Was Runir wrong? It wasn’t like his Ability was perfect. It hadn’t helped us much against Origin nor had it helped us find the Fire Goddess. Then again, he’d been pretty confident.
I’d always wondered how he could be so confident about everything he said. Was it because of his Ability? Did it make him feel like he was always right? I suppose there must be something satisfying about knowing things that no one else does. Almost like you could tell the future. Or maybe like you’ve done all this before.
I didn’t have a lot of time. Who knew how long the others could keep the crowd distracted?
Could I walk up the walls? I couldn’t see the ceiling and the building had seemed pretty tall from outside so that probably wasn’t a good idea.
“…how dare those villains,” said a voice from up above.
“Sacrilege! These are holy grounds! We must rid them of these hooligans at once,” said another voice.
I stiffened as a couple of gray robed men descended in the center of the room on a circular platform. They glanced at me before making their way out while cursing the ‘delinquents’ ruining their holy event.
Well that was convenient, I thought as I stepped onto the platform.
I poured in some Air mana into platform and it began to slowly rise upwards. I injected some more mana, making the platform shoot up even faster.
I still managed to catch a few strange sights on my way up.
Machines pumping out colored smoke. Robed figures punching a large gray rock. People whipping strange animals. Vats of bubbling fluid with gross shapes inside them.
What the fuck is wrong with this place?
Soon, I couldn’t see anything but dull gray walls. Pretty ironic really, since the outside was full of bright colors and lights.
I closed my eyes tight as a bright light shone from above. The platform rushed up even faster before gradually coming to a stop. I blinked my eyes open and saw a metal door standing at the end of an empty hallway.
I walked up to it and pushed but it didn’t budge. Frowning, I pushed harder but it still didn’t open. I’d risen to level 258 thanks to Kai’s training but I couldn’t open a fucking door?
Wait, what if…
I put my hand on the door and poured in some Air mana. The door glowed with a shimmering gray light before opening gently and noiselessly. Inside was a messy room full of all sorts of strange stuff.
Broken glass tubes, empty metal canisters, and torn papers littered the ground. Pipes ran all across the room, rumbling sounds coming from within as something surged inside them. They led up to a desk piled with junk.
I carefully walked up to it while making my way through the junk on the floor. As I approached the desk, I noticed that the bits of metal and paper would occasionally shift as something moved under them.
Just as I reached the desk, a large gust of wind blew out from under the junk, sending it flying through the air. I raised my hands to cover my face but some kind of strange powder still managed to get into my eye.
“Finally!” I heard someone shout as I rubbed my eyes and blinked furiously.
I tried to clear my eyes but I couldn’t. In my irritation, I accidentally knocked over something on the floor which made a loud sound that echoed around the room. Even though I couldn’t see anything, I felt someone’s gaze fall on me.
“Who are you, a priestess? What are you doing up here? This lab is off limits,” I heard a rough feminine voice say.
Damn it, this is getting in the way! I need to-
I blinked my eyes as my vision suddenly cleared up. I saw a gray haired woman staring at me with a frown. Although her hair was gray, she looked like she was in her twenties. Her gray robes shone with a strange luster but they were smeared with all sorts of stains. Her eyes were the same color as her hair but the goggles she wore over them made her stare even more piercing. She put down the weird machine in her hand and walked out of the mess surrounding her desk.
“Come to think of it, how did you get up here anyway?” she said, her frown deepening.
She must be the one I’m looking for. Now I just have to-
She shrugged. “Whatever, get out of here.” She waved her hand and another gust of wind sent the junk around us flying into the air.
But this time, none of it hit me. Not the wind, nor the papers nor the pieces of metal nor the annoying powder from before. I stood there in the middle of a storm of junk and straightened my back. This was the person I had come for.
“So, you’re the Air goddess everyone keeps talking about,” I said, crossing my arms and meeting her gaze.
She looked startled for a moment but quickly recovered. “The Demon Lord, I presume.”
“A Hero?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Haven’t seen one in a long time. Judging by my inability to throw you out of here, you probably came here with a plan.” She sighed. “Annoying.”
“Is that how it works?” I asked.
She stared at me blankly. “You should have at least read up on the basics. Doesn’t even know how the Goddesses work. Is Solaron giving up on her champion too?”
“Huh?” I said.
“Never mind.” She waved a hand dismissively. “Let’s get this over with. You’re here for a blessing right? Now that you’re in my chambers all you have to do is pray to me and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Pray to you?” Something prickled inside my heart.
“Yes, yes. Something along the lines of: ‘Oh kind and merciful Air Goddess Breize, ruler of the skies and Mistress of Science and Technology. Heed my prayers and take pity on my poor soul. Give me the strength I seek and the intelligence that I so sorely lack.’ That should work,” she said, chuckling.
Kind and merciful? I thought, incredulously.
This was the same woman responsible for the bonded laborers’ pain and suffering. She was behind Zoe’s misery. What sort of kindness and mercy was that? And what was up with her attitude?
