Table for Two
"Hands off of my lady!" Reign shouted as he stepped forward, his sword flying out of it's sheath like a bolt of golden lightning. The blade crashed into Nina's skin and shattered, sending small shards of God-Slaying sword flying off into the shadowed darkness. The servant took a step back, astonished.
An aura of darkness grew out from Nina as she spoke. It was a soft and gentle darkness, like that of a starless night. It wove itself in cascades over Nina's body the more impassioned she grew. As her emotions swelled, so did her aura, and it overflowed out of her heart and into the the train car.
Miriam's eyes grew wide.
As Anazorzia crumbled under the weight of the destinies of it's thousand constituent worlds, the space around the train car had reached the critical point where reality and dreams had begun to blur. This shadow was the manifestation of the Nina's overflowing emotions, her memories, and her hope.
"You..." Miriam said softly as she tugged at her own hand. "You're just like her."
The train suddenly stopped, jerking everyone forward onto the fleshy floor. There was an explosion and the world went white.
When Nina opened her eyes the world was a colorless white. But as she blinked the sand and dust out of her eyes, things began to become somewhat more clear. She could see the shapes of the five other women on the floor. Philip was pooled a little bit to Nina's side. The world around them was blank and utterly flat.
Reign, Faea, Mnemosyne, and Cuelle were nowhere to be found.
Nina sat up. Small colored marbles floated in the air around her in hues of Blue, Red, Green, Black, and White. They held small tablaeux of some worlds she recognized and others she didn't. One held a scene of a train speeding through space, flanked by glimmering lights. Another had a group of women sunbathing on the canopy of a vast sea of trees. A older woman was sitting in a crystal world reading slowly through journals of the past. Nina knew instinctively that these were the worlds that made up Anazorzia.
Nina looked down. Her shadow turned the ground below her from a blank white space into a wooden floor. Where her hands touched the same occurred. She was bringing color into this empty world.
Where was this? Nina's thoughts echoed in the empty space.
"This is Anazorzia," came a reply. The voice was high and sweet. Full of innocence. When Nina turned to find the source of the voice, there was a small girl squatting next to her. She had red hair held back with a blue headband. Huge blue eyes smiled at her, glimmering like oceans in this white plane. "My name is Miriam Lockstar, and you're Nina! Nina Zack- Zat- Zachk-... Just Nina!"
Miriam grinned. She had a set of pretty white teeth, but she was missing an incisor. "Would you like to have tea with me?"
The shadow of the little girl painted the ground beneath her, but it expanded, reaching out to each end of the white space until Nina and Miriam were in the lobby of a cafe. Gentle beams of sunlight filtered through stained glass windows and tables set with checkered cloths hosted phantom guests. There was no one there, but there were the sounds of hustle and bustle, the tinkling of ice in cups, the scrape of knives against plates, and the warm nostalgic chatter of people going about their day.
Miriam grabbed Nina's hand and helped her up. "Welcome to Cafe Anazorzia!"
The little girl was wearing the uniform that Blue had on prior to everything happening. "How many will be dining here today?"
Table for Two
Nina definitely needed help getting to her feet and even as she stood there in this cafe her legs wobbled. Despite her abilities, despite what she had just survived, she was still only human. Not a deity, a cyborg or even a well trained athlete, she was with some noteworthy exceptions a normal human that frankly spent too much time sitting down at her tablet. There's a limit to how many times one could continue going on stubbornness and adrenaline alone, and that time had been a long time coming.
"I... think it'll be three? You're sitting with us right, you wanted tea?" Nina asked, honestly shouldering Miriam with a bit more weight than she meant to until Phillip grabbed her a chair to park her tush. "T-Thanks Phillip." She exhaled, leaning forward with her arms resting on her knees.
"You certainly dealt with that blade better than Faea did. Wonder who's holding her arm up now." He commented, surveying the area, specifically for a kitchen. "Why didn't you tell me you could do that?"
"I, I didn't know I could do that, but..." Nina commented to Phillip as she lifted her head up to look at Miriam. "We'll see how this chat goes, there might be more than just the three of us coming." She added to her original answer, taking a moment to look around the cafe weakly as she wiped her eyes, quite red from her final stand. "Do, you know what these are?" She gestured to the remnants of Anazorzia, the orbs, loosely wondering how much this Miriam knew of what had happened.
