A/N: This is and will continue to be AU from approximately episode twenty-seven. Cross-posted from the board. Will probably end up being around five parts.
He finished scraping away the earth from the inscription set below the empty grave with a spare piece of trapping gear, and raised the amulet to face it. It was written in a dialect he did not understand, but he would find a translator later; though Armeggaddon was a useful ally, Moordryd Paynn had not been brought up to trust anyone entirely.
"Well done, my chosen heir. You do well as a replacement to rule over the Black Draconium Empire." It pulsed as if in approval of his skills, but Moordryd cared nothing for these half-praises.
"Replacement?" His hand tightened into a fist. "I found you first. I'm your only heir."
Armeggaddon laughed. "You did not assume that I had never engendered a successor in my own lifetime?"
Of course. He had never stopped to consider that Armeggaddon might have once been so human as to sire a child. "You…had kids?"
"A daughter. I might say you remind me of her; likewise she was a fair youth—though her advantages of birth and upbringing far outweighed yours—but I would as truly claim your minion reminded me of my second wife."
"Second wife, huh?" He'd have to mention that to Cain; it'd be worth a laugh. Maybe he'd even imply that Armeggaddon had only had one so far.
"Lucivar of the Red Draconium Empire. A marriage of convenience which ultimately failed to gain me the necessary support. My Joana was a worthier warrior."
"First wife?" Armeggaddon speaking as though he was actually human was rare; the more Moordryd knew about him, the better a chance he had to wrest power from his mentor. "What happened to her?"
"Dead in battle against the minions of the Dragon Booster. Meggine avenged her; at that time she would have been two years younger than you and yet won her battle."
Lucivar, Joana, Meggine. Three names worth searching for.
"What happened to Meggine? Was she your daughter?"
"It has been three thousand years since I last saw her; what do you EXPECT?" The amulet's fire flashed angrily.
"Okay, okay." Moordryd leaned back from the amulet. "Keep your scales on. I just wondered if she died in the war."
"You already have your answer. Now leave me to meditate on your future, apprentice."
The amulet fell silent; he would have to make his own way out of the cave, it seemed, but that would be easy enough. He took a spare sheet of parchment from his pack, and quickly ran charcoal over it while he held it pressed to the stone.
"'Cepshun? Ready to go?" he queried, looking back at her swishing her tail in slight impatience. She magged him on, and he smiled to himself as they flawlessly navigated the path out of the old temple.
It would be the second last occasion Armeggaddon was to speak to him.
"Easy, stableboy." She ran a hand gently through his dark hair. She could remember calling him that, a long time ago; it no longer suited him, but everyone needed a bit of deflation sometimes.
He laughed, gazing up into her eyes. "I remember when you called me that all the time."
"I'd hoped you weren't losing your memory. It wasn't that long ago," she said, slightly sharply, and noticed that he seemed to draw his eyebrows together in surprise. She couldn't remember the exact date herself—there wasn't one, of course—but it must have been a while since she'd used the nickname, she thought.
"I have a great memory." He sat up on the recliner, and put an arm around her waist to draw her towards him. "I've got that meeting with Mortis, but there's still time before then…"
She stiffened, and he drew back, staring at her. "What's the matter?"
She shook her head, bewildered at herself. "Nothing, Artha. I'm fine." She leaned forward and kissed him, fiercely; she could taste the faint flavour of apples on his lips, and a slight tang of metal overlaying the feel of him, as warm and familiar as the feel of the sun on her skin these past years.
"I'm glad," he said breathlessly as she pulled away from him, looking slightly reddened and tousled. "I couldn't let anything upset you."
She laughed—giggled, rather, and slid even closer to him. "I know, hero. I know."
The translator lived in a run-down shack in the darkest part of Work Town, huddled next to a giant factory spewing black smoke into the air. Moordryd resisted the urge to break into a coughing fit as he made his way down the road to knock on the door.
It took three loud bouts of knocking before finally someone appeared, a man in dark glasses (in Work Town, Moordryd thought in slight disbelief; it was one thing to be forced to adopt the stupid-looking style in Sun City depending on whether your ancestors were self-made businessmen or aristocratic bludgers, but here there was no excuse) with ink stains covering his hands.
"Did you knock?" he demanded.
"No, that loud noise you heard at your door was the Shadow Booster coming to eat your hovel," Moordryd said irritably. "I'm told you could provide me with a confidential translation. Are you going to let me in, or would you prefer to discuss business in your rather grimy doorway?"
