Hearts of Fire: Part Six
Carmen and the other mutants defended a ridge over a lava pool. Roxton, Clara, and Jordie climbed up to join them as the Moltarans and the Virtupets army clashed below.
They were still outnumbered and faced with superior technology. But Carmen was heartened by one thing – the other mutants. At least ten had hailed her, and she’d seen more than that joining the Moltarans behind barricades and lava pools to fight the invaders off. We aren’t alone. None of us are alone!
And as long as we remember that, Sloth won’t really win. No matter what happens.
The robots weren’t as useful down here... the temperatures were hot enough that their sensitive wiring started to break down. Without them, the Virtupets army didn’t have as great of an advantage. Roxton said in amazement, “We may not get beaten as quickly as I feared!”
Clara replied softly, “Still – my life plans didn’t involve dying in a failed last stand against Sloth.” When Carmen turned to look at her between shots with her blaster, she realized that the Wocky’s eyes were distant and sad.
Calaf stood atop the wall protecting them from most of the laserfire. He said, face steely, “Better to die here and free than surrender and die a prisoner of Sloth.”
Endellion scrambled over the barricade – her mechanical wings were completely destroyed – and dived to the rocky ground as several more bolts were fired over their heads. “Message from the Cave-Master! He wants us to go to the entrance to the Moltite mine... he says there’s a lot of havoc that Sloth could wreak if he got his hands on it.”
Roxton asked, “Like what?”
Clara explained, “Under certain conditions Red Moltite is highly explosive. If the crystals were to be hit by a blaster during a fight, it could lead to a disastrous cave-in. Sloth could do a lot of damage with it in battle if he were to take some.”
Jordie and Pinkerton snickered as Roxton muttered, “Know-it-all.”
But Carmen only nodded. “Point taken. All with wings, let’s go! The rest of you, we’ll try and help you follow!”
As she took to the air, she narrowly avoided several large projectiles from the Virtupets cannons. They smashed into the rock behind her.
She screamed, “GET CLEAR!” as the overhang crashed down over the place she had just been.
The others ran out and away... she noticed Susanna limping slightly. But there was no time to dally... as long as she hovered, she was an easy target. Pinkerton at her heels, the mutant Draik took to the air and landed across the cavern in front of the unlit entrance to a cave.
She, Niklausse, Calaf, and Roxton helped cover the others as they scrambled across the dark stone, trying to fight their way through to the entrance of the Dark Cave.
A mutant Scorchio landed next to Carmen and took out a robot trying to climb the narrow path to the entrance. She smiled at the Draik. “Thanks for the speech.”
Carmen asked as they both ducked, “Do you have a name yet?”
Musetta had dashed up the path and overheard. “You look like a Lucy to me. Do you like that name?”
The Scorchio nodded enthusiastically, and then shot another robot. Roxton said appreciatively, “You’re a great shot, Lucy.”
Then Calaf pointed into the darkness above them. “Virtupets airship, coming this way! And the commanders are inside!”
Carmen thought quickly. “Into the cave! We’re here to protect the Moltite!”
They scrambled into the deep darkness as the ship landed on the ledge with a heavy thud.
Carmen tried to reassure herself. There are ten of us, not counting Jordie, and only two of them. Ten of us, and only two of them.
But then she heard the boots tramping behind them as Endellion led them deeper into the cave with her dull glow. Uh-oh... they thought of that. There’s more than two of them.
From the quiet scuffling and the sudden lack of any light, Carmen realized that someone must have covered up Endellion. She pressed herself against the wall, feeling that she was in a shallow crevice. Oh, please, don’t let them find us! Who could stand a chance against the commanders? Gormos is as big as a mountain, and Garoo’s as mean as they come!
Then the searchlight shone directly in her eyes.
Carmen shielded her eyes with one hand as she fumbled for her blaster with the other... she was stopped from using it by Commander Garoo holding his own weapon inches away from her chest. I’m finished. I’m finished.
Commander Gormos loomed behind the wicked Blumaroo. He said silkily, “I find myself wondering whether to just kill you now, or to bring you back before Sloth and tell him all about your misbehavior.”
Carmen took a deep breath. The commanders and the Garoo Elite that stood behind them were used to terrifying the people they bullied. She wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of knowing just how scared she really was. Her only hope was that the others stayed hidden... if she was going to be imprisoned or killed, she didn’t want them sharing her fate. She said, knowing she had nothing to lose, “Take me to the Space Station if you wish. And I’ll tell all the poor mutants there what I told the ones you brought here! And I’ll tell Sloth about how so many of us managed to get away with so much under his nose!”
Gormos sneered, and Garoo turned to his squadron. The Blumaroo ordered, “Take this one back to the ship. Have someone fly her to the encampment.”
The Kougra smirked. “I think I’ll arrange to be in the room when you tell Sloth all these things... the look on his face will be entertaining.”
Carmen obeyed without thinking and threw herself to the ground, avoiding the blaster by an inch as Garoo fired. He didn’t have time to aim again before Calaf and Pinkerton slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. As he struggled to throw the two off, Gormos was attacked by Niklausse, who abandoned his weapons in favor of punching the commander.
Behind them, Jordie screeched, “DON’T SHOOT THE MOLTITE! IF YOU DO, WE’LL ALL EXPLODE!”
Carmen realized that, this deep in the mine, there were some crystals in the walls. But the Garoo Elite didn’t seem to care as they fired their blasters at the people attacking them. The tunnel was lit as brightly as the main cavern of the Moltaran Caves by the abandoned searchlight and the laserfire – giving them all too clear views of their targets.
