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Chapter XXXIX

Torama - posted on 27 Nov 2016 @ 3:22pm

A lot of the scenery had been explosively changed, but the old part of the city still maintained its overbearing, regal, exclusive character. Stoker glanced up at the sky, only just able to see Moonshadow as a dark, streamlined shape blotting out a tiny portion of the night sky. If the city had been as well lit as it was supposed to be, they wouldn't see her at all.

They were averaging a dangerously fast and very illegal 100kph through built up area. There had been several near misses with them running amber and occasionally red lights and having to swerve and in some cases skip to avoid pedestrians and other vehicles. They had left cries of surprise and prone bodies that had flung themselves out of the way in their wake. It was fortuitous for them in this circumstance that the police were still in the process of trying to reform and were severely underfunded and short-staffed which meant it would take a long time for them to come after them if they did at all.

Windsong felt like an iceblock against Stoker's back. She had not said a word, but Stoker figured she was terrified. Vinnie was whooping like the idiot he was, and he, Modo and Throttle were cracking jokes like they had back in the Freedom Fighter days and probably also while they'd been on Earth. Stoker had joined in on occasion but was spending more time trying to come up with at least the outline of a plan that could be filled in when they got to wherever they were going. Stoker glanced at Silverfire. The kid had a death grip on his handlebars and was staring fixedly ahead aside from the occasional requisite check into the rear view mirrors.

It wasn't that he had never ridden fast and furious before, Stoker had watched him race with Modo and Rimfire's kids and some of the other punks from Freedom Rise. It was just that he had never ridden this fast and this furious with the self-professed Baddest Mamajamma this side of Mars. And not to say that the younger bros weren't thinking of the task ahead, but they had more time and more experience to think of other things as well, whereas Silverfire probably had that just behind staying alive and eventually getting to their destination in one piece.

"You okay kid?" Stoker called over.

"Yeah," Silverfire replied distractedly.

"Don't worry. We'll get 'im back."

Silverfire glanced over at Stoker. "How we gonna fight something that moves like that?" he nodded ahead of them to where Nightshade was tirelessly galloping. At between 100 and 120kph. It had had had less problems with annoying little obstacles like pedestrians and other vehicles, simply spinging lightly over
them for the most part. Cars had probably not noticed it aside from the few occasions where it had run across the top of a line of traffic. Pedestrians and bikers that had happened to see it coming had ducked and then stared around in stupfied bewilderment, having not had time to get a clear look at a silent, fast moving dark object in the dark before being distracted by the loud roar of the pursuing bikes and scrambling to get out of their way. Nightshade's refusal to slow down had been the reason for most of their traffic violations.

"We'll think o' somethin'. We always do." Stoker grinned confidently. Silverfire half-smiled back, and seemed to perk up a little. Stoker hoped they would think of something.

Firestorm Palace loomed into view close ahead of them.

"Stoker," Windsong said, "second from top, sticking out, straight line from us."

"What?" Stoker blinked, trying to register what she said, and suddenly Nightshade leaped straight up into the air, dark feathered wings fluffing alarmingly from its back. They only just saw Moonshadow streaking towards the palace. He also noticed that in the entire derelict place, there was only one room on the side they were approaching that was lit up.

"Bros," Stoker yelled, "second balcony from the top!"

He got varied responses from his four companions as they acknowledged. "Stay close," he ordered them, "we're gonna need the run up. Don't waste your rockets on the piddly jumps."

He knew a line they could take up, unless there was something unexpected in the way. And unless that thing was big, they could hop it and still be all right.

He was glad to still have decent reflexes as he squeezed the large bike through what had once been a pedestrian side gate made wider by collapsing masonry and probably at least splash damage from some incendiary devices and immediately after weaved through several large decorative columns in various states of disrepair, the roar of the four bikes behind him echoing off the empty stone walls as the others found their own way through the stone forest.

There was a convenient collapsed column angled towards the wall. That would do nicely.

"Hang on tight kiddo," he said. Windsong tightened her grip around his waist. He wrapped his tail around her, popped a wheelie as he approached the column, then gave it enough to hop onto it. The bike felt heavy as he balanced it on the narrow, curved surface. He simultaneously marvelled at how alive it made him feel and wondered if he was getting too old for this shit.

Another burst of rocket and they were on the wall. Around him four sets of tyres thudded as they contacted with the gently crumbling brickwork and then they were climbing vertically, headed for the second highest floor.

-= o =-

Helios writhed angrily, made angrier still by the fact Slider didn't even seem to be noticing. It had entered into his head to try biting the tentacles around his wrists, but that had gotten him stretched out and unable to move again. He looked up desperately at Sunkiss, not sure what exactly Slider was doing to xem but aware that whatever it was, it was hurting a lot. Sunkiss had dropped the mouse morph and was once more in the form of the delicate little winged foxlike thing it had shown Helios before they left.

