Four normal humans wind up to find themselves in the world of a video game they play. It only gets stranger from there.
Tales of Eorzea: Adventurers From Another World
It was late in the morning when the airship began to descend upon Gridania. It was a scheduled commercial flight, and so barely anyone noticed or paid attention as it pulled into the docks. However, the ship was not quite as normal as it appeared, not because of anything about the physical ship itself, but because of who its passengers were.
Below deck in a private room there were four very unique passengers. Although there may not have been anything special about them at first glance. At least not anything special in the world of Eorzea. There was a lalafell, a m’qote, a viera and a Hrothgar. All four of them were currently fast asleep, their heads resting on the walls.
The lalafell was a paladin, though he was dressed quite a bit differently from the image of a knight in shining armor. He had armor, but the brown-haired paladin had simply taken a minimal approach to the idea. His armor essentially consisted of a cod piece, metal bracers on his wrist and ankles, a few straps with a small metal piece across his mostly bare chest and a winged helmet.
The m’qote was a brown-haired boy with a streak of white in his hair and on the tip of his tail. He was a scholar, and also minimally dressed though perhaps not as much as the paladin. He wore a pair of tan shorts, and open blue and white vest and a pair of sandals. Other than that he wore a simple pair of glasses, though they were in danger of falling off as he slept.
The viera was a tall young man who had black hair with frosted white tips, which matched his black and white tipped ears. He was the most heavily armored of the group. From the neck down he was covered in dark armor including heavy gauntlets and a pair of metal boots. It was the armor of a dragoon.
The Hrothgar was gray furred beast with a silver mane. His tail was also a silver color but ended in a tuft of black fur. He wore a heavy looking red and brown robe that appeared to include chainmail built into it beneath the red cloth. He had a matching pair of boots and was also wearing a monocle. Completely normal garb for a summoner.
Ding dong bum bummmm.
“Attention passengers.” A speaker sounded out. “We have just finished the docking process and it is now safe to move about the ship. We thank you for flying with us and hope you have a pleasant afternoon.”
This woke the four passengers from their slumber, who all had a similar reaction upon waking up. The reason for the shared reaction was the same reason they were special. These four may have looked like normal adventurers. But, in reality, each of them was from a world where Eorzea was just the setting of a fictional video game. A world where the races of Eorzea were not real. So to suddenly wake up, find themselves in a cabin of an airship in this fictional world, and transformed into one of those fictional races, well, they each took it with a different amount of shock.
“What the heck? Where am I?” The lalafell demanded. “And why is everyone so freaking huge? And… Animalesque?”
“What the heck are you talking about?” The m’qote asked. However, there was a note of nervousness in his voice. As he looked down at the lalafell at first he thought he was just looking at a child. A half-naked armored child with pointed ears. And then he registered what had he said. The m’qote looked down at himself, pausing as he realized that these were not the clothes he had been wearing just a few minutes ago. And also… “I have a tail?” Zeelo grabbed his brown cat tail and lifted it up with his hand. “I have a tail!” At this discovery nervousness gave way to excitement. He looked around, realizing he recognized what the other three were and slowly reached a had up to poke his ear. His feline shape ears flicked as he did.
“Oh get it, this is a dream.” The Hrothgar shook his head. “I must have nodded off while playing the game.” Yet, if it was just a dream but, why did everyone else look so startled. And his body felt so big and bulky. And there wasn’t that surreal dream-like quality that came with most dreams. It was something you never picked up on during the dream. Then everything seemed normal. However, as he moved his large muscular arms feeling his body’s movements everything felt wrong. His hands were massive paws with claws. He tried pinching himself with them to see if he would wake up. “Gah ow!” That proved to be an exceptionally bad decision. Not only did he start bleeding from scratching himself, but that hurt, a lot. It was very real pain which meant. “Wait this is real?”
“Uhhhh.” The viera hadn’t said much of anything yet. He was trying to understand why he was wearing such heavy armor. And he felt like his body had been stretched out… Then there was something wrong with his ears. He reached up and touched them only to find that they were very long and fuzzy. He had no idea was going on at this point. He almost tried to talk, but stopped himself unsure of what to even contribute. He just hoped one of the other three he was sharing a cabin with would give an explanation.
“Seriously though what the heck?” The lalafell demanded again. However, as he recognized the other creatures he was looking at realization dawned. He looked down at his own body, noticing how stubby and childish proportions are. “Ok this is… yeah this isn’t actually happening. Can’t be nope. Impossible.”
