Day of the Devastator, By Smash

Part 2: United Front
Chapter 8

Kamek grunted bitterly as he shoved his food away from him.  Celeste looked at him with concern in her eyes.  “Is there anything wrong?”
“No,” he said, “I’m fine.”
“Then why aren’t you eating?”
“I’m not hungry,” he snapped, disappearing into the woods.  Celeste hesitated, and then followed.
She found him on the top of a hill, with his head in his hands.  She had never seen him in a mood like this, but she could guess.
“Kamek,” she said, “You’re feeling guilty!”
He looked up, startled.  “But it’s all my fault!  If I hadn’t ran, they wouldn’t have been killed!”
Celeste stared steadily into his eyes.  “If you hadn’t run, you would have been killed as well, and the result would have been the same thing.  Not even all six of us could have defeated that!  For that matter, not even the entire Koopa army and all six of us could have defeated them!”
He gazed back.  “But I just feel like I betrayed my friends!”
Celeste contemplated this for a moment, and then gave him the only answer she could.  She took Kamek’s head in her hands, turned it to face her, and kissed him passionately on the lips.  He went slack, stunned.  She held the kiss for a long time, and when she broke it, Kamek moved forward and gently placed his head on her chest, sighing in an unusual mixture of despair and contentment.
Kamek could hear Celeste’s heart beating.  The steady beat-beat-beat of her heart was quite comforting to hear.  He shifted his head, and his eyes rested upon the knife Smash had given her.  It was inscribed with a sword entwined with a battleaxe, and each was glowing with an eerie red light.  Each was fading and glowing at regular intervals, and with the same rhythm, though not quite at the same time as, Celeste’s heart.
He yelled, “Ah Ha!  Eureka!” and snatched the knife.  He inspected it closely and then turned, a smile of victory on his face.  “I’m right!  These knives are connected to their lives!”
“And what does that mean?”  Celeste asked, a bit confused.
“It means they’re still alive!”

Chapter 9

Smash, indeed, was alive. However, now he kind of wished he wasn’t.  They had put up quite a fight, killing about one quarter of the army, but the demons had overwhelmed them, and were now hauling them, in chains, to Zydar’s castle.  They were hauling, not force marching because both were unconscious. It was quite painful, as the way was mostly desert and lava grounds.
Smash regained consciousness first, and the first thing he did was mouth some magic words to impose a magical sleep onto Gillian.  He would have tried to escape as well, but not even the powers of a full dragon could beat the army that was ‘escorting’ them.
Eventually, they were taken to Zydar’s castle.  Zydar was a very busy demon, so he didn’t come to see them.  They were placed in a cell, a tiny one, with barely enough room for both of them.  There wasn’t even enough room to lie down.  They kept their weapons, but only because there was no way they could use them anyway.  They had to eventually make it so that Smash sat down and Gillian sat on his lap to sleep.
Smash woke quite early that night.  He had awoken from a dream.  He could remember nothing about it, except that it involved a golden… something.  His mouth was watering and when he felt his skin, it was tougher and slick.  Then he turned his attention to the bundle he was carrying in his arms. Gillian was incredibly close to him, he thought.  It would be so easy to just pull her a bit closer and-
He snapped out of that thought.  What am I thinking? He couldn’t see what had happened.  She had been this close to him before, closer even, and yet, he had never felt like this before.  Think as he might, he could recall nothing in draconic or human heritage to account for this feeling.
Discontented, he slept again.
He awoke to a stomping coming down the hall.  He pulled Gillian a bit closer to keep her from being scared.  She had never been in a situation like this before.  He rechecked his disguise and was relived to discover that it was still covering their features.
Zydar walked down the hall, glaring at each prisoner, speaking to a few.  “So, you dared to try to stir up rebellion against me?” “No pay for use of my roads, hm?  That cell will teach you that I am supreme.”  It continued like this until he looked in on Smash’s cell.  He stepped back in astonishment.  “This one is a very powerful magic user!  And I see something else… he’s in disguise.”
There was a brilliant flash, and as Smash turned back, Zydar let out a bark of terrible laughter.  “Why it’s Smash Sumashi!  You’ve finally bitten off more than you can chew, haven’t you?”
Smash glared back in pure, unadulterated hatred.  Zydar’s roaming eye lay now on Gillian.  “And you have a friend!  Smash, is this the creature you’re planning to marry?  Though I must admit she is quite… luscious,” his eye lingered over her thigh.  Gillian shrunk back. “She’s not even your species!  Remember what happened to your grandfather?”
Smash didn’t answer.  He remembered.  His grandfather was driven out of his village and forced to live a life of isolation, being hunted by soldiers, when they found out he had married a dragon.
Zydar leaned closer.  “Know this,” he smiled maliciously, “your foolishness has doomed your world.”  He turned to his commanders.  “Take them to the fire cell!”

Chapter 10

Karma sat, leaning back against a tree, deep in thought.  Her thoughts were of home and her parents.  It had been so long since she had seen them both.  After hearing Smash talking about his parents and how he couldn’t even remember them, she felt a deep longing to go see her own parents.
She looked around.  They were sitting in a glade surrounded by tall green trees, as yet untouched by the evil that roamed among them.  The campfire that they made last night was now a small pile of ashes in the center.  Building a campfire was quite a risk, but getting lost was more of a risk, and they were in danger of getting lost before Kamek had decided to light it.
Celeste was in the glade as well, though in deep sleep.  After she had followed Kamek out of the camp, they were gone most of the night and returned right before dawn.  Kamek was used to waking nights, but Celeste was exhausted.  Kamek was now out standing guard, while Ludwig was out scouting and gathering food.  She checked the position of the sun.  He should be back soon, she thought.
Sure enough, as soon as that thought crossed her mind, Ludwig staggered into the glade, laden with berries.  “I don’t know which is poisonous,” he huffed, “We’ll have to test these before eating them.”
“Why don’t you sit down?” Karma asked, gesturing to a moss patch beside her.  He lay the berries down and slumped beside her, but no sooner had his eyes closed than three shrill whistles blasted through the clearing.
Quicker than thought, Karma clawed her way into a tree.  Ludwig was right after her, but he wasn’t nearly as fast.  Celeste was already gone.  That whistle was their warning signal.  A few seconds later, Kamek ran into the glade and levitated himself into a tree before pointing his wand at the remains of the fire.  It exploded outward and was soon gone.
And not too soon.  As soon as the last of the ashes disappeared, a demon blundered into the clearing, followed by a strange red creature.  It had no eyes, except two gold trinkets where its eyes should have been.  It was at least half again as tall as a human, with lean but muscular arms and legs.  It carried a cruel whip that seemed to be made out of some kind of skin.
The demon was even stranger looking.  It had a canine mouth filled with razor sharp teeth.  Its hind parts and head were of what seemed to be a goat, complete with hooves and a tail, while the rest was humanoid.  A wicked spike grew out of its forehead.
“I tell you, master.” It whined, “I smelled something here!”
“You are a waste of energy!” the other snarled, “If Lord Zydar were here, he’d cut off your horn!”
“Just let me try a little more!”
“Okay, but don’t whimper when Lord Zydar tears your tail out by the roots!”
The demon went around, sniffing each tree until he stopped at the one Karma was in.   “This one!  There’s something in this one!”
“Probably just another pile of leaves like last time,” the red pit fiend muttered.
The demon kept on sniffing.  Karma was getting quite scared by now, and was trying her best to not even breathe.  The demon, unable to find any proof of her, but desperately wanting to prove its worth, pulled up a rock and threw it with all its strength.
It hit Karma right in the forehead.  Knocked half-silly, she tipped backwards and fell into the leaves twenty feet below her.
“I knew it!” the demon screamed in a squeaky voice, “Let’s see what it is.”
Karma was beset by panic.  Her knife was pinned under her and there were no other weapons within reach.  In desperation she grabbed a claw full of leaves.  The demon was bent over her now.
“I think it’s dead.  Ooh, I’m going to have a good meal tonight!”
Karma, unable to hold still any longer hurled the leaves into the demon’s face.  “Aagh!” it screamed and staggered back.   Karma was up too fast to see and before anything else could happen, drove Smash’s knife up to the hilt into the demon’s chest.  It collapsed with a moan.
Meanwhile, while all this was happening, Kamek, Ludwig, and Celeste had leaped down from their trees and surrounded the pit fiend.  The formation was roughly square, with Karma at the empty corner.
“You killed my minion!” It roared, “I will make you suffer for this!”
The whip sizzled along the ground, hitting Karma almost in the eye.  She gasped and clutched her bloodied cheek.  The pit fiend charged.  Karma could feel heavy feet crushing the life out of her…

