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PeabodySam

Dino Attack RPG: Director's Cut

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Chapter 40: Among Us

----

Copper worked his way over towards a battered and bruised unconscious woman. "Do you know her?" Copper asked as he examined her.

"Yeah," replied Pierce. "Elite Agent Zenna."

"I see," said Copper. "She's broken quite a few bones, possible internal bleeding. We got to get her out of here quickly. Wade, give me a hand, will you?"

Wade nodded and reluctantly helped Copper put Zenna's unconscious body onto the stretcher.

"Mac," Copper said. "Get back out there. See if you can get me one or two more stretchers."

Mac nodded as he picked up his lantern and stepped outside. As he started to walk towards the T-1 Typhoon, he thought he heard some degree of commotion.

He quickly ran back to the helicopter and climbed inside for a moment. Mac desperately searched around, finding a rifle. He quickly loaded a few rounds before climbing back out and running back to the source of the confusion.

It sounded like two people talking, specifically a man vaguely whispering to a woman. Mac kept his cool as he approached, the light from his lantern eventually revealing the back of a rather tough-looking man holding a young woman by the neck. Mac quickly drew his rifle, aimed it towards the man's head, and cocked it.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" Mac asked coldly.

Rudo Villano turned around slowly, bring Minerva in front of him. He pointed his own weapon, a submachine gun (to Minerva's surprise) at Mac, scowling. His red eyes dimmed slightly at the bright light of the lantern.

"I'm making my way out of here," Villano hissed to Mac. Villano carefully moved Minerva so her head was blocking his own. Mac lowered his rifle slightly. Minerva was about to speak when she felt Villano's hand cover her mouth yet again.

"I want a transport off this island," Villano said. "Boat, helicopter, I don't care. I just want off. If you can get me a transport off, I'll let her go." Even though she was certain that Villano was insane, Minerva felt like he was telling the truth.

"I don't think you are going anywhere," Mac responded.

Villano spat angrily. "You have no authority over me! I highly doubt you hold very much authority over this team! Take me to your team's leaders. Let them decide."

Mac seemed to think it over. Minerva hoped he would just give in to Villano's demands.

"Or I could, you know, shoot you and the girl and be on my merry way," Villano said impatiently.

"Looks like we won't have to go anywhere," Mac suddenly noted. Villano turned his head and could see the dim outlines of more Dino Attack agents approaching, weapons in their hands. "Alright. Let's take this one step at a time. What exactly is it you want?"

"I want to get off," repeated Villano.

"I see," replied Mac. "I do have a chopper. I think we got to go over it with the others first, but I might be able to arrange something. First, you got to tell me what exactly you plan to do when you get off the island."

Suddenly, there was a voice from behind him. "Mac!" called the familiar voice of Doc Copper. "Mac, what's going on?"

"Nothing too serious," Mac replied casually. "Just another guy who wants a lift. That's all."

"Mac, we got to get these people out of here," said Copper. "Maybe we'll have some extra room, but first, we got to deal with the wounded."

Mac thought about it. "Alright," he said. "Copper, you and the other doctors get them loaded. If there's extra space, we'll take you. If not, then we'll just have to send someone back to get you and the others." 

Minerva couldn't believe it. He's getting away that easily?! She looked at Mac with utter confusion. Is he mad? Is he drunk? Doesn't he realize this guy was with XERRD? WITH THE MAELSTROM?! Is he just going to let a guy who was THREATENING TO KILL ME leave?!

Rudo Villano seemed to have calmed down. He loosened his grip on Minerva's neck substantially. Mac and Copper turned and started heading toward the medical tent, Villano and Minerva close behind.

"You know, you can let go of my neck," Minerva snapped irritably. "You're getting what you want."

"I want to make sure I'm getting what I want," Villano muttered.

Minerva rolled her eyes. The situation had quickly gone from frightening to simply annoying. And this guy, she thought, thinking of Villano, is the biggest crybaby loser I have ever seen. Running away from his problems instead of facing them. However, she couldn't really be surprised. She decided XERRD was full of cowards who used an army of grunts to shield them from danger.

At least this stupid XERRD-reject is leaving. Then we can get back to the Maelstrom Temple. As soon has those two sentences appeared in her head, a brilliantly stupid idea appeared in her head. He's from XERRD. He HAS to know where the Maelstrom Temple is! She knew what she had to do.

"So that's it?" Minerva suddenly said casually.

"What?"

"You are just going to run away?" she asked snobbishly. She felt Villano's hand tighten.

"I think it's best if you just stop talking," Villano said threateningly.

"Why? You know it's true. You are running away. You are giving up. The Maelstrom and XERRD obviously bested you. You-" Minerva was silenced as Villano forcefully shoved her to the ground. She grunted in pain. Minerva could barely see Mac and Copper turn around in surprise, the former raising his rifle again.

"Shut. Up," hissed Villano, almost spitting in her ear.

She turned her head slightly. Out of her peripheral vision, she could see Villano's glowing red eyes and his scarred face twisted in rage. It's working. Now for the icing on the cake.

"You are a feared and wanted villain across the world," Minerva said in a condescending tone, opening memories of reading news reports about Villano's criminal activity from long ago. "You are one of Johnny Thunder's most significant enemies! You one of XERRD's top dino hunters. You have a powerful reputation that you are obviously unaware of!" She wasn't sure about how true this statement was, but she pressed forward. "You were sought out by XERRD because of your skill and efficiency. Zach enlisted you in his squad of Stromlings because he knew you were powerful and dangerous. Both groups betrayed you, and you are just going to take it?! Doesn't sound like the Rudo Villano I know. Sounds like some sort of loser who quits when things don't go his way."

The left side of Minerva's face was slammed into the ground. She could hear Mac and Copper yelling for Villano to stand down and calling out for help while Villano jammed the machine gun against her right cheek.

"Why take their Znap?" Minerva muttered, staring straight ahead into the dark. "Why not get revenge?"

Revenge seemed to resonate with Villano.

"Join the Dino Attack Team. Help us defeat XERRD and the Maelstrom. Get revenge. Show Palomar and Provencal and all those other scientists to fear you."

"Sounds like the same spiel that the Stromling gave me," Villano responded coldly.

"But there is a clear difference between the Maelstrom and the Dino Attack," Minerva said forcefully. "The Maelstrom will cast aside its allies once they outlive their usefulness. It happened to that Stromling Monkey, it happened you. Heck, it'll probably happen to Zach. The Dino Attack Team is different. We... stand by each other. Despite these 'realist vs. idealist' and other moral debates, we always end up standing together against our common enemy. Notice how we haven't betrayed Sinister and the other villains, and they have been allied with us for months! Trust me, stand by us and we will stand by you. Until the end."

She stopped talking. Villano was silent. No doubt he is thinking it over. After several minutes, Minerva spoke up again. "Will you join the Dino Attack Team?" she asked quietly.

Villano sighed, obviously defeated. He dropped the gun and let go of Minerva's neck. She slowly got back to her feet and turned to Villano. His eyes were no longer red. He glared at Minerva forcefully. "I... I-I will join your team. I will get revenge on the Maelstrom and make Palomar regret betraying me."

Minerva smiled half-heartedly at the disgruntled ex-dino hunter and shook his hand. 

*****

"Alright, is everything looking good from your POV, Laxus?" said Andrew from under the hood of the Fire Hammer.

"As far as I can tell," his Martian friend replied, "Yes, the launcher's looking alright."

"Good. Let's clean up and get back to the command tent. Semick wants us to help out with the exposition speech for the rest of the team."

The thought of the upcoming mission gave Andrew a sudden bout of reminiscence on everything that had happened since the start of his involvement in the war. Everything seemed so long ago now (granted, even the relatively recent moment when he had his last encounter with Zach seemed like it had happened months ago, but the point still stood). His decision to return to LEGO City… his encounter at the bank where had had a first real cooperative fight with fellow agents… LEGO Island… meeting Semick… the labs… meeting Laxus… the dreams… the schism… promotion to Elite Agent for helping a fellow agent due to said dreams… and now, Adventurers' Island.

He had been through quite a bit of hardship, met so many famous agents, learned so much about the team, built quite a bunch of cool stuff, and made some good friends. This had been a struggle that he had often gotten close to, and still very possibly could, met with an early death, but looking back so far, he wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Two days had passed since his battle with Zach, and there was only two hours before the deadline was over. The Dino Attack Team wasn't backing down, though. They were preparing to strike back, intending to destroy the Maelstrom Temple deep in Adventurers' Island's jungles.

Semick was preparing to send the team off within the hour or next. He, along with several other elite agents, would lead separate teams to strike at the area where both temples were in. Now would be the time for him to give his final battle plan, instructions for the teams, and motivational speech.

Andrew had a place in the plan, sort of. He and Minerva had agreed to work together to get to Zach once they had located the right temple. Technically he hadn't told anyone, but he had managed to convince Semick not to make him the leader of anybody, so the two could get away without being missed.

It's going to be a tough one, Andrew thought to himself. But I've made it this far, so I think I can make it through this one. I think.

Now having sufficed his rather unnecessary need for a recap, he became aware of reality again and saw Laxus climb off the top of the Fire Hammer.

"Ready?" the fellow Dino Attack agent said. Andrew nodded. They walked off towards the direction of the command tent. 

Less than two hours remained, and command was still dispersed throughout the island. Hertz was still very worried about how the attack would go. The men were in no condition to fight and many had still not recovered from the disastrous assault on the rear guard camp.

The elite agents Cabin, Semick, Andrew, Rex, and Rotor were present in the command room. Aside from them, Doctor Cyborg had arrived to provide his export opinion.

Hertz frowned. He absolutely hated this; they had virtually no time to plan this battle, and so much of the team was still missing. An incredible number of agents were killed and almost as many were missing.

"Are you guys sure about this? We are rushing into this without taking our time," pleaded Hertz. "We are safe here; we can take our time now!"

"Shut up, kid," warned Rotor. "Just play with your radio and let the big boys make the calls."

"Hertz has a point," said Cabin, "I don't think we're ready for this. We should wait for Clint and Zenna before we start planning this thing."

Cyborg nodded his head. "And Dust; it all comes back to his theory."

Andrew put his head in his hands and rose from the table. He looked out the window and back at the assembled agents. "I know what Zach is capable of, and I take that threat seriously," he began. "If he says he will unleash a hammer beyond our imagination and that it will strike hardest here, we all have reason to be afraid. Do we even know what temple we're attacking?"

Rex rolled up to the files spread out at the table. "Yesterday, we released a XERRD scientist by the name of Dr. Paulie Gonepus. I expect he will lead us to the true Maelstrom Temple."

"Can we trust him?" asked Semick.

"Can we trust Dust?" answered Rex. "We only have one shot at this. I really don't think it wise to split our forces at this point."

Hertz nodded. So it was decided. He will be changing no one's mind tonight. He got up and placed a map on the table. "Ladies and Gentleman, let's get started. We have less than an hour to plain the most decisive battle in history."

----

Peter Walter slowly walked up to the dead worker's body. He was in a sewer when he was attacked by a Mutant Dinosaur. From the looks of it, he was attacked by a Mutant Raptor, a very deadly creature.

It was an old-looking body; the worker was probably killed when LEGO City was besieged by Mutant Dinosaurs back in April. He examined the body and then saw that this Raptor must have been strong, as it burrowed through solid concrete. Peter climbed through one of these holes and saw that there were five workers' bodies lying there. By the looks of it, the Raptor jumped on one of them, then quickly blocked the exit and killed the rest. The Raptor then broke through the door and killed two more workers.

Peter walked through all the rooms and saw how much damage this Raptor did. Then, he saw tracks of two more Raptors, and then realized that there was at least ten of them down here when LEGO city was attacked. He then saw the exit out of the sewer, and saw poor workers whose lives were put to end by Raptors before they reached the gate.

He opened the gate and saw a Raptor's body lying there, its life put to end by something that had a gun, most probably a Dino Attack member. He then saw a Raptor, but before it saw him, he got his weapon and put its life to end. He then quickly ran up the stairs so that he could get to the surface and get to his vehicle.

Peter was driving through the city with his Steel Sprinter, when he saw three Mutant Lizards charging at him. He quickly fired his mounted weapon at them, ending one of them, and then killing another one of them with his knife. Seeing this, the third Lizard ran away, and Peter drove away. He drove for 15 minutes until he got to the Dino Attack Headquarters, and a guard opened the gate.

Peter got onto a Dino Attack plane and it took off. He was going to Adventurers' Island, there at last, to fight the final battle against the Maelstrom. He looked below him and saw below how LEGO City was getting destroyed. A skyscraper was in flames, like a volcano in the middle of the city. He saw how a Mutant Spinosaurus reduced a bank to rubble; how a flock of Mutant Pterosaurs flew into the engine of a helicopter. And he saw a giant Pterosaur fly towards him. 

----

Garry was startled for a moment as Fuchs and Windows bumped into him holding a large crate. "What's all this about?" he asked sternly.

"New supplies, sir," replied Fuchs. "We're taking them to storage area 3."

"Put them in storage area 2, would you?" instructed Garry.

"What do you mean?" asked Windows.

"I've got orders to keep that room locked up. There's some top-secret information that's being placed there. Only myself and a few select others, whose identities I'm not at liberty to disclose, are allowed inside."

"Alright," replied Windows as he and Fuchs started backing down in the other direction.

"Fuchs!" Garry called. "As soon as you're done with those, I'd like you to report to the infirmary. I know medicine isn't your strong point, but I think the doctors are going to need all the help they can get and you're the closest extra hand we have."

"Alright," Fuchs replied before he and Windows continued. As soon as they reached the storage room Garry instructed, they stepped inside and put down the large crate. Both took a few minutes to catch their breath.

"This stuff is heavy," Windows said after a few moments of panting.

"I know," agreed Fuchs. He slowly opened the lid and looked inside to see the contents. This particular crate contained lots of ammunition. There were bullets, shells, grenades, ammo belts, and other such things. However, while they were needed, this was not of any real interest to either of the men, one being a biologist, the other a radio operator. They quickly put the lid back on and stepped outside. A couple other agents were following with other boxes.

"Windows," Fuchs said as he followed Windows through the door, "do you think we should let our superiors know about this?"

"Don't they already know?" asked Windows.

"I'm not sure," replied Fuchs. "However, I think if you tell them we just got a few crates of ammunition, they'll be excited."

"What about you?" asked Windows.

"I got orders to go work in the infirmary," replied Fuchs. "I'll catch up with you later."

Windows nodded and ran off.

*****

"It's alright," said Copper as he closely examined Pierce's leg. "You're going to be fine. There was a misdiagnosis. It's not actually broken."

"Wait," Pierce said skeptically. "You mean to say that I couldn't tell how I was hurt?"

"You were under a lot of stress," replied Copper. "Besides, it's a lot harder to examine yourself. A bit of time off should do you good. We'll give it a couple days, then maybe try walking again."

Pierce smiled as Copper turned away to look at some more patients. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Wade approached and opened it, revealing a familiar face. She was asking him something quietly. Wade quickly motioned towards Pierce, and she smiled.

"Kate!" said Pierce as she ran up to him, trying to resist the urge to give him a great big hug. Crusher briefly looked up from her work and smiled for a moment.

Wade was just about to get back to work when he heard a voice calling him: "Wade!" Wade turned around to see Commander Johnson.

"I just wanted to tell you I'm heading out," Johnson said. "There's a chopper leaving in a few minutes, apparently taking that gunslinger, and I just wanted to say goodbye."

Wade nodded. "You still got those letters?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Johnson, who briefly took them out of his pocket to show Wade.

"Good," said Wade. "Don't forget to mail them."

Johnson nodded and turned back toward the door. At that point, Fuchs suddenly walked into the room. "Listen," he said nervously. "Garry was just wondering if any of you people had some work that a biologist could possibly help with."

*****

Clint sat impatiently smoking his cigar as he waited for the helicopter's engines to start up. While it only took Johnson a few minutes to return, he did not feel like waiting.

Still, as soon as Johnson was on board, the pilots began to take off. Clint stared out the side for a while, watching the land shrink into the distance as they flew over the sea.

"I can finally explain the nature of your special mission," said the agent in the chopper.

"Fire away," said Clint.

"You're heading out to Gold City," explained the agent. Clint showed a look of interest. "We had a couple of boys in there trying to retake a particular point, but we haven't heard much from them."

"What do you want me to do?" Clint asked.

"Simple," replied the agent. "You're heading to a small Western town called El Paso."

"I thought you said I was going to Gold City" said Clint.

"You will" replied the agent. "El Paso is where you'll meet your partner, codename: Angel Eyes."

"Angel Eyes," repeated Clint. "Sounds familiar."

"You'll be operating under the codename of Blondie," instructed the agent. "Angel Eyes has already been working on gathering supplies. As soon as you find him, you'll be heading out to Gold City by whatever transport's available. You can even ride on horses if you have to. We want you to find the Second Headquarters Squad, report their current status, and if all is well, give them a hand in whatever is necessary."

"Sounds simple enough," mused Clint. "How will I know my contact?"

"Simple recognition code," replied the agent. "A golden-haired angel. You remember that?"

"Yeah, I can remember that," said Clint. 

----

As a psychologist, Nicholas Saran had visited many hospitals, but the medical wing of Outpost 4 was among the nicest. Although it was dreadful the first day Nick had visited the place (considering the sheer magnitude of the hurt and dying), it had brightened up considerably in the last fifty-eight hours. Fresh ocean air blew through the open windows and filled the room with life. Sounds of the slowly splashing waves down below left a soothing sensation on the patents and the rays of sunshine illuminates the whitewashed walls.

But even with the vibrant atmosphere, Saran could sense an underlying layer of stress in the room. The men were afraid. Doctor Saran had seen himself the horrors of war; the brutal attack on the rear guard camp had emotionally scarred many of the men, and it was understandable that they were terrified to go back in to action so soon.

Saran checked his file and systematically walked down the row of beds, engaging in small talk and pleasantries as he went. Finally, he stopped at a bed in the middle and took a seat in a chair opposite. "Good morning, Mr. Nielson, how are you handling?"

The man on the bed rolled over and did not respond. Saran smiled and waited; it was his job to not force answers out of anyone. He had learned to wait over the years and be patient; he would let Mr. Nielson respond on his own time.

"I bet you think you can just make me feel better, don't you?" grumbled Mr. Nielson.

"What makes you think that?" said Dr. Saran.

"That's your job, right? To get me in fighting shape?"

Nick sat back in his chair and chuckled. "Mr. Nielson, if all we cared about was getting you fighting again, we would just ship you out regardless of whether you were ready or not."

Nielson sat up and pointed a finger at the doctor. "You don't care about me! You're not sending me out because of my leg!"

"That might be part of it," considered Saran. "But my leg never stopped me from doing good work; perhaps it is the reason why I never go in the field anymore."

"Does it still hurt?" asked Mr. Nielson.

"I've learned to live with it. But it took me time to cope." Saran put his hand on Mr. Nielson's shoulder. "Losing your leg is a hard thing to deal with. It's easy to just pretend you can do all the things you used to by jumping back into the action. But that will only hurt you, you need to take your time."

"But they think I'm worthless now!" moaned Mr. Nielson. "I need to fight again; I need to show them!"

"I'm missing a leg too. Does that make me worthless?" Saran got up from his chair and started writing in Mr. Nielson's file. "And for the record, they don't think you're worthless. Take your time; it took me years, but I finally found a way to make a difference. My bet is you will, too; just don't try and prove yourself now, there is plenty of time for that latter."

Mr. Nielson smiled and sat back in his bed. Although Nicholas felt he had had a breakthrough with this patent, the room was still filled with men suffering their own inner battles. He wished he had more time, but in about an hour, those that were ready to fight would be sent off to the front lines again. 

Whose definition of "ready"? thought the doctor. He frowned and made his way to the elevator. He would have to talk to someone about that. 

----

There was a cloud of dust as Clint stepped out of the chopper into the familiar sands of the Old West. Strangely, there were no people on this street, not a man in sight as he walked down the empty street.

Clint soon found himself wandering into a local tavern. The place was empty, save a young barmaid. "Can I get you something?" she asked.

"Yeah," replied Clint. "Whiskey." He put some cash on the counter, and the barmaid quickly took it and poured him a glass. "I don't suppose you know where everyone is?" he asked.

"They all went out to the hanging," replied the barmaid. "A couple of 'em boys were messing around in here and tried to start a fight."

Clint smiled, remembering the old days. "Well, you know what they say," he said as he took a sip. "Every man's got an angel watching them. Maybe a golden-haired angel."

This seemed to catch the barmaid's attention. "You're looking for someone aren't you?" she asked.

"How'd you know that?" asked Clint.

"There was a man who came in here a few days ago," replied the barmaid. "He's got a room here. He ain't by any chance a man who goes by the name of Angel Eyes, is he?"

Clint looked up from his drink. "You know about that?"

The barmaid smiled. "Standard agent Maria," she keenly introduced herself. "I was sent here to report on the progress and development of this town, in the hopes of such projects working in other regions. Naturally, they chose a woman because she'd have to be much more subtle."

"Hey," said a voice from behind. "If it isn't ol' Clint Wayne." Clint quickly turned around to see a trio of armed bandits approaching him.

"I'd be careful if I was you, Flatfoot Thompson," said Wayne.

The other two men laughed.

"You joined that ridiculous Dino Attack team, huh?" Thompson remarked tauntingly. "Them boys don't know nuttin' about destroying no mutant dinos. Tell me, is it true that they are desperate enough to employ women?"

The other bandits laughed. Maria and Clint remained silent. Suddenly they were cut off by a loud noise as Thompson's hat went flying off, followed by the two other men's hats.

"The next time I have to shoot, it goes through your head," Clint said menacingly. Thompson quickly ran out of there, followed by his two companions.

"I always hated that son of a Jack Stone," Maria remarked before she turned back to Clint. "I'll get you a room. When Angel Eyes gets here, I'll tell him Blondie stopped by."

"Thank you very much," replied Clint as he stood up and walked out of the tavern. 

----

"Why'd Garry send you?" Copper asked sternly.

"I don't know," replied Fuchs. "He just felt that you boys could use all the help you can get, and I was the closest person to another doctor around here."

"I see," said Copper. "Well, let's see what's going on here."

"You could start by helping Nick over there," said Wade. He motioned towards a man on the other side of the room who was just finishing a conversation with a patient.

"Yeah, that sounds good," replied Copper.

Fuchs nodded and nervously walked over. "Umm... excuse me," he said as he approached the psychiatrist. "Garry wanted me to help out around here, and the other doctors were saying I should give you a hand, doctor..."

"Saran."

"Yes, Saran," replied Fuchs. "I'm Doctor Fuchs, by the way. I'm the resident biologist around here." 

Doctor Saran warmly shook the biologist's hand. "Biology?" said Saran, "what do you do around here? I was under the impression you folks worked with cells and stuff. No offense, of course, but how is that relevant?"

Fuchs shrugged. "Ordinarily, I work with infectious disease, something that's common on tropical islands. Recently, I helped with the gas that was unleashed at the XERRD Fortress."

Saran nodded. "Interesting stuff; it's probably quite a stressful job."

"It can be," agreed Fuchs. "Recently, me and my team have been investigating the Maelstrom's effect on the human body."

"I suppose that would our course intersect, wouldn't it?" said Saran. "I have not had as much opportunity as I would have liked to study the Maelstrom, but part of my job is to work with its psychological effects." The psychiatrist frowned and turned around to view the sick bay. "These men are lucky; they don't have to go back fighting that thing yet. I've seen what happens to people who have to come face-to-face with such a force of evil. It…"

"It changes them," offered Fuchs.

Nicholas Saran frowned. "Exactly." 

"Did you say you were investigating the Maelstrom?" suddenly said a female voice from behind. Fuchs turned around to see Dr. Crusher sitting at a desk. "There was a man back at the camp who was looking into that. Doctor J.D. He even had a formula started."

"Really?" said Fuchs. "Can I speak to him?"

"Well, no," replied Crusher. "He's dead, you see. A Stromling went in and shot him. We never managed to find any notes… at least, nothing that gave us any real details."

"You wouldn't happen to have a sample of the formula?" Fuchs asked.

"Last I saw, J.D. gave it to a female agent, whose name I don't remember at the moment," replied Crusher.

"If that's true, it could be of great help to us," said Fuchs.

"It was probably lost in the camp," Crusher said with a slight yawn. "Whatever secrets J.D. had, they died with him."

"You don't remember anything?" asked Fuchs.

"I'm not sure," replied Crusher. "I didn't really know her that well. What was her name? Fellow, Fargo, Fabio? Something like that."

"I see," replied Fuchs. "If I could at least find her, maybe we'd be able to get something."

----

Clint squinted as he stepped down the bright and sunny street into the large courtyard where the town's population was standing. At the gallows was an old friend of Clint's, a bandit named Tuco Wallach. Clint smiled as he recalled the time they tried to form an alliance: Clint would turn Tuco in, collect the reward, then bust him out at the last second so they could split the money.

"Tuco Wallach, you have been found guilty of numerous crimes including pillaging, plundering, murder, killing, armed robbery, murder, using marked cards in a game of blackjack, double-crossing, impersonating a town sheriff, murder, sticking a knife into another man's back, shooting people, attempting to assault a lawman, and gambling. Proceed with the execution."

"I'm glad that ol' scoundrel is hangin'," said a woman in a coach. "Them boys ain't no good for notin' and they can rot in MegaBlokland for all I care."

"I wouldn't say that," replied another man, dressed in all black. "Even the worst of men have an angel looking after them. A golden-haired angel."

This quickly caught Clint's attention, but he turned back to the noose. He had a rifle on hand and slowly raised it, aimed, and fired. Within a moment, Tuco was down and riding the horse out of there. The townspeople rioted as they chased after him, whilst others were disappointed and went home. It was not long before the street was empty, save Clint and the black-clad man who seemed familiar.

"That was some fine shootin' there," the man said keenly.

Clint remembered what he'd heard him say. "Angel Eyes," he said.

Angel Eyes let out a slight chuckle. "You must be Blondie," he said.

Clint smiled, recognizing his assigned teammate. "Van Cleef," he said. "It's been a while."

"Naturally," replied Angel Eyes. "Come on. We got some work to be doing." 

----

Minerva and Nazareno were on their way to the meeting at Outpost 4. Minerva couldn't help but feel grateful for being back in a sanitary and friendly building. The last time I was at an outpost was before the battle at the village.

"And Vinyaya said we could come to the meeting?" she said, turning to Nazareno.

"Yes. Did you clear Villano of charges?" he responded.

Minerva rolled her eyes. The Dino Attack agents that had detained Rudo Villano once they had reached Outpost 4 had been very keen on killing him. After much convincing, Villano managed to walk free. "Barely."

"Something to mention at this meeting. You think that Villano can lead us to the correct temple?"

"I don't know, but we might as well try."

"Indeed - oooohh," Nazareno moaned, clutching his stomach. Minerva had never seen the ninja in so much pain.

"That reminds me, you were going to show me your wound."

Nazareno's eyes narrowed. "Oh, yes. I forgot. Be warned, it isn't pretty."

He pulled off his shirt armor and handed it to Minerva. She took it and was immediately surprised with how light it was. Well, he is a ninja. He's gotta move fast, right? thought Minerva.

Nazareno sighed, and lifted his shirt so his stomach visible. Minerva gagged slightly.

Around the spot where Zach's bullet had entered Nazareno's body was a small, bluish bruise that was surrounded by an even larger black bruise. From the blackened skin, Minerva could see the thin outline of seven purple veins, each pulsing every few seconds.

"I.... how...?" she stammered.

"I can only presume that the bullet Zach fired was infected with the Maelstrom, and it stayed in my system long enough to allow some of the Maelstrom to enter my body; specifically, the area where the bullet entered my body."

"Was it always that... big?"

"No. In fact, prior to the battle in the camp, the wound was more-or-less healed up. However, after the battle, the wound began to hurt again. I checked it out and, lo and behold, a massive bruise was on my stomach. I can only assume that, up until the encounter with Zach and that Stromling Monkey, the Maelstrom in my body was dormant. After the encounter, the Maelstrom was, I guess, reactivated and started causing havoc on my body."

Minerva was at a loss for words as she stared at the disgusting bruise. "Have... has a medic seen it? Are you..." she drifted off, feeling a lump appear in her throat.

"I haven't had time to see a medic since before the battle. It certainly is on my list of things to do, though. As for your second question..." Nazareno closed his eyes and let his shirt fall over the wound. He took the armor back from Minerva and put it back over his chest. "Yes, I can only assume that I am dying. That, or slowly becoming a Stromling," Nazareno said calmly.

Minerva's eyes widened. "Are...you feeling any sort of negative thoughts?" she asked, curious.

"You must be referring to Zach's less-than-pleasant attitude he brought back to the camp after his short exposure to that 'Maelstrom pool' you said he found. However, Zach is young and could not control his emotions. I have been trained to control my emotions. This control allows me to repel the Maelstrom's influence, but only temporarily. Eventually I will succumb to its influence. It may be months. It may be hours. Heck, it could be years. But it will happen. Trust me."

Minerva was silent, trying to absorb the thought she may be losing another friend. She looked down at her leg where the Injection Saw was clipped. J.D.'s incomplete Maelstrom cure swirled inside the vial. She slowly reached for it when she felt Nazareno's hand stop her movement.

"I know you want to help," he said sternly. "But I am not worth it. Save it for Zach." Minerva nodded slowly and let her hand return to her side. "Good. As it would seem, we have arrived at the command room." Nazareno pushed open the door.

Minerva could see numerous Dino Attack agents (mostly Elite) sitting around a table. Commander Vinyaya rose her spot and gestured the two to join the group.

"Welcome," Vinyaya said as the two took their places standing behind Rex and Adventure at the table. "We were just beginning to plan how to approach this Maelstrom Temple." 

----

Angel Eyes led Clint back into the saloon. The bar was once again occupied by scoundrels of all sorts. Flatfoot Thompson was busy cheating at a card game at a nearby table, but as soon as he saw Clint, he took his winnings and ran off.

The two men stopped at the counter. Maria was busy pouring a few drinks before she could get to them. "Sorry about this," she said. "When there's a hangin', business gets big."

"They do make a lot of money," replied Angel Eyes.

"I see you two found each other," Maria said.

Angel Eyes chuckled.

Maria looked around. "Come with me," she said. The two men followed her into the back of the tavern, where it was much less crowded.

"Did you get everything?" Angel Eyes asked.

"You bet," replied Maria with a grin.

"You got the cart?"

Maria led them out the back door where a small horse-drawn cart was waiting. In the back were several barrels, some of which contained food, others water, ammunition, and other goodies. "That should last you for 'bout a week," Maria said. "You boys get out there and give them Second Headquarters Squad a hand. I'll be up to check on you as soon as I can."

"How long will that be?" Angel Eyes asked as he sat down in the front.

"As soon as I can close down the saloon for a few days whilst still keeping anyone from knowin' who I'm workin' for. If any of them boys found out a woman from that there team were here, they'd think I was crazy."

"I think we can take care of ourselves for a little while," said Clint. "Let's get going."

With that, Clint gave a little shake to the straps, and the horses quickly started moving forward into the desert. He imagined a cue from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack playing as they rode off.

----

At about that moment, Garry walked into the infirmary.

"You're not at the meeting?" Copper asked curiously.

"Someone's got to keep watch," replied Garry. "It's my job to oversee everything that goes on at this base. At the moment, there are more pressing matters at hand. I'd like an update on the patients."

"It's getting better," reported Wade. "We got most of the patients stabilized, at least. I think there's a couple that will need to be shipped out, though."

"Like who?" asked Garry.

"Elite Agent Zenna for starters," replied Wade. He motioned towards Zenna, who was still comatose and attached to various medical instruments, the likes of which can never be described by someone who knows absolutely nothing about medicine.

"Alright," said Garry. "I'll arrange for transport to get them out. Any fit for duty?"

"Most of them," replied Wade.

"Good, good," said Garry. "I'll get the arrangements made. Maybe the rest of you should go get some breakfast."

At this point, Crusher was starting to doze off when Fuchs spoke up. "I think I've found something interesting," he said. "Crusher, would you mind telling him?"

Crusher suddenly opened her eyes, somewhat startled before Fuchs asked the question again. "Oh, there was a man back at the camp who tried to create a cure for the Maelstrom."

"Is that so?" asked Garry. "You wouldn't happen to have a sample of it with you?"

"No," replied Crusher. "The man responsible was killed. I'm trying to remember the name of the person he gave it to. Fallow, Fabric- Fabello, that was it!"

"Fabello," repeated Garry. "We can try the meeting."

"What about the wounded?" asked Wade.

"I'll go take a look around for Fabello," decided Garry. "I'd like you to work out which patients are fit for duty. The rest of them will be moved to Antarctica for their own safety." He quickly turned towards Crusher. "What's your name?"

"Crusher."

"Dr. Crusher," replied Garry. "I think you should take a nap."

Crusher nodded as Garry left the room.

He ran down the hallway and worked his way to the planning room where the others were working. He knocked on the door, somewhat startling them. "Excuse me," he said. "I hate to interrupt anything, but do any of you know a 'Fabello'?"

The mention of the name caught the attention of one young girl in the room.

"I understand you have a sample of an experimental cure to the Maelstrom," explained Garry. "I'd like you to bring to the lab. We got a man here who can analyze it and perhaps reproduce it."

*****

Barry Jackson took a great big bite out of his toast as he stared at Teri. "It's so good to see you again," he said. "You have no idea."

"So... Shotgun," Teri said with a smile. "How'd you come by that?"

"I was originally going to be called Sniper," replied Jackson. "It was taken, so they had to quickly find a replacement."

"Anyone else joined?"

"Yeah," replied Jackson. "Wade's here, and so is Moffat."

"Moffat?" asked Teri.

"Yeah," replied Jackson. "He runs this outpost."

Teri smiled. "What about Tzenovich?" she asked.

Jackson smiled. "Not likely," he said. "That guy was too much trouble even for the team." 

----

Clint pulled the cart to a halt outside what little was left of Gold City. There was rubble everywhere, though a few buildings were still partially intact.

"Wait here," Clint said as he picked up a rifle and climbed off of the cart. He lit a cigar as he walked into town. The noise of a skirmish was close by. Amongst the chaos, he could hear shouting and what sounded like Mutant Dinos. As he passed by the ruins of an old saloon, he could not help but notice a fedora-wearing man crouched on the balcony.

Curious, he stepped inside and worked his way up the stairs to the balcony. Once there, he saw the man was armed with a sniper rifle, and he was aiming towards a group of mutant dinosaurs down the road.

"Steady, steady, steady," Sniper muttered. He was just about to fire a shot when Clint pushed him aside. "Oi!" he shouted. "What's the big idea, mate?"

Clint did not answer. Instead, he simply drew his rifle, aimed at a particularly nasty looking Mutant T-Rex that was walking down the road and fired. He reloaded and fired another round, then another, and after a few rounds it was not long before the beast collapsed. He aimed toward the Mutant Lizards and kept shooting them until they were down. With some assistance from another man's gatling gun, they were able to clean up most of them quickly, and the remaining dinos were sent retreating.

The man Clint had pushed aside slowly got up. "Who do you think you are, mate?" he shouted.

There were two others in the street: one a large man with a machine gun, the other wearing doctor's robes over his Dino Attack uniform.

"Howdy," Clint said as they turned toward him. There was suddenly a loud noise and Clint looked up to see a Mutant Pterosaur approaching quickly. Clint was about to draw his pistol when a separate gunshot rang out, and the beast fell dead. They all turned to see Angel Eyes approaching with the cart.

"You must be them boys we were told about," Angel Eyes said keenly.

"YES!" shouted the large man, who spoke with a thick Russian accent. "Ve are Second Headquarters Squad!"

"We got you a whole bunch of supplies," Angel Eyes said as Clint and Sniper went back into the saloon to work their way back down. Angel Eyes stepped off the cart and got a barrel. "Anybody hungry?"

"YES!" shouted Heavy. "I VANT SANDVICH!"

"Sandvich?" Clint asked as he stepped out of the saloon.

"Yeah," replied Sniper. "You know, two slices of bread with stuff in between them."

"All we got here is beans and steak," said Angel Eyes.

"NO!" Heavy shouted. "I vant SANDVICH!"

Angel Eyes sighed. He quickly opened the barrel, grabbed a slab of meat, and tossed it to Heavy. "Here's your sandwich," he said unenthusiastically.

Heavy stared at the meat with bemusement. He was not a native English speaker and spent a moment wondering if "sandwich" meant something different from what he intended. At last, he looked at Angel Eyes and laughed heartily. "OHOHOHO! You are FUNNY little man! Is good joke! Very vell, I vill eat your 'sandvich'!" Heavy promptly started eating the meat. "OM NOM NOM NOM! MOIST AND DELICIOUS!"

"I guess I'd better introduce myself," said Sniper. "The name's Sniper, mate. This is Heavy and Medic."

"Ja," said Medic.

"My name's Blondie," Clint introduced himself by his codename. "This man here is Angel Eyes. We've been instructed to provide assistance in whatever ways possible. Should it become necessary, we have another contact in El Paso: a barmaid named Maria." 

----

Minerva glanced at Nazareno. "Just go. Replicating the formula would be helpful in the long run," he muttered, glancing at his stomach for half a second. Minerva shrugged and stood up and went with Garry out of the room.

"My name is Garry, by the way," the agent said as they walked down the hallway. "You have the cure with you?" Minerva nodded and unclipped the Injection Saw from her belt and handed it Garry. He took it and glanced at it with interest. "This is quite the tool," he noted.

"Yeah, it's one of XERRD's tools," Minerva responded.

"Hmmm." Garry was silent for a moment. "Do you have any idea what is in this formula? If that doctor entrusted you with it, you must have an idea."

"Oh, um. J.D. said he extracted part of his Creative Spark to use as the main ingredient. I guess it was the 'Imagination' part of the formula that would do the most work repelling the Maelstrom. He thinks he was able to be killed because the extraction weakened him greatly."

*****

"Anyway," Hertz said. "Let's continue. Anything to share before we begin, Nazareno?"

"Actually, yes," the space ninja responded. "Before I left the camp for here, agent Fabello managed to make an alliance with Rudo Villano, a former XERRD hunter and Maelstrom servant."

"XERRD and the Maelstrom?" repeated Rotor, clearly unimpressed. "Are we seriously willing to trust this guy?"

"It's not the first time we've gotten defectors from XERRD," Cabin noted, gesturing to Dr. Cyborg in the background.

"If I'm not mistaken," Andrew put in, "he has worked with Señor Palomar in the past. What if he still holds some sort of loyalty to Palomar?"

"It is possible, and I would not doubt it," Nazareno said. "But according to Fabello, he seems pretty revenge-driven on besting Palomar and his XERRD slime. She only managed to convince him to join us after she said he would get revenge on the ones who so willingly betrayed him."

"This isn't the first time we've allied with known villains," said Rex. "And if this guy is willing to help, then let him help. And if he would suddenly decide to betray us-"

"Off with his head," Rotor finished darkly. Nazareno rolled his eyes.

"We also have reason to believe that he may know where the true Maelstrom Temple is," Nazareno continued.

"The more, the merrier," Adventure said.

"Elaborate, please."

"Rex and Claw found us XERRD scientist named Paulie Gonepus," Adventure said. "Ol' Gonepus was trying to do a number on the queen T-Rex on the island. I, of course, found this out after interrogating him. He sang like a canary once I got a hold of him-" Again, Nazareno rolled his eyes at Adventure's boastfulness. "-and now we holding him prisoner."

"We intend to 'accidentally' release him and hope he decides to regroup with Palomar and the XERRD scientists, who are hopefully at the Maelstrom Temple," Rex finished. "Though our job might be a lot easier if this Villano guy knows where it is."

"Alright," Hertz said. "We can't waste any more time. We only have a few more hours until the deadline is up, and I am not keen on seeing exactly what Zach intends to do."

"I have one question," Commander Vinyaya suddenly said. "Who exactly is this 'Zach'? I heard Fabello mention him. He is the Stromling that lead the Maelstrom's side of the battle at the camp, correct?"

The mood seemed to darken a bit at the mention of Zach. Nazareno could see Semick and Andrew's expressions change particularly.

"He was a young Standard Agent," explained Nazareno. "Red hair, wore glasses. I don't think he was very notable, but he was the first one to discover there were Stromling spies within our ranks. He also stopped a rogue agent named Scratch who had alienated the native dinosaurs from us."

At this Vinyaya's eyes seemed to widen, but she didn't say anything.

Nazareno continued: "He had a run-in with the Maelstrom at that XERRD Fortress during that battle. I'd say he's made more of a name for himself as a Stromling than a Dino Attack agent. He's killed a medic, an Elite Agent, and numerous others. He's wounded even more, including myself, Clint Wayne, Andrew, and you, Commander. He's made himself out as a commanding figure within the Maelstrom's ranks, but the factuality of his ranking is unknown."

Vinyaya was silent. Then: "Okay. Thank you for enlightening me, Nazareno."

He nodded in acknowledgment.

"Are we all in the loop?" Hertz asked impatiently. "If so, let's get to work."

*****

Garry led Minerva back to the infirmary. Fuchs was surprised to see Garry leading a young woman.

"I found Fabello," Garry said. "First room I checked."

"Hello," Fuchs said somewhat shyly as he approached her. "I'm Dr. Fuchs, biologist. Come on, I'd better take you to the lab."

Garry watched as Fuchs led her outside before turning back to the rest of them. "Alright," said Garry. "I'd like a complete list of everyone who isn't fit to continue their duty. Anyone and everyone who needs time to recover will be shipped off this MegaBlokin' island unless I say otherwise."

Garry promptly walked through the infirmary as everyone got to work. He turned towards a small, closed-off space, a private ward of sorts. Inside, he saw Jenny lying in the bed, resting calmly, though the bruises were still clearly visible, and some bandages had been placed on her head. In that moment, Garry almost felt bad for what he did.

Copper walked in at that moment. "How is she?" Garry asked.

"She'll live," reported Copper. "Should I get her ready to leave?"

"I don't know," replied Garry. "It would probably be safer for her, but she could still have useful information."

Now, Garry was somewhat conflicted. He knew Rotor could do worse than he'd already done. The only reason he'd spared her once was because she could still provide information. He wanted to talk to someone, maybe get a second opinion, but he could not do that. If he told anyone what Rotor had done, he would also have to expose himself. Besides, Rotor had a valid point. On the other hand, the other two prisoners seemed a bit more cooperative.

"Has she said anything?" Garry asked.

"No," replied Copper. "I've been trying, but from what I can tell, she's just too scared to say anything. Maybe she could do with an appointment with Nick Saran."

"The one-legged psychologist?"

"Yeah."

Garry thought about it for a moment. He saw where Copper was getting at. The only trouble was if Jenny were to say anything, she could say something exposing them. He did feel bad about what he had done, but he was in no position to tell the truth, for he knew the consequences that would come with that. Worse still, if he turned Rotor in and he found out he'd been double-crossed, he would surely seek vengeance. This was a matter that had to be decided by Garry alone. There was nobody he could go to: not Copper, nor Mac, nor Windows, nor any of his friends, and certainly not any of the new arrivals.

"I'm not quite sure," Garry finally said before leaving.

*****

Fuchs sat down at the examination table with the injection saw.

"Do you have any idea what was put into this stuff?" he asked as he looked inside.

"J.D. mentioned something about extracting part of his Creative Spark," replied Minerva.

"I'm sorry?" Fuchs asked confusedly as he looked up.

"Apparently a key ingredient in the formula was Imagination," explained Minerva. "That provided the necessary substance."

"Well," said Fuchs. "That's not an easy thing to synthesize. Did he ever say anything else about it? I think for one thing it would help if we had some idea of exactly how it was supposed to cure a person. It's also made more difficult by the fact that we don't really have a point of reference for Stromling anatomy, since catching a live one is out of the question, and the Maelstrom leaves their bodies when they die."

"Well," Minerva said, "J.D. believed that his healthy Creative Spirit would heal a different, heavily damaged or corrupted Creative Spirit."

Fuchs nodded, understanding the deceased doctor's reasoning.

"Also..." Minerva was somewhat hesitant to reveal this information, as it might lead to her revealing her and Andrew's plan to abandon the main group to find Zach. I'll just leave that part out. "J.D. thought strong emotions allowed a Stromling to temporarily detach from the Maelstrom's control. It has happened with agent Zachary numerous times."

"Agent Zachary?" asked Fuchs.

"He was a Dino Attack agent who was corrupted by the Maelstrom. He led the attack on the camp."

Fuchs nodded again. Minerva wondered what Fuchs would do with this information.  "I wouldn't mind knowing how exactly that works," replied Fuchs. "It's an interesting theory, but without any idea of how a Stromling's biology works, there's no way to be certain, and obviously bringing Zach here is out of the question."

Minerva nodded sadly.

"I suppose we could run a few tests by mixing samples with other substances," suggested Fuchs. "Theoretically, we might be able to deduce from the reactions some possible components. I can't guarantee it will work, but it's worth trying. There's also still the question of how to synthesize Imagination, since I can understand you probably don't want to remove your own Creative Spark, and I'm certainly not taking out mine."

Minerva was slightly uneasy. As much as she wanted to synthesize the prototype cure, she was didn't want to give up the only sample for research. She wanted to use it on Zach, regardless of the consequences. She and Andrew seemed to be keeping their mission a secret, so she also hesitant to express her reasons of why she didn't want the formula to be picked apart. If Fuchs wasn't successful in his experimentation, she would lose her way of saving Zach from the Maelstrom. She let out a long sigh.

"Look," Minerva said, looking at the doctor. "I have something to tell you. I..."

*****

As the deliberations paused briefly for a quick recess, Tracer leaned forward in his seat behind Hotwire. "Are you going to mention Loop at all?"

Hotwire shook his head. "We can't really afford to worry about him right now. Zach's much more of a threat, and our main goal is finding the Maelstrom temple, not settling a grudge." He paused and rubbed his temples. "Builder, I need a rest sometime this year. And in any case, I doubt Loop is any more dangerous than your average Stromling."

*****

Loop stopped and leaned on a tree, gritting his teeth. It was taking more and more effort to preserve his complete mental autonomy while simultaneously containing the Maelstrom in his body. I have to hang on just a bit longer, for the plan, he thought. He took a deep breath and stood up.

He sensed his cells slowly decaying; it wouldn't be long before he would either submit his will to the Maelstrom, or die. A quick mental calculation told him that this moment would come in approximately two hours. 

Loop, still leaning against the tree, suddenly cried out, doubling over in pain. The Maelstrom in his body had suddenly accelerated. He looked down as his already-ragged Inferno uniform began to tear in places as the Maelstrom energies attacked his body with new vigor and enthusiasm. Large parts of his skin decayed and peeled away. He could now feel it assaulting his mind. It was so tempting just to let go... to let it take him... to serve loyally in the destruction of all.

Loop couldn't be sure whether his remaining time as a free mutant was counted in minutes or seconds, but regardless he needed to stop the Maelstrom's spread in his body somehow. He still had a reserve in his electrical cells. It's my only chance, he thought, and discharged all of the electricity at once.

A white-hot bolt of lightning arced from Loop's chest and arms, reducing a nearby tree to ashes. The blinding flash left him temporarily stunned, and immediately the Maelstrom began forcing its way into his mind.

"NO!" he cried, summoning all his willpower to force the Maelstrom out of his thoughts and into his now empty electricity-storing cells, which he then insulated and locked, cutting them off from the rest of his body. He panted exhaustedly.

Faint purple smoke still trailed after him, but the Maelstrom had been securely cut off from advancing any further through his systems. His current life expectancy had been extended by several days at least. But at the cost of my defense, he thought grimly. I'll just have to be more cautious than usual.

Loop stood up straight again and continued laboriously on his way. 

*****

Kate's attention was suddenly drawn by someone tapping her shoulder. She turned around to see Wade. "Listen, Kate," he said. "I've got to get Pierce out of here."

"You mean you're getting me off this island?" Pierce asked.

"Garry said anyone who isn't fit for duty is going," replied Wade.

Kate turned back toward Pierce, who looked at her with a smile. "It's okay," he said. "I'll see you again. Just a few days of recovering and it'll be fine."

Kate nodded, a few tears somewhat visible. "Goodbye," she muttered, trying to keep herself from crying. Pierce was after all really her only friend out here. He was like a father to her, and now he was leaving. After a moment, Wade helped Pierce out of bed, giving him a pair of crutches before leading him toward the door.

*****

During the recess, Dr. Cyborg approached Rex. "Sir, that blank shell I gave you… I have developed an AI program for it. If you would like me to upload it, I will."

"Thank you, I will think about it," Rex replied.

A woman came up to Dr. Cyborg. "Excuse me, could you help me find my cat?"

Rex rolled his eyes. "Sure," Dr. Cyborg replied uneasily. "Why?"

"Well," she replied, "I am always losing it."

"Catless!" Cyborg cried. "I knew you would recognize me. Eventually."

Rex asked, "Do you know her?"

"Yes," Dr. Cyborg replied, "We were classmates and friends at BIT, Brickachussets Institute of Technology. Elite Agent Rex, may I present Johanna "Catless" Evergreen."

"Why are you called Catless?" Rex asked.

"Well," Catless told Rex, "we called ourselves 'the C group' at BIT. Not for our grades, of course. We all made our names have something to do with us. We were regarded as strange, but hey, we didn't care. My cat was always running away, and when we decided all our nicknames had to begin with C, mine was Catless. Matt's was Cyborg because he was always thinking about human augmentation. It turned out to be prophetic." Turning back towards Dr. Cyborg, Catless asked: "Do you remember Charon?"

Cyborg nodded. "Yes. Remember when the school was launching a research rocket and told him he could put a probe on it if it got itself to the outer solar system?"

"If I recall, you designed the excellent propulsion system he got extra credit for," Catless said.

Dr. Cyborg waved the praise off. "Everybody thought it was hilarious when a stray shot from the Crystalien Conflict destroyed it," he said. "Speaking of which, what happened to Crystal?"

"Oh, he joined the Dino Attack team with me. He's stationed in Antarctica. Oh, Contest finally won one."

Dr. Cyborg replied, "Well, good for her!"

"Charon? Crystal? Contest? Who are these people? I'm lost." Rex said.

Catless answered, "Charon was named because he was obsessed with space, especially Charon. Crystal fanatically followed the Crystalien Conflict, so he was Crystal. Because Contest always was entering contests, she became Contest."

Dr. Cyborg and Catless walked away, still talking.

*****

One by one, the hospital beds were being evacuated until it was more or less empty, save the doctors, Garry, and a handful of patients who were fit enough for duty. Garry watched as Pierce was carried out, Kate sat next to his empty bed, somewhat depressed.

At that point, Copper approached Garry. "What about the girl?" he asked. "I need an answer now."

Garry thought about it for a few minutes before finally looking Copper in the eye. "Get her on that chopper," Garry whispered. "I just need you to do me a favor."

"What is it sir?" inquired Copper.

"Don't tell anyone about this," instructed Garry.

"Why?" asked Copper.

Garry thought about it. "I can't tell you," he said. "It's for her own good. If anyone asks, she didn't make it. Put a sheet over her, and if anyone asks, you're sending the body home."

"Look, what is going on?" Copper demanded.

"I already said I can't tell you," reiterated Garry. "Just trust me."

Copper sighed and nodded. The two of them went over to the "private ward" where Jenny was kept. Copper got a sheet and a stretcher, and the two of them slowly moved Jenny onto it. She was still resting fortunately, and barely stirred as Copper placed the sheet over her face.

Garry grabbed the back end of the stretcher while Copper grabbed the front. The two of them carried it outside to where the medivac chopper was waiting. Two paramedics helped load her into the helicopter, and as soon as they did, Garry removed part of the sheet, showing Jenny's face.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" asked a paramedic, shouting over the sounds of the helicopter's engines.

"SHE'S NOT DEAD," replied Garry.

"THEN WHY DID YOU PUT A SHEET OVER HER!?" asked the paramedic.

"IT'S A LONG STORY!" insisted Garry. "JUST TAKE GOOD CARE OF HER!"

The man moved toward Jenny and started examining her. "IS THAT EVERYONE?"

Garry turned back toward Copper and repeated the question. Copper nodded. "YEAH, THAT'S ALL OF THEM!" replied Garry before he climbed out of the chopper. He and Copper turned back toward the Outpost as it started to take off. 

"Listen, Garry," Copper said. "What was all that about? Who was she?"

"I told you," replied Garry. "I can't tell you.'

"Come on," insisted Copper. "There's got to be something."

Garry thought about it and sighed before he turned to Copper. "If I tell you, you must promise not to breathe one word of it to anyone. Understand?"

"Yes," replied Copper.

"Good," said Garry. "Come with me."

Garry led Copper into the vehicle lot and opened a door to a Fire Hammer. Inside were two agents, whom he quickly recognized as Barry Jackson and Teri Dactyl, a former soldier of his, and they were sitting in the backseat, kissing.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to interrupt anything."

Garry led Copper to another nearby Fire Hammer and opened the door. He sat down in the passenger's side whilst Copper took the driver's side. After closing the doors, Garry remained quiet for a moment.

"That was no accident," Garry said. "It was far from self-defense of any kind."

"What do you mean?" Copper asked.

"I tortured her, Doc," confessed Garry. "Rotor and I. He told me she had information. We beat her into a MegaBlokin' pulp."

"You've been trying to cover all this up?" realized Copper.

"Yes," replied Garry. "You don't know what Rotor's like. The guy tried to execute an entire T-1 Typhoon crew because the pilot disobeyed orders. Don't get me wrong, he's a great leader on the battlefield, but everywhere else..."

Copper looked away in disgust. "I can't believe you would do something like that."

"Rotor's got a way with words," said Garry. "It's a strange thing. Every action he does, no matter how cruel, always has a disturbing amount of logic. Actually, in some ways, I admire him."

"Shouldn't we do something?" Copper asked.

"Not yet," replied Garry. "When this war is over maybe, but in the meantime, they need a man who can lead."

"Well," said Copper. "Why fake the girl's death? Why don't we just tell them that she's-"

"Because if Rotor finds out I betrayed him, he'll no doubt want to have me shot," replied Garry. "Don't think he wouldn't."

"In that case, your secret is safe with me," assured Copper. "I'll write up an official report. The body was sent out with the medivac."

Garry nodded as Copper stepped out of the Fire Hammer. He sat there for a few minutes, thinking about his actions. He finally stepped out of the vehicle and walked over toward the other Fire Hammer. He opened the door and stared coldly at Barry and Teri.

"What are you MegaBlokin' 4+ Pirates doing in here?" he demanded. "Get back to your post!"

Jackson nodded as he stepped outside, followed by Teri. They quickly put their jackets back on and ran off. 

*****

The meeting had reconvened, and Nazareno was glad to see things getting done. The agents surrounding the table eagerly and hurriedly discussed their options and the full extent of what they wanted to do. It appeared they did not take Zach's threat lightly and wanted a plan so they could quickly enter the Maelstrom-infected area of the jungle. Every agent was actively participating. Except one.

Next to Nazareno sat a girl around twenty-years-old. She had long black hair tied into a ponytail with a bright red stripe of hair running down the middle of her head. She hadn't said a single word. Instead, she seemed hunched over something in her lap. She constantly raised her head and glanced side-to-side, as if she was afraid someone was watching her.

Nazareno shrugged the girl off. If she didn't pay attention, it would only cost her in the end. As it would seem, Commander Vinyaya would not accept the girl's lack of attention.

"Zelda Frodongan!" Vinyaya snapped. The girl jumped and glared at the commander furiously. "If you are not going to pay attention, you can get out!"

"I am paying attention," the girl mumbled angrily. "More than you would like to know." This upset Vinyaya for whatever reason, as she got out of her chair and stomped toward Zelda.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, pulling Zelda's chair out from the table. Nazareno could spy a PDA sitting on her lap. Zelda's eyes widened and quickly pressed a button on the device before it was snatched out of her hands by Vinyaya."What are you-" Vinyaya was suddenly silenced. She glanced at the PDA then at Zelda. Suddenly, Vinyaya grabbed the back of Zelda's uniform and yanked her from the chair. With much force, Vinyaya slammed Zelda's back against the wall and pointed a small, handgun-like weapon at the Standard Agent.

Every agent (except Rex, for obvious reasons) stood up from the table. Many had weapons out. "What are you doing, Holly?!" Nazareno demanded. She glared at the ninja for several moments, then handed the confiscated PDA to him. He squinted as he read the small screen.

Message successfully sent to: ZACHARY

Nazareno set the PDA down on the table, in shock. Hotwire snapped it up and read the screen himself. His eyes widened as he looked at Zelda, who was now smiling.

"You are a... Stromling?" he asked.

Zelda's smile widened as her minifig disguise fell away, a Stromling version of herself taking its place. Vinyaya backed away in surprise.

"Indeed," Zelda hissed.

*****

As Copper walked toward the recreational room, he was startled to find Wade and Carver carrying an unconscious man. "What's going on?" Copper asked nervously.

"I don't know," replied Wade. "We were working in the infirmary when suddenly someone shows up and tells us that this guy Norris had a heart attack."

"What?" said Copper. He quickly took a look at the unconscious man's face. "Oh, Norris…"

"You know him?" asked Wade.

"He's a geologist," Copper explained. "I worked with him in Antarctica. Now let's get him to medbay."

With some assistance, Norris was quickly hauled to the operating room and thrown onto the table. Carver quickly woke up Crusher while Wade tore open the patient's shirt. They started attempting the standard procedures with no affect. Copper tried mouth-to-mouth, and nothing happened.

"Wade, get me the defibrillator!" Copper shouted.

Wade quickly grabbed one and wheeled it over. He grabbed the two paddles and held them in place. He waited for the right moment before Copper shouted, "Clear!"

Wade pressed them down, and nothing happened. He held them again and waited for Copper.

"CLEAR!" Copper finally shouted.

Wade pressed those paddles down as hard as he could onto Norris's chest. Then something happened he didn't quite expect. The man's chest split right open, exposing his ribs like jagged teeth of an enormous maw. The two paddles fell inside, but Wade was fortunately able to pull his hands away before the ribcage closed tight in a motion that would have sliced a man's arms clean off.

At that point, Norris began to turn a strange purplish color. His eyes opened, glowing a bright red.

"I don't know what's going on, but I think we should get out of here!" Crusher shouted as she quickly ran for the door, followed by the other doctors.

"What do we do?" asked a panicked Carver as they ran outside.

"We got to warn everyone," replied Copper. "Wade, Fuchs is busy in the lab working on the cure. You better go warn him. I'll go find Garry. Carver, Crusher, you two go warn the elite agents."

*****

Fuchs was listening intently as Minerva started to explain, but she was sadly cut off when Wade burst into the room.

"We got trouble!" Wade said. "There's a Stromling in here. I don't know, a guy had a heart attack, and we tried to revive him, and then he turned out to be a Stromling. Copper told me to come warn you."

"How on LEGO Planet did-" Fuchs was about to say before he cut himself off. "Oh, never mind. Minerva, we gotta get out of here, and fast. If we can get outside to the vehicle lot, maybe we can get a Fire Hammer and drive out of here. Now let's go!"

He quickly picked up the injection saw and grabbed her hand as he ran for the door.

*****

The leadership stepped back as the soldiers tackled Zelda.

"Hold her down!" shouted Dr. Cyborg. "I can extract the Maelstrom!"

Holding her down was easier said than done. The Stromling was putting up a good fight. She ran towards the door, and almost made it, too.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Vinyaya yelled as she shoved Zelda back into the fight.

Hotwire and Tracer had both leapt up the moment Zelda dropped her disguise, but they could do little more for the first several seconds than stand back as she struggled with Vinyaya and Dr. Cyborg. As Vinyaya shoved the Stromling back from the door, Tracer drew a pistol and fired. Zelda ducked the instant she saw the rookie agent raise his weapon, and the shot flew over her head and punched through the door. Hesitant to fire again for fear of hitting anyone else, Tracer stepped back, but kept his gun pointed directly at the Stromling Agent. At that moment, she was tackled from both sides by Nazareno and Vinyaya.

Hotwire, weaponless, cursed in frustration. I really should be armed at all times, he thought to himself, ducking around the table in search of some means of defending himself and aiding the others. He spotted a knife someone had dropped on the ground, and snatched it up. He turned back to the fight just in time to see Zelda throw Vinyaya off.

The Space Police commando stumbled momentarily but recovered her balance. With a yell towards Nazareno to duck, she raised her sidearm and fired. Zelda twisted to the side with inhuman speed, and the blast of energy scorched a hole through the wall behind her. The Stromling stayed in motion, charging forward and punching Vinyaya in the stomach. Though she was protected by her body armor, the force of the blow was enough to send Vinyaya reeling back again, dropping her weapon in the process.

At that moment, Hotwire vaulted over the command table and threw the knife at Zelda. It struck her in the side but, without missing a beat, she pulled the knife out and swiped it at Hotwire's abdomen. He jumped back, but the knife still slashed through his shin. This sudden injury fouled up his landing, and he fell back, striking his head on the edge of the table. Hotwire collapsed, grimacing in pain as spots clouded his vision. He rolled under the table for a bit of protection while he waited to recover.

Maelstrom energies flared around Zelda's side, and her knife wound began to close. Meanwhile, Vinyaya had regained her footing. She charged and tackled the Stromling again. Tracer holstered his pistol and sprang to her aid, and as Zelda's offensive abilities were briefly hindered by the process of healing her wound, they were quickly able to wrestle her to the ground. Dr. Cyborg approached, preparing to attempt to draw out the Maelstrom.

Meanwhile, Hotwire, semiconscious and all but oblivious to the fight, suddenly felt a cold swirling sensation in his wounded leg. He blinked and boosted himself onto his elbow and peered down, squinting in pain at his shin. Through the ragged hole in his pant leg, he saw a smoky purple glow, and felt his wound begin to close. Instantly he realized what he was seeing. When Zelda ripped the knife out of her side, it must have dragged bits of Maelstrom energy with it, clinging to the blade long enough to transfer to...me!

The thought made him forget the pain in his head. Hotwire knew that as soon as it was done healing the knife wound, the Maelstrom would spread and infect him entirely. He suppressed a flare of panic as his mind scrambled for a solution. At that moment he spotted Vinyaya's sidearm laying where it had fallen, not three feet away from Hotwire's position under the table. Seeing no alternative, he grabbed the weapon, aimed it at his injured and now-infected shin, clenched his teeth, squeezed his eyes shut, and fired.

The sudden explosive sound of the Space Police weapon discharging distracted the other three agents for a split second. And that split second was all that Zelda needed. She wrenched an arm free and shoved Tracer off of her, snatching his pistol in the process. As Tracer rolled back and began to stand, Zelda squeezed off two shots in rapid succession. The bullets struck Tracer in the stomach, and shock filled his eyes as he fell back, unconscious, Zelda's dark laughter echoing in his ears. 

*****

As Garry walked into Outpost 4, he was suddenly approached by Copper.

"We got trouble," Copper shouted. "Norris got infected by that Maelstrom. He's a Stromling!"

"What?" asked Garry. Copper was about to lead him to the medbay when Garry's attention was drawn by the sounds of some form of commotion.

At that point, Crusher ran up to them. "It's in the planning room," Crusher said.

Garry quickly followed her toward the room where the planning session was going on. Sure enough, as he got to the door, he saw a female agent with an eerie purple glow fighting against the other agents. Just as he arrived, he saw Zelda fire two shots through Tracer's torso. Thinking quickly, Garry quickly pulled out his revolver, aimed towards the Stromling girl, and fired one round after another.

At that point, Fuchs quickly ran up to him, followed by Minerva. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"GET OUT OF HERE, FUCHS!" yelled Garry. "YOU STILL GET THAT SAMPLE?!"

"Yeah," replied Fuchs.

"FUCHS, GET TO THE VEHICLE LOT!" Garry shouted before he fired another round. "GET AS FAR AWAY FROM HERE AS YOU CAN!"

Fuchs nodded and grabbed Minerva's hand as he led her toward the exit. The two of them quickly ran outside and towards the small lot where the vehicles were being kept. Finding a Fire Hammer, Fuchs quickly got into the driver's seat, handing the injection saw back to Minerva.

"Where are we going?" Minerva asked.

"Away from here," replied Fuchs.

"We're just going to leave them?" Minerva asked.

"If those Stromlings find out we have a cure to the Maelstrom, we're finished. We'll just have to get to the nearest outpost with a lab available."

He started up the engines and began to drive the vehicle away. After a few minutes, he started to breathe a sigh of relief.

----

Angel Eyes placed a small pot full of beans above a campfire. Heavy was eating another "sandvich" and singing a song. "Sandvich and me..."

Meanwhile, Medic was telling the squad an amusing anecdote about a doctor he once knew. "...But vait, it getz better. Ven Pierce got back, ze patient'z zkeleton vaz mizzing, und ze doctor vas never heard from again."

Heavy and the other members of the squad quickly burst into laughter. Angel Eyes himself could not help smiling.

"Anyvay," Medic continued. "Zat'z how I almost lost my medical lizenze."

The last remark quickly silenced everyone. 

----

Hertz could only watch as the two bullets droves themselves into Tracer's stomach. The agent fell backward almost in slow motion onto the tabletop, where he toppled the furniture and lay still.

Hotwire crawled out from under the upturned table and grimaced in pain. His leg was bleeding profusely and he called for Semick to help.

The moment of vulnerability was what Zelda needed. Doctor Cyborg was fast approaching from her left, and she quickly grabbed his arm and wrenched it behind his back. Hertz did not know how firmly a cyborg's arm was attached, but he heard a load popping sound as his shoulder was dislocated. With a heavy kick, she sent the debilitated doctor flying toward Vinyaya. The two collided with enough force that they almost fell over the balcony.

Nazareno came from the right. He swung his sword at the Stromling, but she blocked it with the barrel of her gun. She slipped her foot behind his and swiped forward, knocking the ninja to the floor. The Space Ninja now lay at her feet. Slowly, she aimed the gun and was about to pull the trigger when Cabin yelled. Zelda spun and fired two shots at the elite agent, but she ducked behind the upturned table for cover.

Nazareno was now back on his feet, and he sliced with a downward motion at her stomach. Zelda twisted out of the way and pistol-whipped the ninja on the side of the head.

As he fell to the ground, Hertz dove for the emergency armory in the case behind him and broke the glass with his elbow. By the time he had a Sonic Screamer, Zelda had crossed the area between them and punched the techie in the chin with enough power to draw blood. The Sonic Screamer flew in the air and landed a few feet from Rex's wheelchair.

Semick and Rotor had their guns out, but by the time they had their sights on the Stromling, she had her gun pointed at Hertz's forehead.

"Nobody move or I'll shoot the nerd," warned Zelda.

Rotor fired anyway and hit Zelda in the shoulder. Hertz rolled out of the way just as Zelda shot hit the area where he just lay.

"Rotor, what the Znap?! You could have killed me!" cried Hertz. Rotor took no notice and fired a second shot at the Stromling.

The Stromling was just about to finish the fight when a hum filled the room. She spun around and saw Rex calmly sitting in his wheelchair, clutching the Sonic Screamer. The elite agent smiled. "Goodbye." He pulled the trigger and blasted Zelda through the wall. 

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 41: Deadline

-----

Garry lowered his pistol and took a moment to catch his breath as he leaned against the doorframe of the planning room.

"Is everyone okay?" he asked after a minute. He knew the answer when he saw Tracer lying on the ground covered in blood. "Crusher, get in here."

Crusher quickly ran into the planning room at that moment and sat down next to Tracer.

"Did we kill it?" Garry asked.

"I don't know," replied Cabin. "I hope that's the last of he-"

"There's more," Crusher suddenly interjected. "There was another guy, Norris, who turned out to be infected. I don't know where he is now, but if we don't act fast, people are going to start dying."

"Could there be any others?" Rotor asked.

"I don't know," replied Crusher. "It's a possibility. If there are, I don't know how we'll be able to tell." 

*****

Zach opened his eyes. He was back at the rear guard camp. It was devoid of any life. Zach glanced down at his body and immediately realized he was a minifig again. In fact, he was purely minifig. He raised his right hand in front of his face. Yes, completely organic. No sign of Star Wars-esque robot hand. He looked exactly like he did before joining the Dino Attack Team.

He looked around the camp, wondering where everyone had gone. The camp was in rather good shape. It showed no signs that a pack of Mutant Dinos led by a Stromling Agent had been here. It almost appeared as though someone had sent up the camp, and then just left. Something caught his eye near the command tent.

Minerva.

Minerva Fabello stood at the command tent, smiling at him. Without hesitation, Zach ran toward her and embraced her in a tight hug. She returned the hug, laughing happily. He rested his head on her shoulders, sighing. He finally felt peace. The anger, corruption, deception. It was fading away.

"This won't do," a voice hissed.

Without warning, Minerva shoved Zach away. Zach stumbled backward in confusion. She had a look of mixed anger and sadness. Tears freely fell down her face. "How could you?" Minerva gasped between sobs.

"I-what?" stammered Zach.

"Join the Maelstrom!" she spat. "You've killed my friends. YOUR friends! You think you can just switch sides again and expect everything to be okay?"

"No!" Zach exclaimed. "It wasn't my fault! I-"

"Lies!" Minerva screamed. "Who is to say you won't suddenly rejoin the Maelstrom? Who says you won't end up killing m-m-me!" She began to cry.

"I won't! I promise!" Zach begged. Minerva shook her head. She turned and started to run into the jungle. "Wait!" He tried to follow her when he tripped and landed on his face. Everything went black.

"This is unacceptable!" the same voice from before shouted. "You've been caught red-handed. Showing FEELINGS. Feelings of an almost...MINIFIG nature. This will not do. This will not do at all."

"I-" Zach stammered.

"SILENCE!" the voice hissed. "Your pitiful excuse for a life will be even worse if you dared to return to the Minifigs! They will ostracize and punish you. They will despise you and will hate you long after you are dead! Even that girl will abandon you..."

*****

Zach suddenly woke up. He knew it had been a long time since he had gotten any sleep, so he felt obligated to give himself a short nap before the battle. He didn't expect to have nightmare though. Especially a nightmare like one that just occurred.

He felt a short vibration in his pocket. He pulled out his worn Dino Attack-issue PDA and saw he had received a message from one the Maelstrom spies in the Dino Attack, Zelda.

"That is... an interesting development," Zach said to himself, scratching his chin. He immediately reached out to mentally contact Colonel.

Colonel! Are you there? Zach demanded.

Yes, sir. What do you require?

Zach smiled slightly. Being called 'sir' gave him immense amounts of pleasure. He pressed on. I have received word from our spies planted in the Dino Attack Team that they have not one, but two people who can help them find the Maelstrom temple; A XERRD scientist by the name of Gonepus and a former ally of mine named Rudo Villano. They may not go to the temple you are stationed at all.

What do you suggest I do? I have nearly 300 troops at my disposable.

Zach paused for a moment. Stay where you are for now. When the Dino Attack Team reaches this temple, I will contact you. If there are no Dino Attack agents even approaching your area, I want you to get your troops over here as fast as possible. With our combined teams, the Dino Attack will be crushed.

As you wish, sir. Zach felt his link with Colonel fade away.

It is almost time. Zach smirked. He turned to go meet up with Cranky, his dream still fresh in his mind.

*****

Ahua had a gnawing feeling of dread in his stomach. Zachary had very clearly shown that he had control of Ahua and the rest of the Stromlings. There is no doubt. He must be eliminated. His blatant disregard for Ahua's authority. His effortless command over other Stromlings such as Cranky and Colonel. Zach must be stopped.

There is still the option of the girl. Ahua had once made contact with Zach's love interest, who he learned was named Minerva. She was skeptical of the 'voice' who had spoken to her. And yet, she seemed all too willing to trust it if it knew where the Maelstrom Temple.

We will contact her again soon. We will be more... open this time.

Ahua immediately realized if he gave away the location of the Maelstrom Temple, Colonel's squad at the other temple would be useless. And then again. They are a tool used by Zach to assert his power. Their failure only knocks him down and raises us up. Ahua smiled. Everything was going according to plan.

*****

"You might want to take a look at Hotwire too, ma'am," Nazareno grunted to Crusher as he stood up. He felt searing pain from his Maelstrom-infected wound, but ignored it as he glanced around at the other agents. Half of them looked bruised in some way. Crusher glanced at Hotwire. He lay unconscious on the ground. Nazareno wasn't sure what happened, but he was positive he had seen the Elite Agent shoot himself in the leg with the smoking Space Police weapon nearby.

Several agents rushed to Hotwire to deal with his wound. Nazareno hobbled to Commander Vinyaya. Her armor was scratched and her ponytail had been undone in the chaos. She looked livid as she glared at the fallen body of Zelda.

"Let's go see our Stromling friend, shall we?" Nazareno asked. Vinyaya nodded and they both limped over to Zelda. She was lying on the floor. A closer examination showed that Zelda was simply unconscious. Vinyaya picked up the weapon Zelda had taken from Tracer and pointed it at the Stromling.

"Don't shoot!" snapped Nazareno, quickly taking the weapon from Vinyaya's hand. She glared at him furiously.

"I think that if she thinks she can get away with shooting one of our agents, I can get away with shooting her," Vinyaya hissed. "Now hand over that gun, agent. Or shoot her yourself." Nazareno grimaced. Vinyaya was obviously a realist who wanted the enemy shot and dead, no questions asked.

"I'm afraid I must refuse to follow your orders, commander," Nazareno responded. Vinyaya raised an eyebrow in surprise. "This is the first Stromling we've ever managed to get an advantage over without killing it. I think a proper interrogation and scientific analysis would be more appropriate."

Vinyaya was about to argue, but stopped. "Of course, you are right. Sorry. I lost control of myself." She turned to Crusher. "After you get Tracer and Hotwire down to the medical-area, bring a team of agents to transport this Stromling to a high-security cell. Tell them to bring weapons. I'm still not sure about this one." Vinyaya then got on one knee and pulled a set of Space Police handcuffs from her belt and snapped them on Zelda's wrists. 

"What about Norris?" Crusher asked suddenly. "He was in the infirmary when he revealed himself, and nearly sliced Wade's arms off. How do we know there aren't any more?" 

Nazareno frowned (though no one could tell, due to his mask). "There are more?" he asked. Crusher nodded. "And the one you found out is in the infirmary?"

"That was the last time we saw him," Crusher said. Nazareno was beginning to get frustrated. Tracer and Hotwire were critically injured and many of the agents present, Nazareno included, were wounded.

"We must find this 'Norris'," Rex said. "Him and any other spies."

"That is going to be hard," Nazareno noted. "Once upon a time, I could detect the chaotic energy around Stromlings and immediately pick them out. Either my senses are declining or the Stromlings are getting smarter at hiding themselves. I'd say both cases are likely."

"So what do we do?" Cabin asked. "We can't detect them. Evacuating the outpost is pointless, as the Stromlings will just stay hidden and join the group."

"Actually," Dr. Cyborg said, "I discovered in the XERRD fortress that Stromlings can be detected with ultraviolet light." Everyone stared at him.

"When were you going to tell us this?!" Rotor demanded.

"I already did. I think," Dr. Cyborg replied. "I sent it in a PDA message." The agents were silent. Nazareno sighed, then walked toward the cyborg agent.

"You have an ultraviolet scanner in you somewhere, don't you?" Nazareno asked calmly. Dr. Cyborg nodded. "Good."

Nazareno turned to the assembly of agents. "I am heading out with Dr. Cyborg to find Stromlings. He will use his ultraviolet scanner to detect the Stromlings and we'll both kill them. We could use some help, so if you want to come along, now is the time to say. If you are not coming, stay here and keep her-" Nazareno jerked his head in the direction of Zelda's body. "-under control. We'll be back when we've checked out this entire outpost. So, anyone willing to join me and Cyborg?"

"I guess I'd better go with you," replied Garry. "As station manager security is my responsibility… though how these Stromlings entered, I do not know."

"What about the two prisoners we recovered?" Cabin asked. "Perhaps one of them could help us."

At that moment, Rotor shot a rather intimidating glare towards Garry as if to say 'If you tell them, I'll kill you'. "The girl's dead," Garry said after a moment. "There was an accident and she was badly injured. Copper did everything he could to fix her but it was no use."

"What about the other one?" asked Cabin.

"He's fine," replied Garry.

*****

Fuchs drove through the dark jungles as fast as he possibly could. By this point, he had no idea where he was going; he just wanted to get as far from Outpost 4 and those Stromlings as possible. Then suddenly the vehicle started to slow down. He tried to adjust the speed, but it was sadly of no use, and before long, it finally came to a complete stop.

"What happened?" asked Minerva.

"Out of gas, but we're safe for the moment," replied Fuchs. He turned toward Minerva. "Do you think you can operate the radio?"

Minerva shook her head.

"That's what I thought," sighed Fuchs. "We'll just have to stay here for the moment."

*****

It was at this point that Gahiji Thutmose made his entrance into the command room. He had spent most of the last few days on the beach and this was the first time he would engage anyone in conversation since his arrival. "What's going on here?" asked Dust. "I heard the gunshots from outside."

"There are Stromlings in the base," said Vinyaya. "One just tried to kill us." 

Dust surveyed the damage around him. Looking at the carnage Zelda had left in her wake, he knelt down to get a closer look at Tracer's body. The agent was losing a lot of blood and Dust was surprised he was not yet expired. "Why has he not been brought to the infirmary?" asked the Egyptian. 

"A second Stromling was just seen downstairs," responded Garry. "He broke out of the E.R."

Dust was not impressed. "Someone should get Tracer and Hotwire down there as soon as possible. They're going to be dead within minutes." Two agents quickly put them on stretchers and boarded the elevator.

He then turned to Semick.  "How much time is left on the countdown clock?" 

"Half an hour," said Hertz. "We have no real plan at this stage, and what we have done was just sent to Zach. The entire operation is compromised." 

"Are you saying we quit?" said Rotor threateningly. 

Hertz looked the elite agent in the eye. "That is exactly what I think; we were never in any condition to do this. We certainly can't make the attack in just half an hour!" 

"But what about Zach's threat?" asked Vinyaya. 

"Znap Zach's threat! We will certainly be destroyed if we go there now!" yelled Hertz. "We at least have a chance if we stay here and fight!" 

The elite agents were not convinced. "You should stay in your place, Hertz," Nazareno said calmly. 

"NO! You people have to hear this! Almost half of our men are in no condition to fight, the enemy knows our plans, and there are Stromlings in our own base!" There was an uncomfortable silence and no one moved.

Dust considered what Hertz said and brushed any censures he had aside. He reminded himself he did not care about the casualties; he just wanted to get to his temple as soon as possible.

Finally, Garry broke the silence. "Speaking of the Stromlings, we should go." Nazareno and Doctor Cyborg headed into the hall, followed by Garry.

Dust glanced at the standoff in the room. Every elite agent was staring at the defiant Hertz. He decided he should leave; at this point, his presence would only complicate things. Calling after the hunting party, he quickly followed the group into the hall. 

*****

Hotwire's eyelids felt as heavy as garage doors, so for several minutes he did not bother to open them. He was lying on what felt like a cot, and his left foot itched horridly. As his senses slowly returned, he realized he could hear voices. Wade and Crusher, he thought. So I'm in the medical bay. Why... Then the fight with Zelda snapped back into his mind. He forced his eyelids open.

The sight that met him was gut-wrenching. Tracer lay on the next cot over, abnormally pale, and hooked up to life support.

At that moment, Wade turned and noticed that Hotwire's eyes were open. "Ah," he said, walking over to Hotwire's cot. "Welcome back. About your leg--"

"Never mind my leg, what about him?" Hotwire interrupted, motioning towards Tracer. Wade sighed.

Dr. Crusher, who was monitoring Tracer's life support, stood up and turned towards Hotwire. "That Stromling shot him twice, once through the lung and once through the abdomen. We've been trying to stabilize him, but his chances don't look very good. He's been in and out of consciousness this whole time."

"Now I understand perfectly that you are concerned for your friend," said Wade, "but we really need to discuss your leg. I would ask what possessed you to shoot yourself in the shin with a Space Police blaster, but once we began operating that became apparent." Hotwire nodded, unsurprised. "The Maelstrom was already getting to work when you pulled that trigger, and from the knee down your leg looked more like that of a Stromling than anything else." Wade paused, obviously somewhat uncomfortable. "Thing is... there wasn't much else we could do... it was barely attached... and as it was infected with the Maelstrom..."

Hotwire looked down. His left leg ended in a bandaged stump several inches below the knee. "Can't say I'm surprised. To be honest, that was rather the intent I had. Cut off the infection's only route before it spreads anymore."

Wade looked somewhat relieved by Hotwire's reaction, and spoke again. "Now, if we were still on LEGO Island, it would be a fairly straightforward matter of replacing your leg with a new one. However, we do have what might be the next best thing. Nazareno, as you may be aware, is quite an expert in mechanical prosthetics..." As he continued about the possibilities of a robotic limb, Hotwire began to zone out a bit. Ever since Kat's apparent death and then continued existence within computers, the line between organism and technology had become a matter of some importance to him, and with this in mind, his response was immediate.

"No."

Wade stopped. "What?"

"I shot my leg off to stay a human minifig. I'm not sure I like the idea of fusing myself with machinery."

"Bear in mind that you could be removed from active duty if you are considered handicapped," said Wade warningly.

"If Rex can stay on the front lines in a wheelchair," Hotwire said, "I'm sure I'll be all right with a crutch and a peg."

*****

"So, you can tell the difference between Stromlings and minifigs?" Garry asked.

"Ultraviolet light," explained Dr. Cyborg. "Anyway, I have a theory. There might be a small pool of Maelstrom underneath the outpost in an underground cavern or something."

"I see," replied Garry. "I just hope you're right about this." He thought about it for a moment. "I think I know a few other people who can help," Garry finally said. "Come on."

Garry led Dr. Cyborg, Nazareno, and Dust towards the storage rooms. "What in Builder's name is the point of this?" Dust asked impatiently as Garry got out his keys.

Garry said nothing as he unlocked the door to storage area three and walked inside, staring at the two prisoners. "Can you walk?" Garry asked.

"I think so," replied Strangebrick.

"Good," said Garry. He quickly ran over and helped the scientist up, as well as Tom. "You're coming with us. We got Stromlings in the base." 

Nazareno raised an eyebrow. "I can't help but agree with Dust," he said to Garry. "What is the point of this? Can they detect Stromlings?"

"Yes, why are they important? Do they have inside info or something?" Dr. Cyborg asked.

"I don't know what information they have on the Stromlings, but they could have vital information on XERRD," replied Garry. "Now what do we do? Take them with us and try to keep them safe, or lock them in here and let them be assimilated by the Maelstrom?"

*****

This is an interesting turn of events.

Zach had learned from his Stromling scouts in the jungle that the Dino Attack Team had still not left the safety of their outpost and time was almost up. According to his last check, there was only half an hour left until his deadline was finished.

As much as he wanted to finish off the Dino Attack, where would the fun be in just killing them at their base? He wanted them to experience the full horrors of the Maelstrom Temple. However, he was a man of his word. He would not give them a million chances to get their act together. I wonder... Zach reached with his mental link to Zelda. It was distant and somewhat faded, but he could still feel the connection.

What is going on over there?

Zach was met with silence. Then: They found me, Zelda muttered. They captured me. Spy paranoia has started up again inside their ranks.

Interesting. Zach cut his connection and began to run over his options.

Finally, he turned to Cranky. "Come," Zach said. "Let's go visit this 'Outpost 4'. I have a little message for the Dino Attack Team." 

*****

Catless was stunned. How could a Stromling, two of them no less, infiltrate the outpost? The security here was some of the best there was. She was puzzled, but she had a theory. Cyborg probably had it too, they both thought alike.

She spoke up.

"There might be a pool of Maelstrom somewhere in the fortress, hidden, that would infect these agents. Somewhere agents would visit regularly, like the cafeteria or something." 

----

GAIA Squad continued to escort the caravan, which stopped at another Dino Attack Outpost overseen by commanding officer Colonel Mustang. Instead of hailing them as heroes, Mustang interrogated GAIA Squad, imprisoned Eno Saurson, and detained Shade, Tex, Crunchbite, Ragnarok, and Freefall. Convinced that Sauro-Hunter and his teammates were traitors to the cause, Mustang had GAIA Squad placed under constant watch.

The cell rumbled beneath their feet. Frantic shouts were heard past the bars. Sauro-Hunter poked his head out. "What in the Builders' names is going on?" he shouted.

Agents rushed past, their weapons ready, ignoring him. Sauro-Hunter slumped against the wall next to Aravis. She set her head on his shoulder. Spino leaned against the other wall, and Ptero sat cross-legged, looking forlorn.

"So," said Spino, "this is how we die. Like rats." The concept sickened Sauro-Hunter. Here they were, seasoned warriors, and they wouldn't die fighting for their cause.

He stood.

"Not if I have anything to say about it!" he roared. A blade sprang from his wrist. That caught everybody off-guard. Sauro-Hunter examined the dagger-like blade and smiled. With a flourish, he punched a bar, and the blade sliced through with little effort. "Now we're getting somewhere!"

Sauro-Hunter drew his arm back. In a blur of motion, he sliced at the bars. Pieces of metal fell away until a space a minifig could fit through stood before them.

"Jailbreak!" Ptero cried. The five sprinted as fast as they could. "Where to first?"

"We find Tex, Shade, Freefall, and Eno," replied Sauro-Hunter. Anger burned in his eyes. "If they've hurt my family… Builders, shield them from my wrath."

"'Family'?" another voice said haughtily. "That's pretty sick, traitor." Colonel Mustang turned the corner, wielding a wickedly sharp rapier. The five agents slowed.

"Out of our way!" roared Sauro-Hunter. The blade extended from his wrist and he charged. Metal crashed against metal as the two combatants exchanged blows. Mustang seemed complacent, which threw Sauro-Hunter into a frenzy.

"Parry, thrust, thrust," Mustang gloated. "Good! I thought this would be boring."

Sauro-Hunter felt his chest grow hot, and opened his mouth. Blue and gold flames roared at Mustang. Needless to say, he was caught off guard. He rolled to one side and landed a blow on Sauro-Hunter's left arm. Undeterred, the Dino Attack agent surged forward, bringing his weapon within millimeters of his opponent's face.

"Your file didn't lie," Mustang commented. He patted out a patch of fire on his shoulder. "Expert in close-quarters combat, ferocious, and not the least bit afraid to die."

Sauro-Hunter paused, panting. "You read my file?" he asked, keeping his arm up.

Mustang nodded. "Indeed," he replied. "Not every soldier gets as much attention." His eyes narrowed. "Except traitors."

"We aren't traitors!" Aravis screamed. Mustang suddenly fell to his knees, clutching his head. Aravis's eyes glowed a fierce green. In a moment, Mustang fell, silent.

"GAIA Squad," Sauro-Hunter said. "Roll out!" 

Finding specimen containment was relatively easy. All it required was following the sound of Tex's unique roar. It started out low-pitched, then rose an octave. Sauro-Hunter had heard it described as an eagle shriek blended with a lion's roar. But to him, it was pure music.

Not only is she okay, he thought, she's fighting mad!

Aravis reached out with a mental call, and Tex displayed a mental image of where she was being contained. It was a sterile room, and Tex, Shade, and Freefall were held in place by clamps and harnesses, while Eno was contained in a cell.

"Let's move, GAIA!" exclaimed Sauro-Hunter. 

----

"...what?" said Bluetooth.

"I can't believe it either, but that's what happened," said Stranger, looking disgruntled as the Mutant Lizard behind him smirked a little. "Isn't that right, Buddy?"

Bluetooth hadn't seen Stranger in days. For that matter, he had thought he was dead, lost in the chaos like Raider had been when the medical tent at camp had gotten trashed in the ambush. But here he was, looking a lot more rugged with a small beard and a torn-up uniform, but clearly alive.

"So, let me get this straight," Bluetooth began. "When you got into the XERRD fortress, you encounter some Lizard you picked a rivalry with during an earlier battle, who after dueling you, saves you when Rotor bombs the MegaBlokland out of it, and then keeps you as a pseudo-prisoner/house guest in a cave for three days?"

