Star Fox Chronicles: Chapter 37: The Big Brawl

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44 of Star Fox Chronicles


***

Characters from original VG series are copyright of Nintendo.

Inspirations and other themes are owned by Square Enix.

Original Character are owned by me. Please don't use them without permission.

All third party characters owned by their respective owners, please respect their ownership by not using characters without their permission.

***

"What are you waiting for?" Angulo asked, "Still reluctant to battle against your former teacher?" He was right, I was frozen stiff. I shook my head a little and looked down wondering if this really was the smart thing to do. But I did know it had to be done. Angulo turned his back to me and chuckled for a second.

"Come on Ryan, what happened to the eagerness you showed when we trained together? I want to see that spark once more. Well I guess I'll just have to draw it out then." Before I knew what happened I felt his strong hard fist collide against my stomach, I lurched, unable to yell in surprise at the pain as he launched me clean off my feet, and I flew nearly 30 feet through the air. Before I could catch my breath I landed hard on my back and rolled a bit. I coughed short breaths as I struggled to get back up. As I looked up at him, he was hovering a couple feet along the ground as he slid at me quickly, his sword in the middle of a wide arc swing as the heavy blade sung through the air towards my neck. I brought my sword up just barely at the nick of time with both hands stabilizing the blade. But the force of the blade sent me sliding even further along ground, taking a good distance before I stopped, and struggled to stand and balance my feet. There was no going back now; the battle had begun for sure.

I grunted as I jumped up and balanced myself, but before I could bring up a solid defense the Pegasus was on me again, stabbing his blade forward. I managed to sidestep barely, but he kept swinging with great speed and accuracy, as if the large sword was light as a feather. It took me everything just to avoid making one false move.

"You'll never win just by defending," Angulo stated and flew back a few feet, "Holy!" he chanted and sent a ball of bright light right at me. It was too quick to dodge, so I had no choice but to block. It was long shot but I went for his technique again.

"Runic Blad- Urgh!..." I shouted before the ball collided. It pushed me back several feet as magic runes appeared on my blade again, this time glowing a pure white, as some of the attack got absorbed into the blade. It was too much however, and the remaining piece of the spell exploded, and knocked me off my feet again. Angulo landed easily on his feet again before walking up to me. I quickly stood back up, huffing as I was out of breath again. I held my blade up in front of me, my left hand held to my chest a bit.

"Very good," he commented, "you remember the technique I taught you."

"I just had... a very good teacher." I commented, keeping my bright blade close.

"Very good, now let's see what your offense is made of." He brought his sword back up, and I sharpened my gaze. This was fruitless, I've already been drained of a lot of energy, and he hasn't even broken up a sweat. The second I try to go on the offensive, it would be too easy for him to block or counter, and any spell I try would fall victim to his own Runic Blade maneuver. He noticed my hesitation and frowned.

"Not good enough to make your move yet I suppose," he said, "If this was Cougar fighting you'd be dead already. Pay the price for your hesitation. Ruin!" He chanted another small ball of energy and sent it straight at me. It looked different, like a duller more sinister light. I brought up my blade and deflected the attack away. That was a move I hadn't seen before. He charged again and swung downward towards my legs. Again I brought my sword to defend, and pushed it away with some renewed force. Before I could react again he threw a quick punch at me and caught me right in the nose. I backed up, not noticing it was bleeding and kept my blade close. I had to use both hands to keep Bahamut locked in my hands as he continued swinging hard. With every step he took forward, swinging his blade in unpredictable directions, I was forced back several more steps, until the distance between my back and the nearby wall was relatively short.

This was bad. I was backed to the wall with little room to maneuver now. Then I remembered a strategy that Angulo himself taught me when he was my teacher. He once said that if I was backed into a corner, then I needed to utilize the environment around me to make room. I concentrated a fire spell and threw it right at him which he deflected all too easily.

"You know spells are useless against me," Angulo stated bluntly, "so why waste your breath?"

"For three words," I said, "Duck and Cover!" I shouted and jumped down the side, covering my head quickly. Before he could question what happened he turned and realized where he deflected the flame at. It hit a nearby fuel tank, with enough force that it pierced the protective casing into the fuel inside and ignited it instantly. The explosion was deafening, and pushed me forward along the floor several feet. When I stopped I stumbled back up and observed my handywork.

