Tides of Darkness

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

By Sh33p, CultofSh33p@aol.com

Chapter 5

Falling Towards Apotheosis

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:
Big O - Stoning
Chrono Cross - Opening Theme
Scene Two: Witch Hunter Robin - Shadow
Scene Three A:
Zoids - Zoid Eve's Theme
Zoids - Wailing Steel
Scene Three B:
Witch Hunter Robin - Tactics(or Surprise Attack)
Linkin Park - Opening
Scene Four: Linkin Park - Intermission
Scene Five: The Matrix - Klaus
Scene Six: Hack Sign - Fake Wings
Scene Seven:
Witch Hunter Robin - Surprise Attack
Trigun - The Genocide Song
Death to the FFN Upload Monkeys. Death to them all.

The bullet shrieked in so fast that human eyes would've never been able to follow it, and even Bit Cloud was no exception at this point. He barely even had the time to let out a nauseating scream as the round punched through the kevlar of his armored overshirt. In nanoseconds, it tore through his skin and muscle, hit bone and plowed through it like it wasn't even there, leaving another gush of blood to spray out from the entrance wound. In milliseconds, the bullet punched through his left lung, hit another rib and broke through it. In a hundredth of a second, the bullet ripped out through his back, passing between the plates of his armor and tumbling away like some sort of demented snowflake in Hell's graveyard.

Vilhelm, or perhaps more accurately, the Rommel that was Spectacle's puppet, continued smile the entire time. The recoil from the handgun didn't even budge his arm back, and the faint whisps of smoke rising up from the barrel, combined with how horribly bloodied he still was, gave the distinct impression that this personality seemed to enjoy what he'd done. Perhaps it was part of Spectacle's programming? Even if it wasn't though, that didn't matter now. Only one question remained, and it was the only one that his pain wracked mind could comprehend at the moment.

"How did it come to this?" He wondered, unable to even register his own screaming as the blood continued spilling through the air. He was so lightheaded at this point that he didn't even know if he would survive his blood loss long enough to actually hit whatever was below him...

And then, gravity kicked in. With how beaten he was, it felt like someone had re-shackled him and added another ton of eight to each chain and mannacle, and the sudden shift of momentum was enough to make the bile start to rise in his throat.

But how did it come to this? Only three, maybe as many as four months ago at the most, he had been on top of the world. He had won the Royal Cup. He had beaten the odds so badly that he'd almost singlehandedly dealt the killing blow to the Backdraft Group's financial future. He had even been playing a game of checkers with Vega Obscura, of all people...

How did it go from that picture of blissful victory, when he'd been unable to walk around sometimes without having fans trying to mob him, to this? He was about to die, either from god knows how much physical trauma, bleeding to death or just falling until he hit the ground... And if he survived that, he was just going to die from exposure. It wasn't fair at all, and it didn't make any sense. By all rights, he should've been a Class S champion by now - it wasn't like he hadn't beaten enough people to prove it.

But here he was...

["Welcome to the gateway, Bit!"]

Had it been then? Had it all started going rotten when Kale had massacred Garnhelm?


Maybe it had started with that? Maybe it had all been because of how he had lost his mind with grief. Maybe this was all just repayment for how he wasn't able to save his family's lives?

["You're predictable."]

No. It all started with Kale. It had to...

Time seemed to go in slow motion right now. Seconds ticked by into individual eternities and Bit found himself slowly losing the ability to focus on even his own depressed musings about how his fall from the top was now being mirrored by the fall to his death.

It was then, that in the bloody haze of his current state, he heard it coming.

Something loud was tearing through the Dome, somewhere towards his feet. Morbid curiosity alone guided him to tilt his head forward, and that was when he saw it.

Even though everything else had long since turned a bloody, darkened red, what he saw exploding up out of the roof of the Dome, on the other side of Rommel's tower, was almost entirely solid gold. It was lined with silver, swirling about like some sort of cyclone as it bolted up into the skies at the speed of thought. His eyes tracked it as best they could, and when he regained sight of the front of it, the golden lightning was corkscrewing back around in a wide, graceful arc.

The metallic surface of the Dome's roof was coming up fast.

The energy seemed to grind to a complete halt, forming up into a golden sphere and then shooting right towards him.

Bit watched it become obscured by the tower, knew that he was about to hit the Dome and probably bounce off of it, then slide down to the hellish grounds below. He watched a little longer as the bottom of the tower ripped apart, glassteel and warped metal spraying through the side of its upper half as the bolt came screaming in. Silver faded away by then, and all that was left was gold, centered around solid white light as bright as the sun.

It came closer.

The steel of the Dome was less than a foot away...

It kept coming closer.

Six inches now, and it felt like a mile.

Finally, it all came to a close. Bit closed his eyes and felt himself hit something before what felt like a dozen ropes slung themselves around his body. An instant later, the world went gold.

The next second, all he could make out were the sounds of panels slamming shut, followed by what felt like the warmest sensation he'd ever known. Even as that warmth continued to wash over him though, all he could see was gold, and all that he could hear was the noise of metal crumpling and ripping so quickly that it almost sounded like a drunken riveter having a field day. It felt like an impossibly slow process as the pain began to filter out of his senses, replaced instead by what almost seemed like a warm, friendly hand placing itself on his wounded shoulder and giving it a comforting squeeze.

He didn't know whether or not it was supposed to hurt, but it didn't.

Soon, nothing did at all. his vision, though he still couldn't make out any details at all, steadied itself, and he could almost feel the excess blood leaving his eyes. It was something he couldn't articulate even if he had wanted to, but it was as though each and every cell in his body was repairing itself. At the same time, he felt full, as if he'd just eaten an eight course meal, had dessert, gotten up at midnight and done it all over again without even batting an eye.

And then, finally, it came to an end.

The sound of metal sheering ceased to exist, replaced instead by the noise of thrusters. A second later, that came to an end as well, and was replaced almost instantly by the sounds of feet hitting metal, and then those were replaced by panels splitting open again. The feel of ropes all over his body returned and by the time Bit opened his eyes again, it was all over.

