Misadventures of the Unusuals
Chapter the Twenty-Fourth: The Arrival, the Reveal, and the Departure
We leave the palace and use the Allin Deor Skyway to warp across the continent. aiming to arrive in Talein, the City of Knights, closest to the area affected by the horde.
We end up on some mountain path in the middle of nowhere.
"All right, great. What's this?" Echo huffs, crossing his arms in annoyance.
"We missed? Do the Skyways dump people in the wrong place?" Hale asks.
"No, they don't." I say. "We should have arrived right in the city, instead of... wherever we are."
"Let's see... forested area down there, looks like the Trihorn mountain range to the south..." Fang stares off in the distance, scanning for landmarks. "Ooh, I can see the Zela constellation!"
"We're on the Naeig mountain path." Bore states, "about a four hour ride away from Talein."
"Well that's not right." I place my hand on the Skyway, trying to initiate warp again, but... nothing happens. "The Skyway isn't doing anything."
"It got us here, so there's nothing wrong with it." Galley says. "There must be an issue with the receiving portal."
"You think they destroyed the Skyway portal in Talein?" I ask.
"They probably did." Fang says. "If the horde has reached Talein by now, they probably would destroy the Skyway so they don't have adventurers and soldiers teleporting into the middle of them."
"Going by that logic, then that would be... what, a third of the continent without Skyways now?" Hale says.
I nod grimly. No one knows how to create Skyways, and they're the only inexhaustible means of teleportation throughout the continent. If they've been destroyed, they'll never come back.
"Well, that just means we have some walking to do." I look to Fang and Bore. "You know where we're going?" They nod. "And how to get there from here?"
Fang grins. "Leave it to us."
With the two of them leading, we make our way through the winding mountain pass, relying on moonlight to guide us.
Through our hike, we fill each other in on what we've been up to during our weeks-long separation.
Galley talks about all the mechanisms he broke in his gun, but how it now acts as essentially a funnel of nature magic; the giant pours his own mana into the gun, just like a regular mana pistol, and the seed inside it will grow tree, vines, shrubs, anything nature-y, depending on how much mana he uses.
Hale explain that, from what the people she asked could tell, the weirdness of her leg came from the nature and eldritch magic, two powerfully opposing elements, that were used to grow the thing. Apparently, in times of stress, the leg would form miniature breaks in space and time, basically using a mix of time dilation and short-term teleportation to make short-lived copies of herself to attack an enemy. Or maybe they were afterimages. Or illusions. To be honest, no one was quite sure.
Echo said he could use his spell tome. And that was all.
After our discussions lagged and the excitement of being reunited waned, we kept trudging on silently through the path. We gradually noticed a startling lack of animals; birds, lizards, even insects, all the things you would expect to see on a forested trail like this were absent.
"Too quiet." Hale tells me after a while.
"Coming from you, that's doubly worrying."
"We're almost there, now." Fang says, "watch out for scouts; they've probably got a lot of defenses in place."
They lead us off the path soon, veering into the forest, picking our way around gnarled roots and untamed vegetation. We're alert now, watching every shadow and limb for signs of movement, taking our steps carefully so as to avoid stepping in dry leaves or sticks; anything that could make noise to betray our position. A high alert mode in a dead silent forests makes for tension thick enough you could club someone with it.
Finally, Bore holds a hand to stop us, goes off ahead a few dozen yards, then waves for us to slowly follow him. We creep along to join him, and find we're at the edge of the tree line. Below us is a sprawling campsite, full of randomly placed tents and fires, with monsters wandering aimlessly about; goblins, ogres, giant spiders, imps, and everything in between. Looking closely, we can make out white-masked cultists between the monsters. Bore points forward, to a tall, sheer cliff face on the other side of the encampment. "Up there."
"We have to climb that?" Echo asks.
"That's where they're holding the ritual to awaken Morgianna, so yes." Fang answers.
"Can we use our eagles? Surely the air traffic laws are bendable enough." Hale suggests.
I shake my head. "No way; laws aside, we'd be shot down before we were halfway up."
"We have to scale the cliff." Bore says. "But to get there, we need to get through the camp."
"We'll never be able to climb while we fight, and there's too many for us to beat them all." Fang adds, "so we'll need to sneak through."
I peer up at the top of the cliff. Silhouetted in the moonlight, I can see what looks like a wall ringing the entire edge of the cliff, with an archway reminiscent of a door in the middle. "What was this, a castle?"
"Or a temple." Fang shrugs. "For a war goddess, it might be the same thing. From the look of it, the ground was probably level all the way through at some point, but either the ground here sunk or the cliff rose."
I sigh deeply. "And of course, now we have to climb the thing."
"We should go now, before the sun rises." Bore urges, and we all agree.
We inch our way down toward the encampment, staying low to the ground and keeping anythign and everything between us and the series of tents that we can.
"Everyone, stay quiet in there." I order them under my breath as we move. "Hale, just be you. Echo, limit yourself to quiet snark. Galley... be Hale."
"As if one wasn't bad enough." Echo mutters.
"Good, just like that."
We enter the camp itself, moving between tents, tarps, crates, anything we can for cover. Bore or I will dart out first, advancing a few steps out to a new spot, then signal for the rest when it's all clear. We have monsters and cultists wander past us, sometimes getting within inches of our hiding spots, but every time we freeze, hold our breath, and pray to Noel that they leave quietly. And they do. Astoundingly, we move a group of six people, with varying levels of skill, or lack thereof, including a giant,
right through into the heart of the enemy.
"Will you quit starting at me?" Echo hisses during one pause as Bore peers out to pick our next cover.
"I'm just looking." Hale says.
You know what I look like!"
"You cut your hair again, didn't you?"
