Encounters


Encounters
T



he ringed world of Icarus and it’s greater and lesser moons, the Eyes of Icarus. It is a world enjoying the cusp of a steam revolution fueled by magic. Born of a substance called Nectar from a realm simply dubbed Ambrosia, those who can open the gates possessed by all mankind become as wizards next to the engineering craftsmen who make everyday life possible. But the world is not so peaceful and is plagued by an ancient evil. In the skies above, five hundred twenty six silver ovoid shaped structures that stand taller than any mountain, overgrown by nature, drift without direction. They are known as the cities of the Foreigners, an ancient race long gone and eternal enemy of mankind, their wishes carried out by the beings sealed within known as the Poltergeists. Five centuries past the Poltergeists used the cities of their creators and razed the Face of Icarus forcing mankind to start again. Though mankind has recovered, it has not been without challenge from the Poltergeists. Occasionally falling from their heavenly homes, the Poltergeists have rained down monsters capable of turning all they interact with into monsters. Of the races of mankind, those infected yet saved by the Light of Cardinal are known as Sa·B·ers and are tasked with protecting the world from the Foreigner threat. But since the appearance of the sky covering tree of light, the Lucifalz, that disrupted the perception of time, mankind has grown distrustful of the Light and the fall of the Cardinal Church has given rise to an age of adventure born from chaos.

Deep Root Colony
Early Autumn ~ Night
Clear and breezy
A once flourishing abyss
Walls lined with the remnants of a city lost
A factory from an ancient time long forgotten
Anachronistic technology well beyond the current age
A civilization returned to nature, visited by Darkness  

Of the races of mankind, three primary divisions exist. There are the second, the icarans, so named for the belief that they were born of Icarus after the first great war with the Poltergeists. They are perceived as the generic and weakest of humans for all that they lack. Compared to the most plentiful third, the chimeric, they lack any animal features or are best described as naked primates of frail build. The chimeric races, however, are most frequently races that mix the traits of icarans with animals with only rare races being little more than humanoid animals. The first race of mankind, the nāti, however is the most unique. Compared to them, icarans lack the wiry fur that protects their bodies from all weather and environments. They lack the long, pointed, heaven seeking ears and the shielded eyes that serve them in all conditions. They lack the lip and mouth shielding beak and the split prehensile feet. Icarans are naked and physically inferior to the first race of mankind, even as their traits are shared with the chimeric races. But for all the inferiority of the icarans to the nāti, it was a suit of autonomous mechanized armor in the shape of an icaran that brought terror to a group of nāti pilgrims in service to the nature goddess Atheaeldre.

Fleeing down an old mechanized hallway long since overgrown to the point of not being recognizable as manmade at a glance, one particular nāti man garbed in green robes and icaran boots scrambled for his life. Behind him stood a shadow of a man, his body a suit of mechanized icaran armor. From behind the darkness of his helmet the shadow watched the icaran run. Stepping deliberately in pursuit the shadow revealed a sword that had been hidden behind the tattered high collar cape and poncho draped about its form. Glistening in the moonlight that filtered in the bright red blood that coated the blade spoke silently of the terror brought by the shadow.

“Run little one. Run. Slaughtering the defenseless is little sport.”

Mockingly, the shadow commanded his prey to flee from him with the voice of a young, smmoth, icaran man. Stepping before a destroyed segment of wall that joined the hall with the abyss beyond, the shadow was given reason to stop as a screeching voice echoed powerfully off of the walls and all throughout the city forgotten to time.

“STOP RIGHT THERE YOU IDIOTIC TERROR‼ I’VE NO IDEA WHAT IDIOCY GAVE BIRTH TO AN AMBROSIAL HORROR SUCH AS YOU, BUT KNOW YOU ONLY FRIGHTEN ME ENOUGH TO VANQUISH YOU‼”

The claim should have been hollow and amusing at best, but the volume was impossibly loud. It not only echoed off the walls of the abyss, but shook loose ages of dust and dirt, and reverberated to very crippling degrees. The shadow fell to his knees and clutched at his head, bewildered by the powerful acoustic attack.

“What manner of sorcery or technology is this?”

The shadow could barely hear his own voice over the still environment damaging echoes of the voice. Determining that it must have called out from somewhere beyond the corridor he occupied, he looked out through the opening in search of the source of his suffering. There was nothing his eyes could find, but his senses told him something that left him snickering.

“I see. You wear the traces of one possessed of the old Light. You must be quite special to someone I seek to kill.”

Returning to his feet as the echo at last began to fade, the shadow cut away the plants that were beginning to coil around his feet.

“That being so, I must aim to frighten you more and more. Enough so that you call out in search of help to the one possessed of Her Light. It will be a pleasure to again hunt a true Child of Her Light and not just the Light Touched. Hehehehehe…”

Continuing to snicker sinisterly to himself, the Shadow cared little for the bolt of lightning that arced out of the starry night sky and struck him blind. He had little reason to care, for even as the bolt of lightning left the ground glowing from the impact, he remained unharmed, beginning the deepening of the fear he aimed to instill in his prey.

Athera Mountains
Early Autumn ~ Late Morning
Scattered thunderstorms and cool
Magestic and towering
Tree lined roadways following spring rivers
Ruins long ago picked clean, monsters dwelling within
Home to shadow and light both
A fledgling adventurer’s first steps  

For as hostile as the Athera Mountain range was, the mountain range was also a dividing line of the continent of Athecia. From the highest towers of the abandoned castles from ages unknown one could see down to the sea to the south and well beyond the eastern and northern valleys. Having managed to reach the top of one such tower, a maid named for the suit of chainmail that might have well been her skin from her jawline down and all she wore looked out. Standing atop the tower, the Chainmaid’s long brown hair, along with a sheer black cape that grew from her shoulder blades, was blown about obscuring its typically wild state as she stared out with wonder at the world that awaited her with massive sea gem green eyes. The sword she carried by a strap in her right hand over the accompanying shoulder marked her as a warrior despite her light and fair skin and childish face that was nigh too young even for her fifteen springs of age.

“The view is amazing and fills us with such desire to see all below it, that it leaves us unsure of where to go.”

Swimming in the air next to the Chainmaid’s, Chain’s, head, was a sea gem green tailed mermaid double of herself only about twice the length of a human finger. The mermaid, Drop, who was at once both an elemental water spirit born from the realm of Ambrosia and also Chain was overwhelmed by the emotions she shared with her larger counterpart and wore an expression caught between wonder and frustration.

“Heh, heh. It is kind of overwhelming isn’t it?”

Chain smiled as she couldn’t make up her mind either. There was one truth about her eventual descent, however.

“Well, wherever we go we should choose a town that looks like it sees a lot of travelers. We should be able to find an adventurer’s guild outpost there and finally become official adventurers. Wandering this mountain range and all of the old ruins is fun, but they’re all picked clean so it’s only new to me.”

“Well, there did used to be bandits in these mountains so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

“No, but I’d rather have surprises I like.”

“Is something wrong? Oh!”

Curious as to the souring of Chain’s mood, Drop followed her gaze to a sight that was at once both unusual yet also frustrating. Further up the mountain roads to the west was a tower that seemed to mix an orphanage, a tiered public garden, and a cathedral. Despite being one building it was effectively a tiny village and large enough to easily house a hundred people and a plethora of jobs for them. What made the building particularly unusual however was that it sat on a great metal bowl that was supported by a series of continuous track treads. It was obviously an amazing piece of engineering, but also demanding high maintenance as the pipes that both feed the machinery within and allowed its exhaust to escape were intricately intertwined with the ivy covered building it supported.

“It would seem that they are still following us.”

“I wish they’d give up already.”

Pouting angrily, Chain dislodged herself from the top of the tower and swung herself back inside. Drop swam after her and kept pace easily enough that she did not have to strain to keep up with what Chain was saying.

“We better get out of here in a hurry if we don’t want to have to deal with them. I saw a dried-up stream bed earlier as well so if we follow that out the trees should provide us cover from above and the cliffs will keep that thing from being able to do anything either.”

There were no reason that Drop could think of to argue against Chain’s plan and the two of them set about retracing their steps. It was not an easy task to accomplish as monsters that had taken up residence in the ancient castle pestered them and harassed their every step. Chain did not mind too much as it provided her ample sword practice even as it increased the chances of allowing her pursuers to catch up with her. As she and Drop reached a massive courtyard or land bridge that connected the different main buildings of the castle, it seemed she had underestimated how much time she had. There were no signs of life out in the courtyard and even the monsters that had been harassing her did not follow her out into the open air. Just to be sure she was not mistaking something else for her pursuers, she carefully scanned the sky before extracting her scabbard from her cape that had earlier consumed it. Sheathing her sword and slinging it over her shoulder she dismissed her cape with a thought, and it disappeared like a blown-out flame. As relaxed as she could be now, Chain rested the back of her left hand on her hip and called out across the courtyard.

“Alright, you can come out now so I can tell you to leave me alone and stop following me.”

At first there was no response, but then two icaran men stepped out of the ruins across the courtyard. They were ornately dressed under great coats that matched the color of the other’s hair and their own eyes, and were armed with a flintlock rifle butt saber for the silver haired man with the long twisting lock beside his left eye and a giant boomerang like blade for the curly tipped red head. Chain was not sure who they were but stepped back defensively as the red head, and seemingly younger of the two light skinned men spoke.

“I do believe that you have mistaken us for someone else. Wouldn’t you agree brother.”

“I would Lute. It seems she has mistaken us for a tiresome pest.”

“Heh, heh. Sorry about that. It’s just I spotted their mobile fortress some ways back up the road and thought maybe you were my persistent pursuers.”

Chain smiled brightly and sheepishly at her apparent mistake. She lost her own smile though as the two men donned amused smiles.

“Oh dear brother, it seems she is prone to making numerous mistakes.”

“Come Lute, we already knew that.”

“What exactly are you two talking about?”

The two men were giving Chain a really bad feeling, but she almost couldn’t help herself as she questioned the meaning of their conversation. Her curiosity was getting the better of her even as her instincts told her she should run. Unfortunately for her, the yet named silver haired man was glad to answer her question.

“What my dear younger brother was referring to if you must know, is that while you mistook us for a group of pursuers that you are seemingly quite familiar with, you were not wrong about us. You see, we may not be the pursuers that you were expecting, but we are pursuing you, Chainmaid.”

“I just love the way that name sounds when you say it Brother. It sounds so majestic as though it was conceived by a most noble of souls.”

“You flatter me Lute, but let us not forget why we are here.”

“I’d kind of like to know why myself. I know I’m not quite together in my head, but I haven’t done anything that should be getting anyone’s attention. Killing off the local bandits shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, unless you two somehow were making a profit off of them.”

Chain despite her best attempts couldn’t get a read on the two men and continued to back away. The two men seemed oddly sympathetic and that only made Chain’s skin crawl as they began crossing the suspended courtyard.

“It is little surprise that you fail to know who we are, or why we have an interest in you. Let us begin with introductions then. We already know that the locals know you as the Chainmaid, an unusual maid who singlehandedly rid the Athera Mountains of the Skull Leather Bandits and has since been spotted wandering the ruins that line the mountain roads. We, on the other hand, are the Mouser Brothers. We are known far and wide as a pair of Sa·B·ers who always accomplish the jobs we undertake outside of the traditional responsibilities of Sa·B·ers. I am the older brother Pan, and this is my younger brother Lute.”

The now introduced older man and brother, Pan Mouser, motioned towards his red-haired brother as they continued to cross the courtyard. Chain wanted to keep backing away, but she could sense the eyes of the monsters waiting for her back inside the castle watching her. Forcing a smile to offset her unease, Chain attempted to keep them talking while her or Drop came up with a plan of escape.

“So now I know who you are, but maybe it’s because thinking is kind of hard for me because my thoughts aren’t all in my head, but I still don’t see how that tells me what you want with me.”

Chain was failing to come up with any ideas but at least her attempts to keep the Mouser Brothers talking seemed to be working as Lute provided her an explanation.

“That is because we would first need to introduce our client, Chainmaid. He is a troublesome client to. It seemed like our reputation would be horribly marred should we never find you, so imagine our surprise when we heard of a maid in these mountains wearing naught but a suit of chainmail so immodestly distinct. We just had to investigate, and sure enough here you are, looking no different than when last we saw you, before the Lucifalz inconveniently appeared and disappeared.”

“Where exactly did you see me?”

Though she already was starting to picture in her head what the Mouser Brothers were talking about, Chain still asked as she broke into a cold sweat and tightened her grip on her sword strap. Lute was all too happy to answer as he and his brother smiled amicably.

“Why where, Chainmaid, but back on the continent of Mergaol? It was such a surprise after being engulfed in that light to wake here on the continent of Athecia, but I can assure you that it hasn’t slowed us down. You on the other hand seem not to be accompanied by the harpy that afforded you your escape from our client–”

“I’m not going back!”

As Chain suddenly shouted the next few events seemed to almost happen in an instant. Her cape grew out of her shoulder blades like a raging black flame that consumed her scabbard and left her sword exposed and dangling in the air behind her. She did not simply reach for it but jumped straight up twisting her body so that her feet pointed straight up towards the sky as Lute’s massive bent blade spun through the air where she had been standing. Lute’s blade struck Chain’s, but she had been prepared for that and positioned her hand so that the blow would let the two-handed grip of her simple cruciform sword fall right into her hand. She was now prepared to engage her opponents but discovered she was a step behind already.

On the pommel of Lute’s unusual boomerang sword that was nearly as tall as he was there was a strange gem that matched one on a ring he wore on his right hand. As he closed his hand into a fist a surge of energy traveled from the Nectar he summoned into his body through his Ambrosial Gate down an Ambrosial wire connecting his ring to his sword. Chain saw the spark of energy following its path for just an instant before it reached its destination and released a massive explosion. The blast threw her into a flip that was nothing like the controlled turnover she had planned and she almost missed Pan pull his rifle butt saber from his shoulder and cock the matchlock mechanism. Gritting her teeth as she prepared herself to be struck even as she aimed to avoid the attack, Chain got lucky with her guess of Pan’s attack.

As he pulled the trigger of his weapon, Pan swung gracefully in Chain’s direction and an arc of energy like a sword blade shot through the air in Chain’s direction. Having accurately guessed the nature of Pan’s attack Chain just barely managed to spin her body out of the way to her attacker’s surprise.

“You’re better than I expected, Chainmaid.”

“I haven’t even gotten started yet!”

Landing under her own control, Chain charged Pan and the two exchanged a number of sword strikes testing and studying the strength of their opponent. Chain didn’t like what she learned as much as Pan did and the worried expression she donned was in stark contrast to the smile he wore. It was not Pan that Chain needed to be aware of though as Lute could control his blade even so far detached from it due to the non-corporal wire that connected his ring to it. Giving a yank on that wire with the monstrous strength he had from being a Sa·B·er, Lute sent his blade right for Chain, it again spinning like a saw blade. Leaping up and spinning to her side like a log on the water, Chain avoided the attack while not relenting in her attacks against Pan. It was an impressive display to watch, but ultimately ineffective as Pan casually deflected all of her attacks with his weapon in one hand and promptly kicked her in the face as she neared the end of her jump. The blow was backed by the monstrous strength of a Sa·B·er, and with nothing to brace herself against to take the blow Chain was sent flying through the air in a high arch.

The kick that launched Chain was spectacular in its impossibility as Pan managed to strike her twice in the same motion. The first blow was with the top of his foot directly into the lower half of her face causing her head to roll back as his foot lifted. This exposed the underside of her chin for the second blow which came from the heel of Pan’s boot as he rolled his foot back and unleashed the full force of his kick to her chin. Not only was Chain launched but she blacked out for a moment, only being called back by her voice calling out to her from Drop.

[We need to get a hold of ourselves. These two are Sa·B·ers of some experience and neither simple bandits nor monsters. We are not experienced enough to face them two on one.]

“But we’re not two against one… I’m so broken there are two of me here right now.”

Gritting her teeth and forcing an eye open, Chain forced her body to respond and righted herself to land safely. It was not a particularly safe landing though as the Mouser Brothers were prepared for her to have stayed in the fight and Chain had to kiss the ground to avoid being split in half from Lute’s spinning blade coming at her back. She couldn’t stay down for long though and popped herself up in a T-stance on her left arm to avoid the next energy blade launched by Pan. Even that pose she wasn’t able to hold for long as Pan appeared on top of her with his blade running a horizontal slash through the space she occupied. Falling onto her back, Chain kicked away from him towards his back and rolled over backward onto her feet. In her new position she found herself between Lute’s returning blade and Pan. While Lute could easily surprise her with his flying, spinning blade, Chain made Pan the priority as at the least his presence controlled the direction of Lute’s attack.

Springing to her feet, Chain brought her sword around in a downward slash to meet the downward slash of her opponent. Chain and Pan’s steel rang out as it clashed again and Chain surprised her pursuer as she conjured up as much strength as she could from the Foreigner infection that marked her as a Sa·B·er.

“Oh–

“Hya~~‼”

Rotating downward with as much strength as she could muster and divide throughout her body, Chain attempted to distract Pan with her raw strength as she applied a very subtle sword technique. Slightly shifting the angle of her blade as she brought it down, she turned Pan’s own strength and direction of attack against him, leading his sword to the ground. She wanted to reverse the direction of her own sword at the moment to run it back up Pan’s blade and arms to decapitate him, but Lute’s blade was already on its way. Having accounted for it, Chain applied her divided strength to launch herself into a flip over Pan. She could not attack him as she passed over though as he ducked into a spin using his redirected momentum under Lute’s blade, using his brother’s attack as a shield. Needing to counter the attack that Pan’s spin was building momentum for Chain tightened her flip and forced herself into a second rotation.

For a moment Chain and Pan locked eyes and the moment seemed to last for an eternity as they waited to complete their rotations and for Lute’s blade to allow them to resume their clash. Then the moment was over and steel met steel in a flash. The ringing of the clashing blades rang out over the whole of the Athera Mountains. As Chain had hoped she had been able to meet the attack of Pan and hold her ground, but as her ground was the air with no footing and Pan was smiling, she knew she made a mistake. Fortunately for her it was not fatal though it was far from comfortable either as Pan’s spin allowed him to catch Chain in a spinning hook kick that caught her in the back and flung her to the side of the courtyard that the Mouser Brothers had entered from.

Sliding to a stop in a fetal heap, Chain held her ground and did not immediately return to her feet. She knew she was exposed where she lay but she did not notice the Mouser Brothers moving and waited to see their next action. As she lay there, a passing storm cloud began to let fall its contents onto the nameless mountain castle. As the raindrops hit her she smiled in relief and finally struggled to her feet using her sword for support.

“Ou~ch, that really hurt. I don’t know why you two decided not to pursue me while you had the advantage, but I’m grateful.”

Chain failed to notice that the Mouser Brothers had divided their attention, or she might have discovered the reason for their sudden caution. Snapping her chainmail skinned fingers and causing a distinctive ringing sound to fill the air, Chain assured that she returned the Mouser Brothers full attention to her and the small sphere of light that floated above her upturned left palm.

“A spell

Both Mouser Brothers prepared to interrupt an incantation, with Pan slashing out another energy blade and Lute throwing his unique blade. But Chain had no incantation in mind and simply called out a command.

“Drop! Now!”

Nothing impressive happened when Chain called out to Drop, but it was not as though nothing happened either. The Mouser Brothers noticed immediately as the rain picked up and Lute’s spinning blade hit the ground well in advance of reaching Chain. This gave Chain the ability to dodge Pan’s attack at her leisure. Chain would have smiled but the Mouser Brothers beat her to it as Lute commented on Drop.

“So, the spirit isn’t just for show. You can open a gate and provide her Nectar to take action on your behalf. Though I’ve never heard of anyone opening an Ambrosial Gate outside of their own bodies. That’s a curious trick you have there, Chainmaid. But I have a few tricks of my own as well.”

The pout Chain put on as Lute did not consider Drop her disappeared in an instant at the mention of tricks. Grabbing her cape to shield herself, Chain barely caught sight of the spark of energy that ran down the Ambrosial wire that had been pinned by the rain once it was linked by Drop to Ambrosia. Like the last time the spark traveled down the Ambrosial wire from Lute’s ring to the pommel of his sword, a massive explosion rocked the courtyard. It was not the only explosion, though it was the only fiery one in the immediate vicinity, as the half of the land bridge that Chain huddled down on and held the courtyard that joined the two main parts of the nameless castle exploded into clouds of dust.

“That was a timely distraction.”

Lute clicked his tongue as he turned his gaze back out into the distance to what had split his and Pan’s attention before. He was not able to focus on it though as gunfire erupted from within the dust cloud that had been the other side of the Courtyard. Yanking his blade back to defend himself proved more difficult than it should have as the Ambrosial wire was still being weighed down by the rain. It told him and his brother both however that Chain was still alive.

Chain was surprised herself to discover that she was still alive but was even more so surprised when she discovered that what she thought was a chunk of rubble that had slammed into her gut and lifted her up was a centaur maid. She had long blonde hair tied into a high ponytail and ruddy skin that matched smoothly with her strawberry roan coat. She wore a white button up shirt under a red denim jacket and wielded a revolver action rifle that she emptied out as she galloped through the dust cloud. Chain wanted to shift into a more stable location but was promptly halted by the centaur maid whose back she was draped over.

“Stay exactly as you are heretic. I’m not large enough for an adult to ride me like a horse and carrying you like this is difficult enough.”

“It’s not like I asked you to rescue me.”

Pouting, Chain talked back and earned a dirty look from her rescuer as they reloaded their rifle while in a full gallop down the cliff side below where the courtyard half remained.

