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.
Rising Dawn Canteen
That was the first thing Rugal said once he realized where he was, he was no longer in rome but was instead back home on the airship.
His words were slightly confusing but it quickly became clear that he knew more about what had happened to him then most.
"That explains the presence of Nanotechnology in such a realm. But-...what of Livia? What of Julia? I was just about to-....unless....You were the Mishima this whole time. You were the one taking control of that world's people...which begs the question: Why?" He bluntly asked as he looked around the airship, seeming a little disbelieving that he was actually back.
"...Is this really home or is this just another construct of yours? You clearly have far more power then you let on. I'm just trying to make sense of what I've been through and how it serves you..." He then asked, adjusting his gloves as he sat forward with his arms out front on the table.
"I'll confess I don't entirely understand but that's why you brought me here, isn't it? If you weren't going to explain yourself, you wouldn't have sat me right across from you..."
The Rising Dawn: Living Areas
Hillary the Slime | David West | Jenny | Violet
"Sure thing, just watch yourself, Leoric still has a lot of his forces hidden around here." Jenny warned before using her Psychic powers to make a bit of a distraction for them.
Wagging one of her fingers, she pulled on one of the roof lights in the hallway before it suddenly sparked and exploded, drawing some more of the skeleton creatures out of their search to find out what the hell that was.
Waving Hillary along, she was able to get them inside one of the bedrooms, using that trick of hers several times again to create a rather spooky effect as soon the hallway was in darkness.
The clackering of bones shivering in fear filled the air, much to Jenny's satisfaction.
"Alright, I think I brought you some time. Make it quick, these parlor tricks will only last so long..."
As Hillary looked around, Jenny's radio went off as David's voice barked: "West to all points, subjects in the brig are still secure. Either they're all playing dumb or they all have zero idea what's happening either. Whatever the case, I'm digging in here to make sure. I'll regroup with the rest of you at the Bridge soon. Oh, and Violet says hi-" "Hi!" "...Right, West out."
Peering a slightly open door, Jenny kept watch while the skeletons outside fearlly stomped on the glass and circuits, worried they'd come back to life and explode on them again.
"Guess they are thick-skulled..." She smirked to herself before giving them a real fright, having one of the broken bulbs "lunge" at the investigating party, prompting them to fall over each other as they ran off.
"Alright Hillary, where you able to find anything or should we check another room? Think fast, this time window of ours ain't getting any higher."
The Rising Dawn: Living Areas
Hillary the Slime | David West | Jenny | Violet
Hillary nodded in agreement to Jenny's plan, although she had no idea who this Leoric fellow was. Regardless she'd follow Jenny's lead and keep behind her as best she could. Slipping inside the bedroom, Hillary quickly looked around the place. This wasn't Miia's room but with some of the damage the skeletons had caused Hillary couldn't be sure right away. But as Jenny asked her how things were going, Hillary pivoted around on her pseudopod to look at her, shaking her head, the air pocket inside of her expanding before she spoke.
"Hillary hasn't found it yet, but I think she should find it in Miia's room. That's where she left it last, I hope that's okay?" She asked slowly scooting back over to Jenny by the door, the ground oddly not getting covered in lemonade as she did this. "If I remember right, Hillary went to the room..." Hillary paused as she took a moment to count on her fingers. "Three doors down, and on the other side. That's where we should go." She offered pointing in the general direction they should be headed.
Out into the hallway, a door flew open as a skeleton came running out, flailing about as it appeared it had gotten its head stuck inside a light fixture with all the damage Jenny was causing. It might not get the skeletons distracted from their already spooky experience, but at least one would point and laugh.
A Painted World
Vihaan and Yona turned to Nina and took a step back in surprise. The air tensed. The silence dragged on for several moments, each becoming more awkward than the next. It took several of these moments passing before Yona broke the silence by uttering the simple two words, "You're alive?"
Nina could deduct easily from the incredulity dripping from her words that Yona had not expected Nina to have survived whatever had happened before she found herself in Anazorzia.
"Come now," Miriam interrupted. Somehow in the brief moment between words Miriam had lodged herself firmly in the space between Yona, Vihaan, and Nina. Her red hair bobbed up and down as he let out a frustrated harrumph. "Did you really expect Nina to die here? Anazorzia is not a bad neighborhood by any sense of the definition."
