The party wasn't in what you'd call the best spirits. On top of the Tech Expo being cancelled, jobs were few and far between, meaning that money was a very limited resource that the party had to use wisely. Furthermore, finding the Key Fragment or even the possible whereabouts of a Guard Vermin were tasks comparable to finding a power outlet in frozen tundra. To top it all off, no one had any idea what they were supposed to do next. With all that considered, everyone had kind of gone off to do miscellaneous things; Nisa had dragged Jacob off to train, Neptune and Compa had said they were going to look around, not having been in Lastation before, and IF, being the only productive member of the team, was in the motel room websurfing for… something. Jacob didn't really know.
That was about half an hour ago. Now, Jacob and Nisa were sitting on pipes, drinking from juice boxes. Around them were several of the dog robots that Jacob, Compa and Neptune brought back to the motel.
"Hey, Sensei, do you feel frustrated that we're kind of in a powerless position that we can't just bust out of via massive applications of force?" Jacob asked.
"Indeed, my pupil," responded Nisa with her normal voice even though she was clearly unhappy. "Avenir continues their evil deeds without being opposed by anyone. We most definitely have the strength to do so but, alas, the might of righteousness becomes but a mere nuisance in the wicked face of…" Nisa shuddered, "… politics and business. Of course, Lady Black Heart herself could intervene and stop this injustice by herself…" She angrily crushed the juice box in her hand, "… but she would rather pursue us! And to what end?"
"Wish I knew," answered Jacob. He then sighed and leaned back to look at the skies which were strangely clear despite the massive quantities of smoke that the landmass emitted.
Nisa picked up the depression in his voice and looked at him, curious. "Is something troubling you?"
"A little bit." He drank a bit more of his juice. "Wondering how my family's going."
"You have a family?"
Jacob looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh, sorry. Not unlike many people in Gamindustri, I do not have a family so it's not something I'm used to," explained Nisa like it was no big deal at all.
This caught Jacob off guard. "Oh… I'm sorry."
Nisa grinned. "Do not fret. It doesn't matter much to me. Fighting the evils that pollute the dark corners of Gamindustri always comes first." Nisa suddenly had an idea. "Hey, Jacob, what's your world like?"
Jacob opened his mouth slightly but then closed it. "You know what? Maybe I'll tell you with the others. Save time."
"Are families common?"
Jacob nodded. "Harder not to find one."
"Having a family sounds nice."
Jacob smiled fondly. "It is. To me, at least."
That last sentence caught Nisa's attention. "Huh? You mean families aren't always nice?"
"Well, I know that some people have troubles with their family. I don't but I'm essentially the exception. Go for a walk even in a largely out of the way place and chances are that you'll come across someone whose family life isn't holding up well."
"But… you get along with your family, right?"
"I do. I hope they're okay… I've been away for over a week now. Are they looking for me? Are they holding up well? What are they going through right now? I can't believe I didn't even leave a note saying goodbye…" Jacob sighed again. "Man, I suck."
Nisa, having nothing to say, just placed her hand on Jacob's shoulder to provide whatever comfort she could.
Contrary to what most anime about clueless spods getting sent to other worlds would imply to you, Jacob did have a family waiting for him back home that he was eager to get back to. His family was middle-class and his home was a two-story luxury not many people had. Jacob's life was never really full of strife; he had a loving family, a comfortable home, secure finances, a tolerable school life and a sufficient social life composed of his computer and the Internet. As a whole, Jacob's family was generally happy and trouble-free.
That was before Jacob mysteriously disappeared without a trace.
A police officer was talking to John outside of Jacob's house. "I'm sorry but we still can't find Jacob anywhere and no one's reported seeing him."
John rubbed his forehead, clearly agitated. "He doesn't go outside that late at night so he couldn't have gone anywhere, he's smart enough not to let anyone in the house so he couldn't have been kidnapped and… He should still be home!"
"Mate, I understand. We will do whatever we can to find him," the policeman tried to assure the anxious father.
"I know…" John took a deep breath. "… Please find him."
"We will, without a doubt. Oh, and John?"
"What is it?"
"We still don't know anything about what damaged your house. Are you sure that-"
John groaned. "For the last time, we don't know anyone who would try to destroy our house, especially with a catapult. I'm very sure the same goes for our kids."
"… I understand," responded the policeman after a short moment of silence. "Well, I better get back to work. We'll talk later, maybe."
"Alright. Bye." With a sigh, John turned around to go back inside his home.
John massaged his temples as he made his way to the dining room. Over a week had passed since he and the family got home only to discover that his beloved son was nowhere to be seen, the PS3 looked like it blew up on the inside and there were two gaping holes in his home, one on his roof (it was soon covered to make sure no annoying rain got in) and another in the second floor. If someone was to be pedantic, they would point out that there was another hole in the ground floor but this was most definitely not the time to bring up such a thing to a distressed parent.
