Worth Fighting For: Part Twelve
Hyren brought his sword back for a sweeping strike and it clanged against Garoo's weapon. The two locked blades, clashing and withdrawing in an intricate dance as blaster fire flew around them. Neither of them spoke—all they needed to say was in their eyes, blazing red as the two titans faced off.
The din of battle seemed to mute as Hyren poured all of his focus onto Garoo. He watched each twitch of the Blumaroo's muscles, trying to stay a step ahead of every strike, knowing Garoo was doing the same with him. They exchanged blows and blocks at breakneck speed, their blades a blur in Hyren's eyes. He was the better swordsman—that and adrenaline were the only things keeping him matched with Garoo right now.
The Blumaroo twisted his blade and Hyren expected it a moment too late. The Grundo's sword flipped out of his hand and he withdrew with a hiss, dropping to one knee.
Garoo pointed his own weapon at Hyren's chest. "I've been waiting... a long time... for this," the commander heaved, his face twisting into a malicious grin.
Hyren swallowed hard, sweat stinging his eyes. His headache had come back with a vengeance. He couldn't even see Terra and Blynn any more, and his sword lay just out of reach. He bared his teeth at the Blumaroo, daring him to do his worst.
He heard the ping of metal striking metal. Past Garoo, Hyren saw the eyes of one of the Scout Units flash green, and it turned and began firing on its own troops.
Garoo's shields flashed as he was hit and he staggered forward. "What's going on back there?!" he barked.
Something small and shiny flew past Hyren and he heard another ping, and then an Ultra Pinceron's red eye turned green. It grabbed two Virtupets soldiers, hoisting them into the air and dragging them off.
Several more 'bots were hit and let out static warbles as they, too, turned and attacked the troopers. The soldiers let out cries of alarm and confusion, and the rebels staggered back, rather confused themselves.
Hyren seized his chance. Grabbing his sword, he pushed himself to his feet and swung at Garoo. The Blumaroo recovered from his shock and parried. But he was distracted, Hyren could tell as they fought on. Garoo's mind was elsewhere just enough that his motions were ever-so-slightly mistimed. As the commander brought his blade in, Hyren swung his entire body out of the way, using the momentum to deliver a powerful kick.
He caught Garoo square in the stomach, and the force of the blow knocked the Blumaroo off his feet. The officer tucked into a roll and popped back up with a snarl. Before he could prepare for another strike, Hyren was on top of him.
"Wait's over," Hyren muttered as he smacked Garoo in the head with the flat of his blade. The commander crumpled. "Charge!" the Grundo yelled hoarsely, urging the remaining rebels forward and further into the fray. With their commander fallen and their own 'bots had turned against them, the attackers were in disarray, and Hyren's forces quickly gained the advantage.
Barely before Hyren knew it, the troopers either lay prone or had been carried away, and all of the non-rogue robot Petpets were disabled. The green-eyed 'bots dispersed, the Scout Units clomping back into the hallways and the Ultra Pincerons floating up and down to other levels.
Gasping for breath, Hyren turned back to his forces. While many of them had been stunned, there were still a good number standing, picking themselves up and assessing the damage to their equipment. He'd taken his fair share of hits, being by far the largest target among them, and now that the rush of battle was gone, he was starting to feel the pain ebbing in.
"T... Terra!" Hyren choked, scanning the scene. "Blynn!" He dreaded seeing them among the fallen.
"Hyren!" Terra called out. She stumbled her way toward him, Blynn close behind. Both of them looked frazzled and exhausted, and Terra was limping, but they were up, thank the Faeries.
He held them close with one arm. "It'll be all right," he whispered.
"So that's what the bolts do," Blynn breathed. "Wicked."
"Good... good thinking," Hyren panted with a curt nod.
Baojia's Scorchio approached them with a weary smile. "Thanks... commander. We'd have been toast without you."
He glanced up at her, having a hard time focussing his vision. "Yeah."
"We're winning!" the Gelert from earlier mentioned, leaning over one of the consoles and watching the skirmishes below. "The rogue 'bots are helping!"
"Attention, Virtu-dweebs!" a high-pitched voice squeaked over the intercom. "This ship now belongs to the owners and Neopets of the free galaxy! Next stop: Neopia! So you'd better get your sorry tails outta here, unless you want a nice welcoming party from the Faerie Queen—I'm sure she'd love to have a little chat with you!" A cheer rose up in reply.
Terra let out a weak hoorah of her own, raising her fist and then letting it fall limp. "Blynn, how did you think to hit the robots with their own bolts?" she asked, leaning against Hyren's shoulder.
