EPISODE 1: FADING HOPE (continuation)
PART 4: LIFE AND DEATH
Back within the cave…
Isaac could feel his heartbeat like never before. Bane joined Isaac's party of Djinn as it settled inside the Adept's spirit. He and Mia realized that the cavern had another person lurking around – possibly a dangerous opposition. His breathing didn't seem to help him as Isaac contemplated on what they could do.
Before he could make any suggestion, another soft click occurred. Again, the two Adepts prepared themselves for what could come. They grasped their weapons tightly that they anticipated some attack to come upon them.
"The pool!" Mia cried.
Isaac turned around and gasped as he watched the pool glow a bright green. He realized that the Mercury Djinni were still inside – lost somewhere in the labyrinth.
"What's going on?" He inspected the area as he prepared for any encounter.
Mia screamed. When Isaac turned around, he flinched and knew why.
The water from the well had risen up to the air to become a gigantic glowing blob. Parts of the water twisted around until they formed into something nearly solid – almost organic. In the process, the blob spat out two miniature creatures from where its forming tail should be.
"Fizz! Sleet!" Mia cried as she ran over to the two Djinn, unhurt but flustered. "What happened?"
Isaac stopped her. "There's no time. We might be in for a fight."
The two Mercury Djinn, done with their work, quick retreated back inside Mia as they became spiritual glowing orbs, ready to be unleashed at any time.
Mia joined her partner as they prepared themselves for a battle – a two-on-one battle that almost seemed hopeless to them without the aid of any Mars Psynergy, something that Garet willfully had and would be a piece of cake for him against a water monster. Mia would receive the most of the immunity but she would have to act as support once again while Isaac and his Venus Djinn would do most of the damaging.
The water blob was almost complete in its transformation – a pointed arrowhead-tail, a pair of dragon-like wings, claws that formed on its four legs, and a seemingly translucent hide – as the massive and intimidating water creature was squirming around to complete its formation. The neck was extremely long and almost disproportionate with its body, which took up very little of the room. The head revealed to be a serpent-like head, with fangs and a pair of eyes that glowed bright blue apart from the rest of the eerie pale green body. Once finished, the water serpent made a hiss that spat water from its mouth and rained in on Isaac and Mia, both of them dodged the water that became acid.
"It's acidic," Isaac realized when he watched the liquid erode a standing rock. "Watch out that you don't get hit by its spit." He also realized something dangerous about the monster. "If its attacks are really acidic, my weapons would be useless. In this case, I can rely only on my Psynergy and Djinn."
The long neck swirled around the room until it drew its target onto Mia, who had taken battle stance.
"Glacier!" She cried, letting a hail of ice blocks down onto the head of the water monster. The numerous gigantic ice blocks weighed down on the water monster until its head could not move.
"We need to get out of here," Isaac told Mia. "There's no way we can win against it – not when we're at a serious disadvantage."
"But where should we go?"
The two of them inspected the area while they dodged the water monster's tail swipes. The muffled screams from the head that bore under Mia's Glacier seemed to aggravate it more. The hope to escape was little as they clambered around the perimeter of room using the monster's glow as the only source of light.
"Is there really nowhere else to go?" Isaac said irritably. Meanwhile, the monster was breaking through the glacier block.
Mia looked around, hoping for some avenue of escape. She was just as flustered as Isaac was – a second block of Glacier wouldn't be of good use if the monster was already very aggravated. It had yet to land a single attack on any of them.
Just when the two Adepts could steel themselves together and come up with a good strategy, the block of ice shattered and the water monster's head was free.
"Looks like we'll have to fight it after all!" Mia said.
"I unleash Granite!"
"I unleash Sleet!"
The two Djinn came out from their respective Adepts' spirits and executed their tasks. Granite created a Psynergy shield around Isaac and Mia, enhancing their defenses and taking less damage from any attacks done to it. Sleet, called upon for battle, charged forward fearlessly to meet the water monster and rained a barrage of ice shards toward the monster's head.
"Watch out!" Isaac alerted Mia.
Mia's senses sharpened as she watched something flash from the corner of her eye. She only needed one swift look to the left to react. Instantly, Mia cast her Glacier Psynergy to block yet an incoming tentacle-like appendage that sprouted from the monster's body.
Isaac gritted his teeth. "Shape-makers… Never thought we would face them in here of all places." Throughout their journey, Isaac had accumulated knowledge about towns, people, places, and also beasts. He had made a mental bestiary, keeping himself updated with the monsters that they faced in their quest. Their first encounter with shape-makers, which Isaac collectively called them, was their ascent of Mercury Lighthouse while they faced jellyfish-like creatures that regenerated appendages – or even sprouted new appendages on their own.
"It's life-soul… extinguish it."
The song in his head once again guided Isaac. He remembered something about the life-souls, which all monsters held – including the seemingly undefeatable ones. Isaac's party overcame them by killing off what seemed to be a life-soul that every creature harnessed. "The life-soul…" (from one of Kraden's teachings) "… is what comprises an elemental identity for each creature. Take away that life-soul and the creature will be nothing more than an empty shell." Killing off these life-souls didn't require combat but needed a lot of risk since it would need actual contact with the monster itself.
"The life-soul," Isaac told Mia. "I'll find it!"
