As she ran toward the giant drop that would take her to the ground floor, she felt a violent jolt that nearly knocked her off her feet. The whole tower shunted sideways a few metres, leaning and listing like a tower of building blocks set to topple at any second. She noticed that the windows that she could have easy flown of through had been sealed off by those same thick barricades that had defended the throneroom. She cursed, realising the cost of her hesitation. There was no way out but down, and it seemed that down was exactly where those huge tremors were coming from. She gulped, just as the tower rumbled agitatedly again. The scorch marks from the fight with the long-gone Admiral were still there, clear and charred, which made Barasia giggle. She had thought the Admiral had been her toughest challenge to date when she had fought him and suffered by his wandering hands. But after conquering no less than the Queen herself, Destruction seemed like small-time. Her legs shook as the tower did. Was it being hit with artillery fire? What was causing it to jolt about so much? It was almost as though explosions were going off... but who would put bombs in a tower? Unless... unless it was a self destruct sequence... in that case...
"Crap... I better move..." Barasia murmured. None of what Vexus had said would come to pass. NONE of it, she would make sure! She would not be stopped by a simple explosion, even if her shield was gone. Her hands felt numb now, although she still had full control over her fingers. The holes in her wrists bled no oil and gushed no further smoke. She could actually see through the twisted wreck within and out the other side, most vital operations circuitry avoided but the shield emitters bored straight through. She would need a thorough repair before she could do anything else. New weapons, new systems... new clothes. Her cheeks flushed as she scooted down the incline toward the drop. She could feel the air rushing between her legs and it made her feel strangely funny. But she didn't exactly hate it, although the air was bitterly cold. If she were outside on a warm day doing the same thing, then maybe it would have felt rather nice. She shook her head, trying to dislodge that thought from her mind as she stood over the precipice beyond which seemed to lie only eternal darkness. The distant rumbles echoed up the Spire's tube like air through a flute, vibrating and creating strange follow-on noises. Something was going on down there and she was forced to head in that direction, backtrack and head out the way she came in. Mustering her courage to engulf herself in the void again, she jumped.
The freezing air tore past her body as she fell, not bothering to engage her retro-thrusters as they would only increase the time it took to get to safety. With her torn clothes and utter lack of clothes in certain places, Barasia felt completely naked and was thankful that in this void of deep cold, nobody could see her. She rotated slightly so that the barrage of breeze was not getting into her eyes. She let herself succumb to the mercy of freefall, feeling her weight disappear as she closed her eyes and sighed, finally appreciating what it was like to still be alive. So many chances Vexus had wasted to kill her, and likewise those Barasia had wasted when Vexus' life could so easily have been ended. But the joy of the fight was what drove both women to prolong it. Where was the fun without causing suffering? She felt her hair billowing above her, struggling to keep up with her plummeting body. Her lips parted only slightly, her eyes remained closed and her body stayed limp. In the blackness, she seemed like a falling angel, wingless and wearing the colour that represented evil and wrongdoing. But what was evil about freeing the Cluster from its restrictions by imposing a new ruler? What was so wrong about wanting the best future for herself and Bulldog whilst millions of lower-level, destructive species were erased so that the universe could be a somewhat better place? She saw nothing evil or wrong in her actions. She was the just one. It was those who sought to protect such rampant, idiotic, mindless creatures that were the wrongdoers... the ones who planted in her beautiful younger sister's mind the idea she was one of them who were evil. Barasia knew in her core that she was no fallen angel, no dark and deathly raven of destruction that descended upon the poor and helpless. She was the saviour. The righetous new goddess. Her eyes reopened, the air around her getting even colder as her velocity skyrocketed. Those obsidian orbs were narrowed in determination. Just one more rest... one final sleep before the sun rose on her triumph. That was all she needed. And Bulldog WILL be waiting for her. She blinked, her thrusters kicking in. Surely the floor was near. How fast was she going? How far had she fallen? She was getting sick of black. She felt herself slowing down. The dim purple below was the base of the tower, the arena in which herself and the beefed-up Dalek did battle. There were three ways into the room she was descending toward. She'd take any one of them so long as they took her to an exit.
