Part Sixteen: The Duel Tower
Authors Note: Now the group is split up. The six towers; Duel, Science, Art, Execution, Sorcery, and Ruins; Will be used mainly for the reflection on past events by the others. I'm concerned that these next few chapters will be nothing more than boring descriptions of the levels of the game. But then, that's what I thought about the tunnel. But that one didn't turn out too bad, I guess...... Anyway, here we are, the Duel Tower.
Reinhardt turned slowly around, and saw Jara coming his way. He turned back around and growled. What did she want this time?
She caught up with him, and stood beside him. "What happened? Rosa's gone. Did Death take her.....?"
Ignoring her, he took stock of his surroundings. He was standing on a small walkway from the way he came to a platform atop a pillar. About thirty feet below was a sea of acidic water, the strange lights in the place made it seem purple in color. On top of the platform before him was what seemed to be a cage. Metal bars stood on three sides, the side Reinhardt faced now open. In the very middle of the cage was a square-shaped hole.
Raziel had told him of this place. This was the Duel Tower. He would have to fight hybrids and monsters in single combat, and in closed areas.
He turned to her. "What is it Jara?" He asked irritably.
"What happened with you and Rosa?"
Reinhardt sighed. "That's none of your damned business." He stepped into the cage. Jara followed.
No sooner had they both stepped in than a new wall of metal bars appeared behind them. A small platform raised from out of the hole, and on it stood a creature Reinhardt did not recognize. It looked like a smaller version of the Behemoth, but its cat-like features were more pronounced. It was humanoid, with a bright orange and black striped tiger head. It was dressed in an elaborate skin-tight suit, that was green with gold embroideries laced into it.
The creature slowly circled them, claws out. Reinhardt had his whip in hand, waiting for it to make the first move. Jara no longer concerned him. She was a vampire. She could fend for herself.
It snarled, and leapt at Jara. She slid under it, slashing at it's upper torso. She missed, but just barely. They stood and faced each other, until it turned to Reinhardt.
Jara, however, wasn't finished with it. She pounced, wrapping her arms around it's neck. She was just about to bite into the vein, but the creature had reached back to throw her over it's head. She caught one of the arms, and when it heaved forward, she swung around, and brought both knees up, hard into it's solarplexus. The creature reeled back, and then stood fast. It suddenly blurred, and Jara barely missed being ripped in half.
Soon there movements became too fast for Reinhardt to follow. He stepped back, and watched the fight as best he could. Then he felt something fall onto his head, much like sand.....
He looked up, and saw that the low ceiling was coming down slowly on top of them.
Suddenly, the lycanthrope roared in agony. Jara must have succeeded in feeding on him.....
The creature fell to the floor, it's body consumed in purple flames. All four walls of iron bars fell away, and splashed into the acrid water below. The cieling began to rumble.
"Get out!" Reinhardt shouted. Jara was already out, Reinhardt barely making it before being crushed. The loud crash echoed throughout the tower, and they finally realized how large it was.....
Jara turned to face him, blood still on her face. Reinhardt found it disturbing. It reminded him too much of Rosa.....
He snarled and pushed bast her. He walked on, jumping a small chasm to the platform below. He saw another 'battle feild', this one witout a cieling but the tower itself. It was truly only recognizable as what it was by the werewolf in the corner....
Ignoring Jara's voice, He crossed the acid to the place where the next fight would occur. He had no sooner set foot on the platform than the creature hurled itself at him. Just before it reached him, it leapt, and slashed downward with a crushing blow.
Had it connected, Reinhardt would have been thrown into the water, and been burned away. Instead, he ducked under the attack, and drove the feathered blade in his belt into the werewolf's lung, missing it's heart by very little. The creature hissed at him, and punched him hard in the chest.
Reinhardt fell back, feeling more than just his ribs cracking. Unless he was mistaken, his sternum had snapped in half......
Looking down, he saw the splintered bone errupting through his chest. Growling, he stood up. The werewolf was staggering closer, attempting to breath around the dagger in it's chest. Finally, it fell back, dead, the hilt protruding from the cloven breast.
That reminded him of Chanaur, and the pain he felt from doing what he had done.
He sighed, picking up the dagger, the body it had once occupied gone. Although he hadn't shown it, he had cursed himself for stabbing Chanaur. For one ghastly moment, he thought he had truly killed him......
