I dreamed a long, long dream.
Master Machina was there, and we were fighting. Together? Against each other? I don’t know. I remember going on an adventure with a beast girl. She was...familiar. I had never met her before, and yet she was my best friend. And then...finally, I saw a dream of going home. Going home with a whole bunch of other people who really wanted to go home.
The girl’s thoughts echoed inside a dream, a memory. A memory exiled beyond their home, beyond space and time.
For what purpose is a heart?
Alone, in dark, painful silence she pondered this question. Until one day she finally met someone. Someone who took her pain away. And then at last she knew what a heart was for. She had made a choice. A secret one. And then the world went dark again. But it was a different kind of darkness this time. A happy one. Satisfied.
“This...this is...” That was curious. the girl felt an unusual sensation passing over her lips. What was it? It was...air. When she spoke there was air coming out of her mouth.
The dark dream had suddenly ended. Mariabella a gentle breeze on her face, light from a sun touched her face. All at once she felt the weight of existence fill her, as she manifested in an unfamiliar place.
“Huh? You’re not Mary!” An oddly familiar voice exclaimed. It came from a young woman who seemed a few years older than Mariabella. Her blue-ish green hair was bound up and her strange clothing adorned with various animal looking trinkets.
“I am...” The girl paused for a moment as she recalled herself. “I am Mariabella, apprentice to the great Master Machina. Could you please tell me where I am?”
“mary-A-bell-A?” Pricia cocked her head. “I thought I saw the memories of Marybell in this thing. It’s weird, cause you kinda smell like her”. Pricia held up a jagged magic stone that swirled in hues of pink, violet, and blue. The girl had recovered it from Valentina after she’d been defeated by Alice, who’d quickly vanished a few moments ago.
“Marybell.” Mariabella repeated the name. “How do you know about Master Machina’s secret creation?”
“Secret? That thing was huge! There was no way he could keep it secret. Plus she was my friend. After...” Pricia looked down for a moment as she remembered the tragedy that had befallen those at the Yggdrasil summit. At this, a strange recollection overcame Mariabella.
“Master...Machina...he died. He died and I couldn’t save him...huhuhu, Master Machina.” Tears began to flow from Mariabella’s eyes before she could realize it.
“Wait...that crying...that smell...“ Old memories began to surface in Pricia’s mind. Memories of when she was all alone. When she found someone who was also alone. Her first new friend after her old life had ended. “Are you...Mary?” Pricia asked. “Why are you so...small?”
“I...this is...this is how I was. Before I died, I mean. I gave my soul, my heart, so that Marybell might live.” Mariabella managed between sniffles.
“Hmmm. I don’t really get it, but basically, you’re what Mary used to look like? Wow! How come you never told me you were so cute?” Pricia beamed, putting her hands on her hips.
“C-c-c-cute?!” Mariabella turned a shade of pink. “No one has ever called me c-cute before!” The girl touched her hands to her flushed cheeks, regaining her composure after a moment. “So...where I am? How am I back like this?”
“I summoned you from a magic stone.” Pricia said, somewhat seriously. “You’re...a resonator now.”
“A resonator. It’s like...a shadow. A memory given life with magic. And where we are...Well...I don’t exactly get it either. Basically its another world. But all the same bad guys from home came here, so we’re trying to stop them. I was hoping you might be able to help. I...we lost our world. I failed to stop Valentina...” Pricia bit her lip. “Every time I run off alone, I fail. So I’m trying to be smarter and get help. Faria’s around too, she should be back in a bit” Pricia waved a hand around the general area she believed Faria to be in.
“The queen of Gloria?” Mariabella said, shocked.
“Oh, right. I guess you never met her, hehe.” Pricia chuckled.
“Wow.” Said Mariabella. “It seems like a lot has happened. I still completely understand everything, but if I can help my friend, then I’m ready to do anything!” Mariabella said confidently.
Their conversation was abruptly interrupted as a powerful quake shook the earth beneath their feet. In the distance, the two girls could easily spy the mass of rotting roots and ooze that was erupting from the ground.
“What...is that?” Mariabella asked.
“It looks like Yggdrasil.” Pricia said, mouth agape in horror. “What has Lapis done to my home...”
“I’m going too!” Mariabella said, conjuring two small intricate looking flintlock pistols.
“As am I.” Faria chimed in, approaching the two. “Sorry, I lost track of Alice. But I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of where she’s headed now.”
The corrupted necrotic Yggdrasil’s roots continued to lash out at the surrounding earth, growing at an exponential speed as if to swallow the very earth around the monstrous growth. From beneath the the twisted oozing wood, a thick purple miasma billowed out, clouding the air and darkening the sky.
Alice had been struck by the other Excalibur. Or so she had thought. The blade had certainly sped at her with an unmistakable intent to kill, but something else had happened. She was alive, for the moment anyway. When the evil blade pierced her body she was transported somewhere. An empty place. She tried to move but found herself unable to. A seal? She thought. It seemed strange that Lapis wouldn’t have just killed her when he had the chance. He must have a reason for keeping her prisoner. Well whatever the reason, I’d better set to figuring a way out of here, she resolved.
Millium and the others had only barely defeated Alhama’at, when Lapis had appeared and absorbed the ancient Altean’s power. Weakened and unable to help, they watched as the magical sword Lapis commanded struck Alice, sealing her within it.
