Star Fox: The Saurian Adventure

Chp. 16

Fox stirred as he felt something brush against his face. He stirred and mumbled something unintelligible; it might have been something along the line of "Five more minutes?" Apparently whoever was trying to wake him up wouldn't take no for an answer, because he felt something touch his face again, and this time was able to identify the sensation as someone's fingertips. He still wasn't ready to open his eyes, but he heard a soft voice chide him gently; "Cone on, are you going to sleep the day away?"

He groaned softly, but opened his eyes to see Krystal kneeling next to him, gently stroking his cheek with one hand. He smiled hesitantly at her and said, "Hi."

"Hi yourself, handsome," she replied with a slight smile. He chuckled a little nervously at her rejoinder, and then her expression changed a bit, becoming more serious. She leaned down closer to him, and said, "Listen Fox, there's something I've been wanting to say to you, but I… I haven't been able to find the right words. I think it might be best if I just showed you what I mean." He opened his mouth to ask her what she was talking about, but before he could form any words, she leaned forward and kissed him lightly on his mouth. His eyes went wide as saucers in surprise, but as soon as he recovered his wits, he put his arms around her and pulled her closer, returning the kiss. Fox could feel his heart hammering in his chest, and he never wanted this moment to end…

Fox's eyes snapped open, and he found himself staring at the underside of his Arwing's left stabilizer. He lifted his head slightly to see that it was almost dawn, with the sun not quite yet over the cliffs that surrounded Thorntail Hollow. He looked over to his right, where Krystal was still snuggled up to him and fast asleep, and let his head drop back to the ground in disappointment as he mumbled, "Blast!" Although it was probably too much to expect for her to be so forward, the dream he had had touched on desires and wishes that he hadn't considered in a long, long time. Even more than her beauty, it was the fire in her spirit that seemed to attract him; the way that she was willing to take on the world in order to help those in need, while the tragedy of her past made him want to comfort her.

He looked down again at her, snuggled up next to him on the sleeping bag, and thought she looked positively angelic laying there. As much as he wanted to simply remain there and gaze at her face, however, they couldn't stay there forever. He looked up again to see what things looked like in the Hollow. A heavy fog had come in during the night, blanketing the entire area in a shroud of gray vapor. The brightening of the sky over the cliffs hinted at imminent sunrise, however, and even as Fox watched, the first sliver of the brilliant orb rose above the stone walls that surrounded the region. The fog caught the light and diffused it, making it seem as though the valley was filled with golden mist. Fox stared in awe at the sight for a little while, and then quickly began to shake Krystal awake.

"Hey, wake up, you gotta see this!" he whispered urgently into her ear.

"Mmm, just a little longer…" she replied sleepily.

"No, now, or you might miss it!" he told her. Krystal sat up and blinked sleep from her eyes, then stared in amazement at the scene unfolding in front of her. The sun rose higher and higher, suffusing the area with golden light as more and more of its bulk heaved itself above the cliffs around Thorntail Hollow. In addition, the numerous tiny water drops in the air acted as tiny prisms, bending the rays of light and scattering it, causing a swirl of rainbows to appear and disappear almost as though by magic. The two foxes sat there and enjoyed the light show put on by Mother Nature, until the sun climbed higher into the sky and began to burn away the fog that had blanketed the valley. Krystal smiled in wonder and said, "Thank you, Fox. That was quite beautiful."

"Worth waking early up for?" he asked her a little mischievously.

"Oh, yes indeed." The expression on her face was one of unabashed delight, as she took joy in one of life's simple pleasures. She brushed her hair out of her eyes, and then put the golden hair band back in to hold it in place. She looked back up at him and said, "What next?"

"Breakfast," he replied promptly, with an emphasis on that word that made her chuckle. She got nimbly to her feet and started towards a set of crates that she had discovered during the time she had spent trying to relight the beacons around the Hollow the other night. If things were as she had left them before…

Krystal popped the lid off the first one and smiled in satisfaction when she saw that the supplies inside were just as she had found them the other night. Secreted away inside were some Dumbledang pods, as well as several ovoid objects that were, as far as she could tell, enormous eggs of some sort. She pulled several of the pods out and one of the eggs, and carried them back to where Fox was starting a small cooking fire.

He looked up as she approached, and his eyes widened slightly at the sight of the massive egg. "Where'd you get that?" he asked.

