The Midnight Runners depart, while the monastery gets some new guests.
"You might notice, Atticus, there's no bridge or entrance to Statodnim's towers," Xanvi began. "I want you to focus on yourself, try to understand the world around you until you can will yourself to move without moving. Study your surroundings, meditate. This will be your first test."
Following his mentor's instructions, Atticus closed his eyes and steadied his breathing.
How the hell do I even accomplish this? Move without moving? I guess my only choice is to try it.
As he continued to slow his breathing down, he opened his eyes to take in the surroundings, looking for some kind of hint.
Xanvi looked towards the stone monolith and nodded, causing the letters and runes decorating it to shift around and warp. He then turned back to the ocean, before vanishing into nothing but a black cloak on the ground.
With nothing else to do, Atticus focused on the stone monolith. The letters were unrecognizable, etched in some unknown language.
As time passed, Atticus began to feel sleepy and bored of his situation. How long is this gonna take? He sat on the ground and stared more at the monolith, gazing at the words again and forcing himself to concentrate on them. After a while of staring, they seemingly began to change shape and form into words he understood.
Feeling a sense of unlocking in his mind upon reading them, he began to feel pulled apart and forward. Just as quickly as the feeling began, it vanished and his surroundings changed completely.
Atticus found himself in the center of a circular room. On each side of him was a hooded figure, seven in total. Xanvi, the only one Atticus immediately recognized, spoke up.
"Looks like you passed. Serapis, you might want to take our new brother to his room. I have a feeling he might be a little... nauseous."
One of the Dream Eaters bowed, and motioned for Atticus to follow him. The duo walked into a white hallway with wing patterns across the walls. Serapis broke the silence.
"How much, might I ask, has Xanvi told you about us?" Atticus recognized his voice almost instantly. It'd been months, but he knew this was the Dream Eater who had him kill Blossom in his dream. His muscles involuntarily tensed.
"Not much. We talked about the state of the world. I joined because I wanted to correct it."
"You seem nervous," Serapis chuckled. "Don't worry, we were all like you once. Xanvi had his opinions on the happenings of Ermianu, and we agreed with him. It's what we learned after that enlightened us."
"That would be...?"
"Xanvi is more than just a visionary. We're all connected to him on a deeper level than you could ever know. This world, and every other... It's not a coincidence that the way to bridge the gap is through dreams. Xanvi is the dreamer, this place - Not just Statodnim, not just Euclid, but all of it, - is an extension of his will. There's a part of his power in you, same as all of us."
Atticus took a second to comprehend this. Losing himself in his thoughts, he quickly felt himself jolted backwards by a cold hand on his shoulder. "You almost walked into the door." Atticus blinked to see a stone wall in front of him, engraved with a strange spiral symbol. It began to shift to the side, opening up what Atticus assumed was his room.
It was small and dreary, with no furniture beyond a single pillow on the ground and lit by a circle of blue-flamed candles.
"And this is your room, enjoy it for now. But be prepared, you have more training planned for tomorrow."
With the atmosphere of early morning blanketing the scene, most of the group - each of them wearing fresh clothes - poured into the dining hall, sitting around the table and slowly reaching for their breakfasts. Conversation was small and had died out by the time Blossom walked into the hall.
"Have any of you seen Atticus? I haven't seen him since he left yesterday morning."
"Now that you say that, I have not seen him either," Chris realized. "I was not paying full attention when we first came in here, but he has definitely not shown up all morning."
"He probably wants a break from all of what's going on. Let him be. He'll be back soon," Marshall reassured them nonchalantly.
Blackmore leaned his chair back, keeping himself stabilized with his foot, and fidgeted his fingers. He looked to be in some kind of trance, gazing aimlessly at the wall. "It doesn't feel safe here. We've been on the move for the past, what, twenty days...? I wouldn't be surprised if he got anxious and ran off."
"No," Marshall responded. "You're wrong."
"Marshall is right, Atticus wouldn't just run off like that," Blossom said. "We should look for him. What if something happened?"
"I haven't heard him since I woke up," Zade replied while scratching his chin. After a short pause, he resumed speaking. "While I've only been around for a short time compared to the rest of you, it seems very unlikely to me that he'd just leave us like that. If so though, then there must be something else going on that's keeping him from returning here... I fear the worst might have occurred."
"Maybe," Marshall stabbed at his pancakes, glancing at Blackmore. "But let's give it a bit before we come to conclusions."
The door opened. Most were expecting the Runners departing, but rather it was Li, walking through. He held his cane, muttering to himself, and walked out another door, not once looking up.
"Where in the world did Li go?" Chris wondered. "I thought he already had enough information from his friends."