"Yeah, so what? It was getting long again. It was poking out of my turban, and getting dirty and tangled. So I got it cut off."
"You can not
seriously think this is the proper time for this discussion." I interject.
"It's supposed to get long, it's hair!
Hale mutters, ignoring me completely. "You're supposed to wash it and comb it to keep it taken care of."
"Ugh, but it's so much easier to just keep it short!"
"I dont-- you... I swear, Echo. This
is why everyone always thinks you're a boy!"
"You're bringing that up again! Come on!"
"Echo, listen to your sister." I whisper, peering out over our barrels. "You should take care of your hair instead of just... wait... what?"
"What? See something?" Echo asks.
I lower myself, squinting at him, trying to get a good hard look in the moonlight. "Thinks
you're a boy?"
"Well, I'm not!" Echo quietly exclaims, placing his hands on his hips. "I'm a girl, obviously.
I stare at him blankly, then at Hale, who nods, then back at him. His face is usually in some manner of grimace or sneer, but looking now, his features do almost look too soft to be any kind of masuline. I had thought he was just a boy that hadn't properly grown yet, but... looking at him, his eyes were a little too round, his cheekbones a little too smooth. When we first met, his shaggy hair, boyish mannerisms, and abrasive personality made me think he was a boy without a second thought, but... "You're a girl?
"Duh, you can't tell?"
"Well then you're stupid!"
"You don't act anything like a girl!"
"Yes I do!"
"No you-- oh, never mind." I roll my eyes. "How come neither of you ever corrected me?"
Hale shrugs. "I thought you were just messing with her."
"If someone's stupid enough to think I'm a boy, then I can't be bothered to correct them."
I sigh deeply. This just gets better and better. So, Echo's a girl. That's a shock, but not a big deal, and it really has no importance to our current mission.
"What?!" Galley shouts. "You're a girl!?
The little guy's a little lady? How could this happen?!" He grabs me by the shoulders, lifts me up, and shakes me like a doll. "It's all wrong! It's all a lie!"
"Galley, knock it-- ohh, no."From my giant-sized vantage point, I can quite clearly see every monster, beast and cultist in the area turning toward us, drawn by the giant's outburst. We're still in the middle of the camp and our cover is blown.
"Run!" I wriggle free of Galley's grip and hit the ground running. The others take off behind me, all pretense of stealth gone. Weapons are drawn, insults are thrown, and we all fall into a dead sprint.
Galley and Bore open fire ahead of us, clearing a path through anything that would try to stop up, and Hale slashes at anything that gets too close. Fang has her violin set on her collar and is alternating between sharp taps on the instrument and quick, high notes with her bow.
The music takes effect, and immediately the world shifts. Time slows, vision sharpens, movements are made without consciously thinking about it. Bore and Galley's shots get less frantic and more controlled, small bursts or single shots that pick off anything directly in our way.
We're making good distance at a more than respectable speed, and we're approaching the edge of the campsite with relatively little resistance, but there's still one problem.
"We need a way up that cliff!" I shout. If we try and scale it with this pack on our tails, we'll be shot down and torn to pieces.
"Anyone bring a ladder?" Fang asks.
"I'm a small enough target; I might not die." Echo says.
"Oh, ooh, I can help!"
"You've helped enough already, Galley!"
"Echo's a witch or something now, right? Shouldn't she have a flying broomstick?"
"Oh, stuff it! You're the ugly hag here, not me. "
"This is not helping!" Bore barks.
"Really, really, I can do it!"
"You're not helping either!"
We're rapidly approaching the cliff face by now, and our only options seem to be to try and scale it with all our might, or turn and fight until we get a chance to beat feet and escape.
"Just gonna throw this out there, I can't play my violin and climb at the same time."
"You're gonna stay while we climb? We'll remember your brave sacrifice."
"I'm not staying, you little rodent!"
"I can do something, really!"
"All right, fine! Galley, whatever you're going to do, just do it and shut up!"
"Haha! Yes!" The giant sprints to the front of the pack, swapping out his standard mana pistol for his nature one.
Galley points his nature gun up at the clifftop, and the weapon begins glowing with mana as he channels it. Flowers sprout from the handle, and a bird flies out the barrel.
I stare at the gun, utterly disappointed. "You've gotta be--"KROOOSH!
I'm silenced mid-complaint as a huge tree limb bursts forth from the barrel of the gun. Or, maybe it's a vine, or a beanstalk. Whatever it is, it grows outward all the way from Galley gun and slams into the top of the cliff, loosing rubble and clouds of dust to fall down the cliff.
We pause in our sprint for a moment, watching as Galley leaps onto the vine and starts to run up it like an organic bridge. Seeing no other solution, I follow after and shout for the others to do the same.
We run up our vine bridge as projectiles begin to fly by us; arrows, mana bullets, spells, the works. We keep running, and get by mostly unharmed. Hale takes an arrow through her wooden leg but shrugs it off and keeps running.
We reach the top of the vine, cresting the cliff now, spilling out onto solid ground. We're in an overgrown, unused courtyard of some kind, with that stone wall ringing us in. At the far end is the entrance to a tall, solid-looking stone structure.
Behind us, our pursuers are running up the vine, and the closest of them are halfway here already. "We've got company!" I call.
"Ah! I've got this one!" Echo runs forward, black spell tome in one hand, placing her empty one on the massive vine. She reads from the book, chanting in a harsh, guttural language that I'm unfamiliar with, and dark clouds begin to form around her, whisping around the book and her fingers.
The foremost pursuer is a cultist with plate armor over his robes and a pair of horns jutting from his mask. If I had to guess, I'd say he was some kind of commander of the forces below. He's only a dozen steps away from the cliff now.
