"All right you two, we’re going NOW."
Xeiss preferred to change the subject. "Why do you have an arrow sticking out of your shoulder?"
"It’s none of your business, now MOVE!"
"I’d like to know what’s going on first."
Phena scowled and broke off the end of the arrow, pulling the back part out the way it came and holding the arrowhead and the front part of the arrow in Xeiss’ hand. "Your friends enlisted Kashya’s help."
Celes perked up. "They’re HERE?"
"Don’t get your hopes up. They’re dead by now. Now get a move on."
Xeiss smiled. "You’re lying. They’re on their way here."
Phena moved over to Xeiss and grabbed her by the throat, holding the point of the arrow in her hand against Xeiss’s neck. "How would you like to die before they arrive, HUH?"
"I’d prefer it to becoming a monster like you."
Phena, furious, pushed Xeiss backwards into the sarcophagus she had been leaning against. She fell in, and Phena held her down as Xeiss kicked and screamed frantically to get out.
Celes sprang into action. "Let go of her!" Celes ran over and pushed Phena, who had been unprepared for the assault, out of the way.
Xeiss sprang to her feet, her weakness from hunger overcome by her fear of the sarcophagus closing in on her. When she looked towards Phena, she saw that Phena held Celes firmly so she couldn’t escape, and had the arrow pointing at her heart.
"So you’d rather DIE than come with me, is that it? Well what about her? You’d rather see her die than come with me? You know our methods, Xeiss. You know how painful I can make it for her. How much agony I can cause her to suffer. Now, will you come or will I have to get nasty?"
Xeiss looked at Celes and sighed. Carefully climbing out of the sarcophagus, she walked past Phena without looking at her and moved towards the door. Phena moved behind her, still holding Celes at arrowpoint. Xeiss knew where they were going, and didn’t have to be directed as they exited the room. She only hoped she could help someone else know as well. As she walked down the hallway towards their destination, she closed her eyes and began to concentrate.
The door opened before the party, revealing a dark room illuminated only by Glitterspike’s glitter. Cobwebs were everywhere, and the long-dead skeletons lay in both magnificent marble sarcophaguses and niches in the wall as well as sprawled across the floor. The party began their trek through the room slowly, but upon hearing the sounds of the army of rogues behind them, quickened their pace.
Intruder was breathing heavily. "We can’t possibly keep running like this!"
Everyone turned towards Fuji, who had made the proclamation, confused.
"Intruder, you will stay with me and hold them off while the others run."
Intruder gulped. "I think I’d rather continue running."
Fuji smiled. "Come now, Intruder. We’re in a crypt filled with skeletons. What better place for two necromancers to hold off an attack?"
"Well, you do have something resembling a point."
Shin Hikaru nodded. "Good. We will continue on. Be sure to run when the force becomes too overwhelming."
D stepped forward. "I will stay behind as well."
Fuji turned. "Why?"
"To watch you and make sure you don’t try anything."
"You wouldn’t trust me if I was the last vampire in the world, would you?"
"I’d kill you if you were the last vampire in the world, just to get rid of the race."
"You’re half vampire."
"Not out of choice."
"You think I had a choice?"
Kashya interrupted. "STOP FIGHTING!" Once the party was quiet, she ushered most of it on while the necromancers began raising the skeletons scattered about the room.
Shin turned to Kashya "How close are we?"
"If we don’t hurry, we will become further and further away. Xeiss and Celes are being taken to Andariel’s throne room to be corrupted as we speak."
"How do you know?"
"I don’t know, I just have this inclination to go there, and if I’m not mistaken, the inclination was given to me by Xeiss."
Shin looked confused for a moment, then nodded. "Come on, let’s hurry."
Scarlet looked up as someone entered the room. It was a woman, not corrupted like all the others, but normal. Actually, she seemed a bit skinny, even malnourished, but other than that she walked into the room without so much as a stumble. Behind her, two more women entered the room, one, also not corrupted, was being led by a corrupted woman who had some sort of weapon in her hand. Another corrupted woman, who had already been inside the room, moved toward the woman being led and took her aside. However, Scarlet’s eyes were fixed on the first.
The first woman had moved forward, stepping towards an altar in the center of the room. She knew what she was supposed to do, but stood there, staring at the altar with hatred. She turned her head, looking around the room. She saw the corrupted woman behind her, smiling, and then her eyes turned toward the second woman. Finally, her eyes fell upon Scarlet.
