Shining Force: Chapter 8
For over a week, they'd traversed the length of Runefaust. In all that time... not a single battle, not even a sign of the armies of Runefaust. Only a few farms, their fields stripped of edible produce, their residents fleeing at the sight of them.
"We've broken them," he said quietly, staring out at the capitol, visible over the horizon. Mae stepped up behind him, and gently wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He squeezed them in turn.
"It's almost over." She kissed the top of his head. "One way or another." She rested her cheek on his hair.
He let her hold him a minute longer, before ordering her to break camp. "Let's finish it, then."
Within a few hours, they'd reached the city. The residents stared at their approach, slowly gathering into a crowd, their attitude uncertain. Finally, they acted.
"It's the Shining Force!"
"You've freed us from Darksol!"
Max and the others could only gape, as the people cheered, waving thin arms in the air, hailing them... as champions?
"Darksol seems to have been pretty unpopular," Lowe murmured, from behind them. "I don't blame them. Look at them..." Max nodded. Malnutrition. Fatigue. The war had obviously been taxing the people, in many ways.
Max stepped forward. "Who's in charge, now?" he called out. Several people responded.
Subsequent queries later, and amidst some confusion, Max found himself in the palace, confronted by an old human, his face seamed and lined with old pains, old frustrations, and worries. "I am Mahato," the old man said. "From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, Shining Force." He fell to his knees at Max' feet.
Max gently but firmly lifted him back to his feet. "I'm not Darksol," he told Mahato. "You don't need to do that. I'm Max. I'm just another commoner."
Mahato nodded, his face trembling with mixed emotions. "Yes... there is no time to lose, Max. Darksol has gone to the gate! He abandoned us, with his few remaining forces, when you passed the gates. He's there now, preparing to summon Dark Dragon!" His whole body began to tremble with the force of pent up emotion.
Max steadied him. After a moment, he continued, "You must follow him. Go back through town. The only guards left now are... less than loyal, to Darksol. They'll let you through."
Max nodded. "Can you lend us any assistance?"
Mahato nodded. "Just... him." He waved, and Max leapt back into fighting guard, as an armed man appeared from nowhere. "This is Hanzou. He is the only one of us who can help you."
Max gave Hanzou the once over, the masked man staring back coolly with hooded eyes. Slim, leanly muscled, the dark clad man clasped his hands together and bowed solemnly.
"Where are you from?" Max asked.
"Hanzou was a member of the NINJA, the secret police," Mahato explained for the silent man. "He knows secrets you need to know."
"What's his reason?" Max asked.
"Everyone in the Shining Force has a reason for signing up. What's his?"
Mahato glanced at Hanzou. Hanzou stared at Max.
"I... serve the King..." The voice was rusty with disuse.
"Ramladu?" Max arched his brow.
"I want... to save him..." Hanzou's eyes remained expressionless save for a flicker.
"All right." Max nodded. "We'll do our best."
"You must go stop Darksol," Mahato cut in, "but King Ramladu will try to stop you, for he is Darksol's creature now!"
"We'll see what we can do," Max assured him.
"...I... have little hope..." Hanzou said.
Mahato nodded. "You'll probably have to kill him, to save him." Max glanced at Hanzou, but the Ninja gave nothing away. "Fight well!" Mahato added, "You are the only one who can defeat Ramladu!"
Max nodded. "Come, Hanzou. Show us the way."
They stopped at the HQ set up within Runefaust, to select and equip the strike force. "You're coming along," Max affirmed to Mae, heading off the argument before it could begin.
"Amon's out," she said. "She's got her egg to deal with."
"He won't like it."
"Tough. We don't need reconnaissance now. This is a full out assault. I want Gort, Luke, and Guntz."
Mae nodded. "We'll need a wizard."
"Politic." Max smiled. "What about a healer?" Mae pondered.
Max chewed his lip thoughtfully. "I'd say Lowe..."
"Then we'll go with him."
"He's not our best."
"But you need him."
"Yes." Max nodded, smiled.
Max started to object, then considered. "They've both grown incredibly powerful. All right, then."
"How about another healer? Khris?"
"...yes. She's earned it. Let's take Musashi, too. He's crazy enough to enjoy this."
They both grinned. "And maybe one more wizard," Mae suggested.