The ropes were gone, the panels had slammed shut once more and he was standing on his own two feet, able to hold the Handleblade with all of his left hand once again. His wounds, as grievous as they were, had seemingly vanished in a matter of seconds. He still felt certain ghosts of pain here and there, and he knew that the gunshot to his shoulder was probably going to add another scar on top of the one from Kale's dagger, but he wasn't writhing in agony anymore. Even the hair that had been blown off by Rommel's gun had grown back, though his clothes were still a mess and he was still all but coated in a thin but manageable layer of blood and grime.

What he saw when he opened his eyes though... It was like looking at a storybook image come to life. In the split second it took him to bring his eyes up from the 'floor,' he found himself face to face with a creature he'd always known to some extent or other. At first, it had been through the stories of his many-times-great grandmother, and then it had been through an accute awareness. After that came a true bond, but never a face-to-face meeting...

It was a tall, stockier cross between a dragon and a raptor of some kind, powerfully built as if made to handle protracted fights and long periods of running or some other form of exertion. The only thing that had kept him from recognizing it for even a fraction of a second was the seeming shift from the silver, purple and red of his grandmother's stories, to a gold, white and green reality that was impossible for most people to really understand anymore.

Everything clicked the moment that he set his eyes onto the Organoid's own. Green met green and the vaguest notion of a smile etched its way through the back of his thoughts.

And I was sleeping so peacefully, too...

It wasn't funny, but Bit truly couldn't help himself from bursting into laughter and all but flinging himself at the Organoid. Zeke responded in kind with a loud roar, one that almost sounded like the Liger Zero's own when it had all but laughed at Bit on the day he'd banged his chin against the safety harness.

For the first time in a long while, something was right with the world.

There was a notifying series of clicks from the comm. The entire cockpit shifted forward a bit and a hand idly smacked at the switch in the dark. A few seconds later, the main screen flipped on, followed by the two to his sides. Together, they revealed the layout of the Dome's central hangar, though his attentions were more or less drawn straight to the smaller window that popped up in the lefthand corner of the forward screen.

"... What in the blue hell happened to you?" Larry Cloud, better known amongst the Corp by the callsign of Vandal, asked. His mouth was practically sagging open at the sight he was being presented with.

"Something unimportant. Fleshwounds heal," Rommel calmly replied, virtually unconcerned the fact that he was covered in blood and had enough cut wounds on his body to scar him for life. Vandal could only barely see that he was also holding a now bloody towel to one of his hands, and that his 'office' was completely trashed in every sense of the word.

"What is important, I believe, is that I do indeed owe you a drink," Rommel pointed out with a businessman's smile, now rendered utterly disturbing by his current appearance.

"... Riiiiight... I told you he'd bust out if you didn't guard 'im better," Larry pointed out, now decidedly against having this man pay for one of his drinks.

"Indeed, you did. But that's water under the bridge now... Just be sure to take him down. Feel free to kill him while you're at it," Rommel commented idly, just before nodding at something out of sight. The comm flipped off instantly.

"What the hell was that about?" Larry wondered with an inward cringe. Had he gotten in too deep this time? Was Bit right when he'd said that Rommel was a psychopath?

Either way, concerns for the almighty dollar made him shift away from his thoughts a few seconds later. He'd been catching a nap in the cockpit of the Storm Breaker for the simple reason that it was the single most comfortable place in the entire Dome for him. The only one where he could let his guard down and not feel like he was being watched every step of the way.

Systems started up, the HUD activated and his sensors kicked on. The Liger Zero, broken down and beaten up as it was, had to be lying around in the same secondary hangar as before. Even though it hadn't exactly been functional by the time it'd been hauled in from the killing fields earlier, Bit was predictable. He'd go for it even if the thing was dead and fossilizing.

With that in mind, weapons control systems finished booting up. Larry acquired a target lock on a non-Corp registered Zoid in bay 32, then activated his boosters. Accordingly, the mutant Geno Saurer took off without so much as a roar.

 We're going to have company soon, Zeke pointed out. The good feeling of the moment slowly washed away like sand on a beach, gradually finding itself replaced by a cycle of differing emotions. The first was denial, then anger and finally resignation. It took only a few seconds for this to run its course, but when it was over, Bit literally pried his arms from around the Organoid's waist, sighed and gave a nod.

"I know," he said, and that was it.

Then what are you waiting for? Zeke asked.

"Nothing," Bit found himself answering on autopilot while Zeke stepped aside, his metallic feet lightly clanging against the equally metallic floor, and it was at about that moment that Bit realized just what they were standing on.

While the body itself was still easily recognizable and black as night, the armor had turned a dark gold. Though he couldn't quite see it, something told him that the Liger's optics had permanently changed from orange to a shade of green not entirely unlike his own, and although he couldn't see everything about it from this angle, he already knew that what the Liger Zero had gained as a result of its transformation. From what he could see though, given that he and Zeke were situated on the small of the former Ultimate X's back, the changes had been things previously only available with the CAS units.

First and foremost were the pair of gigantic buster blades folded down on the back, the natural evolutions of the Liger Zero's previous anti-lift stabilizers returning to their original function. After that came the boosters, which had gotten a bit bigger and now looked as if they were mounted on a pair of turrets, allowing them to pivot about for better manuevering. Then came the tail, which now boasted not only its original gun, but a pair of small laser blades, currently folded back in a manner similar to a bayonet.

The actual body had also changed. It was smoother now, though still easily recognizable. The shoulders and hips now bore a far more striking resemblance to the Schneider's though, and although Bit couldn't quite see, he had the distinct impression that the old dual impact cannon had been replaced by a triple impact cannon, close to the Panzer's than anything else. He could also already tell that something like the Jaeger's vulcan pods had been added to the Liger's cheeks.

Get to it then, Zeke ordered, breaking Bit out of his reverence and causing the blonde to bolt forward.

