Grandpa's Diary

The heat was stifling. In years to come the boy would grow accustomed to the humidity and warmth, but for now he loathed the stickiness that clung to him. He lied on his bed, his only concern the slight breeze that crept through the open window above him. It wasn’t enough to satisfy, yet enough to keep him rooted to the spot.

His friend would probably show up soon, but for now she was not home. Had he not slept in, he would have met her in the morning, more than likely over his mother’s fried egg’s. Sleeping in, however, was his one and only vice. He was clever, brave, and not afraid to throw elbow grease into whatever work was laid before him, but whenever sleep took hold, it held tight.

She knew this. She had left knowing nothing less than an invasion of Porre would wake him from his sacred slumber. Now, she explored a mystic wood (not a plain forest like most would see it) while he waited for her to return. She’d go without him, but he didn’t dare to go solo. Not for fear of beast or bandit, but for sheer boredom. When he was with her everything was an adventure. Alone the trees were trees, the forest nothing more that a bunch of trees stuck together.

He sighed. His unkempt hair sticking to his brow like sand to a wet belly. He smiled at that image. Himself and Lenna swimming at the beach. A wet belly meant cool skin, and sand to the stomach was better than hair to a sticky forehead any day.

“Come down, I’ve got something that might take your mind off the heat,” his mother called. The boy doubted this sincerely. The last time he checked his mother didn’t know magic, and as far as he was concerned, magic was the only thing capable of ‘keeping his mind off the heat’. Still he forced himself from his coveted window and down the stairs to his waiting mother. A chance for distraction was better than silent tolerance.

His mother waited at the foot of the stairs holding an old book in her hand. “Take a look at this,” she said, handing it over. The book was old, dust covered the leather binding. He wiped the dust off with his bare arm, frowning at the plain leather, it had no title.

“What’s this?” He asked. Opening the book he realized it was written entirely by hand. In itself that wasn’t surprising. In the year 1083 AD typewriters weren’t yet universal. Still, scribes usually possessed neater handwriting than the author of this particular tome.

“I found it in the closet,” his mother replied. She had been organizing the old closet all morning. “It’s from your grandfather.”

“Which one?” The boy asked. He knew the answer. His father’s father had been a fisherman, a trade that held no interest to him. Though a good man, his greatest achievement was a record breaking Six Horned Narwhale. Cool, but not cool enough. His mother’s father on the other hand, had been what he dreamt of being. An adventurer. Starting out on his journey as a traveling minstrel, and eventually becoming a notorious thief. While he’d never admit it to an adult, the boy thought that was pretty cool.

His grandfather had eventually vanished. He had led a good life, and no one grieved too much. Some even believed he had set out on another journey, not being one to give into retirement.

“My father, Serge,” his mother confirmed. “I’ve read it before. I found it once when I was a little girl, and I think you’ll find it quite interesting.”

The boy didn’t know whether to keep frowning or laugh. The subject of his grandfather had always intrigued him, but he found reading to be a bore. Curiously, he flipped through the yellowed pages. Starting at the end (a bad habit he had developed) he began to read. ‘…Do you still remember…? How we first met, and all of our adventures since… it all seems like such a dream nowadays…you were a star that fell from the sky’.

He paused, intrigued, sparing only a brief glance at his mother, he read on. ‘Whenever I want to return to those days long gone, I close my eyes and whisper your name to the evening sky…Kid.’ The boy looked at his mom. “Who’s Kid?” He asked.

His mom shrugged. “I’m not really sure. It might have been my mother, going by a different name. That much seems possible, or it might have been his first love. Before he met your grandma. The later half of the diary seems to be completely true, but the first half,” she paused. “Well, you’ll just have to read it.”

With that she turned away and returned to the closest, leaving behind her son and the book. He held in gingerly, almost fearing it might suddenly bite. Then his curiosity got the best of him. Who was Kid? Why was the first part of the diary hard for his mom to believe? Without realizing it he flipped to the first page and started reading. Flopping down on his bed, the boy returned to the window and its enticing breeze, and lost himself in the book.

* * *

When I remember that night, I do so with a range of emotions, relief that it’s over, residual fear, and an aching to return. To relive that night one last time. I’ve never been one to keep a diary, or as some call it a journal. I’m told that diary is a feminine term and most men call them journals, I don’t really see the point. A diary is a diary, no matter how masculine you try to make it sound.

I guess I don’t want to forget what transpired that night at Viper Manor, and that’s why I’ve started this diary. Someday, someone might find it and read it. In that case they’ll think I’m either crazy or have a fancy imagination. Maybe I am, and do. In any case, I’ll put my thoughts to ink.

The forest surrounding Viper Manor had the feel of a nightmare to it. Being a traveling minstrel I’ve been in through my share of woods, and then my only fear is the off chance I run into a gang of bandits, but those woods were different. Maybe because I knew there were no bandits. None would venture that close to the manor. The moon was full, and abnormally large, hanging above our heads like a pale bulbous eye, watching our every move. I half expected the moon to betray us to Lord Lynx.

To keep my calm I focused on Kid’s ponytail. It swung to and fro like a pendulum. Ticking down the seconds until…what? I didn’t know. Though I’d not openly admit it outside the confines of these pages, I feared the answer. I feared just about everything that night.

I made careful not to jump at my own shadow. If Kid found out how freaked out I was, I wouldn’t hear the end of it. That and I couldn’t bare for her to lose any respect for me. Funny how a semi-muscular man like me wouldn’t want to lose face in the presence of a frail seventeen year old girl. Well, sixteen actually. If anything it makes the situation even more embarrassing. Of course, anyone who knew Kid would likely understand.

Don’t let her petite good looks, her princess quality blonde hair, or her baby blues fool you. She might not be very large, but as far as fighting goes, the girl is as deadly as they come. Her skills honed from years of working as a thief. Not just any thief either.

Not even seventeen, and already leader of the Radical Dreamers. One of the highest profile teams of thievery in the world. I’m a member too, and I’ve gotten a load better under the tutelage of Kid, still no one’s going to be singing ballads of the legendary thief Serge anytime soon.

Kid on the other hand is another story. They’re already singing about her. Naturally, I’ve composed half the songs, since I know her exploits better than anyone else. Though I must admit they’re not a hundred percent accurate. Kid won’t let me sing them if I haven’t exaggerated even her most mundane outings into epics, and I’ve done my best to fit her sparkling personality into the sonnets.

She’s far from perfect however. She fancies herself a Robin Hood type hero, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. This isn’t the case at all. True we’ve had our noble moments, but for the most part our goals have been purely selfish. Her relentless pursuit for wealth being slightly ironic considering she’s a nomad like me. Her exaggerations and boasts are legendary in themselves, making my over the top ballads seem like humble renditions of far greater stories. My advise would be not mentioning any of these faults to her, some say her tongue is sharper than her dagger. Myself among them.

I don’t know, maybe I’m being a tad too harsh. In the three years that I’ve known her, I’ve learned she can really shine when she wants too. Shine brighter than most.

The third member of the Radical Dreamers is a man known to us only as ‘Magil of the Shadows’. He’s a high ranking magician of some sort. I haven’t met many people that could use magic, but among the few I have met, Magil is by far the best. To me this only adds to the man’s enigma. Sure, Kid’s quiet about her past, but compared to Magil, I feel like I know her life story. I’ve never even seen the man’s whole face! He keeps his eyes hidden behind a porcelain mask at all times. Giving him the appearance of a masquerade ball attendee. Sometimes I think he is masquerading. I always have the feeling that he’s from another world, just passing through our own.

He’s tall, taller than me by quite a bit, and built like a royal guard. Though the heavy cloak he wears makes it hard to discern just how muscular the man is. His hair is long, longer even than Kid’s, but unlike her his is lavender. The rare coloring making him even more of a mystery. As far as his age goes, I’d like to guess early thirties. Besides his appearance all I know is that he’s an old associate of Kid’s. She’s known him longer than she’s known me. The funny thing is, I get the feeling that she knows just as little about him as I do.

Normally Kid would contact him if we ever needed his expertise in a particularly difficult job. This time he contacted us. He said that he’d finally found a way into Viper Manor. Some old woman with a penchant for magic, and knowledge of the manor had revealed to him how to get passed the initial barriers in the forest.

I get the impression that he’d been searching for this info for quite some time, and Kid’s reaction to the news only increased that notion. Ever since we took the job all she talked about was kicking Lynx’s ‘arse’. Officially, we went to steal a treasure called the Frozen Flame. A priceless red jewel from what I could gather, but Kid’s real mission was revenge. A fact that bothered Magil more than he let on. Repeatedly he reminded her to forget about Lynx, and focus on obtaining the Frozen Flame. Repeatedly she ignored him.

Without warning she stopped. I was focusing so intently on her swinging braid that I stumbled into her. She spun around and gave me a reprimanding glare before hissing. “On your toes mate, seems someone wants to say hello.”

Staring out into the night I strained my vision. At first I saw nothing. Only the forest, as lonely and foreboding as ever. Then I caught the glimmer of moonlight off the eyes, cat eyes. Staring out from the underbrush were two large yellow orbs. As I stared into those eyes another set appeared along side them, then another. Soon there were half a dozen feline eyes watching us from the shadows. “They’ve encircled us,” Magil said.

I turned at the warning. Sure enough several other sets of eyes met my gaze. “Feral cats,” I said as I grasped my dagger. My hands were slick with sweat. I made a conscious effort to slow my breathing, to keep control, like Kid. She stood almost casually, hardly seeming worried. One of the cats let out a low growl as it stepped forward. The others followed suit.

Somehow I managed to toss aside my fear. When the first cat pounced I was ready to pounce back. I lunged at it with all my might, skewering the beast in its furry underbelly, still its momentum caused it to slam into me. The large cat’s weight knocking me to the ground. By the time I had pushed the dead animal off another cat was making a lunge for my throat.

Pure instincts saved me then. I lunged backwards as it sprung forwards, and instead of my throat it caught the blade of my dagger in its mouth. It hissed in pain as it retreated into the darkness. Jumping to my feet I went on the offensive, striking out savagely at the feral cat. Then pain screamed into my brain as one caught me from behind. Tearing into my soft flesh.

Luckily for me Kid was on top of things. Before I even hit the floor she had thrown her own dagger, imbedding it into the ribcage of my attacker. The cat I had been pursuing seized the opportunity to resume the offensive, but Kid’s foot caught it under the chin with a powerful kick. The injured animal ran off into the woods. Still, the others remained.

I pulled my self up once again as Kid retrieved her dagger from the dead cat’s chest. I took up a defensive stance, standing back to back with Kid. I had no intention of being caught off guard again. Fortunately for us the fight was about to end. Magil stepped out of the shadows chanting words of magic.

Instantly the remaining cats burst into flame. Panicked and tortured the animals ran off into the darkness, screaming in agony. Up till that point in my life I had never heard a cat scream, and I never want to hear it again. They sounded almost like women shrieking at the top of their lungs, only less human. Worse yet was the smell. The stench of burning hair assaulted my nostrils. The night had begun in earnest.

Kid waited long enough to make sure none of the cats would double back, before motioning us forward. “C’mon now, lets get a move on, mate,” she said to me before continuing deeper into the woods. Almost as an after thought she turned back and asked, “You okay, mate? Need a breather?” She leaped around to my back side where she yanked on my torn shirt, examining my fresh wound. Though I tried not to, I must have gasped from the pain, because she quickly told me to ‘stop bein a sissy, because it’s only a little flesh wound.’ With that she slapped me on my back and started off once again.

The slap hurt like hell of course, to be honest my back felt like it was on fire, but I didn’t dare complain. For one I didn’t want to suffer the wrath of her impatience if I stalled us, but even more so I was loath to be disappointment to her. After all, I’ve personally seen her far more wounded than that. She might be a master at stealth, and an expert on close quarters fighting, but even she can make mistakes. Not that she’d ever admit it. There’s been times that I’ve stayed up all night afraid to sleep, because I thought she might be dead before the sun rose again. She’s always pulled through though, so I didn’t dare complain.

Trying to take my mind off my back I turned to Magil and asked, “You okay?”

His eyes flickered my direction for a split second and he replied, “You need not worry about me.” I knew this of course. I had known Magil long enough to know that no mere wild cat could even come close to hurting him, but I guess I was hoping for some random banter to break the tension in my mind. The recent attack had only made it worse. Magil made no attempt to speak further, so I pressed on in silence. Sooner than I had hoped we arrived at the manor.

The mansion loomed before us like a giant sleeping bear. Being the middle of the night there were few lights on in the house, which I suppose was normal, but the odd thing was that there were no guards. We had walked into the mansion’s front yard, yet we were the only ones around. I whispered my thoughts to Magil, not wanting to talk any louder than necessary that close to the mansion. He didn’t even looked towards me. “Lynx has more effective ways to secure his home than common sentries. Besides, he‘ll have guards of some sort in the mansion itself.” Wow Magil, you really know how to freak a guy out.

“Don’t worry, mate.” Kid tossed a rope with a grappling hook up over the side of a terrace. “He doesn’t expect that anyone would dare break into his place.” She turned to give me a wicked smile. “Won’t he be surprised when I show up and kick his bloody arse.”

Magil frowned slightly, the most emotion I’d seen from him in a while. “Kid, we’re after the Frozen Flame. Not Lynx. Don’t forget that.” She gave him a little shrug and started up the rope. I followed once she had reached the top. Somehow Magil had beaten me. My best guess was that he could somehow fly, but at the time I had bigger things to worry about.

Inside of the mansion it was pitch black. The only light came from the moon, shining through the glass door we had entered. The further we got from the door the darker the place became, before long I was completely blind. I have the feeling that Magil can see in the dark almost as well as he can the light, however, I can’t, and as far as I know neither can Kid, so it came as no surprise when she asked for some light.

Part of me needed the light badly, but another part was terrified of what I might see. Soon Magil started to give off a pale glow. At least that’s the best way I can describe it. It was sort of like everything around him was less dark. I was relieved when I saw our surroundings. The place looked just like the inside of any old mansion. This wasn’t any old mansion though, and to stay on my toes I forced myself to remember that. Better scared than dead after all. Unless your scared to death, and that would just plain suck.

The hall we were in quickly split into a T. Kid paused momentarily then headed down the left path. It wasn’t long at all until we came to another intersection. Strait ahead their was a large set of double doors, to the right there was a single door, and to the left a set of stone stairs leading down to the first floor of Viper Manor. “We should search this floor first,” Magil said. “If we don’t find anything we’ll head down.”

I momentarily basked in relief. I was in no hurry to see what was down there. Kid simply nodded in approval before trying out the door to our right. It was unlocked so we cautiously entered. We found ourselves in the middle of one of the largest libraries that I’d ever scene. Wooden shelves stacked from floor to ceiling held more books than I could fathom. There must have been thousands of volumes. Not interested in the books Kid scanned the rest of the room, but the only thing in there was a desk. It was a large wooden desk polished to perfection. It gleamed in the bright moonlight that came from the tall windows at the back of the room. I joined Kid in rummaging through the desk drawers while Magil inspected the books.