Sunkiss suddenly collapsed, dangling from Slider's tentacles with an air of relief at a break from constant pain. Slider looked over the top of it. Slider and the white mouse had both turned sharply towards the balcony, and the party holding down Abraxas all looked outwards.

The twins appeared on the balcony as if conjured from somewhere out of the depths of a nightmare; their mouse morphs mutated with dark, feathered wings which quickly split into four tentacles, another two sprouting out to join the four that came from the wings. Nightshade's body proportions were all wrong, with limbs that were much too long and a torso that had shortened noticably. Their faces were eerily still, their eyes were furious.

Helios had all of part of a second to imprint that memory, and then the twins flashed into the room in a black and purple blur that split each way as soon as they were clear of the balcony.

Slider released Sunkiss' limbs, letting xem drop to the floor, but kept the tentacle firmly around its neck. Sunkiss remained in a crouch where it was put, looking too exhausted to move, and Slider's freed up tentacles whipped out, waving menacingly in the air.

The two kids fell back before the fury of the twins, retreating behind Slider. Firefly and the lean brown mouse attempted to stand their ground but were pushed back through sheer momentum before they were able to stabilise and start fighting back.

They blurred, initially on the spot, and then glancing around the room like oversized crazy balls on serious performance enhancing drugs.

-= o =-

"Split!" Stoker yelled. They had been expecting an ambush inside the balcony, but the twins seemed to have taken care of that. Stoker, leading in, peeled off to the left to avoid a large white mass that was not too far in front of the balcony. Modo followed him, Throttle and Vinnie peeled off to the right, Silverfire violently fishtailed his bike and skidded sideways to an abrupt halt, leaving a trail of tyre and an unpleasant burning smell and stopping just behind the white mass.

The large white mass was a weird chimaera; it had a face and gold mane similar to that of a lion, with immense ears, gold nuggets embedded in its head where the eyes should be, and no nose or mouth to speak of. The body was similarly leonine, four large gold-tipped feathered wings hung limply from the back, and a long, terrifying looking tail that started off like a normal tail with a single base in the body but quickly split into nine long strands, each about half the diameter of a mouse tail and slightly longer.

There was a brief moment of panic from all of them when Windsong seemed to tumble off the back of Stoker's bike with the sudden change of direction, but she landed on her feet, stumbling slightly, and ran to the large white creature, throwing her arms around its thick neck. The giant creature painfully raised its head and nuzzled her when she did.

The mice didn't really have time to wonder as they took up defensive positioning around Windsong and the chimaera, making sure to hold the ground the twins had gained as they quickly surveyed what they were up against.

The twins were dark blurs bouncing around the room with a reddish gold blur and a brown blur. Occasionally they would slow down enough to resolve into the shape of hideously mutated mice, the kind their old nemesis Dr Karbunckle would have been proud of, tentacles flailing, limbs often in the shape of various blades or skewers.

Comparatively still in the middle of the room stood an Abraxas-sized mouse as black as hell, flanked by what looked like an inversion of the twins, tall and white with white dreadlocks. Immediately behind them cowered two young boys about Windsong's age, and further back another huge brown mouse that was almost the same size as the huge black one. All of them had tentacles out, the black mouse was particularly odd looking as it looked more like an echidna than anything else, bristling as it was. One tentacle had collared a strange molten gold fox-like creature with red mane extending down its back, and red mottled gold wings. Two other tentacles were binding Helios, who was lying on the ground, staring at them with a shocked, terrified expression.

Stoker's expression darkened as he definitely recognised the creature from the transferred memory, coupled with the fact the bastard had kidnapped someone he cared deeply about. Vinnie's face was twisted in fury at finally confronting the person responsible for taking his son. The front cannons popped out of their respective bikes and they fired.

There was a blur of movement as Slider and the two boys hit the deck, Helios yelped, and the big brown mouse and the white mouse both recoiled to opposite sides away from the blasts.

The mice celebrated a brief moment of victory when they saw the fear on the faces of their opponents. It was quickly turned back on them when the large brown and white Warriors suddenly vanished, and Slider and the two boys retreated towards the internal door, taking Helios and the smaller creature with them.

Stoker pulled his blaster and fired blindly into the air around him. The large brown mouse reappeared frighteningly close. He lined it up and fired, leaving a black mark in the ground where it had been, but it was now halfway up the wall, staring at him. Vinnie yelled angrily as the white mouse reappeared on a diagonal above him and smashed him off his bike, pinning him to the ground.

Windsong leaped to her feet, lashing out with her tentacles. The mice's fur stood up at the crackle of electricity, and the white mouse blurred, resolving a short distance away with a slight stagger before correcting. Slightly dazed, Vinnie glanced at Windsong with some surprise before vaulting back onto his bike.

