Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Against All Odds - Part Eleven
Nefarious chuckled as his screens showed the Defenders quickly approaching the building from all sides, Faeries in tow. The end was here, time for the final showdown, when good and evil finally met to settle the score. He got into his mechanical battle suit and got ready.
The Defenders made their way through the streets quickly, each approaching their destination, Nefarious' final base. Soon they were in sight of it. They stopped in the alleys and waited for Judge Hog to give the go ahead. When he did they ran.
Judge Hog, with Loraine and Dominica in tow, burst out of the alley, running towards the front door.
"Well, that's just rude, trying to sneak up on me like that." Nefarious' voice seemed to be coming from every direction.
They stopped, unsure of whether to continue into the building to look for him. He could have expected that they had found his base and was it was a trap.
"Let's not waste any time. May the best one win, Judge Hog!"
The walls of the building came tumbling down. Judge Hog grabbed Loraine and shielded them with his cape, keeping the dust from getting in their eyes. Dominica raised a shield around herself. When the dust cleared they looked up at where the building had stood.
Above them loomed Nefarious in a mechanical battle suit. Aside from his trademark dome, it was unlike anything he had created before. It was sleek, powerful, and graceful; there were no discernible weaknesses to it. It was a machine made for winning.
"Oh, that's not good," Loraine said breathlessly.
"What do we do, Boss?" It seemed like everyone was asking that at once.
Judge Hog looked at Loraine; she was staring up at the monstrosity. She looked at him, her face blank. Then a dark grin spread over it. She raised her blaster and turned the power up all the way. He smiled back, his not so malicious.
"We take him!" he cried.
Loraine moved first, she ran forward and fired quickly at the dome, three shots. All of them hit, but the dome held firm. She grunted in annoyance, though she really hadn't expected it to work. Nefarious was too clever to let the same trick work twice. A massive arm swung towards her, but it did not connect. Dominica raised a shield between her and Nefarious. Loraine got clear before he broke through the shield.
The fliers took the air, they came in at all angles, trying to plow through the arms and expose the inside of the machine so they could attack the circuits and wires within. They either didn't make contact because the machine was so fast, or Nefarious managed to swat them away or make them hit too deep to do more than slightly dent it. Loraine and Captain K's blasters only left superficial marks, and the Faeries' magic did even less.
Judge Hog called for them to regroup. The Faeries got together. They raised a force field right behind the machine's legs. The superheroes swooped in at the same time, colliding with the machine. It tottered and tried to take a step backwards to keep its balance. The force field prevented that and it toppled over. Before they could react it fired off jets from its back, propelling it back to its feet.
"Borovan, of course it would have jets. They always have," Orig snapped.
"Keep his attention on you!" Loraine's voice instructed from over their coms.
Judge Hog looked towards where she was on the ground. She had some sort of cannon mounted against her shoulder. She was braced against a large piece of debris from the building, aiming it at the machine's back.
He nodded to them to do as she instructed and flew down to her.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Wait and find out, if it works," she said.
She waited a minute more, and then pulled the trigger. Two circular, gold objects shot out and up into Nefarious' machine, going up into the rockets on its back. A moment later there was an explosion from within the machine, shrapnel rained out from it.
"Remind me to thank Fyora personally for those Ghostkerbombs!" she shouted in triumph. "And whoever at Virtupets came up with this beauty. He won't be flying away now, and he'll have a much harder time getting up again."
Judge Hog squeezed her shoulder. "Good shot, Loraine!"
Nefarious turned to see who had disabled his jets and saw them there. He reached for them, but Judge Hog picked up Loraine and started flying out of his range. Instead of turning back to fight the other superheroes and Faeries, Nefarious pursued them. His battle suit was unexpectedly fast.
Judge Hog was about to start weaving in and out of the building to lose him when Loraine cried, "No, you can't do that! He'll just follow, plowing through the buildings. We'll be putting people in danger. Do you think you can turn back and get by him?"
Judge Hog quickly glanced over his shoulder. Given the speed Nefarious was pursuing them at, he doubted it. He saw Orig right behind Nefarious; he was clearly the only one who could keep up.
"The edge of Faerieland is not far off. We'll head for that. I can drop you on one of the cloud islands just off it where he won't be able to reach you and then turn back after him."
Loraine nodded. Judge Hog put on another burst of speed; he had to keep the distance between him and Nefarious. He could take a hit from that thing, but Loraine would be killed. He saw the drop off ahead of him, Nefarious reached, the mechanical fingers just missing them. He made it over, Nefarious stopped, watching. The nearest island was far enough that he couldn't jump to it, but it was clearly in sight. Judge Hog set Loraine down.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I am," Loraine replied. "Go get him, sir."
Judge Hog flew back for the machine. It readied a massive hand to swing at him, but he dodged, only to find out that it had been a farce. The real attack was the other hand. He was violently propelled into a nearby building. Nefarious reached for him but Orig came flying in, colliding with the massive hand and pushing it away. Nefarious caught Orig with his other and began to squeeze. An involuntary cry of pain escaped him.