A Painted World
"They're marbles," Miriam said matter-of-factly. The small glass orbs danced around her like planets around a sun. Light flowed through them and splintered into colored light which pooled around Miriam in thick paint-like orbs. The little girl drew her fingers along the paints and from them created a small notepad. She wrote down on it some scribbles. "But a table of three is coming right up!"
Before Nina and Philip could react they found themselves seated at a booth. A cloth laden table before them set with plates, knives, forks, spoons, and three cups of iced water. Sunlight dribbled through the window at their side. Nina looked out and could see a world outside. They were in the downtown of some city. The streets were empty, a painted scene of lamps, plants, and buildings, but she could hear the rumble of cars passing by and the footfalls of an intersection during lunchtime.
Miriam sat down next to Nina. The little girl smelled of blueberries and vanilla.
A blank-faced waitress came to take their order. She was silent and her movements were stiff, but the entire ordeal was not entirely uninviting. Miriam ordered an earl-grey with milk and sugar.
The drink came almost immediately, delivered by some phantom waitstaff out of the kitchen doors. Philip saw that the kitchen was empty when the doors swung open. A blank and cold room filled with pots, pans, stoves, and ovens.
Miriam took a sip of her tea. She had a solemn look on her face.
"You've been through a lot this past day," Miriam said. Her voice was as sad as it was cheerful. Her eyes faced forward and she held her cup gingerly in both hands. The fragments of Anazorzia kept their orbit around her person. "I don't blame you if you want to leave. It's not like you wanted to come here in the first place."
A Painted World
"Heh..." Nina couldn't help but smile at Miriam's comment, her head resting on her arms. She knew this was terrible edicate and likely breaking several rules of fine dining but she really didn't have the energy. "It's gonna take more than that to get rid of me unfortunately. I'll... sleep better when I know my job's done here." She answered.
Phillip for his part was very enamored by the sighting of the kitchen, but seeing the waitress and Nina's current state he shrugged. "Given Nina's current state, matcha tea would be a good start for her. Although I can't say why I'm participating here. I would much rather be in the kitchen."
Nina lifted her head up sluggishly as the cup of tea was placed swiftly on the table, the smell of the aromatic lime green tea. "I, just don't want to lose you too." Nina said as Phillip propped her up and put the tea in her hands. "Well, there are more things to learn from you, so as you said, you won't get rid of me that easily." Phillip answered back as Nina blew at her tea before taking her first sip. "Oh, that's kinda nice." She smiled and took another sip.
"Will you be destroying the recipes and ingredients that exist in those 'marbles' as you put them Miriam?" Phillip asked curtly, causing Nina to nearly choke on her third sip of tea. "Phillip, we're trying to save a little more than just recipes here..." To which Phillip pondered a moment. "Techniques would also be useful too, yes more than just those two." To which Nina held her head with one hand, admittedly looking a bit better now that she had something in her belly. Feeling her bare hand against her forehead made her feel a guilty, the gloves Faea had crafted were gone, and very possibly never to be replaced.
A Painted World
"You're here to save Anazorzia then?" Miriam asked softly. "Do you stare into these worlds that I have created, so full of life, and feel pain for their passing?" She shook her head. "Of course you do. Who wouldn't? To you they all seem so very alive - so real. For a time I also felt like they were real. Anazorzia is special in this way - it grants the deepest desires of those who inhabit it. Those who live fear death, and so in Anazorzia, death does not exist. At least, not in the way that mortals understand it."
Miriam smiled, "The idea of mortality is enough to shatter their entire world. Did you see what happened when Anna died? Everyone was shook to their core. I want to be free, Nina, but I am bound as a custodian to this world I painted. I simple cannot leave them, for if I did the world would grow cold and dark until even time itself ceases to pass. To me, that is a fate worse than death."
"Can you imagine? Being born and then left behind by your creator in a dark place with absolutely nothing. A timeless oblivion where it is neither hot nor cold, dark nor light." Miriam chuckled to herself and finished her tea before conjuring a buffet of small cakes before herself. "Well, I do not need to imagine. That was what this place was before I created Anazorzia."
