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Right, well some people asked for it. Here it is. Freedom Dies With Me, my Freedom Planet darkfic. Well, it's not dark at the moment. Let's just say it spirals downhill...rather quickly. This seemed to be a popular story on DeviantART, so I'm gonna see how the Prologue works here. As a quick reminder; Strong Language, Blood and Gore (though not much) and quite a bit of Violence will be throughout the story, albiet quite low in the initial chapters. Oh, and Original Characters. And it's long. Very, very, VERY long.

Check it out on DeviantART here: http://fav.me/d926z0v

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"It's all based on something I like to call...The Sound of Madness theory. Everyone hears that little voice in their head every now and again, don't they? That little baritone buzz in the back of your brain, the one that wants you to cause so much misery. The voice that wants you to yell, to punch, to steal...to kill. The average person would just ignore it...but all you need is one bad day...and that voice becomes your own."

Perry Martin Presents:

FREEDOM DIES WITH ME: A FREEDOM PLANET ALTERNATIVE STORY

Prologue: A Life Not Lived


Another day in hell and, once more, the sky was boiling.

Master awoke with a steady start, his eyes reddened and weeping. His lungs felt flat from the stale air that wandered the lands and only the sound of crackling fires and way-off screaming caught the pits of his ears. He slowly arched his head up, his neck aching and stiff, as he looked at the world around him. The world had blurred into blends of reds and greens. The crimson sky was continuously lit by flashes of lightning and the every now again the nearby scenery was dotted with green flashes that left behind verdant flames. The area was in ruins, with broken buildings almost everywhere, with the parts of a long since gone casino everywhere they could possibly be. The smell of burnt wood and stale blood fled to Master's nose and left miserable stenches behind to ensure total hell. Master coughed twice and scrambled to his feet, but lost his footing and collapsed back to his knees. He felt weak and bitter, like someone had beaten the tar out of him and he had not had a good chance to recover. He sat up, droopy-eyed and shaking oddly, before reaching for his two main holsters secured to his belt.

The first holster held his trusted Desert Eagle, nicknamed "Vergil" by various people, and as always it retained its two-tone finish and rails. Master slid out the extended magazine and checked the magazine window. 10 rounds. Good. Vaguely satisfied, Master slipped the gun back into its original holster and checked his other one. This one often held the accursed Blade of Hysteria that Master was forced to carry around with him. A demonically-possessed blade that held the key to great power, but had one hell of a mouth on it as some twisted compensation. The Blade had gotten better with age alongside its wielder, but it was still bloodthirsty, mad enough to drive even the most stable of individuals to war-craving insanity. Master shook his head to clear out the dark thoughts and reached for the Blade itself. Oddly enough, it was gone. Master could still feel its presence nearby, so it wasn't stolen, thank Chaos. Master forced himself to his feet and stumbled across the hellish wastelands. Even with his trusty (and large) scarf and sunglasses, the particle-heavy winds still managed to scratch and damage his face. He nevertheless pressed on, calling out into the winds.

"Blade?" came the first call, weak at first but then slowly increasing in strength, "Blade! Where are you, man?"

"Don't worry, kiddo!" Came that old voice, a voice laced with gravel and wit, "You don't need to go far."

Master turned around to see the Blade's distinctive green glow hovering below him. The Blade was half-embedded in the loose soil that made up what wasn't rubble within the landscape, its handle still identifiable despite its colours blending in so well with the dark shades. Master stumbled to the soil and grabbed the handle, yanking the Blade out with a single strong pull. In an instant, the Blade's powers spread up his arm and across his body, returning the lost strength and enabling him to stand up in the grainy wind.

"Nice to see you again..." Master sighed, "At least I found someone. Where's Emma? Where's the Village? Where the hell are we?"

"I don't know..." Blade said, seemingly trying to shrug with no arms, "This place doesn't match any area we've been to before, visually or co-ordniates-wise. Best guess, its a brand new universe. Or at the very least the same universe within a different timeline."

"Sounds reasonable..." Master said, rubbing his forehead, "The last thing...that last thing I remember was looking at this portal that just opened up in the village centre. And then this...this hand reached out and then everything went black. What about you?"

"Same," Blade said, "Kinda strange, don't you think? Right...first things first, we better find out where and maybe when we are. Find a computer of some sort. Gotta be a functional one around here somewhere."

"Yeah...better get going..." Master said, digging out his Deagle and relocating the Blade to his off right hand, beginning to walk towards the nearest building he could see with functional lights, "Hey, Blade? Where do you think we are? I mean, this place looks like a desert, but its got a perfectly urban city look to this rubble. What the hell happened here?"

"Well, with my reckoning, either the world has ended and a being of immense power has managed to pull a meteor-sized spaceship out of orbit and smash it into the Earth, pulling up a dust storm large enough to swallow an entire continent...or we're in Spec Ops: The Line again. Either situation is equally harrowing."

"Yeah, I'm with ya..." Master sighed once more. Both stopped talking at this point and Master had picked up his pace, jogging from street to empty street to find a working computer. He came across a street, as abandoned and as broken down as the rest, yet managed to emphasise and outline the devastation of the rest of the world that Master was currently stuck in. At the left were houses, brick and mortar, with windows best described as strips of scarred glass rather than whole panes. The doors were kicked in and what seemed to be light blue fluid was on and around them. To the right were two shops. One of some sort of market-type area, with windows once again smashed to shreds, and it looked obvious that whoever or whatever was alive in this wasteland had helped themselves to food and drink. Master himself stopped by the shop to see if there was anything was still salvageable. Somehow, one of the mini fridges that often lined the walls of any newsagents still functioned, giving off a milky white and cold as ice light that contrasted quite sharply with the rest of the area. Master plucked a bottle of cola out the machine and checked its condition. It seemed to be unopened and in date, so Master took it with him.

"Hmm. A bottle of cola," Master said, slipping it into his jacket pocket, "That'll come in handy."

"At the very least it gives us a better idea of when we are," Blade mentioned off-handedly, "I'm seeing all sorts of drinks that aren't even patented, let alone sold around where we come from, original universe OR otherwise. Perhaps, then, this is some sort of future."

"I hope not," Master said, visibly annoyed, "I'm kind of sick of stumbling across post-apocalyptic futures like this. Crisis City, Mobius-Reboot, Heddgehoggia...urgh."

"Well look on the bright side," Blade said, once again shrugging in a non-visible manner, "Even if it is a post-apocalyptic world, at least it's not one you created. For once."

"...You sure?" Master said. He stumbled back outside and studied the other shop. It was a jewellers with the windows once more smashed, with the remains of a watch and some gold chains scattered across the road. More of the blue gunk from the broken doors was slathered across the glass shards and across the floor in lumps, one of which Master knelt down to, "Anyway, what do you think this stuff is?"

"What, this blue stuff?" Blade asked, "I don't know. Doesn't look like anything I've ever seen. Could be blood, tears, stomach contents...bowel contents, I don't know! Stick my blade into the gunk and I'll see what I can do."

"...Didn't expect to hear that today..." Master said before removing Blade from his holster and plunging him into the gunk. A few otherworldly sounds emitted and then ceased just as fast as they had started. Master dragged the blade out of the gunk and wiped off the residue, "Well?"

"WOOH!" came the Blade's unusual reply, "Wow! That's nothing I'VE ever tried before. Damn, it was like a shot to the heart! Well, if I had one. As for what that stuff is...well, energy. Really, really, REALLY concentrated energy. I've never seen such a strong small puddle of bright blue gunk."

"Hmm," Master said, wiping at his muzzle, "It seems that whoever did this had access to power far beyond us. Something as powerful as the Master Emerald, at least. Well that just makes me more interested for who this creature who turned the world to dust and super-jam actually is...we better get back on the road."

Master continued forward, every step making a crunch on the fragile and barely there road. Every street was almost identical to the last, each filled with houses stuffed to the chimneys with glass shards and debris. Everywhere laid scattered food and accessories and the light blue gunk clinged to everything like giant blood drops. The gunk and its contents still clinged to Master's mind like a dark thought. There was only one thing in his knowledge of the multiverse that could compare to this seemingly massive power output outside of the Master Emerald. It was something called the Kingdom Stone and it was said that it manifested in some way several millennia ago to help a tribe ascend to the point of seemingly gods. But all Master himself knew of this was nothing more than a mere rumour, nothing more than the sort of bold-faced tale spun by ego-driven and maniacal fools wishing to get into the bed of some young and pretty harlequin. Master himself was young, but had lived long, and knew a lot about the multiverse he used to roam as an outcast to his own people, but even he did now know if this Stone was real and if it was to blame for this devastation if it was. He and Blade alike had seen worlds where the energy of the earth had been shifted to remould the universe into the image of a mad man's dream, but to have a single stone contain more energy than the world and cause apocalyptic levels of damage? Neither could believe it.

Eventually the two made it to what seemed to be a functioning building, but it was deserted. It was a library of some type, one that seemed to scream with the echoes of a past world. Master slashed his way through the doors and looked inside. The library was grand, a true two-story affair with bookcases lining every wall. In the centre of the building stood a group of computers, each broken and long since disabled, but thankfully there was a final one just beyond them. It was large, the screen itself as large as the double doors Master has just cut open and the controls a similar size. Master ran to the console and turned it on. It responded with a few chimes and started up, showing the image of an orange on the boot up.

"Hmmm, I wonder what this is another version of..." Master sighed sarcastically. The computer opened up on a login screen, "Hmm. Well, I could just try to brute force it, but I fear I may not have enough time for that. Blade?"

"Stab away!" Blade responded merrily. Master nodded and plunged the infernal thing deep into the computer. The computer sparked and the monitor went black for a short period of time, but soon resumed on a standard desktop, "Okay, we're in. What should I look for?"

"Look for the history of the world," Master said with a banal sense of authority, "If this place is anything like Crisis City, then it will have news for just before the apocalypse, then it'll stop."

"Hmmm..." Blade said. The screen flashed in various news reports, going by far too fast to read on a whim, but then stopped, "Well this is interesting. Get a load of this: The year is 2019, so we're not that far into the future. But what's even more interesting is that this has still been updated since then. In fact, the most recent submission was just yesterday. Since 2016 there seem to have be plans, locations, letters and stories for others in this group called the Red Scarves. All encrypted in really strange ways. Anyway, I've gone through the entire database to see what happened to this world and I've found the sort of date that may explain it. In 2015, this warrior turned up."

"Warrior?" Master asked, head tilted to the side.

"It doesn't specify," Blade said, "Just that it was a powerful and insane creature, once part of this world, that managed to indeed access this power and grab a meteor from space. The resultant impact wiped out one of the three cities on the continent and shrouded the others in a dust cloud. This Warrior then went on an exodus around the world, a bloody one at that, slaughtering all that resisted her rule. Hmm. Sound similar?"

"Don't..." Master said quickly, keeping his head low and his past at the back of his head. He sighed, "A Warrior. A trickster bathed in the blood of a thousand innocent souls. A warlord who lives to kill. I'd hate to know who that person is..."

"Guards! Call the Warrior! I have found him!"

Master was going to continue, but he stopped. A hand, cold as ice and slightly spiky, had grabbed his shoulder and was in the process of spinning him around, The man was also a mobian-esqe creature, much like Master was, clad in ruined and barely functional ancient Japanese-type gear, including a samurai helmet and accompanying katana. His face was hidden by the large metal helmet, but Master could sense the man was not smiling. Far from it, he seemed furious.

"It's you..." the man said, "The one she said would return, one day..."

"Who?" Master asked, "What're you talking about?"

"You should know, murderer..." the man sneered, "It was you who bought this chaos to this world. Destroyed a planet of freedom and hope. Left a smelly, disgusting wasteland in your wake. Either you come with me willingly...or I will drag you before her with shattered knees!"

Master smiled under his scarf, "Guess we're going to find out soon enough...en guarde, guard!"

The guard responded in turn, swinging wildly at Master with his sword. Master dodged out of the way, the small gust of wind from the moving blade blowing on his scarf slightly, before responding in kind by yanking Blade out of the computer and swinging at the guard. Blade grinded against the guard's katana, a piercing shriek filling the room as it flew down the katana and into empty space, before Master followed up with a square kick to the chest. The guard stumbled back somewhat, clutching at the point of impact, before he got up again and dashed forward. He swung wildly at Master, who responded with blocking the strike with Blade and swung back with appropriate force. The two clashed swords repeatedly, each impact and clash sending sparks and shrieks of steel high into the air, before Master gained the upper hand and thrust at the guard's sword arm. He missed by mere centimetres and the guard jumped back by response. He too thrust forward with his sword, and the length of his blade ensured a hit. The blade went straight through Master's arm, which caused him to yelp in shock and jump back too. Thankfully, the blade was deflected and went into his off arm, so Master was still able to clutch at Blade.

"Damn, that was a sly one!" Blade called out as the two fighters paused for breath, "You okay, slugger?"

"Yeah..." Master winced, clutching at the wound, "Damn guard nicked my arm, though."

"Gotta love katanas!" the guard said, "So much more range! I know all about your Blade of Hysteria, how it drives people to madness, how it claims to be a powerful weapon of war. Ptth. Nothing more than a mere and glorified Bowie knife!"

"Me? MERE?!" Blade said, the greens of his steel slowly changing to a deep red, "There's nothing MERE about me, bub! Your little blade is longer, but is it possessed? Does it glow? Hell, does it even lift?!"

"...Dude, it's 2019," Master said wearily, "Even in our time period that joke's old."

"Sorry..." Blade said, sounding quite sheepish, "Just thought I'd be hip, I...sorry. Look, it's just that I, you know, I think- NOW!"

Before the guard could utter a gasp of surprise, Master gripped Blade and thrust it forward once more. Only this time the blade split into multiple segments, each attached with a rope-like metal coil, that extended far beyond the reach of even the katana. It zoomed past the computers and managed to plunge the tip deep into the opponent's stomach, causing him to gasp regardless. He could only stare dumbfound at the metal lodged in his abdomen as Master got a better grip on the blade's handle, a devious grin spread across his face, yet still subtle under the scarf. He growled...

"Get over here."

And pulled with all his might. The guard could not resist and flew at high speeds towards Master, who drew back with his good arm and unleashed a haymaker straight into the guard's head, sending him crashing to the ground. Master sighed and dug deep into his pockets. Out came a roll of bandages, from which Master drew out a long strip and severed with Blade before wrapping it around his arm wound.

"Heh, the old 'confuse them with outdated memes' trick," Blade beamed, "Works every time."

Master said nothing. He ripped off another piece to keep the original bandage in place and threw the rest to the guard. He looked up, dumbfounded, before grabbing the bandages. Master had by this point already grabbed the guard's sword and cleaved it in twain with Blade, scattering the fragments behind him.

"You're...you're sparing me?" the guard asked, before getting shakily to his feet.

"Of course," Master said.

"But...but I heard the stories from her!" the guard said, "How you pull out nerves and stick hands in mincers! How you drain life energy and use it to revive lost relatives! How you just wail on enemies, cutting deep into flesh enough to simply cut us in two! Gouge out our eyes and squeeze the jelly out of them!"

"Well, give us some credit," Blade huffed, "That stuff tastes REALLY good on flatbread."

"I thought you were going to kill me gruesomely..." the guard shivered, "I thought you were a madman!"

"Times change," Master sighed, sheathing Blade and walking forward, "I don't do that anymore. I only kill when I need to and I always make it quick. Well, with exceptions. But still, I'm not the crazy genocide enthusiast your batcrap crazy leader has painted me as. And, personally, I would like to see the madwoman who is spreading all these rumours about me. So I apologise for the corny line, but...take me to your leader."

"Oh Chaos, how COULD you?" Blade huffed in disgust.

The guard nodded and, after getting to his feet, grabbed Master lightly by the arm. He began to drag Master outside towards a line of guards, a lot more than at first estimated, all wearing the same garb with the same weaponry. The other guards began to look at the battered, weaponless and wounded guard who was marching out of the library, some with looks of pity and others looks of annoyance. Master was marched to the middle of a ring of the armoured guards, kept at sword-point, and made to wait.

"So, boys..." Master said, "We're here!"

"Heard of this leader spreading rumours about us!" Blade said, "We demand to see this porkie-pie leader!"

"Oh, they're real facts..." came another voice, "Taken directly from you, after all..."

Master noticed the voice easily. It was female, deep and clearly deranged, and incoming quickly. He turned to a gap in the ring of guards, some of which had parted and a woman was now inbetween them. She looked quite mature but not exactly old, being slightly taller than Master, and seemed to be some sort of wingless dragon. She was a purple colour, with some shades of what seemed to be a light shade, but was now almost totally replaced with a much darker and dirtier shade that was very close to a shade of black. Her hair was long, wild and unkempt but a single long tail-like appendage extended out of her hair and to around her ankles. Further inspection showed that there was room for a second that seemed viscously torn out, while the first was quite clearly some stuffed replacement that was dirty and hastily patched up with stained black tape. Perhaps most interesting was her face; her eyes seemed to be almost demonic in nature, being jet black with small red circular pupils, and her mouth was a small field of sharp fangs. Her clothes too looked almost innocent, but had been hastily patched up over the years with bandages, plasters and parts from totally different clothes, such as a black jacket with a red trim. Of those clothes, she was wearing a jacket, a pair of shorts, some boots and some gloves that too were heavily damaged, but not patched up enough to hide her claws. To complete the look were two horns on her head, stained black with ash and fire, and curving inwards like the horns of the Devil himself. This deranged woman's expression spoke of nothing but madness, a look Master knew all too well, and she slowly approached him in a stumbling manner with her own blade that continuously bleed a green liquid.

"....Uh..." Master started, "Hello."

"Master..." the dragon grinned, showing off even more of her fangs, "It's been a while."

"Really?" Blade said, "Because it's been almost nothing for us! Literally."

"Uh, uh, no!" Master said out loud, "Not that long for us, no...uh, could you give us a bit?"

"...Fine," the being crossed her arms, "But don't be too long. I've waited a good four years to see you again."

Master tugged on the enormous scarf that encircled his muzzle and hunched over and brought Blade close to his face, "Blade who is this?"

"I don't know..." Blade said, "Doesn't look familiar, doesn't sound familiar, hell, doesn't even SMELL familiar!"

"....You can smell?"

"Look, the point is that I don't know who this person could possibly be," Blade said again, "Swear I've seen that weapon of her's before, though. Think it's a legendary blade, one used by this murderous guy to hack his way across the cosmos."

"So another version of you?" Master asked.

"No, I can't sense any spirit in the blade. And the only other Blade who could cause this much chaos is Atlus in the Blade of Control. Which you destroyed only last month. Best guess, it's a collector's item, a trophy for mad warmongers. It just depends on who this warmonger IS."

"Yeah...I'll ask her," Master said. He sheathed Blade and looked back at the dragon girl, "So, I hear you are this Warrior. Been spreading a lot of things about me. I'd like to know just who you are in return, Miss..."

"You...you don't remember me?" the dragon asked, looking a bit sad, "You don't know who I am? But....but you were there with me through it all. Well, maybe not YOU, but your...infernal blade. Oh trust me, YOU were a pain at first. Like, an absolute pain. But then you put that blade in my hand and then the power felt so...invigorating..."

"And I don't remember you," Master said, "Perhaps I've forgotten. Refresh my memory a little."

"...Alright then, if you really have forgotten..." the dragon walked forward a few paces and bowed politely, "I...am War Lilac. It used to be Sash Lilac, but then you...you came along and did all of this to me."

"So you are this Warrior..." Master said, "You pulled a meteor out of the sky-"

"Spaceship, darling," War Lilac said coyly, "Meteor-sized spaceship."

"And swallowed this world in a dust bowl. Went on a rampage. Killed Chaos knows how many."

"Because YOU wanted me to!" War Lilac yelled suddenly, "It was all part of YOUR plan..."

"Plan?" Master asked finally, "Why would I want to enact a plan to demolish an entire planet? I've already done that! Twice! I was literally insane at the time! And with a name like War Lilac..." he sighed sadly, "I guess you are too."

"Well, you don't have to be crazy..." War Lilac's grin widened even further, "But it helps. The guards of this wretched planet turned to me, thankfully. Even after following that fool, the Majister, they still know a good leader when they see one..." War Lilac stopped grinning, instead starting to frown, "I'm...you're not saying anything. Why aren't you reacting? You did this to me! You burrowed deep into my head and KILLED my innocence!"

"You go about that like its a good thing!" Master said back, his own tone starting to harshen.

"Because it is..." War Lilac said, "With your blade, you freed me. I've seen the light, seen the pigheadness of my fellows. How such beings need to be killed to save a universe! I went on a kill-all rampage for FOUR YEARS just for you! Killed countless in YOUR honour! It's what YOU wanted!"

"But I don't know you!" Master yelled back, "I'd never DO any of that! You're delusional and a madwoman! And it's my job to rid the multiverse of those. I did not create you!"

"BUT YOU DID!" War Lilac screamed, dashing forward and striking with her blade. Master retaliated quickly and blocked, locking the two blades together, "YOU MADE ME! YOU KILLED ME! AND NOW YOU, CLEAR IMPOSTER THAT YOU ARE, WILL DIE FOR THE REAL MASTER!"

"Wait, did she JUST say that we still made her and then instantly assumed we were imposters?" Blade asked, merely content about the conflict, "Heh, either she really is insane or just can't speak to save her life."

"Not the first gal I've talked to who's said that," Master growled, struggling under War Lilac's immense strength, "Alright, Warsash, if you want to see what I can do, then bring it!"

War Lilac responded, swinging wildly at Master and showing a clear lack of training. Master tried the same approach as with the guard, trying to run Blade down the length of War Lilac's own weapon, but the shorter length of it caught Master off guard and he stumbled forward. War Lilac gladly took this opportunity and planted both feet directly into Master's face. He flew a good distance and stopped, getting up quickly and thrusting forward with Blade. War Lilac countered and the two locked into a standoff, both Blades grinding against each other and throwing sparks into the sky.

"You can't win, imposter!" War Lilac growled, her voice now warbling slightly from the emotional stress, "I WILL kill you!"

"I've been doing this stuff for more than a mere four years, kid," Master said.

"Yeah, your Blade isn't even possessed!" Blade retorted, "It doesn't fly, it doesn't talk, it can't shoot projectiles, it-"

"Can't even lift?" War Lilac grinned, "Please, I know your tricks, Blade."

"Hmm. You seem to be unsure about if we're the real deal," Blade said, "Despite the fact you know me and I'm talking to you."

"I know!" War Lilac, seemingly breaking down somewhat, "Are you real? Are you not real? I DON'T KNOW ANYMORE!" another screech came with another strike from her blade, followed by another and another still. Master blocked them all, buckling down more and more each time, and then relocked with War Lilac, "And you're wrong, I DO have a ghost in here!"

"Well, you don't," Blade said, "I checked the whole blade and there's nothing there."

"Oh?" War Lilac asked, "Then maybe you should look closer..."

War Lilac's blade began to whisper slightly, a whisper which quickly turned to a sobbing sound. Master held his ear closer to the blade and the sounds began to increase in volume. And, at the last second, a blood-curdling shriek filled the air. Master winced in pain and Blade was pushed back by some sort of force, taking Master with it. He crashed to the floor and slowly got to his feet again. He shook his head to rid himself of the ringing in his ears and thrust forward with Blade, once again extending the blade into segments. War Lilac was going to have none of that, however, and dodged, grabbing the tip of Blade in her hands. Her hand was cut and began to bleed in short order, but she did not seem to mind. Master knew in what little time he had to react that insanity could dull even the strongest of pains and this was no exception. War Lilac instead pulled on the segment and Master was yanked forward to her once more. He tried to strike with his off hand and catch her off guard, but War Lilac just caught it and threw his hand away before following up with a quick and nasty stab to the abdomen. Master had no time to react and merely dropped to the ground, clutching at his wound. Blade tumbled out of his hand and War Lilac was quick to scoop it up.

"Tsk tsk..." War Lilac sneered, "Trying old tactics seemingly picked up elsewhere? For shame. What may have worked all those years ago no longer does. I know better. And I know you're not the Master I knew."

"I'd like to think I'm better," Master growled, "Better than you, better than me..."

"Better then Brevon?" War Lilac said back, "Oh yeah, you said you were better than him. And then look at what happened to him. His blood still coats my blade without end and my god..." she licked the blood off of her old blade and discarded it, "...it burns so good."

"Pure-Bred Psycho," Blade said, "Just like the last guy."

"Oh, don't I know it..." War Lilac turned to her guards, "My guards! I know that this...thing may look pitiful. I know I spun you tales of a madman who killed his way across the cosmos, a man bathed in the blood of a thousand galaxies, and this is clearly not that man. A mere imposter, maybe! But I implore you, one day you will see this actual Master. And you will see he has a lot of tricks up his sleeves..."

A noisy crack whipped the air, sounding like a gunshot, and War Lilac stopped cold. She looked down at her stomach, where a particularly nasty-looking exit wound was now seated. She had no time to clutch at the wound and instead spun around to Master. He had propped himself up with his arm and was holding his Desert Eagle in his good left hand. He was shaking slightly from the shock and blood loss but nevertheless aimed at War Lilac with intent.

"Like this?" Master huffed, "This the trick you're looking for? So for the last time, stand down!"

War Lilac looked blank for a second, clearly working through the events in her head, but resumed a snarled look and leaped forward with the Blade of Hysteria held high. Master gave her no time and no more mercy, opening fire once more. The second bullet hit War Lilac in her arm and she dropped the Blade with a gasp. Master slowly got up and sighed; even insanity couldn't hold up to a volley of .50 Action Express. Master opened fire with the last eight rounds he had, some hitting War Lilac in her lower body, and some in her thighs and forearms. Finally, the slide locked back empty with an empty clicking noise and Master lowered the gun. War Lilac was gasping, a look of shock and sadness spread across her face, before she gasped a final time and fell backwards, hitting the reddened soil with a soft thump. Master looked up wearily at the other guards, each one looking on with shock spread across their faces, expecting nothing but death. Instead the guards backed off slightly, including the guard he had disarmed only a few minutes previous.

"Only when necessary..." the guard parroted, "And always quick."

Master sighed and collapsed to the floor again. He skidded over to Blade and grabbed him once more, who retorted with, "Well...you got her."

"I didn't want to do that, dammit," Master sighed, cupping his head in his wounded off-hand, "I wanted to stop her peacefully. I wanted to talk to her, figure out what went wrong."

"Well you'll never get that chance again..." Blade sighed too, "Chaos, I'm getting too old for this crap."

Master got up again and stumbled over to the other blade that War Lilac had discarded, as the various guards only looked on in shock.

"They're not attacking us," Master said, picking up the blade, "Heh. Guess they've never seen someone put down this War Lilac...four years..." he sighed, then checked the blade. It still glowed a sickly green from the liquids crossing its surface, very similar to his own Blade, and the sobbing still rung out.

"P-Please..." the voice said, a female one that wavered and sobbed at every opportunity, "It's dark in here...h-help me."

Blade's glow dimmed, as if it was going pale, "What the..."

"There he is...THERE HE IS!" came another voice, "GET 'UM!"

There was almost no time to react before a cavalry people came rushing out of the library, weapons like spears and flails in hand, screaming all the while. The guards took one look at the new army and, now leaderless, ran for the hills. They vanished over the horizon and new ones flooded in. They were of various species and ages, each wearing ragged clothing and, perhaps most strangely, red rags around their muzzles, much like Master himself with his scarf. They too formed a ring around Master and what he assumed to be their leader stepped forward. She was tall, pale and green, with large floppy ears and a small button nose, alongside green markings across her face and body. She was the best dressed out of all the others, actually wearing non-damaged clothes, specifically a black shirt with black demin shorts and a pale leather jacket over it, she too with a red scarf which only hung loosely around her neck. She was also quite battle damaged, with a mechanical hand, bandaged ear and a single black eyepatch wrapped around her. Her face was one that Master could guess was quite broken; the sunken eye, the wrinkled scour, the unending stare and so much more. She approached Master with her glares and, before he could get out a proper hello out, punched him square in the face. He leaped back and dropped War Lilac's blade, which she picked up and held to his throat, mere inches away from the scarf.

"Christ, why does everyone want to kill me today?!" Master yelled out in weariness.

"You..." the woman pressed the blade closer, "You have a LOT of nerve coming back here, Murderer..."

"Goddamn it, I don't know any of you!" Master yelled a final time, "I'm just...here! I woke up in this hellhole and you're not making it any better."

"You don't know me..." the woman asked, to which Master shrugged. The woman paused for a bit, but then grabbed Master's scarf and removed it, uncoiling it around his head like a bandage. The scarf was removed and discarded, and now Master's muzzle could be clearly seen; it was almost split into two, with a massive gash spreading across his muzzle and through his own mouth, with haphazard stitching across the cut to keep the skin closed. The woman looked over it in silent satisfaction, "A Glasgow grin. Just as you said it was. Well, you're not...him, that's for certain."

"Not anymore..." Master said, "Look, I just want to know what's going on. Who was that, and who are you?"

"It seems you're from before this whole thing happened...good, we're in luck," the woman sighed, poking at Master's stitched up muzzle. It felt lumpy and cold to the touch and Master quickly whisked her hand away, "Your scars...anyway, you want to know? Then I'll tell you."

The woman signalled to her army and they too backed off slightly. She then signalled for Master to sit down and remove his jacket, which he reluctantly did, falling to the ground again with black shirt showing proudly. Two members of the army came forward, one with a teapot and a few cups while the other held a roll of bandages, far thicker than the strips Master held in his pocket.

"I, uh..." Master started as he was handed one of the cups, "I have bandages, thanks."

"Yeah, little strips." the woman said, grabbing her own cup and having the female rabbit holding the teapot pour some tea into the cup, "Trust me, you never change. Like, at all..." she sighed as Master also had tea poured into his cup, from which he took a small sip as the other member wrapped the bandages around his stomach wound, "Well, I am Carol Tea; wildcat, ex-friend of Sash Lilac and current leader of the Red Scarves. I've been helping people evade the wrath of War Lilac for the Great Dragon knows how long, no thanks for what you did to her."

"What did I even do?" Master asked.

"That, sadly, has been lost to time," Carol sighed, "Even I have forgotten what happened. Not that I've had the time to think about it. I've been too busy making sure I don't get hacked to pieces by the Warrior over there."

"Friend of yours?" Master asked, "I'm...sorry. I was trying to find a better way..."

"I understand..." Carol said, a heavy twinge of bitterness in her voice, "I did too. Multiple times, in fact. Every time I lost another member of my army. You'd think I'd learn, but...I just want my best friend back."

"Well..." Master said, sipping his tea, "If there's anything I can do, I'll do it. If I did this, I might as well try to resolve it."

"Yes..." Carol sighed, drinking the last of her tea, as did Master. "I can send you back in time, to just before it all went wrong, and I implore you..."

"To fix it?" Blade asked, "Why do we have to do it? Why don't you stop us before we even set foot in the universe? Surely by putting us in the universe we'll increase the chances of these events happening all over again?"

"It's the only option, sadly," Carol pleaded, "Your wielder is the only one who may know exactly what went wrong and sending myself would be...disastrous. At best."

"She's right," Master sighed alongside, "The mere concept of two Carols in the same place at the same time is enough for the universe to fold in on itself, never mind this Carol's actions would erase her timeline so she would've never existed in the first place. Even the most simple of choices can lead to big, worldshattering impacts. And I, sadly, am one of those choices."

"Just...please..." Carol pleaded a last time, "Even if you can't totally save Lilac, save the world...just try to minimise the damage. I don't want to live in this hellhole without my best friend anymore."

"...I'll try," Master nodded, putting his empty tea cup down and putting his jacket and scarf back on, "Hmm, fastest cup of tea I've ever had."

"Alright..." Carol said, brandishing some sort of weapon, which glowed a bright blue, "This is a portal gun. It can fire portals back and forward in time. Works on Chronos Energy, that thing you worked on in the past. Yeah, you gave me this, right at the end of this whole crapstorm. Right, here is what you'll do; go back into the past, you'll wake up in Dragon Valley. Find Lilac and the younger me and try to make sure that we all remain in one piece with intact minds. Got it?"

"Yeah, but..." Master sighed, "Never mind. Wanted something to do, anyway. I get the feeling I'm going to regret pretty much everything I do for the next week or so...or is that the past week, all those years ago? Look, I'm ready. Adventure awaits!"

Carol smiled slightly at that. She had a lovely smile, Master noted. She then aimed the gun and fired just to the left of Master. A blue portal popped into reality shortly after, the sound of ticking and the smell of brass filling the area, "Well, here we go..." she said, "Just find us, find...Milla...and try your best to minimise the damage. Good luck in your quest, Master of 112233CHARLIE."

"Don't worry, I have a pretty good track record," Master lied, before tipping his glasses like tipping a hat to someone, "I will do you proud, Carol Tea."

"You know," Carol giggled, "You called me Casual back in the day."

"I did?" Master said, before reeling back, "Oh yeah, I see! Well don't worry, Casual, I'll do my best! Blade, adventure awaits!"

"And bloodshed," Blade said, "I hope we see some bloodshed."

Master then ran headfirst into the portal, letting out a triumphant yell of "GERONIMO!" which shortly cut off as the portal dissipated. Carol, seemingly content, sat down besides the body of War Lilac.

"I'm sorry, Lilac..." Carol sighed, tears in her eyes and petting the body's ruined hair, "I'm so sorry..." she sighed, but then stopped, "...Wait, I've just realised I could've avoided this entirely by just warning him to stay away from our universe at all...DAMMIT!"

==========-----==========

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Right. Take two. Mainly 'cause the original forum I posted this to got deleted before the site was finalised. Hmm.

Well, people have asked for it, here it is: Freedom Dies With Me, my Freedom Planet darkfic as well as my first truly large-scale solo story. It seemed to be a popular story on DeviantART, so I thought I'd bring it over here and see how it is recieved, starting with the Prolouge. Basically, I thought of it as "What would happen if Lilac didn't get any treatment for her wounds after the torture scene from Thermal Base?", but it sort of snowballed from there into a completely different story altogether. I might revisit it, though, and see if I can make a different version of the story that caters to the original plan. Anyway, this story starts out...sort of innocent and gets darker as it goes on, so expect;

  • Strong Language
  • Blood and Gore (though not much)
  • A few disturbing scenes (mainly due to that torture scene)
  • And quite a bit of Violence
  • Oh, and Original Characters
  • And it's long. Very very very long.

==========-----==========

"It's all based on something I like to call...The Sound of Madness theory. Everyone hears that little voice in their head every now and again, don't they? That little baritone buzz in the back of your brain, the one that wants you to cause so much misery. The voice that wants you to yell, to punch, to steal...to kill. The average person would just ignore it...but all you need is one bad day...and that voice becomes your own."

Perry Martin Presents:

FREEDOM DIES WITH ME: A FREEDOM PLANET ALTERNATIVE STORY

Prologue: A Life Not Lived


Another day in hell and, once more, the sky was boiling.

Master awoke with a steady start, his eyes reddened and weeping. His lungs felt flat from the stale air that wandered the lands and only the sound of crackling fires and way-off screaming caught the pits of his ears. He slowly arched his head up, his neck aching and stiff, as he looked at the world around him. The world had blurred into blends of reds and greens. The crimson sky was continuously lit by flashes of lightning and the every now again the nearby scenery was dotted with green flashes that left behind verdant flames. The area was in ruins, with broken buildings almost everywhere, with the parts of a long since gone casino everywhere they could possibly be. The smell of burnt wood and stale blood fled to Master's nose and left miserable stenches behind to ensure total hell. Master coughed twice and scrambled to his feet, but lost his footing and collapsed back to his knees. He felt weak and bitter, like someone had beaten the tar out of him and he had not had a good chance to recover. He sat up, droopy-eyed and shaking oddly, before reaching for his two main holsters secured to his belt.

The first holster held his trusted Desert Eagle, nicknamed "Vergil" by various people, and as always it retained its two-tone finish and rails. Master slid out the extended magazine and checked the magazine window. 10 rounds. Good. Vaguely satisfied, Master slipped the gun back into its original holster and checked his other one. This one often held the accursed Blade of Hysteria that Master was forced to carry around with him. A demonically-possessed blade that held the key to great power, but had one hell of a mouth on it as some twisted compensation. The Blade had gotten better with age alongside its wielder, but it was still bloodthirsty, mad enough to drive even the most stable of individuals to war-craving insanity. Master shook his head to clear out the dark thoughts and reached for the Blade itself. Oddly enough, it was gone. Master could still feel its presence nearby, so it wasn't stolen, thank Chaos. Master forced himself to his feet and stumbled across the hellish wastelands. Even with his trusty (and large) scarf and sunglasses, the particle-heavy winds still managed to scratch and damage his face. He nevertheless pressed on, calling out into the winds.

"Blade?" came the first call, weak at first but then slowly increasing in strength, "Blade! Where are you, man?"

"Don't worry, kiddo!" Came that old voice, a voice laced with gravel and wit, "You don't need to go far."

Master turned around to see the Blade's distinctive green glow hovering below him. The Blade was half-embedded in the loose soil that made up what wasn't rubble within the landscape, its handle still identifiable despite its colours blending in so well with the dark shades. Master stumbled to the soil and grabbed the handle, yanking the Blade out with a single strong pull. In an instant, the Blade's powers spread up his arm and across his body, returning the lost strength and enabling him to stand up in the grainy wind.

"Nice to see you again..." Master sighed, "At least I found someone. Where's Emma? Where's the Village? Where the hell are we?"

"I don't know..." Blade said, seemingly trying to shrug with no arms, "This place doesn't match any area we've been to before, visually or co-ordniates-wise. Best guess, its a brand new universe. Or at the very least the same universe within a different timeline."

"Sounds reasonable..." Master said, rubbing his forehead, "The last thing...that last thing I remember was looking at this portal that just opened up in the village centre. And then this...this hand reached out and then everything went black. What about you?"

"Same," Blade said, "Kinda strange, don't you think? Right...first things first, we better find out where and maybe when we are. Find a computer of some sort. Gotta be a functional one around here somewhere."

"Yeah...better get going..." Master said, digging out his Deagle and relocating the Blade to his off right hand, beginning to walk towards the nearest building he could see with functional lights, "Hey, Blade? Where do you think we are? I mean, this place looks like a desert, but its got a perfectly urban city look to this rubble. What the hell happened here?"

"Well, with my reckoning, either the world has ended and a being of immense power has managed to pull a meteor-sized spaceship out of orbit and smash it into the Earth, pulling up a dust storm large enough to swallow an entire continent...or we're in Spec Ops: The Line again. Either situation is equally harrowing."

"Yeah, I'm with ya..." Master sighed once more. Both stopped talking at this point and Master had picked up his pace, jogging from street to empty street to find a working computer. He came across a street, as abandoned and as broken down as the rest, yet managed to emphasise and outline the devastation of the rest of the world that Master was currently stuck in. At the left were houses, brick and mortar, with windows best described as strips of scarred glass rather than whole panes. The doors were kicked in and what seemed to be light blue fluid was on and around them. To the right were two shops. One of some sort of market-type area, with windows once again smashed to shreds, and it looked obvious that whoever or whatever was alive in this wasteland had helped themselves to food and drink. Master himself stopped by the shop to see if there was anything was still salvageable. Somehow, one of the mini fridges that often lined the walls of any newsagents still functioned, giving off a milky white and cold as ice light that contrasted quite sharply with the rest of the area. Master plucked a bottle of cola out the machine and checked its condition. It seemed to be unopened and in date, so Master took it with him.

"Hmm. A bottle of cola," Master said, slipping it into his jacket pocket, "That'll come in handy."

"At the very least it gives us a better idea of when we are," Blade mentioned off-handedly, "I'm seeing all sorts of drinks that aren't even patented, let alone sold around where we come from, original universe OR otherwise. Perhaps, then, this is some sort of future."

"I hope not," Master said, visibly annoyed, "I'm kind of sick of stumbling across post-apocalyptic futures like this. Crisis City, Mobius-Reboot, Heddgehoggia...urgh."

"Well look on the bright side," Blade said, once again shrugging in a non-visible manner, "Even if it is a post-apocalyptic world, at least it's not one you created. For once."

"...You sure?" Master said. He stumbled back outside and studied the other shop. It was a jewellers with the windows once more smashed, with the remains of a watch and some gold chains scattered across the road. More of the blue gunk from the broken doors was slathered across the glass shards and across the floor in lumps, one of which Master knelt down to, "Anyway, what do you think this stuff is?"