The woman’s gaze was held long on Scarlet, causing her to stir uncomfortably. The woman seemed confused for a moment as she gazed at Scarlet, then her eyes widened. Scarlet knew it was impossible, but somehow she knew it was true. This woman knew who she was. Then she realized it was not impossible. This woman was Xeiss.
Scarlet pulled against her chains, trying to free herself, but this only resulting in the chain around her neck choking her in retaliation. The woman, Xeiss, backed away at the movement of Scarlet, slightly afraid. The corrupted woman behind her frowned.
"Pay no attention to her. She is to be corrupted after you have already joined us. Now lay on the altar."
Xeiss looked at the altar again, knowing that she would be forced to obey eventually, but was still hesitant. She closed her eyes and shook her head, unable to lose her life, her true life, willingly.
"Get on the altar. NOW."
The voice, while female, boomed throughout the room, shaking those unfamiliar with it to the bone. Xeiss stepped back as a demonic woman, rising far above her, stepped forward toward the altar, a sharp, black dagger in her hand, awaiting its plunge into the body of its victim.
Xeiss continued to back away, but this time Phena stood behind her. Phena grabbed Xeiss by the arms, and Xeiss struggled with all her might to break free. However, Phena’s strength and Xeiss’ weakness from hunger caused the battle to be a short one. Xeiss was soon out of breath, and Phena lifted her in her arms and placed her on the altar, Xeiss still trying to squirm out of Phena’s grip.
"Who are you?"
Scarlet turned toward the voice, and saw the second woman had been chained up next to her. Since she had come in with Xeiss, there was only one person she could be.
"You’re Celes, right?"
"Yes… how did you know that?"
"I came with the rest of your party to rescue you… but I was caught while scouting."
"And Andariel plans the same fate for you as she does for… we have to escape somehow. We can’t let her take Xeiss!"
Scarlet nodded, but inwardly she was smiling. Xeiss already knew who Scarlet was, but soon Xeiss would be taken care of. Unfortunately, Scarlet would be taken care of soon afterward.
Scarlet turned toward the new voice, one that was surprisingly masculine in a monastery filled with women. As she turned she saw it was a man, one with dark clothing, two swords strapped to his back, and glowing eyes. He was concentrating deeply on a vial of liquid in his hand, pouring a drop or two on Scarlet’s chains. Amazingly, the liquid burned through the chains and Scarlet’s hand was suddenly released. She was shocked, to say the least.
"Acid. The only weakness of these magical chains. Works well on normal chains too, of course."
"But she said they couldn’t be broken by anything…"
"Come now, you seriously think she would have told you that you could have used acid on them?"
The mysterious man finished his work on her chains, and began working on Celes’. Meanwhile, Scarlet watched as Andariel and Phena chained Xeiss to the altar, considering whether to help her. Xeiss would tell the others who Scarlet was, but Scarlet wanted more than anything to get back at Andariel.
She turned back to the man, who had released Celes by now. "How did you know my name?"
"That is of no consequence right now. Take Celes out of here. I will rescue Xeiss."
"You still haven’t told me who you are. Besides, I want revenge on Andariel myself."
"I know what your intentions are, and they aren’t just to kill Andariel. Now GO."
Scarlet wanted to know how he could possibly know anything about her, but he ran off before she could ask.
"That’s Kain. He’s always like that. Come on."
Scarlet, looking back at Kain once more, followed Celes out of the room quickly and quietly. The two of them ran down the hallway for some time, until Scarlet realized she was alone.
"Scarlet, wait up!"
Scarlet turned, seeing Celes stumble her way towards her. She was leaning against the wall, exhausted. Scarlet rolled her eyes and walked back towards her.
"You’re out of shape."
"I haven’t been fed in a couple of weeks."
Scarlet’s eyes widened as she feigned ignorance. "What? Why?"
"Part of some purification process you have to go through before you’re corrupted."
"Oh, I see. Well catch your breath and let’s hurry. We don’t want Andariel finding us."
Scarlet moved behind Celes, as if looking to their rear anxiously as if Andariel would seriously follow them. In actuality, she just wanted to get a good shot. She reached down and took a dagger out of her boot, a dagger which had not been found and removed by the rogues for some reason. She walked calmly towards Celes’ exposed back, dagger raised for the kill…
Meanwhile, Kain walked calmly towards Andariel, who had completed chaining Xeiss to the altar and held the black dagger above her head, ready to strike. As Xeiss struggled with the remnants of her strength against the chains, she saw Kain and looked at him with pleading eyes. Without a word, he unsheathed the two swords on his back and prepared to strike.
