Winry, Sheska and Edward go to confront Dante, with the future of Mars in the balance.
"Someone's down there," Winry said. "I caught a heat signature when we flew over, and it was too big to be an animal."
"Think they saw us?" Sheska asked.
"Maybe. The area's not as seismically dead as most, so it's not like they could have felt the ship land with vibrations. But they might have heard us fly over. I couldn't come in quietly on a rocket ship."
"The trail would be the best place for an ambush," Edward said. "We can only go up or down there."
"We could try climbing again?" Winry said.
"I don't think I recovered from last time," Sheska replied. When this was all over, she wasn't going to walk more than a block without looking for a taxi or airbus.
"Well, there's no other way down, unless you want to try jumping." Edward turned, starting to walk down the trail.
"Hey, hold it right there!" Sheska saw Envy step into the light below. "Well, or not. Shooting moving targets would be more of a challenge." He leaned against the rock wall. Sheska couldn't tell if he was holding any type of weapon from the top of the hole, but she guessed he could draw quick enough that it wouldn't matter. Unless they turned around and went home.
"You don't want to shoot us," she yelled.
Envy straightened up. "And how do you know that, considering I just said I very much do want to shoot you?"
"Lady Trisha said Dante created you, but she's not very nice to you. So maybe you'd rather work for us."
"Sheska, are you serious?" Edward said. "You saw what he did to the Ambassador and helped to do to Al!"
"You have a crazy one there, Shorty!" Envy yelled back. "Does she try to break into the zoo and free the snarks to keep as pets, too?"
"You're not that much taller than me!" Edward yelled back.
"I'm serious!" Sheska said. "Look, Dante's more dangerous to Earth than you are, as long as she has the Kepler Gate. And she's just as likely to try to kill us without you. And, as for you... do you really want Dante running this planet?"
Envy considered this. "You have a real career in politics ahead of you, Earthling."
"Wasn't a compliment. What makes you think that I won't just kill you and take on that bitch on my own?"
"Because if you could, you would have done it already," Edward yelled. "We're not stupid."
"Just insane. Even with my help, you've got no chance against the old bat."
"Want to bet?" Edward said.
"We made it this far," Sheska added.
"Fine. I'm game. You can come down, and I won't shoot you. Yet. If this all goes to pieces, I might change my mind, though."
Sheska looked back at Winry. "It worked!"
Winry nodded. "Amazing. I didn't think it would."
"Thank Trisha -- she told me as much as she could."
The three of them took the steep trail down. Sheska had to keep her eyes on where she was putting her feet, but she saw that Edward's eyes were always on Envy, who didn't seem like he was going to move from his relaxed posture against the rock. When they reached the bottom, Envy leaned forward, and Sheska felt herself tense up. Despite her words, she really didn't trust the android. "You three do have some kind of plan, right?"
"You lead us in, you and Edward distract Dante and Sloth, and on our signal, you'll know what to do." Winry said.
"‘I'll know what to do?'" Envy mimicked her. "Well, that plan fills me with confidence. It's almost like you don't trust me."
Edward snorted. "Let's just get this whole damn thing over with."
"Whatever you say, Prince Shorty. I still am going to shoot you in the back if this is a dumb plan."
"Shut up with that ‘Shorty' crap."
"Wow, you've got a foul mouth for nobility," Envy commented. "Well, let's take you three in to see the paragon of noble behavior herself." The last was accomplished with an roll of his eyes as he turned and led them into the cave.
This time, there was no light -- they had to rely on Envy's footsteps to not run into the walls. Despite that, it seemed like the right path to Sheska, though she was fully aware that without other cues, the count of her footsteps against stone could be wrong.
She heard Envy stop, and nearly fell over trying not to trip over Winry or Edward. "Here's the door," Envy said. "Since you three are prisoners, I better knock."
"Forget knocking -- we'll surprise her." Edward clapped his hands and the glow from his Alchemy nearly blinded Sheska as he laid hands on the door. "Now!"
The room that housed the machinery of the Kepler Gate was even more spectacular and vertigo-inducing than Sheska remembered. While before, the machinery had been somewhat quiescent, now it hummed with energy. Sparks drifted in the air, which wavered like it was caught in heat mirages.