Without even thinking, Bit raced between both boosters and blades, jumped the top of the Liger's mane and somehow ended up landing inside of the open cockpit - and even that had changed since it now had a second seat tucked away in the back of the head, though he had no real idea what purpose, if any, that served.

Somewhat hesitantly, the blonde brought his hands to the controls, and watched the cockpit slipping shut around him. He felt the safety harness slapping down around his upper body like it so often did, and he almost relished at the sound of the Liger's sudden roar, which was so loud that he could've sworn that he felt his stomach vibrating from it. A few seconds later though, the roar died down, the lights in the cockpit came on and he was greeted by the same old consoles as before, including a newly added screen off to his right that showed nothing but a wireframe image of the Zoid. It detailed weaponry - though he didn't read that part - and showed the status of the Liger pretty well...

And it also gave it a name. Shown in bold type at the bottom righthand side of the screen.

"Liger Zero Kaiser..." Bit said to himself, feeling a sudden jolt in the back of his brain immediately afterward.

Before it could even happen, the blonde's eyes had trailed up to one of the doors into this particular hangar. In doing so, he was able to watch with some measure of expectancy as the door began to bulge in a half-dozen places at once. Then there were a half a dozen more, and the process repeated itself again a second later. The other Zoids in the hangar cowered back, but the Liger Zero wasn't one of them. As the king that it had been before, the former Ultimate X simply let out a snarl and braced itself into a battle ready posture...

A second after that, a pair of razor sharp talons punched through the door, slowly ripping down and then pulling away to reveal a single red optic, flaring malevolently into the hangar as if it owned the place.

"Zeke," Bit began, not even bothering to keep his thoughts to himself anymore.

What? The Organoid asked, its body already starting to shimmer by then.

"This one's mine," he answered, and felt a pit in his still-vibrating stomach as a result. He knew what it meant to say that, but at this point, there just wasn't any other way.

I understand.

Thrusters flared, and Bit felt Zeke's presence moving off of the Liger's back. The shimmer died down and the Organoid gradually flew up into the rafters. There he stayed, patient and observant.

Finally, the door ripped open entirely and the Red King was revealed once again. Alone, the tyrant and brother stood against one another, as each and every other Zoid and person in the hangar cowered away. Some of them fled, some of them tried to hide, but the end result was the same.

There would be no interference this time. No endless numbers of cannon fodder to send to their deaths, no lasting element of surprise and no holds barred. Bit knew this instinctively, and he had a feeling that Larry did as well.

One of them had to die. It was that simple.

"Good-bye, Larry," Bit finally said over the broadband, feeling the Liger's claws begin to power up as the Storm Breaker's gattlings spun.

A second later, the entire hangar erupted in gunfire.

Rounds went screaming through the air at several times the speed of sound, but they only ended up hitting a curved wall of golden light as the Zero began closing in. Larry's only response was to mutter something indignant over the comm and kick on the Saurer's boosters, jumping over Bit's attempt at a shield ram and landing somewhere behind him. Where before, Bit would've tried turning around and going for melee, now he simply dropped the shield and opened up with the Liger's tail gun. Three shots fired, two hit and a third nailed a wall, and although it wasn't exactly the spectacular kind of firepower that was needed to put down the mutant Geno Saurer, it was apparently enough to rattle Larry's chain a bit.

The Liger kept running though, continuing into the main hangar and then swinging back around on its foreclaws - both of which raked across the steel of the floor in the process. The ensuing shower of sparks was underscored by the grating sound that naturally comes with metal grinding against metal, almost like nails on a chalkboard. If this had any effect on Larry at all, the Storm Breaker didn't reflect it.

Instead, it boosted up into a hover, swung around like some sort of dancer and opened up all over again, spewing mortars out of the back pod in the process. The bullets managed to do little more than ping off of the Liger's shield, which Bit had again raised by the skin of his teeth, but the mortars went howling up into the roof of the main hangar and bringing it down on his head.

"Don't know how the hell you brought that thing back, but I'm putting it in its grave this time," Larry thought, hitting the bottom-most triggers with his pinkies and causing the Breaker's forearms to split open, armored panels flipping side to reveal a pair of the same types of particle cannons boasted by the Proto Breaker. Another trigger pull and each cannon hummed to life furiously, their barrels unleashing a constant stream of silver-colored death into the growing pile of debris.

"Is that the best you can do?" He heard over the comm, feeling his own brow twitch slightly as the debris exploded away.

In the ensuing three seconds, Vandal found himself strafing his Zoid to the side as his particle beams were met and beaten back by what appeared to be nothing more than a colossal wave of pressure with a vaguely golden tint to it. The floors ripped around it, the frame of the door into bay 32 was split apart and turned into lethal shrapnel by it, and even though he managed to escape a direct hit, just being near it was enough to throw the Breaker out of the air and onto its feet with a hard skid.

The back wall of the hangar crumpled but held up, and several helpless Zoids ended up getting thrown from their feet. Their luck didn't quite compare to the kind of horrid shape that the unfortunate mechanics and guards who hadn't been able to escape were now in though. Most of them were either on fire or splattered across every surface in the hangar - or both.

Larry simply grit his teeth into a jagged little smile. It was almost intoxicating to actually get a challenge after what had happened earlier.

"No, Bitty. It isn't."

Particle cannons retracted into the forearms, both of which promptly shot out and latched onto the closest potential shield that he could find. In this case, it was an unlucky Command Wolf that was already half-dead from the battle before, let alone the shockwave just now. The hapless Zoid yelped and was reeled in before even a second had passed, its armor crumpled around the Storm Breaker's talons.

"Catch!" He shouted, hitting the boosters and twisting around for a bit of added momentum before nonchalantly lobbing the little Zoid through the air and into the main hangar.

It was dead before it ever hit the ground. Glowing saber-like teeth snapped shut around its stomach, sheered into it and mutilated the core before a simple jolt forward had caused the Liger to sever the poor thing in two. With that though, Larry opened fire again, and this time he managed to actually connect. The Liger roared as gattling and machine gun rounds from the Breaker's head hit it in its own, causing dings and scratches but failing to actually break through.

