The Shadows Chapter 25
By Keith Adams
There were many great days that Captain Gaston Xaler had been present for; he had seen the lands north of the Keep of Sun; he had seen the launching of the first Airship Enterprise in Guardia; he had seen the building of the docks of Medina; he had seen the Mystic Warship Magus, the largest ship ever built. But this moment - this one singular moment, was more impressive than them all. Gaston looked onto the wooden platforms being retracted from the ships, the planks go down and the crewmen go on the ships.
Gaston was in a huge, open arena, where in dirt and on concrete, the six airships of Guardia's Royal Air Force were being completed. They were nearly 100 meters long each, and 30 meters wide, with huge Gatling cannons and Cluster Cannons at the front. Made of reinforced wood and a thin plate of steel, with a circular ring in back which the guiding thrusters laid along, as well as a huge baloon, slowly increasing in size. One was longer than the rest; nearly twice as long and the others and half again more wide, it was the flagship; it was the Guru.
Gaston was slowly lowered from his wooden platform to the ground, where he saw a young man, smiling slyly, as if sharing a private joke with himself. The young man wore a black jacket and black jeans, and had brown hair carefully parted to the left. He glanced at Gaston and gave a small bow.
"Captain Xaler, I presume?" asked the young man in a cultured accent, extending his hand, which Gaston promptly shook.
"I am he. Who are you?" replied Gaston.
"I'm the chief engineer. It's been a bit hellish, recently, with that nasty succession buisness. Nasty stuff, that. The ambassador sent from Guardia was barely able to convince the Mayor of Choras to let us finish. I think the Mayor was planning on seizing the ships and taking them to strike back at the Mystics, but four transport ships full of troops stopped him. Still, it's a pity, that the Chancellor has given orders not to retaliate. With these ships, we could beat that overblown tub the Mystics cooked up out of J'mar knows where," the young man said, letting everything slip out. "Anyway, we've been ordered to fly these over Truce, maybe convince them to ally with us."
"I doubt it. Not as long as we refuse to strike back, the hotheads in charge of Truce's council won't accept us. Maybe in a few years, once the war is over."
"War, sir? The chancellor has said 'We are not at war with the Mystics' time and time again."
"It's a war in every way that truly matters. Did they teach you about the War of Shadow when you were young?"
"I still am young," replied the Chief Engineer "And I vaguely recalled the Shadow War - wasn't it where a political group among the Mystics tried to destroy Guardia? It doesn't matter, I suppose; we haven't heard from them since what - the Battle of Porre?"
"And they later tried to pull a nasty stunt, but it backfired. That's beside the point. I've studied the Shadows, and Ozzie the 8th looked like one. Guardia survived because the Shadows wanted it to survive - that, I'm sure of."
"Dark thoughts. Well, here we are. Are you ready?" asked the Chief Engineer.
Magus wandered the streets of Truce aimlessly. He was a long way from the inn where he had woken up and was now staying - thankfully, he still had a few gold coins lying around. The barmaid, Alicia, had been making advances on him for a wekk and a halg since his awakening. He wondered what she saw in him - he was a callous, ruthless, self-destructive bastard, in a very literal sense.
Magus looked down upon the clothes he was wearing; a black vest, white sweater, and black pants. His hair had been died black, and his skin even had a little color. He wore black gloves, and wrapped them around his scarf. Something was about to happen.
The sector of Truce he was in was not a paticulairly pleasant one; the buildings were decrepit, falling apart at the seams. The night air was pleasantly cool, tainted by the smell of seawater. Magus was in the southwestern corner of town, where liars, rogues, thieves and assasins lurked in the shadows, waiting for their chance to strike. A few torchposts lit the cobblestone street, and illuminated the shadow of someone trailing him. Magus kept walking, not altering his pace, then turned into an alleyway and spun around.
Three sruffy looking rogues vacously stared into Magus's gleaming red eyes, looking upon them with a cold disdain. One of the rogues was of average height and build, but had a scar running vertically across the right side of his face. The other two had brownish hair , and had dangerously lopsided smiles.
"Hello, Magus," said the one with a scar across his face. He got now further than those two words when Magus rammed his fist into his eye, causing him to double over in pain.
One of the other two rogues drew a long, slender, pointed dirk from under his jacket, and in the same motion, thrusted it at Magus. Magus easily sidestepped the thrust and, with an open hand, grapped the rogue's hand and slammed it against a wall, causing the dagger to go flying deeper into the dimly lit alley.
