Kaohlad’s question came with a distinct shift in his tone of voice, as he spoke softly and carefully.
“Don’t worry about him, Kaohlad,” Jormungand said, stepping towards Marcus. “I will deal with him. You handle the girls.”
“If you could deal with him, you’ve had ample time to do so,” Kaohlad said.
“Time, yes,” Marcus said, smiling. “But it does seem he lacks the skill.”
Jormungand lunged, and Marcus tapped his staff on the stone. Two distinct tones rang out, clear and beautiful in the cavern. Jormungand shrank back, wincing in pain. Marcus looked towards Delilah and seemed to smile apologetically.
“I will do my best to aid you swiftly,” he said. “But please hold fast until I finish with this monster.” He stepped forward, the bells of his staff ringing. Jormungand snarled, leaping towards Marcus, his whole body transforming into a shadowy, swirling mass that surrounded Marcus, leaving the Paladin completely obscured from sight.
“No need,” Alice said, stepping towards Kaohlad, Rabanastre at her side. “I want to deal with this monster myself.”
“Such a fool,” Kaohlad said, sneering. He lunged forward, a dark, shadowy blur.
Delilah shouted out a warning. Felix leapt forward.
But no one was fast enough to stop Kaohlad. In the space of a breath, the vicious man had crossed the yards between him and Alice. There was a sickening sound as he swung his weapons, and then…
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Delilah stared, horrified.
The long, jagged blade of the sickle in Kaohlad’s left hand now protruded from the small of Alice’s back. She was suspended on the blade that impaled her, holding her up so that her feet dangled nearly a foot above the floor.
And from the blade – and Alice’s stomach – dripped crimson blood.
Adelaide screamed. Delilah stepped back in total disbelief. It was so hard to breathe, she could barely form a softly whispered “No…”
Kaohlad laughed softly.
But his laughter was soon cut off by clearer, brighter laughter.
Alice’s body shook in time with that laughter. For the little girl impaled on Kaohlad’s blade was still alive, and laughed as if she was completely unharmed.
“Faster than I thought,” Alice said. “I didn’t think you’d actually hit me.”
“What…” Kaohlad asked, eyes wide as he stared up at Alice, “…are you…?”
Alice reached down, clutched the sickle blade with her small hands, and yanked herself free with a sickening sound. Landing on her own feet, she clapped her hands as if dusting them off from a job well done.
All the while, Delilah gaped as the ragged wound in Alice’s stomach slowly mended itself. In mere seconds, her flesh was closed over and perfectly smooth, with not even the faintest scar to bear witness to the hideous wound she’d suffered.
“S-sister?” Adelaide asked, staring in shock.
Alice looked over her shoulder, grinning. “Had you guys worried for a moment, didn’t I?” she asked. “Sorry about that.” Laughing, she turned her attention back to Kaohlad. “You should know from being Duo – I was feared by Blaise’s entire group, even by his strongest. Didn’t you ever wonder why?”
Kaohlad let loose a cry of rage, swinging his sickles. But Rabanastre stepped swiftly in their path, knocking them aside with his powerful arms. Kaohlad leapt back to evade a spinning kick from the rabbit Summon, and for a moment the combatants stared at each other in silence.
“What was that, Alice?” Delilah asked in a small voice.
Alice shoved her hands in her pockets, smiling back at Delilah. “Pretty neat, right?” she asked. She looked at Adelaide, who was still staring in mingled horror and relief, and sighed, shaking her head. “Come on. You had to guess you weren’t the only one of us born with weird magic. Don’t be so freaked out.” Her eyes flashed to black as she looked away for a moment. “I told you. I hid my true nature from our parents so they wouldn’t treat me like they treated you.”
“You will still fail!” Kaohlad said, spitting on the ground. “It’s too late to stop anything, now. And you’ll never win against me.”
Alice smirked, turning on her heel to face Kaohlad. “Wanna bet?” she asked. She pulled her left hand from her pocket, raised it, pressed her middle finger against her thumb. “Rabanastre,” she said softly, “kill this guy.”
Alice snapped her fingers.
