> Be the Heir of Light.
The first clear thought that you have upon waking is that sleeping against the wall was a terrible, shitty idea and that you’re never doing it again, past you was a careless idiot. Your back throbs: You drag yourself up from your seated position, stretch out each leg down to the toes. The cramps in them evaporate and leave them feeling fresh and ready for another day of running around action-RPG style.
Your spine, and all the muscles in your torso for good measure, do not want to be so cooperative. They ache, and twisting your waist feels wrong, a sharp burst of dysphoric warning signals and a little pain with each movement. Rotating your shoulders is more of the same. You shake out your hair, shake your head to try to clear it, and fidget to and fro trying to get your full range of motion back.
“Good morning, sleepyhead!”
You look up, something in your chest jolting a little at the familiar chirping voice.
Siskier is there, beaming, an eye-blinding pale turquoise and white. Her top half is still in the white sports bra and long scarf she was wearing the last time she was corporeal, and her lower half tapers off into a long trail of increasingly translucent smoke that’s half mermaid tail and half cartoon ghost. The black horns poking up through her hair (one broken off halfway up the stem, courtesy of your boyfriend) are still jarring as all hell, but the pair of fangs that poke out over her lips when she smiles suit her somehow.
The past two years have been a constant study in missing her like you’d miss a lost organ, sharp and physical. Saying it’s good to have her back would be such an understatement it’d be paramount on insult, but somehow having her back like this—it just isn’t the same.
“Good morning yourself,” you tell her: Siskier, your sprite, frozen at seventeen, half-human and also some strange parody of Casper the Friendly Ghost. There’s a nagging sense in the back of your brain that you ought to apologize to her, there has been since you prototyped her ashes and she popped out of nonexistence like this. But you don’t know how to, and it would also feel really weird to when she’s smiling at you so brightly.
You should maybe put this down to being groggy as hell from sleeping against the wall like an idiot.
“Next time I try to nod off in a place that’s not a bed, please have stern words with me and remind me that I don’t want to spend the next morning with all the muscles from my neck to my tailbone performing a hearty choir of fuck you.” A thought occurs to you, and you append: “Actually, just go ahead and give me crap if I feel like sleeping somewhere other than the ground floor. The kitchen, the furniture, and the shower are all way downstairs, aren’t they.”
Siskier laughs at you, and you sigh.
“Whatever, I’m taking the fast way down.”
Your series of incredibly shitty landings yesterday have at least given you a better idea of how to work your rocket boots. It’s hard to get out of the window even when you’ve opened it all the way, but once you’ve managed to squirm out into the open air and unfold your body, the sharp snap of air on your face makes you feel much more awake.
You’d enjoy freefall more, you think, if the breeze didn’t keep trying to blow your shirt right up over your head. When you were exploring yesterday, the air of LODAF was warm and smoky, but right now it’s bitchtit freezing and feels like razors. Your stomach and chest are probably going to get windburnt as shit if you keep doing this.
Either you’ll remember to tuck your shirt in next time and see if that helps, or you’ll just cross that bridge when you come to it.
You fire off your rocket boots in time to land on your feet, and go back into your house.
Given that the outside was under assault by various underlings last night and there was a proliferation of imps upstairs, things don’t actually look too ransacked in here. Most of the ornaments and things have fallen onto the floor and some of the furniture’s shifted, but the fridge is still stocked and the dishes look unbroken. You give the living room a cursory patrol and shut lion statuettes into cabinets, then get to work on breakfast.
One omelet, three slices of toast, a plate of bacon, a two-hour-long shower, and a change of shirt and boxers later, you feel a lot less like a disoriented zombie and a lot more like a Gulcasa. Siskier is not downstairs yet, so you sit on the couch and put your feet up on the coffee table and flip through your array modus just to make sure you don’t need to pick anything up from here (you don’t) or try to dick around with the alchemiter to make new supplies from scratch (you don’t). Your strifes since your and Nessiah’s shopping spree yesterday have restocked your money, although boonbucks and boondollars still don’t quite mean much to you in terms of stuff you can buy. You have build grist, but really Nessiah is still in charge of making your house taller and not you; come to think of it, you need to spend some time on Yggdra’s house today. (You judge that this can wait a while.) You have a huge stack of obsidian grist (yours), a lesser stockpile of orichalcum grist (Nessiah’s), and a much smaller amount of pine grist (which must be Emilia’s). Your stat readout also has an empty meter of steel and copper grist, as well as a symbol for a mystery sixth kind that apparently needs unlocking.
The rest of your stat readout says that you are a healthy distance up your echeladder (Nessiah was a little higher when you split up, you think) and that all your various meters are replenished from sleeping. You try not to be too weirded out by the way that you can actually make a Squaresoft-esque stat menu pop up fully visible in your head by closing one eye and concentrating. You fail miserably in this endeavor.
Also, your PDA informs you that nobody is online. Go figure.
When you sigh and sit back against the couch (your back, which still appears to be miffed at you despite the shower, rumbles contentment at the softness), Siskier is suddenly next to you. Either spriteliness means being able to sneak around extra-unobtrusively, or she really can just poof out of thin air when you’ve got your back turned. Whichever the case, it doesn’t really matter much.
