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

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End of an Era
Story of Dusk

Charles was right. Rugal DID have questions. Many of them in fact.

First he was rescued, then they were brought to some overrun space station, something was threatening to blow them up, Several of his allies (And one former co-worker) were dead and on top of it all, he was now meeting the "Founder" of the group he was technically working for this whole time as the Rising Dawn's Captain.
His stomach settled a bit but his sickness was replaced with unease and exhaustion as he tried to figure out which question to ask first.

Thankfully, Nina had him covered in that regard as he considered what happened to Livia.
"And you asked me to murder one of these daughters as well..." He coldly admitted as he backed Nina up, his tall figure standing by her as he asked his own questions.
"And I'm sure you're going to explain how all of what happened to them was "For the greater good" or "I did it for them". You think you're special. One of a kind. Like there hasn't been billions before you who have pulled stuns like this with the same excuses. I don't know what this threat you speak of is, but consider your words very carefully. You should know by now that I have little time and patience for self aggrandizing. Not after what I went though."

Stepping forth in front of Nina, somewhat protectively considering the fates of his friends, he started with a simple one: "So what's the point of all of this? How does anything that just happened "Protect" us from this menace Solomon speaks of? That was your intention, wasn't it? These gems?..."
He pulled out the one that he collected when Livia's world was brought to an end.
"Are these meant to save us or did you just want their power for yourself? You're not the first man I've met to trade his children for power..."
He nosed around some of the books as he awaited his


End of an Era
story of dusk

As Rugal looked through the books on the table and flipped over textbooks and novels. Treatises on behavioral psychology, theories on parental responsibility, and theses on child development. The novels were mostly children books. Stories of fantasy worlds, living ink, and playful dreams. Some of the titles were common, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and Harry Potter. Others were more classical works that had been adapted for children, Aesop's fables, the Story of Ozymandias, the Tragedy of Hippolytus. Out of the pile he picked up a small novella that stood out to him. The familiar words of it's cover were embossed in gold on the navy cover. Words in English and subtitled in both German and Polish. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This was a book that was popular when he was child, displayed at the forefront of each and every bookstore from Prague to Paris.

What was the book about again?

"Well, there are certainly many thing that I should address, but let us take this one thing at a time." Charles put the scrapbook on the table and stood up. "There are two threats that seek to destroy all that you know. This is why it is difficult for others to answer your questions. The first threat they know, and it is a direct result of my previous actions.

I gave life to a girl named Venia. She was a celestial from a far-off universe, the last of her existence. Out of pity I gave her purpose and she took to it like a duck to water. She seeks to end everything - to deliver her mercy upon everything and anything that was and ever will be. She is the flood of light the others will speak of. I have expended myself keeping her overwhelming power at bay. She is the very embodiment of inevitability, the representation of finality, and a reminder of the mortality of all lesser beings. Venia's ultimate goal is to kill my daughter. The same task I have asked of seven heroes of the Rising Dawn. In her zealous persecution she will consume all life before completing her task.

The other threat is one that is more difficult for me to describe. For me it is deeply personal. My own daughter, the only flesh and blood I have. I would give anything to her... and I have. So began my problems."

Charles stopped to take a drink from his cup.

"In order to understand Alice, you have to understand the origins of our troubles. Rugal no doubt recalls in ages past the era where the gods bestowed powerful elemental gemstones upon the heroes of the Rising Dawn. Many of the heroes lost their stones in battle, but one megalomaniac kept his stone and used it to ascend to an angelic mantle.

His stone was the 'Stone of Light' and it was no doubt powerful. But, he was by no means the only one who kept such an artifact.

'Black Heart' is not my moniker, but the name of the 'Stone of Darkness.' Unlike the other artifacts, the Stone of Darkness did not bestow great power upon is wielder. But, it could be infinitely subdivided without losing it's potency. So I did. Using the stone as a base, I created the machine intelligence that would become known as 'BlackHarte'. Well, it ended up being that the Stone of Darkness could consume and store power, passing knowledge and energy down through generations of holders. Each time it gained a new holder, the Black Heart gained in potency. It was exponential.

The end came before I even had time to realize what had happened.

I was within that chaotic maelstrom of consciousnesses for who knows how long. A single voice lost in a cacophony of millions upon millions of voices. All screaming unintelligibly at the void. Eventually as BlackHarte consumed people, their voices joined me in the void. They were reasonable, conscious beings. A light among the chaotic darkness.

And in aeons I eventually found myself surfacing in a world that I did not recognize. We were adrift in a starless void, banished from the world we once knew. I did not know it at that time, but we had been ejected from our universe entirely. It was how the Black Heart reproduced. Once it consumed enough souls, it launched a portion of itself outward into the greater multiverse, seeding other worlds with it's spores so that it could continue to grow.

At that time I regained autonomy. At that time I began this grand endeavor, putting together the Rising Dawn Group, pulling the brightest minds from all the worlds I visited, and even rescuing those poor girls that would eventually call themselves the Daughters of the Founder. Seven hundred and seventy seven years I wandered the greater multiverse, putting pieces together.

Those gemstones that you have... are imperfect replicas of the original elemental stones. Within them lies the essence of each of the Daughters of the Founder... their hopes, their wishes, their dreams. They know, each and every one of them, the truth of their existence. They were children of dying worlds, more likely than not the last of their kind. In each of their souls I planted a piece of the Black Heart which eventually grew into the gemstones that you retrieved.

All of these things for one thing. To end this terrible self-indulgent dream of my dearest Alice."

Charles opened the scrapbook again. It was filled page after page of pictures of a girl. Nina had seen the lifeless eyes and grey hair of the woman before. Once in an library framed by azure crystals.

"Alice is my daughter, my one and only. She was born with many health complications, so I spoiled her. I gave her everything in my power, but what she wanted was something I could neither build or buy. Time, friends, a loving family. These were the simple comforts that our situation denied to her.

Her mother grew distant, I grew obsessed, and Alice suffered. She died never knowing the warmth of friendship. And now, the abominable mockery that was reborn from the power of the Black Heart... I wish it had never came to be. The darkness of the gem twisted her, made her angry, bitter, and lonely.

