Crystal Conundrums: Crystalis
Goa, the shining center of the Draygonian Empire. It stood at the very heart of the Empire, filled with riches gleaned or stolen from all ports of call. It's paved streets, it's glazed tile roofs, it's flowering vines, bespoke the Empire's grandeur. The soldiers, their armor, their weapons, their powerfully muscled forms, bespoke the Empire's might.
None of this mattered.
Gebrel burst onto the scene with the Sword of Thunder in hand, a blade for powerful shear cuts, for one strike kills. A sword suited less for flashy fencing, than for straightforward murder. The soldiers of Draygonia swore disbelievingly at his sudden appearance, then swore in an almost reverent, awed manner at the hero's almost casual butchery. Gebrel didn't even bother to lash out at anyone, unless they attempted to bar his path. Soldiers trailed in his wake, pursuing him through the streets, as he moved on, towards the main gate. On his finger, a ring shone dully through it's coating of dried blood, his final paycheck from his erstwhile employer. In his hand, a glowing ball, dropped by Mado in the heat of battle, fairly dripped power, through his body and into the Sword.
Through the entryway Gebrel strode, past the gargoyles, spitting death at him. He scarcely paused as the lead chunks richocheted off his Barrier, while the soldiers trailing him skidded to a halt to avoid being shot themselves. He bore down upon the main gate, his blade and ball charged. He slashed as he fired, sending forth ball lightning in a spray that passed through the metal barrier, coursing into the gatehouse. A strangled shriek bore evidence of the unlucky gatekeeper's demise. Plunging his Sword into the slot, Gebrel flicked the tip towards the lever that controlled the gate lock. He then threw his body behind his shield, shoving his weight and strength into the gate, forcing it open. From the other side, soldiers threw themselves at the gate to keep it closed, but to no avail. Gebrel's strength was augmented by his magic and his berserker rage, and he threw the gates open with a final mighty shove. Then he began laying about.
Within the main fortress, Gebrel encountered new warriors. His rage blanked brain began to cool, as he found himself facing a new, far more dangerous foe than he'd known before. Their armor was of a new compound, beyond anything he'd faced yet, a far harder, stronger substance than anything Draygonia had yet fielded. These elite warriors were far larger than the normal soldier as well, their bodies rippling with heavy muscle, allowing them to wear the heavy armor, reminiscient of Kelbesque's. Their hands gripped heavy swords with two hands, blades four feet in length, gleaming with sharpened edges-and magical enchantments.
Gebrel's rage ebbed, as he found himself on the defensive, against these new warriors, and their devestating attacks. Their arms swung in powerful strokes, designed to lop off limbs regardless of whatever attempted to block their path, or thrust forward to stab through heavy armor. Or, with a technique that made Gebrel grimace, they hurled forth energy blasts. An attempt to imitate his Four Elemental Swords. The Sword of Thunder glanced off their armor without penetrating, and their devestating blasts smashed bulging dents into his shield and sent him reeling despite his Barrier.
Gebrel sheathed the Sword of Thunder, and shoved the Ball of Thunder into his pouch. Drawing the Sword of Wind, and the Tornado Bracelet, he relied on a more percussive mode of attack. The heavy yet well balanced blade had the mass to knock the elite warriors back through concussive strikes, even if it failed to penetrate their thick metal skins. And with the charging of Sword and Bracelet, Gebrel sent them flying, the vacuum blasts tossing them like heavy metal cans, kicked aside heedlessly. Their armor might be impervious, but their flesh underneath was all too prone to bruising, battering, their brains to whiplash and rattling. Gebrel moved on, triumphant, the fallen guards behind him, whether dead or unconscious he neither knew nor cared.
He had other matters to attend to.
More guards attempted to bar his path, with their impervious armor and magic blades. And again Gebrel tossed them aside with the power of Wind. Finally, he reached the main chamber, at the very rear of the castle. Where Kelbesque awaited. Gebrel stopped, and regarded his opponent, warily.
Kelbesque bore new armor now, of the same heavy material as the elite guards. His entire form concealed by the heavy metal, his eyes blazing from behind the narrow slots in his helmet. "So you've finally come," he boomed. "Well done so far!"
"Where are the wise men?" Gebrel demanded.
Kelbesque laughed. "The Emperor has given each of us one of the wise men to guard."
"And which one do you guard?" Kelbesque simply laughed, mocking him. Then his laugh slowly died, as Gebrel began to grin. "Tornel told me all about you, Kelbesque."
"Hm? And what did he say?"
"For you, the battle is all."
"And that is my offer. The greatest battle you will ever know." Kelbesque paused, taken aback. "I've grown in power, since we last fought. Grown far greater. In all the world, you will never find a greater foe." Gebrel saluted him with the Sword of Wind. "Come, let us know the thrill of battle. Let us see which of us is the greater."
Kelbesque stared at him. "Finally. An opponent who understands." He slowly shook his head. "In all the Empire, even among my elite guard, I never found a warrior who understood. To the Draygonian army, to crush those weaker than yourself, is the height of joy. Such cowards." His eyes met Gebrels, and they blazed with emotions so intense, that tears shimmered in their midst. "A true warrior seeks out the mightiest foes to battle, to test himself against their measuring sticks."
"To prove the strength of his body, and the power of his spirit," Gebrel countered.
"Ah. We could have been such friends, had things been otherwise." Kelbesque shook himself. "But now, you will join the people of Shyron!" And he drew a sword. Gebrel raised his guard, as the devestating blade launched toward him. Four feet of blade, curved like the Sword of Thunder. Yet this blade was purely offensive in nature, narrow at the base, flaring out towards the middle, before tapering to a sharp point. A point heavy and razor sharp sword, made to cut through anything it met. "I tested this blade on one of my guardsmen, after his court martial," Kelbesque boomed. "It sheared through our toughest armor. Cleaved through his torso. Just like THIS!" And he lashed out. Gebrel did not block, didn't even try. Instead, his rabbit boots sent him leaping to a safe range, as he charged up the Sword of Wind.
"Remember this part?" Gebrel cried out, sending forth the tornado. Kelbesque flew backwards, bouncing off the far wall with a sickening thud. The general collapsed to his knees, then shook himself and rose to his feet.
"I remember. And I've grown in power too!" The enormous blade flashed, then shot forth blasts of green fire. Gebrel threw up his Barrier frantically, as the blasts slammed into his unmercifully. He started to sink, then forced himself to hold fast, and threw yet another tornado, slamming into the mighty general.
And so it went, for long, laborous minutes. Gebrel's tornados tossed Kelbesque like a leaf in the wind, bouncing him off the walls, until Kelbesque's every movement was agony, his flesh bruised purple underneath his armor. Gebrel's body remained largely intact, if winded, but his mind screamed, his head pounding. He defended with his Barrier, not armor, and every time a fireball connected, it was like a dagger in his skull. He slammed Kelbesque again, and the armored figure shrieked as he slammed into the wall again, every inch of his body alive with pain. Kelbesque threw another fireball from a kneeling position, and Gebrel emitted a guttural, gasping groan, as he collapsed to a similar position from the other side of the room, his mind feeling as though his brain had been shredded by a weretiger's claws. Sweat poured down his face, and pain pusled up and down his side, his winded body protesting his frantic acrobatic movements, his desperate attempts to avoid Kelbesque's blasts.
"We'll... never... finish it... like this..." Gebrel panted, raising his head to meet Kelbesque's gaze. He swallowed heavily. "Kelbesque..."
