Chrono Continuum Chapter 65
"Gaspar," Melchior called.
Gaspar glanced over at his oldest friend. "What," he asked, keeping his attention mainly on the controls.
"Doesn't this strike you as a bit dangerous," Melchior asked.
Gaspar shrugged. "Why, whatever do you mean?"
Epoch's voice cut in over their conversation, "Looks like we're reaching the dropoff point. I'll tell you when I'm above the ledge. Get your parachutes ready."
"Parachutes," Melchior exclaimed, worried, "I thought you were going to land there yourself."
Gaspar shook his head. "Nope. The ledge is too small for her to land on. We'll have to parachute down, and climb the rest of the volcano ourselves."
"B-b-b-but... What if we miss the ledge?"
Gaspar glanced at Melchior again. "Don't," he replied simply.
Melchior didn't have a response for that.
Epoch soared high in the clouds, so as to stay out sight. Her passengers hoped that the clouds would provide more cover for them than they did for the volcano. With the aid of Epoch's sensors, they could clearly see the fiery mountain below them, even inside, where the Fire Generator was situated. The metal walls of the Generator stuck out of the sides of the volcano at certain points, as it was apparently too big to fit completely inside. Preliminary scans had revealed openings in some of the walls, but not their purpose. Only one of these was remotely accessible, and even it was a long shot.
"I still don't see why we don't just land inside the valcano, on top of the generator, and go in by the obvious main entrance," Melchior complained.
Gaspar's eyes didn't move from the scene down below. "Because their defenses are certain to be geared that way, towards the main entrance. Hopefully, they won't think anyone will be crazy enough to try to scale an active volcano, to get in through an almost inaccessible opening."
"Active," Melchior asked, horrified. "That volcano's active? No way I'm going down the-"
"Get ready, you two," Epoch interrupted. "I've found the drop-off point." The glass canopy over the cockpit slid back, letting the smell of sulfur into their nostrils. "It's time to jump," she told them, and stopped in midair, to hover. "I'll pick you up if you come back out."
Looking down, Melchior could see a tiny ledge, probably big enough for one person to stand on, two, if they were really lucky. And Melchior had never considered himself really lucky. "Gaspar, I'm not too sure about-"
Melchior looked around. Gaspar was nowhere to be seen. He looked down, and saw the old man already falling. He had yet to deploy his parachute, waiting for the count of three.
Melchior sighed. "The things I get myself into. Belthasar probably would have enjoyed this adventure a lot more..."
Melchior took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and jumped. The hot air surrounding the volcano assailed his face, and forced him to open his eyes. On the count of three, he thought.
1... He could see Gaspar getting dangerously close to the center of the volcano. Gaspar's going to fall in!
2... Abruptly, a white mass spread out above Gaspar's form. The parachute. Melchior sighed with relief, as he saw Gaspar steer over to one side, towards the ledge.
3... Melchior looked up, and pulled the cord attached to his backpack. It detached, and flew off into the air above Melchior. But his backpack did nothing.
"Holy...," Melchior yelled out in surprise as he continued to plummet towards the active volcano. He caught a glimpse of Gaspar's worried expression as he flew past his old friend, and kept on going.
In desperation, he pulled out his sword, his old, faithful, magically enhanced sword. If he was going to die, he'd die sword in hand.
No, I won't, he thought determinedly, and shifted his body, aiming towards the ledge. With some flailing of limbs, he managed to turn himself around, so that he was facing towards the ledge he hoped to meet. It would be a close call, but he might be able to make it.
Holding his sword with both hands, he shifted it so it was over his head, poised as if he was going to stab it downwards. The ledge was coming closer by the second. Wait... He was about to meet the ledge, chest first, but pulled back. The ledge zoomed past him. Now!
He slammed his sword into the rock. It slid in deep, but his fall didn't slow. Melchior struggled to keep a grip on the hilt of the blade as it cut through stone, screeching and throwing pebbles and gravel in every direction.
Eventually, his fall began to slow, and the strain on his shoulders and hands lessened. Finally, he stopped. He looked down at the precarious fall below him. That was too close, he noted. Unfortunately, he wasn't out of the woods yet. He was still hanging onto the side of the mountain by nothing more than a sword. A white parachute glided down past him.
He looked up, and saw a form looking over the ledge. "Could you lend me a hand, Gaspar," he yelled as loud as he could.
The form ducked back behind the ledge for a moment, but soon returned, and began to lower something Melchior soon identified as a rope.
When the rope finally reached Melchior, he grabbed on with one hand. With the other, he took firm grasp of the hilt of the sword, and pulled, bracing himself by putting his feet against the side of the volcano. With a "shink" sound, the sword abruptly came out of the stone, still sharp, due to the magical workmanship.
