Tala had never been so hard-pressed.
It had been horrific when they'd first found out. The Garleans were planning an attack with a colossus like none any on Eorzea had ever seen. A thousand fulms tall. Several times the size of the Ultima Weapon. No mortal force could hope to oppose it.
But with the help of spies within Garlemald, stolen plans, and plenty of magical and magitek ingenuity, they'd found a way. They'd found a secret weapon. Something that could allow them to take the colossus down.
Unfortunately, the Eorzean Alliance had planned for only the small, elite force necessary to prepare their secret weapon to need to be at the facility, to minimize the risk of discovery. They certainly were not counting on what felt like an entire legion of Garlean troops marching on the little facility.
"Yield and accept the inevitable, and I might find a place for you!" Brictiva rem Voss shouted from atop her magitek armor. "Continue to struggle, and you will most assuredly be swallowed up by our power!"
Malacoda's hands fluidly slid through a number of secret signs, and a group of Garlean troops that were rushing toward the back lines screamed as they went flying in a burst of flame. "Don't threaten us with a good time!" He drew his dual daggers, rushing them as they got to their feet again. They didn't even see it coming - one moment he was rushing at them, daggers at his back, and the next, those same daggers had left deep gashes in their targets and were seeking out their next victims.
"Th-That's not a good time!" Senah said, lying, like a liar. She really didn't understand how everyone was so comfortable making jokes like this, while she was still struggling to cope with the situation she'd been thrown into... She wasn't supposed to be on the battlefield here! She was supposed to be here just for moral support as Aisha oversaw her handiwork! Flustered as she was, she loosed an arrow a bit too soon, and it soared over the helmeted head of the soldier it was aimed at.
As it continued to travel, it zipped past Lani's head - but to say that it nearly hit her would be to dramatically underestimate her dodging abilities. She moved like wind itself, weaving under swords and around magitek laser blasts and even leaping over the soldiers she'd punched in the gut earlier to reach the warmachina that had had its sights on her earlier. Flicking out a switchblade, she grabbed on to the mech's cannon and dragged the switchblade through the delicate control circuitry. Just as it overloaded and exploded, she landed nimbly on the ground. "Come on, keep up, you four! You can't leave me to do all the work!"
"Kind of busy over here!" Tala shouted, parrying a high strike and a low thrust and deflecting a laser blast into another warmachina's faceplate. Her senses warned her about an attack from behind, and she ducked, letting the bolt of energy soar past her. Deciding to retaliate in kind, she clapped both hands onto the hilt of her sword, focusing her energy and the power of the stars into her blade before hurling it in the direction the earlier shot had come from. "Sorry, you're going to have to take care of things yourselves!"
Aisha dropped out of the sky like a shot, spear extended downward, to land just behind the now-surrounded Lani. The magitek cannon that had, a moment ago, been leveled at her head skittered away as the soldier who had been holding it tried to squirm out from under Aisha. "Don't worry about the rest of them, I'm your real competition!" Whirling around, she set her stance, back-to-back with Lani, her spear at the ready. Her eyes flitted up to where Senah was perched. Fortunately, it looked as though the Garleans weren't paying her that much mind... She dropped her gaze back to her opponents, muttering over her shoulder, "Bet you I can take out my half before you take out your half."
Lani wiped her mouth with a fist, grinning. "Your half? Why would I wait for you to finish taking out half of them?" As if on cue, the two struck out simultaneously, and the horde surrounding them descended on them with a roar of battle cries. Lani met the first one with her shoulder in their gut, flipping them over her shoulder into two of their comrades.
"This is hardly fair," Aisha called mockingly as she twirled her polearm to pull a Garlean's weapon from their hands before running another through. "There's only fifteen of you, and two of us! Did everyone else want to go home?"
Nearby, a group of soldiers were shouting in panic.
"What do you mean you lost him?! He's an eight-fulm-tall demon-spawn, how did you lose him?!"
"Sir! We're not... finding him anywhere, sir! He's... He's vanished!"
