Story:Battle for Polvora

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Marked for review
This article has been marked for review. It may need to be significantly altered to fit the established continuity or otherwise cleaned up.
Reason: Story unfinished. Needs updating.

Battle for Polvora is a collab story which serves as a direct sequel to Search for the Mask of Bara. It is the final story of the Volveros Revolution.

Prologue: The Lost Soul

Blazing through the sky, the fiery creature Bara circled the planet confused about the new realm she emerged upon. Scared. Confused. Gone was the comfort of the paradise she created within the mask. Gone were her companions, the captured souls of all the previous owners of her mask who were since released and scattered about. She was alone, frightened like a newborn creature being forced into a cruel, dangerous real world from the warm, soothing comfort of the mother's womb.

I want to go home. She thought. I want to be with my friends again. Everything was so peaceful until that mean, nasty Orc pulled the plug and thrusted her out. Why did he do that? He could have been another friend for her, but no. He chose to drag her out of that peace. He stole it.

As she flew, the winds grew stronger, more violent. Torrential rains poured down like her own endless tears. A cyclone. A powerful storm like a great monster about to swallow her up. Even as a free floating divine being, Bara was not invincible and such a mighty force of nature could toss her about. And that is what it did. Bara could not escape the raging winds, and it flung her many miles away snuffing out the flames she was generating on her body.

She quickly found herself in a small, wooded area, probably somewhere on the mainland. A great distance from the storm itself, but rain still poured and lightning crackled. She clambered into the shelter of a hollowed out tree, shielded from the rain, but she could do nothing about the chilly air. Drenched in blistering cold water, she shivered. She had trouble restarting her own flames, and a sickening cold crept all over her body. Then, her eyes slowly shut.

When she awoke, the rain had stopped and a white mist filled the air. Still so cold. She stayed in the tree, not wanting to go anywhere right now. But not too long after waking up, she took sight a dead bush that blazed with a blue flame that somehow did not burn out the bush. She got closer until it flared up upon her.

"Come no closer!" the bush bellowed with a deep voice that made Bara cower. "I am the voice of Patrius. The Polvorans know me as their patron deity, father of Armonia, the son of man and the one whom the Wesigoth trace their divine lineage." Bara tried to run away, but a circle of blue flames flared up, surrounding her and the bush. "Foolish creature, you are not going anywhere! You will stand trial for your crimes!"

Bara's own red flames alighted with anger. "Let me go! I didn't do anything!"

"We'll see what the Council has to say." The blue flames engulfed Bara, and as quickly as it had appeared, it had vanished. Nothing in the area was burnt.

Bara found herself trapped in a strange dream-like state for a few moments. She was not sleeping, but she was not awake. She had found herself reverted to her non-corporeal form and the blue flames took shape of something else. The genie stood in the middle of a stone, circular plaza with twelve, towering thrones circling around her. Atop these thrones sat twelve wispy, robed entities each wearing masks. The sky was not of Khyorgan. Numerous stars adorned a deep, black backdrop as vibrantly colored pillars of clouds rose from an abyss. There was no sun or moon. The plaza was mysteriously lit by an unknown source of light which cast no shadows upon anything.

"This is the one that started it," one of the entities atop the throne spoke. It had the same voice as the burning bush. That must have been Patrius. "Pagan creature, what have you to say for yourself?"

Bara tried to fly away, but for some reason, she couldn't. It was as if she was pinned to the ground. "Where am I?! Get me away from this place!"

"You are in the chamber of the Council of Divines," one of the entities said. "The physics of this realm are not the same as those in Khyorgan. We will the physical laws of this place, and so it shall be."

"What did I do? I didn't do anything!" Bara pleaded. "Just let me out! I want to go home!"

"You've disrupted the balance!" Patrius bellowed. "I know not how you eluded us for millenia, but you've created false idols for the mortals to worship! You've led my followers down sinful paths forcing them to kill one another! A blasphemous action against the Council!"

"Easy, Patrius," said another robed entity. "This creature seems to be lost and confused. I doubt that she had malicious intentions."

"Then I demand an explanation! We cannot have a creature like this running loose in the physical planes!" A short argument ensued, but Bara was just left in the middle, listening to them all bicker. She was about to scream and flare up, but she couldn't.

"Enough!" the entity atop the tallest throne finally spoke hushing the Council. Maximus was its name, the eldest and most experienced. "Let us hear what the creature has to say." Bara looked about and did not speak. "Go on. Do not be shy. I believe genies are capable of linguistic communication just as we are."

Bara felt a sense of relief. This Maximus figure had a voice that was firm, yet gentle that soothed her. She was now more confident and willing to talk. "I don't know how long ago it was, but I had trapped myself in a mask to escape from these bad memories that kept appearing in my head! Horrible, awful memories of death, destruction. I saw a world crumble apart!"

"We all have memories of the Shattering of the United Plane. But that's in the past. Our ancestors gave their lives to save mortalkind, and we would not be here today if it weren't for them. The times have changed and things are nowhere near as perfect as they once were, " Maximus added. "As the successors of the Ancestors, we must carry on their legacy and deal with the consequences. "

"And you must deal with the consequences of the war you've just started!" Patrius leaned slightly forward in his throne. "As we speak, Volveros pirates are slaying Polvoran soldiers!"

"Oh relax, big guy," An entity named Vigorus said getting excited. "If anything, I think this little war on Khyorgan could be beneficial for us. For centuries, there hasn't been much of a centralized conflict in Khyorgan. I think this should make things all the more interesting especially if it starts to spread worldwide. Not to mention, all of the deceased soldiers will give us soul power and warriors. Who knows when those Demons will strike again?"

"Then we have come to a decision." Maximus reached out with a palm, and a parchment and quill pen appeared. Both of which floated down in front of Bara. "Bara, spirit of freedom, we sentence you to return to Khyorgan and resolve the conflict you started. By resolve, I do not necessarily mean peace, but your mission is to make sure balance is preserved. You have as much time as you need, but you may not walk away."

Before Bara signed, she paused for a moment. "What if I can't do it? Can you help me?"

"Bara, you started this war. You will learn nothing if we were to lock you up in a magic bottle and fix it for you. You must face the consequences of your actions firsthand."

Somehow, she was reminded of Harus the Orc. Was that why he released her from the mask? Did he have similar intentions? Hesitantly, Bara reached for the pen and she signed the parchment, a magically binding contract signifying that she agreed. The letters grew bright with golden light, and soon, that light enveloped her.

