Chapter 96: High Noon
Rakin didn't even look up as he back-handed the surprised Hellbound with enough force to knock the grey thing off its grey feet. Then, as if there wasn't a huge battle going on around him at all, he slowly, gently, helped Christina to her feet. Considering the fact that she felt better than she had since... well, since she was born, Christina considered declining the help, but she soon realized that she couldn't actually stand up, no matter how good she felt. She may have been fully healed, but that healing had apparently cost her a great deal of energy. She suddenly realized that she was starving. Rakin was holding her up by the arm with one hand.
Rakin's green eyes swept around the chamber, taking in the battle. He didn't look impressed. "They're Hellbound, aren't they?" he asked her.
She nodded, although he wasn't actually looking at her. Somehow, though, she was sure he knew that she'd agreed. "Nothing else I've ever seen can stand up to that much damage."
Rakin shook his head slightly. "It's not that. Can't you... sense them? They're not completely... here."
Christina looked around. They all looked solid enough, that was for sure. But the more she stared, the more she noticed... something. She couldn't quite figure out what it was, much like trying to remember a word that's on the tip of your tongue. Then she looked at some of her fellow Travelers, and it hit her. They were there. The Hellbound merely were there, but the living creatures seemed somehow more solid, more real, as if the Hellbound were just... "Shadows," she announced.
Rakin nodded. "Right. Nothing more than shadows of their former lives. They don't belong in our world." He suddenly smiled. "Let's send them home."
And suddenly Rakin was more. He was beyond simply Rakin. If Christina had pictured herself as a light bulb, he was a bonfire, a sun. She couldn't see anything different about him, but he suddenly seemed to fill the cavern with his presence. Even the Hellbound and Travelers slowed down slightly as they noticed something... different. The grey Hellbound, having recovered from its blow, suddenly jumped at Rakin again. Rakin's eyes moved slightly to take in this menace.
The Hellbound screamed and suddenly dissolved in midair, like a shadow hit by light, or water evaporated by intense heat. In the space of an instant, the unfortunate Hellbound seemed to go out of focus and simply fade away. It seemed to Christina as if its connection to reality had simply been cut, though she had no idea where this impression came from. There was nothing left of it. It was as if it had never been there in the first place.
There was silence. The Hellbound and Travelers were all staring, either at Rakin or at where his victim had most recently been. Rakin's eyes moved to a new target. Shift. The second Hellbound didn't even have a chance to scream before it met dissolution. Shift. A third Hellbound vanished, and suddenly they were all running, trying to get to Rakin. Shift. Shift. Rakin never moved more than his head, just enough to glance at the next Hellbound. Shift. Shift. Shift. Hellbound dissolved, and more came to take their place. Shift. Rakin's hand tightened slightly on Christina's arm, and she realized this was tiring him. He was still a sun, but every Hellbound took its toll on him.
Shift. Shift. Shift. Shift. Shift. The Hellbound didn't even fight back as the Travelers plowed into their back ranks, hacking and firing and slamming with abandon. The Hellbound simply kept pressing inward, trying to get to Rakin, the greatest threat. Shift. Shift. But Rakin was tiring. Christina wished she could help him, but she didn't know how to lend her strength to him like she could with magic. And she knew that her magic and whatever Rakin was using were different things. Finally, she decided to join in the physical battle.
The Hellbound she'd been about to attack vanished, though not suddenly as the others had. She'd seemed to linger halfway between this world and nonexistence before dissolving. In a moment, Christina realized that, somehow, she had done it. She didn't know how, but if she'd done it once, maybe she could do it again. She looked at another Hellbound, but it stubbornly refused to disappear, no matter how much she stared.
A barbed tentacle lashed out of the mob, straight towards the back of Rakin's head. Christina didn't have time to do anything, even yell-Shiff... The tentacle suddenly seemed to cease to exist, starting about three feet from Rakin's head. Again, Christina knew herself responsible, and somehow finished the job, the tentacle dissolving along its length until it reached the Hellbound's main body, which promptly vanished. Christina looked at another Hellbound, having no idea if it would have a similar effect or not, but willing to try. Shifff... The thing seemed to be wavering, as if underwater. It began to solidify again, but Christina frowned and it was gone. She looked at another one.
