Paaainfully slow updates but to be completely honest with you, I'm working without a plan now and I'm now very good at writing that way so once again I deeply, deeply, deeply apologise for the several month gap and I can only hope that my inspiration never takes that long to strike again. It was painful for me too. If you actually were waiting for this chapter (wishful thinking I know) then thank you so much for your patience and I can only hope it was worth it.
The Second Puzzle Box
"Do not make the mistake of thinking you have weakened me by giving me this form," the Dark Queen said delicately as Raimundo tore away from the restraining arms around him and stood, panting, hair falling into his eyes which were fixed firmly and fiercely on the Dark Queen. "You still cannot defeat me."
"You wanna bet?" Raimundo asked, an almost maniacal grin spreading across his lips, making him look so terrifying that some of the soldiers took several steps away from him.
"What are you going to do, little boy?" the Dark Queen crooned. "I am stronger than you and I possess a much more powerful army."
"I don't need a fucking army to kill you, I'll do it with my bare fucking hands!" Raimundo growled.
"Raimundo," said a gentle voice from the corner. Master Fung had spoken for one of the first times since their arrival. "If you attack out of anger and a desire for vengeance, you will lose."
Raimundo glared at Master Fung for a moment but Master Fung gazed calmly back, unflinching, and Raimundo dropped his gaze. He looked instead at Abi's lifeless form.
"She knew that thing was going to kill me," Raimundo said slowly. Quietly. "And she saved me."
"She gave her life for you," Omi said. "Do not repay her by getting yourself killed only minutes later."
"I'm not going to get myself killed!" Raimundo yelled so loudly his voice echoed off the crystal walls and bounced back at him. He put his hands over his eyes and moaned softly. All the while, the Dark Queen stood silently, her gaze never leaving Raimundo.
"If we can't just fight her, what are we going to do? She's here now," Raimundo said quietly, his voice muffled by his hands.
"You have no choice in the matter Raimundo," The Dark Queen said. "If you live past this day, perhaps you will learn from your mistakes and think your plans through more thoroughly before you act."
"I didn't have a choice then either did I?" Raimundo said. "When that was happening to Leigh."
"She's alive," the Dark Queen said.
Raimundo glanced up at her, green eyes peering out from between his fingers to create a childish and rather comical image.
"She's strong," the Dark Queen said. "How strong are you Raimundo?"
For the second time, Raimundo lunged at the Dark Queen and no one held him back. The hidden door flew open and hundreds of the shrouded corpses hovered into the room, announced by screams from several of the Xiaolin fighters.
Without a second thought, Kimiko, Omi, Clay and Sampson threw themselves into the fight, launching attacks on the shrouded creatures as if they had been doing it all along and there had never been an interruption. There was only a seconds pause before the rest if the Xiaolin army joined the fray.
"You should call them off, Raimundo," the Dark Queen said in her soft silky voice as her brutally strong arms pinned him down to the floor. "Unless you want to be responsible for all of their deaths."
"Who says they'll die?" Raimundo panted, shoving the Dark Queen away from him. She stumbled backwards, chains on her skirt jingling but she recovered quickly, composure and all, despite the chaos around her. She smiled.
"I've never lost before Raimundo," she said.
"Well there's a first time for everything," Raimundo snarled. He threw a punch at her but she side stepped him easily.
"You need to do better than that, honey," she giggled girlishly.
"If you've never lost before then how come it took you so long to come out of hiding?" Raimundo snapped, aiming another blow at her which she again avoided with minimal effort. He could hear his blood pounding in her ears from fury and determination.
"I wasn't hiding. Simply...waiting," the Dark Queen said. In a sudden, swift move, she threw her own punch at Raimundo which sent him reeling backwards, narrowly missing slamming into one of the shrouded creatures but his arm flew through what should have been its shoulder and came out bleeding and burning with pain. He let out a scream of pain which went unnoticed in the mass of noise around him.
"The trick is to wait until the enemy isn't expecting it," the Dark Queen said, standing over Raimundo with her hands on her knees, wide blue eyes innocent and a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips. With a jolt Raimundo realised how beautiful she was and quickly glanced away. The Dark Queen clicked her fingers in his face.
"Over here handsome," she said sweetly, in a melodic voice. She reached down and took Raimundo's hand, pulling him to his feet. He noted how soft her skin was, impossible for one so miraculously strong.
"How come we've never heard of you before this war?" he asked.
"You simply haven't looked hard enough," the Dark Queen answered with a wide smile. She kicked out with her heavy boots and caught Raimundo in the stomach. He stumbled backwards, winded and clutching his stomach.
"You're making this too easy Raimundo. Are you really the strongest of your army? Do you still think you can win?"
She advanced on him.
