The Trails of Moonlight II

Vol. 2 Chapter 2 II- Formless
"The moon's just probably getting to me."

Feb 18, 431 AR
1:00am
Springshroud

——

Sleep will not take me. No amount of tossing and turning could help me fall drowsy. Whether its the constant squealing I hear a few rooms away or the thoughts running through my head that kept me awake, I could not decide. I figure I'd take my gunto and Halophate badge and set out into the cold night. 

I ran into some guards on patrol as I went my way from The Misty Maid- obviously taking precautions due to Riz and Maxwell's shenanigans.
Some would question what I was doing out so late, but thankfully they let me go after I showed them my Halophate badge. The arson that happened at the archives were obviously a shock to everyone, and its no wonder why they'll make such a fuss about it, especially seeing some dodgy person walking with an Orient-style blade at one in the morning. But I, personally, shouldn't waste a night as beautiful like this to worrying over a load of rubbish. I'd rather train my sword arm more than anything else.

The lake harbor overlooked by the Labyrinth Archives reflected the moonlit skies. Its waters ebb and flow as the winds picked up.

'A perfect place to practice,' I told myself as I silenced the world around me with a tune from my headphones and took a deep breath as I assumed a stance.

As I exhaled, I drew Serotine; its martensite blade coming to life as it reflected the moon. I carved trails of light into the darkness, stepping back only to crash relentlessly once more like water on the shoreline.

It felt… stupid, dancing with no partner but the shadows in my own mind. Neither the tune on my ears nor the push and pull of the waters would provide the rhythm to this dance of steel and air. It flowed freely, independent of this world; a beautiful aberration, as I remember it to be.

Or… is it really? Something feels off… Is it the way I did that last cut? Were my movements too stiff? Ack, thinking about it made me step back without the counter- no wait, I'm losing balance… there… damn, I forgot to step forward for the thrust…  

'I'm hopeless…' I sighed at my inept execution of technique, and resigned myself to sheath Serotine halfway through the kata. I decided I'll settle for some well deserved stone skimming, at least. But as I cast my first pebble, it sank as soon as it landed.

I weakly laughed on how pathetic that throw was.

Looking back, Inori always did say I was sloppy. Not because I lacked talent, according to her, but for lacking focus; noticing far too many things at the same time. She kept telling me to 'flow like the stream, not the petals above it,' but no matter what I do, I found myself paralyzed like a rock at some point, hesitant to take action until I know I'm doing exactly as they do. I don't understand. Was it fear of mistakes on my end? I'd only be a disgrace to announce myself a practitioner of this form, the way Erina proudly calls herself as an Adept of Form 4. Guess that's why Inori never did tell me the true name nor number of this Kusanagi form. Even now, I'm stuck a beginner- perhaps even a drop out- of this 'Formless'style.

That nanny… guardian- no, sister of mine said I'd get it one day. And when that day comes, she promised that she'll reveal its name.

That day… never really came.

I lost her as well as its name… that night she tried to rescue me.
When my crimson flames first painted the starlit black.

'You worry too much about those who you'll hurt, but shouldn't you worry more about those who you could save?'

Maxwell's words echo through my head. What if he's right?

If I didn't hesitate on that night… If I knew about what power my blood held from the start… and gave in to the bloodlust… would things have been different? Would I have protected her from being taken by those lives that I took?

… I should probably head back. The moon's just probably getting to me.

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Vol2 Chapter II - Sweet Dreams

February 15 431 AR

—:—

 

"Wow, you look like Karisa!"

The white haired man smiles

"Well, see you nexttime"

Another voice swipes over as the surroundings change

 

“Alex, here…”

A big blonde haired man with blue she smiles as he hands over a small card and notebook.

“It’s a shame we but well… see you around.”


February 16 431 AR

2:30 AM

 

Alexandra wakes up wiping her eyes,

 

“Ah…  Father… Ashton..”

 

She reaches her for her glasses on the night stand, tapping the notebook. She sits up and flips through the pages of the small notebook filled with sketches of fishes

 

“I never knew he was one to do this.”

 

A small smile forms on the young woman's face.

 

She stops to the page where she put the two cards, her eyes narrowed. She stands up and goes to the window, opening it and sits on the sill. She raises both the card and watches a trail form through the holes in the card.

 

“Even if I can’t be with you, you’re always in my memory.”

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SIDE STORY - Call in the Night

November 425 AR

10:31 PM

 

The young Alexandra enters a dark bedroom dimly lit by the moonlight from the window, behind her was young girl with short auburn hair carrying in a book that caught their eye during Alexandra's studies in the library.

The pink haired girl puts down a lamp and the book open to a page titled "Calling the other world".