With a final shout, Echo releases her spell, stepping back and flinging her hand out toward the vine. From the dark cloud, a thick, innumerable swarm of locusts busts out, latching onto the vine. In seconds, the plant turns dark and begins to whither, and the locusts work their way down eating as they go.
With it's upper point of support lost, the dying vine falls down, plunging the commander, fellow cultists, and other enemies all down the cliff.
Echo looks down the side of the cliff, joined by Hale. "Well, that was effective." The latter says.
I stand by them and look down. Other cultists and monsters are beginning to climb the cliff face after us. cultists are beginning to ascend via the rocks, goblins are bringing tall ladders, ogrea are tossing imps halfway up the cliff, only for them to fall a very long ways to a very abrupt stop.
"Not effective enough." I say. The others join us staring down the cliff.
"I think we can hold them." Bore says, and we look to him. He glances up at Galley. "The two of us. With our mana guns, we should be able to hold them off the cliff for a while.
Galley strokes his beard thoughtfully, looking down at the ascending foes. "Hmm... yes, we may be able to pull it off. It would certainly be fun to try, at least."
"What? Are you crazy? We can't split up now!" Fang cries.
"We have to." Bore replies. "Someone needs to get into the temple and put a stop to the awakening ritual. And we can't do that if we have a group of enemies stabbing us in the back."
"It makes sense." I say, and Fang glares at me. "I didn't say I liked it, but it does make sense. Out of all of us, they have the best ranged combat abilities; they could hold the advance long enough to buy us time to get inside. Even if they get all the way up the cliff, Galley and Bore are both capable close combat fighters, and they have an excellent choke point here at the archway." I nod to Bore, "I think it could work."
"We don't have time to debate this anymore." Bore says, drawing a pistol and firing a shot down the cliff. A cultist falls backward off the cliff, clutching his wounded hand through the plummet. "Me and the giant will stay. The rest of you, go.
I step back, and Hale, Echo and Fang come with me, leaving the two gunners to do their thing. "You'd both better find us once you're done." I say, before leading the other across the courtyard and into the temple.
Galley draws his pistols and stands next to Bore, and they both look down at the writhing mass of foes covering the sheer cliff face.
"I'll take the left side; you take the right." Bore says, taking aim with his guns.
Galley charges his functional pistol and points it down toward the advancing line. "Let's par-tay."
Once we're inside the tunnel, we get jumped by a gang of cultists. A quick and intense scuffle later, we've dealt with the door guards and are making our way deeper into the structure. Torches along the walls light our path, and we follow the only way forward; a long, narrow corridor.
Inside, the temple hardly seems touched by the movement of time. While the outside is dirilect and overgrown, inside the stones are smooth and white, free of dirt and grime. As if the place has been sealed so tightly that not even time itself could enter.
"So, what exactly
is the plan in here?" Hale asks as we run down the corridor.
"We find the ritual and... um... break everything and everyone in sight?" I suggest.
"That's about as far as we got, too." Fang says. "If we break everything, then nothing will work right, and it'll all go wrong. Perfect plan, if you ask me."
"I don't know how I keep getting pulled into these things." Echo mutters.
Soon the corridor widens out and leads us into a wide, open chamber. A pure, sterile white dome of a room with almost enough space to build a castle. At the far end, in front of a huge pair of wooden double doors, is a familiar figure with a mana rifle and a giant-sized bayonet.
"This guy again?" Echo groans.
"What's he doing here?" Asks Hale.
"I don't know," I say, stepping forward. "But if he's here, we may as well go home. Calico!"
The man turns around to face us, arms crossed in front of him. He takes a look at us and sighs, hanging his head and dropping his shoulders. "It's you. Again." He shakes his head, a look of disbelief crossing his face. "I can't believe it."
"We're here to stop the ritual to awaken Morgianna." I say. "With you here to help, it should be no problem."
"Do you know what's inside?" Asks Hale. "What kind of defenses, how many of them... are..."
Calico slowly reaches up and takes his weapon by the handle, lowering it to his side and resting a hand on the lever. "Stop."
We stop in our tracks. "Calico, what are you..."
He shakes his head. "I can't let you go further."
"You're... working for Morgianna?" I ask. "You-- do you even know what she's doing? Do you know what's going to happen?! Why are you siding with her?"
He sighs deeply, drawing the lever back on his weapon, and mana funnels in, drawn from the very air to fuel the weapon. "Because it is a Rebirth. And I must."
"So... we have to fight this guy, first?" Fang asks, holding her violin to her collarbone.
I shake my head, gritting my teeth. "We can't." I say. "We can't!
If we try to fight him, he'd destroy us." We've seen him knock a dragon down by himself, and use that mana rifle to blow a hole in a stormcloud.
My puppet and Hale's blades are no match for him.
Echo steps to the front of the group, clenching and unclenching her fists. "Go." She hisses.
Hale glances at her sister. "Echo...?"
"I'll hold him off." Echo says. "While he's distracted, you all run for the door. Get in there and stop them."
"You can't." I say. "There's no way you can even stall him. Even if you have your spell tome, your magic isn't powerful enough--"
"Did I say
I would use my magic?" Echo pulls her turban off, releasing her shaggy blonde hair. She rips the turban into two halves and begins wrapping it around her fists.
I step forward to try and protest, but Hale holds her hand out and stops me. She gives me a quick glance and shakes her head.
Calico slams the bolt shut and raises his gun to rest on his shoulder, effortlessly maneuvering the weapon easily twice his size. "You're not going to back down?"
Echo spits to the side, raising her fists in front of her. "Make me."
Fang looks back and forth between us, Echo, and Calico, then lowers her violin and grins. "I think I'm gonna watch this one."
The air grows thick, almost too much to breathe. No one moves. Echo and Calico's eyes are locked. Hale and I would be fidgeting with anxiety, if not for the crushing weight of the moment.
