Tides of Darkness

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

By Sh33p, CultofSh33p@aol.com

Chapter 16

Moments Of Transition

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 below. Happy One-Year Anniversary to Tides of Darkness, people!
Scene One: VNV Nation - Forsaken
Scene Two: Wolf's Rain - Heaven's Not Enough
Scene Three: Linkin Park - Intermission
Scene Four: VNV Nation - Holding On
Scene Six: Rurouni Kenshin - Departure
Scene Seven: Linkin Park - Opening

The meeting had ended. The morning came not long after, and entirely too soon for anyone's tastes, least of all his own, it had ended as well. It was late noon by the time that he had finally woken up, grimacing with a mixture of exhaustion, rapidly diminishing hunger and a growing surge of energy that really wasn't meant to be there. The bags that should've been under his eyes were absent, as they almost always were lately, and the sudden rush of awareness for the area around him was enough to make him feel lightheaded and sickened.

It was better now than it had been when he first started, at least. Once, it had knocked him out completely. He hadn't been used to it then, but he was getting there now.

The room he woke to find himself in was the same now as it had been when he'd left the planning room: Empty aside from him and the one that he trusted most.

She was presently curled up beneath and behind him on the floor, acting as both a mattress and a pillow, with her tail draped almost possessively over his stomach. Somewhere along the way, someone had crept in, thrown a blanket on him and left.

The room was supposed to be a bedroom for a commanding officer in the CDF. He was dead now, and Vega hadn't really wanted to lie in a dead man's bed. The room itself already wreaked badly enough of the man's memories as it was. The blanket had probably been set on him by one of two women on the base, though he didn't really feel up to seeing which one had done it. In all likelihood, it was his birth mother's doing. She had seemed a bit... Distressed by his return. Less so at Kale's demise, but that was only to be expected when her oldest son had gone after her with intent to kill.

The relationship between them had hit a kind of breaking point, Vega felt. When he looked at her, he saw a woman who wanted to make things right, but when he looked in a mirror, he saw a youngster who was beyond reconciliation in the way that she wanted. Anymore, she was only his mother through blood. She hadn't exactly gone out of her way to provide an emotional attachment for him, after all.

Specular was his mother now. At least, she helped fill the void. Bondmates transcended petty things like blood relations, after all. His connection with the Organoid curled up around him was probably going to be the closest he would ever have for as long as he lived. Closer than that of a parent or sibling, lover or offspring. At once, it was both a disturbing and comforting thought, and one that was quickly brushed aside as information overloard gave way to cohesive thought and a sense of purpose.

They had come to a conclusion at the end of the meeting. A rough one, compromising between necessity, hope and hopelessness, and all of it boiling down to one possibility that seemed as far away to him now as the world before the Royal Cup.

They had decided, Leyon and Steve, that they would lead a mission into the Sea of Witchery using the Empress Heart. They would bring upwards of a hundred and fifty people, along with around eight to nine Zoids and their pilots, on what amounted to a suicide mission.

Recover Project Blue. Then try to stop the Asmodeus.

It was simple, hopeless beyond redemption and desperate beyond words. A half-hearted effort at best, according to Sarah and Stigma, but one that was going to be undertaken all the same.

Vega had been the first pilot selected for the job. He had also asked for the task of procuring the others, whoever they would be. Either through what was probably misplaced faith in a boy who hadn't even edged into puberty, or through pure intimidation over the fact that he seemed to know everything and had an Organoid to back him up, he had been given the job. He didn't know why they listened, and nor did he care. All that mattered was that they did.

From here on until the last pilot was picked for the mission, it was his show.

"Let go, Specular," he requested more than he ordered. The Organoid, which had been feigning sleep for some time now, complied in short order, drawing her tail away and the blanket with it. From there, Vega stood up and stretched his arms, legs and back until something or other had popped. Loudly.

After that, and a rather pained wince, Vega and Specular had left the room and stepped into the hallway. It was empty for now, and according to some of what the bugs had told him, so was much of Gyran's underground spiderweb of tunnels, hangars and hallways. Most of the local refugees were outside, grieving, assessing the damage and trying to find survivors. A lost cause, that last one, but he admired their tenacity.

