"Bring the prisoner out," barked the General from the platform. Two Saurian guards emerged from inside the prison, dragging Nosedive between them.
Nosedive was terrified, but he kept a defiant posture, and refused to let himself show his fear. The Saurians dragging him forward faced the crowd on the platform, each holding onto one of his arms with bruising force.
The young prisoner shivered in the cold night air. His shirt had been torn from his back when he had been dragged out of his cell. His golden hair draped forward over his chest and gently stirred in the wind. His motherís hair. People had always commented on how much he looked like his mother, Julianna. She had searched for him, knowing he was there watching.
He found himself searching the crowd for her, even though he knew she was dead. Sheís with the Saints, he thought. He turned his head to look at the stars, which were shining brightly that night. It was breathtakingly beautiful. If only he could reach . . .
Nosedive gave a sharp cry as the barbed whip slashed across his body, then struggled to regain his composure. It hurt far worse than he had anticipated, but he fought to keep from crying out again. Lash after lash after lash made their marks across his back, sending blood trickling to the floor of the platform.
He stood his ground, trying to be defiant, trying to be strong, but it kept slipping away, and the more
the barbed whip cut at him, the more he wanted to be a child again, to be able to cry out unashamedly.
I canít give in. I canít let them break me. I canít . . .
"Aaaaaahh!!" Nosedive couldnít keep it up any longer. The pain was becoming more acute, the barbs
shredding his skin with the force of the blows.
A streak across the sky distracted him for a moment, and in that moment, he knew Cobran, Sparrow,
and Jax had made their escape. He lowered his eyes. Judging by the unchanging ferocity of the whip blows, and since a quick scan at his surroundings showed him that no-one was looking up, he knew they had not noticed anything. They hadnít known what to look for. But if Nosedive had stared at the sky for just seconds more than he did . . . they might have.
A final blow across his back, a final sob of pain, and the beating stopped. Not fooled, Nosedive
waited. Was this a new game they were playing with him, or was it over?
A bucket of ice water was dumped over his body, drenching him and making the night air even
colder. Blood mingled with water and ran freely down his back. At a signal from the General, he was
dragged from the platform.
"He will be likewise tortured tomorrow night and the next, until the Resistance answers our demand to
surrender. You will now be escorted to your cells."
Nosedive was flung into his cell, and landed in a heap on the cold floor. New blood filled his wounds and new pain filled his heart. He prayed to the Saints that Cobran would make it safely, that Wildwing hadnít been watching his humiliating torture. Painfully he drew himself to his hands and knees and crawled forward to his ragged pallet in the corner of his cell. He laid down on his side, trying to ignore the burning fire across his back. Despite the pain and promise of more tomorrow, his heart was comforted that Cobran had succeeded in his and his friendsí escape so far. Nosedive, weary beyond endurance, slipped into an fitful sleep.
Nosedive opened his eyes an hour later and hissed in pain as a pair of hands shook him awake. He dared not look up, trembling. Was it tomorrow already?
"Wake up. Come on, we havenít got all night."
Nosedive looked up, wincing as the throbbing renewed as he moved his body. "What - who-?" he croaked dryly.
"Weíve come to get you out of here. Some Saurian, Cobran Dragon-something, told us how to breach the system. With these." The duck, who was only two years older than Nosedive and who had feathers of dusty gray and hair of golden brown, held up a flat metal disc. Embedded in the middle of the disc was a Beryllium chip. Nosedive had seen these devices and how they worked before. Saurians used them to control the panels, including the doors of the cells and the security systems throughout the prison.
"Come on. Iíll help you up. My nameís Osprey. Cobran -what his name told me about you. But thereís no time to explain. We have to free the others."
"Good. Causeí I wasnít gonna leave without them. Not to that - that monster, Dactylar," Nosedive spat.
"Weíll rejoin the others in the next prison hall. With luck-might I add, incredible luck, weíll all be out of here before the Saurians awaken - and realize theyíre locked in their own headquarters."
Nosedive grinned as he watched Osprey work on the other panels that would open all the cell doors in the wing of the prison. "How did you manage to do that?"
"Anythingís possible when youíre a hacker. Cutting off Dactylarís frequency signals from reaching the V.S. (Viewer Screen = Television) channels, for instance. They were recording your torture to show on all the electronic screens in Puckworld for the Resistance to see. We made sure the signal never got through to anybody."
