Ireseth completed the fourth utterance of the spell…already, the essence of Mantorok was reacting where it sat on the pedestal, its blackened heart shape beating faster.  He smiled and prepared for the next casting, thinking, It's really happening…only a few more times, and the Cabal's destiny will be fulfilled.  The powers of the old ones will soon be mine!

            As he opened his mouth to speak the phrases again, however, something felt different…he felt as though he was being watched, but a quick glance around told him he was alone.  Still, he couldn't shake the feeling.  There's no one here, he told himself.  Hurry now, and unlock the power before…

            Movement out of the corner of his eye snapped him out of his thoughts.  He turned to face the wall, and saw something that made him stare in shocked wonderment.  The inscriptions on that portion of the wall were twisting, moving together and rearranging themselves into a different shape.  As he watched, it seemed to take a small, humanoid form, and even formed a pair of eyes.  The figure blinked a few times before reaching out from the wall…it lifted away from the surface, gaining substance, and stepped right out of the inscriptions as surely as if it were walking into the room through a door.

            Buttercup finished her emergence from the wall, fixing a glare on Ireseth and speaking to him, "The essence of Mantorok is mine, mortal.  Do not oppose the will of Xel'lotath."

            "No!" Ireseth insisted, retreating closer to the essence.  "I have worked too long for this, me and my kind.  The Cabal has spanned the globe for lifetimes, searching for it, and now that it belongs to us, we won't give it up!  I won't give it up!"

            Focusing on him, Buttercup continued to stare, unblinking, as though considering…finally, she said, "You wish to know the power, the might of the ancients, that which is unattainable to mortals?  You wish to know what it is to be an ancient yourself?  So be it…"  Her eyes glowed a brighter green, and as Ireseth stared back into them, he could see it…everything was revealed to him in an instant.  His mind was flooded with memories of the past, images of things to come, and the very thoughts of the ancients, brooding upon things too dark for the mortal mind to contemplate, seething with emotions beyond mortal experience, plotting and scheming a thousand horrible fates at once.  Ireseth cried out, the true horror of the old ones settling on his soul and crushing it in a single beat of his heart…but it did not beat again after that, for it could not bear the darkness it had been shown.  He collapsed to the ground, his eyes locked open forever in a frozen state of raw fear.  Buttercup allowed herself a small smile at this sight before turning her attention away from his now lifeless body and back to Mantorok's essence, now hers for the taking.

            Before she could move, though, a blue barrier of energy erected itself between her and it.  Looking around in sudden bewilderment, she saw that the barrier extended out, surrounding her completely, and as she expected, she caught sight of Bubbles on the other side of it, her arms outstretched, undoubtedly the one generating the barrier with her own power.

            Buttercup frowned at her and focused on the energies of the magical field…it shattered like glass into a hundred tiny shards; these shards did not fall to the ground, but instead, they hovered in place, their sharpest edges turning to face Bubbles before all of them flew towards her together.  The energies ripped across her, forcing her to the ground, where she panted and tried to regain her strength.  Buttercup laughed, and said, "Your power pales in comparison to mine.  You were a fool to think your master could help you here, that anyone could oppose the power of Xel'lotath…"

            A crash from the wall alerted them both…Buttercup barely had enough time to start to turn towards the noise before the form of Blossom rammed into her shoulder-first.  The impact knocked her away from the pedestal, where she slammed against the wall, cringing.  Blossom, on the other hand, hovered in place and spoke up, her voice layered in unison with that of Chattur'gha, "Only a taste of the pain that you will feel once my master enters this world."

            She turned away and stared flying for Mantorok's essence, but was intersected by beams of electrical energy, emerging from Bubbles' eyes…she picked herself up off the ground as she continued to fire the energy, which held Blossom in place with her teeth gritting against the onslaught.  Bubbles slowly edged closer to the essence, keeping the beams locked onto Blossom.  Before she could make it, though, Buttercup pulled herself away from the wall and gestured once with one of her arms, an invisible force impacting into Bubbles and knocking her away.

            Blossom was now free of the beam, but she stayed in place, keeping an eye on Bubbles to be sure that she didn't attack again, and on Buttercup to make sure she didn't try to approach the essence herself.  Bubbles, in turn, watched the other two back, as did Buttercup…the three hovered around the pedestal from a distance, as each thought furiously to try and decide what to do next.

            "Enough of this!" Bubbles shouted, and raised her arms.  The ground along the edge of the chamber began to break up, and creatures of unimaginable horror began clawing their way to the surface, climbing out from the ground and into the room.  Blossom and Buttercup followed suit, their own minions heeding their calls.  Even as they did this, none of them turned an eye away from the prize for too long, the essence, which sat awaiting its new master, whoever it may be…

*          *            *

            Yes, perfect, the professor thought as he flipped through the pages of the Tome.  The key is Mantorok…he who watches over the ancients, and he who can be their ultimate undoing.  The powers of each of the three may be able to defeat one another, but it is mantorok's power that can silence them all…

            He found it on the next pages, the way with which to put an end to all of this.  But more than anything, he just hoped that he could get close enough to use this knowledge, and that he wasn't already too late.  Even know, he knew that the girls, under the ancients' influence, would be fighting over the essence, and if but one of them managed to get a hold of it, it would all be over.

