“Where to next? The ark?” Nhu asked, “And please don't respond unless our lives are in danger, Courage.”
“Yes. That's where Ruin's avatar will be if it was anywhere.” Esther said.
“Let's go get our friends back. If, uh,” Kevin thought for a moment for a name for the artifact, “Doubt gives us terrible dreams, the first thing I will do upon waking is find a sledgehammer.”
“Don't worry. It won't if I'm here. Doubt doesn't have any courage.” Courage said. Nuru's hand suddenly closed around the handle of her spear, but relaxed when Kevin apologized.
“Let'ss go now! The fasster I can get Courage out of me, the fasster this torture will be over.” Nuru said, clapping her hands to rouse everyone. Esther set the destination coordinates for the ark, and the ship began to move.
Kevin couldn't sleep, but neither could anyone else, so at least this time he wasn't alone in his boredom. Kevin ended up mostly trying not to stare at Nuru's glowing belly, which was stretched flat by her relaxed position, or staring at the wall behind her. Halfway there, he decided to get out his old hazmat suit from the Erchius mine, and put it on. If their escapade had anything to do with Ruin and living things, there was bound to be some form of miasma or fluid present.
Fortunately, the trip back seemed to be much shorter than the trip there(it always does, doesn't it?!), and they were looking at the outpost before Kevin knew it.
The eternity of boredom that had seemed to stretch forever suddenly contracted into an instant in their memory. Kevin picked up Doubt from the ground, as much as he didn't want to, Nhu retrieved Red, and Aurada scooped up Green. They all stood at the ready. Kevin wished he had a backpack like Asra to carry his charge.
“Well, there it is.” Esther said. The planetary analysis monitor on the ship's dashboard was rapidly flickering through a series of strange and sometimes disturbing images, changing before their eyes, and the letters that normally displayed a summary of the planet's environment typed themselves: COME DOWN, SMALL ORGANISMS. I HAVE BEEN WAITING FIVE HUNDRED BILLION YEARS TOO LONG. THE TOTAL RUIN OF YOUR DIMENSIONAL PLANE BEGINS SOON.
“That can't be the environmental summary.” Kevin remarked.
“Well, at leasst we have our weaponss.” Nuru said, picking up her spear. Kevin retrieved his rifle and decided he would use it, even if it did next to nothing. Nhu reluctantly flipped his rifle to full automatic. Aurada picked up and adjusted her grip on her dagger(she had never gone after her boomerang after she had lost it in the fight with Nuru).
“Okay, everyone! I'm not going to give you a pep talk, because there's nothing optimistic about this situation, but I will say that if we do our very best, we won't be shamed.” Esther said, raising her arms.
“We'll be fine.” Kevin said, waving a hand dismissively.
“Yeah. With our luck, we'll have Ruin done in no time flat. Watch and learn, people.” Nhu joked, flexing his muscles.
“Can't be much harder than the sspider. After that level, thingss kind of sstay the ssame, in termss of how fasst you die.” Nuru said.
“I don't know. If Ruin is the pure form of ruin, then why can't it just ruin us?” Kevin asked.
“Let's not question it.” Nhu said, putting a hand on Kevin's shoulder.
“Let's go!” Nuru tapped her foot.
“Let's go!” Aurada stabbed the air with her dagger.
“Let's go?” Kevin asked, turning to Esther.
“Wait, no!” Courage's voice came. Everyone turned. “There was a last ditch method of defense to aid us in our effort, but it can't keep Ruin out altogether without our help.”
“What does it do?” Kevin asked.
“Well, it's pretty simple. If Ruin lingers in a certain area of the plaza, which is most of it, the trap will spring. Hopefully it will get rid of Ruin for a short time, at least so we can recuperate and maybe form an attack of some sort.”
“Well, yes, but what does this trap do?” Kevin pressed.
“Ahh, that I don't know. I do know that it'll stop Ruin for at least a few seconds when it's triggered.” Courage said, “So all we need to do is keep Ruin occupied for a minute or so after it breaks into the area, then we'll see what happens.”
“What if this trap hits us as well?” Nhu asked, unconvinced.
“Don't worry about that. If it doesn't activate, we're all dead anyway.” Courage said. Nuru was learning quickly how to suppress laughter, and she barely giggled as Courage spoke. Everyone's tension heightened with every chuckle from Nuru. Nobody knew how close the violent floran was to cracking, and nobody wanted to find out.
Eager to get away from all of these questions and torturous answers from Courage, Nuru interrupted: “Can we go now? Like right now? Unlesss there'ss ssomething life threatening, I mean.”
“Yes! Esther?” Kevin raised his rifle.
They came down on a path of flat, dark cobblestones. Tentacles made a formation that looked disturbingly like huge ribs sticking out of the ground above them, glistening in the star's distant light. Kevin, glad he had donned his hazmat suit, took the lead, and walked down the path, which was the only thing that wasn't demolished at that point. The stone pyramids that had dotted the land here and there had been leveled, and there was no sign of the outpost anywhere.
When they finally reached the ark, they discovered a slightly reassuring sight. Mammoth tentacles formed a network above them, but appeared to be pressing against some invisible barrier. The double doors were still closed, and showed no sign of opening. Of the six indentations that adorned the doors, two contained artifacts: Reggie and Scourge. They weren't glowing.
“Where's Ruin? Wouldn't it be trying to kill us and take the artifacts?” Kevin wondered, looking around.
Only Nuru's well-practiced reflexes saved her when Ruin landed where she would have been if she hadn't dodged milliseconds before. Kevin quickly helped an unprepared Nuru to her feet, and she grabbed her spear again from where she had let go of it. Aurada crouched, dagger held in front of her.
“Hello! How are you in here?” Nhu asked, leveling the scope of his rifle at Ruin's eyeball.
“I broke the last barrier three hours ago. I've been waiting for you to arrive so that I can get the artifacts.” Ruin said.
“Okay. Why haven't you freed yourself yet?” Kevin asked. His heart sank: either the trap hadn't sprung, and Courage was wrong, or it had already and Ruin had ample time to recover.
“I can't without all of the artifacts. That's also why I haven't destroyed the planet.” Ruin explained, then quickly held up a finger, “But, before you try to kill me uselessly for the umpteenth time, let me warn you of my hostages, who I will not hesitate to kill should you resist giving me the artifacts.”
“Oh, right. Hostages.” Kevin sighed.
“Fun.” Nhu said, giving a mirthless smile.