Bara was back in the forest where the burning bush was previously. She sat there in reflection. What am I going to do?

Chapter 1: A Second Tale To Tell

Four adventurers just arrived in the village of Shinereach: Harus Kalla, an Orc with the desire to have a good death; Percival, an aspiring knight from Zaragon; Tigeleman, a warrior from a faraway land; and Gabrielle, a Moon Elf with a strict set of values and beliefs. Hours ago, they came across a mithril butterfly that contained a message - an invitation to meet up with a cunning Halfling named Erebellis Took. They had hiked alongside a beach to eventually make their way back.

It had only been a few weeks, but the town was already a lot more lively. More of the structures were finished, and there were ekati lampposts now. Street music filled the sea breeze. Peaceful and cheery. Most were probably unaware of thefirefight that occurred miles off the coast, and those that were wanted to forget it even happened.

Tigeleman darted his eyes around the harbor, gazing at the various ships. Which one? Which one? Then, a rather familiar one caught his eye.

"The S. S. Sidonia!" Tigeleman called out. "It's still here! Maybe we can use it to get to the coordinates."

"The coordinates lead somewhere near Karang Batu, a continent just to the south-east of here," Gabrielle reiterated.

"Karang Batu?" Percival did not know the South Nautilus Isles too well. He was from the mainland.

"That's where the Empire of the Rising Sun is," she explained. "I've never been there myself, but my mother went there during her pilgrimage, and she brought back some magitek to my homeland. They're not as generous today as they were twenty years ago."

"Hmph," Harus replied contemptibly. "Without a doubt."

Not too long later, a large winged creature soared overhead. It descended slowly and landed in front of them, revealing itself to be the size of a humanoid like a man with the face of a bird. It carried a large backpack and wore a monocle.

"Ah, which one of you is Percival of Zaragon?" the bird-man asked. Percival raised his hand slightly. "I've come with a message from your commanding officer. It's of personal nature." That piqued his curiosity. What could this be about? The mailman reached into his backpack and handed Percival the letter. "I must be off now. I've got more letters to deliver around here." The bird-man flapped his wings and took off into the sky while Percival stored the letter away for later reading.

Harus led the group over to the S. S. Sidonia where a familiar crew awaited.

"Back again," the Captain Torre remarked. "You ever find that mask? It's been at least ten days now."

Harus paused for a moment as the events of the past couple of weeks rushed through his mind all at once. It was a lot to take in, but he shook his head and explained what happened. "We have a change of plans. We're going to Karang Batu. The Rising Sun wants to meet us."

"Folks around these parts don't like them, but it's not illegal to go there. You lot get to go for free since your contract was originally for a round-trip, but I won't be able to take you back once we get there. You'll have to find your own way off that place."

"I'm sure the Rising Sun has that part covered," Harus said boarding the ship. The three other adventurers followed.

The party gathered on the deck as the ship set sail. Skies were clear and the suns were out. Just like the time when they ventured to Kesuma for the first time. Like the beginning of yet another tale, or perhaps this was just another phase in an epic journey. Whatever the case, they finally got to relax. Tigeleman joked how he would slice off the heads of more Lagoonites.

"Heh heh. And then we can make their legs into bowling pins, then toss the heads down an icy alley."

Harus still remained with a still expression. What a total buzzkiller, Tigeleman thought. So dark and brooding all the time. Lighten up. More adventure. More travelling around the world. It couldn't get any better.

"I get the feeling that this is going to be a repeat of our last journey..." Harus remarked.

"What are you talking about?" Gabrielle asked.

"My opinion hasn't changed. I don't want to get involved in politics. When we get there, we're probably going to end up doing the Empire of the Rising Sun's bidding only to find out they are not who they say they are. Worst of all, they probably have a good reason for it, too."

"I know," she replied. Her, too? Tigeleman was disappointed. Was he the only one who was upbeat and cheerful? "I always thought that everyone was either a good guy or a bad guy. But after those past few weeks, I've learned that it's really hard to tell the difference when you think about it. I'm beginning to wonder what I'm really fighting for."

"How could you forget? We fight for ourselves. I don't care what the Empire, Polvora or the Volveros have to say. This is our story, and we make it how we want."

"I agree," Tigeleman stepped in. "I'm just going to say the same thing I said the first time we set out to get the mask. Let's play it by ear. Yeah, some things are going to repeat. We might get screwed over by the Empire or we might not, but so what? The point is that it's not going to be exactly the same. We've been primed to expect the worst is going to happen, but who knows? Maybe a curve ball will get thrown at us, and there will be a big twist." Tigeleman paused for a moment reiterating everything he just said in his mind. "How about this? This will be part two of the big epic story about the four of us. Harus, Gabrielle, me, and..." Tigeleman looked around. There were only three of them. "Percival? Aw, don't tell me he missed that entire speech of mine! I've been planning it since we landed on that beach!"

"He's probably taking a nap below deck," Gabrielle said. "He must have been very tired."

Harus thought for a moment, recalling the mailman. "He hasn't said anything since he got that letter. I would go talk to him, Gabrielle. Make sure everything is fine with him."

She promptly nodded her head and made her way below deck. Sifting through the many doors of the crew, she found Percival's quarters. She knocked twice, but there was no answer. Then, she slightly pushed the door open and found Percival sitting on his cot with an apprehensive look on his face.

"Something wrong?"

"I thought she was dead all these years. But...I don't know what to say." Gabrielle looked at him quizzically. "My sister. She was captured seven years ago by the Picos Barbarians. But my platoon sergeant told me in this letter that they discovered the camp where she's being held. She's alive."

Gabrielle gasped. She didn't know her personally, but she could empathize. "Isn't that great news? How old is she now?"

"She was only eight years old when she was taken. I might not even recognize her when I see her. But, it's been too long. Seven long years of me thinking I was the only one to survive that bandit raid. I have to see her!"

"But what about the mission? We have to meet up with the Empire! Maybe by the time we finish, your platoon could have rescued her."

Percival stopped for a moment. "No...they said that her rescue was low priority. I have to do it myself!"

Gabrielle grasped her hands into his gently squeezing them, calmly reassuring him. "Listen...I know it's hard. We've all been away from home for so long now, and we've been through so much together. But we have to keep going." Percival lowered his head slightly, not saying anything. "I'll join you on the rescue mission when we go back! I'll make sure she ends up safe with you."

