranaka lunged the second time. Sadradi saw this and thrust the hammer straight at Ranaka’s chest which launched him to the back of the tent. Ranaka stood up warily and glared at Sadradi when he spotted both the hammer and spear in his hands. “Give armor back!” Sadradi yelled at him. He was starting to wake the sleeping Florans, Ranaka could hear them waking in their tents. Abruptly, the tent flap flew open and Sadradi was shoved forward by someone that ran into the tent. Sadradi stumbled toward Ranaka, who took the chance and leapt at him for the third time. This time, Ranaka connected his hit and slammed Sadradi back into the newcomer. It was Xavier. He must have dashed into the tent when he had heard the yelling. “We have to go Ranaka!” He urgently said. “I need my hammer,” Ranaka said, glaring at Sadradi, who was attempting to stand up. He still had a tight grip on the hammer, though the spear had fallen. “No time,” Xavier said and grabbed Ranaka’s arm. “We have to leave now.” “No!” Ranaka exclaimed. “Now!” Xavier asserted. Ranaka glared at him next but Xavier stared him down. Sighing, Ranaka let Xavier pull him out of the tent. Sadradi yelled at them as they left. “Thievess!” He yelled. Once they were outside, Ranaka took in the new situation. The Florans were waking up, but it seemed like they weren’t used to being woken up in the middle of the night and were taking forever to actually get out of their tents. Some had gotten out of their tents, but most were still trying to fully awaken. “This way!” Xavier yelled and pulled Ranaka in a seemingly random direction to the outer camp. “Sstop!” Said the nearest Floran guard. They were alone. Xavier pulled out his sword as he ran and sliced at the Floran’s torso as they dashed by. Ranaka heard the Floran drop to the ground behind them. The camp seemed to be becoming more active now, but it was a little late. Xavier and Ranaka were some distance into the forest. “I can run,” Ranaka said and tried to pull his arm from Xavier. Xavier looked back at him as they ran. Xavier let go of Ranaka’s arm and sheathed his sword. Together they continued to run for several minutes. They stopped in a small clearing that was just barely large enough for them to both fit in. Xavier pulled out a communicator, Ranaka’s communicator, and handed it to him. Then he pulled out his own and turned it on. “S.A.I.L?” Xavier asked as Ranaka turned his data pad on. “Xavier,” came S.A.I.L.’s monotone voice. “Chitlan and Musket were worried about you.” “But you weren’t?” Xavier asked. “I am a machine, I don’t feel emotions,” S.A.I.L. reminded him. “Oh, right. Well, we were kidnapped by Florans but we escaped,” Xavier informed it. “Can you tell us where we are?” “Please standby,” S.A.I.L. said. Everything was quiet for some time, except for the wildlife, which Ranaka took note of. “Yesterday at 1537 hours, you left the path you were on and headed north, northwest for about ten minutes before stopping for about five minutes. After five minutes both communicators were turned off and I was unable to pinpoint your location,” S.AI.L. informed them. “It seems that between the time when your communicators had turned off and now, you have traveled east, southeast for seven minutes. If you travel south for about ten minutes you will return to the path. I advise heading east once you have returned to the path,” S.A.I.L. advised. “Of course, you could always warp back to the ship.” Xavier seemed to think on that for a few minutes. Ranaka still couldn’t hear anything chasing them, they were probably safe for now. At least until the sun came up. “Ranaka, I think we should continue down the path,” Xavier said. “Kainam mentioned a Floran village in that direction. If we head there, we could scan for objects.” “The longer we sit around on this planet the more likely we’ll run into those cannibals again,” Ranaka told him. “Ranaka we-” Xavier started. “I want my hammer back,” Ranaka interrupted. “Well- what?” “My hammer,” Ranaka reminded him. “That Floran still has it. I want it back.” “Um, well… Alright then, let’s go,” Xavier said before tucking the communicator in his pocket and standing up. They walked south for ten minutes and found the path, then they continued east towards the Floran village. While they walked, Ranaka couldn’t help but wonder, why is everything always east. Day 9; Time 0542; A Footpath on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: They had walked east on the path for about three hours. Both were still very tired from staying awake all night but neither wanted to rest with Kainam’s tribe possibly hunting for them. Somehow, they both found the strength to keep walking. At the three hour mark, they saw something in the distance, or at least, Xavier did. There was the opening to a clearing ahead of them. Xavier could see buildings in the clearing, too. They trudged along, not moving any faster. When they got to the clearing they could both see that there was indeed a town of sorts inside. There didn’t seem to be any people around, but that didn’t bother Xavier or Ranaka. They just collapsed on the ground at the entrance to the clearing. The buildings were all made of wood, in fact, it turned out that the clearing wasn’t totally a clearing. There were many large trees that were built into to create buildings. There were street posts with fires on them, which showed that the whole place was without electricity. Xavier couldn’t see any people, Floran or otherwise. Down the road ahead of them, a door opened. The building the door was attached to looked the most elegant out of all the houses that Xavier could see from his location. From the building came four Florans. They walked over to the two of them just as they both passed out. Day 9; Time 1355; A Floran Village on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Xavier awoke several hours later in a comfy bed. The last thing he remembered was reaching the town and seeing some Floran figures before he fainted. He was in a room made completely out of wood, specifically, uncut wood. That is to say, the room was inside of a tree. The bed he was on seemed to have been made of some sort of wool, and the mattress was quite soft. There was a tan fur carpet covering the whole floor to prevent splinters. There was a single open window in the room that allowed daylight to pour in. The room was filled with wooden furniture: a dresser, table, two chairs, and there was also an unlit candle placed on the table. There was also an armor stand in the room, which was holding his armor for him. He realized what he just saw and peeked under his blanket. He was naked. Well, not completely, he still had his boxers on. It was awkward enough that this happened at all, but the fact that this was the second time in as many days was even worse. He got out of the bed and peeked out of the bed and quickly shut the window’s wooden blinds. He inspected his armor; the whole set was clean. He found a note on the chest piece. It was written in the Floran language: Clothes washed. In dresser. It wasn’t signed. Xavier checked the dresser and found the rest of his clothes were in fact washed and neatly folded inside the dresser. He put his armor on and then he put his Protectorate uniform on. Before he left he noticed that his data pad was on the wooden table, though it had been turned off. He turned it on. “Good afternoon, Xavier,” S.A.I.L.’s voice emitted from the communicator. “It’s in the afternoon?” He asked. “Yes,” S.A.I.L. replied. “You were asleep for about eight hours.” “Do you know where Ranaka is?” “He turned his communicator on an hour ago and told us you were both okay,” S.A.I.L. informed him. “He told Chitlan not to come rescue you both and then he turned his data pad off.” “Rescue us?” “Chitlan thought you had been kidnapped by another Floran tribe.” “Weren’t we?” Xavier remembered the four Florans that were walking towards Ranaka and him as they fainted together. “No,” S.A.I.L. corrected him. “You were kidnapped by a Floran village.” “Was that a-” “But they do not seem to want to cause you or Ranaka harm,” S.A.I.L. interrupted him. “Should I leave the room?” “That is up to you.” Xavier hesitated before putting the communicator back into his pocket. He glanced at the closed window for a second before walking over and opening it again. The light entered the room and he had to wait for his eyes to adjust to the afternoon sunshine before looking outside. He found that the building he was in was built into a very large tree and that he was located on the second floor. Now that it was daytime, he realized just how large the trees in the village all were. Each tree had a building built inside of it. Xavier saw Florans walking up and down the roads of the village. Some were carrying produce, others were carrying things like wool or thread. There was a Floran pushing a wooden cart full of raw ore. Then Xavier spotted the footpath. It was a straight line from the path to the building he was in. Xavier realized that he was now inside of the building that those four Florans had come out of. He decided it was time to leave the room and find out what was going on. Xavier walked over to the door and opened it. For some reason, Xavier expected someone to be standing on the other side, but there was no one there. There were seven doors, three on each side of the hallway, and the seventh was at the far right end of the hallway from Xavier. To the far left were the stairs which lead down. Xavier walked over to the stairs and cautiously walked down them. Supposedly Ranaka was awake and had told S.A.I.L. that these new Florans weren’t keeping them captive, but Xavier didn’t want to take any chances. Halfway down the stairs he started to hear noises coming from the first floor, he wasn’t really sure what to make of them. At the bottom of the stairs was a small room with two doors leading left or right. Sounds were coming from both doors. Xavier peeked through the left door and saw that the room was a kitchen. There was a male Floran cooking something in a pot; the meal smelled delicious. They weren’t facing Xavier so he gently closed the door. Through the right door was a room that looked just like a normal living room, though everything was made of wood or animal materials, like wool or leather. There were two couches in the room and several tables with unlit candles on them. One of the tables also had a lantern on it. More interestingly, there was a feminine Floran sitting on one of the couches with her back to Xavier. She was listening to a gramophone. Xavier carefully shut the door. Supposedly the two Florans were friendly to Ranaka and him, but how could he confirm it without endangering himself? Suddenly, a door opened upstairs. Xavier stared up at second floor as a figure walked into view; it was Ranaka. He walked downstairs. “Ranaka!” Xavier said quietly. “What?” Ranaka asked as he reached the bottom steps. “Where are we?” “In Greenfinger Kadalie’s house,” Ranaka nonchalantly said. He brushed passed Xavier and went through the door leading to the living room. Xavier watched through the open door as the Floran on the couch turned to look at him. “Hello again, Ranaka,” she gently hissed in the Floran language. “Good afternoon, Greenfinger Kadalie,” came the reply, also in the Floran language. Apparently Ranaka could speak it, too. The Greenfinger spotted Xavier peeking through the door and invited him into the room. Hesitantly, he walked through the door and closed it behind him. Ranaka stood in one corner of the room while the Greenfinger was still on the couch. She gestured to the other couch. Xavier took the hint and sat down. He took in Kadalie’s appearance as he sat. She had light green skin with pinkish red leaves covering her body. There was a large rose sprouting from the top of her head that gave off a sweet scent that was soft enough that it didn’t assault Xavier’s nose. There was a gentle vibe coming from her that made Xavier want to trust her, though that might have been the scent of the flower. She wore fur clothing that vaguely resembled a collared shirt and a pair of jeans. On her feet were a pair of sandals and her hands were covered by white cloth gloves. She had a silver ring on. “Good afternoon, Xavier,” said the Greenfinger. “I am Greenfinger Kadalie. I trusst you sslept well?” “As well as ever,” Xavier answered. Kadalie’s sentence structure seemed a bit more advanced than the average Floran. Definitely more advanced than Kainam and his goons. “I hope you are not alarmed at your missing weapon,” she said. “It’sss a housse rule, no weaponss allowed. You may reclaim it outsside.” “Uh, thanks?” Xavier didn’t know what to say. “Dinner will be in a few hoursss, Adija makes a fine sstew.” “Is Adija the guy in the kitchen?” “Yess,” Kadalie confirmed. “Now, you musst have quesstionsss?” Xavier didn’t quite know where to start, so he asked where they were. “We are in my village,” Kadalie answered. “We try to be civilized, yet tribess like Greenfinger Kainam’ss make issuess for us.” “We met Kainam,” Xavier informed her. “He kidnapped us yesterday.” “Yess, Ranaka hasss already informed me of your incident.” Kadalie shifted on the couch. “He givess usss many problemsss.” “He’s a cannibal.” He said it like a fact, because it was. “He isss,” Kadalie admitted. “He thinkss we are weak sso he comess to usss for food.” “How long has he been terrorizing your village?” “Only for a few weeksss,” she said. “He hasss only recently found our village.” “How many people have been taken?” “Only fourteen sso far.” “Only fourteen?!” Xavier exclaimed. Kadalie nodded. “Kainam huntss sseveral tribesss,” Kadalie informed him. “Our lossess our only a fraction of the total.” Xavier was silent for a moment. Kainam was a bigger problem than he thought, eventually this village and the other tribes would be extinct if Kainam were left alone. The gramophone played on. “Why hasn’t anyone stopped him yet?” “Hisss tribe isss too sstrong for usss,” Kadalie admitted. “We are not fightersss.” “That’s not something I would ever expect to hear from a Floran,” Xavier said. “It isss true, Floranss like to hunt. But we are learning to be more civil than othersss.” “Why haven’t you teamed up with the other tribes then?” “Becausse they are sscared,” Kadalie said. “We all are. But enough on thisss matter. You have your own problemss asss well.” Ranaka finally stepped forward from the corner. He looked more grim than usual, not something Xavier thought was possible, but something that he knew he should take seriously. Not that Ranaka was anything except serious. Except for that one moment in Kainam’s cage. “Xavier, when we escaped Kainam we never retrieved your pack,” Ranaka said. “He still has it.” “But there were just tents in there,” Xavier told him. “So what?” “That’s the thing, there weren’t just tents in there.” “You mean your food? Can’t we just get more from the ship?” “We can, and I already did,” Ranaka told him. “That’s not what I was talking about.” “What is it?” “Your matter manipulator,” Ranaka said. Xavier froze as he remembered. “You put it in your pack when we started traveling.” “And we left the pack with Kainam…” “Because we forgot it.” “So he has the manipulator now…” They were both silent for several seconds until Kadalie interrupted their thoughts. “Excusse me, but what isss thisss matter manipulator?” “It’s a powerful tool made by the Terrene Protectorate,” Xavier answered and gestured to the emblem on his uniform’s shirt. “And now Kainam has it.” “What doess it do?” She asked. “It lets the wielder manipulate nature,” Xavier explained. “With it, you can shrink a large chunk of dirt and put it into your pocket.” As he spoke he gestured with his hands as if he were holding a large object but then he moved them closer together, to indicate the object had shrunk. “It doessn’t sseem that powerful,” Kadalie stated. “Well, it might not sound powerful, but in action it’s amazing.” Kadalie went into a thoughtful silence. Ranaka spoke up. “So now we have to fight them.” “But you said there were thirty of them!” “Thirty-five,” Ranaka corrected. “And anyway, we need that device for our mission.” “But how can we take on all of Kainam’s tribe with just the two of us?” Xavier demanded. “Well, we can’t, even if we used those mechs we’d still be outnumbered,” Ranaka admitted. “But it isn’t just the two of us this time.” Xavier wondered what he meant. “You mean Chitlan?” “No!” Ranaka exclaimed. “The village! This village! And the others, too.” Kadalie perked up at this. “You want usss to fight Kainam?” She asked as if the idea were unthinkable. “Yes, it’s time for you to stand up for yourselves,” Ranaka told her. “I understand if you want to be civil, but you must defend yourself now or there won’t be anything left to defend later.” She was silent again. It was clear she had mixed feelings about the idea of fighting Kainam. Xavier decided it was best not to push her, the last thing he wanted was another angry Floran tribe after them. “I cannot decide right now,” she finally said. “I must confer with Greenfinger Dolamar.” “Wait, I thought you were the Greenfinger,” Xavier said. “I am, but there isss another,” Kadalie informed him. “We work together for the good of the village. Now pleasse, go explore the village. Ssupper will be ready in a few hours. Until then, feel free to have a ssnack from Adija,” she dismissed him. With that, Xavier stood up. