They walked through the doorway into the chamber. Hiryu ran his hand along the highly polished metal surface of the small spacecraft, inspecting it as he sauntered around it. It seemed to be in perfect condition, but the only way to be sure was to fire the sucker up and see what happened afterwards. He traced the edge of the cockpit's glass canopy with his forefinger, searching for a handle, a button, or anything that would open it. His finger grazed a small depression that retracted upon contact, and the glass slid back into the sleek body of the craft with a slight whish. He looked at the spot where the button was located. If he hadn't been feeling the edges of the glass, he would never have found it, due to the way it fitted flush with the rest of the shell. He climbed into the pilot's seat. The instrumentation seemed to be fairly standard, with a center-mounted flight stick, heads-up display, and side-mounted throttle. A human had designed this, and no alien. He familiarized himself with the layout, then looked over at Sheena.
She stood aloof, watching him from a distance. She had a deep mistrust for technology, as was to be expected. He doubted that she would have used the translator earpieces if they had not been necessary. He motioned for her to come closer.
"I believe I have this thing figured out," Hiryu said. "All that's left is for me to taxi it down that long hallway - which appears to be a runway of sorts - to the platform, raise it to the surface, and take off. The coordinates for the Third Moon are preprogrammed into the flight computer, so I won't even have to pilot it there."
She looked at him earnestly.
"Let me come," she pleaded. "I have a debt that I need to settle with the Others."
"No," he replied. "It's essentially a suicide mission. I can't allow you to come."
"I wasn't forced to defend you to my tribe," she hissed. "I could have let them tear you to bits."
Hiryu doubted that would have happened, but he didn't raise the issue. She did have a point.
"Are you sure that's how you want me to repay the favor? By allowing you to come with me to the Third Moon?" he asked.
"I have a better idea: you stay here, and if I come back, I will take you to Moralos, where you can undergo training to become a Strider, like me."
"Me? Do the things that you do? You're joking!"
"No," he said. "I'm not. But since you just admitted that you don't have the skills to fight them like I do, you have to stay here."
"I didn't say that!" Sheena cried. "I could take you on right here, right now!"
Hiryu looked down at the instrument panel and rubbed his forehead.
"I don't have time for this," he said. "I'm starting the launch sequence."
She positioned herself in front of the doorway.
"The only way you're leaving is if you run over me," she said.
Hiryu made no reply, only punched the ignition and started the sequence. The craft pivoted one hundred eighty degrees so that its nose faced the doorway, and its rear thrusters ignited. He set them to coasting velocity, and the ship inched forward as the glass canopy began to slide shut. Sheena took a running start, then leaped into the seat behind Hiryu as it slid over their heads and locked into place. Hiryu turned around in his seat, looking over his shoulder at her and muttering curses under his breath.
"At least fasten your restraining harness," he grumbled.
They were half-way down the hall by this point. Hiryu searched the instrument panel for a device that would open the hatch they had come down through, but found nothing.
"Oh boy," he said under his breath.
The ship slid onto the circular platform and clamped onto it with a metallic snikt. The latches on the ship fit into grooves on the platform's periphery and the platform began to rise into the air, lifting the craft up towards the hatch. The hatch, however, remained closed.
"Hiryu, why-" Sheena began.
"I don't know," Hiryu cut her off.
When the platform was two-thirds of the way to the ceiling, the hatch began to slide apart, and by the time they reached the surface, it had completely retracted. They emerged from the underground's interior and shielded their eyes as sunlight penetrated the canopy's glass, which darkened on contact with the light. The platform rotated one hundred eighty degrees backwards, pointing the ship's nose skyward. Hiryu grabbed the throttle.
"Get comfortable," he said to Sheena. "It's going to be a rough trip."
He engaged the supercooling systems, yanked the throttle completely back, and engaged the afterburners. Flames plumed out of the rear engines and back down into the underground chamber, where the long tunnel re-directed them into a heat-absorbent room.
"T-minus three seconds and counting..." Hiryu mumbled.
The latches that held them to the platform retracted.
The shuttle's miniature antigrav drive clicked on, directing its repulsion towards the earth's center.
The interior artigrav unit switched on, counteracting the G forces that had begun to build up in the cockpit.
The shuttle rocketed into the ionosphere.
The total flight time was about three hours, during which time they each slept. At the three-hour mark, however, a buzzer went off in the cockpit that alerted them to the fact that they were rapidly approaching the Third Moon. Hiryu awoke with a start, rubbing his eyes with his fingertips; Sheena groaned, rolled over, and dozed off again. He switched off the ship's autopilot and reverted to manual controls. A light blinked on his panel, informing him that someone was hailing him. He switched on the comlink.
