Chapter 40: Meeting the Rebels
Time passed by as the maulkat continued to sprint across the desert wasteland. The path was a lot further than Ace had anticipated.
The last sun began to set off in the horizon and a brilliant glow of crimson red and violet exploded across the sky.
After a while of running along the path of dry terrain, Leera began her decent down a cliff. The sudden change in motion startled Ace and so, he was forced to grasp onto the sides of the maulkat tightly.
She paced down the steep path of dirt and when she made her way down to a lower, more even surface, Ace looked ahead of them. Finally he could see some signs of civilisation, but what he saw was disheartening.
The whole area looked as if it had been bombed: rubble was everywhere; flattened buildings; broken skyscrapers. Nothing but mass destruction greeted him. It also appeared to have happened a long time ago, as the whole area was covered in vast amounts of dust.
Leera eased to pace through the ruins before reaching a crevice in the side of a nearby mountain. Leaving behind the broken city she made her way downwards again.
They descended through a series of caves and pathways, travelling deeper underground, leaping down small cliffs and passing through awkward crevices in the underground cave. That is until they finally came to a halt at a well-armed doorway.
So this must be where they are hiding…
He had to admit, it was quite a well hidden area - most vehicles wouldn’t even manage to get down here. Leera’s mobility and reflexes handled the passage with ease though. Perhaps there were more maulkat somewhere down here too, accompanied by other verpardi?
Ace hopped off her back and the door immediately shifted, beginning to open up from the ground. He stood back with Leera to watch it carefully, until halted at the very top. Looking around, he noticed no one at the entry and so he immediately walked in through the dark passageway, keeping a keen watch from behind his visor.
He paced down the large darkened passageway noticing yet another large, armed doorway in his path. It opened up though allowing both Leera and Ace to go through and then a final third door opened a few more metres ahead of them. It certainly was very well fortified.
The final doorway opened and Ace was astounded with what he saw. The whole inside of this area was lit up brilliantly, clean and lively with many people. Many other verpardi and even maulkats were seen walking about, along with cubs and other strange Vaelidian creatures that he had never seen before. Along with verpardi, there was also a race of short, blue furred, rodent lookalike people with long striped tails. Possibly the Aleumarr Jenna spoke of.
He was stunned by this, seeing a wide range of his own kind; men and woman, even some youths were out and about. They all had similar looks to him, Jake and Jenna. Similar types of fur and skin tones, as well as their markings - although their body shapes were all varied, as well as their hair colours and styles. Some were lighter skinned, some darker skinned. The clothing also looked different to what he wore.
As he walked by with Leera, a lot of verpardi & aleumarr around had stopped to take a glance at him. Some pointed fingers while he wasn’t looking, many whispered amongst one another. Yet Ace continued to walk ahead, trying not to take any notice of them. He really felt quite alien to be down here.
Until finally, he could see some familiar faces up ahead. Kurt stood there with the other Seekers and Leera ran over towards them, with Ace following behind.
Kurt noticed his presence and he smiled. As did the other team mates and Betty was the first to shout out-
”Oh look over there! Ace is here!!!”
”Yeah, about time he showed up…” Jake replied to Betty.
”It is good to see you here Ace. Quite amazing, isn’t it?”
Kurt asked him. Ace was still quite overwhelmed by what he was seeing. Even so as he made it closer to Kurt, he stopped in front of him; pausing for a moment. He remembered what he had said to him earlier, and he sighed in regret.
”I am… sorry for what I said before. But now I’m here to help”
”No hard feelings. I’m just glad you came along. How is Jenna, by the way? Is she alright back at the Star Seeker?”
Ace blushed a bit, shifting his eyes from Kurt for a split second. Kurt raised an eyebrow, seemingly unsure as to why he reacted like that. He also happened to notice that Ace was in a much calmer mood than he last saw him.
”Oh uh, yeah. She’s fine. It was a good thing her and Leera showed up”
”Well then, you seem to be in a much better mood now, great! See Kurt, I told you he just needed some time to chill out!”