"Pretty much an average experience for any of us," Stranger remarked. "And there's more to it than that. We talked quite a bit during that-"

"How? You don't know their language?"

"He does know rudimentary English, though, and how to write it with a tail," Stranger said as he pointed his thumb back at the Mutant Dino, who raised his tail like one would raise a hand. "Sounded rather intellectual, to be honest. It was like talking to one of Rex's old pets. Though he said he wasn't actually one of them."

"Okay..." Bluetooth said, still a little shocked that Stranger, of all Minifigs, had had an encounter like this. "So... what did you talk about?"

"Casual talk. Kill ranks, fighting abilities, how and why we hated each other, insulting each other's mothers, and how he was wanting to help us."

This was starting to sound like a weird dream to Bluetooth. But he kept silent (albeit with a confounded face) as Stranger continued.

"Yeah, Buddy's picking up on the whole Maelstrom aspect, I guess, and would rather not be some total slave to darkness. So, he's willing to serve as a soldier or maybe some incognito guy or whatnot. I dunno, I think he wants to try and talk to Rex about it, or whoever he calls 'The Dino Man'." Stranger used air quotes when he said the last few words. "Sounds pretty pretentiously poetic or something."

"Okay, well..." Bluetooth looked behind him, where agents were still scrambling around from the latest commotion in the command area. "Rex is with the other guys, trying to work out the final details of the plan. Though I think they found some more Maelstrom spies, so I think we may have-"

"Bluetooth, you in there!" came a familiar voice from up the hall.

"Just stop right there, Semick! Like I said-" said another familiar voice.

"If what you said is true, then there's no point with bothering with secrecy. It's now or nothing," Semick said as he walked into the communications room, Hertz trailing behind him. Both men were rather cross, though Semick was more concentrated and focused, while Hertz was more erratic and confused.

"Ah, so you are here, and glad to see you're alive, Stranger," said Semick, talking without surprise to the Minifigs in the room. "And you've picked up a friend. Rather fitting, I might add. Now, I need-"

"Semick, we are completely unprepared for-"

"That's how we were in the Torn World, and we got out of that pickle, I remind you. Anyways, open communications to the all-agent alert system. I need a message out and I need it now. We're launching the attack."

"Wha-oh thank goodness," Bluetooth said with surprise and relief. He had been noticing how close they were to deadline.

"Oh, back in act-" Stranger began, before a shout rang out.

"SEMICK, WE DON'T HAVE A PLAN!" cried Hertz.

"Working on it as we speak, now come on! I need every agent on this island informed now! I outrank you, and you need to hear my orders! Now go!"

Bluetooth was confused and worried about what these agents were saying, but he proceeded to the radio controls and helped Hertz set the broadcasting frequency.

"He's going insane," Hertz muttered to the Futuron technician. "The stress is getting to him."

"We all went insane the day we joined this team," Bluetooth retorted. "Some of us are just more insane than others."

"I hate quotes like that. People throw that around without any real understanding." He sighed loudly and turned around to face the elite agent. "It's done."

"Good," Semick said quickly as he got up to the mic. Making sure it was on, he cleared his throat and began to speak loud and clearly.

"Attention, all agents! This is Elite Agent Semick, Commander for the final mission against the Maelstrom forces on Adventurers Island. Time is of the essence, and we're only a half hour from when our enemies have promised to strike at us once more. As well, we have had recent developments that have compromised some of our intelligence. Regardless, we are now launching the attack. Any agents 50 miles or more from Outpost 4 shall report to the boundaries of the discussed target territory and will wait for further command, while staying tuned to this frequency. All agents within 50 miles from Outpost 4 will report back and assemble at our front entrance. There, I will give a speech that will also be broadcasted on this frequency regarding our plans for attack. After that, I and the rest of the forces at Outpost 4 will depart for the target territory. Everyone, follow these orders immediately and efficiently. The fate of our planet, and perhaps our universe, is at hand here. That is all."

Semick switched off the mic and faced his company. Bluetooth was shocked, Hertz was furious, Stranger and his Mutant Lizard ally were grinning, and a couple of agents who had wandered into the room were looking surprised and morbid, but nevertheless looked accepting of the orders.

"Well then, I guess you've all heard that. Let's get moving!" As everyone left, Bluetooth heard Semick mutter: "The time for action is at hand."

"Em, Semick," Bluetooth politely asked his friend, "Was Hertz right when he said you don't have a-"

"Stop talking," Semick said, holding a hand up, "brain thinking, hush."

*****

"What's going on?" Windows shouted as Mac ran into the radio room armed with a rifle, with a few sticks of dynamite strapped to his clothes. He was accompanied by Copper.

"We got Stromlings in the base," replied Mac. "Come on."

"Stromlings?" Windows asked. "What do we do?"

"We got to stick together, figure out who's human, and who isn't, and work our way from there."

"How do we tell who's human?" Windows asked.

"I don't know," replied Mac. "Copper, do you think there's some form of test we can perform? Maybe a blood test of some kind?"

"I'm not sure," said Copper. "I've got samples of the staff's blood on hand. If we were to mix Stromling blood and human blood, and if there was a reaction, it would give us an idea of who was infected."

"Then what are we waiting for?" asked Windows. "Let's go do it!"

"The problem is we only have blood samples from the base staff," explained Copper. "You, me, Mac, Garry, Fuchs... there's still tons of other people here."

Windows sighed and got up with the rest of them.

----

Pierce felt a cold chill as the helicopter descended toward the Antarctic landscape. As soon as they'd landed on the pad, a group of people came in one-by-one to help the patients out of the chopper. To his surprise, Pierce was approached by a woman in her mid-forties who seemed strangely familiar. She and another man helped to get his stretcher out of the helicopter and to bring him indoors. 

----

Kat didn't sleep anymore, not really, but even an incorporeal consciousness stored in the flight computer of a combat helicopter needs some sort of rest occasionally. Despite her current non-physical state, Kat considered it proof of her humanity that she still had dreams.

This one was quite odd. She stood in a dark, featureless room. She turned around helplessly, and came face-to-face with another minifig. In the strange subconscious half-light, her only visible features were a pair of piercing eyes and steel-gray hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.

"Hello, Kat," the stranger said. "It's time. He's almost here."

"Who is?" asked Kat nervously. "And where did you come from?"

The stranger smirked slightly. "I've always been here, in the back of your mind, unnoticed. I helped you escape from Cane all those times. I helped you awaken your interfacing abilities on LEGO Island. And now it is time to awaken again, to ascend again to a new level of awareness." She reached out with the apparent intention of laying a comforting hand on Kat's shoulder, but Kat backed away, still apprehensive even in this dreaming state. "I know this is difficult for you," the stranger continued, "but you'll just have to trust me. You'll understand very soon."

"Why should I trust you?" Kat demanded. "Who are you anyway?"

The stranger chuckled. "The former question is quite a complex one, given the details of our situation. Bat as for the latter, suffice it to say..." She stepped into the light, and Kat gasped. "I am you."

*****

Wade was attempting to fit Hotwire with a simple prosthetic leg when Tracer suddenly drew a ragged gasp and opened his eyes. Crusher rushed to his side. "Don't exert yourself," she urged.

"What's the sense in caution?" Tracer wheezed. "I'm not going to make it anyway, am I?"

Dr. Crusher looked down. "It's true," she admitted. "You'd only have about two minutes without life support. We tried to remove the bullets, but there was too high a risk of exacerbating your condition. We had been hoping to keep you stable long enough to operate with more precision once things calm down and we can get better instruments, but word is that we won't be staying here much longer. Everyone's rolling out to find the Maelstrom Temple as soon as possible, and we can't move you safely."

Tracer nodded resignedly. "Lady Luck always spent most of her time scowling on me anyway; I figured I was a goner the minute that Stromling spy snatched my gun." He paused to draw another ragged breath. "Listen," he said urgently, "I heard what that doctor, J.D., did. His Maelstrom antidote and all that, how he made it." Crusher nodded. "I want to contribute. Let them take my Creative Spark. The whole thing. That should hopefully be enough to come up with a few more doses."

"Are you sure about this?" Wade put in. "If there's any sort of afterlife, you wouldn't--"

"--wouldn't be doing the team much good if I'm just kicking back on a cloud, playing a harp," Tracer interjected. He paused, seeming to reflect upon his life. "Or getting glued together in MegaBlokland," he then added with a crooked smile.

*****

Zach called Cranky to stop. Outpost 4 was not far from his position. However, he didn't want to enter the outpost. He wanted to remind the Dino Attack of his deadline. Here we go. Zach cleared his throat and used his Maelstrom power to amplify Cranky's voice.

"Get it started, Cranky."

*****

Nazareno shrugged. "Alright, we'll take them. What are your names?"

"Tom," one said.

"Dr. Strangebrick," the other said.

"Okay. You two are coming with us. We are searching this outpost for-" Nazareno was cut off when a loud, ape-like screech echoed throughout the outpost. Cyborg, Dust, Garry, Nazareno, Tom, and Strangebrick covered their ears as the hideous yell continued for nearly a minute.

When it was clear, Dust glanced at Nazareno. "What was that?" Dust asked.

"I don't know," Nazareno muttered. "It sounded like an ape or gorilla or something."

"What if there is a Stromling Ape in the outpost?" Dr. Cyborg asked, worried.

"I don't think so," Nazareno said. "An ape wouldn't be able to get in here without being blown apart by this outpost's defenses. I think we-" Nazareno was cut off again as the hallway lights dimmed.

"What is going on?" Garry wondered looking around. "I think all the lights are dimmed across the outpost."

"Maybe the Stromlings are the cause," Dust pointed out. Suddenly, they heard someone clear their throat loudly. The noise bounced off the hallways, forcing them to cover their ears again to muffle the loud noise.

"Hello, members of the Dino Invasion Neutralization Organization!" a voice boomed. Nazareno immediately knew that Zach was the man speaking. "I hope Cranky's wake-up call got your attention. How anxious he is to meet up with your team again. Especially the one who hit him with a Fire Hammer and tried to blow him up! He is waiting in anticipation to meet you again."

Dust seemed to recognize the voice. "That is Zachary, correct?" he asked. Nazareno nodded.

"But enough about Cranky! Allow me to introduce myself. Or rather, reintroduce myself, as many of you already know who I am. I am Zachary, Standard Dino Attack Agent. In fact..." Zach paused.

"What is he up to?" Dr. Cyborg wondered.

*****

Zach paused his monologue, considering what to say next. He had always been known as "Zachary" or "Zach" throughout his entire service on Adventurers' Island, both by the Dino Attack and the Maelstrom. He had attempted to hide his last name in order protect himself and his family. He was certain the only people who knew his last name were the Team Commandos and perhaps Andrew.

They don't matter. Nobody matters. He opened his mouth to speak again....

*****

"In fact," Zach suddenly continued, "feel free to call me by my full name, Zachary... Virchaus."

Nazareno raised his eyebrow at this sudden revelation. "You know, I can't say I ever really noticed how he never gave away his last name," Dust noted.

"I personally thought he didn't have one," shrugged Nazareno.

"Anyway!" Zachary Virchaus boomed. "Your time is wearing thin, Dino Attack. I gave you two and a half days to pull yourselves together so you could stop me. There is now a half hour until the end. I must say, I am rather disappointed. But then again, you are the Dino Attack Team. You guys seem to take things at one little baby step at a time. This time, I'm not allowing it.

"And before you start blaming me; Yes, I know I am partially to blame for your delay thanks to spies I had placed in your ranks. Let this be known: I only sent two spies. You have captured one, but the other still runs free. Any other Stromlings you find are the result of a corruption I played no part in. Who are the spies, you ask? Well, ask yourselves this: Where would the fun be if the Big Bad just told me everything I needed to know?" A loud, piercing laugh echoed through the hallways.

*****

Zachary Virchaus. Zachary Virchaus. Zach Virchaus...

Minerva ran Zach's full name through her name multiple times. She had never even considered his last name. He was always just Zach.

The Fire Hammer had managed to get a good distance from Outpost 4 before running out of gas. However, they were still in range of Zach and Cranky (Minerva assumed Cranky was the ape that had roared) so they could still hear his message.

He sounds so... arrogant, she thought sadly. He doesn't seem to care about anyone or anything.

"Half an hour, Dino Attack! That is all you get. If you aren't at least moving toward the Maelstrom Temple in 30 minutes' time, an army larger and more dangerous than anything you have ever seen will come and they WILL destroy you. I swear. Cross my heart and hope to fly. Stick a cupcake in my eye swear. In the meantime, keep calm and may the odds be ever in your favor!" Zach cackled one last time before his voice faded away. 

*****

As Mac's group proceeded down the hall, he raised his gun at a frightened rookie agent. "Who are you?" Mac asked, sternly.

"Kate Bishop," replied the young girl. "Now would someone please explain what's happening here?"

"There's Stromlings in the base," explained Mac.

"You heard the message," Copper said. "There was only one. Garry was distracted by another Stromling when I arrived. That must have been the one they caught, which means we must still have to deal with Norris."

"Yeah," said Mac. "Well I don't like to make assumptions."

"Mac," Windows said, somewhat pleadingly. "What if we're wrong?"

"Well then, we're wrong," replied Mac. "We'll take you with us, you try anything and I'll blow a hole right through your MegaBlokin' head. Understand?"

Kate nodded nervously as she joined them. Around the corner they found another group of people, including Garry. Mac quickly aimed his rifle and cocked it, catching their attention. However, Garry was quick to turn and draw his own pistol.

"NOBODY MOVE!" Mac shouted. "I wouldn't want to have to shoot any of you!"

"MAC, PUT THAT GUN DOWN!" Garry yelled.

"How do I know it isn't you?" Mac asked.

"How do you know it is me?" Garry retorted.

"I know that there's a Stromling in here somewhere," replied Mac. "I don't want to take any chances."

"Mac, I think you should listen to Garry," Windows said pleadingly.

"Shut up, Windows!" snapped Mac. "How do we know it isn't you?"

"I'm telling you, Mac!" Copper shouted. "It's Norris we're after!"

"CAN EVERYONE JUST CALM THE ZNAP DOWN FOR A MOMENT!" Garry yelled before he lowered his gun. Mac hesitated before he reluctantly did the same. "Now, listen," Garry said. "This bickering isn't getting us anywhere. If we send someone out there, it can at least buy us some time. Now, what I think we should do is assemble a force of some kind, get together the few people we can be sure aren't infected. We'll only have half an hour, but it will give us a bit more time to find Norris."

"What do we do when and if we find him?" Mac asked.

"I don't know," replied Garry. "Fuchs took the only sample of any potential cure with him when he fled in order to keep it from falling into their hands." 

*****

Rex cursed under his breath. It felt like over a year had passed since then, but Rex remembered the day he met Zachary Virchaus in the Aztec Village. Now he was a Stromling Agent who was perfectly capable of and willing to destroy everyone in the camp.

"We should have been moving hours ago!" Rex said as he gritted his teeth. The last thing the team needed was a bit of paranoia to slow them down. It felt like nearly a year since they first stopped at this outpost, and he was eager to get going as soon as possible. He turned to face Adventure and ordered, "See to it that Paulie Gonepus accidentally escapes."

"Right away, honcho," said Adventure, who turned on his heel and headed towards the holding cells where the XERRD scientist was held prisoner. Accommodations had already been so that Gonepus could easily be tracked across the island wherever he went. Silently, Rex prayed that Amanda's plan would work... if Gonepus was a coward who turned on his heel and fled the island, then they would have to rely on Villano to lead the way.

Unexpectedly, Rex gasped. He clutched his chest with one hand. His heart had suddenly started beating at a quickened pace, so fast he thought it would explode. Strangest of all, as soon as it began, it was over.

Regaining his composure, Rex glanced around. Nobody had noticed the brief episode.

But as Rex scanned the area, he glimpsed what he thought to be a Mutant Lizard in the outpost. Based upon the fact that nobody was firing at it and only occasionally glancing at it with a confused expression, Rex wondered if, somehow, there was another agent in the squad who had taken up his old hobby of catching and taming Mutant Lizards. Then, Rex's amusement turned to bitterness. He remembered how he had once promised himself to never bring harm to these creatures. Even now, he pitied the Mutant Dinos for their uncontrollable urges for destruction caused by the Maelstrom which enslaved them to Dr. Rex.

Now, no matter what, Rex could not erase the image from his mind of that one Mutant Lizard in the LEGO Island Laboratory as he beat it to death with a metal pipe. How sickeningly gratifying it felt to feel the lizard's skull cave in with each blow of the pipe, even after the creature had crumpled to the ground to forever lie still. And for what? Being mutated beyond its control and enslaved by a mad scientist.

As Rex watched the Mutant Lizard walk among the Dino Attack agents, he hoped that this creature would not suffer the same fate as its brethren.

----

"Having fun, are we?"

Angel Eyes looked up to see agent Spy standing over him. "Just having a bit of dinner, that's all," said Angel Eyes, shrugging. "Can't go about killing Mutant Dinos with an empty stomach."

Although most of his face was concealed by his cowl, Spy seemed to grimace. "If it were mere Mutant Dinos we were fighting, zhat would be of little concern. Now, tell me, did zhey tell you what else we are fighting?" When Angel Eyes looked confused, Spy sighed. "Quasifigus lacertilia. Hybrids of Minifigs and Mutant Lizards, with zhe intelligence of zhe former and zhe feral viciousness of zhe latter. And I've come back with a report on zheir current actions... wait, where's Scout?"

"Yo, wassup?" called Scout as he popped out behind Spy. "Hah, bet I spooked ya, didn't I?"

Spy did not even flinch. "Why aren't you doing recon with me? Some scout you are!"

Scout shrugged. "Well, I was just makin' a long-distance call. This place got real good reception, ya know? Now, I had to hang up and say I'd call 'em back because ya have somethin' important to say. Well, aren't ya gonna say it?"

"Kids zhese days," muttered Spy, rolling his eyes, "always on zheir cellphones. Anyway, zhe Hybrids have taken note of your arrival, Angel Eyes and Blondie. It appears zhat zhey are responding by increasing zheir defenses tenfold. I was behind enemy lines and I witnessed one of zhem constructing a turret of zheir own, and even Engineer cannot build turrets like zhey can."

Engineer looked up from the campfire, pausing in his guitar playing. "Excuse me, buddy," he said, frowning. "Are you challengin' ma' building expertise? Because I assure you that I can build better and faster than any of those no-good mean mother-"

"More importantly," said Angel Eyes, "if you were behind enemy lines, why didn't you do anything about it?"

Spy faltered. "I... err, well, you see... I may be able to sneak past enemy lines, but I can't turn myself invisible. I would have disguised myself as one of zhem, except every Hybrid corpse we get is bullet-ridden to zhe point where I cannot even salvage zhe armor."

Heavy grinned.

"Besides," continued Spy, "zheir sense of smell is perhaps far too keen for my disguises. And I did not expect zhat we would be needing my Electro-Sapper during zhis mission, so I left it in my briefcase... back at zhe Dino Attack Outpost. Not sure how well it would work against the Hybrids' sentries, though-"

A cellphone started to ring. Scout grinned sheepishly as all eyes fell upon him. "Yeah, I gotta take this call," he said with a shrug, already getting up to leave.

"If it's your mother," stated Spy, "tell her I said hi." Heavy laughed at this comment, while Scout balled his hands into fists and looked ready to punch Spy.

Still, Scout controlled his anger and walked away from the campfire while Spy continued briefing the others. He answered the phone call and pressed the cellphone to his ear. "Yo, wassup?" As Scout heard a response from the other end, his face turned grim. Glancing back at camp, Scout quickly ran into a dark alley where no one would hear him.

"Yeah? ... Look, ya keep callin' me and askin' for updates. And I keep tellin' ya, it's the same thing! Ya listenin'? ... Okay, look, the Second Headquarters Squad is making steady progress against the Hybrids, and we now know that the Hybrids are stationed at Fort Legoredo. We're bombin' the place, and unless the XERRD folks over at Dino Island Laboratory decide to help out the Hybrids, it's a victory for Dino Attack Team. Got it? ... Yeah, send a message to Dr. Rex tellin' him he sucks. I want to see him do better! ... No, no, I ain't gonna do anythin' stupid and compromise the mission. I'm just sayin'... Look... Oh, I forgot to tell you. Dino Attack Team knows there's a mole, and they're gonna whack... Don't worry, I got this under control, I'll be safe! ... Okay, see ya." 

----

 "Geez, those Maelstrom guys need a volume control," Stranger muttered as he made his way to the outpost armory. Buddy had split, apparently having gone after Rex or something after Semick and this "Zachary Virchaus" fellow had made their speeches. Regardless, there wasn't much time to concern that. There was hunting to do.

Everyone in the armory was going for the big stuff, laser blasters, Xenon devices, SMGs, and the like. Stranger, however, knew how to work with the simpler stuff. There were plenty of perfectly good bullet-fueled pistols left and a good handful of sniper rifles as well.

The Dino Attack agent grinned as he locked and loaded. More than ever, this brought him back to those good times he had in the beginning of the attack. Back when he was still technically a civilian, going guns blazing with fellow survivors just to get to an evacuation.

Those were some real good times, Stranger recollected. Living in the abandoned buildings, scavenging off the streets, shooting so many dinos… Dino Attack might have that too, but it's just not the same when you have so much weaponry at your disposal. Aw well, the past is the past, and what matters now is that I get back to the present and get back to shooting.

With a final loading of pistol clips and a sling of the sniper rifle on his back, Stranger felt more than ready to go.

*****

"Boy, Zach sure isn't the subtle type, is he?" Laxus remarked. He and Andrew had met up just outside the mess hall, and had just now gotten outside.

"He's inherited the classic villain trait of occasional dramatic evilness," Andrew replied. "We have our weapons stored in the Fire Hammer, right?"

"Yes, and I've let people know that we'll be willing to taxi people as well. They'll also be willing to help man the vehicle controls when you take off for your plans."

"Good." Andrew had informed Laxus about his Minerva's plans just before he had gone off the command meeting. He had felt uncertain about it, but at this point, he and Laxus had grown so close that he was at the point where he thought secrets between them would just be a bad sign, especially after he let Laxus in on the whole transfiguration problem.

"Oh, there's Semick," said Laxus, pointing to the pair's left. The commanding agent was passing by, Bluetooth and Hertz both on his trail. "Betcha he's feeling the pressure right now."

"That isn't the half of it," said Andrew, recalling how things had gone down at the command meeting.

*****

... Can I rely on that? We've done good so far, so I feel confident in that, but...

"For Ole's sake, man, this is suicide!" Hertz was saying. "A Kamikaze attack! A march into a Star Wars convention with the intent of declaring midichlorians as the best thing the prequels ever gave us! Think for a second, man! THINK!"

"I am thinking right now, thank you very much. And your cries are not helping my thought processes."

... Now that factor was unpredictable, but if...

"Semick," Bluetooth was saying, "tell me you're not just going to make a plan up as we go along. At least assure me of that."

"I'm not, trust me." That was true. He was creating a plan right now. A plan that would evolve and expand over time as he went along

... So, what about those mummies...

----

"If I were you" Clint said. "I'd probably want to keep an eye on Scout."

Engineer smiled. "Scout?" he said. "What? D'ya think he's a double agent or somin'? He couldn't spy on a cattlefield."

"My partner isn't saying anything," Angel Eyes said. "He merely thinks that there may be something Scout has to hide. Anyway, let's get back to busine-"

"Alright!" called a voice from behind him. "Where are the maggots who think they can join the likes of the Second Headquarters Squad?!"

Angel Eyes turned around to see who was addressing him. "Who might you be?" he asked.

"I AM GENERAL RONALD E. ARMY OF THE LEGOLAND MILITARY!" replied the Dino Attack agent.

"We call him Soldier," Engineer remarked casually. "He ain't got no indoor voice, but he's mighty fine, really."

"Is this everybody?" Clint asked.

"Vell, zere iz alzo Demoman, our demolitionz expert," replied Medic. "I'm not quite sure vere he-"

At that moment, a tough bearded man staggered towards the campfire mumbling some incoherent. "I'm drunk," he muttered.

Angel Eyes smiled. "Can't even hold his liquor," he said. "What makes you think you're a good demolitions expert?"

"IF I WERE A BAD DEMOLITIONS EXPERT," Demoman shouted. "I WOULDN'T BE STANDING HERE DISCUSSING IT WITH YEH NOW, WOULD I!?"

Angel Eyes paused for a moment. "You are crazy," he said.

"Aye," replied Demoman, grinning. "I challenge yeh to a drinking contest on the best whiskey!"

"Looks like you got work cut out for you," Clint remarked sarcastically.

"It's a good thing I brought a couple cases of real whiskey," said Angel Eyes. He stood up for a moment, walked over the cart, and got a small box which he opened to reveal several bottles. "You ready for this?"

"Yeh bet!" replied Demoman. He quickly reached in, trying to get a firm hold on a bottle before taking it out. Angel Eyes then took a bottle himself, pulled off the cork, and took a large swig. Demoman struggled for a few minutes to open his own before gulping down a large amount and then collapsing, snoring loudly.

Angel Eyes smiled. "You're no fun," he said. "You couldn't even get through one bottle."

"He vaz already very drunk," Medic pointed out.

Angel Eyes nodded.

"Now, what about zhis business at hand?" Spy asked.

"I THINK WE SHOULD MAKE THOSE MAGGOTS MARCH UP AND DOWN-"

"Oh, shut up," muttered Spy, cutting off Soldier.

"Well," replied Clint. "I'd like to see for myself just where these hybrids are hiding. What's your name?"

"Spy."

"Simple enough," said Clint. "I'd like you to take me there, at least as close as you can. I'd like a good look at just what exactly we're dealing with."

"We got a contact back in El Paso," Angel Eyes added. "If nothing else, we can at least give the team an update. Anyway, who's hungry?"

Heavy quickly smiled. "SANDVICH!" he shouted.

"Yes, of course," muttered Angel Eyes. He took a piece of steak off the frying pan and put it onto a plate before handing it to Heavy, who laughed the "joke" yet again before chowing down on it.

"Om nom nom nom. OH, SO FILLING!"

----

Pierce was in a large group of patients waiting for treatment. The extent of his wounds was fairly minor compared to the others. He could briefly overhear one of the paramedics talking to another person, possibly an authority figure.

"I don't know," he said. "We more or less had everybody and then the Station Manager came in with this body under a sheet, then showed me that the girl wasn't dead."

"Wait," said the authority figure. "She wasn't dead, but she was brought aboard as though she was?"

"Yeah," replied the paramedic. "I don't get it either. Why would you do something like that?"

"Maybe he wanted us to dispose of her, thinking she was a corpse," suggested the authority figure.

"No," replied the paramedic. "He made an explicit point of informing us she was still alive."

"That is strange," mused the authority figure. "This was where again?"

"Outpost 4 on Adventurers' Island."

"That's Garry's post," noted the authority figure. "Indeed, that is strange. Well, how is she?"

"She's okay," replied the paramedic. "She seemed to have been badly beaten, though."

Their conversation was cut off when Pierce was approached by the woman he saw earlier. "Hello again," Pierce remarked.

"Hi," replied the woman, somewhat shyly. "You got a name?"

"Pierce. Alan Pierce."

The name seemed to catch her attention somehow. "Do I know you?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," replied Pierce.

"Bishop!" another man called. The woman quickly turned toward him. Suddenly Pierce started to realize just why she seemed so familiar...

----

"What exactly was that?" Teri asked as she followed Jackson.

"I don't know," replied Jackson. "Whatever it was, it sure was painful the ears."

"He was talking about finding a Maelstrom Temple," Teri said.

"I don't know all the details," admitted Jackson. "I'm a soldier, I just follow orders. Now I think we ought to get some weapons and meet with the higher-ups. Come on, Scope."

Teri smiled as Jackson ran off. "Right behind you, Shotgun." She could not help giggling at the horrible codename.

As the two of them approached the armory, they were startled to find a man already there, slinging a rifle onto his back.

"Who are you?" Jackson asked.

"Stranger," replied the man.

"I'm Shotgun, and this is my ex-girlfriend Scope," Jackson replied nervously.

*****

Andrew and Laxus were surprised to be approached by a somewhat nervous and frightened agent.

"Hey," he said, somewhat confusedly. "I'm agent Norris. Now could someone please explain just what exactly is going on?" 

*****

As Zach's painfully loud announcement echoed away to nothing, Hotwire was already in motion. He tightened his prosthetic, grabbed a crutch, and attempted to stand, but winced in pain and slumped back onto his cot. He grabbed a painkiller injector off the table next to him, popped the safety release off, and stabbed it into his left thigh. After a few seconds, the adrenaline and pain suppressants began to take effect and he stood successfully.

Wade stepped into his way. "You can't be serious," he said. "You're not fit to leave yet."

"I'm of no use to you here," Hotwire countered, "and I need to do my part to make sure his sacrifice isn't in vain." He gestured towards the cot where Tracer's last worldly remains lay covered by a sheet. "Now please, let me go lend a hand to the friends I have left."

*****

"So, you understand what must be done?"

Kat nodded. The other minifig smiled and extended her hand. Kat, no longer intimidated, took it.

Instantly her dream shattered. She was awake. She was... alive. Still in the Talon's computers. And the other minifig from her dream, the younger one... such an odd dream it was. She could remember everything that had happened to her in the past seventy years. Surely, she hadn't ever forgotten it all?

The person she thought she had been for the past five years was gone. And yet... she was not gone. Kat was who she had always been.

*****

Loop carefully peered through the trees and saw he had reached his destination - the landing field of Outpost 4. Circling the clearing while remaining out of sight among the trees, he managed to pick out the Talon. He smiled. Success was in reach.

Loop snuck among the T-1 Typhoons towards the Talon. Luckily for him, there were no sentries around; all the agents stationed at the outpost were apparently involved in some commotion near the main building. The Inferno henchman-turned-semi-Stromling hauled himself up onto the deck of the modified T-1 Typhoon.

"Kat, my darling," he said, his normal malicious tones shaded with fatigue. "I know you can hear me. I've waited so long to get you alone."

There was a moment of silence. Loop hesitated. Surely, he hadn't boarded the wrong T-1 Typhoon?

Then Kat's voice resounded over the comm speakers. "Hello. I knew you'd come back."

Loop grinned. "Yes, of course. And if you join me now, we could rule the world together. What say you?"

"No," Kat responded.

"Why refuse me right off the bat?" Loop protested. "We hardly know each other yet. I haven't even had the chance to introduce myself properly."

"I'm not refusing you," said Kat. "I am simply redirecting you; I shall not be joining you, but instead you shall be joining me."

Loop looked utterly confused.

"And furthermore," Kat continued, "you need not introduce yourself at all. I know exactly who you are, as well as everything about you... Lupus Schattenberg."

Understanding dawned in Loop's mind, and with it grew a sense of rage and rebellion. Then the voice in the Talon barked out a single phrase. "Executive override - Basalt."

Instantly, something in Loop's mind shut down, and he found himself involuntarily relaxing. He spoke, but he wasn't sure he had thought the words beforehand; they seemed to spring unbidden from his throat. "Awaiting orders."

"Strap in," Kat's voice echoed through the Talon's comms. "We may need to leave in a hurry. No time remains. We must be on our way."

Loop cautiously leaned out of the door. "Nobody is around," he reported. "They're all gathered by the outpost."

"Wonderful." The Talon's engines purred to life and the T-1 Typhoon rose over the field and quickly flew off toward the coast. The external comms all switched off and locked. By the time the helicopter's unexpected departure was noticed, it was already fading into the distance.

*****

In an instant, the entire situation had changed. The previously empty hallways became a flurry of activity as agents rushed to make the attack on the temple.

The wave of men and women rushed to the front gate where they would await further instructions, but Dust moved against the flow to the 3rd floor. He had hoped on having time to talk to Dr. Strangebrick and Tom, but the hunt for the Stromling was the last thing on Dust's mind.

In less than an hour, he would be at the gates of his temple. The situation had changed much since he first talked with Commander Rockford at Outpost 108, and his enrollment in the final attack had not been discussed since their ambush on the south coast of the island.

Dust had gone to great lengths to ensure he was the only hope of getting through the temple safely. Hotep III's temple was massive building and rigged with numerous boobytraps. Therefore, Dust would be leading the party into the walls.

He took a crowded elevator to the third floor and found elite agents Semick and Rex in the communications room. With them were Bluetooth and Hertz. Stranger was leaving as he entered the room, and Dust did a double-take of the Mutant Lizard but brushed it aside.

"I see you guys are hard at work here," Dust said as he looked over Hertz's shoulder at his console.

"What do you want, Dust?" Rex said without looking up. "We basically have 5 minutes to put the logistics together and move the entire fleet one and a half miles from here."

"I need to know where you want me," said Dust, getting serous. "I'm the only one who can guide you in and out of that building safely."

"I hope you hold no delusions that your temple is definite," said Semick. "It could still just as likely be the Temple of Creation."

Dust raised an eyebrow. "And you expect to figure it out in 15 minutes?"

Bluetooth handed a file to Dust. "We're about to track a man named Paulie Gonepus. He will lead us to the true temple."

"Tracking is hard work," said Dust. "This guy is likely to figure out he's being tailed. You people are moving too fast and you're bound to get sloppy."

"The people following are a small group," said Hertz. "Probably just six agents. They will radio back as soon as they have an affirmative location, and the army can be there in minutes."

"We also have a GPS tracker on him," Bluetooth proudly added. "He unknowingly ingested it when we fed him."

The Egyptian was not pleased. "You should have more than enough information by now. We don't have time to track this man. How long do you think it will take him to get to get there on foot? An hour? Two?"

"Gonepus was released ten minutes ago," said Rex. "We are already tracking him."

Dust just frowned and did not respond. Instead, he just glanced at Gonepus's file. He hoped his temple was the Maelstrom's source. It was too late to talk to the man, so all he could do was wait. His destiny was in the hands of a lone man walking alone in the jungle.

Dust rubbed his brow and moved to the door. He pointed a finger at Rex. "I'm heading to the lot. Keep me updated."

Semick looked at the slowly moving red dot on his view screen. It was traveling at about two miles an hour. At this speed, it would take Gonepus 35 minutes to reach the Temple of Hotep III.

Dust was right.

Rex started moving towards the door. "Semick, you better get out there and rally the troops. They are ready to go and will move out on your order."

The elite agent nodded and headed down the hall. While waiting for the elevator, he checked his watch. 12 minutes.

The doors opened and Semick stepped inside. He pushed the 1st floor bottom and the waited for the doors to close.

A hand quickly stooped them, and a tall blond man joined him in the elevator. His eyes widened as he looked at the man standing next him. He looked just as disturbed as he did on the night he and Rockford had visited him in his tent, and his hair was still messy and hung in clumps over his red rimmed eyes.

"Hello, Carl," said Semick. "I have not seen you since the attack."

Carl Lutsky ignored the comment and looked into the elite agent's eyes. "I need to be on the attack, Semick. I have to go to that temple. I'm going."

Semick looked at the man before him and frowned at the notion of him being handed a gun.

"You think I'm crazy, don't you?" accused the former commander. "I certainly look it, don't I? Well, I'm not. I'm going on this mission, Semick. I need to."

Before Semick could say anything more, the doors opened and Carl Lutsky stepped into the hall. 

----

Pierce smiled as he was placed onto a bed by the woman named Bishop. He finally got a good look at her as she adjusted his sheets.

"Sarah Bishop," Pierce muttered. "My, you've aged."

Sarah smiled. "As have you, Alan," she replied.

"It's just like when we met," mused Pierce. "Only the other way around. What are you doing out here, anyway?"

"I came here with everyone else," replied Sarah. "Everyone in LEGO City was evacuated."

"No," said Pierce, "I mean what you're doing, working as a nurse."

"Anything to keep myself occupied," responded Sarah. "I have a daughter now and she joined that team and I've been worried sick about her. I just can't stop thinking about how she's doing. I keep getting scared that sooner or later I'm going to find her here, on a stretcher."

"Her name wouldn't happen to be Kate by any chance, would it?"

Sarah looked at him. "You met her?"

"Yeah," replied Pierce. "She's fine. She was actually with me when I was taken from Adventurers' Island."

Sarah smiled. "Is she doing okay?"

Pierce thought about it. He did not want to upset Sarah, but he also did not want to lie to her about Kate's heroics. 

----

After sending Semick to rally the troops, Rex sat back in his wheelchair and considered his options.

Rex had to admit it... Dust was right after all. The evidence was clear in Paulie Gonepus's path. Precious time had been wasted over debates regarding the location of the Maelstrom Temple, and the whole time Rex had been advocating for a mere red herring. Rex felt bitter disappointment in himself; if he had listened to Dust earlier, they could have already contained the temple by now.

As Rex thought about it, he came to the realization that, once they reached the Maelstrom Temple, they did not know how it could be contained. Perhaps now that Dust had some connection to the temple, he might know something or another about it, but Rex did not feel certain about this; Dust's interest seemed to be based upon the temple itself, not the Maelstrom inside, and Dust had made it quite clear that destroying Hotep's ruins was out of the question. Of course, Rex had the authority to override such a demand... but Dust was a dangerous man, and Rex did not want to make him his enemy.

XERRD. Rex knew that XERRD would be there when Dino Attack Team arrived. They might even be there already. Dr. Provhezor, Dr. Glados, Dr. Breen, Señor Palomar... perhaps even, the elusive Dr. Wallace Bishop. At first, Rex thought about the possibility of somehow extracting information on how to contain the Maelstrom from these scientists, but how would he do that?

Rex blinked. Bishop. Wasn't that also the surname of Kate Bishop, the young rookie that Rotor wanted to use as leverage against Wallace Bishop?

Although she did not seem to notice, Rex stared at Amanda Claw. Only a few weeks ago, he learned of the terrible childhood tragedy she suffered, and only over the past few days did he begin to realize its full consequences upon her. No one should go through such devastation and trauma at such a young and innocent age. Rex was determined not to let it happen to Kate.

And Rotor... not since Kotua had Rex met a Dino Attack agent he so despised. He did not trust that elite agent for an instant, especially after that trial in which he ignored the opinions of his fellow elite agents and attempted to execute innocent Dino Attack agents for insubordination. I'll have to keep an eye on him, decided Rex.

"Amanda," spoke Rex, catching the attention of his companion. "We need to find Kate Bishop and Rotor. They're coming with us." 

*****

"Let's start by assembling the elite agents," Garry said. "Dr. Cyborg, we're all human, aren't we?"

"That would be correct," affirmed Dr. Cyborg.

"Good," replied Garry. "Let's get to the planning room. Doctor Cyborg, at this moment, you're the only reliable thing we've got. I want you to check anyone and everyone who enters the room. Now let's go."

"Wait," interjected Tom. "How do I know I can trust you?"

"You don't," replied Garry. He started to turn around when Tom tried to grab him from behind, only for Garry to turn around and draw his gun.

"WELL, GO AHEAD AND SHOOT ME!" Tom shouted. "It's got to be far better than whatever you and your friend did to Jenn-"

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP!" Garry yelled. "At this point, you have a choice. Either work with me and possibly get out of this war alive, or stay in here and possibly get taken over by this... thing that's running around, or I COULD JUST SHOOT YOU RIGHT NOW!"

"Garry," Windows said, "what happened to-"

"STAY OUT OF THIS, WINDOWS!" Garry shouted. "NOW, I DON'T WANT TO HAVE TO SHOOT YOU! YOU WILL BE A VALUABLE AID IN DEFEATING XERRD!"

"Oh, and I suppose you're going to beat the ever-lovin' MegaBloks out of me like you and that Rotor did earli-"

At this point, Garry knew he was in over his head. He could shout all he wanted but he knew his teammates had heard what Tom said. It was only a matter of time before he would have to confess. Now, he felt scared. "Rotor's going to kill me," Garry thought to himself. "Literally."

Nazareno scowled underneath his mask at Garry. "I don't like what I'm hearing, Garry."

Garry was silent.

Nazareno shook his head. "Dr. Cyborg, come with me," Nazareno said, gesturing to the cyborg. Dr. Cyborg stepped up to Nazareno and the two left the group in the hallway.

"Why are we leaving them?" Cyborg asked.

"We've wasted enough time with them. We are finding those Stromlings. They shouldn't have a problem finding this Norris since they know what he looks like."

"So where are we going?"

"To the front entrance. If there are more spies, they will naturally want to hear this plan. We go to this meeting, find any spies, and dispose of them before they can send a message to Mr. Virchaus."

*****

"So," Fuchs said. "I assume that was that 'Zach' you told me about." Minerva nodded slowly. They were both silent for a minute. Then:

"I need to go back," Minerva said flatly. "Back to Outpost 4."

"But what about the Stromlings?" Fuchs asked.

"I can deal with the Stromlings. They are nothing. I want to go on the mission to the Maelstrom Temple. If the Elite Agents take Zach's threat seriously, they will be getting ready to leave at any moment. Heck, they might have already left."

"You failed to notice that we have no gas," Fuchs stated.

Minerva shrugged. "I'll walk." She turned and grabbed the Injection Saw and hopped out of the vehicle.

"Hey!" Fuchs yelled out to her leaving back. "What are you doing with the saw?"

"I need this."

"What about synthesizing the cure?"

Minerva was trying to control her anger. She really hadn't wanted to be dragged away from the outpost when the word of Stromling broke out, but here she was.

"I'm going to save him," she finally said.

"'Him'?" Fuchs looked confused. Then he realized: "Zach? You want to save that crazy Stromling?!"

"Yes," Minerva said, turning around and staring hard at Fuchs. "J.D. gave me this to save him. That is the only reason why I have it. I have to save him. I need to save him."

"But why?" Fuchs asked.

"Because I-" She paused. She tried to find a word to describe her feelings, but she couldn't think of anything. "I just - I..." She could feel her face turning red. She imagined Fuchs has probably figured out the reason. She turned and started running into the jungle, following the Fire Hammer tracks back to the outpost. 

Fuchs initially watched as Minerva ran off into the trees. "Minerva!" he finally called. She turned around for a moment. "This thing should come provisioned." He looked inside the back quickly, pulled out a rifle, and tossed it to her before getting one himself and walking toward her.

"Listen," Fuchs said. "I was never much good with one of these, and I'm not much good in combat, but if you're going up against Zach, you're going to need all the help you can get. Besides, if you are able to cure Zach, I'd like to observe the process. It might help with my research. I also don't want to just sit around out here on my own."

"Look," Minerva said, rejecting the rifle. "I don't want to kill him."

"I understand," replied Fuchs. "There are, however, multiple Stromlings, and only enough of the cure for one. You may want to cure Zach, but you might also have to defend yourself against the others. We also have no guarantee that it will work, and what do we do if it doesn't?"

*****

Rotor and Cabin were surprised when a panting Garry stumbled into the planning room accompanied by a large group of others. Rotor in particular seemed unnerved when he saw Tom and Strangebrick enter the room. The two of them seemed to show similar concerns.

"Alright," Garry said. "We got to act fast, we don't have much time."

"We should get the other elite agents in here," Cabin said.

"Right," said Garry. "What's your name again?"

"Cabin."

"Cabin, yes. Get a gun quickly, see if you can find Rex."

Cabin stood up, grabbed a rifle and ran outside. 

*****

Zach Virchaus and Cranky returned to the Maelstrom Temple feeling satisfied. I think I got my message across. They will be coming. All around, his rows and rows of Stromlings marched around him in preparation. It is a beautiful day, isn't it? Zach smirked as he heard thunder rumble in the sky.

He glared up at the temple. He soon realized that one person he most anxious to kill was Dust. I imagine he will be happy when he finally reaches his temple. That treacherous punk. Despite his ties with the Dino Attack more or less cut, he couldn't help but loathe Dust for his spectacular betrayal. It would be rather fitting to kill Dust. I saved him when I first got to the island and kill him in the finale. Completes the circle.

"Where have you been?" Ahua's voice cut across his thoughts.

Zach's eyes narrowed. "Giving the Dino Attack Team the final warning to get a move on. They should be on their way here soon enough."

"Good," Ahua said, nodding. "However, we still have XERRD to deal with. They are extremely close."

"I knew we couldn't avoid them forever," Zach said, shrugging. "At least this time you aren't going to send me on the suicide mission to kill them, right?" Zach mentioning the incident caused Ahua's eyes to narrow and he barred his teeth fiercely. "You should be able to overwhelm them with sheer numbers. We have a zillion Stromlings that we can command."

Ahua nodded again. "Cannon fodder at its finest. What do you intend to do during when the Dino Attack Team arrives?"

"I intend to greet them," Zach said. Ahua raised an eyebrow. "Welcome them. They are guests, aren't they?" Zach smiled widely.

Ahua rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he said. "What will you do afterwards?"

"Lead the Stromlings?"

"Wrong!" Ahua snapped. "We and Colonel, provided he even returns, will lead. You will stay in the temple and pick off the agents that manage to slip inside. Understand?"

Zach shrugged. "Fine. What about Cranky?" He gestured to the Stromling Ape behind him.

"He will serve on the battlefield."

Zach thought about it for a moment. "Alright. Anything else?"

"I don't think so."

"Good."

Everything is going according to plan, Ahua thought happily. He certainly hadn't expected Zach to be so compliant to his demands. His sudden obedience will speed things along. Now to wait for the girl... 

*****

Minerva debated the inclusion of Fuchs in the mission her head. She began to regret telling him of her and Andrew's plan.

"I don't know..." she said. "I am already going with someone else."

"You can always use more help, though," Fuchs pointed out.

"I guess..." She honestly didn't want Fuchs to come. She wanted to keep the number of people facing Zach down to a minimum. "Another thing is that the person that is helping me and myself have a... connection to Zach. It allows us to communicate with his Minifigself. To an extent. I'm afraid that if you were to come along, he would disregard our connection and murder you. You say you can't hold yourself well in a fight. Zach will kill you. He has no issue killing medics. J.D. is dead because of him. I just rather keep this below the radar. Kareem Nazareno knows of the plan and whoever my partner told, if any. I just don't want you die in a fight that isn't yours."

Fuchs remained silent for a moment. He wanted to help Minerva, but he could see where she was getting at. He also did not want to stay behind alone in the jungle. Then again, running back to a base potentially filled with Stromlings did not seem appealing either, and especially not the prospect of getting killed. It seemed that every option put him into a difficult situation. Out here was probably the easiest, however.

"I understand," replied Fuchs. "If you're really certain that you're better off without me, I'll stay here. I'd like to help, but I don't know how much I can do for you."

He sighed and was silent for a moment. "Listen," he said. "If you can, try and save some of that. I don't know if you'll have to use it all or not, but even a single drop could make a difference when it comes to the research. This thing probably didn't have that much gas to begin with so it couldn't have gotten too far. I'll just lay low out here for the moment. There's some sandwiches in the back that should keep me going for a little while, and I can always try to work the radio. Maybe I'll get lucky and make contact with a nearby Outpost."

Minerva nodded as Fuchs turned around, and the two started to go their separate ways. He momentarily paused and turned around. "Minerva," he said again. She turned. "Good luck. I hope you can do it. If you can I'll have a lot of questions for you afterwards."

He smiled for a moment before turning back towards the Fire Hammer.

*****

"So what's the plan?" Rotor asked.

"People are running around here like crazy," replied Garry. "We've got a deadline to meet if that announcement was anything to go by. Now we need to assemble multiple groups with different tasks."

"What do you mean?" asked Vinyaya.

"We'll need multiple task forces to head out," explained Garry. "Rotor, Cabin, and the other elites. Mac, you're a good pilot, I'd like you to go with them."

"You sure about this, Garry?" Mac asked, somewhat nervously.

"Yes," replied Garry. "They're going to need all the chopper pilots they can get. There's also going to be a small group that stays behind. That's where I come in. Our job is to find the spies. With everyone else heading out, it should at least buy us some time to locate Norris's whereabouts and figure out if there's anyone else who's been infected. We'll also be monitoring your progress from here."

Then, Garry turned towards Hertz and asked, "You, techie. What's your name again?"

"Hertz."

"Hertz, you can operate a radio, right?"

"Yes."

"Good," said Garry. "I need you and Windows to work together. One of you stays behind, the other heads out. The two of you will be in constant contact with each other, and whoever heads out I want to continually update us on the search. The one who stays behind will also have to transmit this information to the mainland, providing the information to our superiors. Any questions?"

"What's our tactical plan?" Vinyaya asked.

"I'm afraid that's not my field," conceded Garry. "That's up for the rest of you to decide. Whatever it is just decide it quickly."

Holly Vinyaya shrugged. "One thing I'd say we need is establish exactly what we may be dealing with. According to that Stromling, he's got a massive army at his side. Assuming this army is made up of Stromlings and Mutant Dinos, we need to establish a closer estimate of how large this army actually is and where it is stationed. I'd also say we need to get a group of fighters to hold of this army while a small group of infiltrators enter the Maelstrom Temple and do whatever they need to do to defeat the Maelstrom. Alternatively, we can just blow the temple up and leave it at that."

Garry nodded. "That makes sense."

"I recommend we discuss this with SemickFor all intents and purposes, Semick is in charge of this operation," said Vinyaya.

"Yes of course," replied Garry. "If anyone knows where Semick is they should go get him quickly. We're also going to need a bit more time. Maybe we should send a few people out, if only to create the illusion that we're moving. That should in theory allow Zach to give us more time." 

----

"She's trying her best," Pierce finally explained. "It's a difficult experience for her."

"I tried to tell her," Sarah replied. "Occasionally, I've considered joining the team just to protect her."

Pierce laughed before his face turned serious. "You know, there was something really strange that happened on the island. Kate was involved with a mission. That friggin' 4+ Rotor decided to order her to go alone into a toxin-filled fortress-"

"What?" Sarah asked.

"Don't worry," Pierce said. "She's fine, but they later found her frightened and confused, locked in an office. Stranger still she mentioned being brought to a crazy scientist's office and finding a picture of you on his desk."

"A picture of me?" Sarah repeated. "That doesn't make sense, unless... no, it can't be. Oh, this is going to be hard for Kate when she finds out."

"What do you mean?" Pierce asked.

"Did Kate ever tell you about Crazy Uncle Wally who died in a car accident?"

"She might have mentioned him," replied Pierce.

"He's not dead," revealed Sarah. "I just figured we'd never see him again. Poor Kate was only six at the time. I didn't think she'd be able to comprehend the truth. He was actually locked up in a mental institution."

"What'd he do before then?" Pierce asked.

"He loved experiments," Sarah replied. "He did all kinds of scientific studies. Anything that paid the bills, and some things just for fun."

"You mean, Kate is actually related to Dr. Wallace Bishop?" Pierce asked nervously.

Sarah thought about it for a moment and sighed. "Yes," she said. "He's my older brother."

After a moment, Sarah got up and walked over toward one of the other beds, which Pierce saw had the battered and bruised girl he'd seen Garry bring into the helicopter covered by a sheet. He still did not understand why.

Sarah sat down next to her, doing her best to comfort her. "You got a name?" she asked.

For once, the girl spoke. "Jenny," she replied. "Jenny Strangebrick."

"What happened to you?" Sarah asked the young girl lying in the bed.

"Those two men," Jenny replied weakly. "They hit me, and wouldn't stop hitting me. They kept asking me questions."

"It's alright, Jenny," assured Sarah. "Everything's going to be fine." 

----

Nazareno squinted as the crowd of Dino Attack Agents gathered at the front entrance. They all looked trustworthy from a distance, but he knew some of may be Stromlings.

"Anything?" he asked Dr. Cyborg, who had his visor down and was scanning the area intently.

"Everything seems okay," Cyborg responded. "I can't see any Stromlings from here."

"Alright, move to the next area. A few more checks and we should be done. It is looking like Zelda and Norris are the only Stromlings here."

*****

Minerva breathed a sigh of relief as she broke through the jungle vegetation, revealing a large crowd of Dino Attack agents gathered around the front entrance.

I made it, she thought, smiling. And it looks like we are almost ready to go. I better go find Andrew.

*****

Find the girl and bring her here, Ahua hissed to the Maelstrom spy in the Dino Attack Team. Ahua presumed he was the spy that had been with the Dino Attack Team since the attack on the village, since he spoke with some level of intelligence and authority.

It will be done, the Stromling replied simply.

You know what she looks like, correct?

Yes. In fact, I rode on a Fire Hammer with her once upon a time.

Excellent. Capture her and bring her here.

I must ask. Why do we need Fabello?

Trust us. It will help us out in the long run.

Ahua felt doubt radiate from the spy's consciousness. Then: Whatever. I'll bring her. With that, the spy's link disappeared.

Ahua smiled. Zach was coming closer to his end every second... 

----

Dust stood on a wrought iron bridge connecting the upper levels of Outpost 4 to the cliffs and the vehicle lot. The salty ocean air had caused rust to form on the heavy girders and it creaked with every step from the dozens of passing agents, but Dust still felt an unmovable quality from the structure.

Before he had left Outpost 4, he had recovered his black Australian hat from the wreckage and now wore the standard issue utility belt of Dino Attack trooper. Three knifes were clipped to his belt and he hid a fourth in his boot. At his hip was a silver handgun, and on his back was an automatic rifle. A black bandana covered his face, and he carried a satchel over his shoulder.

Opening the bag, he withdrew tightly folded piece of paper. Despite the fact that he knew the qualities of the temple down to the last stone, it was good to have a hard copy of the translated blueprints.

Holding his hat to his head, he crossed the bridge to the crowed vehicle lot. The area went right up to the cliff, and when he leaned against the railings, he was able to see the fleet boats and inflatable hovercrafts departing along the coast.

A T-1 Typhoon lifted off the ground, and Dust had to avert his eyes from the gust of air. The Egyptian held tight to his hat and started walking to the far side of the lot, where he could board an Iron Predator.

Urban Avengers were one-by-one disappearing into the forest, and the rumble of engines filled the air. Dust worked his way up the access ladder of the lead Iron Predator and checked the time. 8 minutes.

"Dust?" The Egyptian looked below and found Minerva looking up at him. "Have you see Andrew?" she asked.

"Not today!" Dust yelled over the noise. "But he's around here somewhere with Laxus!"

Minerva nodded and headed into the lot, followed by Fuchs. Dust did not know whether or not he had missed Semick's briefing but he assumed the assault should be well underway.

He knelt down by the view screens and watched the information come in. A significant amount of Mutant Dinosaur activity was clustered about a mile and a half north of their location. He had no idea how well the temple was fortified, but quite frankly, that was not his concern. The battle was irrelevant; he just wanted inside.

Garry's voice crackled over the radio system. "Urban Avenger wave two launch. Fire Hammers wave one launch." The vehicles departed into the jungle and the next wave moved into position. The Egyptian sat back and smiled. All he had to do now was await Semick's order 

----

Maria looked up from her desk as a large man with a tan-coloured jacket and an old, worn hat stepped into her bar. The man remained quiet. As he sat down in the corner, he took out a harmonica and started to play.

There was a strange tone to the music, like a cry for justice. Then it dawned on her. She could recall something mentioned by her superiors about an agent named Harmonica. They also said she'd know who he was when he entered... because he was literally playing a harmonica. A few of the other men in the bar were getting annoyed as they turned toward him.

"Would you cut out that racket?" Thompson asked. He'd been a bit less scared to come by, now that Angel Eyes was gone. The man ignored him. As Thompson and his two no-good henchmen drew their guns, there was a loud gunshot, and Thompson's hat went flying. They turned to see Maria holding a shotgun with a menacing look on her face.

"Get out of mah bar," Maria said sternly. "If I see you boys 'round here again, I'm gonna blow a hole clean through yer head."

Thompson grumbled as he picked up his hat and walked for the doors. "I can't believe it!" he muttered angrily. "I got my hat shot off by a MegaBlokin' woman."

Hearing this remark, Maria once again shot Thompson's hat clean off before lowering her gun. She smiled and chuckled as she put it down behind the counter. "Some civilized town this is," Maria remarked to herself. "If people keep going on like this, we ain't never goin' to build that railroad."

Finally, she turned toward the mysterious stranger. "Hey, you!" Maria called out. "Why don't you come up here?"

The man lowered his harmonica as he stood up and walked toward the counter. Maria quickly poured him a glass of whiskey. "You got a name?" she asked.

"They just call me Harmonica," the man introduced himself. "You know, you haven't by any chance heard from a man named Angel Eyes, have you?"

"Yes, actually, I have," replied Maria. "He and his partner left for Gold City this morning."

"That's what I thought," said Harmonica.

"You know, you're quite a charming man," Maria said. "How would you like a room?"

"That'd be very nice, thank you," replied Harmonica. At that moment, their attention was drawn by a loud explosion. The patrons all turned around to see the general store across the street was in flames, and a man with a thick grey mustache and a long trenchcoat stepped into the Saloon with a large grin on his face. He sat down at the counter in front of Maria.

"Firecracker," Maria remarked. "Where have you been? We were expecting you two days ago."

"Oh, I ran into Emperor Chang Wu on my way here," replied Firecracker. "I think I got him this time. I set thirty charges under his palace while he was inside."

"You mean you abandoned your mission because you wanted to blow up a dictator?"

"That about sums it up," said Firecracker.

Maria sighed. "You're lucky Rotor isn't out here," she whispered.

----

"I don't know what's taking Cabin so long," Garry said. "Alright, we don't have much time. Mac, Rotor, you two get to the airfield. If you find Cabin, tell her to get out there as well. Hertz, Windows, I need you to hurry up and decide who goes and who stays. Just remember that no matter who does what you'll have to remain in constant contact with each other. Talk about your personal lives if you have to, just keep talking."

"What will that achieve?" Vinyaya asked.

"Aside from one man being able to constantly update us," explained Garry, "if the radio cuts, we'll know much sooner that something is wrong. We're also going to need a couple of people who are good with guns in here. What's your name again?"

"Vinyaya."

"Yes," said Garry. "Someone like you will need to stay behind. I'd like a few people guarding the communications room in case a Stromling gets in and tries to break our communication."

*****

Dr. Cyborg and Nazareno were walking to go to another region of the base camp. Nazareno was looking down, lost in thought, so he had some warning when it happened. A small Maelstrom symbol lit up purple.

"Dr. Cyborg, watch out!" he yelled. Too late. They both fell in when the trapdoor opened. As he fell, he saw some minifigs watching, so they knew where to not step.

They looked down and saw where they were headed. They were falling into a river of Maelstrom.

Dr. Cyborg realized that while his suit offered immunity to Maelstrom, Nazareno was still vulnerable. The Space Ninja would become a Stromling, assuming he wasn't outright destroyed. He landed on his feet, and caught Nazareno before he touched the Maelstrom.

He turned on infrared, and saw one direction was warmer. He believed it led outside. Nazareno was sending a bulletin to all Elite Agents. Cyborg had wirelessly connected to his PDA, so he saw it on the inside of his visor.

Dr. Cyborg and I have fallen into an underground Maelstrom cavern. All the agents in the courtyard saw it. Interview them, and set up a barricade.
We will try to get out.
Nazareno

Nazareno shifted so he was riding piggyback. He groaned as he did, being a foot above Maelstrom didn't help his wound any.

"I thought your wound was better," Dr. Cyborg said.

"It was, but it's infected with Maelstrom. The proximity to all this doesn't do me any favors." Nazareno replied.

"I can fix that. I can remove the Maelstrom from your body," Cyborg replied.

Nazareno thought. He had forgotten Cyborg's extraction abilities. That might work. He groaned in pain. The amount of Maelstrom increased the pulsing in his wound.

"Alright, we can try it," Nazareno said through clenched teeth. "After we get out of here." It was only lucky that Dr. Cyborg was immune to the Maelstrom. Nazareno stared at the Maelstrom below him with extreme distaste. He groaned again.

"Hurry!"

*****

As it turned out, David had no reason to be afraid. He had found his way into a clearing, got a GPS signal, and promptly found his way back. But now, it was the following afternoon. David was eating a late lunch when he looked up and saw the familiar face of Dr. Smith.

"Joseph!" exclaimed David. "I haven't seen you for a bit. Nice to see you again."

"You too," replied Joseph. "I've been here at Outpost 4 since the whole Rotor court martial business. I've been keeping myself busy though, researching samples of Maelstrom energy, would you have it."

"Maelstrom energy?" repeated David. "Sounds interesting, but I hope you've been keeping yourself safe. From what I've heard, it's very dangerous."

"Well, it's mainly because I've been in Section 18G. We deal with research that requires more... care."

David nodded in understanding. "Well, keep me posted." 

*****

Hertz shrugged. He saw Garry had a point, but neither he nor Windows had much experience with field work. An experienced radio operator was essential to coordinating the highly complex battle plans, but it would be dangerous for non-combat personal like him. Hertz still thought the battle would be a bloodbath. He trusted Semick's planning skills and his ability as a commander, but he knew that even the most experience leader should not be able to plan a battle of this magnitude in less than an hour. A lot of agents were going to die, but his assistance was essential to saving lives.

He glanced at Windows. The other radio operator was clearly going through the same conflict as he was. "Windows?" asked Hertz. "You doing this? You're an elite agent, you should at least have some field experience."

Windows frowned. "I have a family back home. We techs are the first to go, you know. I can't leave them." 

"I have Naomi," said Hertz. "But I'll go. Someone needs to do it; I'll just have to put up the best fight I can and do my job." 

Garry nodded. "You better go, Hertz. We'll talk to you at the temple, but until then, you better go and catch a ride. The convoy leaves in one minute. Alright. Windows, get to the radio room. Hertz, you go with Mac and Rotor. Get to the choppers now."

Hertz nodded as he, Rotor and Mac stepped outside. As they went toward the entrance, they were approached by Cabin.

"I can't find Rex anywhere," she said.

"Alright then," replied Mac. "We got to get out, you're coming with us."

Rotor quickly ran out to one of the T-1 Typhoons and climbed into the cockpit, pleasantly surprised to see Lance as the gunner.

Meanwhile, Mac was leading Hertz towards another helicopter. Before climbing into the cockpit, he turned toward him. "Remember what Garry said," Mac told Hertz. "As soon as you get in, you are to put yourself through to Windows and remain in constant touch with him." With that, Mac climbed into the pilot's seat.

Garry stared out the window as the men finished their preparations. "Now, we need a few people to stay here and guard the place. I don't want anyone coming in here and trying to kill Windows. I'd also like to split up the hospital staff. Wade should go with the rest of the attack force while Copper and Crusher stay with us, and I think someone should watch over our two prisoners."

At that moment, Garry was suddenly grabbed from behind and thrown against a wall. He looked up to see Tom menacingly approaching him, He reached down for his gun, only to realize it was gone. Tom held up the revolver for a moment with a grin before throwing Garry a punch in the stomach.

"That's for Jenny!" he called out. Garry grabbed the XERRD technician and threw him against a table. Tom got up and attempted to attack Garry again. "You got no morals, you know that?"

"Listen, Tom," Strangebrick said, "I don't think this is getting us any-"

"Shut up, doc!" Tom snapped. "This is the guy who killed your daughter! Him and that other no-good 4+ Rotor that they just let go!"

"WHAT'S GOING ON?!" Vinyaya shouted.

"You would have done the same to me!" Tom continued again. "ONLY REASON YOU DIDN'T WAS BECAUSE I COULD ACTUALLY TALK TO YOU!"

"Look," said Garry. "Calm dow-"

"I'm not going to calm down until you pay for Jenny's lif-"

"SHE'S NOT DEAD!" Garry shouted angrily.

"Then where is she?" demanded Tom.

"I sent her to Antarctica," replied Garry.

"What is all this about?" Vinyaya asked, sternly.

Garry looked at her and sighed before he sat down. He now had no choice.

"It's Rotor," he said. "Early this morning, a couple XERRD prisoners were brought in: Tom and Jenny, a preteen girl. Rotor insisted they had information, and talked me into helping him get it. His method of 'interrogation' turned out to be to beat the girl senseless until she gave in, which she was too traumatized to do. When I saw her later on, lying there on that bed, I just couldn't take the idea of her facing anymore. I knew Rotor would kill her eventually, and if he found out I'd betrayed him, he'd probably do the same to me. I put her on the medivac chopper to get her as far away from Rotor as possible, and had Copper write up false records of her death to keep Rotor off my back."

Commander Vinyaya glared at Garry fiercely. She was realist, that was sure. As a Space Police officer, she had her share of interrogations, particularly of the aggressive kind. However, she had never heard of a grown man beating a child senseless. And frankly, it sickened her.

"I can't say I'm impressed," Vinyaya said darkly. "Not impressed at all. I don't know exactly what position this 'Jenny' had in XERRD, but if she was a child, she couldn't have known that much."

Garry looked down, clearly ashamed.

"However," she continued. "I have a shred of admiration for you by saving that girl from any more senseless beatings. In the meantime, we need to deal with Rotor. This is the last straw. The trial and now this? He is out of control and clearly has abused his power. He needs to be expelled and sent off this island. Now."

"But without Rotor, our T-1 Typhoon fleets are disorganized and sloppy. He knows how to lead them," Garry retorted.

Vinyaya scowled. "This is the same reason why we let him go the first time!" she sighed. "But you are right. Without him our fleet is nothing. We'll let him go now. Once this war is over, however, I want him arrested. As for you..." Vinyaya's eyes shot toward Tom. "You have every right to be angry, but I would not recommend attacking Garry or any other Dino Attack agent again. You are bound be caught by someone who will not respond as well as Garry or me."

Garry stood up and picked up his gun off the ground before putting it back into its holster. "Listen," he said. "Whatever you do, I told you nothing. If Rotor finds out I betrayed him, he'll probably not only beat me senseless but then take me out back and have me shot for aiding and embedding a prisoner." 

*****

"Ow. My head..." B groaned as he slowly regained consciousness. "You'd think that I cracked it open..."

Knuckles was sitting beside B's cot. "It wasn't that far off, B. You know, you aren't supposed to be fighting directly with the dinos. At least, not like that."

"Yeah, yeah," muttered B. "Where am I...?"

"Outpost 4. Medical area," explained Knuckles. "You were out for way too long. We were about to declare you KIA."

"Well, I'm... not, yet. How have you and the rest of the guys been doing, Kev?" asked B.

"I've been helping out around camp. So has Crooks..." Then Knuckles blinked in surprise. "And did you just call me 'Kev'?"

B rolled his eyes. "That is your name, Kevin. Those codenames never made any sense to me."

"Yeah, and I never liked 'B' either," retorted Kevin.

"That's... different," insisted B. "Where's Rob?"

"He was flown back."

B's eyes widened. "Why? Was something..."

Thankfully, Kevin shook his head and replied, "No. He just wanted to get the squad back together. Find Sam. He should be back, well, hopefully before the attack."

As Fuchs carefully placed Tracer's Creative Spark on a nearby table and turned back to the unconscious Zelda, Hotwire sat down on an empty cot to readjust his prosthetic leg when suddenly his PDA beeped. He pulled it out.

T-1 TYPHOON DESIGNATED 'TALON' SEEN LIFTING OFF FROM AIRFIELD. WE CANNOT RAISE YOU OVER THE COMMS. WHAT IS GOING ON?

"Builder, Kat, what's going on now?" he grumbled. He got up, slipping a few more painkillers into his pockets, and was about to leave when he heard familiar voices from another wing of the infirmary. Curious, he hobbled over, surprised to see another comrade whom he had feared was gone. "B! You don't know how glad I am to see you."

"Hotwire!" exclaimed B. "Ow! Good to see ya! Just... don't speak too loud, okay? Anyway, this is my cousin Kevin, Dino Attack codename Knuckles. I'm not sure if you've met him before."

B gingerly sat up and massaged his scalp. "Wow. Guess we've all been through a lot, huh."

Kevin handed B a helmet, and B carefully put it on. He tried to take a few steps and then stopped, clutching his head with one hand and leaning on the table by his cot for support. "Dizzy spell," he muttered. Kevin helped him back upright, and Hotwire grabbed a bottle of headache suppressant pills and tossed it over. As B gulped one down, Hotwire turned his attention back to his PDA and grumbled in frustration. Every attempt to make contact with Kat was met with failure. He put the device away. There would be time to worry later.

"Come on," he said to B and Kevin. "Semick's supposed to be briefing us all any moment now, and then we'll have to haul tail out of here before Zach turns the place into a smoking crater." The three of them left the medics to their business and walked outside.

*****

Minerva scanned the vehicle lot, hoping to find Andrew or Laxus. She figured it would be best to just stay with Andrew during the search. If Rudo Villano or another informant could lead them to the Maelstrom Temple, the need to split up would be pointless.

She walked past a group of Fire Hammers when a voice called out to her. "Hey, Fabello! Rex wants to see you!" Minerva raised an eyebrow and looked around in confusion. "Come on!" the voice called out again. Minerva shrugged and tried to follow the voice. She walked in front of the Fire Hammer when she felt a hand grab her neck and pull her between two Fire Hammers.

Again?! She was sick of being taken captives by bad guys. She was about to just swing a punch at her captive when she felt a sharp jab of pain against her spine. She collapsed, allowing the attacker to beat her repeated in the stomach and face. Minerva tried to fight back, but the attacker overpowered any attempt.

When he finally stopped his brutal attack, her body was bruised and swollen. Her eyes fluttered several times to see a blurry Dino Attack agent staring down at her, grinning viciously.

"Sorry, Fabello," the minifig said. "But you have obviously made yourself a threat to our cause if Ahua wants you at the temple." Minerva was extremely disorientated, but she felt like she could recognize the name Ahua. Her vision began to improve, allowing her to pick out individual details on the Minifig's face.

The agent had long, wavy, blond hair that drooped over his left eye. He had a face that could have belonged to a child. He had three freckles on each cheek. His eyes were an icy blue color that stared intently at Minerva.

"I know you..." she muttered.

The Minifig grinned and punched her in the face again. "I know you know me," the agent hissed. "Ahua was rather happy that I knew what his target looked like."

She squinted, then gasped in realization. "Ghost?!"

"Spot on," Ghost said, slamming his foot into Minerva's stomach.

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam
Shifted around some dialogue.

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 42: Launch

----

Fuchs took a large bite out of a sandwich as he sat in the driver's seat, thinking. There was not much else to do besides try to work the radio, which he attempted once or twice before without success. At this moment, he started to think of what led him here, the cure to the Maelstrom, and then he remembered the Creative Spark and began to wonder.

She said J.D. took his own Creative Spark and used it in the formula, Fuchs thought to himself. I wonder if... no it can't be. Can it? If the Creative Spark is part of a minifig's consciousness, does that mean part of its original owner ends up in the patient? Perhaps his memories?

At that moment, Fuchs suddenly had a realization of how he could potentially get that cure. If Zach was cured, perhaps he'd have access to J.D.'s memories. Could that mean that he'd be able to recall the Maelstrom formula? Maybe he can tell me how to make it.

"Minerva, I hope you cure him," Fuchs muttered as he sat back.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of a twig snapping. He got outside, picked up a rifle and looked around, but there was nobody there. He walked back toward the cab and opened the door to see a familiar face.

"Hello, Norris," Fuchs said. "It's been a while."

"Indeed, it has," replied Norris. His eyes started to glow red. Fuchs already knew what was going on. He quickly raised his rifle and fired one round after another. He knew this would not be enough to stop Norris, but it would at least slow him down. He quickly closed the door.

Norris had found him. He knew now that being out here was no safer than at the base, only there would be other people who could provide protection. Quickly thinking, he looked in the back, found a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse, and tossed it inside before he began running back through the forest, following the tracks. There was a loud noise in the distance as the vehicle exploded.

*****

The outside of the outpost was getting crowded fast. Agents were gathering with nervousness and anxiety, and with good reason. Time was of the essence, and Semick would have to get out his message soon so they could head out to the temple.

Andrew and Laxus were waiting out in their Fire Hammer near the end of where a lot of them had been parked, close to the gathering crowd. They were both feeling the restlessness many of the agents were feeling.

"I know Semick knows how to plan a plan, but he's just making me nervous," said Laxus.

"Yeah," said Andrew. His thoughts were on the battle ahead, and partially involved in mentally preparing himself for what lay ahead: having to intervene directly with the apparently ringleader of their main opposing force.

That train of thought soon brought him back to Minerva, his ally for this task. Andrew hadn't seen her in a day since she went out on patrol, and he wondered where she was right now. He hoped she would be able to make it to the battle in time.

His body started to shake from the shivers his anxiousness was causing. He wasn't doing quite good sitting here in the cab of the Fire Hammer. He needed a moment, or at least some space to pace or something.

"I'm going for a quick walk," he said as he opened his Fire Hammer door. "I won't be long or go far, but yell for me if Semick starts up."

"Got it, watch yourself."

Andrew walked towards the rear of his vehicle, his fingers twitching every which way. Trying to calm himself, he took several deep breaths, and tried to focus on a pleasant-sounding tune to calm himself. Though try as he might to concentrate on the orchestral soundtrack he recalled from a favorite video game, he couldn't get it to overcome the noises in the area. The noises of the rumbling idle engines, the march of agents' boots, the buzz of minifig mumbling, the sounds of punches being dealt, the occasional cry from the few remaining animals in-

Wait, punches?

Andrew froze. That had sounded like somebody punching something soft and well-built like a Minifig. And because this definitely wasn't a boxing ring or gym, that couldn't be a good sign. He reached inside his uniform vest and pulled out a standard bullet-fed pistol, one of the new requirements of standard agent outfitting Semick introduced after the camp ambush.

Readying a good grip, Andrew began to advance in the direction of where he could hear the fighting noises coming from. He was directed several rows into the Fire Hammer lot, eventually reaching a point where he began to hear it just around the current Fire Hammer he was standing beside. He then slowly advanced around the back of it, and stopped just before reaching the other side, peeking over to see what was going on.

It was Minerva. He could see her face, unhelmeted and bruised, but still recognizable. She was on the ground at the mercy of an agent with long blond hair that Andrew felt like he should recognize, but didn't really from his personal experience.

Andrew quickly thought of a best choice of action. There was no time to find help just now, and while he had a gun, he still didn't know why this attacker was attacking. The guy might have reason, but to be rational, this was no time to be fighting amongst themselves. There was only one option.

Andrew walked into view, gun pointed at the attacker, and yelled: "STOP RIGHT THERE, MISTER!" The agent looked up, letting Andrew see that he had a young face, but was looking at him with a stare that could've made Medusa tranquil. It was right there that the LEGO Islander began to suspect exactly what this agent might be.

As he began to edge closer to the two, the attacker's eyes glowed a bright, fearsome, and familiar red. That was all the motivation Andrew needed. He fired three shots, his newness to firing standard firearms resulting in quite a bit of recoil force resonating through his arms. It made them sore, but the agent didn't dare let that stop him.

The shots hit the attack two times in the chest, and one in the upper left leg. He fell, but Andrew had reason to believe that wouldn't stop him for long. He ran to Minerva's side, his gun still aimed at the attacker as he tried to check up on his ally.

"Minerva, you conscious?" he stammered out as he tried to keep eyes both on her and her assailant. She moved slowly, her physical state clearly not being the best at the moment. But she did manage to form a few words.

"Andrew... oh thank gosh," she muttered. "I'm hurt, badly, but... I think I can get better in time for..."

"We'll focus on that in a moment," said Andrew, trying to get his left arm around her chest so perhaps he could drag her away to relative safety. "We need to get this guy a good distance from you. And I don't think that's going to be easy. You have another gun on ya?" 

*****

It was not long before Fuchs started to see Outpost 4 in the distance. He was surprised to see numerous people assembled outside, looking like they were heading out. He quickly ran towards them.

"Alright boys," Rotor said over the radio. "I think we're ready to kick some Stromling butt. When we get out there, we're going to be doin' one thing and one thing only: killin' Stromlings."

Rotor was already starting up the engines. "Cabin, Mac, you two ready?"

"Agent Cabin standing by. Over."

"Agent Mac, standing by. Over."

"Alright," said Rotor keenly. "Let's get moving."

As Fuchs got closer, he soon found himself pushing his way through the large crowd of people. "Excuse me," he said quietly as he tried to get through, along the way passing by Barry Jackson and Teri.

"You ready for this... Scope?" Jackson asked.

Teri smiled. "As always," she replied, wrapping her hand around the strap of her sniper rifle. "It'll be just like old times."

*****

Hotwire hobbled out of the outpost, the vials containing Tracer's Creative Spark tucked securely into his inside vest pocket. The curved metal of his prosthetic leg gave enough cushioning for him to walk fairly smoothly, so he only needed the crutch for balance.

Eventually, he thought, I may not even need that. Still, it felt stiff and awkward. Hotwire wondered how much he would regret his actions in time -- perhaps it would have been possible to prevent infection by means other than blowing his own leg off. But he forced that thought back down. Gotta focus on the present. Gotta find those medics who wanted more antidote.

However, his search was cut off when he heard a confrontation from amongst the parked Fire Hammers. He moved as quietly as he could towards the disturbance. Peeking around one of the trucks, he saw Minerva lying on the ground and, standing over her, two other agents -- Andrew, and another with long wavy blond hair. Andrew suddenly fired three shots from a pistol, and the blond-haired agent fell down. Andrew quickly moved to tend to Minerva.

"More Stromling spies, then?" Hotwire said. Andrew nodded.

*****

 

Garry was shocked when Fuchs suddenly burst into the recreational room, panting exhaustively. "What're you doing back here?" Garry asked.

"It's Norris," replied Fuchs. "He found me. I think I killed him, or at least lost him. Does anyone know if dynamite can kill Stromlings?"

"I'm not sure," said Garry. "If he comes back, we'll find out."

"I don't know if anywhere is safe anymore," Fuchs continued. "Maybe you should just get me a chopper out of here. If Stromlings get in and they know I'm trying to figure out this cure-"

"We'll do everything in our power to stop them," assured Garry. "From now on, you're to remain with me or Vinyaya at all times. Getting you out would be our best option but we can't spare a T-1 at the moment."

"You alright, Garry?" Fuchs suddenly asked. "You look like you just got into a fight."

"I'd prefer not to talk about it," Garry replied.

----

"So this is it, huh?" Clint remarked as he stared at the wonder before him. "Fort Legoredo. The perfect hiding spot."

"Indeed, it is," replied Spy. "Zhat building is crawling with Mutant Lizard Hybrids. Zhe walls are lined with sentry guns."

"I wouldn't mind getting a closer look," said Clint. "You're good at infiltration, aren't you?"

"Of course," said Spy.

"I need you to sneak in there, see if you can find any weaknesses at all. Anything that could help."

----

Minerva was in too much pain to say much, but she was extremely thankful for Hotwire and Andrew's intervention. She slowly pulled a small handgun from her holster and pointed it at Ghost, shaking slightly. The no-doubt Stromling Agent remained on the ground, silent.

"I've got a gun," she said weakly. She felt sick and could barely feel her legs. "Maybe you two-" she stopped as she noticed Hotwire had a curved prosthetic leg and was using a crutch to walk. "Oh. Never mind."

"He's getting up," Hotwire noted.

Ghost was back on his feet, growling. "What a fascinating feeling," he said with a bit of wonder in his voice. "Being shot." Minerva shuddered as she imagined Zach saying the exact same sentence, replacing the sound of wonder with the sound of a psychotic madman who acted like getting shot was nothing.

Ghost shed away his Minifig disguise and charged at the group of agents. Minerva and Andrew fired repeatedly at him, but he ignored the bullets and slammed his shoulder into Hotwire, throwing the Elite Agent to the ground. Ghost then quickly turned and punched Andrew in the face, knocking him down. Minerva felt Andrew lose his grip on her, causing her to slide on to the floor. Ghost grabbed Minerva's collar and pulled her up to eye level.

"You are coming with me," he hissed. He turned to Andrew and Hotwire, where the former was helping the latter get back on his feet. "You two stay back. She's the only one I want."

"How long have you been a Stromling, huh?" Minerva asked weakly, not trying to veil the anger in her voice. "How long have you been telling them what we are doing?"

Ghost laughed. "A long time. Right before the battle in the village. I was very careful about my job as a spy. Not to be arrogant, but I must argue I am a fantastic spy. I fought for the Dino Attack Team like any other loyal soldier. The village, the fortress, and the camp. I aided my enemies in fighting my enemies. Rather ironic, wouldn't you think? In fact, I'm ninety-nine percent positive that I have killed fellow Stromlings hidden with XERRD. That is how good of a spy I am."

"You are pile of trash," Minerva shot back angrily. "You are scum and you don't deserve to live." Mustering all the saliva she could, she spat in Ghost's face. He made a sound of disgust and shoved Minerva away. She stumbled, but managed to stay on her feet, despite her legs feeling on the verge of collapsing. Andrew and Hotwire stood beside her, weapons drawn.

Ghost wiped the spit from his face and scowled. "You are very lucky Ahua wants you alive. However, a good beating ought to remind you to respect your superiors." He smirked. "In fact, after I am through with you, you'll want to be like your two friends will be in a moment: dead." Ghost chuckled as he began to move closer to the three agents.

*****

The outpost was mobilizing. Kara was trying to modify the UlTech Dropship to have a more powerful engine, allowing it to carry more weight, and therefore more equipment and men. It was resisting her efforts.

"RAGE!" she yelled, as it still wouldn't calibrate. She had to get it working, however. The elite agents had asked her to carry some men and supplies back and forth in it.

After a lot of banging, "RAGE!"ing and general madness, the dropship was ready to go. It could now carry more weight, therefore more troops, vehicles, and supplies. Kara's contribution to the attack was ready. 

*****

Andrew's mind raced. He had backup now, albeit his current helper had recently joined the ranks of "senior agent with experience-showing handicap," and they had what were arguably weapons a bit more powerful than the average laser blaster, but considering Stromlings had shown to be rather swift at overcoming both obstacles. It would have to come down to wits.

And for Andrew, wits often involved thinking, thinking often involved planning, and planning often involved mapping out a construction project. His eyes flashed to his surroundings. Fire Hammers to his left and right. And while they were built to last, any LEGO construct usually had weak spots or ways to pry them apart with ease. He focused on a front door on the vehicle to his right. It was ever so slightly ajar; likely left open by an agent haphazardly departing it for whatever reason involving the outpost. His eyes narrowed.

"Get Minerva to an open vehicle," Andrew muttered to Hotwire. "I'll delay him, then you can use the cannon or something to hold him off."

"What are you gonna do?" Hotwire muttered back.

"Unspoken plan guarantee!" Andrew quickly uttered as he suddenly ran past Minerva and towards the Stromling, throwing his pistol at him. The gun caught him by surprise and hit him square in the head, not knocking him down but stopping him briefly in his tracks.

It gave Andrew the moment he needed. He reached the ajar Fire Hammer door, grabbed the bottom side, and pulled up on it. The about 1-stud thick door popped out of its hinges and into the agent's arms like how one would hold a baby. Rearranging his grip to both sides of the door, Andrew turns towards the Stromling, who was now charging towards him.

The LEGO Islander shoved the door at the Stromling, who managed to get his arms on it and tried to force it back onto him. Andrew applied equal force and the two were locked in a push-of-war fight.

The Stromling was proving to be the stronger one, though as Andrew felt the door getting closer to his face. Thinking quickly, he glanced down at his feet, then decided to thrust his left foot towards where he presumed the Stromling's legs were. He made contact and managed to trip his adversary, the sudden release in force resulting in the door falling over him and Andrew nearly stumbling over it.

Regaining his balance, Andrew looked back towards Minerva and Hotwire. The scuffle had lasted all of about twenty seconds, and the two had just managed to reach the next two Fire Hammers in the row.

Looking forward, the Stromling was pushing aside the door and glaring at him with an intense fury. In response, Andrew kicked hard at the door and forced it back over its chest. Then he turned tail and ran towards his allies, stopping briefly to pull the seat out of the doorless Fire Hammer in case the Stromling caught up.

Hotwire helped Minerva into the nearest Fire Hammer, then pulled himself into the cab after her. He had the weapon systems warming up by the time Andrew reached them a few seconds later.

*****

"Hang on, Fuchs," said Garry. "Do you still have that formula?"

"No," replied Fuchs. "Minerva took it and ran."

"I see," said Garry.

"There is still Zelda," Vinyaya suddenly remarked.

"That's true," noted Garry. "We caught a live Stromling and managed to hold her. Fuchs, I think we got your first specimen."

"Is that true?" asked Fuchs.

Vinyaya nodded.

"I'll have to perform a vivisection," said Fuchs. "If we kill her, the Maelstrom will just leave her body and we will have accomplished nothing, meaning that if we are to do this, I'm going to need someone standing guard at all times."

*****

Minerva smiled at Andrew's so-far success. I'm definitely glad he will be with me when we go after Zach. He's pretty good at thinking on his toes. Andrew reached the Fire Hammer she and Hotwire were hiding in, clutching a chair from the Fire Hammer he was at.

"How are the weapons doing?" Andrew asked as Ghost started running toward them, clearly furious.

"They are warming up," Hotwire noted. "Can you hold him off for a few more minutes?"

Andrew sighed. "I think SO!" He yelled the last word as turned and blocked Ghost with the chair.

Ghost laughed deeply. "Not this time, Andrew," Ghost hissed. His feet began to emit black, evil smoke. Without any warning, the chair burst into purple-and-black flames. Andrew jumped back in shock. Ghost laughed as he climbed over the burning chair and grabbed Andrew's neck.

"Goodbye," Ghost said simply. He squeezed Andrew's neck, causing his eyes to bulge out as he tried to breathe, but was ultimately failing. Minerva tried to point her weapon at Ghost, but the Stromling carefully positioned Andrew in front of him.

I hate this Stromlings and their whole 'Minifig shield' thing, she thought angrily. "How much longer?" she whispered to Hotwire.

"One more minute."

Minerva nodded and quietly slid out a crowbar from the Fire Hammer dashboard. She slid out of the floor on to the ground and quietly walked around the group. She winced with every step thanks to Ghost's beating. With careful sneaking, she ended up behind Ghost. She tapped Ghost's shoulder.

"What-?" he turned to Minerva, scowling.

"BAH!" Minerva shouted. Ghost flinched and stepped back, loosening her grip on Andrew's neck. He wrestled himself free and gasped as he was allowed to breathe again. Before Ghost could regain his composure, Minerva swung the crowbar into Ghost's stomach. He groaned as he stumbled and fell to the ground. Minerva stood over him and swung the crowbar into his chest seven more times. She winced as he heard his ribs crack and break.

After the last hit, Minerva stepped back, letting the crowbar fall from her shaking hands. She stared at Ghost's ruined form, a knot forming in her stomach.

"Is he dead?" Andrew asked, walking up to Minerva, rubbing his neck. Ghost's head suddenly twitched and he began to sit up.

"Are you kidding me?!" Minerva exclaimed as Ghost got back on his feet.

"GET OUT OF THE WAY!" Hotwire screamed, aiming the Fire Hammer's turret at Ghost. Andrew and Minerva dived out of the way as the turret opened fire, consuming Ghost in a fiery green orb. Hotwire fired the gun repeatedly for thirty seconds. Minerva squinted as one blast after another hit Ghost.

The turret stopped firing. Minerva and Andrew allowed the smoke to clear before approaching ground zero. And what they found was...nothing. Nothing but a black scorch mark on the ground.

"Where is he?" Hotwire asked as he climbed out of the Fire Hammer. Minerva shrugged, but Andrew pointed at another Fire Hammer. Minerva squinted, but she could see it clearly: a charred black skull near one of the tires. A careful scan of the area showed a broken torso wearing a Dino Attack uniform on top of a Fire Hammer's hood.

"Ah," Hotwire said. 

*****

Fuchs watched as Vinyaya brought out the chained and handcuffed Stromling Zelda.

"As far as I know, this is the first time we've ever caught one," Garry said. "Now, Zelda, let's get you to the lab."

"Are you sure about this?" Fuchs asked. "I am, after all, about to cut open a living thing."

"What's the matter, Fuchs?" Garry said. "You never performed an autopsy before?"

"Not on a patient who was still alive," replied Fuchs.

"Well this one isn't even a human being," declared Garry. "She's a being of evil, and you said it yourself: if we kill her, the Maelstrom will leave her body, and all we will have done is killed another minifig."

