The Battle for Cabora
by Dana DeVries

   Kheired-Din sat up again, shaking his head as the wounds across his chest shank and disappeared. Behind him, another member of his crew was screaming in the jaws of the Syrneth trap. The cruel blades threshed the man's flesh from his bones, reducing him to a quivering pile of jelly.Kheired-Din grunted at the sight and continued forward. He was the last now. The rest of the shore party had all been killed.

   He moved steadily through the slime-encrusted corridors of the long-dead island. Strange clockwork gears, rusted by centuries beneath the ocean, loomed above him like grotesque pillars. He felt the hum of ancient machinery beneath his feet, grinding with the decay of age. He and McCormick had raised the island from its watery grave. The Explorer had left immediately upon disembarking, off to find his long-denied prize. It was time for Kheired-Din to find his.It called to him, guiding him through the alien structure with eerie precision. He heard the voice of the Prophet in his ear, telling him which passageways to take. His blood thrilled with the closeness of it; he could feel the power in his bones. For twenty years, he had struggled for this moment - committed sins that would have damned him to Legion's flames. But now, all of that was about to change. Everything would change.

   The corridor ended at a huge cracked doorway, shaped from some unknown metal. It had not tarnished from the centuries of seawater, though its surface was split and cracked. It lay open at an awkward angle and Kheired-Din squeezed through it into the great space beyond. A dim light flickered at he entered then sprang to life as he grew closer.

   The chamber was large, but strangely cramped; the space seemed smaller than it actually was. Syrneth controls of brass and crystal decorated the walls, some destroyed by time and water, others apparently still functional. An ornate alcove, studded with machinery, lurked in the corner. Kheired-Din ignored it all. His attention was fixated in the center of the room.

   A huge arch swelled up from a central dais, dwarfing the surrounding equipment. It seemed to be composed of the same metal as the doorway, twisted in the visage of a thousand writhing faces. They seemed to move subtly, shifting like clouds just beyond the corner of his vision. The area framed by the arch glowed with a fierce light, revealing a stunning vista through its membrane. There was no Syrneth machinery there, no pitted testament to an extinct civilization. It lived. It thrived. It swelled with incalculable power that surged through the archway into the floor below it. The sky could be seen, gleaming with stars the likes of which Kheired-Din had never seen. They reflected across an ocean of silvery water, which flowed and crested in some impossibly complex rhythm. He could hear the voices of the souls trapped within those waters and his mind recoiled with the power of it. A small landmass rose from the mercurial ocean, and Kheired-Din could spot a figure seated upon its beach. The gatekeeper his visions had spoke of. The one who would help him unleash Armageddon.

   "My destiny," he quivered. "The new world is at hand."

   From the shadows above him, a lone form watched him carefully. "That's what you think dearie," Lucrezia whispered.

   All Felipe could remember was the General's shouts as their ship passed into the Portal. Then there was nothing but darkness, darkness and the wet sound of torn reality all around him. He clenched his eyes shut and prayed that the Montaigne warlocks would bring them out of this unholy darkness safely.

   Then he heard her voice.

   "Felipe. Felipe, I need you.Please, hurry!" Margaretta's voice. "Señora. Is that you?" called Felipe Jos de Granjero, hesitantly.

   The Montaigne had told him not to open his eyes, and he feared the consequences of disobeying them.

   "Non, monsieur! It is a succubus, one of the dark residents of the Portal. She is trying to trick you," yelled Timothy leBeau over the din.

   The voice reached into Felipe's ear again, teasing him. "Felipe, por favor, there isn't much time" The voice was hers. Margaretta Orduño.

   Felipe had sworn an oath to defend this woman with his life an oath that was so much more than mere words. Within a single breath, Felipe had made up his mind. He failed her once; he would not do so again.Without so much as a word of warning, Felipe José de Granjero dove off the bow of the ship.

   Kheired-din stared into the writhing ocean of souls, and his hand reached tentatively toward the first sigil. With a click, it slid smoothly into the wall, the ancient mechanism still strong after aeons of silence.

