She quite liked his new, muscular, powerful body with its two hands and opposable thumbs that made him far more interactive than his previous form. He was ZOE's advocate now. When she left this place, he would be in charge of keeping it safe, in case its power was even necessary. But unless Barasia died, ZOE would never be released from its eternal captivity, and its purpose would be nothing more than in a reconstructive manner. A creature of such importance, locked away in a container somewhere nobody will ever bother to visit... stranded in the darkness, unaware of its own life and taking orders from people. In a way, it sounded exactly like how Barasia knew gynoids to act and serve. Robots on Earth were nothing more than pets to most, and ZOE was just another pet here. Morally, she was no better than the humans. Oh wait, no. There was definitely something better about ZOE when compared to the Earth artificial lifeforms: ZOE had somewhat of a chance to be free. A glimmer of a chance, but it was still there. Barasia glowered, knowing that on Earth, robots were built as slaves and kept that way for all eternity. And they had no advocates like Tento here, an emodiment of their ability and uniqueness. ZOE would redefine everything on this planet from its home in the shadows. With his new body, Tento was quite good looking - handsome, even, dare she say it. She was very fond of Tento after all they'd been through together. He could be her advocate anytime. She giggled.
Tento looked down. "In a good mood, Barasia? I can see why." CLACK went his shoes as he hit the ground solidly, "I know how this lightshow will go off, because I reviewed the detonator riggings on the Spire not long before we started this conflict." He pointed to what stood before him. They were in the large plaza area where Rika had fought Barasia and nearly destroyed her foot. Everything that had been standing was now in rubble as though hit by a bomb blast. She saw the charred and gutted remnants of the barracks, the Hive and the ground-floor facilities of the Spire through which she entered, no doubt victims of the same self-destruct protocol that was consuming the main tower. "Should be... about ten more seconds." Tento muttered, turning her around properly so that she could see, "A lot of rebuilding to do, soon. A new monument.... a new empire..."
"Tento, I wanna know where-"
"Three... two... one..." Tento beamed as a tremor shook the ground, rattling through his metallic body, "There we are..." He pointed to the base of the tower just as the bulkheads split themselves apart like a ripped seam on trousers. Outwards burst a fearsome expanse of fire, ripping up the Spire's sides in at least three places as if the tower were splitting itself into three. Plates of that nigh-impenetrable metal went flying in all directions like roof tiles in a storm, the monolith consuming itself within its own detonation. Barasia oggled at what she was seeing; was this customary when the crown changed hands? The streak of fire she had her eyes on reached the gash halfway up the tower through which she had escaped and as it did, the entire midsection of the tower erupted as energy contained within its central column was prematurely released. "Plasma charges," TentoRaijin explained, "the energy they give off is immense and if it finds a way to release itself and expand, things get pretty hot pretty fast. Look!" he pointed again as the voluminous expulsion of flame curled itself into yet another cloud of midnight smoke. "The energy reacts far more violently if able to expand... that sort of thing was meant to happen at the top of the Spire but it looks quite unique when it happens part-way. Premature collapse, maybe." Indeed the hole in the tower had been carved much wider on either side as debris crashed down. Barasia was somewhat reminded of a moment in Earth's history when an attack on the United States left an image of burning, cratered towers burnt into the minds of everyone who saw the footage. What she saw now was similar to those towers all those years ago. Only, this was no attack of anarchism; it was a step in the right direction. Before her, the last remnants of the old Cluster were sweeping themselves away. The tower began to teeter like a great cedar chopped at the trunk. A little more and it would collapse under its own weight, its structure barely able to support itself. The base of the tower was engulfed in the same flame that burned through the rest of the city. Even Gigan had stopped to watch. Now, the Spire was just another building in the graveyard of demolished structures. For a moment it hung in limbo between standing and falling, immolating itself in a moment that would look very suitable on postage stamps that marked the end of an era. But the moment only lasted a few seconds, because what happened next made Barasia jump in Tento's arms.
