[Post-Episode Three] Renewal

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Pancakei

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Dahlia groaned, overcome with feelings and sensations she could not begin to describe. Weightlessness, lightheadedness, paralysis, fear. The world around her was silent and warm, but filled with a light so overbearing even the hardest she could clench her eyes still left her blinded. The sensations refused to leave her, but over time it became tolerable. It was still silent, but she could hear the most vague sound of footsteps. The wayward captain slowly pressed against the ground, trying to get a bearing for her surroundings. Everything was white, blank. She looked down at herself, seeing the open wound, but no feeling from it. Every movement felt like a struggle but led to overcompensation, like every muscle in her body had forgotten how to limit itself.

She rose to her feet slowly, every step feeling like an endurance test. Her mind was clouded in such a fogginess she had never felt before, every bit of information coming and going like it was just visiting. After regaining balance and waiting to adjust, one thought crossed her mind at last.

This was most certainly not the Kerolyne Defile.

At least anywhere she knew of. Her memories were still fleeting at best, struggling to remember where she was before. Or, how she got here. The only thing the captain could make out was a white set of double doors, to which she haphazardly moved. This didn’t feel right, this movement didn’t feel… worldly. The captain threw herself against the door, it opening wide to leave her sliding against the ground ahead.



This area was still bright, but far more tempered and concise than the realm she had just exited. It appeared to be some kind of tight and narrow foyer remniscent of a cathedral. Several doors lined the walls of the area, not unlike the one she just came from. The floor was a black and grey tile, cut into large checkered squares. A tall staircase ran laps around and away from the square room, starting at one corner with sharp turns at each wall. Translucent banners of white and grey hung from the banisters of the stairs, projecting some kind of moving imagery that was too much to understand. Everything here was solid and warm, feeling as if it was cut from stone. A bright light shone down from the apex of the spiraling staircase, though it cast no shadow. Dahlia stood up defensively as the other doors in the room began to open and burst forth, spewing out similarly disoriented but familiar faces.


The first one was a more recent addition to what had been the Downrider expedition. A young man, in his early twenties, with flowing locks and a floral Hawaiian shirt, stepped out of one of the doors. For all intents and purposes, he looked like he had just stepped off a liberal arts campus. But his eyes revealed a nonhuman nature. Sky blue, dancing with fire, and with stilted, reptilian pupils. His ears were pointed like an elf's as well.

Glasawyr held a plate of stiff-looking hors d'oeuvres he had looted from a nearby table, and was happily munching away. Whenever he would pluck one off the plate, it would simply fall through his body and break against the equally hard floor before being replaced by another.
When he saw Dahlia, his eyes lit up in joy and recognition. He smiled. It was quite a change from the feral, violent persona he'd displayed in the defile. It seemed more… human. Wise.

Suddenly, the unthinkable happened.
"Dahlia!" Glasawyr spoke in a voice, so refined, so cultured that one could have sworn Glas had attended Oxford University. Whatever that was. Sir Patrick Stewart was definitely going to be filing a lawsuit. Whoever that was.

"It's such a relief to see you again! After our untimely demise I feared I would be alone in this peculiar plane of existence!" He continued with a laugh.

"So far our unknown host has been most accommodating.” Most certainly not, those were for show. "Care for an hors d'oeuvre, old friend?" Dahlia stood looking at him unblinking for a minute, admittedly not having as much time to get to know him as he apparently did her. “No thanks… I can’t even feel my stomach right now.”

The humanoid dragon merely shrugged. The less Dahlia took, the more that was reserved for him. So, Glas continued to eat, seemingly unaware that his plate of food was not actual food. But there was something about him that suggested he was much more aware of their situation than he let on.

“Where is my child, I wonder? I realize in the end that she was not an actual child, even though anyone with less than one hundred standard years behind them is a child in my eyes. But… I miss my child, Dahlia. For in a cold and unforgiving cosmos, what are we without our familial ties? Where is my Aradia? I… I failed her, Dahlia. I was meant to be her shield, and I failed. She died, frozen amongst those poor souls who sacrificed themselves to the altar of the same decrepit ‘empire’ which you sought.” Glas mused in a depressing fashion that ran quite contrary to his usual carefree nature.