Nosedive shuddered, thinking of Wing having to watch him be tortured, not able to do a thing about it. He knew it would kill Wildwing as sure as he knew it would kill him if he saw his older brother being tortured. "Thank the Saints you were successful," he murmured. " That would have sucked major big time."
The cells slid open and the prisoners stumbled out, dazed and bewildered. Osprey turned to them.
"Okay, weíre going to get you all to safety. All we ask is that you trust us." The prisoners, still in a daze, nodded their heads in assent. They followed Osprey, who supported the injured Nosedive through various hallways; men, women and children, quiet as mice. Either they were all prepared for such an occurrence, or terrified mute.
They suddenly heard battle noises not too far away. Osprey rushed ahead to scout. He came back; not happy. "Shit! The Saurians overrode the locking command in their HQ. Gannet and the others are in trouble. Nosedive, you take the others out of here. Thereís an old route in the fallen city -"
"I canít leave you. We shouldnít separate," Nosedive argued, terrified of being left alone, in charge of prisoners who would look to him for their lives . . . lives that would surely be lost if he made a single mistake.
"Okay. Then youíll have to fight."
"If we donít, theyíll hunt us to no end," spoke out a burly prisoner. "And if we defeat them all, weíll acquire weapons to protect ourselves."
ďWell said, friend. Letís fight!" cried another prisoner. The male and female prisoners in good condition left the children, elderly, and injured in the safety of the corridor under the watchful eyes of Nosedive and rushed forward, swiftly and deadly their focused vengeance, coming from behind the enemy. Soon the Saurian guard had fallen and the prisoners looked warily about, gathering weapons and tending to the injuries of other prisoners who had fallen in the fight and of those who had been recovered from the infirmary from the last mine collapse.
Nosedive, keeping his balance with one hand braced on the wall, was suddenly set upon by two patrol guards who had heard the commotion and ran too late to help win the battle. They tackled Nosedive and all three of them crashed to the floor. Nosedive, in pain, but furious, threw punches that hit, but did not seem to hurt.
By then, Gannet and Osprey had seen his plight and rushed over. The two ducks made short work of Nosediveís antagonists. The man in charge of the rebels, Gannet, helped the boy up and steadied him while he swayed unsteadily, his back throbbing.
"Now, what, young friend?" Gannet asked Osprey.
"You said you knew where an old escape route was, Gannet?" asked Osprey.
"Yes, in the cellar, the entrance hidden by a few planks of wood. It was blown apart by a few members of the Brotherhood of the Blade in the escape of 3085 (earth years = 1945; Puckworld is older than the planet Earth). Of course the Saurians have no idea about it."
"Someone should take the people through the escape tunnel and into the city. We might be able to free the others another way than manual overrides. We need to be quick, now that they know weíre here."
"The fastest way I see that is shutting down the entire power grid."
"Iíll go with Osprey. Anyone else care to join us?" spoke a former prisoner, named Kestrel.
Nosedive and two others volunteered; a young man with silver and white mottled feathers, named Gull, and a middle aged female with golden-brown feathers and dark brown hair in a braid, named Magpie. Irwin, another brave soul, offered to take the others safely through the tunnel. So they parted ways, each heading for freedom, none knowing if theyíd succeed in the end.
Nosedive helped Osprey with the panels, while Gull, Magpie, Kestrel and Gannet fought off the
guards. By the time the General had been roused by his personal guards and by the time he raced, fuming into the corridor behind Nosedive and Osprey who were finishing shutting off the last security systems, all
of his zealously guarded slaves and workers were gone, the only trace of them, were fading cheers as they stormed from the hellish prison and into the sheltering arms of the fallen city.
Gull, Gannet, Magpie, and Kestrel finished off the last of the guards and turned to find General Dactylarís men swarming all over Nosedive and Osprey. They intercepted and after another brief and fierce battle, only one Saurian was left to stand before the rebels that had been hiding in his own prison, inside the souls of those he had deemed weak and broken; mere shadows waiting to dissolve in the light of the glorious new Saurian empire.
The Generalís snarled and drew his sword. "You," He hissed pointing at Nosedive, "Just you."
Nosedive pulled a sword from the scabbard of an unconscious guard and staggered forward to take the challenge, although he was so exhausted and in such pain, he could barely lift the sword. The General laughed, mockingly.
He felt Magpieís hand on his arm. "You donít have to fight him."
"He killed my mother."
