The inside of the dome structure was dark and damp. There were lights and candles flickering here and there, but it wasn't much to go off of. Luckily there was only one hallway. There weren't any branches or doorways, just a straight shot forward. But it felt as if the hall was winding around the structure, slowly making its way to the center.
Everyone was tense. It was almost palpable in the air. They were all ready for anything. The moment an enemy appeared, they were all prepared for what they had to do. But so far, no enemies had appeared. Not even so much as a grunt underling. So they had no choice but to keep proceeding forward.
"So…uh, I've got a question." Erk said quietly. "If no one was supposed to know about Val, err, Valmagus," he was still getting used to the whole demon thing, "then how do these people know about him? I thought he was deleted from history or something."
Jack shook his head. "I'm not sure. There were only a handful of people who knew about our assignment. Most of them were in the Magic Council."
"But weren't you in a Mercenary Guild? I mean, those kinds of things tend to spread quickly. Couldn't have one of your guildmates have found out about the mission?"
He thought for a moment. "It's possible, but not likely. We were a solitary bunch. None of us liked interacting with anyone outside our groups. Besides, I heard that they disbanded a few years ago."
As they talked, they hadn't noticed that the walls and ceiling of the hall had become much damper and slimier than before. Which means they also didn't see the figure descending on the ceiling towards them, suspended on strings of slime.
It was his laugh that revealed his presence. "Poor, poor Pumpkin King. No matter what you think, you couldn't be more wrong. It's almost pitiful. You're a bunch of infants."
Every head turned up to see Alec outlined from the lights. There was something distorted about him, especially his eyes. They didn't quite seem…whole. Like something was missing. His smile was wide as he stared down at him. I sickly sweet smile that held no happiness for them.
"Alec!" Crest bellowed. The mere sight of him was enough to send the larger man into a rage. "Get down here and face me like a man!"
Alec scowled slightly. "Fine." He growled. He fell down in front of them, barring their path. "But only to prove once and for all that I'm stronger than you!"
Erk and Dante were the first to step forward, but Crest stopped them. "No." He said slowly, walking ahead of them to stare down his enemy. "I will be the one to beat him."
"Ahahahaha!" Alec laughed. "If you think you can beat me, than you're more stupid than I thought. You don't have a chance." He opened his palm and black slime oozed between his fingers. "I hold more power than you could ever imagine."
"That power comes from darkness." Crest said lowly. He hated Alec with all his being, but he still pitied the man for what he had become. "That kind of power only leads you down a path of destruction."
"Oh god." Alec said with a bored face. "Are you about to lecture me?" He chuckled. "Well before we got all philosophical, there's something I want you to hear. It sounds like – Slime Ocean!" He threw both hands forward in a tossing motion and a black magic circle appeared, gushing forth a wave of slime at the group.
But Crest was prepared. He opened his arms wide and planted his feet. "Rebound!" A glowing green wall appeared between them and the attack, keeping them safe and pushing the slime back at Alec, who simply absorbed the fluid back into his hands. Resolving himself, Crest through his shirt off. He didn't want to give Alec's slime any holds on him so the garment would only get in the way.
"You all stay here." He said adamantly. Lowering his Rebound, he walked through and turned back to them. "Shield." A glowing blue wall appeared between them. "Stay behind this until I'm done. I don't want any of you getting caught in the crossfire." Then he turned to Alec and tensed. "I've been waiting a long time to get even with you Alec. Charlotte may have gotten her revenge, but I have yet to get mine."
Alec just laughed. "What revenge? All she beat was a mangy dog that possessed my body. You have never and will never beat me. Viscous Webbing!" Throwing a hand in the air, black slime shot out in strings that spread across the entire hallway like a spider web, only being stopped by Crest's Shield. With a bound, Alec jumped onto the network of slime and laughed.
"You know, I'm not even sure why you are on their side, Crest. Why would you be protecting that demon?" He taunted.
Crest just glared at the man. He didn't have long range magic like he did. He needed to get up close to beat him, which is why the coward had run up his little web. "To make sure that people like you will never unleash him back into the world." He replied. He needed to keep him talking so he could figure out what his next step was.
"Tsk, tsk." Alec chided. "You know, that is probably the most cliché, heroic line I've ever heard. I was expecting something with a bit more flare, a bit more noble. After all," his smile widened maniacally, "out of everyone here, you're the most likely to want revenge on the Valmagus."
Crest froze, which let Alec take his shot. "Slime Molding!"
But because he had been caught off guard by Alec's words, Crest didn't react soon enough to protect himself from Alec's slime. It flowed around him like water. He tried to fight it off, but in the end he was powerless as it trapped him in place. And once he was encased from his neck down, strands of slime shot out to secure him to the ground.
"Crest!" Erk and Charlotte shouted. They tried running towards him, but his barrier kept them from interfering.
Jack put his hands on their shoulders to calm them down. "Now, now seedlings. Don't go giving up on Crest just yet." He watched the scene with confidence. "He still has some tricks up his sleeve."
With his prey trapped, Alec took his time lowering himself down on a rope of slime. "I was briefed on everything relating to your guild when I joined Nightmare's Begin. Everything." He made a fist and it became wrapped in slime, molding itself to the appearance of his hand. From his perch, he threw a punch at the air. The slime around his fist extended towards Crest and punched him right in the face. It may have been made of slime, but it felt like an iron gauntlet to Crest.