“I could leave you to them then if that is your desire.”

“No! That would be worse!”

“If you’ll listen, what my larger counterpart means to get across is that our pride is wounded for needing rescued and that you are putting yourself in great danger by interfering with those two Sa·B·ers.”

Swimming alongside the dashing centaur as best as she could manage, Drop tried to translate Chain’s backtalk into something more palatable. She did not expect a response but was surprised when the centaur expressed her own surprise.

“Sa·B·ers I had thought perhaps that they were Ambrosial Arm wielders.”

“You seem to make that mistake a lot.”

Blushing in response to Chain’s observation, the centaur took a moment before backtracking and finding advantage in their current situation.

“Well, regardless, if they are Sa·B·ers then we have nothing to fear. We need simply make it down this cliff ahead of them.”

“And how are we going to do that? You may be a centaur but don’t think your four-legged advantage means anything against a Sa·B·er.”

“It doesn’t need to, heretic.”

“It’s Chain. I can remember your name Maye, and that’s considering how disconnected the inside of my head is so why can’t you–”

Whether the centaur, Maye, had heard Chain or not a distant explosion followed by the cliffside above them exploding in a cloud of dust and debris drowned her out. Unable to be heard as the cliff face further exploded another five times, Chain trailing off in astonishment also went unnoticed. Where the explosions simply drowned out Chain’s voice and threatened to bury her and Maye in an avalanche, the Mouser Brothers were further inconvenienced as they could not pursue Chain through the collapsing terrain. Despite this, the two of them smiled and Lute mused alloud of Chain’s good fortune.

“She is a unique one brother. First a harpy and a water spirit, now a centaur. It’s like she is protected by the elements of the Sister Goddesses. And of course, she is an icaran, so she is of the element of Father Icarus. Then the rumors that she is a Child of Her Light and the corruption of the Foreigner infection filling her with darkness makes it seem like she is affiliated with every element that comprises our world.”

“You’ve only touched on half of it Lute.”

“Oh?”

Intrigued by his brother’s implications, Lute turned to Pan. Pan smiled as he too took his eyes off the dust cloud and explained.

“She could open an ambrosial Gate as you noted outside of her self, and then there is her sword technique. It appears brutish and childish from afar, but that is a charade. It seems she was trained to obscure her actual style under that terrible sight of flips, twirls, and raw force. But as we exchanged blows, I could sense her true style. She did not let much show, but what she did was unquestionably an offshoot of the styles used by Athecian nobility.”

“Intriguing. And here she first was brought to our attention as a dirty peasant. As always brother, your sense for the refined has led us to a job most fitting of our rightful place in life. But now…”

Trailing off as he watched the unusual village sized building emerge from the dust cloud traveling east, Lute frowned softly. Pan was less bothered as he watched the tread propelled fortress put distance between them fairly quickly even as its size made it appear far slower.

“Now we just wait for our next opportunity. She will not stay within that mobile fortress forever. She would have to join the monastic order regardless to stay for so long, and we both know she values her freedom too much for that.”

The Chapel ~ Interior ~ Dolmen Bay
Early Autumn ~ Midday
Scattered thunderstorms and cool outside
The village in a travelling tower
As alive inside as out
Maids and girls garbed in habits working diligently
From religious and studious training to vehicle maintenance and daily upkeep  
Everywhere a part of a sacred building, dressed in stain glass and steam works  

Of the ages past on the Face of Icarus, the most well known and least known simultaneously was the Age of the Ancients. It was an age when the races of mankind could match the Foreigners in their aerial cities in technology and exceed them in magical prowess and understanding of Ambrosia and the Nectar called forth to create magic. That age ended however, and every attempt mankind has made to reach it again has been met with the Poltergeists razing the Face of Icarus and reducing mankind to the beginnings of civilization. Despite this, numerous elements of that ancient technology persisted and the most visually recognizable was called the Dolmen. Pilotable mechanized giants in the shape of icarans that stood a full twenty five meters tall on average and were powered and allowed to exist by Artificial Gate Generators made by the Ancients that tapped into Ambrosia and drew in Nectar. Despite their wonder however, their name was a warning that those who used them frequently found them to be their graves. The one that Chain found herself standing before within the mobile fortress called the Chapel, was a custom model built upon the salvaged frame of a likely production model of a time long past. It was unrecognizable today covered in a suit of armor that resembled a collection of pots and kettles painted in browns and creams.

“Fi~nch! You’re up, there aren’t you? Come down here so I can drag you and Maye both to the Mother of this rolling nunnery and complain about you following me.”

“I believe we also mean to thank them.”

“I can’t believe I’m agreeing with a heretical being.”

“Existing doesn’t make Drop heretical. And since she’s just a part of me like a limb that thinks for itself with my thoughts then that would mean I’m a heretical being.”

“I thought I already made that clear, heretic. It pains me that you’ve been invited into the Chapel.”

“Well I’m only here because you dragged me here from my fight.”

“The one we were losing.”

“Dr~op! You’re not helping!”

- Maybe everyone can cool their heads while Maye and I change? We shouldn’t really be moving about the Chapel out of our habits. That and you seem kind of divided right now Miss Chain. -

A boyish voice interrupted Chain, Drop, and Maye from the external speakers of the Dolmen that the three of them knew belonged to the girl of some ten springs named Finch. Chain was not glad for her interruption and pouted up at the cockpit situated above the potbelly of the Dolmen in its chest.

“Is that why you’re hiding in there, Finch? And here I thought you were still angry at me for wrecking your Dolmen.”

- I am angry at you. But I also can’t be because you got it working in the first place too. …That and you look like you’re hurt. Your face is all red and– -

“Don’t worry about that. I’m tougher than I look so no permanent damage here. But you didn’t answer my question.”

Smiling proudly and then falling into a pout, Chain brought her question back up again despite Finch’s attempted deflection. Nervous laughter came across the Dolmen’s external speakers and Maye sighed before trotting off while Chain was distracted.

- A girl of only ten springs shouldn’t be seen wearing anything so immodest! Especially a daughter of the Cardinal Church! -

As the external speakers cutout, Chain looked at Drop and tilted her head.

“Does modesty even really matter to us. I mean you’re naked­–”

“– and as that chainmail is effectively that part of us’s skin worn with nothing else…”

Both Chain and Drop looked down at their respective bodies and could not deny their near or actual nakedness or lack of response to it. Looking back up at the Dolmen and then each other again they shared a shrug before wandering off.

Perhaps Finch and Maye had expected Chain and Drop to wander into one of the numerous tiered parks on the exterior of the Chapel, or even one of the numerous shops that filled the belly of the mobile fortress. They were prime locations for visitors to interact with the nuns and allowed the nuns to trade for goods to keep their roaming convent operational. Not everyone who visited stuck to the shops and parks though and would occasionally find their way to the classrooms and library within. Had Chain found the library she might have lost herself in it as she perused all the knowledge it held. But Chain ended up nowhere near the library or the parks, or the shops or classrooms.

Wandering the pipe lined bowels of the impressive vehicle, Chain was surrounded by nuns as young as children and old as great grandparents, comprised of members of all the races of mankind. They were all dressed in habits, but those varied by the wearer’s age. The youngest of children wore a habit that was little more than a white blouse that transitioned to a navy A-line dress that left most of their legs exposed. Older girls who were not quite maids yet had white collared dress of navy hue that varied in length seemingly to the whims of the individual while adults all wore full length dresses with white, cape-like collars and white cuffs. No matter the age, nearly everyone wore a veil of varying lengths, though the presence of a coif seemed optional with the venerable preferring a loose fit to the form fitting fit the younger preferred. It was all fascinating to Chain who studied the nuns as they went about their affairs with wide eyed wonderment.

The nuns themselves were not all that caught Chain’s enthusiastic curiosity as the bowels of the Chapel elicited the echoes of detached memories within her head. Every machine seemed to be connected to a pipe or conduit that went somewhere else and as she traced them with her eyes, images of a far more technologically advanced facility that seemed to serve a similar purpose, save for locomotion, danced just out of reach of her consciousness. The elusive memories soured Chain’s good mood and her beaming face grew somber the longer she wandered the bowels.

“Snatching these distant memories of ours seems nearly impossible.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty frustrating…”

Swinging her feet as she watched the nuns below the pipe she seated herself on, Chain wondered what she was doing.

“I was supposed to be finding the Head Mother and complaining to her, so how did I end up wandering around down here?”

“Because the machinery called out to our memories and the attachments within. We do seem more fractured than we seemed to believe though as they are very difficult to grasp.”

“Yeah…”

With a heavy sigh, Chain jumped down and her and Drop drifted along aimlessly. No matter the group of nuns she followed about the Chapel, none seemed to pay her or Drop much heed, regardless of her sword slung over her shoulder or Drop being a spirit. The indifference left Chain pouting, and nothing seemed to distract her from her souring mood until a door opened and she heard someone talking about picking up a long distance distress call. Poking her head into what appeared to be a massive radio communication room, Chain’s eyes lit up at the sight of the busy, multitiered, room. Her enthusiasm was tempered by a feeling of dread and the fragments of a memory of a radio cutting out. Shaking that memory away Chain slipped into the room to let the radio chatter distract her.

The Chapel seemed to be in constant contact with outposts and travelers all over the Athera Mountains and the chatter was incessant. It was a nice distraction from her own thoughts and Chain leaned against a wall and soaked in the blissful chaos. Then a voice overrode ever other in the radio communication room and called up memories of a stocky nāti male who impressively did not stand as tall as Chain. Though the slender maid was not short, she was definitely not tall either, but her height comparison to the owner of the voice that filled the room did not cross her mind.

- What do you mean don’t come Have you lost your mind If you can’t kill that thing then someone has to‼ You aren’t the only ones trapped and dying in this foul hole you idiots‼ -

“Squawk!”

The name burst out of Chain as fragmented memories linked like lit up synapses and she sprang to her feet. Surprising everyone in the comm room, most notably the nun in charge with long brown hair in a tight ponytail and round glasses, Chain charged the radio console that the voice came across and snatched up the microphone in both hands. Depressing the call switch, she desperately called into it.

“Squawk! Squawk! Can you hear me It’s me! It’s me! You know… You know… I’m sorry but I’m so excited to hear your voice that I can’t put the broken parts inside my head back together again to remember my own name. But we grew up together and… Never mind me, what’s wrong Squawk? You sound terrified. Tell me what’s wrong and where you are, and I’ll come save you. It’ll be just like old times, Squawk. Just tell me where you are…”

Releasing the call button Chain stared down the radio console impatiently, but there was no response. Depressing the call switch, she called out again.

“Squawk…?”

Again, no response came as she released the call switch and a severe dread descended on her. Before she could depress the switch again a sympathetic hand massaged her shoulder. Looking back at who had placed their hand on her, Chain locked eyes with the glasses wearing nun who ran the comm room. Sadly, the nun shook her head.

“I’m sorry dear, but that was a recording that’s been set to loop. It’s a warning to keep away.”

“Eh–

Confronted with Chain’s confusion, the nun nodded to her junior who had been working the console. Returning the nod, the nun in charge of the console flipped a few switches and was rewarded with the sound of static. After a moment, a beep followed by the words of a man none of them knew.

- To anyone who picks up this message, do not come to Deep Root Colony. I repeat do not come to Deep Root Colony. Do not answer any distress signals, just stay away. If you do, whatever horror it is that roams the shadows here will kill you all. It’s only a mater of time before myself and the surviving Pilgrims of Atheaeldre are all slaughtered. For your own good, do not come. -

- What do you mean don’t come Have you lost your mind If you can’t kill that thing then someone has to‼ You aren’t the only ones trapped and dying in this foul hole you idiots‼ -

The light faded from Chain’s eyes as she heard Sqauwk’s voice repeat the exact same line that had brought her to the console. Another beep played as Chain sat in silence and the message repeated again and again. The junior nuns grew uncomfortable in air that surrounded Chain, but the nun in charge of comm room remained resolute for Chain’s sake. Eventually, Chain returned the microphone to its stand and looked at the nun.

“Where’s Deep Root Colony?”

“Dear, I’m sorry–”

“I don’t want your apologies or warnings!”

Chain’s sudden outburst startled everyone in the comm room. Though obviously rattled, Chain tried to calm herself down, but her emotions made her unstable.

“That was my friend there. I haven’t seen him since before I was infected by the Foreigners. I didn’t know what happened to him and to hear that he’s in trouble… I can’t just ignore that no matter how dangerous. So please, tell me where Deep Root Colony is.”

“I don’t know dear.”

“Eh–”

The lack of knowledge stunned Chain and she stared in shock at the nun. As the nun provided no further words with which Chain could argue, she slowly scanned the comm room, ignoring the worried stares of the other nuns.

“No…”

Not seeing what she wanted, the word fell out of Chain almost against her will. Then she seemed to remember something and bolted from the room.

The Chapel ~ Interior ~ Crow’s nest office
Early Autumn ~ Late afternoon
Scattered thunderstorms and cool outside
The sun hid behind the clouds in respect
A gentle rain fell joined by distant thunder
The spectacular view of the panoramic window dulled by somber air
A spry and venerable nun in white watching the scene with hands held behind   
A lifetime of caution and sympathy embroiled within  

“That’s terrible, I can’t help but feel sorry for her.”

The girl with the short red hair and blue eyes who spoke had only seen some ten springs and thus was dressed within the typical habit of girls her age on the Chapel. She did not where the veil or coif however and her legs were mostly covered by white stocking, and though they reached up to the middle of her thigh, they did not quite reach the white trimmed hem of her dress. Her boyish voice gave her away as the girl Finch, and Maye beside her, dressed in coif and veil with a white cuffed and cape collared garment that blended a habit with a horse blanket completed the pair. It was the voice of the comm room nun that spoke next through a radio console in the circular office that also served as the Chapel’s crow’s nest.

- Sympathetic as her plight is, I fear that she is not entirely mentally stable. Her words and way that she describes her thoughts and memories. I fear Mother Osprey that it would be a mistake to leave her to her own devices. -

“But first we must know what her course of action is.”

The venerable nun in white, Mother Osprey, spoke in a calm and dignified manner. There was sympathy in her voice, but also control and wisdom. Her calm possessed the power to keep others calm and no one in the Crow’s Nest Office said a thing, allowing her time to gather her thoughts. Turning around from the window, Mother Osprey took a seat at her desk and looked up at Finch and Maye as she spoke.

“We know that she desires to seek her friend, but we also know that she is unfamiliar with the land and the world at large since the appearance of the Lucifalz. She cannot act without knowledge and we must ask what knowledge she needs first.”

- The source of the radio message. -

“The location of Deep Root Colony.”

“So a map and a way to track the signal. We should have maps in the library and at the helm, but the only sensor equipment we have is to respond to the Light of the Lucifalz and…”

Finch’s eyes widened and she trailed off as she contemplated what Chain would need for the comm room and Maye’s suggestions. With the realization that came to her she stated the last knowledge Chain would need.

“How to get there.”

“That is correct everyone.”

Smiling, Mother Osprey congratulated her nuns on their success on deducing the first actions Chain would likely take. However, despite the urgency possessed by Finch, she remained calm and at ease.

“Sister Pij, please feel free to relax. We know what she will be doing now and have no reason to be alarmed by her actions.”

“But Mother Osprey! If Deep Root Colony can be reached by land, Chain might be desperate enough to try and steal my Dolmen.”

“I sincerely doubt that Daughter Finch. From what I have been told she is a very troubled and tortured girl whose good cheer is born of not being able to either express or experience her full range of emotions. That she describes it as being fractured and separated is why we need not worry.”

“I’m afraid I do not understand Mother Osprey. She is also a heretic and there is little reason to believe she can be trusted. She may be a Child of Her Light, but still.”

“You have so little faith Sister Maye. If she an individual can experience being so fractured, then it affords her an insight into how a group is not as singular as it appears. She is hurting and has already accepted and asked us for help. We need only wait for her to explain how she wants us to help. So, let us enjoy some tea and the weather while we wait for her to join us.”

Maye trusted Mother Osprey with all of her being, but she was always amazed by the calm and control the venerable nun exuded. Even when faced with a situation as unusual as the one presented by Chain she remained calm and sure of how things should be. She could not predict the future however and the sun had dipped a great deal in the sky, affording Finch and Maye the time to dine with her before Chain finally came sprinting up the spiral staircase that led into the Crow’s Nest Office. Her explosion of energy drew the attention of the nuns on lookout duty, but they didn’t matter to Chain who skidded to a halt as she spotted Mother Osprey. She was about to dash towards her, but the sight of Finch and Maye seemed to change her energy and she balled her hands into fists and stormed up to the desk. Slamming her hands down on it she leaned forward while rolling her shoulders forward and pouted at Mother Osprey.

“I told you to leave me alone and stop following me. But… but… but”

Chain seemed to struggle with what she wanted to say and before she could succeed, she seemed to blow steam from her ears and fell over backwards sprawling out on the floor with her eyes spinning from the effort. Again, she drew everyone’s attention, though this time they expressed concern along with their surprise. The only one who showed no concern was Drop, who swam up above the desk and attempted to speak on Chain’s behalf.

“Forgive us for being so unruly, but our desires are conflicting and we are very stressed. Our friend needs our help, but we lack the means to do it on our own without making things worse between us. If it’s too much trouble what we are attempting to say, can we instead take the Dolmen?”

“If you take my Dolmen I just know that you’ll wreck it again!”

“If you expect an answer from Mother Osprey heretical creature–”

“Sister Maye, Daughter Finch. Please calm yourselves. This age we find ourselves in after the appearance of the Lucifalz is one of trials for all of us. It is our duty to reclaim the Light for Her Eminence and the good of all mankind. Though this child has become one with a spirit who our forebearers instructed us to turn from, she is still a child of mankind, touched by the evil of the Foreigners, possessed of Her Light, and a Sa·B·er whose duty it is to protect us all. We must not withdraw the good will of Her Eminence who unified the Sister Goddesses and Father Icarus against the evils that inflict the races of mankind.”

Mother Osprey’s calm typically maintained an air of peacefulness in her presence, but her words had a different effect on Drop. Exhaling in excitement, Chain’s tiny mermaid double clasped her hands together as her eyes shimmered with joy and hope.

Despite Drop’s good cheer and the good will of Mother Osprey in taking them to attempt rescuing Squawk, in Chain’s experience, the Cardinal Church could not be trusted. Everywhere she saw the Y shaped trio of crosses that served as the church’s holy symbol, memories of live dissections being performed on her flooded her mind. Isolation, darkness, fear and hatred all stirred within her and the Foreigner infection that made her a Sa·B·er felt like it would consume her to exact her vengeance. It made staying in the Chapel a difficult affair, but the nuns could hardly tell as her good cheer seemed to override any brewing negative feelings she possessed. There was also the possibility that Chain simply kept her mind occupied enough studying the literature of the library during the tenday it would take for the Chapel to travel from the Athera Mountains to Deep Root Colony. Whatever the reason, the only members of the nunnery that Chain interacted with were the teachers when they visited the library as she harassed them with questions. This lack of interaction was fine by most of the nuns, but there was one in particular who was not pleased by the whole ordeal that followed the meeting in the Crow’s Nest Office.

The Chapel ~ Interior ~ Bowels
Early Autumn ~ Morning
Clear and warm outside
An unused corridor born from necessity
Repurposed for a use opposite the expectations of nuns
The whirring of machinery accompanied by the retort of gunfire
A gathering of little more than one   
A frustrated air filled with the acrid smell of gunfire  

Dressed in her white shirt and red denim jacket, Maye reloaded her revolver action rifle as she waited for the targeting sheet to return to where she waited. When it returned, she did not even bother checking her accuracy before replacing the shredded paper and throwing the switch that would take it back out into the distance. Lifting her rifle and looking down the barrel, Maye proceeded to fire all six rounds the cylinder could hold. Discarding the expended shells, she reloaded the cylinder in an instant with a speedloader waiting for her on a cart beside her.

“Someone’s shooting off steam today. I just hope you’re using practice rounds Maye. We don’t make that much money here.”

“You don’t need to remind me Finch.”

Maye’s tone was dismissive as she again emptied her rifle’s cylinder before discarding the shells. She did not waste anytime reloading but did not immediately fire as Finch snuck up in front of her to check the stack of discarded target sheets in front of her. Seeing Finch in her habit with her shoulder holster on immediately put an irritated expression on the centaur’s face.

“Finch… What have I told you about wearing your gun with your habit? It is disrespectful to the Sister Goddesses, Father Icarus, and Her Eminence.”

“So is a nun walking around the convent out of her habit.”

Finch did not seem to pay Maye’s warning much mind as she shuffled the sheaf of discarded target papers. Dismissive as she was, she was not without a counter for Maye and applied it offhandedly.

“At least I can just take my holster off, but you can’t really say the same.”

“Geh–!”

Blushing with aggravated defeat, Maye kicked the ground and turned her rifle downrange. The already shredded target paper was torn through six more times, and six more bullets embedded themselves in the brick wall that had been set up at the end of the otherwise unused corridor. Finch grew concerned as she looked at the results of Maye’s most recent shots compared to the results she held in hand.

“Maye, you’re really being overly emotional. Your shots are all over the place.”

“I’m trying to work through my emotions Finch. Now, why don’t you leave and entertain yourself with some crevice of the Chapel’s inner workings.”

“But I came down to practice as well.”

Setting up in the stall next to Maye, Finch had to climb up on the stand to affix an unused target to the clip that would take it down the track it hung from to the end of the range. As she finished, she tossed a switch in the stall and turned her attention to her revolver as the target retreated. Maye was in the process of reloading but was feeling antagonized by Finch’s actions.

