Ethon, however, stepped forward. The arrows bounced harmlessly off his armor as he raised his gatling lazer. Only a slight hum from the weapon gave a warning for what was about to happen. Red light filled the corridor, and the rogues screamed and tried to avoid the powerful weapon. Some were lucky and escaped the blast, but a large portion were turned to cinders as the powerful lazers vaporized their skin and bone, leaving only piles of ashes on the ground. Ethon released the trigger, having cleared the hallway of the rogues, and smiled.
Then Ethon turned slightly, having seen something out of the corner of his eye. He turned just in time to see one of the corrupted women who had used her agility and dexterity to avoid the lazer and get close to Ethon. Then a solid stone warhammer, held in the woman’s hands, smashed the side of Ethon’s face. He dropped the gatling lazer and fell to the ground, unconscious.
On the other side of the party, Celes held out a hand and an explosion rocked the hallway. The wall tumbled down and the rocks collapsed on Atlas, who pushed the rocks away and lifted himself to his feet, bruised and battered but not about to go down without a fight.
"Celes, stop this! Exile’s not your master!"
Celes paid him no heed. Pointing the palms of her hands toward him, she unleashed a jet of flame which flew from her hands and directed the flames toward Atlas.
The rogue who held the hammer which had knocked out Ethon now lay on the floor herself, slain by D’s sword. With Ethon out of the way, the rogues who had dodged the blast from his weapon ran back into the hallway, shooting at the party with arrows. The party dove for cover once again, and the arrows continued to fire, but the party could not dodge them all. Shin screamed as an arrow pierced his shoulder. He pulled it out quickly, wincing as he did.
Shin tried to fight back the pain as he shouted to the rest of the party. "We have to fight back!"
Mercy was hiding behind Glitterspike and his shield for protection. "We can’t get close enough, and we all use swords!"
Severen grinned. "Well, Ethon had the right idea, let’s use it." He went over to Ethon’s unconscious body and picked up a small object that was attached to his power suit. It was his plasma pistol.
"You don’t know how to use that!" Mercy said, sure that he would end up shooting one of them.
"I’m sure I can figure it out. Intruder, Fuji, you think you could give me some cover, like a darkness spell or something?
The two necromancers nodded, and began waving their hands. A black fog began to fill the hallway in between the two groups, so that they could no longer see each other. Severen turned back toward the party and made a gesture to follow, just before running into the black cloud.
Four swords clashed as Xeiss and Kashya met in combat. Both swung with amazing accuracy and quickness, and each defended in the same manner. Through years of practice, both were experts at their art, and both matched each other blow for blow.
Kashya spoke between swings. "I taught you everything you know, Xeiss. You cannot defeat me."
"On the contrary. Age has sapped your strength and your speed, plus I have learned much in my travels that you will never discover."
"That’s your problem Xeiss. You’re too cocky!"
Kashya faked Xeiss out and managed to get a blow in, slicing a small gash into Xeiss’s arm, which released a small trickle of blood.
Kashya smiled. "First blood. Do I win?"
"It’s not a fight until first blood. It’s a fight to the death!"
Nearby, Atlas dodged out of the way of Celes’ inferno, but Celes did not extinguish her flames. She continued her attack, smiling.
Her smile disappeared as she saw a woman walking through the flames. She had no indication of pain, and did not seem to notice the deadly fire about her. She walked resolutely toward Celes, not even drawing a weapon. Celes stepped back as she saw the woman was Scarlet, but Scarlet reached out and grabbed her wrists. Celes tried to wrestle free, but Scarlet’s grip was too strong. Scarlet pushed Celes up against the wall and stared directly at her. Celes stared back, directly into Scarlet’s eyes.
The eyes of the dragon were clear now, thin slits of pupils staring back at Celes menacingly. The pupils changed color and expanded, widening and mesmerizing Celes. Celes thought she could see the eyes spinning, drawing her in, sucking her into them, never to return.
A voice entered Celes’ mind. :::Your mind is controlled by a presence not your own. I drive that presence out, for I replace it with a presence of my own. Celes, you are now under my control. When I command, you will obey. You will never attempt to harm me or betray me, and you reveal to no one of this link between us. You will retain your mind and all your free will, but when I tell you to do something, you must do everything within your power to carry my wish out. You are my servant, and I own you. Begin your service.:::
Celes blinked, but this time her eyes did not glow. She looked at Scarlet, surprised.
"What are you doing, Scarlet? Let me go!"
Scarlet stepped back, releasing Celes. "You were under the control of a demon named Exile. I dispelled his mind control. Now go help the others before they succumb to the corrupted rogues. And I suggest you apologize to Atlas as well."
Celes silently nodded, and ran back towards the group. Scarlet smiled as she watched Celes go, not only because Celes wanted to help the group, but because she had to. Scarlet had commanded her. Scarlet then turned toward another battle going on, one between two female warriors, two Sisters.
"And now for Xeiss."