“I… Think it’s real.” The m’qote spoke up. “You three seem really, really surprised. Quick question, do the words ‘video game’ or ‘Final Fantasy’ mean anything to any of you?”
“Well…” The viera started to answer then fell silent again.
“Of course, it does. “ The Hrothgar replied. “I was playing it last night until the game went down for maintenance but… We can’t just be in a made-up video game world though. That’s not possible.”
“In a made-up world and transformed.” The lalafell began to rock back and forth nervously in his seat while he tried to think. “I remember logging out because the server was going down, but the patch was available for download so left the updater running before I went to bed.”
“About the same.” The m’qote replied. “I had the patch downloading and went to bed planning to check it out in the morning.”
“I hadn’t planned to get on right in the morning, but I did start the patch download before I went to bed last night.” The Hrothgar replied. After his reply the three who had been talking turned and looked to the viera.
“It’s the same for me.” The viera spoke quietly, as if hesitant to contribute to the conversation at all.
“Okay, so how does that lead to this?” The Hrothgar demanded. “If this is… If this is real this is literally impossible.”
“Except it’s not because it’s clearly happening.” The m’qote replied back.
“You can’t prove that!” The lalafell straightened up. “I could just be in a coma or something.”
“Unless all four of us are in a coma and somehow having a shared dream that seems unlikely.” The Hrothgar gave the lalafell a stare.
“Well yeah, but I have no proof any of you are real. Just because you say you are doesn’t make it so, especially if this is some kind of dream.” The lalafell crossed his arms.
“I see.” The Hrothgar slowly reached over and used two fingers to flick the lalafell on the forehead.
“OW!” The lalafell shouted. “What was that for?”
“That sure felt real, right?” The Hrothgar grinned.
This got a giggle from the viera, which was the most he had contributed to the conversation since it started. When everyone looked at him he fell silent though.
“Well, we’re not inside the game.” The m’qote shrugged. “Because we have bunny boys.” He gestured at the viera. “And apparently those can’t be put into the game.”
“So what you’re saying we’re actually in Eorzea?” The lalafell asked. “Like not a game but some alternate universe where it’s real?”
“That… Should be impossible.” The Hrothgar shook his head. “But… At this point I’m not really seeing any other plausible explanations.”
“Once you eliminate all the possibilities it can’t be, whatever remains no matter how improbable is the truth.” The viera finally spoke clearly. “I heard that on a TV show. Not 100% sure if I got it right.”
“Hmmmm.” The m’qote looked thoughtful. “So for some reason overnight we all just got dropped hear and woke up on an airship.” He shook his head. “I can’t make heads or tails of it. But sitting around won’t explain anything.” He stood up and opened the cabin door. “I’m going to look around.”
“I’ll come with you.” The Hrothgar got up as well.
“Me too.” The lalafell was up a little slower.
“I’m not staying behind…” The viera replied. “But…. Just, this is a lot to take in… And you three are complete strangers.” He paused as he realized that might have sounded rude. “I mean we haven’t even learned each other’s names yet.” He paused again, worrying once more he might have come off as rude and decided the quickest way to address this was to introduce himself. “I’m Nathan.”
“Zeelo.” The m’qote was the second to give his name. He was also starting to become the least nervous. The initial shock over he was realizing the possibilities that awaited if this was actually real. He couldn’t help but feel a little excited.”
“I’m Kor.” The Hrothgar gave a gruff reply. While he was still nervous about the situation, he was doing a good job of keeping himself calm.
“Deven.” The lalafell gave a hefty sigh. “And as all of those are names I’ve never heard of before… And that flick really hurt, I’ll concede that maybe this isn’t some weird coma dream.”
“Right, so let’s see where we are. Can’t see anything from down here in, we could literally be in any town in Eorzea right now.” Zeelo stepped out in the hall outside the cabin. He looked left and right until he spotted the staircase heading up above deck.
“Excuse me.” A foreign voice spoke up Everyone spun around at once to find he source of the voice. It was an elezen woman, and she looked like the type of person who was very tired of their job but doing their best to still be friendly. “Please take your personal items with you before you leave.”
“What items?” Deven asked.
“The ones you stashed above your seat.” The elezen’s voice had the tone of one who wanted to call a customer an idiot but needed the job too badly to blow it like that. “I’m not sure how you all it all up there in the compartment when you got here, but it’s a real pain to get items returned if people forget them.”
“Wait.” Nathan looked at the Elezen. “You saw us stash our belongings up there? So… You remember us boarding the ship?”
