Part 50: I can't help but feel my being here is a mistake of some kind.-The Hermit's Garden-
I waffled a whole bunch on my party setup for this next bit, and finally decided to keep Tita and Agate for a little longer.
Whoooa... I thought I was ready after you guys told me what happened, but seeing the place you once trained at like this is...weird.
So this warp thingy here is gonna take us to the next plane?
That's right. The next should be the fifth.
Presumably the first of the 'more advanced game boards' the Lord of Phantasma mentioned.
We're gonna be in for a really rough ride, aren't we?
But hey! We've come through plenty of those just fine. We can knock this one out, too.
I certainly hope so...
Hmm? Something wrong?
No, but I do have a question. Why did you specifically put your name forward to accompany me?
Huh? Is it really that big a deal?
I can't think of any specific reason you could have to offer to support me. And yet when making your request, your eyes were filled with determination and resolve, so it wasn't something you did on a whim...
You don't mind my inquiry, do you?
Nope. It wasn't a whim, though, so you're right about that. It's just that I don't have some big, special reason for doing it, either...
I guess I just wanted to give something back.
What do you mean?
Well, like, Kevin did a lot for me back during all that trouble in Liberl. He bailed me out of trouble more times than I can count, and he helped Joshua deal with what was burdening him, too...
Now he's in trouble just like we were, so...it's this thing where I found myself wondering whether there was anything I could do to help. Coming and backing you up was the best way I could do that.
Heh. Now I get it.
I-I'm still not sure that I understand... I understand that you feel indebted towards Kevin, but how does helping me go towards repaying that?
Isn't that obvious? You're super important to him, aren't you?
Err, I'm not implying you're going out or anything.
Just from all I've heard and seen since getting here, it seems like you basically view each other as family... I'm not wrong, right?
...No. You're right.
Before all of this started, we hadn't met for almost five whole years. The only reason we met again at all was because of work.
I'm not sure there's any bond between the two of us at all anymore.
Pffft. Yeah, I'm not buying that one.
What's so funny?
'The connections between people deepen over time to become bonds, and once such bonds have formed, they can never be broken. However far apart those people may be, no matter where life may take them, those bonds will always exist in some way.'
Not my words, by the way. They're just something some old guy I know said to me a while back. And I happen to agree with him.
Kevin was happy to entrust everything to you without a second thought, right? You were talking like you knew what he was thinking earlier, too. About how he was going to tell us about his Stigma.
That's proof enough there's still a strong bond between you.
I wish I could be so confident.
Still, I can understand why you wanted to come with me now. I appreciate it, too. Thank you, Estelle.
You're very welcome!
I do have one more question, though... It's something of a personal one, however.
Hmm? Like what?
I'll answer it if I can. This is a good chance to get to know each other.
All right. Forgive me if this sounds blunt, but...
...do people often tell you you're too soft for your own good?
Wh-What're you laughing for?!
I think I have my answer.
At least let me answer before making up your mind...
Ahhh, screw it. Let's get going!
Right behind you.
Where are we now?
It seems to be another enclosed dimensional space.
-Labyrinth of Shadows and Light-
Or at least, that's how it appears.
Yeah... This'll be a blast to go through.
We're gonna need to put our backs into this one.
And quite immediately, too.
-Fighting Right On-
Here they come!
These are dream spiders!
They're foul beasts that devour people's dreams and replace them with nightmares!
Well, this plane's off to an AWESOME start...
Well, whatever. Let's kick some devil butt!
No, YOU get confused.
I was only half right about Tita losing her accessories while in the Orbal Gear. Ailment protection and other special effects like Gladiator CP boosts will be nulled, but it seems like any stat modifiers from accessories (and other equipment) will still get factored into the Gear's stats. So Tita will be rocking a Fool's Emblem and Tiger Heart for the foreseeable future.
-Labyrinth of Shadows and Light-
Whew... I'm bushed.
So were those the kinda devils you were talking about back in the garden?
More specifically, it's a subspecies of devils known as dream devils. They're said to specialize in attacking the mind, and I think we've confirmed that to be perfectly accurate.
We're gonna need to put in more than our backs at this rate...
How about we double check our equipment one last time before we head on?
That certainly sounds wise.
There's no such thing as being too cautious.
We're good to go!
Is that a Sealing Stone down there?
We can't see that the Brooch grants +20 STR, +50 DEF, +50 ATS, +100 ADF, +1 SPD, +6 AGL, and +1 MOV, but at least we know it's got a blue feather.
Heh, shouldn'ta done that.
