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The Tides of Armoroad

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The tan, black haired prince pants beside you as blood stains his face and armor. The warrior doubles over, gasping for air as blood flows from wounds you can’t see. Your longtime friend, the healer of the group, lies dead some ways away. His red-orange jacket is torn and dirtied. You can’t see his face; you don’t want to. Your blonde friend from the north is also dead, lying flat on her back. Her lifeless eyes stare back into yours as you locate her still gun-wielding body.

The prince calls your name, clutching his side as he stumbles closer to the two bodies in the middle of the once pure and serene forest. You follow and stare down at the former prince of the sea city and his automaton companion. The three of you share a long look of… some emotion, chests heavy.

The look of silent despair and depression in the eyes of the White Princess and her much older looking companion make what is left of your party feel like terrible human beings. (Quite an ironic thing considering the lack of humanity the White Princess has.) Shocked, glazed over eyes meet yours, conveying so many things with so little, before moving to the dead forms lying on the ground. Not your party; she doesn’t care about them. Her long-lost, long-awaited brother’s dead body: that is what she’s concerned about.

As she slowly stalks over to the two forms on the ground, your party takes their leave. Staying in that place after what you’ve done feels like a terrible crime worthy of death. You grab the monk and drag his bloody body across the white blades of forest grass. The prince and warrior wrap the gunner’s arms over each of their shoulders, struggling to carry her weight with their wounds.

With the help of the Warp Wire, your party returns to Armoroad to see the shocked stares of the townspeople. Your famous guild, thought to be unbreakable and the very best in the port city, has just proven otherwise. You keep your gaze low and to the ground. You don’t want to see the looks in the people’s eyes as they watch you all bring in your dead comrades.

The Explorer’s Guild is your destination…

.o0o.

Your party heads over to the Explorer’s Guild to report your friends’ deaths. (There is no way of reviving these two, you know very well. There’s no reason to try at this point.) The Guildmaster wears a grim face when he sees the five of you, nodding solemnly, not asking for an explanation. He doesn’t need one, not after all his years as someone who’s seen many a death befall an explorer or guild. “Bring them back here and lie them down,” he tells the three of you. Following the dark skinned man to a back room, you all obey his instructions and lay the two people down on plainly furnished cots.

“It’s a damn shame…” he whispers more to than himself than to you all. He claps his large, heavy hand on the gladiator’s shoulder.

“Shit!” he yells.

“Oh, sorry!” the Guildmaster quickly apologizes. He swiftly removes his hand and watches as the wounded warrior gingerly walks out of the Explorer’s Guild. He mumbles something about getting patched up, and you give him a small nod.

The still dignified prince takes in a shaky breath and follows the warrior’s lead. As he passes you, his mouth opens to say something, but nothing comes out. He makes eye contact and stares at you for a long time. You’re the first one to look away; you know what he’s trying to convey with his silent stare. He leaves, the door closing with an audible click.

“It really is a damn shame,” the Guildmaster repeats, this time it is directed towards you.

“I know…” you whisper, speaking for the first time since you finished your fight with the Automaton King and the android Olympia. Tears well up in your eyes and you cry. “I know!”

.o0o.

“I’ve lived this past century only for my brother… What do I live for now?”

What is left of your party walks in on the princess talking to herself in the Porcelain Forest. You capture the attention of the pale white girl and she turns her red eyes towards the three of you. Her stare lingers on every one of you as she accounts for your injuries. Though your armor saved you from most of the beating, you are still bound in bandages. The prince is the least damaged of the group with only a blood-spotted bandage wrapped around his black haired head and around his chest. The ones on his chest can be seen through his silk white shirt. The warrior suffered the most, it is plain to see. Nearly every part of him is wrapped in gauze and dressings, though he tries to act as though he was perfectly fine. He always does that…

The princess gives you all a small, forced smile. “Everyone, you have my deepest thanks for your actions in my defense. It seems my brother Seyfried had surrendered his human form and became Yggdrasil’s puppet…” The prince and gladiator exchange a quick look.