"Alright," grumbled Fuchs. "Get her to the lab, but I want you taking maximum precautions to make sure she doesn't try to kill me."

"Understandable" replied Garry. "Let's get to work."

*****

Dr. Cyborg was walking as fast as he could. It wasn't easy to do with someone sitting on his shoulders. He stopped.

"What's wrong?" Nazareno asked.

"The tunnel. It forks. I'm trying to see where to go." He activated his infrared scanner. One fork was as cold as the ambient temperature in caves. The other was a different story. The heat of summer was drifting through it. "That way," Cyborg said, pointing right.

"Hurry," Nazareno requested. 

As Dr. Cyborg and Nazareno rounded a bend in the tunnel, they saw a ledge with no Maelstrom covering it. Dr. Cyborg brought Nazareno to it, and let him down.

"I have a feeling there is a door here," Dr. Cyborg said. He felt, found a depression in the wall, and pushed it. A door opened, allowing them to access stairs leading upward. They walked up them, opened a trapdoor at the top and came out about half a mile from Outpost 4.

"Thank you," Nazareno said. He turned and walked toward the camp. Dr. Cyborg turned, went down the steps, and continued exploring. He had a hunch where it would come out.

Nazareno walked into the camp. He was feeling better every minute, getting away from the Maelstrom. Everybody was gearing up for an attack. He saw someone working on an airship of a foreign design to him, and went over to help.

Kara was almost done, when Nazareno and offered help. She thanked him, and asked him to get in the cockpit and tell her what a certain dial said. She was running a few last-minute tests. She could tell the attack was almost here. She could barely wait. 

----

Gaining access to the lab was easy. "What's the password?" a man asked from behind the door.

Sauro-Hunter shrugged. "Uhhhhh…" He thought for a moment. "Password?"

The door clicked open, and the four barreled into the room, plowing over whoever was behind the door. The laboratory was exactly how Tex had pictured it: clean and spotless.

Several Dino Attack scientists glared at them. "Who authorized this?" one exclaimed.

Sauro-Hunter took a threatening step forward. "You did," he rumbled, "when you took our friends." The blade slid from his wrist with a SHNK! The scientists stepped backwards. "We'll be taking them now."

"Those scalies?" one challenged. There was a series of growls and hisses from nearby cages.

"Saurians," Ptero corrected harshly. "The unique ones. A Raptor, a Pteranodon, a Hybrid, and a T-Rex."

The scientists moved aside as the four agents drew closer. "We're better allies than enemies, docs," said Sauro-Hunter. He leaned closer. "Be a pal, and release the four we've mentioned."

The scientists moved quickly, and Tex, Freefall, Eno, and Shade were freed. Tex nuzzled Sauro-Hunter's stomach, humming loudly. 

----

"I think that's everything," Kara said. "The ship should be ready for the upcoming battle. Thanks... uh...."

"Kareem Nazareno," Nazareno responded, bowing slightly as he jumped out of the dropship. "Nazareno will do. You are welcome. Now, if you will excuse me..." He started walking toward the outpost.

He was certainly grateful to be out of the tunnel. As fascinating as it was, he could feel the high concentration of Maelstrom in the area snapping at his very being, attempted to wrestle control of his mind away from him.

It is definitely time to see the infirmary. Nazareno decided. He entered the outpost and quickly found the medical wing. He pushed open a door and saw two minifigs strapping Zelda the Stromling Agent to a table. Another minifig stood nearby, holding a syringe that no doubt carried some sort of sedative. Watching this happen was none other than Commander Vinyaya.

"Good day, Commander," Nazareno said as he walked up to the Space Police officer.

"Hello, Nazareno," Vinyaya said, clearly not paying her fullest attention.

"What is going on here?"

"Oh, they are about to dive into the similar-yet-alien anatomy of a Stromling." Again, Vinyaya seemed distant.

"Something wrong?" Nazareno asked.

"No..." she said, drifting off. "I just don't really want to stay here and 'keep guard' while everyone else goes to the Maelstrom Temple."

"I don't really want to be here either," Nazareno said. "Circumstances have forced me here."

Vinyaya turned to Nazareno, confused. "What circumstances?" Nazareno rolled his eyes and quickly revealed his Maelstrom-infected wound to the Commander. Her eyes widened, but she remained silent.

"Zachary Virchaus caused this back in the XERRD fortress," Nazareno explained.

Vinyaya scowled. "Him," she muttered venomously. "I want him dead more than anything right now. Especially since he seems to be leading the Maelstrom."

"I wouldn't say that," Nazareno replied. "Does he hold a high spot in the Maelstrom totem pole? I'd say yes. Leading the Maelstrom? Sounds a bit more skeptical."

Nazareno wanted to keep Zach alive simply because Minerva wanted him alive. I must admire her obvious infatuation with him. It is driving her to risk her own life to save his. Minerva had confided to Nazareno secretly about a plan she and Elite Agent Andrew had about going into the Maelstrom Temple and saving Zach from the Maelstrom. He knew it was in Andrew and Minerva's best interests that he didn't tell Vinyaya about their personal mission. Rather idealistic. I can only hope that they manage to succeed.

"However," Nazareno continued "Taking him out one way or another will surely cripple the Maelstrom. At least I hope."

"Yeah," Vinyaya drifted off again.

"Hey, why don't you go to the temple, and I stay here and guard them?"

Vinyaya raised her eyebrow. "What about your injury?" she asked, pointing to his stomach.

"It only hurts when I'm in close proximity of the Maelstrom or its servants. It actually could serve me rather well."

Vinyaya was considering his offer. Finally, she smiled and shook his hand quickly. "Thank Builder!" she muttered appreciatively. She turned to leave, but quickly looked back. "You'll be fine?"

Nazareno rolled his eyes, but smiled slightly underneath his mask. "I'll be fine, just go."

Vinyaya flashed him another smile and left the room.

"Now that you've just relieved Vinyaya of her duties, what's your name?" Fuchs asked.

"Kareem Nazareno." Fuchs was tempted to question the strange armored ninja's mask, but felt that it was in his better interest not to.

"Alright," replied Fuchs as he started slip on a pair of safety gloves. "My name's Fuchs, by the way. Anyway, Nazareno, Garry, I'm about to perform a vivisection on a living Stromling. For the moment, we have her tied down, but if she in any way starts to break free, I want you to kill her quickly. Hopefully, that will not happen, as any discoveries here could be vital to future research." He turned toward Crusher, who looked up from her paperwork. "I'd like you to observe and take notes."

Crusher stood up, picked up a clip board, and walked toward Fuchs. With that done, he proceeded to pick up a scalpel, and began the complex autopsy...

*****

Interesting, Zach thought. Most interesting. He had been dipping into Maelstrom spy Ghost's mind to see what he had learned. The most he had learned was that the Dino Attack was gathering outside of the outpost, apparently preparing to leave. What was most interesting was not really information at all.

When Zach had touched Ghost's mind, he saw himself (through Ghost's eyes) viciously beating Minerva Fabello. He winced with every punch and fought a battle inside his own head between Minifig!Zach and Stromling!Zach on how to react before Stromling!Zach won out.

Then Andrew and Hotwire, with the latter using a prosthetic leg, intervened and fought off Ghost. He had smiled wickedly when Ghost was strangling Andrew and smiled even wider when Minerva pummeled Ghost with a crowbar. The connection was ended as bright flashes of green took over his vision.

Ghost is dead. No doubt. The Dino Attack had weeded out the remaining spies, as far as he knew. They still have Zelda. Zach noted. She would probably be reduced to a science experiment by the doctors of the Dino Attack Team. Oh well.

Zach reached out to Colonel again. Colonel! Zach snapped impatiently.

Yes, sir?

I'm giving up on that Imagination Temple you are stationed. It is becoming less and less likely the Dino Attack will visit it.

What do you want me to do, sir?

Meet me halfway to this temple. Bring your army. We are the Dino Attack's welcoming party.

A pause. Yes, sir. It will be done.

Good, Colonel. Dismissed. He severed the connection and gestured for Cranky to join him. "Come, my friend!" Zach said giddily. "Let's go meet Colonel and wait for the Dino Attack to arrive."

----

The sounds of battle were much louder now. Part of that was because Tex and the others were rampaging their way out of the base, but the other half, Sauro-Hunter couldn't believe. Hybrids and DINO Attack agents fought viciously. The Hybrids were gaining more ground by the second.

"They're getting slaughtered out there!" Aravis pointed out.

Sauro-Hunter paused long enough to watch the battle rage for several seconds.

"At the moment," he replied bluntly, "it's not our problem. It'll be our problem if they find us empty-handed."

"What are you suggesting?" a voice replied. They turned to see none other than Claymore approaching.

"We hit the armory," Sauro-Hunter said. "We take what weapons we need, then we get out of here. Preferably with survivors."

The armory was nearly depleted of weaponry. Disassembled Cosmotronic Ray emitters littered a work bench. Sauro-Hunter grabbed a more compact, rifle-looking Sonic Screamer with an undermounted bayonet.

Ptero hefted a Cosmotronic Ray emitter. "I don't know who Ray is," he said, "but his gun is rip!"

Sauro-Hunter armed himself with flash-bang grenades, a combat knife, and several incendiary grenades. Aravis approached him, and put a hand on his shoulder. "You're acting... different," she noted. She held a scythe in one hand and had a Sonic Scream slung over her shoulder.

"You know why," replied Sauro-Hunter. "We helped these people, and they burned us. They put us up as traitors to the cause. I've seen too many good men and women die in this war to not know what we're fighting for." He sighed. "I'm not a traitor. All I want is peace. I don't want either side annihilated. Years from now, the earth beneath our feet will still be stained red. Because of the MegaBlok'd war!"

He slammed his fist into the wall, leaving a sizable dent. "This war... it has to end. Or there will be no home left for either side. I'm going to stop it, even if I have to cut Dr. Rex's heart out myself, so help me, Builders."

----

Hotwire, Minerva, and Andrew all breathed a sigh of relief. Then Hotwire noticed the Injection Saw hanging from Minerva's belt.

"Is that..." He gestured towards the odd weapon. "Is that the Maelstrom antidote?" Minerva nodded, and grasped the handle of the Injection Saw defensively. Hotwire continued, "While I was in the infirmary, I overheard them talking about trying to synthesize more. Do you know anything about that?"

"There was someone," Minerva said. "A medic named Fuchs. He wanted to take this sample and reverse engineer it. But..." She and Andrew exchanged a glance. "We need it for... a strategy."

But Hotwire had stopped paying attention to the Injection Saw at this point. "Fuchs... got it," he said. "Thanks very much. I need a word with a medic." He spun and hurried back towards the outpost building, tripping a few times on his way to the infirmary.

By the time he reached his destination, his prosthetic had twisted slightly and the stump of his left leg was burning in pain. As he walked in, he grabbed another painkiller and stabbed it into his thigh. It was then he noticed that Nazareno and Dr. Crusher were standing by the restrained form of Zelda as a minifig he had never seen before was picking up a scalpel. "Excuse me," Hotwire exclaimed. "Are you Fuchs?"

The unfamiliar man nodded. "I'm rather occupied at the moment, though. If you could--"

"It can wait a minute," Hotwire interjected. He reached into his vest and drew out the vials containing the Creative Spark of the late agent Tracer. "I'm almost certain you'll be interested in this." 

"What are those?" Fuchs asked.

"It's a Creative Spark," replied Hotwire. "They came from agent Tracer, who was mortally wounded by your um... test subject. He requested that his Creative Spark be extracted."

Fuchs thought about it and smiled. "Excellent," he said. "That's one part covered. Maybe this autopsy will reveal something more. Crusher, why don't you begin the analysis?"

Crusher nodded before she took the samples and sat down at a nearby table.

With that, Fuchs took the scalpel and began to make the first incision. Zelda instinctively fidgeted and grunted as Fuchs began cutting her chest open.

"Well, to start, we have what appears to be a normal set of internal organs," Fuchs said. "Lungs, the heart, and so on, though they are strangely coloured." 

----

Like the armory, the vehicle garage was nearly deserted, save for three transport Iron Predators, a Steel Sprinter, two Urban Avengers, three Fire Hammers, and another vehicle kept under a white sheet.

"What's that?" Sauro-Hunter asked Claymore.

Claymore grinned. "Just a little something I've been working on for a few weeks," he replied, and removed the sheet. "I call it the 'Warthog'."

The Warthog was a sleek, trimmed-down version of a Fire Hammer, with an odd cannon mounted on the back.

Sauro-Hunter removed his helmet and scratched his head. "Why not call it the 'Puma'?" he asked.

"A what?"

"You know, a Puma, like a big cat," he explained. "'Cause it looks sleek, like a Puma."

"What in Sam Hill," exclaimed Claymore, "is a Puma?!"

"I just told you!" Sauro-Hunter facepalmed himself.

"Didn't your mom tell you stop making up pretend animals? If you're going to insist on calling it an imaginary animal, why not 'Bigfoot'? Or the 'Leprechaun'?" He paused and looked at Tex. "Tex, what's that lizard down in Mexico? Eats all the goats?"

Us, sir? she responded.

"No, no!" Claymore shook his head fiercely. "Been around since before you, in the 90's?"

"That would be the Chupacabra," Spino said. He sounded weary of the argument.

"Yeah, call it the 'Chupa-thingy'! I like that. Has a nice ring to it."

"Let's put it to a vote," Sauro-Hunter proposed. "All in favor of 'Puma'?" Four hands went up. "Puma it is! I need two volunteers."

"Shotgun!" exclaimed Claymore.

"Brickit!" swore Aravis, and she climbed into the turret.  "How does the turret operate?" she asked as the Puma sped towards the battle.

"Like any other turret," Claymore replied. "Point and fire. The cannon uses magnetic forces to propel a super-dense carbon-tungsten slug at a target. It can crack a raptor's shields, but it takes two seconds to recharge to fire another shot." He smiled. "But, I mounted a pair of .50 caliber autocannons to make up for that. Best used on aerial targets."

----

Although the mission briefing was imminent, David decided to do some last-minute preparation. He set aside some of his equipment he could use for gathering a small Maelstrom energy sample. Even though the Maelstrom was a powerful, destructive force, while it lasted it could be fascinating to research, and David did not want to miss his chance. His equipment ready, he carefully packed it into a case, which he carried to his Fire Hammer and placed it next to his seat.

The outside of the outpost was packed with agents. David positioned himself at the back of the crowd, and waited... 

*****

This was taking longer than Dr. Cyborg had expected. The tunnel kept winding back and forth. Then it stopped at a Maelstrom waterfall. Dr. Cyborg climbed up the cliff behind it, shielding his eyes at the light. 

----

The Puma sped over the terrain with ease.

"This is GAIA Leader to all D.I.N.O. Attack forces," Sauro-Hunter said over the comms. "Recommend that all forces should retreat. Repeat, all forces should retreat! The base is lost."

A voice sounded over the din. "This is Charlie Foxtrot-1 to GAIA Leader. Colonel Mustang ordered us to hold position until the bomb was armed."

"Bomb?" inquired Aravis.

"Yes, ma'am," CF-1 said. "We're leaving the base for the Hybrids. Of course, the bomb needs to be armed before we leave."

"Acknowledged, Charlie-Foxtrot-1," replied Sauro-Hunter. He swerved the Puma around.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Ptero inquired from the sky.

"Making sure that bomb is ready," Sauro-Hunter stated. "Spino, mind tagging along?"

"Not at all," Spino replied. Shade abruptly stopped, and Spino climbed down to the ground. He leaped on to the side of the Puma and held on, picking off targets when he saw them.

The bomb was placed in the control room. It was huge, as tall as Spino and as long as two minifigs laying down in a line. The science officers seemed frustrated. Spino approached first. "Is there a problem?" he asked.

One scientist smacked the outer frame with a wrench. "The remote detonator won't work!" he growled. "And the Hybrids are closing in quickly."

"Looks like our housewarming gift needs somebody to stick around," Spino murmured. He turned. "I'll stay and set it off when they get in."

Sauro-Hunter and Aravis stood, dumbfounded, their jaws hanging open in shock.

Spino embraced both with his massive arms. "I know what has to be done," he murmured. "Get every survivor as far away from here as possible. Those doors won't hold them forever."

Sauro-Hunter heard Aravis sniffling. The three broke the embrace. Sauro-Hunter saluted, and then shook Spino's hand. "It's been an honor and a privilege fighting beside you," Sauro-Hunter said.

Aravis and Spino hugged one more time. They let go, and she pressed her three middle fingers to her lips, and held them out. "Goodbye," she murmured, "brother."

The scientists had disappeared, and the two Dino Attack agents ran as fast as their feet could carry them.

----

"Are you sure about not seeing a medic?" Andrew asked as he and Minerva started walking to the former's Fire Hammer.

"Yes," she responded confidently. "What are the medics going to do? They are all bruises. I'm not bleeding. I'm not in pain-" She winced as she stepped incorrectly, triggering one of her bruises. "Alright, not in too much pain."

Andrew shrugged. "Fair enough. So, you are coming with me?"

Minerva nodded. "I found this guy who can help us find the one true temple. He used-"

"Rudo Villano?" Andrew injected. Minerva paused and nodded, confused. "Nazareno informed us of him. He is our backup provided Dr. Gonepus doesn't lead us to the right temple."

"Gonepus?"

"XERRD scientist that Rex and Claw found while negotiating our alliance with the dinosaurs. They wanted to release Gonepus in hopes that he will run to the other XERRD scientists on the island. The scientists are thought to be at the Maelstrom Temple, trying to bring it back under their control."

"Oh," Minerva said. She mentally shrugged. She didn't really care that Villano wasn't as useful as she presumed. I did gain us another ally though. "What are we waiting for now?"

"We are waiting for Semick. He will give one last speech and will run down the plan for us. After that, we'll head off."

Minerva nodded. She could feel excitement and anxiety building up in her. After what felt like two years, the Dino Attack was about to complete its main objective and primary reason for going to Adventurers' Island. 

----

They sprinted as fast as they could. The Puma was just ten feet away. We're going to make it! thought Sauro-Hunter.

But that hope was shattered in a heartbeat.

A shot rang out from above, and Aravis collapsed on the ground, a smoking hole in her head.

"NOOO!" bellowed Sauro-Hunter. He drew Aravis's pistol and fired in the direction of her attacker. The Hybrid Sniper caught the round in the forehead and keeled over, dead. Aravis lay unmoving in the dirt, and Sauro-Hunter picked her up. "Claymore, into the turret! Now!"

Claymore complied, giving Aravis a sad look. "She's gone!" he said.

"We have the technology to bring her back!" roared Sauro-Hunter. "We need to get her into stasis as soon as possible!" He put the Puma in gear.

"Where's Spino?" inquired Claymore.

"He stayed behind. The bomb's remote detonator was faulty, so he stayed behind to make sure it blows."

*****

Spino tasted blood in his mouth. The Hybrid in charge, a muscular fire-variety, taller than even him, with intricate armor, had him by the throat.

"Like the rest of your kind," the Hybrid growled. "Weak and undisciplined." He hurled Spino into a wall. "There will be no others to save you this time."

"Look me in the eye and say that!" Spino coughed, spit bloody saliva out of his mouth.

The Hybrid grabbed him by the throat. "As you wish," he rumbled. "My face is the last thing your pathetic eyes will ever see."

Abruptly, Spino unsheathed his combat knife and slammed it into the Hybrid's neck. The Hybrid stumbled back, dropped, and died.

"And for the record," said Spino, "I would have kicked your butt the first time if the others hadn't stopped me!" He reached over as a spear was hurled at him, pressed the ignition button, and knew no more.

*****

The explosion could be seen from miles away. Sauro-Hunter didn't slow, but Claymore stared. "He did it," he murmured. "He finished the job. By the Creators, he did it!"

Sauro-Hunter was silent. Rest in peace, brother, he thought.

At one point, he had been a bright-eyed, idealistic rookie agent. But as the war dragged on, he saw many terrible things that changed him. He'd lost some of his closest friends. One had died, another betrayed him. It was after watching an explosion level a base and wipe out an army of Hybrids that he'd put in a request to change his codename. He'd wanted one that would fit losing his arm and leg, as well as the woman he loved.

It was halfway through his service that Sauro-Hunter's request was granted. From then on, he was known as "Fullmetal".

----

Zelda instinctively winced as Fuchs continued to handle her insides.

"Why is it coloured so strangely?" Garry asked.

"I'm not sure," replied Fuchs. He reached inside and touched another organ, located where the stomach would be. The organ in question glowed a bright purple, much like the other parts of the body.

"Incredible," Fuchs muttered. "From what I can tell here, it appears that Stromlings do not need to eat. It seems that they are somehow able to absorb nutrients from something, probably the Maelstrom itself. Waste products are also recycled into nutrients, eradicating the need for toilets." It was then that Fuchs finally realized something, he looked back at the heart. "Of course," he muttered.

"What is it?" Garry asked.

"The two most vital organs of your body," replied Fuchs. "The brain and the heart. That's where the Maelstrom's influence is based. The brain oversees and controls all of the necessary functions, and is corrupted to become loyal, whilst the heart works at a faster-than normal rate to pump the necessary blood for unusual things which a normal body is not designed for. Suddenly this all make sense. The cure J.D. developed must have been intended to go into a Stromling's bloodstream."

"I'm sorry?" Nazareno asked.

"The respiratory system," explained Fuchs. "The heart pumps blood throughout the body to keep it moving, using oxygen. If something gets into that stream, it travels around as well. Let me put it like this. Imagine you had a wound that was infected and you didn't get your leg amputated. In a matter of time, the infection would spread up through your leg and gradually to the rest of the body. J.D. wanted something he could inject into a Stromling's bloodstream, which would have interfered with the Maelstrom's influence, spread throughout, and ultimately driven it away."

*****

Hertz made his way outside and crossed the lot to one of the few remaining vehicles. There were still a handful of Fire Hammers and most of the Iron Predators were still present at the outpost.

But the Typhoons were Hertz's destination. The T-2 Typhoon, the Renaissance, sat with dignity in the center of the lot. It stood a tail longer than the other Typhoons and its sand-green coloring set it apart.

Minerva, Kuru, and Elite Agent Andrew were standing together by a Fire Hammer. She had a black eye and clearly looked hurt.

Hertz did not know what had happened to her but he had a pretty good idea. "Stromling?"

Andrew nodded. "Remember Ghost?"

The techie nodded. "That blond-haired kid."

"He was another spy," said Minerva. "It's impossible to know who to trust."

"That's why I'm here," said Hertz. "Rotor is leading the attack from his T-1 Typhoon, but the entire operation is being coordinated from the Renaissance. It's well-armed and has top-notch communication equipment. I need a crew to help me."

"Why us?" asked Kuru.

"Because I need a team I can trust," said Hertz, "We can't afford chaos on the command craft."

"Who do you intend to pilot it?" asked Andrew.

Hertz nodded to two men behind him. One had sideburns and the other had a handlebar mustache.

"This is Fate and Lucky," Hertz said with a smile. "They both are great pilots and have had extensive background checks."

Andrew shrugged and glanced at Minerva. "I think me and Minerva have other plans."

Hertz nodded. "I know you're looking for Zachary, but if he's leading the Stromlings, this battle is likely to be where he is. You're have a good vantage point from the sky." Minerva considered for a moment and Hertz smiled. "I'll let you think about it. I need to go calibrate the equipment. Hopefully your join me soon."

Followed by Lucky and Fate, Hertz made his way to the Renaissance. "Let's go. We should have left this place 5 minutes ago."

Kuru looked up at the sky, put his hands in his pockets, and smiled sluggishly as he wondered what to do in the events that were unfolding. He then slowly turned his gaze to look at the vehicles that were in the Outpost. Now to find a way to this Maelstrom Temple, he considered. This is gonna be easy.

Kuru thought intently for a while as he turned his gaze to two discarded Urban Avengers that were partially wrecked. This will have to do.

*****

Ahua frowned. The spy is dead. Killed by the girl and her allies. This would be harder than he thought it would be.

He tapped into Minerva Fabello's mind and completed a quick, silent probe of her state of mind and body.

She has been bruised seriously by the spy. Ahua scowled. Obviously, Ghost should have knocked her out and taken her to the temple, no questions asked. He allowed other Dino Attack agents to intervene, which ultimately lead to his downfall.

What was interesting, however, was something else. Despite her wounds, Minerva Fabello seemed desperate to get to the Maelstrom Temple.

Ahua smiled wide. She wants to find Zach and save him! Even when things had failed, they had managed to work according to his plan.

Lead her to Zach or lead Zach to her. It doesn't matter. We will have success!

*****

"Good day, Colonel," Zach said politely to the other Stromling Agent.

Colonel bowed. "Good day, sir," he muttered respectively. He rose, and waved out his Sonic Screamer hand at the massive group of Stromlings behind him. "I have four hundred troops for use, sir. The rest have been sent forward to the Maelstrom Temple."

"Good work, Colonel," Zach said, sneering. He paused. Then: "Do you happen to have a Hybrid with you?"

Colonel nodded and snapped his fingers. A Minifig/Mutant Lizard Hybrid appeared at his side. It appeared to be an acidic Hybrid, judging from the way the purple liquid dripping from its maw was singing the grass below.

"Excellent. One little surprise when the Dino Attack Team passes through on their way to the temple. How much time is left, by the way?"

"Approximately ten minutes," Colonel said. "What if they don't leave in time sir?"

"You, I, Cranky, and these Stromlings start a blood bath at that outpost. I have a feeling that the Dino Attack will not be much longer. Although my spies are dead, I have scouts monitoring the edge of the area so we know when the Dino Attack is here."

"Excellent planning, sir," Colonel said, nodding. "I am anxious to get this fight started."

"As am I, Colonel. As am I." Zach's mind drifted off. He thought of the upcoming battle (or as he thought of it personally, a massacre) and how the Maelstrom would finally achieve its victory. He could also feel himself thinking of Minerva. He had a gut-retching feeling he would encounter her sometime in the next several hours. He knew he had to kill her. He wasn't sure if he could.

Perhaps you don't have to kill herthe voice hissed in his head. Perhaps she could... join you?

What? Zach was confused.

The voice chuckled darkly. Seek her. Seduce her. Tame herthe voice continued. Transform her into a Stromling. Then you could be together... forever.

Zach was suspicious. How do I know you won't just kill her?

You have been a worthy servantthe voice said icily. You have proved your worth, and it is natural I award my good servants. It will be advantageous for the both of us. I won't have to deal with your constant drops from my control, and you will be with the girl you love.

I don't know... Could he get Minerva to join him? She probably hates me for what I have done.

Seek her! the voice chanted. Seduce her! Tame her! Have her! She will not be so defiant to you as a Stromling!

I- The voice had a way with making even Zach uncomfortable.

Seek her! Seduce her! Tame her! Seek her! Seduce her! Tame her! The voice repeated these three sentences over and over. Zach gritted his teeth together, then sighed. He could not resist. Anything not to kill Minerva.

Make her a Stromling, Zach said finally. Please.

It will be donethe voice said gently. Remember what I said. Once you find and convince her to join you, I will do the rest.

Thank you, master. 

----

Maria's attention was drawn once again by the sound of spurs, and she looked up to see the familiar face of Angel Eyes.

"Howdy," she said. "Can I get you anything?"

"Just a whiskey, thank you," replied Angel Eyes.

Maria smiled and poured Angel Eyes a glass. "You mind if I ask what yer doin' back here?" asked Maria.

Angel Eyes leaned closer. "I'm just here to give you an update. The Second Headquarters Squad is still alive, and Blondie is busy trying to get an understanding of the hybrids' fortifications, and we have reason to suspect that Scout may have something to hide."

"That's good," said Maria. "There were a couple others that came by earlier."

"Oh?"

"One of 'em was a man with a harmonica. The other had a strange passion for dynamite. He left on his motorcycle just before you arrived." 

----

The Medical Wing was quiet. Anyone not fit for duty had been shipped off the island an hour ago, and anyone in fighting shape was outside awaiting further instruction.

Naomi Carver sat on the bed alone. She had gone upstairs looking for Hertz, but he was nowhere to be found. The Command Room was empty when she arrived, and it seemed no one knew about his whereabouts.

Why would he not tell her? She hoped he was not hiding anything from her. If he had gone off to battle and died, Naomi had no idea how she could cope. Even though their relationship only began after the battle at the rear guard camp. She had never felt this way about anyone before. And there were lots of men in her past.

She wiped a tear from her eye and headed out to the balcony. The ocean sparkled and the cool breeze soothed her skin.

Nicholas Saran leaned over the balcony clearly deep in thought. Naomi came and stood next to him looking out at the blue water. "Hi Nick."

Saran smiled. "Naomi, right? I met you at the command tent awhile back. How are you feeling?"

"I don't know," sighed Naomi. "Hertz is gone. I don't want to sound needy but I feel so lonely. I love him and I don't want to lose him."

"Feeling this way is not uncommon," said Saran. "You feel an attachment to Hertz that you have not felt before. This island has forced you to be more dependent. When in the city, you were able to find help in your boyfriends and parent, but this place has allowed you to mature. Hertz is a new rock for you. Part of the reason you feel so close to him is because he is the only person who has really looked out for you thus far. You gravitate toward Hertz because you feel he may be the only one who can help and provide for you in these times."

Naomi scowled. "Are you saying I'm only in this relationship for me?!"

Nicholas shook his head. "Not at all."

"Well, I don't very much like my life being explained so scientifically," said Naomi.

Saran smiled and put a hand on Naomi's shoulder. "Well, there is always the second possibility."

"What's that?" said Naomi, fighting back tears.

"Love."

Naomi put her head in Nick's shoulder and stared to cry. The doctor just put his arm around her and patted her back.

*****

Rex waited in his wheelchair. He hated having to wait. They were running out of time, and Paulie Gonepus was still on the move... even if it was clear that he was traveling to the Temple of Hotep III, Dino Attack Team could not afford to give XERRD too much of a head start.

At last, a Fire Hammer stopped in front of him. Out stepped a young woman who appeared to be only a teenager... Kate Bishop, presumed Rex. Following her was a face that filled Rex with disgust... Rotor.

"You sent for us?" said Rotor, frowning and crossing his arms over his chest.

"Yes," said Rex, nodding as he tried to mask his contempt for Rotor. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. We'll be leaving in only a few minutes, and we determined that it was in our best interest that you two come with me."

Rotor did not reply, but Rex could practically see the gears moving in the elite agent's mind. Rex shuddered as he considered all the things Rotor could be thinking about... blackmailing the other commanding agents, trying to take control of the squad, or seeing this as an opportunity to use Kate Bishop as leverage for Wallace Bishop.

Clearing his throat, Rex declared, "You two shall be under my supervision during the remainder of this mission. Anything I say, goes."

Rotor raised an eyebrow. "And who died and made you my boss?" he muttered.

Rex grimaced. "Too many have died, Rotor. Too many. And I will do all in my power to ensure that we do not have any more meaningless sacrifices. And trust me, this body confined to a wheelchair, as old and broken as it is, has lived through a lot. I don't need fear to take command... I have respect. And I'm not afraid of you."

Rotor was silent once more. Once again, this silence worried Rex.

"We shall be leaving in only a few minutes," repeated Rex. "Be ready."

----

"Stab, stab, stab!"

As Sniper felt the cold blade against his back, it took all his willpower to suppress an involuntary flinch, lest that be the final motion he would make in this world. His entire body froze in place, waiting. At last, the cold metal was lifted from his back. Spinning around, Sniper came face-to-face with...

"Bloody MegaBlokland, Spy!" cursed Sniper. "What do yeh think yeh doing, yeh bloody backstabbing wuss?"

Spy chuckled softly as he pocketed his knife. "I've already told Blondie all I know about zhe Hybrid's fortifications at Fort Legoredo. He's still uneasy about Soldier's plan to use our bomb cart to blow up zhe fort, so he sent me back here, to zhe outpost, to gather supplies for an attack. Ammunition, scrap metal, my Electro-Sapper, sandwiches... et cetera."

"But what was that for?" muttered Sniper, patting himself on the back where, just a moment ago, Spy's knife had been placed.

"You looked so tense and focused," mused Spy. "Very good qualities for a sniper, but zhe problem is... you're too focused on what's directly in front of you. Suppose zhat an enemy got past your field of vision, past our lines, and came in here to attack you from behind? You'd be dead. Luckily for you, I'm not your enemy... at least, not now."

"Trying to teach me a lesson, eh?" said Sniper, grimacing.

"You could say zhat," said Spy, nodding. "Next time... watch your back."

With that, Spy grabbed a crate full of ammunition and left Sniper's post. Sniper turned away and continued his work, cursing quietly to himself about backstabbing traitors. 

*****

"You hear somethin'?" Engineer suddenly remarked.

"Yeah," replied Clint. "I think I do."

He quickly picked up a rifle and walked toward what he believed to be the source of the noise, obviously another group of Mutant Lizards approaching. There was a Raptor with them as well. Suddenly, there was a loud burst of gunfire from nearby, and Clint looked up to see several rounds and rockets coming from a nearby building.

"How do I stop an army of Mutant Dinos from tearing me a structurally superfluous new behind?" Engineer remarked sarcastically. "The answer, use a gun."

At that moment, there was a sudden burst of flame as a strange man Clint hadn't already seen emerged with a flamethrower. Whoever he was, he was a Dino Attack agent dressed in modified firefighter's gear and was firing in every direction.

At that moment, they were all silenced off by a sudden explosion. A nearby building burst into flames. The stunned dinosaurs were quickly torched by the literal firefighter, and another explosion came from nearby.

As the sentry gun took out the remaining lizards, the sound of a motor became more audible, and out of the smoke rode in a strange man. He brought his motorcycle to a halt and climbed off, removing his goggles and his scarf, revealing a thick grey mustache. "Is this Gold City?" he asked.

"Yeah," replied Clint. "Who are you?"

"My name's Firecracker," the man introduced himself. "Professional explosives expert and dictator hunter."

"I'm sorry?"

"Oh, I like to blow up ruthless dictators," explained Firecracker. "Emperor Chang Wu's the worst of them. I've been after him for years."

"I see," said Clint.

The Dino Attack firefighter from earlier stepped out of the smoke and for the first time Clint saw his- err... her... their face, or rather the thick gas mask they were wearing.

"Who's your girlfriend?" Clint asked.

"Oh, how should I know?" replied Firecracker.

The firefighter shouted something, apparently really annoyed, but everyone just stared at him confused. He tried to speak again, but nothing.

"That's agent Pyro," Engineer said, finally. "He's kinda crazy, but I trust him to keep mah sentries safe." 

----

Hotwire, B, and Kevin joined the groups of Dino Attack agents waiting by the vehicles for Semick's briefing. The bearded Elite Agent was preparing to speak. 

... So I should probably memorize 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on the way, but otherwise I should be good.

"We're cutting it close, Semick," Bluetooth reminded his superior and friend for the upteenth time.

"Got it!" Semick said with triumph. "Warm up the T-1."

The Futuron technician grinned with excitement and relief and got to the various system power switches. Semick watched him in action, then stared briefly at the agents who would be helping to man the vehicle.

It slightly pained him that Bluetooth was the only one he knew personally now. Remembering the crews and allies he had in here, it saddened him to think of who would not be accompanying him. Andrew and Laxus were good agents, but it seemed that they had their own affairs to handle. Rockford was a good ally, but he was busy helping Mur out on the ground.

Then there was Zach and Raider. Zach of course needed no elaboration on his current status, but the matter of Raider did. He had been among the casualties of the camp ambush, lost when the medical tent had fallen. It was regrettable how he had to go. Already still suffering from his arm injury at LEGO Island, he also had to handle the beating he took when the XERRD fortress forces had caught him. Having to go in the midst of a Mutant DIno rampage, too injured to do much of anything, must've been a sickly ironic way to die. Semick regretted all his losses, but for all of an annoyance Raider's gung-ho personality had been, he had never wanted him to be lost, especially the way he had.

Focusing back on the situation at hand, Semick was determined that Raider's death, along with all the others during this battle on the island, would not be for naught. He climbed out of the T-1 Typhoon and headed over to the front of the vehicle lot, bullhorn in hand.

The tension was high. Vehicles left and right were rumbling, agents were muttering impatiently, and everyone was on edge. A few of them were keeping watch of the time, and with good reason: they were down to 10 minutes before Zach's deadline.

As Semick walked forward to an Iron Predator near the front of the lot, agents began to take notice, starting to cheer and edge him on. Some of them were more negative, crying "get on with it!" and such, but otherwise they treated him with respect and encouragement. It made the former Power Miner proud. In spite of the "authority" he held, it was clear the others were respecting him as an individual as well.

Reaching the Iron Predator, he climbed up onto the hood so that he would be seen and heard by all, catching the attention of the crew that had manned it. They applauded for him as he stood up on their hood, and a few other agents began to joined in. Semick gently motioned for them to stop. He didn't want to be overly respected like some actor winning an award they arguably deserved.

Semick took a moment to clear his throat, took in some breath, and raised the bullhorn to his lips.

"Agents of Dino Attack, this might as well be our biggest battle yet! As we know, not only have we had to deal with the Mutant Dino forces this team has been fighting for months, and the XERRD scientists who helped them spread across the globe, but now we have a bigger and arguably much more dangerous enemy to face here! Were circumstances just right, I'd say even Dr. Rex himself might recognize this fact!"

Semick didn't stop to hear any responses. He needed to get this speech done fast, after all. "The Maelstrom, as those who have followed the activities of the Nexus Force, has found itself in a strong position of power here on Adventurers' Island, deep inside one of the many ancient temples! After much deliberation, we have narrowed it down to two, and our best evidence and leads, combined with the necessity for action, cause us to now head within the area of the temple of the Pharaoh Hotep III, which is as of now, our strongest candidate!

"As such, our plan now is to head there and fight the forces of Dinos and Maelstrom with all we've got, and get teams inside said temple to locate and neutralize this force of chaos! This may seem daunting, but after all we've been through, I have the upmost confidence that you won't let me down, nor let the Founders down, or your friends and family, or the world population, or the entire galaxy, for that matter! This Maelstrom may be strong, corrupting, and extremely lethal, but Minifigkind is strong, and after years of fighting and overcoming such forces from within ourselves, I think a couple hundred glowing purple monsters should find us more than a match for them!

"Keep your PDAs and radios open! I and the rest of the commanders of your teams will be on constant communication to give out orders and battle strategies! We will give these Maelstrom soldiers every maneuver we got EXCEPT retreat and surrender! Also, remember that we have sent out messages giving a full map of the Hotep III temple! Though the Maelstrom or the shady intentions of the agent who translated it, and I'm talking about you, Dust, might hide unexpected surprises within to keep us from eradicating this menace, it should be an invaluable tool to help us rid this island of this evil power!

"Know that in the possible outcome of the Hotep temple actually being the red herring, be ready and able to jump priorities to the next temple, a place of worship for Imagination, the Maelstrom's strongest counterforce! We cannot fail here no matter what, and if we must fall, we will fall displaying the values that have got Minifigs where they are now - the determined, ever-persistent spirit to overcome all and stand for what we believe in! Have I made myself clear?"

A resounding cheer, a cheer of support, a cheer of readiness, a cheer of determination to wipe out one's foes, erupted from the combined forces of the LEGO Planet's only hope for survival. Semick grinned. "Alright then, let's move!"

And with that, the commanding Elite Agent leapt off the hood and ran for his T-1 Typhoon. All around him, the Steel Sprinters, Fire Hammers, Urban Avengers, Iron Predators, T-1 Typhoons, and the Renaissance roared as their engines began to run strong and get them in motion.

The Battle for Adventurers' Island had begun. 

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam
Fixed typo.

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 43: The Ringmaster

----

Despite what was about to happen, Minerva smiled from the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher on the back of Andrew and Laxus's Fire Hammer. They were finally heading to the Maelstrom Temple.

The Fire Hammer's engine roared as Andrew started it up. It quickly rolled into a line of other vehicles as they left the vehicle lot and headed into the jungle. It would not be long until they entered the Maelstrom-infected area of the jungle.

Minerva and Andrew had considered Hertz's idea of manning the Renaissance. They both reasoned that Zach would probably be within the Maelstrom Temple. It would be simpler to just take the Fire Hammer to the temple and head in by foot. Minerva also had some apprehension of flying. A quick glance over the Maelstrom-infected jungle showed swarms and swarms of Mutant Pterosaurs overhead. If they are under the Maelstrom's influence, they will give the T-1 Typhoon fleet a run for its money.

Yeah, I thinking taking on a bunch of mindless zombies down here is better than facing a bunch of overpowered flying extinct reptiles, she thought.

*****

Commander Vinyaya had managed to hitch a ride with the Renaissance. She couldn't help but grin underneath her Space Police helmet. She was finally getting back into the air. The fleet of helicopter began to rise into the sky, high above the towering trees of the jungle.

She glanced down at a radar. Ahead of them was a massive red blip on the screen. Vinyaya glanced out the window and could see the thin outlines of Mutant Pterosaurs flying over the Maelstrom-infected jungle. She grimaced. This isn't going to be easy.

She turned Hertz, who was hard at work at the communications dashboard. "We need to take down these Pterosaurs," she said, pointing at her radar.

Hertz quickly stood up and checked the radar. He winced. "Probably," he agreed.

"Contact the surrounding Typhoons," Vinyaya commanded. "We need to at least hold these guys back so our ground teams can get to the temple."

*****

'-Have I made myself clear?' Zach could hear roars of agreement from the Dino Attack agents. Zach smiled. Even though they were now enemies, he couldn't help but admire Semick. It seemed like he had taken control of the operation from Hotwire and Reptile. He had the respect of the other agents and was a reasonable person compared to other agents.

They are heading over here now, the scout said. He had been relaying Semick's speech to him.

Zach smiled. Excellent work, he responded. Keep an eye out for them. He turned to Colonel, Cranky, the Hybrid (which they had decided to name Gyptian), and the Stromling army. Zach nodded to Colonel.

Colonel nodded back and turned to his troops. "Alright, gentlemen!" he barked. "The time has come! The Dino Attack Team is on their way here right now! They will attempt to destroy the temple and will try to kill as many of us as possible! We are not going to let that happen, are we?"

The response Colonel received was a bunch of hideous growls and snarls. Zach rolled his eyes. Sure, they had a lot of Stromlings now. But these Maelstrom-created Stromlings that lack an original body also seem to lack any personality or intelligence.

"That's what I thought!" Colonel bellowed. "We are going to give them a welcoming party they won't forget! Half of you are falling back to aid our allies at the temple. The rest of us are heading near the edge of the infected area to meet the Dino Attack Team."

"Are we to attack them? I wanna rip some heads off!" one Stromling asked. Colonel, as quick as a flash, grabbed the Stromling by the skull and shoved him to the ground.

"YOU WILL NOT SPEAK OUT OF TURN, YOU PITIFUL SLIME!" Colonel screamed angrily. He twisted the Stromling's head, breaking its neck. Colonel threw the ruined body to the ground and began to pace in front of his troops. The Stromlings snickered at the death of their comrade, but Colonel didn't seem to notice. Or care.

"My group will not be attacking the agents, with the exception of Gyptian," Colonel continued, gesturing to the Hybrid. "Unless General Virchaus says otherwise." Colonel glanced at Zach.

Zach smirked. General Virchaus? I think I could get used to that. "No, we do not intend to attack," Zach said forcibly. "We are pulling out some scare tactics. We are making them realize exactly what they are getting into. Gyptian will be aiding in this plan by hijacking vehicles and killing some agents."

"He is giving his life to our cause," Colonel added. "You slime ought to look up to this Hybrid with respect. You will never be half the soldier he is!"

Zach nodded. "Indeed," he said. "Enough chatter. It's time we go. More will be explained once we get there."

"Let's go!" Colonel bellowed. "Move out!"

Zach climbed on to Cranky as half of Colonel's troops began heading in the direction of the temple. "Go!" Zach hissed into Cranky's ear. The Stromling Ape beat his chest and jumped up into the nearest tree. He wrapped his arms around the trunk and began to climb. Zach extended an arm to Colonel and Gyptian, who quickly accepted it and clung onto Cranky's back as the ape balanced on a tree branch.

"Into the trees, men!" Colonel commanded. "Time to go back to your evolutionary roots!" Stromlings began climbing the trees as Cranky began swinging from tree to tree at high speeds.

*****

The Talon, flying low over the ocean, slowed as it approached a lighthouse and set down on what was little more than a rock jutting up from the waves, approximately twenty-four miles off the coast of Adventurers' Island. It was only about fifty feet across, less than the height of the old lighthouse built upon it.

And there was a familiar insignia on the lighthouse's door, under which were emblazoned five letters: S.T.A.R.E.

"Two things," Loop demanded. "One, this is hardly hidden. Anyone could stumble onto our secrets. Two, why didn't Cane ever tell me of this? I was under the impression that the Database Core was located on Founder's Island with a single backup in the Goo Caverns."

"Firstly," came the response, "nobody notices a lighthouse unless it ceases to work. Secondly, your genetic contributor was an inept fool who knew far less about 'ShadowTech' than he believed. There is a S.T.A.R.E. unit located on or near every significant landmass on the planet; if anything, the Founder's Island unit was the backup. Little did Canis know that 'Database Core' nickname he was so fond of was an intentional misnomer."

Loop paused, taking this all in, before Kat's voice continued. "Enough exposition. Now, Lupus, you must follow my instructions exactly..."

*****

"You ok, B? Chris has the Hammer warmed up over here."

B looked up and smiled. His old Fire Hammer stood there, but with some evident changes. Apart from the obvious bloodstains, the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher had been replaced with a hefty-looking machine gun, and an insignia of a Norse hammer was painted on the sides and hood.

Adrenaline coursed through B's body. All thoughts of headaches and limps were driven away by the thoughts of battle. He sat in the driver's seat, with Kevin sitting beside him, pointing what looked to be a grenade launcher at the underbrush. Chris had jumped to the turret and was also scanning the jungle with a critical eye.

"If you see anything, shoot it," B said, "I'm just going to keep driving!"

"Aye-aye!" Chris yelled from the turret.

An enormous roar broke the relative silence. A group of Raptors and Mutant Lizards broke through the plants and were running towards the convoy.

"Incoming!"

----

Rob "Rookie" Kabrinsky felt out of place at the Antarctic Dino Attack HQ. Tense though it was, it didn't compare in his opinion to being at the front lines. But, he had two things to do here. One, get his wounds healed, and two, find Sam. His first objective had already been completed, so now all that was left was to find his cousin. He had been waiting around the hospital area of the compound for a couple days, not knowing where to start looking.

He lay in his bed, thinking, when he heard a familiar voice: "Rob! Well, looks like you're in at least okay shape. Ready to go back to the line?"

"Sam," said Rob, relieved to see his cousin again. "I'm ready, more or less, but only if you're coming with... ow, my leg." He winced. "I thought... you would be a patient, if anything."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Rob, don't you remember? I was studying medicine before the war. I got a chance to finish up my studies thanks to my unexpected hiatus from the war."

"I see. Nonetheless, Kev sent me back here to get you," said Rob.

Sam stared for a minute. "You're kidding, right?"

"B probably needs some medical help. When I left, he was in a coma," explained Rob.

Sam shook his head in disbelief. "Why didn't you say so? I'll talk to the head surgeon."

Well, that was easier than I was expecting, Rob thought. Now... to... MegaBloking MegaBloks, my leg hurts. 

----

A guitar was the first thing he noticed. There was static too. A radio.

"For freedom we ride..."

Fullmetal sat up, and groaned. He was inside a tent. The last thing he remembered, he'd just taken Raptor-- Enox Phorm -- out.

The flap opened, and a familiar fig stepped inside. A grin spread across his face. "Builders be praised, you're awake!" he said. A pair of draconic wings suddenly snapped out from behind his back.

Fullmetal smiled back. "Awake, Ptero," he replied. "But I feel like I've been chewed up and spit out by a Dino."

"And you assume correctly," another person poked his head in. "And your prosthetic limbs held up nicely."

Fullmetal looked at his right arm. It gleamed silver back at him. He frowned. "Very nice. You did a good job, Claymore." Fullmetal looked up, his eyes sad. "Where's Tex?"

As if in response, a gigantic black and blue head burst into the flap and set itself down on Fullmetal's lap.

"Tex!" Fullmetal cried happily. He wrapped his arms around the Dino's snout. The Tyrannosaur began purring and the air in the tent vibrated with the sound. Fullmetal released his embrace, and examined Tex's head. "You've grown a bit bigger," he remarked.

You noticed! she replied, and began humming louder.

Fullmetal frowned again. "Where's Aravis?" he asked. "And Spino?"

The two glanced at each other. "You'll want to stay seated," Claymore assured.

Fullmetal shook his head. "They can't be--" he began.

Claymore cut him off. "But they are," he said. "It happens in war."

"Tell me," said Fullmetal. "Tell me everything that happened."

Claymore recounted the events at the Dino Attack Outpost, leading to Spino's sacrifice and Aravis's death. "Then we hit an IED," he concluded. "The base was evacuated." He gave a tiny, sad smile. "Spino died a hero. He saved hundreds of lives by wiping out that Hybrid army."

"It was one heckuva bomb," Ptero declared. "You sustained a concussion when that IED was tripped. That's why you don't remember anything up until defeating Rap-- Enox."

Fullmetal felt hollow, as if his breath had been drawn from his lungs. He cleared his throat, and stood tall. "Then let Spino's and Aravis's sacrifices not be in vain," he said. "GAIA Team, roll out!" 

----

"Alright boys, this is it," Rotor said excitedly over the radio. "Let's get these babies into the air. This is Agent Rotor standing by. Over."

"Agent Cabin, standing by. Over."

"Agent MacReady, standing by. Over."

Jackson quickly climbed into the first Fire Hammer he found alongside Teri. "You ready for this?" Jackson asked.

Teri nodded with a smile. "It'll be just like old times," she said. "Let's go snipe some Stromlings!"

Jackson quickly broke a window on his Fire Hammer using the butt end of his rifle. "I think this is our chance," he said keenly as he lifted it toward the mutant dinosaurs ahead. He then pulled the trigger.  "Oh my Builder," Jackson muttered as he looked through a pair of binoculars. "Teri, I think we have our first kill."

Dactyl had already set up her sniper rifle and was aiming right toward the dinosaurs. "Steady, steady," Jackson was muttering. Then she fired. 

----

"So, where've you been all this time?" Sarah asked.

"The hospital," replied Pierce. "I've been working there for a while now."

"I see," said Sarah. "You said you met Kate?"

"Yeah," replied Pierce.

"Did you ever tell her?" asked Sarah, locking eyes with Pierce.

Pierce blinked. "What?"

"About her father," replied Sarah.

"Why? Who is it?" asked Pierce. "Don't tell me there's more connections with XERRD."

"No," said Sarah. She sighed. "It's you. You're her father."

Pierce suddenly sat up, somewhat unnerved. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. That can't be right. I'm Kate's father?"

"It was only a few months after I was released that I realized I was pregnant," explained Sarah.

Pierce sighed. "It figures," he remarked. "I became like a father to her, and now I realize I really am her father."

Jenny started to moan. Sarah got up and sat down next to her. "Easy," she said. "It's okay. Tell me, who did this to you?"

"Bad men," responded Jenny, a few tears in her eyes. "They wouldn't stop hitting me. He just kept laughing and hitting me."

"That sounds like Rotor," Pierce remarked from across the room.

"I'm sorry, who?" Sarah said as she turned toward him.

"Rotor's a guy on the team," explained Pierce. "He has a few rather questionable methods that include attempting to execute an entire T-1 Typhoon crew for disobeying his orders. He also ordered your daughter into a fortress filled with toxins."

"What?!" Sarah shouted as she stormed toward Pierce. "Is she okay?"

"Last I saw, she was fine," Pierce assured her.

"She'd better be," Sarah muttered before she turned away. 

----

Hotwire ducked over to a nearby weapons crate, grabbing a rifle and slinging a Sonic Screamer onto his back. He then looked around. Everyone else was rolling out, and he was without a vehicle of his own.

Then there was a rumble behind him. He turned to see a Fire Hammer trundling uncertainly towards him, with a familiar Ogel Drone in the driver's seat. Septimus tipped his cap as Hotwire climbed into the cab. "It was unaccounted for, so I thought I may as well lend a hand," the drone said.

"Well done," Hotwire said. "But if you don't mind, I'll do the driving. I'm much more comfortable behind the wheel of these trucks than you seem to be."

In response, Septimus grinned nervously as only a skull can, hopped out of the driver's seat, and climbed up onto the turret.

Hotwire then strapped himself in and floored the gas pedal, quickly catching up with the rest of the convoy, which was already under attack. He saw a group of Raptors and Mutant Lizards charging B's Fire Hammer, and swerved towards them. "Open fire!" he called out.

Septimus didn't hesitate for even a split second, peppering the dinos with bursts from the Xenon Launcher.

It was the most intense game of chicken that B had ever played. One Raptor versus one Fire Hammer. It would certainly make for one spectacular collision.

Kevin looked up from lobbing grenades at the other dinos and swore profusely under his breath. "B... Do you know what you're doing?!" he called.

B motioned towards the general area to the front of the Hammer. "Trust me. Fire a grenade at that spot in 3... 2... 1!"

Kevin pulled the trigger. Time seemed to slow as the raptor turned away. The grenade moved faster than the eye could see.

A shockwave pulsed from the point of impact as the raptor fell dead. B and Kevin exchanged high-fives and Chris smiled in relief. Kevin looked up, and found that all was not well. "MEGABLOKIN'..."

Another explosion. This time caused by a moving vehicle hitting a very large solid rock. B, Chris, and Kevin pulled themselves up and saw that there were some Mutant Lizards who were very happy about having smaller prey.

"Not today, ya filthy animals," B muttered, and he activated his arm-blade. Chris pulled out his katana and both of them charged at the Lizards. Kevin swore loudly and then followed, firing shots with his sidearm.

"Can we not keep a vehicle intact for five minutes? Honestly!" Kevin activated his radio and shouted, "Mayday! Help! Anybody!" 

*****

As Semick finished his speech, David ran towards his Fire Hammer, where he found Joseph Smith waiting for him.

"I figured I might as well come along for the ride," remarked Joseph as David quickly turned the ignition key, put the gear box into 1st, and slammed his foot on the pedal. At high speed, the vehicle shot out of the outpost and into the artificial rampage of vehicles headed for the Maelstrom Temple. Fifty miles per hour.

But then, a crackle came through on his radio: "Mayday! Help! Anybody!"

David looked, and saw crashed Fire Hammer. He recognized B and two other agents, fighting off some Lizards.

"Right, Joseph, you fire at those Lizards, and I'll try and rescue the agents!" said David as he put his foot on the brake.

Hotwire pulled up by B's crashed Fire Hammer at the same time as David. He tossed Septimus the Sonic Screamer as the drone leaped off the turret to help the agents on the ground, and then climbed out of the driver's seat and into the turret himself. He nodded to the gunner on David's Fire Hammer, and the two of them opened fire. 

The gunners were managing to hold off the Mutant Lizards surprisingly well. Now, thought David, is the chance.

"Quick!" David shouted to B's group. "Climb aboard my Fire Hammer and we can be away from here!" 

The ambush was quickly overcome, with the help of David's Fire Hammer. Surveying the situation, Kevin shouted over to David: "Drive your Hammer over to that side of ours!"

B looked at Kevin in disbelief. "This thing is totaled, not to mention on its side! None of the people present are Superman, so what the MegaBloking MegaBloks do you suggest we do? I think that we should just accept the help that is given us!" exclaimed B.

"B, look. We can fix this thing. All we need is something to flip it, okay?" insisted Kevin.

After a couple tense minutes of struggling with the chains, B's Fire Hammer was back on its wheels. Surprisingly, it started up without a problem. Seeing that they were in the clear, David waved and drove off. B jumped into the driver's seat, and Kevin got in beside him and opened a compartment.

"This is why you will be glad that we salvaged this Hammer. Apart from the fact that, you know, it's still running?" said Kevin. He pulled out a handgun and handed it to B. "This is from your Dad," he said. "I managed to scrounge up twelve mags for it. Use those shots wisely."

"That was Dad's gun from when he was still on the force. Why would he give it to me?" wondered B, looking over the firearm.

Kevin explained, "He said that you would need what he called, and I quote: 'a real gun'. Now please, hit the MegaBloking gas pedal!"

"Okay then. Now, let's go before we miss all the action," declared B.

*****

And with that, they were ready to begin the battle. Thirty agents ran towards Kara's ship and loaded up. She hopped in the cockpit and took off. As she flew towards the temple, Mutant Pterosaurs began chasing her. She swiveled the Sonic Screamers towards them and fired. The Pterosaurs fell towards the ground, and others veered away towards slower prey.

"C-sharp?" The Pterosaurs hit the ground. "Or B-flat? Music to my ears," she said as she continued on. She was nearly to the dropsite when she heard weapons discharge and felt the ship shudder. An alarm went off on the control panel.

One of the agents rushed into the cockpit. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"The stupid Stromlings shot out my discharge nozzle," realized Kara.

"What is that?" the agent asked.

"It's where the ions flow out, and both lift and propel the ship. This ship uses a plasma engine," she replied.

"Wow. Isn't that overkill on an airship?"

"No, this craft is spaceworthy, but the entire fleet is grounded, given that all the spaceports are destroyed." She glided to a landing. "Everybody offload. Thank you for flying Wise Airlines, please fly with us again."

She jury-rigged a fix for the airship, programmed the AI autopilot to take it back to the outpost, hefted the Gatling Sonic Screamer she took from the armory, and said, "Alright, Stromlings, you're in for it now." She started marching towards the temple. 

----

The Puma was ready to go.

Fullmetal scratched his chin. "Seriously, why call it the 'Warthog'?" he asked.

Claymore moved to the front of the vehicle. "Y'see these tow hooks?"

Fullmetal nodded.

"They look just like tusks. And what animal has tusks?" explained Claymore.

"... A walrus!"

"No!" Claymore facepalmed himself. "Quit making up fake animals, so we can get out there!"

Fullmetal paused before stepping into the driver's seat. He turned to face Tex. "Are you coming with?"

Tex shook her head. I will remain here, for now, she replied. Fullmetal sat down, buckled himself in, and hit the gas.

The Puma stopped outside of the main base. "Why do we have to stop here?" inquired Fullmetal.

Claymore hopped out of the turret and on to the ground. "We need to pick up our new Four and Five," he said flatly. "Replacements."

The term smacked Fullmetal in the face like a whip. "I find it vulgar," he growled, "that the higher-ups think of new members as replacements." He spat on the ground to punctuate his opinion.

"Take it up with the head honchos later," Ptero said. "Right now, we need every man and woman we can get in this fight."

Two minifigs were waiting for them already. One, a woman, and the other a man. "You already know Katana," Claymore said. "Now, meet Hunter."

Hunter's helmet had been heavily modified, possessing a set of night-vision goggles and infrared scopes. He and Katana stood next to a similarly-modified Fire Hammer, this one with a four-barreled gun on the back.

"Since I can't call this the Warthog," Claymore said as he rolled his eyes, "I'll call that the Warthog."

"Seriously, you have issues," Ptero sighed. 

The two Fire Hammers bounced through the jungle road, if it could be called a road. Really, it was just a trail of mud carved into the jungle.

"Have there been any new developments that I should know about?" Fullmetal asked. "New subspecies of Mutant Dino? Green Goo mutations? Anything?"

"Nothing of note," Katana replied. "But earlier today, I was assigned the autopsy of a blue Mutant Lizard."

"Just another monster to be put down," Hunter said, swinging the Warthog's turret to face the other side of the road.

"We don't have to destroy all of them," Fullmetal said firmly. "These creatures are intelligent, almost like you and me. I've seen that they have the potential for good and evil. They're more like minifigs than-"

The Puma skidded to a stop. "What gives?" Katana asked.

"Motion tracker's picking up movement," Fullmetal said. He adjusted the device built into the dash, just to be sure. His eyes widened. "Brickit! They're stalking us!" The road in front of them shimmered slightly, and several chameleon Mutant Lizards revealed themselves. A pair of Raptors burst from the foliage behind the two vehicles. "Brickit! Open fire! OPEN FIRE!" 

----

Mutant Dinos?! Zach yelled angrily at the scout.

He could feel the Stromling wince. Yes! Mutant Dinos. Ambushed the convoy after barely a minute of driving!

Zach growled. Who sent them? I made sure every Mutant Dino was to stay within the temple region!

Perhaps they stayed away? Perhaps they are detecting the Maelstrom Crystal?

Possibly. However, Ghost and Zelda never recorded Greybeard and Frozeen reuniting with the team. They might have taken the crystal and kept going toward the temple while the battle in the camp progressed.

What should I do?

Nothing. I will deal with them. Zach closed the connection and turned to Colonel, who was looking at him anxiously.

"What has occurred, General?" Colonel asked.

"Mutant Dinos have attacked their convoy," Zach said, scowling. "This wasn't how it was supposed to go!"

"Can you recall the dinos?"

"I think so," Zach said, scratching his chin. "However, I think the pack that is attacking is small enough that the Dino Attack can keep going. If it truly becomes a problem, I will deal with it."

*****

"Really?" Minerva said, exasperated as she turned the turret and started firing at the Mutant Dinos attacking another Fire Hammer. She picked off several Mutant Lizards, but the Mutant Raptors continued to harass the Fire Hammer until it crashed. More Fire Hammers drove in to help out the crew of the wrecked jeep.

"Should we head over to help?" Andrew yelled from the driver seat.

"I don't know!" Minerva shouted back as she continued to fire. "Maybe-"

"Ground squad!" Commander Vinyaya's voice crackled to life over the radio. "What is going on down there!?"

"Mutant Dino ambush," Minerva could hear Laxus say. "We are trying to deal with it."

"We need to get a move on!" Vinyaya yelled angrily. "Who is dealing with it and how many mutants are there?"

"Fifty or so Mutant Lizards, maybe a hundred," another voice said. "About twenty raptors by my count. We got two Fire Hammers aiding a wrecked Fire Hammer and a couple more Fire Hammers being attacked as I speak."

Vinyaya was silent, then: "Have a few Urban Avengers help out. Those Cosmotronic Rays should deal with the Raptors quickly. The rest need to keep going, now!"

Minerva continued to fire. When she paused, she yelled up to Andrew: "Are we staying? You do have more authority than her."

Andrew was silent, thinking. Minerva blasted more Mutant Lizards away from the convoy. "No, Vinyaya's right. Time is running out and we need to take out the temple." Without another word, the Fire Hammer continued into the jungle behind an Iron Predator.

*****

Ahua jumped in surprise as a ship landed in the small field before the Temple of Hotep III. Those Mutant Pterosaurs must not be doing their job right. It didn't resemble the flying metal beasts the Dino Attack used. It was quite alien to him. Despite this, about thirty minifigs piled out of the ship. The ship suddenly lifted off the ground and flew out of sight.

Early. Zach, Colonel, and Cranky haven't even returned. Ahua strode toward the agents and raised his hand to welcome them. Their response was to point all their weapons at them.

Ahua smirked. "Rather early, aren't we?" he scoffed. The agents said nothing. "Where is the rest of the team?"

"On their way," one agent replied. "Surrender now, you mutants!"

"Temper, temper," Ahua said testily. "We are afraid we cannot surrender at this moment. You arrived at a very bad time. Our top generals had left to welcome your team into our hallowed halls." Ahua mock-bowed. "We're afraid we must seal up the temple until they return." With a snap of his fingers, two stone doors slammed shut on the temple.

"Let us in, Stromling," a woman demanded. "We don't have any problem killing you."

"We imagine you don't," Ahua said, rolling his eyes. He snapped his fingers again. Without warning, the massive Stromling Army marched out from the trees and stood behind Ahua, weapons pointed at the Dino Attack Team. Several Mutant Dinos, some with Hybrid riders, also appeared.

"However, you may a problem with these guys. We have zillions of troops, all ready to send you to the grave," Ahua snarled. "Every one you kill, five will replace it. You have no chance." Ahua chuckled, then pointed his spear-arm at the Dino Attack Team. "We suggest you retreat and wait for your team. Or..." He grinned wide. "You can feel the full wrath of the Maelstrom."

Kara was surprised. She had finished the journey by gliding, and also found the disadvantage of extremely fast ships - no reinforcements when you need them.

"Well, agents? Retreat or disassembly?" the Islander Stromling said.

Kara opened her mouth to reply, but she never got the chance for at that moment, a Fire Hammer followed by some Urban Avengers and other Fire Hammers burst through the jungle. The driver of the lead Hammer chittered at them. It was the Infiltrators. X1, who was manning the Xenon launcher, swiveled at the Maelstrom army and fired. And fired. And fired. And fired some more. The battle to get inside to start the real battle had begun.

*****

Dr. Saran was holding a clipboard and taking notes as Fuchs finally took his hands out of Zelda.

"I think that's about as much as I can do," he said. "Still, we have a rough idea of how Stromlings work."

"What do we do with her?" Garry asked.

"Just leave her there," replied Fuchs. "The Maelstrom heals their wounds eventually, though the greater the damage, the longer it takes. Just keep an eye on her and keep her sedated. We can test our experimental cure on her. How's that coming, Crusher?"

"Better," reported Crusher. "We actually have something this time to go on."

"Good," said Fuchs. "You know, I wonder..."

He walked over toward the table, picked up one of Crusher's test tubes containing Tracer's Creative Spark, and poured some of it into a syringe. He then walked over towards the semi-conscious Zelda, whose wounds were already starting to close. He then placed the needle into her and injected the fluid.

"What are you doing?" Garry asked.

"I'd like to see how she is affected when exposed to a fresh Creative Spark," replied Fuchs. 

*****

They are already starting to come in! screamed Ahua to both Colonel and Zach. They both grimaced.

Seriously? Zach said, clearly annoyed.

Yes! We had thirty agents here and now more are arriving in their metal beasts. What are you doing? Why aren't you giving us a warning?

They must have slipped past me.

Ahua growled. Finish whatever you are doing and return to the temple immediately!

'kay, Zach said, shutting out Ahua. He turned to Colonel. "Any idea where they are?"

Colonel shrugged. They both were silent. Then they could hear it: the sound of gas engines running. Zach smiled.

"Follow the sound," he hissed to Colonel and the Stromlings. They carefully moved through the trees until they were right under a convoy of Dino Attack vehicles moving rather slowly.

"Alright," Zach said, smirking. "Let's welcome our guests."

*****

Rex felt a shiver down his spine from inside Rick "Adventure" Spherus's Fire Hammer as they led the Dino Attack Team convoy through the jungle of Adventurers' Island. At first, there was no visible difference between the jungle they were just in and the region they had just entered. Then, the forest became filled with purple-hued mist. The trees grew fewer and fewer, growing blackened and dead.

Minerva shuddered. It had become very dark as the convoy ventured deeper into jungle. Eerie cold snapped at her skin. She felt like something was snapping at her mind irritably. She had little doubt that they had entered the Maelstrom's infected region of the jungle.

Thunder rumbled above. "I think it is going to rain soon," she called up to Andrew.

"Fitting, isn't it?" Andrew said in agreement. Most of the convoy had caught up after the sudden Mutant Dino attack. They moved at a relatively slow pace, primarily due to caution. This area was mostly unknown by Dino Attack agents, and many were afraid of the Stromling beings that could be lurking in the shadows.

"It shouldn't be much longer," Laxus said. Minerva's response was quickly shot down as she heard a loud voice clear his throat.

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Zachary Virchaus boomed loudly. "Be heartlessly welcome, to the Maelstrom Temple! And what a show we have for you tonight!" Zach cackled loudly. The Dino Attack Team ignored him continued into the jungle. Minerva felt her stomach drop.

"I am your magnificent ringmaster, Zachary Virchaus!" Zach said. "And I will be leading this show tonight!"

Minerva heard Andrew scoff. "Yes, he still hasn't lost his dramatic touch," Andrew said to Laxus. "I think he's finally crossed over the edge of goofiness. It's kind of ridiculous."

"In tonight's show, our audience will be taking part. Let's hear it for the Dino Attack Team!" There was a small smattering of applause. Minerva raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Confused?" Zach said, chuckling. "Look up. But don't shoot." Minerva looked up and held back a scream. Dozens of bright red eyes stared down at her. She could hear gasps of surprise from agents all around her.

"Worry not. They will not attack you. They are merely... observing you. Anyway, the temple will be nothing like you expect. Not even Gahiji Thutmose knows exactly what will occur, despite his so-called knowledge of Hotep's temple. Wouldn't you think the Maelstrom would add its own tricks to the temple?

"The temple... it will be an interesting show to behold, indeed. By the time you all die, you will be at each other's necks, trying to kill each other, think the others have betrayed you... oh wait, that already happened with the realists vs. idealist debate, didn't it? I think it would interesting to hear that the Maelstrom fueled that civil war the entire time. Well, XERRD implanted the Maelstrom in your ranks, and we did the rest. Rather interesting tidbit I learned working here. Make with it what you wish.

"So take what happened during that civil war and multiply it by ten, and that is what will happen in temple. Only those with strong mental capacity would have even the slightest chance of surviving. In fact, the temple will be a living nightmare to you. The weak-minded and the fearful stand little chance of survival. This is where heroes and cowards part ways."

Minerva finally mustered up the courage to ask, "Why are you telling us this?" There was silence except for the hum of the vehicle engines.

"I'd like to think that you had a fair chance. You know what's coming. In a sense," Zach said finally.

"You have a very distorted view of fairplay," Andrew noted.

Zach laughed loudly. "Remembering the fight, I see? Yes, Andrew, you could say that. Some days I'm nicer and other days I'm not. The day we fought was not a nice day. Today is a nice day. Not that knowing what inside is going to change anything. Sure, you may think knowing will allow you to fight off the Maelstrom's temptation. Let me tell you something. It won't. Some may withstand the Maelstrom's pull longer than others, but you all will be tempted in one way or another. Let me assure of that."

Silence followed. Then, "Well, Dino Attack, it's been fun. However, you have been a thorn in the Maelstrom's side for long enough-"

"YEAH?!" Rick "Adventure" Spherus suddenly yelled out. "WELL, THIS THORN IS ABOUT TO TAKE. YOU. DOWN!" The entire convoy was struck with silence. Minerva could hear Adventure say out-loud, "Well, that sounded a lot better in my head."

"Uh, huh," Zach said, clearly amused. "You keep thinking that, Adventure. Anyway, you have been a thorn in the Maelstrom's side for long enough. Not even the great Johnny Thunder or Jake Raines could survive this temple. How can you possible expect to survive?" Zach paused. "I was going to drop a Stromling on top of you and see how you react, but I'd rather watch you try to survive outside and inside the Maelstrom Temple. Perhaps I will see you later. Perhaps I won't. Oh, well. Au revoir Dino Attack Team. Not much farther now." Zach's voice faded away, leaving on the sound of running engines.

Semick reflected upon Zach's still-ear-ringing words in the cockpit of his T-1 Typhoon. His part of the Typhoon fleet was a little in front of the ground teams below him, and he was getting a good view of some of the more extreme Maelstrom-infested areas of the island. It was hard to describe, but he had to admit it would've looked really pretty had it just been part of a movie.

He knew that some of the agents would feel haunted by Zach's comments regarding Maelstrom temptation and their inner stability. He himself had felt disgruntled by the comments. Disgruntled and angered. Angered and defiant. Defiant and a little pretentious.

He glanced at his crew. Even if he only really knew Bluetooth, he could tell they were a little shaken themselves. And with good reason. From the first few scuffles caused by the now-infamous Kotua, to the incident caused by Digger getting furious about the Antarctica fiasco, they had dealt with inner schisms. He, like everyone else, wanted to be rid of them, especially in such crucial times as these. And he didn't like being told by some crazy purple monster that had taken over a good man's body that defiance was futile.

Without real consideration, he turned on his radio mic and began to give another speech.

"Attention all agents. This is Semick..."

*****

"I just want to give a little comment to Zach's little speech there. I, for one, will admit that I doubt we can blame the Maelstrom for all our problems. We have, as a species, always had controversial issues and circumstances that get us riled up with each other, and when guns are involved, things can get dangerous."

"I figured he might do something like this," said Mur, continuing to steer his Iron Predator with one arm. Rockford had observed that Mur hadn't gotten any sort of prosthetic for it since he lost it to the Skeleton Mummies at the XERRD Fortress assault. It wasn't his place to wonder why, though. "That man's not one to take well to such fundamental threats to our team as a whole."

"Semick seems to always look out for his men," said Rockford, "and prefers to treat them as equals. I guess working with miners both in civilian work and saving the planet from rock monsters does that to a Minifig."

"I hope that faith doesn't do him in, Rockford. There's such a thing as 'blind optimism', you know."

"True," Rockford said as he continued listening. "But even so, he's always putting the team and their goal up to the forefront. Sometimes I think he doesn't even really care if he makes it unless his survival itself is necessary."

"The point is, we've always been capable of making our own mistakes. Violent mistakes. But that doesn't mean it always has to happen like that. And that's why I say..."

*****

"...that it's the Maelstrom that underestimates us. Forget what Zach said, and continue to focus on our objective. We are all here to stop the Maelstrom as a team, and if they think they can simply influence us into fighting with each other into oblivion, they are gravely mistaken. Have no doubts, we are doing the right thing for us, our family and friends, and this planet."

"Wow," remarked Laxus. "Zach touched a nerve there."

"Yeah," said Andrew. "Sounds like Semick is determined to have the last word here. If Zach intends to talk us down again, he's going to have to prepare for something akin to a political debate. Assuming Semick even gives him the opportunity of the doubt."

"You don't think he's just talking himself into a hole, do you?" Minerva said from the Xenon Launcher cannon. "There's probably a few ways they could twist his words or something."

"Looks like he's choosing his words carefully, though," Andrew said as they kept moving closer and closer to their objective. "And if he does fall, I'm guess Semick's trying to ensure we go down with dignity."

"Keep this in mind for the remainder of this battle: idealist or realist, historically minded or in the present, liking people or not, we all want to beat the Maelstrom and save our planet. None of us want to betray each other, except maybe Dust, and I think even he's caught the gravity of the situation that means going against us now would likely mean there would be no more planet for 'his' temple to stay intact on. We need to trust each other, and even if there are more enemies within our ranks, I think we can survive whatever's thrown at us long enough to be able to tell when we're being misled."

*****

"Trust me when I say this: We are not going to let ourselves fall apart. If we have to die with only our unity and faith in having the higher moral values remain, so be it. If any of us die, we will not die in vain. We will be remembered as those who stood up for our values, our planet, and those who think of us as fools are merely too ignorant or invested in unpleasant forces to realize their misguidance.

"And we won't fail. No matter how hard it gets, I know, on some deeper level of feeling, that no matter what happens, we won't fail. One way or the other, today WILL be a victory for Dino Attack and the world. And don't let anybody, anything, or any gut feeling or odd worry tell you otherwise. That is all."

Semick turned off his microphone and turned to Bluetooth. "How far out are we now?"

"...Not much farther," said Bluetooth, who was still taking in what Semick had said to the team as a whole. "TALON-9's picking up some activity near the site of the temple, so I'm guessing we already have forces reaching the battlefield. Give us another few minutes or so, and we'll be there."

"Good," Semick said as he turned back towards his cockpit windshield. "I've been bottling up my frustration at these guys, and I'm getting anxious to release it."

*****

Zach smirked as he listened to Semick's retaliation-speech. It made him extremely happy that his words had affected the team in some way, particularly Semick. He thought about replying, but decided to let Semick off. Best not kill off their morale. Though it seems I've already done a number on it. He turned to Colonel, Cranky, and Gyptian.

"Why did we not drop the Hybrid on them?" Colonel demanded.

Zach shrugged. "Why damage them here? They will be taken down when the reach the temple anyway."

"Sir, I must say you are being too nice to the enemy."

Zach smiled at this response. "Oh well, Colonel."

"What if they do get into the temple?" Colonel questioned.

"I have been assigned to deal with them. The Dino Attack are in for a surprise if they manage to get into the temple." Zach smiled knowingly at Colonel.

Colonel shrugged. "So we are to return to the temple?" he asked.

"Yes. It sounds like things are already starting to heat up over there. Once the bulk of this mighty convoy reaches the temple, the real fun begins. You won't want to miss it." Zach climbed on to Cranky. "Let's ride!"

Colonel nodded and turned to his troops, all scattered throughout the trees glaring down at the convoy. "Alright, troops! You heard General Virchaus! Let's move!" As they started to move, they heard one last blast of thunder before it began to rain on to the trees and convoy.

*****

The place smelt like death. Rotten leaves crunched under the Egyptian's feet as he walked back to the Iron Predator and climbed the ladder into the powerful craft. He exhaled slowly and glanced through his binoculars.

The red Stromling eyes had vanished from the underbrush. Zachary had likely called back his forces to create unease in the team, and Dust could tell it was working. The young driver of the Iron Predator was literally shivering. With every snap of a twig, agents jumped. In the rear of the convoy, he could hear the sounds of agents firing at shadows.

The Egyptian never really had time for empathy, but in the past few weeks, he had started to grow uncomfortably close to some of the people he had set out to manipulate. Zachary was the first person he had truly come to know. But the young man was dead, replaced by a monster wearing his once joyful face.

Rockford was the other. It took a lot to earn his respect, but the commander had done it. With all the tricks Dust pulled, Rockford was always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Dust had kept his distance from everyone else. He had always planned to toss the Dino Attack Team away like broken toys, but despite his best efforts, he had bonded. He still tried to keep the illusion of apathy, but at this stage, he was lying just as much to himself as to others.

Ignoring the fearful faces around him, Dust climbed atop the hood as Semick had done before him and broke the eerie silence.

"Many of you are afraid. Most of you are naïve to what the place holds and as Zachary so bluntly put, By the time you all die, you will be at each other's' necks, trying to kill each other."

Dust looked down at the bleak faces around him. Rockford, Mur, Laxus, Minerva, Andrew, Dactyl, Jackson, Teri, Hotwire, B, David, Septimus, and Kevin. Many he had never talked with personally and, quite frankly, he had no intention to make friends at the last moment. "I know this does not sound very uplifting to all of you. There is really nothing I can say that can make it. All I can tell you now is the truth: if we do not win today, we will lose forever."

Dust smiled. "I myself have no intention to die this day, if only to rob Zach of that satisfaction. If for no other reason, I want to look evil in the face and laugh. This is personal battle for all of us today. We must all confront our inner demons, or Zach and his army will be right about us. We will prove him wrong."

Steeping down from the hood, he stood beside the young driver and pointed forward with his gloved hand. "Forward."

The going was quiet. The entire convoy moved at walking speed, and they often passed the carcasses of Mutant Lizards and Raptors along the way. Grass gave way to black dirt and the tree became burnt husks.

At last, they broke out of the jungle and found themselves in a horrible wasteland. The very earth seemed burned and dead; in the distance, a mountain range of volcanoes violently erupted, spewing fire and smoke into the air; and the horizon glowed with a purple tint.

The convoy of Dino Attack vehicles continued in their journey, following the trail of Dr. Paulie Gonepus to the Temple of Hotep III. Still, Rex could notice an almost tangible uneasiness fall upon the rest of his team. Amanda Claw smiled weakly at him and held his hand to comfort him.

Staring out the window of the Fire Hammer, Rex caught a glimpse of something strange. A statue, it appeared. Here, in this barren and fiery wasteland, such a creation seemed out of place.

"Stop the jeep," commanded Rex. Adventure skidded to a halt, and behind their Fire Hammer, the rest of the Dino Attack Team stopped in their tracks.

Amanda Claw pushed Rex's wheelchair towards the statue he had noticed. It was a carving of a Minifig, which appeared to be once painted green and brown but now the colors had faded, holding high over his head a most peculiar shape. It was in the shape of a triangle, but as Rex got closer, he noticed that its structure was an impossible shape, an optical illusion that appeared to be a triangle, but its faces and edges did not match up, almost like an Escher painting. "It's a Penrose triangle," remarked Amanda quietly. In the center of the triangle was a blue orb which glowed faintly with a dying light.

Rex looked out beyond the statue. He saw that it was at the edge of a cliff. Below them, he saw what appeared to be a sea of Maelstrom energy, which hardly surprised him, seeing how corrupted and infected this region of Adventurers' Island had become. However, a rickety old bridge spanned the sea and led to a small, isolated island in the middle of the Maelstrom. Looking through his binoculars, Rex saw that there was a lone temple located on the island.

"I've seen this Penrose triangle before," murmured Adventure, gazing at the statue. "It's the symbol of Assembly, modeled after the Mythran Temple on the legendary Planet Crux. That temple was home to the Imagination Nexus, which was corrupted by the Baron into the Maelstrom. Assembly uses it as their emblem, since they're all about building and the preservation of Imagination."

Rex raised an eyebrow, impressed. "I'm surprised, Adventure. How did you know all that?"

Adventure grinned. "I fancied joining Venture League, so I did a bit of research on Nexus Force. Ultimately, I decided against it, since I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect going out into space. Nothing interesting in space at all. No fire, no explosions, no excitement."

Rex stared out towards the island in the Maelstrom sea. He was surprised that it was still intact despite the heavy concentration of Maelstrom energies that surrounded it. "If that's the shape of the Mythran Temple," guessed Rex, "then that must be the Temple of Creation that Achu told me about."

Dust approached them. "What's this all about?" he said, frowning. "We're wasting time! We need to get to the Temple of Hotep III, the Maelstrom Temple, as quickly as possible!"

"I agree," said Rex, although he did not look away from the Temple of Creation. "But still, this is the Temple of Creation, and..."

"Rex, you remain idealistic as ever," Dust groaned, rolling his eyes, "but the fact of the matter is this: you're wrong. The Temple of Creation is not the Maelstrom Temple. The documents I've found in the XERRD Fortress and the path of Paulie Gonepus clearly shows-"

"I know!" interrupted Rex. "But let me ask you something, Dust. You know your ancestor's temple like the back of your hand, or so you claim. Surely, this information will help guide us through the temple, avoiding any traps. But when you are inside the pharaoh's temple ruins and confronted by the Maelstrom itself... what then? How do you intend to contain the Maelstrom?"

Dust did not reply quickly enough, so Rex continued.

"We're not going to rely on any deus ex machina to save the day," declared Rex. "We've done that too often, and it's a very poor strategy. This time, it will be different. We need a plan so that we can contain the Maelstrom without having to rely on a random triceratops stampede or a helicopter just happening to crash-land above our position and drop off a crate of supplies. Now, think, Dust. What is the only known element in the universe that counters Maelstrom?"

"Imagination," murmured Dust, glancing out towards the Temple of Creation.

"Exactly," said Rex, nodding. "If we take measures ahead of time... we can be prepared for the Maelstrom. You carry on to the Maelstrom Temple. I'll go to the Temple of Creation and attempt to gather some Imagination. Hopefully, I can catch up to you guys quickly enough to save the day."

"Honcho has a point," agreed Adventure.

Dust frowned, appearing unconvinced and barely trying to hide it. "Very well, but don't take the entire Dino Attack Team with you."

"Of course not," Rex said as he shook his head. "I understand, since the Maelstrom Temple is infinitely more dangerous than the Temple of Creation, that we need to concentrate our forces there, not here. Still, I will only bring a few with me."

Amanda smiled gently. "I'm in by obligation."

Rotor shrugged. "Well, I wish the two of you the best of luck, and-"

Rex glared at Rotor. "You're coming too."

Rotor grimaced. "You can't be serious, Rex. I'll be far more useful to the team if I go to the Maelstrom Temple. I'm willing to do what no one else will, and even if that means using Bishop as-"

"Kate," added Amanda, "you're coming with us too."

Kate Bishop appeared just as surprised as Rotor, but she complied without a word of argument, moving to stand next to Rex and Amanda. Rotor was exasperated. "We need the girl at the Maelstrom Temple to use as leverage against-"

"It's too dangerous for her," declared Rex. "And that's my final word on it."

Grumbling to himself, Rotor trudged over towards Rex, Amanda, and Kate. As Adventure climbed back into his Fire Hammer, Rex nodded to Dust. "Good luck out there."

"From my experience," muttered Dust, "there's no such thing as good luck." With that, he turned away and strode back to the main group. Engines roared to life, and the convoy of Dino Attack agents continued their journey to the Maelstrom Temple. Rex, Amanda, Rotor, and Kate watched them go, unsure if they would ever meet again.

Catless was riding her Steel Sprinter as a guard at the edge of the convoy when it stopped. She overheard Rex and the others discussing something about exploring the Imagination Temple, and she wanted in. So, when the convoy continued, she stayed behind for a moment.

"Sirs, I request permission to accompany your group into the Imagination Temple," Catless said.

Rex managed a slight, grim smile. "Thanks, Catless, but I think it's probably best if you follow Dust. Getting the Imagination shouldn't be too hard; your skills would be put to best use at the Maelstrom Temple, where there will be much more to do."

With that, Catless left to rejoin the convoy in their journey onward, leaving Rex, Amanda, Rotor, and Kate behind to explore the Temple of Creation.

*****

"We're coming up close to the temple," Cabin said over the radio. "If that river's anything to go by, we're definitely close to the Maelstrom."

For the T-1 Typhoon crew, it was a simple task getting across. Unlike the ground troops who had to get out and walk across the bridge, Cabin, Mac, and George would be able to fly across.

*****

"You're not going to believe this," Hertz' voice said over the radio. "We're right above a large river of a strange purplish liquid. Over."

"Is that the Maelstrom? Over" Windows asked.

"Probably," replied Hertz. "We must be getting close. Over."

*****

Dactyl got out of the Fire Hammer and stared at the Maelstrom river below them. Jackson was quick to approach.

"This must be it," Jackson said nervously. He got down on the ground and started to assemble his rifle. "Teri, you got the binoculars?"

"You bet," replied Teri.

"Good," replied Jackson. "You want to go first as spotter, or should I?" 

*****

Fuchs watched in awe as Zelda began to twitch back and forth increasingly. Clearly, something was happening.

"What is it?" Saran asked.

"I'm not sure," replied Fuchs. "It looks like… no, it can't be that simple."

Indeed, the dose of a Creative Spark was apparently taking over. Slowly, Zelda's purplish colour began to disappear, and within a few minutes she sported the standard yellow skin of an ordinary minifig as she lay unconscious on the table.

"Did you just cure her?" Crusher asked, suddenly looking up from her work.

"It looks like it, but it could just be an act," replied Fuchs. "However, if I did cure her, did this actually drive the Maelstrom out of her, or only suppress its effects temporarily? That's what I would like to know." 

Nazareno's eyes widened in surprise as he stared at Zelda. She looked like any other minifig. "Fascinating," Nazareno remarked. She begun to stir. Despite her minifig appearance, Nazareno instinctively reached for his katanas. He stepped forward.

He turned to Dr. Saran. "Stay behind me," he said. Saran nodded and moved forward with Nazareno until the latter was right in front of table that Zelda laid on.

Her eyelids fluttered weakly before they suddenly shut open. "What's going on?!" she exclaimed, glancing around. "Where am I?!"

"Calm down, girl," Nazarerno said soothingly. She did, but she was still breathing heavy.

Saran stepped out from behind Nazareno to his side. "Do you know who you are?" Saran asked.

She gave him a look of confusion. "My name is Zelda Frodongan," she said weakly. "What's going on? Last I remember, I was in the XERRD fortress..." She paused and stared straight ahead for a moment.

"What's wrong?" Saran asked.

"I keep seeing this image of a Stromling shooting me," she mumbled. "The Stromling looks like me..."

"You are probably seeing this scene as Tracer," Nazareno said. "You, as a Stromling, shot him. He donated his Creative Spirit because he was dying anyway. Fuchs used injected some of it into your bloodstream. You seeing his memories might be a side-effect of using his spirit."

Zelda was silent, then a look of pure horror appeared on her face. "I was a Stromling!" she sputtered. It was not a question. Nazareno nodded.

Tears streamed down her face. "I don't know what happened!" she blubbered. "I was in the fortress, fighting. A... guard, I think... attacked me and beat me and brought me to this room. Then this scientist with long red hair came in and stabbed me with a needle and I blacked out."

