03-26-2012 11:58 PM
Skia was the first to slide down the rope, which hovered some twelve feet above the floor of the bank foyer, a mere six feet above the heads of her father and Lord Ghishmonk. When she heard that rumble of familiar laughter, she stopped dead in her tracks. Panicked, she threw the hood of her cloak up just as Kio’s boot heel connected with her head. Muttering a silent explicative to herself, she shot Kio a glower that would have incinerated lesser men. Raising her finger to her lips, Skia motioned Kio and the descending Peppers to complete silence. Dangling just above her father’s line of sight in the company of seven men of questionable character didn’t bode well for Skia’s bank heist plot, but she was determined to make the best of it.
Surveying the massive foyer of the bank carefully for the first time, she noted the extravagant décor with the same awe, bemusement, and distaste as her father. Directly even with her line of sight huge bronze statues of the former Yinoc Emperors cleverly wrought in various stages of demise surrounded the large room. Each statue, life-size of course, was tucked securely in its own niche above the various doors leading off into the nine different wings, counting the high security wing guarded by Kaishi, of the bank. Still moving with the utmost stealth, Kio, Knight, and the Peppers retreated up the rope, giving Skia room to set her plan into action.
Wiggling like an eel, Skia slowly and silently built momentum until she was swing freely. The rope’s trajectory brought her within jumping distance of the niche containing the dying carving of Konoco Yinoc. Very fitting since it was Captain Midget’s arrow that had ended the tyrant’s life. Making a swift mental calculation and grabbing a last deep breath as she swung back toward Konoco’s niche, Skia made her move. Releasing the rope as it reached the furthest point on its arc, she threw herself through the air landing with barely a whisper of sound at the feet of Konoco Yinoc. Her heavy cloak settled around her like the wings of a bat.
Turning to face the small band hovering beside the trapdoor, she swept them a graceful bow, grinning impishly beneath the shield of her hood. The heavy rumble of her father’s voice, however, drew her up short. The Peppers’ rope hastily disappeared back through the trapdoor. Just as swiftly as it had been opened, Kio began to close it, mouthing to Skia, “We’ll follow as soon as we can.” Skia nodded, nocked an arrow on her ever present bow and froze.
Lord Roaridan’s deep tenor resonated through the cavernous space as he looked up at the frescoed ceiling and the dying guardians for the first time. “Interesting décor, Hermann,” Roaridan’s said. “Glad to see you don’t hide the foolish actions of our past away hoping, we’ll forget them. Keep them on display as a reminder of what might have happened without the Forest Guardians and the other brave souls like them. The craving of the famed Captain Midget is especially lifelike. What is he carved out of?”
Lord Ghishmonk glanced up and saw the little figure crouched in the niche and smiled knowingly. “It is made out of new and rather extraordinary substance called Living Legend Wax invented by the Soothsaying Sot of Twinklebe Hill. It is almost as if the real Captain Midget were standing on the ledge waiting to leap into action.”
As Lord Roaridan’s gaze strayed to the other dying statues, Lord Ghishmonk cast a speaking glance at the cloaked Captain and winked. The curator didn’t have time for any further communications as two doors suddenly burst open on either side of the distinguished party. Lord Roaridan pulled an elegant saber from the folds of his robe, whirling to face the intruders who came charging in from the right, namely Rashiwee Knocknei and Ninnie Hamer. Lord Ghishmonk pulled a heavy broad sword from a scabbard strapped to his back, lashing out at the group of cheesy minions surging in from the left, headed by Bhishiko, Tokash’s trusted lieutenant. A third group frilly-shirted, bruised would-be avengers, headed by Count Fnockula Self-Proclaimed Lord of the Night Forest, came charging through the main doors, across the lobby straight into the middle of the malay. Emilio VaeLiska, never one to shrike duty or pass up a fight leapt into the fray with an enthusiastic shout, his massive long sword cleaving the air with a delicious hiss.
From the sleepy anticipation of the nightly closing, the Imperial Bank erupted into heaving maelstrom of battling minions, henchmen, trusted lieutenants, vampires, would-be avengers, the barber brigade and the cloak council, all timed to the tinny elevator music that had permeated ever last inch of realm. The cheesy fight was more than Skia could stand. She needed back-up; drawing in a deep breath she voiced the call that would bring every Forest Guardian within hearing range running. At the top of her lungs she hollered. “TRUDGE!!!”