Kelbesque nodded. "Let's finish this..." Kelbesque began to grunt, then the grunt shifted to a groan and then a full fledged scream, as he forced himself to his feet, continuing the motion into a lumbering charge, his sword clasped in two hands, thrown over his shoulder to deliver a mighty swing. Gebrel moaned as he forced his body into action, even as the pain in his side spread to his shoulders, and down his leg, limiting his charge to a stumbling mockery of his usual smooth stride. The distance between them closed, as they moved in for a final embrace.
As Kelbesque's heavy blade moved in a sweeping arc, as inevitable as time, as unstoppable as death, Gebrel lunged, dropping. His left foot stepped forward, far forward, his right foot pushing him forward, his entire body dropping beneath Kelbesque's sword. The Sword of Wind shot forward, caught his heavy armor in the pit of his stomach-and sank in. A hideous screech of metal being torn erupted, as the blade pushed through Kelbesque's torso, to finally grate to a halt against the armor on his back. Kelbesque continued forward on sheer momentum, colliding with Gebrel, sending them both to the floor. They both collapsed on the ground, rolling to a halt. They lay there, motionless.
Then they shifted, as Gebrel rolled them over, so that he lay on Kelbesque's massive chest. Then he lay there, frantically trying to draw breath, crying in physical and mental agony, as the pain in his body slowly ebbed, first the leg slowly ceasing to scream, then the shoulder, then finally, finally, the chest. He began to tug on the hilt of his Sword. "Leave it," Kelbesque gasped, "I would... speak... before I die..." He swallowed.
"To die like this..." tears filled his eyes, "it is everything I could have hoped for."
"But..." Gebrel panted, "what have you died for...?"
"Warriors... don't just fight... Kelbesque... They fight for... what they... believe in..." Gebrel paused, and forced his diaphram to draw in a deep breath, as it fought to continue to gasp. Then he forced another deep breath. And another, as he fought to give his body the oxygen it need so desperately.
"I believed in something." Kelbesque was quietly regretful. "I believed in a mighty hero. The wise men promised me, he'd come, and save the world." He sighed. "I believed in you, Gebrel."
"Why... why did you... betray...?" Gebrel paused his query, to take another deep breath. Kelbesque answered.
"All my life, I was a fighter. It was the only thing I was ever really good at. I couldn't create art, or music, or furniture. But I was strong. Tornel made me stronger. He made me test myself, always. To always set new goals for myself, to never settle for what I am, to strive... for what I could be.
"Then Draygon made me an offer. To lead his armies. He told me we'd bring order to the world, make a great Empire for the hero. I led his army, fighting in battle, so wonderful. We fought bandits. That was all. Bandits, and mutants. We fought to bring order to the world. Then we took over a village, so we could protect it from the bandits. If we were there all the time, he said, we could keep them safe, all the time. Then another village. And another. They didn't want us there. Draygon insisted. We knew what was best."
Something sparked in Gebrel's brain, in his database. A philosophical point. "The greatest crimes in history..." he gasped, "have always been... committed... by those wishing... to do... good..."
Kelbesque grunted, in a dry little laugh. "Yes. And when I finally realized my fall, Draygon wouldn't let me go. I had lost my honor. I had nothing left, but the fight. But I had nothing to challenge me. Until you came." He gasped, in a sob. "And the hero I believed in was the one to challenge me, to best me." He sobbed. "If I must die... let my death have meaning..."
Gebrel let him cry, as he continued to concentrate on breathing. In comes the air, deeply, ignore the screaming to breath fast. Breath DEEP. Now out. Now in, DEEP. And out. "Gebrel!" Kelbesque groaned. "Remember me! Let me be a lesson to you! Never stray from your principles, never let the end justify the means. Always strive for new challenges, always strive to be the greatest you can be... but this above all: to thine own self be... true!" Kelbesque expended the last of his breath to force out the last word. True.
He did not draw another.
Gebrel slowly rose to his feet, his body shaking with exhaustion, his brain pulsing with a headache. Stomping one foot on Kelbesque's massive chest, he gripped the Sword of Wind, and pulled, straining against the suction of dead tissue. The blade resisted at first, then pulled free. At the cost of yet more pain, Gebrel sent a wave of energy into the Sword, and let the vacuum discharge cleanse the gore from it's length, so that he could salute Kelbesque with a clean blade. The general deserved that much. Then he moved on.
In the next room, he found Zebu. The elderly wise man lay strapped to a couch, his entire body bound by glowing cord, proof against magic. But not against Gebrel's fingers, which quickly untied the knots and freed Zebu.
"Kelbesque is dead," Gebrel told him bluntly.
"Ah." Zebu lowered his eyes, in grief for the good man he'd once known.
"He repented, at the end." Gebrel took Zebu's hands in his own. "We parted friends."
Zebu nodded wearily. "Well done, but the other wise men are still captive."
Gebrel nodded, tried to rise, only to be pulled back down by Zebu's gentle grasp. "I will recover your strength. Come, let me." Gebrel nodded, opened his mind to Zebu. And with a gentle rush, Zebu's strength flowed into Gebrel. His pounding headache eased, as his energy reserves recharged, filling up to the power he'd had before his battles with Mado and Kelbesque-and further, as he reached new levels, his power grown with his achievements. "Go on," Zebu said, "save the others. I've got enough power left to go to Leaf. I'll rest and wait for the others there. Go now, and take care." He faded from sight.
Gebrel moved on, up the flight of stairs to the next level. "Interesting," he murmered. "Why would they put the sewers on the second story?" He moved on, through what very much appeared to be a sewer system on the upper floor of the castle. Slimy stone walkways were seperated by streams of noxious greenish muck. "Interesting," he murmered again. "What have they been feeding their troops?" He wrinkled his nose as he continued.
He rounded the next bend and came across a mutant. "Hi there," Gebrel said cheerily. "Pleased to meet you!"
The mutant stared at him, head cocked quizically. It's body was covered in blue scales, with the head and tail of a lizard. It's tongue flickered out. "Yuurr an intrruuderr," it hissed.
"Names Gebrel," he continued pleasantly. "Tell me, why is there a sewer system on the second floor of this castle?" The mutant hissed angrily.
"Thissss isss not a ssssewerrr! Thissss isss our layyeerr! Buillt forrr ussss buyy thee emperrroarr!"
Gebrel cocked his head, his forehead wrinkling as he pondered this. "Why would he do that?" In all his travels, he'd encountered almost universal disdain by humans for mutants of every kind.
The mutant snickered. "You know nothhhing, of emperrroarr Draygahnnn!" It hoisted a heavy lenght of chain, tipped with a spiked ball. "Diiieee!" The chain whirled, and the ball sailed straight for Gebrel. He flung his battered shield up- and found himself flying backwards, the heavy ball smashing yet another dent in his shield and laying him flat on his back. "Diiieee!" the mutant roared. And the ball came smashing down.
Gebrel rolled, came up underneath the mutant, and shoved him backwards. As the mutant regained it's balance, he drew the Sword of Water, and thrust home. The mutant died, twitching, on the length of cold steel. Gebrel tossed aside his now ruined shield, cleaned his blade and saluted the dead creature, then moved on, avoiding it's relatives as much as possible. Fortunately, a single blast of cold from his Sword chilled the muscles of the cold blooded creatures that he could outrun them with ease. Ever since Kitten, Gebrel had found no joy in killing mutants.
Eventually, he reached a staircase, leading up to yet another level. "Draygon's architects don't think small, I'll give them that," Gebrel chuffed as he climbed. This set of steps led to another hall, and from there, to an ascetic's lair. Smooth stone floor, walls of stone bricks. And Sabera.
