Dark Ages, Dark Days: Escape from Zeal Kingdom

The soft padding of her bare feet across the marble-tiled floor was the first thing that echoed to my tiny ears. Curled up in my comfortable position beneath the overlapping flowers of the hibiscus flower I so loved to sleep under, I gingerly open one hazel eye to watch the young princess of Zeal once again pacing frantically around her room. Long, lavender robes of the finest silk swish with each elegant stride the slender girl takes, adding to her beauty. Something about her appears different though, almost rushed.

For some strange reason, today she had not even bothered to fix her hair, which hangs wildly down past her shoulders in a mess of tinted blue and silver. Her pale hands remain folded behind her back, a signal I had learned to anticipate as being deep in thought. Curiosity snared by her strange behavior, I stretch my tiny paws and creep out from the flower pot, yawning.

At first, she strides right past me, almost as though I am invisible. A second lap past me, however, makes her stop and glance down upon me. A small trace of a smile crosses her weary face as she picks me up and gently cradles me in her arms, running a hand across my silky lavender fur.

“Oh Alfador, whatever am I going to do? Mother is so excited about this new power, Lavos; the black wind keeps me up all night; and just look at all of these plans for the Ocean Palace,” she motions to a pile of parchment stacked upon her normally clean desk. “Mother is making all of these Earthbound villagers work on it! It’s almost too dangerous to even attempt, and yet, she does not understand them like I do. Oh Alfie, I wish I could do something to halt this madness. She’s going to kill me and Janus before this is all over. I just know it.”

Uttering a soft meow, followed by the soothing purring she always enjoys hearing, I playfully bat a paw against her long hair. Never in my entire existence here in Zeal, have I seen Schala so distressed. She didn’t even wear her pendant unless she was required to anymore. There has to be something I can do to help.

With a weary sigh, she sits me down upon the soft downy bed, resuming her pacing. It has been like this for the past few weeks. Janus heads off to school and I stay with Schala all day. (I think it is because Belthesar is allergic to cats or something. He does sneeze a lot when I am around, but then again, he is a strange old man.) Whatever is going on to concern her so much, is problem enough for me to investigate. Leaving the young princess to her worried pacing, I leap from the bed and slink out of the room. Janus will be leaving his class in Kajar soon, and I want to be there to greet him.

Of course, none of the enlightened ones pay me any heed when I gallop by, for they already know my routine. In fact, I could swear that some of them actually dread it. It is no secret that Janus is the black sheep of the Zealian family, possessing maybe a shred of the magic that Schala or Queen Zeal possess. If he does know anything, he never shows it; which was fine with me. You never know when an impish prince with uncontrolled magic might want to turn something or someone into a frog. This cat does not want to sacrifice one of his nine lives to experience it!

I find Janus in a foul mood, textbook clutched under his arm with almost enough force to make the fragile parchment pages erupt in fire. His teary eyes hold back a smoldering fury like that of a dragon, while a dark wind swirls against his long robes. His semi-long blue hair shrouds his expression in darkness, the sign of the enigma that is known as Janus Zeal.

“Come on Alfador. We don’t need to stay here much longer!” he growls, ignoring the shouts directed at him from within the classroom. My ears twitch at the voice: Belthasar.

“Prince Janus! You must learn to control your temper! Only an Earthbound Ape would throw a spell book across the room because he cannot learn a simple spell! I should notify your sister about this behavior! She never had such a temper!” Great, my master is in trouble once again. Poor Schala. She’s not going to be pleased with this sort of behavior. My master snarls under his breath, storming in the opposite direction.

“Fine! Go ahead and tell her!”

“Oh I certainly will! First Melchoir disappears and you become my student. Well, I’ll just send you to Gasper next! And if he can’t handle you, Dalton will! I’m sure he would like a student with the potential of a paralyzed Mud Imp!” I watch my master glare at the Guru of Reason with a snarl to his lip. Even my fur bristles at the rage behind my master’s crimson eyes. Without another word, he shuffles into a run, calling for me to follow. I obey without second thoughts.

Weaving around a towering bookshelf in the only library of Zeal, Janus suddenly halts, ducking against a wall. The air chills, each falling degree drawing my fur on end. I hate that feeling, all prickling and itchy as through ants are swarming over my skin. A dark shadow descends upon the library, and it is cloaked in black.

Heavy leather boots scuff to a halt inches from my paws, a tattered cloak draping just above his ankles. Meekly, I dare to glance up at him, taking a step back in surprise. Crimson eyes pour their gaze over me, making me feel about the size of a newborn kitten. Long, silvery hair with a light tint of indigo woven deep into the follicles cascades beneath an embroidered hood, flashing a sense of familiarity across my mind. He reminds me of Janus, only much taller, older, and darker. Whatever happened to this man, had been enough to change him forever. I glance over at a trembling Janus, who clutches his textbook to his chest. To be honest, I do not know whether to be afraid, or welcoming to this stranger.

A grunt of recognition escapes the elder man when I notice what he holds in his hands. The sharp weapon is a scythe, and a deadly one at that. My mind flashes to a story book I had once stumbled across, proclaiming that death often wore dark clothes and carried a scythe. Now this “Death” character stood before my master and me.

Claws extend from my tiny paws, a hiss erupting from my throat. In spirit, I am not a petty housecat owned by a young sorcerer. I am a lion, strong and powerful. Before I can convince myself otherwise, the man staggers back with a yelp, my claws tearing into the flesh beneath his leggings. Janus scoops me up and advances a few running strides forward, heart racing wildly in his chest. The odd stranger smiles and nods in our direction.

“You sense the Black Wind too. A wise warlock would use that to their advantage. Now run off to your sister before you worry her.” Before I can blink, he is gone; vanished into the shadows of the corridor. Janus does not stop running until he has reached Schala’s room.

Much to my relief, Schala has at least brushed her hair, having tied it up in the all too familiar pony-tail style she has mastered. Upon seeing the frightened Janus, her cerulean eyes soften.