Magus barely had time to notice the dagger spiraling towards him. With a dismissive, whiplike motion of his hand, the threads of bluish energy seized the dagger and spun it into a wall. Magus proceeded to swing his elbow across the second rogue's head, causing the ruffian to crumple to the floor. Magus smashed his fist into the third rogues face, followed by a quick jab to the stomach. The rogue jasped and fell to the ground for a lack of air.
Magus grabbed the neck of the leader rogue, and raised him againts the wall. Magus glared at the rogue with hate.
"Who sent you?" asked Magus, balefully staring at the rogue.
"No one sent us -," Magus tightened his grip.
"Really. Then I obviously underestimated you; you are worth killing."
"Allright. Allright. Let me down."
Magus released his grip on the rogue, causing the scarred mugger to fall to the ground. Magus calmy picked up the dagger the second rogue had tried to kill him with.
"Interesting design. Very Mystic."
"We were sent by a man at the Blue Parrot Inn. Large fellow, short and fat. He had a few gangly guards with him. We were sent to tell you, to leave Guardia; once and for all, and never come back," offered the rogue.
"How was he dressed?" asked Magus.
"In a black robe," answered the rogue before the hilt of the dagger Magus was holding rammed into the back of his head, sending him into a deep sleep.
Lucca could see the sun, now. She was in shallow waters in the U'sab, nearing her houses docks. Crono had been captured. There was no way she could blow through that outpost - there must have been dozens of those ... things ..... in the Heckran Cave, possible more. She'd need the Epoch, with it's lasers, to challenge those things. Crono would proabably in Medina - the square, perhaps. The Epoch had solid enough armor to handle whatever magic those Shadows had.
The ocean was beautiful; schools of fish swan over the clear covering of the U'sab, their scales glimmering a dazzling array of colors in the light. Coral inhabited the floor, hosting dozens of organisms. Suddenly, a shadow was cast over the U'sab - a ship, noticed Lucca, looking up. A huge ship. She looked back, and the ship went back as far as the eye could see, several miles long, with outlines of portruding cannons along it. It was at least 200 meters wide. It could be only one thing; the Mystic Warship Magus. The Magus had been beaten once, through luck and Crono. Crono wasn't there this time, and the ship, extending several meters into the water, looked signifagantly meaner than the first time she saw it.
Two shapes were quickly approaching her; they swan under the water, and were the shape of a bird, but several times larger in every dimension. They were black, sheerly black. Lucca turned around the U'sab, and fiddled with the laser controls to blue-green. The shapes approached her quickly; they were only a few hundred meters away now. She charged up the guns, and fired.
There was no visible indication that bursts of lasers were now being fired from two dual gun turrents until a split second later, a hole was blown in the left shape with a flash of light, knocking the shape off it's axis, followed by other holes, sending the shattered shape to the ocean bottom.
The other shape started dancing around, away from the the wings holding the guns. Lucca carefully targeted the array atop the U'sab and fired at the shaped. A line cut the shape in half, neatly, sending both parts spinning to the ocean bottom. Lucca activated the left engine, turning the U'sab towards the shore, and headed with full speed towards the docks.
Crono awoke to a bright light, the light of a shining sun, sending it's rays onto a grassy hexagon platform. Crono was along, as far as he could tell, in Medina's square. In the center was an eight foot high statue, of a robed figure, with a mask on, and flowing hair. The figure had one hand in a fist, carefully covering it's heart, and the other hand opened, raised far above it's head. The figure had a look of rigid inflexibility, of a detirmination to do something the likes of which Crono had never seen. Crono felt the web of magic around him; they were black, tainted. Crono tried to draw upon them and withdrew in disgust at the oily, sinister feeling he got.
Suddenly Crono reliazed a shadow along the ground. He turned around, and saw a black robed figure like the one's in the cave, wearing a polished steel mask that seemed oddly expressionless.
"I see our guest has awoke. That's good. Do you want something - food, drink, women - anything, really?" asked the figure in a distant, neutral voice.
"Nothing from the likes of you," answered Crono, sensing the black threads had intensified, grown blacker somehow, while the figure was present.
"The likes of me - how naive you are. How foolish in your youth, still idealistic, still thinking that he can change the world, as if the world can ever be changed, now."
"Who are you?" asked Crono.
"An excellent question," answered the figure, smiling to himself, "I will show you, rather than tell you." - the figure removed him mask, and Crono recoiled in horror.
