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Chapter 25

End Game Part Three

Evil-lyn and Trapjaw perused the extensive library, searching for secret compartments among the bookshelves and glancing at books' titles every so often. Centuries old dust coated some of the shelves of the towering wooden bookcases and crusted the floor. Evil-lyn held a hand over her nose and mouth to keep from sneezing. Trapjaw, oblivious to her plight as always, kept knocking the books to the floor and disturbing the dust. An hour passed since Skeletor ordered them to sweep the ground and second floors of the castle and they had yet to find anything even remotely resembling an amulet. Evil-lyn doubted they would find it at all.

"Jamie said he wore it all the time," she finally said, unable to stand the silence any longer and feeling the need to voice her own thoughts.

"So?" Trapjaw responded, not really interested as he used his claw to swipe a whole row of books off their shelf.

"So, why would Mortiferus hide the blasted thing here?"

"Dunno. Maybe he used it as a bookmark or somethin'."

Evil-lyn rolled her eyes and sniffed to herself. Trapjaw was a useless conversationalist, especially if it meant using his brain. If he had one.

"Oooh!" she crooned, forgetting all about her lumbering cohort as she spotted a few volumes of magic she didn't own. She immediately knelt down and pulled one of the heavy tomes into her lap, shuddering pleasantly as she opened the gilded cover to reveal a page of symbols and ancient Eternian text. Well, she would have to translate everything, which would take time, but it could be done. Her breath quickened in excitement as she turned the thick pages, growing more and more anxious to go home with every new spell she found. Some of the pages, she noticed, had margins full of a darkly, looping scrawl, notes left by some previous student, perhaps.

Maybe Mortiferus' handwriting, she thought, noticing that the notes were also in ancient Eternian. She'd have to translate those as well, but Evil-lyn had a feeling her efforts would be well worth the time. She flipped through a few more pages before grabbing the other two volumes and hauling them into her lap. With a few mumbled incantations the books disappeared, safely stored in zero space, the cavity of emptiness which existed in a state of invisibility between the dimensions.

When she stood up and dusted her legs off, she noticed Trapjaw standing nearby with several books under his arms, and he was staring at her as if he wanted something.

"Hmmm," Evil-lyn hummed, tapping a finger to her chin, "now what could you possibly want with those? I've never seen you read…"

"Ehh, they ain't fer me an' you know it. Trike might like 'em though…"

"Aw, how sweet…"

"Shut up an' just stick 'em somewhere."

Graciously Evil-lyn did as Trapjaw said, planning on holding the books hostage to see if she could get him to do a favor for her. Other than the books, scrolls, and dust the library contained nothing of importance. They scoured every inch of the room and checked every shelf, just in case. By the time the room began to grow cold, both Trapjaw and Evil-lyn were nursing very short fuses.

"Ugh," Evil-lyn shivered, rubbing her arms futilely, "there must be a draft in here. Figures, with how old this castle is."

Trapjaw exhaled to see his breath and shrugged. He had tough skin and didn't mind the cold as much as scantily clad Evil-lyn. Still, it was getting pretty chilly.

"Maybe a window got knocked out or somethin'," he replied, throwing some books to the floor as he swept a shelf for any sign of objects which shouldn't belong.

"Must be a big window," Evil-lyn grumbled, rubbing her hands together, "Let me just heat things up a bit." Trapjaw rolled his eyes as she began to utter a short incantation, convinced women were the strangest people in all of Eternia.

As Evil-lyn spun her minor spell her eyes glowed and her staff's orb crackled with magical energy. For a brief moment the room began to heat up. Trapjaw could no longer see his breath and Evil-lyn regained some feeling in her fingers. With the fierce chill retreating the two warriors felt more at ease within the cavernous library. Something about the warmth had reminded them of home, of the lava pools and the sweltering heat of Snake Mountain they were all accustomed to.

"That's more like it," Trapjaw inhaled deeply, his chest puffing out a bit as he enjoyed the warm air. "Can't wait t' get back t' Snake Mountain and outta this forsaken coldzone."

Evil-lyn agreed and opened her mouth to say something, but stopped when a strange sound reached her ears.

