The Trails of Moonlight II

Vol. 2, Ch I: Freed, from Aleria
Aid's Journal, Feb 9, 430AR

February 9, 430 AR
7:00PM – The Mayor’s Residence, Mattoi

This morning marked my first sunrise outside Aleria after a long three months. As well as the first day of being an actual Halophate member.

That’s right. Not merely deputized as part of our field study group. A true Junior Halophate member, as of today.

We woke up to Dovan scanning the sea for the journey ahead. He’s spotted a bright light constantly pulsating far offshore that spells big trouble. An Aboleth; an ancient giant creature known to play illusions on human minds using its pulsating light. These things may be normally docile, but they will attack if provoked with merely being in its vicinity. Dovan figured it won’t be much of a problem should we have taken a longer course to avoid it with the yacht.

Then Forte shared that there’s a way to open the Spirit Path from Freed Island, by diving into the ruins WHERE THE ABOLETH SUPPOSEDLY RESIDES.

We had split decisions at first, but eventually agreed to explore the ruins. After all, opening the Spirit Path to us can prove helpful in the future as well as provide faster travel, even for the yacht. I had a sinking feeling that made me change my mind twice before agreeing…

With some help from Forte’s magic, six of us (we left Dovan stuck with his yacht. He was very vocal about wanting to take it back anyways) went down to the ruins in these magical air bubbles. As we approached the place, a school of deep sea fish seemed to approach us, as if inviting us to the place. We’ve were greeted by a seemingly grand room upon entering the ruins, with water flowing through canals, and its whole structure surprisingly holding up despite its well-aged condition. The walls were inscribed with a phrase concerning something about “praising gods-” no, “rising gods?” – that Aboleth’s right hook must’ve jogged it off of my memory. I felt uneasy about it being possibly connected to That Cult, but Forte dismissed it as me merely overthinking things.

Moving deeper into the ruins, we found ourselves in a high atrium with a big cliff dividing us from the other side. The only way across were wooden bridges- surprisingly sturdy even for their age, supported by three pillars. Totems appeared guarding the place but the others quickly took them down. Art tried to take some scraps, but I suppose our host doesn’t take lightly to guests who simply take.

The Aboleth roared at us as if we were mere thieves. An ancient creature with no concept of time, it appears he has a great disdain towards humans, blaming us for the Moonfall Incident and loss of mana; for Vattos’ own wrongdoings. I know we’re prone to our own mistakes.. but is it right for someone to be punished for the sins of the ones before them, merely because someone had to pay? Seems Sigma thinks otherwise as well. The Aboleth warned us, but we decided to proceed nonetheless. I’ve steeled myself but the restlessness didn’t leave me one bit.

And sure enough, my gut feeling was right. On the next door, we met an eccentric man who knows way more about us than the average person- Art’s life as part of an experiment, and the thieving of a relic from Dragon’s Descent three years ago. The mere mention of it made my blood boil- even worse when he mentioned he was behind it. “The Akashic Order, Inquisitor no. V: Novarthis, The Researcher,” as he said. This was the very person who almost got the seven of us killed down the Descent. The next thing I know, I was charging at him full stride with Clarent in my hand, ready to shoot him down, with every movement intent to kill. I was blown back with a punch from a device of his. He claimed to want to help us by killing the Aboleth himself, but we know he’s been looking to kill the Aboleth all this time. The Aboleth’s words may have been uncalled for, but he’s done nothing but protect his own home. After a minor hold up from the Inquisitor’s totems (one seems too similar to the Divine Hunter Valtz… could it be a creation of The Divergent Blacksmith but using Gabriel as base instead?)- including a totem as large as Valtz, we rushed in to stop him in his tracks.

In the Throne Room, the Aboleth sat calmly, dismissing the Valtz copy totems like they were no threat at all. And indeed they quickly fell to the giant’s blows. Meanwhile, we got the Inquisitor’s attention away from the Aboleth. I was ready to call on Prometheus in case he did another stunt with the totems on us, but decided to deal with us himself. Perfect.

That’s a lie.

I was too reckless the entire fight. If it wasn’t for the help of the Alex and Art, I would’ve probably been dead already. We held him off with the best of our abilities, but even Sigma’s sharpshooting couldn’t knock him off. With the Aboleth destroying all his Totems and us still standing, he took his leave, but not without further humiliating me and Art by detonating bombs on the two of us.

The Aboleth seemed surprised by our actions, in spite of his threats. He tells us how he remembers a man from Aleria; Seyren, from us, hoping to hear from him sometime, unaware of how much time has passed already. Seems he’s gained some respect for us, as we had for him. To think such a creature would be so wise yet so alone. I hope he does get some good visitors.

After he enabled the Spirit Path, we made our way back to the yacht tand caught Dovan fishing. By fate would’ve had it, he manages to fish out a bag of “The Dreamers” album CDs from the water. And to think that they disbanded before I saw a second concert in my life… but I suppose the intense shock of Mariabelle being a slaughtering figurehead for the Liberation Army must’ve started to cut their ties apart.

