Chrono Continuum Chapter 86
Wanderings of the Mind
Darkness. The only word that came to her mind, because it was all that surrounded her, visually, aurally, and viscerally. Complete darkness. More than the darkness of simple sleep. Normal sleep had dreams, and your senses still functioned, even though it took something of a jolt to wake you up.
No, this was the darkness of complete isolation from the world. Possibly near-death. And who knows, maybe Christina would have eventually slid down into true death, would have given up the fight for life in exchange for an easy ending. Perhaps she would have just stopped breathing, and she wouldn't have to worry anymore.
But she didn't.
Perhaps it was because she was able to use some of her magic to keep herself from slipping away. Perhaps it was because her system was still pumped with adrenaline. Or perhaps it was just because she was Hotwire, damn it, and she wasn't going to give in to some demon with delusions of grandeur. So she fought the downward spiral into the cold, into the numbness. But for all she fought, she could only keep pace with her failing body. She couldn't get enough of a lead to actually ensure her survival and wake up. As she struggled to keep her mind functioning, faces and forms flitted by in her consciousness, possibly in an effort by her mind to gain her bearings.
She saw Glenn-or was it Frog?-standing in place as the world passed by around him. His eyes were sad as a tree was planted, grew, and died, and he remained the same. Hotwire-or was she Christina?-looked on, wanting to free him, but not knowing what to do about it. From all accounts, Frog had lived a rather lonely, if honorable, life. Whom did he love enough to release his curse? And would he want that freedom if offered it at such a price, the death of a loved one?
Her mind moved on. Her father, no longer in his dark clothing, his eyes light violet again, his skin a healthy tan, a sad smile on his face. He'd gained so much-freedom, a daughter, his true potential-but what had he lost in the exchange? Lucca, his wife flashed by, no longer the bubbly, quirky personality she had always been, and would possibly never be again. His eldest daughter, becoming a stranger, and then an enemy, possibly even a madwoman. Finally, his own dark power, which threatened at every moment to engulf his spirit and plunge it into shadow, submerging that spark of vitality that shone so brightly under an icy river of disdain and cold anger. Once that happened, if that happened, he'd become... What?
The Magus. The thought chilled her, so much so that she almost thought her body must have shivered. What line separated her from the cold man she'd met in passing, who might have destroyed the Heroes long ago, had their mission not coincided with his hatred, his need for revenge? It was a very thin line, she knew, and every time Janus dipped into his Shadow magic, the line thinned, until eventually it might vainsh. It was only strength of will that kept Janus from becoming another Magus, and it was that same strength of will that kept the Magus from becoming...
A monster, she realized. He was already somewhat inhuman in appearance. How much would it take to tip that delicate balance between the cultured, tortured Prince, and the cruel, hateful, vengeful, powerful beast within? And once that balance was broken, what would become of his physical form? It was a frightening thought, that someone of the Magus' power could lose himself in that all-consuming rage. But fortunately the Magus' power relied not only upon magic, but upon ice-cold self control, that the Magus would never relinquish. Christina vaguely wondered how she knew so much about the man, but she soon realized he wasn't that complex. Deep inside, he was still Janus, trying to do what he thought best, trying to avenge his lost sister, and trying to rid the world of the forces that had taken her from him. Dark forces to which his own personal hatred paled...
Dark forces, she thought. Her mind was sluggish, and slow to respond to the new thought process. Something evil. Fighting. What is it...? And then the memories crashed in on her dark peace, of the Red Omen, the tunnels, the possession, the demon-Gaston!
Air burst into her lungs as Christina inhaled, and she coughed as her lungs spasmed, trying to draw in as much air as possible after several minutes-two, three?-of being unable to do so. Her eyes fluttered open, but she wasn't blinded, as she might have normally been after such an awakening: there wasn't that much light in the cave. She could hear sounds of scuffles, but she couldn't turn her head enough to see the fight that she knew to be in progress. From her vantage with her face on the ground, she could see Lucca, also lying down, unconscious. Janus was no longer kneeling over her. He must have gone to join the fight. Christina could feel blood soaking her normally colorful hair. No doubt it was now crimson.
Can't think about that too much, she berated herself. Got to concentrate... Must... get...
"Up," she whispered, her first voluntary movement since regaining consciousness. She tried to sit up, but only groaned with the ineffective effort. She tried to take stock of her faculties. She could feel most of her body. Her tongue was thick in her mouth, but she could deal with that. The blood was still flowing from the back of her head. She smiled. No little concussion's going to keep me down. She grunted as she tried to sit up again, again failing utterly. But it's sure as hell trying its best.