Shift. Shift. Shifffft. Shift. Shifffft. Shift. Shift. Shift-Shift-Shift-Shift...
And suddenly there were no Hellbound left. They were all either gone or dead, and the dead bodies themselves promptly vanished at one last flexing of Rakin's thoughts. Abruptly, he was simply Rakin again. Christina could tell that he was more, but it was no longer overwhelming. They were supporting each other now. The effort, though she still didn't know how it had been done, was very tiring, and she was more tired than before, something she hadn't thought possible.
In a moment, Christina realized that the Travelers were standing around the two of them in a circle, silently appraising. It occurred to her, though she wished it hadn't, that her fellow Travelers might not trust Rakin. Given the display of power he had just shown, she wasn't sure who would win in an all-out battle between Rakin and the Travelers. But she knew whose side she'd be on. Her hand reached up to his arm (she silently appreciated its solidity) and she clutched it like a lifeline.
Crono stepped inside the circle. His eyes were hard. One would never know he was looking at his own recently-lost son. Rakin was about the same. Slowly, cautiously, Crono reached out his hand. Rakin did the same, and they shook hands as if strangers. But it was enough. There was trust. After all, who could understand what these two had been through but themselves?
Quite surprisingly, Magus smiled. "You've gotten better at keeping your thoughts quiet, Kid. I can't hear a thing."
Rakin turned to smile back at the wizard. "And your thoughts are your own as always, Old Man."
The look of surprise that swept over Magus' face was something which Christina was, much to her disappointment, never to see again. It was one of those expressions for which the word "priceless" is often used. His red eyes bulged slightly, his delicate blue eyebrows rose high on his forehead, and his mouth hung open somewhat. Of course the expression was soon gone, but was replaced by the closest Magus had ever come to a blush, which was an expression of annoyed consternation.
"Fine!" he snapped. "Rakin, then."
Rakin's smile widened. "Now we're even, Magus."
If Christina hadn't known anything about the Magus, she might almost, maybe, possibly have thought the wizard was trying harder than any man had ever tried not to burst into laughter. But that was, of course, ridiculous. Rakin mouthed something, as if talking to himself, but Christina was surprised to find she could hear it as if he'd been whispering in her ear. "I've been waiting eight years to say that to him."
Same Time Period
The heart of the shell of the dead Lavoid had never been very pretty. However, its former biological eeriness had been replaced by something altogether... different. Where it had once been green and largely empty, now only the half with the entrance was green. The other half was a disturbingly organic pink and misshapen, not unlike seeing the far end of the room filled with huge, mildly glowing, translucent intestines. Within the pinkish tubes, vague dark forms of varying sizes floated around in viscous liquid. Most of the forms were circular, the largest being big enough to crush a small house. This, obviously, was why the interior of the shell had been sculpted for extra space. There was no other way for it all to fit.
In the space not taken up by the huge growth stood a dozen or so people, though the lack of light in the room prevented exact identification, with the exception of the obviously under-grown form of Valiod. Valiod made a gesture of some sort, and the ambient light in the room intensified around him, allowing him to be seen perfectly. He looked almost nervous now. He still managed a condescending smile, however.
"Well, I'm impressed. Thirty-three Hellbound dead in ten minutes, and twenty-five of those in the last thirty seconds. Allow me to guess. You cut their connection to our world?" He waited, but Rakin didn't react. Valiod's smile weakened slightly. "Well, you can't pull that trick again. Even if you had enough power left, which I don't think you do, you can't do it to me or them." On the last word, the darkness lifted.
Drissom smiled coldly at the Travelers, and at Marle specifically. Clairdena frowned in anger. Ledune, his mouth now uncovered, stared emotionlessly. Kradish smiled and cracked his knuckles. Flite looked positively homicidal as he stared at Glenn. Tirren looked quizzical, as if this was all a big surprise. Brandt twisted his mouth in disgust. Caerina stared at the Travelers intensely, avoiding Wethreem's gaze. Victorian hissed quietly. Terala couldn't seem to decide who she hated more, the Travelers or Victorian. Adom stood, looking grimly, in front of a rapidly closing pitch-black portal.
