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Chapter 18 - The Seekers' Stronghold
With the monsters raised by Azel from the Tower obliterating everything in sight, Edge gets the heck out of dodge and heads back to camp, where he, Roderick, Azel, and the dragon pup are safe for now. But with Zoah destroyed, Craymen dead, and Azel unconscious again, his options for more information are extremely limited. No Vaiman at Zoah to give him access to the town's records about the Ancient Age...no Craymen to further explain the Tower's true purpose and what, if anything, he can still do...it seems to Edge that aside from Roderick, he doesn't have a friend or confidant left in the world.
In desperation, Edge heads for the caravan. The hunters there should have been able to see the Grig Orig over the horizon, so they might know something, anything, about any survivors that may have been able to run for their lives in time. Entering the caravan, Edge only sees Raul, the second-in-command hunter to An'jou, sitting by the fire pit - who, surprisingly, calls out to Edge as he enters.
Raul: You're a popular guy. There's a seeker over there who wants to meet you.
A seeker? Edge wonders what the man wants with him, and heads towards the rear of the caravan, where a man dressed in a colorful green costume is leaning against a cart.
Seeker: You must be Edge, right?
Edge: Huh? Ah, yeah...
Seeker: I came here to find you.
Gash! Of course!
Seeker: He wants you to come to the Seekers' Stronghold.
Edge: Seekers' Stronghold? Never heard of it.
Seeker: Not many people have. Its location is shown on this map. Gash is waiting for you there.
Visibly relieved, Edge carefully retrieves Azel and mounts Roderick, pointing the dragon east, where the Seekers' Stronghold is located. As he arrives, he is waved into a cave by Gash himself, and as he lands he is surprised to see that the room is filled with boxes of supplies, relics, and Ancient Age devices scattered here and there. No sooner has he stepped off the dragon, than Gash hurries up to him.
Gash: Good, you got the message.
Edge: Gash...what's going on?
Gash: Calm down, kid! We need to make accomodations for Azel first.
Edge: What for?
Gash: Just leave her to us. We promise not to harm her. We'll do what we can to awaken her.
Edge: Okay, I'll leave her with you.
Gash: You can count on me. I'll be at the clearing. I've got something to tell you...meet me there later and we'll talk.
Stepping through the doorway, Edge finds himself on a bridge abutting a raging waterfall. The resourceful seekers have carved their village out of the very rock, making it a very hard place to be stumbled upon (which Edge suspects is the entire point). Crossing the bridge and passing through the doorway of the main complex, Edge is delighted to see another familiar face.
Paet: I escaped in the airship, but it crashed shortly after. The seekers found me alive.
Zoah is now in ruins. Guarded by the Gods... My rear end.
Edge: I'm sorry about that...
Paet: Don't worry. It's not your fault.
Paet then, thankfully, changes the subject, talking about how interesting he finds the seekers and lamenting the fact that his airship crashed so quickly. Preoccupied with Gash and Azel, Edge is only half listening, and leaves a moment later to look for Gash, finding the seeker talking with another of his number, who nods and turns to leave as Edge approaches.
Gash: You're here. This way. I have something to tell you...
Edge: What about the monsters? And that Imperial Battle Fleet?
My men are in position. We are always one step ahead of them.
Edge: Your men?
Gash: The seekers are a highly structured, but secretive group. We have led the world to believe we're a band of tomb raiders. I am the seekers' new leader.
Surprised? No one would suspect a man like me to lead anything. Deception is our way of life.
Here it is.
Gash has lead the way into a room dominated by an Ancient Age machine. Edge has no idea what it's supposed to do, but it looks very, very impressive.
Gash: Seekers have researched the Ancient Age for nearly two hundred years. It wasn't by luck that we met. We cannot let a man with a dragon escape our grasp. That is why we've been keeping an eye on you.
Edge: You plan to use me as a weapon?
Gash: That is correct.
Craymen's Tower was the cause of everything.
Edge: Wait a second. Just who... what are you people?
You told me that the seekers are an organization, but what is your purpose? I want the truth...
Gash: We will reclaim this world.
Edge: The... world!?
Gash: Yes. And for that purpose, we must destroy the Tower... No, all of the ancient ruins.
Edge: Destroy the Tower!? You're insane!
Gash: ...You heard it from Craymen? He claims the Tower will restore this world. If the Tower ran our lives, there would be no war. But we're not really living.
Gash: Edge, do you remember the village we visited, shortly after we met?
