After setting down their luggage, Li called everyone together to discuss their future.
"We cannot stay here forever, but we can as long as we need to," Li began. "I shall contact our trusted friends Da, Yu and Richard. Let's make sure they know we're alright. After that, we can try working out the long-term plans. Specifically, trying to get Rosington to help with a possible pardon."
"Is contacting people in Silivia a good idea? We're hiding for a reason."
"Maybe it's not the safest route, but I sincerely doubt they would turn us in," Li said. "Going back to Chris' question, we'll need also someone in Silivia to act as an intermediary. Put a bit of space between us and Governor Rosington in case he tries to track us."
"As for how we get it to them, we'll be relying on the Midnight Runners. They're Halan smugglers who take great care to keep their sources a secret. Also familiar with Alchemilia's true nature. The Runners are currently at the monastery and we'll be meeting with them soon."
With dinner approaching, Blossom closed the gate behind her and stepped out of the monastery. It was night time now, and lights from Nirvana could be seen flickering in the distance. "Marshall?" She called out.
"What the fuck do you want?" Marshall grunted irately. He sat at the edge of the rocky cliff, looking down at the city.
"Why did you storm out like that?" Blossom asked, sitting nearby. "Dinner is going to be ready soon, and you should probably come inside."
"Because I am done with this shit!" Marshall yelled, turning away.
"Can you please just answer me?" Blossom asked.
Marshall sighed. "It's my parents," he lowered his voice. "My mom was in an Alchem prison. Maybe Remnant Rock. If it was, then I don't know if she's still alive." He turned back to Blossom. "The last time I saw my dad, I was leaving for work. Never got to say goodbye. If he heard the news..." he trailed off.
After a few moments of silence, Blossom chose to speak up again. "I'm sorry...why haven't you mentioned it to any of us?"
"Are you kidding?" Marshall asked, quizzically looking at her. "Like, sure. I'm going to just bring up my parent issues while we were trekking through an infested continent, Atticus was telling us about his visions, Samuel left, or when we boarded a massive boat to visit some old people."
"I understand," Blossom answered, looking down at the city below them. "I haven't talked to my parents in ages. They weren't happy the last time we talked, due to the decisions I had made then. I miss them a lot, and I want to talk to them again. I tried to do so in Headre, but...you know how things ended there."
"I'm sorry," Marshall responded, going quiet for a few seconds. "It's been hard and I assume it hasn't been any easier on you."
Before Blossom could reply, their names could be heard in the distance. Marshall quickly got up and walked away.
"Come on, let's go."
Inside the monastery, the group was led to the dining room hall by Isaiah and compiled around a long, wood table. Seated at different ends, they waited for the Changs and Midnight Runners to show up.
After conversation died down and silence took hold, Zade pulled a bag from under the table. Digging around inside it, he eventually pulled out a small banjo and ran his fingers up it. Feeling his way, Zade cleaned it a bit before quietly playing it. Even without his sight, he still knew how to perform it due to years of practice.
"That was very good music, Zade," Chris replied. "Where did you learn it?"
"I started learning how to play when I was a teenager," Zade answered. "At first, I didn't want to, but as time passed I started taking more and more lessons. Even today I don't think I'm great at playing it, but it brings me some comfort. Especially when I feel lonely every once and a while..."
Before anyone else could speak, Blossom and Marshall walked into the room. Avoiding eye-contact with anyone, Marshall slumped down into a seat, with Blossom sitting near Atticus.
"So," Atticus began. "Any idea of when they'll get here?"
Blackmore sighed. "They're smugglers, right? I've dealt with people like them. Always fashionably late, y'know."
"Mister and Mrs. Chang are still speaking with them, I believe," Isaiah contributed.
Just then, a large bustling gathering entered the room. Led by the Changs, the following group of fifteen sat around the table.
"I was expecting more," Li mumbled under his breath.
Startled by the sudden noise, Zade hurriedly put his banjo away as best as he could in his bag. Don't want to lose the only instrument I can play somewhat coherently now.
"Uhh... greetings travelers?" he asked in a somewhat nervous tone. While he didn't know the exact number of people there, he could tell there were many.