“So did you have fun on Prospit last night?” she asks brightly, propping her soft white face on a soft white hand. “You were asleep for a really reeeeeally long time! Gaooo.”
“Not particularly, I guess. I mean, I sort of got to talk to some of the white chess guys a little, but Nessiah didn’t show up and I spent all night waiting for him. Eventually I got so bored that I just went to sleep.”
Siskier narrows her eyes at you a little and tilts her head to the side. “You mean you managed to get both your real self and your dreamself to fall asleep at the same time?”
“Yeah. Are you not supposed to do that?”
“No, it’s just…” And she starts to frown, just a little tiny bit. “Did you have any weird dreams?”
You are struck with the very intense and familiar sensation of having forgotten something you wanted to commit to memory. It’s the kind of thing that always comes after you dream and then have an active morning. “I’m… pretty sure I did. I can’t really remember any details, though.”
This is not really a lie, as the handful of details that remain in your head are nightmare-vague and make absolutely no sense when you try to connect the images or otherwise get some meaning from them. All that’s left are the blurry impressions of weird aliens, a bunch of confused and jumbled-up symbols, a sense of sadness, and the creeping sense of wariness that’s fear before you’re willing to admit what it is to anybody.
It’s probably not that important, though.
Siskier keeps looking at your face for a while, and then shrugs.
“Anyhow, today we should go to explore your Land! I’m sure everyone else is busy with their quests by now, which means you should get started on yours too! It’s already past noon, and you can’t afford to get that far behind!”
Right now—to be honest, you’d rather sit still and give your back a bit more of a rest, and pester everyone else until they answer. You need to check on Emilia and try to smooth things over between her and the others, you need to check on Leon and make sure that the idiot’s not getting in over his head, you need to check on Yggdra because even if you don’t like her you’re responsible for her as her server player, and you just want to talk to Nessiah after a long frustrating night of waiting fruitlessly for him to show.
But that would be stupid, because everyone is offline and busy, and you did tell Siskier that today was going to be a questing and exploring day. There will still be time to check Pesterchum if you can figure out good pitstop places along the way.
So, out loud, you say “sure” and hope your smile comes off as genuine. If Siskier finds your expression odd at all, she doesn’t say so.
You walk. It isn’t that far to the nearest consort village, you vaguely remember the way. You could always just fly there, effortless as rockets, but that’s not how Quests are supposed to go, or at least your battered old world mythology books have taught you so.
Besides, there are hordes of imps and bigger creatures to tangle with along the way. Strifing feels good, warming up your muscles down to the bones. Early Drive sings in your hands, a lot lighter and more musical than your first scythe was, impossibly light metals rather than stiff heavy wood. You turn the haft hand over hand and get on tiptoe and jump for leverage. It’s like dancing. Siskier has your back, and leaves each final blow to you. That same weird video game sense gives you the feeling of a meter slowly reaching up to the sky, a little like an old waveform generator, or maybe an exponential graph—experience and money and grist flowing into some mechanic that’s part of you and yet not.
Emilia’s Land was covered in deep green forest, and another forest of stars hung in the sky like a planetarium ceiling, and Nessiah’s had been bright with its shallow water as a mirror for its blue skies and chains scattering dazzling light everywhere, but LODAF is dark. The earth under your feet is a color close to black, the rock formations are a sludgy obsidian color, and the stars are distant beyond a sky that’s thick and overcast with smoke. The fire in the ground provides more natural light than the heavens, and Siskier shines like a great nightlight.
The travel is near effortless, and the silence between you and your sprite is kind and easy. What isn’t easy is remembering running around with Nessiah and his sprite yesterday.
No matter how many times you assure yourself that you don’t want to ever have to repeat that clusterfuck again, mediating between two of the most passive-aggressive person you’ve ever had the honor to meet—there is a big empty space in your heart from Nessiah’s absence. You keep recalling his slow crooked smile, one corner of his mouth just a little higher than the other, and his eyelashes soft on his cheeks. Next to you, really and truly and in overwhelming detail that no number of webcam sessions could prepare you for. Warm and laughing in that aggravating quiet giggle, Ophelia in a royal purple one-piece dress, little white hands fanning out his skirts.
Siskier has been dead for two years, you should be happy for the chance to just walk next to her again, and what you are feeling has fuck all to do with that kind of conventional logic. You have got to find a way to knit this party together sometime soon, if only for the sake of everybody’s emotional stability.
Of course, with Yggdra an obligatory member—because what are you supposed to do, leave her out? When her sisters get an invite? You are not that big of a douchebag—stability might be the last thing that would occur, but this is another bridge that you plan to cross when you get to it.
If Siskier has two cents to share about your quiet or your pining or your churning thoughts, she just holds her peace. You feel guilty, and you feel safe. A part of your life that’s been taken away from you just got handed back, and the quiet between the two of you is just as easy as it always was.
It’s a bit after noon when you hit the village.
The place looks just like you remember it: Low-slung buildings of dark stone and warm red wood, obsidian benches under dark unhealthy-looking trees, all clustered around the twisting road that leads in and out. The town layout’s like a typical RPG village, and everywhere consorts are going about their business.
