The Return of Winifred

By Jareth

Chapter Twenty-seven: The time has come

Professor Nimnul, Sparky, and the Rangers looked around the room that they had been teleported to. “Crikey,” Monty commented as he gently laid Tammy against the wall. “This room’s exactly like the last two. No variety at all.”

No sooner had Monty said this, than the dim room illuminated, revealing a slight variation. In the far wall of this room, was a large set of stairs, which curved off to the right, implying a spiral staircase. They glowed as the floor did, only with an occasional fade to blue. The blue fades occurred in waves, traveling up the stairs “Well,” Monty said, correcting himself, “maybe a little variety.”

“Do you think that we’re supposed to take the stairs?” Asked Sparky.

“No.” answered Professor Nimnul. “The platform sent us where we were meant to be sent. This room is here for a reason.”

“The short man cowering in the large machine is correct!” Came a voice similar to Jamba’s, only slightly deeper. Sparky, Professor Nimnul, and the Rangers watched as Darien came into view from around the corner, strutting down the stairs until he had reached the final step. He then effortlessly jumped twelve feet, landing gracefully on the glowing floor. “This is as far as you go.”

“What do you mean “cowering”?!” Professor Nimnul shouted defensively. “If I weren’t saving my power for Freddie, I’d gladly take you out!”

“Humans…” Darien sighed, looking at the floor. “They think they’re invincible, but take away their machines, armor, and weaponry, and all you have is a deformed monkey, completely incapable of anything but dieing. If the humans who captured me had fought us one on one, I’d still be in the forest.”

“What are you babbling about?!” Demanded Professor Nimnul.

“Were you captured, like Jamba?” Gadget asked the small fox sympathetically.

“Well, yes and no…” Responded Darien. “I might as well start from the beginning.”

“Get your hankies, it’s goanna be a wet one.” Professor Nimnul thought to himself, sighing as he rested his elbow on the control panel in front of him, resting his head on his hand.

“Although I may appear to be a red fox,” Began Darien “I’m actually not.”

“Then what are you?” Asked Sparky, who had been sure up until now that Darien was a red fox.

“I am part of a subspecies,” Explained Darien “called, The Red Pack Fox. Unlike most red foxes, who live and hunt alone or in pairs, our species lives in clans, dominated by a single alpha male. The alpha male must be the cleverest, rather than the strongest, to lead the rest of the clan in battle when defending our territory from other clans and animals.”

“You were the alpha male, weren’t you?” Asked Gadget.

“…Yes.” Darien answered with a hint of sadness in his voice. “My clan was the strongest in the entire forest. Some thought it was because we had the best hunters, but it was actually due to a battle strategy, which I had thought up. Seven of us surrounded the enemy; one by one, and all lunged at once. With the force of seven, nothing ever survived. We were invincible; even the wolves feared us! … Until THEY came…

“Humans?” asked Foxglove.

“No, gremlins.” Darien snapped, causing Foxglove to shrink away behind Dale. “Yes, humans!” Darien shouted angrily. “They invaded our territory at night, which was perfect because we could see in the dark, and judging from their eyes, they could not… Or so we thought. Apparently, the humans were using some sort of eyewear that allowed them to see in the dark.”

“Night vision goggles.” explained Gadget.

“Yes,” Darien said disdainfully “Night vision goggles. When we realized from their movements, that they could tell where they were going, we had no choice but to perform our seven on one attack. We surrounded the human closest to us, closing in to strike… and that’s when it happened. It pulled out a long metal tube and fired a dart into the fox in front of it, whom as fate would have it, was me. The loud sound scared away the rest of my clan, leaving me alone, and as you can imagine, at point blank range, the pain was excruciating. I felt myself beginning to tire, but summoned up all my strength and tried to flee with the rest of my clan.”

“You actually managed to stay awake after getting shot?!” Professor Nimnul asked, sounding very impressed.

“Yes.” answered Darien, a touch of annoyance in his voice. “However,” he continued “I had only made it twenty yards, before I felt another dart, wedge under my skin. I tried to shake it out, but the top broke off, leaving the needle under my skin.”

Foxglove winced at the thought.

“It took about five shots to finally put me out.” Continued Darien. “And when I awoke, I was in a cage, in a place called a Zoo.”