Judge Hog was on his feet, angry. He took off, flying faster than he ever had before, straight into the machine's chest. The force of his impact was so great that he pushed the metal casing in so far that the plates pulled away from each other. He grabbed the plates and pulled them apart, revealing the inner workings of the machine. Nefarious let go of Orig, reaching to pull Judge Hog off him.
"Judge Hog, move!" Loraine screamed over the communicator.
He pushed off against the machine, clearing it just as two more Ghostkerbombs sailed past him and into the cavity he had opened. They exploded inside the battle suit, doing untold damage. The machine spasmed and writhed before seeming to lock up. It seemed like they had beaten it.
Their victory was short lived. The machine began to topple backwards. It fell over the edge of Faerieland, down towards the sea, Nefarious still inside.
"No, no, no!" Judge Hog screamed as he dived after it.
Nefarious couldn't believe it; Judge Hog had managed to pull open the machine's housing and that woman had gotten a perfect shot from the distance she was at. He wasn't sure which was more surprising, that the Ixi woman with Judge Hog was clearly Lynette, who was supposed to have died roughly three years ago, or that she had managed to destroy his suit. Nothing was functioning now; he couldn't even blow the dome off so he could get out.
He could feel the weight in his suit beginning to shift towards the back. He still couldn't get anything to work. It began to topple, going over the side. He looked up from his console and saw the last thing he expected.
Standing on a nearby rooftop was Vicki.
Her tear streaked face. Her eyes revealing how destroyed she was by this. The toll showing in the tired lines around her eyes. These things assaulted his mind. Suddenly, he was glad. He stared hard at her face, glad to have seen her one last time.
His machine started to fall. Vicki was screaming, reaching as if she could catch him. She rushed out of sight as he plunged.
Vicki had watched the battle from a far off rooftop. She could hardly believe it when she watched them move away and come closer to her. Judge Hog was carrying Loraine, Orig following behind Nefarious. Judge Hog made it out of range of the mechanical battle suit and to a nearby island of cloud. He dropped Loraine there and headed back for Nefarious.
She watched the battle progress, turning away as Nefarious smacked Judge Hog into the building next to the one she was standing on. She couldn't watch him do this. She turned back when she heard explosions. The machine had seized up and seemed to be immobile, a smoking wound in its chest. She sighed with relief; the battle might finally be over. Then the machine began to pitch backwards.
She ran to the very edge of roof.
"Marcus!" she screamed, reaching over as if she could catch him.
The machine slipped over the edge and out of sight.
She dropped to her knees, screaming. Her mind tried to calm her.
'It'll be all right. He'll blow off the dome and fly out, it'll be all right. It will be all right.'
Part of her saw Loraine kneeling on the edge of the cloud, watching with a horror struck face. She could obviously see what was going on. Vicki waited to see relief on her face, but it wasn't coming.
It'll be all right, it'll be all right.
Judge Hog and Orig plunged, diving after Nefarious. They reached the mechanical battle suit and desperately tried to hold it aloft, but they didn't even slow its descent. It was just too huge and heavy.
"Nefarious!" Judge Hog cried, flying over to the dome and looking in. "Eject!"
"No can do, I'm afraid. Oh, look, the com is still working. That's nice," Nefarious answered.
"You're not trying!" It was true; he was just sitting there, letting this happen.
The ocean was getting closer every second. Nefarious simply sat there, unconcerned.
"Nefarious! Try something, do something, don't just sit there!" Judge Hog screamed.
He didn't say anything, his robotic eyes blank. Judge Hog started punching the dome. He kept pounding, his knuckles bleeding from the force, but not a mark appeared on the dome.
"Stop that, Judge Hog. You could try for a hundred years, but you would never break through it. I made sure of that. I got you to punch pretty hard at times. I measured your psi, and created a material that could withstand more than that. I also made sure it could hold up to blaster fire. I noticed you had Lynette with you. That's funny, I heard she was dead. You're quite the person, you know that? I admire you greatly. You made my life livable. Thank you."
"Don't do this, Marcus! Come on, try!" Judge Hog urged. "Try for Vicki!"
"To what point? I might, very unlikely, might be able to do something and get out. But, what then? I destroyed Vicki. I love my sister, she's the only one I love, the one good part of me, and yet I was cruel enough to do that to her. She told me you were her hero, and I did it anyway. No, let me fall. I never deserved her."
Judge Hog was silent, trying to think of something to say. The ocean was so close now.
"Look after Vicki sometimes, will you? Just, keep an eye from afar to make sure she's okay. Tell her I'm sorry for all the pain I caused her. I was so proud to be her brother."
"Marcus, please try," Judge Hog begged.
They reached the ocean. Orig grabbed Judge Hog, pulling him away. Nefarious' machine hit the water and began to sink. It was underwater in seconds. There was nothing they could do but watch as it sank into the depths.
Marcus watched the ocean close over the dome, cutting off sight of Judge Hog. He admired him so much, the way he refused to give up trying to save him, even though he was the bad guy. The machine began to sink. Marcus removed his helmet, a casing to make him continue to look like a Robot Eyrie. He hadn't been able to bring himself to change back into a Robot Eyrie after he had returned to his original Electric color when he went to see Vicki.