You sit down on an unobtrusive bench with Siskier hovering next to you, lean back, and sigh. It’s nice, being off your feet for a little. Your consorts are all sneaking curious peeks at you, but none of them really come up and bother you, which suits you just fine.
When you check your PDA, all of the names on your chumroll are blacked out except for the one you are least interested in.
If it’s having this conversation now or having it later, you guess it would be better to get it out of the way now. You click on Yggdra’s handle and open up your keypad.
-- genocideAura [TA] began pestering tiaraTenuto [TT] --
GA: hey sup
You look up at Siskier, who is avoiding your gaze and looking very innocent.
“It seemed like it would help her believe it was me better,” she says after you’ve stared at her for about a minute.
“Next time at least fix the color when you’re done hijacking my Pesterchum account, okay,” is all you can say, because there’s already green text scrolling across your PDA screen.
TT: You do realize that your text color is still set to aquamarine.
GA: yeah that
GA: would be siskier for you
GA: anyhow good morning and all of that
TT: Yes, to you too, although it’s more like afternoon as far as I can tell.
GA: oh be quiet
GA: anyhow uh
GA: sorry if it’s causing holdups or anything but i’ve got no idea when i’m getting back to the house so
GA: don’t expect me to be able to build your house any higher until tonight i guess?
TT: That’s all right.
TT: It seems as though I have quite a lot of work to be doing anyway, even without having to go through any of my gates. :(
TT: Apparently I have a lengthy special sidequest that needs to be done in order for us to complete the game, and that because this is a quest that’s usually for Heroes of Space, I’m going to have twice the legwork to do.
TT: I wish I could get someone to help me, because with just my father and I this could take days :(
GA: yeah that kind of sucks
GA: think you’re fresh out of luck on the getting help front though, i doubt emilia’s gonna be in a cooperative mood and leon and nessiah are both busy
GA: before you think of asking me i’ve got no idea how long it’s gonna take me to even get to your planet let alone meet up with you
TT: No need to worry, as you are currently at the bottom of my list of preferred helpers. :/
GA: should i feel offended or relieved
GA: i guess you can maybe try nessiah when he’s online?
GA: he might refuse though
GA: so i guess if it’s too frustrating to sidequest all your waking hours you can always finish spelunking
TT: Ha ha.
TT: I hope you know that you’re getting roped into this with me when you visit, just for that.
GA: i’ll gird my loins
GA: i’m gonna bounce now
GA: but hey i’m glad you at least made it in okay
TT: I’ll extend the same slightly awkward sentiments to you.
GA: i’m ollying out then
-- genocideAura [GA] ceased pestering tiaraTenuto [TT] --
“That wasn’t so bad,” Siskier says helpfully.
“Not this time it wasn’t,” you retort, and then you’re both quiet.
You people-watch for a little bit, not entirely sure where to go from here. If this were an MMO, there would be something like a bulletin board hanging up with available quests, or an NPC behind the bar of some inn’s restaurant who you could take requests from. But Sburb probably isn’t that kind of game, and so if there are any sidequests to be picked up here you’ll have to talk to the consorts to find them out.
Dragons walk back and forth down the streets, pint-sized and cute, every one of them looking like molded maraschino cherry jello come to life. You wonder a little if they would be pliant and squishy to the touch, which makes you want to go over and poke one for the sake of poking one. That would probably be kind of rude, though.
You remember another city, another series of streets with people walking down them to destinations that had nothing to do with you, their paths only intersecting with yours when they took a second look at you because of your long hair, diverging forever once they’d looked away.
You remember waving goodbye to the girl next to you when your roads forked, and it makes something inside you curl up helplessly, and suddenly your chest is very heavy and you don’t want to think about it anymore.
You pop your snack box out of your sylladex—may as well take the time to recharge while you’re sitting down. When you offer homemade chicken nuggets and rice balls to Siskier, she declines with a frown. Apparently sprites don’t really eat the way that humans do, which strikes you as rather unfair. You eat by yourself, wonder what you’re going to do with her share, and cross cooking all your best friend’s favorite things off your mental to-do list.
By the time you stop zoning out, a few of the consorts are approaching a bit shyly, lured by the prospect of the food. You smile and hand out the extra rice balls.
“You are as kind as our legends foretold you would be,” says a dragon. “Truly, the Heir to our sleeping Lord’s Light.”
“You’re exaggerating, but thanks,” you reply. “It’s no problem.”
“It’s not really fair to stand before you and receive such kindness and still ask for more, but—”
Siskier is already perking up beside you, and so you sit up and smile more firmly and shake your head.
“Don’t worry about it so much. That’s what I’m here for.”
The dungeon is a great temple of black stone, red fire flickering eerily on either side of the doorway in lanterns that are shaped into claws. It looks like something out of an N64 Zelda game. You hope that there aren’t any Zelda-vicious puzzles to get through in here, because you get the distinct feeling that GameFAQs isn’t going to be able to bail you out anymore.
Our Lord took the Light with him when he went into the earth, the dragons had said, and without his Light we cannot sustain ourselves for long. But there should be places where his Light lingers, though we have not the strength to take it by ourselves. If you are truly the Heir, then you should be able to keep the remnants of the Light alive for long enough to bring them to the village. We can last a little longer, if you do so.