"Come in. Sorry about the mess," the translator said ungraciously. He pointed to what appeared to once have been a sofa and now looked like an elephant's graveyard for used paper. "Sit down if you like."
Moordryd cautiously cleared a space for himself by shoving parchments onto the floor, revealing a pattern that might once have resembled the spoor of a strange paisley-eating creature. "I'll have black, no sugar," he said, more in a vain hope than anything else, not that he really believed even boiled water would be quite safe here.
The translator snorted. "We'll see. I charge fifty drakkals up front, further charges depending on obscurity, length and other circumstances."
"I'll give you twenty," Moordryd bargained. "This one isn't long."
"I don't change my prices for anyone." He went to his desk, ruffling throughs the papers on it and reaching for his inkwell.
"I also might just give you another job, especially if you keep it confidential."
"Good luck finding another independent translator. Unless you've scraped a personal acquaintance with those priests in the silly outfits?"
"I know one," Moordryd said, slightly surprised at the mention of the mysterious figure who seemed to hang around the Dragon Booster.
"Then see if he'll charge you less for the serenity of his karma." He dipped his pen into the inkwell, and quickly scribbled something in the corner of a page. Moordryd watched him as he started flicking through a book, pausing every so often to dash down some note. He seemed to have forgotten that another person was in the room, and didn't even seem to care that he was still standing up.
Moordryd sighed. Most of the translators he knew of were on his father's payroll as ancient-language specialists. He'd only heard of this one from chance gossip sitting next to Blayze and Hazaard in a bar, just before the diminutive elder had discovered him eavesdropping and unexpectedly knocked him out with her walking stick. "Fifty drakkals, then," he said reluctantly—hopefully Father wouldn't insist on investigating every last drakkal he spent this financial quarter—"and if you tell anyone about this I will make sure you suffer."
The translator turned around as quickly as though someone had just lit a thruster gear tied to his feet. "Fifty works for me. Let's get going."
"It's a very ancient dialect," he said, looking at a copy Moordryd had made of the words from the gravestone. "Two ancient dialects, one I don't know very well and the second extremely early post-Empire. Where did you get this?"
"Somewhere in Old City. I think I've forgotten," Moordryd lied.
"Do you have a copy of how it was originally written? I'd need to see that before making a reliable translation." He looked up, eyeing him inscrutably through the dark glasses.
"Yes." Moordryd rummaged inside his bag for the tracing, and passed it over to him. "Is this better?"
He put it down in front of him, and reached up to turn a dial on the right of his glasses; a golden light skimmed across the page. "Better," he said eventually. He walked over to a shelf and pulled out an old, thick book, paging through it to where some similar letters were clustered on the page, and jotted down a few patterns before flipping through to another reference.
"Is it going to take much longer?" Moordryd asked impatiently. "It's not exactly The War and the Peace."
"And the price just went up to eighty drakkals," the translator said, still absorbed in his work. "Ten for the first obscure dialect, ten for the second, and ten for the attitude."
Moordryd scowled. He wasn't about to back out and try to find another translator now, but this one was possibly the most irritating one in Dragon City.
"Did it look like a grave to you?" the translator asked suddenly.
Moordryd forced himself to shrug. "A bit," he said. "I was just curious, really."
A faint smirk appeared on the translator's face, but he didn't bother to challenge the remark. "The closest approximation I can come to the earlier dialect is a name, Utan Fist—" he scribbled that on Moordryd's copy, but pronounced it 'Oohtan Fistei'. "And this epitaph. Once king of this land. 'Until I am needed'. The latter inscription is quite interesting. It's in a later dialect, and says Now resting at last far above the shadow of the land he loved, over some erased text—spirit buried anew, I think I can make out."
"Guess he came back when they needed him after all." Moordryd laughed. "Do you know where the shadow'd be supposed to be?"
"You say you found it in Old City…well, it could be anywhere down there now," the translator said. "I'm guessing he was reburied in another temple, customary for priests and the ruling class. The foundations of many old temples remain in the darkness, but their upper levels have rotted away by now. Where did you find it?"
"I—I told you I don't remember," Moordryd said hastily. "Sorry."
"A shame. History is not as respected a field as it should be in this city, and this find could factor in with a number of intriguing legends. The trope of the returning king is an ancient archetype." The translator laughed dryly.