"What, this blue stuff?" Blade asked, "I don't know. Doesn't look like anything I've ever seen. Could be blood, tears, stomach contents...bowel contents, I don't know! Stick my blade into the gunk and I'll see what I can do."

"...Didn't expect to hear that today..." Master said before removing Blade from his holster and plunging him into the gunk. A few otherworldly sounds emitted and then ceased just as fast as they had started. Master dragged the blade out of the gunk and wiped off the residue, "Well?"

"WOOH!" came the Blade's unusual reply, "Wow! That's nothing I'VE ever tried before. Damn, it was like a shot to the heart! Well, if I had one. As for what that stuff is...well, energy. Really, really, REALLY concentrated energy. I've never seen such a strong small puddle of bright blue gunk."

"Hmm," Master said, wiping at his muzzle, "It seems that whoever did this had access to power far beyond us. Something as powerful as the Master Emerald, at least. Well that just makes me more interested for who this creature who turned the world to dust and super-jam actually is...we better get back on the road."

Master continued forward, every step making a crunch on the fragile and barely there road. Every street was almost identical to the last, each filled with houses stuffed to the chimneys with glass shards and debris. Everywhere laid scattered food and accessories and the light blue gunk clinged to everything like giant blood drops. The gunk and its contents still clinged to Master's mind like a dark thought. There was only one thing in his knowledge of the multiverse that could compare to this seemingly massive power output outside of the Master Emerald. It was something called the Kingdom Stone and it was said that it manifested in some way several millennia ago to help a tribe ascend to the point of seemingly gods. But all Master himself knew of this was nothing more than a mere rumour, nothing more than the sort of bold-faced tale spun by ego-driven and maniacal fools wishing to get into the bed of some young and pretty harlequin. Master himself was young, but had lived long, and knew a lot about the multiverse he used to roam as an outcast to his own people, but even he did now know if this Stone was real and if it was to blame for this devastation if it was. He and Blade alike had seen worlds where the energy of the earth had been shifted to remould the universe into the image of a mad man's dream, but to have a single stone contain more energy than the world and cause apocalyptic levels of damage? Neither could believe it.

Eventually the two made it to what seemed to be a functioning building, but it was deserted. It was a library of some type, one that seemed to scream with the echoes of a past world. Master slashed his way through the doors and looked inside. The library was grand, a true two-story affair with bookcases lining every wall. In the centre of the building stood a group of computers, each broken and long since disabled, but thankfully there was a final one just beyond them. It was large, the screen itself as large as the double doors Master has just cut open and the controls a similar size. Master ran to the console and turned it on. It responded with a few chimes and started up, showing the image of an orange on the boot up.

"Hmmm, I wonder what this is another version of..." Master sighed sarcastically. The computer opened up on a login screen, "Hmm. Well, I could just try to brute force it, but I fear I may not have enough time for that. Blade?"

"Stab away!" Blade responded merrily. Master nodded and plunged the infernal thing deep into the computer. The computer sparked and the monitor went black for a short period of time, but soon resumed on a standard desktop, "Okay, we're in. What should I look for?"

"Look for the history of the world," Master said with a banal sense of authority, "If this place is anything like Crisis City, then it will have news for just before the apocalypse, then it'll stop."

"Hmmm..." Blade said. The screen flashed in various news reports, going by far too fast to read on a whim, but then stopped, "Well this is interesting. Get a load of this: The year is 2019, so we're not that far into the future. But what's even more interesting is that this has still been updated since then. In fact, the most recent submission was just yesterday. Since 2016 there seem to have be plans, locations, letters and stories for others in this group called the Red Scarves. All encrypted in really strange ways. Anyway, I've gone through the entire database to see what happened to this world and I've found the sort of date that may explain it. In 2015, this warrior turned up."

"Warrior?" Master asked, head tilted to the side.

"It doesn't specify," Blade said, "Just that it was a powerful and insane creature, once part of this world, that managed to indeed access this power and grab a meteor from space. The resultant impact wiped out one of the three cities on the continent and shrouded the others in a dust cloud. This Warrior then went on an exodus around the world, a bloody one at that, slaughtering all that resisted her rule. Hmm. Sound similar?"

"Don't..." Master said quickly, keeping his head low and his past at the back of his head. He sighed, "A Warrior. A trickster bathed in the blood of a thousand innocent souls. A warlord who lives to kill. I'd hate to know who that person is..."

"Guards! Call the Warrior! I have found him!"

Master was going to continue, but he stopped. A hand, cold as ice and slightly spiky, had grabbed his shoulder and was in the process of spinning him around, The man was also a mobian-esqe creature, much like Master was, clad in ruined and barely functional ancient Japanese-type gear, including a samurai helmet and accompanying katana. His face was hidden by the large metal helmet, but Master could sense the man was not smiling. Far from it, he seemed furious.

"It's you..." the man said, "The one she said would return, one day..."

"Who?" Master asked, "What're you talking about?"

"You should know, murderer..." the man sneered, "It was you who bought this chaos to this world. Destroyed a planet of freedom and hope. Left a smelly, disgusting wasteland in your wake. Either you come with me willingly...or I will drag you before her with shattered knees!"

Master smiled under his scarf, "Guess we're going to find out soon enough...en guarde, guard!"

The guard responded in turn, swinging wildly at Master with his sword. Master dodged out of the way, the small gust of wind from the moving blade blowing on his scarf slightly, before responding in kind by yanking Blade out of the computer and swinging at the guard. Blade grinded against the guard's katana, a piercing shriek filling the room as it flew down the katana and into empty space, before Master followed up with a square kick to the chest. The guard stumbled back somewhat, clutching at the point of impact, before he got up again and dashed forward. He swung wildly at Master, who responded with blocking the strike with Blade and swung back with appropriate force. The two clashed swords repeatedly, each impact and clash sending sparks and shrieks of steel high into the air, before Master gained the upper hand and thrust at the guard's sword arm. He missed by mere centimetres and the guard jumped back by response. He too thrust forward with his sword, and the length of his blade ensured a hit. The blade went straight through Master's arm, which caused him to yelp in shock and jump back too. Thankfully, the blade was deflected and went into his off arm, so Master was still able to clutch at Blade.

"Damn, that was a sly one!" Blade called out as the two fighters paused for breath, "You okay, slugger?"

"Yeah..." Master winced, clutching at the wound, "Damn guard nicked my arm, though."

"Gotta love katanas!" the guard said, "So much more range! I know all about your Blade of Hysteria, how it drives people to madness, how it claims to be a powerful weapon of war. Ptth. Nothing more than a mere and glorified Bowie knife!"

"Me? MERE?!" Blade said, the greens of his steel slowly changing to a deep red, "There's nothing MERE about me, bub! Your little blade is longer, but is it possessed? Does it glow? Hell, does it even lift?!"

"...Dude, it's 2019," Master said wearily, "Even in our time period that joke's old."

"Sorry..." Blade said, sounding quite sheepish, "Just thought I'd be hip, I...sorry. Look, it's just that I, you know, I think- NOW!"

Before the guard could utter a gasp of surprise, Master gripped Blade and thrust it forward once more. Only this time the blade split into multiple segments, each attached with a rope-like metal coil, that extended far beyond the reach of even the katana. It zoomed past the computers and managed to plunge the tip deep into the opponent's stomach, causing him to gasp regardless. He could only stare dumbfound at the metal lodged in his abdomen as Master got a better grip on the blade's handle, a devious grin spread across his face, yet still subtle under the scarf. He growled...

"Get over here."

And pulled with all his might. The guard could not resist and flew at high speeds towards Master, who drew back with his good arm and unleashed a haymaker straight into the guard's head, sending him crashing to the ground. Master sighed and dug deep into his pockets. Out came a roll of bandages, from which Master drew out a long strip and severed with Blade before wrapping it around his arm wound.

"Heh, the old 'confuse them with outdated memes' trick," Blade beamed, "Works every time."

Master said nothing. He ripped off another piece to keep the original bandage in place and threw the rest to the guard. He looked up, dumbfounded, before grabbing the bandages. Master had by this point already grabbed the guard's sword and cleaved it in twain with Blade, scattering the fragments behind him.

"You're...you're sparing me?" the guard asked, before getting shakily to his feet.

"Of course," Master said.

"But...but I heard the stories from her!" the guard said, "How you pull out nerves and stick hands in mincers! How you drain life energy and use it to revive lost relatives! How you just wail on enemies, cutting deep into flesh enough to simply cut us in two! Gouge out our eyes and squeeze the jelly out of them!"

"Well, give us some credit," Blade huffed, "That stuff tastes REALLY good on flatbread."

"I thought you were going to kill me gruesomely..." the guard shivered, "I thought you were a madman!"

"Times change," Master sighed, sheathing Blade and walking forward, "I don't do that anymore. I only kill when I need to and I always make it quick. Well, with exceptions. But still, I'm not the crazy genocide enthusiast your batcrap crazy leader has painted me as. And, personally, I would like to see the madwoman who is spreading all these rumours about me. So I apologise for the corny line, but...take me to your leader."

"Oh Chaos, how COULD you?" Blade huffed in disgust.

The guard nodded and, after getting to his feet, grabbed Master lightly by the arm. He began to drag Master outside towards a line of guards, a lot more than at first estimated, all wearing the same garb with the same weaponry. The other guards began to look at the battered, weaponless and wounded guard who was marching out of the library, some with looks of pity and others looks of annoyance. Master was marched to the middle of a ring of the armoured guards, kept at sword-point, and made to wait.

"So, boys..." Master said, "We're here!"

"Heard of this leader spreading rumours about us!" Blade said, "We demand to see this porkie-pie leader!"

"Oh, they're real facts..." came another voice, "Taken directly from you, after all..."

Master noticed the voice easily. It was female, deep and clearly deranged, and incoming quickly. He turned to a gap in the ring of guards, some of which had parted and a woman was now inbetween them. She looked quite mature but not exactly old, being slightly taller than Master, and seemed to be some sort of wingless dragon. She was a purple colour, with some shades of what seemed to be a light shade, but was now almost totally replaced with a much darker and dirtier shade that was very close to a shade of black. Her hair was long, wild and unkempt but a single long tail-like appendage extended out of her hair and to around her ankles. Further inspection showed that there was room for a second that seemed viscously torn out, while the first was quite clearly some stuffed replacement that was dirty and hastily patched up with stained black tape. Perhaps most interesting was her face; her eyes seemed to be almost demonic in nature, being jet black with small red circular pupils, and her mouth was a small field of sharp fangs. Her clothes too looked almost innocent, but had been hastily patched up over the years with bandages, plasters and parts from totally different clothes, such as a black jacket with a red trim. Of those clothes, she was wearing a jacket, a pair of shorts, some boots and some gloves that too were heavily damaged, but not patched up enough to hide her claws. To complete the look were two horns on her head, stained black with ash and fire, and curving inwards like the horns of the Devil himself. This deranged woman's expression spoke of nothing but madness, a look Master knew all too well, and she slowly approached him in a stumbling manner with her own blade that continuously bleed a green liquid.

"....Uh..." Master started, "Hello."

"Master..." the dragon grinned, showing off even more of her fangs, "It's been a while."

"Really?" Blade said, "Because it's been almost nothing for us! Literally."

"Uh, uh, no!" Master said out loud, "Not that long for us, no...uh, could you give us a bit?"

"...Fine," the being crossed her arms, "But don't be too long. I've waited a good four years to see you again."

Master tugged on the enormous scarf that encircled his muzzle and hunched over and brought Blade close to his face, "Blade who is this?"

"I don't know..." Blade said, "Doesn't look familiar, doesn't sound familiar, hell, doesn't even SMELL familiar!"

"....You can smell?"

"Look, the point is that I don't know who this person could possibly be," Blade said again, "Swear I've seen that weapon of her's before, though. Think it's a legendary blade, one used by this murderous guy to hack his way across the cosmos."

"So another version of you?" Master asked.

"No, I can't sense any spirit in the blade. And the only other Blade who could cause this much chaos is Atlus in the Blade of Control. Which you destroyed only last month. Best guess, it's a collector's item, a trophy for mad warmongers. It just depends on who this warmonger IS."

"Yeah...I'll ask her," Master said. He sheathed Blade and looked back at the dragon girl, "So, I hear you are this Warrior. Been spreading a lot of things about me. I'd like to know just who you are in return, Miss..."

"You...you don't remember me?" the dragon asked, looking a bit sad, "You don't know who I am? But....but you were there with me through it all. Well, maybe not YOU, but your...infernal blade. Oh trust me, YOU were a pain at first. Like, an absolute pain. But then you put that blade in my hand and then the power felt so...invigorating..."

"And I don't remember you," Master said, "Perhaps I've forgotten. Refresh my memory a little."

"...Alright then, if you really have forgotten..." the dragon walked forward a few paces and bowed politely, "I...am War Lilac. It used to be Sash Lilac, but then you...you came along and did all of this to me."

"So you are this Warrior..." Master said, "You pulled a meteor out of the sky-"

"Spaceship, darling," War Lilac said coyly, "Meteor-sized spaceship."

"And swallowed this world in a dust bowl. Went on a rampage. Killed Chaos knows how many."

"Because YOU wanted me to!" War Lilac yelled suddenly, "It was all part of YOUR plan..."

"Plan?" Master asked finally, "Why would I want to enact a plan to demolish an entire planet? I've already done that! Twice! I was literally insane at the time! And with a name like War Lilac..." he sighed sadly, "I guess you are too."

"Well, you don't have to be crazy..." War Lilac's grin widened even further, "But it helps. The guards of this wretched planet turned to me, thankfully. Even after following that fool, the Majister, they still know a good leader when they see one..." War Lilac stopped grinning, instead starting to frown, "I'm...you're not saying anything. Why aren't you reacting? You did this to me! You burrowed deep into my head and KILLED my innocence!"

"You go about that like its a good thing!" Master said back, his own tone starting to harshen.

"Because it is..." War Lilac said, "With your blade, you freed me. I've seen the light, seen the pigheadness of my fellows. How such beings need to be killed to save a universe! I went on a kill-all rampage for FOUR YEARS just for you! Killed countless in YOUR honour! It's what YOU wanted!"

"But I don't know you!" Master yelled back, "I'd never DO any of that! You're delusional and a madwoman! And it's my job to rid the multiverse of those. I did not create you!"

"BUT YOU DID!" War Lilac screamed, dashing forward and striking with her blade. Master retaliated quickly and blocked, locking the two blades together, "YOU MADE ME! YOU KILLED ME! AND NOW YOU, CLEAR IMPOSTER THAT YOU ARE, WILL DIE FOR THE REAL MASTER!"

"Wait, did she JUST say that we still made her and then instantly assumed we were imposters?" Blade asked, merely content about the conflict, "Heh, either she really is insane or just can't speak to save her life."

"Not the first gal I've talked to who's said that," Master growled, struggling under War Lilac's immense strength, "Alright, Warsash, if you want to see what I can do, then bring it!"

War Lilac responded, swinging wildly at Master and showing a clear lack of training. Master tried the same approach as with the guard, trying to run Blade down the length of War Lilac's own weapon, but the shorter length of it caught Master off guard and he stumbled forward. War Lilac gladly took this opportunity and planted both feet directly into Master's face. He flew a good distance and stopped, getting up quickly and thrusting forward with Blade. War Lilac countered and the two locked into a standoff, both Blades grinding against each other and throwing sparks into the sky.

"You can't win, imposter!" War Lilac growled, her voice now warbling slightly from the emotional stress, "I WILL kill you!"

"I've been doing this stuff for more than a mere four years, kid," Master said.

"Yeah, your Blade isn't even possessed!" Blade retorted, "It doesn't fly, it doesn't talk, it can't shoot projectiles, it-"

"Can't even lift?" War Lilac grinned, "Please, I know your tricks, Blade."

"Hmm. You seem to be unsure about if we're the real deal," Blade said, "Despite the fact you know me and I'm talking to you."

"I know!" War Lilac, seemingly breaking down somewhat, "Are you real? Are you not real? I DON'T KNOW ANYMORE!" another screech came with another strike from her blade, followed by another and another still. Master blocked them all, buckling down more and more each time, and then relocked with War Lilac, "And you're wrong, I DO have a ghost in here!"

"Well, you don't," Blade said, "I checked the whole blade and there's nothing there."

"Oh?" War Lilac asked, "Then maybe you should look closer..."

War Lilac's blade began to whisper slightly, a whisper which quickly turned to a sobbing sound. Master held his ear closer to the blade and the sounds began to increase in volume. And, at the last second, a blood-curdling shriek filled the air. Master winced in pain and Blade was pushed back by some sort of force, taking Master with it. He crashed to the floor and slowly got to his feet again. He shook his head to rid himself of the ringing in his ears and thrust forward with Blade, once again extending the blade into segments. War Lilac was going to have none of that, however, and dodged, grabbing the tip of Blade in her hands. Her hand was cut and began to bleed in short order, but she did not seem to mind. Master knew in what little time he had to react that insanity could dull even the strongest of pains and this was no exception. War Lilac instead pulled on the segment and Master was yanked forward to her once more. He tried to strike with his off hand and catch her off guard, but War Lilac just caught it and threw his hand away before following up with a quick and nasty stab to the abdomen. Master had no time to react and merely dropped to the ground, clutching at his wound. Blade tumbled out of his hand and War Lilac was quick to scoop it up.

"Tsk tsk..." War Lilac sneered, "Trying old tactics seemingly picked up elsewhere? For shame. What may have worked all those years ago no longer does. I know better. And I know you're not the Master I knew."

"I'd like to think I'm better," Master growled, "Better than you, better than me..."

"Better then Brevon?" War Lilac said back, "Oh yeah, you said you were better than him. And then look at what happened to him. His blood still coats my blade without end and my god..." she licked the blood off of her old blade and discarded it, "...it burns so good."

"Pure-Bred Psycho," Blade said, "Just like the last guy."

"Oh, don't I know it..." War Lilac turned to her guards, "My guards! I know that this...thing may look pitiful. I know I spun you tales of a madman who killed his way across the cosmos, a man bathed in the blood of a thousand galaxies, and this is clearly not that man. A mere imposter, maybe! But I implore you, one day you will see this actual Master. And you will see he has a lot of tricks up his sleeves..."

A noisy crack whipped the air, sounding like a gunshot, and War Lilac stopped cold. She looked down at her stomach, where a particularly nasty-looking exit wound was now seated. She had no time to clutch at the wound and instead spun around to Master. He had propped himself up with his arm and was holding his Desert Eagle in his good left hand. He was shaking slightly from the shock and blood loss but nevertheless aimed at War Lilac with intent.

"Like this?" Master huffed, "This the trick you're looking for? So for the last time, stand down!"

War Lilac looked blank for a second, clearly working through the events in her head, but resumed a snarled look and leaped forward with the Blade of Hysteria held high. Master gave her no time and no more mercy, opening fire once more. The second bullet hit War Lilac in her arm and she dropped the Blade with a gasp. Master slowly got up and sighed; even insanity couldn't hold up to a volley of .50 Action Express. Master opened fire with the last eight rounds he had, some hitting War Lilac in her lower body, and some in her thighs and forearms. Finally, the slide locked back empty with an empty clicking noise and Master lowered the gun. War Lilac was gasping, a look of shock and sadness spread across her face, before she gasped a final time and fell backwards, hitting the reddened soil with a soft thump. Master looked up wearily at the other guards, each one looking on with shock spread across their faces, expecting nothing but death. Instead the guards backed off slightly, including the guard he had disarmed only a few minutes previous.

"Only when necessary..." the guard parroted, "And always quick."

Master sighed and collapsed to the floor again. He skidded over to Blade and grabbed him once more, who retorted with, "Well...you got her."

"I didn't want to do that, dammit," Master sighed, cupping his head in his wounded off-hand, "I wanted to stop her peacefully. I wanted to talk to her, figure out what went wrong."

"Well you'll never get that chance again..." Blade sighed too, "Chaos, I'm getting too old for this crap."

Master got up again and stumbled over to the other blade that War Lilac had discarded, as the various guards only looked on in shock.

"They're not attacking us," Master said, picking up the blade, "Heh. Guess they've never seen someone put down this War Lilac...four years..." he sighed, then checked the blade. It still glowed a sickly green from the liquids crossing its surface, very similar to his own Blade, and the sobbing still rung out.

"P-Please..." the voice said, a female one that wavered and sobbed at every opportunity, "It's dark in here...h-help me."

Blade's glow dimmed, as if it was going pale, "What the..."

"There he is...THERE HE IS!" came another voice, "GET 'UM!"

There was almost no time to react before a cavalry people came rushing out of the library, weapons like spears and flails in hand, screaming all the while. The guards took one look at the new army and, now leaderless, ran for the hills. They vanished over the horizon and new ones flooded in. They were of various species and ages, each wearing ragged clothing and, perhaps most strangely, red rags around their muzzles, much like Master himself with his scarf. They too formed a ring around Master and what he assumed to be their leader stepped forward. She was tall, pale and green, with large floppy ears and a small button nose, alongside green markings across her face and body. She was the best dressed out of all the others, actually wearing non-damaged clothes, specifically a black shirt with black demin shorts and a pale leather jacket over it, she too with a red scarf which only hung loosely around her neck. She was also quite battle damaged, with a mechanical hand, bandaged ear and a single black eyepatch wrapped around her. Her face was one that Master could guess was quite broken; the sunken eye, the wrinkled scour, the unending stare and so much more. She approached Master with her glares and, before he could get out a proper hello out, punched him square in the face. He leaped back and dropped War Lilac's blade, which she picked up and held to his throat, mere inches away from the scarf.

"Christ, why does everyone want to kill me today?!" Master yelled out in weariness.

"You..." the woman pressed the blade closer, "You have a LOT of nerve coming back here, Murderer..."

"Goddamn it, I don't know any of you!" Master yelled a final time, "I'm just...here! I woke up in this hellhole and you're not making it any better."

"You don't know me..." the woman asked, to which Master shrugged. The woman paused for a bit, but then grabbed Master's scarf and removed it, uncoiling it around his head like a bandage. The scarf was removed and discarded, and now Master's muzzle could be clearly seen; it was almost split into two, with a massive gash spreading across his muzzle and through his own mouth, with haphazard stitching across the cut to keep the skin closed. The woman looked over it in silent satisfaction, "A Glasgow grin. Just as you said it was. Well, you're not...him, that's for certain."

"Not anymore..." Master said, "Look, I just want to know what's going on. Who was that, and who are you?"

"It seems you're from before this whole thing happened...good, we're in luck," the woman sighed, poking at Master's stitched up muzzle. It felt lumpy and cold to the touch and Master quickly whisked her hand away, "Your scars...anyway, you want to know? Then I'll tell you."

The woman signalled to her army and they too backed off slightly. She then signalled for Master to sit down and remove his jacket, which he reluctantly did, falling to the ground again with black shirt showing proudly. Two members of the army came forward, one with a teapot and a few cups while the other held a roll of bandages, far thicker than the strips Master held in his pocket.

"I, uh..." Master started as he was handed one of the cups, "I have bandages, thanks."

"Yeah, little strips." the woman said, grabbing her own cup and having the female rabbit holding the teapot pour some tea into the cup, "Trust me, you never change. Like, at all..." she sighed as Master also had tea poured into his cup, from which he took a small sip as the other member wrapped the bandages around his stomach wound, "Well, I am Carol Tea; wildcat, ex-friend of Sash Lilac and current leader of the Red Scarves. I've been helping people evade the wrath of War Lilac for the Great Dragon knows how long, no thanks for what you did to her."

"What did I even do?" Master asked.

"That, sadly, has been lost to time," Carol sighed, "Even I have forgotten what happened. Not that I've had the time to think about it. I've been too busy making sure I don't get hacked to pieces by the Warrior over there."

"Friend of yours?" Master asked, "I'm...sorry. I was trying to find a better way..."

"I understand..." Carol said, a heavy twinge of bitterness in her voice, "I did too. Multiple times, in fact. Every time I lost another member of my army. You'd think I'd learn, but...I just want my best friend back."

"Well..." Master said, sipping his tea, "If there's anything I can do, I'll do it. If I did this, I might as well try to resolve it."

"Yes..." Carol sighed, drinking the last of her tea, as did Master. "I can send you back in time, to just before it all went wrong, and I implore you..."

"To fix it?" Blade asked, "Why do we have to do it? Why don't you stop us before we even set foot in the universe? Surely by putting us in the universe we'll increase the chances of these events happening all over again?"

"It's the only option, sadly," Carol pleaded, "Your wielder is the only one who may know exactly what went wrong and sending myself would be...disastrous. At best."

"She's right," Master sighed alongside, "The mere concept of two Carols in the same place at the same time is enough for the universe to fold in on itself, never mind this Carol's actions would erase her timeline so she would've never existed in the first place. Even the most simple of choices can lead to big, worldshattering impacts. And I, sadly, am one of those choices."

"Just...please..." Carol pleaded a last time, "Even if you can't totally save Lilac, save the world...just try to minimise the damage. I don't want to live in this hellhole without my best friend anymore."

"...I'll try," Master nodded, putting his empty tea cup down and putting his jacket and scarf back on, "Hmm, fastest cup of tea I've ever had."

"Alright..." Carol said, brandishing some sort of weapon, which glowed a bright blue, "This is a portal gun. It can fire portals back and forward in time. Works on Chronos Energy, that thing you worked on in the past. Yeah, you gave me this, right at the end of this whole crapstorm. Right, here is what you'll do; go back into the past, you'll wake up in Dragon Valley. Find Lilac and the younger me and try to make sure that we all remain in one piece with intact minds. Got it?"

"Yeah, but..." Master sighed, "Never mind. Wanted something to do, anyway. I get the feeling I'm going to regret pretty much everything I do for the next week or so...or is that the past week, all those years ago? Look, I'm ready. Adventure awaits!"

Carol smiled slightly at that. She had a lovely smile, Master noted. She then aimed the gun and fired just to the left of Master. A blue portal popped into reality shortly after, the sound of ticking and the smell of brass filling the area, "Well, here we go..." she said, "Just find us, find...Milla...and try your best to minimise the damage. Good luck in your quest, Master of 112233CHARLIE."

"Don't worry, I have a pretty good track record," Master lied, before tipping his glasses like tipping a hat to someone, "I will do you proud, Carol Tea."

"You know," Carol giggled, "You called me Casual back in the day."

"I did?" Master said, before reeling back, "Oh yeah, I see! Well don't worry, Casual, I'll do my best! Blade, adventure awaits!"

"And bloodshed," Blade said, "I hope we see some bloodshed."

Master then ran headfirst into the portal, letting out a triumphant yell of "GERONIMO!" which shortly cut off as the portal dissipated. Carol, seemingly content, sat down besides the body of War Lilac.

"I'm sorry, Lilac..." Carol sighed, tears in her eyes and petting the body's ruined hair, "I'm so sorry..." she sighed, but then stopped, "...Wait, I've just realised I could've avoided this entirely by just warning him to stay away from our universe at all...DAMMIT!"

==========-----==========

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9 hours ago, TheRedStranger said:

Just wanted to give you a warm thanks for keeping to the rating rules so well and being one of the first to show off your work! (Same goes with ToaArcan.)

 

I will make sure you get some good feedback on this soon. ;)

Cheers, man. I WAS a bit leery about what was and wasn't allowed on the site, so I put that stuff up there. Just in case. I actually have a safer sub-story that is unrelated to this that I might bring over too.

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23 hours ago, Ishapar said:

Interesting story.  Man, time travel and different dimensions can really smack the noggin.  So this Master destroyed future worlds but now he wants to stop doing so and actually try to save this one?

More like he destroyed other worlds in the past. Basically he holds the Blade of Hysteria, which has dark influences and tends to drive its wielders insane, and a particuarly violent event caused him to snap like a twig and become this warlord. He ended up going on this rampage across the multiverse, destroying an entire universe (specifically the Archine one because screw those guys), but he eventually 'cooled down' and now works to help those that he once terrorised. And seeing as he has seemingly doomed a world he didn't even know he messed around with, he's trying to see exactly what he did.

It's a complicated story, I'm aware, but it's just how I tell things. It all gets elaborated on a bit more in the later chapters. Which I have finished, but I'm waiting on the review of this chapter to be posted first before I decide wherever or not it's worth adding the rest. You get me?

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I get you.  It's been a while since I read fan fiction let alone try to rate it.  I thought the story was okay with the details, and I like the relationship Master has with the Blade: it's almost as if they are fire-forged comrades.  I am kinda of curious about the date: you used 2019 as a date for this universe.  I am also aware how Master and Blade use a couple memes popular in our culture.  Did Master and Blade have any ties to our universe, or are you writing in the date and memes to relate to the modern reader?

I just always had a hard time dealing with time travel and dealing with worlds and universes: I always had an easier time dealing with one universe instead of dealing with time paradox.  But it seems to be popular in fiction.

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"I am kinda of curious about the date: you used 2019 as a date for this universe."

As a general rule, most of my stories are centered around the present day, whatever that may be. It's 2019 because the events take place in 2015, even though I'm certain Freedom Planet proper's actual time period is nowhere near that.

"Did Master and Blade have any ties to our universe, or are you writing in the date and memes to relate to the modern reader?"

Honestly? A little bit of both. 112233C is basically more like our world than the main SEGA one/Sonic's World. Mainly because Sonic's World is literally nothing but a big empty meadow at this point in the franchise. Lifeless and barren and isn't worth the grass they rendered in it. Incorperating modern things from our world and twisting them to be more unique is, in my opinion, a good way to make the world have a bit more personality, at least a little more than going either all real or all fictional. So the "do you even lift" meme does exist in 112233C, just in a different context with a different source. In Spite of a Nail, if you want to go by TvTropes terminology.

 

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I've been waiting for this review of the Prologue to this story for a few weeks now, and it still hasn't arrived. I said I'd wait until that review got posted to me before considering on porting over the next one, but I've lost my patience and I'll just do it now instead. As ever, the story (though not really this chapter) will contain;

  • Strong Language
  • Blood and Gore (though not much)
  • A few disturbing scenes
  • Quite a bit of Violence
  • And Original Characters

With all in order, let us begin with the first chapter.

When We Last Left Off: Master, having come across a world he apparently destroyed through the corruption of a being known as Lilac, has been sent into the past in order to remove the event that caused this rift in the timeline...but not without first finding out what exactly that event was. Arriving in Dragon Valley, he sets out to find the uncorrupted Sash Lilac, not knowing that she's just about to embark on an adventure of her own.

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Chapter 1: The East Valley

The sky was bright that day. The sun was shining, in the only real way the sun would know how to, and the rays bared down into the great rocky valley below. The area was almost a desert, with sand spread far and wide across the area, and bright orange rocks making up the few steps to an unforgiving fall to the bottom of the valley below. Dusty winds swept across the valley as well, both on the surface and in the valley, kicking particles of anything that would float across the stone-heavy expanse. Here and there was the odd bulbous plant pod, leaves still growing strong in the spring air, while creatures of every shape and size roamed the area looking for their next meal, hopefully something alive. Nearby, impossibly, was some sort of forest, its trees extending way into the air and almost blocking the sunlight completely. And inbetween those two expanses, a wonderful combination of the best of both, lay an oasis; a deep and crystal clear pool of water that housed fish and frogs that swam with content across and within the water. Nearby was a waterfall, falling in from deep in the forest and cascading over the more purple-y rocks that lined the area. 

The calm stillness and the rushing of the water was temporarily disturbed by a hissing noise. In place of the hissing came a roaring, from which a portal appeared. From that portal emerged a brown hedgehog-like creature, who charged through the portal and landed face first on the sandy shore of the oasis. He groaned slightly and got up. Wiping some of the sand out of his face, he walked over to the water to wash the rest off. He did, the cold water and the still winds being a pleasant relief after the harsh and stormy terrain of the future, and managed to get a glimpse of himself in the water's reflection. As said before, he was a brown hedgehog, with spiky quills and a tall stature. In-fact, he was a lot taller than most of his peers back in his old universe, no doubt because of his heritage, and just looked all the more dishevelled because of it. He was one of the rare people back in his original 'verse to wear clothes; specifically a black t-shirt and matching black trousers with a dark blue jacket over that. The jacket had a single dark strap going down the zipper's mounting with another strap connecting to his stomach and around his back to another place on his stomach where the other end of the strap had been haphazardly stitched on. The strap had been secured with a medallion the size of a teacup saucer with two F's scratched across it, given to Master in the past by a freedom fighter. His trousers were ripped and hastily repaired with duct tape and bandages, not counting the one still wrapped around his arm and his stomach, the latter of which still stung quite badly and would not go away. But perhaps the most notable thing about his clothing was his large, dark red wool scarf that clung to his neck like a bad thought, covering his muzzle and a good portion of his shoulders. To complete the look was some black fingerless gloves, black sneakers with red inserts and a mostly cosmetic set of sunglasses perched on his nose, which poked out of the scarf somewhat.

"Well, nice to know we're still in one piece," Blade said.

"Why?" Master asked, "We just went through a portal."

"Yeah, well you know portals are kinda...unreliable," Blade retorted, "Remember what happened to Lola that one time?"

Master sat down, "Yeah, I still remember that. Shocking mess. It's only NOW that she's been able to stitch herself back together. Poor girl." He stopped for a bit, saying nothing and merely looking out over the waters. The fresh air, the rushing water, the quiet sounds. It all spoke to him, reminding him of happier times. Endless months of bloodshed, travelling through hellholes, being the hero the people needed, but never wanted...after so much violence and insanity on the part of him and so many others, he just wanted to stop. He looked at the waterfall, and then at Blade, "Look at that view, Blade. Makes a change, doesn't it."

"Heh, yeah..." Blade said, "I remember when all I saw was battlefields with blood red skies and all I said was 'kill, kill' kill'! Heh...I'd like to think I'm better than that now."

"Me too..." Master sighed, "Think we'll ever find peace?"

"If we're lucky," Blade said, "If we do this right, stop this Lilac from going crazy, then we can run off with your little raccoon girlfriend and find somewhere...secluded."

"But until then, we have work to do," Master said. He stood up again, looking into the distance. He looked up after that, where something caught his senses, "Hey, do you sense what I'm sensing?"

"Yeah, a falling spaceship..." Blade said, making a sniffing sound, "Smells like it'll land in that forest over there. Better check it out, might find Lilac alongside it."

Master said nothing else, instead starting to walk off into the rocky crevasse before him. He checked his holsters again, picking out his Desert Eagle. It will still locked empty from the events before. He replaced the magazine and flicked the slide lock, throwing the slide back into place and loading a bullet, before setting the safety and placing it back into the holster. Blade was stuffed into the second and, with a final glance at the peaceful scene before him, Master set off into the valley.

=================================================
MEANWHILE, on the other side of the Dragon Valley
=================================================

"Lilac. Lilac! Wake up!"

Sash Lilac awoke with a start. She was lying on one of the many dust-encrusted rocks that littered the area, taking in the quiet air of the area. So much so, in fact, that she seemingly fell asleep. She sat up, a groan escaping her lips, and started to brush off the dust that had accumulated on her back. In the near distance, standing maybe only a few feet away from her, was Carol, Lilac's friend. She was a green wildcat, a deep green at that with even deeper green accents and eyes. Her large ears even now flickered around like restless insects and her tail whipped around in a similar fashion. As ever, she wore a black sleeveless shirt that cut off at her midsection, leaving a gap exposing her stomach that stopped at her waist, from which shorts of an even darker green hung. To complete the look was some fingerless gloves with yellow ribbons tied around the wrists, some heavy-duty shoes and a red handkerchief that was wrapped around her neck. Lilac never figured out why Carol held on to that; it was a mere reminder of her and Lilac's own past with the Red Scarves, a group of thieves that stole for the sake of it. Well, apart from Lilac and Carol. They stole Crystals just to put food on the table. Nothing more, nothing less. Well, a LOT less as of late, but Lilac was determined to make sure that little fact didn't let her down.

"Morning, Carol..." Lilac said, winking cheerfully, "It IS morning, right?"

"About 1 in the afternoon, Lilac," Carol sighed in her ever-deep and yet still air-light voice, "It's almost....well, almost time."

Lilac smiled. Carol always looked and sounded like she was one step away from letting a 'nyan' slip past her at any time, what with her trying so hard to be butch. She found it cute. Nevertheless, it was indeed almost time. For what, however, Lilac could not remember. She got to her feet, wiping off even more accumulated dust, and asked, "Wait, what're we doing today?"

"Robbing Mayor Zao's truck, remember?" Carol said, wielding a 'duh' expression on her face like a weapon, "For the final time, I promise!"

"And how many more times will our next robbery be 'the final time'?" Lilac asked, leaning on a nearby rock, "I thought we agreed to cut all ties with the Red Scarves."

"Well yeah, but..." Carol sighed, "We need the money, Lilac. It's not like crystals are just gonna drop from the sky and scatter all over the valley."

"Yeah, if only it was that simple..." Lilac sighed, "Hey, where's your motorbike?"

"Just down the path," Carol said, twirling the keys around her finger, "Never know when I might need it..." Carol sighed in an amusing way and leaned against the same rock as Lilac, making sure to Lilac's shoulder with her own as a fun little gesture and looked into the sky, "Ahh, what a lovely day..."

Lilac was ready to respond also, looking into the sky, but stopped. In the vertical distance, in the great light blue void and beyond, there was a shadow. A small shadow, which slowly grew in size, and eventually took a more solid shape, specifically of a spaceship. It was of a medium size, with bright red panelling and wings like an old-fashioned plane. Multiple holes lined its body and the placement of multiple fires small and large alike set off clear signs that the ship was heavily damaged and coming down. Fast. Lilac barely had time to waste before she flopped to the floor once again, grabbing Carol and dragging her down too. The ship flew past them, a mere distance above them, and continued screaming into the distance. Following it was another kind of spaceship, this one a sickly green and grey combo that was still in perfect condition, which flew after the original with quite a few dark green helicopters.

"What the..." Carol started to ask, "The heck was that? That looked like Prince Dail's men!"

"I don't know," Lilac huffed, getting to her feet quickly, "But it looks like someone's in trouble. Come on! We better check it out!"

"But, what about the truck?" Carol asked, making the panicked stumble to her blood red motorbike.

"That'll have to wait!" Lilac said, "We have to see what's up!"

And with that, Lilac tapped the toe of her left boot into the ground and then began running off into the distance. But even running was not fast enough right now for Lilac; someone could be in danger and there was no time for paltry running. Luckily, Lilac knew exactly what to do here; the old Dragon Boost. She began to concentrate really hard and time seemed to slow down for a small smidgen of time, the air around her becoming warmer with the rising energy that crackled and hissed until it became a shield of almost transparent power around her. And then, with a sudden moment with an impact that could shake the hills to dust, Lilac kicked forward and almost vanished altogether, screaming headfirst through the air like a purple comet of pure energy for a good half-mile. Rocks cracked, plants were pulled up by roots and an almost endless amount of dust was kicked into the air in the wake of this powerful outburst of speed, Lilac herself a mere after-image behind the comet. Eventually, she began to slow down and the wind that had accumulated around her was no longer deafening. Lilac relaxed slightly and stretched out, her boots catching the ground and began running once more, only now at a much faster pace. 

Lilac managed to keep this pace going for a large part of the journey through the canyon. Every now and again she would stop, the energies around her drained, to jump over some small gaps in the earth or to push a giant square rock onto a switch. She had already stopped to do so, and even now was grunting and straining with the effort to push the rock off of the cliffside where it lay. It eventually relented, tumbling down the face of the cliff until landing on the rocky platform below with a thunderous thud. Lilac herself hopped down and resumed her straining to push the rock onto a nearby circular button sticking out of the earth. It clicked in satisfaction and a nearby door opened up, within which sat a spider on a purple pole shooting projectiles. Lilac took a split second to process just what she was looking at, as well as why it was even there to begin with, and began to attack it. A few swift kicks were enough to destroy the being and Lilac was able to proceed. Up ahead was an entry way into the lush forests nearby and Lilac slowed down to a leisurely stroll through the beautiful forests of Avalice. One thing that Lilac had noticed a bit through this adventurous exodus was that there was a larger amount of robots in the area than normal. Every now and again there would be a mere robotic drone roaming the area, often taken out by the natural wildlife, but they never came this strong or in this many numbers. They were, at least to Lilac, EVERYWHERE. Something was quite clearly up, but what? Lilac had no idea. But she would. She knew she would. A lifetime sitting on the fringes of society taking everything not nailed down helps to build one's skill and intuition. And, in this short time since the crash landing of that ship, Lilac knew she would have to use all of those skills to figure out what mess would be about to unfold before her.