It was all that had to be said. Magpie let him go.
Nosediveís eyes glowered like a tigerís. He held the blade up, fuelled by anger, ready to advance. Then, the ground beneath them shook. The prisonís foundation began to crumble. General Dactylar cursed, flung aside his weapon, and ran for the hangar.
"NO!! Come back here, you damn coward!!" Nosedive rushed forward. Strong arms held him back and pain coursed through his welts, sending him into a world of agony. He collapsed in Gannetís arms, overworked and exhausted, his adrenaline finally subsiding. Gannet lifted the boyís slender frame and placed him on his broad shoulders. Together they all ran from the crumbling prison, not daring to look behind them until they had reached the safety of the shadows.
Irwin beckoned to them from behind a column of stone. Wordlessly they followed him to an underground annex and finally into a huge space. Lights from torches shone on insignias on the walls. Nosedive, barely conscious, heard Kestrel catch his breath in awe.
"SAINTS!! Do you know what this place is, Irwin?!"
"Hush!! The Saurians will hear us!" hissed a frightened duck, tending to a wounded comrade.
"No. The prison camp was destroyed, by my guess, caused by a sensory overload or overheated generator, and Dactylar along with it, hopefully. We are safe for now and especially here," spoke Kestrel.
"This place is a miracle! Emergency food and medical supplies, water, lights, weapons, a communication system. I donít know if the comm. system works; itís pretty old, but we can probably fix it up. Besides that, we have everything we ever needed!" declared Irwin.
" For what?"
"To become the Second Resistance."
"The Second Resistance? Iím not surprised in the least. I probably never will be at anything after this. Imagine finding what detectives and investigators have been searching for forever! The former H.Q. of the Brotherhood of the Blade!" breathed Gannet.
That was the last thing Dive heard before the world went black.
Nosedive groaned and opened his eyes. He was lying on a pallet, on his chest. Someone was dabbing fresh ointment on his cuts. Alarmed at not knowing his surroundings, he sat up too quickly, and cried out at the pain in his wounds.
" Easy there," admonished a femaleís voice.
"Wha . . . where am I?"
" Itís all right, Nosedive. Youíre safe now. Youíve been unconscious for two days. Here, hold still,Ē
Magpie gently pushed him back down.
"Two days?! Aiy! Ouch!"
"We were worried for a while you wouldnít make it. But itís apparent now that you will. Oh, and weíre going to be the Second Resistance! Itís decided!"
" What happened to Wing? Wildwing Firedrake, my older bro? H-heís in the First Resistance."
"I-Iím afraid the First Resistance was destroyed. There were survivors, your brother included."
Nosedive breathed a sigh of relief, but pain still crossed his face when he thought of all the other deaths. Magpie continued. "Dragaunus found them out yesterday. They were betrayed by a spy, Lucretia DeCoy. One of the survivors, Canard, is looking for new recruits for a full strike against the Master Tower. He could use someone like you."
"I suppose heíd have to let me in. I am his best friendís kid brother."
"And a brave lad, if I ever knew one. Tell him about how fiercely you fought alongside us, even in your wounded state."
"Canard? Heíd never believe it."
"Ah, but we will always believe in you. You befriended a Saurian, who in turn gave us the key to free an entire prison camp and the key to free even more."
"Iíll never forget what you did to help me. You risked your lives to save me along with the other prisoners. I insisted on fighting Dactylar, so I probably got you in more danger than youíd ever would have been in the first place."
Magpie laughed and began to wrap soft bandages around Nosediveís torso. " Nevertheless, we gained many of our peopleís freedom and made a fine friend. So I suppose you wish to find your brother and Canard."
"I had better if they were last seen here. Who knows where theyíll be in the next few days."
"Take care. And if you see Dragaunus, give him a kick in the scales for me."
"No arguments there."
Nosedive set off alone, advised by Osprey, Gull, and Gannet, the leader of the Second Resistance to stick to the shadows and to avoid puncha drones which were still plentiful. Nosedive knew heíd find Wildwing, something deep in his soul told him he would.
As he traveled through the ruined city, he kept wary of the puncha drones and made sure he wasnít followed, lest he accidentally lead the Saurians towards Canard and Wildwingís hideaway.
Luck soon caught up with him one day later when he came upon a certain red-headed duck kicking the crap out of two puncha drones. A third one was creeping up from behind her. Nosedive picked up a throwing-sized piece of debris and with either incredible luck or good aim, hurled it into the droneís blaster just before it pulled the trigger. The stone lodged in the blaster nozzle caused the drone to blow itself up.