The Zafara winked up at her owner. "Intuition."
Hyren struggled to stand, placing a hand to his head as he used his other hand to steady Terra. "The nearest med bay is ahead and to the left..." he panted as the conscious rebels began to pick up their companions. He glanced down at Blynn with a smirk. "I have to admit, for such an annoying little pest, you sure... ugh..." The nausea returned in full force and the world spun around him. Unable to keep control of his limbs, he fell to the floor, his sword flying from his grip.
"Hyren?" Terra gasped. "Hyren!!"
"I told you you weren't okay!" Blynn scolded as the two leaned over him.
"Wh-what's going on..." Terra stammered, her face pale.
The Grundo let out another series of coughs as pain wracked his body. "I... I don't know," he admitted.
A dark chuckle boomed from the intercom. "I know you can hear me, Hyren," a deep voice purred. The ambient light from the wall map suddenly changed color from peaceful cyan to stark white.
Hyren took in a shuddering breath and turned his head. In the place of the map was now a giant image of Sloth, seated in what Hyren recognised as the doctor's personal shuttle.
"Ah, there you are. Did you really think you were going to get off that easily?" Sloth continued, looking quite pleased with himself.
"What... are you talking about..." Hyren wheezed.
"Did you really forget what I told you all those long ages ago? The day you renounce your loyalty to me would be the day you draw your last breath," the doctor echoed.
"I'm fine," the Grundo insisted. "I can... get patched up... in the med bay..."
"You think I'm talking about your battle wounds? No, this is something else entirely." Sloth paused, seemingly to make sure Hyren was paying attention. "It was an ingenious addition to your personal mutation, if I say so myself." The doctor studied his fingernails absently. "A failsafe trigger, surreptitiously inserted into your genetic code." He looked back at the camera. "If you were ever to vocally forsake me, the trigger would activate, and..." He snapped his fingers. "Your body would shut down. I'm surprised you held out this long, really. You had more endurance than I estimated."
Terra stood and leaned over the edge, her arms shaking with rage. "You fix him right now, Sloth!" she screamed. "Do something, save him!"
Sloth's image was so oppressively large that it was hard to tell whether or not he was looking at her. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't, little owner. He's too far gone, now. Don't waste your breath on him." The doctor grinned. "I must say, Hyren, you were an interesting experiment, but all experiments must reach their conclusion." He sat back in his seat. "I'm going to enjoy watching your final moments."
"Rrrrraaaghhh!!" Blynn screeched, hopping up on the console and firing a spray of pebbles at the screen. They fell far short of their mark, rattling down on the floor below. "You dungbrain!"
Terra slowly turned and knelt next to Hyren, lifting his arm and pressing his hand to her cheek. "You feel cold..." she whispered, her eyes glassing over with tears.
The Grundo struggled for breath. "I'm so sorry, Terra." It wasn't fair, he thought. He'd finally found something that gave him real joy, finally found people who cared about him for who he was rather than what he could do for them, and now it was getting ripped away from him. How would he protect them now?
"Hm? What is it?" Sloth suddenly glanced past the camera at something. "What... what is she doing here?!" he snarled. "Ugh, don't let her—" The image blipped out and the communication abruptly ended in a fizzle of static.
"Don't leave us," Terra pled, tears splashing on her glasses and dripping onto Hyren's armour. "Please... we need you..." Blynn approached and draped herself over his chest, watching him in wide-eyed devastation. Even she finally seemed somber, her ears drooping and tail limp.
"I love you guys," he repeated, his voice barely a whisper. Terra let out a sob and pressed her face into his hand.
Hyren closed his eyes, feeling his breathing slow. All of a sudden, he vaguely discerned a murmur of activity above. There were voices, excited voices, and he picked out the word "Faerie" a few times. Opening his eyes again, he saw a gentle, deep blue glow begin to fill the command deck, and he thought he glimpsed stars on the ceiling far above.
"What's happening up there?" someone shouted from beside him.
"...Space Faerie! The Space Faerie's here!"
"A little too late!" the rebel shot back.
"She says she's gonna help get us back to Neopia!"
Terra looked up as well. Her lips thinned and she gave Hyren's hand one last squeeze before letting go and staggering to her feet. "M-miss Space Faerie," she called out, shaky and raw. She cleared her throat and steadied herself. "Miss Space Faerie! Come here, please! We need your help!!"
The light intensified, and a figure gracefully stepped off of the top terrace and floated downward. As she approached, Hyren felt a soothing coolness throughout his body.