What came out of another door is the form of Juryrig, accompanying a mass of unsettling, shifting purple sludge the size of a full grown man. They tumbled and rolled with little grace, each one landing no further than 5 feet apart.

They both groaned, as if they had tumbled through a very hostile slide. However, Juryrig’s voice came from the shifting mass, while Juryrig’s body had a whole different voice of his own. The blob shifted in shape, adopting an exaggerated, humanoid form with a toothy maw and writhing features.

“Okay Tom, I have no bones, but I felt like I broke my bones getting here. What the actual fuck,” spoke the new, purple figure.

“Juryrig, please. I have bones and I feel like I need a cast. I mean, I don’t need one, but… Ow…” Spoke what was Juryrig, but is now Tom.

Just barely visible in the black mist is Reman’s unconscious body, being cradled by some shadowed figure, almost impossible to tell it’s full size, but the pulses of mint-green cyclone energy can just make out the shape around the spectre. It’s a gigantic gryphon, about two to three times the size of the mechanic, cradled around the knight as if a dog was curled up around it’s young. It’s transparent wings extended to completely cover Reman, almost looking as if it’s trying to protect the mechanic from the world around it.

The air was still around the creature. Unmoving, quiet.

Romulus was awake, but exhausted. The last bits of the unstable veteran mechanism was fading from his system, the echyllis draining from the body. Around Romulus was the smell of gasoline, as if he coated himself in it. The artificer spent his time isolated and fixing the broken barrel and core mechanism of the weapon itself.

Whereas the creature manifested itself around Reman, Romulus’s was nowhere to be found. As if it wasn’t present around the artificer despite the inherent connection between them.The bones on the back of Romulus’s shoulder blades almost looked like they were malformed and swollen, dissipating with time. Open patches of skin showed off the worst part of it, parts of his skin were smoking as if they were still on fire.

...the Downrider crew’s resident informant, meanwhile, seemed to simply enter the vast emptiness from somewhere out of view at a high velocity, not unlike having been thrown by some force unfathomably stronger than himself. After making it a scarce few meters, his flight was stopped abruptly by the collision against some invisible wall back-first, resulting in a sickening crack coming from his spine.

The ex-sergeant crumpled to the ground, unmoving for a few seconds, and yet, miraculously stood back up as if he had been entirely unharmed only moments later, clutching his head to shake off some imaginary headache. “R-Rhea… where is she?”

Dahlia’s head was spinning with the new entrants, still trying to process what Glasawyr had said. “Aradia is… dead?” The captain rubbed her temples for a moment, recalling the moment before she fell asleep. A lot of bright light and noise, the cavern. After that was the freezing plunge, and then after that... Dahlia shuddered. Still, she had no clear recollection of anything after that. “I guess she didn’t make it out?” The captain paced, stopping to help Keith only for him to spring up like nothing had happened. “I haven’t seen her either. You told me she was with your care.”


Forgive the interruption, crew of the ISS Downrider. Dahlia flicked her head upwards at the sound of an unknown voice. “Who’s there?” the captain pointed with a touch of anger in her voice. We’ve been through this quite long enough to get lost in formalities. May I suggest turning your attention towards that most brilliant staircase, so that we may be reacquainted.


“... Well, I’ll take that over being dead! There’s still a lot of carnage to be had!” Juryrig brushed and rubbed his form, becoming more of a warped, yellow-eyed mirror of Tom’s own physique. With a smile on his face, he turned to the brilliant staircase. “And to whom do we owe the grand pleasure of meeting, O’ Gloriously Overpowered One?”

”I still feel numb…” a weak, but familiar voice echoed through the liminal space of this… Cathedral. Rubbing her eye as if she’d overslept, the magician-pilot was, in short, not quite unaware of her situation.

Next to Dahlia, Glasawyr grimaced at Juryrig.

