The bored looking Magikoopa perked up at the sight of this latest in a long line of minions queuing to have their findings examined ”yes!” he shouted before grabbing the bundle of rhubarb from the Goomba
*poof* went the striker, it’s task completed.
Into the sack of plant it went, which was getting rather full of what they needed thanks to the Koopa troop casting a wide if agriculturally illiterate net as the minions performing periodic sweeps of the forest as they traveled through it.
By the time the troop met up with Torra and Poppi the forest team had collectively gathered most of the plants they’d need from there and were heading to the mentioned location of the wheat they needed. As they exited out of the forest they found a lot more than they bargained for.
”Didn’t she say it was ‘wild’ wheat? Because this sure don’t look wild to me.” Jr said as they took in the golden sea surrounding the idyllic farmhouse and picturesque windmill.
”If it means more noodles for us I'm not complaining” Bowser declared before stomping forwarded and, with a sash of his mecha mitt, cleaving through the neck of the farming staple with its glowing blades. Both severed heads and broken stems immediately caught fire as if the still unsated weapon was spitefully spitting upon the very idea of being used as a gardening implement.
”NO WAIT STOP GAH!” Bowser yelled at the fire before violently stomping the crap out of it. The two smaller Koopas simply flew after Tora and Poppi as they descended into the golden forest.
Upon arriving on the other side the pair landed and dismounted from their respective mounts to investigate the dead rat with the others. Jr poked it a few times with the end of his paintbrush but the body remained lifeless as before.
”That seems like the most logical explanation.” Kamek said in response to Poppi’s theory of it being a relic from before the cataclysmic merger of worlds ”The skeleton mounted on the large truck still existed after all so perhaps Galeem simply took the deceased bodies as part of the landscape. As for the ashes, perhaps it was the work of the scouts who Mina mentioned finding these fields?”
There was a heavy thump as Bowser joined them, having leaped across the field in fits and bounds in an attempt to reduce the damage to their soon to be acquired harvest.
”Huh. Dead body.” Bowser commented as he joined them. There were a few moments of silence before Kamek changed the subject.
”So. Seeing as we are going to be here for a while I was thinking I could pop back to town and use the teleporter to see if i can get us a hunter from the other team? Or at least a hunting weapon. We don't exactly know where the rest of ours is at the moment, and they seem rather disinterested in” he suggested.
Bowser made a contemplative noise before nodding.
”Excellent. I shall return post haste” the wizard said before taping his broom to the earth and disappearing in a puff of smoke.
”Remember to watch out for the!” jr began to warn the old wizard about the state of the dead zone before he vanished. ”dang.”
”He’ll be fine. Come on let’s get to it.” Bowser ruffled his son’s hair and then headed for the tool shed. Inside where a variety of farming implements, the correct ones for the task at hand being pointed out by the robot.
By this point bowser had at least partially gotten over the embarrassment and indignity of being a plant gatherer and so the king took up a great scythe. Before getting to work he began to increased both his own and its size to get the job done as fast as possible.
Jr meanwhile, left in the shed after the others stepped out to get to work, had other ideas. ”I can put up with the whole foraging thing but farming? Really? A boy of my talents? Not on your life.” he complained to Mimikyu after summoning the Pokemon from its pokeball. ”So we’re going to go exploring and find all the wheat without having to do any work.. It’s a farm, they gotta have some cut down and store somewhere,”
The undead mouse impersonator did not understand exactly what the boy was on about but got swept up in his enthusiasm regardless and cheerful followed along after him as he wandered off.
”Jr!” came the call from a now rather large Bowser wielding an equally large scythe. ”Don’t wander off on your own!”
”I’m not. I got Mimikyu and my minions! Sides I’m just going to check out the windmill! Its like 5 meters away” the boy pointed up at the tall bladed structure near where the farming was going on before continuing on his way.
The king himself sighed before snapping his fingers and summoning Sledge and Mallet. ”Go keep an eye on Jr” he ordered them. As the pair scrambled off to escort the prince Bowser turned to his fellow reapers and attempted to make idle conversation.
”So… Who’s Pyra?”
”Hello, I was wondering if... Oh bugger”
After informing a passing Centurion of the location of the farming party Kamek materialized far away in the middle of a warzone just like Jr had.
In the Dead Zone the zombie hordes were closing in around the hero’s vehicles at the command of some hulking four armed brutes. There was shouting and screaming and a friendly skeleton and it was all too much for Kamek to take in all at once.
The old wizard immediately mounted his broom and took off skywards to get a better view of the battlefield. As he flew up he chanted ”One, two, three, which is the real me!” before a large burst of smoke engulfed him. When it dissipated there were now 5 Kameks instead of the one, and non where in the same place as the mage had been when he cast the spell.
With height and illusions gained he felt safe to take in the situation, and what he saw was quite the mess. Everyone looked to be in quite the pickle and so the mage had to make a quick decision of who to help. The van was being swarmed but had a lot of people guarding it. Jak was hurt and vulnerable yet had Ratchet leaping to his aid. Gene meanwhile was out on his own and surviving only thanks to a power that was rapidly fading before Kamek’s eyes. He needed the most help and was simultaneously in the best position to capitalize on that help and turn it into a victory.
With a spin of their wands all 5 Kameks unleaded a blast of colored shapes at one of the suffering before casting his enlarge spell on Gene, rapidly growing him till he stood as tall as the hulking brute bearing down on him.
”Whoa there you monstrous guys, pick on someone your own size!”
wordcount: 3,110 (+3) Bowser: Level 5 EXP:////////////////////////////////////////////////// (27/50) Bowser Jr: Level 3 EXP: ////////////////////////////// (27/30) Kamek: Level 3 EXP: ////////////////////////////// (14/30) Level 5 Tora - (11/50) EXP and Level 4 Poppi - (10/40) EXP Location: Land of Adventure: Canyon Forest
The female Baurun nosed around the forest with the rest of the herd. Occasionally it used its tusks to dig up plump root vegetables but mostly it was gorging itself on herbs, berries and other easily accessible nutritious plants. Out the corner of its eye the boar like creature spotted something red and shiny moving. Its eyes darted to the movement only to find an apple now laying in the grass some way away from the other swine. The delicious, and normally inaccessible treat. The Baurun nonchalantly wandered over in the direction of the fruit so as to avoid alerting the others of the existence of its prize. Once there it carefully edged closer to the fruit, jaws opening wide to grasp it when suddenly.
The pig startled at the distant explosion, flinching away from the fruit just in time to avoid having its skull pierced by a long energy claw that came spearing its way out of a neary bush. The extended finger remained pointing at the Baurun for half a second before it squealed and hurriedly backed off.
”oh come on!” Yelled bowser jr as his head popped out of the bush, which was followed moments later by Kamek and Bowser’s heads. ”Stupid stupid explotions!” he continued, but any additional complaints were drowned out by the rapidly increasing sound of hooves pounding dirt floor.
”I recommend we flee” Kamek suggested, before taking his own advice and turning tail. The two royals were hot on his heels as the Baurun herd rallied to defend its attacked member, becoming first a trickle and then a torrent of muscle and fur that stampeded after the turtles invading their home.
”Useless minions, left us with the hard job,” The rather small Bowser breathlessly bemoaned as he rapidly fell behind his two flying relatives as broom and clown car they weaved through the dense trees before escaping out into the open air. ”Almost. There” he grunted to himself before the horned Baurun smacked into his back. Armored shell and forward momentum kept him in once piece, but the king was nonetheless ejected from the forest rather than escaping it.
The king tumbled out of the woods flailing wildly before a clawed hand stabbed into the ground, arresting his rolling exit and he began to grow rapidly, dark magic and enlarge spell gripping his body now that he was free of the cramped forest. He quickly enlarged to a size where he dwarfed both the Baurun and trees alike before roaring angrily at their pursuers. The buff swine seemed unimpressed. This was, afterall, the third time they’d chased the koopas out of their home and they would not be leaving the safety of the forest any time soon. After a bit of snorting and hoof stamping they returned to the woods while the king struggled to control his temper.
”Remember to refrain from using your fire Sire. we’ll need the plants un incinerated after we handle the Baurun. So the last thing we want is a forest fire.” Kamek reminded his king from where he hovered. Once the swine left he lowered his wand and released the spell he had caste upon Bowser.
”I know” Bowser growled as he shrunk back down.
”and we can’t just demolish them all because we need undamaged sprites”
”Gah! we’ve been at this for ages” jr complained from his clown car, leaning back in frustration with his nose to the sky. ”and whoever keeps blowing stuff up ruined every plan you had” He paused for a moment to think before declaring: ”So I’m gonna go deal with that instead of wasting any more time!”
The prince pushed himself upright, grabbed the controls of his car and turned it up and away, flying towards the canyon.
”Young master it’s only been 5 minuits! Have more patience, we’ll think of a winning plan soon enough” Kamek called after him before sighed and pinching the bridge of his nose.
”Come on.” Bowser grunted, before stomping off after his son inorder to make sure he didn't get hurt by whatever kept blowing up.
Up and ahead jr had flown down into the ravine, following a rough path down its side a ways underground. After a minute or two, he discovered what he was looking for. He had not only found out what was making the explosions, but he had found two of their minions(Tora & Poppi), one of whom was being followed by a strange cubic four legged green creature with a very tall torso. Seeing an opportunity, and missing the fact that Tora was leading the creeper rather than being chased, jr pressed down the control stick of his clown copter and swooped in to the rescue.
As he approached he flicked one of many switches on its control console, causing a single arm to extend out one side of the car. Rather than the usual boxing gloves or more dangerous power tools this arm instead had the Synapse living rifle mounted on it. Or, perhaps more accurately, growing on it.
”Take this!” jr cried as they tumbed a trigger on the control stick, causing a series of wires running along the arm to pull the flesh trigger of the gun without having to handle the disgusting thing. A beam of lightning shot out, streaming wildy through the air as Jr struggled to aim his new lopsided weapon setup. Rather than being properly focused on it’s target the continuous electrical beam slashed across the creeper several times before it ran out of energy and needed to recharge. As the meat gun was pulled back into the clown car it became clear that rather than being harmed the monster seemed to have had absorb the energy, being engulfed in an ominous Blue aura.
”Uhhhh. I meant to do that!” Jr insisted as he hovered there unhelpful.
Though somewhat surprised to be joined by an unexpected ally at this juncture, Tora and Poppi appreciated his help, right up until it became clear his efforts hindered rather than helping. At first Tora thought that Junior was merely mucking up his work, unaware of his strategy, but when the creeper lit up with crackling electric power, it became clear that the Koopa’d done something much worse. “Uh oh meh,” the Nopon said, raising his shield and hunkering down behind it. Poppi responded by going full throttle, glowing gold as power surged into her Masterpon’s defense, and just in time.
The charged creeper detonated with a deafening blast, throwing Tora and Poppi back like a football and a bowling pin. Their defenses mitigated the damage done to them, but the surrounding environment wasn’t so lucky. So enormous was the creeper’s explosion that, when the dust cleared, a circular cavern a couple dozen feet in diameter had been carved into the surrounding stone. Now looking more than a little worse for wear, Tora glanced around blearily. “Urk. Is Poppi okay?”
Pulling herself out from under him, the artificial blade nodded. She looked less than pleased, as though she’d seen this exact event coming from a mile away. When she turned to glare daggers at Bowser Jr, however, she found herself distracted by the wealth of ores and gems lying about on the ground, including a few her team had yet to encounter.
Tora noticed her silence and followed her gaze. Poppi noticed and turned away, but it was too late. With a look of vindictive glee on his face, the Nopon scurried over and scooped up a green crystal in his wing. He held it up to the light filtering through from the ravine and watched it glow a beautiful emerald. “Meeeh, so pretty-pretty,” he said, grinning as he started to dust himself off. “Tora call that job well done.” A thumbs-up went Junior’s way. “Littlepon very big genius!”
”Heck yeah I am!” jr replied proudly as he hovered down to the crater to inspect the riches revealed.
”Young master are you alright!” Kemek called as he caught up with the prince.
”Yeah yeah I’m fine.” Jr waved kamek off while another picked up one of the crystals.
”Turns out all the explosions where the marshmallow blowing himself to dig stuff up.” he explained as he examined his prize
Jr looked at the green glowing stone thoughtfully, then began tossing it up and down as he looked at the crater, then at another of the green monsters lurking in the distance and then finally at Kamek. A grin split his lips while he rubbed his hands together.
While the prince had been scheming his father arrived, stomping across the canyon floor to join the group. The king took a moment to take in the scene before flicking a hand towards Tora and Poppi. Heel the Rabbid materialised on his shoulder, rna down his arm and then hopped down to scrub away their very mild injuries with a few bursts of healing energy from its backpack.
”What’s going on here?” the king asked as his minion worked its magic.
”I’ve got a way to rake in the ore and gems fast as lightning!” Jr announced triumphantly.
Whatever alien thoughts a creature that existed only to explode where interrupted as the creeper was splattered with ink. With a hiss it turned to face its attacker, finding a floating vehicle with two arms sticking out the side. One had a super soaker filled with a black liquid while the other was engulfed in an organism that suddenly blasted it with lightning.
Whether it was pleased about the fact that it became supercharged by the attack or was even aware of the charge was unknown. Nor was it clear if the face jr pulled while sticking his tongue out at it registered at all but it began to chase after him regardless.
The living mining explosive successfully supercharged and baited jr turned his car towards the nearby cliff face. Atop it, hiding behind a pile of rocks, hid the rest of the party. As the sound of jr’s heli car came closer bowser and kamek’s heads popped out behind their barricade.