“Well yeah. I showed you to your cabin.” The elezen replied. “I also came by with complimentary beverages twice but all four of you were fast asleep.” Nathan seemed to shrink into himself with the girl’s annoyed tone at him.
“That’s… Very interesting.” Kor rubbed his chin. “I apologize, a lot of travel lately has left us exhausted. That might be the first real sleep we’ve had in a long while so we’re all a little groggy. Thanks for catching us before we walked off without our stuff.”
“Uh… Sure…” The elezen seemed relieved this conversation was over and quickly moved further down the hall to continue her duties.
“Why’d you lie to her like that?” Deven asked.
“She remembers us coming on board.” Kor replied. “But we all woke up here, we would have had to be awake for her to escort us to our cabins.”
“I get it.” Zeelo caught on. “So, either we somehow took over someone else’s identities, or whatever dropped us here rewrote reality so to everyone else it seemed we were always here.” He then grabbed on to a piece of his brown hair and dragged his bangs down into his line of vision. “It looks like my normal hair… Just frosted” Then he looked down at his body. “And my body is pretty normal other than the ears and tail.”
“So that means the world rewrote itself so that everyone would act as if we’d always be here?” Nathan felt a small relief. The idea that he had just stolen someone else’s life was less than comforting to say the least.
“At the very least the memory of that stewardess changed to match up with us showing here.” Kor shrugged. “Of course, there’s no way to know if we already have a place in this world or if whatever happened was only limited to people on the airship.”
“Yeah, that’s a lot of talk, and confusing, and I don’t know what’s happening so I’m just gonna roll with it.” Deven interrupted. “But, we apparently have personal belongings in those lockers above our seats and I can’t actually reach them and I’m really wanting to know what these items are.”
“Uh, I can open them.” Nathan spoke up as he opened the lockers. And inside there were five items. A small sword, a small shield, a long spear and two books. “I think… This one is mine.” Nathan grabbed the spear. It seemed perfectly sized for his taller height, and had an intricate design that went well with the armor he wore.
“Sword and shield are mine huh?” Deven asked. Considering how small they were he doubted anyone else would use them very effectively. He waited patiently while Nathan grabbed both of them and handed them over to Deven. Deven then discovered he had a strap on his back to hold the shield, and another on his belt to hold the sword. They were definitely his.
“So that just leaves the two books.” Kor replied. “Guess that means we’re both spellcasters.” One of the books was a dark red grimoire while the other was a white and gold colored codex.
“Okay but whose is whose?” Zeelo asked. He reached up and grabbed both books pulling them out leaving the locker empty. “Huh.”
“What is it?” Kor asked.
“Well…” Zeelo held out the hand that had the codex in it. The codex opened up and began to flip through pages by itself listing several different spells. “I could feel this reacting to me as soon as I touched it… But nothing from the other book.”
“Then I believe that one must be mine.” Kor took the book, and much like Zeelo he felt a reaction from it as the book few open. Just by looking at it he suddenly felt knowledge filling him of different spells and how to use them. And… He was fairly certain he could use magic. “So… Paladin.” He pointed at Deven. “Scholar.” Then at Zeelo. “Dragoon.” Nathan. “And Summoner.” Himself. “A tank a healer, and two DPSers, standard party makeup.”
“Heh… That’s a funny coincidence.” Zeelo snickered. “We’re all set to go run a dungeon. But obviously we’re on an airship not in the middle of some underground cave or ancient city, so I don’t think our ‘party’ makeup really matters.
With their new belongings in tow, all four walked for the staircase heading up onto the deck. It wasn’t had to recognize the location once they could see it. A city surrounded by trees that seemed to be in harmony with nature. They were in Gridania in the Black Shroud. The four walked off the airship platform into the station. They looked around for a bit taking things in, then remembered that the Adventurer’s Guild was just upstairs in this city. There was always food and drink being served there, it’d be a good place to sit down and discuss a bit more about what was going on. At least that was the plan. But as soon as they headed up the stairs…
“There you are!” An exasperated voice shouted as they reached the top of the stairs. Then a male m’qote with green hair came running up to them. “When everyone else had already gotten off the ship and you didn’t come up I was starting to get worried you hadn’t made it.”
“You were expecting us?” Deven asked.
“Ah… Sorry.” The m’qote gave a polite bow. “I suppose we have only spoken through letters up until now so you had no idea what I would look like. I’m Ta’mia, the one who hired you.” He gave a somewhat proud smile. “I know, I’m a little young to already be a lieutenant in the Twin Adder so I don’t blame you for not recognizing me.”
