Tides of Darkness

Part three of Trilogy, part 1 = New Age, part 2 = Reign of Chaos

By Sh33p, CultofSh33p@aol.com

Chapter 10

The Longest Night

The final of this great trilogy. Hope you got airbags, 'cause this is going to be a crashing end. Tim Seltzer, seltzer@seltzerbooks.com

Sh33p Disclaimer: Only crap I own are the original characters, and even then I don`t own five of them in full. Consider this disclaimer valid for the whole story.

Foreword:Soundtrack is as follows:

Scene One: Yu Yu Hakusho - Time of Battle
Scene Two: Lord of the Rings - Requiem for a Dream(2:25 to the end)
Scene Three:
Rurouni Kenshin - The Duel
Rurouni Kenshin - Crucify My Love(or Yu Yu Hakusho - Struggle of Sadness)
Babylon 5 - Season 4 Titles(Instrumental)
Scene Four: Linkin Park - Numb

Sleeper. Daemon. Monster.

The creature that had had just singlehandedly annihilated Hacksaw Squad's surviving members went by all of these names, and many more that would likely never reach human ears. Only one designation really mattered right now though: Target.

Even as the smoke and rubble blew away from what was left of the charged particle beam, time seemed to stand still for her. Her hands froze, locked shut around the Command Wolf's controls, fingers itching malignantly at the trigger. Her eyes didn't blink, and her pupils seemed to shrink to barely visible dots as the change took place. For the first time in years, her eyes became blue and stayed that way with little, if any chance of ever changing again. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, nostrils flared and deep within her gut, she could feel the beginnings of a growl as feral as any made by the Zoid she was piloting.

And that wasn't all. The changes were as mental as they were physical, for even as the tears began to flow uncontrollably from her now predatory eyes, she could feel the chemistry of her brain shifting. Areas that had long been dormant for her own safety awakened, and as they did, she could feel a bond with something just beyond her physical senses. As quickly as it intensified, so too did the abilities that were her birthright.


Memories blocked out for the better part of a decade coalesced in one searing flash across her mind, only to be replaced effortlessly by the realities of the present.

As the Daemon finally stepped into her direct sight, she could feel the realization that it had made a terrible mistake by going for the group, as opposed to some other target. With the methodical precision of a ruthless predator though, she watched as it reared back briefly, only to lower back down and roar at her...

"Die," she ordered, finally squeezing the triggers and feeling the Wolf skid back a few inches from the recoil.

Instantly, a hyperspeed slug the size of a human arm crash down the barrel of the Daemon's charged particle cannon, followed by two equally fast rounds plummeting into the sides of its jaw. While the jaw itself simply issued a spray of sparks at both sides, the Zoid as a whole promptly stumbled backward and vomited out an explosion onto the ground, almost as if it had just started bleeding internally.

A second later, the Wolf slowly began to lumber forward. No longer was it the same beast of burden that had been an all too poor choice of replacement for the Konig Wolf. Rather, it mirrored the lanky posture of a hungry alpha wolf about to gut an all too helpless rival for dominance over the pack. Illuminated and shadowed by the fires and the smoke they wrought, the blue Zoid stalked towards its prey...

And with every step, she could almost feel its internal systems rewiring. Armor hardened, a cage began to form over the cockpit from nothing and the Wolf's claws and teeth began to glow.

"Die," she ordered again, squeezing the triggers at the same time and finding that only two guns fired.

The difference was that both were virtually the same as the Wolf's original long range rifle, save that they hit the Daemon's leg armor and cratered it so violently that the heavy Sleeper let out a shriek more akin to a Raptor, even as it was still vomiting fire and smoke in almost every direction at once.

Closer, the Wolf came, and harder, the Daemon began to stomp. Desperately, it flailed its hands around, sheering through an already mutilated lightpost and even going so far as to fire its charged particle gattling rifles - though nothing ever hit her Zoid at all. Instead, the pulses seemed to all crash viciously into the ground, into the rubble and debris, even into other Sleepers and regular Zoids - anything but her. It was almost as if she was forcing it to miss from the raw power of her hatred alone.

