The Escapist Avatar Adventure: An Open RP (Now Re-Opened!)

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Right to Rule
rugal's story

"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.

---


???
???'s story

"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's story

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?"

"A diner?"

"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
Miriam's story

"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
rugal's story

"Blackharte..."

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
miriam's story

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.

Item Obtained

image


???
???'s story

"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."


???
???'s story

"...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!"


???
???'s story

"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
Nina's story

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
Mio


"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.[1] "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."

[1] If asked about her new look, she'd be honest and say she ate this magic bean that did it.

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.


???
???'s story

"..."

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..."

The Rising Dawn: Living Areas
Hillary the Slime | David West | Jenny | Violet

"Hillary? You alright? Come on, we don't know how long they-...will...."

The Gardevoir trailed off as she noticed the trouble her friend was having getting past the door, prompting a slight sigh.
"Okay, I think I see what the problem is...Uhhh....Hm...." She remarked before attempting to open the door manually, finding it stuck even without Hillary jammed underneath it.
"Damn it...Alright, hold on, this-...this might hurt a little..." She added before using some of her psionic powers to "Push" the rest of her leg though the door.
She was already pretty worn out so blasting the metal door was out of the question, thus was the next best thing.
Several Reflect Barriers and some invisible hands then started to push on Hillary's leg, a strange conflicting motion of both trying to stuff it though the gap but at the same time trying not to "Hurt" the slime too much.

"Grrrh...Why couldn't you bond to the carpet or something instead?!" She grunted from exertion before finally breaking through, bending the door a little as she did.
Sitting down against the size of the hall, Jenny caught her breath before adding "A-alright...I'll be here. I'll try to contact you mentally if I can."
As for the room Hillary found herself in, it was-...different to what she was expecting.
While a lot of the rooms on the ship were designed like cruise ship bedrooms, this one was more like some bastard child of luxury and a bombed out storeroom.
Rusted Metal, empty lead chambers, various household objects in varying states of disrepair, weapons that were primitive, weapons that were advanced and even weapons that somehow managed to be both.
There was a bed and an en suite here but clearly this wasn't the room she was looking for.

She didn't know it yet but she had found the old room of one "Wanderer", a refugee from a world burned by nuclear fire.
And in David's words: "The most insane son of a bitch I ever worked with."


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

Wordlessly, Nina gave Mnemonyse a thumbs up as she left, looking forward to spending an afternoon with her when this was all over. Maybe watch a movie, a spa day, maybe even get their hair done perhaps? Regardless, her mother's kind words causing Nina to have an extra spring in her step as she came to the Weaver's.

"Thanks a lot Drizzle, love what you've done with your hair." Nina nodded, reaching out to accept Drizzle's hand and gave her a confident, respectful handshake. Greeting each in turn, Nina took a moment to grab a napkin from the table and hand it to Issem. "You should really help out your partner there, it looks like she needs it." Nina whispered to the little spider, while she listened to Drizzle, and smiled as the Drizzle offered her services.

Nina made sure to restrict her current dress and her hat from Drizzle's unraveling effects. She'd learned from before not to leave it to chance, so when Drizzle worked on her dress, the old one wasn't destroyed but unraveled into a ball that she slipped into her dufflebag. There was no way in hell she'd allow such a masterpiece to be torn away so nonchalantly, so instead she reworked the outfit to be able to reweave itself over the wearer on command.

Not that Nina had much time to pat herself on the back for her quick thinking, Drizzle's new dress had grabbed Nina's attention like coiling tendril's around her body. The lapels, ringlets, revealing skirt and not to mention the material hugging her new curves so completely. Nina couldn't help it as a flash of red came across her face while she bit her lip. She had never felt so sexy and desirable, and as Faea set the broach down on her chest Nina grabbed her and gave her a loving squeeze.

"Sorry, I know you're not keen on this, but I kinda need this." Nina whispered into Faea's ear, her heart fluttering as a mix of emotions danced in her mind. Fear, happiness, empathy, relief, concern, erotic; Nina was starting to realize she really was gonna be doing this, and was getting a bit emotional herself. "So when I get back, we'll have Phillip make us some Vegan food, get some sexy looking guys, and share some stories or something?" Nina requested, hugging Faea for a little while longer before letting go and putting on a brave face.

"Alright! Alright! Keep your pants on, Jesus!" She shouted back to Yona as the agent called out to her. "Have fun with them, you need to make up for lost time." Nina spoke quietly to Faea before letting go of her and heading towards the kitchen. 'Nina, hurry up. Nina, clean up my mess. Nina, wipe my rear end.' Nina sighed, passing the two on the way.

To her surprise, Phillip was sitting just outside the kitchen doors once Nina rounded the corner. "Phillip? What are you doing out here?" She craned her neck just enough to see Phillip had some tendrils still inside the kitchen. "We are leaving soon and you are far too loud and emotional now to be in there." Phillip said matter of factly. "W-What!? I'm not loud and emotional!" Nina shouted, to which through Phillip's silence she reconsidered. "F-Fine... But what are you still doing in there? We gotta go." Nina asked as she tried to peek through the gap in the door only for Miriam's Colours to come out as well.