We didn’t find anything useful though, only the common things that you might expect to find inside of a library desk. Like pencils, quills, spare ink, and paper. In one of the last drawers she searched Kid pulled out a photograph of a pretty girl with a gentle face. I glanced over at it. “Must be Riddel.”

Riddle was the daughter of Lord Lynx. I felt a pang of sorrow for the girl. If Lynx was half as bad as I had been lead to believe. Then her life must have been a dark and lonely thing.

“Find anything?” Kid asked Magil. He shook his head. With no reason to stay, we reentered the hallway.

This time we entered the set of double doors. The room inside was very large. In fact it was probably the ball room. I got the feeling that there hadn’t been a ball thrown for quite some time. Most of the room was empty, the dance floor dominating the majority of space, with a large decorative table in the middle. At the far end sat a large pipe organ, the walls were lined with high quality oil paintings. Dozens of candles spread across the room caused an eerie flickering, making the paintings seem almost alive.

For a moment I took in the sight, idly wondering if the portraits were of people Lynx knew. I was staring at a painting of a young woman in a pink dress when she suddenly looked at me. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Kid noticed my reaction and gave me a funny look. “What is it, mate?”

“That picture. Her eyes just looked at me. They moved.” I told her, trying my best to keep my voice even.

She gave a slight chuckle. “Yer imagining things. Don’t get all weird on me now. The nights just gettin started.” Her chuckle was hollow, however, it was obvious the room had her creeped out as well. Still faking her bravado she turned to Magil. “There’s nothing useful in here. We’re waistin time.”

Luckily Magil didn’t see any reason to argue and we quickly left. Compared to that room the rest of the mansion seemed cheerful. In my gut I knew we’d end up back in that room, but at the time I shoved the feeling aside and followed Kid. We returned to the hall that lead to the terrace, and I could almost feel the fresh air. I wanted nothing more than to escape the oppressive feeling of that place. We didn’t leave though, we kept walking until we found another door.

A small amount of light shown underneath it. Though it was faint it was still recognizable. Pressing her head to the frame Kid listened. After a moment she looked at us and shrugged. “Quiet as a church mouse.” Gently trying the handle she found that it too was unlocked.

The light came from several oil lamps hanging from iron poles. The place must have been the clock tower. The room was full of mechanical gears, though none of them were moving. In recent days it looked to have played the part of a storage room. Boxes of random junk littered the floor, and it didn’t take Kid long before she found large broad sword and drug it out of the corner. Hoisting it up she tossed the massive blade into my arms. “Here mate, carry this.”

“What?” I was dumbfounded. “This thing weighs a ton! Why on earth would I need to lug it around?”

“It might be worth somethin,” she said, as though it was obvious.

“It’s nothing but an old sword,” I said exasperated, struggling to keep my voice down. “It’s not worth a dime.”

“Might be,” she replied, looking a bit downcast. “To the right buyer, an antique dealer or somethin.”

Before I could reply Magil said, “Leave the sword. That’s not why we’re here.” Kid sighed, taking it from me and sitting it on top of the nearest box.

“And why are you here?” A voice from behind us asked. Kid and I spun on our heels, caught completely off guard by the newcomer.

Kid stepped forward, her knife already out. “What ya doin in here, ya old hag?” Indeed the person was an elderly woman, shrouded in old robes. Personally I thought it rude to call her a ‘hag’.

She chuckled to herself, a dry sandy sound. “What an energetic young lady. You two haven’t come here this late in the evening to drop in on some friends, I’d imagine…” I then noticed that Magil had vanished. Though we couldn’t see him, I strongly suspected he was hiding in the shadows. Useful trick of his. Damn eerie though. “Perhaps you have a score to settle with Master Lynx…?”

For a moment I considered weaving a quick tale, but anything I said would be an obvious lie. Having no other options I simply told the truth. “We’re thieves,” I said.

“That’s right,” Kid piped up. “And if we did have a score to settle with that bastard, what’s it to ya?”

“Heh…just as I suspected.” The old woman cackled with amusement. “Children… they’re always so interesting like that. So imaginative, yet so predictable.”

Kid glared daggers at the old woman. “What’re ya talkin’ about, old lady?”

The old woman sat on one of the nearby boxes as she prepared to speak. “Oh, it’s already been four or five years, I would gather. According to what I was told, one night a young thief came to the manor, looking for trouble…The thief was a little girl, about ten or so.”

The story was about Kid, that much was obvious. I looked over at her for a moment. Her glare was icy cold. Looking into those eyes made the temperature drop. The old woman continued on, unfazed.

“The girl was an orphan. She set off to face Master Lynx all alone, hoping to avenge the girl who had cared for her like a big sister. But, after all, she was all alone. Outnumbered and overpowered, she was eventually defeated and captured by Master Lynx’s henchmen…As an ally, Master Lynx can be quite an asset. However, as and enemy, he can be one of the most fearsome men alive. If not for a friend who sneaked in and secretly rescued her, she surely would have perished. From what I’ve heard, this mysterious figure who could allegedly slip in and out of the shadows was the subject of man whispers throughout the manor, long after this incident had come to pass.”

Without making any noticeable movement I tried to locate Magil, but he was hidden in the shadows beyond my sight.

“The inhabitants of Viper Manor don’t condemn the unfortunate, because no one can win all the time.” The old woman continued to speak. “However, from time to time, the Goddess of Fate has been known to cast down those who have too much good luck, throwing the cogs of time out of order. It’s not wise to try and stand against fate, continuing to repeat one’s mistakes time and time again.

“if you want to steal the jewel, and if you really want to beat him, you too must give up your most valued possession, Kid. As long as you cling to it, the hands of your clock will never budge. They’ll stay frozen, trapped in the distant past…”

“Who the bloody hell are ya?” Kid asked savagely.

“Me? Oh, just an old lady…pay me no mind. Thank you for listening to this old maid for such a long time. I certainly hope I haven’t delayed you at all.” The old lady suddenly turned her head my direction. “Looks like you’ve got a bit of a scrape there. Won’t you let me have a look at it?”

I stood for a moment not knowing what to say. The atmosphere between her and Kid had gotten really weird. “It’s…it’s not that bad,” I stammered. “Just a minor flesh wound.”

The old woman scoffed. “Flesh wound yes. Minor, not quite. Still, it’s not too serious, so I should be able to help.” For a moment I considered refusing her offer, but my back still stung something fierce. Finally I nodded, and she stepped up to me. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was definitely surprised when she used magic. After placing her hands on my shoulders I was enveloped in a soft green glow. It felt like a warm breeze, then all at once my back felt better. By the time the glow had vanished, the old woman was gone.

Kid looked around suspiciously, but the old woman wasn’t in the room any longer. Magil stepped out of the shadows and rejoined us. “Who was that?” I asked.

Magil shook his head. “I don’t know, but she can use magic. That’s not very common.”

“Maybe Lynx taught her some,” Kid suggested. “The same way you’ve been teaching Serge.” I shuffled my feet uncomfortably. It was true that Magil had been teaching me to use magic. When we first met he had sensed the magic in me. Since then he had helped me learn a little more every time he was around.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the best student. Its not that I refused to study. It was more like I couldn‘t. Kid kept me constantly busy at all times. If we weren’t on a job I was either singing the praises of the Radical Dreamers in the local tavern, or hunting for a job. When we did have down time she usually insisted on making me practice my knife fighting with her.

“Its possible,” Magil replied.

“You don’t think she’s warning Lynx about us do you?” I asked.

“No,” said Magil. “If that was her purpose she would not have made herself known.” It made sense, so I hoped he was right.

“Let’s get our arses outta here,” said Kid. “This place is given me the creeps.” I whole heartedly agreed. We left the clock tower and started back down the hallway.

The pain in my back was gone, but that only made me focus more keenly on where we were. I’d likely have jumped at my own shadow, except that the false-light of Magil’s didn’t cast any shadows. Still, I forced myself to move onward.

The hallway ended abruptly, however, it wasn’t a dead end. At the corridor’s end there was an other old stone stair case. Unlike the first one, these stairs led upward instead of down. Right before it stood another grand set of double doors. The last room to inspect on this floor. I hoped against hope that we’d find the Frozen Flame inside, so we could be done with the awful place. My hopes were quickly dashed, apparently so were Kid’s.

“Dammit,” she swore. “Door’s locked…good one at that. I won’t even be able ter pick it. Magil?”

The magician examined the door for moment before shaking his head. “The lock is magic. Potent magic at that. It would take me all night to break the seal. We don’t have time, we’ll have to find a different way in.”

Kid swore in frustration and kicked the heavy door. “Dammit! I smell gold in there. That’s gotta be were the treasure is!”

“Calm yourself. We don’t want any unnecessary attention drawn to us,” Magil said. I had always found it odd how easily Magil let Kid off the hook. If I had made a racket because I was frustrated, I’m sure he would have done more than tell me to calm down, but Magil was always like that when it came to Kid.

Kid nodded. “Let’s get a move on then. Lynx’s arse aint gonna kick itself.” Without hesitating she started up the stairs. I followed, with Magil bringing up the rear. From the moment my foot hit the first stone step my dread increased ten fold. On some primal level I knew that these stairs lead to someplace terrible. It felt as if we were heading up to a scaffold to be executed. By the time we reached the top of the winding stairs, I was stupidly close to panic.

There stood a solid wooden door. Kid stuck her head to the frame and listened. I prayed she say ‘silent as a church mouse’ once again. Only she didn’t. “There’s a faint voice comin’ from the other side of the door,” she said.

My stomach lurched. I feared the worst. At the end of my limit I spoke up. “Maybe we should look somewhere else?”

She glanced back. “What’sa matter? Chicken?” But her taunt was only half hearted. I could tell by her voice she liked the place just as little as I did. Something was wrong up there, and we all knew it. The fact that Kid seemed as worried as myself only added to my mounting fear. After a short pause she opened the door. Even in the rare circumstances that Kid truly does get scared. It’s never stopped her.

The room inside was small. The kind you’d find in a stone tower. Only there weren’t any windows in it. A fact that I found to be very disturbing. Even more disturbing was the fact that the room was completely empty. Maybe Kid had been imagining the voice, but I doubted it. “What the hell kinda room is this?” Kid said. Though she tried to hide it, a shiver ran down her spine.

“There may be something of use here. Let us search more closely,” Magil said quietly. Not wanting to stay up there any longer than needed I started examining the room right away. The floor was covered in numerous scratches, and blotches of what appeared to be ink stained it. I of course knew better than to truly believe it was ink, but I was doing my best not to scare myself any worse than I already was.

“Ya really think we’ll find somthin’?” Kid said offhandedly as she examined a large crack in the middle of the floor.

But I did find something. A bit of writing on one of the walls. Written in blood. I couldn’t pretend it was ink anymore, not even when I tried. It read:

...won't la... mu... onger...
...cia Dragoons.... nee...he encha...
swor... order to... ...proof...

“Hey, Magil could you come look at this over here, please?” I said. “Something’s been written on the wall.”

He kneeled down beside me. “Indeed, this text seems to be worn down with age. Most is unreadable.” For a moment Magil stared at the writing. It didn’t mean much too me, but I hoped it would give him a clue that might help us.

Without warning the door slammed shut. The resounding crack caused me to leap in startled panic. Then the room was filled with a horrid grinding noise. Like rusted metal being scraped together. I looked up to see the ceiling begin its decent. Deadly spikes hung from it. Spinning slowly as they drew ever nearer.

Kid was the first to react. Like an arrow she flew from the far end of the room slamming into the door, but her small frame simply bounced off like it was nothing. “Bollocks!” She cried in frustration.

Moving with speed more akin to a hurricane than a human Magil dashed into the door himself. He caused a much louder boom than Kid, but nothing more. I tried next, knowing it was no good, I used all the pent up panic I had and flung myself into the wooden barrier. I bounced off falling onto my back, looking straight up at the rusty blades eagerly coming to greet us. For a moment I truly thought I was going to die. Trapped inside that terrible little room, impaled on a dozen rusty spikes. My mouth ran dry and all I could do was stare.

The next thing I knew Kid was dragging me to my feet. “C’mon mate! All at once now, with Magil!” The magician stood in between myself and Kid, grasping each of us with his hands. Being the tallest of us three, Magil’s head was mere inches away from the descending spikes when we made our final charge. It felt like a powerful wind slammed me in my back and sent me flying forwards. Boosted by Magil’s spell the three of us slammed into the door with tremendous force.

With a resounding crack the door gave way sending us tumbling down the stairs. I rolled for a bit, finally coming to a stop, Kid at my side. Battered and bruised, we were still alive, having barely escaped a gruesome death. Without realizing it I started to laugh. Kid slowly got to her feet, rubbing a lump on her head. “What’so funny?”

I didn’t really know how to answer. After regaining my feet I shook my head with a shrug finally saying, “We’re alive.” For whatever screwball reason my fears had suddenly diminished. We were still in danger, true, but we had survived that room.

Ignoring my good cheer Kid said, “Damn that Lynx. Toyin’ with us like that.”

Magil cast his gaze back towards the room. “That was the torture chamber. I wonder how many of the Acacia Dragoons Lynx murdered in there,” he whispered.

“Who?” I ask, hoping that I had misheard. For some reason the ‘Acacia Dragoons’ seemed a familiar name.

“The Acacia Dragoons. They were the men who served under General Viper when he still ruled the western territory of Gerzbuehle. More than ten years ago, Lynx defeated them. This looks to be their final resting place.”

"Eh, who cares," said Kid, still disgruntled. "Generals and Knights and everything, it sounds like some old bedtime story." Magil only shrugged.

We quickly left that awful tower and headed back to the other set of stairs by the ball room. The ones heading down. After what had been waiting for us at the end of the last set of stairs, I was a little bit nervous, but the brunt of my fear had evaporated after the shock in the torture chamber. A fact I was glad for. With my head working right I was able to stay on my toes and keep a sharper lookout for trouble.

As we climbed downward my thoughts drifted to the Acacia Dragoons. Eventually I remembered why they were so familiar. It was Kid that jogged my memory actually. You see, they were something from an old bedtime story. When I had been very little, my mother would tell me stories about them and their grand adventures. They ranged from fighting bandits, to saving princesses, slaying dragons, and even taming dragons. The standard fairytale fare. As I had gotten older I must have forgotten about them somewhere along the way, but my recent brush with death had reunited me with my old bedtime stories in the most macabre fashion.

At the bottom of the stairs our path split once again. Deciding on the left route Kid pressed into the darkness. It wasn’t long before we came to a large archway. The room past the archway was beautiful and odd. For starters the floor was sunk into the ground with small steps leading into it. The walls and floor were crafted from polished marble, ornate torches hung off the side‘s of the walls, filling the room with warm light.

In the middle of the room sat a large fountain, and at the other end were steps leading up to a second archway leading off into darkness. On top of the fountain stood a statue of a freaky devil looking thing with a scythe. A completely sinister looking ornament that clashed with the rest of the room‘s elegance. If nothing else, I decided that Lynx had a terrible taste in fashion.