“Perhaps I should be the one to leave then?”

“Don’t be like that Maye. You’ve been worrying everyone with your bad mood since Mother Osprey agreed to take Chain to the Deep Root Colony.”

“No one has anything to worry about from me. It is the heretic in our midst that should have everyone concerned.”

“Chain just wants to help her friend. That and she is a Child of Her Light. We can’t just ignore her. Besides, if the legends are true…”

“If a heretic were to partake in that fated battle it would turn the world on its head. How is the Cardinal Church supposed to reestablish the trust of the people and prevent future assaults by the Foreigners and the demon they worship. If the power wielded by that creature and its ilk were to be present mankind would seek out that power and repeat the cycle of bloodshed that calls forth the Dark One in the first place. Our efforts would be in vain should that come to pass.”

Both nuns lowered their firearms and stared each other down as they found themselves disagreeing again about Chain since they first met her. Finch was not so easily dissuaded however and had done some research of her own.

“Well, if Drop is so much trouble by being what she is, why not aspect her to Lady Cardinal’s Light? Spirits are Ambrosial creatures so we should be able to change her aspect.”

“Do you hear what you’re saying Finch?”

“Lady Cardinal unified the Sister Goddesses and Father Icarus, so why can’t Her Light unify mankind and the spirits?”

Maye could not believe what she was hearing and stared incredulously at her junior. Before she could say anything more however a voice echoed throughout the Chapel from its internal radio PA system.

­- All Seekers, your presence is required. Please gather in the Hall of Sight as soon as possible. -

The Chapel ~ Interior ~ Hall of Sight
Early Autumn ~ Morning
Clear and warm outside
A circular room too small for the numbers that visited
A great lens embedded in the floor
On its southeastern edge an intense light
A disbelieving hush filling the unused space
Even the stained-glass figures on high held in awe 

Bowing her head apologetically as she entered, Maye, now dressed in her habit, slipped into the Hall of Sight as smoothly as a centaur possibly could. When she finally positioned herself so that she could see the great lens in the floor she fell into as surprised a silence as the other nuns situated in the room. Seeing the last nun to arrive having become aware of the situation, Mother Osprey broke the silence.

“Mother Gosling, if you could please inform us what it is that we are looking at.”

“Of course, Mother Osprey.”

Stepping forward to the edge of the lens, a small nāti maid of many years encouraged everyone but Mother Osprey to step back. Walking around the lens to where the light appeared in the lens, Mother Gosling tapped it with her cane.

“You are all more than aware by now that this light represents a Lucifalz.”

Nodding heads and hushed agreements filled the room as Mother Gosling paused to allow the other nuns to confirm their understanding. One nun in particular however did not allow her to continue as they pressed her with a question.

“Does this mean that we will not be completing the journey to the Deep Root Colony?”

Chuckling softy, the old nāti maid shook her head.

“Your disdain for the Chainmaid is becoming as an eighth wonder amongst the Daughters of this hallowed hall Sister Maye. Your dedication to doctrine is wonderful, but perhaps too zealous. If you were not so blinded by your indignation you might have noted the direction of this light.”

Tapping the lens once more with her cane, Mother Gosling brought attention to the inlaid compass directions in the frame of the lens. The direction did not mean much to the gathered nuns on its own but combined with Maye’s query it was not hard to deduce the location of the Lucifalz which the lens responded to. There was at least one problem that put the nuns ill at ease though, and someone at last spoke up.

“Excuse me Venerable Mother, but are we not only a seven-day into this tenday continuous journey?”

“That is correct.”

“Yet, we have never detected a Lucifalz from so far…”

No further words were required for the gathered nuns in the Hall of Sight to understand what it was that awaited them and the unease within deepened. The unease however had to face the presence of Mother Osprey who rose her own voice to address the nuns gathered with her.

“It is a daunting task to be sure, but it is not beyond our duty. Those of us gathered on the Chapel are sworn to recover the Light for Her Eminence, Lady Cardinal and guide mankind back to the path it illuminates. We must face this Lucifalz as we have every other and free Her Light of the Darkness of the Dark One. And be warned that so great a Lucifalz could very well upset the Laws of Atheaeldre and Father Icarus. That which plagues those who have ventured to the Deep Root Colony is likely an Ambrosial Beast, or worse yet, a Dragon. But do not let these horrors dissuade you. We are the faithful bathed in Her Eminence’s true light, and we join a Sa·B·er, a Child of Her Light in meeting this Darkness. We cannot and will not be pushed back by the Darkness.”

Even knowing that Mother Osprey’s words meant that she would likely be fighting alongside Chain in Deep Root Colony, Maye could not hide her displeasure. She wore it on her face for the next three-day, all the way to when she found herself flanking Chain with Finch the morning they finally arrived. The air of anticipation coming from the Chainmaid only deepened her foul mood as she knew there was no controlling the whimsical maid who only thought of finding her friend. Maye’s sympathy for the man she believed long gone did not alleviate her displeasure, but neither emotion changed the mission that lay before her.

Deep Root Colony
Early Autumn ~ Morning, Dust storm
Silence save the howling wind
Lush vegetation torn about
Hints of light both golden and red
The Chapel standing tall over the abyss
No sign of anyone save the nuns of the mobile fortress  
“I‘m impressed heretic. I was for certain that you would have charged forth blindly in search of the man who brought you here.”

“I’d have to be a pretty dumb adventurer to just charge out like that. I may not be all put together in here, but even I know better than that.”

Pointing at her head as she smiled at Maye, Chain dismissed her cape to prevent the wind tugging at it from pulling her off balance. On her other side, Finch, now dressed in a white button up shirt with puffy red shorts over a pair of black tights, shielded her eyes as the group of nuns joined Chain in crossing the distance from the Chapel to the great abyss that Deep Root Colony was built into. She scanned their surroundings for any signs of life but found none beyond the vegetation.

“This isn’t natural. Nothing seems to be living here.”

“The spirits of earth and fire seem comfortable enough out here. Though even they are avoiding the hole and the dark song it holds.”

Drop’s words drew the attention of the detachment of battle-ready nuns to the motes of light drifting about and the soft humanoid forms the size of a person’s thumb became apparent. Maye did not like the presence of so many and nearly snorted as she kicked the ground in response. Irritable as she was at the presence of the spirits, she was not so immature as to ignore the danger hinted at in Drops words.

“Could it be that an Ambrosial Beast dwells within that pit?”

“Likely. And if there is one it’ll likely be bringing lesser monsters with it out of Ambrosia.”

“Have you fought them before Miss Chain.”

“At least once. I think it was sometime between when I was infected and the church tortured me.”

Looking up, Chain tapped the side of her nose thoughtfully as she tried to recall the events to answer Finch. Her comment on being tortured by the church earned her a disapproving backwards glance from Maye who had been signaling to the other nuns. She completely failed to notice the response from Maye but did not fail to miss that the other nuns were starting to spread out.

“Shouldn’t you two go with them?”

“You have nothing to worry about heretic. As much as Mother Osprey has given you free reign of the Chapel, she is not unwise and gave ear to my concerns about letting you run free here.”

“So, since you brought it up, she assigned you to watch me?”

“Pretty much.”

Although Finch was eyeing the spirits as they passed the distance from which they would draw no closer, she answered Chain’s question and caused Maye to blush.

“It is only natural. After all, no one else has shown any concern for the danger presented by you heretic.”

“That’s not true Maye. Sister Pij did as well. Remember?”

Gritting her teeth and trying to contain her blushing as Finch humiliated her again, Maye harrumphed loudly and dismissively. Finch tried to contain a giggle with her hand irritating Maye further, but Chain’s lack of reaction kept the centaur from admonishing her icaran junior.

“I would appreciate it if you did not ignore me heretic. Especially after you demanded answers from me.”

Chain did not seem to hear Maye at all, and the centaur was about to lose her temper. Finch noticed the warning signs and jumped out in front to get Chain’s attention.

“Miss Chain, are you listening?”

“Sorry. It’s just hard to hear cause it’s so loud.”

“Loud?”

Finch and Maye exchanged curious looks before Finch commented on the wind which she had been subconsciously shouting over.

“It is very windy, but I didn’t think it was that loud.”

“Not the wind, the whispering?”

“Whispering?”

Prompted by Chain’s unexpected response, the two nuns again exchanged looks. Their confusion confused Chain and she pressed them with a question.

“You don’t hear it? It’s so loud though.”

“It’s the voices of the Lucifalz.”

It was Drop who brought some clarity to the situation and surprised everyone with her knowledge. Knowing there were further questions coming, Drop tried to head them off.

“Spirits can hear the song of all things and the Song of the Lucifalz is like the rain of a thousand, thousand whispers. We can hear it as we are one being in our song and the song of the servants of the Children of Ocia.”

“It bothers me to hear a heretical being speak the name of one of the Sister Goddesses in any tone but reverent fear.”

“Why should we fear she who mothers those we serve. Your lack of understanding our place in the world is confusing.”

“Then you claim to serve one of the Sister Goddesses?”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

“Yes.”

“I think it’s time to show off something even more unbelievable. It should even drown out the whispering.”

Interrupting Drop and Maye, Chain placed her left hand on her hip as she arrived at the lip of the abyss that held the Deep Root Colony. Maye was skeptical of Chain’s bold claim and wore her disbelief openly on her face. Finch was less clear on Chain’s meaning and sought clarification.

“Have you been here before Miss Chain? I though this was your first time visiting. Or was it something you read in the library?”

“Never. It is. And wrong. What I’m about to demonstrate is one of the most impressive natural wonders across the whole Face of Icarus. Though…”

Looking up at Maye, Chain noted that the centaur did not share her round icaran ears but had longer pointier ears that rested somewhere between an icaran and a nāti’s in length.

“… you should definitely protect your ears. You have better hearing than the average icaran, right?”

“You would not be wrong, heretic.”

“Then you should definitely cover them. What I’m about to summon has made the ears of the unprepared bleed.”

“Summon?”

Finch was confused but received no clarification as Chain leaned over the abyss and cupped her hands to her mouth. Taking a deep breath, she then shouted as loud as she could into it.

“SQU~AWK! I KNOW YOU’RE DOWN THERE! I BET YOU THOUGHT I WAS DEAD THOUGH, DIDN’T YOU Heh, heh! TOO BAD! I’M HARDER TO KILL THAN THAT AND NOW I’M HERE TO RESCUE YOU SO TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE!”

Leaning back and relaxing Chain, donned a proud smile as she listened to her voice echo down through the abyss. As the echoes faded though there was no response and she began to pout. Maye was not impressed and spoke as such.

“Was that really all? You thought this pit would make your voice louder or something? I must say I’m more disappointed than I expected to be.”

“Maye~…”

Chain was too bothered by the lack of any response to care about Maye’s insults like Finch, to an extent, and leaned back over the edge as she cupped her hands once more to her mouth.

“SQU~AWK! DDON’T IGNORE ME! I REALLY DID COME TO HELP YOU! I HEARD THE DISTRESS MESSAGE AND GOT HERE AS SOON AS I COULD! AND I KNOW YOU’RE NOT DEAD! YOU’RE TOO MUCH OF A COWARD TO HANG AROUND AND LET SOMETHING KILL YOU! I BET THAT’S WHY YOU’RE STAYING QUIET TOO! YOU DON’T WANT TO GIVE AWAY YOUR HIDING SPOT! WELL I CAN’T HELP YOU IF YOU DON’T AND I DON’T WANT TO LOOK OVER THIS WHOLE PIT TO FIND YOU! IT’S WAY TO BIG! HAVE YOU SEEN HOW BIG IT IS WELL IT DOESN’T MATTER! I KNOW JUST HOW TO GET YOU TO RESPOND! BELIEVE IT OR NOT BUT I’M NOT HERE ALONE! THE ONLY THING IS, THE PEOPLE WITH ME DON’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE SHOUTING IS ALL THAT IMPRESSIVE! I TRI–!”

“WHA~~~~~T!!!!!”

The shrill voice of a young nāti man cut Chain off as it exploded out of the abyss as though it were the abyss itself that yelled. The very air trembled from the force and Maye reared back in both shock and pain as her eardrums felt as though would not just rupture but burst from out of her skull. She was not the only member of a race with better hearing than the average icaran to recoil from the shout and every nun who joined Chain outside of the Chapel looked upon the abyss with utmost astonishment. Even being prepared for it, Chain had not covered her ears and her eyes watered as she smiled proudly. The voice was not done however as it seemed to be driven on by pride of its own and continued in a disbelieving tone.

“WHAT IDIOT WOULD FAIL TO REALIZE WHO IT IS THAT YOU SPEAK OF?‼ HOW IGNORANT AND OBLIVIOUS COULD THEY BE TO DOUBT THAT WITH MY SKILL I COULD SHAKE THE VERY HEAVENS?‼”

The boasting of the owner of the voice was not without merit as massive chunks of earth were shaken free from the walls of the abyss and the ground itself seemed to tremble as though it would give way at any time from the acoustic assault. Even as the shouting ceased the air and earth both continued to tremble under the force of the echoes that followed it and more than one of the nuns present, Maye included, found that their more sensitive ears were indeed bleeding. Lowering her now bloody hands from her bleeding ears, Maye looked upon Chain with total bewilderment.

“What on the Face of Icarus was that It couldn’t have possibly been human

“Just a friend.”

“That was amazing!”

Whereas Maye was in shock from both the power of the voice and her bleeding ears, Drop and Finch shared in an exclamation of amazement. Drop had more to add though as she did share Chain’s memories and knew she should have been expecting it as well.

“It is one thing to remember it as memories of ours before we were as we are now, but to experience it! It truly is a wonder!”

“Heh heh! I told you, though everyone may want to cover their ears again. He isn’t done.”

Amazement gave way to terror and Drop and Finch wasted no time in protecting their ears with their hands. Even Chain covered her ears and braced herself for the second assault that she knew would be directed at her in particular. The sight of Chain covering her ears made up for Maye not being able to hear her over the ringing in her ears and she wasted no time protecting them. As the other nuns had not taken their eyes off the abyss yet, they saw Chain and the others protecting their ears and followed suit. Then the abyss shouted in rage.

“YOU COLOSSAL IDIOT‼ DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’VE DONE?‼THIS IS WHY I CAN’T STAND YOU‼ YOU’RE ALWAYS ON ABOUT SOME MAD ADVENTURE OR ANOTHER REGARDLESS of THE DANGER‼ NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE AND HAVE MADE ME GIVE AWAY MY LOCATION YOU BETTER NOT BE WASTING TIME AND ARE ALREADY ON YOUR WAY‼ AND YOU BETTER BE PREPARED FOR AN EARFUL WHEN YOU GET HERE AND SAVE ME‼ AND I WILL ACCEPT NO EXCUSES‼ NOT EVEN THE ENTRANCES BEING DESTROYED‼ DON’T MAKE ME WAIT ANY LONGER THAN I ALREADY HAVE‼”

As the owner of the voice seemed to have finally finished, Chain lowered her hands from her ears and smiled nervously. Looking around to check on the nuns she laughed apologetically. The nuns were not the only ones put off by what Chain had brought about as down deep in the abyss, the shadow that had slaughtered almost all who had entered Deep Root Colony clutched at his helmeted head as he leaned against a wall hidden from the light of the day. Despite the obvious pain and disorientation he suffered from, he still laughed menacingly.

“Hehehehehe… Worry not little one, you no longer matter. You have served your purpose and the Light is at last here. And so much greater than I could have hoped for. A true Child of Her Light at last. It has been worth it, the torment I have suffered at your hands little one for my reward is the most worthy of prey. Hehehehehe…”

Though the shadow laughed with anticipation and Squawk demanded not to be left waiting, they would have to continue waiting. Repelling into the abyss proved too dangerous as giant bats of ash and embers attacked all who tried. There numbers were too great to expend ammunition on them and the nuns refused to use magic to engage the monsters. As they had need to explore the colony themselves and the nāti who Chain had come to rescue was still alive, they still needed to make a way in. The solution they eventually came up with involved a supply entrance large enough for Dolmen to walk through were it not filled with collapsed earth only a few dozen meters into the ground.

- So how did I end up having to clear a path? -

“Because for all of the Dolmens that the Chapel can hold, yours is the only one we have Finch.”

Finch’s complaint was instantly countered by Maye. Lacking an appropriate comeback, all she could do was continue working to remove the debris with her Dolmen, her pot armored machine easily making short work of the blocked passage. She did not need to clear much before some of the smaller nuns who were there to seek out the Lucifalz made their way over the top of the debris and disappeared within the colony. Chain wanted to join them but was held back by Maye.

“You may be handy with a sword heretic, but this is what we do; seek out Lucifalz saplings and reclaim the Light. Your friend will be safe with the Sisters and Daughters who are here for that very purpose.”

“I don’t understand why I should have to wait. Believe it or not, but I spent my whole childhood training for delving into ancient ruins like this.”

Pouting, Chain tried to argue her ability but did not convince Maye to budge in the least.

“Did you not bequest Mother Osprey for our aid heretic? You shall wait until Finch and I can accompany you or the Lucifalz is dealt with before you venture forth.”

“That’s completely unfair. I told Squawk I was going to rescue him and now I have to wait!”

- Sorry Miss Chain. I’m not nearly as good a pilot as you so I can’t clear this rubble any faster. -

Offering an apology as she worked, Finch tried to make Chain feel better. It didn’t particularly work, and Chain pouted even more irritably. Clutching at her left temple she spied her surroundings and the pile of debris that stood between her and the ancient halls of Deep Root Colony. It didn’t particularly stand in her way, as though she was possessed of a fine bosom, she was little more than a well-shaped stick of feminine form and could have easily slipped through the passageways made available to the nuns who had already rushed ahead. It was more that the available openings could fit neither Finch’s twenty-five-meter tall humanoid machine that she piloted, or more immediately, a centaur even if they were too small for an adult to ride her like a horse. It was aggravating and Chain was growing impatient, but even as impatient as she was, she did not fail to notice that three of them were alone within the service entrance by the time she finished looking around and that the pile of debris did not seem to be load bearing. Stepping away from Maye and back towards the surface Chain called out to Finch.

“Hey! Finch! Does the Dolmen say if that is supporting the ceiling

- Hm? Let me see… No Miss Chain. I should actually be able to move faster if I don’t have to be as careful. -

“Hold on for just a moment.”

“What are you planning now, heretic.”

“Heh heh! You’ll have to wait and see.”

Leaving Maye hanging with just her smile and a knowing finger shake Chain turned her attention to Drop who was floating beside her head.

“This is like when we met isn’t it? No life at all around, and spirits fleeing.”

“That is correct.”

“How did it happen again…?”

Taking her right elbow in hand, Chain tilted her head and tapped the side of her nose as she tried to grasp at her scattered memories.

“It was electricity wasn’t it? That the Ambrosial Beast that was eating everyone used.”

“Yes. I can still remember the tingly sensation.”

Drop shuddered and hugged herself as she recalled a feeling she found most unpleasant. Trying her hand at thinking and putting together the puzzle of her thoughts, Chain considered what it was she wanted to do.

“Those were earth and fire spirits outside, right?”

“They were enveloped in the verses of the song of the Children of Icarus.”

“There are verses?”

Chain looked bewildered at her tiny mermaid double as she was faced with knowledge that she never possessed yet the spirit always had. Drop was all too glad to share that information with Chain though as they were one and the same.

“Yes. There are many verses, and not just for the servants of the children, but for the wild ones and the dark ones, and for all living things. The Dark Song that fills this place along with the voices of the Lucifalz are also layered with verses.”

“That’s interesting…”

Pinching her chin, Chain pouted and thought even harder about what she wanted to do. The mental gymnastics and puzzle construction was trying her patience however, and her pout grew more severe by the moment. Groaning with irritation she asked Drop another question.

“I can’t seem to put my lessons back together properly right now. I think I’m too excited and impatient both, so let me ask you; what could drive out both earth and fire?”

“Water could easily do so.”

“No, it won’t work if its water.”

“Oh, I see. With that desire of ours the nature of the song of the servants of the Children of Ocia would be a problem. Though, we can become as one with both.”

“That’s good…”

“If you’re talking about making contracts with other spirits, it is not good, and I absolutely forbid you from considering such.”

Maye stepped up to Chain and pulled the maid from her thoughts with her disdain of what she presumed was Chain’s plan. Chain seemed surprised that she stepped up to her so aggressively and looked up at her curiously. Though Maye was not dressed in her habit, she was still a nun of the Cardinal Church and Chain had not already forgotten why the nuns had joined her in such number. Her realization was naturally shared with Drop and they both provided another answer to Chain’s initial question.

“Light.”

“What?”

Maye stepped back in confusion as Chain’s voice assaulted her side by side with the simple word. Maye’s reaction was insignificant to Chain, and she smiled as she thanked the centaur.

“Thanks Maye. You really helped me out there. Now I know what incantation to use.”

“Incantation? You don’t mean to tell me that you can cast magic.”

“Hm? You didn’t realize? I thought you saw me wipe out the Skull Leather Bandits. Oh well. Just step back and watch, though you might want to step really far back. I haven’t really had all that much time to practice and how I cast is kind of dangerous.”

“Why do I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Heh heh! Just watch. Drop be ready.”

“Of course.”

Extending her left arm straight out in front of her Chain turned her palm upwards. Not sure what was about to happen Maye slowly backed away watching as Chain closed her hand in preparation to snap her fingers. Without further ceremony she did just that and a distinctive sound filled the air as a tiny mote of light appeared above her palm.