At the dining room table, John saw his wife Sharon at the laptop, most likely looking over the countless messages going something along the lines of "Hope you find Jacob soon. " being sent to the family. John sat down next to her. "Anything new?" he asked quietly.
Sharon shook her head. "No."
John sighed. This was quite possibly the worst experience in their entire lives, especially since they didn't actually know what the experience really was. Jacob disappeared somewhere. Where? He couldn't have been kidnapped and there isn't any reason for him to go outside late at night, especially since he prefered to stay inside and play video games all day. Did it have anything to do with whatever fell through the roof? For that matter, what did fall through the roof? The police said that, given some clothing fibres found in the hole on the ground floor, it was most likely a person but who could have gone through those floors? Why would they do it in the first place? There were too many questions. The worst part was that, as things were now, they were virtually unsolvable.
Sensing his distress, Sharon reached over to give him a hug. "It's okay. We'll find him," she said, although it was clear that she was also in pain. John returned the hug, completing the picture of two damaged parents, each trying to give the other strength that they did not have.
Back in Gamindustri, Jacob noticed IF just walk into the junkyard looking very fatigued. "Hey, IF. How's it going?"
IF exhaled through her nose. "It's been a long day and I'm tired and it's not even evening yet. I want this whole mess over and done with."
"Did you find out anything on your phone?"
"… Find out what?"
"You know, what we can do now."
IF sighed. "Jacob, plot-driving clues do not present themselves on the Internep."
"I'm going to hazard a guess and say that the Internep was made in Planeptune."
"God help us all." Jacob presented another juice box. "Want one?"
"Sure." IF took the container, stuck the straw in it and began drinking. "Hey, do you know where Neptune and Compa are?"
"Didn't they say they were going to look around?" Nisa asked.
"Yeah, I just wanted to know where exactly they were." IF rubbed her forehead and sat next to Nisa.
"I wonder what we're going to do now?" asked Jacob aloud.
"I've been spending most of the last half hour trying to find that out," IF answered. "I don't know."
"Well, what exactly are we trying to do? Putting the Key Fragment thing aside, where are we trying to go from here? Are we going to find out why the Tech Expo was cancelled?"
IF looked at Jacob with tired eyes. Clearly, she was not in the mood for this. "And how, exactly, do you think we'd find the reasons for that?"
"Well…" Jacob reclined and thought to himself. He did this for several moments, even while IF was impatiently tapping her foot.
Nisa decided to put in her two cents worth in Jacob's place. "The radio said that the Parliament might have pressured the Sanctuary. What could we do with that information?"
"Absolutely nothing," answered IF dejectedly while hanging her head. "It's not like we could just go up to a member of the Basilicom and force them… to…" IF raised her head slowly. Suddenly, her eyes didn't look so tired anymore. Her body seemed to have found new strength. "That's it."
"Did you figure out something?" Nisa didn't have the same flash of inspiration.
IF turned to the both of them. "Do you know what heretics are?" Even though her tone of voice was normal, she definitely seemed more invigorated.
"I don't, sorry," Jacob answered.
"I do. Heretics are former members of the Basilicom who were banished due to their worship of another landmass' goddess," Nisa explained.
"Exactly." Small traces of a smile could be seen on IF's face.
Jacob crossed his arms. He was intrigued by this new development. "I'm guessing they may know something?"
"It's a long shot but, again, we don't have much of a choice. All we have to do is find a heretic and ask what they know."
"How do we find a heretic?" Jacob asked.
"Give me some time. I'm gonna head back and look up forums and whatnot."
"Very well, then." Nisa stood up all of a sudden. "While you search for information, Jacob and I will seek out Neptune and Compa and bring them back so that we may continue our quest."
"You do that." IF turned around and ran back to the motel.
Jacob watched her run. "She seems happier."
"Indeed she does." Nisa faced Jacob. "Jacob, fly above the city and see if you can find Neptune and Compa from the air. I will search for them on foot."
"Give me a moment; I'll get the dogs." Jacob got up to put the dogs back into his disc.
"Very well, then. Up, up, and awaaaay!" Nisa jumped the wire fence to get out of the junkyard.
"Show off," Jacob muttered.
Neptune and Compa were currently sightseeing the inside of a store. It looked a lot like the inside of Planeptune's shop except, rather than having the appearance of polished glass, the walls and floor looked more like worn metal, which was much more fitting for the industrial aesthetic of Lastation.
"Nep-Nep, are you sure we should be buying all this? Didn't Iffy say we needed the money for food and other necessities?" Compa inquired as she pushed a trolley containing a pair of black gauntlets with ridiculously long blades protruding from the knuckles as claws, a syringe filled with green liquid and other objects.
Neptune responded by going 'tsk, tsk, tsk' in a faux disappointed manner. "Compa, my lovely big-boobied sidekick, Avenir gave us 10,000 credits as a reward so we might as well use 'em. Heroes in stories never have to worry about basic necessities so why should we?"