And wished that he could borrow some of it as well.

What do you plan on doing now, Vega? Specular asked in the same voice as always. It sat somewhere between one that he now knew belonged to a woman named Riese, and the voice of his mother.

For a long numbers of seconds, they simply walked together, and Vega took the time to think. Finally though, he came up with an answer.

"First, I eat. Then, we find Bit. The others will all fall into place from there," he said, remembering what Leena had told him last night as the meeting drew to a close. "It's all just a jigsaw puzzle with spare pieces, after all..."

While he knew that the statement was right, it still sent chills up and down his spine. After all...

If everyone had a spare, who was his?

Lunch was uneventful at best. It was also considerably lighter than what he had wanted, since food was being rationed out at the moment and Vega wasn't in much of a mood for a feast anyway. In the end, it had amounted to two drumsticks and some corn with water for a drink. For an adult, it would've been dissatisfactory at best. For a normal adolescent, it would've been enough to tide them over until something else. For Vega, who didn't even really need to eat anymore, it was plenty.

After eating, he had gathered his wits about him, stepped out onto the base with Specular and made a byline for the same landing pad they'd all arrived in.

Outside, repairs were going at an almost frenzied pace. The base's workers, given a shot in the arm with the addition of Schubaltz's military engineers and Stigma's crew, were already half-finished with replacing the missing section of Gyran's South wall. Beyond that, an uncounted number of Gustavs, both local and refugee in nature, were mulling through the burned out husk of what had once been the thriving city of Champton, accompanied by both local citizenry and volunteer rescue crews. They had probably been working away since the celebrations had finally died down last night.

Vega paid little attention to them aside from keeping himself out of their way. Specular trailed behind him at every single step, adding her eyes to his own whenever he had to cross a street or duck into an alley or building to avoid incoming traffic from the rear. The micro-sworders were available too, but Vega didn't feel like using them to do more than keep track of his target for the time being.

After almost a half an hour of walking, they had finally arrived at the landing pad. The sight that greeted them was as uneventfully strange to him as he and Specular must've seemed to some of the shellshocked survivors or overworked engineers right now.

The Organoid-like creature known as Roc, apparently sunning itself atop the Foe Hammer, and Madison sitting nearby, resting in the beast's shadow. Even when asleep, she looked about as close to invulnerable as anyone could get, with that absurdly large club draped across her lap and a mane of hair that looked like it'd snap the teeth off a comb if anyone even thought of bringing order to it.

Neither pair said anything to each other, but Vega knew from one glance at the mirror-winged First Born, that they would probably be on the mission. It was just something that went without saying.

A few minutes later, he and Specular had stepped into the airport to find it mostly empty. Security guards were absent, nobody was at the front desk and there wasn't even a janitor around to mop the floors. Not that it mattered.

What will you do if he says no? Specular asked, bringing him to a stop as the neared the elevator.

He had been about to give her an answer, but the sudden ping of someone using the elevator stopped him short.

As the seconds ticked by from there, Vega Obscura felt his entire face tighten up, loosen, tighten again and finally relax with a long, deep sigh that left him feeling more at ease now than he had been in a week. Even so, the ruthlessly cold glare in his eyes refused to soften even a bit.

The doors slid open. As they did, he found himself more or less at eye-level with Bit Cloud's chest, and while the blonde pilot was being accompanied by Harry Champ's sister, Vega paid her no real mind. She cringed at the sight of Specular, and undoubtedly at the near-murderous look that had probably attached itself to his face, but in the end, she was only really important to Bit right now.

But Bit?

He was important to everything.

"What do you want?" The Liger pilot asked with an exhausted try at a sneer.

"Leyon and Steve are overseeing a mission to the Sea of Witchery. I was picked to handle pilot selection. I'm selecting you," Vega answered in short order, meeting failed contempt with successful indifference.

"And I'm saying no," Bit replied almost instantly. Marry was starting to calm down by now. At least she was adaptive. And smart enough to not try and interfere, as that likely would've gotten her injured. Or worse.

