Milady watched through her mirror as The Great Chad tumbled unceremoniously out of the time portal, tangled in his cape. She smirked. The "unceremoniously" part had been her doing. Alpha Werewolf and Ha-Kee followed Chad; followed too well in fact, landing on top of him. Milady scowled. She hadn't meant to cause *that*, too... She knew she could only tweak Chad so much before he would pick up on it. Better do something to make him forget this indignity. In a minor ripple of light and glass she stepped into the image in front of her.
The Great Chad lay in a rather un-Great heap, no thanks to his two idiot henchmen. No, never mind, they weren't his, he'd never allow that. HER idiot henchmen.
"You morons, get OFF of me!"
Nearby, Milady stepped discreetly back into reality, back from the other side of the looking glass. She lifted her hand toward the pile of lackeys and mumbled the spell's keyword.
"Chance." Icy ebon flames licked the edges of her palm briefly. And suddenly Alpha Male and Ha-Kee found themselves airborne, landing more than a dozen yards away. Chad stood up, flexing his arms flamboyantly and trying not to look too impressed.
"Featherweights," he scoffed.
"Hardly." Milady grinned, holding up her finger again, magical energy sparkling at it's tip.
"You... threw them off?"
"Well, a spell. But on you."
"You put a SPELL on ME? It damn well better be a cool one!"
"Hit that statue." She pointed to an obligatory suit of armor, of the particularly hapless variety, that stood against the wall near Chad. He wound up, swung...
And with a huge *CLANG*, the helmet went nowhere. Chad stared, almost in disbelief, at his hand, shaking it back and forth in front of his eyes. He's punched the helmet so hard and fast that it had wrapped itself around his fist and was now stuck. With his other hand he tugged at it experimentally, and it peeled off like a grape skin.
"Sw33t!" l33t was hitherto unknown in Rhiona Province, and shouldn't really have been invented for several hundred years yet, but Chad was just arrogant enough to think of it early. For everyone knows that the truly distinguishing feature of a l33t is not their computer prowess, but rather their Greatness.
"This is the reward I give for faithful service, My Great Chad, greater power." Milady smiled coyly, convincingly, and in an almost controlling manner.
"I would expect nothing less as compensation." Chad's own smile matched hers in strength, oozing charm, subservience, and somewhere underneath, just for good measure, utter defiance. Which of course Milady saw coming a mile away.
"But let's talk shop for a minute." In an instant all pretense and posturing had vanished from Lenore's bearing, and she causally walked over to The Great Chad to take his sleeve in her left hand, as though he were simply a gentleman friend. "Strength is nothing, I know that. And I'm well aware that you think so too." Her voice was strange in that it was utterly normal, just a girl talking to a man. She looked up at him with her bright aqua eyes, like tropical lagoons that seemed almost to glow in the dim light of the cavernous hall. "But it's not the end," she smiled, "or even the beginning. I can't *prove* it to you completely, not until I'm completely sure I can *trust* you. You'll have to content yourself with just a taste for now, and trust *me* on it."
As much as Milady saw the defiance hiding in Chad's smile a moment before, he also recognized this tactic. Trying to take him off guard with something that sounded a lot like honesty. He scowled.
"Milady, you know that one who prematurely takes the word of his employer often ends up dead or worse," as Chad spoke, Milady's mirror floated through a far door and approached, "especially since it's still my firs--"
"Oh come now, Chad. You've got your strength as a down payment. And look, the mirror has found another one of the ringbearers, a child of Erronius. It's not a hard thing I'm asking as proof of your loyalty, just kill him."
"Milady--" She cut him off not with words this time, but a gesture that lifted him off the ground. And with a second flick of her wrist, along with a smile as innocent and charming as a sorceress had ever mustered, the girl sent him flying backwards through the mirror.
"Don't forget who you work for now," the glass hissed at him as it passed over his ears.
He he, this was fun! She set out at a brisk walk for her tower. There was still much to do, but enough time to do it in that she could at least afford to stretch her legs a little. She paused, and as an afterthought turned to glance at Ha-Kee and Alpha Male, flinging them into the mirror after Chad with a jerk of her head. Couldn't afford to have *those* two treacherous morons running around unsupervised. And this next project would require her full attention.
Palios sat on the beach, dazed and not at all sure he was unhurt, watching as the jet black griffin, the terrible, unknown evil astride it's back, and the hoard of shadow creatures following them all faded into the horizon. The Leader of the Timeweavers stood about five feet away, a tower of grim determination and intense hatred whose foundation was slowly turning to dust. It finally gave way, and she too crumpled to the sand. Palios crawled over.
"My lady," he began, taking hold of her shoulder, "what's wrong?"
"The creatures that that women brought with her were Greater Gesu. My people are strong, but there is no doubt they were not stronger."
"Don't give up hope, my lady. We must fight on against this evil, for like all great evils that arise, this one cannot be allowed to triumph. I have reserves of strength left that we can employ," he twisted the ring around his finger unconsciously, "we can't give up." Her smile was grateful but sad (and so was the dialogue).
"That's not it. There can be no question that I must stand. It's just that I don't want to turn around. I know what I will see."