"… How do you know that if you're an amnesiac, Nep-Nep?" Compa replied.
Neptune faked a gasp. "Compa, I'm hurt! You don't believe your best friend- Ooh! This looks awesome!" Neptune took off the shelf a black sword that had a black disc object with a white-grey centre replacing the tsuba. She swung it a few times before resting its back on her shoulder. "Tada! How do I look?"
"Very nice, Nep-Nep, but even if we do need better weapons…" Compa reached into the trolley and took out a scrapbook. "What do we need this for?"
"Why, that's for Jacob, silly! Think about it;" Neptune slapped her hands onto Compa's shoulders and looked into her eyes with a very serious expression. "If we make a photo album of all the fun times we have on our adventure, Jacob won't want to go home anymore." Neptune removed her hands from Compa's shoulders. "He can stay here and we can be friends forever and ever!" It was at this point where Neptune started talking to herself more than Compa like she was visiting some sort of dream land. "And then…"
Compa was almost afraid to ask. "And then…?"
Neptune blushed. "And then Jacob and I can fall in love and be boyfriend and girlfriend!"
If Compa was drinking from a juice box at that moment, she would've spat out the contents. "B-Boyfriend and g-girlfriend?" she repeated with loud shock.
"Yeah! Don't you see? One fateful night, I, the beautiful stranger from a fantastic new world, drop into the life of an ordinary high school student. Our paths intertwined, we set out on an epic adventure of self-discovery, sacrifice and lurve." The 'lurve' just rolled off Neptune's tongue. "Don't you see, Compa? It's a typical love story set-up, one that's never failed before! Plus, it's a love that literally transcends time and space. You gotta admit that's cool."
"B-B-B-But you don't even know any stories!" Compa reminded Neptune kind of uncharacteristically loudly.
"I just know this stuff, Compa," Neptune said with pride as she put her hands on her hips. "I'm that awesome."
Compa looked like she was about to cry.
Thankfully, Neptune was not too dense to not pick up on Compa's impending tears. "Compa? What's wrong?"
It was at that moment when Nisa found them. "Ah! I have found you, Lady Neptune and Compa!"
"Oh, hey Nisa!" Neptune greeted enthusiastically. "What are you doing here?"
"IF has found a lead on what we may do next in our journey and has asked myself and Jacob to return you to the motel."
"Oh, I see. Where's Jake, then?" Compa asked.
"He agreed to use his jetpack to search the city from the skies, which has now proven to be a redundant task." Nisa then noticed the shopping cart. "What is all this?"
"Oh, I thought we could use the money we got from Avenir to do a lil' shopping," Neptune explained with a happy grin. "I figured our weapons were a bit weak and needed some replacing."
"Ah, a wonderful idea! One cannot fight evil unprepared… Huh?" Nisa noticed the scrapbook and took it out. "What is this?"
"That's a gift for Jacob," Neptune explained happily. "We're gonna take a buncha pictures on our adventures and put them in here. It'll be nice, right? At the end of this game, he can look back at this as the credits roll and talk about all the fun we had."
"That is a good idea," Nisa agreed, smiling. "Okay, we'll buy all this and then head back to the motel."
It was a simple task to find Jacob and return to the motel.
"You what?" Weathering IF's verbal assault was not going to be so simple. For the girls, anyway; as Jacob didn't buy the items or encourage buying the items, it was a simple task for him.
"Aw, come on, Iffy! Our weapons had very low stats! It's high time we replaced 'em," Neptune reasoned.
IF's fingers were curled in a way that made her look like she was choking someone made of air. "Neptune, we need that money for food and rent," she argued through gritted teeth. "We can't afford to waste it on weapons, much less on scrapbooks." IF turned to Compa. "And why didn't you do anything? You're supposed to be our accountant!"
"W-W-W-W-W-W…" Compa blubbered. "I'm… I'm sorry…" She was about to cry again.
IF instantly regretted taking her anger out on Compa. "Hey, hey, hey, it's okay, don't worry about it; Neptune was the one who bought the items, alright? It's her fault, not yours."
"Neptune, I appreciate the sentiment but I'm okay without a photo album," Jacob stated.
"But Jacob," Neptune whined, "this is gonna be a memento of our adventures for when you go home! Besides, heroes don't need to pay for food and rent."
Jacob sighed. He didn't really care either way about the scrapbook but he did agree that they needed to keep a close eye on their funds. "IF, don't worry; after all this is said and done, I'll return the stuff to the store with the receipt and get a refund, alright?"
IF rubbed her forehead. "That won't work, Jacob; we don't sell items to stores here, unlike in most JRPGs."
"… Wait, really?"
"She is correct," Nisa noted. "I, too, have been a victim of having duplicates of items I didn't need and being unable to sell them back."
"Well, what if they don't work? Can we get refunds?"
"No," IF answered.
"…" Jacob turned to Neptune. "Don't buy stuff without our permission again."
