>>>>CHAPTER 4: HEART OF THE KINGDOM
The Heroes have all been re-united, sans their bubbly Voidsprite pal, of course. The Trio now finds themselves walking through the GREAT AETHER FIELDS
, a huge expanse of pastures, lowlands, and light forests. At the very center of the field, reportedly, lies the impressive walls of the Royal City.
Travel is slow but steady, allowing the Heroes a bit of a breather and to catch up on their adventures. Ralph talks about how much fun he had in Lonsville and how awesome his new horse is, who is currently walking alongside the Heroes and carrying all of their stuff in satchels. Without access to the Cosmic Locker, Cast's voidey storage space, they've had to travel a bit differently. Ralph is still also without a sword, which bums him out, but both he and Chad (also weaponless) are learning more about Magic from Lauren and honing their skills.
There is a brief flash-wherever to Cast. He is shown waking up in quite the decadent room; diamonds glitter all around, there's a deliciously comfortable bed in the center of everything, and pictures of strange creatures everywhere. He also notices a few other exotic animals snoozing in cages or perches around the room. Now wearing some sort of magic crystal collar which locks his form and prevents teleportation, much like the magic bubble, he pouts in the corner of his glass cage. However, soon a girl enters the room with a fox-like creature following at her heels. Wearing a tiara and a beautiful dress, the girl introduces herself as DOMINIQUE
, a Royal Lady.
After just a couple days' worth of mundane travel and fighting off the occasional generic Slime creature, and some Fox-like monsters, the group comes upon the Royal City walls. The city's 8 gates are reportedly heavily guarded. The Trio stows away in a large group of traveling merchants, and overhear that it wasn't always like this--in fact, the security has only been increased since the Queen hired a quartet of strange new advisers. They manage to sneak through the gate anyway, despite not having the appropriate "clearance cards", when Lauren distracts one of the guards by lighting a fire on top of a caravan.
Once inside of the city, the three are immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the whole metropolis. They arrive in a large business district and immediately lose track of how many shops and stalls surround them, all offering different products and services. Eventually, the three come upon a nice green park, and take a rest. They gather their thoughts, and turn to what exactly must be accomplished in this city: the goal is to get back to Terra, and Ralph spear-heads the charge. They have to track down this enigmatic MACHINIST
and see if he/she really does have a means to breach the worlds. Lauren also reminds them that she wants to visit the Royal Archives, a huge Library chronicling all of Aether's history and peoples, and try to find out about her Mother's whereabouts. Chad states that he doesn't have much of a goal, but knows that it's important to find out about the ROGUE'S GUILD
and at least find some friendly faces in the city.
They are approached by a security officer, who chews out Ralph for allowing his horse, Ilex, to munch on city grass and leave her unattended. Not wanting to cause a stir, the three take Ilex to the nearest horse-hitch, which is in front of a simple-looking bar, and decide to head inside.
Immediately, the three saunter up to the bar and are eyed by the mysterious bartender. Sassy and black, she introduces herself as JANICE
and offers them up a few drinks. Without money, they decline, but Janice at least gives the three some mugs of water, commenting that they look tired. The Trio chats for a while, all while under Janice's watchful eye. They decide to visit the Archives first, but the barkeep scoffs. She tells them that the Archives has been closed to all but the most prestigious of Royal personnel. They'd need a very, very
high-level CLEARANCE CARD
to get in. Stumped, they try to think of something else to do. Chad suggests that maybe tracking down this "Rogues' Guild" is the way to go.
But Janice intervenes once again. She says that she's willing to cut a deal with the Trio: she is currently in need of a FOXNITE
, an exotic pet that's simply all the rage with the aristocrats. A status symbol made popular by the Queen herself, who is enamored with all things fox-kind. But not just any
Foxnite, oh no. Janice has caught wind of a rare SILVER FOXNITE
lurking around the city walls after dark. If
the Trio manages to snag her the creature, then she has the resources to get them a GOLD CLEARANCE
, granting access to a huge wealth of places in the city. Lauren states that they aren't too sure it's a good deal. Janice then casually comments on how she's only asking them since they are so very obviously
not from "around here." A glint in her eye means that she suspects they are the Heroes. Her bar doesn't crave that sort of reputation, and she might just have to alert the Royal Guard.
...Since this is basically now a JRPG fetch-quest and
blackmail, the group has no choice but to accept! They decide to head off; Ralph asks Janice if he can leave Ilex at her hitch for the day, and the sassy barkeep is okay with it.
The Royal City their oyster, the crew sets out in an attempt to locate a spare Foxnite. They decide to split up and meet back at the bar come nightfall, even though Chad wryly notes splitting up never seems to work well for them. Regardless, each one sets off to a different corner of the city. Chad sets off aimlessly; he asks Korzar for advice, but the water spirit is of no use. Eventually Chad notices that he's in a shittier part of town, but shrugs. His magic could probably fend off any streetwise Aether thug that this city could throw at him. Eventually he stumbles across a tent that claims to be a fortune-telling stall. Curious and with no other leads, he enters the tent just as some sort of shady Ralph lookalike leaves.
Sitting behind the crystal ball table is none other than some strange Chad lookalike. Chad looks his bearded doppelganger over and shrugs. The fortune-teller introduces himself as the great ZEPHRY
and offers a reading, for a modest fee. The hero refuses, on the grounds he has no money. Not dissuaded, Zephry hints that Chad is looking for something--something important
. Blowing this off as typical "fortune-teller" b.s., Chad is nonetheless suckered in since he has nothing else to do. He reveals a secret bag of Royals, stowed away from his time with the Troupe, and pays the fortune-teller.