Eventually, she stopped in a rocky expanse, her heels skidding on the dusty rocks and almost throwing her to the ground. The crashed ship was just above her, the smoke plume already thick and extending into the sky. The fires surrounding it were not all that visible, with a large amount of them softened or extinguished by the waterfalls lining the area. At least, as far as she could see.

"Almost there, Lilac..." Lilac huffed to herself, "Just gotta scale this wall...thank the Great Dragon that doing so is easy..."

She quickly turned around to see if Carol had managed to catch up with her. Nope. Carol was fast, but she often went off trail to find extra gems that travellers in the valley may have dropped in the past, or just to fight off any robots in the area. Old Carol loved a good fight. Regardless, Lilac knew she had to get to the crash site with or without her. Lilac already knew how to get up there; one of the other abilities her Dragon Boost gave her was the ability to bounce off of even the hardest of surfaces multiple times. Once again the energy surrounded Lilac and she Dragon Boosted up to the small and narrow alcove above her. However, she didn't get far before some sort of object smacked into her, sending her to the ground again. Lilac got up again, bruised but otherwise okay, and focused on what had attacked her. Her jaw dropped in response. For in front of her was a giant segmented monster, a mechanical nightmare in the deepest shades of grey and purple, with two piercing red eyes looking over her with somehow-salivating razor sharp fangs.

Lilac only had time to mutter, "What the..." before the monster roared and began to strike.

===================
A small while later
===================

"Are we there yet?"

"No."

"Are we there yet?"

"Almost!"

"...Are we ther-"

"BLADE!" Master shouted, visibly annoyed, "Not right now!"

"Sorry..." Blade said, "Just thought I'd pass the time."

"It's only been a 5 minute walk," Master shrugged, "Well, jog. Well, run...well, sprint. Look, the point is that we're here."

Master looked out over the expanse once more. It was around here that the desert and forest merged somewhat, leaving a dusty and rocky area that still had bushes and fresh water springs dotting the area. Below him was some rocky pit with the sound of rushing water catching his ears, while above him was the spaceship that he sensed would crash at that location. It was red, with an odd style to it, and it was now almost completely on fire with a thick smoke plume rising steadily above it.

"Nice ride," Blade smarmed, sounding impressed, "Shame it's...you know...trashed. Poor thing's more ruined than a 90's mascot."

"I just hope anyone on board the thing survived," Master said, leaning against a tree, "Might be able to lead us to this Lilac, then."

"Well, what did Carol Tea say?" Blade asked in a slightly annoyed tone, "Oh yeah..." he put on a mocking impersonation of the older Carol's voice, "Ooh, just go into the Dragon Valley and find us. Don't bother with trying to figure out WHERE in the valley we'll be, we'll just pop up!" and then returned to his normal annoyed voice, "Fat lot of help that Chao droppings was!"

"...Wait, Chao don't-"

"Look, the point is we're kinda in the dark here!" Blade retorted, "We only went and found this ship because Chaos knows we have no other leads. What, will some sign just come bursting out of the ground to show us we're in the right place?"

Suddenly, the ground began crunching and vibrating, as if something was crashing thorough the rocky floor below. And as if by some sort of natural disaster, a large hole in the rock exploded into existence, spreading chunks of itself everywhere. Following the rock was some odd mechanical segments, each flying out of the hole and landing in a small pile near Master and Blade. Its head came last, housing a goofy expression that seemed to indicate that it did NOT see whatever beat it coming.

"...Well..." Master said, visibly unaffected by this turn of events, "That a good enough sign?"

"Yeah..." Blade said, audibly surprised, "Good enough."

However, both noticed that one last item had burst from the hole in the rock, but it was not another piece of the robot. But rather, a creature. More specifically, a dragon. She was purple, much lighter in shade than the last one Master noticed, and had a much cleaner appearance. In fact, she was clearly the Lilac that Carol had tasked Master with finding, right down to how she looked. Compared to War Lilac, Lilac herself was nowhere near as demented, looking quite sane and collected, with an intact set of light blue shirt and shorts complete with boots and actual gloves as opposed to mere scraps hanging around her wrist. Her teeth were normal and her eyes were not red dots swimming around a black expanse, but instead a large and purple pupil in a standard set of white eyes. But perhaps most noticeable was her tendrils extending out of the back of her head, hiding within her mostly nicely combed hair; there were two of them and neither looked synthetic or dirty, instead waving around slightly in the breeze. This was it, Master knew. THIS was Lilac. The dragon stretched slightly, groaning with satisfaction as she did so, and then began to run off to where the ship had crashed, slowly becoming a mere dot in the process.

"Well, that was her, alright," Blade said, "...Well, what're you doing standing around gawking? You're already engaged, slugger! After her!"

"Oh! Right!" Master yelped, before picking up his pace and screaming after Lilac. He clambered up the rocky wall, stabbing Blade into the wall multiple times to ascend, before stopping by the ship. Nearby was two people, some of the strangest looking adversaries Master had ever seen. One was some strange sort of snake creature, this one much smaller and more organic that the last one, clad in a helmet and body armour and holding some sort of laser pistol to the other. He was sprawled out across the floor and could only be understood as some sort of...duck tortoise creature, with a duck's bill and a body-encompassing shell. He also wore strange padded gloves and boots, and wore goggles that at the moment rested across his forehead. Master was, understandably, quite confused, "Uh...Blade? Have I gone crazy again?"

"Nope, I'm seeing it too," Blade said, "Armoured snake about to shoot a...shellduck. And I thought those wisp hybrids were bad..."

Master got closer to the two, tiptoeing ever so slightly until he climbed a tree to get a better look. The snake was still pointing his gun at the Shell-duck, who was seemingly wounded but not about to let himself get captured.

"How many Chasers are left?" the snake asked in a threatening and predictably hissing voice, "Tell me!"

The Shell-duck's response was one that was light and odd, almost in a mocking tone if not for the fact he spoke in it almost all the time, "You didn't say please!"

"Don't play games with me, duckling!" the snake shouted, looking angrier by the second, "Tell me!"

"...Fine, be that way."

The Shell-duck's response to this was to retreat into his shell, leaving only a round brown ball with goggles poking out of the top of it. The snake became visibly irritated, letting out a "Gaah! Where's that blasted snake mount?!"

"Snake Mount..." Master said, confused. It didn't take long for a lightbulb to pop over his head, "Oh yeah, that robot."

"Nothing now but a mass of glorified balls," Blade sniggered, "Heh heh. Balls..."

This was made apparent to the snake too, as the head of this demolished mount suddenly came bounding over the edge of the wall Master had climbed earlier and then landed close to the armoured snake. His reaction did not change, instead just turning back to his target, "Fine! I'll guess we'll have to do this the hard way!" The snake then opened fire with his pistol and a large bright blue bolt of energy came roaring out of the barrel, colliding with the Shell-duck's shell with great force. He bounced back, seemingly not damaged, but the snake had already given chase. He grabbed the shell and threw it into the trees and then, after grabbing another blaster from his belt, laid waste to the leaves above him, sending purple shots through the sky. The Shell-duck collapsed nearby, uncurled out of his shell and seemingly weakened by the assault. The snake only guffawed in a way Master knew all to well, "I could do this all day!"

"We better get going!" Master whispered, "Or he's gonna get creamed!"

"Wait!" Blade whispered, "Something else is coming! It's that dragon girl!"

Blade was right. Cascading through the trees even now was Lilac, the purple dragon from before. She landed with a sense of grace that threw the snake back somewhat. He himself looked quite shocked, barely blurting out, "What is THIS hideous creature?"

Lilac was quick to her feet, standing behind the Shell-duck with arms outstretched. Even her voice was similar to War Lilac, albeit one that was nowhere near as deranged or rage-filled, "Stay back!"

"Ooohh, no!" The snake said, "The duck man comes with me!"

Lilac only became more defiant at this remark, "I'm not gonna let you eat him!"

"...What?"

It didn't take long for some strange item to strike from the darkness and just miss the snake creature, who narrowly dodged it with a shriek. It was a segment of a blade of some sort, attached to another segment with some metallic rope, which in turn was attached to another and another still. The blade retracted and some monster jumped out of the shadows of a nearby tree. He was brown, around the snake's own height, and wore a dark red scarf that wrapped around his face and chest. He wielded the weapon from before in his left hand, a majestic weapon with a curved blade that had cracks which seemed to emit a green light.

"Creature of the deepest pits of damnation!" the creature barked in some odd British accent, "Step away from the Dragon and the...Shell...Duck..."

"And who are you supposed to be?" the snake hissed, stifling an evil laugh, "Some sort of winter mummy?"

"Well that's just mean," came another voice, this one deeper and decidedly more demonic, "I suggest you keep your trap shut, snakeboy! We've already cleaved our way through targets like Lyric, we'll have no problem fighting his cousin twice-removed!"

"Hahaha..." the snake laughed, "Got quite the mouth on ya, haven't you? Two of 'em, in fact! But can you back it up? Get ready to draw!"

"Okay, bub..." the voice said again, as the creature switched his weapon to his off hand and dug out another one, "Want some graphite-related puns, too? Well then, here comes the 2B!"

The creature reared back and thrust his blade forward. The blade itself split into multiple roped segments as with before and travelled across the space between the creature and the snake, catching the snake's left hand and forcing him to drop his laser pistol.

"And here comes the eraser!" the creature called out, raising his other weapon. There was a loud crack in the sky and the weapon, the chrome and parkerised creation that it was, recoiled back like a large jump. Some small and invisible object then hit the snake in his other hand, dropping his other pistol too. The snake groaned in pain, holding both of his wounded and almost useless hands and looked at the creature with a sneer.

"Arrgh! You shouldn't have done that!" the snake yelled, turning to make an exit, "You haven't seen the last of Serpentine!" The snake turned and fled, leading only the two weapons behind; both of which had been damaged by the creature's weapons and thus were rendered useless. He turned back to Lilac and the Shell-duck, both of which had been watching the spectacle with confused eyes.

"What, uh..." Lilac began, "What just happened?"

"I think I've just saved your life," the creature said, scratching his ear, "Not too sure."

"Whatever just happened, it was a close one..." the Shell-duck sighed, "Thank you both for helping me. Especially you. Miss...uh..."

"Lilac," Lilac said, "Sash Lilac."

"Miss Lilac!" the Shell-duck said gleefully, before turning to the creature and asking, "And, uh, you are?"

"They call me Master." the creature said, shrugging slightly, "I don't know why, they just do."

"Nice voice manipulation back there, by the way," the Shell-duck said, "Voice Modulation Device hidden in your scarf, I presume?"

"Nope," came the other voice again, "The voice is a bit more...handsome. And deadly. But mostly handsome."

"Who?" Lilac asked.

"Down here."

All three people in the area looked at the blade in Master's hand, to which Lilac mumbled, "That...that thing's talking?"

"Yeah..." Master said, digging his other weapon into one of his holsters leaving only the blade in his hand, "This is the Blade of Hysteria, though I just call him 'Blade'."

"Oh..." Lilac said, clearly trying to take this in, "Well, hello...Blade."

There was a sudden roaring noise and all three turned their heads to see what it was. It was a red motorbike, with some sort of animal riding on it. She was green, with green ears, green markings and a large tail that swished behind her as she walked. Master could clearly see this was Carol, at the least the younger one, that the elder one had tasked him to find. Compared to the Carol from the future timeline, she was obviously younger and less battle scarred, having both eyes and both hands. She wore much simpler clothing than her elder form, with only a black shirt with no sleeves, some dark green shorts, gloves, boots and a red rag tied around her neck to her own. Carol stopped the bike and quickly jumped off of it, running towards the trio with open eyes from shock, "Are you okay? I saw a huge explosion back there!"

"Have you been following us this whole time?" Lilac asked.

"Duh," Carol said, with a sort of sneery expression.

"I take it you know this guy?" the Shell-duck asked.

"Girl..." Carol growled in response.

"This...girl?"

Lilac broke away from the group to stand in front of Carol and pose, "Are you kidding? She's like my tail! Always right by my side."

Carol herself then walked forward to introduce herself, and conforming Master's suspicions in the process, "Carol the Wildcat, at your service!" she quickly pointed her thumb towards Lilac, "AaaandthisisLilac."

The Shell-duck reached out to shake her hand, "Well I'm Torque. I'm a, uh, shell-duck."

"Shell-duck?"

"It's more of a nickname," Torque said, looking a bit nervous, "I'm not exactly from around here."

"You don't say," Master snarked.

"Well, you don't look like you're from around here either, bub!" Carol pointed accusingly at Master, "Who are you, anyway?"

"He's called...Master, I think," Lilac tried to explain.

Carol's expression became quite miffed.

"...Not a word of a lie, I promise," Master said, "Look, it's a long story. Perhaps we should reach safer ground."

"Well, there's my treehouse," Lilac said, "No-one knows where it is other than me. We'll be safe there. You coming, Master?"

"Does he have to?" Carol asked, inspecting Master all over, "I don't trust him. I don't trust ANYONE with a getup THAT ridiculous..."

"I kinda have to, because...uh..." Master quickly looked down at the scarf that covered his face, thankful it hid his nervous frown, "Oh bother, I didn't think this far...ooh!" and then turned back to Carol, "I'm the newest member of your...Red Scarves. Came here for...training, that's it."

"Training?" Torque asked, "With moves like that?"

"Also, what's with the dead sheep wrapped around your head?" Carol asked, her voice clearly irritated, "You're taking the whole 'Red Scarves' thing a bit too seriously, aren't you?"

"Well, I didn't get the memo..." Master said, laughing nervously.

"Ahh, jeez, give it up, Master!" Blade called out, "It's not working. Look, here's the score; I'm a talking blade of war, we're both from the future and we're here to make sure both you remain sane in about three days. Got it?"

"...Did..." Carol began after a pause, "...Did his glowing dagger talk?"

"Yeah..." Lilac said.

Master frowned under his scarf. He was supposed to make sure both stayed sane and already, by doing almost nothing, he had forced the two to accept that his cursed demonic dagger was talking to them. Probably took a hit to their sanity already.

"Good start, Master," he sighed to himself as the group started off towards the treehouse, "Good start."

==========-----==========

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Hi there, again I'm sorry about the wait but it's about time to get to business here, here is my review on WarTraveller's Freedom Dies with Me Prologue.

Description
Freedom Dies with Me opens up in a fire pit version of Freedom Planet, with phrases like "Verdant Flames" and Screams setting the happy go lucky world we are in for, setting up the tone of the prologue. We are given well detailed on who the characters and what they look like are for the characters, even the nameless guard is given a mild description of his own. The writer tends to avoid the trappings of inexperienced writers giving a world you can visualize, though I would say that there are lack of details in the writing as you can see it, but you can't completely feel the ruined world that it's become. Because of the pacing and more straightforward descriptions there are some hiccups here and there, I can't exactly get into the world as much as I would like though it is a good first attempt. The humor is hit or miss, and while the references bog down the story a bit there is one that subverts what you think is a joke and ends up as an attack, which was pretty clever. Some of the references got a bit distracting such as the eye and jelly part,  knowing where that comes from didn't really get a laugh out of me. When we got to Lilac despite her insanity I did feel a small part of who she once was in despair at what she has become, while you also felt the sorrow and regret from Carol at the end. Though the scenes are detailed enough they aren't as detailed as they could be. Memes and references aside the characters feel alive though dreary due to the setting, which is natural in a post apocalyptic world. Overall details aside the descriptions have a lot of things going for it, just needs an extra push to it and given an emotional touch the same way Lilac and Carol have.

Pacing
We are given a 3rd person perspective following Master and Blade from beginning to end, following and somewhat getting to know these characters, we follow them well and through without any unnecessary cutaways to other characters with no context, keeping it simple but effective as we follow his journey all the way to his portal hopping leap across time. When first meeting Master here we are given his wake up call in the sense of "What the heck happened last night?" all groggy and messed up.

Combat is fluid and has a good ounce of weight to it, you get to feel every stab and bleeding wound from the shock of it, though with the fight against the guard it was rather unclear if this blade went through Master's arm or just nicked it, that could have just been sarcasm though.

When confronting War Lilac just as I thought things we're going to go bad in terms of pacing and narrative as she starts to Monologue we literally get a Chekhov's Gun as he shoots Lilac down dead, which I really didn't expect. I liked how that scene went down, considering Master has only used his fists and Blade in his fights up to that point despite giving a well detailed description of his gun you end up forgetting that it existed despite being there, having it well established only to pull it off like this in terms of how he fought deceived me in the gun being carried, it was like I had the gun in the back of my mind in my thoughts briefly recalling that it existed only to use it just when he needed to, that scene was a good payoff and a great example of Chekhov's Gun, I was impressed.

No frills pacing but enough details and a coherent structure on how the story is paced, it got the job done and was easy to follow, which is a good thing for this kind of action adventure story.

Characters
Now we get to the weakest part of the story, now when I say weakest part I don't mean all the characters as I felt the broken friendship from Carol and Lilac's fevered and forced insanity by a mad man. However, my main problem comes from the main characters themselves, that being "Master" and Blade of Hysteria. Blade here at first starts of gruff and not so nice, as expected from a Sword that causes Insanity, I do find that appealing talking to a Sword that drives you crazy. However he then quickly turns into our comedic foil spouting a meme or two, which was more distracting then anything else but not too bad. Thing is though my problem with him is the fact is that he can do ANYTHING, test out liquids and drink them, can see and smell despite not having eyes, okay drinking things aside being a possessed blade I can let that go. What I can't let go is that just by plunging him into a computer he can simply hack a computer, which really through me off here. That and his random Chain Sword Transformation upon fighting the guard was out of nowhere, it seems like Blade has the tools to do anything and get out of any situation, I could look over sight, smell, and even drinking liquid but hacking computers is a bit too weird. Is it a mystical weapon or technological weapon, or both? It seems to lean more ot the former which only makes the PC hacking all the more jarrying.

The worse case however has to be "Master", for one we don't even know his name, he's just called Master by Blade and we are never given a name of any sorts rather then a title. I mean I can accept that as I think the intention was to make him a puzzle you get to hang out with and solve, but the thing is you don't even get a description aside from clothing and a scar, I can be fine with not knowing who he is, but can I at least get a resemblance of what he is? Seems like a former villain looking...maybe not for redemption, but rather just wanders around ending up in crazy adventures. That would be fine and all but it feels like I just jumped into the middle of a series about halfway through the series here. Aside from his mentioned horrible actions that he only justifies under insanity, I don't get that much of a feel of him which dampers the story a bit. I want to get to know more about him but these mentions of adventures past don't get me to care, rather they want me to see those previous adventures. It's not great to find that your main character is someone who isn't letting us know who or what he is,  he seems intersting but I just don't know or get enough of a feel on him to understand and connect with our main character here, which is the weakest part of The Prologue.

Grammar
Other then one typo, grammar must have been spell checked, everything was in place and didn't sound awkward anywhere that I noticed, kudos.

Analysis
Freedom Dies with Me is an interesting tale following the story of a character that is one big question mark on who or what he is, though thankfully we are given character interactions between himself and his talking Sword, however said Blade can do just about anything that is needed of him and seems to be like a skeleton key to get out of a situation or finding out information, thankfully however those moments are few and far between when it comes to our little object of a co-protagonist, however he is a little too flat and comes of as comical relief that while not grating, needs some better material. The lanescape is a ruined wasteland that was best handled in the first paragraph, otherwise we burn through the setting rather quickly before getting into the story. Fights are well paced though the conclusion of the first fight needed a bit more polishing, while the second fight ended with a literal Checkov's Gun done well. The ending kinda falls apart with contrivences of Portal Guns and Time Travel without much explanation. Most poorly of all is when we meet a character that can give us some answers she conveiently can't remember or recall anything the past 4 years, despite said apocalypse happening around that time. While the ending was frustrating and messy, our main character more of an enigma and undefined, I am genuinely interested on how this story is going to play out and I want to find out just who our mysterious main character is.

Overall, Freedom Dies with Me Prologue is a good attempt of a draft whose hiccups either come from writing choices in terms of how to carry the main characters or lack of detail, if further detail was given regarding the main character on what he even looks like along with our setting the opening of this series could be very good. As it is now though it's not as good as it could, even if not edited I believe that the story coming forward holds much promise as the writer here learns from his mistakes and has no need to use contrivences or lack of detail. I look forward to further updates and chapters.

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8 hours ago, Mike Arcade said:

Hi there, again I'm sorry about the wait but it's about time to get to business here, here is my review on WarTraveller's Freedom Dies with Me Prologue.

Description
Freedom Dies with Me opens up in a fire pit version of Freedom Planet, with phrases like "Verdant Flames" and Screams setting the happy go lucky world we are in for, setting up the tone of the prologue. We are given well detailed on who the characters and what they look like are for the characters, even the nameless guard is given a mild description of his own. The writer tends to avoid the trappings of inexperienced writers giving a world you can visualize, though I would say that there are lack of details in the writing as you can see it, but you can't completely feel the ruined world that it's become. Because of the pacing and more straightforward descriptions there are some hiccups here and there, I can't exactly get into the world as much as I would like though it is a good first attempt. The humor is hit or miss, and while the references bog down the story a bit there is one that subverts what you think is a joke and ends up as an attack, which was pretty clever. Some of the references got a bit distracting such as the eye and jelly part,  knowing where that comes from didn't really get a laugh out of me. When we got to Lilac despite her insanity I did feel a small part of who she once was in despair at what she has become, while you also felt the sorrow and regret from Carol at the end. Though the scenes are detailed enough they aren't as detailed as they could be. Memes and references aside the characters feel alive though dreary due to the setting, which is natural in a post apocalyptic world. Overall details aside the descriptions have a lot of things going for it, just needs an extra push to it and given an emotional touch the same way Lilac and Carol have.

Pacing
We are given a 3rd person perspective following Master and Blade from beginning to end, following and somewhat getting to know these characters, we follow them well and through without any unnecessary cutaways to other characters with no context, keeping it simple but effective as we follow his journey all the way to his portal hopping leap across time. When first meeting Master here we are given his wake up call in the sense of "What the heck happened last night?" all groggy and messed up.

Combat is fluid and has a good ounce of weight to it, you get to feel every stab and bleeding wound from the shock of it, though with the fight against the guard it was rather unclear if this blade went through Master's arm or just nicked it, that could have just been sarcasm though.

When confronting War Lilac just as I thought things we're going to go bad in terms of pacing and narrative as she starts to Monologue we literally get a Chekhov's Gun as he shoots Lilac down dead, which I really didn't expect. I liked how that scene went down, considering Master has only used his fists and Blade in his fights up to that point despite giving a well detailed description of his gun you end up forgetting that it existed despite being there, having it well established only to pull it off like this in terms of how he fought deceived me in the gun being carried, it was like I had the gun in the back of my mind in my thoughts briefly recalling that it existed only to use it just when he needed to, that scene was a good payoff and a great example of Chekhov's Gun, I was impressed.

No frills pacing but enough details and a coherent structure on how the story is paced, it got the job done and was easy to follow, which is a good thing for this kind of action adventure story.

Characters
Now we get to the weakest part of the story, now when I say weakest part I don't mean all the characters as I felt the broken friendship from Carol and Lilac's fevered and forced insanity by a mad man. However, my main problem comes from the main characters themselves, that being "Master" and Blade of Hysteria. Blade here at first starts of gruff and not so nice, as expected from a Sword that causes Insanity, I do find that appealing talking to a Sword that drives you crazy. However he then quickly turns into our comedic foil spouting a meme or two, which was more distracting then anything else but not too bad. Thing is though my problem with him is the fact is that he can do ANYTHING, test out liquids and drink them, can see and smell despite not having eyes, okay drinking things aside being a possessed blade I can let that go. What I can't let go is that just by plunging him into a computer he can simply hack a computer, which really through me off here. That and his random Chain Sword Transformation upon fighting the guard was out of nowhere, it seems like Blade has the tools to do anything and get out of any situation, I could look over sight, smell, and even drinking liquid but hacking computers is a bit too weird. Is it a mystical weapon or technological weapon, or both? It seems to lean more ot the former which only makes the PC hacking all the more jarrying.

The worse case however has to be "Master", for one we don't even know his name, he's just called Master by Blade and we are never given a name of any sorts rather then a title. I mean I can accept that as I think the intention was to make him a puzzle you get to hang out with and solve, but the thing is you don't even get a description aside from clothing and a scar, I can be fine with not knowing who he is, but can I at least get a resemblance of what he is? Seems like a former villain looking...maybe not for redemption, but rather just wanders around ending up in crazy adventures. That would be fine and all but it feels like I just jumped into the middle of a series about halfway through the series here. Aside from his mentioned horrible actions that he only justifies under insanity, I don't get that much of a feel of him which dampers the story a bit. I want to get to know more about him but these mentions of adventures past don't get me to care, rather they want me to see those previous adventures. It's not great to find that your main character is someone who isn't letting us know who or what he is,  he seems intersting but I just don't know or get enough of a feel on him to understand and connect with our main character here, which is the weakest part of The Prologue.

Grammar
Other then one typo, grammar must have been spell checked, everything was in place and didn't sound awkward anywhere that I noticed, kudos.

Analysis
Freedom Dies with Me is an interesting tale following the story of a character that is one big question mark on who or what he is, though thankfully we are given character interactions between himself and his talking Sword, however said Blade can do just about anything that is needed of him and seems to be like a skeleton key to get out of a situation or finding out information, thankfully however those moments are few and far between when it comes to our little object of a co-protagonist, however he is a little too flat and comes of as comical relief that while not grating, needs some better material. The lanescape is a ruined wasteland that was best handled in the first paragraph, otherwise we burn through the setting rather quickly before getting into the story. Fights are well paced though the conclusion of the first fight needed a bit more polishing, while the second fight ended with a literal Checkov's Gun done well. The ending kinda falls apart with contrivences of Portal Guns and Time Travel without much explanation. Most poorly of all is when we meet a character that can give us some answers she conveiently can't remember or recall anything the past 4 years, despite said apocalypse happening around that time. While the ending was frustrating and messy, our main character more of an enigma and undefined, I am genuinely interested on how this story is going to play out and I want to find out just who our mysterious main character is.

Overall, Freedom Dies with Me Prologue is a good attempt of a draft whose hiccups either come from writing choices in terms of how to carry the main characters or lack of detail, if further detail was given regarding the main character on what he even looks like along with our setting the opening of this series could be very good. As it is now though it's not as good as it could, even if not edited I believe that the story coming forward holds much promise as the writer here learns from his mistakes and has no need to use contrivences or lack of detail. I look forward to further updates and chapters.

Alright. That's a very nice, very fair review, and I thank you for it. I'll admit in hindsight that the memes ARE a bit out of place and Blade's comedic purpose could've been better written. I'm trying to model it after the Terror Mask from Splatterhouse 2010, which to be fair swung between seriousness and comedy at random too. Probably a bad idea. As for Master/Traveller, I wanted to keep him a mystery until the later chapters, so people got the impression of wanting to know who/what he is, and perhaps try to work it out on their own. But yeah, I probably should've described him in the story. He gets that in the next chapter (which IS up on this site now), but in hindsight I REALLY should've put that in the first chapter. And, for the record, the Blade "smelling" thing was supposed to be a joke. Didn't work, it seems.

And the rest of the story is already written, so...hmm. Regardless, thanks for the review.

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Apologies for not being active on the site for a while. I...ran into something that needed my greater attention. To put it lightly. But that's over and now I'm ready to continue putting these chapters onto the site, probably one every other day. Starting with Chapter 2. As always;

  • Strong Language
  • Blood and Gore (though not much)
  • A few disturbing scenes
  • Quite a bit of Violence
  • And Original Characters

When We Last Left Off: With Master and Blade now by their side, Lilac and Carol escort Torque to the relative safety of their treehouse. There, Torque warns them of the plans to steal the Kingdom Stone directly from its resting place at the ancient temple. Lilac, Carol and Master head over there to stop the ambush from Mayor Zao, but it soon becomes clear that Master's influence is already starting to cause problems.

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Chapter 2: Temple Ambush

===============
5 Minutes Later
===============

"Lilac's Treehouse. Main Base of Operation of Sash Lilac and Carol Tea, formerly of the Red Scarves..." Blade said, "Damn, what a place."

Master couldn't help but agree with him. It had only taken them about 5 minutes to get here, with Blade all the while trying to keep the mood lightened by telling stories and tall tales. It hadn't worked, to the point that Carol threatened to throw the obnoxious weapon into the canyon, though Master managed to talk her out of it ("Trust me," he had said, "It wouldn't end well...). Master managed to keep him quiet after that, promising to himself it would be the last time he would let Blade tell anyone about that time with the punch bowl and the rubber chicken.

It was soon after such a conversation that they had arrived at Lilac's treehouse. It wasn't far from the Valley, maybe a mere mile from where they had found Torque, and it was a wide open space with low shrubbery, so the Valley itself could be seen quite clearly in the distance. A very large tree was nearby. Attached to it with a combination of rope, nails and bolts was a large wooden house, Master guessing at least a three-room sort of establishment, with a blue tiled roof and multiple eastern lanterns lining the ladder. It was almost luxury for such a place, and Master couldn't help but be impressed by it.

"You built this yourself?" Master asked, astonished.

"Well, Carol did...MOST of the work," Lilac said, a single bead of sweat travelling down the side of her head, "I'm not really all THAT strong."

"Oh, don't be like that!" Blade called out, "You handled that purple snake bot with a large amount of finesse!"

"That thing?" Lilac asked, "How'd you even know about that?"

Master pulled on the middle layer of his scarf, like another man would pull at the collar of his shirt, "We...kinda followed you. We saw you jump out of the hole. Alongside what was left of that robot."

"Well, guess that explains the sense of uneasiness," Lilac huffed, "It wasn't really that hard a fight. I just punched off his body parts and he exploded. For some reason."

"Well, nice to know THAT hasn't changed from our universe," Blade said, "But still, who do you think sent that bot after you? And why you?"

"It was the possession of that snake guy you fought off," Torque said, "Guess he put him up as guard duty."

Lilac walked over to Torque, "That reminds me, what are you even doing out here? The skies haven't been safe for days."

"Clearly," Master said, looking up at the skies. Even now were more of those dark green helicopters flying off into the distance.

Torque looked a bit forlorn, "Someone is about to steal the Kingdom Stone, and I have to stop them."

Master seemed to be surprised at this remark, but Lilac seemed to pass it off as a joke, "The Kingdom Stone? That's impossible!"

"Yeah, only I could steal it!" Carol said, flexing her left arm.

"Pfff, you wish!" Lilac said playfully, giving Carol a slight nudge for her troubles.

"I probably could..." Master shrugged, "Get to the shrine in disguise, steal the gem and...do...something with it."

"It's already happening," Torque said, "Mayor Zao is sending troops in disguise to the Ancient Temple! I have to warn them!"

"Well, me and Carol are pretty fast," Lilac boasted, "We could check for you."

"Really?"

"Yep!" Carol boasted too, "I've got a motorcycle! And she's a dragon! They're like, super fast!"

"What about your friend there?" Torque asked, leaning a bit to look at Master.

"Me? Yeah, I guess I'm pretty fast," Master said, "Though I normally use portals to get around. But, uh, that's kinda out of the picture at the moment."

"Why?" Carol asked, "We could get to the Temple in seconds, then!"

"Well..." Master sighed, quickly showing the three his stomach bandage, now slowly bloodied, "A slightly open stomach puncture kinda knocks the wind out of you."

"A stomach puncture? Why didn't you tell us before?" Lilac asked, "We can heal it!"

"Don't worry 'bout it," Blade said, "I can heal it. Given time."

"Natural healing factor, huh?" Torque asked, "Impressive."

"Does it warp reality, too?" Carol asked, her tone quite sarcastic.

"Ladies, please, we don't have time for this," Master said quickly.

"He's right," Torque said, bowing his head, "Even without his portals, it's worth a shot. Hurry over to the temple, before it's too late!"

"What about you?" Carol asked, "Shouldn't you come too?"

"I'll catch up with you," Torque explained, "As soon as I find all my stuff. It was scattered everywhere during the crash, so I may be a while."

"Right, come on Carol!" Lilac said, turning tail and running off further into the forest. Carol began running too, soon followed by Master. Torque sighed, readjusted his beak and headed back off into the Valley.

==============
Sometime Later
==============

"Thank the Great Dragon the Temple isn't that far away!" Carol said, huffing and panting, as the three ran headlong across the beaten path, the sound of their shoes pounding the dirt track contrasting the otherwise serene feel of the forest. Even now the Valley was nowhere to be seen, and the Temple itself was slowly closing up in the distance, the ancient rocky box it was.

"You know, now we have time to talk more about that Blade of yours," Lilac said, "Just to get some facts straight."

"You sure you wanna do this now?" Blade asked, "Can't it wait for another time? Like, the next chapter?"

"Might as well," Lilac said, "It's just that you fascinate me. A bladed weapon that talks, extends, can open portals and so on. Never seen anything like it before in my life."

"Yeah, is it possessed by a demon or something?" Carol asked.

"How dare you!" Blade yelled, the green glow of the blade once again turning red, "I am not a demon!"

"Yeah, forgot to mention that," Master said, "He doesn't like being called a demon. He's actually a God."

"The Hellblood God of War, thank you very much!" Blade grumbled.

"So, what're you doing in a bladed weapon, then?" Lilac asked.

"It all began in time uncharted," Blade began, "Back in our native universe. I was a god to the Hellbloods, a tribal set of vampires that were in the middle of a feud with fellow tribe the Echidnas. The Hellbloods were friendly enough people, not above the odd sacrifice but otherwise decent folk. The Echnidnas, on the other hand...ooh, they were nasty. The Echidnas believed in this one great god, named Chaos. Probably heard us call him out by name. Just kinda what happens when you have to listen to preachers in a world where only one religion is allowed to be taught every day. Despite the fact that, you know, Chaos almost wiped most of the United Federation clean off the map."

"And in our universe, did," Master sighed.

Anyway..." Blade continued, "The Hellbloods were starting to get rather wary of the Echnidas. The Hellbloods were just trying to exist, to be able to see the sun another day. But the Echidnas wanted more then mere...spirituality. Well, their leader did, anyway. Think he was named after a raincoat or something, think it was Pachacamac. It certainly didn't help that he was being run ragged by a sort of offshoot of his tribe known as the Nocturnal. They vanished into another dimension and old Paccy turned his full attention on MY followers. So they decided the best thing to do was gather four blades from across the world and feed them with the souls of the gods. The Blade of Order, The Blade of Control, The Blade of Hope and the Blade of Hysteria...that's me. No idea how they did it, but next thing you know I'm stuck in an ancient blade, being swung by some random Hellblood and getting lodged in an Echidna's neck. Almost every week after that, I was being used to fend off Echidnean raids, one after the other. It was actually kinda fun, for a while."

"So how'd you get into Master's possession?" Carol asked.

"Pafekuto Kaosu..." Blade muttered in a low, haunted breath, "Pachacamac and his followers were at their wits end when they couldn't fight back against me or my contemporaries. They only wanted more power, and they had it; legendary gems called the Chaos Emeralds, said to contain unlimited amounts of powers, each graded by the strength of it's energy. And then there was the granddaddy of them all, the Master Emerald. The Master Emerald, you see, is guarded by a certain chosen one, assigned to look over the it and these cute little blobby things called Chao. Bit of shame the guardian at the time was Pachacamac's own daughter, Tikal. Old Paccy, in his greed, struck his daughter down and shattered the Master Emerald. He released Chaos, his watery blood boiling at the sight of so many dead Chao things. In his rage, he absorbed the power of the Chaos Emeralds, transforming into a massive beast. Hellblood and Echnidna alike were wiped out by this...terrifying monstrosity. I was laid to rest in their sacred temple, where Master found me several millennia later."

"So..." Lilac said, "Everyone died because of a power struggle."

"Not EVERYONE," Master clarified, "Just the Hellbloods. They were revived later through manipulation of dead genes. As for the Echidnas, a handful survived and bred on. By the present day, there was only one left...and then I did him in...and they were lost to time."

"Geez, that's pretty dark," Lilac huffed, "The closest we have to a god is the Great Dragon, protector of the Kingdom Stone."

"Guy better be ready to work overtime, then," Blade snarked, "...Hey, who're those pandas over there?"

"Pandas?" Carol looked forwards and her ears dropped, "Oh no..."

The group finally stopped to catch their breath. Just before them was the temple, now in full sight, and what a sight it was. The temple, screaming high into the sky, was made of old and crusty stone that even now flaked off into chips and spilled on the grass. The sky, now a bright orange sunset, only seeked to enrich the atmosphere. Blade shivered slightly, the thought of a temple like this being oh so similar to the temple he had been left to rot in for time unaccountable. The mere thought of his time there, unable to move and barely able to talk, for thousands of years without company...

"Do we really have to go in there?" Blade asked.

"Oh, is the demon scared of a little ancient rock?" Carol teased.

"What, ever been on your own for several millennia without anyone? No friends, no TV, no ability to move, or talk, or even sleep?" Blade said, "Have you any idea what that's like?!"

"Alright, I'm sorry, geez..." Carol sighed.

Lilac was already ignoring the two and running towards the entrance to the temple. Outside the entrance, just milling around on the grass outside, were two pandas. One was a large male panda, perhaps in his mid 30's, with a heavy build and faux-gold/brass armour. His gloves were metallic and he had a ponytail jutting out of the top of his head, alongside a large (and probably ceremonial) shield strapped to his back. The seemed to be a smaller female, but otherwise was in the shadows and hard to identify. The large male panda was leaning next to a pillar, his back to the heroes.

Lilac had already stopped, "General Gong!"

This General Gong fellow was sort of startled, before turning around. Just Lilac and Carol. Oh, and friend. He walked up towards the three, taking impressive and boisterous strides, "You two clowns again?"

"AND friend," Master called out, "And friend."

"Nice to see you too," Carol grumbled. Master could tell from her tone of voice that she, and probably Lilac too, had met General Gong before on pretty bad terms.

"We have to talk to you," Lilac said, looking up at the portly General, "The Kingdom Stone is in danger!"

"Haha, don't be ridiculous!" General Gong said, in the same sort of boisterous way that enriched his own movement, "Nothing gets past MY nose."

"Apart from a large order of deep-fried squid rings," Blade snarked, "WITH fries on the side. And probably a diet coke. Helps that, uh...physical state."

"Uh, wha?" General Gong looked around, "Who was that?"

"No-one, sir!" Master cried out, giving Blade a quick bash to shut him up.

"Oh yeah," Lilac said, "Forgot to introduce our friend here."

"Master T. MasterSelf, esquire," Master said with faux-pride, causing a groaning Carol to facepalm in the distance, "And it would probably be within your...great interests to listen to us, even for a minute. Trust me, a minute can mean a lot."

It didn't take long for the second panda to jump out of the shadows. She was indeed small and female, not to mention quite pale in both skin and fur tone, with a great wad of slick black hair that stopped around her shoulders. She was clad in purple battle armour, with belts and protectors everywhere, alongside a pair of black boots that had steel-caped soles. In her hands was some sort of spear, its spearhead a bright blue and giving off freezing mist coming from a small gem inserted in the staff itself. Her voice was quick, deep and held a certain air of authority; "What is the meaning of this?"

"Miss Neera!" Lilac said, looking surprised. Even Carol looked a little shocked about her appearance and promptly bowed. Lilac did so too, "We mean no disrespect. We're just trying to-"

"You heard what the General said," Neera said, her voice never raising an octave, "There is nothing to worry about."

"But-"

"DON'T..." Neera growled, her voice leaving an impact not unlike a sledgehammer to the chest, "Make me repeat myself."

"And, uh..." Master called out, jumping onto the stones until he was close to Neera, "Who in all likelihood are YOU, huh?" No response, "Well come on, I wanna know. Who are you of all people to order people like us about?"

"If you must know..." Neera sighed, keeping her spear pointed at Master, "I am Neera-Li. Royal Priestess of Shuigang. At least until Prince Dail got a little too...obsessed with finding his parents' killers and I went off to join the so-called good side in this war."

"There's no good side in war, sister," Master growled, "Believe me."

"And who are YOU, in return, to say such claptrap?" General Gong asked too, readying his weapon.