Although he had defended Carrie, he knew she wouldn't have forgave him if he had.......
He jumped, as Jara came up behind him. He became aware of her cold touch on his arm, and he hesitated to move away. He hated any reminder of what Rosa had become, but he really didn't mind Jara's company......
But still, he couldn't let her know how weak he had become. He growled, and limped away from her. Blood still flowed through his chest, but he beared it as punishment for what he had done.
"Stubborn as a mule." She came up behind him, knocking him to the floor. Now on his back, he looked angrily up at her, his fingers on his dagger. "Take this." Jara ordered him, handing him a small vial of vermillion liquid. It was warm, even through the glass. He pulled out the stopper and took a small sip.
The fluid washed down his throat like a heady wine, warming him, and mending his wounds. He thanked her quietly, and returned it to her.
He attempted to stand up, but she pinned him down. Her eyes were irate, and the last thing he wanted was to be pinned by an angry vampire. "Reinhardt, what happened? Rosa was my friend too, I want to know."
Reinhardt looked up into her eyes, seeing those peculiar embers of bloodlust smoldering dimly. He had seen those in two pairs of eyes before. And they were both people who he cared for and trusted for too long to remember.
Rosa, the one he loved......
Chanaur, his best friend in the world....
The two people he had once known and trusted, who now were consumed by the fires of the underworld. The same embers that now burned in their eyes. How had Chanaur been able to conceal that from him for so long?
"Please?" Jara's icy grip on his shoulders tightened slightly.
Reinhardt sighed, and continued on. "Let me up, and I will." She stood, helping him up. He began to cross the sea of acid again, Jara nearly in step beside him. "Rosa was the one I loved, before she was vampirized. Now, she's attempted to kill me. In defending myself....." He sighed. "I was aiming for an arm, trying to cause her pain and make her forget about the fight..... But she leapt into the path of my whip, and I opened her heart....."
Jara nodded, unable to say anything.
"Death came and took her away. I could do nothing, but watch." He sighed heavily. "Just like on the night she was taken from me....." He touched the hilt of the katana on his belt. "She left this...." He whispered sullenly.
"Reinhardt, I can't offer much, but I can offer this...." She sighed heavily, and then smiled. "Even in death, Rosa still loved you. She was always talking about you, saying she was certain that you would come to save her.... But then she sunk into depression as the hunger took it's toll....."
"Please." Reinhardt mutterd. "I don't want to hear how she's suffered."
"I'm sorry." Jara said quietly. "I thought you might have wanted to know that she still loves you...."
"I already knew that. For I still love her....." Jara only smiled.
Soon they came upon a group of lizardmen, guarding another platform. Dealing with them shortly, Reinhardt jumped onto the platform, and barely ducked a swinging bar. There was a machine on the next platform, that comprised of a central pillar, and several spiked iron bars swinging around it. This obstacle would have been simple to negotiate, but there were two pairs of the bars, one below the other, rotating at different speeds.
He sighed. "I hate this place...." He muttered out loud.
"Try living here." Jara let out a derisive breath.
Shaking his head, Reinhardt jumped over one, and then ducked under another. Shortly after, he was on the other side of the platform, watching to make sure Jara made it accross safely. He was beginning to trust her, and even like her a bit......
Of coure, he didn't need to worry about her. Being a vampire, she had amazing dexterity, and got past this obstacle with relative ease. He turned and continued, a smile playing at his lips.
Surprisingly, he found himself cheered by her presence. He never thought that after his training, he would ever trust a full vampire. Although he preferred her to be silent, just knowing that she shared his pain was enough.
Sadly, he continued on. He almost ignored the pendulums, automatically slipping through each one. His eyes no longer registered the walls, the ground, the traps. His mind was set on memories of Rosa, and hopes that he could find her before......
He sighed heavily, and touched his whip with one hand. He recalled when he first got it, and remembered Rosa being there. She had been there only a few weeks, and she was shy. But that night was when it changed....
When she first came to Wallachia, she had said little more than hello. She got lost one day to one of her classes, and Reinhardt had shown her the way. Along the way, they talked a little. She had told him that she had been almost ignored since she had arrived. Reinhardt explained to her that it was because she wasn't saying anything to anyone, and so no one knew how to approach her.