But finally, the stalking gave way to a run, and the Daemon broke from whatever was influencing it. Whether it had been pain or some form of attack that she didn't even know she was capable of, the beast finally shrugged it off and attacked. With a swing of its right arm, it tried to lop the Command Wolf's head off, but by the time its claws had even come close enough to hit her, she was gone.

Through the air, the Wolf went into a flip and twist so acrobatic that no human could've matched it even outside of a Zoid, its claws literally blurring gold streaks in its wake as the guns on its back fired. Each shot carried it a little higher and a little further behind the Daemon, until finally-

She landed.

The Command Wolf's legs didn't even have to bend to absorb the shock of it all. Explosions ripped belatedly across the Daemon's back, followed in turn by what looked like a glowing golden helix that ran from the top of the head to the base of the tail. When all was said and done, armored plates that should've had the endurance to withstand anything short of a charged particle beam literally blew off the Sleeper's back, flying through the air and crashing down in almost every direction.

"DIE!" She finally screamed out, pulling both triggers once again...

And watching as the Daemon's core took both shots and ruptured. Over the course of a few nanoseconds that felt like an eternity in their own right, she watched as the core briefly spewed out a silvery reddish energy distinctly recognizable as the Zoid's soul, only to have it sucked right back inward. After that, the Daemon crashed to its knees and what was left of its imploding core shattered into a beam of silver blue light that flooded its way straight up into the skies as brilliantly as a charged particle beam would have in its place.

One down, an all too patient pair of voices, neither of them like her own, advised.

With that, Leyla Tsun remembered her mission, and with a feral growl, turned towards the nearest collection of Sleepers. The only goal she had was to kill or be killed.

It was simply survival of the fittest. It didn't really matter how much she enjoyed it in the process...

"Berke: Guns on your left! Walter: Cover his rear! Kelly, Chris-" "On it," two voices interrupted at once as a pair of plasma bolts streaked by the Red Blade's cockpit, tagging into the already limping Aro Saurer and tearing off one of its chainsaws.

"Damn it, Howard! Keep low!" He barked, bringing the Liger into a snapping turn and blindsiding one of its golden-glowing blades into the hip of a creature that bore an odd resemblance to a Dibison with even more guns on it, larger horns and spikes running across the top of its head. The Sleeper bellowed and stumbled, completely thrown off by the attack as something closely resembling a Megalomax blast fired from the battery of cannons across its back.

In front of him, Leon Tauros watched as the Taskers pounced another Sleeper - this one closer to a Saber Tiger with meaner guns, bigger teeth and a very menacing paintjob - at full speed from opposite directions. Even though any ordinary Tiger he knew of would've been sheered in half, this one simply spun out of control violently and-

Took a direct hit from the Gordos' Supercannons. The colossal rounds sheered right into its midsection, plowing through internal structuring and circuitry with such ferocity that they still managed to tear back out through the other side. An instant later, two gargantuan explosions sounded next to the spun-out Tiger and the creature shrieked. After that, Leon barely managed to catch himself from having his Zoid's feet trampled by the struggling, Megalomaxing Bison, still bellowing its obvious contempt for him and-

The Liger roared.

"I know that!" Leon shouted to it, pivoting his booster and powering it up to full blast right into the Bison's armor. Instantly, the Red Blade was pried loose and the freakish Dibison caught it in the side of a hip with one of its horns. Bits of armor flew everywhere, but he didn't even bother paying attention to the damage. Instead, the Blade Liger ducked down, causing the orange hellstorm of a Megalomax to pass right over its head and tear into the surrounding area.

Somebody screamed, blue light flared at the edge of his perception and the Bison bellowed again as sparks flew from its neck, the result of the Aro Saurer's remaining chainsaw. At the same time, the limping Zoid had all but clung itself onto the huge Sleeper's shoulder with its arms and legs, teeth snapping viciously into the side of the firing battery of cannons on its back.