"I fear death. There is nothing more frightening to me than returning to that colorless oblivion. Yet, now I understand more than ever that death is necessary. Without it, the living can not move on because they are eternally weighed down by the older generation." She produced a vial from nothing, this time not even using the paints that she was so fond of using. It was full of purple dust. "I cannot leave these worlds, but Violet could. Neither her obsession with Shuwa nor her friendship with Syl were coincidence. Han Ankhem, the pollen of Everlasting Stargazers. My older sister, Syl, created the flowers so that she could lose her own immortality and memories. She did not like to take the mantle of God. She loved to discover, to research, and to explore. So she could not stand to know everything in all of her creation."
"My world has stagnated. It's filled to the brink of breaking. I know you mean well, but it is at this point it is a matter of the limits of my own powers. I do not have the ability to maintain a world any larger than Anazorzia is right now. And you have seen with your own eyes that even my own avatars have fell to the corrupting influence of eternal life. They thought themselves untouched - but each of them had grown radicalized by their unending vigil.
White grew guilty, burdened by the uncountable sins of the world. She was forced to shed pieces of herself in order to stay sane.
Blue grew distant, weighed down by the information she yearned to gather. In doing so she lost her spirit of invention.
Black grew arrogant and sought to extend her own influence, going so far as to attempt to expand Anazorzia using her dampening slates.
Red grew hedonistic, falling into pleasure-seeking tendencies and losing her aptitude for art.
Green grew destructive, unable to see any deviations from the natural cycles as beauty."
Miriam touched Nina's hand. Her skin pale skin was as cold as death. White paint flowed around Nina's hand and formed the silken glove that Faea had once woven for her. "Was it right for me to seek to destroy Anazorzia? To create what my children fear, what I fear, for the sake of the future? Is it wrong that I yearn to leave this Labyrinth and seek the world outside, knowing that if I leave, Anazorzia will cease to be? In the end, what should I do?"
The Rising Dawn: ArmouryHillary the Slime
| David West | Jenny
"....Errrrr-....I'll pass...." David remarked, being able as open to the idea of "Drinking" a living being as much as any other average guy.
"And while I did say that, we have weapons and objectives now. Gotta adapt to the situation. And if those bastards get out again, lord knows what they'll do." The Irishman added while Violet attempted to fix Hillary's mass issue.
"Here, try using these. Military Ceramic Plates. Designed to stop rifle rounds. It's not as heavy but it should be strong enough to keep you safe." The Doctor explained as he began to use a knife to tear apart some of the bulletproof vests left over.
Each time, he yanked out the protective plate and left it in a pile for the slime to consume.
Jenny herself slipped on one of the remaining vests before David checked the hallway.
"Alright, do your check then head straight for the bridge. Engagements at a minimum. Still outnumbered and not immortal like they are."
"Alright then. Hillary and I will do one quick sweep then we'll meet up." The Gardevoir said before David held up his hand, doing a quick countdown before both groups silently split up, making a dash for their objectives.
Jenny lead the way to the airships crew quarters, a somewhat fancy part of the ship designed for the comfort of any and all crew who live on the ship.
She kept up a small Reflect barrier up at all times, using it almost like a riot shield as she advanced onwards.
There were some slight skeleton presence here and there, mostly just finding out what having beds made out of modern materials and experiencing the comforts of the living.
"Attention anyone who can hear me. We're going to try and make our way to the bridge so we can get out of here. Regroup as soon as you can, those skeletons will overwhelm you otherwise. David is going to head to the brig, I'll be in the living quarters. Meet up with one of us as soon as you can." She spoke out to anyone in the area over and over again as she attempted to have them sneak though the area without causing a fight.
Thankfully, the skeletons seemed pretty distracted, I mean, the light switches alone were blowing their minds (Skulls?).
They seemed rather happy with themselves, even if they were the enemy, it was hard for Hillary to see that as they jumped up and down on king sized beds and other such childish actions.