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was. As he went through the door that lead to the stairs, Ranaka left through another door on the opposite side of the room. Xavier could smell the stew from the other side of the door before he entered, but now that he had gone through it hit him like a wave. The Floran, Adija, was busy cutting meat from what looked like a rabbit of some kind. There was an open can of food fit for Avali near a second pot of stew, which was smaller than the first. Both were cooking on a strange stove. It was made of metal but seemed to be powered by fire instead of electricity. Above the stove was an open window that let the smell flow out into the outside world. There was another opening across the room, it was just an archway with no door. The Floran was male and named Adjia according to Kadalie. Adija had emerald colored skin with violet leaves covering his body. On top of his head was a rose, similar to Kadalie’s but violet in color. Like his mother, Kadalie, something about Adija made Xavier want to trust him completely, though that might have just been the smell of the rose on his head. He wore fur clothing that vaguely resembled a t-shirt and jeans; he also wore leather boots. Above his normal attire he was wearing a clean apron. He glanced up at Xavier as he stepped into the kitchen. “Oh hello!” Adija said. “You musst be Xavier.” Like Kadalie, he spoke in the Floran language. “Hello,” Xavier replied. “I spoke with Greenfinger Kadalie and she said I could get something to eat in here.” “Oh, you musst be sstarving,” he said as he washed his hands in a device similar to a modern sink. “I heard you were kidnapped by Kainam yessterday.” “We were,” Xavier answered. “So do you work for Kadalie?” “Work for? No, I am her sson,” Adija said. Xavier could see the family resemblance. Adija dried his hands with a towel and walked over to a cabinet. He opened it and peered inside. “Do you have any other family?” “Yesss,” he said and retrieved some dried fruits for Xavier; Xavier took them politely. “There isss my father, Greenfinger Dolamar, and my ssisster, Hadowssi.” “The Greenfingers are married?” Xavier asked him. In a way it made sense, but wouldn’t that make their family the most powerful in the village?” “In a sense,” Adija said. “It is true, they live together and share children, but I do not think they are considered ‘married,’ at least, not as you know the term.” Xavier wasn’t quite sure what to make of that explanation, so he just continued the conversation, “What are they like?” “Father and Mother lead the tribe together, Mother dealss with inner conflictss while Father dealss with outer eventsss,” Adija explained. Xavier ate a dried grape. “And Hadowsi?” “Hadowssi… She isss rougher than mosst of the tribe,” Adija spoke warily of his sister. “She likess to fight, but she alsso wantss to be civil, like the resst of usss. I think she hass a hard time deciding which to be ssometimess.” Xavier ate some banana slices as he thought about what to ask next. “How do you feel about Kainam?” Adija had just been about to start cutting the rabbit again but he stopped when Xavier asked him that question. Xavier saw that he had almost cut his finger off, though he didn’t even seem to notice. “Kainam isss dangerousss,” Adija spoke carefully, like he was talking about a taboo. “Many in the tribe are sscared of him, but many are alsso too sscared to fight him.” “Kadalie said that you aren’t fighters.” “It isss true,” Adija confirmed. “We have lived for yearss without needing to fight anything. Kainam’ss tribe appeared only a few weekss ago.” “Do you wish he were gone?” Adija was silent for a second, he looked like he was remembering something… or someone. “Yesss,” he said. Xavier finished his dried fruits and was thinking about what to say next when Adija spoke up again. “Xavier… If you can convince them to fight back, pleasse try,” he whispered. After a few seconds he went back to cutting. Xavier left the kitchen leaving Adija sadder than when he had arrived. It made Xavier sad to know that he had ruined Adija’s mood, but it gave him valuable information of the situation of the village. Day 9; Time 1412; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: After exploring the house some, Xavier decided it was time to check out the rest of the village. Maybe he’d even run into Ranaka while doing so. He stepped out the front door and found his broken broadsword resting against the outside wall only a few feet away. After reclaiming it he set out into the village. There weren’t many Florans in the village, he counted about half a dozen on the street. There were a few farmers growing crops near their houses and Xavier wondered if they grew food for the whole village. There was also a blacksmith in the town, but they were unable to repair Xavier’s sword. There was surprisingly little activity in the village, which worried Xavier. After wandering the village for barely half an hour, he found Ranaka talking to five Florans, all except one were wearing bone armor. He approached them from Ranaka’s side. As he walked closer he started to hear their conversation. “Just because you’re Floran doesn’t mean you’re a hunter,” Ranaka shot at them. The Florans wearing armor shifted in place. Xavier stopped once he reached them and stood to Ranaka’s right. The Florans turned their attention to him but he stayed silent and watched the event unfold. “From what I’ve learned, there are six hunters in this village,” Ranaka continued. “And none of you are part of that group.” The Florans wearing armor seemed to be growing agitated, one of them even hissed at him. “Don’t hiss at me,” Ranaka spoke directly to the Floran who hissed. “Father,” said one of the Florans in armor, a female. “Let usss get on with our training.” The unarmored Floran answered her, “Very well. Ranaka, will you pleasse allow them to train in peace?” “If they can’t take verbal hits how are they going to survive in battle?” “Their job issn’t to fight,” the Floran returned. “So they’re supposed to let Kainam just waltz right in and eat your villagers?” All of the Florans were taken aback by the comment. “How are we ssupposed to fight against Kainam?” Asked one of the armored Florans, a male this time. “By training for battle,” Ranaka answered. “We know how to fight!” Said the female Floran again. “Ranaka, we are not going to war,” said the unarmored Floran. “They jusst need to practice for ssmall sskirmishesss.” “How can they do that if they can’t even defend themselves from words?” “Ranaka,” Xavier muttered to him. “What exactly are you doing?” Ranaka ignored him. “You’re all just a bunch of walking vegetables wrapped in bones,” Ranaka, referring to their skin and armor, dismissed them. Now even Xavier was gawking at him, the other Florans were now truly agitated, even the peaceful one. “We are not food!” The female Floran argued. “No, you are,” Ranaka said and turned away as if to ignore her. Fully angered, the Floran’s emotions finally took control of her and she snapped. Acting out of rage, she lunged at Ranaka, who spun to face her, as if he were expecting the action. He crouched as she reached him and lifted her up and over himself, throwing her onto the other side of him. Everyone was shocked motionless. The unarmored male was the first to recover. “Hadowssi, how dare you attack a guessst?” Asked the Floran. “He inssultss usss asss if he isss better!” Hadowsi answered as she stood up from the ground. “I am better than you,” Ranaka declared, facing her once again. Losing herself to rage once again, Hadowsi renewed her assault on Ranaka. Instead of lifting her overhead, Ranaka instead jumped into the air and delivered a roundhouse kick to Hadowsi’s torso, launching her farther away than when she had started. “I am clearly stronger than you, so you should just give up now,” Ranaka casually said. “Just pretend I’m Kainam coming for food.” “Ranaka what are you doing?” Xavier urgently whispered to him. Hadowsi recovered herself from the ground and glared at Ranaka. Instead of attacking him again, she gestured with her head to her armored companions. Apparently getting the message, they all turned around and focused on something hidden behind them. Xavier hadn’t seen it before because they were blocking it, but now he got glimpses of a table loaded with wooden practice spears, they were definitely sharp enough to do harm. Each Floran took a spear for themselves and one carried an extra, which was tossed to Hadowsi. They surrounded Ranaka on four sides and Xavier and the unarmored Floran were forced to stand back. This was getting out of hand. The four Florans started to approach him slowly, spears trained on him. All four of Ranaka’s ears seemed to be aimed at a different Floran. Suddenly, Hadowsi shouted “NOW!” All four Florans rushed to meet at the center, at Ranaka. But instead of letting them skewer him, Ranaka jumped straight up, higher than anyone of his size should have been able to do. Xavier knew that the height was because of Ranaka’s leg augments, but the Florans didn’t and they just gazed up in surprise as he flew skyward. It was all they could do to stop from stabbing their own allies. While the Florans looked up in wonder, it was inevitable that gravity would pull Ranaka back down, so of course he aimed for a face. Ranaka crashed onto the Floran positioned to the left of Hadowsi. Like the others, she had been stunned by his surprise jump, but she made up for it by being the first to respond to his return. She swung her spear at Ranaka as her teammate’s body crumpled underneath him, only for him to leap backwards, perform a flip in midair and land on her other ally, who was to the right of Hadowsi. He didn’t land on the second Floran as hard as the first, so instead of being knocked out, she just dropped her spear in surprise and tried to push him off of her. Instead of allowing himself to be pried off, Ranaka slammed both of his fists down onto the top of her vine covered head. This was the blow that dropped her to the ground. Angered now that not one but two of her comrades were out of action, Hadowsi lunged once again at Ranaka, this time with the spear aimed at his chest. She hit him, probably because he didn’t even bother dodging. The spearhead, which was made of wood, snapped against Ranaka’s armor. Hadowsi stepped back and stared at her broken spear. The whole time, the third Floran snuck around Ranaka so that he was now behind him. He, too, lunged at Ranaka with his spear, instead aiming at the back of his exposed neck. Ranaka being an Avali trained for combat, had at least one ear trained on him at all times and had known of his flanking since the beginning and was prepared for his attack. Once again, he leapt into the air, this time not as high, and landed straight down. Instead of landing where he had jumped, though, the Floran’s momentum had carried him into his trajectory, so Ranaka landed on his back. As Ranaka was about to land on the Floran, he twisted so that he could kick him straight into Hadowsi. Hadowsi had watched the whole event but still had barely enough time to dodge out of the way. Ranaka rushed toward the\ stumbling Floran and jumped high enough so that his momentum would carry his fist into the unbalanced Floran’s head from behind. The blow was enough to knock him out. Now with just Hadowsi left standing, Ranaka turned to face her. She had recovered and claimed one of the unbroken spears dropped by one of her fallen friends. “Just give up, vegetable,” Ranaka advised her. “You can’t win.” “I am not a vegetable!” Hadowsi yelled and lunged at Ranaka. She didn’t win. Ranaka simply sidestepped and used her momentum against her by tripping her. Once she fell to the ground, Ranaka grabbed her head and slammed it into the ground, knocking her out. Ranaka stood up and looked around. Surrounding him were the four Florans he had beaten up, along with their fallen weapons. The first two were groaning, as if they were awakening. Xavier glanced around and realized that the commotion had drawn the attention of some of the townsfolk. The unarmored Floran walked to Ranaka and spoke up. “Ranaka, why did you do thisss?” “To anger them,” Ranaka answered. “Why did you bring them to anger?” Asked the Floran. “To get them to fight me,” came the reply. “What does fighting ever solve?” He was asked. “Fighting solves a lot of things,” Ranaka said. “It’s true that peaceful conversations can solve most of those problems as well, but there are just some things that need to be fought for.” “And what things would thosse be?” “Survival, for one. No matter how hard you debate, if someone wants you dead they’re going to kill you,” Ranaka told him. “The only way to stay alive is to fight them. And fighting for friends and family. Tell me, Greenfinger Dolamar, would you attempt to peacefully talk to someone who was about to kill your children? Would you stand by and debate while your village was being ransacked?” Dolamar was silent. He glanced at the four fallen Florans, the first two were just getting back on their feet while the third was just starting to reanimate. Hadowsi was still. The Greenfinger looked at the townsfolk around them. They were all waiting for his answer, all of them wore grim faces that mirrored his own. “But how can we, we who have shunned fighting, stand up againsst Kainam?” He asked, turning back to Ranaka. “Surely you do not believe that we are able.” “It’s true that you do not have enough people to fight Kainam,” Ranaka admitted, his voice grew gentle, and what he said next held a glimpse of hope, “But you aren’t alone.” “You will fight with usss?” Dolamar asked, his own voice was hopeful. “I will, but that is not what I meant.” “What do you mean, then?” “The other tribes,” Ranaka said. “The other tribes that Kainam hunts. They need help, too. If you work together you can all defeat Kainam.” “But the other tribess do not care for our peaceful waysss,” Dolamar told him. “They will never work with usss.” “Then make them.” “But how can we force them to help usss if we can’t even help ourselvesss?” Dolamar asked. “And if we force them, they will jusst turn on usss.” “Persuade them,” Ranaka said. “Convince them that they all need to work together.” “But how?” “Remember everyone who was taken by Kainam,” Ranaka started. “Remember them and remember what it felt like to be unable to save them. Go to the other tribes, and make them remember, too.” Dolamar was silent. Xavier took the time to truly examine his appearance. He had deep green skin and was covered in rich, blue leaves. Sprouting from his head was a large yellow flower resembling that of a sunflower. Overall his gender was pretty androgynous; the only reason Xavier would describe him as ‘male’ was because of his ‘wife,’ Kadalie, who resembled a female. He wore fur clothing vaguely resembling a collared shirt with a vest over it. His fur pants resembled jeans. On his back he wore a brown fur cloak that shifted in the breeze. Xavier looked around at the surrounding people. All of the Floran bystanders were remembering their lost friends and family, several were comforting each other with hugs and whispers. One of the fallen Floran guards was comforting another who was sobbing into their shoulder. By now even Hadowsi had regained consciousness, and even she was remorseful. “Very well,” Dolamar said after what seemed like an eternity. “I have made my decision, but Greenfinger Kadalie will need to agree. Even I cannot lead the village into war without her agreement.” Most of the Florans were nodding in agreement, as if they were finally coming to terms with what had happened and were ready to make amends. “I understand,” Ranaka said. Dolamar walked away, along with the bystanders. They were probably returning to their duties. The Floran guards stood up and formed a small group nearby. Xavier strode over to Ranaka. “That was… surprising Ranaka,” Xavier said. “I didn’t know you had a way with words.” Ranaka shrugged. “I just told him what he needed to hear- what they all needed to hear.” “Amazing, after that whole speech and you act like it was nothing.” “It wasn’t anything special, I just said what I thought Nezami would say,” Ranaka admitted. “She was the one who had a way with words.” “Still, that was pretty good,” Xavier continued. “Do you think they can do it?” “Fight Kainam? Yes. Win? I don’t think so,” Ranaka admitted. “Why not?” “They don’t have enough people, for one. I wasn’t lying when I said they needed to work with the other tribes,” Ranaka said. “And to be honest, they just plain suck at fighting. There’s a lot more to it than rushing at the enemy.” “I see what you mean,” Xavier thought back to the ‘fight.’ Sure it was pretty one-sided, Xavier knew first-hand how good Ranaka was, even without a weapon. But still, those Florans were inexperienced. It must be because the Greenfingers were trying to be civilized and less violent, but it seemed like they ditched the concept of fighting entirely. “So what exactly is your plan here?” Xavier asked him. “Well we need to train these Florans to fight so that they won’t die immediately,” Ranaka started. “And at the same time we’ll need to convince the other tribes to work with this one.” “How do you suppose we do that?” “We’ll have to actually go to the other tribes and see what they’re like,” Ranaka said. “But before we do that we need to make sure Greenfinger Kadalie agrees with this plan. And something tells me she might be harder to convince than Dolamar.” “Alright then, any ideas?” “Nope.” Xavier sighed. “Well, we’d have had to run into a dead end sometime.” “Excusse me?” Said Hadowsi. She and the other three Florans were now standing nearby. “What?” Ranaka bluntly asked. “You will teach usss to fight like you?” She continued. “I will teach you to fight,” Ranaka agreed. “But not like me. You’d need augmentations to fight like I do.” Hadowsi and the other Florans looked saddened by this discovery, as if they were expecting to learn how to jump three times higher than normal and how to know where your opponents were even if they were behind you. “But you will teach usss?” Hadowsi asked again as if she were nervous about the answer suddenly being negative. “I will,” Ranaka confirmed. He turned back to Xavier. “While I teach them you need to make sure that Kadalie is convinced. We can’t do anything without her agreement.” “Alright,” Xavier agreed. “Let’s do this.” He walked back to the Greenfingers’ home. Day 9; Time 1451; Kadalie’s Home on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Inside the Greenfingers’ house a commotion was occurring in the living room. Xavier walked in to find Greenfingers Kadalie and Dolamar having a heated discussion about whether or not they should fight against Kainam. Somewhere in the conversation, the option of just abandoning the town and escaping with the remaining villagers arose. Across the room, Adija was watching the two of them argue with each other. The volume hadn’t risen to the level of yelling yet, but it seemed to be escalating quickly. Xavier thought it best to listen in on the conversation before he intruded in. “How can you think that thiss isss besst?” Kadalie asked him. “Kainam will kill usss all if we continue to do nothing,” Dolamar responded. “Then let usss leave,” Kadalie offered. “If we take the village and leave we will not have to face Kainam and he will not be able to harm usss anymore!” “Won’t he?” Dolamar asked her. “Won’t he jusst hunt usss? Hunt usss for real? And when he findss usss he will take usss all, not jusst two at a time.” Kadalie paced around the room. She seemed to be trying to think of a better plan than fighting. As she was pacing, she spotted Xavier standing by the entrance to the room. She glared at him. “You!” She growled. “You did thisss!” “Uh… What?” Xavier asked her. “You’ve placed ideasss of violence in our people!” “Actually that was Ra- uh you know, you guys have do to start defending yourself,” Xavier told her. “We can defend ourselves jusst fine,” Kadalie argued. “So… Why aren’t you?” Xavier asked her. Kadalie was about to say something but stopped quickly. “Not to be rude, but, how exactly are you defending yourselves?” Xavier pressed on. “Because it seems like you guys are letting Kainam walk all over you.” “It isss thisss or die,” Kadalie finally said. “You’ll all die anyway!” Xavier exclaimed. “Would you rather die later regretting everyone you allowed to die because of your inaction? Or would you rather die sooner knowing that you redeemed yourself because you decided to act before everyone died?” Kadalie seethed. “I would rather have everyone in thisss village die later than have them all die ssooner.” “Well that’s too bad,” Xavier said. Kadalie was about to speak up but Xavier continued, “Because a lot of the villagers would rather die sooner knowing they redeemed themselves than die later knowing they didn’t.” “None of them want to die,” Kadalie said. “That’s going to happen anyway, Kadalie,” Xavier said. “But none of them want to die knowing that they could have done something to stop Kainam.” “We can’t sstop Kainam!” Kadalie insisted. “It’s imposssible.” “Is it?” “Yesss!” “Maybe not.” “What do you mean?” “Ranaka has a plan to help you,” Xavier told her. “Ranaka? The violent one?” Kadalie asked incredulously. “I wasss just told that he insstigated a fight. How can we trusst him or hisss plan?” “Because he’s smart,” Xavier defended. “You can be smart and strong, you know.” “Very well,” Kadalie said. “Ssay we were to fight Kainam. What isss thisss plan?” “You will need to team up with the other tribes that Kainam hunts.” “Crawl to the other tribess for help? I thought you wanted usss to fight Kainam!” “I do, and you won’t be crawling to them for help,” Xavier continued. “Go to them and show them that you can all work together to defeat Kainam.” “And how do you ssuggesst we do that if they all hate usss?” “I don’t know; play their egos, give them gifts, promise them land?” Xavier recalled what Ranaka had said to Greenfinger Dolamar to convince him. “Or… You could make them remember.” “Remember what?” Kadalie asked. “Remember the people that Kainam kidnapped, the people he stole,” Xavier said. “If you can make the other tribes remember how it felt when Kainam walked over them then you might be able to convince them.” Kadalie stayed silent. Both of them had forgotten about Dolamar and Adija, who were standing around uncomfortably, neither of them wanted to get involved in the argument. “Be honest with me, Xavier,” Kadalie looked deep into his eyes. “Do you believe we can win?” Xavier was silent for a moment. Kadalie no longer sounded angry, now it was like she was scared deep down and didn’t know what to do. “I do,” he replied. And he meant it, he didn’t know why, but he felt like Kainam would lose if Kadalie chose to fight. “Very well,” Kadalie finally said, and Xavier let out a sigh of relief that he hadn’t known he was holding. Day 9; Time 1458; Kadalie’s Home on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: “Very well,” Kadalie finally said, and Xavier let