Chapter 32: An Otherworldly Threat
"We must not let anyone know what has happened here," said King Neal, fear showing clearly in his voice. "If the people knew it would start a panic."
"Your Majesty, we must tell the people what has happened," argued Suzanne. "They have to know that the threat is not over."
"No!" declared the king. "Absolutely not!"
"The entire kingdom must know about the damage the castle has taken," persisted Suzanne. "They will have questions. Letting the people guess at the answers will incite even more of a panic."
"I have made arrangements for that," answered the king. "I have some of the land's finest craftsmen and stonemasons examining the damage. They will declare that the castle was not structurally sound. This will put to rest any rumors and bring peace to the people."
"Your Majesty, we just fought in a terrible battle for the survival of all mankind," said Suzanne. "A battle made worse because mankind refused to face the truth until it was almost too late. With all due respect, would you have us make the same mistake again so soon?"
"That is enough!" said King Neal, now angry. "All of this is your fault! This Zoma, whatever it is, targeted us because of you! I should have never allowed you to break the seal. I should have never allowed you to say you were from Aliahan. You have brought evil back with you! Aliahan had prospered under the seal!"
"Sire, Aliahan has been in decline for decades now," replied Suzanne. "You yourself had been saying how wonderful it would be to rejoin the world."
"Silence!" yelled King Neal. "I will have no more talk from you, woman! We will do as we always have. We will cut ourselves off from the world and not participate in the world's problems."
It was all Suzanne could do to keep from yelling back at the monarch. "Very well, Your Majesty," she replied with a guarded voice. "So then Aliahan will not join the fight against this new threat."
"No and neither will you, if you know what's good for you," growled the king. "I am warning you, daughter of Ortega, not to venture out on this fool quest of yours again. If you do you and any who accompany you can no longer claim to be of Aliahan. You will be banished from this great land. Do you understand me?"
Suzanne was surprised by the turn of events. After a pause she said, "I understand, Your Majesty." Then she left the king's presence.
Suzanne met up with Ron, Thomas, and Alice and relayed the king's ultimatum. The three were shocked to hear of such passionate opposition from the king.
"Bah!" scoffed Alice. "He's an idiot! Danger creeps right into his very home and he thinks he can hide from it! It's just like before we fought against Baramos! When are these rulers going to learn that hiding under the bed isn't going to make the big bad monster go away?"
"He's delirious too," muttered Thomas. "There was a crowd of people who witnessed the attack on the castle. They report great bolts of lightning causing the destruction. How do you explain that away as structural problems?"
"You've spoken with witnesses? Did they see what caused the attack?" asked Suzanne.
"No," replied Ron. "Nobody saw anything like that. Everyone was so focused on us and what was going on in the castle that I wouldn't be surprised if the attacker was in their midst. We've seen humans ally themselves with Baramos. There could have been a traitor in the crowd."
"A powerful traitor to be able to cause so much destruction," mused Alice.
"That's what worries me," said Suzanne. "Whoever, or whatever, did this managed to cause a lot of damage and escape detection. What's to stop them from doing it again?"
"That's usually where we come in," said Ron with a grin.
"Are you sure, Ron?" asked Suzanne. "I told you what the king said. He wants nothing to do with this new threat. If he finds out we're trying to find out about this Zoma he will be far from happy. And if we leave we're banished. Are you prepared for that, Ron? What about you, Thomas? And you, Alice? Are you all ready for the consequences?"
"It'll be tough leaving my family and friends here," admitted Ron. "But it'd be even tougher just waiting around for something to happen. And besides, if we bust up this new threat I'll bet the king will let us back in!"
"Don't be so sure," cautioned Thomas. "We're already credited with killing an Archfiend and that has only made the king blame us more."
"I know," said Ron. "Still, I can't sit around while there's still a threat. I'm in!"
"Ron's right," agreed Alice. "I'll miss my family but it's more important to protect them. Based on what I've heard of this attack I can think of no way to guard against another one by staying here. The only way to protect my family and Aliahan is to take out whatever's responsible for all this. I'm in too!"
