Categories > Games > Chrono Trigger > Awakening the Hero

Siege the Night

by Myshu 1 Reviews

Chapter Six

Category: Chrono Trigger - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy - Characters: Ayla, Chrono, Kino, Lucca, Marle - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2005/05/12 - Updated: 2005/05/13 - 5429 words

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6. Siege the Night

The sound of raindrops clapping against the leafy canopy and drum rolling through the bushes was almost jubilant, as if Guardia Forest were preemptively congratulating the mystics' success.

Or the castle's.

A thunderclap emphasized the dreadful possibility, though Darwin did not pause to consider it. Their plan was elegantly simple, with the element of surprise granting the bonus of an almost impossibly wide margin of error. The akio would dare call it perfect, if he were of a breed to tempt the gods.

Their objective stood ahead, its tall granite face soaring mightily--haughtily, even--as if the entire edifice had turned its nose up on these groundlings who dare challenge it. They were not out to topple it--rather, despoil it, a much more humiliating fate, and one Darwin thought would sit well in the humans' ever-paranoid society.

Darwin was assigned charge of this moment, though even as he felt his mission in particular to be paramount to their ultimate goal, Heckran would not be there to share the glory. He would be overseeing the other, simultaneous pursuits deemed necessary by Ramezia. That lady's name somehow darkened even the bleak night's storm. Darwin could only brood on it as he sat perched in a tree reaching surreptitiously over the moat, his feathers damp and matted beneath his waterlogged raiment.

"Darwin!"

The akio, at attention even in a crouch, sifted through his handbag and withdrew a shimmering, shoddily cut sapphire. Heckran's voice emanated from its coolly glowing core.

"Darwin, are you there?"

"My lord," he responded, the rain's prattling dousing any emotion in his tone.

"Where are you?"

Darwin focused on the castle's stony shell. Through the pitch downpour he could see beacons burning behind slitted arrow loops and atop the wall walk, highlighting the flying crimson of Guardia's banners. He covertly directed a glance down his beak to the portcullis and its fixed bridge spanning the moat. Two armored soldiers slothfully paced about this single entryway.

"The castle is in our sights. We're before the outer wall. Some of us are yet arriving, due to delays."

"Delays?"

"Floodwaters have blocked some of the roads. Excessive rain."

A long pause, in which Darwin couldn't distinguish muttering from drizzling.

"...To be expected."

Darwin's eyes narrowed at the blind gemstone.

"What about the other target?"

"A team has already been dispatched. There won't be word from them until morning. Perhaps later, with the roads as they are."

"Ya don't think that'll hurt their chances, do you?"

"I doubt it, milord. Even if their pace is slowed, the target is virtually undefended; no one will pursue them. You could already say the Sun Stone is ours."

"Bwaha. Yes, yes, you're right. Anyway, when everyone is ready you have the word to go ahead."

"Yes, my lord. It is as good as done. There's no drawbridge--only two guards before the gate. They won't know what hit them."

"Bwaha! Idiots. Let 'em have it. Heckran out."

The glow subsided with its message and Darwin tucked the speaking jewel away. It was time to carry out their plan. A plan they had developed, organized, rallied troops for, and now will sweat, toil and bleed for. As Darwin waved the front into action and gnashers sprawled from the underbelly of the forest with drowned hisses, the akio could not help but wonder.

Was this for the mystics?

Or for Ramezia?

---
Thunder whispered.

Crono...
(/Aunstae bae.../)
...huh?
(/Taequilo.../)
Crono...
(/Maequila.../)
It's... that voice again...!

Help...
(/...baeya Traukee.../)
What does it mean?

It begins. Do you feel it?
(/tec grizno arigranta/)
Feel what?

The storm's coming. Can you stop it?
(/tec baligriz t'sh hovleFenix/)
Storm?

She's here... do you sense her?
(/qen'gi damar'nih/)
Who?

She's going to lead so many to ruin...
(/qi'gi veron'no/)
Who? What's going on?

Please stop her... Don't let Falco be...

Her? Who--Falco? Be what?

Don't let Falco be...