"Howard!" Leon shouted, even as he was firing the right blade-blaster into the Bison's chest at almost point blank. "Get away from there, damn it!"

"Not until this fat bitch blee-"

Howard never finished the sentence. Even as the Bison's backpack was ripped open, cannons flipped out from its side on pivot mounts and came point blank with the side of the Aro Saurer's head. In an instant, the smaller Zoid's cockpit was blown into shrapnel and Howard, whether he'd had time to notice or not, was dead as a result. Whatever was left of him rained across the Blade Liger's back with the rest of the Saurer's head, just before the beaten little Zoid fell away with a sickening thud.

"Fuck," Leon sputtered out in shock. A second later though, as the Megalomax finally ended, the shock went numb and cold, battle-ridden logic replaced it.

Where Leon typically would've felt sickened at how callously he was throwing away an ally's death, Howard's demise didn't really sting him at all. He'd barely known the guy, after all...

But that lack of feeling wasn't about to stop him from taking revenge for him.

"Stupid fucking bull!" He thought to himself as he pulled the Liger's blades onto its back, then heaved the Zoid up while tilting them straight up. In an instant, the larger Bison was hurled back several steps, its head gashed open and one of its horns bent.

Blades flipped out after that and the Red Liger heaved forward, snapping into an abrupt turnaround and coming right back in. An uncharged sword promptly sliced the Bison's nose off during the pass, leaving the creature angry and in pain...

"BERKE! FIRE SUPPORT! NOW!" He ordered, having taken only a quick glance at the scanners to make certain that the Gordos pilot wasn't 'busy' before he'd interrupted.

"Right," the other squad member replied bluntly. There was no panic or fear in his voice. Not even rage. Just raw professionalism.

A few seconds later, as charged particle bolts slipped over the Blade Liger's back - one of them sheering off an ear - there was a loud crack of what sounded like thunder. Reacting on instinct, and with a hastily cobbled together plan that would've made Jamie proud, Leon whipped around again and flipped the blades back. As if reacting to his plan with a will of its own, the Liger's shield flared at the turn's end, and with that, Tauros charged blindly back.

A second after that, there was a loud crunching sound. The Blade Liger slammed to a halt.

When Leon opened his eyes, he saw that the Bison's cannon pack was spewing out smoke and fire, while its head was virtually imploded into its stubby neck.

Dazed, pained and obviously losing its balance, the huge Zoid promptly fell over with a loud crash and a simultaneous shockwave of dust, dirt and ash.

"Status report!" Leon barked out, dropping his shield and relying on his impact cannon to blow open the Zoid's head and plow through its structure while it was down. Howard was dead, he'd lost track of almost everyone but Berke and-

"Alive," the Taskers replied to him, just as a series of chunky looking bolts of energy crashed into the downed Bison's stomach, followed by a hail of machine gun fire. Both Saixes practically trotted into view like conquering champions.

"Dealing," Walter snapped a few seconds later. When Leon looked over, he saw that the Green Liger had been cut up all over its shoulders and mane, and currently had a Raptor pinned down by its slowly imploding head. The beam cannons on the Liger's back were out in the open, firing on some target that Tauros himself couldn't get a view of.

"We lost Howard," Leon said. If it was a normal situation, he'd've felt sickened at how guiltless he sounded. "We need to regroup and go back on the offensive, A.S.A.P., got that?" He demanded more than anything else, just as someone's attacks finally plowed into the Bison's core and killed the damned thing where it still lay. For a few seconds, it flailed, then turned to stone as something vividly blue tore out of its side.

"I'll be there as soon as I finish these stubborn bastards off!" Walter replied, while Berke was bringing the Gordos into an about-face to bring its guns to bear.

There was a crunching sound over the comm and the Shield Liger roared triumphantly-

Just before another Raptor, this one smoking from a half a dozen beam-driven holes through its body, crashed into the things side.

"GOD DAMNIT!" Walter shouted.