”Hit it!” the king commanded and the mage obayed
”cats eye and rotten fungus, this spell will make you humongous!” Kamek waved his want in a circle and then sent a blast of magic down into the canyon towards the creeper. After a couple of heartbeats it struck the creature.
For a moment nothing happened. Then the creeper began to grow. And grow. And grow.
The determined stroll became a series of thumping stomps as it continued its way through the new tunnel towards them.
Tora and Poppi’s eyes grew wide. Having collected the last of their ores and crystals, they fled as fast as they could. Poppi took off once she had enough headroom, flying out of the hollowed-out zone to hover in the open space of the ravine. She extended a hand, and Tora jumped to take it before the two boosted upward to a safe distance.
”Goombart! Now!” jr yelled as he joined the party, landing his flying cart behind the rocky formation and joining them to keep an eye on the proceedings.
At his command a lone goomba scurried out from where he had been hiding in an earlier created hole. “Hay! Hay! I’m walking here! Look at me! Hay” the unlucky goomba striker shouted at the titanic walking bomb as he changed its side and tackled it’s now massive leg.
“Hay you lanky Bobom wanna be you wanna go!” the goomba yelled as he picked himself up before seeing the creeper looking right at him.
“Hiss” went the creeper, its green flesh pulsing white
Once, twice, thrice, went the flashes, growing faster and brighter each time. Yet the fuse was also burned down more slowly and far more ominously than a normal sized creeper would have done so. While the prince and mage watched the impending detonation with manic yes bowser grabbed them both, pulled them down behind the rock and wrapped his arms around their protesting forms, placing his shell and the rock between them and the creeper as the flashes became a blinding strobe light.
The ear-shattering noise heralded the arrival of a cataclysmic explosion. Tons and tons of stone turned to dust, filling the tunnels, the ravine, and finally shooting out into the forest itself. It took a good while for the dust to begin to settle, and when it did, a hundred-foot diameter sphere had been hollowed from the rock. Water, stained gray, pooled in the bottom, collecting the resources displaced by the blast. Not only metals and gems, but a few spirits gathered together there, accidental byproducts of the devastation. There were bats, underground goombas, slimes, more slimes, and a strange creature. As the air continued to clear, Tora and Poppi returned, Poppi’s jets causing some billowing as she arrived. Her sack of materials was at the ready, and she went to work. Tora, however, waved the others over first. “Meh meh meh! As exciting as that was, Tora not think we should try again. Is more than enough goody-goodies anyway.” With that he joined her, hurriedly stuffing stuff into his sack. The koopas went down with them. While the others picked through the rubble for loot Jr summoned his squads of koopa troopas and goombas to hurriedly gather up as much of the goods as possible for him, the minions dump them into the clown car's interior while the boy himself absorbed the blue goomba sprites to add them to his army. Some worrying rumbles continued well after the blast’s shockwave would have died, and the Nopon suspected that what remained of the ceiling might not be holding up for much longer.
His suspicions proved correct when the ceiling began to shed. At first, only little pieces fell down, but soon chunks began to rain as well. Tora looked up, only to get bopped on the head. “Ouch, meh! Time to go!” He flung his sack over his back, turned tail, and rushed back toward the way leading up. Poppi and the koopas followed behind with goods in tow.
They made it with only a few moments to spare. Enormous slabs of rock and dirt smashed into the ground behind them as they ascended, leaving the cave-in behind. Noise filled the air, and tremors the earth, until an entire section of the forest itself collapsed into the ground, trees and all. Granted, plenty of forest remained, but the manmade disaster still rattled the heroes through and through. Panting, Tora wiped dust from his eyes and brushed it from his feathers. “Meeeeeh. Tora not think simple mining job get so big or dangerous.”
Poppi eyed the koopas and their accompanying sorcerer. “We are thankful for help, but help so dangerous that Poppi cannot condone. Please be less reckless.” Still, she bore a weary smile. “Did smith ladies also send to mine?”
”No way that was amazing!” jr replied as he began sorting through the assorted loot his minions had gathered. An unfortunate amount of the items where regular stones but there were still plenty of goodies.
”It was perhaps a touch excessive.” Kamek admitted sheepishly as he dusted off his robes. None of the koopa troop were concerned about the unnatural disaster they had wrought in the slightest, but the cave in had been a bit too close of a call for Kamke’s tastes. A small bag of sprites gathered from the crater hung from the front of his broom which he picked through as he explained that ”We were mostly passing by during another quest. We’re doing some work for the guild in town, trying to get in their good books so we can use their knowledge and contacts to track down the area boss. To do so we and the rest of the team are doing quests to climb their ranking system and reaping some quest rewards in the process.”
The mage picked the quest cards out of a pocket and showed them to pair.
”we need to do two of these before they condone us going after the ‘Terror of the plains’ quest. The saurian it mentions might be a guardian of Galeem, or it might just be a strong miniboss. Either way it’s a good way to gain influence in the area while powering up in the process.”
”We came here to the forest to do part of the ‘Food for the hungry’ Quest. There's quite the extensive grocery list involved that people are handling into various parts of as they come across them.” kamek explained as he began crushing the cave slime sprites, fishing for the slime gelatin item on the list. ”but we came over here to investigate the explosions. Then helped out seeing as the ladies left their quest with the guild.”
”AND BECAUSE NEEDING TO USE ’PRECISION’ TO TAKE DOWN THE BEASTS IS A PAIN IN THE BUTT” Bowser complained while the hammer bro’s picked through the massive fistfuls of materials he had brought up out of the crater. ”I’M NOT BUILT FOR PRECISION! I’M BUILT FOR CAUSING DEVASTATION!”
”That too. The boar and bull like baurun have been proving quite the tricky opponents to take down properly” Kamek explained.
The news left Tora and Poppi thoughtful. “So to hunt, need precision?” Tora confirmed.
Frowning, Poppi said, “Not our strength, either. In fact, of all of former friends, masterpon and Poppi probably least precise. Primary output is blunt force, after all. If only friends Morag or Zeke were here…”
A sigh escaped Tora. From time to time his friends escaped his mind, but he never really forgot. Rex and Pyra, Nia and Dromarch, Morag and Brighid, Zeke and Pandoria...how much longer would it be before the lot of them reunited? The urge to resume his search struck him, but he had a duty to uphold. Since Bowser’s group helped with his quest, he needed to return the favor. He put his mind to the task, reviewing the grocery list handed to him, and after a moment of consideration said, “Would be best to use lance or arrows. Or firearms.” A glance at Kamek’s bag prompted a third idea. “Maybe break spirits until we get one. But no, meh. Precision take skill too. Better to get plants and eggs and things, then find someone with right skills to tackle beasts.”
Everyone concurred, and split up to scrounge the forest for less-mobile goods. Even with the cave-in, the ravine provided a good chance to drum up cave commodities like mushrooms, and the field of wild wheat waited to the forest’s south whenever the crew moved on.
Troop crushed 5 cave slimes, 2 metal slimes, 1 cave crawler and 1 creeper sprites and aquired: Slime Ball x6 Gooey, bouncy, sticky, edible? Is there anything slime isn't good for?
Bottled Experience A glowing tincture of distilled knowledge, muscle memory, and familiarity. It tastes like aged blood, sweat, and tears, but if it grants 3 EXP, does that really matter?
Cave Crawler Skin A sturdy, water-resistant hide that can be prepared with salt and tanned it make high-quality material
Bomb Heavy, but can be rolled around a little. The fuse lights itself once it's dropped, and it will only blow up when the fuse runs out, not on contact. Good for blowing up rocks and opening sealed doors
For the first time in his life, people were really listening to him.
“They say that the war is over, that our enemies no longer fear us, and they say it as if it is some kind of victory. Because all that matters to them is surviving, eching out a meager existence in the shadows of the gods. Well I will not be satisfied with mere survival! There is so much more in this world than meek subsistence if we could just reach out and grasp it. Yes. the war is over. Enemies no longer stand guard, their eyes having turned to distant horizons. Should we sit here and thank the gods for the mercy of no longer having to watch our backs while we scrape in the dirt for scraps? I say no! It they're fools enough to turn their backs on us, so we should size the opportunity and strike them down!”
The boy of the Dragon’s Jaw tribe stood atop a pile of charred logs brandishing a dragon bone knife for enfasis as he spoke before the assembled crowd. While their elders had gossiped and argued the younger generations had come together and formed a temporary community under their noses. Partially this was for their own protection, treatment of the young varied widely among the Jotunder as they had started to be a factor only after the survivors of the final crossing had split up, but it was also partly for simple camaraderie. The younger members of the boy’s tribe had found out about this while their leaders had been investigating the great gamp and had been invited along to a meeting set up to welcome new arrivals into the community.
It had begun as introductions, but with the argument with Garna’Tenth still fresh in his mind it hadn’t been long before the boy convinced some of the others to let him speak to the assembly. Most of what he was saying wasn’t anything new, nor did he have as much clout as others who had spoken, but when he spoke others found something in his words was like fire. Passion and anger allowed to run wild and free as he spoke to the fears and frustrations of their lots in life, all backed up with a righteous zeal few could muster in this age of doused flames.
Even those who had heard him speak before, the half grown of his tribe and a few young full grown like Ayr’Sala (who was sat down only a short ways away), where swept up by his words.
“This is not a time to stand idle, or to run back to our barren lands like meek Jackolopes. We are Jutundere! We are fire! And it’s time we what's rightfully ours!” he shouted, pumping a fist into the air. A deafening wordless roar met his proclamation from the assembled Jutundere. The boy let it wash over him as he recovered his breath. Just as his words had set their hearts aflame, so to did their wordless response have his blood racing through his veins. He felt so alive!
Yet among the clamor his ears suddenly picked out a dreadful familiar sound that set his heart racing in a far less exhilarated fashion.
Young eyes searched for the source of the call. It was not hard to find. Stomping through the crowd, 3 times as tall as most of its members, came a fuming Garna’Tenth.
The crowd he had riled up parted like the sea before her for fear of being crushed underfoot.
“I was willing to tolerate your foolishness before, but you’ve crossed the river boy!” her voice boomed across the crowd like thunder “Because this, this recklessness liable to get us all killed.” she stopped before him, before glancing at the crowd “To fight against nature is to choose to die, either the storms your idiocy calls down on our heads or someone will stop you before you get us all killed.” before turning back to the Boy “do the san thing boy. Let go of this dream and come home before you get hurt”
“I’m not going back to your graveyard of a desert! You might feel at home in that corpse pile you old wretch, but I refuse to live and die in that gods forsaken place!”
“You don’t know what your saying boy.” Garna’Tenth replied sternly, a hand reached out and grabbed his arm to drag him back to camp. “The rest of you” she began to address the gathered children once more, thinking he wasn't going to resist. She learned she was wrong from a sharp pain in her hand as the boy plunged the knife into it.
Garna’Tenth roared in pain as she let go of his arm, which was bleeding slightly as well because the blade had gone straight through. The boy was not cowed by his self inflicted injury and instead rushed her legs with his knife, sinking the dragon's fang into her thigh.
“Enough!” she screamed, sweating down at him with a blow fast and hard enough to pulverize half the bones in his body. The boy was saved from obliteration by the quiet Ayr’Sala lunged forward with a calm “no” to put her arm in the way of her strike. The limb was ruined, but so were many of Garna’s fingers
The boy started away from her leg, avoiding a blow that had already been blocked, but Garna was not offered any respite as Ayr’Sala struck with her uninjured arm, punching the elder Giant in the chest. The blow caused her to stumble back, and then the wound in her leg caused her to fall.
Half -grown scrambled out of the way as the titan fell to the dirt. After a few moments of shock she tried to rise, but with one hand stabbed, the other was broken in a dozen places and a leg bleeding heavily she failed, slumping to the ground in defeat. After the brief burst of violence stunned silence reigned.
“Thank you.“ The boy whispered to Ayr who was nursing her broken arm.
“Should have stepped in long ago.” she muttered back “But... now what?”
The boy looked past the fallen Garna’Tenth who seemed to be resigned to whatever fate she might now receive, out over the shocked faces of the crowd and saw the rest of his tribe, who had followed after their unofficial leader’s blazing trial but had been given pause by her conflict with the youngsters and subsequent fall. That wouldn’t last long.
“I know what we have to do,” he told her, before stepping back up to the burnt husks he had spoken from before.
“You saw how they tried to silence me with threats and then violence! Because they fear us! Because they know we can surpass them!” he roared, blood still oozing from his arm wound.
“It’s not enough to cower in fear, they need to drag us down with them, because if we do what should be done we prove that they are truly cowards! The Giant’s bath lies unguarded, the skies clear of storms! Now is the time to strike! To take the serpent’s mountain! Follow me, brothers and sisters, before our decaying elders gather and try to crush this opportunity to surpass their failure!”
With words said and a course laid all that was left to take the first step. The Boy turned away from the woman he had crippled and marched north through the crowd, Ayr’Sala at his side.
Towards the gateway of Shengshi the pair went and, drawn like moths to his flame, many of the Jutundar followed.
To many. They were like angry flies, buzzing, swarming, biting.
“Run! Run for your lives!”
They did. She fell, poorly healed wounds making escape as impossible as fighting . But just like last time, this was not the end.
The first step had been taken. Now they had to take the second. The gathered Jotunder who had followed the Boy who spoke with fire north stood before the jungle’s edge. Oh they had passed trees sure enough as the desert slowly bloomed to life, but here, between Qiangshan mountains and the Taipang river and stretching just in between them and their destination the jungle truly began. The flock of Gardners gathered in its branches like soldiers on a wall made that abundantly clear.
They themselves were not so frightening, even as the tiny feathered friends sang and heckled them in an alien tongue. Instead what they feared was what they represented, for they had come around the same time as the Squalls. If they were still here where the squalls here too, lurking in the forest to ambush any who broke the unspoken truce.