While Mia was keeping the water monster busy, Isaac looked around to detect the water monster's life-soul and see if he could access it. It was an alternative for standard combat, one that Isaac and his friends still have yet to harness the effects and execute the method properly. While extinguishing the monster's life-soul could save time, it was quite risky in terms of Psynergy and safety.
"Can you find its life-soul?" Mia called, swiftly dodging another tentacle appendage (making two in all attacking Mia) that came from out of nowhere.
"I'm trying!" Isaac responded, frantically moving around the perimeter while being carefully with his steps. "You'll have to execute the extinguishment when I find it."
Unfortunately for Mia, the water monster was entirely focused on her that the Mercury Adept became flustered and tired. "I might not hold long! Hurry!"
Isaac retraced his route as he transfixed his focus on different parts of the monster's body. The life-soul was usually translucent and could not be seen directly. It would take some focus for an Adept to detect the exact location of the life-soul. He recalled from Kraden's lessons that the life-soul was something that also defined every action, every movement of a creature – if it were damaged, but not totally, the monster would be crippled – leaving an avenue of escape or decisive kill. He studied the monster one more time thoroughly; he could not bear Mia continuing to dodge the tentacle appendages and the acid sprays. She had already summoned Mercury to help her with her Psynergy.
Left, right, from above – Isaac noticed that the tentacles were doing most of the attacking. The head occasionally spat an acid puddle that dissolved the top layer of rocks. "What's causing the tentacles to move?"
He returned to where Mia was and provided some cover for her to rest as he took over the combat. Mia would be needed for executing the monster's life-soul's extinguishment when Isaac would find it. The Venus Adept prepared to battle as he eyed warily at the monster, ready to deliver unmerciful blows out from its aggravated state.
Isaac was about to leap forward when he noticed something about the monster's head. "The eyes… they don't seem to be transfixed in their place. It's as if they're moving with the momentum of the direction the head is going…" He had a split-second to observe further before he swung his sword and fended off the double-tentacle attack. The danger temporarily ceased, Isaac continued to anticipate the enemy's movements – while keeping a close eye on the monster's head. "They don't even blink – not even one bit. It's as if…"
The conclusion he drew out from his observation was one that would save their lives.
"Mia!" Isaac called and the Mercury Adept, regaining her energy, approached him. "This monster has two life-souls – the eyes!"
Mia looked at the head and nodded. "It makes sense. I was a little suspicious of it earlier, but at least I can confirm it."
"We need a plan on how to get close to the monster's head without getting hit," Isaac said.
"I'll cast Glacier one more time and you can carve your way through the ice," Mia suggested.
There was a few seconds to consider the situation. Isaac had seen Mia use Glacier effectively, paralyzing the water monster. He should have known it sooner – the Glacier Psynergy had rendered a part of the water monster useless, and it was only a matter of time before the ice shattered and the monster regained control. Finding no better alternative, Isaac agreed to the plan.
Her determined face was one that didn't let Isaac have second thoughts.
"Let's go," Isaac instructed. The Adepts didn't waste any more time.
Mia raised her staff and allowed a smooth flow of Mercury Psynergy from her mind to her weapon. She cried mightily, "Glacier!"
One-by-one, blocks of ice rained down on the water monster's head until the monster became disoriented again. The head collapsed to the ground under the weight of the ice – leaving the monster incapacitated. While the tentacles were wriggling on the ground, they didn't have the strength to attack.
"It's your turn," Mia told Isaac and stepped aside for Isaac to work out his role. She had to wait until she could perform her task. Such a task was provided to her because the extinguishment would work for an Adept directly connected to the element of the monster.
Isaac stood in front of the block of ice and sent out Flint. "Help me carve through this ice," the Adept instructed. With an affirmative gesture, Flint rematerialized into a golden brow spiritual orb and infused itself with Isaac's weapon. His weapon empowered, Isaac started to carve his way through the ice. He had to do this quick before the ice would shatter around him and their plans would have been for naught.
Mia, on the other hand, seemed doubtful. She felt as if the glacier was a little too thick for Isaac to penetrate. She had to cast it at a precise level of power, something that she needed to master for an offensive Mercury Adept. As Isaac made his way to where the monster's eyes were (the supposed eyes seemed to blend with the color of the glacier as the head distinguished with an eerie pale green), Mia followed suit. Her extinguishment would be needed right away as soon as they could make contact with the eyes.
"It's here," Isaac announced as he carved down the last of the ice leading to the monster's head. "Mia, get ready!"
After Isaac stepped back, Mia moved forward. She had not performed such a complex task since they left Mercury Lighthouse. Mia hoped that her memory would serve her well.
"Elemental spirits, I call upon thee…" When Mia chanted, a brilliant white light formed on her open palms facing both of the monster's eyes. The eyes reacted suddenly to Mia's pulsing lights as the life-souls vibrated. "I plead to purify and cleanse the soul of this creature that has been scorned by the unwelcome elements plaguing the world." The life-souls continued vibrating, this time wildly. "I plead to return the soul of this creature to the peaceful life it has once inhabited." She mustered all her focus while performing the ritual. Anything that would mess up her concentration would mean a failed plan. There was no turning back. Suddenly, an outline of Mia glowed a piercing crystal blue as she roared, her voice blended with trepidation, dominance, and cruelty. "The elemental spirits command… EXTINGUISH!"
