Ratchet and Clank Future: The Homecoming - Chapter 24

Author: KiwiLombax15

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Elysium. 1300 hours.
"I say, have you seen Ratchet?"
Steve looked up from supervising the repairing of a broken Yakunzu nest.
"Can't say I have. Why? Can't you find him?"
"I can't see him or Clank anywhere."
"Hmm..Have you asked over at the temple? Someone there might know."
Drake nodded and teleported over to the temple, where a number of 'waifs and strays' were hard at work repairing the damage. He looked around until he spotted Max and Ace, who were lifting a statue back into place supervised by Angela, her arm in a sling.
"Have you seen Ratchet?"
Ace brushed sweat from his forehead.
"Think I last saw him in the canyons. Why?"
"I need to talk with him and Clank, but I can't find them."
Max spoke up. The Zenithi had offered to take him back to Talwyn in return for his silence, but he had decided to stay until Kaos was defeated, stating the fact that a reunion is pointless when the universe implodes five minutes later.
"I'm not sure if I should mention this, but he looked kinda…shifty. Sorta nervous. May have been my imagination, though."
A seed of worry started to grow in Drakes head. He had run into Ratchet shortly after the dome came down. He had been heading to his ship. When Drake had questioned him, he had muttered something about 'getting something for Clank'. Drake had grown suspicious, and had ordered Ratchet not to leave Elysium until a plan had been formed. The Lombax had nodded and agreed, but now, in hindsight, hadn't there been some strange glint in those bottle green eyes? Some look that suggested Ratchet had other plans? He focused on the canyons and re-appeared. Only the worst of the injuries were being treated in the caves. Those who could walk or fly were down in the forest to free up space. Drake winced as he hurried past the quickly constructed nests to Azreals cave. It wasn't the nasty injuries that bothered him so much as the haunted emptiness in the eyes of the patients. No matter how turbulent the universe outside had been, Elysium had always been an oasis of peace and calm. Now, the Zenithi had seen their peace broken, and their innocence shattered. Many had retreated inside them self to escape the horror of what their eyes were seeing.
In the aftermath, Azreal's cave had been converted into a medicine room, bundles of herbs replacing the pots of pigment. An old grey Feloisa was showing Azreal and Percival how to make a compress.
"Have any of you seen Ratchet or Clank?"
The Feloisa and Azreal shook their heads, but Percival looked thoughtful. Drake noticed he seemed more cheerful than usual.
"Now you mention it, I did see him and Clank going over that way." He pointed in the direction Ratchet had parked his ship. "I remember thinking it was strange he was carrying a weapon now the attack was over. There was no need to now."
Drake was silent. Then…
The caves other occupants reared back as Drake stamped a talon and hissed.
"The blasted morons gone after Kaos! I told him to stay on Elysium!" And what's Clank doing going with him? I honestly thought he had more sense! M'reehah?"
The Feloisa looked up. Her name was Zenithi for 'bright healer'. It fit her well. Even terrible injuries were healed within weeks thanks to her skilled nursing.
"Go and fetch me Alpha squad A. Tell them to meet me in the main clearing for departure, ASAP."
She nodded and scurried off. Drake readied himself for another teleport. He'd pay for it later. Hunger was already gnawing at his insides as the frequent jumps burned through his energy, but right now he had more important things to concern him.
He hesitated. Azreal had always seemed so mysterious and knowledgeable. To hear him so nervous was unsettling.
"Yes, Azreal?"
"…Nothing, Lord…"
Drake shrugged and vanished.
Azreal hung his head. There had been no point in warning. Nothing would stop fate. Still, he needed to say it.
"Be careful…"

Verdigris sector. 1330 hours.
Clank was beginning to grow concerned. The closer they got to Sargasso, the more distant Ratchet got. He practically ignored Clank, responding to the little robots attempts at conversation with a grunt at most. Finally tiring of this, Clank decided to get Ratchets attention in a way he couldn't ignore.
Ratchet rubbed his stinging arm.
"What was that for?"
"I am tired of you ignoring me, Ratchet. This is not like you."
"I'm sorry, Clank. I've…I've got a lot on my mind right now."
Clank saw the misery in his friends eyes, and it finally dawned on him.
"You…loved her, didn't you?"
Ratchet bowed his head.
"…Yes…" he whispered, so softly Clank nearly missed it.
Clank gently patted his shoulder.
"She died doing what was right, Ratchet. She must have known the risk when she took the mission, yet she still went. You should be proud."
