As promised, I said the cliff-hanger wouldn't last for too long. Here's the next step into the showdown, with some serious trouble for both students and teachers as they race against the clock to rescue Julie.
Hope you will like it.
Into the Fray
The Procession was slow, but Einon could feel a sense of tension rising with each step. This was the moment the whole sect had been waiting for. Millennia of hiding, plotting, manipulating, just to reach this moment in time, where History would come crashing down and the Glory of Atlantis would return to dominate the world.
He was walking behind Waltz and Lady Lilia, as they led the group from the Fortress to the Temple underground. Behind them, six Warlocks in golden robes were carrying a litter on their shoulder, where the Heir lied, stunned. Behind them, two more warlocks were carrying the reliquary. It was one of the most ancient relics of the cult. And behind them, alone as he walked before the following attendants, came the one who would give up his flesh and life for the return of the Bane. He was bare-chested. He had a look in his eyes that both impressed and frightened Einon. He wasn't drugged. He had to be there out of his free will. He was resolute, and Einon knew that he would die, soon. The sacrifice knew it, as well, but none of his steps seemed to falter. He truly was a servant of their Cause.
Einon only hoped that he would show the same resolve, when his time would come to give his life for the Cause. Beside him, came the leader of the Maze's Guards. That man, Einon did despise. He was a cruel, vicious madman. He had no notion of right and wrong. He cared little for the ideals of the cult. All he cared about was power and violence. His name was Arthan. Einon certainly hoped that when Lady Lilia would come to power under the rule of the Bane, she would get rid of men like him. They were a necessity, but Einon did not like to have to serve alongside them.
Suddenly, an Acolyte ran to catch up with the Procession.
"Lady Lilia! I'm sorry, but we are under attack!" he said, nervously.
"What are you talking about?" asked Lilia, fiercely, turning to him.
"Wizards, just outside the Tower and the gates of the Maze," said the Acolyte. "They've torn down the Gates to the Maze and they are flying around the tower, trying to force their way into the Fortress!"
"Who are they?" asked Lilia. "How did they even find us?"
"I don't know how they got here!" replied the Acolytes. "They're just popping up at the cliff near the Gates! From what I saw, they're wearing a badge with a feather!"
"Dumbledore's people!" seethed Lilia. "The Order of the Phoenix has found us!"
She seemed to ponder her options.
"We cannot stop," she said. "We're too close of the completion of the ritual to give up, now. Go back there and organize the defence. You will have to stop them from getting to us, you hear me?!"
"Yes, Mistress," said the Acolyte, his voice trembling.
Einon knew that his resolve wasn't strong, there. His name was Lazlo. He was a dedicated man, but even the most loyal could falter, when facing strong opponents. He stepped up.
"Mistress, do you require my presence at the ritual?" he asked.
"Why?" asked Lilia.
"Lazlo may need help organizing the defences," he said. "I volunteer to go and defend our fortress, with my life, if I have to."
Lilia looked at him, with steady eyes. She must have felt his own resolve, for she nodded.
"Go," she ordered. "Do not hesitate with the possible consequences. Slaughter our enemies, if you get the chance."
"Yes, Mistress," said Einon, before to run, alongside Lazlo, up the stairs, that led to battle.
It was time to show his worth, no matter what the danger may be.
Ian rolled on the ground, dodging the mass of rocks falling from the ceiling. A quick look around showed him that he was separated from the others by a huge pile of stones. A loud thud made him jump on his right side, as the Golem's stone club hit the floor, ripping some stone from it.
Great, he was stuck in an enclosed space with a giant Stone Golem! Ian avoided another strike from the creature, which destroyed one of the walls, opening a new passage on his right. Ian rolled on the floor again. This guardian may be made of stone, but it was quick. There was no way Ian could pass by it without a fight. Ian started to gather energy inside of him.
"Alright, Big boy," he said. "You want to play?"
He got back on his feet. The Golem raised his stone club once more. Ian focused his power on the mass of stone. His eyes flashed lightly.
"FRACASSO!" he shouted.
The Club exploded in the Golem's hand. But the spell didn't do anything to the creature. Ian saw it rebound on its stone skin. The golem emitted what must have been a scream of rage. It hit the walls with its gigantic fist. The room began to shake wildly. Ian lost his balance. He saw a huge rock fall right at him. He raised his hands quickly and summoned a shield. The stones exploded, sending dust everywhere.
Ian got back up as quickly as he could. He faced the Golem again. They both looked at each other. Was the creature trying to understand what was facing it? Ian could almost feel it hesitate. But the spell guiding it was too strong and the Golem charged again, walking straight at Ian.
