Once and Always
Book: Once and Always, Chapter 14
Book 2
Written by SkyGuy
Chapter Guide
Chapter 13: A Plot, and a Plan
Chapter 15: Love, Revenge, and Loyalty

Chapter 14: Gauntlet of the Ring

A few hours after Suzuka returned from work, the four snuck out of their rooms and down into the passageway that led to the underground library. After first reading up on mountain dragons, a species of dragon that was supposed to be extinct, they learned that they could be put to sleep with music. So Suzuka brought along a hand-held harp, that Tiffania had given her for her tenth birthday, to put Dragnon to sleep.

"This is it." said Drako, as they approached Dragnon's door in the library. Drako, Guiche and Suzuka pulled open the door with all the strength they had. Once they were inside, Dragnon prepared to fire a flame last at them, but the instant Suzuka started playing her harp, his eyes drooped, and he fell asleep quickly. Drako also lit a small flame on the end of his wand to provide light.

"Is this a flute?" Hermione asked picking up a small instrument nearby

"It is." said Suzuka, still playing her harp "She's already been here."

"Come on Drako." said Guiche "We have to move its foot."

"Hermione, hold this." said Drako handing his lit wand to Hermione

Drako and Guiche used all their strength to move Dragnon's heavy front foot off the trapdoor. When they did, they opened it and Hermione handed Drako back his wand.

"I'll hand this to Hermione and go first." said Suzuka, still playing her harp "Don't follow until I give a signal."

They nodded in agreement, and Suzuka handed her harp to Hermione, who kept Dragnon asleep with her playing. Suzuka then lowered herself into the hole and dropped down, what must have been a fifth of a mile, onto what looked like a green plant.

"It's alright!" Suzuka called "Come on down." Within a few seconds, Drako, Guiche and Hermione had landed alongside her.

"What is this stuff?" Guiche asked getting to his feet

"Looks like a plant." said Hermione "Huh?"

"What is it?" Suzuka asked

"I thought I saw it move."

"You weren't wrong." said Drako, as the plant sprang to life and rose up to the ceiling, at least five fang-mouthed plants were bearing down on them "An Albionian Snare! Everyone get behind me." said Drako as he raised his wand "Malosos Agnite Pyros!" He cast his flame spell upon the Snare and reduced most of it to ashes.

"Wow Drako." said Suzuka as Drako put his wand away "I knew you were a powerful Fire Mage, but this is beyond what I knew you could do."

"These were plants." said Drako "Of course it seemed more powerful than it really was."

"Nevertheless, you do come through in a pinch." said Guiche "They don't call you Drako the Sun for nothing."

"Thank you."

"I doubt that the next obstacles will be any easier." said Hermione

"Then lets press on." said Suzuka

They passed through a short tunnel and entered the next room. It looked like a library filled with stone and metal books. There were three rows of them all around the walls, and a count told them there were exactly 300 books. On the other side of the room was a silver door that looked like a book had to be put into the middle like a key.

"What could this be about?" Drako asked bewildered

"I think we're supposed to put on of these books in that door to unlock it." said Suzuka "And I think trying to use magic to do it would be unwise."

"But there are so many." said Hermione as she started pulling out a book at random

"Hermione don't-" Suzuka warned, but too late, a flame shot out of the spot where Hermione had pulled a book, and Drako pulled her out of harms way just in time.

"Don't touch anything." Suzuka warned once the fire had stopped

"Lets just find the book to that goes in the door." said Guiche "Try looking for a silver one like the door."

After several minutes of searching;

"Hey Suzuka." Hermione called from the right hand side of the room

"What is it?" Suzuka asked

"There's a strange symbol on this book." Hermione pointed to a silver book with a strange symbol on the spine. The symbol was, 鍵, and Suzuka recognized it instantly as Japanese kanji, Saito having taught her to read it when she was younger.

"This is Japanese kanji." said Suzuka "It means 'Key' or 'Lock'."

"You can read it?" said Drako

"My dad's been teaching me to read Japanese my whole life. Which means this must be partially his doing. Dad you sly dog."

Suzuka cautiously removed the silver book, and placed it face up in the slot. Once inside, it opened to reveal a smaller key that undoubtedly went in the lock under the handle. Suzuka unlocked the door and they pressed on.

