"You, you gave me life. Then ripped out my emotion, and replaced it with a knife! I cut you once, I cut you twice, you're my midnight sacrifice! You shame me, you've shamed God... you scream my name, now you're gone!" Jack, Iced Earth
Zelgadis was poring over one of Rezo's drier tomes and rapidly falling asleep when a violent rumbling shook him from his torpor. Blinking in surprise, he looked about the room in confusion. Pix reacted similarly, frozen in the middle of pushing a slim volume on astral creatures (Toban's Spirit Guide- The Abridged Version) back into place on the bookshelf. When the shaking did not immediately abate, she turned around and looked at Zelgadis curiously.
Zelgadis stood and belted on his sword, balancing his way across the still waltzing room (but it was really more of a very poor rendition of the twist... maybe the macarena) with a curious expression on his face. Perhaps the volcanos were active again? Some sort of magical disturbance?
As suddenly as it had started the rumbling ceased, leaving them more puzzled than before.
Pix frowned. "What happened, Master Zelgadis?"
Zel reached over calmly and caught a falling book before it could hit the ground, setting it absently back on the shelf.
"I'm not sure. It sounded like a Dragon Slave."
Another book on the top shelf finally lost the battle to gravity and started its rapid descent towards the ground. It was a large book, Encyclopedia Outlandia in it's first Sailoonian edition, with a gold embossed spine.
Pix got underneath it, eager to help. "I got it!"
Zelgadis winced as the heavy tome flattened the overly enthusiastic pixie with a particularly satisfied sounding "WHOMP".
"You got it all right. What were you thinking?"
Picking up the book, he revealed a rather flattened pixie giggling dazedly as she tried to clear the cobwebs from her book-stamped mind.
"Are you alright?" he leaned down and prodded her gently with a stony finger.
"No more for me thanks, I'm driving."
He shook his head. Pixies shouldn't read and drive.
The two of them pondered the odd occurrence over a cup of tea (not Mrs. Fenwick's Wicked Brew. The Brew is only really useful when one is trying to wake up; a slap in the face might wake you up, but no one particularly wants to be slapped repeatedly and with great vigour while they are conscious, perverts aside.) after Pix had managed to regain her faculties (and original shape).
"Maybe it was an earthquake." Pix reasoned. "We are living over a volcanic area."
"I don't think so. Earthquakes aren't usually so directional. That one sounded like an extremely long bang followed by a rumbling noise... like an avalanche."
"I've never heard of an avalanche that starts off sounding like an explosion, Master." Pix frowned.
"I have." Zelgadis sighed.
"Her name is Lina Inverse."
"Do you think she's the cause of this?"
Zelgadis stood calmly. "Only one way to find out. We'll just have to see for ourselves."
Pix bounced excitedly (causing Zelgadis to politely avert his eyes) and clapped her hands. "Are we going on a trip, Master?"
"Er... it looks that way Pix." Zel pulled his cloaks hood over his head.
"Should I pack a lunch?" she flittered next to his head.
"I don't..." a thought occurred to him. This was Lina Inverse he was talking about.
"Yes Pix... I think you should. A very BIG lunch."
Mina felt as though she'd been put through a cement mixer.
This statement begs clarification. Mina did not in fact feel as though she'd been put through a cement mixer in exactly those words. Cement mixers do not exist in her time frame, so she could hardly use it as a metaphor for her situation. What Mina felt in more precise terms was that she had been bounced around brutally in a very small space with very large rocks, and then poured out into a very dark hole.
Hence the above statement.
Blinking back the pounding headache, Mina sat up slowly and did a tentative check of herself. At first she was somewhat alarmed to find that she could not see, but she was soon able to determine (with a handy light spell) that this was due to the fact that she was currently underground. Her left eye would not open, but she found this was largely because her eyelid had been glued shut by dried blood from a nasty gash on her forehead. Finished with the areas the hurt the worst, she stood up and walked a few steps. No spouting blood? Check. No broken bones? Check.
Then she remembered Red. Swinging the light spell about frantically, she fought against growing claustrophobia as she searched the icy debris that had sealed her in. A moment of panicked desperation clutched her heart when she couldn't see him; perhaps he was buried... then she caught sight of him, face down, his hair spread out around his head like a pool of blood. He was half buried in the rock, his overcoat a bit dusty and tattered and looking much the worse for wear.
He still clutched his sword in one massive hand.