She flushed slightly whenever he would smile at her. When they came to her classroom, he bid her good day, and then the bell rang. He was late to his next class, and Rosa had to shout her appology after him, as he bolted. He called back that it was alright, and he saw that she had flushed crimson.
After school that day, he had been walking home from school, when Rosa was suddenly beside him. She blushed again, and appologized profusely. Reinhardt assured her that no harm was done, and she seemed to feel much better. She explained how, back at her old school, when you were late to class, you suffered ten lashes......
His hand tightened on his whip. He had always noticed how nervous she was whenever he held it.....
The night he got it, she had been there. She was garbed in a deep red dress, with a blue brooch on her shoulder. Later that night, after Carrie and Chanaur had gone home, she advanced on him She had been so demure..... So fetching.....
He remembered that day like it was yesterday.......
The next thing he knew, flames roared to life around him, and a heavy blow hit him in the small of his back. He felt something stab into his flesh, like a blade.....
Or a horn. He snarled and brandished his whip. He stood, and rounded to see a minotaur, blood dribbling down one of it's horns, and down the side of it's face. It was garbed much like the tiger-being he fought at first, but had a pair of manacles on it's left hand. The right band had been broken, the rest hanging from the left wrist, chain and all.
The minotaur growled a challenge, and stomped forward. Reinhardt cast his whip, hitting the creature squarely in the chest. The barbed end tore through it's flesh. The monster shrieked and stumbled back.
Reinhardt stepped closer, to strike again, when it began to advance again. He hit the abomination several more times, but it never so much as flinched. Once it got close enough, it brought both fists up, and attempted to crush him. Reinhardt barely jumped back in time to avoid the blow.
Reinhardt decided to try for a dagger to the chest. After all, it had been working quite well. He drew his dagger and ran for it, sliding between it's widespread legs. Knowing that Minotaurs weren't necessarily the brightest of creatures, he waited for it to turn around.
The monster turned, and Reinhardt lunged.....
.....And was caught with it's hooved foot hitting him squarely in the stomach.
Reinhardt flew back, barely coming up short of the wall of flames. He got shakily to his feet, and considered his next move.
As he waited, the minotaur got down into a fighting stance, and scraped it's foot against the ground. Energy seemed to emant from the ground, into it's body. Suddenly, it's body blurred, and Reinhardt barely threw himself out of the way of it's charge.
The minotaur was touched by the flames, and caught fire. It kneeled for a few seconds, and the flames died. It then started moving toward him again, seeming weakened slightly.
Okay.... Reinhardt dodged another punch, answering with a crack of his whip accross it's back. What do you do when your enemy is bigger, faster, and stronger than you?
Normally, one would find something that the creature does not have that they do. In this case, that would be a weapon. But what about when the weapon is useless? I have no magic....
So I use the environment to my advantage.
Using his whip again, he caught it in the face, finally causing the minotaur to cry out again. He struck once more, and it became enraged. It charged, and Reinhardt was ready for the attack. He slid under it's legs, feeling one of it's claws graze the side of his face.
But his plan had worked. The minotaur charged straight through the wall of fire, and fell off of the platform. He heard it roar helplessly, and splash into the acidic water below.
The fire sputtered out. The trial had been overcome, and it was on to the next one.
Raziel stepped out onto the stone floor of the tower roof. He didn't know what had drawn him here, but knew something wasn't right....
He could have swore he had sensed Actrise.
He remembered this place in his nightmares. He had bypassed the tower itself, and came here intstead. This was where he had finally killed Ortega....
He sighed, and walked over to the ramparts, where he sat, draping his legs over the edge. He leaned forward onto his hands. He wanted to come here before he headed back home.
But what did he have to go back to? Nothing. Nothing but spending every damned day going on with a pointless life. The worst part was, that he couldn't end it.
He knew that if he hurled himself over this precipace, he would splatter on the ground far below. He also knew that he would be back shortly after, groaning in pain.
He looked at a large discolored section of the stone floor. It had been the spot where Ortega had been felled. The blood still hadn't been washed away, though the weather had tried it's best. But nothing could ever erase it from his memories.....
He lapsed into sleep, the old nightmare stealing over him. It seemed to be doing this almost as much as the time Lacuna died, lately....
She had been kidnapped before he had to go through the six towers. He had been following her scent for four straight days, without so much as a sign of her.
