Excerpt for Heart of Fire Season One Episode Four Season Finale by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Heart of Fire

Episode Four Finally: Wolf in God's Clothing

Heart of Fire

By TheCrimsonDM

Copyright 2019 Coriantumr Pace

Smashwords Edition

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard-work of this author.

Special Thanks

To all my friends and family who have given me the moral support to dive head first into my art.

Table of Contents

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Seven

Racial Encyclopedia

Character Encyclopedia

About Author

Chapter Twenty One: The Darkest Cut

It was later that evening when the girls found themselves back home in Castle Night Thorn. Rita stood in the infirmary watching as Lapis lay on the bed, sleeping. She couldn’t stand this. Once again she had put her friends in danger, once again someone she cared about had been hurt because of her actions, and once again she had failed.

Rita couldn’t help it as the flood of tormented thoughts came pouring into her mind filling her with despair. Lapis was one of her closest friends, perverted crush or no, Lapis was special to her. Now Rita had failed to save her from herself. There wasn’t a thing that Rita could do to help her now, just wait.

The waiting was the worst part.

Something in her pocket felt warm and Rita reached for it only to find her hand groping the wish coin she had been offered by Red. If it really did what it was supposed to, it might be able to do what Rita herself couldn’t. It might actually save her two closest friends from harm's way… but the sounds of footsteps approaching meant she would have to focus on that later.

Saturn’s voice came out monotone, leaving Rita without any impression of what she was feeling. “It’ll take time for her to heal, because unlike you she suffers from more than just physical injuries making it hard for me to deal with.”

Rita sat there feeling a cold numbness eating at the inside of her heart. “I know that.”

Saturn pulled a chair up next to her. “I’m surprised that Lapis was able to stay awake long enough to talk to you. The damage she did to herself with her magic will heal, over time. It could take weeks to heal completely from this.”

Rita bawled her hands into fists. “I failed. The bad guys used Noct to distract the guards, letting them have the run of the archive, then I lost the fight, got captured, had the blue prints taken away from me, and watched as Lapis tried to kill herself to save me.” Even though the history book and the aether stone had been left in her backpack, losing the book on Castle Night Thorn left a bleeding wound in Rita’s heart.

There was silence for a moment, and then Saturn asked, “So what will you do?”

The brief moment of anger fled from her bones and her hands relaxed. “I… don’t know. I can’t keep them safe, even from themselves.”

A big hand landed on her shoulder and gently squeezed. “No, we can never fully protect those under us. Take Thaddeus back there. I can’t save him as much as I want to. He's a ranger, one of the best, and he's dying. The only glimmer of hope I have is that his hand started to heal from the sickness earlier today.”

Rita looked up into those pink eyes. “I can’t even cry. One of my best friends is lying unconscious in a hospital bed because I failed to be strong enough, smart enough to keep her safe, and I can’t even cry over it. What’s wrong with me?”

“You don’t face tragedy like others,” Saturn said. “You face it by improving yourself, working to correct your mistakes, and to become stronger in the future. I admire that about you.”

Rita swallowed. “Really?”

Saturn nodded. “Of course I still don’t approve of your thievery.”

Rita rolled her eyes. “I stole the books to keep our enemies from stealing them first.” Of course Rita left out the fact that she also stole a sizable sun stone.

“That’s backwards logic and you know it.”

Rita let out a sigh. “I don't care about that. I just have to make sure our enemies don’t win.”

Saturn looked over at the bed. “You can’t win if you get yourself killed. Maybe that’s a lesson you should take away from this. Sometimes it’s better to flee into twilight in order to battle once the sun rises once more.”

Something clicked in Rita’s brain and she jumped up to her feet. “But what if you didn't have to wait for the sun to rise for you? What if you could make the sun rise yourself?”

Saturn raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

It was like the gears began turning in her mind once more. Rita was off to her workshop. She had plenty of work to do before the night was over. If she was fast, focused, and correct, then she had a way to solve this whole mess. She just needed to hurry. Rita grabbed her pack on the way out, she was also going to do some much needed reading.

Wonder paced back and forth in the library. There wasn’t much else she could do. Lapis was down for the count and there was no telling when she’d be back up and ready for action. If there wasn’t the immediate threat of those creeps coming back again soon, Wonder wouldn’t have been so worried, but now they’d just lost one of their strongest fighters. The only one to go up against Nightshade one on one and win so far.

There was no telling what kinds of resources the enemy had at their disposal, for all Wonder knew they had a secret lair filled with healing potions, monsters, and madness. So pacing in the library was all she could do to keep from freaking out. Wonder looked out the window at the afternoon sun. Soon it would be dark once more, and if the past day or two had been any indication, then the darkness would come with uninvited guests.