"I think some of the Sharpclaws left supplies behind when they left," she answered. "I just helped myself to things they no longer need."

He nodded in understanding, but eyed the egg in her hands a little dubiously. "That's not a … dinosaur egg, is it?" he asked.

"That's a PukPuk egg," Tricky said from beside him. Fox turned to look at the Earthwalker prince, as the young dinosaur continued, "The Sharpclaws raise the birds that make them, and regard them as a delicacy." Both foxes felt a little better at Tricky's explanation, and turned to the more practical problem of how to cook an egg so massive; all of the implements Fox had brought with him were far too small to hold all of its contents. They finally settled on using a large, flat piece of slate that Krystal found near the cliff as a skillet. They suspended it over the fire and poured some of the yolk and albumin on top once it was hot enough to cook on. It took several rounds before they had cooked all the egg's contents to Fox's satisfaction, but after it was all done they had a heaping platter full of scrambled eggs to serve as their morning meal, along with the Dumbledang pods.

As they were finishing up, Krystal felt the approach of one of the Thorntails that inhabited the region and gave it its name. She turned to see what it wanted, and saw that it held something in its mouth, something small and metallic. As she watched it dropped the object at her feet and told her, "The beacons mean so much to my tribe. Please, take this; maybe it can help you on your quest."

Krystal bent down to pick up the object that the Thorntail had dropped and found that it was a key of some sort. "Thank you, I'm sure it will," she replied, at the same time smiling at him and patting him on the snout. The dinosaur smiled a bit in answer to her attentions and turned to lumber off back the way he had come. Krystal brought the key over to where Fox was sitting, letting him and Tricky examine the new find for themselves.

"So, another key," Fox commented, his tone indicating that he wasn't overly excited about the new find. "Any idea to what it goes to?"

"A lock somewhere," Tricky answered promptly, causing both foxes to roll their eyes at the obviousness of his answer.

"Which one, though, is the real question," Krystal mused. "Well, we'll probably come across the lock it goes to in time. It would probably be best if we took it with us, just in case."

Fox shrugged in reply and said "Yeah, might as well. I mean, it's pretty small, and if we ido/i come across the lock and don't have the key, that means that we'd have to backtrack all the way to where we left it in order to progress ."

"So, what do we do next?" Krystal pondered aloud.

"Try to figure out where we need to take the SpellStone that we worked so hard to obtain," Fox replied immediately. Krystal giggled a bit on the comment about how hard they had worked to obtain the SpellStone; fighting a fifty-foot tall monster, getting swallowed by said monster, and having to force it to vomit each of them back up again undoubtedly qualified as a new kind of difficult to both of them. Fox turned to regard the Earthwalker prince standing nearby, and asked him, "Tricky, any ideas on where this belongs?"

"I think it goes to the Volcano Force Point Temple," Tricky replied. "You can tell because it has the orange core and the reddish shell, as opposed to the Ocean Temple SpellStones, which have a green core and blue shell."

"Well, that's good to know," Fox said. "How do we get there?"

"Through Moon Mountain Pass," was the reply. "Follow me; I'll show you where we can get to it." The foxes cleaned up the cookware and stowed it back by the Arwing, then followed Tricky's lead toward where the trail to Moon Mountain Pass began. They ventured around the well that lay in the northeast quadrant of the valley and made their way to the entrance of a tunnel that started the path, but that had been blocked by an earth slide in the recent past. It would have impeded their progress but for the fact that Fox had recently stocked up on Bomb Spores. He planted one in the pile of dirt and rocks that blocked their way, then stepped back and let Krystal detonate it with a Fire Blaster shot from her staff. The resulting explosion scattered the soil and sent the rocks within the mound flying like bullets, but thankfully none of the trio were in their line of flight.

Fox was the first to test the newly-cleared pathway; he hesitated for a moment to check the stability of the rest of the wall, and the called out, "All clear." Krystal and Tricky followed closed behind him, but stopped once they were inside and took a look around. They were inside a tunnel, but the walls looked polished almost to mirror-smoothness, and seemed to emit a dim light that allowed them to see; both Fox and Krystal had superb night vision, but even they wouldn't be able to see in complete darkness.

