A few hours passed. In the shade of a large boulder, the three heroes quietly passed the time. Ratchet was entertaining Jasmine with some rather exaggerated stories from his past, while Clank kept careful watch, occasionally butting in to correct Ratchet when he "accidentally" got his facts wrong. Clank was starting to feel nervous. There were Blargs on this planet. He had seen them, it was likely they had released the banshee. So where were they? His optic sensors picked up a flash of green, and before he had time to call out, Drake was by his side.
"I've located a good sized crystal 3 kilometres due south"
Jasmine sprang to her feet, grinning from ear to ear.
"However, we have a small problem…"
The problem turned out to be Blargs. Lots of them. The small valley containing the crystal was packed with them, all armed to the teeth. Jasmines hackles raised as she spotted Miles, swaggering around with a retinue of bodyguards. Much to their relief, Kaos was no-where to be seen. Ratchet's sharp green eyes soon spotted the crystal. It was sticking half in and half out of a boulder, in the process of being excavated by a crew of hypnotized Blarg.
"Once they have freed it, they will destroy it" whispered Drake. "It is the only one suitable for your purposes. The rest are too small or too flawed. You must stop them quickly"
"Any plans?" Jasmine responded.
Drake scanned the Blargs carefully.
"A surprise charge would be your best bet. I don't know how much good I would do you, however. Zenithi are not strong"
Ratchet selected his constructo-rifle.
"Not gonna be a problem"
Miles nodded in satisfaction as the fist sized crystal broke free of its rocky prison. It was rather pretty, a soft, mossy green, like solid river water.
"Alright boys" he said. "Bring me the sledge hammer"
One of the Blargs shuffled forward, blank eyes staring into nothing. He was dragging Miles's huge sledge hammer behind him.
Miles spat on his hands, rubbed them together in anticipation, grabbed the hammer, raised it…
And a shot took it out of his hands.
He looked up. Charging down into the valley was the two Lombaxes that had bugged him for so long. He grinned. Right in schedule…
Ratchet was confused. Instead of scattering, the Blarg had opened and closed like a wave, imprisoning them in a ring of weaponry. Miles sneered, holding aloft the crystal.
"Youse are real morons, ya know that? I mean, come on, I thought Lombaxes were supposed to be smart. Hey lady, you're a soldier type, ain't you never heard of a decoy?"
Jasmine cursed. Of course! The banshee had been a distraction, giving the Blarg time to set the trap. Miles had expected them to charge into the fray, and they had played right into his hands.
The grinning Blarg tossed the crystal casually from hand to hand. Jasmine winced. According to her notes, this crystal was highly fragile. Miles noted this.
"Whassamatter? Scared I'll drop it? Oops…"
He pretended to fumble it, laughing at the terrified expression on the Lombaxes faces.
"Didn't like that, did ya? It ain't gonna get a hell of a lot better, trust me. This is just the start of a real bad day-"
He was cut off by Jasmine barrelling into him at high speed, the crystal flying out of his hands. It arced into the air, everyone in the valley watching with bated breath as it seemed to tumble in slow motion, sunlight reflecting off its mossy green surface. Jasmine held her breath, hoping her timing had been right. The crystal turned over in midair, plummeted to the ground…and landed gently in a patch of grass. She breathed out, focusing her attention on a new problem. Miles. She had knocked him quite far, and now they were both approximately the same distance was from it. She looked up from her prone position on the ground and caught his eye. For a moment there was stillness, the only sound a bird singing from the hedges. The two opponents gazes flicked from the crystal to each other, both trying to work out a plan. Miles reached slowly for his sledgehammer, Jasmine tightened her grip on her wrench. The universe seemed to hold its breath…
Without warning, Jasmine bolted forward, but Miles had good reflexes. Barely half a second later he was charging towards her, weight and momentum quickly giving him an advantage over Jasmines small size. He would have reached the crystal first, but at the last moment Jasmine went into a slide, kicking his legs out from under him.