- What just happened? The Dolmen is telling me an Ambrosial Gate just opened nearby. -

“An Ambrosial Gate…? Impossible!”

- Maye? What’s going on? -

Maye did not respond to Finch as she could not pull her eyes away from the light above Chain’s upturned palm. It was a known fact that while all mankind possessed Ambrosial Gates, that their gates, like all living things, were internal and when opened filled the body with Nectar. With the Nectar that filled their body mankind and monsters alike could cast magic, limited only by the amount of Nectar their body could at hold at one time, death being a likely consequence of trying to exceed that limit. Only the most skilled of wizards could expel raw Nectar from there bodies and shape spells beyond there natural limits. Yet Chain with but a snap of her fingers had opened an Ambrosial Gate directly outside of her body. It was unheard of in all the study of Ambrosia, Nectar, and magic. That Chain also seemed to be in total control and that no Nectar was spilling forth with disastrous effects through the open gate seemed equally preposterous. Yet Chain did not seem bothered at all, though as her cape flared into being from her shoulder blades and she closed her eyes she was unquestionably possessed of a greater calm and focus then normal. Then the words fell from her lips and her incantation began, but Chain did not recognize her words as an image of a dragon of Darkness filled her mind and the whispers of the Lucifalz became as one voice.

“~ Oh lord of Darkness, Mother of Dragons who feasts on the Light.
Take this tiny light and smother it.
Open wide the gates to your power as I pledge myself to honor it. ~”


The light flickered and wavered as Chain spoke and a shadow swirled to life within it. Writhing violently, it spread out like spilling blood, consuming the light and overflowing from the gate above Chain’s hand. Chain’s hand could not contain the flowing darkness either and it spilled onto the ground, steam rising up from where it touched. Maye and Finch stared on in horror at the unnatural Darkness, and the strain on Chain’s face as she tried to break away from the incantation she cast terrified them further. Maye nearly moved to try and save Chain from herself but Drop acted before she did and swam about to opposite of Chain from the Darkness consumed Ambrosial Gate. Extending her hands towards the gate, Drop began an incantation of her own.

“~ Servants of the Children of Icarus.
Heed the call of your sister, a Servant of the Children of Ocia.
Come hither to the Darkness that only true Light can pierce.
Feast on this Darkness and test the worthiness of the one who calls it. ~"


At first nothing noticeable was caused by Drop’s incantation, but then motes of golden and crimson light began to drift in from the entrance of the supply corridor. The spirits converged on the Ambrosial gate above Chain’s hand and soon it buried it. The mass of spirits continued to grow until it was large enough to physically touch Drop, and then it vanished leaving no trace of it or the Darkness Chain had summoned. Freed from her incantation Chain fell to her hands and rump gasping for breath. Turning her massive sea gem green orbs onto Drop, she desperately sought an answer.

“What was that That wasn’t the incantation I wanted to use! Why did I feel like that glowing tree was trying to talk through me but was consumed by whatever “that” was

“You’re not telling me you don’t know

Maye scoffed at Chain’s reaction, even as she trembled seeing the terror in Chain’s eyes. Drop put herself between the two maids however with arms spread wide and shook her head fiercely.

“She cannot know. Only the Ambrosial parts of her can understand, and even then, we are so fragmented it is hard to piece it together. Only instinct allowed us to act and the voice of ours held captive by the Lucifalz.”

“What are you talking about you devil…

As terrified of Drop as she was, whatever it was that Chain had instigated prompted Maye to pull her rifle from her back and aim it at Drop. Drop held her ground and stared at the centaur with the same face that was trying to comprehend what had just happened behind her. Gritting her teeth, the centaur took several uneasy steps back. Shaking her head again, Drop stared down Maye as she spoke.

“This is hard for you because humankind is ignorant today. You cannot pull the trigger though as the nun in white has not said you could. Honor her and also us. Speak of this to no one save the nun in white. This one of us too shall speak with her, but first we must accomplish what we set out to. We have the means to enter now, though it is best that we only cast a spell for this purpose until we have trained more. Our sword and bow will serve us better until then. Unless the source of this song of Darkness finds us.”

Stumbling to her feet Chain eyed Drop curiously but then the worry faded from her face and she donned a huge smile.

“Oh well. I enjoy wielding a sword anyway. Bu~t I just have to try it since I wanted to anyway. I have to see the difference for myself! Finch! You might want to step back!”

-  Wha– -

Finch wasn’t sure what Chain was talking about, but she wasted no time piloting her Dolmen out of the way as the smiling maid snapped her fingers again. Maye was far more hostile in her panic than Finch and leveled her rifle onto Chain.

“What do you think you’re doing heretic

“Just making us a way in. Don’t worry, I shouldn’t get the wrong incantation this time. At least I shouldn’t.”

Beaming at Maye, Chain’s lack of confidence did not put the centaur at ease. Chain was not concerned though and held the open Ambrosial Gate in her hand up so that she was looking down it. Her smile somehow widened more as she began her new incantation and the glowing mote of light in her hand became as a growing sphere of flame.

“~ Crimson children of Ambrosia.
Gather in my hand and be as thy source of power.
Become the flame that washes away all who stand against me. ~”

The blazing sphere in Chain’s hand raged with destructive force but did not lose form. The spell was stable and, with her smile still on her face, Chain brought the sphere behind her in preparation for the coming throw.  As she released the orb of fire, hurling it towards the debris that kept her from entering Deep Root Colony, she completed her incantation with a joyous shout.

“~ Fireball‼ ~”

Flung from her hand, Chain’s spell revealed its true form and swelled in size several fold. It was still relatively small compared to Finch’s Dolmen by the time it reached the debris that prevented them from entering Deep Root Colony, but it swelled to a size that completely consumed the debris as it collided with it. The energy and heat released by the blast was tremendous and Maye shielded herself with her arms while Chain simply watched on smiling as her hair and cape were whipped about.

“Heh heh! Perfect!”

- Amazing! -

Exhaling in amazement, Finch could hardly do more than watch the embers that were all that remained of the rubble drift away. Maye could barely contain her horror either at the gaping, now ember ringed maw that invited them into Deep Root Colony.

“So that is sorcery…”

“More accurately, that is what mankind used to call spirit magic. The incantations and effects are the same, but by calling upon the power of spirits, the effects are greatly enhanced beyond the limitations of a vessel to hold Nectar.”

Swimming through the air in pursuit of Chain, Drop answered Maye’s question while providing additional insight. Maye did not like what she just bore witness to however, and refused to let Chain out of her sight, though she finally lowered her rifle wondering if it would even work against such power.

“I know there are some amongst us on the Chapel who can cast magic, but I have never before had the misfortune to see its destructive side. It is difficult to fathom that such power is more commonplace across the Face of Icarus than not.”

“And most monsters can cast magic too.”

Chain’s matter of fact statement delivered over her shoulder as she walked ahead into the ancient colony unsettled Maye more than she already was. Eying the cleared passage before them and the scope of it compared to Finch’s already larger than typical Dolmen made her swallow.

“It is little wonder that those who face monsters scoff at guns. It is difficult to imagine that they would have any effect against creatures who wield such power.”

Lifting her rifle up to look at it, the doubt about her ability to battle what awaited them within was writ clearly upon Maye’s face. Finch seemed to notice as she too had not yet begun to follow Chain and tried to comfort her senior.

“Don’t worry Maye. We have my Dolmen if we encounter anything too dangerous.”

It was crushing for Maye and finch both as the latter’s childlike faith was so easily wiped aside. Though the exterior walkways for most of the upper third of the visible part of the colony were large enough to accommodate the Dolmen, any lower the halls and passageways were either too overgrown with ages of vegetative growth, or were simply designed in a deceptive way that only made it look like they could allow a Dolmen passage. The bulk of Finch’s unit made it even more difficult to progress, though they had made good time in their descent regardless as there was little the nuns ahead of them had not already explored. Between the Dolmen and Chain’s swordplay, what Ambrosial monsters that did attack them were never any real threat and Maye felt increasingly agitated. Her agitation led to regret however as eventually they caught up to the lead group of nuns and had yet to find who Chain was looking for and any further progression of Finch’s Dolmen was truly impossible at that point.

“Sister Maye. Daughter Finch. Chainmaid. We were not expecting you so soon.”

“Heh heh! That’s part of the fun. The unexpected is what makes an adventure an adventure.”

“Mind the heretic. I take it that we should expect thicker resistance from the beasts that plague this place as we advance.?”

Pushing Chain to the side, Maye sought out any info she could glean about the path ahead. She did not like the answer she received though as the nun who greeted them of the five who made up the lead group nodded.

“It is as you say Sister Maye. As the Lead group we have faced the greatest number of monsters. As we are armed with staves imbued with Nectar however, we will likely have less trouble than you and Daughter Finch moving forward.”

“But I bet you won’t have less trouble than a Sa·B·er. I think it’s time I moved on ahead and put an end to Squawk’s waiting. I bet he’s getting really mad by now.”

Stepping back in front of Maye, Chain boasted about the strength of a Sa·B·er with a broad smile. Her smile did not last long however as Drop added in some unwanted details.

“Though we are fairly inexperienced still. But that makes it particularly exciting.”

“Drop, you’re going to make them not trust us.”

“I already don’t, heretic.”

“And you’re a bigger idiot than she is for that.”

An unexpected voice emerged from the vegetation that would have forced Finch to proceed on foot had they continued forward. Chain’s reaction implied that would likely no longer be the case for the maid as her eyes absolutely shimmered with joy at the voice that was the same, as impossible as it was to believe at normal human volume, as the one that responded to her above. Turning to pinpoint the voice, Chain and the others laid eyes on a young, stock nāti man with dark wiry fur, eyes, and beak, garbed in a green trimmed white long coat over a black shirt and pants with black icaran boots. He held an engraved wooden staff that was taller than Chain who was taller than him. Crossing his arms, he made a mighty harrumph as he took in Chain with a smug expression on his face.

“So, a Foreigner infection made you younger looking and really didn’t kill you. It did seem to kill your modesty though as looking younger really emphasizes how you’ve still only a–

“Don’t you dare say anything about my figure, Squawk! You know how much I can’t stand that!”

Chain’s teary-eyed joy became childish indignation as she charged Squawk and locked the young nāti man in a harmless false headlock. Harmless as her lock was though, Squawk did not appreciate it and started shouting much to the chagrin of the nuns.

“What do you think you’re doing, you idiot I’m not some filthy person like a you! I’m a Pilgrim of Lady Atheaelde on a pilgrimage to restore her touch of life to the Face of Icarus.”

“Interacting with him makes our desire to save him and just see him so confusing. He is both loud and mean at once.”

“What was that, you idi… …ot?”

Squawk began by raising his voice in anger at Chain’s apparent teasing but as he realized that her voice came from in front of him, he began to trail off. Looking to see how Chain’s voice could have possibly done that when she managed to take his back to put him in a false headlock, he laid eyes on a naked, mermaid double of Chain who was only twice as long as Chain’s thumb and swimming through thin air. Seeing her he finished his statement quietly before shocking her and everyone else as he shouted in total disbelief.

“Why are there two of you now How is that even possible What did I possibly do to deserve having to deal with two of you

As loud and startled as Squawk was, his antics strangely managed to relax Chain. Releasing her false headlock, Chain let her arms drape limply over Squawk as she rested her forehead into the back of his head. It was an awkward spot Squawk found himself in and he was not for certain how to react. He was almost grateful he didn’t have to as Chain spoke, but the softness she talked with unnerved him in ways he couldn’t understand.

“A lot has happened to me Squawk. I can’t even remember all of it in order right now because I’ve been so broken in the head since the church tortured me and I woke up under that glowing tree.”

“What The church tortured you Why on the Face of Icarus would they do that Unless… You didn’t, did you

“Didn’t what our screeching nāti friend.”

Her curiosity piqued, Maye prodded Squawk to expand on what he implied. Squawk simply offered her a harrumph and turned his beak up at her.

“I’ve little idea who you are and care not.”

Gnashing her teeth, Maye was about ready to tear into Squawk, but Chain of all people kept the peace.

“It’s alright Squawk. You don’t have to be harsh to them. They don’t really know what happened and I’m fine with that. I’m fine with them just knowing me as the Sa·B·er Chain. The Chainmaid. The Chainmail Maiden.”

“You, a maiden? I always figured you would just turn into an overgrown girl you idiot. But if you’ve chosen a new name for yourself then it must be true that you’re a Sa·B·er. It’s hard to think our village’s unwilling future engineer craftsman is now one of the unfortunate souls tasked with protecting mankind from the Foreigners. What exactly happened to you, you idiot? And what happened to the other idiot and your pet? Don’t tell me they didn’t make it?”

“Heh heh… I wish I could say they’re fine, but I haven’t seen them since before I woke up under that glowing tree and Finch up in the Dolmen there found me. But it really was a lot that happened to me. When we get out of here I’ll have to tell you all about it. It’s a really long story.”

“One that is about to come to an end. Hehehehehe…”

As the smooth young man’s voice threatened Chain’s life, Squawk’s eyes widened and the five nuns’ asides from Finch and Maye joined them in looking down the path they had come down. Standing there with a black longsword that was only slightly more ornate then the cruciform sword Chain wielded, was a hulking, yet sleek mechanized black suit of icaran armor draped in a dark cloak under a poncho of similar hue. Whatever face the man within had was hidden behind his helmet that no light seemed to enter, even through the chevron shaped eye slot.

Facing the mechanized black knight, Chain pushed Squawk behind her and reached up and grabbed her sword hilt. As she did, her cape billowed about her and her scabbard disappeared within exposing the glistening steel blade of her sword. Bringing it around she leveled it at her challenger along with a question.

“What makes you so sure of that? Maybe I’m inexperienced like Drop says, but I’ve fended off any number of monsters, wiped out an army of bandits, and have held my own well enough against a pair of Sa·B·ers. I don’t see what type of threat you pose when I’ve got at least seven nuns with me who are all combat trained and one of them is even piloting a Dolmen.”

“No, you idiot…! That is no man. That is what has slaughtered everyone who has come here. I’ve little idea of how I’ve lasted this long…”

Chain’s confidence only made Squawk’s fear worse as her ignorance was on full display. But unlike the others who took heed of Squawk’s terrified words, Chain only paid her would be killer any heed and furrowed her brow as she glared him down with her massive eyes. Her questions and boasts though only served to amuse him and he began snickering sinisterly.

“Hehehehehe… You don’t understand at all. You are a Sa·B·er you say and will protect mankind from the ‘Foreigners’? But so many have already died that you have failed to protect. But I suppose that doesn’t matter to you. As long as you save those you deem in need in the moment it is enough to satisfy your ego. Though, if your ego needs stroked before you die, then know that you have already succeeded in saving these pitiful humans from a ‘Foreigner’. But that is only because I have waited here slaughtering dozens all so I could hunt and kill you, Child of Her Light.”

“You’re really not making any sense. But if you want to try fighting me I’ll gladly take you on.”

“You idiot! We don’t stand a chance! It would be better just to run!”

“And leave a ‘Foreigner’ unchallenged little one. I somehow doubt your precious Sa·B·er could ignore me so casually.”

Gritting his teeth as it was Chain’s would be killer who responded to his shouts, Squawk backed off and gripped his staff tightly. Unnerved as Maye was, she still turned her rifle onto the man before them.

“You may possess a fancy suit of armor, but a bullet between the eyes will still end you.”

“Hehehehehe… So naïve. But perhaps I should introduce myself. Sending my prey to their graves lacking the knowledge of why they died would be such a waste. You may call Zhenir.”

Taking a swooping bow, the man introduced himself at last. As he stood back up, he positioned his arms so that his sword point was against his left forearm.

“And yes, I am what you foolish humans call a ‘Foreigner’.”

Forcing the sword through his armor, copper blue blood dribbled down the length of the blade. But he was not satisfied with so little a demonstration.

“Hehehehehe… I can still see the doubt in your eyes, and I detest those who doubt my word. But as I have already told the Child of Her Light that she had saved you, I shall only harm myself to demonstrate. Hehehehehe…”

Without warning, Zhenir thrust his sword through his arm up to the hilt and a gout of copper blue blood splashed onto the ground. No one could take their eyes off of the sword and the blood it spilled, but Chain did not let that stop her from acting.

“No, you idiot! Run!”

Squawk reached out after her, but a Sa·B·er’s superhuman ability easily put the icaran maid well above the nāti. In a blink she was atop Zhenir, her sword prepared to decapitate him. Aggressive as Chain’s lunge was, she was not attacking without defending herself and bashed the pommel of her sword against the hilt of Zhenir’s. The strike accelerated Chain’s swing and forced Zhenir’s sword to only be able to travel along one arc. Her blade missed its mark however as he bent over backwards in a flash. In the same motion Zhenir drew his sword and swung through where Chain had been, an arc of blue blood trailing it. The blood still clinging to the blade did not all fall off so gracefully as Chain’s sword struck Zhenir’s accelerating the blade and forcing him into a spin. Having flipped over the Zhenir’s attack to dodge it, Chain landed and entered a spin of her own bringing her sword around and locking it against her opponent’s. Her arms trembling against the pressure, Chain still smiled as she addressed Zhenir.

“For an extinct people you sure seem pretty lively.”

“Oh? You do not deny my claim and claim me simply a man who was consumed?”

“There are two reasons why. One, no person whose blood turns blue isn’t a monster. And two, no one trying to take on an opponent they’ve never faced before would stab themselves like that to prove they’re not lying.”

“Hehehehehe… You honor me…”

“Chainmaid. I’m the Chainmaid.”

“A name I will not forget. It’s almost a shame you must die.”

“Yeah, a real shame.”


Chain’s cape suddenly flared out before reemerging in a geyser of black flame and Chain threw Zhenir back to his surprise. He was not the only one surprised as Squawk’s mouth fell open in disbelief.

“Just what exactly happened to that idiot to possess such strength

“It’s a long story as we’ve said, but right now we need to concentrate on defeating him.”

Drop answered Squawk’s question and invited the others to join in on battling the Foreigner. First they would have to catch up though as Chain and Zhenir were already putting a great deal of distance between them as their steel flashed in the dance of death they spun too. Maye and Finch would have less trouble than the others due to one having the lower half of a horse and the other piloting a Dolmen. Armed with her rifle, Maye opened fire and had her bullets deflected by both Chain and Zhenir’s swords. Gritting her teeth in irritation she proceeded to yell at Chain as she reloaded.

“Don’t deflect my bullets, heretic!”

“Then don’t shoot at me!”

“If you weren’t jumping about like a circus acrobat you wouldn’t get in my line of fire!”

“But that’s how I fight! Uwah

Just barely dodging Zhenir’s attack, Chain jumped back and took her sword firmly in both hands to prepare for his next attack.

“You’re growing distracted by your dishonorable companions Chainmaid.”

“And almost being killed too! With friends like them, why do I need you trying to kill me

“Indeed –

Zhenir’s response fell short as he noticed plant life coiling around his legs and in the distance heard Squawk chanting. Holding his staff with both hands as he thrust it into the ground, the young nāti surged with Nectar.

“~ Lady Atheaeldre, hear my prayer and call upon your heavenly sister.
Let your blossoms rise up in invitation.
Let your petals guide Celestia’s wrath.
Invite Lightning‼ ~”

Called by Squawk’s incantation and the Nectar he cast forth from his body, a bolt of lightning struck from the heaven’s above and engulfed Zhenir in a flash of light. The spell seemed to accomplish nothing but to scorch the earth around him while freeing him from the plants that held him. It seemed a completely wasted effort on Squawk’s part, but he did serve as an ample distraction and the bullet from the revolver priorly hidden within the right leg of Finch’s Dolmen struck him head on. The explosion of dust and debris from the impact sent Chain flying backwards with a surprised yelp and she tumbled away from where she collided with the ground. Within the Dolmen, Finch, garbed in a full body skinsuit that really was inappropriate for an icaran girl of ten springs to be seen wearing, watched the dust cloud in the illusory image that filled the cockpit and showed her full surroundings.

“Did I get him?”

The answer to her question came in a streak of dust erupting from the cloud and straight for Chain. Having to perform an impressive maneuver just to get to her feet and receive Zhenir’s attack with her sword, Chain was not prepared for his statement.

“It seems we will have to leave this battleground, Chainmaid.”

Unable to do more than keep herself from being slashed, Chain had to accept suddenly being thrown out over the abyss.

- Miss Chain‼ -

Her voice echoing out from her Dolmen’s external speakers, Finch did more than cry out. Piloting her Dolmen into a runner’s stance facing the abyss, she leapt out into it in Chain’s direction. To make life easier on herself and Finch, Chain dismissed her cape so that the drag would not make her flight path erratic. Much as Finch wanted to focus on catching Chain, her attention was divided as Zhenir also leapt out over the abyss. Reaching for Chain with her Dolmen’s left and firing at Zhenir with the revolver in her Dolmen’s left, Finch’s piloting skills appeared most impressive for a girl of only ten springs, especially as the recoil from her revolver propelled her that little bit more towards Chain. Unfortunately, Zhenir seemed impossibly skilled and vertically split the bullet in half with a single sword stroke. Even more impressively, before the bullet finished passing him and colliding with the walkway from which they leapt, Zhenir used it as a steppingstone to propel himself onto the Dolmen’s arm.

- Oh no… -

Exclaiming her horror, Finch watched powerlessly as Zhenir ran down her Dolmen’s arm at a speed that would allow him to reach its head before its arm could be lowered. It seemed likely that her Dolmen would soon lose its head but she had forgotten about Chain in her focus on Zhenir. Having grabbed the Dolmen’s outstretched fingers, the Chainmaid pulled herself onto the machine and met Zhenir at the back of the Dolmen’s neck. Their swords collided with a ring of steel that spared the head of Finch’s Dolmen and the machine seemed to sigh in relief with her. Chain meanwhile shook a finger disapprovingly at Zhenir.

