Chapter 7: Continued Conflict

As Rhetia and Fox searched the room, they were both filled with the same eerie sensation. The jungle-like space was the perfect place for danger to be lurking, and when they heard rustling in the foliage, it didn't help ease their worry. Fox held his dagger out in front of him, ready for anything that came at him. Even under pressure, Rhetia managed to hold herself with the same haughtiness as always. However, when the Priestess heard a scuttling noise from behind, she gasped, pivoting and bumping into Fox in the process. Fox spun quickly, flashing the dagger out in front of him in the blink of an eye. He lowered it when he saw the cause of the noise, a lemur. The thief sighed and turned to Rhetia, smirking. "A bit paranoid, Lady?" Rhetia snorted, walking further into the room.

The two were nearly done with their inspection of the room when suddenly, the door slammed shut behind them. Fox glared with his one eye. "Could you have chosen a worse room to search, Lady?" As he felt along the walls for a lamp to light, something twisted around his ankle. A tail? Fox turned to Rhetia, confused by her look of terror that seemed to be aimed over his shoulder. Fox assumed that Rhetia had seen whatever touched him and turned to find that it wasn't an animal. A vine shot out at Fox, knocking him back with surprise. Fox quickly got to his feet, moving in front of Rhetia. An army of possessed vines slithered out from the darkness, preparing to strike once more. Fox tightened his grip on the dagger, growling. "Congratulations, Lady," he hissed at Rhetia without turning. "You really COULDN'T have chosen a worse room."

Though Alexos laughed and played with Eno around the courtyard, Oblek still couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched. The musician had searched every inch of the courtyard, but found no one. Oblek sat down on a bench next to a statue of a warrior. Oblek felt a chill down his spine as he gazed into its lifeless eyes. Or were they lifeless? Oblek turned and looked at the other statues in the courtyard. A female archer and a half man half bull creature. Mirany was obviously nowhere to be seen, so Oblek stood, putting his hands on his hips. "Old friend, we should really move on. Mirany may be in danger, so we shouldn't waist time playing." Alexos's smile of joy changed to a wide-eyed stare of fear.

Before Oblek could ask what was wrong, he was seized from behind by the statue of the warrior. It unsheathed its sword and had its sharp edge dangerously close to Oblek's neck. The musician growled as he grabbed the statues wrist, twisted it and shoving the warrior back against the pedestal it had once occupied. "I've taken on tougher opponents than you!" Oblek roared. When he heard Alexos wail helplessly, he turned to see the archer and mythical beast step from their pedestals, approaching the Archon. Oblek glared and charged at the statues to defend Alexos.

Jackal and Seth were still storming through the halls of the palace, becoming more desperate to find Mirany. Jackal stopped rarely to make decisions about which rooms to check and which halls to search. Seth was growing tired and was always a few strides behind Jackal. "Jackal," he spoke through his gasps for air. "Wouldn't Manto take her to a safely guarded room?" Jackal considered Seth's idea and nodded. "Then maybe we should only head for THOSE rooms?" Jackal shook his head, not bothering to turn as he spoke. "No, that may be what Manto WANTS us to think. We can't take any chances. For now, we must search any rooms we can." Seth sighed and shook his head, wanting to stop and rest.

Because his head was drooping, he hadn't noticed that Jackal had stopped dead in his tracks, causing him to collide into the thieves back. Jackal looked stunned by whatever he saw. When Seth followed Jackal's gaze, he too couldn't believe what he saw. It was Mirany! She was standing at the end of the hallway with the same sweet smile she always gave them. Seth knew there was no way she could have escaped Manto. So how could she be standing there? Jackal was too distracted by what he saw to remember to keep his guard up. After all, for all they knew, it wasn't even her.

"Mir—any?" Jackal took a step towards her. The girl laughed sweetly and nodded. Jackal continued to walk towards her, not seeing anything around him but her. When he drew close enough, the girl skipped back a few steps. Jackal stopped with confusion. When he reached his hand out to her, she turned and ran down the hall. "Mirany, wait!" Jackal followed in hot pursuit, forcing Seth to run after them both. "Jackal! You DO realize this is probably a trap, right?" he panted. Jackal nodded. "I know, but it's our ONLY lead!" he shouted as he continued to follow the familiar figure down the winding halls.