"Take care, alchemist. It would not be wise to antagonise our host. I deduce that they control every aspect of this plane, right down to our very existence within it." The dragon said carefully. He was ready to head up the stairs. But first, his eyes lit up in joy when he recognized Aradia's voice. He was about to race over and hoist her onto his shoulder, to ensure she couldn't be snatched away again. But he hesitated. With his newfound intelligence he realized he'd never asked Aradia if she'd even wanted their arrangement. He'd assumed she was an unsupervised child and had taken on the role of chaperone. But she wasn't a child.


So, with his face burning, Glasawyr handed the small mage his platter of hors d'oeuvres and wordlessly began climbing the steps at the command of a disembodied voice. “Don’t be ridiculous, Glas…” Dahlia commented as she tried rubbing the ever-present feeling of drowsiness from her eyes. The captain had already made it a few steps up the staircase before the sound of the pilot’s voice registered properly with her.

Dahlia spun around to see Aradia in the flesh, now hoisted on Glas’ shoulder. One such miracle would usually be accompanied by joy and praise, but all that could get away from the captain's face was a look of mute horror. After all, the last memory she could recollect of the woman’s intact face was it splattered squeamishly against cold, hard ice rind. If she was here, then that would mean…

Correct.

Dahlia swung around in shock, finding herself now far up the unfathomably tall staircase. Below her, the Foyer had begun to fade as the staircase narrowed in it’s spiral. At the apex of the staircase nearly all of the surrounding word had whittled away into white light, leaving nothing but a large pair of steel doors, not unlike those found on an industrial freezer.

“W-wait, we’re… We’re not…” Tom went pale, hugging himself tightly. “... We’re not alive, are we?”

Juryrig, though, cackled, slapping Tom on the back. “Yeah, that’s what they want ya to think!”

“R-really? So we’re not dead?”

“Oh, you’re fucking crazy? Of course we’re dead! We all died back there, we’re all deader than doornails. We’re probably NEVER going to see the light of day ever again!” As Juryrig talked, Tom got exponentially paler until he’s whiter than a bed sheet ghost.

The atypical humanoid sighed, eyeing up the massive doors, hardly looking back. “I’m not too concerned with that, though. All of this? Oooooh hohohoho, very spicy. I like this.” The monstrous alchemist rubbed his hands together, eyeing those doors with a hungry gaze. “Now, I don’t know jack-of-all-crap about religion, never cared to know, but I’m willing to hazard a guess that there’s a point to all of this. If we were just going to be sent to our after lives, this wouldn’t be the way to approach it…”

”I was, honestly, worried about that…” the pilot stated oddly coolly. She didn’t seem to mind being perched atop the humanoid-form dragon, sleepily holding on just tightly enough to keep her balance. ”In theory, my parents would have some sort of insurance to at least revive myself, but considering I think there was a cave-in, and several explosions and uh, some other things - it could easily be years. Maybe even long enough that there’s no point - I’m not really aware of how it works. It’s way too above my realm of knowledge,” Aradia claimed. ”I just know it’s also… Expensive as shit,” she finished, using a rather adult word.

Glasawyr was a bit disgruntled by the idea of “revival insurance”. Of course, “insurance” as a concept was entirely new to him. He had to admit that it was pretty weird to go from being a literal animal to actually somewhat intelligent.

”Well, unfortunately I have no such option. I will miss you, Aradia. I just hope that the entirety of our afterlife is not spent in this place. It’s much too cramped.” the dragon grumbled as he sidled up beside Dahlia. ”Now, to meet our host. Hopefully. And maybe I can finally acquire some pork chops.”

The two’s train of thought was interrupted rather rudely by a looming chuckle which reverberated around the narrowing staircase. For a momentary lapse, the chuckle ascended into a laugh before dying again. Evidently, someone had found humor in the otherwise tragically hopeful statement. No, no, my dear. I am afraid that in your current state your parents can do nothing to bring you back.

The voice took a pause to clear its mind for a moment. But I can.

"Really? You can?" Tom looked up at the doors, looking pretty hopeful at the idea of not dying. Or being dead in the vaguest sense of the word, really. "Do we need to do anything first?"

