What to Fight For (28.3) The Shadow

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PART 3

She had to ignore it, hadn’t she? For once, the Shadow had to be pragmatic. She had to take their help. Ayane had to tell them to make a ruckus so she can go and enact her plan concerning the power source. Leave with the Thieving Magpie.

That will be it.

Countless thousands will die, and humanity will win the war.

The Shadow shivered and clenched her fists. Say it.

Her eyes watered as she trembled in an attempt to fight herself and be free of the massive anguish she was suffering. If there is any fate concerning this war, any destiny to fulfill, it is being delivered to me on a platter. Say it. Do it.

However, she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. She whimpered an unintelligible moan and then exasperated, looking up.

“Are. You well?” one of them asked.

Ayane looked back at them and deflated. Her spirit just sunk.

“I just…we have a concept in my culture,” Ayane said. “That death should have meaning. Many have died trying to defeat you.”

“We under.Stand.”

“But there is no purpose!” Ayane brought her hands to her face, “I try but…what is the purpose? How is ending you all supposed to make anything better? If you are willing to…argh.”

She turned around, surrendering her mind to the whims of her heart and putting it to work. What else was there? What other way was there to end the war? To the benefit of everyone.

The answer was already, most likely, at sea. 

“We will leave,” she said in defeat.

After an awkward pause came an awkward “what?”

“We can sail and fly,” she stated, gazing at them with her expressionless mask. “We will leave these lands to you. We will concede. We will find other lands, beyond the sea, and we will settle there. We have word they exist, too recent and unverified but…” she looked down for a second of hesitation, but firmness came out of her spirit. She looked back up. “We will shape history so that when we meet again, centuries from now, friendship will be possible.”

“What. Are you. Saying?”

“Impossible,” another voice said.

“No!” The Shadow waved her arm in anger. “No, you stop it, It has to be possible!” She shook her head and smacked her chest, eliciting a shudder from the room. “Killing all of you cannot be the solution, not when you know you are wrong. I will be accountable. I will get my people to leave these lands…and do my part in changing their perception of you. And you,” she pointed, “you who are willing to die for the sake of my people, good, are you willing to die for the sake of yours?”

They looked at each other. As dedicated as they had looked before, a revitalization was emerging within them. They knew what she was asking them. They were to rebel. To put down their belligerent evil leaders and ensure the future, since the present was lost. A future where the Beasts would no longer be beasts…but people of another land. A light flickered in their eyes.

A hope.

“Yes,” one said. “Yes,” all the others agreed. “We are. Many.”

“The militants,” another continued, “are strong. But we. Are many.”

“It will. Be ugly. They. Will not. Give in. Peace. Fully.”

“It will. Be what. It needs. To be.”

“We will. Not fail. You.”

“We will prove,” they chorused again, filling the Shadow with determination.

She pointed at all of them. She wanted a better guarantee that they would do what they should, and she would ask for it, but it was at that point that everything shook. They heard a massive crash outside which scared even the rest of them inside the building, which meant it was definitely unexpected to them as well.

Running outside, they met with some kind of drilling machine. The ceiling was still partly caving in on it as far as some debris was concerned, he had obviously drilled his way from above. Before she could even discern and try to figure out what it was, a voice promptly broadcasted out of it.

“FINALLY RUN INTO YOU FILTHY MONSTERS!”

The voice was skewed by a bad sound system, but the cavern gave it a reverberation effect that made it all the scarier.

“I was all fine with seeing humanity destroyed, I really was.” The machine started changing forms, slowly and to the sound of squeaks and cranks and the ground cracking away beneath the weight. The drill was coming around to form a torso of a somewhat humanoid figure. “But I only thought I was. I thought I’d die before my son, you animals. Before my daughter and before my brother and my niece. My whole damn family.”

The machine stood taller than a building, and it had a very tiny head because it was the head of an actual person. A human had drilled his way down there. It was hard to see him clearly, he was inside a glass dome, and the glass was not transparent enough on the outside. The machine was clearly akin to the one Ayane had fought before, on the ice mountains, along with the Darkness, Zaniyah, and Thunuk. This man, whoever he was, was related to the boy that had driven that one, to the boy that Darkness had killed.