"No." Max shook his head. "Two should be more than enough. If it isn't, we don't stand a chance."
"Way to raise the morale, commander." Mae snorted.
"We'll take Lyle. Fit that cannon of his with the heaviest ordnance available." Mae nodded agreement.
The chosen team moved out, following Hanzou's quiet tread, down the road to the castle proper. Soon they reached the gates. "I go first..." Hanzou said. "Wait here." He crept along the path, his eyes scanning for trouble.
Then they bugged out of his skull, as Darksol appeared with a flash and knocked him aside. "You again, Max?" he scoffed. "How unfortunate for you!"
In a flash, Max drew the Chaos Breaker, slashing furiously at the dark one. Darksol shimmered and teleported away, to a safe distance. "And here I thought you'd actually improved as a warrior," Darksol mocked him. "Now I must be off to summon Dark Dragon. But don't worry. Someone is waiting for you."
As Max charged up the steps after him, he laughed mockingly. "King Ramladu will serve my purposes one last time, then I will have no need for him!" As Max took another swing at him, he teleported again, then again, away from gleaming axes raised in anger. "I must be going. Do enjoy your meeting with Ramladu. Dark Dragon arises soon!" He vanished.
"Are you all right?" Max turned to Hanzou. The Ninja rose up, without a word, and resumed leading the way, blade drawn. "Fine, then," Max sniffed.
In the throne room, they found Ramladu.
The mad king stood at the steps before his throne, cradling an enormous mace, his eyes frighteningly devoid of rationality. "Long have I waited for this moment, Max! Prepare to meet your death." With an aged but still mighty arm, he pointed the scepter at Max as though it were a wand.
An array of monsters leapt to the attack.
With blade extended, Max prepared to meet the onrushing horde of blue dragons, chimerae, and skeletons. Only a handful of black priests remained to maintain control over the horde. Obviously, Darksol had no further care for anything within this throne room, so long as they were sufficiently detained.
As the horde neared, Max waved his hand in signal, and Anri, Domingo, Bleu, and Lyle all cut loose. As the wizards unleashed devastating blizzards, and the dragon his sacred fire, Lyle fired off one of the newly acquired shells. A "Buster Shot." Expensive, bulky, and supposedly of powerful Ancient tech.
What was left of the onrushing horde limped the rest of the way, to be slaughtered by the front line warriors. The team leapt over the fallen bodies-and piles of ash-charging the throne. Before them, Ramladu gibbered insanely. “Is that the best you can do? Well, meet my robots, weaklings!” Raising up his mace, he pressed a button on it’s handle, and a dozen crystalline structures shattered, revealing more of the metal skinned monstrosities that Darksol had stolen from Metapha. Max swore and barked out orders.
At his behest, Guntz charged into their ranks, his armor displaying all the latest accoutrements that the genius of Kokichi and the knowledge of Adam could produce. His limbs no longer moved with cables, but with artificial muscles scavenged from scrapped robots, faster and stronger than ever. His hands wielded a lance to pierce, but his more effective weapon was his massive body itself, slamming into the robots on wheeled boots. Robots went flying, upended by his attack. Behind him, Gort and Luke charged in with their heat axes, cleaving the fallen ‘bots as they struggled to rise.
Above them, Bleu scorched the ground with his breath. Metal glowed red hot, the machinery underneath broke down under the heat, and more robots fell motionless. Mae coordinated their efforts, even as her lance moved like a light rapier in her powerful grasp, seeking out vital spots and puncturing them, her years of training at her father’s hands combined with years of hard won experience to make her the consummate knight.
Musashi simply grinned. His blade sliced through the robots as he glowed with the joys of battle. Behind him, the wizards and healers stood by, conserving their powers for the near future.
Max noted all this in passing, as he rushed to meet Ramladu in battle. With a fierce war cry, he slashed out with the Chaos Breaker, aiming for the mad Emperor’s neck. The madman ducked underneath and to the side, spinning about. The mace caught Max in the chest.
Max went flying.
He landed heavily, his body desperately trying for a breakfall on instinct, even as he gasped for breath. His magnificent armor had absorbed the brunt of the blow, but even so, Max struggled to regain his breath, his senses, and his footing. His head spun…
Ramladu charged before him, mace overhead, ready to crush him like a bug. At the last instant, Max’ instincts for self preservation kicked into gear, and he rolled away, coming to his feet in a crouched posture. Trying to regain enough breath to straighten up.