Following the group, the Changs sat down at the head of the table.
"Our deepest apologies for keeping you all waiting," Marisol began. "We had things to sort out. Now that we're all here, we are delighted to introduce you all to the Midnight Runners. I'm sure Wen has told you all about them."
"Like that they're criminals?" Marshall remarked.
A burly man with brown hair, a full beard and mustache, dressed in a blue blazer, burgundy sweater, tan pants, black bandanna, and topped with a bowler hat spoke. "We prefer abolitionists, but that works too," he chuckled deeply. "I am Jethro Tullemore, the captain of the Second Wind."
"Nice to meet you guys," Chris replied, hoping to make a good impression. "I'm Chris Wellington and these are my friends," he continued, quickly introducing the others.
"The Chris Wellington? My..." an older man, similar in appearance to Li, but balding gasped. He was dressed in a tan shirt and a brown apron, stained and oily. He wore a striped black and white bandana around his head.
"Er, what about Chris?" Atticus asked.
"Sorry for my outburst. I am Tetsu Iwanaga." He pulled out a cracked magnifying glass from his apron and shuffled over to Chris. "Astonishing. It's amazing really," he commented, examining the android. "I never thought I would live to see the day I would meet him."
"What are you even talking about?" Marshall asked.
"This android is an astounding work of engineering. The first sentient android ever created."
"That's not new information. And what do you mean by first?" Marshall queried.
"I created a sentient android based on blueprints of Chris Wellington. It took years, decades to perfect."
"I never knew my father shared the blueprints with anyone, most people paint him as a madman. I'm really flattered by this, though," Chris replied. "Could we maybe meet this android sometime?"
"Do not worry about Andrew's blueprints," Tetsu replied. "That is a story for another day. Aes is waiting at the Second Wind."
Robert cleared his throat. "Let's focus on the plan. We can save the chat for later. Go ahead, Li," he said.
After gaining everyone's attention, Li addressed the captain. "We'd like your group to deliver a few letters for us. One to Governor Theo Rosington, explaining our actions at Remnant Rock and seeing if he would sympathize enough with us to perhaps sway the Union. Some others to our friends and family."
"Hold on," Blackmore interjected. "With the Global Union on your tail, do you think it would be smart for these guys to deliver these messages? All you'd be doing is getting their ship impounded and investigated."
"We are on good terms with the GU. I am Saoirse, Jethro's wife," a woman answered. She looked to be in her sixties, with brown hair in a long braid and a tan shirt.
Placing his hand against his head, Atticus stood up from the table. "I'll be back soon, I need some fresh air."
Ignoring comments from everyone else, he quickly stumbled out of the dining hall and made his way through the monastery. Opening the door to the artifact room, he stepped in.
Examining the artifacts was a figure draped in a long, dark cloak as black as the absence of light.
"We haven't spoken for ages, apostle. Do you remember our first meeting?" The voice was unmistakable, that of the Dream Eater who had invaded the Allucinor and launched the assault on Remnant Rock. The presumed leader. "Yaakov delivered you here, and so now we can speak face-to-face."
Atticus froze, unsure of how to proceed. Thinking quickly, he said the only thing that came to mind.
"What are you doing here?"
"There is no need to be afraid," Xanvi turned around. "Fear is the mind-killer, after all, and without your mind you are nothing." He placed his hand onto the sickle-sword that Atticus had observed earlier, igniting it into azure flames as he removed it from its display.
"That didn't answer my question," Atticus replied. "Why are you here?"
"Manifest Destiny, as it were," Xanvi looked directly at Atticus, though no face could be made out beneath the hood. The artifacts were suddenly thrust from their displays, as though from a massive shockwave, though after only a moment of motion they remained suspended, frozen in the air.
"Have you ever felt betrayed by the world, Atticus? I'm sure you have. It's always so frustrating to do everything right, to hold as tight as you can and still have things slip through your fingers." Atticus blinked and noticed that the room had changed shape. A brutal scene was set around the duo, that of soldiers silencing suited office workers in a metallic cubicle-lined room. Atticus immediately recognized the architecture as Remnant Rock. "And yet — Every action holds its consequences."