"Where are we now?" Guiche asked when they emerged in the next room, viewing what looked like statues

"It looks like a graveyard." said Hermione as they went to the center of the room

"This is no graveyard." said Drako looking around more closely "It's a giant chessboard." He was right. On either side of the room were 32 statues shaped like the pieces used in a game of chess. In front of them were the white ones, and behind them were the black ones.

"I recognize the pawn pieces." said Guiche. the pawns were shaped exactly like the Valkyries Guiche Sr. sometimes used in combat "This must my fathers work."

"So what do we need to do now?" Suzuka asked

"Obvious isn't it?" said Drako "We need to play our way across the room. Now, no offense, but you three aren't that good at chess." This was perfectly true, and Drako was easily the best one they had "We're gonna have to join the game so, Suzuka, you take the Bishop square next to the Queen. Guiche, you take the Rook space on the queen-side. I'll take the king-side Knight space."

"What about me?" Hermione asked

"You stay off the board Hermione." said Drako

"No way!"

"Hermione, this will be dangerous. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you."

"That's my line." said Suzuka

"I'm not just going to stand back and watch." Hermione said stubbornly

"(sigh) Alright." Drako said accepting defeat "Take the Pawn space in front of the King."

Hermione took the space in front of the King, and Suzuka and Guiche took the spaces they were told to take. Drako then took the space belonging to the king-side Knight, and the game began with white moving first.

Drako directed where their pieces should go, and told the others where to go as well, taking just as many white pieces as they lost black ones, sometimes only just noticing in time that the others were in danger. Finally, they got to what appeared to be their last couple of turns.

"This is it." said Drako, who was not too far from the enemy King "Suzuka, when I make my move, the Queen will take me. Then you're free to Check the King."

"No. Drako no!" Suzuka shouted

"What is it?" said Guiche

"He going to sacrifice himself."

"No you can't!" said Hermione "There must be another way."

"We have to move on, even if someone has to stay behind." said Drako

"But..." Hermione tried to protest

"I love you Hermione." said Drako, surprising everyone and shutting them up at the same time. He then moved to the spot there he would be just one move away from taking the King. "Check." he said, then the Queen came over and knocked him to the floor and out of consciousness

The others wanted to help him, but remained in their spots. Suzuka then moved to the King "Checkmate." she said, and the King dropped his crown at her feet. The three then ran over to check on Drako.

"She unconscious, but he's OK." said Suzuka

"I still can't believe he did that." said Hermione

"I can't believe he said that to you." said Guiche "I never knew."

"And Drako was right. We need to move on and keep the ring safe." said Suzuka "Hermione, you stay here with him. Guiche, lets go."

Suzuka and Guiche went through the next door, leaving Hermione with Drako. When they entered, a horrible smell filled their nostrils, as the saw a creature lying on the floor with a bloody lump on its head.

"It's an Ogre." said Guiche closing the door behind them

"I thought they were extinct." said Suzuka

"If this was the last one, they probably are now." said Guiche as they walked through the next door

Inside the next room they found a table with seven different sized bottles on a table, and a large black fire covering the exit. Behind them a large purple fire erupted, blocking their way back.

"Now what?" Suzuka asked

"Look, a message." Guiche said pointing to the table. He picked it up, and they both read it

Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,

Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,

One among us seven will let you move ahead,

Another will transport the drinker back instead,

Two among our number hold only nettle wine,

Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.

Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,

To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:

First, however slyly the poison tries to hide

You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;

Second, different are those who stand at either end,

But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;

Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,

Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;

Fourth, the second left and the second on the right

Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.

"So this is logic, not magic." said Guiche when they finished reading "I imagine this is my mothers doing." He then proceeded to read the messaged a few more times and examined the bottles as he did so. "I think I've got it. This small one here will send one of us forward." He indicated the smallest bottle. "This one here will send us back." He indicated the correct bottle

"But the one sending us forward is hardly one swallow." said Suzuka "That means only one of us is going forward."

"I think that was whole point." said Guiche "I think you should be the one to go forward."

"You're right." Suzuka responded with a grave face "You take the one going back, help Hermione and Drako, and then find a way to get some help. I'll try to keep the Ring of Anderville safe for as long as I can."

"Suzuka, just be careful."

"I know." They then kissed for a second, then hugged each other tightly. "I love you." said Suzuka

"I love you too." Guiche said once he broke apart from Suzuka. He then took the potion that would take him back, and then walked through the purple fire as if it wasn't there.

Suzuka then took the potion that would take her forward, it felt like her insides were ice, and then walked through the black fire as if it wasn't there, and into the final chamber.