"Do you know those you trust?
Can you see the secret parts of their mind?
Friends and enemies are found
In places least expected."
Enshrouded in the trees, Triesque could hardly believe what he was seeing. It had to be a trick, an illusion. Maybe Scarlet was under Exile's spell, like Celes and Xeiss had been. Then he remembered what Scarlet had just said about that. He shook his head. This had to be a trick. He did the only thing he could think of. Lowering his horn, he charged at the little boy, who barely had time to duck out of the way.
"What a mean horsie! I'm outta here!" cried Exile, who quickly skipped down the path and disappeared into the trees.
Scarlet screamed in fury, the scream sounding like a roar. She lifted both her arms over her head out of habit, and a blaze of fire streamed toward Triesque, who barely had time to jump out of the way. Unwilling to fight Scarlet, he did not charge her. Scarlet, however, could think nothing other than destroying Triesque once and for all. She stared at him, and a fire sprouted up from the ground, quickly encircling him.
Triesque neighed and reared, spooked by the flames. Whenever he got close to one wall, it would flare up in an eerie blue color. Despite the warning not to use his powers for a week, Triesque tried to dispel the flames with a beam from his horn, and quickly regretted it, a wave of dizziness threatening to send him into unconsciousness. He looked dolefully at Scarlet.
"Time for you to die once and for all, unicorn." Scarlet glowered at Triesque, then smiled in triumph. She raised her bow, preparing to shoot Triesque through the heart with an arrow, when suddenly she was tackled from the side, the blow knocking her to the ground. Her concentration broken, the flames around Triesque suddenly went out, and Triesque took off running as fast as he could, spooked even more.
Mercy wrestled the bow away from Scarlet, then Scarlet overcame her surprise and quickly threw Mercy off. They both stood up quickly and brushed themselves off. The rest of the party, minus Intruder and Cobalt for some reason, was right behind Mercy.
"So this is what you do when you're 'scouting ahead', eh, Scarlet?" Sereven crossed his arms and glared at her. "I think you owe us all an explanation, and it had better be a good one."
As Scarlet looked at the faces all staring at her, she realized she couldn't wait any longer. She had to act now. Her cover was blown. She drew in a deep breath. "I have only one thing to say... Glitterspike. Poštovati mene." Scarlet grinned as she spoke the keyword for waking up the Mind Control placed on Glitterspike. "Xeiss. Celes. Glitterspike. Protect me. Protect each other. Fight them. Take them alive if reasonably possible. Say nothing until I tell you to."
Glitterspike, Celes, and Xeiss slowly stepped forward and turned around, to face the rest of the party, standing side by side next to Scarlet. Atlas was too shocked to say anything, and grabbed Celes' wrist. Celes slapped him. Atlas let go, shocked and puzzled. "Celes? What are you doing!" Celes didn't say a word. Scarlet simply smiled. She didn't even have her bow raised.
Suddenly, three flaming rings shot up around Sereven, one around his legs, one around his chest, and one around his neck. They were placed in such a way that if he moved he would burn himself to death. The plasma pistol flew from his belt, where he had stashed it, and landed in a bush nearby. Immediately after, a similar set of rings formed around Shin Hikaru, immobilizing him as well. Atlas stepped forward with his axes raised, instinctively moving toward Scarlet. As if signaled, Celes began attacking Atlas with her staff. Atlas only tried to fend off her blows, not wishing to hurt her. He was faring badly, but kept fighting, looking for a way to disarm Celes without hurting her.
Glitterspike stepped forward, blocking Mercy's path to Scarlet. He brandished his halberd, and attacked Mercy, who caught his first blow with her shield. It glanced off, and she halfheartedly lunged at him, trying more to disarm him than kill him. He caught her blow with the shaft of his halberd and brought it down, trapping Mercy's sword between the shaft and the bottom of the blade. He twisted the halberd a little, and Mercy was forced to let go of the sword. With a quick jerking motion, the sword flew off into the bushes, well away from Mercy's grasp. Glitterspike lowered the halberd menacingly, and Mercy backed up, until her back hit a tree. The point of Glitterspike's halberd pointed directly at Mercy's neck, and she saw that trying to defend with only her kite shield was useless, and she dropped her arms to her sides, letting the kite shield fall to the ground.
A third set of rings formed around Fuji, but he simply smiled, turned into a light mist, and reappeared outside the fire-rings. "It's going to take a lot more than that to stop me, traitor." He pointed at the ground under Scarlet's feet, and a skeletal hand clawed its way out of the ground, groping at Scarlet's foot. She looked at it, slightly amused, and simply looked at the hand. It turned into ash, crumbling to pieces. Fuji next sent a wave of black energy toward Scarlet. She barely moved, and a shield of flame sprang up, colliding with the wave of energy and diffusing it. Scarlet simply stood there, and a stream of flame shot toward Fuji, and he ducked, dodging out of the way just in time. He barely had time to wonder how Scarlet was casting spells without even chanting or raising her arms before another blast of fire singed him, this time coming dangerously close.