Picking her way over the fallen rock, she gripped beneath his massive shoulders and tried to drag him out from underneath the tons of rock to no avail... he was just too heavy. Biting her lip, she scanned the rock imprisoning his lower body. It didn't look too stable... sloping at a sharp angle upward. In fact, it looked as though if one were to remove one rock, the others would come pounding down as well... this time burying the unconscious bandit for good.
She sat down next to him with her back to the rock and thought furiously. She looked at him quietly. He was very very pale...
A sudden, horrible thought occurred to her and she tentatively reached out a hand to feel his neck...
He was cold...
There was no pulse...
Mina was too exhausted and heartsick to scream for him. What she did do was cry until her light went out.
Then there was only the sound of sobbing in the dark.
Red floated in warm nothingness. Everything was peaceful, there was no pain, no discomfort.
He hated it.
He remembered protecting Mina from the onslaught of falling rock, he remembered a sharp pain in his head, and the pounding of tons of rock... then he had found himself here.
Everywhere he looked he could see only white light, even when he tried to look at himself.
Most people who die feel as though they are floating towards the afterlife. This is supposed to inspire acceptance, and give the newly released soul a chance to get accustomed to being deceased.
Red was growing increasingly bored and frustrated.
-What the hell is this? I'm dead? This is such a total waste of my time.-
A few moments later.
-They don't have to rub it in. It's not like I don't know I'm dead.-
Finally, as though eternity had taken offense to his irreverent attitude, (which it may have... eternity is a very sensitive individual who cries at weddings all the time) he suddenly found himself surrounded by darkness.
-Well at least this is a change of pace.-
"What in the hell were you thinking?" someone with a very familiar voice asked him in a wryly amused tone.
"Who said that?" he mused, blinking when he realized he could hear himself. That meant he had to have ears, which entailed a body. He patted himself over. He felt pretty good for someone who was undoubtedly flattened.
Suddenly he could see... himself. A carbon copy of him walked towards him from the darkness, hands in pockets. His expression was odd... a mixture of arrogant self assurance and cynical amusement.
"You certainly took your time. I thought you were just going to let yourself pass on." he sighed. "Have I really sunk SO low?"
"Who the HELL are you?"
The other Red grinned. "You."
Mina was shivering violently. The temperature in the cave was considerably lower than that outside, due to the lack of sunlight and the manner in which stone conducts or leaches heat. She was going to die of exposure soon if she didn't do something about it.
She really didn't see the point.
A lot had happened to her in the last few months. She'd been defeated, humiliated, bullied and dragged across a continent and back again on some crazy errand for the man responsible for her torments. At the same time, she realized she had never felt more alive than in the time she'd spent with the once indomitable, infuriating man. He could be a jerk, and selfish... occasionally he could even be downright cruel, but he had been HER jerk.
She couldn't believe he was gone.
Gradually she became aware that a strange sound that had been repeating itself in the background was not as random as she had originally thought. Looking up, she strained to make out the source of the noise... a clanking thump that repeated itself once every second or so, faint at first but rapidly growing louder.
She slowly became aware that she was not alone... in the distance, down the smooth stone tube that made up the backside of the cave in which she was trapped, a pair of red lights flickered in the distance. Standing, she cupped her hands and cast another light spell. Shining it forward, she drew her sword warily, danger making her momentarily cast aside her grief.
"Who's there?" She asked, raising her sword.
A deep, bass chuckle that sounded as though it had emerged from an already torn throat met her words. Stepping forward into her light was a giant monstrosity of blackened iron carrying an axe that would have been ridiculous in the amount of serrated edges it held had it not been so huge.
Nor so stained with blood.
As her dumbfounded gaze rose her lower jaw dropped, and she gasped, blinking in confused horror.
"What the hell ARE you?"
The impossible mountain of metal let out a chuckle that reminded her somewhat of the avalanche that she'd just survived.
"Why.. your doom, little girl. This is going to be... FUN..." It rumbled companionably. Then it charged.
"What do you mean, you're me?" Red asked warily, holding his sword in both hands.
"I meant what I said. I am you. The REAL you." the apparition's smile faltered a bit and became an ominous frown.
"At least... I'm what you SHOULD be. What WE should be."
"I don't understand." Red stared confusedly.
"Of course you don't. I made it that way. To keep our blasted brother from finding us before we could regain our strength. We were very weak upon our rebirth."
"Of course. This isn't the first time we have died... I mean, it is the first time we've died so STUPIDLY, but it isn't the first time we've died."
