The monster was met with a second cellar room. It began to stalk through the basement, smashing through what was left of the ruined castle and leading its offspring towards the back end of the fortress.
Crono started to chase the creature, but Lucca called out: “Crono, wait! I’ll bet anything Helminthes is looking for the ocean; in that case, we have some time to spare. It will be a while before it reaches the coast. We need to regroup and think this out before we go charging after that thing.”
Uneasily relenting, the youth relaxed his tense form and joined his compatriots. As they sat, and before anybody could begin to speak, one last “thud” from the cellar shaft announced Marle’s coming.
The princess ran out into the lighted basement and doubled back when she caught sight of her friends to the right of the alcove. She skipped to Crono’s side and dropped to her knees, taking a seat next to the boy.
“Hi, Crono! Did Lucca tell you how we got here? We used the Timegate at Truce because she thought this might be a trap. You know, Gaspar said we had to travel in groups of three, but he never said how many groups could go!”
After patiently letting the excitable young lady finish talking, Lucca spoke. “Yes, well, we thought that Magus might have some sort of trick planned to get us out of his way. It looks like we hit the nail on the head this time.”
“No trap, this,” Frog declared, arms folded and head bowed in thought, “This be a test.”
“A... test?” Marle asked.
“Aye,” Frog answered. “This beast-- Helminthes-- was wrought by Magus himself, and encased in ice hereabouts,” he explained, motioning towards the pool of water in the cellar where the creature’s icy prison once stood.
Rubbing her chin, Lucca deduced, “So, why did Magus create Helminthes, then?”
“Methinks the mage desired to pit monster against monster,” Frog replied.
“I get it now!” the inventor stated. “Helminthes was made as a sort of back-up plan; if Magus couldn’t beat Lavos by himself, then maybe another monster could. And this one can absorb Fire Magic. Remember what the word ‘Lavos’ means in Iokan? “Big Fire;” When he made Helminthes, Magus was probably expecting Lavos to be some sort of fire-based entity, based on ancient texts and passed-down stories about it.
“By making a creature that could absorb Fire energies, Magus was making sure that Helminthes would only grow stronger from Lavos’ attacks.”
“But is Lavos a fire-based monster?” Marle inquired.
“I don’t think so,” Lucca answered, “But the power it used to destroy Zeal most closely resembled Fire Magic.”
“So why did Magus tell us to kill this thing?”
“Therein lies the test,” Frog declared. “Magus desires to know with whom he need cast his lot.”
“Right,” Lucca continued. “Magus must have adjusted his original battle plan when he met up with us. If we can beat Helminthes, he’ll hold his alliance with us. If we all die, he’ll merely go ahead and use his monster to fight Lavos, like he originally planned.”
Standing and placing her hands on her hips, Marle said, “And we’d be conveniently out of his way. Well, that’s just great. I don’t want to be that jerk wizard’s lab rat!”
“But, my lady,” Frog pleaded, “This beast was made to destroy. Mine people-- and thine ancestors-- are threatened by its very livelihood.”
“You’re right,” Marle realized. “Maybe Queen Leene was the person one of us was close to who was in danger, like Gaspar said!” The rest of the adventurers looked among themselves in thought. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go get that thing!” And, brandishing her Valkyrie, Marle dashed for the hole through which the beast had crawled on its way to the coast.
“But we don’t have a plan yet! We don’t know how to beat it!” Lucca protested.
Standing, Robo observed: “Helminthes is probably very weak now from not being able to breathe correctly. We could attack it before it reaches the ocean; maybe we can overpower it.”
“Well, it would be best to fight it before it regains all of its strength,” Lucca decided. Turning to the young ronin, she said, “What do you think, Crono?”
But the swordsman was already on his feet, following Marle towards the ruined portion of Magus’ castle.
The rest of the troop followed behind Crono; not wanting to leave her alone in the sporadically crumbling citadel, Robo hauled the unconscious Ayla in his arms.
Clamoring through a demolished underground library, the six fighters caught up to the giant worm as it pushed its way through a hole that had already formed in the cellar wall. The three children and the medieval swordsman hefted their weapons in preparation to attack, but they hesitated when they saw the creature turn towards them.
Their inaction gave the Helminthes clone an open window to attack, and it jumped in the midst of the group, shrieking and drooling its own putrid sludge. As if responding to telepathic commands from its parent, the smaller worm lunged at the heroes with blinding speed, snaking back and forth and darting its own menacing jaws towards the young fighters as they dodged and weaved out of its way.
Catching up to the rest of the group, Robo quickly noticed his friends in danger, and, hastily setting the cave woman on the floor, leaped towards the fray. Before anybody could react, the android popped open his chest cavity, aimed his primary laser cannon, and sent a beam of searing blue energy through the head of the monster’s replica.
When the light cleared, the small beast’s head had completely vaporized, leaving a twisting body that quickly disintegrated. The adventurers marveled as the worm was reduced to a pool of decaying muck in a matter of seconds.
“Is everyone okay?” the automaton queried to his bewildered comrades.
Helminthes, apparently showing no regard for the slaughtered clone, resumed its destruction of the library wall, ramming one last time through the mossy rock. Free of its last blockade, the monster found no more obstacles on its way through the rest of the destroyed fortress.
The band pursued the giant worm through the ruins as it began to increase its speed steadily. Finally reaching the outside, the creature paused, surveying the moonlit nightscape. The grove of dead trees that surrounded Magus’ stronghold seemed to confound Helminthes for a moment, giving the group enough time to reach it.
Forming a semicircle behind the beast, the fighters paused again. Robo, having set the prehistoric monarch against an out-of-the-way tree, assumed a spot in the formation and noticed the eerie calm. After turning to face them, Helminthes had stopped in front of the party, it head raised high in the air above them as if waiting for something. The five paused unsteadily, wary of a surprise attack by the motionless giant.
It was Crono who first realized why the beast was waiting. He dropped his stance, standing straight up and casting a glare upwards and to his left. In time, the others curiously lowered their guards and looked to where the boy was looking.
There, about twenty feet in the air, floated a statuesque humanoid form. It seemed to emanate no kind of life energy; even the cape that trailed in the air looked undead and limp. But, as one focused on it, one could discern an unmistakable pale visage. Crono instantly recognized the one being who apparently had been manipulating the situation from the start. Helminthes was not searching for the ocean; it was searching for its creator.
There, floating twenty feet in the air, was Magus.
He remained static, arms folded; an empty gaze fixed on the quintet below him. Turning his head slightly, he regarded the great beastly worm with a raised eyebrow and a barely noticeable sigh through his nose. Blinking only once, he commanded:
To Chapter Six
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