“I think a great start is to open the doors!” Juryrig waltzed to those doors, and pressed against them, trying to open them. The doors did not open from a push, but perhaps a pull… “Wait a second- '' Dahlia reached out to stop the two, before it was too late. Juryrig pulled back on the double doors, causing them to open up with a slow, heavy creak. From the cracked door flowed a great light that soon subsided, leaving the way open for the rest of the wayward crew.

Dahlia shielded her eyes for a moment, sizing up the now open door. The Captain scrunched her lip for a moment, deciding to take the lead ahead of Tom. “This mess is my fault, if it’s even real. I’ll go first.” She readied herself, taking a step through the door into the next room to no harm. The Captain looked around her new surroundings intensely. The Crew had found themselves in a much larger hexagonal room, in the middle of which was the circular platform on which they now stood. The walls of the room were intricate and ornate, carved white pillars flowing upwards through splits and turns, bending around ginormous dome windows vaguely resembling stained glass. White divisors split the windows into numerous equally geometric panes.

Behind the windows lay a pitch black void, the likes of which could not be described in contrast to the overwhelming light of the room. It was as if beyond this safe space, there was absolutely nothing. The Numerous pillars and arches that made up the sides of the room came to a vertex at the top of the room, from which the intense light shone down. The entire room gave the vague notion of an observatory, though there was something far different from telescopes in the chamber center. Floating in the center of the room was a light show of pictures and models, the likes of which the crew could comprehend few. Occasionally, something familiar would snap by- a planet, a face, anything.

At the far end of the observatory was a tall white statue, which looked as if it had melted to the floor itself. Behind them. Juryrig had ferried the last poor soul through the door, including Tom. The spirit threw the doors open wide, stepping forward through the center. “ALRIGHT, CLOWN SHOES! THE BEST FOR LAST ARRIVES-” With his imminent advance, the doors to the chamber immediately slammed shut with a haste most contradictory to their opening. Dahlia spun around to face the doors, finding Juryrig had been locked out- save for a fingertip.

Finally, commented the detached voice once more. The statue at the end of the hall lurched with the sound of cracking stone, an arm splitting away from it. Then came another crack, and another. At last, the statue broke away and crumbled into nothingness, revealing a floating figure of fire concealed within. The voice had ascended from detached noise to something concise, something real. Forgive me, but every time that thing speaks I feel like I start burning away.” The flaming figure turned, congealing into a humanoid mass of light. The unknown entity had no distinct appearance, vaguely resembling a human in robes of wispy light. Their head was comparatively stiff and angular, as if it were someone wearing a spiked full-face helmet. Wrapped around that helmet was a darker metallic crown adorned with an ever-changing gem, which wrapped around the helmet to form an almost horn-like silhouette.

The figure drew closer to the crew, their floating visage keeping them above them like a hawk. The images being displayed in the center of the room faded to give way to the host. The figure had somewhat of a face beneath the lower half of their helmet, but it was so vague and simplified that no identity could be made of it. More concerningly, the mouth made no movement when the visage spoke once more. “Greetings again at last, Downriders.” the figure welcomed them, spreading their arms wide to the side. Their movements were organic, if wrought with a sense of parallax. Dahlia was, for the moment, taken completely aback.


"Salutations," said Glasawyr, shifting slightly to keep Aradia balanced."Would you happen to have pork chops? Those hors d'oeuvres weren't as filling as I thought they'd be."

While he was sure this flaming being had a giant lecture on the metaphysical and "the grand design" ready to go, Glasawyr wasn't too interested at the moment. Whether here or in the "real" world, it mattered little where he was as long as the food and company was good. He'd been trained since birth to shun the superfluous.

The figure thought of the surprisingly simple question for a moment. This one was certainly an odd one out, for more reasons than one. They had changed paths. “The nature of my and now your reality dictates no need for sustenance. For your request, I shall render that need fulfilled.” True to their word, Glasawyr no longer felt hungry, or hunger at all to that end.

"Uh… Hi. I'm Tom…." Tom waved meekly at the source of the omnipresent voice. Ah yes, the unfortunate affiliate of the thing.