Her feet found the floor, her ragged, tattered shoes adjusting to her weight. The floor was cold. The room was freezing. She involuntarily shivered as she glanced around, the dim bluish-purple lighting making it seem colder still. She needed a cold-weather outfit. Something with sleeves. She liked the sound of sleeves. Maybe a coat. And pants. Pants that would stop people getting to and damaging her underwear in such a demeaning fashion! She nodded. She wanted to try pants one day. She turned around, looking for the sightless creature she had left here when she had ascended to the fight she had just come from, or at least and indication of where it may have gone. Remnants from her fight with Dalek were still here. Metal and shattered plastics crunched underfoot, a lasting reminder of who had come off second best. Dalek itself was gone, probably still wandering the corridors blindly, hoping that someone would find it. That stupid creature was in a better position than her, though, for it probably knew the way out whereas Barasia was glancing between each of the three shut doors, one of which she had come from. She had no idea which, though. The floor shook and, much closer this time, a thunderous rumble came from nearby. It occurred to her that the best idea, no doubt, was to head AWAY from the source of the explosions. This tower was supposed to be self-destructing, right? It sure took its sweet time, and every second was hers to utilise. She picked one of the doors and random and flew toward it, waiting for it to open up and reveal a maze of lefts, rights and straight-ons for her to choose.
It did no such thing. She slammed her body into the door, her anticipation at its opening misplaced as it stayed firmly and securely sealed. Another rumble, this one seeming ever closer, followed by what sounded like heavy objects crashing to the floor. Whatever was happening, Barasia didn't want to witness it firsthand. She pounded her equally-metallic fist against the blast door but apart from a loud thud there was nothing to be gained from it. Her hand scraped the metal and she glowered at it, silver against silver before her eyes. It was a reminder of where she was; who she was. This cold, unfeeling metal... so plain and resistant. She was made out of it. This whole tower was made out of it. Everything on this planet that ever originated from it was made of it. It was her bone. Synthetic rubber was her flesh. She was superior, yes. But she felt so deeply incomplete that she loathed Bell and that horrendous red goo she had filled herself with. It wasn't part of their design, but somehow, it seemed, Bell had become more of a person that way. The old Barasia would never think this way. The old Barasia would remain tried and true to who she was and what such strong origins could do for her. But since Bell got her hands.... hand.... on her, her perception had been thrown in the blender. It was herself and her little sister, fighting over the same body. Barasia represented knowledge. Power. Gospel truth. She was superiority and she had shown this many times. Bell was the underlying morality, the sensitive side, the prerequisitve weakness. The conscience that screamed in her head. Bell's psyche was prisoner in Barasia's contorted mind, unduly convicted and struggling to be heard. Barasia was ruthless in its subduing, and would hear none of it. If Bell wanted to talk, she'd talk to her in person. Yes, she'd risk having her head blown off but Barasia preferred that to blowing her own head off in frustration. She pounced away from the cold metal barrier, determined to find her way out. Surely another of the doors would be forgiving. She ran at the one on her left, skidding to a halt before it like an impatient child before their strict, overbearing parent. The door likewise did not move. Sealed shut, probably a result of Vexus' command to the computer shortly before her words had lead to her life being consumed in a thick orange haze. Did that mean...? She already knew the answer and was dreading the corresponding action, or lack thereof, and sure enough the final door, the same nigh-black material as the others, acted as though it were part of the wall, welded to its position and unable to move unless an army charged through.
Barasia sneered, not taking no for an answer. She would not be trapped in this dank pit! "I AM an army!" she declared to nobody but herself and, as she had done so many times before when there was an object that needed to be drilled through, she thrust her hands forward, her cannons ever-ready to do the the physical negotiating. Only, when her arms reached firing position and Barasia saw that the cannons were all but gone, her face fell, realising her blunder. She glanced up into the giant shaft. She did NOT want to go back up there, but that was where she left those weapons. Perhaps they still had some life in them. She had not decided on a course of action when the room roared with sudden ferocity, those deep and distant rumbles now so near they sounded like a thunderstorm above her head. She yelped, backing away from the blast door as if it were about to come to life and chomp her head off. She retreated into the centre of the room, crunching onto Dalek's cranial remnants once again, pieces of which lodged themselves in the soles of her shoes and into the gaps blasted into them by that brat Rika, providing much discomfort on every step. She was truly trapped now. Heading back up was a no-go, the walls were too thick to break down as she was and these doors were unrelenting. So what did that mean? Was she safe from whatever atrocious happenings were going on beyond the barriers that blocked her? She could be rescued, surely. She couldn't be stuck here. No way. The floor shook again, this time sustaining the vibrations and slowly getting more intense. Barasia glanced around, trying to source the disturbance. But the entire complex was rattling, getting louder and louder. Her sensitive ears began to hurt, and she covered them in hope of blocking the thunderous shockwaves from her head but she failed. Her hands felt cold against the side of her head and she longed for maintenance. The sound became so intense that she thought the whole tower would collapse any moment. She clamped her eyes shut and waited for oblivion. After all this, it ended here? She didn't want to go up, nor could she get anywhere down here. The noise was deafening, the shaking violent. All she could do was wait it out.