"He's been like this since yesterday," Marshall commented.
With the door opening again, the Runners walked into the room. At the head of the group were the Changs and Tullemore.
"We're leaving now," Tullemore said.
Chris lied upon a red operation table, within the monastery's workshop. At a nearby table, Tetsu — who had remained behind for various reasons — prepared his tools.
"I had planned on upgrading Aes with this but I would rather give you, the original, this gift."
He prepared a long metallic sword, similar in shape to Chris' previous one. Running a cloth down the blade, he polished it, light reflecting off its shiny edges.
"Thank you very much, Mister Iwanaga. I feel another weapon will do me some good. Is that all you're doing?" Chris wondered.
"No, no, of course not," he assured the android, walking over to him. "I will see if I can fix your, er, ahem, 'rage mode.' Your code is a tad more complex than that of Aes', but I think I can handle it."
"Oh really? I would like that a lot, my super-strength has been a nuisance to me lately," Chris replied.
The elderly man grabbed a wrench and walked over to the mechanical being. "Do you know why I love androids, Chris?"
"No, I don't. Why do you love them?"
"Since my childhood, Chris, I've been fascinated," he unscrewed the forearm of the android. "Fascinated with how they work. Fascinated with your father. Fascinated with you."
Tetsu grabbed the sword arm and screwed it on. Chris rose his arm up and down, feeling it. The old man turned to the android's side. He made a few slight movements and turned back.
"The strength-rage is no more, I believe. You are free to go."
"Thanks, Mister Iwanaga," Chris said, walking out into the hallway. He was greeted by Marshall, holding a pad of paper.
"We have to go and get some things. We're guests, y'know?" He said.
Walking out of the monastery, Marshall lead Chris near the steps. Next to them, two large bovine creatures with short horns and thick, long hair stood. "The Changs have provided us with these woppers to ride to Nirvana on. We might be getting a lot," Marshall said, climbing onto one.
"These things are weird," Chris commented, doing the same. Before they could go any further, a shout from behind was heard and Blossom eventually walked up to them.
"Hey, I was wondering if—" she started, before Marshall interrupted.
"We'll search for him, don't worry. Just trust us."
Seeing the large stone archway in the distance, Lisa felt a sense of relief. The Search Party had been on their feet for ages now, walking all the way from Crehambraugh. Approaching the entrance, a gate became visible, with armored guards standing on either side of it. Seeing the group, the one on the right held his arm forward and called out.
"Halt! What business does your group have in Nirvana?"
Unsure of what to say, Lisa looked towards Dexter for the answer. He seemingly noticed her expression, as he began to speak.
"We're taking the Ferry to Muné," Dexter explained. "Visiting some friends over there."
The guard looked over to his colleague, who eventually nodded and allowed the first guard to look back at the group. "Alright, you're allowed in. Just don't make any trouble.
The guard turned around and unhatched the gate, sliding it fully open.
"Why were we stopped?" Jordan wondered. "This doesn't seem as welcoming a place as everyone said it was."
"Ahem," the guard cleared this throat before continuing. "Sorry for this, we've had to take extra precaution as Coalition forces were spotted nearby. They could launch an attack on us at any moment."
With the trip to the Ferry planned for later in the day, the search party decided to stay at a hotel for a few hours. After booking rooms, they met in Dexter's to discuss their plans.
"I think we should go shopping later," Lisa suggested. "We'll have a long trip on the ferry and who knows what we'll need in Muné."
"Are you mental?" Jordan asked Lisa. "We can't just leave with Savannah gone!"
"You saw that airship take off yesterday, didn't you?" said Florence. "How are we supposed to follow that? Every day we wait is another day that anyone else could find the Port City Eight."
"I'm not really fond of that name," Jordan replied. "But you can't be too negative. Savannah is our friend. We've really gotten to know each other well over half a month, and I'm not giving up on her."
"Jordan, Florence is right," Lisa responded. "I know that, for whatever reason, you were friends with Savannah. But think of the bigger picture - this is about Atticus, about finding him and getting to him before the GU does. We can't slack on that because Savannah decided to hook up with the Coalition. She's a traitor to our entire existence now."
"I can't take this anymore," Jordan sighed, walking over to Charles and Dexter, who were standing silently ahead of him.
Dexter sighed. "We can't do anything about Savannah. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to tell you."
He then turned to Lisa and took a small purple object from his pocket. It was the size of a small book and had light blue markings: words in a language not native to Euclid. The demon who gave it to Dexter said its "unique thaumaturgic signature" — whatever that meant — would allow safe passage through Coalition territory. It was supposedly a gift from Cicero, the legendary demigod commander of the demon army.