“I thought I’d be okay with it, I really did,” the arms formed, one into some construct possessing many gun barrels, the other into one big shredded tube with a flicker of flames lit at the end. A flame thrower.

“But the MOLE IS NOT!” the voice yelled, ravenous. “I AM RAGE INCARNATE FOR HELPING YOU KILL MY CHILDREN! I AM HERE FOR REVENGE!” His flame thrower aimed one way and ignited with the intention of burning three of the villagers to a crisp.

“You should’ve killed me first!”

Fortunately, the Mole had spoken enough to give the Shadow time to get into the streams. She leaped out of the ground like a fish and tackled all three out of the way.

“Wha—”

The Shadow leaped away from the three, isolating herself to guarantee nobody would be near her as she looked up at the Mole, in confrontation.

“You…you’re the Shadow!” the Mole noted.

She nodded.

“Why are you here? What’s happening?”

“I–”

“Why’d you save them?!” He pointed both arms at her, but she instead focused on his feet. They were two treadmills, flattened onto the ground. A very large drill was its torso with a capsule on top of it where the man was standing with only his head popping out behind the screen of muddied glass.

The Shadow did not fear the weapons and so stood her ground, unafraid. 

“You would stand with these BEASTS???”

She had made the decision. Much as she worried about it, it was made. And if it was going to work at all, they needed to trust her. They needed to witness how serious she was.

“I… stand with these people,” the Shadow proclaimed.

The silhouette in the glass wavered, leaning back in shock.

And then screamed.

“AHHHHH!”

Flames and bullets rained over her as she sunk, untouched, into the shadow stream. She leaped out of the floor behind him and produced shadow clones, three of them. They all dissolved once they got too far from her, however.

“Where are you?!”

He turned around, but she was already running, worried about how she could defeat the large machine. Flames trailed her along with bullets the size of apples, which shattered the floor with terrifying violence. Unsure about what to do, she threw smoke bombs at the machine’s head, the capsule.

They filled its torso with smoke.

“You think these petty tricks will work, thief?” the Mole broadcasted, “there is nothing you can do against me! NOTHING!”

The treadmills ripped the ground apart to move the machine out of the smoke, but in that time, she nimbly jumped on board.

“Wah,” he reacted, but she was already on top of him, one dagger supported by both hands.

“Yah!” She stabbed down, only to meet fiercer resistance than her strength could pierce. The dagger bounced off her hold.

“Fool!”

The torso span around to the sound of the spinning drill, but she hugged what passed for a shoulder with both her legs. Once he stopped, in that small moment, she grabbed a metal plate that was loose on the flame throwing arm and pulled it free.

“NO!” It spun the other way completely and that sent her flying. “I said there’s nothing you can–”

A bellow interrupted the Mole. A Beast machine flew across the air towards the Mole. It crashed against the Mole’s own machine which, surprisingly, took the hit. The glass was cracked but the machine span again, smacking the Beast hard and away.

The Beast clawed the ground to handle the hit, leaving behind a trail as it slid into a stop.

“YOU THINK YOU’RE THE FIRST I KILL, BEAST?!” The Mole bellowed

The Beast was already arched back, ready to leap, but the bullet cannon hit it and made it slip off its grab. One could see how potent a hit it was by how the Beast’s machine reeled from the contact, pushed back quite aggressively. Stopped by the bullets from jumping forward, or any other direction, it was forced to stand there as the flamethrower came around and ignited the thing.

“You can thank the Don! It’s thanks to him I know how well you can COOK!”

The Shadow looked around, but no one seemed to be willing to do anything. With her shadow lenses, she could clearly see that the Beast was duly suppressed, and getting red-hot.

Now I’m assisting an actual Beast? The conflict inside Ayane was enough to stifle her breathing, but it seemed that if there was any part of her that was truly unstoppable, it was that which sought to save even the beast machine.

At long last, the Ayane steeled her resolve and accepted her decision. She sighed what was probably the most meaningful breath she had ever experienced. Her body settled, the conflict having evaporated, as if breathed out.