"Do you believe he really did?" Moordryd asked.
The man actually looked thoughtful for an instant. "We know the ancient Empires were capable of a great deal," he said. "But I wouldn't believe it unless I saw solid evidence."
Armeggaddon came back, Moordryd thought. A sudden chill ran down his spine, though the room temperature remained exactly the same. "You've done well," he said abruptly, rising to take back his papers. "I'll deposit another thirty drakkals in your account. Don't let anyone know I came to visit you."
"You never told me who you were." The translator smiled. "Though I might remember your face from one of the papers if I bothered to look—Parn, perhaps? Penn? More recent events are not my speciality."
"My name is not Penn," Moordryd almost spat, and hastened towards the door. "Expect the remainder of the fee to be deposited in your account."
She let herself relax back on the recliner as he disappeared off to the meeting, his formal armour (bar the helmet, this time) appearing around him in a golden mist. He glittered in the sun as he left, a bright statue against the tranquil greenery of the garden. She stretched herself out like the animal of her namesake, letting herself enjoy the warmth despite the niggling guilt that she hadn't applied protection oil for several hours. She wouldn't burn just once, anyway.
Growing bored of this after a time, she stood to stroll through the gardens, walking in the vague direction of the stables. Perhaps she'd take Wyldfyr for a run later. The greenery was beautiful, a pristine natural scene of flowers and trees, artificially grown in the Academy far above the rest of Dragon City. She'd never imagined living somewhere like this back in Down City, and even these days she wasn't completely accustomed to it. She was not so accustomed to the concept of beauty like this as others were; it was easy to lose track of time, wandering and gazing at the bright draconium-shaded blooms.
The comm she wore on her wrist beeped suddenly, and she stared at it for a second or two before answering.
Mortis' masked face appeared on the display. "Fire Booster. There's been an attack in Mid-City on a dragon transport. I'm sending you and Artha to take care of it."
"I'll be right there." She concentrated, and the Fire Booster's armour metamorphosed around her, the cruel spikes stretching from her body and the protective shields surrounding it. She could almost feel Artha beside her already as the Dragon Booster, defender of the city; as she took off at a fast pace to Wyldfyr's stable she felt him running in step with her from Mortis' sanctum, and smiled.
They skidded down the white ramp in unison. Kitt manipulated her tricky combination of eighth-level red thruster and sixth-level purple stabiliser gear to keep Wyldfyr fast and on track, and beside her Artha relied on Aero Gear and Beau's fins to glide and skim easily downwards.
"Vorpal Street," he called to her. "The old racing quarter. You approach from the left, and I'll take the right!"
She only gave a slight nod, which was all she needed to do; setting off her blue turning gear, she hurtled down the left-hand path without looking at Artha. Power surged in both of them.
"Above the shadow of the land he loved," Armeggaddon mused. "A strange designation. My Temple of the Shadows was far from his capital here, and they would have destroyed that."
"You came from the Shadow Track," Moordryd ventured. He'd been thinking about the inscription since the translator had returned it to him, and that was the only association he had been able to come up with.
The glowing eyes suddenly flashed, so brightly that a firework of pain burst through Moordryd's head. "The Shadow Track. Yessss. How far is the sun from reaching its zenith?"
"Would you mind not looking at me like that?" Moordryd asked.
"Obey me." The bright pulse was stronger than ever as Armeggaddon hissed. Moordryd scrunched the palms of his hands into his eyes, attempting to block out the burning vision; it didn't work. The fiery glow penetrated into his brain like a molten dagger.
"About…about an hour!" he heard himself yell, trying to stop the pain. "Stop it!"
The pain abruptly ceased. "Precisely, if you please."
He quickly consulted his wrist-comm, calculating the astronomy statistics. "Fifty-three minutes."
"Fifty-three minutes, and…and twenty-eight seconds. Twenty-seven."
"Set your alarm to it, and become the Shadow Booster once again. We will tempt the Dragon Booster and his little friends out of hiding."
They had already succeeded in breaking the transport open, and the chromatics were visible, growling as they pushed against each other. Wyldfyr roared, drawing the attention of the thieves to the bright figure of the Fire Booster; before they had time to do anything more than look, Kitt activated her Aero Gear and leaped down before them, as simultaneously Artha did the same from the other side.
