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" No. It had been the wind!" Edwin growled. ".. but since when were winds that strong?" he added, mentally. He hurried over to the back door to try to reopen it.
" Well well.... what have we HERE?" a voice hissed. Edwin whirled around, panic flowing through him. He gasped with horror as he saw a lion, a feathery snake with wings, and a dog slink out of the shadows towards him. Each wore the cold , blue and gray armor of the Dezorian Ancient Espers. Edwin yelped and pressed against the door. The Ancient Espers snickered.
" My.... he's an ugly one, isn't he?" the dog laughed.
" Indeed, Cujo. Then again, all Palmans are ugly," the lion snickered.
" As well as Motavians, Dezorians, Espers, Numans, Androids, and Musk Cats!" Cujo added.
" Sssssss...... Limbo.... What sssssssshall we do with him?" the snake hissed, flapping his wings.
" I know what I WANT to do, Peligroso," Limbo laughed.
" Rip him apart!" Cujo said.
" Ssss... let me eat him....," Peligroso hissed.
" Nope..... I'll tell you when we bring him back to camp....," Limbo sneered. Edwin shrieked with terror as he felt cold claws clamp on to him. He dropped his bag of loot as he felt himself dragged away.
" Har har! Iz you enjoyin' yerself, Eeespar Wizzurd?" one of the thieves crowed as he jarred Rune in the ribs with an elbow. Rune glared at the thief, his expression of pure contempt. He sat at a long table, along with the others. They were surrounded by slobbering thieves with the manners of pigs. Most were already drinking themselves silly on the cheap ale they had. Dazzle was forced to sit next to Lord Odd Eye at the far end of the table, who unfortunately had worse manners than his 'subjects'. Food splattered everywhere as Lord Odd Eye munched, not even using a fork or spoon. Rune wrinkled his nose and jabbed at his slab of steak with a bent fork.
" Oh, sure. Loads of fun," he grumbled. " Is this thing DEAD?" he asked as he jabbed the meat. The thief who had spoken to him smiled.
" Har har har! Perhaps 'tis, Matey. Then 'gin, perhaps 'tisn't. That thar is 'Snow Wurm Steak'. Dumb creatures 're mighty tasty but hard tuh kill. Ya chop a bit off 'n it grows an' becomes a new wurm! If it ain't cooked well, then it ca n still be alive 'n grow to be a big ol' Snow Wurm!" he said. Rune turned pale in the face and gently pushed the plate from him. The others, having heard the thief, quickly did the same.
" I lost my apetite...," he announced, rather quietly. The thief brightened.
" Mind if I eats it?" he asked, hopeful. Rune pushed the plate towards the thief, feeling sick to his stomach. The thief speared the steak with his own fork and proceeded to make a pig of himself. Rune tried his best to keep the content s of his stomach IN his stomach. He turned to look at Dazzle, who stared at her plate with disgust. His thoughts drifted to his plan of escape. Would it work? His thoughts were quickly interupted when Lord Odd Eye stood up. All activities stopped and the thieves turned to look at their leader.
" Now shut up, you bums! It's time for the ENTERTAINMENT!" he crowed. The thieves went in to a fit of cheering and clapping. Lord Odd Eye stalked over to the pit where he held his 'pets'. The creatures glared up at him, snarling and sna pping. They obviously would love nothing better than to eat HIM instead of some Bio Monster corpse. One rather brave 'pet' leaped up at a wall of the pit, trying to climb out. But, to its frusteration, the pit walls were too steep. Lord Odd Eye cackled lo udly at its antics. He turned to the assembled theives. " Now.... who should we throw down?" he asked. He snapped his fingers and three captives where brought forth. Two were Dezorian monks, who had taken a wrong turn on their way back to their temple. An other was a Palman hunter they trapped in the woods. The thieves jeered and banged their fists against the table.
" The 'unter! 'E gots a bettuh chance then any of 'um!" one rather drunk thief suggested. A roar of approval came from the assembled barbarians. Rune narrowed his eyes. He was about to stand up and protest when a voice rang out through the woods.
