Chapter 43: Duel to the Death
The brief night of Vaelidius had fallen upon the western side of the planet’s surface. A deathly glow of red was visible throughout the violet horizon; signs of battle went on around various parts of the planet, although it was starting to diminish into a deserted wasteland once more.
Ace piloted the Seeker jet through the skies in passive motion, right towards the final destination in his quest to save Vaelidius. The calm ride through the night lit skies gave him a moment to prepare himself for the unknown mission ahead of him. He didn’t know what to expect once he arrived at the location of Kurt, but as he drew in closer, he was quite surprised by what he saw.
He arrived at the location of another large city, just short of a few miles from Nyxion, although the majority of this area seemed to be abandoned. But what intrigued him the most, was that most of the buildings weren’t in ruins, as seen in Nyxion City earlier on.
Ace flew in to Kurt’s destination, being led close to the largest building near the entry of the city’s boarder. To be safe, Ace landed at a secluded spot away from the seemingly abandoned building. He hopped out of the jet to get a better view of the place and could see that it was a large palace, carved out of a particular type of stone found throughout the planet. It looked aged and abandoned, as if nobody had inhabited it for a number of years.
He marched around it, looking out for any signs of the karnifex or civilians. The place looked deserted, at least until he roamed deeper through the palace’s hall.
He could see signs of activity. Lights were visible and various bits of technology were placed all about. He found it rather strange that there were no security forces in here - unless Kurt had taken care of it earlier on. It was highly suspicious to see the area so open and clean compared to other karnifex-infested places.
Ace was drawing nearer Kurt’s position now, and his curiosity rose sharply as he drew in close. He passed through more passageways, down more stairways and empty rooms until he arrived at the final destination. The lighting was dim inside, even with the lights from various bits of machinery about. The ceiling was high with several levels of stairways and balconies above, drenched in cobwebs.
“Kurt, are you there?”
Ace’s voice echoed throughout the expansive room. Faint footsteps followed after he shouted. The markazian’s silhouette was visible as he came out, walking from the dark with his tail swaying sideways. Kurt was unusually silent as he approached Ace cautiously.
“Is something wrong? You seem a bit quiet…”
“Sorry Ace. My spirits aren’t as high as they should be. It is good to see you again though. Doing so well out there against the remainder of the karnifex army, and not to mention, activating the defence system.”
“Just doing what I do. The Vaelidians appear to be winning back the cities from where I’ve been, and now there is only their leader left to deal with, right?”
“Ace, I believe the problem is far more extensive than what we had originally thought, come this way. I’ll show you.”
Kurt walked off into the direction he had come. Ace’s wariness rose even more. What was Kurt talking about, exactly? He needed to know.
Kurt led the way into another dimly lit room full of holovision monitors for computer databases. The markazian approached the main computer and began to type on the foreign looking keyboard.
“I used a Decryptor to get inside, and to hack into these computer files. It also helped with translating the majority of the information I found.”
“What is on there? The plans for what that king is up to? Why he had verpardi & aleumarr civilians held hostage for all these years?”
“Ace, I have discovered that the karnifex had connections to one of the most dangerous species in the known universe. Possibly rivalling the cragmites in their exploits…”
“Yes. Malvin already explained earlier how their sheer numbers were alarming beyond belief. It is a real good thing that your people dealt a crushing blow to their race hundreds of years ago, or else it could have become much worse.”
“For sure. But what else did you find out about them?”
“Well, before then, they had wiped out many sentient species. King Kaedos has a personal list of all the races and planets he had diminished. He appears to be highly intelligent for a karnifex and also very sick to have such pride in what he has done. He has the technology to destroy entire planets, a method to hide away the evidence of what their race has done. The list of destruction is immense. This explains why the Kavorian galaxy is so devoid of life in comparison to the Solana and Polaris galaxy. But what for…?”
Ace felt outraged at hearing this bit of information. He wasn’t sure how to respond to it, but he allowed Kurt to carry on. The elder Seeker looked at Ace, and had noticed his tense expression.