A hail of blue stars launched by one of the thieves raced before her; she ducked, and let Wyldfyr create a mag-shield around them, drawing power from the Vivat's bone-mark.
Across from her, she felt Artha drawing in the energy for a mag-blast of his own, flying above Beau to carefully fire at the transport. A red-and-white ducked its head in at the last minute as it was sealed shut.
One of the would-be thieves flew at her, from the back of a black-and-green blend, a mag-staff with a blade on the end aimed at her; she shot out red spikes from her armour to attack, but he was nimble enough to avoid them. She ducked back as the blade came towards her, and sent up a mag-stream to separate him from his dragon. He leaped away from her, balancing on the edge of a building, and then a disrupter mine went off under them.
"Kitt!" she heard Artha yell, and felt him muster the power for an even greater blast. Temporarily without her own reserves, she turned Wyldfyr around to face the renegade, flying towards her with his blade aimed at her neck. She ducked as she sensed Artha moving into position, then Wyldfyr jumped to dodge, and then the thief's dragon caught him again and he hurtled towards her. The blunt end of his staff hit the side of her helmet as the world went gold.
The battlefield was almost empty, now, blackened by mag-flame with cracks in the dead ground forming beneath them. There was white seared into it, and other colours etched twisted patterns across its surface: bones, human and dragon entwined.
Utan stood next to her, what was left of his face inscrutable; Myrtin conferred with Tieran in a low voice beside their dragons, speaking softly and quickly before he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.
She watched Myrtin gaze after him, forlorn in spite of the formidable look of her battle-armour and the strength in her compact body.
Ill deeds had been done today. They would not be the last.
She started to mount her own dragon, and felt Utan's gauntleted hand grasp her arm—or was it Utan? She fell, the shadows swarming about her...
"What's the plan?" Moordryd asked. He and Decepshun were already racing up to Sun City as the Shadow Booster and Vysox, though he didn't understand Armeggaddon's reasoning or urgency.
"You tell me they are five. Red, green, blue, red-and-blue, and gold. Surely you understand that."
"And Pyrrah has sixty-something reds, a few whites, and a couple of blues. What's so special about them?"
"You understand nothing." An irritated flash, not so powerful as before.
"Your daughter could've figured it out with both eyes blinded and no ears, I get it. Are you going to tell me? Like, soon?"
"Moordryd!" Cain's face appeared on his screen. "I tracked down the transport you wanted with Blarre and Vizz. Do you seriously plan to steal from the Academy? Because we have the feeling this plan is going to hurt. Hurt bad."
"Tell them I've booked the Shadow Booster for today's entertainment. And send an anonymous tip-off to Dragon City Security. I'm going to call some wraiths."
"You want Security on us as well?" Cain almost screamed. "Have you lost it entirely? They could set the Dragon Booster on us again!"
"That's exactly what we need, Cain. Get out those mind pods and disruptor mines as I told you, and stay in position." He shut down the communication before his second-in-command could make any more comments, and returned his attention to Armeggaddon.
"The time," was all the presence inside the amulet said, so coldly and forcefully Moordryd didn't feel he had a choice but to answer.
"Thirty-one minutes. And eighteen seconds," Moordryd added.
"Kitt!" she heard Artha cry, and returned to consciousness as a red fire grenade exploded next to her. The renegade who had attacked her was hanging suspended by his cloak on a nearby building, and most of the others were trapped together, mag-blasted and bound by penning gear to the transport they had attempted to rob. Their dragons lay unconscious, scattered around them in coloured heaps.
Bar one, a former wraith from its appearance, black as the shadows, standing on two legs waving wicked-looking claws in the air.
"Together!" Artha called to her, and they leaped simultaneously from Beau and Wyldfyr on golden mag-streams, each throwing a disruptor mine before returning to their dragons. The enemy dragon roared at the explosion, and swayed from side to side before finally collapsing.
"Not bad, hero boy," she said, tasting the words on her lips like long-ago memories. "Not bad."
"Same to you," he said, guiding Beau to join her. "Security will take it from here." He pointed to the blue-suited group riding towards them on golden dragons. "Shall we get back to the garden once we've reported to Mortis?"
"Why not?" she asked, though it was not a question.
He could see the small Dragon City Security patrol surrounding the Academy transport, protecting the high-level gear inside from any potential thefts. The four stripes on their uniforms showed them to be elite officers, among whom were some of the most effective fighters in Dragon City; the Academy demanded the best.