Knowing that his army had already been hemorrhaging devotes as they had second thoughts the Boy knew that to delay here would only make it worse.
Out of the line of Jutuner he marched, testing the waters. Ayr’Sala went with him, the full grown following just a step behind him. Since they had fought Garna’Tenth together she now rarely left his side. He was in charge here, but her presence at his side, her still working arm always on the hilt of a blade, gave his words a weight he suspected they would not have otherwise had, particularly with the full-grown who had come. Younger ones like her. Older ones with regrets. Most of his army were still half grown however. The boy who spoke with fire aggressively left out the ‘only’ others might have used in that thought.
They approached the shrieking hord, bombarded with meaningless calls until suddenly one was not.
“Go away!” called a voice in their tongue. It came from a parrot, yet sounded like a full-grown Jutunder, one in pain and afraid. For a moment the boy’s confidence surged before others started copying the call exactly and he realized it was not they who were hurt and afraid. It was a Jutunder, probably long dead, who’s cries they had heard and now mocked him with.
“Go away! Go away!” they cried
“You burn! You burn!”
“We stop. We stop”
Each call was mimicking a different Giant, the same voice in a thousand mouths. He stopped a few steps away from the line in the sand drawn by the gardeners “We are here for the mountain!” he called back, unsure if they would understand.
“You burn! We stop!” they cawed back, chopping different mimicries together that were joined by a shower of nut shells, twigs and rotten fruits hurled from the forest’s edge
Ayr’Sala’s large arm was moved in the way, protecting him from much of the barrage as the giant herself toughed it out. “You move or you burn!” he yelled, trying his hand at threats instead..
“You Burn! We replace! Many us. Few you!” they screamed defiantly. Or most did.
“They burn we replace?” some cawed
“They burn. We die?”
“We want work not die!”
“They burn work!”
“We replace work!”
The boy watched as the assault slowed and rather than retaliate against his threat, the birds began arguing among themselves. He picked up one thing among the shouting. The desire to work. Maybe he could sway these enemies like he had his own people?
“You fight us, we burn you, you don’t work. We break forest, you replace forest, you work. Good?” he tried, and when that failed to get picked up he tried it more simply, like he was one of them “Not fight them. They burn forest! We replace! We work!”
“They burn, then we work!” cried one, simplifying his call even furthur
“They burn! We work!” he cried with it, and then more joined in.
“They burn! We work!”
“They burn! We work!”
“They burn! We work!” The calling joined together, no longer aimed at him or each other but simply as a proclamation. Then, suddenly, the birds took off, scattering to the trees not in his direct path where they landed to watch and wait. He wasn’t entirely sure why this worked, the thought process he had just manipulated utterly alien to him,but it had. The way was open. He stepped over the threshold and into the jungle as their enemies scattered before him. The faithful followed the boy who’s words where fire and the skies remained clear of storms.
The sting of the lash. The cold splash of water. The ceaseless drudgery of moving stone. How her old wounds and older bones ached. The threat of more pain and death the only thing driving her to continue this pointless task.
With a final hack of his blade the Boy broke through the other side of the twisted jungle and found himself facing a wall of stone. The distant sound of waterfalls could be heard, in between the crash and crunch of his army following in his wake, carving and smashing a path through the jungle.
It took Ayr’Sala a hundred or so heartbeats to rejoin his side. “Apologies for the delay. Jungle’s even more of a pain in the ass for us full-grown.” she muttered, before glancing behind her.
The path they had cleared was being cleared further even as they watched. The black gardeners landing on fallen trees and other plant caracas, causing them to rapidly begin to rot. The rest of the flock followed as well, stalking them from the trees while staying out of range of the odd tossed stone or branch.
“What do they want? I hate how they are just stalking us.” asked one of the other half-grown. The other boy looked as worn down as they all did by the trip, but like all who had come this far there was no way he was turning back now.
“You burn. We replace. You burn. We replace” went the caws
“We’ll deal with that later. We have a mountain to claim.” The boy said before calling out louder “Acend my brothers and sisters! Victory is within our grasp.” before starting up the mountain.
Hand over foot they climbed the steep, almost clifflike at times side of the rocky outcrop. Where the young had had it easier blazing a path through the jungle here the full-grown shined, long strides carrying them and strong hand pulling them upwards. Despite being few they gave aid to their younger comrades, stopping their own climbs to help them get up trickier parts.
Despite having Ayr’Sala at his side the whole time the Boy refused any help, recklessly scrambling up the side of the cliff. As he climbed his legend grew till at last he pulled himself atop the Giants bath. The first of his kind to surmount the taunting peak of the river serpent.
Others joined him. Ayr’Sala a few moments after, then dozens , then hundreds of his kin all stood with him and saw what they had claimed.
Before them was the lake where the freshwaters of the continent bubbled up unendingly. It was also a gateway, or so the story went, though as a people who had no concept for even a regular gate what that meant was hazy at best. Still. They had done it. A prize once denied had now been claimed.
It was cause for riotous celebration. Chants and singing filled the air. Crude wineskins filled with cactus juice where cracked open and strange fruits and meats taken during their trek through the jungle where consumed. Embraces and proclamations were shared. Several got it into their heads to that it would be a good idea to pee in the lake water in order to insult Shengshi.
As the party died down the boy found himself alone with Ayr’Sala.
“So now what?”she asked quietly. It wasn't an accusation, the boy knew, but a warning that others would soon be asking the same
“We’ll...” he began, only to find that the path ahead was no longer clear as it had felt before.
“We’ll do what? We can’t stay here, the serpent rides though too often. Do we go back?” she asked.
The boy’s hand went to an often ignored amulet dangling on a string around his neck. It was a dragon’s head, carved of bone, with its mouth stretched open wide in a roar. The symbol of the dragon’s jaw tribe that he’d had since his birth. Even after what they’d done to Garna’Tenth he hadn’t thought to get rid of it.
“No. We can never go back. Not to them.” he grasped the symbol and ripped from his neck before hurling it into the dragon’s head into the giant's bath. “But we can go back with new of our victory. We’ve proved its possible to leave the desert.”
“Brothers and Sisters!” he began to grab the attention of his kin, just as the Giant’s bath accepted his offering of a dragon’s head. Most of the gathered had grown bored of the lake itself, and for their own safety had gathered back near the clife side of the bath’s lip. As a result the gateway formed behind him, water streaming up to form an arch across the sky and replacing near half of it with sights of an unending realm of rivers.
At the gasps from his assembled followers he glanced behind him and saw what he had wrought. Thoughts ran through his mind lightning fast and suddenly he understood what none of his kind had ever truly grasped about the stories about gateways. Abstract concepts of spheres and the ways became them became concrete tangible things that they could interact with in that moment. Then he turned his gaze south. He had no use for this gateway, for its was surrounded by lethal waters and lead to only more of the same, but the one that dominated the horizon, still slowly spewing ash and magma even after its master had gone dormant, that he might well could use.
“Brothers and Sisters” he began again while pointing his blade at the distant smoke “We are going home for the first time.”
The Jutunder retreated from the gateway, leaving a trail of fires for the birds that flocked around them.
The damned serpent. It was all his fault. All his fault! The slaver’s kin had carved his likeness in the stone and then the snake itself had come. She had seen it from afar, a tiny wretched thing.
She swore she would burn this temple her kind had built in its name to the ground if it was the last thing that she did.
In a hidden valley within the Qiangshan Mountains the Jutundar raiders presented their captured foes to their leader. Nebulites who’s once magnificent clothes and carried position indicated that at least some among them were of some standing back in their colony town.
The enemy were forced to kneel before Sarvariun, the lord of flame, who sat on a throne of bone gold and iron. On one side lay a young fire dragon that he had raised from an egg which he had stolen from the depths of Múspelheim itself as a boy. On the other side his partner stood just a step behind his throne, clad in armor made for the shell of a terrifying curation and armed with a dozen obsidian blades and throwing clubs. Before them. in a broken mockery of their tongue a servant begged for them to aid his master.
“Master was powerful in city. Many shiny things, many slaves. To you he give, if drive out usurper.”
“You owned slaves?”
“Mainly Ape things. You have them. Your people go free.” the translator insisted on behalf of his master.
“You offer nothing I cannot take for myself” the Man who’s worlds would ignite the world said calmly from atop his throne of stolen trophies.
“Please. We know things. Teach you our way. In Shengshi’s name I beg you too” the king flicked his hand and the pleading words were cut off by fire and screams as the fire dragon incinerated the nebulites. When it closed its mouth only blackened bones remained.
“There will be no cooperation with the enemy! No surrender! No mercy! We serve no gods and instead bring death to all who those who worship the serpent of chains.”
“Death the enemy!” came the response from his armies followed a raw, angry bloodthirsty chant of “Kill! Kill! Kill!” joined by the roars of young dragons.
The Boy had come a long way in the last 10 years and yet this was only the beginning.
Garna’Tenth’s awoke atop the world. She still had an oath of vengeance to keep.
The Jutunder Boy from the last embers post is speaking to a great assembly of youths about going back to war now that it looks like their enemies aren't paying attention. He gets the crowd riled up but then Garna’Tenth shows up and demands he shut up and come back to the tribe.
They argue, she tries to force the issue and he attacks her. Ayr’Sala helps him and they knocked her to the ground. After realising he can’t ever go back he sets of north to conquer the giant’s bath. Ayr’Sala and an army of youths follow him due to his charisma.
They army reaches the forests in the north and are confronted by Gemstone Gardeners who try to block their entrance. The boy convinces them to let them past because them burning down some of the forest gives them more work.
The giant army arrives at the bath, climb it and then celebrate for a bit. The boy and Ayr’Sala realize they can’t say there lest shen evic them for squatting next time he sails past. The boy accidentally activates the gateway while throwing away a dragon head amulet connecting to the dragon’s jaw tribe he has abandoned. The Jutunder now actually understand why the gateway was an important thing to capture, and the boy realizes that mt Eldahverr must work similarly.
The army leaves and burns some of the forest behind them. The gardeners are pleased.
We jump ahead 10 years and find the boy has named himself Sarvariun after growing into a giant. He is a prophet, dragon tamer, is fond of older woman and is the leader of a large army that is raiding the Pygmy-Nebulite trade route. He incinerates a party of nebulites that fled from laurian’s coop and then declares a war to the death against all the mortals on the dragons foot who worship shengshi.
Side by side with the boy’s ascension we witness in short form the fall of Garna’Tenth who survived being attacked by the future Sarvariun only to captured by Nebulites and enslaved. She is worked for 10 years until she finds out that the temple is dedicated to Shengshi. Then she leads a brief slave revolt that tries to burn it down, but is unsuccessful and is killed. She then wakes up in the sky bastion, her vengeance as of yet unfulfilled.
”Well that was vague” Bowser said after the fortune teller had left them with her predictions.
”Unsurprising and but probably for the best.” Kamek replied, having both foretold and witnessed quite a few prophecies in his time. More importantly, unlike his king, he actually remembered quite a bit of the details involved in the predictions and their eventual outcomes ”The other alternative is highly specific but both lacking context and entirely self fulfilling. Either your actions create a fate you are trying to avoid, or a fate you want comes true and then is immediately undermined.”
”or its super cryptic hints at where to go to make progress. Bet if Mario where here she’d have said something like ‘go to where two streams meet and stomp your feet’” Bowser gave an appalling impression of Menat ”Instead of showing us a vision of me back at the stupid cliff again and spouting a whole bunch of vague nonsense.”
”History does have a tendency to repeat itself” Kamek noted. ”and enjoy returning to where things first began in one reflection of that tendency. A rematch ending in defeat for Galeem on the same spot where it first claimed victory seems like the kind of sentimental poetic justice or irony is something prophecies seem rather fond of.”
”Also how come I wasn’t there with you!” Jr complained
The two elder koopas both thought about this with a touch of worry.
”Perhaps you were simply elsewhere in the crowd? You have been going off on your own a lot lately” Kamek suggested
”Off leading your own army!” Bowser said, before his son could complain about being lost among the masses.
”Yeah! Coming from the side with the cavalry in a daring flanking maneuver” Jr perked himself easily enough with the thought. While the boy fantasizes about his legendary generalship his guardians exchanged concerned glances and a nod. They’d keep a closer eye on him, just in case.
”If there's anything safe to take from all that, it’s that someone needs fireproof gear, and someone else a tough shell to avoid backstabbing. If those were literal events anyway.” Kamek noted to try and move them away from the prediction involving them. As was foretold the discovery about their true nature continued to be avoided and no comments were made on the matter.
Idle conversation about the prophecies eventually ended as they arrived at the cookhouse. There they met Mina and received her grocery list. Or rather Geralt did. There was a bit of grumbling over that as king and mage looked at the list over his shoulder.
The ingredient’s locations were then compared to the locations of the other quests. Even without knowing about them Geralt suggested the logical starting point of going to the forest first, to which they agreed.
”A simple arcing path seems advisable, we can pass by the mining quest at the canyon, hit up the forest, swing south for the wheat and then take on any of the southern quests after we’re done. Take a shot at the caves and field parts whenever we come across them.”
The plan was made. Before setting of they first got descriptions of some of the plants and monsters they did not recognize and then acquiring some cheap sacks for transporting the ingredients. Then they ”finally” set off on their first real foray into the land of adventure.
The master seemed pleased when Kamek complimented his magical redecorating. The hooded magician also mentioned that his old haunts made this bit of sorcery look positively mundane in comparison.