Ramladu waded forward yet again, the heavy bludgeon swinging like a light stick. Max desperately slipped underneath each swing, trying to regain his breath, his sword stabbing at Ramladu in stop thrusts designed to keep him at bay. Ramladu had begun to froth at the mouth, his teeth clenched as though he’d contracted lockjaw.
Then a shadowy figure crept up from behind. Ramladu noticed Max’ eyes drawn to the spectre behind him, but too late to avoid his fate. The image of Hanzou’s visage, frozen in a mask of anguish and sorrow, seared it’s way into Max’ soul, to join all the other moments in time that he’d never escape. Even as the Ninja’s blade sank into Ramladu’s back, severing his spine, his lung, and his aorta. With a strangled gasp, Ramladu’s mace dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers, and he collapsed heavily, the foam coming forth in pink now, rapidly deepening to red.
Ramladu rolled onto his back, his eyes losing their insane glow. “I am dying…” he gasped, his hand clawing forth. Hanzou clutched it, dropping to his knees before his fallen king. “But my mind is once more my own. Darksol was controlling me.”
“Forgive me…” Hanzou begged, the tears beginning to flow.
“There is… nothing… to forgive… You must stop Darksol!” He gasped out, then coughed forth a gush of blood from his ruined lung. “If he frees Dark Dragon, all of Rune is doomed.” Max knelt before the king, even as Lowe rushed up, his face telling the story. No chance of salvation from such injuries. Ramladu caught Max’ gaze with his own. “He has gone to the gate, to summon the castle from the depths of the sea.” He shivered once, then managed to gasp out, “Go!”
He froze in that position, then slowly began to slump in death.
Hanzou knelt before his fallen king a moment longer, his face suffused with grief. Then he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. When his hand lowered, his face was once more impassive, unyielding, with nary a trace of emotion. “Come,” he said to Max. “My king has given his orders.”
Nova met them at the castle gates, his whiskers twitching with excitement. “Max!” he cried, “Darksol has already entered the Castle of the Ancients. You must hurry!”
“How can we get there?” Max asked, even as Lowe continued his ministrations to his torso, bruised and aching underneath his armor. He winced.
“ I found a secret passage to the gate. It is in the entry hall of the castle.” Nova glanced down at Max’ torso, and the injuries of the other warriors. Mae’s arm still smoked from a laser burn, while Musashi remained standing only by sheer willpower. Khris tended to him, her face bearing an inscrutable expression. “Torasu is waiting with the few priests remaining in the city. Return to town and make your final preparations. Then take the passage.”
“Glad to hear it.” Max jerked his head, and they limped back to town.
While the others rested in the temple, being tended to, Max spoke with Mahato. “Max!” Mahato cried, clutching his hand fiercely. “You have defeated King Ramladu, but a far greater task awaits. “Darksol has sealed the Gate of the Ancients behind him, but there is another way…”
As Mahato handed Max a cup of strong wine, he continued. “Use the Chaos Breaker at the westernmost point of the coast. There’s a legend…” Max nodded, sipped the wine, let the burning sensation ease the worst of his aches. “The Chaos Breaker can raise the Castle of the Ancients out of the depths of the sea. The gate will then open.
Max nodded again, drained the cup. “I don’t suppose I could nap for a week or so first?” Mahato blinked, but Max broke in before he could retort.
“I guess not.”
Max stood on the westernmost point of the coast, a high, foreboding cliff above a rocky surf, Chaos Breaker in hand. Behind him, the entire Shining Force stood ready. This was no time for conserving forces. All of them awaited the final battle.
“Let’s see if this works,” Max muttered. “Adam!” he yelled out.
The robot stepped forward. “Commander?”
“Give me a hint. How do I ‘use’ the Chaos Breaker here?”
Adam gazed out at the roiling waters of the ocean. Raising it’s hand, it fired it’s laser cannon, a sustained, low level blast. The invisible beam shot straighter than any mere arrow, slamming into the ocean to no effect-save the painting of a bright dot on the surface of the water.