“He may have worn my brother’s face, but he had not a human heart left inside him… though, in truth, the same could be said for myself. I have harnessed a wicked power to live as long as I have, in pursuit of my brother. I, too… am inhuman,” she reveals. You can’t muster the energy to act surprised; you have known about this for the past while. “I spend my days within the confines of this royal forest so that the wicked power does not consume me… but I fear this long life of mine no longer has a purpose. ‘Tis sad, but my dream is dead. I thank you regardless. Now… please leave me.”

You are about to speak with the princess, but the warrior stops you by gripping your shoulder. You wince and turn to look at him. You shake his hand off, earning a sharp look and an annoyed eye roll from your companions. “Princess,” you start. She turns around and stares. “Would you do it again?”

Her lips part, a bit in shock. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“You said it yourself. He may have looked like your brother, but he was just a puppet. Yggdrasil’s puppet.”

Princess Gurtrune pauses and gives a level-headed stare. “But who’s to say that things couldn’t be different if I found him before things got to this point? Things could've ended differently… and that is enough reason for me.”

You are about to speak again when the gladiator grabs your shoulder again, this time purposely trying to hurt you. “What?” you hiss.

“We’re leaving,” the prince says as he turns on his heel. “Now.”

The gladiator lets go of you and follows the lead of the noble as though he's now the leader of the guild. You watch them for a few moments before turning around. “Farewell, Princess…”

You leave the princess once again with her thoughts.

.o0o.

You spend most of your time away from your remaining guild members. The prince spends most of his time at the inn, resting (as per the town doctor’s orders) and writing letters to his family. Whenever you retired to the inn from drinking at the bistro (or when Missy refused to give you anything more to drink), he always rushed to hide his writings from you. You never asked him about it, simply leaving the room to wash for the night or going to sleep, but you knew that he was recapping your guys’ misfortune. What else could he be saying to his family? Nothing of considerable relevance had happened since your battle in the Porcelain Forest.

The gladiator, on the other hand, spends most of his time ignoring the town doctor’s orders. He now works at the Inver Port. The Harbormaster seems to enjoy his company, talking and laughing much more joyfully than you had heard him in the past. Apparently, he's made somewhat of a name for himself as both a great laborer for the sea merchants and for fellow… other explorers. He even helped defend the port – and by extension, the whole city – when a crew of pirates tried to attack. Why he didn’t call for you and your noble-blooded comrade, instead deciding to work alongside a group of rookie explorers who had no real way of backing him up, you do not know. You decided not to bother asking about it, for the sake of not stirring up any bad blood between you all.

You spend most of your time at the Butterfly Bistro. Missy tries not to pry too much into your feelings and how things were going for you all since completing your final mission for the Senatus, but the woman has her limits. It has been two weeks since you all returned from the labyrinth for the final time. She wants answers and a conversation that isn’t purely built on what you want to drink or eat or how much you should or should not be drinking and so on.

“So…” she says as she sits on the bar stool next to yours. You sip your drink, refusing to look over at her. Instead, you stare at all the different liquor bottles and glasses lined up on the shelves behind the bar. “Are you ever going to talk about what happened to you guys?”

“I would prefer not to,” you answer, still not looking at the pink haired woman. You can almost hear the pout she puts on after you say that.

“You know, I never really know what you’re facing in the labyrinth. You never tell me!”

“Never?”

Missy laughs a little. “Okay, almost never.” It’s now your turn to laugh now. You give up and look at her. “Okay, okay, you do tell me about your adventures. Now see, you usually tell me about what you go through down there, but now? Nothing, not a word.” You bit the inside of your cheek and go back to nursing your drink. The amber whiskey burns your throat as it goes down, though it is not an entirely unwelcome feeling. “I told you guys that you can always come here for a drink, a side job, or a friend. Use me as a friend and get everything off your chest.”

“I don’t think it’s my place to talk about such things. I’m not the only one who was involved in what happened that day.” You drain your glass as Missy slowly nods her head. “If the others haven’t said anything to you, I doubt I should either.” You slide off your stool, standing tall over the bar mistress. Digging into your money purse, you set down your payment for the night’s - well, the day’s - drinks.

“Calling it an early night because I tried to get information out of you, huh?” Missy jokes.

You give her a weak smile in return. “My liver could use the early night. G’night, Missy.”

“Good night,” she replies as you make your way to the bar’s front door.

.o0o.