"Don't rest until you find him! I want every cannon in our cohort pointed at him! Find h-gghk!"
"Sorry, were you looking for me?" Malacoda growled, melting out of the shadows and burying his daggers into the centurion's back.
Tala bashed a Garlean soldier in the facemask with her shield, knocking them to the ground, and deflected a stream of magitek fire from Brictiva with her sword's reflective edge. "Senah! Check in with the back lines! How much longer?"
Senah took her hand off the bowstring to loose another arrow and touched her fingers to her linkpearl. "S-Status report!"
"Could be worse," Reina said from atop the magitek machine that was helping to overcharge the focus. With her free hand, she sketched the shape of ruin in the book of arcanima resting in her lap, and a wave of searing heat broiled one of the lizard-like Garlean warbeasts that had slipped past the front lines. It hurried away, whimpering. Her attention now free, she pressed her hand back to the panel on the magitek machine, pouring more aether into it with a casual thought. Her eyes scanned the battlefield, looking for any signs of trouble among her remaining close guardians. "You want me to put Katrja on?"
Katrja did not seem to really be in the mood for talking. Peals of mad laughter accompanied a massive explosion that scattered a group of warbeasts and their handlers. She hadn't even taken her hand off the machine for a moment. Her robe billowed and rippled in the aetherial wind she had whipped up around herself. "Now may not be the time! I'm running a bit hot right now!" Her lips were twisted into a self-satisfied smirk. "Are you so desperate to suffer? Come, then! Come to me and die!" A peal of thunder rang out as arcs of lightning shot from the tip of Katrja's staff to the previously-exploded force as it attempted to regroup.
"Is that Senah?" Miah asked, a cheerful tone to her voice despite the danger of the situation. With a force better suited to a warrior wielding a bulky gunblade than to a healer, Miah swung her mace up into the jaw of one of the Garleans and sent them tumbling back before - literally - putting them and their group of magitek specialists to sleep. This done, she slammed the point of her mace down, spreading a wave of intense energy outward that soothed the aches in her friends' joints and closed up their surface wounds while throwing the Garleans away from the machine. She patted the machine with one hand, contributing her own aether. "Tell her I said hello!"
Sirara's chakrams zipped across the room in a flash, and she held out her hand to draw them back in on ripples of aether. "Now really isn't the time for social calls!" She slipped under a strike that might have hit someone twice her height and spun the chakrams out around her, tripping the soldiers that had surrounded her. She closed her eyes, letting the rhythms of battle guide her. Pirouette... Entrechat... Jete... Emboite... Her eyes opened, and she stomped her foot down on the beat, a tremorous ripple of aetheric energy spreading outward and knocking those who had gotten to their feet again back down. "We're just about charged, but we need the defenders to fall back here while we activate it! This thing isn't going to do a lick of good if the Garleans break it two seconds after it's powered up!"
"That's why we need to break as many of them as possible," Katrja said, her eyes still burning with the intense heat of the aether in her body. "Fortunately for you all, I'm more than happy to oblige!"
Miah tut-tutted, glancing over as Sirara disappeared under a wave of Garlean swords. She lifted her mace, a gleaming glow emanating briefly from the center of the mass of soldiers to help Sirara shrug off the pain.
"Sirara, watch out," Reina said, sketching shapes of galvanization in her book of arcanima and adding her own light of warmth to keep Sirara moving smoothly. "Anyway, you get all that?"
Senah's voice was a bit distorted by interference, but it still came through. "Got it, I'll let the others know you need suppor-"
A piercing scream from the other end of the linkpearl made Reina wince. "That doesn't sound good! Senah, are you okay? Come in!"