Sabera was looking much the poorer, since her last encounter with Gebrel. Her healing efforts had not totally erased the damage incurred by the Sword of Fire, leaving extensive scarring, on her face, leading down to her torso, hidden completely beneath her voluminous garments, shielding what more damage he could not tell. Her face was twisted with icy rage and hate. "Long time no see!" she spat.
"Sabera." Gebrel nodded cordially. "You're looking fairly well... all things considered." She recoiled, and her teeth ground together in fury.
"I may not be skilled in healing magics, you disgusting little MAN," she grated, "but my battle magics have grown with my hatred. I've been thinking about you a lot. And the more I thought about you, the angrier I became. And as my fury grew, so did my power!" She conjured up a ball of pulsating energy, the same as she had hurled at him before, on their previous encounter.
"It's nice to be a source of inspiration," Gebrel retorted.
"Ha!" Sabera sneered. "I won't let you get past me! Be prepared!" And she began hurling her blasts of energy. Gebrel threw up his Barrier, as he sheathed the Sword of Water.
"Remember this?" he cried out, drawing the Sword of Fire and Flame Bracelet. Sabera's eyes widened in horror and terror, as he charged the blade, then unleashed it's full power. The explosion of forge hot flame smashed into her, as she threw up her shields. She withered underneath the very flames that had scarred her, but held fast.
"I remember. And have learned!" And she countered with yet more magic. And once again, she threw her energy blasts. And again, Gebrel blocked, charged, and returned fire, literally. Only this time, as Sabera threw up her shields, Gebrel followed up the flames with a charging attack. Sabera watched the blindingly hot flames die down to reveal a charging hero, an instant before his blade flickered out- and laid her open.
"Damn you, Gebrel," she moaned, falling to her knees, as she clutched her hands over her belly, trying to hold her guts in. As they spilled out past her fingers, she began to cry. "Damn you." And the tears began to flow, her face relaxing from it's mask of hatred, into a frightened, lonely expression, of sorrow and loss.
Gebrel watched her warily, and wearily. "Kelbesque told me how he was corrupted," he said quietly. "How did you fall from grace?"
Sabera continued to cry, like a little child. "Grace? Grace! Asina was the one with grace!" She sniffled. "All the men loved her. No one even looked at me. No one except Draygon."
"Asina is loved because she loves," Gebrel said.
"Asina is loved because she's so beautiful!" she snarled. "Try being fat and old. See what it's like, when men disregard you, because of your appearance." She sobbed bitterly. "The stories always talk about the ugly man winning the hand of the beautiful maiden. She always looks past his appearance to his good heart. What a joke. The only man who ever looked past my appearance, was the man I swore myself to, body and soul."
"I know his true nature, Gebrel. He's not what you think he is. I've felt his touch, in both his forms." Gebrel felt vaguely unsettled by the conotations of that remark. "I love him, and he loves me. The only man who ever did." She sniffled. "I hope you live to meet him. I hope he will be the one to avenge my death."
"And I hope you know the peace in death you were never granted in life." Gebrel pointed his Sword at her. "Tell me when you're ready."
"Wait one moment." Sabera began to rock back and forth, on her knees, crooning softly to herself. Gebrel made out a word or two. "Darling." "Love." "Draygon." A song of endearment, for her lord and love. "All right." And the kiss of the blade sent Sabera away from the land of the living.
Sabera had been guarding Tornel, bound in the same rope as Zebu. He quickly unbound the instructor. "I'm saved!" Tornel grinned, clasping Gebrel's arms gratefully. "By the way, how is Stom? Is he behind you? Or gathering reinforcements..." Then he caught the look in Gebrel's eyes. "I see..." The tears began to flow, then dried just as quickly, as Tornel gathered himself with an effort. "But he held out to the last..." he sighed, holding his emotions in check.
"I'm sorry, Tornel. He died in battle, if that means anything."
"It does." He shook himself. "I will restore your strength. Your job isn't finished yet." Again, a wise man directly funneled his energy into the hero. When it ebbed, Gebrel was once again ready for battle. "Avenge Stom!" Tornel whispered fiercely, his face only inches from Gebrel's. He released him and faded from sight, to mourn his lover in unashamed privacy. Gebrel nodded his head, in silent acknowledgement, and moved on.
The third floor of Goa was reminiscient of the limestone caverns of Portoa. Slick walls, cool and damp, yet smelling much better than the previous layer. Clean stone... and something else. Gebrel tried to place the scent. Did I smell this scent in the caves?
Gebrel drew the Sword of Water, ready to do battle with the Medusae. Fortunately, since success in his quest was more important to him than unnecessary bloodshed, he moved past the monsters whenever possible, only fighting when cornered. Soon he made his way to a stairway... leading up again? This new section was brightly lit, the walls gleaming brightly with reflected torchlight. Yet shadows still played along their lengths.
Gebrel frowned. Those shadows weren't playing. They were moving... Gebrel sent out a probing thought. Then he dove for cover, as the creature, whatever it was-invisible, save for it's shadow-spat it's magic at him. Gebrel switched to the Sword of Fire, and charged up his full blast. As the shadows congregated, converging on him, he aimed, waited-and cut loose. He caught a glimpse of dark robed figures, a moment before they disapeared, consumed by the flames. Masters of stealth, but not frontal assault.
Gebrel moved on. He continued past more shadows, who gave him ample distance, fearing his power, shrinking from his strength and courage. Soon, he made it to another, higher chamber. And Mado.
The stealth warrior giggled gleefully, a nasty, high pitched, ugly sound. "Hoo, hoo, I'm glad you could come."
"Let me guess," Gebrel snarled, holding his hatred in check with effort. "You're keeping Asina, on ICE." He threw the last out as a barbed reminder of their last battle.
"That's right," Mado giggled. "I'm the only one Draygon can trust not to fall prey to Asina's charms." Gebrel raised an eyebrow, but Mado cut him off. "No, I prefer girls. They scream so nicely when I cut them. I just don't care if she gives me that big eyed smile of hers and asks me to let her go." He shrugged his shoulders underneath his silk. "I'm a sadist. Why pretend otherwise?"
"You're also a dead man," Gebrel snarled.
"Hoo, hoo! You're nothing to fear..."
"Want to bet?" Gebrel switched swords. "You know what this sword can do..."
"And you enjoy doing it!" Mado shot back. "Admit it. Killing people feels good!"
Gebrel shook his head. "I use to think that. Now I know better. It's the fighting, the challenge, that's important. The killing is incidental. I'd be just as happy if my foes lived to face me another day."
"Ha! You enjoyed killing Draygonian soldiers when they hurt others."
"That was the satisfaction of justice. Of protecting others-"
"Come off it!" Mado snarled. "You're just like me! Only I don't pretend to be something I'm not. To hear someone's screams... to feel their pain... to taste their blood..." Mado shivered with excitement, lost in the savor of past victims. "You are what you are... be proud of it!" And battle was joined.
This time, Mado used a differant approach. Rather than charging in with blades slashing, he leapt to one side, then the other, shifting back and forth, trying to catch Gebrel off balance. Then his hand flicked out, throwing a spray of razor disks. Gebrel blocked with his Barrier, then responded to Mado's charge with a simple technique. A stop thrust, his blade thrust straight forward for Mado to impale himself on. Mado skidded to a halt, his swords swing up to block. Then it was back to thrust and counter, as Gebrel pressed Mado backward with lightning fast flicks and stabs. Mado continued to back away, until he tripped, and fell, rolling as he landed into a backflip to a safe distance. He threw more disks-and Gebrel threw a blizzard.