"I agree, the current state of the world is a mess. Public officials are corrupt or lazy, demons and angels pick us off daily. A change is needed," Atticus replied, setting his gaze on the flaming sword in Xanvi's hand.
"What made you choose to appear right now?"
Xanvi lowered the sword to the ground, causing sparks to fly from the linoleum tiling. "Euclid is falling into disarray, further than ever before. Worse than even the war. It's time to return it to zero again."
The walls of the room, as well as the suspended figures, began to melt like liquid, revealing an empty train car. Atticus and Marshall had ridden this train to Remnant Rock with Xanvi, but all he could see out the windows was an endless sea of stars and nebulae.
"I can offer you the means to take control of your life. You've proven yourself a decisive man." Xanvi spoke, as for an instant his body took the form of Gabriel Alchemilia's, exactly as he looked in the hangar. The door to the train slid open, and Xanvi stepped into it, vanishing among the emptiness.
Following, Atticus stepped out of the train and found himself surrounded by darkness. The scene quickly shifted to an explosion, metal parts and other bits of debris flying. Knowing he was safe, he didn't feel any fear, only curiosity.
"I'd assume by now you've heard of the Dream Eaters, as they call us. This isn't the first time we've exerted influence on Euclid, and it will not be the last. You've shown a resolve that I quite admire." Xanvi placed his hand onto Atticus' shoulder. "Would you kindly accompany us on our journey?"
"I want to join you all, I want to further your progress," Atticus replied. "But is now the best time? I shouldn't leave my friends behind."
"Those are the kind of thoughts that will hold you back. Always look inwards at the self. You do not need others to bring you purpose." Xanvi turned around, examining the destruction.
"I understand..." Atticus said, pausing. "Then I guess my only option now is to join you."
"You already have."
The room shifted into a facsimile of Samuel's laboratory, and then the barn that Atticus had woken up in. Finally, a golden-pink sky overlooking a cliff-side. Next to Xanvi and Atticus was a stone monolith with strange inscriptions, and towering over them, a trio of spires covered in bizarre architecture and three orbs at their peaks; One spiked, one crystalline, and one mechanical.
"Statodnim. Your new home."
The members of the search party were being held in Crehambraugh's prison. The officers had made it clear this was for their protection, in case the remaining Svatovid tried to avenge their fallen leader. There were a number of apologies, thanks and a few scoldings. Most of those were directed at Dexter.
After a few hours of waiting, a woman entered their cell. She was a city official.
"Nicole Ukko, acting mayor," she introduced herself. "I'd like to extend a formal apology for how you've been treated here, as well as my sincerest thanks."
"You're welcome," Dexter said.
"With Lempo out of the picture, we were able to contact the national authorities. President Forwater has given all of you pardons for your work in expelling the occupying forces. She will also be speaking to Rosington about removing the bounty on Mister Wellington."
"Does this mean we can go now?" Lisa asked.
"Yes, but one more thing. We've seen fit to release Gerald from our custody. The so-called 'public watchmen' didn't give us any real reason for him to be imprisoned."
Florence spoke up for the first time since they'd departed, "I've never actually... fired that gun before." He sighed. "At least we made a difference."
"Made a difference?" Jordan asked. "Made a difference? We are still no closer to finding the Port City Eight."
Dexter frowned. "We might not be closer to our friends, yeah, but it's not like we didn't make any difference. Crehambraugh's citizens don't have to worry about the mob controlling their city anymore."
"Yeah, at least their troubles are over," Lisa commented. "With the GU coming here, let's hope they don't catch wind of who we're searching for or their whereabouts."
"Yeah," Savannah sighed. Everything felt like a fever dream. She closed her eyes, trying not to think of Lempo, his eyes wide as the sword that went through his body.
Dexter consulted his tablet. "Still got a few more hours to go, maybe 4 or 5 if we pick up the pace," he eyed the sword sticking out of Savannah's suitcase. It now appeared to be frozen solid.