"Senah!" Aisha shouted, abandoning her fight and leaping into the sky to join Senah at her sniper's perch. A Garlean spy had slipped into the perch, and though Senah had noticed before she was struck, she'd not managed to avoid the bloody gash in her leg now keeping her on the floor. Or the one in her middle, which was bleeding a fair bit. "Senah's down!" Murder in her eyes, she rammed the butt of her spear into the spy's gut, throwing them off the tower the long way. This done, she turned and knelt down beside the wounded Senah, who was only barely conscious. "We need to get her out of here!" To Senah, she murmured, "You're gonna be fine, I got you," and hoisted Senah into her arms, leaping down from the tower - and right into a group of Garlean warmachina that had gathered at the tower's base to knock it down.
"Damn... I knew we should have kept her back," Tala cursed under her breath, the shock of the moment making her stagger and fall back. No time for regrets or pity parties, though. She raised her voice to a shout. "Lani! Go with Aisha and Senah and get out of here! They're going to need you to activate the weapon!"
Distracted as she was with Senah, Lani, and Aisha's plight, Tala didn't see Brictiva's magitek armor charging a massive blast. It seared her skin and heated her armor to a burning-hot temperature, and she dropped to her knees and bent double, clutching her head and gritting her teeth in an effort to hold the pain back.
"I warned you!" Brictiva said coldly, maneuvering her armor to stand beside Tala, one of its massive metal feet an ilm away from crushing her head. "Feral beastlings who do not come to heel will get put down. Now it's time you gave up this ridiculous resistance."
"Why don't you pick on a feral beastling your own size?" Malacoda asked, appearing in a puff of smoke beside Brictiva. Appearing just after him, a giant flaming shuriken sliced through one of the machine's legs, disabling it and preventing the immediate threat. Another secret sign surrounded him in a surge of flowing water. As Brictiva swore and engaged her suit's self-repair systems, he directed the water around the fallen Tala to cool her armor, extending his hand down to help her up. "On your feet, Chalahko, we have work to do! And I'd hate to accidentally step on you, my tiny friend!"
"Thanks," Tala muttered under her breath, grabbing Malacoda's hand and dragging him down towards herself. She kept her voice low, muttering brief instructions to him. If he heard them, he showed no sign. That done, she let him pull her up, and aloud, she added, "Thanks for nothing! Making fun of my height! You're taller than everyone, I'm not the tiny one!"
"Oh, this is the thanks I get for helping the smol folk, huh?" Malacoda clapped his hands together. "Fine, then. I have no need to risk myself in this fight." A puff of smoke and he was gone - just gone. Nowhere in sight.
"How petty," Brictiva said, rolling her eyes. "Natural that an alliance between beastlings would be fragile as glass. Look - your friends have left you here to die alone."
"Just the way I like it," Tala said, following Brictiva's outstretched finger. Lani and Aisha fled for the facility, Senah held in Aisha's arms. "Better me than them."
Tala turned back toward the magitek armor, readying her sword and shield.
"Tell me your secret and how it can be defeated, and I will let you and your friends live," Brictiva said, training her weapons on Tala. "You will all be spared the devastation that is coming to Eorzea."
"Like hell," Tala sneered. "I'd rather die than live as a thrall to the Empire. And my friends all feel the same."
The magitek phaser pulsed once, and Tala cried out, clutching her burnt sword hand. The sword skittered away, coming to a stop near the wreckage of another warmachina.
"The secret, beastling," Brictiva said. She leaned her head on her hand and sighed, using the other hand to retarget her weapons and increase their power level. "This was fun for a while, but now I really do have other things to do. If you won't give it to me, then I will kill you, and get it from one of your friends. And then I will kill them. And their deaths will not be quick or pleasant."
Tala didn't answer, holding her shield up.
The phaser pulsed once more, and Tala hastily unstrapped the shield from her arm, tossing it aside quickly as the metal began to melt into an unrecognizable mass.
"Okay, okay!" Tala raised her hands. "I'll tell you the secret! Don't shoot!"
"Oh?" Brictiva lifted her eyebrows. "What is it, then?"
Light began to pool around Tala's chest, spilling across her whole body. "The secret is that you're too late." She grinned, looking up and behind her, toward the facility.