Terra shuffled aside as the source of the light landed next to her. It was a tall, slender woman with lustrous copper skin, bright red eyes, and neon-blue hair. Her star-covered legs faded into a vague mist before reaching the ground. A pair of gossamer wings fluttered at her back as she looked over the rebels.
"Lady Mira," Hyren breathed. He had never seen the Space Faerie in the flesh before.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, her voice husky and velvet.
"We really could've used your help," the red Tuskaninny replied, "for the past, I dunno, eight months?"
"I've been away on other important business," Mira explained, folding her arms. "Not to mention, Sloth usually has his capital ships cloaked from my magic. When the cloaking suddenly went down on his flagship, though, it stuck out like a supernova and I knew I had to investigate." She glanced around and smiled. "Besides, it seems as though you've done a fine job here, yourselves."
"Miss Space Faerie, please save our friend!" Terra blurted, dropping back to Hyren's side. "He's—he's not gonna make it! Please, ma'am, I know he used to work for Sloth but he's good now!"
The Faerie's eyes dropped to meet his and her eyebrows rose. "Ah, Commander Hyren. This is an interesting turn of events, is it not?"
Hyren gritted his teeth as pain pulsed through his body once more. "Spare me... the small talk..."
"Can you save him or not?!" Blynn cried.
Mira knelt next to Terra, her brows pinched in concentration and her voice low and quick. "Hyren, I have the ability to undo the trigger and save your life. But it will mean having to reverse your mutation and restore you to your original form," she explained. "Furthermore, if you ever attempt to take on the form of a mutant again, your genetic structure will destabilise entirely and you will not survive. Do you still wish me to do this?"
The Grundo looked at the imploring faces of his two best friends. It wasn't all that difficult of a decision to make. "Yes," he grunted. "Please, Lady. I just want to be with them... and continue to protect them."
Mira bent over his body, placing one gloved hand on his forehead and the other on his chest. "Then it shall be done." She closed her eyes and extended her wings, and her glow enveloped Hyren.
His eyelids shut and he saw stars, a sea of infinite stars, all singing some celestial aria, an ode to the universe. Galaxies thundered their cosmic cantatas across the void, beckoning to him to join in. And he did, letting out a low hum that became a white-hot bellow of strength. He knew then that he had a power inside of him that no one could take away, and would be a part of him regardless of how big or strong he might be, or how large an army he commanded.
Arcing through the cosmos, Hyren found himself falling toward a grand spiral galaxy, its arms outstretched to catch him. The harmony reached its crescendo as he plunged into the light of four hundred billion suns, singing all the way.
He opened his eyes with a start, the music merely vague echoes in the back of his mind. All of the pain was gone, and his breaths came easily. Terra and Blynn were still huddled around him, staring at him in shock. The first thing he noticed was how strangely loose his armour felt on him.
Mira withdrew her hands, tucking her wings against her back. "There we are. How do you feel?"
"Thank you, Lady," Hyren replied. "Much better." He blinked, his antennae twitching. "I sound different." Although his voice was not as high-pitched as Blynn's, it was definitely no longer deep and throaty.
Blynn placed a paw to her mouth and giggled, and Terra was trying to suppress a grin as well. Even Mira had mirth dancing at the corners of her mouth.
"What?" Hyren sat up, and his helmet fell down over his eyes, several sizes too large. Flustered, he pulled it off and tossed it aside, then paused and looked down at his hands and arms, turning them over as though he couldn't figure out whether or not they were actually his. No longer green and muscle-bound, they were now a shade of cerulean, and slightly pudgy. And they were so small that they had slipped right out of his bracers.
This was something he hadn't seen in long ages, and it was taking a while to fully sink in. "I'm... little again," Hyren realised aloud, slipping out of the neck opening between his chestplate and backplate and planting his feet on the floor.
"You're so cute!" Terra squealed, launching herself at him and wrapping him in a hug. "I love unmutated Grundos, they're adorable!"
"D'awww, he's so stubby!" Blynn chimed in with a delighted laugh.
"Stop that!" Hyren fussed, trying to pull away. "I am not cute, missy!" he insisted, scowling and shaking a finger at Terra. He paused and blinked, noticing for the first time that he was looking up at her. Now she had to crouch down to be near eye level with him, when it had been vice versa since they met. "...You're taller than me." He looked over at Blynn and withdrew in shock. "YOU'RE taller than me!" he cried out.
The girls laughed again. "Well, now you know how I've felt this whole time!" Blynn pointed out. "I'm gonna miss riding on your head, though. Hmm, I wonder if I can still..."