Red frowned. "Who are we?"
The other him grinned again. "Now now... that wouldn't be very sportsman-like. I told you, we can't afford to let our brother find us yet. We aren't nearly powerful enough to deal with him. Right now what you need to do is concentrate on being YOU and ME at the same time. Your physical body is in fact dead, but you have the power to revive it if you merge your soul with your dormant astral one and use that power to resurrect yourself."
Red sighed and shook his head. "Astral body? What the hell is that? This is giving me a headache."
The other Red frowned. "Actually if it's any consolation it's giving me one too."
"That's probably because you are me." Red snapped sarcastically, irritated.
"Don't get smart with me." the other Red groused.
"You are really starting to bug me." Red growled.
The two of them glared at one another before it occurred to them what they'd just implied.
"Something tells me this is going to take a while." Red sighed, closing his eyes and shaking his head.
"Well it had better not, 'cause MINA is in danger." The other Red sneered the name. "Not to mention your corpse."
"What?" Red exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me that before?"
"You didn't ask." The other Red shrugged.
"Man... I am a real asshole." Red grumbled, glaring at his tormenter.
"So am I." The other Red muttered, staring at his.
A normal person would have been splattered against the wall under the onslaught of that first vicious attack.
Mina was not a normal girl.
Mina didn't bother to ask WHY the mountain of metal was barrelling towards her. Instinct and long hours of training took over and she simply dodged quickly beneath the hissing arc of steel as it passed over head and slipped around behind the creature. Swinging her longsword two handed, she dealt it a vicious blow to the back that would have laid a normal man open in a twinkling, armor or no.
Dnarc was obviously NOT a normal man.
The longsword bounced off of his carapaced hide with a resounding "CLANG!" reminiscent of the great bell of Sailoon. Mina felt the shock of impact all the way through her body; the vibrations made her teeth ache. The thing turned it's head and growled menacingly.
She laughed half heartedly. "Right..."
Turning his bulk ponderously, Dnarc raised his ax two handed high over head. He had expected the little bitch to fold under his first attack like most opponents did and had been surprised when she'd simply not been where his ax had aimed. He knew he should be destroying the pretty boy's physical body right now, but he could never resist the pretty young thing that fate had placed on his dinnerplate so to speak. Pretty boy wasn't going anywhere after all.
Besides... pretty young girls looked SO enticing squirming in a pool of their own blood...
Mina gritted her teeth as the armored horror prepared to swing downward. Any thoughts of letting herself die were completely shattered under the rush of a new emotion...
Anger. Red had been torn from her, and now this tin can thought he was going to push her around?
Red was the only one she tolerated pushing her around.. and THAT was only because she gave as good as she got.
All of her grief and frustration turned into a black little pit of rage.
The ax came down with a sound of extremely startled air-
-Mina jumped back just barely enough to miss being turned into sashimi-
-Then started a charge of her own... straight up the shaft of the oversized weapon.
Dnarc blinked in surprise as a very determined young lady rushed up his ax and right into his face. Mina growled and fetched the stunned abomination three quick, brutal blows to the head with her longsword.
CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Mina had no sooner finished with her attack then she hopped to the ground and snarled silently.
Dnarc shook his head and howled in frustration, swinging his axe back and forth as though he'd hew his tiny target into kindling. Mina reacted by ducking low to the ground and tossing a fireball into his chest.
It didn't seem to do anything but make him extremely angry.
As though he wasn't already.
"HOLD STILL!" Dnarc bellowed, smashing a nearby boulder into dust as Mina skipped around it and tossed another fireball into his face.
Mina knew she couldn't keep this up forever. Already exhausted, she was tiring rapidly, and sheer anger and guts weren't enough to stand up to something that didn't bleed and seemingly couldn't be hurt. Sooner or later she was going to make a mistake-
-and he only needed to hit her once.
A sudden rumbling noise drew both of their attentions. Turning slightly, they caught sight of a large amount of rock shifting position... then scattering away.
Red brushed himself off and glared death at the monstrosity that had backed Mina into a corner.
"Why don't you try picking on someone your own size?" he snorted, shaking his head. Clearing his vision, he stared at Dnarc for a moment before snorting in surprised derision.
"What the hell are you supposed to be? Poster child for what NOT to do in shop class?" he grinned sarcastically.
Dnarc growled and his eyes burned like two little suns. "I am DNARC, The Bloody Eyed Darkness... and I am YOUR DOOM!!"