“Ta’mia, right.” Kor reacted first. “It’s good to put a face to a name. I know you already hired us and sent us letters with most of the details, but I was really hoping that we could go over the job in more details. It’s easier to ask questions exchange information in person.”
“Right I get it.” Ta’mia nodded. “I’m not sure what else to cover. But, like I said in the letters we had a freak earthquake and it opened up a cave in the South Shroud. Investigating the cave we discovered it led to an ancient site. There’s been some debate on if it’s Nymean or Allegan or what, but the people more who are a bit better at academics than me said the place is called Academy Commutatio. Apparently, it’s a school of magic, and full of old books with valuable information. The conjurer’s guild was immediately interested, and it wasn’t long before we heard from the magical guilds in the other city-states too. But like I said in the letters, the cave leading to it the academy itself are overrun with monsters. It’s more than the Twin Adder can handle ourselves which is why we hired brought you in.”
“I see…” Zeelo shot Kor a quick glance. This was the second time Kor had lied, but he understood why. Aside from the fact they might sound crazy if they told the truth, these little falsehoods were allowing them to get some information. And so he tried to join in. “Can you tell us anything more about the monsters inside we need to clear out?”
“Well, they’re not numerous, and they’re not very big. But they’re tenacious. Pretty much any group we’ve sent in has come back missing a few. It’s honestly a miracle we made it far enough into the tunnel to discover it led to an ancient magical school.” Ta’mia explained.
“Right but that doesn’t tell us anything about their strengths weaknesses, what exactly are we walking into?” Deven had also caught on the game they were playing and joined in.
“The thing about that is um, well, the stories vary a lot. One team swears they were routed by tiny little mus, another says they encountered coeurls, and some sound ridiculous. Like claims of wild carbuncles.” Ta’mia paused here. “Although, I suppose maybe that’s not as impossible as it is sounds. This place was a magical school, these ‘wild carbuncles’ could just be familiars who were left behind long after their masters died.”
There was a pause here as if everyone was expecting another question. After a few seconds Nathan realized they were waiting to see if he was going to ask a question too.
“Oh!” He blushed a bit. He had only half been paying attention. Was still trying to get used to this new taller body. “Um… How are we going to get there?”
“We arranged transportation.” Ta’mia smiled. “And I’d be all too happy to show you the way.”
All of them should have been able to guess how they were going to travel through the shroud. It was the most common method of travel in Eorzea after all. Still, some of them couldn’t help but contain their excitement once it was actually happening.
“CHOCOBO!” Zeelo shouted as he clung to the back of the giant birds back as it carried him through the forest.
“Best day ever!” Deven was on a slightly smaller chocobo, but it was keeping pace.
“You know I thought it’d be just like riding a horse.” Kor was hunched over slightly while riding his to avoid getting hit by tree branches. “Then I remembered I have no idea what riding a horse is like.”
“This… This is actually kind of fun.” Nathan smiled as the chocobos continued through the forest before finally coming to a stop before a large chasm. At this point, the chocobo bucked each of them off and proceeded to run off.
“Guess we’re here.” Deven replied.
“Wonder what’s waiting for us on the other side.” Zeelo grinned.
“Are we really just going to go through with this?” Nathan asked. “I mean, this is incredibly dangerous, and even if we have the equipment, that doesn’t really mean we’re actual adventurers.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” Kor replied. “From the second I opened this book I felt I understood it.”
“It is a questionable decision.” Deven shrugged. “But when are we going to get another chance like to go on an actual adventure?”
“Besides, it’s a dungeon, not like it’s a trial or raid, how bad could it be?” Zeelo grinned.
“If you say so…” Nathan was the most cautious of the four. Granted, the idea of adventure excited him too. It was just taking him time to get comfortable with it.
“Well let’s get going then.” Kor grinned. “Tank, lead the way.”
“Right on it!” Deven started into the cave leading the others. The tunnel turned out to be surprisingly well lit. There were strange crystals jutting out of the cave walls that glowed with a gentle light. It gave the entire place a blue hue.
It didn’t take long to come across their first group of monsters. A small pack of mu. Four of the squirrel like creatures surrounded the party, and the fight was on.
Deven swung his sword in a circle, striking each of them to get their attention. The mu all focused on him, biting and clawing while Zeelo opened up his book and held out a hand. Light surrounded Deven as he began to cast healing spells to keep him healthy. Kor threw out a couple of ruin spells, then getting the hang of it started to draw more dramatic poses as he fired spells at the various monsters throwing in bio and miasma onto all of them. Nathan leaped high into the hair, showing the tunnel had a surprisingly high ceiling and came crashing down with his spear in the middle of the group of mu creating a fiery explosion.
