Chapter 50: Change of Heart
Date: November 26, 3007
The mist befell on the white city, roiling around the marbled corners and down the empty streets. A wind stirred feebly, but couldn’t penetrate the infinite fog of the morning. Up ahead, the sun shined brightly, its early morning rays powerless to bear through the clouds.
But then they appeared, one by one, little by little, forever advancing. Ten figures in black emerged from within the shadows, proceeding forwards as if invincible. At the head, side by side, strode Felix and Michael, their S-16 Scarab Assault Rifles steady in their cold gloved hands. Suddenly, something stirred in the distance.
“Check left,” Michael whispered and waved two fingers to the left side of the deserted street. Damiver, Deirdre, and Maldran sprinted to the side into the ally for cover. At the same time, Felix dove to the right, followed by his platoon, leaving the street quiet once more. “What the hell was that? You see it Felix?”
Through the communicator, Michael heard Felix’s breath fall hard and heavy on the microphone, then reply, “Nothing… Night-vision has nothing either.”
Frowning in confusion, Michael slackened his grip on his rifle and appeared back onto the street. The company regrouped uneasily and proceeded forwards in a circular formation. No ambush would take them by surprise.
Suddenly, there was a whizzing sound in the distance. Michael stopped and tried to see through the mist, but to no avail. The noise turned into a faint beeping which grew louder and louder. Then, a thump reached his ears and a sphere-shaped object rolled to a stop at Michael’s feet. The display on the ball blinked in a fiery red: 00:05. “Ah F***…”
Just after Michael gave the order to disperse and dive away, the explosion tore through the middle of the street. He could feel the intense heat of the blast singe his clothes as a burst of black smoke engulfed him in darkness. Unseeingly, he fell to the floor with a thud, covering his head upon instinct. Through the communicator, he could hear various voices yelling indistinguishable words.
Amidst the chaos, Michael stumbled around on the ground, his ears ringing with a piercing shriek. Everything else was muffled as he staggered sideways, trying to regain his footing. Shaking his head as if to knock the ringing out, Michael groped his way through the air, trying to find fresh air.
At last, he fell to the ground, choking from the smoke inhalation and wiping the tears out of his blurry eyes. Hands blindly loading his rifle, Michael helped himself up and leaned against the wall. “Deirdre… Dam…Damiver, report!”
Though the ringing was still dominant in his ears, Michael could barely distinguish the cacophony of voices crying out to him. But then, a louder, thumping sound echoed away the distant voices. Before Michael could react, he saw a pair of combat boots slam into the side of his head. The world was sent spinning as he fell back down to the floor. Then, a figure stepped over him, its face silhouetted by the morning sun. It paused for a moment, looking down at Michael, then brought its foot down on his face.
Felix heard a muffled blow through the dense smoke. Sensing an imminent threat, he slid on his night vision goggles and made a break for the side of the street. As the smoke cleared up, Felix noticed a bloody smear on the ground, as if there had been a brawl there.
“Where’s the captain?” Deirdre asked as she approached Felix. Her eyes suddenly caught the stain on the ground and her mouth fell agape.
“Wherever he is,” Felix replied, slowly turning back around to face the platoon, “we need to get to him before they do.”
“I think it’s a bit too late for that!” a magnificent voice suddenly boomed out. Felix whipped around to come face to face with the entirety of the Dominion’s Army approaching on one side. General Fenris was at the head, his sharp wolf-like teeth glinted maniacally in the sunlight.
Cursing under his breath, he saw there was someone lying unconscious on the ground in front of him, someone very familiar…
“Captain!” Deirdre suddenly cried out, as she tried to make a break for Michael’s body, but Damiver and Maldran restrained her. “No! He might still be alive! Let go! Let me save him! Captain!!!”