Grimoires have something new now.
They've all mastered the doppel-er effect we saw on the fourth plane.
Everything on this plane is weak to space so I should really try for Lost Mobius or Dark Matter EX, but the listed quartz requirements are wrong--again--so I don't even know what I need.
Well, good thing we've got a lighter then.
Grimoires that have doppeled down have a chance to drop high-end weapons for whoever they're imitating.
Let's give Tita another major power boost. Why not.
Merry Zemurian-Winter-Holiday-That-Probably-Has-Shrine-Festivals-And-Such, little lady.
On top of everything else, the Merciless Rocket also gives Tita's standard attack a larger area of effect.
hoe leash it mai ayes
Here's a big fella.
The whole reason I brought Agate was so I could fight one of these guys and go 'turns out Wild Rage and Holy Blessing are a pretty strong combo hur de dur' but Tita's just going to solo this one.
If they do get to take a turn at all, Arch Devils are rough customers. Their Demonic Claw hits hard, always inflicts a random ailment, and has a short delay.
But the Omnissiah is smiling on us today.
Wow... That thing sure is pretty. Is it some kind of septium?
No. It's what's known as a sealing stone.
You were inside one just like this when we found you.
Are we gonna find someone in this one, too?
Without a doubt.
You wouldn't happen to have any inkling as to who it could be, would you?
Let me think...
You don't think it could be your old man, do you?
He'd be a real big help right about now...
I don't think we're THAT lucky, though.
Could Grandpa be inside?
Well, it's true that he's busted us out of a jam plenty of times in the past...
Wasn't he out of the country on vacation, though?
Oh, yeah. You're right.
Maybe not, then...
...It sounds as though there are a number of possibilities.
And the fastest way to find out which one rings true is to take this back to the garden.
Then let's go!
-The Hermit's Garden-
oh there's a barrier somewhere too
That looks like...
I-It couldn't be...
You've gotta be kidding me...
Whoever this person is, they're definitely causing a serious stir.
Ugh... A stun grenade?!
Ahaha... I sure didn't see THIS coming.
I presume you're all familiar with this man? All I can tell by the uniform is that he's from the Royal Army.
Yes, we certainly are.
I-I'm not sure what is going on here...
Estelle? Joshua? ...And is that you, Your Highness?
Yes, it is. It's good to see you again, Richard.
I feel the same.
The pleasure is all mine, Your Highness.
I'm delighted to see you well and in good health.
Heehee. There's no need to stare at the floor when you're talking to me, you know.
How have you been?
Th-Thanks to Her Majesty's extraordinary kindness, I've been doing very well.
I hope you'll forgive me for asking--I'm afraid I don't quite understand the situation I've found myself in... Would it be any trouble to request a brief explanation of where we stand?
It would probably be easier if I handled that.
I don't believe we've met...
Allow me to introduce myself.
I'm Ries Argent, a squire affiliated with the Gralsritter.
...I see. It sounds as though the situation is even more abnormal than I thought.
I suppose I should introduce myself as well.
My name is Alan Richard. I was once a colonel in the Royal Army's Intelligence Division, as well as a traitor who attempted to instigate a coup d'etat.
At present, however, I run the research agency R&A Research.
I wish I knew what else to say...
What do you mean? As in, like, you're having trouble believing all of what we just told you?
Well, part of me feels that way, yes.
But that's not really it... The greatest doubt in my mind is simply, 'Why me?'
I look at everyone here, and I see comrades who know how to fight alongside one another to turn even the darkest of odds in their favor. Whether this turn of events was the will of the Goddess or someone else, I can't rightly say...
...but from where I'm standing, you've already formed the perfect team for overcoming the obstacles before you.
Errr... I guess so...
I sure as hell don't wanna work with her, though.
I don't want her stupid rubbing off on me.
Oh, you're gonna feel REALLY stupid after I thwack your brains to mush.
Not now, you two...
*cough* If I may...
I find it hard to understand how I, of all people, came to be here. Far from working together well with all of you, I'm a criminal who threatened both your lives and the safety of the nation in which we thrive.
I can't help but feel my being here is a mistake of some kind.
It wouldn't be the Lord of Phantasma's first mistake. They didn't even remember to make the pine trees in Saint-Croix Forest green.
You have helped us before, though! Like during the attack on Grancel, remember? You came to everyone's aid then.
That could've gotten really bad if you and your men hadn't showed up to help when you did.
Haha. They're right.
Then there was the fact that you assumed responsibility for defending the city while all of us escorted Kloe to Haken Gate.