Sheathing the weapon, Melchior proceeded to climb up the rope, planting his feet against the volcano. When he finally reached the ledge, Gaspar helped him up over the edge. Melchior collapsed, breathing hard.
Gaspar sat down next to him. "Why didn't you just use your emergency parachute," Gaspar asked, apparently unperturbed by the recent event.
"Oh, shut up," Melchior muttered.
Gaspar did, for a moment, and then he asked, "You almost ready to go?"
"Almost. Be patient. The Generator's not going anywhere, speedy." He looked up. Gaspar wasn't there. "What the...?"
He sat up at a sound from behind him, of small rocks rolling. Turning around, he saw a moving rope. He followed the rope upwards, and saw Gaspar, already climbing. "Gaspar, what are you doing," he called.
"Don't worry, Melchior," Gaspar replied, "I'm just checking out the entrance to see if it's a trap. Come on up when you're ready."
Melchior sighed. Apparently, after so many years of doing nothing at the End of Time, Gaspar was getting in touch with his active side. Well, Melchior wasn't going to go until he was good and ready.
He waited a moment. Now he was ready. Getting up, he walked over to the rope, and began the long climb up, at least twice as long as the climb he'd just made.
When he finally reached the top, panting, he drew in a deep breath of sweet, hot... Hot? He bent over, coughing his lungs out, expelling the sulfuric air from his lungs. I knew that climbing an active volcano was a bad idea, he mentally berated himself.
"Took you long enough," Gaspar's voice announced.
Melchior stood. "Yeah, well, I'm not as light as you are, Gaspar," he replied.
"Fair enough," was Gaspar's unaffected response. "Anyway, I've checked out this opening..."
"And it's not an entrance at all. It's a ventilation shaft, to take excess heat out of the building."
Melchior's entire body sagged. "You mean we've got to crawl in through a heating vent? I'll boil alive!"
"Not if we get out of there fast enough. But I think we can use the ventilation system to our advantage. If we can shut it off, then the whole place should overheat, causing the place to blow."
"Sounds like a good plan... If we survive."
"Yes. That is the downside. Our chances of survival are pretty slim, but I'm sure we can make it. There has to be some sort of emergency exit, right?"
"You're right," Melchior agreed. "Now let's get this over with. Did you at least bring water?"
Melchior grabbed the canteen as Gaspar absently tossed it to him. He took a big swig, savoring the cool water, and gulping it down. But he stopped at one swig. He didn't want to waste it all. "Thanks, Gaspar. Here you go..."
But Gaspar was already inside the vent. Melchior cursed. "One of these days, I'm going to slip away while you're talking, and we'll see how you like it."
Grumbling, he stuffed the canteen into a pocket, and crawled up into the vent. Immediately, a blast of hot air hit him in the face, and he had to struggle to take in the boiling air. The shaft's metal was surprisingly cool, suggesting that it didn't conduct heat, something that Melchior was thankful for. He didn't want burnt hands and knees along with his lungs.
Soon spotting Gaspar, not too far ahead, Melchior scrambled forward to catch up, almost bumping into his friend in the process.
Wordlessly, they crawled on through the shaft. The view never seemed to change. Just metal on all sides, and an interminable stretch ahead and behind.
After a few minutes, Melchior was certain he was about to melt. He was about to call Gaspar's name, but suddenly stopped to avoid bumping into the man. Looking up, Melchior could see that they had reached the grate at the end of the shaft. He moved in closer, pushing Gaspar to the side a little, so he could see what was outside.
The shaft led to a metal hallway. Melchior and Gaspar could see robots, of varying shapes and sizes, walking, crawling, and rolling through the hall. None of them seemed to communicate anything to eachother, or make any noises.
"My guess," Gaspar announced quietly, "is that they run the Generator, because these conditions might be dangerous for humans."
"You could say that again," muttered Melchior. He glanced to the side and exclaimed, "Look, I think I just saw a person walk into that room over there."
He pointed, so Gaspar could see what he was talking about, and accidently struck the grate attached to the shaft. It suddenly pulled loose from the shaft, and before either of them could do anything, fell down to the floor, knocking over a robot in the process.
Instinctively, they both pulled back into the shaft, expecting an alarm to go off. But nothing happened. The robots continued along their paths, simply moving around the grate and downed robot when it got in their way.
"Maybe they're not designed to watch for anything suspicious," Melchior reasoned.
They both flinched as they heard a door open, and they saw that it was the same door Melchior had seen someone walk into. Out walked a woman with white hair, but a young face. She wore what Gaspar recognized as a black suit, similar to a magician's outfit, but with feminine touches. For instance, the pants were replaced by a skirt, and the black jacket, opened at the top, and buttoned near the bottom, had no white shirt underneath. She wore high heels, and a black top hat.
