Cold. Dark. Silent. Unlike other rooms of the labyrinth, this chamber was not made from living pulsating flesh. Only darkness. Terrible, terrifying darkness.
"Ryu? Bow? What's the matter? Why did you two stop?" For the first time since she meet them, Katt saw a look of pure horror creep across the two Rangers' faces - as if they knew something unimaginably horrendous was about to happen. It frightened her beyond words. "Come on guys. Say something."
Ryu squinted in a futile attempt to see into the black void. His hands were shaking, his heartbeat growing evermore rapid. Beside him stood Bow, his childhood companion, and as impossible as it seemed, the Plainrunner was even more terrified of what couldn't be seen.
"I prayed..." Bow's deep heavy voice cracked, "I prayed this day would never come to pass."
Katt gripped her fighting stick closer to her side. After months of traveling world, seeing horrors that would make the average person go insane, she knew whatever could make the bravest warriors she ever meet cringe in fear, was not something frivolous. Using her superior vision, the Fullen gladiator scanned the emptiness, looking for any movement.
You have arrived...
Nina screamed. One did not just hear the voice, you could feel the malevolence and detestation it excluded. Without looking for a target, Bow fervently fired his crossbow into in the shadowy depths from which the words emerged, uncaring he could not see the arrows or their intended victim. Katt took a defensive stance. Ryu stood motionless in petrified fear.
You are the destined child? Don't be frightened... Come straight forward.
"Bow stop! You're only wasting your bolts!" Katt knew someone had to gain control of the situation, and right now, she seemed to be the only one with her wits intact. She turned towards Nina beside her, and after seeing the Windian princess was regaining composure, grabbed Ryu by the shoulders and turned him around. They now stood face to face. "Are you OK, Ryu? Ryu!"
Tears were forming in the Dragon Clansman eyes. His words were less than whispers, and were it not for Katt's acute hearing, she would have never heard them spoken.
"It's him... The demon that nearly killed me and Bow ten years ago... Dragon God, help us... It him."
Katt slapped Ryu across the face. "Snap out of it Ryu! We need you to fight with us! To lead us!"
Hee, hee, hee. Does the darkness frighten you, Ryu? Cry in front of me like as you did as a child.
Almost as soon as he stopped, Bow began firing his weapon into the shadows again, this time howling curses for his inability to find, let alone hit the demon. Ryu fell to his knees, shaking in overwhelming fear, calling out for his father, mother, and the Dragon God. Katt was genuinely becoming afraid. Things were turning for the worst, and whoever their opponent was, it clearly held the upper hand: Ryu and Bow were all but useless now.
It's been a long time, Ryu. I thought you would be the one to open the gates. Destined child. Brave Dragon.
The voice was taking a sarcastic edge. It was also getting closer.
Katt turned towards her Windian companion. "Damn it! Nina, are you still with me?"
Although terror was clearly written across her face, Nina managed a firm nod. "I'm... I'm alright now... I was just startled the first time. But Ryu..."
"Forget Ryu. He's gone. Help me restrain Bow." Those words hurt Katt the moment she spoke them. Ryu meant everything to her. From the moment she laid eyes on him, the feline warrior fell head over heels for him. Knowing that he saved her life only deepened those feelings stronger. It devastated her to see Ryu as a broken shell. Nina's hesitation, the two small steps she took towards Ryu before turning towards Bow, told Katt he meant the same to her too.
"Shit! I need another clip!" Bow turned his crossbow to its side and ejected the now empty bolt holder from its fasteners. As he reached into the pack strapped to his back, he felt Katt's arms grasp around him, followed by Nina pulling the crossbow from his hand. "Damn it! Get the hell off me fur ball! I'm saving ungrateful your lives!"
"Nina! Punch him!" Katt was struggling to hold the robust Ranger. She was at least three times stronger than the average man, but Bow wasn't the average person.
Nina closed her eyes, muttered an apology, and then swung has hard as she could across Bow's face. The haymaker almost broke her hand. For several seconds, Bow stopped struggling, and Katt eased her hold. She immediately gripped tightly when she heard him start laughing aloud. Had he gone mad?
"This is what he wants, isn't it? That hell spawn wants us to be scared like this. That's why he's hiding in the shadows. It's him who is afraid of us."
"Now we're in business!" Katt released Bow and turned her full attention towards Nina. They could win this. "Are you alright?"
The Windian rubbed her bruised hand for two seconds before looking away from it. "Nothing an ice pack couldn't fix." Before Nina grimaced a smile, it dawned that one more of their party was still out of action. "How could I forget about Ryu!?"