The spell! The thought shot in Ian's mind in one second, reminding him what Alexander had told him of Professor Potter's destruction of the Seal of Chaos. This ancient pile of stone had been bewitched centuries ago, so there was a chance, there. Again, he gathered his will, and got his wand out of his sleeves. He aimed at the symbol on the chest of the Golem.
"Finite Incantatem!" he said.
The Golem stopped suddenly. The symbol on the stone began to crack, and exploded. The Golem started to petrify itself again. With a sigh of relief, Ian saw it turn into a complete motionless statue. He raised his wand again. Better be cautious.
"Fracasso!" he shouted again.
This time the spell hit the Golem with a loud thundering sound. And the creature of stone exploded in pieces that fell on the ground. A little stone came rolling near Ian.
"Wow," he said. "The guys at school will never believe me."
He slapped the dust from his robes, and summoned the spell that indicated east. He walked into the passage opened by the Golem's club. He needed to find the others quickly. They couldn't afford to get separated too long in a place like this. Ian pointed the east and resumed walking.
When he reached a fork in the tunnel, he headed for the right one that was slightly ascending.
"We must get back to his help," shouted Kieran.
Kenneth was watching hopelessly the pile of stones that was blocking their way to Ian. He tried to hear something. Then, suddenly, he heard loud explosions sounds. And far in the distance, like muffled by the wall, he heard a scream.
Then the sound seemed to move away. Another explosion on his right, as if the sound was spreading in the room on the other side of the wall.
He turned to Kieran.
"He's alive," he told her. "He will get rid of this Golem, and find us again, but we can't get through to him, right now. He will follow us."
"How?" asked Kieran. "The path is blocked."
"You told me that behind this wall, there was another path running, parallel with ours. We must get out of reach of these Golems. The Marble slab said there was more than one."
Kieran looked at the wall, hesitating. Terry put his hand on her shoulder.
"Come on, K," he said. "Ian is strong. He'll find us."
"Let's go," said Kenneth, taking the lead and walking straight at the narrowed corridor.
Beware, Intruders who violate the Maze. Only the brave and the initiate can go through this place. Either you're a friend or a foe. The friend will know the way through the Maze, and how to get to the Sacred Heart of Atlantis. The foe will have to prove his worth before to meet his fate facing the Warlocks. Until now the journey was safe. From now on, the path of the foe will be watched by the guardians who neither sleep nor live. If they admit you to the second circle, you will make another step ahead, facing the most dangerous and feared, and the test of your wits. Only the smart and the strong will be able to pass the second circle, for the Warlocks won't bother with lesser foes. Find your way and face the trials. If you succeed, you may live longer, only to die by our power.
"Blimey," said Ron. "Not really inviting, is it?"
"It's a description of the trials," said Hermione. "So I guess this Maze isn't that complicated, after all."
"Really?" asked Alexander. "How do you figure that?"
Hermione was about to answer, but Ron beat her, to it, surprisingly.
"The text mentions two circles," he said. "So the maze goes in circles. That's a basic Construct. One cannot be eternally lost in a circle. Once we choose one direction, we must stick to it. The maze will try to lead us astray, with twists and turns, but nothing that deviates too much, because there isn't enough room in a circle. But we have to face trials. This is the danger of the place, not getting lost. So in one way or another, we're getting there. It is designed a little like the Labyrinth of Daedalus," he said.
"The Labyrinth of Daedalus was far grander than this," said Hermione, helpfully.
"And it was much more complicated," admitted Ron. "Still, it's based on the same principle. Which means there's got to be another way right to the West."
"How come you're so savant in Labyrinth?" Harry asked Ron, surprised.
"We had our honeymoon in Greece, remember?" said Ron. "We made a detour by Crete, to see the Labyrinth of Daedalus. So we studied the whole functioning of it."
"You actually studied something?" asked Ginny, bewildered.
"Well I happened to find this interesting," said Ron with haughtiness.
"So, this other way?" cut Harry.
"Does the opened door lead straight to the East?" asked Hermione.
Harry checked with the Pointing spell. He shook his head. Hermione walked to the left side of the door, and began to investigate the wall. Shortly after, she flicked her wand and knocked the tip against the wall. The wall slid open.
"This way," she said, smiling.
"The slab says that friends know the way through," said Hermione. "So I guess that the Warlocks simply take this tunnel to the second Circle, and then, they have another trick to walk through."
"Isn't she great, honestly?" said Ron, proudly. "That's my wife!"
Harry chuckled, and took the lead. They entered the corridor. It was mostly gong straight at the west. But Harry noticed that the passage was narrowing and widening. He turned to Hermione for an explanation.
"I guess the other paths are twisting and turning on the other side of these walls," she said.
Harry nodded and walked on.
Minutes later, they reached a pile of debris of rock and stone. A huge head was lying on the ground. It was the head of a…
"A Golem," said Hermione, impressed. "I guess he met someone with more strength than expected."