"Throttle, go!" Stoker yelled. "Silv, with me!"

Stoker urged his bike forward and then kicked it broadside, providing a shield for Windsong and the large white creature she was protecting. It occurred briefly to Stoker that he couldn't see Abraxas or Sunkiss anywhere. Hot on the heels of that thought, he suddenly realised that the massive white creature behind him and the smaller one that the large black shadowshifter was holding were the same colours as his missing shifters.

Silverfire in the meantime had repeated Stoker's manuver on the other side, drawing his blaster. His eyes darted frantically around as he tried to line up anyone, but like everyone else he was having trouble identifying anyone never mind picking a target.

"Alright bros, Lasso 2!" Throttle yelled.

"That gonna work?" Modo managed. Vinnie was already tearing along the wall on his side towards the door.

"It's gonna have to!" Throttle yelled back as he shot around the boundary of the room, closely tailed by Modo, to meet Vinnie around the other side.

If Modo had still had the eyepatch he would have completely missed the flicker of movement that he now caught out of the corner of his bionic eye. He glanced, then aimed his arm cannon at it and fired. Throttle reflexively ducked and the white mouse reappeared, tumbling along the ground before springing back to its feet. Modo fired again, wincing as Helios yelped and cringed when the black mouse dodged the laser blast again.

The trap was sprung anyway, they had covered the exits. Now if only they could hit the bastards!

"My lot get down!" Stoker yelled suddenly. "Cover fire!"

Helios threw himself onto his side and curled into a terrified ball. Throttle, Modo and Vinnie glanced doubtfully at their fearless leader but did as he commanded, and lay down cover fire.

Again Modo saw the white flash, and fired.

This time he hit.

The white mouse tumbled out of the air, morphing into a lean, feline-like creature with bright blue gemstones for eyes. Pale grey smoke billowed from where half its torso and one arm was missing, and deep within there was a glimpse of something glowing like a very small star. It bounced lifelessly along the ground and stopped still.

Time stopped.

The two horrified teenage boys suddenly charged forward, apparently oblivious to the mice, and threw themselves on the body of their fallen comrade. Shortly after, the dark reddish gold mouse did likewise.

Throttle's eyes darted to his right as he caught a movement. Nightshade had backward-rolled into a crouch near his front tyre, dark blue smoke lightly smouldering from laser burns along his torso and arms. Up above the fireplace Moonshadow was clinging to the wall, her six tentacles splayed around her like the legs of a giant spider. She shook the stump of her left arm and the remainder of the limb reformed from nearly black smoke. She held it close to her torso, her head twisted at an impossible angle to glare down at the other Pack below.

"Gimme back my son, asshole," Vinnie growled, lining up Slider. For all the good that would do.

-= o =-

It needed a few days' rest, but Windsong's patches were enough to deal with the current situation. Abraxas nudged Windsong gently and hauled up onto its hind legs, morphng back into the mouse form as it did so. Stoker and Silverfire both glanced back towards it. Stoker was more concerned about Slider's Pack, as he should be. Silverfire looked again, exuding surprise, before remembering himself and once more facing forwards.

Surrender, Abraxas said to Slider. It felt Windsong's tiny little hand slip into its own, and held it gently. Windsong pressed nervously against it, continuing a low level, steady, stabilising feed.

Slider locked eyes with it.

Release shade and my Ambassador.

Sunkiss raised its paws to the tentacle around its neck as Slider tightened its grip.

Saw weapons. They will kill your Pack to regain shade.

Slider glowered. Dangerous. End them.

You took their shade. They reacted. Else no concern.

Slider looked at Morningstar. It was ebbing. Fast. Wavecrest and Lightningstorm were giving it their all, Firefly was dumping into them, and all they were successfully doing was keeping it together. Slider made eye contact with Abraxas again.

Help Morningstar, return shade. We leave unharmed, return your Ambassador.

Abraxas bristled. It didn't stop the tentacles braiding, even though it knew it probably should. Should not have touched my Ambassador.

Slider radiated hostility. Abraxas reflected it back. Promise.

Slider roiled, then glanced once more at Morningstar. Promise.

-= o =-

Slider uncurled his tentacle from around Helios' ankles, hefted him upright like he weighed nothing, placed him gently on his feet and released his hands. Helios stood uncertainly, looking anxiously towards Sunkiss.

Stoker, Throttle, Modo and Silverfire exchanged a puzzled glance. They would have included Vinnie in it, in fact they tried, but he was focused soley on his eldest son.

"Helios," Vinnie's voice was slightly strained and astonishingly gentle, "c'mere." Helios blinked and looked over at Vinnie uncomprehendingly for a second, then staggered towards him. The mice sat tight, watching keenly in case they had to fire for whatever reason. Helios was unmolested on his way to his father,
and Vinnie grabbed him in a tight hug.