Mado collapsed, shivering violently, his swords falling from nerveless fingers. Then he jerked, once, twice, as a pair of ice darts smashed into his shoulders, breaking flesh and bone. Mado began to moan, with pain and fear. "Stop..." he groaned. "No more... I give up..."
"What's wrong, Mado?" Gebrel smiled. "I thought you enjoyed pain?"
"Hoo, hoo-cough... See..." Mado giggled, then coughed. "You're just like me."
"Not at all." Gebrel shook his head. "I'll make it quick. Better than you deserve. Just tell me one thing."
"What's that?" Mado rolled onto his side, to look at Gebrel.
"How did Draygon corrupt you?"
Mado blinked. Then he smiled, teeth bared through the pain. "He didn't."
"What?" Gebrel blinked in turn.
"All he had to do... was give me the chance to hurt people." Mado chuckled. "Some people really are rotten to the core, Gebrel. Some people... really are that bad..." He sighed. "Oh, well. I guess I did one good deed in life... if I taught you that much, at least."
Gebrel nodded. "And here is your reward." There are worse deaths than freezing. Mado went numb, void of any pain. He felt sleepy... he closed his eyes...
Asina was waiting for Gebrel with eyes wide with fear, giving way to relief. Mado had made a few cuts on her robes, but her skin was largely intact. Gebrel untied her, then took her into his arms, as she cried on his shoulder. "Oh, Gebrel..." she sobbed, shaking with sorrow. "Did anyone...?"
"No." Gebrel swallowed. "But I got Mado. Did he...?"
Asina shook her head, continuing to cry. "No... He started to cut my clothes off... to scare me... but Draygon stopped him..."
Gebrel continued to hold her, as he opened his mind up to her, offering love to ease her grief. Her tears slowly dried, and finally she sighed, the raw pain given way to a dull ache. "What is Draygon's true form?" he asked her, at last.
"True form?" She jerked her head up, and blinked at him.
"Sabera said he had two forms. And there are mutants in this castle that are loyal to him." Gebrel peered into her eyes. "Do you know... anything?"
She shook her head. "He's always been human, when he came to me. But..." she shook her head. "There's something about him. He's... hungry." She blinked, trying to grasp the concept. "Hungry for power. Hungry for wealth, for love... you said Sabera saw two forms?" Gebrel nodded. "No wonder she joined with him." She shook her head. "I offered to teach her to transform, to make herself beautiful. She didn't want to, didn't even want cosmetics on her face. She could have been beautiful, if she'd tried." She grimaced. "Even I don't look that pretty first thing in the morning."
Gebrel hugged her tight. "You always look beautiful, Asina. It's not your face, or your body-"
"-or your smell-"
"-It's the way you care about others. People are important to you." He smiled. "You said Draygon is... hungry?"
She nodded. "If he has another form, it's probably a carnivore. He was always trying to... possess me, the whole time I've been here."
"What did he do?" Gebrel went rigid at the thought.
"He never touched me. He just... talked. Made a lot of offers. He wanted... marriage. He even promised to stop his conquests, if I would come freely. He needed me to come freely. He understands that much of love." She shook her head. "I might even have said yes, if I could have believed him."
"You didn't think he would?"
"He'd... agree to do whatever I asked. But then he'd just get hungry again." She shook her head, and smiled at him.
"Kensu's here, somewhere."
"Kensu?" Asina's eyes lit up. Gebrel smiled tolerantly.
"He's probably up ahead, somewhere. As soon as I find him, I'll send him to you."
"Thank you, Gebrel!" She kissed him on the cheek. "The last sorcerer is Karmine, Draygon's most powerful servant. He uses magic to change people into monsters, so be careful!" She pointed at a piece of metal, staring out from underneath the couch on which she'd been tied. "Here... it's a shield. Draygon brought it once, with a bunch of other things, when he tried bribery, jewelry and pretty things." She shook her head. "I'll be back at Portoa. Send Kensu to me..." she implored him, as she faded from sight.
The next level was clean, smooth stone, well lit. More of the shadow things lurked about, as well as mutants, much like that on Mt. Hydra. They concealed their massively powerful forms beneath heavy Draygonian armor, but their hands carried the same flailing chains. Gebrel slammed the first one with a blast from the Sword of Lightning, dropping the creature to the ground, then cooked it thoroughly. After that, it's companions gave him a wide berth, letting him save his strength.
Up past another flight of steps, he strode. Now he encountered human soldiers, with the heavy bows and steel tipped arrows. Unlike the mutants, these warriors were disciplined, trained, refusing to run. Gebrel cut them down.
Down another staircase- and another. This area was labrynthian, twisting corridors making for a very difficult path. Soon Gebrel was thoroughly lost, battling his way past every sort of mutant he'd encountered in his travels. Finally, he came across one of the earliest monsters he'd ever encountered, a slime. The slime quivered at the sight of him. "Gebrel!" the thing burbled, "Hey, it's me!"
Gebrel stared at the thing, then probed. "Kensu?"
"I was stupid and got hit by Karmine..."
"Yes. In order to recover, I need the Ivory Statue. It's in a room downstairs."
"How do I get there."
"Just use the hole over there." The slime gestured as best it could.
"The hole?" Gebrel grimaced. The hole in question being a gaping chasm, exposing the floor underneath.
"Fastest way possible." Kensu shrugged what remained of it's shoulders, then jiggled violently for a while in response.
"Sometimes I hate this job," Gebrel muttered, as he sheathed his sword, then lowered himself by his hands, until he dangled only a dozen feet or so above the floor. Releasing his grip, he dropped quickly, landing with bent knees into a roll. He climbed to his feet, shook himself, then moved on.
He found the room holding the Ivory statue readily enough. He also found Karmine. "Welcome Gebrel!" The figure laughed from behind the metallic mask. "I'm Karmine, Draygonia's finest!" Gebrel drew the Sword of Thunder in reply. "You must be tired..." the sorcerer purred, "So rest forever in darkness! Ha!" He pointed an enormous rod at Gebrel, and fireballs shot forth.
Once again, Gebrel relied on his Barrier, as he charged his Sword and Ball, throwing letting the flames splash off harmlessly. He countered with ball lightning. And Karmine blocked as well, the electrical discharge dissipating against his own Barrier. "Surely you can do better than that," Karmine mocked him. He threw more fireballs. Another magical parrier, another magical riposte. Karmine laughed and tossed off a glowing field of blue energy. Gebrel didn't even try to block, instead opting to leap to safety.
"Clever," Karmine mocked, "Better than that Kensu!" Again, he threw fireballs. Gebrel leapt again, flying over the flames with the augmentation of his rabbit boots, coming down upon Karmine with sword swinging. Karmine's eyes widened above his mask, and he brought his staff up to parry. The Sword of Thunder bit into the metal rod deeply, joining their two weapons together. Gebrel began to press down, trying to bring the blade down upon the sorcerer. Karmine snarled and fought back with his own strength.
"You... won't... cut... me..." Karmine grated.
"Don't... have...to..." Gebrel retorted, as the charge he'd stored up in the Sword and Ball released, the lightning coursing through the metal rod, directly into Karmine's body. He flew back, bouncing off the far wall before collapsing on the floor, without a mark on him. Not on the surface, that is. Electricity leaves no mark on the skin, only charring the flesh underneath. Karmine lay there, not even pausing to give Gebrel a few last words.
He was already quite dead.