D quickly and fluidly moved to Fuji's aid, jumping in between Fuji and Scarlet. He scowled at Scarlet. "You are either under mind-control, or you were a traitor from the start. I am beginning to believe the latter." He brought his sword up, the sun glinting off the blade. Scarlet simply smiled, not saying a word. He moved toward her, and fast as the eye can see, she moved toward him, grabbed his sword arm, and twisted it, in one fluid motion. They wrestled over the sword, and for a moment, their eyes locked. Their faces were close enough that D could clearly see Scarlet's eyes. His own eyes widened, and his efforts to get his sword redoubled.
Meanwhile, Ethon had fished his plasma pistol out of the bush and had it pointed at Xeiss, who was advancing toward him, holding a sword in each hand, the same swords given to her by Kashya. He backed up, keeping out of reach of her swords, but didn't fire his pistol. "Xeiss, stop! You don't know what you're doing!" Xeiss stared directly at him, her gaze penetrating his mind. Ethos dropped his gun, scarcely knowing why he had done so. Xeiss, quick as lightning, moved behind him and tied him up, confiscating his gatling gun as well as picking up the fallen pistol. She motioned for him to sit next to Shin and Sereven, and he did so.
Scarlet twisted, turning her back toward D so she could get two hands on the sword, stomping on his foot in the process. D, however, took this opportunity to put his arm around Scarlet's neck, and began to choke her in a strong headlock. She brought her head back swiftly, the back of her head hitting his nose. Stunned for a second, D let go. With a yell, Scarlet wrested the sword away from him and turned to face him. She then backed away from D, a grin on her face. She tilted her head a little, and several flames shot up from the ground around him, forming a wall of flame similar to the one that had surrounded Triesque. The flames converged, then formed rings similar to the ones around Shin and Sereven. She then swirled around, coming face to face with Fuji again, who had been trying to sneak up on Scarlet. She held the point of D's sword up, coming very close to his neck.
"I don't advise moving, Fuji. I know this sword was designed to kill vampires. Like you." She brought the sword to almost touching his neck. She very lightly made a small cut, and he winced. He dared not move, not even to jerk away from the sword's point. "Turn around," said Scarlet menacingly. Fuji obeyed. Scarlet hit him over the head with the pommel of D's sword, hard. He slumped onto the ground, unconscious. She then threw the sword onto the ground and took her bow off her back.
Meanwhile, Sereven had managed to hook a wire around an overhanging branch somehow, and was slowly pulling himself out of the fire-rings, being very careful not to come near them. It was a tight squeeze, but he was managing to avoid getting burned. Scarlet, however, put a stop to this by shooting an arrow through the wire, hitting it with pinpoint accuracy. Sereven dropped back down, hitting two of the rings and burning his right arm badly. He yelled with pain and annoyance, then resigned himself to staying there until he had better chances of escaping.
Scarlet then turned to survey the battleground. The only people left fighting were Atlas and Celes. Atlas was not faring well. Celes had scored a deep gash by hitting a weak point in the armor covering his shoulder, which was bleeding heavily. She had also scored a smaller, similar cut in his side, which made him gasp occasionally in pain as he moved. Celes, on the other hand, had suffered no injuries yet, as Atlas had made every effort not to hurt her.
Scarlet smiled, and raised her hand. "Celes, stop and withdraw. Come toward me." Celes did so, stepping backwards away from Atlas and toward Scarlet. He stepped forward, but quickly stopped when Scarlet pointed an arrow - straight at Celes' heart. She was at point-blank range. Scarlet narrowed her eyes menacingly at Atlas. "Drop your weapons. NOW." He quickly did so, trying not to show any emotion, but hurt, anger and worry could clearly be seen in his eyes.
"Glitterspike, get rid of the axes." Scarlet kept her bow trained on Celes; her fingers at the very point of letting the arrow fly. Glitterspike, who had tied up Mercy and dumped her unceremoniously next to Shin and Sereven, quickly picked up the two axes and placed them well out of reach. " Xeiss, guard the other prisoners. Glitterspike, tie him up, then stand guard and don't move unless I tell you to." said Scarlet to Glitterspike, and he quickly bound Atlas' hands behind his back, then his feet.
Scarlet's face twisted in a cruel, devilish grin, and the arrow flew, piercing Celes' chest. She gasped and fell to the ground, clutching at the arrow. She moaned, and Scarlet tilted her head, standing over Celes in triumph. "Celes, I now release you from my service. You are free to do as you please." Celes, her breathing hindered, could only groan in pain.
