Chapter 44: Sunrise
The four had no idea how long they fell for. A number of visions were displayed before them as they continued to fall. They saw strange foreign lands that they had not seen even in all of their travels. Glorious castles and bustling cities appeared before them. They witnessed nightmarish acts performed by horrible monsters. Fighting those monsters were heroes unknown to the four who collaborated to perform great deeds. The four could not even speak as they saw these incredible sights.
The images came to an abrupt end and the four were flung into a large cavern. They were thrown in all different directions with such force that it knocked each one of them out. When they came to they found that somehow, despite having been jettisoned away from each other, they were all lying right next to each other. Suzanne was the first to recover her senses enough to speak.
"Is everyone alright? Who needs healing?" asked Suzanne.
Ron was next. "I feel alright. A bit dizzy but no worse for the wear. In fact…" He trailed off and began poking and prodding himself a bit. "I don't feel pain from any of my wounds! Did one of you heal me while I was out?"
"We were all knocked out," answered Suzanne. "But now that you mention it…" She also trailed off and tried a quick spell. However, her magic had no effect. "That's weird. I feel like all my magic has been restored. Yet my magic is just fizzling out."
"Maybe we're dead, or close to it," suggested Thomas. "They say one can hallucinate many things when they're about to expire."
"Only you would be so negative as to suggest that!" snapped Alice. "We're not dead! We're just fine! I can feel all my magic restored too!" She tried a spell of her own. "Huh, mine's not working either!"
"What is going on here?" wondered Suzanne. "Why do we feel like we're at full strength after having fought such a tough battle? And why do we feel like we have magic when our spells don't work?"
Alice thought for a moment. "I don't know," she admitted. "My best guess is that Zoma suppressed many positive energies with its power. When we destroyed it perhaps these energies were released and flowed into us. I have no idea why our magic isn't working though."
"As good a guess as I'd be able to come up with," said Ron. "So where are we? We were falling for a long time. I hope we're not miles underneath Charlock Castle!"
"Did anyone else see what I saw when they were falling?" asked Alice. "I saw all the most incredible things!"
"I saw so many images I couldn't make sense of any of them," answered Thomas. "None of them looked familiar either. Even with all our travels and all we've seen I couldn't place anything that I saw."
"That sounds like what I saw," said Suzanne. "Did you see it too, Ron?" Ron nodded his head. "We must all have seen it then."
Suzanne took a look around at their surroundings. The large room they were in looked like a vault. There were open treasure chests around. One of the chests had been severely damaged and a dead creature was spilling out of it.
"That looks like a dead Mimic," observed Alice.
Behind the four was a large fissure. On the other side they could see another open treasure chest.
"This looks like where we found the Shield of Heroes!" said Suzanne. "Is it possible we're actually in that cave?"
"That would explain why our magic doesn't work," said Alice.
It was then the four noticed something troubling which broke their conversation. The cavern was shaken with some great quakes. Rocks and dust were being shaken from the ceiling.
"Let's go!" ordered Suzanne. "The cave could collapse!"
Without further prompting the heroes got to their feet and raced for the exit. The door they had opened on their last visit remained open. They quickly made their way to the stairs out of the vault.
On the next floor the cavern had already suffered some damage. Stones had already fallen from the ceiling and soil was crashing in through the holes. The four raced as fast as they could but it was all they could do to keep on their feet. The quakes were getting worse as they moved. As soon as they rounded out of the hallway they were in the ceiling came crashing down behind them. The impact threw all of them off their feet. Behind them the cave had collapsed and become impassable. They quickly got back up and continued running for the exit.
After that they found it easier to keep their footing. They raced towards the exit with Alice shouting out the fastest path to take based on their last trip through. The four had their weapons out and were ready to cut through and run past any opposition they found. Thankfully, there was not a trace of any monsters around. When the group reached the next floor Ron came to a realization.
"I think the quake has stopped!" yelled Ron as they continued to run. "It doesn't seem like the cave is collapsing here."
"Let's not take the risk!" urged Suzanne. "We'll know we're safe once we get out of here!"
As Suzanne ordered they continued their flight out of the cave. Fortunately, Ron's assessment of the situation was correct. There were no more quakes as the four ran and still no monsters to fight. They were able to make their way to the exit without incident. After getting back above ground the four stopped to catch their breath.
"Look!" Alice pointed up at the sky. The darkness that perpetually hung above Alefgard was lifting. Already the four could see the outline of something in the sky that may have been the sun of the world they were in. The group gazed at the sky in silence for minutes as the darkness gradually faded away. Soon the sky had cleared and it was revealed to be a bright, sunny day. A loud noise sounded through the heavens, as though something very heavy had been slammed shut. However, the four hardly noticed the sound, so entranced they were by the sky. The sky of Alefgard was no different from the sky of their world. The radiance of the sun shone warmly upon them all.