A Painted World
"Well if I'm really honest, I don't know why I'm here. Saving the people of Anazorzia is just what I want to do now that I'm here." Nina answered back, recoiling a bit as Miriam's ice cold hands touched her. Goosebumps ran along her skin as the silky fibers wove themselves back together and reattached with the remaining threads that connected them to the rest of the outfit. Touching at her arm with one of her hands, she couldn't help but look a little pained. Sure it felt real, it looked real, but... this wasn't Faea's, it was Miriam's.
Nina set her cup down after another sip, being greedy about it, but she was nearly done. "Honestly, I don't know how well off I am to comment on that now, this tea is helping but... Nina started to explain, rubbing her temples with those soft silky hands of her's. "I'd be lying if I said I was drawing with a full set of crayons."
"You're not wrong to want to leave, and... you aren't wrong in introducing death. It's the way you've done in and the need for such an utterly complete deletion of this place that bothers me." Nina answered, not able to hide the head fog she was starting to experience. "The best I understand this is like a computer program or a picture file. There's only so much you can put on it before the whole thing starts collapsing in on itself. Wouldn't have thought I'd make that comparison in my life but, here we are I guess." Nina said awkwardly, trying to wrap her head around this problem. "I just don't understand, where I come from the universe is supposed to last for... well a crazy amount of time. I don't know exactly what happens by that point but it's so far in the future, and there's so many things to do in the meantime, even if it does end like that, I'm here, from there, talking to you now." Nina said, eyeing the different selection of cakes, eventually picking up a marshmallow creme filled one.
"If we're dealing with size issues, with a bit of sleep I know I could help you out. I'm pretty good at meshing things together for an audience. As for the people... I hate to say it but some just won't want this at all, and be stubborn, but even I have to admit something needs to be done here. You can't stay trapped here just for their sake, that's not right either. Even if Anazorzia is reduced to a memory, if the people who wish to move on and make something for themselves with the limited time they have, I think that'd be fair. Let the people decide if they want to move on with you to see the world outside at a bare minimum." She said her piece. Nina was still under the impression that if people were allowed to enter Anazorzia like Green had allowed, then that should be more than enough life to drive the narrative. Like a piano string vibrating another by sharing an octave. Trimming the fat, reorganizing the headcanon and retconning some aspects is what they needed, a good old fashion defrag. Nina's priority was trying to keep everyone who wanted that second chance in tact regardless of how Miriam ended up deciding to go through with this. Raising the cake up to her mouth, she took a bite and smiled. "Mmm, this is nice~" She said softly.
"But, if you could, why is it that Anazorzia will be doomed the moment you leave. You don't need to go super in depth, seriously please don't, I'll definitely fall asleep if you go into full techno babble. Try explaining it like you would a kid. It's not like I haven't heard the 'In the beginning, there was nothing' story before so why is Anazorzia different?"
Phillip for his part had mostly been remaining quiet through this little exchange, not really concerned with the people for the most part. Miriam seemed to be capable of making whatever she wished, so getting the ingredients and such from her would be easy enough. Nina nearly falling asleep despite the tea was another thing entirely, and this annoyed him. He had assumed the tea alone wouldn't have solved the problem, Nina was too far gone for food alone to help her, or at least, normal food. "Is a senzu bean on the menu? Either the whole or used in a pastry, it doesn't matter." He asked, figuring such a thing was fiction but, perhaps Miriam was able to weave even fiction into reality.
A Painted World
Miriam picked up a small cheesecake and popped the entire thing into her mouth. She looked at Nina, blue eyes shining brightly in the steady light of the painted sun. "You mean that thing from Dragonball?" Miriam spun green paint around her fingers and dropped three of the small beans onto the table. "I have only kinda sorta remember what they are so don't go blaming me if these don't work exactly like they do in the show."
The girl leaned back in the seat, the leather creaked under her body weight. "The reason why I can't leave and why I can't let more people in is pretty simple. I'm too weak. Labyrinths are maintained by their weaver and the further away we are from it, the more difficult it is to keep the strings tied together, so to speak. The more threads we have to maintain and the farther we have to do it from, the more taxing it is."