Severen rushed through the cloud, firing the plasma pistol before him as he went. He heard the tortured screams of his victims, and somehow the party suspected that he wasn’t hitting the rogues out of pure luck, even though the rest of them couldn’t see a thing. Then, as suddenly as they had entered the cloud, they left it. They found themselves in the midst of the rogues. Both sides were surprised, except for Severen of course. Tucking the plasma pistol under his belt, he drew two daggers and attacked one of the corrupted women before she could move. The rest of the group followed suit, attacking with their swords as the rogues, not able to fight in melee combat with bows, tried to run.
Severen considered running after them, but instead took out a rag from within his clothing, and began cleaning off his bloodstained daggers.
Both Xeiss and Kashya had taken more cuts from the other’s blade, but continued to fight. Xeiss saw Kashya was tiring, and took advantage of this fact. Attacking more aggressively, she soon had Kashya up against the wall. However, in a wild swing, she left her lower body unguarded. Kashya ducked quickly and rammed herself directly into Xeiss’ stomach, causing Xeiss to fall backwards onto the floor. Kashya stood over her, holding one of her swords at Xeiss’ throat.
"Do you wish to surrender now, Xeiss?"
Xeiss scowled. "That’s your problem, Kashya. Afraid to finish the job!"
Xeiss swiped at Kashya with one of her swords which she had managed to keep in her hand even as she fell to the floor. Kashya fell back, the sword still embedded into her side, and leaned against the wall, then slid to the floor. Xeiss rose to her feet and stepped toward Kashya, ready to take the sword back out and make a killing blow.
Xeiss was suddenly knocked off balance by a large object hitting her from the side. She fell to the floor as she was tackled by someone, and although she struggled to get off the floor, she was held down by the figure on top of her, Scarlet.
"GET OFF, DRAGON!"
Scarlet scowled and looked around, seeing if any of the party had heard. They were all off busy fighting the rogues, so she turned back to Xeiss and stared into her eyes. Xeiss stared back, at first with hate, then with a mesmerized look.
Scarlet entered Xeiss’ head. :::Your service to Exile ends now, and your service to me begins. You are now under my control, Xeiss, and will obey every command I give you to the utmost of your ability. You will never again read my mind, and you will never, ever tell the group the truth about me, for you will forget everything you have discovered about me from my mind. I am your friend. I am also your master, but you will tell no one this. You will act normally, but you will never disobey me. Now awake, my servant.:::
Xeiss shook her head and looked at Scarlet, confused, her eyes no longer red. "Who are you?"
"I am Scarlet. I am a friend of your group, and I just removed the mind control spell a demon named Exile placed on you." Scarlet rose to her feet and allowed Xeiss to do so as well. She then silently looked over at Kashya, who was leaned against the wall, the sword wound bleeding profusely. Xeiss followed her gaze.
Xeiss’ eyes grew wide with shock. "Kashya!"
Xeiss knelt down next to the injured woman, examining her wound. Unless treated, Kashya would die. Unfortunately, Kashya would not be able to move with it either. Tears began to form in the corners of Xeiss’ eyes. "Kashya… who did this to you…?"
Xeiss looked at Kashya’s face, into her eyes, and saw the truth, without reading her mind. She backed away, refusing to believe the truth. She then gazed down and saw the bloody sword, and knew she had held it, and had driven it through Kashya. Falling to her knees, she tried unsuccessfully to treat the wound, and keep Kashya from dying, tears streaming down her face the whole time.
Xeiss looked up at Kashya’s face, and surprisingly she was smiling. Kashya looked down, and Xeiss followed her gaze. In Kashya’s hands she saw the two sword blades she had held at her belt for as long as Xeiss had known her. They were magnificently engraved, not with decorative jewels or the like, but with an intricate carving of the symbol of the Circle of Sisters, a closed eye with an arrow going through it. Kashya lifted these swords and placed them in Xeiss’ hands. As she lifted them, Xeiss felt their weight and balance, perfectly crafted for the art of two-weapon combat. It took her a moment to realize this offering.
"No… no Kashya, you’re not going to die. I’m going to get you out of here, and…"
Kashya shook her head. "You have bested me in battle. You… you shall take my place."
"No, Kashya, I can never take your place…"
"You must… and you will."
The sound of footsteps approaching was heard as the rest of the party approached. Even Ethon had regained consciousness and followed the group. They all ran up to Xeiss, staring down at Kashya’s bleeding body.
Shin was shocked, and drew his sword to fight Xeiss should she attack them. "Xeiss…"
Xeiss turned, tears in her eyes, at the party. "Someone, please help her!"
Glitterspike stepped forward and kneeled down next to Kashya, sighing. "This is beyond my power…"
Xeiss grabbed onto his arm. "Please!"
Glitterspike sighed, and lay his hands on Kashya’s wound. Healing energy entered his hands, but as the energy flowed into the wound, Kashya let out a scream of pain. He pulled his hands away, shaking his head. "It is beyond my power. I would only be causing her more pain."