He continued with his conversation nonetheless.
“He has yet another check-list, a list of superheroes that he and his army had assassinated. Many heroes tried to come to this galaxy to defeat them, but they all met a ghastly death. I was also intrigued to see that Captain Starshield was also on the list at one time, but was later removed. However, what I found to be most disturbing was that your name is also on the list, but marked as ‘unaccomplished’.”
“And so it will remain that way. Once I see that disgusting bug. Man, he should better be prepared. Because I don’t plan on losing, or letting him live for that matter.”
“I will be here to help. I won’t let you do this alone”
“That is fine Kurt. You’re the one who has been with me right from the start, and it will be an honour to fight alongside you against this monster.”
“There is some more information I uncovered about the karnifex, they are not who they seem to be. I am not quite sure what utori means, but it is mentioned a lot throughout their scripts, and it is quite significant to Kaedos-“
Kurt stopped immediately. He straightened his posture and glanced down at his wristband where a device of some sort was attached to. When Kurt turned towards the light, Ace could see that he was wearing a jetpack as well.
“Quick, somebody’s coming.” Kurt sprung to the right, hiding behind of the computers and equipment, “Ace, what are you waiting for?”
“I want to come face to face with him. No more time wasting. I want to get this over and done with.”
Kurt nodded in response to Ace, and vanished deep into the darkness of the vicinity with his jetpack. Ace moved out into the centre of the room instead, awaiting the arrival of the alien being. He could hear its footsteps moving closer, the creature obviously did not care about being noticed in his arrival. And when it finally drew in close, Ace’s eyes locked onto the silhouette ahead of the entrance.
The dark coloured figure stood there motionless for the time being, with its bright yellow eyes staring back at Ace’s own blue ones. It definitely was a karnifex. Yet he looked quite a lot different in appearance.
Its eyes had dark green pupils, which watched him steadily. The karnifex appeared to be larger than a minion, but smaller than the assassins of their kind. He also wore a royal cape of some sort, had much longer antennae, and a pair of jaws. His armour was also different to the other karnifex. It was darker in colour, looking more natural than artificial like the assasins. He also had six limbs, instead of four, and sported much larger wings than the other karnifex.
But what came next was a shock to Ace.
“Ah. So it was you who decided to show up and invade my privacy, how convenient.”
The voice was strange to hear. Ace would have never expected to hear a karnifex speak in such a tone. While looking closer, he could see that this karnifex had some sort of artificial voice modulator around its neck, to mimic a larynx with speech.
“What is the matter, Hardlight? Why not speak up a little. I was expecting you to be a bit more vocal around the king of the karnifex.”
“I’m not here to talk, insect. I’d much rather settle this once and for all, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Oh why yes. After you and your primitive people soiled my plans, of course I am in the mood for some bloodshed. Thanks to your actions, I have decided to go straight for the heartstrings-” Kaedos cut himself off and tilted his head, giving off a sinister look.
“What do you mean by that!?” Ace questioned him sharply.
King Kaedos stood up straight, expanding his pair of wings and disappearing around the corner. Ace chased him promptly, following him down a series of dark hallways until he was led into another room of the large palace.
More stone pillars were present in here, as well as a series of Maulkat statues and a row of chambers. Some of the outside sky was visible, due to a large opening from damage years prior.
But a chamber in particular caught his attention in a split-moment.
His heart sank immediately as he saw what was inside the chamber, which was more akin to a cell. It was surrounded by bars of deadly energy and inside the cell he could see some of the Seeker members.
A female voice called out. The voice was easily recognized as Jenna’s. He also could see that Bettilena, Jake and Aster were held in there. The four of them peered out from behind the bars at him, melancholy. This wasn’t the first time Ace had had to rescue some of his teammates but this time, they looked crushed, defeated, lost for hope.
He tried to rush up to them, his heart racing, forgetting about the fight for that moment in time but Kaedos rushed in, standing right in his path to look back down at him.