Leon was already in action, and the Taskers were as well. Before the Shield Liger's side could be eviscerated, the Saixes had shot off the Raptor, and before it had landed, Leon had sheered its back open with one hellish claw strike.

The Raptor landed on its back, tried to roll and the Red Blade replied by slamming a paw into its chest and leaning down to bite into its neck. Armor crumpled and ripped horrifically, and in a matter of violent seconds, the Blade Liger had decapitated the Raptor and thrown its head aside while crushing its core like a grape.

"Keep it so that stuff like that doesn't happen," he ordered bluntly, glaring over at the other Liger.

"Down," was Walter's response. Without even thinking, Leon complied, and as he did so, a massive, ape-like hand on a steel cable blew overhead. Like a missile, it slammed into the Shield Liger's mane, sending Walter screaming as the Zoid's guns fired aimlessly.

Instantly, the Green Liger was ripped from its feet and flew right over its red ally, dragged through the air towards a creature that looked like a bigger, meaner, blood red Iron Kong with glowing chainsaws lining its chest and two gargantuan cannons on its shoulders. Not only that, but the freak had a gaping, vicious looking mouth, with violently blue eyes and razor blades coming out of its wrists.

"DROP THAT FUCKER!" Leon screamed out, though his squad - what was probably about to be left of it, anyway - were a step ahead of them. The Saixes and Gordos opened fire, with the sisters coming in for the bigger Zoid's flank as it reeled in the roaring, flailing Liger like a dying fish.

Leon wasn't far behind by any stretch of the imagination, coming in with both blades lit up like Christmas trees.

Unfortunately, the Kong wasn't going to be giving up that easily. Even as shots all but pinged off of its armor, the huge beast flung the Shield Liger around like a rag doll. In an instant, one of the Tasker sisters' Lightning Saixes took the full brunt of a swing and went flying out of control, leaving one of its legs behind at the point of impact. Before Kelly could even start screaming, Chris had slammed head-first into a pile of debris and driven out through the opposite side and-

"SOMEBODY HELP ME!!!" Walter was screaming...

Wincing inwardly this time, Leon ducked the Red Blade under the Kong's next swing and slashed it across the side, just before speaking.

"Kelly!" He barked, causing the remaining Saix to juke erratically towards the left as it headed for Chris' debris pile. "Try and get Walter," he ordered.


"Because we don't even know if Chris is alive," he answered, finding it hard not to hate himself for it. Unlike Howard, he actually knew the Taskers well enough to like them.


"And if she's alive, I'll save her."

"YOU'RE JUST RUNNING AWAY!" She accused, not deviating from her course for an instant.

"WHICH ZOID HAS A BACK SEAT?!" He responded bluntly.

Kelly seemed to find enough logic in this to swing around and turn back towards the battle. Walter's screams were getting louder, and metal was crunching in the background and-

"Chris! Can you hear me? Please respond!" Leon said, guiding the Blade Liger around the debris pile the long way as he did so.

"I'm alive..."

"Get out of your cockpit, step forward by about two meters and hold out one arm," he ordered, just as the cockpit flipped open from the Liger's own instincts. With that, the harsh stench of war hit his nostrils, while the even harsher wind from the speeds he was moving at slammed into the rest of him.

The safety harness opened, his eyes squinted and he leaned forward, barely catching himself as the Red Blade came around the edge of the pile, just in time to see a slightly battered Chris Tasker holding up one arm as instructed. What was left of the Lightning Saix was strewn about the pile behind her.

"Here goes everything," he thought with a cynical sense of amusement as the Liger's head dipped down, one hand going to the rim of the cockpit as he jumped out and swung his feet onto the edge of its lower jaw. Hanging back as far as he could, his free hand went out half-blindly and-

"OW!" He bit back as scream as he managed to grab something with a distinctly human feel to it.

It was a forearm. Belonging to a now-yelling, cursing, profanity spewing woman about his own age.

Without even looking back at her as he dragged the Tasker sister through the air, Leon struggled back into the cockpit. A few seconds later, Chris had almost dislocated his shoulder by climbing up his arm to get to the edge of the cockpit, then climbed inside as well and settled into the back seat.