" Do you know the Muffin Man? The Muffin Man, the Muffin Man? Do you know the Muffin Man who lives on Gingerbread Lane? Well, DO YOU? DO YOU?? HOW DO YOU KNOW HIM? BEEN CHEATIN' ON ME???" the voice sang. Rune sighed with relief while Ri ka, Kyra, Tundra, and even Dazzle looked about wildly. The thieves instantly stopped their chatter and glanced about. Lord Odd Eye growled.
" Who are you?" he demanded. The voice giggled.
" I am whoever you aren't," it replied. Lord Odd Eye fumed.
" Don't toy with me!" he bellowed.
" Then who SHOULD I toy with?" the voice asked. Lord Odd Eye pulled out his sword and waved it about, screaming.
" SHOW YOURSELF!" he demanded.
" Ohh no... I couldn't... I'm much too shy....," the voice giggled. Lord Odd Eye roared with anger.
" Find whoever it is and throw HIM to my pets!!!" Lord Odd Eye commanded. The thieves leaped to their feet and rushed to do their leader's orders. Rune grinned to himself and hopped to his feet. He turned to his companions.
" That would include us," he said. The others nodded and got to their feet. Lord Odd Eye glared about, wildly.
" Come out and fight!!" he challenged.
" Fight? You want to fight? Why didn't you say so to BEGIN with?" the voice giggled. From out of the woods strolled a small hyena with spikey yellow hair and an orange tunic. He grinned happily and hopped up to Lord Odd Eye. Lord Odd Ey e blinked, surprised, as the odd creature smiled up at him.
" Who or what are YOU?" he growled. The creature giggled.
" I am Yakkara and I'm CUUUUTE," he giggled. Lord Odd Eye snorted and pointed his sword at Yakkara's face. Yakkara broke in to hysterical laughter, as if it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.
" What's so funny?" Lord Odd Eye demanded. Yakkara grinned. He bit down on the sword, snapping it in half. He spat out the blade and pointed at it.
" Your sword is broken!" he said. Lord Odd Eye growled angrily and balled his hand in to a fist. Yakkara grinned and giggled again. Rune crossed his arms and grinned as well. Lord Odd Eye, enraged, charged the hyena. Yakkara leaped out of the way and kicked the thief's exposed rear. Lord Odd Eye bellowed, furious. Yakkara just broke in to more laughter. His eyes focused on the white shard hanging around Lord Odd Eye's neck. " OOOOOOO!!" he crooned. Lord Odd Eye clutched the shard, prote ctively.
" Filthy beast!" he crowed. " Go back to your kind!" he added, kicking out at Yakkara. Yakkara leaped over the kick and grabbed the shard. He ripped it from Lord Odd Eye's neck and placed it around his own. Lord Odd Eye snarled with rag e and launched himself at Yakkara. Yakkara ducked out of the way and, much to his horror, Lord Odd Eye found himself about to fall in to the Bio pit. " H... h... help!" he cried, trying to keep his balance. The bios in the pit snarled up at him, drool dri pping from their opened jaws. Rune grinned. He rushed forward and delivered Lord Odd Eye a swift kick to the rear. Lord Odd Eye bellowed with terror and surprise as he fell to his awaiting pets. Rune quickly turned away as Lord Odd Eye's screaming echoed throughout the pit. Rune nodded to his surprised comrades.
" Let's go! Hurry! Before the thieves come back!" he said. He quickly freed the Hunter and the two monks, who quickly did his bidding and ran. Dazzle leaped to her feet, followed by Rika and Kyra, and made a break for the woods. Rune, Y akkara, and Tundra followed close behind them. Yakkara continued to giggle as he ran.
" Odd Eye fall down the HOOOOOOLE," he said. A cry of surprise, followed by a roar of anger came from the thieve's camp. Obviously, they had found out about their leader's fate. Rune glanced back and saw that the thieves were hot on the ir trail. He glanced up ahead. The clearing was drawing near. Just outside the forest, B'jak waited in the Ice Digger. The engine was running and prepared to leave the moment Rune and the others appeared. The Dezorian warrior spotted them as they entered the clearing and quickly motioned to them.