“Now, now Hardlight. You may get your chance to see them again, if you even managed to survive the next few minutes within my vicinity. Isn’t this ironic? These cells here were used many years ago for holding my species. My race for interrogation; for torture, even. You see these switches over here? I have full control over their fates. I could either choose to execute them in front of you or you in front of them.”
“Leave them out of it! This is between you and me!”
“That is where you’re wrong. You have done more than enough disturbances to my plans. Thankfully, these so called heroes were an easy catch. I would have added the maulkat and old markazian to the collection if I had more time. Either way, I would like to demonstrate a bit of a shock - just so you know I am taking things seriously…”
Kaedos moved one of his limbs to press a switch on the small panel right at his side. Ace wasn’t too sure what he meant, but the other four Seekers knew all too well. And their expressions clearly displayed fear.
A crackling sound of electricity echoed within their cell, along with the cries of pain from the other remaining Seekers. Ace growled angrily, rushing forward and grabbing out his Launcher but was frozen in a sudden halt.
Kaedos used his larger left limb to emit a glowing, green energy from his palm. It aimed at Ace hastily, stopping him in his track as the seekers within the cell suffered the stinging electrocution.
Ace’s rage grew enormously at this state, he simply could not move whilst the strange, green light held him back in his place. He could only move a few centimetres at a time, gritting his sharp teeth together, groaning in sheer annoyance. It felt as if his entire body was ignoring his brain, freezing in place and unable to move, resulting in him feeling utterly powerless.
Abruptly, a loud sound of gunfire clashed in the middle of it all. The electrocution stopped, to everyone’s relief. Even Ace was free from the restraining energy that Kaedos had unleashed on him.
Kurt Swiftblade was seen high above, perched on the top of a Vaelidian statue out beyond the light, holding out his Sonic Snyper in position. He leapt into the air, hovering with his jetpack quick and steadily to land on the ground at Ace’s side. Kaedos was quite in shock after the unexpected blow to the side of his face, although he didn’t appear to have taken any notable damage.
Nonetheless, Ace was pleased to see Kurt show up at the right time.
“Apologies for taking off before, I thought that a surprise attack would come in handy…”
“That is fine Kurt. You nailed him quite good…”
Ace braced himself for what was to come, as did Kurt, holding out his dual-blades in defence. Ace had his trusty HL Launcher in hand, and Kaedos turned around to look at both Seekers in the eye furiously.
“So the markazian has decided to join in at the last minute. Good. More blood for me to spill then…”
King Kaedos stood up straight and tore off the cape that was around his shoulders, letting it drop to the floor. He raised both his enlarged upper limbs and retracted the sharp blades from each end of the wrists. They were even longer than any of the other karnifex Ace had seen so far.
Kurt held out his Dual laser blades, activating them immediately and they began to glow bright orange.
Ace on the other hand got back into position to hold out his HL Launcher in defence. He focused on King Kaedos carefully, keeping watch and making sure that he wouldn’t dare step near the control panel for the chamber cell again.
Kaedos was the first to strike. He lunged forward in a swift motion, blades aimed for both Ace and Kurt who in turn strafed to avoid his oncoming assault.
Kaedos moved cunningly to keep both Ace and Kurt away from the control panel, lashing out constantly with his blades, while Ace continued to fire at him continuously with his Launcher.
Kurt used the opportunity to leap through the air with his sword, in an attempt to slice Kaedos’ tough armour. A noisy clang was heard afterwards, and the karnifex quickly leapt out of harm’s way. He very well knew that Kurt’s blades were lethal. Kurt went after him nonetheless, raising his other sword to bring it down onto the beast. Kaedos stopped his sword with his own blade, clanging against each other and breaking out into full sword combat.
Ace wasn’t going to stand back and watch though. He came up close as well, holding his Launcher into a stabbing position.