“Dahlia Morgan, Captain of the ISS Downrider”, the scholar declared with a thumb to her chest. She pointed at the figure in a firm manner. “And who are you?” Ah yes, the scholar with more bite this time.

“A pleasure to see what became of you all.” The figure stated, laying a vague hand of fire over their chest with a bow. After a pause, they rose and continued. “I have become known by a multitude of names across my existence, all of which I have chosen to reject.” The unnamed figure looked down on them. “For now, you may refer to me by whatever name or creed of your kind should bring you comfort. You can think of me as your guardian, or guide.”

"Oh! Okay… Yeah, that's a lot more comforting to know, Guardian!" Tom quickly eased away from being scared, immediately trusting this massive, otherworldly being. Whether or not that's a good idea is…. Debatable, but he'd argue it's a terrific idea with no drawbacks. "So I was wondering if… you know, you can let Juryrig in?" Tom gestured to the door, which held Juryrig's finger like a massive, holy vice.

The figure thought it over for a moment in brief silence. “No.” A pause followed prior to their reason as they laid a nonexistent hand over their chin. “Knowing what I’ve seen, I trust you can serve the voice of reason for the both of you- not that there is much I can do for their condition.”

Dahlia blinked a few times looking at Tom, still processing this whole literal split in personality. Granted, it was hard to register things in this half-wake stake. It was at that moment she took another head count, denoting a few people missing. After a few seconds of thought, the Captain turned to face their alleged Guardian. “Not everyone is here. Does that mean...they lived? Or are they just…” The Captain was lost in thought, overwhelmed with new and particularly dreadful feelings.

The figure slowly waved a hand outward, lowering themselves to the floor- a height still a good ways above the crew. “I would not worry or weep for any division you may perceive this as; this is a process that takes time to complete. All who are strong shall catch up, in time.”

Glasawyr now had questions. He raised his hand like a school student.

"Er, yes. I seem to remember you speaking about returning us to the corporeal world. I would like that very much. There are pork chops there." Said the dragon, who seemingly disregarded the "gift" of no longer feeling hunger. He considered it a curse to no longer be able to enjoy food. "Oh, and also, would I ever have had the chance to disembowel Alioth?"

The figure returned to a neutral posture, looking down upon the two. “Indeed you are correct, Glasawyr.” They raised a hand, motioning towards the ceiling. “You shall be reunited in the world of life and sustenance with those you know, soon enough. As if nothing had happened. Though as for the plagued one, I cannot speak for your or her fate.” Not that you wouldn’t be doing us a favor.


Dahlia pondered for a moment, unsure how to feel. Had she just led everyone she knew to death? Or something else… After a moment, she worked up another question- if a bit blunt. “What about Osco? She was important to our expedition.”

The Figure looked up, giving a detached chuckle slightly out of earshot. After having a moment in thought, the figure continued. “Indeed she is. The revenant you so bluntly refer to as ‘Osco’ is a most old acquaintance of mine. I can help ensure she will be where she needs to be, when she needs to be there as well.”

“I, uh… I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Guardian. But since I’m still here, why’d you decided to pull us in here? Did you need us to do something for you?” Tom followed up Glasawyr’s personal question in earnest. The guy doesn’t necessarily feel vulnerable compared to everyone else, let alone Juryrig, but more… Open. As if glancing into Tom’s eyes told you everything you needed to know about him.

The Figure slowly rose. “Indeed you are sentenced here with great purpose, one you seem to have forgotten.” With a raised hand, an onslaught of imagery was projected above the wayward crew, events both incredibly familiar and those completely unknown. “My title is not important, but my mission is. I dedicated my entire life to ensuring everything could fall into place as needed,” The cycle of images stopped briefly at a familiar scene- the destruction of Avisten as shown in the codex. The scene was far more visceral than one could have imagined, beyond description. It was simply ravenous. It went beyond that though, showing a continued rampage of destruction, rebuilding, and further destruction. “Unfortunately, my physicality burnt out long before I could see it to fulfillment, leaving me stranded here.”