The Blargs surrounding them surged forwards, only to receive heaping helpings of pain as Ratchet launched into the offensive, trying to keep them away from Jasmine. Who was in serious trouble, missing crushed ribs and a cracked skull by inches as she dodged Miles's sledge hammer. Having learned his lesson from their first encounter, Miles was no longer cocky and arrogant, tempering his attacks with caution and cunning as he lashed out at her. The crystal bounced back and forward along the ground as the two both clawed for it and grappled with each other. From his vantage point, Drake shook his head. Things were not looking good. Aided by experience, Ratchet and Clank were having no trouble holding back the Blargs, even managing to find the breath to throw a few insults at them. But Jasmine was struggling. She was a good fighter, but most of her fights had been practices with other Guards, who had an innate sense of honour and fair play. Miles had none of these. He fought dirty, using every trick in the book. Jasmines last victory over him had been mostly a combination of Miles arrogance in thinking a female could not beat him, and sheer good luck. She was weakening. Drakes quick mind formed a plan. Desperate times called for desperate measures. A quick teleport brought him to the edge of the battle field. No-one noticed. Crouching low, he slunk closer, moving like a sheep dog staying out of the sheep's line of sight. It was the work of moments to get him to where he needed to be.
Miles and Jasmine had locked the handles of their weapons together, snarling in each others faces. Under Miles's relentless pressure, Jasmine was being forced back, gouging trails in the dirt as she dug her boots in as hard as she could. drake shifted around until he was behind Miles. He locked onto his target and lowered his head, light glittering off short, slim, sharp horns. Taking a run up, he charged. And leapt.
Drakes precision strike had an unforeseen consequence. As Miles jumped into the air clutching his wounded derrière, the handle of his sledgehammer swung into the side of Jasmines head, briefly stunning her. She slumped down on all fours, shaking her head to dispel the dizziness. As the ringing in her ears faded, she looked up, to find the crystal practically on top of her. Grinning in triumph, she reached out-and a booted foot slammed down, pinning her wrist to the ground. Miles had recovered quickly, and with a foul mood to boot. He scooped up the crystal.
"A lot of fuss for a stupid rock, wouldn't ya say?"
Jasmine tugged desperately at her hand. White hot shards of pain streaked through it as the bones ground together. She lashed out with her fangs, only to receive a blow from the sledge hammer handle for her pains. She spat blood.
"Miles, put it down" she said weakly. She instantly regretted it.
With an evil glitter in his eyes, Miles raised the crystal overhead.
"Sure thing, missy!"
Silence fell. In the hush, the gentle tinkle of the crystal shards seemed unnaturally loud. A cry split the stunned silence, a long wail of devastation and loss.
Jasmine scrabbled at the ruined crystal, moaning in grief, oblivious to Miles swinging the sledgehammer at her unprotected back. With speed that would have given greased lightning a nasty shock, Ratchet swung a comet strike, stunning the Blarg leader. He grabbed hold of Jasmines shoulder, trying to shake some sense back into her.
"Jasmine, we have to go!"
"I know, come on!"
She scooped up the pieces, staggering to her feet. Through a haze of tears, she could see the now leaderless Blarg milling around like headless chickens. It was a simple matter for the Lombaxes to slip away, the spectre of failure hanging heavy above them.
Sargasso 1300 hours
"Well done, Miles!"
He blinked. Wow, this concussion must be worse than he thought. Kaos was congratulating him!
"But-but we lost the banshee. And they escaped again!"
She waved a be-ringed hand dismissively, lounging on a chair in her dark, musty chamber.
"The banshee was not necessary, dear boy. It served only as a reminder of my power. What pleases me is the destruction of the crystal. Jasmine is a Praetorian Guard. For them, all that matters is the successful completion of a mission. Reward over consequence. To be so close, only to see her gaol shattered like that…" There was a purr from the gloom. "It would destroy her. Though it's too much to ask for it to stop her. She will probably try to come after me. Heh! Let her try. Like a fly to the web. she will blunder into my trap. Actually…hmmm, that's not a half bad idea. Bring me the box in that cupboard over there…"