Suzanne gazed upon the sun and then fell to her knees. The other three were so entranced by the appearance of the sun that they did not notice at first. Overcome with emotion, Suzanne wept; her tears glistening as they crawled down her face and fell to the ground. Seeing their leader in such a state caused it to spread to the other three. Ron, Thomas, and Alice were soon all weeping as well. The four grouped together and embraced for a time. None of them were able to say anything for several long moments.
Finally it was Alice who spoke. "Is it over?" she asked. "Really over? Not like after we defeated Baramos?"
"I think so," said Thomas, for once the voice of optimism. "Alefgard has finally seen the light of day. Zoma's power is broken."
"It's so hard to believe," said Ron. "I'm almost afraid to think that might be the case."
Suzanne finally stood up. "We'd best go to make sure that it's over," she said. "We need to return to Tantegel and make sure that Zoma's army has been vanquished."
It was then a soothing voice spoke into the minds of the four. There you are! called out Rubiss. I feared that victory had cost you your lives. I am glad to see the four of you still live.
"Rubiss!" called out Suzanne. "You say, 'victory?' It is true then, the battle is over?"
Yes, answered Rubiss. A couple hours ago the Master Archfiend's forces grew chaotic and unorganized. Without its foul power to bind it the monstrous army fell to pieces. They attacked each other as often as they attacked a human. Once this happened the Gardian Army withdrew from the bridge of light I had conjured. I then dispelled the bridge. Many of the monsters fell to the waters below. I had guessed that all this was possible because you have vanquished Zoma.
"That is correct," answered Suzanne.
Incredible, said Rubiss in awe. You humans truly are amazing. I had long ago given up hope that Zoma would ever be defeated.
"Rubiss, after we beat Zoma there were some weird stuff that happened to us," began Ron. The four described what had happened when they fell down the fissure that had opened underneath Charlock Castle.
I had wondered why I found you near this cavern, so far from Charlock Castle, admitted Rubiss. As far as what happened to you I can only guess that you went through some kind of warp. You know that Zoma was working on returning to your world. It was storing up power in the hopes of being able to break through the seal that kept it out. My best estimation is that when you killed Zoma this energy was released. Without Zoma to focus or harness it the energy ran wild and it transported you to that cavern. What you saw as you fell were likely images brought to you from this warp. These visions may have been of other worlds or even transcended time. I would be curious to study these energies.
"So would I!" exclaimed Alice. "If Zoma's monsters aren't as focused anymore then maybe we could return to Charlock Castle sometime! I'd like to study exactly what happened there!"
"If the battle is over I too would appreciate returning to Charlock as soon as possible," said Suzanne. "I want to try to retrieve my father's body."
Returning will be relatively easy but I am afraid none of us shall acquire what we seek, said Rubiss. At the same time that the enemy army destabilized Charlock Castle disappeared. It did not even crumble; it merely vanished!
"Really? Maybe it got sucked up by the warp!" guessed Alice.
"I still want to go back," said Suzanne. "I want to at least try to find my father."
I understand, said Rubiss. Before you leave, I am afraid I have some bad news for you. I fear that you will be unable to return home.
Rubiss's words hit Alice like a thunderbolt. She immediately began casting a spell to teleport back to the upper world. Rubiss patiently waited for her to finish. However, her spell failed.
"I don't have a handle on Ramia anymore," said Alice.
Yes. Zoma was the one sustaining this world's connection to your world, explained Rubiss. With the Master Archfiend destroyed so too is that connection. In order for you to return a new connection would have to be established.
"But Ramia has that power, right?" asked Ron. "She was the one that made the original connection, after all."
"But she had yet to remember how to use that power," said Alice. "Who knows how long it could take her to gain that power back? It might not even be within our lifetimes!"
"So be it," said Thomas. "Remember when we left Aliahan after the king had forbid it? We all made our peace then that we might not be able to return home."
"But to not be able to return to our home world at all?" asked Ron.
"It might not be all bad," said Alice thoughtfully. "Rubiss, you once told us there is more to the world that Alefgard inhabits; that Zoma had sealed Alefgard away from the rest of this world. Has that seal been undone by its death?"
It has, answered Ramia. Soon Alefgard will be a part of the world once again.
"So there's a whole new world to explore and learn about!" said Alice cheerfully.
"There will be difficult times ahead for Alefgard," said Thomas. "Nobody here has any idea what other nations are out there or what politics are like outside this nation. They may find their next enemy to be human instead of monster."