Gash: We, the seekers are...the survivors of the villages attacked by those monsters. Justice may not be with us. But no matter what they call it, humans struggle to survive. And we're no exception. For us to be truly free...
Edge: You need Azel... huh?
Gash: But that's not all. To shut down the Tower, we'll need him.
Edge: The dragon!?
Gash: The dragons ended the Ancient Age by terminating all of the active ruins and towers. The 'Divine Visitor'...is the dragon itself!
I want Azel to lead the dragon.
Edge: Will she ever wake up?
Gash: That, I don't know. But I'm sick of being kept alive by the ghosts of the ancient ones. For man to control his own destiny, we need Azel. Zadoc the Compiler knows the fine details. Listen to his story. He should clear up everything.
I have other commitments to address. Treat this place as your home.
Edge, we need you.
Please help us.
In a daze, Edge leaves the room and aimlessly wanders the halls of the stronghold. He stumbles from conversation to conversation, meeting seekers with names he will not remember, his mind spinning with what he's just heard.
Craymen advocated controlling the Tower...Gash wants to destroy it. Which one of them is right? And more importantly, how on earth will he know which one of them is right?
The man Gash mentioned...this Zadoc the Compiler. Gash said he would clear up everything - Edge decides that it's time to see him now, and finds him tucked away in a small room, surrounded by books.
Young dragon rider.
Edge: Who... are you?
Zadoc: I am Zadoc, the compiler. I've been studying the Ancient Age. Here, take this book. It contains records about the last dragon rider. He was Gash's master and the seeker who led this village.
Edge: Why are you giving this to me?
Zadoc: You should have it. Like him, you are also a dragon rider.
Did Gash tell you about the Towers?
Edge: Yeah...it sounds crazy.
Zadoc: I see. I understand your skepticism. It is also written that your dragon has the ability to destroy the Towers. That's why we've been watching you since you found the dragon.
The Towers are located throughout this world. To destroy them all, it would take centuries.
Edge: That's impossible...
Zadoc: When she was unearthed, we discovered her true purpose... Perhaps there is hope.
Edge: You mean Azel? What do you want with her?
It's our only chance. She must know how to get there.
Zadoc: The ancient records speak of a group of astral passages beyond our world
that connects all of the Towers. These Towers are controlled by Sestren.
Edge: So Gash wants to destroy Sestren.
Zadoc: Exactly. If Azel leads the dragon to Sestren and the dragon destroys it, all of the towers will be destroyed.
So Gash wants to destroy all Towers, not just *the* Tower...Edge's head begins to swim again, and to attempt to calm down, he cracks open the book that Zadoc gave him.
For some reason, having this new information in book form is calming to Edge. He can peruse each page at his own leisure, taking the time necessary to digest the wisdom contained within instead of having it spoken to him rapid-fire by authority figure after authority figure. On top of that, hearing a first-person account from another dragon rider is also highly comforting; he no longer feels so alone in the world of humans as he once did (any time he is on Roderick's back, he feels content and at peace).
Once finished with the book, he finds it much easier to converse with Zadoc, and the Seeker historian has plenty to tell him about his dragon, Azel, and the mysterious Sestren. But he has perhaps the most interesting thing to say regarding the Empire:
Zadoc: The Emperor has died, and the Imperial fleet has been destroyed. The Empire is now powerless...
The Empire originated from a group of seekers who sought the power to destroy Sestren. As their power grew, they became corrupted by greed and they forgot their original purpose. It was this power that caused them to become evil.
Intrigued by Zadoc's knowledge, Edge now takes a moment to peer at the multitude of books stacked all around the Compiler's room. Noting one particular volume about the Tower, Edge pulls it out further to examine its cover when the voice of Zadoc startles him back into reality. Zadoc urges him to take the book, hoping that it will serve him well, and an eager Edge flips it open, hoping to gain an understanding of that which he is now tasked to destroy.
His curiosity satiated for the moment, Edge takes his leave of Zadoc, and re-enters the stronghold proper. After passing through the door, he suddenly realizes that he is running critically low on supplies, and wonders if there is a storehouse or shop here. Dreading have to fly all the way back to the caravan and deal with Baicah every time he needs some necessary items for battle, he tries the last door he has not entered yet, and sees yet another familiar face!
You made it out alive!
Edge: Huh? I've seen you at Zoah...
Jared: I'm Jared, I ran the tool shop. Here, I've become the gun smith.
Edge: You're a seeker, too?
Jared: That's right. Gash told me to watch out for you. I didn't tell you because I didn't want to give away my identity.