"I am Master," Master growled, a sort of whitish light slowly covering his limbs, "I am a multiverse vigilante who has had to kill for the greater good. I've seen stuff that would make your eyes boil into little milky white puddles - hell, I've SEEN eyes boil into little milky white puddles - and I will not let some spoiled panda with a +5 Staff of Frozen Horseshit stop me from protecting this world from something that'll turn it into the Mojave Wasteland in four years!"

"MASTER!" Lilac cried out, grabbing him by one of the ends of his scarf and throwing him to the ground, "Sorry, miss Neera. He's a bit new around here. Not the biggest on authority."

"Clearly," Neera-Li said, "Now get going before I lock this ridiculous looking parasite away."

Lilac sighed and dragged a dazed Master away, with Carol walking off soon after. She looked back at the two pandas walking off into the temple and began to seethe with rage. This Master guy! He had only been with her and Lilac for a good hour and even now was getting on her wick. She wanted nothing more than to dump such useless load into the nearest ditch and move on without him. Nothing personal, well mostly, but he was just slowing them down too much. Eventually they managed to get to a clearing and laid Master down, Blade nearby.

"He looks out of it..." Lilac said, inspecting the body, "Did I pull on his scarf too hard or something?"

"No, he's just a little concussed, that's all," Blade said, "Hit his head pretty badly from the fall. Nothing major, nothing a little magic won't heal...wait, what?"

"What's wrong?" Lilac asked.

"My healing powers aren't working. In fact, none of them are. Maybe it's that Kingdom Stone, cancelling out my otherworldly powers. Great. His stomach wound is still open, too. Don't really want him to keep going like this and reopen the thing. He's powerful, at least with me around, but he sure ain't immortal."

"That's fine," Lilac said, digging something out of her pocket, "Nothing a little Red Leaves won't fix. Still need to wake him up, though."

"Allow me..." Carol growled. She breathed in sharply, and swiped her hand clear across Master's face with an almighty smacking sound. The force was enough to send Master keeling over, but at least he was awake, "Ooh, this guy! Why're we still carting him around? He's only slowing us down." She sighed, "Look, those two sound like they know what they're doin'. Why don't we just charge up, get rid of the excess weight and go home. Whaddya say?"

"I don't know..." Lilac said, tiling her head in a puzzled manner, "I feel like they're hiding something from us. And, as much damage as he's caused, we might need Master. He seems to know a lot, maybe he knows what's going on."

"But with Neera!" Carol said, "He could've got us killed!"

"I'll admit," Blade said, "I did sense a spark of rage in him when he saw Neera. Don't know why, and I doubt he does either. Don't be too hard on the kid. After Chaos knows how long with carting the God of War around, of course he's going to be a little...jumpy. Got a lot of carnage under his belt."

"That panda..." Master said, coming to, "I don't know why, but there's something I don't like about her. Call it a hunch."

"It's okay, Mr Master Guy," Lilac said, "Neera is okay. It's just that...well, she plays things a bit by the book."

"Yeah, enough for her to eat the sodding thing, I reckon," Master sighed, getting up, "Wait...do you sense that?"

"A rumbling..." Lilac whispered, the ground softly vibrating beneath her feet, "It sounds like-"

A massive horn thundered its way through the air and a massive red streak whooshed past the trio. Lilac had just enough time to make out its shape; it was a truck, a huge one that was being manned by two guards, clad in ancient armour that was the same shade as the truck. To Master, those guards looked...familiar. Like they were the soldiers that War Lilac was ordering around, only a different colour. The truck, the wheeler stuffed with springs and robots, crashed headlong into the temple opening, spreading stones and shards everywhere. General Gong and Neera-Li were both swept away by the massive forces of this truck, and it was soon sailing off into the distance.

"What the?!" Blade called out, "That was one hell of an ambush!"

"Follow me!" Lilac said, stuffing some red leaves into Master's hands, "Look, I don't have the time to administer these properly, but just secure them against your stomach. The wound should heal quicker. Come on!"

Master had no time to argue before Lilac took off, Carol also rushing ahead after her. Master mumbled to Blade, "Okay, I know we won't have time for pause, but try to analyse these leaves. Need to know what's so good about 'em!" With that, he slipped the leaves between his stomach bandages to press them against his skin and rushed off too.

Master had to admit; this place was huge. Impressively huge. A bunch of winding paths spread far into the area, lined with rock and trees and crystals of every type. Master simply thought that these crystals were like rings back in his world, except even more common. He pondered on their supposed use as currency for a few seconds, winced at the thought and rushed on ahead. Nearby was a set of odd winches, each attached to some sort of rail built into the temple and made heavier with weights. Master quickly jumped onto the first and the winch set off, gaining tremendous speed and flinging him high into the air afterwards. He crashed back down onto soft ground and continued onwards. He didn't stop for anything, keeping a fast pace throughout his trek, taking out most of the enemies in his way with Blade. Every now and again he swiftly slipped his Deagle out and fired off a few shots towards some robot that could only be described as an orb on a spring. Then, with the gun locked back, he quickly swapped magazines and hit the slide catch, putting the gun back into its holster and moving on.

Eventually, he skidded to a stop outside of the main room. He could sense the great power of the Kingdom Stone even now. Or at least it seemed to be it. The feel of this energy was unlike any he had experienced before. He brushed his doubts aside for the moment and walked in. Nothing. Not even a rare crystal. Even now, the power signal Master had felt was now steadily decreasing in strength. The main room itself was in a disastrous state, with large chunks of the walls and floor gone and what could only be described as a massive, deep crevasse that lead down to some barely visible rails. In the distance were a few trucks, rushing off into the distance with cargo hastily secured with leather straps. Behind the truck, inching ever closer to the back of it, was Carol on her ruby-red motorbike with Lilac hanging onto the back of it. The two soon hit a ramp and were flung through the air, crashing into the back of the truck and soon went to town on the robots defending the cargo. All things considered, they looked like they were having the time of their lives.

"Well, shibbles..." Master sighed, "We've lost them. Was that even the Kingdom Stone we sensed?"

"Nope," Blade mused, "The energy signals were pretty similar, but it wasn't giving anywhere near enough power compared to that light blue gunk. Best guess, it was probably a dud, like those fake Chaos Emeralds. Still, at least Carol was right; Dragons ARE super-fast. Going through all those robots, disabling walls, battling closed spaces, and now fighting for their treasure. All in about 5 minutes. These girls could give that blue hedgehog a run for his money."

"Oh, which one?" Master snarked, "The impulsive one who got hospitalised due to his mental breakdown, the bandaged one who can only jog at a snail's pace or our version? Who had his leg tendons perforated?"

"...Yeah, probably should've thought that analogy through a bit more," Blade sighed, "My bad. Point is we'll never catch up to them now. Not without a shortcut."

"Cue rails..." Master mused. He was now staring down the hole that was just in front of him. There were indeed metallic rails leading off further down the shaft and into some underground section. Even now came the sounds of some cart squeaking its way across the rails and into some underground system, "It appears there's more to this temple than just this. If that gem was a dud, than I bet the ACTUAL Kingdom Stone will be underground, hidden from any nosey thieves. So I bet that's where those two'll be going too. Just have to follow the rail system to where the underground caves begin."

"Which would be actually possible if the cart was still there," Blade said, "It kind of isn't."

"Well, we're Mobians...I think," Master said, grinning under his scarf, "We'll just go the old fashioned way."

"What do you mean?"

Blade barely had time to ask before Master leapt head first into the hole. Blade's own surprised yelp was drowned out by the rushing wind and a slight metallic whoosh as they passed the rail. Then, at the last second, Master threw Blade out and the weapon extended once more, wrapping the segments around the rail. Soon, they reached the end of the sharp rope and began to swing forward. This movement caused the wrapped part to jump forward, dragging Master along the rail as they travelled along the system. Every now and again the rails would stop due to breakages, from which Master would detach and grab where the rail went on using Blade, sliding once more through the caverns. Every now and again, robots were on the rails, seemingly guarding this way in, to which Master responded by digging a large wrench out of his jacket and smacking the robots in question, holding the backup weapon in his free right hand. The robots, oil and shard of shrapnel raining off of them, were sent careening into the watery ravine below, met with either a slash or an explosion. Eventually, the rocks began to turn a dusky blue and Master disembarked from the rail for the final time, rolling through the air and into the opening, stopped only by the stopping post for the cart that was already there.

"Damn, son!" Blade called out after stopping, "When you said Mobian, I didn't know you meant Columbian! Why not just grind on them?"

"Haven't got the hang of grinding..." Master laughed, a grin spread across his stitched lips, "And hell, that was way more fun!"

He soon got up, straightened out his back and walked off into the caverns below. The place was astoundingly pretty for a set of hastily-excavated caves; a delicate and deep mix of blues and violets stained the colour of the rocks surrounding the two, even now with untapped reservoirs of small and sparkly gems embedded in the rockface. Master assumed these small gems were mostly worthless to the general public if they really did use those large light-blue crystals...but he pried a few off the walls, just in case. Worst case scenario, at least he could make a nice necklace out of them for his girlfriend. Well, should he live long enough. Even now the stomach wound was aching slightly, the pain still overpowering even the magic leaves, and it was enough to hamper his effectiveness slightly; every now and again while fighting the underground creatures that doubtless protected the Kingdom Stone, the wound would be agitated and cause Master to pause in mild distress, allowing the creature in question to get a hit, often slashing directly across his face. Luckily, his thick scarf was enough to absorb most of the attack and Master would retaliate in short order. He would bring Blade high above his head and bring it down, bisecting the creature with a mechanical scream and a few clanks as the pieces fell to the floor. 

Master growled with the stress, narrowly dodging one of the numerous giant swinging pickaxes and grabbing onto a nearby switch. There was a heavy click and the circular door opened up in front of him, which he hastily ran through. A few hallways later and he was soon in what could only be described as a regal sports dome made out of rock. There was a single bridge made out of polished blue marble which snaked its way across the entire room, above it majestic purple pillars and below it a shadowy abyss. In the centre of this room, hovering over a pedestal within a beam of light, was a light blue orb with an odd sparkling set of waves crossing its surface. A slight light-blue aura was shining around the orb itself and the power it was giving off...oh, the power. It was at levels Master was nearly unable to comprehend. This was it, he knew it; it was the Kingdom Stone. An artefact even more powerful than the Master Emerald, strong enough to reduce an entire world to ash and blood and dust...and here it was.

Master rushed forward, spotting two familiar faces in the caverns, "Lilac! Carol! Wait for me!"

Lilac turned around, "Master! You made it! Sorry we kinda...ran off without you, but if what Torque said is true..."

"It probably isn't," Carol grumbled, "Maybe he was just joshing us."

"No, his levels of guilt and adrenaline were stable," Blade said, "He wasn't lying. So this is the main chamber, eh? Pretty impressive? Did your people dig it out, or..."

"I dunno..." Lilac said, "Local history books say we just came across it, pre-dug and in this state. We all saw the power it contained, the event of '06...wiped one of our major cities clean off the map."

"Why does every horrible event seem to happen in 2006?" Blade asked, to which Master replied with a shrug.

"So the world leaders agreed to keep it hidden and protected, using ruses and traps in this very cave. Hence the, uh...giant pickaxes. And it stayed hidden, too."

"Until Spade got word of it," Carol sighed, "He's the leader of the Red Scarves, this thief group you were trying so hard to be a part of..." her expression suddenly flipped into one with a cheeky tone, "And Lilac has a crush on him..."

"I do not!" Lilac cried out, "I just...admire him, that's all..."

"Spade..." Master mused, tilting slightly, "Does he happen to be the somewhat handsome fellow who's stealing the Kingdom Stone right now?"

Lilac, in a panic, jumped around to look at the Kingdom Stone. Some kind of wolf-like creature with white fur was standing near the Kingdom Stone, attaching some sort of clawed winch to it. He seemed to be in his teens, around the height of Master, and was clad in a black shirt with brown pants, ending in black boots and white gloves with red cuffs. A pair of red sunglasses were stacked on his face, resting around his forehead, and he seemed to pay no attention to them as he continued to secure the Stone to the winch.

"HEY!" Lilac cried out, rushing forward towards the Kingdom Stone. Spade continued work on the winch until it was fully secure before turning back to Lilac. She spoke again, "What do you think you're doing?! That's the Kingdom Stone!"

"So? I need it to find my father's killer," Spade replied, his voice thick and hazy, "Not like a couple of traitors like yourselves would care..."

"I'd rather be called a traitor than a murderer!" Carol shouted back, assuming a fighting stance that made her claws glisten in the Stone-light.

Lilac chipped in too, "The Scarves left us no choice!"

"And you've left me no choice!" Spade growled, catching even Master by surprise, "I need this, and I WILL avenge my father!"

"That's enough, buddy!" Master called out, digging out his Deagle and aiming it at Spade, "Look, I don't know who your father is...hell, I don't even know who YOU are! But I'm sure this can all be resolved if you stop this. Work with us. We can help you!"

Master couldn't get another word out after that, his body already flying back via the force of about five explosive cards. Lilac dashed forward, deflecting the other three remaining through a spin attack. The cards sailed down into the abyss below and exploded soon after.

Spade looked at Lilac, impressed, "Still training, I see? Impressive. Just say that I'll always be stronger to your friend there. After he wakes up, of course."

"You wanna fight?" Carol growled, "Come and get it!"

Spade chuckled slightly, "Well, I'd love to stay and dance with you two chumps. But Mayor Zao has a tight schedule. Which means so do I. Besides, if something else is guarding this thing, I'd hate to be around when it wakes up. Farewell."

With a final smirk, Spade jumped up onto the Kingdom Stone and shook the wire. There was an almighty humming sound as the Stone was pulled out of its base and yanked off into the ceiling and through the hastily cut hole in the top of it. Master, having managed to recover from Spade's attack, yelled out a haste, "Bastard!" and screamed down the bridge, taking potshots at Spade with his Deagle, missing every time. Lilac grabbed Master and got him to stop, the risk of shattering the stone far too great. Soon, only a light pillar remained in place on the stand; Spade and the Kingdom Stone were gone.

"Darrgh!" Blade called out in anger, "We had him!"

"He'll never make it out..." Carol said hopefully, staring at the ceiling.

"But we should..." Lilac said, "Come on!"

Carol and Lilac, after picking Master up off the floor, began to run across the bridge, looking for an exit. However, they didn't get very far before an unearthly shaking sensation sent the three tumbling to the ground. Lilac was the first up and she looked up at the ceiling above them, and what she saw made her skin crawl. It was some sort of monstrous mechanical creature, in the shape of a preying mantis, crawling along the ceiling. Its steel body was huge, about the size of a double decker bus, and it had two huge appendages with sharp scythe blades attached to them. The rest was shrouded in darkness, but what could be seen was in poor condition; any semblance of green paint it may of once had was now almost totally chipped away, with the odd speck of dark green paint still clinging to its body like a bad smell. Its arms were quite damaged and looked ready to fall off at any time, the blades chipped and cracked across the rims. Finally was its head, clearly once home to antennas and two yellowish eyes, now replaced with broken stems and two shattered red eyes that "weeped" electricity.

"What...IS that thing?!" Lilac called out.

"Looks like the pre-assumed 'other guardian'..." Blade growled, Master getting into a battle stance, "Get ready to fight!"

The mantis robot crawled its way to the bottom of the room, grasping onto the bridge with its claws. It eyed the three below, the remnants of its eyes boiling red with fury. It reared its head to the sky and screeched out a mechanical roar of terrifying proportions and geared up to slice at the three with its blades. Lilac, noticing Master's own combat pose, whipped her long hair strands as a sort of taunt, while Carol dug out her claws and got ready to pounce. None of them needed to have bothered in retrospect, as the metal monster was already past due. Electricity coursed through its being before a final screech bought about its demise. There was a ear-splitting boom as the head of the mantis bot exploded violently, spreading mechanical shreds everywhere and causing what remained of the body to heave around and keel over, losing its grip on the bridge and falling into the darkness below it. The trio, after shielding themselves from the debris, only looked on dumbfounded at this rather unexpected turn of events.

"...Or not..."

"Well, that was anti-climatic..." Lilac said, "I really thought we were gonna fight that thing."

"I'm starting to wonder if our involvement in this story is changing things other than what we were expecting," Master said, scratching his head.

"At least it was a change for the positive this time," Carol said, looking content, "Now, we better get out of here before-"

Carol was cut off as the three were once again thrown to the ground. Rocks, boulders and other forms of stone clutter were raining down from the ceiling and cracks were quickly running up the walls.

"Yeah...something like that happens."

"The explosion's weakened the foundations of the caves!" Blade called out amongst the chaos, "It'll set off a chain reaction and bury this place in minutes! We've gotta move!"

The three bolted soon after, running for their lives amongst such a devastating chain reaction. Every now and again one of them would slow down to swat away a rock that had gotten too close for comfort, but otherwise they ran as fast as their already tired legs could carry them. Carol in particular was running headlong, faster than Lilac in fact, with Master very close behind her and gaining fast. Carol was only thinking about one thing; ESCAPE. No way was she going to die in a glorified sparkly cave, not like this. The two ran into what seemed to be a sturdy passage and instantly regretted it; a nearby portion of the wall suddenly dislodged and slammed into the ground, sealing off the entrance. Both stopped and ran back to the wall, one of them crying out in anguish.

"Carol!" came Lilac's muffled voice, "Where are you?!"

Carol drew upon all her strength and clawed at the wall furiously. Predictably, she was not able to break it, crying out, "I can't break it!"

"Don't worry!" Lilac's voice cried back, "Just keep going! DO IT!"

There was a rush of wind and Lilac was gone. Carol quickly assumed it was one of her Dragon Boosts and ran off down the passage, dragging Master alongside her. The chain effect was now in full effect, with almost endless amounts of rock battering down from the sky, some almost the size of shipping crates. The two soon came up to another wall, the same as the first.

"No! Carol screamed, "How're we gonna get out of here?!"

"Don't worry!" Master said, Blade glowing even more than usual, "I can cut through this with Blade, just give me time!"

"I can vibrate at just the right frequency to dissemble the molecules in the rock and cleave through it with ease!" Blade said, "If I can cut open the fabric of reality, I can deal with some measly rock!"

"Anything else that thing can do?" Carol asked, "Maybe give free candy to every child it comes acro-"

"CAROL NOT NOW!!!" Master screamed out, the white tinge to his limbs returning. Sadly, he never got time to cut into the rock, as a chunk of it the size of a standard wooden crate screamed out of the ceiling and smashed right into the duo, knocking them out almost instantly.

Among the inferno, slowly losing what was left of her conscience, Carol could barely hear the sound of an energy cube forming. And then blackness.

===
???
===

"Carol!" came a familiar voice, "CAROL! WHERE ARE YOU?"

Master was the first to awaken, as ever, staring at the sky. The sky itself was the same blend of fiery oranges and reds that they had been before his descent into the caves below and trees stretched off into the distance, interacting with shrubbery for miles ahead. And, oh, the sweetness of the air. Master looked to his side to see Carol, still unconscious, but otherwise alive. She got up too, aching and obviously injured in some manner.

"Wha..." she started, "How did I...how did we..."

"Blade..." Master asked, "What happened?"

"Beats me," Blade said, "I blacked out too...somehow."

"CAROOOL!" came Lilac again.

"We better go see Lilac..." Carol said, straining under the effort. She got to her feet and walked a few paces before collapsing to her knees again. Master, himself still hurt from the falling rocks, walked over to her and hoisted her to her feet. Then, wrapping his arm around her shoulders to support her, walked off in the direction of Lilac's voice. She too was unharmed and in a far better state than either of the two. Nevertheless, Carol was happy to see Lilac, panting out, "You made it out..." in-between gasps of air.

"Are you two okay?" Lilac asked, worried.

"Kinda...think it's more than a scratch..." Master groaned.

"More like internal bleeding and a few shattered ribs," Blade said, "But you're otherwise fine. The Kingdom Stone isn't interfering with my own powers anymore, so I should be able to heal you two right up."

"But let me guess..." Carol interjected, catching on quick, "You got damaged in the chain attack and now you can't heal us to full health."

"...Kinda..." Blade admitted, sounding quite sheepish.

"Well, we better find Torque and get home so I can patch you two up..." Lilac said, "At least more than your super blade can."

"Bite me, dragon girl," Blade grumbled, "I'm doing everything I can!"

The three hobbled off back home, Carol and Master still resting on each other for support. Eventually, Carol regained enough strength to walk on her own and did so, leaving Master to continue his shaky steps behind the two. He was starting to get annoyed; a multiverse vigilante, fighting Chaos knows how many demonic entities over the years...and yet a stomach gash was doing him in.

"Well this stinks..." Carol sighed, "How're we gonna get more money?"

"We'll think of something..." Lilac started.

"Money? What about it?" Master asked, "I managed to pick up about four hundred of those shiny b*ggers back there. They're EVERYWHERE!"

"They didn't use to be..." Carol sighed, "If anything, this is a literal miracle. Times are tough enough as it is. Hence why we both turned to the Red Scarves..."

"...Regret it?" Master asked.

Carol looked away, saying nothing.

"What I really want to know is why Spade is working for Mayor Zao..." Lilac mused, "...Buttloads of cash, maybe? Perhaps Zao might know about the assassination..."

"Never got 'round to telling me about that, by the way," Master spoke up, but was ignored, "And, come to think of it, it doesn't explain what he needs the stone for either."

"I have a bad feeling about all this..." Lilac sighed, looking off into the sunset. She looked over to Carol, no longer by Master's side, instead looking back into the path they had taken and looking curious, "What?"

"Someone's following us..." Carol said in a curious manner.

"What do you mean?" Lilac asked in an equally curious manner. Carol pointed to a nearby bush, a large one at that, from which a waft of cream fur was waving in the breeze.

"Hmm..." Master said, digging out his Deagle, "Allow me to flush her out."

"Are you crazy?!" Carol yelled, grabbing the Deagle from Master, "You wanna give it a heart attack? Let me handle this..."

Carol threw the gun to Lilac, who caught it nimbly and awkwardly. Master almost instantly took it off her, too; this was clearly a world where conventional firearms did not exist, having long since been replaced by lasers, and the less accidental gunshot wounds the better. Master knew first-hand that bullet wounds were not as easily fixed as laser or plasma wounds. And hell, they weren't all that easy to heal either, come to think of it. He enabled the safety and unloaded the weapon, racking the slide to eject the loaded bullet and catching it in midair, before slipping the gun back into its holster and watching Carol. She was already near the bush, creeping on all fours, before she savagely pounced onto the bush in question.

Something squealed in response and flew out of the bush, landing nearby. This allowed the three to get a good look at her; she was a dog, a hound at that, with cream coloured fur and wild orange hair. She was young, about ten or so years old, and wore fairly modest (if bizarre) clothing; it could only be described as a dark green striped leotard being covered by cream-coloured rags. She wore no shoes, letting her black-capped paws wiggle in the cool summer breeze, and wore bracelets and anklets that were mixes of green and orange. There were also green markings on her large floppy ears and green eyes to match. Master always had a soft spot for dogs, not that he'd ever admit that to anyone, and was secretly squeeing on the inside. Blade, who could always read his emotions, got a swift chuckle out of this.

"Wait..." Carol said, as the three looked over the hound, who had quickly run off into another bush, "I saw someone with a shield pull us out before I blacked out. Perhaps it was her!"

"Yeah..." Master said, maintaining his outwardly composure, "I'm sure I saw something green before I conked out, too."

"Hello?" Carol called out to the hound, "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to scare you..."

Lilac walked closer to the bush and kneeled down beside it, "It's okay. We won't hurt you. Well...two of us won't hurt you."

The hound stopped shivering for a second and slowly crawled out from under the bush, "Are...are you a dragon?"

Lilac giggled. The hound's voice was light and soft, almost music to her ears, "Yeah."

"Can..." the dog whimpered, "...Can I touch your hair?"

"...Wha..." Lilac started, eyes slanted in confusion.

"Oh, okay..." the hound sighed, pawing at the ground, "Never mind..."

"Wait, no!" Lilac said, snapping back, "I was just...surprised, is all. Go ahead."

Lilac shifted herself so that she was sitting with her back to the hound, her two hair-like tendrils within easy reach of her. The hound grabbed one of the tendrils and tussled it in her hands, giggling all the while. 

"It's like a rope!" the hound cried out happily.

Carol merely stared at Master and mocked a gag at the whole thing. Master in return, looked slightly amused.

"What's wrong, Carol?" Master asked, "Jealous?"

"Wha...NO!" Carol called out, "That's not it at all! It's just that...I...just think it's a bit sappy."

"Too cute for you, got it," Master said smugly, getting a growl out of Carol.

"Maybe we can be friends!" the hound said, standing up, "I'm Milla! Milla Basset! What's your name?"

"Lilac," Lilac bowed in response, "Sash Lilac."

"Lilac!" Milla said, giggling, "That's a pretty name!"

"Thanks!" Lilac giggled back, "This is my friend, Carol Tea! And my, uh...uh...'hanger-on', Master."

"Hi..." Milla said, hiding her mouth with her hands and staring at the two, Master glowering at Lilac.

"So...thanks for saving us, back there..." Carol said, smiling, "But, what're you doing all the way out here?"

Milla skipped past both of them, fidigitng around in the area behind the two, "Well, I was playing over here, and then those people came. They're not very nice..."

"Trust us, we don't think highly of them, either..." Master sighed, "Shouldn't we get back to Torque? Tell him we dun goofed?"

"Well we can't just leave little miss Milla here," Lilac said, tussling the hound's hair, "Perhaps you can come stay with us in our secret treehouse!"

"R-REALLY?!" Milla cried, excited and barely able to stand still.

"Yeah!" Lilac said, "Nobody knows where it is except us."

"That sounds like fun!" Milla said, grabbing Lilac and giving her a big hug. Lilac started walking back to the treehouse with Carol and Milla tailing behind her. Master stayed behind, playfully tussling Milla's hair like Lilac before him.

"Wait, what if she's a plug by Zao or something?"

"Shut up, Blade," Master said peacefully, playing with Milla all the way back to the treehouse.

==========-----==========

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Another other day, another chapter ported over to this site. As always;

  • Strong Language
  • Blood and Gore (though not much)
  • A few disturbing scenes
  • Quite a bit of Violence
  • And Original Characters

Where We Last Left Off: The Kingdom Stone has been stolen, and the trio has met another new friend in adorable puppy dog Milla Basset. Nothing left to do but return to Lilac's treehouse to recover and plan their next move. There the four get to know each other more, Torque reveals his true intentions and an unusual creature brings bad news for Lilac. Unfortunately for them, a figure shrouded in darkness has entered this upcoming battle, making it clear they are playing for more than some crystals...

==========-----==========

Chapter 3: Team Lilac

=======================
The Royal Chambers, Shang Tu
=======================
"Majister! The Kingdom Stone has been taken!"

The Majister, great ruler of Shang Tu, did not want to hear this news today. It had been months since someone had last attempted to steal the Kingdom Stone from its legendary resting place, and even then it was a pack of roving thieves who really thought they were clever. Little did they know that such a magical artefact would be fiercely protected. Or at least, that's what he had thought. For as even though those previous thieves were still locked away in his jail cells deep within the palace walls, the thought that someone had finally managed to make off with the Kingdom Stone was...troubling, to say the least.

The Majister looked around, beyond his Royal Chambers to see who was scurrying along towards him. Surprise, it was General Gong clattering his way across the blue-tinged marble floor towards him. The speed of his running caused to the blue banners to tussle in the breeze as the sunset's light shone through the blue-tinged windows. The Majister himself had been firmly sat in his blue throne until the news had reached him, and he gracefully stood up and approached General Gong.

General Gong almost skidded to a stop before The Majister, trying not to leave marks from his sandals on the floor, before saluting, "Your Excellency!"

"Stolen?" The Majister asked, "By who?!"

"Mayor Zao!" General Gong barked, a hint of bitterness in his voice, "His pilgrimage to the Temple was a cover-up! Rushed us with a massive truck and took it by force!"

The Majister remained silent. One of his best strengths was the ability to hide his emotions, after all. It had made him a trusted leader over the years, seen by many as a good man with a will stronger than obsidian and the intelligence to match. Any physical challenge was better handled by Gong and newcomer Neera, but he still ruled well over his little kingdom. Well, better than Prince Dail or Mayor Zao, at any rate. At least he didn't stick statues of himself everywhere.

The Majister looked at General Gong, his face hidden by the massive helmet of his that covered everything but his piercing purple eyes in shadow, before looking out of the huge window over the horizon, "This is troubling...Zao may be a buffoon, but I never believed he was capable of this."

"A trio of youngsters warned us about the attack," Gong explained, looking a bit embarrassed, "I...refused to listen."

Gong had fallen to his knees and The Majister knew that he was about to apologise about this and that he had failed him and so on. The Majister knew that Gong was rather humble, which made him a great ally. That, and his pretty good fighting skills. Still, he turned to look at Gong, stopping him before he spoke.

"Don't be hard on yourself for it, general. I would have been just as sceptical. Tell me...who was it that issued you this warning?"

"Sash Lilac, Dragon, age 16. Carol Tea, Wildcat, age 15," came Neera-Li's voice. She too had entered the Majister's chambers, at a remarkably slower pace than Gong. The Majister took less of a shining to her, her need to get things done in one specific way getting in the way in every case she was put on. Still, she was a very good fighter, even surpassing General Gong in some areas, and her Staff of Ice made it easier to detain any criminal element that roamed Shang Mu. She spoke again, "And one unidentified creature."

"...Unidentified?" The Majister asked.

"Yeah," Gong said, standing up and joining Neera-Li by the throne, "A tag-along, from the looks of it. He looked kinda like a hedgehog under all that ridiculous winter get-up. Seriously, who wears a scarf THAT long in Spring? Anyway, he calls himself 'Master' or something like that."

"...Seriously?" The Majister asked, his eyes half-open in scepticism.

"He's real, I swear!" Gong shouted, "We saw him with all four eyes."

"It is clear that this...urgh, 'Master' has a high opinion of himself," Neera-Li said, "Claiming he was a multiverse vigilante, trying to start a fight with me, said he was here to save the world...hated the guy the second he opened his mouth."

"As did he with you, from what I saw," Gong said, "At best, I'd say he's...uh...Master, Hedgehog...around 17."

"He sounds like a comic book villain," The Majister huffed in dismissal, "Nevertheless, I shall get my best men to...research him. A hedgehog is a rare sight in this world. Perhaps he may be of some use to us."

"I hope not..." Neera grumbled under her breath.

It was soon after that that The Majister dismissed them both for the night. The two complied, saluted, and began to walk down the halls to the doors. As The Majister saw them leave, he could catch faint snippets of one of their conversation;

"Told you he'd react like that when we told him his name."

"Shut it Gong. Thank the Great Dragon we didn't reel out his full name..."

As the two made it down the various hallways, Neera couldn't shake the feeling that something was...off about Lilac and Carol. Not that Master guy, he was clearly some random doofus out for attention, but Lilac and Carol she knew all too well. Thieves. Ex-members of the Red Scarves, robbing trucks and temples, shops and boutiques, anywhere they could find crystals. They had abandoned the group over their ideology, at least that's what THEY said, but Neera was still as sceptical as ever. Two ex-thieves, showing up at the Temple moments before an ambush which resulted in the theft of the Kingdom Stone...there was no way in her mind that this was a coincidence.

"Something doesn't smell right..." Neera said, walking down the halls.

"Well sorrrry!" General Gong said after her, sounding a bizarre kind of offended.

"YOU never smell right," Neera-Li said bluntly, stopping and turning to Gong, "I'm referring to those kids. They know something about this. We have to find them."

"They're just kids, Neera," Gong sighed.

"Kids who are reported thieves," Neera retorted, "We can't just trust them. They were at that blasted Temple, mere SECONDS before Zao struck. There's more to this."

"I'm more concerned with that egomaniac hedgehog...thing," Gong stuttered, "What's his deal?"

"Ahh, yes, the average hedgehog. Quite rare on Avalice, and hated wherever they're seen. So much for the Planet of Freedom."

Neera-Li stopped, "Was that you?"

"No..." Gong shrugged. He turned to the two guards in the hallway; one was a dog, the other was a duck of some kind. He turned to the duck, "Was that you?"

The duck quacked his response.

"Oh..." Gong said, looking annoyed, "Thanks for the info."

They and the two guards paused as a small beacon approached them, flying across the hallways to zoom in on their position. It was a small, round device, almost like some sort of camera, that hovered in place before the four and began to emit a bright blue light of some kind. It eventually refocused into some sort of hologram, and within that was a man. He was seemingly young, about Lilac's height, shrouded in a dark cloak that hid his body and face. The only things that could be seen were two hedgehog ears poking out of the top of the hood and two red, pinprick dot eyes that stood out from the shadow that should have been a face.

Neera-Li, despite her initial shock, remained physically undeterred, "Not another one...who are you?"

"My name...is not important," came the voice again. It was indeed the one from before, hindered by static and low quality audio. It was clear the cloaked man was using a voice modulator, "I was just...flying my drone to the local store and I couldn't help but listen you'd found a hedgehog."

"What's it to you?" Gong asked, "He your brother?"

"He's related to me, yes..." came the voice once more, "I have been tracking him down for some time. And if he's shackled up with that Lilac girl...well, I'll be happy to get them to you as fast as possible."

"You want to help us?" Neera-Li asked, "We don't just trust random strangers."

"Trust me, Miss Li." the figure put a hand, hidden within the long sleeves of his cloak, on his chest, "I am a man of my word. You want to get rid of Lilac. I want to get rid of this...Master fellow. We are at an impasse. We HAVE to work together."

"...Fine," Neera-Li grumbled soon after, "We'll trust you. You get me to Lilac, I'll give you that pathetic creature. But if you try to betray us..."

The figure was not intimidated by Neera-Li at all and laughed, the faint glow of a row of razor sharp teeth visible in the cloak, "Trust me."

================================
Dragon Valley, Lilac's Treehouse
================================

"Wow..." Milla cried out, "It's so beautiful!"

Lilac smiled. The group had finally made it back to her treehouse and it was slowly getting dark. Even now, the sun was setting in the distance and casting a dark blueish hue across the landscape. Milla was bouncing around the entrance to the treehouse, barking happily and wagging her tail, while Carol was nearby with a tired expression on her face. Behind her was Master, as silent as he had been throughout the entire walk home. Lilac ignored the three and walked off. Near the base of the tree was a giant green tent, made out of a sturdy fabric that rippled in the slight wind. She couldn't see in the tent, but a strong yellowish light was flooding through the partially open flaps that made up the 'door'. as it were. Torque stumbled out of the tent, readjusting his shell as he went.

"Hey, Lilac!" Torque called out.

"Hey Torque," Lilac said, smiling, "I see you found your stuff."

"Most of it," Torque sighed, "Hey, how did your visit to the Temple go? Did you stop the Kingdom Stone from being stolen?"

"Oh no..." Lilac's joy stopped cold, "I forgot about that! Mayor Zao took off with the Kingdom Stone."

"Oh..." Torque sighed again, before stepping forward and petting the moping Lilac's shoulder, "It's fine, it's okay, we can work with that. As long as it's in the hands of JUST Mayor Zao."

"Trust us," Carol said, pointing to her and Lilac in a proud manner, "The most he'll do with it is turn it into a disco ball or something."

"So, are you going to join us in our treehouse for the night?" Lilac asked, "Get some rest, be ready to get it back as soon as possible?"

"Sadly, no," Torque said, "I've got most of my stuff, but almost all of it's offline. It'll take me a while to get it all working again."

"Sounds like complicated stuff," Carol said, "Think any one of us could help?"

"Thanks for asking," Torque said, looking back into his tent, "But it IS incredibly complicated stuff. I kinda want to get it running myself. And while I'm at it, I better have Master's gun, if he doesn't mind."

"You can have it," Master said, taking the totally empty gun from its holster and giving it to Torque, "I don't really want to have that thing around Milla."

"Seems like some sort of antique," Torque mused, looking over the weapon with amusement, "Well, at least in my culture it is."

"A .50 Action Express Desert Eagle? Antique?" Blade asked, slightly dumbfounded, "Damn, son, this universe is very schizophrenic, technology-wise. Standard TVs, spears and swords in the army, motorbikes, and yet lasers, robots and spaceships too."

"Hmm..." Lilac mused, "We'll make sense of this tomorrow. I still need to patch you two up, after all. Things should be pretty wild tonight, especially with that new girl."

"Yeah!" Carol shouted, punching the air, "This is gonna be a fun night!"

===========
5 Minutes Later
===========

'Fun', Lilac thought. Maybe she was exaggerating a bit. Or rather, a lot. It had only been about 5 minutes since leaving Torque to fiddle with his machinery. The group, exhausted from the fighting at the temple, had collapsed around the various parts of the Treehouse's living room. It was a spacious, wooden interior, with bamboo shoots lining the walls and giving off an intense cultural atmosphere. Well, Carol said it did, anyway. Beyond the sheet doors was a dresser of sorts, hiding in front on a blue-tinged window with a phone sitting on top of it. Next to that was a bookcase with sparse contents, with only an apple, a model of a star and some coloured cases to call its own. At the corner of the room were a sofa and a chair, both wood-framed and lined with comfy red velvet cushions. Completing the look was a lamp and a television set, which was situated near the chairs. Lilac was sprawled out on the sofas, stomach-down, and twirling legs in the air. Milla was crouched down by the chair, looking wondrously at the TV, while Carol was on the floor beside her, a shapeless and bandage-covered green lump in the dim light of the cheap lamp. Master was sat in the chair, having fallen asleep, his snoring otherwise permeating the mere ticking sound of the nearby clock. But apart from that was mere silence.

"I'm booooooored..." Carol whined.

Lilac didn't want to admit it, but she was too. She had refrained from turning the TV on, since her dish had been disabled sometime before, and she was resting off the damages she had sustained during the Kingdom Stone lair collapsing. Still, her TV still functioned, and she finally relented; "How about a movie?"

"Sure!" Milla barked happily, getting up.

"Mhm, why not?" Carol asked, still lying on the floor.

"What kind of movies do you like, Milla?" Lilac asked, sitting up on the sofa now.

"I like being surprised!" Milla chirped.

"Alright..." Lilac said, pausing, "...Hey, what about that Master guy? Shouldn't he get a say?"

"What kind of parent names their kid 'Master'?" Carol grumbled, "Milla, could you..."

Milla nodded happily and suddenly jumped up onto Master's lap. He awoke with a start, gibbering and thrashing at the heavy object that had jumped onto his lap. Milla quickly jumped off again.

"Wh-wha?" Master asked, "What's going on?"

"Sorry to wake you," Lilac said, "But we were going to watch a movie. Just wondered if you wanted to pick for us. They're in that bookcase over there."

"...Sure," Master shrugged, getting up out of the chair and walking towards the bookcase, squatting down at the shelf of coloured cases. He looked around for a while, before turning to Lilac again, "Uh...where're your DVD's?"

"DV...D's?" Lilac asked, "Never heard of 'em."

"...You've never heard of DVD's?" Master asked, to which Lilac responded to by shaking her head, "...CD's?" Another shake, "Well what DO you use, then?" He grabbed the nearest case, and flipped it open. A black, plastic brick met his gaze, which quickly mutated into a look of pure dumbfoundedness.

"...VHS tapes?" Blade asked incredulously, "...Laser guns, spaceships, robots...VHS TAPES?!"

"Most common media form on Planet Avalice, thanks very much," Carol sighed, "Convenient and easy to store. Well, apart from them being bulky. Got a problem with that?"

"Honey, VHS tapes are VHS paperweights in our time!" Blade said, "People nowadays only use them for nostalgia. Well that, and sticking pretty stupid B-Movies onto them."

Master ignored him and studied the range of VHS tapes before him. Alongside the one he had picked out, there were about seven titles in all; the other six were 'Year of the Dragon', 'Taken Away to the Fairytale Castle', 'Taken Away to the Fairytale Castle 2', 'Mad Speedz', 'Land of the Lizard People' and 'The Red Scarves'.

"'The Red Scarves?'" Master asked.

"A doccumentry on them," Lilac sighed, "Kinda how we got into the whole thing in the first place."

"Ain't showing that one to Milla, then..." Master said, "I just can't see any we'd all like. What's the one in my ha...oh."

Master had flipped the case in his hand over and stopped. There, staring at him from the cover, was an animatronic bear he knew all too well, its top hat doing nothing to hide the smug grin on its face. At the top, in bold letters, was 'Five Nights at Freddy's: The Movie'.

"...Okay..." Blade said quietly, "I'm pretty sure these guys are just fucking with us now."