"Savannah was not a traitor."
Walking outside the hotel, Lisa glanced down at the list in her hand. "Jord, can you shop for extra clothes? Charles and I can handle the food."
She tore the list in half and held the other half outward.
"Alright, sounds fine," Jordan said, grabbing the list from Lisa and leaving to start the task.
"What grocery store will we go to?" Charles asked Lisa.
"I'm not actually sure," she responded, glancing around the city.
Charles and Lisa ventured onwards, until they found a nearby grocery store and went inside.
"Charles, can you get some meat?" Lisa asked there, grabbing money out of her purse and placing it in his hand. "Remember, try to act like a normal person if anyone asks you anything or if you need to pay. If things go wrong, try to get my attention."
"As you wish, miss Fiss," Charles replied, taking the money and heading for the meat aisle as fast as he could. However, this caught the attention of a man dressed in a sales uniform.
"Excuse me, but where are you going in such a hurry, sir?" The salesman asked.
"I am getting food for my friend, we have something we are late for," Charles replied.
"Oh really, what?"
"A ferry ride,"
Charles simply stood there and stared at the man.
"I'm sorry? Do you need help?"
Charles karate chopped the man and grabbed some meat out of the meat freezer, before heading to the checkout counter and buying it.
Standing near the entrance of the store, Lisa watched the crowds go by. Waiting for Charles, she paused when she thought she noticed him across the street. What is he doing there? After analyzing the man a bit more, she realized there was a slight height difference and his clothes were different.
"Miss Fiss, can explain what you're looking at?" Charles asked Lisa as he exited the store.
Startled, Lisa glanced at him quickly. "Sorry, I was just looking over there." Pointing at the man, she noticed another one walk up to him - a man with short black hair that appeared to be of faint Halan descent.
"Wait, don't you think-" Without finishing her sentence, she reached behind her and pulled a photo out of a back pants pocket. She looked at it intently before quickly looking at the two again. "It's them! Port City Eight members, that's your 'brother' and Marshall Rooke!"
"Chris is indeed operational," Charles said, looking at the pictures. "Marshall Rooke as well." For some reason, Chris and Marshall began running away. Thinking quickly, Lisa decided to pursue them, dragging Charles with her.
Reclining in a chair, Dexter leisurely clicked through the channels available on the hotel television. He settled on the news. Not the most interesting, but it would work as background noise. He retrieved a science fiction novel from his pack and began reading. The newsman droned on about the latest sporting event.
"Hold on," the reporter stopped. "We've just received word that the Global Union has located the infamous 'Port City Eight.'" Florence turned up the volume as Dexter looked up from his book.
"The group behind the destruction of Remnant Rock has been tracked to the city of Nirvana. The mayor has advised all residents stay in their homes until the criminals have been apprehended by Union authorities. We'll be providing updates on the situation as it evolves."
Florence sat perfectly still for a moment, before his eyes widened and he dropped the remote to the floor. "They're here? Right now?"
"Yep, looks like it," Dexter said. "I'm gonna call the kids, tell them to come back here."
Multiple concerns rushed through his mind as he dialed Jordan's number. Dexter's Alchemilia arrest warrant might still be valid by the Union. Chris was at risk as well. If he escaped, the search would have absolutely no leads on where he was going next.
Those thoughts went quiet as Jordan picked up the phone. "Hey, get Lisa and Charles and tell them to go back to the hotel. News just announced a stay-at-home order."
"Sorry, Dexter, but the three of us split up. Lisa and Charles went to get food, and went to get clothes. I have no idea where they are or what could be taking them," Jordan explained.
Racing through the bushes, Lisa and Charles finally came to a clearing. Ahead of them, large mountains surrounded, with stone steps built into one and stretching upwards. Marshall and Chris stood at the base, preparing to get onto their woppers.
Before Lisa could step forward, the sound of spinning blades above them made her halt. As quickly as they were heard, three large helicopters flew into view above the clearing. The sound made Marshall and Chris stop their movements, before quickly resuming - Chris was seemingly having issues climbing onto his steed in their newfound hurry.
"Chris Wellington and Marshall Rooke, we have you surrounded and we're going to order you to stop." A loud voice began to ring out from one of the helicopters. "If you don't comply, we will use force. If you just come with us and bring your friends in the monastery, no harm will be caused today. The choice is yours."
"We are not giving up on our friends," Chris snapped. "And we are not going down without a fight!" He fired a bullet through the helicopter window.
The helicopter spun out of control for a second, before regaining stability and returning to its position. The pilot placed a microphone to his mouth.
"Authorizing usage of lethal force. We're gonna need some men on the ground."