All of them were whispering to each other, looking a little disappointed like they knew Phillip needed to go. The quality of Phillip's work was like equal to their's if perhaps under but it was clear that his insight into what people needed and the terror that was having an army in the kitchen would surely be missed. "The souffle is out. Last dishes are plated. Table 5 will need one of the brownie deserts by the time they're done. Don't deflate my souffle." Phillip commented, emphasizing the last part as he scuttled past Nina towards the exit. "Wait, Phillip? You did say goodbye to them right? It's not right just to leave them like that." to which Phillip paused, his tendrils shifting and churning before pivoting with a glint in his inner folds. "It was... enjoyable to cook with you all. I expect more when I return." He said before continuing to move towards the exit.

Although not the best farewell, Nina nodded acceptingly. It had been adequate and Nina couldn't complain that Phillip had at least tried. Taking a moment, she gave the Colours a hug, trying to get them all in as much as she could. "Alright you guys, play nice. Don't go mucking up things while I'm gone right?" Nina joked with a smile. "When I get back, we'll have a nice long chat about how to write a good, spicy romance, for those who want to obviously." She said before she too headed towards the door.


Right to Rule
rugal's story

The splintered ice spear crashed into the city behind Rugal, sending a wave of icy wind washing over all of Rome. Huge pillars of ice covered the area behind Rugal, their chaotic crystalline forms reached up toward the sky like swords. People and animals were locked inside of the frozen prison, the surprise on their faces held in place by the binding spell.

Snow started to fall from the sky.

Kyuubey swept his tail against the ground. He spoke through an emotionless face - red eyes in unbroken gaze and an unchanging cat's smile, "Do what you wish, Rugal Bernstein, it is clear to me that there is no reasoning with you. You do whatever you wish, without thought to the consequences, hoping that you can remedy your mistakes afterwards." Kyuubey turned around and padded away. "It is far more prudent not to be needlessly reckless."

Soon his small figure vanished amidst the snowfall.

Julia's body lay still some distance away, the fall from the temple roof had broken her neck and twisted her arm from its socket among other things. Blood trickled out of her open mouth as the tears on her face froze in the sorcerous winter. Her gem lay shattered on the floor collecting snow. The pieces of the jewel were a dull black, drained of any and all life.

Rugal felt a warmth from behind him. A ray of light had cut through BlackHarte's storm clouds and fell upon Livia and the stone vessel. It was daybreak. The sunlight cast away the darkness and set a warmth cascading over the mountains and plain, the buildings and streets, the crystal towers and the snow cover.

"Mater?"

Serra took a step outside of Rugal's body, her body materialized in the wake of both the sunlight and the energies spilling out of the stone vessel. Between the artifact in Livia's hands, the blades resonating in the sunlight, and Serra's return, the light grew to a brilliant intensity - casting it's golden dominion across all of Rome. And it grew stronger and stronger in strength the more the stone vessel faltered.

"You would know me though you have never seen my face?" Serra asked. Though her body was filled with light, her voice and demeanor were cold and distant. She held herself in a way that demonstrated her overwhelming confidence and inevitability, not unlike the brilliant star from which she had taken her epitaph.

Livia's gemstone was pure black - a pit of darkness in a world now otherwise overflowing with light.

"Such sentimentality is unnecessary." Serra bent down and picked up the stone knives, her knives and held them up to the sun. In an instant the sunlight was everywhere, radiating from every living thing. The heat from the light melted the stone and grew from each other, consuming each other over and over until there was nothing but a simple agonizing homogeneity. After gathering the energy of the land in the blades, she brought it down on the stone vessel. Rivers of light, thick as honey, flowed forth from the stone and encapsulated the vessel. The light filled the gaps from which it's prisoner was trying to break free. "Problem solved."

"Hardly." Came another voice. There was a dark figure taking shelter from the overbearing light in the shade of a fallen piece of crystal ice. The tall and ancient form could only belong to one person.

"Publius." Serra said matter-of-factly as she ignored Rugal and Livia and took several steps toward the old man.

"Puella Magi Serra," Publius answered, tucking his hands deep inside of his long black sleeves. "Or do you prefer the name that you were gifted?"

Serra swung with her dagger and a blade of wind fell from the sky, tearing apart the ice and stone where Publius was standing.

Publius stepped out from under the rubble of the temple opposite to Serra. "Gaea's Wrath, Helios' Lance, the White Witch..." Publius said each of Serra's epitaphs one-by-one as he side-stepped more of Serra's attacks. Her movements were mild, and reserved, a shift of her weight, a flick of her knives, but the windstorm she summoned with each motion tore what ground was left apart like putty.

"The Hero Princess of Rome..."

Serra's face twitched in anger, a relentless flurry of wind fell upon Publius like an artillery barrage. The impacts echoed in both the air and the earth, raining small bits of stone and earth down on Rugal and Livia.

"Serra, the Rising Dawn."

"Brave words coming from a nameless man who can only exist in the shadows." Serra sneered. "The night is over and my strength has returned to me. Your tricks are worthless. Now leave this place and never return."

Livia sat awestruck, hands holding the stone vessel so tight that her fingers and knuckles were white.

"Yes, yes, you are perfect, the most perfect. Infallible, really." Publius said. "It is our fortune that you have arrived to fix everything for everyone. The conflict is resolved through your incredible show of strength and prowess." Publius held up his hand sarcastically, "Really, we should leave everything to you, Serra, the most important, beautiful, and strongest of the Puella Magi. I am collapsed in the might of your presence, woe, allow me to worship the ground upon which you walk. Oh, I have an idea, let's make you our leader since you are so capable in your infinite wisdom. Yes, yes, you can lead all of Rome, nay all of humankind into a new golden age with that power of yours. After all, no one can challenge you when you are channeling the strength of the Sun."

Serra stopped attacking, but her steely gaze never left Publius as the man moved between the shadows.

