Thirty seconds to detonation.
For a long time, so long it might have been an eternity, there was only
silence. Christina was sitting limply against a wall, one hand numbly
clutching the Frog with one hand, her other hand in the satchel at her side.
Janus looked to be in deep concentration, as if figuring out how to avoid
certain doom. Which he was. One of the two Lucca's was being held in the air
by Gaston's untiring hand. The other Lucca was standing at the entrance to
the tunnel, breathing heavily. Masa and Mune were staring at each other with
wide, unblinking eyes.
Gaston turned its head, an expression of anger and disdain on its face as
Janus suddenly called out, to everyone and noone in particular, "Distract
it!" At the same time, Christina lifted one hand, pulling the slender metal
rod from the pack at her hip. Masa and Mune turned and charged toward the
still demon. Janus' wife leapt from her place at the tunnel's entrance,
moving almost as fast as they had all seen the demon move before.
Taking advantage of Gaston's momentary distraction, Lucca drew back her arm
, her left arm, the arm off to Gaston's side, and threw her fist at the
demon's elbow with all her might, striking what she knew to be a sensitive
nerve. The demon didn't seem to register pain, but the body's nervous system
was still obviously responsive, because the hand holding her up like she was
nothing suddenly opened, allowing the fabric of her shirt to slip through
the strong fingers. As she dropped, Gaston ignored her and brought its arm
up just in time to block a punch from a jumping Mune, and used the movement
to push him away even as it turned to his brother, approaching on the cold
stone floor. Janus closed his eyes and leaned his head backward, his brow
tightened in concentration. Christina drew in her breath and withdrew one
leg so that its foot was flat on the stone floor.
Lucca's feet hit the ground with a slap, and stumbled backward, trying to
regain her balance. Masa jumped into the air, his short leg extended in a
kick, but Gaston side-stepped the attack and elbowed the little creature in
the stomach, his own velocity driving the blow in with extra strength. As he
fell to the ground, Janus' wife got a clear view of her enemy and jumped
into the air in an effort to tackle it.
Christina brought her other leg under her body and used both legs to stand,
at the same time, pressing a small button on the rod in her hand. As the rod
extended with a series of clicks, Janus' wife slammed into Gaston, just as
Lucca, still behind the demon, ducked, tripping Gaston up so that it fell to
its back, Janus' wife kneeling on its chest. There was a humming to the air
as Janus began to emanate darkness, much as a lantern might emanate soft
light in a certain radius.
As the rod extended to its full length, Christina pressed the small button
again, causing the hidden blade along one end to spring into being.
Unfortunately, the blade was on the end closest to the floor, and no use to
her. Janus' wife punched downward at Gaston's face, but the demon brought up
its hand, grabbing her fist inches away from the one eye. Mune stood,
looking back between the scuffle to his right and Janus to his left, trying
to decide which to aid. Meanwhile, Janus' teeth were bared in a snarl, and
cracks began to appear about the floor around him, and the ceiling above
Janus' wife cried out in surprise as Gaston's leg came up from behind her,
kicking her in the back of her head, so that she tumbled over the demon's
head, giving it a chance to sit up, just in time to see Lucca's (not Janus'
wife) foot swinging towards its face with devastating force. Christina
quickly spun her spear, fully formed, around with practiced skill across the
back of her free hand. Mune reached down a hand to help his brother up,
tilting his head towards Janus in unspoken suggestion.
Lucca's foot slammed into Gaston's face with an audible crack, smashing its
nose in a sudden spray of blood. Gaston's head again slammed into the cold
stone, but it was obviously not beaten yet. In a flurry of movement, Janus'
wife jumped to her feet, and turned to help out her alternate. Christina
raised her sword in the air, and slid it into its sheath: she wouldn't be
needing it. The darkness surrounding Janus changed in shape from a sphere to
a rough cylinder, reaching from the floor to the ceiling.
Gaston used its backward momentum and turned into a backward roll, in which
it pushed off the cold floor with its hands, propelling itself into the air
so that it landed behind Janus' wife. Even as she turned, it was obvious she
wasn't going to be able to defend herself from the demon in time. Christina
leaned forward into a running position, and her legs pushed off from the
cold stone with a force born from desperation.
Janus' wife was knocked from her feet by a vicious uppercut, the sound of
the wallop itself painful in its implications. There was a collective grunt
as she slammed into Lucca, and they both crashed to the ground in a heap.
Gaston's attention instantly turned to Janus as Masa and Mune each took one
of his hands, and mimicked his stance and expression.
Christina dashed forward, but she could already see that she wouldn't be
able to catch up with the demon before it could reach Janus and the
brothers, and disrupt whatever it had planned. Janus' wife sat up, and
reached out a hand to try to stop Gaston as it ran by, but it expertly
evaded her grasp, charging towards the wizard as he stood undefended.
Christina winced at the sudden roar, as the darkness surrounding the three
forms solidified. She had to fight to stay standing as the force of the
blast suddenly radiated outward, followed by slivers of stone dislodged as
the magic's full force smashed into the ceiling. Christina's distance
protected her from most of the force of the blast, as well as the stone
shrapnel. Gaston had no such luck. It flew back as if hit with the
detonation of a bomb, but there was no fire or smoke, only the continuing
roar and the flight of stone chips throughout the tunnel. The two Lucca's
cried out as they were also thrown back, though not as far.
Gaston flew past Christina, nearly hitting her, instead slamming into the
wall behind her. It didn't cry out, but nobody would have heard it if it had
over the roar of Janus' magic tunneling through the hundred or so feet of
rock overhead. It landed on its feet, prepared to try to attack again, but
Christina was now between the demon and its target.