Biting her lip against the pain, she finally sat up. She was hit by a sudden wave of dizziness, but it passed, and she looked around the small cavern. Masa and Mune were still doing what they could against Gaston, but though the demon now sported a black eye, and what looked to be a broken arm, it fought on as if untouched, and Masa and Mune were obviously slowing down, tired. Christina was disgusted to see that Gaston wasn't even sweating, though she honestly didn't know if it needed to sweat in the first place. After all, it still wasn't breathing. Meanwhile, Janus was doing what he could, standing off to the side as he held his staff with his good arm, his broken arm hanging limply down at his side. Christina hoped for his sake that it wasn't infected. Though Janus was obviously unable to do much physically, he was throwing everything he could think of while trying to conserve energy, some of the attacks visible, some of them not.
Suddenly a sharp report rang throughout the cave, and Gaston fell to its knees in surprise, and possibly unexpected pain, as a bullet ripped through the back of its dress. It stood slowly, and turned to see Lucca, standing, albeit somewhat unsteadily. But her aim was rock-steady. Christina shook her head, trying to clear fog from her thoughts. Lucca had already shot it more than ten times, and the thing hadn't flinched, but... As she remembered, Christina called, "Lucca! Aim for the head!"
Without turning, Lucca nodded, and the gun angled upward slightly, almost imperceptibly, and fired. The bullet ripped through the air, and Gaston tried to dodge, impossibly fast but not quite fast enough, and the bullet slammed into the demon's eye in an explosion of fluids, passing back out through the temple beside it. Gaston fell to the ground, the back of its head making a loud smack as it hit the stone. The remaining eye stayed open, wide and unblinking, staring upwards. The unnerving smile was still on the creature's mouth.
Compared to the fevered sounds of battle, the sudden silence of the room was overpowering. Janus and Masa and Mune were all breathing heavily, carefully watching the body. Lucca's gun was trained on the forehead, in case the creature had somehow survived. Unlikely, Christina thought. But possible, she added. Sweat was running down Lucca's face from the tension. A bead of sweat ran into her eye, and she blinked it out-
-and Gaston was suddenly in a crouch, so fast that nobody even knew how, and it jumped, like a pouncing tiger, towards Lucca. Lucca fired once in the time between the jump and contact, but the bullet went to the left slightly, taking off an ear and hitting the demon's shoulder. Gaston didn't blink its one eye in response, instead grabbing Lucca by the shirt and lifting her effortlessly from the ground, its other hand grabbing Lucca's hand to keep her from aiming her gun anywhere painful.
Its expression was one of slight annoyance. "I thought I killed you," it hissed.
"I don't die easily," Lucca rasped, her voice harsh, like feet shuffling gravel. "I thought I killed you."
Gaston shrugged, never taking its one eye from Lucca's face. The gaping hole in its face didn't seem to bother it. "You very nearly did. I'm impressed. Three inches to the center, and you would have hit brain. Next time I fight someone with a gun, I'll be sure to make sure they're dead. Those are very nasty toys."
It suddenly wrenched the gun from her hand, and held it up before her face. As she watched, the gun began to smoke, and the features began to meld into each other. The edges began to soften, and the metal turned into liquid, sliding through the unharmed fingers of the demon in a woman's form. Lucca's skin reddened and her eyes watered at the intense heat, so close to her head, but her gaze didn't waver, and she definitely didn't look scared. Gaston raised its eyebrow at Lucca's expression. "I'm impressed. Most people would see that and wet themselves. Or plead for their lives. But you're not going to do that, are you?"
Christina suddenly got an idea. With some effort, she reached her free hand into her pack at her side, rummaging around for something, a certain object. Meanwhile, Lucca shook her head. "I'm not going to plead for anything. It wouldn't do any good anyway. You're too cold-hearted to know what mercy means."
Gaston's eye widened in mock-surprise. "You cut me to the quick. Of course know about mercy. I just never thought it was a very good idea. I always preferred cruelty, sadism, and the like."
Christina smiled as she found it: a small rod. She began to pull it from the pack, but turned her head at the sudden sound of footsteps running through the stone corridors. Everyone else but Gaston turned to look as well. The sound got louder as the source got closer and closer. Finally, a dark form burst into the light: Lucca, Christina's mother.
"Forty-five seconds," she gasped. "Red Omen. Self-destruct."
There was silence in the chamber, as everyone stared at her, and Lucca looked back, taking in the whole picture. For a long moment, there was only the sound of her labored breathing. Then, abruptly, Gaston laughed aloud. "Well," it announced. "You all are screwed."
"Even from a dark night songs of beauty can be born."
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