The face was his own, save older by ten years. Clean shaven, with red hair in every direction, and a bemused smirk on his face.
Captain Gaston felt the wind press against him, sitting, glued to his chair, imprisoned by the laws of acceleration. The Guru must have been a few miles, or more, high. The winds racked against his face, causing it to be alternately cold then warm, as the airships drifted over the ocean, the sun shining in their eyes. They were rapidly approaching Truce. The trip had taken only one hour so far, and it was only supposed to take an hour and a half. Gaston looked through the clear covering at the top of the Guru, and saw that land was approaching at a rapid pace; a city, Truce, and it's docks.
"Oh my," gasped his helmsman in horror.
"What?" screamed Gaston.
"Come here Captain," asked the helmsman, and Gaston grudgingly slid over to the navagators position, and gasped in horror. the Magus was attacking Truce with streams of black, reducing buildings and people to rubble.
Gaston raised his short range radio to his mouth and stated;
"All ships, arm cannons and prepare to attack."
"Captain, we've been given orders not to engage the Mystics by the Chancel-," said a whiny voice before Gaston cut him off.
"I repeat - we are going to destroy that ship."
Magus calmly walked into the Blue Parrot Inn. It was a dingy place, with various yellow molds growing in it's corners, a dirty bar with a tall, overweight man tending it, and tables filled with people in ragged clothes lurching conspiratorially over drinks. He saw in a corner booth a short fat man talking sitting complacently with two tall, thin, guards. Magus closed his eyes, feeling the web of magic in the inn. In one corner, in the shape of a fat man, were threads of black.
Magus knew what he had to do. Calmly, he paced over to the booth and poked the fat fellow. The fellow looked at him, and his eyes seemed ready to bulge out.
"Looking for me?" asked Magus, before shotting short bars of light into the corners of the booth from his torso; four gargoylian shapes apppeared for a split second before being consumed with fire "Then get rid of your puppets." A flash of dark appeared around Magus, and several more gargoyle's fell to the ground.
The two guards got up, but Magus quickly pumped as much magis as he could into them. The threads around them grew lighter and lighter until they were white, upon which the guards burst apart at the seams, spreading the gray skin of gargoyle's all over the booth.
Suddenly, arrows and knives hurtled at Magus, but they bounced harmlessly away a few feet before their target. Spinning around, Magus reliazed everyone in the room was a gargoyle; twenty or so in all.
"Adieu, Magus," smiled the fat man.
Lucca quickly exited the U'sab and went into her house, finding it eerily empty. She quickly took the stairs up to the attic, finding the Epoch gleaming in the open section of the roof. She opened the tophatch and got in. She fired the lower thrusters, sending the Epoch in to the air. She accelerated directly to the docks of Porre.
The Magus was huge, several miles long, and six airships of some sort were attacking them. The ships fired a black cluster of cannonballs, which exploded into a pillar of fire along the hull of the Magus, leaving only a charred hole surrounded by fire. One of the ships swung low, and continued to fire it's rear guns as it transversed the ship, leaving a trail of fire in it's wake, while the others kept their distance, firing at the Magus from above.
Suddenly, a 10 meter long cannon arose from the Magus, spun around, and fire at the airship traveling close to it. The ball hit the baloon, causing the airship to crash into the Magus and explode. Then the cannon aimed higher, shooting at the other airships, which soon scattered.
The airships all began to engage the Magus from a few dozen meters above it, pounding it with cannon fire. A black stream emerged from the Magus and cut into one ships bottom. The ship immediately began plunging, firing everything it could into one location. Lucca gave a small breath of relief as the ship managed to swing upwards and away from the Magus, but another ship was not so lucky; a stream punctured it's baloon, sending it spiraling into the ocean, where it's front crashed into an underwater rock; it stayed there, smashed and wrecked.
The remaining four airships were skimming the water now, trying to stay out of the streams and cannons way. One unfortunately ship hit the ocean at too steep an angle and flipped over into the Magus's rear; the explosion resulting sent debris flying everywhere.
Lucca skimmed the top of the Magus at maximum speed, seeing only a dizzying blur; the lasers swung left and right, sending out sheets of fire which the Epoch flew through unscathed. Suddenly, the cannon was approaching very quickly. Raising the guns, Lucca concentrated everything she could into the cannons hole. The cannon exploded, sending out flaming spheres which fell and exploded all along the Magus's hull.
The three airships began concentrating their firepower where the airship had crashed into the Magus, devastating the interior of the ship.
