Chapter 9

It was pretty much just like the other place, Locke thought.

Oh, there were a few differences - the lights didn’t come on when he entered, and parts of the walls looked like they’d seen better days. But even with just a small area lit up by the torch, there was no question that the design was the same.

Locke would have rather not stumbled on more of that particular type of ruins. But at least this time, he was pretty sure that any metal statues like the ones in the other place would get a nasty surprise. If even one of their stories was true, Viktor and Flik wouldn’t have survived as long as they had if they weren’t tough customers in a fight.

Of course, if he hadn’t gotten the relic weapon when he did, Locke wouldn’t have been standing there to think about it.

He gulped.

“You guys ever seen anything like this place?” Locke asked.

“I think we’d remember if we had,” Flik said.

Viktor nodded. “That’s for sure. If this ain’t the weirdest place I’ve ever been, it’s gotta be in the top ten.”

“I’ve run into some ruins that weren’t too different from this,” Locke said. “There were some pretty nasty things running around, too. Metal statues or something like that.”

Flik stopped. “Golems?”

Locke shook his head. “Maybe. They talked though, or at least the one did. They were made of this stuff.” He patted the wall. “Oh, yeah, and they shot energy beams from their chests.”

Viktor slapped him on the back and laughed. “You had us goin’ there for a sec,” he said.

“It’s-”

“There’s something moving up ahead, you know” the Star Dragon Sword said. What with the light only reaching a few yards ahead, the talking weapon’s magical senses were their best bet.

That shut the three of them up right away. Locke drew his sword, a short stabbing weapon Viktor had loaned him. Flik did the same.

“Moving very fast,” the Star Dragon Sword added. “Dodging would seem in order.”

Locke was always ready to listen to that particular advice. He flattened himself against a wall.

Even so, he thought the object which went flying by would kill him. It was almost as big around as the passage, shaped about like a ball, and moving a hell of a lot faster than anything its size should.

It blew past them and smashed into the far wall, giving them a nice view of its cracked and crumpled surface.

After a second, Locke realized that it was one of the big statues he’d met up with - the guards. He knew they could roll into a ball, but how come it had moved so much faster than the other one? And what had happened to it?

“What the hell was that?!” Viktor shouted, looking at the statue’s crumpled form. “That damn thing went flyin’ past like there was no tomorrow. You ever seen one of those, Locke?”

Locke caught his breath and nodded. “I... yeah. It didn’t move like that, though.”

“It would appear to have been propelled by the force of an attack,” the Star Dragon Sword said.

“That’s some attack,” Flik pointed out. He prodded the side of the statue with his sword. “Magic, most likely.”

Locke nodded. “That’s some magic.” He’d seen espers do that kind of damage in Vector, and Kefka do worse with the power of the three statues, but not much else. And he sure hadn’t heard about anything in this world, except maybe the True Runes, powerful enough to match an esper.

“There is something else out there,” said the Star Dragon Sword. “Quite probably the attacker which caused this.”

“It’s probably all out of magic by now,” Viktor said. “Right?”

Flik pointed in the direction the statue had come from. “Whether it is or not, we’re going to have to deal with it.”

“I figured you’d say that.” Viktor pulled the Star Dragon Sword around to face toward the potential enemy.

The first warning they had was a whistling sound. It had been even worse when the statue had flown by, but that time Locke’d been too intent on staying as close to the wall as he could to notice.

The next warning was when a metal ball, almost four feet across and covered with spikes, slammed into the statue at the far end of the passage, crushing what was left of its body. The thick chain on the end of the ball jerked, and it shot back into the darkness.

“It’s not magic,” Flik said quietly.

“Run?” Locke asked.

“Run,” Viktor said.

They got around the corner with time to spare. A crash behind them told Locke that whatever was out there, it could see better in the darkness than they could, and it wasn’t happy with what it saw.

They turned at one junction, then another, just to make sure it couldn’t find them too easily. With a little more luck than Locke was used to having, it wouldn’t be able to get its ball and chain around the corners.

Locke was fast on his feet, so he got ahead of the other two. He got far enough ahead, in fact, that he was the first to run into the thing.