Percival was silent for a moment that seemed to stretch on forever. Gabrielle waited patiently. Finally, he almost imperceptibly nodded, taking a hand out of her grip to wipe his eyes.

"Thanks," Percival replied reluctantly. "You've given me comfort."

Chapter 2: The Greatest Feat of Engineering

The trip to Karang Batu was not far. The wind was in the right direction and the waves cooperated. "Land ho!" Everyone climbed up on deck. At the horizon lay an expansive desert with great mountains in the backdrop. Great metal towers rose from the ground as several propeller craft hovered about the uppermost floors like little hummingbirds gathered about a flower.

Gabrielle could not stop staring at the industrial landscape. Those feats of engineering - both magical and scientific. A perfect treasure trove for her pilgrimage to bring something valuable back to Lunar Atoll.

Iron clad ships, much more curved and stylistic than the jagged Polvoran ships, surrounded them as they approached a harbor. Similar designs to the ones at the firefight. The largest of the ships drew in right next to the Sidonia. A gear-operated plank lowered itself automatically onto the ship and a familiar, well-dressed Halfling walked across.

"Welcome," Erebellis began. "The Empire of the Rising Sun extends a warm greeting to you all."

"Get to the point." Very few nations in either Khyorgan or Eidyn even came close to the level of technological advancement the Empire was, but that was not enough to amuse Harus.

"I've invited you all here, because we want you to test the capabilities of a recently unearthed Segaran artifact."

"Ooh! Ooh!" Tigeleman danced about. "Is it cursed ring that makes you invisible? Is it a time travelling orb? What is it? What is it?"

"None of that sort," Erebellis remarked. "It's not quite a handheld item. Come. We need to bring you into the hangar. It''ll see."

The party followed Erebellis back onto his ship while the Sidonia turned around making its way back. Now they were entirely in the hands of the Empire.

The ship took them within a small canal next to one of those metal towers. The plank lowered itself onto a metallic platform. A yellow and black striped line marked the edge of it. It was attached to a twin set of poles that went up the side of the building. What was this thing? An elevator.

Erebellis stepped aboard and tapped a few buttons on a control panel. The platform steadily rose on its own up the tower. No pulleys or anything mechanical.

"Ah, yes. Magitek. There are two large magnets at both ends that push and pull it. We're taking you up here so that you get the best view of the artifact."

"How did your people build such a device?" Gabrielle asked enthusiastically.

"You should know, Gabrielle. I thought your mother would have told you. The Empire of the Rising Sun is built over the ruins of Segara, an extinct technologically advanced civilization. We reverse engineered many of their tools and weapons to create many of things we have. This new artifact we're about to show you. Well, we're still trying to figure out how it works. It uses types of magitek we never even knew existed!"

The elevator reached a balcony at the top of the tower. When they walked around it, they saw a large, square arena-like location below with a huge metal door.

"Behold! The greatest feet of engineering!" the Halfling said.

"So....where is it?" Tigeleman excitingly asked. "Is it down there?"

Just at that moment, a buzzer alarm went off. Red lights down at the arena flashed as that giant metal door opened. From within, something rose. Something enormous. It was enough to get Harus' attention.

"It's a-" He couldn't find the words to describe it right away.

"It's a ship! But on land!" Percival leaned forward over the railing.

"It's not quite a ship. It doesn't travel across water, nor on land. It travels in the air. And you're here as test passengers."

"Yes!" Tigeleman jumped nearly over the railing, but Harus caught him before he fell over. "Oh boy! Oh boy! I can't wait!"

"How about we give it for a spin?" Erebellis said. "There's an island called Laputupal that we'll be flying over to."

That piqued Harus's curiosity. "I've never heard of that place. That was not on the map of the South Nautilus Isles."

"You'll see what it is when we get there." The Halfling winked.

A short while later, the party went back down the elevator and approached the ship up close. It was at least as long as a battleship. When they stepped inside, they found an interior of stylized curved metal and numerous glyphs and runes all across the wall. Like something out of this world.

"How is something like this is supposed to fly in the air?" Percival asked.

"The same way iron ships float on water," Gabrielle explained. "Just because it's heavy doesn't mean it can't float or fly. It just needs the right density and lift. Magitek merely serves as a power source."

"You're more knowledgeable than you look, Moon Elf," Erebellis said. "But this ship is apparently capable of much more than flying," the Halfling remarked. "Apparently, it can also travel through time, but the device that makes that possible is damaged beyond repair. According to legend, it used part of a unique spell created by a genie that put the Segarans in a time loop where they relive the same few centuries over and over. Someday, we may even be able to visit the Segarans in their prime if we get that portion of it working!"

"Through time..." Harus remarked. "What I would give for such a power. To be able to undo my mistakes. And a genie, like Bara, is capable of this?"

Before anyone could respond to Harus' questions, they stumbled upon what seemed like a metal golem - an avian humanoid in shape, but with extraordinarily thin proportions like a skeleton.

"Welcome, strangers. How may I serve?" the golem asked. The voice was far less threatening than they expected. This was some kind of ancient servant that tended to the ship. And it was also a pilot. Mr. Took told the pilot the coordinates, and it head over to the cockpit right away. The golem tapped a few buttons on the ship's control panel, and a humming noise that vibrated the whole ship followed. Then, the ship slowly lifted above the ground. Tigeleman slightly lost balance, but he grabbed onto a nearby pole.

"The ship...I can feel it," Percival said. "It's in the air."

After a few minutes, the golem said, "We are now at 20,000 feet. The pressure around the enaren ekati field has stabilized. You may step outside to have a look." Excitingly, Tigeleman rushed to the door, swinging it wide open. When he saw the ground many miles below, his veins surged with energy and adrenaline. The clouds quickly rushed by as they flew past.

"Woo hoo! This is amazing!" The others followed and were just as awed. Out in the distance, they could spot what seemed to be giant, flying creatures - like floating whales with a great plume multi-colored ribbons streaming along the wind. A whole pack of them. They dipped in and out from the cloud layers like dolphins swimming in a great ocean.

"What are those things?" Percival asked.

"They're Cetusky! Those things are even more beautiful up close!" Gabrielle remarked. "I remember seeing them all the time from the ground as a kid, but they just looked like floating blimps."