"Whatever happens I'm sure it'll be better than being Zoma's personal plaything!" said Ron confidently.
"There is a lot still to be done," said Suzanne. "But now I want to go back to Charlock as soon as possible to search for my father."
"We'll go with you, Susie!" said Ron. The other two nodded.
Many are waiting anxiously for your return, pointed out Rubiss. I shall let them know that you are safe. I imagine there will be a grand celebration upon your return to Tantegel. The four of you deserve it. With that, I bid you farewell, great heroes of Alefgard. It has been an honor to have known you.
"You say that like we won't ever see each other again!" said Alice.
We will not, answered Rubiss. Zoma's uprising was made possible by my own arrogance. When it came to this world, weakened from its battle in your world, it had the sense to hide and assess the situation. I was an active force in Alefgard at that time and all the people knew of me. It was not difficult at all for Zoma to learn of my existence and what I was capable of. It was this studying that allowed it to surprise and defeat me. I must not let that happen again. I will now disappear, never to show myself to my people again unless they have great need of me. Should Zoma's prediction come true and a new evil threatens this land I must make sure I can provide assistance in the fight against it instead of being sealed away for centuries.
"I understand," said Suzanne. "It was an honor to have known you as well, Rubiss. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do."
The heroes teleported to Rimuldar and took a brief rest. After that, they made the journey back to Charlock Castle. Their trip was much easier than it had been the first time as they were not attacked by monsters a single time during the journey.
From the distance the four could see that Rubiss spoke true: Charlock Castle no longer stood. However, Suzanne wanted to examine the spot where it had stood up close. There was nothing left but a large clearing where Charlock Castle had once been. As Rubiss had said, there was not even any rubble left over to suggest it had collapsed.
"This is eerie," said Ron. "If I didn't know any better I'd think we were in the wrong spot!"
Alice had already been using her magic to examine the area. "Not even a trace of weird magic here!" she reported. "This is beyond mysterious!"
"Most of what we saw of Charlock was underground," said Suzanne. "Might the basement still exist?"
"I doubt it," answered Alice. "If only the above ground portion disappeared then the passage down to the basement should still exist. Then again, if the basement was removed you'd think the ground above it would have collapsed inwards to fill in the sudden gap. The ground here is almost completely level! I don't have any explanation for what's happened here!"
"We could try digging," suggested Thomas.
Suzanne thought about it for a few moments and then shook her head. "No, Alice is probably right. Besides, we don't have the equipment or the manpower to dig into the ground looking to see if anything remains. I'll have to make a memorial for my father without the body."
Suzanne looked at the other three and managed a weak smile. "Besides, it's about time for us to get to the celebration, isn't it? There's been enough despair in this land!"
"That's what I like to hear!" yelled Ron. "Come on! The party's waiting!"
The heroes teleported back to Brecconaly. By this point it had been a few days since the end of the battle so some of the Gardian Army had dissipated and returned to their homes. Many remained in Brecconaly celebrating the victory. As the four walked through the city they witnessed an air of happiness and hope from the people. Many could be found simply lying on the ground, enjoying the brightness and warmth coming from the sun they had never before seen.
It did not take long for some to notice Suzanne walking around still wearing the Armor of Radiance with the Shield of Heroes on her back. Crowds gathered around the heroes as they hailed the ones who were able to defeat the Master Archfiend. The four were soon surrounded with admirers and people all around them were chanting their names. The group was urged towards Tantegel Castle.
The heroes were shepherded all the way through the castle and to the throne room. King Raosu had clearly already heard of their return and prepared a grand greeting for them. Several of his guardsmen, all holding trumpets, stood on both sides of the path leading to the throne. An entire orchestra waited behind the guardsmen. The four approached the king with the crowd right behind them. Outside many more waited. The castle seemed nearly full to capacity.
King Raosu stood up and made a motion for the crowd to be silent. Then he stood up and walked over to the four and addressed them.
"Suzanne, Ron, Thomas, and Alice!" he called out in a loud voice, so that all those around could hear. "You have defeated the Master Archfiend! May I offer you my deepest gratitude! Due to your efforts day has finally dawned again in our country!"
A roar of applause rose up. The heroes could not help but grin at the excitement and happiness displayed by the crowd. Ron even made motions for the crowd to get even louder.
Eventually the roar died down and allowed the king to speak again. "Suzanne, Ron, Thomas, and Alice!" he addressed them again. "You are all true heroes!"
King Raosu made a motion to one of his attendants. The attendant brought forward four pins, each one bearing the bird symbol of Alefgard on it. King Raosu himself took the pins and put them onto the heroes one by one.
"I hearby bequeath unto you that which is our country's highest honor: the order of Erdrick, bearing witness to your status as true heroes!" declared the king.