A second later, Bit had no doubt recovered, and he brought the Zero into a howling run of its own, boosters going to full with the shield down. Larry bit back an insult and pulled more triggers in doing so, causing the gunpods' rocket launchers to pop out in full view before emptying themselves at the Liger.

Bit simply jumped them.

All of them.

Time slowed down and the world became a tunnel, with the Liger Zero Kaiser at its end. Power seemed to surge throughout the entire Zoid, its claws burning as bright as a hellfire-lit sun before one was drawn back. Larry knew he had to shoot it down now, he knew already what was about to happen if he didn't... But he couldn't react fast enough. Even though his mind and his vision seemed to have gone straight through the roof over the course of a hundredth of a second, his body seemed as slow to move as if it were molasses.

It was like a horrible dream, really. One that seemed to become even more so when the Liger finally thrust its retracted foreleg back out, all of that energy literally exploding off of it in fashion similar to a mushroom cloud, only to blur into nothing but a fast moving distortion in the air.

The wave hit just as the Liger started to descend.

Larry felt it as much as he couldn't even hear it. His ears and nose both began to leak out blood and his head started to feel as though it might implode as the air pressure in the cockpit went to Hell. Structure and armor warped, optics cracked to the point that almost nothing was visible without being covered in static and the Zoid's legs broke. The arms ripped off, the guns on the head bent straight down and the gattling rifles on the back became pancakes, while the gunpods simply broke away. Even the floor around the Storm Breaker screeched and yielded, causing the Zoid to sink at least four feet down inside of a perfectly circled crater.

The sudden quadruple touchdown in front of his Zoid forced him to open his eyes. When he did, Larry Cloud knew that he was looking death in the face as the Liger Zero bent low, both blades extending out on four-joint manipulator arms that were easily twice as long as those on the Berserk Fury. Both blades charged up, crackling with blue energy before swinging in on either side like a pair of scissors.

"Aw hell..."

Metal screamed, the side monitors exploded into sparks and Larry Cloud, the Vandal of Wind Colony, knew no more.


It was like the sensation one gets from being jabbed in the back of the head by another person's fingers. By now having long since made it halfway across the open, grime-coated plains, it was enough to bring her to a complete stop, so quickly that her feet left skid marks in their wake. A slightly wet-sounding smack followed across her entire backside as the unmanagable length of her hair ceased to drag through the stale air behind her. After that came the vague sense of unbalance that most people might've felt trying to run around with a lightweight baseball bat held in one hand, and when that had resolved itself...

She finally stood up straight, feeling an almost nonexistent itch on her face, specifically where the tattoos were placed. Her jaw set grimly into a shadow of a smile as she looked back over her shoulder once again. Something akin to an impossible surge of pride seeped through her thoughts, though she knew it wasn't her own.

He has succeeded, Roc's countless mental Voices said, and although Madison knew that the First Born was more thrilled by this announcement than any she had ever heard from it, she could also feel the barest traces of sadness as well.

"We'll be needed again though," she pointed out in a bid to distract the Ancient.

I know, it responded. Her distraction obviously hadn't worked.

"What's wrong?" She asked after a few seconds pause, eyes shifting towards the twin specks of light in the distance. One consisted of thrusters at maximum burn, the other was a slowly, malevolently circling purple streak, only barely visible against the violent clouds above it.

We have condemned him to our life. Even if he has passed the test... Even if they have passed their tests, they will know no true, lasting peace from the moment they leave this place to the moment they enter their graves.

There was another slight pause between the two as that information washed through Madison's mind. Her response was as guiltless as it was logical.

"Sacrifices have to be made. At some level, they knew that the moment that Bit accepted," she explained, feeling a bit of Roc's unease lift. Not enough though. "They've passed the tests so far... I'm sure they'll pass the tests to come, as well."

It no longer concerns you, does it?

"... Not really," she replied, and even Madison never would've been able to truly know whether or not she was telling the truth. Something in the back of her very being said that she should've felt some kind of guilt or concern, and yet the rest of her only figured it to be Roc's influence, just like so much of her behavior was anymore.

"I'll be there soon," she commented idly, shrugging to herself before turning back towards the mesa.

A second later, the grime around her feet exploded and the trail of hellishly placed footprints resumed as if it had never been interrupted at all.

The Storm Breaker's severed upper body fell away, crashing to the floor with a sickening crumple. Smoke and fire both vomited out of the cut ends, thankfully obscuring the more horrific details of his handiwork... And there could be no real mistakes about it, but because it had been his handiwork. Exactly as he had killed so many people through the past months, he had no added one more body to the count.

His own brother.

Although it didn't hurt quite as badly as it could have, and he wasn't crying, it still felt worse than many of the deaths he had caused. It felt almost as personal as when he'd first taken a life with nothing but the Handleblade. Maybe even more so. At least he hadn't known the names of those people, or what their dreams had been. Whether or not their mothers and fathers spoke highly of them, whether or not they'd come into the Corp of their own free will or been forced into it somehow.

With Larry, he knew pretty much everything. Even the evil parts, and that still didn't really help lessen the impact.

After a while though, there just wasn't anything he could do other than to sigh, snort back a slightly runny nose and wipe eyes with forearm. With that, he'd sat up straight and turned the Liger away from its downed adversary, which was now starting to fossilize even as it continued burning away. Other Zoids in the hangar seemed to hold this new incarnation in reverence as Zeke's Voice returned to his mind again. It was somewhat mournful, but nowhere near as much as it could have been.

It's done with. There's nothing to do now but move on, the Organoid pointed out.

"I know. I guess it's time we put a stop to... Whoever the hell's in charge with those two," Bit replied bluntly, shaking himself out and straightening up in the cockpit. With that, the golden Organoid hovered back down onto the Liger's head, glaring daggers towards the central hangar.

Not yet.

And that was when he heard it.