She shouted the last word with such ferocity that when she laid her hands on two life-souls, Isaac felt some shockwave knock him outside the ice blocks. When Isaac recovered, he watched a scene unfold. The surroundings around Mia were veiled in a very bright light that completely illuminated the area. Using the available illumination, Isaac looked around for any exit – until he realized that the place where they were in was one giant pit. Another exit was visible far up, far higher than where they entered.
Isaac didn't have enough time to transfix his focus once more on the bright light when a mild explosion occurred. He stumbled backward and shielded himself from the shattering ice. In the middle of an uncovering smoke, he watched a figure gracefully getting tossed through the air – to his direction…
"Mia!" Isaac cried.
Swiftly, he caught Mia in his arms. Her tender body seemed to be weighed down after the adventures they encountered within the unknown island.
Isaac observed the surroundings. The illumination faded quickly and the monster's body melted back into a pure liquid form. The liquid crept back into the well, filling it with the same water where the two Mercury Djinn inspected through the labyrinth.
"Isaac?" Mia stirred – she was unconscious for a few moments from the explosive impact.
Isaac came to her aid through the semi-darkness. The cave was dimly lit by the two life-souls, a tad brighter than the Djinn.
"Can you stand up?" Isaac asked concernedly.
Mia nodded and she struggled to get up. She picked up her staff and noticed something. "W-What's this?"
Mia gasped. "L-Look at my staff!"
Isaac inspected the staff Mia held for him to see and found that the staff Mia possessed was not like the one she used earlier. The staff now had an incredible complex pattern of yellowish relics around where the channeling orb was supposed to be. The orb, unlike a crystal blue one that Mia used before, was a royal violet.
"Whatever happened to the other one?" Isaac asked.
"I don't know. Let's try to search."
A few minutes into the investigation yielded a surprising discovery. Mia's old staff – the Frost Wand – was discovered in the corner of the room. It was cleanly snapped into two and the usual plasma-like particles in the crystal blue orb were no longer swirling around. The Frost Wand was irreparable, useless. It felt as if Mia had lost a fragment of herself, the wand that she had used for quite a long time – from when they arrived in Kalay to the revisit in Vault and Vale to the defense in the Karagol Sea – had somehow attached its soul to Mia, that when Mia discovered the demise of her weapon, she felt some sadness leaking out from the broken staff.
"I'm sorry," Isaac consoled her as Mia sank to her knees beside the shattered weapon. He placed his arm around her shoulder as he knelt beside her. Perhaps it was time to cheer her up… "Mia, listen. You were incredible there and… I really don't know what else to say." It was true. All the action, all the excitement, and all the stress only rendered Isaac speechless at the end. Such numerous discoveries in a few rooms could enhance their capabilities as Adepts and persons. "I really wish I could cheer you up right now and all," Isaac continued rather shyly, "but… we really have to keep going – if we'll find a way out."
Mia lifted her head. "Isaac," she said softly.
"What is it?"
The silence cut to them like the sharp slice of Isaac's sword. Isaac somehow feared what Mia was going to say. Mia, on the other hand, seemed too clammed up to say anything. For her, there wasn't any other thing to express what she felt.
What Isaac would experience next was something that would take his breath away. Mia flung herself forward and embraced Isaac while she dug her head into the Venus Adept's chest. As she held herself, Isaac tried to steel himself though he could not keep his heart from beating, one that seemed to comfort Mia despite the semi-darkness. Whether it was done out of gratitude or done out of some mistakable perception, Isaac could only feel the kind of stemming emotion that was sure to develop sometime later. He slowly wrapped his arms around Mia while caressing her hair and whispered softly, "Don't mention it."
Mia let go and picked up her new staff and her new self – eagerly readying to face the next challenge, setting aside her differences that she thought would distance herself away, and placing her trust that Isaac would find a way out, and believing that teamwork would get them through any situation, thick and thin. She turned away rather quickly to hide the fury of the blood that swelled on her tender face, thankfully the both of them wrapped in semi-darkness.
"Where should we go?" she asked, still not wanting Isaac to see her in such an awkward state.
Isaac frowned as he turned to the life-souls, prancing around in the air a few feet above them. But just as he would propose some idea, he heard the melodious song echo in his mind.
"Follow the life-souls."
Isaac looked up and wondered how the freed life-souls would help them reach the exit a hundred feet up.
The song was too much help for a guidance, but since everything it suggested turned out to be the correct course of action – for Isaac anyway – Isaac decided to comply. He slowly approached one of the life-souls and reached out to touch it. Every distance he closed in increased an awareness of the warmth the life-soul provided.
"What are you doing?" Mia asked.
Isaac didn't take his eyes off the life-soul he intended to grasp. "I don't know… but I think this is the way to go." He didn't bother telling Mia about the voice he heard, believing that even a necessary and plausible explanation would just be a waste of time. Isaac seemed to have lost track of time ever since they were washed ashore the cave. If he counted right, they would have been already three hours into the exploration – with some progress.
The life-soul tempted him to feel it; to caress it like there would be no tomorrow. Even as Isaac continued reaching out for it, he became aroused by some thoughts that had nothing to do with Psynergy, but instead had a lot to do with… but he could not want those images to form, not while he was very conscious…
"What should I do?"
Mia's question snapped Isaac back to reality. He was subconsciously feeling the edges of the life-soul he had contacted. When Isaac saw the life-soul he was holding, he was surprised that the life-soul had glowed a bright golden brown with a hue quite similar to a Venus Djinni's illumination. The life-soul must have aligned itself with Isaac since the life-souls were purged from the monster that held it earlier. He pleaded silently for some more advice.
