The Lady in Orange stood in the doorway, regarding us silently. She wore the same cloak, boots, and pants as before. The boots had a nice fur trim to them, I noticed for who knows what reason. For a moment as my eyes drifted up, I thought she had no face. The possibility we'd been tricked ran through my mind, complete with the fish guy yelling, 'It's a trap!' Then I looked more closely and realized that with the hood up and the Sun behind her, her face was simply shrouded in deep shadows.
Then I noticed that CAP was on edge, clearly tense. Had she approached undetected, and that spooked my pal, or was it something else? I looked more closely at her. She seemed curious, and also a little tired, judging by her eyes. The lids drooped, and they were shadows visible underneath. Either way, I opted to reintroduce myself in the hope it would ease the tension before violence erupted. I'd introduce my friend, but I've been told repeatedly I can't pronounce the name correctly (it means "wondrous ball of lightning").
"So. . . I'm still Calvin. Nice to meet you when there isn't a forest falling around our ears."
She looked at my extended hand for a moment, glanced in CAP's direction, the grasped my hand and shook it firmly. "Cassanee." Actually hearing her speak seemed to relax CAP fractionally, so soon everyone knew everyone else.
She beat me to the first question. "Why are you here?"
"We followed you." Geez, that sounds bad, but better to respond honestly. She cocked her head at that, which seemed to crank CAP's tension up again, so I forged ahead. "I get a note from a bird telling me there's a "Lady in Orange" about, then I meet you, a you know, lady wearing orange, and the Ghost of the Forest tries to drop a dozen oak trees on your head. I wanted to know what was going on. Why were you there?"
She sighed. "To rest. Sometimes the Darkle patrols are too much, and I need to escape from them and the atmosphere. The workers also get to rest more when I'm gone."
I must have looked confused because CAP piped up. "When they can't find her, they think she's up to something, so they expend more resources searching for her." CAP cast a look her way. Right?" Quick nod for Cassanee.
"OK, so what's a Darkle?" I had a pretty good idea, but I was stalling for time. Something I'd seen in CAP's face made me sure the wheels were turning in there, and I doubted I'd like where they rolled us.
"The faceless ones. There are too many to stop alone. But I can't not try, and it slows their work."
"What are they working towards?" I guess in CAP's eyes, Cassanee counted as "help", and so it was back to winning the day in that mind.
Cassanee shrugged. "They gather any purple rocks they unearth. I don't know how, but the Darkles grow stronger just being near them. The rocks emanate the same terrible feelings.
It was my turn to ask a question. "Are they some evil conglomerate?" Blank look. "Are the Darkles running things as a group?"
Shake of the head. "They have a ruler. Guyamo. He controls them, and everyone else who lives here now. He used to live here amongst us, loud, but mostly harmless. Then he found something in the rocks. I can't reach him."
"I bet with the three of us we can get to him and trounce him!" Oh the enthusiasm of youth, though Cassanee's raised eyebrow suggested she was less then convinced. "Calvin and I have all sorts of experience with dangerous situations!" Now that's stretching things a bit, at least where I'm concerned, but too late, the furry one's excitement was catching. Cassanee had broken into a smile, and CAP began digging through the pack.
I remembered what I might have seen as we fled our last confrontation. "What was that thing you threw so we could escape?"
"An Aura Lock grenade. It emits a positive energy that reacts with someone's negative energy to jam up the works. I only had the one, though. Why?"
"I thought it seemed super effective against them, but if you don't have any more, it doesn't really matter." I wasn't real eager to get in close against people - or whatever - with chainsaws again.
"Well, here. I bet you'd like this gas gun."
Gas gun? I perked up. "All right, let's get dangerous!" They both looked at me like I was nuts. I better keep my mouth shut or they'll stick me with some kiddie scissors or a foam mallet so I don't hurt myself.
We stepped out of the trailer as the sun finally began to set. Or, judging by how fast it was falling, it had stayed up until it exhausted itself and collapsed. Cassanee was looking back to the southeast (I think), and turned to see if we were ready. I guess what she saw convinced her we were because she set off with that same easy, bounding stride she used before. CAP dashing along behind her. I ran and stumbled as best I could, but they were quickly at the limit of my vision in the fading light.