A roar so loud that it rattled the very bones beneath his skin, leaving his ears sore and his stomach more unsettled in a few seconds than it had been even when he'd been trading punches with Rommel. A few seconds later, it was followed by a scream of metal and then a flash of light from the main hangar, blinding in its intensity. After that, the severed head of an Iron Kong rolled through Bit's field of vision, already stoning over as it went.

"... Don't tell me there's another one," he grumbled out, only to watch as a Rev Raptor ran into view, then found itself shot to bits by something still out of sight. What looked like a pair of rainbowesque energy beams ripped it from its feet and a spray of Zoid-sized buzzsaws took it apart before it ever even hit the floor.




A few seconds more ticked by and another Zoid, this time a Lightning Saix, went flying across Bit's field of vision. It landed somewhere out of sight with a grating crash and a scream of tortured metal before a shadow came into view, vaguely feline in shape. Bit felt his shoulders clench up as it closed in, and narrowed his eyes almost on reflex as he saw its reflection on the floor. After that, he waited, feeling his stomach tighten as he felt Zeke stepping a bit closer to the cockpit and hunching forward.

The unseen enemy seemed all too keen on giving up the element of surprise, as it emerged into full view a few seconds later. The whole thing looked like some kind of horribly warped Saber Tiger. It was almost entirely black, save for a set of bleed red claws, a red crest on its head, orange optics and a number of large, sharpened teeth - including saber-like fangs that were at least twice the size of those on an ordinary Saber Tiger. There were snout-like vents on the front of the mouth, extending up to cover the front of the cockpit, while the body featured a pair of gattling guns in place of an impact cannon of any sort, with small beam cannons near the top-base of the neck on either side. The tail was short but boasted similar guns to what could be found on a stock Saber Tiger, but in place of the back-mounted turret or some sort of Imperial-styled gun modified in its position, there was only a large backpack, similar to a cross between the Fury and the Breaker.

There were two large boosters at the rear, folded up for the time being, while a pair of crab-like arms were folded into either side. Each blade had the same red coloring as the claws, though the top was longer even when flipped back.

For a few seconds, Bit glared at the monster, and found it glaring right back at him.

And then, he heard it.

A scream of some kind, echoing through his thoughts almost as if it were his own. It was so loud that, were it audible, his ears probably would've started bleeding. As it stood though, it still left his head hurting, as if someone had detonated some sort of bomb in his brain.

... I see.

There was a surge of something like fire in the back of his thoughts, lasting for only a fraction of a second. After that, the pain was gone, the scream muted and everything seemed to return to normal. It was unnerving to say the least, and afterward, the mutant Tiger seemed to twitch annoyedly. Slowly, it began to turn in full towards the Liger Zero, possessed of an almost human - almost military posture.

"What the hell is that thing?" Bit asked aloud.

What happens when you try taking a Saber Tiger back to its ancestral form and put a normal human in control of it, Zeke answered bluntly, his Voice as intense as the fire that had just raced through Bit's mind only a few seconds before. I haven't seen one in a long time...

"That's nice," Bit replied sarcastically. "Got any tips for beating it?"

Don't see why they changed its natural weaponry out though...

"Did you completely miss the question?!" Bit snapped out.

Just avoid the teeth and claws. All of them, Zeke replied as if someone had just slapped him.

The Tiger's claw-arms snapped out and flipped their blades forward. The claws on its feet lit up in kind, surrounded by a red aura as bloody in tone as the claws themselves. With that, the artificial Sleeper and the Liger Zero Kaiser roared and lunged at one another...

It was approaching late afternoon by now. The people outside the fortified walls of Champton, in the actual city that was built around it, were akin to a bustling mob. Almost everyone - even some children - looked as if they'd been shellshocked by some kind of experience that really couldn't be described adequately with simple words. Those that didn't seemed either revent or oblivious.




Case in point, the three men, two large and one slightly smallish, who were brawling around for what looked like a datapad. They were easily recognizable against the background of people in this area of the city, decked out in horrifically unfashionable yellow jackets, with odd hair for all three and fur-rims on their sleeves, collars and each boot. As it stood though, the Tigers Team was the last thing on her mind. Including any thoughts of how in the hell three utterly inept clods like them had actually made it into the city without being murdered by bandits along the way.

No, Naomi Fluegel's thoughts were more focused and disciplined than that. Without even acknowledging the Tigers Team or the dozens of people clustering through the streets in a haze all around her, she approached the central fountain and then turned around. This left her facing the fortress in all its colossal glory. From the thick battle-proven walls to the gigantic central buildings that blocked their way up into view, each one a bit uglier and rougher around the edges than the one before it.

"Damn," she thought as simply as was possible. Inside the fortress walls, the buildings had never seemed quite so imposing and large, but viewed from the outside, one got an all too clear perspective of their scaling. Champton itself didn't exactly boast very many high-rises aside from the fortress, but the best position was so high that she'd have trouble hitting anything close enough to start scaling or clawing the walls.

"So much for holding the fort on my own," she mused. It had been something of a stupid notion right off the bat, but it hadn't seemed like a particularly horrid idea at the time. She wasn't exactly the type to trust people - the more of them that had to be trusted, the more of them that could potentially screw up. Few people were ever trustworthy in her eyes, both on and off the battlefield.

"I can still do some good though. If I take point at the northeast corner, I could probably cover about one half to a third of the city... Ammo'll be a problem though..."

Like any sane sniper, Naomi knew that she wasn't fit for slugging it out in the thick of a battle. Her place was either at the sidelines or behind enemy lines, picking Zoids off from a relatively safe distance and then trying like hell to avoid getting shot when doing it. She could hold her own reasonably well - if she really had to - but there were plenty of Zoids out there capable of gutting a Gun Sniper to bits in close range combat. Her weapons weren't even that good for fighting at medium ranges either.

One thing that most people fail to take into account of snipers is that they're focused. People who get behind the scope tend to be so intensely geared towards shooting at long ranges that, when they enter a situation where they have to find the perfect vantage point and fire from it, they can easily forget the rest of their surroundings.