She smiled, "Having outsiders in my worlds are already pretty taxing you know. For every person that enters the world, I have to spend extra energy counter-balancing their presence. It's sort of like how a Minecraft server has to render extra blocks for each person that logs in. Actually, that's a pretty good analogy. You can think of me as the server itself and my avatars like operators."
"But that's a discussion better held some other time." Miriam chuckled. "You might be wondering why in the world you ended up here after hearing that. After all, how did someone like you end up breaking through all the barriers around this world if most planeswalkers can't? Answer's pretty simple."
"You and Philip were more or less dead. I found your souls drifting in the eternity right outside of Anazorzia, cast out who knows how long ago to drift among the ambient chaos of infinity. You had essentially done the inter-dimensional equivalent of washing up on a deserted island." Miriam put her hands on top of each other. "Besides, you have spent far too much time here already. Though it seems like it has only scarcely been a day, more than two years have passed since you originally arrived here."
"Ah, I'm all over the place today. My head's not on straight. I'm jumping from one thing to another." Miriam picked up another cake and stuffed it in her mouth. She chewed in silence. She swallowed. "Nina, be truthful with me. Do you really believe that someone like you can pass judgement on all of Anazorzia? Your solutions has simply been to tell me that I should make everyone happy and give them everything that they want. That might work in an truly infinite universe with an all-powerful god, but my universe is finite and my powers are limited. Many of the people within can never leave. They aren't strong enough to withstand the journey out. Anazorzia will be their one and only home."
"I am not unreasonable Nina, and I do not think my avatars were either, even given their eventual decay into madness. If there was a simple and obvious way to make everyone happy, I would not have sat here agonizing over my inaction for so long." Miriam turned toward Nina and leaned forward. "I mean, after all, you and I, we're not characters in a story. Our choices have consequences as real as us."
The Rising Dawn: Living Areas
Hillary the Slime | David West | Jenny | Violet
Hillary's featureless eyes looked from David to Violet and Jenny, her form rippling gently as she moved her arm tentatively to the two before slowly withdrawing it."A-alright." She said, her fingers hooking her jaw in a self conscious manner, and with a closed mouth dragged it down to sit in her lap. The move impossible for a human given their jaw, but Hillary obviously didn't have that issue. "Hillary was just trying to make sure she could help you guys." She said, looking down moreso at the floor.
When offered the plates, Hillary looked up with a look of confusion. She couldn't switch over with the amount of material currently inside her, but Violet was trying, so she should as well. Scooting over to the slowly accumulating pile, she picked up each plate with a bit of difficulty, and pushed it into her midsection and pseudopod. It was quite apparently by looking at her that Hillary was actively needing to hold those plates inside her body, otherwise they'd just fall to the floor. Even still, after the eighth plate was pushed inside, Hillary shook her head and let go of the plates, each plate falling to the floor as she moved away from them. "I know you are trying to help, but until Hillary gets rid of most of the lemonade inside her, she won't be able to switch what she is made of. She should be fine to go with Jenny like this, but I know she won't be as helpful as she was getting here." She tried to explain her situation better to these people who obviously had never seen a slime before. Before the group split up, Hillary made sure to at least grab one of those plates, holding it like a football as she tried her best to keep up with Jenny.
Jenny likely wasn't able to go at her full pace with Hillary following behind her. The slime tried her best to keep up but an occasion check at her six resulted in Jenny seeing Hillary was leaving a trail of stained floor behind them. At least she was quiet, Hillary wasn't breathing heavily, or breathing at all. Her air pocket had shrink to the size of an apple by her collar bone.
Getting closer to the bedrooms, she was cautious to look around to make sure the skeletons weren't too close before turning to Jenny. "Is it okay if we check a bedroom before we go to the bridge? She's probably somewhere outside, but Hillary didn't see her figurine there. It's very important to her." She requested of the psychic, the tone she used indicating she wasn't kidding. Whatever this item was, it was very precious to her.
A Painted World
"The very same." Phillip answered as Miriam described the origin of those holy magic beans. "As long as they have the same rejuvenation quality, it shouldn't matter." He commented as she weaved the beans into existence. "Hmm, yes those appear to be the beans..." Phillip started to say as he looked over them as Nina took one and brought it to her mouth, and took a bite. "... Hold on..." Phillip started to say as he realized what was about to happen as Nina swallowed.