Vihaan unbuckled his armored robes and pulled a badge from within. It was a gold pin wrought in the shape of a winged ship - the insignia of the Rising Dawn and the organization that supported the heroes. "We meant no disrespect. It's just that so far we have not reached a habitable world."
Miriam took two short hops backwards so that she put Nina between her and Vihaan. The young girl's eyes narrowed, suspicious of her new guests. The marbles that floated around her person tightened their orbits. "What do you mean by that."
Vihaan held up both of his hands, "I did not mean any harm by that. We are travelling right now, gathering the scattered remnants of the Rising Dawn. We have been two four worlds so far and this is the first one that we found to have... intelligent life..."
"What worlds?" Miriam asked.
"An ashen world named Samda, a jungle world named Shuwa, and most recently a hellscape that was once named Ypris." Yona said flatly. While Vihaan had stripped himself of the bulky armor, revealing thin silk robes beneath, Yona had made no motion to undo any of the heavy clothes that hung from her shoulders. "The heroes we recovered there were locked in a sleep that resembled death. Vessels robbed of their souls."
"Impossible!" Miriam shouted. The paint around her person grew agitated. "There's no way that those places are dead! Those are my sister's worlds!"
"Hunger and Syl are dead." Yona responded in her aggressive monotone. "We were unable to recover Alesha's body from Ypris, but we are reasonably certain that she is dead as well."
"Yona!" Vihaan's voice was sharp and biting. His glare was colder than ice. "That's enough!"
Yona cast a sidelong glance at Vihaan and tutted. "There's no point in withholding that information."
"Rest assured, we mean no harm. We are simply thrilled to see that Nina is safe and sound. It has been a long journey for us and our repeated failures have taken their toll on our crew."
"How many of you are there?"
"Two dozen including Yona and me. We have a dimension-boring airship we have been using as our base-of-operations ever since our world was shattered." Vihaan tried to smile, but it came out as too forced. Yona smirked at him.
"Then I would say that we will have more than just two guests to serve?"
The words came unexpectedly from behind Miriam. Everyone turned around and found Blue standing up, the brilliant azure of her eyes and headband shimmering in the sunlight flowing in from the windows along the far wall. She was holding two menus in her hands and her gentle-monotone voice reflected the wistful far-away look she held in her eyes. She had at some point changed out of her chef's uniform into the more revealing and frilled uniform of the diner waitstaff.
Miriam looked just as confused as everyone else.
"How many guests will we be having today?" Blue asked again gently.
"A table for two please." Yona answered in a pleasantly uninterested tone rivaling Blue's own emotionless candor.
Blue bowed, "Right this way please."
Yona started immediately after Blue, sidestepping both Nina and Miriam.
"Hey! Wait, Yona!" Vihaan called out after her. He looked back at the entrance and then back at Yona as she journeyed deeper into the diner. "Are you serious right now?"
Yona took a seat at a table and Blue handed her a menu and poured her a cup of water. "Please take your time." Yona nodded and opened the menu.
"Yona!" Vihaan called again.
Yona turned around, "Well?"
"What do you mean 'Well?'!?"
"Well, are you just going to keep standing there like a lost child? Or are you going to sit down and order something."
Blue approached Philip and plucked him from Nina's shoulders. "I will be borrowing Philip for a bit. I believe Red will need assistance in the kitchen." She turned around and carried the tentacle monster into the kitchen. As the doors opened they could see Red hard at work on multiple stations, her brilliant fires leaping from pot to pan as she danced between the aisles. Green was bringing raw ingredients by the tons from a staging area that Black was managing from on top of her floating tablets.
Vihaan looked at Miriam, unsure of his next actions. "May I?"
Miriam gave Vihaan a long hard look and then relented. "Let's all take a seat. I'm sure there's a lot of things that need to be explained for all parties involved." Her marbles and paints settled down into their loose formation around her shoulders.
When Nina, Miriam, Vihaan and Yona were all settled in at their tables, White came bumbling through the kitchen doors carrying two platters in each of her arms and one balanced precariously on her head. She rushed past them to several tables at the back, unloading heaps of eggs, pancakes, and sausages at the tables. Where once there had been nothing by empty space and phantom customers, there were now many people sitting at the tables of the diner.They were people of all sorts, many of which Nina recognized from her time on the Path of Destiny.
A young woman caught her gaze and waved at her. The gentle cascade of violet-hair was unmistakable. Mnemosyne was sitting at a booth near the back, chatting with an older blonde woman over tea and biscuits. The older woman turned to follow Mnemosyne's gaze. She smiled when she saw Nina and waved. The two looked incredibly similar and held themselves in a similar way.