The top of the Spire, where the throneroom was (or had been), threw itself apart in a terrific burst of light and sound, the release of energy that TentoRaijin had talked about succeeding in tearing the summit of the tower to ribbons in a single bright flash, the sound of thunder searing through the sky as shards and shrapnel fell like rain. Barasia had escaped before the big stuff had even happened and was thankful for such, as she would have stood no chance against an explosion so violent that it forced the Spire's top deck apart in a single go. From where they stood they could hear the metal creaking and groaning as, at last, the damaged misection broke in two, sending the burning upper portion of the central column crashing to the ground, its impact hidden behind the many smaller buildings in the way. An ominous black cloud rose up into the sky as the ground shook again, a final signal that everything was done with. The Queen was dead, the Cluster was under new management and, perhaps the most relieving of all, the Civil War was over. The base of the tower collapsed moments later, leaving nothing standing. Anything left inside it would not have gotten out. Not after that.
Tento held her firmly, "I had hoped for more colour and choreography but I can't complain! I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did."
Barasia nodded, "I'm just glad I wasn't in there when it happened! You took your time getting to me."
"As soon as the surface facilities began to explode and burn I knew it was time to break you out of there. I guess I was just lucky that you were close to the impact point where Gigan had hit, otherwise we might have lost you. And... none of us would want that..."
Barasia wriggled free, dropping to the ground. She regretted it, for the moment she touched the paving her legs issued to her an enormous shock of pain that forced her to her knees with a gasp to accompany. Tento was quickly on his knees too, holding her arm to steady her. "Agh... I should have thought that through a little better."
A voice startled her, "Barasia is injured. On hand for assitance if required. I will comply." Smog had been so silent and still that Barasia had forgotten he was there. Gigan towered, nearby, standing amongst the rubble with its reflective-silver scythes held slightly outwards, adopting an at-ease stance.
"Looks like that's the first thing on hand," Tento noted, helping Barasia to stand, "Your cannons are..... uh, well... your cannons are GONE... your hands are a mess -ouch, you got a finger missing in action - your dress is hardly a dress anymore, you're dirty and beat-up, there's possible internal damage and you're missing a rather important piece of clothing."
"KYAA!" Barasia went bright red and recoiled slightly, "You... you KNOW about that?"
"Did you think I wouldn't notice when you slammed into me and I held onto you? Vexus knew how to strike a nerve, at least." he muttered. Barasia's face burned with red-hot embarassment.
"A skilled tactician fights not just with weapons," Smog informed, "they also wield weapons of the mind, the emotions and the soul. It is my wish to learn these in order to better myself and the Cluster."
Barasia's eyes were narrowed, "Not all of us have souls, Smoggy..."
"Tell you what, though, Vexus was one of the best on this planet at attacking left and right with different methods." Tento interjected, "Back in the old days, one of her talents was taking the guise of an individual close to that of an enemy commander or leader in order to gain vital information. This was what led her to win favour with the previous monarch, since she was so gifted at fleecing people. Of course, this was before either of you were around... erm... in fact it might have been before I was around as wel-"
"YOU!" roared a voice which belonged to neither of Barasia's companions. But it was a voice she recognised so succinctly that it made her spine tingle to hear it again. She put a face to that voice straight away and it felt even worse; not because the owner of that voice was supposed to be dead, but because of what that person had done to her. She spun around to be greeted by the furious visage of a rather worse-for-wear Admiral Destruction glaring down at her, his vivid yellow eyes burning in demented rage, his only hand clenched into a fist and his dented, broken armour still hulking and imposing. She had seen him fall from near the top of the Spire. Trust a thick-headed goose like him to survive something like that. "VEXUS IS DEAD!" he screamed at her.
"Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh..." she groaned.
TentoRaijin harrumphed, "I was under the impression that it was the greatest call of duty for the Queen's top officer to put his life on the line in order to defend her own. One must assume that... since your here, albeit a bit... eh... damaged, you did not perform your duty amicably, because you're still alive to holler at us. Or... perhaps Barasia didn't do HER job right."
Destruction pointed an accusing finger at the little girl, very much deranged, "SHE thought she was rid of me! SHE DROPPED ME! FROM THE HIGHEST LEDGE! If not for you and your cowardly tricks I would have had you exactly where I wanted, Barasia! And ALL of this would have been avoided! I would have been a hero! I would have been legendary, but your pathetic, cowardly weapons managed to catch me offguard!"
"You were getting PERVY with me!" Barasia proclaimed, making Tento's eyes widen slightly.