Who's Falco?? Don't let Falco be what??

Please stop...
(/ana yetveron./)
Mii Sci Kee...

---
Thunder whispered.

The chief of Ioka village awoke to the dim roar of a din. She groggily muttered to the companion at her back.

"Kino, snore loud. Quit."

A yawning whine returned, "Not Kino. Outside."

To vindicate his claim, the sound of barking men drifted into her hut. She shifted lazily between the ruffles of her bearskin sleeping bag, securing them around her and closing her eyes again. Some bad weather was no cause for alarm.

When one of the distant voices sounded like "Fire!" she decided that it was indeed an alarm and not some disgruntled clouds, and she bolted upright in her bed. She had only wrapped a scarf around her bosom when a scruffy man stormed into the hut, an orange glow intruding with him as he shoved aside the flap of the doorway. The fringes of his hair and beard were set ablaze by the ominous light pouring around his silhouette.

"What happen?" the chief directly asked before this man could announce a word.

"Village, attacked! Monsters!"

"Monsters!" the chief spat. "Go, gather men! We fight!"

"Yes, chief!" And the man was gone, the flap of the hut's entrance swinging stiffly in his wake.

In a moment the chief was dressed and armed appropriately, while her consort lied in a drowsy heap at her feet. "Ayla, what happen?" he murmured obliviously, not budging from rest to even open his eyes.

A wooden club answered him in the gut. Kino threw up his limbs in a coughing fit. "Waaii!"

"Kino, wake up!" Ayla growled. "Village attacked!"

The man shot upright, throwing off the club in his lap as if it were driftwood.

"Wah?!"

---
Thunder whispered.

(/The beast the beast the beast free the beast feel the beast inside it's sleeping wake it up/)

A downpour flogged Guardia Castle's entryway, the only crossing over the moat, and the trench of water fattened beneath.

One of its guards drew the sole of his boot across the slick stone walk, watching the streak of his footprint vanish under a tumult of raindrops. He wiped his foot across the paved block again and again, staring through his doldrums at its evanescent trail.

"Joe."

The water blotted it out every time, leaving only a rhythmic, frictional whoosh impressed against the rainfall's purring backdrop.

"Joe!"

He jerked to attention, gasping as a diver surfacing for air, which was not a distant analogy in the consuming rainstorm. "Oh. Hey Ray."

Ray's image shifted before Joe like a phantom through the pouring veil. "Your shift's up."

"Already?"

"Yeah, in about five minutes."

"Huh," he said in a resigned huff and looked over the end of the bridge, into Guardia Forest.

Both stood through the following pause, watching out into the black woods. Not even the beacons from the castle at their back illuminated the forest's skirt. There was only the edge of the bridge and then some mud trailing away from it into oblivion.

"Like lookin' at the edge of the world," Joe observed.

"...Yeah," Ray muttered, entranced as his comrade by the steady roar of water through the encompassing dark.

"Huh?"

"Yeah!" Ray repeated, doubling his voice over the noise. Their idle conversation became a shouting match with the weather.

"Helluva storm tonight, eh?"

"Yeah. Been like this for days. Heard some of the roads back to Truce flooded over."

"Phbt. Nobody's comin' or goin' this way."

"Yeah. Makes standin' watch out here kinda pointless."

"Duty is duty."

"Yeah. Not gonna try to head home after your shift, I guess."

"You crazy? Just finished sayin' nobody's gonna make it through this crap. Looks like we're gonna be holed up in the castle for a while."

"Hope your wife's gonna be okay."

"Huh? Yeah, sure! She's in town. I don't think it's as bad over there."

"You don't think."

"Actually, I'm worried about my uncle."

"The crazy one livin' out in the forest?"

"Yeah, Duncan. And he's not crazy! Just a loner, I guess. I don't know how well his cabin's gonna hold up in a storm like this. If the roads are flooding..."

"I'm sure he's... Joe?"

Ray checked his side, but there Joe wasn't. The guard's companion vanished into the wet static. Puzzled, Ray turned around in time to gag on the scaly rope launched from the black and around his neck.