"Then I'm saying tough shit," Vega shot back.

"I'm not going," Bit growled.

"Why?" Vega asked.

For a few moments, the two did little more than stare at each other, one expecting an answer and the other looking more and more irate by the second.

"I'm tired of trying to save the world," the blonde finally answered through grit teeth. "It only ever ends up blowing up in my face."

"Too bad," Vega aswered. "You already made your choice when you accepted the role Madison and Roc offered you."

Bit tensed. Visibly. His teeth were bared, and Marry's presence was probably the only thing holding him back. Vega knew just how far the Asmodeus had taken him on the road to a breakdown. As heartless as it was though, Vega didn't feel any sort of pity for him. Only annoyance that he wasn't willing to try and correct his mistakes.

"And if I don't? What'll you do, kill me?" Bit asked, almost looking as if he wanted to crack a smile.

"I probably can't do that, actually," Vega answered bluntly. "But there are at least two people on this base who can. At least one of them would be willing and able to," he explained simply.

Bit twitched.

"You knew, on some level, what you were getting into when you said yes. Backing out now is just the act of a coward, not the Bit Cloud I know, and certainly not the one I looked up to like a brother," Vega said, and meant it.

"I know better now," Bit shot back.

Again, the two were silent. Marry was still not trying to interfere, and Vega credited her for that much. She was so far out of her depth right now that she was lucky to even realize what was going on.

Finally though, Bit moved. Shrugging to himself, the blonde man jammed both of his hands into the pockets of his fatigue pants and tilted his head back disdainfully. It was probably the most disgusted look on his face that Vega had ever seen, but he didn't take the bait.

"It ain't my problem anymore. Let someone else deal with it," he snorted.

"Do you think running is even an option, Bit?" Vega asked, narrowing his eyes in a manner that made him look ten years older.

"I'm not running. I'm just not gonna bother with it."

"That isn't an option, dumbass," Vega finally snapped. At that, Bit flenched. "This is your screw-up, more than anyone else's! Even if you feign neutrality to avoid it, it's still going to come for you whether you like it or not."

Vega snorted. Bit straightened up and glared.

"If you're too pathetic to even try, then I never knew you to begin with... And if that's the case, I don't even wanna start now," Vega bit out. Without even giving Cloud the opportunity of responding, the boy turned around and stormed out of the lobby all together, with Specular not far behind.

"Check two off the list," Vega thought aloud a few minutes later, wiping his eyes on the back of his forearm as he did so.

Didn't seem like a resounding 'yes' to me, Specular replied, less than impressed as they came to a stop in one of the alleyways. He seemed even more against it when we left than when you first confronted him.

"Appearances can be deceiving, remember?" He asked, glancing up to the Organoid with a smirk. "Bit may be broken down right now, but he's still the same heroic half-wit he was when he and I fought in the Royal Cup. All he needed was a harsh confrontation from me. Marry Champ can do most of the rest with a softer touch, then Zeke can finish the job with a pep talk or something, if he even has to in the first place."

For a few seconds, Specular was dead silent. Then, she turned to look down at Vega and gave the notion of a grimly approving smile.

You're as good at playing people's strings as you are at blowing them up, she said.

"Thanks... I think."

For a full six minutes, neither of them spoke.

It was a tense kind of quiet they shared, and an intimate one, even though they walked together, in plain sight, from the airport towards the nearest cafeteria she knew of. Marry had been raised in and around Gyran's now war-scarred walls, and with the kind of privileges that had been afforded to her as a daughter of Jerry and Sharon Champ, she had been able to explore them in ways that most military personnel hadn't even been able to touch. She knew the labyrinths, both above and below ground, better than some people knew the backs of their own hands. Battle damage and a few rennovations had cast her out of the loop, but even so, she was a competent guide.

Bit enjoyed that. For once, he actually liked being lead around, especially since the battle had already been fought. He didn't have to do anything but hold her hand and follow. In fact, the only thing he didn't feel himself taking some relaxation in was how she held his hand. It was a grip like iron, very unbecoming of the lady he had met all those months ago back on the landing zone in front of the Blitz Team Base. Very unlike her, from what he'd come to understand of the woman.