"It is signed," said Alexander. "Ian has passed through here. Not long ago. We can catch up with him."
They quickened the pace. In the tunnels, the passage was again narrowing and widening. Suddenly, the tunnel divided into two paths. Harry pointed to West, and indicated the left tunnel.
"Wait," said Ginny. "Locatio Julie Carteret," she said.
And her wand pointed to the right tunnel.
"They have moved her," she said. "We must focus on her. The Warlocks don't know that the kids are here. Julie is the one who is endangered the most."
Alexander seemed to hesitate, but finally nodded. They took the left tunnel.
The construction seemed to loosen up a little in its discipline. The rocks were now less precisely cut. There were huge sections of walls that were out of the cave. There was a glowing light that was spreading in the corridor. A red light. The air started to smell like brimstone.
"Brimstone? In a cave like this?" said Ron. "You don't expect that there could be a …"
A huge howl responded to him, a howl that Harry knew far too well. He had faced this kind of thing before. And it was when he was only fourteen.
"Oh, no," said Ron. "Not a Dragon."
They walked out of the tunnel and found themselves emerging in a huge cave, with a thin path running through it. But this wasn't the main detail one would notice about the cave. Right in the middle of it, resting on a large pile of ashes, there was a glowing red dragon, bigger than any that Harry could have seen.
"An Atlantean Ruby Dragon," said Ron, in a gasp. "I thought they were only legend."
"There you have it," said Ginny, darkly. "Not a legend. Charlie would love this."
They got to the floor, hiding behind a rock formation. The dragon didn't seem to have noticed them.
Alexander looked at the shining creature. It was wearing a curious thing on its forehead. It was like the others artefacts from the Warlocks, engraved with silver and gold.
"It's enslaved," said Alexander.
"What?" said Harry, looking at the dragon, intently.
"It's got something on his head that controls him," he explained. "I guess that it prevent it to attack the Warlocks. They must have some object on them that protects them."
"We should have brought what we have found on the prisoner," said Harry, grimly.
"Too late for regrets, now," said Alexander.
"If we free the thing," said Ron, "do you think it will let us pass?"
"I wouldn't bet on it," said Alexander, shaking his head. "The Ruby Dragon remains a variety of red dragons. Red dragons are way too aggressive a species. Should we free it, it will just attack anything getting close."
"Great," said Harry. "So we have to face a Dragon?"
Alexander shook his head, looking at the Dragon
"No," he told Harry. "I'll face it. You get out while I'm distracting him."
"Are you mental?" asked Harry, stuttering in disbelief.
"Out of us, I'm the one who stand the best chances against this creature," said Alexander. "It won't care about you. I'm something like a torch for it. It'll be attracted by the energy that flows in me. You four go ahead. I'll catch up with you later, once I'll be through with it."
"He's mental," confirmed Ron.
"Still, he's got a point," said Hermione. "We'll run at your signal, Alexander."
Alexander nodded. He started to gather his will. His eyes began to glow, as he was reaching the point where he had to cast a spell very quickly.
"NOW!" he shouted, standing suddenly up, and raising his hands.
Lightning shot out of them and hit the Dragon's head. The dragon reared his head and screamed, an ear-splitting sound. It had been hurt. Alexander had always wondered if his Magic would be powerful enough to overcome a Dragon's protection. Apparently it was.
Alexander saw Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny get to the exit of the cave, on the other end of the path. His diversion had succeeded. Trouble was that now, He had to fight. Because a hurt Dragon never gave up the fight until it was either avenged or dead.
Alexander rolled on the ground to avoid the fire that the Dragon's breath had cast in his direction. He immediately retaliated by another bolt of lightning. This one missed its goal, and Alexander had to plunge again, to avoid being deep fried by the dragon's flames.
Ian stopped to listen to what was happening, out there, when the ground began to shake below his feet. He heard the Dragon howling. He recognized it for what it was. Then he heard the flashing of a spell. And the Dragon let out a howl of pain.
It was fighting a wizard! And the Dragon didn't sound like it had the upper hand. Ian knelt to the floor, and stuck his ear to it. He could hear the battle raging from below him. And he extended his senses. He suddenly felt the magic that was attacking the Dragon. And it was familiar!
Ian jumped on his feet. His mentor had found the Maze. How? How could he have found…
Of course, he thought, with a smile. He has followed you right in here.
He had to find the others. They weren't alone anymore! Ian began to run, following the passage to the east.
Kenneth and the others walked through another narrow passage and found themselves in a large room. They suddenly heard something echo through the walls of the Maze, ahead of them. A Dragon scream.
"It can't be true," said Terry, moaning in despair.
"A dragon is guarding something in here?" said Joel. "I swear to Merlin I was kidding…"
"The most Dangerous and Feared," quoted Kieran. "This must be the way to get past the Second Circle."