On the bright side, it looked about as surprised as he was.

Of course, it was probably surprised because some weenie little human had bumped into it. It’s leathery green skin was the first thing Locke saw. Then it turned its head toward him, and he got a lot closer look at its fanged mouth than he would have ever asked for.

“I found it!” he shouted back, giving the creature another surprise by stabbing it in the leg. His sword bounced off like he’d hit armour.

The creature laughed.

Flik’s lightning rune sent a bolt into its open maw, and it stumbled back.

“Thanks,” Locke called back. He tried again, pushing his sword in two-handed. This time, he got splashed with hot, murky blood for his efforts. He pushed harder.

The creature got its bearings and kicked him off. He hit the ceiling and then the floor, both a lot harder than healthy, but he rolled aside before it could step on him.

Viktor and Flik were at it now, though. Their heavier swords fared better against its skin than Locke’s stabbing blade had, and it shrank back.

Locke ducked past it into a side corridor and flipped his sword around, holding it like a dagger. The creature’s back was covered with a thick shell, almost like a turtle. But if he could catch it in the back of the neck, it wouldn’t shrug it off, no matter how big it was. He hoped.

Before he got the chance to try, it yanked its arm around. Locke hadn’t even realized what it was holding up until then, but he saw real quick - the ball and chain which had smashed the metal statue shot down the corridor, missing his head by a couple of inches.

The creature wrapped the chain around its thick, burly arm. “Pretty tough,” it rumbled. It’s toothy maw didn’t seem like it should be able to speak regular language, but it sure managed. It grinned. “For humans.”

The corridor was barely wide enough for the creature to fit. Locke figured it wouldn’t have room to swing its ball and chain around. He was right - but swinging it back and forth was just as bad.

Flik ducked underneath its swing, but it caught Viktor on the arm and sent him tumbling. The chain swung around, then back again. Viktor tried to roll aside, but it was just too fast.

Locke jumped onto its back and plunged the sword in as hard as he could.

The ball fell short of Viktor. The creature roared and stumbled back, slamming Locke into the wall. He tried to ignore the pain and twist his sword, but one of his arms was pinned.

Flik charged, driving his sword up into its stomach. But the creature, hurt as it was, still hadn’t given up. It swung its chain around, catching Flik in the legs. It hadn’t had time to get a good swing, but it didn’t seem to matter. The heavy chain wrapped around and snapped taught. Flik held onto his sword, pushing it further.

The pressure on Locke eased up a bit, and he pulled his blade out to stab again. The creature fell forward, on its knees. It was still higher than a man, even than Viktor. Locke stabbed it a third time.

“Not... beaten... yet!” it snarled. But it had fallen on Flik’s sword, driving the weapon deep into it. Locke stabbed again. He and the creature were covered with its blood.

Viktor had gotten shakily to his feet. He brought the Star Dragon Sword up in a wide arc. The magical blade hit the creature in the neck. Its snarl turned to a gurgle, and it coughed blood.

Feebly, it moved its huge hand toward Viktor, but he batted it away.

Locke rolled off its back.

It reared back with the last of its strength, clutching a black crystal which hung from its throat.

Then it disappeared.

Viktor prodded the air where it had been. “It’s gone,” he said.

“Yeah.” Locke looked down at Flik. The thin mercenary had dragged himself away from the creature and was leaning against the wall. “You okay?” Locke asked.

“I’ve been better,” Flik said. He tried to put his weight on his leg, but winced. “It’s no good. My leg’s broken.”

“Hell of a time for it,” Viktor pointed out. “Think we can set it?”

“I need better healing than you guys can give,” Flik said. “We’re gonna have to get out of here.”

“’Fraid of that.” Viktor pointed at the room the creature had been standing in front of. “But maybe that thing knew what it was doing.”

“I’d hate to leave empty handed after this,” Flik said. “Check it out, would you?”

Locke opened the door and peered inside. He’d figured he’d need the torch laying on the floor of the hallway.

But the room inside was bathed in a soft green glow. It was coming from a piece of what looked like stone to Locke, with a symbol carved on it. “Is that..?”

Viktor nodded. “Looks like we got what we came for.”