Gebrel stabbed him in the chest anyway. Just in case. Then he picked up what remained of the rod, and removed a rounded piece of silvery grey metal. Placing the Ball of Thunder into it's proper place, he affixed the Storm Bracelet on his rack, next to the others. Then he searched about, before finding a small statue of polished ivory. And moved on.
Kensu bade him place the statue on his jellied form. Wrapping himself around the thing like a true slime devouring carrion, he absorbed the magic contained within, then shimmered back into his true form, holding the statue in his hand. "What a relief!" he sighed, looking down at his human body. "Here, I will cure your wounds." And as the other Wise Men had done before, he did the same, restoring Gebrel's strength.
"Asina said to meet her back at Portoa," Gebrel told him.
Kensu nodded, smiling. "Thanks." He sobered quickly. "The Emperor and Mesiah left for the pyramid."
"It's the place from which the Tower can be summoned. Mesiah has the power to call the Tower, but won't give it to Draygon."
"That's my girl." Gebrel smiled.
"I'll teach you Flight to aid you in catching up to them."
"Flight?" Gebrel gasped, his eyes widening. Kensu nodded, his eyes dancing.
"Join with me again." And soon Gebrel had learned a new power, one that men had dreamed of since time immemoriable. "Now, take the short cut through the back. And good luck." Kensu nodded curtly, before teleporting away.
The short cut was yet another flight of stairs. Fortunately, this time his path led downward instead of upward. Gebrel raced downward as quickly as he could without risking a broken neck, downward. And downward. And further downward. Soon, he'd gone past the surface of the earth itself, traveling even farther downward, into a subteranean tunnel. He drew a Sword and moved on, towards a dim red glow. And stopped.
"You've got to be kidding me," he breathed. A lake of glowing red illuminated the path before him, a pool of molten rock stretching out for miles, far beyond his sight. He stared for a moment, then muttered to himself, "I hope this works." And swallowing hard to muster up the courage and belief, he leapt into the air... and flew.
His power, grown over the months of his quest, from the relatively feeble power unable to heal a wounded friend, to the might that deflected bullets with ease, hoisted him aloft, with no more effort than walking. At the same time, his spirits felt lifted as well, as he soured above the lava, flying on towards the far end. "Whoohoo!" He cried out, as he defied gravity and the molten death below. Some time later, he'd reached the other side of the lava, and almost regretfully touched down on solid earth. Then he crossed an underground river, lingering a few moments above the water to savor the renewed sensation of flight. Finally, he emerged from the earth, enervated by his new experience.
He found himself in a steaming, arid swamp, foul smelling mud and intense heat. Whipping his head about, he sent a probing thought out, and found Mesiah, to the east. He sent her a pulse of loving reassurance, then followed after, through yet another cave.
He emerged from the cave into a scene straight out of a dream. A lush, verdant field of golden grain, soaking up the intense sun from overhead. In this field, bunny rabbits hopped about, nibbling on stalks of grain, playing with toys fashioned from grass or mud, or... Gebrel rolled his eyes, and stepped through the fields, looking around for signs of Mesiah's passing.
"Let's play!" A rabbit said, hopping up to him and cocking it's long eared head quizzically.
"I'm looking for some people who may have passed through," Gebrel replied in an apologetic tone. "A man and a woman. Have you seen them?"
The rabbit twitched it's nose. "Nope. Haven't seen anyone since Stom left."
"Stom?" Gebrel's eyes widened. He shimmered, changing form.
"Oh, Stom!" The rabbit cried, joyously. "Let's play!"
Gebrel shimmered back. "I'm sorry, I'm not Stom..." he swallowed, closing his eyes against the grief felt for his friends. "He is gone..."
The rabbit quivered. "That's a lie! He couldn't be dead..." It trembled, as it tried to deny it's friend's death.
"I'm sorry," Gebrel said again. He picked the rabbit up, and cuddled it, holding the furry creature close to his chest, while it came to grips with it's loss. After a while, the rabbit slowed, then stopped, it's trembling. "Who killed him?"
"A man in the service of the man I'm following."
"I'm no meat eater," the rabbit whispered, "but you're a human. You kill, don't you?
Gebrel flushed, then nodded.
"Please take this..." it shook it's head, exposing the thin chain of a pendant. "It was a gift from Stom, it reminds me of him..." Gebrel gently removed the pendant from the rabbit. "Avenge his death for me!"
"I will," Gebrel said. "He was my friend too." He gently lowered the rabbit to the ground, and it hopped away.
A short ways to the south, Gebrel reached the town of Sahara, a sand town. Literally. The buildings were crafted of sandstone and bricks made with sand, the roads were sand, and the walls that virtually every town kept for protection against invaders were sandstone cliffs. Gebrel looked around, before finding a shop with the sign of Akahana's business on the threshold . A knock on the wall next to the entryway was answered by a pretty girl, her brown hair done up in pigtails. He showed her Akahana's ring, gleaming on his finger, and she reeled back in shock. "Wha-?" she stammered, before collecting herself. "Come," she said, leading him into the main room, where a bald man with a thick black beard sat before a stack of papers.
The man looked up at Gebrel, taking a cursory glance-then a longer one, noting the ring, gleaming with Akahana's symbol. His jaw worked soundlessly for a minute, as he worked to comprehend a radically shifted personal reality. "Oh," he finally managed, "you must be the legendary soldier, the one Akahana told us about. The one he was grooming to replace him."
"He what?" Gebrel asked, his eyes widening.
"Didn't you..." the man stared at him, blinking. "Never mind. Akahana told us he was planning to retire in a few years, and give the business to a warrior named Gebrel. You, I'd imagine, since your appearance matches most of the other reports I've had on you."
"Oh! I know magic," Gebrel explained. "A female form got me into the village without a fight."
"I see..." The man bowed his head. "Gebrel, we are at your service."
"Great!" Gebrel grinned, then pulled up a chair and collapsed heavily into it. "Let's start with food, drink, and a new shield. Then we'll see what else I can think of." The manager nodded to his new boss, then to the pretty young girl, who fled the room, to return with heaping platters of dinner. Freshly slaughtered lamb, cut into heavily seasoned chunks, speared on iron rods with onions and vegetables, resting on beds of fluffy boiled grains. Gebrel managed to savor every mouthful even as he devoured it ravenously. "Amazing," he belched, as he waved the girl off to fetch yet another platterful, "every time I enter a building that Akahana owns...owned... I eat like a king."
The manager bowed his head in respect for the departed. "Akahana enjoyed a good meal. And good drink," he added, pouring himself another goblet of wine, "are you sure you won't have some?"
Gebrel shook his head. "I need to keep a clear head for now. This will do fine." He clinked his glass of fruit puree to the manager's goblet, then sipped deeply of the thick rich drink.
"He also enjoyed other pursuits..." began the young girl, as she set down the platter.
"Thank you, but no," Gebrel cut her off, not unkindly. "My body, heart, mind, and soul, all belong to someone else." The manager looked up from his cup, his eyes widening, then narrowing.
By this time, the armorer had arrived, with a new shield. "Akahana sent it to us, from Mt. Shyron," the armorer explained, pointing out the golden red design, with the emblem of a firebird in white gold. "He called it the Psycho Shield. It was meant for you, sir." Gebrel tossed aside the battered hunk of metal that was all that remained of his last shield, and tried on the Psycho Shield, examining the workmanship from within and without.