A pair of footsteps were heard outside the door. Fear shot through Wonder’s heart and she whipped out her wand channeling her magic into a quick and effective invisibility spell. Just as the door began to open Wonder disappeared from both sight and sound.

The door opened completely and Lamont stumbled in. He was relying heavily on his stave for support, his left arm was hanging limp at his side. Saturn was right behind him.

Saturn wore a scowl. “You need to rest, not do research.”

Lamont stumbled to a chair and plopped himself down. Sweat ran down his face as if he’d just run a marathon. He began to disrobe, leaving him in his white undershirt and black pants. “It’s just a little fever. That’s all.”

Wonder saw his left arm clearly for the first time since the attack on the castle. From the tips of his fingers to his elbow there were black veins running through his arm. The bandages covered only a small portion of his arm.

Saturn growled. “Lamont, you need to rest. Look at yourself.”

Lamont laughed. “I’ll be fine. You said it yourself. Thaddeus’s arm looked better today.”

“I don’t know how that happened. So far we’ve had six cases, and half of them ended up dying, the other three became… corrupted.” Saturn put a hand on the hilt of her blade. A worried look came into her eyes. “It usually takes a few hours for the infection to make you useless, and about four days before the infection either takes your life, or your mind.”

Lamont grinned. “Then it’s a good thing Solaria is coming tonight isn’t it then. She’ll have a better idea of what to do with this and might even be able to heal me.”

Saturn turned and looked away from Lamont, she stared unintentionally directly at Wonder, for a brief moment her eyes glistened before she closed them tight and screwed up her face as if her entire body was in agony. “I can’t… Lamont, I’ve lost people close to me before, but I can’t lose you. Not after all we’ve been through together.”

Lamont laughed though there wasn’t much heart in it. “Then you don’t need to worry. We’ve been through far worse. Dragons, demons, hell we’ve even fought fell stalkers together. This little sickness is nothing.”

It took a moment but Saturn managed to steady herself. She stood up straight and looked back at Lamont with a cool and collected expression. “You said it was Mind Sliver’s shadowy dagger that got your arm?”

Lamont nodded. “Yes, he got an attack in when I was focusing on Nightshade’s speed. Though I think I learned something about his powers when I was fighting him; he doesn’t seem able to teleport into areas of strong light.”

Saturn nodded. “We did add those extra lights down in the undercroft after that fight.”

“I sent the servants to their homes in Starsera until this mess is done with,” Lamont said.

“All except for Fiona Butters I see,” There was a slight disapproval in her tone.

“What can I say, I like having cute girls around,” Lamont said with a cheesy grin.

“Or you like having a new hero around,” Saturn disagreed.

“She’s the new guardian of patience. Though even if I had wanted her to leave, she already told me she would be staying. Scary monsters or not, the girl is very stubborn when it comes to certain things.”

Saturn shook her head. “So long as she doesn’t get herself killed, then I suppose it isn’t like she’s in the way.”

There were footsteps outside the library door. With a quick wave of Lamont’s hand a thick layer of ice formed over the door, sealing it shut. A sliver of panic raced down Wonder’s spine as she thought about being trapped in here. Her fears were solidified once someone tried to push on the door to no avail.

For a few quick seconds nothing happened, and then the footsteps retreated a few paces. There was silence for but a moment followed by the sound of running. The door came flying open with chunks of ice splintering everywhere across the floor. Fiona came in flying through the air with her leg extended in a kick. She landed looking much more like a bird with her arms extended for balance then she did a human. In one hand she had a feather duster, in the other a broom.

Lamont clapped his hands. “Good job!”

Saturn stood there with an expressionless mask and in total silence.

Fiona looked around. “Oh… um… I uh… I thought the d-door jammed again… s-sorry.”

Lamont smiled broadly. “It’s perfectly fine. I’m glad to see you're this capable at your job. Now tell me, where did you learn that kind of kick?”

Fiona rose and bowed her head slightly forward. “I learned it at t-the G-Gaia Monastery.”

Saturn raised an eyebrow. “Wasn’t that place attacked by a fell stalker a few years ago. I heard there were only two survivors.”

Fiona stared firmly at the floor, her face a stoic mask. “T-that’s c-correct.”

It took Lamont all of two seconds to whistle. “Well we’re glad to have you here with us.” He stood up on shaky legs and attempted to put his robe back on. He fumbled with it limply for a few seconds before he gave up and dropped it back onto the chair. “I don’t need to be properly dressed anyway. This is my castle and I could walk around naked if I really wanted too.” He took a step forward, stumbled and started to fall.