"Let the other Adept take the other life-soul."
Isaac gulped. "M-Mia, you take the other one."
Reluctantly, Mia walked around Isaac and approached the other life-soul. As she reached out to touch the life-soul, she experienced the similar sensation as Isaac had. Her thoughts became imbued by some semi-disturbing, semi-satisfying thoughts that heavily leaned upon… she couldn't bear to think of it any further…
When she heard Isaac call her name, she experienced a sharp jolt that numbed her senses for a nanosecond. She had already touched the other life-soul, which illuminated a bright blue that reflected the glow of a Mercury Djinni.
"You experienced that?" Isaac asked.
"Y-yeah," Mia answered
No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't resist blushing, which Isaac noticed but passed it off to prevent nervousness from acting up.
Suddenly, the two of them felt soft jerks in their fingertips from the life-souls that they were holding. Neither of them felt the need to speak or wonder as they let the life-soul accomplish its task of favor. In a matter of seconds, the two of them were gone from the room and reappeared on another stony corridor, a massive pit behind them, the pit that held the razor blades and the well with the underwater labyrinth. The life-souls teleported them.
"What happened?" Isaac asked.
"I don't know," Mia answered, equally confused at what happened.
"At least we can move forward, let's go." The Venus Adept led the way as he sent out Flint for some more illumination. The corridor ahead was a more tolerable than the first one. It was more inviting, had more breathing space, and (though Mia didn't realize at first) a greater illumination. As they moved on ahead, the life-souls remained swirling behind them – perhaps for them to use when they would return.
The two of them continued walking down the corridor – Flint hovering ahead to scout as it did the first time – with some awkward silence, minus Flint's humming of some song that the Adepts had learned while in Kalay, a Kalayan folk song. Perhaps they were too embarrassed to share their thoughts after experienced the kind of sensations that involved the other as they reached out to touch the life-souls. If they would be encountering similar occurrences in the future, perhaps they would need some explanation.
"Umm, Isaac?" Mia took the initiative.
Isaac was supposedly trying to scout what was ahead of Flint, but he was somehow lost in his own private world. He was slightly thankful that Ivan wasn't in the party – otherwise, he would have given himself away seconds ago. When he heard Mia say his name, Isaac felt a strong jolt surge across his body; he had to restrain himself from being too surprised, not while he was literally in front of Mia.
"W-What is it?" Isaac asked, cursing himself on how stupid he thought he could be.
"I…" Mia started as she struggled internally for the words to describe something, "w-when I touched that life-soul, I seemed to have felt… something. D-Do you k-know what that was?"
Isaac winced silently. "Pray Venus that I will go through this ordeal."
And just like an answered prayer, the song in his head responded. "Answer her truthfully…"
Isaac felt as if he was going to cry.
In Tolbi's docks…
"The repairs finished earlier than usual," the captain gleefully announced when he caught sight of Garet and Ivan. "If we have to sail out to sea to search for your friends, we should do it while the weather is good. Otherwise, they won't be holding out for long."
Garet and Ivan smiled. They recalculated their time spans to adjust to the new information.
And that was what they did aboard the captain's ship. The captain discovered that the reserve ship that was supposed to act as back-up in case his ship got destroyed in the middle of the sea safely arrived in the Kalay side a few hours after the departure from Kalay. After making the necessary preparations, which also involved the captain signing an entry into his log: "Conducting a needed operation," the captain and a few of his trusted crew (including the oarsmen) sailed out at sea. With the kraken gone, the seas were relatively safer.
"Do the other captains know that you're headed possibly for Crossbone Isle?" Ivan asked the captain, manning the steering wheel. The anchor trinket was safely nested on its rightful place atop the barrel.
"As long as I don't make any suspicious moves while we're out in the open sea, nobody will find out," the captain answered.
Garet muttered, "Searching for an island that hardly exists could be labeled as suspicious."
"I do have my reasons," the captain justified. "If it is to search for Raveneye after all these years, maybe I might have been misled. I am not prepared to disclose these reasons… not unless there's evidence that Raveneye has indeed set on Crossbone Isle."
Out of respect for the captain's wisdom, Ivan did not bother to use Mind Read on him.
"I'm quite curious about Crossbone Isle," Ivan said to the captain. "We've done our research and all… but isn't this kind of thing best attributed to fantasy?"
The captain chuckled. "You all exhibited very strange powers when you battled the kraken. Though it was quite unclear what you all did, I'm sure there couldn't be a dividing line for what is real and what is not." He let go of the steering wheel and sat down on the stool beside it. "I'm quite acquainted with the thing people called Psynergy. It reminded me of something." He cleared his throat, allowing the suspense to build up. "Raveneye and Trefellgjen might have been Adepts once."
Garet's eyebrows furrowed. "H-How is it possible?"
The captain frowned. "I'm not sure how, but the matter of the Tainted Ocean showed that when the two of them dueled in the middle of the sea, they were exhibiting some forms of strange powers only a set people could recognize. It could be Psynergy."
Ivan frowned. "Psynergy, huh? If we were to meet either one of them, we would be overwhelmed."
The captain shook his head. "It's going to be incredibly dangerous once you set foot in Crossbone Isle. Trefellgjen might still have an army of monsters lurking around that he… befriended during his campaign." He painted an expression as if he was reminded of something. "About that… detecting that your friends are still alive… about it being an Adept thing, can you update me on that?"
