Beyond the outer walls of Byron's preserve the carriage carrying the party stops as a new obstacle appears in their path, swirling energy, looking much like heat waves gathering in the air towards a central point. They all jump from the coach prepared to face this new enemy. However what emerges from the portal is not what they had expected, not that they could be certain of what exactly would appear, but the general notion was another threat, another minion of The Thing Named Jim, however…
"Grandfather!?" shouts Hollia as Jinron appears, and shortly behind him as the portal closes the being they recognize as Sally.
"I'm sorry," says Jinron, "Holly, I can't allow you go any further, this evil has to stop now. I don't know what it has planned but I can't permit it any longer to go un-checked!"
"Grandfather? What, what are…"
He pulls from his robes the mirror of Syris, "I don't want to Holly, but if you interfere I'll have no choice I have here the mirror of Syris."
"You can't grandfather!" yells Hollia
"Enough!" he yells, "Holly, these are matters beyond your years, and beyond your understanding."
"Oh shut up," says Rhulan walking forward, "You're not a god or any sort of cosmic being, so don't talk like one."
"You…" he growls, "It's all your fault!"
He raises the mirror, Hollia starts to run but Rhulan holds out her hand and smiles back at her, "Don't" she whispers, "That weapon would kill any one of you even if it just grazed you."
She looks back at Jinron, "So tell me something old man, your problem is with me correct?"
She looks over at Sally and back him, "It has nothing to do with Hollia and the other's quest correct? Nothing to do with the Magnus Empire, the Croix Empire, The Thing Named Jim, or any other annoyance we have ahead of us correct?"
He raises his eyebrow, "the thing named what?" he shakes his head, "No, its all about you, its always, always been about you demon!"
"So then," she says with a smile, "If I let you get me you'll leave the others alone and head back home?"
He smiles, "trying to bargain? Yeah sure, my grand-daughter and these two pirates can go free so long as you don't try anything funny."
Rhulan shrugs, "Okay," she holds out her hand as though to either blast or block, "Give it your best shot!"
"Smug to the end," thinks Jinron, "this must be how my ancestor defeated her a thousand years ago."
"Rhulan!" yells Hollia as a purple beam fires from the mirror and hits Rhulan's hand.
Just as it did a thousand years ago, her aura flashes blue, and a skin of stone covers her flowing from her hand, down her arm, and covering her body.
Hollia drops to her knees and cries, the others stand in disbelief, the seemingly invincible, save for being able to get drunk, sorceress they have been traveling with has just been turned to stone. She stands now, very close to how Hollia had found her, standing nobly in the face of certain doom.
Jinron is hopping up and down, the mirror over his head like some old mad man, showing them just how far off the deep end he has gone. Hollia looks up and…stops crying.
"Huh?" she says seeing a faint blue glow around Rhulan's fingers tips and the bottoms of her feet.
Jinron stops and stares wide eyed at the statue of Rhulan, even Sally takes a step back in disbelief, her own eye twitching.
*crack, crack, crack, crackcrackcrackcrackcrackcrack*
Blue glowing cracks form over the entire body until.
"Ha!" she yells as the stone flies from her body and vanishes in the air.
Rhulan points her finger at them and laughs, "You didn't think the same thing would actually work on me twice did you?"
Rhulan places her hands on her hips and smiles back at Hollia who is now standing, but is in total disbelief.
"hmm, hmm, hmm," laughs Rhulan like a hum, "Tell me something, do you even know what that thing is you're holding Jinron my boy? How about I tell you? It's not magic, if it were Gyro wouldn't have been able to sneak it into my castle to use it on me. No, it's a machine, precursor technology to be exact. Oh yes, remember I spent the last thousand years watching you all as a ghost, and do you think I wouldn't study that thing in that time? It's impressive, yes, a machine whose interior mechanisms can actually detect chemical corrosion and transmute its own molecules to repair its self. Of course how it's not dissolved into rust is hardly what you care about; oh I imagine you care how it works. Well, it's a quantum-entanglement field transference array."