Zephry looks into his crystal ball, and some images of clouds spring forth. Prognosticlouds, according to the fortune-teller. Only those with gifted blood can read them. Suddenly, Chad finds this whole process eerily familiar. He gazes deeper into the crystal ball alongside Zephry, and immediately sees flashes of images in the clouds. He sees a familiar face--that of his father--and speaks up. Zephry is overcome with shock that someone else can decipher the clouds and retreats further into his tent. Confused, Chad keeps leering into the crystal ball, and sees a few more images: a strange beaded necklace-thing, a long-forgotten friend, a fox-like creature, and then Lauren's face. AHA! Lauren found the fox, obviously. He leaves immediately, but not before taking his Royals back, claiming Zephry didn't actually do anything. However, as Chad leaves the tent, Zephry warns him of things to come, and that he will be seeing Chad again, very soon. He senses that the two of them share a strange bond of some sort.
Meanwhile, Lauren has become distracted with the bounty of Magic shops and Clothing stores. Though without money, her appetite for fashion and accessories is curbed. Instead, she manages to stumble upon what appears to be an exotic pet store/indoor zoo. Upon entering the shop, she sees many strange creatures, some appearing to be "tamed" versions of monsters they have encountered on the journey. She inquires about Foxnites to the man working the store, a surly, heavily-accented dude named DEVEN
. He grumpily shows her to a pen of rambunctious little fox critters that can teleport all around at will. Lauren recognizes them as creatures found in Aether field, and notes the strange barrier around their enclosure that prevents them from escaping. It looks like some sort of Enchantment, but she refrains from asking needless questions. Instead, she simply asks how much they cost; Deven states about five thousand
Royals. Lauren nearly has a money aneurysm, but a plan bubbles in her wily little head. She inquires a little more about the Foxnites, and finds out that they are attracted to shiny objects. Deven also accidentally lets slip that he's out hunting a rare one that comes by the city walls at nightfall. Lauren winks, thanks him, and resumes shopping.
She nearly runs into another customer, a young woman in many assorted shrouds and scarves, a Foxnite of her own wrapped around her shoulders. Lauren excuses herself, and cannot help but think the other girl is somehow very, very familiar. The two engage in a brief conversation, whereby the cloaked girl states that she is a frequent patron of this pet store, and recently bought a very strange, but darling, talking cat. Lauren is shocked, positive that she means Cast, and presses the girl for more information. Now suspicious and uncomfortable, the girl quickly excuses herself and hurries from the store, only to vanish in a puff of smoke from her pet's influence. Lauren is confused, but happy that she could find out some useful info. She prepares to meet back up with Ralph and Chad, but not before some...window shopping...
It goes without saying that Lauren and Chad have just come in contact with their strange DREAM SELVES
. Throughout the story, whenever the Heroes fell asleep, they would be witness to a dream where someone who looks just like them was living day-to-day in a parallel fashion. DREAM RALPH
was a no-nonsense thief, stealing a strange mechanism from a shop and delivering it to none other than the Mysterious Stranger, in exchange for the latter's information on the location of his vanished friend, The Machinist. He then solicits help from another friend, the fortune-teller Zephry, who is also DREAM CHAD
. Zephry tells him more information can be sought in some sort of large bastion of knowledge. D.R. assumes that is the Archives, and breaks in one night with the help of a trusty grappling hook. There he digs through books to find some sort of map, only to be interrupted by none other than DREAM LAUREN
. This strange girl, who has a Foxnite familiar, introduces herself as Dominique. She is a member of the Royal Family, though not by blood. Dominique often steals away at night with the help of her pet to read some of the books and maps that are strewn about the Archives. Dream Ralph (who we find out is named Jake) absconds back into the night, having found what he was looking for.
Needless to say, these are very mysterious characters! Each one is linked to a Hero through their dreams, and now seems to be living their alternate dream lives within the Royal City.
Anyhoo, back to Ralph!
Our favorite swordsman during his day's travels found himself outside of the GALEFORGE ACADEMY OF SWORD & SORCERY
, a huge palace-sized academy for young swordsman and magic-users to train and hone their skills. He witnesses a fierce duel of blade and spell on the perimeter of the grounds; everything proceeds as usual until one of the young combatants cheats and hurls sand at his foe's eyes before brutally disarming him. Ralph jumps into the fray and chews out the offending cheater, only to get brushed off and threatened.
A commotion breaks out, and the HEADMASTER
of the school approaches. He breaks up the scuffle, but Ralph keeps his cool. The headmaster, known simply as SIR RASHOU
, tells Ralph that he should not meddle in the affairs of the school. Ralph argues his case, pointing out the unchivalrous tactics that the sassy young man was using, and how his own instructor, Mr. Caspar, would never stand for that. Ralph states he will prove that virtuous tactics will prevail in a duel. Rashou, curious that Ralph is apparently a swordsman-in-training as well, questions him as to why he does not have a sword. Ralph awkwardly admits to having lost it (due to the battle atop the roc). Rashou states that he will provide Ralph with a blade, so long as Ralph duels him
. Never one to turn down a challenge, Ralph accepts!
The duel takes place inside of a fancy chamber within the school. Ralph is armed, and faces down Rashou. The Headmaster fights for his students' reputation, and Ralph fights for his own ideals. The duel begins! Despite Ralph not having near as much experience as the headmaster, he still manages to hold his own, and Rashou notes that the two share nearly identical fighting styles--stances, specials, everything. Only by using a technique that Ralph has not yet mastered does Rashou disarm the young hero, but not before commending him on a battle well fought.