And then like that it was over. Suddenly, the mu just turned tail and fled.
“That was… Brief.” Nathan backflipped from where he had landed with his spear to where he had been standing originally. Then he paused as he realized what he had just done without even putting any thought to it. “But fighting is coming naturally.”
“You know their attacks really weren’t hurting that much.” Deven looked in the direction hey had fled. “And since when do monsters flee before you defeat them? Honestly, without healing I’d feel like it’d just be a few scratches.”
“They were just mu. If they’ve just dealt with non-magical scholars or lower ranked members of the Twin Adder they may not have actually fought anyone who was actually strong. When faced with stronger opponent, flight or fight kicks in and they chose flight.” Kor closed his book. “Or it’s simply because it’s not a video game. In a game, the monsters are programmed to attack you until either you die or they die. But in real life, when an animal encounters a more dangerous predator they try to escape.”
“Makes sense.” Nathan looked thoughtful. “In that case, clearing this place out might not be too bad. If most monsters flee once they realize we’re stronger it should be pretty easy.” He paused as he thought about it. “But didn’t they say people they sent in here had gone missing? I mean… A Mu is just a squirrel with an attitude. How does anyone with even a small amount of combat training lose to that?”
“Maybe.” Something about the fight had bothered Deven with how he was attacked. But he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “I guess we’ll learn as we progress further in.”
As they progressed, they encountered similar group of monsters. Always on the smaller side. They ran into a pack of coeurl cubs, a group of bats, and some small fluffy wolves. And each time it was the same story, they’d start to fight, and then shortly into the fight the monsters would flee. And with each successive fight Deven was starting to figure out what was bothering him. However, the thought slipped from his mind as they reached the end of the tunnel.
The tunnel ended in a round circular cavern. At the back of the cavern was a marble staircase leading up into a massive building with stain glassed windows, several statues of faeries placed about it, and what appeared to be a small fountain directly at the foot of the stairs, just like one might see in a public park. While there were a few cracks in the walls, the place looked to be entirely intact. The only real damage seemed to be the fountain which was completely dried up.
“Big round room right before the entrance to another area.” Nathan looked around. “Anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Boss fight.” They all agreed in unison. They took a few steps into the cavern, and suddenly flames erupted behind them cutting off their escape route as another wall of flames appeared blocking the stairs. Then there was a flash of light from the dried out well as a fireball shot up into the air, then flew back down to the ground landing in the exact center of the cavern. The fire and smoke cleared away, revealing a shining orange carbuncle with a round orange opal on its forehead.
“Is that a ruby carbuncle?” Zeelo wondered for a moment if maybe just the cave’s lighting had altered the carbuncle’s appearance. It was using fire which was what he was familiar with most ruby carbuncles using. But, no, it was definitely orange and the gem on its head was round instead of triangular.
“I think that’s a fire opal on his head.” Kor spoke up. “Figures, another unique carbuncle summoners can’t have. Well…” He held his book high up in the air. “How about we fight fire with fire.” He flung his book around as dramatically as possible, movements that weren’t actually needed, and immediately there was a flash of light as a small red colored carbuncle leaped into the air before him. With an actual ruby carbuncle present the difference between the two were obvious.
And the Fire Opal Carbuncle seemed a bit smaller than the ruby.
“Well let’s get this going.” Deven charged in, throwing his shield at the carbuncle to get its attention. He then ran straight past the carbuncle so that it would face him instead of the rest of the party.
“Ruby, unleash the inferno!” Kor held out his hand as his own carbuncle charged forward.
“This feels so strange for a boss fight.” Nathan leaped form his position all the way to the carbuncle striking at it with his spear. The carbuncle’s hide proved surprisingly tough, and the spear was unable to penetrate it. Not entirely surprising. If this was a ‘boss’ it was going to take a lot more hits before he could land anything lethal.
“Squeak!” The Fire Opal Carbuncle almost sounded delighted at being attacked. It unleashed a burst of flames all around it. Deven and Nathan tried to jump back but weren’t fast enough. They both felt the-
Not so intense fire that barely dealt any damage to them.
“Okay I know I’m a tank but what?” Deven struck at the carbuncle while trying to understand what just happened.
“A lot of bosses have explosive attacks like that which damage everyone around them. Not all of them are very strong.” Nathan thought back to the game. “If we’re just as tough as the video game characters, then we might literally have super endurance to shrug things like that off.”
