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Tales of the Phoenix:

The Red Dragon

© 1999-2002 Strata Drake of TWZ.

Chapter Nine: The Showdown

(Original Draft)

Sheridan grabbed the radio communicator. "Heads up! Get to safety--those lasers are going to hurt!"

Falco responded. "No can do, Sheridan. We're in this together, and one way or the other, it's going to stay that way."

As expected, the Sky Dragon charged its laser banks and fired a spread volley of lasers down onto the group, sixteen shots in total. Many jeeps took assorted damage from the bombardment. At least the defensive mounts were somewhat shielded against laser weaponry. Less could be said about the scavenger jeeps, though. They had the advantage of high thermal armor, but not high durability. Sheridan estimated that the jeeps could withstand one, maybe two, laser blasts from the Sky Dragon, but after that, the jeeps would quickly become scrap--possibly including the vehicle pilots inside.

Sheridan's group countered as best they could. A few light rail shells, assorted artillery and mine-rockets. All but the rail shells were impacting in vain against the Sky Dragon's armor. Except for one mine-rocket, which impacted one of the Sky Dragon's engines but failed to detonate.

The Sky Dragon returned the favor with another laser salvo. Sheridan lost five jeeps in that salvo; fortunately, the pilots were quick to evacuate and get to shelter in the garages. Sixty-five against one and no signs of progress in Sheridan's favor. Sheridan countered with more weapons. Even before their weapons struck the Sky Dragon, the embedded mine-rocket detonated, belatedly as expected, and disabled one of the Sky Dragon's engines--at least for now. The Sky Dragon landed upon the ground, approached on its four legs, and fired off another salvo of lasers.

Sheridan noticed a passing blip on his radar screen--too small to be of any help and too distant to see the action anyway. The Sky Dragon was suddenly upon them as it marched forwards. Sheridan ordered an all-out evacuation from it. With its immense weight, the Sky Dragon began a large, methodical stamping of their fleet. Sheridan evacuated his command tank and the EMF generator to safety near the mountain entrance. Nigel / Falco's jeep was quick to take safety with Sheridan. Several more were successfully evacuated to the underground garages. The construction crew was not as lucky, losing one vehicle and one pilot. The repair crew was untouched. However, the scavenger group lost 40 out of their remaining sixty vehicles, and nearly half that in casualties; and the Sky Dragon mashed all of Sheridan's defensive emplacements into the ground.

Sheridan counted his arsenal. Several mine-rocket launchers, and two howitzer jeeps, but no more. Sheridan radioed the research group for ideas about how to best use the mine-rockets. The verdict came in quickly; delayed detonation on the mine-rockets could prove more effective than instant detonation, especially with the several holes already in the Sky Dragon's outer armor. Unfortunately, the modifications would take ten minutes to complete--a good five minutes more than they could hope for and a good ten minutes more than the Sky Dragon would give them.

Sheridan ordered a retreat into the mountains to buy some time. The repair crew, riding the two repair drones, began work even as Sheridan's group was leaving--and sure enough, The Sky Dragon followed them. It activated its jet engines and quickly cut their travel route off and peppered their group with laser fire. The repair vehicles and Sheridan's own tank absorbed much of the fire. Sheridan's tank could survive another seven or so salvoes of laser fire, and the repair crew three or four, but not for long as the Sky Dragon recharged its laserbanks for another salvo. Sheridan ordered the howitzers on-line. The two pilots set up their jeeps and fired a few shells skywards. The shells impacted the Sky Dragon, but with no visible damage, again.

By now, four of the mine-rocket jeeps were armed and ready, so Sheridan ordered them to strike. They did so, firing their salvoes (24 mine-rockets in total) into the Nova Sky Dragon. Each and every mine-rocket impacted the Sky Dragon and stuck to it much like flies on flypaper. The Sky Dragon countered, and Sheridan's armored vehicles once again took the damage. The repair vehicles paused to patch up each other before continuing the modifications.