”Who knows. Maybe we’ll run into some of them on our travels” he noted as he took a seat sideways on his broom to listen to the Master exposition about the darkness. The Magikoopa absorbed it all with relish, though the warnings contained within mostly on deaf ears. Both the Mage himself and his lord Bowser used dark magic all the time after all, though this was seemingly a different breed of power, one much to in depth to cover in such a short time. Such was to be expected from something the man considered a fundamental force in the universe.
”Sounds like you could write several books on this particular shade of darkness. I’ve, mmm, encountered a few dark sorceries and artifacts in my time, though if they are of any relation to the Darkness you have studies I can not say. I certainly haven't encountered these heartless or nobodies you speak off. Perhaps our worlds have different laws of magical laws despite having the same physical laws. I’ll have to study that possibility as we travel.” he pondered before hopping off his broom based seat.
”and for these corridors of darkness. We have, and I know off, safer ways to get around of course, so we’d be best to avoid them unless they lead to somewhere we can not yet reach. It's also good to be aware that others, particularly those dressed like yourself, might be able to use them too.” he said, before picking up his hovering broom.
”I’d love to discuss it further with you but I must really should return to my King’s side sooner rather than later. This has definitely been an interesting visit, so I’ll be sure to see if I can squeeze in a social call sometime down the line.”
After a short farewell the Koopa taped his broom against the ground and vanished once more
Geralt did indeed know where Mina could be found, which was good. He also offered to help, which the king took pause before accepting, the king scratching his chin dully while mulling the offer over. It meant an extra pair of hands to pawn off the more monotonous tasks onto, but also meant sharing the cube shaped rewards. The dinner was probably scaling to the number of quest completers. His glacial contemplation was interrupted by the appearance of his son through the guild hall’s doors. The boy waved to his father but was initially focused on the man who he was talking too.
”Oh so you’re guy who all the people were talking about. Your fanclub’s a nuisance you know that” Jr complained, having had to shove his way past the small crowded, including the lunch interrupting children and some Rabbids, that had loosely tailed in the Witcher’s wake and was in the process of dissipating now that he was in the Guild.
”Fan club?” Bowser asked
”Guy’s kinda a big deal around town. Apparently.” Jr said dismissively as he joined the party. He was presently presently unarmed, but did have Mimikyu riding on his shoulder. The small ghost was easily distracted by this new and strange place, and its eyes did not linger on anyone or thing for long.
”Hmm” the King contemplated this information. On the one hand he did not like the idea of potentially being overshadowed by some local legend. On the other hand such a popular guy had to have some clout to back him up. Having him on side might be provided more than just some free help to dump bits of the task on.
While the party had been speaking Din had also arrived, bringing with her woman who she claimed was a fortune teller who she had attracted with her money making booty shaking. Bowser wasn't sure how to feel about the prospects of using Divination again. Kamek, who arrived in a puff of smoke just as the king thought about the old wizard, had the ability to see the future but they’d never had much luck turning the prophecies into success. Not that they’d had much luck turning anything into success.
”Ah, Sire. Your still here. ” the Magikoopa noted flatly only to be interrupted by a ruder version of the question he had been about to ask
”Do we have a plan yet Papa?” Jr asked impatiently.
”What? Yeah obviously.” The king insisted while hardly making a decision.
”GERALT GUY. YOU’RE WITH US NOW, SO TAKE US TO MINA!” he ordered/informed their new ally/guide before turning his attention to the gaggle of heroes in the party.
”OK EVERYBODY LET’S MOVE! YOU CAN GET YOUR FORTUNES TOLD ONCE WE GET TO WHEREVER GERALT’S LEADING US” he commanded the group before heading out the door, the King’s family following after him a few moments later.
”The Master of Masters has informed me that he and the Guild master don’t have anything in common other than their outfits. Apparently the masters he is the master of are actually a bunch of kids with colorful robes and animal masks. The garments the two masters use is for protection against a force he called the darkness. Powerful and supposedly dangerous stuff,” Kamek said once they were on their way and out of earshot of the Guildmaster ”Has all sorts of uses and drawbacks, including the ability to rapidly travel great distance through ‘Corridors of Darkness’ if you have protection, like the masters garments, from the corrupting influence of the passageways.”
”Sure sure right,” Bowser said dismissively, the king well practiced in ignoring Kamek’s explanations, before telling him too. ”Remind me about it if it ever comes up”
The royal advisor, equally used to re-explaining things to his king, simply nodded his head as they continued onward.
They found Mina in a place called the cookhouse. As soon as they met her Bowser brought out the guild card with her quest on it from a breast pocket for her to see before she could worry about there being a turtle dragon in her kitchen or ponder how one might taste.
”WHATDA YA NEED?. the king asked, more than ready to receive a grocery list. ”AND WHAT ARE YOU MAKING ME ONCE WE GET IT FOR YOU?.
Long strides took Garna’Tenth of the Dragon’s Jaw tribe through the Desert of Sandravii the Jotundar called home, the giant bellowing loudly as she went. Around her where the remains of a divine clash, a graveyard of monster bones and pillars of eternity burning iron half buried in endless sands. Life was rare here. Scrubby bushes. The odd cactus. Hidden roots. Monsters from the war. And, racing away from her as she stormed after them, Jackalopes. The massive rabbits with their fruit bearing horns where rapidly bounding away from her, darting too and fro to avoid the grip of her massive hands. She didn't even try. That wasn't the point of this.
Out of a dune ahead of where they were all running burst Rath'Took, the old giant roaring and waving his arms while to her left another giant emerge from where she had slowly, carefully looped around the giant bunnies’ grazing spot. The cowardly Lagomorphs panicked at the appearance of more giant humanoids and darted right only to find a final Jotundar emerging from the sand in their path. This one was no giant however, if any present had known what a human was they would have said he was about the same size as a male adult, nor did he bluster and rage like their kin.
The Jackalopes decided to take their chances with this least threatening of their pursuers, rushing him and trying to nimbly dodge his grasp. This was a mistake. The boy’s agility was yet to be stolen by size and so his faster hands succeeded where others have failed, leaping at a Jackalope and catching it by one of it’s horns.
The bunny struggled, dragging the boy along through the sand as it continued to try and escape, but his grip remained tight and slowed the beast till Garna’Tenth caught up, a great hand grasping the burdened bunny’s other horn. She stood two and a half times as tall as the boy and had since the day she was made.
“Good work boy. First try too!” came a distant shout from Rath’Took. The other two giants had stopped running once Garna’Tenth had caught up.”took Ayr’Sala three tries to catch one first time we took her out!” he added before he and the fourth giant, now grown enough for a name and simultaneously too slow to filer old role, began bickering over that fact.
“Now get a better grip on it and I’ll get this over with.” Garna’Tenth instructed, her free hand going for a knife made of a scavenged dragon fang taht was tied to her hip by a crude leather strap. He did as instructed, gripping it firmly around the neck and getting a better stance to stop it escaping. Garna released the beast's horn and moved a hand, whispering “shh it’s okay” as she brought up the knife. Then with a swift motion predator fang met stem and a ripe fruit fell from its antler to the desert sands.
“Why don’t we kill it?” The boy asked as the Jackolope struggled in his grip “It’s been ages since we had meat.”
“We don’t kill them. Ever. last time was an accident.” Garna’Tenth explained curtly as she continued to harvest the fruits from the rabbit’s massive antlers. “Poor thing broke a leg. At that point it was us or one of Fear’s monsters.”
“But why not kill them? I remember how happy everyone was last time you brought meat back.” the young hunter pressed on, as he eyed the beast hungrily.
“The Ashen Hands ate all the Jackalopes they found” she said, as if that explained everything
“Never heard of them” the boy responded, rightly confused.
“Exactly. They butchered all the Jackalopes in their territory and then had nothing left to eat. Most starved. The ones left formed the Tooth Takers.” she explained properly.
“The Raiders? I heard they eat people” the boy responded matter of factly.
“Those are the rumors. They’re bastards the lot of them even if they don’t. That’s what happens when you don’t respect the land, you end up living in the wasteland of your own making.”
“But we’re Fire! We aren't supposed to respect that land. Right? Because fire consumes everything in its path in a glorious inferno!” the boy’s sudden surge of righteous rhetoric spooked the Jackople even more than it already was.
“And then it burns itself out.” she finished for him before softly stroking the fur of the jackalope to try and calm it “Yes, we are fire, but if you want a fire to live you don't just pile all the fuel you can on it at once. You feed it and stroke it. Nurture the flame and it’ll keep you warm all night instead of only for a few minutes.” she explained, plucking the last fruit from the jackalope. She pet its head gently as she could with her massive hands and then told the boy to “Now let it go”
The boy hesitated for a few moments before reluctantly releasing the rabbit, which bolted off into the dues as soon as it could. “You’re all ok with this” he asked the others, who had arrived but remained silent as he and their boss talked.
“Yeah.” Rath'Took, who, like Garna’Tenth, was made rather than born, replied. “Might not be righteous, but it works.”
“You were telling us about the war just last night!” the boy complained. “When you were warriors fighting against a world that would smother our flame if it could.”
“We aren't the armies of god any more” She scolded as the other two came to help gather up their haul of fruits. “We’re just people now, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to survive”
After catching two more Jackalopes they were done. Night was a few hours away but the frigid desert night was no friend to the Jotundar and so the party made sure to leave plenty of time to reach camp. They were wise to do so, being forced to hide from one former monstrous allies that etched out a living in the wastes, and reached the metal spike they were currently calling home only a short time before sundown.
The Jotundar didn't have much in the way of possessions, and so the camp was mostly defined by the presence of the giants themselves and the rough pile of trade goods they had stacked up. Shards of ever hot metal and bones and fangs of old beasts where the main goods found in the desert, along with some preservable arid plants. They'd trade those for fish from the river tribes and acquire salt to preserve it from the ocean ones, both of whose trades required either extreme bravery or extreme foolishness depending on who you asked. Obsidian blades could be acquired from those who had settled near mt Eldahverr after having failing to enter it and floating rocks to lighten their packs could be acquired from the madmen that lived near the world scar.
Once they were close the relief the party felt was still palpable, the heat from the spire of red hot metal washing away their fears of freezing to death in the desert night.
“There you lot are!” came a call from the closest lookout, a Jotundar armed with a pair of Dragon claw knives the size of short-swords. “Argar has been worried sick about you Rath'Took.”
“Well he can stop worrying, I made it home like I always do!” the old Giant called back cheerfully “and it’s been worth the worry. This boy’s a natural Jackalope catcher.”
The lookout eyed their armfuls of fruits hungrily “They’ll be glad to hear that! Everyone else is back already, thank father flame none are as slow as you, but it looked like we were going to have a meager evening till you lot showed up last thing”
“They started cooking already?” Garna’Tenth asked, not liking the sound of the others hauls. They’d probably have to move again soon. It was always a risk, but one they’d taken a hundred times already.
“Yeah. better hurry if you want that done around the same time.”
The party nodded and then hurried on past. Meager had been the right word for it. A few roots, cactus flowers and bugs you needed nerves of iron to catch where all roasting away close to the iron spire while the Jotundar sat around on rocks and skulls to talk.
The party dropped off their haul with the cook for the day and went their separate ways till dinner time. It was while they were digging in to their haul that the past returned.
Garna’Tenth had been discussing when and where they’d be heading off too next now that the area looked like it needed time to recover when a shout drew their attention.
“By Sartravius’s beard! The Turtle, it’s coming!” came the cry. All eyes turned north, to the distant Giant’s bath where, sure enough, the great turtle of the river leech was descending from its seat of power for the first time in years. Silence reigned among the shocked and horrified Jotundar, until one finally cried out that “It’s coming to take its revenge!”
“Quiet, we don’t know that!” Garna’Tenth shouted down the coward before they could spark panic, but the ember of doubt was already sparked. Worried muttering began to circulate speculation running rampant.
“What are we going to do.” someone asked
“We’re going to go,” Garna’Tenth said with certainty “where everyone else is going. Back to the Final Crossing”
It took a week to reach their destination, but once they caught sight of it, it was clear they had not been the only ones to decide to come here. An agreement had been made decades ago, after they burned the boats they'd used to cross the Taipang, that they’d come back together there if it looked like the wordless admission of surrender to the wrathful storms hadn’t ended the war. The burning of the ships, gorlied rafts really, had been a declaration that they’d never return to the forest’s they’d ravaged, lacking as they did the resources to build new ones to cross the deadly river once more.
Here, now, gathered among the ashes of that surrender, was gathered the single largest host of Jotundar since the war for the Dragons Foot had ended in defeat for the forces of destruction. Despite hardly representing the totality of their kind, for those who had traveled far had likely not even seen the turtle, it was still a pot all but ready to boil over.
They quickly learned that turtle had descended at the call of its masters ship, and had then had a strange construction built on it’s back through the night. The screams caused by that construction had been louder than any they had ever caused during the battle, or so tale from the river giants went. Child like people had boarded it and then it had lumbered off into the forest, crushing everything in its path. Suffice to say the fact that it was not swarmed by angry squalls for this hypocrisy was extremely unjust in the eyes of the Jotundar.
Now that it was gone to destroy the jungle nobody could agree on what to do. Some left, but those that remain bickered endlessly as tensions rose. The local river tribes were getting both fed up and worried about the damage the mas encampment was having on their local fish stocks and a number of watery graves were not helping matters. Grudges, old as the war and dnew as the desert, where boiling to the surface.
The Dragon’s Jaw tribe managed to accrue all of this information in the day after their arrival and came back together for and evening meal to discuss it. They were not sure why it wasn't so cold at night nearer the river, but it meant they could handle the night with just a campfire made from the greenery that clung to the edge of the great desert, nurtured by the river. Not that there was much of that left now after a week of Jotundar occupation.