The crowd rose up in thunderous applause and chants yet again. This time it lasted several minutes before dying down. When it did King Raosu had one more thing to say.
"Suzanne, Ron, Thomas, and Alice!" he called out. Then he stopped himself for a moment and began again, "I mean, brave Heroes of Erdrick. You will forever remain the stuff of legends of the people of Erdrick!"
The king then motioned to the trumpeters. They raised their instruments and played an uplifting fanfare. As they played the king had the Heroes of Erdrick line up before him and turn to face the crowd. The orchestra then joined in and a glorious song was played. The Heroes and the crowd listened intently to the wonderful song. It was not often that such music was played in Alefgard though surely it was soon to become more commonplace. Indeed there were few who knew that it was the anthem of Alefgard that they played.
After the song had finished the party finally began. The Heroes of Erdrick were constantly swarmed and approached by the grateful citizens of Alefgard. All of the despair and misery the group had seen since arriving in Alefgard was forgotten. There were nothing but smiles, laughter, singing, and chanting. Even Thomas, who generally did not like being in a crowd, could not help but enjoy himself.
It took over an hour before the Heroes of Erdrick were finally able to leave Tantegel Castle. Brecconaly had become filled with people celebrating. Kitchens and cooks worked hard to provide food for all the people. It was a celebration like none other than the four had ever seen. It did not stop as night fell but continued on to the next day. As the sun rose the people briefly grew quiet and stared in awe at the horizon. For many this was the first sunrise they had ever witnessed. After that the party resumed with new vigor as the people celebrated the rise of the sun in Alefgard.
A week later the parties had finally come to an end and the people of Alefgard had to begin crafting a new normal for the bright world they now lived in. The Heroes of Erdrick likewise had to figure out what they were going to do now that their journey had come to an end. It was almost impossible for them to have a private conversation in town so they retreated to the countryside in order to talk amongst themselves.
"Well no more horrible Archfiends decided to crash the party," said Ron. "I think this time it's finally over. Hard to believe, really. It feels like we've been on this quest forever."
"Two years, two months, and two days, it's been," said Alice.
"Has it really only been so long?" asked Suzanne.
"Yes," answered Alice. "Ron's right, it feels like it's been forever."
"So what now, Susie?" asked Ron.
"The quest is over," answered Suzanne. "I thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for having followed me this far and for all the sacrifices you've made. You all have been true friends and companions from the beginning."
"First things first," continued Suzanne. "We need to do some clean up. We've acquired some powerful items over the course of our journey." She motioned towards the Sword of Kings she still had with her. "We don't have a need for such things anymore. I think it's best if they disappear, at least for now. We need to make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands but we also have to make sure they can be found when they're needed again."
"Zoma's final prediction," said Thomas. Suzanne nodded.
"After that it will be time for all of us to make our own decisions on where to go," declared Suzanne.
"Do you know what you will do, Susie?" asked Alice.
"To tell the truth I'm…very tired," answered Suzanne. "I don't want to fight anymore. I don't want to bask in the fame of being a hero. I want to go somewhere where I can leave all that behind. I'll learn a craft or job of some sort."
"Maybe you just need a vacation," suggested Ron. "I think we could all use that. At this point you've got to be one of the best with a sword in all time! And you're a powerful spellcaster in addition to that! It'd be a shame for all that skill to just disappear!"
"Well you're better than me with a sword and Alice and Tom clearly have me beat in magic," said Suzanne with a smile. "Certainly you three could carry on."
"Truth be told, I like your idea," said Thomas. "Disappearing from the public eye sounds like a great idea to me. I could go somewhere quiet and serve as the local cleric."
"That sounds just like you, Tom," said Suzanne. "How about you two?"
"I like what Ron was saying about a vacation," answered Alice. "After that, I have to admit I'm intrigued by the rest of this new world that's waiting out there. An entire world filled with knowledge and new mysteries to explore. I can hardly wait already!"
"Filled with new adventures, too," said Ron thoughtfully. "I may just have to join you! I don't care what Susie says, there's still plenty to work on with my swordplay!"
"More like there's plenty of new trouble out there for both of you," commented Thomas with a smirk. The four shared a laugh over the comment.
"It will be strange not to be around this group anymore," said Suzanne. "Over two years… There was a lot of hardship but we had some good times too."
"If you guys are staying here you'll have to make sure we know where you are," said Alice. "Then we could teleport back and visit anytime!"
"That would be great," said Suzanne. "But hey! We're not separating the group yet! We still have some work to do! Let's save the farewells for later!"
"One last adventure for the Heroes of Erdrick!" declared Ron.