The Figure slowly turned their head to face the Downriders once more. “As such, that is where you come in.” They turned their head back to the imagery once more. Break free from the known, recover what was lost, and finish the mission.


This was all the while Juryrig had morphed his legs into a fabulous arm chair, mulling over all the potential quirky one-liners, shenanigans, and tomfoolery he will inflict upon the rest of the Downriders when his finger’s finally unjammed. He’ll bide his time, and then that ‘Mightier Than Thou’ being holding his hand hostage will pay with the further burning of his being. Fortunately for him, it would seem he would not be alone for much longer. In fact, he could hear vague motions of footsteps coming up the staircase from the dark below.


Dahlia stepped forward after some consideration. “I don’t mean to be as blunt as you say, but I don’t remember signing my crew or I into any more debt than the Vigali.” The captain paused for a tick. “And I know the head of the Vigali is nowhere near this clean.” Let alone powerful.

Too much bite, this one.
The Figure’s finger fell with a snap for a moment as a distinct crack echoed about the room. Out of sight of the crew, a small furious crack had danced across the front of their ‘face’, seeping a radiantly colorful energy before sealing once more. The figure turned around calmly, bowing their head. “I know you don’t recall, unfortunately. This arrangement was made well in advance of your time, but I am here to make it as receptive as possible.”

The Figure stood up straight once more. “Many things could be done to prevent such losses in the future. Should you have any requests, make them known.” It would be written either way, such verbal requests were for mere comfort.

Dahlia sighed, still frustrated with her emotions. ``We were unprepared. I was unprepared. We didn’t have the right equipment. I failed as a captain to my crew.” The Figure nodded. “Then perhaps your next foray at the surplus shall yield more potent finds.”

The Figure looked up from Dahlia, who had become quite still all of a sudden. Are there any further discretions?”


Glasawyr raised a hand.

"Would I be wrong in presuming you are capable of altering reality beyond this domain?" The dragon asked. "If so, I must make clear my distaste for dark, cramped, subterranean expeditions. I am a creature of the sky, and my powers include speaking to plants and animals. I would much prefer that we limited forays into more defiles. Surely the Arcadians, a winged race like mine, would have more infrastructure built with the open air in mind? Infrastructure that could provide valuable information to the expedition?"

The Figure let their sharp fingers slide across their chin as they pondered the thought. “I can influence many things to a point, but the construction of such structures is beyond even my own time and reach. I can surely try to plant seeds, but what could come of them is not mine to determine. The Arcadians were certainly not all cave-dwelvers however, only those they deemed ill fit.


Both Juryrig and Tom thought of their next plan of action. While Tom only needed to plan their next question, Juryrig is wondering if he should even investigate down there to begin with. As Juryrig currently is, due to part of his being on the other side of the door, he could pick up the general gist of what is going on in there, although he couldn't get enough of him through the door to be able to butt into the conversation. Annoying, but better than being left out. Again.

Juryrig cleared his throat, throwing his voice and attention toward the growing darkness. "And who the fuck down there do I have the pleasure of being introduced to, huh? I thought that the thing beyond the door is the only supernatural one here."

The footsteps from down below began to grow louder, forming the sound of a disjointed march, approaching one footstep at a time. Amidst the march, Juryrig could hear an intangible mess of whispers and voices approaching, some calling out to him in particular. The staircase grew darker.


"Um… I might have one," Tom spoke up. "We've got a big crew, and they're a powerhouse in their own right. I'm worried that, though, that some of us might be a bit much to handle, and…" Tom rubbed his hands together, nervously glancing at Dahlia, then the big entity in front of everyone. "... I don't think that Dahlia, Osco, and the more grounded teammates here aren't going to be enough to keep everyone in check. Everyone's got something to them that needs to be addressed in their own time, but until then, I think it'd be beneficial to have an authority figure that'd be easier to respect. If that were to be met, Juryrig would be less likely to cause trouble, because as he is…. He doesn't respect a great deal of the crew, except for myself and Reman. That's one of his motivators for actively causing trouble."