With a hissing heave Ray joined Joe's body at the bottom of Guardia Castle's moat.

---
Ayla stepped into the fray. It was a short walk. The order to gather the men of the village wasn't really necessary, for anyone worth a fight was already up and bared to the slaughter, the battle brought right to their doorsteps. She almost couldn't believe how quickly the flames had enveloped the collection of huts, as they were arranged sparsely over the sandy lot to prevent the proliferation of wildfire. It was safe to conclude that this diabolical job was the work of the attackers, not nature.

The clashing of stone and timber against flesh and steel was interspersed with the cries of women, children and the owners of wilting homes. Shrill howls punctuated the slashing and burning of berserkers.

The chief's cat-like eyes prowled the grounds, picking up some familiar beasts scurrying around the points of man-made knifes and spears. Short, stumpy brutes with cloven skulls. Gangly gargoyles with wings. Bloated grunts with razorback manes, plated armor and studded clubs. Feathered fiends with torches.

Imps. Diablos. Henches. Ogres. Akios. Mystics!

A pair of imps raced around her legs in a dive for the chief's hut, both mistaking a dazed woman for a non-threat. It was their last mistake. Her rage took off flying in tandem with one of the imps as the mystic connected with her foot. The punted mystic carried a startled wail over the village outskirts and into the forest.

She turned on the second, which had skidded to a stop at Kino's feet. The bewildered man crawled out of the hut and glanced widely at the carnage, then at the stunned imp.

One kick later, it joined its friend. Kino hopped towards Ayla, his fists balled tightly at his sides.

"Ayla! What this? Why village on fire?!"

"Mystics!"

"Wah? Mystics! What they? Monsters? Why attack? Why so many?"

"Ayla not know!" the woman fired, and Kino shrank. "Kino, go! Find out! Ayla look, too!"

"Right!" Kino bounced off in the direction of the nearest blaze. Ayla gritted her teeth at the scene, confused and outraged, then charged into the chaos, heading for a bridge that would cross the local creek and take her to the southern half of the village.

She arrived there, finding little different. In every direction huts burned, their hot smoke spilling into the common grounds and flooding homes not yet victimized by the fires. Families tumbled wildly among the dancing embers, clutching little ones and desperately hailing the lost. Clawed and hoofed shadows rushed between the hellish stacks, carrying off rocks, meat, tools, and people unawares.

Most of the hunters were apparently defending the greater population in the northern half. Ayla took up the slack in the south, laying hands on the first diablos that crossed her path and breaking its ribs over her knee. As it doubled over it relinquished its sack of booty, the ruby spearheads jingling as they hit the earth in a lump. She tossed the body aside and lunged for the next fiend, the hench caught off its guard amidst the smoldering, looting frenzy.

She had handily dispensed of another hench, five more imps and four more diablos before the crimson wind carried thick, grizzly laughter to her ears. The chief bristled to hear such a sadistic uproar in the heart of such butchery. Ayla bounded in graceful, leopard leaps across the pits of scorched straw and confronted the noise. The smoke itself cleared to reveal a ring for her and her waiting adversary.

He was like a dragon, pudgy with power. Aqua scales beaded and blossomed away from his fleshy, rippled underbelly. His arms were heavy with thick cords of muscle, and he stood upright, those strong oars folded before his barrel chest. Horns sprouted off his head and spine and framed his shoulders. His yellow eyes were lurid behind a maliciously grinning muzzle.

"Welcome to the party!" he addressed her boldly, waving a clawed paw over the smoldering vista. "A real blast from the past!" He tucked one of these claws under his chin in mock contemplation. "Or is it the future? Bwahahahaha!"

His laughter was like a blast of a tuba. Ayla stooped into a panther's crouch and brushed some blonde wisps out of her violet eyes, aiming a dark leer at the figure mounted at the source of the assault. A running start away was a mystic larger, taller, and dangerously more cunning than his fellows.

"You! You attack village? Your idea? Why!? Why attack Ioka??"

"Ha!" The mystic leader set the backs of his claws on his hips and pointed a stare down at her. "Woman! You must be the leader of this human village. If you are, then you have what I want."