Since Saturn was facing Fiona she didn’t see it, but Fiona was staring at Lamont as he fell. It was almost frightening to see how fast Fiona moved as she threw the cleaning implements, darted forward, reached out and caught Lamont before hit the ground. The cleaning tools hit the ground only a fraction of a second after Fiona caught Lamont.

Lamont looked up at her with a boyish grin. “Thanks.”

Saturn’s mouth was open and her eyes wide. “That was… impressive.”

Fiona shook her head. “I-I was j-just helping. I-I’m s-sorry.”

Saturn shook herself violently. “Never you mind. Lamont, we’re getting you into bed right now. You can do research when your healed.”

As Fiona helped Lamont up and into one over Saturn’s arms she sniffed the air a few times. “Was Miss Wonder in here with you by any chance?”

Saturn shook her head. “The place was empty when we came in.” She took Lamont fully into her arm. “Will you grab Lamont’s robe and stave?”

Fiona nodded curtly and as the two of them went walking towards the door Fiona began folding Lamont’s robe neatly over her arm. After grabbing his stave she paused only briefly to look directly at the invisible Wonder and stare in silence for some seconds. It wasn’t until Saturn called from the doorway for Fiona to follow that she looked away, a slight frown over her lips.

Once they were all gone Wonder dropped the spell and sat down hard onto the wooden floor. “This is absolutely insane. How did she know I was here?” Then it hit her she had just seen something much more important. “Lamont’s sick…” She jumped up to her feet so quickly it made her dizzy. Her next goal was to interrupt Rita’s work, because if anyone deserved to know the state Lamont was in, it was her.

Rita had her metal music playing at a deafening roar from the stereo on the counter behind her. She’d managed to finish recharging the gems in her power gauntlet, managed to add a dual functionality to her revolver allowing it to fire both light and fire at the flick of a switch, and did some adjustments to her final plan. Of course this meant clearing out most everything from garage, including the damaged car.

Everything was going great enough for her to finally sit down and read some of the book. It was an interesting read about Queen Solaria and her younger sister Princess Lunaria, which Rita had no idea was even a real person. It was in fact quite unsettling to find out that Lunaria was more than just a dream construct of hers.

The book had detailed the rise of Solaria and Lunaria as they grew up. Solaria having dunked herself into the pool of light to become the ascended god like figure that people knew existed now, while Lunaria emerged herself into the pool of darkness to become much the same. As they grew into adulthood they built an amazing kingdom from the ruins of the ones before them and lived in peace for a couple hundred years until the Twilight War, where Lunaria was murdered by Solaria's blade.

After that… well it got a lot darker. According to the book Solaria hunted down all of Lunaria's soldiers, followers, and worshipers, murdering them in a wide scale genocide. Yet considering the Solaria that Rita knew of now, this seemed impossible for the kind hearted Queen.

If anything, this cemented the fact that Rita never wanted to be immortal.

There was a rapping at Rita’s door that although Rita couldn’t hear, she could see the little wind chime hanging from the inside of the door moving. Rita sighed as she shut her book, turned off the stereo and went to the door. It was a little difficult moving as her side still hurt after the healing she’d received from Saturn. Just like with most pain, Rita ignored it.

Behind the door much to nobody’s surprise was Wonder. She had a terrible look in her eyes that sent shivers down Rita’s spine. For a moment it was as if death had gained the upper hand on a conversation which had yet to even begin.

Wonder shivered and shook as she spoke. “Lamont’s sick. He got hit by Mind Sliver’s dagger, and now he has shadow sickness on his arm.”

Rita stood there. Her heart frozen with the terrifying prospect of losing yet another person she cared about. This wasn’t fair, this was not what she’d asked for. Hadn’t she already lost enough people she loved?

Her side began to hurt even worse. “How bad is it?”

Wonder sniffled. “Saturn said he has four days…”

The worst part of this sickness was that if it didn’t kill its host, it made them corrupted much like the monsters they were fighting. This meant that at best, Lamont died painfully, at worst he would have to be put down by his friends after becoming a monster himself.

Rita threw her fist into the wall next to her. “DAMN IT!” The pain in her hand took the edge off of the frustration in her heart. “I can’t lose more people!”

Wonder was shaking even worse. “I don’t want him to die.”