Kid took in her surroundings, clearly impressed. "Wow, look at this! I heard about these things, they're called atriums." Kid kneeled next to the fountain, dipping one of her hands into it’s glassy surface. "Whoa, cold!"

I walked over next to her. After touching the chilly water myself I could see why she had cried out. It was freezing. As my fingers brushed the water’s surface we saw dozens of fish swim up from the bottom.

"These buggers look expensive…,” Kid said. I nodded in agreement. I hadn’t seen their kind before. They looked to be very exotic. I continued to absent mindedly swirl my hand in the water as I peered into its depths. I was wondering how deep the fountain went when Kid urgently yanked my arm out. I didn’t even have time to ask why before the fish answered my question by jumping into the air and snapping their jaws violently.

The water looked like it was boiling, because all of the jumping fish. I got to my feet with Kid and scurried away from the fountain. The fish got so wild that a couple landed outside of the fountain. One landed next to my feet. I’m not an expert on normal fish, let alone exotic ones, but these appeared to be some breed of piranha. I kicked it across the room as I watched more and more fish come from the seemingly bottomless fount.

Water gurgled out of the well, suddenly, alarmingly. Pushing some of the fish towards us. We quickly backed away in surprise. From the center of the fountain a stream of red liquid shot up, raining back down staining the water a disgusting blood red hew.

I suddenly realized that the water had already risen to my ankles and was quickly climbing. The piranhas were preparing to feed. “C’mon lets get of here!” I yelled as I turned to the exit. The three of was sloshed through the murky water, already alarmingly deep, slapping away the fish that snapped onto our legs. Luckily we emerged fairly unscathed. Each of us sporting only a few bleeding bites. Still, our way was blocked.

"Phew... what a close call." I said, relieved that we had survived another trap.

"That rat bastard... Whatever other tricks he's got up his sleeve, it won't stop us for long. We're comin' for ya, Lynx!" Kid said viciously. I leaned up against the wall, checking out my legs to make sure none of the bites were too serious. Then something caught my eye.

Carved into the wall there was a sculpture of an intimidating face. It kind of reminded me of an old man I once knew who was notorious for chasing kids off his lawn with a stick. Though the face on the wall wasn’t that of a very pretty person, it was certainly great artwork. Being sort of an artist myself I can appreciate the fine details that artisans put into their work. With me it’s musical notes. With others it’s making stone seem like it’s really flesh.

“It’s a Mouth of Truth,” Magil said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A Mouth of Truth. The legend is that if you are given to lying, a Mouth of Truth will know it if you put your hands into its mouth.”

“Oh, what a hard idea,” Kid mocked.

Getting an idea for a bit of fun I looked over to her with a sly grin on my face. “Let’s see you do it then.”

Kid looked worried for an instant, but Magil gave her an odd sort of look. Shrugging she tossed away her apprehension and put her hands inside the large stone mouth. After a moment or two she looked over at me, a gleam of triumph in her clear blue eyes. “Hey, whadda ya know, guess I passed the test!”

I knew that there had to be something more to it than that. Before she could remove her hands I was struck by a bit of inspiration. “Kid, how much do you weigh?”

“A hundred and four pounds,” she replied instantly, but then a worried look clouded over her face. For a second my grin widened, but then the teeth clamped down on her wrists and began rhythmaticly grinding back and forth. My grin instantly vanished. Panic leapt into my heart. I truly thought my little joke had just lost Kid both her hands.

Luckily it wasn’t quite that serious. “Hey, ya stupid face! What’s goin’ on!” Obviously angry she didn’t seem to be in any mortal danger. Still, the grinding of the teeth had started to tear her skin. “Dammit, lemme go!”

Calmly Magil said, “Without saying something truthful to the best of one’s ability, a Mouth of Truth will never let go.”

Kid was so enraged she never even heard him. “Lemme go, ya stupid face! I swear I’m gonna knock yer teeth in!” Then quick as lighting her foot shot straight up into the mouth, hitting it in between her two trapped hands. The marble teeth shattered, and as quickly as it had closed the mouth opened back up.

“Wow, I guess you weren’t lying about knocking its teeth in…” I said, inspecting her bloody wrists, hoping that my stupid game hadn’t hurt her too bad.

“Course not, mate…I showed em good. Bloody stone face…”

Magil pointed into its mouth. “You didn’t put anything inside the mouth, did you, Kid?”

“What’re ya talkin’ about? No,” she answered, looking confused.

I stood up next to Magil, and peered into the mouth. Behind the teeth was a large pink tongue, with a slight indentation in it. “Maybe we’re supposed to put something on its tongue,” I said. “That might be the real test.”

Kid sat down and began emptying out her pockets, scattering her personal affects on the ground. “Might have somthin’ that bloody thing might want.”

“Let’s not waist any time,” Magil said, before she could pull all of her random knick-knacks out. “Obviously we don’t have what it wants. It must be a form of key.”

Without any other options the three of us headed back the way we had come. We soon found ourselves entering an ornate door. Unlike the other rooms we had come across so far it seemed far less sinister. It was comfortably decorated with a large plush rug, an enormous fluffy bed, and several fancy dressers. Odds and ins were scattered throughout the room in an attempt to give it some fresh atmosphere, a beautifully arranged set of flowers, a white handkerchief tossed carelessly aside, a small bottle of perfume, a tea cup next to a hand written letter.

“Bet it’s Lynx’s daughter’s room,” Kid said. I didn’t doubt her assessment either, the room had an obvious feminine touch to it. Unfortunately, the most pleasant room in the mansion was also the least important. None of the stuff seemed to be of any use to us. Kid felt the same, disregarding most of the trinkets. Just to be on the safe side we searched through the dresser drawers. They held what one might expect to find in a young woman’s dresser. Colorful dresses, frills, lace, and just about every color of lingerie.

“Wonder what kinda dress is this,” Kid muttered, pulling out a fancy silk garment. “I’ve never warn anything like this before.” She slid the dress down her shirt pulling it up over her shoulder. After a moment of scuffling she undid her shirt and let it drop to the ground. Seeing her stand there before me wearing nothing but the dress stunned me outright. She looked as graceful as a fairy.

Spinning in a circle she laughed. “Wow, look at me…I’m a lovely maiden! Not a scrap of roughage on me!”

“None whatsoever…a perfect fit!” I said with a smile.

“Aw, Serge…quit teasin’!” Kid blushed slightly. Having lived her whole life as a street tough thief, a part of her must have secretly longed to be, well as she put it ‘a lovely maiden’. Seeing as Magil didn’t find anything of use either Kid put her own clothing back on. “C’mon, let’s go,”

As she put the dress away I noticed a small music box, decorated with a serpentine coat of arms, on the dresser. Curiously, I opened it. Not surprisingly the faint notes of a comfortable song floated from it, very surprisingly, it was a song I knew well. For a moment I stood in stunned silence, but before I could say anything I noticed Kid.

“That song…” Kid’s expression had changed to vulnerable curiosity, chasing a long-lost memory.

“You know this song, Kid?” I asked her, caught completely off guard.

She nodded gently. “Yeah…a long time ago, someone I knew used to sing it to me…” She turned away from me, rubbing her eyes. I laid my hand gently on her shoulder. After a moment she looked at me, tears running down her eyes. Without saying a word she left the room. I was shocked to see her react so strongly to the simple melody. In the whole three years that I’d known her I had never once seen her cry. I judged it best not to tell her what I knew about the song just yet. Calling out for her to wait up I followed.

The next room we entered was the exact antithesis of Riddle’s room. Furniture was thrown about randomly, without any rhyme or reason to its placement. The bed was tilted at an angle, a couch sat in the rooms center, all sorts of shelves and dressers were placed sporadically in abstract locations. Looking at the dilapidated room as a whole, there was no sense of harmony whatsoever. That room belonged to someone with a chaotic mind. It belonged to Lynx.

“No one here huh?” Kid looked around disappointedly. “I thought I had the bastard this time. Guess he’s not in his room.” To me this was a very ill omen. If he wasn’t here, that meant he was somewhere else in the mansion, awake.

“The key to the treasure vault may be in here,” said Magil. “Or the key to the Mouth of Truth. We should look while we have the chance.”

Kid and I nodded, we split up, searching opposite ends of the chaotic room. I sifted through various odd items on a disorganized desk, checked out a lopsided painting, searched underneath a table, and inside of a pitcher. After a good ten minutes of searching none of us had found anything that even loosely resembled a key. Sighing, I headed toward one of the far corners of the room. There stood a curious object in front of a Venus statue. The object was concealed by a scarlet drape.

I reached out to grab the drape, but Magil suddenly said, “Please avoid reckless interference.” I frowned, slightly irritated. We were tearing through his room searching for a couple of keys, how could we not interfere? Plus, Kid had found a couple of ink pins and had begun scribbling on whatever she could reach. Yet again Magil seemed to let her get away with what she would. Still, he knew what he was talking about, so I decided it was best to take his advise.

However, the cloth fell away all by itself, revealing an antique looking mirror. “I didn’t touch it. I swear!” I held my hands up away from the mirror.

“What, did it just leap off all by itself?” Kid asked sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

Then the reflection of the Venus statue opened its eyes. I stared in amazement, wondering if we had just fallen into our third trap of the night. The Venus’s reflection looked up at me and smiled. “Is there something that you seek?” It asked in a soft womanly voice.

“It can talk?” I gasped, awestruck.

“It’s a Mirror of Whispers,” Magil said as he examined it.

“Yeah but…what is that?” I asked. I had never heard of a Mirror of Whispers before. Magil on the other hand, had heard of so many rare magical items and devises that it was mind boggling.

After a moment the mage answered, “It is a looking glass that harbors a living spirit. The spirit is free to roam throughout nearby mirrors, able to see into our everyday lives. They are known to be quite wise. If there’s anything you’d like to ask, it can likely answer.”

A million questions came to mind. As I stood there examining the mysterious thing, Kid walked up beside me. Giving me a half serious, half joking look she said, “Don’t ya dare ask it what my measurements are.”

I laughed for a moment, deciding that it wasn’t worth the risk, when three numbers appeared in the mirror’s surface: 66, 5, 9. I gaped in confusion. Those were the freakiest measurements I’d ever seen. Kid’s face was skewed up in an even funnier expression than mine as she read the numbers. After a moment Magil answered in an apathetic monotone, “Height, shoe size, ring size.”

Kid and I laughed. The mirror had a sense of humor. I liked it already.

“But what would you really like to know?” It asked, staring into my eyes. Into my soul. I don’t remember voicing my questions, maybe I did, maybe not, but it knew them none the less. The two things that I pondered the most. Magil and Kid.

The mirror began to ripple and sparkle like water. It glowed from within illuminating the room. Once the light had faded it showed us a scene of a vividly colored, beautiful courtyard. Amidst the shadows of the trees a young boy and a young girl sat playing. The boy was Magil, somehow I knew. It was partly the lavender hair of the boy. It not being too common of a hair color, but it was more his trade mark spirit than anything else. His mannerisms and the such.

The girl also looked familiar. She was older than the boy, but still young herself. She had the same color of hair, and I couldn’t recall ever meeting a girl with that kind of hair. But still, there was something about her. Something about her face and her eyes that seemed so familiar…but for the life of me I couldn’t think of who she could be.

The children were talking happily together, though we couldn’t hear what they where saying. Then suddenly the boy, Magil, got a serious look on his face and said something to the girl. She looked at him in surprise, but nodded her head. Then the two pressed their hands together, joining fingers, as if they were making a promise to one another.

When the image had faded and the reflection returned, the Venus looked over to Magil and said in a humble voice, “I’m envious, Master Magil. I would very much like to have had memories of this splendor.”

Magil of course made no response whatsoever. His emotions hidden behind a mask. Then the mirror started to do its ripple thing again. Suddenly wary Kid shot me with a dangerous gaze. “This better not be bout me, mate.”

I frowned. It was going to be about her, I knew it in my gut. The mirror was answering my questions after all. The image of a town came into view. Though I might have been mistaken, it looked like it could have been Regionna. Then the mirror zoomed into one of the houses. Inside was a young woman. She wasn’t dressed in anything fancy, in fact she seemed to be wearing work clothes that were stained with oil, but she was pretty with short purple hair, and wore glasses.

Around her sat many young children of varying ages. Unlike the two children from the previous image, these were dressed poorly and were covered with dirt. Still, they played happily amongst themselves. They all seemed to adore the woman who was with them. Suddenly the image changed. The house was on fire and armed men flooded into it. Though she fought back savagely, killing several of her attackers --with a gun, and amazingly enough, magic-- the men finally succeeded in abducting her. The children met a much darker fate.

Time seemed to sweep by and the mirror showed the house burnt to the ground, still smoldering. The mirror shifted its focus to a little girl, covered in soot, crying into her fists. Though she somehow managed to survive the attack, the girl is now alone in the world, her home destroyed. The girl suddenly gives a blood curdling scream into the sky as her eyes narrow, almost like cat’s eyes.

“Stop!” Kid screamed at the mirror. I was worried she might break it outright, but she didn’t. Instead she slumped, looking suddenly very tired. “Let’s go.” Abruptly she headed for the door, ready to leave the room and those memories behind.

“Kid,” I said lamely. “I’m sorry.” She ignored me and started out the door. At that moment I felt terrible. With memories like that, she had a right to keep them secret, and like a selfish goon I used a magic mirror to pry into them.

I started to follow when Magil stopped me. “Ask it something useful. Ask where the key is.”

As soon as he said that I knew that that’s what I should have done in the first place. I turned back to the mirror and asked where the key to the treasure vault was. Kid even stopped to watch the mirror answer. Once again the reflection faded and an image appeared. This one was instantly recognizable. It was the great library on the second floor. This time the mirror spoke. “The key you seek, as you see before you, rests within this room. Towards the rear of this great sanctuary of knowledge, within a large purple book, you will find the item you so desire.”

After telling us this, the Venus statue closed her eyes.

“It’s spirit has left for other mirrors. We should go now,” Magil told me. I nodded and followed the two of them. Feeling confused and guilty all at the same time, but at least we had a lead. We were closer to getting the Frozen Flame than we had been all night. As I stepped out the door a faint whisper reached my ear. “…Be careful, they know…” I paused for a moment, wondering if I had imagined it or not. I suddenly hoped that the mirror wouldn’t betray us to Lynx.

That thought stuck with me as we made our way back up the stairs and to the second floor. I half-expected Lynx to jump out of the shadows at attack us on the spot. The trip was uneventful however, and we made it to the library safely.

Once inside we started our search for the large purple book that the mirror said would be near the rear of the library. “Damn, mirror,” muttered Kid. “There’s dozens of purple books back here.”

Kid was right. Still, the mirror had narrowed down our search by quite a bit. I started out by grabbing the largest purple volume I could see and opened it. It was so big I had to support its weight on one of my arms. Inside page after page was scribbled with arcane symbols that danced and squirmed. Looking at them alone made my eyes hurt. I knew they were magic. In fact I if myself didn’t know at least a little magic I wouldn’t have been able to read them at all, even still I wasn’t at the level where I could make since out of any of it.