“Fire the Chaos Breaker at that point,” it said, holding the beam steady. Max nodded. Taking careful aim, he pressed the trigger.
The wave of energy slammed into the waters and below. As Max watched… nothing happened. He turned to Adam, inquisitively.
“Brace yourselves,” the robot called out.
The very earth began to tremble, as the ocean waters began to churn, enormous waves slamming into the cliff walls. As Max watched, three large, slender towers poked through the ocean’s surface. They gave way to enormous structures, rounded, cylindrical or globular, forming a structure of weird, ancient beauty, blinking here and there with bright lights.
The Castle of the Ancients.
Then the cliff disappeared. Max barely had time to utter a startled shriek before the solid earth crumbled into loose mud. He and Adam both found themselves sliding down. Then in midair, directly above the razor sharp rocks…
It took some time to catch his breath, after Bleu had caught them both. After leaping over the heads of the others to dive after them, he’d caught the pair, his powerful wings pulling them up in a lazy loop back to solid ground. Adam fell to the turf gently, landing on his feet. Max landed somewhat more heavily, his knees flexing, his body trembling with fear and exhaustion. “I need a vacation,” he complained, even as Mae caught him in a fierce hug, Domingo and Bleu gathering close as the centaur would allow.
“Max!” the tentacled creature cried, one pseudopod reaching out. Max seized the limb and squeezed comfortingly. Bleu nuzzled him with his large snout.
“I’m… fine…” Max said, his heart relaxing. “Adam?”
“I am fine,” the robot responded. It cocked it’s head. “I am grateful for your concern.” Next to it, Kokichi and Guntz were busily examining it, checking for damage. “Thank you, friends.” It stood.
“Then let’s go…” Max gently pried Mae away, stood on shaky legs, and led the way to the Gate.
Behind the open doors of the Gate lay another of the teleportation tiles, the sort Max had seen from the Shining Path and Metapha. He stepped onto the tile without hesitation. Well, not much, anyway. Braced for the flash, ran out of the new room. Into the main hall of the Castle of the Ancients.
“At last, Max!” cried Nova, who’d insisted on accompanying them all… just in case. “The Castle of the Ancients. The end is near, for good or ill!”
It was an impressive structure, to be certain. Gleaming stone tiles on the floor, solid stone walls adorned with the ubiquitous Eye symbol that had dominated so many other structures built by the Ancients. And… oh yes… a robot.
“None shall pass Colossus, the eternal sentinel!” it roared in a voice like bits of jagged metal scraping together. “Leave now!” And as they stared, the horrific visage, like some disembodied head fashioned of metal and unknown substances was joined by a second. Then a third. All of them large, ugly, and threatening.
“Colossus!” Nova cried. “I’ve heard of it in legends!”
“The sentinel of the Castle,” Adam explained. “It must have been reprogrammed by Darksol, as Chaos was. It is very dangerous.” It’s eyes flashed.
“Max! They are attacking!” Nova stood his ground bravely as possible, though his knees began to tremble.
“Stay with the wizards, Nova,” Max told him, then waved his hand at a select force. “Charge!”
Adam’s eyes fixated on Colossus, then flashed again. “I’ll be right behind you.”
The Paladins charged as one, clearing a path. Behind them, axe and sword wielding warriors advanced, selecting targets of opportunity and cutting them down. Only a few foes stood in their way… but all were of an exceptionally powerful and dangerous variety. Armed skeletons. Dragons. Chimerae. The Shining Force engaged them as a team, fighting as a unit rather than as individual warriors, cooperating through long experience and familiarity with each other.
After a few minutes of sheer hell, Max stood before the last of the sentinels. Behind him, bodies lay on the ground, among them his own troops, being tended to by the healers. Beside him stood Mae, her shield ready to defend them both, and Musashi, who remained standing only through sheer willpower, his left hand jammed into the large hole in his side to contain his intestines.
Colussus cut loose with an electrical discharge, screaming in that awful metallic voice of his. Mae stumbled and fell, even as Musashi fell to his knees. Max started to sink, then aimed the Chaos Breaker at Colussus. Pressing the trigger, he blasted a large hole in the giant head. Colussus shrieked and began to tremble, whatever mechanism keeping it in the air beginning to fail.