I had a mixed sense of disappointment and satisfaction. He was quick enough to bring up a barrier to block the force, but he had a sign of slight surprise and grimace on his face, showing that he blocked it, but only barely. He cast the barrier aside and smiled at me.

"Subtle but effective, you're coming along nicely," He commented and pointed his blade at me, "but you need to do better in order to defeat me."

"That would have been too easy," I muttered to myself as he charged again. I jumped over to where there was more room to maneuver and blocked the attack with both hands on my blade, then pushed him back with some of the blade's stored energy and made another weak stab. This was easily parried and he was back on the offensive in no time.

This was not turning out good. I kept telling myself in the back of my mind that I couldn't win this fight, and I was right, the more I fought on, the more I realized how hopeless it is. I was barely able to dodge his attacks, which he threw at me constantly with little to no reaction time, and any time I could attack he all too easily parried. Magic was useless too, even my strongest offensive spells have little effect on him, he could easily deflect them like he did with the fire spell earlier, or even worse he could absorb them with the same technique I used earlier, especially considering he was the one who taught me that move.

Even more, this was not the ideal environment to be fighting in a fight like this. It was all too hot, especially with all the lava surrounding the place. That was another factor of my constant drain of energy, and it wasn't looking good. I realized that I at least needed to get inside, where there was hopefully some cooling system, where I could make my energy last longer.

I eyed the wall that I was backed up into for a split second and saw a nearby door. It was time for a little change of venue. I side stepped another incoming attack and charged toward the door. I didn't get enough ground covered however before he appeared right in front of me and backhanded the side of my face. I backed up a step and saw him standing in front of the door now, at least in the line of the door anyway. I eyed my blade, which still had some energy from the holy spell left in it and decided to make use of it.

"Thundara," I shouted, sending several small bolts to surround him. This limited his movement just long enough for me to back up and jump a little and slash my sword through the air. The slash resulted in energy from the blade flying at him in a small shockwave. Angulo however dissipated the thunder spell after a bit and noticed as the spell was about to fly over his head and held his own sword up.

"Runic Blade," he shouted and caught the spell in his own sword, and the large blade lit up brightly as well. Then he held his hand up and charged the energy in the blade. I looked on in disappointment. I knew it was a long shot, but he managed to catch the attack midair and even charge it up further to his advantage. I desperately needed to find some way of getting inside, even if it meant a disadvantage from a more confined space. At least it would be cooler inside, so I won't break down so quickly.

One thing I did know was that in order to get in, I had to get passed this powerful pegasus in front of me. I decided to get a little more aggressive and charged forward. I jumped and aimed a vertical slash down at him. He easily parried it sideways and swung the blade back horizontally at me. I managed to catch myself and duck away from the large blade. Again I try the same fighting tactic and attempt a stab. This too was parried and he easily redoubled his assault.

Angulo slashed twice as he stepped forward, and I backed off, before dodging off to one side. I took advantage of this to circle strafe him, and while he kept up easily, it was the best way to get him out of the way of me and the door inside. He decided to keep me on my toes by slamming the ground with his sword, and sending a couple shockwaves my way. I was able to continue the dodging until I was standing right in front of the door.

The white horse spun his blade in the air a couple times, than effortlessly sent another large shockwave my way. This time I waited a second to dodge, and ducked as it demolished the door, opening the way inside. I quickly got up to my feet and smiled a bit. Angulo realized what happened and returned the smile, much to my dismay.

"So you want inside that badly do you?" He asked pointing his sword at me, "Then let's go." He flew at me at quite the speed and I dodged toward the door, bringing up Bahamut to block the incoming strike. The force knocked my arms out of the way and he punched me hard in the stomach, launching me off my feet and flying straight through the door. I landed hard and slid several feet into a narrow hall. I kept a hold on Bahamut, knowing that losing my grip on him in a battle like this would mean certain death. I breathed hard and heavy as I forced myself onto my feet. The pegasus didn't relent however, and flew into the hall as he back flipped onto his feet and assaulted me again.