Everyone fighting in the foyer below froze as the bizarre call rang out, hunting for the source of the cry. Kaishi, the D. I. D., also known as the Dragon in Distress leapt into action, grabbing hold of Skia’s cloak and taking flight as Kio, Knight and the Peppers careened down through the trapdoor again, knowing their cover was well and truly blown. Into the chaos of the battle, dragon and Guardian plunged, Kaishi’s glacier blue wings shimmering in the waning sunlight captured by the skylights. Skia scrambled up onto her friend’s back and leveled her bow at the overflowing crowd of minions attempting to hack her father and Lord Ghishmonk down. Her arrows landed true dropping the meaty thugs like flies. Lord Roaridan cast an appreciative in the Captain’s direction as she disappeared down a long, dark corridor.
Rashiwee Knocknei knocked the head of two frilly shirted heroes together, muttering under his breath as the call of “TRUDGE!!!” rang out. He recognized the voice and cloak from years ago and knew it was time to act. As the Frost Dragon took flight, making for the Vault of Stolen Voices, Rashiwee set off in hot pursuit. It was time to settle an age old score. Captain Midget wouldn’t escape this time.
Kaishi knew precisely where to go. The clanging of swords faded as pair soared down a passage that lead deep into the bowels of the bank, the area that once served as an armory to the former fortress. It was here that the deepest darkest treasures of the realm were concealed, the mysterious things that made and kept their realm weird and wild. The Vault of Stolen Voices was the target. As an added layer of protection against any unwanted company, Kaishi covered the extensive marble floors with an invisible layer of ice designed to send the unwary follower crashing down. If that didn’t serve as a deterrent, the creatures secreted behind the glass fronted enclosures on either side of the hallway were sure to the trick. The ghosts and ghouls routed from the dungeons and many of the weird creatures that plagued the Enchanted Forest at night were housed here.
Were-creatures, not all wolves of course, where’s the fun in that, gremlins, hobgoblins, unicorns in a variety of colors and temperaments, chimeras, massive land loving cephalopods, griffins, fiends, engorged insects, and any other number of spiny, shiny, slinky, spiky, sulky, extraordinary creatures lurked in the deep shadows of the twilit pens. The cacophony warbles, roars, and other assorted noises that ignited as Kaishi zinged by was incredible, but it concealed the telltale thump of heavy boots closing in on them. The huge bolted doors to the Vault of Stolen Voices loomed large at the end of the corridor. Kaishi banked hard, landing gently just in front of the heavy portals. Skia leapt down and surveyed the dense expanse of wood barring her path. A huge padlock twice the size of her head, requiring ten different keys to work the tumblers secured the door against invaders.
With a frustrated huff, Skia blew a wayward curl out of her eyes and looked at Kaishi. “How are we supposed to get around that? I don’t suppose Kio had enough forethought to install a skylight into there, did he?”
Kaishi shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. It was on his list of things to do after he found out about the construction of this wing. He just didn’t have time to get to it. There are other ways of doing things, however.”
Skia glanced up hope, battling with despair as her gaze strayed to the giant lock once more. “What did you have in mind?”
Kaishi grinned as only a dragon can. “Simple, metal verses water. All we need to do is accelerate the process.”
A beatific smile spilt Skia’s porcelain face. “Genius. We freeze it.”
Kaishi nodded and with a single breath encased the oversized impediment in a block of ice cold enough to kill a man should he be foolish enough to touch it. The lock didn’t have a choice in the matter. The metal took a violent exception to the brutal treatment and began to groan. It wasn’t long before the steel and brass cracked beneath the stress of the cold, the screaming metal began twisting within its icy prison.
Kaishi and Skia took the warning and backed away, ducking low. The lock exploded sending a wave of ice shards and metal fragments flying in every direction. Numerous pieces imbedded themselves in the enchanted glass keeping the Twilight Menagerie at bay. Cracks began spidering along the massive panes.
A stifled cry of pain accompanied by a muffled curse followed close upon the heels of the lock’s destruction, alerting Skia to the approach of an unidentified individual. He didn’t sound happy. The boot steps drew closer, thudding heavily as they fought to find purchase on the sheet of ice Kaishi created. The gap was closing, rapidly. Whoever was coming was certainly determined.