Which was exactly why Naomi didn't even notice the girl standing off to her right until a hand waved in front of her eyes. At that, she had to literally beat back the impulse to fling out a backhand or a karate chop and go running for something to be used as a weapon. Suffice to say, she succeeded in doing so, and instead of committing a random act of violence, she simply clenched her fists for a fraction of a second, then looked back down and to the side.

"It is you!" The girl replied almost impishly, the bonnet-looking hat on her head almost jumping off at her surprise. She was a lesson in contrast to Naomi, as far as clothes and even hair went. Where Naomi had managed to acquire a decent red-and-black jumpsuit, along with her old black boots, this girl was decked out in an outfit that looked almost as if she were a college-aged schoolgirl. A plain sweatjacket with the hood pulled back, pleated skirt down to just above the knees and sneakers. With knee-length socks that had been scrunched down to just above the ankle. She had black hair, relatively pale skin and looked as if she were only barely ready to qualify as a college freshman - if that.

"... Uh..." She dumbly sounded out in response to the younger girl, who was also close to a half a head shorter.

"You don't recognize me?" The girl asked, unphased in the slightest by the fact that Naomi had, apparently, forgotten who she was.

"Sorry?" Naomi asked, thinking for a few seconds before-

["Sorry, Naomi... We really let you down today."

"That's alright," she replied simply enough to the two, ignoring the fact that they'd bowed their heads in apology. "I was the one who got knocked out in the end, so it was my battle to lose."

Both of them stared at her briefly.

"But I'm sorry too... This team battle thing's not for me after all," she explained, calmly folding her arms under her chest with a slow nod. It wasn't the truth of course, she was just trying to let them down easy. They were such nice girls, after all... Even if they were almost pathetically new. "Not yet, anyway. Besides, you two were in over your heads, so it's no surprise what happened," she added, and it was the truth.

"Do you..." One started a bit uncertainly.

"Think we have any chance of becoming any good at all?" The other finished in the same way.

"Give it some time. Couple o' years and you might even become as good as me," she lied again, if only to give them some hope for their own future. The two seemed untalented in the slightest, but they deserved the chance to prove themselves. After all, she hadn't exactly been one of the best when she'd been starting out either...

"Just give it some time."]

There were a few seconds of pause as Naomi stared at the girl, recognition dawning on her with each passing instant.

"Claire Newton?"

"You do remember me!" The girl practically squeeked out, looking half-ready to jump up and down.

"Err... How've things been for you and Phoebe?" She asked somewhat hesitantly. Nowadays, it seemed like almost everyone had probably lost a relative or something along those lines, no matter who or what they were.

"She's fine!" Claire cherped out, only to continue before Naomi could even breathe in the air to speak. "We took your words to heart, Naomi! We actually made it all the way to Class B before everything went... Downhill, and stuff," she explained. "And we've even had some pretty amazing battles too!"

"A.K.A. wins by the skins of your teeth," Naomi left unsaid for the time being. She knew how it was for a rookie.

"And we were only a few wins from making it into Class A, too!"

"Now there's a surprise..."

"And we've even managed to become pretty good shots since we started out. Phoebe can hollow out a quarter at a mile, and I've gotten to where I can knock out a falling soda can before it even hits the ground at half that..."

"Wonder how long that took?" Naomi mused, only passingly interested in the girl's tales. Considering that she only had so long before nightfall, she wasn't particularly regretful about telling this to her.

"I'm sorry, Claire, but I'm busy right now," she bluntly explained. For all of a quarter second, that enlarged smile remained on the girl's already bright face, then slowly began to dim and fade away into a glum, knowing look.

"You spoke to them too, didn't you?" She asked.

"... Yes," Naomi answered bluntly, deciding it best to avoid cushioning anything for now.

"... Grampa said that tonight wasn't going to be good," she mumbled out, glancing down at Naomi's feet for the time being.

"It probably won't," Naomi replied without missing a beat. With that, she turned back to look at the fortress, tongue in cheek before an idea struck her.

"Do you and Phoebe still pilot Gunsnipers?" She asked, not even looking at the girl.

"Yeah. Why?"

"I think I may have a job for you and your sister..."

There was a clash of red against gold - buzzsaw-like projectiles went flying aimlessly and vulcan fire rang through the Dome's central hangar. Structure yeilded and two feline gods wrestled back and forth, little more than a mass of gold and black, lashing claws and swinging blades. Somewhere along the line, a triple impact cannon was fired, and one of the two staggered away in a daze, its head smoking in three places at once, though none of its armor had actually been damaged at all.

"Son of a bitch," Bit sputtered out annoyedly.

A half-second later, there was a roar and golden-glowing teeth snapped shut on thin air. A black mutant Tiger leapt to the side, one of its claws snatching out at the Kaiser's head. If Zeke had been bonded, the Organoid probably would've been fast enough to dodge out of the way even if Bit couldn't. As it stood though, the blonde had little choice but to do it himself, practically heaving forward on the controls as if it were his head about to be crushed into a metallic pulp.

Suffice to say, the claws ended up missing their mark, scraping across the top of the Liger's head but failing to really do any damage.

The warped Tiger landed with a sideways skid and a growl, while the Kaiser brought its head back up with an equally contemptuous sound in reply.

"A little help here would be nice," he pointed out, opening fire with the vulcans and triple impact cannon. If it were an official Zoid battle, he would've been aiming for the thing's neck or shoulders. It was for keeps though, and every shot was aimed specifically at the cockpit. For all the good it did though, he might as well have thrown one of his boots at the thing and done a one-man conga line off a cliff. At most, the Tiger was a little annoyed and one of its optics looked as if it had a few thin cracks.

I'm trying, Zeke grit out in reply. The Organoid now hovered somewhere above the fighting, optics dimmed in certain places as if narrowed in concentration.

Whatever choice words Bit had to that, he kept to himself. Between dodging away from another slashing foreclaw, batting pincers aside left and right, trying to mount a counterattack and sputtering out profanity when it didn't work, he wasn't really able to bother with Zeke's seeming inability to just fuse with the Kaiser and be done with it.