Ivan nodded. He closed his eyes and focused. It wasn't a very difficult job and this form of communication could be done in seconds. "They're alive, and they're somewhere deep below – possibly at an underground cave at the bottom of the sea."
The captain stood up and returned to his post at the steering wheel. "That's a relief. Whether or not a miracle pulled them to safety, nobody dares question it."
When Garet and Ivan left the captain's deck and headed out back to the fresh open air of the sea, they put their thoughts together regarding the information that they obtained. Had only they had been more attentive and helped Mia pull Isaac up back to the ship during the fight with the kraken, they would not have encountered this kind of problem. What benefit would they get from their excursion? Maybe acquiring new forms of Psynergy that would help them clear obstacles later on. But how would it attribute for them to search for Isaac and Mia? There was bound to be a definite answer somewhere.
"Garet, it seems that there's something going on in your mind lately…" Ivan said, puzzled by the look of Garet's quite carefree expression. The Jupiter Adept knew that an aggressive nature that Garet harbored would not bear the kind of expression unless there was some mystery behind it. It was Ivan's nature to probe deep into anybody's emotions.
"Just a couple of things," Garet answered, smiling brightly. "Remember that challenge back in the underground museum?"
"Yeah… what about…" Ivan paused suddenly, replacing his tone of inquiry to that of shock. "N-No way… you didn't."
Garet chuckled. "It was pathetically easily," he answered.
"Tell me about it." Ivan demanded. He did not know that Garet had opted to take the challenge.
"It's something that non-Adepts would not understand…"
Back in the cave, at a later moment…
"How long is this going to end?" Mia asked.
Isaac was surprised that she took his answer, despite the level of awkwardness, rather lightly. She only mustered a giggle that sent some shivers down Isaac's spine. Isaac mentally swore that he would never do such a thing again, and prayed that Mia wouldn't bring up the issue.
"I don't know," Isaac answered. Somewhere along the way, the path inclined. Given the angle, they would probably reach a shallow part of the water in a few hours of tedious walking. "As long as the road inclines, I think we're bound to find something soon…"
The next hour was very fatiguing. The moments of unrest and little recovery from the encounter with the water monster and the entire underwater ordeal seemed to sap the energy away from the both of them. Even Isaac could not openly admit that he wanted some rest. Without the view of sunlight for so long, he feared that he would lose track of time – and ultimately lose sense of the goal that the Wise One imparted to them.
Ever since they started exploring the cave and its areas, Isaac wanted to know if the side-quest could have some good bearing on the overall quest. There were some benefits: first, Isaac managed to find a Venus Djinni that would prove to be beneficial for his Psynergy and overall strength in combat capabilities – also, the additional Djinni would keep them company for a little while. Second, Mia (who still scorned over the loss of a prized weapon) possessed a new weapon which she had yet to try out in battle but felt as if the new one could be counted on just like her shattered Frost Bite. Third, the fact that they were alone together in the side-quest for survival meant that they would have to work one way or another to keep themselves alive – thus, enhancing their sense for teamwork. Fourth, it was partly out of Isaac's or Mia's selfishness – but ever since their bickering, they grew accustomed to each other's company.
But the prospects of becoming widely strayed from the main goal would only mean one thing for Isaac – that his failure in this quest would mean a failure as a person – ultimately as a failure in existence. He had considered dying early as an avenue for escape, but the complex workings of life could not establish such good basis for that action. Isaac always believed that there were people behind him cheering them on as they (now Isaac and Garet gave serious thought in their journey) were deluded into thinking that their actions might save the world. For Isaac, was it logical to retrieve the remaining Elemental Stars and return them to Sol Sactum? The Mercury Lighthouse was already lit – why not let the other Lighthouses throughout Weyard be the same. It wouldn't create any harm for the world, would it?
As for Mia, she did not want to disclose the reasons for joining Isaac's quest. At one time, somewhere outside Altin, she was almost caught off-guard when Isaac heard her mumble one time when she was alone and wanted some privacy (in the end, Isaac received a hard slap across the cheek). Ivan was coerced by Isaac to find out Mia's reasons – the result was just the same. She was never angry, always graceful and serene. But joining a group full of guys somehow "manned" her up to become like them – snappy and sometimes out-of-place. The serene side had faded so long ago the moment she picked up her staff for battle capabilities.
Isaac knew about this. He opted and wish to see Mia's gentle side once more – maybe out for the fun of it, but he would not resort to getting Mia angry again. A Mercury Adept with that kind of temper could lash out at anyone with a greater violence level than the killer ape. Perhaps he was the only medium who could accomplish it. But given the situation and the stress, it was hard for him to maintain his edge. His friendship with Felix, Garet, and Jenna during his childhood years was nothing more than transitory stages of growing up. Like any other boy, he experienced the kind of emotion when one was smitten by the pangs of what people called puppy love.
His journey and explorations throughout Weyard in a way "manned" him up. The carefree and serious side that he had when he lived in Vale had hardened, forging Isaac into a headstrong and bold (and sometimes reckless) leader, one whom people looked up to and whom people desired more of his kind throughout Weyard in its trying times. His recognition sometimes earned a tinge of envy from the rest of the group – Garet obviously for his aggressive side. While this warranted Isaac to make note of that, he was generally shy and would not rather be appeased with praise but with effort – making him quite an odd person when it came to the grown-ups and most especially with ladies his age. This was well-explained when Feizhi came up to him once and said something about how she highly regarded men like Hsu and Isaac when there are people who should be doing some good to the world. Isaac was like a "mirror." Whatever people perceived him, Isaac's personality reflected that way. But he would not be swayed so easily with opinion, being headstrong only let him pursue his own truths – the kind of personality only he could define.