"So here we are," He said as he swung at me, and I brought my blade to defend, "think this will be any easier now? All tuckered out from a little heat?" I gritted my teeth as he chided and taunted me and his force brought both our blades to catch the wall of the hall, he forced my blade down and made swing right for my neck, and I ducked just in time as he cut through a metal cable like it was butter. I ducked back from the resultant sparks and he met with another assault. He swung hard and fast and it was all I could do to bring up my blade and direct his away from me into the wall. I was continually forced back, all the way through the hall into the next room.

The room inside was one of most likely many control rooms in the area. It is surrounded by various hubs that take the whole outer perimeter of the room. There were also two long tables in the middle that were built into the floor.

I backed up a bit to where there was more room for the fight, and Angulo came at me again without relent, gliding an inch off the ground. He somehow mustered the strength to swing even faster with his blade, unleashing a flurry of slashes from several different directions. It was everything I could do just to dodge and stay on the defensive. He would knock my blade away, and by sheer luck I was able to bring my blade just enough to prevent an injury, only to be knocked back the other direction.

I continued this unstable solidarity, hoping that maybe he'll finally start losing energy from his seemingly bottomless pool. In the back of my mind that was what I really wanted, because I still had doubts even now about fighting my former master. My opponent noticed this not too long and pushed me back with a powerful invisible force. He stood there for a second, watching as I huffed hard, keeping my blade held up with both hands. He didn't even seem remotely tired from the excursion. It must be true, being technically dead in this world must give him limitless energy, but I still didn't understand why.

"Why the hell aren't you fighting back?" He began. It almost sounded like one of our lectures from back in the day, "You'll never win at this rate. Is it because I was once your teacher? Forget that and fight me. I am your enemy now."

I looked down a bit as my breathing started to settle a bit, but my muscles remained deathly tense. I doubt he would believe my feelings, but I couldn't just stay silent longer. As I caught my breath, I responded to his little lecture.

"Is that supposed to matter to me? I can't just do that. I simply just can't toss away everything that happened up to this point. The fact that we're enemies doesn't change the happy times that we spent together back then. To me, that kind of bond and friendship was real. How can I fight someone like that? How can I fight someone that I respect so highly?" There was more that I wanted to say, but I didn't have the energy to come up with it on the spot like that.

"Is that what you think of me?" He began again and shook his head, "you are a fool. It seems that nothing I taught you about defeating the enemy has sunk in. If you haven't realized that by now than everything is doomed. It's seems I cannot convince you after all. It is now time to die, Ryan Lewis."

He displayed a sudden burst of energy and charged at me again. This time he was so much faster I could barely register him in my vision, was he truly holding back this whole time? Before I could bring my blade up much further he slashed again. He unleashed a fast and very graceful double spin, knocking my balance off instantly when it clashed against my blade. Before I could react he gripped my right hand hard and wrenched it. I cried out in pain as he yanked me backwards off my feet. He brought up his blade and like a shearing tool, forced my blade out of my hand and launched it to the other side of the room. Then he took me and threw me hard to the opposite side of the room, over the long table on that side.

Although a bit disoriented, I got up quickly and jumped on the table, stumbling in the direction of the blade. But it was too little too late. Angulo was right there in my face. I stumbled back enough to just barely avoid an upward slash, although some of my shirt was slashed open, and he met with a backhanded swing. He hit me hard enough in the face with that hit that the momentum forced me to backflip moving forward and hit the side of the table hard as I landed. I rolled onto my back in great pain. This was it, game over.

I saw him jump on top of me, his boots on either side of me, and he brought his blade down, unleashing the final blow. In blade split second, out of sheer adrenaline I called Bahamut back into my hand and caught the blade before he could behead me. This wasn't enough to deter Angulo though. With all his might he continued to push the blade down towards my throat, and my sudden burst of strength was quickly waning. My body spasmed as I tried to hold the blade up, my arms bending like tooth picks as I lost strength.

I was about to give up the remainder of my strength and accept defeat. But in that last instance, I reached a moment of perfect clarity. My thoughts trailed in that one instance to all the people and creatures that I met when fate pushed me from my home on this path, those that I had come to know and love as close friends, close comrades and the people who accepted me into their home world without being scared of me being something straight out of their imaginations. What would become of them once I died? Would they carry on as if nothing happened and continue the good fight? Or would they mourn me like one of their own. At that moment it didn't matter. I saw Angulo's face as he stared me down and pushed his blade, like the grim reaper ready to deliver death. When I saw that face I realized what he truly is now. When he finishes his job here, he's going back to his group, where they'll continue to attack and hurt the people I know and love. Regardless of what happened they could cause more harm without me around, and when I thought of them in that state or peril, I couldn't take it, and something triggered inside of me.