“This has been a Vulkandr sized waste of time” Garna’Tenth admitted in between bites of overpriced fresh fish. The river giants where demanding extortionate trades for their skills, both because of demand and to try and convince people to leave sooner. “I’m sorry I said we should do this.”
“Ah it wern’t just you” Rath'Took said from across the fire, stepping in before his old friend began beating herself up to hard for this “and besides, it was worth coming to not having to worry about becoming turtle food”
“A steep price for peace of mind” Garna’Tenth responded. They’d burned a lot of supplies getting here, and going out into the desert again. “But one we’ve paid already I suppose. Best get out of here before the rush”
“If they’d delayed this long I wouldn’t expect them to head out anytime soon. Not till this place is a wasteland at least.” Rath'Took said.
“Can’t believe they’re arguing about what to do. The ones trying to reform the army are the worst of the bunch, just fools grasping for power. Even if they get tribes onboard they’ll have nothing to fight. Except everyone else.” Garna’Tenth replied, ending with a touch of worry
“Yanta’zar” Argar’Took, who was sitting next to him, supplied.
“Yeah! Yanta’zar.” Rath'Took clapped the other Giant on the shoulder int thanks and then continued “Sea Giant. Got a couple hundred odd Jotundar together few years back after a bit of conquering and then tried to invade the desert. Whole thing fell apart down way south of us as I heard it.”
“When’d you hear this?” Garna’Tenth asked. Rath'Took was never one to leave a story untold a dozen times over.
“Today” he replied “Me and Argar heard it from some fisher-woman while we were asking around. Was why she was sure it’d never get off the ground. Only other option was to go conquer the north, which is even dumber”
“Fools errand that” Garna’Tenth said, and most of the old giants nodded in agreement.
“There's some in there that’ll argue till the end of time if they could about that and all sorts of other things. I heard that there was a big hoo ha over some old fear monster’s grave up near the mountains that's just been discovered. Half a dozen tribes all shouting and hollering about who gets a claim once they all go back north” Argar’Took began to gossip before being interrupted by a younger voice.
“Was that it?!” Complained the boy who had helped the pair of hunters
“Was what it?” Garna’Tenth asked
“The turtle is gone! The Giant’s Bath lies undefended! And your just going to dismiss the opportunity to finally claim it so easily? Like this isn't a golden opportunity to finally strike back?“ he asked
“The war is over boy.” she told him, tired of repeating herself already “and serpent’s titan leaving its post makes it perfectly clear that we aren't considered a threat anymore, so we don't need to worry about it starting back up again anytime soon.”
“You say that like its a good thing. That it’s good to be considered weak and meek and of no concern to anybody. How does that not fill you with shame? Because the enemy has left their gate unguarded and any brave warrior of Sartravius should be jumping at the opportunity to take revenge. But all I see here is cowards.” the boy retorted, fire in is words. Garna’Tenth lashed out with a hand at the child, but found only dirt as the boy scrambled out of the way just in time.
It had left an impact none the less, the confrontational bravado replaced with panting fear and shock. “You know where the ‘Brave’ warriors are” Garna’Tenth shouted at him, before pointing across the river. “You can find their bones over there. You haven't seen war child, haven't seen the clash of the titans that trampled us underfoot without even noticing. You haven’t watched as your friends and your lover were torn apart by storms given life by a vengeful god. No. We aren't the brave ones, or the strong ones, but we are the smart ones. That fight was over before you were even born boy and only the ones who accepted that are still alive.”
The old Jotundar was left panting after letting lose her wrath. After a few moments to compose herself she spoke again in a quieter voice. “You’ll have plenty of time to reflect on your foolish words on night watch boy. So sit back down and keep quiet if you know what's good for you.”
The boy looked at the other faces in the crowd, getting only stern looks from those who had been in the war, but a few fleeting looks of sympathy from the other children and those who had once been children like Ayr’Sala. These were quickly hidden before they could be noticed however, leaving the boy alone in his shame.
Scowling, the boy returned to the circle and picked up his dropped fish. While the others gossiped and planned the boy silently ate, and schemed.
Garna’Tenth rolled over in her sleep and then woke up feeling a touch of cold. Grumbling, she opened her eyes and found that it was near dawn. The soft orange glow of Heliopolis’s immanent arrival was smudged across the horizon, so it took her a few moments to realize that the night fire was out.
“Damn that boy.” she muttered, standing and looking for his incompetent disobedient ass, yet found no trace of him. Nor, now that she was looking, could she find any trace of most of the half grown children. Ayr’Sala was also gone, along with a scant few adults.
“Children! Where are you! This is no place for games!” she shouted, rousing the rest of the tribe in the process.
“What’s going on” Rath'Took complained as he awoke to her haulering. He extracted himself from his lover's arms and looked around for a few moments, but instead of noticing what Garana had he spotted something going on deeper into the sprawling Jotundar camp.
“What on earth is going on over there,” he asked, pointing towards a large gathering near a great bonfire at its center. This in and of itself was not unusual, some would be leader was always throwing speeches around somewhere in camp, but what was was that the attendees of this meeting where mostly half grown children like the Boy.
Garna’Tenth joined her old friend in looking down at the congregation “That. Does not bode well.”
Jotundar from the Dragon’s Jaw tribe hunt jackalopes in the Desert of Sandravii. They catch one and then there is a discussion about whether to murdur it or not between a pro murder new hunter referred to only as boy and an elder called Garna’Tenth who exposits on the value of living in harmony with the land.
The hunters catch a few more bunnies and get fruits from their horns before returning home late to their tribe. There they cook up the food and have dinner. During this Shengshi summons the massive turtle Chuanwang down from the giants bath to act as a house boat for the dreamers. The giants see this and freak out.
The Dragon’s Jaw tribe travel to the place where their kind originally arrived in the desert, a ship graveyard that they had used to cross the Taipang river before burning them. The Jotundar had agreed to return there if their race was ever threatened as a whole again. Many have gathered there in response to the turtles, but as they all discovered it had had nothing to do with them and the turtle wandered off into the jungle days ago with its new passengers.
The tribe does a bit of investigation and discovers that the only reason anyone is still here is because they are taking the opportunity to argue about all sorts of things. Most notably there are attempts being made to use this gathering to form an army for various goals, one of which is to conquer the giants bath.
This is dismissed as foolish by the elders, but the boy and Garna’Tenth get in an argument over this as well. The boy calls his elders cowards for not leaping at the opportunity at revenge. Garna’Tenth respond with violence and tells him that if he wants to find the brave Jonture he’s more than welcome to go cross the river and dig up their bones.
The boy is assigned to night watch as punishment for his words, but he steals away in the early morning along with many of the other half grown children (read, 20-30 year olds) to attend some gathering of their age group at the center of the combined Jotundar camp.
"Even if it weren't somewhat toxic, it would still be disgusting. But if it's eat or be eaten..."
"A grenade that sticks to whatever it hits and leeches health from living things near it, which it returns to the thrower. One use only; breaks after working for 6 seconds"
As they got closer to the infested tank Jr had a few moments to inspect his stolen loot. One was a strange red grenade covered in roots or vine like growth while the other... Jr sniffed the new hunk of flat meat and immediately wrenched in disgust. ”Ew! Gross!” Unsurprisingly zombie meat was not appetizing in the slightest.
The two items were left on the trolley as jr stood to confront the final enemy in the area. The hyper muscle freak was already taking a beating as the trolley drew closer to it. Magical blasts from flying heroes and bullets from the Gallem influenced allies tore at its flesh from all sides. It seemed unsure on what to focus, abandoning its pursuit of the other band and tossing the odd projectile at the hero party, until Blazermate’s sentry opened up on it. The crack of automatic gunfire and sting of bullets seemed to draw its ire far more than any of the other heroes’ attacks. With a roar it started to rampage towards Banjo's vehicle.
”Alright, nice work Blazermate!” jr called out cockily as the tank came for them. Yet that arrogance rapidly fell away it came closer, seemingly shrugging off the sentry's torrent of bullets like they were nothing. A ball of goop lobed from the paintbrush did little to help and so, panic gnawing at him, jr blindly grabbed for the weird ball and lobbed the first thing he found it at the tank.
As the slab of Rotten Flesh slapped the Tank in the face and it subsequently tanked the rockets of the auto turret too Jr’s panic erupted and he decided it might be good to get out of the way of the bullrushing monster. Snatching the Siphon grenade from the he leapt onto the teleporter and vanished mere moments before the tank plowed into the cart.
Jr found himself back in the village panting for breath, quickly stepping off of the teleporter to avoid being sent back into the arms of the juggernaut.
”Ok. Maybe I'll give this place a shot.” he concluded as he walked over to his clown car and stored the grenade inside it. After waiting a few moments to make sure the teleporter hadn't either exploded or dumped the tank into the village jr set of to find his father, correctly assuming that everything was fine on the other side.
”I'm glad we’re… surpassing your expectations I suppose.” Kamek said, slightly offended by the suggestion that they could have been so incompetent as to be foiled by a simple ditch. People didn't exactly reach his ripe old age without learning how to get across a few bottomless pits after all.
”A few of the heroes took it upon themselves to go into the dead zone too. Hopefully they are handling that as well as heroes seem to be able to handle everything.” he added informatively before the Master got round to answering his question.
”Well that is unfortunate” Kamek said in response to finding out that the Master of Masters and the Guildmaster where simply wearing a common protective garb from their home universe. Apparently his actual pupils did not even share his fashion sense. ”If I meet any of these proteges of yours I’ll let them know about this place.” Kamek promised. He did not sympathize with the master’s plight but more allies were always useful.
Despite the lack of much useful info Kamek did not feel like the trip had been a complete waste.
”I have to say, I do love what you’ve done with the place.” The room, part homely, part resplendent and was a far better laboratory than the dank and dark one he had woken up in yesterday. The assortment of tomes, equipment and parchments all arose a certain intellectual curiosity in the old Koopa. You did not master magic over decades without poking your nose in any and all opportunities to learn more after all.
”before I go, may I ask what are you working on up here? And what is this ‘darkness’ you mentioned?” he asked, squinting at the book the master had been writing before he entered.
While Bowser slowly and indecisively poured over the quests Linkle and the Curior came in to take a look at the available missions as well. Both ended up suggesting they simply do all of them rather than picking and choosing, which simplifies things somewhat, but the courier was the only one who decided on something specific to do first, namely capturing Wigglers.
”WOULDN'T UNDERESTIMATE THOSE WIGGLERS IF I WERE YOU. USE EM IN MY ARMY SOMETIMES. THEY GOT A SHORT FUSE AND TEMPER TANTRUMS LIKE A RUNAWAY TRAIN,” he warned/boasted.
Eventually, after much consideration, the king went with his gut. Which meant he chose the quest that had food as a reward. Even if it seemed a little too close to manual labor for his tastes, the King was willing to investigate the task if it meant securing a free dinner, something that would taste extra good after such an expensive lunch. Besides, likely he could just pawn of the quest to the whole team, get em to picks stuff up as they traveled across the zone.
Just after he was finishing up his thoughts and wondering how to find out the ingredients list he was interrupted. Looking up from the card he found a human with long white hair, plenty of scars on his face who was wearing chain-mail and a boat load of medieval weaponry. Probably an adventurer, Bowser concluded. The king checked his eyes and found them red, as expected, and that they had vertical slits, which was unusual. Probably. He wasn’t a human expert.
The man introduced himself as Geralt, and asked if they were new to the area.
”YEAH. WE ARE,” the king responded, missing that the question had been rhetorical, ”I’M BOWSER, THE KOOPA KING! SOON ENOUGH EVERYONE IN THIS TINY TOWN’S GONNA KNOW THAT, AND THEN EVERYONE IN THIS WHOLE MIXED UP WORLD WILL TOO.” he boasted thoughtlessly as he introduced himself. ”AND THESE TWO ARE SOME OF MY MINIONS.” he added, pointing at the Courier and Linkle.
Then he realized he could probably get some useful info out of this guy who was probably a regular in town. He double checked the ‘food for the hungry’ quest card and then spun it round for Geralt to see as he asked ”DO YOU KNOW WHO/WHERE THIS ‘MINA’ IS?”
The great storm which was Ashalla rolled over the frozen north of Galbar. Winter-spirits burrowed into the ice to avoid the blizzard which scoured the ice sheet. Tendrils of fog curled through the endless plain of ice sculptures, feeling their myriad forms.
There were many varieties of trees and plants and even a few mushrooms. There were depictions of many beasts such as wolves, monkeys, bears, foxes, moose, penguins, seals, direwolves, griffons, trolls, ghouls, whales, molves, crows, alma, aquatic serpents, long-necked armoured flippered creatures, shark-like creatures with wings and legs, gemstone gardeners, vitasaurs, magpies, elk, goats, bilbies, tree-eaters, possums, and countless more. There were a few sculptures which depicted some specific creatures: a direwolf with only one eye; a sleek quadrupedal predator with a clubbed tail; a five-headed dragon; a collection of abstract curves collected into a vaguely humanoid form with two pole-arms; a whale with some kind of armour; a tyrannosaurus rex; a humanoid woman with antlers and hooves. There were multiple sculptures of a fine manor in various stages of disrepair. There were also sculptures of little huts, of Dreamers, of a Shengshese manor, of Hermes and Xiaoli and Arya and Laurien.
As Ashalla inspected the sculptures, learning about what land-dwelling creatures the winter-spirits had seen, she came across one ice sculpture much too large to have been made by the tiny winter-spirits. It was almost a hundred metres tall, and looked exactly like Chopstick Eyes. This meant someone else had been here, possibly Chopstick Eyes.