The red-head turned at the sound of the explosion and saw Nosedive standing next to the remaining scrap metal of the drone, proud as a rooster. She couldnít resist smiling. But they raced into a nearby alley, not wanting any further trouble.
"Whatís your name?" asked the red-head.
"Mallory McMallard, officer of Puckworldís Special Forces. Wait - did you say Firedrake?"
"Yeah. Have you heard about Wildwing, by any chance? Heís my bro."
"I know that. You better come with me. Those guards will be looking for you all over the place now."
"How do you know?"
"Call it an educated guess. Would you rather try and find your own way to survive, or do you want to see your brother?"
"Right, Iíll just tag along with you. What happened to you guys? I heard most of the Resistance was--" Dive couldnít bring himself to finish.
"Destroyed. Dragaunus found us with the aid of Lucretia DeCoy and nearly killed us all. Only Canard, Wildwing, Duke and I escaped. We picked up two new recruits, Tanya and Grin in this city and found a suitable hiding place until we go against the Master Tower. By the way, thanks for helping me out with those miserable buckets of metal scrap back there. Not that I couldnít handle it myself."
"This is a pretty long shot, but, do you think I have a chance of joining you guys? Becoming a recruit?"
"Youíre right. That is a pretty long shot. Not that you donít have potential, but you do seem a bit reckless."
"I thought so."
"Donít worry. Weíre not going to leave you behind. You can stay with us, under your brotherís custody. We have more important things to do than chase a kid around."
"Custody? Great. Iím never going to see sunlight again." Nosedive suddenly felt dizzy, then shook it off.
His back was burning and stinging again but he refused to complain, not wanting to be treated like a child. He coughed dryly.
"Are you all right?"
"Y-yeah . . . I just need a little water, thatís all."
"Come on, weíre almost there."
They raced through the alleys, and Nosedive followed Mallory through a maze of twists and turns. "Man, you guys sure know how to hide out."
"Weíve learned from plenty of experience. Never trust anyone."
"Not even little old me?" Nosedive gave a charming smile. Mallory smiled wryly back.
"Maybe. Only because your brother insisted on it."
Nosedive suddenly jumped at a hand clamped onto his shoulder and turned around to face a tall looming muscle-bound figure. "Whoíre you?" he demanded, wincing in pain as the welts the giantís hand had touched started to throb.
"Perhaps you should be the one telling me who you are, young friend- if you are a friend, " the giant rumbled in a deep but pleasant voice.
"Itís all right, Grin. Heís Wildwingís younger brother; Nosedive Firedrake. The sunís setting. Weíd better get back to the headquarters before the cam-probes come out."
"Tanyaís special devices. Used for detecting intruders within a one mile radius."
"Whatís so dangerous about those?"
"Also made with built-in lasers. They shoot at anything that moves. Thatís why you canít trust machines."
The trio reached the door to the secret underground annex just as the sun was setting. Mallory whispered the password and they were let in by a dark gray-feathered duck with an eyepatch and a saber.
"Hey, Sweethear-yeowch!!" Duke was yanked forward by his collar.
"Donít call me sweetheart, Duke. Thatís the last warning."
Nosedive hid an amused smile. Mallory brushed past Duke, followed by Grin, motioning for Dive to follow.
Duke caught Nosedive trying not to laugh and scowled good-naturedly. " Oh, yeah, wise guy? You
try your luck with her and see where *you* end up."
Nosedive, shaking his head, followed Grin and Mallory to the Ready Room in the underground headquarters. Wildwing was there, talking with Canard. At first, Dive didnít recognize him in his armor. He was suddenly aware of the bruises on his face and his tattered clothes. He was afraid the slightest pressure of his brotherís hands on his back would make him collapse.
"Wing?" To his dismay, his voice sounded raspy and forlorn. He had wanted to appear strong and confident. All that was forgotten as he and his older brother embraced. And Nosedive found that for some reason, despite the pain, he could not let go.
"So Momís dead?" Wildwing asked. His tone was flat; discordant. They were alone sitting on Wildwingís bunk.
Nosedive turned away, avoiding his brothers eyes. "Yeah. They - Iím sorry. I shouldíve protected her." A new anguish rose in his heart. He had not prepared himself to tell his brother of what had happened to Julianna, their mother. He had never truly gotten over the guilt of watching her die, even if he was forced to, and not doing anything about it.
