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

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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.


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."

image
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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."



image



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?

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