"HARDLY!" Destruction yelled, stomping forward. His right shoulder was almost completely caved in; the likely bearer of his impact with the ground. Seems that Barasia wasn't the only one to have a bit of luck in this war, "I told you my intention, clear as day! All I wanted was for things to be as they were! I would have you as my greatest achievement, once again, and together we could accomplish vast feats of conquest and dominance! I would be next in line for the throne and I could carve a legacy into the tapestry of time that no other monarch could possibly hope to outmatch! With you at my side, Barasia, I would have been a god amongst man and machine!"
Barasia raised an eyebrow, "Where's MY recognition?"
Destruction dismissed her, "It doesn't matter if I have you or not! History only chooses to remember the most important, and in time, with you or without you, the word 'Destruction' will be the only one with meaning. Perhaps, Barasia, you will be remembered in a footnote in some archive. You should be happy, you know. Traitors seldom get a mention," he glared at Tento, who only glared back, "With that tower gone, there's nobody on the throne-"
"There is no throne to occupy. It was destroyed in the Spire's collapse. Your statement is flawed." Smog interrupted.
Destruction cast him a furious stare before returning to Barasia. Tento did nothing, for he would only react of Destruction first acted. "With that collapse, there is nobody to rule this planet. As the head of the armies on Cluster Prime, that duty now falls upon my shoulders and with or without you, Barasia, I will take up that duty." he lifted his gauntleted hand to aim at her head. Tento tensed, clenching his fists. His wrist-mounted Stormsaber came to life, an electric-blue spear of energy crackling to life on his right arm. Destruction noticed and started chuckling, "What do you plan to do, Tento? Even with that fancy new knight's body, you don't scare me. You NEVER scared me. That's why I'm the Admiral and you're the lowly technician."
"You're a fool, that's what you are."
Destruction scoffed, "Foolish I may be, but it's no foolhardy act to slay a traitor. I know what Vexus did to Barasia," his glaring yellow eyes fell upon the little girl again, "She has no shield, no weapons of merit... and nowhere to run. You can try and stop me but even lightning is not as fast as a single shot of my harpoons. So go ahead. Shock me to death. Barasia will be in pieces before I even hit the ground."
Tento blinked, realising the magnitude of the Admiral's threat. He glanced down at Barasia, then back at the Admiral. Any movement from him and the girl would be dead. He had to buy some time. He had to respond in a way so unexpected that it would instead make the Admiral stall. He had to be unexpected. Irrational. Downright mad. He drew himself up to his full height of 6'5'', stuck out his chest in a show of pride, retracted his Stormsaber and spoke. He knew how the Admiral reacted. The guy thought that Tento was predictable. Such was the problem with high-ranking officers, or at least most of them: they were often out of touch with their subordinates. Thus, Tento surprised him.
"Kill her." he shrugged.
Barasiaa whirled on him, "WHAT!?"
Destruction blinked, "Could you... say that AGAIN?"
Smog turned to TentoRaijin, "Your response is somewhat unexpected. Are you certain you delivered your intended reply?"
Tento nodded, "Fully certain. Go on, Destruction, kill her. The Queen's dead, the planet's mine and she's nothing to me now. I don't care about her any more than she cared about me, you, or the rest of this place. So go on, blow her to pieces. See if I even blink."
Destruction glowered, lowering his weapon, "This is a trick."
"Not at all," Tento countered, "She's defenceless, just as you said. Oh, and uh... she lost her underwear in her fight with the Queen. If you want your last laugh then I suggest you take advantage of her... helpless situation."
"TENTOOOO!" squealed Barasia, livid. She wanted to punch him.
Destruction shook his head, "I'm surprised we're finally getting along on something, Tento." He raised his hand again, aiming right between her eyes. His fantasy at seeing her head burst into pieces was one of many he held about Barasia. If he got to keep her body as a trophy, then perhaps he'd get to act upon others. "Your warpath ends here, little Raven!" he declared.
Tento scoffed, 'Asshole.' He nodded, giving the go-ahead.
At that very moment, something went CLACK around Destruction's head, a strange claw resembling that of a crab's seizing around the back of the neck. A gruff voice spoke to the startled Admiral, "I thought I told you not to show your face around here again!" FOOM!