“Wow,” thought Chip “a crooked zoo. How did we miss that one?”

“The needle stayed under my skin for days,” continued Darien. “Eventually, it became infected, causing me so much pain, that I was unable to sleep. For a month, I was forced to writhe in pain, watching ignorant little children point and gawk at me while greedily shoving undeserved treats into their disgusting rubbery little mouths; the entire time only thinking of the welfare of my clan, and my blinding pain… Until one night, I was approached by a large female human, who offered me freedom, if I helped guard a boiling pot of water for her…”

“How awful.” Gadget said sympathetically. “They took you away from your friends and family, and probably destabilized your clan in the process.”

“How did a crooked zoo like that slip by us?” Chip asked, now aloud. “We usually expose those kind of things to the police!”

“Well nice job of exposing it!” Darien shouted viciously. “Because of your negligence, the lives of hundreds of animals have been shattered!” Darien paused, calming himself back down. “I hate humans.” He continued calmly. “They’re weak, nearly furless, and yet by using tools to aid them in battle, they manage to hunt more dishonorably than any other animal in the entire world. Despite any strategy one may use, humans can cower in a corner, use their projectile weapons when they feel threatened, and still win. They hunt for pleasure as opposed to survival, murdering, taking a joy in watching the suffering and death of the innocent. The very existence of such an evil race causes me undo irritation.” He paused for a moment. “Humans do not deserve to exist, and I will ensure their extinction… Even if it means my death.”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Chip. “If you kill off an entire race, how does that make you any better than them?”

“…It doesn’t.” Darien said in an upset tone “But I’m willing to sink as low as it takes, if I can help put an end all of this carnage and suffering.” He paused, regaining his previous calm demeanor. “I’d ask you to join us…” he continued “but I think that I would rather eat you all instead. I’m sure you’ve had those dreams where you’re surrounded by giant food. Well that’s what this is like for me.”

“Eat THEM?!” exclaimed Professor Nimnul “At their current size, they could eat you!”

“Oh no you don’t!” Sparky shouted, stomping over to Professor Nimnul. “I know exactly what you’re up to! You’re trying to provoke him like you did with Jamba, aren’t you!?”

Professor Nimnul didn’t respond, trying to avoid direct eye contact with Sparky.

“You are! Why in God’s name would you do something so stupid?!” Thundered Sparky. “Are you really THAT egger to die?!”

“I, am a scientist,” Professor Nimnul stated firmly “and as a scientist, I have a certain tendency to be curious. Besides, aren’t you interested to see how strong he’ll get?”

“No I do not want to see how—” Sparky began, but was cut off by Darien.

“Your bickering is a waste of idle breath. It doesn't matter what you do.” Darien said calmly. “Even if you began worshiping me, I still have orders to eat you, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Now…” He paused for a moment. “Before we begin, I have been asked to inform you, that the human and the bat are free to take the stairs up to Master Winifred. She is expecting them.”

“Already?!” Professor Nimnul shouted, sounding surprised. “I thought that we had to defeat you to progress!”

“As Master Winifred stated before,” Explained Darien, “she doesn’t like to be kept waiting. You are the only ones allowed up however. Anyone else who accompanies them will be killed.”

“But I wanted to see what you would turn into…” Professor Nimnul whined.

“Master Winifred thought that you might not go, so to give you some incentive…” Began Darien.

“Fine, kill the rodents, see if I care.” Professor Nimnul said nonchalantly, assuming that that was going to be his incentive.

“…To give you some incentive,” Continued Darien, “Master Winifred shared with me, a most amusing story about your childhood. A story pertaining to a certain bully named Big Roy, who—”

“ALRIGHT ALRIGHT!!!” Professor Nimnul screamed, waving his hands wildly about, sheer terror filling his voice, “I’ll go!!! Just don’t tell them about THAT!”

Darien smiled mischievously. “I’m glad you’ve decided to comply… Wedge.”

Professor Nimnul shuddered at the mention of the name.

“Wedge?” Asked Dale, beginning to sound interested.

“It’s his “Freddie.” ” Explained Darien. “You see, when he was eight—”

“Don’t!!!” Professor Nimnul shouted fearfully.

“Then go.” Darien replied calmly. “Both of you.”

“Alright, fine! Come on bat,” Professor Nimnul commanded to Foxglove “we’re move’n on up!” With that, Professor Nimnul began to proceed towards the stairwell.

