Martel looked up as hatchlings arched their backs and fluffed their fur, squealing in terror as they backed away from the approaching visitors, then fled. Standing to investigate, she looked at Orator and nodded her head. The mana beast nodded in return and began to walk forward to greet their 'guests'. After a few moments, the mana beast returned, an expression on his face that was part disgust, part shock, part amusement, and completely strange. Martel looked at him in confusion, then turned to see Wren and Caleb walk into the clearing with Pepper bounding after the other mana beasts to grab some fresh Mana Fruit for a rewarding snack. As soon as Martel registered how they looked, she panicked and ran up to them, staff in hand.
"Oh! Oh no! Caleb! Adam! Are you okay? Are you hurt? Let me see you up close!" the goddess fussed as she poked and patted at the two friends. They burst out laughing and she looked up at them with a frown. "I don't see how this is funny! You both look like you need help really badly!" she lectured.
"We're fine! We just got out of Moria and we didn't have the time or resources to freshen up." Caleb told her with a grin.
"I've been told I look like a reject from purgatory." Wren added and gave Martel a big smile. "Heh heh! That should take me off the potential marriage list for sure!"
"Honestly! Boys!" Martel huffed and slammed her staff into the ground before her, "Rejuvenate!" Green light shone around the two men, forming bubbles of mana and healing energy that swirled around them, then disappeared, leaving them both as pristine as when they left. "There! Now, what happened down in Moria?" Martel began, "And tell the truth! No making fun of me either because I can find out what I need from the very rock itself!"
"Aw. I was kinda liking the earthy look." Wren sighed. They told the goddess of their adventure in Moria, from the discovery of the dwarven riddle that proved to be so very true to the battle with the dragon that nearly cost their lives.
"And after all that, this is all we came back with." Caleb finished, pulling forth the large gem that they found. "Apparently, this thing is the Moria Gallery. Only how do we get information from a crystal?" Orator moved in to study the item as Martel absorbed the story.
"You three are unbelievable. And that includes Pepper!" Martel declared, "You went into Moria and nearly died just to get a data crystal?"
"Oh? Is that what it is?" Wren remarked as he took another look at their prize. Orator nodded.
"Yes. Doesn't the Wonder Chef Family have one of their own?" he asked in confusion, "They have history with the Moria dwarves, don't they?"
"We do? I was never told that. How strange." the chef muttered.
"Did you get the reader for this?" the mana beast went on, "It allows you to pull the information from the crystal into a form that people can read. It's a type of magitechnology that was thought to be lost."
"If it's magitechnology, how did the dwarves get it? They don't work with it, not until the race was contracted by Cruxis." Caleb questioned.
"Probably from the half-elves. They were the ones who developed the magitechnology that eventually caused the Kharlan War."
"There wasn't anything else in that room, Caleb. How are we going to read the crystal?" Wren pointed out to the doll.
"You can build one. The instructions for it are on the crystal." Orator replied and then winced, "Oh, wait. You need to read the crystal for it." The doll and chef groaned.
"All that and we can't even get to the data in the Gallery. This is too cruel..." Caleb whimpered. Wren was studying the crystal thoughtfully.
"It's all too weird." he murmured, "The reader for the crystal is missing, the fact that the dwarves even have the crystal not to mention it was from half-elves, the idea that the Wonder Chef Family has one that I don't know about..."
"If they have a data crystal, then they must have a reader for it, too." Caleb suddenly remarked, looking at Wren, "What are the odds that we can get to the one in the Wonder Organization?"
"Not good. Technically, I'm banished from headquarters until I have news of my success or failure in finding new recipes." Wren told him and sighed, "And I don't want to go back right away, either."
"So our next best bet for reading this would be from the half-elves. Only, none of them here have this kind of magitechnology." Caleb remarked with a puzzled expression, tapping his foot.
"The Desians do... did." Wren corrected, "And the Renegades too. Both of them were mostly half-elf organizations, so they had to have magitechnology."
"And you know this because...?"
"I taught a few of them recipes, too."
"Food knows no boundaries in a living being's stomach! I'm not going to let someone go without a better understanding of cooking just because they're 'bad guys'." Wren told the doll sternly, "I know what they did wrecked the world for four thousand years, but that's no excuse to starve them. I just countered myself by teaching Lloyd and his group the more improved recipes and let them have at with their own takes on the basics."