I cannot kill her myself. I have neither the strength nor the will. So I ask of you, Nina and Rugal, the only two who have survived this ordeal. You must kill my daughter, for if you cannot, I must turn to Venia's merciful end. Use the gemstones that you have collected - each will breach a specific aspect of Alice's defense. With all of them combined you should be able to overpower even the overwhelming power of the Stone of Darkness."

Charles sat down. He looked at Nina and Rugal. "Where we are, nothing else matters. This is the endgame now. Kill Alice and free us from this prison, or kill me and let Venia deliver us to oblivion."


End of an Era
story of dusk

"......Another life to add to my sins..." Rugal weakly said as Charles made his purpose here clear.
After all, this is what he sought his whole life, was it not?
To fight, grow stronger, then fight again.
Drowning in glory and riches with each conquest.

Too late to take it back now and what was another soul to a man who's very being was tainted with blood.

For a few moments, he considered that there was another option, that there was something he could do to change but-...there wasn't.

And that hurt more then any blow he had felt in his entire life. For all his power, he was helpless once more.

".....There's nothing more to say then, is there?...Us or her...." The failing King of Fighters mused to himself as he looked down at his own gemstone.
"....Suppose this was always what I was best at. Even as a father, I-...never could be the man my family deserved...But...the least I can do is ensure they have a future...Damn you Charles...damn you..."
Gone was much of his pride and bravado, this wasn't a arms meeting or a shakedown, he wasn't a king here as doubt and hesitation filled his mind.
Turning back to the books, he glanced over at some of the children's stories and made a confession: "...I never actually read any of these as a child. Never even had books back then. My-...my childhood was one of living off scraps. My first kill wasn't out of anger or some higher purpose. It was for-....heh, it was for a large meal at a late night fast food shop. A-a-and a milkshak-"
Emotion got the better of him as his composure finally crackled and he fought back tears.
"W-what kept me going-...was the idea that-...I deserved more then that...That I wasn't just some-...piece of trash on the streets of Berlin. That I wouldn't be helpless forever and I'd never let myself be like that again...I was scared...alone and-...so-......"

His fists trembled as he stared at them, gritting his teeth in anger before he went on: "...I brought nothing but death and misery to the world. I slayed my teachers when there was nothing else to learn, those who opposed me, those who supported me, those who's crime was not knowing who I was...I thought I could change from that. That I could finally-...stop being so-...scared of being like that again...But after everything that's happened...I-....I can't help but feel that-.....it would have been better if I never left those streets at all..."

Finally snapping himself out of his stupor, he grimly wiped his eyes before saying "But I can't change it now...I-...I owe it to the people I've dammed to make this right, otherwise all of this will have been for naught...m-maybe this was what my purpose was? The Man-Made Lord God. The King of Fighters...all to just-...stop a child who can't help herself...Heh...poetic isn't it? Perhaps if someone had done the same to me-......."

Slowly he rebuilt his focus, determination and anger fueling his rebirth as he braced himself for the battle of his life.
"...I'm sorry this had to happen to you, Nina...As a Captain of the Rising Dawn, I should have done more to help you and everyone else...But I shall not fail you again. I won't fail my crew again...I won't fail my Family Again!"

"Charles...Begin the Final Round. This King has one more fight in him..."


End of an Era
story of dusk

It was probably a good thing that Rugal had his back turned to Nina as he made his speech. Hearing the tales of Rugal's past and the sheer ocean of regrets and evil he'd accomplished in his time, it wasn't any wonder Nina was giving him a look that rivaled David Silverman. He was supposed to be the captain of a major force for good in the world, what the hell was he talking about!? Charles was talking about some nonsense about a magic jewel that births dead people but a reflection of their former selves. Not to be outdone, he also had had a major hand in making two universal terrors that if they didn't deal with it he'd let his two creations kill each other and the rest of the universe in the process.

Yet as Rugal turned to her and she tried to hide her impression of him with a smile, Nina hadn't expected him to apologize to her. With everyone seemingly needing her to do something or apologize in that 'sorry not sorry' tone, for someone to apologize for their actions and actually mean it was a huge change of pace for her. As such, she didn't respond initially as he turned back to Charles demand his final stand.

The response he received was not one with words, but a hand on his back. Soft and gentle, the little thing was dwarfed against the giant frame of a man that was Rugal Bernstein. It stayed there for a moment, lingering until Nina walked to his side. She had her head low until she looked up to him, a genuine smirk on her face. "I think, that's the first time someone's actually apologized for being a piece of shit and not shurked the responsibility on someone else."

"Despite what you've said, you're trying... aaand frankly right now I'm gonna need all the trying I can get. I didn't put myself through a world of eldritch beings, existential crisis' or... that fuckin' piece of shit Nemesis just to let this asshole here take the easy way out and burn everything." She gestured dismissively at Charles. "Make no mistake Charles, I'm not doing this for you. Frankly getting this mess as far away from your hands as possible sounds like the best option here. Rugal's not going to be able to do this alone and no one else seems to actually care enough to step up to the plate, so I guess I'm going to have to put my trust in this big lug and Anazoria's best to get me through this." She announced, slapping Rugal on the back as she denoted the 'big lug'. "Where do we find Alice's new self?"


End of an Era
story of dusk

Charles nodded. "Yes, understandable." His words were soft. "It won't be ready until some time from now. Two days, maybe one if we do not meet any unexpected errors." Charles stood up. His legs shook and his body groaned in protest of his movement. "Thank you, Nina, for taking on this challenge. This trouble is a remnant of an old generation, one that long should have faded away."

The door slid open. "Excuse me mister, but I am here to receive Mister Bernstein and Miss Nina."

---

Ruby Babbage-Lovelace was not terribly different from when Nina had last seen her. She was still a young girl with white-black hair and shimmering gold eyes. Her outfit was still decidedly pink and ribbon themed, but her demeanor had changed somewhat. Where she once had held a Grimoire gifted to her by her mother now was a small black box of the same material that lined the walls. Ruby did not smile as she once did with the glimmer of innocence. Her eyes were dark and sunken, lacking any of the life that once filled her.

The staging area was a large concord overlooking the hangar array. The two giants had begun their work on the Inquiry. Their long tendril-like fingers worked around the roughed plates of the ship's outer armor, stripping the insides of old circuitry and bio-mechanical interfaces. Smaller scarab-like drones fluttered in and out of the ship carrying new modules and materials to aid in the construction.