"Shit! Fuck you, tin man. Leave the woppers, let's go!" Marshall yelled, pulling Chris away from his creature and up the mountain.
As the two ran, union soldiers in body armor and ballistic masks descended from the helicopters. One of them, dressed in a long brown trench coat, what looked to be an officer's uniform, approached slowly.
"That was some fine shooting back there. Long as we cooperate, nobody needs to get hurt. Fortunately for you."
Marshall, still holding onto the android, ignored the man's orders and kept sprinting towards the monastery.
"What are we going to do when we ge-" Chris began to ask Marshall before he tripped on one of the steps and fell.
The officer reached to his side, grabbing an angular matte black revolver. "This is the Alchemilia REX-series revolver. Six shots with as much power as a shotgun. You don't want to be on the receiving end of this, so I'll ask once," He spun the chamber with his thumb. "Where are the other six hiding?"
Chris stood up, staying silent.
"Do it now!" A commanding voice yelled out, taking the moment away from the first officer. "This is a very powerful machine and probably has various defense mechanisms, but I don't care! Just fire! Get it down!"
The sound of guns clicking filled the air and various ropes flung forward, wrapping themselves around Chris. Retracting his left hand, his sword slid out and he began slicing at the ropes, cutting them in half and watching them fall. He raised his other arm, and attempted to fire at the men. Failing due to the weapon jamming, more ropes were shot at him, managing to get wrapped around his arms and preventing him from moving them further.
The men continued to fire and soon had Chris covered in ropes, restraining him to the ground. Turning their attention to Marshall, who was running up the steps still, they fired more shots and managed to tie his legs together, tripping him. With both figures down, the Union soldiers rushed up the steps and surrounded the two.
"Charles, stay here," Lisa snapped. "If anything happens, return to the hotel and tell the others." Without waiting for an answer, she dashed from the bushes and ran towards the steps. Slamming herself into a member located at the bottom of them, she managed to knock the man down and leap over them. Pausing for a split second, she continued her dash until she reached the ring of soldiers. Chris was still in the same location, but Marshall was propped up against him, handcuffed.
"Stop," she called out. The soldiers turned their attention to her as she reached down into her purse and pulled out a simple pistol. With her hand shaking, she aimed it at the men. "Let them go!"
The first officer turned. "...And you must be Melissa Devlin." He fired at the ground in front of Lisa, and with a powerful sound the bullet ricocheted behind her pistol and into her wrist. The officer quickly moved closer to her, grabbing the gun and swiftly disassembling it. "If none of you are going to talk, we'll just have to take you three in."
Lisa dropped to the ground, using her other hand to hold her wrist, blood quickly dropping down it. Wincing in pain, she attempted to speak. "I'm n-not Melissa Devlin. You're confused."
"That was a little underwhelming. I expected more from the ones who took down Alchemilia. I guess you three were just the B-team." He dropped the pieces of Lisa's gun into a plastic bag. The officer looked at one of his comrades. "Search Wellington. We know he has some kind of weapon on him. I'll get Rooke and Devlin onto the helicopter." The soldiers complied, and with little resistance, the trio were loaded onto the descending vehicle.
"Have you gotten situated? I would hope that you find yourself comfortable here."
"Yes, I found a room to put my things," Savannah said. "Where are we headed to?"
"The airship will be going to Awgalahaga. It's a coalition-occupied city here in Aiola. We'll be going to my quarters, it's adjacent to a small sparring room."
"Never heard of the city," Savannah said. She looked out the big windows and studied the landscape. "I've never sparred before. I hope that won't cause any problems."
"With how you handled yourself in Crehambraugh, I doubt there'll be any issue," Cicero said, walking past a wall lined with artwork.
They continued to walk in silence until they reached the sparring room. It was square, and fairly empty. There were some weapons lining the walls, and a few mats scattered across the room.
"Where do we start?" Savannah asked as she positioned herself in the middle of it.
"I'm sure you already know this part, so I won't bore you with the details, but the most important part of battle is-"
Cicero slammed his elbow towards Savannah's chest and swept his foot at her ankle. "- the element of surprise!"
Savannah flailed her arms and fell to the ground. "Isn't fighting the most important part of battle?" she asked, annoyed and glaring at the man.
"The idea of a fight is that you end it as quickly as possible," Cicero placed his hand onto the clasp of his cloak, dropping it to the ground. Two raven-black wings were revealed, and they quickly spread themselves out, displaying an impressive wingspan. "There are swords and shields on the wall. Some should be a similar size to Ahriman."