"What-" Brictiva followed her gaze. "What in the gods' name... Damn you!" She pulsed the phaser once more, but it glanced off the pool of light. Her magitek armor stumbled back as she inadvertently pulled on the sticks. "No... That's impossible!"
Far above them, silhouetted against the rising sun, Lani rose to stand from her crouching position. She must be over a thousand fulms tall now... Down below, her comrades in arms were like ants, barely half an ilm to her new size.
In her ear, the enlarged linkpearl carried Reina's voice - albeit a bit distorted from the thinness of the aether at this height. "Lani, can you hear me? At this rate of power drain, you can only stay this way for fifteen minutes. You need to meet the colossus and stop its advance before it destroys all of Eorzea. In fifteen minutes."
Lani looked around at the world below her. Like a patchwork quilt, or a children's playset. It all looked so vulnerable, so fragile. One missed step, and a thousand homes would become one shoe-shaped crater. Her friends fit neatly in her palm like a bunch of tiny figurines.
"No pressure," Aisha added.
"You can count on me," Lani said. She didn't bother using her linkpearl - it was all anyone could do not to be deafened by her voice. Her massive boots left prints in the pale, broad desert of the Burn. How she wondered if the texture under her bare feet would feel at all like her childhood in the Sagolii... The sand would be so fine... "I'll get this done with and still have time to enjoy my new size!"
There was radio silence for a moment, and then Sirara chimed in, "... Are you going to tell us what that means?"
Lani chuckled to herself. "Oh, you'll be finding out soon enough!"
Senah was apparently in the middle of saying something, and cut herself off with an embarrassed squeak.
"She'd better enjoy it! I know I would be, if I were her size..." Malacoda said wistfully over the linkpearl. "Is it too late to switch places now? Ugh, I can't believe I feel this small..."
"We needed you for the rest of the plan!" Aisha assured him. "You better get it done quick, Lani, or I'm never going to let you live this down!"
"Yeah, I'm sure the others could use some help dealing with my sister," Reina added.
Senah timidly raised her voice. "Your sister? ... By blood, or-"
Though Reina didn't say anything over the linkpearl, it was very clear they were in the same room, as Senah's flustered response to Reina's amused look was transmitted. "W-Well! You could have one parent in common or something!"
Ignoring the squabbles of the tinies in her ear, Lani turned her attention toward the horizon - and her opponent.
The colossus... A one-thousand-fulm-tall monstrosity. It was a horrifyingly magnificent piece of engineering.
And it was coming her way. Seeing how quickly they each covered ground, suddenly, the desert didn't seem nearly big enough for comfort anymore...
Down on the ground, Brictiva was furious, nearly screaming into her armor's communicator. "How did they get a colossus of their own?! We knew nothing of this!" Her voice sharpened to an ice-cold point, and her attention returned to Tala. "No matter. I will kill you, and once I have gotten through you, kill the rest as well. You are unarmed and unprotected."
"Am I?" Tala asked.
As if on cue, the magitek armor... exploded. Brictiva was thrown from it, skidding to a halt on her back a few fulms away.
She lifted her head, her voice audibly strained through her mask. "H... How...?!"
"That's the real super power of teamwork!" Miah said, coming out from behind a bit of wreckage. She tossed Tala her sword. "Think you dropped this."
"Thanks," Tala said, grinning weakly. "You gave me a bit of a scare there. I thought you weren't going to show up in time, and I was done for. But thanks for the shield earlier. Something happened to mine."
"You know we weren't going to leave you here alone," Miah said, glancing over at the molten disc of slag that had once been Tala's shield. "When we got your message, we came as quickly as we could."
"And where are my thanks?" Katrja said, stumbling out from behind another bit of wreckage. She used her staff to support herself, looking like she was going to fall over at any time even despite that. "I've nearly burned myself out trying to protect you, you know. You owe me one. Or several. I'll decide my price after I have a chance to rest."
Miah laughed, throwing her arm around Katrja's shoulders to help support her. "And the rest of the world, but sure, we're protecting you, too."