“Not to worry, little girl,” Fenris exclaimed in amusement, “Captain Reinhart is merely unconscious, thanks to my best and most loyal servant. Agent N-12491, thank you.” A crackle of electricity searing through the air met Felix’s ears as someone appeared from no where right beside the general. It had a slim body, perhaps a girl…
“Nova!” Felix roared in surprise as the Shadow appeared right next to Fenris, her combat goggles on over her eyes to shield her emerald jewels from them, her rifle raised. But Felix was glad; he didn’t want to see Nova’s eyes. “Nova, how could you do this to us? After all that we’ve been through!”
“Go on, Nova. Tell them why,” Fenris mocked condescendingly.
Nova remained stationary for a second, then lowered her S-36 to her side. Then, her lips began to move. “My name is Nova. It is short for something but I do not remember it anymore. I am a Shadow trained in the darkest fields in The Academy by the Nexon Dominion. I do not remember my past life for my memories were wiped when I started training to become a Shadow. But I do not need memories for they only impede my perfection. Memories only disrupt thought and judgment. I do not know any of it. I do not know fear. I do not know pain. I only know my duty and will fulfill it to my death…”
“Ah, the Shadow’s Creed,” Fenris jeered, “It’s like music to my ears.” The blonde pony tail on the back of Nova’s head swayed serenely as a gust of wind drifted by. She continued to look at Felix from behind her headgear.
Felix didn’t know what to do. The most logical thing to do was to surrender, to give up everything they had been fighting for in exchange for their lives. His life almost flashed before his eyes as his mind started to churn out memories of the past. Everything, it seemed, led up to this moment in time, this very millisecond in the time-space continuum.
And then, a shadow crept into Felix’s head. If they surrendered, then everything would be for nothing. All the sacrifices, the lives lost, the friends departed would have all been in vain. Felix grimaced at the choices; this may very well have been his final decision. Unknowingly, his fingers fiddled into his pockets, and suddenly touched something cold.
Slowly pulling his hands out, he found his fingers wrapped around the black sphere they had collected back in the mountains of El Nath. It pulsated eerily with a bluish glow, as if trying to tell him something. The faces of faded shadows swam in the infinite blackness of the dark crystal. Even if the ball was from The Academy, it was still a godsend.
Felix’s mind snapped back to reality. He had made up his mind, and was going to stick by it until the very end. Looking firmly at Fenris, he sneered, “I believe this is yours…” He threw the ball into the air, over Fenris’ head. As everyone’s eyes followed the flying black sphere, he made a quick dash to Michael’s fallen body. The glass shattered upon impact on the ground, disintegrating into millions of tiny shards which screamed out in every direction as it released a last, wolfish howl. Summoning a reserve of incredible strength, Felix lifted Michael onto his shoulders and dashed back towards the company, “FALL BACK! FALL BACK!”
He could feel Fenris’ anger as he ran, rising like magma in a volcano ready to blow. Felix ran across a bridge that linked the west side of Orbis to the east. As he sprinted with all of his might, his eyes wandered down. An endless sea of clouds awaited beneath the entire airborne city. A chilly gust of wind brought him back as he finally landed on the other side and took refuge along a marble wall lining the end of East Orbis.
They opened fire, and everything started to explode. The first row of Dominion soldiers fell with relative ease as they were caught by the surprise hail of bullets. But then, as he was firing his S-16, Felix noticed Nova cloaking once more. Swearing under his breath, he strafed to the other side of the bridge to his own platoon, leaving Deirdre, Damiver, and Maldran to care for Michael’s unconscious body.
“Captain!” Caleio shouted and made room for Felix.
“Put pressure on them!” Felix ordered, quite out of breath, “They must not cross the bridge!” Felix looked over to Zanna who was firing away with her pistol, for her flamethrower’s range was far too poor to reach the Dominion’s army.
“Heh, hell of a way to start the day!” Annikabelle screamed as she blasted away with her own pistol.