Almost immediately, Nina's eyes widened as the tiredness that had plagued her was swiftly swept away. But that wasn't what had gotten her attention, or Phillip's annoyance as Nina put on a good 10-20 pounds and all in the right places! "Oh..." "I..." "My!" "Here it comes..." "GOD!!" "I should have seen this coming..." Nina stood up as best she could inside the booth while Phillip recoiled, pulling out a blanket from within in some fruitless attempt to hide. Thankfully the silk was able to stretch as her new chest was now a chest! The extra energy reserves of the beans had to go somewhere, and now Nina was looking quite a bit like Mnemonyse if a bit smaller. Sure she was getting squeeze hard in her outfit, the lines of the silk that wrapped around her whole body were far more noticeable.
"Phillip! I never knew these existed!" Nina squealed like an idiot, reaching out as Phillip tried to jump away only to be squeezed into that awaiting bust. "ACK! Nina, let go!" He whined as his tendrils flailed around while Nina hugged him like a teddybear. Nina listened to Miriam describe the limits of her powers, up until the point that Miriam dropped the bombshell that the duo had died in some form or another.
"W-What?" Nina remarked, visibly stunned as Phillip got dropped back down onto the booth's seat. What did she mean she was dead, or that two years had gone by already?! That made no sense! But she just continued talking like that wasn't that big of a deal or anything, and instead handed her a question that rated right up there with 'What is the Meaning of Life?' "That would explain why there's an odd difference with some of my tendrils..."
"I-I don't know!" Nina exclaimed, scratching at her hair vigorously as she dropped herself back down to the seat. "You're right, I really can't but fffff-" Her fingers fidgeting violently as she tried to make sense of the myriad of directions she could take this. "How the hell do you know we're not, you and I could just as easily be in the same boat as them, some characters in a story about... fuckin' pants! Who cares what! We could be side characters for all we know, and you're just like "Come on Nina, stop being such a bug and let's move on." but I can't help it!"
"I'm just trying to save anything I can of this place. You and your avatars have made it sound like I'm some big hotshot here, super smart with some fancy PHD in badassery, but honestly I've just been bumbling my way throughout this mess this whole time! I was just supposed to be going to this party but now I'm being told we somehow died and got sent to an entirely new place than the place we got taken to... well yesterday technically! I just don't want them to be completely lost." Nina explained, burying her face in her hands. "She does get like this from time to time... It's grating on your patients but the amount of times she's stayed up well into the night in some last ditch effort to archive someone's tasteless scribbles is far too numerous... She's stubborn to a fault and will continue to move the goalpost until something goes her way. It's troublesome, but she does manage to make cooking for me easier, so it is tolerated..." "Not scribbles, wholesome art..." She corrected through her hands.
Right to Rule
"I did not anticipate it happening this way, but this will work just as well."
The black clouds above crackled with lightning in response to Rugal's display of overwhelming power. Angry blue streaks arced within the shadowy depths of the storm. Then the flashes of light began to turn red. And finally the lighting turned green. The clouds started to shimmer, streaks of perpendicular lines lit up the underside of the storm cloud, running parallel to the earth below. Rugal recognized the pattern immediately.
The entire sky above them had turned into a circuit.
Livia and Julia stared up in disbelief as the cloud began to throw itself toward the ground in spiral funnels. Immediately the air became suffocating, filled with the biting odor of ozone and oil.
"This is bad." Kyuubey said as he ducked beneath Julia. "Rugal, your power far eclipses the amount of energy that would have been released when a magical girl hatches into a witch. Why in the world did you think such an excessive display of power was necessary?"
The Incubator smiled as it waved it's tail back and forth. " This Labyrinth needed to end. This result is not functionally different from what I had originally planned." Then it turned and ran away, vanishing into the tall grass of the plaza.
The main body of the cloud had begun to descend down toward Rugal, the ripping winds creating a dark tunnel into the depths of darkness. He could see the green lights within caused by steady pulses of small arcs of lightning. All the aggression in his mind and heart struggled against the shadows, but they quelled him.
