No Twist In The Tail

"I never told you how I ended up in your world." Stamford wheezed.

The creature passed over the ditch, unable to overcome its momentum. Yalri looked up from where she had landed on Stamford's chest, wide eyed in disbelief.

"You really think now is the time?"

"Funnily, now might be just the right time." He replied, helping push her to her feet.

"The only time you mean, before we die." She kicked him in the side.

"It's coming back!" Estra shouted though no one could fail to miss the screaming beast as it gouged great trenches in the earth.

"Get to the edge." Yalri slapped him into motion down the ditch and the holy man stumbled into a run.

She reached down, pulled Stamford to his feet and they set off after him. Ahead they could see nothing but the stumps of ruined temple masonry marking the end of the trench.

"It was the damndest thing really." Stamford yelled. "I was about to get ..caught, by a kind of lawkeeper."

"Always knew you were a bloody thief." Yalri collided with Estra's back as the man teetered on the edge of the cliff. Stamford stopped too, he rested with his hands on his knees, watching the beast twist in long loops as it gained height and turned for another pass.

"Don't think I ever hid it be honest." He straightened, reached to the pouch at his back and pulled forth a box, no bigger than his palm. "Thing is, I had taken this from a museum."

"A what?" Yalri snapped as she leaned over the cliff, checking the hundred or so foot drop to the lake below.

"A museum. It's like a place where valuable artefacts are kept in my world."

The creature gave a shriek as it turned, sighting on its prey.

"Mother of the creator, what do we do?" Estra pawed at Yalri. She batted him off and looked at Stamford.

"Like a bank?"

"No, not like a ... look that's not important." He flustered.

"I'm assuming something you're saying is though? Otherwise we are about to become a bloody smear in one direction or another."

He pulled her hand out and shoved the box in it. Trying to keep her attention from the beast which was diving toward them.

"It's a twist. Open it."

Yalri had no idea what he was talking about, but that had been a familiar sensation sense they had met six months ago. She had learnt just to go with it instead. She snapped the tiny box open and suddenly laughed. Then she grabbed the two men and yanked them both over the edge.

As they fell towards the lake a sizeable section of the cliff followed them, smashed free by the screaming creature which was enraged at being denied a second time. They all knew they would die when they hit the water. It would have the forgiveness of a boulder from that height. Then Yalri stuck out her hand and began shouting in her native tongue. The gittering surface bloomed into a mist and rose to meet them. A great, soft fountain broke their descent and slowly lowered into them lake. They still plunged beneath the surface, but not so far that they could not make it back up with a few wild strokes. When Estra recovered enough wits to look around he saw Yalri was spluttering laughter, treading water with the box in one hand.

"I just remembered the water raising charm from my village." She smiled. "I used to hate the old hag for making me do that a dozen times a day. Never thought it would save my life."

Stamford did not seem as surprised as his two companions and plucked the box from her grip before nodding his head toward the cave, lying between two of the hundreds of moss covered pillars that rose from the lake where the ancient city had once stood.

"Come on, before it works out where we went." He struck out arm over arm to the entrance and the other two needed no encouragement to swim for its safety.

The cave floor was a sloping shelf, letting the three wade clumsily both out of the lake and into the shade. They stood for a few dripping seconds, looking at the doors they had seen so many times in dead Bethran's book. Outside, the howls of the guardian could be heard as it searched the cliff for its escaped prey.

"This is it." Stamford said at last. "We've made it."

"Fat lot of good it does us." Yalri said. "Without Bethran we can't open the doors. Only a princess of the lost line can. All we're doing is putting off the bit where we become dinner."

"Oh yea of little faith." Stamford replied and held up the box again, wiggling it.

Yalri found that she could not remember what had been inside. Only that it had been unexpected. She frowned and bit her lip.

"It's a twist." Stamford reminded her. This failed to dislodge any recollection and Yalri reached out for it.

"What the hell do you mean, a twist?"

He pulled his hand back, waggling his free finger at her.

"No, no, my dear. As far as I can tell it only works once for each person that opens it. For me, it revealed its nature as a magical artefact and brought me here when by rights I should have being doing a ten stretch at her majesty's pleasure right now. That was my twist. Yours is that your, much despised, upbringing as a water server should now come to your aid and save us all when, frankly, our bacon should have been fried."

The phrase brought back images of Bethran's corpse smouldering on the crystal altar. As if to add weight to the memory the creature screamed again outside, only this time closer.

"It twists people's fates?"

Stamford screwed up his sunburnt face. "You could say that I suppose. In my world we'd have probably called them plot twists. Though I daresay some clever fellows from Trinity would give you a load of nonsense about quantum."

He tossed the box at Estra, who fumbled it to a rest against his holy cloak with both forearms. His eyes looked back through the slit in his mitremask expectantly.

"Open it." Stamford beseeched with both hands as the looping body of the guardian tore past the cave entrance, its tiny feathers scattering into the lake below it.

Estra shrugged and opened the box. He turned it upside down and shook it but nothing seemed to happen.

"What the hell?" Yalri rounded on Stamford. "That was your great plan? Open an empty box? We don't need your empty promises now. We needed Bethran, we needed the last princess of the lost line."

Estra coughed and Yalri looked back. The holy man was doing something none of his order was permitted once they had taken their orders, he was pulling off the gold embroidered mitremask. For a moment Yalri thought she should look away, to save her pious friend's dignity. Before she could avert her gaze though she almost choked and stared in amazement.

"I am the last princess of the lost line." Said the tall, copper skinned woman in front of her.

Yalri sputtered and turned back to Stamford who was nodding with a smug smile.

"Of course you are old boy... or girl. Probably been hiding your identity all these years to escape persecution?"

Estra nodded and tossed the box back. Yalri gawped at her again, then back to Stamford.

"That's just not possible." She managed.

"Not probable." He corrected. "But not technically impossible. Be a dear Estra and open up the temple, I think our friend has got our scent again."

It was true that the guardian had made its twisting way out across the lake but had now looped its snaking trunk round to bring it face on to the cave. Estra bustled past Yalri and pushed on the intricately carved granite doors. They swung open without any of the ceremony and lights that Yalri had expected and the three rushed in to the cavern beyond. Estra turned to grin at her friends but was torn from the floor as the guardian smashed through the cave mouth and into the temple, jamming itself in the entrance and bucking ferociously. Rocks smashed next to Yalri and Stamford, forcing them closer to the creature's feathered tail.

"The box." Yalri yelled. "Open the bloody box."

Terror stricken, Stamford clawed the box open only to have it crumble to torn paper in his hands.

Yalri was slammed back by the garish tail of the guardian as it started to roll on to them.

"What does that mean?" She screamed.

"No more twists." Stamford's face was stricken as the leviathan began to crush them, he took his last look at her. "This story is over."