Shhhfffff. Shhhfffff. Shhhfffff.

"What was that?" she asked, spinning around and holding her staff in front of her. She dropped into a defensive stance and expertly swept the room, staring into the darkest corners of the library and trying her hardest to see around the ends of the bookshelves. Trapjaw fell into position as well, switching his claw for an intimidating laser cannon. The sound reminded him of dead weight being dragged across the floor, and since he and Evil-lyn were the only two people within the room the only logical conclusion was that not all of the guards were properly disposed of.

"Do you see anything?"

"Nah. Where did it come from?"

"Hard to tell; this room is large and the walls are made out of stone, perfect for conducting echoes."

"Great, so it could've come from anywhere."

Evil-lyn nodded and slowly waved her staff back and forth in front of her, letting the glowing orb illuminate what areas the torches' light failed to reach. She saw nothing but dust and a few small, scurrying vermin. The only sound she could hear was the faint howl of the wind and the constant clicking and whirring of the gears in Trapjaw's arm. Still, the hair on the back of her neck was prickling and she still felt the unwanted sensation of someone staring at her.

"Check between the bookcases," she ordered Trapjaw quietly, climbing the steps to scout out the second level of the library.

"I don't think there's anyone here but us," Trapjaw ventured as he obediently trained his cannon before him.

"Don't be an idiot," Evil-lyn sneered, "we both heard the same noise! Only a fool would dismiss it as unimportant." She was certain danger of some sort was approaching. The trick was discerning who was behind the potential attack.

The room itself appeared to be secure and an expert search yielded neither hidden traps nor guards left behind to spring an ambush. Trapjaw sounded very smug as he reported nothing suspicious on the lower level, making Evil-lyn grind her teeth in frustration. She'd sooner die than admit to a mistake, however possible it was she had made one. Instead of acknowledging Trapjaw's near tangible air of superiority, Evil-lyn climbed back down to the lower level of the library and began to perform another spell.

"Aw, c'mon!" Trapjaw groaned the moment she closed her eyes and whispered the incantation, "There's nothin' down here!"

"No," Evil-lyn countered sharply, her brow furrowing as she attempted to maintain concentration, "there's another nearby…someone skilled in the use of magic…I can't pinpoint his location…"

An uncomfortable silence passed by and Trapjaw scuffed his boots loudly and rubbed his cramped side. The room was growing cold again, probably because the minor spell Evil-lyn cast wore off. She was so busy trying to find some supposed magic-user she didn't even notice. Not for the first time in his life Trapjaw wished he still had his other arm intact, if only to wrap around himself to keep from being too cold. Come to think about it, he thought the room was getting even chillier than before. Maybe there was more than one window open.

"Why don'tcha put that that magic to use an' warm it up again," he grumbled, hunching his shoulders. Evil-lyn paid him no attention and cast the tendrils of her consciousness around, feeling around for any more traces of the unknown magic user. Probably just a court magician or something, maybe someone Mortiferus kept around to entertain himself with, or maybe even a protégé. She could sense an entity…but it seemed to be coming from all around.

So strange, she thought to herself, opening her eyes once more. I should easily be able to find him… Trapjaw was not helping any, with all his fidgeting and mumbled complaints about the cold, when they had much bigger problems to worry about. Although, now that her attention was no longer solely focused on finding a rogue wizard she did notice how much colder it was.

"Odd," she murmured to herself.

"I think you're losin' your touch, Trapjaw sneered, proving his point by exhaling into the near frigid air. A plume of steam issued forth from his mouth and swirled lazily through the air before dissipating. His blue skin, normally rough to the touch on its own in accordance to his race, was now covered in goosebumps. It was cold. Evil-lyn shuddered visibly and crossed her arms.

"I am not losing my touch," she huffed insistently, "my spell shouldn't have worn off so quickly."

"Then why in the seven hells is it colder than a Kulatak's back end?"

"Perhaps the room is a poor conductor for magic. Or maybe the other warlock is behind this. He must be negating my--"

"There's no one else here!"

