"Claus, stop this. . ."
Again, he heard it, the soft, soothing voice of a strange woman. This time it came
through with full clarity. Who was she? And how did she know this masked boy? More
importantly, where was it coming from?
It simply defied all logic and virtually every conceivable law of physics. In his
confusion he shifted his glance in every possible direction to identify and destroy the
source of this interference. His brief search turned up no results. Not even the infrared
scanner in his right eye could pick up the presence of anyone except those of whom he
had already been aware.
She said something about a son and a brother. Who's son? Who's brother? What
did those words even mean? And who was this Lucas? Why did he know that name?
He shook his head in frustration and stifled his own hearing. Even more now he
wanted the source of this disturbance to be within firing range. This voice could not be
allowed to exist anymore, lest it continue to confuse him with cryptic words, speaking
with such audacity as if it knew him.
And why was she calling him Claus?! That wasn't his name!
Wait. . . if that wasn't his name, then what was? Did it matter now that he was
about to silence all life forever?
"Come to your mother," her voice wafted gently over his ears. "You must be so
Mother? It was the first time he'd ever heard the word. It seemed to make sense,
but he still couldn't pinpoint the source!
Then, of course, there was the figure before him, the one he was ordered to
eliminate. He began to question just why he was such a threat. Though the child had
inflicted significant damage, each blow he landed seemed to have hurt him just as much.
Just as he appeared to be gaining the upper hand, he stopped. If this child truly was to be
taken seriously, then why would he do something so foolish as throw away his
What confused the masked boy even more is that the fight was entirely one sided
up until now. It was nothing like their first encounter where this other boy matched him
in every way that was possible, enough to force a retreat. Something had changed in that
short time. Why was he refusing to fight back? Clearly this child knew something that
the other did not, and that knowledge caused him pain.
The masked boy froze. A flash of white burst from the deepest reaches of his
subconscious and clouded his vision. When the light dimmed he found himself looking
up at a strange ceiling, reclined in a rocking crib, and cloaked in the softest blanket that
ever touched his skin. He felt strangely needy, weak, and helpless, and could not speak a
single word. In front of him stood two unknown people who fawned over him. He'd
never seen them before and he couldn't understand a word they were saying, yet they
seemed to invoke a strange sense of affection and familiarity. He looked to his left to see
another crib that matched his. Inside lay an infant boy who was receiving the same
treatment as him.
Another flash of light engulfed his field of view, and he found himself running
around in a field of sunflowers. He was joined by an older, much more clothed version
of the infant boy he saw in the crib, his envious golden hair now fully developed. This
boy just told him the funniest joke he'd ever heard. The two of them collapsed to the
ground and laughed until their sides hurt. A woman's voice called out from the horizon.
"Lucas, Claus, it's time for lunch!"
A strange utterance escaped from his mouth. "Race you!" He sprang upward and
took off in the direction of the house.
"No fair!" the other boy shouted, after him. "You have a head start!"
A third flash, and this time he and the other boy carried their fishing gear, walking
barefoot alongside a river bank. He held yet another trophy bass by its hook while the
other boy wore a mask of disappointment.
"How come you always catch the big ones?" the boy whined.
"I'm sure there's plenty more like this left in there," he consoled the other boy,
patting him on the back with his free hand. "You're bound to catch one of them
One last flash brought his attention to a fresh omelet sitting on a plate. As soon as
the heavenly dish was placed in front of him he began shoveling it in as though his life
depended on it. The other boy sat to his right, savoring each bite as if it were his last.
"Why you always gotta eat so slow, Lucas?" he asked. The fluffy eggs muffled
his words and puffed out his cheeks.
"Claus, don't talk with your mouth full," a woman's voice interrupted. "It's rude."
Desperate to speak without further castigation, he swallowed, forgetting to chew
at least half of what he'd put in his mouth. It ached all the way down his throat, and he
clutched his neck briefly.
"And that's what happens when you don't chew," the other boy taunted, smirking
with his eyes half shut.
"Oh, boy, that's gonna give me trouble later," he responded.
The warm, homely logs of the house disintegrated into the cold, dark caves lined
with an eerie purple glow from beneath the rocks. The image of that blond-haired boy at
the table blurred and darkened, fading out to the sight of that same person, now bruised
and battered, standing against him in combat. His bat was raised in defense as it was
from the beginning.
It was just a vision. It wasn't real. This child had to be destroyed!
Except now his own strength was beginning to falter just as well, diminishing
with each swing he took. Why? Was he starting to sympathize for this child? Where did
those memories even come from?