Yeah. You might've done some bad stuff in the past, but you're underselling yourself by sayin' you've never helped us before.
Be that as it may...
My good man, it's not as though you're the only one here who's performed terrible deeds.
To use the occasion Joshua mentioned: while you valiantly defended Grancel, I was at Haken Gate threatening Liberl's safety. And yet here I am, fighting alongside my friends without a care in the world!
The best thing to do here, in my personal opinion, is relax.
...I'm not sure boasting about 'not having a care in the world' is something YOU should be doing.
I have a different perspective on those events, Your Highness. You were only threatening Liberl on the surface. You had no intention of doing anything. On the contrary! You were trying to protect it.
The same can't be said for me. My conspiracy was of my own doing.
Okay, but what about me?
We were being used by you guys, yeah, but that doesn't change the fact we were a bunch of sky bandits who even hijacked an airship.
But Her Majesty was gracious enough to give us another chance at life, and we're trying to make the most of it running our new company. I don't think our positions are all that different, honestly.
You might've done things that you regret...
...but it's not the past that determines who you are. It's what you choose to do now.
Exactly! And it'd be a huge help if we had someone as baller as you fighting with us!
So please? We could really use your help!
...Are you sure, Anelace?
Huh? You guys know each other? How did that happen?
Oh... Haha... I went to visit your dad for something a while back, so that's when we met.
After all we've heard, I see no reason to refuse your company.
If anything, we're eager to welcome you to our group with open arms. Myself included. You could consider it aid given to the Gralsritter if that would make you less averse to the idea. What do you say?
Very well. You have my support.
Heehee. I'm so glad you're with us.
Haha... I only hope I meet your expectations.
...Incidentally, there is one thing I would like to confirm first.
What would that be?
You said that you believe everyone to have been surrounded by that white light and sent here at roughly the same time.
When that happened, were you all wearing the same clothes that you are now?
What kind of question is that?
Now that you mention it, how come you're wearing your military uniform? I was under the impression that you left the armed forces...
Hmm... Now the question makes sense.
You were wearing something different when you were sent here, weren't you?
Currently, I work out of an office in Ruan City, and since beginning work there, I have never once willingly worn my old uniform. When I was surrounded by that light, I was wearing a shirt and a pair of slacks as I normally do. And yet somehow, I find myself here in uniform.
It's not something that's happened to anyone else, either.
Oh! I have a thought.
Perhaps the Lord of Phantasma decided the colonel just wasn't sexy enough in anything else and prepared that strapping uniform for him after bringing him here?
Yeah... I don't think so.
So in addition to the other billion ways they're a weird freak, they've got a military uniform fetish, too?
I couldn't entirely blame them if they did, though...
I swear... Girls these days.
??? (<- Has no idea what's going on)
that's a direct quote from the game btw
Still, there's clearly got to be something to it.
I get the feeling we're on the verge of a major breakthrough in working out how we ended up here.
So do I.
As well as what this place really is to begin with.
In that case, let's put the matter aside for now.
Now that that's settled, then, we should start getting ready to resume our investigation.
Releasing Richard should hopefully have opened up a new path for us to follow.
The true reason for Queen Alicia's mercy towards the Intelligence Division has nothing to do with their skills, dedication, popularity, the greater threats of Ouroboros and Erebonia, or even the simple fact that the Queen is an incredibly generous soul.
No, it's just because Colonel Richard is dreeeeeeamy
Richard is your strongest melee attacker. It might not be readily apparent at first, since Tita can certainly out-damage him at this point and he has nothing like Joshua or Agate's area coverage, but on top of his excellent STR and SPD Richard also gets...well, you'll see. Richard's crafts:
Luminous Divider: Melee attack.
Luminous Wheel: Small ranged AoE with Impede.
Luminous Ogre Slash: Melee attack with chance to Faint.
Richard is also one of the group's better casters, but he's honestly wasted on arts.
He looks a lot better compared to before.
He seems to be doing fine now. Fortunately for us, he's one tough cookie, so he should be up and about in no time.
Don't you worry, mm'kay? He'll be fine.
I can promise you that he's in good hands.
D-Don't you dare take one step closer to Joshua wearing that skimpy-as-hell outfit!
Just because you were blessed with bombtastic boobs doesn't mean you gotta go showing them off 24/7!
D-Damn it! Why is life so unfair?!
There's got to be some kind of underlying reason why that was the case... It can't just be random.
If we can work that out, I have this feeling we'll be able to get significantly closer to knowing just how this world works. It's just a case of connecting the dots...