Tala rushed to her side. "Are you okay? You might need to get out of here..."
"Nothing a couple of ethers can't fix," Katrja said, reaching into her pocket. Her brows knitted together as she felt around. "H... uh. I thought I had more in there."
"You've been chugging them like water," Miah said, keeping her attention on Katrja but shooing Tala back toward the wrecked armor. "You might need to slow down. Not least because Captain Tightass is back on her feet."
Tala whirled around, readying her sword. "She's what?"
"I am Brictiva rem Voss, Primus Pilus," Captain Tightass said, drawing a gunblade and leveling it at Tala's chest. "And I am not so easily dispatched."
"Oh, good, there's more killing to do," Katrja grumbled, drawing herself up straight. She needed to draw on the deepest wellspring of mana within her, the font deep in her heart... She readied her staff. "Neither are we, as it turns out."
Miah touched a hand to her linkpearl. "Team Big, this is Team Small. You... might not have the full fifteen minutes."
Team Big - or, at least, Lani - was in the process of rushing the Garlean colossus. They met in the middle, straining for dominance against each other.
Lani could not deny that there was an element of satisfaction in seeing the colossus spot her, hesitate, and pull back for a moment. Nor that there was an element of intimidation in seeing something that was still this big even as she towered over absolutely everything else.
But this? This was just fighting. And fighting she knew how to do. The Garleans had modeled their new colossus after Garlean Hyurs, and it had all the same weak points. Strike the back of its knees. Shove its center mass. Knock its feet out from under it. She was holding it back, at least, but it was holding its position...
In her ear, through her linkpearl, she could hear the others talking about the team on the ground, fighting for their lives. She refrained from participating in the conversation, not wanting to give away any more than was necessary to the Garleans. Her role was merely to end this fight and break the Garlean forces as quickly as possible.
The body may have been machina, but the pilot certainly was not. She taunted the pilot, beckoning with one hand. "Come on, you can do better than that, can't you?!"
The Garlean pilot roared a challenge, and she barreled forward to meet it.
"This is all your much-rumored secret weapon turned out to be?" the Garlean snarled as they wrestled. "Making an ordinary woman gigantic? As it happens, there is more to this colossus than merely size. How do you counter this?"
Spotting the light in the gigantic mech's chest moments before it fired, Lani rolled aside, just narrowly missing getting her hair burnt off. "Okay, that's pretty good. But I'm not the secret weapon. I'm just the one who gets to use the secret weapon."
Lani popped back up into the air out of her roll, landing gracefully on her feet and drawing the dagger from her side. She plunged it deep into the monstrosity's chest, into the cannon that had taken a shot at her a moment earlier-
And then she was knocked back by a casual swing of its arm. Leaving the dagger buried in its chest. She hit the ground with a boom that rattled the teeth of everyone in a malm radius and kicked up a huge cloud of sand.
The pilot stepped closer, taking their sweet time.
"So you've destroyed one of my weapons systems. On the other hand, I've disarmed you of your secret weapon," the Garlean's voice said through the loudspeaker. "But I still have more. And what do you have? Nothing."
An array of tiny rockets shot out of the colossus's sides, and Lani leapt to her feet, dancing backward to get away from them. "Gah!"
The Garlean was getting cocky now. "Mere moments into the fight, and you've lost. Even with all the power you were given, you still lost." A blade of light shot out of the colossus's right arm, and it swung at Lani, who ducked under it, holding tight to the colossus's wrist to try to hold it back. Her arms shook with the strain. ... The colossus was... quite strong... She grimaced, opening her mouth to try to taunt.
And then the colossus just... started walking. The sand yielded easily, even under Lani's enormous boots. She slid back, leaving massive tracks in the sand. Yalm by yalm, fulm by fulm, she skidded closer to crushing everyone...
"You will not save your precious Eorzea today. You will not even save yourself today." The Garlean's voice mocked her through the loudspeaker as it ripped the sword free of her hands and pushed her down. Its arms lifted the sword up, preparing to slice down her center with it.