Casting her senses about, Ashalla detected another peculiar specimen. This was a winter-spirit, but rather than being the normal white and blue of ice, it was painted in red, green and gold. An eddy pulled the winter-spirit into the clouds which were Ashalla. A brief taste told her the colouring came from algae living on the surface of the icy being.
“What wonderful colours,” she burbled. The algae required the winter-spirit to acquire some salts beyond its normal diet of just water, but these were readily available in the ocean. Several other winter-spirits she could sense also had colourful markings.
She tasted the winter-spirit again, this time analysing the flavours more closely. She knew that if she looked hard enough, the signature of the artist would be present. Then she found it, faint as it was: residue of divine essence. Chopstick Eyes’ divine essence.
Now that her senses were attuned to faint traces of divine essence, she noticed trails in the ice. The statue had indeed been made by Chopstick Eyes, and that goddess’ trail (after considerable wandering) appeared to lead approximately north. But there was another set of trails which Ashalla noticed, heading due north. Three distinct essences mingled in this trail: one she recognised as Kalmar, another she could identify as Arae, and a third she could not identify but it had a stench of death about it similar to Katharsos.
Ashalla looked north. These gods had gone ahead to Azura and her vault. The clouds within Ashalla twisted into tight eddies. The wind changed, and Ashalla flew north.
The towering mountain at the top of the world rolled across the horizon and into view. Azurian constructs patrolled around the mountain, including two very large ones which mirrored what Ashalla had seen in the winter-spirits’ ice sculptures. Overhead flew Alma, although Ashalla’s presence diverted the flight paths of many of the birds. One of the Alma dove ahead of Ashalla and projected an image of a familiar whale.
“Hello there. What brings you...” the whale began to say again, only to be interrupted by a faint voice nearby wherever it was transmitting from.
“Oh thank goodness. It’s just Ashalla. You don’t need to stall this time Luis. Yes I’m sure, you don't need to frown like that. I can sense it even if she looks different. It’s a god thing,” Azura told her gigantic companion before drifting up into the view of the Alma, the goddess of wind currently in a Merfolk form which swam through the air as if it were water.
“Hay, hello!” she said once she was visible. “It’s lovely to see you again.” Azura was mostly smiling pleasantly but there was a hint of worry visible as she asked, “Is this a social visit?”
Ashalla rumbled briefly. The form did not look like Azura last time she met her, but the voice was the same, and this new form possessed numerous motifs which were similar to Azura’s original form. “Yes,” Ashalla answered. Ashalla continued to fly towards the Isle of Twilight, the message-delivering Alma being blown along with her.
The brief pang of worry slipped off of Azura’s face at the word “Excelent excelent. Please do come up,” she said via the wind swept Alma, “Oh, and Choppy is visiting as well. I’ll introduce you once you arrive if you have not met already.”
In the distance, a tiny figure attempted to leap onto a hammer-drake and missed.
“How convenient. I had been hoping to see her,” Ashalla said.
Ashalla soon reached the ring of mountains surrounding the north pole. Where before she had struggled to scale the steep slopes, as a cloud she easily flew over the obstacle. As she passed, wind and rain licked against the various constructs, tasting them, and a symphony of Verse accompanied her passing.
When Ashalla reached the polar spire, she wrapped around it. She noted that the trails of Kalmar, Arae and the death-touched deity did not descend into the Vault. Then the ascending winds driven by the Sky Bastion caught Ashalla, and she rode those winds up into the Blue. There she blossomed outwards, Ashalla’s form engulfing the floating fortress, tendrils of mist creeping through the corridors.
As she settled atop the castle in the sky, Luis, and one of the free floating temples which Choppy had been launching her hammerhead capture attempts from, drifted closer. The erratically designed structure, older than the continents of Galbar, was a ball of masonry, soil and foliage with no real top or bottom that drifted lazily through the air at the behest of Azura’s winds. Azura herself was found sitting on the wrong side of a parapet of a tall tower that currently jutted out horizontally from the floating structure.
“Hello Azura,” Ashalla greeted with a voice like a monsoon. “Hello… Choppy.” The name was said uncertainly.
“Hello Ashaaaaaaaaaa...” trailed off the scream in the distance as the god disappeared into a low speck, then inflated again into a silk chevron.
“Hello Ashalla! It’s so to see you again, though I would appreciate it if you ceased probing my home before-” Azura began before one of Ashalla’s tendrils of mist was met with a violent gust of wind trying to force it back out of the room it was invading, the rush of power accompanied by a great deal of swearing.
“Ah, too late. I see you have found my...” Azura paused momentarily, unsure as to how to properly describe the person she had once been given a second life.
“That you have found Cerule,” she concluded, her tone apologetic.
Ashalla did not push into the room she had been rejected from, but she did not withdraw from the rooms she had filled either. “Who is Cerule?” Ashalla asked.
“She’s who I was before I came to the Architects realm. Or a compressed version of her, anyway. Long story short, she made a deal with a being in the void known as Ludicium to find redemption after abandoning her home realm. The price of this redemption was death, and from her ashes I arose. Yet she feared death, as we all do, and so hid a part herself away inside my newborn mind rather than commit to the deal in full. There’s more, but I won't bother you with the details, tales of memories suppressed and the Watcher from the void, but in the end she and I have split apart and now both wield the power I was given here,” Azura explained.
There was a surprised pop followed by a long rumble as Ashalla processed this new information. “Interesting,” was her eventual conclusion.
Then a slit-like window on the section of the wall outside the room Ashalla had attempted to enter was violently expanded, the stone turned back to wind by a divine hand.
Out of this new window leaned Cerule. Her semi-avian Armonia body still wore the cloak of many colored feathers with which Azura had adorned it’s shoulders while she lived in it, but beneath this the old goddess had put on a scarlet robe. Arcane symbols relating to protection had been stitched into it with copper wire, mostly focused around the cuffs and hem of the outfit, however the runes of magic from a distant world lacked the ability to direct magical power in this land so far and different from their home plane.
“I’d appreciate it if your guests wouldn't make a mess of our work while you’re taking a break, Azura!” Cerule complained, waving a loosely sleeved hand fruitlessly at the mist enveloping the fortress with one hand.
“I go where I please,” asserted the mist with a peal of thunder.
“Same!” chipped a smaller figure, stuck outside one of the very same windows Cerule had temporarily evaporated. “Turns out hang-gliding is really, really easy in the Sphere of WindoooOOh OOoh shit I’m slipping ffff-” There was a scrabbling sound as a fresh drizzle wet the stone of the fortress and Chopstick scrabbled to keep her grip. Within a few seconds she had failed, and her face disappeared from the window.
“The sentiment is nice and all, and it could be said I’d be a hypocrite to complain,” Cerule complained while Azura dove down from her island perch after the falling Choppy. “But I’m trying to wrap my head around ‘zura’s experiments in here and having a consistent environment is kinda important for that. It's a lot harder trying to use this divine magic stuff than just watching I’ll tell you that. Especially when none of the old stuff works. Old dog, new tricks, etc.etc.”
There was a wet huff from Ashalla.
Cerule, having finished complaining, slumped against the frame of her new window rather than continue to bat fruitlessly at the invading mist. “Ah whatever, it can wait. Wasn't getting anywhere anyway. So, what brings you here, your wateryness?” she asked the stubborn fog floating outside.
“I came to speak of what you are doing with the souls,” Ashalla announced in a voice like crashing waves, audible to all present.
“Yeah? We get that a lot. Kalmar, Arae and Roog came by earlier asking the exact same thing,” Cerule responded as Azura and Choppy reappeared into her field of view, the former carrying the other. The fishy goddess approached the wall and carefully dismantled it further to form an entryway into which she landed and placed Choppy inside.
“I swear you're doing that on purpose,” Cerule murmured to Choppy, who stuck her tongue out as Azura dusted herself and turned to the misty goddess.
“Come on in, then, and I can show you around now that Cerule has put her work on hold,” she told Ashalla before heading into the magical laboratory. The clouds which were Ashalla billowed behind Azura. They stretched out to touch everything in the room.
“...So, you keeping busy?” said Chopstick Eyes, looking around into the merry fog and storm.
“Yes. I’ve been teaching selka about music and art, and I had just come from a lovely concert K’nell hosted for me. It was most wonderful,” Ashalla chimed. “I noticed a few winter-spirits which had been coloured with algae, and identified it as your handiwork. It is a beautiful addition.”
“Aww, thank you!” Chopstick made a heart-symbol with her hands. “You should show me your work some time. Who’s Selka? I might be able to pass on some tips and tricks myself, if he seems nice.”
“The selka are a sapient species who live on the south-east coast of Atokhekwoi. Their anatomy can be described as halfway between seals and dreamers,” after a moment, Ashalla decided to add, “who themselves are patterned after the common form adopted by many of the gods. It would appear that Kirron is their creator.”
“Oh, rock boy. He flattened me once,” said Choppy, who fully intended to return the favour… one day. “Where’s Atokhekwoi, is it a Sphere? I’ll pay ‘em a visit. Take some on tour to my water forest. It’s warm and sunny and amazing, apparently.”
“Atokhekwoi is the largest continent of Galbar,” Ashalla explained. “This water forest- do you refer to the one in the ocean west of Dragon’s Foot with the overgrown leviathan angler chained beneath it, or the lava-bearing growths in the boiling strait?”
“...The Saluran? Don’t be silly. Forests have leaves,” said Chopstick. “Glad to see you met my big fish, though. Ain’t she just a cutie?”
There was a huff, although Ashalla admitted, “It is a specimen of considerable power. The forest too is quite a well-made ecosystem.”
A soft ‘yaaay’ travelled down the corridor.
As the titanic and tiny god conversed, the two goddesses of the wind had engaged in a combination of hushed discussion and impromptu tidying of the large room they were all in. Helping them in this was Sun Jian, who had remained out of sight while Cerule mouthed off at the ocean goddess. His Armonia body was clad in a similar robe to Cerule, though it was unadorned by defunct runecraft.
“This is Sun Jian,” Azura eventually introduced the servant, “A mortal whose Soul Crystal has been enshrined within a construct known as an Armonia to gain life after death.”
The undead servant bobbed with a bow to greet the two guests. “A pleasure to make your acquaintances. It is especially good to be graced by your presence once more, mighty Ashalla. I have been aiding noble Azura with her quest ever since she plucked me from the sky pyres, sparing me from a second fiery death, and gave me an opportunity to be a part of this project.”
The clouds swallowed Sun Jian briefly, leaving him slightly damp. “That’s one use for the soul crystals.”
“There are a few others like him, and we intend to raise more. The work I do is for mortals, so it is only right that they play a part in shaping the way we surpass Katharsos’ vision of death,” Azura explained. “And this laboratory is where we have begun to chart our journey down that path.”
The laboratory itself was something of a mess, with a large array of experiments littering benches and tables, but could be split into two areas. The first, Azura and Cerule explained, was for researching ways to replace Katharsos’ pyres with a more ethical form of death and rebirth.
First there were two sets of jars or containers. The first contained soul ash in very small amounts, held back from escaping by their storage receptacles. The ash instead swirled and cycled within, restlessly seeking out new life yet unable to reach it. The ash, it was explained, was not sourced from the burned of the void souls, but instead had been formed raw by Divine power. The process was, Azura admitted, excessively inefficient at the moment and thus un-viable unless better means where found.
Another bench was littered with various materials: crystals, stone, metal, jars of fluid and gasses. All of these had had information inscribed into them, attempts to replicate the personality-housing abilities of souls. None had been particularly successful however.
Finally the largest section contained a number of enclosures for simple creatures, predominantly the Tonnikala equivalent of krill. There were also numerous soul crystals, utterly tiny and feather light ones, that had been harvested from other, now deceased specimens. The purpose of all this became clear once Azura performed a demonstration. First she picked up one of the tiny soul crystals. Then a flying krill egg was formed by her will. Finally the two were introduced to one another, the soul crystal regaining its incorporeal form which was pressed into the egg, ejecting the blank soul that had formed there already, which was whisked away to the pyres, already decaying as it went due to its utter lack of identity.
“Reincarnation,” Azura explained, “To live life after life after life, to accrue generations of knowledge and wisdom from all races and cultures of the world. It is, in effect, immortality without the risk of stagnation and also a way to walk in the shoes of all others.”
“Oooo,” said the shortest god in the room, trying not to fidget, or fiddle with the equipment.
There were a vast number of logistical and magical barriers in the way of actually implementing an automated reincarnation system, but the principle was there, demonstrated for all to see.
“Now a decision has not been made as to how exactly we will be going forwards. We have entered into a pact with the party that came with Kalmar earlier to postpone such a decision until a proper conference can be called with all the concerned gods. Including Katharsos himself,” Azura explained, her tone showing clear dislike at the prospect of meeting the god she had stolen from not so long ago.
Ashalla rumbled thoughtfully for a long time. “I see you have already made progress in determining how to avoid the collapse of the life cycle. This is good. There is still much to be done, but my estimates give at least a thousand years before there is any notable reduction in the soul ash concentration.”
“1000? I’ve done more with less,” Cerule casually gloated.
“But we’ll do it right this time,” Azura chided her reckless predecessor.
There was a pause, then Ashalla asked, “Did Kalmar suggest that this was beyond your power?”
“The hunter didn’t give predictions about the feasibility of my plans and we agreed to disagree on what to do should I fail. He was more interested in knowing that I was working on the issue and extracting concessions for his support in the matter.”
“And for party’s non interference,” Cerule added.
“That too. Mainly that to be honest. The specifics of cooperation need to be ironed out, likely at the same time as we decide on a course of action, but even the tacit agreement of support means I can safely assume they won't be meddling. The less I have to watch my back in this the better,” Azura explained.