She laughs at the stunned disbelief on their faces, "In other words, it targets quantum fields, energy, portals, absorption wells, ect…and changes them to inter-dimensional matter assemblers. What that means is that it causes those fields with equal intensity to draw in stone to replace the space the energy field would occupy. It's…the same basic principle as the ability to grow giant, increase muscle mass, or turn one's stone to metal or stone with out worrying about that pesky law of conservation of mass. When it hit me it interacts with my specialty, which is in reality quantum manipulation, in other words, raw magic. So it turned me to stone, and I imagine Sally there back then believed it would have killed me in the process, I just love the expression it had but tried to hide it on that pretty face when it saw my astral body wandering around. I won't go into detail how that worked out but…"
"but…but…but…" stammers Jinron standing there almost dropping the mirror, he turns to Sally who vanishes in thin air staring daggers at Rhulan as she vanishes.
"I imagine," continues Rhulan addressing everyone, "the real question is, how the hell did I just overcome it? Well my power allows me to adapt to and remember any energy or similar phenomenon I have come in contact with, it's especially good at this when it's something new. Of course Sally, or should I say Satasar, would have realized petrifaction magic would have been useless on me, so opted to dig out that old dimensional fabric energy containment device and modify it to look magical to be used on me. Oh yes, that was a surprise. Any who, back to now, you want to know why it didn't work?"
Rhulan turns and gestures to Hollia, "This adorable young woman here is the precise reason why."
Hollia points at her self wide eyed and mouths, "Me?"
Rhulan nods with a smile before turning back to Jinron, "Detoxification."
Hollia's mouth opens wide and mouths, "oh..yeah.."
Rhulan laughs with her mouth shut before continuing, "In other words Jinron-Lia, the spell that revived me, will forever be remembered by my body and soul, so should I ever come in contact with anything like that again, it will be useless."
She thinks to herself, "Although I was surprised the stone thing happened at all, kinda scared me there for a second."
"So," finishes Rhulan, "from here on out that little trump card is completely useless."
Everyone's attention including hers is drawn by a sudden
As a white scroll with black letters and a green border comes flying down from above and slices though the mirror, smashing its two halves on the ground and shattering the glass concealing a silver circuit board like interior.
*chunk! Chunk! Chunk! Chunk!*
Four more scrolls fly down and surround Jinron, green bolts of energy shoot between then, and over the top encaging him in a prison of magic.
They look to the sky to see Byron floating in the air. He floats down and lands before Jinron, he is now just looking at the ground away from everyone glaring at the dirt.
"Jinron-Lia," says Byron, addressing his own grand-father by name, "In the name of the laws of Stratalia I hereby place you under arrest for attacking your own grand-daughter and her party with intent to kill one or more members of it, as well as under suspicion for conspiring with enemies against our land."
Jinron looks surprises, glancing a look at Byron before looking down.
Byron explains, "Jinron-Lia, before the witnesses here, I will inform you that you have been under investigation since the attack on Stratalia. At that time your office was bugged."
Jinron falls to his knees in defeat.
Inside his head he hears the telepathic commands of Sally, "Fight! Fight damn-you fight! Use your secret final strike! Do something!"
"Its over." says Jinron out loud in a voice echoing a tired old soul, "The mirror didn't work, if it won't work nothing will. I just want to be left alone now."
He thinks to himself, "The recordings won't be too bad against me. I'll probably be exiled to some prison tower, or one of my estates. But they will be bad enough…"
He looks up to see Hollia standing over him from the other side of the green electric bolts, her eyes filled with tears, Lin Lin on her shoulders looking less than sad, with a look in her eyes saying she would like nothing more than to rip his throat out.
"Grandfather," says Hollia with a choked up voice through the tsunami of tears she is trying to hold back, "I…forgive you, but…I can't condone your actions. You, you will always be my…grandpa, but…*sniff* I…" she walks away to Rhulan's comforting embrace.
Jinron looks over to them narrowing his eyes and looks up at Byron, "Get me the hell out of here already."