"Thanks, Clank."
"So, what exactly did Drake say, again?"
Ratchet had been a tad economical with the truth when convincing Clank to come with him.
"Oh, um…He said that we should go on ahead. He'll catch up with us."
"Strange how he did not come with us."
"He had other stuff to do. Get ready, we're almost there."

Kaos wrung her facecloth out in the basin. Despite her best efforts, some of the black powder had stuck, making her face slightly grey. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and hissed. That wretched little Cragmite! Still, in less than 24 hours, it wouldn't matter. She was so close…
There was a tentative knock on the door.
A skinny male Lombax slipped inside., clutching a clipboard.
"You, I don't think I recognise. What's your name?"
"Justin, ma'am. My friends call me pen-pusher."
"Hardly a very tough nickname for a gangster."
He gave a nasty grin.
"I never said where I pushed the pen, did I?"
Kaos chuckled.
"I see. And why are you here to visit me?"
No matter what gang he wound up in, Justin had a tendency to gravitate towards a book keeping role, and now he consulted his clipboard, suddenly looking very nervous.
"Er, I thought you might want to know the…uh…impact of our assault on Elysium?"
"I have a feeling I won't like this. Very well, get it over with."
"Well, the landing party lost a quarter of its number, either dead or captured. The Ishkhan was lost as well. We think it took Steel with it."
Kaos shrugged.
"No great loss, though it is a pity about the Ishkhan. Those things are very useful. Bring Patches up here, would you? I wish to speak to her."
"Do you have a good medium, ma'am?"
"Beg pardon?"
"She…uh…didn't make it. I thought you said those lizard things don't kill!"
"They don't. It must have been those flea ridden squirrels they have as servants. Damn things…What about Honey?"
"When we last saw her she'd been taken prisoner by a group of those big white birds. You know, the ones with mind powers? We don't think she even realised she was a prisoner. They did something to her. She's harmless now."
Kaos looked genuinely shocked.
"Harmless? Good lord, that's like scribbling a moustache on a fine piece of art! I'd never seen a better killer!"
"It gets worse…"
She slumped back in her chair and sighed, gripping the arms hard enough to leave scratches in the wood.
"What now?"
"Those little squirrel things…While we were attacking, they'd been sabotaging our ships. Counting the ones we lost to that Cragmite attack on the way back to Sargasso, we lost another quarter of the force to explosions in deep space."
Kaos pinched the bridge of her nose, struggling to keep her rage in check.
"Half my force lost. Those little pests break if you so much as sneeze on them, and yet they still somehow take out half my force! Any more bits of bad news you care to impart?"
"No, ma'am."
"Good. Tell me Justin, have you ever considered a leading role?"
He looked shocked.
"Oh no, ma'am!"
"Really? You have no higher ambitions?"
"No, ma'am. Its a dangerous life on top, ma'am. Those below you wanting to make sure you 'retire' permanently, if someone's after your gang you make a bigger target, its a bad place to be. One step down, that's the safe place. I know it sounds a little…"
"Cowardly? Of course it does. But the universe needs cowards as much as it needs the courageous. How would you feel about being second in command?"
"So long as I don't have to fight, that's OK with me."
"Of course. Now, I wish to ask you something."
"Yes, ma'am?"
"I'm quite interested to hear your ideas for what to do next. I already have a few plans, but a few more wouldn't go amiss."
"Well, I did notice one thing that may be useful…"
"I didn't see much of the invasion owing to being…otherwise occupied-"
"A coward, Justin. Just say it."
"Anyway, from what I saw of that golden Lombax on the Zene-whatzits side, he was pretty angry."
"So when people are angry, they don't think straight. If he's a thorn in your side, don't worry about finding him, just wait. I promise, he'll come to you. You'll see."
"A good idea, but how exactly do you know-?"
An alarm sounded, and a voice on the intercom echoed through the stronghold.
"Alert! Alert! We have a ship entering the perimeter! A Lombax ship!"
Kaos smiled. Well, it looked like a smile, in that the corners of her mouth went up, and all her teeth were visible.
"Oh, well done, Justin. Very well done indeed."
"You want me to get some troops to stub him out?"
"No…" she said, slowly and thoughtfully. "I want to see him. Send enough troops out to give him a bit of exercise and keep him from suspecting anything. But make sure he gets to the command centre alive. I'll meet him there."
He left. Kaos threw her cloak over her shoulders, giggling happily as she left.