Jake said, elbowing Kurt at the same time and grinning. Ace wasn’t sure what kind of expression to give off now. But he could notice a suspicious expression from Kurt - did he know something?
”I see. Now Ace, there is someone here who would like to meet you”
Kurt turned around to look over at the building nearest to him. His hand rose and right there and then, the door opened up and another male verpardi came out into the open.
He was a little shorter than Ace, but looked quite rough around the edges and had a medium build; much like Jake’s. His hair was short and black in colour. Both his ears had rips from fights and he even had a couple of scars on his face. He looked like a strong, mature and noble leader.
”Ace, meet Malvin Kaddarik. He is the one in charge of the Verpardi army in this facility, the same man who also lead the way with the space battle earlier on”
”It is an honour to finally meet you, Ace Hardlight”
Malvin came up close, offering his hand in the form of a handshake. This was strange. Why was he being so kind?
Ace shook his hand nonetheless, giving a nod as well.
”Good to meet you too, sir”
”Heh, there is no need to refer to me as that. Just call me by my name, Malvin. We are a sociality where equality is embraced”
”Okay… I need to ask you. How did you come to know of me and the Seekers? There is so much that I need to know…”
”I knew you would ask. We have been watching over you and your team’s efforts all these years. We know of your heroic teenage hood, even your dark gladiator lifestyle afterwards. We thought you were dead for a while, until recently we noticed you and your team back in the Solana Galaxy. Kurt here already explained to me about the prison life you endured and your redemption. You need not worry about the wrong doings you did in life - for we are only interested in the kind of skills you possess”
Ace was quite surprised with what he said. He really wasn’t expecting that, but he was thankful for his open minded attitude. There was still much more he wanted to know though…
”I never was aware that there were others of our kind still out there. I always thought that it was just me, Jake and Jenna left. Where were you and the rest of the verpardi all these years? I must know all about the crisis here on this planet - how much more of our race is out there? I also need to know if I was born here…”
”So many questions I see, but I don’t blame you. I was one of the many in charge of the great escape from this planet. Around 29 years ago… I was assigned to lead away as many survivors as possible from this planet, mostly children and young adults. I’m just one of the few who made the escape with a starcruiser. I’m sorry but I don’t know your exact origin – I am assuming that a rouge couple dropped you off in Solana at some point. Anyhow, the reason why we left Vaelidius was simple; we were losing the war against the karnifex…”
”What are the karnifex, exactly? Why are they here? What is their motivation?”
”It all began many years ago… more than 450 years ago, in fact. Come this way and I’ll explain it all”
Malvin beckoned Ace to follow him into the entry of the building ahead of them. It wasn’t long before Malvin began with a long talk about their people’s history… and he listened to every word of it.
“Our kind was relatively new to intergalactic travel only just thousands of years beforehand. Having just mastered intergalactic transport; making use of empty planets to enrich our lives and meet other races within the galaxy. It was mind-blowing for our people. This was all possible thanks to the Aleumarr race who colonised the planet several thousands of years ago when we were uncivilized. We joined forces to ward off invasions from aggressive aliens within the galaxy.
But then we began to notice many ‘dead’ planets within the galaxy in recent times, as we explored it more within the past few hundreds of years. Planets drained of all their resources, littered with death, destruction and extinction.
We set off to investigate it, but some of our ships began to disappear without a trace. It was now becoming a serious issue and then we finally met the race responsible… the karnifex.
“They are a race hungry for power, resources… everything. They have no morals, no sense, and no mercy. They were a mass-populated, mindless insectoid race that breed at such an alarming rate – at least a few billion were estimated and their destruction was drawing in closer to our home planet’s solar-system as more time went by. Even other races we had close ties with were beginning to disappear.