In a split second I launched my foot up and kicked him square in the nuts as hard as I could. He yelped in pain and lurched forward, his blade hitting the ground away from my throat, but still clutched in his hands. In that second of pain I brought my legs up to my head and kicked up into his nose. He pulled back and stumbled. I swung my blade up to deter him back more, and while I didn't necessarily hit him, the tip did graze a small portion of his chest, tearing a bit of his coat and drawing a small red line through it. I had managed to draw blood I noticed as I stumbled back to my feet. I was a wreck from the inside, the trauma building up and I was kneeling as I faced him.

It was true, I still cared about Angulo as a friend, but he is part of the enemy force now. He is going to continue to go after those that I care about after this, and I couldn't let that happen, because if something happened to them, I wouldn't know what to do about myself.

'So you truly realize now,' Bahamut spoke inside my head, 'It's painful to fight someone you're so close to in your heart, but it needs to be done. You must also realize now that there is no way to fight conservatively anymore. If you keep fighting the way you are, trying to save your energy in the hopes of gaining an upper hand over, you are guaranteed to lose. Angulo is a different enemy than most; you need to go all out to defeat him. Tap into my energy; utilize the resources I can give you in our symbiotic relationship. It's risky and may not last long enough to win, but we need to try. Get crazy, battle your heart out, and take a chance to have a chance. Believe in me to help you through this, which is why Nordic gave me to you in the first place. Now rise, Master Paladin!"

I could his presence get stronger, as he synced his energy, his heart into my own. In that mix I could see a green aura surround me for a second, a healing spell Bahamut casted to restore my wounds and energy to normal. I acknowledged the help and stood up normally.

"I'm counting on you Bahamut," I replied out loud and held up my blade to my face and my free hand up in front of me, returned to my normal battle stance, completing our perfectly synced connection. Angulo could me covered in a small aura of a silvery wind and smiled. He knew now that I was done pussy footing around and was ready to fight for real, and he returned to his battle stance, holding up his gigantic sword with both hands.

"Let's do this Angulo," I said sternly, "It's time we settled this."

***

Fox, Falco, Wolf, and Leon all stared down their respective opponents. They had remained still for the past couple minutes, studying each other in their fighting positions as if expecting one side to attack the other first. Fox and Falco stood on one side, right beside each other, their stances more uniform, signaling their stoic teamwork. On the other side stood Wolf and Leon, taking more unique stances, wilder, in relation to their respective species.

This stance didn't last much longer though, as both sides huffed, and charged at each other at the same time, quickly closing the distance between each other. Fox and Wolf met with each other first, and in almost perfect synchronization, punched each other hard in the sides of their muzzled. They back off for a second, back flipping before charging again. They matched their attacks in quickly succeeding blows and blocks, keeping mostly to punches for this exchange.

When Falco and Leon met they deviated to the opposite end of the spectrum, exchanging kicks, using their arms to block upward bound attacks. Falco jumped high each time he aimed a kick toward Leon's head, the chameleon being quick to dodge or block the oncoming blows. The two canines soon finished their first exchange and backed off for a bit. Fox took advantage of his speed and charged in for another flurry of punches and kicks.

"What's the matter Wolf, can't take the agility?" He said as he quickly kicked at and toward the wolf's face. Wolf held up both hands to block as he stepped back a bit, growling in response.

"Speed is useless with no strength behind them Foxy," he retorted and pushed his arms back and forward, then swipes at Fox with his claws. The fox in return spin flipped backwards to avoid the attack, gracefully landing on his feet. The two were more or less evenly matched. Fox had speed, agility, and technique on his side, but wolf had more strength, defense power, and a more wild style on his side. Wolf took advantage of the recovery time Fox took and went on the strike again, swiping and kicking like a true wolf does. Fox in turned defended, dodged, and returned fire in rapid succession, leading to a varying exchange of blows between the two.