“Uh-uh. I’m already in enough trouble for breaking this thing once. I can’t let it get broken again because of me.”

“Amusing.”

A one word response was the only dialogue Zhenir exchanged with Chain as he let his sword speak for him atop the Dolmen’s back. Chain was glad to exchange blows in a conversation of sword strikes, but atop the aerial Dolmen she was at the disadvantage. Regardless of who had the advantage, Finch’s voice was carried by the Dolmen’s speakers along with her easily ignored request.

- Don’t fight back there! -

Naturally Finch was ignored, but that did not particularly matter as they were fast approaching the opposite wall some distance further into the Abyss. She wanted to do something for Chain, but a single mistake would kill the maid fighting atop her Dolmen just as likely as her foe. Still, it was not going to be a soft landing.

- Miss Chain! Hold on! -

“Eh– To what

The twenty-five-meter-tall machine turned in the air and lifted its left arm to grab onto the outcroppings of the wall. It was unlikely that the wall as ancient as it was could hold the Dolmen’s weight and Finch began desperately working the instruments within the cockpit. In the hard to discern potbelly of the Dolmen, the Artificial Gate Generator hummed loudly as it was forced into an overclocked state. The Nectar build up was far greater than the Dolmen could hold, but Finch was well ahead of that problem and the steam motors that powered the joints jettisoned massive clouds that the Nectar was fed into. She couldn’t worry about scalding Chain as landing was just as important if she was to keep Chain alive. Rotating the Dolmen again as much as she could manage in midair, Finch succeeded in getting the machine to hit the wall feet first. A cloud of dust bloomed outward from the wall and the shock ran through the whole Dolmen dislodging Chain. Zhenir was more fortunate as he stabbed his sword into the armor of the Dolmen. He had no intention of letting a fall kill his prey however and he caught Chain’s hand as she fell. Chain could only express surprise as any gratitude she might have had was thrown away along with her. Turning his body in nearly a full spin, Zhenir hurled Chain past The Dolmen’s right arm and back inside Deep Root Colony as Finch grabbed onto the wall with the Dolmen’s left hand, the excess Nectar in the air serving to reinforce the wall to hold the Dolmen’s weight. With the Dolmen relatively secured, Zhenir ran out along its right arm. As he ran, he kicked several points along it forcing the arm to straighten out for him.

- Hey! Don’t break it! …Wait, leave Miss Chain alone too! -

As her Dolmen’s arm was already straightened, it took Finch little effort to aim at Zhenir as he jumped off in pursuit of Chain. She did not get the chance to fire though, for as Zhenir leapt, he spun and in a flash his sword severed the Dolmen’s gun hand midspan. Finch naturally panicked and started screaming in horror.

- Ah~‼ My hand! My hand! He cut of my hand! …Wait. It’s just the Dolmen’s hand! Ah~! But that means I’m stuck here until I can replace it. Ugh. The walls may be metal, but there’s so much vegetation it’ll take forever to convert the material. *Gulp* Miss Chain, please fend him off until either me or the others can catch up with… -

Faced with Zhenir, towering ominously before her, Chain wasn’t so sure if she could fulfil Finch’s request. Risking a quick glance down at her left hand which she had been rubbing the throbbing back of her head with, the bright red liquid that stained it reflected what little light made it that deep down. Smiling tensely as she looked back up at Zhenir, she managed to complain about her injury.

“That’s unfair. You drew first blood for both sides.”

“Does that bother you Chainmaid.”

“A little, yeah…”

Pouting, Chain again took her sword in both hands.

“But not nearly as much as you holding back. What was the point anyway? Does giving people false hope make you that happy.”

“Hehehehehe… Are you already admitting defeat Chainmaid?”

“Nah. I was just complaining because my head hurts and that blow didn’t help put anything in my head back together. Besides, I’ve been holding back too.”

“That you have Chainmaid. It would be a shame to kill you before seeing the Light that you possess.”

Forced to give it her all, Chain could have sworn that she was by herself going forward as she could barely see Finch’s Dolmen clinging onto the abyss wall from where she fought in the dark. Lit by the sparks of ringing steel Chain’s determined pout demonstrated her refusal to give in. Finch was in a similar life or death situation as her, a determined look upon her face as she thrust the end of her Dolmen’s handless right arm directly into the wall she clung to. Pulling down and out a plethora of holographic screens and keypads, she desperately entered commands while looking inside to where Chain and Zhenir fought. Chain was being thrown about with only her acrobatics keeping her in the fight.

“I really should have fought harder for those head mounted guns. Hold on Miss Chain…”

As worried as Finch was about Chain, above her, the five lead nuns of their expedition for the Lucifalz hidden within Deep Root Colony along with Squawk and Maye looked over the edge she had leapt from. The sight of Finch’s Dolmen clinging on so desperately moved Maye to cry out.

“Finch!”

She was about to gallop off but stopped as she watched Squawk walk up to the edge. Looking at her he smiled behind his beak with pride and fear both.

“That isn’t how you shout, idiot. I can demonstrate and perhaps buy that idiot below time to run.”

Watching Squawk take a deep breath, Maye’s eyes widened and she reached out a hand.

“Don’t! If you unleash that weapon now…”

Maye did not finish her sentence as she looked out at Finch’s Dolmen below. She did not have to finish as Squawk fully understood her reason and threw his hands up as he yelled at her.

“I understand you don’t want to lose the Dolmen pilot, but I don’t want to lose the idiot who didn’t listen to me and have to deal with her haunting me.”

“I doubt we would have reason to haunt you.”

Squawk nearly jumped as Chain’s voice came up behind him and he had to turn to realize it was Drop and not Chain. Irritably he yelled at the smaller version of the same person even if he didn’t quite realize it.

“Don’t sneak up on me you idiot! You frightened me half to death!”

“Well, that’s the state we we’ll be in if my larger self is not aided. Fortunately, I believe that the three of us can help each other out.”

“I am not so faithless that I would turn to you, devil.”

Even with Finch in danger and Chain’s life on the line, Maye could not put aside her disdain for spirits. Drop did not appreciate the centaur’s attitude at such a time and pouted as she thrust her fists down at her sides.

“Your faith is why you are being so blind! I told we are not wild ones or dark ones! Our song is one with the servants of the Children of Ocia! If you follow those joined by that human who once walked Ambrosia, then we are allies even beyond this current mess! So listen to me, please! We can help them if we stop fighting with each other!”

The target of Drop’s yelling may have been Maye, but she was right next to Squawk who ended up responding.

“I would appreciate it if you did not yell in my ear, you idiot.”

“You are going to complain about people yelling!”

“Yes, because unlike you I’m willing to listen.”

Maye’s mocking indignation was washed away in a second as Squawk shut her down with a stare. She was still highly emotional however and tried to argue with the young nāti man.

“You are a Pilgrim of Athealdre are you not Why would you listen to that devil

“Because the life of Lady Atheaeldre is supported by the Waters of Ocia, you fool! How many times must this idiot tell you that she is affiliated with Ocia before you understand It is obvious that the teachings of the Cardinal Church are not at all as accurate as we are led to believe, especially after this idiot’s mention of torture at their hands! Where is that legendary compassion that unifies all under the Saint’s Light Hmph‼ I’m done with you!”

Crossing his arms, Squawk turned his back on Maye and turned his full attention onto Drop who was smiling awkwardly.

“And what exactly is your problem? At least one of us here are listening to you.”

“Well… It’s just that I said we need all three of us.”

“You better start explaining fast you idiot!”

“Well, we are the same person, even if we are fragmented enough to be different people entirely it seems, but we are one person. That means if you cast support magic on me it’ll affect the me that is further away.”

“That sounds rather brilliant actually. So how does that make us need the centaur?”

“The effects will be better the closer we are, and we will likely need her speed to stand any chance of catching up.”

“Absurd! I’m too small to carry a person, even one as short as this here nāti. And I also lack the strength to do so because of my size.”

“But you carried us when you saved us from those two Sa·B·ers over a tenday ago.”

“That was–”

“We have heard enough Sister Maye.”

“Wha–?”

Surprising everyone, the five nuns who made up the lead party venturing into Deep Root Colony cut off Maye. Looking at their stern expressions with shock, Maye was unprepared for what they had to say.

“We are here to retrieve the Light in Lady Cardinal’s name. Your actions would deprive us of a Sa·B·er possessed of it–”

“What

Hearing the nuns say it, Squawk finally realized that Chain was possessed of Light. It should have set in sooner but not getting killed had taken over his thoughts. As a result, his shock kept him to one word to express his realization and he failed to further interrupt the nuns who kept talking as though he had.

“– As for your strength, we can supplement that with magic, and you know it.”

“We can also cast a few support spells on the spirit, but the pilgrim will need to maintain them if we are to save Daughter Finch and the Chainmaid.”

“Your disdain for spirits is becoming legendary aboard the Chapel Sister Maye, but to accomplish our mission you will have to swallow your pride for now.”

“But…”

Wanting to argue, but also save Finch, Maye looked out again at her helplessly dangling junior. She seemed to be stable enough for now, but an arrow of light emerging from a nearby opening in the wall caught her eye. Her heart sank knowing that such a fierce battle raged on and could dislodge the Dolmen at any time. With tears in her eyes and through gritted teeth she finally muttered her compliance.

“…fine… FINE‼”

Her muttering gave way to a teary-eyed shout and Maye snapped her head back onto the nuns, Squawk, and Drop. Yelling, her tone of voice made it clear that she was not pleased even as she understood that she had no choice.

“Do what you must! I will not and cannot jeopardize everyone’s lives for my pride and fear!”

The nuns were quick to get their spells in effect and Maye was soon off with Squawk upon her back with Drop resting in his hands. The spells upon her left her glowing brightly as Squawk kept his Ambrosial gate open, feeding a continuous supply of Nectar through his body into hers to sustain the spells. As close as they seemed, those spells did not have a strong effect on Chain, but she noticed them and their effects growing.

“Sorry about this, but looks like I’m cheating.”

Bloodied and battered, Chain’s bright-eyed smile seemed inappropriate behind the long bow of pure light she carried, an arrow of light notched to it with her sword held by the pommel in a reverse grip. She let fly the arrow and Zhenir dodged it easily and closed the distance between him and Chain in a blink.

“At this point it doesn’t matter Chainmaid. Your death is assured, though the light you wield seems only a sliver compared to what I sense from you.”

“Is that so? Sorry I can’t bring out more for you then. --”

As she apologized, Chain could hear the whispers that came from the Lucifalz, and for an instant could see the tree of Light fill her vision. Somewhere in that noise it was as though her voice from somewhere very far away was telling her how to. Much as she wanted to reach out for that power, she had more pressing matters at hand and used the top arm of her bow to block and push aside Zhenir’s sword. The motion allowed her to bring the lower arm around and swing into the Foreigner’s body. Zhenir easily dodged the attack by bending over backwards, not letting the surprise of Chain’s suddenly increased strength distract him. The motion freed his sword from Chain’s bow and he brought it back across where she had been, but Chain was already twirling in the air as it passed with several arrows notched at once. The arrows hit the ground as Zhenir overextended his swing to take him into a step that let him leap away. As he turned around his sword worked furiously to deflect all of the incoming arrows. Even before the last one reached him however, he noticed that the light of Chain’s bow was gone. With so little daylight reaching their current location from above the abyss his eyes were compromised forcing him to rely on instinct to dodge the arrow and block Chain’s attack.

“Hehehehehe… Wonderful Chainmaid! Even as weak as you are, with just a little increase in strength you were able to force me to take an instinctual movement. This is why I cherish my opportunities to hunt the Children of Her Light! They are leagues above the simple Light Touched and make the hunt thrilling!”

“Now you’re just getting creepy.”

Wearing a look of disgust, Chain put her sword to work, each strike, parry, and deflection possessed of greater speed and agility than the one before. It was not enough to overwhelm Zhenir at all and Chain felt like she was running out of options.

[Hrm… He’s so strong, and I’m not managing to push him back at all. Even these spells buffing me up aren’t helping. Am I going to have to cast magic to stand a chance? No! Drop said I couldn’t handle it in my current state and if I’m going to get more support from the spirits I need to find and defeat the Ambrosial Beast that’s causing them so much trouble. Oh! That’s it. The Ambrosial Beast.]

“Hey, you don’t think we can postpone this little death match for a bit, do you?”

“Are you scared to die Chainmaid?”

“Of course I am. If I die, I can’t do all of the wonderful things I want to, so letting you kill me just isn’t an option. It’s just… Nah, you’re not going to back off anyway.”

Dismissing her attempts to talk her way into having the opportunity to hunt down the Ambrosial Beast, Chain let a blocked strike from Zhenir push her out of range of an immediate follow up. Pulling her left hand free of her sword, she snapped her fingers and the distinctive ringing sound the motion made filled the air. The appearance of the small mote of light above her upturned palm put Zhenir on the defensive as he anticipated the return of the bow of Light Chain wielded. Chain was not aiming to summon her bow however and instead cut the light in two. The light coated her sword and in the same motion, passing it from right had to left and back again, she cut a circle into the ground around herself. Smiling brightly, she explained herself.

“But since you keep talking about hunting prey, you won’t mind if I spice things up a little, right?”

Releasing the summoned Nectar from her will, the floor beneath Chain’s feet gave way and she fell wherever her freshly cut hole took her. Laughter exploded from Zhenir and it took him a moment to compose himself.

“What manner of foolishness is this Chainmaid? What do you hope to accomplish by retreating deeper into this grave, this den of beasts? But what does it matter? As you say, I enjoy the hunt and appreciate your attempts to entertain me. Hehehehehe…”

Snickering in amusement to himself, Zhenir strode to the hole Chain left and dropped down. Despite his departure and the distance that Maye still had to cover if she ever hoped to catch up, the room did not stay empty for long. Finch noticed the two icaran men entering the room through the abyss side wall, the first one using a glowing blue blade as a zipline handle and the other flying through the air after the first entered as though he retracted himself along an invisible wire. Recognizing the two of them Finch paled within her Dolmen.

“What are they doing here…?”

The Mouser Brother’s had no answer to give Finch, though the reason for their arrival was obvious. The lack of Chain and her opponent annoyed Lute and he rested his giant boomerang of a blade on his shoulder as he bemoaned the situation.

“It would seem that we are still behind in this race brother.”

“It is nothing to worry about Lute. Even if we should let the others catch up, we both saw that it is a Foreigner the Chainmaid faces. As Sa·B·ers ourselves it is only natural that we slay it as we are sworn to.”

“You are of course right brother. And considering the distress signal from this place…”

“Exactly Lute, we have every right to be here, so let us flush out these troublesome mice.”

Smiling with a chilling manner, Pan and Lute jumped down into the hole Chain left behind.

Chain had no way of knowing that she had three different groups in pursuit of her. As she did not know or have any way of knowing, she instead focused on moving ahead as if she only had Zhenir to worry about. As he appeared to be a fairly straightforward hunter, taking the time to fight the monsters of ash and cinder that filled the deeper halls of Deep Root Colony was unnecessary. That they were also quickly becoming the only light source the deeper Chain progressed also gave precedence to not killing them.

“Heh heh. I feel like I’m not doing my job, but maybe just maybe they’ll make it harder to track me. But this creep seems to be able to track the Light inside of me.”

Looking down at her chest as she dodged monstrous dogs, bats, and even sword wielding humanoids, Chain tried to comprehend the Light. Her thoughts were blocked to her by a vision of a dragon of Darkness and the whispering of the Lucifalz became overwhelming.

“Ugh! Get of my head already! I can’t put my thoughts together with you in the way!”

Unable to think freely, Chain instead pressed on. The path of choice she settled on was based on the ebb and flow of the monsters, the idea being born of a memory where she had done the same before. There was a sense of helplessness at the end of that fragment of memory however and Chain did not want to linger on it. Fortunately for her, she soon found a distraction.

“Eh–

Blooming along the side of what was either once a doorframe or a collapsed wall was a single flower. What made it stand out to Chain though was that the petals were made entirely of fire. Cupping it in her left hand, her eyes shimmered as she looked upon the unique blossom.

“W~o~w! Is this because of the Ambrosial Beast or the Lucifalz. Ow–!”

Though there was no smoke, the petals were still flame and Chain’s chainmail absorbed the heat uncomfortably fast. Withdrawing her hand and trying to shake the heat away, Chain pouted as she looked around thoughtfully.

“The monsters seem to be avoiding it, so if I can find more, I might find the Ambrosial Beast!”

Excited and renewed, Chain took off again and noticed that the spells affecting her had grown stronger while she was observing the flower.

“That’s weird. I wonder what’s going o–

Chain’s failure to complete her sentence was due to the sight that awaited her as she found herself on yet another walkway along the abyss side wall of Deep Root Colony. That she could tell at all was because of the green light that filled the air illuminating the bottomless shaft. Walking as close to the edge as she dared, Chain looked up and her mouth fell open at the sight above her.

Exuding an ominous green light, the bottom end of a Foreigner city filled the abyss above her, red lights decorating the distant mechanized city. It was an unusual sight and even less believable due to the newness of the structure. It was known from observation that the cities of the Foreigners were in a state of disrepair due to the absence of their creators and were long since overgrown in vegetation. That they still followed the commands of the Poltergeists seemed a sick miracle, yet this city seemed brand new, red search lights sweeping the abyss below it. Fearing what might happen if those lights spotted her, Chain ducked behind a support column and peered out in hopes of maybe getting an idea of what the Foreigner city was looking for.

“I really hope it’s not me.”

Laughing at the possibility that the Foreigner city was looking for her, Chain took note of winged versions of the humanoid swordsmen she had seen wandering the halls of Deep Root Colony. They filled the sky along side the bats that she had been seeing as high up as the upper floors and she couldn’t help but wonder how she had missed them. Spinning around to the other side of the column as she dodged a search light, Chain looked down to see how far the monsters persisted and her eyes widened in amazement.

“That’s… W~o~w‼”

Down below, a tangle of massive tree branches filled the center of the abyss, lesser branches sprouting from them creating a canopy of foliage. The foliage was anything but normal as the trees were covered with flowers like cherry blossoms in bloom, except instead of the soft pink flowers it was a variation where the petals were made of fire. Watching the red searchlights sweep through the foliage Chain noted that there were no monsters that deep and smiled.

“I was right. In that case–”

Climbing up onto a pile of rubble and vegetation, Chain prepared to leap out into the abyss but instead jumped backwards. She barely evaded the giant spinning blade and was subsequently thrown back as a spark of Nectar reached its pommel and set off an explosion. Landing on her feet, Chain slid backwards and was afforded a clear view of Pan Mouser bursting out of the explosion born cloud. A flurry of parried strikes fell between the two before they locked blades and had a moment to exchange words.

“Not you two again! Can’t you see I’m busy

“Now, now Chainmaid. You should be grateful that Lute and I have come for you.”

“Eh.”

Pan could not help but smile at Chain’s disbelieving look, yet it was Lute who clarified as he stepped into view with his blade resting on his shoulder.

“Come now Chainmaid, don’t make that face. We’ve seen the danger your opponent presents to your life. You know full well our client wants you brought back alive and that we are your betters. It’s only natural that you should be glad to see us.”

“I’d rather take a chance with the Foreigner.”

“You disappoint me Chainmaid. Had you come with us willingly we could have promised you your good health. Now…”

As he spoke, Pan’s blade took on a blue glow. An instant later he thrust it forward, the light being expelled as a spear colliding with a wall further down the corridor. Chain was well ahead of the attack having ducked down to avoid it but found herself in a bad spot. There were only so many options she had available in her current position and she didn’t like any of them. She was too exposed to Pan’s counterattack options to risk a fatal blow and was glad she had summoned her cape in a dramatic gout of flames of darkness as she dropped. Spinning into a leg sweep, she slammed her leg into Pan’s opposite the edge. As she suspected, he was ridiculously strong and she had all of no give against him. She knew she could push beyond her normal limits by exploiting the spell that bolstered her, the effects increasing the longer she stayed still, but she did not want to play that ace up her sleeve against them yet. They were both Sa·B·ers and as sworn to protect the races of mankind from the Foreigners as she was. This made them particularly good distractions for Zhenir if he caught up before she escaped deeper into the abyss. Thus, her decision was to apply just enough strength to test Pan’s and to hook her foot to him as she sprung herself forward off her free hand. The motion worked exactly as she hoped, but it launched her right at Lute who stood casually with a smile on his face. Unlike Pan, who still had her cape blocking his line of sight, Lute could see Chain clearly. Putting on a pout of intense concentration, Chain pulled herself into a tight spin. Her momentum assured that she would be attacking from Lute’s left shoulder, opposite the one he rested his blade on, but as his sword was nearly his own height and the blade of Chain’s sword was only the same length as her leg, he held the advantage. Chain knew she only had one option, and it would likely be playing into the Mouser Brothers hands, but she committed to it just to try and reset her position in relation with them. Dismissing her cape as she spun, Chain chose to swing early, and well out of reach of Lute, but he saw through her intentions and brought his sword around to meet hers and hurled her back away from the edge and into a wall.

“Gah–

As ancient as the mechanized wall was, it was astoundingly sturdy and fully withstood Chain slamming into it back first. The energy of her collision rebound back through her and Chain cried out, her cry cut off by the blood she vomited.

“Now, now Chainmaid. Did you not hear brother? We want to take you back alive; we couldn’t possibly let you jump into that abyss.”