The salvoes of mine-rockets detonated. The Sky Dragon shook from all the timed detonation and fell out of the sky, landing on the ground with its four legs. A small shower of debris shells--virtually all of which were shards from the exploded mines--fell to the ground as Sheridan ordered another fire. 40 rockets this time, as the repair crew had completed more modifications. The Sky Dragon fired more lasers, scrapping several of the scavenger jeeps while Sheridan's repair crew touched up some damage on each other and his tank. Most of the pilots were okay, but Sheridan was now down to 12 jeeps. Another laser salvo from the Sky Dragon reduced this to five jeeps. The pilots, evacuated from their jeeps, were escorting each other back to base, even if injured from the attacks. Sheridan fired another volley, a good 24 mine-rockets and one howitzer shell, into the Sky Dragon, this time all focused on one portion of its armor--its wing. All the rockets hit, and later detonated as Sheridan moved his group back towards base. Shards from the Sky Dragon's wing lasers were visible as one set was disabled by Sheridan's attack. The Sky Dragon countered with rail shells from its two rail cannons. Sheridan's vehicles took a bit of impact damage, but at least with few scavenger vehicles in the group, most of the repairs could be effected directly on the damaged units.

Back at home base, the scene was no different from before, except that two of the garages were being used as some sort of medical facility to treat the injured--and undoubtably enough, there were many. Sheridan knew that even with surrender, the Sky Dragon would be taking no prisoners. Therefore, he attacked the Sky Dragon in the only way they could--mine rockets, again focused on the Sky Dragon's damaged wing. This time, there was a definitely visible effect, as the mine-rockets detonated and completely broke the Sky Dragon's right wing clean apart from the chassis for a second time. As if to repair the damage, the Sky Dragon folded its wings up and armed its railguns. Sheridan maneuvered his vehicles between it and their group. The rail shells impacted Sheridan's tank, inflicting sixty percent damage against even his armor and knocking his hovertank back almost onto the group. The repair vehicles were quick to begin repairs. Sheridan suddenly realized that one unit was missing from his group--the EMF generator!

Sheridan's question was answered, and it was not good. The EMF generator had been destroyed. The Sky Dragon either had not noticed this, or was too interested in using railguns and lasers on the group; otherwise, it would switch back to its more-conventional missiles and bombs to finish them off.

Sheridan and the Sky Dragon exchanged blows once again. Rail shells impacting against Sheridan and his repair vehicles (fortunately, none of which were seriously damaged) and mine rockets against the Sky Dragon's armor. The mines detonated, and the Sky Dragon seemed to wince from the attack--probably because they had hit it in one of its legs. It countered again, but missed by an inch. One of the shells hit Sheridan's tank in the hover engines, and with a warning light on his monitor, it was clear that his propulsion had been knocked off-line. Unable to move, Sheridan radioed one final order from his console--attack whatever moves and hide behind whatever doesn't. Sheridan grabbed a small data disk from the console, then opened the hatch and evacuated his tank, Drake following him. Sheridan and Drake had no sooner climbed into the command jeep with Nigel and Falco but their evacuation was answered as the Sky Dragon impacted several more rail shells into the command unit. Two, then three and four salvoes of rail shells impacted Sheridan's command tank. It rolled over, onto its side and top, and side again, as it took the tremendous recoil of the attack.

The repair crew heeded the notice and performed no repairs on the command unit as Sheridan ordered a counterstrike with the mine launchers. They impacted, once more, against the Sky Dragon's amor and detonated in sixty seconds. The Sky Dragon continued its assault on Sheridan's command unit, with lasers this time. Debris and armor pieces were now chipping off of the wyvern-class command hovertank, and with one meticulously-aimed salvo of rail shells, the Sky Dragon shattered Sheridan's command tank. Debris from the unit was thrown in many a direction. Sheridan cringed and buried his head against the jeep's console as Nigel ordered the group on what he called "a tactical advance in the opposite direction"--a quick flee back towards the mountains, where they would at least have some cover.

The Sky Dragon fired another two salvoes of laser and rail shell bursts at the remains of Sheridan's command tank to finish it off before resuming chase on Sheridan's remaining group. It scanned the surroundings for radar signatures of Sheridan's group. It found none, due to the mountains. Scanning for audio signatures, it found neither. Nigel, expecting such a search, had ordered all vehicles turned off and taken cover in the nearby forest. The Sky Dragon began a patrol, starting at the western edge of the base, searching for them.