"I'll have the strip steak, medium rare, and three eggs done over easy. I also want an order of pancakes, a side of hashbrowns, and a tall grapefruit juice no ice, add honey." Yona's order snapped Nina back to her immediate surroundings.
"Is this vegetarian?" Vihaan asked, pointing at something on his menu.
White nodded, "The stuffing is made with pureed mushrooms. We can substitute the egg batter for a crepe as well."
"Then I'll have that. And a coffee. Extra cream, extra sugar." Vihaan closed his menu and handed it to White who tucked it under her arm. Her headband was glimmering gold in the light of the sunlight filtering through the far windows.
"How about you Miriam?" White asked as she walked up to Miriam.
"I, uhm..." Miriam stammered as she fumbled for a menu. "I don't know. I think I need more time..."
White turned toward Nina and smiled, "I think that our chef has something special brewing for you Nina." Then she hurried over to the next table over where a petite woman was crying into the shoulder of another woman. The older woman brushed the smaller woman's hair from her eyes. Faea was holding onto her older sister's hands as she wept tears of joy. There were several other weaves at their booth as well, but Nina could not see them clearly from her seat.
"Red! Table seven needs their hashbrowns well done." Blue called from somewhere in the back of the restaurant.
"They'll get what they'll get dammit! I can only split my fire so many times!" Red answered from inside of the kitchen, her voice simultaneously furious and happy.
"This is quite the place you have running here," Yona said as she drank from her cup of water. "I apologize for my behavior earlier. I was just surprised to meet a Daughter of BlackHarte that was so undeniably normal."
"Oh, why, thank you...?" Miriam replied. "But I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure myself what's going on anymore."
"Is this not your power at work?" Vihaan asked. His concern was really starting to show on his face.
"At first it was, but..." Miriam paused, "now I'm not so sure."
"Whatever is the cause, we should move forward. We have found Nina alive and well, and a Daughter of BlackHarte that is not only reasonable, but also possibly sympathetic to our cause."
"I never said anything like that!"
"If you are not hostile, then you are sympathetic toward us. That is the nature of our current situation." Yona continued, "Naturally we expect Nina to return with us to help put things right. The murder of your sisters, the death of the heroes, the destruction of our world. All of these things must be corrected."
Miriam interjected, "Excuse me, but you said the murder of my sisters?"
Yona didn't so much as flinch. "We believe that there is a force conspiring against the Daughters of BlackHarte. There is no other reason that worlds that have been stable for so long have begun to collapse under the weight of their own causality."
"Yona, should you really just be telling them all of this? Who knows who could be listening nearby?" Vihaan looked exasperated, holding almost none of the regal manner he had just a little earlier.
Yona shrugged and put her cup down. "I don't think I care at this point. It's been so long and we've done so much. It's more than time to push things into the next chapter, Admiral Vihaan. I understand your caution, but we have long left the point in our story where simple ideas like common sense or logic will bring us forward." Yona turned to Miriam again, "Something is happening at a cosmic scale that is causing the upheavals of nearly every world that we have visited. If we do not stop it there will be no hope of restoring our world back to the way it was, much less a way for Vihaan and me to return to our worlds. It is in all of our interests to tackle this threat together."
Miriam nodded in acknowledgment. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but if you're looking for someone useful, you've come to wrong place. I can neither leave Anazorzia nor challenge any of my sisters in any sort of show of strength."
"Oh, we aren't going to ask you to do anything like that," Yona replied. "I have a gut feeling that Nina's already got everything we needed from you."
Nina looked at Yona, confused. But then she noticed something warm in her right hand. There was a small gemstone in her palm, it looked like a piece from Miriam's stone headband.
"Well," BlackHarte replied, "I am very glad that you still remember who I am. That gives me some comfort. It is as you surmise, this Rising Dawn is nothing more than a mental construction I created to help ease your mind. The truth is, we are still both inside of my Daughter's realm. Her's is a dangerous power and I have unfortunately fallen under it's curse as I entered the world."
BlackHarte looked at Rugal and laughed. "You look confused. Let me explain. Livia is not the daughter of the Roman statesman Livius Lucretius. She is a pious girl with a good heart but a recklessly idealistic attitude. She is my Daughter. I rescued her from a world on the brink of destruction as a part of my research. Never would I have dreamed that her power would spiral out of control like this and form a barrier that even I would struggle to break. Thankfully, your immense power jump started my consciousness."