Before the three could turn towards their dispirited leader and friend, they saw an outline form in the darkness. Bow immediately scrambled his crossbow out of Nina's hand, simultaneously freeing a fresh clip from his pack. However this time, he didn't start uncontrollably firing into the abyss.
Do you remember me? Your nightmare!
For the first time, Katt did something she though impossible for her: scream in absolute terror.
What stood before them was largest demon Katt had ever seen. Her worst nightmares could have never conjured a more fearsome creature: From head to tail it was covered in overlapping armored plates; thick sinew beneath its protective shell for joints. Razor-sharp hooked claws; each of them equally as long as Katt was tall, formed what could only be approximated as fingers on its two forearms. But nothing was more noticeable, more apprehensive, than the looming third eye embedded within its forehead: an eye that pierced the souls of anyone who dared challenge its gaze.
Uttering an inhuman roar, the creature lunged forward, striking Bow with frightening grace. Moving at speeds that belied its size, the demon swatted the Plainsrunner weapon from his hands, then backhanded him with such force, Katt could hear bones shatter from the impact. Bow flew meters across the room.
Your job is finished. You opened the gates.
With all her will, Nina gathered an immeasurable amount of magic energy. Raw power surged in the air around the sorceress, and for a split instant, Katt swore she could see twinge of concern cross the demon's eyes.
Nina's voice echoed through the room as she reached the crescendo of her incantation. "Damn you to Hell and back! Bolt-X!"
Katt shut her eyes as intense flashes of energy danced across the ground, quickly discovering she could not breathe as the air filled with nauseating ozone. Three bolts of lightening struck the armored demon before a massive electric pillar engulfed it. If the monster screamed in pain, no one could hear it, for the deafening thunder shattered the sound barrier many times over. For what seemed liked an eternity, the devastation wroth by spell came to end, and the statically charged dust settled. The sheer awesomeness of the attack nearly caused Katt to forget she still wasn't breathing.
The world will belong to Deathevan.
IMPOSSIBLE!!! Pure terror filled the Fullen gladiator. Nothing could survive that. NOTHING!!!
Katt now saw Nina's unconscious form strewn out in a corner of the chamber. The demon could have only struck her while bearing the full brunt of that onslaught. As it turned towards Katt, she forced her gaze from Nina to look over the creature for bleeding, burns, or scars: injuries of any sort. She found none.
Total destruction will begin from the gates you opened.
Before she could raise her quarterstaff in futile defense, the demon spewed columns of fire and ice from its maw, the profoundly varying temperatures sending Katt's body into severe shock. Then the impact of what was happening hit her: they were loosing.
On the brink of blacking out, tears swelled around Katt's eyes. How could she have imagined something so powerful existed? Faster. Smarter. Stronger. The demon was all these things and more. The one sided battle lasted a minute; and in those fleeting sixty seconds, the future of the entire world was determined.
Come attack me Ryu. I'm not going to hold back like I did when you were a child.
The demon was now poised for its finishing blow. In one brief moment, Katt would be another sacrifice to St. Eva's God. "I'm sorry Ryu... I couldn't win... Forgive me..."
Then Katt heard a miracle: the unmistakable roar of Ryu's Great Dragon form. Before the demon could turn to defend itself, wave after wave of dragon fire bombarded its body, and the hell spawn uttered a bellow of pain and hate. Above that hellish scream, Ryu's booming voice filled the room.
"LEAVE THEM ALONE! IT'S ME YOU WANT! NOT THEM!"
For a split second, Katt almost made an attempt to call Ryu's name through her blood filled throat, but then decided against it. Her reassurance might have the opposite effect; cause him to loose concentration.
Interesting! Very interesting! The screaming crying child has grown and gained such strength! How about it Ryu? From now on you fight me by yourself?
Ryu's reply came in the form of another barrage of Great Dragon flames. This time however, the demon was prepared for the attack, parrying the brunt the assault on its armored forearms.
I like you! You are the brave man of the dragon! Come and attack your nightmare with your strength alone!
The last thing Katt saw before accepting the darkness was Ryu transforming into his human form; charging the demon with sword in hand...
The pain is subsiding. Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?
Maybe we were wrong.
I can hear voices. Are they angels?
"Come on Katt."
That one sounded like Bow.
Maybe our idea to kill the destined child when he opened the gates was wrong.
"Please wake up."
Ryu... Allow me to praise your bravery...
That was the demon! Is it still alive? But... But it praised Ryu. Did... Did Ryu win!?
"Tell me I wasn't too late. Tell me Katt won't die because of my weakness. Please Bow..."
That was Ryu's voice!
"I just saw her eyelids flutter. She gonna be alright, buddy. All thanks to you."
Ryu won! MY RYU WON!!!