Rashou offers Ralph a place in the Academy under a special contract for as long as he cares to learn, impressed with his sword skills. Ralph, embarrassed by his defeat and needing to meet back up with his friends, declines. Rashou wishes Ralph well, and allows Ralph to keep the sword.
Ralph departs from the Galeforge Academy and soon meets back up with his friends at the bar. They each exchange stories, before settling on a plan: Lauren suggests they lay a trap and wait for the Silver Foxnite, capture it, and present it to Janice. The boys agree, and they wait a few hours until nightfall has passed. In the veil of darkness, the three friends hide away at a remote corner of the city walls, undetected. Chad stays atop the vantage point and begrudgingly throws his royals down to the field below. The foxnites are indeed attracted to shiny things. Ralph and Lauren drop to the wilds using Lauren's Eolian Winds. She then casts an invisibility enchantment and the two manage to wait for the elusive Silver Foxnite to show up. While they wait, Ralph and Lauren share an undisputedly romantic moment, huddled together in an invisible forcefield hunting monsters in the sunset. Suddenly, Chad yells down to them as he sees the Silver Foxnite approach. Ralph and Lauren prepare themselves to leap upon the creature, but then out of nowhere, DEVEN
appears and attempts to nab the rare specimen for himself! He lobs another one of his MONSTER-CATCHING SPHERES
at the Foxnite, but it darts out of the way. Lauren breaks her Enchantment, and a chase ensues. Deven recognizes Lauren from his shop, and gets mad at her for ferreting in on his goods. As they all chase the Silver Foxnite, Ralph and Lauren must combat both the rare monster (who is also exceptionally powerful) and Deven, who reveals himself as a master SHADOW THIEF
(....and Pet Store Entrepreneur). He uses a lot of wily shadow magic techs to fight off the two Heroes. Eventually, the three manage to corner the Foxnite. Lauren attempts to lure it in with some gold, while Ralph fights off an increasingly-aggressive Deven. Ralph pulls out his Bracer to attack and--surprise--the Silver Foxnite is enamored with his shiny artifact! The two quickly abscond with the Foxnite in tow, and Deven stews in his own defeat.
After wasting the night away, the group presents the barkeep with her new Foxnite the following morning. Janice is overwhelmed with happiness at finally procuring a Foxnite, and instantly fixes a special collar onto the creature, as well as an ornate bow. She thanks the three Heroes for snagging her new pet, and makes good on her end of the bargain--opening up a secret passageway to the city's many underground tunnels, she directs them to a hideaway of the ROGUES' GUILD
There, they come face-to-face with a gaggle of mysterious thieves, bandits, etc. Janice vouches for the trio and then absconds, her duty done. The thieves, still wary, pry and test each of the Heroes for potential espionage. They eventually out themselves as the Heroes of Fate. The Rogues are slightly convinced, and make good on a Gold Clearance for the Trio. Expecting some sort of weird card or certificate, the Trio is instead presented with an ornate, golden dagger. The rogues state that having this dagger will grant them into all sorts of strange back-alley and black market establishments, as well as free use of the tunnel system. Chad seems to recognize the style of dagger, and then asks to see the King of Thieves, but is told that their mysterious leader would not bother with such a petty exchange.
Lauren asks how they are to get into the ROYAL ARCHIVES
. The group is told that since THE QUEEN
is visiting elsewhere in her realm so oft of late, the Archives are closed to the general populace until further notice. However, it just so happens that one of the tunnels leads right into the information hold, and the Trio is told to wait until nightfall before they will be granted passage. The group of Rogues disperses, but Deven appears to have been on the fringe of the Guild, listening to the three Heroes.
Before they are forced to depart until nightfall, a lone robed figure approaches the group. A blind prophet of sorts, known as TELETHA
, the woman states that Lauren and Chad have properties of those with magical heritage. Their AWAKENINGS
unlocked latent powers in their blood, normally only accessible to those of Fey descent. Lauren and Chad ruminate on this for a moment, and then flee the underground.
Janice offers the Trio a room for the day, and they graciously take her up on the offer. The Royal Archives will wait, and sleep is a valuable commodity on this quest. As the Heroes all lie down to slumber, they seem to share an intertwined dream. Each one assumes control of their dream doppleganger, and all three of the dreamy characters begin talking to one another. They all stand in a black, featureless room. The conversation swings around many topics, from fate, to love, to the future, to whatever else. It is apparent that these three know one another. As soon as they make mention of two
other Heroes, these two from Aether, the dream fades and all of our Team Terra Heroes wake up!
After having some light lunch at the tavern and discussing a plan of action, the Trio makes their way back to the the UNDERGROUND
. The mysterious Teletha meets them and points them down a passage, telling them that it will be a bit of a hurdle--some of the passages have been flooded recently. Apparently, the Queen is quite paranoid of invaders sneaking into the city and routinely flushes the underground network. The Trio makes their way through the catacombs, fighting a few monsters befitting of an underwater dungeon level, and soon ascend up a large shaft into the main floor of the Royal Archives!