We fought and killed some karnifex, bringing them back to our labs here on Vaelidius for study. We had a supreme plan to rid their race and drive them to extinction. You see, our people are experts with chemical warfare and we developed an insecticide - a lethal chemical substance that could be released into their ships, planets, whenever they roamed. This was no ordinary insecticide: we designed it so that it would only target the DNA of a karnifex; which meant that other species around them would be unharmed as it did its job.
“Both verpardi and aleumarr fighters set off traps and bait containing this chemical when it was complete. The karnifex weren’t too bright and they didn’t wear much over their exoskeletons. And as soon as one of them was infected - every karnifex around it became infected with the insecticide and in due time - it spread like a plague.
They didn’t notice they were infected at first, because the chemical was developed to delay its lethal effects until a certain amount of time had passed. And once that time was up, they all started to drop like flies and corrode away into slush.
“Hundreds were dead, tens of thousands started to disappear and then millions. We now had a chance to fight their warships as the chemical effect continued to kill them all off in a chain-reaction. It was becoming an easy war, because they could not stop the infection what-so-over. They were powerless against the chemical weapon and in only a matter of months… they were defeated”
Ace was very intrigued by what Malvin told him. This was all new information to him; he also didn’t know that his race specialized in chemical warfare. Could be why he’s so resistant to chemical attacks from enemies?
“Tell me more. I want to know why they are back and how lethal they really are…”
”Yes, I still have much information to share with you.
“You see, we thought that we had rid the galaxy of all the karnifex, forever. For a few hundred years we lived in peace and even began to explore outside of the galaxy. But then the nightmare returned… around 29 years ago from today.
“A star cruiser containing thousands of tourists of Vaelidius disappeared without a trace. We thought they may have been a victim of a black hole, or have somehow gotten lost outside of the galaxy. We sent off soldiers to find them but they also never returned. It wasn’t long for us to realize that the old threat had returned… for revenge.
“We soon discovered that a few Karnifex had somehow avoided the chemical attack all those years ago. It was possible they were in egg or larvae form somewhere in solitude - a king and queen of their kind. This was bad news. Even though it was only one pair, they had spent those few hundred years breeding to build up their army again. The queen of their species can lay several hundred eggs a day, you know. Sick but true.
“Our insecticide chemical wasn’t effective against them this time, we still don’t know why for sure. This time round, they appeared to be a lot more intelligent - as if they had ‘evolved’ in a short period of time somehow. They now wore armour and had solid protection against our chemical effects, so we couldn’t rely on that tactic again. It wasn’t long until they invaded our planet; we either had the choice to flee like cowards or stay behind to fight for what was ours.
Most of us stayed to defend our planet… but at a cost. Many of us were wiped out by their overpopulated forces and soon they were beginning to settle in on our planet. But even then, we still wouldn’t give in.
“Against all odds however, we did manage to assassinate the Queen - their only living queen. But the war wasn’t over yet, after the King managed to escape. He and the remaining karnifex kept a large amount of our people hostage for what had happened. Who knows what’s going on with them… we believe they’re forcing them to make clones of their race, and rebuild the lost DNA of a fertile female Karnifex so they could breed once again.
We need to free our people and finish off those insect demons once and for all… before we end up extinct like many other races in this galaxy before us…”
But we do have a plan B. If we lose this war - and our planet… our race won’t be extinct for good. We have family colonies of verpardi and aleumarr living away from the Kavorian Galaxy, who will return once the war is over. If we fail, then they will have to repopulate and find refuge elsewhere in the universe. But the Karnifex threat will always be there, growing… which is why I don’t want to have to use plan B for this situation…”
Ace nodded after Malvin finished explaining the situation. It was a large amount of information told to him in only a matter of minutes, but he took note of every detail. Already preparing him mentally for what was to come. Would he be the one to take down the King of the Karnifex?
He still felt as if he needed to learn more about this war though, about the planet and the verpardi survivors.
Soon after, they both went outside the room, allowing Ace to observe the underground base they currently resided within. Kurt and the other seekers followed behind the two, giving them space to speak with one another more.
Ace was becoming more used to the presence of the other civilians around here, some who stared with curiosity and who also whispered amongst one another; much like before.