Chapter 11

Smash was fast asleep.  Gillian was most sure about that.  His hand was hanging over the side of the shelf they used as a bed, and his mouth was slightly open.  They had been moved to the fire cell, just a cell on the very bottom levels of the dungeon.  It was called the fire cell since it was very near a lava lake, actually the moat, so there was no escaping to the sides or rear.  A set of stairs led to the entrance, made of bars of fire.
Smash seemed to be having nightmares.  He kept on rolling over and murmuring various phrases.
“Gem…run...Igna…branch…not this time…Sumashi…kill, kill… free… no… what have I done?”
He screamed.  In a flash, Gillian was at his side; shaking him so hard it bruised his shoulders.  His eyes snapped open.  Instead of the tender expression, usually replaced by sternness right after, that she was used to, he sat, shivering and staring.  Obviously, she thought, he’s been scared out of his wits.  She saw a barely perceptible movement in his lips.  She leaned closer.  He threw his head back and cried, “It all comes back to me now!  Everything!
“My father was called Elleshar.  My mother was named Serenity, but my father always called her Gem.  She was the love of his life.  They were both Forest wizards, but the more common term would be druids.  They were both skilled in magical powers.
“But all that skill was of no use when the slavers came calling.  Gem was knocked out first, and while Elleshar tried valiantly to defend her, he was overcome.  The slavers plundered our house and left with my parents, leaving me to die.
“I was saved from death only when scavengers came to again plunder our home. A barbarian named Terek and his mate, Shiva, led them.  Thinking they could use me as a scout or something, they brought me along.  I disappointed them in that.” A ghost of a smile flickered about Smash’s face.
“I was far too independent for that.  While they were trying to train me, I kept on sneaking off.  If they were really my parents, I would have obeyed.  But they had made the mistake in telling me the whole story about my rescue.  They expected my gratitude, but all they got were my disgust and contempt.
“I still had a pretty good life though.  The only thing that added anything bitter was Shiva and Terek’s son, Ignatius.  He was the biggest spoiled brat I’ve ever seen.  It was my longing to whip him so that he couldn’t lie down for a month.  But every time he caught me doing something unusual, he ran off to Shiva and she punished me for some transparent reason.  Eventually, I spent almost all my life out in the wilderness.  Fortunately, Ignatius was quite stupid and I avoided him and his flock of cronies quite easily.  That is, until that day.  I was off, leaping from tree to tree, honing my reflexes, when, suddenly, a noose wrapped itself around my foot, tripping me and sending me tumbling headfirst into the ground.  Needless to say, I blacked out.
“When I awoke, I was near to a post pounded into the ground.  I tried to get up and walk away, but before I could take two steps, I was jerked back by a leather collar that was fastened around my neck.  I was hobbled, also with leather.  I could barely move, tethered like a dog to that stake.  Ignatius, with his cronies, came out a few minutes later.
“‘So, dragon boy, you fell into my trap.’  I glanced up.  He was standing over me, wearing a smug, gloating, expression.  He and his cronies set on me and beat me savagely, out of spite I guess.
“It was so sudden, the change in him.  I still have not guessed why, and I guess I never will.  There is not much else to say.  They treated me worse than a slave, letting me eat nothing but the scraps I could scrounge from where I could reach and scourging me with a nine-ended whip daily.  They meant to break me, but I was too strong willed.  My only danger was starvation.  One day it became too much.  I was maybe one day away from death.  My eye was about to close for the last time when I saw it.  My leash!  It was made of leather!  I snatched it up and began to chew.  It had a sickening taste of mud, but I was too hungry to care.
“When I had chewed through and eaten the rest, including my hobble, I was alert enough to think up a plan.  I climbed into a nearby tree and snapped off a branch, nearly as long as I was tall, and at least as thick as my arm.  After snapping off the twigs and leaves, I had a crude staff.  It had bad balance, but it was enough for me.  I squatted in a low branch, obscured by the leaves, and waited.
“Soon, Ignatius and his band of lackeys appeared.  They each had a knotted rope in their hands, obviously to flog me with.  They were quite confused by my disappearance, and began to search.  I waited until one was under me, the largest one, and fell silently upon him, driving both feet into the base of his neck.  He was dead before he hit the ground.”  Smash’s lips twisted upward into a terrible smile. “My presence was revealed then.  I was surrounded in seconds.  I don’t know what happened next.  Next thing I remember I was surrounded by dead or dying bodies.  But Ignatius was still alive.  He was still standing.  He drew two knives and charged at me.
“I blocked the first slash with my stave.  The knife lodged deep into the wood, and was torn out of his hand.  I grabbed his other wrist.  A quick twist and the bone snapped.  I pulled the knife out of his limp grip and stabbed him in the throat.  He keeled over forward.  I grabbed my staff and slammed the wider end, with the dagger in it, upon the back of his neck, dagger hilt first.  The neck snapped and the dagger flew away, hilt broken off.  I spun the end about and thrust the sharp part into the back of the skull.  His skull split and the branch shattered.  Needless to say, Ignatius was dead.”
Smash lapsed into silence as Zydar stalked down the hallway.  Alongside him was a strange man in very fancy clothes, but his eyes were blank.  They both seemed to radiate menace.  Gillian cringed towards the back of the cell.
Zydar leaned forward.  “Are you scared of Crovax?  He was a wealthy landowner that tried to resist me.  I killed him and resurrected him as a vampire.”  Crovax grinned and his eyes glinted.  Gillian shuddered and pulled back further.  Zydar turned to Crovax.  “Bring the large one to the arena.”  Smash turned and kissed Gillian one last time, with more emotion than Gillian had ever seen in him.  That kiss aroused an urgent longing in her that seemed irrepressible.  But she was not to discover that longing, for the kiss was broken as Crovax dragged Smash out of the cell.

Chapter 12

Ludwig dashed over to Karma.  The pit fiend’s whip had left a cruel cut upon her cheek and his feet had done more damage as she was trod on as he fled, a cracked shell, a crushed hand, and a broken shoulder, and other wounds he could not yet see.  He knelt by her and tried to stop the blood flow from her cheek and other parts of her body.  Celeste pushed her way up beside him.  She pulled some herbs out of a side pouch, crushed them, and held them up to Karma’s mouth.
“Don’t eat them,” she said, “Just breathe the scent.  It will dull the pain.”  Ludwig took them and held them to Karma’s mouth while, over his shoulder, he saw Celeste walk around the glade, grabbing tree leaves and moss, among other things.  She sat down by Karma again.  She turned to Ludwig, hovering over her shoulder worriedly, and said, “There’s nothing you can do now.  The only thing you can do is to get some rest.”
She turned back to Karma as Ludwig walked to a straw mat that Kamek had set up.  Tearing some leaves in half, she smeared the juices on the insides of Karma’s cracked shell.  She braced her hands on either side of Karma’s shell and pressed as hard as she could until it was whole again.  Then she crushed some tree leaves and smeared the resulting salve on wherever Karma bled.  That took care of most of Karma’s wounds, but Celeste paused at the broken shoulder.  In a few minutes, though, she had rigged up a splint that held Karma’s arm in place, and applied some herbs to speed healing.
Ludwig was still looking worriedly at her as Celeste stood up.  She walked over to Ludwig’s mat and knelt.  Dire predictions streamed through Ludwig’s head.  Karma was already dead, Karma wouldn’t recover, and it was his entire fault.
“She’s going to live,” Celeste told him, “And if she rests, she will be better within three days, but I don’t expect there will be any rest anytime soon.”
Ludwig stared at the limp form of Karma a long time.  He didn’t like to admit it, but his dislike of Karma was actually beginning to fade.  Was this what Smash felt like when he was near Gillian?  In a decisive movement, he moved his mat near hers and slept there all night.
The next morning was quite a refreshing break from Ludwig’s starting mood last night.  Well, not really refreshing, actually. When she saw that Ludwig was sleeping next to her Karma threw a fit loud enough to tear the Abyss loose from the chains binding it to this world.  Ludwig would have thought that the end of the world was coming if he hadn’t seen things like that before from her.  It was a miracle that no patrols heard her.
Over his shoulder, Ludwig saw Celeste and Kamek smiling at each other.  Oh yes, things were back to normal!
Celeste was right.  No rest was to be had for many days and nights onwards.  Soon, the group passed out of the forest and into plains land.  Therefore, since they were in enemy territory, they had to crawl along on their stomachs the entire way.  If any other healer had helped her, Karma would have despaired of ever being well again.  However, Celeste’s splint and remedies held.
None of them were very well skilled in survival in the wilderness.  Karma knew how to find food, but she had no idea how to post guards and suchlike.  Therefore, something very bad happened on the first night.
By the time the companions stopped that night, everyone was exhausted.  Ludwig and Celeste simply slumped onto the ground and fell asleep.  Karma followed soon after, and then Kamek.
Ludwig woke up to a knife at his throat.  He gasped and struggled up against a tree.  Karma was already tied up and face down in the ground.  Celeste was hung from the branches above him with a rope around her waist and her hands and feet bound.  Kamek was nowhere to be seen.  Soon Ludwig was lashed to the tree, unable to move.
“There were four, I’m sure of it,” a demon said.
“Don’t worry, Commander Axsis, we’ll find him.”
At that instant, Kamek came flying out of the tree Ludwig was tied to, his wand aloft and blazing.  Axsis grabbed a minion next to him and pulled it in the way of the fireball.  The imp erupted in a blazing light, blinding Ludwig momentarily.  Axsis pulled a wand of his own out, made of a bone of some kind.  Another fiery bolt flew out of it.  Kamek leaped up, avoiding it.  But it hit the tree and set it alight.  The last thing Ludwig saw before he blacked out was a blazing inferno.

Chapter 13

Smash was deposited in an arena of some kind.  When he turned, Crovax grinned a yellowed tooth grin and left.  Smash looked around.  The arena walls were covered with skeletons, all in grotesque poses of death.
“Smash,” Zydar’s voice rang out through the arena, “This is my training arena, where I teach my slaves to kill.  Congratulations, you are the latest subject.”  Smash began to pull his sword out, but suddenly it was yanked out of his hand and back into his scabbard.  “Ah, ah, ah, that would be too easy,” Zydar’s voice rang through again. “Your weapon is this.” Black chains wrapped themselves around Smash’s sword as a tree branch fell in front of him.  Smash tested it out.
“Hmph, lousy balance, weak joints, Zydar’s a good commander, but a lousy weapon maker.”
“Ready, Smash?  You’d better be, here they come!”
A portal opened, and a young demon dashed out at him.  Smash could see in an instant from the way it waved the sword it was carrying that it was an amateur with delusions of grandeur.  Stepping close, he weaved around the point, grabbed its arm, and drove an elbow into its skull, snapping the neck.
“Is that all you’ve got?” Smash taunted into thin air.
His answer was a scream from behind him.  Smash, acting on instinct, pitched himself into a forward roll.  He cursed himself for twenty different kinds of an idiot as he felt a blade slide along the back of his leg.  Smash rolled over onto his back to see his opponent.  This time it was human.  Smash couldn’t tell weather it was male or female, as it had the attributes of neither.  But Smash had no time to think about irrelevant things like that.  He/she leapt on Smash, knife flashing.  Fire lanced across his shoulder.  While most other people would have panicked, Smash stayed calm.  Thinking quick, he pressed two fingers into the thing’s throat.  It gagged and staggered back.  Smash slammed a fist into its nose, driving the cartilage into its brain.
Smash had been battling for about 20 minutes now.  Both his hands and the ends of his makeshift staff were covered in blood, his and his enemies.  Fortunately, his only wounds were flesh wounds.  Unfortunately, he had lost a lot of blood, and was becoming quite tired.  Yet another wave of enemies were released at him.  Smash hated this kind.  These were much more determined.  After Smash stabbed them, they clawed their way up his staff and tore at him until they died.
After Smash managed to kill this group, he was wounded on almost every conceivable part of his body.  One eye was gouged out.  His left arm hung limply at his side.  Blood flowed freely from a slashed throat.  It was a small mercy, Smash thought, that they didn’t cut the jugular or aorta.
A ‘bamf’ sound hailed Smash to his new enemies.  Smash moaned as he saw this new one.  It was a Devil.  It moved by teleporting in blasts of fire, wielding a scythe forged in the fires of the Abyss.  Smash had killed Devils before, but he had his sword then.  He readied himself to fend off an attack.
A mind-tearing pain surged through his tired muscles.  He was facing two Devils!  The other one had just teleported behind him and hamstrung him, tearing the muscle along the back of his leg apart, making him unable to walk.  Smash staggered to the side, against a wall.  Seeing only one chance, he put it into action.  Backing up to the wall, he braced his foot that was able to move against the wall.  The Devils, seeing an opportunity, advanced.
Smash snapped his staff in two.  Using the broken ends, he heaved himself off the wall and jabbed the broken ends into the Devils’ chests.  They both suddenly dissolved into powder, but one’s last strike tore across Smash’s throat, severing the aorta.  Smash’s vision dimmed as his lifeblood gurgled out of his throat.  Just before final darkness claimed him, he saw five Devils advancing towards him.
Gillian was waiting inside the cell.  She was worried about Smash, but he could take care of himself, she thought.  That is until a mutilated body was thrown into the cell with her.  Upon close inspection she realized it was Smash’s.  There was no pulse in his neck and no breath infused his lungs.  Gillian sobbed, as, deep down, her very soul began to crumble.