“Janus? What’s wrong?” she asks, noticing his death grip upon me. Hot tears splash against my fur in response.

“Belthasar threatened to send me to Gasper for schooling, and then to Dalton!” he whines, attempting to brush the tears aside and still hold me. Schala kneels upon her knees to look Janus in the eyes. In a motherly gesture, she places a hand upon his shoulder.

“What happened?”

“He…He was yelling at me about my lack of spell casting. I…He said I would never be half as powerful as even the weakest enlightened one. He said I had the potential of a paralyzed Mud Imp!”

“Whoa, calm down. You’re hurting Alfie,” her soothing words accompany the loosening of the young prince’s grip upon me. Love him I do, but sometimes, he is a bit rough. I leap to the ground with an air of grace, listening to the conversation.

“Sorry Alfie,” he whispers. I wag my tail in response. No harm done Janus, just be more careful next time.

“And? How did you respond?” she resumes the interrogation in a calm, steady voice. Had one not known better, they might have seen Schala as being a fitter mother to Janus that Queen Zeal is. Janus averts his eyes, too ashamed to look his elder sister in the eyes. I notice his defeated glare.

“I…threw a spell book at him.”

“Janus, you know it is not nice to-”

“But Schala! He insulted me! I know you’re disappointed, but please! Try to see things from my view! He shouts at me every day for being slow! Every day!”

“Shhh. Calm down,” she attempts to sooth the tears of the young prince. Janus’s tears are beginning to drip upon my fur, and I am upon the ground too!

“But Schala. He kicked me out of class. He said that you never had my kind of attitude, and…and-”

“Shhh. It’s okay Janus. I had the same problem when I was in his class.”

“You did?” he fought to wipe away the tears as Schala nodded.

“Of course I did! I had trouble with even the simplest spells. When I could cast them, I could not control them, and even once knocked over a bookcase! He called me every name in the Zealian swear book at one point! But I was patient and determined to show him I could cast those spells; and now he will not admit that I practically gave him most of his gray hairs!” I smile inwards at the young princess’s attitude. Belthasar has a lot of gray hairs…

“Really? But what about Dalton!”

“Don’t you worry about Dalton. If Belthasar wants you to be sent to him, he will have to go through me first. I won’t let him send you there,” she vowed with confidence. Janus smiles at the words, reassured. Gingerly, I brush against the young prince’s legs, mewing for attention. Both siblings brush my fur.

“Alfie seems to agree! Hey Schala? Can you feel the Black Wind?” his question adds several shades of pallor to her face. Remembering this morning and the disheveled state she was in, I meow louder, as though to draw the prince’s attention from the question. To my surprise, it works.

“Janus. Why don’t you go take Alfador and play outside? It’s a beautiful day and I think I saw some butterflies in the flowerbeds. You know how he likes butterflies. I have some business to attend to,” she suggests, thankful for not having to answer the question at the moment. I glance up when she ruffles my ears affectionately. I have to find a way to help her, somehow, and someway.

Evening falls upon the floating kingdom of Zeal like malice, and I know why without being told. Janus has fallen asleep already, and I am privileged to a front row seat.

He calls himself the Prophet, and claims to know every minute of the future. The scary part is that he knows I am hiding behind the door of the throne room, before he even sees me. Smirking, he nods in my direction, whispering in a low voice.

“Alfador. Good to see you.” I hiss at his mention of my name, uncertain of what to do. This foreigner is a strange one. Dark one moment, but, with a shred of light hidden deep within the next. I press my slim body against the wall, watching the group file into the throne room.

A growl escapes my throat at Queen Zeal and her wild hairdo and golden robes. Lord only knows how that hair defies gravity. Must be an evil villain thing. Hey, give me some credit. If Janus and Schala don’t like her, what makes you think me, their cat, will? Anyway, my eyes watch her arrogant strides towards the ornate throne in the center of the room.

In a ritual she practices every day, she observes the never changing room before sitting down, tapping her bony fingers against the armrests. I want so much to see someone different on that throne, someone kinder and gentler. My mind wanders, and I can almost see the Prophet’s gaze waver as well. He is not impressed at all. The next creature slinks into the throne room, heavy feet resounding against the room. My ears sweep back with a hiss.

At Zeal’s right side stands the most obnoxious being in the history of the universe. With hair curly enough to look almost female, Dalton resembles something that might have decided to play dress-up and not quite decided on what to be. The eye patch says it all though. Being a cat, I have seen him without it, and trust me: he has both eyes. He only covers the one up because it is a lighter shade of brown than the other, the traits that signal an earthbound heritage. That, and he has a weird fetish with colorful pirates. Yeah, like humans will ever see the truth though. They see a war hero, commander of the Blackbird; and I see a coward.

The Prophet stirs with a raised eyebrow, his hood obscuring most of his face once again. This time, I watch as two bumbling gurus filter into the throne room, amused and joking about something. One is Belthasar. The other, is a man wearing crimson robes and possessing the ugliest mustache I have ever seen. However, despite his goofy appearance, Gasper, Guru of Time, is the friendliest of all. Both bow before Zeal and Dalton, standing off to a corner. Melchoir is missing, and has been for the past few weeks. In fact, I believe that was when Schala began acting strange, nervous and such…

Speaking of Schala, she is the last one to enter the throne room. Nervous and surprised to see the Prophet, she skirts along the wall like a timid little mouse. Dalton frowns at her lack of courtesy towards him, as she silently refuses to acknowledge his presence. Zeal raises an eyebrow, but says nothing. Schala is not of her concern.

“Welcome Prophet!” the queen greets with sickening chivalry. He tips his chin in response, eyes never leaving Schala. I crawl closer, ears pricked forward to listen harder. I need something, anything that I can use to figure out how to help Schala and Janus escape her madness. The Prophet knows I am standing there, and twitches his fingers ever so slightly. I recognize it as a signal Janus uses often to direct me when he is out creating mischief, or teaching me tricks. This guy is really starting to scare me.

