It started with a rumor.
A group of Nopon, self-proclaimed treasure hunters, had gone sailing off on a Titanship in search of any potential riches this new world had to offer. They were not the first ones to do so, but they were the first to come back with results.
Sailing off into the unknown, the group were about to call it quits when a sudden storm blew them way off course, and as the rain cleared, a mysterious landmass came into view.
The nopon claimed they couldn’t get any closer as a large green monster had “suddenly and very conveniently showed up and attacked.”
It would’ve been nothing more than a good story, something for Argentum’s salvagers to laugh at over a pint at the Rumbletum Canteen, had the treasure hunters not come back with a glittering green scale, stolen from the monster as proof of their discovery.
The treasure hunters were not shy about their brilliant find, and as more and more scientists tried and failed to identify anything about the origins of this scale, the trade guild erupted into a frenzy. Drivers and blades flocked to Argentum’s docks. Salvagers and merchants alike left in droves to cross the open waters. Everyone wanted to be the first person to officially set foot on this mysterious new continent.
“Ugh, are we there yet?”
“Mythra, if we were there, don’t you think we’d see something by now?” Nia huffed. This was the third time Mythra has asked today, and it wasn’t even the afternoon yet. The gormotti girl was starting to lose her patience.
To be fair, a lot of them were. They’d been traveling on Azurda’s back for days now, just one of the many groups out exploring the open ocean in the wake of the nopon treasure hunters’ discovery. When the news had reached all the way to Fonsett Village, Rex had been ecstatic, and without further preamble, the party had packed up and set sail (save for Morag and Zeke, who were far too busy to be making any journeys).
It had sounded like a good idea at the time. In the aftermath of Alrest joining with Elysium, a strange sense of normalcy had established itself within the party. Morag, Brighid, Zeke, and Pandoria returned to their respective nations to aid their people in settling into the new land. The others, with nowhere else to really go, settled with Rex in Fonsett village.
Living in such a quiet, secluded place was refreshing and relaxing; Nia loved being there, but even she had to admit that their lives had gotten a little stale. Sometimes the days would blend into each other, and sometimes Nia caught herself being nostalgic for the times they’d spent adventuring around Alrest, regardless of all the danger and heartache they’d gone through.
Perhaps that was why no one argued when Rex initially proposed they set out to find this “mystery land” he’d heard about from the Argentum salvagers.
But now, after a whole five days of nothing but ocean, the group was at their wit’s end. Poppi had made their job significantly easier by detecting the landmass two days into their journey (bless Tora and his inventive skills), but that just meant there was more time for the anticipation to eat at them.
“Oh come on, don’t act like you’re not wondering the same thing.” Mythra pouted.
Nia sighed in resignation, sitting down and leaning against Dromarch, who had busied himself with sunbathing. “That’s fair.” She grumbled, tilting her head towards the base of Azurda’s neck, where their makeshift bunker sat. “Hey, Poppi, how much further?”
The artificial blade turned towards them at the mention of her name, looking down at the group from her perch on top of Azurda’s head. “Poppi estimates there is still 50 miles until destination. Actually, at current speed, should be there in couple of hours.”
“Wait, for real?” Mythra perked up immediately. “Finally!”
Nia hummed in agreement. She was too embarrassed to show it herself, but the same kind of excitement bubbled in her chest. “What d’ya think we’ll find?”
Mythra smirked. “I want to find that ‘monster’ those hunters were talking about. I bet it looks cool as hell. How about you?”
Nia hummed in thought. She hadn’t really given it much insight, but the reality was starting to hit her. An entirely new continent, unexplored by anyone. The possibilities could be endless. “I dunno, actually.” She shrugged.
“Well, that’s boring.” Mythra said. “Pyra? Tora? How about you guys?” She called to the bunker.
The two of them had been busy with lunch preparations, but Tora turned around at the question. Apparently, he’d been listening the whole time. “Oh! Oh! Tora know!” The young nopon boy jumped with glee. “Want to find lots of delicious new foods. Maybe even parts to upgrade Poppi!”
“Poppi would love new upgrade!” The artificial blade’s voice called out. “Want new enhancement for ‘Tora-Punishment’ Mode.”
“What?! Why Poppi want that?” Tora sputtered.
Pyra chuckled at their antics, taking a break from stirring a boiling stewpot to turn back towards the rest of the group. “I think I’d like to find new kinds of food as well. It’d be fun to come up with some new recipes!” She smiled. “Azurda? Dromarch? What about you guys?”
“Hrm,” the ground beneath them rumbled gently as Azurda craned his neck to face everyone. “I want to know what, or who, this place is. Besides Elysium and the World Tree, I’ve never in all my years heard of a landmass that wasn’t a titan.”
“Good point.” Mythra frowned. “The rumors said this place wasn’t a stray Titan, but I don’t know what else it could possibly be.”