Rugal could see out of the corner of his eye Livia collapsed on the floor. The stone vessel cracking along it's spine, letting loose rays of golden light from within.
Rugal first forgot how to hate, then he forgot how to think, until finally he even forgot how to breathe.
"I had thought I felt a familiar presence."
Rugal woke to the voice of a familiar stranger. He could hear the telltale hum of airship engines. When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring at the decorated wood ceiling of the Rising Dawn's iconic Canteen. Cold air washed over his body. He turned around to find him staring out of the starboard windows of the airship at a green field that stretched to the horizon.
The stranger was sitting besides him. It was a small black amorphous blob that he had known once upon a time.
"It has been a long time, Rugal Bernstein," it said. It's voice was synthesized, but unique. Old, patient, kind, and vaguely English. "Ah. I have not spoken in such a long time. It feels good to hear my voice again." The singular green eye on the creature flashed to indicate it's speech. "So long... so long... It has been more than two years, I believe. In some ways you have changed so much that I scarcely recognize you, in other ways, it is almost alarming how little you have changed."
"Do you still remember when we first met? During that fighting tournament that you held... back when there were still villains to fight? There were so many of us back then. Now... I can scarcely see four or five in all of existence. I have managed to reach even less. I did not like all of them... but I do miss them to some degree now that they are gone." The black creature turned from the window to look at Rugal. "Surely you must feel the same way."
"Four survivors." It continued. "In my two years of searching I have only found four survivors. The rest have fallen into oblivion. Either forgotten by the world or they lay unmourned in unmoving time."
"I wonder," it laughed, "do you even remember who I am, Master Bernstein?"
A Painted World
Miriam laughed at Nina's excitement. "How wonderfully lively you are!" Miriam leaned back into her seat and looked up. Her eyes were filled with a wistful emotion. "You were thrown into an incredible situation, Nina, and you rose to the challenge. If nothing else you should be immensely proud of that. You've placed the weight of Anazorzia on your own shoulders. You, with your magnanimous heart, want everyone to be happy. Yet, you are only one girl."
Miriam took off her headband. The stone glistened in the light of the sun. "When I was young, much younger than even now, I lived with my mother. We were poor, desperately poor. Each day my mother would wake up before sunrise to stalk the river valley for stones brought in by the high tide. She looked for precious stones to sell to goldsmiths in the city so that she could buy food for us. On a good day she could find all sorts of small stones, rubies, emeralds, sapphires... on a bad day she could at least find pearls, geodes, or opals in the sand. She worked hard so that we wouldn't starve. We rarely did.
But on the most fortunate days she would find chunks of lapis. Lapis was prized by the dyemakers for making the most expensive of colors - ultramarine. Finding a node of lapis pure enough to synthesize ultramarine could feed us for weeks on end. But competition for lapis was intense among the scavengers." Miriam ran her fingers over her headband, gently tracing a line of white marbling in the azure stone.
"One day there was a catastrophic storm. The waters of the river grew so angry that they flooded the valley. The weight of the water collapsed the city into the mines beneath it, and the collapse of the caverns brought down the mountains around the valley in a tremendous landslide. We were trapped inside our cave by a rockfall.
Unable to break out my mother brought me and journeyed deeper into the cave. A winding labyrinth of darkness, water, and crystals as sharp as knives. We wandered for weeks in the dark until we came upon a crevice that glimmered with light.
The opening was too small for my mother to pass through, but she pushed me through."
Miriam was silent for a moment. "Father found me shortly after. He was a tall and dark man. He told me he was visiting from someplace far, far away. He told me that he was surprised that anyone was alive. The world had been flooded for forty days and forty nights, ravaged by unending wind and water. He expected that there were no other survivors.
I told him about mother and he dug into the mountainside where he had found me to search for her, but when we broke through enough of the stone, we found the tunnels empty. But in the room where I had last been with my mother was a piece of lapis so pure that it shone like the sky. The stone was bent down against the wall, as if in quiet prayer. Father looked, but he could never find my mother. No body, and no trace. Then he took me away from that world and made me his Daughter. We took that piece of stone from that world, and from it he fashioned for me the color that would one day become Anazorzia."