“Maybe with this… I can talk to father again… but are you sure you know what you're doing, Acadia?”



The young Magnus asked, concerned about what they were dabbling with.



"It's gonna be fine! We've done this before and it wasn't bad, right?"



The girl called Acadia hums confidently

They proceed to copy the symbols and follow the instructions by. Alexandra steals herself as Acadia chants, softly they call out a name

 

“Cross Magnus.”

 

They wait eagerly as the symbols light up in a violent flash

“Ah!”

She closes her eyes as a blinding light flashes from the circle. As it slowly dimmed, a figure appears and appeals to Alex

She looks at it and slowly crawls to it

 

“father?”

 

As she reaches to it and touches it, the figure of light became dark and cackled as dozens more grab her hand and slowly drag her into the small portal from the symbols they had made, she caught glimpses of the other side, her eyes slowly enveloped in darkness

Acadia tried to pull Alexandra out but was pulled herself after successfully pulling out her friend.

Alex passed out

The following morning, she was a woken by the bright morning light from the window. She felt something cold in her hand, it was her friend's locket but her friend was nowhere inside.

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SIDE STORY - Nameless Date
A Peculiar Day Off

March 15, 430AR
 

 

It was my second vacation from credits I earned at Ackerfall Institute. My handler gave me half a week's worth of off-days to spend my (actual!) normalization into Ackerfall.

I, Cierra Arvess, from the end of this vacation hereforth, am a regular member of the Institute!

At the time, I'd no idea how to spend these free days. So I chose something I would be closer to home. At that time, I decided to go back to Brindtsong and visit one of the cities I've yet to explore – Cordelias.
I've read that Cordelias is a harbor town with their own economy growing from their enormous supply of fish and seafood. I haven't eaten such delicacies in a while, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to spoil myself a little.
-————————————————————-

March 17, 430AR || 10:00am

I had just arrived in the city of Cordelias at the bottom west of Brindstong.

The beautiful, gleaming sea. It was the first thing I saw as I disembarked from the airship. I couldn't understand why the sea was so dazzling from here. Ackerfall's main branch is only a few miles away from the shoreline, but nothing there could give me such a sight. Perhaps it was simply the work of an artisan god that created such a picturesque sight.

Going into the city proper, it was just as I had expected – the smell of fresh fish combined with the sea breeze just filled the air. It took some getting used to, but I managed to appreciate it as well.
So then I went to my first order of business.

…It wasn't lodging, though. As soon as I could, I searched for a town directory and looked for the nearest seafood restoraunt I could afford. Nothing fancy for me, but I didn't want to be stingy about it as well.
-————————————————————-
12:00nn

It was perfect. I was right on time for lunch as I found this restaurant called "Acceptable Lobsters". The pricing was less than acceptable, but I wasn't about to back down from such meager reasoning.

I had entered and the atmosphere was nothing short of exquisite. It had been a while since I treated myself to fine dining. The only shortcoming was I was going at it alone…

As soon as I had ordered my meal however, a man had sat down at the other side of my table. He had hair of gold, styled in a punk-like spiky hair fashion. He wore a long white coat over what seemed to be a Yurran Academy uniform. It was blue, so I could tell he was a senior. Aside from those features… I couldn't remember much of his face. It was like whenever I try to recall, all I get is mosaic.

What I do remember are our conversations.

He struck up a conversation with me. "Hey there! I couldn't take my eye off you when you sat down. You're quite the sight even in a town as beautiful as this."

I… I was surprised. Is somebody hitting on me?, I thought. I merely stuttered formalities on introduction.

"Cierra, was it? Call me… ….."

I couldn't remember his name either. I kept getting memory blocks about it as well. But I remember him by something he used to describe himself. "Big Kahuna".

I stammered just from answering his questions about me. He asked about why I was here, where I'm from since I'm definitely not a local, and among other things.

"You're quite an interesting woman yourself. Would you care to spend the daylight with me while I show you around town?"

Interesting? Me? I couldn't fathom someone thought of me like that. 

But to that, I agreed. He didn't seem like a bad person. Kahuna was actually quite fun to talk to, all things considered. If ever he did try something, I would've been ready to respond with force.
-————————————————————-
2:00pm
The first place he took me to was a music shop. Kahuna kept on making me listen to DREAMERS LDs every 5 minutes. Their music was honestly quite interesting. I didn't realize they had such wide range of genres aside from their "pop" styled songs. I asked him why these tracks were not played over radio more often.

"These tracks are not something I hear often from the DREAMERS. Why is that?"

"Unlike some other singers, they actually like to branch out from time to time. That's not what the public really likes to hear from them though, so they just kinda direct-to-LD these ones."