The events of the morning have been trying, emotionally for some. They wait at the mansion, much to FiFi's delight if no one elses, as the authorities come to take Jinron-Lia, the now ex-dean of Stratalia away. For Rhulan it has been a very strange morning, she had never expected Jinron to try something like that, or for the being called Sally to actually teleport him right in their path like that. For Hollia she is emotionally drained, her grandfather had been around more than her parents as she grew up, granted he acted more like an instructor than family, he was still there. For some time now his behavior had grown more distant, and his actions strange to Hollia, but until now she always could come up with some excuse to forgive him. She feels as though one of the lights in her heart has gone out, the compassion and love she feels to all living things, somehow blackened for her own grand-father. As the authorities come and take her grandfather away, prepping a prison transport back to Stratalia for trial she can't stand to watch him go so opts to stay by Rhulan and distract her self with lessons while they wait.
Cata couldn't care less about any of this, its just one more delay, if nothing else she's glad her own family doesn't have such issues. Betty sympathizes with Hollia, but she doesn't know what she could say, she has her own issues with her family, but none of them have ever threatened her or anyone she cares about's life. She watches as Hollia sits close to Rhulan, practically resting her head on Rhulan's bosom as they go over her text; which too Betty seems like an empty gesture, although she thinks it something odd to think about now, that man was the dean of that school, which means right now there is no more dean.
She looks out a window into the garden where Rhulan and Hollia are looking over a text book, Rhulan is petting Hollia's hair.
"Miss Rhulan," asks Hollia, "can we stop with the lessons please for now?"
"Of course," says Rhulan, "just consider yourself on leave till the committee back in Stratalia gets their affairs in order. I'm sure a temporary committee will take over, after all your father can't be dean with his other responsibilities, and Byron."
Hollia looks around, "They shouldn't have to move," she says realizing her sadness right now is more about the concern for her brother's family and the preserve than her grand-father, "The school should be run by the committee anyway."
"It pretty much is now," says Rhulan with a smile tipping the girls chin up as though she were about to kiss her, "Now Hollia, lets not keep trying to find excuses to try and be sadder than we are. You know I can sense what you're really feeling. This waiting around is doing no one any good, time to get our minds back on the adventure."
Hollia stands as Rhulan places the book in her cape, "You're right Miss Rhulan, justice will be done, things will work out. I mean they know what their doing we should focus on our job and not worry about theirs right?"
Rhulan rocks her head back and forth, "yeah, pretty much, for the most part. Besides…."
She looks serious at Hollia, "Don't hate your grand-father."
"Huh?" says Hollia
"Don't hate him, but don't forgive what he did." she says, "Don't feel sorry for Byron he's not going anywhere, things will work out all right for the school, the dean doesn't run things one hundred percent after all, but remember, your grand-father was being manipulated by our true enemy, the one waiting for us in Croix. That is who you should hate, and remember this day well Hollia, that monster will use who ever and what ever it can to try and stop us."
Hollia gets a new look of determination her eyes and the light in her heart flickers a little more, a monster, a great evil, the sort of thing adventurers must face in the real world on these types of quests, thanks to all the none-sense with the enemies being sent by this Jim thing she had completely forgotten about the bigger evil, the one that had attacked the school, the one that destroyed Betty and Cata's boats, the true enemy that isn't just some chaotic god-like nut-job who can't enter their universe but a true evil, here right on Aesperia with them.
A second departure from the mansion, the prison carriage long gone, and its in fact the next day. They decided to spend an extra day so they wouldn't head back on the road again with such a terrible event fresh at the start. A day to recover, a day to refresh, but one more day makes the departure more confusing for the young child Jedah from his new aunt he just met and his new friend Lin Lin, and for FiFi who was really looking forward to the idea of Betty sticking around, and has seriously contemplated following them, but while she is strong, she is no adventurer.
"Where is she?" says the black robed figure at the head desk of the death hunter academy.
"I don't know sir," says the young man in a black business suit, "I went to fetch her for class like you said sir, but she's just not in her room."
"Well then where is she?" says the large man in the black reaper robes, which looks completely wrong for his build, "She can't have left the dorms, she's on lock down."