The Admiral made no sound as a bright red pencil-thin beam ripped its way through his neck, tearing a hole that spewed forth sliced bits of machinery like blood from an open wound. The hole grew larger as the metal disintegrated, the laser relentless in its drilling. The Admiral's startled expression froze itself on his face as his eyes lost their shine. Then, the claw lifted the hulking monster off the floor and, as though handling a rag doll, slammed him onto the ground in a discarded heap. The claw clicked impatiently, its owner quite annoyed, "I told him to piss off. Fuckwit didn't listen."
Tento cocked his head, impressed, "Well, he's gone now, Carapace, so it's all good..." He got a nod in return. Barasia huffed and folded her arms. TentoRaijin stretched out his hand, which the hexapedal hybrid creature accepted with his other, more normal hand, "It's been a long time, my friend."
"You too, Chulak. You sure have chan-"
"Please, don't call me that. I'm TentoRaijin now. Have been since I came here."
"Well you weren't when we were both on the reassembly line, just a pair of dying organics given a new lease at life only to abandon and betray the very civilisation who gave us that chance all these years later. I can't even remember my old name. Can you?"
Tento chuckled, "It was Gulnah."
"Gulnah.... that... doesn't really suit me, does it..."
Tento shook his head, "No, not really. Seems we both don't want to be reminded of what we used to be, eh?"
"That's because we're now SUPERIOR!" Carapace declared, throwing his arms out to the sides for emphasis. "And the fact that we're still alive when so many Cluster natives have fallen is an indication that such superiority runs deep between us."
"Your assessment has merit." Smog noted, not moving, enshrouding itself within its protective mist, "Such superiority only continues to foster and it is my wish to share in such."
Carapace chuckled, "Still on about that, eh Smog? You'll get your chance, really soon."
"Yes, he has been very helpful. And informative, too, despite certain inhibitions. I'm sure we can find a way to give him the individuality he wants."
Smog's head turned to him, those eyes intense beneath the clouded haze, "In spite of my appearance, like all Shadowguards I possess no gender. Do not refer to me as 'he'. You will comply."
Carapace stood strong and imposing, "Smog, when this all blows over, you'll be the first one to reap the benefits of the seeds we've sown here."
Smog gruffly responded, "Your metaphors are unnecessary."
TentoRaijin glanced down, "Barasia? Are.... are you ok?"
Barasia was not looking at him, but the tone of her voice immediately explained her mood, "I'm fine."
TentoRaijin knelt beside her, bringing him closer to her tiny height, "Is this about what I said to the Admiral? You should know that what I said was only to act as a ruse to make him stall. He's not used to me acting all irrational. It was a stall tactic while Carapace snuck up from behind. Please, forgive me if I upset you."
Barasia whirled on him. She looked close to shedding tears but not quite. TentoRaijin sighed silently. There'd be time for that, soon. Barasia looked hurt, "H-HOW could you say that, though!? I was sure you meant it! And when I was defenceless like that, if he fired I would have been killed! You... you scared me, Tento..."
Tento chuckled, "She who confronts all obstacles... fights and overcomes all manner of opponents... she who is the key to reshaping this world... I tend to forget sometimes that you still feel fear. But I thought you knew me better than that, Barasia..." he brought a hand to her cheek and rubbed it, his cold fingers making her shiver.
"Where is Bul-"
An abysmal screeching wail interrupted her as all four winced at the sound of a blaring voice grating out a single, distorted, gutteral scream. Carapace was closest to it, bringing his claw and hand up to his bald and pale head to try and block the obvious discomfort. "What in the name of welding...!?" he staggered backward slightly, his six legs stumbling to keep him standing as the blaring grew louder in his head. Something sidled up next to him, a disgusting shape of twisted metal and fried circuitry that had once been something more. The noise was coming from it; the sleek black and red machination whose top portion ended in a tangle of wires, circuitry and mangled metal. "...the hell is this thing!?"
Barasia's eyebrows went up as the midsection of the strange craft swivelled in Carapace's direction, a pair of stunted prongs with wires sticking out of them pointing at him almost accusingly, "LIFE-FORMS CON-FIRMED! UN-AB-LE TO IN-I-TI-ATE VIS-UAL LINK! I-DEN-TI-FY! I-DEN-TI-FY!" it demanded in that blaring genderless voice.
Barasia groaned, "Dammit, he got out... was Vexus the ONLY one I killed in a decent way?"
Dalek rotated again, blind but able to hear and speak... er, scream. "IM-POSS-I-BLE! BAH-RAH-SEE-AH COULD NOT HAVE SUR-VIVED AG-AINST VEX-US!"