"Cain. Now," he commanded, speaking into his comm.
The entire Dragon Eye stock of orange mind pods and purple disruptor mines landed around the transport, and exploded.
Two of the guards managed to leap out of the explosion at what appeared to be superhuman speed. One of them raced towards the direction of the projectiles, and the other stayed to guard the transport—and his partners, who had been caught by the explosion and were starting to move with orange-maddened eyes towards him.
"The three of you. Run. Go see if you can corral up the Penn Blunders. I'll take care of these bozos," Moordryd launched long-range trapping gear from his wrist at the security guard pursuing his Crew-members; it hit the guard and his dragon, and though it didn't take him long to cut loose by then his people had managed to scatter. He glimpsed Vizz gliding away on Aero gear in the distance, and ducked away from sight behind the tower of the roof he stood on.
The guard rushed up still, towards where the Dragon Eyes had been; foolish of him, Moordryd thought, and then looked up in shock to see him and the security dragon leaping through the air towards him.
Mag-claw, Armeggaddon commanded inside him. You barely need this one at all.
Decepshun offered him the energy for it, and he let the mag-energy burst from his hands. The guard's eyes widened in shock, and he jumped off the dragon, turning in a somersault through the air to avoid the blast. Moordryd fired a second blast, and that was that one that hit him, sending him slumped down on the roof with a long rip through his uniform.
See the powers of the ancient mag techniques, Armeggaddon whispered. This is but a taste of what I can grant you.
The dragon was still standing, looking almost bewildered as it stared at its rider's unconscious body; Moordryd used his last piece of trapping gear on it. Its feet tangled in the threads, and then it fell over on its side, struggling futilely to free itself, rolling over towards its owner.
"I wouldn't want to put a really big damper on your sweet dreams," Moordryd muttered, and bent down to move the security guard out of the dragon's way. Dreams of world domination were one thing, but it would be stupid to let someone to die because of an accident.
"What are you doing?" Armeggaddon asked as he hefted the security guard's weight to one side.
"I only like killing people who know it's me," Moordryd said. "At the end of long and glorious battles. You know how it is."
"Fool!" Armeggaddon hissed, flaming brightly again as Moordryd struggled to hold the guard in place. "You must destroy defeated enemies however you can!"
"He's not—not," Moordryd said, struggling as the amulet burned inside him, "An enemy. Technically." He finally finished balancing the guard in a slightly safer position, and stood. "He's just a security guard."
"Very well," Armeggaddon said, still sounding annoyed. "Keep to your childish cowardice. I first killed at ten years of age."
A mental image of the Penn mini-brat with a meat cleaver in his hand came to Moordryd for an instant, and faded as Armeggaddon issued his next orders.
Myrtin, she said, or wanted to say, seeing the blue blur form and reform in between bouts of blackness, rising from a nightmare as around her she smelled sterile burning and touched torn bandages.
"Good evening. It's been three days. Your dragon is fine," the blue-robed figure said calmly, seated on the edge of her bed. Myrtin looked out of place in a healers' centre (as much as she did herself, she was more than willing to admit), battle-scarred and compactly muscular. "Andra, you should have told us."
"Told?" Her wits had been stolen away by the blackness, it seemed; her head throbbed as though packed with dragon-strength sedatives.
"The poison claw that scraped your shoulder. It took the healers almost a full day to learn what had happened."
"Oh." She could remember that now, collapsing while mounting her dragon, feeling what she'd thought was Utan grasping her arm. "I thought it was merely a minor wound. I will recover." It was shameful, she thought, lying in bed like this; she was a soldier, not a slumbering fool. She moved to rise, but the weakness flooding through her veins prevented her.
"We need you by our side," Myrtin said. "Tieran was in your place a year ago. Take some days to heal."
"Expect me on the training fields tomorrow," she said. "I fight, not sleep."
Myrtin laughed, a surprisingly bell-like sound, too rare in these times. "Until then, my friend," she said.
"Until then," Andra echoed slowly, as her comrade left the room.
The remaining security guard was frantically dialling into the comm his wrist to bring further reinforcements; fortunately enough, the calculated charge left in the disrupter mines had left him temporarily bereft of communication. Though, fortunately enough for him, the Dragon Booster would soon arrive.