The Figure nodded, looking up to the ceiling of the room briefly. A crack had appeared across the ceiling, near the glass. “Yes, this crew is quite the disorganized ruckus, a brewing realization I believe will come to fruition soon.”

The Figure looked back down upon Tom. “Your greatest challenges as a collective lay ahead of you, one I foresee one such trial to be very soon. Perhaps in your darkest hours, you shall find reason in a mentorly figure” other than I “and seek to achieve union through tribulation. As for your parasite, that is a consequence I cannot alleviate myself. Perhaps it shall be worked out, in time.”


It was time for the pilot to speak, the first in a while. “I’ve drawn too much attention to myself, I’ve noticed. It’s partially why I’d gotten involved in all this. Is there a way to make myself easier to hide, harder to recognize?” She crossed her arms comfortably, popping a couple knuckles.

Alongside the pilot, the resident informant, Keith, too spoke up after a long period of simply observing and following along. “Ever since I vowed never again to harm another living being, I have been nothing but a weight… I need to be more useful to my crew. I need to hold my own, to protect Rhea as my charge, but most of all,” he said, stopping to briefly readjust the scarf around his neck. “I am tired of running away from my problems. I don’t want to hide anymore.”

The Figure turned to loom over the short pilot, glancing up at a display of imagery circling by ahead. Quite a number of people were shown, all in some way vaguely familiar to the pilot. Dahlia’s stillness broke for a moment as it flashed by a particularly auburn girl, though no words came of it. “You come from an impressively broad lineage, I believe such arrangements could be easily made.”
As they have before.


The Figure at last glanced at Keith, circling him with robes of fire draped behind them across the floor. “Your request may be quite the opposite from your cohort, but the resolution may be all the same. For a crew in need, a hardier and less… morally contrived companion is often necessary.” The Figure stopped themselves. “Perhaps more than one.”


The Figure returned to their initial position hovering to the front of the group, releasing the crew members from their contracted stasis as a certain darkness began to fall upon the room. “Wait, I think I’ve seen…” Dahlia started, before her track of thought was lost.

“You shall see these arrangements come to life soon, crew of the ISS Downrider,” The Figure stated with a shallow bow, “I hope you’re satisfied with your requests.” Dahlia looked around, noticing the images above had once again ceased. The Captain looked around, before glancing back at the Figure. “So, what happens now? Are we going back?”

The Figure gazed upwards, before erratically snapping down to look at the Captain. “If you are… ready.” Dahlia reeled back at the glare, raising her elbow. “Errr, I’m not sure.”

The Figure stood straight once more, moving away from the group. “I will choose to take that uncertainty as an eager yes, young Captain.” Dahlia blinked at the figure, before stepping back from a splash of black liquid that had seeped through the darkening cracks in the ceiling. “Hey!” the Captain shouted, looking upwards. The darkness of the outside world had seemed to press inwards against the glass, reverberating intensely. “This shall soon all be like a distant dream, something beyond your recognition- as you shall be yourselves.” The Captain reeled back against the bulk of the crew as two bright blue eyes peered in through the window- followed by another- and another. Hundreds of irises of all shapes, sizes, and colors looking in on the crew as the dark feeling crept in through the cracks in the ceiling.


Outside, Juryrig was met with the answer of his call. An armada of loose, black figures marched up the stairs in unison, inky liquid dripping off their facade bodies to join the rising pool of tar that had consumed the stairwell behind them. “Time shall pass, but your mission shall remain the same.” The blotted figures approached Juryrig at a steady pace, carrying an uncomfortably familiar sensation along with them. They called out to him in silence, but he could feel it. Continue the mission. The frontmost of them… they looked like the crew.

“Ah of course, the mission! Yeah, that mission with the objectives- Yeah no, if you don’t mean ‘keep doing what you’ve already been doing’, then I have no idea what you mean,” Juryrig retorted to the ominous words. Juryrig eyed the approaching facsimile of the crew before him, which led the endless horde of dark humanoid entities far down those stairs. “Now, how about you wackos tell me what you are all supposed to be, then I’ll introduce myself-”

Juryrig was interrupted by the leading figure of the group raising a hand. With a flick, their hand shot forth into a jet of black, latching onto Juryrig’s arm and merging with it in excruciating pain. It was followed quickly by another hand, and even more as the spirit could feel itself being torn apart by the merging crowd, pulling him back from whence he came yet again.