The things your consorts say aren’t always particularly clear—it’s more of the same riddle bullshit that the game makes Siskier talk in, because Quests are only meaningful when you find things out on your own. Or, if you’re feeling a little bit more charitable, this is the world your consorts have always lived in, and they’re trying their best to explain things to you, but they don’t know where to start from so that they can give you the entire picture.
“It’s all baby steps to get up to my real hero’s journey, right,” you say as you squint into the mouth of the dungeon. There’s faint light from inside, which means there’s more fire in there, or at least windows. That’s good; you won’t have to rely entirely on Siskier to be able to see. “When I got to talk to the little guys yesterday, they said that their lord—this dragon god Denizen, whatever its name is—had given them light in the first place, and that now both of them are gone, and I have to get the light back somehow by finding the Denizen and I guess defeating it.”
Siskier nods expectantly. You straighten up and take a breath and keep thinking out loud.
“If beating the Denizen is what’s supposed to bring the light back, then I guess this is more like an errand or a stopgap measure. They did say ‘a little longer’, after all.” According to your status screen, your health meter is still full. You’ve got a little bit more food, in case this takes a really long time, and you’ve got your rocket boots and Siskier in case you run into something you can’t actually handle and need to haul ass. “It’d just be too easy to run around this planet and snatch little bits of light out of dungeons to keep the consorts happy.” You flick your sylladex shut, shake your head so that the pop-up screen goes away, the afterimage gone from the underside of your eyelids. “Siskier. I—I do understand, at least in my head, that there’s supposed to be personal meaning in doing sidequests. But what the consorts said, that they can’t live for very long without the light, that bothers me. Will they actually, like, start to die off or get killed or disappear, or whatever, if I don’t get light to them? Are they going to hold out until I can finish my real quest, or do I have to keep doing sidequests and stuff if I want them to live?”
Siskier folds her arms and leans to the side. “I… think everything kind of depends on how fast you get through your quest, here! It’s a bad idea to go looking for your Denizen before you’re ready.”
You breathe out a little fuck and yank your hair back out of your eyes, veering to your right. “So my consorts possibly dying is actually a thing. I—fuck, we need to figure out how long they can actually go before I need to, to recharge their lightbulbs or whatever. I can’t just go prancing off to other planets if that means I’m abandoning things I’m responsible for.”
When you weave back around to the left so that you’re facing Siskier again, she looks genuinely distressed—staring at you out of wide eyes, her hair actually standing out a little like a lion’s mane on end. “Gulcasa, you’ve got to leave this planet for the sake of your quest! Everyone has to travel to the other Lands too, in order to grow. You—you won’t be leaving the consorts helpless. The others will be here to look after them when you’re not here!”
She reaches out to pat at your cheek and shoulder, and the sensation of her is weird as fuck—chilly, like wind made solid. You’re not entirely sure that her hands aren’t going to go straight through you. It’s a dash of ice water to the face, and you realize distantly that you’re getting kind of overwrought.
Siskier is still staring at you kind of freaked-out, and she’s making this low kind of rumbly noise like a half-baked growl.
“I just—I can’t help it, okay, it bothers me,” you say, and fuck that is pathetic like an ASPCA commercial. You could never get further than fifteen seconds into one of those without changing the channel or turning the damn television off: Too obvious a tug on the heartstrings, and they made you feel like your ribcage was quietly imploding.
She looks at you, eyes all wide and concerned and brows knitted intensely. She looks at you like she has no idea what she should say, and that makes you feel the worst of all. You move backwards, half a step, and the soles of your rocket shoes crunch on the dry ground as you jam your hands into your pockets.
“Let’s just go,” you mutter, and it’s a relief when Siskier relaxes and nods.
There aren’t really any underlings lurking inside the temple! This is good, because you’re way more concerned with looking around; there’s a lot to take in. Some of the walls are carved into intricate obsidian windowpanes, what would be sheets of stained glass murals if every warped triangle wasn’t black. The stone at hand height is marked with a patterned motif: A stylized sun, something like a fanned-out pair of wings, a heart divided into two, a weeping eye, two vertical swirls, two horizontal swirls. You wind up dragging your fingertips along them absently, thud thud thud as they sink into the reliefs. The edges are soft with age. The sun symbol is much larger than the other five, and you trace the beams like numbers on a clock.
Time and again you run into heavy doors, all locked with the same mechanism: On the wall next to them, or maybe the floor, there will be a carving of four vaguely serpentine silhouettes and a dragon, all joined in a circle around a broken stone indentation: A cobbled jade picture of something amphibious. When you search the floor and find the missing tile of frog, then return it to the rest of the puzzle, the door will open.
All the murals, the symbols and the repeated imagery, are thick with meaning: There’s some grand design behind everything, you can just tell.
Unfortunately, this is Nessiah’s gig, not yours. Whatever vast truth is hiding behind all the frog pictures, you can’t quite wrap your head around it just yet.