Suddenly a black stream covered the covering of the Epoch, and the clear covering slowly melted away. Lucca tried to turn the Epoch, but the stream followed her. It would bore through the covering in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, there was an explosion in the distance, and the beam stopped. The largest airship swung overhead, firing it's cannons into the one of the holes in the Magus's hull. There was the faint flickering of a fire columns top, when the Magus slowly began sinking. The other two airships broke off, and flew towards the larger one. The Magus was breaking in half.
A small ball flew towards one of the airships and exploded in the airships center, sending the airships flaming remains flying in all directions. The two remaining airships were flying off when one of the sections overturned, smashing into the smaller one. The larger one was able to escape the death throes of the Magus.
Lucca found someone coming in on her short wave radio.
"This is Captain Gaston of the G.S.S. Guru. We are thankful for your assistance. Is there anything we can do for you?"
"Actually," replied Lucca with a devlish thought in her mind "There is."
"You see Crono, the High Shadow shall force you to see everything you will do. When you see that what happens is inevitable, you will become one of us, immortal, wandering through time at your will. It will happen. If you join us today, you can do so while your strong, young, and you shall always remain that way. If you do it later, in twenty years, you will be middle aged for eternity. You shall join us, Crono - I am proof enough of that."
"You are not me," gasped Crono at the figure taunting him.
"Oh, but I am Crono. You have existed many times throughout the ages. In six hudred ad, I was you. Before that, you might have been Guardia the first. Who knows? I'm giving you the chance to do this without being begging on your knees for forgiveness, which you will do. It has been foreseen; it will happen; it is only a matter of time." replied the Shadow calmly, not changing his expression in the slightest.
Crono looked at the sun. There were two shapes in the sun; a small, winged birdlike ship, and a flying ship with a ovular shape at the top. They were coming down, swooping right towards the square, casting a shadow over it.
"No ... it cannot be ...," exclaimed the Shadow just as lasers plunged into it, causing it to crumple to the ground, nothing more than a burned, smoking corpse.
The Epoch landed, and Lucca popped out of the distance. The airship was off in the distance, firing cannons into Medina. Lucca smiled as she approached.
"How've you done?" asked Lucca.
"I'm not sure," answered Crono glumly, looking at the corpse lying on the ground.
Magus shot white hot bars of fire in quick succession at the Gargoyle's in the inn. When they hit, and they all did, the Gargoyle's erputed into fire, burning themselves into the next realm; when they died, the flames of judgement that destroyed them disspeared. A trio of Gargoyle's flew at Magus; Magus fired three bars of light at the Gargoyle's, and as each hit, the Gargoyle that was hit plunged to the ground. Magus grapped the arm of a Gargoyle lunging at him and tossed the Gargoyle into a pole, where a sickening crack marked the snapping of it's spine.
The fat man was escaping out the door. Ignoring the Gargoyle's, Magus jumped towards the fat man and sliced the knife he had retrieved from the rogue's across the fat man's spine. the man turned green, his belly expanded, and turned around. The creature was virtually identical to Ozzie, save he was a reddish color.
"Bad move, old man," stated the creature, who threw a black ball at Magus which struck Magus in the stomach, knocking him back into the bar.
Streams of blood rolled across Magus's eyes. Ozzie had raised a pillar of ice around himself. Magus tried to heat up the ice, but it remained constant. The ice didn't even change color. It just stayed there. Magus felt the web of magic surronding everything, and he saw the weaves making up the shield were entirely black. Perhaps he was going about this the wrong way. He concentrated on the weaves, turning them white, all at once. He felt the life draining from him, but he continued. Almost there .. he felt a stabbing pain in his stomach .... almost there .... he felt his body struggling to tear itself apart, every appendage being strained as if it was trying to remove itself from his body ... and it was done. Ozzie's shields collasped into an infereno of white light. Magus nearly collasped, but he could see the flailing form of Ozzie melting into nothing as it said;
"This is only the beggining. When our man in Guardia gets the Kingdom to declare war, the Shadows shall kill everyone too weak to survive, and the Mystics shall inherit the Earth."
Ozzie exploded into a column of white light as he was about to become a puddle of red ooze on the floor
The girl raged against the storm to no avail. It had beaten her. She was going to die; her thin purple robe could not save her from death. Her teeth chattered incessatantly. Her lips felt as if they were frozen.
Yet Schala pressed on, for to do otherwise would be to surrender to death; never again would she do that.
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