One of the whales flew by close to the ship, which made them all nervous. It's great eye stared at them, but not in any threatening way. It hummed a soothing, vibrating baritone melody, then lowered itself below the clouds.

"Gentle giants..." Harus muttered to himself. "Enormous, powerful creatures that want nothing but peace."

"Hang on a second," Tigeleman said. "What are those things supposed to eat if they never go to the surface? It's not like there's any grass around heeeere..." He was interrupted by another tantalizing sight. A chain of floating continents with many Cetusky herded around it, grazing on the canopies of trees of a thick, vibrant jungle and many dangling vines. Smaller bird people similar to the mailman from earlier tended to floating wooden farms of other exotic animals.

"Welcome to Laputupal," Erebellis said. "Far from the sight of any solid ground, these islands are only accessible by air. And this will be our new base of operations - isolated from any of the factions below. We should not expect to be ambushed by either Polvoran soldiers or Volveros pirates. The local Valkyrii have allowed us to stay as long we don't get them involved in the war."

He smiled. "And now, it begins."

Chapter 3: Paradise Found

Since Partius sent her back down to Khyorgan, Bara had done nothing but sit and ponder atop a lone tree on an island, easily missable by common navigators. The humming engine of a long, ancient aircraft caught Bara's attention as she perked up to look around. She spotted a flying ship sailing through the clouds. Curious, she flared up, and prepared to launch herself into the air like a firework, but a voice stopped her.

"Wait! Where are you going!" it called. Bara looked about. Did not immediately see anyone. Was it those pesky, bossy Divines again? Then, the source of the voice emerged from the water. A young boy with blue skin and long robes far longer than himself. A hood obscured half of his face which displayed a stone-like stoicness. Another genie. Another one of her kind.

"Are you a servant of the Divines?"

The boy shook his head. "I refuse to be. They don't understand what the freedom to choose is like. They don't understand purity, innocence and perfection. They don't understand me."

Bara felt slightly reassured with cautious optimism. "I'm Bara. The Divines are making me do stuff I don't want either." She reached out to offer a handshake. "Can we be friends?"

The boy shook her hand. "I'm Murni. I've been alone for so long. I was looking for someone just like you. Someone who understands me. I thought you vanished all those mortal lifetimes ago, but here you are, before my eyes." Murni slightly pulled on Bara's hand, and she found herself leaning over and looking upwards at his face. "I know this is a sudden request, but may we dance?"

That gesture. Courtship? Happiness crept, then surged through her veins. She followed with his movements and the two danced. They swirled around one another, slowly lifting in the air leaving a trail of wisps. "No one has ever been so nice to me. Not since the Halflings from that time long ago."

"My lady, with your permission, I would like to show you something I made. We were all inheriting the memories of the Ancestors..." Bara's facial expression changed at that mention. Murni knew he needed to choose his words more carefully. "...I created a place just like the time of our Ancestors back before Khyorgan existed. But you disappeared before I could show you. Now that you're here-"

"I want to see it!" Bara excited replied. "I know we were just getting memories, but I always wanted to know what that time was like for real!"

Murni took her hand and flew skyward as beams of strange colored light enveloped them. After the lights faded, they found themselves on the same island, but now, floating continents with towering skyscrapers with fantastic architecture hovered above in an organized, structured grid high above the ocean. There were dozens more of those flying ships that Bara spotted from the ground earlier.

"Where are we?" She stood starstruck in awe and wonder.

"The real question is when are we," Murni replied. "I've taken you inside the time loop where the Segaran Technocracy still lives in its glory. I wanted to create a place where mortals could live together without conflict." The two of them flew about. They could see many mortals: humans, elves, Valkyrii gathered atop the skyscrapers. All sharing their goods. Many children played about with unusual, magical toys. Mechanized constructs shaped like humanoids mined away at the mountains of the floating continents. Not a sight of bloodshed, civil unrest, or anything. Harmony.

Peace and harmony? Much unlike the world she came from earlier. "That war between the mortals I caused. Or they tell me I did. Is it over now? Is my task to please the gods over?"

Murni's face crinkled. "No! It is not!" he bellowed. Then, he realized his outburst. It frightened Bara. "I apologize for scaring you. That war in the South Nautilus Isles still continues. We're in the past - a time period when mortals were peaceful and content with one another."

The duo flew around, and they saw more and more of the floating islands. Each one just as perfect as the last. "It's beautiful! You built all this?" Murni nodded his head. "I wish I could stay here forever."

"Time loops get complicated, but we can stay here until the moment the loop repeats itself. After a thousand years, time will loop itself back to this moment as the innocent and most pure mortals are sent back in time to relive their happiness."

"What about the mean mortals? What happens to them?"

Murni paused for a moment. "They all live in the cruel world we were earlier. Wars. Betrayal. All of the horrible things mortals of the present day do."

"Then let's stay until that time!" Finally, at peace again. It was like she was back inside the mask again, but this time, she had a true friend. One true companion who appreciated her. Who understood her.

Chapter 4: The Halfling's Schemes

The ship landed on a large wooden platform annexed from the edge of the cliff. When they stepped outside, all of them found a blast of cold air. Wind chill from the high altitude. It was not nearly as warm as the jungly plants made it appear. Surrounding them were the overgrown ruins of some previous civilization. Straight, yet smoothly designed architecture.

"This place was once a Segaran City," Erebellis explained. "They used massive ekati crystals to terraform the land, lifting huge chunks of rock from the ground. It's remarkable their spell is still functioning to this day, but at some point later, the spell will fade, and these islands will fall into the ocean." That comment made all of them a little nervous. "But this location is a safe, remote area where we can do our...planning."

The group of them traveled to a nearby tent. Inside was a large table with a map of the South Nautilus Isles. Numerous pins and pencils were stuck into it. A war room.

"What schemes are you going to get us involved in?" Harus bluntly asked. "I don't like being manipulated."

"You've got no choice, Harus. None of you do. You can run away, but then you'll feel guilty about the mess you caused down there. Can you really walk away while the blood of thousands of lives are in your hands?"

"Then, what do you have in mind?" Percival asked.

"With the increasing aggression between the two main factions of this war, it's going to prove unfavorable to continue manipulating both sides economically. We can't risk the two of them teaming up against us-"

"You mean the Empire?" Harus interrupted. He adamantly refused to acknowledge that he was working for the Rising Sun.