Kimiko chanced a quick glance at Raimundo and the Dark Queen while her enemy was distracted by an attack Sampson had thrown. It was a very brief, second long glance, but enough to determine that Raimundo wasn't doing well.
I knew we should have thought this through Kimiko thought desperately. Well, too late now. So far neither she nor Sampson had managed to land an attack on the shrouded creature. She remembered the advice Leigh Carter had given- to surprise them- but it was difficult under these circumstances. Leigh had been much more successful in the past in dealing with these monsters as she had simply patrolled the streets and snuck up on them. With everyone here, battling each other, it was hard to find a good moment to surprise one. Then an idea occurred. She leaped over a jet of blue the shroud threw at her and, without stopping to think, spun around and aimed a hard punch at the back of the head of a shroud battling Clay behind her. There was a sick thud and she felt something grotesquely soft that made her whimper with disgust and made her feel a brief moment of gratitude for the cloak- but it was definitely solid. The figure pitched forward, arms flailing in shock, and hit the floor in an explosion of dust and foul smelling gas. This time Kimiko was unable to stop herself and she vomited onto the crystal floor. In her moment of distraction, another cloaked figure charged at her. She shrieked, holding up her arms protectively, forgetting they would make no difference. Then something bumped into her from her left, knocking her to the floor. Sampson had shoved her out of the way. He went down with her but his legs were still in the cloaked creature's path and the thing went straight through them. Sampson howled in agony as a burning-freezing sensation engulfed his legs and then blood began to soak through his clothes.
"Sampson!" Kimiko cried. Sampson tried to get up but his legs would not support him and he tumbled to the floor again. Whimpering, Kimiko crawled towards him. Sweat was breaking out on his forehead and a low moan of agony was sounding deep in his throat.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Kimiko cursed under her breath. She glanced wildly around the room but Omi was out of sight now. Sampson's eyes had closed and his breathing was uneven. He had lost so much blood already. "Don't you dare die on me Sammy," Kimiko breathed. "Don't you dare." She struggled to her feet, wrapped her arms around Sampson and heaved him into the air. She was immediately soaked in blood and her mind kept straying back to the battle in Wuya's palace when she had carried Jack this way. No matter how much she willed her mind into the present, the memory persisted and a feeling of déjà vu washed over her. After scanning the room more carefully she established that Omi was not here at all.
There door The Dark Queen's army had entered through was still open- the first time they had been careless enough to leave it open- and the battle had spilled out into the crystal corridors. More memories of the battle in Wuya's palace threatened to invade and Kimiko forced them away. She shoved through the crowd of fighters, kicking aside anyone in her way and not stopping to see if they were friend or foe. She reached the door, surveyed the room again, frightened she may have missed Omi and was now taking Sampson further away from rescue. She still could see him so she turned and ran from the room.
"Omi!" she called, struggling to make her voice heard over the screams and shouts and thuds and bangs and the fighters around her. Following instincts she wasn't entirely sure about, she ran down the corridor to the left. "Omi? It's going to be okay Sammy I promise. Omi?" Sampson was unconscious but Kimiko spoke to him anyway, as if treating him like he was alive and well would make him so.
"It won't though. He's just as dead as Jack. He saved your life but you can't save his," part of her mind insisted.
"Well this brings back memories," she said aloud and a loud cackle escaped her. It ended abruptly when she heard how mad it sounded. "Oh god," she groaned. "I'm going mad, I'm going mad. Don't die Sampson okay? Don't die." She continued to storm through the twisting corridors, all of which looked exactly the same as the last.
Raimundo hit the hard floor with a thump and all the wind left him. He gasped and coughed.
"Wuya must have been very weak if you were able to take her down," The Dark Queen taunted. "Although she always has been weak. Some things never change."
"Always?" Raimundo asked. He struggled to his feet. "She said she didn't know who you were. How do you know her?"
"Did she now?" The Dark Queen asked, mock hurt on her face. "Naughty, naughty Wuya."
Raimundo thought back to his battle with Wuya, forcing himself to remember her exact words...
"The only thing you'll accomplish in beating me is allowing the Dark Queen to take over completely!" Wuya snapped, her voice brittle with the pain she was trying to conceal.
"Who is she Wuya?" Raimundo asked. He was unable to stop himself.
Wuya looked at him for a moment, blood seeping through the fingers she had pressed to her newest wound. "I...I don't know," she said finally. When Raimundo's gaze did not falter she said, "I really don't. I don't know anything about her other than she has an army of god knows whatever they are and she wants to take over the world."
That hesitation before she said she didn't know... Raimundo hadn't thought about it before. What was she about to say before she changed her mind?
"Who are you?" Raimundo demanded. Blood trickled from his forehead and into his right eye and he wiped it away absently with the back of his hand.