Ace wasn’t irritated though. He didn’t mind it, knowing that these people would be curious of him and the Seekers. They most likely haven't had much contact with the outside world.
He then asked Malvin.
”Tell me more about this underground base. Are there more like it around the planet? How much of our kind is left out there?”
”I can’t give an actual estimate for your second question, Ace. Nobody really knows. The population is much smaller than it used to be either way; possibly under a billion - or even half of that. Many are scattered across the planet and the galaxy. Some escaped on their own; some stayed behind and lived as rouges out in the wastelands; or anywhere else away from the karnifex controlled cities. Some escaped in a mass, like me and my army… as well as some civilians. We have a few other underground cities like this one around the planet, but some were discovered and destroyed by King Kaedos…”
”So is that the name of the karnifex leader?”
”Yes. An extremely formidable foe, not to be taken lightly. He is highly intelligent for a karnifex; powerful, swift and well-guarded by a mass army. So he is not easy to assassinate. Many have tried, but failed. He is also sadistic and is feared by many across the galaxy… and this is why we called for you to come”
”If you’re hinting for me to take down this so called ‘king’ - then there is no need to ask. I will do the job, and I’ll do my best to make him pay for what he has done. Me and the Seekers are here to help fight off the invaders alongside you all. I have fought against a wide range of supervillains over the years, and I don’t plan on losing against this one”
”I admire your confidence Ace, but it isn’t going to be as simple as that. First we need to get our international defence system up and running. We need a top soldier for this task, the strongest, stealthiest and craftiest of the lot. We will get Kaedos, but not right now. We need to activate our international security system and I believe you will be best man for the job…”
Malvin and Ace walked on throughout the facility, and the rest of the team continued to follow several metres behind. Ace was thinking to himself in silence for a moment as they walked about, and soon he could see other verpardi soldiers about, in training. Adult males and females, all armed with weapons. He also took note of how everybody appeared to have their own unique weapon – they must design each of their own weapons, much like he does.
And as they walked on more, he started to see younger faces. Teenagers in training, being led around by adult soldiers through various training courses. He could see them target practising with guns of all sorts, learning how to build and modify weapons at desks and more. It was really quite astonishing.
But as he observed more of his surroundings, he saw the faces become younger and younger. Soon, he could see small verpardi children. They were even in uniform and being taught the basics of war
“What is going on here?” he asked.
”What does it look like to you?”
”Those… are children. They barely look 8 years of age. What are they doing around soldiers and weapons of this nature? Don’t tell me they are being taught to fight in the war already!”
”I can understand your concerns Ace, but life is tough here in the Kavorian Galaxy. Only the strongest of our race survive and so, everybody is trained the basics of war at a young age to prepare them for the harsh realities of life. Weak verpardi are a hindrance to our species”
Ace wasn’t pleased with what he witnessed. They moved on through the facility more and he could see even more young children being trained by adult verpardi. Most of the children looked confident though, despite the hard work for their age.
This didn’t feel right to Ace. The young verpardi did not look happy at all; children at this age should be enjoying their childhood with family and friends. They only get a short few years in life to live as children. As he observed them more, his irritation rose. Even more so when he saw a large, adult verpardi shoving some youngsters about; speaking in Vaelidian loudly at the children he was in charge of.
“This isn’t right! This is NOT the way to treat and raise children of this age! They should be with their families, not being forced to fight and learn the basics of war so soon. They only get one shot in life to be a kid, so let them be!”
“I am truly sorry Ace but this is our way of life... and it has been for the past 29 years...”
“Don’t give me those selfish excuses! I will not fight by your side, until this ends now! Got that?”
he hissed. Right before somebody else butted in...
“Oh look who’s talkin’. Thinking he knows what is best for our people... even though he has only been here half a day. Ha. Maybe he isn’t so fit for the job after all Malvin”
The soldier walked over towards Ace and Malvin. The same one Ace glared at earlier; the one pushing and pressuring the youngsters to train harder.