"It is thanks to you, Rugal Bernstein, that I am able to awake at all. Many years ago - several millennia by the time table of this world of hers - I tried to break her out of this most troublesome dream, but I was cast into a deep sleep. Before I succumbed, I broke off her memories and sealed them in a box of my own design. The stone vessel that eventually found it's way into the hands of one Marcus Aurelius. Much of her power is kept within that lockbox. Should it open and Livia regain her former memories and powers, it will be nearly impossible to subdue her."
"This world we are in, so named Eterna, is a manifestation of her hopes and dreams. Both her desires and fears manifested in a twisted nightmare paradise. Within it she lives out the adventurous stories of the books she was once so fond of reading." BlackHarte closed his eye. "It is necessary for Livia, as she calls herself now, to put aside this childish fantasy and return to her duties as one of my Daughters. As such I will lay waste to this world until nothing remains. That should be enough to wake her from her dream. She won't be happy when she awakes, but if we wish to leave this world, we must do so."
"Before long I shall remove you from my body and return you to Eterna, and to Livia and her creations. From there, I trust that you will know what to do."
"...You would make a terrible sales person, you know that?" Rugal bluntly answered before standing up and walking around the false Canteen.
"So everything in that world was little more then a simulation? And that stone box we've been pursuing is in fact Livia's full power?....My my...I never thought I'd find myself longing for the days where my biggest concerns were civil conflicts between egomanics calling themselves ideologists. I know what you want me to do but I have no intention of doing so. Not until you answer some more of my questions." He begun to speak as he reached over the bar and found a recreation of one of his favorite wines and a pair of suitable glass.
"This research of yours for example. I was never much of a man of science, I had people to do that for me but I find it hard to believe that you're here because your work was a success. You wouldn't be talking about laying waste to an entire world otherwise. So this begs the question: What is so important about Livia waking up that you would rain such destruction?"
Taking a sip, his face soured for a moment before he sighed "Hmmmm...A good recreation...but just short of perfection." as he took his seat once more and nursed his drink.
"...I suppose what I really wish to know is, if Livia has enough power to overwhelm a being like you: Why should I be helping you subdue her instead of helping her be free? And how does Kyuubey fit into all of this? Is his kind also another construct of Livia's or was it an attempt on your part to dislodge the seal keeping you contained?"
While he considered his answers, The aging King of Fighters left the other glass in front of him before offering him a glass.
He knew everything where was just a construct Blackharte created but he didn't want to be seen as too impolite.
The Rising Dawn: Living Areas
Hillary the Slime | David West | Jenny | Violet
"Alright, I hope we can find someone...Get ready to move on my mark..." Jenny warned as she went about looking for a new way to scare the skeletons away from Hillary's path.
With a bit of a smirk, she used her powers to set up a large Light Screen along the hallway ceiling.
While this was mainly used for countering non-physical attacks against Psychic types, she was able to alter the EM Spectrum of the screen slightly from transparent to a rather satanic looking dark red.
To add to the effect, she then dragged a Psychic construct in the form of a invisible hand along the walls, leaving massive claw marks along them as well as terrifying noise akin to nails on a chalkboard/Demonic claws against the reinforced metal.
Screams and the sounds of jaws hitting the floor filled the air before everyone in the hall ran for their undead lives. (They didn't even pick up their jaws after them!)
Peeking back out, she smiled before adding "I mightn't be able to mind control them but I sure as hell can get inside their heads! Make your move, I'll put up a Reflect barricade to cover us if they get back!"
"I do not know." BlackHarte said after a long pause. "Kyuubey appeared one day, out of nowhere, and began its machinations. I understand what it wants on the surface - to harvest entropy - but I do not understand it's true purpose. It has interfered in my experiments, so it would not be wrong to say that we are adversaries."
"What I do know, is that Kyuubey is like you and unlike me. A creation born from outside my native causality." BlackHarte gazed at the glass of wine in pensive thought before continuing, "Although, you are so far removed from your original form that I daresay you are more like me than you are like Kyuubey."
"I digress. It is through the outside machinations of a third party that has doomed me to this prison within a prison. If it were only between Livia and me, I do not believe that I would have lost to Livia's outburst." BlackHarte laughed. "But here we are. There is no point in musing on what could have been."