" Get on!" he called. Rune and the others instantly obeyed, dashing towards the Ice Digger and climbing in. B'jak released the brake and the Ice Digger tore through the snow, leaving the bewildered and furious thieves behind in the empt y clearing. Rune sighed and leaned up against a chair. He had pulled it off. He glanced about, to make sure everyone was there. Everyone was safe and sound, though tired and cold. Rune grinned smugly to himself. There was no way Dazzle could weasel her wa y out of the deal. That kiss was as good as his. He glanced over at Dazzle, who gazed out of the window at the retreating forest. Rune couldn't catch her eye nor did he dare try to read her mind so he had no idea what she was thinking. He sighed and snugg led up against the chair. Yakkara smiled brightly and sat down next to him.
" So? How I do?" he asked. Rune smiled.
" Great, Yakkara," he replied. Yakkara grinned.
" Can I do that again?" he asked.
" If you can find another thief with ravenous monsters for pets," Rune answered. Yakkara nodded vigorously.
" I'll look," he said. Then, he gazed down at the shard hanging about his neck. He took it and handed it to Rune. " Ya may need this. Even though it clashes with your robe. And your wand. And your hair. And your shoes. And your eyes. As a matter of fact, it clashes with EVERYTHING about you," he said. Rune smiled.
" Thanks for pointing that out," he said as he placed the shard in his pouch.
" No problem," Yakkara replied. B'jak interrupted them.
" We are almost at the Temple," he said. Rune nodded.
" Thank you, B'jak. And, thanks for saving us," he said. B'jak merely nodded, grinning. Rune turned back to look at Dazzle, hoping to catch her eyes. She was still looking out the window. Sighing, Rune returned to looking out the windsh ield. Tundra leaped and curled up in his lap.
" Do not worry, Mighty Lutz. Everything will look brighter after we've all gotten a good night's sleep in a bed NOT made from bio skin," the kitten purred. Rune smiled and nodded. As the Ice Digger neared it's destination, Rune couldn't help but wonder how the others were fairing.
" Well, let's go," Strider said as he strapped his wicked looking sword to his back. Daystar blinked.
" What?" she asked, surprised.
" I am going with you," Strider said. Daystar blinked again.
" You can't! What about the refugees?" she cried. She, Chaz, and Wren were preparing to go to the Esper Mansion, which was where Chaz requested to go. She had told Chaz she would lead them to the Mansion since they did not know the way. At the moment she, Chaz, and Wren were in the Great Hall that they had feasted in the night before. Surrounding them where the refugees from her father's dungeons. Content and finally feeling a bit secure, the refugees where sleeping soundly.
" Ari will take care of them. I have to go. I must help you stop Levit. You may not have been planning it but you are already caught up in this war. If we don't stop him, he will merely re-fill his dungeons with more prisoners. I want t o help end this menace so these people can return to their homes and try to rebuild their lives," Strider said. " I am sorry, Princess, but you can not stop me from going," he added.
" Nor can you stop me," Farsight said as he approached them. He smiled. " I had plenty of time to think in your father's dungeons. He must be stopped. And I want to.... help," he said. He avoided all eye contact with the group. Daystar turned and looked helplessly at Chaz and Wren, who shrugged.
" I guess I can't stop you...," she said, sighing. " Allright... let's go," she added. Turning, the group headed down the Great Hall and entered the Catacombs. Daystar led the group through the maze. The tunnels were dark and cold. Wate r trickled down the walls. Chaz could barely tell where they were going. After an hour of walking, the tunnel opened up to a larger tunnel. A burning heat seemed to come down from one of the side tunnels. A little sign was posted outside the tunnel but th e group walked right past it. Soon, the group came to the exit of the tunnels.Wind bit at their noses and snow was everywhere. They where high in the mountains. Daystar glanced down from where they where. Chaz glanced up at her.
" Can you see the Mansion?" he asked.
" Yes. I can. We are not that far up. There is a path around here. We will take it down," Daystar replied. She turned and lead them through the blistering wind, which had no affect on the Ancient Espers or Wren. Only Chaz felt uncomfort able but did his best to ignore it. As he walked through the snow, he clutched the shard in his hands. Oddly, it comforted him. He smiled to himself.
" I hope the others where as successful as us," he said.
Morning came to Termi. The Defenders peered out at their foes, trying to remain under cover. There had been no sound from the army, which greatly bothered Nan and Fenrir. Earlier, one of the Ancient Esper guards had informed them that h e had to close one of the doors to the gate. After a thorough search, they hadn't found anyone suspicious. But they HAD found a bag full of goods right outside the door. And in that bag, along with the other goods, were the missing medical supplies. The D efenders didn't like this one bit and kept a sharp look out. Finally, movement caught their eye. A lion, a feathery snake with wings, and a dog approached the wall. The lion raised his claw and his comrades stopped. He took a few more paces, then smiled.