"Youíre not at fault. I was supposed to take care of you two after Dad disappeared. If itís anyoneís fault, itís mine."
"No way, big bro. You canít take all the responsibility all the time. You never seem to understand that." Nosedive placed his hand on Wingís shoulder. "You canít do everything. No-one can."
"Dive . . . "
"Momís with the Saints now. Sheís at peace."
Wildwing gave a bitter laugh that startled himself as much as it startled Dive. " The ĎSaints?í You always did believe that nonsense Mom told you, didnít you? The Saints arenít real. You of all people should know that, especially after the hell you must have been through. I saw your back, what they did to you. Dive, I donít know how many nights you prayed to those false icons to be safe, but I can certainly see that they didnít listen to one word."
Nosediveís eyes glistened with tears and he turned away yet again, staring anywhere other than his brotherís face. "I always will believe in them. I donít care if you donít, and I donít care if they donít exist. I believe because Mom did. Wing, her words are all we have left. The Saints are all we have left."
"The Saints have forsaken us. Weíre alone in this." Wildwingís voice was no longer bitter or cold; it was wistful and sad.
"Only when we believe weíre alone, are we truly alone," Nosedive quoted an ancient proverb he had learned somewhere, he did not remember. But it seemed to comfort Wildwing, for his shoulders relaxed, and the angry look left his face.
There was a silence. Wildwing broke it, by changing the subject. "I-It must have been terrible in that prison camp. Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"What happened to you? Did you sass off to Saurian officers or something? Tell the truth, Dive. Why did they beat you?Ē
"Well, uh," Nosedive didnít exactly know what to say. If he told Wildwing the truth, that he had received the wounds from torture to find the whereabouts of the Resistance all because Wildwing had escaped, Nosedive knew his older brother would blame himself for Nosediveís pain. He would have to lie.
" Yeah, I did get in a fight. A bad one. Some Saurian dude was about to whip a kid. I sorta - you know- and well, letís just say they made an example of me."
"Nosedive - "
"I know I shouldnít have gotten mad, but he was asking for it."
Wildwing sighed. "Well, youíre lucky you werenít killed, Nosedive. Come on. Letís get your wounds cleaned up some more. Then you can rest up in my room. Iím sure youíre exhausted."
"Whoa . . now that you mentioned it . . . I am tired. And you know how really tired I am when I donít argue."
Nosedive washed the dirt and blood off his face and body as best as he could in the shower, at first, mistaking most of the latter for dirt. Itís rustic scent reminded him of the camp. There had always been the smell of death mingled with fresh blood about that place.
He shuddered, not because of the coldness of the water, but because of the memories that resurfaced against his will. Furious and terrified, he scrubbed harder, not caring that he scraped through the tender skin of healing wounds, so long as he could scrape the past from his body as well. He shut the water off and wrapped the towel around his aching body, shivering in the steamless air.
He dried off and began to pull on his clothes. It was not until he looked over his shoulder at his reflection in the mirror, that he saw the damage the Saurians had done to his back. Jagged crimson lines cut sharply through his light-colored feathers, a scarlet red where scabs had not formed yet. His chest bore nearly-healed burnt scars that hurt only when he thought about how he had gotten them; his interrogation with General Dactylar. He swallowed painfully and slid on the shirt Canard had given him along with the rest of his outfit.
The bandages and tattered clothes he was tempted to throw out, but instead, he found himself washing them and folding them, placing them in a rucksack. They were his souvenir of a time both hated and one he could not bring himself to forget. Magpie had tied those bandages around him; a symbol of her friendship. He had worn those tatters when he was with Sparrow, Cobran, Jax, and his fellow rescued prisoners. He had worn those tatters yesterday when he had finally been reunited with Wildwing after nearly two years of separation, working in the ore-mining prison camp. He had nothing else to remind him of those experiences, so those things, he kept.
Nosedive ate his dinner with the others everyday and they all got to know each other better as the
days went by.
Grin was quiet and very gentle-minded. He seemed to listen to everything Nosedive and the others had to say. The giant had a pleasant voice and appealed to Dive as a friend, someone he could trust and talk to.
Mallory was usually tense, but amiable when in a good mood. She was a babe, though Dive would never admit it and he wasnít about to take any chances flirting with her since he Ďvalued his innardsí, as Duke would put it.