"Don't you dare," Hyren growled, swatting away her attempts to climb on top of him.
Terra enveloped him in another hug. "I'm so glad you're okay," she breathed. "I don't know what I would do without you." She looked up at the Space Faerie. "Thank you so much, ma'am. How can we ever repay you?"
Mira patted her shoulder. "I think this is repayment enough," she replied.
Hyren squeezed Terra back, still trying to get used to their new size dynamic. "I'll never leave you two. I promise."
She finally let go of him, taking off her glasses and wiping her eyes on her cloak. "Hyren... did you mean what you said about wanting to be my Neopet?"
The former mutant smiled at her. "Of course." His smile faded. "If you still want me, I mean." He looked down at his hands again. "I know I'm... different than what you're used to. It's going to take a lot of training to get this body up to snuff again."
Terra patted his head affectionately like he used to do to her. "That doesn't matter to me. I'm just so glad you're okay, and you want to stay with us."
Hyren felt himself blush, embarrassed. "All right, then. When we get back to Neopia, let's fill out the adoption forms."
"Awesome!" Blynn whooped, dancing in circles around them. "I've always wanted a brother! Man, this is gonna be the best!"
"Hey, let's have a cheer for Commander Hyren!" Baojia's Scorchio insisted, thrusting her fist in the air. "Hip, hip, hoorah!" The other rebels in their group followed suit.
The Grundo shook his head, holding out his hands in protest. "Please. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. And you can stop calling me 'Commander', because I'm not one any more."
"Modesty doesn't become you," Blynn replied with a snicker, she and Terra smothering him in another hug.
Mira watched them for another moment. "Well, I think it's high time we turned this ship around and got you all back to Neopia," she announced. "Everyone who's injured, head to the med bays. I'm going to need those with computer skills here on the bridge." She looked down at Hyren. "Seems like your companions could use a little rest and healing."
"Don't have to tell me twice." Hyren muttered up to the Faerie. His expression softened. "...Thank you, Lady Mira."
She nodded. "And thank you. You are a great and honourable warrior, Hyren."
He shrugged. "Yeah, yeah. All right, let's get you two patched up." Hyren moved to retrieve his sword. He tried not to think about how the blade was now longer than he was tall until he tried to lift it, and with great effort barely managed to pick up the hilt. His antennae fell. "Um."
Terra frowned, rubbing her chin in thought. "It's okay, Hyren," she finally said. "I'll hold on to it for you until you're strong enough to use it again."
"All right," he said with an embarrassed chuckle, handing her the hilt.
She clipped the belt over her shoulder, slipping on her pack over it and re-adjusting the straps. "Not too bad," she announced, shifting her shoulders back and forth to test the weight. Terra paused for a moment, and then undid the belt at her waist. "Here. You can use mine until then." She handed the Grundo her shortsword.
Hyren took it, turning the scabbard over in his hands. Sure it wasn't his claymore, but it was from the same stock. And it was something he could actually lift. He would need to get on a strict training regimen soon, though, if he wanted to be able to wield it. As it was, he realised he was physically weaker than Terra at this point.
"Thank you," he replied, fastening the belt around his middle. Even now, the shortsword was a little big for him, but as long as the tip didn't drag on the ground, he'd be satisfied.
"Hyren, you coming?" Baojia's Techo asked as he and the Scorchio carried their owner away.
"One last thing." Hyren let out a snort as he turned to face the map screen. Reaching over, he picked up his helmet and climbed on top of the console bank. He drew his arm back and hurled the helmet as far as he could, watching with satisfaction as it sailed through the air and dashed to pieces on the floor far below. "That's better." He hopped back down, dusting off his hands.
Terra put an arm around Hyren's shoulder. "Welcome to the family," she said.
"You guys are the best family I could ask for," he replied.
Hyren realised he was still awake. He grunted and shoved at his pillow, pulling his hand away when he felt wetness. "Well, that's embarrassing," he muttered, turning the pillow over to hide the incriminating evidence of his sensitivity, and quickly dabbing at his eyes with his blanket.
He swung his legs over the side of his bed, staring groggily out the window. Blynn's and Pharazon's voices were gone, and Altador was still swathed in darkness, although the sky possessed a vague greyness that suggested dawn was fast approaching. Kreludor had long since set.
Hyren blinked. There was someone standing on the terrace outside. Launching himself off the bed, the Grundo opened the door to the balcony and walked into the cool night air, which smelled like cypress, wet grass, and the nearby sea.