"Yes, yes, you're right," Erebellis paused for a moment. "We're going to end the war using the airship we got, and the most favorable outcome is if we side with the Volveros."

"Why them in particular?" Gabrielle asked.

"Because people like to root for the underdogs. It would make a really good story for future generations to read. A group of ragtag, bunch of misfits who take down a dictatorship that oppresses free will."

That unsettled Percival. "That's not what my home country is like. The Polvorans are just, proud people with a code of honor. I wouldn't want history to remember them like that."

"Ah, yes, that's right," the Halfling said grasping his cane. "You are a Polvora native from the Zaragon province. But you forget. The Volveros have no quarrel with you - they have a problem with Bastillo, home of the Royal Family. But fear not. We won't be attacking cities with our airship. We're going to be aiming for the supply centers: the refineries, factories, munitions stores. Anything that would supply the war and keep the Polvorans fighting. And best case scenario, they'll be intimidated by the airship and will surrender without a fight."

Percival paused for a moment. Going against his homeland? Was that really an option? But what Erebellis proposed was a certain possibility to end the war. It would be the best chance to restore peace. "I'll do this mission on one condition: We rescue my sister."

The Halfling shook his head. "Always so pushy and driven by emotions. If we use the airship to rescue your sister and then bomb the mines of Zaragon, you'll undoubtedly lose the loyalty of your home country. You'll be an outcast. A traitor."

"Maybe they'll understand!" Percival begged. "I can go back to them after the war!"

"Not an option, you ignorant fool," Erebellis barked. "You are telling me that you wish to become a double agent for Polvora. For this operation to be a success, the need your 100% loyalty! None of you are Polvorans, Volveros, whatever. You could have walked away from that message I sent you, but you didn't. You agreed to work for the Empire by your own free will! You want to end this war? You do it our way - the most efficient, most bloodless way." Percival knew that the Halfling was twisting his words against him, but he lacked the debating skills to point that out.

Harus drew his sword and pointed at Erebellis' gullet slightly pressing against his skin, but without drawing blood. "Back off, weasel! We are not your servants!"

The Halfling sighed. "You'll kill me? What will that change? There will still be a war. Without me, you lack the political power to do anything about it. Four mortals alone could not possible convince two factions built on generations of hatred to put aside their differences."

"I plan to have a good death. One in the battle!"

"An unnecessary, meaningless one out of stupidity."

Harus cut a small nick on the side of Erebellis' face. "Insult my culture again, and I'll slice off that puny head of yours and punt it off the edge of this island."

Erebellis paused for a moment. "I'm not asking any of you to agree with my plan. But you wanted to stop the war with as little blood as possible? This is the way."

The Orc lowered his blade, once again, reluctantly agreeing.

Chapter 5: Bara/Murni Chapter A

Bara remained staring at the great city just marveling at it from a distance. Like a masterful work of art. Even without going up close, she could tell. The exquisite detail of the very same memories they both had of society before the Shattering. Recreated perfectly.

"How long did it take to build all of this?" she asked quizzically.

Murni couldn't help but chuckle. "Silly. This is time travel. It's not a matter of how long ago it took. Time is meaningless in this little world."

"But surely, you must have built it somehow."

Murni thought for a moment. He affectionately stroked her hair and gazed deeply into her eyes. "It's far easier to show you up close. Come with me." Both of them smiled, and they flew off, Murni holding her hand leading the way. Like a pair of twin, racing dragons, they flew across the sky leaving behind colored trails of magical dust - blue from Murni and red from Bara. Not long, they came to a towering, floating citadel. A flying castle that extended high into the sky, more magnificent than any other building. Like a great fountain, waterfalls gushed from innumerable drainages down into the sea below with clouds at the castle's base. The capitol of Segara.

They flew down to the castle's main entrance. Bara eyed the passing mortals. Extravagant clothing of many colors. Overdressed for the weather, but the warm climate didn't seem to bother them. Strangely enough, they didn't even notice the two of them. Then, Bara recalled that she and Murni were in their noncorporeal forms. No mortal could actually see them, only feel their divine presence. Murni guided her inside the door, passing through it, and they came to a circling spire of stairs going all the way to the top.

Still amazed by the beauty, Murni led her up the stairs, all the way to the very top. The very highest point in the entirety of Segara. The throne room - located at the highest room of the tallest tower. Sitting atop a purple, crystalline throne was the legendary man - the Immortal King of Segara. But his frail, decrepit looks were not quite as magnificent. His age seemed innumerable, a long grey beard that stretched across the floor like a rug, his face wrinkled and his spine twisted. Actually sort of ugly, but nonetheless benevolent and calm. It was likely he hadn't even moved from that spot in years.

"He is the one truly responsible," Murni said. "He was the visionary that allowed me to bring my idea to life."

"How so?" Bara asked.

"This man discovered my bottle and released me from the prison which the Divines locked me into. Upon releasing me, he told me: 'I wish to be able to rule a kingdom for all eternity as a powerful mage." And me being a genie, I was forced to comply. But I sensed that he was a dark-hearted man, so instead I brought upon my own vision of a perfect kingdom and brainwashed him to follow my every will."

"You...brainwashed him?" she asked.

"Bara, he was an evil man. It was my only chance. But not anymore. He had evil intentions, I sensed it. But ultimately, the granter of the wish has the final say. And if there are loopholes, I use them. He didn't have the cleverness to see through me."

"Is this man truly the rightful ruler of Segara?"

"He's just a puppet," Murni explained. "But I don't control him directly. I granted him the wisdom to do what's right. So whatever intentions he had before, they're gone. I imparted my memories of the world before the Shattering, and ordered him to build it with as much time as he needed."

"What happened next?"

Murni stood in thought. "Next is a very strange word to describe what happened. The innocent Segarans from one thousand years into the future arrived to bring back their technology and knowledge. That allowed the present day Segarans to flourish in peace and prosperity until the time when they get sent back to repeat the process. And as for the king, he too gets sent back as after all, he wished to rule this kingdom forever."

Bara scratched her head. "'t catch any of that."

"It's okay," Murni replied with chuckled. "The technicalities don't matter. What's most important is that the Segarans and their society exist right here."

-more to come

Chapter 6: Prelude to Bombing Run A

Here, our heroes get to know the ship and their base, we might get to meet some more characters and expand a bit on Erebellis' character.

Chapter 7: Bombing Run A

The first bombing run the Rising Sun sends our heroes on. Might split it into more than one chapter, plenty of action.