It's an inescapable fact. Guard duty is boring. The female Lombax guarding the south path to the stronghold had seen nothing all day except a few assorted creatures. It was hot and muggy, and the fumes from the swamps were making her droopy. Just two more hours till the end of the shift…
Snap. Rustle.
Her head jerked up and she raised her wrench, glaring at the shrubs to her right.
"Who's there?"
She shrugged, and went back to gazing blankly at the horizon.
Rustle. Crack.
This time the sound had moved, coming from her left.
"Show yourself, or so help me, I'll make you regret it!"
More silence.
She kept her hand on her wrench, eyes darting from side to side as she tried to spot whatever was making the noise. She heard a footstep behind her, was about to turn and everything went black…
Jasmine looked down at the unconscious guard and snorted.
She was having a rough time. With no armour, twigs and thorns scratched at her, and hidden rocks stubbed and bruised her bare feet. She kept going however, sticking to the bushes to stay out of sight of the guards. She knew there had to be a Zenithi around here somewhere…
There were.
The delay in noticing Ratchets departure had meant the Zenithi had missed him arriving. His ship had been discovered, with him and Clank gone. Now, Alpha squad A circled around Drake as he gave orders.
"Now, we don't know if he's in there or not. He could still be trying to get inside. We need to find out which way he went. You're all skilled trackers. Find me something. A footprint, a bent twig, this is Ratchet we're talking about so a trail of destruction, anything. I'll be searching with you. We can't have too many trackers."
They nodded and split up. Drake headed in a vaguely southern direction, green scales providing perfect camouflage. Twice he drifted past guards entirely unnoticed. He was halfway down the south path when he found it. The faintest scent. He shook his head. Impossible! It must be left over from the last visit to Sargasso.. he thought, but another sniff proved this wrong. It was a fresh scent, just a trace carried on the breeze. Heart thumping, he followed his nose…

Jasmine paused to yank her tail tuft out of a clump of thorns, wincing as half of it was left behind. She could see the stronghold now, and was tempted to go after Kaos, but stopped herself. That was plain suicide. Find a Zenithi, find Ratchet, get a plan together, that was the wisest course of action. The problem was, finding one of the damn things…
Something hit her on the chest, knocking her flat on her back. She reached for her wrench, then froze as she recognised the creature that had pinned her.
She had never seen him this happy. His tail wriggled like a puppies, and his yellow eyes practically glowed.
"You're alive! I can't believe this!"
She got to a kneeling position and hugged him.
"'Course I'm alive, silly! Why wouldn't I be?"
"We thought you were dead! We saw you fall!"
"I'm a Guard. We're pretty hard to kill. If the plumber hadn't found me, though, I'd be a goner."
Jasmine let go of him and got to her feet, Drake fluttering onto her shoulder.
"Ah, yes. Useful fellow. I've seen many generations of his family come and go. His daughter is shaping up nicely, too. She's training to be an electrician. She says everyone needs an electrician, so she'll be able to get anywhere. Good choice, I reckon."
"So what are you doing here on Sargasso?" she asked. His face fell, and he hurriedly explained what had happened since she had 'died' on Quantos.
"So the last crystals in her necklace?"
"Indeed. Which makes our 'bring the Lombaxes back and then defeat her' plan completely useless, I'm afraid. We have no choice but to take her out. It won't be easy. She's probably close to reaching stage four by now."
He noted Jasmines blank look and explained.
"It's how we rank the power levels of the incarnation. Stage one is basic mental awareness. They can detect moods and feelings, and to a lesser extent, control them. That's probably how she got to a position of such power in the first place. Stage two is nightmare projection. They can use the worries and fears of their opponent against them-"
"Like when we first encountered her."
"Exactly. Stage three is hypnosis. This is usually easier with those of a lower intellect, but a powerful incarnation can control whoever they damn well please."
"And stage four?"
"I've only heard of one incarnation getting that far, and that was in my fathers day. The Entity had chosen a Cragmite as its Incarnation. Up until Kaos arrived on the scene, it was the closest the universe came to total destruction. When the Incarnation reaches stage four, they can project a black fire that clings and burns all it touches. We call it nyght-fire. To his dying day, my father had a spot on his leg where no scales grew after his battle with the Incarnation. I don't know if she's got quite that far yet, but she won't be far off."
"Last thing we need is a super powered Kaos. And you say Ratchets gone after her?"
"Yes. He took your 'loss' hard. He's after revenge."
