Parasite: Part 3, Chapter 1
Son of a--
If it was the closest that Spekkio had ever come to swearing aloud, he was far too angry to take note of it. He did realize, as the mercenary dodged back and forth, silently taunting him with a satisfied grin, that his normally laid-back demeanor had seemed to have become elusive since the children brought this Meridio character to meet him. Concentration during a duel was more of a chore, and did not come as easily somehow as he found himself dancing among a volley of fireballs thrown by his challenger. His only consolation for this fog of mental distraction was the fact that he sensed much of the same feelings in the adventurers themselves.
Pausing for thought gave his opponent an opportunity to toss another ball of ethereal fire at the War Master. Putting up a hasty defense left the Nu-shape open to receive the created blade of ice whipped at him as Meridio dashed to the side and rolled away from where he had stood to throw the fireball. Tearing into Spekkios leg, the shard of ice continued through the shape-shifters limb and pushed through the wall of his chamber.
Clever, the War Master applauded through clenched teeth. But you havent yet found your Shadow center, have you?
Give me a minute, Meridio smirked as he leapt to his feet, letting the Shigenki pendant around his neck dance with the same arrogance that he displayed. It was easy enough to find the others, once I learned how to summon Magic. The last wont be hard at all.
I wouldnt say tha-- Spekkio allowed the mans speech to distract him once again, and Meridio used the opening to charge the War Master and deliver a harmless-- but disorienting-- kick to the side of the Nu-shapes head. Before Spekkio could recover, Meridio slapped his hand between the shape-shifters eyes and channeled a massive wave of electricity into the creatures body. Convulsing wildly, the War Master jerked backwards and slammed into the wall beside the door to his room.
Okay, the mercenary declared, You want Shadow? Lets see what we can do about that He assumed a defensive stance, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth as Spekkio crawled to his feet.
Knowing that the man had yet to fully contain his abilities, the War Master regarded his position as more than disadvantageous. If a stray spell should make its way out of the chamber, the children waiting in the End of Time courtyard would not be prepared to handle it. He had to reach the other end of the War Chamber. Not knowing when the mercenary might attack, he hastily devised a plan.
Crouching for a quick moment, the Nu-shape trembled under the silent chanting of a defensive spell. As the man watched edgily, three other Nu-forms appeared out of thin air: two to the right of the creature and one to the left. The other images seemed less corporeal than the real Spekkio, until the War Master himself began to fade from view slightly. The four shapes began stomping back and forth rhythmically, performing an odd dance while staring at the man through vacant eyes. Meridio found himself following the dance as he continued to search his essence for his natural Shadow element.
Without any warning, the rightmost Nu-form dashed forward, assuming a fully physical vivacity and letting the other three shapes disappear. As it barreled towards Meridio, the mercenary threw his hands together and crossed his wrists. His forward-facing fingertips channeled a wide beam of pure black energy that met Spekkios face and resisted the creatures charge.
Spekkio seemed to glow with a whitish aura as he pushed against the attack. The two struggled for a tense moment before Meridio, with an almost feral yell, threw his entire weight forward one step and increased the intensity of his assault. Growing wider and darker, the beam shoved Spekkio back and into the wall once again. The mercenary continued to pour energy into the spell for a moment longer. A muffled scream emanated from behind the beam, and when Meridio abated his attack Spekkio fell, exhausted, to the floor. Cracks in the wall behind him traced the shape of the War Master.
Slightly winded himself, Meridio relaxed his posture and grinned in approval at the look on the Nu-shapes battered face. As the shape-shifter righted the structure of his head and stood, he heaved a painful sigh.
Taking the Shigenki talisman in his hand, the man eyed Spekkio maliciously and declared somewhat severely: I guess all that is left is to figure out this Shigenki maneuver.
As Meridio took another fighting stance, the War Master painfully forced his head to regenerate itself and awkwardly blurted out, No! Not here!
You cant do that here, the Nu-shape explained wearily. The energy discharge would tear this place apart. Wait until you get back to the real world.
Meridios happily devilish glare turned angry, but faded to mere disappointment as he relaxed his posture. He took a moment to stare down the squat creature, then smiled and asserted, Ill see you after Ive killed Helminthes, before swaggering out of the War Chamber.
Spekkios eyes followed the man as he exited, and the War Master allowed a pause before grimly muttering: Yeah.
The mercenary found the other adventurers milling around at the other end of the courtyard. Marle and Lucca leaned against a wall beside each other, apparently talking to the amphibian knight who paced around near the tattered sack of his belongings. The old man stood at the light pole as he always did, yet was uncharacteristically awake. All except he turned their eyes to the man almost warily.
Lets go, he pronounced congenially.
Lucca stepped towards him somewhat sheepishly and inquired, We are making two trips, right?
No, Meridio replied matter-of-factly. We only need three in the group.
If thou might require my assistance, Frog piped up cautiously, Mine blade is at the ready.
We dont need you, the mercenary said, adding the subtlest bid of emphasis to the final word.
Then let me get Robo ready first, Lucca proposed, moving towards the immobile heap of metal that formed the android.
Im the only one who really needs to go, Meridio asserted, But Im taking Marle and Lucca with me.
The two young ladies shot glances between themselves. Why is that? the princess asked.
Youve done the most to help us all out, he answered. You should be there when Helminthes dies.