Perhaps it was farmboy obliviousness that kept him from noticing the looks that came with it... Or perhaps he was simply doing his best to ignore them. Either way, it didn't really matter.

She had promised him a meal following their little encounter with Vega, and she was going to deliver. While they had only really known each other less than a day now, Bit had, through sincerity or simple necessity, come to trust her to keep her word.

And she did. By the sixth minute, they had finally arrived at a cafeteria, though it was almost abandoned aside from one exhausted looking cook and a guy who was numbly sweeping the floors as if it was the only thing keeping him from a nervous breakdown.

"Here we are," she had announced in a terse, somewhat stressed voice, though he tried his best to ignore it. "It's... Not the best, but I suppose it'll have to do."

"You never ate at a colonial buffet, did ya?" Bit asked, ignoring the stress and finding himself relieved that she failed to point it out to him. It was nice to just... Be normal for once. Even if normalcy itself was little more than a pipe dream anymore. He didn't even have to contend with Zeke for once, a miracle in and of itself.

"No. I didn't," Marry answered after a few seconds, letting Bit lead the way from there.

For a few minutes, neither of them spoke. Both got themselves a meal, though Bit's was abhorrently large considering that he hadn't eaten in a month or more now, while Marry couldn't stomach more than soup. They ate side by side, and when it was all said and done, they were left alone. The sweeper left, while the 'chef' went to the back for something or other and didn't come back.

That left them.

And an uncomfortable silence. Which was, again, broken by Marry.

"What about that Obscura boy..."

This time, he found no comfort in it. At all.

"What about him?" Bit asked coldly, leaning forward to rest his chin on a fist.

"What he said was right," she pointed out, bluntly but gently.

He didn't respond.

"Bit," Marry began again, raising her voice a little.

"I know. I don't give a damn anymore," he replied annoyedly. "There's nothing anyone can do against that... Anything but die. Kale fucking Obscura couldn't even do anything against it."

"If there's nothing to do but die, what's the harm in trying?" Marry asked. "It's not like there'll be anyone a few generations from now to look back and say that you tried in futility, after all."

Bit grimaced. Marry reached over and pressed her hand to his back, then started rubbing it. The fact that he was wearing what basically amounted to a flak jacket prevented him from actually feeling her hand, but he still rocked slightly from side to side with it anyway.

"What's the point though? Everyone acts like it's noble to die for a greater good, but what's the point of giving up your life when your days are already numbered? Why not live it up for once?" He asked, seeming more to debate the matter with himself than he was with her. At this point, Marry was acting as his conscience. If he had a real one left anymore, it had been burnt to the point of ineffectiveness by everything he'd been through.

"And why not obtain peace of mind by giving others a shot at more time? Even if you fail, you at least tried to make up for your mistakes."

"I'm tired of trying."

"Then do it. You've beaten the odds before, and you can do it again."

"Not like this," he mumbled out. "Nothing was ever like this."

A short-lived pause. He spoke again.

"Backdraft was just a bunch of stupid gamblers out to make some money. Rommel Corp was a bunch of puppets with no idea what they were truly getting into. Kale was just a psychopath, and Rommel was... Nothing but a lie with legs," he said with a thoughtful tone. "None of them were at the level of this thing. Not a damn one."

"Then view it as another challenge," she suggested.

"Challenges are things you can actually succeed at. Asmodeus is fifteen miles of suicide," he muttered.

Marry sighed, then stopped rubbing his back in order to draw his attention.

"Last night," she began, standing up from the table and looking down at him. "You told me you had once wanted to save the world..."

He didn't respond again, and instead looking back to the wall in front of him. At that, Marry stepped over behind him, bent down and wrapped her arms around him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder and speaking as softly as a woman could.

"After last night, I feel like I know you better than anyone, Bit. What you told me then... I think that somewhere, deep down, you still want to. You're just afraid of the consequences," she began. "Afraid that you'll end up suffering again. You won't."