The woman growled in her breath. "What you say?! Answer Ayla! Why attack village??"

"Bwa, ha ha! If you want us to stop, then give us all your dreamstone."

The chief paused. "Dreamstone" was what Crono and his friends called their precious red rock. Ayla didn't dare betray hesitation with confusion. "Dreamstone? Why want? If want, should ask nicely! Attacking innocent people wrong!"

At once the mystic leader's playful mien was dropped and a zealot's passion infected his tone. "No humans are innocent! We'll take pleasure in burning you all to ashes! Now give us the..."

From the pillars of smoke behind the dragon mystic an imp materialized. It wobbled up to its superior's foot, where it oafishly tripped over a talon entrenched in the dust. The dragon broke his speech to notice it. "What!"

The imp skittishly righted itself and uttered something beyond Ayla's hearing. At the news the dragon's brow lifted. "Ah?" He flashed Ayla an even broader grin than before. "Ah, haha! Nevermind! Looks like we found what we came for, anyway. You're not of any use to us!"

"What!" Ayla sprang to her feet, fists clenched in a rude fighting stance. The dragon prattled on. "Ahahahaha. Haha! As much as I'd like to stick around and wipe you apes from the face of history, I've got business! Don't worry; I'll finish your children off later--much later! Ahahahahaha!"

He turned to leave. Ayla rushed the retreating mystic, roaring provocations at his backside. "Wait! Coward!! Fight Ayla!!"

The woman was already soaring, a kick falling on the dragon's skull, when the mystic whirled back around, flourishing his meaty arm. Ayla's reflexes had already adjusted to dodge a backhand, but she was completely blindsided by the column of water that issued from the dragon's outstretched palm. She was tossed in a wild twirl across the field, landing on her shoulder in a pile of hot ashes that immediately exploded into mud and steam once the conjured wave followed suit.

Sore and filthy, Ayla spat and flailed in the black soup, finally rolling out of the puddle and staggering back into the ring.

Too late. The dragon mystic was gone. Presumably, the village's dreamstone was, too. Frustrated, Ayla pitched her heel against the earth and bellowed a lion's curse.

The black firmament ignited with a blast of thunder, as if to answer her.

---
wake up wake up two become one joined are we til death
death
death

here she comes
joining the halves

the messenger here she comes
watch her closely here she is
the devil in the night
the succubus

bonded you'll be
tied onto she

hold her tight
you hold her here
she'll take you there

one beast to another
one realm to the next
death
death
death
death is next

aunstae bae
here she is
wake her up!

my....beast....slumbers


---
Thunder whispered.

Madeline's crystalline prison quivered like a dewdrop on a drum, though the goldfish floated in its core unawares, or uncaring. Her master gazed bulbously through the glass at her apathetic charge, fretting on her pet's behalf.

"Don't be scared, Madeline. It's just a storm." She stuck out her lower lip in a sympathetic pout that might have been endearing to anything with a brain larger than a grain of rice. Madeline chewed on the water and drifted on, unfazed. Her owner continued to entertain the goldfish's nonexistent concerns.

"Here, I'll give you a little snack. Then you'll feel better." She opened a drawer beneath Madeline's stand and fished out a packet of chow, then sprinkled a pinch over the top of the bowl. The goldfish mechanically stabbed through the raining meal.

Her owner collapsed onto her elbows with a sigh of relief as she watched one life form become happier under her care. "There, now. Don't be scared. Eat away. Munch, munch..." She giggled at her pet's busy pecking and nibbling. "Don't you feel better?"

She felt better, at least, as if she had conferred all her anxieties to the goldfish and subsequently cured them with a little pampering. She never had the idea, much less the objectivity, to psychoanalyze herself and see that it was an irrational gesture. She only understood the now--the here--the surface of reality. She was a creature of instinct; what drove her was the immediate. If a problem were in front of her, she would fix it. If someone were hurting, she would aid them. If someone felt lonely, she would be there. With the right attitude and effort, nothing was impossible to remedy--even Time. Wounds of the heart, she understood, only festered in those without the fortitude to heal them.