Chapter 14

Kamek dived behind a rock half buried in the ground as another firebolt whizzed by him.  He popped up behind it, delivering another blast to the demon, and then had to leap backwards as several fireballs converged on his position.  He was feeling an unusual sensation.  He was losing this battle.  Ludwig and Celeste were already doomed, he decided, but he may as well make his death as costly as possible.  Leaping up into a tree, he prepared to launch himself like a thunderbolt at Axsis, ending both their lives.
Suddenly, the blazing tree that Ludwig and Celeste were tied to seemed to explode in a blast of blue light.  When it calmed, the tree and its occupants were encased in solid ice.
“Stand and die, foul demons!” a voice came out of nowhere.  Several blue beams shot out of the trees, freezing many demons under Axsis’ command.  Axsis, realizing that there was no way he could beat this new threat, tired as he was from battling Kamek, quickly teleported away.
A three-foot tall creature stepped into view.  It was encased in armor, but the parts that showed were distinctly feline.  It was holding a longsword in one hand, from which the blue beams fired.  Seeing that the demons were gone, it looked at his sword and it began to shrink until it was merely a blue gem, which it stowed away.  It then stooped and began to try to carve the bodies of Ludwig and Celeste from the now-frozen tree.
Kamek pulled Smash’s knife from the sheath Karma was wearing, intending to cut her bonds, but paused as he saw the design etched onto it.  His stomach clenched in horror as he saw that the insignia of the sword fade away right before his eyes.  Suddenly, the gentle pulse of the battle-axe became quite erratic.  He stared in horror for several seconds before Karma got his attention again with her muffled screams.  With a trembling hand, he cut her bonds.
She pulled herself up slowly, rubbing wrists and ankles to restore circulation.  Kamek walked over to their savior and began to help cut Ludwig and Celeste free.  With the knives and Kamek’s wand, it was easy.  Kamek was about to start carving through the ice that held them when the feline placed a hand upon his shoulder, stopping him. It made a sound like a gurgling creak, and all the ice melted away.
Kamek was amazed at the power this creature had over ice.  He stood up, dusting off his robes, and asked who the strange creature was.
“My name is Mewd, holy paladin and prince of the planet Zon.  I have also sensed the evil coming into this world.  I know that I am not the one to stop the evil, but I have taken it upon myself to help the ones that will.”
Ludwig shook his head and stood up.  He sat down again after getting pummeled with a wave of vertigo.  Mewd smiled a bit.  “Don’t stand up.  Being frozen solid has that effect on you.”  Celeste just laid her head back.  “In what way may I be of assistance?”
Kamek quirked his upper lip into a rueful grimace.  “You already have, by saving our lives.  The only way that you could help us now is to teach us wilderness survival and to ally your land with us.  We need all the troops we can get if we ever are going to siege Zydar’s fortress.”
Mewd smiled, just a small smile in the lips, but the glint in his eyes suggested an easy alliance.  It was.

Chapter 15

Gillian wiped sweat from her eyes.  She had been sweating uncontrollably ever since she realized Smash was dead.  Tears were flowing freely, blood was oozing from her mouth and nose, and her hands were trembling as her sorrow-wracked body was trying to kill itself.  The only thing that kept her alive was her obsession.  If she could only patch up all the wounds…
If she weren’t so concentrated on her one task, she would have thought it a tragic irony that when she met Smash, she was a healer wishing to be a warrior.  Now she was a warrior wishing to be a healer.  But no matter how much she was out of practice, the arts were still inside her.  She heated her knife in the flames that composed the cell bars, and used the red-hot result to sear closed all the open wounds.  Her hands were shaking so badly that several more burns were added to the extensive injuries of her once-lifemate.
After all the wounds but one were seared closed, Gillian sat back.  No one knows what she was expecting, though.  Perhaps she realized it was hopeless.  Perhaps she was thinking about what she would do next.  And perhaps, in her sorrow-crazed mind, she thought that maybe if she healed all of Smash’s wounds, he would suddenly be restored to life, even though she knew through her Koopa training that true resurrection and miracles were impossible.  And yet, nothing happened as another irreplaceable fragment of her soul was lost.
Another desperate thought erupted into her mind.  “My blood for yours,” she muttered as slashed her own wrist open.  As blood spurted, she pressed her wrist to Smash’s last open wound, his slashed aorta.  And yet, even as her lifeblood flowed from her, there was no change in Smash.
Soon, Gillian realized that there was no hope.  She laid her head upon Smash’s chest and longed for merciful death to put an end to her anguish.  But, nothing would come.  No matter how she sobbed, no matter how she pleaded in her mind, nothing took her from her suffering.  As her mental, spiritual, and physical anguish increased, she pulled up from Smash’s body, sobs still wracking her torn body.  All she knew of Smash, all his love for her, his tenderness, his care, his patience, flashed before her.
All her anguish, mixed with Smash’s memories, and merged with grief and love, and above all, immense, terrible, desire created one final tumult within her.  All her emotions and remaining strength burst out of her in a final desperate cry, before collapsing across his body.  That cry was a cry that echoed across the ages.
A scream tore from a tortured throat, a jagged knife across raw nerves!
Like a lightning bolt, a beam of light blasted from beyond the ceiling, illuminating the two bodies.  It was too bright to look at, even indirectly, but Gillian was too weak to even close her eyelids.  After all, she thought, what is a bit more agony if it will all be over soon anyway?
But, strangely, as the light played over them, she seemed to be gaining strength.  Soon, she was able to shield her eyes from the light.  Her slashed wrist was whole again.  All the blood and bodily fluids she had lost were restored.  But if the healing was miraculous for her, it paled to mundane in comparison of what was preformed on Smash.  Every wound on his body was closed up.  A red light flowed into him, a blood red.  Finally, a great light descended from above.  It was so bright that it pierced Gillian’s hands and eyelids, even though the light was red, not white as the most of the light was.
And, as soon as the light appeared, it was gone.  Gillian laid her head upon Smash’s chest, and was startled to feel a heartbeat.  He was alive!  She broke down again and cried for joy.  Relief flooding like the sweat and blood that drenched her, she finally slept.  Her final thought before she fell asleep was that miracles could happen, and she had seen one.

Chapter 16

Following Mewd’s advice, the group of four made their way through Zydar’s territory, on their way out of it.  The alliance with Zon gave them a new purpose.  They had to unite as much of Plit as possible before Zydar’s horde overran them all.
Celeste listened raptly to Kamek’s lecture about the powers on Plit.  He was saying, “There are three major powers on Plit.  The first, what many would consider the most powerful, is the Koopa Troop.  But I think we shall not get an alliance with them, not in the mood Bowser was in when we left.  The second is the Mushroom Kingdom.  We already have an alliance with them,” he glanced sideways, “Thanks to someone in this party.”  Celeste blushed.  “The third is the Yoshi community. I fear this alliance will be the hardest coming.  We have no Yoshi in our group, but a crossbreed Yoshi/Koopa, an outcast.”
Karma blushed furiously.  Ludwig looked aggressive, but Kamek soothed him with an explanation.  “I’m not insulting her, merely stating a fact.”
Celeste sighed, “So there is no point is visiting the Yoshis?”
Kamek became alert with a jolt.  “Who said that?” he snapped, “Did I?”
Celeste started, “But you said-”
Kamek addressed her in a way that made them sound like the old Magikoopa and the young princess they were, “Now see here!  I said nothing of the sort!  I am just saying that we will have to think up a convincing argument.  The Yoshis are a species that may not listen to reason, but if we at least try they may ally with us.  Give up, indeed!  Pah!”
Celeste turned her head away, ashamed of herself.  Kamek’s biting sarcasm had that effect on most people.  “What’s the matter with you?” She said quietly, not meaning for Kamek to hear.
But he heard anyway.  “What’s the matter with me?  What’s the matter with me!?   Let’s see, there has to only be one thing that’s affecting me.  What was it?  Hm… It wasn’t that you all are living now.  It wasn’t that we have an alliance with an entire other planet.  I wonder what it could be.  Maybe it was…this! ” He yanked Celeste’s knife out of its sheath with a savage yank that made her gasp in pain. He held it up to show them all the abstention of the sword.   “Yes!  That’s what’s wrong with me!  This is the thing that haunts my every waking moment!”
Karma and Ludwig pulled out their knives as well.  The sword was gone on both of those as well.  Ludwig began, “If it’s gone, then what-”
“Yes,” Kamek cut him off, “If the sword that is connected to our leader’s life is gone, what does that mean?  Could it possibly mean that Smash is dead?  Could it possibly mean that our only hope is dead?”  He turned on Celeste.  “Yes, you’re right.  Maybe we shouldn’t go to Yoshi Island.  What good would it do?  Why don’t we just go to Zydar’s citadel and surrender?   Maybe then he’ll torture us to death over a course of four hours rather than four weeks!”
Celeste was on the verge of tears.  No one had ever talked to her so harshly before.  She tried to tell herself that it was just an overreaction due to stress, but it wouldn’t stop the tears.  A single droplet made it to the corner of her eye before something terrifying happened.
Celeste gasped for breath, all of them were, she saw.  A feeling of complete dread and terror began to crush her soul.  All of it was suddenly released in a psychic shriek.
A scream tore across her mind, a sword through a bleeding heart!
And, just as that moment of terror passed from her, something wondrous happened.  There was a great white flash.  Celeste shielded her eyes from the brilliance.  She was dimly aware of Kamek, Karma, and Ludwig shouting in pain and flinging their daggers to the ground.  The light seemed to be coming from those daggers.  Then, just as suddenly as the light appeared, it disappeared, to be replaced with a dim red glow on each of the knives.  A red glow that got brighter and brighter, until it was too bright to look upon.  Eventually it was greater than the white.
When it finally faded, the knives had changed dramatically.  They had grown to the length of short swords, and their hilts were laced with gold.  But the thing that caught everyone’s attention was the sword and battleaxe that had been etched on the blade.  They were both present, but spectacularly changed.  Neither beat with that soft red light now.  The sword gleamed with a dazzling silver luster, and the battleaxe was a sparkling green that put the world’s finest emerald to shame.