Well, stop by anytime, like you did in Zoah, okay?
Edge is quite pleased to discover that the Empire's cruelty spared at least a few of the people he had come to depend on, and eagerly starts perusing Jared's new wares. Among the normal restorative items, he finds a new attachment for his gun, the Pulverizer, which is made with such skill and ingenuity that it doubles the gun's firepower! Unfortunately, it is quite expensive, and Edge doesn't have the Dynes on him at the moment - but, figuring that this one gun attachment could fulfill all of his needs for handheld weaponry, sells off all of his previous attachments, affording the new item easily.
With a start, he remembers that Azel is still lying unconscious a few rooms over, and hurries back to her side. When he enters, Gash is there talking with one of his lieutenants as Azel thrashes restlessly about on the bed. After the lieutenant leaves, Edge inquires as to Azel's condition, but before Gash can answer she sits bolt upright, startling the two men.
Edge: Were you having a nightmare?
Edge: Did you have a bad dream?
Azel: I don't understand...I... killed...
...A dream? I see... A dream...
Edge: You're acting like you've never had a dream before...
Azel: Yes, it's the first time. I've never experienced it before...
...Where is he!?
The sudden shift in her line of questioning takes Edge by surprise, and he is left at a loss for words. Gash, however, experiences no such difficulties, and cuts straight to the point.
Gash: He's dead.
He died as part of his vision, as part of the Tower's cycle. Food for the monsters you awakened.
Gash: Don't look at me like that. I'm not punishing her. I just want her to realize who the real enemy is.
Speaking of, the lieutenant Gash was talking to earlier suddenly bursts back into the room, panic in his voice that he is unable to conceal.
Direction 07, 2500 rions. ...So many of them.
Gash: Who's coming?
Seeker: Monsters... and Grig Orig, both.
Gash: All right, I'm going to the observation deck.
The lieutenant hurries away with Gash hot on his heels, leaving Edge and Azel alone for the moment.
Azel: I need to be alone... for now...
Edge realizes that she has not heard any of the words that were said in the room after "He's dead"...and after taking a moment to fruitlessly search for a word or two of comfort, he gives up and turns to leave.
Azel: Stop... wait!
With a smile, Edge nods, and hurries from Azel's room to the observation deck, far on the other side of the Seekers' Stronghold, catching up with Gash there, who through his binoculars can see a gruesome sight.
I guess they couldn't stop them.
covered with monsters.
Gash: It's out of control and it's destroying everything in it's path. Right now, it's a killing machine and it's headed this way.
As if punctuating his point, a shot from the distant Grig Orig hits dangerously close, shaking the room with a great tremor and shooting hot sparks everywhere, which fizzle and smoke as they land on Edge's clothes.
Gash: Retreat to the second defense line. Hurry! There's no time!!
Edge, can I count on you? We're no match for that thing!
Edge: Isn't that why you kept me here?
Gash's only reply is a rougish grin, and Edge nods and leaves the post, on his way to round 2 against the fearsome Grig Orig.
On his way out he seeks out Zadoc, who, much to Edge's relief, has some words of wisdom regarding his latest battle.
Zadoc: If you wish to attack Grig Orig, approach it from the forest. Watch out for the Arangata, they are tightening their air defenses.
That's great, but what's an Arangata?
Zadoc: Arangata are rooting themselves in the forest. If you fly above them, they'll block your path. If you attack their roots first, you will weaken them.
With vital intelligence in hand, Edge mounts his dragon steed and sets out for the Forest of Zoah.
(Grig Orig's horror ends here...
Zoah will be avenged...
I just have to fight my way north!)
Once a verdant paradise that provided for the entire town of Zoah, the forest is being slowly destroyed by the wanton destruction of Grig Orig and the rise of the Arangata. Gripped by a sudden rage, Edge flies straight for the nearest group of enemies, destroys the two groups of Lazara protecting the Arangata, gets in range of the huge plant, unleashes a lock-on volley, and...
The side doesn't work, and neither does the front...in fact, after clanging another volley uselessly off the front of the Arangata, the entire radar turns red, prompting a quick Shield:
Which turns out to have been a really good fuckin' idea, as the next attack is so powerful it blows Edge completely out of the battle!
Wait a second...Zadoc said that it was going to be necessary to attack the Arangata at the roots *before* trying to fight them directly!
To the northwest, Edge finds a giant hollow cocoon poking its nose up from the treeline, its open end looking mighty inviting as a passage to the forest underneath, which is exactly what it turns out to be.