The Hellbound were all naked (except Caerina, who couldn't possibly be naked, short of being a disembodied head), but that wasn't what made Christina's breath stop. They were all real! They felt like living, breathing people. Rakin couldn't simply make them vanish, or at least she didn't think he could.
Valiod's smile widened slightly as he sensed the general air of displeased surprise. "Didn't expect them here, did you? Now there are twelve of us, and together we can crush you and protect my children. If you even get to fight us." He raised his hand and-
As one, the Travelers all froze. They didn't move or breathe or seem to be anything other than statues. Valiod's smile widened, until he realized that Rakin and Christina were still moving. "What!?" he nearly shouted. "How can you be unaffected?"
"We're beyond your time-warping powers, Valiod," Rakin replied calmly. "You can't slow us down or speed us up. In fact, you can't do it to them, either." And with that, Rakin briefly stretched his presence, and the others were suddenly moving normally. None of them seemed to be aware of what had transpired. "Now, Valiod, let's stop playing games. Let us through, or we'll destroy you. I have no intention of letting those little Lavoids escape," he said, pointing at the forms floating in the tubes behind the child-like form.
Valiod snarled. "Never! My children shall rule the universe!" He pointed at the Travelers. "Hellbound, kill them!" Nobody moved. Valiod blinked. "Now!
"No," Adom said. That was it. None of the other Hellbound moved an inch.
Valiod rounded on him, becoming increasingly hysterical. "What? I told you to kill them! Why aren't you obeying!?"
"Why should we?" Drissom asked, his voice as annoying as ever.
"You've cured the Rot and given usss immortality," said Victorian.
"And that's all we ever wanted from you," continued Clairdena. "Excuse us if we don't feel like using it up to fight the boy, here."
"Good luck," Adom said quietly. There was a wave of darkness, and the Hellbound were gone.
Valiod was panting now, furious. "You... you traitors! When I see you next, I'll have your hearts! Do you hear me? Your hearts!"
"They're already gone," Rakin said. "They've left the planet. Forget about them. Now you've got to deal with us."
Valiod's eyes were wild. "Deal with you? No! I... I... I have another trump card!"
"No, you don't. Face it. You're finished. Give up now and I'll let you live."
Valiod's shoulders slumped and his eyes lowered. He suddenly looked very tired. And lost. "And... and my children? What will you do to them?"
"We're going to destroy them," Marle told him coldly. "You took my children from me, and now you'll lose yours."
"They... shouldn't have been born in the first place," Wethreem said. Valiod didn't react, or even move his gaze from the floor. They waited to see what he was going to do, but at his continued listlessness, they started moving forward.
"NO!" he screamed suddenly. His gaze rose, full of anger and madness. "No! You won't have my children!" Black wings of energy suddenly burst from his shoulders, and he was enveloped in tumbling, uncontrollable power. A curved black sword materialized in his small hands and he jumped at Rakin with inhuman speed.
Crono cried out in surprise as the Rainbow suddenly leapt from his hands and flew into Rakin's grasp. The Prince met the half-breed in a clash of black and yellow sparks.
Same Time Period
"What's going on in there?" Janus shouted against the suddenly buffeting wind. He could see the shell of the Lavoid and its single opening, now shining with light from inside.
"The final battle," Schala said, simply. "The Dance of the Great Blades.
They flew down against the wind.
Same Time Period
Now was the time. The figure waited until the three former Kingdom members entered the shell, then easily jumped the twenty vertical feet to the entrance. The wind didn't even flap its cloak. It took a look around, and entered.
Same Time Period
"I'm late," Thanatos said worriedly. "Late, late, late. Too late." And he did something he hadn't done in years. He ran.
"Live, Rakin, for all our sakes," he shouted. "Live!"
"I don't want to go to heaven with a headache! I'd be all cross and wouldn't enjoy it."
Arthur Dent, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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