The Royal Archives houses an infinite array of books in its labyrinthine corridors. From fiction, to cookbooks, to world history...everything is within their grasp! The trio splits up, with orders to reconvene at a central table as soon as possible. They book around the library, exploring the shelves, asking librarians for help (not really), and eventually snagging a bunch of reading material. Lauren is perusing through the archives of Kingdom citizens, but having no luck in locating her mother's identity. Chad, meanwhile, manages to find a tome on the RULING GODS
of Aether. It also has a world atlas, and maps out where each God resides. Ralph has found a sizable stack of books on swords and legends. He is just about to return to the study table when he receives a text from NOX
The enigmatic man, after being so silent for the last few days, suddenly directs Ralph to one particular book: an encyclopedia of METAPHYSICAL MAGICKS
. He shrugs and grabs it too.
The three Heroes meet back up and pour over their stacks of study material. Lauren ferociously speeds through the ROYAL REGISTRAR
, but is still no closer to finding any new information. Chad discovered that the SAGE OF EARTH, GALATHEL
, actually serves as an adviser to the QUEEN
. He wonders what sort of significance this holds. If ALACIUS
is truly hunting more Ruling Gods, could he have already infiltrated the City as well? A quick check with Korzar has the God of Water confirm that he indeed feels Galathel's energy in the city, just as strong as ever.
While Ralph is just sort of absently leafing through the book on Metaphysical Magic, he comes across something unique on the TERRA BRACER
. Apparently an artifact of great power, it possesses a twin known as the AETHER BRACER
, which has been sealed away, according to the book, in "another world". When combined, the power of both Bracers grants the wielder mastery over SPACE
, one of the 4 Metaphysical Elements. He brings it up to the group.
Lauren is surprised to hear there are an additional 4 elements. Apparently, her Book of Magic covered no such topics. She asks Ralph to read some more about it, bored of the Registrar. He shrugs and glosses over a few more facts about the SPACE
element. A Master of Space will have the power to cross dimensional boundaries and other nifty things like teleportation. He soon realizes that this could be their ticket back to Terra! But, without the Aether Bracer, they can't access such a power. And the Aether Bracer is, presumably, in Terra, mirroring its counterpart.
Chad then jumps in about something he read a little while ago. Apparently the RULING GODS
were entrusted with the ability to lend the raw power of their elements to certain artifacts in order to do...something. He goes back to the book, leafs through a few pages, and then announces that the BRACERS
are mentioned as one of these artifacts. Everyone is suddenly abuzz with excitement. Ralph asks how many Ruling Gods there are in total; Lauren and Chad immediately respond with SIX
. Ralph rolls up his sleeve and presents the Terra Bracer: exactly six runes are present around its surface.
Lauren suggests that they could use these 6 ESSENCES
, obtained from the Ruling Gods, to unlock the Bracer's potential, and bypass the necessity for both of the bracelets. Ralph wonders if that could work. If it does, they could use it to get back home. No need to enlist this mysterious "Machinist" guy that everyone forgot about. Suddenly, all 3 receive a message from Nox simultaneously.
he messages simply.
Ignoring the creep factor of Nox for now, a new plan is set into motion. Lauren takes the book on Metaphysical Elements and decides that they must keep it. Ralph suggests they rent the book, but Lauren has other plans. She casts an Invisibility Enchantment over the book and decides they'll permanently add it to their collection. Though admittedly, without Cast there, it will be hard to hold into all of this stuff. Lauren also tells Chad to commit the locations of the 6 Ruling Gods to memory. He says that Korzar can handle that.
The Earth Sage would logically be first on their list of Gods to visit. If he indeed resides in the ROYAL CASTLE
alongside the Queen, it would be a reasonable visit. Ralph just wonders how easily they could get into the Castle. Not only are they Heroes, but they are under the guise of random citizens! Surely the Queen would not permit them an audience.
Suddenly, a voice addresses them from the shadows. Revealing himself to be our good friend JAKOB
, the young rogue says that he has been spying on the group ever since they arrived in Janice's Bar. Chad threatens him, and Jakob pulls out a golden dagger. They immediately recognize it as property of the Rogues' Guild, just like theirs. Jakob states that he is only here to offer some advice. Chad and Lauren are hesitant to believe him, but Ralph suddenly realizes that Jakob is his Dream Self! He steps between both Chad and the thief, who are almost ready to fight, and says they should hear Jakob out.
Jakob says that he doesn't have much time, but if they want to get into the Castle, he has sources in the ROGUES' GUILD
stating that the Queen will be leaving the Castle on some sort of ambassadorial trip in two weeks' time. Despite this being far-off, the Heroes agree that it's probably their best shot to get inside of the Castle. Lauren asks why Jakob is helping them; he says that someone
told him to. He also states that he is a supporter of the HEROES
. Before they can press him for more info, Jakob vanishes. Chad says that he's a huge douche, but seems familiar. Lauren agrees on that point. The familiarity, that is.
Now with two weeks to burn, the Heroes wonder what they should do. They go back to the Tavern and decide on a new plan of action. Lauren decides that they can't waste the resource of the Archives, and presumes that she will spend most of the time here in the Library. Ralph decides that if he has time to burn, he would like to return to Galeforge and take Master Rashou up on his offer to be trained. Chad doesn't really know what he'll do, and thinks it's boring to wait around. Janice overhears him at the bar and offers him a job there until the gang figures everything out. He accepts with a shrug. Everyone is excited, but Lauren reminds them that the two weeks isn't all fun and games. It's important to stay sharp, keep an eye out for trouble, all that other stuff. Chad also brings up that they actually need to find a way into
the Castle--perhaps a Tunnel?
So yeah, everyone goes about their business for the next two weeks. I honestly wasn't sure how I would be handling this, since it could have been sort of boring, but whatever. Character interaction
, am I right or am I right? Probably via the trio telling each other of their daily adventures each night.
