Chapter IV: Buried

Afura/

When I hear what had happened, I rushed towards the Fire Shrine with all the speed I could muster. Even though the woman irritates the hell out of me, she's still my friend.

Dreading what to expect, I prepared myself for the worst. But could someone truly prepare for the worst?

Even when I tried to prepare myself, it was still hard to look at.

The Shrine of Fire was leveled to the ground.

What force could have done this? If it was made by the Lamp of Earth, who was doing it?

I almost used the wind to clear the rubble when I saw him. I was so surprised to see him that I froze in the air.

Rashiel was kneeling near the rubble, his hand was on the ground. Makoto and Ifurita were with him, looking curious as to what he was doing. Seeing that they were not distressed confused me. Was Shayla not in the Shrine when the quake happened?

I was close enough to hear their conversation as I landed near them.

"She's alive," Rashiel said. He had his eyes closed as if he was concentrating. "There are two more trapped inside."

"Those must be the Shrine Maidens," Ifurita said as she looked at the rubble. "It will be difficult to get them free."

"Difficult but not impossible," Rashiel said as he stood, blinking when he saw me. Then, he smiled.

"Hello, Lady Mann," he said then his face went sullen. "Under the circumstances... I hoped we would not meet this way."

"How's Shayla?" I asked.

"For the moment, she's fine," Rashiel sighed. "We have only to get to her."

"But how?" I asked. Suddenly, the ground shook.

"Not another one!" Makoto said as Ifurita held him to balance him. I was about to curse the one who held the Lamp when the earth opened up beside us. Strangely, the rubble wasn't affected.

"What is this?" I heard myself ask. The crack on the ground was large enough for two people. There was a staircase leading downwards, it was like someone carved the ground into the Shrine.

"Never look at the gift horse in the mouth," Makoto said as he began to enter the crack.

"Wait!" I stopped him. "What if it's a trap?"

"I am sensing that this crack tunnels into the Shrine," Ifurita said, looking at the rubble. "It branches out into two. One leads to the Shrine Maidens and the other leads to Shayla Shayla."

I just stood there unbelieving. Makoto, ever the scientist, was intrigued at what he saw but Rashiel...

Rashiel was gone! I looked around but didn't find him. He must have gone into the tunnels for Shayla.

"Ifurita, did you sense anything about this quake?" Makoto asked, surveying the entrance of the crack.

"I heard the same resonance that I had heard when that tunnel opened up to free us back at Florestica," Ifurita said. "Makoto, the musical resonance was different when the quake first struck the city."

"Meaning the sources are different," Makoto frowned in thought. "Or it could mean that the frequencies of the controlled quakes and the destruction are different but came from the same source."

"No," Ifurita shook her head as she peered through the opened crack. "This was made by a stronger source. Something fine tuned. Musical. The one that made the quake that destroyed Florestica was crude, clumsy."

"Are you saying that there are two lamps?" I asked. This was absurd. Why would there be two lamps of the earth? Ifurita looked at me with that blank thoughtful gaze. It was like she was considering something.

"No," she finally said. "there is only one earth lamp." Before I could quiz her more, Rashiel suddenly emerged from the hole carrying an unconscious Shayla in his arms.

"A little help," he said as he struggled to carry her. I always knew that Shayla needed a diet.

I rushed to help him, relieved that Shayla was fine. As soon as I had her, he ducked back into the hole to rescue the others.

"Are we just going to let him rescue them all by himself?" I asked worriedly.

"He knows what he is doing, he'll tell us if he needs help." Ifurita said. Suddenly, she blinked and touched her ear. "And he calls." Ifurita handed Makoto her staff and entered the hole.

"You get the feeling that there's more to Rashiel that he's letting on?" I asked. Makoto agreed.

"He know far too much about the ancient Angelians. It's like he's been there. What's scaring me is that he knows more about Ifurita than I do."

I didn't like it. The coincidences are piling up. Rashiel popped up at the start of the earthquakes. He knew about the lamp better than anyone else in El-Hazard. One might say he knew about it too much.

My mind saw him as a likely suspect but something inside me told me that it was not true.

But which would I believe? My head or my heart?

Ifurita/

I never have thought that my transceiver would still be working. I was surprised to hear Rashiel's voice, asking for my assistance. The first time I saw him there was this sense of familiarity that wouldn't go away. It was like I knew him from before. But that was impossible. I was asleep for thousands of years before Makoto awakened me.

If so, was he a descendant from the first Angelians? He knows far too much about their technology for him to be merely that.

Putting these thoughts from my mind, I searched for him and called.

"Over here," Rashiel said normally, like he did not fear that the ceiling could cave in from the vibrations.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"This part will be tricky," he said as he was on his knees facing a wall. "I need your help in getting them out as fast as you can." The wall he was facing was as hard as granite. A well placed blast would make a hole, enabling us to reach the girls.

"Forget it," he suddenly said much to my surprise. Even if you have learned to master your power staff, the blast might cause a cave in." Cave in? I looked around and found that the entire tunnel was carved out of granite. Actually formed was the correct term. Rashiel sighed and faced me.

"Ifurita," he said sullenly. "It's not that I don't trust your capabilities but behind this wall is the basement of the shrine. From the echoes it's a mess. We need to do this delicately or we wouldn't save them." Echoes? Had he heard what was behind the wall?

Rashiel tied a piece of rope, that he brought with him, around his waist. He then gave me the other end. I was confused as to what he was going to do.

"When I give you the signal, pull me up," Pull him up? From what, I wondered. He then tapped the floor with his toe and suddenly, I heard it again. The same musical resonance that I heard when the earth opened up and tunneled its way here. But this time, it was clearer. "Ready?" he took a deep breath and before I could ask, he jumped into the floor.

Momentarily, I was shocked. The floor , to my amazement, turned into quicksand. Rashiel dove into the sand apparently trying to get to the shrine maidens on the other side.

There was no mistaking it. Rashiel could manipulate the earth. But the question was, was he the one responsible for the attacks? In my time as a weapon, I have learned the different ways of deception and how to recognize them. Rashiel was either good at deception or was not responsible.

And there was one more thing. I sensed that the resonance that created the quicksand, the tunnel and the crack in the earth was more powerful than what had destroyed Florestica and the Shrine of Fire.

I didn't have time to ponder this since I heard the distinct call tune from my transceiver. Immediately, I pulled the rope, noticing that is was somewhat heavier. Pulling the rope faster, I saw Rashiel emerge, holding the two maidens in his arms.

"Get them out of here," Rashiel said as he coughed out the sand that he might have inhaled. Without another thought, I carried both maidens and flew out of the cave. When I came out, I saw Makoto's relieved smile as he saw me.

"Ifurita! Are you okay?" he asked.

"I am fine," I answered as he and Afura helped the maidens. And when I turned to get Rashiel, the ground suddenly closed beneath us, trapping him inside.

Afura suddenly screamed in anguish and disbelief.

Afura/

No! Don't close! I must get him back! I must! Ancients help me!