I unfolded my arms and held them up as if in prayer. I closed my eyes and began speaking in an earnest voice.
“Oh fucked up Goddess of hot air, passer of wind throw her mouth and mistress of assholery. Shut up and do your job, bitch.”
I managed to catch the priceless expression on her face before a storm erupted in the room and I was blinded by the tornado swirling around me. My mouth opened of its own accord and the wind started barreling down my throat.
Pain erupted in my lungs but it was accompanied by something else-power. I could feel it surging through my body. I felt like I could jump out of this tower and land on the ground without a scratch on me. Like I could beat up anyone, even the annoying Goddesses. Maybe I could finally see Amy and the others’ statuses too!
Then the storm began to subside. The swirling winds dispersed leaving a powered up Hero next to a scowling Goddess staring daggers at her. The situation made me smirk.
“If that’s everything, get lost kid,” she snarled before turning back to her machines.
I fired a Laser at her back. It didn’t even scratch her clothes but it made her turn around in anger.
“What do you think you’re doing? I’ve given you what you wanted. Leave me alone already!” she shrieked.
“You’re not getting away that easy. We still have a lot to talk about,” I said, walking closer to her.
I hadn’t come all the way here for a power up after all.
“How do we get back to Earth?” I asked.
“Oh, that question,” she said, shaking her head. “All of them ask it eventually. Don’t know why the brats think Erath isn’t good enough for them,” she muttered.
“Shut up and answer, you’re wasting my time,” I said, annoyed.
“Fine. The answer is…” She leaned closer. “You don’t.”
I grit my teeth as she chuckled. I raised my fist to punch her but she disappeared.
“You see, we the Goddesses aren’t all that special. On Erath we may be invincible, but we don’t know about anything outside our own world,” she said, placing a hand on my shoulder as she appeared behind me.
I swatted her hand off. “That’s pathetic. I already knew you Goddesses were fakes but you don’t know anything do you?”
“I’ve tried to find the answer to your question for centuries. Not because I want to send you back of course, but because I hate not knowing,” she said, ignoring my provocations. “But I couldn’t find anything. In fact, I still don’t know how you people get here in the first place.”
“What? Aren’t you the ones you summoned us here?” I asked.
“Sure, we know how to summon you. We’ve always known how. But we don’t know what happens when we do. Do we bring your body here? Do we summon your soul? We don’t know how the mechanism works. We don’t know if there’s another you in that world right now. But most importantly, we don’t know why we have to summon you at all!” she answered in an exasperated voice.
That was surprising. It was one thing if they didn’t know how their ability to summon us worked but it was another thing entirely if they didn’t even know why they did it.
“So the fight between the Hero and the Demon Lord…”
“Unnecessary. But then again, the whole war between the Alliance and the Union is unnecessary and baseless. My sisters and I don’t even hate each other! It makes no sense. No sense at all!” she cried, her voice heavy with frustration.
“But then why-”
“Why! Yes, why! That’s the question isn’t it?” She chuckled. “You know, all of us- the Goddesses I mean- have our own way of resisting Fate. Although resisting may be too strong a word to describe our petty attempts at asserting ourselves.” She walked back to her desk.
“My form of resistance is to try to find the answers. The answers that Fate doesn’t want us to know,” she said, grandly waving a scroll in her hands. “I never found the answers to any of the really important questions but my pursuit of the truth did help me find ways to improve the Air kingdom and develop our technology beyond what Fate had originally intended.”
She opened the scroll and pointed at the faded words on it. “Look, I wrote this eight hundred years ago.”
The scroll said ‘Today a miner brought a strange gray rock to the shrine, claiming it was a gift from the Goddess-me. I dismissed it at first but after seeing what it could do, I knew this was going to change everything.’
“It was a Breize stone,” she said, closing the scroll. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to power our machines with the paltry amount of mana most people can emit. Without this, we couldn’t have reached the heights we have today. And Fate didn’t want us to have them. When I found out how Fate was going to stop us from developing, how it was going to stop our success, our progress, I fell into despair.”
She smiled. “But I overcame it and now every car, every bus, every washing machine is a testament to my victory over Fate.”
“Great, but how does that help me get back home?” I asked dryly.
“Silly brats, can’t even appreciate…” she mumbled before straightening up. “Like I said, we don’t know how. Or rather, I don’t know how. But she might know something.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Several centuries ago, she snapped. She cut off all ties with us, threw out everyone from her shrine, and closed it off. I haven’t seen her in a long time and our last meeting didn’t go so well either. Quite frankly, if she wasn’t so ridiculously powerful, I might have been worried about her,” she continued, tapping her forehead in thought.
“Damn it, who are you talking about?” I asked.
“The black sheep of the family, Lunaris, the Dark Goddess,” she replied. “I don’t know if she’ll let you meet her or if she even knows the answer to your question but if anyone can help you get back home, it’s Lunaris.”