"Imagine my surprise when they told me this little story about a young, defenseless boy who wandered into a Wizard's Guild one day all battered and bruised, looking for a home." He threw another bunch, causing blood to start flowing down Crest's lip. "Why, it's enough to make a man cry." He said in a fake understanding tone. "He'd run a long way after a group of people he had seen in his home country. Hiding from bandit's, running from wild animals, eating what fruits and berries he could find."
Crest growled at spit the blood from his lip. "Keep your mouth shut right now Alec!" He struggled to get out of his bindings, but he might as well have tried fighting his way out of chains for all the good it did him. "Just stay quiet!"
"Aww. But it's SUCH a good story." Alec whined. He laughed and looked at the rest of Pumpkin King behind the barrier. "After all, I'm sure your friends would like to learn a little history about you. I mean, you never even told me about your past. And we were the closest of friends!" Sarcasm dripped from his voice as he said, "Isn't that right…survivor of Alistoria?"
There was more than one surprised look on the faces of Pumpkin King.
"Wait, wasn't Alistoria the country Valmagus invaded?" Dante asked.
"But I thought they were all put to sleep?" Lorelai added.
Charlotte fell to her knees as she stared at her friend. "Crest…Crest told me that there was a survivor. Someone who had gotten away."
Jack nodded. "And that person…was Crest."
Alec laughed hysterically from his perch. "The cat's out of the bag now, eh Crest?" He punched him again and again. "So why did you keep it a secret? Huh? Did you think it made you better? Better than me!?" He yelled in fury and jumped down to stand in front of Crest. "You're entire country is dead! Yet here you are. A coward. You ran away. Children half your age are lying somewhere in a lab while you're walking around like nothing's wrong." He punched him again but Crest didn't even blink. "You acted so high and mighty and called me evil? Well where were you, hypocrite, when your country was being destroyed? Huh?" Another punch.
Crest took hit after hit, insult after insult, and didn't even open his eyes. He deserved every word and blow. He'd been hiding it for so long…he even tried to forget. But it was pointless. No matter what he tried, his past always came back to harm him.
But then Alec smiled as an idea came to him. "I'll tell you what, after I'm done killing the rest of you Pumpkin Losers, why don't I pay your family a visit?" He had the slime start to slowly climb up Crest's neck and onto his face, first covering his mouth and then slowly past his nose, cutting off his air. "I'll pay your old mom a visit. How about your dad? If memory serves, he was captain of the Alistoria Knights." He made a disapproving noise. "Now ain't that a disappointment? Powerful man like that having such a weak son." His slime covered all of Crest's body now, but his voice still reached his ears. "Maybe I'll give them the same service I'm giving you." He laughed. "You all be together again in the afterlife!"
Crest's eyes sprang open. He had to do something. If Alec wasn't stopped, he would attack his family, his friends. Why wasn't he fighting back? This wasn't like him. He should have forced Alec's mouth shut by now.
He felt something warm growing inside him, wanting to burst out and put Alec in his place. He didn't want revenge. He wanted justice. And that was exactly what he was going to do!
His arm burst forth from the slime cocoon, causing Alec to stagger backwards in surprise. Crest ripped at the slime with his hands, freeing his face first. He gulped in air and glared daggers at Alec. "You know nothing!" He bellowed with enough force to make Alec whimper slightly.
He ripped through the rest of the slime like it was nothing and advanced towards his old ally. "I'm a son to a lost family!" He took a step. "A brother to lost brothers!" Another step. "A knight to a lost kingdom!" Another. "A servant to a lost king!" A final step. "I am Crest of El Cid!"
With his words, a golden light burst forth from inside his body. A radiant circle appeared beneath his feet as the light enveloped his body.
"The-The hell is this!?" Alec asked in surprise.
The entire hallway was shining with the light coming from Crest as Jack laughed merrily. "You said it yourself, Alec. He's the son of the Captain of the Knights. And I bet that there's something in your report that got left out. Why did Crest survive while nobody else did?"
Golden boots made of shining metal appeared on Crest's feet, followed by grieves for his legs and armored pants. "Alistoria had no accomplished wizards, but they had one thing no other country did. A magic passed down from father to son since the day their knights were created." His hands and arms were bound in bright gauntlets. "An item that binds itself to a new heir the moment he is born so that he can, even at a young age, fulfill his duties as a knight to protect his king." His chest was clad in a chest plate that was as bright as the sun itself. "A set of armor that takes the magic powers of all the previous wearers and adds them to its own power. Armor made using the flames of dragon fire." A helm appeared on Crest's head revealing only his face beneath an elegant helmet engraved with the symbol of a dragon breathing fire over the rest of the armor. "The armor that Crest's family named themselves after: The 'El Cid'!"
The circle vanished with a burst of power, scattering all the links of slime throughout the hallway and leaving Alec all on his own. Heat rolled in waves off of Crest as he stood before them in golden armor the likes of which they'd never seen before. The very power in it almost shined like a beacon.
Crest slowly raised his hands grimly and a sword appeared in one and a shield in the other. The blade of the sword was as white as the sun was hot with a golden pummel that fit Crest's hand perfectly. The shield was the brightest thing of the entire set. A white sun on a golden background with light seeming to stream off it elegantly. "As the last survivor of Alistoria." Crest said calmly. There was power in his voice that wasn't there before. "As the acting captain of the Knights of Alistoria, in the name of Cecil Innestratos Tress de Alistoria, the Sleeping King, I judge thee." He flourished his blade at Alec. "Guilty!"