“That is convenient for you,” Ashalla said. “Barring interference from other deities, I am confident in your ability as a god to achieve this task. As divines we command reality itself - do not let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“Oh? Thank you! Your confidence means alot to me,” Azura responded, genuinely pleased at the external source of validation.
“Unfortunately we don't have the luxury of everyone being at least neutral in this,” Cerule said, directing attention to the other set of experiments in the room.
The second was newer, and dedicated to solving the little problem that Orvus had introduced to the vault. Several corrupted gems where held for examination by metal stands, while the culprits for their damaged state could be found nearby. A large glass tank held numerous Soul Fiends, the rotten husks of soul crystals given life by Orvus to destroy and multiply. The numerous beasts hacked and clawed at their enclosure or tried to eat a sealed entrance at the top of the tank, yet so far they had failed to escape. A pair of imp sized Armonia watched the bugs, standing on either side of the Soul Fiends enclosure atop the same bench. Their tank was placed upon numerous tentacles of Verse extending from their backs ready to lash out and recapture the beasts should they succeed at escaping.
Finally a number of krill soul crystals, all featuring various stages and intensities of corruption, were arrayed near the tank. Some had been partially dissected, or showed signs of the decay being healed.
“This corruption is the work of Orvus,” Azura explained, “he snuck into the vault when I was away and infested it with these awful creatures, that corrupt and decay the souls of the dead.”
“We have exterminated or captured most of them, or so we believe,” Sun Jian added, “but the monsters still managed to destroy or damage many of my fellow dead before we discovered the rot.”
The clouds studied Azura and Sun Jian for a few moments, before saying, “That is unfortunate for you. Although it appears to be something well within your capacity to handle.”
“I’d almost be insulted by how little power was used to do this if it wasn't so insidiously effective,” Cerule said.
“Only because I was too blind to discover it sooner,” Azura muttered bitterly. “Were it not for curious mortal minds...” she shuddered at the thought of a vault filled with nought but screaming splintered husks and swarms of Soul Fiends.
Cerule sympathetically patted her new self on the shoulder, while Sun Jian politely refrained from commenting on the Goddess’s gross negligence. There was a wet huff from Ashalla.
After pulling herself back together Azura asked, “Well, now you know what I have been/will be up to, but how about you? What plans do you have for the world?”
“I have been sharing with the mortal races the means to create beauty, with music, painting and other forms of art,” Ashalla answered.
The traces of guilt and regret were pushed completely off Azura’s face as she heard this, her eyes lighting up at the news. “That’s wonderful to hear! Which ones? Where? I’d love to go see and listen to what they have made some time.”
There were some distant, vaguely affirmative bangs and clatters from wherever Chopstick Eyes had wandered off to.
“The selka, on the eastern coast of Atokhekwoi, the largest continent,” Ashalla answered.
“That... doesn't narrow it down that much,” Azura said sheepishly.
"It's not like we have maps for her to point out where she means exactly," Cerule said, before snapping her fingers, "except we have the Blue! Hey Ashalla, wanna see the best thing about the sphere Azura made? All we need to do is go up."
“Yes, that seems like something good to see,” Ashalla answered.
"Alright alright," Cerule said as she strutted over to the window. Then she whistled a complicated little song. Powered by her divine power it echoed out and caught the attention of its intended target. From the skies a sky serpent came roaring, plunging down to them. Yet even that mighty beast was cowed by Ashalla’s presence, slowing before it hit the storm and instead gingerly slinking up to the window.
"Coming?" Cerule asked the gods and mortal within as she mounted the terror of the skies.
The Sky Serpent swam through the air, bearing its three passengers who clung to its back, one behind the other, with varying levels of intensity. Ashalla rose beside them as a colossal cumulonimbus, Chopstick a speck gliding on her updrafts with a bag of questionably obtained scientific apparatus.
Around them flitted all kinds of Tonnikala, making it appear as though they were in a surreal waterless sea. Many passed through the cloud which was Ashalla, and there was a burbling from her. “I am pleased to see you have taken inspiration from my sea life for your own ecosystem here.”
“The first was something of a coincidence,” Azura said, smiling softly at the memory of the tuna incident, “But the rest was definitely inspired by your work. And. Borrowed. Slightly,” she said, in reference to the ascension of the various northern sea life into the sky before adding, “Luis is particularly fond of the cetaceans you made.”
There was a burble in response. “Your own creative touch is also quite good.”
“It was an enjoyable indulgence. I intend to teach mortals how to summon them as Cerule did, along with the Armonia, but till then they make nice decoration and watch dogs for the Vault,” Azura explained.
There was a brief rumble. “I have also taught a few mortals how to call and control storm spirits using music. Perhaps there can be some collaboration there.”
“You have? Great minds think alike then it seems. I’m still thinking about how to deal with the power problem for living mortals, to project the songs up into the Blue and form the bodies of Armonia from the air. The dead can draw energy from the heat around them for power, the same power that rules them. Their soul crystal forms are designed with the intention of wielding that power however, while I fear that having living mortals draw from their own energy could be dangerous indeed. Regardless, I’d still love to trade arts. Perhaps once we have seen what Cerule wishes to show you?”
There was another contemplative rumble. “Yes, that would be beneficial.”
The serpent soared higher and higher, the sky bastion below falling away. And yet the Blue continued, far beyond the point that the air should have thinned and the lesser void should have claimed the breath from their lungs.
Below them Galbar fell away, yet so too did its horizons. Space shrank, bent and contorted till all the world was splayed out below them, a distant atlas of the planet the bickering gods had painted together.
"Good, isn’t it," Cerule said.
“I’ve heard of so many of those places,” Sun Jian said from where he clung to the sky serpent's back, “But to see them all laid out like that. Truly fascinating.”
“A most peculiar distortion, although one with utility,” Ashalla commented.
“It’s old. One of the first things I did,” Azura said, dismissing the marvel despite the pride clear in her tone.
“To warp space in such a way is a marvel,” Ashalla said.
“Thank you. You're too kind,” Azura replied.
Chopstick admired in silence all the places she had and had not visited on her early flights, but her gaze kept creeping back to the spiralling rainclouds of Ya-Shuur’s island.
"So where are these artistic selka?" Cerule said, "Because from up here they’re just a short drop away."
A strand of cirrus stretched out from Ashalla, and pointed along the south-eastern crux of Atokhekwoi. “I taught selka all along that coast about music.” Another strand stretched out, pointing to the large island just south-east of the continent. “I taught the Wuhdige tribe there about painting.”
Azura followed the strands with curious eyes. “I see. It has been quite some time since I last went to Atokhekwoi.” She’d been there chasing the Alma when they had discovered the Ihokhetlani there. She wondered how they were doing.
“Then we’ll have to pay it a visit in the future,” Cerule said.
”When we have the time or need,” Azura said. There was still so much to do after all.
“You need to get out and have fun more often ZuZu. Speaking of which,” Cerule clicked her heels again the sky serpent’s sides, turning its snout downwards.
“Oh no,” said Sun Jian as she realised her intent.
“Here comes the fun part. Race you there!” Cerule said, before sending her mount into a nosedive back down towards the Sky Bastion.
Ashalla descended after the serpent, but since her current form was so buoyant, there was no way she could fall faster than it. Her individual forms all had their limitations, and here one of those limitations was embarrassingly apparent.
As Cerule grew more distant, humiliation was replaced by determination. “I am the Goddess of Water. I have mastery over my own form,” Ashalla declared.
The vast cloud which was Ashalla’s form rapidly contracted and condensed into a single massive globule of water. As gravity took hold of the droplet, it elongated and froze into a slick, streamlined icicle. The great iceberg which was Ashalla plummeted down through the Blue, continually accelerating. It was not long before Ashalla was falling even faster than Cerule’s serpent.
“Holy crap that was fast!” Cerule shouted after the rapidly descending shard of ice. “Why are you so bad at that?” she then asked Azura. The fishy goddess just glared at her stone double.
Ashalla broke the sound barrier before falling past the Sky Bastion. Having reached the goal, Ashalla sublimated back into a great cloud, which billowed turbulently as it cancelled her velocity.
Several moments later the sky serpent caught up, diving deeply past the Bastion itself until it managed to pull up and join the goddess. A bright leaf-looking thing tumbled slowly down after them, cursing befuzzledly and wondering where her wind had gone.
”Skillfully done. You beat Cerule fair and square,” Azura commented as Sun Jian asked to be let off Cerule’s the wild ride in the background.
Ashalla puffed up pridefully. “Naturally,” she said.
Cerule grumbled perhaps a bit to bitterly over her loss, but Azura merely smiled. Their rapid return had drawn a lot of attention. Luis had left during their conversations inside the Bastion, but had now returned along with a school of whales. The other Undead had also rushed to one of the entrances to see what had caused a shard of ice to descend upon their home from the heavens.
“I think now might be an excellent time to trade songs, seeing as you appear to have attracted an audience,” Azura said, drifting up and away form Cerule’s mount.
Two orbs of lightning crackled into existence within Ashalla’s form and gazed across at the gathered mortals. “Yes, I think so too.”
The tone of Ashalla’s wind shifted and became more resonant. Her voice sang out melodious and sweet. “Come to me, squalls, come to me, and happy I will be.” Squalls flickered into existence. A choir of Ashalla’s voices chimed in, their melody directing the squalls to spiral and dance around, Ashalla’s own cloudy form leading their dance. There was no pre-set structure to the song. Rather, the music adapted and improvised with the temperament of the squalls.
Azura drifted over to the sky temple she had brought close when Ashalla arrived, swaying gently as she went while she picked up the improvisational rhythm of Ashalla’s song and matched something of her own to it. First she began humming a simple tune, and in response to it and the power fed to the song wind and verse spun together to form a small Armonia, holding a flute. The little one joined in her song and was soon joined by another, and then another. Other Armonia with other instruments were formed, forming a small orchestra. Then Azura formed a small conductor’s baton to direct her musicians and began to sing.
Her songs were more rigid and structured than Ashalla’s, and each called out to one of the beasts of the Blue, who joined in with their parts when conducted. Yet from small rigid structures a greater melody formed, weaving from one tune to the other, the singers reacting to each other and to the squalls till all were in harmony.
Once they had the rhythm Azura tossed aside the baton and became a voice in the crowd, the music having taken on a life of its own. The squalls danced along with the music of Azura’s orchestra, flitting about the Tonnikala and Armonia. Ashalla interjected with her own countermelodies, which lifted the squalls from idle motions to perform stunts of wind and rain.
Folding her kite behind her like the wing it was not, a certain godlet descended upon Ashalla’s drafts, timing her descent among the tumbling bundles of cloud and fog tossed by the squall choir, picked her mark among the giant banks of white, and landed feet-first on top of a cloud.
“I saw two flying fish today A girl and whale, out to play. I saw a lass without a face, And a funny floating place.
"I saw a cloud that spoke to me, It rained and cracked and sang in key. I saw some tunes in magic suits! They played on little floating flutes.
"I saw two flying fish today. Soon I'll be gone, but that's okay: I'll see more things on my way.”
Chopstick let herself fall off the cloud and disappeared into the hazy drizzle, teasing squalls with her kite on the way down until she found the perfect draft. As her solo ended so to did the music, each player slowly dropping away until silence reigned once more.
Then came the sound of clapping, a few lonely pairs of hands that was quickly joined by the other undead once they were encouraged to copy the alien custom. The resulting sound paled in comparison to the performance that had been given, but it was all that could be given. Ashalla burbled at the applause. Meanwhile the squalls dispersed, scattering across the Blue and the ice sheet.
There was a shout from below. “Ashalla!” called Chopstick Eyes, almost disappearing on the wind. “Have you seen Li’Kalla anywhere?”
The ball lightning which Ashalla was using as eyes turned to look at the little goddess. “No,” Ashalla replied with a voice like drizzling rain. “Last I heard, K’nell was seeking her fragments to restore her and had recovered one, although that was long ago.”
“Thank you,” said Chopstick Eyes, and swept into the horizon.
Ashalla watched Chopstick Eyes depart, then turned back to Azura. “That was a beautiful performance.”
“It was wonderful to be a part of. I feel like I learned a great deal on top of it being beautiful to hear,” Azura replied, drifting back down from the floating temple which had hosted her orchestra.
“Likewise,” Ashalla said with a voice like a refreshing breeze. “Although, we both have work to return to.”
“Ah, yes. I suppose we do,” Azura responded with a mix of sadness and determination.
“Damn right you do. It’s my turn to be on break,” Cerule interjected from where she sat among the Undead.
“It has been lovely to meet you again dear Ashalla. Please, don't hesitate to stop by again in the future if you come by our way again,” Azura said.
“Indeed. I look forward to our next performance together.”
This post was started before Tendlepog’s disappearance, and is thus set shortly before those events.
Ashalla inspects the work of the winter-spirits on the North Pole. She finds the giant statue and the coloured winter-spirits made by Choppy, and she enhances her divine-essence-detecting senses to ascertain the artist. She also sees the trail left by Kalmar, Roog and Arae, and follows north.
Ashalla is invited to the Sky Bastion by Azura. There she meets Choppy and Cerule. Azura explains Cerules’ pre-Universe origins. Choppy converses with Ashalla, who complements Choppy’s handiwork. Sun Jian and Luis also appear in this post.
Ashalla is shown the Armonia. Azura and Cerule gives a tour of their lab. They show the prototype projects for creating soul ash ab nihilio, creating artificial souls, and reincarnation. Ashalla gives Azura encouragement, saying that it is within the power of the gods to rewrite reality in this manner.
Azura speaks of the deal struck with Kalmar. Azura and Cerule show the work they have been doing to counter the damage caused by the Soul Fiends. Ashalla is asked about what she’s been up to, which is teaching selka about arts.