Ralph would spend his time at the Galeforce Academy, of course! Rashou readily took him in. Though the Headmaster usually charged an exorbitant fee for his teachings, he gave Ralph special consideration for the two weeks of lessons. In no time at all, the young Hero was gaining incredible skills with the sword. New special attacks, some cool new titles, and a few new friends. He also became rather adept at using DOUBLE SWORDS
. It was all pretty great. Upon learning the MEGATON THRUST
, one of the most powerful sword specials, he commented that he was nearly at Caspar's level! He was also given permission to wander the halls and all that sort of cliche boarding school stuff. One day, Ralph happened upon a hidden room. It told the story of the Academy's founders: two legendary students who, thousands of years ago, would be deemed HEROES
and be involved in the CATACLYSM
that split the worlds in two.
...Or that's the how rumor goes. Rashou walks in behind Ralph and begins talking to the curious young Hero. He states that he actually believes the tale, and that the two HEROES
surely still exist, in some form or another. Even after all of these years. One of them, chivalrous and a master swordsman, was lost to the ages. Not even his name remains. The other, in command of unstoppable magic, is said to be the first King of Aether, and the Queen's (very) distant Ancestor. In fact, Rashou states, long ago the Galeforge Academy and the Royal Castle were connected. There are still likely passageways leading between the two.
Meanwhile, Lauren's been doing some killer research every day in the Lib. In addition to mapping out the locations of the Ruling Gods in preparation for a cross-world journey, she has also been learning a lot about the Metaphysical Majjyks. The four Metaphysical Elements described are: SPACE
, and CHAOS
. She has come to hold a great deal of respect for the sole author of the tome: a mysterious KEYELLA
. This lone scholar studied the 4 Metaphysical Elements, performed countless trials and experiments, and eventually wrote down all of her findings and compiled it into the book. Lauren is simply in awe of all the work that went into it.
She is particularly fascinated with LIFE
magic, which is essentially the combined energy of the 4 main elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Wind. The book states that mastery over all 4 could cause the user to unlock latent Life potential that lies dormant in his/her body. The book postulates that when the world was split in two, magic became volatile and was at risk of vanishing from the worlds completely. The RULING GODS
were created as channels for the elemental magic. Light and Shadow, the remaining elements, were responsible for keeping the forces of CHAOS
in check. Lauren isn't too sure what all of this means, but she knows it is important, and likely linked to their new quest.
During all of this, Chad is keeping relatively low-key. Although his new job is nothing too exciting, he enjoys the work, and likes meeting all of the crazy people that call Aether their home. Janice likes him as well, and the two form a good bond. She has given Chad a free room upstairs to use these two weeks, which he has of course shared with Lauren and Ralph nearly every night. It has afforded the Heroes good bonding time, and they reminisce on days past when they were all extremely close friends. What are they now? Friends again, or simply drawn back together by the whims of some crazy fate?
We finally move on to our fourth friend. Poor CAST
is still stunted in his cat-form, serving time as DOMINIQUE'S
exotic pet. The collar he has been fitted with somehow tampers his powers, and he can't seem to convince the young lady to let him go. However, Cast has managed to find out some key details about his predicament. Dominique, her formal title a Lady, is Royal, and daughter to the Queen. However, Dominique is adopted, and therefore not of royal blood or in line to inherit the throne. That duty is of her brother, TYRATH
, a sinister young Prince who has his sights set on complete world domination. She confides with Cast that the Queen adopted her due to her exotic looks, and she has never truly felt like a part of the family or Kingdom. In fact, she feels as if she may be from ANOTHER WORLD
entirely. She passes time by collecting exotic pets, and sneaking out of the castle at night to take books from the Library and see her new friend, some sort of roguish young man. Though Cast has grown to understand Dominique and pity her in a sense, he still knows his duty to the Heroes, and vows to escape.
On the final eve of their two weeks' "vacation", the Heroes are gathered in their room and planning with their agendas. The whole city is buzzing about the Queen's absence, which is great, but Lauren still realizes that they need a way to actually get into
the Castle and find Galathel. Amid the brainstorming, Ralph suddenly remembers that there are supposed to be secret passageways in Galeforge leading to the Castle. He suggests this, and the other two agree that it's probably the best shot. They decide to put the plan into motion the following night, and get a good night's rest.
Dreams are the typical fare, interspersed with scenes from their dreamy doppelgangers. Ralph sees Jakob in a dark alley, likely waiting to meet someone. A shadow jumps from the wall, and Deven reveals himself. The two are both a part of the Rogues Guild, after all, and begin conversing. It's vague, but Jakob refers to a plan that he's involved in that may get kind of messy. Deven presses him for more info, and he reveals that the Heroes may in danger, and it could all be his fault.
Dominique is seen conversing with Cast and her pet Foxnite. Lauren retains enough lucidity to recognize Cast, and tries to call out to him. Finally, Chad spies Zehry gazing into his crystal ball once again. The "Prognosticlouds" show a series of strange images that Chad doesn't recognize. One of these includes some strange-looking, green-haired dude with engineering goggles.
The plan is set into motion the very next night. The three Heroes head out of the tavern in the middle of the night, and Ralph leads the way to Galeforge. Due to the fact he has access to their facilities at all times, he is able to slip by a fence and sneak through the courtyard from memory. Lifting up a window whose lock he removed a few days prior, the heroes sneak into the school and quietly meander down the halls, avoiding patrolling teachers and late night mischief makers. All the while, Korzar tells Chad that he feels they are being followed.