"As am I," said Thomas. "I've been prepared for consequences like these since I first joined you, Susie."
"Thanks everyone," said Suzanne. "We need not leave just yet. We have little idea what we're dealing with, after all. I'm going to try and find Ramia. This Zoma claims to be a Master Archfiend. No monster's dared make that claim since the First Great War. Ramia fought in that war. I know Ramia doesn't have a lot of memories from her past life but she may still know something. I'll bring her here."
"By yourself?" asked Ron.
"We need to bring Ramia here to try and examine the damage as well as investigate any residual magic effects," said Suzanne. "That means we have to be able to return. The king may be paranoid of any of us leaving. He may even send out men to make sure we're still here. I need the three of you here to cover for me just in case His Majesty starts sniffing around."
"I'm coming with you," declared Thomas. "I agree with His Majesty on one thing: the attackers targeted Aliahan because of us. I know you're quite capable Susie but we've seen the power our foes wield. It's too dangerous for any of us to be alone now."
"But that means we'd have to cover for both of you," said Alice.
"It'll be fine," said Ron. "Tom's not exactly a social butterfly. No offense, Tom. Nobody will question not seeing him for some time. We really only need to cover for Susie."
"But I agree that both of us being absent for a long period of time will make it more suspicious," said Suzanne. "If we haven't found Ramia in a week we'll teleport back to Aliahan to make some appearances."
Suzanne and Thomas teleported to the northern portion of the Romalian Empire. They remembered that Ramia had said she wanted to work with elves and humans. After teleporting it was another day and half's journey to make it to where the elf queen lived. Their reception from the elves was a bit warmer this time. Although the elves still did not want to look at or speak with the two humans they did not shout or curse at them this time.
Thankfully, the two did not have to meet with the elf queen. Ramia was easy to find. Suzanne and Thomas approached the phoenix and told her of what had occurred in Aliahan. Ramia agreed to immediately go back to Aliahan with the two. Once there she did her best to examine the castle discreetly. After a day of examination she called the heroes to her and told them what she had found.
It is clear that some great power was at work here, said Ramia. In fact, this power seems…otherworldly.
"Otherworldly?" asked Suzanne.
I am afraid I cannot explain it well, apologized Ramia. The magic that lingers here calls to memories of my past life. I still have not recovered all those memories. I do not know if I ever will. But those memories tell me that this magic transcends this world.
"When you say otherworldly do you mean that this was magic dealing with the next life?" asked Thomas. "A strong brand of necromancy?"
No, it is not necromancy, replied Ramia. It is magic that is of another world.
"Another world?" asked Alice. "You mean another world like ours? How can you know this?"
I am not sure, admitted Ramia. If only I had the memories of my past life. But this magic speaks to some power I can sense within myself. And it is very dangerous. We must find the thing responsible for this at once.
A short time later Ramia left to go to the Necrogond to further investigate the mysterious attack. Meanwhile, Suzanne and Thomas decided to travel to the Romalian capital to warn Emperor Vilisik of the new threat. Suzanne related their grave tale and asked the emperor for his aid.
"I know we all thought it was over," said Suzanne after she had finished telling the story of the attack. "But there is something else out there and all signs point to it being at least as dangerous as Baramos. Your Majesty, while we investigate this threat I ask that you call together the world leaders again. Baramos's army remains disbanded. If we act quickly and decisively this time we can defeat this Zoma before things get as bad as they were with Baramos."
Suzanne's story gave the emperor some pause. He thought over what Suzanne had said to him and then answered, "I am afraid that is out of the question."
"What?" asked Suzanne in surprise. "But why?"
The emperor hesitated before answering. Thomas supplied a guess, "Because we're from Aliahan."
The emperor was still hesitant in giving a reply. "Is that true, Your Majesty? Did you not once tell us that you bore no grudge against Aliahan?"
"And I still bear no grudge towards Aliahan," said Vilisik finally. "And I most certainly bear no grudge towards you, to whom I and the rest of the world owe so much. But I do know my history. After the Archfiend's defeat in the Second World War Desmond came up with a phantom threat to keep control of the great army that had been assembled. That was the beginning of his tyranny."