            The solution to this problem seemed to jump out from the pages at him as well.  In fact, looking at it, it was the perfect solution.  Was it luck, or his own intuition that guided him to these pages, he wondered…but either way, he was willing to accept it.  He was still moving down the hallway, and knew from the sounds of conflict in the distance that he was drawing nearer to its source, so he decided to start now.  He read from the page as he moved forward, "Narokath, Redgormor, Mantorok…"

*          *            *

            It was chaos, but it was also a glimpse of what was yet to come.  The summoned abominations battled one another across the wide chamber, trying to secure the essence for their masters.  Twisted corpses, giant lumbering three-headed beasts, smaller and quicker clawed creatures, monstrous and horrifying entities…as some were cut down in combat, more arrived to take their place, but even so, their numbers were starting to thin out from their struggles.

            The girls themselves fought in the air above it all.  Buttercup, stretching forth with her power, surrounded Bubbles in a myriad of images, duplicates of herself, causing her a moment's confusion, which was all that was needed to strike.  Though they were images, each struck as though they were real, and Bubbles was knocked away from the fray, back into the chaos along the sides.

            Before Buttercup could even turn to face the essence, however, Blossom unleashed a beam of raw destructive energy from her hand towards her.  She spotted it and dodged to one side, but it grazed her anyway, throwing her off-balance and forcing her away from the pedestal.  The beam, in the meantime, impacted against the chamber wall with such force that it caused the stone to crack.

            Blossom took advantage of the opening and made a dash for the essence, but was engulfed a moment later by a miniature whirlwind, magically generated.  It grabbed and spun her around, finally slamming her into the ground.  Bubbles smiled and ended the spell, dissipating the wind, although she had to once again take a defensive position against Buttercup, who was recovering from her own hit.

            So absorbed in their conflict were they, that they failed to notice a lone figure moving through the chaos, shrouded from all their senses by a cloak of magic.  It moved silently, beyond sight and sound, parting its way safely through the conflict and edging closer to the center of the chamber.  Though the figure's presence went unnoticed, they did notice when a ring of seven purple runes abruptly surrounded the pedestal, and the voice of Mantorok whispered into the air…

            […bankorok, pargon, redgormor, pargon, pargon, Mantorok, pargon…]

            Sensing something was wrong, all three of the girls ceased fighting at once and flew towards the pedestal together…but it was already too late.  A purple field now completely surrounded it, blocking them off from the essence, and within the field stood the professor, his invisibility cloak expiring.  He shook his head and said, "I won't let you take it, girls.  I'll do what I have to in order to protect it."

            "Then you'll die," Blossom growled, slamming a punch against the shield.  It held up against the attack, and all three of them started pounding at it with their fists.  The shield sparked with each attack, and the professor knew that it wouldn't last long.  Hoping it would be long enough, he decided to begin now, while the girls were in the proper position.

            Looking down at the Tome, he laid his hand upon the essence of Mantorok.  Horrible visions flashed through his mind from its poisonous touch, the thoughts of Mantorok beginning to whisper in his head, but he did his best to ignore them and focus on the spell he needed to cast.  He read it aloud quickly, "Pargon, bankorok, pargon, pargon, aretak, pargon, pargon, Mantorok, pargon!"

            The girls abruptly froze in place, and then each of them arched their backs, giving cries of pain.  Energies swirled around them, coalescing at their chests, and slowly, they emerged…each of the essences of Chattur'gha, Ulyaoth, and Xel'lotath, their power bound by Mantorok's, were separated from the girls, being pulled out into mid-air and held in place.  What remained of the summoned creatures in the room began to waver and crumble into dust, their links to the power that was feeding them having been severed.  Once the essences were completely pulled free, the girls fell out of the air, and collapsed to the ground.

            Now the artifacts each hovered in the air, each of them exactly as he had remembered seeing them long ago…the strange, hovering statuettes that served as the focus of their essences.  In such close proximity to all four of them, he heard their voices shouting in his mind, and the whispers of their thoughts…it was overwhelming, and would surely drive him mad in moments if he didn't silence them quickly.  He clenched his eyes shut, and shouted above the cacophony, "ANTORBOK, REDGORMOR, MANTOROK!!"