"It works... with me," he mused, feeling it out. "It complements my Barrier, enhances it..." he looked up, and grinned. "Ever since I learned Barrier, a shield hasn't been nearly as useful. Now..." He nodded gratefully, and thanked the armorer. "Now then, to business. Where is Draygon? More important, where's Mesiah?"
The manager reached into his desk and extracted a folder, shuffling through the notes within. "I shall tell you what I know..." he found the correct note, and pulled it out. "They both came through here, just yesterday."
"How is she?" Gebrel leaned forward, intent.
"She seemed fine. No injuries that I could see. Draygon kept her with him at all times, but he didn't have her bound, unless it was by magical means... or possibly blackmail of some kind."
"Draygon was holding some other friends, as well. If I can contact her, I'll let her know they're safe. What else can you give me."
"There is a prophecy, here in Sahara. Let me... here." He pulled out the note. "A tower with tremendous power is near, high above the highest mountain, one that can destroy the world. Reassuring thought... It is said, one true warrior has the power to stop the tower..." He looked up. "I grew up here, hearing that tale. That one..." and he handed the paper to Gebrel, the prophecy inscribed in faded ink, "is Gebrel, and the one who will lead you is Mesiah."
"Where is she now?"
The manager nodded. "That I know. Draygon went to the Pyramid. There's supposed to be two guardians, though, protecting against all. You need two arrows of legend to destroy them."
"The Arrow of Moon?"
He nodded. "And the Arrow of Sun." A snap of fingers. A shaft of Gold. And Gebrel was ready.
"Mesiah is waiting," the manager said, bowing to his new employer, his savior. "Go to the Pyramid with utmost haste."
And so he did. Through a mountain pass that narrowed into a cave, filled with yet another kind of monster, a giant bug, with enormous claws and poisoned stinging tail. A quick zap of lightning sent them fleeing, and Gebrel emerged from the other side of the cave, into yet another section of swamp, the foul muck swirling in noxious maelstroms. In the center of all this... the Pyramid.
Flying over the foul ooze, Gebrel rapidly ascertained that the Pyramid was actually much larger than it appeared, only a few dozens of feet rising above the muck. The swamp must have filled it up, over the centuries of shifting climates and changing terrain. Barely twenty feet of steps separated the ooze from the entrance. Setting down at the portal, Gebrel probed with his mind, before entering.
The entryway bore enormous braziers, continually burning from some near limitless supply of unknown fuel, and rich carpeting, utterly ruined by the effects of the environment. Past this, the interior proved a byzantine maze of corridors, lined with the same thick stone that had formed the exterior of the Pyramid. Filled with yet more giant scorpions, the same invisible shadow creatures that had swarmed Mado's lair, Medusae, and what appeared to be men clad in layers of white bandages. Only the Sword of Water proved effective against these latter threats, shattering the forms concealed within those cloth wrappings. After one look at the fluids that leaked out from their ruined forms, Gebrel was glad not to know what they truly looked like. He moved on, guided by mental probing, contacting Mesiah's fearful yet courageous mind and drawing closer to her.
Finally, he reached the inner sanctum of the Pyramid, filled with further Braziers, leading up to a raised platform, tiled with golden plates and covered in rich carpet, undisturbed thanks to it's location so far from the outside air and dirt. In the center of this platform, a powerful form awaited. Gebrel came to a halt at the top of the steps to the platform, and the two took each other's measure.
The figure wore a heavy cape that completely covered his body, hanging from a complicated arrangements of shoulder and breastplates. His head was adorned with a heavy helmet, two large horns jutting out to the sides, an aristocratic face sneering out through the faceplate. His feet poked out from underneath the cape, revealing what appeared to be the greaves of a heavy set of plated armor.
The figure raised an eyebrow from underneath his helmet. "Oh! You were able to come here!?" A powerful mind brushed at Gebrel, recoiled from his powerful mental shieldings. The armored form nodded. "So, you're more powerful than I'd thought. I'm Emperor Draygon! Show me your power!" And with that, the Emperor launched himself straight at Gebrel, lashing out with his powerful mailed fists. Gebrel took it on the Psycho shield, and was knocked back.
As Gebrel drew forth the Sword of Thunder, he glanced at the shield, pleased that not so much as a dent marred it's surface. Clearly, this shield was of far sterner stuff than the other, lesser defenses he'd born in the past. As he readied himself for the attack, Draygon initiated a second assault. His hands reached out, and lightning coursed forth, slamming into Gebrel's Barrier. Gebrel reeled backwards, then countered with a quick blast of his own lightning.
As Draygon took the full force of Gebrel's blast with a quickly raised barrier and a shrug, Gebrel charged up a stronger assault. His power channeled through the Sword, Ball, and Bracelet, before releasing-with a vengeance. The very air turned blindingly white, as a shaft of devastating force shot forth from the blade, slamming into Draygon-and through him. "Aaargh!" Draygon roared, as his Barrier collapsed under the intense assault. Gebrel's last image of him was the Emperor teleporting away, his smoking armor remaining behind.
Gebrel stalked up to the armor, and prodded it. Then gasped, as the carpet under his feet began to rise up. He waited, as the platform slowly rose on unseen mechanisms, finally coming to rest within the entry chamber, the arid wind blowing in through the outside portal. Gebrel cast about, then blurted out, "Azteca!"
The Grand Puba barely stood, leaning on the wall for support, one hand clasped about his midsection. "Ooh... Gebrel... I'm glad you could come..." His face twisted in an attempt at humor.
"You're wounded!" Gebrel rushed up to him.
"It's nothing..." Gebrel shook his head.
"Let me help..." he trailed off, as Azteca's hand drew away from his midsection, revealing the gaping wound-and what lay beneath, the substance under his heavy robes. He recoiled with a startled gasp, then looked up, staring at Azteca with widened eyes.
"Worry not for me," Azteca continued, fixing Gebrel with his obsidian eyes, "but for Mesiah. She waits for you on the highest floor. You must use the basement entrance to get there."
"No time... here is the... Arrow of Truth. Use it when you battle the Emperor... Take Draygon's armor, as well. It was stolen... meant for... you... the Psycho Armor..." Gebrel blinked, then nodded, taking the arrow, and discarding his battered armor for the sturdy metal plates.
When he'd finished dressing, he turned to Azteca once more. "Are you sure I can't help you?" he asked.
Azteca shook his head, then twitched with the damage to his insides. "Go! Mesiah is waiting!" Gebrel stared at the Puba a moment longer, then turned and ran off.
There was no further need for answers. Only one thing mattered.
Out of the Pyramid he raced. Flying over the swamp, he cast about, rapidly locating the small side entrance and touching down. A smaller corridor, no side paths to throw him off. Gebrel raced on, barely burdened by the bulky armor and four Swords, his muscles well conditioned to strenuous movement with extra weight.
Down the long path he ran, until at the end, he finally came to a halt before yet another obstruction. A small room, the opposite exit barricaded off, flanked on either side by enormous statues of hideous beasts. As Gebrel skidded to a halt, the eye's of the statues began to glow. "You who awaken us! You will sleep an endless sleep!" And with that, the statues began to spew fire.
Gebrel threw up his shield and Barrier, blocking the intense assault. Not good, he thought, as he slowly sank to his knees under the devestating barrage.
What can I do to stop them...
The Arrows! Sun and Moon, spoken of in prophecy. And all the prophecies I've heard about all seem to center on me...
Gebrel drew forth Aryllis' bow with his sword hand, then drew forth the Arrow of Moon, it's copper head gleaming in the light. He dove and rolled out of the way of the flames, gripping the bow and nocking it while the statues tried to realign on him. He took careful aim, and loosed... and missed.