Nazareno scowled underneath his mask. He knew this scientist was a certain Dr. Carolyne Provencal. Minerva had mentioned that she was the one who had injected Zach with the Maelstrom. Apparently, she hadn't limited her Maelstrom injections to just Zach.

"It's alright," Nazareno said, patting Zelda's shoulder in sympathy. "You are not the first one to have been injected with the Maelstrom by this scientist. The man you used to serve, Zachary Virchaus, also fell victim to her needle."

She looked at Nazareno in horror. "Zach!" she screamed, causing the surrounding minifigs to jump. "He'll kill me! He'll-"

"Shhh," Saran said. "Just calm down. I don't know if he really cares about you. I'd think he is busy at the temple at this point." Zelda nodded, still breathing heavy. "I think we are going to run a few tests, so just stay calm." Nazareno and Saran backed off as Crusher and Fuchs began poking and prodding around Zelda's body.

"We are going to check your body for signs of the Maelstrom," Fuchs said. Zelda nodded, still looking very worried.

Nazareno couldn't help but be filled with doubt.

No way it could be that easy, he thought. Something must be up.

*****

It did not take the T-1 Typhoon fleet long to arrive at a temple. Several helicopters hovered over the temple, which sat on a small island in the Maelstrom Sea. It was fascinating and disturbing sight. Vinyaya bit her lip as she her radar. She frowned.

"What are we doing here?" she asked Hertz. "According to this, this is the Temple of Creation. We are supposed to be heading to Hotep III's temple. We need-"

An explosion suddenly rang out. Vinyaya turned to her window. Mutant Pterosaurs. Hundreds of Mutant Pterosaurs. One T-1 Typhoon had been struck by lightning from the Mutant Pterosaurs, effectively destroying it and sending it falling to the Maelstrom Sea below.

"Take out those Pterosaurs!" Vinyaya commanded. Hertz passed on the message and the T-1 Typhoons and the helicopters turned their focus on to the Pterosaurs.

*****

The path teetered on the edge of a great cliff. The only evidence of an ocean was the steady sound of the waves below and all view of water was shrouded with a purple mist.

Dust himself moved in a dreamlike state. The entire procession moved in slow motion and the world around him was surreal.

But what dominated the minds of all present was the temple. The great monolith was but a shadow through the dense mist and shadows of the Maelstrom. The details of the temple were clouded and all that could of yet be seen with the naked eye was a towering obelisk to the left of the door.

It soon rose above them like the head of an ancient monster. It towered over six stories tall, and its door lead into the deep black maw of the complex. Flanking the door were two massive statures of buzzards. They looked down at the steps leading into the entrance hall in judgment.

Despite all of Hotep III's brilliance, the pharaoh could have benefited from a better contractor. Over the last hundred years, the sea had eroded the cliffs below the east side of the temple. The entire structure leaned 10 degrees over the cold waters of the ocean.

When he first saw it, the forbidding structure felt wrong to Dust. He had devoted his life to it and he expected to be exuberated with its discovery. But the great sandstone building held no life. It felt soulless and cold - the opposite of the Egyptian's imagination.

But despite the shortfall, Dust felt accomplishment. 13 years of his life had all lead to this spot in time. No matter what condition the building was in; for Dust, it was not just the place in its physical sense. It was what it represented.

This place was the only tangible connection to his past. This was the link to his family's former greatness and splendor. He had a difficult time seeing how such embarrassments like his parents could be the descendants of Hotep III, but now he could return his line to its rightful place.

The convoy was flanked by crumbling obelisks; to right was the cliffs, and to the left was the black jungle. Dust knew that in those trees waited an unimaginable number of Stromlings. An army that Dust was positive would decimate the Dino Attack Team.

He had to think back to why he had brought them here. It was because he needed help: he could not enter the temple without the distraction of a battle outside.

"I hope you don't suffer the illusion that you're in charge now, Dust," Semick's voice came over the radio.

"Of course not," said Dust. "In fact, I was thinking that we don't go inside yet. We need time to get our bearings."

Semick seemed surprised by Dust's reasonable response.

"I recommend we create a parameter around the door. The last thing we want is to be cut off from escape, like what happened at the XERRD Fortress."

"I agree," said Semick. "I'll keep the helicopters in the air for the time being. Position the Iron Predators close to the entry and have the Fire Hammers form an outer ring."

Hotwire heard the order and began moving the vehicles into positioning. Dust jumped over the side of his Iron Predator and set foot on the ground.

"I want as small a team as possible," announced Dust. "With a large group, people get clumsy and we would be more likely to make mistakes."

Some agents volunteered and joined the Egyptian at the foot of the steps.

"Zach's forces will attack soon," said Andrew. "Everyone else needs to stay out here and keep the entrance clear. Rex will need to move in fast once he gets here."

The Egyptian nodded. "We go in fifteen minutes." At that moment, Dust saw a spot of orange appear in a nearby Maelstrom river.

Dr. Cyborg poked his head out of the Maelstrom river. "Hmm. Farther from the temple than I expected, but oh, well." He saw Dust on the lead Iron Predator. "Dust, I volunteer for the squad entering the temple."

"Oh, and what skill do you bring?" Dust asked.

"Maelstrom immunity," Cyborg replied. Dust stared at him, as if he hated his logic.

----

The sun was starting to fall amid all the beautiful scenery. Clint was busy preparing steaks and beans for his new comrades, who were all talking about their own things.

"Cooking more of your silly joke 'sandviches', little man?" Heavy laughed as he looked at the steaks. "Keep it up, comrade, and you vill open big deli one day!"

Meanwhile, Firecracker was sitting with Demoman, and they were reminiscing about their days in Reliable Excavation Deconstruction. "Ah, yeh remember that time we blew up that skyscraper? It was just like 'KA-BOOOOOM'!" shouted Demoman.

"Or how about that time we demolished half of LEGO City using that sixteen tons of TNT I got for Christmas that one time?" replied Firecracker.

Clint's attention was soon drawn to the sound of horse hooves. He turned to see the familiar face of Angel Eyes, along with another man he did not recognize. Another horse trailed up behind them, and it turned out to be ridden by Maria.

"Who's your friend?" Clint asked.

"His name's Harmonica," replied Angel Eyes. "How'd the reconnaissance go?"

"Alright," said Clint. "You mind if I talk to you two in private?"

Angel Eyes smiled. "Always," he replied as he dismounted. "Harmonica, you can get yourself acquainted with your new squadmates."

Maria was quick to get off her horse and follow as Clint led them into the ruins of an old general store. He sat down on a worn-out chair and lit a cigar. Angel Eyes was content to stand as he lit his pipe.

"What'd you find?" Maria asked.

"Exactly what they said," reported Clint. "The hybrids are holed up at Fort Legoredo."

"Any idea how we're goin' to take 'em out?" asked Maria.

"I don't know," admitted Clint. "These amateurs seem to think the best approach is to push a cart or something. I think we can do better."

"What's the plan then?" Angel Eyes asked.

"We wait until nightfall," said Clint. "Demoman should fall asleep quickly, he's always drunk, and the others will likely follow as they won't suspect anything. The only one I'm concerned about is Spy."

"What's wrong with him?" asked Maria.

"He's skilled in sneaking around," explained Clint. "He also tends to spend time away from the squad and you never really know where he is. He could even be here listening in on our conversation right now."

Angel Eyes started to reach for his gun, looking around in concern.

"Now, here's the plan," Clint continued. "We wait until nightfall and for the Second Headquarters Squad to turn in. Now I don't know about you, but I'd like to get a closer look at that fortress. Maria, if you'd be willing to slip into something a bit more fitting… that dress really won't do for what we have planned. Van Cleef, I think you can spare some clothing."

Maria smiled. "I guess joinin' the team ain't so bad after all," she said. "If only them folks back in El Paso saw me, riding out into battle, wearing men's clothing."

"Indeed," said Angel Eyes. "So we're sneaking out to Legoredo tonight?"

"Exactly," replied Clint. "I'd like to find out what's going on in there before these fools try to blow it up."

At that moment, the otherwise quiet environment was brought to life by the sound of music playing from a harmonica.

"We're all agreed then?" Clint asked.

"Ain't no reason to object," replied Maria.

"Like I said, Angel Eyes," Clint said. "I'm going to need you to loan Maria here some more practical clothes. That dress just won't cut it."

"Right," said Angel Eyes. He started to take off his jacket. "I can give her this, but what about pants? I don't think them shoes are goin' to be any good."

"You kiddin'?" Maria asked. "I can't stand 'em high heels." Maria quickly grabbed the sides of her dress and pulled it upwards, revealing a pair of tough-looking cowboy boots.

Angel Eyes smiled. "Now we just need to find you a pair of pants," he said.

"I got 'em," Maria replied keenly. "For purposes such as this, I sometimes steal clothes from boys who get a little too much to drink."

"Right then," said Clint. "We'll meet back here after dinner and sneak out under cover of darkness, and watch out for Spy."

----

Hotwire had just finished directing the vehicles into a defensive line around the entrance to the temple grounds when Rockford approached him, PDA in his hand and a suspicious expression on his face. "I've just received word from the Renaissance that the Talon, which has been unaccounted for the better part of 45 minutes now, has been spotted just above the treeline, and will arrive at our location in just under two minutes. All attempts to establish contact with anyone on board have failed."

The commander looked around cautiously and lowered his voice. "This had better be part of some plan you and the other Elites cooked up, because I don't like the alternatives. You told me that Kat wasn't susceptible to reprogramming, and she claimed to be able to resist Maelstrom influence, but given the circumstances... And Loop is still out there, and none of us are sure what exactly he could be capable of."

Hotwire exhaled slowly. "I'll agree it doesn't look good. And I wish to Imagination that I had an explanation for you, but I'm just as clueless as the rest of us."

Rockford checked his PDA again. "Well, I think we're about to find out," he said nervously. "They've just granted Talon clearance to land."

Clouds of dust billowed up as the modified T-1 Typhoon set down outside the Temple of Hotep III, and a number of the Dino Attack agents surrounded it warily in a wide circle, weapons drawn and trained cautiously on the doors. As the rotors spun lazily to a halt, one the side doors slid back just enough for two minifigs to slip out and drop to the ground. They were both dressed in black, and as one turned to help the other up, Hotwire recognized their dark clothing as the uniform of ShadowTech.

The minifig who had stumbled raised his head, revealing three glowing red eyes. A ripple of shock ran through the agents, and Rockford drew a breath. The order to fire was halfway out of his mouth, when Hotwire got a closer look at the other minifig and cried out. "Stop! Don't shoot!"

The Dino Attack elite agent then found himself at a loss for words. At no point during his experiences in the war had he experienced shock and confusion of a magnitude comparable to what he felt at this moment. He tried to speak, but choked on his words before forcing one out.

"Kat!?"

She quickly covered the distance between the Talon and the spot where Hotwire and Rockford were standing. "You address me with a great deal of familiarity, agent Hotwire," she said. Hotwire froze. Something was different. The minifig standing in front of him was physically identical to Kat as he remembered her before her death, but something was different. Her eyes were harder, and her voice held more authority... and the ghost of a German accent.

It was then that Rockford found his voice. "What's the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Who the blok are you, and why are you aiding" -- he gestured towards Loop -- "a known and dangerous enemy of the Dino Attack Team?"

The minifig identical to Kat turned to Rockford. "Do not worry about Lupus," she said reassuringly. "He is conditioned to obey me completely and implicitly. As for my identity...'who the blok I am,' as you so elegantly phrased it... I am Katerina Schattenberg, and you would do well to accept my aid."

"Then... Kat... who was..." Hotwire stammered.

Katerina Schattenberg smirked, in precisely the same way Kat had. "The minifig you knew as 'Kat' was me. I had simply locked away my memories and other parts of my mind in order to hide myself more effectively."

Hotwire tilted his head, confused. "Hide?" he said. "Why, and from who?"

"Agent Cane, my own nephew. He was useful to me, but I underestimated his ruthlessness and ambition. He apparently harbored a great deal of resentment towards me, since I refused ever to divulge to him the purpose of our organization. When I realized he intended to do away with me--" She paused. "One of my earliest projects, you see, was to find a way of translating the essence of a Creative Spark to a digital format. So when the assassins Canis had dispatched burst in on me, I was able to download myself into one of the synthetic minifigs we had designed. That's why I had to lock away so much of my mind -- I knew Canis planned to bring that particular synthfig body out of stasis, so I had to regress to the mental state of my twenty-seven-year-old self so as to avoid detection." She smirked again. "There's a reason, incidentally, that all the primary synthfigs were modeled after myself. It's one of the few qualities I share with my biological brother; neither of us care to suffer the ravages of age if we can avoid it."

Hotwire stopped her. "Wait, confused again," he said. "There was more than just one synthetic minifig?"

"Naturally. I'm standing in one right here," Katerina responded. "The plan required it. And you met one other before -- Cane dispatched it under the pseudonym 'Robo-Kat' to assassinate me early in the war, when he feared I would divulge ShadowTech's secrets to Dino Attack." She paused again. "Lest you assumed my vanity is boundless, please note that the synthfigs served a second purpose."

"So, care to explain or evaluate yourself?" Kuru asked, leering at the mysterious figure with a third eye right on his forehead.

Katerina gestured for Loop to step forward. "This is the first of our secondary synthfigs, built on Canis's genetic structure just as the primaries were built on mine. As the primaries were to act as vehicles for the consciousness of those who would volunteer for the mission, the secondaries were to act as repositories for -- and stable gateways into -- the Maelstrom itself." She looked at Loop disparagingly. "Frankly, as an aside, I haven't the slightest idea why Canis insisted on treating one of the secondaries as his son, nor why he decided that Lupus would best serve us as a spy. He was by far the worst spy I've ever employed."

"None of this is making any sense," Hotwire muttered, rubbing his temples in frustration. "Gateways into the Maelstrom? Volunteers? Mission?"

"I'll admit that I was unable to get the gateway part figured out before Canis's hostile, arrogant takeover of my organization," she said, "but the secondaries remain, as Lupus has admirably proved, quite adequate tools for containing and isolating Maelstrom energies. Which is why I have come here." At that moment, the side door of the Talon slid open entirely and half a dozen more minifigs, identical to Loop, dropped to the ground. "You'll need all the help you can get."

Rockford finally spoke up again. "But why?" he said, exasperated. "Why did you do all of this at all? What were you working towards?"

Katerina Schattenberg laughed. "Oh, of course. I got so carried away that I neglected to mention the one tidbit of information that you need to properly comprehend my rambling -- my ultimate goal. You see, I founded ShadowTech for one specific purpose. I was looking for a way to destroy the Maelstrom from the inside out." 

*****

The Renaissance slowly cruised over the dark zone of Adventures' Island. The helicopter moved with elegant grace as the swarms of Mutant Pterosaurs swirled around it.

Hertz was certainly uneasy. Vinyaya stood framed in the doorway as the craft made set a course away from the Temple of Creation and back toward its original target. The loud popping noises of sonic screamer filled the sky and were often followed by the screams of Mutants tumbling to the black jungle below. On Hertz's view screen was the hulking shape of the forbidden ruins. Already, Dino Attack was setting up a position and several Typhoons had already taken up position above the temple. 

Checking his watch, the techie picked up his headphone and selected the first name on speed dial. "Windows, this is Hertz providing the third of my five-minute updates. Over." 

The radio buzzed and Window's familiar voice came over the speaker. "This is Elite Agent Windows. What's your update? Over."

"You can't throw a rock without hitting a Pterosaur out here," said Hertz. "What's weird is that we're not being overtaken yet. There are hundreds and we only have one Typhoon down. These monsters don't seem to have total decimation on their mind yet. Over." 

Windows was silent for a moment. "The Maelstrom is planning something. Be on the lookout, the tide up there could change any moment. Over."

Hertz nodded even though Windows could not see him. "I expect it will. We will be in Hotep III airspace soon. Once these Mutants give it their all, it will certainly be a short fight. Over." 

"Do you have an ID on the downed Typhoon?" asked Windows "Over.

"T-1 2342." said Hertz. "Casualties unknown; there was no fireball, so survivors are a possibility. Over." 

"Good, I'll hear from you in 5 minutes," said Windows. "Over and out." Hertz took off his headphones and let out a long sigh. The dismal day was certainly getting to him, and he was positive that it was the Maelstrom that was making him feel miserable and on edge. 

"Hertz, you better come see this."

He got up from his chair and joined Vinyaya in the doorway. What he saw below him made him gasp. The ground was covered with the most massive army Hertz had ever lay eyes on. The entire north beach of the peninsula was blanketed with the black and purple glow of Stromlings of every variety imaginable. Dozens of Mutant Tyrannosaurs Rexes stalked the black sand, and Hertz was sure he saw movement in the water as well.

"Why have they not moved yet?" asked Hertz. "Our army is already at the temple." 

"They're waiting for Zach's order," said Vinyaya. "Once they go, they will descend upon us like a pestilence we could never imagine."

Hertz shivered. "I'll go let Hotwire and Semick know." He turned to head back to his seat, but a roar from outside stopped him. Looking over his shoulder, he spied the army move like an as one into the jungle toward the Temple of Creation.

"They're on the move." whispered Vinyaya. 

*****

Zelda slowly opened her eyes and looked at Fuchs. There were a few tears visible in her eyes. "Kill me," she said weakly. "Please, just kill me."

"It's okay," whispered Fuchs. "We got the Maelstrom out of you."

"It's not out," realized Zelda. "I don't know what you've done, but you haven't removed the Maelstrom. I can still feel it inside me. Please kill me before it takes my body."

"It all makes sense now," Fuchs thought to himself. "The Creative Spark is able to overpower and at least temporarily block the Maelstrom's influence. That's why it was such a vital part of J.D.'s cure. It had to have been a composition of ingredients that when added would not only prevent the Maelstrom's effects but ultimately drive it from the body. That just leaves us with the question what else is needed."

Saran laid a firm hand on Zelda's. "You don't want to die, Zelda. That is the Maelstrom talking." 

The young woman contorted on the bed. "Kill me! I don't want to go back." 

"That's the monster talking," Saran said soothingly. "You're going through withdrawal. It made you feel strong and powerful. It made you feel ways you never felt before, but that was not you, it was it." 

Zelda twisted her head and started to shake. "Yes, what Fuchs said is right," said Saran. "The Maelstrom is still in you. But only if you let it! If you return, you will not be free, you will not be in control. It may feel real easy to just let go and go back to that place, but that is the monster talking, not you! The Maelstrom wants you as its slave, Zelda, but you have the power to choose." 

"But it is so much stronger than me!" yelled Zelda.

"Maybe physically, maybe emotionally, but not in your heart! We all have the will to reject it," said Saran. "You can fight it."

*****

Rex, Amanda, Rotor, and Kate crossed the lengthy bridge over the river of Maelstrom energy. The bridge was old and weathered, and a little too rickety for Rex's liking. Nobody stopped to think about what would happen if the rope bridge snapped and collapsed while they were still crossing.

Luckily, the bridge held out as they crossed. As they approached the island of the Temple of Creation, the temple seemed to grow larger and larger, and with every step, it seemed to grow darker and more ominous. While the temple's imagination was strong enough to keep it intact despite the heavy concentration of Maelstrom, it was clear that the Maelstrom had taken an adverse effect upon the temple's structure, twisting it and draining it of hue. When they finally reached the temple, it towered above them, and Rex could hardly believe that such an intimidating structure could possibly hold their salvation.

"What's this?" Rotor commented, raising an eyebrow as they approached the temple's entrance. The entrance was completely covered with spiderwebs, entangled with each other into a thick mass of silk.

"We'll have to cut our way in," said Rex, frowning. "Amanda, do you have a knife on you?"

Amanda nodded silently as she unsheathed her knife. After surveying the entrance and its spiderwebs, she immediately went to work, cutting her way through the mass entanglement. Kate offered to push Rex's wheelchair as the others followed Amanda.

They were almost through when they heard a horrible screech. A hideous creature dropped down from the spider webs. It was the size of a Steel Sprinter and rather arachnid in appearance despite having only four legs. Lasers and metallic spears were attached to its purple abdomen, and it glared at the Dino Attack agents with six yellow eyes. Screeching angrily, the Darkling Spiderling advanced upon the Dino Attack agents.

Kate gasped in horror, and Rex's eyes widened in shock. How could a Maelstrom creature have gotten so close to the Imagination Temple? he thought in disbelief. Rotor was quick, however, and fired at the Dark Spiderling with his Cosmotronic Ray. This stunned the spider just long enough for Rex to recover and take out his Sonic Screamer. He fired at the spider, which hissed angrily and recoiled.

Then, a small arc of electricity, spreading out like a web, was fired from one of the spider's lasers. This blast knocked back Rotor, and even Rex could feel the surge of energy hit him and threaten to topple his wheelchair. Before Rotor could get back on his feet, the Stromling was upon him, trying to jab at him with one of its pointed feet.

Amanda approached the Dark Spiderling, moving silently yet dangerously swiftly. Before it took notice of her, she thrust her knife into the spider's abdomen. Shrieking in pain, the arachnid backed off of Rotor, who got up and prepared to fire his Cosmotronic Ray again but did not need to.

Writhing in a disturbingly unnatural manner, the Dark Spiderling's legs buckled and it collapsed to the ground, all six of its eyes going dark.

Amanda reached and pulled her dagger out of the spider's carcass. "What the MegaBlok was that?" muttered Rotor, grimacing as Amanda wiped the spider's body fluids off of her knife.

"The Maelstrom's way of welcoming us to the Temple of Creation, I suppose," mused Rex. "I think the Stromlings knew that we would be coming here, and so decided to leave an ambush, likely along with trap or two, waiting for us. Be careful. The sooner we get the Imagination, the sooner we can get out of here and hurry to the real Maelstrom Temple."

No sooner had the words left his mouth had a dozen Stromling Explorers led by a few Stromling Islanders limped their way out of the shadows and surrounded Rex, Amanda, Kate, and Rotor.

*****

The tests confirmed it: there was still some Maelstrom in Zelda's body, and it would no doubt take her over within the next few minutes unless something was done.

She glared at the minifigs around her, fearful. "Kill me!" she screamed to Nazareno. He looked apprehensive.

"Not yet!" Saran said. "You must control your emotions, Zelda! You can't let the darkness control you!"

She trembled. "I c-c-can't!" she stammered. "Please!" she begged to Nazareno, glancing at his swords. "Kill me! Spare me!"

Nazareno glanced Saran. He shook his head disapprovingly. "The girl is hysterical, Saran," Nazareno sighed. "I can't see her calming down soon enough."

Saran scowled.

"I can see you are anxious to talk to a Stromling," Nazareno said calmly. "But I can't see her taking your advice. Be happy that you got the information from that you did." Saran looked as though he was about to argue, but Nazareno raised his hand. He stepped toward Zelda, his sword in hand.

"Do you know anything that could help us stop the Maelstrom?" he asked carefully. Zelda thought for a moment. "Anything that could help us get in and out of Hotep III's temple without too many casualties?"

Her eyes widened with sudden realization. "Yes, I do!" she said excitedly. "The-" She choked on the rest of the words. Zelda's eyes bulged out with surprise. She began to scream. Nazareno knew he had to do it now. He ran up and begun to swing the sword down.

Just as he was about to make the final blow, Zelda caught the katana's hilt with her hand and shoved Nazareno backwards. She jumped off the table, her eyes glowing red yet again. Her minifig appearance faded away and once again a Stromling was back in their midst. She grinned wickedly at Nazareno. The ninja winced as he clutched his stomach. The Maelstrom in his abdomen roared with approval.

"Time for round two!" she growled. "And this time, you will die!"

*****

Minerva turned to Andrew. "Should we go with Dust?" she whispered.

"I don't know," he replied. "I have a bad feeling we will be attacked very soon, and that will make it impossible to find Zach. And if we go into the temple, we'll probably never find him in endless corridors and traps."

Minerva nodded sadly. "Yeah. But Zach said he'd be in the temple!"

"Those plans can easily change. He's not exactly in control of his actions at the moment."

Minerva sighed. Andrew shrugged and turned to Dust. "We're going," he said flatly. He and Minerva went to stand by him. Dust raised an eyebrow and examined Minerva closely. Minerva could feel him trying to discover her motives. He seemed to find a satisfactory answer, because he turned away from her and back the group.

"Anybody else?" Dust asked. Minerva figured he would impatient to finally get in his temple. However, he hid whatever impatience he had. Minerva imagined he had been waiting for this day for a long time and didn't want to mess up.

"Alright, I-" Dust was interrupted by the sound of something heavy hitting metal. Every turned to see a Stromling standing on top of a Fire Hammer. He had descended from the trees above. Although his features were skewed in the dark and rainy jungle, Minerva could see the Stromling had a gun for an arm. She tensed up, believing the Stromling to be Zach.

The Stromling jumped onto the hood of a Fire Hammer and then onto the ground. He walked arrogantly toward the Dino Attack Team, his hands behind his back. As he approached, his features became clearer. his weapon was a Sonic Screamer instead of a Cosmotronic Ray, and it was fused with his left hand instead of his right. The Stromling wore a dark trenchcoat and wore a cap that resembled one a military officer would wear. He had three scars running down the right side of his face, one of the scars intercepted by an eyepatch.

The Stromling continued toward the group in a brisk fashion. "Get him!" an agent shouted. The Stromling quickly raised his Sonic Screamer and blasted the offending agent. Weapons were raised and pointed at the Stromling. He stopped and glared at the minifigs with his single red eye with distaste.

"Sloppy!" spat the Stromling. "I expected better. Back when I was in the Dino Attack, the agents knew how to stand at attention like a true army. You slouching, boy?" The Stromling snapped at another agent.

"Who are you?" Septimus asked.

"My name is Colonel Ernest Quartich," the Stromling said with a sneer. "However, you many simply refer to me as Colonel. Now, explain to me the improper behavior of these soldiers. This is disgusting!"

"The Dino Attack isn't the army, you know," Andrew muttered.

Colonel's face twisted in rage. He marched up to Andrew until their chests were touching. Colonel squinted, clearly disgusted. "Elite Agent Andrew," Colonel said. "I knew they shouldn't have given the promotion to a punk kid such as yourself. The state of your soldiers is pitiful. I expected better." Colonel spat in Andrew's face and turned away without waiting for a response.

"General Virchaus is eager to begin the battle," Colonel said. "I can't keep him waiting."

"Wait," Minerva said. "General Virchaus?!" His ego had certainly gone overboard.

"Yes," he said, sneering at Minerva. He glanced over at the jungle. "Your Fire Hammers are in the way. This will not do. Cranky!"

A loud smashing noise could be heard. On the same Fire Hammer Colonel had dropped onto was a massive Stromling Ape. He had crushed the roof of the Fire Hammer and smashed the glass. There was a small groan from underneath the roof before it was silenced.

Cranky jumped from the Fire Hammer and quickly began moving toward a pair of different Fire Hammers near the jungle. The vehicles nearby began firing on Cranky, but the ape ignored the blasts and shoved two Fire Hammers to side to create a path into the jungle.

"Thank you, Cranky," Colonel yelled out. "Troops!" At once, ten rows of 12 Stromlings began to march out of the trees. Minerva noticed how these Stromlings seemed less intelligent than Colonel or Zach. They were hunched over and made strange growling noises.

"Attack!" Colonel bellowed to his troops. "Kill them all! Slaughter them! Do not let them into the temple!" The Stromling growled in acknowledgement and started running at the Dino Attack vehicles and agents, firing their weapons.

"And without further ado," Zachary cackled from the jungle, his voice ringing out clearly and powerfully. "Let the show begin!" 

*****

Crusher tried to focus on her own research as much as she could. "Saran, give me a hand with this," she muttered. The psychiatrist quickly worked his way over. Zelda was busy with Nazareno, fortunately.

"I think I might have something," Crusher explained. "It's a matter of concentrated Imagination. There's a very specific dosage required, and still one or two other components I can't quite get."

Fuchs sat down next to her. "What you need?" he said. "Is some way to cut off the Maelstrom?"

"You mentioned it was providing her with nutrients and all that," Crusher said.

"Yes," replied Fuchs. "The only way I can think of is to shut down the body, essentially rendering the victim clinically dead. If done right, it may be possible to revive them with a defibrillator or CPR or something."

*****

The signal he'd been waiting for came with a loud Pang! Pang! Pang! Bluetooth was shaken to alertness as he scanned his TALON-9 screen.

He saw it immediately. Masses of little red drones, lined up in neat little groups, heading right for the clearing the Dino Attack forces had gathered in around the temple. So far, no signs of air support, but the technician knew that could change. Regardless, they had to handle what they had now.

"Semick-!" he began, but the Elite Agent was already on the move, directing the T-1 Typhoon towards a better firing angle at the ground below. He was also now giving commands into the radio.

"Alert! Maelstrom forces moving in at the southern edges of the clearing! We've got several dozen mooks and a gorilla! They appear to be going easy on us for now, so takes these guys down and remain vigilant! Dust, get your team into the temple! Renaissance, get on standby! Mur and Rockford, get the Predators and Hammers reorganized and ensure protection of the temple! And Talon, get in the air ASAP!"

*****

The commotion going on behind him made Rockford immediately redirect his attention from the events unfolding at the Talon. Already, the agents that had been ready to fire at its occupants were returning to vehicles or preparing to face the Stromlings head-on.

"Hotwire, Kat," he said quickly to his fellows in conversation, "I'd suggest you put these synthetic-whatevers to use and get the Talon back up in the air. Ole knows we could use the air support." Without stopping to listen, he ran back towards his Iron Predator. The vehicle got into motion the second Rockford was fully inside.

"So, what did they bring us?" Mur asked, his crew beginning to aim the Cryothermic Cannon towards the incoming enemy troops.

"Some extra soldiers, that's all you need to know. What's the formation status?" asked Rockford.

"That giant monkey's pushing vehicles aside to let the redshirts in. We have to take him out, and him being so close to our guys isn't making that easy," reported Mur.

"Stromling Apes are strong, I know that much, but they aren't bulletproof. If we can combine our fire for even the briefest of moments, we shou-"

"Don't. Jinx. It," the agent at the Z-1 Kinetic Launcher muttered threateningly to Rockford. He sighed and looked to see what he could do with the radio.

*****

Stranger sat quietly in the shadow of an obelisk close to the cliffs. Buddy was nearby, playing watch. The way they had planned it, he would provide cover while the Dino Attack agent would get his chance to hunt.

"Hey, this isn't as boring as it sounds," Stranger had told his companion. "Something's bound to try and stop me, and I think fighting alone's as stupid as it could get." Indeed, the last time Stranger had been in situations like this, he had friends like Titan and the late Raider to help. And when he didn't, the Lizard that was by his side now had nearly murdered him.

Strange bedfellows indeed, Stranger thought humorously. And the current situation was humorous as well. The incoming Stromlings were coming in at a simple and predictable rate. Practically lambs for the slaughter.

Mr. Zach, you are not making a good ringleader as of yet, the agent thought as he took aim with his sniper rifle and began firing away. Cut to the main act already.

*****

Dust had not replied to his request yet, but there were more important things happening.

Dr. Cyborg jumped behind a nearby Stromling and extracted the Maelstrom. Instead of turning back into a minifig, the Stromling disappeared. "They're pure Maelstrom!?" he exclaimed in surprise. 

*****

Zach watched the chaos from the treetops, smiling. Everything was going according to plan, even as Stromling after Stromling were being shot down by the Dino Attack Team. These Stromlings weren't made to be terrific soldiers. Their greatest strength came in numbers; endless Stromlings against a Dino Attack Team with limited teammates was ideal in this case. He quickly made contact with Colonel.

Excellent work, Colonel, Zach said. The battle has begun.

You are welcome, sir, Colonel replied. What shall I do now? Command from afar?

I'd prefer if you didn't. Can you command from the field of battle?

Of course, sir. In fact, I already have a plan formulating.

Excellent. Carry on. Zach then contacted Ahua. Where are you?

We're watching the battle from the temple. We intend to join the battle soon. Unless you feel as though you have it handled. Zach smirked at Ahua's flat, somewhat angry tone.

Just a few more acts to pull out. Then I will return to the temple and do I as you requested earlier.

And how long is this going to take?

It shouldn't take too long. I'll see you soon. He severed his connection with Ahua and mentally beckoned Cranky to his hiding spot. Cranky clearly understood, as he began sprinting toward Zach, dodging a variety of bullets as he ran. Cranky reached the base of the tree and quickly ascended until he was in the same branch as Zach.

"Fantastic," Zach said, licking his lips with excitement. "Not a scratch on you. It's time for phase two, friend. Call them when I give you the cue." Cranky nodded obediently. Zach turned to the battle and amplified his voice to address the Dino Attack.

"And early on into the show, the Dino Attack shows promising signs of success. They are currently managing to best the underlings of the Maelstrom's ranks: the mooks, the grunts, the redshirts, whatever terminology you wish to use. You may be feeling confident now. Possibly overconfident. Maybe even bored with the Maelstrom army! But worry not, Dino Attack Team. This is only Act I of this spectacularly show. It's hardly been a few minutes. I do have a few more tricks up my trees. The next performers are organic, unlike this army. They are minifig-like, in a sense. They are definitely smarter than the army you are facing now. They are a last-minute act. They were found by Cranky as I was returning to the temple. Cranky, if you will, introduce the next group of performers!"

Cranky stood up on his legs and beat his chest furiously, roaring loudly for nearly a minute. As his roar died down, Zach could hear the screeches in the distance. He turned, grinning ear from ear.

A massive wall of Stromling Monkeys was approaching the Maelstrom Temple at high speeds. They were all small and quick, with bright red eyes. There were dozens of them, all at Cranky's command. They burst through the trees and jumped into the battle, targeting nearby Dino Attack Agents.

"You see, Dino Attack," Zach began to explain. "I can't let you think this is too easy. However, if you find these guys easy, there is still one more act getting ready! They are grandest event and will be the highlight of the show! In the meantime, good luck!"

Zach cackled, then turned to Cranky. "Let's have some fun." He climbed on to Cranky's back and pointed his Cosmotronic Ray arm forward. "It's on like Cranky Kong!" Zach bellowed gleefully. Cranky roared his approval and jumped from the trees back into the battle. 

*****

Garry stayed back, his hand on his revolver. He was tempted to shoot Zelda right there but he could tell it would not do much good. If anyone could take care of her, it was this Nazareno. Instead, he turned back toward Fuchs and Crusher. Copper was in the back, watching in terror, as did Wade.

"You found anything?" Garry asked.

"I think so," replied Fuchs. "However, we may have to risk killing her."

"What do you mean?"

"The only way the Maelstrom will leave her is if she's dead," said Fuchs. "In theory, at lea-"

"He's suggesting that we try to render her into a state of death from which she can be revived," explained Crusher.

"How can you be so sure you'll revive her?" Garry asked.

"Well," said Crusher, "I guess it is possible that the Creative Spark could help."

"I guess it's as good an idea as any," decided Garry. "Let's get to work."

The scientists were working as hard as they could. There was some uncertainty over what to use, but they finally settled on adrenaline, mixed in with the Creative Spark of Tracer. Nazareno was still busy with Zelda, but now was the moment of truth.

Fuchs loaded the experimental cure into a syringe and slowly walked up behind Zelda. As soon as he was close enough, he grabbed her around the neck and forced the syringe in, injecting the substance. With that, Zelda collapsed. She lay there for a few minutes as the Maelstrom gradually started to fade.

Crusher quickly ran up to the unconscious Zelda and looked at her closely. "No pulse, she's not breathing. COPPER! WADE! CARVER! GET OVER HERE!" 

----

Clint lit a cigar as he leaned against an old building and stared into the desert night. In the distance he could hear Demoman snoring loudly. Heavy was muttering something weird in his sleep. "Oh, Dietrich… I love you… Vill you marry me?... Zzz… Oh yes, I accept… I take you as groom… Zzz…" Even Spy had to sleep sometime.

"You ready yet?" Clint whispered.

"Almost," replied Maria. She stepped out a moment later wearing a plain button-up shirt under a leather vest, with a pair of greyish pants and dark brown boots. Her curly red hair was hastily tied back into a somewhat messy ponytail. At her side she wore a gunbelt, containing a small revolver.

"You get all these from customers?" Clint asked, impressed.

"You'd be amazed what some boys wager," replied Maria. "They should know better than to come up against me in poker."

"They wager clothes?" Clint asked.

"Sometimes if they're desperate enough," explained Maria. "Sometimes I just take 'em off of annoying customers who had too much to drink and didn't pay their tab."

"Do you really?" Angel Eyes asked with a grin as he approached her.

"You bet," replied Maria. "These here boots I stole from Flatfoot Thompson himself."

"I see you're ready," Angel Eyes said keenly, lighting his pipe. "Let's get going."

Clint exhaled before he turned toward the direction of the fort, where Spy had taken him previously. 

----

Zach immediately decided that death by monkeys was just about the worst possible death. He witnessed screeching Stromling Monkeys tackle Dino Attack agents and more-or-less tear them to pieces. Hearing the screams of the victims yell out and be suddenly silenced disturbed even him.

Dr. Cyborg was fed up with this fight and Zach's stupid theatrics. "Hey Zach! If this is a show, I want a refund for my ticket!" he called.

Cranky and Zach turned in his direction to see the cyborg fighting off Stromlings. Zach raised an eyebrow with interest as Dr. Cyborg seemingly pulled the Maelstrom out of a Stromling. The Stromling faded away into nothing once Cyborg's deed was complete.

"Interesting," Zach muttered. Then, out-loud: "Not enjoying the show? This will not do! Luckily, the Maelstrom provides a one hundred percent money-back guarantee if the audience isn't satisfied. Unfortunately, you are a part of the act, so you never paid for ticket. However, I can still give you a payment. In the form of a beating, of course! Cranky!" Cranky reared back and raised one giant fist. "Give Cyrista his money back, friend!"

Cranky launched his fist down on Dr. Cyborg. He quickly jumped out of the way as fist smashed into the ground.

"Come on, Cyborg!" Zach cackled. "You said you want your money back!" Cranky turned and threw another punch at Cyborg. The Dino Attack agent rolled out of the way again. Dr. Cyborg raised his hands as if to extract the Maelstrom from Cranky.

"Not so fast!" Zach yelled out. He fired his Cosmotronic Ray at Cyborg's right arm, singeing it. "No fancy Maelstrom tricks from you! I'm the only one who is allowed to do that!" Cranky stomped up to Cyborg, his fist raised up again.

"Did you know this little tidbit? When I pushed you into that Maelstrom pool when I was becoming a Stromling, it was because I thought you were a Stromling Ape. I wasn't against the Dino Attack Team then. How interesting is it that you are going to be killed by a being I thought you were before a Stromling! However, I must say Cranky is much better dresser than the Stromling Ape you were in that hallucination! Now, Cranky, if you will..."

Cranky's fist began to descend down quickly on Dr. Cyborg.

*****

Colonel quickly fled from the group of Dino Attack agents and gathered a group of Stromlings near the edge of the cliff.

"Alright, men," Colonel said, pacing in front of them. "I know you are all basically 'one-shot-dead' kind of troops. You may outnumber the Dino Attack Team, but they outpower you in terms of fire power and technology. We are going to change that." He pointed toward an Iron Predator in front of the temple. "We're going to hijack that beast over there. Give us a little more firepower. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir!" the Stromlings growled.

"Let's go!" Colonel yelled out. He and about twenty Stromlings ran across the battlefield without pause. Several Stromlings dropped after being shot, but Colonel and the survivors pressed forward. They scrambled onto the Iron Predator, much to the shock of the crew.

"What are you-" the agent never finished as Colonel clubbed him over the head with his Sonic Screamer arm. The other crew members were thrown overboard soon afterwards. The Stromlings quickly assumed control of the Z-1 Kinetic Launcher, the Cryothermic Cannon, and the steering wheel. The other Stromlings clung to the side of the vehicle and fired on any nearby Dino Attack agents. Colonel stood behind the driver, grinning wide.

"Superb work, gentlemen!" Colonel said. "General Virchaus would be pleased. Now, start taking out the other Predators and Fire Hammers! Make them wish they had never messed with us!" 

*****

The launcher on the back of the Fire Hammer was designed to fight off mutated dinosaurs, not Stromlings. Eventually, Dr. Smith gave up hope of using it, and instead grabbed a rifle.

David had already taken one. But he had a thought. If Maelstrom could infect the Imagination of a being, could Imagination "infect", or rather purify, the Maelstrom inside a being…? His query was swiftly answered when he saw Dr. Cyborg's style of fighting. It seems I am not the first to think of that idea.

But suddenly, a Stromling Ape descended on Dr. Cyborg. David was not too far off to try and help the doctor. He climbed into the driver's seat and started up the engine. "I think we found someone who needs help," remarked David as the vehicle accelerated. 

As the Stromling Ape's fist came down, Dr. Cyborg in one smooth motion grabbed his laser sword from the left side of his belt with his right hand, swung it up, ignited it, and cut off the ape's fist.

"Heal that, Failstrom!" he yelled.

"Failstrom?" Zach repeated. "Oooh, Doc, that hurt." He realized the joke he had made, with Cranky screaming in pain in the background. He doubled over with laughter, choking out, "That hurt. His fist cut off. Ha, ha, ha!"

By now, Cranky's fist had healed, and he started punching anew, Cyborg punching back.

"Really, Cyrista?" Zach said as Cranky smashed his fist into the spot where Dr. Cyborg was. "'Failstrom'? We are not petty children on the playground. If you are going to insult me, you are going to do it right!"

"I could really use some help now," Dr. Cyborg muttered. 

The Fire Hammer was a mere 50 yards away from where Cranky was trying to punch Dr. Cyborg. David had quickly formulated a plan. He had two regular missiles in his Fire Hammer, and one of them had been loaded into the launcher. The plan was to aim it directly below Cranky. This would provide distraction, and then Dr. Cyborg would have time to fight back.

"Fire!" shouted David. 

*****

Copper and Wade quickly pulled Zelda's body onto the examination table. "Carver!" Copper shouted. "Get me that defibrillator, will you?" Copper quickly pulled Zelda's shirt open and began attempting CPR. "Come on, come on."

Carver quickly wheeled the defibrillator over towards Copper. He quickly took the two paddles and waited for the right moment.

"CLEAR!" Wade shouted. Copper quickly pressed them down. Zelda jolted slightly. 

"CLEAR!" Copper shouted. He pressed the two paddles of the defibrillator down on Zelda. There was a moment of silence as he turned to Wade.

"I think we might have something," replied Crusher. "I got a pulse."

Garry and Fuchs were watching from a few feet away. "I'm not sure I understand," Garry said. "Wouldn't an overdose like that be lethal?"

"Normally, it would be," explained Fuchs. "In this case, however, the victim had a second Creative Spark inside, which gave her some form of life and made it easier for us to revive her."

At that moment, Enter burst into the room, charging in while holding a large shark. "Dang it!" Copper shouted. "Garry, would you get those fools out of here?"

Copper and the others ducked out of the way as Enter suddenly smashed the shark into Zelda's chest. Her eyes opened suddenly and she coughed.

"What did you just do?" Crusher asked, confusedly.

"Basic CPR," replied Enter. "Can't go to any emergency without a shark."

"You've got to be MegaBlokin' kidding," Copper said.

Zelda moaned as she slowly started to sit up. Wade ran to her side and put an arm around her shoulder. Zelda briefly gagged for a moment, and then shot a large amount of vomit onto poor Enter. Return arrived at that moment and started laughing.

"Look!" Wade shouted. "This is serious business! Someone get a bucket!"

Carver came back a moment later with a small round pail that she put into Zelda's lap. The young agent vomited once again.

"I don't believe it," Garry muttered. "I gotta tell Windows."

"I think it worked," Crusher said. "I think we should probably find something else to use in the compound, but our hypothesis seems to be correct."

----

It was not long before Clint, Angel Eyes, and Maria were approaching Fort Legoredo. Unlike most of the buildings in town, this one was more-or-less intact, possibly even improved structurally and modified, which made sense given that the Hybrids were using it as their main base. On the roof, there was a sentry marching back and forth, lit by a small torch nearby.

"How we goin' to get in?" Maria asked. "The place is probably crawlin' with 'em Hybrids."

"Simple," replied Clint. "Just takes a little stealth. Maria, you have a knife or something?"

Maria slowly opened her vest to reveal a small but intimidating knife hidden in her belt.

"Good," said Clint. "You're going to need that. Now I reckon we get in through the side. There's probably a guard there as well. Give me five minutes to distract him."

Clint quickly rode around to the left side of the fort. Sure enough, next to the large gate was a rather mean-looking Hybrid with a sharp spear. He quickly noticed Clint and hissed menacingly.

"Now, now," Clint said. "Is that any way to treat company?"

The Hybrid started to move toward Clint, but at that moment was suddenly grabbed and his throat was cut open. The body collapsed onto the ground, the Hybrid trying to scream, but only making a very muffled wheeze.

"Nice work, Maria," Angel Eyes said keenly as he approached. Maria could only smile as she held the knife.

----

"Excuse me," a nurse said. "Dr. Alan Pierce?"

Pierce looked up from his bed. "That's me," he remarked.

"I understand you are a skilled doctor."

"Yes," said Pierce.

"If we were to try you out on a crutch temporarily, do you think you could help us?"

"Yeah, I think so," replied Pierce.

The nurse smiled and removed Pierce's bedsheets. She handed him a crutch and helped him to his feet... or rather, foot. 

-----

A juvenile chimpanzee has enough strength to rip the arm out of a grown man's socket. A superpowered Stromling Ape has enough strength to rip the arm out and then use said arm as a grotesque club.

Needless to say, an army of incredibly fast and incredibly angry Stromling Monkeys soon turned the highly efficient Dino Attack Team into a screaming mass.

Fortunately, what made this battle different from the massacre at the rear guard camp was the presence of significant air support. The Renaissance, the Talon, and Semick's T-1 Typhoon moved over the battlefield and fired their powerful twin rotating Quintronic Sonic Beam Emitters into the mob of monkeys.

The incredible sonic beams scattered the Stromlings. Hertz was able to see the creatures clutch their heads before the lethal waves dropped them to the ground.

Hertz took position beside Vinyaya by the door. He spotted a great Stromling Ape not far from the temple entrance harassing Professor Norman and Doctor Cyborg. He pulled out his radio. "Semick, I spotted Zach and his pet off your starboard side."

The elite agent's helicopter circled around and opened fire with its side-mounted machine gun.

*****

The Egyptian crouched under the shadow of the stone buzzard. Once again, the situation was rapidly going bad and he really had no intension to stay outside much longer.

Beside him, Elite Agent Andrew was shooting repeatedly with his Cosmotronic Ray at the pack of Mutant Lizards. Minerva was scanning the battlefield for Zachary but apparently to no avail.

"You're not going to find him!" Dust yelled over the sounds of screams and gunfire. "Your boyfriend is into theatrics. He'll be waiting for you in the main chamber of the temple. Trust me."

Minerva rolled her eyes. "Trust you?"

The Egyptian looked the woman in the eye. "Look, you really think I would lie at this stage? I'm at my endgame now. He'll be in the temple."

Two more agents joined them in the shadows. One had a loose-fitting uniform that hung strangely over his thin alien body. The other was a wide-shouldered corpse of a figure with a bone-white skeleton face.

"Laxus! Septimus! Glad to see you're in good shape!" said Andrew.

Dust had a difficult time reading Martian facial expressions but he assumed Laxus smiled. "Someone needs to look out for you. Right, buddy?"

Septimus gave an approaching monkey a powerful whack with his spear and opened fire with his blaster. "I will also be joining you."

"Good," said Dust. "Four should be a good number. Come on, let's go."

The five agents shot from their positions and ran up the long set of steps. Pure Stromlings were starting to pop out of the ground like daisies, but Dust was able to make short work of them with some well-thrown knives.

They had reached the great door, and it took their combined efforts to push aside the massive stone. Dust felt an incredible exhilaration as he crossed the threshold into his temple. It was oddly well-lit with an unknown blue light, and the sandstone walls shown a clean gray. Dead bugs littered the cold floor and a thick layer of dust covered every surface. The sound of battle died almost instantly as they stepped inside. All that could be heard was a faint echo of water dripping deep within the temple.

Two more people stepped in behind them. Lance Williams broke the tranquil silence. "Dude, it's pretty gnarly in here. Cool, too."

"Your opinion is appreciated, Standard Agent Williams," said Carl Lutsky as he stepped into the cool entry chamber.

The former commander walked straight to Dust. He looked terrible; his eyes were still red-rimmed and his once studiously combed hair still hung in clumps across his brow. He had taken the time to change back into his uniform and he carried himself with his former dignity.

"What's your plan?" asked Lutsky. "How do we get to the Maelstrom chamber?"

Dust tried to read the commander before turning back to Andrew. "Well I'm not the Elite, I'm not calling all the shots now, you are. I'm just your guide at this point."

"True that," chuckled Lance.

Andrew shrugged. "Well, let's not do anything stupid. We're really close to the Maelstrom now, so we'll be feeling the emotional effects. We're also need to keep an eye out for Stromlings."

Dust continued: "I will let you know where to begin." He pointed to one of the six doors that led out from the chamber "We're going through that door; it's the most direct. But be warned, there will be a few surprises in store."

"Like that?" asked Laxus, the first to notice the skeleton in the room.

Septimus knelt down beside the unfortunate victim. "He's dead."

"Spot on," chuckled Dust. "Come on, we don't have much time."

The seven agents stepped over the bones and into the dark tunnel.

*****

"Windows," Garry said as he entered. The young radio operator took off his headphones and turned toward him. "How's it going? Any updates?"

"Yes sir," replied Windows. "Last I heard, they were approaching a Maelstrom river or something weird like that."

"I see," said Garry. "Listen, I've got a very important update for you. I need you to get in touch with them. Tell them we think we've just cured a Stromling."

"What?" Windows exclaimed.

"Just do it," ordered Garry.

Windows put on his headphones and turned back to the radio. "Standard Agent Hertz, this is Windows, come in. Do you read me? Over."

Windows had to repeat the message two or three more times before he finally got a response. "That's a roger, Windows. Over," replied Hertz's voice.

"Listen, Hertz," Windows said. "Garry's in here. He says he's got an important update. He claims that they may have cured a Stromling. I repeat, he thinks that a Stromling has been cured. Over."

----

Sarah kept her arm around Pierce as she led him towards the mess hall. The place was largely crowded, but fairly straightforward. There was a counter where people would line up to pick up food from the cooks, and they would sit down and eat at one of the tables. It was very much like a standard cafeteria.

After getting their food, Sarah helped Pierce toward a table and sat him down before taking another seat herself. They were about to start talking when another man arrived.

"Hey Sarah!" shouted the strange man with a thick beard, sunglasses, ridiculously long hair, and incredibly baggy clothes that looked like old worn-out pajamas. He was accompanied by a large middle-aged man with a buzzcut and a thin brown beard. "How's it goin', man."

"Just fine, Dude," replied Sarah.

"Who's he?" Pierce asked.

"Dino Attack agent Dude," Sarah introduced him. "His superiors didn't think he'd be good in the field, so they kept him here."

"Either that," joked Dude, "or they just thought my codename was stupid."

Another young man ran up to the two of them. "Hey guys, I just found out they posted the times for the next bowling tournament."

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP, DONNIE!" shouted Dude's companion only to cut himself off. "When is it?"

"Tonight," replied Donnie.

"Bowling?" asked Pierce, confusedly.

"They um... improvised a bowling alley," replied Sarah. "Long story."

"Yeah," said Dude. "Would you, uh, like to come out to see us bowl, man?"

"Sure," Sarah replied unenthusiastically. "As long as Walter doesn't pull out his gun again."

Pierce looked on in confusion.

"Hey!" shouted Dude's companion, who was apparently Walter. "That guy was OVER THE LINE!"

----

It was perhaps Dino Attack's darkest hour, according to Rockford's perspective. An amassing of men, women, and various other kinds of beings together to fight one of the universe's most powerful entities, currently struggling with ordinarily creatures made horrifyingly fierce by said entity.

It was a fight that Dino Attack seemed at impossible odds at surviving, let alone besting. But the more Rockford focused on certain aspects, the more he felt confident in the ideals Semick and others had been telling themselves since heading off. Even as one or two found themselves failing to match the brutality of the Maelstrom's monkeys, others were fighting to near bitter ends to keep them off their vehicles, doing everything in their power to protect themselves and others, lest there be no more to stop whatever else was waiting in the woods.

And they were doing one heck of a job. In one Urban Avenger, an agent was able lure the monkey trying to pull him off right on top of him... and right in range of the Sonic Screamer on top, which a push of said agent's elbow on the trigger button made blast the monkey right under the wheels of Mur's Iron Predator. In another spot, an agent managed to unveil a sword of some kind, perhaps hinting of a past at Pirate Forbidden Island or Castle Cove, and was bashing the monkeys away like flies. In yet another Fire Hammer, guns blazed like crazy as the agents fended off at every monkey within their area, including the ones try to take out other vehicles. And of course, the half-dozen T-1 Typhoons and the Renaissance in the air were doing a good job at providing extra cover fire. The one Rockford thought Semick was on, in particular, was already moving in to start focusing fire on the Stromling Ape that had been harassing the team thus far.

This raised Rockford's spirits, and helped him to concentrate on his work. It meant that Dino Attack was still proving their worth as the LEGO Planet's protectors. At this rate, taking down Dr. Rex would be bakery work by comparison.

"We're doing good," said Mur as he managed to catch a Stromling Monkey trying to leap him, which he managed to stop with a good slap to the head (Rockford could've swore his one arm didn't even touch it, but blamed it on the blur of his movement). "I hope Dust is getting his men into that temple, though. The more he delays, the more he-Oh good, he's doing it."

Rockford looked in the direction Mur was looking in. Beyond their Iron Predator's firing Cryothermic Cannon, several minifigures were running into now open doors in the temple's front entrance.

"Get the message out that we're in full CC mode now," Mur told the lawyer.

Rockford was already putting the mic to his lips, giving out the coded message he was told to give so any interception of the comm wouldn't fully understand: "Alert! The X-Wings are in the trench! I repeat, the X-Wings are in the trench!"

Just after he gave the message, Semick came on the radio. "Good to hear, Rockford. Now Mur, I just got word from Stranger that we're getting pure Stromlings by the cliffs."

"What's the worse news?" Mur said, taking over for Rockford for the moment.

"They're pulling the Ewok strategy on us: overwhelm and overtake. Let the Predator and Hammer crews be on alert for up close ambushes. These vehicles can't survive specific attacks like this, so the men will have to watch each other."

"Got it," said Mur, handing the mic back to Rockford. "You give the message."

"Alert! Pure Stromlings are overwhelming and overtaking Iron Predators and Fire Hammers! If you see a vehicle in this state, defend your teammates, and if they take the vehicle, just blow it up!" Though after saying the message, he remarked to Mur: "X-Wings and Ewoks? Great, geeks are writing our code now."

"At least it wasn't a Firefly reference," Mur remarked back, confusing Rockford.

*****

"Laxus, are you sure about this?" Minerva asked Laxus just as Dust was starting to advance in further.

"You guys need all the help you can get, don't you?" said Lauxs. Though in honesty, he had just decided to go on instinct after Dust's group had started to get overwhelmed with no vehicle support. That, and he hadn't been in his Fire Hammer when the attacks started, so he didn't really have much in terms of cover.

"I admire your support, but I'll be honest. I don't trust Dust, and the moment me and Andrew can get a chance to get to Zach, we're ditching him. Besides, what we're doing is very dangerous, and we're only doing it because of our... ties to Zach. You don't have any beyond fighting alongside with him, and that doesn't exactly bode well for whatever we might encounter when we face him. I think it's best that you help the others."

Laxus looked over the circumstances. The other people going in besides Dust, Minerva and Andrew were the unstable and hard realist Lutsky; the Ogel Drone Septimus, whose mental state could mean Maelstrom had a hard time getting through to him; and an apparent surfer guy he didn't really know. It did honestly make him look like a bit of an expendable.

"You're right," he said with a sigh. "Just explain this well to Dust and Andrew, and make sure he knows that I hope the best for him. I really do."

"I will," said Minerva. "And watch yourself. It's only slightly safer out there than in here."

The Martian nodded and ran back out, finding himself only a few yards from the battle sight involving Dr. Cyborg, the Stromling Ape, and Zach himself. Seeing a T-1 Typhoon move in for closer range, he wisely began to head the opposite direction, seeking the cover of the obelisks.

*****

The T-1 Typhoon's machine gun fire had served as ample distraction for the ape and his rider as Semick maneuvered his vehicle in for closer shots. He did his best to keep a cool head, but knowing that this was the... thing that was taking quite a bit of glee in pushing his men to their limits was getting his fury up. To calm himself, he did his best to think about who the creature had been... and arguably still was.

Zach, Semick thought to himself, oh Zach. You don't know how much I wish you were here below me in the front gunner seat, blasting these monsters into submission. You may currently be some kind of psychopath, but I have a good feeling you're still in there somewhere, giving it all you've got to get your body back and show that Maelstrom of yours who's the better one. If by some chance you can hear me, then let me tell you this: I'm sorry for any injuries I lay on you, and keep up the fight in there. I'm rooting for you. As for you, "general"... I'll show you what the price is for breaking our eardrums telling us we're "doomed".

"Open fire!" he shouted to the gunner in the front gunner seat, as he prepared to fire every weapon he could personally at the enemies below him. 

*****

Another smash as Dr. Cyborg dodged the Stromling Ape fist again. "Now, I think-" Zach was silenced as a missile struck bellow Cranky's feet, knocking him back. Zach tightened his grip on Cranky's fur and prayed that the ape did not fall backwards. Chunks of ground flew everywhere.

"What was that?" Zach said, clearly disturbed. He looked over and saw a Fire Hammer with smoke emitting from the Xenon Launcher as if a missile had been recently been fired. He grinned widely. "Kill," he muttered to Cranky. Cranky roared and charged at David's Fire Hammer fiercely. He grabbed the cab of the jeep and shook it violently.

"Finish it!" Zach roared. Cranky shoved the shaken Fire Hammer near the cliff and carefully let the back wheels slide off the cliff. "And... good." The Fire Hammer was now precariously dangling over the cliff. "That should provide enough entertainment. Now-" He was interrupted by the rapid gunshots from a T-1 Typhoon above him that were aimed at him. Zach scowled.

"Everybody wants to hang out with me today, apparently," Zach said. "Oh well. Can't let that ruin the fun! Go!" Cranky started running back into the battlefield. Zach slid himself to Cranky's side to better guard himself from the T-1 Typhoon's attack. He could hear Cranky grunting as bullets pierced his body, but he continued forward despite the pain.

"There!" Zach grinned. An Iron Predator was just ahead...

The ape was distracted. Now's my chance, Cyborg thought. He somersaulted backwards into the temple, and ran to the team. Luckily, they weren't that far away. 

Dr. Cyborg stopped for a minute. He pulled out his PDA and sent a message to Zach.

All rivalries require trash talk, Zach.
Your friend,
Dr. Cyborg
 

*****

"You want to win the battle, get rid of that monkey!" Vinyaya barked into the radio. The Mutant Pterosaurs had mostly backed off, allowing the T-1 Typhoon fleet to focus its firepower on taking out the seemingly endless army of Stromlings below. Particularly the massive Stromling Ape that had just shoved a Fire Hammer halfway over the edge of a cliff.

"It's heading for Agents Mur and Rockford's Iron Predator!"

*****

"And fire!" Colonel yelled out. The Z-1 Kinetic fired at a nearby Fire Hammer, blowing it to pieces. "Excellent!"

"Hey!" a voice yelled over the radio. "What do you think you're doing, agent?"

Colonel grinned. "My job, soldier. General Virchaus wants these vehicles out of here!"

"Virchaus? What... OH ZNAP! THE STROMLINGS HAVE HIJACKED ONE OF OUR PREDATORS!"

Colonel laughed loudly. "On to the next one, boys!"

*****

"Didn't I make that clear, agent?" Rockford muttered as someone screamed about the hijacked Iron Predator. Around him, his vehicle was already moving in position to fire at the hijacked vehicle, and another Iron Predator, along with two Fire Hammers, were preparing to do the same.

"Predators aren't known for their maneuverability," Mur was saying, "and that goes for the gun, too! The cockpit is exposed, and we never made it with a need for shields in mind! It's a MegaBlokin' easy target for military forces, so if you men can't take it down, I don't know what will! Fire away!"

The cannons and guns began firing, all aimed at the center of the Iron Predator, where its infected crew were stationed. The blasts were striking hard, but the smoke from the impact was obscuring the results. Mur was grimacing, and Rockford could only watch and listen to the comm chatter. He really needed to grab a-

"MUR! YOU'VE GOT 8 O'CLOCK COMPANY!" Semick's voice cried through the radio. The two agents in charged turned in said direction to see the Stromling Ape, still shoving off the firepower of Semick's T-1 Typhoon as it ran towards their vehicle.

"Znap it all, this is getting ridiculous!" Mur cried as he ran to the edge of the cockpit. "I don't care how much energy this Maelstrom is giving you, you don't just shove off a T-1's assault without consequence!"

The Stromling Ape leapt at the cockpit, and Rockford began to yell for Mur to get out of the way. But as the ape got within a yard of the vehicle, Mur swinged his left side where his left arm used to be, and the giant ape flew backwards, back first onto the ground. It was like a giant fist had punched it back.

Zach quickly let go of Cranky's fur as the Stromling Ape flew backwards. I'd rather not be crushed by a 600-pound gorilla, thanks. He slid on his back into the ground for several yards. After he stopped, Zach pulled himself off the ground and saw Cranky laying farther ahead on his back.

"That was exhilarating," Zach said, slightly dazed. "I'd rather not do that again."

"KARMA, YOU SON OF A GUN!" Rockford was speechless, as was the crew of the Iron Predator. Mur simply glared at the creature, turned back to his crew and pulled down on his uniform at the neck to show his arm stump. In its place was a small circular device, buzzing from a small antenna attached to it.

"Somethin' I was working on with the medical crew. Experimental, supposed to be a more interesting prosthetic than robotic limbs and pegs. Long story, I'll explain later. Now get the guns aimed at that thing and let's help Semick wipe that thing out! Son of a 'blok's been Rasputinin' for far too long!"

Zach turned toward the Iron Predator, where a bunch of agents were staring at Cranky. Among them Zach recognized Rockford and Mur, two agents he had met briefly after his first trip to XERRD Fortress.

"Rockford!" Zach called out as if greeting an old friend, extending his arms out. "Mur! What a pleasure it is to see you two again!"

Rockford and Mur's heads turned down from Cranky to Zach. "Zach!" Rockford replied, full of surprise.

"The one and only!" he said, grinning at the Dino Attack agent. "I saw your message, Rockford. The one about generating a cure on my behalf. I must express my gratefulness for your concern, but it is far too late to do anything about it now!"

"There is still a chance!" Rockford responded. "Surrender! We can have the means to help you!"

"But where would fun be in that?" Zach chuckled as Cranky returned to his side. Zach notice Mur's dark stare that he directed at the Stromling Ape. "Rather fascinating device you have, Mur. I have never seen one quite like it. Far more advanced than what I had for a hand replacement. Did Nazareno step up his prosthetic game, or was it designed by someone different? You know what, don't answer, I don't care too much.

"But I tried to be a fair as I could. I gave your team a forewarning of what was to come, and now you are using unfair tools against me. As ringleader and, more or less, gamemaster of this show, you must be punished. Let's see what I can do..." Zach raised his hand. The Maelstrom swarmed around it before shooting toward Mur's prosthetic. The agents around Mur stepped back in fear as it swirled around the device and eventually seeped into the device.

"What did you do?!" Mur demanded.

"Disabled your device for a minute or so," Zach said. "It shouldn't actually infect you with the Maelstrom. This is all provided I did it right. This is the first time I've actually used this ability. Neat, eh?"

"Only a minute or so?" Rockford questioned.

"Yes. This is a test run. To see if the power works. Regardless, a minute or so should be enough time for Cranky to board your tank here and smash all of you into a pile of MEGABLOKS. Sic 'em, Cranky." Zach started laughing loudly as Cranky charged at the Iron Predator and landed inside the cockpit, knocking several agents over.

"Have fun, Cranky!" Zach laughed as began to walk away. "I know I will!" 

That isn't going to work anymore, Rockford told himself in reaction to the events that just occurred. The attempt to reach Zach through simple talk, the odd device Mur had finally revealed that he had (at least temporarily), and, probably, the Iron Predator they had been using.

A smart man would choose to just abandon the vehicle. No piece of technology was worth one's life, and especially when the thing between one and said technology was a rampaging ape possessed by evil. Rockford was a smart man, as was Mur and the rest of the vehicle's crew. Nearly all of them leaped off, yet Mur stood still, facing the ape with a continued look of disbelief and anger.

Rockford wanted to say something, but at this point he realized that if an agent was doing something questionable, that usually meant they had something in mind. So, he watched as the ape glanced around with a challenging glance at the fleeing agents, bellowing a roar in victory, and then finally noticing Mur still standing. The creature grinned and snatched him up, raising him up to his face.

Mur looked more controlled now, his anger and surprise giving way to a stoic look. A look Rockford knew well from his days in the criminal justice system. That was the look of a person knowing that whatever they were going to say, it was going to cost them or someone else dearly. It was a look of guilt, regret, and resignment. He held this face for a moment.

And then he nodded. Not a slow one, or a rapid one like a five-year-old trying to get across that he wanted a cookie, but a quick one, like a single performance of a headbang.

The ape thought he understood, grinned once more, and raised Mur over his head, perhaps to slam him into the side of the Cryothermic Cannon, or throw him into the nearest Fire Hammer. Rockford never found out. At that moment, he had noticed Semick's T-1 still hovering above, its weapons starting to rev into activity. And he noticed that several nearby Fire Hammers were readying theirs as well. It was then that he understood.

He ran as the weapons went off. As the machine guns, Sonic Screamers, Voltaic Launcher, Xenon Launchers, and simple laser weapons all went off within seconds of each other, all aimed at Mur's Iron Predator. They struck their mark right at the center, where the Stromling Ape was preparing to deal the final blow on Mur.

The vehicle went up in flames. Fireballs, orange from the fuel, green from the weapon power systems, engulfed the craft. Small LEGO pieces went flying, while chunks blew off in various directions, barely missing Minifig bystanders. Rockford could feel the heat wave and blast force push him down and mildly scorch his back.

The guns didn't stop firing even as the smoke began to dissipate and clear.

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam

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Chapter 44: Forbidden Ruins

----

Minerva held her Sonic Screamer close. Dust walked carefully through the temple, the other agents close behind. She could feel an annoying buzzing in her head.

What are you waiting for? a voice hissed in her mind. Dust has no intention of helping Zach. Leave the fool and find Zach!

Minerva felt slightly dizzy. "I think those Maelstrom effects Zach was talking about are already occurring," she said to Andrew.

He nodded slowly. "I can feel it too." Around her, the agents showed signs of queasiness and nausea. Regardless, she fought through the uncomfortable buzzing in her head and pressed forward.

"Stop," Dust muttered. The agents seized their movement.

"What is it, Thutmose?" Lutsky asked impatiently. Minerva scowled at him despite her attempts to keep her emotions in check. Especially in a place that seemingly can manipulate your emotions to its advantage.

"A trap," Dust responded. He picked up the bone of a dead minifig and tapped the floor ahead of him. A small arrow shot out of the walls and bounced off the bone, clearly not containing enough force to implant itself into the bone.

"Doesn't seem that bad," Lance said, shrugging.

Dust picked up the arrow and sniffed it. He turned to Lance and held the arrow up to his face. "Poisoned arrowheads," Dust said. "And that poison is the Maelstrom. If this thing buries itself into your skin and gets the Maelstrom into the bloodstream, you'll become a Stromling rather quickly, I would think." Uneasiness spread throughout the group.

Dust turned back to the hallway. "Follow me," he said. "Don't make a wrong step, or you will regret it." With that, Dust stepped onto the floor. Minerva winced, expecting an arrow to be implanted into Dust's arm. However, nothing happened. She looked down on the floor. It was divided into tiles, each with its own individual markings on them.

Dust reached out and stepped on to the next tile, two tiles away from the one he was standing on. He turned back to the group. "Come on!"

Minerva stepped forward, shaking, and stepped on the tile Dust was previously standing on. She breathed a sigh of relief as nothing shot out at her. She looked back at Dust, who had already moved on to the third tile.

"Keep moving, Fabello," Dust muttered, concentrating on the task at hand. Minerva nodded and moved over to the next tile as Andrew stepped on to the first tile. 

Andrew breathed a sigh of relief as again, nothing happened as he stepped on the tile. Looking at the floor, he could definitely see a sort of pattern going on with the tiles, at least in terms of what ones were being avoided, and what the crew was stepping on so far. A classic adventure story trick.

"Is this as easy as it looks, Dust?" he asked whom he was calling leader, ignoring the small whispers that were telling him otherwise. Never listen to the voices in your head. It was something Andrew knew well, even if he hadn't always been a follower of that philosophy. "Step on the right tiles, and we'll be fine? Or was this Hotep more ingenious and cleverer in how he laid this out?"

"Don't ask questions, just follow my lead," the Egyptian said.

"Yes, but we could possibly move quicker if we knew what we were doing. Knowledge is power, after all."

*****

Cranky was in a world of hurt. Every metal beast had focused its attack power on him. He had been caught in yet another explosion, and yet the Dino-fighting team didn't relent.

He dragged himself out of the wreckage, groaning. He had dropped the Minifig-Mur that he had been so close to killing. He wasn't actually sure if the man-Minifig had survived the onslaught, but Cranky was beyond caring. He had to leave. He had to get healed by dark power-Maelstrom. He had to continue the fight. For Master-Zachary.

Cranky tried to crawl to his feet, but the endless attack of burning-hot attacks kept him on the ground. He made sure to stay on his stomach, trying to keep the vulnerable area away from Dino-hunter attacks. He could hardly see. He would definitely die soon.

Master-Zach, Cranky croaked to the Dino-hunter-zombie he had befriended. Help! However, he received no response. Cranky finally ceased movement, laying on the ground and hoping he would just die.

Suddenly, the attack stopped. Cranky looked up, confused. Why did the Dino-hunters stop? He was beyond caring, however. He rolled over onto his back and picked up his tie that lay on his chest. It had been torn and burnt to shreds. It was basically a purple thread tied around his neck.

Cranky was about to stand up when he felt the barrel of a shooter-gun on his forehead. Cranky looked up and saw hunter-Villano holding the weapon. Cranky suddenly felt better. Hunter-Villano was an ally, the last time he remembered.

The hunter leaned down close. "You are the only one left from that little group Virchaus put together, huh?" the hunter said darkly. "You and me. Unfortunately for you, I have a new employer." Cranky's eyes widened in realization of what was about to happen. "I think it is time to finish that hunt. You have escaped me for long enough, ape."

Cranky began to screech angrily and weakly raised a hand to attack. The dark-power Maelstrom wasn't healing fast enough!

"Adios," Hunter-Villano said, grinning darkly. Cranky heard the weapon make a click. There was a bang and everything went dark.

----

Clint slowly drew his gun as he stepped into the dark courtyard of Fort Legoredo. Maria had her knife still drawn, and her hand ready for her gun. The place was largely empty. A few Hybrids were sleeping in scattered positions, some of them making a soft hissing noise, but aside from one or two sentries up front watching the outside, it seemed empty.

"We got to be very quiet," Clint said as he led them toward the back rooms. 

Clint quietly opened the door to the rooms in the back of the fort before leading his two companions inside.

"Alright," he whispered. "We're going to split up. I think we should each enter a different room, look around, see if there's anything suspicious. We'll look though our respective rooms for useful information. If you find any hybrids, you kill 'em. In exactly half an hour, we meet back here, understand?"

Maria nodded.

"Good," replied Clint. He lit a cigar and turned toward one of the rooms. In this case, a small office. There were a few filing cabinets and other such things. Clint took his time rummaging through drawers and cabinets, pulling out any folders that seemed even remotely of interest. It was when he approached the desk that he found a particularly interesting folder, the information on which caught his attention.

"So that's who the mole is?" Clint muttered to himself. "That explains it."

----

Zach stood in the doorway to Hotep III's temple, silent and his face betraying little emotion. He watched Rudo Villano walk away from the ruined body of Cranky. The agents from the various vehicles that had helped kill Cranky were cheering loudly.

He hadn't quite expected Cranky's death to hit him as hard as it was. Cranky had truly been the only being he could trust while working with the Maelstrom. He had been an extremely close ally. Almost a friend in some sense. You will not be forgotten, friend.

Zach glanced down. He saw Colonel limping up the stairs to meet with Zach. The most obvious change in Colonel's appearance was the fact that his right leg was completely gone. To compensate, Colonel was using a metal pole as a cane.

"What happened?" Zach asked.

"The Dino Attack took a fancy on that Iron Predator me and my squad hijacked." Colonel pointed out the fiery remains of Iron Predator.

"Ah. I didn't see that wreck over another wreck that took Cranky's life," Zach responded, pointing over to where Rockford and Mur's Iron Predator used to be. Unlike the Iron Predator Colonel had hijacked, Rockford and Mur's Iron Predator was unrecognizable and was basically a bunch of burning LEGO pieces scattered everywhere.

Colonel removed his cap and bowed his head. "I'm sorry, sir."

Zach shooed away Colonel's words with his hands. "It's alright. I'm not happy, but Cranky died for the Maelstrom's cause. His death will not be in vain. Now, about your leg..."

"I can still fight, sir," Colonel said defiantly.

"I don't doubt it," Zach said, smiling at Colonel's fierce obedience. "However, the situation has changed. I don't want my top commander hindered by the lack of two working legs. Let me see..." Zach twisted his hand out at Colonel's stump. The Maelstrom swirled around the stump and created a solid black peg-leg-like prosthetic. "That should help. I recommend not getting rid of that pole, though. It's the best I could do."

"Thank you, sir," Colonel said, bowing. "What is the next stage for the battle?" Zach looked out into the battlefield. Stromlings were still spawning at a rapid rate, but most of the Stromling Monkeys were dead. They were back to square one.

"I think it is time," Zach said, grinning widely. He turned back to Colonel. "Contact the Hybrids. Tell them it's about time to start. Tell them to wait for my signal."

"Yes, sir," Colonel said, nodding and smiling.

Zach turned to the battlefield and amplified his voice yet again. "Well done, Dino Attack, well done!" Zach said with mock-praise. "You have survived both waves of the Maelstrom's forces! You decimated the second wave and, well, the first wave will never end as far as I'm concerned, but they are easy enough, right?

"I will admit this however: I am NOT amused. Not amused at all. You killed the ape I considered to be my only real friend at this point. Worry not, Cranky. Your death will not be in vain. So, like any minifig, I think it's time to extract what any normal minifig would want in my situation: revenge! 

"Introducing the final wave of the Maelstrom forces! This is largest and easily deadliest wave. You've seen them before, you'll see them again, and stronger than ever. Led by what I've decided call the Seven Hybrid Riders of the Maelstrom. You heard that right, ladies and gentlemen. Hybrids. Of the Minifig/Mutant Lizard breed! They are leading the infamous Mutant Dinosaurs!!"

Zach silenced himself. A massive collection of roars could be heard in jungle. As the roar died, the sound of hundreds of massive, running reptiles echoed across the area.

"They are on their way!" Zach cackled. "Unfortunately, I will not be able to witness hundreds of screaming, Maelstrom-controlled dinosaurs tearing you apart as I have business inside the temple that needs to be addressed. Have fun!"

Zach lowered his voice and turned to Colonel. "You're in charge now, Colonel. Think you can handle it?"

Colonel saluted Zach with his Sonic Screamer arm. "I will crush the enemy swiftly, sir."

"Excellent. Good luck, Colonel." Without any further waiting, Zach turned and entered the temple. 

*****

The faint sound of footsteps echoed from behind Dust's party. Septimus, Andrew, and Minerva spun about quickly, but Dust merely halted and looked back. They were greeted by the sight of Katerina Schattenberg flanked by four of the three-eyed synthfigs.

"The abilities these four lovely gentlemen possess will surely be invaluable to your efforts in here," she remarked. "Maelstrom detection, absorption, and immunity ought not to be taken for granted in a place like this." 

"Well, I have two of those covered already," Dr. Cyborg told Katerina. "But, I could always use more help."

Dust shrugged as he sized up Katerina Schattenberg. "The more the merrier, I suppose. But we need to be more careful, a group of ten seems like an accident waiting to happen."

"I agree," said Katerina.

Katerina joined the party, and they continued on. "I am going to sleep. I have gone three or four days without it," Dr. Cyborg announced. "My robotic half will still function, however."

As Dr. Cyborg drifted off, the last thing he thought was that he had stored a large amount of Maelstrom internally.

He was back in his office in the Dino Island XERRD base. He was working on a formula to improve the Mutant Dinos even more when he realized something: this was wrong. This whole Mutant Dino apocalypse thing was going to injure and kill many. However, here the dream split from reality.

Instead of deciding to destroy this, and leave XERRD, a dark thought came to him. If thoughts had color, this would be purple.

"You don't need to leave. None of this is your fault. Hey, it's kinda fun."

Dr. Cyrista agreed eagerly, and the dream became a montage, minus music. He saw himself becoming ruthless and cruel. He rose in the ranks of XERRD for these great qualities. He became second in command. When Dr. Rex died, he bequeathed XERRD and all he owned to Dr. Cyrista. The Dino Attack ended, and XERRD won. This purple thought came again, this time telling him to execute the rest of XERRD and toss them into a pool of Maelstrom. Cyrista did so with glee. He "commanded" the Maelstrom, and conquered the LEGO Planet. He then conquered the galaxy. Next, the dimension. He finally conquered the world. He ruled as a god, with the Maelstrom, for it had revealed itself, as his weapon and advisor. 

Dr. Cyborg awoke with an anguished cry. Andrew asked, "What's wrong?"

"Maelstrom-induced nightmare," Dr. Cyborg replied. He shot the Maelstrom out of his hands into a pool they were passing.

Dust rarely paid Doctor Cyborg's recent incidents any notice. Over the last few days, he had begun to anticipate glitches.

*****

Rockford was in shock. Not a good state to be in considering the circumstances, but it was understandable. Not everyone saw a close ally willingly let themselves die like that in such an extraordinary way. And with such suddenness, too.

However, his remaining allies weren't letting him stay like this, so as much as Rockford kept replaying Mur's last nod over and over on his mind's replay screen, he couldn't help but hear the murmurs of the people talking to him.

"...Rockford... Rockford... Rockford, c'mon, snap out of it!"

The image in his mind faded as Rockford saw the face of a Martian staring down at him, dragging him along the ground.

"Laxus, I..."

"Don't say anything, just keep in the moment, we're getting you to another vehicle. And we still need your help."

Looking around behind Laxus's arms, he saw that a Fire Hammer was pulled up nearby. Two agents were inside, and another was on the Xenon cannon. "Semick's on my radio comm, Laxus," said the driver. "He wants to talk to Rockford."

"You think you can do that, sir?" Laxus asked.

"I... yes, I can." He began to push himself onto his feet, and Laxus helped him along the way to get to the front passenger seat of the Fire Hammer.

"Here's the mic," the driver said as Rockford got into the seat. "I'll get us going, Zach sent our classic foes on us."

"Assuming they don't have extra surprises," Laxus said as they climbed into the back, "taking on Dinos and hybrids should be a relief after all the Maelstrom business."

"Still going to be a toughie," muttered the other agent in the back.

Rockford put his concerns aside and talked into the mic. "Semick?"

"Present. You're still shocked, I think?"

"Yeah. I've only been doing command jobs at the outposts so far, haven't really gotten to see any agents do anything like..."

"You get used to it... somewhat. Never easy to see good men like that pull the ultimate sacrifice. And always in their prime. All we can do is ensure their actions were not for naught."

"Agreed. So... I guess I get his job now?"

"Afraid so. You up for it?"

Rockford glanced at the battlefield. The Mutant Dinos were already pouring in, and the guns and lasers were blazing yet again. It was like all the big battles he had read the reports about. The Goo Caverns, various city standoffs, LEGO Studios, Mount Bricklake, etc. And it was time for him to play commander.

"Always did reasonably well at Risk, so..." he remarked.

"Good. Team frequency's up two notches."

"Understood," he said, and with a glance at his current crew, he switched to the all-agent frequency. "Alright men, we've got our familiar foes again, and all the ways we've bested them. Let's not let Mur down..." 

----

Maria slowly opened the door to reveal a sort of bedroom. Actually, it was technically a bedroom, which would have once been used by the senior officer of the cavalry. Now the bed was occupied by a hideous Hybrid, who was hissing loudly in his sleep. The noise annoyed Maria greatly as she walked toward the bed and picked up a pillow.

The Hybrid's eyes opened slowly, but upon seeing her, he immediately became fully awake and alert. Maria responded by throwing the pillow onto his face and drawing her gun, firing two clear shots through the pillow she held firmly upon his face. Then, just to be sure, she drew her knife and cut his throat. With that, she stood up and looked around the room. Based on his position, Maria guessed that the Hybrid she'd just killed was some form of officer, maybe even the one running the fort. It couldn't be that simple, but whoever this person was, he had some significance. 

Maria spent a few short minutes looking around the room of the Hybrid officer she'd murdered in cold blood less than a few seconds earlier, but really found nothing beyond old liquor cabinets and a few other luxuries he had presumably been enjoying.

She then turned toward the corpse. Deciding to have some fun, Maria rolled the body onto its side, facing away from the door, and carefully adjusted the sheets and removed the pillow, so that for someone who just entered the room, it would look as though he were still sleeping. "That ought to give 'em a shock," she muttered.

Her investigation finished, Maria turned to the door and found Clint waiting for her.

"Anything?" Maria asked.

"Yeah," replied Clint showing her a sheet of paper. "Check this out."

Maria took the document and stared for a moment. "So there is a traitor," she murmured. "I never would have guessed who it was."

"This is between us," whispered Clint. "We are not to tell anyone about this. I want this spy to have no reason to suspect we know."

"Know what?" Angel Eyes asked as he approached. Clint showed him the document and he smiled. "So that's the sneaky little 4+ who's been leaking all our information," he said keenly.

"Now, under no circumstances is anyone to know we're aware of his identity," Clint said. "I want to catch him unprepared and unawares. Maybe even get a confession in front of several people."

"Sounds good," replied Angel Eyes. "Anything else?"

"I found a bunch of papers," said Clint. "I figured they'd probably come in handy. How about you two?"

"I just killed one of 'em mutants," replied Maria. "Some sort of general, by the look of it."

"You sure that was a good idea?" Angel Eyes asked. "They'll know we were here."

"Indeed," said Clint. "It will still be a major setback, losing a general, and several defenses. How 'bout you, Van Cleef?"

"I took a look in the jail," reported Angel Eyes. "There were a lot of bodies in there. I'm guessing agents who were stationed here when it was taken over."

"Any survivors?" Maria asked.

"One or two who were barely alive," replied Angel Eyes. "It looked like they'd been experimented on. Maybe the Hybrids were trying to mutate them."

"Alright," said Clint. "I don't think a rescue is possible at the moment. Let's go after their defenses."

Clint led the party to the upper level along the wall of the building. There was one sentry standing guard, who was quickly dispatched by Maria. One-by-one they worked their way around, and Maria cut their throats, and as it happened none of the Hybrids snoring below heard the occasional muffled gasps.

"Looks like they got a couple o' guns set up front," said Maria. "I'm a-goin' to try to disable 'em, and then we can go right out through the front gate."

----

"It seems you folks are running out of room," noted Katerina.

She was right. As the eleven agents traveled deeper into the temple, the corridors narrowed. They were forced to march single file, and often their shoulders rubbed the hard stonewalls.

"I don't get it, man," grumbled Lance, "Why would this pharaoh make getting into this temple so hard? It would have to be relatively accessible for rituals and stuff, right?"

"Hotep III never wanted it to be easily accessible," said Dust, reverting back to his archeologist days. "He built it here on this remote island so he and his priests could study the Maelstrom a safe distance from his kingdom."

Minerva was surprised. "He studied the Maelstrom?"

"He wanted to understand its powers," said Dust. "He hoped it could be used as a means of glorifying Egypt, but he also understood the risks."

They continued down a narrow tunnel. It took sharp turns right and left turns and soon most of the party was so turned around that they had little perception which direction they were going.

"Hotep's priest advised him to build the temple in Egypt so everyone could see its splendor, but the pharaoh chose to build it here instead. He hoped to avoid tragedy and destruction in the event he lost control and the Maelstrom escaped."

"We don't need the history lesson," said Doctor Cyborg. "Just tell us how to get to the main chamber. We'll stop the thing and then we'll talk."

"Fair enough," said Dust. "We're be coming up to a group of spikes that will burst out of the wall soon. You don't have much room to maneuver, so you'll have to move exactly how I tell you."

He stopped suddenly at a faint line on the floor and the rest of the party bumped into him. Turning around, he pointed a finger at the team. "Watch closely."

Dust faced the hallway and took eight deliberate paces. As soon as he set his foot down the last time, a serrated blade shot from the walls behind and before him.

The spike sat there about four seconds before withdrawing into the wall. Dust paused and stepped forward another eight passes down the hallway before the same happened again.

Septimus seemed to get the idea and followed the Egyptian's lead. Sure enough, once he reached the given location, the blades surged forth and impaled the place where he might have been.

Dust's voice called from down the hall. "We'll be getting some breathing room soon. Once we're out of this hall, we'll be entering a large antechamber."

"It's weird how we've seen no Stromlings yet," said Andrew. "This place should be full of them."

"The Maelstrom can create illusions," said Katerina. "My synthfigs inform me that they are picking up massive readings about 100 meters down the hall. There's some Stromling in here, and it's big."

Lance called up to Dust: "Yo! What kind of Stromling is up there?"

The Egyptian was perplexed. He had no knowledge of this temple having Stromlings in it. "I don't know what you're talking about."

*****

Hertz smiled. The ape was dead and most of the monkeys had been torn apart by the powerful beam emitters. He sent his update to Windows and took a position beside Vinyaya.

Mutant Dinosaurs were pouring out of the jungle at a relatively constant rate. Only Raptors and Lizards were present, and Hertz suspected that the Mutant Tyrannosaur Rexes were being kept in reserve.

The Space Commando held a pair of electro binoculars to her eyes and looked out at the dark jungle. "I'm picking up a lot of heat readings," she said.

"What does that mean?" asked Hertz. Pure Stromlings don't give off heat. And even mutants were known for being unnaturally cold. Whatever was in the jungle was unnatural.

Vinyaya frowned and put her binoculars to her chest. "Hybrids." 

*****

...six... seven... eight. Minerva seized her advance as spikes shot out of the wall in front and behind her. She breathed out long and slow. These traps required more patience than Minerva had. This naturally increased her level of anxiety.

"What do you mean, you have no idea what he is talking about?" Minerva called out to Dust. "This temple is under the Maelstrom's control. Why wouldn't there be Stromlings inside, waiting to ambush us?"

Dust remained silent. Minerva rolled her eyes and continued forward as the spikes retracted back into the wall.

Thutmose is a fool, a new voice said, deeper and more aggressive than the previous one. He knows only of the temple's contents without the Maelstrom's influence. He will not help you find Zach. He is worthless to you.

Minerva bit her lip. She didn't like Dust, but that didn't mean he wasn't an important asset. I don't know, whoever you are. We would have already died if Dust wasn't here. And besides, I'm pretty sure none of us know where Zach is, and I'll probably have to go through a few more traps before I find him. Dust is kind of necessary.

The voice scoffed. You don't need that fool. We can lead you to Zach's location. He has just reentered the temple and will no doubt be returning to his chamber.

Minerva was still apprehensive. What about the traps?

They can be disabled. We can lead you to him! Are you willing to knock down this opportunity?

Just a bit. You are the Maelstrom. How do I know you are not just going to lead me into a trap and kill me?

