Chapter 36 - The Ethereal Summit
"Well, there's the summit. No telling what we'll find when we get there," Xander noted, motioning towards the mountain peak, it's heights seeming to reach out to scrape the heavens.
Corrin nodded, saying nothing. He felt so very small beneath such a behemoth. Storm clouds rolled around the summit, the distant rumbles of thunder like that of a constant heartbeat that echoed through the valley. Even as a near constant presence the clouds around the summit itself carried an almost menacing presence, seeming to swirl around the mountain to hide it's top from the world bellow.
Yet as imposing a sight it was, Corrin knew if he were but to turn around he'd be greeted by one of equal weight. For behind them, the Bottomless Canyon would seem to stretch out into infinity, a jagged line of blackness that cut through the mountains. So it was: endless depths below and a infinite summit above.
"I took the opportunity to do some research in the keep's record halls before we arrived," Leo announced, stepping forward. He pointed up towards a spot on the mountain's face. "There, in the cliff face, is some sort of temple carved into the rock. The path before us leads up to it, with another on the other side of the canyon as well."
Corrin followed his gaze to the spot his brother had pointed. Sure enough some distance up the mountain a great structure seemed to extend from the stone, it's smooth columns and sloping arches appearing as grand as any temple or cathedral he'd ever see. Yet he had never seen one so formed, as if the land itself had been molded into the shape rather than constructed by the hands of mortals.
"And the summit?" Corrin asked, frowning. "How do we get there?"
"I cannot say. The source I found was but a small passage in a tome whose greater contents were on other subjects," Leo replied. "I doubt we'd be able to scale such a mountain ourselves. So if this is to be anything more than a fool's errand, let us hope we can find something inside."
"More of a reason to get going. No sense standing around here debating it longer," Robin interjected.
"Of course. Should some of us remain here? I'd prefer not to leave the rest of our forces unattended in such a place for so long," Xander asked, turning to both Robin and Leo as he posed the question.
"Go or not, just make up your minds quick and be done with it. I'm certainly not staying behind." Corrin turned to see Hinoka already starting up the long winding path that stretched before them, not even sparing a backward glance following her announcement. "Come on, Sakura," she said. She quickly handed the reins of her pegasus off to Subaki, leaving her steed to him while we was inside the temple, before stomping further ahead.
Sakura glanced to them nervously, before following after her sister. Setsuna and Azama, as well as Morgan, followed quickly after, trying to catch up with the impatient Hinoka.
"I suppose we must follow," Xander said. He paused, taking a split second to consider the situation before announcing. "Leo, Camilia, Elise will go, Corrin as well. Let's hurry before they get to far. If anyone else wishes to come, I won't stop you."
And with that the Nohr royals and their retainers followed after the Hoshidans, starting up path as well. A few others tagged along as well, including Robin and Lucina of course, who were accompanied by Marc and Soleil. The four of them, seemingly at the later's prompting, moved to catch up with Inigo, striking up a conversation as once.
For some time Corrin walked along in silence, standing away from the others. The looming presence of the mountain seemed to weigh down on him, as if the very air grew heavier with each step he look. Perhaps it was fear of being disappointed, to have traveled so far only to discover nothing to help them here as they had so many times before. Or perhaps it was fear that they would find something, thrusting them past a point of no return.
No, they were long past that point. Only thing now to do was face it, for good or ill. Still, he couldn't help but feel a bit nervous despite that.
Corrin found himself drifting closer to Robin's group as they walked, soon coming within earshot of the tactician. For his part, Robin seemed to be mostly staying out of the conversation going on among his family, his appearance that of someone lost in his own thoughts.
"Robin may I have a minute?" Corrin asked, stepping alongside the tactician. He hoped he wasn't interrupting anything too important.
"Of course, what do you need?" Robin replied, blinking for a moment as if awoken from a deep sleep before turning to regard Corrin with an arched eyebrow.
"Just figured we should talk, before we go in. Figure out if we can… you know… indirectly reveal... you know."
Robin's eyes widened slightly in recognition, and he nodded, motioning for him to pick up the pace so that they would be far enough away from the others to be out of earshot.
"Honestly, depending on what we find there. Not sure what to expect, but if there's anything related… I don't know," Robin confessed.