“*Ha~* *Ha~* …What part of that attack was taking me alive? That really hurt…”

“Exactly Chainmaid. Lute did not kill you, but I did say we could only guarantee your good health if you came willingly.”

Chain wanted to pout defiantly at the brothers who both stood with their weapons resting again on their shoulders, but another blob of blood rose out of her throat and she couldn’t stop herself from coughing it up. She wasn’t quite sure how she was still on her feet after that attack, but still wiped away the blood from her mouth with the back of her left hand. She was breathing heavy as she watched them and they both seemed to simply wait for her to take her next action.

What the Mouser Brothers didn’t realize was that Chain was growing stronger due to enhancement spells on Drop being channeled into her. Chain did not know the source of her bolstered strength either, or that the reason she was growing stronger was simply due to the distance between her and Drop shrinking. The source of her power buff was inconsequential at the moment, as it was becoming obvious that she was going to have to use it if she did not want to be defeated. Taking a deep breath to steady her breathing, Chain brought her sword towards her left hand. She did not take the weapon in a two-handed grip, instead raising the blade so that her left hand was in front of it. The Mouser Brothers both frowned with disappointment, with Pan narrowing his eyes while Lute sighed heavily.

“I advise you not to continue Chainmaid. Brother is not so kind as me to try and be merciful. If you don’t give up now, then you should be prepared to lose a limb or two.”

“That’s taking things a little far isn’t it?”

“We’d rather not waste any strength fighting you when it is likely we will still need to fight the Foreigner.”

“Can’t you just kill him first. I have something I’m really trying to do while I’m here and it’s kind of important.”

“The nuns can attend to any business left here Chainmaid. Our only concern is you and the Foreigner.”

With a chilling tone of voice, Pan interrupted Chain and Lute’s exchange. The tone of his voice nearly made Chain lower her sword and she had to force herself to keep a firm grip on it. As she did, she noticed she was shaking. She still wanted to buy a little more time though in hope that the magical enhancements she was receiving would grow even stronger and tried to argue her point with the elder Mouser brother.

“If you’re going to have to fight him, wouldn’t it be better to do so while you’re at full strength and without dragging me around

“You really don’t get it Chainmaid. If we have to knock you out, then you endanger all of us and risk compromising your chance to stay alive. If you simply follow us willingly though, you can defend yourself with us as your allies and all of us the better off for–”

“You can stop trying to convince her Lute. She was stalling.”

“What

Interrupted by Pan, Lute looked away from Chain and up the walkway they were on. Descending from the shadows was none other than Zhenir, his slow purposeful stride weighted with disappointment.

“And here I had hoped that you were laying a trap for me Chainmaid. When I sensed you join up with these two Light Touched… To see them attempting to waylay you disgusts me. Have you two no honor. To interrupt the hunt of another is an insult most grievous.”

“You’ll have to forgive brother and mine’s seeming lack of etiquette Master Foreigner, but you may want to familiarize yourself with the facts. You barged in on our hunt.”

Though he began with a flippant tone, Lute’s tone turned fiery as he accused Zhenir with interfering. Zhenir seemed simply amused and snickered as he seemed wont to.

“Hehehehehe… I see, we are two groups of hunters seeking the same prey.”

“Not quite Foreigner. We have reason to bring this prey back alive.”

Pan glared down Zhenir coolly as he lowered his weapon from his shoulder. Chain was not sure how to feel as she had hoped to use the Mouser Brothers to distract Zhenir. She did not expect the Foreigner to distract the Mouser Brothers. Regardless she was out of time and had to act. With a laugh, she smiled awkwardly at her situation.

“Not what I was buying time for, but I guess it doesn’t matter now. Here I go!”

With a snap of her fingers, Chain sprang into action. A distinctive ringing sound rang out and a small mote of light appeared in her left hand. In response Pan pulled back the hammer of the flintlock mechanism on the rifle butt of his saber and the blade took on a blue glow. His and Chain’s actions seemed in sync at first as he brought his sword around, but Chain surprised the Mouser Brothers as she split the mote of light in half by drawing her sword through it in an upward motion. The light of the mote disappeared as it coated the blade of Chain’s sword and she took it in both hands directly above her head. Smiling brightly, she took a half step forward.

“So, is everyone ready? You can’t all three come after me at once without getting in each other’s way. So, who is going to try and stop me?”

“Bold Chainmaid, taking advantage of this impasse.”

Giving Chain a sidelong glance, Pan coolly complimented her, his anger hidden behind his professionalism. Lute was less calm than his brother and he practically bristled with rage. Zhenir seemed unaffected by the scene playing out before him and seemed to have infinite patience. It was going to be on Chain to act and she was more than ready.

“Heh heh! I guess it’s ladies first then.”

“You are most assuredly not a lady!”

Lute’s proclamation ended up an exclamation to Chain finally taking action. Her sword came down hard and with blinding speed, the gathered Light being released as a wave of energy. She did not bring her sword straight down however, instead opting to bring it down in a swooping motion as she turned to face Zhenir. The wave did not travel fast enough to be a threat to the Foreigner, though it traveled fast enough to force him to dodge by bending over backwards. He did not linger in that pose for long, snapping back upwards with an arcing horizontal swing to his front. Chain was anticipating it as she charged Zhenir and was already mid twirling flip through the air above him. She was not the only one who charged the Foreigner, but Lute was less prepared for the telegraphed counterattack and had to block Zhenir’s sword. Naturally, Pan supplied the next step of his and Lute’s combination attacks and pulled the trigger releasing the blue light on his blade towards Zhenir’s unguarded side. Zhenir’s strength was every bit as superhuman as the Sa·B·ers, if not more so, and without breaking his lock with Lute, he stepped out of the way with the slightest of twists. This also put him in position to deal with Chain who was about to land before she could prepare a full attack. His attack of choice was a simple back hand to punctuate his dodge. The blow took Chain full in the face and she was sent flying with a stream of blood tracing her path. Despite the excruciating pain, she still smiled even with tears in her eyes. It was obvious why of course to the Mouser Brothers. She was careening right into the abyss with the Mouser Brothers in no position to stop her. Waving as she went, Chain made sure to offer a cheerful parting.

“Bye-bye!”

“And now I can deal with those competing with me for my prey.”

“No, I can deal with you. Lute, I leave the Chainmaid to you.”

“Of course, brother.”

Spurred on by Pan, Lute moved to pursue Chain regardless of Zhenir’s intentions. As he was directly holding his blade it took no time at all for the spark that signified the coming explosion to travel from his ring to the pommel of his sword. The explosion was as impressive an affair as ever and easily broke the sword lock Lute and Zhenir shared. Before Zhenir could recover Pan had slid into place between him and Lute, his sword blade glowing blue.

“Now Foreigner, see what it is to face a professional.”

Leaving Zhenir to Pan, Lute ran up to the edge of the abyss to see if he couldn’t spot Chain down below. An amused expression crossed his face as he spotted Chain using the monsters as steppingstones, with many a raging winged swordsman chasing after her. She made quick work of the monsters that caught up to her though and continued apace across the abyss and down towards the canopy of flame petaled flowers below. Shaking his head, Lute couldn’t help but laugh as he shrugged.

“You truly are amazing Chainmaid. Still, it is nothing I can’t account for.”

Leaping from the edge and into the abyss himself, Lute hurled his blade out and impaled a winged swordsman. Needing to lower himself quickly he did not pull himself to his blade, but instead swung down. A series of deft kicks kept any monsters that neared him at bay and when it was time for him to finally release his grip on the monster above him, a spark traveling up the unseen Ambrosial wire resulted in a spectacular detonation. That particular explosion however finally alerted Chain to his pursuit and she looked back with a pout.

“Why won’t they just leave me alone? Hrm~. I could use my bow, but I better concentrate on getting away. The drop off in the enhancement spells is really noticeable falling down this abyss.”

With her mind made up, Chain focused on her descent, every jump, grapple, and flip growing less impressive for a Sa·B·er as she descended. The difference was not lost on Lute who was catching her at a faster pace than she would like as his descent required far less effort. It took so little effort that he could afford to look back up the Abyss as he commented on the decrease in Chain’s magical enhancements.

“Could it be that someone is aiding her? ­– Wha-what

It was perhaps because he and Pan had been too focused on the hunt, or even that they attributed the unusual green light to the Foreigner, but as Lute looked back, he saw the Foreigner city that had seemingly descended into the abyss. Gritting his teeth, he denied what he was seeing.

“That’s impossible. The Foreigners­– No, that knight is unquestionably a Foreigner. The blue blood dripping from his arm… But if he has an entire city behind him why fight alone?”

Lute couldn’t come up with any answers that satisfied him. It seemed all the more likely that the Foreigner city was just an illusion and Lute treated it as such, turning his attention back onto his pursuit of Chain.

“She doesn’t seem particularly bothered by it, so it must be just an illusion. A useful one seeing as it distracted me. Now, just how far ahead of me has she gotten as a result?”

The answer to Lute’s question was quite far. Chain’s feet touched down on a large branch that was more than large enough to be a walkway, and it was covered by a sky full of flame petaled flowers below the Foreigner city. Chain wanted to celebrate her arrival, but her senses were completely overwhelmed by images of the same dragon that had been haunting her vision and the whispering of the Lucifalz. Clutching at her head, Chain fell to her knees unable to push out the images and whispers.

“Stop it… Get out of my head! Get out of my head! You’re too loud! I can’t think!  I can’t think!”

How much time passed as Chain yelled at the intruders of her senses was irrelevant to her. It was too the point that it was painful, and she couldn’t think at all. Rising to her feet was entirely due to sheer will power and instinct driving her towards her goal. There was perhaps anger as well driving her forward as her grip on her sword tightened. Taking an unsteady step in the direction the whispers seemed to be coming from, Chain gritted her teeth and threatened whatever it was that assailed her.

“Shut up… Shut up. Shut up! You’re too loud. Too Loud! Shut up or I’ll kill you!”

“That’s a different response than I would have expected from you in our short time together Chainmaid.”

Looking back with widened and stressed out eyes, Chain laid eyes on Lute who had caught up with her. The silver-eyed redhead smiled as Chain acknowledged his presence, but the look on her face wiped it away.

“What exactly is wrong with you Chainmaid. That expression is very unbecoming of a maid who has enthralled brother and I.”

Exhaling slowly, Chain lowered her sword to her side and clutched angrily at her left temple. Lute expected a nasty retort, but the strained words out of Chain’s mouth surprised him.

“…thank you…”

“Oh?”

“…it’s too loud… …I can’t hear you… …but, I saved my friend due to you… …thank you…”

“Well that was unexpected. But I must admit that I fail to hear what it is that has you so on– Wait.”

Lute failed to finish and demanded Chain to stop as she turned her back on him and started walking deeper into the tangle of branches they stood within. His demand for her to stop went as unheard as everything else he said, and a curious expression crossed his face.

“Could it be that she didn’t hear me when I first addressed, but rather that she sensed my presence? Curious. What could be distracting her so? It doesn’t matter, I guess. If it is of any importance it is for the client to deal with. I need simply retrieve her. ­–

As he spoke, Lute lowered his blade from his shoulder and readied to throw it. Distracted as he was by his own thoughts, he did not notice at first that the weight of his weapon was different. Looking down as he did finally notice, the Ambrosial wire between the gem in the ring on his finger and the pommel of his unique sword was clearly visible. Lifting up his weapon, Lute studied it with unbelieving eyes.

“What is this?”

Deep Root Colony ~ Lower Floors
Early Autumn ~ Early afternoon
Ash and cinder filled the air
The sinister glow providing a malicious ambience
The tearing of horseshoes upon ancient and overgrown metal floors
Three companions in desperate haste
Monsters all around seeking to end their journey  

“This is most unpleasant. Most unpleasant. I am surrounded by more monsters than I can reasonably aim at, no less have ammo to fire upon. I’ve been running at a full gallop nonstop with a nāti man whose shortness belies his weight. And I am cooperating with a she-devil for reasons I can barely wrap my head around.”

“Will you cease with the incessant whining! Do you think I want to be in this situation any more than you do I’m riding bareback in case you haven’t noticed while trying to maintain a constant flow of Nectar to a copy of an idiot I grew up with who I’m holding in my hands.”

“Exactly why I have been unable to do anything but run Master Pilgrim. I’m not large enough to have adults riding me like some beast of burden and yet here we are with me giving it all I have. Her Eminence be praised that the sisters who cast these enhancements on me were so skilled. Without their spells we would have never made it this far.”

“Instead of praising some fools who are not present, you should focus on catching us up with the idiot so we can both put this mess behind us.”

“I find I agree with you Master Pilgrim. Yet my heart demands that I bemoan my situation. I wonder why.”

“Are you not a nun yourself? What ever happened to the discipline of the Cardinal Church

“I take afront to that Master Pilgrim. Though perhaps you are right. Whatever possessed Mother Osprey to listen to a heretic is beyond me.”

“And now you are on that again! Absolutely unbelievable!”

“Please don’t throw me.”

As Squawk barely contained himself from throwing his arms up in the air, Drop was provided the opportunity to say something as she feared being tossed aside. Squawk did not take kindly to the suggestion that he was anything but careful.

“If you want me to throw you just ask this fool to be more reckless! She’s impressed me enough already with how every time I didn’t think she could be more reckless she has found a way to surprise me!”

“Are you implying something Master Pilgrim.”

“I’m not implying anything! I’m simply stating the facts.”

“If you don’t like the situation you could always get off my back.”

“Are you mad Do you even realize where we are

“Then I advise you leave any complaining to me Master Pilgrim.”

“Actually, it might be better now for you to be a little more reckless.”

“What

Asking in unison nearly set Maye and Squawk at each other again, but the absurdity of Drop’s statement kept them focused on the tiny mermaid version of Chain. That they were effectively speechless for even a hair of time though gave Drop the opportunity explain what she meant.

“It will be hard for you two to believe, but my human counterpart has just entered Ambrosia.”

“WHAT??‼”

For a second time Maye and Squawk spoke simultaneously, echoing their question, albeit far louder. Squawk was immeasurably louder than Maye however, and anything the centaur had to say was drowned out by the nāti’s disbelieving shouts.

“Entered Ambrosia Absolutely impossible‼ No one has ever set foot in Ambrosia save for the Sister Goddesses, Father Icarus, and the Saint, Lady Cardinal Herself‼”

Drop was not sure if she had the chance to, or if she was being unwise, and lowered her hands from her ears to attempt explaining.

“This part of us agrees with you, yet it is why we were able to meet ourselves before we became as one in our songs and self.”

“Are you claiming this is not the heretic’s first-time setting foot into Ambrosia.”

Maye was quicker to speak than Squawk for a change and slipped in her question. The pout that Drop dawned was not visible to the centaur, but it told Squawk more than he wanted to believe.

“It’s not a claim. We met ourselves in Ambrosia, and our human counterpart’s intrusion is what drew us to them in curiosity. It is as unheard of as you claim, yet we can do it, and if you are willing to be reckless and trust me, than we can take you two into Ambrosia as well.”

“And what would I have to do?”

“Are you MAD What do we really know of spirits, no less Ambrosia, to believe that we can so casually just walk in

“Are you not the one who told me to stop doubting everything that the she-devil has said Master Pilgrim?”

“Grk–‼”

The words to counter Maye seemed to have gotten stuck in Squawk’s throat and Maye allowed herself a satisfied smile. It was unbecoming of a nun, but she found the entire situation unbecoming as it was and was also in desperate need of an out. Even with the enhancement spells still surging through her, she could fell the strain against her muscles for pushing them so hard through an environment that her lower half was not built to traverse at such a pace, especially with a person larger than she could normally handle upon her back. Then there were the growing numbers of monsters and the shrinking selection of escape routes. Deciding there was no better time to put her faith in Drop, Maye restated her question while Squawk still choked on his retort.

“So again she-devil, what would I have to do?”

“Well…”

But a few moments after Maye asked for a second time, Squawk’s voice echoed all throughout Deep Root Colony and out into the dust covered sky above.

“ARE YOU MA~~~~~~~~~~D!!!!!”

Deep Root Colony ~ Fire Blossom Forest
Early Autumn ~ Early Afternoon, Clear and temperate
Above, a flying city from a time forgotten
The sky framed by flowers of flaming petals
A stifling peace
Along the path, a Darkness waiting
Unheard echoes weighing the air with dread and mystery  
 “This must be the influence of too much Nectar in the air. What could possibly be filling the world with so much Nectar, and in such a seemingly stable state?”

There were no answers to Lute’s questions, and he asked the wrong ones regardless. He failed to understand that he had entered Ambrosia due to the effects of the Lucifalz. Unlike the nuns of the Chapel who were prepared for the Lucifalz to disrupt reality in its presence, the younger Mouser Brother had no such knowledge or reason to have it. He was if anything though, a professional like his older brother and chose to focus on the task at hand.

“Whatever is going on, I need simply complete the job and capture the Chainmaid.”

Once more preparing to throw his blade, Lute set about the task before him. Then he sensed something coming from above.

“What? What

Looking up, Lute performed a fine double take as a giant ball of water was about to slam right into the branch he was following Chain on. He had no immediate way to dodge it either and was promptly washed right off the branch as the drop of water landed, all of its kinetic energy being released in a powerful wave as it allowed the three within to land safely. Swimming up into the air Drop looked around confused for a moment.

“Hm? Did we just wash something away?”

As there were no signs of anyone in the immediate area where they landed, Drop shrugged and then struck a victory pose.

“Success! Welcome to Ambrosia you two, though we seem to be in a pretty barren region… Eh?”

Drop noticed a little late that neither Maye nor Squawk was paying any attention to her. Squawk had dismounted Maye and was offering thanks to the goddess Atheaeldre for providing him the safety of her branches while Maye was staring up at the Foreigner city in the sky, her hearing likely damaged from Squawk’s screaming. The one person who was listening to her she did not see as Lute dangled under the branch they were on from the wire of his blade. He was intrigued by her claim of their location, however.

“Ambrosia? Is that possible?”

Curiosity and a need to confirm his current circumstances made Lute a very attentive listener to all that Drop had to say. As she first had to straighten out Maye and Squawk he would have to work harder than he wanted to glean anything useful out of their conversation.

“Will you two listen to me already!”

Growing visibly agitated, Drop was pouting fiercely as she held her arms straight at her sides with her hands balled into tight fists. Still, neither Maye nor Squawk seemed particularly receptive to her attempts to get their attention. In response Drop started trembling and growling beneath her breath. Her anger dissipated in an instant however as Maye asked a question that would need answered.

“Is that what it appears to be?”

“It is, but…”

Swimming up next to Maye’s head, Drop began to explain as she too set her eyes on the bottom of the Foreigner city in the monster filled abyss above.

“It is and it isn’t here. It’s like we’re seeing a distortion in time… maybe.”

“I see. No, it makes sense. We were warned that a Lucifalz as large as the one dwelling here would likely distort reality as we know it. It is likely then that this forest we find ourselves in is the same.”

Looking down at her immediate surroundings Maye received a headshake from Drop in response.

“No. this forest is a distortion of the powers that fill this place. The master of this domain has given it form by distorting everything that is within its reach and filled with Nectar.”

“Then this forest…”

Taking in her surroundings mid-sentence, Maye trailed off as she tried to put together the nature of the environment she found herself in. As her eyes made their way down, they settled on Squawk who was still bowing down again and again in praise of Atheaeldre. Seeing him allowed Maye to complete her thought and thus kept her from commenting on his pitiful display.

“This forest is born from the Ambrosial beast within corrupting the efforts of the Pilgrims of Ateaeldre to restore her gift to this land.”

“What

Snapping up at the mention of something that did not sit right with him at all, Squawk could barely contain his anger.

“That is correct.”

“I’ll kill it personally! How dare it defile Lady Atheaeldre’s gift!”

Drop’s confirmation was enough to set Squawk fully off and he sprang to his feet indignantly. Drop was glad to see him so raring to go and smiled awkwardly as she attempted to slow him down.

“I’m so glad to see you recovered after you were so disbelieving about how we jumped into the abyss.”

“Urk–!”

Squawk locked up at the mention of how they arrived at their current location. Playfully enjoying seeing Squawk do as she wanted, Drop clasped her hands behind her back and teased him just a little more.

“I didn’t think you would have it in you with the way you screamed all the way down.”

“Please don’t remind me she-devil. I do believe my ears are actually bleeding worse than the first time I heard him shout.”

Interrupting Drop, Maye reached up and gingerly touched her ears. A sticky feeling brought a disappointed look to her face and she pulled her hands away so she could look at the blood on her fingertips. Sighing heavily, she conceded to the obvious fact.

“Unquestionably it is worse.”

“Heh heh. Sorry.”

Drop tried to be sincere, but it was a surprisingly difficult task in light of how she found the damage Squawk’s shouting could cause both terrifying and absurd to the point of comedy. She was not completely merciless however and did consider their current situation and the knowledge that Maye and Squawk likely lacked.

“Anyway, before we go catch up with our human part, whose own ears are hurting because of the voices of the Lucifalz- Our human parts are not used to hearing the songs of the world and is in quite a bit of pain to the point that this part of us feels it -we must be cautious. Ambrosia, while similar to the human world in pockets like this in the edges, is a world of Nectar. The very same Nectar you summon when you use certain machines or open your Ambrosial Gates, which you must not do while we are here. If you open a gate to take Nectar out of Ambrosia you’ll remove yourself through the same Gate. Even if your Gate is large enough to fit your whole self through, we are currently over a really big hole with nothing to support us outside of Ambrosia.”

“Suddenly I’m feeling very glad that I’ve never been trained or had the talent to open my Gate.”