" Greetings, Fenrir. Get a good night's sleep?" he called. Fenrir bristled.
" What do you want, Limbo?" he demanded. Limbo grinned.
" Straight to the point, as usual. Allright, have it your way. I suppose you noticed that the back door was open last night?" Limbo called. Fenrir growled in response. Limbo grinned. " That was not our doing. It was HIS," he said, jerki ng his thumb back. His two companions pulled out a struggling, frightened bundle of flesh. It was Edwin. He shivered, his eyes wide with terror, as the two Ancient Espers grasped his arms. Fenrir barked with alarm as Nan yelped. " He was being a naughty P alman. Sneaking away with a bag full of goodies he no doubt stole," Limbo continued. He cast his friends a glance. " Am I not right, Peligroso? Cujo?"
" Yessssssss....," Peligroso hissed. Cujo nodded vigorously.
" We did not know what we ought to do with him at the time....," Cujo said.
" We were soooo disappointed....," Limbo added. " A Palman in our grasps and us without any ideas...,"
" It wasssss ssssso horrible," Peligroso crooned, as if deeply saddened.
" Then, it came to us. Why not show you what will happen to each and every one of the vermin within the town?" Limbo interrupted. He grinned and snapped his claws. Four large, and rather strong Ancient Espers approached Limbo. He grinne d evilly. " So.... we will," he said. Edwin cried out in terror as the Ancient Espers tied a rope to each of his arms and legs. Limbo sneered, handing each of the strong Ancient Espers an end of a rope. He cast Fenrir a glance. " Watch well, Fenrir," he s aid. He snapped his fingers again and the Ancient Espers walked off in to different directions. Then, they waited. Fenrir growled in anger.
" LIMBO! DON'T YOU DARE!" he snarled. Limbo snapped his fingers once more and the four strong Ancient Espers burst out running. " NOOOO!!" Fenrir screams.
" WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUGHHHH!!!" Edwin screamed as the ropes went taunt. The next moments went incredibly slowly. Nan covered her eyes, shuttering as Edwin screamed in agony as the ropes tore him apart. Nan sobbed, quietly. The Dezor ian Ancient Espers cheered.
" What a show! Did you ever see so much blood?" Limbo called. He mumbled a spell, causing a white aura to encase Edwin. Within an instant, Edwin was again whole, though he was shivering and in a horrible state of mind. " Again!" he comm anded.
" NO! NO! You CAN'T!" Edwin screamed. Limbo grinned.
" We're gonna do it all day! It really cheers up the troops," he said. Edwin cried out in terror and anguish as the Dezorian Ancient Espers tied him back up. As Nan heard the cries of the unfortunate Edwin, memories flashed through her mind. Memories of the wars she had once been in. The horrible wars. They had been this bloody. She shivered uncontrollably. Then, she heard Limbo and the others cackling as Edwin cried out in agony. Nan could hear Fenrir howl in anger while the humans and Motavians cried out in despair. Nan's eyes flashed with anger. How dare they! How dare they do such a thing! Edwin screamed in terror as the Dezorians tied the bloodied ropes to him yet again. " Let's do it again!" Limbo cheered. Limbo snapped his finger s.
" STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!" Nan shrieked as she hurled icicles at one of the four Ancient Espers holding the ropes. The icicles tore through him and pinned him to the ground. The Ancient Esper screamed, then went limp. Nan snarled, an aura of blue surrounding her. " ENOUGH!" she bellowed, throwing more icicles at the other Ancient Espers. They yelped in terror and scampered back as huge icicles shot through the air and pierced the ground. Nan snarled. " YOU WILL DO NO MORE HARM TO HIM!" she growled, her eyes flaring with rage.