"Who says movies are unrealistic?" She wheezed out with what sounded like a laugh, while Leon simply shook his numb arm and sputtered out a few curses of his own.

With that, the Blade Liger rounded the opposite edge of the pile and came back towards the battle-


Just in time for Leon and Chris to see and hear the sound of the Shield Liger's head crushing in on its pilot and killing him in one of the worst ways possible. Blood squirted from between the Kong-thing's fingers as it swept the Liger straight up off the ground one last time, roared...

And then brought it back down like a sledge hammer into the back and head of Kelly's Lightning Saix during a pass.

Both Zoids tore away from the Kong, then simply tore apart and went into a blurred roll into another debris pile. In their wake was nothing short of a sickening trail of disembodied limbs and structural components - along with several horrifying streaks of blood. Before Leon and his passenger could even react, the two Zoids had bounced up off the ground, seperated and crashed into an already burning building, which promptly collapsed and exploded into an even larger fireball than before.

Leon felt his jaw drop. His eyes had become so wide that they almost hurt just to keep open, and even the hair on the back of his neck was standing on end.

Chris was silent. If he looked back, he almost feared that she would lunge at him or drop dead of shock.

For several seconds, the only noise was the Kong's incessant roaring, underscored by the sound of the Gordos' lesser arsenal opening up, followed by the Supercannons. And then...


Leon felt his face contort into a wince. He couldn't grieve himself, but that didn't mean it wasn't right at his doorstep.


"Strap in," he ordered, so numb at the emotional level that his arm seemingly forgot the physical numbness it had felt only seconds before.

With that, hands found their way back onto the controls, and Leon's entire face seemed to tighten into a look of determination so raw that it would've sent men like Van Fleiheit crying home to their mothers in shame. Bitterly and with absolutely no regard for whether he showed it or not, he draw the joysticks back, to the sides and into several different positions as he spoke.

"Transfer the shield energy, Liger..."

Blades flipped forward, and the Red Blade Liger became engulfed in a bluish light during its approach.

"Put it into the blades."

Within seconds, the Kong turned to face its newest attacker, only to find that the Zoid was gone. All that remained was an irate corkscrew of raw vengeance, swirling toward it like something from the Inferno.

The Kong threw one hand back, readying to try and punch the coming Liger and-


Both Zoids collided.

The last of the Raptors in her line of sight dropped like a bad, screaming habit as one of its legs gave out. Almost before it had even finished falling, she had managed to cycle herself through her weapons like a bird taking flight, attentions shifting over to one of the other triggers and pulling it on newly-honing instincts.

Instantly, a solid white blur of plasma shot out from the Dark Horn's beam cannon, catching the Raptor in the side of its head as it hit the ground. The bolt tore through the Sleeper's head like it wasn't even there, leaving the thing blind and helpless as she closed in. A second later, she'd skewered its chest on her horn and violently cast it all away.

With seconds to spare between attacks, Marry swiftly reached up and brushed a combination of hair and sweat out of her face, sighing deeply and trying to regain her bearings as she looked around. Adrenaline was pumping, her heart was racing to the point that her chest hurt and the increasing tunnel vision she was having to fight off didn't make it feel any better. It was like the walls were closing in around her from every direction, each one burning a little brighter than the one next to it...

"Think," she ordered herself with a tone of desperation. "Can't go to pieces now... Not when I've come this far," she reminded herself, using her free hand to rub sweat and what felt almost like tears out of her eyes-

And that's when the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as every single console in sight blazed with static. Before she'd even realized what was going on, the Dark Horn went flying up and back, flipping at least twice in a row before any of the screens popped back online. With that, the Horn crashed on its gut, causing Marry to come within inches of busting her head open on a console, even with the support of her safety harness.

A second later, the main screen reactivated, only to reveal one of the many things she didn't want to see tonight.