The book began emitting a low mournful moan. It wasn’t very load, but in the dead silence it sure seemed like it. I slammed the book shut at once, cutting the noise off. Magil had been watching the whole time, and came over to inspect it. He took it from my hands and inspected the time worn book at various angles. “This is an ancient tome from a far away land. It was once known as the Book of the Dead. I never expected to find it here, in Lord Lynx’s possession.”

Part of me wanted to ask him to see if he could read it, another part of me wanted him to put the thing away. ‘Book of the Dead’ was and ill sounding omen if there ever was one, before I had a chance to say anything he put the volume back himself. “Perhaps its best to leave such ancient knowledge alone.”

I smiled slightly. “Sometimes you sound like an old hermit, you know that Magil?” He probably wouldn’t have responded even if he had had time, but footsteps cut any interaction we might have had short. In the silence of the night the foot falls sounded like thunder, giving us ample warning to hide.

Magil simply vanished into the shadows. At that moment I wished that I had spent more time on my magic studies. That trick would have been crazy useful. Instead, Kid and I jumped underneath the desk. The space was small, so we had to cling on to each other tightly as we rolled into a ball. I thought of the whispered warning I had heard, and wondered if we really had been betrayed.

The door slowly opened, and the low light of a candlestick flooded into the room. I nervously tried to hold my breath. Fearing that any noise I made would alert them to our presence. Then I noticed how close Kid’s lips were to my own. My heart began racing from something other than fear. So full…and pink…and glossy. I had to force my eyes shut to keep myself from doing anything stupid.

Whoever was at the door didn’t seem to have any intention on coming through it. He grunted and said, “Thought I heard something. No reason for anybody to be in here though, since the Master is away. Still, with those Porre southerners on the move, its’ never too safe to be sorry.” Whoever the first person was with grunted in response. Slowly the door closed, and the footsteps echoed away.

The whole time I listened to them depart, I couldn’t help but noticing how good she smelled. “Hey, how long are you gonna stick to me like that?” Kid asked, pushing my jaw up from her face. At first my only reaction was to marvel at how her breath felt against the nape of my neck.

Then quite suddenly realized the situation and was shocked with embracement. “Huh, Uh…I mean...sorry!” I stammered my apology then sat straight up as fast as I could, bashing my head against the desk. I crawled out rubbing my head. “Dammit, that stings.”

“Ya goof…you arrite?” She asked, looking at me with concern in her eyes.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I hoped that she’d mistake my embarrassment for the whole head banging thing and not realize what it was really from, but most importantly was the fact that she didn’t seem to angry with me. I still felt like crap about the mirror though.

“So Porre is up to something.” Magil emerged from the shadows in front of us. I found it odd that Porre would be interested with anything in the outlands. It’s the largest country on the southern continent, that has boasted for quite some time to being the most powerful and prosperous country in the world. I figured that they’d surly not be after the Frozen Flame…yeah it’s a valuable jewel, but just how valuable could it possibly be? If only I had known. I might have been quite a bit more nervous.

But what struck me as the most important part of their conversation was that Lynx was out. That would explain his absence in his room, and would mean that he wasn’t waiting for us somewhere in the mansion. I knew it might all be a ruse, but it was nice to hope for a break.

“Okay, time to find that key!” Kid said as she leaped back to work. Magil and I followed suit. Within ten minutes a large brass key fell from a book Kid was flipping through. With the key in hand we raced out of the library, eager to see what was in the locked treasure vault.

Kid acted as if the incident with the mirror had never even happened as she stood in front of the large vault doors. She could barely contain her excitement as she shoved the key into its hole and gave a twist. Multi-colored lights radiated from the keyhole as the magical enchantment was disabled. Then like they were propelled by an invisible force the two doors slowly swung open.

Kid gasped as she walked into the vault, and I couldn’t blame her one bit. There was more treasure in there than I had ever seen in my life. Probably more than I ever will see again. Mounds of golden coins were stacked higher than our heads. Rare golden statues encrusted with all types of precious stones were thrown into the mix.

Who could blame Kid for drooling at the sight? I couldn’t that’s for sure. Magil could though. “Remember, our goal is the Flame. Do not waste time on frivolities,” he said flatly.

Kid gave him an irritated look. “Jeez, I told ya. I know.”

“Kid, Magil. Look at that,” I said, pointing to the far end of the room. There on a silver pedestal behind the rest of the treasure sat a palm sized jewel. From within the jewel a pale crimson light was radiating.

“The Frozen Flame,” Kid said in awe. “Finally.”

Wasting no time Magil glided over to the pedestal and reached out for it. He paused at the last second and began chanting a spell instead. After a moment an inscription began glowing at the base of the pedestal. “It was trapped,” Magil said.

With the trap deactivated he gently hoisted the precious object into his hands. The two of us ran over to where he stood, and admired the Flame. It became clear why it was called the Frozen Flame. The jewel actually looked like a bright red flame that had gotten frozen in time, and the way it glowed could only mean that it was magical.

Magil frowned. Channeling his inner magic he sent a small bolt of energy into the stone, instantly it shattered with the slight tinkling of broken glass. Kid gasped, I stood in mute shock at what he’d done.

“The stone was a fake. The real Frozen Flame is elsewhere,” he said, explaining his actions. “We’ve fallen into another one of Lynx’s traps.” As if on cue four mechanical birds that were perched at the corners of the vault began wailing out a loud siren as they screeched, “INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!” To make mattes worse a large steel grate slammed down in front of the doors, blocking our exit.

The three of us exchange glances as we hear the thuds of many booted feet running our way. From outside came a snarling voice. “Which way is it coming from?”

A second voice answered, “Sounds like the Treasure Vault alarm to me.” We had little time to act, and hiding was our only option. Magil vanished into the shadows, and Kid dove behind the largest pile of gold she could see, quickly covering herself with treasure.

Franticly searching the room I finally saw an empty treasure chest near the door. I rushed to it and climbed inside, not a moment too soon, as I closed the lid the steel grate went back up and five large goblins entered the room.

Cracking the lid on my chest slightly I watched the goblins start searching the vault. I’ve had dealings with goblins before. Ever since I started running with Kid I’ve got myself into all sorts of trouble, including goblin fights. They are some of the meanest, ugliest, strongest, dumbest brutes around. Not an entirely pleasant combination. Too make matters worse. These five were bigger and stronger looking than any I had ever seen. Each one had on heavy chain mail, and wore deadly morning stars at their sides.

One of the goblins turned his filthy head to one of the others. “Looks like the place is empty boss.”

The boss goblin frowned and grunted. “No one’s ever escaped this thing before.”

A third goblin shrugged. “Maybe a rat set it off. The cook was complaining about a rat problem the other day.”

A fat fourth goblin chuckled a wet slobbering laugh. “Nah, there’s no way no rats set it off.”

Before any of them could argue further, a squeaking voice came from the pile of gold Kid was behind. I swore under my breath. I knew that a stupid ploy like that wouldn’t work, but her impersonation of a rat squeak was pretty decent, so I held out a small bit of hope.

That was, until the next goblin spoke. “Ain’t no rats,” he said, suspiciously eyeing the pile of gold. “It was stray cat’s the cook was complainin of.” All five goblin’s grinned evilly.

Don’t do it, I silently thought, they’re baiting you Kid! Don’t do it! But she did, and a feint mewing noise came from the pile. Damn. We were caught. One of the goblins grinned even wider. “No, ain’t no kitty cats…it was a wild heckran what raided the pantry.”

At this I almost laughed. I could imagine Kid racking her brains trying to remember what a heckran sounded like. “No?” Said the goblin boss. “Must be a thief then.”

But as they made their approach to the pile of gold…He…Heheikekekekeke…heke, hekeike, ranranran! I snorted back a laugh. Luckily the goblin’s didn’t hear me over Kid’s abysmal heckran impression. Not that it mattered at that point.

“Oh, well then, it certainly is a Heckran! Without a doubt!” The fat one laughed, it was a wet sloggy noise.

“Yeah, pretty frightenin’,” one of the others said through a wicked smile. “We’d better leave it be.” Wearing identical cruel smiles the five started away from the pile of gold, but just as they reached the door they turned around and rushed Kid’s hiding spot, dragging her out from the gold she had buried herself under.

“Get yer hands offa me ya slimy freaks!” She yelled as she struggled to break free from their powerful grips.

“Slimy?” The boss hollered. “A thief like yourself isn’t in much of a position to criticize!”

Using her lighting quick reflexes Kid kicked one of the goblin’s that had her in the face. Spinning as hard as she could, she broke free from the other one. Though she had gotten loose, the five goblins had her cornered as they armed themselves with their deadly morning stars. Even Kid wasn’t good enough to take on an entire troupe of armed goblins alone.

Climbing out of the chest I charged into the middle of the room and cried, “Hey, you stupid oafs!”

A couple of the goblins turned to look towards me. One snarled in rage. “You came out just to die. Didn’t you, little man.” My knife seemed very small just then.

The boss goblin grinned wickedly at me. “You really want us to trample over your head that badly? Well, I suppose we can accommodate you.” A couple of them started to laugh.

“Don’t think you can easily pick a fight with the great Kid!” She shouted, drawing their attention back to her. “I’ll kick yer arses good for ya!” Good I thought. All we needed to do was stall as long a possible, so Magil could get an arsenal of spells ready.

The goblin boss frowned a bit at Kid, but then his smile returned double over. “So you’re the elusive Kid, eh? How sweet this is…if I bring Master Lynx your pretty little head he’ll reward me generously.” He let the ball of his morning star drop to the ground with a thud. “Don’t confuse us with any ordinary goblins. Striking fear into the hears of men everywhere. We are Lynx’s Elite Security Force, the fearsome Magical Gobbler Team!”

The name might have been stupid, but that didn’t make them any less deadly. On the other hand, they didn’t have any idea just how good Kid was, nor did they realize we had one of the most dangerous people on the planet hiding in the shadows waiting to strike.

“If ya got time to spout off that nonsense, ya got time ter get yer arses kicked!” Kid yelled furiously, bursting forward with a powerful round house kick. The goblin it hit stumbled backwards, stunned.

The goblin’s roared with battle lust as they attacked. Two of them turned to face me, using their magic they rushed forward at ridiculous speeds. I just barely leaped out of the way before they reached me. The breeze caused by the iron ball of his morning star tussled my hair. I dodged their attack, but I slipped on a pile of gold and fell to the ground knocking the breath from my lungs. The other goblin wildly swung his flail at me. I rolled away just in time, a crater erupted where my head had just been.

Before the goblin could make another strike, Magil stepped out of the shadows. A bolt of silver-white energy exploded from his pointing index finger, slamming into the goblin’s back, bursting out his chest. The ugly brute looked down and saw the fist sized hole through the middle of him before crashing to the floor.

The other goblin forgot me for a moment as he looked down at his comrade in shock. A fatal mistake. Leaping to my feet I rammed my knife into his muscled neck with all the force I could muster. He flailed weakly, trying to get me off, but it was too late. Within moments he was as dead as his friend.

Kid was having more problems than I was. The fact that she was staying alive against three goblins at once was a testament to her prowess. Especially when one of the goblins was the boss goblin. Once Magil had an open shot, he blew a hole in the fat goblin. Kid’s problem just got slightly better. I aimed to make it a lot better. I abandoned my small knife, which was stuck hard in the goblin’s neck, and picked up his huge morning star instead. Using all the strength I could muster I charged the goblins’ from behind slamming the morning star into one of their skulls. With a wet thud, the goblin’s head caved in on itself and he fell to the floor.

Suddenly the boss goblin found himself outnumbered in a losing battle. Trying to press her advantage Kid struck hard and fast at him, though he received a couple deep cuts he managed to get out of her range. Reaching down he grabbed one of his dead comrades morning stars. He spun one in each hand, creating a barrier that neither Kid or I could penetrate.

Had he just gone up against the two of us he might have still one, but with Magil on our side, the goblin had already lost. All that myself and Kid had to do was back away and give Magil a clear shot. A howling noise erupted from Magil’s direction. It was his Black Wind spell. An instant later a thousand razor sharp shards of wind flew through the air with blinding speed cutting the goblin boss to shreds. The once mighty leader of Lynx’s Elite Security Team shrieked in pain as he was torn into pieces. Then it was over. The fighting had been fierce, but lasted only a very short while. Though when your in the middle of it, you’d swear it lasted hours.

I slumped to the floor exhausted, but when I looked over Kid was rummaging through the pockets on the shredded goblin boss. “What are you doing?” I asked dismayed.

“They said they were Lynx’s personal guards, yeah? They might have something valuable on ‘em.” She paused for a second to wipe some of the gore off her hands. “Hey, what’s this.” She lifted a hand shaped medallion off the corpse.

I got up and took a closer look at it. He had been wearing it around his neck, but it was shaped like a hand, and was covered with archaic symbols. Magil inspected it as well. “It’s a key. These markings suggest it unlocks a certain magical seal.”

“The Mouth of Truth,” I exclaim.

He nodded. “Come, the night won’t last forever.”

Kid pocketed the medallion. “But it’s a shame to leave all this loot behind.”

Magil shook his head. She shrugged disappointedly. “Oh well, lets go see what’s passed the Atrium. Maybe we’ll find the real Frozen Flame.”

On our way out of the room Kid came up next to me and smiled. “Serge, ya goof, I can take car’a myself. But thanks, mate.” Her smile hit me like a glimmering beam of light, cleansing my darkness and filling me with joy. “I’ll never forget what ya did back there…even if I never see ya again after tonight.”

That last comment struck me cold. I thought maybe I hadn’t heard her right, so I ignored it and focused on her smile. That smile stuck with me all the way down to the Atrium. I grinned like an idiot the whole way.

Sure enough the pendant fit inside the tongue’s indent. After placing it the water in the Atrium began draining. Within minutes the piranhas were left flopping on the solid ground. We made our way past them and through the other archway. The passage beyond sloped downward, leading us further into the earth. After a couple hundred feet the pathway split. To the right was a set of stairs leading down, but to the left there was a large rusty door.

“What’s that place?” I asked Magil.

“The catacombs.” From within came a tortured moan. I shuddered visibly. Kid saw and sniggered a little, but I could tell she was thrilled with the idea of going into the catacombs any more than I was. She jiggled the door handle, it was locked.

I sighed. Every time we unlocked one door, we only found ourselves more locked doors. We’d spent well over an hour in the mansion already, at this rate we’d still be hunting down keys by the time dawn broke.

“Damn locks,” snarled Kid, clearly feeling the same way I was. “Magil, this on aint magic like the vault. Blow it open for us, will ya?”

Magil remained expressionless, and shook his head slightly. “We’re near the barracks where Lynx’s goblin’s likely live and operate from. If we can find the key I’d much rather do this silently.”

“Fine,” Kid said in frustration. “But if we can’t find the key, your gonna magic our way through this door.” Magil nodded then pointed to the stairs, motioning for us to go.