He cringed at the very notion of possessing such unacceptable thoughts within his
data bank. These were thoughts which could only traverse through the neurons of
sentient beings. Could it be that he was still more human than he once thought? No! It
was far too horrible to even consider. . . but how could he assign such a subjective term
to this prospect unless he truly felt that way? Was he starting to feel things now?
"Lucas. . ."
The voice sounded as though it had been forced out against the will of the
speaker. It belonged to a boy who had been callously reconstructed into a sickening
amalgam of flesh and steel. This voice was his own.
Wait a second. . . those omelets. . . she made them.
She was so kind and gentle, and she'd always been there for them. She gave them
guidance, she gave them love, and above all she gave them life.
She was their mother.
This unfamiliar and arbitrary term of address suddenly ceased to be just that. It
meant everything to him now. It was the very reason why the two of them stood there.
In a slow, jittery, and hesitant maneuver he pried the masking helmet from his
head and carelessly tossed it aside. The source of concealment struck the rocky ground
with an apocalyptic clank and rolled away slightly before rolling over on its underside.
The scarred, forlorn face of an auburn-haired youth at last came into view. It
seemed the first time he'd ever seen light outside of that confining helmet. He no longer
wished to inflict harm on the figure before him, and now he remembered exactly why.
His name was Claus. The one who stood before him was Lucas. The visions
were all true.
Claus's mind swam with a torrent of memories that had just been crammed back
into his head all at once. They were scattered and disorganized like refugees of a great
war. He stood as though paralyzed, his eyes fixated on Lucas.
"My brother. . ." he cried softly, as though reminding himself.
A feint smile crossed Lucas's face. He lowered his bat and began to take a step
forward, but his smile disappeared as soon as he caught sight of Claus's right iris. It
glowed bright red with such intensity as if it alone wished him dead. Lucas recoiled in
horror once he realized what his brother had become. He'd seen it before.
Claus had gone missing at the age of nine, on the same day as his mother's
funeral, and he was gravely injured in his pursuit of revenge. His body was recovered by
the Pigmask army and subjected to the whims of twisted medical science. The process
saved his life, but it also left pieces of him missing. It created the need for even his
organs to fuse with a host of artificial components.
It was the same vile practice which set into motion the events that stole his mother
from him. Now he was just like that Drago. Except, rather than overriding animal
instinct, it took over his reasoning. Up until now the essence of Claus could only observe
passively from the sidelines. For three years his cybernetic body grew up with out him
and carried out orders from the highest command.
It still was. A small pulse of energy flickered inside of his head. It was a
reminder to complete his objective. Destroy the child! He is a threat to your mission!
Claus caught notice of the beam attachment on his right arm once again locked on
target. Somehow it was acting of its own accord. "Help me," he pleaded. "I can't stop!"
At last, he had woken up, bearing witness to the suffering that his emotionless
surrogate left in his wake. His brother, Lucas, beaten, bloodied, and on the verge of tears,
stood helplessly against him, his weapon-bearing right arm hanging listlessly at his side.
His father, Flint lay still on the ground after receiving two full blasts of raw psychokinetic
energy. Two strangers that he scarcely knew outside of combat, and Boney, the faithful
mutt that he once knew, each struggled to their feet after being struck by a vicious bolt of
lightning from his energy sword. Hundreds more, their lives displaced and destroyed by
the Pigmask occupation. . . one could wonder if he ever truly had the bliss of ignorance in
"Lucas, please! Help me!" His tone was stronger now, and it reflected true
conviction. What's more, it was human.
He shut his eyes tightly, grunting as if fighting against an unseen entity. His
beam arm rattled violently for a few seconds and was quickly forced upward before
discharging a vibrant, red blast of light. The wayward projectile carved a smoking hole
into the cave's ceiling. Claus stood locked in place and flinched as the resulting dust
rained down on his head. "I can't do this for much longer," he pleaded.
"Claus, I. . ." Lucas answered, his voice dripping with heartache. "I don't know
what to do!"
"Lucas!" A feminine voice echoed from behind. It was Princess Kumatora,
fighting through the sting of lightning that was still mildly arcing around her in sporadic
moments. Like Duster and Boney, it kept her pinned to the ground. It disrespectfully
frizzed her pink hair. "Get a grip on yourself! Go for the needle!"
"No!" Claus panicked. His beam arm snapped down and instantly clicked back
into firing position. The mere mention of the needle seemed to jolt his cybernetics into
overdrive. "You'll be dead before you can reach it!"