If he didn't know better, he would have said she had been taken captive willingly. He was about to turn back to the elevator to continue his search, when he heard something. It was a rushing sound, much like a sharp wind blown over a cave mouth. He sensed someone just behind him, and he froze.
He didn't have to turn around to see him. The wild hair. The tanned skin. The yellow eyes. The tattoos. The four scars on his face.....
"Toooo late, Raziel." Came an obviously happy voice from behind. "Why, you've lost before the battle has even begun." Raziel stood stalk still, scared out of his mind, but not showing it. He knew that he was at Ortega's mercy....
"Where is Ada?" Raziel said, hoping his voice sounded stronger than he thought it did.
He felt Ortega smile. "Still, you always keep your promises, so I knew you'd come." He chuckled. "About the girl..... You'll see her shortly enough. She has escaped, and is evading the ritual. She will be found shortly. Why do you take interest in this Ada, anyway?"
"I have reason to believe that she is a blood relative. Considering our kind destroyed the rest of her family, I feel responsible to find her, and preserve her line."
Ortega chuckled. "So, on a whim, you risk your life by taking the count's sacrifice." He laughed loudly. "Ah, it's your life, your choice on how to end it. You and I, however..... Have a score to settle."
There was a sound much like a muffled explosion from directly behind him, followed by a rushing noise. Raziel felt Ortega stumble backward, reeling. "Oooh, it feels like my heads been laid open....." He turned around, and saw him clutching to his head. He sank to his knees, and muttered, "I can't restrain my powers....."
Raziel touched Ada's pendent that hung around his neck. He knew he was in for it this time.... "Ortega? What's wrong?"
"Ah, yes. You were a step quicker than I at one time...." His voice rasped, his breath heavy. "And then when we tangled a year ago, your eyes were as cold as the moon..... You didn't see me as a living being. You saw a weaker opponent, nothing more. You didn't respect me....."
Raziel reached for his axe, and cast it aside. This was to be a battle of hand to hand combat, and of honor.
"But the man before you has changed. Changed from that day....." His breath growled in his throat. "Changed I say!!"
At the last two words, he clasped his hands harder to his head, and threw his head back in a screaming roar. His entire body swelled, his wild hair growing out into a mane. The shirt ripped under the mass of his muscles, and he fell forward, on his hands and knees, panting.
He laughed slightly. "You see, Raziel? Aesthetic training does have limits of benefits. I gave myself to the devil, and he rewarded me with power to surpass yours, fourfold....." He looked up at him, his yellow eyes burning with power and hatred. "Did you really think you could hide from your past forever? And now that I've found you, I will tear you limb from limb, and take Ada for myself....."
"You shall not have her. You will fall today, old friend." Raziel removed is hand from the pendent, and morphed into a werewolf.
Ortega smiled horribly, baring his teeth. He pulled up into a kneeling position, one arm resting on his knee, brought up to his chest. "Why are you so worried about Ada's wellbeing? Why, you two aren't even blood relatives....."
"That's none of your business." Raziel snarled.
"Why do you go to such lengths? I thought-"
"Ada is not my main objective. I am here to destroy the count, and repair the lives he has damaged. But now that you stand in my way, I must destroy you as well."
Ortega laughed. "Still as cocky as ever. Well, we may as well get started." He stood up, stretching. "Ah, what a feeling! Now I am ready for battle...."
Raziel glared at him, baring his teeth in turn.
Ortega faced him, arms at his side. "Are.... you.... ready..... Ra..... Ziel?" There was a blinding flash of lightning. When Raziel could see again, Ortega was gone. In his place was a horrible creature, towering over him. It had the body and head of a winged lion, a head of an eagle and a dragon on either of it's sides, and a snake for a tail. A Chimera.
Raziel took a hasty step back, and Ortega pounced. He barely missed Raziel's head with his claws, as the dragon head went for his body. The chimera lunged again, the lion's paw missing, the dragon head scoring. It tore a hole in his arm, Raziel answered the attack with one of his own. He hurled an energy bolt at the dragon head as the jaws descended again. It scored, the head falling lifeless with a spray of acidic blood.
The creature took off into the sky, the eagle head rounding on him. It screeched, and Raziel suddenly felt dazed..... He tried to move right, but instead went left. He attempted to duck under the swooping monster, but jumped up to meet it's tearing claws.....