The party flies up through the Blue on a sky serpent. Ashalla complements Azura on the Tonnikala, and notes her own influence. From high in the Blue, they can see the whole world laid out flat beneath them, and they marvel at the sight. Ashalla points out where the aforementioned selka were, and Azura/Cerule makes plans to visit.
Cerule challenges Ashalla to a race back down. Ashalla can’t win as a cloud. So she claims mastery over Water and achieves her FINAL FORM (I honestly hadn’t expected such a light-hearted moment to be this moment, but there you go), which she uses to win the race.
In the presence of the mortals of the Sky Bastion, Ashalla and Azura put on a show, where Ashalla shows how to control squalls and Azura shows how to summon Armonia and Tonnikala. Chopstick Eyes caps the performance with a song.
Choppy asks Ashalla what she knows of Li’Kalla’s whereabouts. She shares her outdated information.
Ashalla Start: 8 MP & 8 FP Spent: 1 MP to gain Level 1 Detection. 5 MP to acquire the Water Cluster (with Oceans, Storms and Ice) 1 MP to acquire the ability Phase Change (Discounted from 3 MP by Oceans/Storms/Ice, Enhanced by Water Cluster) End: 1 MP & 8 FP Portfolios: 8/10 Colour 5/10 Music
Phase Change - “I am the Goddess of Water. I have mastery over my own form.” This ability allows Ashalla to rapidly shift between her water forms at will. Ashalla can also shift into hybrids of her water forms (e.g. big storm with flying ice shards and water pseudopods; water form with ice fists).
Jr was in the middle of polishing off the last of the flat stake (intentionally unseasoned so the boy’s immature taste buds could savor the pure taste of the flesh) he'd gotten from the cube cow when he heard screaming coming from the Bowser mobile. Or to be accurate, more and louder screaming than the stuff he’d been pointedly ignoring while having lunch. With an exasperated sigh the prince finally got up from where he had been sitting in the grass among his tools, grabbed his paintbrush, and went to investigate.
”I’M THE KOOPA KING. YOU’RE MAKING AN EXCEPTION.” Bowser informed the unfortunate Guildmarm as he reached for the contract she’d been in the process of handing over before she’d had second thoughts on the matter.
For a moment, it looked like they were going to get away with it. Then victory was swiped from under their noses by an unforeseen hand, wiping the evil grins of the Koopas’ faces once they realized they had been duped. Such is the fate of villains.
A Master of Masters look alike, who was referred to as the Guildmaster by his subordinate, came to the rescue of the Guildmarm. His hypnotically overly animated motions and charismatic words beguiled the king and mage long enough to steal away the F rank contract without them even noticing till it was far too late.
The pair managed only a few halting ”HAY”’s and ”But’s as the man laid down the law. They’d have to do C rank Quests before the F rank hunt if they wanted to stay in the Guild’s good graces and reap the rewards.
Once it was all spelled out to them the two turned away briefly to converse, Kamek asking the Guild workers to ”Give us just one moment to discuss this”
”We could just blow this joint and go deal with the Saurian right now. Whatever it is.” Bowser suggested, his quiet voice leaving much to be desired.
”It’s probably a very, very big lizard. Kamek suggested before saying ”and let’s not be so hasty to burn this bridge. We don’t even know if that’s our target.”
”You were the one who said they’d know!” Bowser whispered back loudly.
”Well, yes” Kamek admitted ”but for it to just be wandering around in the fields does seem a touch too easy? Best we make use of this Guild while we get used to the area and reap the rewards while we’re at it.”
Bowser grumbled, somewhat unconvinced.
”We do it their way and they’ll make a statue of you after we deal with the Saurian.” Kamek added.
Bowser grunted and then nodded. He did, after all, like statues of himself and it had been much too long since he had seen one. His doppelganger hadn’t even had any made in the captured castle, which was just another one of the many proofs that he was the real Bowser.
”ALRIGHT WE’LL DO IT!” the king announced as he turned back to the Guild-people, a clawed fist thumping on the counter and ever so slightly ruining the Guildmaster’s perfect card placement in the process.
”Which one’s sire?” Kamek asked before anyone else could.
The response was an ”UHH” followed by the king actually peering down at the cards while trying to quickly find out what he’d just agreed too.
Kamek shook his head slightly and then said ”You take a look over those sire, and get the troops in on the mission, while I go ask a friend of yours some questions.”
”Yeah yeah.” Bowser responded, waving his advisor off while he slowly made calculations of effort vs reward in his head and regretted agreeing to tasks that included straight up manual labor.
”I’ll be right back.” the old wizard said, before taking his broom, which he had been using as a walking stick, in both hands and then tapping the butt of it it against the floor once, causing him to vanishing in a small puff of smoke.
In the Dead Zone, on the back of the trolley, the teleporter suddenly deposited a small peasant child. The mischievous look upon his face was quickly wiped away at the sight of the crumbling ruins and hordes of zombies, to be replaced by an expression of utter, horrified, shock. Stunned in place by the sight, they vanished almost as soon as they had appeared once the teleporter spooled back up.
The boy rematerialised in his hometown and relief flooded his features for a few moments before he was roughly shoved off of the teleporter by a scaly hand.
The elderly wizard repeated in the hall of Peaches castle and set about finding the Master of Masters. The Masters of Guild and Masters' shared fashion sense, Kamek noted, ever so conveniently hid their eyes that should be glowing red if they were under the influence. While Bowser’s descriptions of all Galeem affected people as violent drunks had since been shown to be inaccurate, or at least hyperbole, the suspicion that the ever helpful stranger had reason to hide his own eyes remained even hen he was no-longer an exception. It was unlikely he would have keyed himself after all, and if he had how would he have known to do so? Still, suspicious or not he could potentially give them some information about his doppelganger, and that alone made him worth seeking out. Kamek also admitted to himself that perhaps he was being to quick to judge their own hooded figure, seeing as they had never formally met.
After interrogating a few toads he discovered that the Master of Masters had taken residence in highest tower of the castle. Then, after taking one look at the flight of stairs leading up there and receiving complaints from both his knees and grumbling stomach the mage thought maybe the meeting with the Master of Masters could wait just a few more moments.
”Lunch first.” he decided.
Jr eventually managed to chase of the local children who had been playing around the team’s vehicles, helped in no small part by the fact that they had been distracted by the arrival of a local legend and considerably less by the fact that he was the same age as most of them. The Rabbids, having been terrible guards that had joined in with the kid’s antics almost immediately, went with them for the time being as a result of peer pressure and a desire to avoid Jr’s anger.
Left without living targets for his tantrum he turned it on the teleporter ”why doesn’t this stupid thing have an off switch!” he complained before stepping onto it to register a complaint with the manufacturer.
When Kamek finally arrived at the Master’s new study he was just finishing polishing off the final banana of a bunch he had stolen from a large pile that had been amassed since the last time the team was in the area. Having been taunted by the banana necked flying dinos for the whole time they’d been in the land of adventures the fruit theft was well worth risking DK’s wrath in Kamek’s opinion.
The old wizard then proceeded to knock on the door of the study a few times with the butt of his broom before letting himself inside.
”Good afternoon, Master of Masters. I am Kamek, head mage of the Terribleness King Bowser.” The Koopa introduced himself while taking in the cloaked figure's new abode.
”I apologies for interrupting your work, but I was wondering if you know anything about someone referred to as the Guildmaster? Has the exact same outfit as you and talks like: ‘howsabout youse folks learn how things work in this neck o’ the woods’ Kamek asked, giving the limited details of the man including a somewhat impressive impersonation of the strange individual’s accent. ”They wouldn't happen to be one of the masters you are a master of?”
The prince materialised on the back of the trolley where the boy had been only a few moments ago, stepping off the porter to avoid the same rapid return journey he had.
”Hay Balzermate! why doesn’t this thing have an off switch! Or a safe mode or something that makes it less of glowy twerp bait” he immediately began complaining while taking in the surroundings. In the moments since the child had been and gone the battle with the hoard had ended in victory for the Dead Zone team, ”and while I’ve been dealing with stupid people in some lame hick town you’ve been fighting in a freaking zombie apocalypses!” after making the tragic end of a civilization sound like a cool thing to be involved in he jabbed a finger at the myriads of fading sprites that had been gathered or remained strewn across the ground ”and raking in the loot too!”
The boy then sat down on the side of the trolley and used his paintbrush to scoop up two sprites (a zombie and a demon) as they rode along. ”pretty weak looking tho,” he noted, cooling off slightly, as he crushed the entirely unearned sprites while looking to see where they were going.
”Oh wow,” Jr said as he caught sight of the infested Tank ”Now that’s more like it.”
”Drive me closer, I want to hit it with my paintbrush!” he commanded as he brandished said weapon towards their final foe.
After a bit of faffing about contingencies and plans were made in regards to the split and everyone was sorted into groups and heading off. Bowser was a little sad to see Blazermate go off with the other group, though he’d never admit it, even to himself. You don’t get patched back together by someone as often as Bower had by the robo medic without a small bit of sentimental attachment forming. However with the teleporter slowly spinning around on the back of the Bowser Mobile it was not like the other squad was really that far away travel time wise.
A few experiments with an unwilling Rabbid test subject before they set off proved that fact rather nicely.
Bowser’s own party included his family of course, but also, among others, the hamster and his magical girl robot, the robotized dancer on her goat, the lady link and finally the mercenary courier. That final member was proving to be the most unreliable of the bunch as he had decided to now raise the issue of payment for future services. After the king’s growled argument that he’d paid for the cowboy's tab was shot down by a “I didn't ask you to do that so it doesn't count” their argument was interrupted by the currior’s radio suddenly airing an unexpected news segment. Bowser was pleased to hear about himself on it, however briefly, and was also pleased to hear that Kamek had a suggestion. The old wizard floated along beside him on his broom and whispered into the King’s ear while ‘Mr. New Vegas’ chattered on.
”THE GUARDIAN’S SPRITE. THERE’S NO WAY YOU'RE GETTING IT ON YOUR OWN AND NOBODY ELSE IS GOING TO HELP YOU GET IT FIRST.” the king offered, repeating Kamek’s exact wording.
Eventually, after half a day traveling through the barren wastes between zones, they reached fertile grounds once more. While the land of Adventure was not quite as fantastical an area as the one around Peach's castle it did still host a number of colorful creatures, from cubic cows to horse sized running birds and strange flying giraffe trees. The Koopa Troop took this in on the move, continuing onward towards the town that would be their starting point for the subsequent expedition into the land of Adventures.
The journey was mostly uneventful until they passed particularly close by one herd of cows. Jr’s clown car, which had up until then been rolling along the ground in kart mode, suddenly took off. It turned quickly in the air as its mouth open up and out of this new hole a stubby cannon emerged. With a mischievous ”ha ha” jr punched a newly added button on the car’s control panel, causing a half inflated balloon to be spat from the cannon’s mouth, rocking the car back in recoil. The balloon then rapidly inflated as if flew out, becoming a flaming clown face like the one that had been fired by the sweet tooth back during the tiled road fight. The smaller homing fireball hurtled through the air until it struck an unfortunate clown, killing the hapless beast instantly in a small fiery explosion.
”I’m hungry” the boy explained before anyone could ask as he landed the kart and then rolled it over to his kill in-order to fetch his prize.
”And what else are the souls going to turn into other than beef?” he asked as he crushed the cubic cow’s sprite.
Bowser merely grinned at this display and kept moving, but the old Wizard Kamek was less amused.
”Young master, I am not entirely sure it is wise to go around killing and eating the spirits of strange cube shaped livestock.” chided Kamek from atop his broomstick.
”You’ve been eyeing those banana chinned dino’s since we spotted them.” jr talked back as he remounted his clown car.
”and you don't see me chasing after them now do you.” the old wizard retorted. When jr simply inclined his head a little to insinuate that maybe he should Kamek added ”and the effort required to do so would outweigh the energy provided by even the most delectable tropical fruit. Really young master, you simply must learn patience. We are, afterall, almost at our destination.”
And indeed they were. It only took a couple more minutes for them to arrive at the gates of the small town. The locals where guarded at first sending a quiet gang of jr heroes out to face them down, but once it became clear that Bowser had no interest in burning the town down, yet, they were allowed inside. They were, however, forced to leave their vehicles outside. Jr elected to stay behind, having more interest in working on his car than wandering around some rustic town, and so he and the remaining Rabbids became their ones keeping an eye on the convoy’s remaining vehicles.
After leaving the prince to his tools the king and his aged advisor walked through the streets of the town, watchful eyes following their every move, till they reached the guild hall. As soon as they had heard of its existence Kamek had advised they had there to find out more about the area. ”If anyone knows where the strongest being in this land is it will be them, be it a beast to be hunted or a hero in their employ.”.
The pair made their way inside, Bowser having shrunk down to fit inside, and headed for the smartly dressed woman sat behind the counter who looked to be in charge or at least in the know. They ignored the additional stares they received, having drawn a ton of attention already for their beastly appearance. Had Bowser come in his normal unaltered state blades might well have been dawn, but as it was the suited turtle and his robbed companion were as much a curiosity to the adventurers as they were a potential concern.
”YOU. WHERE’S THE BIGGEST, BADDEST, MOST DANGEROUS MONSTER IN THIS PLACE?” The king demanded to know, getting right to the point.
”If I may add too/clarify to your request sire,” Kamek quickly interjected in an attempt to not immediately sour relations with their first source of information ”We are here on a… quest of sorts, to slay the mightiest monsters in every realm of this new reality. Having just arrived to this one, we’d like to know more about it and where, perhaps, to start our search.”