Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1 - Cover

Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1

Copyright© 2023 by Uruks

Chapter 29: The Parasites of Black Star

After a high-level scan of the test subjects, the answer soon became clear to me. The reason they hadn’t fed on the rodent’s physical body was because they were feeding on it in other ways. When they injected it with their cells, the rodent began transmitting ... some kind of energy to the test subjects. The best description would be brainwaves. They were in contact with the rodent’s nervous system, a trait similar to telepathy. However, instead of using this trait simply for communication, the test subjects were somehow feeding off that connection. Indeed, they didn’t seem interested in the inanimate food sources I gave to them after that. For the time being, the brainwaves they received from the rodent seemed to sustain them.

Éclair heard someone’s voice. The voice was familiar, warm, comforting, and mildly annoying at the same time. What struck Éclair the most was how desperate the voice sounded. Almost frightened. Though Éclair’s thoughts and memories were coming in fuzzy, the way this voice sounded did not seem right. This was not a voice usually laced with fear. Éclair did remember that this was a voice infused with confidence, perhaps even cockiness – but always with strength ... always with conviction and passion. The voice grew more persistent as Éclair’s dark world started to take form.

“-clair... Éclair! Éclair can you hear me?” asked the voice.

As Éclair’s thoughts began to focus, she slowly realized that the voice belonged to Ryan. And then, she was affronted by the flood of memories of what had just transpired. The horrors that were recounted in that recording, the struggle against the Parasites, and the pain inflicted upon her after she was caught. And then came the awe and disbelief from Ryan’s sudden appearance. Not only was Ryan better, but he seemed fiercer and wilder than Éclair had ever seen him before. He moved like an untamed beast as he defended her from those Parasites. In all the time that Éclair had known him, she had never seen such an intense look in his eyes. And then he ... he ... If Éclair’s memories were correct, Ryan blew up the mountain, and the spacecraft that sat on the mountaintop fell off the cliff in a landslide.

“Éclair, please wake up! Come on, wake up, please!” pleaded Ryan as Éclair’s mind began to grasp the full vespers of consciousness.

“I don’t know what to do! I’m good at breaking things, not making them better! I need you to stay awake so you can tell me how to make you better!” pleaded Ryan, his voice seeping with emotion. If Éclair didn’t know better, she could have sworn that Ryan was on the verge of tears.

Éclair’s eyelids slowly blinked open to see Ryan’s desperate face, his golden skin casting that familiar orangish hue. All trace of his former ferocity had vanished to be replaced by panicked concern.

“Ryan,” croaked Éclair hoarsely.

Ryan smiled and actually blinked back a few tears. “It’s good to hear your voice again.”

Éclair smiled weakly in return. “I would ask how you managed such a recovery, but considering that it’s you, it’s not altogether that surprising.”

“Yeah, you know me,” agreed Ryan with a chuckle. “I’m a freakin’ freak of nature.”

“Truer words were never spoken,” said Éclair as she grinned but still feeling very weak.

“Plus, I kind of welded sheets of metal to my legs to keep my bones from breaking,” explained Ryan, gesturing to bits of metal that were indeed welded to his flesh haphazardly.

Éclair took all this in stride with a weak nod. “For you, that makes perfect sense.”

“Yeah, pretty badass, right,” boasted Ryan. “Although some of the metal fell off in the fight, so I think I can probably start walking on my own. But it’s gonna hurt like a son-of-a-bitch when I rip this bad boy off. Like the worst band-aid of all time.

“By the way,” started Éclair, turning to look around. “Where are we?”

As Éclair sat up to survey their surroundings, she could tell that they were somewhere very dark and very rocky. A small fire glowed a few feet away, offering a little illumination, but Éclair found it extremely difficult to focus on anything at the moment anyway.

“I managed to get us off that mountain,” explained Ryan frantically, as if Éclair might blow away in the wind at any second. “I ran as fast and as far as I could. I didn’t stop until I was at least a few hundred miles away. After a few hours when I couldn’t hear them anymore, I looked for a place to bunker down. I found this small cave in the forest. I’ve already searched to make sure there weren’t any of those ... those things hiding in wait. It seemed safe. So, I built a fire, bandaged your wounds, and splinted your leg like you showed me when I was injured. Then you woke up a little while after that.”

Éclair briefly glanced down at her broken leg. Sure enough, there was a wooden splint of sticks and vines holding it in place. Her other leg which had been punctured by the Parasite’s claws had been bandaged with a white cloth from Ryan’s shirt. The work was not too shoddy all things considered.

Ryan’s face suddenly went dark with something clearly prickling his conscious. “I’m afraid I have some bad news, Éclair.”

Éclair almost laughed a little. “What could possibly be worse than finding out we’re stuck on a planet full of Parasites?” When Ryan did not answer right away, Éclair started to get worried. “Ryan, just tell me what’s wrong.”

Ryan sighed deeply, and with a melancholy voice, he said, “I’m afraid that we have lost Sticky.”

“What?” asked Éclair in confusion.

