Being rendered unconscious by violent means is unpleasant enough without awakening in a crashing spaceship. It makes for a bad day. Unit Designation LaviniaMai was having an extraordinarily bad day.
"Secondary shields at 12%. Warning: Collision in forty-three seconds. Secondary shields at 11%. Warning: Collision in thirty-seven seconds. Secondary shields at 10%..."
Unfortunately, the computer interface could not be unplugged or otherwise made to shut up, and would continue pronouncing their doom until they were a scrap-metal crater against the burning earth. Unit Designation LaviniaMai made a memo to himself to, if he survived this, rectify the flaw.
Another explosion rocked the cabin. A piece of console went flying by, narrowing missing his head. As a matter of fact, everything was flying everywhere; the anti-gravity had failed, and the only things keeping the Robot Ogrin from spinning helplessly in midair were the rocket boosters sheathed in his back. They kept him steady as he adjusted the angle of the wings and power output of the thrusters in an effort to land the ship safely.
It was not easy, as he was being forced to compensate for the absence of three pilots. Though he was not supposed to, Unit Designation LaviniaMai took a moment to mourn them. It had been his task to defend them and the ship, to be the light in the worst of times, and he had failed. The ambush had been swift and unrelenting and merciless; that was the turn the war had taken, an inevitable course of all wars that dragged on for so very long. He was not physically capable of tiring, but he was most definitely tired. He had seen so much battle. So much fire and destruction. He had seen stars extinguished for the sake of turning the tide of the fighting, whole planets cleaved, and entire fleets go down burning like phoenixes that would never rise again. Perhaps it was simply now his turn.
"Engine four failing. Sector four is compromised; commencing Emergency Protocol Six-alpha-six-four."
The voice jarred him from his grieving and impatiently, he cancelled the aforementioned protocol. It would have diverted precious power away from his immediate concern: Not dying in the crash. It was, in fact, a rather embarrassing way to go. Crucible-class spacecrafts were among the most reliable in the Silverfleet Armada, and Unit Designation LaviniaMai was a perfectly designed pilot. Since becoming a scrap-metal crater was an affront to his honor, he would have to continue his efforts to the last.
"Secondary shields at 2%. Warning: Collision in seventeen seconds."
He did the calculations. They were not good. While the Robot Ogrin was capable of performing three thousand six hundred fifty-two actions per second regarding safe landings, a ship still couldn't fly without engines. And plugged into the failing computer like this, he was quickly being drained of his own power—any more, and he would experience another shut-down, just like what had transpired when a laser hit him in the power cortex. Which was unpleasant enough without the crash-landing scenario.
The stars through the windows tilted as the last of the stabilizing thrusters sputtered out, and the ship went into a tailspin. The target asteroid was about five kilometers wide and strangely beautiful, with red and gold speckled like tears. At least that was what some mechanics he had known called them: Stars' tears, the still-glowing craters left by meteorite impacts, visible in nebulous clusters from orbit. It was nice, except he was going to crash into it. But he could appreciate the poetry.
"Secondary shields at 0%. Warning: Secondary shields have failed. Warning: Collision imminent. Collision imminent. Collision—"
Static. The infernal computer interface had shut down at last, thank the stars for that small mercy. Heaving a sigh, the Robot Ogrin magnetized his legs, gluing himself to the floor, and sat down. He didn't need to, of course, but it was a habit he had picked up from the pilots who'd often longed with carbonated drinks in the chairs now flying above his head.
There were alarming red numbers scrolling down his vision. The Robot Ogrin elected to ignore them, even as he watched the bright blue lights on his armor sputter. There also appeared to be a hull breach nearby that had slurped away the remaining oxygen without him noticing, and was now sucking the weapon controls into the maw of deep space. It hardly mattered now, any of it.
"Forgive me, Commander. I have failed," he said to nobody.