Barasia glowered, "Bah-rah-see-ah did survive. Check your facts next time, ok? Or do I gotta blow more bits off you?"
"THE HIER-AR-CHY IS DES-TROYED! THE QUEEN IS DEAD! I RE-QUIRE OR-DERS! OR-DERS!" Dalek swivelled left and right, "OR-DERS! I A-WAIT OR-DERRRSSSSS!"
Carapace growled, "Oh, for the love of..." frustrated, he dug his mismatched hands into the broken casing of the almost unrecogniseable robot. Without its twin cannons, which were no longer attached (to Barasia's surprise but not to her disappointment) it looked like a shadow of its former, intimidating self. With a slight heave, Carapace lifted the mechanoid off the ground entirely, its smooth base tippin to one side as the Dalek's screeches ceased for a moment, feeling itself being unnaturally shifted without seeing it happening. With a dismissive shove, Carapace gruffly sent Dalek dropping down onto its side, a crunching noise that could have only been crushing metal reaching their ears. Dalek's pitiful broken arms wiggled for a moment before it fell still, the sightless mech unable to grasp its situation. TentoRaijin chuckled. Carapace looked up at him, "Well, what was I SUPPOSED to do?" he shrugged.
The fullmetal knight came forward, stooping down so it could speak to Dalek, although he didn't quite know where to direct his speech, since the creature was headless yet fully able to hear him. The hoverpad on its underside glowed its usual hue, useless without Dalek's eye to guide it. "Listen to me, creature no more foreign to this world than me. Who is it that you serve?"
Dalek' wiggled again, utterly immobilised, "I... SERVE.... THE CLUS-TAH!" it screeched. Barasia winced at every syllable.
Tento was nodding, "That is all well and good, but WHO do you serve? Not what. Who."
Dalek paused for a moment. Could a creature like that feel pain? It was completely metal. TentoRaijin was certain that, with his fully metal body and lack of organic or synthetic material, he would no longer experience such a thing. But there would be times in his future when, he knew, he would miss it. Dalek warbled again, "I SERVE THE LEAD-ER OF THE CLUS-TAH!"
"Who is your leader now? The Queen is no more! Barasia ensured it that you have nobody to follow until a new monarch takes the throne!"
Dalek, for the first time, spoke in a voice that was hushed and reserved. Almost... sad. Well, as sad as a metallic, grating, emotionless box of a creature could possibly manage, "The Queen..... is dead..."
Tento was growing impatient, "Yes, that is what I JUST SAID! Barasia killed the Queen!"
"I WILL NOT ACC-EPT THIS IN-FOR-MA-TION! YOU ARE IN ERR-OR!" Dalek screeched.
"Even dustbins like this thing can be stubborn..." Carapace jostled. Smog merely nodded.
TentoRaijin growled deeply, "What I am about to say I will repeat to the entire populace of Cluster Prime, ex cathedra, once everything is cleaned up. Know this: As of this moment, I am the new ruler of this planet. My name is TentoRaijin and I am taking control of the Cluster. If you continue to deny this and disobey my orders to you, you will be decommissioned and scrapped. A life as... versatile as yours cut tragically short. Not the most desired outcome, yes? So... I leave you with a choice, machine. Either accept that the Queen is finished and henceforth the new monarch of this planet is myself and you will take all orders from me, or... it's the scrap heap." he stood and turned away, "Your choice."
"A CHOICE?" screeched the Dalek, perplexed, "A CHOICE HAS NOT BEEN OFF-ERED IN MY SER-VICE TIME! I HAVE ON-LY BEEN TASKED WITH OB-EY-ING OR-DERS!"
"Then break tradition and answer me! Do you accept the change in power!?" Tento yelled, frustrated with such pathetic machines. Smog wasn't the only one needing a bit more personality.
Dalek was quiet a little longer. Barasia folded her arms, unamused. She had a question that needed answering badly, and she was growing suspicious and worried. Then Dalek responded, "I.... ACC-EPT."
Tento chuckled, folding his arms, "We have our first recruit."
Barasia sighed, "Well, at least THAT'S over..." she was still moody, being both tired from fighting and frustrated at the lack of proper clothing around her backside, "I swear, if Rika shows up next I'll vaporise her..."