"But, Your Majesty, we have no army!" protested Suzanne. "We do not even come as representatives of Aliahan! Our king has made it clear we act on our own, as we always have. Even if we truly meant to follow Desmond's dark path there is no way we could!"
"But there are many who would follow the slayers of Baramos," replied the emperor. "And you have proven to be an exemplary leader. Would it truly be impossible for you to raise your own army, especially with state approval?"
"We have no wishes in raising an army!" said Suzanne. "We want it to be over as much as anyone else! But Zoma has taken the fight to our very door! We have to respond! Please, Your Majesty. You supported us when nobody else would. You trusted us before when we were little more than strangers. Trust us now!"
"You must remember that I did not implicitly trust you. You proved yourselves in stopping Kandar's rebellion," said Vilisik.
"And have we not proved ourselves even more in stopping Baramos?" asked Suzanne.
The emperor ignored her. "Furthermore, we already had evidence of the Archfiend when I agreed to support you. You have provided no evidence of this new threat."
"Then send someone back with us to Aliahan to see for yourself!" declared Suzanne. "Or come yourself if you wish! You will see the damage wrought with but one attack of this new fiend!"
"Now you ask for me to come to Aliahan," mused the emperor. "How can I or anyone else be sure that this is not an elaborate setup constructed by your people?"
"Ramia has seen the damages," answered Suzanne. "She can vouch for us."
The emperor was left silent for a short time. Thomas guessed at the source of his discomfort, "Undoubtedly the good emperor sees Ramia as little more than a monster that just happened to fight on our side against Baramos. Perhaps he even believes Ramia will try to take Baramos's place."
"Is that true, Your Majesty?" asked Suzanne.
Finally the emperor lost his composure. "Dammit, Suzanne! I don't want to distrust you! But you have to realize how bad this looks; how close this is to the Second Great War! The only non-Aliahanian witness you have is a mysterious yet powerful creature! And if I have misgivings about these circumstances then what will the other rulers say? Even if I came out in support of you do you think King Saldor would follow suit?"
Suzanne was left speechless at that emperor's outburst. The emperor sighed and continued, "Look, all we need is proof. You had to find proof of Baramos and now you need proof of Zoma. And you do not need to revive Ramia again. I should think this task relatively easy compared to what you have already accomplished. Bring me proof of this attack. The sort of proof that even King Saldor cannot disbelieve. Then I will support you once again."
"I can't believe even the emperor won't support us," said Alice.
"Maybe you should've taken his offer and become empress after all, Susie," said Ron bitterly.
"As much as I hate to admit it, he brought up some valid points," said Suzanne. "Our story, coming so soon after the defeat of Baramos, is a frightening echo of the Second Great War. If we went to Portoga with this story King Saldor might almost consider it a declaration of war."
"Ultimately this changes nothing," continued Suzanne. "It just means we're back to square one, the same spot we were in over a year and a half ago. We gather information, we present it to the world's rulers, and we eliminate the threat."
"We're at worse than square one," muttered Thomas. "Or rather, we started a bit better than square one before. People had at least heard of and even seen some of the Archfiend's power before. The emperor even told us that played a part in persuading him to support us. Now only Aliahan has seen the destruction of Zoma and nobody is going to believe Aliahan."
"Don't be so glum, everyone!" said Alice cheerfully. "We're at better than square one now too! Don't forget we have Ramia on our side! I think she'll be the key to our efforts once again. She may not have recovered her memories but it's clear she has some sort of connection with this kind of power. I think she will regain some of her lost knowledge and reveal where Zoma is hiding. Then it should be easy to convince everyone to help us and take it out before it can raise an army."
"I agree, Alice," said Suzanne. "And that will be our next course of action. We have no leads as to where to begin looking for Zoma. We'll wait in Aliahan until Ramia returns. Hopefully she will be able to shed some light on this whole affair."
"Bah! The waiting game," scoffed Ron. "Why can't our enemies ever just come out into the open and shout, 'Hey, we're here! Let's fight!' They always have to climb onto a bunch of impassable mountains or launch an attack and disappear!"
