I stood up and stretched, rubbing my wrists as I did so. Dave had just cut me free from the chair that I’d been tied to, and it was good to be able to move again.
“A couple guys came up onto the hill trying to find me,” Jake explained while standing back and keeping his gun pointed at the door. “I took care of them, then decided to come on down and see if I could be more help in here. Security was already torn to hell, so I damn near just walked right through the front door. Hell, I actually did just walk right through the front door.”
“And I’m glad you did,” I said, taking a pair of guns off the dead guard. I slipped the pistol into my holster, my own having been taken when I was captured. Then, I looked over the short combat rifle that he’d been holding and nodded in approval. It looked dangerous, which was just what I needed right now. “I was starting to get worried…”
Dave nodded at that, though he looked worried. “So, where’s Jake?”
With a shrug, I responded, “I don’t know. We got separated in the fighting. Last I heard, those guys were still trying to find him.”
Dave laughed at that. “That boy always was good at staying out of sight.” Then he asked, “So, are you ready to blow this popsicle stand?”
I was about to respond, when I looked around and remembered where we were, and what was stored around us. “Not quite yet,” I answered.
The box appeared in the air in front of me, and just hovered in place. The lid opened, and I didn’t even need the whispering urges in my mind to know what it wanted. Without a word, I began to walk around the room, picking out the magical artifacts from the more mundane antiquities. One by one, they went into the box. There was an obsidian knife, a crystal vial full of some glowing liquid, and a length of chain that seemed to writhe and move around, almost like a snake. All of those went into the box, along with a few other items.
“There,” I announced when I was done. I closed the box and smiled in satisfaction. “That has to be most of his collection…” Of course, I knew that Kraese also had that amulet, the magic wand, and the bell. He might have other artifacts as well, but if so, I hadn’t seen them.
“Now we can find Jake,” Dave said.
“Jake can take care of himself,” I reluctantly admitted. “At least for now. We need to find Theressa.”
“The mission,” Dave replied, nodding his agreement. “She is the reason we came here.” Then he gave me a forced smile and added, “After all this, I’m really looking forward to meeting the lady.”
“Hopefully, you’ll get your chance in just a few minutes,” I told him.
Dave and I left the storage room and began making our way down the hallway, though we had to move slow. Dave had a bad leg and was limping along, but didn’t have his cane for support. Still he was well armed, had my back, and had just saved my butt from a damsel in distress situation, so I wouldn’t have traded him for almost anyone. And it wasn’t like I could complain, since I was limping a bit myself.
We carefully went upstairs and were just about to turn a corner, with Dave leading the way, when he suddenly had a gun pointed at his head. “Drop the weapon,” a voice commanded, as the gun’s wielder stepped out from around the corner, using Dave as a shield.
“THERESSA,” I exclaimed, immediately recognizing the voice and the woman it belonged to. She was thinner than she’d been the last time that I’d seen her in person, but she was alive, and an awesome sight.
Theressa stared at me with a look of stunned amazement and relief. “Pandora…”
Remembering the gun that was pointed at Dave’s head, I quickly told her, “He’s with me. Dave is a friend.”
As soon as Theressa lowered her gun, I gave her a hug, which was a little awkward considering the weapons. Still, she hugged me back with tears in her eyes.
“What are you doing here?” Theressa demanded.
“We came to rescue you,” I answered a little awkwardly. “Jake is around here somewhere…” I grimaced at that. “We got separated.’
“You shouldn’t have come,” Theressa snapped. “You shouldn’t put the box in danger, much less yourself…”
“Maybe,” I admitted, “but I had to come. There was absolutely no way I was going to leave you with those guys.” Then I looked her over before asking, “Speaking of that, how did you get out…?”
Theressa smirked just a little. “When a guard came to check on me a few minutes ago, I escaped. He was already injured and didn’t expect me to have a knife.”
I nodded at that, remembering the shiv that I’d seen her with in the mirror. “I’m just glad you’re alive,” I told her as a few tears of joy ran down my cheeks. “I thought you were dead.”
Dave coughed. “It’s nice meeting you and all, especially since we came all this way to rescue you, but we don’t have time to go AFK here.”
“We need to find Jake on the way out,” I said.
Dave chuckled at that. “Yeah, it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave your boyfriend behind.”
“Boyfriend?” Theressa exclaimed, giving me a look of surprise and confusion.
I blushed in response and gave a shrug, not sure how to explain that one to her. So, instead of trying, I took the lead going back to the stairs. Since the last I’d heard, Jake had been in the basement, downstairs might be the best place to start.