out a sigh of relief that he hadn’t known he was holding. Everyone stood silently, staring at each other. It seemed no one knew what to do next. Kadalie kept the conversation going: “What do we have to do?” She asked. Before Xavier could respond, someone busted through the front door. The person stayed in the foyer for only a few seconds before coming through the living room door. It was a Floran Xavier had not seen before. They were wearing bone armor, so Xavier assumed that they were one of the guards. “What isss it?” Kadalie asked impatiently. Her tone indicating that she knew what the Floran was going to say. Dolamar and Adija also seemed to understand why the Floran was here, as they glanced out the window. “Greenfinger Kainam’ss collection party hass arrived from the wesstern footpath,” the Floran said grimly. “They are awaiting you.” All four Florans walked out of the house, leaving Xavier no choice but to follow. They all seemed tense, yet strangely resigned; and Xavier recalled that this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Their group walked to the western edge of the village to the pathway. It was a straight line from the house’s front door to the group of Florans that had assembled around the location. The crowd parted as the Greenfingers arrived. The four Florans went to the front of the crowd while Xavier mingled near the middle so that he wouldn’t be spotted. Who knew how the cannibals would react if they saw him. Xavier examined Kainam’s ‘collection party’ and saw that he was not among the them. He must have stayed home this time. Xavier did, however, notice Sadradi at the head of the party. He was accompanied by only three other Florans. Even though they were badly outnumbered, they acted as if they were better than the village; on the other side, the village acted as if they had long since been beaten, however several had new flames in their eyes as they glared at the cannibals. It seemed like Ranaka’s speech had really inspired them. Dolamar spoke first: “Ssadradi, have you come for food?” “Yesss,” Sadradi smirked. They both played it out like they had rehearsed it many times. “We alwayss take two. But,” the villagers tensed. “Ssince dinner esscaped we take four.” The villagers murmured in disapproval while the cannibals laughed amongst each other. It seemed like they hadn’t spotted Xavier yet. Xavier realized he couldn’t see Ranaka in the crowd. “Why do you need more than usual?” Dolamar asked. “Can’t you hunt for yoursselves?” Sadradi made an annoyed expression. “Of coursse Floran can hunt,” he whined. “Dolamar and Kadalie weak, you all weak!” Kadalie spoke up. “If you can hunt, why are you here?” Sadradi took a second to think of an answer. “Because Floran like Floran for food,” the other cannibals nodded. “Floran tasste good.” Xavier felt a shifting in the crowd. He looked around and spotted several Floran villagers geared in their bone and tungsten armor mingling within the crowd. There were seven of them, and all of them had tungsten spears ready yet hidden from the cannibals. Xavier glanced forward once more. “Doess Floran bite back?” Kadalie asked him. He seemed confused, as were the other cannibals. “Floran too weak to bite back,” he said regaining his composure. Xavier glanced around at the crowd surrounding him. By now they might as well have been bristling. They were getting agitated now, as if they had had enough. Sadradi and his group glanced around at the crowd, sensing its agitation. They seemed to have just realized how bad their situation actually was. One of the cannibals spotted Xavier and pointed at him. “Human!” It cried. Sadradi and the other Florans looked at the Floran before searching for Xavier. It didn’t take long before he was noticed by the others. “Human!” Sadradi mimicked. Xavier gently pushed through to the front of the crowd and stood beside Kadalie, Dolamar, Adija, and the Floran guard that had alerted them of the cannibals. “Sadradi,” Xavier said. “You esscape!” He hissed. “We eat you anyway!” “No,” Dolamar calmly but bluntly denied. Now Sadradi was very confused, he must not have been used to being denied; but he was also getting angry and impatient. He looked like he was about to throw a tantrum. “Give Human!” He ordered. “And four Floran!” “No,” Dolamar said again, remaining calm. Sadradi glared dumbfounded at him. He was about to lose it. “Ssadradi,” Kadalie stepped in. “Leave now.” “Or what?” Sadradi sneered at her. “Or,” Dolamar continued and took a single step forward. “Floran bite back,” he said with grammar mocking Sadradi’s. Xavier had not noticed it before because he had walked to the front of the crowd, but sometime between when he had done so and now the village guards had also moved to the front of the crowd. Now they no longer hid their weapons, instead pointing them threateningly at the cannibals. Behind them, the normal villagers were also glaring angrily. Once again, the intruders looked worried that they were in over their heads. Sadradi stepped back, causing the other intruders to also take a step back. “Floran come again,” he said. “Kainam come too.” And with that, they turned tail and ran back down the path before cutting into the forest. As they ran the villagers cheered and laughed at them, as if a great weight had been lifted from them. The guards didn’t cheer with them, but they did lower their weapons and smile at each other. Adija laughed in relief while Kadalie and Dolamar glanced at each other. They were the only two besides Xavier and the Floran guard that had alerted them of the cannibals that weren't smiling. Glancing around, Xavier realized that he could still not find Ranaka. He searched the surrounding area worriedly, but did not stay worried for long because Ranaka emerged from the forest. He had been behind the intruders. “Ranaka!” Xavier jogged to him. “What were you doing over there?” Ranaka looked up at him. “I was waiting to see if they would attack. I told the guards that we weren’t going to let them take any more Florans.” “Well they didn’t,” Xavier pointed out. “They didn’t, but they’re not out of the action yet,” Ranaka reminded him. Xavier nodded. “Kadalie agrees with the plan. We should prepare for phase two.” “Phase two?” “Now that both of the Greenfingers agree that Kainam needs to be stopped, and we have the village’s help, we need to plan what to do next.” “We can do that over dinner,” a feminine voice interrupted them from behind. Xavier turned and saw that Kadalie and Dolamar had walked up to them. “We undersstand that it isss not over,” Dolamar said. Xavier and Ranaka both nodded. “We can disscusss the next move while we eat,” Kadalie said again. “For now, we musst make sure the villagers undersstand that Kainam hasss not been defeated.” “I will let you handle them,” Dolamar said and Kadalie nodded in agreement. The four of them walked back to the front of the crowd, which had calmed down as they waited for Kadalie to speak. “Friendss, family, lissten,” Kadalie started. “Kainam may have been pushed away for now, but he will return.” The Florans murmured amongst each other, but most seemed to have foreseen this. “If we want to sstop Kainam forever,” Kadalie continued. “Then we musst drive him and hisss tribe away.” One of the villagers called out a question: “Greenfinger Kadalie, how can we do sso?” Other Florans continued to murmur suggestions but Xavier couldn’t make out any of them. “We musst follow the guidance of Ranaka and Xavier!” Kadalie said. The Florans all looked at Xavier and Ranaka. It made Xavier a little uneasy, he was never necessarily good with crowds, even small ones. Kadalie motioned him forward, so he stood beside her. “They have come up with a plan that will help usss!” Kadalie called. She stepped back so that Xavier could speak. He shivered a little. “My name is Xavier,” he started. “I am from Earth. I am a Protector, as a Protector I try to keep peace among people.” One Floran had a question: “If you keep the peace, why do you help usss fight?” Other Florans nodded, as if they wondered the same. “Because while I must keep the peace,” Xavier responded. “I must also help those who are in need. People who can’t stand up for themselves. I will lift you up, so you may stand on your own.” The Florans nodded as if satisfied. Another Floran had a question: “How can we defeat Greenfinger Kainam? He isss sstronger than we are. We are not good fightersss!” “True,” Xavier said. “You may not be good fighters, but Ranaka will teach you,” he gestured to Ranaka. “And you have something Kainam’s tribe does not: spirit. They think you are weak, so they have grown weak themselves. We will teach you, and you will be stronger.” The Florans nodded in approval again, some even grinned. The guard that had alerted the Greenfingers of the cannibals spoke up this time. When Xavier had first seen him, he had not seen anything unusual. But now that Xavier looked closer, he could see that this Floran was more experienced than the other guards, far more experienced. “Even if you teach usss to fight better,” he started. “We will sstill be no match for Kainam’ss tribe. Surely you know thisss?” The other Florans looked at each other, the comment lowered their moral a bit. “Kainam’s tribe is larger than your village,” Xavier admitted. “But there is a way to make your village larger than Kainam’s tribe.” The Florans looked confused at the suggestion. Xavier continued: “You can grow larger, but only with the help of the other tribes Kainam hunts.” The Florans started to quietly whisper within the group. They were anxious and maybe a little scared. Greenfinger Kadalie stepped up beside Xavier and took over. “Friendsss! Lissten!” Kadalie got their attention back. “Kainam can defeat usss asss we are today. Kainam can defeat usss next week, no matter how sstrong we are. But! If we make peace with the other tribess, he will not- no, he cannot defeat usss tomorrow!” The Florans gave off mixed reactions. Most were thoughtful, others cheered a little, and the rest carried a worried gaze. “Now, return to your dutiesss!” Kadalie said. “We will handle the resst!” The villagers started to disperse. “Asheem,” Kadalie called, the experienced Floran guard responded by walking up to her. “Make sure the village isss well guarded tonight and onward until Kainam hasss been defeated.” “Yesss, Greenfinger,” he answered. He still looked skeptical about the plan, but he would follow the Greenfingers. Now their little group consisted of just Xavier, Ranaka, Kadalie, and Dolamar. “Uh, sorry about that,” Xavier apologized, referring to when he revealed the plan. Kadalie turned to him. “Do not worry,” she soothed. “It isss better that they know we intend to make peace with the other tribess ahead of time, instead of on the sspot.” Dolamar turned to Ranaka. “When will you teach the villagerss how to fight?” “I will not teach the villagers how to fight,” Ranaka corrected him. “I will teach the guards how to fight tomorrow. If you want to teach the villagers after Kainam is defeated, go ahead.” “I ssee,” Dolamar said. “It isss ssafer that way. And what will you be doing Xavier?” “I would like to visit the other tribes,” he answered. “If that is okay with you.” “I believe that will be fine,” Dolamar agreed. “Shall we continue this discussion inside?” Kadalie asked them all, to which they agreed. Day 9; Time 1814; Kadalie’s Home on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: It was several hours later and the four of them had come up with a decent plan to fight Kainam. It was very much like the original that Ranaka and Xavier had come up with on the spot, this new version however, was much more detailed. Apparently, besides the village, which was considered Kadalie’s village, not Dolamar’s, there were three other tribes being terrorized by Kainam. First there was the Tribe of the Sky, next was the Tribe of the Red River, and finally the Tribe of the Sun. Tomorrow, the elder guard, Asheem, would take Xavier to each of the tribes and they would do their best to convince the other Greenfingers to join their little alliance. As for Ranaka, he would spend his day training the other seven guards on how to fight properly. The idea was that by the end of the day they would be able to fight better, maybe even better than Kainam’s tribe, however unlikely that was. Currently it was starting to get dark out, and the only lights came from bright iron lanterns attached to the ceiling. Ranaka, Xavier, Dolamar, and Kadalie were in the house’s dining room. They had been joined by Hadowsi and Adija. Hadowsi had just recently returned from duty and had only been home long enough to go to her room, take off her armor, and return downstairs in more casual fur clothing. Adija on the other hand, had been in the house for the rest of the day, preparing and cooking their meal, which was basically a small feast. The dining table had six chairs, enough for each of them, though Ranaka’s was modified so he could actually sit with the rest of them instead of being eye level to the table. Both Greenfingers sat at the ends of the table, Kadalie was to Ranaka’s left, her back was to the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room, and Dolamar was at the end to Ranaka’s right. Xavier sat directly across from Ranaka, and Adija, who had removed his apron, was to Xavier’s left. Hadowsi sat directly to the right of Ranaka. Hadowsi had green skin with blue leaves covering her body. From her head, an orange flower grew, it resembled a sunflower, though obviously the color was off. She looked more like Dolamar than Kadalie, though the opposite was said for Adija. Currently Hadowsi wore some fur clothing that seemed to resemble a tank top and a pair of cargo pants. On her arms she wore a pair of fingerless leather gloves that reached up all the way to her elbows. They all were eating the meal Adija had laid out before them. There was a the stew he had been cooking earlier, but now he had added some kind of bird thing to the table, along with with an assortment of fruits and vegetables. Of course, Ranaka could eat none of it, he had informed Adija of this beforehand so Ranaka had to collect some food from the ship to resupply. To his surprise Adija had taken the Avali food and made a decent meal out of it. He might as well be eating what everyone else was eating, and Ranaka had to admit, Adija made some pretty good food. Everyone else was just chatting with each other, Xavier and Adija were talking about cultures of the other alien species, the Greenfingers were speaking to each other from across the table about how the village was currently faring, and Hadowsi ate quietly next to Ranaka. A part of Ranaka was expecting Hadowsi to start speaking to him, since they were the only two that weren’t talking. A part of Ranaka was right. Hadowsi started speaking to him. “What will you teach usss?” Hadowsi asked him, she no longer seemed to be mad at him for what he had done earlier. “I will teach you the proper stance to wield your spears,” Ranaka started. “Then I will teach you different strikes you can do with spears. After that we will move on to group tactics, that way you won’t have to call out what you are about to do. When all of that is done, you will fight each other.” “Fight each other?” “Yes, so that you can practice properly,” Ranaka affirmed. “And so that you get used to fighting against someone who is thinking, not a training dummy.” “We do not usse training dummiesss,” Hadowsi told him. “Until tomorrow you are all training dummies,” Ranaka said. Hadowsi tensed up, like she wanted to argue, but she calmed herself. Ranaka was impressed at her self control. Of course, he knew it needed some work, if earlier today was any say. “And after that we will be ready to fight Kainam?” She asked him instead. “Maybe,” Ranaka answered. “Maybe not.” “Maybe not?” “That depends on if Xavier can convince the other tribes to form an alliance with us,” he said. “Tell me, do you think he will be successful?” Hadowsi thought for a few seconds. “I do not know, if the other tribess are dessperate, then maybe,” she finally said. “But if they are not then they will not be easily convinced.” “What do you know about the other tribes?” “The Tribe of the Ssky isss the clossesst to usss,” she said. “Their homess are built into the treess like ours are. “The Tribe of the Red River is the next closest. They have built homess into dirt hillsss. They are called the Tribe of the Red River because there isss a river running through their home and when they get into fightss blood runss into the river and sstainss it red. “The Tribe of the Ssun isss the furthesst from usss. They build their homess out of the dirt, just like the River Tribe, but they have no river. Their home isss emptier ssince it hass no treesss. “One thing that they all have in common isss that none of them are civilized. They act like primitivesss,” she finished. “How do they act toward your village?” “They sstay away,” Hadowsi said. “They do not want to interact with usss, not even to invade.” “How do you feel about that?” “A ssmall part of me wishess that they would attack,” she admitted. “Sso that we can prove that we are not weak, but we are…” Before their conversation could continue, Kadalie interjected and took all of the conversations over. “Sso, Xavier,” she said after getting everyone’s attention. “You have said that you have lost your… Matter Manipulator to Kainam. What exactly can this weapon do?” “Uh, well it’s not really a weapon, per se,” Xavier admitted. “It can’t really affect organic matter, except for plants, but Florans are safe, and so are the Glitch.” “If it isss not a weapon why musst we hurry to retrieve it from Kainam?” Kadalie asked. Xavier rubbed his neck. “Well, there are several reasons, actually. The first being that while it isn’t designed to be a weapon, it technically can be used like a weapon. Sort of, anyway. With it, he can mine faster than you could with just a pick, much faster. Then he could use the materials he had recovered to build himself a fortress.” “And then it would be next to impossible for us to defeat him,” Ranaka stepped in. Kadalie and Dolamar glanced at each other in worry. Dolamar spoke up this time: “And what other reasons are there for getting it back?” Xavier clearly didn’t want to tell them about the scan function and why it was important, but his reluctance visibly waned. “It’s important for our mission,” he answered. “We need to scan Floran relics. That’s the reason why we’re here.” None of the Florans seemed satisfied with that answer, they all looked to each other as if communicating telepathically. Finally Kadalie spoke, though something was off. “Why exactly do you need to sscan our relicsss, Xavier?” She asked calmly, though like before, Ranaka felt that something was wrong about the air of the room. He unconsciously sniffed the air and was surprised to find that something was wrong with the air. There was a strange smell coming from Kadalie’s end of the table, in fact, it seemed to be coming from her. It was a soft, sweet smell that made Ranaka want to tell her everything. He glanced around at the table’s other occupants: Dolamar and Hadowsi had tensed, as if they knew what was happening and were bracing themselves from blurting things out. Xavier was starting to get a dazed look in his eyes, like he was being drugged by the fumes. Adija was the only one not affected, and Ranaka remembered that both Adija and Kadalie had the same flower on their heads, that must be what caused the smell. He quickly dropped out of his chair and went around the table to Xavier. He pulled Xavier out of his chair and toward the door to the kitchen. “We’ll be right back,” Ranaka said before ushering Xavier through the door. He closed the door behind them and turned to find Xavier returning to normal. He was feeling normal again, too. “Uh, what was that?” Xavier asked him. “Kadalie’s flower released some kind of fume into the air that made us want to tell her everything,” Ranaka explained. “I saw it affecting Dolamar and Hadowsi, but they were fighting against it. Adija was unaffected, probably because he has the same flower as Kadalie.” “That makes sense,” Xavier reasoned. “We can assume that she’s going to do it again when