"Let's just hope we only have to pass through the test for the smart," said Kenneth.
He took a cautious step under the arch that was closing the room, and peaked beyond it quickly.
Three warlocks were guarding the door at the end of the room. They were the first human beings they had encountered, since entering the Maze. They had to be getting close. Kenneth was the first to step into the room. He made the others stop right on the threshold, before they would come into view.
"Stay hidden," he said under his breath.
Kieran, Joel and Terry did as they were told, but Kalindra shook her head and followed Kenneth. After a second of furious looks exchanged, Kenneth gave up and just walked on.
The three guards spotted them immediately and called out in a language that Kenneth didn't know. He tried to look casual.
"Hello, guys," he said.
"We're looking for the Office of the Head of the Department," said Kalindra, catching on. "You know, big guy, ridiculous accent, a nasty habit of kidnapping people… Doesn't ring a bell?"
The guards hesitated a second before to raise their wands. Too late. Kenneth had made three swift waves of his own, and the wand of the wizard farthest on the left flew out of his hand, making the others turn to him, looking surprised. Kalindra reacted at once and stunned the guy Kenneth had just disarmed. Kenneth linked his move with another one aimed at the second man. The spell hit him right in the chest sending him flying through the room. The last tried to protect himself, but Kenneth kept hammering at his shield with blasting spells, until Kalindra managed to send a stunner through his defences. The Wizard hit the ground, motionless. Kenneth turned to Kalindra, with a slight smile.
"Nice one," he said.
"We do make a good team, right?" she said, with a grin.
Kieran, Joel and Terry, joined them, looking impressed.
"Wow," said Terry.
"Yeah," confirmed Joel. "Something like wow!"
"Remind me never to face either of you guys in a duel," said Kieran.
"They were distracted," said Kenneth as an explanation. "Come on, we must move on, before their absence gets noticed."
They ran to the next door, and entered a room that was plunged in darkness.
Harry and his friends walked out of the Dragon's cave into a second one. There wasn't any Dragon, but there were enough Warlocks in this one to cause a problem. The four of them got into hiding, before to get spotted. It was some kind of procession. But Harry could tell that it was hurrying.
Harry spotted a tall witch who was walking in front of the whole column of Warlocks. Right behind her, Harry spotted the man who had attacked the Quidditch game and abducted Julie. Behind him, six warlocks were carrying the stunned form of Julie Carteret on a litter. Harry felt adrenaline pump into him. They were getting close, but right now, they couldn't do anything. The Warlocks were far too many.
Another Warlock caught up with the procession. He knelt before the woman.
"Report," she ordered.
"Lady Lilia," he said. "The Order is kept at bay, for the moment, but we couldn't prevent some of them to push their way into the Maze."
Harry felt his heart jump at that. The Order was out there! That was good. They weren't alone in that fight, and at least, Remus' people were focusing the attention of the warlocks.
The witch called turned to a Warlock that was dressed in red, beside Waltz.
"Arthan," she said. "If the Order is in the Maze, then the Dragon's screams may mean we have guests. Keep your men on guards. Kill them on sight."
"At your command, my Lady Lilia," replied Arthan.
Lilia. Harry flinched slightly. So the twins had been true. Lilia really existed. So far, everything the Entwistle twins had told them was true. So this also mean that the ritual they had mentioned was probably real, as well.
The procession resumed entered some dark archway, leaving only four guards behind, the man named Arthan at their lead. Harry made three moves to Ron and Hermione, telling them to get to the right side of the room. He and Ginny went to the left side, very quietly.
On Harry's signal, they got out of their hiding place and stunned the most guards they could. Two of them avoided the attack and one other was thrown against the wall. The last one was only standing there, completely motionless. Arthan began to run.
"He mustn't raise the alarm!" shouted Hermione.
Harry jumped over his rock and rushed after the wizard. He emerged in another deserted cave, opening on a ravine. His instincts rang wildly, and he rolled to the floor, avoiding a lightning bolt that hit the stone wall. He got immediately on his feet. Arthan was facing him, his wand ready.
"Everte Statum!" he shouted.
"Protego!" Harry shouted back, and the spell rebounded on his shield charm.
Arthan smiled lightly.
"Well, well," he said. "The famous Harry Potter. I'm honoured. I think it is time to see if you can face more than pitiful Dark Wizards."
"You must be very full of yourself, to consider Voldemort as pitiful," said Harry, preparing for the coming duel.
"The real Power is in the Island," said Arthan, like he was quoting something.
"And your real place is in Azkaban," said Harry, smiling.
"You'll die, Potter," shouted Arthan.
And the duel began.
"To hell with it," said Ian, finding himself in another dead end.