The entity Evil-lyn sensed earlier chose that precise moment to attack, perhaps out of some strange affinity toward dramatic irony. When it moved Evil-lyn saw nothing more than a huge black blur. Trapjaw was slammed against the floor with the force of the blow he received, far too shocked to defend himself. The thing, whatever it was, wrapped around him, somehow smothering him from all angles. He kicked and swung his massive cybernetic arm around, trying to injure his foe. He couldn't see anything, just pure darkness, as if he were blind. Trapjaw roared as he tried to fend off the black mass. It was suffocating him, constricting around his torso until he could hear his ribs beginning to creak in protest. When he opened to his mouth to yell for Evil-lyn the blackness took the opportunity to plunge down his throat. Trapjaw coughed and sputtered as he choked on the wet, slimy fluid, barely able to comprehend what was happening.

"Help!" he managed to garble when whatever was attacking him let up. Evil-lyn, in the split second it took for her to realize Trapjaw was being killed, raised her staff and recited the most simple incantation she could think of.

"Ancient spirits of the sky, teach this loser how to fly!"

As if launched by a catapult the black mass flew high into the air and brushed the ceiling before arcing and falling to the floor with a wet thud. The thing had no discernable shape and writhed around before disappearing into the shadows. Trapjaw rolled onto his stomach and began coughing, spitting out a lungful of black phlegm. Evil-lyn sauntered over, glancing around the room suspiciously and keeping her staff close.

"Loser?!" Trapjaw rasped incredulously once he managed to stop hacking and wheezing. "Loser?! I'm bein' killed and you wanna call names?!"

"It was the only thing I could think of on short notice!" Evil-lyn snapped back. "If you had been on your guard perhaps I wouldn't have needed to save you! Again, I might add."

"I had everything under control!"

"Of course you did. You normally fight while lying on your back."

"Oh yeah?! Well how's about you makin' yourself useful and destroyin' whatever it was that just jumped me?"

Evil-lyn grit her teeth and turned away. She turned right into a wall of darkness. There was no time for her to raise her staff or even utter an incantation before the wall came crashing down on her like a tidal wave. She fell to the ground, unconscious, while Trapjaw turned tail and ran. He got no farther than a few yards before a snaky tendril whipped out and tangled itself in his ankles. He too fell to the floor with a thud, clutching at the smooth stone floor for purchase. Not even his hook apparatus could save him from being pulled into the dark mass along with Evil-lyn. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was a pair of legs walking toward him, and then the sound of malicious laughter. After that, everything went dark.

Skeletor was befuddled. Out of all the rooms he searched through, none of them yielded any sign of the immortal stone he desired. He had wasted enough time picking his way through a small armory, a private study, and three cluttered rooms which would have sent Tri-Klops in paroxyms of ecstasy before arriving at the red gilded door. It seemed to be made out of Eternian steel and etched with unrecognizable runes. Skeletor ran a claw down a specific character which mildly resembled the more modern Eternian symbol for 'death' and then attempted to open the door. Then handle did not budge, not even when he threw his entire weight against the door.

Ah-ha! he thought triumphantly, The only locked door on the entire floor? Covered in Ancient Script? The amulet must be in here

Chuckling madly to himself, Skeletor stepped back and leveled his ram's head staff at the door; if the Eternian jail cells couldn't hold up to a few laser blasts, then how could this measly slab of metal withstand the might of his magic? Surprisingly, the door gave way after only two moderately powerful magic blasts. Skeletor strode through the destroyed passageway with an implied sneer, thinking only a complete and utter fool would be so lax as to forget to reinforce a barrier against basic magic attacks.

Then again, as the contents of the room came into focus, maybe there wasn't much to protect after all. The room was bare, except for a few misplaced pieces of furniture backed up against the far wall, and dozens of mirrors floating in midair. Skeletor entered the room cautiously, for he knew very well how looks could be deceiving. Such a strange room…certainly not what he expected to find. Still, it was possible the amulet was hidden. He walked up to one of the mirrors and ran his claws across the reflective surface, wondering if it was some sort of puzzle. It was mere curiosity that led him to glance into the mirror to see his reflection, but instead of the gruesome skull he was accustomed to, he saw his face, the way it was before the Great Coup at the Hall of Wisdom.