Doom never came. Instead there was the terrible sound of metal being split and broken. It wasn't herself doing the breaking because nothing touched her body. She uncovered her ears and looked up, the noise travelling up the shaft of the tower like air through a flute. She had felt a rush of new air explode into the room where she stood. Impossible! Everything was sealed! She glanced behind her to the source of the sudden burst. A grin spread on her face and she began to laugh. Whatever that rumbling was, it had acted as a battering ram against the door. Punctured, warped and in some places split right through, the blast door did very little to cover the exit from the small circular room. Whatever had done this damage and made such a horrendous noise must have been powerful. But in her current situation, Barasia would rather fly toward whatever it was than go backward. She ran up to the door, seized a portion of it that had warped away from the wall, and with all her might, she pulled. The door creaked, grunted and slowly sidled away from the exit. No form of weapon she had left, not even her eye lasers or her explosive charges, would budge this thing. She propped one leg up on the wall and using her extra leverage, she pulled back as hard as she could. She couldn't wait to upgrade. Then she'd have no trouble with something as minor as this. With one last heave the whole door tore loose, slamming across the room into the far wall with a rumbling CLANG before falling to the floor and into silence, a testimony to the two forces that had worked against it. Barasia let out a sigh of relief, closed her eyes and rubbed her head. Now her arms hurt. She stepped into the corridor beyond, its blue light bathing her, just as the distant rumbles started up again. Her eyes opened to greet the sudden roaring and as soon as they did, she felt the colour draining from her face. The corridor was long, tunnel-like with many branch-offs ahead. And each of those passageways were glowing with a blistering orange light, growing brighter and brighter, laterns in the cavernous blue bleakness. The one directly ahead was glowing the brightest, a distant ball of light gaining in strength. And it seemed it was also closing the distance. Barasia did not straight away make the connection that heat and the colour of flame were synonymous with ACTUAL flame. The distant roars grew louder as she stared at the pretty light and what she believed to be her exit into the morning sun. Instead, however, that 'exit' became a superheated surge of burning matter, charging its way toward her, spewing out of every intersection as it approached. Walls blew open, releasing more of the lethal combustion. Barasia blinked and realised. The building WAS self-destructing. From the ground up! And she was on the ground! And the only escape.... up! Cursing, alarmed at the accelerating wall of pyro before her, she span and ran backward. No wonder that blast door had been trashed so bad. The explosive pressure those eruptions back there was giving out would have buckled any structure. She jumped back into the air, not intent on being bulldozed too. The fire poured in beneath her as she rose into the base of the shaft, like water being pumped into a vessel with no other opening. She expected it to stop and die away so she could again try and find the exit, but instead the pit of flames began to rise up, slowly. She whimpered, feeling her legs grow hot. It surged and spat up embers that trailed up into the darkness above her head, the tower indeed becoming an enormous smokestack. Moments later, just when she thought the flames would die away at last, they instead began to accelerate upward like a rising vat of magma. Not dwelling on the fact that she was trapped in either direction, she shot back upward, delaying death as long as she could. Tears fell from her eyes. She felt horrible. She had to get out. But how?
She tore back up into the blackness, back toward the distant throneroom, the rush of fire literally hot on her heels. Up ahead was no sanctuary whatsoever, only a blast door that could be shut to block the inferno from cooking her alive. She was outpacing it quite significantly, but it was an irrestistable force that would stop for nothing. Even if she outran it, she could not hide from it. With her shield working she could have dived into the burning mass and not have to worry about being damaged. But without it, her skin and skeleton would be incinerated within moments. She slowed down, the fire now a deep glow below. Her legs hurt, not from the pain of fighting but simply because she was overworking her thrusters to get away. Ahead was the dim light of the still-distant waiting room outside the throneroom, which was trashed and littered with remnants of battle. To be trapped in such a place with no way out, the tower crumbling beneath, with nothing but the remains of Vexus to accompany you as you either burnt to death or fell hundreds of metres to the ground below... Barasia couldn't believe they were the only options. She had no idea how high she was up the Spire. All that was clear was that the fire would not be stopped by distance. She whimpered, her will to fly up farther dissipating as the fire only drew in closer. She thought of Vexus and what was left of her hands. She could use those claws to tear a hole in the wall, surely! Did she have time? How much further was it to the throneroom? Had it been sealed