Unlike the mansion that had been built for the use of humans. The underground baracks had been built for goblins in mind. As a rule most goblins didn’t care for the cosmetic looks of a place, or the cosmetic looks of anything for that matter. As long as it functioned it didn’t need to be pretty. The corridors in the barracks were nothing more than caves. The various rooms had been built up with better support structures and more than caves they resembled, well rooms, albeit crude rooms.

We spent a great deal up time jumping into empty rooms and hiding, as we snuck around down there. The place was crawling with goblins. Luckily, we moved with the stealth of highly trained thieves. Even I had come close to perfecting silent movement, and both Kid and Magil put me to shame. On the other hand the goblins made more noise than an elephant stampede.

It took a while but soon we had scouted out the entire Goblin Barracks, and we had all come to the conclusion that the most likely place for the key to be was in the armory. We knew there was a good chance we’d have to fight for the key, after all the armory would have someone in it at all times.

First however, we ended up in the kitchen, much to Magil’s ire. Kid was hungry, so she had decided that the small break would be worth it, especially since we knew were the catacombs’ key was. Magil thought this was a dangerous and sloppy move for us to make, but in the end he let Kid have her way.

The resulting encounter was unlike anything I would have expected. Not to mention it ended up saving our lives later on that night. As soon as we made sure the coast was clear, we entered the kitchen and inspected what we had to work with. I had been worried that the kitchen would be full of rotting meat, rats, and bugs. Kid told me not to be stupid, claiming that goblins ate much the same food that humans did. They couldn’t stomach rot anymore than we could.

I hoped she was right, and fortunately she was. The room was stocked with food you would find in most barracks. Nothing fancy, but enough to sustain the troops. As far as I could tell there were no bugs, and the only rat was hanging in a cage at the far corner of the room. Also lucky, there was a pot of meat stew simmering on the stove already.

Not wanting to bother with slowing ourselves down with individual bowls, we simply found spoons and at straight from the pot. Kid offered Magil some, but he refused. Then a shrill voice from the corner of the room said, “Ah, what an independent young lad…are all the boys wearing braids these days?”

Our initial reaction was surprise. Even Magil was startled. We all looked over to the corner with the hanging cage to see the rat standing on its hind legs, grasping the cage bars. “Greetings,” the rat said.

I turned to Magil. “What do you know about talking rats?” I figured that anyone who knew about talking mirrors would surly know about talking rats.

“Nothing,” he replied with a frown. The most emotion he’d shown all night. I turned back to the rat when I realized that I didn’t have a braid. My hair is now, and was then, cropped fairly short. Kid had come to the same conclusion as me.

“I’m a girl ye dumb rat!” She snarled.

The rat looked genuinely surprised. “Excuse me…you are a girl, my mistake. You are such a lovely girl now that I see you clearly.”

Kid stopped snarling, but she still looked annoyed and highly suspicious. “So what’s yer story, rat?”

“Such a sad tale,” The rat said, hanging his little head. “My dear mother is deathly ill, and only the medicine from Viper Manor can save her, but those terrible goblin’s caught me. Please lovely miss, you must set me free! Otherwise my dear sweet mother shall die, and I myself shall become a side dish in the goblins’ next meal.”

I looked down at the pot of stew, suddenly wary of its contents. “I thought you said the goblins didn’t eat rats,” I said to Kid.

“And I thought that rat’s couldn’t talk. Guess I was wrong on both accounts, mate.”

“Please,” the rat pleaded. “You must set me free kind sir, and lovely miss!”

“Whaddya think, Magil,” Kid asked.

“Do what ever you must. Just hurry.”

Not particularly hungry anymore, I decided to take Magil’s advice. Best to get done with the kitchen and get that key. “Fine, we’ll let you free,” I told it.

No sooner had I let the rat free when it attacked. Not just a little harmless rat attack either. It was a giant gryphon attack. The rat grew into a seven foot gryphon so fast that I stumbled backwards, knocking the pot of stew onto the ground. Regaining my footing I backed away.

Without warning the gryphon charged us, but it slipped in the spilled stew, and went crashing down face first. My words don’t come near describing the sheer anti-climaticness of it.

“Ya stupid rat,” Kid said with a shake of her head. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t kill ya now?” The two of his already had our knives pressed against the gryphon’s back. One wrong move and it was dead.

“Please kind and beautiful human girl! Spare me, and I’ll tell a secret that I’ve over heard. It’s valuable information, I swear.”

“Let it speak, Kid,” Magil said.

“Thank you kind and hansom sir!”

Magil wasn’t in the mood for any more flattery or games. “Hurry and speak, or I’ll let her skewer you.”

It franticly began talking. “Yes, yes, I’ll hurry. You see, one day, you too may find yourselves within my situation, caged in on all sides! If such a fate comes to pass, remember these directions, and your lives shall be spared. Right three steps, left two steps, right two steps.”

“The hell’s that ’spose to mean?” Kid said exasperated. “Ya tryin to teach us to dance or what?”

Instead of answering the gryphon shrunk back down and scurried away into one of the rat holes along side the wall. I was left standing there blinking in confusion. Of all the weird things to happen that night that hand been the weirdest so far.

“If your done eating let’s go,” Magil said coldly.

“Yeah sure,” Kid said faintly, looking over her shoulder, but the rat, or gryphon, was gone.

The armory turned out to hold another strange experience for us. Not as overwhelmingly odd as the kitchen incident, but unexpected none the less. Inside the armory sat a single goblin at a table. In his hands was a book that he was reading with rapt attention, and on the table in front of him sat a small teacup full of aromatic black tea.

He was the most un-goblin like goblin that I’ve ever seen. Instead of the crude armor most of his kind wear, this one was dressed in fine clothing. A fashion more commonly found on young lords than goblin thugs. Also setting him apart was his hair, not only did he have it all, but it was cleanly washed and carefully combed. Add his bifocals to the mix and you got one seriously different looking goblin.

Noticing us the goblin closed his book and smiled warmly. “Ah, welcome. It’s rare to have visitors down here.”

Maybe it was his appearance, or maybe the easy way he had sat sipping his tea and enjoying a good book, but I got the feeling that he wasn’t hostel at all. Kid didn’t feel like taking any chances however. Marching straight over to him she slammed her knife down into the table. “Too bad we’re not guests,” she growled. “If ya wanna live, tell us where the key to the catacombs is.”

The goblin looked surprised for only a moment before the clarity of realization washed over his face. “Ah, you must be the elusive Kid. I so wanted to see you with my own eyes. We’ve all heard so much about you…”

Cutting him off in mid-sentence Kid pulled her knife from the table and threw it at the book in his hands. Setting it down he pulled the seven inch blade out and slid it across the table back to Kid. “Your reputation precedes you. You are quite a radical young lady,” he said with a sad glance at his ruined book. “Nevertheless, it’s a shame. I was quite hoping to see how that novel ended up.”

Then forgetting his book his smile returned as he regarded the three of us. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Esmeld. But I do hate to keep my guests standing at bay. Do sit down, we’ll converse over some tea.”

Poison was my first thought. He didn’t look the type to bludgeon any heads in, but maybe he had more subtle ways of doing away with people. Accepting his offer Magil took a seat. Kid on the other hand retrieved her dagger and stayed standing. After a moment of deliberation I decided to join Magil at the table. Even if only to rest my feet a bit.

Humming a cheerful tune Esmeld readied the table for the three of us and poured us each a cup of his black tea. “Ah, there we are,” Esmeld said as he finished the arrangements and sat back down. The tea smelled wonderful, but I still was wary of drinking anything a goblin gave me.

Magil apparently held none such reservations. Lifting his cup carefully to his lips he took a long sip before sitting his tea back down. “Himalayan Chimpanzee. I’ve not had this blend in quite some time.”

Esmeld smiled as he sipped from his own cup. “I see you are a gentleman of fine taste. I will have you know, not many of my visitors recognize this type of black tea.”

Esmeld and Magil continued to discuss various blends of teas and what-not while I sat examining my own cup. I hardly paid attention to their banter, though it was rare when Magil spoke that much. In the end I decided that if it was poisoned then Magil would have either refused it out right or warned myself and Kid.

“Delicious,” I said a bit louder than I meant. Esmeld stopped talking to Magil and turned to me.

“Oh yes, its quite a nice blend. One of my favorites.”

Falling prey to the sweet smell of the tea, Kid succumbed as well, liking it so much that she downed it in one gulp. “Wow, that is good, but we don’t have time to sit here and enjoy the pleasantries. We need that key.”

Funny, how when she was hungry we could make time to raid the kitchen…but I never would have mentioned that to her. Instead I kept quiet and enjoyed my own cup. “Right, let’s get down to business then,” Esmeld said. “Certainly the key to the catacombs has to be around her somewhere. Whether I remember where it is, however…that’s a different story.”

Kid began to growl, her hand slipping down to her knife. “Is there something you’d like in exchange?” I asked, figuring that the key was probably hidden. I thought our best bet would be to play it his way.

“Hmm…something I want,” Esmeld said thoughtfully. “…Your life, perhaps.”

Simultaneously Kid and I drew our daggers. Maybe he was a typical goblin after all? “Oh, you misunderstand. I do not wish to harm you,” he said seeing the shock in our faces. “I enjoy chatting with the many types of visitors that we have in the mansion. Surely, as an adventure, you must have plenty of interesting stories to tell.”

“Sure does,” Kid answered for me. “But he usually sings his stories. Sing ’em one o’ yer ballads about the Radical Dreamers.”

“Ah, that’s right,” Esmeld said before I could answer. “If you’d kindly forgive me. I’ve already heard all the songs about you, from other minstrels, but perhaps you know some other good songs. Stories inside of music can be quite a refreshing change of pace.”

For a moment I racked my brain. Trying to think of the songs that I had sung before meeting Kid. I decided on one of first I had composed. A simple song about a little girl who finds a beetle in the woods, so she takes it home and paints it with shiny golden paint. The next day the girl takes the beetle to town and shows it off to the travelers, telling them it‘s a good luck beetle, in the end she sells it for an outrages sum of gold.

I felt a bit odd, singing to a goblin underneath the mansion of a tyrannical madman, but at the end of the song Esmeld was smiling so I guess I did a decent job. “…A fairly interesting story, and you’ve got a good voice. Very pleasant way to enjoy a cup of tea.”

Leaning towards the wall Esmeld simply knocked on a certain spot. A small trap door opened, the key inside. Kid had lost interest in the key however. She leaned over and hissed in my ear. “Yeah, Serge…and I’ll bet the girl’s name was Kid, wasn’t it?”

I turned to face her, utterly confused. Glaring at me she asked, “How’d you know about that.”

“I made that song up a long time ago,” I whisper. I guess Kid really had done something like that in her past. Funny how things like that work sometimes, but at the moment Kid looked mad. Had Esmeld not tossed the key down in front of her I had the feeling that she might have strangled me.

“Before you go I’d like to ask you something,” Esmeld said.

“Sure,” I answered, trying to keep my attention off of Kid.

“Long ago, when I was a young, foolish lad, I was involved with General Viper’s daughter, Miss Riddel,” he told us.

I was surprised, I had thought that Riddel was Lynx’s daughter. My surprise must have shown because Esmeld then said, “Oh, you didn’t know? Indeed, Miss Riddel’s true father was General Viper. Anyhow, for the sake of harnessing the power of the Frozen Flame, Lord Lynx took on miss Riddel as his own. You see, within that strange rock lies a strong mental connection to this particular Mistress…so in order to make the most use of the stone’s power, Lynx kept her alive.

“And so, I have reside here all these years, silently waiting for the right time to exact revenge on Lord Lynx for taking my dear Miss Riddel from me, but if you’ve come here with slaying him on your mind, I’d be grateful if you did.”

“Yeah, that’s our plan anyway,” said Kid scooping up the key. “But there’s something else I’d like from ya.”

Esmeld raised an inquiring eyebrow. Kid held out her hand. “Some more o’ that great tea o’ yers.”

“Ah, I do believe I can afford to part with a bag.” He pulled a single bag out of his pouch and tossed it over to Kid, who quickly slid her prize down her bosom.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Magil said standing. “We must be on our way.”

With that we left the one friendly goblin in Viper Manor and headed to the catacombs. They smelled of death. Wet, old, decaying death. Unlike the goblin barracks that had several hallways and many rooms, the catacombs was one long straight passage. We were flanked by countless jail cells, all of them empty. It seemed that Lynx didn’t take many prisoners.

Though he did take the one. It was an old man. Thin as a reed and clothed in thin rags. He sat in the corner of his cell rocking back and forth mumbling. His shock white hair, on both his head and beard, had grown unchecked for so long that most of his face was concealed. All but his eyes. They shown brightly in the false-light of Magil. Not bright with intelligence, hope, or even awareness, but bright with madness.

What ever the old man had been through had caused utter decimation to his sanity. “Ohhhh…Gorba…Merkid…Zorander…forgive me…”

“Hey, old timer,” Kid called to him.

He seemed oblivious to us and continued to ramble on. “Everyone…and it was all because of me. Every last one of the Dragoons…Miss Riddel…even the General…forgive me…please…Gorba…Merkid…Zorander…forgive me…” The old man repeated his words in an endless loop. He had been saying them for so long that they had become his mantra.

“Hey, can ya hear me?” Kid called again, shaking the bars to his cell. The old man made no response.

“He will not hear a thing,” Magil said. “He has constructed a wall around himself.” I asked Magil what he meant. Turning to me the mage said, “A wall, used for shielding one’s mind from reality. After being exposed to horrific events, tremendous amounts of pain and guilt has this effect on a person. He has made a safe world inside his own mind. From there, he refuses to acknowledge anything he does not want to admit.”

Magil’s face remained expressionless, but his eyed looked almost sad as he spoke. I glanced over to Kid and found that her eyes held the same expression. For a moment the too reminded me of each other. “So,” I said, finding the sudden resemblance uncanny and unnerving. “He’s no good to us at all.” It seemed we had done all that searching for the catacombs key for nothing.

“Maybe there is a way to break through his wall,” Magil said quietly after a moment of thought. “He mentioned Lady Riddel. Maybe she can aid us.”

“She isn’t in her room,” Kid reminded him.

Magil had already started off, heading out of the catacombs. “She wasn’t there before, but she had been recently. She had simply stepped outside for fresh air. She’ll likely be back when we return.”

“Well, now what Magil?” Kid asked as we once again stood inside Riddel’s empty room. Magil pointed to the sliding glass door. Soft footsteps could be heard making their way towards us.

“Is someone there?” The voice of a young woman called. Kid hid herself behind a large chair as Magil vanished into the shadows. Just as she reached the room, I ducked behind the door. Kind of pointless, in the very least she’d have noticed that her front door was standing wide open.

“Odd…I could have sworn I heard someone,” She said as she entered her room. Like a cat, Kid sprung out from behind the chair and seized Riddel from behind, putting her knife up to the girl’s throat.

“We’ve come for the Frozen Flame, where is it?” Kid asked in a strict whisper.

“That’s not really necessary, Kid,” I said stepping out from behind the door. Magil too had reappeared.