we go back in there, so how should we try to resist?” “First we should figure out what we want to tell her.” “Do you think we can trust her with our actual mission?” “I don’t know,” Ranaka admitted. “She did try to drug us just now.” “That’s true,” Xavier paced for a bit. “We could confront her about it.” “That might surprise them,” Ranaka said. “They probably weren’t expecting us to figure this out so quickly. But then again, they might figure it out themselves. I did pull you in here after she started drugging us, after all.” “That’s true, too,” Xavier said. “Okay, let’s confront her about it. Maybe she’ll stop trying it. After that, how much do you want to tell them about our mission?” “I don’t want to tell them anything after what they just tried,” Ranaka told him. “But…” Ranaka gritted his teeth. “Since you’re the Protector, I’ll defer to you on this, alright?” Xavier looked at him in surprise. He must not have been expecting Ranaka to allow him to lead. It wasn’t easy for Ranaka to follow a Human. “Just pay attention to what they say after you confront them,” Ranaka said. “Don’t just go telling them everything, after you confront them they should be surprised enough to lower their guard. The next few things they say should reveal their true intentions. Just pay attention to see if Kadalie apologizes.” “Alright, if she messes with the air we should come back in here,” Xavier thought ahead. “It seems safe enough. Was anyone listening?” “No,” Ranaka said. He didn’t hear anyone come up to the door, in fact, he didn’t hear anything at all, so he knew they were still at the table. “Let’s go back now.” Ranaka pushed through the door first and they both returned to their seats. The air was back to normal now, and all of the Florans, even Kadalie had tensed, anticipating Xavier’s next words. Xavier glanced at Ranaka, who gave a slight nod back. “Kadalie,” Xavier started. “Ranaka and I would appreciate it if you didn’t try that again. Neither of us likes being drugged.” Hadowsi shifted in her seat beside Ranaka. Kadalie tensed even more. It seems that the Florans had realized that they had figured it out. Kadalie tried to make things right between them again. “I apologize Xavier, and Ranaka,” she started. “But it sseemss that there isss much more than jusst sscanning relicss. I want my village to be ssafe.” “I understand that,” Xavier said. “But you could have just asked normally, I would have told you.” He glanced at Ranaka again. Ranaka did nothing, he said he would follow Xavier on this, and that’s what he’d do. Xavier breathed in and started to explain. “Long ago, there was an entity named the Cultivator. It was benevolent, it cared for the universe and everything that lived within it. But there was also another entity, called the Ruin. The Ruin is a chaotic entity that hates all life. Long ago the Cultivator and the Ruin fought against each other, but the Cultivator knew that it could not win. So instead it used the last of its life force to imprison the Ruin within the Ark. At the same time it bestowed six chosen races with precious Artifacts that could open the Ark. The Florans were one of the races to receive an Artifact. Our mission is to find all of the Artifacts so that we can enter the Ark and destroy the Ruin once and for all. But we don’t know where it is. So we planned on using the Matter Manipulator’s scan mode to scan the relics of a Floran village so that we could find clues as to where the Floran Artifact might be.” Everyone was silent until Dolamar spoke up: “But if thiss happened long ago why musst we do ssomething about it now?” “Because the Ruin is becoming active again,” Xavier said. “It’s trying to break out of the Ark.” “How much longer do we have until it isss free?” Kadalie asked him. “I don’t know, but… It has already destroyed Earth,” Xavier said, he managed to not choke while saying that. “What isss Earth?” Hadowsi interrupted. “Earth isss the Human home world,” Dolamar explained. “Oh.” Kadalie hushed her. “I am ssorry Xavier,” she said. “I did not know.” “It’s alright,” he said. “I just want to stop the Ruin before anything like that happens again. And one thing is certain: if we don’t stop it, it will happen again, this time on a massive scale.” “It’sss clear now that there isss more at sstake because of Kainam than jusst the fate of our village,” Dolamar said. “Yesss,” Kadalie agreed. “All the more reason to fight Kainam.” Everyone was silent, thinking about the story. “You are a Protector,” Kadalie said. “Doess that mean the Protectorate isss leading the fight againsst the Ruin?” “Well…” Xavier said. “As far as we know, I’m the only Protector fighting the Ruin. The Protectorate headquarters were on Earth, so most of the Protectors were probably there when it was destroyed. But I’m sure there are Protectors elsewhere in the universe, somewhere.” “We truly face imposssible oddsss,” Kadalie said. “Maybe,” Xavier said. “But I’m not going to give up. No matter what happens, I’m going to keep trying to defeat the Ruin.” Kadalie nodded. “It appearss that dinner hass taken a dark turn,” Dolamar noted. “Let usss eat in peace and continue thiss converssation another time.” Everyone appeared fine with this, but Ranaka noticed that dinner ended in silence. Day 10; Time 0656; Northern Path out of Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Xavier and Asheem, the village’s elder guard, stood at the beginning of the northern footpath that connected to Kadalie’s village. They were accompanied only by Dolamar and Kadalie, most of the Florans were still resting, with the exception of the guards, and Ranaka was also awake, planning out the training regiment. Dawn had not yet come, but it would soon swiftly take over the night sky. Like the villagers, the forest animals were mainly asleep, with the exception of a few animals in the distance whose calls Xavier was not familiar with. “Asheem,” Kadalie started. “You are to esscort Xavier to the Tribess of the Ssky, River, and Ssun. Make sure he getss there, and help him earn their allegiance.” “Yess, Greenfinger Kadalie,” he responded. Asheem had dark blue plant skin that was covered by pale green leaves. On his head there was a small, pink flower. For armor, he wore a mixture of bone and tungsten metal with some leather padding. His flower, while small, prevented him from wearing a helmet. He turned to Xavier. “It will only take usss a couple of hours to reach the Tribe of the Ssky,” he said. “We should be able to reach all of the tribess and return to the village by dussk.” “Lead the way,” Xavier said. Together they turned and walked down the northern path at a brisk yet alert pace. Behind them, Dolamar called out to Xavier. “Good luck, Protector.” Day 10; Time 0840; Southeast of the Sky Tribe on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Xavier and Asheem had been walking non-stop for almost two hours. It was had been putting a strain on Xavier’s legs for several minutes before Xavier had requested that they rest for a few minutes. Asheem had not wanted to stop, saying that they were almost to the tribe, but he relented under Xavier’s pressure. Dawn had come and gone, leaving plenty of forest sounds around them. It also seemed like dawn had brought the smell of flowers, though Xavier was sure that he had just not noticed the scent until then. It had come to Xavier’s attention that he was being watched so he looked around to see Asheem leaning against a tree and watching him. Before Xavier had a chance to speak up, Asheem did so. “Human, do you truly think your plan will work?” He asked. Xavier thought for a moment before nodding. “I do, if we all come together it will.” “How do you plan to convince the tribess?” Asheem asked next. “It’ss unlikely they want anything to do with uss.” “Well I mean, if they are being tormented just as much as your village then it shouldn’t be that hard to convince them, right?” Xavier tilted his head. “Don’t you think they’ll want retribution?” “They will want revenge,” Asheem nodded. “But they may not take kindly to working with uss.” “Then we’ll need to come up with more reasoning to back up our side of the argument,” Xavier stood up. “I’m ready to get going again. Asheem nodded in response and stopped leaning against the tree. They had just been about to continue down the path when a disturbance came from the forest ahead of them, on the right side of the path. They both drew their weapons instinctively, Xavier had his still very much broken broadsword, and Asheem his tungsten spear. Ahead of them a medium-sized group of Florans emerged from the forest and stepped onto the path, there were eight of them. Half of them were unarmed and wore basic iron armor. The other four wore tungsten armor and wielded tungsten spears. It seemed like the Florans in iron were prisoners while the Florans in tungsten were clearly a part of Kainam’s tribe. “Move fasster!” Said one of the Kainam’s Floran, forcefully prodding one of the prisoners in the back with their spear. Neither Kainam nor Sadradi was a part of the group, which was good, because Xavier knew that Sadradi wore durasteel armor and would have been surprised if Kainam didn’t wear the same or stronger. “Hey!” He called out to the group. The Florans all stopped and stared at him in surprise. They were about twenty meters from each other. “Let them go!” The tungsten Florans glanced at each other in confusion before one of them answered with a slightly confused ‘no.’ “Yes,” Xavier returned. Now the tungsten Florans were getting angry, two of them had even turned away from their prisoners and started to advance on Xavier and Asheem. They both slowly walked up to the approaching guards, their weapons still ready. “You are esscaped Human!” Said one of the Florans. “I am,” Xavier responded. The four of them stopped within a few feet of each other. Kainam’s Florans looked like their mood had just improved with the thought of stabbing something. Asheem face was grim, while Xavier just prepped himself for battle. “Let them leave,” Xavier said once more. “No,” argued one of the Florans. “Is that all you can say?” Xavier asked him. The Floran in question cried in annoyance. “Human talk too much! Sstab now!” The two Florans advanced quickly, both of them moving in an almost synchronous rhythm. They hadn’t expected both Xavier and Asheem to rush forward even quicker though, and they both stopped dead as they were rushed by the duo. Xavier was to the left of Asheem, so as he raised his broadsword over his head and brought it down on the Floran across from him in a risky move that exposed his entire body to the Floran’s spear. The move was successful, however, and split the plant person’s face open. To his right, Asheem lunged forward, passed his opponent’s spear, and buried his own in their throat. Together the two Florans collapsed in front of Xavier and Asheem. The six remaining Florans, prisoner and cannibal alike, stared in surprise as the two dropped dead quickly. The two guards stared at each other before one of them shoved the other towards the duo. The lone Floran cannibal held his spear, shifting it from Xavier to Asheem at random intervals. Xavier and Asheem slowly flanked either side of the clueless Floran until they were on opposite sides. Too late, the Floran realized their mistake as Asheem buried his spear into the spine of the Floran and Xavier lopped his head off. The final tungsten Floran was about to run away when the prisoners jumped her and pinned her down. They clawed at her skin and drew blood, that combined with the beating they gave her caused her to cry out in alarm as she struggled to escape. “Sstop!” Asheem ordered them. The Florans stopped assaulting her but kept her pinned down as they watched Asheem and Xavier walk over to them. “Remove her armor and take her sspear,” Asheem ordered and they did so. When they were done Asheem spoke directly to the cannibal. “Run to Kainam,” he said, leaning closer to her face. “Tell him, ‘Floran bite back.’” He motioned to the ex-prisoners and they released her. Armorless, she sprinted into the forest in the direction the group had been travelling in before Xavier and Asheem had interfered. The ex-prisoners laughed loudly at her as she ran away. Day 10; Time 0850; The Sky Tribe on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: “You want usss to fight with Greenfinger Kadalie?” Greenfinger Arunehe asked Xavier. Xavier and Asheem were sitting in Arunehe’s home after rescuing her tribe members from Kainam’s collection party. They were joined only by Arunehe and another Floran from the Sky Tribe, probably a close friend of Arunehe. Arunehe resembled a female and wore basic fur clothing over iron armor. Her skin was violet, with blue leaves acting as hair on her head. She carried herself less like a warrior and more like a thinker, yet she clearly knew how to handle herself. She also seemed young. “Yes,” Xavier answered. “Greenfingers Kadalie and Dolamar are ready to stop submitting to Kainam.” Arunehe thought to herself as the second Floran leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Arunehe nodded and focused her gaze on Xavier once again. “You have ssaved my tribe memberss,” she started. “Floranss who looked to me to guide them to ssafety, for if it were not for me they would have all died in battle by now.” She gazed at the ground in guilt. “But I have failed them. Every time Kainam comes, two of my tribe leave with him becausse I do not have the sstrength to defeat him,” she continued. “But you have come, and you have brought back tribe memberss that we all believed would never return. And for that, I am in your debt. We shall fight with you.” “Thank you for your help, Greenfinger Arunehe,” Xavier said. “What musst we do now?” “Can you take your tribe to Greenfinger Kadalie’s village?” Arunehe looked at him in surprise. “Yess, why?” “Because a friend of mine is teaching them to fight,” Xavier explained. “I don’t doubt your tribe’s ability to fight, but Ranaka can teach them to fight smart, so that they don’t get themselves killed.” Arunehe nodded. “That iss a good idea. We will do that.” Arunehe and the other Floran stood up, they were followed by Xavier and Asheem. “But what iss your next move?” “Asheem and I will travel to the Tribe of the Red River,” Xavier informed her. “We’re going to need everyone to win the fight against Kainam.” Arunehe nodded. “Would you like an esscort?” “I think Asheem and I can handle ourselves.” “Very well. Now I musst go plan my tribe’ss journey.” The four of them left the house, with Arunehe and her friend staying in the village and Xavier and Asheem leaving. Xavier decided to speak to Asheem as they left. “I’m surprised she could speak so well,” Xavier admitted. “She isss a ssmart Greenfinger,” Asheem responded. “Ayissab might not be ssso ssmart, Zaurora might be though.” “Ayisab and Zaurora?” “The Greenfingerss of the River and Ssun Tribesss.” “Ah,” Xavier said as the conversation ended. And so they continued onward to the Tribe of the Red River. Day 10; Time 0904; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: As Ranaka walked around the training area, he couldn’t help but reminisce about the first day he had a duel with someone. It had been against a rival pack, they had wanted to go one on one with Ranaka because they thought his tactic of only using melee weapons would make him an easy target with their ranged weapons. Well… they were right, but that had been when he was a youngling, and later aggressions would turn up with Ranaka being the victor as much as his opponent. As he drew his hammer, he watched the people training. Everyone seemed to prefer using ranged weaponry and while that wasn’t bad it did make him feel like an oddball. His gaze shifted over to his left and he watched Eitun and Nezami in their sparring arena. Eikoli was standing beside Ranaka and watching their pack mates flail about in the ring, her FM0 Training Firelance was on the floor, leaning on the wall beside her. Ranaka watched as Eitun stood in the middle of the arena and spun around, spewing training rounds from his MG0 Training Hailstorm, a minigun. The rounds flew all over the arena, even departing the boundaries and roaming into other arenas where they would occasionally hit someone who was participating in a completely different spar. Normally this kind of behavior would be unacceptable but because it added a new challenge to the other spars the officers allowed it to happen, even at the expense of Eitun not learning how to actually fight better. Normally Nezami would be known for dancing around her opponents, however Eitun’s reckless tactics of shooting everywhere without rhyme or reason put her at a disadvantage due to an inability to predict him, though Ranaka could see all it would take to defeat Eitun would have been to wait for his back to turn before rushing him and swiping his legs out from under him. Of course it would be hard for Nezami to deal with this danger of unpredictability, it’s hard to look at your opponent when they could shoot your head off at any moment if you peek out from behind cover, though Ranaka would attribute that sense of danger to Eikoli over Eitun any day. As Ranaka looked to his quiet pack member beside him, one of Eitun’s many rounds exited the boundary of the arena, as was the norm when he sparred, but instead of hitting the ceiling or ricocheting into another arena it ricocheted into the hallway and struck another youngling observing his own pack members spar. No one of Ranaka’s pack had seen the round strike nor if they had would they have expected any backlash due to the round’s inability to do any harm other than a brief jolt, however the other avali had very much begged to differ. As Ranaka and Eikoli heard their names being shouted in a very aggressive manner both had turned their attention to see an avali from one of the many packs they train with. Ranaka’s poor gaze focused on him and his pack mate who had also been watching their other two pack mates train in a separate arena. They both stood ten or so feet away and faced Eikoli and Ranaka angrily, though as Ranaka’s blurry gaze cleared up he snapped out of his memory and saw two of the Florans he was teaching standing in their place and taking a break from the continuous training Ranaka had been putting them through. “What do you think you’re doing?” Ranaka abruptly asked the Floran guards, the other five had been continuing their sparring sessions until Ranaka’s outburst had distracted them. “We are ressting!” One of the Florans stated. “You train usss too hard!” The other blamed. “Too hard?” Ranaka quietly repeated. “Do you think I care?!” He yelled at them, which attracted the attention of passing villagers. “How can we fight Kainam if you tire usss out firsst?” The second Floran argued. “How can you fight Kainam if you can’t even fight?” Ranaka shot back. “I can fight!” Said the first, who was immediately punched in the face by Ranaka. “Ow!” “Oh I’m ssorry!” Ranaka sarcastically hissed at them. “Doess that hurt? Aw, you should have ussed your sspear! Too bad you died of exhausstion!” “We didn’t die of exhausstion!” Whined the Floran with the hurt face. “Tell me, do you plan on taking a breather when we are busy fighting Kainam?” Ranaka asked. “No,” both Florans answered together. “Then stand up and keep training!” Ranaka yelled and both Florans shot up. “If I see you stop again I’m gonna throw you to Kainam myself, then you can see what happens when you stop fighting in the middle of a battle!” Both Florans hurriedly started sparring again. Day 10; Time 0959; Southeast of the River Tribe on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Xavier and Asheem stood at the end of the path, directly in front of them was the home of the Tribe of the Red River. It was a spacious clearing in the dense forest, with large dirt hills scattered around the place. There were also a few trees growing around the area. The most notable feature of the clearing was a large river flowing from north to south cutting through the western corner of the clearing. As Xavier gazed around, he kept thinking ‘arena.’ There were a few Florans walking around and minding their own business when the duo had walked up to the entrance of the tribe. Almost as soon as they stepped into the clearing itself, though, a Floran in iron armor came up to them. “Greenfinger Ayissab ssayss come,” the Floran hissed before walking away without checking if they were actually following. “What can you tell me about Greenfinger Ayisab?” Xavier whispered to Asheem as they traversed the clearing. The Floran tribe members were watching them suspiciously. “He cannot sspeak very well,” Asheem answered. “And he iss violent, asss is hisss tribe.” The Floran lead them to a dirt mound no different than any of the others. Xavier noticed a fur tarp similar in color to the dirt covering the mound in one spot. The Floran halted and motioned for them to enter. “Greenfinger Ayissab waitss.” Xavier and Asheem pushed through the tarp to the smell of decayed bones and mold. It was a single, well lit room, even as the tarp fell back into place, due to a single lantern hooked to the ceiling. There were fur rugs all over the place, with skulls of various creatures placed on shelves forcefully shoved into the walls. There was a rack for spears and armor. And there was a makeshift wooden desk, behind the desk sat a Floran, who Xavier assumed was Greenfinger Ayisab. Ayisab looked androgynous, as in, not clearly male or female. He (she?) had yellow skin that was covered by brown leaves. (S)he seemed to be wearing iron armor that clearly hadn’t been cleaned in a long time, possibly never. Ayisab sneered at the two of them as they stopped in front of his/her desk. A few awkward seconds passed as Ayisab continued to study them before speaking. “Asheem,” Ayisab greeted. “You brought food?” “No, Greenfinger Ayissab,” Asheem denied. “Thiss iss Protector Xavier.” Asheem stepped back to let Xavier take over. Ayisab glared at Xavier in slight disgust. Clearly it wouldn’t be as easy to win over Ayisab as it was to convince Arunehe. “We have come from Kadalie’s village,” Xavier started, immediately mentally kicking himself for starting off with something so obvious. “We have already been to Greenfinger Arunehe’s tribe. It’s time to fight Kainam.” At the mention of Kainam, Ayisab drew back defensively. He switched from glaring at Xavier to squinting at him, as if this were some kind of trick. “Arunehe with you?” Ayisab asked him. “She is at Greenfinger Kadalie’s village,” Xavier answered. “Arunehe iss enemy, jusst like Kainam!” Ayisab grunted. “We no help you.” Xavier quickly tried to think of something to convince him otherwise but was unable to come up with anything. “There must be something I can do to convince you to join us?” Xavier blurted out. In his peripherals, he saw Asheem tense up. In front of him, Ayisab leaned over the desk and examined Xavier closer. “Hmm,” Ayisab grunted in thought. “Why doess Protector want to fight?” “Uh, because I’m supposed to protect the weak,” Xavier responded. Ayisab hissed in anger at the accidental insult and Asheem slowly started to reach for his spear. Suddenly, Xavier came up with an idea. “Of course,” Xavier spoke nonchalantly. “The tribes of the Sun and Sky are weak as well, and so is Greenfinger Kadalie.” Both Florans halted in confusion at his sudden change of tact. Xavier tried to act as casual as possible, so he just raised his hand and inspected his fingernails for a few seconds. They were grimy, he wondered when he would shower next. Xavier quickly decided to move on with the conversation. “You’re all weak, which is why Kainam wants to eat you all,” Xavier continued. “But…” “But?” Ayisab asked impatiently. “Maybe there is a way to get stronger,” Xavier finished. “How?” Ayisab asked, before suddenly realizing he was leaning over the desk in anticipation. He recomposed himself. “How would Protector know sstrength?” He asked next. “Because I’ve seen it. Kainam has way more Florans than you, therefore, he is stronger.” “If it quesstion of numberss,” Ayisab spoke. “Then how I get sstrong enough to win?” “Oh that? You wouldn’t want the answer,” Xavier denied him. “Give answer!” Ayisab ordered impatiently. “Easy, join Kadalie,” Xavier answered. “Greenfinger Kadalie and Greenfinger Arunehe have joined an alliance. But even they are still not strong enough to beat Kainam. They need your tribe as well.” “Of course they need my tribe,” Ayisab gloated without realizing they had come full circle. “Tribe of Red River iss sstrongesst tribe!” “Exactly!” Xavier agreed. “So you’ll join them?” Ayisab noticed Xavier’s eagerness for an answer and leaned back to make a show of thinking. Just as he leaned forward to give his answer, an armored Floran, probably a guard, burst into the burrow. “Kainam collection party here, Greenfinger!” The Floran informed Ayisab. Ayisab shot up from his seat while Xavier and Asheem glanced at each other. “Kainam,” Ayisab growled. Then he seemed to get an idea because he smiled, though it was a Floran-esque, horrifying smile. Xavier didn’t quite like the look, and it seemed like Asheem didn’t either. “Yess, Protector,” Ayisab spoke. “We will fight with you.” Ayisab looked at the new Floran. “Go! Prepare the otherss! We fight today!” The four of them left the burrow, with the Floran guard splitting away from the rest of the group. Ayisab lead Xavier and Asheem to a small crowd of Florans forming near the entrance of the clearing that the duo had arrived from. Xavier and Asheem stayed near the back of the crowd while Ayisab pushed through to the front. The crowd of the tribe numbered six Florans, not counting Ayisab or the duo. Most of them didn’t have weapons with them. Xavier looked to Kainam’s collection party. There were only four, and neither Kainam nor Sadradi were a part of it. “Ayissab,” one of Kainam’s Florans greeted. “Give four Floranss.” “Four?” Ayisab asked, which confirmed that four was a larger number than they normally asked for. “Other tribess caussing trouble,” the Floran informed him. “Think ‘Floran bite back,’” the Floran laughed. “You tribess weak, no bite back ssoon.” “Oh,” Ayisab started. “Floran bite back.” “What?” The Floran stopped laughing. “Floran bite back,” Ayisab repeated and drew his spear. Realizing he was facing four enemies alone, Xavier and Asheem drew their own weapons and pushed through to the front of the crowd and to Ayisab’s side. Kainam’s Florans recognized him immediately. “Human!” The lead Floran said as they all drew their weapons. Before anything else could happen, five more Florans arrived, armed and ready to fight. They quickly surrounded Kainam’s collection party from the sides. That left Ayisab, Xavier, and Asheem defending the front, while the rear of the intruders was left unguarded. “Tell me,” Ayisab stepped closer to the lead cannibal. “Do you like red riversss?” Then he lunged at the group. His tribe mates charged with him, but Xavier and Asheem didn’t. They decided to just watch the mayhem and join in if needed. The lead Floran extended their spear at Ayisab, who just twisted around it and plunged his own spear into the leader. The two intruders at the sides of the group were overwhelmed by multiple attackers, both quickly falling. The last cannibal took the opportunity to run away. “Floran bite back!” Ayisab yelled at the retreating Floran. Xavier and Asheem sheathed their weapons. Behind them, the unarmed Florans howled and cheered at the easy victory. Ayisab instructed his warriors to retrieve equipment from the bodies before turning to Xavier. “We grow sstronger already!” He cheerfully exclaimed. “We will join!” “Great!” Xavier spoke thankfully. “Just take your tribe to Kadalie’s village.” Ayisab squinted at him again. “Floran will do that, but if trap, Ayissab will come for Protector.” Day 10; Time 1145; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: Training was going well, for the most part. After the unexpected arrival of the Sky Tribe there was some confusion. After all, the plan wasn’t to bring them here, but according to Greenfinger Arunehe it was Xavier’s idea. It was for the best, Ranaka supposed. At least this way they could plan with all of the Greenfingers at the same time. Ranaka himself was actually not training the guards at the moment. Once the Sky Tribe arrived, he had done a quick assessment on their skills and decided that they were good fighters. After telling them a few new things to try, and after pointing out some things to fix, he left them in charge of training the village guards. Right now, Ranaka was with the blacksmith of the village. Kadalie’s village used tungsten armor, but Arunehe’s tribe used iron. It was safe to assume that the other tribes used iron as well. So Ranaka came up with the idea of making tungsten weapons and armor for everyone. Ranaka was actually surprised that there was more than enough tungsten to pull it off. The stolen tungsten armor that Arunehe had brought with her from Kainam’s Florans helped a lot. Ranaka had also made some tungsten armor inserts for himself, trading the iron inserts to the blacksmith. Next, he set about the task of creating a new, tungsten warhammer to replace the iron one Sadradi had stolen from him. He was still mad about that, and was patiently waiting for the rematch he was going to make sure was going to happen. Next, he told the blacksmith to create a tungsten broadsword for Xavier. The Protectorate broadsword he had been carrying around was broken. It would only be a matter of time before it shattered completely, and when it did that they would most likely be in a battle. Ranaka would have also made tungsten armor for Xavier, but he was unsure of how Human armor was designed, and so was the Floran blacksmith. Both agreed that he wouldn’t really appreciate Floran armor. Ranaka left the blacksmith, knowing it would take time for the sword to be complete. He hefted his new hammer, an SK2 Glacier, made of tungsten. He was one step closer to regaining his titanium equipment. The best part about Avali hammers, was that they could shrink a bit. Ranaka slid the handle into itself and strapped the hammer to the armor of his left leg. He patted the side of his right leg to feel nothing except armor. While he kept his hammer on his left leg, his gun, a submachine gun called an AR3 Blizzard, was normally strapped to his right leg. Unfortunately, there was no way for him to get a replacement gun, other than to find the AEF. Of course, he could find a gun from a fallen enemy, but he would rather use Avali technology. Ranaka was walking back to the training area of the town when a group of Florans charged from out of the forest and into the town. Ranaka drew his hammer and entered a battle stance but was surprised when the Florans stopped their attack almost as soon as they were all in the village. The villagers and the Sky Tribe were just as surprised as Ranaka when the new Florans abruptly arrived, but upon seeing who they were they relaxed just a bit. Ranaka heard groans from the villagers and hisses from the Sky Tribe. Greenfingers Kadalie and Dolamar stepped out of their house and proceeded toward the new group of Florans. Ranaka sheathed his hammer and joined them. Judging from what he was hearing from the new group, there were twelve of them. Kadalie, Dolamar, and Ranaka stopped in front of a Floran that must have been the leader. Before anyone could say anything, Greenfinger Arunehe came over. “Greenfinger Ayissab,” she spoke somewhat hostilely. “Arunehe,” Ayisab greeted her smugly, though Ranaka also detected trace annoyance. Ranaka also noted that Ayisab did not greet her with the title of Greenfinger. “It appearss Xavier hasss convinced you to join usss,” Kadalie observed. “Floran can make own decisionss,” Ayisab argued. “Of coursse,” Kadalie agreed. “You are ready to fight Kainam?” “Floran bite back,” Ayisab smirked. “We go now?” “No,” Kadalie denied. “We musst wait for the Tribe of the Ssun firsst.” Ayisab’s tribe groaned in further annoyance. “What we do until then?” “We train,” Kadalie answered and turned his attention to Ranaka. “Thiss iss Ranaka, he will help your tribe fight better.” “My tribe already fight good.” “He can make it fight better.” Ayisab squinted at Ranaka and studied him. He took note of the hammer but otherwise didn’t seem impressed. “He too ssmall to fight good,” Ayisab concluded, some of his Florans chuckled. “I can fight better than you,” Ranaka chimed in. “Can’t.” “Can, but I get it if you’re too scared,” Ranaka dared him. “Ranaka,” Dolamar muttered to him. “I not sscared!” Ayisab argued. “We fight!” His Florans started to cheer for Ayisab. “Alright then,” Ranaka agreed. “We fight.” "This better be worth it," Ranaka thought as they walked over to the sparring grounds. Day 10; Time 1159; East of the Sun Tribe on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Xavier and Asheem had just arrived at the eastern entrance of the Sun Tribe’s home. It was a barren clearing, with dirt hills similar to those of the River Tribe. The major difference was that there were no trees and no river, it was just empty. Except for the Florans. There was a large group of Florans, at least a dozen, at the eastern entrance of the clearing, they were facing Xavier and Asheem, but they weren’t looking at the two of them. Instead, they were focused on a small group of four Florans that were confronting them. Another of Kainam’s collection party. Xavier and Asheem drew their weapons and stalked up to the party from behind. “Give four Floranss,” said a voice that Xavier recognized. It was Sadradi. “Four?” Answered a second voice, from the larger group, Xavier couldn’t see who. “You have alwayss asked for two before, why hass thisss changed?” “Jusst give four!” Sadradi impatiently ordered. “Or don’t,” Xavier spoke up. Startled, the four cannibals turned around to face him. The larger group of Florans had watched the duo sneak up on the intruders and were now watching to see what they would do. “Human!” Sadradi hissed. “Go home Sadradi,” Xavier ordered him. “Human not tell Floran what to do!” “Lissten to the Human, Ssadradi,” warned a voice from behind Sadradi. It belonged to the same Floran that had been speaking to Sadradi, but Xavier could still not see him. “Or what?” Sadradi hissed and turned to face the tribe’s spokesman. In answer, the Florans of the Sun Tribe each revealed a hidden spear from behind their backs. Sadradi’s group hurriedly drew their own weapons. For several seconds, nothing happened, but then Sadradi must have decided it wasn’t a good idea to stay. “Come,” he hissed to his group. “Kainam will hear about thisss.” And like that they disappeared into the forest. Everyone sheathed their weapons and Xavier and Asheem walked over to the tribe. They were approached by a single Floran, probably the Greenfinger. “Thank you,” the Floran said. “I am Greenfinger Zaurora.” Zaurora was a masculine Floran with tan skin that was covered in dark red leaves. On his head there was a flattened yellow flower. Currently he wore fur clothing over basic iron armor, with a spear strapped to his back. Though he wasn’t wearing a helmet, it was possible a helmet was what had squashed the flower of his head. “I’m Xavier Doolgam, of the Terrene Protectorate,” Xavier wasn’t sure why, but Zaurora had a formal feel about him, which in turn caused Xavier to want to act formal. “I ssee you have brought Asheem with you,” Zaurora observed. “We are forming an alliance to fight Kainam,” Xavier informed. “We would like your help.” Zaurora nodded as if he had already known this. “Yess, that would explain why you are here. And why Kainam wantss more of my people than normal. Tell me, have you been caussing him trouble already?” “We have,” Xavier answered. “At each of the tribes, including Kadalie’s village.” “You have been ssuccesssful sso far?” “So far.” Zaurora nodded again, this time in thought. “To join you could put my people in even more danger, but it could free them. We will fight with you.” The Sun Tribe eagerly cheered. “Really?” Xavier asked, he was surprised it had been so easy. “Yess,” Zaurora confirmed. “We are ready to defeat Kainam.” “Alright then. Could you take your tribe to Kadalie’s village? We are meeting there.” “It will happen.” “We’ll see you there, then,” Xavier said, ending the conversation. “Farewell, Xavier,” Zaurora turned to his tribe and started preparing them to leave. Xavier turned to Asheem. “We should head back to the village now,” Xavier suggested. “Very well.” They turned and walked back down the path. It would be faster to just go straight to the village, but that would take them dangerously close to Kainam’s camp, so they would just travel back though each of the tribes’ territories. Day 10; Time 1206; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: Ranaka’s new tungsten hammer fit well in his grasp. He hefted it dearly though with mixed emotions as he still wished for his old hammer. Beside him, Greenfinger Dolamar shook his head slowly as he surveyed the sparring field. The Florans of all the gathered tribes surrounded the area, watching eagerly or with apprehension. It seemed as though Kadalie’s tribe were worried that Ranaka would severely hurt Ayisab and Ayisab’s tribe thought the exact opposite, while the Sky Tribe seemed uncertain of Ranaka’s abilities. “So be it,” Ranaka thought. “This will be a lesson for everyone.” “Try not to maim him,” Dolamar whispers to Ranaka. “I’ll try,” Ranaka promises. On the opposite end of the sparring field, Ayisab was hefting a sturdy looking iron spear that wouldn’t be a match for Ranaka’s tungsten hammer. Ranaka could almost feel sorry for the Greenfinger, but then he would focus on Ayisab’s crude comments to his own tribe about Ranaka and the Avali would stop caring whether or not the Floran earned a few broken bones. “Tell your friend to stop being an idiot,” the Avali said. “What do you mean?” Ranaka asked, slightly offended. Ranaka shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to remember his first duel, that had been a pathetic attempt at defending his pack member, which he failed to do. He had come a long way since then and would not be bested by a primitive Floran with a one track mind for violence. “I’m ready,” Ranaka tells Dolamar. The Greenfinger beside him sighs and walks across the sparring field to its center. Looking over at Ayisab, Dolamar waits to see if the aggressive Greenfinger is ready, to which Ayisab starts a cheer for himself. Dolamar shakes his head and motions for everyone to quiet down. “This is not a duel to the death,” Dolamar reaffirmed, looking pointedly at Ayisab. “If Ranaka can best Ayisab then the Tribe of the Red River will learn his techniques, if Ayisab is the victor then he and his tribe are free from having to study. Do these terms sound fair?” He looks at either contestant. Ranaka gave a simple nod while Ayisab agreed very vocally. “So be it,” Dolamar said with a sigh before stepping backwards out of the arena. Ranaka lowered his gaze a little and lifts his ears up as he listens for Ayisab’s charge, but it doesn’t come. He blinked, confused, having expected Ayisab to rush in but it doesn’t come. Before he could change tactics he felt a sharp hit impact his chest and saw Ayisab’s spear drop to the ground, chipped, as it reflected off of his armor. Ranaka growled and Ayisab laughed. “Ssmall alien cannot even dodge,” the Floran taunted, causing his tribe to mock Ranaka a little. The Avali shook his head in annoyance and leapt forward, as if to impact Ayisab with the top of his hammer’s head. Ayisab predicted this and steps to the side, grabbing a second spear off of a rack beside the field. Unfortunately for Ayisab, Ranaka had not been attempting to impact strike the Greenfinger, he had just been trying to get closer, and now that Ayisab had moved he was slightly unprepared for the alien to stop suddenly and change into a horizontal swing, knocking the Floran right in the belly and sending him hurtling backwards. Ayisab hissed in pain and anger as he rolled into a stand. He lunged forward and attempted to stab Ranaka right in the neck but the Avali, able to see him clearly from this distance, merely predicts the motion and slams his head forward right onto the tip of Ayisab’s spear, using his helmet to shatter the tip of the spear and stun both himself and Ayisab. The Floran recoiled and lifted his spear up to view the shattered tip, giving an