She shook her head.
"Dunno what he thinks that's going to achieve. This is Kaos we're talking about. He's going to get killed!"
There was a rustle and a Zenithi appeared.
"Lord, we can't find him, he must be insi-Oh my! You're alive!"
Jasmine chuckled.
"No, I'm a zombie. Braiiiins…"
Drake lightly flicked her ear with his tail.
"Alright, enough of that. Jeeka, send out the message to the others. We have no choice but to go in…"

Another security bot disintegrated under Ratchet's wrench. He was ankle deep in debris, breathing hard. On his back, Clank looked around for any more threats.
"It is clear, Ratchet."
"Good. We should be close to the Command Centre now. We're bound to find her."
"When did Drake say he was arriving again?" Clank asked as they took off down a corridor.
"Um…He…uh…He shouldn't be far. He had…a lot of stuff to do…"
"You are lying to me!"
"What? Uh…how…how can you say that?"
Ratchet jerked to a halt as Clank grabbed onto an exposed pipe.
"I can detect the lie in your voice. I cannot believe I did not see it before. You are going after her alone . This is not about the crystal, is it? This is about revenge!"
"Let me go, Clank."
"I cannot, Ratchet. I will not let you do this! I would hardly be a good friend if I let you get yourself killed. We will leave here, and wait for the Zenithi to find us. They will have noticed we have gone by now."
Ratchet sighed.
"OK, pal."
"Thank you."
Clank released his grip and unlocked himself from his harness. He glared sternly up at Ratchet, hands on hips.
"I know you do not like it, but I assure you it is for your own good!"
"Yeah, I know. Hey Clank, we're friends, right?"
"Yes, of course." said Clank, slightly confused. "Why do you-"
"And you trust me, right?"
"I would trust you with my life, Ratchet. Why?"
Ratchet sighed, a look of utter grief crossing his face as he contemplated what he was about to do."
"I'm sorry, pal."
"Sorry for wha-"
The corridor was suddenly filled with searing white light and dark shadows as Ratchet set off the miniature EMP he'd been slowly taking out of his manifestor. It wasn't a strong one, and he knew Clank would be back online before long, but it still hurt him to see his friend go stiff as a board, sway, and fall back motionless.
"I really am sorry, Clank. But I have to do this!"
Clanks wide, empty eyes seemed to stare at him reproachfully.
"Just…Just quit looking at me like that!"He turned and ran, tears streaking down his cheeks. He felt hollow inside. He had lost Jasmine. He had attacked his friend. He was becoming everything he fought against. He was mortally afraid of what he was becoming, yet he kept running. Kaos would pay for what she had made him do…
Grief and rage seemed to give him wings as he ran. Kaos had a very faint scent, but it was strong enough to follow, leading him deep into the strongholds heart. The occasional security drone would pop out, to meet a crushing end. He was too close to stop now…

If Kaos was the dark soul of the stronghold, then the Control Centre was its black heart. It was surprisingly light and airy for somewhere where chilling acts of evil were planned. Skylights cut into the floor allowed a perfect view of the activity on the floor below. It was two way glass. Kaos could see the floor below, but the floor below couldn't dee her. She had seen clearly Ratchet's betrayal through the glass.
Hood thrown over her head to protect her light sensitive eyes, Kaos stood in front of a computer terminal, waiting. In the distance she could hear a commotion growing louder, and she smiled. The room was empty. Its usual occupants were acting as lures, making sure Ratchet came to the right place. By the sounds of it, they were successful. She could hear him getting closer, keen Lombax hearing already picking up the sound of his hoverboots and the swish of his wrench as he struck out at his opponents. A wave of her hand powered down the overhead lights, and she removed her hood. It would get in the way of her dark stare, otherwise. There was a moments pause outside the Control Centre, then the door slammed open.
Backlit by the corridor lights, Ratchet threw a long shadow across the floor. Kaos didn't turn around.
"Ans so, in your despair, you come, at last, to me."

Jasmine was very worried. Following Ratchets trail through the stronghold, she had expected more of a resistance, but nothing stood in their way. The place was a ghost town. One of the Zenithi, a big, dark blue male with silver bands clipped around his legs and horns indicated a boot print in the dusty floor.
"His. It's fresh, too."
Jasmine bent down to examine the twisted remains of a security drone.
"Something tells me the poor guy ain't too happy."
Drake nodded.
"He's clearly working out a lot of anger. That's not good. It's hard to think clearly when you're angry. You make mistakes."