At this point in time, the two groups had more or less split up at the outside hangar area, but continued fighting their respective opponents. Falco and Leon continued their little duel, but this time, it was the blue bird that started gaining the upper hand. Leon backed off from an interesting set of spin kicks from Falco. The chameleon then got a brilliant idea and backed off again to a more open spot, and used his natural camouflage to conceal himself out of view.

"What the hell?" Falco snarled, "Show yourself you cheating reptile." He looked around to try to see him as Leon chuckled.

"Do you always like to throw that word about?" He replied, "we agreed to use anything at our disposal, so I did. Don't go getting angry now just because you can't win." Falco found himself at a bad point. He found himself kicked in the back of his head hard, and he turned to punch in response, but found himself hitting empty air. This was met by another punch to his side.

This trend continued as Fox and Wolf continue matching each other more or less evenly. Fox managed to pull a fast one however as Wolf tried another kick. Fox ducked to the side, buckled his knees, and then launched himself in a powerful flip kick, flipping backwards as the kick landed clean on Wolf's nose. Wolf yelped in response, and in a quick fit of anger leaned in just as Fox righted himself and landed a hard swipe at his side. Fox jumped back a bit and both of them observed their wounds. Both of them managed to draw blood from the other and they redoubled their efforts, charging in again.

"What's the matter birdie?" Leon taunted as he landed another hit and avoid another, "don't like getting your wings clipped?"

"Damn you," Falco grimaced as his beak got kicked next and he backed off. He realized he needed to think rationally, he needed to think smart. As he backed off he backed into an open can of used oil, and the idea came to him. He picked up the can as he heard footsteps hurrying toward him, and spun it around, covering his surroundings in the oil. Leon shouted as the hot used oil cover him, exposing location for Falco to see. Falco took advantage of this to land a hard kick to his abdomen, followed by three hard hooks square to his face.

Leon returned to normal as he took a few more hits and in quick retaliation, rushed Falco and tackles the two of them over the railing to the edge of the lower level below. At the same time Wolf rushed Fox and tackled him over the edge too in a wild fashion. The two parties landed hard on the next level, pretty close to each other. Fox and Falco notice this, kicking their tacklers aside and regrouping with each other. Wolf and Leon did the same, scooting to the other side. They were more or less back to square one.

Wolf and Leon look at each other and nod, charging up at both of them as a team. They both launched a jump kick at Fox, which he promptly ducked out of the way. The two had successfully cut in between the two, and turned their attention toward Falco, breaking their formation to attack different parts of Falco's body with various punches and kicks. Falco managed to dodge most of the attacks, and blocked a kick to his face my Leon. As he did that however, Wolf swung his leg down from behind and tripped Falco off his feet.

Falco landed hard on his back and looked up, holding his arms up as he saw Leon about to jump kick him. Mid jump however, Leon's attack is interrupted when he's kicked away in the back by Fox. Wolf attempted to Hi-kick him away, but he ducks, just as Falco spin kicks back onto his feet, separating Wolf and Leon from each other. Now it was Fox and Falco's turn to double team, and they go after Wolf this time, utilizing a similar strategy as a team. Wolf managed to block most of the onslaught, but is caught off guard when Falco attacks the back of his knee, forcing it to buckle, unable to get away from Fox's upcoming spin kick.

Like before however, this is interrupted when Leon comes out from behind and tackles Fox out of the way, splitting the two fighting parties apart again. This time however, Fox ended up pitted against Leon, whom Fox kicks back as he rights himself. Falco is now pitted against Wolf.

Leon now that most of the oil had dried or rubbed off of him, he decided to camouflage himself again and try the same tactic.

"Try to catch me now if you can," Leon stated as he circle strafed the fox. Fox looked around for a bit and smiled. He knew an easy way to reveal Leon's form. He reached down his belt and snapped his fingers, activating his super accelerator and utilizing the short battery life it has, ran around the battlefield at blinding speeds. The tactic worked, and the bending of the light could not keep up, revealing Leon's position as the chameleon looked on confused. Before Leon could react, Fox rushed him and slid down, kicking him off his feet with a slide. Leon returned to normal in surprise, but not before Fox launched back up and grabbed Leon's tail, spinning him a couple times midair before slamming him into the ground hard.