Titania was standing on top of the table, looking out at the hangar with her arms crossed. Vihaan and Yona were present as well, but all of the other staff that had boarded the Soul of Tomorrow were absent.

"I have brought them, Mother," Ruby said as she curtsied.

"Lovely, thank you Ruby."

"Is there anything else you would have of me, Mother?"

Titania turned around and stepped off the table. "No that will be all. You are dismissed for the time being."

"Thank you, Mother." Ruby turned and walked away.

"The girl hasn't been the same since she fought against Venia." Titania answered Nina before she had the chance to vocalize her question. "Out of the party that confronted that monster, Ruby was the only one that we recovered. Lucieon set her adrift in the void between worlds in a final desperate attempt to warn us of Venia's coming. She survived the massacre, but she's never been the same since then. It's as if her soul's been ripped out of her. Poor thing goes through the motions of her original personality, but doesn't quite understand the reason she does things."

Titania cleared her throat and blinked something out of her eyes before turning back toward the Inquiry. "Well, we're here. So I might as well try and catch you up on what's what."

Vihaan stood up, "Allow me to shed some light on the manner of Alice's existence." He plugged in a flash drive into a console on the table and brought up a holographic projection of an endless amount of illegible data. "Thanks to the hard work of our friend David West, we have some information on the nature of Alice Marlow. So let us start with what we know.

"Let's answer the question of how we got here first. Seven heroes died and were cast into the abyssal lands between worlds. According to the data collected by my scrying device, which I had David West so helpfully bug the Rising Dawn's causality weapon storage bay with, I recorded seven separate instances of the death of Lieutenant Dolores Selmy. Naturally this was a very strange thing to occur. Generally people die once, twice if they're really persistent.

"With each death I noted that one of you designated heroes was 'excised' from the world. The cycle then repeated sans hero until Dolores Selmy died again, wherein the causality event would occur and reset the world to an arbitrary time before the death of Dolores Selmy. After interpreting what I could from the limited readings I was able to discern, I can say with some certainty that in each of the iterations, one of you directly lead to the death of Dolores Selmy - which would explain why she exiled you when restarting the cycle.

"We do not know what could have convinced you to do whatever you did, and we doubt that you know yourself. We cannot even confirm that you were directly responsible, just related to the event in some way. So I wouldn't let it weigh on your moral consciousness in anyway."

Titania stepped up to continue, "Luckily for us, BlackHarte... or Charles, however you want to address him, had been working in anticipation of his daughter throwing this kind of fit. He had spent centuries setting up worlds so that they would intercept the trajectories of your drifting bodies in the void between worlds. Each world had what was named a "Daughter of the Founder". Women that Charles had come across in his search for a way to end his power-tripping brat of a kid. It is in these worlds, or Labyrinths, that you found the artifacts we need to defeat Alice once and for all."

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"Outside of Nina's gem, my subordinate assures me that the stones are single use, although we are not sure why that is the case. But what it means is that we only get one try to set things right." Titania shook her head, "Though some of the fallen may never rise again, we can at least make the world safe again for the heroes that come after us."

Now it was Yona's turn to speak. "Using the Metal Band we retrieved from B.C.'s corpse, we will be able to locate Alice's cocoon even in the vast infinity of universes. With Teresa's Blood Gem we will be able to breach her barrier. From there it will be up to you two. What Alice is able to do is unpredictable. Charles assures me that each of the seven gems has their express purpose and that we must use them all at least once to achieve our goals."

"Although you may have noticed that out of a supposed seven stones, we only have six. We do not know how bad that is, whether it makes this a suicide mission, or if it merely inconveniences us."

"We will find Alice Marlow, and we will end this nightmare for all of us. For those who are gone, and for those that still hold on."


End of an Era
story of dusk

"Like I said, I'm not doing it for you." Nina retorted back to him, crossing her arms sternly, his thanks feeling incredibly hollow given the circumstances. "Let's just make sure it does end up fading-" "Excuse me mister, but I am here to receive Mister Bernstein and Miss Nina." "away. Ruby!" Nina shouted as she saw the little one come inside, bounding to her and stooping to give the girl a hug. It took Nina a minute to realize the deviations in this new Ruby, her eyes needing time to discern that in fact Ruby's sunken expression wasn't just a trick of the light. This was a bitter pill to swallow.


"I..." Nina said as she watched Ruby leave and listened to Titania's explanation. "I'm so sorry. I only knew her for a day but... I wish this didn't have to be." She said, touching at the lapis in her chest and feeling no pulse from it. Despite it being something it should repair, it didn't seem to have the power to bring her back. As much as she wished to say she understood the feeling of having someone a shell of their former self, it just felt in bad taste to say it here.

As she listened to the coming info dump, the concept that she had killed Dolores and that's why she'd been sent out into this place was absurd. "By that logic I could have killed her by Rube Goldberging some nonsense that eventually killed her. I don't remember it all that well, but I thought there was a gunshot?" Nina commented, feeling more miffed than anything, all this mess over something so petty. "But you're right, we sure are lucky Charles did all this planning." Nina rolled her eyes at Titania. "Why ground your kid when you can let them have a meltdown that breaks the universe..." She muttered to herself.

With the rest of the story spoken, Nina was left feeling a lot less confident about this. "W-Why did you need to say that part! Did we really need to know this was potentially dead from the start?!" Nina pleaded, feeling like this was way over the top pressure she just wasn't ready for.


End of an Era
story of dusk

"W-Why did you need to say that part! Did we really need to know this was potentially dead from the start?!"

"Do you know how many times I've heard that exact phrase? How many times someone told me that something wasn't possible?"

Rugal was entranced by his own gem as he spoke, clearly ruminating over the lives that he had ended (in his mind) to get this one shot.
"The truth is that unlike a lot of the heroes who perished in this mission, I had no enchantments or magic to start off with. I'm one of the strongest humans in our world, but still only human. And yet, look where we are. How far we have travelled. At any point in this mission, it could have been a failure and we'd all be dead by now already. But we aren't. And believe me, as much as it might feel otherwise, there's a certain relief I find in being told something is impossible or certain death."