At this rate, it'll be Master Cassius in the next one.
Hold up a sec...
I ended up here despite being in Calvard, so maybe she could even end up here...
Zin is deep in thought, something clearly on his mind.
Hey, you heard this thing about Anelace? Apparently she fought our buddy Colonel Richard here a while back.
Heehee. Yeah, it's true. I wasn't expecting it to happen, either. But it was just a friendly bout, so don't take it too seriously.
It was just another of Brigadier General Bright's whims.
Still, I saw no reason to object, so I was happy to put my swordsmanship to the test.
Come to think of it, I've fought you once before, too, haven't I? Although that was a four-on-one battle, and even then we barely managed to scrap by with a victory...
Haha... I can't say that occasion is an especially pleasant memory to me at this point.
Hey remember how Cassius punched you right in the mouth?! I've never seen him so angry! He was all 'AARGH YOU SUCK SO BAD YOU UTTER DISGRACE'
You learned your swordsmanship under the old man directly, right? I'd be down for a one-on-one fight against you if you are.
(I fear you're only setting yourself up for disappointment by comparing me to him...)
You're pretty tough from what I've heard, Colonel. So I'm itchin' to fight you one on one while we've got the chance and see what I can really do.
I'd like to think I've become a bit stronger since I last fought the colonel, too... Maybe I should ask him for another match?
(What will it take to make everyone understand that I'm no longer a colonel...?)
Sorry. You are the Colonel Eternal.
...so I'm currently in the process of lulling her into a peaceful slumber with my sweet nothings.
...This just feels like a crime in the making.
Funnily enough, I was thinking the same thing.
Haha. I haven't the faintest clue what you are all accusing me of!
I always put the ladies in my life above all else!
Yeah, that's exactly the problem...
Heh. Still, her adorable sleeping face does wonders to stimulate my paternal instincts.
Perhaps I should ask her to call me 'Daddy' after she wakes up? ❤
I'm going to let Agate and Mueller handle this one, and I'm not going to ask them any questions afterwards.
(Aww. Looks like she's having a little nap.)
(She was the first person we released from a sealing stone, incidentally. She must be exhausted.)
(Makes sense. Guess we should just let her rest.)
(Yeah, you're right.)
She did just beat the shit out of a pit fiend. That would tucker anybody out.
(She's so cute.)
I've heard his company's name mentioned on a number of occasions since then, though.
There've been small adverts for it in magazines, too, I believe.
Maybe it's doing pretty well for itself, then.
I've heard many great things about his skill in battle and espionage, as well as his intellect. He's not someone I would want as an enemy, but I'll welcome him any day as a powerful ally.
No one denies that he made a mistake, but he was an exceptionally skilled soldier, and the military is worse off without him.
I've heard rumors that Brigadier General Bright hasn't given up on bringing him back into the ranks yet, even.
You've got to be kidding me...
He really doesn't believe in giving people a break, does he?
Regardless, I wasn't expecting Richard of all people to end up here...
But he does fit within the rule that only those who have aided us end up in sealing stones.
It appears to be a dimensional space of its own...
You still finding all of this hard to take in?
Oh, it's you, Estelle.
You could put it that way, yes. I fear it's going to take me a while longer to come up with an effective enough plan to conquer this place.
C-Conquer...? There was me thinking you might still be trying to process the situation you're in, but you're already one step ahead. That's our colonel!
As I believe I have told you several times already, I'm not a colonel anymore... I'm not even part of the army anymore.
Oh. Oops. You're running a research company for civilians these days, right?
Indeed. We're still a relatively insignificant startup, though.
We operate out of a small office in Ruan. The only employees at present are myself and Kanone.
What?! Captain Amalthea's working with you, too?
Somehow I can't imagine her sitting behind a desk doing normal people work...
Hahaha... I suppose that's hardly surprising.
Still, she's also changed since the coup. We've been living a rather relaxed life since our new business began.
I can believe it, though. You've got this whole different aura about you now.
Maybe this was actually the right career choice for you after all.
Haha. I certainly hope so.
...Regardless, returning to work is just another reason I can't afford to remain here any longer than necessary. We need to strive to return to our world as soon as possible.
We'll be counting on you, Colonel!
(Did that entire conversation fly right over her head...?)
This world we are in clearly operates by its own set of rules... And as such, it seems reasonable to conclude that they exist because it was created for a specific purpose.
If I can work out what that purpose is, I may be able to think of an effective way of conquering it...but therein lies the real challenge.