Jasmine nodded, listening with half an ear. The trail of destroyed robots led her down the corridor, round a corner and-
The tiny robot lay still, as lifeless as a doll. She shook him desperately.
"Come on, little guy, wake up!"
Drake carefully examined him.
"By the look of it, he's been hit by an EMP. See? There's no physical damage to him at all, and the security camera up there has been disabled as well. This is worrying. Ratchet would never leave his best friend like this. Something must have happened to him."
"Any idea on how to wake him?" asked Jasmine, cradling him in her arms. One metal hand dangled limply. She prayed there would be no permanent damage.
"I don't think it was a big one, otherwise there would be more off-line robots around. With any luck, his systems should reboot any minute now."
Almost on cue, Clanks eyes lit up, blinking in confusion as his scrambled circuits came back to normal.
"Hey there, little guy! You had me worried!" said Jasmine, smiling down at him. It took some time for Clanks optic sensors to process what he was seeing, but when they did, he nearly shut down again.
He hugged her tightly around the neck, joy flooding his circuits.
"How did you survive?"
"Long story. Tell ya later." she said, putting him carefully back down on the ground. He swayed slightly, clinging to her leg to stay upright.
"What happened? Who did this to you?" asked Drake.
"Is he hurt? Where is he?" Drake quite understandably thought Clank was too worried about Ratchet to answer.
"No. It was Ratchet. Ratchet attacked me."
"Impossible." Drake said flatly. "I've watched you boys since the day you met. The two of you are as close to brothers as a robot and an organic can get. He would never do that."
"Nonetheless, that is what he did. I tried to stop him going after Kaos." Clank sighed sadly. "He is not himself right now. Jasmine, you must find him and show him you are alive!"
"You guys caught his trail?" Jasmine asked. The Zenithi nodded.
"Lead on…"

"I've been waiting for you to turn up." said Kaos. "With you're personality type, it was practically inevitable, really."
"It's over, Kaos!"
"Is it now? Are you really going to try and kill me? I thought you were a hero! Of course, I imagine its easy. You've already killed once. Well, you may as well have. After all, it's your fault Jasmine is dead in the first place."
Ratchet gasped as the lie struck him.
"That's not true!"
"Really? You were the one that could have saved her. You were the one that could have stopped it. Lets face it, you killed her as surely as if you put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger."
Ratchet winced and swayed.
"Shut up! You killed her! There was nothing I could have done!" He attempted to hold back the burning tears. "I tried!"
"But did you try hard enough? You really aren't the best of heroes, are you? You let the last link to your families past kill himself-"
"He saved the universe! He died with honour!"
"-You let the one you love fall to her demise-"
"I tried!" Tears were pouring down his cheeks.
"-And worst of all, Ratchet," She put on an expression of mock sadness. "You betray the one who has stuck by you through thick and thin. How could you?"
"I-I had to!"
"And for what? Revenge?" She began to move closer. Ratchet tried to raise his wrench, but he could barely raise his arms. Her black eyes seemed to fill his world. "Yes, I admit I am an evil person. It's part of my very being. But you, Ratchet, Claim to be a hero, a force for good, yet you can't even save one damsel in distress."
"That wasn't my fault!"
"She would have lived if you'd caught her, you know."
"She was too far away!"
"I'm sure you could have found a way. She is dead, dead and gone, and it's all thanks to you."
"No! It's not my…I never…Not my…Tried to…Not my…Not…My…My fault. It's my fault."
He slumped to his knees, wrench falling from limp fingers as he wept softly.
"All my fault…"
Kaos was elated. She had barely had to do anything! All it had taken was a little suggestion, and his grief stricken mind had done the work for her. All she had had to do was make sure he didn't attack her long enough for her lies to sink in. She opened a drawer and took out a sleek, shiny gun.
"Yes, Ratchet. It is your fault. But happily, soon that will not matter…

Jasmine ran as fast as her feet would carry her, following Ratchet's trail, Drake winging along behind her.
"If I know Kaos, she'll be in the Control Centre! I think it's on the next-"
He landed so fast he tumbled off his feet.
"There's someone around the corner…" he hissed.