He laughed. Blandly.

"Yeah... If I fail, I just die."

"See?" She asked, smiling into the side of his neck. "If you fail. You're already starting to come around to what you know is right."

For a long minute or so, neither of them spoke. He thought, she waited, and neither of them even moved other than to breathe.

"... You're right," he finally admitted, giving up the fight.

"No, Bit. You are. You just needed someone to show you that," she explained, giving him one last squeeze before standing up straight and letting go of him.

"You need some time alone to think to yourself... And I need a shower," she pointed out.

"... I like a girl who can smell like grease, yanno," he replied, only half-joking.

"Just because I can doesn't mean I like to," she shot back, popping him lightly on the top of the head.

A half a minute later, she was gone.

And Bit Cloud was left wondering how in the hell he had ended up so close to her in so little time, with virtually no prior relationship of any kind.

It was late afternoon by the time he had come to a halt. Of the people he had decided to try and recruit, all but three of them were in place and ready to go. Meeting Bill Chapman and Leyla Tsun had been an awkward experience, but both had, in their own ways, agreed to join. Chapman had literally greeted him with an 'I'm in,' and Tsun had agreed to go right after he'd asked her. The two had been, more or less, camped out in one of the hangars that had been converted to hold the wounded and, in some cases, the dead. Chapman on a lawn chair, Tsun on a makeshift bed on the floor. Neither even acknowledged each other's existence, but whatever quarrels they'd had, Vega made it a point to stay out of it.

Besides, being around Bill was, in and of itself, disturbing enough as is. The man looked exactly like Bit with a few minor changes here and there. He was even wearing what looked like one of Bit's old outfits.

After that, he'd sought out Jamie Hameros. The conversation between the two had been short, blunt and straight to the point. Jamie was in a bad way, but after a little prompting, he had given in and decided to go along as well. Vega had heard him mention something about a front row seat to the end of the world, but hadn't responded. At all.

And now, here he stood in front of a small collection of Zoids and people. The burnt out carcass of a barely functional Blade Liger, another Blade Liger poking at it hesitantly, the Shadow Fox returned to its original 'parking' place and regarding both Zoids with what looked almost like the letters W, T and F standing out in its optics...

And at least two people shouting incoherently at the white Liger as it poked at the red one.

Vega didn't know whether to be saddened or amused.

Either way, he soon started forward once again, Specular at his back and his objectives in front. There were seven of them in all - three men, three women and Alistair, who was standing around looking bored with it all.

Coincidentally, Alistair was the first one to notice him. The two exchanged passive glances and nods, shrugged and promptly ignored each other. At that, Vega spoke up to draw their attention, while Specular used a few hard mental jabs to stop the white Liger in its place.

"Hello, everyone," he greeted blandly, causing the lot of them to abruptly notice his presence. In their own way, each of them greeted him in return, ranging from Mark's casual wave to Pierce's equally bland nod. As he'd expected though, it was Leon Tauros who instigated an actual conversation with him.

"What can we do for you?" He asked in that voice that Vega had come to recognize as an adult not taking him seriously enough. A few months ago, that would've annoyed him. Now, he simply decided to use it to his advantage.

"I've been asked to select a group of eight pilots for an expedition into the Sea of Witchery. It'll be headed by Leyon and Steven. Among that number," he paused, glancing straight over to the pilot of the Shadow Fox, namely Marcus Harlock. "Is you."

Mark blinked. Then sputtered. Then shared a hesitant look with Abbie, and then another with Kyle, who seemed somewhere between stunned and insulted. Again, he'd expected as much.

"Why me? Aren't there better qualified pilots you could ask to do this?" He asked after a few seconds, glancing back to Vega with a brow raised so high that it tipped his cap to the side.

"In terms of raw skill and talent, I can name fifty people off the top of my head who would probably be better suited than you are. In terms of reliability and experience with what the mission entails though, none of them can compare to you," Vega explained, carefully ignoring the fact that Mark had the devil's luck tattooed on his forehead.

"Experience?" Mark asked, echoed by both Kyle and Pierce. Neither of them were exactly what one could call supportive about it.