Looking quite pallid suddenly, Maye had all of no concerns admitting to her shortcomings in the fields of magic in this instance. Squawk was less accepting than Maye and looked bewildered at Drop.

“Then what am I supposed to do I rely on Nectar and my prayers to cast magic! How do you expect me to cast any spells and not be defenseless if I can’t risk opening my gate without throwing myself into the depths of this accursed abyss

“Hm? What do you mean?”

Tilting her head confused, Drop questioned Squawk’s concerns. His deadpan glare though told her that he really did not understand and that she would have to explain. It was befuddling to her and her head tilted even further to the side.

“We are in Ambrosia. Everything everywhere is Nectar except for your flesh and that what you brought with you. You need simply reach out for it with your will and make it do as you normally would. You just do not need to open your Gate. Even you could do it without training here.”

Turning from Squawk to Maye, Drop pointed out that she could easily familiarize herself with magic where they currently were. That was not all she suggested and offered Maye a unique opportunity.

“In fact, if you are really willing to learn, our human self can open your gate for you so you can become acquainted with the sensation.”

“What That idiot can do that Where did she pick up such an ability

Squawk cut off any response Maye could have made and drilled Drop for answers. Drop was confused again as she the memories that answered that question were distant and difficult to put together and she laughed nervously as she tried to make sense of them.

“It seems those memories are outside of us at this time, but I believe it is because of you.”

“What Me Preposterous! I lack the knowledge to any such– Unless of course…”

At first Squawk vehemently denied any involvement with Chain’s ability to open the Ambrosial Gates of others, but then he had a moment of realization. As much as he trailed off though, he did not calm down. An instant later his arms flew into the air and he was fully tearing into Chain.

“That idiot! She actually misunderstood that much! Only she could have pulled off so spectacular a feat of idiocy! Why exactly am I worried about her again She’s such an idiot she entered Ambrosia before, likely without even thinking in the least! She’s such an idiot, even if she died I doubt she would understand how that is supposed to work and just keep living! That absolute and colossal idiot! Where is she I need to give her a piece of my mind and maybe actually crack that thick skull of hers and see if any intelligence can actually get in there.”

“Well, if you’re ready I can lead you to her.”

“You better believe that I’m ready! Now stop wasting time and get going. If you don’t, I’ll be giving you a piece of my mind as well!”

“But you already are and are going to.”

“What was that

“N-n-nothing!”

Terrified of Squawk’s tone of voice, Drop began swimming through the air ahead to where they would find Chain. Maye simply shook her head as she sighed and rested her forehead in her hand.

“To think he could terrify even the she-devil so. Then again, did not the Foreigner also mention being tormented by his voice?”

“And what are you waiting for you fool There may not be any monsters here right now, but until we catch up with the idiot, you’re the one I’m relying on to keep me alive! Now move it!”

“Of course, Master Pilgrim.”

Maye could not help herself but smile and answer with a bit of sarcasm as she began to follow Squawk and Drop. She also found herself laughing at the irony of calling out Drop and Zhenir for their fear of Squawk’s voice when she was just as terrified. Her ears were still ringing from his screaming as she had leapt down into the abyss and were still trickling blood as well. She was strangely grateful that she was not dressed in her habit as her coif would likely be horribly stained with the blood and there would be no getting the stain out. It would be a horrible mistreatment of a holy garment. She could not help but ponder how well blood could be washed out of hair however as Chain would become the next target of Squawk’s terrifyingly destructive shouting.

“You idiot!”

Stumbling forward deeper into the forest canopy that she had landed in, Chain dragged her sword along the ground. The whispering of the Lucifalz and the image of the dragon of Darkness that filled her vision dulled her senses. She could not think for herself at all, her desire to put an end to the whispering driving her forward. Unfortunately, this meant that she did not hear Squawk at first and the nāti raised his voice indignantly.

“ARE YOU ACTUALLY HAVING THE GALL TO IGNORE ME I DON’T CARE HOW HARD IT IS FOR YOU TO FUNCTION RIGHT NOW, IF YOU DON’T WANT ME RAISING MY VOICE ANY LOUDER THEN YOU’D BETTER RESPOND YOU IDIOT‼”

Squawk’s voice was a powerful tool indeed, perhaps too powerful, as this time Chain heard it. It sounded distant to her through the whispers, but she could tell that it came from behind her and not from within the whispers. Turning around unable to believe that Squawk had made it to her current location, she saw him sure enough strike a gloating pose as Maye seemed impressed by him. Chain could not hear Maye at all over the whispering, but even focusing beyond the image of the dragon was a difficult task and Chain could barely stay standing. Her plight was lost on Maye and Squawk but Drop and her were one, so for the spirit it was an easy matter to understand. Drop did not settle for simple understanding however and swam through the air in a hurry to reach Chain. Chain looked at her confused as her double reached her and was about to say something but stopped as Drop grabbed her forehead as best as she could in relation to her size. With Chain’s forehead in her grip, Drop leaned her head and whole body back as far as she could. Chain recognized the action and panic set into her eyes. Before she could retreat or reach up to block her double, Drop lunged forward with all that she was and smashed her forehead into Chain’s. The cracking sound from the collision could be heard clearly by Maye and Squawk before they even came close to catching up with Drop and Chain. Maye winced in response and questioned Squawk about it as he showed no response while watching Chain fall to her knees clutching at her forehead.

“What exactly was that?”

“Nothing surprising considering this idiot. With a skull as thick as hers it’s no wonder we heard the collision back here. Though it does seem that the mini idiot has the advantage, seeing as she is able to apply that denseness to a more concentrated point. However, I have no intention of being distracted by this pitiable scene.”

Walking ahead of Maye, Squawk angrily placed his hands on his hips. As he reached Chain who was still coddling her forehead, He leaned in over her and raised his voice again.

“I HOPE YOU CAN HEAR ME NOW YOU IDIOT! AND YOU BETTER BE READY! I’VE AN EARFUL FOR YOU FOR THE SHEER IDIOCY THAT YOU’VE MANAGED SINCE I TAUGHT YOU ABOUT MAGIC!”

“Awawawawawawa~~~~~! Please don’t yell Squawk. I don’t know how, but I can hear again just fine.”

“Harrumph! Is that so

Harrumphing loudly, Squawk doubted Chain’s hearing even as she reached to protect her ears. Tears in her eyes she nodded in answer. Though she did not vocalize a response, her voice coming from Drop did continue the topic of Chain’s hearing.

“There is no need to worry. That part of us is hearing mostly normally again as this part of us has taken as much of the burden of hearing the songs of the world onto us as possible. Unlike that part, this part is much better accustomed to handling the noise of the Lucifalz as a result and can function just fine.”

“But did you have to headbutt me? My forehead really hurts now… And how did you get down here in the first place?”

“We jumped, though I have to say that you look the worse for wear heretic.”

“What do you expect? I’m an adventurer on an adventure so getting banged up is bound to happen!”

“ARE YOU ALL TRYING TO INTERRUPT ME

With Maye taking her turn in the conversation and Chain responding to her, Squawk had become all but forgotten it seemed. Raising his voice again was more than enough to make sure that did not persist and that they surely remembered he was there. With everyone’s attention again on him, Squawk returned to his intention of chewing out Chain.

“Ahem! I doubt an idiot like you has noticed, but we did not just jump, we used the principle born of your idiocy to enter Ambrosia! How you managed a feat that has not been achieved since the Saint Herself entered Ambrosia is beyond me, but it is to my understand that it is likely born of you completely failing to understand the fundamentals I taught you of magic! And then I hear that you can also likely open the Gates of others using the same principle!”

“Eh Really? I can do that?”

“We should be able to.”

“What do you mean should? Didn’t you not to long ago suggest having her open my Gate for me?”

Butting in again, Maye wore a frightening look as she expressed her displeasure. Drop smiled awkwardly and tried to answer both honestly and in a way that made it sound better than it was.

“Well, it seemed like it would make good practice.”

“Am I supposed to be your lab rat now?

“AHEM!”

Squawk clearing his throat froze everyone and the only movement they managed was to slowly turn to look at him. Chain managed to find the courage regardless to speak before he did, scratching her cheek with a nervous laugh as she did.

“I know you’re mad Squawk, but wouldn’t it be better to finish up here and leave before you yell at me some more? I mean, between all of the monsters, the two Sa·B·ers who are after me, and that Foreigner, not to mention the big monster I’m off to kill right now, this isn’t really the time or the place.”

The look Squawk gave Chain could have froze water, and at the very least froze her. Yet Squawk did not say anything, though the longer the silence persisted the angrier he seemed to get. Watching him was akin to watching the fuse on a bundle of dynamite and everyone got more and more nervous until finally Squawk exploded.

“IF IT’S SO IMPORTANT, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR YOU IDIOT??‼”

“Heh heh… Right. Let’s go!”

Springing to her feet, Chain started running ahead fearful of Squawk going off more. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to help as he just started shouting some more.

“First you say it’s dangerous and then you run off with out me! You idiot!”

Looking back to see Squawk, Maye, and Drop hurrying after her, Chain laughed and scratched at her cheek. Slowing down she allowed them catch up to her pace and laughed again.

“Sorry, and thanks for coming to get me.”

Looking back ahead of her, Chain furrowed her brow as she continued in a not so cheerful tone.

“I almost lost myself in those whispers.”

Narrowing his own eyes, Squawk demanded an answer.

“What are these whispers anyway?”

“The voices of the Lucifalz.”

Speaking for Chain, as she had clearer understanding of what was going on, Drop attempted to explain.

“They ring out like the songs of the world. To those who can’t observe the songs they make no noise, but to those sensitive to it they are deafening. To spirits who live within that song they are ignorable in their annoying discord, but for humans who are not used to it… Even then though they are weird. The whispers are so many voices, and within them we can hear our voice as well. So many echoes speaking things we should know like our fractured memories, but also teaching us things we should not know. The Lucifalz and its song make little sense to us.”

“Yet for as little sense as it makes, she-devil, I might understand your confusion. A Lucifalz as it grows begins to distort reality, so it seems of little surprise that even history is distorted around it. It would be best if we hurried and reclaimed its Light for the good of all.”

Maye’s words were humbling, yet there seemed little choice but to press on. Lute found all of the information he could glean from the group of utmost interest. Most if not all of it served no use in his current job, but it was unquestionable that the information would be invaluable for future work in a world twisted by the appearance of the Lucifalz. First though there was the matter of dealing with the current situation.

The forest canopy they ran through seemed without end at first, but it was more an illusion caused by the lack of monsters and the dread of what awaited them ahead. The canopy itself gave way to a cave, a sizeable tunnel that something extremely large could pass through, before they even realized it. The tunnel was long, but not so long that the other end and the light it held could not be seen. As they emerged beyond the tunnel, it was a scene as unusual as it was unsettling.

Above the sky, the greater and lesser moons, the Eyes of Icarus, looked down upon the Foreigner city that loomed over where the Forest canopy became as a giant nest. Save for the distant edges of the circular platform where their density was greater than even before, the flame petaled flowers were not present in the tremendous clearing. There were stray flower petals drifting on the wind that swirled about, but they were scarcely noticeable before the leafless tree that grew out of the center of the nest. Comprised entirely of Light, it stretched up and outward several dozen meters, covering a massive swath of the clearing. Stopping as they stepped under its branches, Maye breathed out in both amazement and disgust.

“Such a massive Lucifalz. I’ve never seen one so staggering in size.”

“I have… I think…”

Clutching at her forehead, Chain fell to her knees. The visions of a tree rising up from the face of Icarus to meet her so high in the sky. It was unlike anything she could comprehend, but the sight of a crimsoned-hued giant with wings of Darkness and a sword of Light faced her. There was something familiar about it, but she could not place it as the thoughts were pushed aside by the dragon of Darkness that plagued the space between. That Darkness threatened to swallow her, but her voice from a place both outside of herself and nearer than the Lucifalz provided her a way back.

“…don’t give in to the Lucifalz. The whispers are loud and distort everything we are. Please come back.”

Opening her eyes, Chain found herself on her back staring up at Drop, Maye, and Squawk. Relief washed over the three of them and Chain blinked confused. Sitting up she grabbed at her throbbing head.

“Thank goodness! We did not lose ourselves! We made it!”

Looking at the teary-eyed Drop, Chain smiled.

“I’m fine now, really.”

“I doubt that you idiot. The blood pouring out of your nose attests to a different tale.”

“Eh

Prompted by Squawk’s harsh words, Chain wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Staring at the back of it, there was no denying the large quantity of crimson liquid that streaked across her chainmail. With a smile, Chain rose to her feet and blew it off.

“I probably just reopened the injury I got when the Foreigner hit me in the face earlier.”

“Regardless heretic, it is probably best you leave the Lucifalz to me. Though it will be a challenge to reclaim so much Light without the others, it is unlikely they can even reach it to be of assistance. I am fully trained in the recovery of Light however and need only the time to perform the ritual. During that time you should rest and only take action should something appear which threatens its completion.”

“Like that?”

As Maye had been looking at Chain as she spoke and stepped forward, she did not see what it was the maid pointed to. It was a matter as simple as looking however, and she irritably sighed heavily at what she saw. Pulling her rifle from her back, she checked the cylinder for how much ammo she currently had loaded and then answered Chain.

“Yes, that would threaten the ritual.”

Lifting its head, the creature that lay beneath the Lucifalz turned its reptilian gaze onto Chain and the others. Flicking it’s snake like tongue in and out of its mouth, the creature rose and revealed that there were more reptilian features to it than just its eyes. The easiest way to describe the creature would be if an eagle had crossed with a snake and a bat. Though the bat-winged serpent with eagle like talons had even more defining features that set it apart. A mouth full of sword like teeth and a barb at the end of its tail dripping liquid fire. That and as it stood up, it’s body alone matched Finch’s Dolmen in size. Maye identified it for the others as she looked down her rifle at the monstrosity.

“Of all the places to encounter a wyvern.  Though, it’s scales seem more like bark…”

“Then this is the Ambrosial beast that has defiled Lady Atheaeldre’s gifts

“It looks like it.”

Providing a casual answer to Squawk’s question, Drop only seemed to fuel his anger at the creature’s existence.

“I swear, I really will kill it!”

“Not so fast Squawk.”

Though raring to have at it, Squawk’s readiness was put on hold as Chain put her hand between him and the wyvern. Looking up to assail her for daring to stop him, the sparkling eyes and enthusiastic smile on her face stayed his words. Chain was excited and there was no hiding it.

“Why don’t you leave this to me Squawk? I’m the Sa·B·er after all, and this seems like the perfect substitute to take out my frustration on because of the dragon I can’t get out of my head.”

“Can we beat it though?”

“Don’t worry Drop. I’m not half-baked and have a lot of stress to work through.”

“It doesn’t seem that way to me heretic. The smile on your face and the sparkle in your eyes looks more like you’re just excited fight it.”

“Hrm~! Is there anything wrong with that

Turning a pout onto Maye, Chain challenged her to stand against her enthusiasm. Much as she challenged her, she did not give her a chance to answer as her enthusiasm had already drowned out her sense of reason.

“I’m an adventurer, and I’m also a Sa·B·er so I can actually try and fight a big monster like this without a Dolmen. I want to give it a shot and see how I do.”

“Does the concept of dying not exist in that thick skull of yours, you idiot

“This coming from the young man who had to be stopped by her before charging it himself.”

Maye’s biting counter earned her a furious look from Squawk, but as he had no worthwhile argument, no words joined his look. Maye smiled, taking some small pleasure in her little victory and looked again towards their foe.

“Though I’ve heard of Sa·B·ers defeating monsters such as these without the use of Dolmen’s, but those tales reek of the embellishment of legends.”

“For a sister of the Cardinal Church, you have very little faith in the powers we possess that require Cardinal’s Light to save us from.”

The voice from behind them caused the whole group to spin about to see who had joined them and Chain and Drop both slumped their shoulders and groaned.

“Is that any response to show a fellow Sa·B·er, Chainmaid.”

“And who exactly is this idiot?”

“Exactly that Squawk. Him and his brother won’t leave me alone and I totally forgot he was here after you three showed up.”

“That’s so heartless of you Chainmaid.”

Lute Mouser’s smiling face did not seem to be the expression of one hurt by Chain’s words, and he causally approached the group. Maye leveling her rifle on him brought him to a stop, however.

“How unseemly for a Sister to point a gun at a Sa·B·er.”

“Don’t forget that I have already born witness to you attacking another Sa·B·er. You are barely more than a Rogue Sa·B·er yourself.”

“Oh, you mean that. It was all a misunderstanding really. You see, when brother and I were introduced to the Chainmaid, we were told that the cleansing ceremony had failed. That the Light of Cardinal faded out without ever touching her. As a result, her escape from the Cardinal Church fell on brother and I to rectify.”

“I can’t believe that you two would have followed her this far without once bearing witness to the Light this heretic possesses.”

“Tsk, tsk Sister. There is that lack of faith of yours again. But this seems the perfect opportunity to show me. After all, we have a wyvern bearing down on us and need to get out of the way.”

“WHAT

Risking turning their backs on Lute, Chain and company discovered he was not lying and barely had time to get out of the way as the wyvern lunged headfirst. Grabbing Squawk by the collar of his long coat, Chain took off in the opposite direction of Maye. As the centaur opened fire on the wood like carapace of the beast, she proved an apt distraction allowing Lute to engage in conversation as Squawk fought to keep his clothes from choking him.

“So, what do you say Chainmaid? With brother occupied with that Foreigner and me already here, does it not seem the perfect opportunity to try working together?”

“Last time you offered to work together I was supposed to give myself up to you two.”

Chain’s disbelieving pout earned a laugh from Lute and he waved his hand behind him. Following his gaze to the wyverns back, Chain pouted harder as he spoke.

“I am a sworn Sa·B·er in service of the Cardinal Church. I would never willingly harm a member of the church, and you know you stand a better chance at victory with my skill. Besides, there is something else I want right now. I can’t complete any of my jobs without it.”

“And what’s that?”

“A safe way out of Ambrosia. From what I understand, you are the only one here who knows how to leave safely.”

“Is that really all?”

“Don’t be mistaken Chainmaid, there are plenty of ways for my job involving you to end, but none of that maters if I am trapped here. That is unless you are so heartless as to abandon a man in Ambrosia.”

Chain slid to a halt and dropped Squawk unceremoniously. Gasping for breath, the young nāti man was about to start yelling but was cut off by Chain giving him an order.

“Squawk, Drop, support us.”

“A wise decision Chainmaid.”

Lute smiled pleasantly and Chain pouted furiously. She did not offer him any further arguments however and snapped the fingers of her left hand. In response the small sphere of Light that answered that summon appeared above her palm and she closed her hands around it. Squawk stared in amazement and disbelief as Chain’s bow of Light took form.

“My word you idiot! Did you just open an Ambrosial Gate in your hand and then convert it into Light? Your idiocy is beyond even my wildest imaginings!”

“Shut up Squawk. There may not be enough of this wyvern for me to take all of my bad mood out on.”

Spinning her sword into a reverse grip with just the pommel in the palm of her hand, Chain raised her bow and drew back an arrow of light. As her cape blew into being like a jet of fire like Darkness, Chain yelled at the wyvern.

“Hey! You big dumb lizard! Leave her alone! I’m the one you should be paying attention to!”

The first arrow flew, and then the second, third, fourth, and fifth with a repeated motion that was almost too fast for Squawk to notice happening. Lute whistled as he studied the Light held in Chain’s hand and turned his attention to the destination of the arrows to see how potent they were. The roaring of the wyvern as it reeled back, flames bursting out of its neck, spoke volumes of the lethality of Chain’s Light. Effective as Chain’s attack was though, the injury seemed only to injure the beast as it turned its attention away from the rather relieved Maye, to Chain.

“So even if you harm the exterior, a lethal blow seems unlikely with an internal body of fire.”

“It’s the nature of this domain’s master while it is here. Normally it must be removed from Ambrosia to slay it.”

Drop’s comments on the invincibility of their foe in response to Lute’s observation was not reassuring. Chain did not let it bother her and watched as the wyvern took to the air as she readied another arrow and asked a question.

“Hey, Drop, do you think you could dose those flames?”

“We could try, but the exterior is wood and would likely grow if exposed to Ambrosial water.”

“No wonder the other spirits ran then. Wood to push through the earth and hard enough to contain a raging inferno within that would consume any other flame. In that case, do you think you can at least protect us from its fire?”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Good, because it’s about to breathe”

“Oh!”

As Chain predicted, the wyvern finished gathering the energy within itself and belched forth a ball of destructive fire at her, Lute and Squawk. Squawk’s voice rising up over the raging flames and hissing steam that swirled around them told Chain that Drop was successful for now at least at fending off the flames and she listened to what Squawk had to say.

“NEXT TIME YOU IDIOT, LURE IT AWAY FROM ME‼”

“Don’t shout at me Squawk, shout at it. I bet you could probably knock it out of the air with your voice.”

“And risk it coming after me directly! Are you mad

“Well, I though it was a good idea.”