Jasmine risked a peek, and grinned. She knew this guy…
When something that wasn't terribly important needs guarding, the one called Tyran is, probably, it was rather hard to tell under the grime, your Lombax. He was mangy, skinny, scruffy and lazy. He was also an abject coward. She knew just what to do to get him out of the way…
Tyran sighed and scratched himself, vaguely wondering why he was the only one on guard duty. Being practically useless, he hadn't been called up to bring Ratchet to the Command Centre. There was a faint noise behind him. And a hand around his throat. Before he could blink, Jasmine had thrown him up against the wall, gripping hard enough to nearly choke him. She thrust her face right up against his and snarled.
"OK, scruffball, listen up! Here is what is going to happen! You are going to go away, and let us through, or this wrench is going where the sun don't shine!"
"I-isn't that that really dark asteroid belt in Solana with the funny name?"
"Rest assured I will find a short cut. Now if you don't let me through and leave here, I will do things to you that are not only as terrible as you can imagine, but as terrible as I /i] can imagine them, and I have a very good imagination."
Tyran's eyes darted around in their sockets, then he nodded carefully.
"Good. Now if you're still here within 10 seconds I will hurt you. And don't get any funny ideas about telling Kaos."
He bolted. Jasmine carefully wiped her hands.
"Eurgh. I hope that guy didn't give me anything nasty. Next floor you said, right?"
"Yes, of course. But I'm not entirely certain where."
"I think I know." She pointed up. Squares of what seemed to be mirrors were set in the roof. "Cuz if I'm not mistaken, that's two way glass!"

Ratchet felt the chill of a gun at the base of his skull. He didn't care. He no longer cared about anything much now. He wasn't grieving any more. He was just…empty. There was nothing left inside him now. All he wanted was for it to end.
"You provided me with great sport, Ratchet. You were a brave foe. So, to honour a noble enemy, you're death will be painless and quick. Take comfort, Ratchet, in the fact that soon you will be reunited with your darling Jasmine."
Ratchet sighed and bowed his head. He had sometimes wondered how it would all end. Now he knew. As Kaos cocked the gun he closed his eyes, and wondered if Jasmine would be happy to see him…
"I say, what's that noise?"
And the floor beneath her erupted. Ratchet tumbled backwards as the glass skylight shattered. There was a flash of blue as light glinted off hoverwings, the thump of foot on flesh, and Kaos was lifted off the ground, flung backwards onto a computer monitor. Ratchets rescuer shook glass from her hair and hovered. And Ratchet went numb.
She was cut, and bruised, and her armour was gone, replaced by a tank top and shorts, but it was still Jasmine, still the same black fur and infectious grin. Behind her, Drake reappeared, Clank by his side.
Jasmine scooped up Ratchet's wrench and held it out to him.
"Here, man. You're gonna need this. She's stunned, but it ain't gonna last."
Ratchet's mind felt like a puddle of goo. He couldn't believe it. It's a trick! he thought. But his senses confirmed it. She was here. She was alive. Ratchet didn't have a name for the sensation that flowed through his veins like fresh, warm blood. It was relief, and love, and wonder, and utter joy. It filled him, washed over him in a golden tide. His world centred, it made sense now. Grinning, he took his wrench, gazing into her amethyst eyes. He said nothing. There was nothing he could say, nothing that could fully express what he needed to say. Clank was smiling at him, and he knew he was forgiven. Then Kaos got to her feet, and the golden moment collapsed.
She spat blood from a bitten tongue. Jasmines kick had connected quite solidly to her jaw. A streak of red ran from her mouth as she snarled.
"Goddammit, how hard is it to kill one of you? Why won't you just die already? Guards! Guards! Come in here and kill them!"
The guards had been ordered not to enter, but now they flooded in, and Ratchet, Clank and Jasmine soon found themselves in a fight for their lives. Drake and the Zenithi bit at the guards ankles in a vain attempt to distract them, but there were so many it was proving difficult. In the background, Kaos laughed with obscene glee.
"Yes! Yes! Kill them! Tear them to shreds!"
Ratchet fired his Sonic Disruptor, sending his attackers scattering. They were winning, slowly but surely. The number of guards was lessening, just as the rage of Kaos increased.
Jasmine struck a Lombax under the chin with the butt end of her wrench blade, knocking out a tooth and sending him scampering out of the room. Even as she fought, she was planning. All she had to do was hold on long enough to clear them out, then they could go after Kaos and her necklace.
It didn't work out that way.
Ratchet had been careless. As he fought, he had made a crucial mistake. He had turned his back on Kaos. He gagged as Kaos wrapped her forearm around his throat, nearly cutting off all air.
"Everybody freeze!" she yelled.