And so, Alex, Art, and Raphael opened the Spirit Path, allowing us to travel almost instantly to Mattoi…. in the Mayor’s Residence courtyard. Much to her shock, we at least returned her yacht in one piece, although in the wrong place. I suppose Prez and I can get it out to shore using Prometheus at her request.

Its.. really been a rough first day returning to Corseria for me. I shouldn’t lose myself to my own emotions. How does Clementine manage to do it, anyways? I don’t wanna cause them any more trouble than I already have.

Its.. really been a rough first day returning to Corseria for me. I shouldn’t lose myself to my own emotions. How does Clementine manage to do it, anyways? I don’t wanna cause them any more trouble than I already have.I’m gonna go out and take an evening stroll across the city. To Mariabelle Ruins, maybe. I don’t know. I need a breather.

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Vol 2 Prologue End: Confession to the Wind

February 8 431 AR
9:30 P.M – Freed Island

The cold night breeze blew through the calm night, after reuniting with one of our friends, the team spent the night to relax and bond while Raphael recharged. Alexandra walks out from the merriment to get some time away from the bustling room. She was not uncomfortable, more embarrassed.

“They cannot seriously thinking of going on about this all the way back to Corseria… all the way till we find them…”

She shook her head and sighed, leaning against the wall of the cottage. She looked up to the sky and saw a clear vast dark sky with a moon only half its regular form. She reaches into her small pocket and takes out a small blue card, raising it up to the sky, covering the moon from her vision. The moonlight seeps through the card showing a trail that cuts off half way.

“I’m almost there… just a little bit more… I’ll see you when the moon if full…”

She continues to stare at it, her face turning bright red as she remembers the earlier events.

“I must make my records now.”

She started to type on a new document file as soon as she took out her tablet.

Today was a good day, among others. I am enthusiastic to have found a new specimen to learn about, though it may be a demon, spirit, entity, it was still a wonderful find.

She goes in detail about her record and files of Fenrir

I also awakened my Artesleast. Someone I feel betrayed by my own staff. But its helped me get something off my chest I could not do in a very long while. I am very thankful to Ursula but I feel like two girls are teasing me from a distance and they aren’t even of this earth anymore.

Alex continues of typing into her records, till she heard a them calling for her.

“Ah.. It’s that late already.”

She looks up again

“Till we meet again… but for now… my confession flows with the wind.”

The pink haired Mage smiles brightly at the sky before walking back inside after saving her files.

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Vol 2 Prologue: Emily and Ursula

“Emily”

That name…

It seems I said it but… that’s not my voice…

“Ursula, great! You’re here. I had something to discuss to you.”

Ah… Emily… This woman… could it be her? But who is this Ursula…? Could it be…

My thoughts got away from me… I watched as Emily and I…, or at least Ursula, chatted away. They seemed like old friends. I couldn’t help but smile.

“So, I have more information on the Golden Gate. There are 3 places to go to, to get to it. I’ll email you more of the details”

“Are you only here for business? Come on, lets go shopping.”

I, I mean Ursula cut and dragged Emily around… I guess this is what it’s like to actually spend time with girl friends. No business, just leisure. If it were not for Basy, I would only be training and researching… hmmm… this actually feels good…

“I’ll be going to Soldalt for a week, I’ll email you the details. Oh… and remember the escort I told you about? You might like him, he seems like your type”

I can’t believe it… It is that Emily… ah..

Everything faded to white and as the bright cleared, she opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling before covering her face with her hands in utter embarrassment.

“Hey now, goodness ..”

Huh… we… we had the same reaction… goodness I could feel my cheek heat up.

Alexandra sits up from her bed, tapping the table to her glasses when her fingers touched something cold yet, to her, also felt warm.

“My artesleast…”

She recalled a bit of her dream, she was sitting by a desk, computer on and…

“Ah… No… Mine and Ursula’s. That means she was a Yurran student.”

She stood from her bed, walking to the window fogged by the frosty winter air in Brindstrong. She pressed her hand against the cold glass, whipping away the mist with her palm.

“Haa… She email her… but…”

She closes her eyes , recalling the last few scenes at the computer desk, waiting.

Wait… I … We kept waiting… That but… The email never came… And I know why… ah, but I am intrigued with her find. I do want to know more about it… I wonder… what did they find…? Could there be a connection between their deaths? Maybe if I talk to their spirits… no… I’d rather not. Please don’t ever haunt me when I’m awake… I will learn exorcism just for this…

She opened her eyes and stared out at the town scenery.

“This winter seems colder… I hope the others are keeping themselves warm.”

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Vol. 2 Prologue - A Little Ember in the Snow

December 18, 430 AR
7:00pm
A forest, three miles North of Sankt, Brindtsong

The snow-covered pines of the forest shook with every step of the Armigear. The two-storey bipedal tank left large footprints in the packed powder, traversing the icy terrain more efficiently than any tank would. Aiden stood on the rampart on the robot’s waist, scouting for anyone within the white landscape with his binoculars.