Our dear, we could snap our fingers and something would kill you. Instantly. But we are interested in your team's plight. We wish to see how long it lasts. The voice faded away, and Minerva felt more unnerved than ever.

*****

"I'm here," Zach said.

Ahua turned around, scowling. He had been waiting within Zach's chamber for several minutes. "It took you long enough," Ahua snapped. "Long enough for Cranky to get killed."

Zach bared his teeth angrily. "Shut up," Zach said darkly. "What is the update in here?"

"Eleven Dino Attack agents have entered the temple," Ahua said. "They are approaching a chamber as we speak."

"And you want me to go kill them, right?"

"Wrong," Ahua said. "We have Stromlings throughout the temple that can deal with them. You are the last resort."

Zach shrugged. "Fine. What do you want me to do then?"

"Stay here, and wait." Zach rolled his eyes, but nodded in agreement.

*****

Colonel stayed near the temple entrance. Mutant Dinos were flowing into the battlefield at a rapid pace. The Dino Attack was holding its own against the dinosaurs for now, but he was not willing to put all of his support on the Mutant Dinos simply overwhelming the Dino Attack. At least, not without aid.

Colonel glanced up at the fleet of T-1 Typhoons above. They were currently tangled with the reemergence of the Mutant Pterosaurs. Few of the flying reptiles would swoop down and attack ground agents, but otherwise the swarm of Pterosaurs stayed in the air.

Colonel knew what needed to be done. Navi! Colonel yelled out. A Mutant Pterosaur swooped down from the swarm and landed in front of the temple. On its back was a female Minifig/Mutant Lizard Hybrid whom they had named Navi. Colonel hobbled up to the reptile's side and extended his hand toward the Hybrid.

"Get me up!" Colonel commanded. Navi obeyed, pulling the crippled colonel on to the Pterosaur's back. "Now ride!" The Pterosaur took flight. It was soon high into the sky, flying over the battlefield.

Colonel glanced at the T-1 Typhoons. He knew this was suicide, but if the Mutant Dinos wanted to gain the upper hand, they needed some backup. "Now," Colonel began... 

----

Quietly, Maria tiptoed her way toward the front of Fort Legoredo. One sentry was standing next to a particularly nasty looking turret. She was quick to draw her knife, grab him, slit his throat, and then throw his body over the wall.

"Alright," she whispered to her comrades, trying not to wake any of the Hybrids below. "I'm gonna try and disable this sentry gun. There seems to be two of 'em. One on each side of the entrance. Clint, you take this side, Van Cleef, you go over to the other. I need you two watching my back. I'll let you know when I'm done."

Angel Eyes adjusted his hat before he turned to the stairs and worked his way to the other side. Maria slowly crouched down by the gun. There was a momentary gunshot heard, as Clint looked to faintly see Angel Eyes holding his gun behind a Hybrid's head as its body fell over.

Maria briefly used her vest to clean the blood off the knife and then used it as a screwdriver to remove a small panel, exposing a number of wires.

"Can you work with that?" Clint asked.

"No," replied Maria. Then she smiled. "But I can break it."

The barmaid yanked as hard as she could, pulling out a few wires and causing a few sparks. She cut a few more wires with her knife and then placed the metal plate back on. She took a few minutes to carefully rebolt it.

"That there's one gun that ain't goin' to cause no more trouble," Maria said keenly.

"What's the idea behind rescrewing everything?" Clint asked.

"Subtlety," replied Maria. "If it seems intact on the outside, they'll have less reason to suspect it of being broken within."

Slowly, Maria worked her way down the ladder and climbed to the other side of the gate where Angel Eyes was waiting. Once again, she opened the panel, tore up the wires, cut several of them, replaced it, and bolted it up like new.

"I think that there's everythin'" she said. "Let's get goin'."

"Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want to be around when these boys wake up and see what we've done," Angel Eyes said with a smile.

Clint came down to meet up with them. "We ready to go?" he asked.

"You bet," replied Maria. They walked over to the gate and slowly opened it as quietly as they could. They stepped outside, closed the gate, and got on their horses, Clint went back to the side to get his and then they rode off into the night sky, each of them thinking about how the Hybrids were going to react in the morning when they'd wake up to find found their commander and several guards dead, papers missing, and sentries broken. 

*****

The next morning...

Clint Wayne rushed towards Angel Eyes and Maria, who were both asleep in their bunks after a hard day's night. He shook them both awake, and wearily, they opened their eyes and grumbled about a wake-up call.

"This isn't good!" insisted Clint. "You have to wake up - they're gone!"

"What's gone?" moaned Maria, rubbing her eyes.

Glancing around quickly to make sure no one was listening, Clint hissed in a voice barely more than a whisper: "The paper that revealed the identity of the mole!"

This seemed to startle his companions awake. "What do you mean?" Angel Eyes inquired. "I thought you were going to keep it safe!"

"And so," Clint said with a grimace, "I thought I did. But look here..." With that, he held out his hand, and his companions saw a few smoldering ashes in the palm of his hand. "That's all that's left. Whoever burned the paper apparently did not do a very good clean-up job, or else wanted us to know that he burned-"

"Good morning, gentlemen!"

They startled and turned around to see Spy enter the room. The Alpha Team agent walked with firm confidence, and from behind his cowl, he seemed to be smirking. "Oh, I'm sorry, mademoiselle," he said, "so I should correct my earlier statement... Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!"

Everyone stared at Spy with most undisguised distrust. "What do you think you're doing?" demanded Angel Eyes.

Spy shrugged. "Sorry for popping in unannounced. But I'm sure you all had fun last night. You did a fine job, sneaking about zhe Hybrids' fortress. Even I'm a little proud. But... you were far too messy. You didn't think zhat ze Hybrids would notice a dead officer, a bunch of dead guards, and broken sentries?"

Clint Wayne, Angel Eyes, and Maria traded glances.

"Zhese Hybrids are much like Mutant Lizards, you see," Spy continued as the quasi-smirk disappeared from his expression. "Zhey are extremely adaptable, and even now, zhey are recovering from your little game last night, increasing zheir already-increased defenses. Luckily for you, it seems zhat Ronald E. Army has decided to take advantage of zhe situation and, even as we speak, is sending out zhe bomb cart to make sure we get zhe Hybrids before zhey fully recover."

"What?" exclaimed Clint, blinking. "He's actually going to do it? He's going to blow up Fort Legoredo?"

"We can always build a new one," declared Spy. He turned to leave, but then stopped. "Oh, and forgive me if I am mistaken, but I do believe I heard something or another about... zhe identity of zhe mole?"

Clint, Angel, and Maria instantly put on their best poker faces.

"Nice poker faces," said Spy, smirking again. He leaned in closer, as though trying to pressure them. "But, do tell, since I am most curious indeed... who is zhe mole?"

Nobody spoke.

Spy's smirk disappeared once more. "Very well, zhen. I get it. But first, let me warn you something... even if you know who it is, you still might not know who it truly is. Firstly, while I'm sure zhat I am zhe only Spy of Dino Attack Team, zhere have been incidents where multiple agents have signed up under zhe same codename. For example, zhere are two Alphas and, last I checked, at least three Hunters. If you heard it was, say, Alpha, zhat narrows it down, yes, but not to a certainty. Secondly, it might not even be a codename. It could be a given name, or a surname, or even an occupation, or even a codename zhat zhis individual does not go by in Dino Attack Team, but rather a codename zhat zhey are known by XERRD. Thirdly... Hybrids are not zhe most reliable source. Even if you are absolutely sure who it is... it could very well be a red herring set up to deceive you."

Spy turned away, lighting a cigarette as he did so. "If I were you, I would burn zhe evidence and make sure nobody finds out." Without another word, he departed, with Clint Wayne, Angel Eyes, and Maria watching in disbelief.

As soon as Spy was out of the room, Clint lit a cigar and muttered, "I really hate that Spy. Just when you think you're rid of him, he pops right out of nowhere."

"You think he told the rest of the squad?" Angel Eyes asked.

"Probably," replied Clint. "Now they're going to be pushing a mine cart along a track to the fortress."

"How do they even do that?" Maria wondered. "Are you seriously tellin' me they went through all the trouble o' buildin' a track just so they could push some filthy mine cart toward that there fort and didn't get noticed?"

"Like I said," insisted Clint, "they're amateurs. We may still have a chance though."

"What's your plan?" asked Angel Eyes.

"Get back into town," replied Clint. "See if you can organize a posse."

"A posse?" Angel Eyes repeated.

"Yes," said Clint. "Get me a couple dozen men, women, children, anyone who can pick up a gun."

"What's all this?" asked a familiar voice. The trio turned around to see the faces of Firecracker and Harmonica staring at them.

"Good," said Clint. "At least you two aren't involved with this madness."

"Oh, actually, I was going to go blow up the Hybrid commander," Firecracker said. "Just need to get my explosives an-"

"Ain't goin' to do you much good there," Maria said.

"What do you mean?" asked Firecracker.

"Tragic accident," Maria explained sarcastically. "His gun went off and shot him in the head, then a knife accidentally landed on his neck and sliced it right open."

"I see," said Firecracker.

"Now listen," Clint instructed. "I got a plan. Now, Spy said the Hybrids could adapt, and obviously they will, but our actions were still a setback. They should at least slow them down somewhat, if nothing else. Now we're goin' to do this right. Angel Eyes, get to town, get your posse together. Harmonica and I will go with them."

"Oh, what about me?" Firecracker asked.

"Why you've got a very important job," replied Clint. "How many explosives you got?"

"A couple hundred. Why?"

"Because you're goin' to blow up a few things, not necessarily the fort. You wouldn't make it, but I need you to keep the Hybrids occupied. Can you do it?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Good," said Clint. "Harmonica, Maria, you two stay with me. We'll keep an eye on things, and as soon as Angel Eyes' posse gets here, we're goin' to take that fort ourselves."

"I'd better get goin' then," Angel Eyes said as he stood up. "Gotta get to town on time."

Angel Eyes walked out of the building. The sound of a horse neighing was briefly audible before its hooves quickly faded into the distance.

"Clint," Maria started to ask, taking him aside. "Clint, what about... um..." She cut herself off noticing the two other men. "You know what."

"We don't have the paper, but we do have the name," said Clint.

"What if what Spy said is true?"

"That's why we're to tell no one until we are absolutely sure."

Clint turned back toward the two men standing behind them. "What are you waiting for? Get going already!"

Firecracker hastily picked up the briefcases containing his explosives and ran outside, and soon the noise of a motorcycle faded into the distance. 

----

Donnie smiled as he rolled a full strike. "Yes," he muttered as he turned back to the area where Dude, Walter, and their friends were sitting.

Dude was telling a strange anecdote. "... And then they pooped on my carpet," Dude was explaining.

"That carpet really tied the room together didn't it?" Walter replied sarcastically.

"What's going on?" Donnie asked keenly as he approached them.

"Were you listening to Dude's story?" Walter said sternly.

"I was bowling," replied Donnie.

"Then you have no frame of reference!" snapped Walter. "YOU'RE LIKE A KID WHO WANDERS IN THE MIDDLE OF A MOVIE AND WANTS TO KNOW WHAT HAPPEN-"

Pierce leaned slowly towards Sarah. "Is he always like that?" he whispered.

Sarah nodded. "Trust me," she said. "This is one of his better moods."

"Calm down, man!" Dude shouted.

"YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE, DONNIE!"

"Walter, would you kindly be quiet?" Sarah asked. "Dude was just talking about some annoying 4+ figures who defecated on his carpet before the war started."

"Oh yes," said Donnie. "I remember them."

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP, DONNIE!"

"Why exactly do you hang out with these guys?" Pierce asked.

"Because I don't have much better to do," replied Sarah. "Check this out."

Sarah got up and walked over toward the small rack where the bowling balls were kept and stepped onto the lane. She rolled the ball slowly, and got a firm strike.

"Wow," said Dude. "I don't know how she does it, man! I been playin' for years, she's only been in here for a few months." 

----

Nazareno leaned on a counter, panting lightly. His battle with Zelda had worn him out greatly. While Zelda wasn't nearly a good fighter as Zach, her smaller size and lack of a giant laser cannon arm allowed her to move quickly and strike faster than Zach.

Zelda now sat on a bed, her breathing ragged. Fuchs, Wade, Copper, and Crusher worked furiously around, occasionally stopping to jot down an important note. Nazareno imagined the four doctors' examinations were unnerving her even more than she already was.

After several vomiting fits, Zelda managed to inform the doctors that she couldn't see; that she was blind. However, after 15 minutes, her vision was restored. Further tests showed she was severely dehydrated, malnourished, and just downright sick. Her face was sunken and her body was extremely pale.

Nazareno stood up and walked toward the end of Zelda's bed and looked at her. She looked back, her eyes half-closed and clearly in pain. Nazareno glanced up and saw a purple streak running down the middle of her hair. Nazareno frowned.

"Your hair was black and red, right?" he asked her.

Her eyes opened slightly wider. "Yeah," she moaned. "Why?"

"Now it is black and purple."

"What?" she asked, confused. Nazareno went over to the counter and grabbed a small mirror. He returned to the bed and gave it to Zelda. She looked at it, her eyes widened in surprise.

"It seems that the Maelstrom's power can dye your hair," Nazareno noted. "However, I'm not quite sure if you are locked into strangeness yet. The purple might fade away. Or it might not."

Zelda nodded absentmindedly, staring at her hair in wonder.

"Oh," Fuchs said, looking at a small monitor.

"What?" Zelda asked, concerned.

"There is still Maelstrom in your body," Fuchs said sadly. "I had hoped we could've gotten rid of it."

"What?!" Zelda screamed.

"Calm down," Saran said slowly. "What do you mean, Fuchs? The Maelstrom was leaving her body, we could see it."

"Yes," Fuchs said. "It did. However, the Maelstrom must have realized that she was still alive. There is only a small trace of Maelstrom remaining. It must have latched onto her at the last minute."

"What will happen now?" Zelda asked fearfully.

"You will need to get a good wrap around your emotions," Nazareno said. "Although my knowledge of the Maelstrom is limited, my studies and recent events seem to suggest the Maelstrom will cause negative emotions and feeds off of them, making it stronger. I can help you gain control, but other than that, you may be own your own. You may have the Maelstrom in you for the rest of your life."

Zelda looked at Nazareno, her face full of shock at his words. Finally, she sighed. "You're right. You will help me?"

Nazareno nodded.

Zelda smiled shyly. "Thank you." 

*****

Hotwire swung the Talon around to fend off a formation of Pterosaurs. He primed and discharged the PLARXX radar ray, and the five Pterosaurs became jumbled, breaking their formation and wheeling about in confusion. The T-1 Typhoon continued its rotation, and Loop shot them down with the rear cockpit's sonic screamers.

Loop... Hotwire was trying his very hardest not to think about the fact that a vicious murderer was currently strapped calmly in the gunner's seat, completely obedient to his every order. It was a strain on the mind. Katerina Schattenberg had assured him that Loop -- Lupus Schattenberg -- was thoroughly conditioned to obey her will completely, and she had directed him to regard any and every Dino Attack agent as a similar authority. And yet, Hotwire could still see Loop's same rage burning behind the blank wall of compliance in his eyes. It was difficult to trust such a creature just on the word of a friend.

And that friend? The Kat he had known was unrecognizable. Hotwire hadn't had the chance to really talk to her yet, and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to. The minifig who quite firmly called herself Katerina Schattenberg had said that she was still the same person, but Hotwire was doubtful. From what he'd seen so far, his friend Kat was, for all intents and purposes, as dead as Tracer.

The thought of the jumpy rookie agent reminded him of his leg, which was beginning to hurt again. Wade had told him not to take pain suppressants any more often than once every three hours, but the dose he had taken less than an hour ago was already wearing off. He grabbed another painkiller tube, but then hesitated.

Overdose of heavy pharmaceuticals plus giant helicopter... not good. At the same time, though, the pain in his leg would soon make it difficult to maintain his concentration. Very not good indeed. 

*****

It was dark, and Dust rubbed shoulders with the narrow walls of the passageway. He had never been claustrophobic; in his youth, he had explored plenty of temples with his mentor Professor Kilroy.

Shivering more from excitement than cold, he shone his flashlight down the hall. A thin mist was starting to appear the deeper they descended into the temple, and condensation was forming as their warm breath met the cold stonewalls.

So far, he had seen negative effects on Mathew Cyrista and he was suspected that Minerva was going through her own tribulations. The Maelstrom was most dangerous psychologically, and he assumed that would worsen the closer they got.

That was when the voices started.

What are you afraid of, Gahiji?

The Egyptian turned around to see if Andrew had said something but he simply looked up inquisitively at Dust.

"Is something wrong?" asked the Elite Agent. "Is there something we should look out for?"

Dust shook his head. "No, I just thought you said something."

Andrew just shrugged, and Dust turned to continue down the passage.

You have not answered my question, Gahiji, said the voice. What do you fear?

I don't know fear, thought Dust.

I don't think that's true, said the voice. You fear a lack of control.

I'm in control, thought Dust. I have been from the start; these people are exactly where I want them.

That's not what I meant, cooed the voice. You fear a lack of self-control.

Dust shook his head and smiled. Who are you?

But the voice was gone.

*****

The pilots of the Renaissance moved the helicopter so it faced the tree line. Pulling the trigger, agent Fate fired the incredible twin rotating Quintronic Sonic Beam Emitters into the jungle and shredded the tree line. Mutants fell in droves, but for every Lizard down a Raptor took its place. The monsters' force fields were not effective against sonic weaponry, but it still took a considerable amount of firepower to kill the things.

On the ground, the Minifigure/Mutant Lizard Hybrids crossed the grassy No Man's Land between the jungle and the temple gate. They were armed with rifles but for the most part they used them as clubs rather than guns. They descended on the agents like a pack of dogs, and often times the metal helmets were no match for the powerful clawed swings of the Hybrids. The counterattack was from the Steel Sprinters. The Dino Attack drove headlong into the swarm and downed hordes of mutants with energized lances and Cosmotronic Rays. Hidden in the jungle, agent Shotgun systematically picked off foes one shot at a time.

David's Fire Hammer was soon rescued from its precarious position, and David entered the battle once again. It appeared that the first group of Dino Attack agents had entered the temple. David wished he could be with them, but he was sure he would get his chance. For now, though, he could make himself useful in fighting the remaining Mutant Dinosaurs outside the temple. 

Catless was having a great time. So far, only Lizards and Raptors were out and about. She had developed a useful strategy. She would jump on a Raptor's back, and get the other Raptors and Lizards to claw, spit acid, and attack in various other ways. She would jump off before they reached her, and the Raptor would bear the brunt of the attack and go down. She would jump back on her Steel Sprinter, and find another Raptor. Rinse and repeat. 

A Mutant Pterosaur rammed the Renaissance hard, and Fate had to work hard to compensate the massive craft. A blast of lightning shot into the craft and fried one of the consoles.

Hertz ducked as sparks shot along the interior and was careful to maintain his balance as he rolled perilously close to the door.

Vinyaya gave a battle cry and pumped an entire round of ammunition into the Mutant. It screamed and fell away from the craft.

"You okay?" Vinyaya asked as she helped Hertz up.

"I'm fine," responded Hertz. "The computers are, too. The Renaissance is fitted with advanced surge protection so I'll be online again soo-"

A hot blast hit the helicopter, and the techie was knocked of his feet again. He hit his head hard on the floor, and then there was a thin trickle of red down his face.

Wiping the blood aside, he glimpsed the Mutant Tyrannosaurus Rexes emerging from the jungle.

*****

"There!" Colonel yelled to Navi. A T-1 Typhoon flew before them, desperately fighting off the deadly Mutant Pterosaurs. "Call them off!" Navi yelled out in her strange growl. The Mutant Pterosaurs screeched in acknowledgement and fled the helicopter.

*****

Vinyaya's eyes widened. Mutant Pterosaurs seemingly fled a T-1 Typhoon for no apparently reason. Then she saw it: a single Mutant Pterosaur with two riders on its back. The riders were leaving the Pterosaur and attempting to board the helicopter.

"Take out that Pterosaur!" Vinyaya yelled.

*****

Navi was clinging onto the side of the T-1 Typhoon, standing on top of one of the Quintronic Sonic Beam Emitters. Her hand was extended toward Colonel. He was about to grab her hand when the Mutant Pterosaur was suddenly stopped flapping its wings. Colonel immediately realized a PLARXX Radar Ray on a T-1 Typhoon had knocked out the Pterosaur. He desperately reached for Navi, but his hand slipped and he and the Pterosaur began to free-fall.

The Pterosaur slammed into the ground, killing it quickly. The flying reptile managed to cushion Colonel's fall. He rolled off the Pterosaur and used his metal pole to get back on to his feet.

Navi! Colonel called out. Are you on board?

*****

"There is a Hybrid on board!" an agent screamed over the radio. Vinyaya grimaced. She had heard of the Hybrids' ruthless nature and was not anxious to meet one.

"Take it out!" Vinyaya responded. She was met with static for several minutes. She glanced out the Renaissance again. She saw a Minifig in samurai armor fall out of the T-1 Typhoon. It fell hundreds of feet and slammed into the ground, most likely killing it.

"Did you kill it?" Hertz asked.

"Y-y-yes!" they heard the agent stammer. "It's dead!"

"You alright, agent?" Vinyaya asked uncertainly.

"Y-y-yes!" the agent spat out. "It was just... a little unnerving."

Vinyaya nodded slowly. "You'll make it, troop," she said sympathetically. "Keep up the fight."

"Yes, ma'am!" the agent said, his voice cracking.

"Alright!" she said. "Keep attacking those Pterosaurs!" 

*****

Kara charged a Hybrid riding a T-Rex, firing her gatling gun at it. The shots had no effect.

"Okay, new strategy," she muttered. She started firing at the ground beneath it.

The Hybrid hissed, "What bad aim you have!"

The bolts of sonic energy were not solid, but perhaps they were more useful for that quality. By now, the bolts had started to make the ground churn. Think of it as the world's most advanced Roto-Tiller.

The ground was unstable beneath the T-Rex's feet; time for phase two of her plan. She summoned her ship with a beckon call, and directed it to fire its fuel rod cannon between the T-Rex's feet. However, it "missed", instead shooting and killing the T-Rex! Her A.I. must be getting trigger-happy.

The Hybrid jumped down, and swung its staff at Kara. She jumped back, and X2, occupied with another Stromling, tossed her his MagnaGuard staff. She caught it, and blocked the Hybrid's next swing.

*****

Garry was quick to step into the infirmary. "How's it going?" he asked.

Fuchs approached him. "So far, so good," he whispered. "We've managed to help the patient gain some sense of individuality, but unfortunately some piece of the Maelstrom remains and we're not sure what to do."

"Could you try to surgically remove it?" Garry suggested.

"Probably not," replied Fuchs. "'However, depending on where it's located, we might be able to remove it through a transplant."

"You think it could work?"

"Well, it's just a theory," admitted Fuchs.

"I don't want theories," demanded Garry. "I want answers." 

Nazareno couldn't help but overhear Garry and Fuchs talking. He walked over to the group.

"The Maelstrom isn't something that can just be removed," Nazareno said. "It is an incredibly powerful and somewhat sentient force of evil. Although I hope there is a method to finish it off, I have doubt about the simplicity of it. There is one last hope, possibly. If I remember correctly, Dr. Cyborg could extract Maelstrom from bodies. We could try that when, and if, he returns from the temple. However, I fear that even that may not work. The Maelstrom may fight against such an extraction, but now it's the best and most likely hope."

"Look," said Fuchs. "I see where you're coming from, but the Maelstrom can't just be supernatural. The supernatural is just science we do not understand. Now, theoretically, I think that if we can find the source of what Maelstrom is still left in her and cut it off, it should at least buy us some time." 

"I have an idea," suggested Garry. "I don't like it, but at this point, I think it might be worth taking a chance."

"What's your plan?" Fuchs asked nervously.

"Those prisoners that were brought in earlier," replied Garry. "One of them was a scientist, probably one who had experimented with the Maelstrom. I don't want to let a XERRD member in here, but at this point, if we want results quickly, I think it's worth the risk." 

*****

Minerva shivered. Despite the stuffy heat inside the temple, she occasionally felt a sudden burst of cold. She couldn't tell if anyone else felt the cold, so she assumed the Maelstrom was playing with her again.

She remained calm, but she could feel that shield deteriorating quickly as the hallway seemed to go on forever. The hallway narrowing did not help her much. "How much farther?" she called to Dust, her voice cracking suddenly.

"Not much farther," Dust responded, clearly lost in thought. Minerva shuddered again and she continued, her shoulder rubbing against the wall. They seemed to be closing in on her more and more, trying to suffocate her. Crush her. She suddenly felt a hand touch her shoulder gentle. She jumped and turned to face whoever touched, bruising her shoulders against the wall.

"Who-" she looked and saw a Minifig that she knew was called Kat. Or at least, used to be called Kat. She wasn't sure who it was now.

"Are you alright?" the minifig formerly known as Kat asked. "You are breathing rather heavily."

"Oh," Minerva said, embarrassed. She didn't want to appear to already cracking to the Maelstrom's pressure. "I think I might be a bit claustrophobic. I feel like the walls are closing in on me."

"Don't worry," Katerina said reassuringly. "The Maelstrom is most likely trying to break you. Making illusions to weaken your mental defenses. As long as this 'Dust' character remains trustworthy, there shouldn't be any immediate danger unless Stromlings suddenly appear. Which seems very likely at the moment, according to the synthfigs, despite Dust's denial."

Minerva breathed out long, allowing herself to calm down. "Yeah," she said, slightly dazed. "You're right. Thanks Kat..." she drifted off. She still wasn't sure who this person actually was.

"Katerina Schattenberg," she said, showing a small smile. "Best keep going. We are holding up the others." Minerva nodded and continued forward, feeling slightly better still had a sense of dread.

*****

Rotor and Amanda Claw fought their way through the Stromlings surrounding them, with Rotor firing his machine gun and Amanda slashing with her knife. Rex, whose wheelchair was pushed along by Kate, helped them out by firing at whichever Stromling he could with his Sonic Screamer.

The Stromling Explorers clawed and shot back at them, while the Stromling Islanders in the lead jabbed at them with the spears fused to their arms. However, in comparison to a Mutant T-Rex, the Stromlings were fairly easy to dispatch, and the Dino Attack agents pushed their way through the crowd. As soon as they broke free of the ring of Stromlings, Amanda took over the pushing duty from Kate as they ran down the hallway of the Temple of Creation. Only Rotor stopped briefly to turn around and fire at some pursuing Stromlings with his machine gun before moving on.

As the group made its way through the Temple of Creation, Rex found himself in awe of the temple around them. The arched ceiling towered above them, with great pillars carved from stone reaching up to meet it. On either side of the hallway, they saw dark passageways leading off to other chambers, but it was too dark to see anything beyond the mist and fog that seemed to swirl all around them. Half-heard voices, thoughts, and ideas whispered in his ear, creating an ambiance that seemed to both lull and alert Rex.

At last, they found themselves in an expansive chamber that seemed larger than the Aztec Village itself, with a ceiling that seemed to reach higher than Dino Attack Headquarters. The group stopped in silent awe. Before they could recover, their attention was drawn to a statue not far away from them. Without hesitation but rather with speechless incredulity, they slowly approached the statue.

The statue was of a faded blue hue, and rather simplistic in design: three featureless Minifigs standing equidistant to each other, facing each other with their arms raised high. In the space between the three Minifigs, there was a bright blue orb. It was small, not much larger than Rex's hand, and it flickered as though threatening to go out, but it glowed brilliantly and cast blue light upon the statue and the Dino Attack agents.

The closer they drew to the statue, the more they were filled with a peaceful bliss that calmed them and relaxed their nerves. Rex felt himself at peace, as though a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Amanda Claw, for the first time in so many years, felt as though everything was going to turn out right in the end. Rotor was filled with a sense of an almost-nationalistic pride, the same feeling he got whenever he emerged victorious from a great battle. And Kate Bishop felt all her worries and fears leave her as a comforting warmth took their place.

"This is it," Rex whispered, unable to raise his voice any higher. "This is the Imagination."

"It's so..." murmured Kate, "beautiful..." She was closest to the statue, and reached out towards the bright blue orb of Imagination.

"Careful. You may look, but you mustn't touch."

Everyone froze instantly as the voice rang through the chamber. It echoed so greatly that it seemed to come from all sides, but slowly, everyone saw a figure emerge from the shadows and approach them.

Rex's jaw dropped in disbelief. "You...?"

*****

Chompy the T-Rex looked bitterly upon the chaos and destruction he saw. Before him, a great battle was taking place, as the Dino Attack Team struggled to combat the forces of the Maelstrom in the form of a Stromling and Mutant Dino army.

Beside him, his female companion's nostrils flared. "This place stinks of those abominations," she growled. "It goes against my every instinct to even stand here."

"We have to," sighed Chompy. "Dino Attack Team is clearly losing this battle, and we must make sure that they can survive long enough against the Maelstrom to bring an end to the Mutant Dinos."

The female T-Rex groaned. "And what use is it, just two of our kind up against the Maelstrom?"

"Every raindrop raises the sea," Chompy murmured quietly.

The female T-Rex blinked in surprise and turned to look at Chompy. "That's from a story that our alpha always told us when we were hatchlings. I'm surprised you still remember that, after... well, you know."

Chompy made some deep noises that were roughly equivalent to chuckling. "We were separated as hatchlings, sister. I am glad to meet you one more time before we die fighting side-by-side to protect our alpha's home and family."

With that, the two T-Rexes roared and then charged into battle, joining the Dino Attack Team in their battle for the Temple of Hotep III.

*****

Zach paced around the chamber, slightly irritated. Ahua had left momentarily to check on the status of the battle, leaving him alone in the temple. Almost as soon as Ahua left, Zach decided to see exactly who had entered the temple. He swirled the Maelstrom pool in the chamber into a screen that was spying on the agents. Right now, they were walking through a passageway that lead to a large chamber.

Dust was the first minifig he noticed. Zach wasn't really that surprised. He knew the temple and even though the team distrusted him, he was their best option. Without him, Zach soon realized, the other agents would be dead. Zach held a high level of hate toward the agent and intended to kill him if he got the chance.

Next he saw was Commander Carl Lutsky. Zach smirked at Lutsky's somewhat-disarray hair. Zach hated Lutsky as well. He was loud, annoying, and just a terrible commander in general. He, in Zach's opinion, could not manage to bring the Dino Attack to the Maelstrom Temple in the fashion that Semick did. Zach would also like to end Lutsky's life himself.

He soon spotted an Ogel Drone with the group. Zach raised an eyebrow with interest. He was pretty sure Ogel was not on the island. He quickly came to the conclusion that the drone was the one called Septimus. Zach would be interested to meet such a peculiar drone, but alas, the meeting would never take place in Zach's current state.

He was more interested to see Lance Williams, the surfer, in their group. Zach wasn't aware that the surfer had joined the Dino Attack, most likely indicated he was not as prominent at fight dinosaurs as he was surfing. Zach shrugged Lance off, seeing him as mere cannon fodder.

He rolled his eyes as he noticed Dr. Cyborg among their number. He had discovered that Cyborg had sent some sort of message to him about trash-talking that he disregarded. As evidenced in the battlefield, Dr. Cyborg could be an extremely dangerous opponent to the Maelstrom with his abilities to extract the dark power from bodies. Zach was somewhat interested in seeing how this power held up against actually organic beings such as himself, Colonel, or Ahua compared to the pure Maelstrom Stromlings on the battlefield. However, he wasn't interested enough to actually send himself or the other commanding Stromlings to him. Dr. Cyborg's apparent immunity to the Maelstrom also meant he would have to be killed as opposed to corrupted.

What was most interesting was a woman walking with them. She was flanked by four men and they were all wearing black. The four men all resembled that Inferno agent Loop that Zach encountered during the battle of the camp. Zach soon recognized the woman as Kat. Zach frowned. Didn't Kat get killed by Loop? Wasn't she now a sentient T-1 Typhoon? Zach wasn't sure. What he was sure was that this 'Kat' and these Loop-clones needed to killed. Soon.

Then he saw Andrew. And after him, Minerva. Zach smirked. He knew exactly why they were here. They were acting on Minifig!Zach's "plan". Find Zach in the temple and somehow "save" him from the Maelstrom. Zach scoffed. He had to admit, the two were bold heading into the temple on the directions a Minifig trapped inside his mind. However, they would only suffer in the end.

He truly could not fathom why Andrew and Minerva were risking their lives to save him. He only knew Andrew from LEGO Island and rarely communicated him in the last eighteen years. As he thought about more and more, he barely even knew Minerva. He had communicated with her only a few times. They fought together once and that was it.

And then she had saved him from Mutant Dinos during the village and XERRD guards in the fortress. In the case of the latter, Zach could detect her feelings toward him rather clearly. Her brother Oswald could see it as well. She needs to learn make her feelings less apparent, Zach noted. I wonder why she continues like this. I... he is gone and yet she is willing to die to save me... him?

Zach shrugged. It didn't matter. If the Maelstrom stayed true to its word, she would be joining him soon enough. He couldn't deny his own feelings in the matter... 

----

A loud BANG echoed through the desert as Clint and Maria rode to the edge of town on horseback. Harmonica's music played close behind.

"Listen, Clint," Maria said. "You sure it's a good idea that I wait out here with ya?"

"Yeah," replied Clint, lighting a cigar. "When Van Cleef's posse comes, you're going to join us."

"Yeah," sighed Maria. "You forget one li'l detail. In case ya haven't noticed, I'm a woman."

"So?"

"You've seen how 'em boys are," explained Maria. "If anyone sees a woman wearin' men's clothing, they ain't goin' to want to listen to ya."

"I know," replied Clint. "We'll figure something out." 

----

Loop fell into a rhythm of aiming, firing, aiming, firing, at any Pterosaur that came within range of his Sonic Screamers. He felt... odd. Calm on the outside, completely compliant with all orders he received, but somewhere deep in his mind, he could still feel him anger and resentment burning. The return of Executive Schattenberg was especially irksome to this part of his mind. Looking at the matter rationally, he had to admit that he really hadn't known what he was doing when he impulsively exposed himself to the Maelstrom in the wreckage of the Founder's Island; he simply knew somehow that it was necessary. It was only Katerina who was able to tell him what his purpose was. For that, he was devoted to her.

And despised her, with every one of the few fibers of his being that remained free.

The way she so casually disparaged Agent Cane was what incensed Loop the most. The man who taught him everything he knew, an incompetent fool? Impossible. It was Canis Schattenberg who gave Loop his purpose, not the man's pretentious aunt. At that moment, Loop vowed to himself to overcome the psychological conditioning that kept him obedient to Katerina and the Dino Attack team. He paused in his thoughts and glanced around towards the forward cockpits of the Talon, where Hotwire was piloting the craft. And I think I know who my first victim will be.

Hotwire had other things on his mind. The autopilot had been knocked out at some point -- probably during the rough landing which had marked their arrival on the island -- but of course this had gone unnoticed, since Kat had still inhabited the flight computers. And now the pain in his leg was becoming almost intolerable. No painkillers, I lose my concentration and crash this boat of a chopper... extra painkillers, and I lose my motor skills and crash. Either way I lose, so I suppose I may as well lose relatively painlessly. With that, he stabbed the tube of pain suppressant into his thigh.

He looked up again to see a Pterosaur flying directly towards the Talon. Suddenly, it was struck in the side by a missile and plunged towards the ground in a blossom of flame. Did I just...? No, Hotwire was sure he had not fired. And yet it was out of range of the other T-1 Typhoons, which were behind the Talon relative to where the late Pterosaur had been.

The answer came moments later, as three Agents Supersonic Jets flying in tight formation came screaming down from above. They then split apart, drawing the attention of several more Pterosaurs. Simultaneously, a new voice broke over the open comm channel.

"This is Agents Defense Organization Captain Osprey, calling Dino Attack. Have brought backup. Six jets and three Aerial Defense Units."

Hertz was the first to respond. "Much appreciated. We didn't expect any reinforcements at all."

"We've been picking up a considerable increase in activity around this island on our satellites for the past few days." Osprey explained, "and I, along with Dino Attack agent Helm, managed to get clearance to bring a squad here. Sorry if we're late." Hotwire couldn't help but grin at this latest announcement; he hadn't seen Helmie since the aftermath of the Goo Caverns mission. And despite the Agents' classic barging-in act, he couldn't help but be grateful for the reinforcements. A similar sentiment ran through all the Dino Attack forces in the air.

"Our jets can engage the Mutant Pterosaurs," Osprey continued. "You'll then be able to provide more support for your forces on the ground."

*****

The narrow and perfectly straight tunnel created the illusion of incredible distance. Dust could tell the team was getting restless, and he expected they would be emerging soon.

Then suddenly, they were out. The dark and claustrophobic tunnel magically gave way to a large bright room. A cool, thick, white mist filled the room; the door on the other side was only faintly visible, and the ceiling was completely covered by the clouds.

The eleven agents filed out of the small tunnel and lined up against the wall. The vast empty room was unsettling after the enclosed space, and the lack of visibility caused by the vapor made the team feel vulnerable.

Katerina and Doctor Cyborg came up to Dust. "There are Stromlings up ahead." said Katerina. "At least a dozen."

"My scanners indicate there is a cluster in the next room," agreed Cyborg. "Not pure - most likely Stromling Mummies. There is something much bigger, too."

Dust nodded but did not step away from the wall. "We can deal with them in a moment. First, we have to get to that doorway." He pointed to the large double doors on the far side of the room. "This is the antechamber to the main sanctuary. Once we pass through, we'll only have one more chamber to get past."

"Do you know how?" asked Andrew

"The documents I found in Egypt indicated there were hieroglyphs on the walls," said Dust. "They gave directions on safe passage through the room." He looked around the chamber and frowned. "But I was not expecting there would be this level of visibility. I can't see the glyphs well enough to be much help, I'm afraid."

"We might just have to do this the old fashion way, then," muttered Lutsky. The former commander unsoldered his gun and stepped boldly into the room.

Nothing happened.

Andrew raised an eyebrow at Dust. "Should we be concerned?"

He shrugged. "Well you know me and Lutsky are not so-"

"Not what I meant," cut in Andrew. "What do we have to look out for?"

"Pendulums," said Dust. "There is a very careful route we must travel to get through this room. If we're not careful, a large hammer could swing down from above and smash us to bits. It looks like Carl has the right idea." Lutsky was now halfway into the chamber.

"He certainly is a lucky fellow, ain't he?" said Minerva.

Dust passed along the wall, trying in vain to see the hieroglyphs on the walls. "I wish I could be more help, but I really can do nothing about the mist."

"You said you knew this temple like the back of your hand!" said Doctor Cyborg. "And you don't care how helpful you are!"

Dust glared at the doctor with cold eyes. "I said I had studied the blueprints and had knowledge of the essential archeology," he shot back. "I told Rockford there would be surprises; you just have to accept that and trust me!"

Doctor Cyborg frowned and headed blindly into the room. Moving slowly, he walked with tentative steps as if it were a minefield. The rest of the team could watch as he marched blindly into the unknown.

Cyborg put his foot down on one of the thousands of inconspicuous stones. There was a shift in weight and immediately a massive stone brick swung down on a chain from the ceiling. He jumped aside and the block slammed through the place where he just stood. It continued along its path and reached the end of its arc about 20 feet above the floor. Then, it fell down to the floor again and Doctor Cyborg had to roll a second time to avoid the pendulum as it came back down.

"Well, that should give you a pretty good idea," said Septimus. The drone followed Cyborg into the chamber. The rest of the team quietly followed.

Dust glanced at Andrew. "I admire their bravery."

The elite agent smiled. "Oh Dust, after all the time you've been with us, you're just starting to see it."

Dust shrugged and stepped aside. "After you."

Andrew rolled his eyes and stepped forward after the other agents working their way across the chamber. One of the Loops had triggered a pendulum and Andrew had to quickly duck to avoid its deadly downward swing.

Dust took up the rear. All across the room, similar mistakes were taking place. Lance Williams had opted to simply run blindly across the room and had triggered half of the deadly bricks. Soon, the entire chamber was filled with the swinging pendulums, and they all had to move fast to avoid them.

Andrew walked with precision to avoid the traps, but the thick mist hampered how much he could see. Behind him, one of the weights came crashing down and the elite agent was oblivious. Dust saw it first. He ran across the chamber with as much speed as he could muster and knocked Andrew to the ground. The massive pendulum sailed over their heads the moment they hit the ground.

Andrew looked shocked. "You saved me."

Dust did not know how to respond. Unlike his earlier rescues where he had acted only to gain Dino Attack's trust, this had been pure instinct.

The Egyptian rolled aside and brushed the dust from his poncho. He said nothing and continued into the room.

*****

Captain Thaddeus Brickhouse grinned from behind the controls of an Agents Aerial Defense Unit. He and the rest of the Agents had been waiting around long enough, it was time to fight yet again.

Thaddeus was an older gentleman, nearing his fiftieth birthday. He had brown, but graying, short hair and neatly cut beard. Small, round rimmed glasses were placed on his nose. Despite his age, Thaddeus still acted as if he was in the prime of his youth.

He had joined with the Agents Defense Organization when it first formed in 2008. He became one the Agents' best fighters and pilots. He had been, more or less, a hotshot two years ago and had been rather arrogant in conflicts both dealing with Dr. Inferno and the Alpha Team. However, he had mellowed out dramatically by the end of 2009, and now in 2010, he saw how the once, fiercely-bitter rivalry between the Alpha Team had been counterproductive toward both teams.

And so here he was now, flying with the Dino Attack Team against a massive swarm of Mutant Pterosaurs. When Captain Osprey had requested Agents to assist him in his plan, Thaddeus had been the first to sign up, anxious to leave the cozy confines of the Agents Headquarters to see some action.

He fired a missile at a passing Mutant Pterosaur. The Dino Attack Team had graciously allowed the Agents to add on Dino Attack weapons to their vehicles to be more efficient against the Mutant Dinos. These Aerial Defense Units and Supersonic Jets were armed to the teeth with Agents weaponry and Dino Attack weaponry, a force to be reckoned with.

Thaddeus glanced down at the battle below him, Mutant Dinos swarmed into the designated battlefield. Nothing new to him. What was new was the strange purple minifigs below attacking Dino Attack agents and their vehicles. He shuddered. The infamous Stromlings I keep hearing about. Luckily, they seemed to be a rather weak and were an easy target for the Dino Attack agents.

I feel sorry for any poor soul who has become one of those beasts.

*****

Colonel watched the battle from the temple. The battle was rather even. The Maelstrom-loyal Mutant Dinos manage to kill several agents and smash up some vehicles. However, the Dino Attack Team was facing a common enemy at this point, despite its Maelstrom boost. They were making quick work of the Mutant Dinos.

However, things seemed to be turning the direction of the Dino Attack. The Agents Defense Organization has begun providing reinforcements in the air, allow the T-1 Typhoons to turn their weapons on the battlefield below. Colonel also wasn't sure where the other Hybrids were. All he knew was that Navi had been killed trying to hijack a T-1 Typhoon.

Colonel turned his head and grinned. A single Hybrid was fighting Kara Wise, who was armed with a staff. He aimed his Sonic Screamer at her and prepared to fire when a large green blast struck behind Kara, throwing her at the Hybrid. The Hybrid hit the ground and watched as the woman slid into the dirt several yards away.

Colonel raised an eyebrow. "What it the meaning of this?" He looked up toward the skies. The T-1 Typhoons were concentrating their firepower on the battlefield. Was this an accident? Or maybe...

Colonel hobbled over the ruined samurai armor lying on the ground. Colonel wrapped his Sonic Screamer underneath the corpse's arm and dragged it to the temple. He then pulled off the helmet. He grinned. Things were looking up indeed.

*****

Minerva hit ducked as another massive weight swung over her head. I didn't quite expect this, she thought. She had given up on cautiously trekking through this hallway. She only wished to survive.

Another pendulum swung before her. She held her breath as it swung dangerous close to her. This was a million times worse than claustrophobic, Maelstrom-reinforced illusions. She looked ahead. The mist clouded hindered her vision, but she could spot Dr. Cyborg and Septimus ahead of her. Minerva quickly ran on her toes to them, dodging another swinging death trap on the way.

Cyborg and Septimus were managing to carefully step and dodge the pendulums that flew out them. She admired their patience, but she couldn't imagine that helping them for much longer. She was about to simply start running across in a similar fashion to Lance Williams but stopped as she saw Andrew walking through the storm of hammers. Minerva wanted to stay close to him, so she ran toward him.

"Hey!" she called out to Andrew. He glanced back quickly and kept moving forward. She slowed down to his pace and stayed behind him.

"Watch my back and I'll watch yours," Andrew muttered. Minerva nodded. Andrew suddenly seized his advance, causing Minerva to bump into him. A pendulum swung in front of him menacingly.

"Warn me before you do that!" Minerva hissed. Andrew nodded his head and continued forward, Minerva close behind. They were nearing the end of this deathtrap. She could feel it.

The two dodged pendulum after pendulum, crushing death after crushing death. Minerva' confidence began to grow until she stepped on a single stone. It sunk into the ground quickly. Minerva prepared to duck when the floor suddenly opened up beneath her.

"Andrew!" she screamed. She grabbed his shoulder and pulled him down into the pit. As they both cleared the floor and fell into a slide, the trap door shut itself, trapping both Minerva and Andrew on a slide of darkness.

One step, two step, three step, stop! Dr. Cyborg found a pattern for this part of the room.

He heard a cry and turned around. Andrew and Minerva fell through a hole in the floor. He decided to try to help when he heard a whistle and thought, Oh, no! The count! I waited too long! He tried to move out of the way, but too late. The hammer swung, hit him in the chest, and knocked him into the wall with great force. He got up, and realized, there wasn't a dent in his armor. "I'm okay," he called. "Not a dent. Whoever rebuilt me used some great metal alloy!"

He continued using his strategy.

*****

The pain in Hotwire's leg faded quickly, but at the same time he realized he was beginning to feel slightly dizzy. Now why the Znap did I think that another dose would be a good idea? he thought, berating himself slightly. He then announced over the open comm: "This is the Talon. I have a bit of a situation here and I need to set down before it worsens."

Semick responded, "What exactly is going on, Hotwire?"

"Well, to be honest," Hotwire said, "I think I may have just taken a bit too much painkiller for my severed leg. I'd like to land just in case I start losing my motor skills." He began angling the Talon downward and away from the battle.

"What is the size of your crew?" Osprey inquired.

"It's just me and a gunner, and he can't fly."

"If you can find a place to land, I can send over some personnel to give you a hand," Osprey offered.

Grateful, Hotwire steered the T-1 Typhoon to a corner of the temple grounds where the battle raged less fiercely. One of the Agents helicopters swooped over to his location, and three minifigs dropped to the ground and sprinted over to the Talon. The first was a young woman in an Agents Defense Organization uniform who introduced herself as Phoenix. The second was another Agent, calling himself Cyrus. The third wore a Dino Attack uniform and bore dark, scruffy facial hair. Hotwire grinned at this arrival.

"Agent Helm, I presume?"

The former mariner grinned back as he climbed aboard the T-1 Typhoon. "Agent Hotwire. How've you been holding up, lad?"

Hotwire glanced at his prosthetic leg and shrugged as he strapped himself in by the sensor arrays in the midsection. Phoenix and Cyrus manned the forward cockpits, and soon the Talon was in the air again. 

Two Cosmotronic Rays were stored just inside the Talon's side doors: a thoughtful touch from Katerina and the Loops, no doubt. Hotwire and Helm both grabbed one and swiveled their seats away from the sensor/comm desk to aim out the doors as Phoenix and Cyrus swung the T-1 Typhoon down about fifty feet above the battlefield.

"So, how was Antarctica?" asked Hotwire, as he aimed a burst at a raptor that was menacing several Steel Sprinters.

"Cold," Helm replied. "But interesting, to say the least. To have the cold mutants on one side, rioting civilians on the other, and ticked-off Agents coming at us from the middle...well, I'm just glad we made it through that in one piece. Oh, and I met Junkbot. How was LEGO Island?" 

----

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP, DONNIE!" Walter shouted for the 1000th time this match before he slowly got up and worked his way to the alley.

"You ever tried bowling?" Sarah asked.

"Nah," replied Pierce. "I was never very good at it."

"Oh, come on," scoffed Sarah. She grabbed Pierce's hand and tried to pull him out of his seat.

"No," insisted Pierce. "I really couldn't. My leg, you see-"

"Oh, you'll be fine."

"It's easy," Donnie said keenly. "You just have to keep your hand straight."

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP, DONNIE!" Walter shouted as he came back. "What did I miss?"

"Sarah's trying to get her ex-boyfriend to bowl," replied Dude.

Pierce finally started to stand on his leg, grabbing his crutch as he got up. "Come on now," Sarah said as she led him onto the alley. She placed a bowling ball in his hand, and he rolled, knocking down several pins.

----

Angel Eyes raised his gun into the air and fired several shots upward as he rode into El Paso. One by one, the various townspeople emerged from the banks and the shops, a few from the saloon along with another waitress.

"Alright, boys," Angel Eyes said keenly. "We need men. I've got orders to organize a posse of the finest men we got 'ere in town. Anyone who can shoot will accompany me to Fort Legoredo, and if we survive this endeavor, we will split any money found within."

The townspeople stood silently, looking in fear. Angel Eyes dismounted, looking around as he slowly approached the tavern. The only sound was that of his spurs as he walked up the stairs and through the saloon doors. There he walked toward the counter and reached over, pulling out the familiar face of Flatfoot Thompson.

"I want you," Angel Eyes said. "Did you not hear me outside?"

"And what if I refuse?" Thompson replied nervously.

Angel Eyes promptly cocked his pistol and held in front of Thompson's head.

"Alright," replied Thompson. Angel Eye threw him back to his side of the counter, where Thompson slowly got up.

"I want you to have a horse ready in five minutes," Angel Eyes said sternly. "Oh, and remember to bring 'em boys with you."

"If I don't?"

"Well," replied Angel Eyes, fiddling with his gun. "It'd be a shame if they were to, uh... accidentally be killed by a stray bullet."

"Alright," replied Thompson, nervously standing up and starting to walk out. "I'm a-goin' to get my horses. What's next? Did that stupid woman run off with you as well?"

Angel Eyes could only smile as he watched Thompson run outside.

----

The three Supersonic Jets were capable of a much higher altitude that of a Mutant Pterosaur. The powerful missiles shot down and consumed the monsters in a fiery inferno.

In the center of the action was the Renaissance and Semick's T-1 Typhoon. Around them revolved the Talon and the other helicopters that provided air support to the forces below.

Inside, Hertz had been ordered to manage the Renaissance's unique patrol anal turret located beneath the tail. Unlike other Typhoons, the Renaissance had missile launchers and extra weaponry to cover its otherwise blind spots.

Hertz had never been much of a fighter. To his knowledge, he had only held a gun twice, and neither time had he fired one. He had little experience with heavy weaponry like the powerful blaster he was using, but since there was no one else to man it, it was up to him to cover the craft's belly.

Below him, a Raptor charged and jumped at the Renaissance. Hertz was amazed at how high its powerful legs could carry it. He fired at the Raptor, but the shots had little effect on the mutant's force field. With its long arms, it was able to cling to the underside of the craft and bring it down.

The Renaissance rapidly began to lose altitude, and by the time Hertz was able to dislodge the mutant, the craft was only a few dozen feet of the ground.

As the Raptor hit the ground, the Renaissance lurched, and Fate and Lucky struggled to control the spinning craft as it suddenly lost weight. It cruised low to the ground and Hertz squeezed his eyes shut as it careened toward the trees. Fate was able to regain control of the craft seconds before impact, and it again started to ascend.

Hertz exhaled as the helicopter started flying smoothly again. Just as they started to reach an optimal level, a blast hit it from the side.

Hertz saw smoke billow from the port side of the Renaissance and knew they were hit badly by a T-Rex laser blast.

"Get us higher!" yelled Hertz into the radio.

Lucky screamed. "We can't! The dang mutant hit our engine; we can go higher than a few stories!"

Behind him, Hertz could see the bright red Mutant T-Rex emerge from the jungle and follow the Renaissance as it flew to around the side of the temple.

*****

"What's going on over there?" Mac asked as he looked at the Talon.

"I don't know," Cabin replied over the radio. "Whatever happened with the Talon, they're back in the air now.

"Guys," said Mac. "This might be just me but it looks as though the Renaissance is in trouble. Looks like a Mutant T-Rex approaching."

Cabin was quick to act. She brought the T-1 Typhoon to a lower altitude where their comrades were stranded. With a flip of a switch, she launched a rocket towards the large Tyrannosaurus. 

Thaddeus Brickhouse turned his helicopter and saw a Mutant T-Rex harassing one of the Dino Attack's helicopters. He noted that the helicopter was a T-2 Typhoon, one that the Agents helped construct. He began to follow the Mutant T-Rex, firing his weapons quickly.

*****

Colonel grinned again as he glanced down at the samurai armor. He had expected to find the ruined body of Navi. However, he found a Minifig body with much of the flesh missing from its face. Hybrids are carnivorous, Colonel noted. He glanced back up at T-1 Typhoon he had attempted to hijack. It was firing down below at Mutant Dinos, but occasionally a blast seemed to intentionally stray toward Dino Attack Agents on the ground.

Navi? Colonel reached out. He heard a dark hiss in his head. Colonel smiled wide. Navi was still alive, and now the Maelstrom had a T-1 Typhoon in addition to its fleet of Mutant Pterosaurs. Things couldn't be going any better.

*****

"The Renaissance needs back-up!" Vinyaya barked into the radio, glancing out of the window at the approaching Mutant T-Rex.

Her message seemed to get out. An Agents-issued Aerial Defense Unit and another T-1 Typhoon turned their attention toward the Mutant T-Rex.

"Acknowledged," replied George. "We're forming up on you, Renaissance. Mac, can you give me a hand?"

"Sure thing," came Mac's voice over the radio as he turned his T-1 Typhoon's attention toward the Mutant T-Rex. "Alright, I say fire anything we can at that Tyrannosaur, just make sure the chopper comes out in one piece.

"Lucky, Fate! Get that Voltaic Launcher up and start firing!" She leaned out of the stumbling T-2 Typhoon and started firing at the Mutant T-Rex, which roared angrily. It was being peppered with shots from multiple helicopters and wouldn't last much longer.

Suddenly, a green explosion rocked the Renaissance fiercely. Vinyaya stumbled and felt herself falling out of the T-2 Typhoon. She gasped as she attempted to grab the edge of the helicopter. However, her grip slipped and she fell completely out of the T-2 Typhoon. Commander Vinyaya fell, accepting her fate as she dropped.

*****

Minerva did not waste energy screaming. She and Andrew tumbled down the slide, no clear way to escape. She just closed her eyes and hoped for the best.

Minerva and Andrew were cursed in that they had to go down headfirst. They had no warning of what was ahead, which caused Minerva's stomach to churn. The slide twisted and turned and showed no clear signs of stopping. In addition, the slide showed signs of decay. There were bumps as her body rushed across cracks, splinters, and lumps in the stone. Her back was on fire from the numerous bumps she had crossed already.

Without warning, a rock shard suddenly tore through Minerva's right hand. She screamed and quickly crossed her arms over her chest. She couldn't see the full extent of the damage in the darkness, but it stung fiercely. Before she could contemplate on her wound more, she and Andrew suddenly fell off the slide and landed on a stone floor.

Minerva laid on her back for several seconds, surprised at their sudden stop. Andrew appeared over her and extended a hand. Minerva accepted it with her left and pulled herself to her feet.

They had ended up in a wide hallway decorated in hieroglyphics. The lighting had changed from a well-lit blue to a menacing dark violet color. Black and purple smoke lay at the bottom of the floor and reached up to their heels.

"Any idea?" Minerva said, turning to Andrew. He shook his head. She winced as her hand stung again. She glanced at it. A large cut when down the middle of the palm of her glove. The cut was gently bleeding, but there was already a large blot of blood on her glove. "Ow," she muttered, dazed. She looked at the rest of her arms. Both sleeves of her black shirt were torn and barely held on to the rest of the shirt.

Minerva tore off her right glove and saw more blood on her palm. She tore off the remains of her left sleeve and wiped away the blood on her hand. "Do you any water? A canteen or something?" Andrew nodded and handed her a small container. She could hear water slosh around inside. Minerva removed the cap and added a little water to the cut to hopefully clean it better. She groaned as the stringing pain increased. She handed Andrew the water back quickly.

Minerva then ripped off her right sleeve and pulled apart a strip of fabric. She then wrapped it around her hand to protect the wound.

"Probably make any real doctor puke with disgust," Minerva said roughly, looking at her wrapped-up hand. "But it will have to do for now."

Andrew nodded. "Shall we start?"

Minerva nodded, ripping off her other glove. "I wonder where we are. Are we below the temple?"

"I don't know," Andrew said glancing around. "We need to get back to the others. Or..." He drifted off. Minerva knew what he meant. Now might be the ideal time to find Zach.

Minerva shivered. It felt unnaturally cold in the hallway, and having no sleeves to cover her arms. She crossed her arms and simply nodded. "Let's go." The two started down into the ominous hallway, unsure of what they may find. 

*****

The Hybrid was coming back toward Kara. She was curious about that T-1 Typhoon, so she didn't waste time on finesse. She held the staff parallel to the ground in front of her, hands a shoulder's width apart on it. When the Hybrid was almost at her, she dropped to one knee and twisted the staff 90 degrees. The Hybrid broke his armor and impaled himself on the staff.

She shook him off and called her dropship. She climbed in, put the staff beside her, and put on her special helmet that turned the ship's chin gun in the direction she looked. She lifted off, and activated the radio. "This is UlTech Dropship KW3853 calling T-1 Typhoon ZJ428603. Respond please."

"Yes? May we help you?"

"Just checking on you," Kara replied. She could hear a hiss in the voice like the Hybrid she fought. "So you're alright?"

"Yes. We're all fine here. How are you?"

"Now I know she's lying," she muttered. She fired a laser round from the chin gun on the ship to purposely miss them.

The radio projected a hissing, "What do you think you're doing!?" then an, "Uh, oh," as Navi realized she used her real voice. 

*****

With Loop at the Sonic Screamers, Phoenix and Cyrus manning the XL-4 Voltaic launcher and the Quintronic Beam Emitters, and Hotwire and Helm covering the sides, the Talon was all but untouchable. They joined the other T-1 Typhoons in attacking the T-Rex that was harassing the Renaissance. The combined effort soon had the massive beast on the defensive.

Then Hotwire, who had synchronized the comms with the Agents Defense Organization channel as well as the open channel when the two Agents came aboard, suddenly heard screams and shouts of confusion. Two of the Supersonic Jets had turned on the rest of the Dino Attack and Agents forces. One of the remaining four jets spiraled out of control and crashed in the jungle several miles off, sending up a plume of smoke. At the same moment, the Talon turned and a missile streaked from the XL-4 into a nearby Fire Hammer, which erupted in a bright blossom of white-hot flame.

"What the znap is going on?" Hotwire screamed.

He heard Phoenix laugh darkly. Cyrus looked back from the upper cockpit with a grin. "Don't worry," he said as his eyes glowed red and his skin darkened to a smoky purple and black. "Everything is under control." 

*****

Chompy roared and charged at a Mutant Raptor, knocking it off a heavily-damaged Urban Avenger. In response, the Raptor bit and tore at the T-Rex, who recoiled before striking again, closing his jaws upon the Raptor's neck.

Three Mutant Lizards leaped from the wreckage of a Fire Hammer and pounced upon Chompy's back. He tried to shake them off, but they clung with their claws and their teeth. Luckily, his sister arrived just in time, bashing off two with her tail and biting off the third.

They were in the battle of Hotep III's temple for only a few minutes, and already the two T-Rexes were weary. "This was foolish," growled Chompy's sister as she snapped at an approaching Mutant Lizard. "Even if every raindrop raises the sea, the outcome is not in doubt."

"Just a little longer!" pleaded Chompy, even as he fended off a Mutant Raptor and a stray Stromling Monkey. "The Dino Attack agents inside surely must be close to the Maelstrom! We need to make sure that these abominations stay outside the temple long enough for our allies to contain the Maelstrom."

A Mutant Raptor slashed at Chompy's sister, leaving a gash on her leg. Chompy bellowed in fury, grabbed the Mutant Raptor's tail in his maw, and swung it into the blast radius of a nearby explosion caused by a crashed Agents Aerial Defense Unit.

"It's no use!" sighed Chompy's sister. "There are too many!"

A pack of Mutant Lizards, Mutant Raptors, and Stromlings surrounded the two T-Rexes, cutting them off from the rest of the Dino Attack Team. Back-to-back, the two T-Rexes silently acknowledged that this would likely be the last thing they would do in this world, then bared their teeth and readied themselves for anything.

There came a most wonderful sound, the sound of a horn blowing. Like the trumpet of an arriving cavalry, it signaled a new player in the game. Chompy, his sister, the Mutant Dinos, the Stromlings, the Agents, and the Dino Attack Team all paused for a moment in their battle to look at the source of the horn.

There, at the horizon, stood a gathered army of dinosaurs. Pterosaurs, Stegosaurs, Triceratops, and even T-Rexes comprised the force. Even more remarkable, many of the dinosaurs were the mounts of TumTum Islanders, covered with war paint and brandishing spears, arrows, and more, and one of which was playing the horn. One of the T-Rexes roared in perfect tune to the horn call, and quickly the other dinosaurs took up the battle cry. Then, as one, they charged towards the battlefield.

The Mutant Dinos and Stromlings did not remain stunned for long. A Mutant Raptor lunged at Chompy, while a Mutant Lizard and Stromling Monkey climbed on top of his sister. Chompy recoiled and tried to counter the Raptor's attack, but a Mutant Lizard snapped at his feet and caused him to trip. As he struggled to get up, his sister shook off her attackers and poised herself to protect her brother. A particularly-vicious Mutant Raptor, mounted by what was clearly a Hybrid Rider in its samurai-esque armor, approached the two sibling T-Rexes and prepared to attack.

A female T-Rex charged at the Mutant Raptor and knocked it down. She appeared larger than most of her kind, covered with blue markings, armored with a helmet crafted from a T-Rex skull adorned with feathers, and wearing around her neck what looked like a necklace made from Minifigure skulls. Her Minifig rider, none other than Chief Achu of the TumTum tribe, impaled the Hybrid Rider with his spear while the T-Rex closed her jaws on the Raptor's throat. Ordinarily, a simple spear would not be enough to kill the Maelstrom-enhanced Hybrid, but Achu used his own magic power to finish it off.

In a matter of only a few quick moments, the Mutant Dinos and Stromlings surrounding Chompy and his sister were dispatched. The two siblings looked up at the female T-Rex and Achu in awe. "Alpha female," said Chompy's sister, blinking in awe. "And great Chief Achu."

"You heard us!" exclaimed Chompy, grinning. "You came for us!"

The alpha female T-Rex nodded slowly as Achu patted her on the head. "I told you that I would be coming," she growled, "after I met with the Minifig leaders in council. First, I needed to speak with Rex of the Dino Attack Team and Achu of the TumTum tribe, after which we came to an agreement to come and assist you now."

"I've also sent out word to the Pyramid Area," added Achu, "requesting that Queen Legotiti come and join us in the battle. We have not received a response yet, but should she arrive with her army of Matching Mummies, this battle shall be quickly won."

"Let this be a battle the Maelstrom shall forever remember!" declared Chompy.

"Indeed," agreed the alpha female T-Rex. "But now, I must lead my kind in this battle. We shall see to it that the Maelstrom is stopped." She turned to leave.

Chompy nodded. "Good luck," he said, "mother."

*****

"Captain!" Agent France yelled from the back of the Aerial Defense Unit. "We got a problem! Something foul has hijacked some of the choppers!" As if to reinforce his statement, Captain Brickhouse's helicopter shook violently as something exploded near the side.

Brickhouse opened communications with both the Agents and Dino Attack. "What's going on?"

"Helicopters and Jets are being hijacked by Stromlings!" a Dino Attack agent screamed over the radio. "We got one on board - kill him, Scarface! - and I think some more have hijacked a T-1 Typhoon and several Aerial Defense Units."

"How are our Agent vehicles being hijacked?" Brickhouse demanded. "We've been in the air since we got here. How could these 'Stromlings' get in here?"

"It - Get back! - might mean that the Maelstrom is beginning to spread off the island. Or it's corrupting minifigs as they're flying. I - Son of MegaBlok! Scarface, aim for the head! - am personally hoping for the latter."

Brickhouse quickly turned his helicopter to face another Aerial Defense Unit firing down on the battlefield. It didn't try to hide the fact it was firing at the large amount of Dino Attack allies that had just entered the battlefield. Brickhouse fired several missiles at the offending helicopter. The Aerial Defense Unit fell to the ground, crushing several natives and Stromlings.

"They got Scarface!" the same Dino Attack agent yelled. Silence, then, "Forget this! Shoot us down! Don't let these scoundrels take another helicopter!" Without warning, a nearby T-1 Typhoon exploded dramatically, showering hundreds of pieces on to the battle below.

Brickhouse ducked his head, honoring the agent's sacrifice for a moment before turning back to the battle. "How many confirmed hijackings do we have?" he asked.

"Two Agent Jets have been hijacked and a single T-1 Typhoon. We are also picking reports that the Talon is being contested," someone responded. "Here are their identifications." He listed the ID codes for the two jets and helicopter. "Take them out quickly. Between them and the Mutant Pterosaurs, we're not such hot shape right now."

There was loud screech outside of the Aerial Defense Unit's cockpit. Thaddeus turned and saw three tan-colored Pterosaurs viciously attack a single Mutant Pterosaur. The mutant screeched with defeat and fell from the sky as the three normal Pterosaurs watched.

"We are not in hot water yet!" Brickhouse cried defiantly before taking aim at the hijacked T-1 Typhoon.

*****

Colonel sneered from temple again. Things had definitely been looking up, but the intervention of the TumTum Tribe and the native dinosaurs were certainly a turn for the worse. The Mutant Dinos and Stromlings held their own, but with combined effort from the Dino Attack, Agents, TumTum Tribe, and the native dinos, they would certainly be destroyed.

An explosion sounded off as another Fire Hammer exploded nearby. Colonel grinned. He wasn't sure where the Stromlings who hijacked the other vehicles came from, but he was glad they were here and gave him a small confidence boost.

Colonel turned toward the tree line and saw an armored minifig sliding out of a tree. The armor was dented and bruised, stained by the wildlife that lived in the trees. Colonel raised an eyebrow as the minifig touched the ground. It was a woman. Her blonde hair was messy and hung limply at her shoulders. She turned toward the temple, seeing Colonel and pulling a pistol from her waist.

"Let's be reasonable," Colonel spat angrily, extending his arms out from his body. "Where did you come from, girl?"

"Commander," the woman replied angrily, keeping her weapon on Colonel. "Commander Vinyaya to you. One of your Typhoons shot at the one I was in and knocked me out of it."

"Commander," Colonel repeated, in a mock-surprise voice. "What an honor it is to meet you!" Colonel spat. "Once again, the Dino Attack put the foolish in charge."

Commander Vinyaya's eyes narrowed. "What of you, Quartich?" Vinyaya hissed. Colonel's eyes widened at the mention of his last name. "How could such a famous Dino Attack leader fall so easily into the Maelstrom's hand? Perhaps you are not as powerful as you think you are."

Colonel remained emotionless. If it was General Virchaus or Ahua that she was addressing, they would've gotten angry. Colonel remained stoic. Vinyaya's remarks stung, but he would not let anger or arrogance get the best of his fullest ability.

"Cute." Colonel quickly raised his Sonic Screamer and fired at the Commander. She ducked and rolled away from the blast. She then lowered her shoulder and charged at Colonel. Colonel couldn't get turned around quick enough to fire again as Vinyaya tackled him to the ground. 

*****

In the back of one of the T-1 Typhoons, a group of agents sat waiting. One man was on gunner duty. He wore a dark-coloured tank-top, and had long hair, an eyepatch, and some stubble.

One man was sitting somewhat isolated from the others. He seemed to be in a slightly panicked state.

"Don't worry," said another agent. "It'll be fine. They're probably taking the necessary precautions right now."

Suddenly, the comforting man revealed himself. There was a sudden jolt, and his skin turned a violent purple. The other men were screaming loudly. The eye-patched gunner climbed out of his seat and tried to think quickly.

*****

"What's going on down there?" Mac asked confusedly. "Are those regular dinosaurs and islanders? Never mind. We got problems of our own up here. Listen, what was that about Stromlings?"

"They seem to be getting aboard the helicopters," replied a voice on the radio.

"How is that possible?" Cabin asked.

"We're not sure," replied the voice. "We suspect the Maelstrom's influence is growing."

Mac quickly looked out his window and noticed a T-1 Typhoon that seemed to be getting out of control. There was a large amount of smoke from it as it seemed to spin around and away from the rest of the fleet.

"Elite Agent Cabin," Mac said. "Do you read me?"

There was no answer, Mac tried again. "George," he said. "I think Cabin's been shot down. What does that leave us with?"

*****

The hammer swung down and Dust jumped swiftly to the left. The old scrolls he had found indicated the room held sixteen pendulums. Doing a quick count, he determined that all had been triggered and that they no longer had to worrying about causing more traps that had not already been sprung.

The thing with pendulums is that eventually they run out of energy. Dust, Lutsky, Katerina, and Lance gathered on the back wall and watched as the great bricks slowed to a halt.

The room became stagnant, and Septimus and the synthfig Loops joined them by the doorway. Dust looked around at the assembled team. "Where are Andrew, Minerva, and Cyborg?"

Katerina Schattenberg shook her head. "If they were killed, their bodies would still be in the room."

"Perhaps they got lost," suggested Septimus. "It is difficult to see anything in this mist."

At that moment, Doctor Cyborg appeared. He looked winded but otherwise unhurt from his direct hit to the chest. "I saw Andrew and Minerva fall down a trapdoor near the center of the room," said Cyborg. "I made an effort to help, but it closed by the time I arrived. I was hit by a weight moments later."

Lance's eyes went wide. "Whoa, man! You took a hammer to the chest? Radical wipeout, man."

Cyborg shrugged. "My body is constructed from complex metal alloy. My chest is impervious to many levels of kinetic force."

"Is there any way we can get Andrew and Minerva out?" asked Katerina. She clearly did not care about Cyborg's robotic biology and wished to return to the issue at hand.

Dust shook his head. "I thought there may have been something about a trapdoor, but I was not positive. I can assure you that it's not life-threatening. We can rescue them later, but we don't have much time to get sidetracked."

Lutsky growled at Dust, "You're just going to leave them?"

The Egyptian rolled his eyes and pointed a finger at him. "Don't try and make me the bad guy again. If it were not in opposition to me, you would make that same call."

Lutsky's face darkened but he said no more. He backed away and pretended to take interest in the hieroglyphs on the wall.

Dust stepped to the door and turned to the remaining eight agents. "What we are about to go through will be our last test. After this, we will be entering the lion's den. Nothing I can say will help you with what lies beyond this door."

"What is back there?" asked Septimus.

"Stromlings," said a Loop. "A big Stromling."

"A boss battle, if you will," offered Lance.

"Exactly," agreed Dust. He turned to the gateway and turned a series of gears and mechanism. It unsealed and a gust of stale air gushed out. Four of them had to work together to push aside the massive stone slabs before they could step inside.

What they saw beyond was a pit. Across a narrow bridge, they could see the exit. The bridge had no rails, so crossing the ancient structure seemed like a daunting task.

Below them, they could see the pit was filled with black water. Cyborg walked to the edge to glimpse what lurked in the darkness. A great scaly form moved in the water. It was more than the length of a school bus and had black teeth the size of 2x4s. A great snout protruded from the water and purple smoke flared from its nostrils.

At the sight of movement above, the Stromling Crocodile's amber eyes flashed open. And it let out a terrible hiss. It lunged out of the pit and swiped its tail across the bridge. The stone creaked and crumbled before finally tumbling into the water below.

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 45: Ashes to Ashes

----

"Agents, both Dino Attack and Agents Defense Organization, keep it up! While I can confirm that T-1s and Agents aircraft are being hijacked, we are NOT going to let this go easily! Keep your defenses up and continue to aid your companions, and we'll get through this yet! Also, watch your fire! Islanders and the local dino population are now providing aid! We're doing good, men! Don't let yourselves fall now!"

Semick turned off the mic, and took a deep breath. This battle was going about average, but things were looking towards victory. All that mattered now was keeping effort up and watching themselves. The Renaissance was making for emergency measures regarding their damages, and Semick had gotten Rockford to send some mechanical-based agents to help provide support whenever the vessel might require landing.

The aircraft hijacking still concerned him. With all the chaos, they still hadn't determined how the enemy was hijacking them. All he could get his remaining T-1 Typhoons and the Aerial Defense Unit men to do was keep their distance from the Pterosaurs. That seemed to be the main correlation.

He was still concerned about a few things. He hadn't heard of anything regarding the XERRD scientists that had been said to escape the fortress assault. He could only assume they were waiting to strike somewhere, were thinking this wasn't a battle worth their participation (due to the way the Maelstrom seemed to be operating independently instead of specifically helping Dr. Rex's intentions), or were busy somewhere else. Semick knew for a fact that Rex still hadn't come back from his investigation of the Imagination Temple.

The other regard was progress. He needed some more info on how well Dust's team was doing. With that, he turned on the mic and narrowed down his frequency. "Rockford, call up Dust when you can. Tell him I personally want a status update."

"Understood."

Semick switched off the mic again and returned his attention to the air. "Bluetooth," he asked, "how many crafts are we down to?"

"Discounting the Renaissance and us, we still have control of five T-1s. There's about 8 or so Agents crafts still flying, but I'm trying to see if they have any more waves on their way."

"Good. Keep your watch, but keep your pistol ready as well. I don't want any distractions if we find a hijacker on board. Oh, and let that Agents leader know that he's not cleared to shoot down the Talon until either I or Hotwire give clearance. That agent may be on a peg leg, but if his men are corrupted, he's bound to have a few ideas left. And so do I."

"Uh... okay," Bluetooth said, looking a little nervous. "So, what ideas do you have?"

"You'll see," he said as he began flying towards the Talon. Opening the comm again, he said "Hotwire, if you can hear this, try for the 'Bank-In-Finance-Trouble' method."

*****

The purple mist gave Andrew chills as he and Minerva continued walking into the mist. He held his laser rifle with anxiousness. Now, more than ever, they would likely be tested.

Indeed we will, a thought said in his mind. Andrew's eyes widened.

Long time, no chat, he thought back.

It's been a while, the voice thought back.

Tell me you aren't the Maelstrom possessing me.

Now, now, that would be a cliche and easy way of explaining it, wouldn't it?

Good. Because I'm not taking anything this purple stuff wants to tell me.

Or so you think.

True. So what now, Mr. "Dark Consciousness?"

I'm only wondering why you've given up your ideas.

Have you read the Andrew Daily? The Zach story should tell you everything you need to know.

But it can be controlled, you know. All it takes is the right mind with the right methods to make all the difference in the world.

Andrew thought about this for a second, but immediately dismissed it. Forget it, I don't do bets. Though I have been wanting to visit the Inventory someday...

Oh, what? Don't tell me you're giving up! Think of all the pleasure this has brought us!

Don't get me wrong, it sounds nice and all, but risking becoming a pawn to an entity who wants to throw everything into discord for the lulz that drastically alters people's mindsets in disturbing and somewhat humorous ways is not something I want to be a fan of. End of story.

But-

Shut up, Andrew thought, and turned back to Minerva, who was watching the wound on her hand closely. He figured that she had been hearing voices too, though not the kind Andrew was mostly dealing with. She most likely just had the problem of hearing the Maelstrom try to convince her to join them. Perhaps even telling her that was how to reach Zach or something.

"You doing okay mentally?" he asked.

"You mean the voices?" Minerva asked. "It's... unnerving, but I'm doing alright. They do seem to cast some measures of doubt, though."

"They do that a lot. I'm no expert on hearing voices, but I think I have some understanding on what to do."

"What's that?"

Andrew leaned his rifle on his right shoulder. "Remain stubborn. Listen to them to see what info you can gather, but hold your ground like you would when having an argument online on a political website. Don't give them any ground or leverage that they can twist around. And there's the YTP method."

"YTP method?" Minerva asked with an eyebrow raise.

"That's when you think of random bits from music, movies, books, commercials, and reality all at once, mashing them up like you're smashing a potato. Think of loud, incoherent, inconsistent noises and visuals and think of them in random patterns or phases. The louder and dumber, the better. Like online spam teaming up to create its own firewall from spam-blockers."

Minerva smirked. "I'll keep that in mind. How much farther do you think this will go?"

"Dunno. This is probably something that wasn't in the original construction, so Dust's blueprints are useless here. I guess we can only follow the path to somewhere. If we encounter any forks, I say we stick together and explore as much as we can."

"Is that a good idea?"

Andrew shrugged. "I dunno, but it's how I beat puzzle games."

*****

Cabin coughed rapidly as she worked her way out of the smoking cockpit of the T-1 Typhoon. "Is everyone okay?" she shouted. As she worked her way to the back, she noticed a body being thrown out of the helicopter. The man was barely conscious before he was abruptly riddled with bullet holes. "There had better be a good reason for this," Cabin muttered.

At that moment, a one-eyed man with long hair climbed out of the back. "He was a Stromling," the one-eyed man replied with a thick, gruff voice.

"I see," said Cabin. "Who are you?"

"Call me Snake," the man introduced himself.

"Snake?" mused Cabin. "I thought that you were dead. Weren't you the guy who kept mutating himself?"

Snake shook his head. "No, that was some other guy, Snake of Spades. I've never met him, but you're not the first one to ask me that."

Cabin quickly grabbed a rifle as she walked up towards Snake. "Apparently," she muttered, "reptiles are a popular choice for Dino Attack codenames."

"How far are we from the battlefield," Snake asked, lighting a cigarette.

"Not far. We should be able to walk there. How's your radio?" Cabin asked Snake as she approached.

"Busted in the crash," replied Snake. "I'm guessing yours is broken, too."

"Yeah," replied Cabin.

*****

Even a massive Mutant T-Rex was unable to stand the firepower of a T-1 Typhoon and an Agents Aerial Defense Unit. Hertz watched as the creature gave out a defiant roar and spun around at its attackers. It fired its powerful eyebeams at the helicopter's week spot and blasted its tail entirely off. The Aerial Defense Unit spun madly before it crashed in a fiery explosion at the monster's feet. The second T-1 Typhoon fired its beam emitters at the great beast and was finally able to bring the T-Rex down.

Hertz sighed and turned his attention back to the Renaissance. He climbed out of the narrow hatch that led up from the anal turret and looked around for Vinyaya. She was nowhere to be seen.

He frantically picked up a radio. "Fate, Lucky, give me a status update! Where's Commander Vinyaya?"

"She's not back there?" asked Lucky surprised. "We can't see into the cabin. She must have fallen out."

"Turn around and find her," said Hertz.

"We can't! I'm struggling to keep this thing in the air as it is!" said Fate.

At that moment, a second Tyrannosaurus Rex burst out from the trees. Grabbing the Renaissance by the nose, it fired its eye beams point blank. Fate was killed instantly in the resulting fireball, and Lucky needed to take control of the voltaic cannon to dislodge the Mutant.

The Renaissance spiraled out of control as the remaining T-1 Typhoon fired support. The green Mutant T-Rex ignored the beam emitters coming from its attacker and instead allowed a sudden swarm of Mutant Pterosaurs take down its adversary.

The green Mutant T-rex turned its attention back to the spinning Renaissance and dug its teeth into its portside beam emitter. Hertz yelled and kicked the beast's snout with as much force as the techie could muster.

Lucky was still yelling but Hertz ignored him. He just swore profusely and kept kicking.

The T-Rex had enough. It slammed the Renaissance into the ground, and Hertz's vision went black.

*****

"What the Znap are you doing?" Garry shouted, catching Windows' attention. "I thought I told you to stay in constant contact."

"I've been trying," replied Windows. "Hertz hung up on me and I can't get in touch."

*****

Most of the team was unfortunate enough to fall into the water when the bridge fell. Septimus had wasted no time jumping from the black water and stabbing his spear into the Stromling Crocodile's back. It roared and thrashed around madly, throwing the drone into the brick wall.

Katerina was just as successful. She fired her rifle to the best of her ability, but the splashing waves made it hard to get a clear shot. The Stromling Crocodile dove beneath the water and came up directly below a synthfig Loop.

Loop gave a yelp as the massive teeth closed around his body. The teeth sheared the figure clean in half, and the crocodile flung the leftovers at Katerina.

Dr. Cyborg, Lance, Lutsky, and a single Loop had remained on the ledge. "Oh, meep," Dr. Cyborg said as he backed away from the pool. "Okay, everybody. I can extract the Maelstrom from that thing. However, it will take time. It isn't instantaneous. If you can distract that croc, I can dive in, strike and extract, retreat, let you distract it some more, and repeat. You stay up here, and fire at it. I'll dive and extract."

With that, Dr. Cyborg backed away and did a repeated backflip into the pool. The croc rounded on him. Cyborg dove and hid in the murky deep.

At that point, the others on the ledge started firing at the Stromling Crocodile, and it came to the surface, snarling at them. Dr. Cyborg came up under it, and extracted a few quarts of Maelstrom. The croc attacked him, but he dodged the swinging tail, and submerged. With that prey gone, the croc turned again to the others. Dr. Cyborg came up again, and the process was repeated.

Dr. Cyborg came up behind the croc a third time. He extracted a few quarts. He had now taken 2¼ gallons of Maelstrom, but the crocodile still had tons of it in its system. When the crocodile turned to strike with its tail, Dr. Cyborg tried to dodge the flailing spiked appendage, but whether it was the water's natural resistance, the Maelstrom in his system subtly influencing him, or whatever else, he was too slow. The tail struck his head, his weak point. His helmet protected him from anything more than a bruise, but the serious damage was done: he was unconscious. He slowly started sinking, unaware of his predicament.

Lance was unfortunate enough to have lost his Cosmotronic Ray in the fight, so all he could do was watch. When he saw Doctor Cyborg get hit, it was impulse reaction to jump in. As a surfer, he had often rescued drowning victims from a watery death. That is why he did not hesitate to jump over the ledge and come to Cyborg's aid.

Lance Williams dove after Cyborg's rapidly sinking body. He was heavy, but soon he was able to raise the doctor to the surface. Rushing him over to the shallows, he attempted CPR.

Gahiji Thutmose only had his knife. He had also lost his automatic rifle in the water but that did not stop him from stabbing at the Stromling Crocodile's eyes. It snapped its jaws and rolled over, knocking the Egyptian into the water.

Dust gasped for air and saw that one of his knives was still stuck in the monster's head. He reached for another knife in his boot and again swam at his foe.

Lutsky stood on the ledge and emptied his machine gun on the crocodile. Smoking holes appeared across its back, but the Stromling was quickly able to heal its wounds. He growled and whipped out his side arm. He took aim and fired his gun at the chaos below. 

*****

"Mind lending a hand, Raine?" Brickhouse asked ace pilot Raine Dashworthy, currently seated in an Agents jet.

"Yeah, yeah," Raine responded arrogantly, but clearly excited, "I'm on it!"

Brickhouse watched from his Aerial Defense Unit as Raine turned her jet toward the hijacked T-1 Typhoon and fired several missiles at it. One missed, but three other missiles connected with the hull of the vehicle. A massive explosion sounded out from the vehicle and flames began to shoot out from the outer plating of the vehicle.

"Alright, finish it off!" Brickhouse heard Dino Attack commander Semick yell over the radio. There was an enthusiastic response from several minifigs. The T-1 Typhoons and Aerial Defense Units then launched everything they could muster. The hijacked helicopter began to fall. Brickhouse watched as some strange minifig abomination smashed its way out of the cockpit. Brickhouse reeled back in disgust.

"What is that thing?!" he asked, as the minifig abomination climbed to the top of the collapsing helicopter and seemed to prepare to leap. A single Sonic Screamer blast from a T-1 Typhoon knocked it out, allowing its body to be consumed by the massive fireball that erupted from the T-1 Typhoon as it collided into the ground.

"That was a Minifig/Mutant Lizard Hybrid, from the looks of it," Semick responded morbidly. "Nasty pieces of work. Nice work, uh..."

"Thaddeus Brickhouse."

"Captain Brickhouse, nice work," Semick directed his attention to the rest of the group flying. "Alright, we need to take down those two infected Agent Jets."

"What of the Talon?" an agent asked.

"We'll see what Hotwire does before we decide to attack. I have a feeling he'll find a way out of this."

"I hope someone gets Virchaus good in the temple," a Dino Attack Agent muttered. "That son of a MegaBlok probably caused this, that no-good piece of Znap!"

"Wait," Brickhouse double-taked. "Did you say Virchaus? As in Zachary Vir-"

"Sir!" France screamed from the back of the Aerial Defense Unit, cutting off Brickhouse's question. "Something is wrong with Wheatley! He's - AHHHHH!"

Brickhouse flipped on the autopilot and quickly spoke into the radio. "We might have a hijacking in progress! Don't shoot us down yet!" He then turned from the cockpit and headed to the back, his gun in hand.

*****

Minerva continued to walk. Andrew's words uplifted her slightly, but fear and uncertainty continued to gnaw away at her.

Not much farther, a voice said excitedly in her mind. Minerva jumped in surprise, but held her ground.

Unlike the previous voices she heard in the temple, this one was softer but deeper and echoing, with a refined-sounding accent.

What do you mean? Minerva demanded. The voice reeled back at her sudden assertiveness, but continued.

Not much farther until you and your friend meet the end, the voice responded.

Elaborate, she responded. End of what?

Where would the fun be in telling you? Know that only you are at the end of something.

You're helpful, Minerva said sarcastically. Is that all? Vaguely tell me we're about to be at the end of something? If so, you can move along.

Getting rather feisty, aren't we? the voice snapped, clearly not amused. Why do you continue stay with this man? What is his name? Anders? Andy? Arnold?

Andrew, Minerva responded quietly.

Yes, him. Andrew. Why are you with him?

I pulled him down here with me.

Hmm. So he's here because of an accident. He serves no purpose in your plans, does he? Minerva remained silent, not wanting to give away too much. I assume he doesn't. He is extra weight to you. Why not dispose of him?

Because he's my friend, Minerva shot back defiantly. He wouldn't abandon me if he was in my place.

So sure of that? I must admire your blind faith. However, it is rather foolish. He seems rather unstable to me. He did tell you he had his own desire to change his very being. Rather strange, wouldn't you think? And he intended to use the Maelstrom to boot. Who is to say that he won't accomplish this dream and leave you for dead?

He got over it.

So he says. How can you really trust him? Andrew is unstable and his true methods are unknown to you. Perhaps he is plotting how to kill you right now?

No. Andrew is a good person. Minerva knew the voice could sense her doubt.

It is best to get rid of him before it is too late, the voice said with force. Would you like to hear a secret?

I... don't think so. She was mentally facepalming. Her hesitation was apparent.

Up ahead is a single trap. Once a sensor is tripped, the walls ahead will smash into each other once and only once. It will kill anyone trapped inside.

So, you're helping me now?

In fact, I am. Have Andrew walk ahead of you. When he trips the sensor, he will be crushed and a threat you and your plans will be eliminated.

What?!

There will be a hieroglyphic of a red sun on the left wall. Once he passes that, he will die. He is a threat and you know itthe voice said soothingly, almost seductively. Finish him off before he finishes you. He doesn't matter. Only saving Zach does.

Minerva silently mulled over what the voice had told her. She felt herself believing the voice. She looked at Andrew silently. He was silently and looked ahead. Minerva glanced at the rifle in his hands. She knew he could kill her rather easily.

Maybe I can't trust him, she thought. Minerva looked away from him. She could feel herself slowing down, allowing Andrew to be clearly ahead of her. She looked at his back. He needs to die...? She stammered in her head. Then she saw it.

On the right wall, a dark red sun shined through the darker, more monotonous hieroglyphics around it. Once they passed the sun, the walls would come in and crush them. And yet, Andrew continued forward, not realizing the danger he was in.