“They should make some kind of Quest Symbolism for Dummies book,” you say at last. You’re three floors deep into the temple now, standing in a wide circular antechamber decorated in the same old carvings, sprinkled with blocky pictures of your consorts. Light from windows wouldn’t reach to these depths, but that same red-gold fire is dancing in wall sconces so that you can see. “If I’m supposed to be getting anything out of this, I’m really not yet.”
Siskier floats, and the lines of her mouth are pensive. The carved walls reflect in her eyes like stars, like she can decipher them. She looks like a real ghost—which you guess she sort of is, but she looks fey, like she doesn’t really belong on the same plane as you, like she maybe doesn’t mean you well.
Then she turns toward you with her head all cocked to the side, smiling until she dimples, pretty as a picture. A kind of disconcertingly sharp-toothed picture, but it’s all very Siskier in a way that makes some of your uneasiness go away.
“Hmm, well, you know I couldn’t actually tell you things straight out even if I wanted to,” she says. “But since I am supposed to be your guide, I guess I could always give you a hint or two.”
“Please and thank you,” you tell her immediately. “You know I’m not really smart enough for this riddle bullcrap.”
“I think that that is a very uncharitable thing to say about yourself,” Siskier proclaims, planting her hands on her hips, “and that you are perfectly capable of understanding the things that matter! Gao. But I will still help you, because I am a kind and benevolent partner.”
She straightens up, makes a very clear noise like a-HEM, and holds up her pointer finger.
“What do you think we’re going to find in the heart of this dungeon, to take back to the village?” is what Siskier asks you, and something clicks in your head.
“…We’re going to find the light,” you say very slowly, “but now that you mention it, we don’t really know what that means.”
Siskier nods. She’s beaming at you, kind of literally: Her smile is bright, and so is her body. The whole room is lit up with her, pale aquamarine light mingling with the red-yellow light of the torches to create interestingly colored shadows falling in different directions.
“What do you think it means, Gulcasa?” she asks.
You’ve already gotten your hint, so now you have to talk through it yourself. Maybe if you run your mouth for long enough, you’ll be able to hit on something of value.
“Well…,” and you hesitate because even though it’s Siskier you don’t want to run onto a train of thought that’s completely stupid, “I kinda doubt that it’s like literal physical light? Or at least, it can’t only be that, because there’s fire that can be used as a light source, the consorts do use the fire as a light source. And the fire is fucking everywhere, it can’t be that hard to get more of it if fire goes out in one place.
“So if it’s some kind of physical light or light source, I guess… that means that it actually is hard to obtain or transfer fire in this world, or that the Denizen’s light is special.”
Siskier is nodding. “Okay. What other things do you think it could be, then?”
“I really hope that you don’t want me to guess the exact object we’re recovering, because in that case we’re fucked,” you tell her, but she just keeps smiling. “Metaphorical ‘light’, though. There are kind of a lot of things that that could be. Light is usually associated with goodness in classic high fantasy, because humans have an instinctive fear of night and the dark. That’s not always true in modern stories, though, because real life’s not convenient enough to be divided into good and evil, and if the same plot device gets used too much it turns into a cliché. So… I don’t know if that’s a trustworthy interpretation.”
“If you’re grouping light and dark together as a pair, then what are some other things that you would associate with the dark?” Siskier prompts, tapping her fingertip in the air as if you’ve still struck onto something important. “Maybe that will help you think of even more things.”
“Things I’d associate with the dark.” You have to think about it for a few minutes. “Shit. Information, knowledge. Keeping someone in the dark means not telling them something. Inspiration, maybe? Because the image of a lightbulb turning on is associated with suddenly understanding or realizing something.”
Siskier keeps smiling and nodding in the background. You hold a hand to your forehead. Your thoughts are going at a million miles an hour, and you don’t know if you can keep up; it feels fucking weird. “And I think that you can push that definition and say that light leads people, inspires people. That it has something to do with things like, like love and hope, warm things that help others keep going. Things that can heal, even.”
You feel like you want to pace, but there’s not much room in this antechamber to do it, so you just shake your head. “So—some kind of special literal light, goodness, knowledge. It belonged to the Denizen, or maybe the Denizen makes it, and now that the Denizen is gone, this light is gone too. The consorts ultimately can’t live without it. Whatever it is, it’s corporeal enough that bits of it are hidden in dungeons, or there are things that generate it or hold it in the dungeons. I’m the Heir of Light, and my Quest is supposed to build up to me confronting the Denizen and bringing light back to the world.”
If the dots are supposed to connect now that you’ve said all this out loud, they’re not. You seriously aren’t cerebral enough for this shit. You wish you had been assigned a more clear-cut role; Nessiah’s Seer of Hope is pretty easy to understand. “…Welp. I’ve got nothing.”
But Siskier’s smile doesn’t fade; she doesn’t look disappointed at all. Instead, she looks even more pleased than ever. “Don’t worry about it! You’re thinking about it, and that’s good. There’s meaning in just trying to puzzle it out, too.”
Your head feels weirdly pressured, like there’s a nasty migraine coming on in a couple hours, and you’re glad it’s relatively dark in here.
“One more question,” you say, and you point to the familiar image of the snakes and the dragon and the frog made out of tiles. “If the monsters on the outside are supposed to be our Denizens, then what the hell does the frog mean?”