Chapter 17

Smash awoke groggily.  He was somewhat startled to see that he was in the cell.  The last thing he remembered after the blackness was that he seemed to float, a red light above him.  Then he looked down and saw Gillian crying over his body.  There was a sudden blur of light… and… and…
A minute movement from atop him brought Smash back to himself.  Gillian was laying on him, sleeping like the dead.  Her body was right upon his, her breath tickling his neck.  Again that strange calling possessed him, and again, he tried to stop it.
Seconds passed like days as Smash battled with himself.  The stronger draconic part of him wanted to only to have Gillian, only her, but the larger human part was more concerned with the actual feelings of her.  Finally, exhaustion decided it.  Smash was too weak to do anything at all but move a hand.
Which he did.  Unable to move at all, and not wanting to, he placed a hand upon Gillian’s face and gave up more memories to her.
After I killed Ignatius, my only thought was, What have I done? I knew that Shiva and Terek, even cruel as they were, had some affection for their son.  Not only that, but some of the other boy’s parents were in the nearby village as well.  Not wanting to face them, I fled.
I only wanted a place to hide.  I didn’t care where.  I heard the sounds of pursuing two nights after I killed my enemies.  I was hiding in a tree when they came crashing through the underbrush.  They obviously wanted to take me by surprise, but even an old man that was deaf in one ear would have heard that crashing they made.
I evaded all the search parties, but I had some dangerously close shaves.  I finally realized that I would have to get out of the country completely.  Either that or find a place to hide where I could hold out against an attack or a search until they gave up.  Fate decided on the former, but not in the way I expected.
One day, as I was slinking through the underbrush while evading yet another search party, I came across a very old cave entrance.  Thinking it may be a passage to a safer location, or at least a hiding place, I crawled in.  It was deeper than I expected.  I tumbled down at least twenty feet after entering, landing with a bone-jarring crash.  I laid low until the worst of the dust had settled and then walked deeper into the cave.
There was a fire burning inside the cave.  As I walked up to it, I saw an old man sitting there, dressed in white robes.  There was an aura of mystery about him, as if he were not completely there.  When I walked in, he was staring at me, but his eyes did not seem quite focused on me.  They were a swirling mixture, changing from green to blue to red…
I was so fascinated by his eyes that I was startled when he motioned for me to sit beside him.  Without truly knowing what I was doing, I sat and gazed into the fire.  Telepathically, he told me that I was his new student and that he would train me in magic.  Completely mesmerized, I agreed without a second thought.
I remember little to none of what happened over the next immense span of time.  More than ninety-nine hundredths of my life was spent in that cave, but to me it was merely a few weeks.  In that span of time, I learned almost every one of my spells, chose my alignment, and took my Test, a grueling magic trial where the punishment for failure is death.
My teacher died soon after.  I was much sorrowed, but he told me that his entire purpose in life was to train me and now that my training was complete, his life was over.  I buried him deep in the cave in an unmarked grave.  I never even knew his name, but he had made it so that I could never use my powers for evil.
I spent the time after that wandering in the cave.  It led to many other worlds, I found.  I spent time in a draconic world, where I discovered-

The next memory stunned Smash so completely that he lay, almost rigid, with shock.  The sudden clenching of muscles awakened his Spirit Twine.
“Smash?  A-Are we in heaven?”
Smash chuckled a bit.  “If we are, than God must be remodeling.”
“You’re alive?  But last I remember…”
“You brought me back to life.  I would have let you sleep, but there is a memory I must discover is real.”  He removed his tunic, showing Gillian his upper back.  “You see those two layers of muscle?”
“Yes, I do.”  She ran a claw slowly down the two vertical layers of muscle, sending electric shivers down Smash’s spine.
“This may sound strange, but can you get a claw under them and pull?”
She did so.  And, strangely, instead of scratching Smash’s skin, the muscles unfolded from his back to reveal…
“Wings!” Gillian gasped.  Indeed, two limp bronze wings unfolded from Smash’s back.  They gave a weak flutter, seemingly all they could do after three years without exercise.
But any amazement was drowned out by the sounds of demonic footsteps coming down the hall.

Chapter 18

Karma popped out of the warp pipe leading to Yoshi Island.  She scrambled out and helped to pull Celeste through.  Kamek and Ludwig were left behind.  Since the Yoshis were a very suspicious species, only the two that would not alarm them were coming through.
The instant after Celeste made it through, a noise alerted Karma to movement behind her.  She spun on her heel, drawing her short sword.  She saw two Yoshis behind her, a blue and a red.  She stepped forward to greet them, but the blue one sent her reeling with a kick.
“Intruders,” it said, “You will surrender and come with us.”
“But-” Karma started.
“You will surrender.”
Karma finished drawing her sword.  “I will not!”
In a flash of red, it was snatched out of her hand by a sticky tongue.  In another flash, she was face down on the ground with her arms and legs tied.  Through the corner of her eye, she saw Celeste surrendering.  She burned with anger at Celeste’s betrayal.  But as Celeste passed her, there also passed a secret wink.  She had a plan.
“Bring them to Lady Olema,” the red declared.
Karma was dragged upon the ground to the center of the island.  There was a great gathering of Yoshis there.  But it was somehow different.  No chatter droned in the background.  Every Yoshi was sitting in the same place, not milling about, as they normally would have done.  Karma’s eyes were suddenly drawn to a married couple.  A Yoshi and a Koopa.  Her breath caught in her throat.  She recognized her parents.  It had been so long, but she was sure.
Celeste nudged her with an elbow.  “See those two greens?  I’ll bet that’s where the leader is.”
Karma didn’t know how, but Celeste was right.  The two stepped aside and a woman walked into the clearing.  She was garbed in a black and red dress.  Very stout for a woman, she walked with a heavy gait, crushing flowers underfoot.  She walked to a Yoshi and sat upon it, ignoring the fact that the poor creature was straining to stay upright.
“Why have you disturbed me?” she asked in an oily voice.
“My lady Olema,” the blue holding Celeste’s sword pronounced robotically, “I discovered these two trespassers coming through the warp pipe.”
“More trespassers?  Put them in the conditioning vault with the others.”
Seeing that this woman was probably one of Zydar’s agents, Karma scowled.  She knew her sort.  The ‘conditioning vault’ was probably a torture chamber of some kind.  That kind was always trying to find a nice name to put on all kinds of rotten things.
“Unless, of course,” Olema said, with a sidelong glance, “Her parents think that she doesn’t deserve it.”
They answered almost mechanically, “She deserves it.  Put her in.”
Karma was shocked.  “Mom!  Dad!  What are you saying?  I’m your daughter!”
“We… have…no daughter.”
Karma glanced desperately towards Celeste.  She mouthed one word.  “Fight.”
She needed no second urging.  Karma lashed out with one claw, catching a brown across the nose.  A second swipe incapacitated a green, sending her reeling dazedly to the ground.
Olema screamed in rage, “Get her!”  She ducked as a thrown rock from Karma whizzed by her head.  “She’s just one half-breed!  How hard can it be?”
Karma proved that it was very hard.  She bit, kicked, and scratched, drawing blood and leaving many a Yoshi gasping for breath on the ground.  Olema was finally forced to pull out her wand.  Karma was in the middle of another swipe when a sudden wave of weakness, like a punch in the stomach, overcame her.
Within seconds, she was upon the ground.  Olema walked over to her.  She held her wand like a dagger.  A sneer of contempt was on her lips.  She raised the wand, lips moving with another weakness spell, one that would stop her heart.
Celeste’s plan was put into action at that instant.  She edged closer to a yellow near her, one that was holding her sword.  When the fight distracted its attention, she concentrated and delivered such a tremendous kick to its stomach that it fell with a crash that distracted Olema from her spell.  She plucked the sword from the yellow’s limp grip and leapt at Olema.
Olema reacted by pointing her wand at Celeste.  She couldn’t stop her leap through the air, but her sword arm faltered and her legs went limp as the weakness took hold.  When she landed, she collapsed forward onto Olema.  On her wand, to be precise.  The sharp wood bit into her chest and she collapsed to the ground.  There was a sharp snap.  One half of the wand was left in Olema’s hand.  The other half was buried in Celeste’s chest as she lay upon the ground.
The instant the wand snapped, every Yoshi perked its head up.  They began to act like they usually did, wandering off into the forest and eating whatever they wanted.  However, the few that were standing near Karma and Celeste recognized them and come to their aid.
Soon Olema was captive, but as she was dragged away from Celeste, she spat into Celeste’s wound, enraged that her own spell was her downfall.