“I see.” Deven sounded unsure. There was still something bugging him. The Fire Opal Carbuncle continued to make delighted squeaking noises as it fought, striking Deven in the face with its three tails while they were on fire. It more tickled than hurt.
“Don’t let your guard down.” Zeelo kept his healing spells up just to be safe. He tried to keep a barrier over Deven just in case the enemy carbuncle unleashed a stronger attack.
“TRI-DISASTER!” Kor gave a shout. “Aether drain, FESTER!” He continued to cast his spells with overly dramatic movements. He had gone his entire life without having magic, there was no way he wasn’t going to have fun with it now.
“Squeak!” The carbuncle stumbled back. It seemed they might have dealt significant damage. It was somewhat difficult to tell since it turned out reality did not provide life bars for every person you met. However, the carbuncle engulfed itself in flames, leaped high into the air, then dove down landing in the middle of the dried out well, and disappearing underground.
“Did we beat it?” Nathan wasn’t sure. Other monsters had run away too, so why not bosses. But the flames blocking the path forward and back were still there. He gripped his spear looking around for the threat. There was no way it was over.
And then he heard a strange wavering noise all around him, as lights shaped like arrows pointe directly at him.
“Is… Is that a stack marker?” Zeelo asked. As soon as he said it everyone’s eyes went wide. Nathan ran for the center of the cavern as everyone ran to stand directly next to him.
“Why can we see markers?” Deven asked. “If this is real life then video game mechanics shouldn’t exist.”
“Maye it’s not a video game thing in this world?” Kor offered. “It could be something like gathering aether that becomes visible and just happens to be arrow shaped or maybe we’re gifted with the Echo and for us it projects future attacks in a way we can understand them?”
“Either way, everyone be ready, something’s coming.” Deven stood slightly in front of everyone and held his shield out. Bright light erupted from all sides of it creating a barrier that would protect most of the party from damage.
And then the attack came. There was a rumbling sound, and water erupted out of the ground directly beneath the four. They were flung upward by the sudden thrust of water. However, it was the fall back down that actually hurt.
“Okay… Wasn’t expecting that…” Zeelo grimaced as he stood up. Something was wrong.
“A water attack?” Kor was surprised as he pushed himself off the ground. “Didn’t expect that… I guess maybe whatever water source fed the fountain he heated up underground and it exploded upward?”
“It was a jerk move whatever it was.” Deven braced himself up with his sword. Something was wrong with his armor, but he hadn’t quite put it together yet.
“Guess not every monster here is a pushover.” As Nathan pushed himself up he looked around trying to figure out where the carbuncle would appear next. It came from the well again, leaping out in a ball of fire as it had when it first appeared before landing on the ground.
“Squeak.” The carbuncle wagged its tails as if amused, mischief shined in its green eyes.
“Wait… Since when do carbuncles have colored eyes?” Zeelo shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Succor!” He held the book up to unleash a healing spell over the entire group. As he did he nearly tripped as his sandals felt a bit too big for him. His shorts nearly slipped off as well. And something about his voice sounded off. He looked around to the others.
Not a single one of them looked a day older than sixteen years.
“That attack made us younger?” Zeelo asked in disbelief as he kicked off his sandals before he could trip in them.
“And it was a stack marker so it was divided…” Nathan looked down at his body and realized that had he taken the attack by himself he’d likely be smaller than the lalafell right now.
Deven was having the most trouble from the change in age. Sure, there wasn’t a huge difference between adult and teenage lalafell, but Deven’s armor didn’t consist of much. A few pieces held together loosely by straps. It was too big for him. He felt the straps slip from his arms and ankles as his armor fell off leaving him completely naked.
“Okay… Don’t panic.” Kor had a more dramatic change as a teenager than he was as an adult. His mane was no longer fully grown in and his robes hung off him loosely. Like Zeelo his footwear was too big to move comfortably in so he was force to step out of his boots. “We’ve fought bosses with weird mechanics in the game before. After we win everything goes back to normal.”
“Oh, so we just have to beat it then we’ll be adults again?” There was a slight hint of disappointment in Zeelo’s voice.
“Whatever, let’s just beat this thing.” Deven may have been naked, but he could still hold his sword and shield, and so once more he charged the carbuncle.
“Squeak!” The carbuncle met his charge, headbutting him in the stomach. Again, it didn’t hurt much, it was like there was no force behind it at all.
“Is it just me… Or did it specifically wait on us to heal up and recover our composure?” Nathan dove back into melee. “Striking us while were still confused by the age change would have been easy.” Nathan leaped into the air and dove down with his spear towards the carbuncle. The jump was harder as his armor was heavier.