Before Gebrel could so much as groan in disappointment, the Arrow curved in midair, aimed straight for one of the statues with unerring accuracy. The shaft plunged into one of the eyes, lodging into place with a muffled "click!" The statue's fire died down as it slowly collapsed into rubble.
The second statue fell in the same way as the first, the Arrow of Sun doing it's work. Gebrel smashed through the barricade and continued on. Up a flight of stairs, and beyond. Yet another series of catacombs awaited, populated by mutants of such hideous visage, unspeakable power, and cruel natures, that Gebrel would never bring himself to speak of them in the future, when people asked him of his adventures. The whole episode was merely gibbering terror, frantic battle, and panicked running, guided by only the shaft of light that was Mesiah's mind.
Finally, Gebrel reached the top of the Pyramid. Draygon waited for him, standing before him in starf rage. "You, Gebrel!" he seethed. "You shall receive the wrath of my fury for taking my kingdom from me!"
Gebrel cocked his head. "Wrath of my fury? Isn't that a little redundant?"
Draygon jerked back as if he'd been struck. A megalomaniac can handle opposition, but not ridicule. "You dare!"
"So what's this other form that Sabera told me about?"
"Sabera..." Draygon shuddered. "You... you killed her?"
Gebrel cocked an eyebrow. "So you did care for her. I thought you only had eyes for Asina?"
Draygon shook his head. "I already had Sabera. I wanted Asina as well."
"Always hungry for more?"
Draygon snarled. "What do you know of hunger!?"
"Well, let's find out." And with that, Gebrel nocked the Arrow of Truth to his bow and let fly. The gleaming shaft struck true, piercing the Emperor's heart.
"Nyargh!" Draygon roared, as he began to shift, his robes falling away as his body was forced back into it's true form.
"Uh...oh..." Gebrel breathed, as the reptillian monstrosity towered over him. Bat wings flexed in rage, horns jutting from a head built largely to hold a snout filled with very sharp fangs. Huge, powerful muscles flexed on his massive arms, tipped with enormous claws. With a gutteral roar, the true Emperor began hurling death magic, of the same form as Sabera's. Little doubt as to whom had taught her... Gebrel blocked the blasts, while drawing the Sword of Thunder to retaliate. The full force of the Sword slammed into Draygon... only to splash against his thick green scales.
"I will show you hunger!" he roared, voice distorted by the elongated snout. He opened his mouth, and spat forth fire. Gebrel leapt out of the way, avoiding the fiery blasts. Finally, Draygon raised his hands, shooting forth beams of light. As he did so, the scales on his chest seemed to open up, revealing his heart. Exposed by the Arrow, Gebrel realised. Now's my chance!
He charged the Sword. The Ball. The Bracelet. And fired. The blast of lightning struck true, slamming straight into the Emperor's heart. His wings spread to their widest span, his arms flying out, as his entire body went rigid with pain and electrical shock. His mouth opened, and he bellowed, a roar of pain. And loss. And hunger unsatisfied.
Finally, it was over. Gebrel stood over the Emperor's fallen form, breath heaving, as he grimly surveyed his work. Then the four Wise men appeared, teleporting in. Tornel and Kensu bore Azteca's large, damaged form, between them.
The Puba looked up at Gebrel, his obsidian eyes unblinking. "Good job! This is the way it was supposed to be... I must explain..." He shook his immense head. "I didn't want evil thoughts in my mind, and I tried to push all corrupting thoughts... away. But Draygon began to read my negative ideas and became absorbed by..." he twitched, then continued," them. The fact that you and Mesiah are awake means the Tower's cycle has begun. There's so little time." He began to crumple in on himself.
"Hold on!" Kensu implored him, clutching his master as he poured a trickle of his own energy into the Puba, trying to keep him alive. His face was free of his customary sneer, his mask of perpetual disdain erased to expose his true feelings.
Azteca reached out with one massive hand, and caressed Kensu's cheek fondly. "Kensu... I'm sorry... I feel Draygon's evil... was my fault. He saw the temptation of using his power for self glory... and evil, but I can do nothing... Now we must be apart... I'm... ... sorry... ... ..." He twitched once more, twice more, then went rigid and still.
"Azteca!" cried all the Wise men. "Azteca... ..." Kensu collapsed over the fallen Puba's body, sobbing piteously, as Asina wrapped her arms around him, seeking solace. Zebu and Tornel each fell to the side of the massive body, clutching at his robes, tears streaming freely.
Despite his distaste for the Puba, Gebrel found himself weeping as well. Not only had Azteca been comitted to the salvation of the world, but the pain of his friends tore at him. A friend's pain is my pain, Gebrel tought to himself.
Mesiah! Gebrel's head shot up, as his mind reached out to accept her call.
I'm now in the tower. Not much time! Enter into the next room! I'll take you to the tower!
I'm coming, Mesiah!
And with that, Gebrel flew over the fallen Puba and his grieving disciples, his empathy overidden by deeper, stronger imperatives. He flew into the next room, towards a crystaline chamber. Climbing inside the chamber, he expressed neither shock nor fear, when the crystal sealed itself, then-exploded!
High into the air he soared, encased in the enormous gemstone. As he flew forward, he saw his destination in the sky. The tower. He narrowed his eyes, gripped the Sword more firmly, as the crystal reached the underside of the tower, only to be caught up by an enormous metallic hand, and slowly drawn into it's belly.
Finally, the crystal came to rest in yet another chamber, and unsealed itself. He stepped out of the chamber, then out of the room in which he'd landed, finding himself out on a balcony. Over the ledge, he could see the landscape, far below. And before him, he saw a robot.
Past more robots, Gebrel moved, slamming them aside with electrical attacks, as he moved his way towards a flight of steps, that slowly moved upwards, of their own accord. Escalator, his database supplied. He stepped onto it, slowly rising, up the side. Past a complicated series of speakers and other strange devices-which began to speak. "Gebrel! Mesiah!" Gebrel whirled to face the speakers. "These messages are for you. You were both part of a team of scientists who created this tower!"
And as Gebrel stared at the speakers and devices, beams of light, tiny lasers, stabbed into his eyes. Not destructive lasers, message lasers. They burned images onto his retinas, and as they did so, he felt himself changing. Gebrel gasped, as his database began to grow... and merge, engulfing him, until the facts became memories, concrete knowledge.
"As the most critical link, you were preserved to witness our future race; to judge if there's hope for humanity..." Gebrel shuddered with fulfillment, as the process completed.
He remembered now, who he was.
"When the tower began operating, your life systems were engaged and you both were awakened."
Gebrel reached the top of the escalator, and stepped off. With newfound determination, he cast aside the battle robots, that his very colleagues had labored so long and hard to build, like cheap toys. His blade sought out the weak points and critical flaws that they'd been built with, reducing them to scrap. He reached a second escalator, mounted that as well.
"Did you find Azteca?" the speakers asked. "He was an android created by us, and programmed to lead the people in a positive direction. We can only hope he will suceed. We used up all our resources to create him. If he fails then it will be up to you to decide their fate."
Gebrel nodded, recognizing now the hand of his friends in Azteca's circuitry, revealed by the gaping wound that had destroyed him. He failed, dear friends. And yet, he suceeded as well...
Up to the next level he ascended, battering the robots aside yet again. And up another escalator. No robots barred his way now, nothing to keep him from the open door. He rushed through...
Her beautiful face and strong eyes turned to him. "Gebrel! You finally caught up with me!" She stepped back, and pointed to the floor. "Hurry, unsheath your swords and put them on the floor, or the tower's attack will begin! The Balls and Bracelets as well!"