Rita was about ready to go shoot something, or someone, with as many bullets as she could get away with. First she lost Heath, then half of her team, now Lapis was in bad shape, and Lamont was dying all because of some stupid jerk with a poisoned dagger. This was not to mention the cold pain shooting through Rita’s side from the sudden strike against the wall.

Rita laid her forehead against the wall. “None of this is fair.”

Looking at Wonder didn’t make it any better, the girl was shaking so hard she could hardly even stand anymore. Tears were flowing down her cheeks and she was making quick gasps and choking sounds as she tried to keep herself from crying.

Rita reached out and wrapped her arms around Wonder pulling her into an embrace. “Don’t worry. I’ll capture that teleporting bastard and then force him to give me the cure.”

Wonder sniffled. “Y-you will?”

Rita squeezed tighter. The pain was receding from her side now, but she still felt it lingering in the background. “Of course I will. Now will you do me a favor?”

Wonder pulled away and nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“Go find out when the Queen is arriving, and then go tell Fiona that I may need her assistance.”

Wonder nodded. “O-okay. The queen is coming tonight, I heard Lamont say that. I’ll go get Fiona.”

With that Wonder ran off towards the castle. It was best to keep Wonder busy at times like this as she had a habit of spiraling down into deep depression if she didn’t keep moving. Of course that didn’t solve the worst of the problems. After Rita shut the door behind her she locked it and felt every one of her muscles tighten in fear.

Gently Rita lifted up the side of her shirt and looked at the scratch on her right side. Just above the hip was a black line cut into her flesh. Small tendrils of black had already began leaching out in every direction. Rita’s insides went cold as her heart was covered by a dense numbing sensation.

“Heh… four days huh…”

Chapter Twenty Two: Secrets in the Darkness

Rita would have thought it more upsetting to know when she was fated to die, yet she only found a sort of comfort in the knowledge. She’d never been much for having deadlines in the past although she had found herself working against them quite a number of times. Since she had completed all of her preparations within the hours of the afternoon, she decided to finally go about something she was curious of.

She’d caught whisper from Fiona’s mouth about a secret passage of sorts in the infirmary. So that’s where she was at the moment, looking at the wall and trying to figure out which one of the many bricks would be the way to open up the secret entrance. Her eyes were trained for this kind of thing, and now that she knew what she was looking for, it was easy to spot. A single brick stood out looking a little different than the others.

After pressing the brick in she watched as a hidden doorway slid open for her. She was moments away from stepping through, goggles on, revolver in her holster, dagger at her side. She was ready for this.

Fiona’s voice seemed to echo across the room. “M-miss Rita!”

Rita looked over her shoulder with a smirk. “I’m going on an adventure. Care to join me?”

Fiona hesitated so Rita began treading down the steps. It took no more than a few steps before Rita heard Fiona’s feet racing to catch up. “We shouldn’t go down there! Mr. Scuttles won’t like it.”

Rita laughed. “What is that, a pet house cat?”

The door behind them slid shut leaving the place in utter darkness. Rita flicked on the night vision. “Maybe it’s a bit too dark down here; would you like to go back?”

Fiona shook her head and spoke in a hushed whisper. “I can see just fine. St-till the monster won’t like us down here.”

That put an extra bounce in Rita’s step. “Oooo a monster! I love a good fight.”

“It’s Lord Lamont’s friend.” Fiona protested.

Rita shrugged. “Guess I’ll leave it alive then… I think you're arguing more than then I've ever seen before.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“How come?”

Fiona looked down at her feet as they continued down the long steps. “I-I nearly got in t-trouble for venturing into here b-before.”

“Who cares about getting in trouble. We have much larger problems to deal with today. Two of our own are down, and we still have three able bodied villains plus a demi-goddess in the basement to contend with. I’m just making sure that should there really be a secret entrance down here that I can block it off.”

The stairs ended after what felt like an eternity into a small square chamber covered in dust. An open book on the table was stained with dirt. Rita covered her mouth and nose with her mother's red scarf before picking up the book causing a dust cloud to plume outward. She dusted off the open pages to find some graceful hand writing.

“The secret door is down there by the old bookroom, unfortunately the giant monster moved in and has that area guarded since my last visit to the puddle. It would seem that my research must stop here.”

Rita scowled. “Well that sounds lovely.”

Fiona was looking down over her shoulder. “That looks like Lord Lamont’s script.”

Rita tossed the book down onto the table creating a second cloud of dust. “Sounds useless to me.” Rita made her way to the adjacent hall. Outside she saw the hall led to a balcony overlooking an area that had webs vomited all over the ceiling, floor, and walls, so think in parts that she couldn't tell how large the room originally was.