"I suspected as much," Corrin nodded. "Still, Izana seemed to send us here for a reason, and if he's what he said is true, one of the gods summoned us here. That has to be something, right?"
"Yeah, well… from my experience the kind of 'help' gods tend to give mostly consists of telling you about more stuff you need to do yourself. Granted, only one of the two gods I've met has been the way. The other wanted to possess me and exterminate all life in that particular order. So you know, best to temper your expectations."
"At this point, I'd take being told what to do. Least then we'd have something to work with," Corrin replied, sighing wearily. "Beats stumbling around blind like we've been."
"If it makes you feel any better, I'm pretty sure the non-destroy-the-world god from back home has some sort of plot going behind our backs," Robin told him, shrugging.
"Wait? What?" Corrin exclaimed, caught more than a bit off guard by this. "How do you figure that?"
"Oh, easy. Naga gave me an orb to allow travel between worlds a week before Lucina and I got stranded here without telling me what it means. Then she sends Marc along with our universe's Fire Emblem. And don't get me started on how I'm not entirely convinced Soleil ending up in this particular timeline was entirely by chance," Robin told him with another shrug.
"And that doesn't worry you?" Corrin asked incredulously.
"I can't exactly tell her to cut it out, can I? Besides, after all the help she's given, not to mention indirectly giving me the time traveling mess that is my family, I'm not going to complain," Robin answered. He frowned, adding, "Though I'll grant you that it would be really nice if she'd let me in this plan of her's."
I guess there's not much to do but accept it, Corrin thought to himself. I'm just not sure how I feel knowing there's more than one god out there pulling the string. No, not strings. If anything we're more like pieces on the board than puppets, fates decided by the maneuvering of gods whose aims we can't understand.
Yes, that was certainly a sobering thought. One he was keen to change the subject on.
"So, speaking of your family, have you and Lucina had a chance to talk to Morgan yet?" Corrin asked.
Robin flinched, staggering a step as he was knocked off guard by this question. If he'd been drinking something at that moment, Corrin was pretty sure he would have spat it out.
"You heard about that?" Robin asked, his voice squeaking slightly as he fought to catch his footing. Corrin caught a brief glimpse of embarrassment flicker across the tactician's face, before he was able to swiftly regain his composure. Far quicker than he would have expected following such a animated reaction.
"It was hard not to. Half the army was there when Severa started shouting at you," Corrin answered, shrugging as he tried to hide the small smile. "Though I'd imagine many would find it entertaining, so maybe I should go get her now."
"Right. Of course..." Robin trailed off, again looking rather embarrassed by the whole ordeal. The two walked in silence for several moments.
"You still haven't answered my question," Corrin mentioned at length.
"I haven't, have I?" Robin said, flashing a small, wry small. "To tell the truth, we've tried to, but Morgan's been avoiding us. And quite smartly too, spending all her time around Lady Hinoka and Lady Sakura and conducting official business. We can't exactly confront her there, lest we cause a…" Robin paused, considering this for a moment. "Well… let's call it an unfortunate diplomatic incident. I'd think it would be a good idea to avoid those."
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say that was an excuse," Corrin noted. It was easy enough to recognize. He'd made more than his fair share of excuses for himself.
"You know, I won't rule out that possibility. I've even asked myself that very question several times already," Robin admitting, sighing and shaking his head. "Truth be told… I'm still afraid of messing it up."
Corrin nodded, saying nothing for several long moments. He needed time to work out how to word his response, wanting to tread carefully. "I understand I'm not one to talk but… You should really try to find a time to talk to her. The longer you put it off, the harder it will be. I know that truth all too well."
For a long while, Robin stared at Corrin, as if trying to get a read on what we was thinking. In return, Corrin could get nothing out of Robin's visage. Nothing. Not a single hint of what was going on in his head.
Then the tactician smiled. "Thanks. You're right, of course. I just need to do it. Lucina and I both."
Corrin smiled slightly. "At the very least, it's probably best to before Severa has a chance to chew you two out again."
"That's certainly also true. Though knowing her, I fear she may actually try to smack us around some if we put it off for too long," Robin agreed, smiling. He glanced back, Corrin following his gaze to look towards where Lucina was walking alongside Marc, Soleil, and Inigo. At this distance it was impossible to tell what they were talking about, but from their expression it seemed they were enjoying themselves.