"You fought the Hellwalker and personally contributed to its demise," Vega explained, bluntly. "You have more experience fighting Demons like that than anyone else I haven't already asked," he added, glancing over to Pierce and addressing her directly before she could even object. "And yes, that includes you. You weren't there for the entire battle. I saw it. I know. End of discussion," he pointed out, silencing a woman at least twice his age in less time than it took for her to be offended by it.

"Did you ask Bill?" Mark asked after a few seconds, drawing another glare from Kyle and, wisely, ignoring it.

"Yes. He's onboard. As is Jamie Hameros," he explained. This angered Pierce.

"He was there even less than I was!" She shouted outright. At this, Vega glanced over at her again and spoke up with a far colder, more blunt tone than the one he'd used even when addressing Bit.

"This is, in essence, a fucking suicide mission, Pierce," he stated. "While the run to the Sea of Witchery will probably be uneventful, following that, everyone onboard will be sent to face the Asmodeus. Even if you've been busy elsewhere, you know what that is, don't you?" He asked, and judging by the look on her face, she did. He could literally see the woman's expression tense up until it looked like a cross between a deer in headlights and someone who'd been smacked with a sledge hammer.

It was almost mirrored by everyone else but Alistair, for that matter. Even Mark, whom Vega had observed as being less serious than most comedians, looked crestfallen. The rest were no better, and in Abbie's case, considerably worse.

"He's not going," she sputtered out after a few seconds, trying to leave no other say in the matter. "I won't let him..."

Mark was silent.

"It's not your choice," Vega and Alistair both said in the same breath, though the other boy had a far less blunt tone to his voice. If not for the fact that he had partially expected that too, he would've probably been disturbed.

"It's his," he said, alone this time, looking over to Mark and knowing that, as he did so, Abbie was as well. Where Vega's was inquisitive though, hers could've probably burned holes through a steel wall.

"So... What'll it be?" Vega asked, tucking his hands into his vest pockets and waiting patiently.

For the longest time, Harlock didn't do a thing but stare away from the lot of them, occasionally gulping and generally looking lost. Abbie was obviously on the verge of screaming several times, but the enormity of the situation was starting to set in on her as well. The enormity that went past the possibility of dying.

Obviously, Kyle had told all of them about what had been discussed last night. Aside from prior objections, no-one spoke to try and influence him at all.

Finally though, he did speak. And he gave the exact answer that Vega knew he would.

"If... If Abbie can come, I'm in," he said, still not looking at anyone, even though they were all staring at him. "If she wants to come, I'm in," he added, though his voice was weighted and stressed. At that, he had finally looked back to Vega, and then Abbie. While it seemed like he was throwing the weight of the decision on her shoulders, Vega found it obvious that Mark was going to go come Hell or high water.

Her answer came with surprising swiftness, but expected tension. Her eyes were watering, her sister was staring at her and, for that matter, so was everyone else. She didn't actually say a thing, but she still nodded an affirmation to Mark, who in turn looked back to Vega and pulled the visor of his cap down a little.

"Count me in then..."

"How many do you have now?" Leon asked. Which was good, considering that he was the last name on Vega's list.

"Seven of eight," he explained, though the first of the lot was still missing. "Including myself. You're the last one on the list," he stated.

"No," another voice finally broke loose from behind Tauros. It was Kyle, who in turn stepped out from the man's shadow and glared hellfire in Vega's direction.

"No, what?" Vega asked.

"No to him being #8. Do you not see the shape his Zoid's in?" Kyle demanded, jamming a thumb at the Red Blade... Just in time for a stabilizer cap to pop off and fall to the ground.

"It can be fixed by tomorrow afternoon," Leon shot back, genuinely offended. The two promptly glared at each other while Katherine, and to a far lesser extent, Pierce, glared at both of them without a word.

"Sooner, actually," Vega replied, nodding behind him at Specular. Accordingly, she hissed at both pilots, bringing them to an abrupt stand-still.

"Mine can still fight better," Kyle growled.