=========
An hour later
=========

"Damn..." Blade sighed, "Even for video game movies, this is bad."

"Shut up, Blade," Master grumbled, "It's actually pretty good."

The four had been sitting around the living room, watching the movie with oft-blank stares. Every now and again, there would be a scary moment that would cause three of the four to shriek and jump in response. Each tried to react differently; Carol remained the strongest, acting like it had no effect on her, while Lilac was lying on her stomach hugging a pillow. Milla, on the other hand, had jumped straight into Master's lap, who in turn had begun to stroke her wild orange hair to soothe her.

"I...get the feeling this was a poor choice of viewing material..." Master sighed.

"Well, it's actually pretty good..." Lilac said.

"It's just...scary!" Milla whimpered.

"Yeah, good idea to show this to a ten year old," Blade snarked, "Even Torque would probably stay silent towards this crap!"

"Speaking of..." Carol said, munching on a handful of popcorn, "Why d'ya think Torque doesn't want to hang out with us?"

"He said he had some work to do," Lilac said, lying on her back now with her head on the floor.

"Maybe he's just afraid he'll get cooties!" Carol teased, causing the three girls to break out in raucous laughter.

"Cooties..." Milla giggled.

"Shouldn't someone go check on him?" Lilac asked, "See if he needs anything? Water, some food, perhaps a break?"

"I'll do it," Master said, getting up and placing Milla on the floor, "It'll shut Blade up for a bit."

Master walked out of the room shortly after, stumbling past the TV and out the door within seconds. There was a sudden yelp and a crunching sound, which Lilac quickly went to investigate.

"Ah..." Master groaned as he lay on the dirt below, "I forgot there was a ladder here..."

"Jeez, are you okay?!" Lilac called down, crying out in shock.

"I'm fine..." Master grumbled his response, "Only thing broken is my dignity...no, wait, wait. Nope, I've shattered my left kneecap, too. But other than that, I'm fine!"

Lilac sighed and walked back into the living room, sitting down on the couch again, "You know what, Carol? I see your point now. He's such a handful. Like everything has to be about him."

"Exactly," Carol said, pausing the movie, "Why do we even have him around?"

"I'm guessing the same reason Torque set up shop here, too," Lilac shrugged, "There's something bigger going on with the Kingdom Stone than just Mayor Zao wanting more power. Torque seems to know why, and Master seems to know how. And he could be of massive help to us."

"That good or bad?" Carol asked. Lilac had no answer to that, so she looked down at herself.

"I dunno..." Milla asked, jumping onto the couch, "He looks nice enough..."

"Master..." Carol grumbled bitterly, "Why does he call himself that? Why not Overlord? Or SuperGuy? Or just Perfect Chaos or some overblown name like that? Jeez, and I thought Mayor Zao had an ego!"

"Urgh...this is confusing," Lilac sighed, pressing a hand to her aching temple, "All we were going to do today was rob Mayor Zao's truck. I didn't want to at first, but I probably would have had I known he was going to steal the Kingdom Stone. Then Torque comes crashing in, gets in a fight with that snake guy, then the other guy comes in and next thing we know we're in a temple dodging pickaxes and attacking robots!"

"Sounds exciting!" Milla barked happily.

"...Yeah..." Lilac smiled, looking up, "I guess it was. Kinda...kinda fun, even."

"So, are we going to get involved?" Carol asked.

"I don't know..." Lilac said next, getting up and turning the TV off, "It depends on how severe the whole thing is. I say we sleep on it and see what tomorrow brings. And get rid of this movie, too."

"It's strange, I'll give it that," Carol mused, "Lots of interesting plot threads and characters, but a lot of it seems to go nowhere. Funny thing is, I don't even remember buying that tape."

"...Neither do I..." Lilac said, staring at the tape case, "That bear creeps me out, though. Urgh, I'm going to bed."

"Me too..." Carol yawned, "Milla, you better come to bed, too."

"Where do I sleep?" Milla asked.

"I've got a extra bed in the bedroom," Lilac smiled, playing with Milla's hair, "I use it if my other bed is...unavailable..." she quickly cast a glare at Carol, who simply smiled nervously, "You can use it. It's really comfortable."

"Oh, thank you, Lilac!" Milla said, giving Lilac a big hug.

"You're welcome, kiddo."

===========
Later that night
===========

"Not like a couple of traitors like yourselves would care..."

Oh great, this again. Lilac always hated these kind of dreams. One where your own mind takes parts of the day previous and tries to make something of it. Your own brain guilt tripping you. Lilac gingerly got to her feet, each step responding with a resounding clanging noise. All around her was a black, empty void that stretched on for distances immeasurable, only the sound of otherworldly wails and muffled breathing meeting her ears. There were odd feelings on her body, like she was in bed tossing and turning.

"The heck?" Lilac asked, her voice echoing alongside the wails, "Am I dreaming?"

"I dunno..." came the voice again. Lilac turned around to see Spade again, his left leg up and resting on the stolen Kingdom Stone, "Though I guess that's why I'm even here."

"Spade?" Lilac asked, "What ARE you doing here, anyway?"

"Just here..." Spade said, crossing his arms, "I suppose I'm just looking after this here trinket for Mayor Zao."

"...Wait, the Kingdom Stone!" Lilac called out, pointing to the item in question, "Give it back!"

"Why should I?" Spade asked, "What use would this magic disco ball be to you over me? I need it to find my father's killer. For all I know, you're probably travelling around with him."

"Not now," Lilac grumbled, "I still need time to figure out who he even IS! But trust me, Mayor Zao won't know who your father's killer. He barely understands the concept of modesty!"

"I know," Spade sighed, "But he's the closest I have to a lead. Why do you even care? What do YOU want with the Kingdom Stone?"

"I need it!" Lilac called out, "Torque said it might fall into the wrong hands! Danger might befall us!"

"And?" Spade asked, "Did he say WHO those wrong hands belonged to? And WHY would it be dangerous? Do you even know?"

Lilac stayed silent.

"Exactly. Why do you just TRUST this Torque fellow? How do you not know he's leading you towards that guy's dangerous hands. If they're even dangerous. And even if YOU had the Kingdom Stone, you'd probably sell it..." he smiled deviously, "Carol's bike looks like it needs new treads, after all."

"I'm not part of your little group anymore!" Lilac seethed, "I won't kill for some stupid crystals!"

"...Yet..." Spade laughed silently.

There was a sudden crack as Spade's face suddenly went numb and he fell to the floor. His still-breathing but limp body was kicked aside and some...creature took his place. He was of a medium length, about Lilac's own height, and was some sort of male demon-like creature. He wore no clothes and his body was a pure black, a shadow from head to toe with three deep scars across his chest. His hands had no fingers, instead ending in dark blue claws that also sprouted from his bare feet. His skin, only seen around his muzzle, was a deep purple that clashed rather oddly with his red eyes containing sunken black pupils. Completing the look was a small snout of a nose, wild hair, a thin spike of a tail and some kind of striped blue/black horn that sprouted from his forehead. His face was currently twisted into a sneer, holding his hand as if it was aching.

"Jackass..." The creature growled, his voice gravely and eccentric, "And this is the guy who'll eventually become a Battletoad? Lame."

"Wha,..wha..." Lilac asked, grabbing her head in confusion, "Who the heck are you?"

"They call me...evil black Zeti creature!" The creature grinned, showing off his sharp teeth, "But most call me Frank Freakly. Franky, for short."

"Why're you here?" Lilac asked, " I don't know you! I...oh wait. Does Master happen to know you?"

"I'm a friend of his..." Franky said, "Well, I WAS. Haven't really been talking to him since he dropped the crust of a dying Earth on my homeland and killed all my brethren."

"...Wait, what?!"

"Trust me, he'll mention it sooner or later..." Franky shrugged, quickly dashing around Lilac until he reached her right side, "For now, I saw you were a bit...restless, so I thought I'd just quickly pop into your own head. Got a few warnings to give out."

"And how would you know?" Lilac asked, leaning against nothing, "I'm dreaming. You logically know all I know, nothing else."

"Well, I'm a bit beyond your dream..." Franky shrugged, "I mean, I AM a figment of your imagination, but I'm...Third-Party. I tend to appear everywhere Master does. I'm his...subconscious, if you will."

"Explains his grouchy streak, I guess..." Lilac sighed, "So...you're here 'cause he's here? You're his influence. And because of that, you also know everything HE does."

"Almost..." Franky shuffled across the floor, "I know almost everything. I just can't say it straight. All I can say is that Master isn't the only guy you can't trust."

"What, is Torque secretly evil too?" Lilac snarked, "Did HE do something to your people?"

"No, not at all," Franky said, "I think he's an upstanding man, But if you think he has a passing interest in this..." he knelt down towards the Kingdom Stone, "Sparkly Master Emerald wannabe, think again. He doesn't NEED it. But he IS trying to make sure someone else who wants it doesn't.. And we can say this guy knows Master...personally."

"Wait, what do you mean by that?" Lilac asked. Franky opened his mouth and started to speak, but he stopped. There was an infernal ringing sign blaring out throughout the void. Lilac felt some off shift in her body and the voice above her was starting to murmur and yell. And if that wasn't enough, the sound of crackling electricity was slowly filling the air as well.

"Darn it!" Franky called out amongst the inferno, "I've been cut short!"

"What's going on up there?!" Lilac called out, the crackling being louder with every passing second, "Am I waking up?"

"Yeah!" Franky called out too, "Looks like you're getting an early start! So sorry about this, Lilac old girl!"

Lilac started to talk about, but stopped shortly after in a gasp. The crackling was loud now, and had a point of origin; four giant electrical cables were slowly ravelling out from the darkness, light blue lights skipping across their prongs. Lilac, weak at the knees, started peddling backwards before breaking out into a full sprint, but the cables snagged her leg and wrapped tightly around it, before wrapping around her torso and other limbs. The crackling was even louder and the feeling of the electricity was making Lilac's fur stand on end.

"You don't have to do this!" Lilac called out, "Getting electrocuted is one of my worst fears!"

"Sorry, Lilac..." Franky sighed, "This has to be done. Your mind won't let me do it any other way. The average walnut is a funny old thing. I'm sure you'll realise that. In time."

"Well, at least I'm waking up soon..." Lilac winced, "I just hope things'll go more smoothly in the real world!"

"Abandon that hope!" Franky said, now sporting a devious grin, "A new evil is coming to Planet Avalice and his red eyes spell doom for your kind! Only one of your many companions will lead you to the safety of this wretched planet, so pick a side and be on your guard!"

Franky's grin vanished, as did the rest of him, and after a good five seconds he was gone. Lilac tried to call out for a final time, but the cables had become impatient. The electricity was now surging through her with hideous speed, and nothing but pure and puerile agony shot through every crack of her being. There was nothing left for Lilac to do but scream and pray, to pray that the night would soon be over. Time slowed to a crawl, second by petrifying second, until finally it all went black.

===
???
===

"Lilac! Wake up!"

Carol was taken aback as Lilac screeched like a banshee and leapt out of the top bunk, tumbling to the floor in a crumpled heap. Carol quickly looked towards Milla in the corner, all snuggled up in the green-quilt bed. Or at least she was, until Lilac's screaming woke her from her slumber. Lilac, eyes red with tears of shock, jumped to her feet and grabbed Carol by the shoulders.

"...What?"

"Torque turned into an alien or something!! You gotta believe me!" Carol cried out, quickly jumping around.

Lilac sighed, forcing the dream of getting electrocuted into the back of her mind, "Look...you probably had a bad dream, or something..."

"I'M SERIOUS!" Carol squealed, "Trust me!"

"Nrrrgh, fine!" Lilac sighed, patting the side of her head, "Let me just get my shoes on!"

"What's going on, Lilac?" Milla whimpered, half-buried in her sheets.

"Nothing, Kiddo..." Lilac grumbled, "Get some sleep, I'll be back soon."

Carol quickly left the room and waited for Lilac to get properly changed. Odd old Lilac, always sleeping in her normal clothes, JUST in case they had to book it for one reason or another. Just another of her little...quirks, she guessed. Still, Carol had other, seemingly more distressing stuff to focus on at the moment. The funny thing was how she even came across it. She was just getting back from the bathroom when she heard some clattering and nattering from Torque's tent. She decided to take a quick peek and slowly fumbled down the wooden ladder to see. Inside was Master and Torque, merrily chatting the night away with tales of their own technology. Both seemed to be above their level at a quick glance; Master talked of cars that ran on this force called Chaos Energy as well as standard fuel, as well as large mechanical machines of war, far bigger than anything even the tech geeks Mayor Zao employed could've ever dreamed up. He also talked about these items called 'firearms'; weapons that, as opposed to firing lasers from an energy source, used an explosive force that propelled a small chunk of metal towards targets with questionable accuracy. Primitive even for Planet Avalice's standards, but the main thing that caught her ear was the fact that soldiers worldwide used them as opposed to just robots. Odd. Torque's own words painted a similar picture, but much more advanced; spaceships, black-hole engines and blaster pistols available to the common man aplenty. Carol was stunned. All this stuff sounded...interstellar. Was Torque an alien or something. Well...yes, obviously.

It seemed to happen so quickly, too. One of Torque's machines had seemed to have malfunctioned, and as such was sending random bits of scrap metal around the room. The metal in question had hit Torque hard enough to knock the wind out him...and knock HIM out of his shell. He had skidded across the ground, losing his beak in the process, and stopped short of a box of crystal shards. With the shell gone, Torque looked a lot different. He looked slim, more normal, but more...alien. He WAS an alien! As soon as Torque got to his feet, he looked at Master, who's concealed face showed an odd type of shock. Both yelped in shock, pulling pistols on each other, and that was when Carol rushed out of the tent and scrambled up the ladder to get Lilac.

As almost on cue, Lilac appeared in full clothing, gloves and all. The two sprinted through the house and down the ladder, barely pausing for anything, and dashed into the green tent. Carol was kind of surprised; having been unable to take in the scenery before, she never noticed it was so...large. The ceiling was a good foot above the tips of her ears and was mere metal poles arranged into a tent shape and covered with some hard, flexible green fabric. The grass was still under her boots as opposed to a carpet, and all around lay boxes and bits of machinery. In the middle of the tent, suspended over the floor, was a ringed device of some sort, holding many yellow orbs and a few more of many colours surrounding it. Torque and Master were still under that device, guns pointed at each other; Torque was obscured by Lilac's view but he had a blaster pistol gripped firmly in both hands, while Master had his "deagle" or whatever in his left, supported by a bent right arm that held the Blade of Hysteria in a backwards grip.

"This is dumb..." Blade grumbled.

"He's right," Torque said, "We've talked this over. Why're we still pointing guns at each other!?"

"It's my fault..." Master sighed, "A side effect of a MasterSelf returning from insanity. Sometimes you get micro-relapses, I'm kinda not in control at the moment. Give me a second..." he grunted with effort, and both arms quickly fell to his sides, the Blade and gun tumbling out of his hands and landing with a soft thump on the grass, "There. Sorry about that, I just...sorry."

"Torque?!" Lilac called out in shock.

With Master moving to the side, Torque was in clearer view. He no longer looked like a shellduck, but more like some sort of alien. He lacked a nose, bar two slits set into the area above his mouth, and still wore his goggles. His hair was wild and unkempt, and he was wearing some kind of black and orange jumpsuit with bulky boots and gloves. He was quickly stretching his arms towards Carol and Lilac, panicked and shocked, "Wait! I-It's not what it looks like."

Carol approached, angry and baring her claws, "What are you?! Give me answers, buddy!"

"Okay, okay, I'll tell you!" Torque blurted out, backing up slightly, "But you have to promise to keep it to yourselves!"

"We...we promise," Lilac said, recovering from her shock and strutting up to Carol, "Right, Carol?"

"Right..." Carol said, calming down, "Pinky swear."

"Got it, cap'n!" Blade called out, to which Master rolled his eyes.

"Right, thank you..." Torque sighed in relief, before pointing to a couple of nearby toolboxes, "Please, take a seat."

Lilac and Carol both sat on the red toolboxes, Lilac's legs crossing for comfort, while Master just sat on a nearby table, hunched over and legs crossed in such as a way as to look like a ball to the average person. Still, he looked up at Torque as well, who was grabbing some small round device from a nearby table and walking back towards the three.

Torque started, his voice stable and with a tone of reason, "I'm from another world. Actually, I'm part of an alliance between many different worlds. We're called Chasers. I suppose...one of you have probably heard of it."

Blade spoke up, almost on cue, "Well, not really. The closest we come to answering to any Space Police is the No-Zone's Zone Cops. A bunch of stuck-up jackasses and nothing else. But Chasers? Nope, sorry."

"That's probably for the better, then," Torque said, taking in the information.

"So, you're an alien?" Lilac asked.

"I...guess," Torque shrugged. Carol suddenly started snickering and turned to Lilac quickly;

"Space Cooties!"

The two girls began giggling to themselves, but soon stopped when Lilac caught a glimpse of Torque's annoyed face, giving Carol a quick nudge to stop her.

"...You don't believe me, do you?" Torque asked.

"Actually, I do," Lilac said.

"...Really?"

Lilac's own tone shifted, seeing that it was her turn to inform, "They say that a long time ago, dragons came to Avalice and mixed with our ancestors."

"Yeah, and not just ones like Lilac!" Carol said, spreading her arms, "HUGE dragons too, like in the movies."

"Well, I guess that explains that rather...stunted physique," Master said, chuckling to himself. An annoyed Carol grabbed a nearby wrench and threw it in response, colliding with Master and knocking him off the table with a pained yelp.

"So I guess it's not much of a stress for other things to be out there too..." Lilac said, shrugging, "Besides, old Perfect Chaos over there is from another timeline, so that kinda helps too."

"You're welcome..." came Master's dazed reply, still sprawled out on the floor in a heap.

"Answer me this, though," Carol asked, "What do aliens want with OUR planet?"

"The man who wants your Kingdom Stone isn't really from around here either," Torque sighed, some weariness in his voice, "He calls himself Lord Brevon. And let me tell you, he didn't get that name selling cookies. He's dangerous with a capital D."

Torque threw the device in his hand to the ground, which erupted into a flurry of light. It slowly formed a hologram, showing some cloaked monstrous creature within it. It looked almost like some sort of insect creature, his skin green and disgustingly filth-laden with two antennae growing out of his head that looked like a moustache. Completing the look was two red ears, piercing ones at that, that stared the group straight in the eye. Lilac shivered slightly; the dream Franky had told her that a pair of red eyes would bring doom to her world. Was this those red eyes?

"Heh, he kinda looks like an upside down Eggman!" Blade called out.

Torque ignored the weapon and continued, "Brevon is the most powerful enemy we've ever faced. Hundreds of worlds destroyed, thousands of heroes killed or corrupted, enormous amounts of energy stolen! And that's just the tip of the iceberg..."

The hologram shifted again to the inside of some facility. Inside it were thousands of robots of every shape and size; some flying black blobs with guns, others with humanoid bodies composed of steel with a single tanked eye and laser rifles.

"According to our scans," Torque continued again, "The Kingdom Stone has enough energy to double the size of his army. If he gets it, he'll be...unstoppable."

The hologram ceased, leaving the three watching to process the information. Lilac and Carol looked intrigued, while Master had clambered back onto the table and was staring emptily at the floor, wrestling with his thoughts; such a man was powerful, dangerous, lethal, yes. But compared to what Master had seen, he was small fry. He had seen men who could burn an entire universe to a crisp, kill entire worlds to revive his dead sister...and still leave time for some guts on his weapon and a bloodied smile at the end of it all. This was nothing to him.

"I'll try to convince your leaders of his existence," Torque said once more, "But if I can't get them to help me, if Brevon gets his hands on the Kingdom Stone...then I'm have no choice. I'll have to destroy it."

This sent both Lilac and Carol into shock, Lilac blurting out a, "DESTROY IT?! Are you serious?!"

"I'll only destroy it it if I have no other choice!" Torque quickly went on the offensive, "I swore to my Captain on his dying breath that I would not let Brevon get that Stone!"

"I'm sorry about your Captain, but you can't destroy the Stone!" Lilac called out angrily, then stopped. A sudden thought came to her mind; the valley, the mechanical snake, the temple and the caves. Going around and destroying all those evil robots wasn't half-bad an experience. Kinda...kinda fun, even. Such an life, fighting evil, it was...wonderful. She spoke again, "In fact, you won't even have to think about it, because I'm going to help you get it back!"

"...Are you sure about that?" Master asked.

"I don't care how dangerous it is!" Lilac called out, posing heroically, "It's gonna take a lot more than robots and aliens to slow a Dragon down!"

"If she's gonna go for it, than I am too!" Carol said next, standing up and looking confident, "If we can defeat the Great Dragon knows how many robots together, who knows what else we can do?"

There was a sudden breaking sound and the group looked behind them in shock, Master and Torque both keeping gun hands towards their holsters. Thankfully, it was just Milla, having accidently broken some boxes on the way in, looking quite sheepish, "Um...I wanna come too!"

"And you, Master?" Lilac asked.

"Count me in, Dragon Girl!" Master said, getting off the table, "I'm here on a mission just as much as you are, and nothing ever gets in my way!"

"At least not in a single piece," Blade chuckled.

"Great!" Lilac said, looking a bit sneaky, "We could use the two...uh, three of you, maybe to save Carol's life a few more times."

"Hey!" came Carol's quick response.

"Say no more!" Master called out proudly, "We've got your back!"

"And we've got the rest of you!" Blade said proudly too. Everyone simply turned to it with looks of confusion, "...What? I'm a weapon of war, not a comedian. Give me some space!"

"I'd be lying if I said I was comfortable with this..." Torque sighed, looking weary, "But I honestly could use your help. Fact of the matter is, you all know this world better than I."

"So it's all official, right?" Master asked.

"Pretty much," Torque said, looking slightly happier, "Welcome aboard, comrades! One more thing though, just something really important...don't talk about our mission unless I say so, got it?"

"Got it," Master said, "Last thing the world needs to think is that we're all loonies. Especially me."

There was a brief pause, before Carol yawned and stretched, "I dunno about you guys, but I'm exhausted..."

"Yeah, we better get some shut-eye..." Lilac yawned too, "We've got a big day ahead of us. OH, Master! I never got you a bed, did I?"

"I'd like to lend you one," Torque shrugged, "But I don't have the room for it."

"Don't worry, we'll find a place," Master sighed, "After a life jumping across the multiverse, you get...creative with where you snooze. Can't remember the last place I called home..."

The four said no more, instead just walking out the door of the tent to get back to the treehouse. Master was first out, then Milla, then Carol and finally Lilac. A quick shout from Torque kept Lilac halfway though the door, though.

"One more thing Lilac..." Torque said, his voice quiet and soft, "...Thank you."

Lilac simply nodded her approval and with that, she was gone. Torque sighed and began working on his machines again. The sooner he got this stuff on-line, the sooner he'd be able to clear a space to lay down for the night. Bit of a shame half of his pillows and sheets had burned up in the crash, but whatever.

"Oi, Torque!" came Master's voice. He was now half in the doorway himself, "Just wanted to ask a question about this Brevon bloke."

"Go ahead."

"Good, uh..." Master started, "This Brevon bloke. Does he wield a particular blade? Like, one that's large and curved and eternally bleeding with a strange alien liquid?"

"Yes, why ask?" Torque said innocently.

Master looked saddened or shocked, or perhaps resigned, "No reason...just wanted to know, that's all."

He quickly left. As he was making his way up the ladder, Torque could hear some conversation between him and his weapon. Master was the first to speak;

"Well, sh*t."

"Conclusive evidence alright..." Blade sighed, "War Lilac had Brevon's blade that day. So I guess he IS involved in some matter."

"But how?" Master asked, his frustrated voice slowly carrying off into the distance before becoming totally quiet, "If we knew WHEN he played his part, I could kill him before it and that might stop Lilac's descent into insanity. If only..."

The voice stopped.

====================
Meanwhile, at Shuigang Palace
====================

"GOOD EVENING, SIR."

Syntax's mechanical voice was always one that Lord Arktivus Brevon enjoyed. Not because it was a good voice, but more because it often meant the AI had found someone else to kill. Brevon turned to his main AI, the being known as Syntax. She, or rather it was a large orb of a robot, its main body a black metal with a mechanical eye attached directly to the centre of the orb. Above it was a bright green glass dome, contents shrouded by inside fogs and liquids, while below the orb sat two green whip-like arms ending in pincers. The robot shifted its position again, "IT MAY INTERESTING YOU TO KNOW THAT THE LOCATION OF THE ARTEFACT HAS SHIFTED."

Brevon put down the glass of mysterious liquid he had been sipping from and glared at Syntax, his voice deep, dark and like a blender of gravel, "Where?"

Syntax floated backwards somewhat upon this growl of an order and released a hologram from its eye. It showed a map of the region, three main locations marked. These were the three cities of the county, and the middle one was highlighted. Syntax's artificial voice spoke again, "IT IS MOVING TOWARD A DENSELY POPULATED REGION TO THE EAST."

Brevon smirked with a devilish grin. For years he had heard of this magical Kingdom Stone and now, when he was searching for it the hardest, he had found it. Sort of. Still, the Stone was just out of reach, but he had a solution. He crossed his arms and barked out, "This could work to our advantage...get me the King's son."

"RIGHT AWAY, SIR BREVON-" Syntax beeped a final time and flew off to fetch the Prince. Brevon waited, his smirk ever widening. Ever since being shot down and stuck on this poxy little wasteland of a planet, Prince Dail of Shuigang had been his best ally. He remembered his...acquisition of him like it was yesterday. His smirk stopped briefly. Oh wait, it WAS only yesterday. Still, it was not hard to forget. It had only been a few hours after crash landing, after all. Brevon hated that. A lord of the universe, killing everything in sight. And yet it was those infernal, ghastly, goody-goody Chasers that had managed to puncture his Dreadnought's energy supplies. One emergency landing later and the batteries had run dry. Brevon knew had he to regroup, re-arm and re-energise as soon as possible. And the Shuigang Palace was right across the river.

Gathering what troops he had left, Brevon had burst straight into the Palace to take control and establish a base. Even in this weakened state, Brevon's army was a unified machine of war; nothing could stand before them, lasers firing out in a macabre chorus of death and destruction, cleaving through every last minuscule line of defence imaginable. The king was exasperated, crying out that their walls were impenetrable. Brevon's own answer was to simply tell him, well, the floor wasn't. Even now, Brevon chuckled to himself at that little joke. Soon after that little...pleasantry, Brevon had drawn his blade and cut deep into the King's neck. The weapon, forever stained with the blood of a thousand innocents, cleaved through the old codger's neck like warm butter. Bloodied feathers flew out of the neck stump as the body and its missing head fell to the ground in a heap. Brevon would forever savour that moment; to him, killing was an art form, a method that needed precise timing and execution (pun intended). Granted, you could just SHOOT someone, but where was the fun in that? No, to Brevon that idea of fun was torture. Painful, cold-blooded, brutal, anything that made a man scream for mercy, to beg for the hideous shadows of death itself. And that's what he had done to the king's precious Prince, for a good week without pause. It did not take long for the young panda to submit and view Brevon as nothing above or below. A god amongst all people, himself included.

The grey panda Prince in question was now hobbling towards Lord Brevon, his bloodied green robes swaying proudly behind him. His eyes, once a brilliant blue, were now a dulled fiery red due to the brainwashing, and he had his hair tied up into a stupid little knot. Brevon grumbled, hoping to eventually find more...suitable clothing for a Prince of war. Perhaps a cloaked set of armour like himself? Still, the Prince had stopped and he was now standing stock still in front of Brevon.

The Prince spoke up, his voice a quiet and timid murmur, "...Master Brevon."

"Where do your duties lie, Prince?" Lord Brevon asked, his face a cold sneer.

"It is my duty to protect my father's kingdom."

Brevon, satisfied, walked past the Prince. His boots made an unearthly clanging sound as he strode past the panda and stopped again, "You would sacrifice your very life for the good of this...kingdom, wouldn't you?"

"Yes."

Brevon took a few more steps to the left, his voice now taking a commanding tone, "And you would crush all those who threaten its safety!"

"We must protect it at all costs."

"Excellent..." Brevon muttered with glee. The young boy's mental programming had long taken effect. He knew, deep inside the boy that the old mind was still in there, weeping and trying to escape this torturous hell. But hell indeed, that just made it that much more...fun, "The one you call Zao has taken something very precious. Something that could put your kingdom at risk. You're not going to let him keep it...are you?"

"ERROR! ERROR! EXTERNAL HACKING PROGRAM IN PROCESS!" came a screech from Syntax. The two looked at the machine, the creature flailing around in some sort of virtual agony. Finally, it stopped and it went limp. The green colours in its body changed to a deep red and a hologram was released from it eyes. Only now, instead of a man, there was a cloaked being with piercing red eyes. Lord Brevon saw a slight twitch in the Prince's eye; perhaps he had seen this fellow before? Nevertheless, the brainwashing made it so he'd never get the answer now.

"Greetings, Lord of Genocide," the being said, his voice warped beyond proper identification, "So nice to finally make your...acquaintance."

Lord Brevon drew his blade, "Who are you, cretin? State your name and purpose!"

"My name is of no concern to you," the figure spoke again, "And I'm here to tell you that your little braindead busyboy won't be enough to get the Kingdom Stone. You'll need much more than him if you wish to pry it from Zao's cold, dead hands."

"...What are you implying?" Came Brevon's sceptical response, "Are you proposing an alliance? Let it be known I do not team up with random strangers I do not know."

"Shame, because I know you," the figure said, rattling off a list of facts, "Born on the planet Fearax, dead mother with father in the military. Forced to kill in self-defence at the age of 15 and never stopped afterwards. Travelled the universe, making as much of it your female dog as possible. Crash landed on Planet Avalice, now wants to escape to nuke it from afar and enslave its best warriors. And to do that, you need the Kingdom Stone."

"...How do you know all that?" 

"I know things," the figure said, "We are at an impasse, Lord Brevon. You want to get your hands on the Kingdom Stone, AND the meddling Chaser who managed to shoot you down. I want...an old accomplice of mine, a guy who is travelling with the latter to get at the former. And I want him DEAD."

"So you're saying that you will help me find this...battery..." Brevon said, "And in return, I must find you a certain cretin and bring him to you. Sounds like a fair trade."

"Are you sure, Master Brevon?" The Prince spoke up, his voice angry and laced with defiance, "How can we trust this stranger? He could double cross us at any time."

"No, that's your own master's work..." the creature growled, his mangled voice putting on a barely noticeable tone of bitterness, "The man who probably has a tape of your torture sessions with a box of tissues nearby. And besides, if you're a good boy and do your part...I may just find you your father's killer..."

The Prince went silent, "...We accept this offer."

"Just DON'T think of turning on us at the last second," Brevon threatened, "Many have fallen to an agonising death from such foolishness."

"Trust me, Arktivus Brevon. I am a man of my own word. But are you one of yours? We shall speak again soon. Just know that you will have a new enemy soon enough. Her name is Lilac. Sash Lilac the Water Dragon. And she shall be the end of you unless you do something."

And with that, the hologram was gone, Syntax's body flopping to the floor to begin a lengthy reboot sequence. Lord Brevon pondered. This...creature, whatever and whoever he was, was clearly someone way in over his head with this deal. Still, Brevon was perhaps one of the strongest men in the galaxy. If he could fight off waves of idealistic do-gooders who wanted to play hero, he could handle some random cloaked creature. And if this person kept their promise....well, a dagger to the spine helped cut away at loose ends.

"Prince Dail, mobilize the Sky Batallion!" Brevon barked towards the Prince, "We carry on as planned. Advance towards Zao's domain and take back the Kingdom Stone by any possible means!"

"Yes, Master Brevon!" Prince Dail barked in response, turning and running off towards the castle's throne room. Brevon looked out over the lands before him. Oh how soon it would until those disgustingly pleasant blue waters were chocked a raw green with sewage and corpses. How such a wonderful castle would be rubble. And how Brevon would be overjoyed to see the lights in the eyes of this Lilac girl fade by his hands. He chuckled to himself, and slowly plodded his way out of the room. He had a lot to do.

Syntax's body, still sparking, suddenly lit up again. This flash of red was more brief that before, carrying the remnants of the cloaked figures thoughts.

"So now the three forces are at it. Good vs Evil vs Lilac and Master. Good...very, very good. I guess now it's time for me to play the Trump Card..."

==========-----==========

DeviantART Link: http://fav.me/d957yv2

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Hey @WarTraveller I merged you're chapters together into one post. Next time you add a chapter in could you please put it in this topic and mention that you have a new post in this topic. It's just to keep things neat.

 

You can edit topic name (or if you can I can do it for you) to say that the new chapter is up.

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22 hours ago, Wulfsbane said:

Hey @WarTraveller I merged you're chapters together into one post. Next time you add a chapter in could you please put it in this topic and mention that you have a new post in this topic. It's just to keep things neat.

 

You can edit topic name (or if you can I can do it for you) to say that the new chapter is up.

I dunno. Wouldn't that make it really long and make it hard to load?

...Meh. I can make it work. I personally would've created a new sub-folder to hold each threat...but I understand that can't be the case for EVERY story...

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The changes made to archive this story are...irritating, and a lot less neat to me, but I will nevertheless persevere. Here's Chapter 4!

Where We Last Left Off: Everything is starting to slot into place, and Team Lilac (plus one) is already gearing up to take action against Brevon and those who would steal the Kingdom Stone. Called in as a neutral party by Shang Tu, the group are sent to Shang Mu in order to take the Kingdom Stone from Mayor Zao, unaware of who stole what and who's coming to claim it.

==========-----==========

Chapter 4: Casino Nights at Zao City

The sun shone brightly through the windows of the Treehouse that day, a wonderful velvet-esque blanket of light cascading onto the nearby table. Everything was still, quiet and quaint; none of the treehouse's occupants were awake yet. Lilac had eventually walked back into bed and eventually managed to get some sleep, the nightmares and the Half-Zetis vanishing into the ether for the night. Carol and Milla too had fallen into deep and rewarding sleep, dreaming of their upcoming adventures across the world. Master was, at the moment, nowhere to be seen. There was a clanking sound as a gloved hand slammed onto the top board. It was Torque, who was climbing up the ladder to the Treehouse and was already dragging himself to the table that was set up near the kitchen.

"Hello?" Torque called out, helping himself to his feet, "Anyone awake?"

Torque sighed. Nothing. Guess the girls were heavy sleepers. Torque didn't want to just wake them, though. He knew he needed them as awake as possible to get through this adventure in one piece, and hopefully not one that was big and flat. His impulses had already doomed his captain and a good percentage of his friends to the endless void of death and he was...unwilling, to say the least, to lose anyone else. He turned to the doorway and quickly jumped in mild shock. Master was leaning against the doorframe, his eyes clasped shut and his arms crossed across his body. His snoring confirmed he was still asleep.

"...Master?" Torque asked, giving Master a quick poke. Master responded by jumping and losing his balance, quick babbling sounds escaping his throat. He stopped and straightened himself up.

"Oh, hey Torque..." Master yawned.

"Sorry about that," Torque quickly said, "It's just that...well, you were sleeping standing up."

"I do that sometimes," Master said, "Carol said I couldn't sleep on the sofa. Didn't want quills in the pillows, know what I'm saying?"

"...And you agreed?" Torque asked, looking a bit miffed.

"Well, let's put it this way..." Master said, a small grin visible below his scarf, "Quills in wooden planks? WAY harder to remove. Anyway, what're you doing up here?"

"Just...waiting for Lilac and the others to wake up," Torque shrugged, "We've got a lot to do today."

"Yeah..." Master sighed, scratching his head, "Gotta get the Kingdom Stone back from Mayor Zao and stop it from getting into Brevon's hands."

"I don't know why you guys bother with that Brevon guy..." Blade said, somehow yawning also, "He's small time compared to what we've seen."

"Oh! Actually, that's something I wanted to ask you two about," Torque said, "About last night. Where you asked about Brevon's blade. I heard you mumble a few things. Like this thing about...War Lilac, I think."

Master's eye shrunk in shock, "Uh, what? No, uh, I have NO idea what you're talking about!"

"Don't bother, kid," Blade sighed, "He heard us. He's curious. He wants to know."

Master sighed too and arched his head up at Torque, "So. You really wanna know, huh?"

"I do," Torque said, "You're not from this dimension. Hedgehogs like you are rarely seen on this planet and are often hated when they are. Which isn't helped by the fact that you look nothing like an Avalonian Hedgehog. And you do seem to go on about Chaos and Master Emeralds a lot. Strictly Mobian artefacts. You seem to know little about this adventure but a lot about everything else. So, why're you here?"

"...Well, you've told me everything about yourself..." Master said, getting off the doorframe with an audible crunching sound, "Guess I have to do the same. I don't suppose you want some tea?"

"What, Red Leaf Tea?" Torque asked.

"Ah, Chaos no!" Master responded, visibly repulsed by the thought of it, "No, that stuff sucks. I mean Earl Grey. Normal stuff."

"Huh...okay," Torque shrugged. Master walked off into the nearby kitchen and it did not take long for the sound of boiling water to fill the area. They soon ceased and, a good few minutes later, Master walked out of the kitchen with two mugs of pale tea. He gave one to Torque, who sipped it, "Thanks. Been a long time since I've had this kind of blend."

"Yeah, every universe has their own preferred tea type," Blade said, slightly irritated, "Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Black, White, Green, Blue, Orange...you just get sick of it, you know? So we keep a bag of Earl Grey teabags on our person at all times. Strange custom, but we're happy about it. Well, he's happy about it."

"I'm a United Islander," Master shrugged, "I kinda have to. Fills people with a sense of comfort to see someone of my...position drink tea instead of water. Anyway...you want to know what's gong on with us. And I'll tell you..." he stopped, placing his mug on the floor and digging a photo out of his pocket, "You're right, I'm not from this universe. I'm from Universe 112233C, an offshoot of the U123 line of parallel universes. The difference in question being...well, the fact that I exist within it. And did...things...well, I'm not from around here, no. All things said and done, I'm not even sure how I got here. I was relaxing in what they call the Boomiverse with a few friends and my girlfriend. We were studying this portal that had just opened in the middle of the village square. No-one was allowed in it, just in-case the area beyond it was uninhabitable. And it...kind of was. You know what a planet on the brink of dissolving into dust is like, don't you Torque?"

"I...I do..." Torque said, his voice wavering as he stared deep into his half-empty mug of tea, "Brevon has laid waste to so many places across space and time...just seeing the faces of the downtrodden mashed into paste for to sake of a madman's lust for power he has no right to own...it's sickening."

"Testify, comrade," Master sighed, "Large, blood red skies looking over hideous amounts of debris, blood and dust and Super Jam everywhere. All I remember was some hand reaching out of that portal and there I was in a hellish wasteland. I sought the nearest library to see what was going on. This group called the Red Scarves, far different to what we've seen in this timeline, had been keeping notes and trying to record history with faulty memories. They say that, in 2015, this Warrior turned up, pulling a meteor..."

"Well, meteor-sized spaceship."

"...Out of orbit and slammed it directly into the ground. Straight up obliterated one of the three major cities on this part of the planet and encased the others in a dust cloud. The Warrior went on a four year rampage, slaughtering all in her wake."

"...And who was this Warrior?" Torque asked. Master said nothing, instead giving the photo to Torque, who went silent with the shock, "L-Lilac?"

"War Lilac, specifically," Blade said, allowing Torque to absorb all the details, "Killer of her own kind, went on a massive killing spree just to see us again, called us imposters straight after doing so...our new best friend."

"So..." Torque asked, getting things clear in his head, "You're here, because unless you do something about this, Lilac's gonna go insane and just start offing people without pause?"

"Yes. I don't know how or why, but apparently I get involved with her descent into madness. And because of that, I now have to do something about it. I was trusted to do so by the future Carol herself."

"So that's why you asked me about Brevon's own dagger," Torque said, things now quickly slotting into place, "Because Brevon's involved somehow."

"War Lilac had Brevon's blade on her when she met us," Blade explained, "Pretty good skill with it, too. In fact, too good. Nicked Master in the stomach and even with my healing powers going full pelt the freakin' thing refuses to heal."

"Brevon's blade eternally bleeds with the blood of the millions he's wronged," Torque said, his tone taking on the same informative tone as it had done the night before, "So much of it, in fact, that it's somehow given it new properties; never stops bleeding, can cleave through almost anything, hurts like hell and can inflict wounds that overpower even the strongest of medicines. Just so the victims stay alive longer."