Gebrel nodded, and drew the Sword of Wind, it's double edged blade gleaming in the artificial light. Laying it down, he placed the Tornado Bracelet atop the hilt. Next he drew the Sword of Fire, the lightly curving blade, and the Flame Bracelet. Then the Sword of Water, the thin shaft of sharp metal, and the Blizzard Bracelet. Finally, the heavy curved Sword of Thunder and the Storm Bracelet.
Mesiah raised her hands, and the objects began to raise up into the air, slowly coming together. As Gebrel watched in utter fascination, the artifacts began to merge. The metal seemed to slowly meld together, like melting at room temperature. As Gebrel watched, Mesiah continued to work, finally letting the finished work come into his hands.
"Crystalis..." Mesiah intoned, as Gebrel stared at the blade in his hands. An enormous crosspiece flew out from either side, curving towards the pommel before bending back towards the blade, in a W shape. The blade itself was the same three feet length as the blades that had been used in it's creation, but the shape was unlike any he'd seen before. A relatively narrow base flared out abruptly, leaving a striking area bulbous as a leaf shaped arrowhead, tapering into a sharp point, as sharp as the edge. A point heavy, awkward design, a design purely for offense, with no mind given to defense. Only a swordsman with a shield and magic could wield such a blade without leaving himself dangerously and foolishly exposed.
Gebrel looked up from the blade, to Mesiah. "You must destroy DYNA, the central computer," Mesiah said. "If you suceed, stick Crystalis into it's main reactor!"
"Understood." Even with the one word, Gebrel told her everything he wanted to say. She nodded, tears forming in her eyes. He fixed her with his own searing gaze. Then he turned and left. Up another escalator, to the very top of the tower. As he reached the top, the speakers issued forth one final message.
"Gebrel! Mesiah! By the time this is activated, we will no longer be alive... We hope we have made the right decisions, and that all people will realize their mistakes before it's too late. Gebrel! Mesiah! As old friends, we wish your safety. Good luck!"
"Thank you, my friends..." Gebrel whispered. Then he charged into the main chamber.
DYNA, the main computer, was a pinnacle of modern engineering. The greatest genetic computer ever created, it relied no on pathways of silicon to transmit it's messages. It's body was formed of DNA, the very stuff of life itself, using the incredibly complex and compact method by which life itself stored it's secrets. A computer faster, and more powerful, than any fashioned before it. The mass of living tissue pulsated from within a metallic casing, tubes running to and from to transfer nutrients and waste products. DYNA began to hum as Gebrel entered the room. And then attacked.
Bullets spewed from the machine guns mounted on the walls, ricocheting off Gebrel's barrier, as he pointed Crystalis and returned fire. Blasts of pure energy flew at DYNA, slamming into it's casing. DYNA responded with energy waves, slamming Gebrel with attacks of every conceivable type, from visible light to nuclear radiation. Gebrel gritted his teeth, grunted with effort, screamed in pain, as he held firm. There were no words exchanged, no fancy footwork or tricks of swordplay. Only the sheer power of each combatant, flung against each other directly, a battle not of the body, but of the mind and will. Violent energies expending themselves against each other...
Finally, Gebrel pierced the hard metal casing and energy shielding thrown up by DYNA, reaching through to the soft blob of tissue that formed it's essence. Sending his energy cascading through the blade, he blasted the genetic computer to bits. Stepping beyond the ruined husk, he reached the control systems for the main reactor, two raised panels mounted over the heavy metal plate that formed the door to the reactor, a heavy knob in it's center, meant to be connected to a mechanical arm to be lowered into place, once and forever. Gebrel stood over that sealed portal, and the awful energies imprisoned within. Then, reversing Crystalis in his grip, he raised the blade high overhead. And with a roar of effort, and of triumph, he plunged it home.
The sword plunged through the knob, through the door, and beyond. As it settled in, the inner compulsions that had driven Gebrel so long and so far, finally ceased, his intended labors finally at an end. He sighed with contentment... as a soft rumbling began, and a voice began to issue forth from the speakers. "CONFIRMED MELTDOWN..." Uh oh... thought Gebrel.
"SELF-DESTRUCT HAS BEEN INITIATED..." UH OH...
Gebrel heard footsteps rushing forward, and he whirled to see Mesiah running towards him. "Gebrel!"
"Mesiah!" As she came into range, he reached out and engulfed her in a fierce hug. Rather than rebuffing him as she had on their previous encounter, she clung to him, possesively, resting her head on his shoulder.
And why shouldn't she? Now that they both remembered?
Finally, she drew back. "Did you get hurt?"
Gebrel smiled, and rested his forehead on hers. "No, I'm fine."
Mesiah returned the smile. "The danger is now over, Gebrel..."
Gebrel sighed. "It would be nice to rest easy from now on, without the threat of evil at our backs." He squeezed her a little more firmly, and she squealed and gripped him in turn. He bent his head towards her for a kiss...
"FINAL COUNTDOWN INITIATED... EVACUATE... EXPLOSIVES ACTIVATED... EVACUATE... 30... 29... 28... 27..."
Gebrel jerked back. "Time to leave!"
Mesiah nodded, releasing him. "I'm with you..." They turned and raced out of the far chamber. Reaching the balcony, they looked down, seeing the ground far beneath them.
Gebrel looked up at Mesiah, eyes panicked. "I used up too much energy. I can't teleport."
Mesiah gripped him tightly. "I'm not leaving you behind. Not ever again!"
Gebrel nodded, tears shimmering. "Any ideas?"
Mesiah, looked down at the terrain, far, far below. "I can't fly..."
Gebrel swallowed, then inspiration struck. "I have the skill, and you have the power. Come here..." he took her up in his arms, reaching out with his mind. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and joined her mind to him.
It was a sensation far beyond that of the Wise men. Friends, even beloved friends, could not compare to this. Their minds merged in the way that lovers strive for, that all men and women long for, the joining of two souls into one. Caught up in their love, their lips touched each other, both of them barely conscious of the outside world, barely able to notice as Gebrel leapt off the balcony, as their shared powers guided them down, in a gently glide to the ground below. Through the sky they fell, joined in their passionate embrace. To the soft turf below.
As they landed, Gebrel's knees buckled with love and desire, his body collapsing to the grass, Mesiah landing on top of him. Finally their lips parted. They glanced about, noting that they'd landed in the plains of the Rabbits, north of Sahara.
Mesiah smiled. "You can let me go now."
Gebrel grinned in turn. "But I won't." He held her tightly. "I'm never letting you go again."
Mesiah's eyes brimmed with tears, even as she continued to smile. "So... you've remembered who you are..."
"And you, as well..." His hands managed to move, even though his arms did not. Stroking interesting places, eliciting interesting sensations. She squirmed and kissed him again.
Drawing apart once more, he whispered, "who'd have thought I'd fall in love with my own wife, all over again?"
"Yes." Mesiah smiled, a wicked gleam in her eye, then she murmered in his ear, suggestively. "Read for that second honeymoon?"
She drew in once more. And did not draw back again.
(Author's note: Unfortunately, Constance Drachenfals, whose excellent job of literary criticism helped me in honing the rough drafts of the Crystal Conundrums series, has ceased his correspondance for some reason. If the quality of this work has suffered in the final chapter, I apologize.
I may do an epilogue, describing events that took place after the end of the game, if I receieve enough polite requests to do so. The e-mail address that I use for such, is Archone89144@yahoo.com).