"Livia is a child in her heart. I had hoped that this exercise would have taught her some degree of responsibility, but Kyuubey has enabled her to indulge in excessive childish fantasy. She dearly grasps the things that are familiar and refuses to reach out to greener pastures. Soon this world will no longer be able to sustain her and the actors that populate the land, and the ecosystem will collapse unto itself. Should that happen, I fear that her world will wither, leaving a land incapable of sustaining life. What will she do then? Starve to death as a king of a barren mountain? I shudder at the thought of her dying such a lonely death."
"You and I are both fathers, Rugal," BlackHarte turned to face Rugal, "you must understand how I feel. How it pains my heart to watch her day after day, never moving forward or out, stuck in a fantasy that is slowly whittling away at her capabilities. I want what is best for her, even if she doesn't want it herself. I know that in the future she will come to understand and forgive me."
"After all, everyone needs to grow up one day."
A Painted World
It all happened so fast, like the world itself was set to double time. Nina didn't exactly argue with Yona's comment of Anazorzia being dangerous, seeing the patchwork first hand she had been lucky to get this far. She held Miriam to comfort her as the girl was informed on the fate of her sisters. Nina for her part was surprised to hear that other members of the Rising Dawn had been put into similar boats as she had, but she was the only one they'd found so far that was alive. That was ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as the sudden appearance of Blue, and sudden blossom of characters she thought she'd never see again. "Don't ruin this for me!" Phillip retorted before Nina could protest to Blue taking her companion. She was apprehensive as was imaginable, but the sight of Mnemonyse and Faea with their families' helped to put Nina at ease and a smile on her face. Faea's was enough of an emotional bombshell that Nina had to grab an extra napkin just to dab out the growing tears in her own eyes, it was priceless. And Nina could have stayed there for hours easily, watching the strange denizens old and new coming and going, meeting different peoples and letting this world's machinations slowly click into the wee hours of the morning... at least until Nina was directed to the small radiating rock in her gloved hands.
And it was at that moment, looking down at the lapis crystal in her hand, that Nina started connecting the dots while a certain song's intro started to slowly build in the cafe's speakers. Never getting quite to the lyrics, Nina's gaze shifted from the lapis in her palm to a salt shaker resting on the table inches away from her empty hand. The song slowly overtook the ambiance of the kitchen and chatter from the patrons as minute vibrations started to shake the air around them. At the same time, the salt shaker suddenly leapt into Nina's hand liquified for an instant before condensing back into its original form, but skewed, like an experienced artist was given a new medium to play with. The vibrations grew stronger, not enough to startle the denizens of the world, but the people around Nina sure felt it as if a flood was nearing, a torrent of unconscious possibilities charging headlong into oblivion. Nina's expression was oddly stoic, surprised yet eerily calm, as the world around them started to strain as Nina's hand let go of the shaker and slam down on a button that'd materialized on the table but an instant before.
Suddenly the song was gone, the vibrations were gone, everyone was acting as they should, only their table seemed to have noticed anything amiss. Nina took a few moments before presenting the gem to the group, her hand trembling as she spoke. "W-Why do I have this?!" She looked down to Miriam in her seat. "This is supposed to be your's, it's from your mum, I can't take this, I shouldn't have this!"
"And you two, what the hell are you talking about, Nina's gonna help solve this murder!? Like sure, I might have managed to luck out and somehow do it here but what you're saying is totally different! Apparently 5 of however many of the people at the Rising Dawn already died against whatever this threat is and you think me, normal white bread, no powers, minimum self defense training me can do anything about this! If it wasn't for everyone else, there's no way I'd be here. You can't honestly think I can do this alone?" Nina argued back to the two, not having any of their nonsense. She had never met these two before, and it would take a little more than just sweet talking her to get her to help. Likewise, Yona and Vihaan's crew on the outside was still able to communicate with them, but the duo were locked in that place for the moment.
paradigm story end
White came barreling out of the kitchen with plates stacked on her arms as high as she was tall. She unloaded several dishes at Nina's table as she swept by, leaving a plate of food before Miriam that was very clearly a concoction unique to Philip's generous talents.
Miriam smiled kindly and gently. "You have that gem because it's yours, not mine. It is a crystallization of Anazorzia's collective power. You can relax, you're not taking anything away from me."