"Go!" Echo barks, and then she's off like a shot. By the time Hale and I have taken three steps, the girl is already halfway across the massive antechamber.
Calico twirls his mana rifle and catches it in the crook of his elbow, leveling it at the charging Echo. Glowing blue glyphs form in the air in front of his barrel, and he fires with a sound like a thunderclap.
A burst of dust and broken stones flies up from Echo's position, blocking our view of her, but we keep sprinting. Hale runs to one side of the room, and I take the other, hugging the wall as we give Calico wide berth while charging for the doors.
Echo bursts out of the cloud, flying over the ground, fist cocked back for a punch.
Calico raises his gun in front of him, placing one hand on the blade of his bayonette, holding it to block the girl.
"Haaaaaah!" Echo shouts as she takes the swing, slamming her fist into Calico's blade. The metal bends inward with a dent, and Calico takes a staggering step back.
Hale and I run past the combatants, and I look for just long enough to see Calico's eyes almost bulging out of his head as he stares over the blade at Echo. The girl has her teeth gritted, glaring at him as she raises her other fist.
As we shove open one of the huge doors, Calico looks over his shoulder at us, tries to move to intercept us, but Echo throws his off-balance with another strike and he's forced to turn back to her.
Hale and I rush through the doorway, shove the heavy door shut again, and take a deep breath of relief. "Think... think she'll be able to hold him?" I ask.
Hale laughs humorlessly. "Seriously? She's
the one you're worried about?"
I shake my head, putting the fight out of my mind. "Anyways, moving on..." I look around us. We seem to have fallen into some kind of alternate dimension.
We're in a vast, endless white expanse. Just, pure whiteness, interrupted only by black and Grey discs spinning through the sky. Below us is a single, large black disc that seems to be acting as a platform, except it's spinning under us and we're not moving.
"I've gotta be honest, I'm really worried." Hale says beside me.
"Yeah, this place is really, really
weird." I agree.
"No, not that." I look at her, and she's looking down at her side. "The last time we were alone together, I lost a leg."
"Point." I look forward into the white expanse, across the single disc we're above. There, I see a figure.
Tall, slender and graceful, a woman in a midnight black and smooth hair like a pool of oil faces us, her eyes closed. She has her arms raised behind her head, and look to be fidgeting with something behind her neck. She lowers her arms and holds something by her neck; a small necklace with a pair of sculpted wings. Her eyes open, unleashing a furious white light, like two small suns, and a huge pair of black wings spread forth behind her back.
I inhale sharply and Hale gasps, staring at the dark, transfixing woman. Morgianna has awoken.
Fang watches from the far end of the antechamber in amusement, having switched her violin out for a worn, tattered notebook and a quill pen. She watches the fighters intently, hoping to glean inspiration for her next epic. "Come on, give me a good fight..."
Calico slides his foot across the ground, shifting his weight and throwing the girl behind him. She whirls around and charges him again, but he backpedals quickly and fires several light shots at her. She bats the magic projectiles away with her hands, but it slows her enough for Calico to get some distance between them.
He looks past her, at the doors the other two have escaped through. He sighs sharply, then turns his attention back to the girl. "You should have just turned and left."
"Seriously? After everything we went through to get here? All that's at stake? You want us to turn around and leave?" Echo slams her fists together in front of her. "Not happening."
"What's at stake?" Calico barks a harsh laugh. "You have no idea
what's at stake here."
"No, probably not." Echo admits. "To be honest, I really don't care, either. I'm here, you're here, and we're fighting. That's enough for me."
Calico shakes his head in disbelief. "How can you not care? Can you really think so little of what you've become a part of?"
"Look, I can't fight you with magic, so my whole day's ruined. I gotta beat the snot out of you instead, and that's just no fun. I'm already in a bad mood, so you're just going to get hit!"
Echo dashes forward again, ducking under Calico's bayonet and coming up swinging. Calico spins his gun in front of his to deflect the attacks, then switches to the offensive; slamming his blade down at Echo.
The girl sidesteps the first strike, ducks under the second, leaps over the follow-up, and as Calico slices downward, she raises one hand to the side, catching the massive sword and stopping
Calico's eyes widen as all his strength and momentum falls flat, stopped by this small girl with a single hand.
Echo steps forward, throwing her fist forward and punching Calico directly in the stomach. He skids across the ground, slamming into the wall with a crack!
He staggers forward, spits to the side, and wipes his mouth with his hand. It comes off with a red streak of blood. Blood. His own blood. How long has it been since I saw my own blood?
He wonders, eyes flicking back up to Echo as the girl charges.
Calico thrusts his weapon forward, but Echo lightly hops, landing on the flat side of the massive sword, running up
the blade. Calico leans out of the way of her straight jab, drops his weapon, and spins to dodge a second punch, then slams
his elbow into the girl's side, sending her into the stone wall.
Calico snatches his gun and retreats several steps, then loads it and aims, waiting for the girl.
Echo peels herself out of the wall, drops to her feet, and grimaces. "This is so stupid." She hisses as Calico fires a blast of magic at her. Echo takes a backhand swipe and knocks the volatile blast away, sending it to the wall behind her.
"Those fist wrappings..." Calico says, watching the girl. "They function as armor strong enough to repel shots from my mana rifle and catch my blade without a scratch."
"It's my turban. I had it enchanted." Echo replies, taking a moment to tighten the strips of cloth around her fists. Road worn, sweat-stained and dirtied, but without a sign of wear from defending her through the fight.
"A turban enchanted to withstand the might of a thousand swords." Calico scoffs. "Do you have some vendetta against helmets?"
Echo glares, dropping her fists back to her sides. "It's important to me."