Carapace guffawed, "Uh, I don't think that will be happening. The moment the Dome came down, a lot of Vexus' forces began surrendering."
Barasia blinked, "Wow, really?"
Carapace gestured out toward the main city, beyond the giant wall which had once helped keep the Tachyon Dome intact, "We've captured a fair few of them. They shall be spared if they surrender their loyalties to this world's old ways. Rika turned herself in not long ago, in fact. She wasn't happy, I can tell you that."
"She never is..." growled TentoRaijin, recalling his fair share of bad memories. He left Dalek where it fell, for now.
"I almost wish she didn't make it..." Barasia murmured, "Just because I don't want you to bother putting up with people like her."
Smog turned to TentoRaijin, "Excessive loitering wastes necessary time. Our main objectives are accomplished. We must head back to the Fortress. You will comply."
Barasia grit her teeth. She would get her answer. Tento spoke first, "There's still some fighting going on but I think that will all subside eventually. Time is on our side now, gentlemen. Shall we head back?"
"TENTO!" screamed Barasia.
"Oh.... right..." Tento sighed. He knew this would come eventually, "Carapace, could yourself and Smog take Dalek back to the Fortress? Gigan will follow there soon and once RAY is back on its feet I'll issue a command override and get it in for repairs. Uh..."
Carapace muttered, "Good luck." so that Barasia would not hear. Tento nodded. Smog flashed suddenly, as though a bolt of lightning had just torn through the cloud that surrounded him. A moment later a second cloud enveloped the toppled Dalek, and with a howling, wooshing noise the gaseous entities disappeared and the two were gone. Carapace gave a slight sigh and galloped away toward the main city. He was secretly glad to not be in TentoRaijin's shoes, this once. Tento turned back around and glanced down. There, at his feet, was an icy black glare directed at him. He felt his spine tingle despite it being made of pure steel.
"Tento, I want an answer to my question!" she demanded, her bratty nature resurfacing.
"Well then, I won't lie to you."
"Tento, where is Bulldog? We promised each other that we would find each other and be together when the war ended. We promised each other! Is he at the fortress? If he is, I'm gonna be mad at him!"
Tento blinked, surprised and yet horrified. Barasia hadn't worked it out by now? Surely Vexus had known. Vexus would have DEFINITELY known. She would often receive battle reports straight to her neural network when things like wars happened. If an enemy unit was terminated, she would be the first to know. And if she did indeed know about Bulldog, she would have no doubt taken pleasure in taunting Barasia and dogging her with the fact that outside the Spire there was no longer a happy future together with the boy she loved. Vexus was that kind of person: manipulative, psychological and brutal. had she not bothered to tell Barasia? Or was Barasia too naive to understand her often-cryptic means of getting the facts across? Barasia still thought Bulldog was waiting for her. He was heartbroken for her. She didn't understand, so she clung to that promise she made with him. The thought of that promise wrenched at TentoRaijin's innards even moreso. To think that Bulldog and this little black angel had shared the most tender of moments on the balcony of the Fortress, overlooking the city in what was probably the most romantic location this whole planet had to offer, swearing upon their honours to meet again when the war was over and begin to plan their bright, bright future. To think... in Barasia's blissful haze of utter adoration for the boy, she didn't even contemplate the possibility (and, now, the fact) that she would never see her precious boy again. Tento remembered how it used to be to cry and how bad he would feel on the inside when it happened, but how good it felt afterward to release all the emotion from within. He wished he could cry now, because he felt miserable. The only one crying here would be the one who was about to receive the bad news.
"Tento, where is Bulldog?" she asked, in the most collected manner she could muster.
TentoRaijin winced, feeling another shock of despair shoot through him like the lightning he could so easily control. He clenched his fist behind his back and a moment later, a buzzing noise told him that something had arrived. He moved his thumb, feeling the nylon softness of the object that had materialised in his fingers. Sighing he murmured the gynoid's name, instantly regretting the somber tone he took. Every glimmer of hope and pep in those two obsidian gems of optical beauty suddenly disappered like a lightbulb switched off. He wished time could be reversed, but that technology had been lost from this world. He wanted to start over, try again, but Barasia's fallen face told him that in the here and now there was no going back. "Barasia, I need to tell you something..."