"First of all," Yona said as she started to dig into her plate of steak bits lathered in egg yolk, "we're not asking you to solve a murder, we're asking you to help us save all of creation. Second of all, the Rising Dawn all died inside of the Labyrinths before whatever force arrived to destroy the plane. That puts you above all of the other heroes right now, Nina."
Vihaan poked at the crepe on his plate looking a bit wary of the brown-beige blob covered in tomatoes and olives. "That's true. Although Miriam might not look like it, she is the equivalent of a God, Nina. You won against a God in a world of their own making. That is an incredible undertaking if you ask me."
Yona pointed at Nina with her fork, "And that's not mentioning that you didn't even end up killing anyone or relying on your friend's eldritch powers. You won over Miriam all by yourself."
"Now let's not get carried away now, I am still sitting right here," Miriam laughed. Her eyes were bright, filled with something that had been absent here in this painted world, a reflection of the glimmering sheen of childish optimism called hope. "But it's true. You were strong, not outside, but within. Now that you carry the soul of Anazorzia, I doubt that you will have any trouble in the world outside. And when you are done, you can come return Anazorzia to it's home."
"Besides, it's not like you'll be the only one we're relying on." Yona fished out several stones from her coat pocket. A Cat's Eye gem, two Quartz pieces, and a metal band.
"Alesha, Hunger, and Syl..." Miriam said quietly.
"We have Balance as well," Vihaan added.
"Biancarossa too huh?"
"Balance was struck down by BlackHarte himself, I think. She had overstepped her boundaries and manifested in our world."
Miriam looked aghast, but said no more. She just shook her head sadly. "That still leaves... Teresa, Cor, Livia, and Erika."
"Would you know how to get to their worlds?" Yona asked, "If we arrive in time we may still be able to save them."
Miriam nodded. "Yes. I've sent my avatars to their realms in the past. Although Livia's world is particularly dangerous. I would wade into that realm carefully."
"Thank you, that would be very helpful." Vihaan gave a short seated bow.
Yona stood up, having already finished her meal. "I'm sorry Nina, but you don't have a choice. You are coming with us. Please say your goodbyes and come meet me at the door when you are ready."
The Rising Dawn: Server Farm
"I mean, your existence could end completely! You could lose sunlight forever. Or whatever else you look at. Death could take you, and have you ever argued with Death? It's hard! All of this and more. Instead, you can do whatever you want to do ..." She trailed off. "Wait, you said 'Lord of Lies'? How can someone be calling himself that? That's very pretentious. It's like talking about lying all the time and then still expecting people to believe you!
Do you know where I can speak with that dude? Maybe I can ask him what he wants you to do. Or just kick his legs. Oh yeah, I kind of still need to know what you want." She paused and waved a skeleton closer. "I'd also like a drink." she said to it, before dismissing it to serve her. "So, you can just relax, drink a bit of bone juice and lie down in the sun, let me handle things. After you have pointed me in the right direction, of course. I'm your captain, but I need to know things so I can help you."
paradigm story end
Nina looked conflicted, knowing that what they were saying was in fact true but still not believing she was really deserving of it. She'd only finished a long discussion of Miriam saying how she wasn't an infinite creator of unlimited power, for them to say the opposite was pretty laughable. But as the conversation continued and the promise of someone else helping her, Nina lamented that she really wasn't gonna be able to convince them. They weren't listening to her, so hopefully her new chest would protect her through the rest of this nightmare. "Fine..." She sighed, getting up from the table. "Alright, Miriam. I hope we can have a talk later, maybe have a real tea party with Phillip getting some practice? But if this is the last time I get to see you before you leave, it's been nice to meet you." Nina offered a hug for the little one before she moved onto the Mnemonyses.
Walking up to the two, Nina gave them a little wave, and stopped next to Mnemonyse jr."Is it alright if I sit down for a second?" She asked cerdiously, sitting down with her alter ego if allowed, but otherwise standing where she was. "So this must be your mom? It's very nice to meet you Mnemonyse~" She greeted the woman before turning to the Mnemonyse she knew. "Well, we did it! Couldn't have done it without you." Nina smiled, playing a bit with her hair. "I've unfortunately been roped into helping to clean up someone else's messes, so I'm not really gonna be able to celebrate with you guys just yet." Nina said, putting her hands into her lap and squishing her chest a bit at the same time. "Maybe once I come back, we could go out and get some food or something? Not entirely sure what you both would like to do, but I'd like to have a proper visit." She said, eventually saying her goodbyes and offering a hand to shake and accepting any hugs the Mnemonyses' wanted to share.