"...Yes." Echo looks down at the torn turban. "The only one... I've ever been given."
Calico nods. "To get that level of enchantment... You must have poured every coin you earned into it. It must be from someone important."
"Psh, important?" Echo scoffs, shaking her head. "The guy who gave it to me is a idiotic, good for nothing moron with no social graces, common sense, or ability to be competent in any way. He's an irredeemable chunk of stupid with terrible fashion sense and no backbone." She raises her fists, returning to her fighting stance. "And he's the one who let me become an adventurer. So I'll follow him forever."
And then she's there, inches away from Calico, already throwing her next punch. Calico recoils, leaning out of the way, but he can't move fast enough. In a flash, he raises his weapon to let it take the blow.Thud!
Echo's fist collides with the bayonet, leaving another dent in the massive sword.Thud!
She strikes again, and Calico can feel the metal bending under the weight of each blow.
Calico steps back hastily, working through his disbelief. How could she be so strong? How was he
being forced to the defensive?
Echo glares after him for a moment, then takes a deep breath, relaxing for just a moment. Calico can feel the mana in the air gathering toward her, and in a flash, both her fists burst into flame.
Fang grins, scribbling in her notebook. "This is good, this is good!" She exclaims.
Echo runs forward, fists blazing with magic. She ducks under Calico's swing and steps in close. Calico pulls his rifle back to shield him again, placing his hand on the bayonet to brace it.Clang!
As Echo's fist connects with the oversized bayonet, the metal snaps and falls to pieces, severing the blade from the gun. Calico recoils back, backpedallng away from Echo, desperately raising his rifle.
Echo slaps aside his shot, snatching the broken blade from the ground. She spins on her heel, blade gripped tightly in her hand, and hurls it at Calico, sending the massive blade spinning end-over-end at the man.
Calico raises his rifle and shoots the blade, ducking to avoid the shrapnel of the ensuing blast.
Echo is right there, inches away, fist raised. Calico holds her gaze for just a moment, then her blazing hand comes to his face.
And he vanishes.
""All right, so how bad is this?" Hale asks as we stare, unmoving, at Morgianna.
"Well, we're down to a third of our already pitiful forces, alone in some bizarre pocket dimension, and the ancient war goddess we came to stop is fully awake, and is now looking at us." I nod grimly. "I'm going to go with 'very bad.'"
"So, given that, what do you think are the chances she doesn't attack us?"
"Well, um.. She is now glaring, her wings kind of flared up a bit... Oh, she has a sword now, that's a good indicator."
"Well, she's a war goddess. It probably wouldn't end well for us."
"Do you think maybe she's still drowsy?"
"No, I don't."
"Think we can reason with her?"
Hale charges forward, sprinting with all her might, swords ready. I summon my marionette and send it out ahead of her. It overtakes her, producing it's hammer, and goes to strike the goddess.
Morgianna regards the puppet with a mix of curiosity and disdain, then swings her long, elegant black sword and slashes it in half. One half goes wide, but the other flies back, slamming into Hale and knocking her flat on her back."
"Fighting was a bad idea." I mutter, rushing up to Hale's side and pulling her to her feet.
Morgianna just stands there, staring at us with her glowing white eyes. She looks very unhappy with us.
"Do you know who I am?" She asks. Her voice is deep and reverberating, filled with power.
"Morgianna, goddess of destruction. You reputation precedes you." I say, holding my control bars readily. Hale, likewise, is on guard but trying not to look overtly hostile.
Morgianna narrows her eyes, peering at us. She looks from me to Hale and back again. "You are here to fight." She says. "To fight those who guard this place, those who awoke me... and myself, if you must."
"Well, we're not too keen on your plans for our world. We must respectably oppose you."
Her eyes narrow even more, and her jaw sets itself in a line. "I am a goddess of this realm. By my will, this world exists, and from my mouth flows unbreakable truths of reality itself. You two will not move yourselves from where you stand."
As she speaks, I realize that, indeed, I won't move. Not that I can't move; I haven't been paralyzed, or chained down, or rendered immobile in any way. But my feet simply will not move
no matter how much I will them to. I see Hale struggling likewise.
Morgianna watches us for a moment, then turns and walks away, leaving us to struggle with our own feet. "Your attempts are... admirable. Few have made it this far; I imagine you are great champions of your world. Yet still futile."
I stifle a laugh, and Hale shoots me a dirty look.
"I will not be stopped." Morgianna continues. "You are only half right. I am Morgianna, goddess of destruction... and rebirth." She turns back to look at us, white eyes still leaking light, jaw set tensely. "By my hand, this world will fall; it shall be broken to rubble and burned to ash. And then, from the ashes, a new world shall rise. A stronger one. A better
one. A new Prism."
"But what's wrong with our world?" I ask. "Why should it be destroyed? When will you be satisfied with a world?"
"When it can stand against me on it's own, without their help. Then, it shall be complete."
"'Their' help? Who's they?"
Morgianna frowns, and turns away again, pacing away from us. I try to move, to rush her, to run for the door, anything,
but I can't move from my spot.
"Now... it shall begin."
Calico's eyes snap open. He's laying on a smooth, flat surface. Above him, wheels turn endlessly in the sky, almost like gears powering a great mechanism.
"Hello, Calico. It's been a while." That soft voice, so soothing, so familiar, filled with an edge of sarcasm and teasing.
"Hey, sis." He grunts, pushing himself up and rising to his feet. Noel stands in front of him, hands behind her back, an insufferable smirk plastered over her face. He glares for a moment, then shakes his head. "Go ahead, get it over with."
Noel stifles a laugh, snickers a bit, then bursts out into peals of laughter, pointing at him mockingly. "You! Hahaha! You got your face smashed in by a four foot nothing little elven girl! Hahahaha! That was the funniest thing I've seen in this era! The look
on your face... Hahaha!"