“I didn’t have time to go back to the campsite,” said Ryan in an unironically pained voice. “They’re probably having their way with him right now. Rubbing their gross tentacles all over him. Trying to get him to talk. I hope he gives them a few splinters. That doll is tough as nails ... or rather, the sticks that I made him out of. He’ll give those creeps a run for their money yet. When we get back to the Ministry, I swear I’ll see to it that he’s given a medal. That little guy deserves nothing less for his sacrifice.”

Despite herself, Éclair could not help a giggle. Then that giggle turned into a chuckle. Then that chuckle turned into full-on laughter. And then that laughter turned into coughing as Éclair soon found that laughing too hard caused her severe pain. She wondered if there was bruising in her lungs.

“Éclair, are you okay?” said Ryan, in concern as he put a hand to Éclair’s forehead. “I’m no expert, but I think you might be burning up.”

“I’ll live so long as you don’t give me any more extremely stupid jokes,” coughed out Éclair, still trying to suppress more fits of laughter.

“Hey, I’m not joking,” exclaimed Ryan in mock drama. “That doll meant a lot to me. Seriously, I’m emotionally scarred by his absence. If I was in a holoshow, I’d probably get an award for how genuinely sad I am from losing him. Hell, I’d probably be able to convince the audience that he was alive instead of just a product of my overly bored imagination. That and wood, of course.”

“Even on my deathbed, you never change,” said Éclair with a sigh, shaking her head. “You’re still that same goofball blowing up chairs and driving everyone crazy.”

“Deathbed,” repeated Ryan with a scoff of disbelief. “Come on, Éclair. You may be a little beat up, but you’re not dying.”

“Well, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?” said Éclair slowly, her smile turning sad.

“I’m telling you, you’re not dying, and that’s final!” retorted Ryan more forcefully, as if that settled the matter. “I didn’t weld metal to my bones, climb a mountain, and wade knee-deep through infested worm jerks just to watch you die!”

Éclair groaned, a dreadful thought starting to take root. “It may not be up to you this time, Ryan. Don’t you even know what Black Star Parasites are?”

“Uh ... yeah,” replied Ryan, somewhat confused by Éclair’s line of questioning. “Those things that wanna eat us. But they’re little more than animals, so I figure that we’re smart enough to avoid them until-”

“Parasites,” interrupted Éclair firmly. “Are less like animals and more like a plague. A plague that infects entire planets, as well as everyone and everything that lives on them. Just look out there for a moment.”

Ryan reflexively looked towards the bare earth outside the cave’s entrance as Éclair continued her explanation.

“You said it yourself, Ryan,” continued Éclair, determined to get her point across. “This world is dying. And it’s because Parasites infect everything around them, including plants and animals. Eventually, not even the slightest vegetation will be left on this world. Everything here will be adapted to service their needs ... and soon, I will be as well.”

“What exactly are you trying to say?” asked Ryan forebodingly.

“I’m saying that I’m infected, Ryan!” cried out Éclair angrily, furious with herself and with Ryan and with everything that had transpired recently.

Ryan’s face revealed shock and horror as Éclair managed to sit up just enough to rip the bandage from the leg that the Parasite stabbed. The action caused Éclair a great deal of pain as she yelped in anguish, but her point was being laid to bare as Ryan got a good look at the festering, pulsing wound that the Parasite had inflicted.

Ryan looked from the wounded leg, and then back to Éclair’s face in confusion. “But I ... I don’t understand. I sealed the wound myself using Fire Elemency.”

“Sealing a wound dealt by a Parasite doesn’t make a difference,” responded Éclair. “They usually use the stingers on their tongues to cause an instant transference, but anyone injured by a Parasite will eventually succumb to the infection, albeit more gradually. If you get bit or scratched, or even grazed, that’s it. Without the proper medical treatment being applied immediately, you’ll be infected by the virus. And I’m sorry, but I don’t see a hospital around, do you?”

“So what ... what does that even mean?” sputtered Ryan, his face distorting from concern to pure horror as the realization began to sink in. “You’re gonna become one of those ... those things.”

“Not exactly,” said Éclair in a quieter voice as despairing acceptance of her fate began to wash over her. “But I won’t be me anymore. For all intents and purposes, I’ll be dead. Nothing more than a mindless meat-bag whose only purpose is to serve my Parasitic Masters.”

“But ... but,” stuttered Ryan desperately. He ran his fingers through his hair, his mind searching for some kind of answer, some kind of hope. Ryan’s expression suddenly brightened as an idea struck. “But look at this!”

Ryan then pulled down his shirt and pointed at a small puncture wound near his shoulder. “I got bit, too. But that was a long time ago, and it’s not spreading. Actually, it looks like it’s getting better.”

Éclair examined Ryan’s shoulder more closely. Sure enough, there was a wound similar to Éclair’s own, but there were no signs of swelling or infection. After a few minutes, she closed her eyes and explained, “It only proves what I’ve always known about you, Ryan.”

“What?” asked Ryan in bewilderment.

“That you’re not like me. That you’re special. Who else could have scaled a cliff only a month after breaking nearly every bone in his body? Who else could have fought off a horde of monsters like that, and then still have the energy to destroy half a mountainside?”