“Fools…” it roared. “Dark Dragon… will come… to destroy you…” A slash of the Chaos Breaker ended it.
Max braced himself against a wall, determined not to fall. If I lie down, he thought to himself, I’ll never get back up again. Can’t rest…
“Mae?” he croaked.
“I’m… here.” Bracing herself with the butt of her spear, she managed to regain her footing. Musashi sank against the wall, even as Khris rushed up to attend to his wound with spells and herbs.
“You stupid fool,” she seethed, glaring at him, while her hands moved incongruously gently over the damaged tissues. “Can’t you ever learn to dodge?”
“The kill… is all,” Musashi muttered. “All else… is secondary.”
“What good is it to kill one dragon if you die in the process?” she retorted. “You don’t see Max bleeding like this.”
Musashi glared at her. “You… forget your place… girl…” He winced as Khris suddenly slapped him.
“I’m just as much a part of this team as you, you jerk!” She told him, her lips twisted into an angry pout. “What gives you the right to tell me-”
He kissed her.
She shoved him away.
“We’ll discuss this later,” Khris told him, fixing her gaze solely on his wound, her cheeks beginning to flame. “Just try to stay alive, will you?”
“If you wish it so.” Musashi replaced the metallic faceplate on his helmet, hiding his face behind the demonic visage, and let Khris finish her work.
Nova approached Max, running his bespectacled gaze over the human’s exhausted form. “You’ve destroyed Colussus! But where is Darksol?”
Adam approached, it’s eyes glowing strangely. “Beyond that wall.” It gestured. The wall in question was dominated by a sculpture of solid rock, fashioned in the form of a headless body. “It was Colussus’ resting place. There is a passage beyond.”
“Somebody smash that wall, then.” Max sighed as Gong poured additional healing magic into him, buoying his energy levels and dissipating the fatigue. Adam nodded, then drew back it’s fist. With mechanical efficiency, it fired off punch after punch.
“Coming through!” Guntz roared, as he rocketed in at full speed. Adam sidestepped away, and the steam knight’s charge culminated in a devastating punch. The echoing boom reverberated throughout the hall.
The wall cracked.
Guntz turned and wheeled away, building up speed for another attack. Adam resumed it’s own pounding, widening the cracks in the stone edifice, then wheeled to avoid Guntz, who slammed in with even greater force than before.
The wall came down.
As Guntz stepped away and began to perform a self diagnostic, Adam set about clearing the path of rubble. Max pushed away from the wall, shaking his head to clear it. He began to move forward.
“Use the staircase, Max!” Nova told him, gently guiding him in the right direction.
“Right…” Max said.
“Darksol must be up there!”
“Gong! He needs more healing.”
“Healing… right… ah…” Max sighed as Gong applied the magic once more.
“Let’s hope that’s enough,” Gong’s deep voice rumbled, “because I don’t have any more to give.”
“Dark Dragon!” cried Darksol, his hands held high in supplication. “Awake from your long sleep! The time has come for you to reclaim this land!”
Before him, a shadow form wavered, as though it were fashioned of smoke and glass. It’s color began to darken, it began to solidify… then stopped.
“Awaken, Dark Dragon!” Darksol beseeched his deity. He lowered his hands uncertainly. “Something is wrong…” He turned, then recoiled. “Max! Blast!”
Recovering quickly, the dark lord snarled pure hatred at the Shining Force. “You have meddled for the last time! Kill them, my servants!”
“Max!” Nova cried, clutching a handful of items to offer what little assistance he could. “You must stop Darksol before he completes his foul ceremony! Attack!”
“Who’s the commander here?” Max raised an eyebrow. “Attack!”
“Destroy Darksol!” cried Adam. “Without him, the robots will shut down!”
At Mae’s crisply issued orders, the Paladins charged the main group of robots, clearing a path for Max’ unit. Behind them, Lyle, Hans and Diane cut loose with the Buster Shots, eradicating another group of the mechanical monstrosities. The wizards unleashed various effects, fire, frost, or lightning.
As Max continued his advance, one after another of his companions were waylaid by something large and dangerous, soon, he found himself before Darksol, all alone. The dark one roared in fury. “Take this, Max!” he roared, “The Demon Blaze!” Spreading open his cape, Darksol cast forth a cascading barrage. Blue eyeballs wreathed in fire shot out at the hero.