The noise, however slight, of his blades being unsheathed alerted Andariel to his presence. Spinning around, she moved her dagger just in time to block Kain’s blades. As the dagger, flowing with evil energy, touched Kain’s swords, his eyes flared up as lightning flew through them, almost threatening to shoot out of them towards Andariel.
Kain prepared to strike again, but suddenly he found himself under attack on two sides. Phena had joined the battle, attacking with a sword of her own. Kain backed away slightly as he fought Phena, and Andariel turned back to the ritual. Kain knew he had to stop Andariel before she finished, but Phena was standing between him and the Maiden of Anguish. Protecting himself with his swords, he dove past Phena, not at Andariel but at the altar. He swung one of his swords at the chains which bound Xeiss to the altar, and amazingly the sword passed through them in one swipe. As Andariel’s arms, holding the dagger, came down upon Xeiss, she instinctively moved out of the way. Since she was no longer held down on her right side, she rolled off the altar and onto the floor, the dagger hitting the solid stone altar instead of piercing Xeiss’s flesh.
Andariel roared in anger and turned toward Xeiss, who was on the floor. She was still chained to the altar by the chain on her left hand, and try as she might she could not break it. Andariel attacked Xeiss again with the dagger, but this time it was blocked by Kain’s sword. His eyes streaked with lightning once again as he pushed Andariel back and held one of the blades high, slicing it down through Xeiss’s chain and releasing her. As he did, he felt an immense pain in his side as Phena pierced her sword into his body. As Phena pulled out her sword, Kain struggled to remain on his feet.
Kain turned back towards Xeiss, a hint of pain in his voice. "Run…"
Xeiss nodded and managed to rise to her feet and run from the room. Kain turned toward Andariel and Phena, ready for battle, even though he was already injured. As Xeiss ran out the door, she heard Kain let out a scream of agony.
"What was that?"
Celes suddenly turned, barely giving Scarlet enough time to hide the dagger behind her back. "What? I didn’t hear anything."
In the silence of the empty hallways, there was a distinct clatter of a group approaching from a nearby corridor. Scarlet revealed the dagger behind her back and held a finger to her lips for silence. Standing near the corner which they could hear the group coming from, she lied in wait for an ambush. Just as the figures entered the hallway, she leaped forward to attack.
There was a flurry of activity, and Scarlet soon found herself pushing one of the members of the group up against the wall with her dagger at his throat. Then she saw who it was.
Shin looked back at her, shocked. "Scarlet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
Scarlet let him go, putting away her dagger. "Sorry, we thought you were rogues coming to kill us or something."
Scarlet gestured back toward Celes, but then saw she wasn’t there. The group heard the distinct sound of footsteps running away.
Scarlet ran after her. "Come on!"
Celes had run as soon as she had seen the group. Under the influence of Exile’s spell, she had seen the party as a group of people accompanied by 2 demons. What scared her even more was that Scarlet seemed to know one of the demons and was talking with him. Celes looked behind her, hoping they would not catch up with her.
Unfortunately, she soon lost any strength she had from the hunger she had suffered. She slowed to a walk and then to a labored limp as she still tried to run but barely had the strength to walk. She could hear them catching up to her, but she could not quicken her pace.
From a corridor to her left, she saw someone approaching. At first she was scared she would be surrounded, but then Celes realized it was Xeiss. Moving towards her, Xeiss seemed as exhausted as Celes was.
"I can’t run any more. What do I need to run from NOW?"
"Demons! They’re chasing me!"
"2 demons, and Scarlet is working with them."
Xeiss frowned, knowing more about Scarlet than Celes did. "I know. Well we can’t run, so we’ll have to fight. Do you think you can try to cast some spells?"
"I’ll try, but I’m so hungry I barely have the strength to walk, much less cast spells."
"You’ll have to try, here they come."
The group came around to corner, but instead of Shin Hikaru and Atlas the two of them saw 2 horned demons walking towards them.
The first demon, for some odd reason, spoke with Atlas’ voice. "Celes, what’s wrong? It’s me, Atlas!"
Celes frowned. "You have Atlas’ voice, but you are NOT Atlas."
"What do you mean I’m not Atlas? Who else would I be?"
"You’re a demon!"
"What? I am not!"
"Yes you are! And I won’t let you try to trick me with that voice either!"