"Hail!" called out a gruff voice from behind. Florence turned around and staggered at what he saw. Two armored figures wielding polearms with a red ouroboros painted on their chests, the mark of the Coalition. Florence reached into his jacket. I still have three bullets left if they try something...
"We mean you no harm," spoke the soldier. "My comrade and I would just like the girl to come with us. The one with the sword?"
"Who are you?" Savannah asked as she stepped in front of Florence. She clutched her suitcase, preparing to pull out the sword if needed.
"We are emissaries of the Nuyö-Dyavol Coalition. The man who has sent for you will answer all of your questions, I am sure." The soldier looked towards the suitcase. "Forgive my curiosity, but is that where you're keeping Ahriman?"
"Ahriman?" she asked.
"The sword. We don't wish to take it from you. After all, Ahriman is your birthright."
"My birthright? I've never even heard of the sword before..." She answered. "The man you speak of, is he nearby?"
"There's a clearing just through the trees. My commander is waiting there for you."
"She'll be staying with us," Florence interjected. "You can tell your commander to come here if he wants to talk. With all of us."
"The girl will go with us alone," the soldier responded. "We assure no harm will come to her."
"I don't think so," Dexter took the coilgun from his pack. "You're not taking her."
Florence took out his revolver and Savannah retrieved the sword. The soldiers did not flinch.
"If you attack us, our commander will know," the other soldier, who had remained quiet until then, spoke. "He is not someone you want to make enemies with."
"We just took out an entire town of you assholes," Savannah said. "How's this guy any worse?"
"Our commander is the commander: Cicero."
Florence put the gun away, immediately followed by Dexter and Savannah.
"That... changes things," Dexter said.
"We have your word no harm will come to her, correct?" Florence added.
The detective turned to Savannah. "We, uh, don't have any options here."
She gave in. "I'll go."
The soldiers led Savannah to the clearing, where there was a large industrial structure. It seemed like a building at first, built among the nature like some mechanical cancer. Upon closer inspection, however, it was a massive gunmetal airship. Savannah remembered seeing ships like this fly overhead when she was younger.
Standing in front of the metal wonder was an armored figure, much more regal and imposing than the others, wearing a fur-lined dark purple cloak.
"Miss Whitesmith, I presume?"
"Yes," Savannah replied.
He nodded. "I suppose it has been a long while. I knew you were just biding your time. May I see Ahriman?"
"Uh, alright," Savannah took the sword from her suitcase and held it. "Can I ask what you mean by that? I don't think we've ever met before."
"I've grown quite a bit since we last met. I was only... fourteen? The memories do blur." His helmet's visor swung open, revealing two piercing yellow eyes. "It's me, Cicero."
Savannah only stared at the commander. "What are you talking about?"
"We both know why you're here. Now is not the time to keep running and hiding, it's the time for action." said Cicero, sternly.
"I'm here because your soldiers forced me to come here," Savannah said. "All I know is that a few weeks ago, I grabbed a man's pistol from his hand without moving. Yesterday a sword appeared in my hand from nothing. If you have any idea that happened, tell me."
Cicero's demeanor changed when he heard this. "So, you don't remember anything?" He said, inquisitively. "I think we should discuss this in the airship."
"I'd rather not," Savannah said.
Cicero nodded. "It is not my place to order you around, forgive me." He sat himself down on a large rock. "Have you ever heard of the concept of an 'Aditya,' Savannah?"
"No," she said as she remained standing. She contemplated sitting on the floor.
"The Adityas were humans - Well, superhumans. They had a wealth of abilities. Usually young teenagers, like yourself, and..." Cicero paused. "Only ever one at a time."
"Are you saying that I'm an Aditya?" Savannah asked.
"I'm certain of it. The prevailing theory on Adityas, one I subscribe to, is that they are reincarnations of the creator of Euclid, my father Xeren. Ahriman was a sword of his."
"That's insane. Completely insane," Savannah paused, to consider what Cicero had said. A few things began to make more sense. "After Lempo died, I saw a giant angel. It was dead, struck down by Ahriman. I didn't know what to make of it then. Was... was I seeing something from a prior life? Through the eyes of another Aditya? Xeren?"