“You know,” Dave commented. “You had a whole room full of magic items, and you threw them all into that weird box. I’m pretty sure at least one of those would have been useful right about now.”
When I’d put the items into the box, I’d been hit with a series of visions, just like with the other times. I hadn’t fully absorbed them yet, but I nodded agreement since a couple of those would have been useful.
“But we wouldn’t have known how to use them,” I said aloud. “In fact, I don’t think Kraesse knew how to use all of them.”
“You found his artifacts?” Theressa asked in surprise.
“Yeah, a whole bunch of them,” Dave responded with a grin.
“He still has more,” I reminded Dave grimly.
“Keep it down,” Theressa said in a quiet voice. “We don’t want to give away our position.”
But another voice called out, “Oh, do keep talking…”
“Kraesse,” Theressa exclaimed.
We all snapped around to see Kraesse, who was standing there with two more of his guards, and all three of them had their guns aimed at us. They’d be able to shoot us down before we could even get our weapons pointed at them, so we froze instead.
“Drop your weapons,” Kraesse commanded, and we all did.
“Shit,” Dave spat out.
“I tried to do this the easy way,” Kraesse told me with a cold look in his eyes. “But as I told you, one way or another, I will get that box and everything in it. Now, bring that box here NOW.”
“She can’t,” Theressa protested.
Kraesse pointed his gun straight at Theressa, though Dave and I were still being covered by his goons. “Now,” he repeated.
I was frozen in terror at that sight, remembering the way Kraesse had made a similar demand of Dora, right before he’d killed her. He probably wouldn’t kill me this time, but there was still a good chance that he’d go ahead and kill Theressa and Dave. Unfortunately, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he WOULD kill them anyway.
Letting out a sigh of defeat, I nodded my reluctant acceptance. The box appeared on the floor in front of me, and Theressa let out a gasp of concern.
“You can’t give it to them,” she protested.
A look of triumph flashed over Kraesse’s face. “Now open it.”
I bent down to open the lid, but it didn’t open. There was no lock on the box, but I still couldn’t open it. It wouldn’t let me, not now.
“Open it,” Kraesse commanded.
“I can’t,” I stated. “It won’t let me.
He pointed the gun straight into my face and snarled. “NOW!”
“You’ve got the wrong idea,” I desperately tried to explain. “I’m not the master of the box, I’m its servant. As far as the box is concerned, I’m just an expendable pair of hands.”
Kraesse suddenly turned and fired two shots right into Theressa’s mid-section, then immediately had it pointing at me again. I screamed in horror as Theressa collapsed to the ground, bleeding out right in front of me.
“Open the box,” Kraesse commanded in a cold tone that left no doubt that if I didn’t do what he demanded, that he’d shoot me. He’d already done that to Dora and lost the box, and surely he had to realize that if he killed me, he’d lose it again. But at that moment, I suspected that he wasn’t even thinking about that. Or maybe, he just thought I’d come back to life and he could try again.
“But I…” I started, only to realize that the box had just opened on its own. I could feel the whispering, the urge to reach into it. This relieved me, yet filled me with worry at the same time.
“Yes,” Kraesse announced with a triumphant smirk. He stared into the swirling darkness and mist inside the box, making no move to reach inside. “The egg first…”
I slowly reached into the box, my heart racing as I did so. Once my hand had gone into the swirling darkness, I felt something. I closed my hand around an object and let out a faint gasp.
Kraesse lowered his gun and watched me with an intense anticipation. He was nearly drooling as he waited for me to pull out the artifact he so desperately wanted. Of course, the egg would merely be the first thing he demanded from me. He wouldn’t be happy until he had everything stored within the box, and probably the box itself.
A moment later, I pulled my hand back out of the box, and before Kraesse could realize what I was doing, I raised my hand and used the gun in it to fire three shots right into his chest. A golden aura flashed around Kraesse as he was knocked back from the shots, dropping his gun in the process.
“Pan,” Dave cried out in surprise, relief, and confusion.
When I’d been putting the Peacemaker into the box, I’d had an idea. The box liked to hold onto artifacts, and only let them go on very rare occasions. But who said that the box could ONLY hold onto artifacts? On a whim, I put the pistol that Kraesse had dropped into the thing, and as I’d just proven, I could take it back out as well.
After shooting Kraesse, I opened fire on the guards, taking one down before the other one could respond and start shooting. Dave and I both dove for cover, though I continued shooting back at the guard.