Life could be easy if only everyone were so optimistic.

Her bedroom shuddered again. She never liked storms. Although she was too old now to have every boom and flash give her chills as they did when she was little, it was enough tonight to distract her from slumber. At least she could stay awake and keep Madeline company.

The rattle of pictures in their frames and frames against brick walls ebbed and a steady pounding on the door washed in behind an urgent hail.

"Your Highness!"

At any decent hour, Her Highness would have sighed at the summons and swallowed it along with the duties of her position. Since this time was so late as to be unorthodox, she passed over the exasperation into instant concern. Snatching her robe from the knob of her bedpost, she wrapped it over her flimsy nightgown and flowed to the door. She cracked it open and a frazzled, panting chambermaid appeared.

"Princess Nadia! His Majesty sent me to fetch you! You must come take shelter in the throne room!"

"What?" Nadia blinked. "Shelter? You're kidding. It's just a storm."

"No, it's not that!" the maid breathlessly returned. "The castle, Your Highness! It's under attack!"

Princess Nadia started. "What?!"

---
As she stamped down one of the castle's spiral staircases she could hear the fringes of war plans beneath the clapping of her sandals against antique stone steps.

"...security breach at the front gates..."
"Mystics! I should have known!"
"--too much rain..."
"--get in line!"

Nadia emerged onto the main floor, where a conflux of militiamen and castle personel squabbled beneath the rainbow of banners and family crests shingled across the ceiling like ceremonial flora in a brick garden. She found the king sitting on the edge of his throne, surveying the organized hysteria with a steel grip on the armrests and a squared jaw.

She accosted the throne's side, mustering all her royal conditioning into her tone. "Father! What on Earth's going on?"

His Majesty, with a cringing jump, turned towards his daughter's voice. His stern mask melted with relief at the sight of her. "Oh, Nadia! Thank goodness you're here. It's much too dangerous to be wandering around."

Dismissing such concern in favor of the big picture, she pressed her question. "Father! Tell me what happened! I heard we're under attack!"

The captain of the guard stepped from the bedlam to interrupt. "Sire, they're already infiltrated the treasury!"

"Damn it all!" King Guardia cursed, his fists landing on the sides of the throne with a loaded thud. "What's our status? Report!"

The captain took up this order with a brisk salute. "We have only a dozen men engaging the invaders in the foyer and east hall. I just received word that more mystics are entering the castle through the front gate as well as attempting entry from the towers. We appear to be surrounded, sire."

King Guardia, not one to abandon priorities in an hour of crisis, declared, "We must defend the keep at all costs! If our precious resources are lost, we--"

Meanwhile, patience was not Her Highness's forte. Nadia planted her hands on her hips and reiterated with an aggressive whine, "Father!! Tell me what's going on!"

The king reeled out of his speech to throw some quenching words onto the inflamed girl. "Nadia, please. I'm trying to handle this!" He swiveled back to the waiting captain, not spitting another command from beneath his beard before--
"Can't I at least know who's attacking us?!"

He brusquely lurched across his armrest and returned her cutting tact with a pointed, "It's the mystics! They've laid siege upon the castle!" That nutshell delivered, His Majesty resumed the captain's brief while Her Highness stared into the side of his head, dumbfounded.

"What?" she hiccupped. Then, with regrouped strength, "Mystics? But, why? I thought we had good relations with the mystics!"

It proved to be a one-way enquiry, the king's ear tuned off her probing questions and into the reports of the castle guard. As His Majesty wrapped up his orders with, "--and make sure all the women and children are sheltered in the common hall! Don't let the mystics get that far!" the princess had already drawn up priorities of her own and was taking the first steps out the doors of the throne room.

The king, quick to notice a fair blonde storming towards the exit, reached towards her retreating back and threw his fatherly voice at her. "Nadia! Where are you going?!"

Not turning back in her haste, she replied over the suddenly attentive crowd, "I've gotta do something!"

"Nadia!" King Guardia understood that Nadia's "something" was typically impulsive and contrary to a princess's well-being. "Wait!" he demanded, already realizing that something more than "father says so" was needed to dissuade his lawless daughter. "Stop her!" was directed at the guards.