Ace took a glance at his presence and glowered. He did not bother to reply to his remark. This verpardi man did look strong and solid, much like Ace himself. A bit taller with larger fangs too, even. His hair was mahogany in colour and his appearance was much rougher in comparison.
Ace’s blue eyes locked on with the older verpardi’s own two brown ones, and he scoffed before switching his view to Malvin.
“Are you seriously considering this outsider for the job? He doesn’t know our ways, our traditions, and our way of life. And besides, he probably wouldn’t wanna get his hair in a mess while being out in the field”
“Crujeido, don’t start please. I have already made up my mind. If you know Ace Hardlight as well as I do; then you will know that he is very well suited for such a mission. That is, if he still wishes to go ahead with it”
“Ha. That pretty boy wouldn’t last the first round out there against the karnifex. He was raised like a spoilt brat by a pack of high class riches; he was not raised here on Vaelidius like we were. I should have been chosen for the mission instead!”
He shouted with his loud, gruff voice. Other citizens around were watching and listening in on their convocation. Some even shouted praise at Crujeido’s words. Jake and Kurt looked worried as they watched from a few metres away, although Ace didn’t appear to feel so threatened.
Instead, he was feeling quite angry and provoked.
“You don’t even know me punk, so I suggest that you shut your mouth. I may not have been raised here, but I am far more experienced than you can ever imagine”
“Yeah, far more experienced in the fashion department. Unfortunately for you, that will not help you survive in THIS galaxy...”
Ace groaned and frowned in annoyance. Malvin kept watch though, while the other Seekers looked from a fair distance. The nearby verpardi citizens were yelling now; mostly in Vaelidian, which Ace could not understand. Although Jake could recognise some words and his expression changed to a very nervous one.
Hardlight however, breathed in and out slowly. It was a quick way to calm the nerves and allow him to think straight. He did not want to argue and fight with his own race. Perhaps he was better off taking King Kaedos on his own...
“I am not going to waste more time here, especially with tyrants such as these”
Ace turned his back on Crujeido, as well as Malvin. Beginning to walk back towards the exit of the facility. Kurt resumed watching him though, and he took a glance at the young verpardi children. He could understand why Ace would be upset with what he saw, especially when it was his own kind suffering. Kurt then looked at Malvin, the older verpardi grinned slightly and Kurt raised an eyebrow...
“Don’t you dare turn your back on me! Come face me and settle this conflict the verpardi way!”
Crujeido shouted, becoming quite irritated by his ignorance. Ace didn’t say or do anything, continuing his walk down the path alone instead. The stocky soldier hissed though and barred his teeth, crouching down-
It all happened so quick that Jake didn’t even have time to shout out a warning to Ace. A high, swift kick knocked the side of Ace’s face in a flash. He hit the cold ground with a grunt, eyes widened in surprise by the force of it. He was quick to roll himself over though and get onto his knees. His face throbbed now, being kicked very hard right where his two scars were. But his anger took his mind off the pain and Crujeido came for him again, throwing a fist-
Ace dodged it easily however and side stepped again, keeping furious eyes locked onto the opponent.
“What’s the matter? Don’t like it when your fabulous face takes a whoopin’?”
Ace didn’t say a thing, only narrowing his eyes a little more as a response. The hit to his face had caused his scars to bleed, and sting a bit at the same time. His nerves were on end and his instinct told him to fight. Beat him down to a pulp and show him who’s boss, the top of the heap, the alpha male.
But even then, he would not attack him. He felt that violence against another of his own kind was not necessary; there were other matters more important to deal with right now. Not petty fights amongst one another.
Crujeido wouldn’t hold back though. He let off a battle cry and came in for Ace again, throwing each fist simultaneously and even performing another high kick. He really was quite agile and flexible for his build, much like Ace himself. Ace had no problem evading his attacks though, swiftly dodging all punches and kicks; bending backwards with little effort or strain. This was very irritating for the older verpardi; becoming frustrated with missing Ace at every move. He simply could not lay a hit on him again.