"Not in that outfit." Red brandished his great sword before him in both hands, winking at an incredulous Mina.
Dnarc howled and charged the infuriating pretty boy in front of him. This particular move had always served him well. In fact, it had only failed him twice before. Once while fighting Talon (he didn't even want to THINK about that particular incident) and just now while fighting that little spitfire of a girl. He assumed that being as large as he was, Red was not going to be able to avoid his attack in the long but narrow cave.
He was right.
It should be noted that Mina and Red took very different approaches towards large, angry, fast moving abominations. Mina, who knows she can't possibly be as strong as something that big, takes the sensible approach of simply moving out of the way.
Red looked at things a little differently. Nothing was bigger than he was, and even if it was, he STILL wasn't going to get out of its way.
Avalanches went around HIM damn it.
Dnarc was therefore very surprised when Red met his charge and blocked his swinging ax in a parry that rang down the cave like a gunshot. Sparks showered them both as Dnarc shoved forward, trying to break the obstinate Bandit's stance. Red braced himself against the armored monster's strength but the creature's superior weight and the lack of traction pushed him slowly back against, and then INTO the wall behind him. Dnarc's eyes glowed brilliantly crimson and he laughed.
Then Red grinned fiercely and slammed his fist against the side of Dnarc's helmeted head once, twice, then three times in quick succession. Dnarc blinked muzzily, staggering a little under the lightning strike power of Red's fist, then Red braced his legs against the monster's chest and using the wall behind him as a brace, kicked the abomination clear across the room and into the far wall.
He stood up out of his own makeshift cubbyhole and started a charge of his own. Dnarc pushed his way out of the rubble of his landing just in time to accept the first blow in another ringing peal of steel against steel and scattering of sparks. The two of them continued trading blows back and forth, crushing rocks beneath them and pounding one another through walls.
Neither one of them heard the high pitched, fast chanting voice behind them. Red only caught the end of it and by that time there was no time to do anything but brace himself.
"-Stand, before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hand!"
"DRAGON SLAVE!!!" she shouted, leveling her spread hands at Dnarc's great ironclad back.
The world erupted into purple hell.
"What in the name of the Gods is- EEKK!"
Pix had been fluttering along furiously after Zelgadis as he made his way across the murky sky. They'd caught sight of what looked like the results of an avalanche when suddenly a maelstrom of violet hellfire had blasted out of nowhere. Under her own power and weighing only a few ounces, Pix was helpless before the damned soul shriek of galeforce winds that suddenly tore across the Katatoe mountains.
She felt herself being torn away and struggled to maintain her altitude when a hard blue hand caught her in a surprisingly gentle manner and brought her up to a tan clothed shoulder. She grabbed hold of the soft fabric and held on for dear life.
"That's a Dragon Slave... one of the most powerful black magic spells ever created. The number of people who know that spell is a very select group, and of that group, only one person I know of who would use it so indiscriminately."
Zelgadis was forced to shout just to make himself heard. He dipped down lower, heading towards the center of the now diminishing ball of fury.
Red raised his hand against the sudden intrusion of light into their battlefield and tried to peer through the steam and smoke that filled the crater he now stood in. He had lost sight of his adversary during the chaos of the Dragon Slave, and was now forced to pick his way through the gloom, cautiously sweeping his sword through the air in front of him.
He appreciated the help from Mina, but the two of them were going to have to have a serious talk about what was and wasn't appropriate for tunnel fighting.
A sudden shout of warning from Mina dragged his attention upward just as a bellowing Dnarc made his rapid descent upon the Bandit King, his arms outstretched, ax in one hand, his other bunched into a cannonball sized fist. It seemed impossible that something weighing that much had managed to get itself up off of the ground, let alone twenty feet into the air, but Red wasn't one to debate the impossible when it was looming over his head.
Besides... now he caught sight of the huge leathery armor-clad wings.
Raising the ax over his head in both hands, Dnarc shrieked out his challenge in bestial fury plunging down in a wind-tearing dive who's terminus was an extremely startled bandit king. Red raised his sword and braced himself for the impact just as Dnarc slammed into him from above, the concussive force blasting them through the floor of the crater they were in and into the tunnel below...
Then into the tunnel below that...
Then into the tunnel below that.
They finally came to rest six tunnels straight down in the honeycombed heart of the Katatoe Mountains.
Mina didn't think twice, she jumped down into the large hole and made her way down into the increasingly warm depths.