Without much care Rita began walking towards the balcony. Fiona was close behind, her entire body shivering slightly. There was almost no sound down here besides their breathing, the sound of water dripping somewhere, and the echo of Rita’s shoes touching the stone floor. Fiona’s feet seemed to not make any noise, and once Rita looked down she realized Fiona had at some point removed her sandals.

“When did you-“ Rita began.

Fiona put a finger to her lips signaling for Rita to be silent, she then nodded towards the room they had left where her sandals were sitting neatly just inside the door. After a quick moment of staring at them Rita heard something behind her, a sort of clicking sound that sent her nerves on edge. With a spin she pulled out her revolver, the tip glowing a dull orange and aimed at the massive web.

For several seconds Rita stood motionless, waiting, listening. Finally she moved forward a few steps and reached the rail of the balcony. Down below her, maybe ten, fifteen feet below, she saw what looked like the floor to this large open hall. There were many open doors; many of them had names plates. There was an armory, a lounge, a training area, and a library.

Rita was all ready to hop over the ledge and into the lobby below when Fiona’s hand gripped her shoulder in a tight squeeze. Rita looked back to see Fiona staring upwards with wide, horrified eyes. Every one of Rita’s instincts told her to run that very instant, yet she fought with them and followed the woman’s gaze upwards. Up on the ceiling rested a massive spider larger than Rita’s truck. Its many eyes were closed, and every now and then it let out a soft clicking sound.

The spider’s many eyes opened up, the blood red eyes glared right down at Rita. A voice like that of rattling bones filled the large space. “It would seem that my dinner has finally arrived.”

The large painting stood at an imposing height being both taller and wider than Wonder was tall or wide. On the canvas was a depiction of a furious battle going on in a valley, there were fallen soldiers wearing battered power armor, tanks, robots, mechs, and even more vehicles than she could recognize, in the background of the valley there were massive structures burning. A lone female ascended with pink wings and hair carved her way through the onslaught wielding a sword which seemed to be made of bright blue energy. The sky was overcast in brown and murky clouds, and dark poisonous clouds spread across the battlefield. Wonder had always been left feeling a little uneasy from this portrait. The title of the portrait wasn’t much more helpful, “Battle of Cherry Blossoms.”

“It is an interesting choice,” Saturn’s voice spoke from behind her.

Wonder gave a short jump at the sudden appearance. “W-why do people keep appearing behind me?”

“Maybe you're just unobservant of your surroundings." Saturn offered a friendly smile but it faded as she looked at the painting. "The portrait; it depicts a lost legend in a forgotten battle, some view it as the Goddess Sakura fighting against the sins of the ancients. Others see it as a moment of history that is long gone, only the Seekers really would know.”

Wonder felt exceptionally stupid as she asked her next question. “Who was seeking what now?”

Much to her surprise this actually brought out a small chuckle from Saturn. “The Seekers were a group that existed a great many years ago, long before I was born. Their goal was simple, they sought out all knowledge and archived it in their hidden library. For the most part now they’ve gone forgotten, but you can still find remnants of them here or there.” Saturn’s eyes moved over to the bottom left corner of the painting.

Once Wonder followed her gaze she began to notice that there was a fallen soldier in the corner with an odd sign over his chest. It was a red eyeball with a key for a pupil. “That’s strange.”

“That’s the symbol of the Seekers. Wherever you find it, you can bet there will be forgotten secrets about.”

“Where did this portrait come from,” Wonder asked.

“I’m not sure. Lamont never did feel like sharing that detail with me.”

Lamont’s voice played out from behind them. “That’s because I bought the thing at a yard sell down south. They had no clue what they were getting rid of.”

Both of the women looked over to see Lamont walking with a slight limp toward them. His stave was doing a great job in holding his weight. “What, you two look like you’ve seen a ghost. Don’t worry though; I got rid of the last specter living here ages ago.”

Wonder put her hands on her hips and scowled. “First of all; ghosts aren’t real. Secondly; you should be in bed with that leg of yours.” What Wonder didn’t add was the fact she also knew that Lamont was dying, and in incredible pain.

Saturn nodded. “You should be resting.”

Lamont waved his left hand as if it was nothing. “I’m fine. The pain’s receded and besides which I just received a message from Vix.”

Wonder knew vaguely of Vix being Lamont’s familiar, through which he kept contact with a certain person of interest. “What did you hear?”

Lamont beamed as he walked towards the door. “Queen Solaria is here.”