"Shuttle Zyuranger, you were not scheduled to leave the Amazonian rainforest today," a voice blared over the airwaves. "Transmit your authorization code."
Hiryu found a recessed button marked "transmit" and pressed it.
"Ah. Good. Your code checks out," the voice continued. "You are cleared for landing in docking bay ninety-four. Set your controls to 'autopilot' and we will guide you there."
Hiryu switched the instruments back into autopilot mode. They were now within two kilometers of the Third Moon's surface, and had begun to orbit it at that distance. The space station was a city, covered with a darkened dome of glass, and orbited the earth so that its foundation was in the same plane as the earth's equator. From the underside of the Third Moon protruded lengthy metal tubes that had satellite dishes of various sizes attached to their southernmost ends.
The ship abruptly halted in its orbit and swivelled ninety degrees to its left so that it faced the Third Moon. It began to fly towards the station, maneuvering towards an opening at the bottom of the dome.
"Shuttle Zyuranger, my commanding officer wishes to know precisely why you were forced to leave your station in the Amazon," the voice stated.
Hiryu grasped the microphone.
"The Amazon warriors found the underground chamber and broke it open with the aid of the brontosaurs," he lied. "They invaded the base and destroyed nearly everything."
There was silence for a moment.
"Shuttle Zyuranger, we have a negative on that story," the voice replied, now hard and cold. "Our instruments indicate that the hatch has not been compromised and that everything is in working order. You will still proceed to docking bay ninety-four, but there will be an armed escort for you waiting for you to arrive. Do not attempt to leave your shuttle until you are otherwise notified."
They entered the bay area and the air locks swished shut behind them. The shuttle landed on a smooth metallic surface as two of the elephant-bots he had encountered on Ballog rapidly approached them. Hiryu quickly turned around to face Sheena.
"Sheena, hide in one of the storage compartments in the rear of the shuttle," he said in a voice that would tolerate no argument. "Do not, I repeat, do not leave this ship until I return. I may be gone a while, but I will come back. Do you understand?"
She nodded, unfastened her harness, and retreated to the ship's aft.
He picked Falchion up off of the floorboard as he slapped the emergency ejection button with his other hand. The canopy blew off of the cockpit and his seat shot high into the air. He unlatched his harness with his left hand as he gripped his cypher in his right and pointed it downwards. He pushed off of the seat and somersaulted through the air for a few dozen meters before straightening out and gripping Falchion in both hands. He plummeted towards the docking bay floor, aiming for one of the bots. He skewered it completely, his momentum driving the blade of his weapon into the bot's head up to its lateral handle. He executed a forward hand-spring off of the bot's head, landing in front of the other bot. He switched his grip from the vertical handle to the lateral and sliced through his opponent with one clean swipe. He dropped into a defensive posture as both of the bots exploded, then returned his attention to the shuttle when the commotion had subsided.
As he did this, the sound of machine-gun fire cracked behind him, and a line of bullet holes in the floor began to rapidly make its way towards him. Hiryu whirled, spotting the sniper perched high atop a workman's catwalk. He darted across the hangar in a zigzag pattern, avoiding the gunfire and finally sliding into a position directly beneath the sniper, where the bullets could not reach him. He leaped up, catching hold of the catwalk's underside with his hook, and began to swing back and forth underneath it. When he reached the maximum height in his swing, he directed the full amount of his momentum into his forward motion and swung up over the edge, planting his feet on the sniper's chest and knocking him flat on his back. Hiryu landed feet-first on the edge of the catwalk, then immediately drew his cypher and spun, decapitating the sniper, who was just getting to his feet. He replaced Falchion, then noticed a vaguely familiar humming sound which seemed to originate from a small tunnel at the end of the catwalk. He walked through it, only to have the gravity reverse on him a short ways in. In addition, the floor dropped away into a vast pit, and the ceiling arced upwards and disappeared above him. He walked on the ceiling, rounded a corner, lost his footing on the slope, and tumbled down it onto an extending platform. The platform extended the entire way across the pit, and he stepped off of it onto another sloping ceiling that skirted the tips of rows of spike-tipped extending poles which protruded from the floor. It was like that one chamber on Ballog, only with the gravity reversed. He leaped up and clung to the ceiling, timing himself so that he traversed the area without even being grazed by one of the poles. He exited the area and the gravity returned to normal abruptly, but he twisted in midair so that he landed on the floor feet-first. A hatch opened above him, and the artificial atmosphere rushed past him, escaping into the solitude of outer space. He clung to the floor with his hook, pulling himself towards a hole in the floor. He reached it, and dropped through it, striking a metal grating. It collapsed under the force of his fall, and they both hurtled down onto a polished floor made of an otherworldly stone, landing directly in front of a massive set of double doors.