Cicero extended his hand towards the wall, and the largest sword came dislodged from its display. The thick Zweihänder looked to be rough and unpolished, as though it were cut from raw metal. It flew into Cicero's hand and though the sword appeared to be as big as he was, it fit comfortably and he wielded it fluidly. To his other hand, he pulled a disproportionately small shield with the symbol of an eye embedded into it.
Savannah examined a few swords before settling on a onyx longsword with an intricate golden hilt. The sword was comparable in length to Ahriman, though its blade was much thinner. The girl found it much easier to carry. She chose the first shield in her line of sight. It was a bit hard to pick up, but she held onto it with ease.
"Let's get to this, then. You've got a few millennia of experience on me, so I won't go easy on you." Savannah felt like Cicero was smiling under his helmet. He lunged forward, swinging the monster of a sword downwards at Savannah.
Savannah tried blocking it but the force of blow caused her to nearly fall over. She stumbled, trying to regain her balance.
"Maybe try not to be too hard on me," she grumbled. "I don't exactly know how to wield a sword."
"I'm sure you'll learn," Cicero pulled back his sword. "Come on, try to hit me."
Savannah slashed at Cicero's torso. He blocked it with ease. She gritted her teeth, growing increasingly frustrated as many attempts to hit Cicero were countered with ease. It was not long before she was covered in sweat, her breath becoming ragged. She gave an angry cry and lunged at Cicero. He knocked the sword out of her hand and brought her to the ground.
Cicero twirled the sword in his hand and pointed it at Savannah. "We're going to be here until you can land a hit on me. God is not an easy role to fill."
Hizu Mino, Duke of Maling, had attended a great many conferences in his years serving Her Majesty Ki'Yoki, yet this was the first to be involve a great number of armored beasts sitting at the table. The only "normal" men in the room were Nuyovian diplomats, all of whom looked just as out-of-place as he. The demons muttered among themselves about recent battles and why the meeting had been called. Mino avoided making conversation. He knew better than to gain the ire of these creatures.
The door to the meeting hall opened. Demons turned their attention to Dasim, the one who had called the meeting. He towered over some of them, just as they towered over Mino and the Nuyovians. His armor did little to hide the many scars across his body. Dasim took a seat at the head of the table.
He cleared his throat. "Let us avoid wasting any time. This meeting was called to discuss an issue which has been plaguing our union: leadership, or lack thereof." Many of the assembled exchanged confused glances. "Some of you will consider what I am to propose as treasonous. You are free to leave at any time. You are not obligated to participate in my attempted reformation. Just be aware that any attempt to inform Cicero of will be discussed here will end in your death. Compatriots to my plan have already been embedded where needed."
A Nuyovian diplomat whispered something to another in his native tongue. Mino assumed it was shocked disbelief at Dasim's claims. The other diplomat responded with quickly and angrily, likely telling his companion to keep quiet.
Dasim continued. "Cicero is not fit to rule us. I do not say this lightly, nor am I especially thrilled it is true. Following Xeren's capture and execution by the Powers, the role of commanding the demon army was mine. This was not what Xeren had asked, but the young Cicero was not yet experienced enough to take on his late father's responsibilities. When he was ready — or, as I have come to understand, when I assumed he was ready — I let him take my place. This was a mistake, one which I hope to correct as soon as possible.
"His time has been spent not leading his armies or governing his people, but chasing the past. Cicero's obsession with finding his father's supposed resurrection have lead to a number of failures in our attempts to expand. The campaign in Thales is only the most recent." The old demon turned his attention to the Nuyovian ambassadors. "Alchemilia, though not a willing ally of ours, was instrumental in supplying weapons to the Svatovid. Their destruction has not helped our friends in Mesto and Vilebluysk." He turned his away from them. The diplomats appreciated not being stared at by a horde of demons any longer.
Dasim's eyes narrowed in anger. "Perhaps the worst is his handling of the Crehambraugh Incident. A group of Thelsh thugs enter our territory, kill our people and allow the Union to retake our city. Cicero's response? He lets their leader onto his airship. He lets her associates come and go through the Coalition's borders. Why? He thinks that somehow this human woman is Xeren, returning from the grave. What a load of birfi shit!" Many of the demons looked absolutely stunned by his exclamation. He sighed.
"Cicero cannot let go of the past. It is impossible to make sense of his actions. It is my hope that he will see reason when I confront him. My hopes, however, are distinct from my expectations. That is why you have all been invited here. If we are to challenge Cicero's rule, we must be prepared to do battle with him and his loyalists."
|Season One:||Catching Smoke • White Room • Bare Trees • One Night in Gladea • Ceasefire • Hide & Seek • The Hounds • Reunion • Saccharine • 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|