Neptune crossed her arms and pouted. "Fine." She then muttered under her breath "Meany."
"Anyway, about the heretic?" Jacob tried to get back to the reason they were gathered.
"A heretic?" said Compa. "That's one of those people who don't believe in the Basilicom's teachings, right?"
IF was slightly surprised. "Oh, I didn't expect you to know about that. I guess you did attend a Planeptune school. They've got some good teachers."
"Heretics are former Basilicom members who were kicked out of the Basilicom for worshipping another landmass' goddess," Nisa elaborated. "I cannot say that I have personal feelings regarding them but I do feel that disloyalty to one's own goddess isn't very righteous at all."
Neptune looked like she understood. "So the Basilicom gave 'em the boot for lavishing another goddess with attention instead of the one on their landmass?" Of course, she twisted situations into something that came across as some weird innuendo with such reliability that Jacob swore it was on purpose.
"You make it sound like a love affair…" Compa noted.
"Ooh, I wonder how many heretics are worshipping me…" Neptune giggled as she thought to herself. "Maybe I'll put up a poll on the Internep somewhere and find out."
Jacob tried to steer this conversation back on track. "Back to the topic at hand-"
Neptune, however, was amazingly resilient. "Hey Jacob, which goddess do you worship?"
Jacob face palmed. "Neptune, I am not from here. I do not worship your goddesses."
"Oh, really? Hm…" Neptune crossed her arms and put on her thinking face. "How can I get you to worship me…?"
Compa had her own question to ask. "Do you have a goddess back home that you worship, then?"
"Actually, I'm agnostic. I don't really…" Jacob caught on to what he was being lead through and face palmed again. "People! Heretic! Need to find! We'll talk about this later!"
IF sighed. "Finally. Anyway, we're going to find a heretic and ask them for internal information about the Basilicom. I'm sure they'd know a lot, having been former members."
"What if they don't want to talk to us?" Neptune asked.
"Then we'll threaten them with your gun, of course," IF answered.
Jacob's eyes opened wide in mock surprise. "My God!" he exclaimed loudly. "Firearms have actually become a plot point! Take cover, everyone; the apocalypse is going to happen!"
"… Okay then." IF just ignored his overacting.
"So do we know where a heretic is?" Nisa asked.
"Thankfully, we do. I've used the Internep browser that came with the game console in the room to browse forums and news articles and I finally came across information about a heretic hiding in a monster-infested dungeon."
"Sweet," Jacob answered. "Know where the dungeon is?"
"Mhm. I traced it on DungleMaps. Let's go."
"… and that's how Dungle has evolved from a dungeon information search engine to a fully-fledged search engine that can find anything you want to know," Compa was explaining to Jacob as the party walked to the gondola lift that IF said would take them right to the dungeon.
He nodded in response. "Ah, okay then. That makes sense."
"How did your Google start out?" Neptune asked Jacob as she walked alongside him.
"I don't know, sorry. History isn't exactly something I'm interested in."
"It does make you wonder why your Google and our Dungle have such similar names…" said Compa.
"That would be because this is a video game with references up the wazoo," Jacob replied.
"… Oh. Well, that doesn't really sound funny at all," Compa commented.
Jacob sighed. "Indeed."
"We're here," IF noted.
Right ahead of them was the gondola. Again, it looked no different from Planeptune's. Well, it was grey and black and it had a pipe coming out of the top but its shape was exactly the same.
Jacob sighed. "No matter how many times I see this, it still depresses me."
"Suck it up, princess," Neptune responded with a cheeky grin. "Let's get in."
The party entered the gondola. Thankfully, the pipe was only an ornament and there weren't any unpleasant smells or fumes within the transport. Neptune sat between Jacob and Compa while IF sat next to Nisa.
"Hey, Jacob, can you tell us about your world now?" Nisa asked.
"Oh, right. Alright then, where do I start…?"
As Jacob tried to think of something to say, the girls all looked at him, eager for what he had to say.
"Eh?" went Compa. "Is Jake going to tell us a story?"
"More of a history lesson. Anyway, for starters, our world isn't composed of floating islands. Rather, our lands are separated by vast bodies of water. Our Earth is actually seventy per cent water." The gondola began to move.
"Ooh!" Neptune definitely seemed excited by this. "How do you get from one landmass to another?"
"Well, we don't call them landmasses. Rather, we have countries and continents. There are too many countries to name off the top of my head but the seven continents of the world are Asia, Antarctica, Africa, North and South America, Australia and Europe. Anyway, we travel between them either by boats or planes."
"Do you have monsters in your world?" Compa asked.
"No, we don't. We do, however, have some very frightening animals, like lions and dolphins and wasps and the lion's mane jellyfish."
"… What's a lion's mane jellyfish?" Compa asked.
Jacob shivered. "You don't want to know. Anyway, we don't fight them because we're all away in our cities and they're all in their own little corners of the world, unbothered by us. We keep to ourselves and they keep to themselves."
