The strike missed Robo by an inch; a split-second reaction overrode the initial split-second reflex to swing at the intruder. Crono buried his Rainbow Sword in the rock wall to the side of the automaton; luckily, Robo’s flattened dome of a head was easy to avoid.
The android ducked and covered his face with his hands in a move that wouldn’t really have saved him from the indestructible weapon. When he recognized the lad, he blurted: “Crono! So sorry to have snuck up on you!”
Speechless from the shock of nearly decapitating a friend, the youth smiled a hastily nervous smile and proceeded to retrieve his blade from its stone prison.
Robo stepped aside and entered the room, instantly detecting Frog and Ayla. “I’m so glad to have found you all!” he declared, then, backing into the shaft through which he fell, asked, “Excuse me for a second.”
Standing in the middle of the shaft and bending backwards, the robot opened a compartment in his chest. A gun barrel poked out of the compartment and spewed a bluish beam of energy. The beam flew up the shaft and exploded loudly on the ceiling of the room above.
Returning to his comrades, Robo explained: “I’ve come with Lucca and Marle; we used the Timegate at Truce Canyon. They are exploring other parts of the castle, but they should be here soon after hearing my signal.”
Cured of his own speechlessness, Frog stated, “So good to see you, Metal Man. Can you help this lady?”
The android knelt aside the badly wounded Iokan. Her eyes were closed, presumably from an extra effort to bear the pain, as a look of hard concentration was etched across her face. She breathed steadily, however. Sweeping diagnostic scanners over her body, the automaton concluded:
“She has many broken bones and some internal bleeding, but I think I can stabilize her condition.” A small, rod-like devise rose from the top of the robot’s head and poured a soothing, greenish bath of light over Ayla.
Tensing sharply at first, then relaxing, the cave woman slipped peacefully into unconsciousness.
“She should be okay for now, but we should take her back to Gaspar so she can heal completely,” Robo suggested.
“We have larger concerns, friend,” Frog replied.
Finally pulling his sword free, Crono joined the three adventurers, but quickly turned his attention to Helminthes. The creature stood with its back arched highly in the air, its head bowing forward. Thick flaps of skin behind its eyes uncovered huge gills, which were heaving as if in pain.
“That is Magus’ monster?” Robo confirmed.
“Aye,” Frog answered, studying the beast’s behavior. “Ozzie claimed that Helminthes was borne of the sea; mayhap it flounders now like a fish out of water.”
Just then a clumsy “thud” and an “Oof!” heralded the arrival of Lucca. She ran into the lighted cellar and almost tripped when she saw the great worm.
“What?! Is that the monster?” she marveled, forgetting, in her astonishment, to greet her comrades.
“Forsooth, lady Lucca,” the amphibian replied.
Adjusting her glasses, the inventor observed: “It looks like it’s gasping for air.”
“A fine time to surprise it!” Frog called as he brandished the Masamune and charged the monster. Leaping almost as high as the basement ceiling, he flew towards the beast and swung hard. Slicing through the air with an ethereal hum, the Masamune severed one of Helminthes’ paddle-like limbs.
A scream, almost as ear-splitting as Lavos’, filled the room as the creature recoiled in pain. Thick blood poured from its wound and the paddle landed heavily at its side, jerking violently. Touching lightly to the floor, the medieval swordsman let out a croak and leapt one more time back to the other four fighters.
Crono stepped forward, keeping his eyes trained on the beast. Its disembodied limb kept flailing, growing all the more active, and was soon enveloped in a cyan glow. The shimmering paddle began to assume a new shape, lengthening and sprouting appendages of its own. When the glow subsided, a minuscule replica of the great marine worm stood where the severed paddle was.
Almost ready to launch his own attack, the boy stumbled at the sight of the tiny monster. Lucca voiced what the lad was thinking: “Look! It made a copy of itself from its own limb!”
Putting a halting arm across the swordsman’s path, the young scientist stated, “Maybe we’d better not use weapons against it. Let’s try using Magic.”
Stepping up to the pair, both now appearing racked by the effort to breath through dry air, Lucca paused for a second, assuming a stiff posture. A mysterious wind gathered around her and wafted her brownish jacket and bandana in the air. Then, without warning, Lucca spun around where she stood and raised her arm straight up.
A ring of light, blood red in color, spread around her along the floor of the cellar; small bursts of fire raced after the ring as it rushed outward from her. The fire grew in intensity in the direction of the monster. Within a moment, Helminthes and its clone were engulfed in a magical blaze. The adventurers were blinded as the fire flashed once by Lucca’s command before instantaneously extinguishing itself.
Intently, the group searched for Helminthes through a cloud of slowly dissipating smoke. As the beast’s form became discernible, they saw that it had not been harmed at all. In fact, the great worm had already started to grow its missing paddle-limb back; its spawn, in addition, had actually grown a few feet longer.
“Oh no!” Lucca gasped, staggering backwards. “It absorbs Fire Magic!”
She ran back to the group, and, looking to Frog, confessed, “We’re not doing too well against this thing, are we?”
The amphibian swordsman returned a worried and shameful expression.
Dashing into the middle of the group, Robo piped up: “I believe Frog was right about Helminthes needing water to breathe properly. We should find a way to beat it quickly or it might--”
The android was cut off by the unmistakable sound of rock crumbling. Turning away from the robot, the fighters gaped at the sight of the beastly worm smashing through the back wall of the cellar.
“Never mind,” Robo finished.
To Chapter Five
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