The troop landed roughly on a granite floor, deceptively high considering the blackness of the cavern down which they had fallen. Ayla was the first to get up; she brushed some dirt off of her arms, not bothering to check for cuts or bruises (as was her way), and called to her friends:
“Crono! Froggy! All okay?”
“I remain largely undamaged, lass,” the diminutive knight errant replied. Suddenly, a shaft of light grew out of nowhere, and the two saw Crono standing up and clumsily letting the lucid Rainbow Sword drop out of its sheath. As strong and brilliant a weapon as it was, the sword apparently did not fit perfectly in the boy’s old leather case. But when Crono secured the weapon, the group was again enveloped in total darkness.
“As shallow as this dungeon be, ’tis remarkably black,” Frog commented. “Lad, thine shining blade may be our only source of light for now.”
Crono unsheathed his Rainbow Sword. Amazingly, the weapon did seem to produce its own light. Sweeping the sword slowly around himself, the youth found a couple of unlit torches resting in metal frames on the walls. Pointing at one of the torches and summoning a portion of his internal energies, Crono channeled a small burst of Lightning Magic through his index finger. A tiny spark jumped from his fingertip and pounced lightly on the torch, setting it ablaze.
Instantly, a line of torches lit themselves after the first caught fire, supposedly in accordance with a preset magical spell. Soon the entire cellar was traced by a parade of light that followed along the walls, lighting every inch of the room except the alcove where the ensemble stood. Crono returned his blade to its resting place.
Then they saw it.
The object was sitting in a depression in the back of the expansive room; a series of short poles, connected by a dusty velvet rope, sat toppled around the thing. It immediately could be identified as a large chunk of ice. An inch or so of water had accumulated on the floor around the block, and something could clearly be seen inside of the ice.
Awed, the trio walked slowly towards the object. As they approached, a putrid odor, mossy and fecal at the same time, filled their nostrils; Crono held his nose.
Moving closer to the ice, they could make out a winding, snake-like form; it was somewhat flattened, and segmented, with each segment bearing a pair of large, paddle-like appendages. The terrible head bore large, elaborate mouthparts and huge, vacant eyes; it looked almost more like an insect than like a worm. In fact, with the tail end sporting two sturdy barbs, the thing could have passed for some sort of huge ocean-going centipede.
Crono could only look on the beast in consternation.
Frog shook his head slowly and whispered: “Good Lord; its size rivaled only by that of Lavos itself. What chamber of Hell could spawn another such monster?”
A corner of the block had melted enough away that a bend of the creature’s thorax was exposed. “This stench overpowers; could Helminthes be dead?” Frog pondered.
Hugging her arms and shivering, Ayla remarked, “It cold here. This what ‘ice’ is like?”
“I am afraid so,” the amphibian replied. “It seems that your folk are in for a great deal of this cold.”
Defiantly, but still with an air of amazement at the size of the creature, the cave woman approached the chunk of ice and declared, “Ioka not scared of cold. Ioka survive cold and ice.”
“That they will, lass,” Frog agreed with a smile.
Reaching her hand out to touch the ice, Ayla continued: “Ioka survive anything; Ioka strong--”
Once the prehistoric monarch’s fingertips made contact with the ice, a wave of blue light washed over the entire chunk. A magic seal had been broken; the ice dissipated in a instant, filling the basement with steam. The three stepped back; Crono instinctively brandished his weapon.
A guttural, mucous-y growl tore through the flowing vapor. The troop could barely see the shape of the giant worm move.
The medieval swordsman called to his comrades, “Ready thyselves; Helminthes awakes!” and unsheathed the burnished Masamune.
As the steam wafted away, the beast could be seen stiffly turning its head to the intruders. It coughed up a heap of stinking, greenish sludge and focused its eyes on the living thing closest to it: Ayla. The beast’s throaty growl resounded through the cellar.
Ayla stood her ground, assuming her trademark battle stance. “Good,” she laughed loudly, “fight Ayla, magic worm!”
Then, as if suddenly acquiring its bearings, the creature quickly bent towards the cave woman and emitted a shrill scream. In one fluid motion, Helminthes turned to one side and swung its tail end at the Iokan, smacking the broad end of one of its barbs against her midsection and sending her flying into the wall behind the trio. With a monumental crash, she smashed against the wall and fell to the floor.
Flipping his sword upside-down in his hand so as to keep it out of his face, Crono ran to where Ayla landed. The cave woman was still conscious, but lay limp as the boy propped her head in his hand.
“Khk... ow... no good,” she said, coughing up a trickle of blood.
Frog ran to the monarch’s side. “How goes, lass?” he asked. Ayla responded with another, deeper cough and a groan of pain. Turning to Crono, the swordsman confessed: “In my haste, I neglected to leave with proper medical aids. Hast thou any tonics?”
Before Crono could answer, the cellar resounded with another crash. This time, however, the noise came from the shaft through which the team had entered the basement. And there was something odd about the sound, too.
It sounded metallic.
Frog shot a look to the giant worm, which had paused for some reason and seemed not to notice the group anymore. Then he turned a worried look towards the shaft. Crono stood, wielding his sword outward in front of himself, and crept towards the still-dark corridor.
And, reflexively, almost cut Robo’s head off.
To Chapter Four
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