The battle ground to a halt. Clank reared back in horror at the sight of Ratchet struggling in Kaos' grip. Her face was suffused with dark wrath. In her other hand, she held a knife to Ratchets throat.
"Anyone moves, I kill him. He's going to die anyway-" She pushed in with the blade slightly, and Ratchet winced as a trickle of red ran down his neck. "But if you drop your weapons, he won't die this actual second."
Jasmine dropped her wrench like it was red hot.
"Good. Now raise your hands."
Her and Clank complied. A chorus of angry hissing sprang up from the Zenithi, and Drake decided enough was enough.
"You go too far, Kaos!" he snapped. "If haven't you realised that if you destroy the universe, you'll die too?"
"It will be worth it-Quit kicking me, you. It will go hard for you."
"You're insane!" Drake cried. He could feel a rage building up inside him, and welcomed it. It was a hard, sharp rage, that seemed to quicken his thoughts. "I am ashamed to call you daughter!"
"Are you done? I have a Lombax to kill."
She raised the knife. Jasmine screamed and lunged, but one of the guards grabbed her wrist and held her fast.
Kaos grinned and struck.
The knife was halfway to its destination when Drake struck like a green lightning bolt. Kaos screamed as his teeth sank into her wrist, jerking her hand up and sending the knife flying. Drake hissed and sank his teeth in deeper, hanging on with tooth and talon as she shook her arm desperately. Ratchet slipped from her grasp and charged a group of guards, sending them scattering. Demoralized by the sight of their leader bleeding and shrieking, her guards lost heart and ran.
Drakes grip was getting looser. He held on as tight as he could, green feathers flying as he beat his wings in her face to try and distract her.
Jasmine readied herself to tackle Kaos. And, with one almighty heave, the pale Lombax threw Drake with all her strength into the wall. Utter silence fell, as he hung, spread-eagled for a moment, before sliding slowly down. The Zenithi erupted in plaintive cries. And Kaos gasped. For a moment, her aura of dark evil seemed to lessen, as she stared in horror at the injured Zenithi, ears lowered as she clutched her wounded wrist.
"I just meant to scare him." she whispered.
Drake finally fell forward off the wall, limp as a rag doll. He landed square on a large red button on the keyboard below him. A computerised voice echoed through the stronghold.
"Self destruct activated. This building will self destruct in 60 seconds."
There was a flurry of activity. Jasmine scooped Drake up quickly and jumped through the broken skylight to the floor below, activating her hoverwings to give Drake a softer landing.
"Follow me!"
Kaos let them go. She still seemed to be in shock, ignoring the quakes as the building prepared to explode. Justin burst through the door and began tugging on her arm.
"The whole place is gonna blow! Come on, there's a teleporter up!"
"I didn't mean for that to happen…"
"Come on!"
Still stunned, she turned and allowed him to drag her off.

"This way!"
The injured Zenithi in her arms, Jasmine dodged chunks of rubble shaken loose by the tremors, Ratchet, Clank and the rest of the Zenithi hot on her heels. The denizens of the stronghold ran as well, ignoring the heroes as they scrambled for their freedom, some of the more charitable Lombaxes dragging hypnotised guards with them. Jasmine risked a glance down at Drake. His eyes were closed. Blood leaked steadily from his mouth. Occasionally, he groaned.
"Ten seconds till self destruct."
They burst through the door, ignoring the last few stragglers haring off down the path.
They cut into the woods, off the path.
The mechanical voice echoed over the stronghold perimeter.
They turned in time to see the stronghold erupt. It seemed to happen almost in slow motion, large pieces of rock breaking off and tumbling almost lazily into the air. A moment later, the boom from the explosion wrapped itself around their ears, almost knocking them off their feet. There was a rumble of collapsing stone, a small shower of gravel, then stillness. Ratchet sighed with relief. That had been too close! Then he remembered why he still felt so happy He felt as though he he was filled with golden bubbles, as though his feet were hardly touching the ground. She was alive!
"I can't believe you're OK, Jasmine!" he said, turning to look at her. "I'd given up hope of…oh."
The happiness drained away, to be replaced by a chill. Jasmine was gently laying Drake down on a soft patch of moss, a look of utter grief on her and Clank's faces. For one sickening moment, Ratchet thought he had died, but then Drake raised his head, slowly and painfully.
"Ratchet?" His voice was weak and thin. "Where are you?"
He hurried to Drakes side.
"I'm here."