With a shrug, Chain disregarded Squawk and let arrow after arrow of Light loose into the sky as the flames cleared away. Each arrow found it’s mark in the wyvern’s delicate wing membranes and tore right through. The size of Chain’s arrows versus the size of her opponent however meant the holes were inconsequential to the monstrous beast and it did not fall from the sky. Chain pouted with disappointment without noticing that Squawk was already making a break for the cave. Squawk was not the only one on the move though as Lute took advantage of the distraction caused by Chain’s arrows to throw his own blade skyward, lodging it into the wyvern’s neck. The wyvern jerked in response and yanked Lute skyward, a motion he anticipated and leapt in time to the yank so he could rise above the wyvern. The wire between his ring and sword pommel growing lax as his jump reached its zenith, he prepared for the next part of his attack. With a smile he yanked on the wire to pull his sword towards him as several sparks of light raced down the wire. The resulting explosions and collision of forces somehow worked out with the wyvern’s neck being blown further skyward, allowing Lute to land on it near his sword. With another yank on the wire and more explosion inducing sparks, Lute ran opposite his sword along the wyvern’s neck drawing his weapon through its wooden flesh and leaving a flaming trail behind it. As he ran out of room to run, he simply jumped off. Swinging fiercely, he traced a path back around the wyvern and above it again before launching into the air above it once more. His sword came free as he rose and the wyvern’s head did the same, the decapitated beast falling out of the sky. Before it did though, Lute threw his blade one more time into the wyvern’s body. Then, with a spectacular display of his ability managed to swing and jump from the falling creature’s body so that he landed safely on the ground with his sword resting on his shoulder as the wyvern’s body hit the ground.

“Unbelievable… So that is the power of a Sa·B·er…”

Maye was dumbstruck as she watched the dust cloud that rose up around the fallen wyvern, and Squawk was no different from where he peaked out of the cave entrance. Chain was less impressed and pouted defiantly at Lute beside her.

“I bet I could have done that too.”

“Maybe you could have with the right tools and experience Chainmaid. Now though, we should finish up here–

Lute stopped short as the wyvern’s headless, flame spewing neck rose up, followed a moment latter by its body standing. Lowering its neck to where its head lay on the ground, the flames within joined and the creature was once more whole again. Straightening up and spreading its massive wings, the wyvern let out mighty roar. The roar summoned a flock of monsters into the sky that near blocked out the Eyes of Icarus and the Foreigner city above. Then the wyvern lowered its head and glared at Chain and Lute with flaming eyes.

“Heh heh… Well, this is bad…”

Victory disappeared under a sky of monsters of ash and cinder, a dark wind stirring flower petals of fire skyward. Below that sky Chain, Maye, Squawk, and Lute Mouser found themselves in a desperate battle to stay alive. For the two Sa·B·ers the monsters that would overcome Maye and Squawk were of little concern compared to the threat of the wyvern. Every injury they inflicted simply resulted in a gout of flame that fused shut the wooden carapace of the Ambrosial beast. Drop was hard pressed to swim safely through the battlefield providing protection from the flames as the five of them were pressed into trying battle. There was only so much that each of them could accomplish though, as Squawk only understood spell casting of one fashion and struggled to cast any spells within Ambrosia. Maye was limited in her ammo supplies and even less familiar with magic than Squawk to be able to accomplish much more than kicking the monsters that swarmed her with her hooves while using her rifle as a club. Even Lute found himself hard pressed as the Ambrosial wire of his weapon was far less effective within Ambrosia. But not one of them missed the ease with which Chain moved, or the Ambrosial Gate that she opened within Ambrosia with each snap of her fingers despite the risk of opening a gate at all within.

“She really is an idiot. If any of us tried to open a Gate….”

Squawk swallowed fiercely as he weighed the consequences of opening a Gate within Ambrosia and could only connect Chain’s ability to do so with her idiocy. Maye fared little better in understanding how Chain pulled it off, but she could barely focus on the dancing, flipping, acrobatic delivery of arrows of Light and powerful sword slashes carrying that Light. Lute could better watch her and knew the power she wielded was genuine. With one swing of her sword, she turned her bow into a blade of light that rent many a monster asunder and split the wyvern vainly in two. The beast naturally responded with a belch of flame that Drop had to save Chain from.

“We have to stop making it angry. Stopping these flames in this domain… If not for the wood, it would not be possible.”

“Then I just need to figure out how to kill it in one blow!”

Closing her eyes for a moment and moving by instinct, Chain tried to think but was again assailed by the image of the dragon of Darkness that filled the space between her thoughts. Opening her eyes, she pouted angrily and ran to buy herself some more time.

“Hrm~! It’s no good! I can’t think with that thing in my head.”

Snapping her fingers, Chain summoned her bow and leapt into the air, spinning and using monsters as steppingstones to climb higher. As she ascended, she loosed arrow after arrow, but for every monster she killed, two more seemed to take its place. The battle was not going the way she wanted it to, and she knew normally she would be getting legitimately angry instead of just frustrated. But like her thoughts, memories, and knowledge, her emotions were fragmented and unreliable in their appearances. Only the dragon of Darkness and the whispering of the Lucifalz were constants.

“That’s right, the tree. It may be loud, but I can hear my thoughts in it.”

“Wait! Don’t! We may desire knowledge, but we cannot hope to find what we seek within the Lucifalz.”

“But you can hear my voice in there to, can’t you?”

“We can, but…”

“Then help me find my voice in there. Let’s find my voice speaking the knowledge I need.”

Drop swam alongside Chain as best she could, looking on Chain’s massive eyes and pleading expression worriedly. She looked on the battlefield and the hopelessness of the battle and trembled. If there was a time to take risks, it was in that moment.

“Fine, but we pull out if we start to get overwhelmed.”

“Don’t worry, we’re just listening for me and any knowledge I have to win this fight.”

Nodding in confirmation, Drop and Chain turned their thoughts onto the Lucifalz. The whispering was overwhelming, and Chain fell to a knee, forcing Lute to have to come to her rescue.

“Chainmaid, are you alright?”

“I just need a moment.”

“I can buy you that much, but the nun and the pilgrim…”

“They’ll be fine…”

Chain could not afford to focus on anything else if she were to isolate her voice among the whispers of the Lucifalz. It was a difficult task though as when she did hear her voice it was either too fleeting or too alien in attitude and thought to grasp. She did not relent though and just started trying to listen no matter what they were saying in the hopes that she would hear what she needed to. Trying to prompt her voice amongst the whispers she spoke aloud what she needed.

“Magical theory, the relationship between wood and fire, and what can kill them both…”

“What are you saying Chainmaid?”

Overhearing Chain as he fought to keep her protected, Lute asked her what she meant but she did not hear him. Her voice within the Lucifalz’s whispers had taken to arguing with itself over what she focused on.

“Fire and wood shouldn’t be able to coexist. Fire burns wood as fuel.”

“But if the wood is strong enough it can resist the fire.”

“Such a weak fire though should be easily put out with a simple breeze or a splash of water.”

“Wood strong enough to resist fire will shrug off such a wind and water only strengthens wood.”

“Earth is no good either. Wood can strengthen itself from earth as well and can penetrate even the strongest of rocks.”

“Then the wood that is too strong even for fire has to be killed.”

“But what element is left that could pull that off.”

“Darkness…”

The word came to Chain ominously and seemed to cut her off from the whispers of the Lucifalz. Standing unsteadily, she took a step back and looked at the Lucifalz, remembering what she and Drop promised the spirits above.

“A Darkness to swallow even the greatest Light.”

“That isn’t a good idea.”

Drop could not contain her worry about the idea that Chain had, but Chain simply smiled.

“But it’s what we promised the spirits here, isn’t it? To protect them from the Light with a Darkness it can’t pierce.”

“For some reason I don’t like what you’re saying Chainmaid.”

“Heh heh! That’s fine. But­–”

“If you call upon Darkness now…”

Interrupting Chain’s dismissal of Lute, Drop again tried to warn against Chain’s train of thought. Lute found the spirit’s concerns pressing and queried of the urgency.

“Tell me Chainmaid, what is this Darkness you are referring to, and where will it come from? Is it perhaps related to that Gate you keep opening even when it would be unwise for the rest of to open our Gates?”

“It’s something like that. It’s like the power of the Foreigner that infected me. But all I should need is an incantation that makes sure I stay in control. That and a spell that is easier to control.”

Lifting up her sword, Chain looked at her reflection in the blade and smiled. Drop’s reaction was less enthusiastic by several degrees and she did not hold back her thoughts.

“We should not wake the Beast. The last time the Beast was awake–”

“It ate everything.”

The enthusiasm that Chain spoke with gave pause to Drop and Lute, but the Chainmaid smiled brightly with a twinkle in her eyes. Swiping away monster that got to close her she turned those shimmering eyes on Lute and Drop.

“It’s time to go, so gather everyone up by the Lucifalz and get ready to take us out of here Drop. I’ve got the incantation ready.”

“Do you have it ready or did you hear it from the Lucifalz?”

“Maybe a bit of both, but I’ve had enough of that thing whispering in my head and I’m going to get rid of it. I’m going to get rid of everything stopping me from piecing my thoughts together. Now go get the others, it’s time to leave.”

Not staying to continue arguing with herself, Chain bolted away from Drop and Lute and into the thick of the cloud of monsters as it had descended upon the nest the Lucifalz stood in. Sprinting at full speed with a smile on her face, she put her sword to lethal work, monsters of ash and cinder falling like autumn tree leaves in a gale. One monster in particular would not fall so easily as it stood like a mountain against the gale, and for it, Chain snapped her fingers and called up her bow. With the first arrow she earned the wyvern’s attention by shooting it in the neck. She did not loose her next arrow until after she leapt above the Ambrosial beast’s lunging bite, the arrow finding purchase in the back of the wyvern’s head. Rearing back in pain, the wyvern provided Chain a path back to the ground and dropping her bow she ran down it and cut through the wyvern’s body along with the bow as she ran down its back. The light coated sword easily cut through the wyvern’s wooden carapace and an eruption of fire traced Chain’s path down its back. Chain did not make her way directly to the ground though but made for the wyvern’s tail. The wyvern had no intention of letting Chain make for it and stabbed at her with the barbed tail. Chain simply smiled and leapt just in front of where the tail struck and stabbed her sword into it just behind the stinger. Twisting her sword to stop her leap, the wood splintered and cracked. The wyvern roared in response and whipped its tail back around to dislodge Chain who was glad to go. But she did not intend to leave without a prize and twisted her sword free with a powerful slash severing the stinger from the tail. Having chosen her dismount of the wyvern, Chain exploited her time in the air to summon her bow with another snap of her fingers and loosed a series of arrows of Light into the wound she cut down the beast’s back. The wyvern roared with pain and rage and whipped about to level its fiery glare onto Chain as she landed at the edge of the nest.

“That’s right, eyes on me.”

Smiling broadly, Chain saw the line of events before her were exactly what she wanted them to be. Moving into place behind the Lucifalz, Drop, Maye, Squawk, and Lute all looked in her direction with looks of worry, concern, incredulousness, and curiosity. With Lute with them though, Chain knew they would be safe under the branches of the Lucifalz and turned to the task she set for herself. Grabbing her cape, she pulled it tight against her and let it disappear, revealing her scabbard hanging from her sword strap that was wrapped around her hips. Sheathing her sword, she looked up at the wyvern that had begun wearily approaching her. She couldn’t ask for more perfect a situation and her eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Here. We. GO‼”

Holding both hands out in front of her with palms turned towards each other, Chain snapped the fingers of her left hand releasing the distinctive ringing sound that accompanied the motion. Between her palms the sphere of light her snap conjured swelled into being and she began her incantation.

“~ Darkness that falls as night”

With the beginnings of her incantation, the sphere of light became corrupted with Darkness and was soon transformed by it. As the sphere of light became a sphere of Darkness, Chain’s cape flared violently back into being as she continued her incantation.

“Hatred transcending ages
Passed from Foreigner to mankind
I call on your hunger to devour that which dares oppose me
Bind it to my purpose in the form of my greatest strength
Feed you with the flesh of my enemies
Sword of Darkness! ~”

Calling out the name of her incantation, Chain released the sphere of Darkness. In the same breath she took a step back with her right foot and drew her sword through the sphere. As her blade met the sphere, the Darkness became one with it, a snaking trail of Darkness writhing into the air lengthening the blade well beyond its tip. Taking her sword in both hands, Chain turned the tip behind her and squared up to face the wyvern, whose internal flames seemed to defy the color stealing properties of the sword she wielded. Chain simply smiled wider, and in response her sword of Darkness grew larger and larger behind her.

“It’s been a while since the Beast fed, so I hope you make a good meal.”

Deep Root Colony ~ Lower Levels
Early Autumn ~ Early Afternoon
Ancient mechanized halls bathed in green
Be it light or vegetation
Deep in the earth the abyss was as an overgrown grave
A killer of monsters versus a killer of man
Two reapers on the hunt at odds  
 “Whatever is the matter Foreigner? You’ve grown distracted.”

Pan Mouser narrowed his eyes as he cautiously glared at Zhenir. The Foreigner within the black mechanized armor had leapt back and gazed into the abyss from the walkway he battled Pan upon. Lit by the glow of the embers from the corpses of countless monsters that fell during the battle between the two hunters, he appeared almost lifeless. The laughter that emitted from him was made that much more unsettling as a result.

“Hehehehehe… You are a most skilled swordsman, human, but as a hunter you are perhaps lacking. Or it is perhaps me who is lacking,”

“I’m afraid I do not follow. However…”

Pulling the hammer on the matchlock mechanism of his rifle, Pan allowed the gathering of Nectar that turned his weapon’s blade a luminescent blue. Changing from one combat stance to another, he carefully gauged his opponent. They had been battling for minutes and neither of them had struck a decisive blow. Whatever it was that distracted Zhenir seemed to provide the opportunity for Pan to deliver one himself, but he was not so naïve. A single mistake would cost him his life. Zhenir however seemed done with their battle.

“You do not follow human as you do not sense the Light, and as of now neither do I sense the Light of my prey. If she has left, then my time here is over. Killing a fellow hunter and rival, no less a meager Light Touched after competing for the same Child of Her Light would be shameful consolation. No human, our battle ends here, and we resume our hunt once more. I do hope you will entertain me again in the future. Hehehehehe…”

Before Pan could act, Zhenir fell off the walkway and into the abyss. Sprinting up to the edge, Pan swung his weapon and pulled the trigger, releasing the blue light as an arc of energy that descended into the abyss. He did not seem to strike anything and allowed himself to look over the edge carefully. His eyes narrowed a he saw nothing but the bottomless darkness of the abyss that Deep Root Colony was built into. There was no sign of the Foreigner, and even the green light had vanished, the interior of the abyss now lit by the distant midday sun. Looking up, he saw the Dolmen that Finch piloted scanning the abyss from where it clung to the abyssal wall. He guessed correctly that Finch was likely calling out for Chain and Maye, but could not figure what it was that made them begin to evacuate from the abyss.

“Could it be…? It would seem it is time for me to leave as well. Let us see what you have accomplished Lute.”

Turning his back on the abyss, Pan began the long walk back to the surface.

Deep Root Colony ~ Fire Blossom Forest
Early Autumn ~ Early Afternoon, Clear, temperate
A great nest illuminated by the glow of a Lucifalz
A sky under the Eyes of Icarus dominated by a Foreigner City
Clouds of monsters as far as the eye could see
A wyvern of wooden carapace and flaming body within
The sword of Darkness that drained color from the world  

“What is that

The question was on everyone’s minds, but it was Maye who at last expressed it. Watching the slithering darkness that extended into the sky ominously behind Chain who held it, it seemed impossible to believe what she held was a sword. Fortunately for the group however, Drop and Chain were the same person so she could provide the answer to the question that paralyzed them as they looked beyond the Lucifalz.

“It is the Beast, or the Foreigner infection that makes us a Sa·b·er. It is unlike any Foreigner beast we know of though, and the Nectar we draw from it when we open its Gate is not normal either. It is nothing like the Nectar found on the surface of Ambrosia that mankind and monsters both normally call on. It is something dark and filled with a song of such malice…”

“And that idiot has gone and summoned something like that. Whatever was she thinking?”

“Can she control it however?”

Lute found Squawk’s question unimportant as he watched the violent writhing of the Darkness that served as the blade of Chain’s sword. Drop’s answer surprised him though and made his eyes widen.

“We are in complete control. What you are witnessing is little more than the tip of the Beast’s tongue. To consume everything we intend to consume though, it is more than enough.”

“Exactly what type of Foreigner parasite infected her?”

Lute did not bother trying to disguise his horror as he looked upon the sword that Chain held that was growing rapidly as the wind around her swirled wildly. Watching her so closely, he did not miss the moment she launched herself forward at the Wyvern to meet its own charge. The monsters that filled the space around the Lucifalz like a cloud parted before the two combatants and unwittingly allowed the death of their master. Without having to worry about the monsters, Chain was able to focus entirely on her strike. Grateful for the size of the wyvern, Chain swung at an upward angle allowing her to not endanger the others with the massive blade of Darkness. Seeing the Darkness cut through the wyvern like air, the other were just as grateful for Chain’s choice of strike. But where Chain was pleased with the effects of her attack, the others were horrified. As the Darkness passed through the wyvern, the fire within simply disappeared, absorbed by the Darkness. The wooden carapace of the beast followed as it first crumbled into worthless chunks before being sucked into the Darkness as though it were being pulled into an inescapable void. There could be little doubt that the wyvern had indeed been consumed. But Chain had one more target to feed to her sword of Darkness and took flying strides towards it.

“I hope you liked the appetizer, cause now it’s time for the main course!”

Feeling enthusiastic, Chain wore a brilliant smile of pure joy as she wielded the power to silence the whispering of the Lucifalz. Kicking off of the ground into a twirling flip, Chain soared skyward using the monsters that filled the sky to push her ascent higher and higher. Her twirling and flipping ascent served more purpose than just to get above the Lucifalz, as the ever-growing blade of Darkness affixed to her sword cut massive swaths through the clouds of monsters, consuming all who drew too close. Chain was not perfect however, and she cut the branches of the tree many times during her ascent. The tree did not fall so easily to Chain’s sword though, and Drop, Maye, Squawk, and Lute remained safe behind its trunk. As Chain finally managed to reach a height above the Lucifalz to her satisfaction, her intent changed from simply killing any monster that she happened to as she climbed up into the air. Having reached the position from which she intended to attack, Chain shouted out as the Darkness became as a crackling bolt of lightning.

“Drop! NOW‼”

“Everyone might want to hold their breath.”

Between Chain’s shout and Drop’s warning, Maye, Squawk, and Lute were able to spot Chain above but could not focus on her as a sphere of water engulfed them. So high above, Chain could not see them through the luminous branches of the Lucifalz. She did not care to however as she could sense Drop’s preparations and raised her sword above her head, banishing the Foreigner city in the sky. Holding her sword so aloft, Chain smiled as she looked down on the Lucifalz from the peak of her ascent.

“And now it’s time for you to stop whispering, and me to leave. Hya~~~~~!!!!!”

Marking the beginning of her descent with a shout, Chain arched her back and built up as much tension in her muscles as she could. Then she released that tension and pulled her sword down with all of her might, the crackling bolt of Darkness arcing about to meet the Lucifalz. As it met the tree of Light, reality itself seemed to bend and the tip of the sword shot into the sky beyond the point of sight. But neither Chain or the Darkness relented, and as Chain screamed the bolt of Darkness grew thicker and wilder. All around the base of the tree, further bolts of Darkness erupted from the ground it was rooted in and stretched off into the sky in all directions. Speeding past the bolts of Darkness a large sphere of water raced up through the branches of the Lucifalz even as the bolts began to converge. The Lucifalz could not resist the Darkness any further and began to crack and splinter as gouts of flaming Darkness erupted from it. Those trapped in the sphere of water watched on in breath holding terror as the Lucifalz was consumed and the Ambrosial world along with it. They too seemed to be consumed by Darkness but the Darkness vanished in an instant as Chain was absorbed into the sphere of water and it shot well above the dust storm that raged outside of Deep Root Colony.

“Hold on… just a… little more…”

Drop strained to keep the sphere of water together as she lowered it to the ground. For all of her effort though, it was too much and she passed out, the sphere of water popping like a bubble. The screams released by Maye and Squawk were cut short as they hit the ground, which was much closer than they realized resulting in any injuries stemming from overreaction. Lute was much more reserved however and landed as though there was no difference regardless the height he fell from. As he did, he caught Chain, who was as unconscious as Drop who fell onto her bosom, in a princess carry, making sure to support her so that her head fell forward. Chain’s sword slipping from her grip and clattering on the ground drew Maye and Squawk’s attention to the fact that they were alive. After a moment of stunned revelry, they spun about to demand answers of what had just happened but froze as they were hushed by Lute.

“Shh~. It would seem she spent everything she had to pull that off. Even her cape has vanished along with the rest of that Darkness.”

- What did you do to Miss Chain -

Booming across the external speakers of her Dolmen, Finch’s voice revealed that they were not unnoticed in their return to the surface. As the motes of gold and red light that marked the location of the spirits that waited for Chain to defeat the Lucifalz and Ambrosial beast began to swirl around her, the dust storm vanished revealing the azure sky above. The azure sky was not all that was revealed as Finch’s Dolmen came into full view towering over the group, as well as the Chapel and the full contingent of nuns tasked with reclaiming the Light of the Lucifalz.

“Would you believe me if I say I simply helped make sure she made it out of there alive?”

It was not a lie, and it was the only question that would be answered at that time despite how many there were. The whereabouts of the Foreigner that had assailed those who had ventured into Deep Root Colony up until Chain arrived. What it was that Chain was possessed by and the nature of the Darkness that she wielded. And what would come next for the Chainmaid and her desire for adventure. All that would have to wait, as despite sleeping soundly in the arms of one of her hunters, Chain was safe surrounded by the nuns of the Chapel. She would be afforded the rest she had earned after traveling so far to rescue her childhood friend, Squawk, and could face whatever awaited her after.

Encounters · End
Chain’s adventures will continue…


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