The castle's regular guards were--implicitly--trained to not interfere in royal family spats, especially when faced with contradictory orders from each side. The militiaman in Nadia's way, however, was never introduced to the regulars, and he floundered before the oncoming princess like a stalling car on the tracks. Before the sentry could successfully bar her warpath he was crumpled over Her Highness's sucker punch, clutching his gut and wheezing to the floor. "Outta my way!" wasn't even necessary, but it lent some conviction to the slamming of the great door after her.

The king didn't get up. He didn't even try. He held a strained, tenuous empathy with that contumacious creature he fathered that outsiders had no choice but to interpret as either discordance or apathetic neglect, despite his true feelings. He sagged into his robes and sighed, staring emptily at the shut portal at the fore of the room and the coughing guard in his daughter's wake.

The court was chilled by the episode, with not one speaking out through the awkward lull. The captain, despairing to add salt to the situation, cleared his throat and mentioned quietly, "We'll be short on reinforcements from East Camp because of the flash floods, sire."

The crowd's clamoring swelled to a roar again.
King Guardia closed his eyes, his head thumping wearily against the back of his throne. "Not again..." he murmured to the hanged banners. The next thunder crash was enough to pluck a few like autumn leaves and deposit them in the turbulent crowd.

---
It was no less and no more than the captain reported: the castle guard was surrounded. The men she met at the toes of the foyer's stairs were too preoccupied with a swarm of bellbirds to register a royal heir plowing through their ranks from behind. The flock of mystics clawed and danced over the clustered soldiers in a flurry of ringing teal and sterling while swords and spears haphazardly poked into the rabble from below like stupid keys in a broken piano.

She bounced over the tall guardrail and hit the ground floor running, steering around the brunt of the fighting and heading for the treasure vault in the east wing. A lieutenant on her route was slightly more perceptive, and he whirled to her after sticking a diablos with his bayonet. "Whoa! Your Highness, what're you doing--"

He wasn't granted the courtesy of an "outta my way" but was simply reduced to his knees as the princess sped along the easterly corridor. Her thoughts raced with her feet to the rhythm of an urgent heart.

Mystics. Mystics! Why? Why now? Nadia would get to the bottom of it. She would start by finding her crossbow. It'll be just like old times. Was three years ago long enough to be considered "old times" yet?

Except this time she would be alone.

Well, not technically so, but as she could run circles around the castle guard (and has done so more times than she wanted to count just this evening), she might as well be fighting alone.

Now, where was her crossbow? It was in the armory, of course.

Which is inside the treasury.

Nuts. Why did this castle have to be designed so... backwards! That's a terrible place for an armory. Isn't it?

Oh well. If any mystics showed up on the way, she could use magic against 'em. She could still cast magic, right? Nevermind that she hadn't even tried since the turn of the millennia. The use of magic was frowned upon in the kingdom since the Mystic Wars four hundred years before. Nadia had come to learn it anyway, but once Lavos was vanquished magic was not a necessity anymore, so why trouble herself and the law with it? Oh, such short-sightedness! Since when did she care about the law anyway?? It's just laziness, is what it was. She should've kept practicing. She shouldn't have let the ice slip from her fingers. Maybe she could pick up the habit again just in time to reach the armory.

As her battle strategy flailed through her head her feet carried her down a dimly short flight. Reaching the basement, she flew off the cropped steps and landed with a leathery clap in the belly of what the castle's denizens called the "serpent keep." She swerved around the first bend in the corridor and encountered the security breach firsthand.

A couple of gnashers stood in lieu of doors that were battered off their hinges and lying in chips on the cobblestones. Nadia skied to a stop before them, finding no immediate way around these mystics and into the armory beyond. The serpents fixed their eyes on this latest entry, appraising her girly physique with patronizing smirks.

"Outta my way!" Maybe it worked on snakes too, though she lacked the gumption to step up and slug one of the slithering obstacles, so she'd never know. She resorted to standing there, inflated like a bantam cock, trying to look intimidating. The gnashers stuck out their tongues at her, tasting her hesitation with a habit Nadia automatically misinterpreted as mockery.