"That's an... interesting outfit," Melchior noted. Gaspar nodded absently, but remained silent as he watched what she'd do.
She walked up to the fallen grate, with the robot underneath, and bent over to examine it. She shook her head, and stood back up.
Ignoring robots as they swerved around her, she walked over to the opposite wall. She pushed a button that the two Gurus hadn't noticed. A small part of the wall slid aside, revealing what looked like a black ball, attached to the wall. She grabbed the ball, and pulled it out of the wall, and it turned out to be a microphone.
In a voice that made the two Gurus almost melt, she spoke into the microphone, "Clean up a robot and a grate in hall four," and walked back into her room.
Every robot in the hall stopped for a moment, and then all at once grabbed the grate and the robot, and moved them off down the hall to a different location. Then the traffic resumed as normal.
Using the oppurtunity, Gaspar and Melchior jumped out of the shaft, landing as quietly as they could, so as not to draw the woman out of the room.
Gaspar turned to Melchior and whispered, "All right, let's get to wherever the energy is drawn. I'm relatively sure that the room will be in the center of the complex," and he walked off down the hall, ignoring robots as they swerved around him.
"Relatively," Melchior quietly exclaimed, trying to catch up with Gaspar, "You're relatively sure? You didn't bother to research any of this stuff?"
Melchior didn't recieve an answer, but he wasn't surprised. Gaspar had always refused to answer questions he deemed unnecessary. They continued walking on. The hall was apparently circular, as it was constantly turning to the right.
Eventually, they reached a doorway. The words "Main Hall 4" were written down at eye level. Gaspar placed a hand on the door, looking for a knob of some sort, but the door slid open instantly.
They were immediately greeted by a choice. In front of them was a door that said "Circular Hall", and to their right was another hall.
Gaspar turned to Melchior. "I think I see how this Generator is formed. The main halls go to the center, and the circular hall circles all the way all around the complex. If the main power source is in the center..."
"Then we should follow this hall," Melchior finished for him. "I know. Let's go."
Following the hall, they eventually found another door. This door was marked "Fire Room". Sparing only a quick glance at Melchior, Gaspar put his hand on the door, and like before, it slid open.
They were immediately greeted by a blast of heat. "It's hotter than the vent was," Melchior complained.
Pulling out a handkerchief, Gaspar covered his mouth and nose, and replied with a muffled, "I know."
Melchior and Gaspar were standing on a bridge, over a pool of molten lava. The bridge led to a central platform, where robots moved back and forth, pushing buttons and pulling levers on a circular device that was attached to the ceiling, and whose bottom was in the lava pool. Four identical bridges branched out from the center platform.
Gaspar was the first to reach the center platform. By the time Melchior had gotten there, Gaspar had already examined several parts of the machine. He turned to Melchior. "We're in luck," he announced. "This machine is set up so that it can be manually operated. And it's connected to the whole facility. If we can find the controls for the ventilation system, we can shut it off, and get out of here."
Melchior simply nodded, and let his friend search for the controls. After all, Melchior didn't know one machine from another. He just hoped that Gaspar, having learned so much at the End of Time, did know a thing or two about machines.
"Found it," Gaspar announced, prompting Melchior to run over and join him. Gaspar turned a switch, and announced, "It's done. By my estimate, this place'll go up in about... Twenty minutes. More than enough time to escape, wouldn't you say?"
"I wouldn't," a voice announced, echoing throughout the room.
Melchior and Gaspar turned to see a man and the woman they'd seen before standing at the door they'd entered through. The man smiled. "Hello. My name is Kradish. You may or may not have heard of me, but I don't care. Your dooms are at hand."
The woman stepped forward as well. "Oh, now, Kradish, surely we can work something out with them," she gently scolded him in her melodic voice. "I'm sure they'd be only too happy to come with us after I have a little... talk with them." She winked at the two Gurus.
"To Hell with that idea," another voice muttered. A transparent form materialized in midair. They both recognized it as Norsif. "We don't need those geezers, any more than you need two new boytoys, Tirren."
Tirren pouted. "Oh, alright. I guess we'll have to kill them after all." She snapped her fingers, and all of the bridges except the one the Hellbound were standing on sank into the lava. "It's really a shame, too," she lamented.
"Believe us," Gaspar replied, "We're no happier about it than you are."
Kradish raised an eyebrow. "I imagine you aren't. The only way out of here alive is through us, and you can't succeed."
Melchior drew his sword. "Only one way to find out," he announced.
The two Gurus charged, as the Hellbound watched, amused.
"I'm going to leave here Ayin, and the only way to stop me is to kill
"I aim to please."
- Huzo and Ayin Strifeild, "The Creation of Heaven and Earth," by NeoKefka
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