There was another surge of mental fire at some point in this melee, just as both buster blades slashed down and managed to finally knock out the Tiger's pincer-arms, both of which fell away at an elbow joint. The beast didn't even seem phased by it, instead lunging forward and smacking the Liger right in the chin with a claw. Bit felt his weight swinging up against the harness, but instead of getting sea sick like a rookie, he reacted as only a veteran could.

The Liger's claws, still its primary weapons, swiped out in a lethal clap around the Tiger's head. Bit felt morbidly satisfied at the ensuing crumple of alloy and glassteel, but found himself struggling to keep the other Zoid in the Kaiser's grasp only a second later. With all of its weight, the Liger dragged the Tiger down to where its colossal teeth began to stab into the flooring of the hangar, but the monster just wouldn't stay down.

There was an ear splitting scrape of armor against the Liger's claws, and Bit felt himself pushed down into his seat by his own momentum. His view wasn't wide enough that he could see exactly what the Tiger had pulled, but pilot intuition was enough to conclude that the thing had jarred its head free and thrown itself into a headbutt.

The Liger Zero struggled into an uneasy recovery, stumbling several steps back as the Tiger roared, its war cry underscored by a third surge of mental fire, which itself seemed to carry a tone of panic-stricken insanity that was as distant as an echo.

Remind me to teach you how to block out your thoughts, Zeke bitterly ordered a second or two later. Bit could swear that he heard something akin to strain in the Organoid's voice, but didn't exactly have time to contemplate it.

As relentless as it was without self-preservation, the Tiger stormed forward with a howling snap of its jaws. Fangs that looked as if they could rip chunks off of the Panzer came within inches of doing so to the Kaiser, and Bit felt his stomach twist at the sight of it happening only a foot in front of him at most. He had avoided by simply jumping backwards, but he couldn't keep ceding ground forever - not if he actually wanted to survive this.

Without even gritting his teeth or hunching forward, Bit brought the blades to bear once again, swiping out with each one and managing to rake them across the Tiger's backpack, though this only managed to scrape off the armored plate that had formerly been concealing the buzzsaw launchers.

Said launchers promptly opened fire. Sparks flew everywhere and Zeke's mental presence shifted into outright shock and concern - the mental fire returned in an instant.

The Liger's vulcan pods ceased functioning almost automatically, both due to the fact that oversized buzzsaw blades were sticking out of them at odd angles. Several more had become lodged in the Zero's left shoulder, and another still was sliding back out of a foreleg.

Unfortunately for Bit though, he had no time to actually notice the new damage. Instead, he found himself reeling, screaming in a pain that felt as though his head were about to explode from the inside out. His mind threatened an automatic shutdown in an act of self-preservation, and his body shook about violently as if wracked with tremors and bleeding internally. Finally, his lungs ran out of air and his screaming turned into choked gasps and coughs, with the urge to throw up growing stronger by the second.

The reason was simple, and it was all too clear. A single stream of thought, belonging to a consciousness that was neither his nor Zeke's. It was human and inhuman all at once. Tortured, suicidal, broken and howling with the kind of madness that such things bring. The emotions it conveyed were horrific, but the message itself-

"KILL ME!!!"

["What kind of prototype?"

"It's called the King Tiger..."]

- was disturbing even without them.

Bit heaved forward, wracked with memories that didn't belong to him - flashes of someone else's life. The man's history, from early childhood to this very instant, blurred by him in a matter of seconds, and before he knew it, he was standing in the middle of an empty hospital room.

It was suffocating, even more so than it had been when the wave had first broken through. The air was as stale and clean as could be, and yet within a matter of seconds, the peace was shattered. Guards, much the same as the ones he had personally killed so often today, filtered in after a set of doctors in full-on surgical gear. They were having to restrain a suitably large, well-built man who looked to be in his prime. He had brown hair, several rather large scars and wore a now-tattered looking uniform with the Rommel Corp's logo emblazened on its shoulders.

Suffice to say, he wasn't going peacefully.

A few minutes ticked by as the guards forced him onto the operating table, finally knocking him out cold with some kind of pistol-shaped injector being gouged into the base of his neck. Time warped after that, and maybe only a second later, it all cut to a view of one of the surgeons operating a disturbingly accurate bone saw of some kind, slowly lowering it towards the top of the man's head...


Reality caved back in on itself, and within an instant, Bit heaved forward against the safety harness, feeling someone else's tears streaking down his cheeks as the Liger leapt away on its own accord. His breathing was labored at best, gagging at times as he sought to recover from what must have been a minute or so without any oxygen at all, yet something automatically forced him to look back. The Liger turned accordingly in time to see three glowing buster blades snapping shut around the King Tiger's head from a hole in the floor.

Bit's body jolted about unwillingly as the blades lit up, and the King managed a half-roar of defiant glee before a sudden egg beater-like twist of the blades cut it off. Literally.

The Tiger's severed head bounced around between all three blades for all of a quarter of a second before the bursting hum and bright glow of a charged particle beam wiped it from existence. The beam slammed into the hangar's ceiling barely a moment later and kept going, until a path had been cleared all the way to the roof of the Dome.

Bit cringed inwardly as the third presence left his mind, the scream fading away with it and the pain dying as well. The memories that had briefly threatened to overwhelm him into sudden death faded away shortly afterward, leaving him with nothing but a traumatized blur in its place.

"... The hell?"

The blades in the floor withdrew out of sight, and were instead replaced by the sudden ripping of metal. Something large tore up into view in their place, and a moment later, there were a pair of crashes against the floor nearby. Bit's eyes tracked it every inch of the way, and even if he weren't half-choking, his jaw still would've sagged uncontrollably at the sight before him.

It was something he hadn't laid eyes on in months. Metallic armor with a slightly lavendar tint to it, with optics that blazed an almost hellish blue and two sets of arms. A flexible tail, a tyrannosaur's head and thick, powerful legs that seemed as if they could come unhinged on a whim.