"I can't answer that question. You're the first Aditya I've seen wield Ahriman, the sword Xeren wielded to liberate demonkind from slavery, the action that... led to his demise." Cicero eyed Savannah's suitcase. "Xeren had told one of his highest lieutenants that he would return with that sword."
"I didn't summon the sword on purpose, if that's what you're suggesting," Savannah said. "What were you planning to do if I knew of those past lives?"
"For the past three centuries, I've been leading a crusade not against humanity, nor the angels, but the gods. Those who would keep us on our knees. Did you know the demons were born and bred to be slaves? Xeren was killed for his compassion, and yet fate has delivered you to me," Cicero gave a half-hearted chuckle. "With you on our side, we just might be able to turn the tables. I have abilities like you, and in time, you could learn how to use them to their full advantage."
Savannah did not respond immediately. "You're asking a lot of me, and I want something in return," she finally said. "My friends are looking for a group called the Port City Eight. They might need to go through demon territory. Can you make it so they won't be attacked?"
"They'll be able to pass through unharmed. I'll make sure of it."
Do I really want to do this? Savannah thought. But if I go with them, they won't have Cicero's protection. And if I stay with him, I'll find out more about my abilities. I could do a lot of good if I knew how to control them.
"I'll train with you," she decided.
Rather than saying his name when pressed on it, the hooded stranger that had arrived in the Muné village of Mcyne said he was a combination of three men. Most wrote him off as another odd foreigner because of this cryptic answer.
Shortly after the stranger arrived and parked their chicaro wagon, they started asking for a scholar of "oneiros-class reality manipulation." The term was unknown to all but the village scientist Harold, who had made the topic his life's study. After some talk, both men decided to go to the Mcyne library for further inquiry. They now sat across from each other on wooden chairs.
"What do you know?" Harold asked after some conversation. "I have doubts you even understand what they are. You're a nobody."
"I know who they are." The stranger smirked. "Because I've spoken with them."
Harold kept their focus on the man as they started to speak again.
"The first is above perception. They shift, morph, change their form in a way the eye cannot detect. They are a liar that charms. Everything I've found points to them being the leader."
The first man was one of ambition. He had lived a mundane life until he was given an opportunity, a chance to see something greater. They wanted to walk in the shadow of historical greats. Even after taking the opportunity, though, he saw no results. This man did not get the spotlight or praise he wanted, and this frustrated him.
"The second robs free will. Whether or not they choose to make you a copy of themselves, they make you a vessel for their misdeed. That is what happened to me, and it was because of them that I was able to see the first."
The second man craved the unknown. He considered his work something more than it was, and this led to his end. While his passion made him reach his goal, he ventured too far. Instead of unearthing new worlds, this man was left to rot in a room in which the lights were shut.
"I know what I'm talking about, Harold. I want to tell you about a third, even a fourth, but I can't. I've spoken with countless men, I've read so many things since I started my venture on this continent, but this is all I know. What I can tell you, though—"
The third man lacked a face after time had taken its toll. What this man did have, however, was experience. This man knew his weaknesses and would not let his hubris get to him. Like the others, this man had a goal — but he intended to follow through with it.
"There's no need to go further, son," Harold paused and sighed. "You don't have to repeat what both of us already know. Perhaps I misjudged you. But, again — you intend to kill the Dream Eaters?"
"Well, intended," the man dully responded. "You were right in saying I'm a nobody. I wanted to do something, but look at me. You think I can cross dimensions? Reach Ermianu? No, no — I've entrusted that to someone else. A person that was also chosen by them, someone that I know will act."
|Season One:||Catching Smoke • White Room • Bare Trees • One Night in Gladea • Ceasefire • Hide & Seek • The Hounds • Reunion • In Somnis Veritas • Carpe Diem • Primo Victoria • Don't Fear the Reaper|
|Season Two:||Crumbling Castle • Roaming King • Safe Haven • Marked Map • The Less I Know the Better • Riding the Wave • Centuries of Damnation • House of the Rising Sun • The Master • Everybody Plays the Fool • Loyalty|