It stood as tall as a Geno Saurer, with spines across its back and a long, narrow jaw, colored a murderously dark green with equally lethal looking eyes. For a few seconds, the creature was bathed in what looked like a pulsing bubble of water, and then the field dropped as it began to step forward again with a lanky, menacing gait that made it appear as if it were some kind of god on the battlefield.

"Damn you," she sputtered out, pulling the triggers and-

Hearing absolutely nothing.

Panic-stricken, Marry glanced down at the wireframe readout, only to find that the Dark Horn's back mounted weaponry - the mainstay of its arsenal - was gone. It had literally been ripped and blown off the back during the fall. All that was left was a piddly cannon on the chin and the guns on the tail.

With a wince, she looked back up in time to catch what she could almost swear was a toothy grin from the Spiner. At that, the creature simply kept stalking forward, its guns held in reserve as a guttural sounding growl slipped from its mouth, sounding more like a laugh than anything else. Within seconds, she knew that it would arrive within the range of its jaws, and try to crush her cockpit. She didn't know how, she just knew...

And she wasn't going to allow that to happen.

Coaxing the battered Horn up off the ground once more, even as sparks hosed out of its leg stabilizers like there was no tomorrow, Marry waited. As the seconds ticked by to her impending execution, she felt her heart rate slowing to the point that she felt lightheaded, while her whole body seemed to want to go limp. Finally though, the Spiner made it to only a few yards away and-

The Dark Horn charged forward with one last, furious bellow. The Spiner replied by dropping its footlocks and roaring right back, but as its ion field began to rise up from the ground, Marry caught it in the leg with her Crasher Horn. Armor buckled and structure bent as the shock carried into the knee and pushed the Spiner back, footlocks or not. The field still rose though, and this time, Marry was hurled straight up for what felt like an eternity of staring at static.

Bracing herself in mid-air, Marry closed her eyes and waited.

Momentum shifted and she heard the field cut off. The Horn started falling.

Visuals returned as the Zoid came to within precious yards of the ground, only for her to open her eyes in time to see the Spiner's tail coming in and-

Cockpit glass shattered to her right and Marry threw up both arms, feeling the cockpit itself cave in several inches in the process. With that, the Horn finally hit the ground spinning, skidding and rolling all at once until it came to a stop on its side, battered to the brink of a system freeze as the Dark Spiner turned to face it again...

"Shit," Marry thought, biting back on screaming as she reached up and yanked a glass shard out of her arm, only to hear a gush of blood coming from the wound. Without even thinking of anything further, she slapped her palm tight against the opening and glanced at the screen only to find a hole where her Zoid's eye had been crushed in.

Before the Spiner could ever finish closing in to attack though, three seperate barrages of gunfire from three different directions caught it off guard. While its armor was beyond giving in to the bullets, the Sleeper was still caught off guard almost entirely as three blindingly bright yellow Zaber Fangs came into view - one of them actually jumping right over the Dark Horn. All three were covered with battle damage and smoking badly in numerous places at once, but all three showed absolutely no regard for it.

"We'll handle this!" A man's voice shouted over the comm, just as one of the Zabers jumped up over the Spiner's tail and caught it in the head with a claw swipe. The same Zaber landed, turned and booked it as the Sleeper began to open fire, only to be tackled by one of its legs by the same Fang that had just passed over Marry's head. The third joined the attack within a matter of seconds, pouncing onto the Spiner's back and tearing off several of the spines there in the process.

With that, the remaining Zaber dove in and tackled the same leg as the one that had jumped over Marry mere seconds earlier, just as the Spiner tried dropping its footlocks. Only one went down. With that, the beast roared its defiance and-

"HANG ON!" A second man screamed, just as the Zaber on the Spiner's back sank its teeth into the Sleeper's neck and tried to all but cling to it. The other two did almost the same thing to the Spiner's leg.

All four of them promptly became nothing but indistinct blurs inside of a bubble-shaped ion field, even as the ground around the Sleeper began to crater. Limbs were snapping off, guns flying and somewhere along the line, Marry swore that she heard three different panels of glass being broken at once.