"You are a venerable God, Serra. Because you always win. Even in defeat, even in death, you persevere. The very laws of our world must bend to suit your presence. Because you are so incredibly special." Publius shook his head, speaking honestly during the brief respite he had earned himself, "You always act like you're the hero of the story... You are so irresponsible. Look at your daughter, sitting there, this is the first time she's ever seen you, and you focus more on flexing your strength. And you call yourself a mother... you selfish, terrible child."

"How dare you insult me so casually!" Serra roared. She raised her blade into the air, collecting the gleam of sunlight...


Right to Rule
rugal's story

Serra turned around and glared at Rugal, eyes full of scorn. The light burst forth from her dagger, carving deep scars of flame into everything that the golden rays touched. "You speak worthless words!" Serra struggled against Rugal's grip, trying to break free, but her strength was no match for that of Rugal's. "What use is a girl that I have never met? Someone who has not even the strength to carry my legacy? A girl who had the audacity to take months from my life and has given me nothing in return"

Publius looked on from within the shadow of a fallen column, his old leathery face wore a wry smile. "Although Serra may have given birth to Livia, it would be a stretch to call her Livia's 'mother'. This girl lost none of her maternal instincts when she gave herself over to magic."

Serra screamed in frustration.

"You can call someone your child, but you cannot force them to call you their mother," Publius continued in his quiet and dry voice. "You can call someone your subjects, but you cannot force them to call you their king. It is impossible not to notice such a poetic parallel."

"You are all vermin! Blights upon the blessed land! Disappear!" Serra screamed and raised the other dagger so that it caught one of the rays refracting off of the blade that Rugal held in place. The sunlight from the second ray was far more erratic and chaotic than the first. The crystal lattice of the focusing stones stuttered as they try to process the light into a more stable beam, but it eventually failed. The beams dimmed and the knives grew dark.

At some point during the struggle between titanic powers, Livia had worked her way up to where Rugal and Serra were standing. The stone vessel was tucked under one arm. The sunlight glimmered off of the jewelry on her body. The gemstone in her hair was black as jet.

"Is this how you always were?" Livia asked softly.

"What kind of a question is that?" Serra replied angrily.

"All of those stories of you from papa... from grandma and grandpa, from the priests and the priestesses... There's no way that the woman in those stories are you... is there? There's no way that you're really Serra... right?"

"Don't be stupid. I am Serra, I am the only person in this world that could possibly be Serra."

"Heroes are often disappointing in real life." Publius stalked into Livia's shadow and put his hands on the young woman's shoulders. "A fact true both in this world, and the world beyond."

Livia was silent. Her expression was grim, but neither angry nor sad, it was an nonplussed disappointment that existed only with utter disillusionment. It was as if all of her world had come crashing down around her. She had no family, no retainers, no heroes, and no identity. Somehow the outworlder that she tolerated was the last person left to her... and she had no idea if this man was a devil, or merely recklessly stupid.

"Leave the box girl, and flee this city. I will come find you after order is restored." Serra ordered, jerking her head toward the direction of the rising sun. "Do that, and at least I will be able to form you into some sort of useful warrior."

"Say... what's in this box anyway? Why does everyone care so much about it?"

Serra was taken aback. "An evil far greater than any other in the land."

Publius leaned down next to her ear and whispered.

"Don't listen to that demon!" Serra roared.

Livia was pensive again. She held onto that stone box and stared into the rays of the sun behind Serra and Rugal. "What makes a ruler anyway? Are they born with the blessing of the gods? Are they forged from the trials of hardship? Or are they taught by great scholars? Is it selfless men who make great leaders, or is it the nature of the office that draw great selfless men?"

Publius took several steps back and bowed his head.

"Or is it truly only a matter of strength? Is the greatest king the strongest man, whose strength bows the heads of lesser men from sea to sea? Is it wealth, or amicability, or intelligence and martial prowess?" Livia took the box in both hands and held it before Serra. "Of all the people I have seen in my short life, I have witnessed each and every nature of mankind, mother. From my father's weakness to your strength. I have been betwixt the politicking prowess of Marcus Aurelius and the studiousness of Valerius. I have listened to Cicero's speeches and the curt commands of Caesar. I have listened to the teachings of nature from Veles and the wonders of the civilized Gods from Dionysius. Whether it is the logic of philosophers or the emotion driven morals of barbarians, it is clear of the need of rulers. Yet, all of humankind loathes being controlled. It is from this nature that we desire strength."

"What are you getting at girl?" Serra glared at her daughter, her own icy blue eyes a world away from the deep fiery cerulean of her daughter's.

"That I would see for myself what it is that was sealed away so long ago by our grandmother's grandmother. The lesson that God had tried to impart upon us." Livia held up the box so that it was in the direct sunlight. The black vessel shimmered as if galvanized. "This is the box that Zeus gifted to Pandora in the Age of the First Kings, is it not?"

Serra stared on in angry silence.

"I had wondered why this vessel was of such importance. But, now I know. If I open this world, all of mankind will once again face the judgement of the gods, isn't that right?"

"To open that box is to end humanity." Serra answered. "The gods are cruel, pitiless monsters that lie in their heavenly realms. They find enjoyment in human suffering. It is only through the ascension of humankind through strength that we will be free of such tragic bondage."