He had been walking for what had seemed like hours, since the stones have changed. He had to be in the Second Circle, and it was even more tortuous than the First. He was tired and fed up with turns, twists and dead ends. He may have lost nearly one hour in turning like this. No, he reminded himself. You heard this Dragon not so long ago.
Anyway, he didn't want to waste more time.
He stopped in front of the closest wall. He pulled out his wand.
"Locatio Kieran McDougall," he said.
His wand pointed right at the wall.
"So be it," he said.
He put back his wand in his sleeve, and gathered his will. Then he unleashed it on the stones. The wall exploded loudly, sending huge fragments of stone all around him, and inside another corridor. It was straight heading east. Ian checked that Kieran was this way, assuming she was with the others, and headed to the end of the corridor that was lost in the dark.
Then he faced another dead end.
"Well, since it works," he said.
And he made this other wall explode as well, going straight toward his goal.
Explosions sounded in the distance and came to Kieran's ears. What was this noise? Maybe it was Ian, fighting another creature? She couldn't help but feel bad having left him behind. If something bad would happen to him, she would never get over it. It was strange, but she had known Ian since she was a little child and imagine her life without him around was a terrifying thought.
No, she thought. He will be okay. He's strong and powerful. He can survive anything. He just needs time to find us.
"What's that noise?" asked Joel.
"Don't know," said Terry. "But I won't really insist on finding out."
"We must stay mobile," said Kenneth. "They may have raised the alarm."
"Remember that we still must go through this bloody Second Circle, whatever it might mean. And that there is a dragon in this place," said Kalindra.
"We didn't hear it for some time," said Joel.
"Are you hoping that someone has killed him? Ian, maybe?" said Terry, sarcastically. "Joel, Ian is good, but even he can't face a dragon on his own. I just hope he didn't find himself facing that beast."
"In fact, I was just hoping that we were getting away from it, and thus too far to hear it howl. That's a good sign," he said.
"You don't remember the safety rules about Dragons? When you don't hear it howl, you're far enough," Joel said, smiling.
Suddenly, he tripped on something that emitted a loud click. Kenneth stopped dead in his walk, his wand in hand. Kieran could hear some energy suddenly growing in the little cave they were walking through.
"A trap!" she said.
"Don't move!" shouted Kenneth.
"You're sure this is a good idea?" asked Terry.
"Until we know what happens," said Kieran.
And the humming sound around them was getting even louder. Suddenly, lightning bolts shot out in every directions. Kenneth joined Kieran, while Kalindra rushed to cover Joel and Terry.
"Protego! " he said, waving his wand. "Take cover!"
Kieran saw Joel slide and hide behind a rock, just in time to avoid a bolt that hit the stone. Terry dodged one lightning that rebounded on the rock and flew through the air of the cave. Terry turned to Kenneth, frowning and smiling at the same time.
"Don't move, huh?" he said, sarcastically.
"Look out!" said Kieran.
Terry rolled to the ground, to avoid the last bolt that was still rebounding randomly. The mass of energy was now spinning in every direction, like out of control. It came at Kalindra, who managed to deflect it with a shield of her own. It finally hit one of the walls, and made it explode.
Kieran saw the stone fall right on Joel, who hadn't seen it.
"Joel, Look out!" she screamed.
Terry hadn't waited for her call. He had run to Joel, and summoned a shielding charm, that deflected the rocks that hit it. Kieran saw with horror that a huge rock was about to fall on the two boys. Too big for the shield to hold.
But at the moment the rock fell in the cave, heading straight at them, something came to hit it, some kind of fire whip. The lash of energy made the rock explode in thousands of little rocks that fell harmlessly on the shield that Terry had summoned.
Kieran raised her eyes, and saw that Kenneth was now lowering his wand, his face closed in concentration. With a deep sight, it relaxed.
"Wow," said Kieran.
"I've never shattered something that big," said Kenneth.
Terry helped Joel out of the hole they were now buried in, surrounded by rocks.
"Nice shot," the Gryffindor told Kenneth. "And thanks for the warning, K."
"Thanks, mate," said Joel, hugging Terry. "I owe you big time."
"Remember this for the next game of Quidditch," Terry said casually. "Try to miss some goals, for a change."
"I don't owe you that much," said Joel, grinning slyly.
Kieran walked to Terry and kissed him on the cheek.
"Am I surrounded by heroes?" she said, fluttering her eyelashes. "How can I resist, honestly?"
"You can't," said Terry, smiling strangely.
He was looking as if the kiss had suddenly robbed him of his wits.
The explosions noises started again. Kenneth tensed again.
"Alright, keep moving, the explosions get closer," he said.
They all started to run to the exit of the cave. Another booming sound came from their back.