It can't be… he thought incredulously, watching as he ran fleshy fingers over his bearded chin. It was impossible…there was no way such a thing was possible… He stared at himself for a long moment before feeling the old rage return, the absolute hatred he felt toward Randor for ruining his face, and, ultimately, his life. Skeletor suddenly drew back a fist and punched through the mirror, shattering it and cutting himself on the shards. He felt a certain sense of satisfaction as the glass pieces fell to the floor and disappeared with sparks of magic. However, there were still a dozen and a half mirrors still floating, and he knew if he looked into another one he would see some other element from his past. The past remained where it belonged…in the past. Still, it produced no small amount of personal pleasure to destroy each and every one of the floating mirrors.

"Ill-begotten wretch!" he bellowed as he smashed one with his staff. Mortiferus was obviously behind this; he must've been thinking ahead and sought to conceal the amulet in the event he was defeated. Now it was lost forever. Skeletor rampaged about the room, cursing and damning Mortiferus to the finer pits of hell, barely pausing before turning his wrath on the mismatched furniture in the corner. Just before he blasted the smallest night table, he thought he saw it shudder. The only thing stopping him from blasting it to smithereens anyways was the inkling that the amulet was somehow still attainable. Strong magic was at work in this room, but Skeletor was stronger than most. He stood back and surveyed the three pieces of furniture with a practiced 'eye', wondering what could possibly be in store for him now. If he had to face one more surprise…

Drawing his energy and focusing it all in his staff, he tapped the floor once and watched as ripples of magic extended outward, growing larger and larger until they touched the battered furniture. The images of an armoire, a dresser, and a table shimmered and wavered, finally melting away and revealing the true nature behind the illusions. While not exactly the surprise he had been steeling himself for, the sight of two young women and a man slumped against the wall was nevertheless a shock.

The elder woman was dead. That much was obvious from her appalling appearance, as well as the pool of blood she lay in. Skeletor cocked his head to the side as he stared at her, admiring the handiwork of her tormentor. She would have been attractive, he supposed, if not for the deterioration of her face and the various pieces of metal welded to the bone of her lower jaw. Looking closer he could see her throat was sliced, a clean-edged wound which had bled her dry. Death may have been instantaneous from the looks of it. The man, a guard by the looks of his armor, was also dead and of little consequence. The girl-child, however, was very much alive.

"What is your name?" Skeletor implored icily, trusting the child to be coherent enough to answer him. She was very small in his eyes, probably no more than ten or eleven summers old, and she looked terrified. She was still shaking tremendously and her fists were clenched on the ground. She had drawn up her knobby knees close to her chest for what little protection she could provide for herself, but in doing so revealed all the sores and raw wounds from her torture. Skeletor snorted at the ungainly sight of the insides of her pale, hairless thighs and repeated his question in a very annoyed tone. He then reached out to grab her by the arm.

"No!" The girl shrieked, swiping at his hand and scooting closer to the dead body of the woman. Tears all but sprang from her eyes and she began to sob before Skeletor even touched her.

"Please don't hurt me," she begged through her tears, "please don't, I'll be good and I'll obey this time, please, please, please don't hurt me anymore!"

"Silence," Skeletor ordered curtly, tapping the ground with his staff again, "Tell me your name and give me the name of the one who did this to you."

The girl sniffled and gave him a hard, untrustworthy look, but answered in a monotone, obedient tone, "Tanny, sir. Lord…Lord M-Mortiferus is the master of this castle and all within. He does with us as he pleases."

An automated response, probably beaten into her. Skeletor expected such an answer and countered with a growl to intimidate Tanny. Harming her at this point would be counterproductive to his search for the amulet and chances were she knew something about where things were kept in the blasted castle.

"He can rot in hell for all I care," Skeletor rumbled, closing in on the girl like a dragon, "just tell me where his damned amulet is and I promise I won't kill you."