"What makes the gods our gods? Are they just demons for which we have decided to call upon in our times of need? Are they the strongest and the smartest, the most athletic and the most skilled? Are they gods because they are the oldest and the wisest, or are they beings without fault?" Livia smiled. "No. The gods are as imperfect as us, and yet we put our trust in them to lead us to better days and to protect us from the darkness. From their seat on Olympus to the iron thrones in the Underworld, we put ourselves in their care knowing that they look out for us."

"We the people give the gods their right to rule, and it is the people that ought to give us the right to rule. Power is a gift, not a prize. And just as the gods err, so do we, and just as we can learn to forgive, so can the gods." Livia took a step closer. "Right, mama?"

Livia collapsed to the ground. Her head severed from her body, her black gemstone cleaved in twain. Serra's strike was so fast that Rugal didn't even notice that she pulled the second dagger out of it's anchoring weave. The droplets of blood hung in the silent air like rubies. The light of the sun made them shine.

The box hit the frozen floor with a dull thud.

"What worthless prattle," Serra grimaced, "I knew Gaius was the better child."

Publius picked up Livia's head in his old and weathered hands. His eyes were full of sadness. "What an unfortunate turn of events. This time we were so close, so very close."


Bad End

Before Rugal could process anything that happened, he found himself standing in a grey world, swallowed by darkness. A cold sun lingered high in a cloudless sky, casting it's lethargic illumination down on a colorless Rome. The signs of battle were no longer, and the entities that he had been holding onto had vanished. Though he tried to remember their names, he could materialize the sounds in his head.

The old man, Publius, that he could still remember, was standing some distance away from him. He held a small item in his hands, the only glimmer of color in the cold, dead world around them.

image


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

Vihaan leaned back into the captain's seat. It was far more uncomfortable than he would have liked. The aluminum was cold and the edges were far too sharp for him to lean into. Controls and terminals covered the left armrest and forced to to awkwardly keep to his right.

Nina was sitting at the front of the bridge gazing out of the front facing windows into the terminal darkness that was the sea between worlds. An utter and infinite darkness that spoke to only the most unknowable of monsters. Perhaps she could see something with her eyes that he couldn't. It irked Vihaan a little bit to know that a woman might had such a gift, but he swallowed that small hurt to his pride as a mage priest.

"Nina, Philip," The bridge doors slid open as Yona stepped through. She had switched out of her exploratory suit and back into the unbuttoned shirt and jacket mockery of a uniform of 121st Engineering Division.

The tentacle monster was the first to turn, but he had been wordless since leaving the realm of that painter girl.

"We're about to breach into the Labyrinth. Please secure yourselves for the oncoming turbulence."

Vihaan sat up and yawned. It had only been half a day since they had left the other world, and now they were already approaching the next. Either these two planes were uncharacteristically close together or the entire universe was getting smaller and smaller. He had a terrible feeling he knew which was more likely.

Yona sat down in at the navigation table and buckled herself into the seat there. Ensign Tolstad handed the Colonel a tablet with several charts on it. Vihaan couldn't be bothered to look into it to hard. He had already spent enough energy putting together the Desire Drive interplanar engine for the Inquiry and now he was fully committed to being the acting admiral of the exploratory vessel. Yet, hadn't Yona taken over all of his duties since they left the world they knew behind when the localized anomaly at the Rising Dawn tore the fabric of space time to shreds.

The Inquiry shook suddenly as the darkness outside bent and stuttered, flickering in and out between light and dark until suddenly with a lurch that nearly threw Vihaan out of his chair, they were in an cold empty world.

The sun was shining, but it did not move. The light was dim and grey against a cloudless sky. Below them was a lifeless city bathed in deathly silence. Vihaan undid his harness and stood up, his heart filled with disbelief as he recognized the unique layout of the hills and buildings, "This is Rome!"

"Breach completed," Ensign Tolstad reported, "engine is stable, hover thrusters are stable. Atmosphere conditions normal, gravitational conditions are normal. Environmental conditions are also stable. Shall we begin landing procedures?"

"Hold on," Vihaan said suddenly, snapping his fingers anxiously, "run a life-signature scan. There's still magic in the air, I can feel it."

Tolstad ran her fingers over the console. She raised her eyebrows, "Two life signatures detected. One belongs to a Hero, Rugal Bernstein, the other is an unknown entity."

"I knew it!" Vihaan clapped his hands. Honestly, he was just glad that he was still relevant to the operation. "Nina, Philip, let's go! Rugal's still alive down there!"

---

The world was ashen as the dropship let them down some distance away in the plaza that Rugal was standing. The atmosphere in the immediate area was stiff as the massive Captain of the Rising Dawn stood opposite of an deathly old man holding a small gem in his hand.

"It's a shame," the old man said as he played with the gem in his hands, "I was so sure that this world was going to last forever. It's too bad, really too bad. Well, it's nobody's fault really. All dreams had to end one way or another, but this was rather abrupt. Lacking in closure. Somehow deeply unsatisfying." He shrugged and tossed Rugal the gemstone.

"You've won! Congratulations outworlder! You are free!" The old man smiled at Rugal. "Your friends are here. Go. It is too late for this place. You still have your own world to save. I'll stay here and wait. Eventually life will start again, and a new dream will begin, but not for aeons still."


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

In that half day's time, Nina had done her best to try and be a gracious guest in the Inquiry. It was actually pretty impressive, not the small tin can she had imagined it to be, relieved that they hadn't been utterly crampt in it for those two years. She didn't know how to do anything meaningful to help the ship, but she did try to help the crew. Doing anyone's nails that were willing, showing off her work, and setting up a little party of sorts for Phillip to cater, things to boost the crew's spirits more than just existing.