Nigel grabbed Sheridan's arm. Sheridan looked up for a moment and glanced in his direction. Nigel spoke up. "We need a new strategy."

Sheridan nodded but kept silent.

Falco proposed an idea. "The Sky Dragon is hunting us. Not our base. Perhaps we could draw it away from home--"

Sheridan cut that idea off at the pass. "For about two minutes. The power resources and generators were nuked in the attack. With your crews, that's about half an hour at least..."

Falco cut in. "Two hours." Sheridan shook his head.

They could hear the Sky Dragon on its patrol with each metallic thud from its steps. Nigel started up again. "Where would we find the nearest reinforcements?"

Falco responded. "Given what happened to Lionel's place, we are the reinforcements. Nearest other settlement is a good half-hour south."

The Sky Dragon appeared above them on a nearby ridge. Nigel gave a quick order. "Let's scram!" They evacuated before the Sky Dragon opened fire, back into the open at Preybird home base. Some of the vehicle pilots were busy constructing some barriers. For all the work, a few blasts from the Sky Dragon would just melt them into the ground. One of the men waved at Nigel's group. Nigel responded by ordering the group behind the barriers. They would not provide much protection from the blasts, but any protection was a welcome sight. And not a moment too soon as the Sky Dragon approached from the mountainside. Nigel ordered a moving strike against the Sky Dragon--targetting what might be the most fragile portion of it--its folded, broken righthand wing. The five launchers fired and impacted the Sky Dragon. The Sky Dragon fired another salvo of laser bursts in their direction, hitting the barriers and, as expected, the barriers could not endure the damage and were shattered. Except one barrier. Examining the barrier, Nigel recognized it as a sizable piece from the Sky Dragon's wing. Instead of hiding behind it for protection, Nigel ordered the group to retreat to farther distance.

The mine-rockets detonated, inflicting some damage on the Sky Dragon--'some' being an absolute term, and when measured against the Sky Dragon's total durability, 'negligible' was more like it. Nigel fired off another salvo of mines, this time, targetting its rail launchers. The mines impacted, then exploded, and devastated the rail launchers' magnetic coils. The Sky Dragon countered with its lasers. At least the smoke and dust offered some protection against the lasers. Still not enough, though. One vehicle was damaged in the burst, and its pilots stopped it and set it up for stationary firing.

Nigel looked back up at the Sky Dragon and countered again with mine-rockets. They hit it in one of its forelegs. The mine-rockets detonated but to no visible effect. The Sky Dragon approached closer, and unfolded its wings, now self-repaired from their damage, and the righthand wing completely re-formed. Nigel noticed it and struck as the Nova Sky Dragon lifted off for an aerial perspective. The mine-rockets still proved effective with their delayed detonation, and Nigel focused their firepower on both of the Sky Dragon's wings. The Sky Dragon flew overhead and fired a small bombardment of laser bursts downwards, upon them. Only one jeep was hit by any burst, but in their condition, that was still one jeep too many. The jeep was still functional, though, and the remaining repair unit was busy trying to effect some repairs on it.

Two more salvoes of mine-rockets, and the Sky Dragon folded up its wings and landed nearby on its legs. Nigel kept up the salvos, and the result became clear when the Sky Dragon's righthand wing broke off for a third time. The Sky Dragon was quick to fold those wings up and in, but this time, instead of countering from a distance, it approached at a quick speed. Nigel ordered evasive action, and the jeeps were quick to do so as the Sky Dragon came upon them. All of Nigel's group soon sought shelter in the underground garages, and the Sky Dragon's pounce failed to crush a single one of them. It aimed at the location of one underground garage and fired a few lasers into the ground, charring it but little else. Another laser salvo and the garage caved in on itself only moments after the few vehicles inside evacuated to the surface. Nigel brought the rest of the group outside and fired.

Sheridan looked up from the jeep's console. "Three wings down and now it changes tactics? What kind of damage have we inflicted on the Sky Dragon??"