Felix chuckled grimly over the roaring fire. Her gun clinked empty: a chilling, metallic screech. Felix’s head snapped over to Annikabelle to give her a pistol clip. For a moment, their eyes met and he felt a surge of affection for her, her loyalty, her bravery, and most of all, her friendship. And just when his hand reached down to her belt, the light in her eyes was suddenly stole away, and Annikabelle Elon crumpled to the floor, a pool of blood forming around her brown hair.
“Anni!” Zanna screamed, and let her pistol drop to the ground. She crawled, keeping her body behind the low wall, over to Annikabelle’s fallen body, tears streaming down her cheeks in mad gushes.
“Zanna, there’s nothing you can do for her! Now keep firing dammit!” Felix shouted, suddenly aware that tears had started to form in his own eyes.
The sharp ping of a sniper rifle’s last bullet resounded amidst the battlefield, snapping Felix to his senses. But now, a new screaming had begun. Niel suddenly fell at Felix’s feet, “WHERE’S REY! WHERE’S MY BROTHER!?” A cold chill rushed down Felix’s spine. He had not noticed Rey when they crossed the bridge. But as if someone was reading his mind, a ghostly voice suddenly reverberated in his skull.
“There is no escape…”
Out of the blue, something round landed with a soft thud on Michael’s side of the bridge. It took a moment for Felix to realize it was a hand grenade, but by the time he reacted, Deirdre was already on her feet. He heard Maldran shout something to her, reaching out for her, but she simply dashed out onto the marble bridge, holding the grenade at her stomach. With a swift motion, she jumped over the railing, falling into the unknown depths of the sky. A muffled blast told him Deirdre McKenna was gone.
“SH**!” Felix swore at the same time as Michael’s voice. He had woken up again just in time to see Deirdre’s last sacrifice for her squad. The screaming was too much for him, and Felix shut his communicator off.
Suddenly, the familiar electrically charged noised echoed in his ears again. Felix turned around just in time to see a Shadow bash him on the side of the head.
“REY!” Niel’s voice shouted. Felix’s mind swam in agony as he tried to focus on the two brothers, “REY WHAT THE F*** ARE YOU DOING!?”
“Always choose the winning side,” Rey guffawed and aimed his rifle at the squad, “Say goodnight…”
Felix saw Rey’s finger twitch on the trigger, but never saw his shot go off. In fact, everything suddenly exploded in a fiery blast of smoke and shrapnel. Felix felt himself being hurled across the air. His back smashed into the side of a building and he felt something snap. A surge of pain tore through his body, driving him to blinding tears. Over the roaring gunfire, he could hear his earpiece crackle and die.
Breathing deeply, he staggered up and crawled back to his rifle. However, his hands suddenly closed around something cold and clammy. As the dust cleared and the smoke dissipated, Felix gagged at the bloody remains of the two brothers. The explosion had tore them apart, showering their bodies with shards of broken marble, cooking them to the point of fracture until only indistinguishable body parts remained, charred on the blood strewn floor. Niel and Rey Starks, blasted quite literally from the world.
The imposing army advanced threateningly. They were only a hundred feet away from the foot of the bridge. Any closer, and they would be done for. Half of their numbers were already wiped out, the other half was holding on to life by barely a heartstring. Felix pushed his emotions into the back of his head. Grabbing Rey’s fallen S-36, he dashed over to Michael’s side as his own remaining two members of his original platoon continued to fire into the Dominion’s army.
“Mike! Mike you mobile?” Felix shouted over the deafening rifle action.
“Yea…” Michael murmured groggily, “I just got the wind knocked outta me…”
Felix sighed in despair, and then took a peek over the low wall. The Dominion was at the foot of the bridge, but they were holding back for some reason. At the front as usual, was Fenris, trying with all of his bullets to bring down the wall that was their only refuge. Felix swore under his breath, “Goddamit…”
Then, he knew he was dead. Felix saw it, heard it, but could not defend himself from it. The blue-white aura appeared directly in the middle of the four of them, and revealed the beautiful face of the death angel. Nova appeared from the shadow realm, her rifle’s muzzle pressed firmly against Felix’s forehead.