The Armigear stopped in its tracks.
“Hmm? Einhander, something wrong?” Aid knocked onto the side of the tank’s hull.
The rest of the squad sitting on the robot’s back looked at the cockpit as well.
“Muuuuuuuh… We’ve been at it for hours, Aiden! Can’t we head back now? I need to work on my babies!” A girl’s voice complained over the comms.
Aiden sighed in reply. “We’re here to assist the evacuees from Sankt, remember? Worry about your bullet-spewing abominations later, psycho gunsmith.”
A green-haired Alven peeked from the robot’s left shoulder, her "ears’ twitching.
“Don’t you think 11 extra hours is already stretching it? We we’re supposed to head back to Kingsfall much earlier,” she tilted her head.
The boy shook his head in reply. “Failnot, Ein-”
“It’s Tris and Seria, Aid,” a green haired girl with glasses sitting beside the Alven scolded him as she drank coffee from a special flask. “Mission time ended ages ago, dumbass. Referring to us with callsigns is just distant and plain rude.”
“…sorry about that.”
The Alven girl waved off the issue. “It’s fine, it’s fine.” She proceeds to pester the girl with glasses beside her. “Hey, Nem, give me some coffee, quick! Its freeeeezing here!”
“Hands. Off. The flask, Tris. If you’re so cold, lose the braid and cover your neck,” she said, taking another sip.
" You know, sometimes I wonder how despite your taste in clothes, you somehow can’t appreciate the beauty in hair," Tris crossed her arms. “I mean, just look at all that split-”
“Ahem!! Back to the point. Aid, were you overextending our search because of those two evacuees near Rebound Cave?”
Pierce, the flaxen-haired medic from the other shoulder, butted in. “Which two, Nem? The ones with the missing kid?”
“Yeah, Pierce. Well, is it, Aid?”

Aid nods weakly.
“I know… Its too much to ask you guys getting into more trouble than we should’ve especially with last night’s blizzard. But I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep peacefully knowing that there’s a lost child out there by herself, freezing, in a warzone, no less,” he explained, averting his gaze from the others. “I know how it felt like before.”
Someone sighed was heard over the radio.
The Armigear’s door opened. A black haired girl emerged from the hatch.
“Well, you don’t have to be alone on this one, you know?” Seria smiles with a salute. “Next time, though, don’t you dare insult my babies. That’s rude considering you’re using my magnus opus right now,” she notes the gun slung around his waist.
“Well, if you’re still planning to look for that kid, better pick up the pace;” Wainecroft, the blonde armored guy beside Pierce, said as he looked into the distance. “Wind’s picking up. Even if the girl had some matches, I don’t think she’ll be able to handle another blizzard on her own,” he added.
“Right. Seria?” Aid nods at the girl.
“On it-”
“Huh. That’s weird,” usually silent Lancea, the lancer with black disheveled hair, voiced out from behind the back.
“What’s weird?” Pierce asked.
She pointed her pilebunker towards 11 o’ clock of their position. “I thought I saw gunfire from that area earlier. But its too silent, even for this distance.”
“Wait…” Aiden immediately scanned towards the direction with binoculars, waiting for a spark.
And through the snowy wind and darkness, a light much like a small flare blazed, dying quickly as it appeared.
“…matches…” he said as he put down the binoculars and took a leap off the robot.
“Wah- Aiden?! Wait for us!” Seria quickly closes the hatch and fumbles restarting the Armigear’s systems.

Aid runs at top speed towards the direction of the light, eventually coming across a poorly made ice shelter.
Inside was a nine year old girl with blonde hair, surrounded by spent matches and a small puppy, shivering in the cold. In a fuss, Aiden takes his overcoat and wraps it around the freezing little girl and her dog.
“You’re going to be alright, okay? Your parents have been looking for you,” he assures the child, shouting it over the howling wind.
“Guys! I’ve got her! They’re okay!!”
-———————————————————————————————————————————-

9:00pm

Setting up camp in a makeshift snow trench underneath the Armigear, Task Force Perillous took refuge from the snowstorm, having saved the little girl named Commelina and her labrador pup, Lily. Apparently their family joined the evacuation very late. They got separated from their parents in the resulting panic as Garrian and Brindt forces clashed in Sankt. Lily got spooked from gunfire, and Commelina decided to run after it, getting lost in the process.

“You know, what you did was very dangerous, young lady,” Aid scolded the girl as he checked the dog’s medical condition.
“I know, Sir Aid, but…”
She took the puppy away from Aiden’s hands with a hug.
“I just can’t leave my Lily behind!” she gleamed at the arcbiologist.
He smiled back. “Just so you know, you’re getting no praises from me for this, heheh,” he said with a chuckle.

“Sorry to interrupt, but would you mind getting some more rations from the tank, Aid?,” Nem asked.
Aid nodded and turned to the child. “I’ll be getting something for you and little Lily, too. I’ll be back in a bit.” He puts on his overcoat and gets out of the trench.

Minutes later, he returns with the rations to find all of them standing around a mound of dirt with candles lit above them.
“What’s going on, guys?” he looks at them with confusion.
They all just smiled eagerly at him; Lina included.
“…what is this, a cult meeting..?”