"NO!" screamed Atlas. Through sheer strength, he managed to break the bonds tying his hands, and fell forward on his knees, taking Celes and cradling her in his arms. She looked up at him sorrowfully. "Atlas... I'm sorry... I..."
"Celes, you're not going to die," sobbed Atlas. "Look at me, Celes! You are NOT going to die!" Celes gently brushed his face with her hand. "Atlas... don't stop caring. The ... world needs... more people... like you..."
"How touching," said Scarlet, voice dripping with venom and sarcasm. Before Atlas could react, Scarlet let another arrow fly. It pierced Celes' chest at an odd angle, and she began to wheeze. Atlas screamed. "STOP!! SHE'S DYING!" Frantically, he tried to pull out the arrow, but stopped when Celes moaned loudly in pain. "Celes... Celes, listen to me. I... I love you, Celes. You can't leave me. Not now. Not like this. It's not supposed to end this way..."
Celes coughed, then managed to speak. "Listen... to me, Atlas. You've... got to... go on... keep... fighting... don't... lose......" She stopped, and coughed, this time bringing up blood. Atlas had tears streaming down his face. "Don't... lose... hope..." Celes' eyes glazed over, and she went limp. Atlas cradled her, sobbing his heart out. Scarlet watched quietly, an emotionless, stony expression on her face.
Atlas cried for a long while over the body of Celes. Finally, he looked up at Scarlet, eyes blazing with hatred and rage. "WHY?" he screamed at her, tears streaming down his face. "WHY DID YOU KILL HER!! WHAT DID SHE EVER DO TO YOU!!" He tried to get to his feet but couldn't, and Glitterspike quickly bound Atlas' arms again. "YOU WILL ROT IN HELL FOR THIS, SCARLET!!! I WILL KILL YOU FOR THIS IF IT IS THE LAST THING I EVER DO!"
Scarlet laughed. "Rot in hell? That's it? I've had far worse things said to me in the past, Atlas. To tell the truth, you all are a fairly nice group of people. A pity, really." Scarlet paced back and forth a few steps. "Now, what shall I do with the lot of you?" She smiled. "Ah yes, none of you knows who I REALLY am, do you? I'm amazed that none of you were suspicious, and I'm even more amazed that you all made it this far."
Atlas seethed in hate and anger. "Listen Scarlet, I don't know what you want, but if you're going to kill me, do it now." At this, Scarlet grabbed Atlas' head, and turned it so that he stared directly into her eyes. She gazed at him for a few seconds, then released him without putting any sort of spell on him. He gasped, then his fury doubled at what he had seen.
"TRAITOR! MONSTER! FIEND! DEVIL! FRAUD! DEMON! SERVANT OF DIABLO! WHAT ARE YOU!!!!"
She ignored this tirade and went instead over to Shin, Sereven, and D, who were being held in the fire-rings. She simply stood there, and the rings of flame turned to rope, which constricted, temporarily binding them. At a word from Scarlet, Xeiss and Glitterspike quickly tied them up, making sure to put rather more ropes than needed around D and Sereven. Scarlet continued to smirk. Shin, Sereven, D, Mercy, and Ethon were tied up and lined up in front of her, and Fuji was unconscious. Xeiss and Glitterspike kept checking everyone's bonds frequently to make sure they were secured, particularly Atlas' and Sereven's.
Scarlet paced back and forth in front of them. She was gloating at her success, and couldn't help but brag about it. "Fools. You are all complete fools. I have been working for Abadon this whole time, and you didn't even suspect it. The Mist Marsh was a trap. So was the monastery. How you all survived I do not know. But perhaps it's better this way. I can imagine the look on Abadon's face when I present you all to him as prisoners."
Sereven shook his head. "There's a lot of things I don't understand about this. You proved yourself trustworthy in the past... the Mist Monsters, for example, and the Guardian of the Forest. Then the kidnapping by that dragon. You were even fighting Abadon himself once!"
Scarlet smiled. "All a farce. I called the Mist Monsters, the Guardian was not as strong as I thought, the dragon is a very good friend of mine, and Abadon and I fought just to fool you. You should know, your foolish mistakes have piled up on your heads, and now you must be responsible for them." She turned to Mercy. "But you, Mercy, are the one that really surprised me. You should have seen it right away, or at least your unicorn."
Mercy struggled a bit against her bonds. "Triesque isn't my unicorn... he's my friend. And what was there to see? You hid your traitorous nature well, Scarlet. You've done this before, haven't you?" She glared at Scarlet.
Scarlet smiled. "Of course, I've done this several times. But that's not what I was referring to. I was referring not to my traitorous nature, but my true one. Now THAT, I am amazed your unicorn didn't discover."
Mercy stared up at Scarlet dully, not believing this was happening. "And what is your true nature?"
Scarlet smiled. "Are you sure you want to open that Pandora's box?"
Mercy sighed. "I have a feeling we're going to find out sooner or later, so you might as well tell us now."