They carefully made their way through the tunnel, eyes and ears open for any sign of trouble; but nothing presented itself, and several minutes later they emerged into a narrow pass that didn't look like any environment Fox had ever seen on a habitable planet before. It almost resembled a lunar surface, but he was at a loss as to what could have shaped the environment in this area in such a manner. The trio stepped out carefully onto the new terrain. The ground seemed to be composed of fine, bluish-gray sand that shifted slightly underfoot, and geysers of yellow, sulfur-smelling vapor occasionally erupted from small craters scattered haphazardly across the ground. "Lovely place," he mumbled as they started walking through the narrow pass.

"It's what's left of one of Sauria's moons, after it crashed down on the planet," Tricky said. "It happened in the distant past, and legend says that this was what gave rise to the Sharpclaw Tribe."

"Hmm," Fox mused over that for a moment.

"There doesn't appear to be a lot of life here," Krystal remarked. "But I don't think it'd be wise to assume that the area is safe. We'd best be careful." The three of them continued through the pass, making their way carefully around sharp rock outcroppings and the occasional sulfur vent, until Krystal held up a hand for them to stop. She had a distant look on her face, as though she was trying to catch a faint, far-off sound; and then her expression became more urgent, as she turned to Fox and Tricky and shouted, "Run! We've been seen!" She took off down the path, leaving them behind to wonder what she was talking about. Fox shrugged and decided that it would be better to follow her, since she seemed to know what she was talking about.

As they rounded a corner, the reason for Krystal's warning became clear. Ahead at the end of a long, straight section of the pass was what could only be a guard station, and a steady stream of barrels issued from hidden sources on either side of the path. The way was already thick with bouncing and tumbling obstacles; and as Fox watched, several of them slammed into the walls of the pass and exploded, hinting at the contents. Krystal was already most of the way to the station, dodging the hazards with consummate grace as she made her way to a blind spot in the middle of the pass.

Fox and Tricky had to be more careful, since they didn't have the head start that she had, and there were more barrels filling the area with every passing moment. Fox was grazed by one, and it knocked him squarely into the path of another, but he managed to duck in time and it sailed by harmlessly over his head. He commando-crawled the rest of the way into the blind zone, where the two dispensers that spat out the barrels had no coverage, and from there was able to make his way to where Krystal had taken shelter. Tricky bounded up next to the wall as well, and the three of them were able to pause and catch their collective breaths.

"Good call," Fox said to her as he panted from his exertion.

"Why, thank you," Krystal replied. She took a look around, seeking guidance for their next course of action, and her gaze fell on the wall that they rest against. In the middle of the wooden wall was a metal panel that had a keyhole in its center. She tapped Fox on the arm and indicated the lock with a silent gesture, and he pulled out the key that the Thorntail had given them and tested it in the lock. It slid in without a hitch, and Fox could feel the tumblers inside the lock turning and shifting as he turned the key. It was a strange sensation to him, as he was used to electronic locks that required passwords or biometric signatures, but the 'click' as the lock fell open was eminently satisfying.

The two halves of the gate swung slowly towards them, pulled outward by the force of gravity since the guard station was sitting on a slope. The hinges of the gates creaked as they slowly settled into depressions in the side of the wall that had apparently been shaped to hold them. "Now what do we do?" Fox asked.

"Now, we pay back those clowns who were dropping barrels on our heads," Krystal said with a growl. She pulled her staff out from where she had tucked it into Fox's borrowed vest and extended it out to its combat length. At Fox's inquiring look, she elaborated, "We'll probably have to pass through here again when we leave, and I for one don't feel like having to dodge another round of explosive barrels on the way back down." Fox snickered at her explanation, but couldn't really find any fault in her logic. The two of them followed the path through the gate and around to a ramp that led up into the guardhouse itself.

Fox noticed a glimmer of red out of the corner of his eye, and turned to get a better view. The shimmering field of a life-force barrier flickered over a portcullis gate that was set into the mountainside at the end of the trial. He nudged Krystal and pointed it out, saying, "Looks like we'd need to take the guards out to proceed further anyway." She nodded in acknowledgement of his statement, and the two of them raised their staffs into guard positions before they entered the building.