Something clicked in Lani's head, and she grinned. "You're so negative. I think it'll be fine, personally."
The pilot hesitated. "What? You've lost your weapon, you've lost your ground. You're a mere few thousand fulms away from crushing your friends yourself. How could you possibly believe you have any chance of victory?"
"Because I know..." Lani kicked out, planting her boots on the mech's stomach and hopping to her feet. "That dagger wasn't the secret weapon either. Just the delivery mechanism. Honestly, you can't just be enormous and forget about the little things."
"What?!" The colossus drew the dagger out of its chest and stared at it.
A tiny hole - maybe a few fulms wide - was at the bottom of it.
The colossus cast it aside violently. "This is nonsense. Poison won't do any good against a machine like this!"
Lani flashed her opponent a cheeky grin. "Good thing I didn't put poison in there, huh?"
A few minutes earlier...
Miah's voice came through the team's linkpearls. "Team Big, this is Team Small. You... might not have the full fifteen minutes."
"We move as fast as we can," Reina said sharply. "No panicking. I am still here to be our last line of defense."
The gigantic fighters clashed, exchanging taunts. Every footfall felt like an earthquake, let alone when one of the two giants tumbled to the ground.
From her high perch, watching the action unfold, Senah squeaked out, "It's using the chest cannons! She got out of the way but only barely!"
"Got it." Reina's eyes flew across the paper. "Checking the blueprints. Lani, if you can hear me, stab into the same place it fired out of. That should be a good place to deploy and it keeps you out of danger. You should be able to avoid further damage."
"Deploying!" Malacoda called.
"Dropping in now!" Aisha added.
"Why did you make this knife so big I felt like I was going to fall out the whole time!" Sirara babbled into her linkpearl.
"Save it, shortstack, we've still got a lot of being tiny to do!" Malacoda yelled back, crawling out of the knifepoint, hauling himself out of the cannon indentation and climbing up onto a perch. "We have to find a way to climb up this beast without falling off or getting squished by our gigantic friend or her equally gigantic opponent."
Aisha followed suit a moment later, reaching down to haul Sirara up. "All in a day's work, right?"
From this new perch, they looked out at the girl who had delivered them there, knocked on her back by the blow. She was so huge, even from this distance...
"Do you think she can see us?" Sirara asked.
"I wouldn't chance it." Malacoda turned his attention to a ladder - no doubt used by the engineers who were assembling the monstrosity to crawl across its body. "Reina, we're heading up this ladder."
"There's a hatch on the other end; don't enter it, it's guarded by an autoturret," Reina said, reading off the blueprints. "You should be able to shimmy along where its collarbone should be."
In the distance, they could hear Lani desperately avoiding the rockets. They needed to hurry. Big as she was, Lani was still taking a risk, and the longer they took, the bigger that risk got. And Tala, Miah, and Katrja had gone mostly silent...
"Sirara, you lead," Aisha said. "If you fall, I can catch you. If I fall, Malacoda can catch me. If Malacoda falls..."
"I won't fall," Malacoda said confidently.
"Okay..." Sirara pressed herself flat against the machine's "neck", scooting a little bit at a time.
"It deployed the beam sword!" Senah yelped. "Oh no, oh no..."
Reina called out with a note of alarm in her voice. "Those forces won't go well for you. Brace!"
Sirara threw herself down, tucking herself neatly into the indentation of the machine's collarbone and spreading out to hold herself fast like it was made for her. Aisha embedded her spear into the machine's neck and held tight to it with one hand - and, as Lani caught the sword and held it fast, Malacoda stumbled into the abyss.
Fast reflexes made sure that he caught the lip of the area, but now he was in a precarious situation. He dangled above the titanic Miqo'te's lips as her face - filling up their fields of vision far below - went through a journey of nerves, fear, pain, determination. Her eyes trembled along with her arms as she devoted her full attention to keeping that blade from slicing her in half.