Chapter 19

There was a voice from around the hall.  “You idiot!  I told you not to kill him!”
“Wait, my lord,” replied a sniveling whine, “I didn’t mean to.  Please forgi-Aaak!” A dead demon’s body came flying towards the cell, getting disintegrated on the bars.  They could see the shadows of Zydar and another on the wall.
Any amazement or horror Gillian felt was interrupted by a tirade from Zydar.  “Why am I the only one who thinks around here?  Why must I have the most useless commanders?  Why must incompetence hound me so?”
There was nothing in reply.  Zydar’s voice spoke again, “I am lucky that I have you here as garrison commander, Crovax.  With you here, I am reassured that my entire fortress will not collapse while I am on a campaign, thanks to all my ignorant troops.  All those fools care about is filling their pockets with my hard-earned gold.  Only you care about my glorious vision.”
A slavering hiss came from the figure next to him.  Zydar and Crovax turned the corner.  Zydar was saying, “Well, I suppose my plan for Smash and his animal lover is of no use now.  You may take their bodies and…” His eye turned upon the living, breathing, Smash in the cell.  His eyes widened, than narrowed at Gillian.
At that point Gillian was a storm of emotion.  She was feeling indignant at the term ‘animal’ being applied to her.  There was fear of Zydar and Crovax, fear that they may kill Smash again.  And, as always, there was that strange and intense desire for Smash throbbing inside her.
Zydar finally moved.  His thin lips slowly quirked up into a tiny smile.  Then it broadened, showing all his stained red razor teeth.  Finally, he broke into a laugh.  A terrible, evil laugh.
“Well, well, well, O creature,” he said to her, “You have helped me a great deal.  I never meant for your lover to die, and you have pulled him back.  I am indebted to you.”  He gave her a mocking bow.  “Would you like to join my horde?  I am sure that you could make commander within a week.”
Gillian was horrified.  “Join you?  I’d rather die!”
Zydar smiled in the manner of one keeping a particularly nasty secret.  “I believe you shall change your mind after I have converted your lover.”
Smash sat bolt upright.  “Convert me?  To your side?  You’re insane!”
Zydar glared at Smash in contempt.  “You assume that you are protected by that doddering old fool you were trained by?  Pah!  That will be exactly where we start.”  While he was speaking, he gestured and the fire bars dispelled.  He and Crovax stepped into the cell, and the bars reestablished themselves after they made it completely in.  Smash looked up, a hint of fear in his eyes as Zydar approached him.  Zydar grabbed Smash by the front of his tunic and lifted him off the ground.  The two were almost the same size, but Zydar was ever so much stronger, so could lift the human off the floor.
As Smash struggled, Zydar began to cast his spell.  His efforts were interrupted by a tug upon his robe.  Gillian stood just below the stairs with a claw grasping his sleeve.  “Please,” she gasped, her voice pained with desperation, “Don’t do this to him.  I’ll do any-”
Zydar, scowling in annoyance before, laughed when he heard her plea.  Then, with a glance from demon to vampire, Crovax backhanded her across the room.  She landed with a heavy thud and rolled into a corner.
Gillian struggled up, or tried to before shackles sprouted from the floor and grasped her wrists and ankles.  And iron bands wrapped around her, pinning her to the floor.  One was around each of her thighs. Another was constricting her back, somehow passing through her robe, and the most uncomfortable was like a collar around her neck, only allowing her to lift her head inches off the dirty floor, but not letting her rest her head either, forcing her to suspend her head over the band under her neck or choke herself on it.
Zydar turned his attention back to Smash.  He readjusted his claws so he now had a chokehold on Smash’s throat. Blood welled from five puncture wounds in Smash’s throat where Zydar’s claws rested.  With his other hand, Zydar placed a single claw on Smash’s forehead.
Via her spirit link to Smash, Gillian also felt the touch of that single, evil, claw.  Nothing happened until Zydar intoned a few syllables, and then an iron spike was plunged into her forehead.
Gillian writhed in her chains, screaming, as she felt the pain of her Spirit Twine.  Smash twisted in Zydar’s grasp as the arch-demon invaded his mind.  Smash used what strength he had trying to break free of Zydar’s grasp, but his grip was too strong.
The pain slowly lifted.  Gillian thought it was finally over, but Zydar was just getting started.  Now that he had found what he was looking for, it was time to attack.
A paroxysm of pain gripped Gillian’s mind and body.  Every muscle in her body seized up, rendering her immobile.  Unable to breathe, she began to fade into blackness, still in the binding grasp of Zydar’s will.
Then, as abruptly as the pain started, it stopped again.  Gillian lay, panting, on the floor, her eyes, tears flowing from them, closed in pain.  But still, the worst was yet to come.  Zydar spoke a final word.
A grasping fist mangled her mind.  She involuntarily flung her body to one side, bruising her neck, almost breaking it.  She continued to thrash as the pain intensified.  At the climax, there was a vision of an old man in white robes.  It began to vibrate, and then, with a scream from both her and Smash, the vision shattered, sending her plunging into an endless maelstrom of madness.