Chapter 8: Bara/Murni Chapter B

Time passed very quickly within the loop. Bara and Murni enjoyed and played with one another, staying for one thousand years. As they were genies, neither of them aged a day.

-- Expand upon and get a chapter out of it. Include character development for Murni and Bara both, further the romantic subtext and show more of Murni's morally ambiguous nature --

Chapter 9: Bombing Run B

The second bombing run the heroes are sent on, not sure of the details.

Chapter 10: Post-Bombing Run B Character Development

Include more character development for the main heroes. Harus starts to wonder if they're doing the right thing; Percival starts to regret fighting his own nation's soldiers; and Gabrielle looks back on how much her experiences have changed her and forced her to reconsider her beliefs.

Chapter 11: Paradise Lost

Finally, the day came. The day which all the innocents were sent back in time. Bursts of light whisked away children and all the good-natured people.

"All the innocents are gone now?" Bara asked. "Who are the rest of them? All of the bad mortals?"

Murni frowned in disgust. "I'm sorry. I should not be showing you this. We should just go back in time one thousand years. Relive what we did over and over forever."

Bara got curious now. That initial shock and fear of being in a new, unfamiliar world had long since faded. She wasn't trapped inside a static, unchanging environment. She had seen Murni's little civilization evolve over time. Change was no longer a new idea to her.

"Please. Tell me. What happened to Segara?"

Murni slightly teared up. Fear. Regret. The nature of the time loop dictated he was about to do something. "I can't watch anymore."

"But I must see it!" she pleaded. "I want to know what happened!"

Murni turned away and closed his eyes, while Bara stood there. In the distance, she saw a figure that looked identical to Murni in every way. Black storm clouds drew overhead as lightning crackled and his robes blew in the wind. His eyes glowed, piercing Bara's gaze, and then all the people below.

"Citizens of Segara!" the figure bellowed in a thunderous voice that echoed across the horizon. "Your creator has judged all of you. The most pure and innocent of you have been spared from the wrath that I shall inflict upon all of you! To punish you for your sins!"

The waves of the ocean rose, reaching all the way to the floating continents like a primordial, amorphous creature trying to engulf its prey. Chunks of earth and rock broke off with the skyscrapers, plummeting in the ocean. Lighting set the cities aflame. Bara herself flashed back to those memories she inherited. What she saw before her - almost identical.

"Murni! We have to save them!"

"All what could be saved has been saved. There's nothing you can do about the rest of them," Murni said. "Worst of all, I will see this another thousand times! I am forced to watch my own creation be destroyed over and over!"

"But why?! Why did this happen?"

"You saw for yourself!" Murni replied. "Over the course of those centuries we just spent, the mortals. They grew greedy, and selfish. I had to punish them."

"What about the survivors? What did they do?"

"All the mortals of the present day are descended from them. All of them sinful - imperfect, flawed creatures. Capable of corruption and great evil." The strange-colored light from that day one thousand years ago enveloped Bara. "The streams of time have forced me to send you back out. I will see you again."

-- Expand this chapter --

Chapter 12: The Death of Innocence

Bara found herself back on that island. All of the floating continents were gone. For her, one thousand years had gone by, but only a few moments of time had passed for Harus and the party. Murni was standing before her - his face dead cold and emotionless. No sign of friendliness. Idealism. Or anything.

"You've changed, Murni," she uttered. "Your eyes. They're like a beast."

"I've seen that time loop thousands of times now. Watching my own creations get destroyed over and over tends to get desensitizing. I've...well...I've become less attached to the feelings and thoughts of mortals. But in that time, I had a stroke of genius. A golden idea on how to build the perfect world. The one thing I should have realized long ago."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you see Bara? There is only one way to stop the war you started. The only way to stop these mortals from acting sinful ever again." Murni lowered his head. "An act of great defiance towards the gods and their imperfect creations. An act of defiance to stop them from telling any of us what to do. We must destroy Khyorgan."

Bara paused for a moment. Shocked. It had been a good thousand years now since she felt that emotion. "What?! Why?! There must still be some good mortals left in the world!"

"Not anymore. All of them are evil. Innocent and purity are long gone, just sent back in time over and over again. I washed away evil with a wave of water and spared the innocent as best I could. But now, look at what is about to happen. This time, Khyorgan must be finished for good with fire. You and I will burn this world to ash."

"I...I can't!" Bara pleaded.

"You've always wanted things to do peaceful and harmonious. Once something commits evil, it is always evil. That is what mortals have done."

"! This is too much!" Panic. Fear. Like the moment she was released upon the world from the mask by Harus. But now, it was for a different reason.

"Calm down, Bara," Murni explained. "We are not going to destroy it right now. We will wait. Wait for the moment in the war. After all, we need a grand entrance." "No! Just, get away from me you monster!" Bara took off into the sky again like a firework, leaving Murni behind on the island.

Bara could not wrap her head around Murni. His empathy. All traces of it. Washed away. But she still had it. A fierce loyalty towards mortals. Some had wronged her, yes. The Polvorans. The Volveros. But she couldn't accept that all mortals were evil. Then, she recalled. Harus. The time loop disoriented her memories. She was a recent experience for Harus, but to her, it seemed like something that had happened long ago. Maybe she could understand him now, but would he understand her?

-- Expand this chapter --

Chapter 13: Insurgency

It was sunset already. Time must have flown by from that trip, along with all that planning.

"We need to cut off the Polvorans' supply of coal to weaken their navy," Erebellis explained. "Our first mission is to bomb their mines in the Picos Mountains." Those mountains. His home province of Zaragon. "Percival, you will stay here. I don't want you to compromise the operation."

"Do you want me to fight for you or not?!" Percival shouted. "If I'm going to end this war, I will participate!"

"If we're going to Zaragon, I can't risk you getting sidetracked. You will stay here." Percival did not comment right away. "We leave the hour before dawn."

Reluctantly, Percival left the tent making his way to another nearby large tent with numerous cots. The sleeping area. No. This was his only chance to save his sister. The others arrived and downgraded their gear for the night. The suns finally set and it was nighttime - the stars twinkling brightly from the lack of light pollution. Tigeleman was the first one to fall asleep, then Gabrielle, then Harus. Percival himself could not. Just staring at the ceiling of the tent. And before long, he went outside, took a seat at the edge of a cliff, and stared out at the clouds below.