"Let's rest," Isaac finally announced when he knew that his legs would not endure any more. "Flint, come back."
Mia exhaled, immensely relieved that they would be able to get some endurance off their chest. The Venus Djinni, given a theoretically unlimited amount of energy, noted Isaac's command and trotted back to the two of them.
"What are you resting for? We should keep going!" Flint demanded.
"Unlike you, we have a limited amount of time to use our energy," Isaac panted. "We'll just rest for a couple of hours then we'll be back again."
Mia stumbled on the ground and leaned on the wall behind her. She was not conscious of how soiled her clothes were.
As Isaac sat on the ground beside Mia, he couldn't help himself but wonder how Mia remained beautiful even after all the action and all the ordeal. Was it a Mercury Adept teaching perhaps?
"Another step and I would've slept in," Mia said.
"I just wanted to make sure that we've gone far before we could continue," Isaac defended his reason for the delayed period of rest.
He never thought about it, but he was very hungry. They left all their rations back in the ship. Isaac gave it some serious thought and he was starting to fear that he might go crazy without any food or water for days. Given time, their sanity would slowly creep away if they wouldn't be found yet.
"Isaac?" Mia said as she took out something from inside the pockets of her robe. It was one of the snack packs from Kalay.
"Y-You… Mia!" Exasperated as he was, Isaac was extremely grateful. Mia was indeed a miracle-worker.
Mia smiled. "I don't know how, but I almost forgot that they were still there even during our fight with the kraken and after we got sucked in by the current." She opened her waterproof snack-pack and began munching on the bun. "I've got a little more but we should conserve."
Isaac smiled as he munched in his bun. "Y-Yeah." He tore off a considerable amount for Flint to eat to which the Venus Djinni happily accepted.
Later at an undetermined time…
"Mia?" Isaac whispered softly at the sleeping Adept, her head nested comfortably on Isaac's shoulder. She did not respond.
Flint was also fast asleep while keeping his illumination aglow.
Gently, Isaac laid Mia's body on the floor. He wanted some room to stretch having thought that he might have slept enough. The food seemed to be still fresh on his stomach – his hunger relieved earlier. Slowly, he stood up and began working on his calisthenics. No matter how tight the situation, how unusual the place, Isaac would never get started on a day without some warm-up. His lean and fit body worked wonders for his agility: he could leap higher than any normal person would – of course, he had to use Psynergy to lift himself high off the ground.
Unlike his usual set of routines, Isaac cut the number of his routines he had to do with his exercise because his energy wasn't fully restored. He had eaten few and didn't sleep under the right conditions. He would have to save his breath for anything that they would encounter soon. And Isaac constantly prayed to Venus that the others would find them at the soonest time.
"I'm here," Isaac replied gently. Mia had stirred and sat up while she rubbed her eyes to erase whatever trace of sleepiness there was. He suspected that Mia also didn't have a peaceful sleep. "We should get going soon."
Mia stood up and stretched herself. "It's quite different – knowing that we'd wake up as if we've not slept."
Isaac chuckled. "And that feeling when things aren't going as planned…"
Meanwhile, Flint sprung to his feet, unable to avert his attention to the conversation. "Should we get a move on?"
Isaac turned to him. "That's not a nice way to say good morning."
"Like I should," Flint grumbled. Mia giggled.
"What's the plan?" Mia asked Isaac when she was through with her fit of giggling.
Isaac thought about it for a while. "For now, we should continue from where we left off. The inclination might get steeper from here on, so we should be wary with our footsteps." He turned around to the direction from where they entered. "Something also tells me that we might need to backtrack when it's necessary."
In short, there was no real plan. Despite the reminders of remembering everything that they've learned and encountered – the life-soul, the puzzle traps, the rubble pile that might serve as another staircase, the room full of crystals – there wasn't a single way to make use of what they have accumulated. With only their weapons, their Psynergy, and their Djinn to help them out in difficult times, the two Adepts would have to devise a good way to get out. The only thing hindering them was lack of information.
No sooner than a few minutes later that the two Adepts continued their ascent – with Flint scouting ahead. Mia sent out another of her Djinni, Spritz, to scout the back area just like she did for Fizz earlier (Fizz was on standby mode).
Every step they made just continued wearing down their energy. Even with the progress that they made in the path that seemed to stretch on perpetually, Isaac almost felt as if they were twisted into thinking that they were close to their goal. With no real plan, no real goal, and no real capability to explore what lay ahead, the two of them were blinded by the illusionary prospect of freedom. What if freedom never came for them at all? What if they were left to die – and that the voice Isaac had been hearing had just sent them to their doom?
These thoughts seriously hated the realist side of Isaac. Numerous times he was tempted to shout out how frustrated he actually was even though he was wearing the hopeful façade the whole time.
"Do not be afraid. Just keep going."