She goes on laughing for a while, doubling over, wrapping her hands around her stomach. Calico watches disdainfully. After a few moments, she regains her composure; wiping tears from her eyes and straightening up. "Oh, oh man... that was too funny, I just... Pfft. Hahaha!"
"Yes, yes, it was quite hilarious." Calico stalks past her, to the edge of the platform, staring out into the endless white void beyond. "I see you've still been entirely too lazy to decorate around here. I've been telling you to for... the last three Rebirths now."
Noel shrugs, coming to join him. "Well, what can I say? I've been busy lately." Calico cocks an eyebrow at her, and she sighs. "All right, well... not really. There hasn't been much for me to do around here but watch."
Calico nods somberly, looking back to the void. A moment of silence passes between them. "Noel... I lost."
"Yeah." Noel's voice in thin and frail, almost shaking.
"In single combat. A fair fight. No tricks, no... nothing. I lost."
Noel sniffs, slowly wiping at her eyes again. "You did."
Calico takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, and shuts it again. The word are hard to say. "They... They don't need us anymore, do they?"
A tiny whimper escapes Noel's throat, and tears begin to stream down her cheeks. "No, brother." Her voice is breaking as she struggles to hold back tears. "No they don't."
Calico gulps past a lump in his own throat. "Then..."
Noel nods. "Before the Rebirth is complete... Yes. It's... finally time."
Calico smiles humorlessly. "Let's be honest. It has been for a long, long time now."
"We have to stop her." I say.
"All right, agreed. But how?" Hale asks. "I can throw a sword at her, but I don't think it'll work."
"No, we need... something. If we can just hit her from behind, while she's unawares, we might
have a shot."
"So... we get closer? Only problem is that we can't move.
"I noticed!" I hiss, trying to move my legs again. It's as if they've stopped listening to my brain; they just won't move. Think, Bod. What else do you have?
I could try magic, but that would take time to charge a powerful spell, and Morgianna would probably notice. I could try my bow and arrow, but I'd only have one shot, and I don't know if it would be enough to strike a lethal blow. Aside from that, all I have is my control bars and a broken puppet.What about Hale?
All she has is her swords; no magic, mana guns or bow. Even her freaky leg is held down by Morgianna's command.
"We just need to get closer." Hale mutters.
"We can't. Apparently, going against a goddess' command isn't doable for the likes of us."
to be a way. If I can just... Grr, move, stupid feet!"
"What did she say? We aren't allowed to move anymore. Apparently the universe won't allow it."
"She said 'we shall not move ourselves from where we stand' or something like that. So that's it? We're just stuck?"
"Well, unless you've just been pretending,[i] then yes, we're stuck. We're as stuck as puppets without strings."
Puppet... control bars... 'shall not move yourselves'... oh.
"I have an idea." I say.
"Somehow, I feel like it is not a good one."
"It never is. And you're [i]definitely
not going to like it."
"Perfect. What do we do?"
"Well, I have a show to put on." I say, raising my control bars. "And you have a goddess to fight."
Hale stares at me blankly. "What are you-- Wagh!" And then she sprints toward Morgianna.
Hale closes the distance between us and Morgianna in seconds, and as she lunges for the attack, her boot slaps against the ground and the goddess whirls around.
Even wth her eyes wide in surprise, Morgianna moves in an instant; raising her sword up to her side and blocking Hale's attack, then steps back, out of range of her second stroke. "You-- how...?"
Hale swings again, and Morgianna moves her sword with instant, practiced ease and deflects both attacks. Morgianna stares at Hale for a moment, then squints tightly, peering closely at the swordswoman. She looks past her, her sight following nearly invisible threads to my control bars.
Morgianna's eyes focus on me, and I grin devilishly. Then follow-up with Hale's attack.
Hale jerks forward, pulled by my mana strings, swords fanning out in broad strokes in front of her. I control her movement tightly; handling her steps and footwork, but all I need to do is gently nudge her swords in the right direction, and she handles the rest.
The clang of swords, scraping of metal on steel, is almost deafeningly loud and still infinitely quiet in the wide expanse of our battlefield. Such a small thing in this endless void, but the only activity to focus on.
Morgianna easily holds off Hale's assault, now that she's past the initial shock, and begins to turn the battle around, forcing me and Hale on the defensive. Until Hale teleports.
It catches me off guard, it catches Morgianna off guard, but Hale was ready for it. Her form phases to darkness and a second her appears behind Morgianna, swords already going for the goddess.
Morgianna twists around, moving her sword faster than my eye can follow but still only barely blocking the attack. Hale holds the goddess' gaze for a moment, then teleports again, coming at Morgianna from the side.
Morgianna defends from this attack, too, but Hale repeats it again. And again. And again. By this point she's broken free from the control of my mana strings and either has loosed herself from Morgianna's command entirely, or at least her leg of time and space is enough of a loophole on it's own.
At the end of her series of attacks, Hale teleports right in front of Morgianna, coming directly face to face with the goddess. She performs a quick, straight thrust at Morgianna, the blade of her sword coming within a hairsbredth of her opponent's face.
Hale falls back to the ground, dropping to her knees in exhaustion, spent after using her ultimate attack.
Morgianna goes cross-eyed for a moment, staring at her own nose. She reaches a hand up and wipes the tip of it, and draws off the smallest, tiniest pinprick of crimson blood. She stares at the minuscule droplet of blood for a moment, then snarls.
Her wings grow, becoming two massive, dark shadows that blot out the sky and leave us in complete darkness. The only light comes from her eyes, blazing up like suns, illuminating herself and Hale. Morgianna steps forward, teeth bared, a low growl escaping her throat.