It was just as he finished his sentence that Wonder felt it. There was a warm tingle in the air reminding her of a warm summer’s morning. The shadows in the room became less dark as if the sun had freshly risen even if it was actually nightfall outside. The large front doors opened up and two soldiers wearing golden armor stepped in, one wielded a high tech plasma riffle with green glowing runes on the side, the other had a white crystal bow in his hands, yet no sign of a quiver or arrows. They came in and then stood apart facing one another and standing as still as statues. Behind them walked a giant woman the likes of which Wonder had only met on rare occasion before. The woman was at the very least seven feet tall and had long flowing hair which trailed to her heels. Her hair was a multitude of shades of red, yellow, and orange, looking as if it were flames, it moved as she did and took on an appearance of moving fire.

The closer the Queen got to them the warmer it became until she was right in front of the trio and the room was actually a little hot. Wonder was suddenly regretting the lavender sweater she currently wore. Looking up into her golden eyes and warm motherly smile made Wonder melt. It wasn’t just that the queen was beautiful, with her smooth skin, and curves to die for, it was also the way that she held herself. It triggered something inside of Wonder, something that made her eyes tear up for a fraction of a second. She felt a mother’s love radiating from the Queen.

Saturn put an arm to her chest and knelt down on one knee. “My Queen.” She shot a glare at Wonder but it was almost entirely ignored as Wonder’s entire body was refusing to move.

Lamont limped up to stand closer to the queen. “I’m glad to have you back, Sol.”

The queen laughed with all the warmth of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night. “Oh, Lamont, it’s been too long since I’ve come for a visit. I fear things have been keeping me rather busy lately.”

Saturn shot a reignited glare at Lamont. “Lamont! Don’t speak so casually with the Queen!”

Much to Wonder’s surprise Solaria actually rolled her eyes. “Oh come now, daughter. You’re both equally important to me, it is perfectly fine for you two to speak to me as such.”

Saturn directed her glare into the ground. “Daughter or not, I am still your knight. I must show the proper respect.”

Solaria nodded. “If it makes you feel better than I support it.” It was as if she finally took notice of Wonder and looked down at the small girl. Every fiber of Wonder’s body grew tense and she flinched at the direct stare. “Oh my, we’ve met before haven’t we? It was… The Impossible Wonder if I recall.”

Wonder nodded, tried to speak, failed, and nodded once more.

Solaria gave a warm chuckle at that. “Well it is nice to see you again.” She took a moment to look Wonder up and down as if appraising her, and some part of Wonder’s heart was terrified she would disappoint her majesty. At length Solaria said, “You know, while I was away down south I encountered a family of giants.” She knelt down in front of Wonder and met her eyes, yet still seemed to be taller than the young girl. “Do you know what happened?”

Wonder shook her head nervously.

“I looked up at them, waaaayyy up at them, and I said, ‘this must be what people feel like when they see me.’” A playful smile played across her face bringing with it the scent of a meadow filled with spring flowers. “It was a very grounding experience that I am very appreciative for having.” She reached out and touched her hot fingers to Wonder’s chin and lifted it up ever so slightly. “Stand tall, and stand proud young, Wonder, for I foresee a great future for you.”

It was in that moment that Wonder saw a ring of purple around those gold eyes. It was impossible to describe how the eyes seemingly changed between gold and purple in a never ending shimmer of color, but it was stunning. The queen’s flame colored wings stretched out and she rose to her full height once more. She looked around as if studying the area for the first time since she arrived. “There’s a dark energy here… it feels... familiar.”

Lamont nodded as he looked at her. “We have the prisoner locked up securely. Would you like to see her?”

Solaria’s nose twitched and the temperature dropped by a fraction. “The ascended creature… yes. Yes I would.” She looked back at the guards. “You two, stay here and guard the place please.”

One of the guards was a terrain with gray hair tied into a bun, there was a hint of brown left in his hair. He was the one with the bow. “Yes, my queen.”

Next the queen looked to Wonder and smiled. “These are my two strongest soldiers. General Crow Rockford,” She gestured toward the one with the bow on his back, “And Ranger Firestorm.”

The other soldier had hair cut in stripes of red and orange. She had a pair of axes on her back. Firestorm looked back with a sly grin. “We have this, my queen.”

The queen nodded and spoke to Wonder. “Is it okay if I ask that you help them keep anyone unsavory from entering the castle while we’re busy with the prisoner?”

A spike of fear shot through Wonder's heart. She knew she wasn’t strong enough to actually do much, yet every fiber of her being ached to be useful somehow. It was highly doubtful that the bad guys would actually try to assault the castle once again this quickly, so there was little danger in staying up here. It was probably just to keep the kids away from the real threat downstairs. Wonder nodded and marched toward the front door to stand between the two guards. With every bit of false bravado she had she spoke loud and clear, “The Impossible Wonder shall not let any evil dooers pass this night!”