"Omari, Lineback," the third and final member of the group began, his voice clouded by static. Even so, she could hear that he almost seemed to be crying. "It's been swell."

A few seconds ticked by as she realized what was about to happen...

"One more time..."

"WE ARE TIGERS! TIGERS, ONE AND ALL! TIGERS TO THE END!!!" All three screamed at once.

The bubble burst instantly and was replaced by three different balls of fire, promptly joined by a fourth as the three Zaber Fangs self-destructed. The pilots were gone instantly, leaving Marry's jaw to sag openly as she felt tears starting to pour. She had known none of them, but they'd given their lives to save her, whether they had known her or not.

The explosions mixed, warping and expanding into nothing as what was left of the ion field died down, leaving four different streaks of light to go blazing up into the heavens, duelling even in death as they went.

"... Why can't this night be over with?" She wondered aloud, unable to even hear her own voice over the background noise of the war still raging around her.

Unfortunately, that same war refused to give her even a few moments to grieve.

Within seconds of the blast, the Dark Horn shuddered and another alarm sounded from the console. There was a ripping sound, and Marry tried to bring her Zoid back up to its feet only to find that it had finally entered a full-on system freeze. A few moments later, all she could hear were the war cries of Raptors as chunks of the Dark Horn started flying everywhere, ranging from armor to limbs to internal structure...

And then the cockpit was ripped open completely as the top of the frozen Horn's head was sheered off by a talon, with Marry only barely managing to duck its edge in the process.

When she looked up, she saw only one thing: Death in the form of an ancient Raptor, backlit to the smoke from far too many funeral pyres to count.

Its optics lit up, claws flexed and the Sleeper hissed down at her as it drew one hand back and-

Marry screamed again as the Raptor vanished in a blur of reddish light, managing only a shortlived shriek as something crashed into it from the side. Simultaneously though, Marry and the remaining Raptors stopped what it was that they were doing in time to see the other Sleeper fly back into a wall, its hip, shoulder and side imploded to the point that it was almost bent at a right angle towards its attacker. With that, the Zoid-sized red bullet whipped around and what must've been some sort of shield dropped-

And revealed her would-be savior to be the same black Shield Liger that she had seen so many hours before, now standing tall and vicious in the warzone that had almost claimed her life a dozen times in one night.

Like some kind of irate god, the Zoid roared, its voice alone rattling Marry to the core almost as badly as the Raptors themselves had. Slowly though, that roar died down to a feral growl, and the Shield Liger began to stalk forward as it did so. With the fluid grace of a predatory beast, it closed in on the Raptors, and as Marry undid her harness to try and get out of the cockpit, she could just barely catch a glimpse of all four or five of her remaining attackers cowering back with every step...

The War Room. A place of command, sheltered so deeply within Gyran's reinforced walls that nothing short of a sustained hit from a charged particle cannon was going to be able to take it out. It was supposed to be a place where the command staff of the Champton Defense Forces were able to coordinate a defensive without fear of being killed in five seconds. It was supposed to be relatively calm compared to the actual battle going on outside.

"We just lost another squad on the Southern wall!"

Right now, it wasn't.

"Try and get reinforcements there," Harry Champ ordered, his feet throbbing and his hands clenched into fists so tight that it was a wonder his palms weren't bleeding right now.

For the past hours, he had been pacing around the War Room like a man possessed, spouting off orders, helping to set up the few real coordinated movements of the battle and pulling damage control at almost every turn. It was all happening so fast that his concept of time had started to slip away, and while he fought to avoid tunnel vision and the rampant urge to throw in the towel and find a gun with one bullet in it, it seemed like almost everyone was relying on him to keep them anchored.

It was maddening, really. In some detached sort of way, he almost wanted to wonder why he hadn't lost his mind yet.

"We haven't got anyone that can reach it in time!" The officer in charge of monitoring the South wall replied in a panic.