Neptune tugged on his sleeve. "Hey, do you have dungeons where you can go on adventures and get shiny new thingamajigs and whatnot?" she asked eagerly.
"No," Jacob answered.
"Well, that sounds boring. What do you fight?"
"Each other, actually." Jacob's answer surprised the girls. "Since we don't have any dragons or other giant monsters to take our religious and political aggressions out on, wars tend to crop up more frequently than they do here. Actually, never mind that; I don't actually know about Gamindustri's history with wars."
"Well, there is the Console War from long ago. Would you like to hear about it?" IF asked.
"… Hold on; I'm going to guess that it was about the CPUs having a punch up?" Jacob guessed.
IF was surprised. "How did you know that?"
"I think that's what Neptune was in before this whole thing started, when she got thrown out of Celestia."
"What?" Compa was also surprised. "Nep-Nep was in the Console War?"
"That's probably what the fight was called, yeah."
"My goodness…" Compa started. "That means… um…"
"Pretty much nothing at all," answered Jacob.
"Well, that was a wasted revelation," noted Nisa.
"Anyway, let's talk about religion..."
The party continued talking until they got to the dungeon. It was a Cave #2 area, by the way. Jacob could've voiced his thoughts but someone else decided to do it for him.
"Aw, it's another cave with glowing rocks," Neptune groaned. "I reckon we could just take one photo of this place, copy it a truckload o' times and colour the copies, put them in the scrapbook and say we've been to most of Gamindustri. Am I right or what?"
Neptune waited for a response from the rest of the party but she never got one.
"… Uh, guys?" Neptune asked.
"Oh, sorry," responded IF as she snapped out of her silence. "I was just surprised you'd say something like that."
"That kind of thing is more Jake than you," Compa added.
Neptune smiled cheerfully. "Well, I did call dibs on snarking at the next dungeon. Thanks Jacob!"
"You're welcome. Anyway, let's move on."
The party rounded a bend from the entrance.
"Didja notice the number of monsters here?" Neptune asked, completely out of the blue. "It's a kinda tight spot… I wonder if they're comfy."
"Yes, there were a bit more than usual. I'm worried about the heretics. Let's hurry!" Compa replied.
"… What are you talking about?" Jacob asked, looking back at the two of them like they were crazy. "We haven't found a single monster."
Neptune and Compa looked a bit embarrassed after that. They had a sudden interest in the ground next to each of them and Compa was tapping her index fingers together while Neptune crossed her arms. "Well… I just felt compelled to say that, 'kay?"
"Me too…" Compa meekly answered.
"Must've been a scripted cutscene," IF noted.
"I hate those," commented Nisa. "I swear on my life…" she clenched her fist as a familiar fire lit in her eyes, "they will burn in the fires of my justice!"
Jacob sighed. The way they kept getting sidetracked by meaningless details time and time again was astounding. "Can we please get on with it?"
After that, it didn't take the party long at all to come across a random encounter of two monsters. Jacob began talking like a dramatic show announcer. "Aaaand the monster of the dungeon is…"
He'd be lucky if he knew. The new monster was… uh, well, it had the head and body of some female Egyptian pharaoh with what seemed to be the skeleton of enlarged bat wings for arms. The human body was attached to the front body of a lion while the hindquarters were a chariot of all things, complete with a snake replacing the tail. It was mostly black and grey in colour with long red spikes protruding from the 'wings' and two small red fins protruding from the back of the monster's animal body. Next to the monster was a Weeping Grass.
"… What in God's name is that thing?" Jacob's false persona had faded faster than a monster could appear in Gamindustri.
"Do you mean the Christian God, Jake?" Compa asked.
"Doesn't matter. What is that monster? Who the hell made it?"
"Is that the Christian-"
"Compa!" Jacob shouted.
"Ah! Sorry! It's a Chimera!" she answered quickly.
"Thank you," he responded, exasperated.
IF looked at Compa inquisitively. "How do you know so much about monsters?" she asked.
"Oh, I read a lot of medical textbooks detailing monster wounds, complete with portraits of the monsters in question. It's an important thing for a nurse," she explained.
"Huh. I thought I would be the monster exposition."
"Hey, you're already giving us setting exposition!" Neptune shouted as she pointed at IF. "No hogging all the exposition roles!"
"Anyway," Jacob cut in, "how do we-"
Nisa decided to go with her own strategy of 'kick the monster pre-emptively with enough force to shatter a wall'. The monster seemed to unwillingly oblige with this strategy as its human body bent backwards, its feet buckled and the entire thing rolled back on its chariot wheels towards the wall. It seemed a bit shaken up.
"… Well, that worked," Jacob commented.
The party assaulted the Chimera on Neptune's war cry. It was surprisingly resilient and the Weeping Grass was kind of distracting but the party vanquished both of them before long.
"That went well," said Nisa as she span her prinny gun on her finger.