At first Nina appeared to be quite confident, not prideful, but the extra curves definitely helped her self confidence. This however changed as time went on, as the crew was largely affected negatively by Phillip's sheer presence. The crew being too polite to complain about Phillip's aura of influence meant Nina was at a loss for why they'd act evasive at times in her presence. Trying to rectify this, Nina came to the incorrect conclusion her new look was to blame, that she was showing off too much or something. Realizing this, she tried to hold off on outward displays of her new figure, much to Phillip's own enjoyment, and when Phillip went off on his own to prepare for the party, she concluded that maybe she'd figured it out.

As they neared their destination and Nina sat at the front of the ship, she was deep in thought, considering what had happened in that day's time, what had happened since that morning the day before. It was insane to think just how far she'd come in that little time. It was like she was in... one of those shows, those isa somethings. Letting out a heavy sigh, she turned to the deep void outside and commented

"I thought stars weren't supposed to twinkle in space?"

A rather innocent comment at face value, but as it echoed through Vihaan's mind he would start to realize just how irksome Nina's abilities might be while he ordered for everyone to prepare for the breach. Nina quickly pulled herself away from the window, picked up Phillip and rushed over to two waiting chairs. She first buckled Phillip, making sure he was secure before sitting down herself, only for Phillip to slink his way out anyways.

Nina was left realing after the shaky entry, trying to play off the fact she'd just had her first involuntary boob jiggle. She'd forgotten how that sort of thing felt by any degree let alone this, so as Vihaan and the crew dealt with ship status Nina dealt with catching her breath. It wasn't until Rugal was confirmed to be alive that Nina pulled her crossed arms away from her chest, letting out a weak "Yeah!" Phillip merely moved over to the window and resulted in Nina looking around at the people there just to see if anyone heard him.

Once they had landed, Rugal immediately felt Phillip's aura hit him, that familiar presence of anxiousness he'd experienced before at the party. It likely wasn't the best feeling, but in a strange way knowing that someone from the Rising Dawn was there hopefully helped ease the feeling. It wouldn't take long for Nina to make her way to the plaza either while Phillip rode on her shoulder. If she caught him with his back turned, she'd demand what had happened, why the city was in ruins with the captain being the one here. If however she saw him and recognized that look he had first, she'd ask far more calmly, realizing that he was already slamming himself far more than she ever could.


Right to Ruins
Rugal's story

The first thing that hit Rugal was an intense wave of denial.
"no....Nononono-NOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" He began to scream as he paced around for a moment, frantically glancing around at the world he had failed (in his mind) to save.
Gripping his hair and gritting his teeth, he looked lost and confused as the reality slowly sunk in: This world was no more.
Ash and flaky dirt was all that was left, no more rulers, so more subjects, no more-...anything.
His eyes watered as he fell onto his knees, glaring at the ground before striking it in fury while taking ragged panicked breaths.
Even the apparent "Death" of his darker soul was little comfort in the face of such ruin as he slowly attempted to compose himself, slowly rolling onto his back and gazing up at the stale sun above him.
He sat silently for some time while Publius attempted to make conversation.

"It's a shame," the old man said as he played with the gem in his hands, "I was so sure that this world was going to last forever. It's too bad, really too bad. Well, it's nobody's fault really. All dreams had to end one way or another, but this was rather abrupt. Lacking in closure. Somehow deeply unsatisfying." He shrugged and tossed Rugal the gemstone.
It was only now that Rugal started to notice the dropship landing nearby, noticing it's markings matching that of the Rising Dawn's.

"You've won! Congratulations outworlder! You are free!" The old man smiled at Rugal. "Your friends are here. Go. It is too late for this place. You still have your own world to save. I'll stay here and wait. Eventually life will start again, and a new dream will begin, but not for aeons still."

"...This is not a victory to congratulate. Don't mock me with it." He coldly said as he began to walk towards the dropship, leaving the dead world behind him.
Despite the fact they were his rescue party, Rugal didn't seem very-...chatty as he meekly walked up the ramp and into the transport, not muttering a word to anyone.
Walking past Vihaan, he took his seat before staring intensely at the gemstone, the only trace left of the people he perceived to have failed.
Clenching his fist around it slightly, he finally put it in his pocket before rubbing his face and letting out a sigh.
"...Take us home. There's nothing left here." He ordered as he realized something: This was a space faring vessel.

Rugal had Astrophobia.

"...Perfect end to a perfect day..." He groaned to himself as he tried to find a good spot in the ship away from the windows.


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

"Rugal! R-Rugal?" Nina called to the broken man as he passed her, not saying a word in the eerily silent dead world. Her hair blow behind her despite the windless landscape as she turned to watch him continue on into the ship, her hand reflexively reaching up to lay her fingers against the broach on her chest. "No... he's really not..." She agreed at Phillip's wordless comment, looking up to that same still sun and the surrounding landscape. In her heart she felt this was a place that was, but she couldn't shake the idea that somehow this was what this place always looked like. Strange as it might be and unlikely as it was because of Rugal's demeanor, she couldn't imagine what a hell it'd be trying to survive in a place like this.

Nina wouldn't dottle on reboarding the ship, least something happen or get left behind somehow. Unsure exactly what she should do about Rugal, Nina felt it best to give him a bit of time to think and collect himself. She sure had used her time for it previously, but stopped on her way to the bridge as Phillip hopped off her shoulder and headed towards one of the interior locations of the ship. "Phillip, where are you going? That's not the way to the kitchen?" She called out to him before following after him.