agitated growl. “Shell won’t ssave you forever.” “Save your breath,” Ranaka gut punched Ayisab, earning a satisfying gasp from the confident Greenfinger. “Guh!” Ayisab retreated briefly to grab another spear, thwacking Ranaka across the face with the discarded one. The Avali flexed his jaw after being struck and picked up the spear with the shattered tip. As the Floran made another lunging move, Ranaka ducked down, shortening his stature further, and swept the shaft under his opponent’s legs, causing the Greenfinger to tumble. Ayisab growled from where he laid on his back but Ranaka just put a foot on his chest and held the shattered spear to his throat. “I win,” the Avali says. Ayisab looked up at Ranaka with a vicious and humiliated expression. “You win round one.” “No, I win,” Ranaka said. “This is the only round.” Dolamar spoke up from the sidelines. “Well Ranaka, the Tribe of the Red River do duelss in three roundss each.” Ranaka growled and stepped off of Ayisab, tossing the useless spear down on the ground beside the Foran, who quickly rose to their feet. “If I have to beat you two more times then I will.” “You will not,” Ayisab threatened. “Just stop talking before you embarrass yourself more,” Ranaka walked back to his own side of the field to take a breather before the next round. As he did so, he could hear murmuring amongst the River and Sky Tribes, whom seemed to be wondering about his abilities. The villagers all seemed pleased and encouraged by Ranaka’s victory. “Let’s hope this ends well,” Ranaka thought as he finally turned to face the waiting Ayisab once more. Day 10; Time 1628; Somewhere North of Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Xavier and Asheem were almost back at Kadalie’s village. They were still alone, the Sun Tribe hadn’t caught up with them, but it was possible that they had taken a shortcut and were already at the village. It didn’t really bother Xavier, he understood that the tribes knew this forest better than he did. Still, he was glad to be back in somewhat familiar territory. “I am ssurprised you have brought all of the tribes together with usss,” Asheem abruptly spoke up. “I guess I am, too,” Xavier admitted. “I was never one for persuasion. Maybe we were just lucky that they were all ready to fight Kainam.” “Even sso, it was you who hasss united them,” Asheem pointed out. “I know that they would have all continued to do nothing if you hadn’t shown up.” “Maybe you’re right, but we still need to make sure that they don’t start fighting with each other at the village.” “We are almosst there.” Xavier nodded, mostly to himself. He had already noticed how the forest around here seemed more familiar, even though it didn’t look very different than the forest all the way over at the Sun Tribe. Maybe something deep down just told him he was almost at the village. The two of them kept walking. Xavier was starting to get a little hungry from the journey. They had eaten a breakfast and lunch, but all the walking was starting to wear him out. Even so, he knew he was almost home free, even though the village wasn’t actually his home. As Xavier was wondering what Ranaka was up to, there was a rustling coming from ahead of them. They both stopped and examined the foliage in front of them. There were only a few bushes, alongside the massive trees, but other than that it was just grass and flowers. It could have been the wind, but after traveling through the forest all day, something told Xavier that the bush movements weren’t natural. Suddenly, a group of Florans revealed themselves, but they weren’t just in front of the duo, they were surrounding them. Xavier and Asheem drew their weapons and stood back to back. There were about a dozen of them, all of whom seemed to be part of Kainam’s tribe. One of the Florans spoke up. “Human,” it was Sadradi. “Greenfinger Kainam annoyed at you. Caussing trouble.” “I’m here to fix the problem, not cause more of them,” Xavier argued. Sadradi hissed. “Quiet! We want Human dead, Greenfinger ssay no. Ssay bring him to Kainam.” “Well are you going to or not?” Sadradi made that disgusting smirk again, the one that made Xavier sick in his stomach. Xavier heard branches rustling above him and shot a glance upwards. There was a Floran falling out of the sky above him, aiming for his head. He sidestepped, only to leave his back open to attack. He didn’t know which Floran did it, but he fealt a heavy pain against the back of his head. As he blacked out, he heard Asheem fighting with the cannibals. Somehow, he knew Asheem was not going to survive this battle. Day 10; Time 1720; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: Ranaka stood by and watched the sparring. They were almost done, after having trained all day. A part of him wondered if he pushed the village guards too hard, but then he decided it was for the best. Especially now that they were far better at fighting than yesterday. Still, they needed experience to harden their skills. As for the Sky and River Tribes, the Sky Tribe was willing to learn more right from the moment they arrived, which helped ease the confusion over their sudden arrival. The River Tribe was different, however. They were content to fight mindlessly, with no thought over self-preservation. While Ranaka was fine with allowing idiots to charge into battle, he knew Xavier probably wouldn’t approve, so he taught them anyway. Of course, that was only after his duel with Greenfinger Ayisab. Ayisab was a disgusting creature, one of fighting. It was clear to Ranaka why the other three greenfingers in the village disliked him, or her, or whatever gender it was. Ayisab only allowed Ranaka to teach his tribe after Ranaka beat him three times in battle. After his embarrassing defeats to a creature twice his size, he went off to sulk somewhere. That was fine with Ranaka, he smelled nasty. And his voice grated on Ranaka’s nerves. Ranaka was all too glad Ayisab wasn’t around. As for the River Tribe itself, while they weren’t the best at following orders in the midst of a battle, or really ever, they did know a bit about fighting, though they were more about strength than teamwork. The Sky Tribe was pretty much the opposite, favoring strong teamwork over battle prowess. Ranaka wondered how the Sun Tribe fought, they had yet to arrive, as did Xavier and Asheem. He wondered if they were fighting, then turned his attention back to the sparring Florans. He had been forcing them to fight alongside Florans from other tribes in two large groups. He had only allowed them a few small breaks, one of which he was going to let them have soon. He didn’t want to tire them out too much, plus he was expecting the Sun Tribe to spar as well, and he didn’t want the other three tribes, Kadalie’s village included, to be weaker. Suddenly, the Florans around Ranaka started to whisper things while looking over at the north entrance to the camp. Ranaka turned to look but with his poor eyesight he was unable to focus on what they were talking about. He wandered over and caught bits of conversations from the Florans in the village. Apparently, the Sun Tribe had arrived, but they brought something worrying with them. As he made his way over to the newcomers, Greenfingers Kadalie, Dolamar, and Arunehe sped past him to the tribe. By now, Ranaka was starting to get just a little bit curious about what was going on, when the other two tribes had arrived they hadn’t caused this much commotion, not even the Sky Tribe, which was the first to arrive unexpectedly. And that’s when Ranaka smelled the blood. It was fresh, yet smelled like it was starting to dry out. It didn’t smell like Human blood, so Ranaka wasn’t too worried, after all, these were tribal Florans. Yet as he got close enough to focus on the newcomers, he noticed something that genuinely worried him, which surprised him greatly. “What attacked you?” Greenfinger Kadalie questioned a wounded Floran leaning onto a Floran from the Sun Tribe. As Ranaka stopped next to the Greenfingers, his vision focused and he saw that the bloodied Floran was Asheem. Xavier was nowhere to be seen. Asheem looked like he took twenty spears to the torso at the same time, and considering the situation, it wasn’t unlikely. “Ssadradi,” Asheem groaned as he clutched his free arm to the side of his body, his other arm was wrapped around the neck of a Sun Tribe Floran for support. “Where iss Xavier?” Kadalie asked him. “Kainam,” was Asheem’s pained response. The Floran supporting Asheem spoke up. “We found him wandering away from the battle ssite. He wass trying to make hisss way here.” Ranaka studied the Floran, they must be the leader of the Sun Tribe. He seemed to be masculine, with tan skin and dark red leaves. He wore fur clothing over a full set of basic iron armor, and had a spear strapped to his back. If he was the leader of the Sun Tribe then that would make him Greenfinger Zaurora. He seemed strong, but also smart, as he could speak in actual sentences. “We will take care of him,” Dolamar spoke up and took Asheem from Zaurora. Together they walked deeper into the village. “Greenfinger Zaurora,” Kadalie greeted. “I am ssorry to greet you with ssuch circumsstances occurring.” Her tone was careful. “Yess,” Greenfinger Zaurora agreed. “I wish things could go back to the way they once were. But there should be no dwelling on thiss, we musst focuss on defeating Kainam.” Kadalie nodded. She turned to Ranaka. “If you could take the Ssun Tribe to the ssparring groundss,” Kadalie asked him, though it was more of an order. Ranaka turned and started walking away from the congregation, towards the training field. His movements were so sudden the Sun Tribe members didn’t realize that they were supposed to follow until he was already a good distance away. But Ranaka wasn’t focused on that, he was thinking about Xavier. He wondered if he should be surprised that Xavier was captured. He knew he shouldn’t be so hard on Xavier, but he was still having some trouble getting used to working with a Human. Ranaka sighed, hopefully by the time they assaulted Kainam’s camp Xavier wouldn’t have been eaten already. Because that wouldn’t be good. Day 10; Time 1850; Kadalie’s Home on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: Training was over and all of the warriors were now resting. Ranaka and the Greenfingers were in Kadalie and Dolamar’s dining room. Dinner was just finished and now they had a crudely drawn map set on the table in front of them. Ranaka studied the map closely as he thought of a plan. “We attack from easst!” Greenfinger Ayisab demanded. “Attacking from the easst will bring usss death,” Greenfinger Zaurora argued. “We should attack from every side insstead.” “Would it be posssible to attack from the insside?” Greenfinger Arunehe suggested. “I agree with Zaurora,” Greenfinger Kadalie started. “An attack on all ssidess will surely earn usss victory.” “You sside with him because you weak!” Ayisab hissed. “Greenfinger Kadalie ssidess with me because she iss ssmart,” Zaurora retorted. “We could probably ssneak in before they know we are there,” Arunehe tried to suggest. “Greenfinger Ayissab, if we attack from one sside Kainam will easily be able to kill all of our warriorss,” Greenfinger Dolamar said in a tone a teacher would use on students. “You weak too, Dolamar!” Ayisab hissed. “The only one weak here iss you,” Kadalie growled. “Not true,” Zaurora denied. “We all know that your village iss not necesssary to our victory.” Ayisab laughed. “Hello?” Arunehe tried to get their attention. “The plan?” “At leasst I know how to keep my people from dying in petty fightss,” Kadalie retorted. “At leasst we can fight,” Ayisab countered. And that was when Ranaka had had enough of the bickering Greenfingers. “Shut up! All of you!” He shouted and they all did so, staring at him in surprise. “You all sound like children!” He pointed at the map. “We should attack Kainam’s camp from all sides,” Ranaka decided. “Ayisab, you can lead a larger force from the east if you want, but not everyone is going with you. Arunehe, I like your idea of sneaking in to attack before they know we’re there.” Arunehe beamed at the praise. “However, it won’t be easy to sneak people in without getting spotted, so I’ll do it alone.” “Are you sure that’ss a good idea?” Kadalie asked him. “Yes.” “How we know you sstrong enough?” Ayisab questioned. “Ayisab, if strength was as important as you think it is, you still wouldn’t have beaten me in our duel earlier,” Ranaka countered, Ayisab fumed over the insult but didn’t say anything. “How will we all know when to attack at the ssame time?” Zaurora asked him. Ranaka thought on that for a second before remembering the giant fire at the center of Kainam’s camp. It could be see from all sides of the camp, even by an Avali. “There is a massive fire at the center of Kainam’s camp,” Ranaka told them. “I might be able to do something with it to tell you when to attack.” “And what would that be?” Zaurora continued his questioning. “Its coloring is normal for a fire, what if I put something in it to change its color?” “Adija may be able to prepare ssomething for you,” Dolamar suggested. “Alright then, that’s the signal,” Ranaka finished. “Attack when the fire changes color. I think we should talk about all of the warriors that are coming with us to the fight.” “All of River Tribe iss coming,” Ayisab told him. “No,” Ranaka denied. “We need guards to protect the village if we somehow fail. Leave a portion of your tribes here, that way they can escape with the village if needed.” Ayisab hissed at him and Zaurora asked: “Why should we lissten to what you ssay? You aren’t Floran.” “I’m not,” Ranaka agreed. “But I’ve done more to save your tribes in one day than you have in three weeks.” “He iss right,” Arunehe admitted. “We have done nothing until Ranaka and Xavier came. We should lissten to him.” Kadalie and Dolamar nodded while Zaurora thought to himself for a moment. Ayisab was still angry at Ranaka and didn’t say anything. “Very well,” Zaurora decided. “I will follow you.” Seeing he was now alone in his decision, Ayisab sulkily gave in to Ranaka’s orders. Now that they all agreed with the plan, it was time for the final preparations to go underway. “You should all fill in your warriors with the plan so they know what to do,” Ranaka told them. He turned to Dolamar. “If you could find Adija and ask him to make something to change the fire?” “Of course,” he agreed. They all got up and left the house, each going somewhere different. Greenfingers Kadalie, Arunehe, Ayisab, and Zaurora to their warriors. Greenfinger Dolamar to find Adija. And Ranaka to the blacksmith. They were almost ready. Day 10; Time 1912; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIHadowsi: Hadowsi was wearing her everyday guard gear. It was mostly just a chest piece made of tungsten reinforced with bone, but she also wore a loincloth made of overlapping tungsten plates. Because she had a large flower on her head, she was unable to wear a helmet. On her back, her spear was strapped to her armor. Currently she was in her room, waiting for the ‘army’ to leave the village. It was taking a little longer than anyone had expected for all of the Florans to be prepared for battle. Hadowsi herself was ready, though she fealt tense and nervous. This was her first battle, what if she failed? She and her friends were unable to defeat Ranaka when he was unarmed, what chance did they have against Kainam’s tribe, especially after the intense training Ranaka put them through all day? They barely even had a chance to rest and they were already going out to battle. Hadowsi sighed, she was too nervous. She decided that going outside would help her clear her head. She left her room and walked downstairs. She could hear Adija and Dolamar in the kitchen, probably working on the signal. No one else was in the house. Hadowsi left the house and looked around. There were Florans everywhere, Hadowsi had never seen this many people in one place, not even before Kainam showed up and started taking everyone. Mostly they were all just testing out the new armor, but others were talking. Hadowsi was a little surprised that the Florans from the separate tribes could interact so easily. Hadowsi walked past them all and headed for the forest. She wouldn’t enter it, she just wanted to get a breath of fresh air from the forest. As she walked away from the center of the camp, the Florans grew further apart from each other. When she neared the forest, she spotted a figure gazing out into the trees. It was Ranaka. Hadowsi walked over to him. “Yes?” Ranaka bluntly asked her before she could even say anything. She didn’t have anything in particular to ask him, so she thought of something to say on the spot. “Are we ready for thiss?” Ranaka didn’t even look at her, just some twitching of the ears as they angled toward her. “Do you think you’re ready?” “I’m not sure,” she admitted. “I have never been in a real battle before.” “It’s a lot of thinking on the spot,” Ranaka told her. “Even when the battle plan is laid out, you still need to act on your feet.” “How did you get sso good at fighting?” “I was trained since I was young,” Ranaka explained. “I’m just not used to fighting completely by myself.” “You are good at it anyway,” Hadowsi complimented him. “Yeah well, it doesn’t matter right now,” Ranaka said, Hadowsi thought she picked up regret in his tone but didn’t press him. “All that matters in the end is that you win,” Ranaka continued. “I don’t think sso,” Hadowsi argued. “You musst win the right way.” “The right way?” “If you kill people you don’t need to kill, iss it really winning if you become a monsster?” “There are people who would say yes.” “Well I will never ssay yess.” “You’re starting to remind me of Xavier.” Hadowsi hesitated. “Are you two closse?” Ranaka thought for a second. “No, I don’t think so.” “You sseem closse.” “We do?” “Yess, like you are different, but not so different. It is hard to explain” “I’m not sure I understand,” Ranaka admitted. “And anyway, I’m not necessarily nice to him.” “Iss it even posssible for you to be nice, Ranaka?” Hadowsi joked. “Of course I can be nice!” Ranaka argued defensively, then realized it was a joke and settled down again. They were silent for a few seconds. “Are you worried about him?” Hadowsi carefully asked. Ranaka whispered something, though it was too quiet for Hadowsi to hear. Before she could ask him to repeat himself, they heard someone walking up to them from behind. Hadowsi turned and saw that it was Adija. “Hello,” he greeted, though he was strangely grim. “What’ss wrong Adija?” Hadowsi asked. “Asheem iss dead.” Hadowsi was shocked to hear it. For all of her life, Asheem was the lead guard of the village. It always seemed like he was invincible, so for him to die almost turned her world upside-down. “Hadowssi,” Adija continued. “It might not be besst if you go to fight.” “How could you ssay that?” Hadowsi asked him. She turned to Ranaka for assistance but he stayed silent. “Father and Mother would be upsset if you died,” Adija explained. “And sso would I.” Hadowsi was starting to get upset herself. “I need to do thiss Adija,” she said. “For the village, and for Xavier. And now for Asheem, too.” “I know,” Adija said. “Jusst don’t die, alright?” Hadowsi hugged Adija. “I will not die, because I know you will have a feasst prepared when we return.” Adija laughed. “I guesss it’ss true then, you can’t live without my cooking, yet you can’t die without it either.” They both laughed for a few seconds and released the hug. Hadowsi became serious again. “I will alsso do thiss for Dowa, Adija.” Hearing this, Adija tensed up greatly. “Thank you,” he whispered before walking away. “Dowa?” Ranaka asked without turning to face Hadowsi. “Dowa and Adija loved each other,” Hadowsi explained. “But Dowa was one of the firsst to be chosen to go to Kainam.” Ranaka grunted in response. Hadowsi decided it was time for her to go back inside and wait for the beginning of the battle there. As she walked away from Ranaka, she couldn’t help but glance over her shoulder at him. He was still standing there, gazing into the forest. But as Hadowsi walked away, she noticed him start to visibly sag for no apparent