An awkward essence swept through the courtyard; Gaspar cleared his throat as quietly as he could. Frog rounded the light pole and approached Meridio. I might warn thee not to allow thine--
You might not warn me at all, the man retorted sharply. And, before either of the other two could protest, he ordered them to the Epochs runway. As they indignantly filed into the time craft, he declared: The sooner we do this, the sooner you can go home to your friend.
The frog-man narrowed his eyes at the exiting mercenary, forcing himself not to draw his sword as his instinct compelled him to do. Shattering the eerie silence of the End of Time, the Wings of Time split the fabric of existence for what Frog worried might be the last time.
Controlled disarray might have been the best way to describe the crowded two-room shack that sat on the base of a twisted peak among the Denadoro mountains. Belongings littered tabletops and drawers, most of the latter laying partially open and threatening to spill their contents. Even among such clutter, Meridio seemed well at home and able to find everything he needed. Gathering the few odds and ends that he insisted he required, the mercenary promised his companions that he needed little time.
Staying in the combination kitchen-living-dining room, Marle and Lucca found themselves staring at the various weapons and gadgetry scattered around the mans house. Marle attempted to shatter the awkward silence by making small talk. So, how long have you lived here?
About eight years, Meridio responded loudly from the bedroom. When I was old enough to decide to leave home, I lived in Sandorino for a couple of years, then built this house on my own.
Where did you live before you left home?
It was a place not too far from Choras, he continued, exiting his room and trying to find a spot on his belt to hang the last few odds and ends. Finding none, he resigned not to take them, and tossed the small knife and length of chain onto a rickety table. Moving the two young ladies to the front door, he picked his coat up and examined the fire damage caused by the zombie horse Farcy. Languidly tossing the article aside, he ushered the other two out the door and retrieved his mace.
Lucca piped up for the first time since they left. First we stopped in Lachesis to find your weapon, and now this. I thought you said we didnt have much time.
We dont, he admitted, But let me remind you that Im the one whos going to kill Helminthes, so we have to make time for me. He heaved his belt a little higher, having weighed it down with a large hunting-style knife and a couple of pouches filled with items his comrades never saw him pack. Slamming the door to his hut closed, he caught something that almost fell from one of the pockets on his belt. The inventor peered at the tarnished metal canister in his hand.
Is that a flask? she inquired.
Of course not, he said patronizingly, motioning for the both of them to start down the foothill.
They both stopped in their tracks and faced him; the scientist spoke first. Maybe you are the one whos going to kill Helminthes, but thats all the more reason for you to need to keep a clear head.
This, he said, regarding the small metal container, Is simply to help a little along the way.
You didnt need help when you went looking for Frog, she argued.
True, but that wasnt as big a job as this. I may need something to pick me up if I get exhausted.
We have medicines for that, the princess mentioned, indicating the pack of supplies at Luccas side.
Meridios face soured, and he hesitated for a moment before grudgingly pitching his flask onto the ground next to his front door. He cocked an eyebrow at the young inventor and motioned for the two to follow him down the hill. Lucca shot a worried glance to the Guardian heir, but Marle was not looking to see it.
Trekking through the mountains took the better part of the afternoon, and a couple of complaints were made on behalf of the young ladies that the trip to Meridios home was probably not necessary. Their words fell on deaf ears; Meridio barely acknowledged them. When the group reached the edge of the mountain range, he pointed out an anomaly to the west.
Look at that, he said, Theres no trace of Sandorino anymore.
Yeah, Marle deduced as she scanned the horizon, Helminthes must have come back and finished the job.
And its already done, Lucca observed. It could be back at any time in our era.
Then lets go, the man urged, heading east.
Go where? Marle asked.
To Ozzies castle. Well make him summon Helminthes back there or at least tell us where it is.
He may not be able to do either, the young scientist pointed out. Upon receiving a cold glare from the mercenary, she added: But I guess it is the best place to start.
Traveling to the so-called Magic Cave was a more awkward journey than that through the Denadoro Mountains. It seemed to take much longer for the two Guardians than it actually did. Upon reaching the passage to Magus island, Meridio said invitingly, Here we are.
Well, lets do this, then, Lucca replied, trying to sound friendly.
Leading the trio into the recesses of the cave, the mercenary snatched a stubby torch from one of the rusty metal clamps placed in the cavern walls by the Mystics. Kept alive by a spell, the ever-burning hunk of wood cast ominous shadows around the cavern as Meridio swept it back and forth in his path. Rounding a sharp turn, the group peered down a vast stretch of the passageway. Grim silence was suddenly interrupted by a loud squeaking sound nearby. All three jumped in surprise, and the man nearly dropped his torch as he threw a bolt of lightning at the disturbance.
Arcing onto the spot of the noise, the discharge grasped a small hairy creature. The purple-coated monster squealed in pain as its body was racked by the electricity. It quickly died and filled the cave with the nauseating stench of its charred flesh.
Lucca and Marle finished heaving a sigh in near tandem after the agitation when a voice echoed through the cave:
Im impressed, someone called haughtily, That rat never stood a chance. You kids may prove to be too much for me.
All three strained to see who, from further down the cave, had been talking to them, as the grotto was permeated with a satisfied chuckle that soon grew into a full-throated laugh.