Inside whatever hidey hole Rugal had squirreled his way into, he'd still feel that pervasive feeling of Phillip's aura drawing closer to him. Unceremoniously opening the door, Phillip slinked into the room, balanced on the top of him was an open jar with single old fashion candy stick. He set the jar down and turned to leave as Nina came rushing in. "Sorry, I know you probably want to be alone, but Phillip was saying you were going to need this. It's a ginger candy, some lemon and honey for good measure too. It's something I have when I'm sick." Nina explained while Phillip continued out the door, seemingly happy with what he'd accomplished. "But... I'll leave you to do your thing." Nina said, her own gemstone of pure lapis in the center of her chest.


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

The Inquiry breached the worldsphere once again, leaving Publius behind to watch over the grey world of Eterna. Yona leaned against the padded walls of the Inquiry's engine room, looking on at the wretched and naked body of the woman once known as Princess Biancarossa. The damage to her body was severe, thick scars, layered one upon another, ran across her skin like lesions. From the stumps of where her limbs once had been to the pieces of her shattered skull, were wires and machina. The air was thick with static, latent energy coursing through the ionized air as the devices stimulated the husk of a person before her.

This was the fruit of Yona's wish and Vihaan's labor. The only reason that the Inquiry could escape the bounds of reality itself. Yona wondered how it felt to be alive in that sense, to be stuck in a body unable to move, forced to give what little life force it had left to power the abomination of a machine that was Vihaan's Desire Drive. Yona wondered if the woman felt pain still. Perhaps she had once, early into the two years of travel, but now the impulses were barely enough to stir her from her deathlike slumber.

A machine hummed to life and began to pump the blood from the hanging corpse. It was thick and black, more akin to oil than blood. Yona turned around and left the engine room to the doctors and engineers.

Vihaan was sitting in his chair on the bridge with his knees tucked into his chest. He gazed onward into the darkness outside with reserved fury. Yona sat down on the only comfortable armrest on Vihaan's chair. Vihaan glanced at Yona but said nothing.

"The Desire Drive is about to give out," Yona started, "we're at our limit Vihaan. We won't make it Aramanthia."

"We weren't even supposed to make it to Anazorzia," Vihaan answered quietly.

"I'm afraid that we have pushed our luck as far as it will go. Our core purification systems are worn out. Our water, our air, and even your miracle fluid has run it's course. We must give up the chase."

"Are we to face our foe with only this motley group? Two heroes out of seven?" Vihaan asked.

Yona turned to the darkness outside, seeing the infinite nothing stretch on for eternity made her strangely at ease. "It was always a suicide mission. I'd just rather not die before we try to go for the killing blow."

Vihaan put his feet down and leaned forward. His eyes looked straight ahead. His brow was furrowed, his lips were tight. "Alright. How long do we have?."

"A week at most," Yona said as she stood up to leave. The door opened and Ensign Tolstad rushed into the bridge, panting and out of breath.

"Colonel, Admiral, you're not going to believe this, but we're picking up comm signals through the Desire Drive!"

Vihaan sat up. "Comm signals?"

"Aye sir, a safe harbor beacon!" Tolstad said, "and the next part is even more incredible! It's a friendly IFF! It's the Soul of Tomorrow!"

"What are the chances that this is a trap?"

"What is the chance that it makes a difference?" Vihaan answered.

Yona cracked a smile, "I suppose so. Set a course ensign!"

"Aye aye Colonel!"


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

When Philip did figure out where Rugal escaped to-
"URRGKKKK-BRRAAAAHHH! *COUGH! COUGH* uhhhh.... *Spit!* ...I hate space..." Rugal grumbled to himself as he dumped the contents of his stomach into the ship's toilet.
Nina would get a hellva shock seeing the famed "Captain of the Rising Dawn" in such a state, hunched over a bowl rim overwhelmed by emotions and sickness. (Thankfully he didn't get anything on his nice suit!).
With an expression of both confusion and embarrassment, he silently took the ginger candy before nodding a little.
"But... I'll leave you to do your thing."

"......That world wasn't always like that...It's something I failed to stop...I tried to stop it but-...if anything I caused it...I was there when it all came to an end..." He explained, figuring they deserved some sort of answer after coming this far.
It was about now that he noticed the Gem Nina was carrying, slowly pulling out his own Shappire one.
"...That gem....you were also in another world, weren't you?...I-....I still don't entirely understand...All I know is my journey was not in victory...ohhhhereitcomesagain-" He rattled on before getting up one last load of vomit out of his body.
Using the tap to rinse his mouth, he shakily stood up, reassuring himself over and over "I'm okay...I'm okay...Right...Better to get this over with. I'm going to the bridge to see what I can do for Vihaan to get us home. I didn't make it this far to end up confined to a floating metal coffin millions of miles from my family..."

Before too long, he joined both the Admiral and the Colonel on the bridge, looking a bit unsettled (especially when looking directly out the windows) but still attempting to be of some use to his saviors.
It would be at this time he would try some of the Ginger candy stick, mainly to get that horrible taste out of his mouth.
"Right...Vihaan and...Yona, was it?...I didn't thank you both before for giving me passage. But something tells me we have a long way to go before we're back on Earth. So, what needs to be done before I can get my feet back on the ground? I don't confess this often but Space Travel is one of the few things I...would consider my weakness..." He explained as he edged towards one of the consoles, rather keen to look at a computer screen then outside.
"The Soul of Tomorrow...That's one of our allies, correct?"