It was an upper city street—far too classy for the Penn brats, of course—just near the Academy roofs, the highest point in Dragon City. Just like Armeggaddon had ordered. He wondered, again, what the reasoning behind the plan was.
Power, apprentice. Power. Hold!
The blast hit both of them from behind, and Decepshun magged him around to see the Dragon Booster arriving with his friends.
Dodge back. Leap to the high ground.
His Aero Gear was fully charged; he directed Decepshun into a sideways leap. It held as they were carried upwards, away from the Dragon Blunder and his little friends, and a climbing line pulled them onto their goal. Penn brat senior was missing, leaving the other three of them, egghead and mini-brat on the ground chatting to the security guard with Kitt Wann standing with the Booster.
Is this going to change anything? he thought at the amulet.
It is still sufficient. Now torment them into pursuit!
Decepshun magged the transport's cargo, right under the noses of the three down there.
"Come and get it, Clumsy Chasing!"
That is the best insult you have?
I'm improvising. Trust me, it'll work on them.
"We're coming—for you!" The Dragon Booster flew over the edge with his own Aero Gear; Moodryd released the climbing line to hit them. It tangled around them, and the Booster started to plummet as the dragon flapped its wings desperately.
"Take this!" Kitt Wann launched her own line, and then magged them her own gear, pulling the heroes of legend to safety with not inconsiderable effort.
Moordryd laughed. "Not even four of you would be enough to defeat me!" he yelled.
On the ground, the mini-brat looked up.
"Wanna bet?" he yelled, launching a mag-stream. "Don't hurt my friends!"
It is working. I amsurprised.
Moordryd returned the fire, gradually adding more energy to make the mini-brat's defeat appear imminent.
Are you keeping track of the exact moment?
Yes! One minute and…and twenty-eight seconds.
He directed all the mag-energy he could into the power cells ready to be used; there was no way this wasn't going to drain him.
The security guard joined in, adding his blue energy to Lance's, and then egghead jumped in as well. It was surprisingly hard to keep standing against them, and Moordryd was grateful he'd prepared.
Decepshun gave a moan, and he stroked her shoulder reassuringly. "Not too much longer," he whispered.
And then the Dragon Booster joined in, and closely behind him Kitt Wann; he couldn't hold against all five of them for much longer, and he wished he'd delayed the main fight for just a bit longer.
Yes. I feel this power. Time?
Thirty-eight seconds. It sounded like an eternity. Moordryd could see them ticking down on his wrist, the bright green changes slowly hesitating, trickling downwards as the golden mag-energy forced his back towards Decepshun's bone-mark…
I am with you, apprentice, he heard Armeggaddon whispering inside his head, and felt his mind being forced through unfamiliar pathways, going into Decepshun to steal energy and transform it in the Vysox bonemark to magnify it threefold…
Decepshun lurched under him, and he kept stroking her. "You can do this," he muttered.
Seventeen seconds. Sixteen, fifteen, fourteen…
It was hell. He—there was no he any more, just power forced through him and out and a red scream inside his head and the endless green numbers staring at him—was going to go mad, he couldn't take this any more…
Nine, eight, seven…
Hold. The flames took up the full inside of his head, blocking all else from him but their burn.
Six. Five, four…
The sun was above him, glaring down. So close. So close in Sun City. Too close.
Three, two, one.
The interlocking magflames grew to a glowing ball (golden, he would have disliked noticing if he had been thinking about it) hovering just next to the bonemark.
A single beam of sunlight radiated down on it, and Moordryd flung his arm over his eyes at the brightness.
Let me use this power, Armeggaddon's voice said, coldly satisfied. To our destiny.
He reached out before him, and felt the warm light envelop his left hand. Decepshun roared, and then they were no longer on the Sun City building but somewhere else entirely.
The bricks fell around him.
She watched him leap and twist to avoid them, using the staff to divert them into a new pattern.
There was the start of a wall behind him, she noticed, and a bridge leading off it. He knocked more bricks away from himself, and used them to build a support for the bridge on the other side. A brick fell onto his bridge, and made it wobble for a second—and was the start of a new shape on the building, she saw, a second bridge ascending from the first which then started to interlock with a third, like the bars of an elaborate birdcage, a structure imaginative and delicate despite the roughness of the materials.
He leaped out from the building, and kept coaxing the bricks into position, until the elaborate construction was finally constructed around him and he stood in front of it, a building as high as his shoulders and a smaller wall surrounding him and what appeared to be a small-scale sculpture garden.