Barasia, to his utter grief, started to retreat away from him as though he were nothing but a dirty stranger full of hollow promises. A smile of feigned confidence reached her lips, "No... no, it's not like that... he's waiting at the Fortress, I know it... c-come on, Tento... let's go before he starts to miss us.... he's... he's there, right?" She brought her hands, silvery and ghastly, to the place on her chest where, in a normal girl, the heart would be. Whatever pain Tento was feeling right now, he knew it to be nothing close to what Barasia was experiencing.
Tento, hating the fact that he could not cry and sorely wishing that he could, brought his concealed hand around to show what was in it. The grey and red fabric of the dirtied beanie was worn and ragged, but it was all that was left, "Barasia.... there was..... nothing I could do for him...."
Barasia took the tattered beanie in her tiny hands, the look in her eyes reflecting none of the hope, however false, she had held just a moment ago. A great chasm opened within her and swallowed every last glint of joy that her body had managed to store, instead spitting out grief to fill the holes that joy had left. Her tiny fingers trembled. The moment she blinked, tears locked themselves onto her eyelashes like bats hanging from tiny tree limbs. When her lower lip began to tremble, Tento had to look away. The pain he was forced to feel, not only at his own personal sense of loss for the boy he would have gladly considered a son, but also for Barasia, the closest thing to his own child, now grieving the loss of a boy she had so desperately wanted to share her future with. She scrunched the beanie up and rubbed it against her cheek, whimpering slightly as the breath she would never need was caught in her throat. She sniffled slightly and a tear rolled down her face. Despite her evident affliction, Tento was more than aware that absorbing a loss like this would take time. Barasia had not even begun to feel agony yet. That was yet to come.
"Barasia..." TentoRaijin muttered, actually surprised she wasn't wailing and distraught yet, "You.... should be proud of Bulldog... for the sacrifice he made."
Barasia blinked and looked up, "O-Oh! We can still transfer him... into his new body, right? Even if his old body isn't working anymore, we can still download its memory banks into the new body.... r-right?" she clutched the beanie to her chest, again where her heart would have been. Her eyes were wide. Pleading. Tento growled. Whatever heart Barasia had, he knew he was about to break it. He reached down and picked her up, the girl so tiny in his arms. Three Barasias standing on each others' shoulders would not reach his height. He cradled her to his chest and rubbed her back, which had been partially eviscerated as though slashed with claws. Barasia would not feel any pain, now. Not after what he was about to say. He was thankful she had not seen her boy die the way he had. The sight of his body being vaporised indiscriminantly by Gigan... would no doubt have driven her insane.
"B-Barasia... I gave that to you for a reason... because..." he closed his gleaming eyes for a moment. Barasia brought the beanie to her cheek again, holding it like a precious bedtime plush toy. She was dreading his next words, her eyes still so wide, "because... that is all that is left of him..."
Barasia stared at him for a moment. Had she not registered what he had said? She slowly tilted her head and, using the beanie to shield her cheek from the cold of Tento's metal exterior, rested herself against his shoulder as tears began to slide down her cheeks. She didn't even sob. She just stayed there, in his arms, crying. It would not sink in for some time, Tento feared. To his surprise, she spoke, "When I feel his beanie... with my skin... it's like I'm still with him..." she told him, her voice still full of innocent childhood wonder. She nuzzled her cheek against him, "It's.... it's getting cold..." she sniffled at last, that voice making Tento shudder.
"Barasia..." he muttered, cradling her against him and she grieved. She was taking this well for someone who had just lost a friend, a love and a future, "Bulldog will always be remembered for what he did... he was a martyr for our cause... the stuff of legend. This planet will always remember who he was, I will make sure of it."
"But that won't bring him back..."
"Say whatever you want about him..." Barasia sniffled, "H-He.... he was more to me than just a bunch of good words." she blinked, more tears dropping onto the beanie. She took it in her little hands and stared at it for a moment. She could still taste his sweetness on his lips after they shared their first proper kiss. Their only true kiss. A love cut short. Now she knew how that boy who loved Breannin felt. She began to not only hate the situation but also hate herself. Had Bulldog died because of her? She doubted she'd ever find out what happened to him without asking, and she doubted that she'd ever be ready to ask Tento for the truth. Perhaps being kept in the dark would be better for her. Surprising Tento, she slipped the beanie onto her head. When she looked up at Tento, what he saw remarkably resembled the deceased android, only the eyelashes were much thicker, the eyes shinier, the skin softer, the complexion more gentle and this Bulldog was actually blessed with clothes and skin all over. Barasia looked quite remarkable in that little hat. Almost boyish, a look that Tento quickly grew fond of. She said nothing other than three words which, to him, made Tento feel the most uncomfortable he had felt since breaking the bad news. "Now.... we're together."