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

If Nina had any doubts about why Phillip gave Rugal that candy, she certainly knew now, although she did wonder why rainbows were coming out of him. She didn't have long to think about that however as Rugal informed heron the fate of the world they'd just left, confirming her fears that things hadn't gone well. She didn't say much after that, thinking of what Miriam would think in knowing that another one of her sisters had died, and even touched at the lapis broach on her chest. She was so lost in thought in fact, she didn't notice Rugal leaving the room and with Phillip gone she was left alone.

"What the? Where did he go?" Nina looked around the room before noticing herself in the mirror, the shimmering stone of lapis at the center of her chest. She had plenty of time to think what this meant for her, both for Miriam and that empty world, it was gonna be painful yet oddly it stung more than she expected. Something Rugal had said felt wrong to her, or was it something he didn't say? "He... he didn't even notice... did he..?" She ran through the mumblings he made, stomping her foot as she cursed. "What the fuck! Like I get it, there's way more important things at stake here, but..! The least he could have done is say something, ANYTHING!" Nina strutted angrily up to the mirror. "My hair's floating, I'm literally wearing a galaxy, my chest is frickin' huge! The least he could have asked is how I was doing!?" She shouted, turning away from the mirror and throwing her arms up in the air in frustration. "Just act like I'm a real person, it's all I'm asking, people keep acting like I'm some big shot. Like... the reverse of the Emperor's New Clothes." Nina muttered with a huff, feeling a bit better as she headed for the door. "At least I got help where I can." She smiled as she held her hat and made a quick swoosh to make sure she cleared the door.

As Nina entered the room, she looked to Phillip who'd moved closer to Rugal, his aura slowly focusing more on him. "Rugal you're supposed to-" She started to explain before Phillip quickly papped the candy to push it onto his back cheek. "Suck on it... and no chewing." Nina finished as Phillip's focus on Rugal released. The candy was quite tasty thanks to the lemon and honey and slowly it helped to settle his stomach despite his nerve's best efforts to make him heave again.

"I know he's not really in the conversation mood right now but you shouldn't just shove things into people's mouths. That's a choking hazard." Nina knelt down as Phillip scuttled his way closer to her, managing to get a head pat or two before he slinked away. Standing up, Nina looked around at those there. "So... is that like our pit stop? That'd definitely not another world." Pointing at the monitor to the Soul of Tomorrow.


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

Vihaan had started answering Rugal when the world around them ebbed into existence. The Soul of Tomorrow was nothing like anything Rugal or Nina had seen before - a massive network of black strands extending outwards toward the edges of the plane. Light filtered through what looked like blood vessels, motions of organic life flooding through highways wrought from glass and steel.

The silver sheen of what had once been the Soul of Tomorrow peaked through the outer shell of black metal. Blue light still shimmered from windows staring out into the tangled web.

"What in Mara's name," Vihaan's eyes were wide.

The monitors all flickered to life together, blasting a cacophony of white noise onto the bridge.

"Ensign!" Yona screamed.

Tolstad was already working on the consoles, shutting each and every one of them down that she could. As each of the screens fell dark, another would open again screaming the chaotic song of the void.

"Get the engineers up here!" Vihaan roared as he jumped to his feet. Magic swirled around his body, forming a shimmering green shield that leaped from his body onto the surface of the Inquiry. "Prepare for possible hostile activity!"

"What IFF are we broadcasting!?" Yona blinked to the console opposite of the navigation display. Her fingers flew over the interface, bringing up screen after screen as she searched for the communications uplink. The door slid open. Two women rushed onto the bridge. "Get that audio output to zero! I can't hear myself think!"

The engineers wasted no time before opening the covers of the control consoles and disconnecting the audio devices from the power hubs.

As soon as all the screens grew silent, Yona had finished what she was doing.

A girl appeared on the bridge, clad only in jewelry and a thing sheer scarf that wrapped around her thin frame. Her eyes were brilliant green. "You my call have answered. I did not high hopes for survivors have." She tapped her staff down on the ship and banished Vihaan's protective magic in an instant. "But a dark presence on this ship is. A child of the Founder, and an associate of the Cursed One I feel. What could be the source of this suffering soul?"

Naamah turned to Rugal, "Yet not only such presence I know, but also the faint trace of a dead daughter," and then she turned to Nina, "and the triumphant aura of a champion too?" Naamah closed her eyes. "Others too. Those who do not draw breath and those who hearts do not beat. Indeed, indeed."

She held out her hand, "Those who bear the scars of death, stricken by the Cursed One, and cast into the void of worlds, answer me with you voices! Who are you!?"

Vihaan shot Yona a confused look and Yona did the same. The ensign and the two engineers stood in still silence, eyes trained on the girl that had suddenly appeared on their ship.

Naamah pouted. "Perhaps you all a reminder require? It begins in such prose: To protect and serve the weak..."

The ensign stiffened, a flicker of recognition flashed across her face. She answered Naamah out of rote habit, "to free the enslaved, and to safeguard the lives of each and every person who takes breath upon this Earth."

"In mankind's darkest hour, we will serve as their shield against the night," Vihaan said next as he furrowed his brow in confusion.

Yona relaxed her shoulders and added her own voice to the answer, "so that we may all gaze upon the Rising of the Dawn."

"From the first night, to the last we will stand until the Rising of the Dawn." Naamah finished, "Yes, indeed."

Naamah bowed, and a second presence made itself known on the ship.