After the bombings, undoubtedly, Zaragon would see destabilization and the location of his sister would be lost with his original battalion moving away. I must do something. I have to rescue her! But how? Then, he recalled what he and Gabrielle said to Harus. The day they rescued him from the Polvoran soldiers. Fight for what you believe is right. Then, he got an idea. And a feeling. The same feeling he got when he was compelled to save Harus. But he could not do this alone.

First, he made his way over to the airship, but it was guarded. Several Halflings stood at the dock. Erebellis made it clear. He would not be allowed on the ship, so he needed another plan. This time, Percival went back into the tent, and shook Gabrielle's shoulder slightly. She opened her eyes, but Percival put his finger to his mouth cuing her to remain silent. He led her outside to the cliff.

"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked.

"Can you keep a secret? I need your help," Percival said. "I need to become a stowaway on the airship."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm going to rescue my sister! This is my only chance! I am getting on that ship!"

Gabrielle was initially hesitant. "But you heard Erebellis. He doesn't want you on this mission. We have to end the war!"

Percival folded his arms. "Do you really believe everything that little rascal says? He's made it quite clear that the Empire intends to manipulate both sides of the war. My gut tells me he knows a lot more than he's telling us."

"I'm starting to agree," she replied. "After meditating on it for so long, I'm not liking this whole meddling affair on the war. Heck, maybe Harus's ideas have also rubbed off on me. This war might just be some kind of natural cycle. What if it's just a shift in the balance that should just take its natural course?"

"Exactly. That's why I wanted to sneak onto the ship for our little side mission, because it's something personal. If our job is to save the world, then I don't want to be a pawn while doing it. I want to knowingly act on my own accord. Don't you?"

Both of them paused for a moment as they heard rustling in the bushes. A creature perhaps? A spy? Percival drew his weapon. But they found it was Tigeleman. Not even dressed. Just in his pajamas.

"Well, well, look at this. Juicy information. I get up to take a leak and I find you two up to something," Tigeleman said. Had he discovered Percival's plot? To betray the Empire? "It's okay. I knew all along that you two lovebirds were into each other." A relieving subversion of Tigeleman's suspicions for the two of them.

"What! No!" Percival shouted. "It's nothing like that! It's not what you think it is!" The Moon Elf nudged him slightly, and they both got the same idea. "Err...nevermind that. You just startled us. In fact, that's exactly what we were up to. We were just about to-"

"Hey, I don't wanna know!" Tigeleman said suddenly disgusted. "I'll leave you two to your little shenanigans and go somewhere else." They waited for Tigeleman to wander a distance where they could no longer overhear them.

"I've been practicing my magic, and I may have figured out how to use the Moonshadow spell on another person. It's harder to do and it uses a lot of energy, but I should be able to smuggle you in when we get ready to board the airship. You can tailgate us, and Erebellis will never know that you went aboard." Percival agreed. It was a good idea. But that Halfling was clever and crafty. They had to be careful.

-- Expand upon the above, with Percival and Gabrielle having a tougher time decide what to do and Tigeleman providing some unexpected wisdom that helps them decide what course of action to take --

Chapter 14: The Secret Side Mission

The sun had not risen yet, but it was the hour before done. The airship fired up its engines and Harus, Tigeleman and Gabrielle were making their way over. Percival was quietly following behind, under the Moonshadow spell. When they stepped aboard the dock, Gabrielle was already drowsy, about to fall back to sleep - the spell had drained her energy almost all the way. So taxing to keep someone else invisible.

"Did you get enough sleep last night, Moon Elf?" Erebellis asked. "You need your strength for this operation."

"Right," she replied.

"How is Percival doing?" the Halfling asked. "What's he been up to?"

Percival, who was still invisible, hurried through while Gabrielle continued to talk. " a walk. A lot has been on his mind lately. He doesn't say much, and he didn't sleep last night."

"That is very good to know," the Halfling said. It was in a strange manner. Unnatural, as if he knew something. Did he? Now was not to worry.

"Can I lay down in the crew quarters for a bit? I'm very tired myself." The Halfling nodded and led her through. When Gabrielle was alone, she lay down on the bed, her eyes slamming shut, and the Moonshadow spell fading away. Percival became visible - the Moon Elf ran dry on magic. But now, he better hide somewhere, or at least stay out of sight. Percival found a small room filled with metallic crates and barrels, and he hid there, waiting and waiting.

As Percival crouched in the corner, he carefully studied the map he received from the mailman. The location where his unit found his sister. He spotted only a short distance away: a coal mine, and the target of the operation. The place where the airship would bomb first. And it was the place where the barbarians were keeping her sister. If he didn't get there in time...well...he didn't want to think about it.

"This just got a lot more complicated." He glanced at Gabrielle once. Knocked out cold. That Moonshadow spell drained her of nearly every ounce of energy. But now, he needed to get there before the bombings started. No, he had to let her rest. He would have to do the rescue on his own.

Percival made his way to the storage room, searching for equipment until he stumbled across some kind of winged gauntlets that seemed light and aerodynamic and with some complex built-in mechanisms. Rising Sun technology. The airship needed to be carefully positioned before the bombings, so it would give at least a few hours to search on the ground. But it was still a very reckless, dangerous plan. How could he take on so many barbarians on his own?

Chapter 15: Picos Mountains

As Percival sneaked about some crates to get to the hangar door, he overheard something. Conversing between the crew. At first, it seemed like complaints about the monotony of everyday work, but then, something caught his ear.

"Yeah, oh well. After all this is done, we'll have all of their territory. They'll both be under Imperial domain."

Wait, what was that? Sure, they were trying to get Polvora to surrender by cutting off their supplies. But conquer them? No. What would they do to his people? His culture? His traditions? Polvora would no longer be a free nation. It only fueled his desire to defy the Empire. But what about the others? Do they know this? Are they actually agreeing to this? This is not the solution to peace he wanted.

But before he could return to Harus, Tigeleman and Gabrielle, he accidentally kicked a smaller box, causing it shift and alerting the nearby crew. They were in the way of the door, so he couldn't go through there. There was only one way out: the hangar door and off the ship.

After slipping on the winged gauntlets, he quietly made his way to the hangar door - the crew just assuming it was only a rat. He looked down, and already, he grew nauseous. So high up in the air. What if these gauntlets didn't work? He wasn't even 100% sure he had them on correctly, but now, he had little choice. He had to do this. For his sister. As he went out through the door and into the open the air, he took a deep breath and leaped out. The gauntlets automatically sprouted their wings, and now, he was gliding.