He lay there for a moment on his side, then sprang to his feet as someone aimed a particularly vicious kick at his bruised rib cage. He dropped into a defensive stance, staring into the soulless eyes of a warrior who made Strobaya look like Woody Allen. Hiryu matched their gaze with his own fury, and dove wordlessly at this newcomer. He struck the guard across the face with Falchion's pommel, then loosened his grip slightly, allowing the blade to swivel into its normal position. He swiped through the guard's weapon with one fluid backhanded stroke, at which point the guard tossed the two pieces aside and grabbed Hiryu by the throat. He lifted Hiryu off the ground and slammed him against the nearest wall, choking him. Hiryu dropped Falchion inadvertently and began to go limp. He struggled for consciousness, fighting to remember...something...something pertinent. His eyes fluttered, then closed...
His eyes snapped open, he yanked his hook out of its sheath on his back, and he brought it down with all his remaining strength on the guard's head. He repeated this twice before the guard finally released him, staggering backward. The guard slumped against the far wall and expired. Hiryu picked himself up off the floor, rubbing his throat and greedily swallowing the air in great gulps. He grabbed Falchion and violently kicked the doors open.
The room he entered was expansive, with twin rows of columns on either side. A blood-red carpet bisected the room and led to an ornately carved, wicked-looking throne, on which an old man sat. He wore a hooded black cloak, trimmed in red, which obscured his face from view.
"Come, Hiryu," he said. "You are going to have to surrender to me."
"Meio," Hiryu said, the hatred evident in his voice. "Who are you? And what is the purpose of all this?"
"I am the Grandmaster," Meio replied, rising from his throne and approaching Hiryu, who drew Falchion in anticipation. Meio laughed, a sound that curdled the blood.
"I have raised this city up to the sky," he continued. "I shall rid the earth of all creatures and create a new race to fill it. This sphere has the sustaining force we need; all sons of old gods, die!"
Hiryu looked at him evenly, but without the faintest clue as to what he was talking about.
"You know, on Earth we have a story about a race of people who attempted to build a tower that ascended into heaven," he said. "Do you know what happened to them?"
Meio's eyes narrowed, and he looked at Hiryu curiously. "No."
"Their God destroyed them for their arrogance."
Meio laughed again. "If anything, I am god here," he remarked. "What is your point, youngling?"
Hiryu dropped into an offensive posture. "Call me 'God's avenging angel.'"
Meio snarled, and turned away from Hiryu, his cloak whipping outward.
"Do not be so foolish, young one," he said. "You will only succeed in bringing harm to your companion. Guards!"
Two guards stepped out from the shadows behind Meio's throne, and between them stood a struggling Sheena. Before Meio could even get another word out, Hiryu understood what was going on and hurled his hook across the chamber at one of the guards. It struck him in his chest and he collapsed on the floor.
"Sheena!" Hiryu shouted. "Use my hook like you would an axe!"
"What!" he exclaimed.
Hiryu leaped at Meio, his cypher tracing a wide arc and trailing plasma. Meio raised his hands. For a moment, space seemed to shift, and Hiryu was thrown backwards into one of the columns. He leaped to his feet and dove to the side to avoid an arc of powerful green lightning that had erupted from Meio's hands. He tackled Meio and brought him to the floor, then used his momentum to execute a forward roll and skidded to a stop several meters away. They were on opposite sides of the chamber now, with the carpet acting as divider. Meio slammed his fists into the throne room's floor, pushing him up onto his feet. He turned to see Hiryu hurtling towards him at full stride. Meio backhanded him, knocking him back across the chamber and sending him crashing to the floor. He rolled on the floor for a good three meters before finally coming to a stop at the base of a wall.
Meanwhile, Sheena pulled Hiryu's hook out of the body of the dead guard and swiped at the remaining guard with it. He released his hold on her arm and sidestepped, reaching behind him and pulling a sai out of his belt. The hinged part of the hook caught in its prongs and he pulled it out of her hand, flinging it across the chamber. It struck the headboard of Meio's throne and lodged there.
Meio glanced over at his throne, then returned his attention to Hiryu.
Sheena dodged a thrust to her midsection, caught the guard's bare arm and brought it down upon her knee, shattering the bones of his left forearm. He cried out in pain as she executed a roundhouse kick that struck him across his jaw and rendered him unconscious. Sheena darted over to the throne, pulled the hook out of the headboard, and turned to see how Hiryu was faring.