"Easy for you to say," responded IF as she held her arm which had a worryingly large scar on her arm. "Those spikes on its wings are a nuisance."
"I know, right?" Jacob had a similar scar on his right side.
"Just take some reflex and you'll be better," said Compa as she handed the two injured combatants a bottle of reflex each, which they both drank.
"Now, let's-" Jacob was interrupted by three more monsters appearing. Two of them were very thin pink bat-rabbit things with a long tail ending with a heart.
"Eep." Jacob was more worried about the Gyuki.
"You're seriously scared of a Gyuki?" IF asked.
"Jacob, steel yourself! You will never be able to surpass your limits if a Gyuki frightens you!" Nisa shouted encouragingly despite being less than five meters away from Jacob.
"Sorry, I'm still not exactly used to seeing giant flipping minotaurs with huge axes suddenly appear out of nowhere," Jacob responded.
"Aw, cheer up, Jacob! It's just another random encounter; it'll be easy-peasy!" Neptune said confidently.
Jacob sighed. "Eh, I guess."
And thus the party defeated their umpteenth random encounter that is so monotonous and boring that it is not even worth recounting in detail. Much like the random battle before. And every other random battle they had and will have.
"Ugh, God damn it…" Except for Jacob getting successfully punched in the face and being gifted with a bleeding nose.
"Here." Compa handed him another bottle of reflex which he drank without hesitation.
"You know," began Jacob as he inspected the bottle, "I think I may be developing an addiction to this stuff."
"Don't worry, Jake; reflex isn't an addictive substance. You'll be fine," Compa reassured.
IF picked up the bottles that were dropped by their defeated enemies. "It's a good thing we get five of these new bottles after every battle; otherwise we'd be out by now."
Nisa decided to drink her own bottle of reflex. "It is still a weird feeling, healing my wounds outside of battle. I cannot shake this tingling feeling that I am to be smitten by Lady Black Heart for defying the conventions of battle."
IF's eyed opened wide. "Oh crap, I totally forgot that the other goddesses might also have a problem with our rule breaking."
"Hey, don't worry about it," said Neptune as she rested her sword on her shoulder. "If we spanked Black Heart easy as pie, the others won't put up much of a fight, either."
"They do seem to be more of a joke than a credible threat," Jacob replied. "Yeah, I think we can take 'em."
"Why is everybody on this team so suicidally overconfident…?" IF muttered.
The party pressed onwards thr-
"Hang on a moment," said Jacob all of a sudden. "Nisa, what'd you mean earlier by healing outside of battle feeling weird?"
"Oh, you didn't know? Well, alright then… Um…" Nisa took several moments to try and compose her next words. When she still had nothing, she took several more moments.
IF sighed as Nisa went through the same cycle for a third time. "Nisa, drop it." IF turned to Jacob. "All you need to know is that it was a really obtuse mechanic that I'm thankful we don't use anymore. Please just leave it at that."
"… Okay then." Jacob decided to just leave it at that.
The party pressed onwards through the repetitive cave, taking on the random encounters as they came and opening treasure chests as they came, including the invisible treasure chest of the dungeon. All in all, it was yet another standard dungeon.
"Hey, I think that's the heretic," Neptune pointed out as they came across a silhouette of a generic old man with bushy eyebrows, a goatee, a receding hairline and a walking stick. Without any hesitation at all, she approached him. "So… you're Mr Heretic? Whatcha doin' hiding in such a dark place?"
Compa joined Neptune. "It's unhealthy to be away from the sun's rays entirely. Give me your hand and I'll lead you to vitamin D!"
"Who're…?" The old man's voice was tired as if he had just woken up. He turned his head to the party and groaned slightly. "Get away. I'm not going anywhere. This' the only place to receive it. The messenger only knows this place."
"… This heretic must be trippin'…" IF muttered.
"Mr Heretic! We're here to ask you all about Basilicoms!" said Neptune.
If the heretic wasn't a silhouette, Jacob would have bet that his eyebrows unfurrowed. "… Basilicoms? Oh, okay. What's on your mind?" he asked pleasantly.
"They almost didn't let us in and they cancelled the Tech Expo. What's up with that, man?" asked Neptune.
The heretic exhaled through his nose, seemingly satisfied with that question. Fair enough; if you go out of your way to live in a monster-infested dungeon so that you wouldn't be bothered anymore, anyone who actually goes to visit you better have a good reason beyond asking for sugar and eggs. "… Lastation Basilicoms are practically controlled by the Parliament side. The Sanctuary end is largely ignored. The current Parliament only listens to the sound of coin. Then again, the Sanctuary reps don't listen much, either…" He then lightly chuckled as if he heard a really bad joke.
"Sanctuary? P-Parliament?" As these completely foreign words seemed to distress her, Neptune turned to IF. "Iffy, help is needed!"
IF sighed. "The Sanctuary serves the CPU and evangelises. Parliament serves the CPU and governs. Is it really that complicated?"