“Why? What’s so special about her?”
“She’s the only one who really managed to significantly resist Fate. I don’t know how she did it, but all of us recognize her ability to do what we shouldn’t be able to. She’s your best bet, that I can assure you.” She went back to her machines. “Well then, good luck on your journey. Take care-”
“Have you heard about Origin?” I interrupted.
She frowned. “Yes.”
“We think he’s Fate,” I reply.
“Yes, some of my sisters have suggested that theory. However, I’m a scientist, I refuse to accept anything without proper evidence. For now, we’re more than happy to let him destroy the Fire Kingdom. Especially now that the Demon Lord is dead. Although, I guess making you stronger has already put us at a disadvantage. Oh well, whatever happens, happens,” she sighed before wiping the seat off of her forehead. “Now if you’ll please excuse me, I have work to do.”
I didn’t budge. I still hadn’t asked the most important question yet.
“The bonded laborers. Let them go,” I said sternly.
“What?” She raised an eyebrow. “No. Why would I? They’re the backbone of our economy.”
“Are you for real? Don’t you see what you’re making them go through? They’re being abused and tortured, all so that you can ride your buses or work your machines. You’re the Goddess, aren’t you? They’re your people, you can’t just leave them to suffer like that!” I said, angrily.
She looked at me with a bemused smile. “I can do what I want kid, I’m a Goddess. Besides, my analysis suggests that this model produces the most overall utility and happiness. Sure some people suffer, but the vast majority live better lives in exchange.”
“That’s fucked up! You can’t just ignore them like that! What’s wrong with you?” I scolded.
“The numbers don’t lie. My way of running things is the best. It’s the most efficient. Look at our progress! The other kingdoms can’t hope to compare!” she exclaimed.
“But it isn’t right! We-” I was interrupted by a loud crash that shook the whole tower.
“What the-” said the Goddess as another tremor ran through the tower.
Guess that’s my cue!
“This isn’t over, you hear me? I’m going to rescue those laborers so don’t you dare stand in my way!” I said as I ran out of the room.
“…not like I could do that anyway…” I heard her mutter as the platform descended.
The tower shook three more times on my way down. After finally reaching the bottom, I rushed through the gate and emerged outside.
“What the…” I stared at the scene in front of me.
A large, floating ship was ramming into the Observatory as the people below ran for safety. Although the tower shook, it didn’t break at all. In fact, it looked more like the ship was the one taking damage.
Most of the people inside Kai’s flower petal prison were staring at the ship in confusion too, except for an old man who was laughing so hard his beard was shaking almost as badly as the tower.
“Oh, you’re here comrade Stripster. We were just trying to strip this tower of its gaudy exterior, but it doesn’t seem to be working,” said a voice that I recognized as Kai’s.
I squinted my eyes and saw him standing on top of the ship with his hands on the steering wheel. As he rammed into the tower again, I could have sworn he was smiling like a madman under his mask.
“Come along, we haven’t got all day!” he shouted from above.
I wasn’t even thinking as I jumped onto the ship. My mind was a mess. This situation was a little…
“Where’s Runir?” I asked, recovering my senses.
I’d noticed Kai on the steering wheel and another robed figure sitting on a chair with a smaller robed figure on their lap. I’d recognized them as Amy and Zoe. I had also noticed the trembling young boy who was tinkering with a strange machine on a chair next to them.
But Runir was nowhere to be seen. As much as I hate to admit it, Runir would’ve probably kept things from getting too out of hand.
“He rushed in after you, saying he forgot to tell you something important. I tried to tell him to just use a communications prism but he ran away- oh there he is now!” Kai pointed to the entrance of the Observatory.
Sure enough, another masked figure was rushing towards us. Kai stopped crashing the airship into the tower and waved at the crowds below.
“We’ll let you keep your clothes this time. After all, we’ve already stripped your dignity! Goodbye!” He waved at the crowds and saluted the old man who was the only one laughing at his terrible jokes, before pouring mana into the wheel and whisking us away from the Shrine.
“Now then, did you find a way to free the laborers?” Kai asked as Runir quietly moved up to us.
“No,” replied Runir.
“Neither did I,” I answered, shaking my head.
Kai sighed. “Guess it’s time for plan B then.”
We looked towards the whimpering boy tinkering with his gadget. The boy felt our stares and looked up before shivering and going back to his machine.
Zoe walked up to him and lifted his chin, pulling off her mask and staring him in the eye.
“Hello, Your Majesty. Mind leading us to your home for a play date?” she said, expressionlessly.
The boy nodded slowly. Amy walked up to him and smiled.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll be an exciting experience!”
A loud shriek resounded through the air.
“Wyverns!” exclaimed Runir.
“They’re following us!” said Amy.
“Perfect! Time to show off my mad airship skills!” shouted Kai, laughing hysterically.
Zoe and I exchanged a glance.
Yeah…exciting experience all right.