He looked up at her—well, not that he looked up to her any longer; he was nearly as tall as his brother—and grinned.
"Nice, Lance," she said.
He tapped the staff on the ground, and the bricks in front of him parted to let him walk through them. "Thanks. I heard you and Artha stopped a theft today?"
"Yeah. It wasn't so hard." She shrugged. "Maybe you'll have to come with us next time."
"Sure. I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I know I can help you guys." He twirled the staff in his hands in a complex gesture.
"Show-off." She laughed. He'd always wanted to prove himself, even as the child he'd been. "You ever miss the old days, Lance? Before all this?" she asked. He walked beside her as they went along the corridors of the Academy, passing a cleaner running a mag-powered broom across the floors.
He looked confused for a moment, then shrugged. "No. I mean, I was a kid then, and we've all come so far."
"Maybe things were simpler then," she said.
"You think? I think they're simpler now," he replied. "Everyone knows who we are now, and we've done most of what we wanted to do. And I hated it when you three said I was too little to help."
"You were, shrimp." She reached up to ruffle his hair. "Maybe you still are…" she said teasingly.
He squirmed away, laughing. "Stop it, Kitt. Or I'll ask Mortis to send me instead of you next time."
"If you really want to," Kitt said.
The Academy gear hadn't travelled with them, he noted. Shame.
Faded gold stone surrounded him, shaped into a rough pyramid and ornamented with faintly shimmering tracings of humans and dragons engaged in various activities. Though the air smelled stale, the place felt spacious enough, and quiet; ahead of him was an archway, leading up a set of stairs.
Decepshun was panting from the exertion, and he slipped from her back to pet her.
"GET BACK!", Armeggaddon screamed in his head, and he flung himself back onto the saddle just as a barbed spear rose from the floor.
Traps. Oh, scales. It never was that easy, was it?
"Okay. Now I get it, red, blue, green, black and gold make…gold. Big news. So how can we get through these without dying? You just drained all Decepshun's mag-energy."
"I recognize much of this technology. The control panel should be inside that archway, to the right. All you have to do is lend me your body."
"For how long?" Moordryd demanded.
"For as long as I need!" The fiery spike shot into his brain again. "For as long as it takes me to get through those traps, apprentice. Watch and learn."
Moordryd tried to relax, feeling Armeggaddon's presence inch to the forefront of his mind, and then his body was moving by itself, vaulting from Decepshun's saddle to a paving stone in the middle of the floor, leaping quickly to escape another spear, jumping over a tripline then flipping over the arrows that erupted from the wall…
He felt Armeggaddon draw power from deep inside him that he hadn't known he possessed, and watched himself mag-blast a hole through a heavy slab hurtling towards them. Then the presence inside him had him jump, propelled by a low-powered mag-blast that felt like it was ripping something out of him, and land neatly inside the archway.
Control panel. Where would the damned priests have put a control panel?
There was a rumbling behind them, and his body looked up to see a large stone boulder hurtling down the stairs.
Scales!, Moordryd thought in panic, and then felt Armeggaddon make another leap, landing on the lintel on the other side of the archway as the boulder rolled towards Decepshun…
…Who calmly turned, and flicked it to one side with her tail.
Moordryd's body wasn't even breathing hard, though he felt like it was. He'd have to learn those moves, he vowed.
Now to discover the control panel. Armeggaddon thumped a fist onto a stone set in the left wall, the golden tracings on it depicting an armoured man attacking a Muhorta-like creature with a spear, and then from the right wall a stone slid away with a multi-coloured pattern picked out on its side. Moordryd watched his fingers pick a rhythm across that, touching the gold, then blue, and then green and then red, and push it back into place.
"Approach," Moordryd's mouth commanded Decepshun, and she took a cautious step forward.
Nothing happened, and she took another, and then another, until she finally joined them.
Moordryd released a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, and then realised that his body was his own again and his knees felt like jelly.
"Nice one back there, 'Cepshun," he whispered to her. "Mind if I get back on again?"
She lowered her head, and he returned to the saddle.
"Are there going to be more traps, Armeggaddon?" he asked.
"No. It would not have been fitting, and secrecy and reverence would have been their other protections. But you should prepare your mind."
"I'll try. Let's go."