She'd lost Red once. She wasn't going to lose him again.
The landscape beneath the Katatoes was a picture of hell. Steam pulsed up out of the living heart of the mountain, and small gouts of flame errupted randomly out of the numerous randomly placed gas vents. The air was full of a sulphurous stench, and the heat made everything wavy and distorted, like a bad dream.
Not that any of the combatants had any time to play the tourist.
Mina finally caught sight of them engaged in a furious exchange of blows at the edge of a crumbling stony projection out over a void. The heat was so intense that she had to stop for a moment to catch her breath, and she wondered vaguely how the two of them could keep this up. Levitating closer, she tried to find a way to throw in a spell that would assist her harried companion, but the two of them had chosen a very precarious location to continue their duel.
Namely, the mouth of the abyss.
Below them was an ocean of molten rock, bits of cooler, darker material floating on its surface. A few molten bubbles popped on the surface, giving Mina the impression that the inferno was reaching hungrily for the pair of clashing titans.
Red panted wearily, barely able to fend off the last crushing series of blows. The seemingly inexhaustable juggernaut he was locked into mortal combat against chuckled triumphantly.
"You're weak, pretty boy. You could NEVER be the Demon Dragon King. I will END you!"
Red shook his head and snarled defiantly. He didn't know what the Demon Dragon King was, but he knew an insult when he heard one. "You haven't got me yet stove-top. I have something on my side that you don't."
Dnarc snorted derisively, fetching Red a blow that drove the flagging bandit king to one knee. "And what might that be?"
Red braced himself on his sword and grinned. "Gravity."
Dnarc blinked. "Huh?"
Red shoved his sword deep into the rock and levered it outward in one quick movement. For a moment it seemed as though the projection's end would hold (and make Red look very foolish right before Dnarc killed him) then there was a gunshot cracking noise and Dnarc found himself tilting slowly backwards towards a fiery plunge. Howling in fury, his eyes glaring with the fires of the damned, he flailed out...
And caught a fistful of Red's tattered overcoat.
Red staggered back, but there was no way he could possibly keep his balance under such a sudden shift in his center of gravity. With a growl of his own, Red tipped out over the abyss...
This would have almost certainly been the end of Red save for two things happening in quick succession.
First, his downward plunge was momentarily arrested when Mina grabbed hold of his outstretched hand and jerked upward with all her might from her levitated position...
And Red's overcoat gave with a sudden ripping noise not unlike an extremely loud after-dinner bout of flatulence.
Dnarc blinked several times at the handful of cloth in his hand before howling out in denial. Plunging downward, he spread his wings wide trying to catch the raising thermals coming off of the superheated rock, but in the horrendously heavy armor he clothed himself it was impossible to do more than slow his descent down a hair.
Bellowing in fury all the way down, he plunged into the molten rock with a hiss and a huge splash of fire.
Then all was blessedly quiet.
Red looked down sadly. "I really liked that coat too."
Mina gritted her teeth as she tried to get the two of them back to the edge of the pit (and sanity). "Give it a rest... Red... that thing... was... ugly as sin."
He glared upward. "Hey. I LIKED that coat. Besides, when YOU stand eight and a half feet tall, YOU try finding anything in your size."
"Less talking... More... helping." she panted.
Then her overstrained levitation spell gave.
Red slammed his sword into the side of the cliff and braced himself. Mina pushed off of him (causing him to utter an irritated, "Hey!") and caught the edge. She tried desperately to pull herself up but there was just no way she was going to be able to-
A warm blue stone hand caught her hand and lifted her bodily up out of the pit. Two pairs of eyes; one frightened and very small, the other calmly resigned, regarded her.
"H-hi, Mr. Zelgadis." she panted, bending over with her hands on her knees and breathing heavily.
"Heh. Thats all you can say after ten years, Lina Inverse? Hi? Whats with the Mr. anyway... where's Gourry?"
He glanced over the edge.
Looked at Mina.
Glanced over again.
He narrowed his eyes and scowled down at the precariously perched bandit. "YOU- What Hell did YOU crawl out of, Gaav?"
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All original, creative-type stuff on this website is copyright to Chris Cuellar and Teresa Dietzinger, 2002
"You, you gave me life. Then ripped out my emotion, and replaced it with a knife! I cut you once, I cut you twice, you're my midnight sacrifice! You shame me, you've shamed God... you scream my name, now you're gone!" Jack, Iced Earth