Their caution was warranted. Standing ready for them at one end of the bunker was a pair of Sharpclaw soldiers. One was a grunt, the breed that they were quite used to seeing; but the other was much larger, wore a spiked helmet instead of a leather skullcap, and carried a vicious-looking double-bit axe in one hand. The sight of the hulking saurian gave Fox some pause, but Krystal charged in, taking an aggressive approach that momentarily caught the Sharpclaws off guard. Fox was surprised as well, but quickly recovered his wits and rushed the Sharpclaws as well, so that Krystal wouldn't be facing both guards on her own.

Between the two of them they were able to knock out the smaller grunt in record time, allowing both of them to focus on the bigger threat. The brutish Sharpclaw didn't seem overly fazed by the fall of his smaller comrade, but immediately charged Fox, swinging away with his axe. The vulpine pilot ducked a sideways chop that would have decapitated him, and then had to block a vertical slice that would have split him in two had it connected. In focusing exclusively on Fox, however, the Sharpclaw had completely ignored Krystal, who was as much as threat as Fox was. She slammed the cap of her staff down on the back of the brute's head, dazing him but not knocking him out completely. He turned to face the blue vixen, who responded with a kick to his stomach that knocked him back into Fox's attack – a baseball-style swing that finished what Krystal had begun and sent the Sharpclaw into oblivion.

"Whew, that was a tough one," Fox remarked after the dust had settled.

"They're big, but they're a little clumsy," Krystal remarked. "Their size gives them a lot of strength, but they can't turn very quickly. And, they're no smarter than the rank-and-file soldiers either."

"You sound like you've tangled with some of them before."

"At Cape Claw, just before my ship got stolen," Krystal told him, her expression darkening slightly at the memory. She changed the subject. "Well, the barrier is probably down now, so the way ahead should be clear."

The three of them continued on and entered through the doorway that the gate had blocked. As soon as they passed though, they were struck by a wave of scorching heat that felt almost like a physical blow. Fox was the first to comment on it; "Whew, it feels like an oven in here!"

"Well, it is the Volcano Force Point Temple," Krystal remarked dryly. The point was re-emphasized when they came to a dip in the walkway and looked over the edge to see a glowing pool of lava seething below. The only way across was a trio of small platforms that protruded from the walls, and a single misstep would mean a quick and fiery death in the molten rock below. Krystal looked up and asked, "So, who wants to go first?"

"I'll go if no one else wants to," Fox spoke up. Krystal was grateful for his decision, although she could still clearly sense the apprehension in his mind over what he was about to do. He started a couple of paces away from the edge, then ran and jumped from the side they were on to the first platform. He bounced from the first to the second and the third, and then landed safely on the other side. He dusted himself off, then looked back to the others and said, "It's not too difficult; just make sure you have enough speed before you jump." Krystal and Tricky followed his lead, and once the party was reassembled they set off deeper into the volcano.

There were a few more obstacles, like a pillar of flames that they had to carefully time their passage around, and a narrow rock bridge over another seething pool of lava, but finally they made their way past the hazards and stood on a grated metal bridge that led into the Temple proper. The bridge arched over a pool of molten rock; but at the top of the arch, halfway across the bridge, was a circular barrier that blocked their way. It looked like it would spin in place, so Fox put his shoulder against it and started pushing. It didn't budge, and he called out, "Hey Krystal, Tricky, could you two give me a hand here?"

"Um, Fox?" Krystal interrupted. He turned to look at her and saw that she was pointing down to a circular panel on the floor in front of the gate. Impressed into the panel was a depression in the shape of the SpellStone, and its significance was only slightly less than blindingly obvious. Feeling just a little foolish, Fox hauled the SpellStone out of his backpack and pressed it into the indent. The SpellStone clicked into the slot as though it was magnetized, - and then sparks flickered between the stone and the panel, and the gate in front of them rotated out of the way, leaving the path to the Temple's entrance clear. Fox pulled the stone back out of the depression and the group started down the other side of the bridge, but paused when they saw what was waiting for them at the Temple's main door.

There was another Sharpclaw soldier, stationed right in front of the door. This one was a bit smaller than the brute that they had faced in the guard station, but he was clad in full upper-body armor and metal helm, and carried a heavy iron shield in addition to the axe he held in his right hand. The Sharpclaw stood his ground in front of the door and didn't rush them; he knew that they had to get past him to enter the Temple, and as long as he stayed put, they would have to come to him.