“KILL THEM,” Kraesse yelled, apparently deciding that I was too much trouble alive.
Dave was hit in the shoulder and cried out, “Fuck,” while simultaneously trying to grab his wound and the gun he’d dropped at the same time.
I managed to graze the remaining guard, though not enough to do much. Dave reached his gun and opened fire, spraying bullets in that direction without any real aiming. Still, he was lucky because the guard yelled and fell back with several hits, dropping his weapon in the process.
“This ends now,” Kraesse snarled furiously. “I tire of dealing with you Pandora. I have your box open in front of me, and no longer need you to open it…”
Kraesse stood out on the open, completely unconcerned about being shot, thanks to the magic amulet he wore. In one hand, he had a pistol, while in the other, he had the magic wand. A sphere of red energy shot out of the wand and hit me, sending me flying back to where I slammed into the wall. Fortunately, this time I only hit hard enough to lose my breath, not my consciousness. However, he immediately followed that up by firing two shots, one of which grazed my side enough to really hurt.
Suddenly, Jake leapt at Kraesse, snarling, “I don’t think so…”
Kraesse snapped around, but not fast enough. Jake’s sword hit him in the shoulder, and there was a sudden flash of golden light from the amulet. However, the sword continued passing through Kraesse with ease, slicing him straight from his shoulder to his opposite hip.
“Holy shit,” Dave exclaimed in amazement.
A moment later, Kraesse collapsed to the ground in two parts, leaving a massive splatter of blood and guts. I turned and emptied my stomach in disgust.
Once I was done, with that, I gasped, “Thanks.”
“I just wish I found you guys sooner,” Jake said, wiping the blade of his sword against Kraesse’s pants.
Without saying a word, I merely nodded and turned my attention to Theressa, who was lying on the ground in a puddle of her own blood. She was still moving, though from her condition, I knew she wouldn’t be able to last long.
I was immediately crouched down by Theressa’s side, with tears running down my cheeks. “Not again,” I gasped. “I just got you back… You can’t die on me again…”
“Fuck,” Dave groaned. He was sitting up and holding his injured shoulder. “Shit.”
Theressa turned to look at me and groaned. “Hurts,” she whispered, then began to cough.
“No,” I cried out, holding onto her hand with my own, as though I could keep her from dying by shear willpower. “We need a doctor… We need an ambulance…”
“Not a good idea,” Dave said with a grimace, gesturing towards Kraesse and the guards. “How the hell are we gonna explain all this?”
“We don’t have time,” Jake said, leaning down beside Theressa and trying to check her injuries. “I…I’m sorry…”
Just then, I suddenly felt an urge to return to the box again. “Not now,” I snapped, but the urge only grew stronger.
With a muttering of profanity, I went to the box and reached inside. To my surprise, I found myself holding something. And when I pulled my hand out, I was shocked to realize that I was holding a large chunk of green crystal, that was about the size of a softball, and shaped like an egg. Gold metal ran around the surface of the crystal and even through the middle of it.
“What’s that?” Jake asked, looking confused.
I stared at the artifact for a moment, absorbing the images and message that the box had given me. Among those were a brief history of the egg, a vague understanding of how to use it, and of course the message that this was a one-time loan.
“Theressa,” I gasped, rushing back to the side and placing the egg onto her chest. It immediately began to glow with an eerie green flicker from somewhere within. A moment later, the green glow spread to Theressa and began to cover her body.
“What is that?” Dave asked with a grimace of pain. “What’s happening?”
Theressa let out a moan, though she suddenly seemed more energetic than she’d been a moment earlier. After several seconds, she actually sat up, looking a little confused. Her hand when to her stomach where she’d been shot, and she revealed the wounds, which were now completely gone. There was no sign that she’d ever been shot.
“I’m…alive,” Theressa said in surprise. “I’m healed…”
Theressa sounded different, and I suddenly realized that she looked different. The grey had faded away from her hair, and the lines had vanished from her face. As I watched, she seemed to become younger and younger.
“You saved me,” Theressa said, holding up the artifact. “I feel strange…”
Theressa abruptly dropped the egg, as though it had turned hot. The green glow remained for several more seconds before fading away, though during that time, she seemed to lose even more age.
“Oh my God,” Jake gasped, while I could only nod agreement.
“You look,” I started, only to pause when I didn’t know how to finish that.
Theressa stood up, though her clothes were loose and hung from her. I just gasped in stunned disbelief, at what looked to be a twelve year old girl.
“What?” Theressa demanded in a childish voice. “Why are you staring at me?”
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