Suddenly, the wall right behind them exploded, making them all turn at once. What was that again? A huge cloud of dust invaded the corridor. When it settled back down, Ian emerged from the hole in the wall.
"Ian!" exclaimed Kieran, squealing in relief to see him alright.
"I'm so freaking tired of all these walls," he said, slapping dust form his clothes, and coughing. "That's the fourteenth I have to clear. Did you miss me, guys?" he added with a smile.
Terry sighed exaggeratedly.
"It's only the half-pint!" he said, smiling widely.
Kieran ran to him and hugged him wildly. She suddenly broke the hug, blushing lightly. She cleared her throat before to speak. What was she thinking of?
"I was worried," she said.
"I'm okay," said Ian, feeling a little uneasy, too. "I should have thought of blowing up walls earlier. But I've got good news."
"Really?" said Terry. "You mean apart from the dragon's howling we heard earlier? Or apart from the fact you almost died. Or maybe the fact we're lost in this place."
"The Dragon was fighting someone," said Ian. "I could feel Alexander's powers. He followed us in here. So I guess Professor Potter must be here, too. So we're not alone anymore."
"Alright," said Terry. "This is good news."
"Excuse me," said Kenneth. "Glad to see you back, Ian, but we must hurry. These Warlocks won't wait for us."
"Just a second," said Kalindra. "Locatio Julie Carteret," she enounced.
Her wand pointed slightly southwest.
"They moved her," said Kalindra. "We must head south as soon as we can."
They resumed their advance.
"We're still in the Second Circle," said Joel, nervously. "Maybe this dragon is still here."
"It's behind us," said Ian. "I'm sure it was behind me, as I was walking through these walls. I guess we only have to face the test for the smart."
"Let's just hope we're smart enough for it," said Kenneth.
Ian shot a quick look at Kieran, and smiled.
"I wouldn't worry too much about that," he said.
Kieran turned to him and smiled, blushing lightly. She liked his way to support her even if they were lost in the middle of some dark Labyrinth. She hit playfully on the shoulder.
"Stop flattering, Malcolm, this isn't the time," she said.
"It's always the time for some good flattering," said Terry, chuckling.
Alexander stood again, and shot another lightning salvo at the Dragon. The lightning hit the artefact on its forehead, and blew it away. The dragon let out a triumphant scream. It was like it enjoyed his new found freedom. But it went back to attack, and soon, Alexander had to recoil behind the rock he was hiding behind, while a huge wave of fire was raging around him.
Alexander knew that the only damage he could do to the Creature wasn't enough to get rid of him. He started to look around him, in search of an idea, while he heard the Dragon walk slowly toward him. Then he saw it. The solution was right over him, in the heights of the cave's ceiling.
He waited some more for the dragon to get closer. And at the last second, before the Dragon would strike the rock with his fangs, Alexander got out of his hiding place; and shot another attack, in direction of the ceiling, where it hit the stone next to a huge stalactite. The shock took down the huge spear of stone, which fell right on the dragon. The shiny red creature raised his eyes to it, and screamed. The Stalactite plunged right in his back, nailing him to the ground. The Dragon's body had some furious death throes, and finally his long neck went limp and the head of the dragon hit the floor. The creature was dead.
Alexander got up, wiped the sweat off his face. He looked a long moment at the dead body of the creature. Then he looked at himself. He was ragged up by the fight, his robes covered in dust, and with some light burns in places.
Well, this one was tough, he thought.
Then he got back to his spirits and looked at the path leading to the exit of the cave. It was now free to use. Alexander started to run up the path, trying now to catch up with his friends. He was just hoping that Ian was out of reach of any other dragon that would be lurking in this place. Even with his powers, he wasn't sure that Ian could survive an encounter like this.
His own survival had been only by an inch. Now he had to find the others; they may need him.
Harry was duelling Arthan, countering any spell that the warlock was sending at him, and trying to stun him. They were alone on a cliff in the Cave. The flashes of their spells were almost the only source of light of the cave, expect for a strange glowing, coming from the stones all round them. The duel was raging on, without any interruption. Harry had to admit that this Arthan, although he was an underling of Lilia, was quite a dangerous wizard. And he had a nasty streak in his curses, as well.
At some point, there was a short break in the duel, as Harry was closing from the edge of the ravine.
"Crucio!" shouted the Warlock.
Harry was caught by surprise. He only had the time to summon an incomplete shield charm. Some of the curse hit him. He felt an awful pain run through his veins, while Arthan was exulting.
Harry lost his balance, and went over the edge of the cliff. He couldn't think straight, still under the effect of the Cruciatus curse. He saw the depths of the cave open before his eyes. And he sensed that it was the end.
"WINGARDIUM LEVIOSSA!" shouted a voice in the dark.