For a time, he and the Kaiser just stared at it, and he instinctively knew that both it and its pilot did the same. In their own sort of way, they were almost sizing each other up and then...

A comm-screen flipped on at the bottom center of the monitor.

"You've gotten stronger," Vega Obscura commented with a vague look, his eyes somewhat clouded and a smile on his face.

"So've you, runt," Bit Cloud replied in kind, grinning like a complete idiot as what looked like lightning streaked up into the air nearby, touching down on the Berserk Fury's head and shifting into another familiar form. It was Specular.

Even now.

Not even close.

Zeke slipped down from his hover, finally coming to stand on the Liger's own head with an ethereal golden glow about him. Almost at the instant this could be seen, the buzzsaws still lodged in the Liger's vulcans and shoulder liquified and fell away. The damage promptly mended itself in an instant.

The silent feeling of camaraderie to follow didn't last long though. After a number of moments, the Kill Tiger's body finally fell over, while both Zeke and Specular snapped their gazes up towards the ceiling.

Through the hole, two things could clearly be seen. The first was a green bolt, blazing overhead towards the very center of the continent. The second was a black one, howling in like a demon king returning to Hell to reclaim his throne.

"We're about to have a little company," Vega reported bluntly, and Bit could see his eyes unfog as he said it. The vague look was gone now, replaced only by tense anticipation and nervousness. To be honest, Bit couldn't blame him one bit.

And then, the mindgames started. A transmission, audio-only across all wavelengths.

"Total slaughter, total slaughter..."

Both pilots tensed. Metal started sheering like tin foil above them. He was obviously taking his time...

"I won't leave... A single man alive..."

The Dome rattled.

"La-di da-di die... Genocide..."

Both Organoids growled out ferally, and the Zoids did the same. More ripping, more tearing, more rattling.

"La-di da-di dud... An ocean of blood..."

The floor was rattling beneath their feet, and then, finally...

"Let's begin..."

The ceiling nearby shattered open like glass, burning bits of debris flying everywhere. Any Zoids caught in the path of the black bolt that caused it simply ceased to exist, and although it ended in only a second or two at most, it seemed to stretch for an eternity to both Bit and Vega alike. The floor shook one last time, warping beneath a new pair of feet, each one with four lethal looking talons, and each one belonging to the demonic killing machine that had single-handedly annihilated Garnhelm Base, and the more than 10,000 men and women who had been present when it happened.

"The killing time..."

Kale Obscura had arrived.

All Hell was about to break loose...

Author's Note: Hopefully, I didn't cram too much into that x.X The Liger Zero Kaiser was also a bit of a bitch to describe since I'm not used to doing 'SHINY SHINY GOOD!' descriptions and it was almost exclusively in Bit's POV. Another toughy was The Fall, and Kale's little intro...

And yes, he was singing XD

As for Phoebe and Claire, if you can't remember them: They were those two rookie Gunsniper pilots that Naomi used as cannon fodder in her first battle with the Blitz Team. I don't remember if they were actually named or not, but I vaguely remembered enough of their appearances to make use of 'em... I think. If anyone knows where I could find a screencap of those two, I'd much appreciate it o.o;

And NO! Bit is not becoming godlike. He's better, yes, but the moment he becomes unstoppable by anyone is the moment I find a convenient way to kill him. 'Nuff said.

Kegger007: There were only ever three Geno Saurer prototypes, but you were at least right about it driving people insane >.> Don't worry though, even if you didn't figure out who the pilot was, I'll find a way to mention his identity eventually. Hopefully, the actual battle lived up to the foreshadowing.

Akino Ame: I just hope the fight scenes in this chapter lived up to the ones in the last one x.x It's far easier for me to write two people beating the shit out of each other than it is to have two Zoids going at it. Though, as an idle 'buh' piece of info: That fight scene was more or less inspired by Spike's second brawl with Vincent in the Cowboy Bebop movie >.> At least in how I pictured the 'camera angles' and how they moved and all, if that makes any sense. And yeah, that line was kind of meant to be taken one of two ways: It could mean Henry... Or it could mean Vilhelm... But why would Vilhelm refer to himself as his own Acolyte? Just my way of screwing with people before trying my hand at the Big Surprise #1.

Oh, and about the pale skin-purple eyes thing? THINK! Van's already spelled it out for you, I've probably mentioned at least something involving WW2 in at least one prior author's note... Come on >.> Buuuut, if you do figure it out, don't spoil it for everyone else.

Doomsayer: Thank you very much. I haven't really taken a stab at original stuff just yet, but I plan on starting my own original work after I finish this fanfic series. Hopefully I'll be able to get it published... And if you think I'm good, go read Zinou's stuff if you haven't already. Trust me o.o It's t3h g00d.

Father Malvado: Armored Codpieces = The proof that Harry isn't as dumb as most people think XD

Cynical Chaos: That or most of its readers are just in the Silent Majority. That said, it's fun to torture the heroes >.> They make such wonderful punching bags...

And as for IT: No, you're not dense. I'm actually surprised that people didn't see it coming since I tend to suck royal donkey anus when it comes to pulling off surprises o.o; Although I'm damn glad this one came off without much of a hitch :D

Anywho, thanks for the comments people o.o Sh33p out, and see ya next time.

Tides of Darkness by Sh33p

Best Fanfics on the Web, selected by Tim
Tim Seltzer's page www.seltzerbooks.com/tim.html

Discuss books at  Blogging about Books http://www.seltzerbooks.com/blog/
Other book reviews by Richard Seltzer
Opus authors -- contemporary writers whose entire work is great
The Readers' Corner and Writers Showcase

This site is published by Samizdat Express, 213 Deerfield Lane, West Roxbury, MA 02132-002. (203) 553-9925 seltzer@seltzerbooks.com

Book collections on CD and DVD. A library for the price of a book.
Limited time offer: 2 for the price of 1

Return to Samizdat Express