Meanwhile, Wolf and Falco exchange a few blows in their various fighting styles, blocking and dodging attacks before backing off. During the scuffle Falco caught a glance of Fox using his accelerator and thought to use his own to his advantage. He snapped his fingers to trigger his and rushed forward.

"Do you really think I'll fall for that like Leon did?" Wolf smirked and snapped his fingers near his belt, triggering his own, to Falco's surprise. The two met each other in a clash and bounced off, circling around each other before charging again. Falco tried again but this time Wolf got creative and matched him. Right before the clash Wolf spun to the side a bit and activated his force field, knocking Falco off guard and switching his accelerator off. Wolf then stopped right in front of Falco and landed two haymakers square on his face. Then the lupine grabbed Falco, spun in a cartwheel before launching him hard square into a stack of heavy metal crates.

The two who got knocked down slowly got up and reoriented themselves, and the brawl continued. They continued to fight their way back to each other, until the four were back in the same spot as before. As the two teams reunited a second time, Wolf and Leon look and spot a nearby bridge below another edge and nod at each other again. They hurry over to the edge and jump off onto the solid bridge. Fox and Falco look at each other and hurry after them, jumping down in between the two. Leon and Wolf split, taking on either side of the bridge while Fox and Falco stood back to back in the middle, retaking their fighting stances as they each stared their respective rival down.

All four of the combatants were pretty bruised, and were covered in plenty of blood, dried up quickly by the heat below. Wolf smirked, and Fox returned that with a frown, while the other two shared the same icy neutral stare. This battle was just about to get uglier.

***

Krystal and Panther hurried down the halls of the lower region of the prison. So far they haven't run into any guards or troublemakers yet, which mean that the riots were further in.

"Gee," Panther began, "I don't know if I keep running like this."

"Will you stop acting like a retard and run already?" Krystal asked coldly.

"Sorry, it's just we've kept running for a while and haven't found anything yet," Panther stated.

"We're almost there you big baby," Krystal stated, "If we don't find anything near the central hub of this area we'll follow the upper path up to the cliffside and look there."

"Do you always have to berate me like this?" Panther asked curiously, "yeah I've made more than a few passes at you, but you should either just forgive me about those or don't. You can't keep throwing that in my face, unless you're really just like your boyfriend."

"That's none of your business number 1," Krystal replied, "and number 2 you really need to focus on the task at hand here. This is neither the time nor the place to be exchanging this kind of conversation."

"Alright," Panther agreed, slightly begrudgingly, before a loud yell broke the silence. "It looks like we found them." The two nodded at each other and hurried over to the scene. In the next room there were 3 guards in trouble. They were surrounded by a good size group of prisoners in jumpsuits with other men in Dawx military uniforms, about to take their toll in security lives.

"Leave them alone," Krystal yelled and withdrew her staff. The vixen charged in and swung the staff around, taking out a few of the guards and pushing others away from the guards in distress.

"More backup?" One of the soldiers yelled surprisingly, "kill them all and hurry-" He didn't last long as Panther bashed him on the head with hilt of his rose sword and he smirked.

"Can't let you do that dumb Dawx," Panther chided and the two mercenaries rushed further into action, swinging their weapons and taking out every enemy in the vicinity with relative ease.

"Are you alright?" Krystal asked one of the guards as they got up.

"Yeah," the guard replied, "we're fine now, thank you so much."

"No problem," the vixen replied, "Get out of here and rendezvous with other guards."

"Right," the guard replied back, "Some of our fellow guards are in trouble further in. Please go help them." The three guards hurried away as the two hurried further in. They continued along the way, taking out enemies as they appeared in sight, and rescuing as many guards as they could.

As they had finished with the first area, they had managed to save 4 dozen guards, who had all managed to make their escape and are now regrouping. The vixen and panther hurried to the outside from the opposite end, at the cliffside.

"We managed to survive one ordeal," Krystal acknowledged, catching her breath quickly. Panther turned and saw an injured Dawx member lying on the ground, pulling out a powerful explosive and triggering it.

"Look out!!" Panther shouted and tackled Krystal to the ground away from the building, much to her surprise. They managed to just avoid the powerful explosion, which caved in the way they came out, leaving them stranded on the other side.

"Thanks," She said up righting herself and looking at the damage, "but it looks like we won't be going back the way we came."