"Good. This…is important…"
Drakes body shuddered with each laboured breath. A puddle of blood was already forming under his head. Ratchet gently cradled Drakes head in his hand.
"I…don't have much time…"
"No, Drake, don't say that!" cried Ratchet, his voice shrill and panicky . "You'll be fine! We just need to…Oh man, do we take him to a doctor or a vet?"
"Look…at Jasmine…"
Ratchet looked. Tears were dripping off her chin, and her purple eyes were dull. She held one of Drakes claws and sobbed as though her heart would break.
"She…is a Praetorian Guard…They deal with…death and war…on a daily basis…She knows fatal injuries…when she sees them…We are fragile creatures anyway…And Clank…" The little robot was huddled next to Drake, hugging his knees and wishing robots could cry. "I imagine…his bioscanner…tells him everything…he needs to know…There now, don't cry, you two."
With great effort, he lifted a wing and gently brushed their tears away with a feather.
"The same…goes for you lot…" he said to the other Zenithi, who were weeping softly. "To die on duty…is practically natural causes…for a Zenithi." He chuckled weakly, the strangled laugh turning into a hacking cough halfway through, splattering the moss with blood. "B'ran?"
A slim orange Zenithi stepped closer.
"Y-yes, lord?"
"When I am gone…you will bring the message…back to Elysium? You will sing…the death song?"
"Aye, Lord. It has been an honour to serve you."
"Please don't leave us, Drake!" Jasmine burst out. "We still need you! We can't do this alone!"
"I know. That is why…you will not be…Take…the B'rr-Tanya…"
She gently lifted it off his neck, clasping it in trembling hands.
"It is vital…Mia gets that…as soon as possible…The Balance…must have a Guardian…She will…finish my task…She is…more than capable."
"There must be something we can do!" said Clank. With an effort, Drake shook his head.
"For those…who have much to give…much is expected. No Guardian…has died in their nests…Take heart, though…By destroying her stronghold…you have bought us time…Such a great force…for evil destroyed…will shift the Balance…far in our favour…Listen closely…I'm fading fast, and I don't…have much time..I…do not need… to have the powers of Azreal…to see the future is going…to be hard..I would know…if Kaos had not gotten out…She is…still out there…somewhere…You must be strong…for so much rides on this…Do not grieve for me….I have lived my life…well…and done my duty…as best as I can…And…hard as this…may seem…do not hate Kaos…for what she has done…Pity her…The incarnation…has no control…over its action…To kill a creature…as tortured…as the incarnation..is at most…an act of kindness…"
They could hardly hear him now. His voice was no louder than a puff of wind.
"Now…I will sleep…for the last time…and hope…one day…I will see you…Be strong, my friends…for I feel…you will need that strength…"
His yellow eyes closed for the last time, and Ratchet caught the faintest of sighs as his final breath left him.
"Goodbye, Drake." Ratchet said softly, lowering Drakes head gently down to the moss. Jasmine buried her head in her hands and wept, and Ratchet put his arms around her shoulders, staring in stunned grief at the small body. Clank sighed, and nodded at B'ran, who gently touched noses with his dead leader in a final mark of respect, then disappeared, appearing on the top branch of the King. He cleared his throat. And sang. It was a slow song, full of falling notes. It flowed like water over Elysium. All other songs faltered as it was heard. In the canyons, Percival dropped a bowl in disbelief, blinking back tears. Azreal hung his head. He had seen this, had known it was fated. The notes even pierced the temple, where Angela sobbed into Max's shoulder as the Markazian gently patted her back and stared blankly ahead, tears dripping off his beard. All the 'waifs and strays' fell silent, mourning the one who has granted them the redemption no one else would. One by one, the Zenithi joining in, adding their own notes to the song. Even the sun seemed to darken. Mourning trembled in the air. Then, gradually, the song changed. Grief was still there, but mow there was resignation, which changed to acceptance, as they let him go. He was gone, but he would never be forgotten.
Back on Sargasso, one of the Zenithi gently placed her muzzle under Drakes body, lifting him up until her fallen leader was draped across her back.
"We…We must go. We have things to do, you understand."
They nodded, hearts still too full to talk.
"Mia is on the planet, not too far off. Her father forbade her from going any closer. You must make sure she gets the B'rr-tanya. The Balance must never be without a Guardian."
They disappeared. Ratchet exchanged a look with Clank. In a few short days, Drake had become part of their lives. Now he was gone. How would they defeat Kaos without his wisdom? What was their next step?
What did they do now?

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