They eventually make it back to the room where Ralph heard the legend of the Two Heroes. He immediately goes to work looking for a secret door, thinking that this would be the most likely place for it to be. He tells Lauren and Chad to look too, but they are currently looking at all the legendary items and texts on display.
Suddenly (wonder how many times I've started a paragraph like that, huh?), the door to the room shuts behind them. Everyone turns to see that Sir Rashou has entered, armed and dangerous. He suddenly withdraws his sword upon seeing Ralph, but remains suspicious. He asks what Ralph and his friends are doing here. Although Lauren and Chad are prepared to fight and/or lie their way out of the situation, Ralph decides to tell the truth. He tells Rashou that the three of them are HEROES
, and are on a quest to get back to Terra, and also possibly save both worlds. In order to do this, they need to get into the Castle.
Rashou immediately understands! Despite being allied with the Queen, for she has always supported the Galeforge Academy, he trusts Ralph. The Royal Family may be calling for the capture and subsequent beheading of the supposed Heroes, but Rashou believes in their quest. He suddenly moves for the Academy Trophy Case, and removes one of the trophies to reveal a hidden switch. The room shakes, and a door on the far side of the room reveals itself, leading down to a dark tunnel. Rashou then relinquishes his sword and gives it to Ralph, wishing the Heroes luck. He tells Ralph to keep his wits about him, and trust his heart among all else, before departing.
The Heroes exchange a few words, and then head into the tunnels. The passageway leads them to a dark underground chamber filled with many valves and tubes of water. It is likely a Sewer Level, and they fight a couple more aquatic-themed enemies before progressing. As they reach the apparent end of the tunnel and prepare to scale a vast spiral staircase, none other than JAKOB
appears and tells them he has been tracking them. He apparently needs to get into the Castle and would like to join them on their quest. Though suspicious, Ralph immediately trusts him. Ralph asks Jakob what he is looking for in the Castle, and Jakob simply responds with "answers." Lauren asks him if the Earth Sage indeed resides there, and Jakob confirms. It seems they have a new party member, for the time being.
The party ascends the staircase, and eventually reaches a wooden door. Though it is locked, Jakob quickly picks the lock and they enter a back corridor of the Castle. Guards still seem to be about, but most are either sleeping or easily bypassed. Since the Queen is out, Security is at an all-time low. Jakob comments on how lucky they are; if Queen TYRIA
were to catch anyone snooping around, they would instantly be killed. If they were found out to be the Heroes who threatened her Kingdom, their punishment would be tenfold.
Chad asks how that would even be possible, while Lauren inquires as to why the Heroes are blacklisted throughout the Kingdom. Jakob answers both questions: Queen Tyria has recently enlisted a shadowy group of strange men as her personal assistants. She also has meetings with some enigmatic Sorceror, who has provided her with some sort of powerful WEAPON
to safeguard in exchange for something. He doesn't know exactly what it has to do with the Heroes, but knows that the price on their heads only went public after she took on these strange, masked ambassadors. This troubles all of the Heroes, but they continue to press on.
Meanwhile, we're back to Cast. He is once again hanging out alongside Dominique and her pets, and has seemingly resigned himself to his fate as a talking cat forever. Little does he know that the Heroes are inside of the Castle, almost within shouting distance. He absently plays with a ball of yarn. Suddenly, Dominique decides to have her two favorite pets play dress-up. Cast is sat next to Cappy, her Foxnite, and the two are given some fancy hats to wear. Dominique also ties a bow around Cappy's neck, but this seems to agitate the creature, and he quickly teleports off of the bed. However, Cast is quick to notice that his hat and bow do not travel with him. They lie uselessly atop the bed. It is now that the Voidsprite has a particularly devious plan creep into his head.
As Dominique hmph
s and attempts to find some new pet accessories, Cast quickly lunges at Cappy. The Foxnite has no idea what has hit him, and the two animals go tumbling down on the floor, fighting and clawing each other. Dominique is suddenly in hysterics, and tries to get in-between them, but to no avail. Cappy then breaks free and tries to teleport away, but at the last second, Cast digs his claws into the Foxnite's fluffy tail. He is teleported to the other end of the room alongside Cappy, and is suddenly free from his collar. Shouting in glee, the Voidsprite quickly shifts back into his true form, a bigass butterfly.
Dominique is both in shock and awe. She doesn't know how to react, clutching the collar in her hands. Cast knows that she was just a lonely, misguided girl, and forgives her, but flees her room. Turning intangible, he flits through her door and out into the corridor. He realizes that he senses the Heroes very close by, and rushes off to find them! Don't they know it's dangerous in the Castle?!
The Heroes and Jakob arrive in the abandoned and dark Throne Room. Only a few simple magical glowing light balls in the corners give them any sort of illumination. Ralph asks how close they are to finding the Earth Sage. Jakob says they're here. He backs up a few steps, and leads the Heroes into the middle of the Throne Room. They look around, dumbfounded, before a sinister laugh fills the room.
A magical sphere appears around the three Heroes. Jakob runs backwards as four dark purple portals appear around them. Out of three of them emerge black-clad, masked figures. The fourth reveals himself as none other than the MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
, sporting his newly-mechanized arm. The three others, who we know as KHOLER
, and BYLE
, remain still and quiet. The Mysterious Stranger thanks Jakob for leading the Heroes right to him. However could he track them in such a large city without his help? Jakob reluctantly accepts his thanks, but then demands the Stranger hand over his end of the bargain.