Time to try that technique.

The Shadow hadn’t tried it, yet, but she submerged and then projected herself across the shadow stream as fast as she could. Using the momentum, she jumped out of the shadow stream like a fish, feet first, drop-kicking the Mole’s machine gun arm.

It fired off away from the beast, hitting the flame throwing arm. The flame-throwing arm fizzled a few tiny explosion into being, setting itself on fire due to the damage the Shadow had done beforehand by ripping a panel free.

“DAMN IT!”

The Shadow fell back on the floor, onto the shadow stream. As she did so, the bullets stopped, and the little flame in the forearm was extinguished even as the flame-thrower kept lighting the Beast up. The Beast, however, was no longer restrained.

Out of the fire it lunged, red-hot and crackling, but the Mole had lifted his broken arm to the air.

“NO!” the Mole yelled.

It came down to intercept the leap, and the collision was thunderous. It slammed the Beast against the ground, all while breaking itself apart from the shock.

The mole bellowed in anger.

He turned the flame thrower on the Beast, and the Shadow saw that its legs were broken. Yet, the Beast obstinately shoved its claws into the flamethrower, blocking it.

“NO!” the Mole screamed.

The flame-throwing arm bulged, heating up until it exploded, all within a couple of seconds. The Shadow had preemptively submerged, but the explosion still made her flinch.

This is crazy, she thought, amazed.

Carefully, the Shadow emerged again to see flames, little survivor flames, dancing around the two machines. The pilot of the beast machine had come out, apparently, and punched straight through the very hard glass that made up the Mole’s view screen. The one Ayane hadn’t even scratched with her dagger.

The hard hand pulled the broken man that was the Mole from inside his machine. Ayane emerged fully from the ground, to watch the scene.

The Mole didn’t look that old, but he was ravaged. His hair was greasy and dirty, and his face was red from suffering the throes of despair and rage. He was almost naked, wearing nothing but tight shorts to cover his loins, and he seemed to have some burns that didn’t seem at all fresh. He also had some scars that seemed to have come from cuts. The Mole had seen his share of fighting during the past weeks.

That made sense, he had been the main target of the Wild Felids.

Meanwhile, the man standing on top of the Mole’s broken machine, on top of its now dead drill, holding the Mole by his neck like it was nothing. He was muscular and tall, wearing nothing but dirty pants so that the hair on his back and chest was in full view. He looked powerful especially due to the wild mane surrounding his skull. It was almost a beast itself, voluminous as it was, and wild, extending past his back, and down front past his cheeks.

The Shadow was considering submerging. Getting out of there, but the way everyone around them was standing by…in waiting. In fear. In hesitation. Their composure informed her that they feared that man. They feared him a lot.

What they had promised…Ayane now looked around and saw that, even if they meant it, they might not have the courage. 

“How…did you find us,” he asked, to her shock. His tongue was much better, as was his throat, at speaking their language.

“I dug,” the Mole spat out, not without considerable effort. “I found one of your stupid transports, and I dug down.”

“You lie,” the voice said, still sounding a tad raspy, or like a growl.

“Oh, go to the void, you animal!” the Mole yelled. “You’ve taken everything, EVERYTHING!”

You gave them everything… Ayane thought, judgingly.

 “Yes,” the man said, pulling the other arm back, “we did.” His hand pierced through the Mole’s belly like a well sharpened, rock-solid claw. She realized that was because that’s exactly what it was.

Ayane looked around, noticing the people were afraid. They were beyond numerous when compared to that one man, and yet she had a certainty they would not move a finger to fight him by how they were shying away, half a step from fleeing.

The Shadow felt their dread in the air as clearly as she felt her own sweat. They believe they would all die if they faced him. They believed she would, as well.

He turned towards her. His pitch-black eyes focused their darkness on her own as if seeing past her lenses. “Those…” He pulled the Mole out of his forearm and let him fall dejectedly, allowing him to bleed to death on the floor.

“You,” he stated, knowledgeably.

Threateningly.    

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