The door to your shared room at the inn closes with a loud click. It is all too quiet in the room, though, that isn’t an uncommon thing now. Before, there was somebody to liven up the mood, to run up to you as soon as you walked through the door and excitedly tell you something, or for the innkeeper to smile at you and talk about whatever was on his mind. That doesn’t happen anymore; it never would…

You turn to the left, the side of the room with the only bit of light, and see your princely companion sitting at the small desk. He has a solemn expression on his face. “You’re early,” he simply states as he looks you up and down.

“It’s never a bad idea to get some sleep in,” you say. You sit down on your bed and take off your boots with a grunt and then a satisfied sigh. The cool night air touches your sweaty socked feet and it feels so good.

“Your usual motto said the same thing, but about alcohol.”

You pause for a moment. “There aren’t a lot of ‘usual’ things anymore…” There’s  a mumbled agreement from your roommate, but neither of you say anymore for the next few minutes.

You strip down to your bare essentials and lie flat on your back. Your body gives an appreciative groan as all the aches and pains that still haven’t gone away in the past weeks ease into the soft bed. This inn was the very best after all. (You never said that to the innkeeper of the Deep City one, though. It would’ve be rude!)

Just as your heavy eyelids close, your roommate says your name. Begrudgingly, you keep yourself from falling asleep and sit up, looking over at him. “Yeah?”

“I have something I need to discuss with you.”

“Go ahead.”

“I’m not discussing this as a friend or a companion because, let’s be honest with each other,” the prince starts to say. You can tell he is being absolutely serious and it makes you tense up. “We were never friends or companions, much less good ones. I never truly trusted your judgement or your orders as the guild leader; I could have done a much better job at it—” (as if you didn’t know that was how he felt from the very beginning) “—but since I was just a new recruit in your eyes, not a capable member—”

“Would you have been apart of our guild if I thought you were incapable?”

“I stand to correct you: it’s not ‘our’ guild, it is your guild.”

“...Excuse me?”

“That’s what we are discussing right now. Now, let me continue—”

“No, wait. What do you mean it’s not our guild? Were you not a member for these past days and months, going through the same battles and quests and—”

“If you would just shut the hell up and just let me finish!” the prince says with a dangerous tone in his voice. It cuts you off from saying anything more; you have never heard him speak this way, not during your heated arguments or even during fierce battles that nearly killed him or his fellow guild members. Oh wait… they weren’t his fellow guild members anymore.

“You never knew when you stop your mouth…” he comments with a soft, rude laugh. “These past few weeks have been a godsend, honestly.” A lump that has formed in your throat is swallowed before he speaks again. “Yes, it is your guild because I am no longer apart of it.” He pauses for a few long moments, a black eyebrow slowly creeping up his forehead. “My, it seems like you’ve finally learned to keep quiet,” he laughs again.

He runs a hand through his long hair and crosses his suit pant-wearing legs. “What’s the point of staying a part of this guild when it’s obvious that none of us have the intention of entering that damned labyrinth again? Can you tell me – tell us – when would we be able to set aside our pride, gather up our weapons and armor, and walk through this blasted town as though we weren’t utterly defeated?” He nearly yells these things at you. His words are dripping in anger and venom; they are just as angry as they are true…

“Is this what you’ve been thinking for the past weeks?”

“Yes,” he answers simply.

You open your mouth to say something, but another lump forms in your throat and you, instead, take the time to swallow it down.

“I contacted my family and told them of my intentions. They gave me trouble because, of course. I had disobeyed them and went with this stupid fucking dream of being an adventurer, not the crown prince of a small country. But they agreed to my coming back; it was just finalized with this.” You lift up your gaze, which you didn’t even know was looking down at your lap, and to the tan man holding up an unfolded letter. Ah, that’s what all those secret writings were all about…

“There’s no way of talking you out of this,” you say. It’s not exactly a question nor a statement; you don’t know exactly what it is you’re trying to say. Neither does the prince because he doesn’t say anything more for the next few minutes. He folds up the letter and replaces it inside its original envelope. The wax seal of his country’s emblem is broken. He fiddles with the things on the desk, cleaning up what is left of his presence in the room. It is only then that you notice in the fading candlelit that his things were completely packed away in no doubt expensive suitcases. He was probably deciding to leave without saying a word to you, expecting you to come back late as usual.