Nem shook her head. “Tut-tut-tut-tut-tut… I can’t believe someone actually forgot their own birthday today,” she giggled at the musings of it.
Aid stared dumbfounded for a few seconds.
“…Oh,” he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed in shame.
“Well, to be honest, you kinda ruined our small surprise when you overextended our search, Aid,” Wainecroft, chuckled.
“Though we could understand. You were so focused on looking for that kid, you kinda forgot, didn’t you?” Tris nodded in sympathy.
“Still, why’d it have to be 11 hours of overtime?” Seria complained, kneeling in exhaustion.
“It kinda was your fault for not navigating well, you know?” Lancea butted in.
“Shut up, Lancey!”
Lina walked towards Aid with Lily in her arms. “Sorry, Sir Aid. You didn’t get to celebrate your birthday cake because of me.”
Aid pats her head in reply. “What are you talking about? Aren’t we celebrating it right now?”
He stands and looks at the rest of Squad 421. “Thanks, you guys.”
He then looks at the “mudcake.” A mound of dirt slightly wet from the snow, caked together with candles stuck on it. Carved onto the “cake” were the words, “Happy 18th Birthday, Aid.”
“Still though, I gotta say, this has to be the most HIDEOUS mudcake ever!” Aid laughed.
“Seria’s idea,” Nem poked fun further.
AND handicraft,” Tris dealt the coup de grace.
“Gaaaah! I tried my best with what I have, okay?!”


Bonus: Aiden means “Little Fire,” not “Kotatsu”

Dec. 19, 430AR, 1:00am

Tris approached a sitting Aiden on first watch, inspecting his face. Noticing his fiery red eyes, she touched Aid’s forehead.
“What the heck..?”
“Wow, Nem, you’re right! Aiden DOES have higher temperature when his eyes are red!” She leans her back onto Aid’s side as if he was a pillow.
“Really? Ahhhhh.. Now I can sleep without having to worry about the fire,” Seria stretched her arms as she leaned her back onto Aid’s.
“That thing you called a ‘Divergence’ manifesting through your blood really does get useful outside of being a bloody slicer. Voluntary or not, at least you’ve got a way to deal with the winter,” Nem rests her back onto Aid’s other shoulder as well.
“Hey come on, don’t hog the heat,” Wainecroft finds a spot beside Nem, lugging his large body onto Aid’s comparatively smaller frame..
“So is this the secret to it, Aid? Does temperature equate charisma?” Pierce scratches his chin as he places his back on a spot near Tris.
Lancea quietly places her back onto Aid’s back as well.

Within seconds, the squad begins dozing.

“CAN’T I GET SOME PERSONAL SPACE, PLEASE?!”

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Vol 2 Prologue: Alexandra Magnus Records

November 19 430AR
Record 1 – Rework

The screen slowly lit up to a small bedroom, from the angle, the camera seems to be sitting on a cluttered table, filled with tools and random parts. Coming to view is Alexandra sitting in front of the camera, holding up a small notebook and pen as she scribbled notes.

“System functioning properly, camera in prim condition, screen clear, no cracks… so far my Tablet is working well. I’m glad it wasn’s damage during the mess and the trip.”

The pink haired girl leaned back, then sat back up as if realizing something

“Ah yes.. I almost forgot! My diary log. It has been only a few days since the incident and our separation from our allies, Aiden and I have been somehow taken back to Aleria, landing in a forest not far from Brindstrong… We have yet to find a way to open Rafael and get Art. I cannot say I’m not worried, I must say there is too much going on to properly wrap my mind around… but for now we wait till have word from Cierra about a way to get Art out.”

She sighs, removing her glasses as she massages under her eyes.

“While we wait, I started working for the Halophate Guild in here in Brindstrong and I realized my Artleast needed a bit of repair. It did take quite a beating… So today I start reworking Lilium, I need her in top condition when we face again.”

The video cut to another, with the same background but slightly dimmer. There was a small cake at the side with a single lit candle.

November 22 430AR
Happy Birthday, Bastion

“Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday too you.”

She sang as she stared at the candle of the small cake.

“I cut my work short today to celebrate your birthday… Maybe next year.. We can celebrate together.”

The video cuts to the next video, the background was a small open area, Alexandra holding up her Artleast

November 30 430AR
Field Test 1

“Okay Lilium, lets see you in action. Terra Firma!”

Her staff glowed for a moment only to fizzle out

“Oh? What’s the matter now?… Velona Firma!”

She shouted only with the same result.

“I wonder what happened maybe I’ll check again and maybe check my Arcus too.”

The video cuts to another scene, back in the small room

December 6 430AR
Rework 2

“I finally got it. Unfortunately, I had to remove a few cores from my Arcus and had to install new ones. With this, I can finally test it out again. Sometimes I wish we could use magic like the magicians in fairytales…”

She slaps her cheek lightly

“Get a hold of yourself, Alexandra.”