"Sheska, look up," Winry said, whispering like she was in a cathedral.
Above, like the mural she saw being constructed at the palace days and forever ago, was Mars, carved from copper and gleaming on a brass track. Two hoops with tiny onyx beads represented Phobos and Deimos. Looking towards the edge of the room showed stately Jupiter and Saturn, and brilliantly blue Uranus and Neptune, and a silver and copper dust of Kuiper Belt objects. Towards the center shown blue Earth, dark Luna, silvery Venus, and little, grey, Mercury, all surrounding the golden Sun. And above it all, stood the most clear view of the stars that Sheska had ever seen, with no window or wavering atmosphere in the way. She almost had to hold her breath and pray that the vacuum didn't pull her up into the void.
Dante and Sloth stood at the center of it all, below the Sun, Dante moving her hands over what looked to be the controls like a conductor of an orchestra. Sloth seemed unmoved by the entire thing, and was standing idle, like she was shut off. That seemed like a crime to Sheska, who, even without her amazing memory, thought that this was the one thing she could never, ever forget.
She felt Edward put his hand on her shoulder as he brushed past. "Dante!" he yelled, striding towards the catwalk that led to the central platform.
Dante didn't even look up, but she must have said something. Sloth switched on, then, rushing across the catwalk at speeds that no human could match.
However, Envy wasn't human. "Going somewhere, sister? The brat asked for Mother Dearest, you know." He met her midway, and the catwalk shook as he attempted to stop her sprint. The two started moving up and around the handrails like acrobats, taking to the supports as the third dimension to their fight. It made Sheska dizzy just watching it.
"Envy, you idiot, you're blocking the way!" Edward yelled.
"Working on it, Shorty." And he shoved Sloth down, making Sheska stifle a yelp. The android caught herself, but she was well below where they were standing. Envy dived after her, and Sheska didn't see where he stopped his fall, or if he did.
"Don't watch them," Edward said. "Just take the catwalk -- I'll lead Dante away now that she hasn't anyone to send after us. Winry, can I borrow a wrench?"
"Sure," Winry took a large one out from her toolbox and handed it to him.
Edward tucked it into his pocket, and strove to the side of the platform. He started climbing towards some sensitive-looking equipment. "Hey, you!" he yelled. "If you don't want your component atoms splattered in a ring around the planet, you might want to stop me." He used a bit of cord to loop himself to the supports and brought the wrench up.
"He's not serious, right?" Sheska said. "Tell me he's bluffing."
"Edward Elric, if you break that wrench by using it as a blunt weapon, I'll break your fool head!" Winry didn't seem to be listening to her.
Dante seemed to be taking him seriously, too. At first, Sheska didn't see a reaction from her, but then a small cable car rose to meet her at her station. Dante stepped onto it and sent it speeding towards where Edward was working.
"Go!" Edward shouted.
Winry took Sheska's hand, and led her towards the catwalk. Sheska struggled to find a place to place her eyes that didn't terrify her. The ceiling was still full of stars and the crystal and brass clockwork planets, and the floor below dropped nearly forever towards the core, with occasional flashes, both from the machinery of the Kepler Gate and Envy and Sloth's battle in midair. She settled for keeping her eyes on Winry's back, since Winry didn't seem to be afraid at all. Then again, a pilot had to be used to being suspended in an infinite array of stars, and not falling into them. Or maybe Winry was just lucky and not born with a fear of heights.
They reached the central platform and stopped. Winry advanced slowly on the machine Dante had been working on. "Okay, let's hope that Ed really understands these things," Winry said, reaching out to touch the controls. "Sheksa, keep an eye out on Dante and Sloth and tell me if they get close."
"What if they do?" Sheska said. Edward seemed to be quite good at keeping Dante occupied, and she couldn't even see Sloth and Envy any more.
"I don't know. Be creative."
It was hard watching the fight, and being unable to do anything to help anyone. Sheska felt the thump as someone landed on the catwalk. Envy. Sloth followed him, and he practically shoved her towards the platform near the door, herding her away from where Winry and Sheska stood. Sheska stifled back her scream, but started biting her lip as Sloth met up with Dante. The two obviously had no problems working together, while Edward and Envy seemed to be nearly tripping each other up, and just as interested in yelling at each other as fighting Sloth and Dante.
