Chapter 20:

The Legendary Black Knight

ATLAS: Me, the Combatant, and Him, the Hero

The previous mission had been a hard-fought battle from beginning to end. This one, to her surprise, started out swimmingly.

They had emerged from the warp gate inside the inner courtyard of the facility. The security cameras hardly had time to pick them up before they burst in through the windows. Desks clattered to the floor as startled researchers and terrified clerks leaped to their feet and began to run every which way in panic – and one particularly unfortunate individual found himself grabbed and held at gunpoint by Cas. The man's labcoat and ID badge made him seem decently important, and as such he found himself immediately used as a hostage to keep anyone from trying to call up any sentinel droids to stop them.

Calli had done her best to ignore the man's whimpering and wheedling as Cas extracted from him the location of the facility's control room, then dragged him along behind them as they quickly scaled a large tower built onto the side of the lab's central warehouse.

The scientist, as it turned out, did not have the necessary access credentials to open the door of the main security office. So, they stepped back, Athena cracked her knuckles, and motes of golden light suddenly coalesced in her palm into the shape of... Uh, a blob. A blob which she then placed onto the door.

A deafening explosion shook the facility.

...Or a shaped plastic explosive breaching charge. Yeah, that would have been Calli's second guess. Creating objects out of thin air was already a pretty dangerous power, but, uh... Right.

Now it suddenly made a lot more sense why Athena only carried a pistol with her on their missions.

So, they stormed into the control room, shooed out the terrified scientists who had holed themselves up there, and kept their hostage just long enough to manually disable the facility's complement of sentinel droids. Once they were certain none would intervene, they booted out their unfortunate captive, hunkered down, and waited for Athena to finish disassembling and reassembling the facility's main computer with... whatever those new components she had just created were.

Whatever she did, it looked like she had no trouble querying specific database entries and copying them over to the new harddrive she'd brought with her – the one part she hadn't simply conjured up. Almost before they knew it, the data they were looking for had been found. There was just one small problem.

“Um... I'm sorry to say this, but it looks like this entire file has been redacted,” Athena said awkwardly. “The security footage has been deleted, the incident report is blacked out, and I can't access any of the personnel files pertaining to the time and the place we're looking for. It's all been wiped.”

“So... what, then?” Cas groaned. “We came out here for nothing?”

“Seems that way,” Roland shrugged. “Nothing we can do about it, though. The mission's a wash. Everyone, hit your beacons. Let's get the hell out of here.”

Nobody had any problems with that. A mission failed early was a mission survived without incident. With nothing further to do, they all did as instructed, and Calli watched as, one by one, vortices began to form in the air around them, like doors opening and just as suddenly closing, their occupants vanishing without a trace. Cas and Pol disappeared first, then Stanley, then –

Then Athena's warp gate took a chunk out of the wall, Roy's and Roland's portals formed in the floor and the ceiling, and Calli's didn't even show up.

“What the hell just happened?” Roland said. “Atlantis, our beacons just glitched – you left us behind!”

“It looks like HQ just lost your signal,” Came Pol's panicked voice from the other end. “Some kind of interference; I've never seen anything like –”

Whatever else was said, Calli didn't hear it, because that was when all of them saw the figure standing in the doorway.

His armor was black as pitch, and glistened like obsidian under the sterile white lights of the corridor. Slowly, he raised his head, a faint glow flashing from his visor as he drew forth a folding metal frame with a curved handle from his hip. With a flick of a switch, the frame snapped outward, and glowing blades of ruby-hued energy ignited on either side of it, creating a wicked double-edged longsword.

Of all the heroes who could have come to stop them, the worst one possible had appeared.

Athena's gun snapped into her hand, and she fired several shots. Calli couldn't tell if they hit or missed – the black knight just barreled forward, sword upraised. Roy intercepted him, his own HF blade flashing to life and clashing with the knight's mighty swing, sending a shower of sparks scattering into the air. Roy got the worst of it – his own weapon was knocked aside, and the moment his guard was down, the knight kicked him square in the chest, sending him toppling over a nearby console. Athena dived aside, frantically rolling for cover as his next swing narrowly missed her head.