Walking up to Faea's table, Nina wasn't entirely sure how to go about inserting herself into the conversation. Faea had only just been reunited with her long lost family after all, it certainly wasn't the most timely of things to do. Still she needed to talk with Faea more so than anyone else here in some respects. "Hey." Nina said, stooping down a bit so she was level with everyone in their seats at the table. "I'm really sorry I'm butting in here, but trust me it's important." She said to the spider family, looking across all the member's there before her eyes centered on Faea. "Looks like we made it, for better or worse, I couldn't have made it all this way without you. I really appreciate it Faea. I've got to go and take care of someone else's mess, but would it be too much of a trouble for you and your family to make me something?" Nina said as she reached into her dufflebag and with the magic of this universe she now wielded pulled out a large spool of thread.
The thread itself was something unlike any of the weavers had seen, visually it appeared to be like Death's dress but it had the properties of different imaginary materials like vibranium, adamantium and what Nina perceived her hair to be. Nina knew that creators like them would have a hard time to say no to the ability to create a one of a kind work. "I know it's a bit sudden, but this outfit's not gonna help me keep safe, and let me come back so that, I'dunno, we might be able to have a vacation on the beach or something?" Nina commented, not entirely sure if Faea'd accept such an offer but the fact that she was asking them of all people to make her an outfit to bring to the endgames. "I got other threads to use, but this should be the base. Sexy is fine, just please make it practical. Safety first for this one."
The Rising Dawn: Living Areas
Hillary the Slime | David West | Jenny | Violet
Hillary watched the ceiling for a while longer before turning back to Jenny, her eyes wide and body vibrating slightly. "What did you..? Oh! Yes! Hillary will go now!" The Slime exclaimed. Clearly she hadn't heard what Jenny had said moments ago, but had managed to put two and two together to figure out it was her time to shine.
Peaking her head out of the door, Hillary checked to make sure the coast was clear, before making a swift motion towards Miia's bedroom. With Jenny's clever thinking, the path there was effortless but as Hillary tried to open the door she found the door locked. "Oh dear. Hmm..." The slime thought for a moment, considering her options until her vision turned downwards to the part of her pseudopod that had slipped underneath the door. "I should have enough..." She commented to herself before turning to Jenny. "Hillary will be right back." She said as she leaned down towards the door.
Hillary didn't have the means of adjusting her shape nor the experience to know exactly how she'd do this, but how hard could it be? Hillary forced her way through the lip underneath the door, initially just trying to squeeze herself through, but once she started making progress she tried to push on the door from the other side to help bring the rest of herself along. Surprisingly it was working, up until Hillary was about a third of the way through, at which point Jenny noticed something alarming. Hillary wasn't lemonade anymore!
Maybe it was all the extra effort, squeezing into the tight space, a laps in Hillary's concentration or a combination of many aspects; Jenny was now treated to the sight of a metallic looking leg from the thigh down as well as another foot from the ankle crushed underneath the door. At least she knew the Slime was unharmed by such a situation, but it was clear Hillary wasn't coming back the way she came.
Rugal gazed deep into his wine glass as Blackharte explained himself, a somber expression on his face as he had to admit, he had a point.
"....Being honest, this was always the part of "Playing Hero" I hated. Knowing one day, you'll find some fresh horror or impossible choice to haunt your dreams. It's strange, I think little of the sadism I was known for but now I can't escape all the good deeds I needed to perform but didn't...Damn you for making me a part of this..."
Finishing his drink, he stood up and added "I don't doubt your logic, just even you can understand that growing up doesn't usually involve being assassinated. *Sigh* ...The worst part of is that she'll have no idea what's happening. Why I betrayed her..."
Turning back to the nanite swarm, he cracked his neck and said "...If I discover you were just using me as some pawn in some greater scheme, trust that you'll never know peace again. Even if you'll never die, I'll find a way to make your entire existence pain. I've faced gods and demons, all of whom thought themselves untouchable. But...What you are asking of me....I-....I'll do it. It'll be quick, it'll be painless. And when it is done, I wish to never see you again."
His grim speech spoken, the King of Fighters got ready to leave, deeply exhaling and preparing himself for the terrible deed.
Walk up. A Slashing Aura stab to the back of the neck. Sever the connections. Instant lost of brain and bodily function. It wasn't often he found himself dreading the act of murder but like all things in life, he would overcome it. He had to.