The Stranger laughs and taunts Jakob. He states that he never intended to hold up his end of the bargain. He states that THE MACHINIST
will never return to the city, and will remain forever in Exile. He never even had the power to fulfill the promise, and Jakob was a sucker for buying it. Furious, Jakob draws a knife. The Stranger laughs again, and uses his Special Attack to trap the rogue in his dastardly BLOOD BONDS
He then turns to the Heroes, who seem to be trapped in the strange bubble. The Stranger commends them on their last battle, and on eluding him for the better half of a month. He never stopped searching, and was growing rather frustrated. The Crimson Wyvern, his hitman, didn't even phase them. The Stranger comments on "disposing" of the mercenary, and then turns his attention back on the Heroes. He states that their end is near. Using the Queen's resources, and one of the Prince's magical ENCHANTMENTS
, they have finally been caught. The Stranger states that his BOSS
will soon be around to apprehend them.
Ralph, frustrated at this turn of events, demands to know who the Mysterious Stranger really is. Chuckling, the Stranger finally removes his coat and fedora. He is revealed to be another one of the VOIDWALKERS
, and states that his name is BLOOD
, the leader of his brothers. They have defected from their master, the Lord of the Void, and now serve someone new--a time-traveling sorceror named ALACIUS
. Everyone gasps.
During this monologue, the gang tries to come up with a plan. Lauren recognizes the bubble as a Forcefield Enchantment. She immediately gets to work on a Counter-Enchantment, but it's unclear as to how long that will take. Hopefully they can buy some time. Ralph and Chad are ready to fight, whatever happens.
However, everything comes to a standstill as another figure arrives on the scene. A short, bearded, demented-looking fellow appears in the doorway, two guards flanking him. Blood gasps as PRINCE TYRATH
reveals himself, and is giddy with insane joy upon seeing the three Heroes in his throne room. He demands to know what Blood and his Brigade plan on doing with them.
Blood responds that this is none of the Prince's concern, and also why aren't you with your mother right now???
. The Prince laughs, and says that he wouldn't dare leave the city with the likes of these weirdos in charge. He was hiding away in one of his many STRONGHOLDS
, spying on Blood and his Brothers. Blood demands to know how he pulled this off, but Tyrath ignores him and counter-demands that the Heroes be slaughtered for their crimes against the Kingdom, and readies a spell.
The Trio is in a bit of a bind. Blood states that the Heroes must be captured
and presented to his Master first. Tyrath asks why, and Blood simply responds cryptically, that Tyrath would "understand soon" and that his Master is not one to be trifled with, much like the Prince. Confused by this, which angers him further, Tyrath prepares to unleash his spell. As the devastating shadow beam leaves his hands, Lauren disenchants the forcefield, and the trio are able to jump out of harm's way at the last moment.
The resulting blast knocks Jakob free, who promptly makes a quick escape. He mutters an apology to the Heroes before fleeing, but is otherwise out of there. Chad suggests they follow suit, and Lauren reminds them that they need to find Cast and Galathel, or something
!!! (Wow, this turned out to be the worst quest ever). Blood orders his cronies to seal the Throne Room. They do, surrounding all exits with Blood Bonds. With no way out, a three way Brawl begins: The Trio vs. Blood vs. Tyrath.
Blood unleashes the full power of his Voidwalker powers, flash-stepping, teleporting, and using Blood Bonds all around the battlefield. He also has utility of his deadly mechanical arm, and there is always the looming threat of him unleashing the menacing DARK METERS
. Tyrath meanwhile uses a variety of Shadow Magicks and is an incredibly powerful sorceror. He and Blood seem to focus on one another, which is good for the Trio. They fight in unison, taking stabs at the other two combatants whenever possible. Blood and Tyrath bicker, apparently having a history of distrust. Tyrath knows that they've been manipulating his mother, Queen Tyria. Blood accuses Tyrath of just being a dangerous nobody that will never inherit his pathetic kingdom.
Tyrath's two Royal Guards fall quickly to Ralph and Chad. This turns his attention on the Trio for a moment, but he and Blood cannot seem to keep out of one another's hair. Eventually, the Voidwalker unleashes his Dark Meters, which rend the throne room apart. As the Trio and the Prince attempt to dodge everything, Chad and Lauren decide to look for a way out. Ralph thinks it best to distract Blood, and engages him one-on-one. Meanwhile, Tyrath readies a special technique. His THEOPHANY
allows him to absorb the Dark Meters and convert them to more magical energy. Blood, preoccupied with Ralph, orders his cronies to seize all three of the other fighters.
Meanwhile, Cast (who has been flitting through the Castle's corridors) senses a huge welling of magical energy. He's drawn towards it, and phases through the Blood Bonds into the Throne Room. He immediately sees the Heroes, and is overjoyed to be reunited with his friends. Lauren and Chad immediately rush to him, but the other Voidwalkers intervene, and chase down Cast in an attempt to capture the Voidsprite once again.
Prince Tyrath is now hot on the trail of destroying Lauren and Chad. The two seem outmatched by the powered-up Prince. All of his magical skills hit with deadly precision, and he's even capable of firing off his own Dark Meters attacks. Ralph, meanwhile, actually seems to have Blood on the ropes. Using the techniques he picked up at the Galeforge Academy, he is able to slash circles around the dastardly voidwalker. The two flash-step in tandem, and end up crossing paths with the other fight. In the mix, Blood escapes behind a blast of Tyrath's Meters. The Trio focuses, and performs a Trifecta Attack that successfully disarms the Prince, KOing him for the time being.