And even when Isaac could not withstand the frustration he felt, he still yearned to know what the voices in his head were really trying to tell him. The song had been with him ever since he was face-to-face with death during the stormy encounter. Somehow, Isaac thought that the song was strangely familiar. He might have known a person who had a very similar tone. Even as he searched for names in his memory the people he encountered throughout his life, he had the nagging urge to resist – thinking that the song will reveal itself in due time.
"Stop," Flint commanded after what seemed to be an eternity of shuffling footsteps and an incredible test of patience. "Something's up ahead. I'll scout."
"Finally, some progress." Isaac heard Mia whisper.
Flint moved forward cautiously as it hovered forward the incline. After a few meters forward, Flint stopped and inspected the ground.
"What did you find?" Isaac called.
"There's some sort of a switch," Flint announced. "I'm not sure what it does but I think it's bound to trigger some trap."
The first thing that came to Isaac's mind was the trap that was triggered when Ivan wittingly used Force Psynergy to strike a wall in the Altin mines. They hoped that it would open up some secret passage but they had to run for their lives as a giant boulder rolled toward them. Maybe a giant boulder rolling toward them was bound to happen again.
"I'm curious as to what this switch does," Spritz said curiously. "But I think it's best that we leave it alone."
Isaac and Mia and the Mercury Djinni, Spritz, walked over to where Flint was stationed and observed the switch Flint was talking about. The switch was a pale red (it could be a different color since Flint's golden brown glow illuminated it) and acted like a button. If it were stepped on, it was going to trigger something.
"I think it's best if we left it alone," Mia repeated Spritz's advice.
Isaac nodded. If indeed a boulder rolled down their way, they would have to run all the way back to where the life-souls were stationed – and what a long way that would be. Even as they were refreshed and restored, they knew that they would be squashed long before they could reach the life-souls – what a tragic end.
"Press the switch."
Mia and Flint were considerably ahead when Isaac heard the song once more in his head. He had grown some level of ire. But since he had also trusted the song to get them out in messy situations, he had second thoughts.
"I think we ought to press it," Isaac announced, bracing himself.
Mia turned around sharply. "Y-You just agreed that we would leave it alone."
Again, Isaac had to justify his suggestion – and he could not base his justifications on a voice that neither Mia nor Flint (and any other Djinn for the matter) could hear. "I'm sorry," he said to the both of them, "but… it's a gut feeling. Something's bound to happen when we press this switch – and I don't think it's a trap."
Rather than lash out at Isaac, Mia turned to Flint instead, "Is it true? About pressing that switch activating a trap?"
Flint was possibly trying for a place to scurry. If ever there was a person who was to be avoided in their bad days, it would be Mia.
Mia almost yelled. "Flint!"
Isaac had to interfere. "Mia, please calm down. Just trust me on this one okay?"
Mia seemed exasperated. She didn't like it when Isaac changed his mind frequently. But who was one to argue with someone who based his suggestions and actions on gut feelings?
When Isaac saw her over Flint's glow, he was surprised that Mia was about to break down and cry. He was one to comfort – but even the prospect of cheering Mia up when they were alone could only needle his embarrassment. But it was a man's job and it was Isaac's task to man up. He walked forward over to Mia and expected to face resistance. But he was both surprised and relieved that Mia wasn't pushing him away. "Listen Mia," he reassured her. "There must be a reason we were sent here. I'm confident that it's for the quest."
"You don't sound confident."
Isaac made a laid-back smile. "W-Well, I'm not really completely confident, to tell the truth." He took a deep breath and turned around. "I ought to tell you now…"
"What is it?" Mia taunted.
There was nothing scarier than keeping Mia's temper unchecked. Without looking at Mia – a little afraid by how she would react when he told her the full story – he began his explanation, "Sometimes… when people entertain the possibility of death, there's always this kind of unexplainable phenomenon. My… dad…" the thought of losing his father in the storm that struck Vale out of a disastrous conquest by Saturos and Menardi still didn't leave Isaac as he struggled to get over it, "… always told me that people sometimes hear voices that they never heard in their life. It's the same situation I'm experiencing right now." Before Mia could get on with Isaac's logic, he answered it for her. "Truth be told, I'm entertaining the possibility of death – even though my spirit compels me to go on. My mind feels dead, while my spirit feels so alive." He looked up. "This cave – it's as if it's tricking your mind. In my case, it's making me want to entertain something that I do not like."
"Death? What do you mean?" Mia asked, her voice softer.
Isaac sat down on the ground, deeply immersed in some reflection of a lesson parted to him long ago. "My dad… Jenna's parents… the storm that swept through Vale months ago… Even at this time, I'm always wondering what their last words had been. People said that even in split-seconds, their life flashes before them. But I am inclined to think that when facing death, the lives of the people they hold dear to them also flash in their minds.
"The voice I keep hearing… I do not know what its motives are," Isaac continued, delving into the details of the voice in his head. "Sometimes, I can trust it. Sometimes, I can't. But most of my judgments ever since we were washed away came from the voice in my head - it's helped us reach this far. It's a stirring melody that I can't really explain properly. It told me to submerge, to go deep, to follow the path, to touch the life-souls… and now it's telling me to press that switch." He gazed on the switch in the semi-darkness.