Sheska wanted to shout out to Winry to work faster, but she knew the other woman was working as fast as she could on ancient machinery that she had learned second-hand in an hour while flying a suborbital spaceship.
The light around them changed, starting to glow crimson and violet instead of purest blue-silver and faint gold. "Winry?"
"It's supposed to do this, I think. At least Ed said it would get weird here."
"Is this the right kind of weird, though?" She thought she felt the currents of air change, like there was an updraft, and looked towards the ceiling. The stars were gone, and in their place was a swirling mass of something that reminded Sheska of holo-movies of black holes. She gripped the railing tighter -- the swirling maelstrom looked like it was trying to crawl down the edges towards the door.
"I don't know," Winry said. "Ed said this will warp space into something that could pick up Dante and throw her elsewhere."
"But what about us?"
The fighters on the other platform had noticed. Edward seemed to have a grim determination, and Sloth was impassive, but Envy looked spooked and Dante was shouting something that Sheska couldn't hear. She was trying to push past Edward back towards the catwalk and away from the walls. He was blocking her, but Sheska got the sense that that couldn't last forever. Indeed, Dante did something that knocked Edward prone, and he got up, slowly. She was already sprinting for the catwalk, though.
Winry threw her hands away from the console, and started waving wildly. "Ed, do it now!" Sheska could see that the eldritch energy that looked like it belonged in a horror film, not real life, had nearly reached the platform where the fight was.
Edward touched the ground and, with a wrenching of steel, the catwalk ripped itself apart, blocking Dante from reaching them. Envy glanced at the energy, then seemed to nod. He took a prodigious leap, landing between Dante and the ruined catwalk. What he said then, only he and Dante heard, but he gave his creator a shove into Sloth, knocking them both into the energy, which was wavering wildly. It seemed to reach for them, wrapping them into an encompassing embrace.
Sheska thought there should have been a scream. Or a sound or something, instead of the two just vanishing. The platform shook beneath her feet, bringing her back to the present. "We better get out of here." She glanced at the catwalk Edward had ruined to stop Dante. "Winry, can you bring back that cable car?"
The console Winry had used was starting to spark. "I think so," she said, tapping buttons. Something whirred towards them, and, to Sheska's dismay, it was more like a trapeze than a cable car. But it seemed to be attached and moving, despite the fact that it felt like that interrupting Dante to do their own stunt was rapidly tearing the machinery of the Kepler Gate apart. Winry climbed onto it, and, gripping it with one hand, helped Sheska follow her. Sheska clung to the trapeze for dear life, closing her eyes and trying to ignore every shake and drop as they traveled across the abyss.
Finally, with a sickening lurch, they stopped moving and strong arms -- Edward's -- pulled them onto somewhat solid ground. "Let's get to the surface and get out of here," he said. "I don't know how much damage this place will do when it finally falls into itself."
"Where'd Envy go?" Winry asked, looking around.
"Coward ran for it as soon as he was sure Dante and Sloth were gone," Edward replied. "Come on."
They sprinted out the door and through the maze of crystal caves that rang with the death throes of the Kepler Gate. When they reached the bright sunlit hole at the entrance, Edward started pushing them harder to scramble up the trail, despite the fact that the sands and rocks from the top were making the going even more treacherous.
"My ship!" Winry cried when she reached the top. "That bastard took my ship!"
Indeed, the Wrench wasn't where Winry had landed it, and only the disturbed soil and scorched plants remained.
"Didn't you lock it behind you?" Edward asked.
"Of course I did!"
"Um, I hate to be a bother, but shouldn't we be running to get clear of any implosion?" Sheska said, glancing at the pit in the ground they just left.
"Right," Edward said. "We'll have to head to the nearest town and I'll call the palace for transportation. Dammit."
As they started to jog away from the grave of the Kepler Gate, Sheska couldn't help but here Winry mutter about her general opinion of androids who steal her things and try to kill her family. She trusted that, despite his reluctant help against the Lady Dante, Envy would soon find that the Royal Family of Mars was not happy with him. Nor was Winry Rockbell, Martian Space Pilot.