He thrust it forward towards the royal insect, but he had seen this coming. He moved hastily and raised his elbow to fire some venomous spines. Ace sidestepped quickly though and as Kaedos was distracted, Kurt came close to slashing the karnifex’ face.
Kaedos’ irritation grew immensely at the thought of it, and he surprised Kurt by delivering a powerful kick to the stomach. The markazian was sent flying back several metres as a result and Ace’s eyes widened.
He gritted his teeth angrily and swiped his Launcher forward again, to scrape against the armour of Kaedos. The insect turned to face Ace head on, leading the fight against one another. Ace swayed his launcher back and forward, clashing with the king’s blades and working hard to avoid the opposition.
It was hard to lay a direct hit, Ace admitted. Kaedos was incredibly quick and agile, well protected and clever. The left limb came close to Ace as he clashed with the right, ducking down before surprising the king with a sudden hard punch to the face. Kaedos was fazed for a second, and Ace used this chance to charge up his blaster; releasing a powerful stream of energy into his chest.
Kaedos was blown back to the ground, and Kurt saw this after getting up from the ground.
“Why don’t you give up now? You don’t stand a chance against the both of us!”
Ace shouted, already bracing himself for the next move. Kurt rushed over to Ace’s position to stand nearby. He was breathing heavily, the kick having winded him, but luckily he wasn’t injured much.
King Kaedos flipped back onto his clawed feet. He slowly rose to straighten himself again only to scoff in reply.
“You genuinely believe that this is over already? You have no idea what I am capable of…”
Kaedos’ wings suddenly released, beginning to hover while he pulled both pairs of his limbs in. He began to glow a bright green before releasing his arms and letting loose a wide, piercing, sonic boom.
Ace and Kurt dashed away from the impact but they weren’t his intended target as it seemed. The blast came into contact with several of the large statues nearby, and they started crack and crumble to the ground. The whole area shook as if an earthquake was occurring, and Ace’s concern could only rise when the stones kept falling, eventually blocking his view of the other Seekers in their cell.
Kurt was already off the ground with his jetpack. He flew straight in for Kaedos with his swords in hand, lashing out at him with a dual blade in defence. Kaedos turned around to come face to face with Kurt, slashing his pair of blades as well and buzzing in forward to gain dominance over the markazian.
Ace felt helpless being stuck on the ground. He was irritated not being able to see the other Seekers, or get anywhere near their position without Kaedos getting in the way. He instead, went on to blast at Kaedos with his Launcher.
The karnifex was struck several times, annoying him greatly and forcing him to strafe in flight even more. Kurt meanwhile, had to be careful to avoid the blasts but he found Ace’s help to be of good use. He went in for the target with both his blades and hacked at the beast with sheer force, surprising him greatly.
Part of Kaedos’ body armour fell to the ground with a clang and his eyes glowed even brighter – possibly a sign of sheer anger. He flew upwards and came in for the markazian to return a blade. It happened so quickly and Kurt was quite stunned to feel his first gash from the enemy, the insect’s blade sliced through the top of his clothing and wrist. Upon feeling the slice, he was quick to back away in turn, before holding up his swords again in defence and flying up towards the enemy.
Ace was finding it difficult to aid Kurt at this stage with them being so high above him. He turned around and looked over towards where the other seekers were, could he free them while Kaedos was distracted?
He wasn’t too sure about it. Bits and pieces of statue and debris lay around the path back towards their cell, but it was quite possible to wade his way through and climb over. But then a green light from behind Ace got his attention immediately – looking up to see that Kurt was frozen by the restraining energy of the karnifex king.
He groaned angrily, rushing back towards the duelling warriors with his Launcher held out in front of him.
Both Kurt and Kaedos were in mid-air, although the markazian fighter was frozen by the energy emitting from Kaedos’ palm. He simply could not move, not matter how hard his tried. One of his Dual blades dropped suddenly from being restrained and Kaedos began to raise one of his free bladed limbs above Kurt.