off? Was it too late? Her face was lit by the orange splendour below. Hell was opening to swallow her for her actions. You couldn't escape fate. No weapon she had could tear down the cold black walls that sealed her in. She flew up no further. There was no point in running, for she was not a coward. Well, not usually. She always found a way around the problem, a way to reverse a bad situation of her own into a bad situation for those who instigated aforementioned bad situation that was bad... uh... now she was confusing herself. She curled up slightly, watching as the glow below grew larger. She had been burned before. Pain was nothing new, and surely what was to come would just be more of the same, only bigger. Pain was something she enjoyed bestowing upon others like a gift; something she would rather be rid of than keep. Sharing was a good thing, right? She was worried the fire would hurt. But unless it could somehow match the agony she had felt when that bloodied hand, covered in the same synthetic mesh that had not too long ago covered her own hands, touched her face then she doubted that it would be too bad. It would all be over quickly. She had done her bit, and perhaps death was paradise in itself. She didn't know about death, other than that it was something that came when life could not be sustained. Was it better to die than to live through certain things? Had what she done to Breannin been the better of two alternatives? Bell was ungrateful, then. And if she somehow got out of this place, then she'd go visit Bell and offer either liberation in death or the best possible life. One or the other, it didn't matter. But if she died here, Barasia wondered... had Vexus been truthful? Would Bulldog be waiting? As soon as his face appeared within her mind, she realised how precious her existence in the here-and-now was. No, he couldn't have died! It wasn't in his nature to allow himself to be killed! He would be waiting, outside these walls. She looked forward to their next kiss. Tears fell freshly, dripping from her cheeks and disappearing into the abyss beneath, to be consumed by fire as everything else was about to be. But not her. It wasn't meant to be like this. She threw her head back, thinking of nothing but those who she had helped get this far and who had in turned helped her. Now she needed help again. She didn't care if they couldn't hear. Just screaming it alone would feel better.
"HELP MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" she screeched.
The fire curled upward. She could hear it reverberating and making the walls hum with deep vibrations. Soon this whole place would be engulfed, from the inside out. Vexus sure wasn't downplaying the spectacle of destruction when she mentioned fireworks. The whole ground floor must have been littered with explosives or something. However it worked, she didn't care. A smile came to her face as the tears continued to roll. If she died in this fire, she'd still be immortalised. But as a martyr. The demon who died when she destroyed the tyrant Vexus; a sacrifice worthy of a true hero. Some would hate her. Some would love her. But what did it matter when you were dead.
"Help..." she murmured, "h-help me..." If she didn't fear death... why was she so keen on avoiding it? Life was crazy. Perhaps she hadn't had her fill yet. The flare below swelled again. It was moving fairly slow, but it would catch her soon. She hoped for a miracle but knew deep down not to rely on them. ZOE was her miracle. And it had no hope of reaching her here-
Below her, an explosion so violent that the tower shook around her tore through the wall. Part of the self-destruct sequence? No, it didn't seem right. Debris and bits of metal slid off a strange object that had pierced the bulkhead, the pieces plummeting to their fiery demise beneath. Barasia only caught a glimpse of the giant intruder before it retreated through a hole gouged through the otherwise solid wall. It had resembled a sleek, stealthy locomotive of sorts, curved and pointed and attached to something no doubt bigger. She stayed there, frozen. Was this right? What was so big that it could bulldoze through the wall of the Spire? Any higher up and she might have been demolished, too. Pieces were still crumbling away. She blinked. "Uh..." Of all the good fortune she could be blessed with, what could have come to her aid?
Her answer came with an alarmingly loud screech from outside. "KREAAAAAAACK!"
Barasia's face lit up. In her hastened rush and after the intensity of her fight with Vexus, she had completely forgotten about her biggest asset outside these walls, "GIGAN!" she yelped in surprise and relief. Her ecstasy quickly turned to irritation, "How close do you need to cut it..." New problem: The hole was below, where the nice big campfire was, and from where she hovered it was already almost too hot to handle. She bit her lower lip, realising that hesitation would only make it worse. If she did nothing at all, she'd be trapped again. She whimpered. A race against the inferno. Sounded fun but she knew it wouldn't be. Rotating over, she let gravity take hold, sending her plummeting toward the bus-sized hole in the side of the tower, all the while the pit of flame rose toward her.
"BARASIA!" came a voice, calling up to her. A voice she had wanted to hear for a long time but not the voice of the person who she had hoped would be here to greet her. No doubt he was with him.