"Last time I fought you, I beat the snot out of you without even having to use my blades," Leon shot back again.

"That was then," Kyle retorted, holding up a fist. "I could beat you blindfolded now."

"Wanna b-"

"Will you two stop trash-talking like third graders already?" Katherine snorted out, echoed by Pierce's roll of the eyes. "It's a suicide mission. You're practically fighting over who gets to die first."

Both of them stopped, looked at her, then each other, then shrugged.

"I'll go," Leon said.

"Over my dead body," Kyle interjected. Just before jamming a finger in Mark's direction. "Where he goes, I go. Suicide Team, after all," he pointed out, which practically caused a vein to burst in Kat's forehead.

"I have an idea," Vega mumbled out. While he'd expected some resistance, he hadn't expected anything like this. Both of the pilots again halted, then glanced over at him, while he in turn looked elsewhere.

"Anyone got a coin?" He asked. The answer was a chorus of people digging through pockets before someone, probably Alistair, tossed a quarter at him.

It was the standard Neutral territory quarter - a silver coin with the Guardian Force emblem on one side, and the head of a Blade Liger on the other. The sides were notched, the coin itself was large. It landed in his newly outstretched hand before anyone else had even spotted it glittering through the air.

"Alright," he paused, getting everyone's attention once again while ushering Leon and Kyle to take a few steps apart from each other, one on either side.

"Heads for Leon, tails for Kyle," he stated, and both men nodded incredulously.

With that, the coin went airborn...

Time seemed to slow as it flickered up between the heads of both Mazemia and Tauros, forcing them to make eye contact with each other in the process. As if he could see it in slow motion, he watched their anticipation building, and saw Leon in particular slowly start to grimace.

It hung between them like the frozen chime of a clock, spinning and glimmering almost painfully in the sun's fading orange light. Silver almost became gold, and as it did, Vega could swear that he saw the coin's sides reflecting into both their eyes.

Finally though, time resumed.

The coin dropped. Vega caught it with one hand, then slapped it into his wrist and-

"Kyle can go," Leon stated. Vega blinked.

"... Huh?" Mazemia asked, one brow raising straight into his forehead as he did so. "What the hell?"

"You can go," the older pilot repeated again, hands slowly tucking into his pockets as he did so.

With that, and not another word, Leon Tauros turned around and walked off.

As he did, Vega could swear that he heard the man mumble something, almost inaudible were it not for the Micro-Sworder that slipped across his path as he walked.

"Everything and everyone has a purpose," he whispered to himself, the sun setting behind Gyran's distant walls before him.

"I just didn't know mine until now..."

And then, Leon Tauros, like the sun before him, was gone.

And then there was one, Specular said some time later as Vega arrived at an exit onto the top of the Northern Wall. It was supposed to be nothing but a maintenance walkway, though armed guards had once taken point there years ago, before Zoids had almost completely replaced the infantrymen of yesterday.

Tonight though, it served as an observation deck. A cliff so high that one could seemingly look out across the world, and as Vega and Specular stepped onto it, they were greeted by the sight of a blonde man with a golden Organoid standing next to him. None of them exchanged greetings, and for a while, none of them even made a sound beyond the slow noise of feet hitting the reinforced concrete beneath them.

Finally, Vega came to a stop next to Bit, and Specular took point at his side. To the opposite side of the older pilot, Zeke stood. Together, the four of them gazed to what they knew, at any level, would be their final destination.

"Count me in," Bit finally said, just in time for the two to spot a flicker of red on the horizon.

"I knew you'd make the right choice," Vega replied in kind.

Before them awaited an uncertain future, waiting within a moment of transition, only to be born in a moment of revelation that had yet to come. Neither of them truly knew that future, nor did they know where it would take them. They knew only that it would be born in pain, for the future, like so many things, always is.

FYI: Yes, Zinou, the picture you drew me was directly inspired by the Leon scene. It didn't quite have the same impact as the drawing, but I hope it still knocked people's socks off.

Points for guessing where the inspiration for the end paragraph of this chapter came from.

Sh33p out.

Tides of Darkness by Sh33p

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