"Make usss, ssweetheart."

In unison they began to edge closer, their needle eyes locked on her retreating sandals. She fast pedaled into a wall, grating one bare heel against the coarse brick. One of the gnashers broke from his partner's side and closed the stairwell to escape. For Nadia that was one less mystic guarding the armory, and on a heartbeat she threw herself off the wall and through the half-checked doorway, the nearer serpent snapping at her robe. Something snagged, and she heard a ribbon of her decency being sheared away, but that didn't matter once she was finally inside.

She picked a well-stocked corner and clambered up a pile of crates and barrels, her feet sliding over the hinges of chests and her knees raking all the rotten corners of every single damn wooden crate in the way. She could virtually feel the barrels behind her being slapped aside in their negotiations with the gnashers, which had no more ease than she in scaling the pointy mound of supplies.

Nadia, having reached the end of her stumbling flight, tagged the far wall, crouched into the lofty corner and squared herself against the encroaching mystics. With her thoughts running into a blur and any helpful incantation numb on her lips, her impromptu ice spell was run over by frustrated hisses climbing rapidly to meet her. Reflexively she grabbed the nearest weapon--anything, anything, anything sharp!--and somehow a spear found her cold, sweaty hands.

Then it found the nearest gnasher's uvula. The serpent mystic gargled the spearhead with a boggled croak and flopped to its side, drunk with death. Its fellow gave the slain snake a wild, puffy look before shouting into the depths of the keep, "Help!!"

Seized by the momentum of the kill, something more deadly leapt to her fingertips, and an arctic blast threw the latter gnasher into the opposite wall. "Ice!!"

And as easily as that her magic was reclaimed. The gnasher was glued to the bricks with a chill plaster that was heaped inches thick before Nadia's rage wore down to a trickle. She clumsily slid down the well-armed tower, mumbled her missing crossbow to hell, skipped around the snake corpses, and then dashed into the inner chambers. An imp, two naga-ettes (seems they always occurred in pairs, Nadia once reflected), a bellbird and another gnasher were turned to popsicles en route to the grand storeroom, where the princess was positive she'd reach the bottom of the mystic assault.

She sallied into the final room with only half a spell and less of a plan offhand, interrupting a gaggle of henches in the midst of carrying off the treasury's centerpiece, an heirloom as important to the Guardia family as it was to the time continuum itself: the rainbow shell. The ponderous artifact was being hoisted by rope and muscle up to a smashed and smoldering porthole high on the dungeon wall. She was at once impressed and confounded by the hole; it somehow existed through no less than four feet of solid rock and was at least six feet off the floor. Shards of brick and moulding littered its periphery and smoke and ash settled on everything else, making Nadia gag at first whiff of the scene.

At first the plunderers seemed not to mind, only one or two of the busy mystics sparing her a glance. Perched within the hole in the wall, the glittering rainstorm a halo around his silhouette was an akio barking orders and generally directing the effort. When Her Highness pitched a block of ice into the back of one of the grunts she was at last awarded attention, the entire procession freezing in place.

The akio fired the moving party back to life. "Keep going, you oafs! You've almost got it!"

Indeed, the rainbow shell was by then being swallowed by the freak tunnel, and a final heave gave it to the outdoors, where Nadia didn't see it again. In a vain attempt to stop them she readied and launched another icy blast that would have overtaken the band of robbers, had not--

--THWOOSH--The princess leapt back with a short shriek as a blazing streak shredded her spell and struck at her feet. She blinked at the flaming arrow sticking in the plush carpet before doing the same at the archer--the akio in the window. The bird mystic flicked its beak at her contumeliously and tucked away his bow before ushering the last of his henches up the ropes and out the hole behind their prize.

"Wait!!" Nadia yelled after him, rushing towards their exit. The akio only hesitated to deliver a sickeningly courteous farewell.

"Lord Heckran and the Lady Ramezia send their regards."

And he vanished after the rainbow shell, just missing the barrage of ice that glazed the open window.

---
two souls....one beast


Thunder roared.
<<
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