Silently, it attacked, jumping forward in an instant in order to bring its
clasped hands down to strike Christina in the shoulder, but the thief was
well-trained with the spear, and instinctively raised the spear into the
air, the strong metal holding even as the supernatural strength slammed down
into it with enough force-almost-to break her arms.
The two Lucca's managed to get to their feet, and turned to run in different
directions: one to aid her daughter, and one to aid the wizard. Christina
back-stepped to avoid a wild swing by the demon, but was caught off-guard as
Gaston continued forward, slamming its shoulder into her chest.
Gaston stepped back, allowing her to stumble back, so that it could raise
one arm to block a hook from Janus' wife, and sidestepped to dodge the next
Gaston, having thrown the woman off-balance with its sidestep, leaned
forward, and smashed its fist into her gut, eliciting a cry of pain. She
fell forward, holding onto Gaston's arm. At the same time, Lucca, her
alternate, forced her way into the dark energy, slowly moving through the
The demon raised its other arm to strike Janus' wife in her undefended back,
but the butt of Christina's spear suddenly caught it under the chin,
knocking it off balance so that it stumbled back. At the same time, the roar
of the magic suddenly increased as Lucca added her power to the mix.
Gaston finally regained his balance, and threw a punch at Christina, who was
still turning from the momentum of her last strike. However, she ducked the
blow and thrust her spear upwards, slamming the spear's blade through the
demon's torso under its ribs, so that the spear moved up into the rib cage,
lodging there. Gaston seemed unhurt, but was stunned for a moment.
The roar suddenly lessened considerably, and Janus' voice called out from
the column of magic, "Come on!" Hotwire suddenly understood, realized that
Janus had broken through to the surface. She smiled, and pressed another
button, this one hidden, on the shaft of the spear, and jumped back to avoid
a swipe from the demon.
Light suddenly burst into the tunnel from two separate sources. Janus' blast
of shadow magic had vanished, allowing sunlight to shine into the cavern
through the tunnel created by the powerful blast. At the same time,
electricity engulfed Gaston as the spear's power kicked in. There was no
scream. Christina wasn't surprised. She knew that electric shock prohibited
speech or any specific movement. She ran, along with her recovered mother.
As they joined the other four figures, Christina was shocked to see Gaston's
arms slowly reaching for the shaft of the spear, to pull the painful object
free. But she ignored it, instead focusing on her father. He looked deathly
pale, and he was breathing heavily. She could feel his magic envelop her,
and guessed that the same thing was happening to the others.
They all suddenly lifted off the ground, through Janus' efforts, and flew up
through the large hole in the ceiling, bringing them into a vertical tunnel.
Feeling Janus' magic, she could tell that his power was fading, so she
reinforced him, adding his strength to hers, and increasing the speed of
They flew along through the vertical tunnel, their magically-enhanced minds
spotting irregularities and obstacles to be dodged even as they flew.
Christina reached into her pack, and instantly found what she was looking
for. Back under the ground, Gaston's hands grasped the shaft of the spear,
even as the rest of its body twitched and jerked.
Their flight continued, and Christina dropped the timed mine, smiling as it
adhered to the side of the tunnel. Three seconds, she thought, hoping to
cave in the tunnel, because you never knew. Meanwhile, Gaston gritted its
teeth, having dealt with much more pain than simple electrocution. With a
triumphant grin, it pulled the spear free.
They burst through the surface of the earth like an eruption, but didn't
stop there. They were still in the radius of the shield, they soon realized.
But they didn't stop. The further they were from the Red Omen when it
exploded, the better. At the same time, Gaston dashed over to the hole in
the ceiling, and flew from the cold floor with a burst of energy that
shattered the stone like clay.
They were rising further and further from the ground now, but they still
were far from the shield, which was a dubious safety anyway, but it was all
they had. Gaston rocketed on, at speeds far greater than that of the
Travelers, smiling because they couldn't escape it. However, it paused, for
a split second as it noticed a device sticking to the wall of the tunnel.
Such was the force of the explosion, that Gaston was thrown downward back
through the tunnel, its face a charred mess, its clothing now blackened
shreds. It hit the cold stone floor of the underground tunnel with enough
force to break most of the bones in its body, and even crack its skull open.
It snarled in rage as it realized it couldn't catch them now, even if it did
go to the trouble of getting up.
The Travelers flew on, unaware of Gaston's injury. They were so close to the
shield now. How much time did they have left?
One second to detonation.
Christina gritted her teeth. They were so close to the shield now that it
was closing in on them, becoming a threat in itself. They were going too
fast. They couldn't slow down. She felt Lucca conjuring power to try to
weaken the shield's defenses. The shield was fifteen feet away. Ten feet.
In the Red Omen, the counter reached zero. There was a pause, and all
systems save for the timer shut down. In that pause, the shield vanished,
and the Travelers let out a collective cry of relief as they shot through
the air where the shield had been but a moment before. Also in that pause,
Gaston abandoned Parsa's battered body, seeping out through what was left of
her mouth, nose, and ears, and vanishing to find a better host elsewhere. As
he vanished, Parsa screamed as the collective pain of all of her injuries
hit her at once, still alive, if only for a second more, explosion or not.
But the explosion came. The light was blindingly brilliant, brighter than
the sun, brighter than millions of suns, and they all had to turn away to
keep from having permanent eye damage, as the semi-sphere of destruction
spread above the surface. The Epoch was dissolved in the blinding light.
Belowground, a similar semi-sphere spread downward, obliterating the stone
and Parsa's almost-dead body. But the force-fields, the shimmering blue
force-fields that waited underground, stayed firm, unharmed by the force of
the explosion, even as the stone around it was incinerated to reveal its
spherical shape. Their time was not yet up.
"Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."
To Chapter 88
Back to Cain's Works