Nia shrugged. “Maybe it really is a Titan and those nopon just didn’t get a good look at it.”
From behind her, Dromarch stirred, ears twitching as he listened in on the conversation. “Perhaps. But this is an entirely new world we’re living in. There might be more to it than we initially thought.”
“Yeah…” Nia hummed. “Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
“The food’s ready!” Pyra called from the bunker. “Can someone call Rex back and tell him?”
“On it,” Mythra said, making her way to Azurda’s lower back, where Rex’s salvaging gear was located. She stepped onto the platform and gave the wire tethering Rex two sharp tugs.
A few moments later, Rex’s signature helmet broke the surface of the water, the boy pulling himself back onto Azurda and lifting his helmet off. “You guys, look what I found!” He beamed, grabbing for the wiring of his gear and pulling. The group gathered around, eager to see what Rex had discovered.
Yet all that came up was a ragged piece of metal.
“Seriously?” Nia sniffed. “It just looks like a hunk of junk to me.”
Rex shrugged. “Guess you don’t have an eye for this stuff, then.” Gently, he untangled the piece of metal from the salvaging equipment, laying it out flat on Azurda’s back. From this angle, it caught the light a little better, and the group could see what appeared to be a sheet of some sort of black, metallic substance. Faint yellowed lines ran through the panels of the sheet, giving off the eerie appearance of veins.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Rex grinned. “We really are in brand new territory!”
After lunch had been eaten and cleaned up, the group had settled into a game of Castle Poker. They were just about to start their second round when Azurda craned his neck once more, “Everyone, come take a look.” He motioned with his head.
All thoughts of the game had been abandoned, as the group rushed to climb onto Azurda’s head and neck to get a better view of what laid before them.
“Oh, wow.” Pyra gasped.
Peeking out from the horizon was what appeared to be a massive piece of land, rocks covered in greenery jutting out of the water at odd angles. Strangely enough, it looked half-submerged, the tallest cliffs bearing an uncanny resemblance to claws. It was as if the land had, indeed, once been a titan, a hand reaching upwards in a desperate attempt to escape an unsavory fate.
Some thousand feet above the landmass, however, was an even more amazing sight. Another massive stretch of land sat perched in the sky, almost incredulously. It defied all sense of physics, yet it seemed to float there with no problem whatsoever.
There was a long silence, the group trying to process everything that they were seeing.
“W-what amazing view!” Tora stuttered, flapping his wings and jumping in the air. “Tora cannot believe this place real!”
“I couldn’t have said it better.” Rex breathed, his eyes fixated on the hovering landmass in front of them. Excitement sparkled in his eyes. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go check it out!”
Pyra shook her head. “Where do we even start, though? This place is huge!”
“How about up there?” Mythra pointed to the floating island. “It looks relatively safer than those cliffs. Plus, I’ve had enough of all this water for a while.”
“Oh, good idea!” Rex nodded. “Think you can do it, Gramps?”
“Leave it to me.” Azura said, raising his wings out from the water and giving them a test flap. Water splashed everywhere, and the rest of the group had to retreat into the bunker to keep from getting drenched.
Higher and higher they climbed into the air, until Rex was brave enough to peek his head out from the bunker. “How’s it looking?” He shouted at Azurda.
“Come take a look!” The titan called back, straightening his back so that the rest of the group would have more space to walk. Immediately, everyone piled back outside, eager to get more glimpse of this mysterious new land.
After a while, they finally reached the same level as the landmass, yet Azurda slowed in his progress. “What is that?” He frowned.
Rex overheard the titan’s mumbling and climbed closer to Azurda. “What’s what?” The boy said, peering out towards the horizon. “Whoa!”
“Rex?” Pyra called. “Everything alright?”
“You guys, take a look at this!”
The group climbed back on top of Azurda’s head, much to the titan’s chagrin.
On the horizon laid the top of the landmass; a wide, beautiful stretch of grass not unlike Gormott’s famous plains. Cliffs stretched in every direction, waterfalls cascaded into lakes and rivers carved through the land. Just as the nopon hunters had described, they could spot several large green creatures in the distance, gliding through the air above.
Most noticeably, however, was the gigantic structure hovering just over the edge on the other side. It’s sleek, metallic appearance was in stark contrast to the natural landscaping around it, making it incredibly easy to spot.
“What is that?” Nia gaped.
Mythra frowned and squinted at the structure, trying to get a better sight. “It looks… manmade.”
“How is this possible?” Dromarch asked. “Everything and everyone was brought to Elysium by the Architect.”
“We don’t know that for sure, though.” Pyra furrowed her brows, mulling over the other blade’s words. “What if that landmass below was once a titan, and when we all moved to Elysium, it couldn’t make it far enough to fuse with the land and died?” She mused.
“Okay, but then why has no one ever heard of this place before until now?” Nia said.