"At least Soleil doesn't seem to be taking Morgan's rejection hard," Corrin notes, trying to be possible.
Robin shook his head. "No. I think she's just better at hiding it than most. More of a reason to talk to Morgan sooner than later."
"Well…" Corrin gazed up ahead of them, seeing the staircase being to level, the temple carved into the face of the mountain's lower cliffs seeming to grow as they came within it's sight. "... It will have to wait a bit longer it seems. It looks like we're here."
Nodding, Robin moved to rejoin the rest of the group, who were already massing at the temple's entrance.
Now that they were close, Corrin could now see the open archway that sat in between two rows of columns, carving a shallow alcove into the mountain before ending in a set of massive stone doors set with a line of runes around their rim.
"I don't suppose if we knocked there would be anyone to answer, would there?" Inigo asked, smirking slightly at his own jest.
"Of course not. No one's occupied this temple for centuries," Leo answer with utter seriousness, frowning deeply. "Through caution would be advised. We do not know-"
Before he could finish, Hinoka strode forward, giving the stone doors a light shove. Silently and effortlessly they swung open on unseen hinges, not even making a sound as they opened up. "Hurry it up. I'm anxious to see this done."
"That works too," Leo said, rolling his eyes.
"Just keep your guards up," Corrin said, moving his hand to rest of Yato's hilt. Corrin stepped forward, preparing to take point, only for Hinoka and her entourage to head in without waiting.
Dammit, we should be sticking together. I wish she'd not charge off by herself, he thought, not daring to voice those concerns aloud. He doubted she'd listen to him anyways. If anything it would only upset her, coming from him.
Through the doorway stretched a short hallway that opened up into a larger antichamber. Beyond that he could make out nothing, the light from outside not reaching so far within the temple.
"Does anyone have a torch? Or something? I'm certainly not going to stumble around blind into gods know what," Severa complained, loudly enough for everyone to hear.
Couldn't she just suggest lighting a torch like a reasonable person without the theatrical display of her displeasure?
"Certainly, one moment and I'll see to it that-" Xander started to reply
Suddenly lights appeared in the darkness, points of soft teal light spreading out at once. As they grew brighter Corrin saw that they were smooth crystals held in place by silver mountings set into the walls of the chamber.
"Woah, that was neat" Soleil said, grinning as she took the opportunity to push past the others and enter the chamber.
Corrin noticed Morgan glance back from where she was next to Hinoka, for a moment looking as if she was about to say something. Then she shook her head abruptly, tearing her gaze away. He wondered at it for just a moment, but then pushed it out of his mind, instead turning his attention to the chamber.
The chamber shook the shape of a rounded rectangle, with a domed ceiling as high as the room was wide. A inner ring of columns supported the center, each set with another light just like those mounted to the walls. Another archway extended into another hallway at the far side of the antechamber, it's depths illuminated by the same pale blue-green light. Carvings could now be seen covering the walls in an unbroken mural, the harsh shadows cast by the raised depictions bringing them into sharp focus. As he approached he saw that they seemed to depict the history of the First Dragons, the story starting on the left side of the entrance before terminating on their right,
"Let's take a moment to look around before going further," Xander ordered, motioning for the others to fan out and begin examining the mural. As they approached Corrin could now see that above the mural a line of runes were carved, their form that of the ancient dragonic tongue that Corrin only regnozied from his own studies. Not that he had the skill the decipher them.
Looking to the others, he saw Robin produce a small pocket sized book from his coat, opening it to squint between its contents and the runes, his brow furrowed with focus.
"Can you read this?" Corrin asked.
"Yes, but only if given time to translate. I'm not exactly what you'd call a linguist," Robin said, shrugging slightly. "That said I hope I can read just a small bit of this without holding us up too long…"
"I could try as well, though I fear I'd serve at best only slightly better in this regard," Leo admitted.
Corrin nodded before turning back to examining the column. He found his eyes drawn to one carving in particular, that of a hooded figure wearing a smooth, featureless mask. He didn't know why, but something about it seemed… familiar to him. Almost as if..
"So what do we know about this place, exactly?" Marc asked, peering at the intricate carving. Corrin blinked, snapped out of his sudden stupor by the question.