“Oh, man,” Max muttered, then dove out of the way frantically. As he came to his feet, he lashed out with his sword. Darksol screamed as the blade bit into his side. As he fell back, Max followed the slash with a thrust to the torso, scoring a direct hit. Darksol sank to his knees, his life ebbing.
“Dark Dragon!” he coughed. “With my dying breath… I summon you… Arise, Dark Dragon!
A terrible light flashed. “Yes! At last, you are awakening!” Darksol spread his arms wide. “I offer myself to you, Dark Dragon! Use my power to help you cast off your bonds.” Max raised his sword to finish Darksol before he could finish the summoning, but Darksol teleported to the center of the half formed figure.
“You are free once more!” screamed Darksol, even as his body began to disintegrate. “Let all of Rune tremble! I die fulfilled! Cringe fools!” His body became formless, the figure gained form, and Dark Dragon walked the land once more!
“Fire the Buster Shots!” Max cried, firing blasts from the Chaos Breaker at one of the three heads. As one, all three missiles headed straight for a single head, exploding with terrible force. Dark Dragon roared with pain. “We can hurt it! Keep at it!” Max rallied his troops.
Beside him, Musashi lashed out with his sword, sending the energy cascading into Dark Dragon. Dark Dragon responded by opening his mouth, cutting loose with… the Demon Blaze? “Scatter!” Max dove out of the way of these much larger projectiles. For a wonder, Musashi dodged as well.
From overhead, Bleu swooped in, spraying holy fire. Dark Dragon roared and winced. “Take this!” Bleu roared. “Ancestors! Aid me!”
The archers reloaded their arms and fired again. To this, the wizards added their force. This time the head exploded, disgusting things flying about.
“One head left to go!” Max cried. “Let’s do it!” He fired the Chaos breaker again. Then again. Dark Dragon screamed defiance and fired off the Demon Blaze again. Max was caught by the fringe of the blast, and went down, his armor smoking.
“No!” Domingo screamed, and flew upwards, waving his tentacles furiously. Icy sleet like nothing they’d ever seen before smashed into the evil one, slowing it down. Bleu roared his defiance and blasted the head.
Max rose to his feet unsteadily. “I can do this,” he told himself. “I can do this.” Aiming the Chaos Breaker directly at Darksol, he assumed a steady grip with both hands. Calling on the lessons learned from Gong, Zylo, and even Musashi, he directed his own energy through the sword. With his mind and soul calmed and centered, he fired a blast with both his blade, and his chi.
Dark Dragon fell.
From the ruined remains of the head, a voice from nightmares screamed. “Nooooo! These puny creatures cannot defeat the Lord of Darkness!”
The body continued to twitch with life, as it struggled to rise. “Never! I will not be banished again! The Powers of Darkness will sustain me!”
“Dark Dragon still lives!” Nova cried. Perhaps we cannot kill him!” He shook his head in rejection of the thought. “There must be a way…”
“Max! Dark Dragon must be sealed away once again. And only you can do it! Use the Chaos Breaker! Drive it through Dark Dragon!”
“Fools!” retorted the body. “Nothing you do can stop me! I am Dark Dragon, Darkness incarnate!”
“Don’t bet on it, chum,” Max muttered, leaping onto the gory mess.
“Max! Stab him with the Chaos Breaker!”
Raising the sword high overhead, Max held the hilt with both hands, took a deep breath to steady himself, then drove it home.
There was a shattering boom. A flash of light. And Dark Dragon, the Lord of Darkness, faded back to whence he came. The Chaos Breaker continued it’s path unobstructed to the floor itself, lodging in place tightly.
Then the Castle began to shake.
“Max!” Nova cried. “The Castle of the Ancients is sinking! Let’s get out of here!”
“I’m… trying…” Max gasped, trying to rise. I can’t move! he thought to himself.
“Max is somehow bound to the Chaos Breaker!” Nova told Mae, who rushed up to him frantically.
“Max!” Mae screamed.
“Max! Break free! We won’t leave without you!”
Max shook his head. “I can’t get free, but you won’t die with me!” With a strangled gasp, he called on his last remaining strength. The Egress spell. The other warriors shimmered and faded away, drawn to safety by the power of the spell.