The two foxes spread out so that if the Sharpclaw turned to face one of them, he would present his back to the other. The Sharpclaw turned to face Fox, believing that the male vulpine was the more dangerous opponent. Fox took a swing at the Sharpclaw, who blocked it with his shield and countered with a flurry of axe swings. The vulpine pilot was quickly forced on the defensive, raising his silver staff to a horizontal guard position to ward off the hail of blows. The Sharpclaw pressed his attack relentlessly, hoping to knock out this opponent quickly so he could deal with the female at his leisure - but he had sorely underestimated the threat that Krystal represented.

Krystal knew that the armor the Sharpclaw soldier wore would negate the effect of most physical attacks, but metal armor was all but useless against energy blasts. When the Sharpclaw turned to attack Fox, she leveled her staff at the saurian's unguarded back and triggered its Fire Blaster. Three sizzling bolts of energy burned their way through the armor and into the flesh of the dinosaur's back, blasting gaping craters into his hide and toppling him to the ground. The Sharpclaw twitched and spasmed for a couple of seconds before he finally lay still.

"Thanks," Fox said a little breathlessly as he straightened up and put his staff away. With the immediate danger taken care of, he was able to take the time to examine the massive doors that formed the entrance to the actual Temple. There was another depression in the door that looked like it would accommodate the SpellStone, but this time a series of bars across the door blocked access to it. There didn't seem to be any obvious way to removed them, so Fox looked around the edges of the door for clues. A small stone panel on the left near the door caught his eye, and he leaned down to get a closer look. There was something inscribed on the panel, but it was nothing like Lylat Standard, and he had no idea of what it meant. He looked up and called, "Hey Tricky, Krystal, do either of you have any idea what this sign says?"

Both of his companions crowded in close to see what he was referring to. Tricky tried to see what the inscription was, but the various tribes of Sauria had never really developed the skill to read or write, so he had no idea what the symbols etched into the stone meant. Krystal leaned in closer, and to her surprise was able to decipher the writing with only slight difficulty. "Only he who lights the orbs of the Krazoa may pass," she read.

Fox looked more than a little surprised. "You can actually read that?" he asked incredulously.

"It's remarkably similar to inscriptions found on ancient ruins on Cerinia," she informed him. "And don't forget, I specialized in translating and interpreting languages when I lived there."

"I was more surprised that this was something you would recognize," Fox clarified. "I never would have thought that would happen." That matter was a largely academic one at this point, and trumped by a far more pressing issue. "So, what do you think it means by 'the orbs of the Krazoa'?" They looked around the chamber, but nothing seemed to fit the profile until Fox caught a gleam of reflected light out of the corner of his eye. He looked up to identify the source, and saw two spherical objects high up on the wall, level with the top of the doors. Both of them shone with light reflected from the lava that seethed in the pool below; the one on the left was blue in color, the one on the right was green.

Fox pointed his staff at one of them and triggered the Fire Blaster, but the energy projectile had no noticeable effect on the orb. He was at a loss about how to light the things, but Krystal noticed a pair of torches burning on top of the end columns of the bridge on their side of it. Every few seconds, the color of the torches shifted from red to blue to green, the whole cycle repeating in an endless loop. Inspiration struck the young vixen's mind, and she took a couple of steps back onto the bridge to line herself up with the left torch and orb. She waited until the flame turned blue and then sent a Fire Blaster shot through the flame to strike the orb. The shot picked up the color of the flame as it passed through, and when it struck the orb absorbed it and started to glow a vibrant blue color. Krystal repeated the procedure for the green orb on the right, and the bars slid back out of the way, allowing Fox to press the SpellStone into the spot on the door and clear the way for them to enter the Temple.

The first room was simply a long, imposing hall that ended in a gated archway, warded by another life force barrier. Fox didn't know of any enemies left behind that would account for the barrier's presence; but even as he turned around to see if there was something they'd missed, he saw a line of four Sharpclaws blocking the way out. Two were regular grunts, but the other two were elite guards like the one they had just taken out earlier. "Where'd they come from?!" he blurted out.

"I don't know; they just appeared out of nowhere!" Krystal answered.

"What do you mean, they appeared out of nowhere?"

"I mean, when I turned around after I saw that the way was blocked, I saw them materialize out of thin air in front of us!" she elaborated. "A more pressing question is how do we take them out?"