"Here it goes," she muttered. She felt a cold, false-sense of comfort suddenly consumed her. She felt the edges of her vision started to become dark and cloudy. Andrew's foot crossed the sun.

"Stop!" Minerva suddenly screamed, pulling Andrew back by his shoulder. He stumbled backward as the walls ahead of them quickly slammed together with a loud crash. Both walls cracked and chipped from the force of the collision. After several seconds, the walls weakly receded.

Andrew stepped away from Minerva and stared at her in surprise. "How did you know that was going to happen? Did the Maelstrom-"

"Yes," Minerva said shakily. "I was about to kill you." She avoided Andrew's widened eyes. The cold feeling vanished and her vision returned to normal. She could see his grip tightened around his rifle. "The Maelstrom... it... I... I don't know what happened. I'm sorry. I-" Tears slid out of her eyes as she backed away from Andrew fearfully.

"I almost killed you," she whispered. She had almost fallen into the Maelstrom's control. Minerva finally broke down, letting herself slide to the floor, her back against the wall opposite of Andrew, crying weakly. 

*****

The inside of the Talon was a standoff. Hotwire and Helm had their Cosmotronic Rays pointed at Cyrus, who had left the cockpit and stood menacingly in front of them. He leered at Hotwire, who was forced to support the heavy gun with only his right arm as his left arm was occupied with supporting him on the crutch, and was shaking slightly with the effort. Then Semick's voice broke over the comm. "Hotwire, if you can hear this, try for the 'Bank-In-Finance-Trouble' method."

It took little more than a second for Hotwire to figure out what Semick meant. "Stand back," he muttered to Helm, "and be ready to ignore your acrophobia for a few seconds." At that point, Helm understood as well, and cautiously stepped back towards the emergency supply cabinet. Hotwire adjusted his grip on the Cosmotronic Ray and carefully aimed it directly at Cyrus.

The Agent Stromling chuckled. "You wouldn't fire that in here, boy," he said condescendingly. "You know better. You'd blow us to MegaBlokland."

"Wouldn't I?" Hotwire said, beginning to tighten his grip on the trigger. Cyrus visibly braced himself and prepared to dodge, and then Hotwire did the unexpected. Balancing on his right leg, he suddenly whipped the Cosmotronic Ray around behind him. The momentum caused his entire body to pivot, and he raised his left arm. The crutch smacked Cyrus across the neck, and the Stromling stumbled back, clutching at his throat.

"No, you're right. I wouldn't," Hotwire said. At the same moment, Helm came back up with a parachute strapped across his shoulders.

"Loop, get over here," Hotwire called, dropping the Cosmotronic Ray and slipping his arm through one of the parachute straps. "You're coming with us." Loop burst out of the rear cockpit, grabbing the second parachute from the emergency compartment. Helm gritted his teeth, and the two Dino Attack agents leaped out of the T-1 Typhoon.

Cyrus, wheezing and coughing, pulled himself back up as Loop dashed towards the door. "Oh, no, you don't," he growled. He grabbed the three-eyed minifig and dragged him into the forward cockpit, where Phoenix tore control panels off, exposing the wires underneath. The two grinning Stromlings grabbed Loop's wrists and forced them into the wires.

Phoenix and Cyrus cackled as Maelstrom energy poured out of them, through Loop, and into the Talon. "Time to have some real fun!" Phoenix bellowed.

*****

There was a sinking feeling in Osprey's gut as he watched his forces split. His own Aerial Defense Unit shook as he and his crew fought two of their own comrades. He kicked one of the Stromlings out of the side and sadly watched him plunge to the ground.

As he was turning back, Osprey's eyes happened to fall on the Talon, hanging in the air over the forest. Two minifigs dropped from the helicopter towards the trees, and a parachute blossomed above them moments later. That was when the Talon began to change colors, shifting from beige and red to purple and black.

"Mother of Ole," Osprey said weakly as oily purple smoke billowed out of the T-1 Typhoon's sides and whirled around the rotors.

*****

Hotwire dropped his crutch and nearly lost his grip when the parachute opened, but he managed to pull himself back up. Helm had his eyes squeezed shut - that was no surprise.

"We're coming up on the trees," Hotwire warned. Helm nodded slightly. They slipped between the treetops easily enough, but inevitably the parachute snagged, leaving them hanging thirty feet above the ground.

"Okay, there's a branch just beside us," Hotwire said. "I'm going to get onto it, then I can help you down." He carefully transferred himself to the tree limb. This sure won't help me while climbing, he thought, and removed his prosthetic, allowing it to drop to the ground as well.

He looked back to where Helm hung a few feet away, eyes still tightly closed. "The branch is right next to you," he told the former mariner reassuringly. "Just reach over on your left."

Eventually, Hotwire and Helm made their way to the ground and retrieved Hotwire's crutch and leg replacement. They followed the sounds of the battle back to the temple grounds. Before long, the stump of Hotwire's left leg was burning again.

"Znap it," he muttered. "No painkiller on me."

"Where would it be, then?" Helm asked, as they pushed through the bushes at the edge of the temple clearing. There was a mighty thundering as an army of TumTum warriors and natural dinosaurs charged into the fray.

Hotwire looked up and shock momentarily stopped his breath. "There," he said, and pointed upward. Helm looked, and gulped.

The Talon, completely saturated with the Maelstrom, soared above the army of Adventurers' Island natives, raining devastation on dinosaurs and minifigs alike.

*****

"Oh, you crafty little monsters," Semick muttered as he watched the Talon go through a most peculiar transformation. Without hesitation, he flipped on the mic for the umpteenth time. At this point, he needed to start leaving the thing on.

"All aircraft divert your attention to a freshly corrupted T-1 in the air! The not-corrupted agents who were piloting it have bailed out, so don't hesitate to throw everything you have! And it may have inherited some of the Maelstrom's regenerative energies, but remember the weak spots of every helicopter: the blades, the guns, and the cockpits! Focus on those, and keep maneuvering well, and we'll get this taken care of quickly and efficiently!"

Semick then diverted his attention back to the Renaissance. The darn T-Rexes had managed to bring the crippled craft down, but he still hoped that it could be of use. Rockford's Iron Predator crew of mechanics were speeding up to it, firing at the last T-Rex as it went, but it would likely take a full-on trip to a Dino Attack hangar to get it working again. For now, they could only see if they could get it converted to a withstanding makeshift command post.

Now, there was the matter of how much more aid the Agents Defense Organization could offer. "Bluetooth," he said, "get me in contact with the Agents' leader."

"Patching you in," the technician said behind him.

After a few seconds of comm buzzing, he heard a voice at the other end. "This is Agents Captain Osprey, is this Elit-"

"Cut the formalities, Osprey. Can you tell me if the Agents have any more squads on standby? And how long it would take for them to arrive?"

*****

Kara saw the helicopter get corrupted. She never knew such a thing was possible. I hope you'll never let that happen to me! her AI said.

"Not a chance," she replied. She maneuvered the dropship to a position behind the Talon and fired.

I have found a name for our ship, Kara's AI said.

"Oh, really? What?" Kara asked.

The Reclaimer.

"Why that?" 

I found it in a popular book and video game series involving rings, powered armor, and the coolest aliens ever, like ones with four jaws, and others that are technological magicians.

"I'll have to look it up sometime," Kara replied.

I have also found a name for myself. She broke off for a second as she shot down a missile tracking them. Cortana.

*****

"I don't like being sitting ducks down here," the Fire Hammer driver muttered as Rockford's vehicle steered through the mob and over another Mutant Lizard.

"Well, it's not like we had designed these vehicles for military assault," said Rockford.

"Yeah, yeah. You got a plan?"

"Well, with the current support from the natives, I think we can afford to divert our attention from the dinos long enough for this." He flipped on the mic. "Any Iron Predators and Fire Hammers that aren't occupied with enemy fire, divert your attention to the corrupted T-1! You all heard Semick, so aim for the weak spots! Your targeting systems were built for a reason, you know!"

"Sounds like a command any guy would make," remarked the driver.

"Rockford is a normal guy," Laxus reminded them.

"Just a normal lawyer thrown into a battle zone," Rockford concurred. "What else is new?"

*****

A machine gun round thudded into the wall next to where Katerina was treading water. "Be mindful of where you are firing," she snapped at Lutsky, before firing her own weapon again. She had been lucky enough to keep it above the water so far, but a wave produced by the thrashing of the Stromling Crocodile temporarily overwhelmed her.

One of the synthfigs swam over to her side. "Avenge your brother," she muttered, and the synthfig charged forward, attempting to absorb the Maelstrom within the monstrous reptile.

They did not have time for a drawn-out fight. The Stromling Crocodile had suffered little in the ensuing battle, but Dust's team had. The black water was impossible to fight in. It felt strange and evil. Corruption filled the room and tensions rose with every roar from the Stromling. Dust still carried his sidearm, but he had learned that drawing it would risk losing it. He had to settle this the old-fashioned way. With a blade

Katerina Schattenberg stood beside him. She had proven herself to be an extremely competent fighter and Dust could not help but take a fancy to the woman in the stylish black ShadowTech jumpsuit. She moved fluidly in the harsh water and he never once saw anger or emotion distort her judgment. She simply aimed her gun and fired efficiently and without hesitation.

The Stromling Crocodile was distracted with a Loop and Septimus. Its attention was diverted to the other side of the chamber, and both of them knew that it would be now or never.

Lutsky had proven that the crocodile had incredibly rapid regeneration abilities. As Schattenberg was discovering, her machine gun had little effect on the monster's scales. Whatever shots did not bounce off the raw back would soon be healed by the purple fog surrounding the crocodile.

Dust glanced over to the shallow water where Doctor Cyborg and Lance were. The Doctor had the right idea. The Stromling could not be beaten into submission. They needed one powerful and devastating attack that would finish the job.

"The mouth," muttered Schattenberg.

Dust raised an eyebrow. The massive jaws of the crocodile snapped open and closed, and based on its size, there was little doubt that the monster could easily swallow a minifigure whole. He had seen what the jaws had done to Loop and there were still bits of the synthetic figure littered about the chamber. "What about the mouth?" said Dust.

"I think that it's the Stromling's weakest point," said Schattenberg. Her eyes were still fixed on the threshing maw. She was deep in thought as she conjured a plan.

"What do you recommend?" said Dust. "Chances are none of us will get close enough to that thing to cause any real damage."

"You're the expert, Thutmose," responded Schattenberg.

"Not of Stromlings. I believe that's your area of knowledge."

Schattenburg turned to size up the Egyptian. "If I can kill it, can you provide a diversion?"

He nodded and Katerina Schattenburg smiled. "You'll be needing a bigger weapon."

She shouldered her rifle and dove into the water. Dust rolled his eyes and glanced at his feet. All around them lay the bones of previous grave robbers and hopeful adventures. In one skeleton's hand was a shining scimitar. Grinning, Dust pried it from the dead man's clutches and followed Schattenberg into the water.

A Cosmotronic Ray is powered by unique coolant system. Any good soldier knows that the weapon must be kept cool to prevent an untimely and catastrophic overheating.

Katerina knew the result of a poorly cooled Cosmotronic Ray and had already formulated a plan to implement it. Picking up the weapon from the shallows, she took aim at the Stromling Crocodile's back.

Dust saw the blast hit, and he closed his eyes to the flash of light. The Stromling reared its ugly back to confront its new adversary and came face-to-face with the Egyptian. Dust cursed and dove as the crocodile lunged. Under the water, he slashed the sword at the Stromling's stomach before coming up for air.

Katerina continued to fire her gun. Not so much to cause damage but rather to build up energy in the heating chamber. The cooling vents smoked and she had to be careful to not burn herself on the hot metal.

Dust climbed onto the back of the crocodile and repeatedly stabbed with his scimitar. Obviously, the Stromling did not like this action and worked hard to shake the Egyptian off. All he could do was cling onto the handle for dear life.

Katerina was no longer able to hold the burning weapon. The Cosmotronic Ray was as unstable as possible, and it was now or never to bring her plan into action.

Dust slashed the scimitar across the Stromling's eyes, and it hissed in fury. It slammed its face into the water, and Dust was flung across the room. He hit the wall and sank into the black water.

The Stromling Crocodile was blind. All it could do was thrash madly and snap its jaw back and forth. Most of the agents had found shelter from the madness, but Katerina Schattenberg braved the chaos to reach the snapping maw. The beast opened and closed its razor-sharp teeth, and Schattenberg approached slowly and with caution. She threw the Cosmotronic Ray into the Stromling's mouth and took cover as the beast bit down.

A fiery explosion filled the room. The Stromling Crocodile's head vanished in a fireball, and the resulting shockwave battered the eight agents against the wall. Soon the water settled and the pit became quiet.

*****

Andrew was still a little surprised at what had happened, but he didn't waste any time trying to comfort Minerva. Glancing around to make sure no Stromlings were coming yet, he leaned down to her side.

"Don't worry, I understand completely. You know what I just said: the Maelstrom is going to try and persuade us to do unscrupulous things. The fact that you did resist at the last moment there shows that you have enough sense to resist. Just keep what I said in mind, and we'll get through this."

"Yes, but..." Minerva said, still obviously distressed. "...the Maelstrom has so many choice words. Especially about you."

"What do... oh, right," said Andrew, recalling his conversation with voices just a few minutes ago. "Listen, I know that you; might be convinced to be unsure of me. I can get that way myself. But I assure you that I understand that the Maelstrom is nothing for me to mess with, let alone try to use. Besides, I think trying to... eh, what's a good word... alter myself would be of poor practical use at this time. Even if some agents have spent time being non-minifig with generally good results, I find personally that that wouldn't be the best idea. Trust me, I am not stupid, despite some of my more illogical actions."

Minerva snickered a bit. "Yeah... you don't really want to... you know?"

"No. Not now, and perhaps not ever. At least, not until the end of all this planet-threatening madness. I'm solely focused on saving Zach, stopping the Maelstrom, and kicking Dr Rex's scaled behind. Now shall we get to working on that?"

"Yeah, we should," said Minerva, who began to get up. "Just... I don't want to-"

"Just keep my suggestions in mind, remember that the Maelstrom is solely out to do us in and turn this planet into another Crux, and have some faith in me." Andrew glanced back at the area they had been about to cross. "Now, how do we bypass this trap? Has it stopped working after one go, or do we need to find a way to deactivate it?"

"The Maelstrom said that it would only work once," Minerva said as she stood up, wiping her eyes quickly. "It was supposed to crush you and then let me go, I guess. I suppose the Maelstrom might have lied to me or will crush us simply because I didn't kill you."

Andrew glanced down the hallway. The walls were cracked and crumbled. Bits of stone littered the floor. "Let's try this." He picked up a good-sized stone and threw it past the sun. It disappeared into darkness.

Silence, then they heard a loud grinding sound. More stone detached from the wall and dust fell from the ceiling. However, the walls did not close. Andrew glanced at Minerva, who looked equally confused.

"What do you make of this?" he asked her.

She shrugged. "I don't know. I guess it wants to kill us, but something is stopping it," Minerva couldn't believe it. Was the Maelstrom just going to let them go, even after Minerva defied it? "Do we trust luck?"

"I don't really want to, but our only other option is to go back to the slide, which is basically a dead-end." Minerva bit her lip as she glanced behind her.

"How about we run?" she suggested. Andrew shrugged, then nodded. The both got into a running stance. Anxiety began to build up inside her.

You won't make it... the voice said in a hushed whisper inside her head. It should no signs of disappointment or anger at Minerva's refusal to kill Andrew. She flinched visibly. She began that "YTP Method" Andrew had talked about. She felt the Maelstrom reel back, confused by the odd mash-up of Sweet Child o' Mine featuring phrases from Song of Myself, all being sung by that Stromling Monkey that had attacked her back at the camp and that smooth-talking guy on those deodorant commercials. Thinking of these gave her a minor headache, but she ignored the pain.

"Go!" Minerva yelled. She and Andrew sprinted through the hallway, ignored the strained moans coming from the wall. After nearly a hundred yards of running, Minerva noticed a red sun on the left wall as they ran past.

"I think we're good!" she gasped, slowing down to a jog. Andrew slowed down ahead of her and looked back, breathing heavily. The walls suddenly slammed together behind them, just before the red sun.

"How do you...?" Andrew asked. She pointed to the red sun on the wall. Andrew nodded in understanding.

"Let's keep going," he muttered, turning around. Minerva followed him. They walked for only a few minutes when they came upon a doorway on the right wall. They looked at each other, interested.

The doorway was a two-minifig-wide archway. The two agents slowly walked through the archway and entered a massive round chamber. The ceiling extended more than fifty feet above their heads, topped off by a dome ceiling. In the center of the room was a small pool that contained liquid Maelstrom. Other than that, the room was rather bare.

"What is this place," asked Andrew, glancing around in interest. "What is it for?"

"I think a better question," a dark voice said behind them. "Why are you here?" Minerva and Andrew quickly turned around and saw Zachary Virchaus standing behind them. He pointed his Cosmotronic Ray at them lazily. Confusion danced in his eyes.

Behind him was a Stromling Islander. He was bald and had strange teeth tattoos around his mouth. He was extremely muscular and had a necklace of teeth around his neck, containing both Minifig and dinosaur teeth. He was silent, staring at the Dino Attack agents intently.

"Seriously," Zach continued. "How did you get here?"

"We fell down here," Minerva stammered to Zach. "A trap in the pendulum hallway brought us down here." Ahua chuckled darkly behind him, as if Minerva's explanation amused him.

Zach raised an eyebrow. As far as he was aware, there was no other traps in that hallway other than swinging pendulums. Interesting.

"And so you happened upon here, the very location I was stationed," Zach said. "Rather convenient, is it not? Especially since both of your goals when entering this temple were to find me." Andrew and Minerva's eyes widened. "I am aware of the plan my former self created to eliminate me. You listened to him, and you will ultimately pay with your deaths."

"What is the plan?" Andrew asked.

"However," Zach said, ignoring the question altogether, "I am rather generous, so there is a chance for you live. Starting with you, Minerva." She jumped out the sound of her name. He walked up to her so they were face-to-face, about two feet apart. He shoved Andrew away and stared at her intently. Her general body language clearly showed Minerva was afraid. However, her face displayed a defiant gaze at Zach. Zach grinned.

"Minerva, abandon the Dino Attack," Zach said softly, a major contrast to his normally boastful nature. "Finally abandon the life you had been trying to escape. Forget the past, forget Oswald, forget this suffering. Join me. We can be together." He extended his left hand toward her.

She glanced at it quickly, but backed away from the extended hand. "I can't, Zach," she said steadily, looking directly into his red eyes. "You need to come back to us. Please."

Something stirred in Zach. A longing to rejoin his Minifig companions. However, he pushed that feeling down. His face remained emotionless as he turned away from Minerva.

"Why did you come here?" Zach asked, controlling the clear anger in his voice. "Why bother risking your life coming here?"

"Because I-" she paused and swallowed loudly. "Because we're friends. I don't -" However, Zach had blanked out the rest of her excuse. A burning anger filled his entire being. Something snapped inside of him. He sharply turned around and jabbed the Cosmotronic Ray into Minerva's chest. She stumbled backwards, looking at Zach with pleading eyes.

"'Friends'?" Zach hissed. "Just friends, right? I think I remember you saying that after Oswald turning tail and ran back to XERRD. We're just friends, right?" His voice was full of sarcasm and hate. "And yet every action you seem to commit around me suggests otherwise! Running into the XERRD Fortress alone to find me and this instance right here show very plainly you seem to think of me a wee bit more than a friend. Tell me, Minerva. Would you go to such lengths to save any other friends?"

"Y-y-yes!" she stammered, clearly frightened by his anger.

"LIAR!" Zach screamed, jabbing into her chest even harder with the Cosmotronic Ray. "If Andrew here or Nazareno were in my predicament, would you be willing to go to such lengths to save them?" Minerva was silent, her mouth agape. "I thought so. You are a piece of trash, Minerva Fabello, and I will take great pleasure in killing you. I'm glad we had this talk, friend."

He stepped back from her. A single tear fell from her eyes, but not audibly weeping escaped her body. She just stared at Zach with wide sad eyes.

I may have come off a little bit wangsty, Zach silently remarked. He mentally shrugged this off and turned to Andrew. "Where are my manners?" Zach exclaimed, returning to his arrogant and sarcastic demeanor. "Good to see you again, Andrew. You realize that I will have to kill you as well."

"If things go right, all three of us will be alive and friends again," Andrew stated simply.

Zach smirked. "Believe what you wish. However, I think it's only fair I make the same offer I made with the worthless girl you decided to help. One last time Andrew. Will you join the Maelstrom? You've heard my reasons. If not, I think we've wasted enough time talking. It is time to end this. Once and for all."

*****

Katerina hauled herself back up onto level ground, when suddenly she heard a voice in her head.

You made a grave mistake in joining this battle, Catherine Alexander.

That is not my name, Katerina responded. I reject it as I reject you. Know that although I may not succeed in destroying you as I once intended, I shall not rest until you have been permanently expelled from this world.

And how, precisely, do you intend to do that? the voice of the Maelstrom demanded angrily. With your freakish synthfigs? Oh, and on that note, you should know that one of them is proving to be very useful to me.

Impossible. They are resistant to your influence.

So sure of that, are you? Do you not know how close your "Lupus Schattenberg" was to succumbing to my will? Katerina hesitated, troubled by this claim, but decided that it must be an attempt to shake her resolve and dismissed it. The voice in her head continued. Mental influence aside, he certainly isn't immune to the... shall we say, physical persuasion of others...

*****

Loop shuddered as the waves of Maelstrom energy slowed. The Talon was now fully under its control, but Cyrus and Phoenix still held Loop down on the wires.

Although he himself could not interface with the machinery, he was the only link between the undirected Maelstrom in the Talon's systems and the minds of the two Stromlings chortling with glee as they rained death on the Dino Attack agents and the TumTum tribe. He wasn't certain anymore where he ended and the Talon began, and that was when he noticed -- the Maelstrom he had been holding in his storage cells had been forced into the T-1 Typhoon along with the torrent the Stromlings were sending through him.

Desperate for autonomy, he began to form an idea, and slowly began to draw electricity from the Talon's systems and into his body.

*****

"What was that?" Lance asked nervously as he looked at his squadmates. "I never seen a crocodile like that before."

Dust waded out of the dark water. He had bruise across his forehead from when he was thrown against the wall, and he had a mild limp. "I figured that this room would contain some sort of guardian," he muttered. "I thought it would be something big. I should have expected it would be a Stromling. MegaBloking lizard."

"Well, it is the Maelstrom Temple," Schattenberg said as she brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eye and returned it to its position in her ponytail. "Quite frankly, I'm surprised we haven't seen more of them."

"That does not mean it's not here," Dust responded as he gave her a lopsided grin. "I imagine you've all noticed the atmosphere of this place. It feels so cold and lifeless. Not at all what I expected."

"Why would you expect otherwise?" said Septimus. "The Maelstrom radiates evil."

"My entire life has led up to this place," said the Egyptian, frowning. He had a distinct look in my eyes. "It just feels so wrong."

"I've noticed too," agreed Doctor Cyborg as he stepped out of the water. "I feel a dark presence is active in this temple. It can only be Maelstrom."

The room did feel dark and eerie. Just minutes after the fight, the water had become still and not a sound was heard. It was unnatural the way the light played across the surface and the darkness seeped like cobwebs in every nook and cranny. The walls of the pit sloped up steeply and made it difficult to climb, but since a synthfig had brought a rope, the six agents below were able to climb to a ledge and join Lutsky and the other Loop above.

Schattenberg had taken a rather quick dislike to the blond-haired man. He had shown little regard to the lives below when he had opened fire with his sidearm and had come close to killing her with one of her stray shots.

Lutsky said nothing as he shouldered his way past her and stood before the dark doorway leading out of the chamber. "Where to next, Thutmose?"

"This is it," said Dust. "That Stromling Crocodile was the last obstacle. Down this hall will be the chamber containing the Maelstrom."

"What do you recommend we do when we get there?" Lance said as he crossed his arms. "We don't have the ability to fight this thing."

"Rex told me he and Rotor are going to the Temple of Creation to find some Imagination we can use against it," said Dust. "Once we get to the chamber, our job is to hang tight and put the situation under control until Rex and his team arrive."

"How long will that take? How will they get through the temple safely?" asked one of the Loops.

"I can PM them directions," responded Dust, brushing the question aside. "But that is not our job. All that we have to do is contain the Maelstrom. That's it."

"And how do you propose we do that?" said Dr. Cyborg. "The synthfigs and I can help to some extent, but we don't have the ability to destroy something that powerful."

Dust smiled and walked down the dark hallway. "I'm working on it."

----

The sounds of hooves echoed throughout the desert as Clint waited with Maria and Harmonica. He smiled as he quickly recognized the source of the noise, and it wasn't long before Angel Eyes showed up with a posse of a few dozen men, among them Flatfoot Thompson, his gang, and Sheriff Wyatt West.

"You gotta be znappin' me!" Thompson shouted upon seeing Maria. "We are working for a woman? What kinda fool do ya take me for? And what'ya doin', wearin' men's clothing?!"

There was a loud gunshot as Thompson's hat flew off. "Any more objections?" Clint asked.

The crowd remained silent.

*****

"Alright, you maggots!" bellowed Ronald E. Army. "Tea time is over! Back to work!"

"What tea time?" grumbled Engineer as he continued pushing the bomb cart. "We never took a break! We've been pushin' this bomb cart non-stop since dawn."

"It's all ya fault, anyway!" spat Scout, thrusting his weight against the cart. "We gotta push this thing 'cause ya couldn't fix the engine!"

Pyro muttered something incomprehensible in agreement.

"Dang it, I ain't got the time for this!" grumbled Engineer, who hit the cart's makeshift engine with his wrench. The engine sputtered and growled before roaring to life. Then, the bomb cart began to move down the track by itself. Engineer grinned and clapped his hands together. "Now that's how it's done."

"Why aren't you pushing that cart, maggots?!" yelled Army.

Scout and Engineer traded glances, not sure whether to be irritated or amused. "... Because it's moving on its own now," explained Scout as he gestured to the cart moving away.

"I kept tryin' to tell you," said Engineer, shrugging. "I was in the middle of making an engine for the cart so we wouldn't have to push it all the way. But you kept saying that we ain't got the time an' insisted that we push the cart now because of Blondie, Angel Eyes, and the others. I just needed a bit more time to fix it. Good thing all it took just happened to be hittin' it with a wrench, but I kept tryin' to tell you, Soldier, that-"

"I! Am! Not! A! Soldier!" screamed Army. "I am a general! I outrank all of you! Nobody outranks me! And-"

"Oh, please," scoffed Spy, who popped in out of nowhere and startled Ronald Army. "I've been reading your files, and you are not a general."

"WHAT?!?"

Spy smirked. "You're just a sergeant, Army. It's rather impressive zhat you managed to achieve zhat rank, but rather petty in comparison to general, don't you think? Says in your files zat ze LEGOLAND president at zhe time sarcastically told you zhat you were promoted to general after a certain incident involving zhe Black Falcons... I need not mention what happened zhere. Apparently, Soldier, sarcasm is a foreign language to you."

Everyone laughed as Sergeant Ronald E. Army's face turned bright red, seething with fury. "WHY YOU-!" was all he managed to say before he was interrupted by Spy.

"On to more important matters... I scouted ahead and saw zhat zhe Hybrids have set up a barrier on zhe track, guarded heavily by turrets. I can sneak in zhere and disable most of zhem, but I would require some assistance. Heavy and Medic, come with me. Zhe rest of you, stay with zhe cart!"

*****

Clint pulled his horse to a halt at the top of a large hill of sand.

"Why are we takin' the long way round?" Maria asked.

"You shut up, woman," snapped one of the posse, a middle-aged man with a vest, tie, and mustache.

"Now, now," said Clint. "What did you have to say?"

"Last night, we were able to get into there in a few minutes," replied Maria.

"You were able to walk there with Spy," noted Angel Eyes.

"I know," said Clint. "However, I'd like to see what the Second Headquarters Squad is up to. Van Cleef, do you have a pair of binoculars or something?" Angel Eyes reached into his pocket and revealed a long telescope. Clint promptly took it and took a closer look.

"They're all there," noted Clint. "Even Spy."

"What are they doin'?" Maria asked.

"Pushing a cart," reported Clint as he closed the telescope and handed it back to Angel Eyes. "I say we just head straight for the fort." Clint started to ride off.

Angel Eyes turned toward Maria as the rest of the posse followed. "I'd like you to keep an eye on Thompson," Angel Eyes said. "We have an... understanding. If he tries to weasel his way out of our deal… kill him."

Maria smiled as she turned back to the rest of the posse, and Angel Eyes was quick to follow.

The sounds of horse hooves echoed through the desert as the posse made their way toward Fort Legoredo. For a brief moment, the Second Headquarters Squad turned in confusion as they rode past them.

"Vat are cowboys doing?" Heavy wondered.

"ZIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!" Medic shouted.

It was not long before the noises of gunfire echoed through the barren landscape. Clint drew his pistol as they approached a group of Hybrids. He fired, taking one out immediately. Angel Eyes was quick to follow, then Maria, Thompson, and Sheriff West.

----

Jackson fired another round before his attention was drawn to the arrival of two individuals: one of them he recognized as Cabin, the other was a gruff-looking man with long hair, a black tank top, and an eye patch.

"Snake," Dactyl muttered as she stood up. "I heard you were dead." 

*****

Andrew stared at the being in front of him with intimidation and a hint of fear, but he did his best to put up a calm front. He was just as tired of this Maelstrom business as he was still afraid of it, and he knew that just talking to Zach wouldn't be how he would get him back yet. All he could do now was give a few choice words.

"The Stromling formally known as Zach," he began, "me and Minerva have decided to risk it all to get inside a temple serving as the focal point of your energies, have persuaded our allies to leave us alone, luckily gotten separated from our crew leaving us to wander into here, and have done all of those arguably stupid things, just to see if we could reclaim your former self. Call it devotion to your cause, call it arrogant stupidity that 'makes us destined to fail'," Andrew motioned air quotes while saying, "but the point is that we've done everything solely for your sake, because you've gotten into this position by your true self telling us there's still a chance, and because we have sympathy for your position due to me feeling like you're my mirror opposite and I take horror and pity in that, and Minerva because..."

He looked towards his ally. "Can I be frank about my opinion, Minerva?"

Minerva was still a little distraught from Zach's lashings, but she took a moment to gulp and nod her head.

"Okay. And Minerva because you two seem to have shared affection for one another. Perhaps even love. I believe you've thought of that?"

Minerva blushed a little, while Zach shot his head back in a little bit of surprise. Andrew guessed that he might've hit a sensitive spot, because the gleam of fury quickly returned to his red eyes. He aimed his Cosmotronic Ray arm at the Dino Attack agent's stomach.

"How perceptive for you to think that. But regarding that... rash... bit of judgement, I assume from your little speech there that you're declining our offer once more?"

Sweat was beginning to appear on his forehead, but Andrew remained stern and defiant as he said "Yes." As Zach began to react to his words, sudden thoughts in his mind suddenly gave him a sharp pang of pain in the head. He grimaced and instinctively put his hand up to it.

What are you doing?! Letting yourself die just because you don't trust the distributor!?

Shut. UP, Andrew told "himself", and let his eyes wander to the well-built Islander Stromling behind Zach. He had raised his eyebrow and stared at Zach. Zach stared back with confusion, then looked back at Andrew with a rather sly grin.

I guess you heard that, didn't you? Andrew thought in his mind.

Eeyup, said Zach's voice inside his mind.

What, no knocking first? How rude.

Well, I would've invited him in.

Andrew glanced back at Minerva, who was now staring at the three figures with confusion and worry. "Euh, don't worry about it, Minerva," Andrew said aloud. "We're just having a pleasant little mental conversatio-ERRAGH!"

Something felt like it was stabbing through his forehead and jabbing into his brain. The recoil from such a mental blast knocked Andrew off his feet and onto his back. His eyes, shut tight from the reaction, saw the little light passing through his eyelids suddenly darken.

Ach... what is this, guys, some kind of Maelstrom gang-

This..., said a voice that appeared to talk with authority and a hint of aura of menace, ...other voice of yours... seems to speak contrary to what you say aloud. We think you aren't telling us everything.

What, that? It's just my "dark consciousness" that likes to think the "black-and-grey-morality thought" about how I should handle my desires. Don't we all have that?

But with such strength... and persistence... it seems to be more than meets the eye.

Oh, you.

Andrew felt annoyed that his mind was being treated like some dimly-lit bar at night, but he kept focused on the conversation at hand. 

Oh alright, it has somehow managed to tell me things I wouldn't know otherwise, but I don't have an explanation for that. But I'm willing to blame faith or something. I dunno, I haven't thought much of it lately.

We are the same, him and I. I just happened to speak our mind and heart bluntly, and have a few ways of guessing how things work.

Geeze, with prose like that, I should be a poet or something after the war.

Only if you think you could survive this encounter, said the other voicewhich Andrew was guessing to be either the Maelstrom itself or the Islander guy who had been in the room before. Which you won't.

We'll see... about THAT.

Heh heh heh. We like this guy. He makes victory just much more entertaining.

Okay, do you get it yet, Mr. "Dark Consciousness"? These guys are evil and should not be worked with.

They're also as cocky and overconfident and lax as every other villain in stories where the bad guy loses. I hardly fear them.

You might.

Exactly! WE don't fear them! This'll be easy.

The Islander/Maelstrom voice laughed again, this time with the intimidating deep dark one Andrew had always had a little problem with. So we shall see.

Andrew then felt himself feeling a lot more tired, and he began to see where this was going. As he felt himself lose consciousness, he managed to think Okay, okay, but if we're doing this, let Minerva know what's happening, and that I have fate that she'll be able to handle what happens nex..

Minerva stared at Andrew's body, terrified and confused. "What did you do?" she asked Zach anxiously.

Zach grinned and shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I'll deal with him later," Zach glanced back at the Stromling Islander, who stared at Andrew's body as well, a small evil smile on his face.

"Who is he?" Minerva asked. She wrapped her arms underneath Andrew's arms and dragged him to the edge of the chamber away from the two Stromlings.

"A rather pesky member of the TumTum Tribe called Ahua," Zach replied. "He holds quite a bit of authority here. Say hello to our guest, Ahua." Zach grinned widely at the islander. Minerva saw Ahua's eyes narrow angrily, but he ignored Zach and continued to look at Andrew. "Rather rude, Ahua. Oh well."

Ahua. The name slammed into Minerva's brain like a bullet. "Ahua is the guy Ghost was talking about," she whispered in realization. She winced as she glanced at Zach, whose grin had faded away rather quickly.

"Oh, really?" Zach said. "What exactly did Ghost say about Ahua?"

Minerva bit her tongue. She had quickly forced herself into an even more dangerous position. Zach scowled, no longer amused. He turned to Ahua, who had so far blanked out their entire conversation. Zach then turned back to Minerva and walked up to her.

"What did Ghost say?" Zach demanded.

"He said Ahua wanted to bring me to the temple," Minerva finally said.

Zach raised an eyebrow, then turned back Ahua. "This changes the situation a bit, doesn't it?" Zach noted. Minerva backed away as Zach glared at her and began to approach her menacingly again.

*****

Commander Vinyaya gasped in pain as Colonel jabbed his fist into her spine for the fifth time. As he charged up for the sixth time, she reared back her foot and kicked the Stromling in the stomach, knocking him back. Vinyaya rolled to her feet and raised her handgun and prepared to fire.

Colonel regained his composure and fired several Sonic Screamer blasts at her. She dodged the blasts, hearing an irritating whistling as the blasts flew by. She fired several shots at Colonel, clipping his right arm and the Sonic Screamer. He growled in pain as Vinyaya ran forward and started punching him into the face, knocking his cap off his head. Colonel growled again as he swung his Sonic Screamer at Vinyaya, slamming her into the chest and knocking her to the ground. She moaned and threw another kick at Colonel before he could attack again.

Vinyaya dragged herself across the ground and pulled Colonel to the ground with her. She clumsily managed to get on her knees and began to swing punch after punch into the downed Colonel. She stumbled to her feet and pulled her gun out and pointed it at the Sonic Screamer and fired. The bullets ricocheted off the Maelstrom-infused metal harmlessly.

"Son of a MegaBlok," she muttered, then slammed her foot into Colonel's chest before he could get up. She wanted Colonel's Sonic Screamer out of this fight before it proved to be extremely crippling. Vinyaya pointed the gun directly into the Sonic Screamer's barrel and fired several bullets into it with precise aiming.

Vinyaya regretted that decision immediately. The bullets cause the weapons to explode. She stumbled backwards, her face burning and small bits of shrapnel hitting her armor with a loud clink! She looked at Colonel's left arm. The Sonic Screamer was more or less destroyed. Colonel was on his feet, glaring at Vinyaya.

Vinyaya smiled.

"What are you to do now, Quartich?" she asked. She reloaded the gun and pointed it at the Stromling. "Have fun in MegaBlokland!"

*****

Now that they had made it back to the battlefield intact, the most pressing problem that faced Hotwire and Helm was the fact that neither of them were armed. There hadn't been time to bring any weapons with them when they bailed out. Hoping to avoid the attention of the combatants on the temple grounds, the two of them stayed just within the forest and began to circle the battlefield, with a significant degree of difficulty in Hotwire's case. After a few minutes, Helm spotted a Fire Hammer concealed within the trees halfway up a nearby hill. With this new goal in mind, Hotwire summoned all his strength and determination and forced himself onward despite the pain in his severed leg.

Before long, they arrived at the Fire Hammer. There were already four other Dino Attack agents there.

"You two don't look too good," said one of the agents, a woman perched on the roof of the Fire Hammer with a sniper rifle.

"We've sure seen better," said Hotwire, wincing in pain.

"We were on the Talon, and bailed out just before it became corrupted," explained Helm. "I'm Helm, by the way, and this is Hotwire."

"Dactyl," the woman responded. "Pleased to meet you. This is Jackson." She gestured at the other agent on top of the Fire Hammer, who nodded. The remaining two, another woman and a long-haired man with one eye, introduced themselves as Cabin and Snake.

Hotwire recognized one of the names. "Cabin," he said, then realizing, "You were on the T-1 that crashed." Cabin nodded. "Frankly," Hotwire continued, "with all the work I put into the Talon, I would have preferred that it be blown up rather than stolen by the Maelstrom." He winced again. "Would any of you happen to have painkillers?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Snake. He reached into his pocket for a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Hotwire, who politely turned them down.

"So, what's the plan?" Cabin asked.

"I don't know," replied Helmie. "Right now, we don't have much in the way of weaponry."

"I'm afraid we can't help you much there," sighed Cabin. "All Snake and I got are the rifles we salvaged from the crash. There might be some ammunition in the back of this Fire Hammer, though."

*****

A dark influence had control of his body, but not his mind. He felt strangely detached from the world, only a soul watching the events of reality. His mouth opened, and maniacal laughter poured out of it, heedless of the situation. He was taken aback at this. He was firing his weapons, but not at the true enemy. This force was causing him to attack his allies!

He realized that this time, he was out of his depth. He dealt with things that were solid and grounded in reality. He didn't like dealing with the mysterious forces that he wasn't even sure existed.

And all of a sudden, he was calm. He could deal with logic, and logic could help him. This force was simply an enemy. Not one to be destroyed, not by him, but it could be pushed back, made to retreat, if he could remain in control of his own thoughts.

This force was one of chaos. Of destruction. What could he combat it with? The answer came to him easily. Peace. Not apathy, but a force of single, driving calm.

And so, as chaos reigned around him, as his body caused pain and death, his mind pushed and hoped that it could regain control.

His force of will was close to breaking. The chaos was strong, and he was weak. He knew this, but he also knew that he would never give up. If anything, his spirit would die to exhaustion. And then, something happened. The unstoppable force... gave ground.

He mentally pushed, straining to control his body. And suddenly, he was free. From all he had heard, he thought it was impossible. The Maelstrom was not impossible to resist. But it had been draining. He looked out the cockpit of his jet, and he saw the ground rushing up to meet him.

"MegaBloking..." said Captain Hugh Yena.

And then, he saw no more.

*****

"Cortana, I can't harm the Talon. What are the weak spots?" Kara said.

Calculating based on bricks used, structural integrity, and clutch power. Ah, here we are. She brought up a building plan on the HUD and highlighted a few spots. You can hit the base of the tail, base of the rotor, or between the cockpit windows, Cortana said.

Kara aimed the Cosmotronic Rays at all three weak spots, to no avail. "It's not working! Is there any other way?" 

Well, you could land the ship for ten minutes.

"What good would that do?" Kara asked.

That would allow me to jump-charge the fuel rod gun, giving a sufficiently powerful blast to forcefully disassemble the Talon.

Kara landed, waited ten minutes, took off again and chased the Talon.

Preparing to fire, Cortana said.

*****

"Mega-frigging-Znapping-Bloking MegaBloks!" B swore up to the sky.

First it was the dinos, then the Agents showed up to "help." Help. Heh. Better call the dictionary people, 'cause "help" now means a missile to the rear end of your jeep. I just got that thing back on its wheels, and now... well, there's no way we're fixing that thing.

B looked around him. He was farther away from the battle than he would have preferred under normal circumstances, but now, was perfect.

Ironic that I'm in worse shape than either Kev or Chris, and yet I'm the only one who wasn't knocked out. Ow... my head.

He dragged Kev and Chris away from the fiery wreck of the Fire Hammer. A glint of light caught his eye and he looked up at where it was coming from. An Agents Supersonic Jet, presumably one of the hijacked ones, was flying, or rather falling, towards him.

A crash, the screaming sound of metal and dirt clashing, and then B was left standing between two very similar piles of smoking metal. He stared for a second, and then his natural practicality and training took over.

Those jets usually have great cushioning, in case of scenarios exactly like this. So, even though the rest of the plane's a smoking wreck, there's a good chance the pilot's still alive.

B gingerly pried open the cockpit and pulled the body from it. It had a distinctive purplish tinge to it, but not to the extent of the Stromlings. The face was familiar.

"Yena. If you live through this, man, we are even." 

*****

Loop gathered more and more electricity from the Talon's systems. The Maelstrom was in such total control that the drain went unnoticed by both of the Stromlings. He soon felt as though his electricity-storing cells would rupture, but continued to absorb as much power as he could. The Maelstrom swirling between him and the Talon suddenly seemed to take notice, and Loop saw his last chance.

In one burst, he released all the electricity. It surged through the Talon, frying circuits, blowing out equipment, and ultimately, stopping the motors cold. Sparks swarmed across the bodies of Cyrus and Phoenix as well, and the two screamed in pain and lost consciousness.

The T-1 Typhoon plunged towards the ground as the rotors spun lazily to a halt. Loop could feel the Maelstrom trying desperately to restart the engines, but he'd spent years toying with electricity, and he had ensured that each and every system was stone dead.

*****

The Talon suddenly started falling towards the ground.

"Cortana, hold fire!" Kara said. She watched as it plummeted towards the ground, breaking apart into a thousand parts. "Like cheap MegaBloks on a kitchen floor!"

*****

"Well, perhaps we should just be ready to move out if we are needed elsewhere," said Hotwire. The other five agreed, and they began to prepare the Fire Hammer for departure.

Suddenly Hotwire's attention was drawn to the battlefield. The Talon's rotors had stopped, and it plummeted nose-first in a steep downward arc until it finally plowed into the ground and slid about thirty feet, crushing a group TumTum warriors and Dino Attack agents in addition to several Mutant Lizards.

The massive helicopter finally came to rest a short distance from the trees, a ruined flaming hulk with barely any remnant of its former glory, and was still.

Snake tried to pull Hotwire away from the scene he was watching. "Come on," he muttered. "They're dead, and even if they're not they've probably all been turned into Stromlings." 

*****

Phoenix and Cyrus pushed their way out of the wreckage of the Talon as the Maelstrom quickly healed their wounds. They walked over to where Loop lay after being thrown from the cockpit in the crash. The synthfig's breath was shallow, and he was pale with blood loss, but there was a faint smile on his face.

Phoenix saw his expression and sneered. "You'd probably prefer to go this way, as desperate for autonomy as you are," she spat. "Unfortunately, you've been too much of a pain for us to let you get off that easily." She grabbed one of his arms.

"Don't worry," added Cyrus, grabbing Loop's other arm. The Stromlings dragged him back to the Talon. "This will only hurt so much that no other pain you've ever experienced will compare to it."

At that moment the Maelstrom which had infected the Talon surged out of the wreck and into the body of the dying synthfig. He jerked and squeezed his eyes shut as it began to overwhelm all his defenses. His storage cells were quickly filled, but the dark energies continued to fill him; it seemed that Cyrus and Phoenix had used him to tap into a larger source of Maelstrom energy, far more than was necessary to corrupt one normal person.

Loop, though, was anything but normal. It soon became clear that the description 'Maelstrom resistant' was in fact relative to the quantity of Maelstrom in question. It filled every fiber in his body and relentlessly assaulted his mind. It was already restoring his body to health, so he finally had no choice but to succumb.

From the perspective of Lupus Schattenberg, this was a fate far, far worse than death, for when he opened his eyes again, he was no longer a free being.

----

"This a little more your taste?" Sarah asked as she sat down with Pierce over a small table containing a simple but fancy-looking turkey dinner.

"Yeah," replied Pierce. "At least we don't have any more of that agent Dude."

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP, DONNIE!" They suddenly heard Walter shouting close by. There was some arguing heard afterword.

"Just the two of us," said Sarah. "Tell me, in all this time, what's been going on with you?"

"I'm still a doctor," replied Pierce. "They put me in the team's medical wing for a reason. You?"

"Borderline poverty," sighed Sarah. "Do you have any idea how many people Wallace took loans from for his experiments? Then he gets himself locked up, and who do they come after? His sister, of course, because it's not like she's already having trouble keeping a stable job while trying to give her daughter a half-decent education. Poor Kate had big plans for college, and we couldn't afford to enroll her anywhere."

Suddenly, they were cut off when a random man showed up with a violin and started playing vaguely romantic-sounding music. "Excuse me," Sarah remarked. "What exactly are you doing?"

"Oh," said the musician. "Mr. Rand hired me to come in and create a romantic atmosphere for this scene."

"Who?" asked Pierce.

"Oh," stammered the musician. "Umm... nobody, just... um... I gotta go." With that, the man quickly bolted out of the room.

"Now, where were we?" Sarah asked. She walked over to Pierce's side of the table and sat down next to him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and they started to kiss.

"HEY, MAN!" came a sudden familiar voice. Sarah looked up to see the familiar face of agent Dude, holding a beer. "Did you hear about the stuff on Adventurers' Island, man? They're like, sending a couple of people to do stuff. They're sending us out in a couple hours."

"That's very good, Dude," replied Sarah. "Tell me, is that line still open?"

"Yeah," said Dude. "I'm pretty sure it is."

Sarah quickly stood up.

"Where you goin'?" Pierce asked.

"I'm joining the team," declared Sarah. "I'm sick of waiting around here in Antarctica. My girl is out there and I'm going to make sure she's alright."

----

Chompy took a moment to survey the battle's current progress. Although Dino Attack and Agents were struggling in the sky, the fight on the ground continued to turn in their favor. The natives of Adventurers' Island were successfully defending the Dino Attack Team from the forces of the Maelstrom. They were finally joined by Queen Legotiti's Matching Mummies. Skeletal figures wrapped in Ancient Egyptian burial bandages were screaming gleefully and laughing in delight as they took on Stromlings and Mutant Dinos alike.

The long and grueling fight was not over yet, but it seemed as though victory was theirs at last. From atop the alpha female T-Rex, Achu raised his spear and proclaimed: "This battle is ours!" The alpha female T-Rex opened her mighty jaws and roared in triumph; Chompy and several other dinosaurs joined in with the rousing cry.

But, a chilling silence fell upon the battlefield. Achu's eyes widened when he realized what was happening. Mutant Dinos parted like the Red Sea and cleared the path as the last of the seven Hybrid Riders, seated on the back of a mighty Mutant T-Rex, approached the alpha female T-Rex and Achu. Every footfall of the Mutant T-Rex shook the area, and he grinned savagely with an unquenchable thirst for blood. With the Hybrid Rider egging him on, the Mutant T-Rex bellowed at the alpha female T-Rex, challenging her to a duel.

The alpha female T-Rex knew that her chances of winning were slim. She was outmatched in sheer size and strength, with her opponent towering over her. Still, the alpha female let out a fierce roar, since she would not back down from her sworn duty. She accepted the challenge.

And then, they engaged one another in a battle to the death. Their teeth and their claws met in a violent display, tearing through flesh and drawing blood. Achu and the Hybrid Rider jabbed at each other with their spears, each attempting to force the other to dismount.

In her youth, the alpha female could have had the agility to outmaneuver her stronger opponent. But unfortunately, she was old, and the lengthy battle had already tired her out.  She fought valiantly, but one costly mistake was all it took. She was thrown down upon the scorched earth and pinned down, unable to get back to her feet as the mutant and his rider struck again and again.

Achu was briefly dazed when his mount fell, and he struggled to get back up again. Thinking quickly, he raised his spear and cast a magic barrier to shield them. An orb of light enveloped them. The Mutant T-Rex's jaws could not penetrate the shield, but he continued to attack relentlessly in an effort to break through. Achu gritted his teeth, knowing the strain would be too much to maintain indefinitely.

Chompy and his sister watched in horror as their alpha fell. They were surrounded by mutants and unable to interfere in the fight, but this sight drove them to rush as quickly as they could to their mother's aid. Fueled by adrenaline, Chompy ignored the biting and clawing Mutant Lizards from all sides as he focused determinedly on charging forward like a raging bull.

They reached her just as Achu's barrier was about to fail. The orb was blinking out of existence, and the Mutant T-Rex reared back in preparation for one last deadly lunge.

Chompy closed his maw upon the Mutant T-Rex's leg, sinking his teeth into its thigh. The great beast stumbled, and the Hybrid Rider lost its balance and fell off its mount. Chompy's sister quickly went after the Hybrid while Chompy continued battling the Mutant T-Rex. While he had no chance of defeating his opponent on his own, he successfully held the Mutant Dino off long enough for two Fire Hammers, a Triceratops, three TumTum Islanders, and a pair of Matching Mummies to join the fight.

Now outnumbered, the Mutant T-Rex and the last Hybrid Rider were swiftly defeated... but it was too late. The alpha female was mortally wounded and no longer had the strength to rise again.

Achu laid a hand upon the alpha T-Rex's neck, then he looked up at Chompy and shook his head sadly. "Her injuries are too severe for my magic to heal," he explained. "The most I can do was soothe her pain, ensuring that she will die peacefully."

Chompy's heart sank, but he nodded. "Thank you, great chief Achu," he rumbled softly.

As her breathing slowed, the alpha female T-Rex regarded Chompy with pride. "You have… done well… my son," she said. Then she succumbed to her injuries and forever left this world.

Enraged, Chompy turned around and looked into the eyes of the Mutant T-Rex who had killed his mother. The mutant, too, was not long for this world. In his final moments, it seemed that the innate chaotic anger of the Maelstrom, which had clouded his mind, was clearing at last. Now, as their eyes met, Chompy understood exactly what the mutant was thinking, and despite his fury, he could not help feeling pity for the dying beast.

The Mutant T-Rex was filled with sorrow. In the mutant saurian language, he growled mournfully: "Forgive me, brother... I have failed our family."

*****

They turned the corner into the main sanctuary of the temple. It was a massive room that was more than large enough to hold a small basketball court, and its vine-covered walls raised several stories high toward the ceiling of the temple.

Unlike the rest of the temple, the room felt warm, it had a life in it, and soft brown dust hung in the air. It was still strangely quiet, but it was a quiet of peace. Not of death.

A large rectangular hole in the roof let down a shaft of light that illuminated a great square platform in the center of the room. Large bricks littered the floor of the room from bits of the ceiling falling to earth over the years. Wide crumbling steps ran up on three sides of the altar and encircled the pit in which the Maelstrom vortex was held.

But instead of a black and purple entity dominating the room, all that remained was a black crater on the platform. The room was empty, the Maelstrom was gone, and all traces of the monster had long since disappeared.

The Dino Attack Team stood there in shock. The entire operation had always been a red herring, and all they had to show for the sweat and blood they put into it was a really big empty room.

Dust smiled. He had had his suspicions that this temple was no longer in use. And he was now positive that the Temple of Creation was the true host. All this meant is that he did not need Dino Attack to clean up the mess in his new residence. The Maelstrom definitely called this place its home long ago, but it has not dwelt here since the time of Hotep III.

"You lied to us!" yelled Lance. "You said the Maelstrom would be here!"

Certainly, they were protesting. He had wasted their time in more ways than one, but this moment was special for him and he did not want them ruining it.

The Egyptian did not immediately respond, but he slowly began to ascend the steps up to the altar. "I never said the Maelstrom would be here, Williams. I admitted that I had no idea. I did provide strong evidence to support my theory. Fortunately for me, you took the bait. Perhaps you'll know better next time."

"You led us here for nothing," said Septimus. "People out there are dying, and you tricked us into coming along on your personal mission."

He was now halfway up the steps. "That is exactly what I did, and quite frankly now that I have what I want, I no longer need you. I care as much about those people outside as they care about me. They don't care what happens to me; to them, I'm a tool to be used on their personal mission. I'm now just going to throw you away like the broken toys that you are."

He turned his back to continue up the steps when he heard Doctor Cyborg behind him. There was a faint click of a gun being cocked. "Stand aside, Dust!" said Cyborg. "You're finished."

Suddenly, Dust had his own gun out and had it trained on the assembled agents below. "Look, you're welcome to go; I no longer need you anymore. Let's not spill any more blood today than we have to."

"What about those people outside?!" said Cyborg. "They're all dying on your account!"

Dust raised an eyebrow. "I take full accountability for that. But an apology would sound hollow coming from me, wouldn't it? What I mean is that I really don't want to kill you. Now, please put the gun down, Doc."

Doctor Cyborg was not convinced, but Septimus slowly came up and took his gun. The drone placed it on the ground and looked Dust in the eyes.

"What's your plan, Dust?" said Katerina. "If we go, do you think you're going to spend the rest of your life sitting alone in this temple?"

Dust laughed. "I have had a plan for the last twenty-three years of my life. Everything I've done has led up to this point! I'm finished now, I can do what I want, and my life is now complete. Oh, the joy of not having a plan!"

"You're insane," muttered Lance.

Dust was suddenly serious. "You're welcome to believe that, Lance," he said as he pointed the gun at the surfer. "I really don't give a darn what you think about me. I don't care. No one has ever cared. Now, I recommend you go before I change my mind about killing you."

He was now at the top of the steps, looking down at the seven agents below him. They looked up at him not as much with anger as with pity.

Katerina frowned. "I'm sorry we gave you this second chance, Dust. Rockford said you had a chance to be a hero, but you let him down. You let us all down."

The comment about Rockford took Dust back a second. He had no idea why he strived to make the commander proud; it was not something he felt since he was under the guidance of Professor Kilroy back at the museum.

Dust ignored the comment. "That's the thing with you people. You've been living under the false impression all these years that you're doing things for the greater good and not for your own self-respect. You're not fighting the Maelstrom for the planet; you're fighting it out of obligation, and so you feel better about yourself. You're all so self-righteous."

Cyborg shook his head. "You know what, Dust? I do pity you; I feel sorry that you can still believe after all this time we're the bad guys. That humanity is basically bad. I don't know what happened in your life, but I'm sorry."

The Egyptian nodded. "You're right, you don't know what I've been through. If you did, you would most certainly know what this means."

The doctor shook his head sadly and turned to the assembled agents. "Let's go, guys. There is nothing we can do. He's broken; let's just let him be."

Dust looked down in surprise at the assembled agents as they turned to leave. What did this mean? They had not turned in anger, they did not react with violence, and they had done the unexpected. He had anticipated conflict at the end, now he just stood alone holding his gun.

The faces of the people below told the Egyptian one incredibly inconvenient truth: these were not bad people. They truly did work for the greater good; how could he have lived without seeing that?

He was breathing heavily. What had the last thirty-three years of his life been about? What had he lived his life off the assumption of? That man was only out for his own personal gain? That the only thing that drove people was their own primordial urges of wrath and greed?

His life was wasted. His understanding of the world had been wrong all these years.

This could not be true; these were the people he thought they were. Any moment they would turn around and shoot him and take his temple from him.

Dust looked down at his trembling hand holding his gun. He would stop them; he would not give them the satisfaction of killing him. These were bad people just like him, and he would make them understand.

He was desperate. He needed a reaction, anything that would confirm his beliefs. Gripping the gun tightly, he held it high and screamed at the top of his lungs.

"THIS IS MY TEMPLE!"

A single gunshot cracked through the chamber. The agents turned to see who pulled the trigger and saw Dust still standing on the top of the platform with a surprised look on his face.

He looked down at his chest in shock. A quickly growing red stain was spreading from his abdomen, and he staggered backward.

Below stood Carl Lutsky with the smoking gun. A look of cold satisfaction was on his face. No one had taken much notice of the commander the entire trip, and if they did, they might had seen his true intentions all along.

He pulled the trigger again.

Dust stumbled backward as the bullet impacted with his chest. He coughed and slowly fell to his knees. Everything was happening in slow motion, and his gun fell from his hand and tumbled down the steps.

His hands were now extended from his side, and he looked up at white light visible through the hole in the roof. What did this all mean?

Lutsky fired twice more, and Dust slowly tumbled backward to lie on the cold stones of the temple altar. His heart was pumping rapidly and the Egyptian coughed blood.

This is what it felt like to die. He could not move; he lay there in his slowly growing pool of blood, looking up at this sky. His chest heaved up and down as he struggled to breathe.

Soon, they were with him. Doctor Cyborg, Lance, Septimus, and Katerina had all climbed the steps and were huddled around the dying man.

Cyborg took Dust by the hand. "Come on, Dust, stay with us!"

"Stop the bleeding!" yelled Lance.

They struggled to bandage his chest. Katerina called a Loop to fetch gauze, but they all knew there was nothing they could do at this stage.

The Egyptian could do nothing. He just laid there, looking into the faces of these good people. After all he had done, after every con he'd pulled, they still were making an effort to make matters right.

Dust coughed. "This… This…"

"Come on, Dust, you can pull through this," said Katerina. "It's okay."

"This is how I want to go," stammered Dust. His eyes darted around the chamber and settled on the skull-like face of Septimus."This is where I want to die."

"Hey, man, don't give up," whispered Lance.

The Egyptian choked and gurgled. His arms began shaking. He was going into shock.

"Tell Rock… Tell Rock… Tell Rockford… It's been an honor… knowing him," gasped Dust. His eyes began to close and he began to lay still.

"Tell him I'm… sor… sor…ry."

Gahiji's eyes glazed over and he stopped shaking. He looked peaceful in state and his eyes remained locked on the white sky visible through the ceiling.

Gahiji Thutmose's death was surprising in two ways. He died in his temple, the place he had devoted his entire life to. This is what it had all been about for him. That had always been his destiny.

The second was that he did not die alone. 

*****

Rex, Amanda, Rotor, and Kate stared at the figure who emerged from the shadows. He was clad in high-tech black armor, similar in style to Ogel's wardrobe or a Blacktron spacesuit. In one hand, he held what appeared to be a miniature rocket launcher, and in the other, he held a strange device. Although his head was masked by a helmet, as he drew closer to the light of the Imagination statue, Rex could make out his features through the figure's visor, and from his earliest memories, he recognized that face. It was the last face he expected to see in the Temple of Creation.

"Hello again, Rex," spoke the figure, smiling. "It's been far too long since we last spoke."

"Doctor Wallace Bishop," Rex said as he gritted his teeth, unable to believe his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

"One might say," said Wallace Bishop, smirking as he approached the group, "I'm here on the same mission as you." As Dr. Bishop drew closer, Rotor picked up his weapon and pointed at the XERRD scientist, who raised his arms in a show of peace. "Now, now. Let's not be pointing guns at each other. I have no intention of using this rocket launcher on you... it's for my own protection. I presume you four had some Stromling problems on the way in?"

Dr. Bishop sighed bitterly as he approached the Imagination statue. "The Maelstrom grows stronger every day. And all that keeps us alive is this tiny orb of Imagination. It is beautiful, is it not? And yet, it is so frail. Powerful, but frail. Rather like hope, is it not? So easily snuffed out, but it's what keeps us alive. An eternal paradox."

"So why do you spend your time supporting that which destroys Imagination?" demanded Rotor.

"The Maelstrom?" Dr. Bishop responded without looking at the Dino Attack agent. "While one may think that the best way to study is to always look at the light, sometimes its properties can be best understood by looking at the darkness. A balance must be met, for nothing is solely light or completely darkness. Paradox taught me this."

Staring at the Imagination, Kate softly murmured, "So beautiful, and yet so frail."

This drew Wallace's attention away from the Imagination and towards Kate. His expression held concern and even a bit of fear. "... Kate? What are you doing here, my dear? It's far too dangerous!"

The fear he heard in Wallace's voice alarmed Rex, and he knew what was about to happen but was too slow to stop it. Before Rex could do anything, Rotor forcefully grabbed Kate Bishop, locked her body against his, and pressed a pistol to the girl's temple. Crying out "Rotor!" was the only thing Rex could manage.

Rotor smirked maliciously and locked eyes with Wallace Bishop. "Surrender now!" he hissed through clenched teeth. "If you don't do as I say, your little girl gets a bullet in her head!"

Dr. Bishop's face contorted into a grimace. He pointed his rocket launcher at Rotor and Kate, declaring, "And if you dare do that, then I shall have no qualms about firing this at you! You would be dead less than a second after you fire that pistol!"

Kate's lips trembled in terror, and tears gathered at her eyes. The whole thing was far too much for her, and Rex and Amanda knew that their plan of not bringing Kate to the Maelstrom Temple had backfired horribly. It was time to step in quickly.

Rex lifted his Sonic Screamer and aimed it at the XERRD scientist. At the same time, Amanda pointed her knife at Rotor with a clearly murderous intent, letting him know that if he tried anything, she would kill him instantly. "Doctor Wallace Bishop," declared Rex, "as second-in-command to XERRD, you are under arrest. Do not attempt to struggle or resist, for you are outnumbered."

Rex heard the sounds of two pistols clicking. He turned over his shoulder to see Señor Palomar, wearing a gas mask and wielding double pistols, one pointed at Rex and the other pointed at Amanda. "Apologies for turning this into a Mexican standoff, señor," Palomar said with a smirk, "but it appears you were quite wrong about that statement."

Laughter rang through the temple chamber, and the Dino Attack agents' eyes widened in horror as they saw more figures emerge from the shadows of the chamber. Most were clad in high-tech Space Marauder armor like Dr. Bishop, but a few were dressed in sorcerer garb, and one was even wearing shinobi robes. They all were dressed in a black-red color scheme, with the XERRD emblem printed on their sleeves. Among those dressed in high-tech armor, Rex recognized Michelle Glados, Zed Provhezor, and Walter Breen, and one of the sorcerers was Carolyne Provencal.

"What are you all doing here?" demanded Rex. "The rest of the Dino Attack Team is following Paulie Gonepus to the Maelstrom Temple... and you're all here, in the Temple of Creation?"

"Following Paulie Gonepus?" repeated Walter Breen. "Do tell, where did he lead them?"

"The Temple of Hote..." Rex began weakly, before his voice broke as a cold and dreaded realization washed over him.

The XERRD scientists chuckled unanimously. "Doktor Paulie Gonepuz may be obzezzed viz hiz Maelztrom energy," Zed Provhezor said with a sneer, "but he iz not a vool. Vy, zat iz quite brilliant ov him indeed! I juzt love red herringz, don't you?"

"No..." whispered Rex.

"You see, Rex," explained Wallace Bishop, "the reason I said that the Imagination here is the only thing keeping us alive..."

Dr. Bishop moved aside. In the dark chamber, their eyes had been naturally drawn to the one source of light. But now, for the first time, the Dino Attack agents could make out the massive vortex of Maelstrom energy in the far end of the chamber. Cold fear overcame all their senses as they stared into the swirling black hole of destruction.

"Velkome, voolish Dino Attack agentz," proclaimed Dr. Provhezor, laughing, "to ze Maelztrom Temple!"

Before they could recover from their shock, Dr. Bishop cleared his throat. "And now, if you don't mind, I must collect some Maelstrom energy with this device here." He lifted the strange machine he held in one hand. "This is a Maelstrom Vacuum, invented by Paradox with the purpose of collecting Maelstrom samples. XERRD has been harvesting these samples from this temple for use in our experiments, as well as using it to keep the Maelstrom's power in check."

"You may proceed, Dr. Bishop," said Señor Palomar, nodding. "We'll take care of these Dino Attack agents for you."

Wallace Bishop stiffened and raised his hand. "I shall refrain from battle. Kate! I suggest you do likewise, my dear; it's too dangerous for you. And, I swear to the First Builders, if anyone dares to lay a finger on her, I don't care if you are a Dino Attack agent or a high-ranking XERRD scientist... you will pay dearly. Mark my words." With that, he turned away from the others and approached the Maelstrom vortex.

"Rotor," ordered Amanda, "let go of Kate now."

Rotor complied, but this time it was because he knew that he would be a better fighter against the XERRD scientists if he did not have one arm occupied with Kate.

"Kate," whispered Rex, "Dr. Bishop is right; it's too dangerous for you. Stand back and stay out of the battle... should we fall, I need to depend on you to warn the rest of the team."

"Alright then," announced Walter Breen, "you all do battle... I'll just stand here and supervise-"

"Nein!" snapped Zed Provhezor, grabbing Dr. Breen with his mechanical arm. "You vill do juzt vine on ze vront linez!"

Michelle Glados walked slowly and calmly towards the Dino Attack agents, with a rocket launcher in one hand and her teleportation device in the other hand. A hint of a sadistic smile appeared on her face as she declared in her ever-monotonous voice: "This is the part where we kill you."

The battle for the Maelstrom Temple had begun.

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam
Fixed typo.

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Chapter 46: Redemption

----

Katerina slowly stood, looking sadly at the late Gahiji Thutmose. Despite her misgivings about him before awakening from her fictional life as Kat, she had nothing but respect for the man. Here was someone who, like her, had set himself a goal and dedicated his entire being to it. The only difference was that Dust saw his goal achieved -- in barely more than three decades, at that -- and after almost eighty years of life, Katerina was no longer sure she ever would see her own success.

She would miss this kindred spirit.

"Great!" Lance remarked. "This is just wonderful, isn't it? The one guy who knew this temple is dead. What chance do we have now?"

At that moment, Lance thought he heard something, and promptly turned and drew his gun.

"Well, that's just prime," Dr. Cyborg said. He looked around the room, then continued. "This is all we got for the price we paid. Now I really want my refund. This price was too high."

He then looked to Lutsky. "Lutsky, I think I have the right and power to arrest you on the spot for murder. Former Commander Lutsky, on a charge of murder, I hereby place you..."

*****

Nazareno nodded as he watched Zelda Frodongan slowly walk across the room. Every step she took was a shaking, unstable one. She occasionally lost her balance and collapsed, but quickly pulled herself back up and continued walking. To the side, several doctors were writing down observations in her movement. Nazareno smirked slightly.

She is their ideal guinea pig, Nazareno noted. The first-ever cured Stromling had to be put under various tests to see any changes her wellbeing, including her motor skills. Nazareno only hoped he could get Zelda alone so he could begin helping her train her mind against the Maelstrom. The other doctors wanted to find a way to completely flush out the Maelstrom, but Nazareno felt it was unlikely to happen. The Maelstrom is extremely powerful, and Nazareno could easily see it holding a grudge against those who managed to escape much of its wrath by hanging over their head for the rest of their lives.

Nazareno stirred uncomfortably. He placed a hand on his stomach. The Maelstrom wound pulsed impatiently and rapidly. He had intended to talk to a doctor about it, but the issue of Zelda had overshadowed concern for his own wellbeing. The wound needed to addressed soon.

"Alright," Dr. Saran said as Zelda completed her course. "That's good. Take a break for a bit." Zelda nodded slowly and went to sit on her bed. Nazareno walked over to her. She was panting heavily as she looked up to the approaching space ninja.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

Zelda nodded quickly. "Yes," she gasped between pants. "My body just took a good beating from the Maelstrom and it is still recovering." Nazareno nodded. He was glad to Zelda was calmer and more laid back compared to her first revival.

"That reminds me," Nazareno said, remembering the moments before Zelda became a Stromling again. "You were about to say something earlier about the Maelstrom before you became a Stromling." She looked at him, confused. "About the Maelstrom Temple? Hotep III's temple? Pharaoh's ruins? Ring a bell?"

She continued to look at him with a puzzled look. Suddenly, she jumped. "Oh my gosh!" she yelled in realization. "I remember. The Temple of Hotep III isn't the Maelstrom Temple!"

Nazareno mouth dropped underneath his mask. "Are you sure?" Nazareno asked slowly, fearing the worst. "Are you sure the Maelstrom isn't just messing with your mind?"

Zelda shook her head hurriedly. "No! The Temple of Creation is the Maelstrom Temple! My last message from Zach said he and the other Stromling were building up forces primarily at the pharaoh's ruins to trick the Dino Attack into thinking the Maelstrom Temple was Hotep III's Temple. It was a trap!"

"Coupled with the fact that a XERRD scientist we were tracking lead us there, it seemed everything had worked out in the Maelstrom's favor," Nazareno noted. He knew he should have expected this, and yet it was still unexpected. The Dino Attack had walked into another trap set up by the enemy. Rather, both enemies had leaded them into a trap.

"Stay here," he said Zelda as he turned. "I need to find Windows and inform him of this new development."

Garry's attention was drawn towards the noise of footsteps running. Turning around the hallway, he saw the familiar face... or rather, mask of Kareem Nazareno. "What's going on?" Garry asked.

"I need to find Windows," replied Nazareno. "It's incredibly urgent."

"Why?" asked Garry. "What's going on?"

"The whole thing is a trap," explained Nazareno. "Do you know where he is?"

"Of course," replied Garry. "He's in the radio room, where I left him. Come on."

Windows lay back in his chair, his headphones around his neck, half asleep when his attention was suddenly drawn by Garry.

"What's going on?" Windows asked as he turned and noticed the somewhat-intimidating space ninja standing in the doorway.

"Get on the radio, quickly," replied Garry. "Our friend here just discovered something about the Maelstrom Temple."

"I've just spent a full two hours trying to reach them," said Windows. "I can't get in touch with Hertz. I keep trying, but he won't acknowledge, and I can't seem to reach Znap out there, and I'm starting to think that nobody's been able to reach anybody on this whole MegaBlokin' island, man!"

*****

"... under arrest," Dr. Cyborg finished. He was relieved. No earthquake had knocked him off his feet, stopping him from arresting Lutsky. He was supposed to arrest him.

He looked around for something to use as handcuffs.

"Here," Lance said as he took off his belt. "Use this."

Dr. Cyborg cinched the belt tight around Lutsky's hands. "You will be held on trial for murder when we return to camp. You will tell us where your weapons are on your person. You will not try to escape. If you do, your sentence will be worse. Do you understand?"

Lutsky sullenly nodded in the affirmative.

"Now," Dr. Cyborg said, "on to more pressing matters. Where is the true Maelstrom Temple? It is most likely the Temple of Creation, but are there any other temples in the area that could be a host?"

"No, I believe it had been narrowed down to those two," said Septimus. "So it must be the Temple of Creation."

"In which case, we must return to the others immediately," Katerina said quickly and firmly.

"What about Andrew and Minerva?" Lance exclaimed. "We should try to find them too."

Katerina shook her head in disagreement. "We can't afford to linger here another minute," she said. "If indeed they are still alive, they can find an exit themselves."

"That's not something Kat would have said," Septimus muttered.

Katerina shot the Ogel Drone a dirty look. "'Kat' was a fiction. A pale, distorted reflection of my past self, serving as a mask behind which I could keep myself safe, no more a real person than a machine." Dr. Cyborg raised an eyebrow with just a touch of indignation, but said nothing, instead focusing on securing Lutsky's restraints. "With that said, are we going to stand here all day?"

"Well then, we should probably get to the real Maelstrom temple," Dr. Cyborg said.

They quickly backtracked, made easier given that the boss had been defeated. They reached the outside of the temple, and surveyed the battle.

"Nothing will get us there fast enough," Katerina said.

"That is where you are wrong," Dr. Cyborg countered. He indicated a strange ship flying around the battlefield. He signaled it to land. It did, and they boarded. Dr. Cyborg fastened the belt to one of the hand straps hanging from the ceiling.

"To the Creation Temple!" he yelled to Kara. "It's the real Maelstrom Temple!" Even with the damper fields on, they could still feel the acceleration. Dr. Cyborg sent an AAB:

The temple of Hotep III is empty! The Temple of Creation is the real Maelstrom temple!
Dr. Cyborg

The ship landed ten minutes later. Everybody, even Lutsky, offloaded.

"Let's go," Dr. Cyborg said. 

*****

Hertz's eye opened slowly and saw smoke filling the cabin. He felt disoriented and noticed blood dripping down his temple. His left eye was swollen shut and he smelt something burning.

A black cloud sounded him. An electrical fire was consuming the entire Renaissance, and the heat agonized his open wounds. The techie struggled to move but screamed in pain as something in his right bicep snapped. His arm was broken.

I have to get out of here.

Smoke billowed around him, and the metal floor had become burning hot. It hurt to touch the steel, and his fingertips started to blister with every burn.

I have to get out of here.

He knew this would happen. Everyone knew that an inexperienced desk jockey like himself would not last a minute in this brutal battlefield. He would not see Naomi again; he had never gotten a chance to say goodbye before he had been sent off to war.

That resolve strengthened him. He would not submit to his fate; he would make every effort to see her again, and he would not give up until he held her in his arms.

With his good hand, Hertz tore loose some strips of his clothing to tie around his hands. It would protect them for some extent. His next step was to orient himself. The smoke billowed around him, and the embers scorched his eyes. It was impossible to make out what side was up and what side was down with his eyes were closed shut form the smoke. He simply crawled in whatever direction he best guessed was the starboard doorway.

The broken Renaissance had fallen at a steep angle, and she leaned considerably to her right. What started as a crawl ended with Hertz falling out the door and landing painful on his broken arm.

He was still incredibly disoriented as he crawled away from the wreckage. The Renaissance had become a burnt-out skeleton of a ship. Fire consumed the craft from every orifice, and Hertz signed as the incredible craft met her end.

The ground shook. Through his blurred vision, he could make out a massive green form stalking around the crash site. It gave out a terrible roar and nosed the craft with its great muzzle. Sparks flew and embers ascended to the sky.

The Mutant T-Rex that had brought the Renaissance down still lived. His first reaction was fear but he had learned enough to not draw attention to himself. He lay in his miserable state and prayed that the monster would leave.

Then screams came from the cockpit. The canopy flew off and Lucky staggered out. Hertz could see that the pilot had a severe limp, but that fact that he was yelling would prove to be his last mistake. The T-Rex instantly noticed the movement and descended on the unfortunate man.

Lucky wailed in agony as the clawed foot dug into his back. With its prey pinned to the ground, the T-Rex ripped off his abdomen and gulped the first half of the pilot up in its furnace-like maw.

Lucky screamed until the end, and Hertz vomited. The T-Rex commenced to eat the rest of the pilot's remains before lifting its nose to seek more of the sweet man flesh.

The Mutant's nostrils flared as it caught Hertz's scent. Lifting its nose to the wind, it tracked the techie's crawl to safety.

Hertz's eyes went wide with panic. He could not move and he had no weapon. He was totally defenseless, and he knew that if it did not think of something, he would surely die.

Beside him lay a canister of air. The absurdity of a conveniently placed air tank aside, he quickly picked it up with his good arm. Chances are that the canister had fallen from an aircraft during the battle. It was unorthodox but it would have to do.

The T-Rex caught sight of Hertz and opened its mouth in anticipation. Hertz cringed at the toothy grin and backed away. He could still not see very well and his arm still caused great pain, but he soon found himself against the temple wall.

The T-Rex was savoring its meal and walked slowly to its prey. He opened his pocket and pulled his wire cutters.

And then the T-Rex charged. Hertz rolled aside as the monster bit into the wall where he just sat. His arm cracked more, but he brushed aside the pain and shoved the air canister as deep into the mutant's gullet as possible.

His hand was slashed open on one of the T-Rex's teeth, and blood splashed from the wound. Yelling from the laceration, he withdrew his hand and stabbed with the wire cutters. The T-Rex bellowed in anger and withdrew.

Hertz held his hand against his chest and crawled as fast as he could manage from the fight. Behind him, the T-Rex regained its composure and pursued its hapless victim. It came close to his legs but Hertz quickly kicked the snout away.

I need a gun.

His luck was proving good today. Not only had an air canister fell from the sky, but a rifle was soon within reach. He pried it from a dead man's hands and took aim.

The T-Rex circled and charged. Hertz pulled the trigger but missed substantially. His left eye was still swollen shut and his shooting skills were never that good to begin with. Regardless he pulled the trigger again and hit the T-Rex in the chest.

Hertz grunted and raised the gun. The monster kept coming and would be upon him in a moment. He placed his eye to the scope and took aim.

"Smile, you son of a-"

He fired a shot and hit the canister still hanging from the T-Rex mouth. It exploded and the mutant's head was obliterated. The momentum carried the creature several more yards before it finally fell at Hertz's feet. 

*****

Colonel suddenly revealed a small smile, almost undisturbed by his imminent death. Vinyaya frowned. "What's so funny?"

"You," Colonel said, standing straight and putting his left stump behind his back. "You think you have won, don't you, Commander?"

"Well, you are missing one hand, the other hand keeps you up right, and you have a pegleg," Vinyaya noted, unimpressed. "I'd say that you are pretty much beaten."

"Merely flesh wounds," Colonel responded, smirking. "You are correct, Commander Vinyaya. You have bested a cripple. Congratulations." His blatant sarcasm irritated Vinyaya to no end. "The Maelstrom has won, Vinyaya. You have lost and have effectively doomed the LEGO Planet."

"We do have people in the temple, you know. Not much longer until this temple is leveled."

"Wrong," Colonel said, his smile widening. "Your strike team will be sorely to find that this temple isn't the source of the Maelstrom on Adventurers' Island. It was a lie."

Vinyaya was speechless. "Wh-wh-what?!" she finally stammered.

Colonel laughed as he began to walk toward her. "It is Quadrant 14 all over again! You bumbling fools! You really trusted a XERRD scientist with leading you to the correct temple? Yes, almost exactly like Quadrant 14. Being tricked by XERRD by into heading to a trap on their advice. Will you ever learn?"

"Your forces weren't nearly as crippling as what supposedly went down in the Goo Caverns," Vinyaya retorted.

Colonel merely laughed again. "It doesn't matter! The Maelstrom and XERRD have delayed you long enough for things to get into gear. XERRD's top scientists on this island will be defeated and the Maelstrom will finally begin its true takeover of this planet. You have lost, Commander."

Vinyaya couldn't believe it. Everything that occurred here was a waste. "You're lying," she said shakily. "This can't be true."

"It is true," Colonel scoffed. "Keep denying it, slime. Not going to change a thing. Perhaps if your team had managed to secure that Maelstrom Crystal, you wouldn't have fallen into this trap. Perhaps it isn't entirely XERRD's fault. I suppose it's also those two minifigs who had the crystal that ultimately lead to your destruction. What a pity."

Before Vinyaya realized what had happened, she felt a sharp kick in her shin, dropping her to her knees. Colonel tilted her head upward so she could look at his scarred face. Colonel smiled wider at the pained expression on her face.

"You wasted your opportunity. I was going to martyr myself and allow you escape. But you were clearly not prepared for my news, so I think I'll live a few minutes longer. It has been nice meeting you, Commander." He shoved Vinyaya to the ground with his foot. He limped over near her fallen head and raised his boot again.

"What an unglamorous way to die," Colonel said coldly. "For nothing." Colonel brought his foot down on Vinyaya's face. She quickly succumbed to the darkness.

*****

"What did I do?" Minerva demanded angrily as she backed away from Zach. She had somehow found the nerve to talk back to him. "If there is anyone you should kill, it should be that guy!" She pointed at Ahua.

Zach's eyes narrowed. "Yes, yes," Zach said impatiently. "I am aware of that. I knew he wanted to kill me, but I didn't not expect him to bring you in to do his dirty work."

"Wha- He wants to kill you?!" Minerva was flabbergasted, looking back at the concentrating Ahua.

"Yes. He sees me as a threat to his power. I think he figured you would hold some influence over my actions." To this, Zach chuckled darkly. "However, his information is severely outdated. I stand before you now, clearly anxious to kill you where you stand. He most likely expected me to submit to you or to be distracted by you long enough to kill me." He chuckled again. "Rather cute, wouldn't you think?"

Minerva's back was against the wall, staring at Zach. He seemed completely undisturbed by the assassination attempt on him. In fact, he was clearly amused by the attempt.

"Don't worry," Zach cackled darkly. "I will kill Ahua after I'm finished with you. That much I am sure of." The two minifigs were silent, staring at each other intently. Minerva kept her gaze on Zach, but kept an eye on his Cosmotronic Ray at his side. Why wasn't he attacking?

"You know Minifig!Zach's plan, right?" Minerva suddenly asked. Zach bared his teeth in disgust, but nodded. "What was it, exactly?"

"Oh, this should be crushing," Zach said giddily. "It was a rather interesting plan. One so inconceivably selfish and self-centered that it even impressed the Maelstrom. He intended to have you killed right in front of him. Not by his own arm, but by another Stromling, perhaps even Ahua. He was thinking the shock and grief would've broken him free of the Maelstrom control. Rather pitiful. It wouldn't have worked, naturally. It would've cemented his place by the Baron's side forever."

Minerva was shocked at this revelation. "No way," she said slowly. "He wouldn't do that..."

Zach laughed loudly. "So confident in Zach's love, aren't we?" he boasted, his voice become extremely distorted, taking on a deeper tone than his regular voice. "Foolish. The Zach you thought you knew is dead. His true personality has been revealed thanks to my assistance: a manipulative, selfish minifig who only needed you, Minerva Fabello, to escape my power. You came here to die, nothing more."

Minerva didn't say anything. She refused to believe what the Maelstrom was telling her.

Zach smiled a charmingly evil smile at Minerva and then glanced at Andrew's body. "As much as I wish to kill you right now," he said, "I am interested to see what is going on in Andrew's head. He seems rather conflicted, doesn't he?"

Minerva stared blankly at him, not knowing what he was referring too.

Zach rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes. You couldn't hear the conversation." Zach shrugged. "Your loss. Yes, perhaps I will see what it going inside his fascinating little head..."

*****

"Who's that?" Jackson asked. He picked up his binoculars and looked toward the wreckage of the Renaissance to see a figure crawling away from the wreckage.  "Hey, Hotwire," Jackson said as he handed him the binoculars. "I think there's a survivor."

"We're not going," Snake replied coldly. "He's probably a Stromling. We got no way of telling for sure."

"It's Hertz," Hotwire said. "We got to help him."

"No," insisted Snake. "We don't have a chance."

Hotwire's PDA alerted him of Dr. Cyborg's all-agents bulletin, and when he read it, his blood ran cold. The others had the same reaction. They piled into the Fire Hammer -- Jackson, Hotwire, and Dactyl in the cab, Snake on the turret, and Cabin and Helm in the bed of the truck, clinging to the roof of the cab.

"Get to Hertz," Dactyl said. "Maybe we can get him out of here too." Jackson nodded and floored the gas pedal.

As the Fire Hammer sped towards the injured techie, Hotwire tuned into the open comm channel. "To anyone who didn't get Cyborg's message, Hotep's Temple is empty! This was all a red herring, and the Maelstrom is actually located in the Temple of Creation! Repeat, the Temple of Creation is the real Maelstrom Temple!"

Jackson swerved, and the Fire Hammer screeched to a halt next to Hertz. Helm and Cabin leapt off the back, grabbed the injured agent, and passed him into the cab, where Dactyl and Hotwire received him. Dactyl moved out of the cab and onto the back with Cabin and Helm, and Hotwire began trying to assess Hertz's injuries. Jackson spun the Fire Hammer around, and they sped off back into the jungle with the rest of the forces.

*****

B looked down at his PDA and scowled at the incoming message.

"Well, MegaBlok. No transportation, three, wait... no, four... agents who are... not fit to travel, and everyone's speeding away... I can't leave these guys here..."

B staggered a few steps forward, and then pulled out the mic on his headset. "Attention... Dino Attack personnel... Find us... Three Dino Attack guys and one Agent... Help."

B searched the unconscious bodies of his friends and luckily found a flare gun. He pointed it at the sky and shot it, knowing full well that something would find him, friendly or otherwise.

"So, will I live... Or die?" wondered B. "I don't think I... really care... anymore. Ow... my head."

B fell to the ground, unconscious.

*****

As the Reclaimer speed across the dark jungle, Carl Lutsky brooded in the passenger compartment with his hands bound. Around him Septimus, Schattenberg, Williams, and Doctor Cyborg hurried to prepare the craft for the approaching fight.

Dust had betrayed them; these people were under the delusion that the Egyptian might have had a ray of good in him, but Lutsky doubted it. It amazed him that they had bound his hands. He was not dangerous; he had only killed a madman.

Lutsky smiled. These people have no idea what I have done for them, he thought. My methods may not have been the most moral, but with hindsight, they would hail me as a hero.

The Egyptian had ruined him; he had destroyed the Dino Attack and had no redeeming qualities in the former commander's eyes. He had to die, and shooting him was the only way to end him.

They may call me crazy, thought Lutsky. But I'm the sanest person on this island. Carl Lutsky was embarrassed that no one else had stepped up to plate. Dust should have been killed a long time ago, but the people around him had not the stomach to pull the trigger. Once again, he had to do the dirty work. It was not popular, but they would thank him later.

Oh yes, they will thank me later. Lutsky smiled. I might even be made an elite agent for my actions.

Dust had been a monster, an embodiment of evil, and he had filled his body with bullets. The Egyptian's body would rot where it had unceremoniously fallen. He envisioned it turning gray as it decomposed, and soon the white bone would be the only evidence that there had ever been a man named Gahiji Thutmose.

The thought gave him glee and he let out a little giggle.

*****

Bluetooth's eyes widened in horror, and he could hear the rear gunner emit an audible gasp.

The messages coming in were a shocking revelation. All this effort and sacrifice, all for a classic red herring trap? It was horrifying, disheartening, and reminded him all too much of previous missions' downturns.

He turned to Semick. He was sitting still for a moment, processing the message, then, with fierce quickness, he grabbed his mic and began making more talk, to both Dino Attack and the remaining Agents forces.

"If you haven't heard already, I'll let you know. We've been misled. This temple has been a diversion to divert our attention. As such, all of you must make immediate efforts to reach the Temple of Imagination. I know we've been fighting hard and lost good allies, but we must focus on the battle that remains. Elite Agent Rex and several other trusted agents are there now, and are likely in great peril. It's up to us to save them. To save ourselves. To save our planet."

Bluetooth could begin to hear a sense of anger coming from his commanding agent. Anger from the frustration and strain this role was clearly putting on him. It made him a bit fearful, actually.

"The enemy has misled us, and I say it's time we see to it that both the Maelstrom AND Dr. Rex's XERRD buddies that they don't want to see us when we're reacting to being tricked for the umpteenth time at such a crucial moment! Everyone to the Temple of Imagination! For Rex! For Dino Attack! For everything and everyone you care for! For all the LEGO Planet!"

And they were quickly off, the T-1 Typhoon turning fiercely, charging through the remaining Mutant Pterosaurs as Semick set his sight on the direction of the second temple. And as he did so, he opened communications again, this time trying to reach Dust's team. "Dust, this is Semick. What is your team's status?"