Duke, Dive had decided, was tight. He was smooth, sardonic, and a downright good guy. His past being a thief made him even cooler. And boy did Duke have the coolest stories about his youth. He had done stuff Dive never even dreamed of doing. Duke was Diveís teacher in the practice room, in charge of preparing the youngest member of the Resistance Strike Team for battle.
Tanya- Dive had to confirm- was a nut. She was a motherly type, judging by the way she had fussed over his wounds, and either a genius, or a complete techno-terrorist. Dive wasnít sure, but he liked her. He had seen the Aerowing and was impressed with the improvements she had made. She was flattered he took such an interest in her work, so she demonstrated how the cam-probes worked against a heap of junk in the street as a target. Unfortunately, when she typed in the command to fire at the metal scrap heap, the cam-probe complied, then searched for more metal targets, finding the two ducksí armor as more than suitable. Dive, feathers coated with soot and grime after the events of that hectic day, reached the conclusion that while Tanya was a great inventor, she needed to work - just a little - on her safety regulations.
Canard, well . . . Canard was just Mr. Iceberg. He often glowered at Dive with such intensity that the young duck often felt extremely unwelcome. Canard obviously didnít want Nosedive here, although the latter didnít know why. Perhaps it was the time he put pickled sardines in Canardís ice skates -once upon a time? Or maybe when he stuffed Canards favorite pillow with sharp rocks? Those were fun pranks even when he was nearly strangled by his own skate laces, spared only on the account that if Canard killed Wing's baby bro, he'd be next.
Nosedive had other problems to worry about rather than Canardís unwelcome feelings. Like convincing his teammates, especially his brother, he could fight despite the pain. He wanted to keep up with Wing and was more afraid than anything that Canard would decide to leave him behind with the self-named Second Resistance.
On the first day with them, he had told them about the escaped prisoners and the safe haven they had found. Mallory and the others had wanted to send supplies there, but Canard refused, saying they might give away their position, endangering all of them. Duke agreed with this, also adding that the former HQ had a good emergency supply and there was plenty to go around since the Brotherhood had so many members.
Nosedive was given a crash course in fighting techniques with Duke as an instructor. He was taught how to handle a puck-launcher, a saber, and even a Saurian blaster, should he happen to be left with no other resources in battle.
Knowing of Nosediveís ill treatment and that he was still recovering, Duke went easier on him with the saber lessons, which involved direct combat. Dive was a natural when it came to the shooting weapons; his aim and reflexes were excellent. But he was somewhat lacking with the saber. Duke, naturally because he was an expert, always bested him. The saber-training took itís hardest toll on the younger duck because it involved a lot of movement and energy, much more than his stiff healing wounds allowed him.
Canard watched silently one day as they went over the saber training lessons. Dive parried, then thrust, to be nimbly avoided by Duke. He jumped back, narrowly being missed by Dukeís blow.
Finally, Duke knocked the sword from his hand. It clattered on the floor. Dive scowled, disappointed, as he went to pick it up.
"Good job, Dive. You need some more work."
"Just some" Dive laughed, good-naturedly.
"Hey, donít forget, youíre parrying with an expert here. I grew up using a sword. Youíve only just been introduced to it, " said Duke, grinning. Dive tried not to laugh at the older duck's conceit.
"Maybe you should let him try saber-combat with someone less experienced than you are, Duke. See how he fares then," spoke Canard. "I volunteer."
"Mmm, all right. Go easy on him, Canard."
Canard picked up another saber from the weapon case and turned to face Nosedive. "There will be no going easy on anyone."
Dive wasnít sure why Canard wanted to fight him in combat, but he had a feeling it wasnít going to be
The first ten minutes of the combat, Dive had done well enough, but he was still on the defensive. Canard was getting more and more aggressive in his attacks. He had obviously expected the younger duckís weapon to go flying out of his hand with the first blow.
Finally, Canard managed to scratch Diveís hand, making him drop the sword. " That wasnít fair.
Canard struck him across the face with an open hand. Dive yelped in pain and surprise. He stared back at the Resistance leader who had once been a friend to him as much as to Wildwing. "War isnít fair. Remember that, kid. I really donít see what good you are to us if you donít know that simple fact."
"Iím still learning."
"Not fast enough. One more try. Letís see if you can break your record." He laughed, not kindly. "By three seconds at most."