"Great..." Master sighed, "So, this will never heal?"

"It will, in time," Torque said, his tone returning to normal, "But try not to do anything too extensive for the time being. If that wound opens up again, you're probably done for."

"Well, it's going to now you've said it..." Blade snarked, "I know how this works."

"Look, don't worry about me," Master said, finishing the last drop of his tea, "While my mission is important, it's nowhere near as important as yours. There's no point in saving Lilac if there's no world for her to change for the better."

"Good point," Torque said, "We have to stop Brevon above all else. THEN we can turn attention to keeping Lilac sane. How were the others?"

"Carol was the leader of the Red Scarves during that time period," Master said, "War Lilac probably killed Spade, so she took over. A wounded, jaded, empty person. No hope and no soul. As for Milla...huh. We didn't actually see Milla. I mean, there was a voice in Brevon's blade which sounded a little bit..." Master stopped, his face becoming twisted and pained, burying his head in his hands, "Oh, GOD no..."

Both stopped and jumped at a sudden ringing sound. The phone just on the table near the window was active and ringing like crazy. Both stopped, frozen in their seats, until a "Coming!" sounded off from down the hall. It was Lilac, rushing headlong towards the room and zooming past Master and Torque both. She grabbed the phone and put it to her ear, "H-Hello?"

"Hello. Uh, this is General Gong..." came a muffled voice from the other side of the phone, "We were looking over your skills from yesterday and thought, well, we might need your help."

"Help?" Lilac asked, "What for?"

"Just...we think we may have use for your...talents," General Gong stammered across, "Uh, meet us in the Lavender Fields just outside your valley. And come soon!"

The phone beeped and clicked, endlessly whirring afterwards. Lilac put the phone down, "Strange...oh! Morning guys!"

"Morning, Lilac," Master said, putting his mug away.

"So, was that General Gong?" Torque asked.

"Yeah," Lilac said, smiling as much as ever, "Said he wants to meet us in the Lavender Fields. Got a proposition for us."

"I dunno..." Master said, sound sceptical, "Sounds like a trap."

"Probably...but it's not like we can just wait around either. I'm gonna go wake the others up, you two get ready!" Lilac was beaming like the moon and was soon rushing back into the bedroom to wake up the still snoozing Carol. Torque paused, looking at the photo of War Lilac for a final time before giving it back to Master.

"Those eyes...what could've happened to someone as innocent and pure as Lilac to make her that thing?"

"Trust me, I've got a few ideas..." Master sighed, "Better get back to your tent and prepare. Oh, and Torque?" Torque stopped mid-turn, "Make sure Lilac doesn't know I'm here to save her sanity. I think she passed it off as a joke last time, and I have the horrible feeling this adventure is going to put a lot of pressure on her. The last thing she needs is the idea that she might turn into KillCrazy.exe. Got it?"

"You have my word," Torque said in his usual stoic tone.

"Thanks Torque. You're a good man," Master sighed, "Kinda wish there were more people like you across the multiverse..."

Torque gave a final smile and soon vanished down the ladder.

===============
5 Minutes Later
===============

"Huh. I was wondering when you'd be awake..." Torque said quietly. It was about one in the afternoon, and the four adventurers were standing in front of him in a line; the smiling Lilac, the yawning Carol, and adorable Milla and the silent Master.

"You can blame Carol for that," Lilac said, "She sleeps for like, half the day sometimes."

"Totally worth it!" Carol said, smiling through a yawn, "What's going on, anyway?"

"We got a call from that General Gong fellow," Master explained, "He's going to help us in some manner."

"When is he coming?" Torque asked, feigning some slight ignorance.

"Actually, we have to go meet him," Lilac explained, "He'll be waiting for us north of here, in the Lavender Fields."

"Perfect!" Torque said happily, "I fixed my radar last night, so we can use it to find the meeting point."

"Great!" Lilac called out, "Ready, people?"

"All set!" Carol called out.

An excited Milla squealed out, "To adventure!"

The group then turned tail and headed into the distance, going north to the Lavender Fields.

======================
In the Lavender Fields
======================

Well, Torque had to give them some credit; the Lavender Fields were...well, Lavender. Well, more a deep and soulful purple, but still. The rocks and rich vegetation of the lower parts of the Valley still permeated the area, however, and cherry blossom trees were almost everywhere. Some sharp bones were laid scattered across the plains, for reasons best left unexplained. Torque was in his Shellduck disguise as the moment, and while he knew it was needed to 'blend in' as it were, he hated it; heavy, bulky and somewhat ill-fitting, but it was the best he had with what little he could scavenge from his maiden ship before being forced to escape. The screams...oh the screams of his crewmates...

He snapped out of it as a beeping sound met his ears. His radar was going off like mad, the screen a glowing green with circles and blips of light everywhere. He checked thoroughly.

"According to the radar, we seem to be at the right location..." he mumbled, staring blankly at the screen,

"Umm...I think it's a little off..." Carol sighed, looking straight at the ribs on the floor, "I think you might've used just a little too much percussive maintenance..."

Milla paid no attention to these proceedings. She was looking around, smelling the air. Around them was a sweet scent that tickled the young hound's noise, causing it to wriggle as she laughed alongside it. Its silent laughter ceased, as another scent soon met her nose. Something darker, less sweet...wait, never mind, MORE sweet. Like some kind of chilli sauce. She looked up, back across where the group had just come; above them was a small cliff of some kind, and the scent was coming from there.

"This way!" Milla cried out, looking up towards the cliff face. Lilac turned around to see it too.

"Up there?" Lilac asked, "How're we gonna get up there?"

"Easy!" Milla said sweetly. Before anyone could react, she jumped straight up into the air and did something most peculiar; she started flapping every available appendage at her disposal and, with every flap of an arm, leg and ear, she ascended. The little hound hovered up over the cliff face and was gone, briefly pausing to look at the four left below her, "Come on!"

"...She can fly?" Carol asked incredulously.

"Oh my Chaos, that was so cool!" Master belted out also, leading to a quick glance from the others. He quickly cleared his throat, "Ahem! I mean, uh...impressive."

Lilac was the first to climb up there. An odd aura surrounded her and she quickly zipped upwards into the air, leaving only a shockwave of sound behind. Carol quickly explained to Master that it was a Dragon Boost, some kind of magic pseudo-spring move that Lilac had trained since she had first met her, before digging her claws into the wall and climbed up that way. Torque was next, using rockets in his shoes to ascend, two shining tongues of flame erupting out of his boots as he sailed over the cliff too.

"Ptth. Showoffs..." Blade grumbled. Master ignored him and thrust Blade towards the cliff face. Once more, Blade split into multiple segments and extended, clasping the very edge of the cliff with the tip, before Master jumped and retracted the segments to pull himself up the cliff and over its edge. Grinning at this show of powers, he quickly joined the others at the meeting place. Alongside Lilac and Carol and the others, there was also General Gong and another blue bird guard opposite them. Two yellow planes were sat either side of the meeting place too, pristine but inactive.

"Well, that hound of yours sure has a good nose..." General Gong said., bowing, "Allow me to introduce myself. I am General Gong of Shang Tu."

"Yes, we know," Master growled, "We had the...pleasure of meeting you yesterday. Where's your royal quisling, Miss Neera-Li?"

"She couldn't make it," General Gong explained, "Said she had some work to do back at the base. Anywho, the Royal Majister has a proposal. We'd like you to help us get the Stone back. It's in the greedy little hands of Mayor Zao, in our neighbour city of Shang Mu."

"I'm guessing the next city is Shang Zu?" Blade snarked, "Or maybe Shang Tsung?"

"Why do you need our help?" Carol asked, slightly annoyed, "Don't you have soldiers and spies and stuff?"

"And tanks and robots and...VHS tapes..." the General sighed, "We wanna try and resolve this thing peacefully if we can. No good starting a war over something like this. So we're sending in a neutral party to negotiate. Given the, uh, current state of affairs in Shuigang, they're out of the picture."

"Aww, I really wanted it to be Shang Tsung!" Blade moped.

"I see," Torque said, nodding, "So you need us to fly to Shang Mu and convince Zao to give the Stone back."

"Precisely!" General Gong nodded too, a boisterous nod at that.

"Yeah, like that's gonna work!" Master called out sarcastically, "Let's just toodle on up to the madman who just stole the most powerful artefact in the known world and just ask him to return it. Pretty please?" His mocking tone did not amuse anyone, but Lilac stood forward anyway.

"Let's give it a shot!"

"Right then!" Torque called out, walking towards one of the planes with a good tone of uneasiness in his voice, "I assume we'll be taking one of these planes..."

"Yeah..." General Gong said, "You DO know how to fly one, right?"

"Of course I do, heh heh!"

"Good..." the General said finally, "When you get there, head straight for the City Hall. We need to be on our way back to HQ, so we're relying on you to get this done fast."

"You can count on us, General!" Lilac called out, "We'll get the Stone back before you can say 'Dinner for Three!"'

"Quack!" said the duck.

===============
Some Time Later
===============

It took another five or so minutes, but soon everyone was in the plane. Torque was in front, wearing his goggles and manning the wheel. Carol was next, wielding goggles of her own. Lilac was after her, perfectly sandwiched in the middle, while Milla was stuck in the back, looking out the side like an excited little puppy. Master, on the other hand, had attached himself to the plane's tail wing.

"Are you SURE you want to sit there?" Milla asked in concern, "I mean, you're not in the cockpit and you're kinda close to the exhaust!"

"I'll be fine!" Master called out, "I used to do this all the time! An old friend of mine taught me how to do it! Right before he went mad...uh...Torque? Quick aside; you REALLY do know how to fly a plane, r-right? It's just that, I'm a bit...well, I'm not acrophobic, but I'm kinda...uh...I mean, come on, you can fly a spaceship!"

"Flying a spaceship is easy," Torque quickly said, "Flying a more primitive plane is...less so. And landing the plane...uh..."

Master gulped, a visible look terror spread across what was visible of his face. Blade sounded slightly amused;

"Well, we're going to die..."

=================
A Good Hour Later
=================

Tyres squealing. Burning rubber. Brakes active. Coming to a stop. Thank Chaos. Torque's plane was finally coming to an abrupt and yet so welcome stop. Master breathed a sigh of relief, but he dared not let go of the plane. To him, there were no sights, no sounds, no wondrous views of above the see he had wanted to see since he was a little MasterSelf. Or, at least that's what he thought he wanted. To him, it was a black void the entire journey, with only the sounds of the plane's engine, the rushing air and the others voices for company. The voices spoke up again.

"We're here!" came Torque's voice, a bit shaky but otherwise stable.

"Man, that took a while..." Carol sighed, her voice wavering much more frequently, "Torque, how can you fly a spaceship but not a plane?"

"As I said," Torque explained, "A plane is rather...primitive compared to a starship. No thrusters, no blasters, no gyros, just an engine and some clever exploitation of physics. As Blade said, your technology is strangely basic, even for Royal inventory."

"I know that!" Lilac called out, her voice the exact same as it always was, "So...let's see...we've landed in Shang Mu, as planned. Best guess, we're in the public park. Just go over those hills there and we'll make it into the edges of the city centre. Then Mayor Zao's HQ will only be a short walk away."

"Yay!" Milla called out, before quickly stopping, "Wait, why haven't we just landed right next to his HQ?"

"Sorry kiddo, Zao isn't THAT dumb," Carol sighed, "Dude's got cannons everywhere, makes stealing from his vaults a royal pain. He's got more than enough weapons to blast us out the sky. A master of anti-air combat."

"Speaking of..." Lilac said quickly. Master felt a quick poke on his nose, "Mr Master Guy? We're here! You can open your eyes now. You made it!"

Master slowly opened his eyes, as instructed. The others were staring at him from the plane's cockpit. He cleared his throat and stopped gripping onto the plane, revealing the dent marks he had left during the ride, and climbed off the vehicle. His voice was slightly shaky and he himself was twitching quite a bit, but he talked anyway, "I-I knew that...I just, uh...was getting some sleep, you know?"

"...Sure, Master Guy..." Lilac said, looking doubtful for a few seconds, "Hey, quick question. Have you got another name I could call you by? It's just that calling you Master'll get a little...awkward."

"Well, some across the Multiverse have become accustomed to calling him 'Traveller'," Blade said, "Since, you know, that's what he does."

"...Traveller..." Lilac mulled it over, before smiling, "Yeah, that's a better name!"

"Better than Master, at least," Carol sighed, "Let's get going! That Kingdom Stone won't re-steal itself, you know!"

"Carol's right," Torque said, adjusting his shell as he spoke, "Let's get moving!"

Torque, Milla, Carol and Lilac soon ran off. Master quickly turned to Blade, a look of confusion spread across his eyes, "Traveller?"

"What?" Blade retorted, "You like the name, too! It's not like you can trust your own. Master T. MasterSelf, what kind of cringe-worthy ham and cheese was that?!"

"I'm sorry!" Master called out, "It was completely off the top of my head! Oh well. At least I know the story itself will still refer to me by Master. Helps keep things simple."

"Please don't break the fourth wall yet, we're barely starting the third stage. Besides, that's my job. Look on the bright side, the further we get away from the Master label, the further away we get from-"

"Traveller!" Carol called out, "Haul some butt, why don't you!"

"...Why do people always talk over us when we discuss him?" Blade whined.

"I dunno, but it's probably for the best that they DON'T know unless...he shows up. Got it?" Master said, to which Blade made a nodding motion, "Good. Let's go."

Master ran off to where the others were. The four were running quite quickly, running past the jaded green grasses that made up the edge of the city, before finally scampering over the hill to see over the boundaries of the park. The rest of Shang Mu was now in full view, and it was impossibly beautiful; deep red buildings of a wondrous design sprouted just everywhere. Bright lights illuminated every square inch of the city, the massive stature it was, and the slabbed paving under their feet was well-cut and clean. No chewing gun or spilled bananas here. In the distance were cars and lanterns, a flame-licked orange haze that brought more life into the city. Granted, a lot of it was spoiled by the smell of burning fuel and the statues of this garishly garbed midget bloke everywhere. Still, this Mayor Zao may have been a strange and stupid fellow, but what a place to rule.

"Damn, son..." Blade said soulfully as Master wiped a tear from his eye, "That's one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen."

"I'm with you..." Torque too had an astonished look on his face, "The culture, the atmosphere, the lighting, just the look of it all..."

"Good views, huh?" Lilac teased, looking and sounding almost proud, "This place is in all the travel books. Great food, entertainment, shopping..."

"So of course it's just a deathtrap underneath just like anywhere else, right?" Master sighed. Lilac nodded, "Of course."

"Well, a little help from yours truly helps speed progress along. Zao is a coward, after all, but he's rich one."

"...I recognise that voice!" Carol growled, teeth bared.

"Yes..." Master sniffed the air, "It sounds like a certain Red Scarf! Spade! Reveal yourself!"

"Gladly..." came that old sneer again. The white wolf stepped down from the ceiling of a nearby decoration and landed right in front of the group, Three-Point, both feet and left hand. Very impressive. He leaned against the nearby lamppost and crossed his arms, "You just had to follow me here, didn't you?"

"How did you know we were coming?" Carol asked.

"You seemed pretty determined to get that Stone of yours back," Spade shrugged, "It's like I'm staring at a couple of books over here."

"So you're the thief that Lilac was talking about!" Torque said, his voice angered and almost insulted.

"I've been called worse..." another shrug and another smug grin from Spade.

"Where is it?!" Lilac demanded, arching forward into a combat pose.

"Don't bother. I've already finished the job. It's time for my brother to play his hand."

"Brother?" Torque asked.

"Prince Dail of Shuigang," Lilac quickly explained, "Same father for a king, but different mothers."

"Really?!" Torque called out, sounding quite impressed.

Master assumed a combat stance, digging out his handgun, "Royal Blood, eh? In that case, why are you leading a group of glorified murderers? Why not just rub your money into the faces of the masses like everyone else?"

"Because I have no intentions to rule that little kingdom," Spade spat back, seemingly disgusted by the question, "I'd rather kill for my fellows than be just another crazy royal leader for some over-his-head vigilante like yourself to kill. For the greater good, as you say. I get the impression you've seen a lot of my brother's kind over the years. When he finds the man who murdered our father, there will be no mercy for the kingdom responsible."

"We know who's responsible!" Lilac called out. Spade grumbled.

"Nice try."

"Will you just hold on for a minute and let us explain?!" Carol seethed, "Or are we gonna have to beat some sense into you?"

"No thanks!" Spade growled, grabbing his exploding cards from before, "I won't be thrown off with your lies again! You made a grave mistake betraying my group the last time around."

"Look, let's not go through this again!" Master called out, "For the final time, just calm down and let us explain ourselves. There's no need for this pointless shouting and fighting."

"Perhaps..." Spade said, "But I have no time for you. You're a hanger-on, that's all you are. But... a hanger-on with the skills of a warrior. Perhaps when this is all done, you could join my Red Scarves. You've already got the initials down. The clothing and the murderous gleam in your eye..."

"Shove it!!" Master growled, "I'm not some greedy killer! Not anymore!"

"Wait...anymore?" Lilac quietly mumbled.

Master's grip on his gun tightened and he raised it up to full height. Before he could get a shot off, however, some bright light came screaming out the sky towards the heroes. It struck the ground in front of them, baring through the pristine rock like one would put a knife through a meringue. Everyone jumped back, the heroes landing in a crumpled heap, while Spade lurched backwards and then dashed away, leaving only a faint green image of himself in his place. Torque was the first out of the pile and soon looked up at the laser's origin. It was a large, domed flying machine, held aloft by four rotating rockets revolving around a ring mounted in the middle of the machine. The laser was still emitting and slowly moving towards the group.

"It's Serpentine!" Torque called out, "Looks like Brevon's found as after all! Everyone split up! We'll meet up by the mall, it's right next to Zao's HQ!"

"Got it!" Lilac called out, "Carol, Milla, go around the left! Master, Torque, do the same with the right! I'll go straight on!"

The others nodded and soon began to book it into the distance, to look over and race though the slowly shredded beauty of Shang Mu.

===================
Three Minutes Later
===================

Milla was scared, there was no denying that. But she knew she had to press on. For Lilac and Carol and certainly Torque. She was always one in the past for simply lounging around and watching from a distance, playing with whatever was in the sewers of Shang Tu, keeping the monstrous creatures and robots at bay. Not anymore though. She had to take action against this...whatever it was. Granted, it's not like she was at that strange meeting all the way through, but she had a good idea of what was going on regardless; this madman called Lord Brevon was killing his way across the galaxy and the Kingdom Stone was to be kept out of his claws at every possible opportunity. Simple. Sort of.

Milla took careful notice at the three at the meeting; Lilac was sitting on a red toolbox, sitting silently, taking in all the details with no change of facial expression. Carol was sat on an identical red toolbox next to her, looks of worry and content splashed at random across her face. And finally was Master, hunched over a table in the strangest possible position. He almost never looked Torque in the eye, just staring down at the floor in silent and haunted contemplation. Perhaps he thought this was nothing to him? If this Brevon was any worse than those old mean Shang Mu soldiers...

Milla stopped, stifling a quick yelp as a sudden laser almost caught her jacket. It certainly LOOKED like Brevon was going to be worse than those Shang Tu people, as his robots were EVERYWHERE. Then again, Milla had heard from what little gossip she could catch from sewer workers that Mayor Zao was rich enough to employ smart engineers to design robots for him. And it wasn't like she couldn't disagree with them; she had seen the robotic claws attached to the base of the truck within the Temple yesterday. It's kind of why she followed it to Carol and that Master/Traveller guy anyway. The robot above her looked like some kind of traffic light, with three eyes that were even now firing lasers at Milla. She dodged to the left, skidding onto the grass as she did, before leaping up and grabbing the robot in question, throwing it head-first towards another enemy that was shaped like sort of fireworks dispenser rebuilt for combat. Both exploded in a fireball, flinging bright red fireworks into the air. They exploded soon, sending a crackling sound throughout the sky. The robots elsewhere in the city HAD to have seen that, which Milla took as a blessing and ran off towards the mall as planned.

These robots were dangerous, no doubt about that, but luckily for Milla she had a secret up her sleeve. For as long as she could remember, she was able to interact with the invisible energies around her, manipulate them towards the creation of what could only be described as blocks of pure energy. As Milla ran, she could see more robots on the horizon, so it was time for another one of those blocks. Hands held above her head, Milla concentrated and felt the familiar and comforting sensation of the air above her changing, swirling, forming. Soon, a bright green cube materialised into her hands and she threw it with perfect accuracy. The heavy block sailed through the air with all the grace a block of energy can and smashed sidefirst into the the tank-like robot. The robot exploded, sending its singled-eye pilot flying off into the distance. Satisfied, Milla dashed forward and placed both hands before her. At the final moment, a green shield suddenly swooped into reality and slammed into another traffic light robot, causing its demise and the parts of it spilling onto the other robot, destroying that one too. Happy, Milla grinned and ran off, stumbling along on all four limbs and flying through the city as much as possible. Every now and again came a few sets of lanterns that bended upwards and connecting to the odd part of the city's decorational architecture, which Milla would follow up and around the arches until she finally hit street level.

At street level, Milla soon came across some kind of small shopping area, lined with buildings and more of these pretty floating lanterns. Their dotted locations blared out a rich yellow light on the scenery and doubtlessly enriched the experience for late-night shoppers. Milla looked to the right and noticed Lilac just standing around, catching her breath. She was quite footsore and was mildly wounded, with more of those red leaves wrapped around her arms and legs as a sort of makeshift bandage. Milla had encountered little of those leaves in the past; in fact, the only time she ever came close to them was when some bigshot's attempt to synthesize the leaves' medical abilities into a drink form failed and his company dumped the entire lot into the sewers. Guess that explained that giant fish monster she had to fight before she even got to the temple.

Milla quickly approached Lilac, calling out, "Lilac! I'm over here!" all the while.

Lilac looked up and grinned, "Milla! How're you holding up?"

"I'm fine..." Milla said, screeching to a halt just beside the dragon, "It's taken a while, but I'm here!"

"Me too. Those bots Brevon and Zao are employing hit hard, don't they? Good thing I had enough of those red leaves to knock even General Gong out. Are you hurt?"

"No."

"Good..." Lilac sighed. She quickly looked around before turning back to Milla, "We have to keep moving, Milla. Zao's HQ is just across this mall. We can check it out later, but for now we have to move. Right? Okay, let's mo-"

"Hold it right there, you sparkly twit!"

Milla gasped quickly in response and spun around fast enough to catch even Lilac off guard. Behind them was a snake in power armour and a helmet, pointing some kind of laser pistol at them. Lilac studied the creature, and it was indeed Serpentine from before. His hands were wrapped in fresh bandages and his laser guns were new and bigger, baring bright blue glows within the barrels. Lilac looked shocked for a short while, but then something seemed to click within her and her mood worsened.

"Wait...what did you just call me?!"

"Mindless creatures..." Serpentine growled, holding his gaze as steady as his guns, "You think you can just walk into this conflict, don't you? Well, I have news for you; this isn't your fight!"

Lilac quickly went on the offensive, "It was the moment you brought it to our homeworld!"

"Y-Yeah!" Milla blurted out, looking quite scared, "What she said!"

"So,..the duck man couldn't keep his mouth shut..." Serpentine growled. He advanced, both guns pointed forwards and a devilish grin across his face, "Well, I hope he realises that he just cost you your life! When I drag you before Lord Brevon, you will beg for your life before the end of the hour! Prepare for combat!"

"Lilac..." Milla whimpered, "Maybe we should run..."

"Relax..." Lilac said in a relaxed tone, "This Snake Man is a joke. Just gotta blast his hands and we should be fi-"

She stopped, a laser bolt to the shin sending her crashing to the ground. She snapped out a pained yelp before getting up and looking at Serpentine. He had both guns drawn and was firing rapidly, pelting the area with a hailstorm of blue and purple lights that exploded on contact with the ground. Lilac shielded her eyes, awaiting the stinging pain of the blaster bolts, but a sudden warbling sound and sensation stopped her. Milla had jumped in front of her and, groaning with the strain, had formed a shield directly in front of the two upon which the lasers and bolts just bounced off. One of them even collided with Serpentine's tail and caused him to let his guard down in an attempt to fan out the opening flames. Lilac marvelled at this obscenely good fortune and charged forward, leaving Milla to catch her breath. The hound fell onto her backside and the shield ceased, causing a ripple to send a spike of green energy towards the snake. It struck him again in the chest and caused him to stumble, allowing Lilac to rush in and swipe her hand towards the creature's side. 

The attack hit and the young dragon followed up with an uppercut that lead into a shoulder grab, hoisting her above the snake. Then, in the air she delivered a swift kick that managed to hit Serpentine right in the chest, flooring both fighters. Serpentine was up first and slithered over to the floored Lilac, giving a quick smack with his guns that dragged her up and onto her feet. She threw more kicks into his general direction, which Serpentine managed to dodge or block with minimal effort, before wrapping his tail around Lilac's legs and tripping her up. He moved in to strike the girl while she was falling, but she quickly dodged out of the second tail swipe and quickly grabbed one of her two tendrils. With the long tendril in hand she swiped it diagonally across the snake, spinning the whipped snake around to be struck again with a kick to the back. The snake got back up and lunged forward with his guns. Lilac, in a fit of impressive reflexes, grabbed the snake's right gun and pushed it away, sending the incoming chuck of metal zooming past her head. The weapon fired, sending a light blue bolt of energy into nothing in particular, while Lilac's ear began to scream in agony just as much as she was. She staggered, half-deaf and head ringing like crazy, while Serpentine followed up with a whipping notion from his own tail that sent Lilac tumbling onto her back.

Then, just as Serpentine went in for the kill, a block of green energy smacked into him, sending him off balance. Lilac looked up to see Milla running towards them, holding another block in her hands, "Lilac! Get him into the air!" 

Lilac complied and quickly grabbed the stumbled snake, sending a powerful kick right into his backside and propelling him into the air. Then, as he began his descent, Milla springboared off Lilac's head and thrust the cube in front of her. It narrowed, then moaned with a deafening noise, before letting loose what could only be described as a giant green laser. The snake, caught point blank in this devastating beam, was pushed screaming into the pavement, creating a crater as he laid to rest. The beam ceased and Milla landed with a panted and pained gasp next to Lilac. Serpentine, stuck in the crater, was unconscious.

"...Darn, Milla..." Lilac panted, arched over in pain, "What WAS that?"

"...I don't know..." Milla panted too, "I've been able to do that since I was a child. I've been practising it in the sewers for years."

"Well..." Lilac grinned, tussling the hound's wild hair, "Look who's little miss badbutt, huh?"

"Thank you!" Milla giggled, "But, shouldn't we get going?"

"No need!" came another voice from high up in the air. It was Carol's voice, mixed in with some heavy wind sounds. Both girls looked up to see Torque's plane, its yellow paintjob scraped away a little, with Torque at the helm and Carol in the co-pilot's seat. Sitting behind her was Master, damaged and wounded but seemingly quite content.

"Carol?" Lilac asked in astonishment, "Where did you come from?"

"It's all Traveller's fault, as usual," Carol said in a bizarrely endearing way, "He ran back to the plane and managed to activate this kinda 'auto-pilot' to fly the plane with no troubles at all. Said he didn't want to fight his way through the mall and risk running into the snake again, so he picked us up on the way!"

"What do you mean 'auto-pilot'?" Lilac asked.

"Well..." Master looked a bit sheepish, "Let's just say there's a large, sort of Blade shaped hole in the dashboard now."

"Seriously?" Lilac called out in fatigue, "That thing can fly planes, too?"

"Not really!" came Blade's voice from some invisible part of the plane, "I'm less of an auto-pilot and more of a co-pilot for the Little Green Man here! I'll help him set this junker down to pick you guys up!"

It shuddered wildly, but the plane eventually landed with a clang, The plane's passengers clambered out to get close to Lilac and Milla, with an unearthly shunting as Master dragged Blade out of the dashboard.

"You two look kind of out of shape," Torque said, "What got you guys?"

"That snake guy from the start of this adventure..." Lilac sighed, rubbing her stinging horn, "He got in our way, threatened to kill us, called me a sparkly twit. So we had to do battle and take him down. S'when I learnt that Milla here is a superdog."

"Superdog?" Carol asked, "How so?"

"Well, if I hold my hands above my head and concentrate REALLY hard..." Milla said, putting her hands above her head, "I can make these block thingies out of thin air. Watch!" she went silent and the air above her hummed with energy. Two small orbs formed and quickly spiralled around each other, before finally combining and expanding to form a giant green cube.

"Wow..." Torque said, sounding quite impressed, "Never seen something like THAT before..."

"I have..." Blade said, "Looks like Milla here is a Sira."

"A Sira?" Carol asked.

"Some kind of folklore creature," Lilac explained, "I've read about it at the Shang Tu Library. Every now and then, a being is born with extraordinary, incredibly destructive powers. There can only be about four of them alive at any one point, but a lot of them were abandoned at birth because their powerful abilities were seen as bad omens."

"No wonder the poor kid spent her life in the sewers..." Blade tutted.

"Wha?" Milla went white with shock, "How did you know that?"

"Snatch a couple of records from that General Gong fellow and you can see just about anything from their security feed," Master shrugged.

"There's more, too," Lilac said, "These powers are...well, powerful. So much so, in fact that they actually hamper the Sira's physical state. Not in any real noticeably visible way, but they tend to be more...fragile."

"Well..." Milla admitted, "I do tend to lose my breath and get hurt easily."

"Nothing a bit of proper training can't fix," Master said, "Just have to find the Mayor and take back the...Kingdom Stone."

"Yeah, we sorta forgot about that," Carol looked sheepish, "Sorry, Torque."

"It's fine," Torque sighed, "We're close. Just go through the mall and-"

"Not so fast, Commander!" came a hissing scream. The group turned around to see Serpentine once again. He had dragged himself out of the crater and, a look of anger that would scare the devil himself spread across his face, was now aiming both lasers at the group. Master had instantly stood in front of the three girls as a sort of shield and Torque was inching towards his own blaster. The snake spoke again, "If you're searching for the stone, you might wanna look up!"

The group indeed looked into the distance. To their horror, a bunch of green, wooden airships were screaming their way through the skies. Small black sphere were falling out of cannons and smashing into the city with terrifying accuracy and speed, leaving explosions and violent fires in its wake. The group looked over it in abject horror as Shang Mu erupted into flames, silent and unmoving. Master snapped out of his shocked state and dashed towards Serpentine, holding him in a choke hold with one hand and jabbed his gun against the snake's head with the other.

"What did you just do?!" he bellowed, "How many lives have you just taken?!"

"Quite a few..." Serpentine hissed, a smug grin across his face, "Say hello to the Sky Battalion! Biggest and most powerful air-army on the planet! The Kingdom Stone is now in the care of Lord Brevon, and unless you can somehow scrape enough firepower from these idiots to take on fifteen whole airships of power, you'll never get it back before we're all set to leave! Enjoy your victory!" Serpentine suddenly wrenched his hands away from Master's arm and punched him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and sending him to a crumpled heap. There was a sudden, loud rumbling sound that filled the area; windows shattered and gusts of smoke bellowed into the air as one of the airships in question soon came down upon the heroes. It was huge, almost the size of the Temple from before, with green sails and cannons jutting out of every possible part of it. It's wooden construction betrayed its massive plasma jet engines and the wood itself was decorated with the image giant green flames screeching across the side of the ship. Serpentine guffawed for a final time and then took off, grabbing a rung installed onto the bottom of the ship and soon clambering up to the deck. The ship then lifted, zooming right over the heads of Lilac and Torque, and was soon blazing into the sky. An enraged Lilac briefly followed it through the sky, Dragon Boosting straight into it, but alas could only bounce off the fortified wood and crash back to the ground. Master himself got up and rapidly pumped all ten of his magnum rounds into the ships, a few hitting the engine but otherwise causing little damage. He screamed in rage and frustration before collapsing back to the ground, clutching his stomach.

"No!" Torque called out, "We almost had him!"

"I guess that's what Spade was referring to when he was talking about his brother..." Carol said, her voice wavering, "The Sky Battalion is the largest military instalment on Planet Avalice and in the strict ownership of the kingdom of Shuigang!"

"Then I guess that's where Brevon's set up his base of operations..." Blade sighed, trying to force Master off of the floor, "Probably killed the king and taken his young boy to be his little puppy."

"...What're we gonna do now?" Milla asked frightfully after a short and uneasy pause.

"What else?" Carol rushed forward, "We've gotta go after them!"

"Those airships would ghost us from a mile away..." Torque said, looking to the floor in defeat, "Remember what happened to me in the valley?"

"There has to be another way..." Lilac said, quickly and hastily contemplating, "Look, we need something that's even a third of their power level...what about Mayor Zao?"

"It's gone!" came another scream. Once more the group looked behind them, seeing some vehicle driving up towards them. It was the same truck from the Temple ambush, only now with makeshift repairs littering its body and with no real driver behind the wheel. It was also only the truck itself with no carriages to speak of, leaving only two guards and some short guy. Master soon came to the realisation he was the one he had mocked in statue form only seven minutes ago, and he looked no more impressive in real life; as stated before he was short, barely the height of Milla, and was clad in a red regal outfit with a huge domed hat jammed on his head. To the Avaloians, he may have looked decent, but to Master he just looked like some kid. Behind him was a large chuck of yellow metal, roughly in the shape of a panther, with Master knowing he had saw it before.

The being screamed again, his voice wavering and blatantly immature, "My one chance for re-election is gone!" He stopped and sighed, rubbing his watering eyes. He began to look around to see if anyone had saw him, and it wasn't long before his eyes clasped onto the heroes. His expression shifted almost instantly, from weeping and furious, as the truck slowly reversed to the point that the others were standing. The small man then dragged himself to his feet and assumed a more powerful pose, "You! Over there!"

"Mayor of Shang Mu!" Lilac quickly called out, throwing herself to the floor, "Salute!"

Torque and Milla also knelt on hands and knees, heads arched low and respectfully, while Carol and Master were still standing upright. Master, his mood not softened by Serpentine's punch to his still open stomach wound, saluted in a different manner by throwing his left hand forward with only the index and middle fingers extended.

"Up yours, home boy!" came his grumbled reply.

"How DARE you?!" came the short man's response, his body flying into a barrage of kicks and punches in the air, "No man insults the Mayor and gets away with it!"

"Mayor?" Master called out in disbelief, "How're you the Mayor? The one I've heard about is a large, bold leader with his hand in all the right bowls. All I'm seeing is some garishly garbed midget bloke!"

"Uh, Slugger, quick word..." Blade said quickly and nervously, "Uh, I've been doing some background checks and it turns out that this garishly garbed midget bloke IS the Mayor of Shang Mu..." He took a second for the inevitable look of shock to appear on Master's face, a small mumbling stammer escaping his throat, as Blade resumed with a more gravelly and irritated tone, "You better bow, bozo!"

"OH!" Master yelped in response and threw himself to the ground just as hard as the others, a slight mumble of, "Your-Your Excellency..." escaping. Carol bowed too, taking the time to subtly do some pushups while doing so.

Nevertheless, Mayor Zao looked satisfied with the results and posed again, "Thank you. Now...RISE!"

They did, all five standing up on their own accord, and Mayor Zao walked back to the chunk of yellow scrap, "Were you the ones who disposed of this wretched mechanical beast?"

"...I dunno..." Lilac said uneasily, eyeing the scrap, "What even IS that thing?"

"I think it's called a RoboPanther..." Master mused, "Think it might've belonged to Serpentine. It had his name scratched into the key, after all."

"Wait, you destroyed this?" Milla asked, "When?"

"Traveller insisted we take a few laps of the city to find you," Carol explained, "We got past the Mall and managed to stop. Someone had disabled the lasers in the Mayor's palace. And the thing was there and it obviously belonged to Brevon, so Traveller suggested we pre-emptively destroy it."

"It took a while, too," Master grumbled, "That was a three person job and it STILL took us five minutes! But yeah, we destroyed it. 'S that bad?"

"Bad?" Mayor Zao said incredulously, jumping into the air and spreading confetti everywhere, "IT's GLORIOUS!" There was a sudden loud jingle as some bright letters somehow materliased over his head. Master quickly shouted in shock, but quickly calmed down and read the words; '+5 GLORY'. Mayor Zao landed on the floor and continued, "As a token of my appreciation, I offer each of you free reign over Zao's Shopping Paradise!"

"Sounds great!" Master said with an odd sort of glee, "I don't suppose you have a cake shop in there? Where they make, like, large red velvet cakes?"

"I do indeed!" Mayor Zao gloated, "I think they're the size of your average truck tyre too!"

"ROCK and ROLL!" Master shouted in a sort of odd victory, "I'll see you guys in the Spring!"

"Wait!" Lilac called out, grabbing Master by his scarf and dragging him back to the group, "We can't get distracted. We're here for something of yours."

"Are you?" Mayor Zao asked. There was a noticeable shift in his tone by this point, from all miserable and serious to jovial and genuinely friendly. It was still obvious a great deal of that was a ruse, but it still helped him be seen as more likeable among his people, "Well, we can talk about it over dinner. My treat, of course."

"You mean...a ROYAL FEAST?!" Milla squealed with excitement.

"Well, I am kinda hungry..." Carol mused.

"Yeah, me too..." Torque said, thinking of all the kind of foods he could taste and he smiled accordingly. He suddenly stopped, almost as if a record had scratched to a halt in his head, "Wait! What about the Kingdom Stone!"

"Hmm...I knew the item of question would be that..." Mayor Zao growled, his voice returning to the bitter tone it once was, "That scoundrel Prince took it from me! I won't even be able to chase him until my ships are repaired!"

The group of heroes looked among themselves in silent conversation, talking using silent words, before Lilac bowed and said, "Well, Mayor Zao, we would be honoured to be your guests this evening."

"Indeed..." Master said too, bowing alongside Lilac and putting on a posh voice, "It would be the greatest of positive contributions for this fine night of ours."

Mayor Zao's grin returned, "Well then, please walk this way! I shall drown your sorrows in delicious chow mein!"

===============================
A Good Five or So Minutes Later
===============================

It took another five or so minutes to reach the Mayor's dining quarters, but at least it gave Lilac and Master time to heal their wounds and rest. They soon stopped outside the area, lead by the Mayor himself into his dining area. It, as expected of someone of his position, was huge and dangerously ornate. Almost every decoration was red; the banners were red, the tablecloth was red, even the plates and napkins were red. A giant brass dragon's head overlooked the group as they entered and took their seats; Lilac, Carol and Milla sitting at one end of the table with Torque, Master and Mayor Zao at the other end. A number of red robots scuttled their way across the floor, holding plates in their clamped hands.

"Well, this is a bit of alright," Master mused, "A multiverse vigilante could get used to this!"

"I trust this doesn't happen to you a lot, then..." Torque mused alongside him.

Master sighed, "It's like visiting other countries, Torque. Each has their own little quirks, and a lot of the time they tend to screw you over, since you're out of the program and all. Some universes I've been granted a free meal, other times I've paid for them using credits, other times still I've had to steal food. There's a reason I've been named 'The Guy Who Keeps Passing Through'."

"Hmm. I see."

"Don't worry about taking turns!" came Mayor Zao's voice again, "I'm sure you must be hungry, so have at it!"

The robots scooted along, depositing plates at everyone's positions. Almost everyone began to sport wild grins on their faces. On the plates now were globs of rice coated in all manner of fish-related foodstuffs. Sushi. The nectar of the finest Gods and Elder Masters.

"SUSHI!" was the squeal of the hour, coming directly from Lilac, Carol and Milla. All three began to dig in non-stop into their sushi, devouring it as fast as the robots could replenish their supply. In the middle of this gluttonous frenzy came the voice of Milla, happily saying, "I love Sushi!"

"Me too!" Carol called out.

"Woah..." Lilac said, her shocked face causing some half-chewed sushi to come tumbling out of her mouth, "You BOTH like something?! Is this, like, the end of the world?"

Master, sitting on the other side of the table, could only watch them laugh and resume eating, groaning in misery as he did so. He had not touched his own sushi yet, merely poking at it with a chopstick.

"What's the matter, Mr....er..." Mayor Zao stopped, fumbling over his own words, "Sorry, but I didn't get your name."

"The name's Ma-" Master began, but stopped, "Uh...ahem, Traveller."

"Traveller, huh?" Mayor Zao looked a bit miffed, "What kind of parent names their kid Traveller?"

Master sighed a painful sigh.

