As Eleod faced off with Fara, everyone in the chamber suddenly became aware of the other eyes watching them. Somehow, dark pinpoints could be both seen and felt from every corner of the Baneling nest. Figures cloaked in purest shadow, the size of a man but made of cold, unadulterated darkness had surrounded them. They watched intently as the girl with the Mana Sword – who had just cut away the strands of the spell meant to destroy the Device With No Name – stared down the Son of Shade.
“Step aside, Fara,” Eleod said. “This is what we came here for.”
“Maybe it’s what you came here for,” Fara said. “But I came here because you said you needed me. Remember? Maybe this is what you needed me for, to stop you from doing this.”
“Fara,” Eleod said, coolly, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing --”
“No,” Fara said, “You don’t. And that’s just the problem! Aren’t you going to ask me where I was? If I’m injured? If Roxanne’s injured?”
“We don’t have time for this!” Eleod said.
Fara laughed. “You have as much time as I say you do,” she said. “Because I’m not moving, and I’m not letting you or your friends near this Device until you’ve heard me out.”
The Shield put an armored hand on Eleod’s shoulder. The superhero moved out from the circle and walked closer to Fara.
“All right, Fara,” the Shield said. “You’ve got our attention.” He turned and looked at the Baneling Busters. “We’ll listen. Won’t we?”
Without waiting, Fara went on: “There was an explosion in the docking bay. Galgann’s fire set off a fuel drum, and that was it. Boom. Roxanne protected me from the blast, and from strikes from the Baneling we ran afoul of after docking. When I came to, a cave in had separated us from the rest of you, and Roxanne was badly injured. Lethally so. And wouldn’t you know it, there was the Baneling that did it. The Baneling that killed Dr. Dougal. That wounded Roxanne. It was trapped. It was helpless. And its life was mine to snuff out at my whim.”
Fara shook her head. “But I didn’t. Because unlike the rest of you, I got close enough to see what the creature actually was. It was a child. In all your years killing monsters did any one of you stop to think that monsters could have children? Could have families?”
“I seen Banelings kill children before,” Horker scoffed. “Kinda nixes my sympathy for 'em, if you know what I mean.”
“Well I decided not to be a child-killing monster,” Fara said. “I set the Baneling child free. And do you know what happened next? One of the adult Banelings came out of the shadows. It approached me, and because of everything I’ve heard about them, I was terrified. It knelt by Roxanne… and it healed her. It healed her.” Fara looked out at the Banelings gathered in the dark. “These creatures aren’t monsters. They had no say in their creation, the life that Conn wanted them to lead. In fact, from everything I’ve seen, they’ve rejected that life. These Banelings are good.” Fara sighed and shook her head again. “The only monsters here, are us. Because we came here with the intent to wipe these creatures out and destroy the only means they have of reproducing. Dooming them, and whatever potential they might have had, to extinction. Isn’t that the kind of bullshit you all fought a war against the Gods themselves to stop!?”
“That’s nonsense,” Galgann said, with a sneer. “Stupid girl. Banelings don’t heal. How hard did you hit your head? Where is your valkyrie now, if the Banelings healed her wound?”
“It’s true,” Roxanne said, stepping forward. “I’ll admit that I was out cold when all this happened… but when I woke I had a new – and quite painful – scar on my side, and Fara had an insane story to tell of how that scar formed. I’ve known Fara to be a great many things in my time with her… but she is no liar. She tells the truth, and my being alive before you now is proof of it.”
“No,” Eleod said. “It’s not true. You don’t know, Fara. You don’t know them like we do. If you did… if you knew the loss we’ve suffered, the friends we’ve lost… you would not dare profane their memories by standing in our way now. I will ask you one more time, Fara… stand aside. Let us do what must be done.”
Fara shut her eyes. She took a breath. “No.” She stood squarely in front of the Device. “Being the Mana Knight means standing for something. And right now, I’m going to stand for these Banelings’ right to exist.”
Roxanne nodded. She moved to stand next to Fara. “So do I. If you must destroy this Device, you must destroy the both of us along with it.”
“Dammit, Roxanne,” Eleod stammered. “You don’t have to… don’t have to…”
The Shield took his place next to Fara, just opposite Roxanne. “Same here,” the Shield said, folding his arms. “Hope you boys brought something that can crack seraphim plastic.”
Osprey slid Shiva’s Edge into its sheath. He started to walk toward Fara and the rest, to join his friends.
“Osprey,” Eleod said, grasping at the former spy’s shoulder.
Osprey turned and locked eyes with Eleod. Then, with unexpected quickness, he slapped the old dwarf across his face.
“You ruined movie night,” he said, wagging his finger in Eleod’s stunned face, before moving off to stand with Fara, the Shield and Roxanne.
Eleod stood there and stared as the four friends – the Heroes of Albrook – stood, shielding the Device With No Name with their very bodies.
Eleod nodded grimly. “So be it,” he said, as he began to channel a spell. “Baneling Busters… on my command.”
Horker and Galgann, snarling victoriously, began to work together to conjure an enormous ball of churning frostfire.
“Let’s see if we can build this sucker up to hit seraphim’s melting point,” Horker cackled, Galgann joining him with psychotic glee.
Only Thetrel took pause.
“Eleod,” the sheikah said, “This isn’t right. You can’t…”
“Now’s not the time to break ranks, Skysinger,” Eleod said, “We’re in this together! We have to do this!!”
“Dammit, Eleod, those aren’t Banelings there! That’s the Mana Knight and the Shield!” Thetrel cried. “For Gods’ sakes, THE GREAT WAR IS OVER!”
Eleod stopped. His eyes went wide. “No,” he said, as if to himself. Grilka’s voice echoed in his head… the same words. The same sentiment. The same anger.
He looked up and he saw Fara standing there. Such courage. Such nobility. Such… heroism.
Gods, what was he doing?.. What had he become? What kind of a monster would…
The balls of dark force he was gathering in his fists slowly dissipated. “Stand down,” Eleod sighed. “I said stand down!”
Galgann and Horker, surprised, allowed their gathered elemental energies to fizzle.
Eleod slumped to his knees. Tears streamed down his face, and he pitched forward, his hands catching the earth as his back heaved with his sobs.
“Ah geez,” Horker groaned. “What a time for the CO ta grow a vagina.”
Thetrel threw an elbow into Horker’s ribs. The massive todo backed away and raised his arms in surrender.