Harry's fall stopped immediately, and he began to float in the cave. The shock of this aborted fall cleared his mind, shaking away his dizziness and the remains of the pain. He looked around him. Who had cast this spell?
"YES! You're bloody brilliant, sis!" shouted someone.
Ron's voice. Harry turned in that direction and then he saw Ginny standing on the edge of another cliff, her wand pointed at him. Harry had the fleeting thought that she had never looked this wonderful. He saw that she was tensed in concentration. Harry had recovered enough of his focus, so he apparated at once and fell on the floor right at her side. Ginny lowered her wand, while Ron and Hermione were keeping Arthan at a distance, their wands pointed right at him. Ginny fell on her knees facing him, and sighed deeply.
"It's not over, Potter!" said Arthan, between clenched teeth. "You won't get away with this."
"Oh, shut up!" said the voice of Alexander.
The Entropist seemed to appear right behind Lilia's servant, and before he could even react, Arthan was stunned.
Silence fell again on the cave. Ginny broke it by hugging Harry furiously. She kissed him wildly, confused and trembling.
"You're here! I… caught you! I caught you!" she said. "You're okay? You must be okay!"
She was sounding as if she wanted to convince herself of what had happened. Harry, still under the shock and the panic of the fall, gave back the hug with the same fierceness.
"I'm okay, Ginny," he said. "I've never loved you as much as I do, now," he said, laughing madly.
Ginny laughed, too. They kissed again. The trembling was fading away from Harry's legs. He stood up and helped Ginny on her feet. He turned to Ron and Hermione.
"You were right on time, again," he said.
"Hey," said Ron. "She saved you, we didn't."
"Thanks anyway," said Harry.
"Alright," said Alexander, from the cliff above. "We have to move."
Ginny helped Harry to walk, shaking away the remainders of the Cruciatus Curse. Soon, he was able to walk on his own. He caught up with Alexander.
"Got rid of the Dragon?" he asked
"Wow," said Harry. "Anyway, we have confirmed Lilia's existence. She has Julie. They're over there," he added, pointing at the tunnel in which the procession had disappeared. "In other news, the Order is out there, giving hell to the warlocks at their doorsteps."
"Alright," said Alexander. "The sooner we find Julie, the better. After that, I'll have to give Ian a lecture about getting us into such a mess."
"You mean the dragon?" said Ron, smiling.
"Yes, I mean the dragon," replied Alexander. "I can't even imagine Ian facing one of these things."
He suppressed a shiver.
They walked in the corridors for maybe ten more minutes. Then they emerged in a round room, with no clear exit in sight. Kenneth began to swear. Ian asked Kieran for Julie's direction, and unleashed his power on the wall. The spell hit the stone but dissolved quickly, without any harm to the wall. Ian tried to concentrate harder but the second spell hadn't any more effect.
"We're stuck!" he said.
"Great!" said Kenneth. "Just great!"
"Wait a second," said Kieran. "There's something there."
She walked to the centre of the room and knelt in front of some symbol, that was tracing a circle in the room. Ian joined her.
"What do you think it is?" he asked.
"Something like the test for the smart," said Kieran, distractedly.
She looked thoroughly at the circle. Then, she seemed to take some decision.
"I don't like this look on your face, K," said Ian.
"What look?" asked Terry.
Kieran suddenly stood up and made one step on the circle. She stood right in the middle. She breathed in deeply.
"Alright, let's go," she said.
The circle suddenly disappeared under her feet, and Kieran fell right inside a hole.
"Kieran!" screamed Ian after her.
Kieran landed in a cage, than rang wildly around her, as she was straightening up. She was now facing a stone disc, engraved with sections, with various symbols. The symbols suddenly faded, and the sections started to move, turning in every direction, switching lines.
Kieran breathed out calmly, to relax her mind. She brushed her finger against the stone of the centre of the disc. The cage suddenly went down a few feet. It emerged in the ceiling of some gigantic cave. Kieran looked below her and saw that the only thing to stop her fall if the cage was to let go of her was a small path on a bridge of stone. Except for that, there was only the void of an abyss.
"Lucky I'm not afraid of heights," she muttered to herself.
She noticed that the path below her was leading to a gate, guarded by a pack of silhouettes in robes. Warlocks. Praying that they wouldn't spot her, Kieran turned again to the disc of stone. It was a puzzle. She now knew it. The centre was the way to validate an answer, and the wrong one would send her down the abyss.
Alright, she thought, analyse first.
The sections were of different colours, but of different sizes, now spread randomly through the disc. She guessed that the green stones were meant to form the smallest circle around the Centre. Then red, blue and golden stones. Kieran touched one green stone and it switched with another, red, on the other side of the circle. Kieran began to understand the mechanism. She started to switch stones, carefully avoiding the central stone. She quickly got the sequence of switching stones.