Cast has been dodging the Voidwalkers in an attempt to reunite once again with the Heroes. Kholer, Byle, and Flem are hot on his tail. Cast accuses them all of being traitors to their shared Master, the Lord of the Void. It is revealed that both Voidsprites and Voidwalkers serve the Lord of Void, but the Voidwalkers defected when their leader (Blood) jumped ship to better waters. Kholer also inadvertently reveals that he has been supplying intel to Prince Tyrath in hopes of usurping Blood as leader of their little Brigade. The Voidwalkers then begin to bicker with each other, and Cast gets away in the confusion!
The Trio then focus all of their energy on subduing Blood. He attempts to fight them all off, but Ralph, Lauren, and Chad's powers have all grown since their last encounter. Lauren and Chad work together and are able to trap Blood inside of a frigid prison while he's busy dueling with Ralph. Instead of outright ridding themselves of him, the Trio attempt to question him--What do the Voidwalkers want? Where is the SAGE OF EARTH
? What is the deal with their new Master?
Blood is predictably scant on details; he simply bemoans that their powers are growing stronger, and he is outmatched. Blood decides to tell them that he serves ALACIUS
, their time-traveling, sorcerous foe. He has been acting as the fiend's envoy in an attempt to undermine the Heroes' predestined quest to reunite the two worlds. It was started originally many years ago, when he drove Lauren from Aether. This did little to dissuade the Fates from rerouting the Heroes' path. He then pulled them through the Mobius gate years before they were supposed to stumble into Aether in an attempt to sabotage and/or kill them. However, it too obviously failed, and now Alacius wants them all alive for some sort of mysterious PLAN B
The Trio is furious upon finding out that Blood so blatantly ruined their lives, dragging them into this ridiculous inter-worldly quest. Blood scoffs and tells them that it was simply fate. Any of the thousands of possible timelines all have them crossing the worlds in one way or another. Lauren asks him where Galathel can be found, but Blood refuses to answer. He refuses to knowingly give them the power to cross back over to Terra. They allegedly 'can't cause any trouble'
here in Aether. Thankfully, moments later Cast appears, and tells them that he can help them find Galathel. Reunited at last, the Trio decides to put the Castle--and the Royal City--behind them.
Tyrath begins to stir. The Prince is furious at having been bested, and unleashes another spell. His fiery magicks fuse with the Dark Meters that he absorbed and are unleashed in one massive, duedly beam. Lauren manages to whisk them all away using her Eolian Winds, but Blood is seemingly obliterated and the Throne Room begins to collapse.
The gang flees down the halls, not exactly knowing where they should go. The Castle continues to rumble, and Lauren can only assume it's because Tyrath's spells are out of control and going to bring the whole place down. As they run through the endless expanse of castle corridors, they run into Lady Dominique. She has Cappy (The Foxnite) in tow, and asks what's going on. Cast tells her to flee immediately and get out of the city. Confused, but trusting of her once-pet, she does, and has her Foxnite teleport her far away.
Lauren asks Cast where Galathel is. The Voidsprite responds that he actually doesn't know, and just wanted to grind Blood's gears--the two have sort of old enmity between them. They decide that they can all figure it out, but first have to escape the Castle. Cast says he can do that, and has information that they should follow a certain path out of the rumbling Castle. They eventually stumble across Jakob, who tries to apologize for deceiving them (he 'had reasons'
). He tells the Trio that he can get them out of the Castle. Of course, the Trio does not want to trust him, especially Ralph. Cast, however, vouches for the Rogue, and tells them that he's the one consigned by Fate to lead them out of the Castle.
They begrudgingly follow Jakob down to the basest levels of the Castle. Magical fissures are appearing even this far underground, it seems. The Castle surely cannot withstand too much more of whatever onslaught the Prince has wrought. Jakob leads them to an underground canal, and they all leave via boat. Chad uses his Water Magicks to propel them more quickly through the subterranean channels. The Heroes are now safe, but reportedly have a long paddle ahead of themselves. Chad agrees to keep charge of the voyage, and Jakob keeps navigating. Ralph and Lauren fall asleep after a time, as does Cast, who returns to his cat form. Chad and Korzar have a conversation, which Jakob accidentally overhears. The Water God wonders why he was able to sense Galathel in the Castle if the Sage was not there. Jakob states that according to rumor, the Queen, her Advisors, the Prince (or any combination thereof) were somehow able to EXTRACT
from the God. Rogues' Guild intel states that something fishy is going on in the EARTH TEMPLE
, the Sage's old grounds.
Hours later, everyone is greeted to morning sunlight. The boat has docked on a riverbank far from the streets of the Royal City. A lone caravan stands before them, smoke pouring out of its wooden vents. A horse munches grass and a firepit sits idly next to the large wagon.
Ralph and Lauren wake-up, and disentangle themselves from a cute accidental cuddle sesh. Chad helps Jake tether up the boat, and the gang makes their way up to the camp. Chad demands to know where they are exactly. Jake tells them that they've finally found his old friend, someone who he has been looking for ever since his exile a year ago: THE MACHINIST
. Everyone gasps. Ralph asks how Jake knew to take them here, and the young Rogue responds that he knew that the Heroes had to be reunited.
Yep, Aether has its own set of HEROES
as well, and the Machinist is one of them, Jake briefly says that he had to use a lot of different sources to track the guy down. It's a long story, but there's no better place to hear it than from the exile himself.
The group walks up to the wooden door of the wagon, and knocks. There's a bunch of clattering and couching from inside, and then someone asks who it is. Jakob responds, and then the door quickly swings open to reveal...
Post 2 of 2!