Terra was leaning against the terrace railing, her arms folded on the marble balustrade as she watched the ships at port and the slow rotation of the lighthouse's mirrored flame. She had grown, Hyren thought as he approached her. She was slightly taller now, wore her hair in a braid instead of simply tied back, and carried herself with a little more confidence. But she still smiled the same and laughed the same, and listened to his stories with those same wide wondering eyes.
He stood on a ledge halfway up the railing so he could rest his own arms on the top. "Couldn't sleep either, huh."
When Terra had decided to move them from Mystery Island, she'd been able to afford a spacious villa on a hill overlooking the sea. Hyren had to admit to himself that the view was wonderful, as he looked out at the farmlands of Altador sprawled below them. The main city glittered in the distance, further up the coast.
His owner leaned her head into her hand, stray wisps of hair tossed by the breeze. "I've been thinking about when I met you."
"Yeah, me too." He turned to her. "That was the best adventure I've ever been on."
She smiled. "Do you ever miss it? Your old form, I mean."
"Sometimes," he admitted, picking up his hands and flexing them, looking at the stubby fingers he'd grown re-accustomed to. "But I also have too many bad memories associated with it. From before I met you and Blynn, I mean." He draped his arms over the edge. "Mutant Grundos tend to get thought of as meatheads, anyhow. And no one from my past will recognise me in this body if I ever happen to cross paths with them again. Besides, I don't necessarily need to be bigger and stronger than everyone else." He chuckled hoarsely. "I'm not that insecure."
Terra leaned in and gave his shoulders a squeeze. "I like you just the way you are, dude."
"Hey!" Blynn's voice sliced through the night. Hyren watched as the Disco Zafara bounded across the terrace, scrambling onto the railing on the opposite side of Terra from himself. If there was any paint job that fit her better than her original red, Hyren thought, it was definitely Disco.
"It's a little early for the party, isn't it?" Blynn continued, moving up and down on her toes on the same ledge Hyren was standing on. "Oh—" She did a double-take at Hyren as though she noticed him for the first time. "Surprise!!" She flung her arms into the air.
"Thank you," Hyren groaned, slumping over the top of the balustrade, "for ruining whatever semblance of sleep I thought I could get tonight."
"It's what I do best." Blynn grinned toothily.
"We were talking about the time we met," Terra explained to her Zafara, reaching over and running her hand through the tuft of fur on the Neopet's head.
"Oh man, that was great! Do you remember those epic battles? And how I used to call you 'chief'?"
Hyren laughed in exasperation. "What do you mean, 'used to'? You still do!"
"Hyren! So glad you're awake!" The Grundo looked over his shoulder to see ArPharazonTheGolden loping toward him, a pile of books in the Faerie Draik's arms. "I haven't been able to find any information at all on proper Kreluberry cultivation, and I was hoping perhaps you could fill the gaps in my knowledge," Pharazon continued, the books beginning to tilt dangerously off balance. "You see, I thought you might appreciate a research paper on—"
Hyren reached out and steadied the book pile.
"Oh, thank you!" the Draik sighed. "I suppose the paper can wait..." He set the volumes down and joined his family at their perch. "Are we observing anything in particular? I hear the Protector is in particularly good view this time of year..." he rambled, scanning the skies for the constellation.
"Nah," Terra replied, shaking her head. "Just hanging out."
"Reminiscing," Blynn clarified.
Pharazon looked back down at her. "Oh? About what?"
"The time she and I met Hyren," Terra answered.
"Hm. You know, I don't know if you've ever told me about it," the Draik mentioned. He fingered his whiskers, a sure sign, Hyren knew, that he was curious.
"It's a good story," their owner said. "You should hear it sometime. If Hyren feels like telling it." She gave the Grundo a knowing smile.
"Maybe some other time." He yawned. "But I'll tell you what I would like to do. We should go to the Virtupets Space Station tomorrow - er, later today – and have lunch at Grundos."
"I'd like that," Terra replied.
"Sounds like the perfect time to get some reading done!" Pharazon added.
"Ohhhh, and I can pull the Lever of Doom!" Blynn said. "We still don't have that avatar and I want it!"
Terra grimaced. "Okay, but I'm putting a five-thousand-NP cap on you this time!"
By now the sky had gotten pinker, and the clouds lightened until finally they started to be touched at their fringes by golden sunlight. The lighthouse dimmed, its flames extinguished until night would fall again.
"You know," Hyren began, "you may be nutty, but you're the best family ever."
Terra laughed, gathering in all three of her Neopets for a group hug. "Happy Grundo Independence Day, Hyren."
"I celebrate my independence every day," he replied, "by being thankful for you guys."