"Then tell every available artillery Zoid we've got to aim a few dozen meters outside of the South wall," he ordered almost automatically, his course abruptly shifting towards the right as he weaved through a half a dozen different men and women who were rushing around frantically trying to keep tabs on everything. "And while you're at it; patch me through to Leon Tauros."

For a few seconds, all he could hear from the officer was a sputtering string of orders across every single frequency designated for the Southern region of the defensive. After that, the officer paused a second, took a deep breath and opened up another channel. It was the one that Harry had specifically designated as Leon's own.

"What?" Bit out from the comm as the screen fuzzed into view, revealing a rather angry looking Tauros and a shellshocked woman sitting behind him in the Liger's back seat. Harry recognized her as the older Tasker sister.

"You're needed on the South wall," Harry stated bluntly, pushing the officer out of the way as he did so. "There are-"

"Almost everyone on my squad is dead or incapacitated," Leon spat out as the Blade Liger's cockpit seemed to rattle from something or other.

"What?" Harry blurted right back.

"I'm not repeating myself!" Leon shouted back, ducking low and yanking back on the joysticks, then shoving them forward in the same second. "Now if you'll excuse me..."

"Understood," Harry replied after a few seconds of staring at the screen, just before the officer shut the channel off.

A second later, Harry had straightened up and turned away, only to find himself struggling to keep his balance on a suddenly shaking floor as an explosion sounded from behind him. It wasn't close though. It wasn't even in the War Room. Something had literally gone off with enough force to reverberate through the entire fortress.

Without even though, he whipped around again, bracing himself with one hand on a nearby chair.

"What the hell was that?!"

"Something just fragged the wall!" The South monitor shouted right back in a frenzy.

"Shit," Harry heard himself say, looking around again as if to find someone who had any clue as to what he should do.

Nobody even noticed him. Several people were scraping themselves off the floors, Sarah was going around barking orders even faster than he had, and-


"SARAH!" He screamed out over the hustling noise of people talking to each other so quickly that it was a wonder any of them understood anything at all. For a split second, the taller woman in the blue jumpsuit didn't even notice him either, only to whip around like a whirlwind and shoot him a look that could've competed with Leena's own glares. By then though, Harry had already run across the room and come within an arm's reach of her.

"What is it?" She demanded impatiently.

"I need you to cover for me," he found himself answering as if it were the single most natural thing in the world.

"Cover for you?" Sarah growled. "You're running away?"

Everything in the entire room froze. Instantly.

"I'M A PILOT, FOR GOD'S SAKE!" Harry blurted out so loudly that the veins in his neck stood out.

"You can't go out there!" She shot off.

"If I don't try, then who will?" Harry answered bluntly. "Just cover for me," he ordered, only to turn away and take off for the nearest exit before she could say anything else.

A second later, the door may as well have not even opened considering how tightly he had squeezed himself through it, only to find himself face to face with two rows of more civilians than he could've ever counted, lining the walls right up to the exit. Men, women and children alike, all of them dressed in the clothes they'd been wearing when they'd been evacuated into the fortress.

It took only a single moment, but by the time he had straightened up from squeezing out of the War Room doors, every last one of them had turned to look at him. There wasn't a shred of judgement in any of their eyes.

"... I'm going to fight. I'm going to save you."

For a few seconds, he just stood there...

"... Even if I die doing it."

Without even stopping to think after that, Harry Champ took off running again, and never looked back...

Author's Note: Now THIS was an easy-as-hell chapter to write...

Major kudos to Harry Champ for blindsiding me with the final scene o.o

And a sincere R.I.P. goes to the Fuzzy Pandas. They gave me the idea for their own deaths when I first reintroduced them into TOD. The guys are so neglected that I just couldnt help but give them what they wanted. Hopefully, it went off without a hitch. And if anyone's keeping tabs on the death count, it's at around 14 or 15 named characters by now. Not bad for only two chapters of fighting, if I do say so myself... And I do >.>;

Review commentary is also updated. Enjoy.

Sh33p out.

Tides of Darkness by Sh33p

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