Musetta screamed, “Carmen! Endellion and I are out of arrows!”
Carmen tried to knock away a Garoo Elite soldier bent on carrying out his master’s orders and capturing her as she shouted a reply. “Keep out of the way, then!”
Then they heard a hiss. “Who disturbs my domain?”
Even Garoo and Gormos looked on dumbfounded as the monster crawled out.
The lava beast was three times the height of Commander Garoo, and several meters long, crawling along like a gigantic Slorg. But it had arms that could reach out, and reach out it did, grabbing for them.
Endellion cried, “Lava-Brother! I am of your kin!”
It paused and looked down at her. “Yes, that is true...”
The Krawk continued, “We aren’t your enemies! Your enemies are the Kougra, and the Blumaroos, and all the soldiers of theirs out in the cavern! They’re trying to take over Moltara – they’ll drive you out of your domain and destroy it!”
The lava beast hissed, “How dare you take my domain from me? I am lord of this place!” And the free mutants, Endellion, Roxton, Clara, and Jordie leaped for the safety of the tunnel walls as the monster rampaged past them.
The shouts of battle turned to screams as the huge lava beast chased the two commanders and the Garoo Elite out of the cavern. The blasters had no effect on its molten bulk at all – it tore through the ranks that tried to attack it.
Carmen, Roxton, and Pinkerton were close behind the thing, trying to see what happened. Roxton’s eyes were wide. “That thing moves fast.”
Endellion, who had followed them, nodded. “That’s why gathering Moltite is so dangerous – it doesn’t take kindly to seeing its ‘treasure’ taken from it.”
The Scorchio Lucy cried, “Look – the other mutants are turning tail and running! They’re retreating! It’s chasing them out of the caves!”
The Moltaran fighters had taken advantage of the beast’s appearance – they had heard of it before, and knew that it was no danger as long as it believed the other side was the enemy. They redoubled their attack, mostly against the robots. The mutants were all fleeing – they wanted no part of a land with giant magma monsters.
Lucy shot the robots until her own blaster failed, and then took Roxton’s and continued as they crouched on the ledge outside. Carmen, Pinkerton, and Calaf all tried their best to crash the remaining airships – especially one that shot at them repeatedly, and had proved to be the craft of the commanders. Susanna was the only one with any arrows left. She disabled the weakened robots as best she could.
And the tide of battle turned.
There was more fierce fighting, but it didn’t seem long before the horn on the commander’s ship blared, “VIRTUPETS SOLDIERS, RETREAT TO THE SURFACE ENCAMPMENT! I REPEAT, FALL BACK TO THE SURFACE ENCAMPMENT!”
And with a cheer, the Moltaran fighters and their allies chased the failed invaders all the way to the gate on Isla Molta.
A week later, Carmen stood in front of twenty-three other mutants – Pinkerton, Calaf, Susanna, Lucy, Niklausse, Musetta, and seventeen others who had found her after the battle – on the steps of the Moltara City Hall. There was quite a large crowd there of city-and cave-dwellers, come to watch the treaty being signed.
Mayor Flickern and Cave-Master Igneot walked out of the hall, bearing a stone pedestal and a sheet of paper. When they set it down on the uppermost step, Carmen joined them.
Mayor Flickern began. “Commander Garoo, Commander Gormos, and the forces of Sloth are now gone from Moltara, Isla Molta, and all the Gemaron Islands. It will be many years before they dare to return, if ever. Instrumental in this defeat were our old friends, Roxton, Clara, and Jordie...” the three waved from their places as everyone cheered, “and, even more so, these twenty-four defectors and the others like them who perished in the battle. These brave Neopians have proven that becoming a mutant does not make one a mindless soldier of Sloth. They have all proven through their valor that even in the darkest places one will find those who have true hearts of fire.
“As a reward for their valor, Cave Master Igneot and I, through our joint responsibility as overseers of the Gemaron Islands, give Carmen and her followers the island Onasis as their rightful home.”
Carmen beamed as cheers broke out again. Then she said, “And I, as leader of the free mutants and new headwoman of Onasis, pledge our friendship to Moltara for as long as these days are remembered among our people.”
Everything was quiet as the Chomby, the Gnorbu, and the Draik signed the treaty.
And then the clapping, screaming, and shouts of joy were so loud that it seemed the city shook.
A month later, Carmen sat lazily on the beach. While the mutant civilization was much larger now – and, with help from the Moltarans, much nicer – they had all chosen to leave this spot, where she and her four closest friends had first arrived, untouched.
Pinkerton, Susanna, Niklausse, and Musetta ran out from the jungle’s fringe. She didn’t pay much attention to them until Pinkerton splashed her. “Carmen, get your tail out of the sand and come help us! The Moltaran officials are all coming for the banquet tonight, and everyone’s looking for you to manage everything!”
Niklausse added, “Calaf and Lucy have already gone to meet the delegation.”
Pinkerton interrupted him. “It’s really all under control – plenty of food, a nice place for us to eat – everything’s fine. But the others want to make sure you like it.”
Carmen reached out her arms so Musetta and Susanna could pull her to her feet. “Well, let’s go, then!”
On the beach behind them was a sign. It looked very similar to the one Carmen had placed there on the first night. But the wording was different. ONASIS – THE MUTANT HOMELAND Together we look toward the future, For with our hearts of fire, we are stronger than our enemies can ever be.