Even as she said this, the Sharpclaws began to advance towards them. Both foxes raised their staffs into combat-ready positions and braced themselves for an attack. Fox looked left and right across the incoming line of soldiers, and the beginnings of a plan began to form in his mind. "Krystal, I'll take the two on the right, you get the two on the left," he told her.

For a moment, he thought she was going to argue, but she nodded and said, "I hope you know what you're doing."

"I do… I think," Fox tried to reassure her. "Try to flatten the grunts as fast as you can, so we can focus on the officers." He glanced back behind himself and said, "Tricky, if you see an opening, try to run up behind the Sharpclaws and flame them. That might be enough to turn the battle in our favor."

Tricky looked uncertain. "I'll try…" There was no more time for further planning, as the Sharpclaws attacked en masse, forcing them onto the defensive. The two foxes quickly split up and rushed their respective groups of enemies, catching the oncoming Sharpclaws off guard for a few critical moments. They used that time to thrash both of the smaller Sharpclaws into oblivion; then, as the bodies disappeared, they turned to face the larger and much more dangerous ones. Each of the elite Sharpclaws squared off to face one of the foxes, advancing a little more cautiously now that their compatriots were out of the picture.

Fox and Krystal gave their respective targets no chance to regain their equilibrium, but charged in immediately. Krystal led with a high overhand swing, which her Sharpclaw blocked with his shield and countered with a horizontal axe swing that would have disemboweled her if it connected. Krystal ducked under the swing and slammed her staff against the Sharpclaw's right kneecap. He hissed in pain and anger, and tried to decapitate her with a vertical chop, which she dodged while thrusting the cap of her staff straight into his abdomen. The impact knocked the breath from her opponent's lungs for a brief moment, but given time he would quickly recover and make her pay dearly for her offense.

He wasn't given that time. Even as the knob hit home, Krystal triggered the Fire Blaster and blew a gaping crater in the Sharpclaw's belly. His eyes bugged out at the sensation of the wound, and then he slowly toppled backwards and dissolved into motes of light once his body hit the floor. Krystal turned to see how Fox was faring, but it seemed that he had things almost wrapped up on his end also.

Fox approached his Sharpclaw a bit more carefully than Krystal had. He knew he lacked the finesse that she had with the weapon, and the Sharpclaw was too well-armored to be easily bludgeoned like the regular grunts were. Fortunately, there were other strategies open to him. Fox feinted a high attack, and when the Sharpclaw tried to block it he reversed his swing and rapped the staff across the dinosaur's toes. The Sharpclaw hissed at the impact, though more out of irritation than pain, and tried to split the fox's skull open with his axe. Fox dodged to the side and slammed the heavy cap of his staff up into the Sharpclaw's unprotected elbow. Bellowing in pain and rage, it charged after the vulpine pilot, completely ignoring the smaller figure stealing up behind it.

Once Fox had completely occupied the Sharpclaw's attention, Tricky saw the opportunity to sneak in close under the enemy's guard. As soon as the young Earthwalker saw an opening, he darted in close and breathed a long plume of fire up the armored skirt that protected the Sharpclaw's legs. The metal plates trapped the flames and amplified their effects, and soon the Sharpclaw was thrashing about in a frenzy, trying to cool the super-hot metal that was branding his legs. His attention was anywhere but on his opponent, and that distraction gave Fox all the opening he needed to thrash the Sharpclaw into oblivion. The life-force barrier dissipated as soon as the last Sharpclaw hit the ground, allowing them to progress deeper into the Volcano.

The next room they entered was a cavernous expanse, with a ladder that led to an upper level and several Krazoa statues spaced evenly around the walkway. In the middle of the floor was a grate that allowed them to look down into another chamber, but there didn't seem to be any way to remove it. There didn't appear to be any other way out of the room, either, leading Fox to wonder aloud if this was a dead end. He scaled the ladder to see if there was any sort of hint on the upper level. Krystal, meanwhile, had wandered to the far end of the room, and there she saw another stone plaque like the one that was outside the entrance. Some of the letters were obscured by a layer of dust, so she carefully brushed it off and was able to read the words: "Only he who dims the flames of the Krazoa may pass." She looked up and asked, "Fox, do you see anything that would fit the description 'flame of the Krazoa'?"