"Well, I certainly didn't expect to see you guys ever again," the clack of her heels gave her away instantly. The flutter of snow white hair and the cloak of ruby red cloth - her brilliant emerald eyes and silver sword were all that Rugal needed to see before he realized who these people were.

Titania smiled, "Glad to see that at least some people are alive, ya bungling idiots."

---

The Inquiry drifted through the massive hangar doors of the station. Instead of being greeted by the automated receiving dock that they expected, two massive hands gripped the ship and guided it gently into port. Vihaan stared out at the huge black creatures, effigies of giants made of the dark nanomaterial that their gracious host played progenitor.

The doors opened and Naamah led the way out into the empty space. The stillness of the giant watchers around them cast a ominous beauty over the hangar bay. From their position, it looked as if the Inquiry was the only ship that was docked. Perhaps the only ship that would ever dock here in this hidden world.

A man was waiting to greet them at the entrance to the station proper. He was a tall, intimidating man with an old creased face and long black hair. He wore upon his head a crown of darkness, shards of floating obsidian that followed him like a halo.

"Look, look!" Naamah said cheerfully as she ran to the man's side. "They came! Just like you said they would! Naamah's song really is the best isn't it? The best of all the world!"

The man smiled and put his hand on Naamah's shoulder. His voice rang out as he spoke, barely at a whisper, and reverberated through the very structure of the station, "Yes, you did very well Naamah."

Naamah took a step back, eyes wide and mouth open. "My king?"

Titania stifled a laugh. "So King Solomon has as voice does he? You could have fooled me."

King Solomon smiled earnestly. The edges of his eyes creased and the sharp angles of his face softened. But he did not laugh. "Come," he said. He turned and began to walk down the hall. The tapping of his staff against the ground echoed through the metal, breathing life into the materials hugging the walls.

After some time walking and listening to the silence of the station punctuated only by the music of Solomon's staff and the occasional passing of nanomachine constructs. "Excuse me for asking, but... who are you and what is this place?"

Naamah turned to Vihaan aghast.

"Keep your opinions to yourself Naamah," King Solomon said.

Naaamah bowed her head and took several steps backwards.

"This is a sanctuary. The worlds outside die. A flood of light is coming. And when it arrives it will destroy us all. This has been foretold. I am Solomon, a piece of the entity you once knew as BlackHarte."

Titania chimed in as she continued onward past the old king. "So it turns out our friend BlackHarte has three things that he calls his 'Prime Units'. They are individual personalities left in charge of pretty big decisions in his collective. Solomon represents logic and Naamah represents emotion."

"And the third?" Yona asked.

"Well, that's a bit complicated." Titania said. "It will make more sense if you talk to BlackHarte himself."

"The fairy speaks truth," King Solomon said, "it would be difficult to understand in abstract terms. Heroes, please follow me. Naamah, if you would see to the rest, I would be most grateful."

"As you command, my king." Naamah bowed.

---

Rugal and Nina walked with King Solomon for half and hour in silence after they separated from the rest of the crew of the Inquiry. Vihaan promised, unprompted, that he would see to the proper treatment of the bodies of the dead heroes they had recovered. B.C., Nadalia, and Inuart had all passed when their Labyrinths collapsed. Anjali, however, was still unaccounted for. Though Vihaan had mentioned that they were able to see her signature spike several times in the last couple weeks.

King Solomon stopped outside an unassuming door in a hallway full of unassuming doors.

"Here," King Solomon said softly as he held open the door.

The room within was simple. A bed, a desk, a lamp and a half-eaten dinner on a tray. Stacks of books were strewn haphazardly in heaps across the room. Papers lay chaotically before messy bookcases and disorganized binders. In the middle of it all was an old man.

He raised his eyes from the pages of the scrapbook in his hands and saw Rugal and Nina. He had brown eyes. His hair was white and scruffy. His eyebrows were nearly as thick as his walrus-style mustache. He say with a hunch, thin hands covered in dark spots. A set of thick rim glasses sat on his nose.

"Oh," he said. His voice was weak, old. Nothing like anything Rugal had heard in his long career at the Rising Dawn. "You are finally here. I was hoping that there would be more of you, but, beggars can' be choosers I suppose." He closed the scrapbook slowly and made the effort to stand up.

"You know me as BlackHarte," he said as he extended his hand to Nina and then Rugal, "the founder of the Rising Dawn group. But my name... ah... It would be best if you knew wouldn't it? My name is Charles. Charles Marlow. Nice to finally meet you. You've received my invitation, yes?"

He motioned to seven empty chairs at the other side of the room. "Please, sit. I fear that you may have a number of questions. I will do my best to answer them."


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

Nina stood firm as she was offered to sit. "So just so I'm clear, Solomon was supposed to be logic and Naamah emotions, does that mean you're the dead beat dad part of Blackharte, Charles? Or maybe that one's even abandoned you guys too?" Nina said, crossing her arms as she stared down on him.

"You've been here for lord knows how long, flipping through your stupid book and apparently four of your daughters have died! I could think of plenty of other questions to ask you; why we were dead drifting out there, where Earth went, what the hell this other threat is everyone can't seem to give me a straight answer on, why I'm the only quote on quote 'champion' here... But frankly right now I want to know why I shouldn't slap the shit out of you three for imprisoning your children in those hellholes!? Do you have any idea what's happened in Miriam's pocket space?! Black Heart indeed or was that song you guys were singing out into space supposed to be good enough." Nina shouted, tearing him a new one. She didn't know anything about Blackharte other than what she'd learned from Miriam, and needless to say she hadn't been given a good impression.

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