Hiryu pushed himself up off of the floor and looked up at Meio, who had begun to float into the air. Meio began chanting a mantra in an alien tongue, and the throne room resonated with mystical energies. The floor cracked open, and sections of it rose into the air. Meio's throne rose some thirty meters into the air, lifting Sheena up with it. Hiryu leaped onto a rather large chunk, using it as a stepping stone to catapult himself at Meio. He lashed out wildly with Falchion, striking a blow across Meio's chest that would have killed a lesser being. Inflicted upon the Grandmaster, however, it healed instantly. He extended a hand towards Hiryu, palm out and fingers spread, and Hiryu froze in midair. The chamber reverberated with Meio's laughter as he entangled Hiryu in the green lightning that he had used to kill Sai Pooh. The electricity coursed throughout the length of Hiryu's body, and he screamed.
...but he did not vaporize.
"Interesting," Meio muttered. "The human stock is more resistant to my magic than the hybrid."
Hiryu lay on the floor coughing for a moment, then struggled to his feet. He summoned up his remaining energies, then ran full stride at one of the columns, leaped into the air as he approached it, rebounded off of it, and stabbed Meio through the back! He pulled his cypher upwards, bisecting the upper half of Meio's body as it emerged from the top of the Grandmaster's cranium. Hiryu dropped back down to the floor and looked up, hoping to see Meio come crashing down upon the carpet.
This did not happen. What Hiryu saw instead astonished him.
The entire wound closed of its own accord, completely healing and restoring Meio to his previous state. He popped his neck, and turned to glare at Hiryu.
"That was quite painful," he said. "You have no idea how much energy it takes to recover from a wound of that magnitude. You have just sealed your fate!"
He raised his arms gathering energy into a yellow sphere above his head, then brought the sphere down to his abdomen and cradled it between his hands.
"Die!" he screamed, as a powerful blast erupted from the sphere.
Hiryu dove forward as the blast struck the spot he had formerly occupied. He leaped to his feet, to find that the blast was following him. He dashed around the throne room in random loops at full stride. The blast followed closely behind, vaporizing wide swaths of the floor in doing so.
As this transpired, Sheena struggled to stay on the throne while it rotated in midair. It tilted slightly, and she brought the hook down upon its headboard again in an attempt to maintain her balance. Its blade grazed the surface of a fist-sized, multifaceted jewel mounted there and lodged in the wood immediately surrounding the stone.
Meio winced, and looked over at his throne once more. The blast stopped chasing Hiryu, who skidded to a stop at the opposite end of the chamber from Sheena. His gaze passed from Meio to Sheena to back at Meio. Something clicked in the back of his mind.
"Sheena!" he shouted. "Get off the throne!"
Sheena unlatched the hook and dropped to the floor, rolling away from the throne. Hiryu gripped his cypher by its vertical handle and hurled it like a spear at the jewel. It streaked across the chamber like a blade of light, flying true to its target.
"NO!!!!" Meio roared.
Falchion's blade penetrated the jewel, shattering it into multiple shards, and a blinding light filled the chamber as the energies trapped within were released. The throne and the floating sections of the floor came crashing back to the ground as ethereal forces filled the air. They caressed Hiryu and Sheena, healing their various injuries; and they smothered Meio, who screamed as his wounds were re-opened. He plunged downwards onto the blood-red carpet.
After doing this, the spirits gathered themselves into a brightly glowing ball of energy, then immediately vanished. Hiryu stood gaping for a moment, then walked over to where Meio lay in a pool of his own yellow blood.
"You were stealing the life energies from our planet," he said in amazement. "You thrive off of planetary energies, don't you? That's what the base in the Amazon was for...to siphon off Gaia's ki. Ballog was an instrument of terror to insure that you were obeyed, as was Ouroboros. You're responsible for all this upheaval, aren't you?"
Meio made no intelligible reply, only a gurgling sound.
Sheena walked over to where Hiryu stood and Meio lay, and handed Falchion to Hiryu. He gritted his teeth and stabbed through the back of Meio's head with Falchion's tip, then turned to Sheena.
"How do we get out of here?" he asked her.
He lifted her into his arms as she told him the way she had been brought, and he ran that course full-stride as the entirety of Third Moon began to tremble and erupt into flames. They reached the shuttle as Meio's throne room exploded, and leaped inside. Hiryu brought all systems online, closed the canopy, and initiated the launch sequence. The engines roared to life behind them as he taxied the small craft into position. All docking bay doors shattered at the same time, and the space station's internal atmosphere escaped rapidly from the new hull breaches. It picked the shuttle up and flung it out through the broken air locks as the engines reached launching velocity. Hiryu plotted a course for Moralos, and kicked in the afterburners as the entire city detonated violently at their backs.