"Huh?" he asked, shaking his head and rubbing his eyes.
"Nothing important, really, I'm just curious," Marc shrugged, motioning to a set of carvings before him, which depicted a group of dragons with long, serpent-like bodies with shorter arms and no visible wings. "I remember someone mentioning something about it being built in honor of the First Dragons? Were they anything like the dragons in my world?"
"In some ways," Robin answered, stepping away from the set of runes he'd been examining. "Though I'd wager those from this world would know more."
"It's the story we'd all know well. I can't imagine there isn't a soul in Nohr or any other land who wasn't told those stories as a child," Leo responded. He closed his eyes, as if recalling some memory. "It's said that the First Dragons once ruled over this land, until they left it all behind. Twelve remained to shape the land, the rest departed through an astral sea."
"So… that means?" Soleil asked, tapping her foot impatiently.
"The dragons gave up their physical forms, becoming beings of spirit that exist outside the confines of this world," Leo answered, shooting her an annoyed look. "The legends say they completed this change here, at the very summit we're trying to reach."
"But why did they leave, then? If they were so powerful, why give that up?" Soleil wondered, frowning.
"They… um… it was by choice, I think. T-To...um... escape their fate…"
All eyes fell on Sakura, who blushed and retreated back a step, seeming to visibly shrink beneath the sudden attention on her.
"What do you mean? I mean, it's okay if you don't want to say, but… I bet you know more than just that, don't you?" Morgan prodded Sakura gently with an elbow, flashing a reassuring smile.
"I… uh… well, I…" Sakura shook her head, her face turning an even brighter shade of crimson. "It was just a story… I… It was said that… that over time a-a curse befell the dragons. A madness that- that drove them to rage and war… It was t-their own power that...t-that caused it, I think… To e-escape it, they had to give it up. To leave everything… everyone else… behind. Even the world..." she finished lamely, her gaze falling to the ground. "T-That's just the story I was told… not sure if it's really… true…"
"Degeneration. The fate all dragons share," Robin said, speaking softly. "It was the same in our world too. The only difference is that dragons in my home instead gave up their immortality, becoming truly mortal creatures with most of their power locked away. But it seems those in this world found another way. Or at least those that departed when they did."
"Which too is no different than our own world," Lucina said, shaking her said sadly. "The existence of Falchion is a testament to the sad truth that not all dragons gave up their power willingly. Many clung to that power till the bitter end, just like those twelve of this world."
And so it was that the twelve who remained continued to fight and fall into madness, Corrin finished silently. Sakura's story was one he'd heard as well, one that carried all to painful memories. Memories of learning of his powers and trying to understand it. Of gentle guidance and soft words to pull him back when he felt to that creeping rage and madness lurking in the darkness of him mind.
Memories of the first flickers of feeling born then. Feeling for… her…
"That story, Azura was the one who told you it, wasn't she? Back when she lived in Hoshido," Corrin asked, looking to Sakura.
"Y-yes… yes she did." Sakura's expression grew sad as she answered, and again she looked away.
Corrin didn't try to hide his own pained expression. He nodded. "I thought so…"
"Corrin?" Xander asked, a twinge of concern in his voice.
"I'm fine," Corrin told them, starting forward. "Come on, let's check the next room."
Without waiting for a reply, Corrin made for the open archway, passing deeper into the temple complex. The faint glowing crystals illuminated the long hallways that stretched on for some distance, it's walls as richly carved as the initial chamber. For several minutes he walked in silence, the footsteps behind marking the others following him. Deeper and deeper it went, occasionally opening up into small rooms and other such chambers, none as grand or important as the first. So he did not linger, heading further inward into what seemed to be the very heart of the mountain.
Then the passageway came to a final end, opening up into a massive chamber even larger than the first. It's ceiling rose up as high as a several story building. High arches and pillars held it alive, woven runes set with silvery inlay weaving an unbroken pattern across the stone. As his gaze was drawn upward he glimpsed a faint twinkle of golden light, distant and faint.
What is that, another crystal? No… that's…
"Is that sunlight?" Robin asked, coming to a stop next to him.