Nosedive seethed as he took his hand away from his stinging face and bent to retrieve the sword. He must have been very tired, for when he stood to face his impolite sparring partner, instead of Canard, there stood General Dactylar.
He was alarmed until a voice in his mind spoke out that he could not recognize. It stirred in his memory, long forgotten and yet never heard until now.
"Use the vision. He is your enemy for now, but not your real enemy. But use the vision wisely. Do not act in anger for then it will only use you . . ."
Who are you? Dive wanted to ask, but the voice was gone and General Dactylar was charging forward.
The battle was fierce and frightening, but Nosedive soon gained control by taking the advice the voice had given him. The lessons he had learned from Duke stirred in his memory and he used it well. It was the last thought, of Cobran, Jaxara, and Sparrow suffering under the gaze of Dactylarís cruel eyes that gave him the final burst of strength to knock the sword from his opponents hand and place Dactylar at his mercy.
In that moment, Dactylar ceased to be Dactylar, and Nosedive found himself holding the tip of his sword at Canardís throat. He lowered it instantly at the surprise and shock in Canardís eyes.
Nosedive then felt the pain his efforts had cost him. He stood still, his senses reeling with agony. He finally walked to Duke and gave him the sword, oblivious to Dukeís proud grin, then turned to Canard once more. Their eyes met, this time, Canardís authoritative glare was gone replaced with something softer. Canard almost looked like his old self again.
Nosedive smiled bitterly. Winning the duel was certainly not expected of him. He turned away before it could turn into a grimace of pain as he walked, aching, to his room. He laid down on his chest, trying to ignore the sting in his back, and buried his face in the pillow. Saints, what was that? Was he going crazy? Canard was nothing like Dactylar no matter how mad he made Nosedive feel. He could have killed Canard! And that voice . . . Nosedive searched his memories, and could not place it. But it had sounded so familiar.
After spending a few more minutes trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for the events of the past hour, Nosedive was getting sleepy. It was not until he was drifting off when he remembered where he had heard that voice . . . his eyes snapped open, filling at once with tears. "Dad," he whispered, before sleep inevitably overtook him once more.
The next thing he was aware of was being shaken awake roughly. Maybe not roughly, but according to his welts . . . Dive was up with a yelp. He looked up into Malloryís face, and knew by her expression that something serious was happening. "Whatís going on, Mal?"
"Saurian troops are headed this way. They have a lead to where weíre hiding out. Canard says weíre not hiding anymore. Weíre going against the Master Tower. Right now. You ready? "
"Whoa, I mean, damn. Yeah, I guess. But wait! Cobran said-" Nosedive immediately shut his beak. The last thing he needed was Mallory or Canard or Saints forbid, Wildwing knowing that he had a Saurian for a best friend. Especially not now, anyway.
"What are you talking about?"
"Uh-nevermind. Iím always disoriented in the morning. Right before that first dose of caffeine."
"Well itís a good thing youíre dressed. We barely have time to pack our stuff and head for the Aerowing."
"Just one thing I gotta grab." Nosedive lifted his rucksack and ran after Mallory to the hangar.
"Right behind you, little bro."
"Everyone else, too?"
"Weíre all here," rumbled Grin. "Worried little friend?" he asked, placing a big hand on Nosediveís
"No, Iím just fine," gritted the younger duck, as the stinging renewed yet again. He was getting tired of his welts throbbing and hurting with every wrong movement or at the slightest touch. He reasoned it was only because the exercises along with the fight he had yesterday had re-aggravated them. Theyíd soon heal. Hopefully.
Canard and the rest of the team got ready to do or die. They might not all survive. None of them might survive. Dive thought of this, his heart twisting more painfully than his wounds as he looked at his teammates. He had seen so much suffering, had felt so much, he wasnít sure if he could afford to lose his friends as well. So much already was at risk; Cobran, Jax, Sparrow, Gannet, Kestrel, Gull, Osprey, Magpie . . . so many could, probably would never make it to see another dawn.
Wildwing looked up from the puck-launcher he was loading and was surprised to see his younger brotherís face streaked with tears. "Dive?"
"You okay, little bro?"
"Yeah. Just bad memories."
The rest of the team fell quiet, remembering their own grim memories of the destruction and death visited upon their world. Canard spoke for all of them when he held out his hand, palm down out to Dive.
"For Puckworld." Dive placed his hand over Canardís, Wildwing and the rest of the Ducks following suit.
And so began the adventure...