"...Sorry. Uh, do you not like sushi?"

"Wha?" Master babbled, "Oh no, I love the stuff. It's just, uh...my scarf."

"Well, less the scarf and more what's under it," Blade said too.

"Oh, don't be like those teetotalling People Against Cruelty to Fish Types! Come on, just remove it and dig in!"

"...Fine..." Master sighed. He grabbed his scarf and removed it, resting it around his shoulders and neck. Both Torque and Mayor Zao looked on in mild horror, for on Master's muzzle was a rather heavy wound. His muzzle had, for lack of a better word, split from cheek to cheek. A large gash spread across his face, stopping at his mouth before starting again soon after, lined with haphazard stitching along the gash to keep it closed. It looked repulsive. Master sighed and spoke to the two bulge-eyed ghosts, his voice now clearer to boot, "Yes. At least you know why I keep my scarf on. Do you want me to move?"

"No, no!" Mayor Zao blurted out hastily, "It's fine. Just...enjoy your food."

Master nodded, tucking into the sushi and enjoying it just as much as everyone else. Torque looked a bit ill, seeing the stitches move as Master chewed, and spoke to Mayor Zao instead, "So, what's that giant head on the wall over there?"

"That's the pride of my Collection!" Mayor Zao boasted, all too eager to strike up a conversation, "An ancient statue modelled after the Dragons of the Before Time!"

"What's special about them?" Torque asked, quickly shifting his gaze to the still gorging Lilac, "Y'know, compared to someone like Lilac?"

"What's special?!" Mayor Zao cried in disbelief, "Did you come from another planet or something?"

"I kinda thought you did," Master said quietly. This still caught the attention of the Mayor, though, so he mumbled a half-hearted, "Sorry..." and resumed eating.

Mayor Zao decided to take pity on the Shellduck and began to spin a tale, "Long ago, a majestic creature soared across Avalice in a great ball of flame. When it landed, our ancestors were so captivated by its power and beauty that they built three kingdoms in its honour; Shang Tu, Shang Mu and Shuigang."

"Sheesh, that's one hell of a welcoming gift!" Blade snarked, "All we get at best is a bottle of champagne!"

"When the cities were built," Mayor Zao continued, "The dragon transformed into the legendary Kingdom Stone we know and love today!"

"Yes, a stone you loved so much," Master pointed accusingly, "You took it from its natural resting place. Why?"

"...Look..." Mayor Zao began, looking a bit embarrassed, "Shang Mu is on the brink of an energy crisis. With the Stone in our hands, we could've solved it overnight!"

"And it never occurred to you to use solar power?" Carol snarked, "What about water power? Your city is right next to an river, after all! Your own plan worked out SO well..."

"I don't think this energy crisis of yours is really all that much of an accident," Torque spoke next, "I think it's deliberate, and I think we know who's responsible."

Mayor Zao looked intrigued, leaning forward and looking Torque square in the eye; "Continue..."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yeah, it's been a while. I sort of forgot. Regardless, here we go again.

Where We Last Left Off: While the journey to and across Shang Mu was...less than successful, the team has nevertheless managed to earn the trust of egomaniac Mayor Zao. Taking off in one of his airships, the group returns to Shang Tu for a treaty, but are soon found in the middle of a sky-high ambush...

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Chapter 5: Airship Attack

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Meanwhile, at Shuigang Palace
=====================

This time again, huh? Good. Lord Brevon always loved this part, where the hero failed and he was allowed to sink his poisoned blade deep into their jugular veins. To see them squirm and gargle their last before him...it was music to his ears. This particular one was another panda, one from a roving pack of vigilantes that roamed the land. Obsessed with honor and justice and all that meaningless tat that people spewed to get the higher ground. Brevon thought that at least he could physically prove his superiority. The vigilantes had been defeated and taken off to the torture chambers, helmets lying disgracefully in the dust, with only a single one left to deal with. He was heavily wounded, leaning on his spear like a crutch and doubled over in pain.

"Don't bore me with your lectures..." Brevon growled, "I've heard them a thousand times from a thousand self-righteous warriors! Unless you have something useful to say, the only thing that matters to me is how quickly I can cast you aside. I really have a lot of work to do."

The panda coughed, trying to hoist himself to his feet in a brave but ultimately futile move, "You'll fail...men like you will always fail..."

Brevon gave him no more time, the bloodlust clawing away at him too much to bear. He dashed forward and grabbed the being, choking him with his off hand. Finally, he drew his bloodied weapon and plunged it directly into the guy's chest. He gasped and screamed in agony, to which Brevon grabbed his head and forced him to look at the warmonger in the eyes until, finally, they went out and his body went limp. Brevon removed his blade and threw the corpse to the ground, "Hmm...Interesting theory. But still very much wrong."

"HELLO SIR," came the unmistakable voice of Syntax. Since the time she had been...used by the cloaked person, Brevon had managed to fix it up again, even adding in the ability for this being to access its hologram abilities. Just in case. The robot spoke up again, "HAVE YOU BEHEADED THE INTRUDERS YET? FOR THERE IS AN INCOMING TRANSMISSION FROM GENERAL SERPENTINE."

Syntax backed up a bit, its eye once again glowing and showering a nearby area in a greenish light. In it was a hologram of Serpentine himself, holding a dark blue orb in his robotic mits. He laughed evilly, hissing out, "The full moon is out! Not a cloud in the sky!"

Lord Brevon was impressed. Suffice to say he had not taken the last news from him well, but refrained from torturing him; his work was still going to suffer if he did that work with the odd gaping wound. Instead he simply bellowed, "Don't relax just yet! Upload the scans and get back here immediately!"

"Yes, my Lord!"

And with that, the snake bowed and soon vanished. The hologram ceased too, leaving only Brevon and Syntax. Brevon was quick to speak, "Contact the crash site and tell them to refit our warp drive. I want the artefact to fit like a glove!"

"AS YOU WISH SIR..." Syantax trailed off, "...OH. IT APPEARS THE BEING FROM EARLIER IS TRYING TO CONTACT YOU ONCE MORE. SHALL I ALLOW HIM?"

"Hmm..." Brevon said, before standing back, "I suppose. Put him through."

Syntax obeyed and another flood of light swooped through its eye. The signal focused and, once more, was the shrouded man in the black cloak.

"What do you want?" Brevon asked bluntly.

"Well, I just wanted to congratulate you," the being said in its ever-strange voice, "I hear a certain someone is now the owner of a brand new, shiny super rock! Heh heh...grats."

"What is it to you?" Brevon asked again.

"It just proves you need me," the cloaked figure grinned, baring his sharp teeth again, "I helped Serpentine with distracting that Lilac brat, didn't I? Set up the RoboPanther as a decoy for my own target and that's just enough confusion for me sneak in and grab that wretched Stone."

"I will admit," Brevon sighed, looking disgruntled, "Your methods are too subtle for my tastes, but they work. I can only hope you have more effective methods up your voluminous sleeves."

"Abandon that hope, Arktivus," the creature growled, "Lilac knows about you now, and trust me; it won't be long until she comes gunning for you personally. But don't worry. She'll be coming alone."

"...How do you even know this data?" Brevon asked, pointing an accusing finger at the hologram, "There is no possible way for you to know of these events!"

"A shame. I can see a lot more than others. Almost like I know exactly what's gonna happen in this crazy little game of ours. Well, sort of. My range is...limited," the being shrugged, "I'm getting  old and weak, after all. Can't all be massive Gary-Stus like you, can we?"

"Then answer me this," Brevon said boastfully, "What has just happened with them and what will happen next?"

The figure looked serious, even with his hidden face, "The group are currently earning the trust of this egomaniac called Mayor Zao. They're just about to embark on an airship back to Shang Tu. So if you have any sense you'll send in the Sky Battalion and paste 'em. Otherwise, much like that man over there said, you'll fail. Because of THEM."

"Lord Brevon will not fail to some braindead kids!" Lord Brevon bellowed, insulted, "How DARE you even suggest I will die such a disgraceful death by some random fool who thinks she's the hero!"

"...Think you're invincible, huh?" the figure grumbled, his mangled voice thick with disgust, "...Watch your back in the future, Brevon. You never know who might stab you in it..."

The hologram ceased and Syntax was still hovering in place, "THE FIGURE APPEARS TO BELEIEVE YOU ARE NOT INVINCIBLE, LORD BREVON."

"He's a fool, then!" Brevon continued his bellowing, "Regardless, he is the only vague way we can know where that wretched Chaser will be. We have the Stone, so now all we need to do is charge our batteries and get off this planet. Then we'll let it have it! Nuke every last settlement and use the power of the Kingdom Stone to take over the entire universe!"

"WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, MASTER BREVON, THAT SOUNDS LIKE A BIT OF A STRETCH."

"...A bit of a stretch..." Lord Brevon said in a disgusted tone, "I knew that cloaked fellow was too good at what he does. Just go and get the warp drive ready. NOW!" Sytnax agreed and flew off to reach the crash site. Brevon, angry and annoyed, stomped his way out of the room once more; 

"We're getting off this rock, even if it kills me!"

============
Back in Shang Mu
============

It was Carol first to exit the dining room, a slow plodding caricature of what she ususally was. She had forgotten just how much sushi she had devoured over the past couple hours, but it must've been about 25 servings. Not enough, she dared to think. She waddled over to the wooden seats placed just outside the hall and then collapsed into it. As she took deep, hearty breaths to stave off the sickness, the others soon followed suit. First was Milla, who took had eaten quite a lot of sushi, and as such was being carried by an as-ever stoic Master. Milla's face, while still happy and shiny, was showing signs of being twisted into one of sickness too, while Master kept that almost-miffed look on his face he always had. He and Torque, while happily feasting on the sushi just as much as the others, had not eaten as much and as such were forced to help the more bloated members out of the room and into the outside air. Torque was followed by Mayor Zao, who was as ever small and smug. For while the girls and Master had been chowing on the sushi, he and Mayor Zao had been talking about the power problems and what could be done. It soon ended with Torque suggesting a truce, to which a few select others agreed. Sadly, Mayor Zao was not among those people,

"An alliance with Shang Tu?" Mayor Zao began, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "What a lovely idea! ’Oh hey Majister! Sorry about ambushing your soldiers, stealing your priceless artefacts, shooting up your ancient temple and managing to lose it to a bunch of insects! Let's go frolicking in the woods together with our makeup and frilly dresses!"

Another sudden jingle ruptured the air and some more words appeared over Mayor Zao's head. The words this read, '+5 SARCASM'. Master jumped again, nearly dropping Milla in the process, but steadied himself.

He sighed wearily, "You know, in the universe I'm currently staying in, that would actually be seen as a good idea."

"Your Excellency, we're a neutral party," Lilac said dutifully, "Sent by the other party in-fact. Send us to speak on your behalf."

"No offence, but...how will THAT work?" the Mayor asked, "If he won't listen to the greatest ruler in all of Avalice, why would he listen to a bunch of kids?"

"Oh, I'm sure we can talk them into it," Master said again, setting Milla down, "As long as we with reason and persuasion."

"What do you mean?" Carol asked from the bench.

"Well, to put it another way..." Master grinned under his scarf, motioning to Blade, "Here's reason..." and then fished out his handgun and held it in his other hand, "And here's persuasion."

"Had to ask, didn't I?" Carol sighed.

"Aw, come on!" Milla, looking a little down, before scooting over to the Mayor and looking up to him with her puppy-dog eyes, "Pretty please?"

The Mayor's face seemed to radically shift from stoic to overly excited, as if Milla had set him into some odd 'cute trance'. Lilac seized this moment and quickly walked to his side, wrapping one arm around his back and flinging another into the air, "Just imagine how much people are going to love you for uniting the three kingdoms against a common enemy! You'll be a hero!"

"Me...a War Hero?" Mayor Zao grinned, the stars in his eyes elevating to a pristine sheen slathered across his face, "Now that you mention it...I COULD use a few extra hands...ah what the heck? It's worth a shot!"

The group jumped for joy, except for Master naturally, and crowded around the Mayor, with Lilac in front, "Thank you, Your Excellency!"

"You're welcome!" Mayor Zao called out, skipping into the distance, "To the airship!"

The group paused for a second, but soon followed the small skipping Mayor away from the hall and into the courtyard. Carol, despite her initial sluggishness, was at the front of the pack, followed by Milla and Torque, along with Lilac and Master at the back. The group continued running into the expansive courtyard until the Mayor finally stopped, skidding to a halt in his funny little heels. The others stopped too, one at a time, until they were all standing in the middle of the expanse with guards at every part of it. Soon, there was a rumbling sound and a large airship soon descended from the heavens. It was large, about the size of a single ship from that horrific armada seen before, only painted a more inviting shade of red, even on the wood. Its sails were a majestic ruby shade and stretched across the entire deck of the ship, ending in jet engines at the back and cannons situated everywhere along its sides. The impressive transportation eventually landed with a jolt, leaving most of the group with wide eyes and open mouths. The Mayor turned to look at them, looking quite pleased with himself.

"We...we get to ride in THAT?" Carol asked quietly before breaking out into a frenzied flail, "OHMYGREATDRAGONYES!!!"

"But of course!" the proud Mayor boasted heartily, "It's equipped with everything you'll need for your trip, including luxurious living quarters."

"Impressive..." Torque said in amazement, "Beautiful and practical too."

"Damn, if you think THIS pretty..." Master himself looked a little smug, "You've never seen a steampunk airship from Universe ST3A12. Now THAT brings a tear to one's eye. But, I'll be honest, this looks just as cool."

"Beats sleeping in a tree, at least..." Blade added, "Alright, let's get on-board!"

They did so, entering through the main entrance and clambering up to the deck. All five heroes were standing on the deck, leaning on the rails, as the engines flared up. Mayor Zao was below, waving fanatically, "Good Luck, my friends!"

"Goodbye!" came a final squeal from Milla. Soon, the airship's hulking body was zooming into the night sky, and it did not take long to be nothing more than a dot on the horizon.

===========
One Hour Later
==========

It was easy to see that Lilac was mesmerised. Both she and Carol were sitting on the edge of the deck, looking over the railings while their legs dangled over the abyss below. Behind them was Master, leant against a sail pole but still quite close to the girls. In the distance was the planet in all its forestry glory, verdant plains and trees stretching on for as far as the eye could see. To Lilac, it was all so...beautiful. And it pained Master to know that, if he failed, this same Lilac would soon be turning these plains to fire and ashes without pause.

"Just imagine it, Carol..." came the awestruck dragon, "There are other worlds out there, just like ours..."

"Not just worlds, mind you..." Master said, tipping his glasses as if tipping a hat, "Other universes. Multiple Planet Avaliace's with multiple Lilac's and Carol's and Milla's. All going on their separate ways and doing heroic things to fight other Brevon's and Serpentine's and Spade's. It's...heartwarming, to say the least."

"Heartwarming?" Carol asked, "How so?"

"Well..." Master started, going against his better judgement and sitting where the two girls were too, "After so much death and destruction, it's always nice to see people across the multiverse consistently doing good. I've travelled through so many universes, I've lost count. I've spent a good three years meandering around this quarter alone. I've seen so much, done so much. I've fought alongside revolutionaries and Government agents, against heroes and villains. War, blood, battle, torture...oh, so much torture. I've seen the very worst a man can do. And then some. It gets...sickening, after a while."

"Why keep going, then?" Lilac asked, "Why keep at this Multiverse Vigilante business you keep mentioning? Don't you ever want to stop?"

"I do..." Master sighed, "I've thought about it before, I've even done it. Ever since the first time the Elder Masters ripped my powers from me, I went on a crusade against them, screaming against the heavens any way I could. But then my powers slowly returned and I cooled down...and I realised how much good I had done in the past. Thought the multiverse needed someone like me."

"The way you're going about it," Carol said, sort of amused, "It's like you have something to atone for."

You could say that..." Master lay down on his back, "I've seen a lot. But I've done so much more. And a lot of it is...well, all I can say is that I have a lot to atone for. For all I know, I might never stop. But I want to. Find some space to live on, with my girlfriend, just have a nice quiet life, you know?"

"Aww, cheer up..." Lilac smiled endearingly. "You'll make things right one day, I'm sure of it."

"Heck, maybe WE could take over your little expedition!" Carol said, looking quite excited, "We could go on space adventures! Don't you think that'd be so cool??"

"Are you kidding? It'd be the coolest thing ever!" Lilac grinned back, her smile from before still intact.

"You know, it's funny..." came Torque's distant voice, "I remember thinking the same thing once..."

Lilac turned to the alien. He seemed to be brooding, out of his shellduck outfit and looking into the distance, "Did you have a change of heart?"

"Not really, no..." Torque sighed, his gaze never looking at the others, "I guess I just wasn't prepared for the sacrifices I had to make...just gotta keep moving forward with this mission, I guess. No point thinking about a past that can't be changed."

"Amen, comrade," Master sighed too.

"Thanks..." Torque said, his voice returning to its more natural tone, "Hey, where's the other girl?"

"Milla?" Lilac looked puzzled, "I'm not sure...can you go check, Carol?"

"Sure..." Carol said wistfully, slowly walking off to the other end of the ship.

Lilac stifled a yawn, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to sleep..."

"I'm fine," Torque said, "You go on ahead."

"Yeah, I'll probably wait a little more myself..." Master stretched, "Probably watch the ship while you sleep. G'night, dragon girl."

Lilac smiled a final time before retreated into the cabins for the night. Soon, with no Lilac or Carol, it was just Master and Torque with the sounds of the wind and the engines for company. Master stood up and stood next to the brooding Torque, looking out into the distance, "Look at this view, man. Think about it, too; if either of us fail in our missions, this will be nothing more than a wasteland..."

"I know..." Torque sighed, "So, a Multiverse Vigilante, huh? A rare profession. Never thought I'd get to see one in person."

"Well, it's not the dream job your people probably said it is..." Master said, "As I said, you see a lot of horrible things on the job. The only thing that motivates me is that I've done a lot worse. One of those I wish to avert while I'm here..."

"This, uh..." Torque asked, "This atonement of yours...what're you atoning for? I mean, I'm atoning for getting my friends killed or enslaved by Brevon, but..."

"Yeah...tell you what, Torque. I'll tell you...everything. But on the strict rule you NEVER tell the others. Got it?"

"Got it."

"Good. I'll start from the beginning..."

===================
On the Other Side of the Ship
===================

Carol, keeping the others out of earshot, crept further along the deck of the ship. Milla was near the aft-end, leaning against the finned part of the ship that lead to the cabins and looked out into the night sky.

"So..." Carol said quietly, "What're you doing, Milla?"

"I'm..." Milla started, a single tear in her eye, "I'm making a wish."

"Oh..." Carol said, leaning to the side, "What kind of wish?"

"Well..." Milla said, a hint of sadness in her voice, "I really wanna see my mommy and daddy again..."

"Sounds like something nice to wish for..." Carol said, "Uh...did you know your parents?"

"Not really..." Milla stifled a sniffle, "I only knew them from when I was a cub. The only ones who respected these...Sira powers. Then there was this war..."

"The Avalice Cival War?" Carol asked, "The one where the kingdoms of Shuigang and Shang Mu had that battle?"

"Yeah..." Milla sniffled at last, "My parents had to go fight for Shang Mu...I never saw 'em again. I had to take shelter in the sewers of Shang Tu just for protection...you know..."

"Aww..." Carol looked down as well, hugging the softly crying hound, "That's so sad...look, it's alright. Everything'll be okay. Come on, we're going to get some sleep. How 'bout that? I can make you some hot caoco..."

"...Okay!" Milla said, very quickly returning to her old happy self. She and Carol quickly retreated into the cabins too. It wasn't long before Master and Torque were also hobbling their way to the cabins to sleep off all that sushi. Master looked ashamed, while Torque looked disturbed.

"...You did all that?"

"MasterSelves, even half-breeds like myself can be quite unstable," Master sighed, "The bond of a relative is strong, certainly strong enough to throw even normal level-headed men into the realms of insanity. Surely you must know that?"

"...I know," Torque sighed, "Come on. Better get some sleep..."

=======
That Night
=======

It was that time of the night again. Master always hated that. Every time he fell asleep he at best had a 50/50 chance of having a quiet night. And, sadly, those odds often went up after particularly busy days such as this one. On non-quiet nights, such as this time, he would dream he was in a blackened void, small fires dotting the area, and he would have to talk to someone he once knew. Most of the time it was Franky, who in all honesty still wasn't that happy to see him owing to the...incident they had both been caught up in before, speaking in his cryptic riddles as ever.

"Great..." Master's voice echoed across the void, "THIS again! Blade? You here buddy? No...well, looks like I'm alone. Again. Alright, Franky-Boy! Where are you? Where're your riddles?"

"Actually, he's not here..." came another, different voice, "Couldn't find him, so...I'm sorta here instead."

Master's brow rose in confusion and he glanced over to where the voice had came from. It was another hedgehog, this one female and petite. She too had brown fur, but a much lighter shade than Master's had ever been and she had eyes that gleamed a dazzling green. She was clad in a blue bodysuit with white accents and lines, alongside traditional white gloves and blued shoes. Finally was a green bag hanging from a strap wrapped around her shoulder, its side emblazoned with a red cross. One of her large, almost bat-like ears twitched a bit as she simply stood in front of the bewildered Master.

"Sonar?" Master asked, the confusion melded in thickly with his voice, "What're you doing in my head?"

"...I 'unno..." Sonar shrugged, "I'm just kinda...here. In the same way the others were here."

"Well, in all due respect, it's nice to see you again," Master chirped, taking the long-eared hedgehog's hand and shaking it, "I haven't seen you for a long time!"

"About a year and a half, I know," Sonar hummed, "Well, you're not really talking to the really real Sonar here. You're just talking to your sub-conscious who's just taken on her form and parts of her personality because another form is, for whatever reason, missing."

"What, you mean Franky?" Master asked, "Well, where's he gone off to, then? Good Chaos, he didn't jump ship to Lilac's noggin, did she?"

"Nobody knows," Sonar sighed, "Though I've...well, you've noticed that he seems to vanish for a few days every time you land in a new universe. So for all we know, he might. Gotta say, though; dude gets around."

"Great..." Master sighed, flopping to the floor and sitting there, "I'm trying to get Lilac through this with both her brain and body in one piece and my ex-best friend is probably prancing around having the time of his life."

"You know, it's funny..." Sonar smirked, "I thought you were sick of him guilt tripping you."

"Yeah, but I don't want him guilt tripping others instead!"

"Aww, it's fine," Sonar smiled, sitting beside Master, "I won't try to guilt trip you. For all I know, you've probably gone through enough. That, and Sonar is supposed to be a medic. Compassion is kinda necessary. Sadly, I do have a warning for you."

"Oh?" Master asked sarcastically, "Well, what is it?"

"The journey back to Shang Tu," Sonar sighed, "Turns out it's all been a farce. There is nothing but pain and suffering back home."

"And let me guess..." Master sighed, "You can't tell me."

"Well, I AM still a part of you, form of a beloved medic regardless," Sonar said quietly, "All I know is that Neera-Li is involved somehow. As expected, I guess. I have the horrible feeling that she's going to cause a lot of trouble for your group down the line. Better watch your back, Man Who Keeps Passing Through..." she sighed and stopped, before suddenly jumping, "OH! Before I forget, this might help..."

She then dug into her bag and fished out a small blue bottle, "Here. Your body found a way to counteract the poison from Brevon's blade. Should help your stomach wound heal. Take it, 'cause trust me; you'll need it..." she handed the bottle to Master, then stood up, "Sorry, Traveller, but I've gotta go. You're gonna wake up soon, anyway."

Master looked at the bottle, then endearingly at the form, "Thanks, Sonar."

"Don't mention it," Sonar smiled a final time, fading out just like Franky had with Lilac. Soon, even her wonderful smile was gone and Master was alone again. He sighed happily, staring wistfully at the bottle. It was small and blue, as said before, and it was also round and had a traditional wooden cork in the top. It had no label and a dark liquid was swirling around inside. Master smiled, removing his scarf and opening the bottle. Naturally, it smelt of roses (with a small hint of sunflower oil, for some reason), and looked vicious and uninviting. Still, it had to be drunk, otherwise Master was sure this stomach wound would be his downfall.

However, just as he was about to put the top of the bottle to his lips, a raging wind flew past his sitting form, throwing him to his back and flinging the bottle out of his hand. It eventually stopped, as if someone had caught in midair, and hovered in the air for a few seconds. Then there was a reverberating noise, one easily recognised as a cloak device failing, and a clawed and bloodied hand slowly came into existence. It was soon followed by the arm, then the creature's body and finally its legs and head. To Master's horror, the bottle was now in the grasp of the bloodied, black-eyed and crazed monster his whole mission was to avert.

"War Lilac!"

"Miss me?" came a wonderfully nasty growl, "War Lilac, at your service. And if I remember correctly, last time we met you shot me in the stomach and left me to die."

"And I swear you did the same to me," Master replied bitterly, "Much more painfully and with the blade of a madman."

"Indeed..." War Lilac giggled, juggling the bottle in her hand, "And now your body is trying to heal that wound...and I'm sorry, but I really can't let that happen..."

"Don't..." Master growled, throwing himself to his feet, "You...DO IT."

War Lilac's sharp and bloodied teeth curled into a smile and the bottle in her hand shivered violently as her claws dug deeper and deeper into it. Finally, it gave and the bottle shattered, spreading the liquid and shards of glass across the floor. War Lilac herself howled with pain as the shards dug deep into the palm of her hand, which quickly gave way to deranged laughter, "Hahahahaha! OOOH...that hurts so good!"

"Chaos..." Master called out, "What do I do to make you end up like...that?"

"Oh, I'm pretty sure you know WHAT you do..." War Lilac grinned, removing the remains of her left glove, "It's more WHO does it!" To Master's surprise, large gashes were spread across her wrist, like someone had dragged barbed wire across it, "Look familiar? And what about the corruption, that all should die for the sins of our fellows? To, as you once said, prove a point?"

"...No..." Master sunk to his knees in shock, "No...not him!"

"Yes him!" War Lilac screamed, throwing her hands to the sky and letting out a disfigured laugh, "So you better work overtime boy!"

Master, face scrawled into pure rage, sprinted forward towards the twitching War Lilac, hoping to land a punch somewhere on her. However, at the last second some sort of chasm opened up beneath him, throwing him off his feet and leaving him hanging on the edge of this deep abyss. A chuckling War Lilac soon grabbed Master by his own left wrist and hoisted him up.

"Looks like you're gonna wake up soon..." War Lilac chuckled, "Gotta go back to old Neera and get it over with!"

"Get it over with?" Master asked, exasperated, "The hell d'ya mean?"

"Well, I'll be fair," War Lilac shrugged, "I'll give your fairer warning than that medic ever could. Neera's gonna get you guys locked up tomorrow. Torque will get set free and then...oh-h, and then..." Master suddenly winced as a hideous, piercing shriek filled his ears. To his abject terror, the voice matched that of Lilac's and the sound of surging electricity was mixed in. War Lilac grinned again, "Ha, that old Brevon! Always electrocuting people for the means of torture! Have to say, though, it REALLY gets the kinks out of your back..."

"No..." Master growled, "You're lying! I know you are! Why should I beleive you?"

"'Cause I've gone through this before, remember?" War Lilac said cockily, "Every stab, every gunshot wound, every bite and slash and..." she tussled the one synthetic tendril she had left, "Removal. I have had to sit through every last drawn-out, agonising, disgraceful second and believe me, I WILL make sure he inflicts every single one of those on you. Bon voyage!"

And with that, War Lilac's grip loosened. Master screamed as he fell deep into the abyss. The last thing he saw was War Lilac's sneering, ravaged face, before only total darkness and the sound of a thump.

===
???
===

"Traveller!" came Milla's voice, "Wake up!"

Master awoke with another start and fumbled around in his panic. He finally calmed down and sat up. He was in the cabins within the belly of ship, having just woken up. He was sprawled out on the floor, having seemingly fallen out of bed, and was still covered with the quilts. He was only wearing his black t-shirt and trousers, his scarf and jacket sitting on the nearby chair and putting his glasgow grin on show for all to see. Only Milla herself was in the room, panicked and misty-eyed. Explosions rocked the ship and sent both crashing onto their backs once more.

"What's going on?!" Master called out amongst the inferno.

"It's the Sky Batal...the Sky Batta...no..." Millla fumbled, "The airships. They're trying to shoot us down!"

"The Sky Battalion!" Blade called out, sat amongst the pile of clothes, "Dammit, I knew we overslept! Slugger, we gotta move!"

"Wait, where're the others?" Master asked.

"Carol and Lilac are taking out the cannons on the other ships!" Milla hastily explained, "Torque's trying to take the third one down!"

"I slept though THAT?"

Milla said no more but a mere, "Come ON!" and dragged Master to his feet. He responded with speed too, grabbing the mound of clothes on the overturned chair. It didn't take long to get dressed and soon he was rushing out onto the main deck of the ship. It was a warzone out there; the deck was littered with huge holes and burning fires, all damaging the ship. In the sky and beyond were even more airships, painted a mean green shade and even larger than Zao's ship, littered with robots and cannons and firing with gusto on both heroes' positions. Master grabbed Milla and dodged out of the way, slamming against the side of the cabin wall as a large cannonball smashed into the deck and created another massive hole in it. Master set Milla down and looked out towards the other ships.

"Dammit!" Master called out, "We've gotta take one of these things down! Milla! Do you know which ships they're on?"

"Lilac said she was going to take on the Metal Ship..." Milla said, struggling to remember the details, "Uh, and Carol said she'd take on the Fire Ship! Torque's taken on the Water Ship!"

"That only leaves the one in front of us, the Earth Ship. But I won't be able to get close enough to take those cannons on at this rate!" Master growled, "I'm going to have to use the RPG."

"Aww come on!" Blade whined, "We were saving that for when we went to Universe Z0M2011! The multiverse can only handle so much awful stupidity!"

"I know, but this is more important!" Master cried out quickly. He quickly dug into his jacket and began to fish out items clearly bigger than the pockets themselves. First was a metal lunchbox, "No..." which he threw away, followed by some kind of bag with a belt of bullets hanging out of it, "No..." and then a silver bracelet with a light blue orb on it, "Oh. So that's where Chip's neck thing went." Finally, there was a click and Master's expression changed instantly. Soon, he dragged a large long tube out of his jacket pocket, the tube having two handles and some kind of scope alongside a wooden finish. He then dragged out a rocket of some type, feeding it into the mouth of the tube and twisting it into place.

"What's that?" Milla asked in her usual innocent way.

"Ruchnoy Protiv...uh..." Master said, fumbling, "Uh, it's known as the RPG-7. A hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher, though often referred to as a rocket launcher for convenience. Found it in a black market in Universe STH2006 and fitted it with a laser targeting device. Hits where it aims...mostly. Anyway, stay there. You REALLY don't want to get caught in the backblast of this thing!"

Milla ducked out of the way and Master sprinted across the deck of the ship, aiming the launcher with only a single hand. His rocking hand steadied and he pulled the trigger, sending a spray of smoke out of both ends of the tube. The rocket itself screamed its way across the sky and arched around multiple times, tumbling towards one of the airships. It collided with one of the cannons of the nearest ship, the direct hit tearing through the creation and dragging its remnants back down to the planet's surface. Master, clearly pleased at this turn of events, fished out another rocket and loaded it, ready to fire another round. Milla, standing behind the wall, had a quick spark of genius and rushed out across the deck too, carrying another green block of energy above her head. The cannons fired again and Milla stopped, holding the block out in front of her and hoping for the best. The cannonball collided with the large cube and was sent sailing across the sky back to the airships, smashing into the jet engines and causing the ship to become unstable. Master took this opportunity and fired his second rocket into the ship as well, finally destroying the infernal transportation. Its sails caught fire and the hunk of wood, now totally aflame, went screaming into the planet below.

"Yeah!" Master cried out in victory, before suddenly stopping cold, "Uh, I hope Lilac wasn't on that one!"

"Nah, I checked it," Blade said, chuckling, "She's fine. Plus, she seems to be coming back here!"

It didn't take long, but eventually the ships stopped firing. In-fact, they seemed to be turning away. Master peered out over the wooden barrels he was hiding behind and looked out on the deck. Three shapes were slowly coming into focus, flying down to the ship on some kind of rocket-powered lifeboat. On it were indeed the three heroes of Lilac, Carol and Torque, somewhat battered and singed but mostly okay.

"Guys!" Milla cried out, bounding across the deck to tackle Lilac into a hug, "We did it!"

"We?" came Lilac's croaky, singed voice, "What happened to Sir Sleepsalot?"

"We're up, don't worry!" Blade said, "And we're fine. Managed to take down one of the airships, too!"

"We saw," Torque said, "You blasted that thing out the sky with only two rockets and a cannonball. Primitive, but impressive."

"Yeah, I saw it too," Carol said, "Shook the ship I was on to its core, but at least it rocked the cannons out of the ship itself. So you saved me a lot of work!"

"And I just happened to run into Spade," Lilac said, "That explosion of yours allowed me to drive him away, thank the Great Dragon."

"Spade was here?" Torque asked, "Why?"

"I don't know..." Lilac sighed, "I tried to tell him that Lord Brevon was to blame, but all he did was ignore it and try to throw me off the ship."

"Hmm hmm hmmmmm," came a rather weasely laugh, "My brother, always the arrogant and spineless traitor he always has been. At least I defend my kingdom!"

"Another unknown voice?" Master asked, irritated.

"Not this time..." Lilac growled, "That's Prince Dail!"

The heroes looked up into the skies. Amidst the quickly fleeing airships of war was something that could only be described as a mechanical monstrosity of a bird. Its massive metal plumes spread across the sky, each situated with some glowing blue orbs and a few specks of chipped paint. The body itself was also large and heavily armoured, with plates attached across its body, and two clawed feet to match. Finally came its head, large and majestic, but armed with some kind of lasers built into the eyes. And sitting on top of this machine was a panda of some kind; a regal, ruined individual who was clad in robes as green as the forests below them. Upon closer look, however, he looked ravaged with many rips in his clothing and obvious signs of repair everywhere. It certainly didn’t help that the creature's eyes were glowing a dull, disgusting red. The creature sat just behind the bird's neck, holding onto it and hiding behind a forcefield of some kind.

"Prince Dail..." Torque said with surprise, attempting to bow, "It's an honour!"

"Do not kneel to me, traitors!" the Prince shouted, his voice bombastic but seemingly synthetic, "We have a score to settle."

"Let me guess..." Carol said, exasperated, "You think we're the killers of your father."

"I'm not guessing," Prince Dail growled, "I KNOW. You killed my father, and you must pay for it!"

"This is gonna be one of those days..." Carol sighed.

"Prince Dail, please!" Torque quickly stepped out in front of him, "Listen to us. We know who your father's killer is! You're working for him!"

"Lord Brevon..." Prince Dail growled, throwing his head around in agony, "AARGH! NO! You lie!"

"I'm not lying," Torque said quietly, "Please, calm down and stand down. We can help you..."

Torque got no more time to say anything else, as what could only be described as a giant ball of electricity smashed into him at top speeds, sending him flying across the deck. He landed and rolled, eventually crashing into a bunch of barrels to stop his tumble. Lilac cried out in anguish and ran over to him, checking him over. He was injured, but thankfully the blast's damage had been mild. The Prince smiled smugly and edged forward in his machine, eager to finish him off. Instead, however, came a flurry of spins and kicks that rocked the bird to its core, damaging a good deal of its glowing plumage orbs and sent the Prince himself reeling. He looked up, growling, at the angry Lilac.

"Not a chance!" Lilac said, her teeth grated, "You're not hurting my friends!"

"You WILL face justice!" Prince Dail barked in response, "Surrender!"

There was thundering sound of wooden footsteps as the others heroes rushed across the deck to Torque and stood in front of him, guarding him. Carol was first, "No chance, buster!"

Milla was next, "I...I can't! I WON'T!"

And Master was last, "I will not bow to some decedent dandy!"

"So...you have all chosen death..." The Prince's voice was quiet and subtle at first. Then, with a monstrous creak, the bird activated all of its cannons and fired upon the heroes, who narrowly dodged it and dragged Torque out of the way. The creature then arched its head back and roared with a mechanical screech, its owner roaring alongside him, "HOW PATHETIC!"

The Prince wasted no time in attacking the group again, raising himself fully into the sky and screaming down onto the deck of the ship. Master grabbed Torque and dragged him out of the way, spiriting across the deck and off into the cabins, while Carol and Milla split off to attack the being from all sides. This only left Lilac to fight the Prince head on, which she did with ease. First she jumped up and onto a nearby rocket lifeboat, springing off it and spinning directly into the creatures plumes. A good portion of what remained of the orbs were smashed too, rocking the robotic bird and almost throwing the Prince off. He steadied himself and mashed buttons installed onto the neck of the bird, causing its wings to bend. Between the tips came a slowly forming ball of light blue, very similar to what Torque had been knocked out by, which the creature shifted and launched towards the dragon. The energy ball barely missed Lilac, grazing her tendrils and singing the fur. This did not throw Lilac off, however, and she managed to smash the final few orbs. The forcefield around the Prince disabled with an audible crackle and Lilac took her chances. She threw herself into the Prince's location boots first, striking him in the face with both feet. He tumbled off the bird and smacked into the deck, groaning with the pain. Lilac closed in to restrain him, but he dodged and dashed back onto the bird before Lilac could blink. All she could see was a green outline of the Prince before she looked up into the sky to see the robot bird dive bomb her once more.

Carol attacked soon after, jumping onto the robot and grabbing the Prince by the wrists, wrenching control of the contraption away from him. The bird swung wildly about in the sky, sending the two flying left and right but both stayed on. Milla approached next, a block of energy already in her hands, and she jumped into the air. Another giant laser came screaming from her hands, slicing through most of the plumes and sending them crashing to the deck of the ship. She too jumped onto the back of the bird and wrestled to keep the Prince away from the controls. Lilac watched with awe before she received a sudden bump from Master, the Blade of Hysteria in clasped tightly in his hand, He silently pointed to the top of the ship's sail supports, to which Lilac seemed to understand. She grabbed him and rolled into another Dragon Boost, propelling her and Master high into the air. The Boost ceased and two were sailing high above the robot. Master then thrust Blade forward and once again split the blade itself into segments and wrapped the final few around one of the support beams. A few uneasy, windy seconds passed and soon the two were swinging across the ship and closing in on the quickly dissolving bird. Finally, it gave up and its engines cut out, sending the infernal thing plummeting towards the planet's surface along with the rest of it. The Prince was catapulted into the air, in a split second, all became clear to Lilac. She shifted position, grabbing Master's legs and stretching out her own, slamming both boots into the Prince's chest. He was sent flying off the side of the ship and colliding with one of the escaping transport vessels, hanging onto its landing gear for his life.

"You FOOLS!" he screamed in rage as the vessel zoomed off into the sky and beyond, "THIS IS FAR FROM OVER!"

Lilac sighed, flopping back onto the deck. Master did this too, stuffing Blade back into his holster. Carol and Milla approached separately and even Torque managed to limp towards the group.

"Well..." Carol said wearily, a big  grin spread across her face, "That was fun."

"Fun?" Milla whined, "How was that fun?"

"I dunno..." Master said, nodding, "I thought that was kinda fun too."

"Spade and Dail..." Lilac said softly, staring at the deck floor, "Why did they attack us? Spade isn't on Brevon's payroll...isn't he?"

"Best guess, he's just trying to find his father's killer," Torque said, "He'll never accept that the leader of his brother is the killer. It's almost as if someone's manipulating him behind the scenes."

"What about Dail?" Lilac asked, "He seemed to be in pain when mentioning Brevon..."

"As expected, really," Blade began to explain, "His brainwaves weren't in any way natural. In-fact, the only other time I've seen brainwaves like that is in victims of this robo-croc in Universe AG-213. Nasty little cretin he was; brainwashed and enslaved entire countries just to fuel his disgraceful desires. Still, his victims had radically different brainwaves, missing the ones that helped with conscience thought. Best guess, Brevon tortured the little sprog into complete servitude."

"Great..." Lilac sighed, "So he won't take no for an answer because he thinks Brevon is top dog?"

"Yes," Master said finally.

"Well, we managed to scare them off..." Torque sighed, scraping some debris off the deck, "And we have evidence of Brevon's involvement, too. A good portion of those escape vessels came from his army and the metals used are like nothing on this planet. With this, we have them! We need to get back to Shang Tu as soon as possible."