Decepshun slowly climbed the stone stairs, her footsteps visible in the layer of dust coating them, and Moordryd watched the golden pictures on the wall, a man kneeling before a group of robed men, an armoured man on a roaring dragon, a group of four with their hands meeting in the air to form a star, and fierce battle scenes, and on the other side a man on a throne with crowds gathered below him, with various other armoured figures co-starring in several tableaux. Prepare your mind, he reminded himself through his exhaustion, a part of his brain repeating the various mantras the Dragon Eyes learned to avoid their own control gear being turned back on them, and hoped it would be good enough for Armeggaddon.
And then before them was a wooden door, its handle lightly coated with golden dust. Moordryd reached out to turn it, and it collapsed into a pile of dust.
He was staring at a tall golden statue of the Dragon Booster, armed with a mag-staff and gazing heroically into the sky; he resisted the urge to spit at it. Behind it stood a large golden casket, as tall as he was and extravagantly designed and ornamented, carved with images of the armoured man riding the dragon of legend.
To the Dragon Booster's right stood a second statue, more stylised than his, a red woman looking as though she had been carved from living flame, behind her a red casket with a golden plaque in front of it.
Quite the colour scheme, Moordryd thought; the room's back wall had been painted blue. To the left was green, an elaborate portrait of a green-armoured man pressed into the left wall with jewels; below that stood a simple green urn resting on a dais.
"This is better than I had hoped," Armeggaddon said finally. "Do you know what this place is?"
"Where they reburied Utan Fist?" Whom Moordryd presumed wasn't the red woman, and he wasn't sure the Dragon Booster quite fit the apparent story, returned though he was in this modern day, which left the green man. "Him." He pointed.
"True, but inadequate," Armeggaddon returned. "This is the tomb of the Boosters. Beware of what it may hold."
"Boosters? I thought there was just one. Maybe two," Moordryd added, remembering something his father had once said about a powerful ally of the original Dragon Booster.
"There were four." Armeggaddon's eyes flared. "Five, to be correct. Four are buried here, unless I miss my guess—and one speaks now to you."
He'd suspected something close enough to that, but didn't bother to say so. "Drac," he said. There would almost have to be some powerful ancient artefacts here. He looked at the green portrait. "Do you think there's anything under that dais?" he asked.
"Unlikely," Armeggaddon shot. "Go to the casket of the Fire Booster."
Moordryd walked to stare up at her statue. It looked like something alien and deadly close up, a half-woman tormented by the need to destroy.
"I killed her personally," Armeggaddon said. Moordryd could feel him reaching out, testing the Booster's casket in some way he couldn't quite identify. "I had suspected her powers were lost where she fell," he said finally. "Good riddance, perhaps."
Nothing there. They walked to the Dragon Booster's vast coffin, and Armeggaddon again pronounced it empty, noting with what sounded almost like glee that he had always suspected the man would grow soft at the end. Behind his tomb stood a smaller and simpler blue casket, decorated with a simple portrait of a woman. It was roughly drawn, sketched with a few bold strokes that nevertheless suggested a face and personality, a scarred, strong face with a surprisingly warm smile.
"What was she?" Moordryd asked.
"The Warrior Booster. Soft like him, I assume. Now to the tomb we originally sought."
He felt Armeggaddon questing out again with strange mag-senses, and this time he could feel something, or perhaps notice for the first time its pull on him. He took a step forward, not entirely of his own volition, as the green jewels on the wall winked at him.
"King Fist. The Spirit Booster, as they called him. Dead at last, it appears," Armeggaddon remarked.
Moordryd took another step forward, crossing a golden line drawn on the floor. It felt almost like walking into a dreamworld. The pull was there; perhaps this was the secret weapon Armeggaddon had been searching for that he could steal. Something to give him the advantage he needed against the Dragon Booster, at long last… He walked towards the urn, reaching out a hand for it.
"What are you doing? Wait!" Armeggaddon commanded him.
"We've found it," Moordryd said. "You found it, I mean. I'm going to claim it."
He knocked the urn from its dais; it smashed on the ground, and out of it appeared a cloud of dust, which scattered on the ground. In the middle of it were a bone mark and amulet, glowing a faint green.
"We will use them to our advantage," Armeggaddon gloated. "No doubt the original possessor is long past concern…"
Moordryd reached for the amulet, and felt it flood into his mind.
WHO HAS DARED WAKE ME?
The voice filled his head, blazing like lightning in a dark cavern.