Mia walked over to Isaac and crouched beside him as she placed a giving arm around him. "I might have doubted you numerous moments – but I think it was out of generosity. Sometimes, being the only girl in the group has had their disadvantages. I'm sometimes accosted, looked down, taunted… even I had my temptations to just get up and leave." When Isaac looked at her, she managed to smile. "It's also like death in a sense. When I tend to think that life is so unfair to me – given the pressure of being a Mercury Adept and the discovery of Alex's treachery, I am reminded of how unbearable life can be on the other side of the mountains." She sat down on the ground beside Isaac and continued her story. "Thinking of death… reminds me of you, Isaac. Not in the literal sense of death. I mean, death in a way that's good… inviting… relieving."
An explanation would suffice. "Death… something that's in its ultimate definition… is one that does not have to be feared. The teachings of Mercury about death say that 'courageous is the one who accepts death.' But what was courage? I never really experienced first-hand about courage – until I met you, Garet, and Ivan…" She sighed. "We're so young to be fighting to many – to brawl against the unknown, to fight against something that can even kill us."
"I embarked on this mission to see who I really am in the face of everything that's happened throughout Weyard," Isaac said to Mia, enveloping a comforting arm around her. "Even I'm partially blinded on what the Wise One really wants me to do – but I know it will be for the best. Should death stare at me in the eye, I know that I will have accomplished something. All that matters is that you have done something in your life to know that upon your death, you will do something even better." That was a proverb Isaac's father told him the time when his grandmother died. "It's hard to explain… but I think he means that life will be unforgiving – and it's up to us to make it count, to make it a better place for everyone."
Mia looked away, amazed by the amassed wisdom even young Isaac held. She could not look at him directly but she was warmed up by how Isaac said all these to her. Such a friend would go to limits to share what they have learned in the quest. And if it meant to trust each other for this one, she would allow Isaac's judgment to reign.
As Mia looked at him, and Isaac looked at her, they wondered there was something else that threaded their friendship. Maybe something was bound to happen soon – something that would not be an accident.
"Are you two lovebirds done yet? Should we press the switch or not?" Spritz interrupted.
Isaac's shifty eyes towards Spritz meant that he did not approve of the timing – and quite the behavior Spritz displayed. But Flint was also right to remind them that time was of the essence.
The two Adepts got up and approached the red switch.
"I think I should step on it." Mia suggested.
"Be my guest." With a half-jested gesture that involved a courteous bow, Isaac stood aside to let Mia do the task.
The Mercury Adept knew there was nothing to fear – although the future encounter still terrified her. If Isaac believed that what he thought would be right, there was no other way to counter his idea. Mia raised a leg and didn't give the next second any other thought. She stepped on the red rocky button and they heard something click loudly from far away.
X ~~~ END OF EPISODE 1 ~~~ X
To those who have faithfully followed the story, I am incredibly sorry if I surprised you with the seemingly shortened chapters. In reality, I compressed some chapters into one for a topic and divided these into parts. As you read earlier, I made CROSSBONE my major novel, having the title "EPISODE 1: FADING HOPE" as a testimonial. Nevertheless, very little has changed in the major outlay changing of the story.
After every EPISODE, I will include my notes for the entire episode. Without further ado, here they are:
1.) From now on, I will be uploading chapters per EPISODE (not per PART as I did). The constant stress of pre-employment is sometimes nagging me that I can't seem to put my thoughts together to continue the plot. Rather than break promises for quick updates, I'll leave the plot maybe cliffhanging so you guys can see what's up ahead in the next episode. There are three to five parts per episode.
2.) The name "Raveneye" is a reference to his real name "Seymour" in the story. Once you get the name pun, you'll find out why "Raveneye" is so called. There will be a backstory to Raveneye's journey in later episodes. Also "Trefellgjen" is just a random ancient-sounding name. Like Raveneye, there's also going to be Trefellgjen's story in later episodes. Is Trefellgjen really Deadbeard as deduced by Ivan and Garet? Find out in later episodes as well. The stories behind the two big names of the sea that we haven't heard of in Weyard might be some snippets of explanation on how the world's seas go.
3.) Mudshipping. I plan to insert some more Mudshipping moments. I think readers will definitely like that - even if the community is more into SpiritShipping (Matthew and Sveta) or DawnShipping (Matthew and Karis) nowadays. I just couldn't find a good story for either two, since a lot of stories here have already captured the grandeur for these heart-warming moments.
4.) If you guys were wondering what the challenge was about in which Garet won the burning axe, I'll leave it up to you. The Burning Axe will be handy when Garet and Ivan will hopefully reach Crossbone Isle.
5.) Which also reminds me. The plot may not conform to the scenes in the Golden Sun game (but then again, most fanfics don't conform to scenes in the actual series). The game encourages that a party get all seven Djinn for each element (making twenty-eight in all) before going down to the depths of Crossbone Isle and facing the wickedly-powerful Deadbeard. Since there really are no level-caps or requirements for equipping weapons and armor, I'm given some sort of free rein on the events that take place in the Crossbone Isle adventures. Logically speaking, if I did write so (Isaac and party goes back to Suhalla Desert and ride a whirlwind to Crossbone Island to defeat Deadbeard and loot the treasures), wouldn't it delay Isaac's party from stopping Saturos's and Menardi's party in lighting the Venus Lighthouse?
6.) What Isaac told Mia when Mia asked about the strange, curious feeling as she was about to touch the life-souls... I'll leave that up to you.
7.) The Djinn here are assigned gender (because referring to them as "it" makes their personality seem too bland and broad).
8.) Anything else here I missed? Inform me.
Stay tuned for EPISODE 2: THE SEAFARERS