Corrin nodded. "Hold on." Stooping low, Corrin pushed off the ground with all his might. Wings unfurled as he launched himself, coming closer to the lightsource for a closer look before descending back down. "It looks like there's a shaft that leads all the way up to the surface," Corrin announced, letting his wings dematerialize as he touched back down. "The stone is polished to a mirror shine, reflecting the light this far down."
"So that's the way up then. Only question is how?" Hinoka said, crossing her arms.
"Perhaps it was intended that only those who can fly could reach the summit," Lucina offered, frowning.
"Or perhaps not," Camillia said, stepping onto a raised platform of stone directly under the shaft above. "Come over here, feel that?"
Corrin frowned, closing his eyes as to took a step towards the stone. He immediately halted, feeling the tell-tale thrum of primal power radiating from beneath the earth they stood on. Then another well, then another. Multiple interwoven fountains of magical energy arrayed in a ring beneath the power.
"A dragon vein. No, Dragon Veins. Five, no, six of them," Corrin gasped. He looked at the platform again and suddenly thought he might know what they were for. "And I think they're our way to the summit."
"You aren't suggesting…?" Lucina asked, gazing up at the tunnel stretching above.
"Yes," Corrin nodded. "I think these dragon veins will raise this platform and carry us all the way to the top. I'm certain of it," he corrected, trying to muster his courage. Now was not the time to act wishy washy. He needed to take action now. To convince everyone to follow what certainly seemed like a crazy plan.
"It's certainly worth a try. Come up, it seems as though it will take all of us," Xander said, leading his siblings up to the platform, before turning to Hinoka and Sakura. "If you will, we will need at least one of your aids as well."
For a moment, there was a look of distrust in Hinoka's gaze. Then, she nodded slowly. "I'll see what I can do. You too, Sakura."
Taking positions over over each of the Dragon Veins, the six royals waited until everyone else had gotten onto the platform, Corrin himself taking up a spot at the center. He closed his eyes, too nervous to even look for what happened next.
"On my mark. Three… Two… One… Now," Xander signaled. There was a rush of magical power rolled over the platform, causing the hairs on Corrin's arms and back of his neck to stand on end. The platform rumbled, then groaned, then, with one violent shudder, began to rise.
Corrin opened his eyes. Slowly at first the platform levitated up towards the tunnel, then began to pick of speed, soon passing from the chamber into column of light. The sun's rays grew brighter as the platform rose faster and faster, soon shooting towards the mountain top at alarming speed. For an instant Corrin was afraid they'd shoot out of the top of the mountain and keep going. But then they began to slow once more, decelerating at the mouth of the shaft came into sight.
Corrin shielded his eyes, the light growing brighter and brighter as the ascended, until soon he was blinded by it's brightness. Then a shudder ran through the platform, a loud scraping thunk reverberating out as it came to halt. Cold washed over them, roaring past in a howling gale, as at last Corrin's vision returned to focus as he blinked in the noonday sun.
They stood in a ring of crumbling stone at the very peak of the mountain, the remnants of a structure long since toppled by the ages and the alpine winds. Yet even in their decaying state the gold inlaid runes still glimmered, practically glowing in the sunlight. From a collapsed column rose a line of steps, leading up to a terrace that overlooked the southern edge of the plateau. Beyond stretched a endless sea of gray clouds beneath them, covering the world bellow in the churning shroud of mist and storm. Above the sky shone clear and blue, utterly still and quiet but for the howl of the wind.
"Wow, you can see forever up here!" Elise gasped, stepping forward off the platform, the others following suit as they looked around.
"It's a bit chilly, isn't it?" Lucina noted, tugging her cloak around her to ward against the wind. Out of the corner of his eye Corrin noticed Robin subtle shift his position between her and the wind, perhaps not even consciously realizing the gesture he'd made.
"Huh? Yeah, I guess. You get used to it if you fly on a pegasus as much as I do," Hinoka interjected, striding forward without much care to the gales that rocked the mountain top.
"Or on a wyvern," Camilia cut in, smirking slightly at the glare Hinoka shot her in response to the comment.
"Please don't antagonize the Hoshidans. I'd rather not have to fight them right now," Leo sighed, rolling his eyes.
"Yes, no political incidents, thank you," Inigo agreed, "I have a grand idea right now, which goes something like 'let's take a look around, shall we?' This is afterall, why we came all this way."