"It means that there's no reason to hold back, no reason to stop, no reason to give up. After all, if it's truly impossible, then it doesn't matter what we do. What dirty tactics, what laws are violated, what limits are broken. Think of it less as impending doom and more as-...A finale. Either ours or Alice's. So anything you might have been saving for a special occasion: Now's the time to unleash it."

Finally standing up and cracking his neck, he turned to Titania and asked "I'm intending to give Alice as much as I can offer. This will include using my Omega form. Hopefully I might be able to keep her occupied and distracted, giving us some more chances to get the gems into place. If nothing else, my speed and durability in that state would be invaluable in our mission. The form is locked to me without additional power elsewhere. My darker impulses are no longer part of me so hopefully I might be able to release it's full potential without losing control. Now...Pardon my request but...may I have a "Jumpstart"?"

"If we make this out of this alive, I'll be certain to repay the favor."


End of an Era
story of dusk

Rugal's pep talk fell a little short of its intended audience. Nina after all wasn't Rugal, sure she was human, but she was far, far more human than the mythical beast of a man Rugal was. He was mortal, he bled, but while neither had magic Nina couldn't liquefy their enemies with a single swing of their arm. He had no right to call himself normal. Still, what Rugal said did stick with her, Rugal had survived zillions of these situations. If him and his nonsensical madness could make it, she surely could too, surely?

"No, I... That's not right." Nina shook her head, getting in between Titania and Rugal. "Not exactly at least." Nina turned to Rugal, looking up to the mammoth of a man. "That kind of attitude's not what we want. You keep talking about trying to do better, but violating laws, dirty tactics, this dark Omega thing. It doesn't sound like you're really trying to."

"Look, I get it, you clearly know how to survive these things but if we just go in there guns blazing we're gonna fuck up. We need smart, calculated surgical Rugal not Smash All the Things Rugal, know when to smash and when to stop and listen. In my case I didn't really have the option, I'm just some random nobody. I have the barest of self defense, know the basics on shooting a gun, and have no powers. I made it through sheer dumb luck and listening to people that knew better than me. And if Phillip hadn't have been there from the start I'd... well I'd be dead. Plain and simple. The stereotypical eldritch horror would have made me into swish cheese long before I could have gotten on that train." Nina argued although as she rambled on she lost her train of thought.

"The point is." She said poking at the center of Rugal's chest. "When I said you were a Big Lug, that was supposed to be a joke. Something to lighten the mood and make me feel a bit better, but right now you're making it sound like a pretty apt description. I want to believe that we can do this, that we can fix this mess, but first I need trust you." Nina asked, moving her finger from her to Rugal and back with the we and pressing it to Rugal's chest for the you. "This dress doesn't have sleeves to hold anything in, but you can bet I'll try my hardest with what little I have."


End of an Era
story of dusk

Titania closed her eyes and shook her head, "I couldn't help you even if I wanted to. I don't have any real powers as long as Naamah has her Sepulcher skill activated. But I understand where you're coming from. I want you to think about it this way. We have already stretched our luck and powers thin surviving the catastrophe that was the end of our world. We have endeavored against God and gods otherwise. Now as it stands, the Rising Dawn is but a handful of soldiers and you two heroes."

"I'm sorry to shoot down your suggestion, but we've already used up every ace and trump card we have. It will be the full extent of our prowess to deliver you to our quarry's domain." Titania gave a small genuine smile to both Rugal and Nina. "In every way I look at it, this is the end of our story. This is the real world, not some sort of game of make-believe. There is no eleventh-hour superpower, no magical kryptonite, no forbidden ancient sorcery that we can turn to. All we can use is what we have been able to prepare in the past three years. If you die, everything is over. That's just how it is. We've all done our best to earn our Good Ending."

There was a period of silence immediately following Titania's words where no one in the command center dared to move. Yona and Vihaan had their heads bowed and the ensign sat with her hands folded gently in her lap. They were praying.

Outside the giants freed the ship from it's harness. The scarab drones fled the insides of the vessel as the giants affixed the final layer of armor to it's hull. The ship was now gilded with the same living black metal that had infested the station. Green pulses of light ran through the hull like a heartbeat.

Then it was Vihaan who broke the silence first. "We are ready if you are ready."



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End of an Era
story of dusk

...Well, that could have went down better.
His sails were slightly less full of wind after such comments but he kept up his resolve, silently nodding in agreement.
"...I-...I understand...More often then not, I find these events leading to a battle so it's a hard habit to break. Still, I'll take point, stay behind me in case Alice strikes out at us." Rugal answered, looking a bit less in his comfort zone after doing so.
"It's time then. I'm ready to do this..." The Aging King of Fighters finally said, bracing himself for whatever was about to come.


End of an Era
Story of Dusk

"Frankly it might, you do have more experience than I would, I just really hope this doesn't have to come to that. And don't worry, I plan on it..." Nina said, noticing the praying crew members. The Nina of yesterday would have let out a long groaning sigh, but the Nina before them was much more sympathetic. They were scared out of their gourd just like she should be.

"Christ..." Nina huffed, looking around and up to the ship. "I don't know, I feel like I'm missing something but... just waiting here's not an option either, I can't stay on this station for the rest of my life, we can't do that. Nor can I just bugger back to Anazorzia. I guess we gotta-"

Phillip burst through the doorway on the far side, his sudden appearing felt by everyone else before Nina turned. "Phillip? I thought you were with the other group?" She asked as the noodle monster crawled his way forward, that ebony cookbook hovering just off the ground in his grasp. It was dripping some unknown substance onto the floor but unlike the ink that'd leaked out of it many times prior. It didn't last long however as it evaporated into the atmosphere soon after.

Phillip stopped by Nina's feet as she stooped down to the ground for him, adjusting his large chef's hat as it to look up to her. "Well ya, I finished talking with... the boss here and we were going to- No, it's complicated." Nina groaned as she shook her head only to look back up as Phillip offered the cookbook to her. "I- Phillip, I know this is important to you but, we've gotta deal with this Alice thing. Maybe someone else might be able to-" Nina started to explain only for Phillip to offer the book again. "You did and what did she say?" Nina asked only to have her face grimace in a grossed out manner.