She shakes her head

“Time to use get this on the field”

December 17 430AR
Late Update

“It was a rousing success. Thank goodness. There is another feature I wish to add to Lilium… but I must practice if I wish to be able to wield it well. Ah, Aiden’s birthday is coming up soon. Cierra and Nem told me about it. How does one create a mud cake? At times like these, I miss Ashton and Art the most. Awkward as it sounds, I would love to make creampie with them again.”

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Chapter 6 Interlude - Arthur: Shadow
The truth creates shadows and doubt

Art entered the door of the inn, an air of tension greeting him as he opened the door. He looked around and saw several patrons stare right back, looking at him and his weapon wrapped in cloth. They looked on edge, as if they expected a hostile to enter the door with guns blazing. Tired after a combination of a long red-eye journey and the fear of loss, Art ignored the stares, and walked right up to the reception.

“Hey, do you know where to find Franz’s room?” he asked the receptionist, handing a piece of paper. “He said he’d be in this room.”

The receptionist took a moment to look at the slip. “Up those stairs, end of the hall.”

Art nodded. “Alright, thanks.” he replies, walking up to the stairs.

He ascended the flight of stairs and proceeded to the end of the hall, as the receptionist indicated. He opened the door and a familiar smell hit him.

This is the place. It sure does smell familiar.

The room was tidy, only showing minor signs of use. There was a Art set his weapon down in a corner, then dropped himself on the bed, a single that had been neatly made. He closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep, but the headache he was having made it nearly impossible to do so.

He sat up on the bed, thinking for a moment.

What can I do…?

After a few moments, an idea hit him. He got up and sat on chair next to the desk in the room. He took out a pen and some pieces of paper and started writing.

I guess this might be the only chance I’m going to get.

Art spent the good part of an hour writing down his thoughts on two separate pieces of paper. After he was done, he folded the paper neatly, and put two separate names on the pair.

To everyone
To myself

He left one on the table, and put another one in his travel bag. He felt a little better after having written, so he cleared the table and went to bed, able to fall asleep mere minutes after laying down.


“Move.”

A voice swirled in the void.

Why?

The voice was soft but stern. “You don’t have the resolve to do everything to save what’s precious to you.”

What do you mean? I want to save my mom!

“And you will fail. I have already seen it. You think that you’re using everything you have, but all you’ve been doing is playing with MY power.”

Playing? Who’s playing?

“I don’t expect you to understand. After all…” the voice trailed off.

What?

“You are a mere shadow. A shadow of things not needed, a shadow of things that should not have existed in the first place.” the voice said in dismissive tone. “And all you’ve been doing is play around with the others, thinking you were like them. And now you’ve led the Scarlet Child right to the enemy.”

No…but that’s…

“But no more. I’ve had enough. All your gallivanting has only led to this moment, and you will fail in your task. But I won’t.”

Wait…what are you doing? The void started coalescing into a swirl, then exploded into thousands of images, enveloping everything.

“I’m taking my life back.”

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Chapter 5 [Aiden]: Heretic's Cause

November 5, 430AR
6:00am
The Misty Maid Inn, Springshroud, Corseria

Aid sat near the desk, loading .45 Long Cole brass onto the gaps in the steel disc plates.
‘So it was all true. Mirana IS this Scarlet Child they were talking about,’ he thinks to himself as he crimps the sides, securing the bullets.

‘The CLF wanting to get her didn’t make sense at first, and that red-headed extremist with us wasn’t any help either,’ he sets the loaded moon clip down on the desk, alongside other speedloaders loaded with various specialty rounds, ranging from pepper capsule rounds to slim, small bore shotgun shells.

He looked outside the window. Covered in condensation from the fog, just like yesterday
.
“But that makes it all clear, now, doesn’t it?” he mutters to himself.

‘With yesterday’s book reading, as well as The Akashic Order being involved, it all sums up to them intending to use Mirana for whatever their convoluted plans. Another mystic power they wish to place in their own hands."

He stares at his own hand and takes off the gauze wrappings, revealing a deep gash on his palm..
‘I don’t… get it all, really. Why go so far as to play with a higher power? Are they so willing to go so far for what they believe? No bounds, bringing children into this mess?’

‘Is that all she is to them, the daughter of legend; with powers to call the gods, for them to use?’
He clenched his hand into a fist.
‘She doesn’t deserve this. She didn’t ask to be the Scarlet Child. Like I didn’t ask to be this…"

He cast his eyes down.

“…heretic abomination…” he mutters under his breath.


“Mom..? Dad…?”

A black haired child cried out as he stood in the midst of a red inferno.
“What’s happening.. to me?”
He looks at a stagecoach, reduced to a bonfire after being struck by the torrent of flaming red bleeding out of his arm.
Six figures clad in clerical robes lay in front of him; all unconscious, singed from the mysterious flames, save for one.
“Why did you take me away from home, Sir? Please, take me back!”

Aid pleaded, taking steps towards his surviving abductor.
The man stared at him with horror, crawling backwards.
“Stay away from me, heretic!!!”