Rabanastre’s snowy white sheen rippled, like wind on a grassy plain. And as that ripple went outward, the white color of his body and clothes morphed to a deep, midnight black. His eyes blazed white, and he seemed to stand taller, more imposing in the dark cavern.
Kaohlad stared, for a moment, then raised his sickles.
He was too slow.
Rabanastre was already there, in less than an eye blink. Fists and feet flew, and Kaohlad went flying backwards, cracking against the stone wall hard enough to send jagged shrapnel flying through the cavern.
“Hey, you were supposed to die from that,” Alice said, watching as Kaohlad bent over double, coughing and sputtering. She looked back at Delilah, her lips pursed in frustration. “Sorry. This might take a little while. How about you work on that evil Relay so we can save time?”
Delilah pulled herself to her senses, nodding. “Right!” she called out. She turned to face the dark Relay that was helping lift the living darkness towards the opening high above. “Redmond!”
The glowing green captain of the Catwood Company stepped forth, raising his bow. He drew an arrow and fired, its flight leaving a musical whistling tone in its wake. Striking the Relay dead-on, the green arrow dispersed in a ring-shaped pulse of green light that faded as it went.
But where it had struck the Relay was a tiny crack. A chink had formed in the armor of the evil device.
Redmond kept firing, focusing on that cracked spot of the Relay, widening the gap, weakening the dark machine. Meanwhile, Rabanastre continued to go to work on Kaohlad, his punches and kicks landing with loud, concussive blasts. Stone shrapnel flew, as did Kaohlad, who failed to put up even the most meagre of defenses.
All the while, Alice watched on, a satisfied smile on her lips.
Across from them, on the opposite side of the darkness-filled pit, Jormungand’s massive shadow continued to obscure Marcus. In the midst of it, the bells of Marcus’ staff rang out, each with its own distinct tone, and with each peal, the shadowy form of Jormungand shuddered, weakening with each passing moment.
Finally, a metallic shattering sound filled the air. Delilah watched in hope and joy as the evil Relay burst into a million pieces. The explosion of shrapnel paused only a few feet out from its center as darkness swirled around it, and then sucked it in. The tendril of darkness that was carrying the rest up high came apart and dripped down into the pit.
“Now it’s time for our Relay,” Delilah said, turning to Adelaide. The girl nodded, lifting the heavy Relay. Delilah helped her, and together the girls brought it to the edge of the pit, and then tossed it forward with all their might.
The Relay spun forward a few feet, and then seemed to catch in a breeze that wasn’t there, flying forward until it stopped over the center of the roiling mass of darkness. Four metal posts extended from the sphere, forming an X-shape in the air.
Light, bright and beautiful, suddenly shone from the Relay. Shadows were forced back, and that included Jormungand, whose form exploded, its disparate parts snapping together into the shape of the man he was before as he shrank back from the light. Marcus stepped towards him, tall and confident and unhurt, raising his staff.
But Jormungand had no intention of staying. He slapped his hand against the wall of the cavern, and melted into darkness, sinking into the rock until he vanished.
“No!” Kaohlad cried, his voice gurgling and raspy. He lay on his stomach, reaching out desperately for the edge of the pit, staring in anger and shock at the gleaming Relay that had replaced the old one.
Rabanastre grabbed the man’s head with one hand, pulling him to his feet. Kaohlad’s arms shuddered weakly at his sides, and one of his legs twitched and moved at an awkward, impossible angle. Inky black blood dripped from numerous wounds on his face, chest, and limbs.
“That’s enough from you,” Alice said, striding up to the captive Kaohlad. “This is for my sister.”
Kaohlad stared at Alice in fear and contempt.
And then his lips curled upwards in a sneer.
His whole body melted into shadow, dropping out of Rabanastre’s grasp to the floor. Alice lunged forward, and Rabanastre reached down, but both came away with nothing.
Kaohlad, like Jormungand, had escaped.
Alice knelt against the rocky floor, hands balled into fists. Slowly, rising in volume and ferocity, she let loose a wordless cry of rage. It cut off suddenly, and she slammed her fists against the ground.