“Quite, Serge,” Kid said with a glare. I inwardly sighed. I’m sure there had to be an easier way of doing this than Kid’s way was.

To my surprise Riddel giggled. Kid looked angry. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, come on you can’t be proper thieves. You’re far too noisy.” We could be quiet if we needed to, but she had a point. When Kid got worked up she through caution to the wind.

“I’d watch my mouth girlie,” Kid whispered. I had the sudden image of Kid slicing through Riddel’s delicate neck. The young woman collapsing onto the floor, whatever secrets she had dying along side her.

“Kid, look at her,” I pleaded. “She’s not going to hurt us.”

“Dammit…all right,” she said, letting Riddel go. “Still, don’t think I’m not keeping an eye on ya!”

“The feeling is mutual,” Riddel replied, rubbing her neck, glad to be in one piece.

“Don’t worry, we’re not your enemies. We’re not after you power,” I said to her. I hoped to win a little trust. Though Kid had done a pretty decent job of destroying any chances of that. “We’ve just come to talk, Riddel. If there’s anything you could tell us about the Frozen Flame, or even the Acacia Dragoons, it would help immensely.”

Riddel looked suddenly very somber after my words. She sat down on her bed, her eyes lowered. “Damn that cursed rock. The Frozen Flame…it was kept in the Kingdom of Guardia for centuries. With its, subtle mysterious power, it allegedly could guide people and change history, all while somehow remaining elusive to those who sought it.

“But during the Great War, when Guardia fell to the southern nation of Porre, the Flame was stolen. It passed from hand to hand, finally reaching my fathers. It was then that Lynx first appeared. He befriended my father and at first seemed a staunch ally. In the current state of the world, a small country like ours needed all the help it could receive.

“But Lynx fooled my father, fooled us all, he was after the Frozen Flame all along. He murdered my father and robbed him. Taking everything that was once my father’s for himself, the manor, the Flame, even me.”

Riddel began to cry softly into her hands. “When all of this happened I was just a little girl. I had to idea Lynx was behind it all, but over time I’ve learned the truth…damn that rock…damn the Frozen Flame. I want nothing to do with that stupid stone!”

“If you help us,” Magil said calmly. “We can put an end to it all. What do you know of the old man locked in the catacombs.”

Riddel’s eyes lit up with the cold fire of hatred. “That traitor! Because of him, my father…my dear Zorander!”

She took a moment to regain herself. “Yes, I know the man whom you speak.”

“He was once an Acacia Dragoon, correct,” Magil stated.

Riddel nodded. “He was, before he betrayed my father and the others, and before Lynx had him sent to the torture chamber for countless days and nights. He’s lost his mind as well as his identity.”

Magil shook his head. “He knows who he is. He’s simply hiding from the truth. If we could get him to speak, would he be of any help to us?”

“Yes, he knows everything. All of Lynx’s dark secrets.”

“Will you help us?” I asked her. “He was mumbling a bunch of names; one of them was yours. Maybe if he saw you it would bring him out of his shell.”

Riddel blanched. “No…I can’t look at him. I won’t go near that traitor.”

I sighed, it looked like we hadn’t really made any progress after all.

“But, you might find something if the torture chamber,” She said suddenly. “He was kept in there for so long, and he was the last to go there. If he lost something, it might still be there.”

I exchanged looks with Kid. Neither of us wanted to return to that place.

“If you go,” Riddel continued. “Bring the Einlanzer with you.”

“The Eye-what?” Kid asked.

“The Einlanzer, it is a holy white sword, created long ago by ancient sages along with its demonic brother, the Masamune,” she explained. “It was the Acacia Dragoons’ most prized weapon. It once glided through the air in Zorander’s hand, shimmering like a star…now the Dragoons are all but extinct, and the sword has been stored somewhere in this mansion, as though it was some sort of trivial memento.”

Riddel hung her head, saddened by the memories of days long past. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help. I wish I was more powerful, like you people.”

“Strength didn’t get us here,” Kid lectured. “Power comes from believing in yerself!”

“I see…,” Riddel said meekly. “I wish you luck.”

As we left the room I heard Kid mutter, “Hope it ain’t bad luck.”

“That sword in the clock tower room,” Magil said as he lead the way. “That is the Einlanzer.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, puzzled as to how he could know such a thing. To me that old sword had looked like an old antique of no value.

“It’s the Masamune‘s twin, like Riddel said, and I’d recognize that sword anywhere.”

Kid and I stopped dead in our tracks. Curiously Kid said, “You’ve seen the Masamune.”

“Yeah,” I said. “How are you so familier with it?” Then struck with a strange notion I asked. “You’ve never been its owner have you?”

The legend of the Masamune was a long and twisting one. Throughout the ages it was known as The Holy Sword, and was used by countless famous knights in the battle against evel. For the longest time it belonged to the Kingdom of Guardia, but like the Frozen Flame, it was lost during the Porre invavion. Then the sword changed. Some people claimed that all the suffering of the Guardia people caused the sword to go crazy. I don’t know about any of that, but for certain the sword had gone evil. The Demon Sword Masamune was what people called it now.

Whoever possessed the blade was filled with blood lust. They’d kill anyone, friends, family, strangers, it didn’t matter as long as they kept on killing. Most people were to afraid to say the sword’s name anymore. A terrible thought hit me. “Magil, that sword’s not the Masamune is it? What if Riddel’s wrong, and it’s not the Einlanzer after all?”

He shook his head. “No. When the Masamune grew tainted it changed. If that sword was the Demon Blade the evil magic would be palpable.” I let out a sigh of relief as he continued. “And no, I’ve never possessed the sword myself, but I did know someone who did.”

“Was he yer mate?” Kid asked in interest.

Magil didn‘t answer. It was times like these that I wished he’d show some emotion one way or the other. So I guessed, “Was her your enemy.”

He was silent for a long moment, and I thought he wouldn’t say one way or the other. Then he shook his head the negative. I guess he was neither friend’s or enemies with the Masamune’s former owner. Even today I can only guess at the complex relationship they must have shared.

After the short conversation we continued our way to the clock tower. It was empty, with no sign of the old woman anywhere. The Einlanzer sat on the box where Kid had left it. Once she had retrieved the sword she tossed it over to me. “Hey Magil, if ya knew it was this magical Einlanzer the whole time why didn’t ya tell us?”

“Because you’d try to take it with us,” he answered. “It was not what we have come for. Better to let you believe it to be junk.”

She grunted, none too pleased that he had withheld information from her. I drew the sword from it’s old scabbard and gasped at the sight. The blade was snowy white and sparkled brightly in the low lamp light. I could almost feel the holy magic flow through the sword and into my hands. Unfortunately, the sword was much to large for me to wield effectively. If with all its power it would be useless in my hands.

Even so it made me feel slightly more at ease when we returned to the torture chamber. It seemed like we had just escaped the room’s death trap only to come back for more. “Say alert, Serge,” Magil said to me. “We’ll search the room. You focus on the trap ceiling.”

I nodded awkwardly casting my gaze up. The spikes were so high up I couldn’t see them well, but I knew they were there, waiting. Magil began examining the cracks on the floor. A moment later I heard him say, “Just as I thought.” I looked to what he was doing and found him digging into a thick butter like substance smashed into one of the large crevices.

“This must be the trap’s trigger,” Magil said almost casually. I could feel the blood run from my face. Sure enough it happened again. The door slammed shut and the ceiling began groaning as it started its deadly decent.

It felt like a terrible case of déjà vu. “Use the sword, mate!” Kid yelled. Easy for her to say. I had now idea what to do. Summoning my strenghth I lifted the Einlanzer above my head, pointing it to the dropping spiked ceiling. I had hoped the sword’s magic would do something, but the spikes didn’t even slow down.

“Damn,” Kid swore angrily. “We’ll have to bust through the door again!”

At that moment I remembered the large crack in the center of the room. Using all my power I slammed the sword into it. I could feel the holy strength of the Einlanzer run through me as it smashed deep into the stone floor. The tower shook as a huge jolt of power erupted from the blade. Blindingly bright lines of white energy scattered away from the sword and darted up the walls. For a brief instant the ceiling sparkled with the sword’s holy power, then the contraption controlling the trap groaned louder than ever.

Then it was silent and dark once more. The silence was complete, the darkness however was flawed. The Einlanzer glowed softly from its resting spot, and next to the inscription that I’d found earlier one of the bricks glowed with a faint outline. Kid saw it too and walked over. “Huh, this brick aint got no mortar around it.”

With a small tug she pulled it loose, and took out the tiny object it had been conceling. She brought it to the Einlanzer where we could all examine it in the faint white glow. What she had was a small golden ring, adorned with a slender set of leaves, like those of a fern, decorated with five small rubies. It shimmered in the holy light. Funny how a thing of great beauty could be found within such an ugly place.

“That’s the Acacian coat of arms,” Magil said. “This should snap the old man out of his delirium. If only for a little.”

But the old man didn’t even notice the thing once we brought it too him. “Hey old timer!” Kid called to him. “Look what I’ve got, it’s yer old Acacian ring!”

He ignored her and continued his neverending mantra of guilt. Magil walked up to the cell and grabbed the bars. After chanting a few words of magic he pulled them apart like they were made of nothing stronger than taffy.

Not waiting for Magil to move Kid slipped past him and into the cell. She grabbed the old man roughly by the neck of his shirt and pulled him up. Waiving the ring in front of his face. “C’mon you stupid old goat! Snap out of it, before I slap the info outta ya!”

“Kid, do you really need to be so rough?” I asked, following Magil into the cell. I thought that the last thing this old guy needed was to be aggrevated a little more.

“Let her be,” said Magil. “This might help him come back long enough to recognize the ring.”

The old man stood for a moment, mumbling incoherently, then his eyes seemed to lock onto the ring. He clumsily grabbed it out of Kid’s hand. For a moment he just stared at the golden ring, then he looked into Kid’s eyes and said, “Riddel? Is that you Miss Riddel?”

Kid was about to correct him when Magil told her to play along. Noticing us for the first time the old man broke out into a half crazy smile. “Merkid! Zorander! You’ve come back!” I realized that he was inside an illusion. He’d only partially come back to reality. After all, Kid might have resemble Riddel a little, but it was doubtful that both myself and Magil bore uncanny resemblances to a couple of his old Dragoon buddies.

You’ve come back,” he whispered in a horse voice. “I made a mistake. You all died…but…now we are reunited, let us head back to Staik Lake.”

“That’s nice old timer, but we need to ask ya bout the Frozen Flame,” Kid interupted impatiently.

He turned back to her, “What’s that Lady Riddel? The Frozen Flame? What about the Frozen Flame?”

Grinning now that she was getting somewhere Kid said, “Your Lady Riddel needs to know where it is. Where is Lynx keeping it?

The old man smiled widely, glad to help. “Of course! The secret passage is in the ballroom…third candlestick on the left…” The old man’s eyes began clouding over once again. "Please forgive me, for your father... I beg you, Riddel. The Dragoons..."

Kid’s face was beaming. Now we knew where to find the Flame…and Lynx. "It's high time for you to bust on outta here, old man."

I was already heading out. The catacombs gave me a serious case of the creeps. "Come on... we've done all we can do here. He's got to walk through these bars himself."

When we left the catacombs Kid had a new spring her step, but I was bothered by something. I kept hearing that whispered warning. “Magil,” I said. “Think it would be okay if we stopped by Lynx’s room? I want to see that mirror again.”

Kid looked at me in disgust. “What ya wanna see that stupid thing again for? We’re almost there, mate! I can smell the Frozen Flame from here!”

Magil looked into my eyes for a moment. At first I thought he’d refuse my request, after all I didn’t really give them a good reason why we should go back. Finally the mage nodded. “Very well.”

I tried to ignore the aggravated expression of Kid’s face as we once again found ourselves standing in front of the Mirror of Whispers. I just hoped the mirror wouldn’t show me anything else about Kid’s past that she wanted to keep hidden. She might forgive me one, but surly not twice.

The Venus statue smiled up at me. “Welcome back, Master Serge. Is there anything you would like to know?”

I had come with the intension of confronting the mirror about the warning I had heard. To see if Lynx really was expecting us or not, but as I stood there before it, I lost my nerve. Try as I might I couldn’t bring myself to accuse the mirror. Knowing that it would simply skim the thoughts off the surface of my mind anyway, I quickly blurted out. “I’d like to know about your past.”

Kid shot me a hot glare. “That’s why ya drug us in here? To ask the mirror about itself?” Magil showed no reaction. Disapproval or otherwise.

I shrugged meekly. “I was just curious I guess.”

The statues reflection smiled at me from the other side of the reflection. “You have interest in my past?” It asked in a humble tone.

“Yeah,” Kid answered in my stead, suddenly curious herself. “What in the blazes are ya?”

“I am a Mirror of Whispers, crafted over three-hundred years ago in the Realm of the Looking glass.”

“Realm of the Looking Glass?” Both myself and Kid asked simultaneously.

“It’s the flip-side of this world…a word which harbors the objective contents of thoughts,” Magil answered quickly.

The mirror continued, “I’ve been in this world for a long time. Passing through the hands of many owners, I traveled far and wide throughout many lands.”

“So how did ya end up here?” Kid asked.

The mirror sighed, a depressed lonely sound. “I came here with a kindred spirit, but now…I am alone. Furthermore, now that I am without others of my own kind, I have begun to fade…I am so lonely…” On the reflection side, tears trickled down the Venus’s face.

“If we come across any other mirrors like you, we’ll come back and tell you,” I said in an attempt to cheer it up.

Still weeping the Venus statue looked up at me and smiled. “Thank you so much…your kindness shines, truly.” It started to speak again, then paused as if hesitating. “If…if you’d be interested I have a gift for you.”

“A gift?” I was taken aback. What kind of gift could a mirror possibly give to someone?

“Only a modest token of my appreciation for you and your comrades. I present you with a personal invitation into the Realm of the looking Glass, if you are interested.”

Kid frowned. “This aint gonna take long is it?”

“Oh no,” the mirror replied. “It won’t take up hardly anytime on this side.”

To me it sounded like a great gift. Traveling to a parallel world? That would be exciting. I reached forward and plunged my hand into the mirror. The surface rippled slightly as I stuck my arm in deeper. It felt like sticking my arm into water, only not quite as wet.

“Oh, Master Serge I’m so sorry!” The mirror wailed, suddenly upset. “I’ve been forced to trick you! Hurry pull your arm out, or you’ll be sealed inside me forever!”

With panic setting in I urgently tried to pull my arm free, but something, it felt like a strange pressure being wrapped around my arm, began to pull me further in. Kid and Magil rushed to my aid, both grabbing onto me and tugging as hard as they could. My arm came out a little, causing cracks to spider web through the mirror.

“On the count of three.” Magil ordered. “One, two, three.”

The three of us pulled back with all the force we had, popping my arm out from the mirror. Instantly the mirror was riddled with cracks.