“It is an honor to stand in the halls of the floating kingdom of Zeal! And to witness such power! Truly, you are an amazing ruler!” the Prophet’s words grate against one another, forced. His hand motions for me to move along the wall. There are no mistakes in the signals either. He wants me to travel against the wall, and I am to obey.

“It is an honor to have such a powerful mage here! Kindly tell us sir, where you hail from,” Zeal greets in a thunderous voice. The man in the dark cloak shifts his weight so that his cloak flares out enough to cast a shadow across the doorway. That’s my cue!

I bolt towards the gurus, something telling me to get as close to Schala as possible.

“I hail from a kingdom far from Zeal to bring you a warning! You must exercise caution when using this new power you have found. Indeed, I wish to see it and I want the kingdom to thrive for generations to come, but in the wrong hands, it will be deadly!” he warns, an edge to his voice. From my position behind Gasper’s robe, I await further direction. His shadow-soaked form strides towards Schala.

“Nonsense. Why should we listen to you anyway? What makes you so reputable?” Dalton snaps, offended by the Prophet’s boldness. Zeal’s smile emitted a hint of amusement at the spectacle. The Prophet calmly draws to a halt, turning his head to stare at the General.

“Because. I know all and see all. I know of your secrets with the Blackbird. I know of Lavos. I also know that the princess of Zeal is about to suffer a nasty wound to her head when she trips over Alfador, if I don’t intervene.” What? What did he mean by that?

Schala instinctively takes a half-step backwards, away from the approaching prophet. Uh oh. A dull ache pressed against my side, the back of her heel colliding against me. I scramble to avoid being stepped on, paws slipping out from under me. Her tiny foot falls in a stumbling step upon the trail of her robe. Silk slips against marble with the force of her footfall.

“Eeek!” With a cry of surprise, her feet slip out from beneath her, pitching her backwards, on a direct collision course with the wall. I cower with my paws covering my eyes. I cannot watch…

The prophet leaps forward with speed greater than the wind, grabbing Schala by the hand and swinging her into his arms before she can strike the wall. I glance up, my blood running cold. Had she actually completed the fall, she probably would have earned a major concussion from the unforgiving stone. The prophet smirks in my direction, clutching the trembling Schala closer. From my vantage point, I hear him whisper to her in a hushed tone.

“You are in grave danger princess. The black wind howls around you and Janus this night. Prepare to flee when more travelers invade. They will take the shape of a man with crimson hair, a frog knight, and a strange girl with yellow hair and a crossbow. I will attempt to cover your tracks if you cooperate, and protect you. Will you obey me?” his hurried words made her nod in agreement. Zeal leaps to her feet, more excited than usual. I watch as the Prophet glances at Zeal and Dalton, forming a protective shield between the princess and the rulers. The gurus stare in shock, having heard nothing. They can barely hear their own chatter, let alone whispering.

“Amazing! Absolutely amazing! How did you know what would happen?”

“As I said before my Queen, I am a prophet.” My heart flutters with joy. Scary as this guy is, he is on our side, willing to help get Schala and Janus out alive. I almost regret scratching him…

Morning dawns a little less stressful with Janus’s arm draped across my shoulders. Yawning, I stretch my tiny legs to regain my comfortable position, feeling the young prince stagger to his feet. No classes today either, which leaves the whole day open. Janus yawns and pats my back.

“Morning Alfie!” he rubs the sleep from his eyes. I respond by purring, eager for the attention. It seems like forever since Janus has slept so well. He picks me up, cradling me against his chest with a laugh. “No class today!”

“Meow”, I respond, rubbing my head against his chin. He laughs as my whiskers tickle him. Sometimes it just feels good to make someone laugh. I leap to the floor ahead of him as he opens the door, trotting off to find Schala. After yesterday, I wonder if she’s any different. To our surprise, she is still sleeping, and Janus lets it at that. Instead of waking her up, we travel to Enhasa for the fun of it.

Trotting along the boring corridors of dreaming Enlightened, I cannot help but notice strange scents upon the air. My whiskers twitch in anticipation, Janus halting at the top of a flight of steps. I see him tense at the sight of the three strangers walking through the building. The first is a tall lad with wild crimson hair. Dressed in a tunic and wielding a katana, he definitely fits the hero type. Behind him is a tall girl with blonde hair, a crossbow upon her belt. She looks strange, and clueless as to where she is, but that pendant looks familiar. Upon second glance though, it is indeed not Schala’s, for our princess has one that sparkles like jewels. This girl has a dull jewel that can do nothing. So strange; but not the strangest creature in the bunch. At least the first two are human, for the third, is a short frog knight with a strange blade at his side. I know I have seen that blade before, wait, can it be? The MasaMune? I thought Melchoir was working on that before he vanished. How can this frog be in possession of it?

My mind recalls the warning that the prophet gave Schala last night. To be ready to flee when these strangers show up. I meow to draw Janus’s attention, but he ignores me, instead, staring at the boy with crimson hair.

“The Black Wind Howls,” he whispers, loud enough for the travelers to hear. The boy looks at Janus with a sense of stupidity, while the girl studies my master. The frog growls; stepping forward.

“What did thou sayth?”

“One amongst you will shortly perish.” I follow as he strides past the puzzled foreigners. The girl watches us flee, throwing a casual comment in our general direction.

“What a strange kid.” The frog answers.

“Little urchin.”

“He kinda reminds me of someone,” the crimson haired hero remarks, walking in the other direction. Before I can hear anymore, Janus and I have left Enhasa and have started back towards Zeal.

“Schala?” Janus steps into his sister’s room, finding her seated at her desk, reading. She glances up with a weary smile, tossing the parchment aside.

“What’s wrong Janus?”

“The Black Wind. Can you feel it too?” To my surprise, she shakes her head in a ‘yes’ motion, clutching something in her hands as she stands.

“Yes, I feel it too. I have something for you Janus,” her voice is soft and soothing, like a refreshing rainstorm in summer. My master tip-toes forward out of curiosity. She kneels down, extending her hands with something sparkling in them. I dart forward, standing upon my hind legs for a better view.