Inside, Dahlia stepped back as more droplets of black dripped from the ceiling. The blots squirmed and shook upon hitting the ground, as if living beings. "Our business here is conducted as is proper, so I shall bid you farewell." The Figure began to fade away, leaving only the vision of their face as the crew looked around. The blots on the floor looked up at the crew, lashing out at them to drive them into the center of the room. Contact with them left a searing feeling of pain and confusion in the crew members.

"But whatever you do, Downriders, do not forget this."

The 'face' of their benefactor began to crack, revealing two hypnotic eyes of chaoritc color and imagery. Images of the crews entire lives flashed before their eyes- through their benefactors eyes. Thousands of whispers and yells began to clout their hearing, some familiar- others alien. "You owe me. You are nothing, if not for my help." Dahlia clenched her head, trying to drown out the increasing noise in a vain attempt to fight the image. "You get back here! We never agreed to anything!" The crack in the ceiling spread further, white shards of echyllis raining down on the crew above as the world around them began to spin. The door to the area bumped loudly, violently shaking the grand doors on their hinges.

I shall be watching you, Downriders.

The Captain rose to yell among the herded crew in the center of the room before the structure gave out at last. In a flash, the ceiling and doors to the observatory gave way as the vision of the Figure, the Narrator bled away. The sounds of the crew were drowned out in a crashing flood of black fluid that took the room instantly, diluting the remnants of the wayward crew into their very essence with a freakish wail that could continue to echo forever.



And then, there was nothing.


Such was the fate of the Downriders who had lost their lives beneath the surface of Trayll II- and those many before them.


---


Now, how does it go again?


Oh, yes. Ahem.


Time and time again, old stories pass by minds curious enough to believe it themselves. Stories such as these speak of a noble avian Republic so grand, it once held whole worlds, if not realities in it's palm. Some say they came from above, others below. Those who lived to pass the first of their tales say they ruled with a bloody, iron fist. Some stories cite them as proud and noble, but others say their existence was shrouded in a veil of cowardice and delusion. The few who dare state they survived encounters with them speak of metal angels falling from the heavens in broad flashes of light. They came not to protect others, however, but instead to protect their own image. Most who tell these stories say they had no name, but on the rarest occurrence, one would recall, "Avisten".

Tall tales preach the undoing of this Republic of Avisten: how their oppressive grip crumbled as their ancient enemies rose up and disrupted their enforced balance. Their own people turned against them in revolt, joined under the charismatic lead of a Faceless Baron. The war was bloody and destructive, as great weapons tore floating islands from the sky and entire generations of history and progress were thrown to the fires of revolution. The verses sing that the collapse of Avisten was so cataclysmic, that the remnants of the ancient government was blasted far and wide across many dimensions.
The hymns affirm that on that night of fate, the skies were filled with mixed tears of sorrow and rejoice.


These stories, while as old as anyone can recall, still hold promises of untold wealth and danger to those who seek it. To this very day, whispers in the streets speak of troves of unclaimed treasure, and bounties of forgotten technology to be uncovered. To some, such tales and rumors may seem like nonsensical tales the poor spread to stir action; to others, the allure of riches and the search for answers that such mad tales instill can attract those just as mad themselves.

It's these madmen that would heed the call.

The first was a young scholar, equally curious and tenacious, who had spent their whole youth enthralled in the mysteries of these ancient worlds.
It could be either luck or fate that she lived not in that old era, where the fascination and collection of such forbidden information was enough to permit good people to disappear in the dead of night. Instead, the fruits of her obsession was just now starting to take form. Her words of a newfound expedition had spread around the underbellies of the city, and their own night of fate had come. Every captain needs a crew, and those who were willing to meet in the earliest hour of morning could soon find themselves in a position of money, knowledge, perhaps even fame.





Be they curious, seeking glory, or just plain desperate.


---
 
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