“I ... I just...”

“Ryan,” said Éclair in a resolute voice. “Listen to me. You are special. And that is exactly why you are going to get through this. I’ve heard of a few very rare, but well-documented cases, of unique individuals whose lifeforce was strong enough to combat the Parasite’s virus. Usually, powerful Elementals like yourself. My godfather was one such person. I had a feeling you would be, too.”

“Éclair ... that ... that doesn’t mean,” started Ryan, but not sure how to finish as Éclair’s full argument began to cement into his mind.

Éclair put a hand to Ryan’s cheek, forcing him to face her. “The fact of the matter is that I’m not you, Ryan. I can’t blast through the void of space without any equipment. Survive crashing through a planet’s atmosphere. Somehow magically heal all my broken bones with sheets of metal and come out fighting in the end. I may be an Elemental, but I’m still only human. But you ... you’re something better. Something stronger.”

“Éclair, what exactly are you trying to tell me?” Ryan asked, his voice low and his eyes almost angry.

Éclair, unable to stand Ryan’s intense gaze any longer, found herself looking away from him as she continued the debate. “You know exactly what I’m trying to tell you. It’s fairly obvious. The longer you stay with me, the more danger you’ll be in as the infection spreads. The bottom line is that I’m probably not going to make it. In fact, it’s almost an absolute certainty that I am going to die here. But you ... if you can scavenge enough supplies, you may be able to build a communications disk and escape this world.”

“How could you think that I’m the kind of person who would just abandon you?!” cried out an outraged Ryan, his fists clenched in a rage of passion.

“Ryan, for Caretaker’s sake, just listen to me for once!” Éclair begged, almost yelling as she gripped the scruff of his shirt. “Your only chance of getting out of this alive is to acknowledge that my life is now forfeit. And it’s not for your sake or for mine, it’s for everyone’s sake. You and I are the only ones that know that the Parasites are back. They’ve almost destroyed the universe a number of times, and if they’re left unchecked, they might very well succeed. And even if they don’t, billions of lives could be lost within a fortnight. Is that what you want?”

Ryan said nothing as he continued staring long and hard at Éclair’s face.

Éclair had to look down again to avoid his hard gaze. “This is no longer just about you and me anymore. It’s about all those innocent people that could die if those monsters get off this planet. And the only thing that could prevent that at this point is if you escape and warn the Ministry of Fire of their existence. Then you can return en masse to burn every last one of them out of this system. For heaven’s sake, it’s your duty as an Elemental to-”

“To safeguard and protect the sanctity of life in all its forms and variations,” finished Ryan, but the tone of determination in his voice was not one of defeat. “I remember the oath.”

“Then you know what needs to be done,” stated Éclair coldly.

“Yeah, I do,” retorted Ryan, a righteous anger taking root in his golden features as he drew himself up. “I’m going to protect the sanctity of life. And right now, that includes you.”

Éclair put a hand to her head in sad frustration. “Damn you and your stubborn male pride, Ryan Uruks!”

“This isn’t about pride, Éclair,” growled Ryan resolutely. “And it isn’t even about you. It’s about me making a decision that I think is best for everyone. Whether you admit it or not, you are important and you’re going to have a big role to play. Zand is coming to save us. But something tells me that he’s mostly coming for you, and I don’t blame him for it.”

“My Godfather?” asked Éclair in shock. “How do you-”

“He sent a mental projection to me, okay,” said Ryan, his anger dissolving into resolve. “He knows where we are and he’s coming to find us.”

Éclair was far from convinced. “Then where is he?”

“I-I don’t know,” responded Ryan, throwing his hands up in the air. “He said he was contacting me from a few galaxies away and that it would take him a while to get here.”

“A few galaxies,” repeated Éclair in mock laughter. “Ryan, do you have any idea how long it takes to travel across one galaxy? Even for him?”

“He’s an all-powerful Elemental Master, right? He’ll find a way!”

“That’s still no guarantee. You can’t just wager the universe’s future on such a slim chance.”

“I won’t let you die, Éclair,” said Ryan slowly, but in a voice that shook Éclair to her very core, because he believed every word he said with absolute certainty. “You told me that we were going to get through this together, and that is exactly what’s going to happen.”

Realizing that it was no use arguing with him anymore, Éclair decided to play a card she knew would hurt both her and Ryan. “Leon would have understood. He would have realized his greater duty. He would have left me, and I would have thanked him for it.”

Ryan scoffed in disgust. “Well, maybe that is what Romeo would have done, but that’s not-”

“I would do the same thing if he were the one lying here instead of me,” continued Éclair in a cold voice, this time refusing to turn away from Ryan’s stubborn face. “As much as I love him, I would leave him here to die if it gave me even the slightest chance of escaping and warning others of this infestation.”

“How touching,” sniffed Ryan cynically.

“Ryan, you don’t understand. If I can do that to the man I love, what do you think I would have done with you had our positions been reversed,” finished Éclair with a solemn finality that sent tendrils of turmoil coursing through her heart.

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