Intruder was looking behind them. "Everybody, we have to get out of here! Those reinforcements we ran from will arrive any second!"
Kashya looked up at Xeiss, a pleading look in her eyes. "Xeiss… you can’t let them take me. They’ll turn me into… one of those… things…"
Xeiss shook her head, knowing what Kashya would ask her to do but not wanting to believe it.
Kashya took a deep breath. "You must… kill me, Xeiss."
"No! No, I won’t kill you!"
"Xeiss, would you leave me here to become one of them?"
"No… I… I can’t…"
Intruder’s voice entered her ears. "Xeiss, we have to leave now!"
"Please… Xeiss…" Kashya moaned, still in pain.
Xeiss closed her eyes, unable to look down at the pain she had caused. Within the darkness of her closed eyes, she saw the image of Phena, corrupted, and the monster she had become. Phena’s features slowly melted and reformed into that of another woman, into the body of Kashya, corrupted like all the other rogues. She saw the scar in Kashya’s chest pulsate and feed on the dark energy of Andariel, and saw the black dagger driving through the wound, Andariel’s wicked hands driving the blade home.
Xeiss stabbed quickly and painlessly with the sword into Kashya’s body, and Kashya let out a breathless sigh as the last of her life left her body. Xeiss let out a cry of anguish as if she had been stabbed herself, as if the hilt she held in her hands was in fact the blade, and she had driven it through her own heart, corrupting herself not with the demonic essence of Andariel, but corrupting herself with the sins of betrayal and murder.
A hand grabbed her arm, and she heard the whispers of Scarlet. "Come, we must flee now."
Xeiss, unable to disobey, felt her feet move beneath her, her legs running with all the strength she had. Xeiss did not even look forward, instead only following the hand that held her arm, the arm with the pure, clean sword that Kashya had given to her. In the other hand she held the other sword Kashya had given her, covered with her dying blood.
Xeiss did not remember the escape after that, nor did she remember the journey down the mountain. She simply found herself the next morning asleep in a tent, awakening to a ray of sunlight entering through the flap. As her eyes opened and focused on the small tent that surrounded her, she saw another woman in the room. She knew instantly who she was by the color of her garb, which was a distinct, yet slightly faded, purple.
Xeiss lifted her hands, and saw she still held the two blades in her hand, one clean and pure, and the other stained with the dried blood of Kashya.
Akara spoke. "Last night, when you fell asleep, you would not let them go, no matter how much we tried to pry them out of your hands."
Xeiss opened her clenched fists, and the sweat from gripping the swords for so long caused the swords to stick for a moment before falling from her hands onto the ground. She held her hands to her face and sobbed into them. Akara sat down next to her and allowed Xeiss to cry into her shoulder.
Xeiss’ voice was filled with as much sorrow as her eyes. "I… I killed her…"
Akara’s voice was comforting, as close to a mother’s voice as Xeiss had ever known. "Kashya knew before the mission that she would probably die, you were right to grant her last wish in not letting her become corrupted."
"But she… she was like a mother to me… just like you… I.. I’ve lost her, and by my own hand…"
"No, you lost her at the hands of those who have become corrupted, and at the hands of that demon."
"But I was the weapon… I was the murderer…"
"You defeated her in combat, as she wished to die. She knew someday she would be defeated, and now she has passed on her legacy to the victor of that battle. That is why she gave you her swords, Xeiss. You are to carry on her legacy, and become the greatest warrior the Circle of Sisters has ever known, just like she was."
"I… I can’t… she taught me all I know. Without her…"
"You must learn to live on without her."
"How can I just… forget her?"
"You can’t. You mustn’t. Never forget her, but live on with her in your spirit."
Akara reached down and grasped the bloodstained sword, and placed it in Xeiss’ hands, the blood-stained blade resting in her palms. "With this blood you become one with all those before you. Quisque versis unus."
Xeiss’ grip on the blade tightened. Without so much as a flinch, she began to dig the blade into her flesh, her blood mingling with that already on the sword. Then, a single, final tear fell from the corner of her eye, landing on the sword and mingling with the dried blood.
Xeiss slowly rose to her feet. She reached over to a table nearby and lifted her scabbards, attaching them to her belt. She sheathed the bloodstained sword, then bent down and picked up the other sword, sheathing it as well. Akara placed a hand on Xeiss’ shoulder.
"When will you be back?"
Xeiss closed her eyes. "I will come back after my work is done, and kill Andariel."
"And after that?"
"After that… I can never return."
Xeiss exited the tent, her left hand grasping the hilt of the blood-stained sword at her belt. She walked through the encampment, not even glancing at the Sisters she passed by. She did not even notice as she passed by the party, which was already ready to go. Shin rushed up behind her.
"Xeiss, are you all right?"
Xeiss remained silent, continuing her trek. She was exiting the encampment.
"Where are you going, Xeiss?"
Xeiss did not even turn her head to answer. "To Exile."