The demons were everywhere. They snapped and snarled and growled and
swiped, and were willing to crawl over each other to get to the slightest
scrap of meat. But they couldn't reach Janus, no matter how hard they tried.
It was like there was an invisible wall around him and his wife. Janus
noticed, but only vaguely. Instead, he concentrated on her.
Lucca was staring at him, her expression devoid of anything resembling
love, affection, or even tolerance for his mere existence. She looked at him
as if he were a total stranger, as if he had never rescued her during a
Kingdom raid all those years ago. But even if she didn't remember, he did.
And that was why he tried to reason with her.
"Lucca," he whispered, "why are you doing this?"
Lucca barked a contemptuous laugh. "Why? Simple. It's because you are a
traitor to the Kingdom, and I am a loyal subject of the Queen Zeal."
Janus shook his head slightly. "But you and I... We promised to be loyal to
each other before all else."
She laughed again. "Loyal? What do you know of 'loyal'? You, who betrayed
your very home? How could I ever trust one such as you?"
"What are you talking about? Valiod imprisoned me. What was I to do? Sit
back an be tortured until I died?"
"No, Janus. You should never have tried to interfere in the first place.
But what's done is done. It's too late to do anything about it now. You've
sealed your fate, and I will be the one to deliver you to it."
Janus shook his head, as if trying to clear something from his vision.
"But... but..." he spluttered. He suddenly looked into her eyes. He saw
nothing there. Nothing. "You're... You're not... you, are you?"
She raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean? I am who I always was: Lucca, the
greatest scientist of the Kingdom. And you are traitorous scum, just as you
always were, deep down."
"No." Janus drew his staff, holding it warily between his wife and himself.
"I am the same, but you are... different. I don't know how, or why, but
you're not my wife." His eyes narrowed. "Whatever you are, this charade has
gone on long enough."
Had Lucca been able to detect magic, she would have noticed that her
husband was veritably pulsing with it. In one swift movement, he released it
all, pumping all the power he could into a small black ball that flew from
the tip of his staff. It sucked up all of the light in the vicinity as it
streaked towards her chest, leaving behind a comet-tail of darkness. It flew
amazingly fast, too fast for any person to dodge.
Not fast enough.
In a movement so smooth and fast Janus was unsure how she did it, Lucca
leaned to the side, allowing the dark comet to streak by within an inch of
her, and explode among the demons about ten feet away. There was a maelstrom
of dark energy behind her, accompanied by the anguished screams of dying
demons, but as she stared at Janus, she didn't flinch.
"Impressive," she remarked. Her voice was emotionless, as if describing a
piece of furniture, not something that had nearly blown her in half. "We
didn't think you'd ever actually attack your wife, but you finally
managed it. You passed the test."
Janus blinked in surprise, but he didn't lose his defensive stance. "Test?
What are you talking about? And what are you, yourself? A robot?"
Lucca shook her head. "No. This is your wife's body. She's just not in
control right now. We believed that if anyone could return you to the
Kingdom, now that you've discovered your true power, it would be her. Of
course, she was too 'loyal' to be used against you, but in the end she had
no choice. Her own inventions betrayed her." When Janus didn't respond, she
continued, "The MC Chip and the Mech-Implants. One allowed us to control
her, and the other turned her into an effective weapon."
Janus stared at this thing for a moment. "Is there anything left of her?"
"Of course," it responded. "Why would you return to us if your wife was a
shell? No, she's in here. You can speak to her, if you wish. Right after you
help destroy these Travelers."
Janus continued to stare, trying to find some sign of life in his wife's
face. He saw nothing. Slowly, he shook his head. "No... Lucca wouldn't want
this. I won't betray our world. And if necessary... I will kill you. I will
Lucca nodded, as if expecting nothing different. "Too bad. You could have
been useful. However, we shall soon see how determined you are. Do you wish
to talk to your wife?"
As Janus watched, Lucca's face underwent a sudden transformation. The eyes,
formerly cold and emotionless, suddenly focused on him. The mouth opened,
and shouted, "Janus! No, Janus, run! I'm not in control-" Even as she said
this, her body stepped easily into a fighting stance. Her expression was one
of horror as her legs pushed off from the floor at an incredible speed,
propelling toward her husband. She screamed as her fist connected with his
jaw, and then the demons pounced.
Same Time Period
Lucca slowed down, trying to catch her breath and stare in every
conceivable direction at the same time. At the moment, she was hiding behind
one of the many faintly glowing capsules lining the sides of the hall. This
particular one held a rather large form, which Lucca refused to look too
closely at. She flinched as another bullet ricocheted from a nearby capsule,
and its denizen shifted slightly. That was creepy.
She snuck a glance around her own capsule, but was disheartened to see that
nothing had changed. Brandt still had his unnecessarily powerful rifle in
hand, and he was still scanning every shadowed area for a trace of the
inventor. A very faint greenish shimmer in the air reminded her why she
hadn't shot him already: a portable Dual-Defense shield, maintained by a
rather bulky device that Brandt dragged around with him everywhere.