The others said no more, only agreeing with silent nods and then beginning to walk to the cabins. However, bounding along the deck towards them was a very panicked Milla.

"Guys!" she called out, "We have a problem!"

"She's right..." Blade mumbled, "Listen...do you hear anything? I can't. There are no sounds to hear..."

"Traveller, are you sure that weapon of yours isn't going a bit...you know..." Carol twiddled her fingers in a circular motion, "Senile?"

"No, he's right," Torque said, "Normally we'd be hearing the sound of the engines, but there's just...nothing."

The group stood around for a few seconds, slowly processing the information, before looks of shock spread across their faces and they dashed like madmen to the back of the ship. To their horror, the two majestic jet engines were now blackened charred messes, beyond inoperable, and emitted nothing but thick black plumes of smoke. The entire ship began to tilt forward and the rushing wind became stronger and louder, to almost unbearable levels.

"Oh no..." Master said, panicked. He rushed to protect Milla, grabbing her hyperventilating form, "Everybody get inside and hold onto something! We're going down!"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Right, in the new house. New Wi-Fi. Time for a new chapter! BE WARNED: this one has a death in it. It's quick, don't worry.

Where We Left Off: Having driven off the Sky Battalion (and crashing along the way), the group starts to work its way back towards Shang Tu to get the Majister on their side. But with knowledge of a potential betrayal on the side, and a worsening stomach wound, Master has begun to fear the worst. The time has come for things to go wrong.

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Chapter 6: Jade Creek Jailbreak

"Traveller...Travelleeeeer...can you hear me, Traveller?"

Master groaned with a scratchy voice, his head pounding like one of those idiotic bouncing robots he had seen in Shang Mu. His throbbing temple was eased by his shaking hand as the voice called out to him again.

"Come on, Traveller! Sorry to say this, but you ain't dead yet! OI!"

There was a sudden thump on Master's chest and he grunted in pain. His sense of sight soon came back to him and things began to look much clearer; he was in the cabins of Mayor Zao's airship, lying on his back with his stomach reeling from a blunt pain. The cabin was relatively stable and calm, with none of the extreme tremors that only a few good seconds ago had rocked the already doomed ship to its core. The memories slowly came flooding back to him; he had hid with Milla in here when the ship was going down, clasping her tightly in an effort to protect her. There was sudden, violent crash and Master was thrown unconscious. Only now could he see the young hound lying on the floor nearer to the beds. She was breathing and appeared to not be injured, bringing a sigh of relief to him. He turned his aching neck to see exactly who was in front of him. To his dismay, the black-eyed, red-pupiled, ravaged face of War Lilac was again staring back at him.

"Morning, sunshine!" she growled, stifling a deranged giggle within the middle of it, "It's nice to see you made it in one piece! Now, I know you might be wondering where you are. Don't worry, you're safe. And so is the dog. But...well, not for long."

"Wha..." Master groaned, his delirious mind rendering him unable to properly speak.

"Don't you worry about a thing, puddin'..." War Lilac said, her voice taking on a mockingly soft tone, "I'll be REAL gentle with her when I get my clawed mits on her small, frail form. I'll make her stronger AND better, just you wait and see! Wanna try and stop me? That's fine. But you better haul backside, slugger. You're already running out of time. You have one more day to make things right, to steer this timeline back onto the right path...but will you have the wheel?"

Her raucous and vicious laughter stung Master's damaged ears and he groaned in pain, swatting away at the incorporeal form like it was some kind of fly. Eventually, a hand grasped his own and his eyes managed to re-focus. In front of him now, in the place of the monstrous being from before, was the normal and sane Sash Lilac of old. Her face looked worried, rocking Master's body and keeping her hand on his chest.

"Traveller!" she called out, "Are you okay?"

"I'm..." Master managed to mumble, "I'm fine, really...what happened?"

"The ship's engines failed, remember?" Lilac said, "You told us to duck into the cabins for protection. We crashed and a good portion of us blacked out...I think. They're all up now and they're...mostly fine."

"Mostly?"

"Well..." Lilac sighed, "Carol's broke a rib from the impact and we've all got mild concussions, but otherwise we're fine."

"What about..." Master groaned, "What about Milla?"

Lilac looked confused for a split second, but Master quickly pointed to the hound spread out across the floor. Lilac rolled over to her and checked her over, taking her pulse and putting her hand to the little Basset's chest. She sighed in relief and crawled back over, "She's fine, Traveller. Got a sprained ankle I think, but she's going to be okay..."

Master said nothing, simply sighing in happiness and laying back down on the unforgiving floor. There was the sound of clomping on wood as Carol and Torque entered the scene.

"You made it!" Carol said happily, "But, did everyone make it?"

"Milla's okay..." Lilac said in a panicked way, "But, Traveller..."

"Hang on, let me see..." Carol stated, helping Lilac aside and staring at the floored creature. She too checked his pulse and heartbeat, before checking all limbs and then prodding his stomach, which made him yelp in pain, "Hmm..." she quickly held up three fingers on her left hand, "Hey, how many fingers am I holding up?"

Master flipped the bird in response.

Carol looked offended for a few seconds, but then donned a more amused face, "He's fine..." and stood up, grabbing Master's arm and helping him to his feet. In the distance was Torque, who was helping Milla up too."

"Well..." Torque said happily, "At least we're all up now. The ship had the incredible good fortune to crash into a river just outside of Shang Tu. It's waist deep in water in the engine bays, but I managed to get the pumps working again. It'll take some time, but we'll be able to sail this thing to the palace..." his face quickly donned an amused face just like Carol's, "It's weird. Here I was, thinking this ship design was for the look of it..."

"Until then?" Carol asked.

"Well, we have some time to kill," Torque shrugged, "Unless you want to help bail the water out and paddle the ship back into the city..." Carol looked a tad blank, "Heh, I kinda thought so. At worst, it'll be only two hours until we can get going. What do you Avalonians do to pass the time?"

"We watch movies..." Lilac said, counting the activities on her hand, "We play board games, sometimes go into the city for some dancing, maybe bake a cake."

"Sounds like fun," Master mumbled, wobbling slightly on his feet, "Shame we can't really do any of those here."

"Yeah..." Lilac sighed, "I guess we can just sit out on the deck and watch the trees go by..."

"Gets my vote," Carol said.

"Again, there isn't much we can do until this thing is fully pumped," Torque explained, "Suggest we...do..stuff."

The others nodded and headed out to the deck, Master last among them. Torque was about to leave when he heard yet another pained groan from Master. He turned to see the vigilante, only a few steps away from his original position, falling to his knees, clutching his stomach with one arm and keeping himself stable with the other. He seemed to have trouble breathing, and Torque could swear he even heard some garbled whimpering from him. Blade was also in a bit of a panic, screaming, "Slugger? Slugger! Keep it together, please!"

Torque rushed over to Master and helped support him, before helping him over to the cleanest bed and plopping him down onto it.

"Traveller!" he said, a large amount of worry woven into his voice, "Are you okay?"

"Well, I've been better..." Master said weakly. pointing to his stomach, "It's just...just..."

Torque acted swiftly and removed Master's scarf and jacket, leaving only his black shirt. And under that, to Torque's shock, was a thick covering of bandages stained a dark crimson. Upon closer inspection, however, they were not just stained; they were dripping with blood, saturated with such a precious life-giving fluids.

"I...uh...Chaos!" Torque called out, "What even IS this?"

"Something from before this little adventure," Blade said, bizarrely worried, "War Lilac stabbed him in the stomach with Brevon's blade, remember? Everybody's gone for the stomach in this little adventure and now it's starting to get worse. They gave us bandages to stem the blood flow, but that's it."

"That's it?" Torque asked, "They didn't try to stitch it up?"

"I don't think they could," Blade said, "This wound is bad enough without getting into all these fights to help keep it wider than the legs of an anthropomorphic smartphone game! I've devoted almost all my 'runtime' to getting it healed up, but it's been a nightmare. It's like the poison on the blade is sentient and actively fighting me every step of the way. I'm...I'm lost, Torque. I just don't know what else to do."

"It should've healed up by now, I know that," Torque said in a panicked manner, "Okay, okay, I can get this under control. I lost a lot of my medical tech when my ship crashed, but I managed to scavenge this thing..." he dug into his pockets and fished out some kind of large steel bracket with a needle and some thread, "This is a prototype of something we call a QuickStitch. Helps stitch up gaping wounds like this quickly and without error. Normally it would administer a strong painkiller before getting to work, but...look, Traveller. Just don't scream too loud."

"Why?" Master asked as Torque carefully set the bracket over his stomach wound. He soon got the answer as the bracket jumped, sending a large clanking sound into the air. There was a sudden, almost crippling pain in Master's stomach and he writhed as he screamed, "AARGH! Son of a...ARGH!"

"Told you," Torque sighed, removing the bracket. Master's stomach wound was now completely closed, a neat black line of thread zig-zagged across it, "It's not a permanent solution, but it should hold until we get to Shang Tu. We'll hand you over to the Royal Medics and maybe they can help. At the very least they can replace your bandages. They're as red as your scarf. Now, just sit here and get some rest. DON'T get up, whatever you do. I'll tell the others how bad it's gotten, it's for the best."

"Thank you...Torque..." Master breathed hastily, "You're a real freakin' saint around these parts."

"You're welcome..." Torque said, a small smile across his face. He gathered up the bandages and left the room, leaving Master and Blade alone.

"Blade..." Master sighed, holding the weapon above his head, "What was our plan after this?"

"Get back home, find some land to live on and live a quiet live with your raccoon girlfriend Emma," Blade said, his glow dim and his voice grave, "Well, if we live long enough. I don't want to say you've had it, but..."

"Then don't..." Master groaned, his arm going limp and his eyes clasping shut, "Let me rest..."

==============================================
Several Hours Later, in the Palace Waiting Rooms
==============================================

Lilac's brow dripped with sweat. For the past hour, they had been sitting just outside of the large, forboding doors to the Royal Chambers of the Majister, waiting for the word to enter. For the hour Lilac couldn't help the butterflies in her stomach, the sharp and tense feeling about seeing the Majister with this evidence. She knew the Majister was level-headed, sensible and open to new suggestions, but would even he believe their crazy story? It sounded like something out of science fiction; an evil warlord has conquered half the galaxy and now he plans to kill this planet off unless everyone can band together to stop him. It just sounded completely batty on paper.

She looked around, gulping and trying desperately to calm her nerves; Carol, Milla and Torque were sitting on the chairs beside her, Torque carrying a large chunk of the Sky Battalion in his hands. Master was nowhere to be seen, however; Lilac had gotten word of his ailments and, alongside Milla, had become almost sick with worry. Not that she really liked him as such, seeing as his sharp wit and short temper had almost gotten them into trouble a few times with royalty. Considering her own past, she knew that was the last thing they needed. But still, there was something charming to him, something that didn't make him totally unlikeable. For a man who roamed the fabric of reality, he seemed weak, both in mind and in body. She had read books about people like him, the kind everyone loved, never lost, always got the girl and always seemed to be the most powerful man in the universe. One of them, a blue hedgehog, he had ranted about on the journey here. And yet here he was; bad-tempered, emotionally-unstable, excessively violent and just wanting to stop, even when he seemed to know he couldn't. Perhaps, came that thought to her mind, that this was what truly became of great heroes, even as their legends were passed on.

She sighed and turned to Milla. She was sitting next to her, a look of worry neatly matching Lilac's own, pawing at her ears and breathing heavily.

"It's, uh..." Lilac stammered to Milla, "It's been a wild ride...hasn't it?"

"Y-Yeah..." Milla whimpered, her form shivering.

Lilac sighed briefly. She had heard her talk with Carol aboard the airship the night before, just before she went to bed. About how she lost her parents in that idiotic civil war. She supposed now was the time to ask about it. She slowly gathered up the courage and, "How long have you been away from your parents?"

"I'm not sure..." Milla sighed, "It feels like a really long time now..."

"And you've been alone in the woods and sewers of Shang Tu ever since?" Lilac asked. A solemn Milla nodded. Lilac's own face looked solemn too, before sprouting into a look of happiness, "I hope this doesn't sound strange, but...that's really impressive! Believe me, I wouldn't survive a day without my treehouse! I'll tell you what; when this is all over, how about we have a girls' night out? Just you and me?"

"AHEM!" came a slightly disgruntled voice from down the corridor.

"Well..." Lilac looked embarrassed, "Me and you and Carol. You know, try out some dresses, maybe go dancing. We could even buy a huge plate of sushi and just pig out!"

"Yeah, good luck getting ME in a dress!" Carol said playfully, a smirk spread across her face.

"Well, sure!" Milla giggled, "I'd like that!"

"Well, then," Lilac smirked, giving the playful hound's hair another rub, "That's what we'll do. Let Torque and Traveller clean the house for a change!"

"Hey, speaking of Traveller..." Carol said inquisitively, "Where is he? He didn't look too well when we got off the ship. I'm starting to wonder if he collapsed."

"I handed him over to the Royal Medics," Torque spoke up, still clutching at the shrapnel, "His stomach perforation from before hasn't got any better. If anything, it's been getting worse. What he was stabbed with had some poison on the end of the blade, something seemingly sentient that can repel even that Hysteria Blade's natural healing ability."

"It's been an hour," Lilac said, "How long will it take them?"

"You have to remember," Torque explained, "That the poison is part of Lord Brevon's technology, or as close as you can get. Whatever it is, it's way more advanced that your own world's. They won't be able to do much, but hopefully just enough to keep him stable until we get this ordeal through and through."

"Out of my way!" came a slurring voice from down the hall, "Stupendous git coming through!"

There was the sound of the odd shove and heavy footsteps down towards the others. There was Master, a beaten and plodding mockery of his former self; stumbling, slurred and incredibly unhinged. He stopped and stared bitterly at Carol, his face twisted into a sneer, "What're you smirking at, Casual?"

"Nothing..." Carol said, somewhat offended, "Uh, Blade thingy? What's up with him?"

"Big shock, the surgeons couldn't really do anything," Blade explained with a grumble, "They don't know how to counteract the poison, but they've managed to keep the damn wound shut. Military grade staples, just to be on the safe side. They've also replaced his bandages, washed his blood-stained clothes and given him enough painkillers to down a T-Rex. Only real problem is that they're so strong they're affecting his mood. Poor guy's gone a bit delirious on us."

"Well, at least you're alright now," Torque said re-assuredly, "And hey, your clothes don't smell all matted anymore."

"Indeed," Blade said, suddenly sounding a lot happier, "The scarf especially! He hasn't washed the thing since 2013! I've never been so glad to smell the scents of vanilla candles!"

"...You can smell?"

"Excuse me, Miss Lilac..." came one of the guards by the doors, to which everyone turned to look at, "Uh, the Royal Majister is ready to see you now."

"Oh Great Dragon, here we go!" Lilac stammered, the feelings of tense again attacking her nerves.

"Right, here is what we'll do," Torque explained, "I sense you have a history with these people and we cant risk the bias. And if what you said about this Neera-Li is any indications, Traveller won't do much either, especially with those painkillers in him. I'm the neutral one, pretty much, so let me do the talking. There's a far bigger chance they'll believe me."

"Fair enough," Lilac said, suddenly turning to Master, "And you. I know you're a bit loopy, but we can't have a repeat of what happened at the Temple. So even if you see Neera, say NOTHING. Clear?"

"Crystal..." Master grumbled back.

=============================
Meanwhile, in the Royal Chambers
=============================

General Gong looked bored. Same as ever. He was waiting in the Royal Chambers alongside The Majister himself, sitting in the chair looking bored himself. The only other one there was Neera and she looked anything BUT bored; she had a rather nasty sneer splattered across her face, like someone had taken a glob of negative emotions and just...actually, scratch that. That was a bad analogy. Regardless, she looked like she was definitely not looking forward to this. Perhaps she just didn't want to see that Master fellow again. Understandable, Gong supposed. He wasn't the absolute best when they had first met in the Temple and wasn't really all that polite the next time, either. 

One of the guards had just called them in, however, and soon the whole group was walking towards him and the others. They were all the same; The shellduck was in front, the Lilac and Carol, then the flying hound with the good sense of smell and finally that Master guy. He looked tired, run down and quite grouchy. He had heard from soldier gossip that someone had entered the medical chambers a mere hour ago, so either he was just grouchy or was tanking a good three prescriptions worth of painkillers. He decided, for the best, to stay out of his way. At least he tolerated him, he supposed, which was still better than Neera. They entered the middle of the room as he approached them.

"My friends!" he bellowed in his natural boisterous way, "How did the negotiations fare?"

"Prince Dail took the Stone," the shellduck spoke up, "We need to speak to the Majister immediately."

"Well, you've come to the right place!" Gong laughed, "This way, please." He took the others to just in front of The Majister and made them bow. The Master guy grumbled, but did it anyway. The Majister sat up from his seat and stood before them, an imposing figure.

"A thousand good greetings you, Majister..." Torque said, still bowing.

The Majister did not move beyond a blink, only speaking in his baritone buzz, "It is my understanding that Shuigang is now in possession of the Kingdom Stone..."

"Not exactly, Your Greatness. Someone else has it. It's been taken by a warlord named Brevon. He has been manipulating the three kingdoms into waging war."

"And do you have proof?" The Majister asked.

"I do," Torque said. He walked forward and placed the chunk of scrap on the floor, "This is a fragment of one of Brevon's machines. Have your best scientists examine it. You'll find that its mineral composition doesn't match anything that's built on your world."

"I see..." The Majister said, rubbing his shadowed chin, "Well, I guess there cannot be any harm in it. General Gong, if you would be so kind to pick it up and carry it to our labs..."

"Yes, Majister, sir..." Gong said. He plodded over to the scrap and was about to pick it up, when...

"HOLD IT!" came the inevitable scream. It was from Neera-Li, her face scrunched into a sneer of hatred, stomping her way over to the group, "This...theory you have of a man from an other world seems highly suspicious at best."

Lilac went a silent pale. She knew the Majister would agree to this, even with her doubts, but Neera? Neera would do ANYTHING to put her and Carol behind bars. She hated thieves and always wanted things done her way. A pity people always seemed to listen to her and follow her without fail, just because she was an ex-Royal Adviser.

The panda looked over to The Majister, a smug grin across her face, "If you would allow me to explain, Majister, I have a different theory in mind. This is nothing but an attempt from Mayor Zao to cover up the atrocity he committed against our Kingdom Stone. He must've offered you a generous reward to come here and make up this absurd story. After all..." her smug grin grew wider, "You can't resist money, Sash Lilac and Carol Tea..."

"Keep that grin on your face..." a very unstable Master growled, "SEE WHAT HAPPENS."

"Oh? Am I getting to you?" Neera's smile vanished, "And if you would be so kind as to refer to me by my actual name. I was kind enough to refer to yours. You were quite the fortune tellers yesterday, so I wanted to see what made you tick. Some...individual helped me do a few background checks. Not only have the two of you been stealing crystal shards, you've been working for the same group that claimed responsibility for the stone's theft! The Red Scarves!"

"Oh yeah, and YOU used to work for a moronic prince who's tried to lay waste to a good portion of the planet just because the other two won't share!" Master retorted, pointing his finger like his gun, "You don't work for him anymore, but I'll probably get a savage beating if I mention it. What makes YOU any better than us?!"

"Irrelevant," Neera barked, "These people are criminals and spies, your Excellency!"

"Hmm..." The Majister was calm and conductive, not jumping to any conclusions, "Is this so, Miss Lilac?"

"Majister, please listen to us!" Lilac said calmly, "We are no longer members of the Scarves. We left a long time ago. We did what we had to do to survive, but we won't kill for it! What's the point of living if you extend yours by ending others?"

"Hmm..." The Majister said, looking out of the window in deep contemplation, "If what you say is true, then by all means I shall examine the evidence and you can all go free. However, there is no known surefire evidence. And, quite sadly, you have an infamous killer among your ranks."

"An infamous killer?" General Gong asked, "Who?"

Everyone else, Lilac excluded, slowly turned to Master. His skin went pale, as did the glow of Blade go dim. Blade spoke in a panicked tone, "We've been caught, slugger!"

Master was instead angry, turning to Torque, "YOU TOLD THEM?!"

"No!" Torque yelped, "I swear I didn't!" 

"I guess it would be inevitable information about you and your deeds would be linked to our...information system," Neera said, "You of all people should know that buried secrets come up to haunt you someday."

"But I'm beyond that, dammit!" Master pleaded, desperation in his voice, "I was young, I was stupid! You do stupid stuff when you're young! You've ALL done stupid stuff in your younger days! I'm trying to atone, trying to better myself, escape this wretched past of mine! And no-one can get in the way of that, including you! And I actually do respect you!" he saluted to The Majister, "Sir."

"I cannot take any chances, Mister Traveller..." The Majister sighed, "Detain them until further notice. Make sure the Commander and his...'evidence' are properly quarantined."

Neera's smug smile returned and she thrust her staff high into the air, sending ice particles screaming through the air. Above them, they slowly formed into cages of some kind, before falling to the ground. Almost no-one managed to escape them, capturing them in their large cold trapped fingers. Only Master managed to roll out of the way, but he was going nowhere with the flood of armed guards bursting out of the door-frame and into the room. Master had a look of shock, before it twisted back into its painkiller-induced rage.

"Hey hey hey!" Torque called out, "Easy!"

"Majister, please!" Lilac pleaded, banging on the icy bars, "We don't have the time for this!"

"You're right..." The Majister sighed again, "Take them away, right now."

The iced cages were slowly dragged away by armed guards, an anguished Torque screeching out, "Examine the fragment! EXAMINE IT!" before everyone was gone. This left Master, well-armed and incredibly angry, alone with the others.

"What're you doing to them?" He demanded.

"Nothing, Traveller," The Majister explained, "Just keeping them out of the way. We will make up our own minds about this."

"And don't expect to get out," Neera said, her smug smile still there, "We've got enough about you and others to keep you locked away for a long time..."

"...Alright," Master said, his voice quiet and restrained, "I've played good drugged-up to the point of passing out cop, but I've lost my patience. You're a toad, Majister, a weasel. A scheming, disinterested piece of fecal matter with all the charming grace of a spoiled rich kid from Station Square."

"And what happened to respect?"

"Lost it," Master growled, "Sent it packing. Gone...alright. Why am I still here? Am I getting a cell all to myself?"

"No, you will join your friends soon enough," Neera growled too, "The fact they trust you even though they know of your past only helps prove my point, after all. We have a few things to remove from your person, first. Like your Blade and your gun."

"You ain't getting your hands on me!" Blade yelled, defiant, "I will stick alongside my Master through thick and thin, right or wrong!"

"Just as he said he would..." Neera mused, "Unfortunately, talking weapon, you need to come with us."

"Like hell I will!" Blade said again, "Slugger, waste this waste!"

"Neera, what're you doing?!" General Gong stated, "Both of you, stand down!"

"Oh, PUSH OFF you fat sycophant!" Neera screamed, readying her staff, "I'm handling things around here! The Majister has given me full permission."

"Only if she was proven right about you and Lilac," The Majister said quickly, "And she was. I'm sorry, Traveller. But I'm afraid your traveling days must end. Don't you want them to?"

"Rotting in a jail cell?" Master said, keeping calm, "I don't think so. Just listen to us, we're not pulling your leg! If we don't band together, Brevon's gonna attach the Kingdom Stone to his ship's power supplies, giving it limitless energy. Then he'll head out into space, make a quick U-turn, and kill us all! And that's the best case scenario!"

"We will have no more of this..." Neera growled, "Guards. Remove his weaponry and take him to the cells. Unless...you want to fight me?"

"That is not a wise suggestion, Neera..." Majister said, "Perhaps you should reconsider."

"Nonsense..." Master sighed, "I won't fight you. Just take me to the cells. I swear I won't use my weapons." He looked somewhat tired, turning around and heading back out the doors after the others, guards behind him.

"Oh, you want to, don't you?" Neera called out, "That little part in you. Not fighting for some vague flimsy excuse to kill things? For shame, War Master."

Master stopped dead in his tracks. His fists trembled and he slowly arched his head to Neera, "What...did you say?"

"I knew that'd get something out of ya..." Neera grinned, "And now you probably wanna kill me. Just what your little sister would want."

Something seemed to almost instantly snap in Master's mind and he was gone. He was seen sprinting at speeds almost invisible, past the guards and straight into Neera. He tacked her to the ground and clutched at her throat with his right hand, digging out his handgun and jamming it into her temple. His eyes had changed; no longer were they white with grey pupils, they were a pitch black with small red dots for pupils. The Majister quickly stepped backwards, the guards all closing in and pointing their spears.

"Say that one more time..." Master said calmly, before shrieking, "SAY THAT ONE MORE TIME! I want an excuse to paint the walls with your brains! If you even HAVE ANY!"

"Oh, this is perfect!" Neera gasped, "Just as easy to manipulate as he said you would be. All we're missing is the sneak attack."

Master temporarily looked confused, before there was a thwack and his face fell. He collapsed, rolling off Neera and ending up spread across the floor. The Blade rolled out of his hand, only to be picked up by Neera via a claw on her Ice Staff.

"No!" he called out.

Neera smiled in a non-smug way, looking up at the soldier behind her, "Thanks, Captain."

"Quack," replied the duck.

"Right..." Neera said, holding the Blade at staff's length, "No-one touch this, it'll screw you up BIG time. Gotta admit, this cloaked fellow's plans are infallible. Told us everything we needed to know and do."

"I hope this is for the best, Neera..." The Majister said.

"Trust me, Your Excellency..." Neera said, casting an evil glare at the unconscious Master, "This will work perfectly..."

===============
A Good Hour Later
===============

Lilac sighed, an exasperated and pained sigh suitable for a pained and exasperated cell. It had been quite some time since she and the others had been locked up in the cells beneath Shang Tu. And, to put it lightly, they weren't the highest quality. In fact, they were a shambles; the cells were just a fancy way of saying that they were parts of the sewers originally used to store cargo during the Civil War, stripped of cargo and given bars so they could be laughably called cells. Still, it was all they had since the actual cells caved in when Shang Mu opened fire during that way, purely out of spite. Even though Shang Tu took no part in this war, they still sustained a lot of damages and were recovering even to this day,

But it still burned in Lilac that the Majister could take this one opportunity to make Neera-Li of all people call the shots. The close-minded, petty supercop of the Shang Tu forces. The one who wanted to execute a good number of her fellow Scarves back in th day, even for something as meager as stealing an apple. There was no mercy with that vile creature, Lilac knew, no compassion; everyone had to suffer for their crimes. The only way to not look soft. Even Traveller, with his supposed history of doling nothing but painful death upon a cancerous multiverse, had a better sense of justice than her.

Carol was also in the cell beside her, a small mound sitting in the corner of the room, but Milla and Torque were nowhere to be found. Torque had been taken somewhere, for reasons not known to Lilac, while Milla was...well, Milla was probably fighting slime monsters. She knew the layout of the sewers like the back of her hand, what with her living deep in them and all, and thus had dug into the area below to search for a way out. She has been gone for a long time so far, and Lilac was beginning to worry. Still, at least she wasn't cooped up in here with her and Carol.

"This is insane!" Carol suddenly yelped, springing up from her slumped form, "We can't stay here! Otherwise Brevon's gonna kill every last one of us! Let's see that stupid panda girl keep her grin on when she's being choked by a slave collar!"

"Carol, that's not gonna help us..." Lilac sighed, "We need to get out of here. But we need to make sure Torque makes it out, too. And he's not even here. Think they put him in...'quarantine', or something."

"Is that why we sent Milla into the sewers?" Carol asked.

"Yeah. Kinda hoped she'd find a way out of here, but..." Lilac sighed, "Nothing. At least she hasn't been captured yet."

There was a sudden clopping as footsteps sounded off from down the corridor. It was Neera, carrying a sniveling Milla by the scuff of her shirt, with Master slowly shuffling beside her. Milla was unharmed, but Master was not; he looked a wreck, with wild and unkempt quills and a bleeding ear. His jacket was gone and in its place was a straightjacket, fastened up tight. His scarf was also gone, putting his scarred face on show for all to see. The door to the cell screamed open and Neera threw both into the cell.

"Nice try," Neera said, seemingly irritated and pointing to Milla, "That hound almost got scot-free, but that's not how we fly around here."

"Why're you even keeping her locked up?" Carol asked, "She hasn't done anything."

"You heard the Majister," Neera growled, "We can't take any chances. Besides, we've got word on the grapevine that there's a mole in the Royal Palaces. For all we know, she's part of Shang Mu's spies. We can't just let her walk away."

"You can't do this!" Lilac called out, "We have rights!"

"Not here, sister!" Neera's smug smile returned, "In Shang Tu, what we say goes. ALWAYS. Why'da think we've had the same leader for a good decade? And I like it here. I mean, that Shuigang prince was crazy. And I dislike crazy. But I LOOOOVE order..." her smug grin grew wider again, "Well! No need for me to hang around. Enjoy your stay!"

Lilac's face screwed up in rage as Neera left the room, chuckling all the way. There was a brief pause as everyone sat in the cell in awkward silence, before a cough gave Carol the opportunity to talk.

"And what's wrong with you?" Carol asked, pointing to Master.

"They weren't taking any chances..." Master sighed, "Skipped the painkillers and just tied me up like this. Took my weapons, too. In such a way as to make them virtually unobtainable."

"Why?" Carol asked again, "Can't Blade, like, fly towards you or something?"

"Yeah..." Master chuckled, "Provided he's outside a certain range. 'S why I didn't want you throwing him into the ravine? He's...cursed, so to say, to return to me once he breaches a good mile of my location. And they've put him in a heavily reinforced box...at a quarter of a mile. I ain't getting him back. Milla tried, but she couldn't lift the container."

"I'm..." Milla sniffled, "I'm sorry..."

"It's okay, kiddo..." Lilac sighed, hugging the scared hound for comfort, "We've all screwed up this time. Look, we need Torque outta here above all else. Maybe I can convince the others I'm still with the Red Scarves and say Torque was forced at spearpoint to work for us."

"Nah, that won't work..." Master sighed, "Heard Neera and Gong talk about it. Said they won't allow such a flimsy and obvious excuse. Almost like they knew you were gonna try it!" his angry visage shifted to face them, "Yeah, that's what it is! It's like someone else has entered this universe and is giving them all the answers! The scumbag!"

"Nonsense..." came a voice, this one crackly and distorted, "I only seek to improve your lives and get this mission done in an...orderly fashion." the voice was getting louder, before a figure finally stepped in front of the cell. He, whatever he even was, was clad in a black cloak that hid all but his eyes, two pinprick dots swimming in a sea of inky blackness. Here was no hologram, but a flesh and blood mystery, "Hello, fair travelers."

"You..." Master stood up and faced the creature, "Who are you?"

"Chaos, why does everyone want to know my name?" the figure replied, annoyed, "For the last time, it's not important. All you need to know is, well yes, I HAVE been telling these peeps...uh, people, what's going on."

"...Why?" Master asked exasperated, "That breaks No-Zone Multiverse Rule #592!"

"Multiverse Rule #592?" the figure stifled a laugh, "In an emergency situation involving two or more officers of equal rank, seniority will be granted to whichever officer can program a VCR?"

Master, red in the face, mumbled back, "Well, I suppose that WOULD be helpful in this universe. I was referring to the rule where no Multiverse Traveller can tell a universe's inhabitants the contents of its timeline in the off-chance it would create a temporal paradox!"

"That's Multiverse Rule #3972, you weren't even close!" the figure said, "And don't bother trying to use the No-Zone cops' logic. They're coffee-swilling pigs and you know it. Anyway, I'm not here to argue. I'm here to get you out of here."

"...Come again?" Lilac asked, "Any particular reason you're helping us? And everyone else, too?"

"I provide a service," the figure said, digging into his cloak and taking out a bag, "To whom and how many, I cannot say. You have your duties to attend to and so do I. I can't achieve my mission if you don't yours. Torque's been sent away from here due to the rumors of a mole. AKA, me. Their stupid scrambling should give you enough time to plot a course for scarper city. As long as you can make it past the Jade Creek, you're out of their jurisdiction and  you should be safe. But you better hurry! Brevon's mobilized his troops to look for him. Good day to you...and good luck."

The figure turned and left, leaving the others on their own. Lilac took the bag and emptied it on the floor. Its contests were quite plentiful; there was bunch of red leaves, helpful considering Master's own state, and a mound crystals for good measure. Beyond that were Carol's motorbike keys and a note saying "PRESS THE WHITE BRICK". There was also Master's scarf, his jacket and some large black blocks. And finally was Master's own gun, a good five spare magazines...and The Blade of Hysteria itself."

"Blade!" Master called out in joy, "You're back!"

"Slugger!" Blade replied in a similarly joyous way, "You're not dead! Though you do seem a bit...tied up. Let me get that." The weapon floated up into the air and swiped across the suit's joints, freeing Master's trapped limbs. He removed the suit with gusto, slamming his clothing back on and holstering both weapons. Carol herself had pressed brick in the cell that had been painted white, opening a nearby wall and shoving a ruby red motorbike out.

"My bike!" Carol called out, "How did it get here?"

"That cloaked fellow..." Milla said, her tone somewhat quiet, "Should we really trust him?"

"We don't have a choice," Lilac said, quickly eating one of the red leaves, "We need to find Torque and get back on track. We HAVE to get the Kingdom Stone back from Brevon, or we're all either dead or his slaves."

"Just like Prince Dail..." Carol sighed.

"That cloaked fellow sure isn't from around here," Master said, looking at the blocks, "C-4. A powerful, remote-detonated explosive. Should be enough to blow the wall, provided Milla shields us from the fragments. Then we're free. Come on, girls! Let's blow this dump!"

======================
Another Five Minutes Later
======================

Carol shouldn't shake the feeling that had suddenly become a massive mistake on her's and Lilac's part. Like, all of it. A good few days ago, she and her were planning a final truck robbery, one that would set them up for life. A day after, she was eating the tastiest sushi she had ever tasted with a brand new friend, and NOW she was running from the Shang Tu Police Force at the fastest speeds she had ever gone on her bike. She was working the poor thing into overdrive, exhaust belching flame to keep in front of the fuzz. The vehicle chasing them was a hovercraft, zooming across the water with impressive speed, with the duck soldier at the helm and Neera herself riding on top of it. She looked angry, her rage directed at their impossibly fast escape, and she was firing her ice staff all the way. The heroes were dashing their way across the riverbank, unable to advance into the jungle owing to its masses of brambles jammed into its side. The only way was forward, and Carol complied by slamming the bike into its highest gear and zooming off with a boost. Lilac, Milla and Master were not not far off, Lilac way out in front, dodging missiles and blasts of ice from Neera's staff and the hovercraft itself. Master himself was running headstrong, not looking back, while carrying the young hound once more so she could fend off the various attacks using her own powers. Even now she had been able to deflect one of the missiles with her shield and divert it into the water, smacking into the hovercraft and causing it to thrash around in the water to the accord of almost throwing Neera off.

"Lilac, we need a plan!" Carol called out, "We can't keep running like this! This river leads to a huge waterfall!"

"We have to keep moving!" Lilac called out too, "Otherwise the world is doomed!"

"We can stop, we just need to get this hovercraft off our backs!" Master yelled back, "Throwing Neera off might create the right diversion. Milla, this is going to take everything you have! You okay with that?"

"What'm I going to do?" Milla asked, curling into Master's arms to avoid the blasts.

"You're gonna make the biggest, most powerful laser you've ever made," Master grinned, holding Blade backwards so the gem was facing outwards, "Just grab this gem and brace yourself."

"No!" Blade called out, "Slugger, we can't do that! Remember what happened with that alternate Amy?"

"I know! But we don't have any other choice!" Master quickly turned to Milla, "You ready, kid?"

Milla nodded. Blade sighed and the gem on the base of his handle extended on a rod. Milla took a deep breath and clasped the glowing artefact in her hand. An almost indescribable amount of energy  shot up into Milla, and she yelped with the shock. Every cell in her body was filling to burst with energy and she felt like she was burning up. Screaming, she thrust both hands at the hovercraft and braced her upper body for the shock. What could only be described as a laser the size of tree trunk screamed across the sky and slammed into the hovercraft, tipping it up and throwing it high into the air. Neera was thrown off, flung into the sky before landing with a soft splash. All still on dry land counted their blessings and rushed forwards, eventually stopping at the waterfall in question.

"We made it!" Carol said, stopping her bike and staring into the watery abyss below them, "This waterfall marks the limits of Shang Tu!"

"Then we're safe," Master sighed, setting the panting hound down, "Good. How're you holding up, kid?"

"F-Fine..." Milla whimpered, her voice weak, "Just...just let me rest..."

"What even was that?" Lilac asked.

"My powers are, for lack of a better word, spreadable," Blade began to explain, "I can channel my energies into another host should they be physically touching me. However, we don't actually USE this often. Because...well, you know what they say, power corrupts."

"Indeed it does!" came the same garbled voice from the cells, only now interspersed with the sound of spinning blades, like a helicopter. The group looked out over the waterfall and some sort of flying machine slowly lifted up from the edge of the waterfall and hovered before them. The cloaked creature was in the machine, leaning out the open door with his spiked teeth grinning in the moonlight. And, much to their horror, he had found Torque. He looked weak, with a large gash across his body and a few darts in him as well. He was being carried by some green orb robot into the flying machine, soon vanishing within it. 

Lilac screamed out in horror, "NO! Torque!"

"I KNEW something was up!" Milla whimpered, "I just knew it!"

"You were using us, weren't you buddy?" Carol growled, her anger peaking, "Distract the soldiers while you ran off with Torque!"

"I told you I couldn't tell you who I was working with!" the figure spoke again, "Now, you've got a good seven seconds to swear allegiance to Lord Brevon or we'll blast you out of your boots!"

"What're we gonna do?" Master asked, "Either we get captured by Shang Tu's forces, OR we get captured by Brevon, OR we break every bone in our body jumping down this waterfall."

"...Bones heal," Lilac said wearily, grabbing the wrists of the others, "Let's go!"

"Wait, Lilac, NO!" was all Carol could get out before the group slowly fell down the edge of the waterfall. Their screams were drowned out by the rushing water and soon they were gone from sight. The cloaked figure sighed, climbing back into the flying machine and shutting the door behind him. Torque had been tied up by some of Brevon's soldiers and was now stood in the corner of the area.

"Torque, buddy boy!" the figure said, his voice now jovial beyond the crunchiness, "Nice to finally meet you!"

"What're you gonna do to me?" Torque asked, his will still solid, "You can't be working with Brevon!"

"Not full time, no..." the figure reached for his own hood, cackling all the while, "I've my own agenda. And they involve you. But before I knock you out cold and wait for the inevitable rescue from Lilac...I want you to see my face."

Finally, the hood fell, and Torque's face fell with shock, "No...no! You can't be here! Traveller said he had abandoned you in the tundras of Exol 7! It can't be!"

"But I am! And it can be! In fact, it IS! HAHAHAHAHA!!!"

===
???
===

Lilac was the first to awaken. Her ribs hurt and there seemed to be a little bit of blood right in front of her, but otherwise she was okay. She looked around, groaning in pain. The group's descent down the waterfall had save them from both Brevon's and The Majister's forces, and now they were at the bottom of the waterfall, slowly drifting towards the shore. She sighed happily; her actions were drastic and...well, suicidal, but they were safe! For real, this time!

"Guys..." Lilac groaned, slowly getting to her knees, "I think we've made it."

"You think?" Master sighed, coming too, "What the hell was THAT, Lilac?"

"Yeah!" Carol growled, "You could've killed us!"

"I'm sorry, guys..." Lilac shrugged, "But it was all I could think to do. We've got out of worse scrapes before...right? Hey, chins up! At least we escaped the police."

"Yeah, for a good five minutes..." came an all too familiar voice from behind them. Lilac went into shock overdrive, looking behind her. It was Neera, her grin gone and replaced with a majestic scowl, "This has gone beyond fun, now."

"No!" Lilac said, tears in her eyes from the stress, "Please, stay back!"

"This is only gonna end up one way, Thief!" Neera barked, advancing towards the waterlogged dragon, "And you're only conscious - nay, ALIVE - in one of 'em!"

"Stop this!" Milla wailed, jumping in front of Neera, "We're innocent! Why waste time going after us? Go after Brevon! Torque told you everything you need to know!"

Neera raised her hand and brought down a mighty slap across Milla's face, sending the hound flying and rolling into the water beside her. Master screamed something indecipherable out of rage and got to his knees, his hands ti