"There's no need," Panther said as he looked over at the cliffside from a distance, "look." The vixen looked where he was pointing, and a small distance away, was a dragon bearing the Claxan's clothing.

"Right," Krystal said putting on a more serious face, "let's go. We'll need to be careful."

"Yeah," Panther too switched on a serious face as they ran over to the man overlooking the facility. When they approached they stopped as the dragon turned to face them.

"Party crashers," the dragon replied.

"Your face," Panther said, "Draxor if the record is correct?"

"If that's all I have no interest in what you two have to offer," Draxor replied and looked over his shoulder, "you're really interrupting a good show."

"That's the whole point of us being here," Krystal replied, "now give up and come quietly, or we'll make you." Draxor faced Krystal and Panther, overlooking them a bit and shrugged.

"Very well," he held up his hand summoned his powerful gunblade style weapon, almost large enough to rival the size of Angulo's weapon, "you might be able to entertain me until the good part. I was getting a little bored of just sitting on the sidelines anyway."

***

Slippy and Zio had quickly managed to get the Landmaster back to the Great Fox without too much of a fuss. The majority of the action was away from the direction they were heading so they were able to get undercover. And with an unconscious comrade in bad condition with them, they counted their blessings.

They pulled into the hangar bay of the Great Fox and parked the Landmaster carefully to the side. Then the two carefully carried Peppy down towards the sick bay, where he would be safer.

"We made it," the dragon exclaimed as he laid the bunny down on the gurney nearby.

"Fortunately," Slippy replied, "what we all encountered there was way too close. Poor Peppy is hurt now and I almost became a horrific science experiment."

"Yeah," Zio said as he hooked up a machine to check Peppy's vitals with, "now we had best wait for the heroes to return. It's just like the time we got stranded on a mission in Titania together isn't it?"

"Yeah you're right," Slippy nodded, "but it's too soon to relax just yet. I have go and join up with the air fleet. Do you think you can handle yourself while I'm gone?" The dragon simply smirked and nodded.

"Of course," he replied, "I may not be a straight up combatant, but I'll do plenty to protect my patients. Go on get going, I'll keep in contact with you if it's an emergency." The toad nodded in hurried out.

'I just hope I can actually be of any use,' Slippy thought to himself as he hurried to the hangar bay. 'I may know my way around a machine, but over the years my abilities in combat have been a whopping zero. Fox may never mention it, and Falco might just be teasing me about it, but I can't deny it, I'm no good at this. I've always wound up getting in trouble in one way or another. I'd have to get rescued from a bogey on my tail time and time again. I'd try to do something heroic and crash or get in even more trouble. I'm always in need of rescuing and it serves nothing more than to be a hindrance on the others. Is it even worth it for me to be hurrying back to the battlefield like this? Am I just going to make this worse? Is it all the better if I just leave now and don't return?'

As Slippy was pondering what he should do, a violent explosion was heard outside, and the ship shook violently, knocking him off his feet. He shouted a bit as he landed on the floor and quickly sat up. This was followed by another couple of explosions and more shaking. The toad kept running and turned on his communicator, aiming it for the sick bay.

"Zio," he shouted as the dragon came into view on the small projector, "are you alright?"

"Yeah we're fine here," he replied, holding onto the side of the gurney, "but it sounds like some fighting is going on outside. I think we might be under attack."

"Oh no," Slippy panicked, "what are we going to do?"

"I'm afraid we don't have much choice at the moment," Zio said, "I can't leave Peppy here by himself at the moment. You're going to have to go out there and defend us to the best of your ability."

"I..." Slippy began.

"It's OK," Zio comforted, "I believe in you. We all do, and we're counting on you too." Slippy looked down a bit and nodded, doubling his run to the hangar bay.

"Leave it to me," he said and disconnected the communicator. After a little bit of running the toad arrived at the hangar bay and climbed into his Arwing. He fired it up without bothering to check his G-diffuser systems and took off, heading to the sky to fight off the attackers. He only hoped in the back of his mind that he just wouldn't screw anything up.