Percival surged with adrenaline as wind blasted his face. The greatest feeling ever. Like the king of the world. He couldn't help but shout out. Tigeleman would never believe this.

It didn't feel that long of a fall, but already he was close to the ground. Only then, he had realized that he didn't know how to properly land. As he dropped down, he found himself tumbling and rolling along patches of gravel. All covered in cuts and bruises. But miraculously, no broken bones. He could still walk. He got up on his feet, and found himself in the beating hot suns - the dry foothills of the Picos Mountains. A few cacti here and there, but it was otherwise a desert.

The squire looked up towards the sky. He could see the airship. Had he really just fallen that far? In that fast of a time? No time to wonder, Percival looked about for signs of civilization, or perhaps the coal mine. The terrain was vaguely familiar to him. He had been around this region a few times on a patrol, but never fully explored.

He was running out of time. Percival searched and searched as the suns inched their way slowly across the sky. Within an hour, the airship would begin the bombing. But after wandering through the gravel desert, he came to a sudden drop off. Before him was a quarry. Dozens of malnourished people dressed in rags chipping away at the rock with pickaxes, loading the ores into carts drawn by oxen. And watching over them, some burly-looking men dressed in animal skins. The Barbarians and their slaves no doubt.

In the distance, he could see more complex mining equipment: cranes, elevators, lifts and train tracks - barbed wire separating it from the quarry. Some kind of temporary truce line between the Barbarians and the Polvorans.

"Gabrielle? Where are you when I need you most?" He uttered. Now would be the perfect time for a Moonshadow spell, but she wasn't there to help now. He was on his own. But maybe he could use the bombing to his advantage. Convince the Barbarians to leave the area?

He casually entered the area, descending some primitive wooden scaffolds and looked about, trying to find his sister. Plenty of slaves, but not many Barbarians. In fact, he wasn't even sure that he even knew he was in the mine. But as he looked, he noticed something odd about the slaves. Their facial expressions. No dread. No exhaustion. Just blank. Mindless. What happened to these people? What did the Barbarians do to them? They hardly looked any different from undead beings. And the slaves didn't even stop to look at him walk by, so intensively focused on mining.

Would the two even recognize each other? It had been over a decade since he last saw her face. And if she turned into one of these...things...he couldn't think about it.

But Percival's attention was too drawn away. Only a short time later, he found a tiny dart stuck in the side of his neck. The next moment, his vision got hazy and he dropped to the ground.

Percival slowly awoke inside a crude tent held together by animal skins, having no clue how much time had passed. A large man with long hair and a beard - probably never once shaved - wearing the skin of a bear grasped him by the collar and pulled him up to his face. Undoubtedly, one of the Picos Barbarians. Several other similarly built men were in the room.

"What are you doing here, Polvoran swine?!" The man grasped harder, almost choking him. "You violate the truce line!"

"What?! I don't know what you're talking about! I'm just a traveler!"

"Don't play dumb. Your armor. Polvoran. Your squishy, little face. Polvoran. Tell me. Why do you come here?" The barbarian squeezed even harder as Percival gasped for air, struggling to free himself from the tight grasp. Realizing that Percival could not talk while on the verge of being choked to death, he let go.

"You have to get out of here. All of you. There's going to be a bombing. A flying ship is going to set this entire place in flames."

"Bah! You expect me to believe the Polvorans built a boat that can fly? Their machines are weak! And they make the Polvorans weaker! Not like us! Stone and wood is strong and steady!"

"I can explain, it's-"

"I get it. The Polvorans are going to come over here and invade us. Violate the truce line which they put up five years ago!"

"That's not-"

"I've heard enough! Men, prepare for battle! We teach these squishy Polvorans a lesson!"

- more to come -

Chapter 16: The Countdown Begins

Harus finds the unconscious Bara and discovers what happened. After some consideration, he decides to trust Erebellis with the information in the hopes that he can delay the attack so they can save Percival.

Chapter 17: Percival's Sister

Percival, while imprisoned by the barbarians, is reunited with his sister, who's been planning an escape for some time. Now that Percival is here, he can help her bring that escape plan to fruition, and they begin their great escape.

Chapter 18: Civil War

Harus tells Erebellis what's going on and asks him to delay the bombing run so that they can rescue Percival. However, the barbarians have begun attacking the ship, and if they don't drop the bombs soon, they will damage the ship or cause some problem which makes them unable to successfully go through with the bombing. After a bit of soul searching, Erebellis decides not to rescue Percival and orders the team to help plant the bombs. They refuse, and Erebellis has them imprisoned in the ship's brig. They have to deploy the bombs in a different, more dangerous and less efficient way.

Chapter 19: The Great Escape

Percival and his sister escape concurrently with Harus, Gabrielle and Tigeleman, while Percival prepares to deploy the bomb. Harus, Gabrielle and Tigeleman manage to swipe a flimsy hovercraft and intercept Percival and his sister, trying to fly them to safety. However, with all five of them on board, the hovercraft simply sinks to the ground, and it becomes clear one of them will have to be left behind. Percival decides it should be him, and after a brief but tearful farewell, the four are able to flee just as the bombs go off and Percival dies in a flash of light.

Chapter 20: Final Flight

Now that the bombs have been set off, the airship is able to pursue the hovercraft. Erebellis expresses regret that he was forced to kill Percival, and he briefly wonders whether he should let the heroes escape, but he decides they could represent a threat and remembers his duty, ordering the crew to run the fleeing heroes down and, if they can't be captured, to open fire and destroy the craft. After an intense, high-stakes chase, they are about to shoot down the heroes, but just then, Bara shows up to crash the airship and fly the heroes to safety.

Epilogue: A New Destination/From Failing Hands, We Throw The Torch

On a remote South Nautilus island, they honour Percival's memory and hold a funeral service for him. Gabrielle comforts his sister while Harus tries to figure out what to do next. Bara tells them about Murni, and Harus realizes Murni represents a much greater threat to Polvora and the world at large than any of the factions involved in the revolution. He decides they should try to convince the Volveros party, the Polvoran royalists and the Empire of the Rising Sun to work together in order to stop Murni from achieving his goals. Together, the heroes set off on a mission to win the war with peace.