Nigel ordered a cautious scatter around the Sky Dragon, in attempts to encircle it. The Sky Dragon saw through this maneuver and countered by backing off, keeping all of Nigel's group in the same locale. Nigel looked back at Sheridan. "Apparently, not nearly as much damage as it can survive..."

Sheridan sighed and returned to his silent, almost mourning, pose against the jeep's console while Falco kept the jeep moving and Nigel manned the radio systems. The Sky Dragon paused for a moment before turning around and backing off. There was a communications over the radio as it left, from the Sky Dragon. It read something like, "You're more persistent than I thought. However, you're still no threat; and there are bigger fish to fry..."

Nigel breathed a sigh of relief as the Sky Dragon marched southwards and climbed into the mountains without any further attack. Sheridan looked up. "What on earth...?"

Nigel heard it too. The sounds of lasers, rockets, and other assorted weaponry could be heard from the south. It wasn't lightweight weaponry that was being exchanged at that distance, but heavier, Project-caliber weaponry.

Sheridan siezed that opportunity for what he could, grabbing the radio communicator and relaying some instructions to the remaining repair unit and crew. "Whatever's going on down south, we've just been bought some time. Do whatever you can, and fast."

The repair crew responded affirmatively, though somewhat shakened. They drove about the base, piecing together whatever parts they could from assorted jeeps, sets of tracks, and other debris. The response came in. "We can't do much right now without the construction crew."

The sounds of combat became louder. Nigel grabbed the radio communicator and spoke up for Sheridan. "As you can hear, we're running out of time. Whatever the Nova Sky Dragon's up to, it's coming back for another go."

The response from the crew came back again. "That means we can't do a thing, then."

The combat became visible as the Nova Sky Dragon chased a sizable group of armored units in their direction. Falco grabbed a pair of binoculars to look at the units. Sheridan looked at the monitor and saw several white blips approaching their area in one group. Sheridan counted them. Thirty assorted armed units were being routed in their direction. The Sky Dragon was approaching behind them. Some damage was visible, as the Sky Dragon's lefthand wing was now broken off. The Sky Dragon had unveiled its two railguns--armored railguns this time, not as easy to shatter or disrupt. The Sky Dragon was firing with uncanny accuracy at the tanks.

Falco recognized the tanks. "The Phantoms...!"

Sheridan nodded. "Nigel, get us closer. Those tanks are much stronger than our jeeps, but we still have some firepower left."

Nigel nodded and ordered the jeep closer to the army, now standing at twenty-five of thirty units. Sheridan's jeeps would add five mine-rocket launchers to the total arsenal. Nigel ordered a strike. The mine-rockets flew through the air to impact the Sky Dragon. Ignoring their fire, the Sky Dragon kept up its attacks on the phantom tanks, and the Phantoms lost a few more tanks from Sky Dragon fire.

Sheridan's group launched another salvo, and the Sky Dragon continued firing at the Phantoms. A few more tanks were lost from the fire. Sheridan dared the group closer to the action as the Sky Dragon approached closer to them with the Phantoms before it. The Phantoms were down to fifteen tanks now, but there were no signs of exhaustion from them as they fired more rounds into the Sky Dragon. The Sky Dragon still ignored the mine-rockets and concentrated its fire on the Phantom tanks, this time using its nose-mounted plasmite launcher. The Phantom tanks endured the heat and kept fighting, while Sheridan's group kept firing from a distance.

The Sky Dragon changed tactics and pounced upon the remaining ten phantom tanks, smashing many into the ground. With the phantoms destroyed, it now turned in Sheridan's direction while enduring salvo after salvo of mine-rockets. It would have other things to worry about, though, as a small fleet of ten Phantom jets flew in from the south and attacked it with lasers and missiles. The lasers were somewhat ineffecitve against the Sky Dragon's almost-perforated outer armor, while the missiles inflicted only minimal damage. The Sky Dragon armed its railguns, and with precise aiming, shot down eight Phantom jets in little time.