Beyond the gates of the academy, beyond the black stone fields and purple toxic mists the Adorable Death Bringer slashes a portal open in the air with her scythe, "Idiots," she says in her squecky voice, "Do they really think the academy can hold someone as experienced as me? I'm coming for you, it all started with you, all my trouble, my frustration, damn you Betty."
This time Byron has decided to go with them to the dock, along with two petite juggernauts; straight through the city and straight to the dock where the small boat with its golem engine awaits them. Other people walk the stone streets above the wooden private dock, some off to the side local shops, apple sellers, a bakery, this area is far removed from the main harbor and its bustling traffic of travelers.
"Morning," says the none descript elderly man with the small single sail boat, "Lord Byron-Lia, madams," he tips his hat to the ladies, "here the boat…"
The sea appears to boil, white foam like geysers blasting into the air, from the waves the partially melted and shredded remains of both the Magnus ship and the Agrax vessel that had been sent to the sea bed by none other than Rhulan herself rise to the surface.
"What the hell," whispers the old man.
Rhulan looks around to see curious on-lookers gathering,
"Byron!," she shouts, "get these people away from the dock,"
"What's going on Miss Rhulan?" asks Hollia as Betty and Cata prepare their weapons.
Rhulan points to the sky at two glowing green orbs, "Those things are what is controlling those ships, and I suspect all the dead on board them."
She looks at Betty with a smile, "Looks like those two death related creatures from old enemy have returned with a vengeance."
Betty narrows her eyes at the sky, "Adorable Death Bringer," she says, "and…that penguin thing we faced outside the preserve."
"Yeah," says Rhulan, "and their aura is fiercer…"
She looks back at Byron standing stunned, "Damn it man!" she yells, "Evacuate the docks! Those things are packing Necro-energy, one hit from their attacks on anything living that isn't protected and it, she, he, or they will die!"
*shakes his head*
and says in more earnest, "Right!"
He pulls out a scroll and speaks into it, his voice echoing across the city from everything made of paper, "People of Osopika, evacuate the docks, I repeate evacuate the dock areas immediately, all adventurers with experience shielding against Necro-energy are to report to the docks at once, I repeat all adventurers with experience shielding against Necro-energy are to report to the dock at once."
"Hollia," says Rhulan, "Lin Lin, Cata, Betty, Byron, and anyone else who shows up Byron, stay down here and shield the docks and keep the zombies or what ever on those boats from landing, the boats are just a decoy, those two up there are the real enemy, I'm going up there to fight them."
"But Miss Rhulan," protests Hollia
"Necro-energy can't hurt me," says Rhulan, "I don't have time to explain why, you saw it before my shield just absorbs it."
"They're my enemies," says Betty, "I should…"
"You should stay down here because your angelic aura will not only block the Necro-energy, but also repel the undead from the dock, you go up there and those boats land, it's a trap set just for you to keep you from fighting them while they make you suffer by attacking the city…and…"
"Necro-sphere!" yells Vol-Pinyo as he throws the attack above their heads towards the city.
"Just help down here!"
Rhulan smiles and says as she flies into the air, "They don't know what their dealing with."
Vol-Pinyo's eyes open wide as the Necro-sphere changes direction on its own back towards the sorceress who has flown up into the air. She puts out her hand as the Necro-sphere hits it, dissipates, and its energy like a mist is sucked into her hand as she smiles at them.
They look down to see a massive energy barrier of many colors being erected by the dock by Hollia, Betty, Byron, and numerous other sorcerers, mages, and other magic using adventurers who show up along the city's water front.
"Okay," says Rhulan, "So which one of you runts thinks they can take the Celestial Sorceress?"
"Neat trick," says Vol-Pinyo, "but lets see you handle both of us girlie."
"Necro-sphere," he says throwing another green ball from between his flippers.
"Necro-arc," says Adorable Death Bringer as she swings her scythe releasing the aptly named attack.
"Hah!" yells Rhulan as she lunges into the attacks and with a side ways chop and swing of her arms rips through both
attacks, their energy breaking apart and flowing into the aura around her arm.
"nnngh" says Rhulan through gritted teeth and narrowed eyes, whose irises have just flashed green while thinking, "shit! Guess Necro-energy is different from spectral, ghost, or death energy, damn-nation its new to me!"