The beam arm began to burn a fiery red. It emitted an electric hum that
gradually grew in pitch. This time it was charging for a high-powered shot. As the glow
reached its zenith, Claus's entire body began to rattle. He bared his teeth, growling as he
strained to defy his programming once more. His growl raised in volume to a yell,
seeming to provide a much needed boost.
Finally, he breached the threshold and forced the beam arm to his immediate
right. The rest of him followed suit, shifting hard in the same direction as he staggered to
regain his footing. The charged shot burst from the barrel and instantly cooked a large
chunk of the rocky wall into a searing, molten mess. Wearily, he dropped his perverted
arm to his side and slouched forward, panting heavily. He hadn't the time to be amazed
that he still had control over his own breath. "There's only one way," he huffed.
In desperate protest, Lucas released what little grip he had on his bat. He stood
motionless, his eyes half shut and fixated on the ground. He had sworn to ensure a
peaceful future for the world, yet in the face of this final obstacle he could do nothing.
No longer did he even deem himself worthy to look his twin brother in the eye.
"I won't fight you!" Lucas shouted. "I can't!"
The inner workings of Claus's cybernetics made a quick analysis of his insurgent
behavior and concluded that the host had reclaimed his memory. One final order was left
to carry out. From deep within its core, far beneath the plating under his skin, on a small
indicator screen, a textual message was displayed in red lights:
SELF-TERMINATION SEQUENCE INITIATED.
Claus caught his breath and relaxed his stance, adjusting from his slouch. "So,
that's it, then." His eyes reflected a serene acceptance. He tilted his head back and gazed
at the earthen canopy above his head. For the moment he could only picture the starry
night sky. He remembered each precious night that he and Lucas used to spend up in
their favorite tree pointing out various heavenly bodies and constellations. Lucas had
always been better at spotting them, one of very few advantages he had over Claus.
"Lucas. . ." he called out, reluctant to break the news to him explicitly. "Don't
Forsaking prior negative reinforcement, Claus raised his energy sword high and
began to gather an unprecedented amount of electric energy. Within seconds the blade
was enveloped in a chaotic and crackling whirlwind of lightning.
Lucas stared with his mouth agape in terror at the sight before him. "Claus, No!"
he screamed. "Are you crazy?! Don't do it!" It was a waste of breath. Claus launched
the energy in the direction of his brother, his beam sword pointing the way. Thanks to
the badge pinned to Lucas's shirt, he was unharmed by the blast. Just as quickly as it
reached its intended target, the energy fled all at once and right back to its master. Claus
outstretched his arms to receive the deadly bolt without resistance. For a moment the
pace of time was blurred and distorted. All that could be observed was a blinding flash, a
bloodcurdling scream, and an ensnaring cloud of smoke.
Lucas slowly peeled his eyes back open to catch a horrifying glimpse of Claus
emerging from the smoke. He sauntered weakly and with a limp. His entire right side
sizzled and sparked momentarily. His beam arm attachment was now severed from its
main line, its locking mechanism fried. It slid down his robotic hand before a casual flick
of his wrist shook it off completely. His infrared iris was reduced to a dim flicker.
His insides were torn open, choking on their own fluids. He had effectively
shorted out the very cybernetic enhancements that kept him alive. Lucas could feel his
heart being stepped on with every crippled stride that Claus took.
Taking advantage of the momentary cease fire, and figuring that Lucas was in no
frame of mind to heal anyone, Kumatora surrounded herself with a green healing aura,
then reached out to Duster and Boney for the same treatment. She then rushed over to
Flint to catch him in what may have been the last inch of his life. As Flint received the
aura he took a deep breath and Kumatora helped him stand back up.
Only one full stride lie between the twins now. Claus stared apologetically into
his brother's eyes. He was weak-kneed and nauseated. For the first time he felt the shock
of his horrific injuries and massive blood loss that occurred on that tragic day. The
twisted metal beneath his skin, now lacking guidance and structure, scraped viciously
against his internals with every movement. Still, he smiled.
His legs began to give out on him and he stumbled forward. Lucas braced himself
and caught him, bearing most of the weight on his back leg before dropping to one knee.
With what little strength Claus had, he wrapped his arms as tightly as he could around his
brother. Lucas hesitated briefly, having not quite caught up to reality, but he returned the
favor just the same.