Tento tried to string together some words to reply, "You... you look-"
He was cut off when Barasia gave him a huge surprise. Putting one hand around the back of his head, she reached up and her lips came to his mouthplate. Her eyes, still streaming with tears that he doubted would stop anytime soon, slid shut as, for a moment, the two linked themselves through the unusual yet not unwelcome contact. Tento regretted not being able to feel any of it, his steel mouthplate able to sense nothing of her gentle, genuine kiss. He blinked, startled. What did this mean? When Barasia finally stopped, she blinked a couple of times, splashing him, before she murmured, "Now... you're the only one left who cares about me..."
Tento stroked her hair, the beanie snug on the girl's head. Would she ever take it off now? "Don't say that, baby... there are many, MANY people who care about you. You've helped do a great service to this planet... even those who have never met you will come to respect and care about you. You're not the heartless, friendless fiend you once described yourself as, Barasia. Remember, as long as we both shall live" 'Damn, that sounded too much like a wedding pledge...' "you will always have a home here on Cluster Prime."
Barasia sobbed, "I-I... I can't stay here, Tento... I have stuff I need to... d-do..."
Tento hugged her tight, "I know, so that's why we need to get you fixed up and ready to fight again as soon as possible... instead of hanging around this wasteland of bad memories." The place where the Spire had stood still burned, the whole area unrecogniseable compared to what had stood there less than a day before. "There's nothing we can do about Bulldog now... I'm sorry..."
"He'd never let himself be killed... not when he knew what was waiting for him when we won... so why would he just... die?" Barasia asked, more to herself.
"From what I know, Barasia, Bulldog had no choice in the matter. It wasn't something he could fight. But... he did not suffer, in case that helps you."
Barasia's eyes narrowed, "It doesn't."
TentoRaijin continued to cradle her, and he whispered in her ear, "You have no idea how much I hate being powerless to help you Barasia." She rested her head against his chest, the beanie even softer than her hair. TentoRaijin felt strangely comfortable and again he saw the little girl in mourning as his own child. He wanted the absolute best for her, but he could not return people from the dead. He had failed already. He glanced around him, seeing nothing but the carnage wrought by himself, Barasia, his followers and the collossal avian beast who Barasia had brought to the Cluster and would very soon turn over to him. There was nothing worthy of note here now; just the ashes of a broken legacy that Vexus left behind. He held her tighter still, his arms the only protection she had without her shield and weapons. Soon she would be too big for those arms, but for now she needed the protection re-installed. He just hoped he had excess supplies in stock to keep her happy. The shield... would be a problem. "Come on, Barasia... let's head back. Wouldn't want to keep Smog and Carapace waiting, hmm?" His wings stretched outwardly, forcing air and smoke aside in order to assert their presence. Barasia held onto him tightly, recognising him as her only true safety. As the silver knight took flight, he looked around him and took in exactly what had happened to the capital city of Cluster Prime. Broken buildings, debris-covered streets and spot-fires were everywhere and beneath all that, he knew, were bodies. Bodies of those loyal to Vexus. Bodies of those supporting hs coup d'etat. And bodies of those caught in the middle with nowhere to run and no sanctuary in which to hide. War was disgusting sometimes. Sometimes victory did not justify the losses. It sure didn't compensate for what happened to Barasia's dream - shattered like so many of the structures around and below. Soon... soon everything would be rebuilt. In a final act before it returned to its dormant state, ZOE could rebuild the city, create a monument for King TentoRaijin and replace the superweapons lost in the fighting. A new Sword... a new Skyrail.... and other various additions. There would be no more war for control over this world. Tento knew he had something good. For him, this war was a victory. The next phase in the life of Cluster Prime would soon begin. But the moment he felt the little girl stir in his arms, he saw it from her point of view. Indeed, for Tento, this war was a victory. But for Barasia, whose dreams of a bright future had been torn away from her.... this war had been a bitter loss....