Wonder could feel the queen’s smile like warm rays of sunlight across her back. “You have my thanks brave hero.”

With that said the queen followed Saturn and Lamont away to the undercroft and the dungeon. Once the queen’s footsteps were out of hearing the chill of the night began to creep back in. Of course Wonder felt her entire body trembling with fear. It began to dawn on her that she had just signed up for the death squad. If those three did attack again, she couldn’t do much to stall them, they already knew her tricks, and she already knew they were faster, more powerful, and filled with stronger magic.

She was so screwed.

There are a few things to note when dealing with giant monstrous spiders. One of them is that that they are huge, hairy, and creepy things. Another is that they move lightning quick and being right under one doesn’t make it any slower. In fact it makes it much more dangerous.

Rita learned those two things at about the same time when the giant spider leapt down at her from the ceiling. It took everything she had, plus some she didn’t just to jump over the balcony in time to avoid being squashed. Fiona was right behind her. Rita’s body slammed through a layer of thick webs, thick enough to actually slow down her decent so that when her feet touched the stone floor it was hardly a tap rather than the slam she had expected. The spider’s massive body slammed into the balcony above and it’s deathly voice rattled out loud as a speaker echoing in this chamber, “Little meal, do not run. It will make this, far less fun.”

Rhyming? Now that did it, Rita wasn't going to stand for giant, talking, rhyming spiders. There was only one course of action for such an insult. Rita pulled out her revolver and began rapid firing flame rounds into the spider’s side. The first two shots went wide as Rita’s aim was unsteady from the fear and surprise, the next three slammed home into the spider’s side exploding into tiny fireballs against its furry carapace. The last one missed wide and hit the wall where some webs were hanging. The webs on the wall lit on fire.

Fiona reached out and put a hand on Rita’s gun pushing it downward. “Miss Rita, that won’t work!”

Rita glared at her for a half second then looked back at where she had hit. The spider’s side was barely even touched by the flames. A deep growl emitted from Rita as the thing turned towards her with lightning quick movements. Its legs were like spears being driven down in rapid succession. Rita looked back towards the library entrance, it was covered in thick webs but she could get through it if she had time.

The spider leapt once more towards them forcing Rita to change tactics. She rolled forward and Fiona followed her moves perfectly. They barely got out of the way of the spider’s body as its legs smashed down onto the stone with spike like endings that could have pierced a man with no trouble. It was already turning around to face them just as Rita rolled into a standing position.

They spun and faced each other, Rita with revolver in hand pointed at its eyes, and Fiona shooting a glare at the spider the likes of which you’d only receive from an angry mother.

Rita’s finger was already pressing down on the trigger when Fiona’s voice came out in a clear, powerful shout, “STOP!”

A heavy weight was dropped over Rita’s entire body. Her muscles froze in shock and terror. Her finger halfway towards shooting the monster dead center in the eyes. Every part of her mind and body were screaming at her to stay perfectly still. It was an old instinct, older than anyone could remember. Her body told her there was a deadly predator around, and if she moved an inch, it would spot her and strike her down, that no matter how fast and hard she ran or fought, she would be slain and eaten. So Rita stood there, frozen as a statue.

Oddly enough, the spider was much the same. One of its front legs was already up in the air, and about ready to strike, but it was frozen in place by the very same survival instinct that held Rita in place. The only one that was able to move it seemed, was Fiona. Fiona moved between Rita and the spider, her movements not anything like that of a human’s, but much more like that of a predatory cat. Fiona’s eyes were firmly planted on the spider, her face a perfect stillness.

Several minutes went by, Rita’s limbs were beginning to burn with the effort to stay frozen and unnoticed. Her mind couldn’t understand or grasp what mechanism it was that held her still. Just that it had saved her life.

Fiona finally spoke, each word came out slow and full of purpose. There was an underlying power to the words, like that of a deadly creature that one did not ever want to face. “Mr. Scuttles, we are here for Lamont. He is sick and we believe the cure to his illness is in the library here.”

Rita didn’t mention anything like that to Fiona before. Rita just needed to find out what was hidden down here, before the enemy did. Yet even though she knew better, every ounce of muscle in her body was telling her to not question Fiona, not ever.

Mr. Scuttles did not speak, nor move. He stood frozen like a statue.

Fiona continued. “So we are going to look for that cure. We will leave in peace after our business is concluded.”