Chapter 20

Ludwig stretched luxuriously on a bed of moss.  He was just waking up from a long, deep, sleep.  It was such a relief to not have to stand watch part of the night.  When he got through the warp pipe, responding to screams from Karma, he had seen Celeste, grievously wounded, being guarded by several Yoshis.  More were hauling a fat woman off to a nearby pit.  Karma had said that was a prison of sorts.  It was an irony that Olema was to be imprisoned in her own pit.
According to the sun, he had been asleep almost sixteen hours.  Wondering how his companions were doing, he walked outside.  It was very early morning.  The only creatures awake were himself and some Yoshis that were out gathering food.  And maybe some others.  He walked over to the hut that Celeste was in, trying to recover from the cursed wound Olema had inflicted.
He peeked in the door, and seeing that Kamek and Karma were already inside, walked in as well.  They were all surrounding Celeste, anxiously watching her for any sign of improvement.  Ludwig pushed his way in and took Celeste’s pulse.  He spent some time examining her wound and came to one conclusion.  The wound was still cursed and would not heal unless a professional healer attended to it.  And since Celeste was unable to heal herself, she was forced to wait in pain for another healer to arrive.
Eventually Karma left to go see her parents again.  Ludwig followed soon after, wanting to meet them as well.  As he left, he saw Kamek take Celeste’s hand in his and cry softly.
Later that day, an urgent alarm rang throughout the island.  Something terrible had just come though a warp pipe, or at least that’s what Ludwig was told.  He rushed to the site and was quite surprised by what he saw.
“Dart!” He cried, rushing forward to embrace the Troopa who emerged from the warp pipe.  Already, there were a fair amount of troops about.  Some Yoshis were surrounding the group, looking aggressive.  They relaxed a bit as Ludwig talked animatedly to the Koopas that were standing about.
Then, to the surprise of nearly everyone there, Princess Toadstool and dozens of Mushroom Retainers popped out of the pipe.  Then followed hundreds, maybe thousands, of mixed koopas and mushrooms.  Strangely, they seemed to be helping each other.  Burly sledge brothers pulled along the belongings of old mushroom people.  The Mario Brothers supported wounded Koopa Troopas.  Even Mewd and several of his species were along as well.  Sure, there were some minor disputes, but that was to be expected from two cultures that had been at war so long.  Something terrible must have happened to bring them together.
After everyone was through the pipe, A Yoshi led the group to the center of the island, where an emergency meeting was called.  Soon, everyone was there, even Celeste. When Peach saw her, she cried out in horror.  She dashed over to attend her.  In a flash of remembrance, Ludwig recalled that Peach was a healer as well.  He watched in amazement as the half-wand was easily removed and tossed aside.  Then, with a small flash of white, the wound closed over, the lost blood was recharged into her veins, and even the torn clothing was stitched up.
As Celeste was healed, the final stragglers, Yoshis of course, wandered into camp.  Peach helped Celeste into a sitting position and walked over to a center chair.  When she sat, a terrible story was related.
“Mere days after Smash and Celeste allied with us, a shattered Koopa Troop struggled into our kingdom.  They were all that was left of the Koopa Empire, or so they told us.  It seems that Zydar and his horde signed a non-aggression pact with Bowser.  Mere hours later, New Castle Koopa fell and was transformed into a citadel of evil.  These troops that are with us are all the escapees from the battle.
“About a day after these troops arrived, Zydar’s forces attacked.  We were easily overwhelmed, but fortunately, we had a day to prepare.  Only a token force remained in the kingdom, while the rest of us fled through the sewers.  The token force collapsed the entrance to the sewers and then fled themselves.
“About halfway through, we met Mewd and a few of his people.  They joined us and helped us fend off many hit and run attacks made by Zydar’s forces.  I had word from a dying demon that Yoshi Island had fallen.  I suppose he was lying.”
“No,” Celeste interjected, “the island did fall.  A vile woman named Olema hypnotized all the Yoshis.  I snapped her wand and her power was broken.  That’s how I got my wound.  I fell upon her wand.”
“This is terrible!” Kamek exclaimed. “Over half the planet must have fallen by now, and two of the major cultures have been defeated as well.  All we have left is one tiny island and an unorganized army.  And to top it all off, two of the only keys to the planet’s salvation are now imprisoned in Zydar’s own castle!”
“We do have one advantage,” Karma said quietly.  “Zydar thinks the Yoshi Island is his, but it’s not anymore.  We will have a little time to prepare for a coming assault.”
Then the meeting sunk into boring things like tactics and battle advantages.  Ludwig made his way to Karma and whispered that he would be leaving to keep watch and work on one of his inventions.
Soon after, Ludwig was wandering through the underbrush, looking for a suitable branch to use for a lever.  He was wandering near the warp pipe when it suddenly activated.  He dived behind a bush just in time to avoid being seen by an imp that stuck its head up out of the pipe.
Soon there was a small but potentially lethal force on the grass outside the pipe, but there seemed to be no leader.  That is, until a Magog, a creature that threw fireballs as its attack, grasped a hand inside the pipe and pulled out a creature made of fire.  No, that wasn’t quite right.  Ludwig looked again.  The creature seemed to be made of fire, but there was some semblance of flesh underneath.  Ludwig had overheard Smash talking about this kind of creature before.  He was an efreet, an evil creature made from the essence of flame.
The creature shook off the disorienting effects of the warp pipe and walked up to his second-in-command, a demon bearing several battle scars.
“I don’t see any guards.  Olema must be getting careless.  Rrrgh, if Olema doesn’t learn to be more cautious, one of these days she’s going to be ambushed.”
Ludwig slowly backed away from the small army.  He had to warn the others!  But as he slunk behind a tree, there was a cry from behind him.
“Look!  Look!  Mesa sees a Kew-pa!  Mesa sees a Kew-pa!  Wesa must crush him!”
Ludwig broke from cover and ran as he heard a new voice say, “Don’t worry, I’ll get him.”
Ludwig threw himself to the side as he heard a low rumbling sound behind him.  A huge fireball blasted out all the greenery where he was standing seconds before, leaving the land black and scorched.  He didn’t stop to stare, but dashed onwards.
Another low rumbling began.  Ludwig dove forwards, clearing the coming inferno, or so he thought.  It turns out that the spell was not aimed at him, but at the land in front of him.  He came to a halt, claws raking up dirt, just before a blistering wall of fire.  Ludwig didn’t stop to think.  He ran back a few steps, then turned and dashed towards the wall.  Closing his eyes and crossing his claws, he leapt into it.
The heat was almost unbearable.  He could feel layers of skin and scales scorching and burning off.  His head was a mass of pain as his hair was set alight.  A falling branch crashed in front of him, sending sparks flying into his face and his eyes.  He kept his feet on moving, even though he had little hope of making it through alive.  Then, suddenly, he was through.  He might have paused for some rest, but Xyron was still coming and parts of him still burned with the infernal fire.  Diving into a pool of water, putting out the flames, he swam a hidden riverway to the meeting.
Peach was saying, “We don’t care who gets what after the war!  If we don’t ally together now, there won’t be anything left to have!”
Ludwig dashing into the clearing cut the coming speech short.  Karma winced as she saw the horrific burns on her Met’s body.  But Ludwig warded off her sympathetic advance.  “Quick!” he roared, getting everyone’s attention, “Demons are coming!  Get a weapon!  It’s fight or die!”  And, to prove his point, a howling sounded on the path opposite him as dozens of hellhounds blazed into the clearing.
With a ferocity that surprised even him, Ludwig yanked his sword clear of his scabbard and leapt to meet the charge.  His first target was a hellhound that was bearing down on an old Mushroom woman who was unable to move quickly enough to get clear.  A single flash of the sword and the evil creature’s throat was severed.
But his maneuver had brought him too close to the rest of the pack.  Within seconds, he was completely surrounded.  With an almost contemptuous toss of his head, getting his hair out of the way, he turned on the pack leader.  A shifting of feet alerted him and he dropped to the ground just in time.
A hound flew over his head, plowing into the pack leader.  At the same time, he kicked out with both legs, gouging hunks of demon-flesh out of another, bringing his sword up just in time to bury the blade in the skull of a final one.
Ludwig whirled back to the leader.  It had killed the hound that had leapt at it and was now snarling at Ludwig.  Ludwig flailed wildly at it in an attempt to draw off its guard, and, through pure accident, lopped off the end of its nose.  A blood flecked howl and a mass snarl later, Ludwig was on the ground with his sword clenched between a pair of fiery jaws.  He wrenched at it, chipping teeth, but the hound held tight.  Ludwig struck wildly with his other arm and legs, trying to fend off the rest of the pack.  He foresaw that it wouldn’t be enough.  Soon, they would all attack at once, and he would be dead.
Just as the rest of the pack was about to pounce, a green blur flashed in front of Ludwig’s eyes and his sword suddenly came free.  Without even thinking, Ludwig leapt to his feet and slashed at the nearest thing to him.  When the hound had disintegrated, he looked over at his savior.  Karma stood, gasping, hellhound blood running in rivulets down her scales.
Ludwig stared at her, completely speechless.  “Why did you rescue me?” he asked.  Karma didn’t answer.  She looked confused, as if she was just waking up from a dream.
Ludwig then noticed the rest of the battle raging about them.  He pulled Karma close, feeling the bliss of her body against his, and whispered, “Thanks,” then kissed her savagely and was charging into the mêlée before she could even formulate a protest.
Ludwig took stock of the battle.  The demonic forces were outnumbered 20 to one, but the demons, so much better trained in the art of combat, were holding their own.   Ludwig spotted Xyron, with an escort of pit fiends, sneaking around the perimeter of the battleground.  Knowing the efreet was up to something, Ludwig worked his way through the battle on an intercept course.  When he was almost upon them, he saw where they were heading.  To the prison.  To rescue Olema.
Ludwig knew that he could not allow this to happen, but he saw no way to beat all of them.  But, again, his decision was made for him as a pit fiend turned and spotted him.
“Hey!  We’ve been seen!”
Xyron turned, and suffered a flash of recognition.  “You’re the wimp I saw on the path!  I thought you were dead.  I shall remedy that.”
As Xyron readied a spell and the pit fiends advanced, a flash of brilliance illuminated Ludwig’s mind.  “Scum!” he bellowed, “Keep your distance!  My blade will come to you!”
As he cocked an arm to hurl his sword, Ludwig noticed out of the corner of his eye that it had suddenly lit with green fire.  He might have stopped to study it, but the throwing signal was already to his hand.
The instant Ludwig released his sword, Xyron hurled his fireball.  Time seemed to stand still as the green blade, seeming pathetically small compared to the fireball, flew towards its massive opponent.  David verses Goliath, as Smash would have said.  Ludwig gazed passively, accepting his death.  His only regret was that he was unable to declare his true feelings to Karma.
But amazingly, as the sword tip entered the blazing inferno, the fireball shattered into thousands of tiny fragments, scattering in all directions but towards Ludwig.  Each place a fragment landed, a tiny flame sprung up and grew.  This included where they landed on the pit fiends advancing towards him.
Xyron saw the sword flying toward him just in time, and took action.  Grabbing an untouched by flame pit fiend by its arm, he yanked the unfortunate creature into the path of the sword.  The evil thing let out a scream like a banshee as the righteous fire blazed into its chest.  Soon, all that was left of it was a charred and twisted lump of flesh with the sword still impaled in it.  And as for Xyron, Xyron was gone.  Fled or part of that smoking heap, Ludwig couldn’t tell, but he had more immediate concerns.  Those pit fiends would soon be on him and he had no weapon…
He needn’t have worried.  As Xyron’s fireball had been shattered, the flames that scattered around had done them plenty of damage.  As each bit of flame had landed, it set up a blaze that completely consumed the dread creature.  However, the flame had also landed on nearby trees and a fire was already blazing out of control.  Well, there was nothing to do about it now.  Ludwig turned back towards the battle, only to find it was all over.
Down a nearby trail, Xyron and Olema were beating a hasty retreat.  The clearing was littered with bodies.  Most were Yoshi, Mushroom, and Koopa, but a fair minority were demons of some kind.  The entirety of Xyron’s army was beaten, but the price was terrible.  Karma stood in the middle of it all, staring into space as demon blood dripped off her body and pooled around her feet.  Ludwig dashed over to her.  She screamed and clung to him.
“Oh, it was horrible!  All that fighting!  That dying!  I saw a Yoshi on the ground, its throat slashed, its body trampled to death! The blood, the pain… I thought you were dead!”  She took another look at his body.  “And even if you are alive, look at you!  Your wounds are terrible!  Look at this!  You’re burnt all over!  Look at your shell!”
Ludwig suddenly felt a heavy weight descend on his shoulders.  Indeed, he was horribly wounded.  His flesh was burnt like the trees, nay, the entire island that blazed about him.  The throb of the burns, among other things, came back to him in a rush.  Karma murmured to him as she led him off, “We are going to get you to a healer.  I’ve had enough death for one day.  I’m surprised that you didn’t faint!”
Ludwig stopped and looked at the clouds of smoke billowing up into the sky.  What a waste, he thought, to destroy an entire beautiful island just to win a war.  Fortunately, storm clouds were gathering at the horizon.  He turned to Karma.  “You’re right.  I guess I’ll faint now.”  And, just as the first merciful droplets splashed on his face, he did so.

Chapter 21

I am here
The pain
Am I dead?
What am I?
I am
Where am I?
Who am I?
I am
Why am I here?
I am…
I am Sumashi
Smash’s eyes opened.  As his vision faded into focus, he was aware of two things.  The first was pain.  Incredible, mind-numbing pain.  The second was the fact that, for the first time since his training was completed, he was truly alone.  No, that wasn’t quite true.  His teacher was gone, true, but he still shared a soul with another…
He had forgotten all about her!  She was still chained to the floor!  Smash ran over to her, checking her pulse.  She was still alive, though badly beaten up.  He drew his sword and chopped the collars on her back, neck, and thighs apart, then shook her gently, murmuring a spell to restore consciousness.  Her delicate eyelids flickered open.
“Oh, my aching head…” She absently brought up a claw to run it through her hair, but was stopped short by the heavy shackle that was still around her wrist.  An annoyed expression flickered across her face, and she raised her wrist to the extent of its chain.  Smash swept his sword along the floor and severed the chain.  As the limp end dropped to the floor, the part around her wrist dissolved.  He continued this with the chains around her ankles and wrists, but it expended much of his available energy.
Gillian used the rest of her strength to pull herself away from the remainders of the chains, and collapsed.  Smash joined her seconds later, and together they slept the sleep of exhaustion.
Gillian’s eyes snapped open as a surge of excruciating pain erupted in her skull.  She rolled about in agony, clutching her head, finally coming to rest cradled next to Smash’s still-asleep form.  Desperately seeking some way to calm her mind and rise beyond the pain, her eye lay upon Smash.  An exhausted sleeping body had the calmest mind, she was taught, and what better source than her own Spirit Twine?
But just as her claws touched the juncture points in his face, his bloodshot eyes opened slowly.  She could almost feel the pain he was in.  But as he gazed upon her, his pain seemed to abate.  Ah, the power of love was strong.  Even if it was only a chemical bond to ensure reproduction of a species in their case, it was the ultimate power in the universe, able to conquer evil, to destroy entire worlds, to… to inflame passions…
But even as she reached for Smash, she realized it was impossible.  Even as her weakened state kept her from resisting these strange desires, it prevented her from expressing them.  What a dilemma!
She rolled away from Smash, her headache suddenly absent.  Pulling herself into a sitting position, she surveyed him from an outward appearance and tsked reprovingly.  “Smash, look at you!  You’d better get something more decent on!”
Indeed, his black tunic was torn into ragged strips.  They hung loosely on his frame, giving the resemblance of having just been at an encounter with a monster with big claws.  But, of course, it was all himself, as he writhed in the grips of madness.  She was sure she looked much the same, but she was chained down, so most of the damage would be in bruises.
Smash glanced down at himself.  “You’re right.  But I don’t have anything to change into.”
Gillian pulled her lips back in a grin, exposing her teeth.  “Leave that to me.”  She pulled up what remained of her robe to her high hip, and pulled some material aside, revealing a hidden pouch.
She pulled out a red material from the pouch and proffered it to Smash.  It unfolded, revealing a robe.  Smash untied his belt, pulled off his tunic, and donned the robe, taking time to get his scabbard just right down his back and his wings freed.  They were still weak, but as he used them, they seemed to take on a bronze tinge and gained strength.
Gillian also removed her ruined robe to get a better one on.  But just as she had gotten the old material off, she saw Smash turning his head as to not see her nude.  Irritation itched inside her, this was not the first time he seemed to be embarrassed by her, and it all came out in this exasperated exclamation: “Are you ashamed of me?  Why are you turning away?  Has it ever occurred to you that I might have wanted you to see my body when I seemed to have mistakenly exposed it?”  Smash sheepishly turned back towards her, his face reddening and his wings twitching uncomfortably.
Gillian smirked, then assumed a straight face again.  “That’s better.  I want you to know that you should never be embarrassed by me.  I’m fifteen years old, and your fiancée as well.  I think that that’s enough to let me expose myself before you!”
Then, acting on impulse, she discarded the robe she was about to wear and placed a hand on Smash’s shoulder, pulling him closer.  When he acquiesced, she pressed herself against him, feeling his body easily against hers through the thin material of his robe, and she hoped he could feel her body.  His quickened breathing and his tentative hands that circled reassured her of that.  One hand rested on her thigh and one on her upper back.  She felt a surge of delight as he touched her.
She then placed a leg behind his and pushed him backwards.  When he fell, she rolled with him and broke his fall, hauling him in for a passionate kiss as they hit the floor.
That kiss seemed to last forever.  It may have progressed to much more if Smash hadn’t laid a hand on the place where she was cut, on her back.  He abruptly broke the kiss and rolled, ending up straddling her across her rump, just below the cut on her back and just above the cuts on her thighs.
“Why did you not tell me you were hurt?  You know I can’t see your blood against your skin!” He sounded angry.
It was her turn to blush.  She lay still as he pulled her old robe to him, pulling her healing pouch out of it and opening it.  He then wiped a finger on each of her wounds and tasted her blood.  “Infected,” he muttered.  She heard the shuffle of herbs and medicines.
“This will hurt,” he advised.  She felt a cool substance being poured into her wounds, and bit her lip against the burning sting it evoked.  But soon the sting was gone and Smash was moving again.
“This will hurt too.”  She heard a tearing sound and felt something being tied around her leg and getting pulled tight.  Soon, a cloth band was tied around all her wounds.  Looking over her shoulder, she discovered that the bandages were made from Smash’s old tunic.
Smash rolled off her, though he seemed reluctant to do so.  She laughed as she rolled and sat up, still exposed but for the bandages.
Smash, to his credit, tried to act like everything was normal.  “Tomorrow they should be starting to heal.  Then I’ll jerk off the bandages.” He laughed at her dismayed expression.  “Yes, that will hurt too.”
A shy grin lit on her face.  She then pulled Smash into her again and kissed him, though she was disappointed that they could not do any more.  They didn’t want her wounds opening up again, so she had to control these urgings until she healed.  So she slept, with Smash pulled close to her for comfort.