As pain knifed through his body, the daze left his mind. He was caught in the lion's taloned paw, and was swiftly approaching the ground. He clambered out of the hold, and leapt at the eagle head. He sank his teeth into it's neck, and ripped it off. He managed to cripple one of it's wings before the serpent tail struck.
Barely avoiding being swallowed whole, Raziel threw himself away from the creature's torn body.
Seeing that his size was now a hinderance, Ortega returned to his Lion-man form. He came in low, almost on all fours, and threw himself up at Raziel.
Raziel leaned back, 'ducking' the blow. In the movement, he reached up with his clawed hands, and grabbed Ortega's face. He threw him to the ground, his claws digging into his skin. He know had two symmetrical slash marks on each of his cheeks.
Ortega staggered to his feet, not about to give up. "It seems I'm still not the match for you..... Raziel."
Raziel held up a hand, and growled, "Ortega, stop! I don't want to kill you!"
Ortega stopped, and fell to his knees, changing back into a human. He fell face first into the stone floor, breathing heavily. Raziel kneeled down next to him, but Ortega admonished him to stay back.
He got back to his knees, hunched over slightly. "You don't want to kill me?" He said, sounding surprised. He touched his face. "You don't want..... How can that be? I destroyed your home..... Your freinds... I took Ada, and nearly Lacuna..... And yet you don't want to destroy me?"
"No, Ortega. I'll admit I did, that day one year previous..... But then after the rage abated, I saw what was happening. The dark origin of the man-beast was taking over. So I left, on my journey....."
"So, you pitied me...." Ortega hung his head.
"No. I didn't. You were a worthy opponent. The worst thing you can do is pity someone. You of all people should know that......" Ortega began to glow somewhat. "Now what?"
Ortega didn't seem to notice. "....You forgive me? After all I've done?"
Raziel looked at him uneasily. "I forgive you Ortega. But my forgiveness is not what you sould be asking for. You should ask the Lord....."
At the mention of that word, he fell forward, his hands clasped, and began to pray. Raziel stepped back, because the glow on his body seemed to intensify.....
"Ada is being kept in the Clock Tower. She has not been sacrificed yet....." His breath shuddered, and he looked down at his hands. I want you to do me a favor..... And stop the Dark One's rise to power....."
"Of course, Ortega." Raziel smiled slightly.
He finished, and stood up. He stumbled in the opposite direction, as if he was going to be sick. He fell to his knees again, and fire started to come off of his body. "Thank you, Raziel.... For forgiving me..... God has forgiven me as well...... My only regret is what I did to the villagers..... But it's too late for that......" He got back to his feet, and staggered closer to the parapet. "If you could..... Save the girl, Ada....."
"Ortega....!" Raziel muttered, seeing what he was going to do.
He stumbled, and nearly cracked his head on the rampart. He placed one foot firmly on the stone rise, and then looked back. "Farewell, Raziel." He smiled. "Give the Dark One what for for me, alright?" And with that, he leapt off, and descended into the mist.....
Raziel barely missed grabbing his leg, and watched him fall. Just as he vanished from sight, a searing wave of fire reached his face. Had he not jumped off, they both would have been killed.
He slammed his fist on the stone, and screamed out his name.......
He looked back, and saw Actrise. He was surprised to see her without her staff, or any weopon for that matter. She seemed vexed. If not, concerned....
"Yes?" Raziel tensed, fingering the chain whip attached to his belt.
"Don't worry, baby brother." She raised a hand, and sat down next to him. "I'm here to talk, nothing more." She looked down at the mist, avoiding his eyes. "Why have you come here?"
He sighed, releasing his weapon. "I wanted to take one last look at this place before I left. This is where Ortega fell....."
Actrise nodded. She knew the story. "I came here..... to appologize....." She turned and looked into his eyes. "....for all that I've done to you."
Raziel saw that she no longer looked like a servent of Darkness. She looked scared, alone.....
"I.... I didn't mean to have Lacuna killed. The Dark One...... Acted alone. I tried to deter him, but he didn't listen....." Actrise swallowed hard. "I'll admit, I never liked her, but I didn't want her dead. I didn't want to hurt you...."
Raziel was slightly skeptical. How could she say that? Everything she had said in the Oubliette counted against her....