Lucca barely suppressed a shout as a small, winged creature swooped down
towards her head. She aimed, pulled the trigger of her Wondershot, and
immediately jumped away from the area as a bullet struck. Brandt was a
crack-shot, and the Wondershot wasn't exactly inconspicuous, so Lucca had
tried to use it as little as possible. However, the demons small enough to
fit through the capsules were tenacious, and it was better to be spotted
surrounded by dead demons than to be quietly mauled to death.
As she ran, Lucca's mind worked. Brandt was using a Dual-Defense shield.
From the little bit of information she'd been able to get from Robo's
readings, such shields were two-way, which meant that Brandt's bullets had
to have some method of getting through. Most likely, the reason the rifle
was so big was that it had to generate an energy lining for the bullets, so
that they could get through the shield. However, that didn't explain the-
Grenade! Lucca again had to try to stay quiet at the sudden
explosion behind her. Along with his shots, Brandt occasionally tossed a
shrapnel or incendiary grenade among the capsules, trying to smoke her out.
More often, they blew demons to little pieces, but that didn't bother him
very much, or her.
Again, she was amazed at how well the capsules stayed together against such
an onslaught. The Hellbound inside was stirring slightly, but the glass, or
whatever it was, was un-scratched. The metal base, however, wasn't quite as
sturdy, though it was still in one piece.
Very carefully, she glanced around her newest capsule. Brandt was holding a
small, round object, facing away from her. He pressed a button on it, waited
a moment, and then in one quick moment, threw it, and snapped the shield off
for the second it took for the object to get out of range. In another
moment, an explosion told Lucca that the thing had indeed been a grenade.
Lucca frowned slightly. She could use this. Somehow, she could.
Same Time Period
Christina's eyes darted back and forth. After all, most of the time she saw
demons, they were trying to kill her, not just standing a good ten feet away
as if they had all the time in the world. But Schala apparently didn't want
them to attack, so they didn't. Which didn't bother Christina too much.
It's just a little creepy.
The familiar ring of steel against leather told Christina that her sister
had drawn her sword, a long sword that looked as if it needed two men to
wield it, but which Schala held one-handed. Schala's expression was cold and
determined as she gracefully stepped into a neutral stance, prepared for any
attack Christina might mount. In comparison, Christina's drawing of the
Frogmasamune looked clumsy, but neither had any doubt that the blade
"Well met, Jara," Schala remarked. "It's been a long time since I've seen
you. Nearly two decades, for you. You've grown."
"Not Jara," Christina told her sister. "That name belongs with the Kingdom.
I'm... Hotwire. And don't you forget it."
Schala merely nodded. "Fair enough. After all, names are unimportant. All
that matters is the dance."
In an instant Schala was a flurry of movement. Her blade caught and
reflected every nuance of light in the room, creating a glittering aura
around her as she swept through form after form, never pausing for an
instant. As she stepped, spun, and slashed, she spoke. "The Dance. The Dance
of truth and lies. Right and wrong. Life and death." She stopped suddenly,
as if she had never moved. "The Dance of the Blade."
Her breath didn't change a whit as she continued, "It is the only thing
that matters. The Dance decides destiny. Decides fate. The Blade saves, and
the Blade destroys. The Blade is all."
"Right..." Christina muttered. "Whatever you say. The Blade is all."
Inexplicably, Schala smiled slightly, though her eyes didn't change. "You
do not believe."
Christina raised a doubtful eyebrow. "No, I don't. This sword is a tool. A
powerful tool, but a tool nonetheless. It goes where I tell it to. It
doesn't have a mind of its own. I'm the master."
Schala's smile didn't lessen. "You think so? That is too bad. You have yet
to accept the truth. The Blade is not simply a sharp metal construct you use
to fight. It is your identity. It is mine as well. There are some who have
different lots in life, but as for you and I, we are destined to follow the
Blade. The Blade is our life. Our fate. Our all. The Blade has created
nations, and has brought down great men. The Blade is the ultimate arbiter
"What are you talking about? Justice? What kind of justice? Might makes
Schala's smile vanished. "Right is might. In the end, the just must
succeed, because they are just. No corruption can withstand the Blade. The
one who stays in power does so because he deserves it. The moment one
becomes weak enough to lose power, he is unfit to wield it."
Christina couldn't help but shake her head in disbelief. "You're crazy.
You're saying that the stronger person is always right. What about the bully
on the playground? Is he right because he can beat up the other kids?"
"If he was truly so bad, why would the other children not stand up to him?
No, he is right as long as they allow him to rule, and any who resists
deserves any punishment they get."
"You're trying to justify the destruction of thousands of people for the Kingdom's plans! Well, you're wrong! The Kingdom is wrong! It shouldn't exist! It's a blight in the planet's history! And we will wipe it out!"
Schala shook her head slightly. "You must defeat me first. When you have done so, you will have proven your rectitude. Until then, my honor binds me against you."
"You're wrong," Christina repeated, trying to keep conviction in her tone. "If you keep this up, you will lose, and all for a cause that was wrong the whole time."
"Prove me wrong, Jara. Hotwire. Christina. Whoever you are. We shall dance the Dance of the Blade, and you will win, or you will lose. But I shall not change my path."
Christina nodded. "Very well. Prepare yourself."
Schala smiled again. "Let us Dance."
"Blade, be true this day."
To Chapter 82
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