“How dare you?” she asked softly, glaring at the space where Kaohlad had once been. Slowly, Rabanastre’s black, imposing form shrank down slightly, his fur rippling outward and turning back to a snowy white.
“They always show their true nature when they face a losing battle,” Marcus said, walking around the perimeter of the pit towards Alice. The light from the Relay shone brilliantly on his staff, reflecting off of the metal rings, each reflected beam shining with a different color, bathing the walls like a shimmering, dancing rainbow. He stopped at Alice’s side, and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “If he dares show his face here again, you will have your chance to slay him once and for all.”
“Is there anything else we need to do?” Delilah asked, watching the Relay glimmer and shine. Below it, the darkness was slowly receding, bubbling and popping in globules of white, glistening light. “Did we…”
“Win?” Marcus asked. Delilah nodded. “Indeed you did, little one. In many ways, ways that I failed to for far too long.”
“What do you mean?” Delilah asked.
“You saved Solla and Lunos,” Marcus said. “I can’t tell you how long so many of us searched for Solla without ever finding her. And while we found Lunos…” He sighed, staring at the floor. “Far too many died in that desperate, hopeless battle. And I was left alone, the last keeper of the Bastion on the Moon.” He chuckled. “I must say, while I always held out hope, I never imagined heroes such as yourselves. You three have done marvelous work. Be proud of yourselves.”
“So that’s it?” Alice asked, standing. She shoved her hands in her pockets, her eyes flickering white to black and back again repeatedly in swift bursts before suddenly settling on white. “It’s all over?”
“Much has ended,” Marcus said. “But there is much that is about to begin. The Moon’s Bastion must be restored, for one thing. And it must be determined how the darkness slipped past Earth’s defenses. And then…” Marcus sighed, leaning on his staff. When he continued, he spoke in a soft, faraway tone. “It seems the great battle is nearer than I thought.”
“What about us?” Adelaide asked. She stared up, as if looking through the endless cavern and into the strange barrier Isla had placed around Grimoire to see the city itself. “And what about everyone else?”
“They are beyond our reach,” Marcus said sadly, staring up with her. “None can penetrate Isla’s Total Labyrinth from the outside. We will have to hope that our friends win out in the battle unfolding within.” His eyes turned to the Relay, bright and beautiful in the center of the chamber. “Ah, it is good to see such light in this place. We should stay here and watch over this place until the Relay is finished. After that…” He trailed off, continuing to stare at the Relay, his gaze thoughtful and distant.
Alice walked over to Delilah, stopping next to her and bumping her shoulder against hers. “You wanna go back to the Bastion, right?” she asked.
Delilah stared at her for a moment, thinking. Slowly, she smiled. “Yeah. What about you?”
Alice pulled a hand out of her pocket and poked Delilah in the cheek. “I’m sticking with you, of course.” She stuffed that hand back in her pocket and looked away, pursing her lips. “You know, if that’s okay with you.”
“It is,” Delilah said, reaching out and pulling Alice’s hand back out of her pocket, holding it in her own. Alice stared at her in surprise, her eyes flickering to black and then back to white. “We’re sisters, remember? I’m with you no matter what.”
Adelaide let out a long, mournful groan, and all eyes turned on her. The girl shifted on her feet, kicking the floor absently, her lips tightly pursed in thought.
“What’s the matter?” Delilah asked.
“It’s just…” Adelaide started, shifting back and forth, fidgeting uncomfortably.
Marcus strode past Delilah, Alice, and their Summons, stopping next to Adelaide and placing a hand on her shoulder. He smiled down at her, as she looked hopefully up at him. “Don’t worry, little one,” Marcus said. “I’m certain Caleb will pull through. He won’t soon forget his promise.”
Promise? I never heard about that.
Adelaide smiled softly, then looked at the Relay. “It’s really pretty,” she said.
“And it will ensure Grimoire is safe from the evils below,” Marcus said, smiling proudly. “I’m very grateful to you girls, more than words can say. And – if you are willing – I would be grateful for your continued assistance.”
“Yeah, we already talked about that,” Alice said. She nudged Delilah. “The two of us were gonna go back to the Bastion, anyway.”
“You can count on us,” Delilah said, smiling.