The amulet was crafted of the finest ruby Dreamstone around. Forged into the shape of a flighty phoenix, trimmed in gold, and bearing an aura of protective energy, it far exceeded the power of Schala’s own pendant. Janus’s eyes grow wide at the object.

“What is it?” he whispered, still in shock. She smirks and drapes it around his neck, taking extra care to see that he wore it beneath his robe, out of view.

“This amulet will protect you in case I am unable too. With Mother demanding so much work from me, I may not always be there when you need me-”

“She is NOT our mother!” he exclaims, balling his tiny hands into fists with a glare at his elder sister. She bows her head with a sigh.

“I feel that she has changed too, but-”

“You’re scaring me Schala! Everything in Zeal is changing! There are strangers here, and that dark man who seems close to mother. He’s evil!” Janus wails, too angry to allow his sister to finish. In response, she once again places both hands upon his shoulders, staring him in the eyes. Crimson meets sapphire, and almost instantly all of the fight is out of him. Sometimes I wonder if there is some sort of secret power contained in that look.

“Janus. Listen to me. There is something dangerous about this new power in Zeal, and I want you to be ready to leave when I return. Okay?”

“Okay Schala. But be safe," he pleads. She rises to her feet and strides off for the throne room, leaving Janus and I behind. I move to follow, but halt when she glances at me with a frown.

“Alfador, stay with Janus.” I must obey a command issued by Schala. After all, she is my friend, and Janus is my master. I stalk over to the brooding prince, a little down over the issue. How was I to know that from that moment on, life in Zeal would change forever?

It started with the travelers we met in Enhasa. From what I could gather from the rumor mill, aka, Doreen, Masa, and Mune, these three travelers had really angered Zeal and Dalton, and were being punished through confinement where the Mammon Machine once stood, standing their wait for execution. I began to wonder about them. Were they like the prophet, trying to help Schala and Janus? Or were they a threat to their lives?

My paws pad across the slick floor in pursuit of the worried princess as she struggles to open the doorways with as much silence as she can muster, so not to draw the guards. Before long, Janus and I stand behind her, eyeing the miserable prisoners in their uncomfortable cell.

“What are you going to do Schala? You’ll get in trouble if you free them!”

“Shhh, they are the only ones who can help the Gurus. I’ll take the fall for them this time,” she whispers in response, pressing several buttons. In a flash of light, the travelers are free, obviously confused. Then again, the red head and blonde always look confused. A thick voice shatters the air.

“Like the young prince says, you could get into a lot of trouble for helping fugitives.” My fur stands on end with the words spoken so casually by the prophet standing in the doorway. Janus picks me up, clutching me close. I feel safer in his grasp. Schala on the other hand, places herself between the prophet and the foreign prisoners, a glare upon her face.

“I will help who I choose at my own expense. How dare you follow me!” she growls in a low whisper. I watch his crimson eyes soften slightly, almost as though he knows something she does not. Almost as quickly, they became cold once again, no room for emotion.

“They are a danger to the Zealian Kingdom, and must be dealt with. I warned you of them a short while ago, and the words still stand. I shall spare their lives, but only if you obey me,” his brooding tone sends icy shivers along my fur. Whoever this guy really is, he has a commanding tone and a fist of iron. The princess of Zeal nods in slow agreement, motioning to the prisoners.

“If you harm them, I will not hesitate to defend them,” she warns. I see amusement in those crimson eyes of the Prophet. He agrees, in silence at first, and motions for the princess and prisoners to follow him.

“Fine, but the boy and his cat are not to follow.” And indeed, we did not. Janus rushes me back to our room so quickly, that I barely remember any of it. All I understand is that Schala came home several hours later, a sorrowful expression upon her face. Whatever had become of the prisoners, was to remain a mystery to Janus and me.

Less than a few days later, Belthasar cancelled all of Janus’s lessons for the week. Schala was clearly puzzled, and spoke in Janus’s defense. However, the minor throwing of a spell book was not why he had cancelled. Once again, the rumor mill churned with excitement, signaling that something big was about to happen, and soon. Evening fell upon the magical kingdom upon the clouds with a grim, hazy silence, prompting my natural curiosity once again.

I wiggle out from under Janus’s arm, being as quiet as possible. Nudging the door open with a paw, I freeze at the sight of the Prophet walking along the corridor, Dalton in tow. An aura of anger shrouds them.

“How dare you interfere with the Queen’s schedule! I am the Queen’s right hand man! You are a foreigner!” the supposable ‘General’ snarls. The Prophet glares in response.

“I act in the interest of the kingdom when I interfere. I would rather have Zeal still in the sky then beneath the sea.” I dart behind a flower pot with a shiver. What did this man mean by that? Was he talking about the undersea palace? Or was Zeal about to fall into the ocean? It better not! Cats hate water!

Panic seizes my heart when Dalton draws a dagger and raises it at the prophet’s back. Yowling for the Prophet to notice, I topple the flowerpot, shattering the silence. Before I can move, the Prophet ducks low to the ground, swinging the scythe through the air. Dalton strikes the floor with a sickening thud. Good for him! He certainly deserved it!

“If you ever try anything like that again, I will bury the blade of this scythe in your skull and not think twice about the consequences,” his smooth voice threatens. Dalton shivers in response, nursing a nasty slash to his arm. A small flash of red light catches my eye, before quickly fading into the darkness. Could it be? Janus’s amulet? Why did this stranger have it? Before I can look again, he has vanished into the shadows in one direction, Dalton in the other. The hostility between them is admirable.

Night drags on at a painfully slow tick, leaving me wide awake and nervous. I feel something strange upon the air tonight. That Prophet had Janus’s amulet. I can prove it. Batting aside the young lad’s hair, I catch a glimpse of the ruby phoenix amulet. Who is this stranger? Why is he so familiar?