"Impudent, arrogant children!" She hisses. "Noel clearly failed in raising you this time; it's a wonder you even lasted long enough for a Rebirth."
Hale tries to stand, but falters, falling back to one knee. Her wooden leg is withered and unsupportive of her weight.
I desperately cast out my mana strings, but can't get a hold of her. The strings almost touch her, then all divert like a funnel toward the leg, and I realize it's drawing in nearby mana to replenish itself. A good preservation mechanism, but for the moment it makes it impossible for me to pull her back.
Morgianna is mere steps away from the defenseless Hale now, her midnight sword wickedly reflecting the glow of her eyes. "I will burn this world;" Morgianna continues, "and from it, create the foundation for a better world, a stronger one. One that knows it's place." She stops in front of Hale, staring down at the swordswoman.
Hale gasps in breaths, trying to move. Sweat drips from her face, and her hands, barely holding a grip on her swords, are shaking. Without my mana strings or her reality bending, she's trapped back under Morgianna's command, unable to move herself.
Morgianna raises her sword overhead, breathing slowly as she watches Hale, The swordswoman looks up and meets her eyes, and the goddess scoffs.
"Be a good child, and feed the new world." Morgianna swings her sword."STOP!
A clear, resounding voice cries out, filled in equal measure with authority and desperation. A voice so familiar, so nostalgic, so caring.
Morgianna's sword freezes, Hale's frantic scrabble halts, for a moment time itself seems to stand still.
Then, the darkness is blown away, completely blotted out by radiant, pure light, utterly blinding. I cover my eyes against the harsh explosion of light, and it gradually fades to where I can look again.
And there she is. Between Hale and Morgianna, one hand raised to halt the winged goddess, is Noel.
Long pink hair that sways around her waist, a white dress flowing at her feet, pale, delicate skin like snow. And she stands before Morgianna, unflinching.
Morgianna sets her jaw in a line and grits her teeth. "Noel." She says.
"Hello, sister." Noel replies, lowering her hand and intertwining her fingers behind her back. "It's been a while, sleepyhead."
"What are you doing here? This is a Rebirth, it's my
turn!" Morgianna growls, driving her sword into the ground and crossing her arms.
Noel doesn't reply, looking down at hale, then at me. For just a second, I meet her violet gaze, so soft, so warm, so... familiar. Then she turns back and faces Morgianna again. "It's time."
Morgianna recoils as if she had been slapped. Her jaw goes slack, even the light in her eyes dims and fades, leaving pure, white irises. "No." She whispers. "No, it isn't! It's not!" She plants her foot in the ground, shouting now. "You can't! I haven't finished yet, I need to--"
"Oh, give it a rest, Morgi." Calico says, striding up beside Morgianna. Wait, Calico? Where did he come from? I look back, but the door back to the temple is still shut.
"It is." Calico continues, "I know it, Noel knows it. Don't fight us on this one."
Morgianna turns her glare at him. "They're not ready!
"They are." Noel says. "They built this... almost without me. Calico was defeated in combat." Morgianna gapes at Calico, who shrugs sheepishly, then back to Noel. "They don't need us."
"Ahem." Hale coughs on the ground, clearing her throat. The three of them turn to her. "Can... can I go yet?"
Noel laughs gently, smiling down at the swordswoman. "Yes."
Like a shot from a bow, Hale is on her feet, sprinting back to me. She moves slightly behind me, using me as a makeshift shield. I give her a withering look, then look back to the goddesses and Calico. Seriously, why is he here?
Noel smiles at Morgianna, who fumes at her, and Calico, who returns the smile and gives her a nod.
Noel takes a deep breath, joins her hands in front of her, and looks up into the endless white void. "Hello, people of Prism. This is Noel... and I have an apology to make."
Hale and I stand, unmoving, in the center of the black disc amidst the expansive white world. Noel, Calico and Morgianna stand together before us, and Noel is talking to the sky.
"I... We, have been very selfish." Noel says. "Myself, Calico, and Morgianna. We have been so, so selfish." She takes a deep, shuddering breath and wipes at her eyes before continuing. "Where do I begin... You know us... or, me, as a deity that watches over you. Cares for you. Most of you don't know Calico, or his role, but he is also a protector; a guardian. His place is to fight against the threats that would endanger you all; the ones you can not fight against yourselves."
Hale pulls me back, shrinking behind me. "He's
one of them?!
" She hisses, incredulous.
"And Morgianna." Here, Noel pauses, placing a hand on the other goddess' arm. "Morgianna also takes care of you all, in her own way." Morgianna glowers, visibly infuriated, but doesn't speak up.
"We... never should have become to you what we have." Noel continues. "We were meant as... teachers, of a sort. We were meant to show you how to survive here, how to grow, and take care of yourselves. And then we were supposed to have moved on. But... we couldn't. We fell in love. With this world, with all of you. We wanted to stay, to watch you, to take a role in your lives." Noel sniffles, wiping away at her eyes again.
"We shouldn't have. We should have left before we became this close to you... it would have been netter, for all of us. It would have taught you all to stand on your own, and spared us this heartbreak. Under our care, you have flourished. But on your own, relying on your own skills, your ingenuity, your own creativity, instead of having us as a crutch... You will flourish!
"This isn't fair." Morgianna hisses. Calico nudges her and gestures for her to be quiet.
"We're sorry to have robbed you of all the time you could have grown. And we're sorry to have become so involved in your lives that you will miss us." Noel continues. Tears are running down her cheeks now, unchecked, and she brely has her voice in check. "You will forget us, one day, years from now. But until then, please know that we will always
be thinking of you. So long as time persists, not a single day will ever pass that you aren't in our thoughts. Until then... please forgive us for hurting you as we have, for holding you back when you should have been set free. Please, think of us as friends. And... remember us."