“I will tell you this,” he suddenly says. You don’t look at him, but rather at the wall. “These past months with you all were fun. That little gunner was quite the entertainment… never going to get that back at the kingdom.” There’s a beat of quiet. “You know, if you had made the right decision all those months ago, to meet that evil creature in that boiling hot room…” There’s a heavy sigh and then no more words…

The tap of his shoes against the floorboards seems to echo throughout the room as he vacates his chair and moves to pick up his suitcases. There is a peek of bright light from the hallway as he opens the room door and slips through it. The door closes with an click, seemingly louder than when you had entered… what? five, ten minutes ago?

There were no more words said that night. You wrap yourself in your blankets and dream of better days…

.o0o.

It’s the next morning when you walk through the inn, barely wearing more than what you slept in last night. What’s there to worry about? People in this inn had seen much worse than someone wearing barely anything more than a shirt and pants. The boy innkeeper asks if you would like something to eat for breakfast, but you decline. You don’t have much of an appetite.

Today, you had something to do: seek out your final, remaining guild member. Though, you want to forget about what happened last night and pretend he didn’t make as much sense as he did, the prince was right. Will you all ever set foot in that labyrinth again? Will you all ever walk through this town in your armor, weapons by your sides, again? Will you all be able to?

After some hot coffee to wake yourself up fully, you return to your room to dress. It’s not much more than what you were wearing, but it doesn’t really matter. You leave the inn and make a beeline to the Inver Port. The Harbormaster is shocked to see you; it has been a very long time since he last saw you. “Is he here?” you ask him before he can get any words out.

He then lets out a hearty laugh “Oh, he is. He’s over there,” he says and points towards the orange figure on the far side of the dock. You give the old man your thanks and walk over to the gladiator. “Nice to see ye…” the old man whispers, a touch of sadness mixed in with the happy tone of his voice.

The sounds of your boots against the dock planks alert the red-haired man to your presence. He tenses up just a touch when he stands upright to look at you. “H-hey,” he says with a weak smile. He feels awkward about this, that much is obvious.

“Hey…” you say in response. “You know, right? About him leaving?”

His smile widens until you can see his white teeth. “Yeah, he came by last night to board a ship home. Still acted like he was too good for us.” He says that as though he’s angry, but the wistful look in his eyes tells you otherwise. “What about him?”

You don’t say anything for a minute, leaving an awkward moment between you two. The gladiator clears his throat before he starts going back to his work. At least he has something to do while having this so far not-conversation.

“He quit the guild,” you finally manage to say. The gladiator pauses for just a second before continuing. He nods. “I… I just need to know if you feel the same way. That you want to leave as well.”

It is now his turn to not say anything for a while. The sounds of the ocean water lapping against the wood of the dock and the ships fills what would’ve been silence. There's a sheen of sweat on the warrior’s face.

“I could take your working here as an answer as well,” you say.

“…Then please do.”

There's a long stretch where neither of you said anything, didn’t look at each other, and just let the sea water fill the silence.

“Okay,” you say, breathing in the salty air. “Okay then… I guess this is the end? Farewell?” The warrior stops his work and turns around. He looks you in your eyes, his own going a bit glassy and teary. He sticks his rough, blistered hand out for a shake.

“It’s been a pleasure, Leader,” he says. “It’s always been a pleasure…”

.o0o.

It’s not long until the sound of your footsteps against the dirt road is all you hear. You remember the sounds of four other people walking alongside you, and you use that memory to make your trip seem much more fun and interesting, not as sad and lonely as it truly is.

You remember five people walking down leafy green corridors and ocean pathways, through scorching red hot rooms, eerie temple hallways, and white forest passages. The five of you as explorers filled with the very respect and pride of the sea city and its people. The five of you as friends and companions for what seemed like the rest of your lives…

You cling to these memories as you walk as one person – a fallen star from the highest pedestal – on a beaten dirt road with no real destination in mind.

This is, after all, just another adventure to add to your memory.

.o0o.

He left to the sea, to his rightful place as the head of his kingdom.

He stayed behind at the port town, his home from the past and for the present and future.

You left to… somewhere.

Different paths for different people: these were the tides of Armoroad.