The door creaks open, spraying dying lamplight across the marble floor. I glance up in shock, only to find a restless Schala standing in the doorway. She creeps across the floor, a much heavier cloak draped over her slender shoulders. That is the cloak she wears when traveling to visit the Earthbound villagers. Gently, she wakes Janus up, pressing a finger to her lips for him to remain quiet. Something is happening tonight.

“Janus, get your cloak, and hurry,” she whispers, casting a nervous glance at the doorway. He mumbles something undecipherable, crawling to his feet. Schala works quickly, buttoning his travel cloak and working his leather boots onto his tiny feet. Drawing the hood up to protect his ears from the biting cold, she helps him to stand, commanding for him to grab me as well. We would not be returning to Zeal again.

Safe in my master’s arms, I catch a glimpse of Schala’s expression in the moonlight. Vivid memories of that morning she was so upset flash to mind. She hardly looks any better now.

“Stay quiet Janus, and stay with me,” she commands, leading us into the dark corridor. Moving like a fragile nymph in the night, the princess of Zeal swiftly unlocks doors and herds Janus and I through, stealing glances in all directions before allowing us to wander too far ahead. It’s amazing at how you can hear your heart beat in the silence of night, especially when every little noise could mean being caught. More than once, Schala drags us into the shadows, watching as the lone guard on patrol ambles by without incident. The smell of alcohol reeks from his armor. Figures. One of Dalton’s guards no doubt. Drunk, but not harmless. We press on.

Slender hands tug the final door open with agonizing slowness, making even me nervous. I could have sworn we were all holding our breath over the thought of escaping the main castle. My fur bristles in anticipation when the princess leads us through the archway and across the stone courtyard. With steady footfalls across the lush grass and bridges of Zeal, we travel past Kajar, and Enhasa. As the skyway leading to the Earthbound villages rises into view, Schala bids us to run.

I feel it too, the wandering stare of eyes through the darkness. Janus shivers, squeezing me closer as Schala shoves him towards the skyway. Her eyes are wide with terror. I crane my neck to see what she is staring at through the darkness, and feel my heart stop in my chest.

The eerie eyes of the prophet stare us down like judges to an execution. One hand rests upon the scythe he carries with him, while the other carries a lantern. His lip curls into a smirk. I can tell Schala is confused. Do we trust this man with our lives, or do we surrender now? He nods in her direction, turning his back to our little group.

“I am a man of my word. I saw nothing happen here tonight, princess,” with those words, he wanders away, allowing us to flee. Schala does not hesitate; teleporting Janus, her, and myself to the forgotten village of Algetty.

It is cold to say the least about the dreary underground passages of Algetty. Flakes of ice blanket my thick lavender and white fur, forcing my tender ears to remain erect and frozen in place. Not even Janus’s efforts to keep me warm draw my attention from the wintry conditions below our old home. People survive in this?

Several mud-coated people in tattered rags stare at our presence. I’m not sure if they are stunned, afraid, or just plain confused to be seeing the princess of Zeal, her younger brother, and their cat so late at night, or early in the morning if you go by their time. Muffled words echo from a room ahead, spurring Schala into a faster walk. I recognize the voice immediately.

“The only thing that can stop the Mammon Machine is this Ruby Knife,” Melchoir’s voice booms. It sounds aged and tired, but welcoming at least. Schala gently eases the door open, entering the room, scolding Janus for making rude comments about the earthen dwellings. If I remember correctly, he described them as ‘filthy hovels’. Typical Janus for you.

Five sets of eyes stare back at us. First are the three travelers I recognize from the makeshift prison. The second is an elder gentleman decked out in mud-crusted clothing. He must be the elder of the village. But the third is the man we want to see. Wearing thick black leather armor, worn with age, and possessing a mustache and beard combo of white, is Melchoir. The elder of Algetty raises an eyebrow in surprise at our appearance.

“Miss Schala, Prince Janus. What brings you here to this unclean dwelling?” Schala halts in mid-stride, a soft expression responding. It is genuine pity for the creatures who survive in this weather.

“Stop degrading yourselves. The only difference between us is that we are under the control of Lavos. We have come here to seek refuge in your world, away from Zeal,” Schala explains, nervously glancing behind her. The temperature drops several degrees with Janus’s shiver.

“Well dear me! This certainly is something now isn’t it? We have more time now to destroy the Mammon Machine!” Melchoir’s eyes dance with excitement. Schala trembles at the blank stares of the travelers.

“Um, how so? Three minutes ago, you were concerned we wouldn’t have enough time. Now we have an extension?” the red-haired boy growls, frustrated. By the looks of the bruises across his companions’ and his faces, they had been to Mt. Woe.

“Yes! So long as Schala is here and not in the undersea palace, Zeal cannot operate the machine! Without her, its useless!” the Guru of Life probably would have hugged Schala for turning against Zeal, had not a deep throated, whining voice pierced the air.

“I think not. Princess. Your presence is requested elsewhere,” the ‘General’ strides into the room like a king, glaring at Schala. My hackles stand on end, claws starting to shred the fabric of Janus’s cloak. I can feel it in his spirit; rage, anger, fear, and another emotion I cannot place. The red-haired boy draws his katana, the girl her crossbow, and the frog, the MasaMune. This is going to get very ugly, very quickly.

“I refuse to serve her! I will not awaken that beast!” she snaps in response, fed up with his arrogance. Backing against the nearest wall, she raises her arms to cast a spell, only to find Dalton behind her. With a smirk, he grabs her arm, wrenching her to the ground with a single movement. I spring from Janus’s arms, ignoring his cries of alarm. This coward of a man will not be allowed to beat up the kindest girl in Zeal

The fireball misses me by inches, slamming into Janus and throwing him into the opposite wall. With a low moan, he slumps to the ground, unconscious. Now I’m really ticked! You do not mess with my master and leave unscathed! Claws extended to their fullest, I tear across the earthen floor, a streak of lavender and white. Not even Melchoir expects it.