He froze. One: The ship had stopped spiraling. It had stopped falling or moving altogether. Two: There was a face peering at him from the hole in the hull. Unit Designation LaviniaMai checked his visuals and found them to be working perfectly. This was not some sort of hallucination-inducing glitch.
"Hello," said the stranger, floating into the cabin. She was dressed in stars. At least she gave that impression, wrapped in midnight blue with bold trimmings of red. She had translucent wings that shimmered with the blue given off by the lights on the Robot Ogrin's armor.
"Honor to you, my lady," greeted Unit Designation LaviniaMai, after his processing files had finally matched the stranger with the profile of the Space Faerie. She was famous even amongst his people for keeping the peace in the systems she guarded. His people were always careful to keep their wars far away from her.
He rose and bowed, which the Faerie waved off.
"I recognize the emblem on the ship," she said. "What are you doing in this sector?" Her tone was not quite accusatory, but it was wary.
"I was crashing," he said.
"Yes, quite fortunately for you, I noticed."
"I thank you for your kindness, my lady."
"You may expect my kindness once you have answered my questions, Templar of the Silverfleet Armada. I know your people are constantly at war with someone or another; that sort of thing will not be tolerated here."
"If I may, my people combat all that is dark," he replied quietly. "We hunt everything from the lowly Evil Fuzzles to distant armies that would gather and conquer the things you have sworn to protect."
"But at what cost?" she said.
Unit Designation LaviniaMai could give her the exact ratio of ships they had lost that year to victories they had won, but he instead remained silent.
"Is there anyone else aboard?" The Space Faerie's tone softened. He shook his head. "So what about you? Do you plan to return to your war?"
Yes, said his primary directive. That was his function: To defend and protect at all costs, to rain oblivion on the enemy and rend the shadows with his bare claws if need be. He was a Templar, the guiding light against the darkness. He did not know fear, and he certainly did not know doubt.
"I... do not know," he said.
"I can restore some power to your ship." The Space Faerie floated backwards until she was hovering at the hole in the wall. Already, the main console was flying back together, and the control boards were repairing themselves. There was a slight lurch as the engines came back online, at forty percent power; the Robot Ogrin felt a surge in his own systems as the red text in his vision became green. "But not enough to get you home. However, as long as you behave yourself, I grant you entry to Neopia."
"Yes. You know of it, don't you?"
Of course he did. Everyone knew the Space Faerie's own homeworld, populated by her sisters and her Queen, and the ones they protected. "Neopia... yes. But, why? Why would you allow one such as I?"
The Space Faerie observed him for a moment and then floated back over. "What's your name?"
"Unit Designation LaviniaMai."
She pursed her lips. "That's quite a mouthful, and I'm fairly sure the first two parts are not a name. If you're to live in Neopia, I would suggest you shorten it to simply 'LaviniaMai'."
Living in Neopia seemed like a ludicrous idea, but he did not mention that out loud.
"What does it mean, anyway?" asked the Space Faerie.
"The first part means 'light' in our oldest tongue and the second is a number roughly equaling 5.384," he recited. "As a Templar of the Silverfleet Armada, I am named for the mechanic who programmed me."
"Who was that?"
"I don't know. I have never met her. There was no need."
Seemingly satisfied with the interrogation, the Space Faerie moved away again. She stayed silhouetted at the breach in the hull, a glimmering shadow.
"Neopia is different. The pets living there are accustomed to forming close attachments. Making friends. There are warriors there, too, who also fight for worthy causes, but apart from occasional quarrels—I hear there is quite a commotion going on about some Obelisk—you will not find war to the scale you are accustomed to. There is peace."
Peace. Unit Designation LaviniaMai knew the definition of that as the moment of stillness that came in the midst of the battle when time seemed to stop, the eye of the storm, when victory was tasted in the silence just before the deafening explosion. He realized the Space Faerie was speaking of a different sort of peace, however: The peace of Neopia for which she went to such lengths to guard.
"And what must I do to achieve this 'peace'?" he inquired.