Rita fought against the pressure in her mind and against her body. She was not going to let some invisible fear hold her down. After all she only had four days to figure out what Nightmare wanted, how to stop her, and how to stop the bad guys. Though in all reality, she knew she only had a few hours at most before her body became useless. She could already feel the cold in her side growing up to her armpit and down to her thigh.

It took all she had but Rita broke the invisible spell on her and released the trigger. Rita moved stiffly, painfully, away from Fiona. Staying perfectly still that long was the kind of work out only insane yoga people did, not her. Still she was free from its spell and caught sight of the library once more, just behind the spider.

Fiona spoke without ever looking away from the spider. “He won’t attack you so long as I’m here. Go.”

Whatever it was that Fiona had done, it was working, so Rita thought better than to question it. “How long can you hold him like this?”

Fiona didn’t move an inch. “Let’s just say I’m very patient. Still the faster the better. Now go.”

Rita didn’t hesitate a moment longer. Though she did keep an eye on Fiona as she walked past, Fiona's eyes had changed into something more lizard like, her facial features a bit more sharp, and Fiona's fingernails had grown out like claws. Transformation like this was not something humans typically had. Whatever Fiona was, or whatever this power of hers was, it was wholly unknown to Rita.

She went to the library, used her revolver and shot a few flaming holes in the web that burned quickly. Once that was done Rita moved past them and into the darkness of the library. It was a small chamber filled with dusty old books. Rita brushed away the covers of a few only to find some very common books. The Tales of Ickleberry Finch. Robin The Hood. The Headless Horse. A lot of folklore legends, yet nothing new or interesting. This library was in a hidden section of the castle yet there were only the kind of books you’d find at every library on the planet.

She was missing something. Yet she couldn't’ tell what it was. Not until she saw a book with no title, just the image of an eyeball with a key for the pupil. Rita had seen that symbol before, though she wasn’t sure where. Somehow it reminded her of the Red Witch. Rita pulled the book out to examine it. The book pulled back halfway out, before something clicked and the book held in place. The entrance way behind her closed shut with the sound of grinding stone, and then another doorway opened up on the opposite side revealing a massive cavern she had seen someplace before.

Rita walked forward into the cavern. There seemed to be another entrance leading out with a staircase which had long since collapsed by fallen rocks opposite of her entrance way. In the center of the room was a large empty bowl shape with a small puddle of pitch black tar. Rita approached it with slow cautious steps. Every step closer to it felt several degrees colder until not only could Rita see her breath hanging like fog in the air, but she could feel frost beginning to form on her nose where a little bit of snot decided to start coming down.

A tired, and weak voice spoke from somewhere that Rita couldn’t find. It sounded like that of a young girl, a familiar young girl. “Hello, Rita. It looks like you finally came.”

Rita’s eyes darted around as she approached the puddle, yet something told her not to touch it. “Who is it? Who’s there?”

The voice came from at Rita’s feet. “I think you know me better than I do… I’m too tired to remember my name.”

Rita looked down and in the puddle she didn’t see her reflection. Instead she saw a young girl with dark blue hair turning into purple near the tips. A young Lunaria looked up at her with a sad, and tired smile. “I need help… I made a terrible mistake.”

Rita blinked several times trying to understand what she was seeing. “W-what?”

“I need you to stop me from killing my sister.”

Before Rita could even process that sentence Lunaria’s pale blue hand reached out from the goop, and the tiny thirteen year olds finger touched Rita’s leg. A cold shiver went through Rita’s leg, shooting up past the painful poison in her side, up her spine, and to her head.

“Sleep. Sleep and learn.”

And with that, Rita fell over onto her back unconscious.

Chapter Twenty Three: Dark Memory

Lunaria stood at the back of the line of thousands of soldiers. Besides her stood Solaria wearing a suit of golden platemail. Solaria began to rise in the air with powerful flaps of her wings, to which Lunaria followed rising beside her. They lifted themselves up until they were at least fifty feet in the air. High enough to see over the soldiers and what they were facing. Far back, over a few miles of barren and dead terrain, stood the imposing city of black metal. Buildings like crooked and twisted spires rose up into the sky, coiling around a mountain where a dark metal castle emitted dark green light from every window especially from the unseen courtyard.

The tingle of magic was thick in the air even from this distance. There was something cold and sickening about the magic, something that brought forth a nauseating feeling inside of Lunaria. She looked over to her sister and saw the hard lines formed over that beautiful and generally warm face. Lunaria cleared her throat before speaking, “Malik has already begun his fell ritual, can we truly stop him in time before he summons the Dust?”

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