Just as he turned to look the village, Palios could feel the beginnings of an incredible buildup of magical energy. The Leader of the Timeweavers suddenly grabbed his head in her hands and yanked him back around to face her. There was fear in her eyes.
"Take Eleanor. Use the Treasure to get her out of here. Protect her with your life." And then she kissed him, hard and fast on the lips, as that sort of thing is obligatory in badly written adventure stories. Even though, like in this case, it was only the transmission mechanism for a spell. Palios was in a state of half-shock by the time she pulled away.
"Go, NOW!" she yelled into is ear, shaking him from his daze. The lanky Grecian man scrabbled away over the sands of the beach, toward the hut in which Eleanor was hiding. Strangely enough, he knew exactly what to do; where to find the Treasure that The Leader had spoken of and how to activate it.
"Odd that I know all that. I wonder how..." he wondered to himself.
It was the kiss, you idiot, the narrator replied.
"And that *was* a nice kiss I got, but I don't know what it was for either. Maybe she likes me."
No, stupid, the kiss was a magic spell that taught you how to work the treasure.
"Oh. Party pooper." And then he was at the door to the hut, scrambling inside.
"Eleanor? Eleanor? We've got to get going!" The little girl wiggled out from under the bed.
"Where're we going, Mr. Palios?"
"Away... we're going away." He trailed off, scooping her up in his arms, not at all proud of the fact that they *were* in fact running away. And they were out the door again, rushing off toward the hut that he knew held the Treasure of The Timeweavers.
Back on the beach, the remaining quarter of the village had gathered around their leader, and all were looking around warily, weapons at the ready. They could all feel the buildup of magic now, but no one knew where it was coming from or what it was.
"Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho!!!" An evil laugh echoed down from high above. "BY THE POWER OF THE DEMON CHEF OF MONTALBON, I SUMMON THE DISH OF REVENGE!!!" The leader looked up toward Diamina's voice, just in time to be crushed utterly by a bran muffin the size of a house. Her feet stuck out from underneath, only to slowly curl up and disappear underneath, leaving a pair of shiny red sandals on the beach. The remaining few members of the tribe watched in abject horror.
And then their horror ended, because with a tremendous clatter a hail of car-sized pinto beans crushed them as well. And that was the end of the Tribe of The Timeweavers. A black griffin swept downward to survey it's master's handiwork.
"Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho!!!" Diamina laughed again. She was wearing a tall chef's hat of deep crimson, two little satyr horns adorning the top. "That'll teach you to trifle with powers beyond your comprehension, witch!" she crowed, discarding the tacky hat. The Princess of Evil then bent down and scooped up the pair of ruby sandals so recently lost by the leader of the tribe. "How very pretty," she grinned wickedly, handing them off to one of her minions. "Take these back to my castle, creature." It departed in a rush of wings and darkness. "Now, scour the village!" she ordered the remaining shadow-beasts. "Find the Great Treasure of The Timeweavers! For the glory of your mistress, it will be MINE!"
Palios ran up to the door of a large hut.
"Why're we at the Treasure House, Mr. Palios? We can't leave my mom!" She struggled to get out of his arms. He set her down, holding her shoulder to keep her in place.
"There's nothing that we're strong enough to do for your mother, Eleanor. We've got to get out of here so that she doesn't have to worry about you getting hurt during the fight. She'll be able to find us later, when it's safe, ok?" The girl only stared silently, unhappily, back at him.
"I don't like running away." she frowned. He smiled back apologetically.
"I'm afraid it's the best we can do right now." He straightened up began waving his hand in an intricate pattern, chanting and marshalling his own magical power. The tip of his finger began to glow, and the trail it left formed a complex rune that hung in the air. Then it disappeared and the door swung open.
Milady watched in her mirror, which was floating alongside her as she walked, as something or another chased The Bartender and several of his companions through a thick jungle. Time travel magic was such an odd thing, she mused. How Time only looped back on itself in certain spots, allowing access only to certain parts of the timeline, and how those spots moved forward relative to your own position on the timeline. She could only access certain points in the future or the past, and their locations were always changing. It was rather annoying. If she could travel directly to any time whatsoever, this whole take-over-the-world thing would be so much easier. In fact, she might not even have to bother, if only certain things could be changed...
Lost in thought as she was, it surprised her to find that she was already back at the door to her chamber. Upon entering, she jumped in alarm when she noticed the figure waiting in one of the large windows that were evenly spaced in the circular wall. In this high a tower it would've been impossible to come in from the window.
"Sorry to have startled you, M'lady," said a gruff, familiar voice. "It's just that Jarushun's forces have attacked Izrafel. Thought you might like to know." The wide, stocky man stepped down from the deep windowsill. A thick white beard obscured most of his face, and he wore mostly rough-cut animal pelts, topped off with an immense fur hat. A sword hung at his side, curved and almost wider than it was long.
"Oh, General Ira. Don't startle me like that. But that is good to know. Are the troops ready to move against him?"