But Max found himself caught between two opposing forces. The inexorable pull of the Egress fought against the unbreakable grip of the Chaos Breaker. For one tortured moment, Max felt himself being stretched in an unnatural, terrible way.
Then he screamed in surrender, as his mind was ripped asunder.
“Max used his Egress spell to save us,” Mae gasped, looking about. “But where is Max?”
“That spell’s supposed to get us all out,” Lowe added. “Why isn’t Max here? Why, Nova?”
Nova shook his head sadly. “I have no answers for you. Perhaps a great hero is needed to guard the seal.” Nova gazed out at the sea. “Perhaps he must stand as an eternal vigil to prevent Dark Dragon’s return.”
“But why did it have to be Max?” protested Lowe. “Any of us would have taken his place…”
“I won’t believe it!” Mae shrieked, tossing her head furiously. “Max will come back, I know it!” Tears began to stream down her cheeks.
“Mae…” Zylo said, reaching for her arm. Mae jerked away.
“Perhaps Max will still come out. Wait, look at the Castle!” Which even now sank back beneath the waves. And Mae’s heart along with it.
“No!” cried Lowe. It’s gone… the castle… and Max with it…” He blinked back tears. “That’s it. He didn’t escape. He’s gone…”
“I won’t believe it…” Mae whispered.
“Max has saved all of Rune,” Nova told her. His sacrifice will be remembered forever.” He shook his head. “And now, friends, it is time for us to begin the long journey home…”
“I won’t believe it…” Mae whispered. She charged forward, to the very edge of the cliff. Reacting swiftly, Pelle, Earnest, and Ken chased after her, grabbing whatever presented itself to stop her.
It wasn’t easy. The Lieutenant was stronger than any one of them. “Max!” she cried out to the unresponsive sea, struggling in their grip…
From a history book written a year later:
Swallowed by the murky brine, the Castle of the Ancients was lost forevermore. The battle over and Rune saved, the warriors of the Shining Force returned home. Led by Mae, Guardiana was rebuilt and Anri inherited the throne.
As for Max, he is believed to have perished at sea along with Dark Dragon.
The old man looked up from his work, tearing up the earth with his hoe. Soon, the neat rows of broken up earth would be planted with seeds of grain, to be cared for over the spring and summer months, watered regularly, the fields denuded of weeds that might steal nutrients from the precious grain. In the fall, they’d cut down the grain stalks, remove the delicious seeds, and save the stalks for animal feed.
The old man looked from his companion, a robot built using technology recovered from Ancient days, assigned to the village to aid in the planting, to a figure approaching. The robot went on hoeing. More and more of these automatons had been built since the war, lent to peaceful pursuits, rebuilding what Runefaust had destroyed.
The figure came closer, then stopped.
“Well, hello there,” the farmer greeted him. “You look like you’re a long way from home. We don’t see many folks in full armor like that. Quite a fancy getup!”
The figure shook his head, as if it pained him. “I have come a long way. Longer than you can imagine.”
The farmer nodded. “I must say you do look pretty tired and, well, your things have seen better days.”
The man cocked his head, sighing wistfully. “I’m tired of wandering. I’m looking for a place to settle down and rest.”
“Well, how about right here?” the farmer offered. “Lend your hands to the fields of this village?”
The man nodded heavily. “That sounds like just what I need right now. I work hard and I’m a fast learner.”
The farmer smiled. “Good! We’ve got a deal then. Folks in the village will be excited to see a new face!” He paused. “I didn’t catch your name. What do they call you?”
The man considered for a moment, as if trying to remember. Finally, a smile lit his face. “Me? You can call me…”
***********************************************End of Part 8****************************************************
Author’s note: End of the official story, boys and girls. Now, only the epilogue remains. You don’t think I’ll leave it like this, do you?
Musashi’s penchant for getting chopped up is a commentary on Japanese fighting arts. Among the Samurai, the utter willingness to die and complete emphasis on offense led to a definite weakness on defense. Whereas western arts emphasized the defense-it was even called “The noble science of Defense.” Speaking as someone who enjoys having all his limbs and digits intact, I much prefer Fencing over Kenjutsu.
I suppose if I waited long enough, I could think of more to put here. But nah, I’ll just submit it as is.