“Please… help me get back!”the boy asked again. “I don’t want Mom and Dad getting worried!” he struggled to take another step, dragging the blood weapon behind.

The zealot continued to inch away,chanting prayers of an unknown language as he went, as if asking for Vattos himself to intervene.
A piece of metal clicked as his hand landed. Noticing the gun at a touch, he grabbed it by the grip and pointed it at the child.
“Stay away, you monster!!” he yelled, trigger on the finger.

The boy took a step back, tears continued to stream down his cheeks.
“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, please..!”
“Murderer! Monster! Stay away!!” The man slowly pulled on the trigger.
“I’m not a monster! Please!” the red flames blazed, pulling his hand back from instinct.
STAY-!!!”
“I didn’t-!”
“-AWAY!!!”
“I don’t want to hurt-”
AWAY WITH YOU-!!!”
“-ANYONE!!!” the child cried as he made a powerful downward swing with the spiral blaze.
“-DIE!!!!”

BANG!
The roar of a gun ripped through the air.

“That’s enough, son,” a firm hand stopped Aiden by the wrist from striking down to take another life. The bloody spiral fizzled out in a puff of flames.
The child collapsed from his weight, pale and weak from the loss of blood. Familiar arms catch him as he fell.
“Dad..?”

“Aiden, dear!” another sweet, familiar voice called out to him.
He turned his head to find his mother running towards them, tossing the Artes rifle she cradled in her arms aside to lock the two in her embrace.
His parents frantically check up on him.

“Am I…” the child croaked weakly.
“…a monster..?”

Garreth and Weiss shook their heads.
“You’re our son, Aiden,” Weiss taps her 8 year old’s forehead with a forefinger and hugs him tight as she can.

“A little difference doesn’t make you one, son. Never let anyone tell you any different,” Garreth replied with a bittersweet smile.
He then stands, turning his attention to the zealot; still reeling in pain from a rifle round that grazed his hand.

“Weiss… Take Aiden and head back to town.” Garreth’s voice gains a more serious tone. He kicks up the pistol on the floor and catches it.
“I’ll go handle this one,” he racks up the slide, discarding the first round and chambering another.

“Garreth! Don’t be stupid! Now’s not the time!” she scolded her husband as she carried Aiden in her arms.

“Oh no, this is DEFINITELY the PERFECT time,” he scoffed, shooting himself in the left arm with the gun. He tossed the pistol back towards the culprit. His right hand hovered over the self-inflicted wound.

“You. Sick. Bastard. Taking my innocent son while I was away on a mission, aren’t we? . And for what? Surely you didn’t stab him in the hand for nothing, yeah?”

He advanced slowly, producing a handle of blood streaming out of his wound.
“You want our blood? Shame you’ll get mine.”
He brandishes a seven branched greatsword from his blood; the bullet embedded on the tip, then melting it in an instant.

Weiss groaned in disagreement.
“I’m not gonna kill him, Weiss. But I’ll make sure he wish I did,” he assured his wife.
“You’re taking it too far-”
“I’ll make sure ALL of them do,” his eyes dart above the trees.

Weiss followed his gaze above the branches. She only now noticed figures barely noticeable in the faint moonlight, hidden behind the foliage.

“Urgh… I hate it when you’re right,” she sighed in defeat, taking Aiden up the horse and picking up the Artes rifle before saddling up herself.
“Don’t take too long, Dear. You hear? HYAH!” she reminds him before she commanded the horse to gallop.

Garreth nods with a smile before turning back to the treeline.

“And as for YOU lot hiding in the shadows,” his eyes glow a more intense red.

“…does your Order want to see what happens when you piss off a Dragon?!” the flames of the greatsword in his hand blaze more furiously. At least twenty faces hidden were lit up by the red-tinted light; all of which retreated with a rustle of leaves.


‘I can’t… let her go through that,’ Aid’s hand tightened into a fist.

’I’m sure whatever bloody reason they have for hunting Mirana down are in those archives. Perhaps the very reason why they tried to get me in the past, as well,’ he starts wrapping a fresh set of bandages around his arm.

‘But whatever those reasons are, I don’t care. If those acolytes of the Order think they can get her the same way they got to me, they have another thing coming. I know Clarisse will hate me for this, but I won’t hesitate anymore like the first few times. If all hell breaks lose, I’ll protect her, no matter what.’ he tightens the gauze, securing it with his Perillous wristband.

“…even if I have to spill every last drop of my blood.”

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Chapter 5 Interlude, Arthur - Bonds
Finding that which one needs

Political intrigue.
Stolen identities and revenge.
Family tension.
Alex and Bastion’s relationship damaged, party morale in tatters.
Mysterious legends coming to life.
Limiters, Blood Swords, and revelations abound.

All of this was too much for Art’s mind to comprehend. Up until a few months ago, all he cared about were his inventions, adventures and misadventures, mainly himself.

As he lay on the soft, comfortable bed at the Misty Maiden, he took stock of the events so far.