“Damn filthy cat!” Dalton curses, clawing at his face where I cling for dear life. To let go now is to fail, and Alfador Zeal never fails! My grip is loosened by the man’s hands wrapping themselves around my body, prying me from his skin. I see the results of my handiwork, a patchwork that looks like we might have been playing tic-tac-toe all day on his face. At least it will leave a scar. My smirk could have lit up the room at that moment, had I not been thrown at Janus.

Shapes blur before my spinning vision, fading into events too fast to understand. I hear Schala cry out in anger and pain, her body thrown over Dalton’s shoulder. He remarks something about Schala’s life not mattering to him if anyone dares to attack him again. And then they are gone, warped away by a teleportation spell that Dalton should not be able to use.

I take time to gather my bearings, watching the concerned Melchoir tending to Janus. Slowly, the boy stirs, realizing what happened. Not waiting for an explanation, he pulls away from Melchoir, ignoring all talk of reason as he bolts into the cold. I race after him, the snow burning against my achy paws. We need to get to Zeal and fast. After all, I was the one who wanted to do something. By helping, this was my chance.

To our saving grace, the skyway is open and functional, allowing us to return to our kingdom. Hopefully, those travelers will follow, you know, to back us up. I get the feeling that one angry prince and a cat will not be much against a creature who can give Dalton powers. This guy failed recess and finger painting, after all.

The bridge flies by at our pace, Janus quickly tiring. Several servants and Enlightened villagers stare at our appearance, coated in melting ice and exhausted.

“Schala!” my master screams, loud enough to part the sea of people. They know something is wrong from his tone.

It is so cold down here beneath the ocean. (The kind of cold that seeps into your blood and begins to crystallize cold.) Not the cold of Algetty. This is something threatening, the darkness surrounding us. As a cat, I can sense the evil, and I want to turn back. However, my master is counting on me to follow him. Schala is counting on me to find a way for us all to escape. After all, I promised I would get them out, and I intend to keep that promise.

Growls of anger reach my ears, serving as the map guiding us towards the center of the palace. What a welcoming relief since neither of us have been down here before. We approach the room, only to encounter the devil himself. Every muscle in my tiny body stiffens in place, paralyzed by the darkness and evil watching me.

Spikes of fire rim his shell, casting off an eerie light in his reflection. Nightmarish darkness emits from his mouth, engulfing all of those who dare to oppose him. Hissing and spitting fire, he screeches and clicks his teeth. A million eyes watch from that mouth, surveying the room. Zeal sits upon its shell, cackling madly at the power surging through her. The Gurus stand in awe, too stunned to even notice what is happening to the floor beneath them.

Swirls of eerie, flashing blue and black engulf their legs, pulling them down like quicksand. Gasper shrieks in surprise, crying out something about time portals. Melchoir and Belthasar meet the same fate. It is then that I notice one forming beneath Janus’s legs. I am not the only one to see.

“Janus! Get away!” Schala screams, lunging towards her younger brother, only to be pulled back by a swift flick of Zeal’s wrist. Cerulean eyes, once gentle, turn fierce, the strength of a lioness seething behind them. In one swift motion, she breaks from Zeal’s grip, lunging once again for her brother to push him to safety. I can only watch in fear as Janus slips beneath the glow, screaming. The painful image of a sister losing the only family she has left brands itself into my mind. Janus vanishes forever, like the Gurus. The day can grow no darker in Zeal.

Heat prickles along my fur, tinged with the scalding tears of the princess of Zeal. Those cerulean eyes, so gentle and caring, became fierce with emotions beyond anger. Sparks tinged the tips of her fingers, her quivering form rising to its feet. Mechanically, she raised her arms, focusing not on Zeal, but upon the machine before her, the machine I saw the devil hiding within. The Prophet appears in the shadows, watching, but doing nothing. I slink forward with a hiss, claws digging into the carpet, too confused and afraid to flee.

“Now now Schala, let’s not do anything hasty. After all, immortality lies so close!” Zeal has the nerve to smirk, infuriating Schala even further. I lope towards the Prophet for a better view. Why had he done nothing to save Janus? He was closer! I thought he was on our side, but I guess I was wrong. However, I cannot shake that feeling that this man is my friend, and not my enemy. Why am I gravitating towards him? Why can I not seem to draw myself away? Why is he not helping Schala?

The travelers burst into the hall of the Mammon Machine with shouts of rage, weapons drawn and a ruby knife in hand. Schala glances at them, too distracted to see the bolt of electricity surging towards her from the mammon machine until it is too late. That has to hurt, being pinned to the ground, energy being sapped by a beast too terrifying for story books. Please, stop! I want to scream, finding my words translated into a soft mewing. The Prophet nudges me out of harm’s way with his boot, pressing me against a wall. I’m useless to prevent the impending slaughter when the ruby knife stabs the machine, making the beast scream in rage.

Fifteen seconds later, all is silent, the group vanishing in a flash of blue light. My paws are numb from the vibrations of the floor, the soft pads aching horrible. I creep across the floor to where Janus vanished, ears turned towards the growling machine. The Devil took my master. He is about to shed the blood of my master’s only sister as well, and the travelers who fought to protect us all. This is Lavos’s horrifying power. This was what the Prophet knew.

I wish I had run when I had the chance, but no, I just had to remain in that room of death. The travelers returned, beaten. The girl’s trembling hands fumbled to put the last of her arrows in their quiver. The frog kept his eyes upon the ground. Where was the boy with the red-hair? Where were the Prophet and Schala? Seconds later, I get my answer. Both look defeated, pale and exhausted. Schala staggers a step, brushing off the assistance of the Prophet. I see his eyes turn soft once again, out of respect and something else, care.

Crack! The ground leaps beneath my paws, upsetting my balance. Like sliding tiles, I can feel the ocean raging around us, threatening to crush us all. Lavos screeches in the background. The sound is too much for my tender ears, immobilizing me with terror.

Even my whiskers disobey my command to twitch, the room bucking and kicking. The travelers huddle together for comfort, knowing that everything will be over soon, permanently.