"Yeah, each of these statues is holding a basin that has a red flame in it," he replied from where he was standing on the ladder. "But how are we supposed to put them out? I left the fire extinguisher on the Great Fox." When she didn't reply to that, he looked back over his shoulder to see her with her eyes closed and a look of concentration on her face, as though she was trying to catch some faint sound. "Krystal?" he inquired.

At the sound of her name, she opened her eyes and turned to face him. "I think there might be another secret cave nearby," she told him. "It would probably hold what we need." She started up the ladder, and Fox hurried the rest of the way up to clear the way for her. Once they were both on the upper level, Krystal called back down, "Don't worry, Tricky, we'll be back in just a moment."

"Don't be gone too long, okay?" Tricky answered nervously. The prospect of being alone in the massive, foreboding expanse of the Temple was quite a daunting one to the young Earthwalker.

The two foxes made their way around the upper section of the room, in search of the sensation that Krystal said indicated the presence of one of the secret caves that would allow them to add powers to their staffs. The path wove around half the room then angled off into an annex that led past a couple of flame jets, which they had to carefully maneuver past, then curved back around to rejoin the main chamber at a different spot. They picked their way past a couple more statues, and then found a side path that led to a small room. It was mostly unremarkable, except for a small hole in the center that had rays of green-tinted light streaming out of it, and the way that their staffs began to glimmer and shake in their hands.

They dropped down the hole one after the other, and made their way down the narrow passage to the chamber at the end. In the middle of a small pool of water was another one of the pedestals that Fox had come to be familiar with over the course of his travels on Sauria, which meant that there was another special power that he and Krystal could add to their staffs. Fox was mystified as to how the things worked in the first place; Krystal seemed to know more about them, but was more curious as to how the caverns here were compatible with something that originated many hundreds of light-years away.

The answers to that question were unlikely to be answered anytime in the near future, and certainly not in this place. There were more urgent things that needed to be taken care of, anyway. They placed their staffs in the pedestal, Krystal first and then Fox, and watched the fireworks as the weapons were imbued with new powers. Once the pyrotechnic show was over, they examined the weapons to see what had changed. "So, what did we get now?" Fox asked.

"The Ice Blast," Krystal answered promptly. "Sounds like the perfect tool for this place, no?"

"Yeah," Fox agreed absently, wondering just a little about the convenience of finding this thing here and now. He shook off the feeling as being counterproductive, and started back out through the tunnel. "Let's go see what we can do with these now," he called over his shoulder to Krystal.

They made their way back out into the large main chamber, where Fox could see Tricky still sitting and looking a little forlorn in the middle of the floor, on top of the grate that looked down over the floor below. The pilot pointed the staff at the first statue's brazier and pressed the glyph that would activate his staff's newest ability. The tip of the staff blew out a jet of super-cold air that caused any water vapor in the immediate area to condense into a cloud of ice crystals, and after a couple of seconds it snuffed the flame completely. Fox paused only a moment to admire his handiwork, and then saw Krystal vault over the knee-height wall that bordered the outer edge of the upper walkway. "Hey, what are you doing?" he called after her.

Krystal landed on her feet and did a forward somersault to bleed off the momentum of her drop, before turning to look back at Fox. "You've got those ones there, so I'll get these over here," she called to him. Fox shrugged at her answer, but he really couldn't refute the logic in it; there was little point in both of the working on the same set of torches. He leveled his staff at the second flame and started to douse it, while Krystal scrambled up the ladder that led back up to the upper level, on the other side of the room, and between the two of them it was only a matter of seconds to snuff the remaining flames.

The instant the last flame died, the grate began to rumble, startling Tricky off of it. The Earthwalker Prince scampered a few paces away from the place where he had been sitting, and then turned around to look at what was happening. Fox and Krystal dropped down from the balcony and moved to join him in staring at the hole in the middle of the floor. As they watched, a stone panel floated up from the floor below and up to the level of the grate, which slid aside as the platform rose into place. The three of them stepped onto the platform, and after a second it began to sink again, bringing them down and ever further into the heart of the Temple.

A/N: Whew, at last, the next chapter is up. I don't think this one was my best writing, it kind of felt like I was struggling through it at some points, but I hope that I can pick it up better on the next chapter. I'm going to take a break and work on finishing Dark Orbit, so that I can get that done and out of the way and have one less story to hve to work on. I may work on something else if I have writer's block on Dark Orbit, but otherwise I plan to focus on that and get it finished. As always, please R&R! :)