"This is so exciting!" Owain exclaimed, seeming to be beside himself, almost resembling a child. "Here we stand, venturing forth to a dimension that reaches beyond the heavens themselves, where we shall no doubt face a grand trial to test out resolve!" For a moment, Owain's words actually made sense despite his unique manner of speaking, which was almost as concerning as what he had actually said.
Were they about to experience a grand trial that would test them? Corrin felt reminded of the Rainbow Sage and how he revealed that it was the journey to reach their destination that was true method of attaining the strength to bestow upon them.
This comment got a chorus of groans and rolling eyes, followed by even more bickering. It soon got to the point where Xander even had to step in the keep the peace, Corrin did his best to block out the noise. Instead he made for the steps, ascending them to the terrace. As he cleared the last step he now saw that the platform was empty but for a stone daias on which sat a smooth, milky white sphere of quartz-like crystal.
This must overlook the Bottomless Canyon, Corrin realized, orientating himself by the sun's position. This late in the year and this far north, the sun hung south in the sky, making it any easy enough task. Not that it mattered, the cloud cover made it impossible to see anything bellow.
Stepping up to daias, Corrin examined the crystal. He stopped, recognizing the soft, gentle pulsing aqua light that seemed to glimmer barely to be seen from within its depths. That's...
"Hey, I think I found something," he announced.
Everyone turned at the sound of his voice, their bickering stopping. Moving quickly, they soon joined him up on the terrace, beholding the orb he was now examining.
"Hey, isn't that just like the crystal thing inside your keep? You know, the one we use to get out?" Elise asked.
"Yeah," Corrin said. Slowly he reached out, feeling a faint staticy pop as he placed his hand on it. A warm shiver ran up his arm, feeling the hum of energies within. "It's feels the same too. I think it is."
"What does this mean?" Xander asked, frowning.
All eyes fell on Robin.
"Don't look at me. I'm not from here, remember? There's only so many hours in the day to read so I really don't…" He grimaced. "Leo, do you…?"
"Lilith," the Nohrian Prince said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
"Lilith? What about her?" Xander asked.
"She was an Astral Dragon too, wasn't she? It was her who created the astral plane that Corrin's keep resided within," Leo explained. "I can't help but think that is related. No, I am certain of it."
Corrin grimaced, feeling a pang of sadness as the mention of Lilith's name. He tried not to recall her death. He had other things to focus on. "Wait… are you suggesting…?"
"That the god who summoned us is an Astral Dragon? It's certainly possible," Leo finished for him.
"Well, the gods worshiped in my world are pretty much all dragons, so it wouldn't be a first," Robin interjected. "Mind if I take a look?" Robin asked.
Corrin stepped aside, motioning with his arm. Nodding in thanks, Robin stepped forward and knelt before the orb, examining it closely.
"So what now, then? We were told to come to the Ethereal Summit and here we are?" Hinoka said, tapping her foot impatiently. "Are we supposed to just wait around, or…"
"I… I don't know," Corrin said. He turned to Leo, who frowned uncertainty. Then to Robin, who didn't even seem to notice, his attention transfixed by the orb.
Then a voice broke in. speaking suddenly. "Can you open a portal to your keep with the orb?" Morgan asked, breaking the silence.
"Yes, I… Yes, of course I-"
"Then do it. Right now," Morgan said.
"Huh, why?" Corrin asked.
"Well, you said it's the same as the one inside. So I dunno, maybe that's what it's for. Call it a hunch," Morgan explained.
Robin stood up, his expression thoughtful as his seemed to consider this suggestion. "It's not a bad idea. I'm impressed, Morgan, I hadn't even considered that."
"Yessss," Morgan hissed under her breath, pumped a fist. "Score one for Morgan. Father, zero."
"If you think it's worth a shot, by all means," Hinoka said, shrugging.
Xander nodded to Corrin in affirmation to proceed.
"Alright, here goes nothing…" Reaching out, Corrin again placed his hand on the orb, this time reaching out with his mind. He found the pool of power within, and with but a moment's thought resonated the power with the frequency of the plane his keep existed on.
A glowing light spread out from the orb, pooling in the air to form a shimmering portal. "It's done. It should only be open for a few moments, so let's hurry," Corrin told them.