The battle resumed, must as it had earlier, until after about a minute the carbuncle let out another squeak and dove into the well again.
And then the yellow arrows appeared directly beneath Zeelo.
“Not again.” Kor groaned. Then a second set of arrows appeared beneath him. “Oh shoot. Two and two! Keep the markers away from each other!” He had enough experience from the game to know this was bad.
Everyone braced themselves as Zeelo stood next to Nathan and Kor next to Deven. Once more, water erupted out of the ground, and as predicted in both spots marked. However, the affects of the water was only split two ways on each person instead of four. The changes were more dramatic.
Each of them were now somewhere around eight years old each.
“Arrrgh.” Nathan fell over. He couldn’t move in his armor. It was too heavy and too big. “I’m stuck!”
“You need to get out of the armor.” Zeelo at this point had lost his shorts and was dressed in just an open vest that went down to his ankles. He did his best to try to unfasten Nathan’s armor so he could stand up.
Kor was having similar issues, but thankfully robes are lighter than armor. It was like trying to walk around carrying a tent, but he was able to slip out of the robes before he tripped. Deven reached out a hand to help steady him as Kor stepped out. Having already lost his armor he was the least affected by the size change. His shield had become large and awkward though and he had dropped it to help Kor. Once the younger Hrothgar was steady he turned to holding his sword with two hands.
“This is humiliating…” Nathan squirmed out of his armor with Zeelo’s help and quickly grabbed his spear. Save for Zeelo’s vest, the adventurers were naked except for their weapons.
“Do you think it’s going to do that a third time?” Zeelo asked.
“Let’s try to beat it before it does.” Nathan replied. As much as he hated losing his armor it was easier to move again. He leaped into the air with ease diving down and striking with his spear. Kor shifted his grip on his book to bear some of its weight against his arm and let out more ruin spells. Zeelo did copied and unleashed a barrage of Broils. Then Deven swung his sword wildly to keep the carbuncle’s attention.
And then the carbuncle leaped into the air again. But instead of landing in the well it landed on the other side of the wall of fire. It wagged its tails playfully and almost seemed to be laughing. Then it took off running into the academy as both walls of fire vanished. A chest appeared directly before the well.
“So bosses magically drop chests in this world too huh?” Kor looked thoughtful then froze. “Wait, why are we still kids! The fight’s over we should be back to normal!”
“Technically, it did run off before we defeated it.” Zeelo pointed out. “Maybe we have to track it down to reverse it… Though we may not have to.” The m’qote kitten was finding that he actually enjoyed the feeling of being young just as much as he enjoyed having a tail.
“Let’s just check the chest.” Deven opened it. Inside was both a sword and a shield, but smaller than a normal one, sized for a lalafell child. “Someone has a sense of humor.” He dropped his old sword and took the new shield and sword. He liked his old sword, but half his abilities relied on him having a shield.
Now the four were able to enter the academy. The entrance hall itself was completely empty, aside from a few chairs and a counter. But from there they moved into what appeared to be a large library. Books that were perfectly intact lined the walls that went up for at least fifty feet.
“No wonder they want access to this play. There must be untold magical secrets kept here.” Kor temporarily forgot his youth problem seeing the library. He wasn’t from this world but even he was craving to know what was in all these books. Then something strange happened, his tome started to glow. As did Zeelo’s.
“Wh-what?” Zeelo stared at his book. “What’s happening?”
“They’re reacting to the library?” Kor suggested.
“Hey…” Nathan did a couple of stretches. “For some reason, I suddenly feel really refreshed, as if I could run a mile.”
“You too?” Deven asked. “It’s like… There’s just suddenly strength coursing through me.”
“I’m pretty sure any spell I cast would be way stronger now.” Kor considered. “It’s like just being in this place is increasing all of our natural abilities.” He paused. “Which is probably good considering the physical strength and stamina we lost going down in age.”
Cautiously, they progressed through the library, ready for monsters to pop out at any second. None did. Instead, they reached the door leading out of the library and there was a single note left on the ground. Kor picked it up and read it aloud.
“Sorry. Couldn’t find any monsters to play with you in the library. Too dangerous, might hurt the books.” Kor gave a hefty sigh after reading it.
“That’s what’s been bothering me!” Deven realized it all at once. “The monsters in the cave, the carbuncle, none of them hit me very hard. It was like they were holding back, like they were only play fighting.”
“So, what, all the monsters here are treating this as a giant game?” Nathan sounded unsure.