"Lucas. . ." Claus's voice was dulled to a feeble whisper. "I'm so sorry it had to
turn out this way." He gasped briefly, and let loose with a hard, wet cough, hacking up a
sickening glob of blood that struck the cave floor. A streak of crimson trailed down his
"Hold on, Claus," said Lucas. "I can help you. Please, stay with us!" He held his
right hand out to his side and prepared his own emerald glow but Claus reached out and
took Lucas by the wrist before the healing aura could be used. "What are you doing?"
Lucas squeaked, his voice almost devoid of hope. "Let me heal you!"
"That's really awesome of you," Claus murmured. He pulled Lucas's hand down
to waist height, and the aura slowly blinked out. "It really is. But you couldn't heal me if
you tried. I'm more robot than human. Otherwise I'd be crying like you are. And believe
me, I want to."
Claus was right. Lucas had been so fixated on his dying brother that he'd failed to
take notice of the warm tears pooling in his eyes. For the first time since he last mourned
for his mother, Lucas reached a point where he could no longer hold them back. As he
embraced Claus even tighter, they streamed down his face as if he'd been saving them up.
To an extent, he had.
"Claus, I'm so sorry!" he howled. "I should have never let you go off alone on
Mount Oriander like that! I should have said something sooner!" His sobbing echoed
throughout the entire cave. "If I hadn't let you go, none of this would have ever
happened! It's all my fault!"
"Lucas, calm down." Claus backed his head away to make eye contact. His vision
was growing darker, his speech now a painful sputter. "Stop talking nonsense. We both
know that it was my own fault. But thank God for you, Lucas. Thank you so much for
being here. . ." He tucked in his head and coughed again. He picked his head back up,
and his infrared eye burnt out completely. "You set me free. I couldn't have asked for a
better brother than you."
Feeling a hint of restoration on his wounded soul, Lucas broke through his wall of
agony with an appreciative smile. What else could he have done? It was the most
fulfilling praise he'd ever heard from him. He rested his head on Claus's shoulder. By
this time, Flint and the others had drawn closer to join the twins.
Flint knelt down and placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "Claus, it's your
"Dad. . .?" Claus croaked. He turned his head slightly, as much as his condition
"Yes," Flint answered. "I'm here, son." He was just as torn up inside as Claus,
and bearing witness to the face of his son's pain only served to twist the knife. Perhaps
the blow was lessened somewhat when he came to halfway accept his son's death by
proxy on that day, but this was the sort of closure he hadn't counted on. "Come on,
Lucas," he said. "We should at least make him comfortable."
Lucas raised his bloodshot eyes to Flint, wrung them out, and nodded in
agreement. He handed Claus over to his father, who slowly and gently set him on the
ground. Aching from separation, Lucas quickly crawled behind his brother and scooped
him up, tightly cradling his head in his arms.
Flint squeezed out a single tear. This was the last time he would ever see his two
"I'm sorry, Dad," Claus weakly forced out. "I know I could have been so much
more than this."
"It's all right, son," Flint reached for his son's free hand and clasped it tightly. "I
know you did your best. You were just hasty, that's all." He ruffled his hand through
Claus's hair. "I'm proud of you, Claus. I always have been."
If Claus had the strength to return a smile, he surely would have. "I'll see you all
again someday. . ." He could feel the air start to leave his lungs. It was a struggle to even
form words. "I have to go be with Mom, now. She's waiting for me."
His head sank deeply into Lucas's arms, and he took his last breath.
Something inside of Lucas snapped. In the most unexpected of fashions, almost
seeming involuntary, he discharged a pulse of raw psychic energy. Flint backed away
remembering the full extent of the damage he suffered from before. He soon came to the
realization that suddenly he no longer held a position of authority over his remaining son.
Boney let out a yelp and quickly scurried off to hide behind his master. Lucas's head
hung as low as it could to conceal his face. The others could only stare and wonder what
could possibly be going through his head.
"You all just stood there." A sudden coldness and foreboding shrouded Lucas's
voice. His tone grew increasingly hostile. "You all just stood by and let it happen!"
"Lucas!" Flint spoke up. "How could you say that? You know there was nothing
anyone could do!"
"Oh, was there?!" Lucas picked his head back up. There was a rage in his eyes
that seemed even more unbecoming of him. "Was there, really?! Or did you all just not
care enough to think of something?!"
"My God, the boy's delirious. . ." Kumatora muttered under her breath.
"We could have taken him back to the Chimera lab!" Lucas continued his tirade.