Listening to the rest of his story, Nina nodded and turned to Vihaan. "Apparenly... um... was it Melissa? The redhead with that nice broach. She's apparently passed out in one of the main halls near the area the rest are gathered in. Poor thing must have let the stress get to her." Nina lamented, feeling honestly bad for her. Who throws up after looking at a book? Looking back to Phillip, Nina tried to put on a brave face for the little guy. "I'm not gonna be able to convince you to stay with them here, am I? It's gonna be dangerous and... I don't know how this will end, I don't want you to get hurt." To which Phillip responded by climbing onto Nina's shoulder, shrugging as his influence swung around the room as if to look at everyone there.

Nina stayed there for a moment, trying to wipe some tears from her eyes as she stood up. "You heard him, Phillip can't cook things if we let all the ingredients get erased. He said he was gonna go see the Miriams after. He's not breaking that promise and neither am I! Ready or not Alice, we're heading your way!" Nina shouted, punching up at the air.


End of an Era
story of night

Vihaan sat down on his chair with a heavy air around him. Outside of the observation windows, the cavernous maw of the Soul of Tomorrow's hangar array yawned open. It's thick black tendril swept away from the steel enclosure as air drained from around them back into the pressurized storage containers in the space station's ballasts. The Inquiry was silent, absent of the usual hum of the engines. He breathed in deeply.

Rugal sat down in the seat to Vihaan's right. Nina and Phillip sat down in the seat to Vihaan's left. The gentle green light of the living metal in the Dimensional Starship shimmered above them. The Inquiry was operating on a skeleton crew. For the first time since it's journey began two long years ago, Vihaan was the sole pilot of the vessel. They stocked no provisions of food nor water. They had just enough fuel to get to their destination and their capacitors were holding only the bare minimum of power to hold the aging vessel together.

This truly felt like a suicide mission.

Vihaan held out his hands and summoned the hardlight console of the ship. With a stroke of his fingers, the ship lurched forward. The thrusters were silent. The energy of the engine was being funneled into the blood gem resting at the center of the pulsating black mass of bio-mechanical flesh, and in turn the gem was gripping the space around them and moving them ever so much forward.

"Okay." Vihaan said quietly. "Beginning scrying protocols."

System Message:

>Use Item Command Selected
>>Item Select: Momento of Duty, Momento of Clarity, Momento of Splendor, Proof of Empathy, Proof of Voyage, Momento of Temperence
>>Selected: Momento of Duty.
>>>Are you sure? Using this item will consume it permanently.
>Yes
>>Item Used: Momento of Duty
>>Item: Momento of Duty has been removed from Inventory.
>Momento of Duty: What would you like to find?
>Alice Marlow
>>Momento of Duty: "Alice Marlow" discovered.
>>Momento of Duty: Add "Place: Core of Creation" to destinations list?
>Yes
>>Momento of Duty: "Place: Core of Creation" is now accessible by dimensional breach.

The ship had drifted forward enough to be outside of the Soul of Tommorow's gravitational influence. All that was before them was the unnatural darkness of the artificial universe they had taken refuge in. "Preparing breach." Vihaan announced.

For a while nothing happened. Then more time passed and nothing continued to happen. Vihaan closed his eyes, his hands were shaking. "Preparing to breach..."

Then he brought his hands down on top of the hardlight console.

Unlike the violent lurching jumps they had experienced when using the Desire Drive, the Inquiry simply faded into Eternity. The space around them was beautiful. It was full of a myriad of colors and lights, a dazzling display of wonder and they drifted through the raw materials of creation. Thick tendrils of red and black reached forward from the ship and dragged it through the medium like some sort of grotesque machine octopus. It's hands dug deeply into the web of light outside, leaving thin distorted streaks as the Inquiry passed through the primordial realm.

Then they faded back into existence elsewhere.

---


End of an Era
story of night

I watched as Nina, Rugal, and Philip fell into the seat of all creation. They landed gently in a dark abyss. All they could see in all directions was blackness. It was not dark, for there was enough light for them to discern both their own forms and the forms of each other, there was just simply nothing for the light to reach nor express. The world was empty. Their feet touched ground only because they expected to touch ground, that their subconscious yearned to be standing. In the same way was their light, for their desire to see.

I don't know if I expected them to arrive or not. I couldn't remember. The plan had gotten too convoluted. I couldn't even remember which timeline they were from. In the end it doesn't matter. It's all the same. They all have to end the same way. I clapped my hands.

End of an Era:

>1
The Core of Creation
You find yourself in a dark expanse. You can feel the ground beneath your feet, but can see nothing but each other.

>

End of an Era:

>1
The Core of Creation
You find yourself in a dark expanse. You can feel the ground beneath your feet, but can see nothing but each other.

>

Rugal.txt:
"....Huh...this is-....unexpected..." Rugal remarked as he examined the expanse around him.
[>Look at Dark Expanse]
Finding nothing (Least at this moment in time), he slowly began to walk forward while keeping his eyes peeled for any signs of live or movement.
[>Move North][1]
"...This mission gets more and more bizarre...Nina, you going alright over there?..." He asked, being sure not to let her leave his visual range.
[>Look at Nina]
[>Talk to Nina]

He then attempted to make sense of this strange realm they were in, kneeling down and running his hand along the "Ground" they were standing on.
[>Examine Ground]
Part of this investigation included testing the "Rules" of this new world, prompting him to timidly strike at the surface beneath them with his fist.
[>Attack Ground]

[1] North or whatever direction is in front of him

Nina.txt:

[Examine Area]
Looking around at the place they'd found themselves in, seeing that there was a whole heck of a lot of darkness all around them.
[Request Item: Flashlight]
"Phillip, we still have that emergency kit right? I'm pretty sure we didn't take it out when we were setting up our place in the ship? Maybe we could use that?" Nina asked as she continued looking around and watched Rugal head on ahead.
[Answer Query]
"I'm okay, a little weirded out we're suddenly not in the ship anymore, but I'm okay." She answered and after a short pause. "Phillip's okay too, he says this place is kinda familiar." She added, sounding perplexed by that, not understanding what place Phillip had seen that'd resemble such a oppressively dark place.
[Touch Ground]
Seeing Rugal examine whatever they were currently standing on, Nina did the same. Where they standing on the same metal flooring of the ship somehow or something else entirely. Phillip did one step further as he extended several tendrils outwards as they pawed at the ground.
[IF Request Item: Flashlight > True]
Nina happily took the light and flicked it on, shining the light around to see if anything happened, or if they truly were in an void of darkness.