Siskier smiles and doesn’t answer.
You at least have enough common sense to know when pointless is pointless, so you sit on the gritty floor and cross your legs and flip through your sylladex for more food and your PDA. The temple probably doesn’t go that much further down, and so you might as well recharge and check in with everybody before you get up to your ears in any more weird puzzle shit.
Yggdra is still online, but you kind of don’t want to have to deal with her more than once a day, especially since you managed to end things on a less-than-antagonistic note earlier. She’s busy with her sidequest anyway, and you should probably just leave her to it.
Nessiah’s chumhandle is still grayed out, which makes all your insides sink. Hopefully he’s just been really busy today and hasn’t bothered to log in, instead of whatever he’s using as his ‘net device running out of batteries without his noticing. Hopefully he’s staying out of trouble, too, and not arguing with his sprite too much.
Leon’s handle is in gray too, but since he and his sprite have to deal with that Jack Noir prick, you’re not all that surprised there. For that matter, Elena’s not on, either. You’re actually pretty sure that she hasn’t been online since before the big entry clusterfuck yesterday. Somehow, you wouldn’t put it past Leon to have not given her a computer or cellphone or anything before shutting her in her room—that’d at least preclude Elena’s messaging everyone else in an appeal for a jailbreak.
…You’ve thought so before, but even though Leon’s your best bro, you have to admit he’s kind of an idiot when it comes to Elena.
While you’re shaking your head, Emilia’s handle changes from gray to pink. You sit up, alert, and nearly fumble the keys as you open a chat window with her.
-- genocideAura [GA] began pestering angelicCute [AC] --
GA: hey how are things
AC: hi i was just gonna message you actually
AC: were doing fine
GA: more or less same over here
GA: where you at?
AC: we went back to lofam
AC: weve been powerleveling!
AC: i mean i guess ive been powerleveling since luciana doesnt have levels to gain :p
AC: and now we have a buttload of grist and were gonna go home and play with the alchemiter for a while
AC: what about you
GA: middle of a dungeon on lodaf
GA: maybe almost at the end of the dungeon idk
GA: it’s baby’s first dungeon so i don’t have a frame of reference for average size
GA: how do sburb dungeons even work? we just don’t know
GA: anyhow it’s for some sidequest thing since i told siskier we were gonna work on quest shit today
GA: don’t tell anyone because if this gets back to her she’s gonna have me on sidequest duty forever
GA: but it’s basically impossible for me to say no to my consorts anyhow
GA: they are illegal amounts of precious
AC: hehe i know what you mean!
AC: the wooper loopers here are really really cute too
GA: looks like everybody more or less can’t stop the consort soft spot from hapening
GA: nessiah’s this way about his too
GA: we have got to sneak up on leon when he’s around his sometime it’d probably be a priceless spectacle
GA: anyhow don’t want to keep you from fun alchemy shenanigans
GA: just wanted to check in and make sure you are doing okay
AC: of course im doing okay!!!!! :p
GA: well yeah i kinda figured you would be
GA: never hurts to make sure though
AC: you are really silly
GA: i’m your brother and i worry
GA: that yeah you’re right and i get to make a dumbass of myself a lot of the time
GA: is this a problem
AC: only sorta!
AC: you be careful too
AC: like dont make siskier work too hard keeping your dumb butt out of trouble
GA: i’ll do my best
AC: hehe later
GA: love you
-- angelicCute [AC] ceased pestering genocideAura [GA] --
You put your PDA away, stand up, and dust off your pants. It’s probably time to get moving again.
One shoved-open door and a long-ass flight of stairs later, you’re in a room that’s approximately as dark as it is deep (that’s “very” on both counts). Great pillars topped in open clawed paws puff up with dark red fire when you approach, but that doesn’t do much good in the way of illuminating this final chamber.
What it does do is make panels of obsidian laid into the stone far wall glimmer: There’s another relief there, stained-glass style and huge, the same dragon you’ve seen depicted a lot smaller all across the temple. Your Denizen. Lord of all the little dragons who live on this planet. The smooth black glass that makes up his body reflects maroon and scarlet from the firelight, and you catch your breath. Every step you take into this room is careful. Letting your movements echo in this space would feel like sacrilege. You don’t understand this world very well yet, but this place is holy as anything, and you remember vividly what it felt like the first time you ever stood in a synagogue. You feel as insignificant, as reverent, as you did when you were not quite ten and dressed in clothes too big for you: Small and alone in a massive quiet room.
There’s a box underneath the glass mural—an old treasure chest, and you think shit with quite a lot of amusement, because this is straight out of Zelda.
When you’re halfway across the room, everything rumbles, and you sink down. Your scythe is in your hands, the hair on your arms is standing on end under your sleeves, and every sense is on screaming alert.
“You can do this,” Siskier says. You don’t know how that little murmur reaches your ears over the noise, but before you have any time to wonder about it there’s a great sound of cracking rock and then dust down from all around you and you’re thinking fuck, the ceiling, not sure whether to make a break for the box first or to scoot back to the stairs in case you need to get your fool ass out of here.