Gathering up the group took only a moment to prepare themselves, then, together, stepped through the gateway.
I hope it works, Corrin though before he followed last, stepping into the light.
He felt a sudden lurch as he alway did when stepping through dimensions. Then he felt something… odd. Like a rush of movement as if he was being whisked away over a great distance, so unlike the falling sensation of temptation. He felt cold and hot all at once, gravity seeming to fall away. Then an instant later the sensation vanished, and again he stood on solid ground.
"Where are we? Did we…" Corrin blinked and looked around. "We're… still here. But we passed through the portal, didn't we?"
Indeed, for they now stood in the same open air temple they had before, with a sea of clouds stretching in every direction. Daylight still shone, illuminating the plateau with a golden light.
Wait, no. That's not… it took a moment for Corrin to realize what he was seeing. There were no shadows cast by any object, as if the light came from every direction, seffusing everything equally entirely. The sun had vanished from the sky, leaving instead a black void yet paradoxically filled with light.
No, not a void. There were stars. Thousands of them, stretching out to the heavens as far as the eye could see. So many stars, more than he'd ever seen even in the clearest of nights. He blinked, a gasp falling from his lips as he realized the stars were moving. Slowly they flowed through the sky, as if floating in the currents of a vast sea that filled the heavens, tracing silvery light as they moved in a ceaseless ethereal dance.
"I think it's safe to say we ended up somewhere," Robin noted.
Turning to the sound of the tactician's voice, Corrin saw Robin standing near the edge of the plateau, gazing down at the clouds bellow. Corrin approached slowly, following his gaze to the endless expanse of clouds. Again he gasped as he saw just what the tactician must have been referring to.
Breaks could be seen in the clouds, revealing flowing streams of stars just like those above. They no longer stood on a mountain, but instead on an island in an ethereal sea of stars.
"Woah, that is so weird," Soleil gasped, leaning out over the edge of the precipice in what was perhaps a bit further than was entirely safe. Inigo must have thought the same thing, for he immediately grabbed his daughter by the shoulder and pulled her several steps back, to Soleil's visible chagrin.
"I wonder where we are… this place isn't like anywhere I've been before," Marc said, looking around. "The air feels weird here, and is it just me or does everything feel lighter." He hopped a bit in place, as if testing the gravity. "Yeah, it does. By a bit at least."
"Morgan, I'm impressed, it seemed your deduction was a sound one. Having Corrin open the way to the Astral Keep was a very astute one," Leo congratulated.
For a single instant, a flash of distrust seemed to take hold of Morgan's features. Then she looked to Hinoka and Sakura, then to Owain and Severa who stood near at hand, and the look vanished. "Well, I try. I mean, I am pretty damn smart," she grinned just a little.
If Leo took notice of Morgan's self aggrandizing, he showed no sign. To be fair, only Severa showed a sign of acknowledging it, rolling her eyes. For Leo's part he simply stepped forward, frowning as he peered around intently. It seemed as though he was trying to deduce the nature of the location they'd found themselves. "That said, the manner in which we were deposited here instead of the keep, I can only guess. Is it perhaps something about the nature of the temple? Or some other power using the portal to draw us here instead?"
"Wait? Where is everyone else? Where is Setsuna? And Azama?" Hinoka asked abruptly, looking around wildly as she noticed their absence. "A bunch of others are missing too. What happened? They were there when we entered the portal just a moment ago, weren't they?"
At once everyone began looking around, realizing at once that almost half their number were nowhere to be seen. Both Hinoka and Sakura's retainers were missing, as were most of the Nohrian royal's retainers and several others who'd tagged along. Only besides the royals of both Nohr and Hoshido, the only others who'd made the trip were Robin, Lucina, Marc, Morgan, Owain, Severa, Inigo, and Soleil. Everyone else had seemingly vanished.
"Did we get separated somehow? What gives?" Severa demanded, her brow furrowing as she looked around.
"Do y-you think… they're… they're alright? I know they w-went into the… into the portal with us… so where did they…?" Sakura stammered.
"I don't know. Corrin, do you have any-" Xander started to ask, turning towards him.
Corrin held up his hand, signaling for his brother to wait. "Hold on, I'm going to try something," he assured him, taking a slow, deep breath.