Unfortunately, flying inside the forest is almost like flying into hell itself.
Due to the maverick Grig Orig's constant and random bombardment, the entire forest is alight with flame, and Edge finds himself coughing and dodging flaming embers as he navigates Roderick through a bewildering maze of narrow passages.
After flying north a ways, he finds what must be the roots of one of the Arangata above, and Accessing it with Roderick causes the glowing orbs around its base to fade out and the root itself to shrivel.
During the course of his explorations down here, aside from all of the Arangata roots, Edge also happens to find D Units 9 *and* 10...
causing the now-obvious image of a dragon in the menu screen to become even more apparent.
Edge also finds a hidden door in the far north of the forest complex, which is so strong that only a level 6 laser can penetrate it. Much like at Georgius, his curiosity is piqued...there will definitely have to be a return trip back here later!
Once the entire forest area is explored and every root destroyed, Edge heads back up above the treeline,
where the once mighty Arangata now listlessly hang open with their weak spots exposed,
allowing Edge to dispatch them easily.
Edge continues to the north as fast as he can, but the Arangata have set up multiple impassable layers of defense, and Edge must fight through each one of them before he can move on. After what seems like hundreds of battles, he has finally flown far enough north to engage what is left of the flagship, Grig Orig.
This is worse than I thought! I've got to stop it somehow...
The infested version of the Grig Orig provides an interesting dilemma to Edge. Every few moments, three discharge chutes open. Two of them dispense floating plants called Tallon...
While the third opens up as a quite inviting weak point. However, once everything opens up, Edge only has time for one attack...
before being divebombed by the parasitic plants, which do quite a bit of damage as well as introduce a status effect (usually BIND, which limits Roderick to only one gauge charged at a time). Thinking quickly, Edge realizes that the lock-on lasers get spread too thin to take out the Tallon in time before they can attack him, and having to waste gauges on removing status effects and healing significant damage leaves no time for offense of his own. Suddenly, he realizes what he must do.
A model change to a dragon with high Spirituality and Agility is his best bet now - while capable to do enough widespread damage with Berserk techniques to take out both Tallon in one shot, Roderick will be able to charge up three gauges, take them out, and still have one left to take a shot at the Grig Orig's weak spot before it spews Tallon again.
Back in the fight, Edge decides to try using Dragon Phoenix, the most powerful Spiritual-class Berserk technique available:
And while that looked awesome, it really didn't do enough damage to justify the BP expense. Switching back to basic, vanilla Judgement Day, Edge manages to get into a rhythm of charging gauges, destroying Tallon, taking a shot at the weak point with the Pulverizer, and then doing it all over again.
Eventually, the ship's life bar drains down to zero...and just like before, immediately begins filling up again. But unlike before, it seems that the monsters know enough to abandon battle tactics that don't work, and instead have begun to power up the Imperial Cannon again.
It looks like it's being fed energy from the monsters directly. I've got to avoid that cannon!
But before he can go about avoiding the cannon, Edge knows that there is one thing that must be done first:
switching back to an attack-based dragon model!
Of course, the barrel of the Imperial Cannon turns out to be this Grig Orig's weak point, and even though
Edge is able to do great damage with Roderick's re-powered lasers,
failing to dodge the Imperial Cannon brings all kinds of pain.
After the hit, Edge finds himself in front of the Cannon's barrel with a fully charged gauge bar and Roderick down to under one-third of his health, with another successful attack by the Grig Orig sure to kill his trusted friend (and him along for the ride down!).
Edge fires the first volley, doing great damage. The cannon has yet to charge.
Urging the dragon to shoot again, Edge stays on the offensive, the second volley doing MASSIVE DAMAGE, bringing the mutated flagship's life bar nearly all the way down.
The cannon begins to charge. Edge has one gauge left. If he stays where he is...inviting disaster for himself, the dragon, and the world...he can make an attempt to fire and land the killing blow. Or he can duck out of the way, retreating to the relative safety of the side of the cannon, where he can try to heal up and make another run at it. What is his choice?
"We're only going to get one shot at this, Roderick, and we must do it here and we must do it now.
Edge sighs with relief as the Grig Orig begins to explode and drift apart, as a great weight has been lifted off his soul. The town of Zoah has been avenged, the Seekers and their stronghold are safe, and the end goal of true freedom for all humans is back in sight once more. Roderick, ever tuned to Edge's thoughts, begins to celebrate in his own way.
Shake it, Roderick...
It's your birthday, it's your birthday...
That never gets old, does it?
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