"That's sad. I think they're brilliant in these different tracks."

"Well, that's the thing. The public expects you to act and think a certain way, and they're gonna get complacent about it so they just kinda diss you for making unusual things. But you know, that's the charm of their hidden tracks. It's still them, but it's something only YOU know. It's almost like a secret between lovers~"

I just stared at him in bewilderment. Secret between lovers? I refused to pry further, in fear he'll confuse me even more with his elaboration.
-————————————————————-
3:00pm
I found it particularly strange that Kahuna kept leafing through fashion magazines he could find around where we went sightseeing. Was he trying to find a new hip fashion trend, or was he simply oogling at the attractive cover women?

Kahuna had taken me through a tour through the busy town square and other notable historical locations by now. He even showed me a ruined old shrine dedicated to a guardian deity named "Leviathan". I'd heard of this guardian deity but I did not think she made an apparition at this day and age.

We made a stop at a bookstore.

This was another great opportunity in the waiting. As soon as he settled on his corner of the store, I had rushed to the occult section.

Books about the 2000 Year Collapse. A documentation on the nature of Humanity with Angels and Demons. There was even a compendium of legendary Fae that are said to still live today! I dug myself in that corner of the store trying to find a good book to buy with my budget.

"What're you reading? Are these ghost stories or something? The covers give me the creeps."

What? Did he just catch me reading these books?, I thought to myself. It was a shameful moment for me to reveal such an interest to a stranger.

"N-no, I was just… buying these for my…"

Kahuna had ignored my protests. He took one of the compendiums I set aside and started sifting through its selections. "Haha, now this looks mighty sweet. A book about Sudanite gods? Oh, oh, lemme see if I can spot the Medjed here."
He seemed to be having a good time as he went through its pages. Could he have shared a similar interest to mine? A kindred soul perhaps?

I quizzed him on a few occultic questions. He got them almost all wrong, but he did look like he tried. Maybe he just tried to not embarrass me?
-————————————————————-

5:30pm
Our final stop was at the harbor. It was quite unfortunate, but the sun wasn't quite going down yet. The faint smell of fish had disappeared from here, and I could only take in the relaxing sea air.
We sat down at the wall of the harbor, simply looking out into the horizon.

"So, enjoy yourself today?"

I don't know. I wasn't sure if I enjoyed it or not, but it was an interesting time for certain. I had learned more about the town I was going to spend my vacation in. I have him to thank for making this sightseeing session not too lonely.

"Thank you for showing me around.", I told him simply.

Kahuna chucked lightly. "I don't suppose I get a kiss or anything after this, right?"

So he's actually one of 'those' people. He didn't seem to mean it however, so I simply played along.

"No… though I do appreciate your effort in taking me on a date-"

Kahuna interrupted me and made a 'three' gesture at me. "Nope, hold it right there. Three things, Cierra."

I just awkwardly stared at him. I was curious about what he was going to say, so I stayed quiet.

"First. This was just sightseeing, right? There's no way this was a date, even if I did expect a kiss at the end!

Second. Don't ever date men like me. I can't introduce myself worth shit without making a pass at you every 10 seconds. I'm a sleazy guy who's gonna get anyone's pants if they were THAT easy."

Kahuna handed me a red bag full of magazines. It seemed to be the collection of mags he'd been collecting since the start of the date.

"Third. This is for you."

I looked at him menacingly. I was uncertain what his intent was at the time, so I questioned him straight out.

"Why? Do you think I should use these to dress up for better men? I'm not looking for—"

"Tut, tut. This isn't for the other guys, Cierra. This is for you.

Your step lacked finesse. Your clothes are old and obviously came from a thrift store. You're terrible at making attempts to look cute in casual. You opened the closet and got whatever it is inside there, didn't you?"

Urk, he was right. I inquisitively looked at him as he continued, as I felt he had not made his point yet.

"This isn't so people will stare at your tits. Cierra, you need more trust in yourself. More confidence. It felt like you were surprised a guy even came and complimented you. Confidence starts in the way you dress. Pick out something that you think says something about you."

I simply looked at him straight. I didn't know what to say at the time, but merely to think about what he just said.

Kahuna had gotten up and left after handing me the bag. As he left, all I remembered him saying was, "If there's anything I see better than cute chicks, it's potentially prettier ones."

Maybe I should take a peek, I thought to myself as I began reading through the first mag, by a designer named Camilla Earheart…
 

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Vol. 2, Ch I: Finally Preed
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 Preed 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 Those Guys, 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 Howling Researcher," as he declared. 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? Is it the tea..?

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. Sometimes I think even I need a break.

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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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