She gave him a look. "Live," she said, and was gone.
The Robot Ogrin jumped slightly as the hole in the wall sealed itself and the engines began growling loudly. "Systems online. Please input coordinates."
Though the relentlessly irritating computer interface was back, he didn't mind terribly. He had much to think about. Under his careful direction, the ship turned itself around and began flying. He was not feeling brave enough to risk a warp-jump, and so it took several hours to reach his destination. When he saw it, however, many of his reservations melted away.
Neopia was beautiful, like a jewel sitting amongst the stars. Clouds wrapped much of it in a pearly sheen, but painted in startling hues of navy blue and aquamarine were great patches of water. Most planets were barren, and Unit Designation LaviniaMai was accustomed to seeing all the habitable ones scorched. Neopia glowed with life, with forests and mountains. Drinking in the sight made something in the Robot Ogrin's chest ache. His weariness was suddenly staggering as he realized that perhaps, just perhaps, he truly could find peace here.
Entry into the atmosphere was smoother than expected, possibly because he was not being shot at for once. In just a few minutes, he was skimming over bony-looking treetops, where he landed in a clearing. He surveyed the area with inquisitiveness and a little apprehension. Though he had aimed for the daytime half of planet, at an area where, relative to the sun, it should have been midday, the sky was quite dark. Things grew abundantly here, but they were creeping, wild things; plants that snarled around one another, vines that seemed quite feral.
Unit Designation LaviniaMai kept his weapon systems charged as he walked. The bright light on his head casing startled away small rodent creatures, and appeared to cause some of the bushes to recoil. He found that very curious indeed.
He whirled around. His processing was still somewhat slow since he was hit by a laser, and it took a moment to identify the one speaking to him as a Draik.
"You okay? You're not lost, are you?"
Unit Designation LaviniaMai did not know if he was lost yet, since he had just since begun exploring. His scanners detected weaponry on the Draik—a small, sheathed sword—but he decided he was not in a hostile situation. He answered politely, "No. Are you?"
"'Course not, it's my job to guard this area. I just..." The Draik scratched the back of her head, in a sheepish gesture. "I dropped my light. You're always supposed to have one, just in case, not that I really need it. I see that you'll never have a problem with that, though."
"What is this place?"
"You're not from around here, are you? This is the border between the Haunted Woods and Faerieland. Ever since the latter dropped from the sky, there're a few patrols out here to make sure Faeries—and anyone else—don't accidently get lost in the Woods. If you go just that way," the Draik pointed, "it'll be broad daylight again."
"I see. Thank you."
"Are you in a hurry?"
He paused. "No. Why?"
"I lost my light. I mean, I'm not scared of the dark or anything like that! I eat the dark for breakfast. I light it up with fire. I—"
"Would you like me to escort you?" the Robot Ogrin said, amused.
The Draik fiddled with the hilt of her sword. "If you don't mind. I was just heading back home, to Faerieland."
She continued to chatter as they walked and sure enough, the sky brightened into soft hues of blue. It was a lovely color, something he had not seen in such a long time. There was a tranquil wind, and the chatter of insects and birds. There was life, broad and unhindered, even in the border between light and darkness here. There was balance. Peace.
"So if you didn't know where you were, I assume you were lost," said the Draik.
"What's your name, anyway?"
"LaviniaMai," he enunciated slowly, more to himself than to her.
"Well then, Lav, I don't know about you, but I'm starving. Can we pick up the pace? My owner complains a ton about how annoying we are and how much we break stuff, but when she makes food, she makes really great food. I'd hate to be late. You can come, too, if you want."
"Thank you," he said.
They were rapidly leaving the spaceship behind. LaviniaMai considered this fact, and then deleted the coordinates of its location from his memory banks. The ship could only be flown by a Templar, and he was not going to do it. Let it become an old relic wrapped in vines, he decided, sleeping in the embrace of the Haunted Woods' reach, a hollowed-out metal oddity. He had found others to light the way for.