“The Ocean Palace, the Dark Wind howls…” Schala whispers, clutching her pendant close. A dying glow emits from it, casting the room in an eerie red. Her eyes dart from it to the travelers. Tears stain her cheek. “The last of my pendant’s power will send you to safety. I’m sorry I cannot do more.”

No. Was she giving up too? There was no way we were getting out of this alive. I can feel it, the power of Lavos, coursing through this building, crushing it. Before anyone can protest, a beam of light leaps from the pendant, engulfing the travelers and the Prophet. They vanish in the blink of an eye.

Traitor. How dare he insist on helping Schala and Janus escape, and then back out at the last moment! How dare he allow this to happen if he knew everything! I creep over to Schala with a soft meow, head bowed. She jumps, startled.

“Alfador?” she reaches a trembling hand towards me, as though afraid I might vanish too. My tiny head comes in contact with her shaking hand, whiskers tickling her palm. Offering every ounce of comfort I can, I purr, brushing against her legs. I want so much to help her, but how do you escape from the ocean?

Her warm hands pick me up, cradling me protectively against her chest like some sort of stuffed animal. Groans escape from the twisting metal around us, a surefire sign that they are about to cave in at any moment, drowning us both. Great. Just how I want to go, a cat’s worst nightmare, water. I glance up at Schala, seeing that look again. This time though, she is staring at the doorway and the hallway beyond.

“What do you think Alfie? Think that transporter we use for the Earthbound villagers to get from work to their homes still works?” she whispers, glancing at me for approval. I meow in response, snuggling closer to her. I had completely forgotten all about that transporter, but at this point, I’ll try anything. Without hesitation, Schala bolts into a run, allowing her memory of Belthasar’s blueprints to guide her.

Left, right, left, over a fallen pillar, under a buckling ceiling, we run. I would never have guessed Princess Schala Zeal to be much of a runner, but I had been wrong. With strides like that of a bounding deer, we approach the room from the blueprints. Thankfully, we also found it unlocked and intact.

It had better have been anyway, or I would have scratched someone. Without her pendant, Schala is about as powerful as an Earthbound Villager. Droplets of water trickle around us, moving into a steady stream rapidly. I can feel the princess’s heart racing with my own as she lunges for the transporter. Metal crashes down behind us, sea water rushing towards us.

I hiss threateningly. Real smart Alfador. Like millions of gallons of saltwater are really going to take a cat seriously. My foe approaches with a purpose. However, Schala is quicker and more determined, her feet stepping upon the cold tiles. In mid-run, white light surges around, coating us in warmth for a split-second.

Ow. My aching head. Crawling out from beneath the unconscious princess of Zeal, I stare at the blowing and drifting snow around us with a shiver. Funny how we can escape one fate, and dive right into one far worse. I glance at the girl who saved my life back there, brushing up against her. She is too heavy for me, a simple cat, to carry in this weather, and I cannot just leave her. For all I know, she might already be, NO, do not think like that Alfador! She is not dead yet!

The heavy crunching of boots echoes hastily in the distance. I can only make out a dim shape, but it is human at least. Perhaps it can help me with Schala. Crying out with every ounce of strength I possess, I begin leaping up and down, praying my lavender coat will stick out against the snow. The creature stops and looks in my direction. That’s it old man, walk a little bit faster. No, no, not that way! Yes, this way. Good little old man! Good!

He stoops down to my level, reaching a calloused hand towards me. Instead of allowing him to touch me, I dart over to Schala, mewing loudly.

“Oh my. What seems to have happened to you little lady?” he brushes the snow from her face, drawing her close to him. Like you could understand old man, how we faced the devil and escaped with barely our lives…Without hesitation, he lifts her limp form from the snow, hurrying towards the village in the distance. Hey old guy! Wait up! Sure moves fast for a man about the age of Melchoir, Belthasar, and Gasper.

Warmth. Nice and warm. I roll over onto my back, pawing the air before snuggling back into the course blanket they gave me. From what I gathered, the old guy had children, and they were just as eager to care for me. A tiny hand brushes my fur, laughing when I open one eye. Sure is a lot louder than Janus ever was, and not as gentle…

I miss him terribly. I miss everything about him.

“His name is Alfador,” Schala explains, taking a seat upon the floor where I have staked as my territory. The young children stare in awe as the princess lifts me up and brushes my fur. “If you’re gentle, he might just purr.”

Out of respect for her, and because it felt good, I allow myself to purr for these children. Laughter erupts from their tiny forms, each galloping around, whooping and hollering. Schala giggled at their nature, a tear shimmering behind those pained cerulean eyes. She misses Janus too, perhaps more than I ever can know.

I’m not certain how long we spent with the Earthbound old man and his children, but it really did not matter either. There was no place left to go for us, the outcasts of Zeal. Our home had plummeted into the ocean, never to be seen again, no thanks to Lavos’s rage. And then…

“Look! Look! The Black Omen!” Something in the child’s cries brings Schala outside like the hut was on fire. I follow dutifully, unable to believe what I am seeing. The hideous shape of the Ocean Palace hovering above us comes into view, confirming our worst nightmares. Yes, we had heard from others that it existed. We also heard that wherever it showed itself, that village was the next to perish.

Villagers roar out commands, gathering their wives, children, and belongings for a quick evacuation to the hills. Schala remains in place, watching the hovering menace with her fists clenched at her sides. A stiff wind stings her pale skin, rustling against her mud stained robes and long hair. She knows who is behind everything. I can feel her emotions of rage and despair over our situation. I can feel her anger over the loss of her beloved brother. I want nothing more than to sink my claws into that woman up there right now. You hear that Zeal! I hope you see us standing here, and know who we are!

And, several seconds later; that same Black Omen in the sky; dives towards the ocean, cracking apart from the inside.

Eyes wide with shock, I watch the princess sink to her knees, attention never leaving the craft. A small shimmer of silver flits away from it, surging towards one of the Northern capes. I can hardly believe my eyes as the wreckage of the Black Omen sinks beneath the sea, never to resurface again.