And it hits me. Memories come flooding back into me. All those years in the woods of Feylake. Leaving for Varen. Fighting Unuhn. And Noel was always by my side. I remember meeting her, living in a treehouse with her, fighting monsters and a demon with her. And I remember standing there, celebrating our victory... and forgetting her. And every time we met; when I fell and had my body remade, every time we spoke there, every time she encouraged me, nudged me in the right direction, spurred me on. I remember Noel.
Noel Looks at me, her piercing violet eyes puffy and overflowing with tears. She looks at Hale, who goes almost lax, swaying on her feet. And noel smiles the saddest smile I've ever seen.
Noel, Calico and Morgianna disappear. Where once stood three dieties, is now only empty space.
"Noel..." I whisper. My oldest ally, my closest friend, the one who enabled me to pursue my path. Gone. Forever.
Hale sinks to her knees behind me, sobbing weakly. "She's gone... She's gone!" Had Hale known Noel before, too? Had the goddess made her forget, just like me? How many people across Prism had stories like mine, Noel setting them on the right path and then leaving when they were ready?
Now I'm crying. Hot tears flow down my cheeks, and it's all I can do not to break into sobs.
I don't know how long we sit there, weeping for our lost gods, but finally I pull Hale to her feet. "Come on," I say. "We need to see what things are like outside."
Hale takes a few deep breaths to steady herself, then wipes her eyes, pulls her hood low over her face and nods resolutely. We go toward the double double doors back to the temple and push them open.
We enter back into the antechamber where we left Echo and Fang to fight Calico. When we left, the massive room was just a wide, empty space. Now, the floor is littered
Goblins and similar beasts primarily, but there are also ogres, a few golems, giant spiders, rats and snakes. Not to mention the fallen cultists.
Our party is all standing, picking their way through the veritable carpet of downed foes to reach me and Hale.
"Hey, there're our fearless leaders!" Fang calls. "We were wondering if you were gonna show up."
"'leaders?'" Hale mumbles.
I shrug. "Well, you're basically our second-in-command by this point."
She shoots me a glare, clearly none too happy with the thought, and gives me a 'we will talk about this later' kind of a look.
Echo shakes her wrapped fists, flinging blood across the floor. "What took you so long? Did you have a tea party in there or something?"
"It... It's a long story." I say.
"Ran into Noel and her siblings in there, did you?" Fang asks. "We heard the whole goodbye speech. 'Course, by the time she was done, we were up to our eyes in beasty."
"Ha, we scared even the gods away with our ferocious displays of power! Now let everyone know that we are the greatest party on Prism!" Galley shouts, raising his fists triumphantly.
"That's not even remotely... Oh, whatever." I shake my head, not finding enough energy to argue with the giant right now.
"So, Morgianna's gone?" Calico asks.
I nod. "Morgianna, Noel, and..." I look to Echo, now forced to re-evaluate my opinion of the bratty, snot-nosed punk who beat down a god.
"Technically speaking, then, a job well done." Fang grins, crossing her arms and nodding satisfactorily.
I go to answer, pause, think about it, hesitate, then slowly nod. "Technically... Yes. So I guess the next step is to go back to King King and get our reward."
King King, as it turns out, is slightly more skeptical. We explain the situation to him, including, and maybe slightly
embellishing our roles in things, which is backed up by his own hearing of Noel's goodbye. It seems that when she said she was speaking to the people of Prism she meant it; everyone who has come by reports hearing her voice as well.
But, the king doesn't seem quite so eager to throw all his money and praises at us. He makes us submit a formal after-action report of our quest and submit it to his personal legal agency, no doubt so they can look for loopholes and fallacies in our agreement to get them out of paying us. They assure us the process is pending review, and tell us to check back in seven to nine years.Skrrt. Skrrt. Skrrt. Shff. Shff. Shff. Skrrt. Skrrt. Skrrt.
Knife, knife, knife, sandpaper, sandpaper, sandpaper, knife, knife knife.
I hold the arm out, rotating it around to get a better look. The grain is getting a little rough and I'm worried about the core of the wood, but at least the outer rings are showing up nicely.
Hale drops down in the sand next to me, dangling her feet out over the ridge of the dune, looking out over the city of Edea. "So, our great leader has turned away from his life of adventuring to take of the noble and valiant art of whittling
." She says.
I scoff, pulling the arm back to me and scraping the knife along it. "I have to carve a new marionette before I can get back to the field. Y'know, since my last one got cut in half by a goddess,
as you might recall."
Hale smirks, pulling her hood down and drawing her hair up out of her robe to sway in the warm desert breeze. "Well, what do you think is next for our little group?"
I pause, pondering that question. After a moment I set the puppet's arm aside and fold my hands in my lap, thinking. "I don't really know." I admit. "I mean, we fought an evil cult, faced down with two
gods, and watched the biggest turning point our world has ever experienced. Where do we go from there?"
Hale nods understandingly. "We've come a long way from flying in circles in the desert and chopping firewood for weeks."
I let out a small chuckle. "Whatever we have in store for us next, it will not
"So you don't actually have any
idea for what to do next?"
"Nope, none." I narrow my eyes, squinting suspiciously at her. "Why?"
She shrugs, "Oh, y'know, just a thought I had." She digs through her pocket for a moment, pulling out a crumpled, balled-up sheet of parchment. She hands it to me, her emerald eyes alight with excitement.
I stare at the parchment for a moment, glancing up at her, then reluctantly open it. Inside, it looks like a long, legalistic document explaining some quest or another. I skim through the quest description, but what catches my eyes is the illustration at the bottom, depicting a large, intricate snowflake.
I nod slowly, meeting Hale's gaze, letting out a small grin of my own. "All right, I think we can work with this."