“I’m come’n too!” Announced Dale.

“No Dale!” Protested Foxglove. “You can’t! If you come, she’ll kill you!”

“But if I don’t, she’ll kill YOU!” Protested Dale. “Besides, I’m pretty sure I can handle old Freddie!” Dale said, puffing out his chest.

“Ha!” Laughed Darien. “At this point, I’m beginning to doubt that even Zoniha could handle her!”

“Who?” Everyone asked almost in unison.

“Zoniha, the purifying light.” Explained Darien.

“You lost me mate.” Said Monty.

“I wasn’t finished yet, you obese aussie!” Barked Darien “now shut your jaw before I break it!”

“What did you just say?” Monty said threateningly, beginning to walk towards Darien.

“Wait a minute Monty!” Gadget said, grabbing him by the shirt. “I want to know who he’s talking about.”

“All right…” Agreed Monty. “But I’m fight’n him.”

“As I was saying,” Continued Darien without the slightest change in tone, “In ancient wizard legends, there were three fiercely strong deities. The first was unnamed, the creator and overseer of everything; the wizard equivalent of God. The next two were much like Ying and Yang. First was Zoniha, the deity of light. Zoniha possessed the power to purify anything that it touched, whether it be poison or a corrupted soul. Zoniha was most known in artwork, for the bell-ended scepter that it carried, which was capable of firing immense blasts of energy from its bell.” Darien paused for a moment. “Of course,” Continued Darien. “You cannot have light without shadow—”

“What if you had a really flat space?” asked Dale, wreaking the mood that Darien had worked so hard to set.

Darien growled for a moment, but continued on, ignoring Dale. “You cannot have light without shadow.” Continued Darien, “The second deity was Chaos the destroyer; the deity of Darkness. Unlike Zoniha, who possessed the power to turn poison into water and purify corrupt souls, Chaos possessed the power to turn water into poison and to corrupt pure souls; the wizard equivalent of the devil.” Darien paused again. “However,” he continued. “Zoniha and Chaos were confined to their own dimensions, unable to use their powers elsewhere… Until somehow, Chaos broke free, and began destroying the physical universe. With “God’s” permission, Zoniha was allowed to leave it’s respective dimension, it’s goal being to seal Chaos back in it’s own…. But, something unexpected happened. Although they should have been equal, Zoniha was ultimately destroyed by Chaos. However, because the good Zoniha had been eliminated, the evil Chaos was unable to maintain a physical form, and was erased from existence as well.”

“Is this leading to something?” Professor Nimnul asked impatiently.

“Yes,” Darien answered calmly “you see, Zoniha was immensely powerful, and I think that Master Winifred has become far stronger.”

“See Dale, you can’t handle her; so please, please, don’t try and come.” Foxglove begged, a small tear forming in the corner of her eye. “Please!”

“But…” Dale protested, trailing off.

“Don’t worry,” Sparky said reassuringly, “She’ll be with Professor Nimnul, and… I can’t believe I just said that.”

“You don’t have to worry about me hurting her.” Said Professor Nimnul “I’m saving all of my power to get rid of Freddie. Killing that bat would just be a waste of my time and would accomplish nothing.”

“See,” Foxglove said, trying to sound as certain as she could, “I’ll be okay… I just…” Suddenly, she was unable to hold it in any longer. Foxglove broke down and flung herself into Dale’s arms, forcing him to hold Jamba by his feet in one hand and comfort her with the other. “Oh Dale,” She cried, “I’m so scared!”

“Aw, don’t be scared Foxy.” Dale said reassuringly. “I’m sure the robot that ol’ Wedge designed will be able to keep Freddie from hurting you.”

“What did you just call me?!” Professor Nimnul thundered.

“Wedge.” Repeated Dale, trying to cheer Foxglove up. “Isn’t that your name?”

“No!” Professor Nimnul shouted in frustration, slamming his fists down. “It’s Normie—er, Norman—er Norton! NOR-TON!”

Foxglove giggled a little, relieving a small amount of anxiety from her shoulders.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Darien said impatiently “But if the two of you don’t leave right now, I will kill you.”

“I’m not afraid of you.” Professor Nimnul said firmly as he began to head towards the stairwell.