When everything clears, you crack your eyelids open and look up. And keep looking up, and forget not to gape, because the underling in front of you is fucking huge: Twice the size of an ogre, at least, and you had far more than fucking enough of those bouncing you around yesterday. You’ve grown used to tangling monsters that could bite your limbs off, and you know how to soften blows from a human-sized opponent. If this giant asshole catches you with even one blow, there’s a good chance most of your bones will snap all in one shot.
It’s already lumbering at you. You snarl and throw yourself forward, all your muscles tense and straining as you roll and slide.
The one thing on your side is: This boss is fucktons slower than you are. By all rights, your weapon shouldn’t be able to smack into it and still survive, but through some weird-ass convention of video game physics, you can yell and put your shoulders into hacking at its leg and the killing curve of Early Drive will go right through it like butter.
Siskier helps. She doesn’t fight actively like you, but she distracts the boss with shots from her ecto-crossbow whenever there’s too little space between you and it and the wall.
You’re too low to the ground compared to this thing to be able to score any critical damage—annoying as fuck, because no matter how high you jump you can’t get up to its torso, and you do not have enough faith in your rocketing ability to fly around it. Aerial combat is also something you’d like to have a dry run on before you try it on a boss; too much of your striking force comes from the momentum of jumps and being able to press the force of the rest of your body against a flat surface.
Which leaves wearing its health gauge down by attacking its limbs and hips, and after fifteen minutes’ worth of running around trying this you know this idea is dumb as fuck. Sweat’s pooling at all your joints and underneath your hair, and you’re starting to run short of breath.
“Not too much longer,” Siskier calls, and takes aim at the big lumbering fuck between you, and it roars and swats at her.
Time slows down: That’s what it feels like. The path of the boss’s oversized statue hand is clear in your head, lit up like a runway, and Siskier’s fast but she’s not that fast. Rockets are probably not going to be that fast.
Rage boils up in you like thermometer mercury, like an honest to god meter that reaches from your middle to your head. It’s a very curious sensation, like the way that your head fills up with one word and one word only: Nope. A sound comes out of you, low, guttural. Your blood is scorching the insides of your arteries, and something on the inside of your skull is this close to popping.
You rise up.
The whole chamber fills with brilliant firelight. You are a red giant and you are going fucking supernova. You have lost Siskier once: You are damned if you are going to stand by and let some piece of shit temple monster take her away from you again.
You stare past your hands gripping your knee and the haft of Early Drive to the ground, and notice vaguely that your skin is brown, except that after you have blinked a couple of times it’s its usual pale shade again.
This is the second time this has occurred in as many days. When you push yourself back up, Siskier is goggling at you.
“Are you going to explain yet or,” you wheeze, and then you’re out of breath. The air down here is dank and dusty from the boss strife, it makes you cough, but you gasp it in until you feel dizzy.
She floats towards you, touches lightly at your cheeks. Either you’re still red-faced from the exercise or you’re blushing or—something, because her half-corporeal hands are cold enough to make your spine twitch a little.
“You did the glowy thing again,” Siskier tells you, and you get the feeling that she’s very deliberately biting back a duh. “I think it’s probably an automatic response right now, when your combat instincts are high and you’re really emotional! You shouldn’t really be able to do it on purpose until you’ve done more of your quest and are higher up on your echeladder. It is a power that belongs to you as the Heir of Light! Gaoo. That is really all there is to say on the matter, at least until you have learned a bit more about what is going on all by yourself.”
All of this is delivered to you in a very prim tone of voice, but then she smiles kind of worried, her eyebrows crinkling together and her eyeteeth poking down over her lower lip. “Also, I think I should let you know that you were overreacting just a little! It’s really very hard to kill a sprite, and there aren’t many things native to the Incipisphere that could pull it off.”
“Douchebag was going to pancake you,” you retort. Your throat feels like it’s made of sandpaper, your knees are skinned from scraping around like a junior league baseball player, and your back is soaked with sweat. You generally feel gross and want out of this damn dungeon, and you have never really taken kindly to being patronized anyway. “I don’t give a fuck whether you were just going to pop right back up after, I did not need to see that happen to you. Let’s just—just leave it at that, okay.”
Siskier softens a little, stares at you for a long moment, and then leans in to hug you. Her body is cold as something inorganic, and this would freak you out kind of a lot, but she’s solid and god, you have missed her like hell for two years. Your eyes sting. You close them. You want to feel like nothing’s changed, but the scene of your last goodbye plays out behind your eyelids, and you can’t.
She backs away. You breathe in, trying to ignore the way your chest hitches in a dignified manner, and wipe your face as you stand up straight.
The boss dropped a metric fuckton of grist, some of which winds up in your grist gutter because you still can’t hold it all at once yet. You’ve hopped about three echeladder tiers, too. You’ll check out all your parameters and see how the game has processed your growing later; the chest you had to fight this ridiculous boss for is most important right now.
The thing opens with one good heave. (Your shoulders, already starting to ache from swinging Early Drive around so much, answer with a hearty fuck you.) The first thing to emerge is a cloud of dust; you and Siskier bat at it with as much energy as you can drum up, and you wind up coughing on a lot of it before it clears enough to let you see inside the box.