"Good." She laughed harshly. "The power-hungry fool. I knew he wouldn't be able to resist. We leave Izrafel, one little town, a tiny outpost on his border, undefended, and he snatches it up like a dog after crumbs from the table. No one in the Western Alliance will support him now that *he's* the aggressor. Ready the troops to crush him. Utterly."
"Yes m'lady." The short, thickly-built man bowed roughly as he stepped back onto the windowsill.
"Not a very big prize, Murishina isn't, but it'll do. A good place to start, and we can use the resources in their wonderful mountains..." Milady grinned in anticipation.
"Yes m'lady," the general said again, redundantly, and stepped out of the window. A moment later he whizzed past again, borne on the back of a giant golden eagle.
The moment The Master dropped him to go after Raine, Warteen had run. Being hopelessly outclassed, power-wise, by The Master, and with both girls dead, there wasn't much he could really hope to do. It was time to retreat and regroup. He had heard The Master shout as he bolted, and every so often he'd steal a glance over his shoulder as he ran, only to see The Master behind him and gaining.
And now, running for his tiny little life through utterly generic fields and light forest, with no idea where he was or what he could do, things weren't looking much better. The pretty sunlight streaming down through the trees only served to make the scene more surreal. Up ahead he spotted a stone wall running through the forest, for no apparent reason. Eight feet high and made large rocks mortared together, there was no way he'd get over it before that giant shadow caught up with him. So he started to run along it.
A moment after the word, seeming to come from nowhere, nearly scared him out of his skin, Warteen ran through a cloud of cold mist. A cold, vaguely girl-shaped mist, huddled against the wall and looking somewhat distressed. A familiar girl shape, in fact. He skidded to a stop.
*Warteen?* But skidding to a stop proved to be a very bad thing to do. The Master was upon him now, and he grabbed Warteen's entire head ferociously in his huge hand, so "Laine?" was all Warteen had a chance to get out. Besides some indiscriminate mumbling, anyway.
"Fool, you're not supposed to STOP in the middle of a chase!"
"..." was all the young man managed through the Master's palm as it pressed against his face.
"Well, don't think I didn't come prepared for you. I've got a few tricks up my sleeve, yet!" Warteen blindly reached for his sword and slashed it as best as he could at The Master's midsection. The blade was enveloped by the man's great black cape, however. It disappeared with a swirl into one side of the ebony cloth, passed through The Master's body effortlessly, and re-emerged into the light on the other side of him. "As if THAT would work," snarled the tall man with a face itself not entirely unlike a shadow. And then he started attacking.
It was a psychic magic attack, and Warteen's agile mind sidestepped with a natural agility. The Master fired again, faster this time, catching Warteen full-on. It wasn't the skill with which the spell was executed, because it was incredibly sloppy. What did Warteen in was the absolutely massive quantity of raw POWER behind the spell. It physically knocked the wind from his lungs and his legs went slack, so that The Master had to release his head and let him crumple to the forest floor to keep from hurting him too much.
"And so the fool falls." The Master grinned triumphantly as he slung Warteen over his broad, black shoulder, and even in that smile the shadows seemed to dance. He pulled the Time Key out of his pocket and shook it, tracing a circular path in the air that turned black and turbulent, as though Reality was mad because it had just been shoved rather rudely out of the way. He had only called up a portal that already existed naturally, hiding there just below the surface of sight. But still, the effect was pretty impressive.
"Now, to get you properly brainwashed..." With that, he strode through the portal and back home.
Unnoticed, a girl-shaped cloud followed him through the portal with a tiny hiss and a swirl of wind.
In another part of this namelessly pleasant land, back where the confrontation between man and shadow had began, the bodies of two girls lay in the calm grass, dappled in sunlight. A cool wind rustled the broad leaves above. A small song sparrow twittered in one of the trees, sadly, sweetly. The surreal peace of the place was so strong that it was disturbed only marginally when another seething black portal, like the one The Master had summoned a moment ago, appeared below one of the girls.
"So wasteful," a voice sighed out of it. "I really wish he wouldn't kill the help. Now, let's get you fixed up, back on your feet, and back in my right mind." The voice placed extra emphasis on the word 'my' as the body dropped through the portal and into a different portion of Reality.
Laine had stumbled, as much as a cloud could stumble, around the castle in which she found herself for what seemed like hours. It certainly didn't help that her sight was hindered by a bizarre and highly disruptive side effect of her current state of being. It made the world look as though someone had dropped her into a sea of slowly dancing, liquid gray flame.
Being dead sure was a pain in the @#%$, she thought. Not that she had an @#%$ in which to be pained, any more, but still.
At least, finally, it looked like she was getting somewhere in this blasted place. She could see, as well as she might, that she had floated, not stumbled, upon a sort of dungeon. The barred doors made that clear enough. But what interested her more was the figure tied to a chair in the middle of the room. She drifted up to it and peered into a face that looked familiar, even though it now appeared to her to be slowly distorting and twisting in shades of gray.
*Warteen?* she asked, not at all sure that anyone, even she herself, could hear her.
"Laine?" he looked up dreamily, and even she could see that something was wrong with his eyes. "Laine!" he said again, happily, sounding almost drunk. "You're just in time to help us take over the world!"