"I know you're eager to get swallowed up, but now's not the time!" Sirara squealed. "Aisha, do something!"
Aisha stretched her arm out towards Malacoda, her fingers straining to reach. "Do what?! Push him off and into her mouth? Maybe she'll know not to swallow him!"
"I think I should get a say in this plan!" Malacoda shouted. He reached up with one hand, trying to grab on to Aisha's hand. "How about you pull me up and we don't hope that she doesn't accidentally swallow me!"
Aisha yanked her spear out, jamming it back into the machine's neck (a spray of oil hitting her for her troubles) and reaching again. This time she was close enough, and they grabbed on tightly to each other's wrists.
Relief colored Aisha's face. "Got you!"
Between the two, they managed to pull Malacoda back onto the small indentation. "Okay, let's not do that again," he said, just a moment before their balance was thrown and they began to hear more colossal footfalls.
"It's pushing her this way," Senah said, panic in her voice. "You're running out of time! Even if it's her and not it that crushes us, we're still just as flat!"
Sirara looked over at the two taller ones, who were struggling to stabilize themselves... on Aisha's spear, which had been successfully jammed into the metal plating here twice now. She touched her linkpearl. "Reina, is there something we can burrow into here? It seems like the metal up here is thin - we need to get in there, now!"
"I'm looking!" Reina flipped through the blueprints, trying to find the corresponding cross-section. "You can't rush genius!"
"It's okay, we're just rushing you," Aisha said, finally getting used to the colossus's footsteps and finding her feet again.
"That's precisely what I-" Reina located what she was looking for. "There. There's a vent system for keeping air flowing through the cockpit that runs through there. Dig into it and you can probably make your way in, but I doubt Aisha and Malacoda are going to fit."
Sirara nodded. "I'll go on ahead. Malacoda, Aisha, just... hold on to something!"
Tense moments passed as Sirara crawled through the vents.
Outside, the Garlean mocked Lani's failure - and, by extension, their own.
Were they too late...?
Sirara's voice finally came over the linkpearl. "I'm in! Uh, I don't see the pilot, but there's a lot of them here! I'm going to need help!"
The group breathed a collective sigh of relief - and, below them, so did Lani, sending a rush of hot air over them all. She quickly regained her confident look.
Malacoda's relief was short-lived, however. "I'm pretty sure she's about to start fighting back, we might want to get in there before she boots us into her mouth!"
Aisha grabbed hold of her spear, crawling up onto the colossus's shoulder and looking determined. "Grab on."
"I think I can make the jump onto the top of its head from here. Even with you riding on!"
"What?! Are you crazy? If you miss, we're going down her shirt!"
"If we don't do something, going down her shirt is the least of our worries! I won't miss. Grab on."
Malacoda, seeing no other option, grabbed on to Aisha's waist. She bent her legs... and took off, launching into the air, just in time for Lani to land her kick on the colossus's stomach.
It staggered back a few steps, leaving Aisha and Malacoda hanging in the air over the abyss, a thousand fulms below them.
Malacoda winced. Aisha must not have calculated that... "We're not going to make it!"
"Have a little faith!"
Aisha wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen - but she'd known something was going to happen, and her spear's aim was true. She landed dead-center on the creature's head, burying her spear deeply into the emergency hatch at the top.
Malacoda wasted no time throwing it open once she'd removed her spear, leaping down himself and waiting for Aisha to follow. "Let's go! Sirara needs our help!"
"But if you didn't put poison in the knife, then wh-"
The colossus's joints spasmed, twitching and thrashing. The creature's mouth moved as if it was speaking, but all that came out were the sounds of battle.
Lani waited, poised and ready to intervene if needed.
Silence. Stillness. The colossus stopped moving, and the whine of its ceruleum engines slowed down to a stop. There were tiny pops, and Lani could see some small, ball-like ships drifting toward the ground on parachutes. She held her hand out to catch them, like catching raindrops.