He had not needed anything up until he joined Artestech, and took the junior engineer position to acquire a license to legally scavenge ruins for technology. One thing lead to another, and soon he found himself needing to take the escort job to ensure the safety of two Yurran students on field study. There simply was something about that particular job that inexplicably drew himself to it.

The chain of events leading up to today saw his group discovering a plot to destabilize the country, and finding a mysterious girl who turns out to be possibly the daughter of a ages-old gods – the Scarlet Child.

He felt his heart pound strongly for a moment.

Mirana…who are you? he thought.

Her image resonated in his mind. Art heard faint whispers the longer he thought about it. He pushed the thoughts away, fearing what would happen if he let the whispers persist.

He directed his rumination towards Aid. He was outgoing, a smart and fun sort of guy, though fiercely secretive about the bandage wrapped around his arm. It turns out he had good reason – and the reason is deadly.

I wonder if he’s like me and Mr. Arsel… he wondered, restless.

He thought about the Magnus family. He had read and heard about them since he was younger – a noble family of knights hailing from Aleria, adhering to strict ideals and codes. Having heard how far they had fallen, and that they were still trying to uphold a code that may very well be dying.

Art never understood the need for such stuffy things – he had always loved the freedom to pursue whatever one wanted, as long as it didn’t caused malicious harm to others. And yet, here are two opposing sides within the same family.

Bastion, who says he lost everything. He wants to make those responsible for his loss pay, Art mused. He ignores the only one I think is supportive to him.

Alex, who wants to uphold the family name and code, despite the hardship. he thought about the other Magnus. Why go through so much trouble? She could always be the best Yurran student even without a family name.

He felt his heart pound strongly once more, one that resounded all over.

Art could no longer sleep, so got off the bed and quietly set up his Arcus for tinkering on the larger table in the room. Tinkering had always helped to keep his mind off anything troublesome.


I inspected my Arcus for any damage or issues. I picked this up months before I met the others…left in front of my workshop. I kept it inside the ‘shop and didn’t tell my mom or Sonny about it, seeing as they might tell me to give it back. Not like that would be possible anyway, since the package did not have any return address or identification.

I had seen Arcus before, but I have definitely never seen anything like it. It didn’t have any of the control mechanisms typical to contemporary designs – just a magnetic docking mechanism used to mount the shields. It came with three of them, so they were attached as such: two on my arms and one on my back to accommodate maximum protection. Wearing it gave me the ability to move things with just thought, though at great effort. Shortly after meeting the others, the shields gained the ability to move and float on their own…sometimes, I feel like they may actually be moving on their own accord. No idea how that happened, but it’s beneficial, so I’m not complaining.

And now, this gal tells me that I had a broken limiter? What the heck is a limiter? There has never been such a thing in any Arcus designs. And why would there be, since mana no longer flowed freely?

I took a close look at the mounting points, where she placed this ‘limiter’. I noticed that the central portion had broken off…when did that happen? I popped the device off, and immediately a headache and the whispers followed. I immediately returned the device into its slot. What the heck does this thing do?

Great, now I can’t even maintain my gear without getting into trouble.

Everything’s just messed up. All this because people refuse to understand each other.

Alex has her obligations, whatever that means. I guess she feels strongly about it, so I didn’t mind, though I don’t understand it personally. She cares about her cousin (which is normal, sure), but I don’t think she understands what he’s going through.

Heck, I kinda feel for Bass; I mean, if someone stole my stuff like that, I’d get pretty angry too…but he’s not seeing clearly, and is pushing Alex away, even though we’re all in deep shit now anyway.

Me, agreeing with Bass? Yep, everything’s definitely messed up.

But I do want to help them…but how? How do I help them understand each other?

Wait…what if I…?


Art stretched out his thoughts, trying to unblock the things he brushed aside before.

Nothing came.

Dammit, it’s not working… he thought. He tried to focus, but nothing extremely faint murmurs.

Oh, right. He slapped his forehead hard.

He removed the device from the docking mechanism. The lines in the shield started glowing red.

The whispers poured in, quickly and enveloping his mind. It gave him a massive headache, but he shrugged it off and tried to focus; he as trying to sift through the voices, and find what he was looking for.

After almost an hour of focusing, failing, and trying again, he was able to quiet his mind, and the whispers stopped, though his severe headache persisted, though he was exerting all his effort in maintaining this state of mind. The color in the shield changed to green.

“Well done.” said a voice in his head. “You’ve been able to get this far.”

Who is it? Art wondered, confused at being addressed directly by his mind.

“That’s not important right now. I know what it is you seek, and I can help you.” the voice answered in a reassuring tone. “Your time here is short, but I hope you will learn.”

It’s him.

“I can hear you, you know.” the voice replied.

Oh.

“All you need to know right now is that the world is bigger what you have known, that your bonds with others is a two-way connection, and that you have the ability to bring that together, even just for a few moments.” the voice explained. “It will take too much time to explain in detail, and doing so may endanger you.”

Bring bonds together…a two-way connection.

“You will understand soon. Now, go, help them. Help her.” the voice echoed, eventually fading.

