The tunnels shudder. From somewhere outside and above, I hear a roar as the ground explodes. Behind us, the vortex blasts through the passageways, sucking them up, sending rock and sand hurling.
Jo-lo is sinking in my arms, growing heavy and saying something to me I can’t hear.
In the back of my mind, early learnings drift back to me … from some alien planet, they came? Spreading across systems … hitching rides in ships … eating up worlds.
I half expect to see ladder leading up to a box and a door but instead the tunnel begins to slope and lift upwards and I burst out onto the sand. The heat stabs through me but I ignore it and keep running.
Seconds later, the vortex erupts behind me, exploding out of the tunnels and expanding to twice its size, a freak of a whirlwind. Sand whips around us, pelting against my skin like slicing splinters and I’m blind, but I keep racing forward anyway.
I make it over one dune before I start to feel the whole thing pulling me back, tearing the air out of my lungs, darkness descending from above.
I’m heaving for breath, inhaling sand, lost now even more than I was before. I run to keep the wind at my back, but something in me, not Kroma, whispers, you can’t outrun this thing. It’s only a matter of time.
And suddenly, I’m a child again, clinging to my father in the midst of some great gale. I hear the endless smashing of glass and … when had this been … ? Where? A glass castle of some kind, I remember, but that’s all I can recall … and now it melts away, sliding towards the periphery … a memory for another time.
Kroma, I need direction, I shout in my head.
For a moment there’s a deathly pause and finally she says something about cliffs opposite the location of the suns and I pause for a moment and double back, crossing the same ground that I just snaked through in the tunnels.
I tell Kroma to activate one of my adrenalines, then another and another, and I feel the breath of life sweep into me as I sprint across the dunes into the light, Jo-lo lolling in my grip.
And just above me, on the horizon, I see them. The Assassin ships. Three of them, in a steady line, waiting to engulf me.