Scarlet grinned and slung her bow on her back. She took two steps back, then gasped in pain. The change began, and her body began to contort, like something out of a nightmare. She transformed slowly, just to savor the terror her victims were feeling. She began to grow, larger, larger, as the party stared with wide, disbelieving eyes. Her skin slowly turned red and her dress melded into her skin. She roared in agony as wings sprouted from her shoulders, and roared again as she grew a tail. In mid-transformation, she looked like a demon straight from hell. The wings extended from her back and unfolded to their full size, as her body continued to grow larger. As she grew, she began to look less and less human. Her face elongated into the horse-like head of a dragon, and her neck grew longer, until it was serpentine. She dropped to all fours, and her hands contorted, the tips of her fingers hardening and becoming razor sharp claws. She lowered her head, and spines grew from her back, all the way from the top of her neck to the tip of her tail. She reared onto her hind legs and roared, spouting a jet of flame into the air, as she finally stopped growing. The transformation complete, she looked over the prisoners and grinned, her shadow looming over them and covering them all. Mercy screamed and fainted; Atlas, Shin, and Ethon looked rather pale. D and Sereven betrayed no emotion.
Scarlet grinned at the party maliciously. Her jaws were big enough to
easily swallow half of them whole.
Instead, she snatched up Mercy, Shin, Atlas, and Sereven in her front claws.
"Xeiss, Glitterspike, guard the remaining prisoners until I get back. Do not let them leave. If they move, don't kill them, but break either their arms or their legs. If Fuji wakes up, hit him over the head again. Don't bother tying him up. Stay here until I say otherwise." At that, Scarlet took off, easily lifting the four party members up, and started toward Dorado.
Intruder was headed on the road, in the opposite direction from Dorado. If his face could display any emotion whatsoever, it might have been a tinge of fear, mixed in with anger. A startling sight interrupted his thoughts. In the dead center of the road stood Triesque. However, Triesque was not running. He was not even moving, but seemed frozen in the middle of rearing.
Intruder crept closer. Triesque WAS literally frozen. Icicles hung from his hooves and his horn, and his entire body was covered in ice, the expression on his face one of pure terror. Intruder almost walked by, but was stopped by Cobalt.
"Master, we should help him." Cobalt said, perching on top of the frozen horn.
"Why? Now that Scarlet's finally betrayed the party, we need to find out the best way to find Baal, not rescue frozen animals." Intruder looked rather impatient to be on his way.
"Well, the unicorn might help us. You said we should go to Dorado and find Abadon anyway, didn't you?"
Intruder sighed. "Very well." He lifted his staff, and the end began to glow. A beam of fire shot from the end, and began slowly moving across Triesque, melting the ice, starting at the tail and ending at the horn. When Intruder was finished, Triesque collapsed onto the road. Cobalt hopped over and looked into Triesque's open mouth.
"I think he's still alive, he's breathing a little." Cobalt shocked the horse's head a couple times, which got no reaction. Intruder was standing in the middle of the road, waiting patiently. Finally, after about an hour, Triesque opened his eyes, looking very weary.
"I... I don't know what happened. I... I was running from Scarlet, who was trying to kill me for some reason. Then suddenly there was this wall of ice in the middle of the road. Then something whispered in my ear... it sounded almost like 'Frost'... and then nothing." He raised his head a little. "Where are the others?"
Intruder spoke in a tone so neutral he could have been giving the time of day. He hadn't changed his position since freeing Triesque from the ice. "Scarlet is really a red dragon posing as a human, and has been playing us all for fools. I think the rest of the party is dead."
Triesque closed his eyes again and laid his head back down, sighing. "Who would have known. She was so nice. She liked me, even. At least I thought she did. How she hid it I'll never know..." He breathed out heavily, his breath freezing in a small cloud. "They're all dead, Diablo is risen, and the one who seemed to be our greatest friend has betrayed us. You might as well have let me die, Intruder."
Intruder finally moved, to put a hand gently on Triesque's neck, in a gentle gesture. In reality, he cared little for the unicorn, but what Triesque needed at that moment was a gentle, caring touch. And Intruder needed Triesque's help. "Triesque, there may still be hope. I know you don't like me much, but we've got a common goal. We need to find your friends, and see whether they are REALLY dead."
Triesque got up slowly. "You're right, we need to look for them before losing hope... But where shall we look? Since Scarlet's a dragon, she's got a cave somewhere, but we don't know where."
Intruder frowned. "I don't think she took them to her lair... I think she took them to Dorado. Where did you start running from Scarlet?"
Triesque looked down, a little ashamed. "I shouldn't have run... I don't know what came over me. But yes, I remember..."
This story is copyright (c) 1999 by Dragoneyes. It can be reproduced anywhere as long as it is not altered in any way and this copyright notice is attached.