End of an Era:

>2
The Core of Creation
The area around you is dark. It is impossible to discern anything at a distance. There does not seem to be anything that obscures your view.

>3
The Core of Creation
You move Northward. You travel some distance but the environment around you does not change.

>4
The Core of Creation
You look at Nina. She is a young woman. She has blonde hair and noticeably large breasts. She wears a dress woven from starlight. The Proof of Empathy rests in a broach at the base of her neck.

>5
The Core of Creation
You examine the ground but are unable to discern anything with your eyes.

>6
The Core of Creation
You attack the ground. Your fist connects with something solid, but you cannot discern anything from the contact. The ground has no visible reaction to your strike.

End of an Era:

>2
You turn the flashlight on and shine it around you. The darkness continues to expand in all directions. The area around you seems no brighter than it had been. It seems that the are is already well lit.

Nina.txt:

"Damn... it's not helping at all... It's kinda like that van black stuff I saw on the internet once. So dark it eats light." Nina suggested, walking up to Rugal as she turned the flashlight off. "Let's see if this does anything." She said as she grabbed Rugal's shoulder and then attempted to activate her Proof of Empathy, trying to correct this lack of anything despite them being on something.

Phillip.txt:

>Retrieve BaseBall
>Hurl BaseBall

Phillip seeing these different attempts at figuring out where they were shrugged and upon feeling no determinable difference in the floor decided to see how far out things might go. Reaching inside himself, he pulled out a ball and YEET'd that poor thing as hard as he could!

Rugal.txt:

"Hmmm...I've been to several realms before but-...this is a new one..." Rugal mused as his efforts didn't seem to amount to much.
He still seemed to be intact thankfully, as was his ki energy reserves so he attempted to try something different.
One of the first steps of learning how to harness most kinds of energy in martial arts, be it ki or straight up magic, was being to sense and detect it.
Pausing for a moment, he focused to try and detect any traces of energy he might be familiar with, Living, Spirital or even Electrical, just anything he could find.
[>Sense Energy: All]

Once he was done with that, his next test was turn his attention to figuring out just how large this place was, if it could have a ground, perhaps it could have walls or a ceiling?
Philip seemed to have the same idea as he threw a baseball of all things into the void.
"Hmmm...I wonder..."
As for figuring out if there was a ceiling, he used a Ki attack, namely the "Shakunetsu Hadoken!" as he used his energies to send a flaming ball of Ki energy up into the air like a makeshift firework.
Hopefully the extra power of this kind of attack would give it enough travel distance to hit something before it faded.
[>HCF + H+L.P (USF4 EX-Shakunetsu Hadoken)]

"...This reminds me of a old training simulation I was in once. They'd just put in a void instead of scenery. Good for training, terrible on the eyes if they made it too bright or too dark..." He remarked before Nina (Attempted to) put her hand on his shoulder.
Seeing this, he kindly knelt down slightly as he watched her use the gem.
[>Crouch]
[>Look at: Proof of Empathy]

"They said our gems would be used to bypass barriers. Perhaps this is one of them?" He suggested as he pulled out his own Memento of Temperance.
"Ahhh, I miss the days where the fate of the world or such could be decided in a slugfest..."

End of an Era:

>7
The Core of Creation

You sense an immense amount of raw energy coming from all directions. It is not immediately clear what the energy is coming from, but it should be possible to identify it if more effort is spent to pinpoint the exact nature of the energy.

>8
The Core of Creation

Your attack flies into the distance. It reaches a point in the distance and then vanishes.

>9
The Core of Creation

The Proof of Empathy sits on Nina's chest. It is a blue mineral polished to a mirror shine. Small white veins run through the azurite. It is an exquisite piece of work. You sense great power stored within it.

End of an Era:

>1
The Core of Creation

You throw a baseball into the darkness. It lands some distance away and bounces before disappearing.

End of an Era:

>3
The Core of Creation

You summon the energies stored within the Proof of Empathy. A brilliant light envelopes the area around you. Suddenly, the world around you seems less oblique. You feel accepted into the world...

image

The world around you materializes. You are in a stone chamber underground. The air is cold. There are doorways in each direction. What is this place? The smell in the air reminds you of the earth. Perhaps you are underground?

Nina.txt:
Nina had her eyes closed as she activated her gem, not really sure how she was supposed to use it persay, but impersonating Sailor Moon felt right. As such Nina didn't notice Rugal staring at her chest, and only noticed when she was told the scenery had changed from her noodle friend. "Thank goodness that-" Nina started to say until she stopped abruptly, taking a step back before putting two and two together.

"Oh my god!" Nina started laughing, still blushing profusely but at least she was taking it in stride. "I-I can't believe- ahaha~" She tried to say, a bit caught up in herself and trying to wipe a couple of small forming tears from her eye. Phillip brought a tentacle up to poke at Nina's cheek, which she lightly pushed it away. "No no, I'm okay." She reassured him. "Maybe I'm just stressed from all this and- someone finally gawking at me feels actually reasonable for once. It's okay Rugal, I know you didn't mean it." She said patting his chest as she looked around at the stonework before snapping her fingers. "Also, just adding to what you said there, hopefully we don't, because the three of us can think our way out of problems, but only one of us knows how to fight our way out of one."

"Anyways, this place looks familiar to me..." She said as she looked at some of the doors and specifically the stone walls, touching at her head a little. "Mmph, I can't remember what exactly, but... I think it had something about hands?"

>Inspect Doorways, indicate to approach the Northern door if all are identical

Phillip.txt:

Phillip didn't say much as he watched the ball disappear into the darkness and not reappear with the rest of the room. Hopefully Nina wouldn't ask about that ball, it was something special but he wasn't sure exactly what. Regardless, Phillip was able to watch their backs, and fronts for that matter. He hadn't been there when Nina first fell into that space between space and was torn apart by entities within the space.

End of an Era:

>The Core of Creation
>4 ...You inspect the doorways leading out of the stone room. They all expand into nothingness. You feel a cold breeze blowing in from the north doorway.