Chapter 22

Kamek pulled himself out of the warp pipe near Zydar’s citadel.  He was lucky.  The imps that were supposed to be guarding it were all around a campfire, sniggering in their high-pitched voices as they roasted a still living creature on a stake.  He took great pleasure in melting them into noxious puddles.
Yoshi Island was left far behind to prepare itself for war.  Thanks to the fire started by Xyron and Ludwig, most of the island was burnt to the ground.  What wood was left was being used to construct palisades and shelters.  The only glaring weakness was the lack of food.  To that extent, Ludwig has left his Wand at the island with Peach, who had been elected leader of the alliance, leaving Kamek as the only magic user in the group of four.
The land had been left scorched and black in the demon horde’s wake.  This was customary in Dark Land, but according to their calculations, this place had once been part of Ice Land.  The only evidence of ice now was polluted pools and marsh around the path.  Through spy reports and visions, Kamek had also discovered that the ocean around Water Land had been polluted with toxic waste and oil, Grass Land had been burned and Sky Land has also been polluted, but with brimstone and sulfur.  Desert Land had been left alone, but only because it was too hard to convert to the lava wasteland demons liked.  Pipe Land was left alone as well since a complete patrol was lost down there for days.  Giant Land had been where Zydar’s castle had appeared, so it was completely nonexistent to the eye now.  And since that’s where the trouble all started, that was where they were headed.
He pulled his robe closer about him and trudged onward.
It itched.  That’s all she could say about it.  Indeed, her cousin was a great healer, Celeste thought, but sometimes, she just couldn’t quite make it perfect.  The spot in which Olema had stabbed her had healed over and the magic and poison in the wand had been removed, but now the spot had turned red as her body tried to reject the remnants of the healing magic and the weakness spell at the same time.  Celeste clawed at the spot on her chest whenever she thought no one was looking, but it was like a mosquito bite and just wouldn’t go away.
But that was only a minor thing.  She would live.  More important were the other members of the group.  She and Peach had patched up Ludwig to the best of their ability, but he had an arm in a splint and lost the use of one of his eyes for the time being.  Peach said she had seen this before.  It was just an over-exposure to fire and magic.  He would regain use in a few weeks after it healed over and moisturized again.
Karma was quiet most of the time, like Ludwig had been just a few weeks before, just before he had become completely smitten with her.  Celeste could not truly tell, but in the way he looked at Karma was enough to convince her that he was in love.  She was not wounded physically, but the horror of the battle had just begun to sink in.  She was used to weapons and other war things, but a true battle had put her into the mood of what a horror war was, even though sometimes it was necessary.  Indeed, that battle had affected them all, but Karma mostly.
Kamek was as normal as he could be.  He was used to the terrors of war and was in his resigned state.  Celeste knew that state.  He used it when he didn’t want to do something, but had to.  She didn’t like when he was in that mood, since she couldn’t even talk to him.
She sighed, scratched the red spot again, and plodded onwards.
Karma began to get uncomfortable as they neared the fortress that was once the castle in Giant Land.  Even her slight telepathic sense could tell what was happening.
She slowed down a bit, than ran up to catch up with the rest of the group.
She staggered a step, almost falling into Ludwig.  He glanced at her with concern in his one eye that worked.  “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Y-yes,” she said shakily.  “It’s just…” But then it came at her again, even stronger than before.
This time she screamed, staggered, and fell.  Ludwig grabbed her under the arms, preventing her from hitting the ground.  She clutched at him, desperately seeking any form of support while voices whirled in her head.
Oh no, not my eyes…no…
Here they come again.  Why must they do this to me?
My arm!  They cut off my arm!
Her screams and writhing slowly ceased as darkness claimed her.
Karma awoke to Ludwig holding her against his chest.  An uncharacteristic sound was coming from him and moisture was dripping onto her shoulders.  She soon realized that the drops were his tears, and the shudders that were wracking his body were sobs.  He was actually crying, she thought in amazement.
When she opened her eyes she saw Celeste and Kamek looking worriedly at her.  She perked her head up.  There was a gasp as Ludwig saw she was alive.
“Hey Ludwig,” she murmured so that only he could hear her, “Could you hold on a bit tighter?  I’m beginning to slip.”  A tiny smile played at the corners of her mouth as she realized that she had finally caught Ludwig in a tender moment.  And the load of fear had suddenly lightened.
Karma and Ludwig snuck down a dungeon hallway.  It had been a simple matter to sneak into the castle through a hole in the outer wall.  The castle itself was a bit more of a challenge, but it was easy to overpower a Magog exiting a door that led inside.
Karma tried not to look at prisoners, and usually torture victims.  A soft moan drew her attention to one side where lay a young woman with all her hair pulled out.  On her other side sat an emancipated man with a dagger near his chest and food and water placed just outside his reach, so that whenever he wanted to eat, he had to impale himself of the dagger.  Karma shuddered as she thought of those things being done to her and clung even tighter to Ludwig’s arm for support.  Then she heard another emotion.
That ensured that they were in the right place.  Only Smash would dare to hope in this fortress of evil.  It was easy to discover where they were held.  It was in the deepest, darkest, part of the dungeon.  When Karma and Ludwig drew near, an unearthly radiance began to glow from down the hallway.
They soon saw it was the actual bars of the cell that formed the brilliance.  Bars of fire, they were, fading from almost transparent to a blazing red.  It would have been beautiful if it had been in any other place, but now it was just on more obstacle to be passed.
Behind the bars lay their leader, his head tilted slightly to the side, his eyes closed.  Whether he was dead or asleep, they couldn’t tell.  Gillian was lying down beside him, her now dulled hair forming a blanket of sorts about them both.  Below her hair, all they could see of clothing was a black bandage around her upper thigh.
Ludwig leaned close.  “Hurry,” he whispered urgently, “I hear someone coming.”
They dashed around a corner, coming to a screeching halt just before tumbling into a lava pool.  Karma gasped and took a step back.
Closing her eyes, she tuned in her telepathic sense.  Someone was saying, “So, the hero is unhappy to see me.”
There was a rustling “What are you doing?  Oh, covering her up.  No matter.  She’ll be mine after I convert you anyway.”
Go to the Abyss.
“You have been lucky so far.  I haven’t found your friends, but I will.  Do you know what will happen when I find them?”
“I’m going to take the Koopa girl and torture her to death over the course of twenty days while I force the other to watch.”
“Then I shall take the magic one and give him a chance to escape.  Of course, it’ll be fixed and he’ll fail.  I shall then toss the final one to the Cerberi in my kennels and laugh as she is torn apart.”
“And all because of you, you know.  If you hadn’t brought them, they would have been safe.”
“But no, you had to come and take them away.  Who were you to pull them along on this fool’s quest?  You call yourself the Savior of Plit, but you’ve done nothing to earn that title.  Are you sure you’re worthy?”
…am worthy…
“No, you are not.  You are a crossbreed, an outcast, an abomination.”
“No answer, Smash?  Then why don’t you just give up and come to my side?  We could easily conquer the world, and you could finally make a name for yourself.”
“…No?”  The voice sounded surprised.  “Well then, I shall have to go the bloodbath route.  That will be such fun.”  There was the sound of feet moving away.
Karma opened her eyes.  “Smash’s resolve is weakening,” she said to Ludwig.  “We must rescue them soon!”
Ludwig peered out over the lava pit.  He saw a platform similar to theirs on the other side.  To his surprise, Kamek was waving at him from the other side.
He turned.  “I think he wants us to watch the lava in front of us.”  They did as Kamek waved his wand and there was a shimmer of sorts in the air.  If Karma looked closely, she could see a distortment in the air, marking a pathway.  Ludwig slowly walked out over the lava.  Karma hesitated, doubting the realness of the bridge. But she soon came to her senses and followed Ludwig out.  Together they walked to right behind Smash’s cell.
“Stand back,” Kamek said.  He grabbed his wand and blasted the wall composing the back of the cell.
He was thrown back violently as the full force of the blast rebounded upon him.  Celeste had time for one shriek before Kamek gained control of his magic again and floated back to the bridge.
Kamek voiced the opinion that all were thinking.  “This may be harder than I thought!”
It wasn’t twenty seconds before Ludwig come up with a solution.  He dug into a small pack he was carrying and came up with a vial holding a green liquid.  There was a crash and drip as he hurled it against the wall.
“Now if it works…” Ludwig muttered under his breath.
It did.  The acid ate into the wall, and the wall crumbled.  But it did not break.  Ludwig grumbled something incomprehensible and vile sounding under his breath.
“Wait,” Kamek said, “maybe now…” He blasted the wall again.  This time it shattered into thousands of tiny shards.  Kamek strode through the hole he created and was greeted with the amazed stares of Smash and Gillian.
“What’s the matter?” he asked nonchalantly, as if this kind of thing happened every day, “don’t you know a prison break when you see one?”