"Okay, whatever." Neptune's incredibly frank disregard for that explanation caused IF's eye to twitch. "So your Basilicom is a rotten egg because of the Parliament stuff?" Neptune continued.
"The Sanctuary's no different." The heretic stood up, anger evident in his posture. "Those fanatics have no ears to heed our warnings with." He then pounded his walking stick into the ground. "Humanity is doomed!"
The heretic's outburst caused the party to take a step back. They were, understandably, a bit freaked out to continue speaking.
"Huh?" went Compa, breaking the silence. "What do you mean all humanity is doomed? Are you proffesizing the apocalypse?"
"Of course." The heretic sat back down. "We're all going to die at the hands of Overlord Momus. Momus is powerful enough to seal away one of the goddesses. Even our current CPU had to retreat to this world to avoid his power."
"By 'one of the goddesses', I presume you mean Purple Heart?" Jacob inquired.
"It makes no difference which one he sealed. A goddess is a goddess and his strength is that real."
"Why, that Momus must be behind the creation of the monsters ravaging this land!" Nisa exclaimed. "He must not be allowed to get away with this!"
"It's hard to believe, though." Compa seemed to have doubts. "Is there really an Overlord more powerful than one of our goddesses?"
Had the heretic not been a silhouette, it would have been a simple matter to see him grimacing or doing whatever he would do to show internal pain. "See? You're the same as everyone else. They don't believe me. You must or you'll be punished by the divine messenger!"
"If it's any consolation, I believe you," Jacob responded. "Chances are this Momus is the final boss summoned by this divine messenger either because of possession or because they believe that the world is a dark, scary place or something."
"Or they could think this Momus is their mummy," Neptune added.
The heretic's head suddenly snapped up in realisation. "You!" he shouted all of a sudden in anger, causing all of the party to jump in surprise. "You defeated several monsters to get here, right? You shall not escape your punishment! Leave, you foolish, generally undeveloped adolesecents, and your tall foreign-looking male friend as well!"
"H-He's scaring me…" Neptune pointed out. "What's gotten into him…? L-Let's just get outta here. He wants to stay and I don't wanna force him to leave. Plus, he's very rude."
"Righty-o. Let's move, people."
On Jacob's suggestion, the party just walked out of the dungeon.
Outside the dungeon…
"Lastation has to be the most geographically inconsistent place in all of existence," Jacob noted.
"Why do you say that, Jake?" asked Compa.
"Look at that!" shouted Jacob as he pointed to the scenery before them, all without missing a beat.
Said scenery was, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Separating the bright, cheerful meadow they were standing on and the bright, cheerful meadow in the distance was a shining blue lake in front of them. Also, beyond the other meadow were enough trees to constitute a forest and hills and mountains that were covered in foliage. The sky was also blue and clear. It all seemed like it came from a painting.
"What about it?" asked Nisa. "It's very pretty."
"That's exactly it; this is Lastation, which breathes more smoke than… ugh, I can't even think of an analogy. How, exactly, does it have such a perfect spot to have a picnic?" Jacob ranted.
"Who cares about that?" Neptune brushed him off not unlike how she brushed off IF not too long ago. "Did you not hear about an Overlord? That sounds much more intense than picnics!"
"It's just more nonsense conjured up by that heretic," IF brushed off Neptune in return. "I hope he gets his comeuppance."
"Well, who knows? Monsters are taking over the world and Histy's totally in captivity," Neptune argued.
"Oh, yeah. What if Histoire's playing us all like kazoos? She creates the monsters, lures out na´ve little girl wanna-be heroes like you, then snap!" IF punctuated her 'snap' with a loud clap. "Lures another one… then snap!" IF did it again.
"I think Histoire's genuine," went Jacob. "Unless, of course, this story has more depth than I think it does, which is-"
"Histy, you're here!" Neptune's sudden outburst caught everyone off-guard. "I didn't think I'd hear from ya until I saved ya. Are you relaxing? You're all tied down, right?"
"Is Histoire talking to you, Neptune?" Jacob asked.
"Hush! Grown-ups are talking!" Neptune went back to listening to her thoughts. "All that aside, what's new?"
"You know," began Nisa, "I never knew how boring it was to not be the main protagonist and, by extension, not have the ability to telepathically communicate with the MacGuffin character."
"I know…" responded Compa, slightly depressed.
"Ooh!" Neptune turned back to the party. "Histy's gonna give us plot-driving information!"
"Oh, really? Cool. Does she know where the Guard Vermins are?" Jacob asked.
Neptune listened to her thoughts again. "… Nope. However, she said someone's coming for us. Is this the 'she' who sealed you away?"
"'She'? Is this Arfoire?" Jacob asked.
"…" Neptune was listening to Histoire again before she turned to Jacob. "She wants to know how you knew that."
"Hold on, actually. She says for you to… hold my hand? Is that right, Histy?" A faint blush appeared on Neptune's face.