reason. She debated going back to him, but decided he needed some time alone. Day 10; Time 2137; South of Kainam’s Camp on Tetjas Senior VIRanaka: Ranaka was in one of three small groups of Florans, the one he was in was south of Kainam’s camp. Another was to the west of the camp, Arunehe’s group, and to the north, Zaurora’s group. There was also a fourth group of thirteen Florans to the east, this was Ayisab’s group. Each group contained a mixture of Florans from each of the separate tribes. Ranaka had just done a quick lap around the camp to make sure everyone was in place before returning to the south group. This was going to be Asheem’s group, but since Asheem died, Ranaka had chosen Hadowsi to lead it. He was unsure if she was up to the task, seeing as how she was new to combat, yet she seemed ready to take on the challenge. Up to this point Ranaka had been leading the small group, however, once he entered the camp it would be up to Hadowsi. He kept three ears trained on the camp as he spoke to her. “I’m going in,” he whispered. “Are you ready?” “I’m ready,” Hadowsi confirmed. Without saying anything else, Ranaka moved forward to the camp. Using his excellent hearing, he easily maneuvered around the camp’s guards. He had a pouch tied around his waist. Inside was the concoction created by Adija. Supposedly, when he tossed it into the fire the color would change to blue. Currently, there were three Florans around the fire, one was asleep while the other two were chatting softly. But his destination wasn’t the fire. At least, that wasn’t his destination yet. First, he was heading toward the cages. As Ranaka approached where he remembered the cages to be, he focused his hearing ahead of him. Ahead, he could hear two people breathing gently, one was slouching over on the ground while the second was standing by, facing away from the first. Carefully, Ranaka crept closer and confirmed that the standing figure was a guard and the slouching figure was Xavier, locked in a cage. Xavier was awake but hadn’t noticed Ranaka yet. Before either Xavier or the guard could notice him, he quietly leapt into the air. Ranaka pulled out his hammer mid jump and raised it over his head as he fell toward the guard. Just before he became level with the guard’s head, he swung his hammer down. As Ranaka stood up he placed his hammer back into its sheath. Ranaka glanced at the unfortunate guard’s corpse. The guard had simply compressed to the point of exploding, which was thankfully a somewhat quiet process. Not loud enough to attract other guards yet still loud enough to rouse Xavier. “Ranaka?” Xavier whispered as he focused on Ranaka. “Is that really you?” Xavier walked over to the bars next to Ranaka. “Yes,” Ranaka answered. “What did you just do?” “If you didn’t see it, then I’m certain you don’t want me to describe it for you.” Xavier looked down at the ground around Ranaka. “Oh.” Ranaka grasped the bars of the cage and bent them out of place so that Xavier could escape again. Something about the quiet groan of the iron bars being bent was comforting to Ranaka. “Woah,” Xavier said. “Déjà vu.” Ranaka said nothing, instead he pulled the newly made tungsten broadsword off of his back. He inspected it before handing it to Xavier. Xavier took it and examined it. Satisfied, he strapped it to his own back. “Thanks, they took my armor and the Protectorate broadsword again.” “I figured you needed something better anyway.” “I could hug you right now, except you’re covered in blood,” Xavier said. “And you might kill me if I do that.” Ranaka ignored the comments and told him about the plan. “You should hurry,” Xavier told him after he was done. “Greenfinger Ayisab probably won’t wait for too much longer.” Ranaka nodded. “Where are you going?” “I’m going for the Matter Manipulator.” “And Kainam.” “Most likely.” Ranaka left Xavier and continued with his own objective. Xavier was probably right in thinking that Ayisab wouldn’t wait for much longer. Thankfully, it wasn’t hard for Ranaka to sneak all the way to the campfire. He crouched in the shadows and watched the two chatting Florans. Deciding it was better to just get it over with, he untied the pouch from his armor and hefted it. After taking aim he lobbed it into the center of the fire. At first nothing happened, except for the two Florans to hear a thud and glance over at the fire. Ranaka was just thinking that it had failed when the fire changed from yellow to blue in a strange wave of color. The two Florans stood up and stared at the fire in confusion while Ranaka ducked away. Any second now the attack would begin. And begin it did, starting with a loud and annoying battle screech from the east. Xavier: Xavier had just reached the outside of the largest tent when in his peripherals he noticed the fire change to blue. As Ranaka told him would happen, soon after a loud battle cry sounded from somewhere east of the camp. Something in Xavier warned him that the cannibals would be waking up soon. Not wanting to be caught in the midst of a chaotic battle, he dashed into the large tent. The inside of the tent was well lit by just a single iron lantern. There were pelts of animals covering the entire floor, like rugs. On makeshift shelves were the skulls of Florans, though Xavier also spotted an Avian and a Hylotl skull along with them. Overall there weren’t nearly enough skulls for all of the Florans that Kainam’s camp had kidnapped. These ones must have been special, possibly the first chosen from each tribe. There was a weapon rack in one of the back corners of the tent, which was filled with spears. Next to it was a makeshift armor stand, though there was no armor on display. In the other back corner was a small table with a sleeping bag on the ground next to it. On the table was the Matter Manipulator, and behind the table was Greenfinger Kainam. He had been glancing at the east wall of the tent, toward the battle cry, but when Xavier entered he turned to face him. He seemed surprised that Xavier escaped a second time, though his surprise didn’t last for long. Except for a helmet, Kainam was fully equipped in durasteel armor, with a spear across his back. When his surprise disappeared he pulled the spear around and aimed it at Xavier; Xavier unsheathed his sword and entered his battle stance. “You esscaped again!” Kainam noted exasperatedly. “Yeah,” Xavier agreed. “You should have trained your guards better when you had the chance.” “I do that after I kill you,” Kainam said as he walked around the table. The tent was large enough that with the two of them standing on either side they still had plenty of room to fight. At first neither of them attacked, Xavier was waiting for Kainam to strike first, and it was possible Kainam was doing the same, but Kainam’s impatience won and he lunged first. Xavier saw the spear coming directly for his chest and knocked it away with his sword. Xavier wasn’t wearing any armor, while Kainam was wearing durasteel. Xavier would have to play his cards very carefully in this battle. After knocking the spear away, he followed up by stepping closer to Kainam. Now that they were in arm’s reach neither of their weapons would do much good. Kainam furiously stared at Xavier, and Xavier did the same. He realized an important detail about Kainam, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. The towering Venus Flytrap-like plant on his head left Kainam’s head wide open to attack, which was something Xavier could take advantage of. However, since his sword was off to the side and keeping Kainam from using his spear, Xavier couldn’t quite attack yet. Instead, he did a backwards lunge to make some space between them. Ranaka: After hearing the battle screech, Ranaka decided now was the time to go after Sadradi. He assumed that Kainam had the Matter Manipulator and that since Xavier was going for it he would have to take on Kainam as well, so Ranaka figured he should defeat Kainam’s second-in-command. Plus it was a chance for a rematch. Unfortunately, Ranaka was using tungsten equipment and he knew that Sadradi had durasteel equipment, so it would be a difficult match. But unlike last time, Ranaka wouldn’t let himself be defeated so easily. As he traversed the camp looking for Sadradi’s tent, he passed the still waking Florans. Most were still too groggy to do anything, but a few noticed him and tried to give chase. Unfortunately for them, their attentions were forcibly turned to the invading Florans. Ranaka traveled to the part of the camp where he remembered Sadradi’s tent to be. It wasn’t too far from the fire, and there was a light on inside, so Ranaka knew that Sadradi was probably awake. Charging at the tent at full speed, he rammed through the front entrance flap and stopped in the center of the tent. As Ranaka quickly scanned the tent, he saw a hammer swinging down at him in his peripherals. He dodged backwards and spun to see Sadradi slam the dirt. Sadradi was wearing his durasteel armor and wielding Ranaka’s stolen hammer. Sadradi’s spear was leaning on a weapon rack. “You again,” Sadradi said. “Me,” Ranaka agreed and drew his hammer. “Yesterday I wanted my hammer back. Today, though, I’m fine with this one.” “I kill you,” Sadradi threatened him. “And wear pelt for trophy!” “You’ll find that it won’t be so easy to beat me this time.” Sadradi hissed and lunged at him. Immediately, Ranaka noticed that Sadradi didn’t know how to properly wield the warhammer. He swinged downwards at Ranaka, but was easily sidestepped. As Ranaka dodged, he swung his hammer horizontally and hit Sadradi in the waist. With a gasp he stumbled backwards and glared at Ranaka. “What’s the matter Sadradi?” Ranaka asked. “Don’t know how to fight?” “Little alien will tasste good,” Sadradi hissed. “Tasste great.” Sadradi tried to swing his hammer down on Ranaka again, but to counter Ranaka swung his hammer upward from the side. Ranaka’s hammer hit Sadradi’s from the side and the force of the blow spun Sadradi around. Instead of letting himself be dazed, however, Sadradi continued to spin. As he started to face Ranaka again, he held his hammer outward to strike Ranaka in the head. Ranaka was ready for him, though. As Sadradi’s hammer came from the left, Ranaka swung his from the right. Their hammers’ heads connected directly, and the force of the two objects suddenly slamming into each other caused the head of Sadradi’s iron hammer to shatter. Ranaka’s new tungsten hammer, however, survived. Sadradi stumbled back in surprise and dropped the now useless hammer handle. Glancing around he spotted his spear on the armor rack and raced toward it. Ranaka quickly bent down and grabbed the shattered weapon’s handle and tossed it at Sadradi feet. The handle got caught in Sadradi’s feet and caused him to trip next to the weapon rack. As Sadradi tried to pull himself up and grab his spear, Ranaka lunged toward him one final time. He thrusted his warhammer directly at Sadradi’s back instead of swing it and hit Sadradi in the spine. Ranaka watched as Sadradi writhed in pain, but whatever his plan was, it was in vain. Ranaka’s hammer caused Sadradi’s back to be bend the wrong way. Ranaka glanced around the tent for anything interesting but didn’t see anything worthwhile. Now that Sadradi was dead, he decided he should check in on Xavier. He left the tent to find a chaotic battle in progress throughout the camp. Ignoring the fighters, he headed for the largest tent in the camp. Xavier: Xavier and Kainam glared at each other. Xavier needed to think of a way to attack Kainam’s head without leaving himself open to attack. The most obvious method would be to disarm Kainam, though it would take a bit of work, since Kainam was clearly an experienced fighter. However Xavier was using a broadsword while Kainam had a spear. When Kainam had speed, Xavier had power. He just needed Kainam to expose himself again. “You unite enemy tribess,” Kainam noted. “You not sso weak asss you sseem.” “It wasn’t too hard,” Xavier admitted. “After all, they really hate you.” “No matter,” Kainam growled. “We kill them all. Plenty of food.” “And what happens when all that food runs out? You’re gonna look for more tribes?” “Yess,” Kainam confirmed just before lunging at Xavier. Kainam twisted as he lunged so that Xavier would have a smaller target to hit, but that wasn’t Xavier’s goal. Instead, Xavier hopped back, leaving Kainam to strike air. Only when Kainam tried to regain his stance did Xavier attack. Xavier drove the broadsword straight at Kainam’s face. The only thing Kainam could do to protect himself was raise an arm to intercept the blade. Kainam shredded his left forearm on the blade to keep it from entering his skull, but all that did was push it up, allowing it to pierce his Venus Flytrap instead. Kainam yelled in pain and ducked away from Xavier, causing the broadsword to slide back out of the wound, which accidentally widened the gash. Kainam used one hand to aim the spear at Xavier so he couldn’t get closer, with the other he reached up and felt around the wound. He winced in pain every time he accidentally brushed the gap. “Agh,” Kainam winced. “You die for that.” Xavier recalled something that he did at the Outpost. He had helped an Apex scientist create a piece of technology called the Dash Tech. This could very well be his first chance to test it in the field. Xavier entered a stance that would allow him to lunge forward easily but held his position for a moment. Kainam saw that he was about to lunge and readied his spear. Deep down, Xavier didn’t know from where, he got a feeling that he was ready. He propelled himself forward at a speed at least two times faster than he would have been able to achieve normally. Xavier remembered the first time he had used the Dash Tech, it had seemed a lot less real. That might have been because he had first used it in an obstacle course where that the Apex scientist had designed so that no outside variables could interfere with testing. Now that Xavier was out in the field, things like the wind or any water might somehow change how it feels when dashing. All in all Xavier found it exhilarating, this was definitely something he would use more often. It also seemed like he needed to actively think about dashing now, whereas in the obstacle course it had happened simply through lunging. Time also seemed to slow down, enhancing Xavier’s reflexes to match the enhanced speed, if only temporarily. It helped Xavier when he was suddenly next to Kainam, but it did not help Kainam in any way. As Xavier’s dashed ended, Kainam tried in vain to twist and skewer Xavier, but Xavier was one step ahead, with his broadsword already nearing Kainam’s head. The sword entered Kainam through his eye socket, killing him almost instantly. Xavier still had to avoid the spear, but without any coordination from a user, it was easy to dodge. Xavier pulled his sword the dead cannibal’s skull and looked at it. Using a rag of some dead creature’s fur, Xavier wiped the Floran blood off of it and returned it to its sheath. With Kainam dead, Xavier walked over to the table and picked up the Matter Manipulator. Delicately holding it in both hands, Xavier inspected it. Luckily, Kainam didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to use it. And also luckily, he must not have gotten around to taking it apart to see how it worked. Xavier was well aware of how Florans reverse-engineered foreign technology. Xavier found the button on the side of the Manipulator caused it to fold in on itself, shrinking down to the size of a remote. He put it in his pocket for safe keeping. Outside the sounds of battle seemed to be dimming down. Xavier remembered that Ranaka wanted to fight Sadradi, he decided that he’d go and assist if needed. Xavier raced out of the tent and into the chaotic battle. Ranaka: As Ranaka neared the large tent he started to make out two shadows on the tent fabric, being reflected from the light inside. The two shadows were clearly in battle but before Ranaka could enter the tent something caught his attention. “Ranaka!” Said a familiar voice, it emanated out of the earpiece built into his armor’s helmet. “Your right!” Ranaka stopped running and glanced right. One of Kainam’s Florans was making a mad dash straight for him, spear in hand. Ranaka didn’t have time to draw his hammer, but he didn’t need time. Just as the Floran was about to stab Ranaka, a round from an FM3 Firelance, an Avali sniper rifle, shot the Floran in the head, causing them to fall to the ground. The shot came from behind Ranaka. As the Floran corpse fell to the ground, Ranaka turned to see who had fired the rifle. He recognized the voice, really there was only one person it could be. But as much as he wished it were true, it was impossible for that person to be here, on this planet. As he spun around, he saw them. They were hiding in the treelines, outside of the camp. While it should have been impossible with his ineffective eyesight, Ranaka was able to see her clearly, as if she were right next to him. Hiding in the trees with her FM3 Firelance, was Eikoli, one of Ranaka’s pack members. "How can Eikoli be here?" Ranaka asked himself. Ranaka was about to go over and speak to her when another figure approached him. It was Eitun, Ranaka’s other pack member. He was wielding his MG3 Hailstorm minigun. As usual, even in combat, Eitun wore his signature grin. “Ranaka!” He greeted. “I knew it would take more than an exploding planet to kill you! Eikoli thought otherwise, but, heh, look who was right!” Ranaka was speechless. How could they have found him? It was so perfect, yet so surreal at the same time. Eikoli’s voice came through their helmets. “Would you both just hurry up and retrieve Nezami so that we can go?” “I can’t,” Ranaka said. “Xavier-” “Where’s Nezami Ranaka?” Eitun asked him. “We have a ship waiting to go, I can cover you.” “She’s not here,” Ranaka told him. “What do you mean?” “She’s… Well, she’s dead,” Ranaka glumly admitted. Eitun was stunned, and though Ranaka couldn’t see her anymore, he knew Eikoli was as well. “What? How?” Eitun asked him. “She never got off Earth.” “But- But-” Eitun tried to speak. A voice came from behind Ranaka. “Ranaka!” Ranaka tried to turn and see who it was but Eitun held his hand out to Ranaka. “Come on! Let’s go!” “Go where?” “Home!” “Ranaka!” The voice called again. Ranaka reached for Eitun’s hand but was quickly spun around. It was Xavier. Xavier: After placing the Matter Manipulator into his pocket, Xavier remembered that Ranaka wanted to fight Sadradi. Deciding to go assist him if he was needed, Xavier raced out of the tent and into the chaotic battle. It seemed like the battle was dying down, most of the cannibals were killed, though the other tribes also suffered heavy losses. Xavier looked around and spotted Ranaka. He was alone, facing away from Xavier. He seemed to be looking at something just in front of him, but Xavier could not see what. There was a dead Floran on the ground to Ranaka’s left with a spear sticking out of their head. Fearing that Ranaka was experiencing an episode, he called out: “Ranaka!” Just as Ranaka started to turn around, something in front of him caught his attention again. This caused Xavier to be truly worried, since there was just empty air in front of Ranaka. Concerned, he started to walk toward Ranaka. “Ranaka!” Xavier crouched down so that he was eye level with Ranaka, then he spun Ranaka around to face him. Almost as soon as Ranaka was facing him, Ranaka leapt forward and wrapped his arms around Xavier in a hug. Completely taken aback, Xavier saw tears coming out of Ranaka’s eyes. “Uh,” Xavier said, mentally kicking himself for being a horrible at comforting friends. “It’s okay Ranaka.” Not knowing what else to do, he patted Ranaka’s back. Xavier was sincerely concerned for his friend. Xavier and Ranaka might be trying to save the universe, but Xavier would be damned if he didn’t rescue Ranaka from insanity. So that’s what he’d do. One way or another. Day 10; Time 2314; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: The fight was over, with Kainam’s tribe the losers. Though Kainam’s tribe was completely eliminated, even with the element of surprise the other tribes also lost a lot of