Then Corrin closed his eyes, concentrating his connection to his astral keep that Lilith had forged for him what felt like a lifetime ago. He could generally tell when it was occupied, and by how many people… maybe he could… yes! He could tell they were there. Only when he focused, but he was sure of it. "They're in the keep. It looks like when we tried to enter, everyone else went inside as expected," he announced, seeing looks of relief flash over everyone's faces. "But why did we end up here? Why us?" he wondered, looking around. It seemed like the only ones who ended up in this place besides himself where his siblings from both Nohr and Hoshido, as well as the anyone who'd originated from a different world than this once. As if…
"Something brought us here. Something that wanted to speak with us specifically," Robin said, voicing Corrin's own thought before he could put it to words.
"Well that's certainly a relief. Though I can only imagine it must have been a frightful shock when for them when we didn't end up in the keep with them,," Camilia noted. "And source of much worry even now, certainly. Still, this is not the worst outcome."
"Oh. Good. I guess we can agree on that," Hinoka said haltingly, shooting a suspicious glare Corrin's way. "Still doesn't help us know where we are."
"The most likely thing to presume would be for this to be the Astral Sea from the legends," Leo explained, causing all eyes to be cast onto him. "I have always considered venturing here once upon a time when I was young. To think that I would finally have the opportunity to fulfill that fantasy." It was almost surprising to see the smile on Leo's face, which almost took Corrin back to the years in the tower when they played together as children.
"Everyone, look!" Lucina said, pointing down into the clouds. For just a moment, there was a look of surprise on her face. Her hand went for Falchion, drawing it from its sheath. As soon she did, the blade seemed to erupt into a ghostly light that flickers in and out of focus. The weapon seemed to blur, the space around it distorting as it's very presence warped whatever reality they now stood.
Everyone turned, eyes drawn to the clouds. There! Something moved beneath it,darting just under the surface so it appeared as a shadow among the gray. Through the breaks in the clouds glimpses of the shape's true form could be seen: translucent scales of ghostly blue and a white flashing as it darted in and out of sight. Soon it was appearing in multiple places at once, the shadow now surrounding the plateau on all sides. It was massive. So massive that is could encircle the entire mountain peak.
Weapons were drawn, steel ringing out. Corrin saw that Marc's Falchion displayed the same effect Lucina's as, only it's light formed a fiery pattern that mirrored the flow of the distorting space around it. Then he realized Yato too was warping it's surroundings, it's crimson light having become something paler, nearly white in hue.
Then suddenly there was a rush of air, the shape beneath the clouds moving towards them. There was a sounds like the splashing of waves and a howl of wind as from the depths below erupted the massive form of a dragon. It's shape was not like Corrin's form, nor Lilith's, nor like any depiction he'd seen in the statues depicting the Light and Dark dragons that were Hoshido and Nohr's founders. It's body was long and serpent like, shimmering scales like a carps, their colors every shade of blue, green, and silver imaginable. It's who whole was translucent, the space within filled with what seemed to be countless twinkling stars, shining as bright as those that filled the heavens above. It's eyes were black as the void of space, splotches of darkness that broke it's brilliant form.
"So you have come," the dragon said, it's voice seeming the echo from all around them. No, not around them, for the dragon had not spoken with sound, but with its mind, the voice having come from within his own head.
"You may call me… Moro."
Author's Note: Finally! Finally I get this chapter done. Sorry for the even longer delay than usual, I have been basically sick on and off for the past month making it so much more difficult to write. That said, I have been well for two weeks now, so knock on wood I won't have a similar delay for the next one.
I've been really excited to get to this point, as I finally have the chance to get into all the new world building and lore I've concocted for Fates. In particular expanding on the Astral dragons and their story has been a huge treat to work on. It's almost like Fates had interesting ideas it either completely squandered or did nothing with or something.
Not going to respond to guest reviews this time, as I have nothing really to add to the one I got. So instead I will just thank you for the review and say I am glad you continue to enjoy it.
That's all for now. Let me know what you guys thought. As always, please leave all your comments and criticism you have, as it's the only way I am going to improve as a writer. Besides, it always makes my day to hear your thoughts. Until the next one, have a wonderful day everyone!