"That aside, the only places where there could be traces of that kind of technology would be the human ranches in Sylvarant and Exire. But the ranches were destroyed, and Exire could be anywhere now." Caleb sighed.
"The only place left would be Derris-Kharlan, then." Martel interrupted, "It's the only concentration of magitechnology that has not been completely destroyed by Lloyd and the Heroes of Union."
"We can't get there. Not even my Wonder Fork has the capacity of reaching that comet, especially since I, ah, never saw the place myself." Wren countered quickly, "That's how the Wonder Fork works when it comes to teleportation; I can only travel to places I've seen first-hand. Or from an image."
"That's how you crossed dimensions when the worlds were split?" Caleb asked. The chef nodded. "One fork has that much power?"
"It's dwarven-crafted. I've never questioned it."
"I've seen dwarven technology at work; they don't have the power to do that kind of thing. Charms and engraved spells are mostly for protective and channeling purposes."
"Focus!" Orator snapped at them suddenly and both men jumped to attention, blinking in shock at the mana beast. Orator pawed at the crystal for emphasis, "The knowledge of Moria is trapped in here. You two must get it free or it will be lost." He studied them both. "Find a way to read the crystal. That is your primary mission for now. Everything else is nothing compared to that."
"All right. Derris-Kharlan has the technology that might be able to read this thing, if we can find a set that is compatible. The only things that have teleportation ability are the Wonder Fork and the Eternal Sword. The Eternal Sword can go anywhere it pleases, but only at the command of its master, currently Lloyd Irving Aurion." Caleb reported, "The Wonder Fork is limited to teleportation to locales that are recorded in the Wonder Chef's memory. Anything else that can make it to Derris-Kharlan is either destroyed or out of power because they no longer have Exspheres."
"I can use my power to transport you to Derris-Kharlan, but that is the extent of my influence. I won't be able to bring you back." Martel told them with a worried expression, "And if anything happens, I can't help you."
"The Wonder Fork does have its limits. I just never tested them so I don't know what they are." Wren added with the same look on his face, "The distance between Derris-Kharlan and Symphonia varies by day and I have no idea what the distance limit for the fork's teleportation power is. Also, we don't know what its current distance is to Symphonia." His expression flickered to one of irritation. "And even if the Wonder Fork could move through that space, no matter the distance, I am not teleporting to that comet!" Martel looked saddened as Orator, Caleb and Pepper stared at him in surprise.
"Why not?" the doll asked in confusion.
"Because I said so! Find another way up there! If Derris-Kharlan's current distance from Symphonia is close enough, bug Lloyd for a ride! I'm not going!" Wren snapped and folded his arms over his chest stubbornly.
"Okay, okay, fine! But, Derris-Kharlan has already moved on by now. Lloyd and his family returned to Symphonia last year. Origin told me so. Since out of habit Lloyd never uses the Eternal Sword's teleport to move between the two planets unless they are close together, this means that we've already missed the opportunity to go there and come back within a few days' time." the doll surmised and shook his head, "And the damn thing won't come near again until six seasons have passed from its last brush with Symphonia. That's something Lloyd forced on the comet."
"Then what do we do?" Wren sighed almost in relief, "There's got to be something on Symphonia that can work this thing."
"How sure are you that all of the ranches were destroyed?" Orator inquired, "Do you really have all the information? Perhaps you should look for additional insight, considering what you have and what you are." With that, he gave them a nod and went to speak with Pepper, who showed off her accuracy and power to the other hatchlings by lifting rocks into the air and firing beams of Mana Light to shatter them. The chef and doll looked at each other in confusion.
"What we have and what we are?" Wren echoed.
"Tch, I know the answer to that. We have nothing and are completely lost." Caleb grumbled, "I never imagined my journey would have this many roadblocks, or this much hazardous opposition!"
"Why not rest here for the night? Perhaps an answer will come to you in the morning?" Martel offered, "This clearing is safe from all hazards and the abundance of mana will surely help heal your minds from that dreadful experience in Moria."