Calli looked to Roland. His sword was upraised, but his hands were shaking so badly that he couldn't even rev the weapon to life.

“Oh God,” She heard him utter. “It's him.

“Snap out of it!” She barked, shoving him aside and dashing past him, drawing her own weapon as she did so. Before Valkaiser could pursue Athena, Calli intervened, taking a swipe at the back of his head. He must have heard her coming, as he pivoted, parrying her strike wide and immediately retaliating with the opposite edge of his own weapon. Rather than trying to deflect the blow, she ducked it, stepping in under his upraised arm and slashing for his legs. Her swing connected.

Then her sword just stopped without leaving so much as a scratch.

Before she could fathom what had just happened, her opponent's elbow caught her in the chin, sending her staggering backward. The black knight saw his chance, and raised his weapon to finish her – but the roar of an engine cut him off as Roland at last found his nerve, rushing in to deliver a strike of his own.

The whirling edge of the chainsword clashed with the sparking glow of the black knight's energy blade. Roland's cry of exertion mixed with the keening groan of his weapon – then both were drowned out by a deep, growling voice.

“Oh? That's quite the sword you have there. It seems... we've met before.”

Roland's whole body recoiled in fear, and in an instant the knight saw his opening. Forcing Roland's weapon up, he slammed the pommel of his own sword into the combatant's face. A mere moment later, the knight's blade arced first upward, then right back down again, battering Roland's defenses relentlessly.

Calli regained her footing, looking to Roy as he did the same. They nodded to one another, raising their weapons and charging back into the fray, only to both be sent skidding backward along with Roland as three arcs of azure light tore through the open doorway and slammed into the lot of them. Valkaiser himself hopped backward, seemingly surprised by the sudden intervention – and found himself standing right beside a familiar, wolf-like figure in silver and blue, whose clawed hand still glowed with the power it had unleashed.

“You've got to be kidding me,” Calli groaned.

- - -

Okay, so firing his killer move right into the middle of the crowd of people Genesis had been trying to save was a pretty stupid move.

However, it didn't seem to have caused any real damage beyond singeing their armor, and at least it had scattered them so Valkaiser couldn't kill anybody.

...For all of five seconds, anyway. The moment the melee broke up, the girl in the back raised her gun and started firing again – this time aiming at him. He ducked on instinct, only for the bullet to nail him in the forehead – and bounce harmlessly off his helmet. Oh. Right. Yeah, his powers probably would have warned him if it was important.

By the time he raised his head, though, Valkaiser had already charged again, making a beeline for the man with the chainsword, who began to fall back. This wasn't good, it was just going to turn into a giant brawl again! Not knowing what else to do, Genesis bared his claws and rushed in after him.

The girl with the pistol kept shooting at him, though, and the worst part was that she kept hitting his head no matter how hard he tried to juke her. He could feel his neck snap back a bit with each impact, and his ears rang. Finally, he had enough.

“Cerulean Claw!”

The arc of blue light lanced across the room, carving the offending firearm to ribbons – as well as accidentally shredding a part of the girl's armor. She stumbled, clutching her seared arm, and began to fall back towards a service exit at the back of the room – a retreat that was swiftly joined by the man with the chainsword as Valkaiser continued his pursuit.

Hoping to capture one of them while they were on the back foot and put an end to the fight before it escalated any further, Genesis moved to give chase, only to be tackled from the side by another of his enemies – the guy with the scarred gauntlet.


The combatant recovered his posture first, raising his HF blade high overhead and thrusting downward, aiming to skewer Genesis to the floor. A boot to the back of his head hindered this attempt enough for the hero to wriggle out from under him, rolling back to a crouch and firing off another wave of energy from his claws at point blank, sending his attacker tumbling back across the floor. The guy seemed to get the idea – he scrambled to his feet, turned, and followed after the others out the rear exit.