A vine fell to the floor as Fox hacked at the attacking plants. Rhetia, being the fighter she was, insisted on wielding a weapon of her own. As a vine lunged at her, she sliced it down with expert precision. She and Fox were now back to back, facing the violent vegetation. "We'll each take half, Lady," Fox spoke over his shoulder. "I'll finish the vines on the right, you get the ones to the—" Fox paused when he noticed Rhetia was already cutting down any plants that got in her way. Fox simply shrugged and joined her in chopping away the vines. For the next few minutes, the two continued defending themselves. However, the plants didn't let out. Fox was starting to get tired and he knew Rhetia couldn't go on alone. "Lady," he spoke over his shoulder again. "There must be a source for all these plants. Perhaps if we find their base, we can finish them off for good?"

Rhetia nodded, scanning the nearby foliage for any signs of where the vines may be coming from. She noticed a faint green glow coming from where the vines seemed to emerge from. "There! Follow me!" The Preistess lunged into the wall of plants, hacking her way to the glow within. She stopped before the trunk of a large exotic-looking tree. "Here, Fox, I found it! On the count of three, we'll slice it down! One, two, THREE!" The two threw their bodies at the tree, using all their strength to cut at the trunk. In response, the vines began to wither slightly, changing their direction and shooting at Rhetia and Fox. With one final hack, the vines fell to the ground, lifeless and dead. The green glow faded from the tree and the Rhetia and Fox sank to the ground, catching their breath. "Alright," Fox spoke between pants. "Next time, Lady, I'M choosing the room."

The statue of the mythical beast crashed back against a pillar, making an indent in it. Oblek stood between it and Alexos, who was crouching behind the pedestal with Eno. "Who's next!" Oblek challenged. As if in response, the archer statue drew an arrow from the pack on her back and shot it directly at Oblek. The Musician had to jump out of the way, hitting the ground with a loud thud. "Ow. . ." Oblek groaned, looking up just in time to see the warrior was about to bring it's sword down on him. He rolled to the side, just barely missing the stone blade that clanged into the pavement beside him. Oblek swiped his arm at the statue's leg, causing it to topple over. Oblek swore standing and looking around him, noticing the other two statues were closing in on him. 'How am I supposed to STOP these things?' he thought frantically.

As he looked around him, he realized the flaw in each of the statues. The archer needed distance for her weapon to be affective. The warrior relied on his sword for strength. The mythical beast charged straight at opponents with full force. Oblek smirked, realizing he could use these flaws to his advantage. Oblek faced the half bull creature and waved his arms tauntingly. "Hey hairy, over here!" In response, the creature let out an angry snort before charging at Oblek. Glancing over his shoulder, Oblek made sure that the warrior was directly behind him. When the mythical creature was close enough, Oblek side-stepped and stuck his leg out, causing the creature to topple over onto the warrior and crush him. Grabbing the sword from the fallen opponent, Oblek used it to chop at the creature until it was a pile of stone.

Oblek's moment of triumph was short lived as a barrage of arrows struck the pavement around him. "Oblek, look out!" Alexos shouted from his place of hiding among the pillars. Oblek spun, raising his sword to block another arrow that almost struck him. "Where the H*** is that thing GETTING all these arrows?" he complained out loud. Recalling his observation from earlier, he ran at the archer, closing the distance between them before striking it down with his newly acquired sword. When all three enemies had been vanquished, Oblek collapsed onto another bench, dropping the sword and panting for air. He looked up when the familiar sound of tiny feet approached him. "Come on Oblek, we don't have time to rest. We still have to find Mirany!" Alexos turned and scampered off with Eno once more. With an exasperated sigh, Oblek forced himself to stand and follow the young Archon. "Great idea, why didn't I think of it. . ." he mumbled sarcastically.

The Mirany mirage continued to lead Jackal and Seth down halls and around corners. Finally, she stopped in the middle of the Archon's throne room, beckoning for them to follow. Upon entering, Jackal and Seth weren't surprised when the Mirany they had followed vanished before their eyes. "Do you STILL think we should have followed her?" Seth asked. However, Jackal was too busy directing a heated glare across the room to hear Seth. Manto smirked from where she sat on the throne. "I see it didn't take you long to find us once you had some. . .motivation." "Jackal, Seth!" Jackal's almond eyes broke contact with Manto and met Mirany's. She was sitting by the window, and was thankfully unharmed. "Mirany," Jackal smiled and took a step toward her.

"Uh-uh," Manto raised her crescent moon wand and put up a green barrier between the two. "Don't you remember the whole reason for coming here Jackal? Your conflict is with me. SHE can wait." Jackal's hands balled into fists as he turned back to Manto. "Very well, Manto. I can't kill you soon enough," he hissed, unsheathing his sword. He was so focused that he was oblivious to Fox, Rhetia, Oblek, and Alexos entering the room. Manto stood, raising the wand once more. "Don't get cocky, Jackal, it's a bad trait to possess." With that, the double doors behind the group shut, locking them in.