            Tendrils of purple energy leapt out from the essence of Mantorok, targeting each of the other essences, now so fragile due to their powers being bound.  As the electric-like bolts struck the center of the statues, they shattered into pieces.  Each of the fragments caught fire as the spread out from the center, and disintegrated into the air.  The task finally done, the professor removed his hand from the essence of Mantorok and fell to his knees on the ground, panting.  The Tome fell out of his weakened hands, landing on the ground.  The remaining essence, in the meantime, simply faded from existence, its power ultimately spent.

            I did it, he thought.  I've destroyed the old one's essences, the Earthly links to their power.  The world will be safe…for now, at least.  He opened his eyes and looked across the room…compared to the chaos that was present mere moments ago, it seemed so quiet now.  Not an eerie calm, but more peaceful than that.  There were no sign of the horrors that were fighting, either; it was just him and the…

            "Girls!" the professor said in shock, looking around and seeing where each of them had landed.  He could see that their appearances had returned to normal, no longer showing sign of the twisted influence the ancients formerly had over them.  But they were lying still, unmoving, and it dawned on the professor that they may not be able to live without the essences, something that was inside them their entire lives…

            Movement caught his eye, and he watched as Bubbles stirred, her eyes opening slightly…she groaned, "Ughhh…wh-what…"

            "Bubbles!" the professor exclaimed, overjoyed…before he could rise to his feet, he saw the other girls starting to move as well.  Buttercup was picking herself up off the ground where she had been lying face-first, and coughed.  Blossom sat up and rubbed her head, looking just as disoriented as the others did.

            "Is it…is it over…?" Blossom managed to ask.

            "Yes, Blossom," the professor said, walking over and scooping up each of them into his arms.  "We're safe now…do you remember anything?"

            Buttercup frowned a little as she tried to think, and said, "Some of it…I mean, it was…it was almost like a dream…"

            "Or a nightmare," Bubbles agreed.

            Recalling the Cabal, and the details of the old ones, Blossom said, "Ireseth…the essence…?"

            The professor looked over towards Ireseth's body, lying crumpled on the ground not far from the pedestal, and said, "The Cabal is no more.  And the essence…it's gone now.  All of the essences are gone, including the ones you carried inside you."

            Bubbles felt her chest, and said, "It's gone?"

            Following suit, Buttercup shrugged a little and said, "I'm not gonna miss it, are you?"

            "Definitely not," Blossom said, shaking her head.  "So, now what happens?"

            "Now that they've been destroyed," the professor told them, "the ancients no longer have any ties to our world.  They'll be trapped forever in their dimensions, never to plague mankind again."  He looked over to where the Tome of Eternal Darkness lay next to the pedestal and said, "All that remains now is their memory.  Let's hope that it stays that way."

            Bubbles nodded, then yawned, stretching a bit before saying, "Why am I so tired…?"

            "All that fighting you did," the professor explained, then glanced at his watch.  "Plus, it's past your bedtimes…I'd better get the three of you home."  He started walking towards one of the doors leading out of the chamber, to head in the direction of the temple's exit.

            Buttercup thought for a second before asking, "Professor…are we going to tell anyone about all this?  I mean, would they even believe us?"

            "I don't know…" he said, giving it some thought.  I wouldn't have believed it myself, had it not happened to us firsthand.  Mankind wasn't meant to see what lies beyond the veil of our reality…the Cabal was a perfect example of the misuse of this knowledge…so perhaps there are certain things that are best left unspoken.  Even so, we'll carry these memories the rest of our lives, and I only hope that human eyes never again will be forced to see such terrors…

*          *            *

            Deep within a distant jungle, beyond the eyes of mankind, inside a temple long forgotten, Mantorok lay in his tomb, bound forever by ancient magics and cursed to perish slowly for eons as he waited for his captors to spread Eternal Darkness over the human world.  And yet, he still minded his ages-old task of watching over the ancients, hearing their voices and listening to their schemes.  Where hope had been lost, he would put his own plans into motion, exerting a subtle influence over mortals to further his own ends.  Through his guidance, the essences of Chattur'gha, Ulyaoth, and Xel'lotath were kept separated, and their secrets guarded, until he felt the time was right.  Thus, the fates of the few who knew would intertwine, and the essences would find their way to a single mortal, who would shield them within shells of pure good.  But even so, it only took a small tampering of fate to ensure that the beings were not only pure good, but extraordinarily powerful as well.  Once all was set, his own essence was offered up…it was no mistake that it would find its way into the clutches of those humans who knew only greed, who wanted his power alone.  But it had gone as intended, the beings of good drawing together in an effort to protect their creator, something that would have been impossible without their extraordinary power he made sure they obtained, and this lured them in for the final part of his plan.  It was Mantorok who gave them the Tome, who allowed their essences to break through the protections that held them, for the end purpose of bringing all three together, close enough where he could destroy them, to sever the ancients' connections to this world once and for all.  They would be trapped now, the three, secluded in their dimensions for eternity, never to spread the darkness again.

            All that remained now was Mantorok, the corpse god, festering forever in his tomb…plotting…