Another small fleet of Phantom jets, fifteen this time, flew in to combat the Sky Dragon as it shot down the remains of the previous fleet. Still, the Phantom weapons were not very effective against the Sky Dragon as it shot jet after jet out of the sky with its railguns. Nigel kept up the bombardment, and the Phantom jets now resorted to a kamikaze tactic. As they were shot down, they guided their jets into the Sky Dragon to inflict a final amount of damage, and the Sky Dragon recoiled from each crashing jet.

After the Sky Dragon shot down and endured the last Phantom jet, it turned back in Sheridan's direction and approached. Nigel ordered evasive maneuvers as the Sky Dragon began firing its railguns in their direction. At this distance, all of its rail shells missed as Nigel returned fire. They were now emptying their one hundredth salvo into the Sky Dragon, yet it still showed no additional signs of damage. Sheridan looked at the Sky Dragon through his binoculars and examined its armor. Upon close inspection, the Sky Dragons armor had several dozen visible holes and cracks in it. Sheridan turned to Nigel. "We need some sort of defense."

Nigel nodded and ordered the group to attack the Sky Dragon's armored railguns. In two salvoes, they finally disabled its railguns as the Sky Dragon approached. Falco noticed the broken Sky Dragon wing standing next to them. He pointed to it and shouted in Nigel's direction. Nigel nodded and ordered the group behind it as the Sky Dragon readied its plasmite launcher. Now getting close, it launched a plasmite fireball in their direction. The broken wing saved Sheridan's group, as its Novadragon plated armor absorbed the fire and heat without damage. Nigel returned fire with mine-rockets directed at the Sky Dragon's front. It absorbed the damage and switched its weaponry to a set of armored laserbanks. It fired them, but the lasers proved ineffective against the broken wing which Sheridan's group was hiding behind.

Sheridan glanced at the jeep's radar console. No sign of any other Phantom units in the area, and Sheridan sighed. They continued their bombardment of the Sky Dragon as it moved closer. It fired another salvo of laser bursts, and the broken wing protected Sheridan's group from damage. The Sky Dragon moved aside to get a different angle on the situation and fired a few more bursts, largely missing but causing severe damage to one of the jeeps. Nigel ordered everyone back--with only four weapons left in their arsenal and the inability to make more, no casualties could be afforded.

Looking through his binoculars, Sheridan noticed a sizable portion of the Sky Dragon's armor was either perforated or entirely blown off. Judging by appearances, the most vulnerable area of the Sky Dragon would be its righthand shoulder, where they had broken three wings off of the Sky Dragon. Nigel nodded and instructed the men to try to hit that portion of the Sky Dragon. They fired another salvo of mine-rockets at that particular area of the Sky Dragon. Some of the mine-rockets struck the hole in its armor, while most others struck its outer armor. When they detonated, the Sky Dragon appeared to 'flinch' from the hit.

A white blip--a Phantom sensortank--crossed distantly across the jeep's radar screen. The Sky Dragon noticed this as well, momentarily turning in that direction for a glance. When it turned back in their direction, it approached at a quick pace in an attempt to pounce upon them. Nigel ordered evasive maneuvers, and the maneuvers were successful--this time around. The Sky Dragon backed off to 200 feet distance and whirled around before letting off another salvo of laser bursts which destroyed one more of the remaining jeeps.

Nigel maneuvered the group back behind the broken Sky Dragon wing laying on the ground as they fired another salvo of mine-rockets--a smaller salvo since they lost one weapon--at the Sky Dragon, hitting it in one of its forelegs. The Sky Dragon countered by firing lasers in their direction, eliminating another jeep and forcing more of their men to escape to safety.

Sheridan flinched, and Nigel shook his head as he ordered another bombardment. Two salvoes of mine-rockets would not inflict much damage, even if they hit a weak point on the Sky Dragon, but there were no other options. The group aimed carefully and buried sixteen mine-rockets into the Sky Dragon's right shoulder, where its wing had been broken off.