But then he looked into her eyes, and saw tears.
She continued. "I.... fell in love with the Dark One. I could tell, that in some way, he returned my feelings, and tried again and again to gain his favor..... When he killed Lacuna, and I saw your spirit break....."
"It's alright, sis." Raziel put a hand on hers, trying not to shudder at the icy feel of it. "I don't blame you for Lacuna's death...."
"Let me finish, baby brother....." She sighed, sqeezing his hand. "Alucard..... He was the last obstacle Dracula saw as necessary to destroy..... I tried to make his death as quick as possible, but....." She choked. "Raine defended him, and she died too, when she wasn't supposed to...... And then Imbrium..... She wasn't supposed to die either. But, again, the innocent was caught in the cross fire....."
"About that..... Who was your target, that night......?"
"Carrie...." Actrise whispered. "Carrie...... was meant to die that night..... Chanaur, the last of the Tepes line, was to be shattered, and then consumated to the darkness......"
"I see...... It seems to me, that you've been screwed over, Actrise."
"It would seem that way, Raziel......" She looked down into the mist. "What's the point of having ultimate power, if you can't live with yourself......?"
Raziel embraced her. "It isn't too late, you know. You can still be forgiven your sins....."
"Ah, I doubt that..... My soul was damned-"
"It is that doubt that makes it impossible, not the status of your soul." He hugged her closer. "If you believe, you can be set free...."
Actrise pulled away, and started walking away. "I will.... consider." She turned back to him. "Raziel, if there is anything I can do for you, name it. It will make me feel better about all I've done to you....."
Raziel thought for a while. He thought back to the Oubliette, and he remembered her words.....
"There is someting you can do..... Take away my immortality, and kill me."
Actrise smiled. "The first I can do. But the second, I will not. You still have a wedding to witness...."
Raziel nodded. "Yes...... Alright. Just take my immortality, and send me home....."
Actrise came over to him, and touched his shoulder. "I'll see you on the other side, baby brother..... Goodbye....."
Raziel felt something torn from his body. It hurt, but only for a moment. Suddenly, he felt free......
Then all else blurred. He felt as if he were flying..... And then all went black, and he knew no more.
"I'd say it's time to take a breather, Reinhardt. You're exhausted, even if you won't admit it." Jara sighed.
"Oh, I'll admit to it. I just won't like it." Reinhardt smiled up at her, and sat down. "Not for too long, though. Rosa is still waiting."
"Rosa will be fine, Reinhardt. You rest and eat something. I'm going to go scout ahead....." And with that, she left his side, and walked on to the doorway to the next tower.
As soon as she walked into the shadows, however, she saw that someone was already there......
"Rosa?" Jara whispered. "Is it you?"
Rosa stepped forth, still cloaked in the shadows. "Yes. I came to see Reinhardt..... But I don't want to go near him, lest Death....." She shook her head. "Don't tell him I'm here...."
"I won't.... Why would you come here just to see him?" Jara was afraid that Death would come for her soon, and she would be punished....
"I wanted to see him one last time...... before I took my leave of this world......"
Jara seized her by the shoulders. "Don't kill yourself! You'll destroy all Reinhardt has been trying to do! You'll make everything-"
"But I have to end it! I need to make him see that he can't save me! When he sees I'm dead, he'll turn around and go home....."
Jara shook her head. "That won't work, and you know it. He'll be driven mad for revenge, and he won't rest until Dracula is dead. Besides, he has made it abundantly clear that he will not be stopped from vanquishing the Count." Jara let go of her shoulders. "Just endure a bit longer, and you'll be alright. You'll no longer feel the pain of the undead....."
Rosa looked sadly at her. "I hope you're right....." She nodded solemly. "Alright. I'll wait for him..... If I can be back with him, I'll wait for eternity......" She dissapeared suddenly, in a waft of mist.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and knew it was Reinhardt. "What were you shouting about, Jara?" She looked back at him, seeing his eyes. Seeing his determination to get Rosa back......
Jara smiled fleetingly. "Nothing." She looked out accross the sea of lava before her, at the numerous pendulums, guillotines, and other killing devices that spanned it. The Tower of Execution.....
"It was nothing......." She stepped away from his hand, and walked on, her heart heavier than it should have been.
End Part Sixteen.