He closed his eyes. He saw her smiling face on the day he graduated. She was only eighteen. She was so young and pretty. No hardship, no pain, no Nefarious to hurt her. She was so proud of him. Tears slipped from his eyes, wetting the feathers around his eyes.
It felt so good to cry.
The machine kept sinking, but Marcus wasn't afraid. He was happy, so very happy. It was such a relief. It was finally over. There was nothing more to worry about. No boredom, no next game, no next day to get through. It was finally over.
"I'm glad you won, Judge Hog. I think I wanted to see you win. I think I wanted good to triumph over evil, for the hero to come out on top. That was what I wanted. I didn't make it easy on you, I never made it easy, but you did it anyway. All arch-villains need a hero. You're my hero, Judge Hog, mine. Thank you. You'll never know it, but I think you saved me." Nefarious said the words aloud, though there was no one to hear him.
He could hear the water beginning to trickle in. But it was okay. Everything was all right at last.
For the first and last time in his life, Marcus was truly happy.
The late afternoon sunlight of autumn washed over Mystery Island. It painted the colorful island in shades of pink and orange. On a lonely hill, not too far from the shore, was gathered a group dressed in black. All the faces were mournful, but only two were shedding tears. Vicki and Veronica stood before the grave and laid flowers on it. Many of the other mourners did the same when they were done. Vicki went to her friend Alana, who enveloped her in a hug. When Alana let go, she asked her to watch Veronica for a minute.
She walked over to a group that stood a little apart from the main body, Judge Hog, Orig, and Loraine. Loraine simply pulled Vicki into a hug; she didn't have any words to comfort her.
"Thank you for coming. I think that would have meant a lot to him," Vicki said.
"Every arch-villain needs their hero," Judge Hog said simply.
Vicki nodded, a faint smile crossing her lips.
"I'm still so proud to be his sister. In spite of everything."
"He was proud that you were his sister, and that you did the right thing. He really was," Judge Hog assured her.
"I'm glad, so glad. He was a very good brother." Vicki didn't try to stop the tears the flowed down her face.
"I have a favor to ask," Vicki said after a moment. "It hasn't come out in the papers yet who Nefarious was. I'm hoping that means no one knows yet. Is it at all possible not to let that come out?" She glanced over at her small daughter. "I want Veronica to remember her Uncle Marcus as Marcus, not Nefarious. I want my girl to be proud of her genius uncle for the good he did, not have to live under the shadow of the man he became. She shouldn't have to be punished for that."
Judge Hog nodded and Loraine said, "Outside of the Defenders, no one knows. Those Faeries, except for Dominica, all our various contacts who helped us throughout this, they don't know. We will keep the secret. We knew you would want this, and Marcus would want that for you. You'll find, if you look in the Neopian Times, an article about the lab accident that claimed the life of the brilliant young scientist. It's buried under reports about Nefarious' final battle and fall, but it is there. No one ever has to know the truth."
Vicki hugged each of them in turn, thanking them for all they did in trying to stop and save her brother. She turned and walked back to her daughter. Veronica held her mother's hand tight, trying to comfort her and be comforted at the same time.
A Magma Gnorbu stood in the back of the crowd during the funeral. He watched until Vicki came back from talking to the superheroes. He walked up to the mother and child and said, "I'm so sorry. Marcus was so good to me, a true mentor. I can't believe he is gone."
Vicki nodded. "Thank you. I'm sorry; my brother was a good man. Thank you."
The Gnorbu walked away. He looked at the headstone as he passed. Five years, he would live a normal life for five years. Then, he would return. He would exact revenge on those who had destroyed Captain Nefarious. He was his successor, his prized pupil.
He was Colonel Iniquitous.
All the other mourners had gone home. Orig had wandered off somewhere. Only Judge Hog and Loraine remained. They sat together on a bench with a view of the headstone. After a while, Judge Hog got up and went over to the headstone. The dirt before it freshly turned; a sad reminder that it had to end this way. He looked down, for a moment unsure of what to say.
"You made me who I am. You made the Defenders who they are. In spite of everything, you might have changed the world for the better. All heroes need an arch-villain, do they? If that is true, I'm glad you were mine. I'm glad you're at peace at last."
He laid an envelope on the grave. It was the letter Nefarious had sent him all those years ago.
Chloe watched the tip of her tail as she flicked it back and forth. She wasn't sure what she was feeling.
"I'm sorry," was all she could think of to say. "I'm sorry for everyone. I'm even sorry for Veronica, and I hate her."
"Don't hate Veronica. Hate what it is that she does, but don't hate her. There is still a chance to save her, for Vicki and Marcus' sake, but you can't do that if you hate her." Judge Hog was looking out into the sea.
Chloe tucked her legs more securely under her chin and thought about what he had said. Maybe he was right.
Loraine informed them the Maraquans should be nearing them. She could see them swimming towards them in the distance. She smiled, seven hours stuck at the bottom of the ocean had actually flown by.
She looked at Judge Hog's somber expression. She made a promise; she was going to try to save Veronica.