Art’s mind started filling with whispers again. He immediately puts the limiter back in its place, silencing the whispers and removing his headache.

Whoa, what a trip. he thought. A bond is a two-way connection, huh…

He suddenly felt dizzy and sleepy, so he returned to bed and dropped hard and fell asleep.

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ARTICLE - Brindt-Garrian Conflict

The Brindt-Garrian Conflict is a full-scale armed conflict that erupted in Aleria around late October 430 AR. Brindt-Garrian-Conflict.jpg

The two belligerents participating in the war, Brindtsong and Gaur, are both influential Alerian nations towards Corseria, resulting in some Corserian citizens being drafted onto either side.

Background

During the early summer of 430 AR, multiple incidents of sabotage and theft were reported to be occurring in multiple locations in Gaur. In addition, mysterious forest fires became prevalent throughout forests in Gaur territory.

Similarly, in Brindtsong territory, strange occurences similar to the Gaur Demon Crater incident began occurring in some towns and a few major cities.

Unified Soldat-Gaur treaty

A year prior, Chancellor Ilmarya of Gaur decided to have joint military exercises with the Soldat miltary force. He then attempted to pitch an idea of a unified Soldat-Gaur military force as a way of making amends with Soldat after their clashes during the Kislev Invasion.

Over half the continent was happy with this treaty, but a few nations, such as Brindtsong, were against this idea. Popular rumor has it that the Brindtsong government views this as “cornering” them, as the threat of Gaul being inducted into the Dominican Federation would surely corner Brindtsong strategically, in both geographic and economic senses.

Bank of Brindtsong Incident

Several strange incidents in both these nations seemed to carry evidence that both sides were conducting sabotage on each other. This rose tensions in mid-summer of 430 AR.

Due to several cases of theft and supposed espionage, the Bank of Brindtsong decided to freeze assets of Gaurian citizens and denied them access to a fraction of funds. Despite there being multiple talks trying to lift the freeze, none of them bore fruit.

In the middle of the autumn of 430 AR, Gaur attacked ships off the east coast of Brindtsong with military boats. Brindtsong military decided to retaliate, taking it as an act of war, thus setting off the beginning of the Brindt-Garrian conflict.

Current State

While the war has been relatively bloodless, the damages and costs are something to be behold. Over 500,000sil worth of military technology has been burned for both sides, though rumors say that Gaur carries the upper hand in the war with more minimal damages to themselves.

As of the end of October 430AR, the war is only estimated to worsen, with over 800 military casualties from both sides after 3 weeks of battle, not counting civilian collateral.

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Chapter IV: Perillous
"In the face of great peril, we stand."

426 AR

The day started like any other; 

Another scheduled relic hunting expedition, further down Dragon's Descent. Throughout the week under the command of our youngest squad member, "Clarent", we've made further progress down the Aberrant-infested labyrinth. And while the first twenty floors did not pose much of a threat, we've decided to open only twelve of these floors to the daring public, as it was fairly easier to reach them in case an emergency arises.

Despite us being against the involvement of other people in our own- dare I say it, perillous explorations; conditions beyond the thirteenth floor made us rethink our options. I personally know that everyone in our little squad of seven can handle our ground, but with the number of these abominations increasing exponentially, we'd rather not take any chances. And with a large concentration of energy detected in an area further down, the promise of acquiring another relic for Kingsfall's museum is just too hard to miss. And so, we've enlisted a mercenary to our advantage two days prior to the day; an adventurer with a decent amount of combat experience, or so he said..

Little did we know that this was our very mistake.

Reaching the 30th level of the labyrinth was made far easier through his help. And there, we found the relic we've sought after. A black, ornate heater shield- mere inches longer than one's arm, floared above a large, shallow well, sparkling from the mysterious frozen crystals embedded within the labyrinth's walls.
We were so occupied with securing the area from the Aberrants that we never noticed until we heard light sloshing of water. The mercenary waded through the knee-high pool, heading for the relic in the middle. Raising our arms were futile. Our bullets and bolts, seemingly deflected with a mere wave from his hand. It was only a matter of seconds before he reached the relic.

A ripple of purple energy blasted all seven of us away from him.

The relic's transformation has revealed to us its true nature. The shield broke into five lateral pieces; originally obsidian stones adorning the equally black metal ow  glowed a harsh, bright indigo as they floated in mid-air, held together by an aura of blue-violet flames. In his hand, what seemed to be an old torch now blazed with an indigo helix serving as its lance.

They all said it was a mere story. But there it was. 

Perhaps it was fear of imminent death… Dread of a future with such a relic in his hands… or simply an effect of the pulse that blasted all away. We were all rooted in one place; unable to stand, save for one man.

The squad leader took all of his resolve, rising against the shield bearer that walked toward us in a mockingly slow gait. In response, Clarent took his bayonet mounted shotgun and murmured something under his breath. He bit the loose bit of gauze resting on his index finger and tore the bandage off of his arm as he jumped into the fray.

I wanted to stop him from making such a reckless charge… but my voice betrays me as it drowned all words except his name.

 

"Aiden!!!"

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