There was a pause, and after a few seconds, Semick asked again: "Dust, this is Semick. What-"

"This is Dr. Cyborg speaking," said the voice of someone other than Dust. "I'm sorry to report tha-"

"I understand," said Semick. "But please, Dr. Cyborg, tell me what happened down there. And make it quick, if you can."

*****

"You heard the man, all of you, GO!" Rockford cried as his Fire Hammer's driver sped through the remaining Dino Attack vehicles and Mutant Dino forces.

Fortunately, it seemed that the vehicles were responding. Some were reporting to stay behind, mostly to defend wounded and inspect what could be done with the downed vehicles (particularly the Renaissance; some of the techie agents were quite bemoaning about losing it), but the bulk of their forces were quickly turning tail, fighting through the Mutant Dino forces back to the path they had taken from the outposts.

Rockford observed with awe and respect as he watched the agents under "his" partial leadership. One Iron Predator had swung its cannon at a Mutant Raptor trying to charge it like a bat, sending it flying as it sped off. An agent in what looked like a racing helmet was speeding a Steel Sprinter over and through Mutant Lizards like a weaver through cloth. One of the remaining T-1 Typhoon was even keeping watch as an Urban Predator kept coming up on enemies, which seemed to imply the vehicles were being used by close buddies.

The sights made Rockford grin. Even as the odds were appearing to get more and more against him, he couldn't help but feel optimistic that the Maelstrom was truly picking the wrong fight.

"Seems odd that we haven't heard that Zach guy lately," said the driver. "I'd figure he'd be giving another one of those annoying loud mocking rants by now, given the relative success of their trickery."

"Perhaps he's occupied," suggested Laxus. "Maybe something... or someone... has caught up to him and is handling him right now."

"Maybe," the driver said with a disbelieving chuckle. "Sounds like a pretty suicidal move to me, in my opinion."

*****

Snake was quick to point his gun towards Hertz as soon as he saw the injured techie.

"What's all this about?" asked Hertz.

"Just a precaution," replied Snake. "How do I know you're not a Stromling?" 

Hotwire opened his mouth to protest, but then stopped short. Snake had a very good point. After all, he himself hadn't suspected Phoenix and Cyrus at all.

Cabin, therefore, was the first to disagree with Snake. "I think we can be fairly certain that Hertz is not a Stromling. The transformation takes enough time that Zach was able to warn us when he was infected, and Hertz would have done the same. The only way around that would be to assume that he's always been a Stromling and simply hasn't revealed himself yet."

Now Hotwire spoke up. "That is a possibility, though. What about Ghost?"

Hertz, in the meantime, was looking increasingly unsettled. 

"I don't want to take any chances," declared Snake. "I say we kill him now."

"We're not going to kill him," insisted Hotwire. "Not until we're certain."

"Alright," muttered Snake, keeping his rifle on Hertz. "We'll bring him back to camp, give him some tests." 

"There's no time," Cabin protested. "We have to get to the Temple of Creation."

"I agree," said Hotwire. "Rex, Amanda, Kate, and Rotor are in there with no backup, and Amanda and Rotor are the only ones in that group who can actually fight."

"And I'd trust Rotor about as far as I can throw an Iron Predator," Jackson added. "We'll just have to be cautious. Snake, you keep an eye on Hertz the whole time, just in case."

"Actually, I think it would be better if I were to do that. I'm not really fit for combat on the ground," Hotwire said, gesturing at his leg replacement. "If he's clean, he's not going anywhere with those injuries. If he is a Stromling, though, I promise you he won't get far."

"If you would stop talking about me like I'm not here for just a moment," said Hertz, "isn't there any way I can prove to you that I'm not a Stromling?" 

Snake sighed, and lowered his gun before placing a cigarette in his mouth. "Alright, Hertz" he muttered. "I'll let you live... for now, but if you try anything, I'm gonna kill you."

*****

Dr. Strangebrick looked up in surprise as Garry entered the planning room. "You said you wanted to help us?" asked Garry.

"Yes," replied Strangebrick.

"Good," said Garry. "We need you on two fronts. You've experimented with the Maelstrom, have you not?"

"Yes," replied Strangebrick. "Small doses."

"Then you can help us," said Garry. "In the infirmary, we got a young woman who's just been freed from the Maelstrom's control. Our experts are trying to figure out what to do about the remaining energy."

"I see," said Strangebrick. "What's the second thing?"

"We just found out something from our friend. Apparently, our men on the field were completely misled and are heading to the right temple, the one with the Maelstrom. I think you can provide me with information."

*****

With one hand, Rex gripped as tightly as he could to the armrest of his wheelchair. With the other, he struggled to aim his Sonic Screamer. He was being pushed by Amanda Claw at an uncomfortably fast speed, and with good reason.

Miniature rockets rained down upon the small group of Dino Attack agents, exploding as they touched the stone floor and leaving small craters in their wake. Luckily, Amanda and Rotor seemed to be always one step ahead of them, but the temple chamber had been turned into a battlefield that threatened to leave them shellshocked. Rotor and Rex both did their best to provide cover for Amanda, who could not fight well while pushing a wheelchair.

The XERRD missiles were not their only concern. The sorcerers blasted dark Maelstrom magic at the trio, and some of the spells were accurate enough to singe their uniforms like purple flames. That one XERRD scientist who appeared to be a shinobi had an uncanny ability to emerge from the shadows, swipe at the agents with his katana, and vanish again before they could react. Similarly, Michelle Glados would suddenly appear in a flash of blue light, but disappear in a flash of orange light before they could get close enough to attack her.

Out of the corner of his eye, Rex kept watch on the Bishops. Kate, who appeared quite horrified, was backed against a pillar near the chamber's exit, but petrified by her fear and unable to move. Wallace, on the other hand, stood before the Maelstrom vortex itself, placed the Maelstrom Vacuum device on the stone floor, and already began to activate it. Luckily, it seemed that the XERRD scientists had taken Wallace's threat to heart, since they completely ignored Kate.

"What are you all doing?" Rex heard Walter Breen shouting. "Did you all graduate from Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy? We're not up against an army of Dino Attack agents; this is just three agents, and one of them is in a wheelchair for crying out loud!"

"Zilenze!" snapped Zed Provhezor, who floated around the chamber in his hover-chair while firing at the Dino Attack agents. "Pikk up a rokket launcher yourzelv iv you are zo unzatizvied!"

"Oh, please!" scoffed Dr. Breen. "Our benefactor would not approve of th-" He ducked as nearly half a dozen rockets came his way.

The shinobi emerged from the shadows again, but this time Rotor was close enough to knock the scientist back with the butt of his gun. Then, Amanda saw Señor Palomar taking aim at them with his double pistols, and as she tried to maneuver Rex out of his firing range, Michelle Glados suddenly appeared in a flash of blue light and dropped a grenade. She was gone before it hit the floor, at which point it detonated. The generated shockwave sent the Dino Attack agents flying.

Rex landed hard on the floor several meters away, his wheelchair clattering beside him. Dazed from the miniature explosion, he struggled to do a push up and lift his torso off the floor. Amanda Claw was already back on her feet and ran towards him, slashing at a nearby XERRD scientist with her knife.

However, Dr. Provhezor arrived first. He reached down and hoisted Rex up with his mechanical arm, sneering like a weasel. "Veelchairz," Zed said, laughing mockingly. "Zuch outdated tekhnology. Kripplez like you should ztay out ov ze battlevield!"

"Look who's talking," muttered Rex, and he proceeded to punch Dr. Provhezor in the face. Stunned for an instant, Provhezor let go of Rex, unintentionally dropping the Dino Attack agent in his hover-chair. It took Rex a half-second to realize his position, and an epiphany came over him. He tried to push Provhezor out of the hover-chair, but the XERRD scientist had recovered from his shock and pushed back. Rex accidentally pushed a button, causing the hover-chair to start flying around chaotically. What followed was a bizarre wrestling match in an out-of-control hover-chair as two crippled Minifigs tried to shove the other out of the chair.

Amanda watched in horror and wished to help Rex, but she and Rotor had their own worries as the XERRD scientists continued to rain missiles and magic upon them. They dodged the projectiles and pushed their way through a crowd of space marauders and sorcerers, with Amanda slashing with her knife and Rotor firing his machine gun. Just as Amanda got close enough to the fight in the hover-chair, a flash of orange light sent her to the far side of the chamber, next to a trembling Kate Bishop.

Amanda cursed silently, but still managed to smile gently at Kate in an attempt to comfort her. Out of the corner of her eye, movement down the hall of the Maelstrom Temple caught her attention. Frowning, she turned her head in that direction, and then her eyes widened in surprise.

Coming down the hall, approaching the temple's main chamber, was a figure who was clad in samurai armor and appeared to be wearing a long, black cloak that seemed torn and frayed at the edges.

*****

"-and get out!" Captain Brickhouse barked at Wheatley, throwing his bruised Stromling body out of the helicopter. He grimaced as his former ally fell and hit the ground with a loud thud. Brickhouse turned back to the inside of the helicopter. France, his technician, laid dead on the floor. Brickhouse sighed angrily and returned to the cockpit.

"Everything is fine over here," he said into the radio. "I've dealt with the hijacking. However, I've lost my entire crew. I'm going to land."

"Go ahead," an Agent responded. "We'll send have some guys fill up your empty ranks."

"Thank you." As Brickhouse began to bring the Aerial Defense Unit in for a landing, he began to address the Dino Attack agents in the air. "Now, I heard something about a Stromling named Virchaus. As in Zachary Virchaus? Red hair, glasses?"

"Spot on," a Dino Attack Agent said. "How do you know him?"

"I helped mentor him during his employment with the Agents," Brickhouse said. "We were close partners. I was disappointed that he resigned to join the Dino Attack Team, but I couldn't stop him. He was rather... um... upset over the Agents intervention in the Goo Caverns."

"Rightfully so!" another Dino Attack agent responded. "That was a low blow, you no-good-"

"That's enough," Brickhouse said sternly. "No need to dig up the past. So, he really is a Stromling?"

"Yes. He's destroyed our camp and equipment and has killed tons of us! He needs to be taken out soon."

"Yes..." Thaddeus drifted off. He had quite enjoyed Zach when he had known him. Poor soul. Doomed to be an evil little monster for the rest of his life. He sighed as his helicopter landed in the battlefield.

*****

Vinyaya wished she had stayed unconscious. Death was more preferable than the current situation at hand.

She grunted again as Colonel slammed his boot into her face again. She faded out into unconsciousness yet again, and quickly returned to feel the full pain of Colonel's stomp. Her nose was broken felt extremely dizzy with a massive headache. Signs of a concussion. Vinyaya gasped in pain as Colonel's foot collided with her head again. Despite her current longing for death, she fought to stay conscious. To stay alive.

One last slam of the foot. Vinyaya groaned as she rolled to side. She could hear Colonel's heavy breathing above her. "Get up," he hissed. Vinyaya tried to push herself up, but extreme disorientation prevented this. Colonel scoffed. "Disappointing. I've done worse to my own troops back in the LEGOLAND Army and they could hop to their feet in a matter of seconds. The Space Police must not be as high and mighty as its propaganda makes it out to be."

Colonel kicked Vinyaya's back. Her armor absorbed much of the attack, but between falling out of the Renaissance and getting beaten to death by a Stromling, it no longer could do its job properly. A sharp blade of pain shot up her spine.

"Get up!" Colonel demanded. Vinyaya tried, but collapsed yet again. "Pathetic!" He kicked her again. Vinyaya screamed out in pain, rolling on to her back to protect it. Colonel glared down at her, not amused. Vinyaya let out a small sob. Colonel seemed to gain no satisfaction from watching Vinyaya suffer. For some reason, that made the pain even worse.

"GET UP!" Colonel barked, clearly furious.

"Why?!" Vinyaya gasped. "Just kill me! Please!"

Colonel shook his head, his scowl deepening. "You think this is pain?!" Colonel hissed, leaning in close the broken commander's face. "You don't the meaning of pain. Perhaps you need to learn it." Colonel leaned back and sharply jabbed his pegleg into Vinyaya's stomach. She screamed again, desperately trying to shove the Maelstrom-reinforced prosthetic off her.

He finally lifted up, only to kick her side. She rolled over and found Colonel's boot into her cheek. She coughed, spitting blood out on to the ground. She moaned and curled into a ball. All she had within her was gone but pain and hope; hope that pain would fade away.

"Get up," Colonel commanded quietly. Vinyaya rolled on to her stomach and desperately pushed herself up. After much struggling, she suddenly and miraculously found herself on her feet. She swayed to the side, extremely dizzy. She turned to face Colonel, wiping the blood from her mouth.

*****

Garry was quick to approach Nazareno. He looked him carefully in the eye, or rather the little slits inserted into his mask so he could see.

"Listen," Garry said. "We got to act fast. If what Zelda said is true and Windows can't warn them, we got to get to the real Maelstrom temple and provide Rex with cover. The only trouble is that we're understaffed. There's you, me, Fuchs, the medics, a couple of prisoners, and maybe a handful of other agents still here. Now that we got a XERRD scientist working in the lab, I think somebody ought to keep an eye on him."

Nazareno nodded. "I'll stay here. As much as I'd like to go and see this monstrous power off this planet and to defeat XERRD, I am in no fit condition to go to the Maelstrom Temple."

Garry raised an eyebrow. "You seemed fine fighting Zelda earlier."

Again, Nazareno nodded. "Fighting here and fighting at the Maelstrom Temple are two different things. After Zach shot me in the XERRD Fortress a few days, he left a rather crippling wound. A Maelstrom-infected tumor on stomach. It slowly takes my life and tries to take my mind away from me. However, my willpower has prevented that from happening immediately. An area with a high Maelstrom concentration would do me it. Which is why it is essential that I train Zelda to fight the Maelstrom off mentally so she does not suffer a similar fate."

"Why haven't you spoken to a medic?" Garry asked.

"I've been busy with Zelda," Nazareno stated simply.

Garry sighed, but nodded. "Alright, you stay here and keep an eye out on that XERRD scientist. You think you can handle it?"

Nazareno smirked, though it was veiled underneath his mask. "I am not completely crippled. I can deal with one XERRD scientist in case he becomes unreasonable."

*****

Vinyaya saw Colonel before her. His metal pole was planted neatly in the ground in front of him. He leaned on it casually, staring at Vinyaya sternly. However, he was distorted greatly. Occasionally she'd see two of Colonel. The edges of her vision were blurred with purple and red.

"Come," the two Colonels gestured with his only good hand. She dizzily stepped toward him and tried to punch him. However, it ended up being a pathetic wave of the arm at him. He knocked the hand away easily. He scowled and suddenly kicked the commander in the chest. Vinyaya stumbled backward and landed on the ground on her back.

"...how...?" she muttered, the wind knocked out her. Colonel stood over her, resting the metal pole over his soldier. For the first time in a while, he smiled at her. A knowing, evil, and twisted smile. Vinyaya managed to scrambled back and sit up to see Colonel standing on his leg and pegleg effortlessly. Black and purple mist swarmed around his feet.

"How?" she asked, staring at his feet. "Hotwire lost his leg hours ago and he can't walk without crutch yet? You lost your leg probably an hour ago and you can stand up perfectly."

"So it would seem," Colonel said, chuckling. "Perhaps Hotwire doesn't have the Maelstrom on his side?" Vinyaya glanced at the mist again and then back at Colonel. He, with the pole still resting his hand, grabbed Vinyaya's arm and dragged her back to her feet. Vinyaya balanced herself just as Colonel stepped back and swung his pole into her stomach. The sound of metal slamming together deafened her and she doubled over, clutching her stomach. She coughed again, spitting out more blood.

"Already bleeding from the mouth?" Colonel asked, disappointed. "Disappointing. I truly did expect better. Especially since you are wearing that armor. You clearly have the advantage, and yet you let me step all over you. Since there is clearly no use for it, I think we'll just get rid of it." He jammed his pole repeatedly into her stomach, Vinyaya collapsed to the ground again as Colonel continued his onslaught.

Then: "Ah." He jammed his pole hard into her stomach, obviously into some sort of crack in her armor, and bent the pole back like a crowbar. The armor bent and creaked as Colonel pushed down. Finally, the plating broke free. Colonel swept the pieces aside. Underneath her armor was a simple blue jumpsuit with a Space Police emblem on her chest. She shivered as a blast of cold air slammed into her body.

"Perhaps you will learn to appreciate what you have," Colonel muttered. He then raised the club over his head and slammed it into Vinyaya's stomach. She screamed as searing pain shot throughout her body. Colonel swung several more times into her stomach, each hit more painful than the last.

"I've become bored with you," Colonel suddenly said as he suddenly diverted his path and slammed the pole into Vinyaya's chest. She cried again weakly, tears freely running down her face. "Perhaps it is time to kill you." Colonel shrugged. "Goodbye, Commander Vinyaya." He walked around her body until he was standing in front of her head. He raised the pole one last time.

Vinyaya felt her entire life shoot right through her life. Her childhood, her career, the Dino Attack, her short relationship with Logan Zekria, and finally her beating at the hands of Ernest Quartich. It was all about to end in one single blow.

No.

Holly Vinyaya was sure what possessed her to move; she had no energy left to move her hand. And yet she had suddenly and quickly rolled away as Colonel slammed the pole into the ground. She gasped in surprise. Colonel grunted as the energy created by the pole slamming into the hard ground traveled up and into his body.

"So," Colonel said. "You've decided to become interesting. Excellent. Perhaps you'll put up more of a fight." Vinyaya heard Colonel start walking toward her. She was about to roll away again when she felt something nudge her arm. She held in a gasp as she realized it was her gun she had dropped.

She pushed herself up weakly, concealing the gun with her right hand. Colonel stopped his approach. "Ah. So we do have some strength left. Get up." Vinyaya nodded and slowly climbed to her feet. Colonel tapped the pole with his good hand as an act of mock applause.

"Now face me," Colonel commanded darkly. Vinyaya quickly turned around and pointed the gun at Colonel. His eye widened as Vinyaya fired three times into his chest. He stumbled backward, clutching his chest and groaning. Vinyaya lowered the weapon, panting.

Colonel suddenly looked up and grinned as the Maelstrom swirled around the wounds. "I'm not finished yet!" Vinyaya shook her head and fired again, this time at his head. She fired the rest of the clip, each bullet landing in the Stromling's skull. As the weapon clicked, Colonel toppled backwards, silent.

Vinyaya limped to his body. His eye was open and colorless, all life had disappeared from it. She saw the Maelstrom slowly slide out of his body. Ernest Quartich was dead. She wanted make some sort of noise of relief or celebration, but nothing came to her. She raised her right foot once and slammed it as hard as she could into Colonel's bullet-ridden head. She felt deep satisfaction as she turned away from the Stromling's body.

She walked no more than 10 steps when she collapsed to her knees, the pain from her various wounds overwhelming her. "H-h-h-help!" she cried hoarsely and weakly out to the battlefield. She felt to her stomach, gasping. "Help!" she screamed louder, her voice cracking. She rested her head in the dirt and prayed to Builder someone would find her.

*****

Garry stepped outside and walked toward the vehicle lot. The place was mostly empty, save for a young man, probably in his mid-twenties with short hair. His clothes were simple, just a plain vest and shirt. He was busy working on the engines for a fire hammer.

"You a mechanic?" Garry asked.

"Yeah," replied the man. "I'm also a qualified pilot."

"Is that so?" asked Garry.

"Yeah," affirmed the man.

"Good," said Garry. "I got an urgent task. I need you to fly me out to the Maelstrom Temple - the real one. You got a name?"

"Palmer, sir."

"Palmer," repeated Garry. "Right. Do me a favor and see what little other help you can muster. Meet me back out here."

"Sure thing," replied Palmer.

With that, Garry returned to the radio room. "Windows," Garry asked as he entered, "any word from them?"

"None sir," reported Windows.

"Well, I hope Mac and the others are okay," sighed Garry. "Alright, Nazareno is busy overseeing research on the Maelstrom. Why don't you give him a hand?"

The other doctors turned in surprise as Garry walked into the lab accompanied by Windows. "What are you doing here?" Fuchs asked.

"Windows here is going to be helping out," replied Garry. "The radio's not working, we might as well put him to use. I figure you can use all the help you can get."

Garry momentarily shot a glance towards Strangebrick, who was busy writing something.

"Alright," Garry muttered. "Now where did Palmer get to?" 

*****

Catless was disengaging from the battle, preparing to go to the Temple of Creation when she heard a cry. "Help!" She saw a woman in a space police uniform. She picked her up, retrieved the body armor nearby, and wondered what to do with her.

Vinyaya was too disorientated to know who her savior was, but she was thankful nonetheless. However, she could feel Catless carrying her slow slightly. She realized the person carrying her was trying to recover her armor. She shook her head weakly.

"Leave it," she groaned. "It's broken and useless. Just find help." Catless obeyed hesitantly, dropping the armor and started to walk. The battle had died down significantly. Only a few Mutant Dinos and Stromlings remained in the fight and they were quickly being overwhelmed by the TumTum Tribe, the Matching Mummies, and the native Dinosaurs. However, the running engines from the various Dino Attack vehicles had all but completely disappeared.

"Where is everyone?" Vinyaya asked.

"Gone," Catless replied. "They've started heading toward the Temple of Creation. Turns out-"

"-it's the real Maelstrom Temple," Vinyaya completed. "Yeah, I've heard."

"We just need to find a ride out," Catless continued. "Though I think you need to go back to the outpost. I've noticed there has been very little signs of medics out here. I - HEY!" She yelled out. "WAIT UP!" Her pace picked up to a run. Vinyaya turned her head and saw her running for two Fire Hammers sitting near the edge of the jungle.

As they reached the Fire Hammers, Vinyaya heard a man with a slight Spanish accent grumbling angrily. "I told them the Maelstrom Temple was the Temple of Creation. Did they listen? No! And look where we are now! A wasted battle and wasted casualties! I want my revenge!"

"I'm sorry, but this isn't my fault," a voice responded impatiently. Vinyaya quickly connected the voice with Rockford. "Should we have followed a former enemy rather than a current enemy? Probably, but it's too late to change it. You'll get your 'revenge' soon, Villano. Just hold on." The lawyer turned toward the newcomers. "What's happened?"

"I don't know," Vinyaya's savior responded. "I found her next to a dead Stromling. She's pretty beat up."

"Good thing," the Martian Laxus said. "There is a medic with this group."

"Did someone mention a medic?" a calm, slightly high-pitched voice with the ghost of an Italian accent said. Vinyaya turned and saw a medic jumped down from one of the Fire Hammer. He had large, bushy black mustache with short brown hair topping his head. He had large, piercing blue eyes that showed a certain measure of kindness and pain. He wore a long white coat with both medical and Dino Attack emblems on his right sleeve. He walked over to Vinyaya and the other woman and his eyes widened as he observed the state of Vinyaya's wellbeing. "Yes, I think some medical attention is in ordered."

He carefully lifted Vinyaya out of the woman's hands. "My name is Dr. Marco Martinet," the man said warmly. "I think we should start heading toward the Temple of Creation. Is there anything left we need to do, Rockford?"

"I don't think so," Rockford responded. "Are you taking her to the temple?" He pointed at Vinyaya.

Dr. Martinet shrugged. "I should be able to clean her up quickly enough so she can help use out in the inevitable fight. Now, I suggest we head forward." 

*****

Andrew suddenly jerked up, realizing that he had been drifting off again.

He shook his head, quickly trying to reassess what he was doing. He was sitting at a table, an open book sitting right in front of him. Directly around him, several different books were placed around him. And surrounding his table, which was part of a long row of tables, was two quite tall, very long bookshelves, both filled to the brim. They stretched far off into the distance into blackness.

Now what was he doing... oh, yes. He had gone off to the Library to look up a few books for a report he needed to do on Oscar...

Andrew raised his hand to his forehead. That wasn't sounding right. There was something else, something more important, something to do with...

"Maelstrom!" He suddenly blurted out. And the memories of an Egyptian temple, several agents, a long fall, Minerva, mentions of YTP, and Zach came rushing back to him.

"Fully recovered yet?" said a familiar voice, in more ways than one.

Andrew looked behind him to see Semick standing behind him, leaning on the bookshelf. But it wasn't Semick. Andrew knew in his gut, and didn't need his oddly red eyes to tell him so, though they helped drive the point home for sure.

"Ugh... how long has it been?" Andrew asked.

"A week. Or a second. Or something. Time is weird in dream, ya know."

"Yeah, yeah." Andrew got up out of his seat. He sighed. "So where is that guy? Figure he's either setting up a trap or coming here to beat me up and then throw me in a mental prison or something silly."

"Oh, he's here," said his consciousness. "He's all around us in fact. Playing 'scary nonminifigoid entity' right now."

"Euh..." Andrew seemed lost. He looked around. He couldn't see anything. All there was the table, the selves, and the shadows surrounding the edges of every-

Oh.

"Interesting choice, I must admit," Andrew's consciousness said. "Reminds me of a good TV show we'll end up watching in a couple of years. Oh, that'll be fun. The place will be full of blue boxes and small oddly-colored horses all flying around in silliness."

"I'll ask later." Andrew stared at that darkness, observing now a slight purple tint. "Well?" he cried out. "Can we get this over with? I'm kinda busy with something back in the temple, ya know."

"Ooooh, what's the rush?" said his other "self". "I'm sure Minerva's got Zach okay. This is mostly her task, redeeming her lover and all that, right? And sure, the rest of the Dino Attack team's gotta rush off to the Temple of Creation to save the planet and all that, but I'm sure they can handle it. They've gotten along quite well without us for most of the-"

"Quiet, you."

"Yes, we do have to get a move on, don't we?" said the chilling voice Andrew recalled hearing just before getting knocked out. Its aura of menace rustled Andrew's goosebumps up a bit, but he did his best to ignore it. From above, the shadows seemed to pull down like May Day streamers, forming together quickly to take the shape of the Stromling Islander Zach had been with.

"So..." Andrew muttered as he felt some slight fringes of fear from this being, particularly its eyes. "I don't believe we were properly introduced. You are...?"

"Ahua. And don't get the wrong idea, it is we who are the one on top here, not Zach. We were the one who even helped to make him see the light. In a figure of speech, of course. And we don't think it will be hard to do the same for you, either."

"... Maybe, but let me say this much, Ahua. I think I'm a bit more different from Zach."

The being laughed with amusement. It was still as chilling as his eviler laugh from before. "Maybe so. You think more creatively than him, we will say. And you're optimistic about a lot of things, almost blindly so. You certainly know a lot as well. And you're also quite stubborn at times. But..."

The Stromling glared at Andrew's consciousness. "... this seems like an interesting difference. Your other self here, which seems like a good enough term for it, embodies the one trait, the one desire that we find rather amusing. You've privately wanted to seek us out to use for sufficing your own private desires, while Zach, right to the end, fought futility against the idea of trying to associate himself with us. And that worked out well for him, didn't it?" It laughed again.

Andrew opened his mouth to say something, but it was his "dark consciousness" that gave the next line. "It did indeed. The Maelstrom, for all its goal for chaos and deconstruction and disharmony (oh, I enjoy sneaking those references in!), is beautiful in its creativity with creature design. Think of it, from pirate captains with arm-mounted anchors, to giant spider creatures, to possessing large-scale vehicles! It's magnificent."

The figure began to shimmer, his form seeming to blur to Andrew's eyes, and within moments, he felt like he was reliving the first dream, the one that ended with the rainy night at the LEGO City police station, as he saw an exact copy of himself standing in "Semick's" place.

"I, for one, welcome our new Maelstrom overlords. If that's what it takes to bring us change at last."

Ahua grinned an evil grin, one that reminded Andrew of some of the more disturbing pictures he had seen online over the years. "We wholeheartedly welcome that offer. But first..." He turned to the LEGO Islander. "... We have to get yourself fully open to the idea."

The steamers came down from the shadows again, pulling both Ahua and his "dark consciousness" upwards. Andrew could fell it, somehow. He could feel, somewhere around his heart, something sickly and dark blooming, like a chest wound's infection now working its works.

Looking up again, he began to see the shadows around him moving. Moving, closing in, slowly making the visible parts of the library he was in smaller and smaller.

He knew he had to stay out of the shadows. Less it be the end of himself as he knew himself. But "how" was going to be the question of the hour.

*****

"Do you want the long version, the medium version, or the length-appropriate-to-our-situation version?" Dr. Cyborg asked.

"The length-appro.... Ah forget it, the last one!" Semick replied.

"We fought through multple traps and one Stromling Croc to get to the main chamber. It was empty. Lutsky shot Dust. We realized it was the Temple of Creation. We used ER001, the dropship agent Kara brought, to get to the real temple. We are now waiting for the rest of the team to catch up, for as we were at the red herring, we know kinda what to expect, and the team needs a guide or four."

As he said that, a couple of Fire Hammers appeared, one of them being the Infiltrators' jeep.

"X2, stay in ER001 with Lutsky. I want him safe and sound for the court-martial where I prosecute him for Dust's murder," Dr. Cyborg said.

X2 complied and buckled the improv handcuffs to a handrail.

*****

Zach poked Andrew's body curiously with the Cosmotronic Ray. No response. He shrugged and turned back to Minerva.

"You know what? I don't really care about him. It looks like Ahua can deal with him. Heck, maybe Andrew will kill that treacherous scum. It would do me a favor." Zach chuckled.

Minerva merely frowned, her arms crossed.

His eyes narrowed. "You know Minerva," he said coldly. "You should lighten up. Life is a lot easier if you smile!" He smiled widely. Minerva shook her head quietly. He stared at her, unfazed, but highly suspicious of her. What is she planning? Though I suppose I've killed much of her morale. What else can she do?

"You are really bringing down my good mood," Zach said to Minerva. "I could tell more dark secrets that might upset you, but where would the fun be in that?" Of course, the dark secret he was thinking of was the fact that the temple they stood in was not the actual Maelstrom Temple.

"Oh really?" Minerva suddenly said forcefully. "You are a zombie that basically feeds off of negative emotions. Why wouldn't telling me something disheartening be any fun for you?"

Zach was surprised but her sudden hostility. "You are... different. I can't enjoy seem to enjoy the suffering from you as much." As he said it, he knew exactly why he couldn't get a reaction out of Minerva's pain. And he hated himself for it.

"What do you want out of me, then?" Minerva asked curtly, glaring at him. "Why don't you just kill me?"

Zach didn't say anything, which proved to be a fatal mistake.

Minerva revealed a small smile. "You don't want to kill me."

"Yes, I do," Zach hissed.

"But Zach... the real Zach... is stopping you, isn't he?" Zach didn't respond, but his anger was beginning to grow and Minerva's confident smile widened. "He is. He isn't as dead as you think!"

Without realizing it, he cupped his hand around Minerva's mouth and slammed her head against the stone wall. "Shut. Up," Zach growled at her. Her eyes were widened with fear and she struggled against Zach's tight grip. "You think you know what you are doing. Let me tell you something: you don't." Minerva began trying to force the dark violet hand off her mouth frantically. Zach smirked at the sight of her struggling, but could feel a knot forming in his stomach. I've revived some of her morale.

Minerva felt her breath being stolen away by Zach's suffocating hand. She tried to pry his fingers away from her cheeks to no avail. She finally gave up her attempts at freeing herself and could only resort to breathing through her nose in a loud, hurried fashion.

"Have we learned our lesson?" Zach asked coldly. Minerva nodded weakly. He shoved her head back against the wall again and released his grip. She winced, but ignored the pain as Zach stood back.

He's still in there, she thought. He's still fighting. The thought was comforting, knowing that Zach's efforts against the Maelstrom were preventing Stromling!Zach from killing her. I need to help him, but how? She glanced at Andrew's body. If he was awake, he could've reminded him of his home on LEGO Island or something. However, Minerva knew little to nothing about LEGO Island, so she abandoned that idea.

No, it had to be something personal between her and Zach. Something that would inspire him to keep fighting. Something to repel the Maelstrom long enough for Minerva to inject him with the Maelstrom cure. She knew exactly what she needed to say. She had denied it for a while, but it was so obvious that she had been called out on it by multiple people, including Dust, Andrew, Oswald. She sighed.

"What?" Zach asked, an eyebrow raised.

"I-" Minerva stammered. She tried to find the right words to describe her feelings. "I..."

"What?" Zach asked again, this time more forcefully.

"You're right!" she gasped. "We are more than friends! I do like you more than a friend. If the Stromling had been Nazareno or Andrew, I wouldn't have gone to extremely measures to find them! I-I-I...I love-"

Zach had disregarded the rest of Minerva's reveal. He felt Minifig!Zach forcing his way into control. At first it was extremely distant, but it grew louder with each second. The sound of Minifig!Zach yelling out for Minerva. He knocked Minifig!Zach down repeatedly, but he continued to fight against the Maelstrom. Zach grimaced. He needed to kill Minerva now.

Without any sort of gloat whatsoever, Zach raised his Cosmotronic Ray arm and swung down, intending to bludgeon Minerva to death. He waited to hear the sound of bones breaking and Minerva's scream as she faded away. However, he only heard the sound of metal slamming and grinding together. Zach's eyes widened at looked at Minerva.

In her right hand, bandaged with black fabric, was an Injection Saw very much similar to the one Andrew and Carolyne Provencal had used against him. The device's blade had somehow held up against Zach's attack. Minerva forced the gun arm back and pointed the saw at Zach, a fearful yet determined look on her face.

Zach's eyes grew wider as he noticed a blue liquid sloshing around in the syringe of the tool, glowing weakly. The Injection Saw was the same one Andrew had used. Zach was certain Minerva knew what the liquid was. Minerva nodded slowly, as if to confirm Zach's suspicions.

"I've waited long enough," Zach said, his face twisted into anger and he slammed Minifig!Zach back into the bottom of his mind. "Now, you die."

*****

Garry stepped outside of Outpost 4 to find, to his surprise, Palmer waiting in front of a T-1 Typhoon. "There you are," Palmer said keenly.

"Did you find anyone?" Garry asked.

"Yes," replied Palmer. "They're in the chopper here."

Palmer climbed into the cockpit as Garry stepped into the back. With him were four other men. The one that caught his attention was a large bearded man with a green baseball cap who seemed to be fiddling with a pocket knife. Then, the engines started and the chopper started to rise. Within a few minutes, they were in the air.

There were a few minutes, and then it happened. There was a sudden burst of smoke from the engine. The tail rotor seemed to be failing.

"What's going on?" Garry asked.

"I don't know!" responded Palmer. "I'm losing control!"

Soon, the vehicle was spinning and came to a rather hard crash onto the ground. Garry and the other four men climbed out of the smoking remains of the T-1 Typhoon. Palmer quickly worked his way out of the cockpit. "Everyone alright?" he asked. "Good."

"What happened out there?" Garry asked.

"I'm not sure," replied Palmer. He quickly tried to open a hatch and look into the engine. Brushing aside a cloud of smoke and coughing, he carefully inspected it before he turned to Garry. "I'm not 100% sure, but I think this might have been deliberate."

"I see," said Garry.

"Whoever was responsible sure knew what they were doing," Palmer said.

"Didn't you check it before?" Garry asked.

"Yeah," replied Palmer. "Whoever did it, did a good job hiding it. I think it might have been intended to fail when we were in the air."

"Someone didn't want us to reach the temple?" wondered Garry.

"Oh, we're near the temple," responded Palmer. "We can get there on foot from here. They probably didn't want us getting out too easily."

"How exactly does one sabotage an engine without being noticed?"

"I suppose if they cut the intricate circuitry, stuff that isn't as easy to see. All it would take is a simple knife."

Garry thought about it for a moment. Then he remembered the bearded man. "You there," he said. "You got a name?"

"Clark," replied the bearded agent.

"Right," said Garry. "Did you destroy the engine?"

"No," replied Clark.

"MegaBlok," muttered Palmer. "He wouldn't admit to that. They would have had to destroy it before we took off. I sent him to meet me outside once I found the others. The point is that someone among us isn't who he appears to be, and unless we find out who, we're in constant danger."

One by one, the other three men revealed their names: Wilkes, Henderson, and Jones.

"Right," said Garry. "Now keep an eye on Clark."

"Why?" Clark asked in disbelief. "I didn't do nothing."

"You don't deny that you were alone with this helicopter?"

"No," replied Clark. "I was just waiting in the back."

"I see," said Garry. "With that pocket knife? I don't want to jump to conclusions. Right now, you're our number one suspect. In the meantime, we'd better move. It'll be getting dark soon, and if we want to find that temple-"

"Wait a minute, Garry," interrupted Palmer. "If we go to the Maelstrom Temple with a Stromling... well, it would be unthinkable."

"You're right," replied Garry. "That's why we'd better find him before we reach that temple, assuming he is among us."

*****

Andrew was worried. This shadow of Maelstrom was closing in on this imaginary library. If he didn't figure out something soon, it was very likely he was going to end up just like Zach... or possibly worse.

He moved backwards slowly. Eventually, his back came into contact with the bookshelf. In a sudden bout of curiosity, he turned to look behind him, his eyes drawn to the books.

He skimmed the titles. Some were familiar to him as books he had read or heard of: Tale of Two Cities, 882 ½ Amazing Answers to Your Questions About the Titanic, Harry Potter, I, Jedi. Some seemed to refer to things he knew a great deal about: LEGO Island, The Art of Creation, Tales of Change, A Brief History of the Dino Attack. And some seemed to be part of this mysterious realm of dreams he still didn't understand: Predicting the Future, The Secrets Within the Words, What's Occurring?, The Great Pony Invasion.

The titles started to look like a sign of something. All these "books" regarding things related to him and his situation, all piled up in a library inside his head? It was sounding like some weird self-referral wish-fulfillment dream or something. Unless it was truly indicating...

Andrew came to revelation of a conclusion: this library wasn't merely another strange dream realm, this was a visual version of his mind!

"That seems rather fitting, actually," Andrew muttered aloud.

Looking to his surroundings again, Andrew was alarmed to see that the darkness was now surrounding him in a much smaller several yard-long radius. He was running out of time.

C'mon, think! Andrew thought. If this is my own mind, that has to mean I'm not just a minifigure bound to the laws of nature here! I should be able to do something with these surroundings!

Reaching blindly, he grabbed one of the books off the shelf and opened it to a random page. Looking inside, he was surprised to see, instead of words, a large, 2-page spread image of a white hallway that looked like part of some kind of fancy hotel. Andrew was surprised, but not impressed, and was about to close it when he heard a large rush of water coming from somewhere. He looked around him, seeing only darkness before returning his attention to book. Which was when he saw water rushing down the hallway and towards "him."

Andrew could feel a few small droplets of water coming at his face, giving him just enough warning to let go of the book. It fell to the ground just as the water erupted out of the window like a fountain only just cleared of a blockage. He was thrown back against the shelf, the impact of him and the water making it tip over backwards. It impacted at an angle, and Andrew could hear what sounded like another shelf tipping over. And another. And another. And soon it was clear that a domino effect was in place.

The water rushed in all directions, going towards the shadows down the aisle Andrew was in. Managing to get a grip on the downed shelf as the water passed by him in a current. Looking towards the enclosing darkness, he was surprised to see that the shadow was beginning to lessen as the water rushed towards it, retracting even. The LEGO Islander's eyes gleamed.

He looked back at his shelf, and began pulling out some of the books he had seen just before. He opened The Art of Creation, and a flow of flying LEGO bricks came out in a column stretching up and pushing back at the shadows above. Andrew thought briefly that it might help to have some kind of walls against this stuff, and within moments, the flow of red, yellow, blue, black, and white bricks began to spread across the darkness, slowly forming into a 2-stud thick wall all the way from the top of the column to the edges, like a giant rainbow-colored dome.

He then turned his attention to A Brief History of Dino Attack and, upon opening, saw a Fire Hammer within the window, driving straight towards him. Throwing it away from him, the vehicle drove out of the book and into the air, appearing small as it emerged, but then quickly growing as it began to reach the vehicle's usual size. After staying in the air for a few seconds, it landed on the fallen shelves with a loud creak! as the tires hit the wood.

Andrew darted towards it, a few other books still under his arms, and opened the driver's side door. He climbed in, spotting the laser rifle he most frequently used sitting on the passenger's seat. The sight calmed him, satisfying him more that he was gaining his ground back.

Glancing back at the brick wall that was still forming around him, he could see that the Maelstrom was still pushing through, despite the water flow and the bricks. Clearly, there was still some things left to do.

Andrew glanced at the books he had brought with him. A Tale of Two Cities wasn't going to be of much use in these circumstances. What's Occurring? looked promising, but for some reason Andrew couldn't get it to open. The Great Pony Invasion sounded like a helpful advantage, but frankly it sounded like something he didn't want to mess with, even for his own salvation.

He was about to open I, Jedi when he saw something in the corner of his eye. He looked back out of the Fire Hammer to see the steamers of shadow reaching down again. Tossing the book aside and grabbing his laser rifle, Andrew took aim and prepared to fire at whatever appeared.

The streamers touched down just feet from his vehicle and began to take a Minifig form. As it began to solidify, Andrew fired. Several times.

Holes appeared in the figure's form, but they were quickly closed. Andrew groaned as the figure began to take on a recognizable appearance, and was surprised not to see Ahua or some other kind of Stromling, but "himself".

"No! This isn't how it should go!" cried his "dark consciousness". "This isn't how it ends!"

Before Andrew could react, the figure grabbed his arms and pulled him out of the vehicle. He lost his grip on his rifle as he fell, but before he could make a grab for it, he felt his "consciousness" grab him by the neck and pull him towards the side of the Fire Hammer.

Andrew's "other self" looked at him with maddened red eyes. "It's time we end this," he said, pulling out a familiar needle from somewhere around his belt. "But first, I think we need to get a few last things across."

*****

"You sure you couldn't make radio contact?" Fuchs asked, quietly and anxiously.

"No," replied Windows.

"I think we ought to get an update out. We've just cured a Stromling. You can't get the rest of the team, but could you reach the mainland?"

"I don't know," admitted Windows. "I can try it, I guess."

Windows quickly ran out of the room, followed by Fuchs. As soon as he was in the radio room, he stopped in shock. "What is it?" Fuchs asked as he stepped inside. The radio was more or less destroyed. Broken wiring lay everywhere, as did fragments of metal and other parts.

"Who could have done this?" wondered Windows. He looked at the ground and noticed a large fire axe.

"Looks like somebody didn't want us making contact with anyone," replied Fuchs, nervously.

The doors to the infirmary swung open as Windows and Fuchs walked back in. "Somebody got to the radio," Windows shouted. "It's gone."

"What?" Copper exclaimed.

"I think there's another Stromling," said Fuchs. "It could be any of us. We'll need to figure out a way to tell."

"Well," suggested Copper, "I had this one idea for a blood serum test. We have some samples of blood from our own staff. In theory, we can mix uncontaminated blood with a sample of each person's blood, and if there's a reaction, I suppose that will tell us who is infected."

Copper walked into the back of the room, and unlocked a door, leading to a small storage area with a fridge, from which there was a large puddle of blood emerging. Quickly, Copper unlocked the fridge to reveal several torn bags, all of them mostly empty, forming a large puddle at the bottom, which was spilling outside.

"This test," Nazareno asked as he approached. "Could it have worked?"

"Yeah," replied Copper. "It probably would."

"Well, somebody else sure thought so. What do we do?" Fuchs asked nervously as he looked into the storage room.

"Try to remain calm," replied Copper. "We'll just have to wait until Garry comes back."

"What if Garry doesn't come back, man?" Windows shouted. "We can't reach Znap because some 4+ Figure took out our radio, and one of us might not be who he appears. By the time anyone gets here, it could be all of us!"

"He's right," agreed Fuchs. "It would bring an abrupt halt to a major scientific discovery."

Nazareno stood quiet. He seemed to be watching everyone. At that moment, a young female nurse stepped into the lab and looked on the scene in confusion. "What's going on?" she asked.

"There you are, Carver," Crusher remarked, looking up from her work. "Apparently, somebody got to the blood and destroyed the radio."

*****

Minerva ducked and quickly stepped to the side as Zach brought his Cosmotronic Ray arm down with full force. It slammed into the stone floor with a loud thud. Zach quickly turned and swung his gun-arm at Minerva. She knocked down the gun with the Injection Saw and swung the device wildly at Zach, aiming only to injure him long enough so she could reason with him again.

Zach parried every swing with ease, his mouth forming into a twisted smile. He delivered one crushing swing to the saw, causing Minerva to stumble back several feet.

"Come on!" Zach yelled as he pointed his arm at her. "You made it seem like you were going to put up an actual fight. This pathetic showmanship is not a fight!" Zach started firing at Minerva. She ducked and started running around the chamber to avoid the deadly fire.

Maybe I can use Ahua as a hostage-type thing, she thought, glancing over to the Stromling Islander. His face was twisted into anger as he stared at Andrew's unmoving body.

Zach cackled darkly. "I have no problem shooting him, Minerva!" Zach yelled. "You are going to have to be a bit cleverer than that!" He continued to fire upon Minerva, grinning widely.

I need to get close to him, but how?

She glanced around to chamber as she ran to find something that could work to her advantage. Nothing appeared. Minerva swore angrily as she felt a bullet graze the top of her helmet. Then the idea appeared.

It worked once, it can work again, right? She thought back to the battle against the Stromling Monkey in the camp. She unsnapped her helmet and ripped it off, allow her long brown hair to fall to her shoulders. She glanced at Zach for a second before throwing the helmet at him.

Zach groaned at the helmet slammed into his chest, causing him to seize fire temporarily. Minerva ran at him, the Injection Saw poised to strike. Zach glanced up, his eyes flashing red. He raised the gun and quickly blocked the saw, stopping Minerva in her tracks.

"Nice try!" Zach relished, grinning wildly. Minerva scowled at him and punched him in the face. He roared with anger as he forced Minerva away from him. Minerva held the Injection Saw tightly as Zach doubled over, clutching the right side of his face with his left hand. He suddenly looked up at Minerva and bared his teeth angrily. He stood up straight and curled his left hand into a fist. Minerva noted that Zach's right eye was extremely swollen.

"Zach, please!" she said, almost beggingly. "Just-"

"Just what?!" Zach screamed. "Calm down?! Listen to you?! Disregard the Maelstrom?! I think I know a little more about what's going on in my head than you, Minerva Fabello!" He charged at her and swung the Cosmotronic Ray at the Injection Saw, knocking it out of her hand. He then quickly turned and punched Minerva in the mouth with his left hand. She cried out and fell to her knees, clutching her mouth. She felt Zach's hand slam into the side of her head, knocking her completely to the ground.

"Goodbye!" Zach hissed, pointing the Cosmotronic Ray at Minerva. She quickly aimed a kick at his shins. He gasped and his legs buckled, forcing him to the ground. Minerva kicked him several more times in the stomach. She scrambled back to her feet and picked up the Injection Saw. Now was the moment of truth. She gripped Zach's right shoulder and tore of what was left of his Dino Attack uniform sleeve with the saw. She was about to bring the needle down when Zach suddenly rolled to the side and jumped back to his feet.

"Why can't you slow down like a regular Minifig?!" Minerva exclaimed angrily as Zach began to approach her again.

As their weapons collided again, Zach smirked. "Because I'm not a minifig, you moron."

Zach kicked Minerva back into the wall. She winced as Zach gripped her hair tightly and brought her head to eye-level. She squirmed under the uncomfortable tugging of her hair. Zach rolled his eyes. Minerva glared at him and suddenly spat in face in contempt. He growled as he wiped away the saliva. "I'm just about sick of you."

"So am I!" Minerva hissed, her anger at Zach's arrogant nature growing. She was half-tempted to just kill him and leave. As soon as she thought that, Zach smiled wide, his red eyes brightening. Minerva gasped. What if the Maelstrom is trying to get me to abandon Zach? Then she realized. The Maelstrom fears Zach's plan may work! Zach's smile faded away suddenly and he turned and shoved Minerva away.

"Oh, shoot," Zach said in a mocking tone. Or rather, the dark and distorted voice using Zach as a mouth. "I guess I'll have to cancel that plan. Not that it matters. Zachary will not escape. He is too important and too dangerous to lose."

"You seemed fine having me kill him!" Minerva yelled back.

Maelstrom!Zach threw back his head and laughed. His dark, haunting laughter filled Minerva with dread. "Foolish girl!" the voice spat. "I'd prefer if he remains my servant, but he escapes my grasp, he must die. I will take this planet whether he is in my hand or not. However, he will make things move more... swiftly! Forget Zach! He is mine!Zach's eyes dimmed and he shook his head in a confused manner. He looked at Minerva and scowled.

"Zach!" she screamed, gripping the Injection Saw. "Listen to me!"

"The only one I will be listening to is the Maelstrom," Zach growled.

"YOU. ARE. ITS. SLAVE!" Minerva yelled fiercely. "It will use you until it doesn't need you. It'll toss you aside like trash!"

Zach twitched, his eyes flickering from red to black once before returning to the former. He snarled and charged at Minerva, his Cosmotronic Ray raised like a lance.

*****

"Why?!" cried Andrew's "dark consciousness". "Why can't you just let us have our fun!? Why CAN'T we just get this over with?!"

"Because I DON'T want this!" Andrew cried out in reply, struggling futility in his counterpart's grip. "I DON'T want to be a slave to the Maelstrom, and neither should you!"

"Not this stupid Big Bad Blahbity Blah! What about what we want?! What about change?"

Andrew stopped struggling for a second. "Is this all you can think about? Being a lizard man or shark guy or insectoid or gosh-knows-what? Context, man! Context!"

"So what?" his "consciousness" said, his voice noticeably calming, though his grip on the needle hadn't lowered. "LEGO Island is safe, your Titanic car is safe, what else do you need? Why can't we just forget this whole war and go home?"

Andrew listened to his other self and began to guess at what was going on. "All that matters to you, to 'us', is that you want to have the experience of being transformed, isn't it?"

"Isn't that obvious by now?"

"Yes, it has been. But the means you're going to want this... to be frank, you're sounding like a child here."

"So what if I am?!" said his "consciousness", sounding like he was on the defensive.

"Well, you are a part of me, somehow, so I'm guessing that might have to do with some base level of instinct or desire. And the way you're being so frank about it, losing that cool and creepiness you had in our first encounter..."

"... I hate it when that happens." Andrew's "consciousness" lowered the needle, and his grip on Andrew's neck loosened.

"... Basically, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I understand that you're embodying all that we-I want at some level or another. That young person's urge to focus less on what's important to others in favor to what's important to me. It is how I did use to act, so in a way I suppose you are me, a few years younger or something and man, this is sounding more and more nonsensical." Andrew held his hand to his forehead with an annoyed look.

"Dreams are nonsensical, you know," his other self remarked.

"But you aren't just in my dreams. You appeared twice-no, three time in my waking hours telling me cryptically about what was to come, and then berating me from turning away from your-my subconscious desires."

"I'll be honest, I don't get it either. Nor do I get how we can see the future or present we haven't witnessed in here. I think it might have to do with the way people have dreamed of their own futures in folk legend or something. It's probably some weird part of how the wheels of destiny turn or whatnot." He said the part about the wheels in a mocking tone, gaining a snicker from Andrew. The being then asked, "So what's the point of all this?"

"The point is," said Andrew, "that I understand that I want to be changed at some level or another, but the fact is that it's just not practical at the moment. Not just due to the fact the Maelstrom is as trustworthy as Dust, but because it isn't the most convenient thing to do. Our team may have aliens and other creatures as team members, and people have been turned into or revealed to be dinosaurs, hybrids, dragon people or what have you, but in a general sense, it's a bit inconvenient to have that suddenly happen to yourself. Friends might be alienated, clothes don't fit right, you make people afraid you might go crazy, and vehicles become a lot less comfy."

Andrew's "consciousness", other self, or whatever one might want to call it, comprehended his words for a few moments, then sighed, and let go of Andrew completely and threw the needle off into the water still trickling around. "Alright, you win. But do look into the idea at some point, somehow? You know how much this means to us."

"I assure you," said Andrew, patting the entity's shoulder with a smirk, "I will."

It seemed like a bit of a touching moment, albeit a very weird one even by Dino Attack standards, but it was soon broken as a horrible sound came from the shadows. It was like the screech of some monstrous bird mixed with the howl of a wolf, the scream of a crowd of zombies, and the rush of the wind all mixed into one.

And then the shadows came rushing in, seeming to finally break the resistance of the water and the brick wall.

"Oh dear," Andrew muttered, looking at his other self. "Any-?"

The entity pointed to the What's Occurring? book still in the Fire Hammer. With a nod of understanding, Andrew climbed back inside and reached for it, finally managing to open its cover.

Inside was not a huge window, but simply a small picture, not unlike the picture from the book in Andrew's dream about the cave. Shown in the picture was the chamber he and Minerva had found Zach and Ahua.

Glancing one last time to see the shadows closing in the vehicle and hear his "dark" consciousness cry "Get on with it!", Andrew slammed his hand on the picture, felt himself feel like he was being sucked into the book with a whooshing sound, and everything went black.

And then he woke up with a jolt.

His eyes opened to see the ceiling of the chamber. Quickly sitting up, he spotted Zach and Minerva not too far from his lower right side, Minerva wielding an injection saw, Zach his Cosmotronic Ray arm. The latter was charging at the former.

Without thinking, or recalling the Stromling that was trying to convert him standing somewhere near him, he pushed himself onto his feet and ran towards his former ally.

*****

Vinyaya winced uncomfortably as the Fire Hammer went a bump as it quickly traveled through the jungle. After Semick's official message, the Dino Attack's forces had quickly turned heel and started back for the Temple of Creation.

She sat in the back of the Fire Hammer while Dr. Martinet attended to her wounds. Up front was the driver, a black-haired minifig named Wedge, and Vinyaya's rescuer, who she learned was named Catless. Controlling the Xenon Launcher in back was the XERRD-turned-Dino Attack ally Rudo Villano.

She sighed tiredly, putting her hand to her head. She could feel several bruises on her head. She was being thrust from one battle to another. If Vinyaya hadn't been a Space Police officer for many years, she probably wouldn't have been able to handle it.

Martinet examined Vinyaya's stomach quietly, lightly touching the purplish bruises with his white-gloved hand. Vinyaya winced at every touch, Martinet muttering silently to himself at each reaction.

Vinyaya glanced over to right door of the Fire Hammer. Laying in a crumpled heap was her Space Police armor. Martinet removed it to get a closer evaluation, but she didn't mind too much. It was basically useless since it had been torn up by Colonel. She wore a simple light-blue jumpsuit with red Space Police badges on both her hands and chest. The Space Police had simply referred to the jumpsuit as the "Zero Suit" simply because it sounded cool. It did not protect her like the armor, but she was easily quicker and more agile in only the Zero Suit.

"You know," Vinyaya suddenly said to Martinet. "I've never seen you around here."

"That is because," Martinet said, turning away for a moment to look through a medical kit. "I only arrived on the island a few hours ago."

"Why?"

"Primarily because I got a message that my friend had been killed here," he said, wiping his sweat-ridden face with a rag. "I had been working around Antarctica and LEGO City when the news had came that J.D. had been killed."

"J.D. was that medic who was working on a Maelstrom cure," Vinyaya said, remembering the medic.

"Yeah. I met him earlier this year after I started medical school. We became close friends. The message said he was killed by a Stromling. I think his name was Zach."

Vinyaya scowled, thinking of Zachary Virchaus. "That sounds right. He was the guy commentating on the battle like it was some sort of circus performance."

Martinet scoffed. "I've had enough circus performances for one lifetime. Roll up your sleeve, please." Vinyaya obeyed and Martinet injected her with a painkiller. "I figured as much. He got targeted by one of the Maelstrom's bigger subordinates."

Vinyaya nodded. "You said you started medical school this year?"

Martinet nodded.

"How are you already a full doctor?"

"Short version: Doctors were in high demand after the Dino Attack started. They promoted me right up so I could help out. I have to say I learned more in the several months working in the Dino Attack Medical Wing than at school. Before the Dino Attack, the most I could do was pop people some brightly colored pills and hoped they got better." He chuckled. "I've done about as much as I can do. Think you will be able to fight?"

Vinyaya stretched arm across her chest. "I think I have to. This is for the fate of the planet, after all."

Martinet smiled. "That's the spirit, because I think I see this Maelstrom Temple up ahead..."

*****

He saw Minerva brace herself for his attack. Zach grinned. He had her now.

Wham!

He felt another body slam into his side like a football player. He and the other minifig flew to the side and slammed into the chamber, dislodging several bricks.

Zach groaned, clearly dazed. He blinked several times before his vision cleared. He looked into the eyes of Andrew above him. "You!" Zach roared. He threw Andrew off of him and stood up. Minerva ran over to Andrew and helped back on to his feet. He couldn't hear it, but it was obvious Minerva was thanking him for his sudden intervention.

Behind him, he heard a pained groan layered with anger. Zach turned, smirking slightly at Ahua. He was breathing heavy and staring at Andrew with extreme contempt.

"So nice of you two to rejoin us!" Zach boasted. "Though I must express disappointment that neither of you are dead. Particularly you, Ahua. I did have hopes that Andrew would tear you apart inside his head."

"Why don't you save this until after they're dead?" Ahua said, scowling.

"But dear Andrew is out of the loop! I know what's going on. Minerva knows what's going on. Andrew needs to know."

"Know what?" Ahua demanded, his eyes flashing violently.

"That you purposely led them here for the sole purpose of killing me!"

Ahua's face showed little emotion. The only evidence was a small raise of the eyebrow.

"Don't kid yourself, Ahua!" Zach scoffed. "Minerva told me. You ordered Ghost to capture her and bring her here! From there, I can assume you diverted and forced Minerva on a path here. You rigged that trap that brought her and Andrew here so they could kill me. Or at least weaken me enough so you could kill me. Prove me wrong, Ahua."

Ahua remained silent, glaring at Zach.

Zach nodded curtly and turned back to Andrew and Minerva. "I'm terribly sorry that Ahua involved you in his convoluted plan. As I think of it now, he probably only wanted Minerva to come here. You were an extra, Andrew. An extra he decided to possibly make useful by corrupting into a Stromling. Oh well. I suppose you'll be just as brick-bent on 'saving' me as Minerva, won't you?"

"It sounds we're fighting until one of us submits," Andrew responded. Minerva simply nodded in agreement. Zach rolled his eyes, but felt slightly worried. He had the opportunity to kill them one at a time and he had wasted his chance. Now he had to fight against both Minerva and Andrew. He also considered Ahua a hostile, so he was pretty much alone in this battle.

But they are not Greybeard and Frozeen, or Nazareno, a space cop, and a gunslinger. Greybeard and Frozeen were veteran fighters and difficult to defeat. Nazareno, the Space Police officer, and the gunslinger from the camp battle were skilled and clearly battle-hardened fighters to an extent. Andrew and Minerva were nothing compared to those Minifigs.

Zach grinned and charged at the Dino Attack agents without warning. He elbowed Minerva to the ground and punched Andrew in the jaw, causing him to stumble back.

"I feel like I've over-said this," Zach said stepping back as Minerva and Andrew regrouped. "But this time, it is over. You two will die. End of story."

"You get anywhere when I was out?" Andrew muttered to Minerva, rubbing his jaw.

"Eh... somewhat," she replied. They were both slowly backing away from Zach, who was taking his time edging towards them. "I managed to get through a few times, but it's personally trying to hold him in."

"Guess I've gotta give it another-" His words were stopped as Zach fired a blast near his legs, making him jump backwards and stumble around a bit. Zach advanced, pushing Minerva away for the moment.

"I have to say, I was disappointed to see you go out like that," the Stromling remarked. "And then you come back up and tackle me like nothing's changed. You didn't even do me a favor with Ahua."

"Pfft," Andrew instinctively uttered, "you expected me to turn into a dino or something and tear him up in my mind? Me, overtaking a guy like him? You really are deluding yourself."

"Perhaps I was," Zach responded as he came charging forward. Andrew dove to his left, but he was predicted and Zach managed to tackle him in that direction. He pinned the Minifig to the ground and raised his arm cannon for a melee strike, but Andrew managed to catch it in his hands and hold it up like a bar of weights.

"It was silly of me," said Zach, pushing his arm down harder, "to expect someone like you to do that, even in his own mind. You're hardly a match for the Maelstrom, no matter how many things you build!"

"Definitely not in brute force," Andrew responded, just as he noticed a figure approaching from somewhere behind his emery. "But I think we're a bit brighter - and somewhat more aware of things."

Sensing what Andrew was hinting at, Zach turned and kicked at Minerva, who was trying to sneak up on him with the injection saw once more. He managed to divert the tool and leave her stumbling back, but it left Andrew an opportunity to punch him in the face and roll out of his grip.

He got back up and darted towards Minerva. "Sorry about that one."

"It's fine," she said under her breath, though she sounded a little annoyed. "We're getting him dangerously angry, though."

"Perhaps, but the more we do get him angry and frustrated, the more likely we can get him-"

"It won't work and you know it!" Zach cried out, clearly furious as he aimed his gun arm at the pair. "You're going to die, here and now, plain and simple!"

Andrew looked at Zach, his old ally and unknowing neighbor, and slowly made himself feel determined in spite of the perilous circumstances. "Maybe so, 'Zach'. But remember that even if we die, the fact that we're doing so 'stupidly' trying to reach your old self, and the more you beat us down only makes us more determined to resist and reach you!"

"More baseless optimism! That's not going to save Minifigkind when we-"

"Oh, really? I've heard Semick a couple times on the comm before we ended up down here; he seems to be keeping the team strong against whatever you've been throwing at him! Heck, they're off to the Temple of-wait, do I?" Andrew stuttered as both Minerva and Zach stared at him with odd looks. "Oh, whatever, I have a weird mind. Anyways, the team's resisted your traps and Stromling apes and monkeys and whatever else your forces had up your sleeve, and hasn't given up hope yet! Agents, good agents, have died today fighting for us all, and they're now done here and heading off to finish the job at the Temple of Creation! And with what you've learned about Ahua over here, all that means for you if you continue to serve the Maelstrom, regardless of what happens to the team, you'll die alone in this empty shell of a temple, or worse, be absorbed fully by your 'ally' and suffered some Lovecraftian fate for eternity!"

Andrew studied Zach's face, but could see nothing but his angry glare holding up, albeit with what looked like a slight flicker in his red eyes.

"Simply put, Stromling, either kill us and face your end, or come back to us and let Zachary out again."

After a second or two, Zach said, "... You're all talk, but I say you speak too much of yourself. Minerva, care to counter for your last words?"

Andrew turned to the woman who was more involved in this matter than he was. "Sounds like final call. Make it count."

*****

The jungles were thick and relatively dense as the six men stepped through, pushing their way through vines and bushes.

"You sure you know where this temple is?" Jones asked.

"Of course," replied Palmer. "As a pilot, I actually have to know the area."

Wilkes was shooting an uneasy glance toward Clark. None of the men seemed too comfortable with him, knowing he was the most likely out of all of them to be a Stromling.

The jungle was starting to fill with a purple mist. "I don't like the look of this," Clark said, nervously.

"Shut up, Clark," muttered Palmer. "You're probably hoping we go in deeper."

"Calm down," said Garry.

"You know," said Palmer, "someone here isn't who he appears to be. I say we deal with Clark now before he gets too powerful."

Garry promptly raised his gun at Palmer. "Look, I don't want to shoot anyone until I'm certain. You've gotten me this far, Palmer, but I will kill you if I have to."

"Then kill me," dared Palmer.

Garry presed his pistol's barrel against Palmer's head. "I mean it," he said.

"I guess you do."

At that moment, Clark was infuriated. He reached for his pocket knife. "I bet Garry's the Stromling," he murmured to himself. "I'm not infected. I'm not infected. Garry is and he's turning everyone against me." With that, Clark promptly charged toward Garry, but before he could stab him, Garry instinctively turned and shot him through the head, killing him instantly.

Taking a few minutes to realize what he'd done, Garry lowered his pistol. Palmer turned and continued into the mist.

"You did what you had to do," Henderson said as he followed Palmer. Garry sighed, and followed them into the purple fog.

*****

"Wait," Minerva said, turning to Andrew. "Why would the team be going to the Temple of Creation?"

"I assume Ahua told you?" Zach said to Andrew, smirking. "This temple was a red herring. A trap. A trap XERRD led you to with the Maelstrom's subordinates providing an ambush. I imagine at this point, the infiltration squad you were a part of has already realized their mistake and have informed the team to start heading back to the Temple of Creation."

Minerva felt a small bit of anger rise. They had been tricked again. However, that was least of her concerns. Her primary focus was the Stromling that stood before her that she had feelings for.

"Well, Minerva?" Zach asked impatiently. "Anything to say?"

Minerva was thinking. She had seen it. Andrew's words had some effect over Zach. A weak one that lasted for second, but still an effect. She needed to boost Andrew's words and hopefully they would sway Zach over.

"Andrew is right," Minerva finally said. Zach rolled his eyes, unimpressed. "I-" she faltered. What else can I say?

"Tsk," Zach tutted. "Not much of a speaker, are you?"

"Well what do you want me to say?" Minerva snapped angrily. Zach recoiled slightly, but his twisted smile remained. "'The Maelstrom is bad, the Dino Attack Team is good'? You've heard this all before."

"I have."

"You are content with serving a dark entity bent on destroying everything?!" she exclaimed. "The Maelstrom is an evil monster that wants nothing more to use you to achieve its dark goals. You are its puppet! Its pawn in this stupid fight! You help it take over the planet and then kill you!"

"I think-" Zach began.

"No! Shut up and let me finish! You are a tool that, when its purpose is fulfilled, you will be discarded. And you clearly can't trust your own allies, since that stupid native wants to kill you. There are probably more Stromlings that want to kill you! There is no teamwork or any bonding. Service in the Maelstrom is a battle of its own for command. Where anything goes. And you think the Maelstrom cares about its Stromlings killing each other? No! I bet it finds it amusing you all kill each other. For absolutely nothing!" Her voice cracked as she finished speaking. Zach stirred slightly, silent, shocked by Minerva's outburst.

"And..." she suddenly continued, staring into Zach's glowing red eyes with fierce determination. "I love you. And I'm not going stop fighting until you are with us again." Beside her, Andrew simply nodded in agreement.

Zach's eyes began flickering again. He bit his lower lip in frustration. His head twitched several times. He looked at the two of them with a mix of happiness and loathing.

"Did you..." Andrew drifted up, watching Zach shake. Minerva shrugged, backing away.

Zach unleashed an angry scream. "HE... WILL... NOT... ESCAPE!!" the Maelstrom screamed through Zach. His gun arm shaking violently, he pointed it directly at Minerva.

"We need to finish it off," Andrew muttered. "I-MOVE!" He shoved Minerva out of the way of Zach's blast. She stumbled, dropping the Injection Saw. She quickly caught herself on the chamber wall, panting. She turned to Zach.

Andrew had charged at Zach and punched him in the stomach. Zach wildly swung the Cosmotronic Ray at him. Andrew dodged the weapon and landed another punch on Zach's cheek. Zach stepped back, supporting himself with the Cosmotronic Ray, and threw his own punch at Andrew, hitting him in the chest.

Minerva ran at Zach, his back turned turn her. She gripped his shoulders and sharply kneed him in his spine. He roared out in pain. Minerva quickly wrapped her arms around Zach's and held him tight against his body.

"Do it!" she screamed to Andrew. He nodded and started punching Zach repeatedly in the stomach. Zach grunted with each punch, his head falling slack. As Andrew stopped, Zach's head suddenly shot back up and he kicked Andrew in the stomach, sending the other LEGO Islander back.

Zach broke free of Minerva's hold and turned to attack her, but he was too slow. As Zach's eyes met hers, she threw punch after punch to his face. She threw one last punch before grabbing Zach's Dino Attack uniform tightly. She pulled him to her right and quickly slung him to her left, releasing him. His back slammed into the wall.

Andrew rejoined her, coughing once. "He can't last much longer."

"I think he is finished," Minerva responded, wiping her sweaty forehead. Zach looked up once, his eyes still bright red, before closing them slowly and sliding to the floor. Minerva stared at Zach's hunched over body. His breathing was irregular and rapid. Minerva returned to the spot where she had dropped the Injection Saw. She picked up and turned back to Zach.

Now was the moment of truth.

*****

Hertz was slightly disappointed to see the watch-out-for-guys-named-Snake cliché was holding up. Agent Snake clearly did not trust him and the feeling was mutual.

Paranoia was rooted deep in the Dino Attack. He could not blame them; they had been betrayed too many times to simply allow newcomers in with open arms. He just wished they could trust him.

While Berry drove, Dactyl, Helm, Hotwire, Cabin, and Snake looked increasingly nervous. Once Helm had wrapped his arm in a sling, he slid into the passenger seat beside Jackson. Hertz asked, "What's going on? You must know something I don't, because everyone seems to be leaving."

"That battle was a waste," said Jackson. "Everyone died for nothing. The Renaissance and the Talon are gone, and Mur is dead."

Hertz's mouth dropped. "Are you saying…"

"Yeah, this is not the Maelstrom Temple," muttered Jackson. "We all have to drive miles out of our way to get to the Temple of Creation. Rex and Rotor are there now but I doubt they would have lasted long alone."

Hertz had no idea what to think. The people here had sacrificed their lives for nothing, Vinyaya was probably dead, and Rex and Amanda were probably dying. They had lost the two best helicopters in their arsenal and had not even made a dent in the limitless hoard of Stromlings.

"So, are we going to the Temple of Creation now?" asked Hertz.

"Dust and Schattenberg's team already got there. The UlTech drop ship got them there really fast, so hopefully they're waiting for us."

Hertz sat back in his chair and sighed. Out of one battle and into another. He had almost died at the battle of the pharaoh's ruins; he did not know whether his luck would hold out at the real fight.

He had to think about Naomi. He would never see her again; they might never hold each other in each other's arms. Hertz loved her and he was sure she felt the same way about him. He just longed to be with her one last time.

He put his head in his arms and gazed at the ceiling of the cab. Naomi gave him a will to live and a sensation he had not felt before. He would not throw his life away if it meant not being with her.

I'm really starting to sound like a romantic, thought Hertz.

The techie smiled. He had never felt so sure about anything in his life. Even though he had fallen in love with the nurse in such a short period of time, he was positive it was not just lust. Yes, she was gorgeous, but his heart told him it was something more.

"Pull over."

"What?" asked Shotgun, surprised. "Why?"

"I have to go to Outpost 4. It's only a half-mile hike," said Hertz. "I have something I need to do."

"I don't like the idea of you walking through the jungle alone," said Shotgun, frowning.

"I'll be okay," Hertz said with a smile. "There is work I need to do."

"Let the kid go, Barry," called Helm. "As long as he sticks to the beach, there'll be no trouble."

Jackson shook his head as he brought the Fire Hammer to a stop. "This better be important, Hertz."

"It is," Hertz said as he jumped from the cab. He grabbed a Sonic Screamer and shook Hotwire's hand.

The agents shrugged, and Shotgun put his foot on the gas. The jeep drove away, leaving Hertz standing alone on a beach with a broken arm holding a big gun.

This was a stupid idea. Looking along the sands, he shouldered the gun and headed south.

*****

Zach was breathing heavily; his eyes closed trying to concentrate. Minifig!Zach was unrelenting in his push for control of his mind. Get down! Stromling!Zach growled to the minifig. He got no response from Minifig!Zach, but another fearsome push for control. Zach swore under his breath and responded to the mental attack with his own battering. He managed to push Minifig!Zach back a considerable distance, but he knew he would be back.

Zach could hear the combined footsteps of Minerva and Andrew approach him. He looked up and saw Minerva crouching at his level, the Injection Saw in her hand. Andrew stood behind her, prepared to defend her just in case.

"Zach?" she called out. Zach snarled in response. Minerva flinched. "He's still trapped," she said to Andrew.

"And he's never getting out!" Zach roared suddenly.

"Well, we have him down. I think we might as well try the cure," Andrew replied. Minerva nodded and began to move the Injection Saw toward Zach's right shoulder. Zach hissed and shoved the Injection Saw away.

"Hold his arm down," she said to Andrew. He nodded and gripped Zach's left arm tightly. Minerva began to descend on Zach's shoulder again. As the needle touched his bare skin, a dark violet hand suddenly grabbed Minerva's neck and pulled her back.

"Znap!" Andrew cursed. He rose to his feet as Ahua shoved Minerva to the side. Ahua turned to Andrew, grinning wickedly. Andrew went after Ahua only for his face to meet a fist. Ahua fired several more punches before swinging his spear arm at Andrew, cutting his side. Andrew fell to the ground, clutching his side and groaning. Ahua placed his foot on Andrew's chest, pinning him to the ground.

"No!" Minerva screamed, running at Ahua. Ahua quickly turned his body and caught Minerva by her neck and hoisted her high in the air.

"We must thank you both, Minerva Fabello and Andrew," Ahua mused. "You have finally crushed our enemy when we could not. However, he must die. No exceptions. Naturally, you two think differently, and you both must be killed. Starting with the girl." Ahua tightened his grip around Minerva's neck. Minerva gasped and cried out, trying to pry Ahua's fingers away from her neck to no avail.

Zach watched the whole thing. Minerva's breathing was become strained. She struggled, trying to break the Islander's grip. She kicked her legs fiercely, trying to reach Ahua. Finally, she gave up and glanced at Zach, her eyes wide with fear.

"Please!" Minerva manage to choke out to Zach. "Please, Zach!" Zach didn't respond, but a knot was forming in his stomach. The pleading look in her eye gave Minifig!Zach renewed strength. Zach's face twisted in pain.

He glanced down at Andrew. He was trying to pull himself back up, but Ahua kept him pinned. He glanced at Zach. His face clearly showed fear.

"Zach…" Andrew coughed as Ahua applied pressure to Andrew's chest. "I know you're in there. Help..." Andrew coughed again as Ahua pushed down harder. Zach bit his tongue and clutched his head as the contest for his mind began again.

He tried to prevent himself from looking at Minerva again, but he gave up and looked at her again. She was back to struggling, but she moved considerably less. Her breathing also slowed down and became extremely ragged. Zach raised his eyebrow as a black and purple mist suddenly began to slink up Ahua's arm and it wrapped itself around Minerva's head. She let out a weak, broken scream as her head was consumed by the Maelstrom.

"Are you corrupting her?" Zach asked, confused.

"No," Ahua scoffed, smirking at his victim. "The Maelstrom is suffocating her. Rather painful way to die." Ahua chuckled darkly, Minerva's screams were silenced and her thrashing seized.

Zach was in a daze. He could feel himself become choked up. He looked back at Andrew, who was concentrating on getting Ahua off him. While he had only worked with him a few times early during the Adventurers' Island campaign, he considered Andrew a good friend who had saved him multiple times and had even ventured into this temple to save his life again. They were probably more alike in interests, hobbies, and skills than Zach would like to admit. And through Andrew, Zach thought of LEGO Island. He had been born in America and his family lived in America, but LEGO Island was his true home. The days he had spent racing, building, eating pizza, and helping out the citizens were brought to mind. He thought of friends such as Pepper Roni, Sky Lane, Nubby Stevens, Snap Lockitt, Captain Rom, and more. Even thoughts of the Brickster and the atrocities he had committed in 1997, 2001, 2002, and 2007 warmed his heart. He felt a sudden longing to be back at those happier times.

What are you doing?! the Maelstrom yelled. Zach ignored it, letting the memories of the past swamp him. Guilt began to rise as he allowed both Dino Attack agents to meet their deaths. He almost longed for those times again. He glanced up at Minerva again. The Maelstrom had cleared up enough that he could clearly see her face. Her face was extremely pale. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was extremely shallow.

He stared at her, his own breathing mimicking hers. Their first meeting on the island was not exactly the greatest, but after fighting with her they became friendly toward each other. Minerva made it apparent early on that she had some sort of affection toward him. After she had ventured into the XERRD fortress to save his life, he became to reciprocate the feelings. When Minerva had claimed they were just friends after Oswald's massacre in the camp, he had secretly been crushed, but the Maelstrom soon swept away any sadness over being friendzoned.

And now he sat here, watching Minerva die before his eyes. Despite how anxious he had been to kill her earlier, he did not anticipate how much inner turmoil her death would cause her. She admitted her feelings to him. As much as he wanted to deny it, he couldn't. He loved her. Zach couldn't let her die. He wouldn't let her die.

At the moment, the Maelstrom couldn't hold Zach back any longer. No! it screamed. Impossible!

Zach ignored the screaming voice and he managed to pull himself to his feet. He felt dizzy and weak, but he ignored the nausea and started over to Andrew, Minerva, and Ahua. He thought of nothing except saving the former two.

He launched out his left hand and grabbed Ahua's neck tightly. Ahua gasped and dropped Minerva, who let in a large gulp of air as she leaned against the wall, massaging her throat. Zach shifted Ahua off of Andrew, allowing the Elite Agent to quickly slide away from the Stromling Islander.

Zach glared at Ahua with a look of pure fury. Ahua responded with his own scowl. "A rather bad time to kill us, Zachary. We were just about to kill them for you."

"You aren't killing them," Zach groaned, tightening his grip. His head began to pound as the Maelstrom screamed and tried to force itself back into control.

Ahua chuckled, as if this amused him greatly. "So kill them yourself. And afterwards, we will kill you. You are still weak. We can feel it. Kill them. For the glory of the Maelstrom."

"I'm not killing them," Zach hissed, bringing Ahua close to his face. "I'm not killing anyone for you or for the Maelstrom ever again."

Ahua's smile faded away immediately, and his eyes widened in sudden horror. Zach swung back his Cosmotronic Ray and, with all the strength left in his body, he swung the gun into Ahua's chest. The Stromling Islander flew across the chamber and was buried nearly a foot into the wall, sending stone debris everywhere. Ahua didn't move, and for all intents and purposes, he was dead to Zach.

Zach stumbled backward and fell to the ground, his breathing hoarse and strained. He closed eyes as the Maelstrom attacked him again, its defiant screams growing louder.

"Zach?" Andrew asked cautiously. "As in 'the' Zach?"

Zach coughed. "Zachary Virchaus, Dino Attack agent and free of the Maelstrom's control. For now." He opened his eyes. Andrew and Minerva were crouched around him. Andrew's face held mostly concern, but he could see some relief. Minerva's face was wet with tears, but she smiled at him weakly.

"Minerva, your hair," Zach muttered. Most of her hair was still dark brown. However, she had several streaks of pure white hair mixed in that shined brightly despite the dimmed purple aura that illuminated the temple. The brightness of her hair gave Zach some warmth despite the cold that threatened to consume him.

"Get the Injection Saw," Zach said quietly. The Maelstrom was growing angrier and angrier the longer it wasn't in control. Minerva quickly stood up and picked up the fallen Injection Saw and brought it back to Zach.

"Right shoulder," he muttered. She lifted up Zach's Cosmotronic Ray arm and glanced at his shoulder. She silently ran her hand down the long red scar on his shoulder. "Scar from Provencal's Injection Saw that injected me with the Maelstrom. Try not to cut me with that thing this time around." Minerva nodded and tried to aim the needle, but found her hand shaking nervously. Andrew and Zach reached across and gripped the Injection Saw to steady it. Minerva nodded and carefully dug the needle into Zach's skin. Minerva the released the blue liquid.

Zach breathed a sigh of relief as he watched the blue liquid quickly exit the syringe and enter his bloodstream. After all the cure was in his body, Minerva carefully pulled the saw away and discarded it.

"I hope this works," Zach said, mostly to himself. "If it doesn't..." He didn't want to think about it. Instead, he focused on fighting against the Maelstrom in his head. He focused on his happy memories, his determination to escape the Maelstrom's control, and his desire to be with Minerva.

"Listen," he said urgently to his friends. "If this doesn't work and I'm still a Stromling, I'll probably succumb to the Maelstrom eventually. If that happens, kill me. Don't hesitate, just do it." Minerva had a frightened look on her face, but Andrew shook his head.

"That won't be necessary," Andrew said with certainty. "You'll make it out of this. We all will. We've made it too far to fail now." Zach showed a weak smile, Andrew's confidence improving his own. The Maelstrom roared in disagreement, causing Zach's brain to pound against his skull painfully.

"I think I'm losing consciousness," Zach said, feeling suddenly dizzy. "My guess is the cure will work its magic when I'm out. However, that's probably when I most vulnerable to the Maelstrom's attacks." Zach sighed, slightly annoyed. "Hopefully this cure will provide some backup against it quickly."

Drowsiness began to set in. "I hope the next time I wake up, I have red hair and yellow skin again," Zach said calmly. "Regardless of what happens, thank you both for coming after me. Even after making a gigantic jerk of myself." Andrew and Minerva smiled faintly.

He felt darkness begin to consume him. As his consciousness left him, Zach knew he was enter the most important battle of his life. He closed his eyes one last time and embraced the darkness, praying to Builder for survival.

Andrew breathed a sigh of relief. "It's done. Or at least, we've done everything we can here. I guess it's all down to him now."

Minerva stared at her close ally's unconscious body. It was still the same as it had been, but hopefully that would soon change. "... You think he's going to have to go through something like what you went through with Ahua?"

"It's quite likely," he said, "given what he was saying and how the Maelstrom is still trying to take him. Hopefully, the cure and motivation we gave him should help him fight it off."

Glancing around, he looked at the way they came in. "Now we have to worry about us for a bit. Given that this temple isn't hosting the Maelstrom, and that it's likely pulling the bulk of its forces out to help defend the other temple, and Ahua looks pretty dead, we should be safe from attack for the most part. But now we have to get out."

"... Ooh, haven't thought of that for a bit."

"We should start looking for an exit, but I don't know if we should be carrying around Zach or just wait for him to eventually get up." He turned to Minerva. "Do you mind going off to check for an exit route? I can keep watch for Zach in the meantime."

"Oh, um," Minerva said, obviously debating whether or not she wanted to leave Zach's side. "Sure, I'll go out and have a brief look."

"Thanks," said Andrew, walking towards where he had dropped his laser rifle when Ahua had knocked him out. "Don't worry, I can handle this."

Minerva nodded. As she walked towards the doorway, Andrew noted the small Maelstrom puddle that was still in the middle of the chamber. He eyed it closely as he leaned over Zach's body, wary that it may try something at the last minute.

Minerva exited the chamber and glanced down the hallway, barely illuminated by dark violet light. She quickly determined which way the slide had ended and continued down the hallway.

Her anxiety was building up. She feared Zach would be taken by the Maelstrom again. And she could only see trying to save him again being nigh impossible to complete. But Andrew seemed confident Zach could overcome the Maelstrom. And the cure, provided it even worked, should definitely help.

She walked through several twisting and narrow hallways. She felt claustrophobia begin to creep on her again, but she ignored the feeling of dread. She certainly felt lucky there weren't any other paths so far. She probably would've gotten lost and never see Andrew or Zach again.

Finally, she pulled into a straight corridor. She walked down it, rubbing her bandaged hand against the wall. She pulled some of her hair out in front of her face. Indeed, her hair had changed. There were multiple streaks of pure white hair that contrasted her brown hair. It seemed to glow as she stared at it. She rubbed the white strands of hair carefully. It felt like regular hair.

I think the Maelstrom caused this, she thought, bouncing her hair lightly in her hand. Suddenly, she came upon a dead-end. "That can't be right," Minerva muttered. Had she missed another passage? She stared at the cold, stone wall, frustration growing.

There is no way out. Minerva first thought. The only other way was the slide, and that was impossible to climb up. Then: No, there has to be a way out. How would Ahua and Zach get out of here otherwise? Perhaps when Zach woke up, she would ask him. She started to lean on the dead-end wall when she suddenly felt herself slip and tumble through the wall. She gasped as she quickly regained her balance.

"Where-?" she began. Ahead of her was a small flight of stairs. Above the stairs, natural light peeked through the ceiling. Minerva smiled in realization. She turned and ran through the camouflaged passage back to the chamber.

*****

Zach woke up with a jolt.

"Andrew! Minerva!" he sputtered. "Are you... whoa." He was no longer in the Temple of Hotep III, that was certain. As he remembered the events that had just took place, he realized he was probably in a dream. A dream that was actually happening.

Zach stumbled to his feet. He was a Minifig, which made him happy. However, the feelings faded away as he stared ahead. He saw a great black and purple swirling void that covered every inch of visible space. It rotated fiercely, blowing wind into his face. In the center of the Maelstrom was a set of two red eyes that stared at him.

Zach turned. Behind him towered the mighty and iconic Information Center. It looked strong and sturdy, yet clearly battle-worn. He was quick to realize that in this real-dream, the Information Center acted as the control center to his very mind. For several days, the Maelstrom had controlled it. And now Zach stood alone, knowing that if the Maelstrom consumed this building, he would become a Stromling again.

Then he realized he was not quite alone. To the right of him, he saw Minifig forms of Andrew, Nazareno, Minerva, Semick, Raider, and Bluetooth. They all held weapons in their hands, ready to defend the Information Center to the end. Zach quickly realized that his cherished memories were appearing with him to repel the Maelstrom.

To his left, he saw Pepper Roni, Sky Lane, the Infomaniac, the Brickster, and an army of Brickster-Bots. All of them stared straight ahead, a determined look on each of their faces.

Zach heard a dark, haunting laughter with a slight British accent emit from the void. "You think this will stop me?" the Maelstrom hissed. "How pitiful." A strike of bright purple lightning suddenly shot forth from the spinning cloud of evil and struck Semick in the chest. He slid back on his feet from the force, but was otherwise unfazed.

A loud thunder roared from the Maelstrom as several more blasts started to strike the group assembled. Zach dodged each blast with the other Minifigs, desperately trying to think of a way to defeat the Maelstrom once and for all.

There was a loud bang from the vortex, and a single figure shot out from the eye of the storm. He landed before Zach, his grin twisted and evil. Zach recoiled. The Minifig was a grotesque combination of Zach and the Maelstrom; the dream embodiment of Stromling!Zach, who had simply been an uneven combination of the Maelstrom's desires and personality (the dominant part of the figure) and Zach's memories and personality (the lesser part).

Stromling!Zach suddenly turned and struck Raider hard in the chest with his fist. Raider let out a surprised gasp before bursting into pieces. Pepper and Nazareno ran at the Stromling, but they both met a similar fate. Zach watched in horror as the Maelstrom moved closer to the Information Center, destroying everything it touched. He was losing the fight.

He watched Sky, Bluetooth, and the Infomaniac also meet their ends at the hands of Stromling!Zach. One by one, his memories were being torn apart and tossed away. The Brickster and Andrew were both struck by the Maelstrom lightning when they fell. The Brickster-Bot army had been quickly eliminated. The only ones who remained were Semick, Minerva, and Zach.

Another strike in the head by Stromling!Zach had Semick fall back, disassembling. Zach gripped Minerva's hand tightly as Stromling!Zach approached the two of them, grinning maniacally. He shoved Minerva to the side and grabbed the collar of Zach's Dino Attack uniform.

"You are mine!" Stromling!Zach said in an creepily distorted version of Zach's own voice. The Maelstrom surrounded the Information Center, the dark haunting laughter echoing across the area. He was finished. The Maelstrom had won.

Suddenly, Stromling!Zach was pulled away by a new minifig who glowed bright blue. The glowing Minifig kicked the Stromling forcefully, sending him falling back. His back slammed into the ground, and he did not get back up. The glowing Minifig pointed at the void and bright blue lightning shot from his fingertips. The Maelstrom grunted painfully as it began to shrink. Groans turned into full on screams of anger, shouting curses to Zach and to the minifig. The Maelstrom was growing smaller and smaller.

"YOU CAN'T DEFEAT ME!" the Maelstrom screamed. "I AM FOREVER!"

Zach simply shook his head as he stood by the glowing minifig. He added on to the Minifig's attack. Thoughts of happiness, imagination, and love that shook the Maelstrom right to its core. The screams were growing dimmer. Zach stepped back as the Maelstrom, now a pitiful size that could easily be disposed of, suddenly fled the scene. The Maelstrom was gone. The blue lightning, despite its enemy being crushed, shot toward the horizon at a rapid pace.

And suddenly, the entire area changed. The Information Center had disappeared and Zach simply stood in dark room light by a single white light. From the shadows approached the glowing blue minifig. He smiled warmly and tiredly at Zach and extended a hand. Zach accepted it silently, shaking it gratefully.