If it was possible for Tanny to look any more petrified than she already was, he didn't notice. Her trembling stopped completely, and her eyes were as wide around as game disks. She looked at Skeletor as if he was a Snakeman freshly crawled out of the abyss and shrunk back, hiding her bruised face between her knees. At this fresh form of defiance, Skeletor snapped. He grabbed the child by her neck and hauled her upright against the wall. She screamed immediately and kicked and clawed at him, but he ignored her pathetic attempts to injure him. Within moments he grew tired of Tanny's loud, skull-piercing cries.

It barely took a thought to form a small orb of pure magical energy, and Skeletor slammed it into the wall right beside Tanny's head. It caused a small explosion, a sizable dent, and a lot of dust, making the girl cough and sneeze. Skeleyot waited until the dust was settled before driving his point home.

"I suggest you reevaluate your current status," he drawled silkily, ";est you find yourself in a situation far worse than before. Now…tell me where the damn amulet is!"

"I duh-don't know-uh!" Tanny whimpered as she tried her very best not to cry. "I don't know wuh-what amulet y-you're talking 'bout!"

"The one Mortiferus wore about his neck, the one which made him immortal, you simple girl! You must've seen it!"

Tanny shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to recall anything familiar about her master. She hadn't seen him since he caught her and the other two in his room. She didn't exactly remember what happened right after that. She couldn't remember much of anything lately.

"What's an ah-amulet?" Tanny asked sheepishly, looking up at Skeletor through her lashes.

"Ugh," Skeletor groaned, placing his hand to his forehead, "it's a pretty stone. It'd look like a necklace or something."

"A necklace?" Tanny repeated, the look on her face suddenly hopeful and excited, "I've seen one, I've seen one! It, I mean we found it in here! That's why we were here!"

She stumbled to her feet, mostly through using the wall as support and shakily pointed at the body of the older woman. There were still tears in the girl's eyes, but her voice was steadier than it was before. Skeletor stepped past her to the dead woman and ripped her robe away from her. She wore no chain around her neck and the rest of her body was as mauled as her face. Tanny gave a small shriek at the side of the bloody, exposed ribs and the hooks which drew them closer together. The skin was peeled away from the breasts and lower abdomen, so much so the woman should not have lived through the excruciating pain. Even if she had survived the skinning, she would have died from blood loss. Curious, Skeletor knelt in front of the corpse and passed his hand back and forth over the head.

"She was bonded with a very powerful spell," he observed, more to himself than anything. "No doubt the side effects of being fused with such dark magic would have been…erratic to say the least. How very…intriguing."

He would have liked a little more time to muse over the discovery, but Tanny moved into action, sneaking a hand past him to rifle through the discarded robe. She tried to keep her eyes on her task, but couldn't help glancing up at the body every now and then. Every time she touched a damp, bloody spot on the clothing the girl gave a small whimper but continued her search. Finally, after picking through every shred Skeletor had destroyed Tanny sat up with an exclamation and a small silver chain dangling from her fingers.

"Found it! See, I told you--"

"Give me that!" Skeletor snapped, snatching the amulet from her.

He turned the stone over in his palm and stared at it, wondering how such a small thing could carry such immense power. The stone itself was indeed tiny, and a beautiful green. It was also sorely unremarkable and might have been mistook for any sort of costume jewelry. It shone gaily despite the lack of good light, tempting Skeletor to hang it around his neck. Would he immediately become immortal, or did the process take time? Maybe immortality only came with a steep price, such as the loss of magical abilities. Only time and careful testing would be able to tell for certain, and though Skeletor despised being made to wait rushing into something as important and life-changing as using the amulet's power was a risk he was not willing to take.

He merely pocketed it the necklace and made to leave. Tanny rose and hurried after him, perhaps hoping he would be able to take her back to her parents. If he saw her tagging along three steps behind his billowing cape, he gave no acknowledgement. As far as he was concerned, the whole mission was done and over with and he and his minions could return to Snake Mountain with their prize.

So eager to leave, so soon after your arrival? So sad, make me cry…

The voice came booming from everywhere at once, causing Tanny to scream and cover her ears. Skeletor raised his Havoc Staff and cursed roundly. That voice…he recognized it.

Mortiferus was alive.