>The Core of Creation
>5 You approach the north doorway. You feel cold air rushing in to meet you. You can smell the distinct aroma of falling snow. Perhaps each of the doors lead somewhere different?

Rugal.txt:

Despite the situation, Rugal felt a lot calmer when the world around them turned into something far more understandable.
"Ahhh, a dungeon? This. I can work with..." He smiled, rubbing his hands before getting to work.
It was now that Nina had her "Reaction" to his gaze and, while Nina was able to add things up, Rugal-...not so much as he seemed to have not noticed the implications, least not until she spoke of him "Gawking" at her.
"...Excuse me? You think I was leering at you? I was just looking at the gem!...Bah, like you'll believe me. The youth these days..." He grumbled before following her north though the dungeon, examining the passage for any signs of life.

[>Examine North Passage]

While he did this, he also used some of his Ki to spark a flame in the palm of his hand, using it to provide both heat and light as he attempted to find the exit down the passage.
"The cold air seems to be coming from that direction. Might as well see where this one heads off to first. Nina, stay where I can "Gawk" at you." He quipped before walking north towards the cold.

[>Walk North]
[>QCF+LP (CvS2 2001: 114 Shiki: Ara Gami "Wild Bite"]

End of an Era:

>Winter
>1 The darkness swallows up the flame you send through the doorway. It seems that the lack of light is not an indication of darkness, but rather of the fact that no light is able to enter the room from the other side of the door way.

>Winter
>2 You walk North. You can smell the air grow cleaner. The aroma of pine trees fill you as you traverse the darkness, unable to see back into the room and unable to see forward. After some time you exit the corridor and find yourself in a forest clearing, surrounded by tall trees. Gentle snow drifts down from high above.

image

Rugal.txt:

Upon going through the doorway, he quickly noticed the sudden darkness that covered his vision, attempting to double back the way he came just to make sure that he could.

[>Walk South]
[>Walk North]

Once he got out into the clearing, Rugal felt the most at ease since this journey began.
He had fond memories of winter training over his lifetime, much of which took place in old forests like this one.
The cold didn't bother him much as he noticed the figure in the distance.

[>Look at Figure]

Softly pacing through the snow on the ground, he attempted to wave down the stranger stating "Hello? Can you hear me over there?"
He kept his guard up naturally, half expecting an arrow or some sort of projectile to start racing towards him.
"Excuse me, I think-heh-I'm a bit lost? Can you give me some directions?" He then asked in a faux tourist tone, trying to come off as non threatening until he needed to be.

[>Talk to Figure]

image

image

Rugal.txt:

"Rugal Bernstein. I'm not from around here...wherever here is." Rugal kindly answered, looking as relaxed as he could be in this strange realm.
It went without saying he wasn't convinced that "Allison" was her real name but until he knew what he was getting himself into, he could play alone for now.
"So Allison, you're..."Local" to this place are you? Perhaps you might be able to help me, I'm not really meant to be here. Or I am and I don't know it yet..." He spoke in his best "Lost Tourist" impression.
"Why, I don't even know where "Here" is? Don't suppose you could tell me what this place is? I was in a dungeon, then I walked a bit and suddenly I'm out here."

[>Ask Allison about forest]

Nina and Phillip.txt:

"... What the hell was that about..?" Nina gave a disgruntled look at the open doorway that'd swallowed up Rugal. "I even apologized to him and he's acting like a-" Nina cut herself off as Rugal popped his head back in. "Wonderful. Yep, be in there in a sec." Nina waved at him as he disappears back into the darkness.

"Well, at least we know it's not a one way or a trap..." She shook her head with her hand to it and glanced at the other doorways in the room. "Hopefully this is the right way and we don't need to head back to these other doors." She thought out loud as Phillip shifted around her shoulders. "Ya I can't see him either... What if it's too dark in there and we get lost?" Nina suggested, only for Phillip to extend a tentacle out to the other side of the room. "Hehe, a good idea but really that's not gonna work. What happens if you need to retract it?" Nina said, rattling her brain on what to use.

[>Use Butcher's twine spool]

"What we need is something strong, thin and really really long... like a string or..." Nina said looking to Phillip who seemed very offended. Offended enough to hop of her shoulder and point an accusing tentacle at her. "But it'd be perfect! We got that pack of twine not too long ago, you can't have used a lot of it." Nina argued to which Phillip threw even more arms up into the air. Nina pinched the bridge of her nose, let out a long sigh and stooped down to sit on the floor with him.

"Look, we can't be arguing about this right now. We need to think about this smart and if we gotta ruin $14 of- okay $14.67. Point is, I will absolutely buy you more later. This is not the universe's last spool of twine." Nina stated her case. "And just so we're even, you can tie it to that big coat rack mom sent you think's tacky. We need to weigh it down anyways." She suggested to which Phillip quickly pulled out both and threw to the ground unceremoniously. "... No need to throw it like that..." She smirked offering a hand to him and soon stepping through the doorway with her buddy dropping the line behind them.


It was cold but other than her uncovered face Nina actually felt pretty warm. Despite how sheer her outfit was, it was strangely insulating, not letting the cold in and yet she wasn't cooking in it either. "If you get cold I'm pretty sure we didn't unpack the winter stuff?" Nina suggested as Phillip just grabbed a large amount of her hair and used that to wrap himself up. "Or you could do that too. Now where did he get off to?"

Nina followed after Rugal's footsteps through the snow but kept an eye out just in case something popped up. And pop up they did as Rugal called out to a third party, Nina ducking behind a tree on the outer ends of the path. 'Shit, what is he doing?!' She thought as she tried to listen on the conversation and nearly fell over herself when she heard 'Allison' state her name. 'And her last name's probably Snow. I leave you for 5 seconds and you go and find Alice! Wtf Rugal!?' Nina's chest pounded as she watched him looking around like a lost puppy. 'There's no way she's buying this! Why are you lying to her?' She thought, getting ready to have Phillip linch Rugal outta there if it came to that.

In the meantime, Nina tried looking back where Allison had come from, trying to spot if she'd been standing there this whole time or if she had left a trail behind. If there wasn't a trail then there wasn't a doubt, no one could be out there with that little clothing to wait for the snow to refill her steps.