Genesis grabbed onto the closest thing he could find – a bank of computers, by the look of it. As he began pulling himself to his feet, though, he suddenly realized that the monitor was still displaying something – the data the intruders had been trying to access! This was why they'd been targeting Stargazer! Whatever secrets the lab must have held were now right in front of his eyes.

Yet what he saw wasn't some secret project or a nefarious experimental weapon, but rather...

Wait, but this is... the surveillance logs from the time of the bombing? And... the personnel files for the one who stopped it? The thing they came here to find was... me?

- - -

Athena's arm was wounded and her weapon destroyed. Roy was injured, but insisted he could still fight. Even though he wasn't hurt like the others, Roland was still doing nothing but run away. As for Genesis, he... wasn't coming after them all of a sudden. Which was good, because as they retreated first out of the control room, then through the outer corridor and onto the warehouse catwalks, Calli was stuck bringing up the rear.

And Valkaiser was giving her hell.

Calli batted aside a thrust and moved to counterattack with her shortblade, but just as quickly the knight turned her strike and brought his beam sword back around.

Generally, in her experience, it was better to attack than to defend. If you never gave your opponent time to breathe, eventually, they'd slip under pressure and make a mistake – and one mistake was all you needed. It was usually a pretty sound tactic.


Just not when your enemy was doing the same thing right back to you.

She slipped up first. Her strike was parried wide, and she braced herself for the riposte to come.

...No amount of bracing could have prepared her for being body-checked and tossed like a rag doll over Valkaiser's shoulder, however. Her head slammed into the window of the corridor hard enough to crack the glass, and before her spinning eyes, the black knight ignored her and dashed onward, overtaking the other three in their retreat.

Before they could even turn around, Athena was swatted aside into one of the catwalk railings with terrifying ease, which caved under the force of the impact and nearly sent her plummeting to the warehouse floor five stories below.

Yet once again, Valkaiser failed to finish her off. He just kept pursuing one target in particular, shoving aside anyone who got in his way.

“Roland, he's after you!” Calli warned, clambering to her feet and chasing after the others.

“No shit!” Screamed back their not-so-fearless leader, frantically fending off another furious flurry of blows. “Get over here and help me!”

“Well I'm trying, but you keep running away!”

Their little squabble was interrupted by a battlecry from Roy, who, seeing his opportunity, circled around and lunged at Valkaiser from the side...

...And subsequently got grabbed by the neck for his trouble, then tossed like a football straight through the side of a freight elevator shaft.

“Roy!” Up ahead, Calli saw Athena cry out and scramble to her feet, running towards where Roy had fallen.

“Ugh... I'm fine! Worry about yourselves!” The unexpected reply came along with the creaking and groaning of metal cables straining under an unseen weight. He'd caught hold of the tether of the elevator below him, and was climbing back up! Athena knelt, reaching out a hand to help him...

 Too late. Valkaiser couldn't hear their comms chatter, but he sure as hell heard the sounds of Roy clawing his way back up the shaft, and saw Athena moving to assist him. Deflecting a panicked swing from Roland, he kicked him away, then swept his weapon back towards the Roy-shaped hole in the elevator shaft, taking aim and pulling something on the underside of its curved pistol-grip handle.

A trigger.

“Athena, look out!” Calli yelled.

The frame rotated, both edges twisting inward, the beams converging at the center to form a luminous barrel pointed directly at Athena. She threw herself to the ground not a moment too soon; a moment later, a small orb of ruby-red plasma struck the cable behind her and expanded rapidly into a roiling mass. When the blast cleared, a perfectly spherical hole had appeared in the opposite side of the shaft... and, of course, the elevator, its cable, and the screaming boy still clinging to it were all careening down to earth. A deafening crash a moment later and a cloud of dust signaled their calamitous arrival upon the ground floor, as several shelving units below them toppled from the sudden shockwave.