Chatter rang through the Last Village over the incident, many pinning the blame over their own misfortune on the surviving Enlightened ones, who swore they came in peace. With the death of Zeal and its royal family, came a new era, where both sides knew they had to work together. Schala explained this to them.

I admire her for that. She could have taken over on her own, as she is the last surviving member of the royal Zealian family, but she did not. None of them even knew her name, let alone who she once was. Instead, they know her as “the kind lady with the cat”. However, that same day, when the black omen went down, Schala rose to her feet, turning towards the North Cape, and began walking.

“Come on Alfador,” she sighs, wading through the snow. It stopped snowing the instant that Omen hit the water, leaving the gray skies without anything to pour down upon us.

We reach the cape when the sun was setting, both of us exhausted from the trip and events of the day. I yawn, stretching my paws forward, but halting in mid-stride. Atop the hill stands none other than the shadow of a person I would recognize anywhere.

Scythe in one hand, cape blowing in the wind, and long blue hair free from its prison beneath the offending cloak, the Prophet stands facing the sea. Schala gasps and steps backwards, picking me up and holding me close. She is nervous over the encounter, and rightfully so. This man had almost killed her. As we turn to flee, his grating voice barks out a command.

“Schala, stop.”

“Prophet?” she meekly replies, facing him. From the corner of my eye, I can see the silver thing that had left the Black Omen as it crashed, noticing three familiar travelers watching with smiles. The red-haired boy, the blonde, and the frog. What a crew. Do they know something we don’t? The Prophet strides towards us, crimson eyes aglow with emotion.

“No, I am no prophet. I can admit that now. Princess. I am sorry I have brought pain to you, especially over Janus. He never wanted to make you cry like you did,” his voice falters for a moment before regaining its strength. Schala glances up at him, shivering in the cold.

“I never blamed you Prophet, for anything. Janus was my responsibility, not yours,” her voice trails off, pained over the memory. I squirm in her grip, wishing I could comfort her.

“No, he was my problem too. He should have listened when you told him to turn back. He should not have insisted upon following you. I’m very sorry,” he bows his head, reaching for something beneath his cloak. Slowly, he withdraws the elegant ruby amulet of a phoenix in flight, rimmed in gold and protective auras, forever. Schala’s tears trickle down her face in silence, my own senses on alert. So this guy was a thief as well. Well, I’ll show him!

Schala increases her grip upon me, preventing me from mauling this man to death with my tiny claws and teeth. A tear of his own slid down his face as he steps forward.

“That belongs to my brother. Where, where did you find that?” she gained the courage to ask.

“He never took it off for a second, not even when Lavos attacked him and sent him far away. Trust me Schala. It protected him whenever you could not, and still does to this day,” he whispers, watching her expression change. I feel my heart leap to my throat with emotion. Could this man be who I think he is? No. This is a man, not my five year old master.

“Prophet, please, who are you? Why do you possess the amulet I gave my brother? How do you know it protected him?” she pleads, tears in her eyes.

“You told me yourself it would, remember? Honestly Schala. I knew you had a bad memory, but you never once forgot anything Janus told you. I only wish he had grown up to become the gentleman you intended him to be…”

Okay, now I was confused. This man was claiming to be my dead master. The thought infuriates me, but yet, he has the proof. His story matches.

“Janus? No, you cannot be him. My brother was only five. He never had a dark aura around him either. Prophet, please, do not play games with me! Do not pretend to be someone you are not!” she snaps, turning to walk away. He reaches a hand forward, dropping the scythe.

“Schala! Wait! I can prove that I am Janus! Put Alfador down! Please! I can prove it! I can make him do a trick that only Janus would know!” he pleads, almost in desperation. My gaze narrows in uncertainty. He seems fairly confident, but how would I know for certain? Humph. A trick only Janus would know. This I have to see. Schala sets me in the snow, giving him one chance. Alright, if he wants his chance, I’ll try it.

The Prophet’s eyes light up at the sight of me. With a serious glare, he kneels down upon the ground and twitches his hand back and forth, pointing to the right. My ears prick forward, recognizing the gesture. I know this trick, but does the Prophet? Darting around in a circle, I gallop a zigzagging pattern across the snow, watching for his next gesture.

He swings his arm over his head in a jumping motion, directing me onto the silver hood of the silver flying contraption. My paws slip for a second, but I regain my balance, shocked. Two for two, but can he pull the third motion off? I watch as moves his hand in a circle.

Purring, I leap into the air, somersaulting over his head. Swiftly, he extends an arm, giving me a place to land. Claws sinking into leather, I perch there for a brief moment, before leaping back into Schala’s arms. She stands in awe. I purr. Only one human being in the world has ever taught a cat to somersault onto his arm and then to another person. That person was Janus. This man is the real deal.

“Janus! It is you! What happened to my darling little brother?” her voice cracks with emotion. He gathers her into an embrace, hands trembling as I crawl onto his shoulder, like I used to when he was little.

“It’s a long story, but if you have a while… I would like to introduce you to some friends of mine first,” he motions for the crew of the silver flying thing, which I later heard was Belthasar’s masterpiece, the Wings of Time. That crazy old man was way ahead of his time.

Zeal kingdom rests at the bottom of the ocean. The Black Omen and Black Bird join it. Dalton and Zeal can no longer harm us, ever again.

A sparkle in Schala’s eyes catches my attention, the first signs of real, genuine life I have seen in a long time. Gone is the worried princess from that morning that feels like so long ago. Beneath a setting sun casting its luminous rays upon the earth for the first time in a long time, we are free, and the Black Wind howls no more.

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

This Page © Copyright 1997, Brian Work. All rights reserved. Thanks to Sax for his help with the layout. Do not take anything from this page without my consent. If you wish to contact an author, artist, reviewer, or any other contributor to the site, their email address can be found on their index page. This site is link-free, meaning you don't need to ask me if you'd like to link to it. Best viewed in 1024x768.