"Because they're highly intelligent, Ron," answered Suzanne. "They realize this gives them a great advantage."
"Well I'm highly intelligent and that's what I'd do," protested Ron.
Suzanne could not suppress a grin. "That doesn't sound highly intelligent to me, Ron."
"Typical simplistic Ron idea," added Alice.
"Hey! As I recall, I'm the only one of us to ever be the ruler of a nation," pointed out Ron. "And you know what? If you guys hadn't dragged me off that throne we wouldn't be in this mess right now!"
"We dragged you off the throne?" asked Thomas, also amused. "As I recall, you begged us to get you off that throne."
"I had it under control," insisted Ron.
Ramia returned nine days later with her report from the Necrogond. East of Venorl Castle is an ominous place called the Great Pit of Giaga. It is surrounded by a poisonous cloud and poisonous marsh.
"I remember seeing that!" exclaimed Alice. "Do you guys remember? When we were looking for the Silver Orb we saw an ominous purple cloud hanging over the lake just east of Venorl! Was it in the middle of a lake?"
It was, replied Ramia. I spent some time examining the area. To my amazement, there were humans guarding the pit.
"Humans?" asked Suzanne. "How could they survive in such an inhospitable environment?"
They have done as your kind always does, adapt, answered Ramia. And the poisonous cloud surrounds the pit, it does not cover it. The humans make up one of the tribes of the Necrogond. Unlike most such tribes these wore armor and carried weapons similar to yours.
"Why didn't the Archfiend go after them like it did with all the other tribes of the Necrogond?" asked Suzanne.
They had allied themselves with Baramos, answered Ramia. In fact, the human spellcasters that attacked me during the Battle of Venorl came from this tribe.
"They worked with Baramos!" growled Ron.
Yes but it would seem they bear us no ill will, said Ramia. They only worked with the Archfiend so that they may survive.
"That's no excuse," said Ron. "They worked with Baramos! They have to be brought to justice for that!"
Perhaps, admitted Ramia. But we have more important things to worry about at the moment. You can take care of them after we deal with Zoma.
"How do we know they're not working with Zoma?" asked Suzanne.
I have considered that, said Ramia. If we go to the Great Pit of Giaga we must exercise the utmost caution. Nevertheless, they were nothing but cooperative while I was there. They told me that on the day of Baramos's demise there was a quake in the area. It tore through the walls they had built around the pit. After that, a figure disappeared into the depths. Furthermore, they reported seeing terrible bolts of lightning coming from the pit on the same day your castle was attacked.
"A trap," insisted Ron. "Zoma has them feeding us false information."
I am not so sure, said Ramia. I spent a great deal of time examining the pit. There are powers emanating from it that match what I have sensed around your castle. This otherworldly energy was even stronger around the pit. I believe the Great Pit of Giaga is a portal; a sort of giant Traveler's Gate. And I believe that Zoma is on the other side of this portal.
"With all due respect, Ramia," began Ron, "is it possible that these people deceived you?"
I have not discounted the possibility, admitted Ramia. But if they were able to conjure up such an elaborate deception they must have a great amount of power and knowledge dealing with this otherworldly force.
"And if that's the case then they could very well be the ones that attacked us," concluded Suzanne. "So either we go to this portal and use it to find Zoma or we find the real attackers of the castle." Ramia nodded.
"Alright, everyone, this is it," declared Suzanne. "We can't leave anyone back this time. Whether we're examining this dark portal or walking into an ambush we'll need all of our power and wits on this one. And the king will notice if all of us are gone. I say to you again that you don't have to do this. Nobody will blame you for staying back now."
The other three looked at each other and nodded. "Come on, Susie," said Ron. "We keep telling you that we're not going to leave you now."
"Then say goodbye to your family and friends today," said Suzanne. "We're going to the Great Pit of Giaga tomorrow and there's a good chance we'll never be back in Aliahan."
The four said their goodbyes to their families and left the next day. Ramia then took the four to the Great Pit of Giaga. The tribe that guarded it let them through without incident though the group was ready for a trap nevertheless. They went to the gap that had been opened in the wall and looked into the pit. It was a dark hole through which nothing could be seen.