“I’m so sorry…Lynx planned to seal you all in the mirror,” the mirror wept. As it spoke more and more cracks appeared in its surface. “There’s more. I had already alerted Lynx of your presence long before you knew of my existence. He’s known you were in the mansion since the beginning.”

“Damn him,” growled Kid. “Why’d ya do it, mirror? Why’d ya side with someone like him?”

“Lynx took away everything I ever had. He refused to allow me to leave Viper Manor, coercing me to be the mansion’s eyes and ears, promising he would someday set me free…” A large piece of glass fell from the mirror, shattering on the floor with a light tinkling noise. “However, it was simply another one of Lord Lynx’s schemes. No freedom is worth stealing another’s for. I would rather destoy myself than become another murderer…”

Another piece of glass fell to the floor, and another. In the reflection we could still see the Venus statue’s mouth talking, but we could no longer hear her. Soon the rest of the glass had fallen. I looked into the shattered shards of glass, into a kaleidoscope of images. Heaving a sigh I turned away. Lynx had claimed another victim. “Let’s go.”

As we left I looked over my shoulder. Hoping to hear a faint whisper. I heard only silence.

The mirror had answered a couple questions though. First, it had been spying on us for Lynx. Second, Lynx was not away like a couple of his goblins had believed. He was here. He was with the Frozen Flame.

Then we were back in the ballroom. It was just as creepy then as it was the first time. Kid didn’t take long to find the right candle. She was burning to get a go at Lynx. “Okay, third on the left. Here we go.”

She pushed against the candlestick, pressing it slowly into the wall. When it was pressed all the way there was a faint click. Then the ground bellow us lurched. I stumbled before regaining my footing. “What’s going on?”

“The entire room is sinking downward,” Magil told me.

Then the room began to fall much faster. My stomach came to rest somewhere near my head. As I got use to the sinking sensation I realized the enormity of my situation, the finality of it. This was it, the conclusion to our adventure. My heart was filled with a violent mixture of anxiety, expectation, and hope. What would the Frozen Flame do once we had it? How would Lynx try to stop us?

The room continued to sink further underground like an elevator to Hell. Then I heard Kid speak. “…Sometimes…sometimes I do struggle to win, even when I know I’ve already lost, just like that lady said. Why do I do that?”

She was speaking meekly. Not anything like her usual self. When I looked at her I saw a shy smile on her face. She wasn’t the same Kid I normally saw.

Looking at her I felt something powerful go through me, it felt like a wave of fire, surging through my heart. “Don’t worry, we can’t lose, there’s no doubt!”

“Whatever,” she said under her breath. “Sayings like those never made much sense to me. There’s never a case where there ain’t a doubt. Not a single one. But…thanks, mate.”

Seeing her smiling at me like that I realized that there wasn’t another girl like that in the entire world, and there never would be one like her ever again. Ever. Seeing the way I was staring at her she said, “What’s up with you all of a sudden?”

I tried not to blush, but I think I failed. “Nothing, its just that for a second you looked like a different person.”

“It’s probably because of the Frozen Flame. We’re getting close.” Magil said, his low rumbling voice causing the shadows to tremble.

She wrinkled her brow in confusion. “What do ya mean?”

He turned to her. “Look inside of yourself and you will find the answer, Kid. The struggle for you catharsis is upon you…”

Then she was really confused. “What in the world are ya talkin’ about?”

The room began to slow. A metallic grinding noise filled the air as the breaks kicked in. “Guess this is our stop,” Kid said into the darkness. Most of the candles had had the life shaken out of them during the fall.

Then the organ roared to life. It’s song blaring. I shuddered at the music. The song was twisted, powerful and well written, but something about it made me wonder about the sanity of its composer.

“Sounds like a funeral march.” I stare at Kid after she said that. “Heh, Just kiddin.”

Personally I thought it was a bad joke, but hey, that’s Kid. “All right! Let’s do this,” she said as her and Magil opened the door. “It’s a funeral march all right! Lynx’s, that is!”

We found ourselves in a long straight corridor. Longer than any of the hallways he had previously encountered. This one was made differently too. The walls, the ceiling, and the floor were all mad from a type of metal. Blue veins ran through the walls, glowing softly they illuminated the tunnel in a light bluish glow. The ground was covered in an eternities worth of dust.

The three of us were dead silent as we walked. For Magil this was normal, but for Kid such a prolonged silence was more than unusual. The weight of the situation finally started to sink in. Three years ago I was nothing more than a wondering minstrel. I enjoyed plenty of travel, but little in the terms of real adventures. Somehow I had found myself miles below the ground, trying to steal some kind of magical gem from a tyrannical madman.

It wasn’t that I regretted joining up with Kid. That was in fact the thing in my life I regretted the least. But I felt like the whole thing was somehow bigger than I was, that I didn’t belong. I didn’t even know what the Frozen Flame was. Deciding I had a right to know, I asked Magil. I told him that I deserved to know what I was risking my life for.

At first I thought he wasn’t going to answer. I figured he’d ignore me outright, but I was wrong. A moment or two later he began to speak. “It is said to be a gem which soothes all scars, granting eternal life to its owner…or so people believed. The Frozen Flame is more than just an object. It’s not even of this world. It descended from the heavens long ago, part of a huge meteorite.

“Once there lived a people who sought to harness its power, hoping to tap into their yet unknown potential. And so, it became a treasure of great importance and dreams. However, whether a gift which bestows power is actually a blessing or a curse, is another question altogether. Since the birth of humanity, at least one entire race has fallen because of it. These people once built a great thriving metropolis with its power, but now, all knowledge of this era has been complexly lost within the sands of time.”

I noticed the sadness that had crept into his voice as he spoke. That night I had seen Magil exhibit an unusual amount of emotion. For him that is. How he knew all of that I had no clue. The source of his knowledge is still a mystery to me.

“Well, whether any of that’s true or not, it’ll all lead us to the same place. Say yer prayers, Lynx! We’re comin for ya! That’s all I know, and that’s plenty!”

Kid seemed a little like her old self as she made those fiery proclamations, so I asked another question that had been burning in my mind. “Kid, why are we after the Frozen Flame. I understand your vendetta against Lynx, but why are we pursuing the Flame?”

Kid met my question with a cold gaze. I know how much she hates talking about her past. And from what I learned from the mirror, I now knew why. Normally I wouldn’t have asked a question like this one. But once again I thought I deserved to know the answer.

Seeing that I wasn’t going to back down Kid shrugged and began to speak. “Well, I guess I shoulda told ya earlier anyway. I made a promise with my big sis…to get the Frozen Flame, and bury it for her.”

I understood that her ‘big sis’ was the woman that was abducted in the mirror. The woman that the old lady said was murdered by Lynx. Still, there was something I didn’t get. “Bury it for her? Where? Why?”

Kid explained. “At her old friend’s grave…I was still little at the time, so I can’t remember much of it…But there was this friend of hers who she’d grown up with, who died a while back. She said she wanted him to be able to rest with the Frozen Flame. I don’t know what she meant by that, but after what happened to her, I vowed to get my revenge, and honor what she wanted.”

I stayed quite after she finished. I didn’t know how to reply. “I’m sorry, Serge,” she said. “I shoulda told ya more before getting ya involved. It’s bad, Serge.”

Somehow having Kid openly admit how bad our situation was, made me feel really worried. None of us really felt like talking anymore. We continued to walk in silence, our footsteps thudding dully on the dusty floor.

“Do not move.”

I froze. I didn’t know what was going on, but Magil sounded very serious. Kid and I looked around for some sign of a trap, or whatever else might have alerted Magil. To my horror the ground was covered in bones. Human bones, some of them cut cleanly in two. Not only that, but the walls looked to have been stained with blood. I sighed inwardly. It looked like another trap.

From up a head I saw it approaching us. It looked like a spark of electricity, running along the floor at break neck speed. Reflexively I started to back away. Magil held me in place with his hand and repeated. “Do not move.”

I watched the spark draw nearer as anxiety started to build. For a moment I thought it would crash into us, but right before it reached us it split in two. Both sparks looped around us, drawing a shining circle on the floor, with us in the center. When the circle was complete light sprang out of the outline forming walls of electrical energy. Then the circle erupted with flashing light, and a howling wind.

I struggled against the wind to stay in one place, the very air felt charged with deadly energy. Kid accidentally raised her elbow up, it scraped against an invisible barrier causing multi-colored sparks to fly. Quickly she retracted her arm.

“It’s a Devil Circle!” Magil yelled over the howling wind.

“How do we get out?”

“In every Devil Circle there are gaps in the shielding,” he answered, though he was yelling I could still barely make out his words.

The blinding light show forced me to shut my eyes. I couldn’t see. I could barely hear. It was hopeless. Then I remembered the Gryphon and what it had told us in exchange of its life. “Magil, the Gryphon! Three steps to the right, then two to the left! And then two more to the right!”

“I believe you’re correct,” Magil told me.

“But Magil,” I hollered. “I can’t see over this light! I don’t know what direction is what!”

“Same problem here, mate!” Kid yelled from my side.

Then Magil stepped between the two of us, grasping us each by the shoulders. “Stay with me! Move when I move!”

I guess Magil’s mask had some magic in it that kept him from being blinded. Good thing too, otherwise we might not have ever reached Lynx and the Frozen Flame. Staying as close to Magil as we could he led us out of the Devil’s Circle, each time we passed through a gap I could feel the electricity sizzle around me.

Without warning we stumbled out of the circle. From the outside it gave off a bloodcurdling screech as it gave off a tremendous dust bellowing wind. Almost as if it realized we had escaped it vanished, in a small puff of smoke. The wind died down, and the dust settled. We had survived Lynx’s final trap.

“Well, I guess that bugger told us somethin’ useful after all,” Kid muttered as she dusted herself off. “Still, it was a stupid rat though…”

“We’ve made it,” Magil said pointing ahead of us. Sure enough there stood a mighty set of doors. Unlike any I’d ever seen.

Kid walked up to them. “Beyond this door…the Frozen Flame…” I looked at her and nodded. Magil nodded to her as well, a cool radiance shining from his eyes. “Okay…let’s go!”

She pressed against the doors. They were so big they might have been considered gates, but they reacted to her hands and slowly opened.


That simple word summed up the cavern behind the doors perfectly, because it wasn’t a room, or even a large chamber. It was a cavern. An immense one at that. It wasn’t just a large empty cave either, but the ruins of some long lost civilization. I wondered what could have happened to cause them to sink so far into the earth.

Not far ahead sat the Frozen Flame. It looked identical to the Fake Flame in the vault, only this one was shining with an almost angry intensity.

“Finally, we’re here!” Kid exclaimed, the Flame shimmered in response to her voice.

“Remarkable,” Magil whispered as he viewed the cavern. “Intact ruins of the lost Magical Kingdom.”

I turned to ask Magil what he meant. My attention was instantly drawn away, when we heard the laughing from above. Standing atop a large ruined monument stood the ruler of Viper Manor, the man who had killed Kid’s sister, who destroyed the Acacia Dragoons, who destroyed the Mirror of Whispers when she chose not to kill us. There stood Lord Lynx himself.

He was a large man, standing about as high as Magil, and easily as well muscled. His hair was cut short, and he wore his mustache in the way common to the far easterners. Fittingly enough he even resembled a cat. His eyes took us in, daring us to defy him.

Even as Lynx’s laugh was still echoing, Kid struck. Quicker than I’ve seen her move she threw her dagger at her nemesis. Kid’s aim was perfect, however, Lynx easily batted the projectile away. I swear if I hadn’t seen it myself I wouldn’t believe a man could move that fast.

“Always the same…such a savage little girl. Can’t you give a gentleman an honest greeting?” Lynx’s mocking smile was nerve racking. Like he knew he was our better.

Nimble as a feline Lynx dropped from the ruin he stood on, landing softly on both feet. “And what have we here? The notorious shadow walker. I wouldn’t be trying anything like last time, if I were you.”

Magil remained silent, but Kid couldn’t take his snide comments. “You bastard! You’ll pay for all you’ve done!”

Lynx laughed, genuinely amused by Kid’s anger. “Welcome back Kid. I see you have successfully taken the bait, gluttonous as ever.”

Kid paled a little, not liking that last comment one bit. Honestly, neither did I.

“You see, Kid,” Lynx continued. “While you believed you were coming here to steal my rock, it was in fact I who was leading you here so I could steal your rock. I‘m not an arrogant man, if any of my traps had saved me the trouble of finishing you off I wouldn‘t have minded. I‘d be lying though, if I said I wasn‘t going to enjoy doing the deed personally.”

“What stone?” Kid asked, ignoring his threats. “What rock are ya blabberin on about?”

Lynx raised his hands up to his sides, as if the answer were obvious. “Surly you remember? The priceless keepsake given to you by your dear sister all those years ago…the Chrono Trigger!”

“How’d ya know about that?” Kid demanded. “Never mind. Doesn’t matter anyhow. We’re her for the Frozen Flame, and this time yer finished ya bastard.”

Lynx smiled as he unsheathed a shining gold saber. “Ah, yes. Throw around those little threats, Kid. But remember, no matter how many times you’ve thought you’ve won, I’ve generously showed you how bad you were mistaken. In the past I’ve overlooked finishing you, and have let you scurry on with your pathetic little life. I don’t think I’ll be so generous this time.”

Kid pulled another dagger from her boot. “Lynx! Ya murderer, I’ll never forgive you for Lucca…This ends here and now!”

Breaking into a dead sprint Kid charged him, leaping into the air with an amazing flying kick. Somehow Lynx dodged. His movements were so fast I couldn’t even fathom it. Kid didn’t even see where he had dodged too. She landed on her feet and was utterly perplexed as to where her target was, but he was right to her side. Lynx laughed again, taunting her.

Kid spun around with a round house kick, but Lynx pulled his head back just far enough so it missed his nose by mere millimeters. Then he slashed at Kid. She nimbly jumped back. “If only you had been a bit faster, Kid,” he taunted.

Suddenly a line of blood appeared on her cheek. I was dumbfounded. I swore I had seen her dodge the blow. Kid wasn’t deterred however, and launched into a combination of complex attack routines. If I had been her opponent I would have been flayed within the first three seconds, but I wasn’t her opponent, Lynx was, and he easily parried each and every attack she made.

I realized that he was toying with her, so I turned to Magil for help. “We’ve got to do something, Magil! He’ll kill her!”

“She wants a chance for vengeance,” he replied coldly. “I of all people will respect that wish.”

Frustrated I turned back to the fight. I knew that all I would do is get in her way if I tried to join the fray. This fight was simply too far out of my league. Sidestepping one of her thrusts, Lynx drove the tip of his saber into her back. I instantly thought the worst, but soon saw that he hadn’t stabbed her very deep. He was still playing around. Like a cat with a mouse.

Kid stumbled forward in pain, but managed to spin around and launch a counter attack. “Stupid little brat!” Lynx taunted as he dodged several more strikes. Then after blocking one her blows he slammed her shoulder with his elbow, sending her to the ground. Kid started to rise, but Lynx kicked her hard in the chest before she could. She flew several feet back into a stone wall.

“What’s wrong little girl?”