***

Nordic and the Cornerian President were on an ambassador ship heading full speed to MacBeth. They were escorted by several small military ships that were stationed at the Aquas branch. The arctic wolf sat in meditation by the President's side. The elder bear looked at the wolf in silent wonder, thinking of what Nordic could be thinking so hard about. Out of respect for his body guard, the President remained silent, occasionally glancing at his papers.

Inside Nordic's head however, the discussions were getting a little chaotic between him and his dragons.

'Come on, are we there yet?' Fira complained, 'I'm eager to singe some of those Claxan bastards.'

'Be quiet brother,' Mira retorted, 'you're not making things easier.'

'Oh like you're a ray of sunshine,' Fira hmphed, 'you like to cool down all the fun dontcha sis?'

'That's enough,' Nordic said, 'Yes it's clear that the Claxan are there. But we can't say for sure who of them is behind this attack. I'm worried that it may be Cougar or Angulo. If it's either of them then I truly fear for Ryan's safety.'

'You really have a soft spot for the human don't you Master Nordic,' Mira guessed, and it was easy to tell that she was right.

'The fact that they're able to move about the Lylat System so easily without detection puts us all in a very bad position,' Nordic explained. 'They are much more cunning than I had anticipated. This can only get worse I can imagine, which is why we need to retrieve Ryan and the others as soon as possible.'

'Do you also fear for the safety of brother Aegis too?' Fira asked.

'I do,' Nordic said, 'I believe it's time we go retrieve him out of hiding. But he's not the only one I'm worried about.'

'What do you mean?' Mira asked.

'I'm talking about the missing sword,' the wolf explained, 'the one that had supposedly sunk out of existence.'

'You don't mean...'

'Yes,' Nordic replied, 'The elemental sword of Darkness. I can only hope that that particular sword isn't found by the wrong hands.'

***

"What the hell was that all about?" Ryan's replica shouted back at the Claxan base. Cougar was sitting at his seat, eyes closed as he calmly listened to his whining. "If you hadn't have called me back I could've finally beat him."

"I recall you saying the same thing to my dear friend Angulo back on MacBeth," Cougar replied.

"Angulo doesn't know what he's talking about."

"Oh he sure does," Cougar opened his eyes, "more than you could possibly comprehend. Your power is admirable, but it is unrefined and untempered. You've become vain about your potential and let it get to your head; the real Ryan took advantage of that. Your power has more potential, but Ryan has tempered his power to a degree, which gave him an edge. If you had continued the fight, he would have destroyed you without expending too much energy." The replica couldn't believe what he was hearing, and hung his head low.

"I don't understand," he replied, and Cougar stood up, walking over to the replica and placing a hand on his shoulder.

"You're a perfect replica," he said, "but you still have some bugs to work out. Your power grows the same way Ryan's does, but that alone also becomes your big limitation. Ryan has limitless potential to grow in power, but you will always be one step behind Ryan in the state you are now, because your growth is determined entirely upon his growth." The replica shook his head in disbelief, but didn't raise an objection over this.

"But fear not," Cougar continued, "there is a way that you can break from the threshold and grow your strength beyond what the real Ryan can match."

"Really?" Replica Ryan replied, facing his higher, "how is that?"

"It's the very reason I called you back here," Cougar smirked, "see, the Superior and I had made a very interesting discovery lately in a nearby system, and I want you to go investigate it."

"Why me?" He asked curiously.

"Because this is directly correlated with you and the real Ryan, and once you discover what it is, you'll realize too, and know exactly what to do. See there is a particular person out there in those parts with a great power. I want you to slay that person and claim that power for yourself. Then return to me. Do you understand?"

"I understand," Replica Ryan nodded in compliance.

"Very good," Cougar said and opened up a dark portal with the wave of his hand, "Follow this path to arrive. But remember to stay on the beaten path, you may be a copy, but even a replica can fall victim to its powers." The fake human nodded slowly, steeling himself for the challenge as he walked into the portal, and disappeared with it. At the same time Cougar turned to witness a fully cloaked man enter the room.

"Do you think he can do it?" the voiced spoke to him and he replied coldly.

"It matters not to me," he said.

"You've grown quite fond of the doll and his abilities to copy Ryan's powers directly," the voice replied, "If you aren't careful he could fail this mission just like the last one."

"Again, it matters not," the cougar replied and turned again, "Whether it's the real Ryan, or the fake, we only need one for my plan to work."