"That sounds good." Wren remarked brightly, "We found the Moria Gallery, but I guess the quest isn't over yet! Now we're on the search for the technology to read it!"
With morning and a wake up from the half-elf baby-sitter, who by now got over herself enough to tell them her name of Nadine, both Wren and Caleb sat down on the cool grass to decide their next course of action. Pepper was tagging after Orator, clacking and chirping in joy as the older mana beast walked along with an embarrassed slump.
"What's going on?" Caleb called out to them.
"New piece of wisdom I've discovered. Don't ever compliment a young female far too much out of kindness." Orator sighed and endured another nuzzling. Pepper cooed then looked at Caleb, sending the doll the image of a shadow walking through forest.
"Huh? That's a new one." the doll muttered and looked around, "Anyone know what it means for a shadow to walk in the woods?"
"She's saying there is an unknown person walking through the the Gaoracchia Forest, most probably coming here, as the Ascension's powers of awareness are limited to a certain area around themselves." Orator translated. Pepper walked forward, cocking her head and eyeing the entrance to the meadow. The image appeared again when she clacked and this time the shadow was replaced with Genis.
"What's Genis doing coming to the Yggdrasill Tree? I thought he was in school!" Caleb remarked in surprise. A few minutes later, the half-elf was in view, a travel pack slung over his shoulder and a map in his hands.
"Whew! Lots of stuff changed when Lloyd reunited the worlds!" Genis laughed and looked around, spotting Wren and Caleb at the base of the tree, "Hey! Caleb! And the Wonder Chef! How cool is that?! I didn't know you two would be here! And Pepper! Remember me?" The boy raced up to them, his loping gait almost comical to the hatchlings that looked up from their play to watch him enter their homeland.
"Hey, Genis! Good to see you! What are you doing way out here?" the doll asked him.
"I'm taking a break from school to do field research, and I thought it would be an awesome thing to be able to study mana beasts in their natural habitats." the half-elf told him, "So I came here to see if maybe Pepper would like to be the focus of my study." He looked up at Orator and blinked. "Wow! Look at this big guy! Do mana beasts normally get that humongous?"
"I beg your pardon?" Orator questioned, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Oh, wow, it talks too! Is that a learned thing or does it also come naturally once the mana beast reaches a certain stage in its growth?" Genis exclaimed excitedly.
"Nah, Orator is the only one who can speak human language." Caleb told him, "Genis, this is Orator, the mana beast companion to Martel. Remember that crest you gave me? It belonged to him and it was what helped bring him back to life."
"Really? I'm glad Raine bought it for me then." Genis remarked, "It's really nice to meet you, Mr. Orator, sir. My name's Genis Sage. I'm a half-elf. Does that bother you?"
"Not at all. Race is nothing to me, people are people. And just call me Orator." the mana beast replied and sat down with a grin, "So, you are the Master Sage I've heard so much about. The young Warlock of Mana."
"Cool! I've never had a title like that before!" Genis laughed, "Most people just call me the Ultimate Kid and stuff." He turned to Caleb and Wren, "So what brings you two here? Are you learning new recipes from the Wonder Chef, Caleb?"
"No, not really." the doll replied with a wry smile, "But since you're here, maybe you can help us with a problem." Genis sat with them and listened as the entire story was told. He studied the data crystal that Caleb produced from his pack and asked to examine the Wonder Fork.
"Never thought I'd actually get to touch it, let alone study it. This is kind of historic for me." Genis murmured as he turned the handle in his hands and felt along it for something only he knew to look for. "You guys are lucky I'm here and not Raine. She'd have snatched this thing and run like there's no tomorrow."
"I know. She tried once." Wren murmured, cheek propped on one fist as he watched the half-elf work, "She wanted to hit me for saying she was only a Passable Chef."
"Anyway, you guys don't really have to go all the way to Derris-Kharlan for the technology to read that crystal. The Iselia Ranch of Sylvarant wasn't destroyed, just abandoned." Genis went on, still examining the fork and tapping at the wood methodically. "You can go there and take a look around. See if something there can help you out. If not, go next door to Dirk's house and talk to Lloyd about taking you to Derris-Kharlan if you're sure this thing can't do the job."