“Of course you’re not.” Mumbled Darien.

“Dale, please.” Foxglove begged Dale. “Please don’t try and come after me.”

“…Okay.” Dale agreed reluctantly.

“Thank you Dale.” Foxglove said as she began to follow Professor Nimnul towards the stairwell. “I promise I’ll be alright.”

“Be careful Foxy!” Dale called as Foxglove began to head up the pulsing stairwell.

“I will.” Foxglove called back, now out of sight. Foxglove hurried up the stairs, trying to keep up with Professor Nimnul.

“Be careful Foxy…” Dale repeated quietly to himself, slowly moving Jamba back in his arms.

Chip Gadget, Zipper, and Sparky were about to reassure Dale, but it looked like Monty had a handle on it.

“I’m sure she’ll be alright mate.” Monty said placing a reassuring hand on Dale’s shoulder. “She’s got on ‘o them pills, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah.” Dale sighed. “I think she put it in her ear.”

“Her rear?!” Monty asked in disgust.

“Ear, EAR!” Dale shouted, pointing at his ears with one hand, while holding Jamba by his feet in the other.

“Oh.” Monty sighed in relief.

“Now then,” Darien began, relieved that this was finally out of the way, “which two of you will fight me first?”

“I will!” Monty said firmly, stepping forward and rolling up his sleeves. “I’ve been wait’n for case like this.”

“Me too.” Added Gadget.

“What?!” Everyone asked in unison, turning towards Gadget.

“Well,” explained Gadget. “Dale and Sparky probably only have a few minutes left before they go back to normal, Chip will only speed up if he takes a pill, Zipper’s time has got to be almost up by now, and Foxglove and Professor Nimnul are already heading to face Winifred… So that leaves me.”

“I suppose that seems logical an all, but this’s no place for a—” Monty stopped himself short of saying “lady”.

“Gadget, are you sure you wouldn’t rather have me—” Chip began to ask, but Gadget cut him off.

“Actually,” responded Gadget, “I’m really interested to see how strong I’ll get.”

“I think she’s fully capable of fighting against him.” Encouraged Sparky. “Those pills really toughen you up,”

“I didn’t mean she was incapable of fighting!” Protested Chip “I meant that—”

Well? Darien asked, growing impatient. “Has a decision been made?”

Nobody answered at first; not wanting to be responsible for whatever horrible fate might befall Gadget if she were to fight. “Yes.” Gadget finally said, stepping forward, next to Monty. “Monty and I will fight you.”

“Then it is done.” Daren said calmly. There was a quick, loud, bass noise. “A barrier has now been erected to prevent any interferences.”

Gadget felt the barrier behind her to verify that they were now officially trapped. She looked towards Darien, nervously. Had she made a wrong choice?

“Well,” Darien began, spreading his legs apart “shall we begin?” within the barrier, a small breeze began to pick up, circulating around Darien. He began to groan as if he were in some sort of pain. “Aagh!” Darien groaned, as he closed his eyes tightly, lowering his head as he did so. “argg… AAAHHH!” Darien yelled as he abruptly arched his back. As he did so, he began to grow. His orange fur began to grow paler and paler, while his white fur began to grow darker and darker. Still yelling, with closed eyes, he threw his head back, reveling his teeth, which were now beginning to sharpen to almost invisible points. From the root of his tail, more tails began to sprout, growing to the exact length of his original one. Finally, Darien stopped yelling and relaxed, panting vigorously. Neither Sparky, nor any of the Rangers could believe their eyes. Gone was the small Red Pack Fox, who hated humanity with such a passion. In his place, stood what only now only remotely resembled a fox. Darien still had the build of a fox, only now he had grown to the size of a large tiger, equipped with razor sharp teeth, resembling that of a wolf’s. His orange fur had now become a shimmering silver, and his white fur had become as black as night. Not only this, but he now supported not one, but seven tails, all of which had black tips, and were casually moving together behind him in a wave-like pattern. Darien opened his eyes, which were now glowing a bright red. They were like Jamba’s, only Darien’s eyes possessed dark red pupils in their centers. “You know,” Darien began, his voice unchanged, “Master Winifred once compared Jamba and I, and according to her, I’m a good six times stronger, and twenty times faster.”

“Ho boy,” Monty thought uneasily to himself “This aint gonna be easy.”

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