There was no time to celebrate Athena's survival, or to intervene. In another instant, Valkaiser's boot came up and caught her in the chest, punting her straight down the shaft as well. Yet, as she fell, there was a flash of light as an object popped into being, and something clattered to the ground by the hero's feet.

...Calli recognized the object just soon enough to stop her vengeful charge and throw herself backwards.

Then the grenade exploded.

The catwalk swayed wildly beneath them. On the opposite side, Roland, already forced to his knees by Valkaiser's kick, was knocked fully onto his back. Shrapnel and debris rained down, clattering harmlessly off her armor. Calli raised her head, peering into the smoke.

Maybe, just maybe, blowing the hero up had worked this time?

The flash of a visor within the haze of dust, and a crimson sword sparking back to life with a snap-hiss dashed these hopes immediately.

It was said that Valkaiser had never known defeat. But looking at him now, Calli couldn't help but wonder if he'd ever known injury.

Not a scratch...! Damnit, is there no way to hurt this guy!?

- - -

What the hell had he been thinking?!

Right now, he was the only thing standing between five people – his ally and enemies alike – and certain, foreseen death! Genesis didn't have time to worry about his theories or why ATLAS was here. He needed to get back into the fight and stop things before they went too far! He rushed out into the corridor... just in time to see two of the combatants get dropped down an elevator shaft, followed shortly thereafter by Valkaiser himself exploding.

Yeah. A little late for that.

By the time the smoke cleared, only one person seemed to be in position to keep fighting. And, sure enough, it was that girl with the scarred helmet again, who raised her blade defiantly and clashed again with Valkaiser.

In his vision, there had been three combatants, along with Valkaiser. The second girl whose arm he had wounded... hadn't appeared. Of the remaining combatants, the two swordsmen had both been bloodied and unresponsive, but he wasn't actually sure they were dead.

But if I don't do something, that girl and Valkaiser are both going to lose their heads!

Her back was turned, and her whole attention was focused on Valkaiser as he began pushing her back out of the warehouse and into the corridor. If he could just come up behind her and restrain her, maybe he could pry her weapon away and capture her here and now?

There! He saw his opening as she weaved to the side, trying to circle back around Valkaiser and rejoin her remaining comrade. Their blades locked together; she wouldn't be able to dodge or block his surprise attack, even if she saw it coming! He shut down his claws, darted forward, raised his arms to grab hold of her...

...Then a click came from the weapon in her hands, and a familiar-looking staff head suddenly shot out of what he had mistakenly thought to be the pommel of her sword as the weapon in her hands transformed into a spear... and the shockstaff mounted upon its other end jabbed back under her arm, catching him dead in the chest.


...There was a familiar bass rumble, and once again, Genesis found himself blasted right off his feet and launched straight through the surface behind him. Only this time, it wasn't the back of a train car, but rather a fifth-story window.

By the time he remembered to turn his anti-grav stabilizers on, he was already three stories down. By the time they kicked in, he was already lying in a crater. Up above him, he saw the light of clashing blades in the corridor, and frantically scrambled to his feet.

Should he try to leap back up? No, climbing back inside through the broken window would take too long. Rather, there was an open loading bay in the warehouse in front of him. He could run inside and jump back up to the catwalks more easily from there! Surmounting the concrete embankment, he sprinted into the ground floor of the warehouse, rounded a corner...

...And found himself face to face with the two other combatants as they finally extricated themselves from the destroyed elevator. He stopped in his tracks and stared at them. They froze, and stared back at him.

Then the girl held out her uninjured hand, and something unbelievable took shape within it that set all of his instincts to screaming in the back of his head again.

Five stories above them, the two people he was most certain were going to die were fighting to do exactly that.

And there was nothing he could do about that, because somehow, the woman in front of him had just pulled a rocket launcher out of thin air.