A powerful blue beam of plasma suddenly stunned the beast and stopped his emitting restraint against Kurt. Ace was relieved to have stopped him in the nick of time as was Kurt.
Kaedos flew to the side once again and dashed in for Kurt, trying to blast him with an acidic laser. It was a change of tactics and Kurt was careful to avoid the burning blasts from him. Kaedos was growing more irritated with missing the opposition and so all of a sudden he jolted forward with both blades pointed in front of him. Ace gasped and stopped firing but from the midst of it all he saw that Kurt had swiftly avoided the sharp move by somersaulting over karnifex to be behind him.
What followed next was the action of Kurt hacking down on the left pair of wings on Kaedos.
Ace was astounded by what he had witnessed. It was such an amazing sight.
He was impressed with how well Kurt fought, despite his age and build in comparison to himself. He moved so quick during the duel, using supreme skill in aerial combat and swift body movements aided by his tail.
Kurt had successfully sliced off part of Kaedos’ wings, forcing the karnifex to free-fall down the flat surface of the ground. Kurt hovered down to retrieve his other dual-blade before re-joining Ace a few metres ahead.
They both took an aggressive stance in front of the insectoid alien once he had landed.
“I must say; the two of you have been a worthy challenge. Unlike all the other opponents in the past, they couldn’t even last the first few minutes in my presence.”
“Good to see you realize we are a threat. Save your talk though, because you won’t be standing around for much longer!” Ace lowered himself in and intimidating stance, frowning angrily.
“Don’t get your hopes up high yet, Hardlight. Ground combat will not hinder me in the slightest.”
Kaedos flicked his upper limbs back in rapid motion and released a swarm of venomous spines from the openings on his wrists. Ace was familiar with these and he avoided them quickly. Kurt did the same as he. Kaedos cut in close to Kurt to take a swipe, but the markazian was quick to react with his laser blades to block his strike.
The karnifex was working much harder this time round. He pushed vigorously until Kurt was forced to back away, allowing Kaedos’ blade to stab deep into the concrete floor. He swiftly did an uppercut his other blade and slashed through part of Kurt’s clothing. Blood seeped through Kurt’s clothing, which he had no time to take note of as he gritted his teeth and backed away in anger.
Ace leapt behind the karnifex and clung to his back, wrapping one of his muscled arms around of the beast’s neck to detain him. Kurt had a chance to avoid another nasty wound, swiping at Kaedos once more.
He was smart though. He turned around while Ace was clinging onto his back, and Kurt stopped before he accidentally slashed at his fellow Seeker. Ace was trying with all his might to strangle, injure and distract the karnifex, but it wasn’t working. His armour was too tough, especially around the neck and thorax area. Kaedos set off a blast of sonic based energy once more, forcing Ace off his back before he turned around to fire an acidic laser at him.
Ace hissed as he felt the burning sensation hit his body, using his legs to leap out of the way to avoid further damage. Kurt came in for the karnifex again to distract him.
The acidic laser charred the centre of his torso. Whilst the vest protected and absorbed most of the blow to his chest area, he could still feel the burning around various parts of his body. Parts of his arms burned but even then, he still got back onto his feet to run in for the karnifex, closing his eyes and vanishing for the nick of a second.
He surprised the king of the karnifex after he reappeared with eight other copies of himself at his sides. They all had their Launchers set onto Kaedos, firing at once and striking the enemy mercilessly. Kaedos was forced to dart away from the blistering shots, becoming increasingly impatient with the onslaught from these two heroes. Kurt moved out of Ace’s way to let him deal the damage, Kaedos was struck many times by the golden shots of Ace’s gun. He hit back with spraying a large area with acidic lasers in retaliation, damaging a range of the hard-light clones although missing Ace’s true form. Who had strafed out of the way.
Ace’s true form came in close and whacked the side of Kaedos body with his Launcher, almost causing him to stumble over. But the karnifex was far from over – he lunged back at Ace and barely grazed the side of his face with the sharp point of his blade.