End of an Era:

Wonderland
>You inspect the area around Allison. The snow beneath her feet is as fresh as can be. There is no evidence that she had walked to where she was standing in the immediate past. Her face seems to spark a familiar recollection within you, of a woman once glanced in a scrapbook a long time ago.

image

image

image

Rugal.txt:
"I never knew my parents to be honest. But I'd like to think they would have been..." Rugal answered, well versed in the art of "selective truth telling".
"But thank you for the advice. Just-..." He trailed off before letting out an embarrassed laugh.
"Well-...Can you be more exact then "Close to here"? I'll confess, I usually let my servants or my personal AI assistants handle the directions. Can't even use one of those Sat Navs without ending up a few dozen miles in the opposite direction!" He pleaded, attempting to ensnare further her in his ruse.
Either she was foolish enough to believe what he was saying or she knew already and was just playing along: Either way, it served him to play his part until he made sure he had his opening.

After all, if this was really Alice, she'd know better then to stand around in the open right next to someone who's main claim to fame was tearing people apart with his bare hands.
For now, there was little more to do then see how she would play this one out.
And should she try something: Slashing Aura though the chest cavity, grip the heart and crush it, withdraw hand though her neck and skull to ensure termination.
"So how about it? Perhaps you could show me? I apologize for imposing but-...Like I said: I'm lost."

Should she lead him off, he would leave small nicks in the trees along his path as a trail for Nina to follow.

image

End of an Era:

>Wonderland
>3 You follow the Allison as she starts off into the woods. The journey is a meandering walk through a thousand identical trees, each of them pristine and beautiful, but unnerving in their regularity. You leave nicks in the trees as you walk, but soon you start to notice that the trees ahead have marks on their bark. Marks that you made. As you wonder if this girl is leading you along in circles, you find yourself outside of the forest.

>Wonderland
>4 You are standing on a small hill with Allison. A small town is laid out before you. There are several cottages and some shops, all covered in a robust layer of snow. Thin ribbons of smoke and steam rise out of chimneys and drift high into the overcast sky.

>Wonderland
>5 You feel alone... Nina and Philip have left your party.

Rugal.txt:
Rugal did seem to notice the markings on the trees he had left, a bit annoyed by another norm of reality apparently breaking before his eyes once again.
He didn't let it show but he did see if he could sense his allies, seeming pretty concerned when he couldn't find either of them.
Keeping his poker face, he then examined the town before them as he tried to work out how far along he might have went off without Nina.

"Ahhh...lovely little place you have here. It's a wonder anyone can find it though with all those trees. I hope the locals know how to find someone who gets lost..." He made conversation as he soaked in the view before walking towards the nearest inn/public house/etc.
"Don't see any roads...Do the shops here not trade with the outside world?" Rugal then densely asked, knowing this was all some sort of strange simulation or reality but he wasn't going to let up on his act now.

All the while, he kept his eyes peeled for anything that might help Nina and Philip link back up with him.

EldritchDuo.txt:

"KOF? What's that?" Nina asked quietly to Phillip, the noodle monster shrugging back at her in a similarily perplexed tone. "Rugal seems to know?" Nina whispered back, still trying to keep low as the two walked deeper into the woods.

"Oh no they're moving we need to..." Nina started to get up as the two started to get outside her vision, the dark night and snow obscuring her vision, only for Phillip to stop her. "You can still see them? Okay don't lose sight of them we need to keep together." Nina requested of her partner looking around them for any other problems that might come their way only for Phillip to poke her cheek.

"What do you mean they disa-" Nina asked as she stooped down as Rugal and Allison came back from a different direction. The two watched as they did this another time, this time Nina getting her tablet out with a drawing document out. "We gotta keep track where they're going, something weird's happening here!" She said, helping him by popping open a new layer whenever they warped to help keep track and did so up until Phillip confidently concluded they'd disappeared. No trace of either were anywhere close, even ignoring the limits of the darkness, they were straight up gone.

"Please work, please work!" Nina muttered to herself as she got up and started making her way in the same direction Rugal and Allison had first gone, using the map they'd made to help ensure she didn't stray off the path as they approached the first warp point. "If I'm right, when we get there we should jump back to the next layer and we just need to follow where they went. Then..." Nina paused with a gulp. "Ya we might be face to face with her, but it beats being out here in the snow..." She said as they neared the spot, having some trouble moving in the shoe with her heels for obvious reasons.

>[If Warp fails]

Nina stomped her foot down several times into the snow, turning around and trying again in some vain attempt to get whatever magical mumbo jumbo to activate and pull them to the next spot. Unknown to her Phillip's own existence would make this that much easier, being pulled through to new locations, but without Allison pulling the strings from wherever she was that might not be helpful.

"Okay... okay... this isn't working... but we need to find Rugal, we need to stick together..." Nina thought out loud as Phillip pulled out a large winter hat for himself to put on, one of those big woolen hats with the big tassels. "Allison said there was a town around here. Maybe, just maybe if we get up high we can see some lights or something from it?" Nina suggested pointing up at some of the trees.

Phillip then climbed onto her back and grabbed her shoulder's and waist before effortlessly lifting the two upwards, essentially Doc Ocing there way up until they were up at the tallest tree in their immediate area. From there they both looked for any 'glow of a civilization'.

>[Take photos of skyline]

If they couldn't tell from their own eyesight, Nina'd make the attempt to take several pictures of the skyline around them. She'd then use the colour picking tool in her art program to try and see if any of them displayed a lighter Hex value than the others. It was a long shot but you need to use your strengths where you can.

End of an Era:

>Wonderland
>You manage to triangulate the location of the town. It is some distance away. It will take some time to travel there by foot, but it seems to be easily accessible if you travel across the canopy.

"What a strange question," I said. The great big blonde man looked out wistfully toward town. There was unease in his eyes, but I was confident that it was just the stress from travelling so great a distance. "No one gets lost here and no one leaves here. This town has existed like this since time immemorial."

I turned to follow his gaze down to the town. There were no roads or streets here. The ground was blanketed in snow so deep that whatever roads had once existed had long since been lost. Small wooden cottages were all that were left as reminders of what lay beneath the white carpet.

"Say Rugal," I turned back to the great big blonde man, "why did you come all the way out here anyway? What did you get lost doing exactly? And why was such a terrible monster tailing you? Is your life in danger?"

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