"Telling you would just take all the fun out of it," The Dark Queen grinned. "I'll tell you what Dragon, if you can beat me, I'll tell you. But if I beat you, you have to join me. It seems such a waste to destroy talent, bravery and strength such as yours."
Raimundo stared at her for a moment and then snarled, "Deal."
"Good. I should tell you though, you can't win you know. I promise you that."
Omi hurtled down a corridor, three of the cloaked figures close behind him and bowling everyone out of their way. Omi's breath came evenly and he felt able to run forever. Unfortunately, the palace didn't go on forever and he would have to stop eventually and face what was behind him. Another creature swooped through an archway to his left, making a grab for him and, with a yell, Omi ducked under its reaching arms and slid along the floor before leaping to his feet and continuing to run, never once stopping. The newcomer joined the pursuit. These same three creatures (now four) had been chasing Omi for the last ten minutes, never stopping to attack anyone else. Omi felt sure the Dark Queen now knew who carried the most important Shen Gong Wu. But why was she this desperate to get it? Before today she'd never even had a physical form and all her soldiers were already dead. It could just be to stop the Xiaolin army from healing itself and give them a greater possibility for defeat, but somehow Omi didn't think so.
The chase continued and Omi began to rethink his idea that the palace couldn't go on forever. It certainly seemed to. He chanced a quick glance over his shoulder and saw that there were now five cloaked things gliding down the corridor after him and they weren't far behind. He faced forward and pushed his legs harder, almost throwing himself forward. He dodged around battling bodies and ducked under thrown attacks, hoping to get lost amongst the chaos but the distance between him and his pursuers always remained the same.
He turned a corner and ran straight into a solid wall. A dead end. He gazed up towards the ceiling high above his head, eyes wide as he realised what this meant for him. He turned. The corridor stretched out ahead of him and he cursed himself for taking the wrong turning.
"I knew I should have turned left!" he cried. The five shrouded monsters rounded the corner and advanced on him. He backed into the wall, trying to put as much distance between himself and them as possible but he knew it was hopeless.
Then the world went dark and he felt a sensation of falling. Then silence.
"You've got to stay with me, Sammy. You've got to. Think about your sister. How could you leave her?"
Sampson remained just as still as ever. All colour had drained from his face and his clothes had turned scarlet with blood. Tears dripped steadily onto his face as Kimiko wept in desperation, struggling through the battling crowd in search of Omi even though all hope of finding him in time was lost. If there was any time left. She hadn't stopped to check. Just like Jack.
Someone knocked into her from the left and she stumbled to the floor, Sampson dropping from her arms and hitting the floor with a thud that made her wince.
"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry!" the person said. She pulled Kimiko to her feet, jabbering repeatedly apologies but Kimiko neither saw her nor heard her as she roughly shoved her aside and hauled Sampson back into her arms.
"Oh god, is he alright?" the woman asked.
"Does he look fucking alright to you?" Kimiko snapped. The woman recoiled, as if stung. "Either tell me where Omi is or get out of my way."
"He went that way a while ago," the woman said pointing to a long hallway to her right, seeming relieved to have something good to say. Kimiko pushed past her and stumbled down the hallway. With a squeal she didn't hear, she ducked under a jet of blue thrown by one of the Dark Queen's soldiers at a member of the Xiaolin army. She didn't look back to see if it had hit its target.
"This is ridiculous," she groaned after five more minutes of fruitless searching. "He never shut up during the entire time you've known him, he drives you absolutely crazy always thinking he can help, then when he actually can help you can't fucking find him!" She looked down at Sampson. "You're not even listening are you? Because you're dead. I've spent too much of my time trying to save people who are already dead when I could probably have saved loads of others just by taking down as many enemies as possible. But nope, you get hurt and have to help you." She rounded another corner, hopped over a dust covered cloak on the floor without looking at it, kicked a woman out of her way and continued to storm down the corridor. "I love you Sampson. You know that don't you? Maybe not like you'd want me to, but I do love you. You were right, you could never replace Rai, but you gave it a good go." She laughed a little. The sound was sad in her own ears. "I wish we could have met under different circumstances. I knew you'd be the kind of person I could really like from the moment I met you. But allowing that to happen while Rai was still missing would have felt like admitting defeat and I couldn't do that. Because I love him. I really love him. I'd do anything for him. I'd go to the end of the Earth for him. The end of the world for him." She sighed. "I'd die for him."
"Well ain't that sweet," an all too familiar voice said from behind her. She spun around and heaved an enormous sigh of relief as more tears poured from her eyes.
"You looking for Omi?" Clay asked, his eyes on Sampson. They looked empty of hope and Kimiko knew it but he didn't say it and she appreciated him for that.