"We could have kept him healed all the way over there, and swapped out his robot parts
for living ones!"
"You really think your brother would have wanted to live like that?!" Duster
argued. He hadn't even known the boy, and yet his stomach wrenched at the very
suggestion of such a practice. His interjection was grossly out of turn. He was a thief,
not a grief counselor. He never had it in him to console survivors of dead family
members, especially when they'd been driven this crazy.
"Shut up!" Lucas screamed. It was the sort of fit to be expected from someone
half his age. "You don't know him! You don't know what he would have wanted! It
wouldn't have been perfect, but at least it would have been something! At least he would
have still been alive! But we didn't do that, did we?! We didn't do anything!"
"Lucas. . ." It didn't matter who said it.
"All of you, shut up!" The distance between Lucas and the others seemed to grow
exponentially. He shouted at the top of his lungs. "I hate you! I hate you all!"
No one in the room blamed him the least bit for his outbursts. They knew he
didn't mean a word.
"I. . ." He couldn't bring himself to scream another word. His senseless rant was
over, his anger subsided, his heart ground into dust. The aggression slowly faded from
his face, broken down by a tearful wince and a hysterical sob. He immersed himself into
the lifeless husk that once held the bright and energetic spirit of his sibling.
The danger of Lucas's company had passed. Flint reclaimed his spot and
embraced his two sons as he'd wanted to from the very beginning. Boney set his front
paws on his former companion, whimpering along with Lucas, but he just couldn't
compete with his volume. Duster bowed his head in silence to pay his respects. Though
he couldn't even begin to relate, though he had no concept for the bond between the
twins, he knew the poor kid didn't deserve to die so horribly and so soon. And poor
Lucas, left behind as half of his family was so needlessly torn away from him. What
cruel, uncaring fate.
They were all focused on their condolences. It was as much privacy as she was
going to get. No one would have ever expected Kumatora to be one to show a side like
this, and she still wasn't quite ready for anyone to see it. She buried the upper half of her
face in her palm. A lone tear could be seen sliding down between her fingers if anyone
could have been bothered to notice. Though she had all but given up on telepathy, her
empathy allowed her to sense and feel Lucas's pain for herself as though it were inflicted
upon her. A small part of her may have even wanted to resent him for it, but she just
couldn't bring herself to think that way. Not now.
It must have taken at least ten minutes of solid crying, but the cave was silent
now, aside from the sniffles and subdued sobs from Lucas. He still felt the sting from his
brother's attacks, or at least he wanted to. It may not have been the most pleasant
sensation, but he savored the pain. It seemed all he had left.
Once he came to accept the futility of his tears, he released Claus and gently set
him down. His face was soaked, glistening in the ambient glow from the cave. He
propped himself up on his hands and knees and looked down at his fallen brother with
"It's just not fair, Dad," Lucas blubbered. "He barely even had a chance!"
"I know, Lucas," said Flint. "It hurts me, too. More than you know. But we can
at least take comfort in the fact that he's in a better place, now. He's with your mother, as
he should be. And you can darn well bet they're both a lot happier."
"Sure doesn't make me miss them any less," Lucas said, shaking his head.
"Yeah, that part's not going away for a while, I'm afraid," Flint responded. He
wished he was in a state that allowed him to console his son more effectively, but it was
far too soon for him to even try.
Lucas closed in on Claus and loomed over his head. Even considering how much
he'd been defiled with machinery, Lucas had never seen him in such a peaceful sleep.
His servitude was over, and he could finally rest. Right then he knew that he'd already
done the best thing for Claus. He put an end to his horrible suffering and stayed by his
side in his last moments. His mind now somewhat at ease, he leaned in and kissed his
brother on the forehead.
"Say hi to Mom for me," he whispered with a quivering lower lip. He backed off
and stared at the ground briefly.
Two more hands found their ways to his shoulder. Duster and Kumatora knelt
down on either side of Lucas.
"Here, lemme fix you up," Kumatora said. "You look like hell." With that, she
distributed her soothing aura throughout his body. The wounds on his face faded, the
blood washed all at once from his forehead. She offered him the most delicate tone that
she could muster. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. If he was anything like you, I'm sure
he'd have been an awesome friend."
Lucas reached over and touched Kumatora's hand. "You have no idea."
"Yeah, um. . . " Duster began solemnly. "You hang in there, kid." He cupped his
forehead with his free hand. "Geez, I'm no good at this."
Lucas managed to crack a smile. "No, it's all right. I don't expect a eulogy. It
means enough that you're here."