"Kieran!" she heard from above her.
Ian's voice. It has been echoing since she was down there. He sounded very worried now.
"Shut up a second, Ian," she called back. "I'm trying to concentrate, here!"
She then started to work more quickly on the stones, catching with the sequence and the logic of the puzzle. Three reds, and a green, one blue, and a golden stone… It was switching perfectly. Soon, she had completed the outer circle. No more golden stone to switch with. Its only could be with red, blue and green. It was getting easier.
Kieran quickened her pace, and completed the blue circle, and she heard a click. Her cage went up a little. Apparently she had rewarded and it compensated for her previous mistake. She smiled. Of course, one error now could just send her down straight to her death, so she didn't need to get cocky, now.
The blue circle was done. Kieran slowed down her pace and looked at the way the stones were switching, now, more randomly, between red and green. At some point, the central stone turned red, while another was turning black in the two circles. Kieran stopped a moment to think about it. The colour seemed to designate the function. She switched the central stone with another, and the black reappeared in the middle. Second trap avoided. The two circles, then started to turn, making the task harder to Kieran. She had to think of the way to switch stones on a changing pattern. She let out a deep breath.
"Just a little more," she told herself.
She switched three green stone at once, touching the three of them at the same time. They took places in the inner circle. Kieran spotted three red stones in the inner circle and she touched them at the same time. It only remained one stone at the centre of the disc, which was green. And the black stone was in the inner circle. Kieran checked everything before to hit the centre, switching the stones. The black stone got back in the centre. Another click.
Kieran then pushed the black stone. The disc ceased to turn, and a loud series of clicking sound echoed suddenly.
Kieran just hoped she had understood the problem right.
She suddenly caught a glimpse of someone, far below her. It was a woman. A woman that was indeed familiar. Aria Entwistle. She was walking on the path, making her way up to the door. She reached it and the guards all drew their wands. But they seemed to falter in recognition and all had a step back. One even fell on his knees. Unopposed, Aria walked on and opened the door with a wave of her hand. What did it mean? Was she with them?
Aria seemed to pause and look around her, then she shot a quick look up, and Kieran was sure that she had seen her.
It was crazy, as she couldn't see clearly in the distance, but Kieran would have sworn that the witch had just winked at her. Just at this moment, the cage went up, retracting itself, and lifting Kieran back in the round room, where she was suddenly fetched by Ian's arms. He pulled her away from the circle, which took back its place.
"What was that?" he asked.
"The Key," said Kieran.
And just as if to prove her right, a door slid open in the wall, practically out of nowhere.
"Hurry up before it closes, said Kenneth.
They all rushed through the door, and no mistake, it shut down behind them.
"You're a ruddy brilliant girl," said Joel.
"I saw something," said Kieran. "Aria Entwistle is in here."
"What?" said Ian. "But…"
"She passed one gate, guarded by Warlocks," said Kieran.
"I knew she wasn't to be trusted," said Terry. "She's with them since the very beginning."
"But she told us the truth on the Maze," said Ian. "Did she see you?" he asked Kieran.
"But she didn't raise the alarm," she said, still surprised by that. "It may sound strange, but I think she winked at me."
"She winked?" said Ian, his eyes widened.
"Yes,' said Kieran. "Maybe she's playing some double game."
"We will worry about this later, if you don't mind," said Kenneth. "We must find Julie, first."
"Right," said Ian. "You're okay?" he asked Kieran. "You can walk?"
"Of course," said Kieran. "It was a test for the smart, not a wrestle match with a Golem."
She strode away, a smug grin across her face.
"She's unbearable when she's like this," sighed Ian, before to follow her and Kenneth.
"But still, we do love her this way, don't we?" said Terry, grinning.
"I'm afraid so," said Ian.
At some point, they reached a fork in the tunnels. Kieran pointed to the one leading South. Ian was surprised.
"These tunnels go up," said Ian. "Are we sure that we must go there?"
"The wand points in that way," said Kalindra. "It must be the shortest way to get to Julie."
"Let's go, then," said Kenneth, impatiently.
They took the ascending tunnel, and walked for a long moment in silence, trying to figure where they could be in the Maze. They had passed the Second Circle, but was there any more trial, before to get to the Warlocks' hideout? Were they already there?
Ian started to hear strange echoes. Like some incantation chanted by a crowd. Could it be they were above a temple? He slowed the pace.
"Ian, what are you doing?" asked Kenneth. "We're losing time."
"Hush!" said Ian, trying to concentrate on the noise he was hearing.
It was coming from a chasm on his right. It was large enough to let someone through. Maybe it was leading to a Temple.
Ian heard was a woman's voice. He looked through the chasm in the ground and the first thing he saw was Julie!
So, we're this close to the climax of the story. Let's see how it will turn out in the end.