"So this is the Great Pit of Giaga," noted Suzanne.
"It doesn't look like much," observed Ron. "But it's oddly creepy. It's like looking down a giant well."
"You're sure this is a portal, Ramia?" asked Alice. Ramia nodded.
"Alright, we're not going in without as much information as we can muster," declared Suzanne. "Let's spend some time examining this portal. Specifically we want to make sure we can return after entering."
Alice and Ramia spent three days examining the pit. As expected, Ramia had some repressed powers that were very similar to the powers flowing around the pit. Working together, they were able to not only learn about the powerful magic involved but were able to recover some of Ramia's powers. They made an incredible amount of progress in a short time. After they had finished they shared their results with the rest of the group.
"As expected, Ramia has dormant powers that allow her to work with this portal," explained Alice. "She isn't able to control or close this portal. Its power is such that we doubt that would ever be within her abilities. But she can serve as an anchor to this world."
"Wait, so this portal actually goes to another world?" asked Ron.
We believe so, answered Ramia.
"How is that even possible?" asked Ron. "How can there even be another world?"
There are many mysteries out there, mused Ramia. This is one I do not believe I have ever known the answer to.
"What do you mean by anchor?" asked Suzanne.
"Basically, Ramia will be a living waypoint for us," answered Alice. "This magic will make conventional teleportation impossible. But Ramia will allow us to return to this world."
"If this truly leads to another world how do we know we can even survive there?" asked Thomas. "We may die upon arrival."
The portal itself should be safe to you, answered Ramia. But it is impossible to know what is on the other side. I realize that makes this an enormous risk.
"I see," said Suzanne. "Ramia, what I'm about to ask you is incredibly difficult. Since this is such a great risk we need to send only one of us through first to make sure it is safe. You have the greatest magical powers out of all of us. Specifically, you are most able to adapt and protect yourself. If any of us can survive what is on the other side, it's you. Could you go through the portal and make sure it is safe, Ramia?"
I wish I could, Suzanne, answered Ramia. Observe.
Ramia walked over to the pit. She confidently stepped onto the pit but did not fall. There is powerful magic working right before your eyes, though you cannot see it, explained Ramia. It is reacting to the innate magic in my body, preventing me from falling into the pit.
"We believe that this is a powerful spell cast upon the portal," continued Alice. "It is specifically designed to keep Ramia out. But it will not stop human beings from going through."
"Susie, I agree with you that only one of us should go through at first," said Alice. "Thus, it must be me. After Ramia I am most experienced with magic. Should some vile power be on the other side of the portal I am the one most likely to be able to protect myself and survive."
"Wait, is this honestly the best plan we have?" asked Thomas angrily. "Send one of us through the portal and hope that instant death doesn't greet that individual on the other side?"
"I know how you feel, Tom," said Suzanne. "But we have no other choice. Alice, are you sure you want to do this?"
"Don't worry, everyone!" said Alice cheerily. "I'll be fine! I'll be back in a few minutes and bring the rest of you with me!"
"And if you don't return?" asked Thomas.
"Then I wouldn't recommend you guys jump in after me!" joked Alice.
"Stay safe," said Ron.
Alice walked to the pit and, flashing one last smile to her companions, jumped into the pit. The group could see her falling and falling until she disappeared from sight.
The portal has activated, said Ramia after half a minute. Alice has crossed to the other side.
"I hope she's alright," said Suzanne, worried.
After a minute Ramia began to glow. Alice is returning, she declared. The other three waited in anticipation for Alice to return. After a moment Alice appeared next to Ramia.
"I made it!" exclaimed Alice.
"How was it?" asked Suzanne. "Was it dangerous?"
"Not at all, at least not immediately," answered Alice. "It looks just like our world from little I saw. I ended up near a large house on a small island. I don't think the inhabitants saw me. The weirdest thing is that it's nighttime over there." It was early afternoon where the heroes were.
"I don't like the idea of going to this new world in its nighttime," said Suzanne. "Alright, we'll wait a few hours. It appears there's nothing inherently dangerous about being in this other world. This time we'll all go."