"Yes," she said.
"I saw him a while back. I think the Dark Queen knew he had the Healing Hand. About five of those things were after him. Never stopped once to go for anyone else. I haven't seen him since."
"Oh god," Kimiko said, for the first time realising that she was crying.
"I'm surprised you even managed to get this far."
"It hasn't been easy," she said. She gave a loud hysterical laugh.
"I'll help you." He didn't take Sampson from her for which she was also grateful. Instead he placed himself in front of her and began battling his way through the crowd so all Kimiko had to do was follow close behind.
"Leigh Carter's alright you know," Clay called over his shoulder as he mercilessly shoved a desperate kissing couple aside with a grunt of annoyance. "Save it for when we win," he snapped at them.
"Is she?" Kimiko asked, not sparing the couple a single glance.
"Omi managed to heal her before those things went after him. That's probably how they found out he had that Shen Gong Wu."
"Do you...Do you know how Rai's doing?" Kimiko asked tentatively.
"Last I knew he was still fighting Her Majesty. Not doing too badly either, all things considered," he said and there was a faint but definite hint of pride in his tone. Kimiko couldn't help but allow a small smile to grace her lips. She hugged Sampson closer to her chest and hurried after Clay down the corridor.
Narrowly avoiding a kick in the gut from one of those heavy boots, Raimundo skidded under another fighting pair's attack and still remained on his feet. He threw his arms in the air as if he had just performed a spectacular stunt and an imaginary audience was applauding him. Then he was serious again as the Dark Queen advanced.
"You're doing a good job of surviving, I'll give you that. But you haven't managed any good attacks yet. You won't win," the Dark Queen said.
"You keep saying. I wonder if you're really as confident as you're making out to be," Raimundo panted, pushing hair out of his eyes.
"Oh Raimundo, I'm merely toying with you," the Dark Queen said, giggling and batting her long eyelashes. The chains on her skirt jingled menacingly as she leaped at him, one hand catching by the throat, the other propelling them both forward until Raimundo slammed against the wall. "I haven't shown you the worst I can do yet. A trick I got from dear Grand Master Dashi."
"Dashi?" Raimundo choked. "What's he got to do with this?"
"Have you even done any research at all?" the Dark Queen asked, her eyes bright with sadistic pleasure as her fingers closed around Raimundo's airway and fire seemed to lick from her fingers and consume his body. He would have screamed in agony if her hand had not been around his throat. It felt like his very blood was on fire.
"Dashi needed me, but he knew how dangerous I was so he created a magical object that had the power to heal those I'd injured and lock me away if need be. Do you know what that object it?"
"The Healing Hand..." Raimundo could speak no more as the hand tightened.
"That's right sweetheart. Unfortunately, you're not going to be around much longer to tell anyone."
Blood was seeping into Raimundo's clothes from wounds he hadn't had a moment ago.
"What is this place?" Omi asked himself, his voice echoing in the silence. He was still unsure of what had happened. Through where he had entered the room was a solid wall and all sounds of fighting were completely silenced. One moment he had been cornered, the next the wall seemed to have melted away behind him and he had fallen into what he had believed to be oblivion. Only to realise it wasn't, and he was alive. His pursuers hadn't followed him. Darkness enfolded him like a gigantic blanket and he peered through it, trying to see where he was. However, at the sound of his voice, flames flickered to life, stinging his eyes and making his recoil. Once his eyes had adjusted he was able to look around. The room was empty, like everywhere else in the palace it seemed, except for a wooden table in the centre of the room, upon which a dozen candles flickered. On the walls were ancient looking carvings.
Slowly, Omi approached the table. Now he saw a small scroll lying amongst the candles. The table was filmed with a thick layer of dust, as if no one had been in the room for centuries, and when he picked up the delicate looking scroll it left a clan spot on the table. He unrolled it. It was so fragile he felt sure a single gust of wind would have torn a hole right through it and he was careful not to joggle it too much. On it was one single drawing; The Healing Hand of Dashi. He gently placed the scroll on the table, unearthing great clouds of dust that he didn't notice, and pulled the Shen Gong Wu out of his tunic where he had kept it safe. He examined it, comparing it to the drawing on the scroll. Then he tipped the Shen Gong Wu and gasped when he saw the bottom. It was elaborately carved with symbols similar to those on the walls of the room. He seized one of the candles and carried it towards one of the walls and began to compare the symbols. They weren't just similar, they were exactly the same. Unfortunately, he had no idea what they said. But his tiger instincts were telling him that this was it. This was the way to defeat the Dark Queen.
Only a few chapters to go I think (I saw think because, as I said, I'm writing without a plan now, it could span out still). But anyways, I hope you liked it and please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please review!