"I think you are just like me. Your world ended, but some benefactor has seen fit to bring you to the edge of my domain. I do not know what fate expects of you, but I do know that you are bound for great things. Your love for the world is more than enough evidence for me. But, perhaps saving Anazorzia is not the great thing for which you are destined. Perhaps you are not destined to save even me..."
There was a long pause.
"Oh?" Miriam stood up and turned around toward the entrance to the cafe. There was the ring of a bell as the door swung open. "Welcome to Cafe Anazorzia! How may I help you today?"
There were two people standing in the lobby. One was a young dark skinned man, the other a pale redheaded woman. They both wore thick armored robes and breath masks over their faces. The young man took his mask off, revealing a bewildered expression.
"What in the world is this place?" Vihaan said.
Yona took off her own mask. "It looks like... a diner..."
Miriam looked slightly miffed. She cleared her throat and said again "Welcome to Cafe Anazorzia! How may I help you today?"
"It's a place like a cafeteria where people go eat. It's much more casual, more geared toward families." Yona's eyes fell on Miriam. "Look, it's a girl. Is... she the Daughter?"
"Maybe? I don't really sense any magical energy coming from her though."
"Welcome to Cafe Anazorzia! How may I help you today?" Miriam repeated again in a more strained cheery tone.
A Painted World
"You say that, but it doesn't make me feel much better about it." A muffled whine came from her as she rested her head on her arms. "And... okay sure, you're technically older than I am, but at least I have all my adult teeth in..." She commented, raising her head just enough to eye the little munchkin, not exactly appreciating being called a girl by what appeared to be a child.
It was at this point that Nina sat up to listen to Miriam's story, giving the little girl her full attention. The story of poverty and heartache certainly struck a nerve with Nina as a very empathetic look made its way along her face. She hadn't had to deal with poverty, at least not to that stark degree, her parents had worked hard sure, but they had made some good investments, saved where they could, a good head on their shoulders. It was when she described her mother's last ditch effort to save her precious daughter that Nina finally broke down, having to reach over to grab a napkin to dry the tears that had been held back up until then. It was gutwrenching really. "And now she's crying..." Phillip somehow managed to deflate even more than he already had. "Shh shh, let her finish!" Nina commented back in a hush, to which Phillip responded with what could be described as an eye roll.
And finish she did as Nina got up to move over to the bench Miriam was sitting at, sat down herself and gave the poor thing a hug. It was a tad awkward with her new size, something Nina tried to play off but she couldn't help but notice it. "I don't really know if that's exactly true, if it's my world you're talking about, or that one we were supposed to have the party in, but... What I know right now, is we both need a good hug." Nina giggled softly, holding Miriam for a short time more before getting up and making her way back to Phillip who'd gotten that fangled cookbook out. "Wait, have you not signed that thing yet?" Nina asked as she got back in her seat.
"No." He said matter of factly, a twinge of frustration in his voice. The book itself was something unlike anything Miriam had seen before, with a strange otherworldness she couldn't place her finger on. The singular page they had open was the same contract looking page with the words of "To whom who hungers for this book, must allow the book to hunger for them. Your Blood for the ink, and ink for your blood." scrawled across it. "No whenever I try and fix this, something always comes and-" The ring of the door opening to the diner cut through the silence. "... I'm not even surprised any more..." Phillip commented, not stopping as he got his jar out, the bench in such a position the two new arrivals couldn't spot him. "Here, let me help you with that, Miriam's probably got this, whoever these two are..." Nina offered as she grabbed a couple tea spoons and using the edge dipped it into the awaiting jar of inky blackness and began writing.
Unlike the previous times, which technically had never happened before, Nina didn't wait to see if the ink of the felled aberition pleased the book. If it was supposed to be a joke, these two asshats weren't making it very clear as they were ignoring Miriam. "Phillip, just keep that close to you for now..." She told him before she stood up. "HEY! She asked you a question, three different times! How about a little respect and answering her, or did your parents neglect to teach you any manners?" Nina raised her voice sternly, Phillip taking the moment to pocket his things and jump onto Nina's shoulder. "Hmph, today hasn't been a total waste after all~" He chimed, sounding uncharacteristically happy in the moment.