Five Phantom jets flew in from the southern direction to attack the Sky Dragon with an unknown type of VTOL bomb. Targetted at the Sky Dragon's topside, the bombs thoroughly shook the Sky Dragon from their impact and Sheridan noticed a few pieces of its outer armor, chipped off from this bombardment, falling to the ground. The VTOLs dropped a second salvo onto the Sky Dragon, shaking off more pieces of its armor as the Sky Dragon responded by gunning down two of them, which then fell onto the Sky Dragon like kamikazes. The Sky Dragon flinched even more from the impacts. The Sky Dragon shot down one more VTOL as the jets flew off, back to base. A second wave of VTOLs was behind them.

Looking through his binoculars, Sheridan noticed that the incoming VTOLs looked like Hawk-chassis jets. Nigel sighed in relief when he was told this news. The second wave of VTOLs was composed of fifteen bomber-class Hawk VTOLs, but as the Sky Dragon targetted them and opened fire, they dropped like flies. Recalling the schematics of the Hawk chassis, Sheridan realized that those VTOLs had poor thermal shielding, and thus were extremely vulnerable to lasers. The second wave of VTOLs never returned to their base, and they only inflicted minor damage upon the Sky Dragon. Still, with several pieces of its armor shaken off by bombing, the Sky Dragon was flinching from the hits--and according to Nigel, it was starting to slow down.

The Sky Dragon returned its focus to Sheridan, Nigel, and their remaining two mine-rocket launchers. Nigel ordered the group to strike the Sky Dragon on its topside. The mine-rockets impacted and damaged the Sky Dragon, but it countered by firing laser blasts. Was it not for the broken wing that the group was hiding behind, they would have been destroyed from the blasts.

A small contingent of Phantom tanks with Howitzers appeared over the southern ridge. They fired their shells at the Sky Dragon and damaged it. Nigel kept up their own bombardment of the Sky Dragon, and even though it turned its attention to the Phantom artillery group, it was noticeably taking damage. It still defended itself with laser blasts, now aimed at the Phantom tanks. The tanks took some damage from the lasers, but unlike the Phantom jets, they were still functioning in prime condition. A third wave of Phantom jets flew in and dropped bombs onto the Sky Dragon. Some of the bombs missed, and upon hitting the ground, raised an exceptionally large cloud of dust and debris into the air. Those that hit the Sky Dragon caused visible damage and shattered a few pieces from the rest of its armor. The Sky Dragon turned its attention towards the jets as they dropped a second salvo, shattering much of the Sky Dragon's remaining outer armor and inflicting damage.

Nigel ordered the group to help out. They fired two salvoes of mine-rockets into one of the Sky Dragon's leg joints. When the mine-rockets detonated, they all but broke the Sky Dragon's leg clean in two and it stumbled to the ground. The Sky Dragon responded by attacking the group with lasers. Their remaining two combat jeeps were lost in the salvo, leaving one jeep in their group--the command jeep that Nigel, Sheridan, and Falco were driving in. The men from their group were now escaping for cover. Nigel looked at Sheridan and Sheridan nodded back. As the Sky Dragon continued defending itself against the Phantom tanks, Nigel, Sheridan, Falco, and Drake evacuated from their jeep and toward distant safety in the garages.

All they could do now was watch from a distance and hope for the best. The Sky Dragon, now stumbling upon three of its four legs, was taking damage from the artillery. A few Phantom missile-jets flew in from the south to lend a hand. They concentrated their fire on another of the Sky Dragon's legs. Their salvoes broke that leg off at the hip, and the Sky Dragon fell onto its left side. It unfolded its lefthand wing--the one wing that was not completely broken off--and activated the wing engines to try balancing itself. This was to no avail, as a small number of Phantom bombers flew in, unloaded their payloads, and shattered all but the rest of the Sky Dragon's outer armor.