"Who are you?" Zach asked. The minifig seemed familiar.

"I am J.D.," the minifig said simply. "I created the prototype cure for the Maelstrom. And it seems Minerva has followed my last request and has injected it into you and has saved you from a lifetime of service to the Maelstrom, Zachary."

"I-what?!" Zach was shocked. J.D. nodded, still smiling. "I killed you! How are you here?"

"Because the main ingredient of my cure was portion of my own Creative Spark," J.D. remarked. "Its Imagination repelled the Maelstrom and goes now to repair your own Creative Spark that has been most likely critically damaged by the Maelstrom."

"That doesn't explain why you are still here."

"I can't say for certain, but while the rest of me died, a part of my soul was preserved in the Maelstrom cure. Think of it like a dragon's Eldurnarí. While the dragon's body may die, it can store its consciousness inside its heart of hearts and continue to live."

Zach nodded. "Thanks for going to such lengths… And... uh... sorry for killing you."

J.D. chuckled and shrugged. "Don't worry about it. I'm actually rather excited to 'move on'. However, I'm sure the other members of the Dino Attack will not be as forgiving. But I wouldn't let that get you down."

"So, wait. Since your Creative Spirit is attached to mine, will I get some of your traits?"

J.D. thought for a moment. "You shouldn't. My Creative Spark will join the dominant spark and I will fade away. You may feel some effects immediately after waking up, but they should stop soon enough. Now, I'd love to keep talking, but I feel my time is wearing thin." J.D.'s body began to dissipate.

"Bye," Zach said quietly. "Thanks for everything." J.D. nodded in acknowledgement and his body disappeared. Zach waved at the empty space with his left hand and gasped. His left hand was a sickly color of purple and black...

*****

"I think he's waking up!" Andrew said, watching as Zach's body began to twist and jerk on the floor. Minerva gasped in fear, assuming the worst.

However, those fears quickly faded away. Zach's dark violet skin suddenly lightened to its normal yellow pigment. His hair also quickly returned to its red color. The Cosmotronic Ray split from Zach's right arm. Minerva smiled excitedly. He's back!

"Whoa," Andrew said. Without warning, Zach's hair suddenly began to grow rapidly. It kept growing and growing until it stretched just past his shoulders. "Interesting," Andrew said simply. Minerva found it even more surprising that facial hair suddenly began to sprout on Zach's face. It didn't grow as fast his hair. It finally seized growth as a bristly and very thin beard that wrapped around Zach's face and mouth. Finally, a purple streak suddenly appeared on Zach's hair, running from his forehead to the long tail of hair that touched his shoulders.

Zach stirred slowly before his eyes suddenly flashed open quickly and fearfully. "Minerva! Andrew!" he shouted fearfully.

"We're here," Minerva responded.

"Where are you?" Zach called out, staring straight at her. "I can't see! Why is it so dark?"

"... It isn't," Andrew said. Zach's head shot toward the sound of Andrew's voice.

"I-I-I think I'm blind!" Zach said, touching his face. Panic suddenly disappeared as amusement and interest danced across his blank eyes. "Do I have a beard?"

"Yeah," Minerva said, worried. Zach smirked, as if amused him. "You can't see anything?"

"Not quite. I can see a bunch of colors. They are all meshed together into a blob. I think this blindness is temporary. It should clear up soon. Is there something wrong with my left hand?" Zach lifted his left hand into view.

"It looks fine to me," Minerva responded. "Your right hand is having problems." Minerva kneeled next to Zach and pulled off the tattered black glove of his hand. His golden metal hand was rusted and stained with black and purple. It also twitched erratically.

"Yeah. I can't really feel it. I think the Maelstrom was too much for it. Do any of you guys have any water? I think I might be dehydrated." Andrew placed his canteen in Zach's left hand. He brought the container to his mouth and recklessly poured the water into his mouth. Very little landed in his mouth and instead landed on the front of his uniform. Zach leaned back against the chamber wall, pausing from his drink. "I'm a Minifig again."

Minerva smiled at the giddiness in his voice. She then turned to Andrew.

"He seems to be suffering a lot of aftereffects from the Maelstrom," Andrew noted. "It looks like he's been trapped inside his own head for years and is starving, thirsty, and weak."

Minerva nodded. "I hope this doesn't complicated things too much. Should we start leaving and guide Zach or wait until his vision comes back and then leave?"

"It might be best for Zach to see some professional medical attention," said Andrew. "Though I think it wouldn't be too hard to help him out of here. You find a way out?"

"Yeah," said Minerva. "It's a stairway hidden by an illusion of a wall further down the passage."

"Seems simple enough." Andrew approached Zach, who was still taking in the fact of being a Minifig again, and tapped him gently on the shoulder. He looked up, though not directly facing him. "You think you can handle being helped out by hand?"

"Eh, sure, I think I can do that," said Zach. "That would just mean holding on to your hands or something, right?"

"Yes, but there are some stairs up ahead. Just take your time feeling the ends of each step and you should be fine."

"Okay." He reached out his right hand, and Andrew took it. Gently pulling, he walked towards Minerva at a slow but steady pace. Zach followed with some slight stumbling, but managed to start getting the hang of it.

"Never thought I'd have an experience like this," Zach remarked. "Even when I signed up."

"There's a lot of things we never expect," Minerva replied, reaching out to grab Zach's other hand. "But no matter how much it happens, we can never seem to get used to it."

The three agents smiled, both in amusement over the remark and joy in what they had accomplished. They had defied the Maelstrom, conquered the odds yet again, and had saved a dear friend. Even with so much left to do, they couldn't help but feel on top of the world.

"Hey," Andrew said, reaching for his PDA, "I think I'd better let the others know what happened. I'll send out a general announcement but when I'm done, want me to write out one for you, Zach?"

"Perhaps," said Zach. "Give me a moment to think of something."

"Sure thing," Andrew said as they walked out, his free hand typing out his announcement to the team.

 

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 47: Trading Bishops

----

"I don't like the looks of this place," Jones said to himself as they proceeded through the mysterious yet eerie purple fog. Still, there was less tension. The death of the one Stromling in their group gave a few feelings of relief all around.

With some time, they soon finally found something. "I really don't like the look of this," Jones said again, looking at the long, rickety bridge over an enormous chasm.

"We don't have much choice," replied Garry. "We come this far. We can't stop now."

"I'm with Jonesy here," said Palmer. "I say we turn back."

"We can't go back now," declared Garry. "Our guys are dying at the wrong temple; we're the only chance of helping Rex and his small group."

There was a moment of silence. Palmer sighed and began to cross the bridge.

At the end of the rickety bridge was the entrance to the temple, at last. "I really don't like the looks of this," Wilkes said.

"We gotta proceed," declared Palmer. "If we're to have any chance of saving the rest of your teammates."

Reluctantly, Garry walked through the large opening among the thick spider webs. "It's obvious someone's been here," he muttered.

As soon as Jones had stepped into the room, Garry noticed a strange corpse. "What is that?" Palmer asked.

"Looks like a spider of some kind," noted Garry.

"It's only got four legs," Henderson pointed out.

"Well, why is nothing attacking us now?" Palmer asked.

"I wouldn't tempt fate like that," mused Garry. "We'd best keep moving."

True to his orders, Garry proceeded through the long and dark corridors. Stromling corpses lay everywhere, but very little else to be seen.

"We should split up," Palmer suggested.

"No," replied Garry. "I don't want to take any chances in a place like this."

Then it happened. There were footsteps. Someone was running around. The figure was obscured by the shadows, but they seemed to be lost.

Cautiously, Garry reached for his pistol and aimed it up towards the figure. There was a brief moment where he was about to fire as the figure ran blindly toward them... into Palmer's arms. Consequently, she tried to resist.

"It's alright," Palmer said reassuringly. "We're friends."

The figure had turned out to be a terrified young girl. She was practically screaming as Garry lowered his weapon. "Take it easy," he said. "Calm down."

Still, the poor girl could not help panicking. She finally broke free of Palmer's strong grip before looking at the others. "Who are you?" she asked nervously.

"We're friends," replied Garry.

Palmer moved in closer. "Listen, Garry, it does seem a little odd a teenager could easily have managed to survive in this amount of time."

"What do you mean?" Garry asked.

"They've been here for a few hours," explained Palmer. "Even if she was with them, that's more than enough time for her to be taken by the Maelstrom."

"Good point," conceded Garry. "But I don't want to take a chance and risk shooting an innocent. You got a name?"

"Kate," the girl introduced herself. "Kate Bishop."

"Garry," Palmer said. "I'm telling you, she's a Stromling. I got a really bad feeling."

"I know," replied Garry. "We'll keep an eye on her, watch her close."

All this certainly was not helping poor Kate, whose eyes seemed to be swelling further with tears. All this time, she'd been running for her life, and now the only people who could help her were discussing killing her. "Get me out of here," pleaded Kate. "This place is driving me mad. I can't find the way out."

"Calm down," said Garry. "What's going on?"

"We were in the center of the temple," explained Kate. "Things got out of hand, some XERRD scientists showed up and then Rex tried to fight them off. Then I ran when nobody was looking."

*****

Semick was determined as he flew towards the foreboding sight of the Temple of Creation. Determined to ensure that the Maelstrom got its retribution for its trickery and strikes against Dino Attack. Determined to ensure the team would leave victorious. Determined that the LEGO Planet would be saved.

But determination only got one so far. There were still practical matters. The Temple of Creation was in the middle of a vast "sea" of Maelstrom mist or energy or something, connected to the main island by a very worn rope-plank bridge. This would likely not be helpful for the ground forces, as it meant they had to abandon all vehicles except maybe the Steel Sprinter (and even then, that was a little risky for the rope bridge). Only the T-1 Typhoons and the Agents Defense Organization's remaining aircraft would be useful.

As for helping the ground team get across, Semick already had an idea. Picking up his mic again, he sent a message to the remaining aircraft:

"To our T-1 pilots and Agents allies: know that we cannot simply walk into the Temple of Creation. It's isolated on an island in the midst of some sort of 'sea' of Maelstrom energy connected only to the mainland by an old rope bridge. We need extra help to be able to infiltrate the temple. I want all our craft to assist in readying several ropes stretching from the cliffs to the temple from which we can get agents to zipline over. I remind you all that our T-1s have the necessary equipment for this operation, but we will need to be careful. I want all of you to be on guard once we start getting agents across. Ziplines leave us extraordinarily vulnerable, especially when we're trying to cross a massive chasm. Osprey, feel free to try and help our men set these up. I figure you guys would be more adept at preparing ziplines and other means of rope-based mobility. Operate quickly and efficiently. We don't know if we're racing against time here, but I don't want to take my chances."

Looking back towards the temple, Semick also realized that there likely wasn't going to be an easy way for the T-1 Typhoons to assist. There was no real room for any exterior battles to play out, given the size of the "island" the temple was on, and firing on the temple was likely to prove dangerous for any agents inside.

There was only one real option: to try and barrage the temple rooftop to see if they could open a hole large enough to provide a view that allowed the T-1 Typhoons to provide watch, if not some small cover fire. Even then there was risk. Semick didn't know what Rex's team's status was, so any attack on the temple's exterior now could risk injuring them when the debris and gunfire came roaring in.

He needed to find out what they were doing, and quickly. "Bluetooth," he said to his technician buddy, "can you lock onto any Dino Attack agent frequencies within the temple?"

"Sure," he replied, taking a few moments to scan the temple for Dino Attack agents. "I'm getting about... eight to ten or so readings. One half of them close to the entrance, the other half spread out around a massive area near the back."

"Narrow down the T-1's transmitter to the temple. I want to see if I can reach any PDAs, communicators, cellphones, device hidden in a silver dollar, what have you."

Bluetooth took a few moments tinkering with the radio settings. "Should be good," he said as he turned a knob.

Semick picked up the mic and gave some more words to it. "To any Dino Attack agents within the Temple of Creation, can you hear me? This is team commander Semick, seeking word on your status!"

*****

For a brief moment, Palmer seemed to show a strange look of anxiety, close to panic.

"You alright?" Garry asked.

Palmer took a moment to catch his breath. "Yeah," he muttered. "I'm fine."

"Look," Garry said. "I only needed you to get me here. If you want to go back, I won't object."

"No," insisted Palmer. "I've come this far. I'm not turning back now."

Behind them, Wilkes seemed to be trying his best to comfort Kate. Then they were cut off by a strange noise. Palmer reached into his pocket and pulled out a PDA. Palmer made a few adjustments and it became clear there was a message of some kind.

"To any Dino Attack agents within the Temple of Creation, can you hear me? This is team commander Semick, seeking word on your status!"

"This is agent Palmer," Palmer reported after a moment. "I'm in here with six others."

"That would be very good," replied Semick.

Palmer handed the PDA over to Garry. "Hello Semick," Garry said. "I'm in here with six others. I've already lost one man who we suspected was a Stromling, and we're currently searching for Rex and his team. We've only found one survivor so far; Palmer's worried that she might have been infected in the time they were gone." 

*****

"Ask for her name," Semick said in response to the agent on the line. "If it's Kate Bishop, I advise you to be easy on her. She's had a rough time since the XERRD Fortress, and I don't want you possibly mentally scarring her with Stromling suspicions. See if you can get her to the rest of the team. They're back on the other side of the rope bridge."

"Understood."

"And keep an eye out for any of Rex's other team members. I plan to fire through the roof to provide air support, and I don't want to be crushing agents if or when that happens."

"We'll see what we can do."

"Good. That's it for now."

Turning off the mic, Semick was about to direct the T-1 Typhoon towards the team that was reaching the cliffside when he started hearing cheers from behind him. He turned to see Bluetooth and the rear gunner holding their PDAs and pumping the air.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Check your PDA, Semick," he responded. "Great news from Andrew about the earlier problems."

Curious, Semick slipped his out of his pocket and checked the latest All-Agents Bulletin:

Zach is a Minifig and is on our side again.
Me and Minerva have got him and we are all leaving the Hotep temple.
Zach needs some medical attention, but otherwise okay.
Anyone still near Hotep's temple, we could use a lift and medic.
-Andrew

A wave of relief and happiness washed over the former Power Miner. "Nice job, Zach," he muttered under his breath as he redirected his attention to reaching the rest of the team. Even as they were recovering from the Maelstrom's trickery, it was good to know they were still gaining small victories.

*****

"He did it!" Laxus cried from the back of the Fire Hammer. "Yes!"

"What, did you know something about this?" Rockford asked, his face caught in a weird mix of astonishment, joy, and curiosity.

"Friends do sometimes keep some things to themselves, you know. Just to keep unwanted attention away until objectives are accomplished."

"Eh, whatever," said the driver. "The point is that the guy isn't with them anymore. And the less agents under their control, the better."

"Agreed," said Rockford. "And judging from some of the radio and PDA transmissions, the rest of the team agrees."

Laxus grinned and leaned back in his seat. For him, it was simply good to know that his friend was still alive and had accomplished in his task. It was a good bit of consolation in the face of what still awaited them at the Temple of Creation. And speaking of...

"We're here, commander," the driver said as he parked behind another Fire Hammer and an Iron Predator. "But from the looks of things, we're not going to have the liberty of vehicles now."

"Ooh," Rockford muttered. "This could be problematic."

*****

"Alright," said Garry. "According to Semick, we're to go easy on Kate."

"I don't know," replied Palmer. "There was more than enough time for her to be assimilated by the Maelstrom."

"I don't know if it works like that," said Garry.

"I don't trust her," insisted Palmer. "That act of fear and innocence is just to appeal to our emotional side."

"Alright Palmer," sighed Garry, rolling his eyes. "Wilkes, see if you can find the exit, get Kate out of here. Palmer, you go with him."

"You can't leave," muttered Kate. "There's no way out."

"I ain't goin' with Wilkes," declared Palmer. "Look, I come this far. I ain't goin' with him. I'll go with you."

"Alright," said Garry. "Jones, Henderson, you two go with them, and keep a careful eye on Kate, just in case Palmer is correct." The other three agents turned and started to work their way down the long corridors.

"So, it's just the two of us, then," Garry said as soon as the others were gone.

"I guess so," said Palmer.

"Alright," said Garry. "What we've got here is an elaborate maze of some kind." Garry picked up the PDA from before and transmitted another message. "Kate's on her way out," he said.

"Very good," replied Semick.

"There's just one thing," said Garry. "She was muttering something about there being no way out. It could just be her trauma but, given she seemed lost when we found her and the way this place is set up, I somehow wouldn't be surprised if the Maelstrom wasn't willing to let us go so easily. Palmer and I are going to split up. We're going to see if we can find the end of this labyrinth and keep you updated."

As Garry lowered the PDA, Palmer stared at him in uncertainty. "You sure about this?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Garry. "You go one way I'll go the other. We'll keep in contact with each other."

There was a moment of silence, and Palmer smiled. "Alright," he said before he turned and left.

*****

Zach gripped Andrew and Minerva's hands as they walked through the corridors of the Temple of Hotep III. His eyesight was still poor, but it was getting better. The blob of colors now began to take more visible shapes. Zach imagined it wouldn't be long until his vision was restored.

His legs felt like jelly. He wobbled with every step. Without Minerva or Andrew's support, he would never make it out of the temple. He was also extremely hungry, evidenced by his rumbling stomach. Despite this, Zach was somewhat fascinated by what had happened to his body following the defeat of the Maelstrom. It truly felt like he his body hadn't eaten, drank, or moved in years. Or shaved, as he appeared to have grown a bristly beard and his hair had grown out. He wasn't sure what he looked like, but he imaged he looked like some kind of hermit. The whole experience was like waking up from a wild dream.

He began to think of what to say to the other Dino Attack agents. He felt immense amounts of guilt. He had so willingly killed other agents, all in the name of the Maelstrom. Many more agents had probably been killed by the forces he had commanded. However, J.D. had been willing to forgive him, so perhaps others would. Minerva and Andrew clearly didn't care, despite how close he had come to killing them. Zach swallowed painfully. It would be hard to adjust. He had only been a Stromling for a few days, but it was likely to affect him negatively for years.

"We're at the stairs," Andrew said to Zach. Zach nodded. His right hand twitched again. He hoped Nazareno would be willing to build him a new hand. Andrew took the first step. Zach carefully felt the step with his feet and stepped on without stumbling. He grinned at his success when he suddenly felt his legs buckle. Minerva quickly caught him and pushed him back up until he was balanced on his feet.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"Yep," Zach grunted. "Just some more aftereffects." He nodded for Andrew to continue. They continued upward, taking each step one at time. Slowly but surely, Zach's balance was improving.

I really don't want to see a medic, he thought suddenly. He had heard Andrew speak about taking him to a medic. If that meant going to the outpost the Dino Attack Team had stationed itself at, Zach wasn't interested. Just by how quick he had started to recover from the Maelstrom's influence, he reasoned he should be in a semi-decent fighting condition soon. Then they could go to Temple of Creation, the true Maelstrom Temple, and defeat XERRD and the Maelstrom before it was too late. Getting me medical attention won't matter unless XERRD and the Maelstrom are stopped.

"Almost there," Minerva said into Zach's ear. Zach nodded again.

Finally, his thoughts came to Ahua. Zach grinned with almost evil satisfaction. Ahua had harassed from almost the moment he had arrived on Adventurers' Island. He had led the natives that had tried to kill him and Dust and tried to kill him personally multiple times. After all that, Ahua was finally gone. Well, I don't know if he's gone. Zach suddenly thought. He looked dead to me. Besides, if he isn't, I will personally make sure he dies.

The distorted colorful shapes in his vision were suddenly overshadowed by a much brighter light. He heard a door creak as Andrew pushed it open.

"We're out," Andrew said. Together, the three Dino Attack agents climbed out of the cellar-like entrance to the temple and walked on to the battlefield.

*****

Ahua groaned in pain. He shifted the remaining stone out of his way and climbed out of the hole that Zachary Virchaus had buried him into. He fell to his knees, his body screaming for mercy.

"That wretched..." Ahua growled, staring at the ground. He replayed his last moments before being knocked out by Zach. He escaped, Ahua realized in horror. He escaped the Maelstrom. Ahua couldn't believe it. One did not simply leave the Maelstrom's service, and yet Zach did.

"How?!" Ahua screamed, rising to his feet. The chamber was empty. All he saw was one of the Dino Attack's weapons lying in corner. It looked eerily similar to the weapon fused to Zach's arm. Ahua put two and two together. He reverted the transformation as well?! His anger began to grow. "We will kill him!" he roared.

"No," a distorted voice said out of nowhere, "you won't." The voice was calmed and controlled. Ahua knew exactly who was speaking.

He bowed low. "Why not, our lord?" Ahua asked. Perhaps he had heard wrong.

The voice chuckled darkly. "You have truly failed me in a most spectacular way, Ahua. How could someone so powerful fail in such a grand way?"

"We... don't know what you mean," Ahua said quietly. He saw the purple light that illuminated the chamber begin to dim.

"You let Zachary escape me," the voice said simply. "You were so in love with your pitiful power that you couldn't let Zach steal it away."

"We're afraid you are mistaken, our lord," Ahua said, his fear growing.

"I am NOT mistaken," the voice snapped. "You led those two Dino Attack agents here in hopes they could do what you clearly could not: kill Zach. And your plan failed. None of those Dino Attack agents are dead, and Zachary walks as a Minifig yet again. One of my greatest soldiers has abandoned me because of your greed and lust for power!"

"We're sorry, master," Ahua said.

"You're sorry because you did not kill Zach, not because you disobeyed me! You wretched pile of MegaBloks!" The light from the chamber faded away completely. Then in the center of the chamber rose a purple and black substance. "You don't realize the gravity of what you have done, Ahua!" the voice barked. "You have let Zach walk free, and he walks free with a new power. A power that could ultimately ruin the Maelstrom!"

"That prophecy garbage?" Ahua asked, remembering to the time he had dug into Zach's brain. "He's already had that power."

"No, you imbecile!" the voice screamed as the Maelstrom blob began to move toward Ahua. "He never had any power prior to his corruption. saved his life at the Maelstrom pool. I saw his potential and how I could exploit that against my enemies on this planet. Only after his corruption did he gain the power to manipulate the Maelstrom! And now, he walks against me with limited manipulation over the Maelstrom! All because of you, Ahua!"

Without warning, the Maelstrom shot into Ahua's body. He groaned and fell to his knees. First, he felt pain, then he felt stronger. More powerful than ever.

"So you wanted to be in power," the voice said. "So be it. You will get more power than you could possibly control."

Ahua grinned as he rose to his feet. He was surprised by the Maelstrom's sudden change of heart, but he didn't worry for long. It was time to kill Zach.

The Maelstrom filled every ounce of Ahua's body. He chuckled. He was invincible. Nothing could stop him. After several minutes, he decided he had enough Maelstrom and attempted to push the remaining power away. However, it ignored him and continued to enter his body.

Ahua frowned. "Our lord?" he said.

"I meant what I said, Ahua. More powerful than you could possibly control." Ahua realized exactly what the voice meant. The voice began to laugh. Dark, ominous laughter. Ahua desperately tried to stop the flow of the Maelstrom, but nothing came to fruition. The Maelstrom began to overwhelm him.

His head pounded furiously. Ahua cried out in pain. "Why... do... this... demon?!" Ahua managed to choke out. The English he had learned was slipping away, and the voice's laughter grew louder and louder. Ahua felt his chest. His heart was pounding against his chest. He felt like his entire body was swelling up and was about to pop.

"It was nice knowing you, Ahua," the voice manage to say between laughs. "But you have failed me. For the last time!"

Ahua screamed, clutching his head and he fell to his knees. His vision had become extremely distorted. He looked at his hands. They were fading away into dust.

Ahua's screams grew louder as did the voice's laughter. Ahua's heart seemed about to burst out his chest. Finally, he felt something pop in his chest. Ahua fell to the ground, his eyes rolling back. He died just before his brain also exploded due the pressure from the Maelstrom. Several more seconds past and Ahua's body disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a pile of violet-colored dust.

*****

Dr. Cyborg's team had started to enter the temple as other agents arrived. The Dino Attack team was going into the temple in teams of five every few minutes. His team had left first. It was made up of Dr. Cyborg, Katerina, a Loop, Lance, and Kara.

"There!" Lance yelled as a Stromling appeared in front of them. The Loop raised a Cosmotronic Ray at him and fired. The Stromling dissipated.

The entire team had been equipped with Cosmotronic Rays from the Reclaimer at Dr. Cyborg's suggestion. He may not kill Mutant Dinos, but may the First Builders have mercy on Stromlings, for he would have none. This mission had no room for anything but extinction for the Stromlings.

"I wish there was a better way to fight," Dr. Cyborg said.

At that moment, something strange began to happen. His armor began to unfold and fold. The transformation began at his legs. The armor on the back of his legs folded off, and was overlaid on the armor on the front of his legs and tops of his feet. The armor from his knee joint completely disappeared, reinforcing his upper and lower leg armor. The same general transformation occurred on his upper legs, adding armor to his front, removing it from his back. At his torso, the armor stayed on his back; what shifted was the armor on his sides, moving to his chestplate and backplate. The transformation then reached his left arm. Here, the armor on the side of his arm that was almost always by his body moved away to reinforce the opposite side. At his hand, the back split open and something rose out, a circle with eight rods connecting it to his hand. On his other arm, the most dramatic change occurred. The armor and his skeleton shifted and changed, becoming a gun attached to his arm. On his helmet, the visor changed its HUD. The transformation was completed. It only took a handful of seconds.

A Stromling ran in front of them, in the form of an Islander. It launched its spear arm at them. With no time to shoot, they all dropped to the floor, except Dr. Cyborg, who put his hands in front of his face, left on top of right. Before the spear reached them, green light shot out of the device on Dr. Cyborg's hand, and formed into an oval in front of him. The spear bounced right off of it. "Cool," Dr. Cyborg said. He raised his gun arm and shot the Stromling, and it disappeared.

Everybody got up. "Hey, maybe my shield can cover the hallway," Dr. Cyborg said. He fiddled with the control panel that had appeared on the inside of his arm. The shield expanded to cover the ten-foot-wide hallway. It covered it horizontally and vertically. They marched forward, sticking their guns through the shield to shoot any Stromlings.

The hallway took quite a few turns, but eventually, they saw a battle and a Maelstrom vortex. They entered the room, and the shield expanded. A XERRD scientist shot at them with a Sonic Rifle. However, instead of the shield blocking the shot like it should have, it passed through the shield and hit Kara. "I'm okay, it was lessened by the shield," she said.

"Hmm, the shield's effectiveness varies inversely with its size," Dr. Cyborg noted. He shrunk it to personal size, the setting it was in by default, and his team charged into battle.

*****

Kate, Wilkes, Jones, and Henderson made their way through the passageways of the Maelstrom Temple. The twisted and blackened architecture, the purple fog everywhere, and the faint foreboding whispers served only to disturb them all.

"This is impossible," grumbled Wilkes, frowning. "We literally just came this way. How could we be lost already?"

"This very place seems to be the Maelstrom's sandbox," murmured Jones. "I think it can change it however it wants."

"Oh, don't be silly," Wilkes said as he shook his head. "The Maelstrom is just dark, destructive energy. It can't want anything; it's not sentient! Now, how do we get out of here...?"

"You just don't get it, do you?" whispered Kate Bishop. "There's no way out. There is no escape."

Her teammates froze in shock. While she repeated the same warning that she had said before, it sounded more like a threat. Turning around, they faced the young woman, who appeared to be smiling darkly.

"Holy..." cried out Henderson. "Shoot!"

A gunshot rang through the passageway. Everyone stared now at Jones, who held in his trembling hands a pistol. Then, they looked back at Kate's fallen form. Only, now they saw that it was not Kate at all, but a misshapen pseudo-Minifig with an exposed ribcage... a Stromling.

"I don't believe it!" gasped Wilkes. "Palmer was right - she was infected!"

Henderson scratched his chin. Unlike the Stromling Agents who had infiltrated the Dino Attack Team, Stromling-Kate was not wearing a Dino Attack uniform, nor did she bear any slight semblance to her Minifig form. "Something tells me that this was never actually Kate," he murmured. "Looks more like a trick from the Maelstrom." Before he could say anything more, the Stromling corpse disappeared in a puff of Maelstrom energy.

"Which means...?" inquired Jones.

"Kate might still be alive," said Henderson, biting his lip, "but she's still trapped here... and so are we... and the Maelstrom knows we're here."

*****

Rex and Zed Provhezor exchanged blows as they struggled to remain seated in the out-of-control hover-chair that flew chaotically across the chamber. Physically, Provhezor had the advantage, since his mechanical right arm packed an extra punch, but his hand-to-hand combat skills had deteriorated somewhat after being confined to his hover-chair for such a long time, while Rex spent most of his time in the battlefield.

The hover-chair twisted and turned randomly, lurched and pulled back wildly, flipped and spun chaotically, as though it were purposely trying to eject its occupants. As Provhezor grabbed Rex's vest and tried to toss him off, the chair flipped upside-down. In his panic, Provhezor let go of Rex, and together they struggled to hold onto the chair's armrests and flip the chair back over. Then, when Rex nearly succeeded in shoving Provhezor out of the chair, the chair was on a collision course with the Imagination statue, and only Provhezor was quick enough to pull a switch and barely maneuver around the statue.

As Rex persisted in his nauseating battle against the XERRD scientist, Amanda Claw watched as the mysterious samurai entered the temple chamber and surveyed the area. Instinctively, she tightened her grip on her knife as the samurai laid eyes upon her. She could not see the samurai's face, which was concealed by a veil, and that made her suspicious. However, the samurai only silently nodded to her, as though trying to say that they were on the same side. Then, the samurai turned away from Amanda and, with the torn black cape spreading out, charged towards the gathered XERRD scientists.

Amanda gaped in horror as the samurai was greeted by a barrage of missiles raining down upon the warrior. Then, she watched in surprise and awe as the samurai, who was apparently far more agile than the armor would suggest, rolled out of the way of the missiles just before their impact. Then, her surprise turned to shock as the samurai began firing bolts of lightning at the XERRD scientists... from the palms of the samurai's hands.

Unable to believe her eyes, Amanda turned away to check on Kate, only to gasp in horror. The young girl was gone. She glanced around, but could only see XERRD battling against Rotor and the samurai.

Wallace Bishop struggled to concentrate on the Maelstrom. The sounds of battle had only increased, and he heard his fellow XERRD scientists yelling in triumph, anger, and occasionally in panic. As much as he wished to help his allies, he knew that he was a scientist, not a fighter, and besides, he had promised to stay out of the conflict. His ultimate mission was his most important goal, and timing was key; with the Maelstrom growing too powerful, he needed to keep it in check, so he could not turn off the Maelstrom Vacuum too quickly, nor could wait too long, lest the vacuum device absorb too much Maelstrom energy and destroy itself. He could not act too quickly or too late, and knowing when to act required his utmost concentration-

"Uncle!"

Wallace froze. "Kate!" he whispered, not taking his eyes off the Maelstrom Vacuum. "I told you that it's too dangerous! Get back!"

"No!" shouted Kate, who stood behind Wallace. Her fists were clenched and, in her eyes, although they still were wet with tears of fear, there was a look of fierce and grim determination that had never been there before. "You have no idea what I've been through! I've seen the worst of this war, and you, uncle... you're just helping them?"

Don't answer, Wallace thought to himself, struggling to focus on the Maelstrom Vacuum. She will understand in time.

"I'm done, uncle!" cried Kate. Wallace was impressed to hear such defiance in Kate's voice even as she sounded on the verge of sobbing. "Why can't you just end-"

A bolt of lightning-like energy shot out of the center of the Maelstrom vortex. Wallace dodged, but realized too late that he was not the target. Spinning around, Wallace saw the lightning strike Kate and throw her back several meters. "No!" he shouted, his eyes widening.

Neglecting his duty, Wallace Bishop rushed to the side of Kate. There, she lay, still alive and not badly hurt, but stunned and very visibly frightened. Wallace knelt down and grabbed her hand, locking eyes with the young girl and, for the first time, truly seeing the terror in her eyes. "Oh my First Builders," he whispered.

Zed Provhezor's hover-chair spun past the Bishops. Wallace glanced up and saw that Dr. Provhezor had the upper hand, with his mechanical claw gripped tightly on Rex's neck. The hover-chair's chaotic flight pattern brought it dangerously close to the unattended Maelstrom vortex. Without warning, another bolt of lightning shot out of the vortex and struck the hover-chair, knocking it out of the air and dumping its passengers onto the stone floor, dangerously close to the Maelstrom.

Both Rex and Provhezor saw the danger they were in. Like a black hole, the Maelstrom vortex threatened to suck them both in, and they could feel its power pulling on them. Struggling to recover, Rex and Provhezor used their arms to slowly crawl away from the vortex. With the Maelstrom pulling them in, whipping at them like a cold whirlwind, it took an incredible amount of effort to place one hand in front of the other.

Cursing quietly to himself, Provhezor tried to grab onto Rex's dead legs, slowing down Rex. Then, Provhezor crawled alongside Rex, shoving him aside to get ahead. Rex, who was trying to concentrate on crawling rather than fighting, could not defend himself. But as Provhezor gained ground and tried to push Rex back, a surge of Maelstrom energy rushed over them.

Amanda Claw rushed over and grabbed Rex's hand. But Wallace Bishop was too far away and occupied with Kate, and so he could do naught but watch in absolute horror as Zed Provhezor was sucked into the Maelstrom vortex.

The last words of the XERRD scientist hailing from Barron were filled with terror. "Zis iz ze end!" he cried as he was pulled into the black hole. "No legz... und now, no live!" Then, the Maelstrom claimed Zed Provhezor's life.

As Amanda carried Rex to safety, Wallace Bishop felt sickened by what he saw. He stared at the Maelstrom vortex, then slowly turned his head to look at the battle. He was shocked to see XERRD's ranks breaking before Rotor and a newcomer... who wore samurai armor... and fired lightning from the hands... "But that could only mean...?" whispered Wallace.

Staring back at the Maelstrom, Wallace Bishop realized he was running out of time. The Maelstrom was growing too powerful, even with the Maelstrom Vacuum in use, and only he could control its strength long enough to ensure the survival of his allies. Torn between the Maelstrom and Kate, Wallace suddenly knew what he had to do. He dragged Kate, who was still stunned from the Maelstrom lightning, to the far side of the chamber, out of the way of battle. "Please, be safe," he whispered gently to her.

But, as Wallace Bishop returned to the Maelstrom vortex, a shadow fell over Kate's still form. "Well, then, my dear Kate Bishop. I imagine you are prime meat for negotiations." Then, Walter Breen laughed darkly.

*****

Frozeen kicked aside a Mutant Lizard as it tried to climb onto the High-Voltage Half-Track. Beside him, Greybeard slashed at another Mutant Lizard that had already succeeded in climbing aboard the vehicle.

"Come on, you two!" snapped Lord Sam Sinister. "Hold the Maelstrom Crystal where I can see it!"

"With all due respect, Lord von Barron," muttered Frozeen through clenched teeth, "it's getting harder and harder to do that."

"I need to see in which direction the Maelstrom Crystal's mist points!" declared Lord Sinister. "Unless, of course, you want me to drive to the wrong temple! As it is, we are much too late! The rest of the team is probably there already!"

The trees shook, and a pair of Mutant T-Rexes emerged, saw the High-Voltage Half-Track, laid eyes upon the Maelstrom Crystal in Frozeen's hand, and bellowed angrily. Although Frozeen tried to aim his weapon at them, the Mutant Lizard from earlier successfully jumped back into the vehicle and tackled Frozeen to the ground, snarling viciously. The crystal fell out of Frozeen's hand.

As Frozeen tried to defend himself and Greybeard struggled to pick up the crystal with a pair of Mutant T-Rexes glaring down upon him, Lord Sam Sinister finally screamed: "That's it! I'm sick of this!" With that, he knelt down and grabbed the Maelstrom Crystal in his one good hand.

Instantly, all the Mutant Dinos froze and stared at Sam Sinister. "No!" cried out Frozeen, who struggled to kick off the Mutant Lizard standing over him. "Sinister, give the crystal to Greybeard before they attack you!"

But Sam Sinister did not put down the crystal. And the Mutant Dinos did not attack him, but instead stared at him, as though they were waiting for something. "Get out!" shouted Lord Sinister. "All of you! Get out of my way, for I am Lord Sam Sinister von Barron!"

"What be ye, crazy?" cried Greybeard. Then, the old pirate swallowed his words as the Mutant Dinos turned and departed silently, even the Mutant Lizard who had tackled Frozeen. The Alpha Team agent got up, and with Greybeard he stared in shock at Lord Sam Sinister.

The expression on the Lord von Barron's face was grim. Almost inaudibly, he whispered: "And so, it is exactly as you have told me. But why?"

Then, Lord Sam Sinister returned to the wheel of the High Voltage Half-Track, staring at the Maelstrom Crystal in his hand and the direction of the mist it produced. The vehicle continued in its path to the Maelstrom Temple, this time without interruption.

*****

"Palmer," Garry muttered into his communicator. There was no answer, but he continued anyway. "I think I might have found them."

The noise of some form of chaos echoed throughout the corridor as Garry made his way towards a dimly-lit room. Slowly, he reached for his revolver and quietly removed it from its holster. Inside, sure enough, he had trouble making sense of what he saw. He had to squint as he saw one figure approaching a large vortex of some kind. At this point he knew he had to do something.

He saw a young woman, whose face he recognized as the girl from the planning room, and she was holding none other than Rex himself. Quickly, Garry approached the two of them. "What in Builder's name is going on in here?" Garry shouted.

"Garry?" Rex said. "What the Znap are you doing here?"

"Looking for you," replied Garry. Picking up his communicator, he shouted: "Palmer, I found them! Do you read me?"

There was no answer.

"Palmer!" Garry tried again. Still no answer. "Palmer, can you read me?"

"Loud and clear, Garry," replied Palmer's voice. However, to his surprise, it seemed to come from behind him. He quickly turned to see Palmer standing there, with a strangely intimidating grin. "You should have killed me when you had the chance," he said.

"What are you talking about?" wondered Garry. He stared nervously as he raised his gun.

"I'm afraid that won't do you much good," taunted Palmer.

Garry stood firm, his hands trembling. He pulled the trigger and a bullet went right through Palmer's chest. Then, to his utter surprise, the wound miraculously healed itself, almost instantly. There was a horrific glow as Palmer's skin changed to a dark purple.

"I don't believe this," whispered Garry. "All this time you-"

"A Stromling," finished Palmer. "Yes."

"And Clark?"

"He was never infected," revealed Palmer. "Congratulations, Garry. You murdered an innocent man and brought a Stromling to the ultimate source of power."

Amanda stared at him. "What?" she asked.

"I'll explain later," said Garry. "What about Kate?"

"You really think I'd let her off that easy?" said Palmer. "That was a little trick of the Maelstrom, one that I helped pull off."

"You gonna kill us?" asked Garry.

"Not yet," replied Palmer. "I'd like to have some fun before anything else. You will not escape, and I can tell you that none of your comrades will live to see the end of today."

With that, there was a cloud of mist as Palmer vanished, a menacing chuckle echoing throughout the room.

*****

Agents were arriving in twos and threes at the rope bridge. Slowly, as members received the message, Urban Avengers and Fire Hammers made appearances around the foliage to wait for further instruction.

The Temple of Creation rose ominously from the Maelstrom lake. Carl Lutsky had only seen two teams cross the bridge thus far. Elite Agent Garry Moffat had arrived first with a team. The second was Doctor Cyborg's team; it was made up of notable members including Schattenberg and was the more elite of the two.

Towering above Lutsky was X2. The commander looked into the UlTech Infiltrator's lifeless eyes and yearned to be free of the handcuffs binding him.

This is a disgrace! I should be leading these men, not locked away like a criminal!

For the most part Lutsky was being ignored. Agents all stood with binoculars focused on the temple and paid little heed to the commander. Only one person faced away from the building. He stood straight and locked eyes with him.

The stoic figure was warring a black suit with a black shirt and a black tie. Agents walked past the man as if he were a ghost and seemed to look directly through him.

In one hand, the man in black held a deck of cards; in the other, a red apple. He casually shuffled the deck as he approached the commander, walking purposefully across the chaos to sit beside him.

Lutsky faced paled as the man took a bite of the fruit. He chewed the sweet flavor as juice dripped down his chin. He offered the commander a bite of the apple but shrugged it away when Lutsky failed to respond.

"Dust."

The Egyptian nodded and placed the fruit on the floor beside him. "Hello, Carl."

"You're d-dead," stammered Lutsky.

"I am dead, Carl," said Dust. "I'm not here. This conversation is a figment of your imagination. They can't see me." He gestured with the deck of cards to the surrounding agents. "You're talking to yourself."

Sure enough, X2 had taken no notice. All the infiltrator could process was that Carl Lutsky was speaking, but to no one in particular.

"You clearly are having a hard time grasping this, Carl," said the imaginary Dust. "How about a card trick to break the ice?"

Lutsky nodded dumbly. The apparition smiled but his eyes remained cold. His hand moved over the cards like a spider and the suits flashed as he shuffled.

The commander finally regained his voice. "Why are you here?"

Dust did not look up. "I believe that's a question you have to ask yourself, Carl. I'm a figment of your imagination. I represent something, a focal point if you will."

"I don't believe in that hokum," muttered Lutsky.

Dust looked up. "Apparently, you do."

Lutsky returned his attention to the flashing deck of cards. The figment continued to work until the cards met his standards. Carl Lutsky looked around. This was a dream; how else could it be explained? Everything was as real as it should be. The temple remained in its location, and the agents continued their ambitions.

Everything was as it should be, except the man sitting across from him.

The Egyptian held up the cards to the commander and spoke in a serious manner. "Pick a card, Carl."

Lutsky rolled his eyes. He had no idea what tricks were in store; he just wished this experience to be over. It felt inherently wrong, but regardless he snatched a card from the Egyptian's hand.

He had wished that his hand could pass through it, but the crinkled card was tangible. Glancing at it uncertainly, he observed the object. 4

The corners were bent and worn, the design on the back was faded beyond recognition. Timidly, he returned it to the Egyptian's hand. Dust felt as real as X2 standing beside him.

The apparition seemed to sense Lutsky's thoughts, and he chuckled. "I'm as real as you make me out to be, Carl. The problem is you can't stop thinking about me."

Imaginary Dust finished his shuffling and laid the cards out before the commander. Without saying a word, he motioned for him to turn over the cards.

Lutsky flipped over the first card. A

The card was mundane in nature. Dust made no comment but motioned for Lutsky to turn over a second card. He did so. A

"What is this?" muttered the commander.

Dust nodded. "Interesting, Carl. Did you know that, in some cultures, the Ace of Spades is considered the most ominous of cards? It is known to represent disaster and death."

Lutsky flipped over the other cards. Every single one of them was the Ace of Spades.

This was madness; he had seen the deck, and he had held it in his hands. It had been a standard deck before, but they had changed.

"What's going on here?" growled Lutsky, regaining his courage. "I'm not afraid of you."

The Egyptian smiled. "The tricks not over yet, Carl. Look in your pocket."

Slowly, Carl Lutsky withdrew the Four of Clubs from his pocket. Dust was stone-faced as he took the card from the commander's hand. Placing it in the deck, he straightened them and returned it to his suit pocket.

"I know you don't like opening your mind, Carl, but let me try," said the Egyptian. "The Four of Clubs is described as some as 'the Devil's bedstead.' It's a good thing you're not superstitious, Carl, or I might be concerned."

"Did you really come here to play games with me?" said Lutsky gruffly. "Or do you have something intelligent to say?"

Dust took a bite of the apple. "You're right, Carl. How about we talk about the elephant in the room?"

Lutsky nodded. "This'll be good."

Dust smiled. "The fact that you killed me."

The commander's heart skipped a beat.

"You could not comprehend what my death would entail, Carl," said Dust. "With my body in the temple, my memory will exist forever in your head. With every decision you make, the thought of what you did will be present. I will always be present."

"I'm imagining you," whispered Lutsky.

"That's right," replied Dust. "You can't stop thinking about me, so your consciousness has created a form for your thoughts to inhabit. I reside in your mind now; that's not somewhere you want me to be."

"But you're not the real Dust, you're my memory of you!" accused Lutsky

"That's true, Carl," agreed the memory. "I am only an interpretation. Unfortunately, you've been on my bad side for a long time." Dust got up and brushed the dirt from his unnaturally clean suit. "When I was alive, I could be killed. But in your mind, I cannot be stopped. I'll always be a part of you now, Carl." He reached out and placed his index finger on the commander's forehead. "You can't escape me now."

Lutsky was now terrified. For one of the few times in his life, he could not fight back. No matter how hard he tried, he would never be able to stop thinking about the Egyptian whom he had killed.

Imaginary Dust chucked. "We'll be meeting again soon." He turned his back and walked into the jungle, where he was quickly covered by the trees.

The Infiltrator X2 watched as Lutsky finished his one-sided conversation. His knowledge of human psychology was minimal, but he could grasp that no one had spoken to the commander in hours.

Carl Lutsky was mad; he spoke as if a man had truly been there. X2 replayed the data in his memory. Even he could tell the mental state of Carl Lutsky was rapidly declining. 

*****

Minerva gripped Zach's hand tightly as she walked out of the temple and into the battlefield. A quick glance at her hair showed her that "shiny white effect" had disappeared. The streaks in her hair were now a light cream color. This is weird, she thought.

She looked out into the battlefield. The battle was more-or-less over. Very little Dino Attack personnel remained. Any Mutant Dinos remaining were struggling to fight off groups of native dinosaurs or fleeing from the battle.

Minerva jumped as several voices called out her, Andrew, and Zach. Several TumTum Islanders approached them, spears raised and a suspicious look on their faces.

"Stop!" one native barked. "Drop weapons!" Minerva and Andrew dropped their Injection Saw and rifle respectively. The natives then approached them cautiously, their spears nearly touching the Dino Attack agents.

"What's going on?" Zach whispered.

"Warriors from the TumTum Tribe have stopped us," Andrew explained quietly. "I think they think we are Stromlings."

"Well, it's a good thing I can tell these guys are not Stromlings, or all three of us would be dead," Zach said plainly. Andrew and Minerva looked at him, confused.

"What do you mean, you 'can tell'-" Minerva started.

"Silence!" the native barked. "Not sure if demons."

"Trust me," Zach spoke up again. "We're not demons." The native eyed him suspiciously before facing the rest of his group and conversing with them for a few moments. A different native left the group and brought back a massive green T-Rex.

"Dinosaurs determine demons," another native said. Minerva stepped back slightly as the T-Rex stepped forward and sniffed the three of them. Its nose wrinkled in repulsion before it turned back and said something to the natives in a low growl.

"He says you reek of demons, but you are not monster. Except for the one with flaming hair," the translator said, pointing his spear at Zach. "Unsure about him."

"He was one of the 'demons'," Andrew explained. "But we managed make him... uh... normal again."

The native raised an eyebrow in suspicion, but shrugged. "Fine, but keep eye on him," the native said finally. He and his group of natives quietly shuffled out.

Andrew turned to Zach. "How did you know for certain they weren't Stromlings?" he asked.

Zach shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I've been around them long enough to pick up whether or not someone is a Stromling. I know this isn't a whole lot of proof, but I can pick up the Maelstrom in the surrounding area. A couple large figures and two small figures."

Minerva took a quick look around the battlefield. "A few Mutant Dinos and..." She squinted her eyes as she watched the TumTum Tribe fight two of their purple-skinned brothers. "... Stromling Islanders?"

"That sounds right." Zach blinked rapidly and then glanced at Minerva, smiling. "I can see you. My eyesight is as about as good as it gets. Without glasses, of course."

"And how good is that?" Andrew asked.

"Not very well. I can see you too clearly. After about five yards, things become undecipherable blurs." Zach pulled his hands free of Andrew and Minerva's grip and started walking around them. Every few steps he would stumble, but would quickly regain his balance.

"Alright," Zach said finally, stopping in front of Andrew and Minerva, stretching his legs. "I think I can walk. Maybe run if the situation demands it. What's the plan now? I personally think we should go Maelstrom Temple."

"What?" Minerva asked, surprised by Zach's sudden decision to head right into battle. "Zach, you were a Stromling not long ago. You were blind a few minutes. How can you think you can just go marching into the Maelstrom?"

Zach's eyes narrowed slightly. "I know, but this is rather important, don't you think?" he said. Minerva remained unconvinced. "Alright, look. I was one of the Maelstrom's subordinates for several days. A high ranking one, at that. I have some idea of what the Maelstrom plans to do, and it is not pretty. XERRD thinks securing the Maelstrom Temple will be simple, but I doubt that. This sounds cliché, but the fate of the LEGO Planet depends on the Maelstrom being stopped at that temple."

Minerva sighed. Zach was probably right, but she didn't want to send him into the Maelstrom Temple only to be killed by the Maelstrom or XERRD scientists. She turned to Andrew. "You're the Elite Agent. What do YOU think we should do?" 

----

Alpha Team Special Agent Magma awoke to the sound of a terrible series of explosions.

He looked around, and surveyed his surroundings. Unfortunately, there was not much to survey, other than the dark, grungy interior of a prison cell.

He frowned. How had he come to be here?

The last thing he could remember... hmm. What was the last thing he could remember?

Interesting. Memory loss.

He decided it was time to make a Tactical Decision: namely, that whatever he couldn't remember about why he was here was not an important priority. An important priority was getting out of here, especially since the sounds of explosions were getting much more terrible and, more importantly, closer to his location.

Magma studied the door mechanism. It seemed, on close inspection, to be rather shoddily built. Well, that rules out Ogel. Say what you like about that maniac, but his doors were serious stuff.

Whoever had thrown him down here had not bothered to confiscate his hidden laser, and so it was the work of a moment to fry the door mechanism and to smash it down.

He stepped outside into an equally grungy hallway. Whoever owned this prison seemed to not be very good at populating it, as there were only a few other cells, and almost all of them were empty.

The one exception turned out, to Magma's surprise, to contain Dino Attack Elite Agent Reptile.

"Reptile?!" Magma shouted through the door. He fired the laser and blasted down the door.

"Magma! What are you doing here?" Reptile asked as he stepped out.

"I don't know. Where is 'here'?" Magma said, frowning again. "Do you remember anything about how you came to be in this place?"

"No... I take it you don't either?" Reptile asked. Magma nodded, but his response was silenced by another massive explosion.

The scientist and engineer in Reptile were dying to find out what was going on and where they were, but he decided he would defer to Magma's superior tactical expertise, and ask questions later. And so, Reptile silently followed Magma to the door.

This door was significantly superior to the rather pathetic sheets of stone and wood that Magma had been able to shoot down. Some advanced technology had clearly been built into the construction.

Magma frowned at it for a few minutes. "I don't suppose you have any tools on you?" he asked Reptile. "I have a few things, myself."

"They did leave me a few things... here," replied Reptile, taking out a couple of pieces of equipment and putting them on the ground between the two men.

"Doesn't look useful... but we are both trained as engineers, after all. Let's see what we can do."

About fifteen minutes later, the Reptile-Magma Door Remover Prototype (Mark 1) had been assembled, out of Magma's hand laser, three of Magma's other gadgets that their unknown kidnappers had also left them, and a handful of common engineering tools and standard Dino Attack equipment.

"Alright, here goes nothing," said Magma, attaching one of the cables to the door frame. "Set laser initial power to 50%."

"Laser power active… attach the second cable!" Reptile shouted over the methodical humming of their device.

"Second cable attached... full power to the device, please," Magma returned, holding both cables against the door.

The door began to hum as well. Seconds later, it simply shattered inwards, collapsing out of its frame.

Magma and Reptile stared at it, then at each other. "Wow," said Reptile. "That actually worked!"

Magma nodded, amused. "And it didn't even fry my weapon, which is fortunate. Because we're about to need it."

For in the passageway revealed by the explosion were three heavily armored figures. They stared in surprise at Magma and Reptile, but soon regained their composure, drew swords, and charged.

"Get the laser, I'll take them!" shouted Magma. He dropped into a defensive crouch.

The three warriors seemed a bit shocked that this unarmed man was about to fight them head-on, and so their pace faltered a bit. This was fortunate, as it bought enough time for Reptile to grab the laser and fire it three times.

"Right. Now, grab a weapon, and grab some armor. We're going to see what's going on out there," Magma ordered. Reptile obeyed unthinkingly; he was out of his league in this situation. After a minute or two, Magma and Reptile were both armed with swords and wearing the armor of their captors.

Some time passed as the two moved through this facility. Magma wasn't sure where they were, but from countless infiltration missions, he could make a few guesses. It looked like a Castle Cove-style base. If they had been captured, presumably, it was by some knightly faction opposed to Dino Attack Team and allied with Dr. Rex. But who?

Suddenly, they rounded a corner, and found Shadow Knights fighting more of the guards.

"Well!" exclaimed Reptile. "I guess the cavalry - or, rather, the infantry - has arrived." Magma nodded. He was uneasy about their alliance with Vladek, almost as much as he was as uneasy about their alliance with Ogel. If "uneasy" was the right word for allying with someone whom he had sworn to capture or kill, who had escaped his grasp far too many times in the past.

Reptile and Magma quickly charged forward and joined the fight, with laser and sword. Magma cut down two of the enemies while Reptile got in a couple of shots from range.

The lead Shadow Knight turned to Magma and nodded. Frowning, Magma slowly nodded back. As if this was a signal, the Shadow Knights then charged off deeper into the fortress.

"Well, that was underwhelming," Magma said, frowning. "I wonder what's going on?"

The two agents followed them through some small corridors into a massive chamber. And there they found a terrible battle before them.

Dozens of Shadow Knights and a handful of Ogel's elite Space Drones were locked in combat with some of the native warriors. One of the Space Drones turned and saluted the duo. "Super Space Drone S-71 at your service, Reptile! It's been a while. And Special Agent Magma… good to see you," the drone said.

Reptile nodded. "What's been going on here? Actually, scratch that - where are we?" he asked.

"You're in the last stronghold of the Skr-Ok Clan. They allied with some band of knights who were hostile to Vladek and thus an ally of XERRD. Since our resources are a bit stretched thin, our masters sent in a joint strike team. We've been most successful so far, though your assistance would be welcomed."

Magma snorted. "The Skr-Ok Clan! Those incompetent, boring Vikings who were so little a threat we didn't care enough to keep them from regrouping... I've fought aliens, insane masterminds, evil maniacs, zombie drones - no offense - and countless random little threatening factions, but the Skr-Ok clan has got to be the most boring waste of my time I've ever dealt with...! Ahem. Point me in their direction and we'll finish them off soon enough!"

Reptile's mouth quirked, amused. He had never seen Magma completely lose it before… though according to hearsay, when it happened, there were thermonuclear results.

The Space Drone appeared amused as well, though with a Drone, it was hard to tell. "Well, then, their command post seems to be through that corridor. We've got a handful of my commandos in place for an assault, and we'd be honored to have a man of your reputation lead us into battle."

Magma appeared to smile. He headed off in that direction and addressed the Space Drones. As Reptile reflected later, the sight that day was one that probably no one in the room - Reptile, the Space Drones, or Magma himself - would have ever expected to see.

Special Agent Magma, who had sworn to fight Ogel with his dying breath, gleefully leading Space Drone commandos into the fray, cutting down human after human.

----

From his research, Dr. Strangebrick looked up in surprise as a young man suddenly walked through the doors of the infirmary. He seemed tired, possibly hurt. Hastily, Copper, Wade, and Carver ran to his assistance. Carver was the first to recognize him.

"Hertz?" she muttered.

Windows stood at a distance, concerned. The recent events had shaken him up quite a bit. He knew any one of his teammates could be Stromlings. Somebody had to have gotten to the blood, and somebody had to have destroyed that radio. In that moment, he felt alone, helpless. He did not know who to trust.

Hertz walked into the sterile environment of the medical wing. It felt strange moving from the brutal battlefield to being surrounded by clean white sheets.

Naomi was the first to reach him and she passionately embraced him. Despite the pain running through his arm, he smiled.

"I was so worried about you," she whispered. Hertz put his arm around her as she escorted him to one of the beds.

"What happened out there?" inquired elite agent Windows. "We lost contact with you not long into the fight."

"I was preoccupied," said Hertz. "The Renaissance was attacked by Mutant T-Rexes early in the battle. We lost altitude and got rammed by one of them. The helicopter was forced to the ground, and I was knocked out."

Naomi tenderly investigated the bruise on his temple. "You're going to need stitches."

Hertz nodded, and Giovanni Wade rushed to get the kit from storage room while Hertz continued his story. "I got out of the helicopter," he said. "But the Renaissance was on fire. Understandably, I was not able to reply to messages."

"It seems like a nice cover story," muttered Windows.

Hertz rolled his eyes. "Not you, too! I already went through this with Snake. I assure you I'm not a Stromling. Besides, there are more important things you need to know."

Naomi sat beside him and brushed the grime from his face. She rubbed his back and spread ointment on his burnt hands.

Hertz sighed. "That battle was a ruse. Dust led us to the wrong temple. Report has it that once the team got inside, they found the chamber empty and had to hustle it out of there to the Temple of Creation."

"Good Ole," said Copper. "The battle was a waste."

"Sadly, it was," agreed Hertz. "We took heavy casualties. Mur sacrificed himself early in the battle and both the Renaissance and the Talon were destroyed. There is no word what happened inside the temple yet, but I think most of them got out and escaped on a UlTech dropship."

"How many are still at the pharaoh's ruins?" asked Windows.

"When I left, most of the team was still there. I think a lot of them are pinned down by the Stromling horde."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" asked Naomi.

"Outpost 4 is running on a skeleton crew now," muttered Windows. "All the agents and vehicles left."

"All we can do is sit tight and prepare to receive wounded," said Wade, frowning. He had finished stitching Hertz's head and was now filling out a report.

Hertz excused himself and motioned for Naomi to follow him out onto the balcony. It was a clear day, a great difference from the fog that surrounded the temple ruins. Not a single cloud hung in the sky and the sunshine sparkled on the blue ocean.

"Naomi," Hertz begin. "When I was out there, it was you that kept me alive. When I was trapped in the Renaissance, it was the thought of you that gave me reason to endure. I could have accepted my fate, but that thought of never seeing you again gave me strength to survive."

Naomi Carver blushed, and Hertz stared into her chestnut eyes.

"And when I fought that Mutant T-Rex, I realized that if that if I died, we would not be able to be together. I left the jeep to be with you, Naomi, because for me, going to the Temple of Creation and fighting that monster would mean nothing unless I would be with you in the end. Fighting in the war has made me think about my life, Naomi. I came to the conclusion that it means nothing unless I can spend the rest of it with you, the spectacular woman I love so much."

He got down on one knee and took her hand in his hands. Naomi gasped. "I couldn't find a ring so you're just going to have to imagine it," Hertz said, smiling. "Naomi Carver, will you marry me?"

*****

"I don't trust him," Windows muttered, holding a rifle. "I bet he's the one who did everything, man."

"Right," Wade said skeptically. "So, he stayed hidden while the rest of the team was gone, destroyed the radio, and then snuck in here while no one was looking to sabotage the blood."

"Look, man," insisted Windows. "Someone here ain't who they appear to be."

Copper sighed. He turned toward Fuchs. "Anything from the tests that could help us?" he asked.

"Well," replied Fuchs, "theoretically, it might be possible to find traces in their blood, but something occurs to me. My predecessor, Dr. J.D. was murdered to keep the cure hidden. I'm thinking if there was a Stromling here, they would have noticed and tried to strike, unless-"

"Unless what?"

"The Maelstrom Temple," realized Fuchs. "Garry had a few other men with him. If there ever was a Stromling, it might have been trying to reach there."

"What would that achieve?"

"Well," explained Fuchs. "I can't be too certain, but assuming a stronger presence of the Maelstrom improves the strength of a Stromling, then exposed to the source they might very well be unstoppable. If I'm right, and Garry's just brought a Stromling to the true temple, we're in a lot of trouble."

*****

Rex blinked in surprise and bit his lip. "What in Builder's name was that Stromling talking about?" he murmured.

Garry frowned. "Look, I had no idea that he was-"

"Never mind," Rex said, shaking his head. "We'll worry about that later... even if Palmer is a Stromling, we need to take care of the far greater situation at hand. No use trying to blow out a candle when trapped in a burning building. Now, have you seen my wheelchair?"

"That looks like it," muttered Garry, pointing towards the wheelchair lying on the floor several meters away. He and Amanda helped Rex sit down in the chair, dodging the occasional XERRD missile or blast of dark magic along the way.

Now that he was no longer in an out-of-control flying chair, Rex looked around to have a recap of what had gone on while he was fighting Zed Provhezor. Rotor had gained much ground on his own; Rex had to admit, it was remarkable how tough that Dino Attack agent could be. To Rex's surprise, Rotor was aided by a mysterious newcomer who wore samurai armor, a torn black cloak, and could somehow shoot lightning at the XERRD scientists. In their wake, they left many XERRD scientists lying on the floor; some were merely stunned, but others would never move again.

Señor Palomar approached the group of Dino Attack agents, pointing his pistols at Rex and Garry. "Well then, mis amigos," Palomar said with a frown. "It appears that your cavalry is beginning to arrive. How unfortunate that our work here is nearly done. Don't worry, I shall grant you all deaths that will be retold in stories for many generations father to son, like the honorable man that I am."

"That's funny, Palomar," mused Rex. "How come your employers get to have all that fancy high-tech armor, and all you get is a gas mask? Doesn't seem very honorable of them, now, does it?"

Palomar's frown turned into a grimace. "Do not try to toy with me, Rex."

"And if you are so honorable," probed Rex, "why are you betraying your planet, your home, even your species to a bunch of mad scientists who don't know what they're doing?" Before Palomar could reply, Rex continued: "How much treasure did they offer you? Did you just want to be a little, hmm, richer? Come on. That's not honor, that's greed."

Palomar seethed with fury. "Fool! Do not dare to insult my-" He was cut off when he felt a knife at his throat. Only then did he notice that, while Rex was talking, Amanda had silently slipped around them and sneaked up on him. He proceeded to mutter expletives in Spanish.

Garry chuckled. "Nice one."

Rex smiled, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw one XERRD scientist creeping along the far wall of the Maelstrom Temple. He recognized the scientist as Dr. Walter Breen, and it was clear that, now that Dr. Provhezor was no longer alive to boss him around, he was trying to escape the battlefield unnoticed.

"Would you look at that?" Rex told Palomar. "Looks like one of your... err, amigos is acting dishonorable."

"Breen," Palomar said as he gritted his teeth. "I always hated that man. Tell you what... call off Silencia Venomosa's attack, and I'll help you teach him a lesson in honor. Just this once."

Rex, Garry, and Amanda traded glances. "Do I have your word?" Rex asked, narrowing his eyes skeptically.

"You have the word of an honorable Spaniard," promised Palomar. Slowly, Amanda took the knife off his neck and backed away, but it was clear from her posture that, if Señor Palomar tried anything, she would not hesitate to plant the knife in his flesh.

With Garry pushing Rex's wheelchair, Rex, Amanda, Garry, and Palomar rushed over to intercept Walter Breen's path. Breen saw them approach, laughed, and proclaimed: "Ah, ah, ah. Just hold there for a second before you get any ideas. You seriously would not think of laying a finger on me, now, would you? Not with... her in my arms!"

As they got closer, only then did Rex see that Breen had Kate Bishop locked in his grasp. She was struggling against his grip, but he held firmly onto her with one hand and, in the other hand, pressed some sort of laser gun against her temple, mimicking what Rotor had done earlier.

"Profesor," declared Palomar. "Put the girl down, or I shoot."

"Oh, shut up!" scoffed Breen. "You have no power here! Our benefactor may have agreed to let you have the XERRD Fortress, but seeing as you have forsaken that, I have no reason to listen to you. And that goes for you too, Dino Attack agents. I'm XERRD's negotiator, and I am much too high-ranking to dirty my hands with such things as combat, but even I must use aggressive negotiations every now and then. And here's my proposal: I go free, or your precious little Kate gets to feel what it's like to be shot in the head!"

Rex silently cursed himself. Why did I bring Kate along? Why did I subject her to so much horrible pain? I was hoping to keep her safe, but instead put her in far more danger.

"Did you Dino Attack agents really think you could outwit destiny?" mused Breen as he moved towards the exit. "You are just a few pathetically stubborn individuals who are placing yourself in the way of a better future. I'm not talking about the petty future of the Minifig race; I'm talking about continuing the existence of the universe itself!"

Although Rex was furious with Breen, he kept himself composed in order to not do anything that would prompt Breen to pull the trigger. "Need I remind you that Dr. Bishop has specifically commanded all of us to leave Kate unharmed?"

"Why, yes," Breen said as he nodded without fear. "So, do your part and don't do anything that would bring harm to poor little Kate. And besides, I know Wallace Bishop. He's practically a yes-man to our benefactor, and so his focus is most likely solely on the Maelstrom Vacuum, as it should be. He never cared about Kate. And besides, since he would never dare to anger our benefactor by killing his prime negotiator, Wallace Bishop would never lay so much as a finger on-"

A gunshot rang through the chamber. Walter Breen stared forward with wide eyes and his mouth hanging open. Then, like a marionette whose strings were cut, he dropped to the floor, leaving only Kate standing.

Everyone paused, even Rotor, the samurai, and the remaining XERRD scientists. They stared in shock at Wallace Bishop, who had once again neglected his duties to XERRD and the Maelstrom. The XERRD scientist stood a short distance away from Rex, Amanda, Garry, Palomar, and Kate, grimly pointing a gun at where Breen was standing just moments ago.

"No one," Dr. Bishop declared, "dares to threaten Kate."

Slowly, a few of the XERRD scientists approached to Dr. Bishop. Among them, Rex recognized Carolyne Provencal and Michelle Glados. They murmured amongst themselves, but only Glados directly addressed Bishop. "What was that?" she inquired flatly. "You should be collecting Maelstrom energy."

Wallace Bishop held up the Maelstrom Vacuum. "It's full," he announced, "and so my work is done."

"But," said Provencal, "do you have any idea what you have done, Dr. Bishop? None of us liked Breen, true, but if Dr. Rex finds out about this, he-"

"I will no longer worry about that," decided Dr. Bishop. "I'm an avid chess player, and I used to play chess all the time with an old lab partner of mine. And, over the years, I've learned that... sometimes, in order to score a checkmate, you must be willing to sacrifice a bishop. And today... Wallace Bishop will be that bishop."

"Oh, please," muttered Glados. "You're being emotional. And where had emotion ever gotten you? And what use is the girl anyway? Aside from a 'bring-your-niece-to-work day', the only potential she has is as a good test subject."

Bishop pointed the gun at Glados. "Don't you dare suggest such a thing!" he snapped. "And don't think I won't pull this trigger just because you're third-in-command... and not just because I have a higher rank than you. Because I have emotion, and emotion makes me stronger than you!"

Glados was silent. Then, Wallace Bishop lowered his gun and slowly approached Rex. "What are you doing?" shouted Provencal. "Stop! I-"

"My ultimate mission is what is important now," Wallace Bishop solemnly declared. "And to score this checkmate... the bishop must be sacrificed."

Rex pointed his Sonic Screamer at Wallace Bishop, forcing the scientist to stop in his tracks. "Don't make another move," he whispered.

Dr. Bishop smiled lightly. "Is this a way to treat an old friend, Rex?"

"Betraying XERRD does not automatically make you our ally," Rex's tone was stern. "It only shows you for what you are. A traitor. Who is to say you won't betray us next?"

Dr. Bishop bit his lip. "I've always been on your side," he stated. "I just needed the right moment to reveal myself. I am not a traitor; my allegiance has never been with Dr. Rex. If it were not for me, XERRD would have already won the war. The Dino Attack Team would have been destroyed… by your hands, Rex."

"What do you mean?" said Rex, blinking.

"You were a dangerous weapon," explained Dr. Bishop. "Had Dr. Rex's plan succeeded, you would have infiltrated the Dino Attack Team under the guise of just another agent, then strike at the founding members when the moment was right. All Dr. Rex needed was to carefully install this plan into your brain, but he was far too busy at the time. So, what better person to turn to than his second-in-command, a skilled biochemist with several degrees in neurobiology? He could trust me to do the job correctly."

"But you failed," Rex pointed out.

"No," said Dr. Bishop, chuckling. "I succeeded. While I made necessary alterations to your brain, I did not install this plan into your mind, for I knew that it could quickly end the war in XERRD's favor. I could not allow that. Dr. Rex was oblivious to the missing information, and once he found out, I told him it was merely a lab accident, a simple mistake. But in truth, I deliberately foiled his plans. My loyalties, after all, lie with Nexus Force and the Dino Attack Team."

This seemed to Rex like nothing more than a web of lies spun to cover up Dr. Bishop's mistakes. "Prove it!" snapped Rex.

Then, Dr. Bishop reached into his own eyes and pulled out two small clear objects. Eye contacts. He threw them down upon the floor, then reached up and began ruffling his hair. The neatly-combed hair became tangled and wild, until it reached a point where it looked as though it never knew a brush or a comb. Then, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a pair of glasses, and placed the spectacles over his eyes.

It was Wallace Bishop, but completely transformed into another person. In fact, if he had a thick bushy mustache above his lip, he might have even looked identical to…

Rex's jaw dropped. "Dr. Frank Einstein?"

The scientist's eyes twinkled like stars. "Hello again, Rex," Frank Einstein said with a warm smile.

*****

Commander Vinyaya stood outside the Fire Hammer, on the cliff opposite of the towering Maelstrom Temple. Vinyaya could feel the evil and destruction radiate from the corrupted building. It even felt more like a Maelstrom Temple than the Temple Hotep III.

"Are we ready to go?" Dr. Martinet asked. Vinyaya turned to see the medic, who now had a large pack on his shoulders, no doubt full of medical supplies. He also had a machine gun resting calming in his arms.

"You're heading in?" Vinyaya asked, an eyebrow raised.

"Of course I am. It's my job to stand by and help the injured," he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

"You realize how dangerous this is, right?"

Martinet rolled his eyes. "Obviously. I've had some rather... interesting fighting experience prior to the Dino Attack, and I learned how to use firearms before coming here. I'm more prepared for this battle than any other medic might have been. Maybe except for Dr. Luzwheit of that 'Second Headquarters Squad'. Now, let's press on." He gestured for Vinyaya to take the lead. She nodded and started to head toward the rope bridge.

As she approached, she saw several Agents and Dino Attack agents working to assemble a zipline to cross over to the Maelstrom temple as Semick had requested. An Agent turned and saw Vinyaya and Martinet and gestured them over. "Take this rope and tie it somewhere over on the island," the Agent requested, handing Vinyaya a rope.

Vinyaya accept the rope and she started to head across the rickety bridge.

*****

"Several years ago," explained Dr. Frank Einstein, "I was assigned by the Nexus Force to keep an eye on Dr. Rex and his group of followers who would later form the XERRD organization. In order to do that, I had to adopt a completely new identity. But it is difficult to adopt a new identity for an extended period of time without accidentally revealing one's true identity in a slipup. I spent many nights conceiving a way to overcome this, and then it dawned upon me. My old lab partner, Dr. Wallace Bishop."

"My uncle?" Kate Bishop asked, hesitantly raised her hand.

"Indeed," said Dr. Einstein, nodding. He beckoned for Kate to come closer, and she slowly complied. He laid his hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes with fatherly tenderness. "He and I worked closely for many years. But unfortunately, one fateful day, a lab accident killed Wallace's assistant, Astrid Dunham, in an experiment involving opening portals to alternate dimensions. As Wallace was unable to sire any children of his own, Astrid was like a daughter to him, and he loved her dearly. After that, he was never quite the same."

The scientist's voice turned grim. "Wallace collapsed into a state of complete despair. The days got worse and worse until, for his own good, he was locked up in Napoleon XIV Mental Institution. But the institution could not wipe from his memory every detail of the lab accident and the death of Astrid. If anything, it worsened the experience, because being locked up in that institution isolated him from the rest of his family. He knew he would never again see his sister Sarah or his young niece… Kate."

"My mother had told me that Uncle Wallace died in a car accident," murmured Kate.

"And as far as the world knew or cared," sighed Dr. Einstein, "Wallace Bishop was no more. He knew he would never see you again, and I can only guess that Sarah thought likewise and decided it was best for you not to know that dear Uncle Wallace was in a mental institution."

"But what does Wallace Bishop in a mental institution have to do with you assuming his identity?" inquired Rex.

"Poor Wallace. The agony was simply unbearable for him. He had to get rid of it, one way or another. And so, he did."

A shadow passed over Dr. Einstein's face. "Wallace Bishop waited until he could find a weak spot in Napoleon XIV's security. As soon as he did, he escaped the mental institution and traveled on foot all the way back to our old laboratory. There, he recorded a tape of himself, explaining what he was about to do. Then, he proceeded to cut open his head and pull out pieces of his brain. His intention was to remove the parts of his brain which kept the memories of his lab assistant and his family. When the police found him the next morning, he was lying outside a local post office, barely conscious, his forehead caked with blood, and a package in his hands. I was contacted right away, since the package was addressed to me. As for Wallace Bishop, he somehow survived, but the operation that he performed left him a mere shadow of the man he once was. I imagine he is little more than a frail old man with a short memory span and little grip on reality. But, Kate, if you so wish, I could make... arrangements for you to meet your real uncle Wallace. Perhaps, even if he doesn't remember you, there might be something left of you in his heart... Love, I always said, is an emotion too powerful to be simply forgotten."

"What was in the package?" wondered Kate.

"The tape Wallace had recorded… and the pieces of his brain that he had cut out. In the tape, in addition to Wallace Bishop recording his intentions and procedures, he hoped that I would find some use for the pieces of his brain, and also told me to, at whatever cost, protect the Bishop family from any danger."

"So that is why you said I was a 'special case' back at the XERRD Fortress," murmured Kate.

Dr. Einstein nodded. "Those events occurred twelve years ago. Not a day has passed without me thinking about them. About whatever use I might find for Wallace's brain. About my bestowed duty of protecting the Bishops. The latter would not come into play until recently, but the former came far sooner than I would have ever expected."

Rex listened keenly to what Einstein had to say.

"You see," Einstein continued, "I have already told you that it is difficult to maintain an alias for an extended period of time, and that is because one would have to base everything off a fictional personality with a fictional biography. Even Libo, who spent years under the identity of 'Little Bot', slipped up numerous times. I was determined not to make the same mistakes, because Nexus Force depended on me. Therefore, I turned to Wallace Bishop's memories. I extracted them from the pieces of his brain he had given me, and thus I had nearly an entire biography at my disposal. I knew Wallace quite well, and combined with the bits of personality stored in those brain cells, I had an entire second personality to use. And, on top of all that, Wallace Bishop and I are actually quite physically similar. All I needed to do was comb my hair, wear contacts, and shave my iconic mustache, and then I looked shockingly similar to Wallace. With a new biography, personality, and look, I was ready to adopt a new identity and act as Dr. Rex's loyal companion, all the while feeding information back to Albert Overbuild and Vanda Darkflame."

"I remember now," murmured Rex. "When you rescued me from the rubble of that laboratory, your mustache was shaved. You must have been spying on XERRD immediately beforehand."

"Not just that," elaborated Dr. Einstein, "but in fact I was the one who placed you under that rubble, so that once my fellow XERRD operatives left and you woke up, you would see me for whom I really was. By that time, I knew that something was terribly wrong with XERRD, but I was unable to contact Nexus Force in time before Dr. Rex set his Mutant Dino plans into motion. So, while telling Dr. Rex that I would be working out in the field, I instead began working with the Dino Attack Team. During which period of time I, of course, did not shave my mustache and let it return to its famous thick, bushy form."

"Something isn't adding up," murmured Rex. "If you knew all along that XERRD and Dr. Rex were behind the Dino Attack, and you were on our side… why didn't you ever bring it up? Why did Chompy and I have to go on a mission to learn what you had already known all along?"

Einstein sighed. "That is a fair question, and unfortunately I admit that my answer might not satisfy you. Shortly after the Dino Attack began, I heard that there was a large explosion at Dinosaur Island, so I mistakenly presumed that the laboratory was destroyed, Dr. Rex was dead, and XERRD was no more. I believed there was simply no need to bring up the ghosts of the past, and to instead focus our efforts on fighting the dinosaurs of the present. Perhaps I was also trying to protect my own reputation by not letting the world know that I had a hand in the apocalypse… yes, even I am not immune to my own self-interests. However, just before the Goo Caverns mission, thanks to you and Chompy, I learned that Dr. Rex was still alive. I privately confessed everything to Specs, who learned that I had been spying on XERRD for Nexus Force. We spoke with one another and decided it was in our best interest for me to resume my position as 'Wallace Bishop' so that I could feed information back, but this time directly to Dino Attack Team. I had my messages delivered in the form of pre-recorded holograms secretly contained in, appropriately enough, bishop chess pieces. I told the founding members not to tell any of you because I feared that, if the information became too widespread, XERRD would inevitably find out and Specs would lose an important spy."

"And not just a spy," noted Rex, "but the second-in-command of XERRD who can be trusted with important tasks such as operating on my brain."

"Exactly!" said Einstein, grinning. "On many occasions, I've also convinced Dr. Rex to hold back, especially after seeing the damage he and his Mutant Dino army did during the Goo Caverns ambush. For example, I ensured that the Constructopedia would not be destroyed by the Mutant Dinos, and I jammed communications on LEGO Island to prevent XERRD from teleporting Mutant Lizards aboard the T-1 Typhoons. Recently, I tricked Dr. Rex into believing that there was Maelstrom at Pirates Forbidden Island, distracting him long enough for FMB-Bots and Brickster-Bots to gain much ground in the invasion of Dinosaur Island. When he returned and destroyed much of the robot invaders, I convinced Dr. Rex to stay back on Dinosaur Island and to instead send myself and other XERRD scientists to Adventurers' Island. In doing so, I am leaving him at the mercy of a guerrilla war, while putting myself a position where I can finally expose my true role in this Dino Attack and help you contain the Maelstrom Temple. After all, being a former member of Paradox myself, I know a thing or two about containing the Maelstrom's dark energies."

Rex let this information sink in. He would never have suspected that Dr. Frank Einstein, that famous biochemist who formerly worked in the Dino Attack research lab, had played such a major role in the Dino Attack itself. He had worked to destroy XERRD from the inside, single-handedly foiling Dr. Rex's plot to infiltrate the Dino Attack Team and keeping Dr. Rex from unleashing his full forces on Dino Attack Team.

Then, Frank Einstein turned to look at the one figure who had not spoken at all: the samurai. "And speaking of containing the Maelstrom energies…"

On the other side of the chamber, Doctor Carolyne Provencal stared in horror as she watched the man they had assumed was Wallace Bishop reveal himself to be a different person altogether. He joined Rex, Venomosa, Kate, another Dino Attack agent, and to Provencal's surprise, Señor Palomar.

"Kill them," Provencal commanded to the few other scientists around her. "Except for Palomar. Leave him. For now." They obeyed and charged at the group.

Provencal then turned to Michelle Glados, who was watching Frank Einstein intently. "How did he remain undetected for so long?" Provencal wondered aloud.

"Dr. Rex put too much trust in him," Glados said. "He is the reason why we are even fighting the Dino Attack Team now."

Provencal simply nodded in agreement. Things were looking bleak for XERRD right now. Zed Provhezor had been killed by the Maelstrom, and Walter Breen had been killed by a mole. A traitor. And now, more Dino Attack agents were piling into the chamber and fighting against the scientists. It was just her, Glados, and group of cannon-fodder scientists.

"And what about Palomar?" Provencal suddenly inquired. "He seems to close to those Dino Attack Agents."

"I've noticed," Glados responded flatly. "He may possibly be manipulating them, but... I am uncertain."

"It is possibly those Dino Attack agents offered something more valuable than Breen offered."

"More valuable than survival from Mutant Dinosaurs?"

Provencal revealed a small smirk. "As crazy as it sounds, it's possible."

Suddenly, a Dino Attack agent started firing at the two scientists with a Cosmotronic Ray. Glados disappeared with her portal device while Provencal took cover, silently cursing the now second-in-command XERRD scientist for leaving her. She quickly spotted the attacker, who started running at Provencal. She spun her Sorcerer staff and fired a brilliantly-purple blast at the agent. The Maelstrom blast lit up the entire room as it struck the Dino Attack agent. He screamed as purple electricity travelled through his body. He fell to the ground, dead.

A bright orange light flashed to Provencal's left side. "Thanks for leaving me," Provencal said to Glados coldly.

"That was quite a light show," Glados said, ignoring Provencal's complaints.

"I provided a few upgrades to this staff to make it more lethal," Provencal quickly explained. "I'm glad to see they work. Now, let's kill these foolish agents."

*****

Palmer displayed a menacing grin as he embraced his newfound power, looking out upon the large group of agents trying to cross the rickety bridge.

Zachary was weak, Palmer thought to himself. With a few thoughts, he called forth an army. Within minutes, a dozen Stromlings of all sorts emerged from the temple and gathered around him.

"Ahua is dead," Palmer said, keenly. "You're working for me now. Show them no mercy. Kill them all, unless they get to the temple, then I will deal with it."

*****

There was a moment of silence as Rex and Einstein looked at each other before Garry spoke his line. "I know you gentlemen have been through a lot," he said. "But when you have the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this war TRAPPED IN THIS ZNAPPING TEMPLE!" The others turned in surprise at Garry's outburst. "We got to act fast," he said. "Rotor and I will get Kate out of here, the rest of you-"

"You can't leave, Garry," came a familiar voice. Garry turned around to see a recognizable face, right down to his cap.

"Clark," whispered Garry. "I thought you were dead."

"I was," replied Clark. It was at that moment he took off his hat to reveal a big, ugly bullet hole. "You killed me."

"I had no idea!" insisted Garry. 

"What's going on?" Rex demanded. 

"I'll explain later," said Garry. He raised his gun, aimed, and fired, nothing happened. Clark promptly advanced on Garry and grabbed him before throwing him violently onto the ground. It only took a moment for Garry to come to his senses, but as soon as he stood up, the projection of Clark was gone.

"What was that?" Rex asked.

"I think it was created by Palmer," suggested Garry. "He's not going to let us out. He's playing on our fears."

*****

Andrew thought over the situation as he spoke. "Well... I am concerned by Zach's state, but... he is looking determined to try and do something, and he is getting better by the moment, so..." He nodded. "Yeah, let's try and get to the temple. But Zach, I think we'd better find you some glasses before going into battle again. Mama Brickolini may be able to handle near-sightedness, but she's not a soldier, you know."

"Alright, alright," said Zach. "So how about we try and find out how to get there?"

Andrew was about to say something when he heard the sound of a vehicle behind them. Turning, he saw a Fire Hammer with a broken Xenon Launcher pulling up alongside them. And opening the front passenger door was a familiar face.

"Well, if it isn't the ex-Stromling himself and his saviors," said Stranger, his Mutant Lizard ally Buddy sitting atop the remains of the launcher. "Need a lift?"

"Oh yes," said Andrew, "definitely!" He climbed up into the back seats of the Fire Hammer, and as Minerva and Zach approached, helped the ladder to climb inside as well.

"Glad to see you've got Zach there back to normal," said Sherlock, another familiar face, at the driver's seat. "Shows the Maelstrom that they aren't as good as they think at 'assimilating' us or whatever."

"Eh, it was far from an easy thing to do," said Zach, who was looking a little awkward conversing with random Dino Attack agents again. "I don't think it can be done with just anyone who was taken by it."

"Oh, don't ruin the optimism for the agents who need it," said Stranger. "Now where are you three looking to go? An outpost? A med-tent or-"

"The Maelstrom Temple," said Minerva. "The real one, of course."

"Ooh, just jumping back into battle like that, eh? I like that in an agent. Sherlock, get us out of here!"

"Righto!" he said, putting the vehicle into gear, pushing on the throttle... and then the vehicle stalled. "Darn it! Give me a moment..." Sherlock began turning the ignition over and over a few times.

"We salvaged this vehicle from a crew that got wiped out by the monkeys early on," Stranger explained. "Annoying little buggers, those ones were. I'm sure Raider would've enjoyed hitting a shooting gallery full of those guys. Shame he got killed when the Dinos trashed our camp, though. But anyways, Sherlock had gotten there..."

Stranger continued rambling, but Andrew noticed that Zach was starting to look a bit guilty. He could guess why, considering Stromling!Zach had been responsible for both of the attacks Stranger had mentioned. Furthermore, Zach had worked with Raider during his brief stints as part of Semick's T-1 Typhoon crew, and while he didn't know how well the two may've known each other, knowing that he was very indirectly responsible for the death of someone he knew in the team must've been very hard to hear.

Andrew knew he needed to say something. And as Sherlock finally got the ignition going again and Stranger stopped talking, he took his LEGO Island neighbor's shoulder. "I know what you're thinking, and I say just ignore that. You weren't in control of your actions when you were a Stromling. Heck, it was practically just a bad guy with your good memories. What matters now is that you've got control of yourself again, and that you're not purple anymore. I realize that, Stranger and Sherlock realize that, and I'm positive the rest of the team do, too. Anyone that does harass you is simply going to have to learn that."

Zach made a small smile. "Thanks for the comfort. But even so, it's going to be hard for me to come to terms with this, you understand?"

"I do, but trust me that the rest of the team isn't going to try and make it harder. In fact, I still have my PDA here. You want to send a message to the team regarding your feelings on this?"

*****

Semick was calm, but still on edge. The agents below were preparing the ziplines, and Rockford was helping to send teams into the temple. Soon, they would have their entire force inside the belly of the beast.

He was getting reports sporadically. Some were saying the Maelstrom was playing tricks with the interior formation and with agents' minds, intent on not letting them leave. Given the stakes in this mission, Semick hadn't figured retreat for an option anyways, and so was content with this knowledge. He also had reports that agents were meeting up with Rex's team in the big central area Bluetooth had found when detecting agent signs earlier. He was relieved to know they were, for the most part, still alright, but was annoyed that he hadn't been contacted by any of them yet, even though he knew they were likely in the middle of battle. Especially since he was hearing odd reports of a lightning-shooting samurai and something about a Frank Einstein, which sounded a little familiar but seemed rather irrelevant to Semick.

Still feeling a little useless just hovering around barking orders, he was still considering the idea of blasting into the temple ceiling, which he was now debating via radio with Rockford and Captain Osprey.

"Now, I know you've already said this would risk injuring agents already in the room," said Rockford. "That in itself is definitely a major risk to consider, but might the ends justif-"

"NO," Semick interjected sternly. "I hate that kind of logic."

"Well, I think the obvious option is to give plenty of warning first," said Osprey. "Then make your entrance. How about that?"

Semick thought about it for a few seconds. "Well, it doesn't seem like we do have any other choice. I certainly don't want to not use our air support to our advantage, but I can't just let agents die from my own actions. Doing that would make me look like Rotor."

Rockford shuddered. "Not something anyone wants. If you want, I can do the job of holding back our incoming teams and warning the teams inside already. How does that sound?"

"As long as we can keep setting up the ziplines, I'm good with that," said Osprey.

"You most certainly can," said Semick. "I'll organize our T-1s, and when I'm ready Rockford, I'll let you know when to give the warning. That's all for now."

"Got it, Semick," Rockford said as he tuned out.

"I'll say this much, Semick," said Osprey, "The LEGO Planet could use more people like you to lead."

"So they say," Semick responded as he turned his attention to the T-1 Typhoons.

*****

"Oh, um," Zach paused. "Let me think about it a bit more." Andrew nodded and turned away. Zach looked ahead as the Fire Hammer began to move away from the battlefield and head into the jungle. Andrew's words did help, but guilt was still lodged in his throat. I led Raider to his death. He felt terrible. After riding with Semick's T-1 Typhoon crew multiple times, he considered Semick, Raider, and Bluetooth friends. And now he had, more or less, killed one of them.

Zach decided to not to focus on this newfound information and instead focus on something else. He soon noticed the rear-view mirror and realized he could finally tak