people. Out of the thirty-one Florans fighting Kainam, only eighteen returned to the village alive. Greenfinger Ayisab was one of the unfortunate Florans that never saw the outcome of the battle. Between Xavier and Greenfingers Arunehe and Zaurora, the surviving Florans were guided back to Kadalie’s village where the Florans chosen to remain behind waited in suspense. Upon the combatants’ return, the waiting Florans all cheered. Everyone was excited about the victory, but Xavier could tell that the victors just wanted to rest. Greenfinger Kadalie must have sensed the same because she and Greenfinger Dolamar rushed through the crowds calming everyone down. When everyone had stopped cheering, Kadalie made an announcement. “The warriorss have returned ssuccesssful!” She started, which caused everyone to cheer again. After quieting everyone down once more she continued. “But while Greenfinger Kainam’ss tribe hasss been defeated, we alsso have losst people. We will ssleep well tonight, and tomorrow we shall honor thosse who have fallen.” After that everyone dispersed. Xavier could tell that everyone was happy, even he was happy, though it was for a different reason. The Matter Manipulator. He had been so stupid to forget it the first time, yet thinking back he was glad he did. If they hadn’t left it with Kainam, there wouldn’t have been much reason to stay and help fight. As Xavier walked to Kadalie’s house, he glanced to his left. Ranaka glumly walked beside him. Ranaka was probably the only person who wasn’t happy about the battle. He hadn’t spoken at all after realizing that he was hugging Xavier. Instead, he just glumly thought to himself. Xavier had tried to start a conversation but all he managed to do was get Ranaka to ignore him even more. Xavier hoped it wouldn’t last, he didn’t want Ranaka to change, because even though Ranaka was rude sometimes, or most of the time, it didn’t matter, because Ranaka was his friend. As they entered Kadalie’s home, went upstairs, and entered their respective rooms, Xavier wondered if Ranaka would be alright after a night’s rest. Day 11; Time 0816; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: Once everyone had awoken the next morning, Kadalie’s village held a ceremony for the deceased. Xavier didn’t know how Florans dealt with their dead, so it was a learning experience for him. He had asked Greenfinger Dolamar what to expect and was told that they gave the bodies back to the planet through burial. Everyone from all of the tribes stood by as Dolamar gave a speech on how they had fought well and given their lives to save their tribes from Greenfinger Kainam. After the speech, the separate tribes were assigned to bury their dead. The whole process took only an hour. Xavier was surprised at how respectful the Tribes of the Sky, River, and Sun were; all of them were quiet throughout the ceremony, especially the River Tribe, which had lost their Greenfinger. After the burial ceremony Kadalie declared that the rest of day would be dedicated to celebrating Kainam’s defeat. Competitions were going to be held all day and a feast was planned for the very end of the day. All of the excitement from the Florans seeped into Xavier, but he wouldn’t be partaking in the festivities. Instead, he would be scanning Floran objects for clues on the whereabouts of the Floran artifact. He tried to get Ranaka to speak, but was unsuccessful, however he did manage to convince him to walk around and at least try to enjoy the festival. Ranaka ended up joining Hadowsi and Adija as they went out to watch some of the competitions. Assured that Ranaka wouldn’t sit and mope all day, Xavier went out and started scanning. Day 11; Time 1256; Kadalie’s Home on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: The time for lunch had come around and everyone was taking a break from the competitions, which as Xavier had seen while walking around the village were mostly based around fighting. The scanning had barely taken him an hour to complete and Esther was in the process of putting the clues together. By the end of the day, they would have an idea of where the artifact was. At the moment, Xavier was in Kadalie’s house and was sitting at her dining table. Also at the table were Kadalie, Dolamar, Arunehe, and Zaurora. They were just finishing lunch, not made by Adija but still good in Xavier’s opinion. The Greenfingers were discussing a possible alliance between the tribes now that Kainam was gone. “No matter what we decide,” Zaurora said. “We should do ssomething about the Tribe of the Red River.” “Why would we do ssomething about them?” Kadalie asked him. “Because they no longer have a Greenfinger to guide them,” Zaurora explained. “They can easily be taken out of the picture.” “The River Tribe has jusst as much reason to be here as we do,” Kadalie argued. “But they’re weak.” “Sso were we, and we sstill are!” “But we have defeated Kainam!” “Only because we were united,” Kadalie pointed out. “We would have been easily defeated if we attacked sseparately. Which iss why I have ssomething to ssuggesst.” “Well?” Zaurora impatiently asked her. “Sspit it out!” “I ssuggesst that we unite completely.” Everyone was silent. Clearly no one had thought to unite after Kainam was defeated. Dolamar leaned over to her. “Are you sure, Kadalie?” “Yess,” was her answer. “And who would lead usss? You?” Zaurora challenged her. “We would all lead, together.” “But how?” Arunehe asked. “The ssame way Greenfinger Dolamar and I lead together.” “And how iss that?” Zaurora questioned. “We come together to make a decision,” Kadalie answered. “And we don’t act behind each other’ss backsss.” “Why would anyone want that?” “Because it keeps one person from having too much power,” Xavier answered him. “One leader has worked jusst fine before, why should we have four?” “If you have more than one leader you can come up with different ideas and choose the best one,” Xavier said. “And you won’t all have to focus on the same things. You could separate duties.” “Like what?” “For instance, Greenfinger Kadalie makes decisions on the tribe’s external dealings while Greenfinger Dolamar deals with the people inside of the tribe,” Xavier explained. “If you both joined him, then some tasks could be delegated to the both of you. That way you aren’t overworked by dealing with every aspect of the tribe, but you still get a say in major decisions regarding the tribe.” “I think I like that idea,” Arunehe decided. “Our tribess will only get sstronger if we unite.” Zaurora clearly didn’t like the idea, but something in him must have told him to agree. Maybe it was the fact that he was outnumbered in his beliefs, or maybe he was starting to see sense. “Fine,” he agreed. “We will ssee how long thiss alliance lastss.” “Then it iss decided,” Kadalie concluded. “We will unite into one village.” “You know,” Xavier noticed something. “You could make it a city.” “A city?” “Yeah, just keep building and growing a bit,” Xavier told them. “Not too much, but once you have about a hundred Florans it could probably be considered a small city.” “And what would we call it?” Dolamar asked him. “You could name it after Ayisab. After all, he was the only Greenfinger to die in the battle, so his tribe has less say in the matter.” “The city of Ayissab,” Arunehe spoke. “I did not like Ayissab very much, but I agree that iss a worthy name for our city.” Kadalie looked at Dolamar, who nodded. Turning to Zaurora, she asked: “Zaurora?” Zaurora sighed. “Very well, if we musst name it then we should name it after the Greenfinger who died.” “Now that that’ss ssettled,” Kadalie finished. “I would like to thank you for all of your help Xavier.” “It was nothing,” Xavier said. “I’m a Protector, it’s my job to help.” “In any casse, I think the otherss will agree that you and Ranaka are welcome to visit whenever you please.” A glance around the table confirmed that all of the Greenfingers, even Zaurora, agreed that they would be welcome to return at any time. “Thank you for your hospitality.” “Will you be sstaying for the feasst?” “No, I think Ranaka and I had better get going soon.” “Then I wish you luck on your journey.” Everyone stood up, finished with the meeting and lunch, and went about their separate ways. Arunehe and Zaurora left the house while Kadalia and Dolamar took the plates into the kitchen. Xavier was standing around, ready to go and get Ranaka, when Ranaka, Hadowsi, and Adija entered the dining room. “Hey guys,” Xavier greeted them. “Ranaka, we’re going to be leaving soon, alright?” “Good,” Ranaka spoke in Common so that the two Florans wouldn’t understand him. “I’m tired of speaking in that damn language.” Ranaka turned and left the room. At least he seemed back to normal. With Ranaka gone, Xavier, Hadowsi, and Adija stood together in the dining room. It was calm and quiet in the room, very peaceful after the battle. Xavier was glad it had worked out as well as it did, though he wished less people had died. “Xavier?” Hadowsi spoke up. “Yes?” “I want to join you on your mission.” “What?” Xavier was startled by the question. “Hadowssi?” Even Adija was surprised. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and well, you’ve done more for my people than we could have on our own,” she explained. “I want to come with you, to repay you.” “You don’t need to repay me, Hadowsi.” “Then to help ssave the universse. Please, I want to help!” Xavier thought on it for a moment. Hadowsi knew how to handle herself, at least well enough that she wouldn’t be in danger in a fight. And she seemed eager to help. “Okay, I guess you can come,” Xavier decided, to which Hadowsi brightened. “But, you need to speak with your parents first.” “We heard.” The trio looked over at the door to the kitchen and saw Kadalie and Dolamar standing just inside the dining room. Their faces were neutral, revealing no emotions. Hadowsi immediately became worried that they would deny her this chance. “Hadowssi,” Kadalie started. “You do not know what you are getting into.” “Maybe not, but I can learn!” “It’ss dangerouss out in the universse,” Dolamar put in. “I’m dangerouss too!” “Why do you want to go?” Kadalie asked her. “Because they need my help. The universse iss at sstake!” “You don’t even undersstand the ssituation.” “I understand just as much as you!” “Iss that what you think?” “Yess.” Kadalie sighed. “Very well, it sseems that we cannot convince you not to leave.” “You have our permission to leave,” Dolamar smiled. “Really?” “We can’t really keep you from going, can we? We might as well let you go knowing we believe in you.” “Thank you.” Kadalie turned to Xavier. “Protect Hadowssi, Xavier.” “I can take care of mysself!” Hadowsi argued. “Not from thingss you don’t undersstand, you can’t!” “I’ll do my best,” Xavier promised. Kadalie nodded. Hadowsi turned to Adija, who was shocked at this turn of events. “I guess thiss iss goodbye, brother.” Adija regained his composure quickly. “Goodbye? What are you talking about? I’m coming with you!” “What?” “Pssh, everyone knowss you can’t live without my cooking, you need me,” he joked. “It will be dangerouss, Adija,” Hadowsi warned in a serious tone. “Now you ssound like Mother.” Hadowsi sputtered at that but Kadalie and Dolamar smiled. “Bessidess, I don’t have to fight.” “It’s true, he can stay on the ship,” Xavier added. Dolamar stepped forward. “I believe thiss will be a good opportunity for you both,” he said. “You both have my permission to go.” “Yess, Adija,” Kadalie agreed. “You have my permission to leave as well.” Adija and Hadowsi grinned at each other. “Let’ss go ssave the universse!” Adija said. “Together!” Hadowsi agreed. “Woah, woah,” Xavier stepped in. “It’s not that simple. We have a long way to go.” “Will there be people to ssave along the way?” Hadowsi asked. “And adventure?” Adija followed up. “Yes and yes,” Xavier answered. “I’m sure of it. Now, I’d better go find Ranaka and tell him we’ve got two more crew members.” Xavier walked out of the house to find Ranaka. He was also giving the family some time to say their actual goodbyes. Day 11; Time 1317; Kadalie’s Village on Tetjas Senior VIXavier: As Xavier wandered through the village, he saw most Florans taking a break from the festivities and eating lunch. A few were still competing in competitions, however, and bouts of laughter and cheers from the audience of such competitions weren’t making the ground any less devoid of fallen food. After walking around for several minutes, Xavier found Ranaka at the blacksmith’s workplace. He was speaking with the Floran blacksmith about something. Xavier walked up as the blacksmith went back over to their equipment. “Xavier,” Ranaka greeted him in Common. “The blacksmith says your armor is complete.” After Xavier had finished scanning he had wandered around the village watching the competitions. During that time he had run into the blacksmith. The blacksmith had offered to create tungsten armor for Xavier, to which Xavier agreed. The armor must have just finished. In confirmation, the Floran blacksmith walked over with a makeshift backpack. Xavier took the pack and his arm drooped under the combined weight of an armor set. “Thank you,” Xavier told the blacksmith. “No, thank you,” the Floran said before returning to their duties. Xavier turned to Ranaka. Xavier didn’t quite know how to break it to Ranaka that there would be another two crewmembers, so he would just say it outright. “Ranaka,” he started, speaking in Common. “Hadowsi and Adija are joining the crew.” Ranaka stared at him in disbelief and annoyance. Then he relented and sighed. “Fine… I guess we could use the help,” he muttered, surprisingly quick to accept the new members. “Hey Ranaka, we’re a team, but that doesn’t mean we can just save the universe by ourselves.” “I know…” Ranaka admitted. “I just wish there were some familiar faces.” “You mean your pack?” “Yes.” Xavier nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I wish we did have some old friends with us. But we’re just going to have to make some new friends.” Ranaka sighed again. Xavier noted that he wasn’t being as tense as he normally was. He seemed to be relaxed, if only a little. Xavier hoped it was a good thing and not him giving up an inner battle or something or other. Xavier noted the time on his communicator and decided that it was time to retrieve Hadowsi and Adija and get going. After that they would need to go see Esther about the Floran artifact’s location. “I’m going to go get Hadowsi and Adija,” Xavier said. “See you on the ship?” “Yes,” was Ranaka’s only response before warping up to the ship in a beam of red, violet, and light blue. Xavier strolled back through the village to Kadalie’s home where he found Hadowsi, Adija, Dolamar, and Kadalie standing right outside. Hadowsi and Adija had trunks beside them. They all seemed to have finished their farewells and were waiting for him. “Are you guys ready?” Xavier asked in Floran. “Yess,” Hadowsi and Adija answered together. “Alright. S.A.I.L?” Xavier called as he pulled out his communicator. “Yes, Xavier?” Came the response. “Can you warp us up to the ship, and the trunks?” “Of course.” And with that, Xavier felt the warm tingling that accompanied the warping process. It was somewhat relaxing, in a sort of rushed way. The whole process took only a few seconds before Xavier found himself on the ship. Ranaka, Chitlan, and Musket were already waiting for him, and Hadowsi, Adija, and their chests warped up a split second after he did. “Now that we’re all here,” Ranaka spoke in Common while eyeing the Florans. “We should head back to the Outpost.” “Exactly what I was thinking,” Xavier agreed. He turned to Adija and Hadowsi and spoke in Floran: “Wait here with Chitlan,” he motioned at Chitlan. “Ranaka and I will be back soon.” Adija nodded but Hadowsi pouted. “We can’t come?” “Sorry Hadowsi, maybe next time.” Ranaka stepped onto the teleportation pad and warped away. Xavier was about to do the same but was stopped by Chitlan. “Uh, Xavier?” He nervously asked. “I don’t speak Floran.” “Oh, right, well, maybe S.A.I.L. can help you there.” “Okay, uh, see you soon, I guess.” Xavier nodded and stepped onto the pad. He never even thought to ask if Chitlan could speak Floran, but apparently he couldn’t. It was clear that one of the things that needed to be done was to teach Hadowsi and Adija how to speak Common. When Xavier was taught all of the languages, Human, Common, Hylotl, Glitch, etc, it had taken years. He had been in training to become a Protector then. He was basically telling Chitlan to teach Hadowsi and Adija Common in less than a month or so, however long this all lasted. Hopefully them being fully exposed to Common would make the learning process faster, whereas Xavier spent years learning from behind a desk. The familiar tingling sensation overcame him as he warped away from the ship, toward the Outpost. When they returned, Ranaka and Xavier would meet Esther and see what she came up with. Hopefully she would have a location for them to explore. Day 11; Time 1356; Ark Ruins near the OutpostXavier: Esther rotated in her hovering chair as Xavier and Ranaka walked up to her. “Welcome back!” She greeted. “I trust you aren’t too tired out from all those Florans?” “We’re still up to the task of finding the Artifact,” Xavier assured her. “If that’s what you’re asking.” “Excellent.” “You don’t need us to scan anything else, do you?” Ranaka asked her. “No, at least not until we’re ready to go after the Hylotl Artifact,” Esther said. “That was the last clue we needed. I know just where to find the Floran Artifact now. The clues you collected reveal that the Floran Artifact is enshrined in the Floran Hunting Caverns somewhere. Judging from what I’ve found out you’ll need to participate in a ritual hunt of some sort to get it.” “Do you know what we’ll have to hunt?” Xavier asked her. Esther shook her head. “I’m afraid not, dear. All the more reason to be careful.” She turned to Ranaka. “I’ve already sent S.A.I.L. the coordinates for the Floran Hunting Caverns, but you also have enough crew members to upgrade your ship and license. Unfortunately, if you decide to upgrade your ship the teleporter will be unusable, so do you want to upgrade now or get the Artifact now?” “The Artifact is more important than an upgrade,” Ranaka decided. “We’d better go get it now.” “Very well. Remember to be careful dears.” Xavier and Ranaka warped back up to the ship. Chitlan was standing awkwardly to the side while Musket sniffed Hadowsi and Adija. At the same time, the two Florans were inspecting the cat. When the two of them warped up to the ship, however, everyone diverted their attention to the duo. S.A.I.L. spoke first. “I have received the coordinates for the Ceremonial Hunting Caverns. You can use the mission interface to access the mission.” Ranaka walked over to the mission interface and inspected the details while Xavier found a hidden corner in the teleporter room and changed into the tungsten armor, keeping his Protectorate uniform on as the outer layer. Xavier definitely hoped that the next ship upgrade would make a few private rooms for them all. When he was done changing he walked over to the mission interface and Ranaka. “We should take Hadowsi,” Xavier decided. Ranaka looked over at Hadowsi, who was watching them expectantly. She might not have known what was going on, but she clearly knew something big was about to happen. Ranaka looked back to the interface. “If she dies it’s on you,” was his response. “She can handle herself!” Xavier defended Hadowsi. “We’ll see.” Ranaka waved Hadowsi over. She walked up excitedly. In Floran, Ranaka told her: “We’re about to go on a mission. Are you up for it?” Hadowsi quickly nodded. “I am ready.” “Alright, then. Get your gear.” Once Ranaka, Xavier, and Hadowsi had geared up fully, Ranaka told S.A.I.L. to warp them to the Caverns. With a warm tingling feeling, they departed the ship. Sequence Summary: Xavier and Ranaka have defeated Kainam and retrieved the Matter Manipulator, in the process they united three Floran tribes and a village and they now have the location of the Floran Ceremonial Hunting Grounds, the most likely place to find the Floran artifact. Now all they have to do is retrieve it.