She looks down at the ground thinking, "Going to have to end this quickly or they'll have more to worry about than tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumb over here."
Unfortunately her opponents mistake her expression for pain and launch attack after attack in rapid succession. Laughing even while every Necro-sphere, every Necro-arc, and even every Necro-beam is redirected and absorbed by Rhulan, between their small sizes, amazingly fast speed, and filling her range of sight with green light even with her speed and might she is having
difficulty landing a punch or kick.
She places out her hand to summon her sword, but stops as instead of the black portal a green swirling Necro-mist manifests instead.
Rhulan's eyes have become completely green, her aura changes from blue to green.
"Damn," is all she manages to say with a harsh breath, "Ca…Cataclysm!"
Her words, impossibly loud, and seeming to echo from all matter around them causes Vol-Pinyo and the Adorable Death Bringer to cease their attacks, those on the ground are preoccupied as the two ships of the dead have attempted to ram their barrier, the undead soldiers clawing over the sides at the energy, but when they stop and look up, everyone does.
….silence of all beasts, the waves stop, the wind stops, the sky flashes night and day rapidly, the stars turn red and vanish, the sky becomes black and rolls. The air above becomes black mist filled with red waves.
Rhulan looks at her two enemies with a mad smile, and eyes burning with Necro-energy, no pupil, no iris, no signs of eyeballs even, just green light through eye sockets that are somehow formed now into slits, eyes the two of them have seen before, but not from anything mortal.
"hm, hmm, hmm, hmmm," laughs Rhulan madly, "ha, haa, haaa, haaa"
Green bolts flash down from the sky striking the city, the country side, and the sea, indiscriminate in their targets.
"Shit," exclaims Byron, "sorcerers, extend you barriers, above the city,"
"But what about…" says one pointing at the zombies.
*ka-crash!* a massive green bolt destroys both ships, fired from Rhulan's hand.
"uh…never mind," says the man as he saluted Byron and nods to the others as they chant their spell higher, a strain upon them all. Their minds filled with worry for the city. Hollia's however is not as she looks up at Rhulan and wonders, "Miss Rhulan? Whats….what's happening?" Rhulan's words before she flew up there echoing in her mind, [Necro-energy can't hurt me, I don't have time to explain why, you saw it before my shield just absorbs it, They don't know what their dealing with.]
"Miss Rhulan?" says Hollia with a whisper as a green light appears on Rhulan's back.
The lightning has thankfully taken on now a more natural color, but the sky has not changed, great winds erupt, the sea crashes against their barrier, and the rain begins to fall in torrents, each somehow not around Rhulan.
"AAAAHHHHH!" screams Rhulan as the green Necro-bolts now, rather than hitting the ground strike her, like the entire sky is attacking her, leaving a more natural, despite its random appearance, storm to ravage the rest of the land. The barrier falls,
the sorcerers on the ground now forced to evacuate as well.
Rhulan screams again as six green orbs appear over her back and massive blade like green wings, almost like leaves made of Necro-energy emerge from them, giving the appearance down below that Rhulan has grown six strange energy blade wings. Despite the rain, and the Necro-bolts now shooting down at the sea from Rhulan's hands, Hollia refuses to leave the dock, any waves being redirected away from her by a barrier being created by Lin Lin, Betty and Cata too look on. Byron has been forced to leave to control the panic the light show and ensuing storm is causing the populace.
Rhulan's face, distorted with her mad smile and impossible eyes looks at Vol-Pinyo and Adorable Death Bringer half hissing half growling as though a beast of hell were rising up from her gullet.
"The better part of discretion," says Vol-Pinyo, "is knowning when to fight and when to run like a scared chicken."
He immediately vanishes.
Adorable Death Bringer slashes the air and vanishes through the sliced portal.
"Okay you can stop now," says Rhulan looking through a portal from another dimension, an abstract room with walls yet no walls, a floor yet no floor, more like ripples in dimension.
*Like it's ever been that easy* comes the all too beautiful voice Rhulan knows all too well.