"I'm coming Tento!" she screamed. The roaring of the fire grew louder, more ferocious. It'd be close, to say the least. The way her clothes were, she didn't care if they got burnt off her. She just didn't want to lose her hair or any more of her skin. She slammed herself into the opposite wall, and like a spring her legs kicked off again, sending her pouncing diagonally downward for the hasty escape. The fire torched her vision and forced her to shut her eyes. The heat was unimaginable, but she couldn't even open her mouth to scream in discomfort. She felt as though her body was becoming a glowing meteor, every rivet and lattice inside her seeming to burn. Then everything began to turn numb. The heat became nothing. The rushing air, nothing. The pain all across her little body, all of it felt like nothing. She knew she was still alive. She knew she had escaped just in time. Something in the back of her head spoke small words of wisdom to her. She recalled words she had spoken to Breannin the day her life had been terminated. 'Those who survive too long on the battlefield start to think they are invincible'. In spite of everything, a smile came to her face. If today's survival had not proven she was invincible, she didn't know what would. Into the tower had departed a Little Raven. Emerging from the flames came a Goddess. Battered, bruised, hurt and humiliated but alive. Barasia felt cold air burst forth upon her skin as the heat washed away like dirt. A smile spread onto her face, and inside took on a new heat of contentment. Her eyes stayed shut as she absorbed the moment, feeling cool and fresh air blowing across her face-
CLUNK she went, slamming into something solid that recoiled with her momentum. Something cold, solid and steely. Her eyes flew open and she looked up, hoping to see the smiling face of the boy she loved. She embraced the metallic torso even before she could see the person's face. They hugged her in return, the arms big and strong. For a moment she was blinded by a bright flash as the plume of fire found brief escape from the chasm-like hole punched through the Spire's side. But through the glare, two bright red eyes stared down at her. Her expression sank as TentoRaijin's strong form turned away from the gushing flames to avoid exposing her fragile body to it. Barasia pressed herself against him. She was thankful that he was here. But Bulldog wasn't. No matter. She knew he'd be here soon.
Tento patted Barasia on the back, "A little beat up, maybe, but no worse for wear! I never doubted you, my warrior child..." Gigan squawked behind him, standing tall and proud, sporting scars of battle and chinks in its armour but still very much functional. It seemed giant from the ground, but it was miniscule compared to the Spire. The tower was shaking like a rocket about to lift off, and Tento retreated backward as the tendril of flame that spewed from the gash in its side became a thick black plume, rolling skyward to greet the morning air. He called out, "SMOG!"
Beside him arose a large puff of smoke obediently, the blue/grey mass of particulate matter literally spawning from the air itself. Amidst it formed a contrasting, almost black shape, growing out of the cloudiness like solid forming in a chemical reaction. From out of the greyness two sudden shocks of cyan pierced, their glows enhazed but no less dim. The smoke blew off the creature although there was no wind, and the knight of shadow hovered before TentoRaijin, head inclined smartly, "You summoned."
TentoRaijin nodded, Barasia unwilling to break his embrace on her. She was simply glad to be done with fighting for now, "What is the status of the ground facilities, and is it-" he was cut off by an interrupting screech from Gigan, who crouched and gnashed its jaws at something toward the ground that Tento did not bother to look at. Probably just some more fleeing Vexus loyalists to dine on. TentoRaijin didn't skip a beat, "-and is it safe to go back down?"
Smog tilted its head, recounting every snippet of information exposed to it, "The surface-level environment is no longer under the self-destruct process. The ground facilities have been abandoned and/or imploded. The Spire's central structure is all that remains. We shall go down?"
"We shall." Tento nodded. He held Barasia like a newborn, "I'd rather watch from the surface. They say the destruction of a monarch's monument is incredible to witness. Why should we waste it by staying up here? Much more scope of magnitude down below, I think."
Barasia blinked, "Um... where's B-"
Smog spoke over her, "Such scopes are lost on oneself, but you are entitled to your witnessing. I will comply."
Tento's membranous, silvery wings stretched out, taking up as much space as possible, "Hate to be late for a show..." The wings rotated slightly and like parachutes they expanded outwards like mesh, trapping the air to slow his gradual descent. Smog followed stiffly, its entire body rigid and robotic even to look at, following a precise vertical downward path, clouds of thick namesake trailing from its arms and back, leaving a dirty trail that gradually dissipated into the cold air. Beside them, the structure continued to burn, the upper pod of the Spire completely sealed off now. Where the tinted windows had been were now just plates of similar steel to the rest of the tower, its outer shell unharmed save for the gash torn through its defensive shield by the irresistable force of Gigan's blade. The tower had not even teetered yet. For something that was supposed to go out in a symbolic blaze of glory, Barasia thought it was taking its time. The breeze through her hair blew it over her face, making her scramble to brush it away. If the Spire was going to announce its end, she wanted to see it all. She grit her teeth, fighting against its urge to get into her eyes and make them itchy. She held onto Tento, remembering that she still had something to ask him.