A lantern sits at the bottom of the chest. It’s hefty, about the size of a tall hourglass—the one from The Wizard of Oz comes to mind. Most of it is glass window, with bands of steel wrapping around to the bottom; an intricate dragon is carved along the top, and there’s a creaky jointed handle sprouting up from the dragon’s spines.
It’s completely dark. There’s not even a candlewick inside to light.
You bite the inside of your cheek a little, think fuck, and tentatively grasp the handle with vague thoughts of examining it to see if there’s something you can do. The moment you’ve done so, it illuminates like you’ve flicked an invisible switch.
The light coming from the lantern is—it’s different, is the best way you can put it. Different from the fire that you’ve seen all over this planet and in this dungeon. It doesn’t have a visible source, for one thing. It’s a different color, too; the fire of LODAF is red or red-orange, but the lantern shines golden as Prospit. It’s warm without being hot. It’s really difficult to tear your gaze away from.
Even when you ease your hand away, kind of afraid that it will snuff itself without you touching it, the lantern continues to burn. You captchalogue it very carefully. It shows up in your inventory as “Brongaa’s mercy”.
When you turn around, already not looking forward to the trek back out, there’s a glowing spirograph symbol on the ground. When you stand at its center, the air around you blurs and you get an intense itch all over your body, and then you are standing outside the temple, where the air smells like a bonfire but is wonderfully clear.
“Right,” you say, and because you are very tired and have accomplished what you came here for, you tuck your shirt in and you fire up your rocket shoes.
By the time you get home, you are that awful, harangued kind of exhausted that you basically have the least patience for out of every kind of tiredness there is.
Handing over the lantern had gone on well enough. Even when you gave it to the consorts, it didn’t go out, and it was passed down a chain of little red dragons, around a corner and out of your sight. You guess that now they’re doing whatever they need to do to it to use it.
The problem had come after that, when you were surrounded by a flock of them, looking up at you all awed and grateful, each wanting to hesitantly touch a paw to your hands, to thank you, thank you for saving them. You did not have the heart to tell them that you were tired and short-tempered and sore and really just wanted to go home already, so you were stuck there for a little longer than you would have liked.
But you get home. Starting to feel almost as zombie-ish as you did when you’d barely woken up this morning, you get home, and you stagger into the kitchen and manage to consume half a loaf of rye bread straight out of the plastic bag. You must really need the carbs, because it tastes as delicious as a meal you’d have to spend hours on. You fall upon two red apples and a peach after that, figure that that should hold you until morning, and head into the shower.
The water stays hot. It’s a fucking godsend, and it silences your body’s fuck-you song and dance routine for long enough that you swear you could fall asleep standing up. As it is, you zone out for about half an hour before you finally grab soap and scrub yourself off, and then you take the extra half an hour necessary to really wash your hair.
You probably resemble nothing as much as a half-drowned rat when you finally emerge, but Siskier is waiting for you in your bedroom. You fall happily onto the bed in nothing but the fluffy bathrobe, and lay on your front while she towels your hair off.
It feels nice as any fucking thing, and you stretch out like you are a cat and curl up and get out your PDA. Everyone’s offline. You spend five minutes staring kind of morosely at Nessiah’s handle. You wonder what he’s been doing all day. You really wish he was here with you right now, sitting on your other side and giving you crap for just lying around and letting Siskier play with your hair as much as she wants.
You shut your eyes and imagine it.
What is everyone else doing right now? Wouldn’t this evening feel a lot better if everyone was in the same place, even at the risk of some bickering? To your knowledge, everyone is still split up, on his or her individual world. Nessiah’s absence is like a toothache, and it’s been too long since you’ve been able to tuck Emilia in at night and then swap silly stories with her until she falls asleep. If Yggdra got to reunite with her sisters, maybe she’d be a lot calmer. You wonder if Luciana and Aegina miss their dad. You wonder if Leon would relax Elena’s house arrest if everyone was around to look after her. You wonder if Siskier might not want someone else around who she could talk sprite things with.
You could make everyone dinner, and everyone would fall asleep in rooms next to each other. You could sleep with Nessiah next to you, really sleep and not just nap, wake up on Prospit at the same time, already holding each other’s hands.
You open your eyes and sigh. Knowing that you did good work and helped people today doesn’t stop you from feeling miserable and alone.
When your PDA goes off in your hand, you yell and bolt upright and drop it, making Siskier shriek a little and zoom backwards. It bounces on the mattress. You snatch the stupid thing out of midair and whip it open, your face and ears already getting kind of hot with embarrassment and petty anger.
-- clockworkGriefer [CG] began pestering genocideAura [GA] --
CG: PICK UP
CG: PICK UP PICK UP PICK UP YOU GODDAMN PIECE OF FUCK
CG: I KNOW YOU’RE THERE, ASSHOLE, YOU CARRY YOUR GODDAMN PDA LIKE IT’S YOUR NEWBORN CHILD, I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEBODY AND YOU’RE THE ONLY PERSON WHO’S FUCKING ONLINE
GA: jesus balls leon you nearly gave me a heart attack
GA: what the hell is so important that you had to try to make my organs leap out of my ribcage
CG: WE HAVE A PROBLEM
END OF DAY TWO.