"So, uh. . ." Duster felt rather cold and uncaring for what he was about to say
next. He almost didn't want to. ". . .about that needle. . ."
Much sooner than he would have preferred, Lucas's mind shifted back to
business. The world wasn't about to heal itself. He forced himself back up and stood
proudly. "I've wasted too much time. I won't let your sacrifice be for nothing!"
As the ethereal consciousness of Claus hovered over the scene where he died, he
began to ascend into what he assumed to be eternity. At last, he would finally be with his
mother again, and she wouldn't feel so lonely. Nothing would have eased him more than
her tender embrace. He anticipated that he could stay in her arms forever, and every
second of it would be bliss.
But instead of being met with bright, warm light as he had come to expect, he was
all at once shrouded in a dark, empty void. His ascent stopped suddenly, almost as a train
stuck on its own rail. He remained there, hovering in blackness. It was his
reconstruction all over again.
"Mom?" Claus called out with low spirits. "Where are you?" Much to his
sorrow, he was again greeted by nothing but the cold reflection of his own disembodied
voice. Had he not earned his place at his mother's side? Had he committed too many
acts in the name of evil to deserve his paradise? There was no use in even asking why.
No one was there to answer him.
That was until a wall of the brightest white emerged from a single horizontal line
in front of his face. Curiosity may have been an appropriate word for what came over
him, if Claus was just an ordinary boy. At the very second his self-restraint ran out and
drove him to dive right in, a welcoming hand reached out from the opening. It belonged
to a mysterious figure whose definition was hard to make out in the intense brightness.
Claus didn't care. At least it was someone. He gladly accepted the invitation and was
guided through to the other side.
A trembling, battered hand braced the final needle. The celestial formation of
light was the only thing standing between the world and the will of an ancient beast. For
a second, Lucas had almost forgotten that this hand was his own. The surreal nature of
this situation was never more apparent than it was now. None of the other needles that
were scattered across Nowhere Islands held nearly as much weight as this one.
His head felt horribly off balance, unable to hold its own weight beneath the
deluge of conflicting emotions. His face tightened, still dry and salty from the tears he
shed earlier. The lifeless body of Claus was stuck in his peripheral vision whether his
eyes were open or not. Lucas wasn't sure what he felt worse about, the loss of his twin
brother, or the fact that he was still crying over it. He had betrayed his aspirations of
stoicism one too many times. He cursed himself for his lack of focus and wiped his eyes.
The time for grieving had long since past, and everyone had been more than patient with
Finally, the reality of his position became clear. No single person in recent
memory ever had this much leverage over the course of history. One swift motion on his
part had the potential to completely unmake or remake existence. Would this change
bring about the much needed peace for which he had desired since his adventure began,
or would it unleash all new horrors of unknown comprehension? What choice did Lucas
have? He hadn't come this far just to turn back. For every indignity that he suffered,
every danger he faced, every tear that was shed for his lost family members - each second
that he gave in to inaction felt like an unforgivable disservice.
With a deep breath full of hope, and a grip that could forge a diamond, he
renounced his inhibitions and lifted the golden seal skyward. As he gazed up in the
direction of his raised arms, a column of light trailed from the point of release and
dissipated all at once. A resounding silence flooded the underground chamber. Its soft
glow from beneath the rocky platforms seemed to dim ever so slightly.
A long-anticipated, high pressure geyser of red gas erupted with a hiss from the
indentation in the ground. With the small window of time that Lucas knew he had, he
slowly backed away from ground zero and retreated back to the circle of his newfound
friends and the remnants of his family. Not even Kumatora could mask her fear. She
quickly found an open gap between Duster and Flint, and joined the group in their
embrace. No longer seeing a difference between friend and family member, they all
huddled together in preparation for the impending cataclysm.
From deep beneath the rocks there echoed a low-pitched geothermal creak,
followed by a long but feint earthen roar which shortly escalated into a rumbling
crescendo. Slowly, silently, and without complaint, the purple glow from beneath faded
to black. From relatively dead silence, the darkness was instantly filled with the
thunderous sound of rock formations violently bursting open and crashing to the floor all
around them. By that point, any screams would have been effortlessly drowned out.
What little distance was left between everyone was quickly closed, their grips reinforced
with terror. Any one of those rock formations had an almost certain chance of free-
falling and striking one of them dead at any moment. The resulting fissures had equal
probability of tearing open and swallowing them whole. It seemed that all they could do
was sit in the dark and wait to die.