The Orthrus

            Light flooded into the dark cell, outlining the tall, ceramic door. It swung open, pulled by delicate hands. A red-haired girl stood at its edge, pushing with all her unstalwart might.

            Tais blinked, and kept blinking. His eyes adjusted, and then he could see the cell a bit better. There was large furry creature, asleep in the far corner. It was hard to make out. He knew not what it was - bear or dog, gargantuan.

            The other little girl, the cold one, let out a chilling giggle. She seemed utterly amused. And now, Tais could see that the girls were alike. Perhaps related. Same age, same height. Different faces.

            The girl in the doorway spoke, with warmth in her voice, "You have botched the test, Vewwe."

            "That is for father to decide," she was whiny and defensive.

            Tais felt tension between them. And out the door, he saw more gray halls of cement. The wind, neither warm nor cold, swept past the girl in the doorway. It danced upon the white, glazed hair of the girl in the shadows, and they clung to her like icicles.

            "Father is in no position to decide anything," the other replied calmly. "This Worker has incapacitated him."

            "What are you talking about, Huna? Father has not entered the labyrinth. Why would he?"

            "This Worker is a dangerous experiment. An abomination. He wields the mental powers of Mancers like us, without the physical frailty."

            Tais was not sure what they were saying, or whether they were even referring to him. However, he took the opportunity to slip into the darker shadows, and make his way to the edge of the doorway. He desperately wanted to dart past the other girl, while she was still arguing. And if he had too, he'd drop-kick her against the door.

            "Arrrh!" a chilling scream of anguish, "Now I have to feel for his aura again! See what you've done, Huna?"

            Huna moved her hands in front of her, fingers dancing about eccentrically. Her legs moved, shifting to a new stance. Her body seemed to coil back, and her face was focused intently. Eyes narrowed, palms twirled and then she released.

            A beacon of fiery light formed, which had formed between her hands in an instant, was shot out through the doorway, into the dark room. Her face stretched into a warm grin.

            Tais was stiff against the wall's edge, beside the doorway. The light penetrated the shadow, and he was no longer invisible to them.

            And in the far corner of the room, where even Huna's light was weak, the beast stirred. Its eyelids rose, and the black orbs behind shined with brown. Four eyes, moving apart in pairs - two heads! It uncurled its body, and stood like a hell-hound from ancient mythology

            Tais stood, frozen in fear and cold. Shivers ran down his spine. Then slowly, he backed away towards the door. The white-haired girl moved behind him, trying to hide in his shadow.

            "What in the sun's name is going on?" Huna asked from the doorway.

            Her sister whispered chidingly, "You fool, your flare woke up the orthrus."

            The growl, intimidating and thunderous, echoed down the length of the dark room.

            Then, the door beside Huna knocked her off her feet as it slammed shut, as if in response to the noise. She was left alone in the cement hall.

            The others stared down the humongous, two-headed canine. Its brown eyes were like smooth, glossy chunks of rock. The heads swayed back and forth, sniffing. The room was dark, apart from the beacon. And they remained still.

            She gave a quiet, emotionless query, "You wielded a pickaxe in the trenches?"

            Tais nodded, making eye contact. He could feel the adrenaline pumping through his veins. He felt warmer. And then, the humidity dropped. It felt as if the moisture was being sucked out of the air.

            She was focused. Muttering a mantra under her breath. Her diminutive body was swaying, in a beautiful dance. Hands pulled and stretched at the air, and he could see it shimmer between her white-painted nails. And, gradually, it all condensed into a form.

            Her magic pulled all the nearby humidity into one spot, pulling the warmth away from it, condensing it into something.

            The giant hound began to pad its way forward, sniffing the ground for the intruders.

            She held it up with one hand, levitating it. It was a piked battle-axe. Then, she wove her other hand down from the blade, adding five feet of shaft. The icy halberd stood before her, balanced with one hand's magic. And with her right hand, Vewwe tore off her frilly black skirt and wound it around the shaft. Now it could be held without freezing one's hands.

            Tais grabbed the axe from her, and held its blade towards the approaching beast.

            "I'll support you from behind. I will summon as many projectiles as I can. I suggest you get on its back, and go after its upper vertebrae."

            Tais grinned, Just like picking away at the shaky trenches.

            Her right hand picked up the glowing beacon of fire. It rolled around in the palm of her hand, pulsing. It dimmed, then, in her hand as she absorbed some of its energy. I need all I can get.

            "Aaahhh!" Tais began to charge, holding the two-handed weapon before him. I hope it doesn't break. Or melt.

            And the girl pitched the orb of light her sister had made towards them. The beast turned, as it rolled beside its feet. Shadows spun around the room, and the beast was lit from behind. It touched the orb with one paw, and sniffed. Nothing.

            Then, Tais threw the pike into the hound's behind. Swinging up from the tail, he grabbed hold. With lithe agility, he pulled it out, and ran along the creature's back, trying to stay balanced. It had a thick carapace, and he had yet to even draw its blood.

            Vewwe danced around, as if she were at a party or a ritual. Her entire body moved, like her sister's, with every icy blast she sent cascading towards the end of the room. And the air grew drier, and drier. Her lips became parched.

            And the beacon began to fade.

The End

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