Exhausted and wounded, the group had managed to escape and were on their way back to the Light Palace. An uncomfortable silence had fallen over their party. Even Almerius was relatively quiet. In the distance, the towering, malicious form of the giant tree Lapis conjured loomed, a reminder of their recent failures.
They had used everything they had to stop Alhama’at, and that was exactly what Lapis had wanted.
Conscious, but still very weakened from their fusion, Ryula leaned on Millium for support as he helped her keep pace with the others. She gently rested her head on his shoulder, sighing lightly.
“Is...are you alright?” Millium asked at Ryula’s sigh.
“I’m scared.” Ryula answered. “But I’m glad you’re here.”
“Thank Nyarlathotep.” Millium said, pointing up to where the cthulhu girl was, discussing plans with Lumia. “She’s the one who knew about the place where you were.”
“But you’re the one who saved me, who fused with me.” Ryula added. “Fusion is only possible when two hearts are aligned. For Dragonoids...this is a very important reaction between two people.” The dragonoid girl turned her head, looking expectantly at Millium.
“Oh!” Millium said, startled. “Well I mean I...I would’ve helped anyone. That’s what my dad taught me to do.” Millium smiled gently.
Now that the three of them had gotten closer to it, the full extent of the twisted Yggdrasil’s horror was finally understandable to Pricia. The branches squirmed and pulsed, releasing more of the sickly purple smoke. More and more vines and roots spread out like tendrils as the unnatural plant sought to expand its encroachment like a cancer.
For a moment Pricia thought she might be sick. This was her home. She grew up under the leaves of Yggdrasil’s ancient branches. This was where she watched her friends, the sacred beasts, defend her from the traitor Valentina, and Lapis had turned it into a monster.
“This feeling...” Mariabella said. She too was staring at the tree, but her thoughts were distracted by a strangely familiar presence. The miasma emanating from the malefic tree began to take the shape of a familiar man. Mariabella strained her eyes through the thick choking miss to see, but the man’s identity was unmistakable.
“Master Machina!” Mariabella cried. The man seemed to shuffle mindlessly about around Yggdrasil, as if searching for something that wasn’t there.
"Mary?" Pricia drew close to her, concerned. "It looks like the tree is trying to protect itself. Why don't you let me handle this one, okay? Mary?"
Mariabella wasn’t listening, as large tears welled up in her eyes and began streaming down her face, unfettered.
“It’s alright.” Mariabella answered after a moment, as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. I never...I never thought I’d get to see Master Machina again.
“Is it really him?” Pricia asked, skeptical. “It looks like he’s protecting the evil Yggdrasil.”
“It’s okay.” Mariabella assured. “Somewhere deep inside, I can still feel the real Master Machina. And I know I can save him. So please let me do this, Pricia.” At Mariabella’s words, Pricia nodded in approval, confident in her friend. Mariabella raised one of her pistols at Machina, and placed her other hand over her heart, channeling the power of her memories, her soul, into a bullet.
“Master Machina!” She called to the shuffling man, alerting him to her presence immediately.
The corrupted form of Machina moved at an unnatural speed, almost as if gliding, at Mariabella, raising a clawed hand to attack.
“Master Machina...” Mariabella started. “You gave me a heart. It’s time that I gave it back.” Mariabella fired her pistol and the bullet sped forward accompanied by the echoing crack of the flintlock. The bullet collided squarely with Machina’s stomach, but didn’t seem to cause any kind of actual harm. Machina continued forward, swiping with his clawed hand.
“Mary!” Pricia cried. Faria too, drew her sword, ready to assist, but again Mariabella protested.
“It’s alright!” She called, turning her attention back to Machina. “Master Machina, I know the real you is still in there. Please wake up.” Machina continued to attack for a few moments, but slowly his attacks became slower and less deliberate. Mariabella dodged each attack more easily than the last as the change in Machina’s behavior became more apparent.
“Maria...bella” The resonator Machina said from behind his mask. “I never thought you’d be the one to save me from this possession.”
“Master Machina!” Mariabella exclaimed as Pricia and Faria looked on in disbelief.
“I don’t understand, what did she hit him with?” Faria asked Pricia.
“I’m not sure, but if it means we can help his memories be free, I’m glad it worked” Pricia said relieved. The two women relaxed, lowering the weapons they had kept raised during the entire fight.
“Again, I’m in your debt.” Machina said.
“No, no.” Mariabella protested. “I’m you’re apprentice. It’s my job to help you out. It’s the least I can do...for everything you gave me” Between tears, Mariabella smiled
“*Ahem* I...I see.” Machina said, clearly trying to maintain his own composure. “If that’s the case, I have one more request to ask of you.”
“Anything.” She answered.
“The other kings. Their memories are trapped, corrupted by Yggdrasil like I am. Please free them. Let them be at peace.” Machina motioned behind him and through the purple mists, Mariabella, Pricia, and Faria could make out the shambling shapes of several other figures.
“Understood, Master Machina.”
“Mariabell...” Machina started, his voice shaking again. “I’m so sorry. I wish...I could’ve given you a better life, a longer one.” Tears visibly fell from beneath Machina’s mask. “And now that we finally meet again...we’re only memories of the people we once were. Haha...what kind of cruel joke is this...”