" She's cracked!" Limbo cried. Nan neighed loudly and threw another icicle at the Ancient Espers. Cujo shrieked as the icicle pierced him, flinging him back. Cujo squirmed, then ceased moving. Fenrir gawked and stared at Nan. He had nev er seen her so angry! It was like she was a totally different person who just LOOKED like Nan. Fenrir swallowed. This was the Nan that had disappeared years ago, during the fateful battle that had changed the very foundations of the Ancient Espers. And it scared him. Nan threw more icicles at the Dezorian Ancient Espers. She levitated off the ground and floated towards Edwin, who shivered with utter terror. He'd be mentally scarred for life. Nan glared at Limbo, who stared at her. She held out her hands. Snow flakes appeared about her and whirled around in a wind that was not there. " ICE SHOT!" she shrieked. She instantly held out her hand. A giant ice ball appeared in her hand. She hurled it at Limbo. Limbo shrieked and tried to run away across the plai n. The ice ball burst through his chest and he collapsed to the ground, dead. The other Dezorian Ancient Espers stared in shock. Jerold's jaw dropped as he stared at Nan. They backed away in surprise. They had not expected such a passive creature like Nan to attack with such unmerciless fury. Nan pointed a hoof at Jerold.
" Leave. Or. Die," she hissed in Ancient Esper. The Dezorian Ancient Espers stared in shock. Nan's eyes flared. " LEAVE OR DIE," she bellowed. She threw a huge snowball at Jerold, sending him flying. Jerold hit the ground with a yelp. T he inexperienced General blinked. He had never been in a war before and had no idea how to handle this situation. And, to top it all off, the army he lead looked more like a large patrol. Everything looked hopeless for them. He glanced towards his advisor , an exerienced old black Falcon.
" What do I do?!" Jerold whispered, eyes wide. The Falcon stared at him through his golden eyes.
" How good are you at dying?" he replied. Suddenly, the gates to Termi swung open and the Defenders ran out, weilding their weapons. The torture session had filled them with a deep hatred. A hatred that gave them new vigor. Jerold gaspe d and leaped up. The Falcon spread his mighty wings and snarled. He launched himself at the nearest Defender, cutting deep in to flesh with his razor claws. Jerold roared out the signal to attack, which all of his troops obeyed with eagerness. Even with N an joining the fray. A glorious battle was at hand and not one of them wanted to run. Jerold snarled and charged Fenrir, sword in hand. Fenrir snapped out at the young General. Jerold retaliated with a swing that niched Fenrir's shoulder. Fenrir roared wi th pain and fury, launching himself at Jerold and using his weight to send him tumbling. Jerold grabbed his sword and beat Fenrir over the head with it, trying to get the titanic wolf off of him. Fenrir barked out in pain and went tumbling, then sunk his teeth in to Jerold's leg. Jerold cried out and scratched Fenrir across the face. Fenrir responded by sinking his teeth deeper in to the young tiger's flesh. Jerold shrieked and kicked Fenrir with his good leg. Fenrir let go with a cry. Jerold scrambled to his feet and took a swipe at the wolf with his sword. Fenrir snarled and leaped at the young one, fangs going for the throat. The Falcon flung aside a limp Defender and soared upwards at Nan, who was casting ice attacks at the Dezorian Ancient Espers tha t none could stop. The Falcon shrieked and dug his talons in to her. Nan cried out and returned the favor with a knee to the falcon's jaw. The falcon fluttered back, stunned. He then shrieked out a war cry and dived back at Nan. Nan flung an icicle at the falcon, who dodged and returned it with a blast of lightning. Nan cried out and quickly put up a shield of ice to stop the attack. the falcon screeched and swooped down again, talons shimmering. Nan snarled and scratched him across the face with an icicl e. The falcon spat out a curse and kicked Nan, who went flying backwards. Nan regained control and flung a snowball at the falcon, who yelped as it sent him in to another Ancient Esper. The falcon shrieked and leaped back towards Nan, his eyes shining wit h a thirst for blood. A Defender ran up to Edwin and picked the shivering Palman up. The Defender rushed towards Termi, intent on getting him to help. A manticore leaped in the way, roaring. It leaped at the Defender, intent on killing both.
" HALT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" a voice bellowed, causing the valley to tremble and everyone to fall to their feet. Fenrir gasped and stopped in midleap and turned to stare. Jerold's jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide. Nan and the falcon gasped and stared in shock. The Defender holding Edwin and the manticore turned and stared. All movement upon the field ceased immediately, all eyes upon the same target. Silence reigned for what seemed like hours. Then, the voice spoke.
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