“Come on, FIGHT ME!!!”
Shouted Crujeido, and the spectators of the brawl surrounding the two roared with eagerness and impatience. They wanted to see Ace fight back, to see how much of an opponent he truly was against Crujeido.
But Ace remained vigilant; continuing to avoid and block his every blow. Even his hair remained untouched, annoying the opposition further to make him bear his fangs. Ace was becoming quite impatient himself though, moving in closer in an attempt to intimidate the other male. Ace raised both his clenched fists, bracing himself for the next wave of moves...
Crujeido swung another punch forward with a considerable amount of force, coming into contact with Ace’s wrists but not causing him to flinch at all. He growled and lunged forward again with his other first, that was forced to a halt yet again with Ace’s solid stance. He even remained in the same position, unmoved.
Crujeido yelled again in an agitated state, kneeling and throwing himself towards Ace in an attempt to knock him to the ground. He used all the strength he could muster in his legs to hurl his heavy frame at Ace but as he did – Ace lowered himself slightly. He grasped onto the oppositions shirt as he leapt over him, holding tightly and a loud thud to the ground followed in just under a second.
The crowd gasped in surprise and an awkward silence filled the atmosphere. Crujeido lay on the ground motionless for a moment, stunned after being flipped to the ground so roughly.
Ace stood over him, continuing with his frown and Crujeido grunted - attempting to bounce back onto his feet but a heavy boot on his back pushed him to his place. Ace held him down with his right foot alone, not even showing any sign of strain. The other male struggled to lift himself up from the pressure of his boot, trying to move but failing to do so. Ace could only look down, flicking his hair back and wiping some of the blood of his face. He scoffed.
“I am not here to fight with the likes of you”
The surrounding spectators started to speak among one another again, seemingly amazed with how well Ace handled the verpardi soldier. He didn’t even lay a direct hit on him, but he had no problem blocking his attacks and holding him back.
He came to notice that Crujeido was no longer moving and so he moved his foot and begun to walk away towards the exit of the facility. He knew there wasn’t much time now and that there were far more serious threats to face ahead of him.
Swift actions came in only just the blink of an eye as Ace turned around in a flash. He was no fool. He had caught Crujeido’s fist in his grasp, holding it back with his own strength. The second fist came to his left but even that was caught. Ace stood there almost motionless as Crujeido tried with all his strength to overpower Ace... but he simply could not. Furious eyes began to change from Crujeido, to amazement. He could not help but feel impressed with Ace’s strength. The blond Verpardi had no trouble holding back his fists, not even showing any signs of strain.
Ace could only look back, deep into his eyes. There was no hatred though, just a hint of annoyance. Crujeido sighed.
He loosened his fists and stood up straight. Ace released his fists after noticing he was no longer trying to put pressure against him. He kept a close watch on the soldier though, wary but curious of his actions.
“You are very strong and clever. It looks like Vaelidius really does have a chance after all...”
Ace wasn’t sure what to say, the sudden change in attitude was odd - but a relief. He was still uncertain if he should go off to face Kaedos on his own, or join the rest in their strategy...
“You know, if you do join us and fight by our side. Then I can assure you that times will change and we won’t have to keep these ‘harsh’ traditions as we do…”
Spoke Malvin, beckoning Ace to turn back around. He held his head down, deep in thought. It did make sense; that changes could be made around here once their home planet was at peace. Once the karnifex were rid from this planet
A familiar flare from within him came to light – the kind of feeling he got whenever he prepared to fight against a supervillain, fight to save a planet or galaxy. Comparable to those times as a young superhero; as he prepared himself for combat. A fight for justice, and freedom.
But this time was different. This was a fight to save his race, his own home planet, and the Kavorian Galaxy. There was no time to waste and he knew this very well. Fighting alongside his people to show them just how incredible he really is will be something worth going for.
“Okay... I will do it. Where do I begin?”