Celes raised her hands in the air and then pointed them toward Atlas, who she saw as a demon. A fireball shot from her hands, but it was small and when it hit Atlas it barely even singed him. Celes, exhausted, fell to the ground.
Scarlet stood behind the group of "demons" wondering what was going on. She heard someone snickering nearby, and went to investigate. To her surprise, in a nearby, dark hallway, she found a demon looking at her, grinning.
"Having fun watching the group sort THIS mess out, Scarlet?"
"In the flesh."
"What are you doing here? And what is happening to those two?"
"I cast a spell on them earlier so that when they rejoined their party, it would look like those they knew were demons instead of friends. Entertaining, isn’t it?"
"So YOU’RE the one responsible! Dispel the magic this instant!"
"Because Andariel is trying to kill me, and I want to get out of here as soon as possible, that’s why! I can’t get out of here when the group won’t band together!"
Exile smiled. "Oh, too bad for you then."
"Dispel the magic. NOW."
Exile rolled his eyes. "Oh very well. I’ll have to use a form I… borrowed a few days ago. Hold on a second."
Exile’s shape began to morph, his skin changing to that of a human, and clothes beginning to form. Scarlet watched as a purple robe began to form from his skin, and long hair emerged from his skull. Soon he was the exact likeness of a woman they had met earlier in the rogue encampment, Akara. Exile did not pause in moving past Scarlet towards the party.
Exile spoke with the voice of Akara from behind the party, startling them. "It seems we have a problem."
Kashya seemed the most shocked of all the party. "Akara! What are you doing here?"
"This may be hard to believe, but I had a vision of Xeiss and Celes placed under a spell by a demon, one that blinded them to the truth and gave them false illusions of it."
Atlas frowned. "Well that certainly seems to be the case here."
"Allow me to pass and I will see if I can dispel the evil magic."
Atlas nodded and moved out of the way, and Exile moved towards the two women who were under his spell. He looked at Xeiss especially, and Xeiss looked back, confused.
Exile silently nodded. "Yes. You have been placed under a spell so your friends look like demons. Come and let me dispel the illusion."
Exile raised his hands, and as he did, Xeiss looked at him strangely. She was concentrating, reading the mind of who she saw was Akara, but who she knew wasn’t. Exile’s mind confirmed her hunch.
"You’re not Akar…"
Exile’s spell was completed, and Xeiss stopped in mid-sentence. Her eyes blinked twice, and as they slowly opened the second time, they were glowing a dim red color. Celes seemed similarly affected by the spell.
Exile smiled. "Dispel one spell only to invoke another. I didn’t tell Scarlet about THIS spell, the one that places you under my control. Now it’s time to make you vicious."
Exile reached his hands out, and instantly he held two swords, one in each hand. He gave them to Xeiss, who grasped them eagerly.
"Now go, my new minions, and may you be nourished so you can complete your task."
Exile heard Atlas’s voice behind him. "You almost done Mrs.… umm… Akara?"
Exile began laughing, first with the voice of Akara, then slowly with the voice of Exile. He turned back to the group, his eyes glowing red to match Xeiss’ and Celes’. "You fools. Humans are always so susceptible to illusion."
Shin recognised the voice. "EXILE! If you’ve come to fight us, you’ve come to die!"
"Ah, but I haven’t come to fight you, not personally. Xeiss! Celes! Kill them!"
The two women stepped forward, and Celes pointed a finger toward Atlas. A crackling bolt of electricity flew from her hand and hit Atlas in the chest, knocking him backwards.
Exile smiled. "I cured their malnourished bodies just so they could more efficiently fight you. You should be honored."
As Xeiss and Celes advanced on the party, another group approached them from behind. It was Intruder, Fuji, and D. They seemed out of breath, but Fuji reported to the rest of the party, "We couldn’t hold them off any longer. The rogues are coming."
Intruder looked at Xeiss and Celes. "Ah, I see you found those two…"
Intruder suddenly had to duck to avoid a fireball aimed at his face. "HEY! WHAT DID I DO?"
Shin drew his sword as he spoke to Intruder. "They’re under the control of Exile."
"Oh, well this day just keeps going from bad to worse, doesn’t it?"
D pointed down the hallway behind them with his sword. "Here they come!"
The rogues had entered the hallway, at least 20 of them, all anxious to kill the intruders. The party prepared for a battle on both fronts, with one front that included their own. For once Intruder’s cynicism was accurate. The day was going from bad to worse.