She looks behind her, and laying down on an all too real red couch with a raised head rest, something Rhulan doesn't remember the name of but has seen many pictures before of kings, queens, and lovers reclining on.
The woman looks exactly like Rhulan, save that her hair is jet black and wavy rather than reddish black and straight, and she is wearing a lacy yet elegant black nightie or dress, the style seems to imply both are possible. But as Rhulan knows its all just for her benefit to comprehend what is before her and as always comes those words.
*My dear, my daughter, do you wish to ascend now?*
"Didn't you just hear me you crazy old cosmic uber-being, I just said I'm ready to go back."
*Are you sure? In that form you could easily defeat Satasar.*
"Yeah, and I could do that as the Violet Phoenix, the Celestial Phoenix, the Thunder Bird, the Death Angel, or any other cataclysm form, I certainly don't need to be rampaging across Aesperia as some…some…Necro Fairy!"
*hmmm,* says the entity stroking her chin with the back of her hand, *Necro Fairy, a fitting name for this simple yet destructive new form*
"Oh come one," says Rhulan, "We've been through this so many times already, can we just skip it please? I'm not ready to ascend; doing that would destroy everything and…everyone"
"So can we just skip the going psycho phase and go straight to the control, and yeah, before you say it, it wont be at its strongest like that but…"
She looks at the being before her smiling looking at the portal behind her.
"Miss Rhulan! Please stop!"
"but…Hollia? By the goddess Hollia!"
Rhulan turns back to look at the portal, amidst the Necro-bolts now flying off of Rhulan's body and the water spouts rising up, right on Rhulan is Hollia clinging to her waist screaming her name, begging her to stop.
"Hollia!" shouts Rhulan from the in-between space, her astral form fading from there.
The entity smiles *My dear, the psycho phase must run its course, only stopped by the expenditure of the power, calming through an absence of a target like that entire world, choosing to ascend of course, or through that most delightful of dishes…love*
Back in the physical world, the storm dies down, Rhulan's eyes turn back to their normal states, and the wings curl up on her back holding back into the balls.
As Rhulan wraps her arms around the crying and clinging form of Hollia in mid-air, the young woman looks up at her through tear soaked eyes just in time to see a pair of white crystal blade wings appear on her back in place of the six green ones as the green spheres had merged and produced these two new, short lived wings.
"Miss Rhulan?" says Hollia in her tear choked voice.
"Its okay," says Rhulan, "its over, its going to be okay I promise."
"waaaah!" screams Hollia buring her face in Rhulan's abdomen, "Please, please don't do that again, I thought, I thought,"
and the girl says the one thing Rhulan has never expected to hear, "I thought I was going to lose you!"
Rhulan pats her head, she isn't sure what to say, she can't or perhaps she's telling herself that, but rather it be a can't or won't telling Hollia about the cataclysm forms, although while fighting Ravana she came close to summoning that power, taking on the first step of the Violet Phoenix transformation, if Cata hadn't joined in on that attack…but a new Cataclysm is not like an already established one…but still.
She pats Hollia on the head and says, "I promise, your not going to lose me okay, I promise I wont do that again…no more scary Necro-fai…that berserker thing, just…over loaded is all…so come on, stop crying. I don't want to see that pretty face all red and puffy *giggle*"
Hollia smiles as the two of them float back to the ground, the dock once again covered in on lookers, Lin Lin had been forced to stay back with Betty and Cata. Even Byron is amongst the crowd.
They can hear frantic talk amongst the crowd as Rhulan ushers everyone into the boat, despite what just happened, the million questions Byron must have, and the events that just occurred they agree they need to leave at once least something else happen, like the Thing Named Jim send a second strike, another enemy appear, or something worse.
As the boat, minus its owner who vanished somewhere during the commotion, with its golem engine despite also having a sail drives away Rhulan can sense even as Hollia still clings by her side on the boat what neither Cata nor Betty can hear in the crowd as names draw the attention of their owners, some well read scholar, some educated individual with access to ancient manuscripts whispers and starts a rumor, talks, amongst the crowd with one simple phrase, "That was Rhulan the empress."