Over the linkpearl, Malacoda's voice came through. "We're in control now. We even achieved the bonus objective of stopping the lab tech from using an escape pod to kidnap the shortstack, though a few of the other Garleans got away.."
"Oh, I wouldn't say they got away," Lani said, grinning. She gently pried the parachutes free, then hurled the escape pods toward Garlemald. She was just making sure they got home faster!
"I am not a... bonus objective!" Sirara complained. "Cut me free!!"
"Eh, later, I kind of like you having a convenient carrying case," Aisha said. "Lani, can you get us down? We need to check on the others!"
Lani moved around behind the colossus, placing her hand under the hatch that one is supposed to enter the cockpit from. "Yeah, ready to catch you! Come out the front door!"
A moment later, and she had three tiny friends in her hands once again. She smiled. It was almost too nice. Too bad it wouldn't last long.
But Aisha was right. The others needed their help. And they were thousands of fulms away.
Which was no big deal for her. She took a few short steps, crouching down in front of the battlefield they'd fought in earlier, and gently lowered the others back down. Hopefully she was here in time...
"Tala, I... I'm out of juice," Miah said exhaustedly, leaning heavily on Tala. "I can't... I can't keep it up anymore... she's not human!"
"Take Katrja and get out of here," Tala said, nodding toward Katrja's unconscious body where it lay nearby. She was breathless, down on one knee using her sword to support her. "Better one of us than all of us."
"Better one of us what?" Miah narrowed her eyes. "You don't have permission to make a heroic sacrifice here. I don't know how many times I'm going to have to tell you that, but I'm not letting it happen."
"So you should die, too?" Tala asked. "How does that make any sense? You have your daughters and Yogurt to go home to."
Miah shook her head vehemently. "And I'm going to go home to them. With you. I am not telling Amah why you didn't come home with me."
"It's very cute for the two of you to argue over which of you gets to die," Brictiva said, loading another shell into her gunblade and cocking it. "Fortunately, there's no need. All three of you are going to die. I'll start with... you."
She pointed the gunblade at Tala's head.
A titanic hand descended beside Brictiva, making a circle between its thumb and its forefinger.
Brictiva had all of a second to see where Miah and Tala's gazes had gone before being launched into the air, sent spiraling through space into the distance.
"Sorry I'm late," Lani's booming voice said. "Got a little held up earlier."
"Lani, I have never been happier to see you," Tala said weakly.
Reina scurried out of the facility, rushing toward the others. "You did it, you all pulled it off!"
Senah limped close behind, only making it halfway before being intercepted with a bear hug from Aisha. She melted into it, going limp. "I was so scared you were gonna die out there..."
"Pfffft. I'm not that easy to kill, come on," Aisha said, grinning.
Malacoda unsteadily stepped forward. "You know, I think I'm good with heights for a while. Unless I get to be the tall one this time."
"You're always the tall one," Sirara reminded him. "Now, cut me free?"
Miah shook Katrja. "You can stop pretending to sleep now, there's no more work left for you to bail out on."
Katrja opened one eye. "Mmgh... In the last hour, I used approximately thirteen times the amount of aether that it is safe for a woman of my size and build to use in a day. I think I've earned some rest."
Tala laughed, leaning against Miah. "Ah, leave her be. The Garleans are routed, we're all alive and safe and... going to be healthy eventually. We can finally relax a little bit..."
Lani beamed at the tinies around her, scooping them all up into her hands. "Well... We've still got a few minutes left before the power you all so generously contributed runs out... So what do you say we have some fun?"
Senah's face went scarlet. "A-Already?"
"Don't worry, I'll keep you from following your worst instincts," Aisha assured her with a grin.
"You still haven't explained what that means..." Sirara said nervously, squirming in her bindings.
"There's a very good reason that I wasn't in the away team, there's no need for this!" Reina said, toppling over.
"I'm definitely going back to sleep," Katrja moaned.
Malacoda staggered, wobbling. "And again with the heights!"
"What was that about relaxing?" Miah asked.
Tala groaned. "Please play nice, Lani..."