“If people live here, why not just go and ask?” Tora’s voice piped up, the nopon looking quite pleased with himself at finding such a simple solution.
Rex nodded towards the smaller boy. “Oh yeah, good idea!”
“What?” Nia sputtered. “No! That’s a horrible idea! We have no idea what we’re dealing with out here, Rex! Even if there are people, how do we know they’re friendly? What if they attack as soon as they see us?”
“Then I’ll just scorch them, duh.” Mythra joked, playfully nudging Nia.
Pyra shifted uncomfortably. “I think I’m with Nia on this one. We shouldn’t rush into this without some sort of plan.”
Rex bit his lip. “Ehh, I guess you’re right.” He said reluctantly.
“I’ll find us a place to land away from that structure, then.” Azurda said. “The rest of you should get yourselves ready.”
Melia stopped her stroll through the halls of the Imperial Palace, turning around to face the source of the voice. “Maxis?”
The high entia commander stood before her, his face twisted with worry. Her mood immediately soured. She hadn’t seen him like this since the incident with the Fog King. It had only been three months since they’d reclaimed the capital, and her subsequent coronation. The rebuilding effort, while making significant headway, was still not complete. Whatever Maxis’ business was, she sincerely hoped it wasn’t dangerous. “Is something the matter?”
Maxis nodded. “I’ve just received a report that the capital’s defenses have detected an unknown flying vessel approaching Alcamoth. No one can identify what it is.”
“A flying vessel…?” Melia trailed off, her mind racing with possibilities. Was this another attack?!
“See for yourself.” Maxis said, reaching behind him to pull out a grainy image display and handing it over to Melia.
The princess took it graciously, her eyes eagerly scanning for details.
Disturbingly enough, she couldn’t identify what was in the photo either. She initially hoped it had been the possibility of the machina developing a new type of ship; but that idea was quickly thrown out the window once she realized the soldiers could easily recognize a machina-made ship. That, and the form didn’t look mechanical at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. The closer Melia examined the image, the more details she could make out. Wings, a long neck, a horned head. It almost looked like a living being, and if it had a greener color Melia might have mistaken it for a new kind of telethia.
She handed the photo back to Maxis. “I’ve never seen anything like this, either.”
Maxis frowned. “What should we do, then?”
Melia paused for a moment, considering her options. So far, they had no further information to go off of than the mysterious photograph. Yet whatever it was, it couldn’t simply be ignored. If this did, in fact, prove to be a threat, it was Melia’s duty to eliminate it before it could cause any serious harm.
“Track the vessel from the skies and dispatch a squadron to Soltnar Seal Island. If it lands on the shoulder, I want them to find it and investigate.”
A fair distance into flying over the land, and Azurda had found a lake to situate himself in. It was a fair distance from the metal structure, and the lake provided a good spot for Azurda to easily take off from, should the need arise.
The titan landed on the lake without any complications, settling himself into the center. “Alright, we’re here.” He announced. “Do you all have a plan ready?”
“Thanks, Gramps!” Rex smiled up at the titan. He took a moment to readjust the hookshot on his sleeve, then slung a brown rucksack over his shoulder. Beside him, everyone else was making similar preparations, with Pyra and Dromarch packing last minute snacks and Tora fussing over Poppi. “And yeah. We’re gonna start by having a quick look around the area to make sure it’s safe. Mythra volunteered to start drawing a map.” He motioned towards the girl in question, who was busying herself with scribbling on a spare sheet of paper. “We’ll come back in an hour to give you an update!”
“Alright.” Azurda hummed his approval, floating closer towards the lake’s shore to allow his passengers to get off. “Be careful, all of you.”
One by one, the group jumped from Azurda’s back and climbed onto the shore. Pyra was the last to jump off, turning back to wave to the titan. “We will! You be careful too, Azurda.” She smiled.
The titan nodded, turning around to swim closer to the lake’s center. Nia, meanwhile, had taken to scanning the immediate area. “Okay, where to first?” She said.
“Over here!” Poppi flapped her arm, pointing to the left of the shore. “Poppi see something!”
Several heads craned to look at what she was talking about. A few yards in front of them was a shallow river that was being fed by the lake, but beyond that was what appeared to be a tunnel, closed off by a wooden gate.
“A gate.” Dromarch pondered aloud. “So there are people living here, after all.”
“I think we should go find them, then.” Rex said.
Nia frowned, crossing her arms in front of her. “We just went over this, Rex. It’s too dangerous. If no one on Alrest has ever seen this place before, that means these people have never seen us before, either. What if they see us as a threat and attack?”
“But what if they’re friendly?” Rex argued. “Maybe they could help us figure out what this place is and how it got here. It wouldn’t hurt to at least try.”
A wave of silence hung over the group, each person contemplating the options. “Let’s take a vote then.” Pyra suggested. “All in favor of Rex’s plan?”