"You okay son? You're freezing!"

Helios nodded dumbly. Guiding him with one arm, once more focusing on their current opponents, Vinnie pulled Helios onto the bike behind him. Helios huddled on the pillion, looking blank.

The mice had expected possibly hours of tense stand-off and negotiation. After he had managed to get up, Abraxas and Slider must have glared at each other for two minutes tops before Slider had turned over Helios. It did make them wonder at the backs of their minds what had gone on in the shifters' communications, and indeed how fast those communications were.

"Round robin," Stoker called. "Not you, Silv."

They round robinned clockwise, with Throttle going to where Vinnie had been, Modo going where Throttle had been, Stoker replacing Modo as Vinnie puttered gently to Stoker's previous position, all of them moving carefully to avoid giving the shifters an out. When he was in position, Vinnie turned his bike so the more powerful forward cannon was facing the enemy group, and more importantly so that Helios was behind him out of possible line of fire.

"Windsong!" Silverfire exclaimed, startled, when the girl suddenly ran out from beside Abraxas. Stoker tensed on his bike, ready to kick into gear. Windsong dropped to her knees beside the white mouse, who would have been well and truly dead had he been a Martian, and looked at the two boys with anger tempered by synpathy. They looked back pleadingly, and then Windsong joined them placing her hands on the white mouse.

The mice were familiar now with Windsong's energy thrum. The boys thrummed too and the air buzzed with their commingled energy. For a good while, it seemed like nothing was happening. Then the light grey mist surrounding the white mouse coalesced, settling into the unsettling gap left by the missng portion of its body and closing it over.

The black boy began gently stroking the white creature's head, the palomino boy gripped the newly reformed paw, their other hands remained on the white chest. Windsong had both hands on its abdomen, not moving.

Light flared in the dull blue stones, the thing twitched violently in the manner of one abruptly coming back from the dead, and it briefly gripped back the hand of the boy holding its paw before collapsing again, its eyes reflecting pain.

Windsong glanced towards Abraxas, then looked up at the two boys. They looked back, gratitude in their eyes. She nodded slightly, then stood up and carefully retreated back towards Abraxas. Stoker looked relieved when she was safely behind Vinnie again.

The giant brown mouse moved up then, and easily picked up the lanky white catlike creature. It twitched again, then curled against the large brown mouse. The two boys were quick to duck behind Slider.

"Let them leave," Abraxas' voice was deep and rumbly as one would generally expect for someone of that size. The surprise came from the fact that he had spoken at all. Throttle glanced dubiously at Abraxas, then looked back at Slider. They still had the Ambassador. Nightshade was creeping around the perimeter towards him, and up above, Moonshadow was spidering along the wall in the same direction, really looking frighteningly like an oversized arachnid. They had Helios back, and Throttle trusted that the shifters might possibly have a vague idea what they were doing. As requested, he wheeled his bike out of the way of the door.

The large dark brown male didn't look fazed as he sauntered unhurriedly past Throttle with the blue-eyed white creature in his arms. The two boys followed him, both obviously nervous, though the palomino had a defiant, obstinate look about him. As Slider approached the door with Sunkiss, Nightshade stood up to his full height, advancing as though meaning to block his path. Moonshadow positioned to be able to leap onto anyone within the vicinity of the door. The smaller brown mouse and the dark gold mouse stood their ground, the brown one eyeing Nightshade warily and the dark gold one occasionally glancing up at Moonshadow.

Exhibiting reluctance, Slider released Sunkiss.

The red-maned gold alien immediately fell away from the huge black monstrosity, the male mouse morph enveloping it as it did so. Nightshade immediately bounded up to it, Moonshadow suddenly dropped from the wall, landing almost noiselessly and kicking up a bit of dust. Both turned inwards towards him, warily eyeing Slider's Pack. Slider glowered back at them as the rest of its Pack sidled out the door.

Windsong ran to the twins and Sunkiss, Abraxas ambled gingerly after. The Pack clusterd protectively around Sunkiss, Windsong hugging him hard. They felt the thrum start up, and then suddenly stop when she collapsed.

"Windsong!" Stoker was off his bike before he knew what he was doing. Nightshade caught her and picked her up, cradling her tenderly. She gazed apologetically at Sunkiss. He nosed her on the head.

"Sunny!" Helios finally broke his silence, sounding relieved and almost tearful.

Vinnie glanced over his shoulder at him, then used his tail to place the spare helmet on his son's head. Helios automatically fumbled with the chin strap, adjusting it to fit him.

"C'mon," Vinnie said at length, "let's getcha all home."

Stoker blinked in surprise when Nightshade turned around and handed Windsong to him.

"It is very tired," Nightshade said, "please ride careful."

Stoker smiled. "Don't worry bro. I'll take care of her."