Ace took no notice of the blood that came from the clean cut to his face, determined to get back at the opposing enemy. He disconnected from his hard-light clones to gain better focus and tried to stab his lethal launcher blades into Kaedos’ body whilst he was still close, but Kaedos was simply too fast. Kaedos performed a high kick in Ace’s face out of nowhere, which sent him flying back a few metres, sprawled out on the floor. Kurt could see the dangerous situation and he came in his dual blades again, scraping against Kaedos’ armour repetitively with all his might.
All three warriors had taken a fair amount of damage in the passing minutes. Both Ace and Kurt were sore, but still willing to fight on. They were uncertain of Kaedos’ status, but the karnifex King was becoming increasingly impatient with the fight. He all of a sudden, blasted an all too familiar green glow - from both of his palms this time, freezing both Ace and Kurt in the tracks.
“ENOUGH of this.”
His artificial voice screeched, apparently fuming with anger. He held back both Kurt and Ace, whilst they struggled to get free or move an inch. Kaedos may have had them restrained, but he could not pull off any other moves during this ordeal.
He released them all of a sudden and back-flipped several times in skilled motion. Then he began to glow an intense greenish-gold. He brightened up more than before, pulling both his limbs towards his body and emitted a deafening screech from his carapace.
Ace and Kurt braced themselves for what was to come, before King Kaedos released his four arms and set loose an immense blast of sound based energy.
Ace and Kurt were deafened by the sonic waves even with their protective visors and clothing. They were both slightly disorientated, both running from the blast and avoiding the large chunks of stone that was falling all around them.
Ace sprinted to avoid the danger all around the place, as the whole building began the shake wildly, much more than beforehand.
Is this damn insect trying to kill everybody, including himself!?
Ace’s ferocity was high, but he had no time to get back at the karnifex just yet. He feared that the whole building would collapse on top of everyone. Statues all around were heavily damaged, parts of the walls were cracking, and dust filled the chamber. Ace used the aid of his visor view to find his way towards safe points.
Thick glass continued to shatter and spray from high above. Cracks appeared in the slabs under their feet until finally, the area began to settle and quieten down into an eerie silence.
Only small bits of stone could be heard crumbling from various areas of the large interior of the chamber by now. Ace moved out from his sheltered spot in the wall, although he couldn’t see much, with all the dust and debris shrouding the place.
Ace’s heart was pounding. He was incredibly concerned for his fellow teammates, the ones being imprisoned and Kurt Swiftblade. He had little idea on which area of the room he resided in. But he roughly knew that the imprisoned Seekers were at the opposite end of the room, which could mean that their area wasn’t affected by the huge sound wave he and Kurt had escaped from.
He rushed out of the ravaged area nonetheless, looking all around and trying to find any signs of life. He didn’t even know where Kaedos was.
“Kurt, where are you?”
He rushed out into the opening of the room, where the dust had begun to settle from the blast before. He glared all around him, but could not see any signs of life.
His breathing became uneasy as his worries grew en mass. Ace ran over to where he believed the other Seekers were located, his view was still blocked by the fallen statue from earlier on though. He really had no idea what to do next, at least until he could finally hear some rustling over to his left, in a darkened area of the room.
Ace cautiously made his way over to where the sound was coming from, the dust had not settled here yet, but he could make out the person who was standing up from the debris all around him.
It was Kurt Swiftblade.
Ace was pleased to see him moving. He walked up to him as the markazian slowly stood onto his feet; holding one of the dual bladed swords in his hands. But when Ace got close to him, he noticed right away that something wasn’t right.
Something was terribly wrong, in fact.
The markazian warrior shakily turned around to look at Ace, his dual blade grasped in his left hand, and his right hand clutching his abdomen. Kurt stared at Ace, the excruciating pain he was in evident on his face, before closing his eyes tightly. Ace was lost for words when he saw his face, but when he looked down at Kurt’s body, he could see the extent of what had happened.
Swiftblade’s body slumped to the ground before Ace could even make a move.