Chapter 23

Smash had just calmed down from Zydar’s taunts.  He was quite ashamed of himself for allowing Zydar to feel his emotions.  Just as he settled back down to rest, the back wall began to glow and crumble.
He had just enough time to tackle Gillian to the ground so the bulk of the sharp rock shards would miss her.  When he looked up again, Kamek was standing in a hole blasted in the back wall.
Soon the reunited group of six was dashing down the hallway, seeking to find some way out of the castle.  They knew they were out of the dungeon level when they began to see windows, but unfortunately, none of then were large enough to jump out of.  It would have surely been easier to get out the way they had gotten in, but the other four had gotten lost on the way to the cell.  And he couldn’t blame them.  The castle was a veritable maze!
So they continued on towards the main door.  Hopefully they could overpower the guards and make it out before the alarm sounded.  Smash peeked around a corner and motioned for them to run through just before rushing around himself.  But he had missed the other hallway branching off, and through amazing coincidence, Zydar emerged just as Smash began to pass.  The two collided and both went sprawling.  Smash rolled back to his feet just in time to counter a vicious downward chop by Zydar.
“Run!” he shouted.  “I’ll be along!”
As the other five continued to run, Smash engaged Zydar in a flurry of cuts, thrusts, and parries.  Sparks flew as the equally matched antagonists dueled.  Smash feinted, purposely leaving his right side open.  As expected, Zydar lunged at him.  Smash pressed himself against the wall and Zydar’s sword stabbed only red cloth.  Smash quickly moved behind Zydar and lunged at the arch-demon’s back.  Zydar threw himself forward, and Smash, overbalanced, fell.
Gillian ran down the hallway, her robe flaring.  A demon turned the corner in front of her and its eyes widened as it saw her.  Or to be more precise, saw her body.  Instead of trying to kill her outright, the right choice, it grabbed for her.  She lopped off its head with a contemptuous flick of her battleaxe.  Demons, she thought, irritated, All lust and no brains
Kamek came running up, slower and more awkward in his blue robe than she.  His wand was smoking and the other’s swords were bloodstained.  It seemed that they had been ambushed while she had scouted ahead.  Hold it!  She did a double take.  Swords?  Well, it was of no matter now.  They had to find a way out.  She knew Smash would find some way himself, but it was her responsibility to get the rest out.
A deafening klaxon shattered the air around them.  It seemed that the alarm was finally triggered.  They had had a long grace period, but time was up.  Now the full defenses of the castle would be brought to bear against them.
They turned a corner and there was the door.  Surprisingly, the portcullis was open and the drawbridge was down.  It was all too much like a trap…  A trap they had to spring to get out.  She waited until the other four had caught up and silently motioned for them to rush the gate all at the same time.  Then, milliseconds after the others started, she ran.  The portcullis slammed closed behind her, just missing her head.  The others, ahead of her, were unscathed.
“Looks like the trap sprang a bit late,” Karma gasped, pushing her hair back.
Gillian grimaced and looked around.  She was nervous about this.  Zydar wouldn’t let so obvious a weakness in his castle.  It still had all the markings of a trap.  Her arms were getting quite tired holding the heavy battleaxe after weeks of no exercise.  She lowered it to the ground and took a deep, shuddering breath.  But just as she did so, six Devils teleported in a semicircle around them.
Smash leapt into the air and flipped over Zydar.  The demon managed to get his sword in place just in time to counter an overhead chop.  Zydar twisted Smash’s sword enough to lock their hilts and bring Smash’s face close to his own.
“Your will is strong, Smash.  But my evil is stronger.  Already, you are flickering.  Already evil is dominating you.”
Indeed, Smash’s robe was dampening to blood red.  Smash glanced at it, but turned his face back up.  “Illusion!” he snarled.
“If you say so.  Allow me to share something with you.  I knew this would happen, so I prepared for it.  As of now, your animal lover has walked into a trap.  My Devils shall make quick work of her.”
Enraged beyond reason, Smash swung his sword in a mighty arc.  Zydar, unable to dodge, brought up his sword to block and the blade flew out of the demon’s hands.  Smash, teeth clenched, stalked him into a corner.  Zydar looked mildly back, as if daring Smash to do anything.  Smash obliged and brought his sword around in a backhand swing meant to decapitate his foe.
Another sword flickered up and white-hot sparks flew as the two metal lumps met.
“You would kill an unarmed demon?  Look at yourself, Smash.  Evil has now possessed your soul.”
Smash scowled.  But even as he looked at himself, his scowl turned to a look of horror.  Indeed, a black blemish was growing in the center of his robe.  The blemish grew, until all traces of red had vanished into the darkness that was a reflection of his soul.  He was now truly evil.
Smash faltered.  He fell to his knees in shock.  Zydar laughed and placed a hand on Smash’s shoulder.  “We are one now, my friend.  You may rise, and we shall conquer.”  Smash pulled himself to his feet, his black robes swirling about his feet.  He glared Zydar in the eye.
Smash backflipped a few feet away and ran to a window.  His back to it, he readied for assault.  As Zydar came at him, he whirled and kicked the arch demon in the chest.  Not looking to see the result, he leapt from the window into the courtyard.
Gillian countered yet another slash from the Devil’s scythe.  Her arms seemed to be ready to fall off, but she knew she must not give in.  Each of the other members of the group had a Devil of their own to fight, but she had two.  Her muscles strained as she brought her axe back to block, and they failed.  She watched helplessly as a scythe whistled toward her.
And she was knocked to the ground as a flash of black cloth obscured her vision.  She heard two screams as the black robed figure swung a sword into the nose of one and impaled the other.  The hooded cowl turned towards her.  She gasped.  “Smash!”
He nodded.  “But your robes…” she began.
He cut her off with a shake of the head that meant, ‘I’ll tell you later.’
Then suspicion materialized in her.  “You’re not Smash!  You’re just an imposter that looks like him!”
He shook his head.  Then, to allay her suspicions, he stepped into her and kissed her.  True, a demon could have done that, but not have been able to confer the emotion that came with it.
As he moved her lips against hers, she heard a gasp of horror.  Celeste stood beside her, having beaten the Devil she had been fighting.  Gillian could only imagine what she looked like, kissing a Black Robe, the alignment of evil.  She broke the kiss and showed the evil one’s face.  Celeste’s reaction was the same as Gillian’s must have been as she saw their leader’s face.
Soon, all the Devils had been defeated.  Karma and Ludwig had accepted Smash’s conversion with relative ease.  Relative to Kamek, that is.  Kamek had sworn and insisted that Smash was a demon and that the real Smash was back in the dungeon.  Eventually Celeste ‘convinced’ him, and just in time.
The gate of the castle slammed closed.  Just as Smash looked around to find another way out, two hordes of demons came around either side of the castle, trapping the group between themselves, the outer wall, and a lake of lava.
Smash sunk to the ground.  He pulled his wings to the side and concealed himself in a mantle of scales.  Gillian looked at him in amazement and bewilderment.  But Smash seemed to know what he was doing.
A scream erupted from the pile of robes and wings.  Smash arched his body and landed on his hands and knees.  His robes faded into the body.  His flesh took on a metallic tinge.  As he wailed out a silent scream, his arms shortened and bulked out.  His legs lengthened, becoming claws.  Spikes erupted into being along his back and a tail grew between his legs.  Finally, his neck lengthened and his head stretched into a gross parody of a human face.  Horns sprouted from behind a bony ridge in front of his neck.  Nostrils became slits and his teeth became razor sharp canines.  A storm of ice burst from the deadly throat.
A mighty silver dragon stood where Smash had lain.  But it was not pure silver.  Dark blotches of green and black fouled its hide, making the creature seem sickly, though it was perfectly healthy.  It must have been a result of the corruption of Smash’s soul.  The massive compound eye whirled towards them.  Two words were broadcast into their minds.  Get on!
Unable to refuse, the five clambered onto Smash’s back.  The ridges on his back were almost made like saddles, giving them a very comfortable ride.  Smash leapt into the air, the blasts from his powerful wings scattering the demon hordes like chaff.  Several fireballs flew from the battlements at Smash, but they were absorbed into his hide, causing no harm.
Smash banked in a tight circle around a guard tower.  Since he was evil now, he couldn’t resist the chance to cause some damage.  A blizzard blasted from his jaws and the tower, along with everything in it, was dead on contact.
Gillian screamed as Smash turned towards another target.  His desire for revenge would kill them all!  Smash cocked his head at her, feeling her thoughts.  He nodded in understanding.  He whipped around the central tower fast enough to almost catch his own tail and flew at the gate again.  Gillian screamed again.  He was going too low!  They were going to crash!
A final blast of ice erupted from him.  It froze the gatehouse and everything in it.  Smash gave another powerful stroke of his wings and lowered his head.  The impact of the bone against the masonry was amazing.  Gillian was almost jolted from her seat, bruising her thighs and back.  But Smash’s head crashed though the gatehouse, along with the rest of him, and shattered stone flew everywhere.
And seemingly as soon as they were into the gatehouse, they were through and away from that evil fortress.  As each beat of Smash’s giant wings carried them higher up, the same thought echoed through their minds with each beat.
Free!  Free!  Free!  Free!  Freeeeeee!

END of Part 2