Jacob sighed. He walked up to Neptune and took her hand in his, ignoring her growing blush and her growing smile. She looked like she was ready to burst from happiness.
"Is this Jacob?" he could hear a feminine voice say in his head.
"Yeah, it's me. Did you want something?"
"I did. How, exactly, did you know Arfoire's name?"
"… I'm not of this world. My circumstances are very complicated but, I assure you, I am here to help. Anyway, do you know where, exactly, the Key Fragments are?"
"I am the world's everything and the world is my everything. There is nothing I do not know. Pertaining to this world, I mean. You are of another world and, so, you are not a natural existence of Gamindustri."
"Please get on with it."
"Yes, my apologies. In any event, the locations of the Key Fragments are recorded in my tome. However, not only would it take me three days to find out where even one of them is, my sealing has restricted my access to my tome. I am sorry for this inconvenience."
"Don't worry about it…" Jacob thought of another question. "Oh, who's Overlord Momus?"
"Overlord Momus? … No, I have never heard of such a being."
"We were told he sealed away one of the goddesses and forced the other three to flee."
"You are being misled. Overlord Momus does not exist… I am sorry but I cannot keep up this communication. Please be… caref…"
Jacob and Neptune waited a few moments for Histoire to say something else.
"… Be careful of what?" Neptune asked but she received no response. "Did we get disconnected? Ugh, she should switch telepathy carriers."
"So what did she say?" Nisa asked.
"Well, she doesn't know where the Key Fragments are. On the other hand, she said that Momus doesn't exist," said Jacob.
"So the heretic was out of his mind after all," IF noted.
"Still…" Jacob crossed his arms, "that raises some questions. See, Neptune and the other goddesses had a fight, right? So Neptune was pushed off Celestia and fell to the ground below, presumably moments before I found her. We went to Gamindustri and, lo and behold, the other goddesses are in their Basilicoms."
"… I don't get it," Compa responded.
"I think I do. Why, exactly, would they be in their Basilicoms the day after Neptune fell to the ground below?" Nisa asked.
"Exactly." Jacob smiled. "Either they came to an agreement to keep tabs on Neptune- which I highly doubt- or something indeed chased them out of Celestia."
"They could just be coming down to check on their landmasses, you know," IF argued.
"That would make sense if only one of them came down, but all three, and at the same time? Definitely not. Something definitely happened in Celestia."
IF sighed. "I'll take your word for it. Did Histoire say anything else?"
"Yeah, she said that Arfoire's gunning for us," Jacob answered.
"I think she's the one who sealed Histy, too," Neptune added.
IF put her hand to her chin. "… What if this Arfoire is the same as that Overlord Momus? They'd both be connected to creating the monsters."
Jacob's eyebrows rose a bit. "Well, that's an interesting thought; Arfoire's the final boss." Then he had a realisation. "You don't suppose she's the one who pushed Neptune off in the first place and chased the other goddesses away?"
"Can we talk about this later?" Nisa whined. "I'm hungry and it's getting late. The heroine of justice needs food and rest in order to fuel her passion."
"I know, right?" Neptune definitely agreed.
"Yes! I knew Lady Purple Heart, in all her infinite wisdom, would agree with me!" Nisa extended her hand towards Neptune. "Neptune, I have never met a person whose soul has resonated with mine as much as yours. Will you swear sisterhood with me?"
Neptune gasped in surprise. "Nisa… Of course I will!" Neptune quickly grasped Nisa's hand in the same way she grasped Jacob's when they first met. "From this day forward, we shall fight to protect the weak and stop the onslaught of dragons and chickens that spontaneously change private parts!"
The spectacle left the other three party members stunned silent.
"What is… I don't… Is that even a game reference?" Jacob asked, genuinely confused.
IF face palmed. "Can we just go? Please?"
Jacob sighed. "Fine… Yeah, let's do that…"
And so the party walked back to the gondola. "So, what did we learn today?" Jacob asked.
"Um…" Compa counted on her fingers. "We learned that Momus isn't real… The Parliament is controlling the Basilicom, something happened to the other goddesses in Celestia and Arfoire is now actively looking for us."
The party was silent for a moment.
"So we've learned absolutely nothing useful on this whole trip," IF noted.
"Oh my goodness…" Jacob massaged his temples. "This was, for all intents and purposes, a waste of time."
"Well, that plot-driving information wasn't very plot-driving at all," said Neptune.
"Hey, cheer up," said Nisa. "Why do we not check up on Chian when we return?"
"I suppose it's better than nothing…" IF seemed to agree. "Maybe it'll kick-start the plot."
Feeling in low spirits once again, the party entered the gondola lift and headed back to Lastation.
I'll admit that this was a harder chapter for me to write than normal. We get several twists here, Neptune's routinely bizarre logic being the least of them but probably the most divisive. Not that I care. Hope you enjoyed it.