The place we'd skirmished with the Darkles earlier was empty, but I saw the Lady and the Panda on crossing the next rise, and set to climbing brush piles to catch up. On the opposite side, I found them already engaged with the Darkles. It was going well. CAP was moving in typical short bursts. Quick attack or dodge, a long moment of stillness, the another quick movement. 0 or 60, no in-between.
Cassanee's movements had a flow to them. She never stopped moving, but her speed shifted constantly, judging by how easily she evaded every attack, and how cleanly her own hits landed. Moving towards a Darkle, she dodged a diagonal downward swing with perhaps a half-step to her side while continuing to advance and readying an elbow strike. At the last moment, her arm shot forward and connected solidly, sending the recipient tumbling. Either she increased velocity drastically in an instant, or she was considerably stronger than she looked.
As far behind as I was, there wasn't much for me to do. I did see a group of Darkles approaching from somewhere to my right and behind at one point. I gave them a round from the gas gun, even remembered to tell them "Suck gas evildoers!" It didn't seem to knock them out - maybe they don't need to to breathe - but they did seemed blinded and confused. Then the fighting ceased.
Through it all, they'd been steadily approaching what looked like an old style log fort. In the center of the fort was an attempt to build a castle from local materials. It might have been sturdy - though it was noticeably lopsided so I doubt it (remember kids, a strong foundation is important!) - but a towering edifice casting its shadow upon the land it was not. It's owner on the other hand, stood 9 feet tall as he emerged from the fort's gates. The legs were relatively short, but thick. A large gut protruded from an elongated torso. The mouth contained several big teeth, one of which was noticeably broken. One massive hand held a wooden staff, topped with a violet gem. The effect was somewhat ruined as the gem appeared glued together, and was shaped like a deflated American football. To add to the odd display, he wore a top hat and coat with tails. The coat was much too short, reminding me or Chris Farley's "Fat Man in a Little Coat" bit from Tommy Boy. I couldn't tell if he wore spats with his humongous work boots, but I wouldn't have been surprised. This must be Guyamo.
He gestured at Cassanee. "Again you challenge Guyamo, lord of this realm! And this time, you bring a pet." Oh, that might cost him. "Why do the two of you bar my way?" With the abundance of torches around, I'd turned off my headlamp as I moved in, so I guess he missed me.
CAP responded before Cass could. "Because you're hurting the people doing the digging! Do your own work!" Straight to the heart as always.
"Oh ho! A talking pet! Most amusing. As to your claim, it is the ruled's privilege to serve their king, uh, thusly." This schmoe was trying too hard. "They will all benefit from my glory, once I take full control of this land. I will rule it all, and none shall take it." At least it's not a world domination scheme.
"No one benefits except you. Everyone else will have fled, or died." Cassanee's voice was flat, as if she'd tried to explain this so many times she didn't have the energy to put into it any longer. Still, there was an undercurrent of anger to that resigned tone. Maybe she saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was getting to her. At any rate, Guyamo got a little angry, too.
"No one will be allowed to leave! The living and the dead alike will remain, and with their suffering, ensure my rule forever!"
"Forever, the next thirty seconds before you're pummeled. Whichever comes first," I muttered to myself.
Guyamo raised the staff. "These stones draw on the emotions of my subjects. They are what make this land what it is. And now. . . they make me a God King."
The Darkles began to twitch, then shrink, no deflate. The air filled with wails of anguish that you couldn't hear, but could feel. CAP and Cassanee both moved in, and there was a flash. The feeling when I was hit with the energy from the staff was awful. Something foul reached inside me and ripped everything positive out, chewed it up, then spit the remains contemptuously into my lap. What was left is best described as "soul-crushing despair". I fought the urge to cry, or puke, which didn't leave much to keep my from falling to my knees.
That was at a distance. Up close, my friends lay there, stunned. I could just make out CAP's eyes, but they seemed dull. Not lifeless, but the usual spark, that mischievous energy was gone, or buried under something harsh. I couldn't see her face, but my guess is Cassanee would have sported a similar look. Meanwhile, the Guyamo strode amongst his diminished minions, waving the staff in their direction, causing them to regain their shape.
"Bring the prisoners," Guyamo boomed haughtily. "They shall learn the penalty for trying my kingly patience."