"But Lloyd is recovering from an accident or something that had happened up there. Is it wise to intrude on him?" the doll asked in concern.
"Lloyd heals fast, we all know that. It takes a little time, but his physical health restores itself faster than his mental and emotional health, which should be decent enough now to deal with people."
"Okay then. We'll go to Iselia Ranch. Wren, do you have an image of that place?" Caleb asked, turning from the boy genius to the blonde chef.
"The closest point is Lloyd's room. I was there as a statuette of Aska once." he remarked smartly and folded his arms behind his head with a wry grin, "He tried to carve his name on my foot. That's when I pulled out of the disguise."
"This fork isn't normal." Genis finally said and earned glares from both the doll and the chef, "I meant besides the fact that it belongs to the Wonder Chef and is way bigger than any fork should be. Most forks are made of common materials, steel and wood, et cetera. This fork is using something else. The metal that the prongs are made of is similar in properties to aionis and poly-carbonate, but it's not either one." He studied it a little more. "Let's see. Aionis channels and enhances mana, so magic becomes more powerful for those with elven blood and makes it possible for non-elves to use magic, like Zelos and Kratos and even you, Caleb. Poly-carbonate acts as a defense against magic, nullifying its effects upon contact."
"Then what does the fork do?" the doll asked.
"The prongs seem to act as a focus, giving direction to the magic in the fork. Its property seems to be the ability to repel and attract magic and mana as directed by the commands given to it. Look, hold it and focus on repelling magic." Genis told Wren as he handed the Wonder Fork back. Wren nodded and held it forward, a concentrated look on his face. Genis cast a small lightning spell on the fork and both chef and doll blinked in astonishment as the metal refracted the magic, sending the burst elsewhere to hit a nearby chunk of rubble. "Now, focus on attracting magic." Wren nodded a second time as Genis cast another spell. The Wonder Fork pulled the lightning towards it and the metal shimmered as the magic disappeared. Wren yelped and shook his head in surprise. "See? First, it repelled the magic. Poly-carbonate doesn't do that. Then, it absorbed my magic and channeled it elsewhere. Aionis doesn't work that way. Someone made this fork to act like an alternating magnet and barrier to mana and magic, using a metal refined by a very skilled hand." the half-elf summed up.
"See? I told you it was dwarven technology that makes it work!" Wren told Caleb accusingly, "And you said it wasn't!"
"He was right, then." Genis defended, "This isn't normal dwarven technology. Lloyd said that charms and spells are engraved on things that a dwarf crafts for specific things, like the Key Crests' charms to control Exspheres and spells on pendants to ward off spirits." He took back the Wonder Fork and turned it for them to look at it. "This thing has no charm at all! The metal is smooth, the wood is unmarred; if a dwarf crafted this for you, then he was using another kind of technology in concert with his own skills in order to create it!"
"This is making my head hurt." Wren groaned and fell back against the grass, "I don't know anything about it! It's over seven thousand years old! At least that's what my father told me."
"It should have rotted and fallen apart by now. Yet it looks as if it was only recently made." Genis told them matter-of-factly, "If you have a problem with my hypothesis on this fork, then find a way to read that data crystal. Dwarves made this thing, and dwarves made note of how it was made. Those notes must be in the crystal."
"Then we'll go to Iselia and find out all those answers we need to find." Caleb declared and stood up, "The lost knowledge of the Moria Dwarves, the ancient dwarven recipes Wren needs to learn, the truth about the Wonder Fork's creation and abilities; they're all sealed in this crystal!"
"I told you so." Orator muttered, "Everything you want to learn is in that thing, but the path to attain that knowledge won't be easy to travel. Remember what I told you, and remember to use your own strengths to overcome your weaknesses."
"Then we have our path. We'll go to Iselia." Wren sighed and stood with the doll, holding out his hand, "Genis, my fork?" The half-elf handed it back and scrambled to his feet.
"Good luck, you guys! And say 'Hi' to Lloyd for me if you see him!" he exclaimed. Pepper trotted over to join the twosome as Wren held the Wonder Fork ready.
"We will! Thanks! Bye, everyone!" they answered and disappeared in a burst of smoke, on their way to find the data reader for the mysterious Moria Gallery crystal.