"...She's a good girl, you know. Kind, brave. Wise beyond her years. I'm telling myself I'm doing this for her sake. Whatever life she might have after this: You treat her right, not like you've done so before. Growing up also involves letting your children go. Holding onto them too much is what allows those like Kyuubey to steal them..."
"...Lets get this over with..."
End of an Era
story of dusk
Yona finished her breakfast platter and placed her knife and fork down on her plate. The blond-haired planeswalker shook Nina's hand gently, "And it is very nice to meet you, Nina. I'm glad that you were there to be Violet's friend."
"And don't think you're rid of me yet. Anazorzia is where I was raised, but I belong to the Rising Dawn."
"It is good to see that your father has not perverted your strong sense of right and wrong."
Mnemosyne smiled, there was a welling of small tears in her eyes. When Nina moved to Faea's table, the weaver family turned to greet her warmly. The oldest of the group was a tall and handsome woman with thin almond-shaped eyes. Her hair was raven black, woven expertly in gentle cascading ringlets down the sides of her face.
She held out her hand to Nina, "Pleasure to meet you. My name is Drizzle, I am the matriarch of the tribe to which Faea once belonged. It would be an honor to weave for you a dress worthy of your coming trial." She bowed and the rest of the weaver clan bowed as well. They were all women and varied in appearance as there were stars in the sky. Each of them had a small spider that clung to them either as hair decorations or as the centerpiece of a set of jewelry.
"Thank you Nina," Faea said between small breaths for air. The tears were still fresh on her cheeks and Issem was scuttling around the table greeting the spiders of the other weavers.
"Before Faea inherited the title of Arachne, the post belonged to me." Drizzle spread her fingers and the threads that formed between them glittered like spun diamonds. Brilliant beams of prismatic like danced against the jewels and metals on her wrists and dress. "We are children of the Earth and Water - blessed with both natural acuity and a natural yearning for synthesis. Your dress will be as strong as the citadel-trees and as flexible as the vapor seas."
And the dress they made was stunning. A deep mantle made of interwoven lapels flowed down Nina's back, letting her blonde hair float over the dark fabric like rays of light. Below a thick scaled weave hugged her body like a second skin, the smooth surface broken by ringlets of gold and silver. A half-skirt hung down from the swell of her hips and reached up her navel to the halter weave around her shoulders that kept the entire dress taut. Faea herself wove a golden broach and set the lapis gemstone within, setting it on Nina just over her heart.
Yona stood up and tapped Vihaan who had just started to eat his own breakfast, now that it had grown quite cold and greasy.
"What is it?" the admiral asked.
"Nina, hurry up. We have to be somewhere else very soon. The binding around another Labyrinth has just collapsed enough for us to break in. Grab Philip and let's go."
The Rising Dawn: Canteen
Mio | Leoric
Leoric was already into his 3rd bottle but thankfully one of his minions started to man the bar seeing how the battle of Mount Condiments with the canteen imps seemed to have ended in a ceasefire now their king was drowning his sorrows.
"I-...I don't know who or what has done this to me. It all started after this vessel arrived at Cloudtop Citadel. Ever since that flash, I've been reliving the same day over and over. Everytime I believe I'm getting close to breaking the spell, I wake up and it all starts over again. I've burned this ship, I've cleansed it of life, I've tried everything! BUT NOTHING FUCKING WORKS!" The Skeleton King barked, slamming his mace down into the tiles in frustration.
"I-i-i-i don't even know if it IS demonic magic or not! But it has to be, right?! What other beings can turn time itself into a prison?! I don't know any, do you!? And Death has long since forsaken me since I purged Diablo from my soul but-...I-i-i-i don't-....I can't-..."
Despite his imposing stature and his minions, it was quickly becoming clear that Leoric wasn't that much of a bad person. If she was stuck in a time loop, how long until she would just try killing everyone she saw in order to break free or just cure her boredom?
Her advice seemed to have sunk in as slowly but surely, his forces begun to stand down, namely because their King couldn't punish them if he was drunk off his ass (well, he could but he wouldn't be nearly as good at it).
He slowly retreated to a quiet corner and all but crumbled into a seat, rambling like a elder off their medication as the exhaustion of 20+ Military Campaigns against the Dawn took over.
".....I couldn't stop it then....I-....I can't stop if now..."