Skia knew they didn’t have much time. With a quick flick of her wrist she pulled the mangled remains of the lock out of the cusp and reached for the handle of the door. She pulled. It moved, barely. She pulled again; this time the door refused to budge. Frustration and a touch of fear boiled to the surface as the sound shattering glass echoed down the corridor. Her pursuer was getting closer. Skia had a fairly good idea who was attempting to follow her. The time to make peace with her past was upon her, if she actually managed to get the vault door open. Marshalling up every last ounce of hurt, anger, and frustration accumulated over the years, Skia gave the massive panel one last desperate yank.
The door groaned in protest as it moved outward, surrendering several inches more inches. It was enough. Skia wriggled through the opening just as the pounding of boots and the crunch of broken glass reached the opening. Kaishi warbled a warning and leapt into the air seconds before Rashiwee Knocknei came charging up, his bloodied hand catching hold of a trailing fold of Skia’s cloak as it disappeared into the shrouded interior of the Vault of Stolen Voices. Skia took several steps deeper into the vault, but came to an abrupt halt as the trailing length of her cloak pulled her up short. Releasing an irritated huff, she looked back to see what was causing the snag. What she saw caused her breath to catch in her chest.
Rashiwee Knocknei’s bulbous, eggplant colored pate and a bloodstained arm were wedged between the stone wall, the frozen marble floor, and the heavy vault door. His hand was closed in a vice grip around the hem of her cloak. His voice was a lethal whisper in the unnaturally hushed surroundings. “You’re mine now, you little wretch. My hair and pride were your final victims.” Slowly Rashiwee hoisted himself to his knees, his bald head grating painfully against the rough surface of the vault wall as he rose. Little by little he drew Skia back toward the door.
The Guardian captain was having none of it. She dug her heels into the soft, uneven ground beneath her feet. Surprised by the unusual terrain, Skia looked down. Glassy black and white sand winked back at her in the colorful undulating light cast by thousands of individual crystal orbs resting on numerous rows of woven racks. The inside of the vault was like falling in the heart of the Shady Dealings Hedge Tavern’s dance floor. The room was completely silent except for the sound of her own labored breathing. It was a space designed for a single purpose to conceal the heart and soul of the realm. The lights emanating from the orbs was the living pulse of the stolen theme music. Captain Midget knew what she had to do.
Casting a blinding smile at Rashiwee as he attempted to pull her back through the door, Skia slipped her arms free of her cloak and sent her nemesis sprawling back into the corridor. Rashiwee hit the ice and went skidding into the enchanted glass flanking the left side of the passage. The force of the impact was more than the battered panels could take after the lock explosion. They shattered in a rain of pulverized sand, burying Rashiwee up to his nose in a dune that stretched the length of the hall. The Twilight Menagerie made a break for it, charging toward the main foyer where the faint sounds of battle were still discernible. Rashiwee glowered after the retreating herd and began to extricate himself from his sandy prison. Kaishi’s slippery surprise bought Skia the time she needed.
Skia, the famed Captain Midget, was embarking on the most important mission of her illustrious career. Pulling her double edged rapier from the scabbard strapped to her back, she slowly circled the intricate network of interlinked racks. Whoever created this marvel was meticulous about its construction and the delicate pattern. All she had to do was find the fracture point of the network and the whole thing would come crashing down. It was a beautiful and complex puzzle begging to be solved. The Captain kept circling the racks, hunting for the one point that would shatter the placid façade that had consumed their world.
As she pondered this riddle, the battle continued to intensify in the foyer. What had started out as a covert rescue mission and music retrieval operation had devolved in free style brawl, no holds barred. Half the individuals involved didn’t even know the reasons for the fight. They just seized the excuse to do something more interesting than compile statistics on the number of minions forced into other, less brutish professions and the percentage of would-be heroes who didn’t know which end of the sword to use in a duel. The minions, being simply that, minions charged into the fight without a second thought.
This is what they were designed for. It was their purpose in life. Just as Gooki’s purpose was that of comic relief. Something was definitely in the air. Everyone seemed to know their true purposes again.
Kio, Knight and the Stabbing Peppers made a spectacular entrance as they dropped into the seething mass of humanity from above. Blades flashing red in the dying light of the setting sun, they came to the defense of the overwhelmed curator and his distinguished guests. Lord Roaridan and his eldest son Emilio were holding their own, but with the second wave of minions that came charging out of nowhere the balance of the fight was shifting. Lord Ghishmonk, whose sword whirled perilously close to Kio’s curly head, heaved an audible sigh of relief as the seven well armed men dropped into the fray.