Kid was still trying to get up, but she was too badly hurt. The sight of blood trickling out of her mouth made my stomach twist in furry. Lynx took his attention off Kid and onto the ceiling. I wondered what he was doing, then to my horror I understood. Lynx was using magic on the cavern ceiling, causing several large boulders to drop.

I screamed out her name and started to run to her. I knew I would be too late. Magil wasn’t too late though. A terrific blast of wind sent the falling stones harmlessly over a cliff. Then in the blink of an eye he stood between Kid and Lynx.

For the first time in my life I saw unchecked emotion running through Magil’s face. The Shadow Walker was furious. I could feel the monumental magical energies flowing from him. I had always known Magil was powerful, but until that moment I had no idea how so.

Lynx was ready for anything, not even a mage as powerful as Magil caused him any worry. Before Magil could unleash a spell, Lynx pointed at him, threads of white energy flying from his finger. Within seconds Magil was wrapped tightly inside a white cocoon, with only his head sticking out.

“How does that feel, shadow walker? Can you feel it yet? Can you feel my web drain your life force?” Lynx laughed ominously. Magil growled in fury.

With both Kid and Magil out of the fight it was left to me. Alone I had no chance, even still, I couldn’t let him kill Kid. Not without trying to protect her first. I rushed to Kid’s side. She was alive, but badly injured.

Lynx approached me slowly, he was in no hurry. “How touching, but you should really be concerned with your own well being, young man.”

Grabbing my own knife I charged him, aiming a thrust at his gut. Quicker than anything I’ve ever seen Lynx parried my attack. The force from his saber knocked my knife clean out of my hands. Before I could make my next move, he seized me by my throat. “You see, whoever you are, opposing me is quite useless.”

I tried to pry his fingers off, but I couldn’t. His grip was insanely strong. It felt as though iron loops were being squeezed around my neck. Just to demonstrate his strength, Lynx picked up off of the ground. I dangled in the air, struggling for a breath.

“Look, Kid. Look at your pathetic little companion suffering. You can make this all stop, if you want.”

Kid continued to try to rise, but she didn’t have the strength left. “Let go of Serge…”

“If you want this little boy to live you’ll give me the Chrono Trigger, Kid!” Lynx squeezed even harder, I began to wonder if my neck would break before I even had a chance to suffocate.

“Little do you know, but that rock is actually a tiny, condensed universe. When combined with the Frozen Flame, it gains the power to bend space-time, allowing its owner to reshape history. You will tell me where it is…or you‘ll all die.”

Lynx looked up at me. His face cold as he beheld my struggling. “What about you young man? Do you know where the Chrono Trigger is?”

I didn’t, of course. Until then I had never even heard of a Chrono Trigger. Lynx tightened his grip even more. My vision started to fade. The room began growing darker, and darker.

I snapped back to attention just for a moment when I heard Kid calling out to me. “Serge! Wha…what should I do?”

I didn’t want to die. There were so many things I still wanted to experience, places I wanted to travel, but I couldn’t let Lynx get what he wanted. With that kind of power Lynx would turn the world into a living nightmare. “Don’t…don’t do it…!”

“Please forgive me Serge,” I heard her say. Then to my horror she said, “Stop…I have the Chrono Trigger right here! Just let him go.”

Instantly I was dropped to the ground. Forgotten for more important things, I had served my purpose. I wanted to yell out to Kid, to tell her not to give it to him, but all I could do was gulp down air.

Kid reached into one of her pockets as Lynx approached, but as he knelt down she flung herself at his face, slashing savagely with a knife. Caught off guard by the vicious attack Lynx stumbled away, grasping his wound. She had cut him deep. Blood ran though his fingers as he cradled his mangled face. Keeping his right hand over the wound he stood up, and raised his saber. With much more speed than I thought it possible for her to summon, Kid swung her leg out in a sweeper kick. Lynx crashed to the floor, the breath forced from his lungs.

I should have known Kid wouldn’t give up that easily. Not on the Chrono Trigger, and not on me. For the moment she saved us both.

Kid stood up and coughed blood. Her body was kept aloft by shear force of will. Looking down at Lynx she smiled through her agony. I rushed to her side, my neck still burning, and put an arm around her, helping to support her weight.

Lynx got up. His cold gaze fixed on Kid. “Child, you shall beg for death soon enough. Every flavor of pain shall be yours.”

He raised his sword over head. “Prepare to join Lucca!”

At those words Kid changed. Filled with some kind of raging determination she straightened up, no longer needing my support to remain standing. Her eye’s narrowed at Lynx, fixing him with a glare of pure hatred.

From behind Lynx the Frozen Flame exploded with light. A beam of crimson power shot forth. At the same time a golden beam of light burst from Kid’s chest, meeting the crimson beam in mid air. The two beams of brilliant light spiraled together. Swirling around Kid. In the light she looked more powerful than time itself. A goddess enraged.

Her body trembled. Red tears flowing freely from her eyes. “You will not win, Lynx!”

There was an odd whooshing noise, then the entire cavern fell quiet. The purist silence I’d ever known. Noise itself had been banished. Then a deep voice began to speak. The voice was unlike any other, it was the voice of undeniable honesty and truth. Deep and profound it filled our hearts and our minds. I’m not sure how long it spoke, nor can I remember the exact wording. What it told us, however, I’ll never forget.

It told of a princess born in an ancient kingdom. She had vast magical talents. But because of her power the kingdom came to an end, crumbling under its own weight. The cataclysm was so great that time itself was torn asunder, creating a temporal vortex that swallowed up many of those dear to her. She had hated what she had done so much she wanted nothing more than to die, but the stone would not let it be. Instead it reset the hands of her clock, and scattered her memories. Because the precious stone was in her possession she carried with her all its power. And with that she was reborn into this era as an infant, and given a second chance at life.

The voice faded away leaving everyone in stunned silence. The voice had given no names, but who it spoke of was apparent. The princess from the story was none other that Kid. Unbelievably, yet undeniably so.

The Chrono Trigger floated a few feet in front of Kid, suspended in mid air. It resembled an egg, only it sparkled with golden brilliance. Several cracks ran down the ‘shell’ of the ‘egg’. Then it shattered, its fragments dissolving into the air.

Then the cavern started to fall apart. That’s not a good way to describe it. It felt like everything was bending. Time and space were being stretched and bent in ways normally unnatural to them. This resulted in a brief tear in reality. It wasn’t long until we had been completely removed from existence in the normal time-space.

I floated in the darkest black. Not just caused by the absence of light, but this darkness was caused by the absence of everything. I floated in the void, barely able to comprehend what was going on. Then a faint voice broke the silence. It was the voice of a girl. “Please…This dark energy…Make it stop…!”

Her voice was faint, like it came from a great distance, but even so I could still hear the urgency in it. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. I couldn’t even remember who I was. I struggled to regain my memories, which felt like they were still in my head, only locked away. The harder I struggled the less I could remember, until I lost all sense of reality and presence. I became entirely engulfed in the void, then I became one with it, and I could see everything.

People living, people dying. The ancient past where reptiles were the dominant species, the far future where man lived along side machine. The origin of time, the end of time, every one of life’s tranquilities that lay in between. I see myself: a baby crying at my mother’s side, she gives me a warm proud grin. I see myself: an old man softly smiling, knowing that death is soon to come. I see myself: a young man plunging a dagger into a goblin’s neck, defending himself and his friends. Infinite versions of myself.

How long I floated there. In the middle of eternity, I do not know. It seemed like forever, and at the same time it was over very fast.

The strange ocean of time had been completely silent. I had even forgotten about the girl who had been calling out to me. Then the song started to play. The song reverberated through my flesh, my bones, my soul. It was the sum of everything.


Something about the song had unlocked my memories. They came flooding back. At the forefront was Kid. I called out to her. Using my voice as well as my mind and soul. I called out begging her to answer me.

She called back. Asking who was calling her name. Then we were together. Face to face. She smiled at me. It was a combination of her roguish grin that I had always known, and the smile that she had once worn as the princess. “That song…it’s beautiful isn’t it? It was Lucca’s favorite.”

The song is the same song that played from Riddel’s music box. Kid said it was Lucca’s favorite, but I don’t see how that is possible. Because it’s a song that I composed myself, during my time as a wandering minstrel. She enjoyed it so much that I don’t voice my question, it wasn’t important anyway.

“You called to me, Serge. You called my name. Thank you. You won’t leave me, will you?”

“I’m here for you, Kid.”

“It all makes so much sense now…I know who I am, Serge…I know what I’m her for.”

Let’s go back now, okay? I’m ready.”

Then we were slammed back into reality. The colors, sounds, smells, everything all at once. I can’t aptly describe the experience. Let’s just say it was unpleasant. Even worse was that Lynx had made it through the whole thing unscathed. In fact I don’t think he remembered any of it.

Kid collapsed from exhaustion. I was the only thing standing between her and Lynx. He walked straight to us, silent with rage, his golden saber raised in the air. I couldn’t beat him. Still, I stood my ground, at least I knew about the Chrono Trigger being shattered. Even if Lynx had killed us he wouldn’t have gotten the ultimate power that he wanted.

A gunshot hit the ground right in front of Lynx. The loud retort echoed through the cavern. We all turned to see the old woman from the clock tower standing less than twenty feet away. She was still concealed under her large hood, but in her hand she held a small yet powerful pistol, aiming it at Lynx’s head.

Lynx frowned. “So, Vera. Looks like Porre couldn’t keep their hands out of this after all,” he said flatly.

“Good to see you again, Master Lynx. Seems you’ve seen better days.” The old woman held no fear of him. “The Frozen Flame, we will take custody of it now. It seems none of you can decide on who the rightful owner should be.”

The old woman, Vera, gave a small hand signal. Within seconds dozens of Porre soldiers flooded into the cavern. Each one armed with large powerful rifles, the standard weapon of Porre. Of course they all had short swords for their side arms. In case they ran out of ammo.

Lynx was livid. “I will not forget this, Vera!” Summoning his magic he took flight. Shooting straight up into the air, then he turned his attention to myself and Kid. “And you! You will see death by my hand!”

Then he vanished. Not like when Magil would vanish into the shadows, either. Lynx was truly gone. All around us the soldiers actively worked. Some of them had set up a perimeter, to defend against an outside attack. A few rushed over to the Frozen Flame and shoved it into a small metal box. Some untied Magil, but the rest aimed their rifles at us.

Vera turned her attention to us as well. “I believe you all ought to come with us.”

However, Magil had other plans. With a wave of his hands the cavern went pitch black. Before the Porre soldiers had time to react Magil had scooped up Kid, and with his other hand he grabbed me by my arm. “Quickly, Serge!”

With that command we took off. Sprinting as fast as we could through the darkness. Magil could see perfectly, so I just clung on to him, letting him guide me out of the mansion. In the dark, Magil easily dispatched the Porre soldiers guarding the ballroom elevator. Before the Porre military knew what hit them, we had escaped.

Once we had reached the forest, Magil stopped so we could catch our breath. He put Kid down. She was beat up pretty bad, but she could walk again. I asked if she was okay, and she nodded. “Yeah, mate…fine.”

“Porre is here in force tonight,” Magil said, getting my attention. “We are completely surrounded.”

All around us we could see the light of their torches as they closed in. Magil wasn’t kidding about them being there in force. Their was literally hundreds of torches. Porre had planned on getting the Frozen Flame, no matter what the cost. And they had succeeded. The Frozen Flame was now theirs.

Kid looked over to me. “Serge, go…save yerself. The troupe is only after Magil and me. If they find you alone, they’ll let ya go.”

I stared at her uncomprehending. “What are you talking about? I can’t leave you now! Not like this!”

“I’ll be fine, mate…”

I shook my head and continued to argue. She put her finger to my lip, silencing me. “Don’t worry. I remember now, Serge…who I used to be, long ago.” For a moment she stared up at the sky. The reflection of thousands of tiny stars danced in her eyes.

She closed her eyes and continued to talk. “Lucca’s Chrono Trigger was lost…we couldn’t even get our hands on the Frozen Flame…but, it’s okay, it’s all okay, because tonight, in my heart, a shiny new treasure was born, Serge…the single most valuable unstealable treasure in the entire world.”

She opened her eyes again, and stared straight into my own. “Knowing who I am…It’s bigger than all this…bigger than Lynx, bigger than the Frozen Flame…and, nothing can take that away…not as long as I’m alive.”

Staring into her eyes that night. I wish it could have lasted for all time. Just me and her.

“Goodbye, Serge…thank you…”

Kid leaped into the darkness, starting her get away from the soldiers. I called after her, but she called back. “Don’t follow me! Please, don’t!”

I couldn’t control my feelings and rushed after her anyway. Appearing out of nowhere Magil blocked my path, shaking his head, a sorrowful look in his eyes. Then he dissolved into the darkness and was gone.

“Don’t worry,” I heard Kid call from a distance. “I’ll see ya again! Someday I know I’ll see ya again…without a doubt!”

I called her name some more, but she was already gone, and I was alone. I slumped down next to a tree and waited for Porre to catch me. I didn’t even try to avoid them. They held me for a few weeks, interrogating me, but I didn’t really know much that could help them. They already knew more about Magil and Kid’s pasts than I did.

The only thing they didn’t know was the true-complete past of Kid. I kept that a secret, though I answered truthfully to everything else they asked. In the end they decided I was of no use, or of any threat. So they let me go. That was about a month ago. I’ve been living here in the Porre capital city ever since.

I’ve been staying at an inn. I perform at night, and the inn keeper gives me room and board. Sometimes generous patrons will toss me a couple coins as a tip. I won’t stay here forever. In a couple weeks I’ll move on. Roaming from town to town, just as I used too, before I had met Kid.

I won’t have any real goals in mind at first. Porre is going to keep a close eye on me for a while. Hoping that I’ll lead them to Magil and Kid. Hopefully after a year or so they’ll decide I’m not worth the effort and leave me alone. But until then I won’t risk jeopardizing Kid.

Someday though. Someday I will see her again. I have no doubt.

* * *

The boy put the book down, sad to have the tale finally end. There was more written in it. His grandpa had continued to write in the diary for quite some time, but the rest was mostly mundane everyday stuff.

Every now and then he’d reminisce about Kid. Like the first lines the boy had read, about him whispering her name to the evening sky, but none of it compared to that first long entry. Forgetting about the heat the boy read the story again. Someday he’d read the rest, but for now the good part was all he needed. Unlike his mother, he believed the whole thing.

“Honey, your friend is here.” His mother called to him. A moment later a blonde girl emerged from his doorway.

“C’mon Serge! You’ll never guess what we found!” The girl was overflowing with excitement. “We found the ruins of some old mansion in the Northern Kitsune Forest!”

The boy looked down at his grandpa’s diary. His grandpa had experienced an amazing adventure. There was no reason why he shouldn’t too. Putting the book down with a vow to read it again when he returned, Serge left with his friend. Toward his own adventure.

Authors Note: I'd like to thank Demiforce for spending the time and effort in translating Radical Dreamers. Oh, and Square for making the game to start with.

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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