   He touched the second, and as it ground inward, the sea of souls seemed to grow closer. The faces became sharper, and he could see the outline of the gatekeeper, reaching out to him with her hand.The third; now the gatekeeper had a form. Female, dressed in white and red, her face solemn.

   "At last!" Kheired-Din whispered as the form grew closer. "My destiny awaits!"

   "That's a matter of perspective," murmured Lucrezia from behind him. He spun around to face the grinning fate witch, who lashed out with a clawed hand.

   "Your destiny belongs to me, Crescenter," she hissed.

   "You cannot stop me," Kheired-Din snarled, swinging his sword in a wide arc. Lucrezia easily dodged the blow.She focused her attention on Kheired-Din's scimitar, and readied herself for another attack.

   On the other side of the gate, a too-pale form pulled Felipe from the silvery sea.

   "Where am I?" asked Felipe, trying to make some sense out of the chaos that surrounded him. "Where is Margaretta?"

   "There is no time for explanations. You must stop him!" Alesio cried as she pointed towards a glowing doorway in mid-air."Look!"

   Felipe looked towards the portal, and saw a raven-haired woman in black and red threatened by a large, dark man. Before Felipe's wondering eyes, the dark-skinned man lifted his wicked scimitar for a crippling blow.Between the scene he was witnessing, and the voice which had led him here, Felipe came to one possible conclusion.

   "Señora Margaretta - I'm coming. I will protect you!" Felipe drew his sword as he charged towards the gateway.

   Behind him, Alesio smiled wearily and cut the thread she used to pull him from the sea.

   He reached the portal just in time to see the dark-haired woman fall, wounded from Kheired-Din's sword. "Noooo!" screamed Felipe, diving madly through the portal.

  A wave of pain and light slammed like iron bars around Felipe's body as he crossed the threshold. The world shrieked in agony, and the Seventh Sea shuddered with the effort of holding back a thousand souls. Like a fly caught in a massive web, Felipe hung for a moment in the air. Then, with a roar that sounded like the world dying, the Seventh Sea burst forth from the gate, from the lost waves and ancient barriers - and into Felipe's soul.

   The Castillian swordsman gasped as a flood of memories entered his body. Each voice fighting for dominance in his head was stronger than the last, telling tales of lives long since torn from their ghostly hands.

   Desperate, Felipe did his best to push them into the background, and staggered onward into the stone cavern. His mind clung to the desperate thought that he must protect the fallen woman. He must. She was Margaretta, and he was her defender. Barely able to think, Felipe raised his rapier to his forehead in salute, and lunged at Kheired-Din.

   The Crescenter was ill-prepared to face a second opponent, especially one with no regard for his own safety.Felipe's wild blows and deranged speed kept the Corsair off-guard, and while Kheired-Din was an able swordsman, he was no match for his opponent. Decades of training matched with the memories of thousands of other years, other swordsmen - each one remembering the hilt of the sword, the balance of the blade - passing through his beings. In mere moments, it was finished. Kheired-Din fell to the ground, his blood pouring onto the stone floor of the Syrneth cavern.

   Felipe ignored the fallen Kheired-Din as he examined the unconscious woman.He rolled her gently to the side, brushing the hair from her face with a trembling hand. A mask slid away from her features - the covering of a Fate Witch.

   The porcelain face did not belong to Margaretta. This woman, like so many things, was no more than a lie.

   As Felipe rose to his feet, he felt a thousand souls fighting within his mind, a cacophony of memories pouring through his thoughts. He opened wide eyes to the pale blue sky, seeing everything and nothing. Each memory ended like the last in death. But death held power and in the fires of his madness, Felipe understood the nature of the universe. He smiled, and a sickly moan escaped his lips. Walking away from the gate, he began muttering to himself, his laughter echoing hollowly through the empty halls. "Señora, where are you? Señora, Margaretta, amore I have a gift for you."