Mythra and Tora put their hands up. Poppi followed Tora’s lead shortly after.
“Oh come on, that’s not fair.” Nia grumbled. Her ears turned downwards in dissatisfaction.
Mythra put a hand on her hip, smiling at Nia. “It’ll be fine, did you forget how strong we all are? We can handle ourselves if a fight breaks out.”
The gormotti girl didn’t seem quite convinced, giving a resignated sigh. “Fine, but if we run into a nasty situation, I’m blaming it on you.”
Without further delay, the group set out from the lake shore. It didn’t take them long to cross the river and open up the gate; thankfully, it wasn’t locked.
The cavernous pass let the group out onto an open plain, orange-colored grass growing wildly and swaying in the breeze. A worn dirt path cut through the center, leading off into the direction of the floating metallic structure.
“Looks like we’re getting closer to that structure.” Pyra mused. Her eyes had been practically glued to the thing from the moment they set out, and the closer they got the more details the team had been able to make out.
What had initially appeared to be a large, towered dome was actually a conglomeration of several smaller, oval-like structures, clinging to something in the middle that looked suspiciously like a building.
“Yeah…” Nia frowned. She didn’t quite like the look of it. Compared to their more natural surroundings, the buildings stuck out quite strikingly. Along with the way it seemed to float so naturally in the air, the whole sight gave off such a strange, otherworldly feeling. The gormotti girl couldn’t help but be reminded of the World Tree; a place haunted by death and forgotten secrets.
“Hey, wait. Look over there.” Mythra said, pointing to a spot further in front of them. The path had led them through the fields and onwards to a cliff face. Peeking just beyond the other side of the cliff, one could see another small island. Another building was resting there, and it bore a striking resemblance to the mysterious floating structure.
The group paused to gaze out at the scene, trying to figure out what it was and what to do with this new information. They barely heard the sound of approaching footsteps and the clinking of armor.
“Stop!” A voice called out.
Immediately, the others spun around. Standing in front of them were about a dozen of what they could only assume were the native people they were looking for. Yet their faces were concealed by masks, and in their arms were rapiers and large shields. On the tops of their heads were brilliant white wings, unlike anything anyone had ever see before. Were they part of the helmets? Were these people blades of some kind?
Tora squeaked in alarm, fumbling for his drill-shield. Nia had already drawn her rings, body tensed and ready to attack.
Rex’s first instinct was the same, a hand reaching for the bright red blade nestled behind his back. He paused, hand resting on the hilt, when he realized no one had started attacking yet. That was a good sign, right?
The boy took it as an opportunity, releasing his grip on his sword and lifting his hands in the air in a gesture of peace. “Wait! We didn’t come here for a fight!” He said quickly. “We’re just curious, is all!” Rex nodded towards Nia and Tora, the nopon nodding and putting his weapon away. Nia growled lowly and reluctantly did the same.
Across from them, the strangers did not make a move to put away their own weapons. In fact, they hardly moved at all. Rex could feel himself starting to shrivel under their gaze; which was ironic, considering he couldn’t see their faces at all. Yet still they did not attack, so the driver decided to take that as a victory.
Finally, one of the people stepped forward from the crowd. “Who…” the figure stole a glance at Poppi and Dromarch. “or what are you? Where did you come from?” A male voice spoke, commanding and intimidating.
Rex tried to swallow any doubt that had been growing in his mind and took a step forward. He smiled. “My name’s Rex.” Keeping his arms in the air, he gestured vaguely towards the rest of the group. “These are all my friends. We’re from a land called Alrest.”
“Alrest?” The figure spoke incredulously. “I’ve never heard of such a place.”
“Yeah, well, we’ve never heard of this area before, so I guess it goes both ways.” Mythra stated.
The figure paused, then shook his head. “No. That’s not possible…”
“Huh?” Nia said.
A long silence was her answer. The man in front of them was motionless. Since his face was covered by a mask, the group could only guess as to what he was thinking.
Finally, he spoke up once more. “Why have you come here?”
Rex furrowed his brows. “Just for the sake of it, I suppose.” He shrugged. “We heard all these rumors in Argentum about a new land discovered by this group of nopon. So, we thought it’d be fun to see if we could find it.”
There was a stressful pause as the figure seemed to process the words. Yet, as he did, he eventually lowered his weapon. The figures behind him shared a few looks, then reluctantly did the same.
“Well. Rex, was it?” He said. “I’m sorry, but we cannot allow you and your friends to have free reign over the Shoulder.”
“Huh?” Rex said quizzically. “… Did you say ‘shoulder’? Is that was this place is called, then?”
The figure didn’t deign to answer him. Instead, he kept talking. “We will escort you to Alcamoth.” Rather than a suggestion, it was worded as a command. “I would have you speak to the Empress.”