Without its outer layer of armor, the Sky Dragon was vulnerable to attack. This was evident as a few more Phantom VTOL fighters came in and broke its remaining two legs with a few missile salvoes. The artillery group continued their howitzer fire as they broke the Sky Dragon's headpiece off at the neck and it fell to the ground. The radio was silent, as if the Sky Dragon had no taunts to relay to its enemies the Phantom army, or as if it was now incapable of radio communications. The artillery group continued firing, and debris from the Sky Dragon began chipping away from the chassis and headpiece. Reinforcements arrived for the Phantom units in the form of assault tanks, armed with assorted anti-tank missiles and cannons. They continued firing at the Sky Dragon's hulk, collapsing more of its structure and throwing more pieces of debris into the air. Another dust cloud was being blown into the air as the Phantom units continued their assault. There was no response from the Nova Sky Dragon as its chassis continued to shatter from the Phantom group's assault. As more debris was thrown into the air, the Phantom units must have hit its power core, for a massive explosion--almost nuclear in caliber--suddenly burst into the air. A large shockwave was thrown for 300 feet in every direction and a large smoke plume was thrown into the air. Sky Dragon pieces rained down like golfball-size flaming meteors as the explosion produced what was so far the mother of all dust clouds.

It took two minutes for the dust clouds to settle into the ground. As Nigel and Sheridan walked out of the garage shelter to look at the action, they identified the Nova Sky Dragon's wreck burning in a large fire and pluming a pillar of black smoke into the air. Strangely, the Phantom groups were nowhere to be seen--they had left just as abruptly as they did upon the Nova Land Dragon's destruction. Sheridan looked at Nigel. "It's finally over..."

Nigel nodded. He grabbed a pair of binoculars to look at the wreck from a distance. Sheridan, however, ran in its direction for a closer look, and Drake followed behind him. Sheridan caught a good eye ofthe smoke and fire surrounding the Sky Dragon's wreck, but was more interested in what looked like a small speck near the front of it.

Sheridan ran closer to the wreck for a better look. A small damaged figure was slowly approaching from the wreck. Sheridan stopped a good fifty feet from the figure, and 100 feet away from the wreck, but even at that distance Sheridan could identify the figure. He shouted its name. "Aireus!!!"

Aireus was badly damaged, but he was still functional as he approached to within speaking distance of Sheridan. Sheridan ran over to him in greeting. Sheridan was at a loss for words, but he did find one thing to say: "Aireus...., you're...alive!?"

Aireus nodded. "So I am..."

Nigel ran over to them. Identifying Aireus, Nigel was no less surprised than Sheridan. The first thing Nigel said was, "I never knew the Red Dragon took prisoners."

Aireus nodded again. "Neither ... did I. But, either way, they found, a prisoner in myself..."

Falco ran over, following Nigel. Falco drew his gun and was about to shoot Aireus had Sheridan not stopped him. "Falco; he's a friend."

Falco hesitated but returned his handgun to its holster. He smiled. "Nah; it wasn't loaded anyway."

Aireus looked around at the base. "Is this, your home?" Already, many of the civilians were emerging from the garage shelters to take a good look at their home base. Everything except the greens and the Sky Dragon's broken wing had been destroyed, collapsed, and burnt to ashes. Sheridan looked back at the base for a moment and then turned back to Aireus. "Not yet. We still have some rebuilding and recovery to do. At least it's over, and we're alive."

Aireus looked around. "Is ... Drake, around somewhere?"

Sheridan looked around as well. Drake was nowhere to be seen. Sheridan ran off to find him. Drake was nearby, crouching behind the Sky Dragon's broken wing. Sheridan found him and looked down at him. "What are you doing here?"

Drake looked back at Sheridan, then at Aireus. Drake stood up and walked over to Sheridan's side, still eyeing Aireus with caution.

Sheridan knelt down and looked at Aireus, then at Drake. "Not to worry. Aireus...that's Aireus." With Aireus's damaged appearance, it was reasonable that Drake couldn't recognize him from that distance, and thus was keeping away.

Nigel and Falco walked back in Sheridan's direction while talking to Aireus. Sheridan looked to the west. They had managed to fight the Red Dragon all day, and now the sun was setting and casting shadows across their new home base. The cost was extreme, but they had won and defeated the Red Dragon. And, although a new military campaign would arise from the Sky Dragon's burning remains, all Sheridan could think about as he looked into the sunset with Drake at his side was the major victory they had earned. Having survived an improbable battle against the Sky Dragon, luck was on their side.