“You know, if you think of it that way, it makes sense why the carbuncle might have wanted to make us younger. All the monsters we fought have been small… As if they were all just… Cubs.” Zeelo mused.
“Well, the way to the library is clear of monsters.” Kor pointed out. “If we wanted, we could leave now and say the job is done. Whatever game they’re playing nothing says we have to play it.”
“Maybe, but ya know…”Deven gave a wicked grin. “If it is a game, I kind of want to win. Come on let’s keep going. They wanted the entire school cleared of monsters anyway.”
No one really had a counter argument for that so they followed Deven out of the library and into a large lecture hall. There was a staircase at the back leading up to an open doorway. The room had all the desks and chairs one would expect for students to use in a lecture hall, but someone had moved all of them to the corners of the room just making it one large empty space.
And they got a hint at what might have done that after coming in. Suddenly, an orange behemoth cub no bigger than a house cat came running out of the open doorway. It leaped down to the center of the room, and as it did a wall of fire appeared blocking the door they had come through and the door up the stairs.
“First a carbuncle now a baby behemoth?” Deven charged forward. “If this is in the game this was going to be the weirdest patch update ever.”
The behemoth held his ground as Deven charged him, and instead of rising to meet him, fell over onto his back, used his hind legs to kick Deven off his own feet, then rolled over pinning the young paladin to the ground.
“Rawr!” The behemoth gave a high-pitched attempt at a roar as it held Deven down.
“Well, he’s certainly more direct than the carbuncle.” Kor replied. “Alright which carbuncle to use against him… Maybe wind?” As Kor asked the question a torrent of wind unleashed around him. “Wait did I do that?” His eyes widened. He had used one of carbuncle’s spells. He points his hand at the behemoth and tried again. The spell came out, as a gust of wind knocked the behemoth off of Deven and into a wall. “Now that is interesting… Can I now use all my carbuncle’s spells at will?” As he wondered this out loud he didn’t notice that his fur had become a slight shade of green color.
“Deven!” Zeelo quickly prepared a healing spell for Deven then paused. “Wait… I’m a scholar.” He shook his head. “Sorry, so used to being white mage in the game it completely escaped my mind we could have a fairy helping us this entire time.” Zeelo opened the book to the fairy summoning spell, preparing to order the fairy to stick close to Deven and heal him. He fired off the spell.
And suddenly his book got really heavy and his vest slipped right off of his shoulders. Everything was growing gigantic by comparison to him. The ground swelled up to meet him, and then there was a weird feeling as something pushed out of his back. He stretched them, and suddenly flapped into the air. He had wings. He was very tiny right now and had wings. A blue glow appeared over his body, and his hair, as well as the fur on his tail and ears turned a light blue.
“I said summon a fairy not turn me into a fairy!” It was pretty obvious to Zeelo what had happened. But, it wasn’t as if he could use the book like this. He put his new wings to use, flying into the air getting close to Deven and throwing healing spells at him.
“ROAWR!” The behemoth cub had recovered from being slammed into the wall. It stared at the group through green eyes and thrashed its tail. It had looked more cute than scary at first. But now, it looked kind of terrifying. At least it did for Zeelo who was now much smaller than it.
“Quick do something!” Zeelo shouted as the behemoth charged again.
“I’m trying!” Nathan dove in front of Deven while he was still getting back on his feet. He held his spear sideways to block the behemoth’s claws. The little thing was strong though and he felt himself being pushed back. Luckily, Deven was back up now, and swung his sword down on the behemoth hitting it on the head between its horns. That got its attention off Nathan, allowing Nathan to on the offensive, leaping high into the air and diving down. Sure, he had done a lot of jump attacks by now but…
He was a dragoon. Jump attacks were kind of his thing.
“Don’t let up, we won’t give this thing the chance to get back on the offensive.” Kor shouted as he continued to fire off wind spells and his fur became more and more green. His lion-like tail had split into three fox-like tails. However, he was too involved in the fight to notice this, and being the furthest back from the monster was out of sight of everyone else battling.
“Groawrl!” The behemoth cub proved himself quite capable. Matching Deven blow for blow, and striking back with claw and fang. He even struck Nathan with his tail once knocking the viera to the ground. But once more, all of the bites and scratches he left on them were superficial, as if the cub was just play fighting. Meanwhile, the adventurers were giving it everything they had to try and take it down and it thought they were just playing along.
“Let’s see you like this!” Kor unleashed a cyclone directly on the beast. He dropped his book absentmindedly finding it easier to control the winds with two hands. There was now a red gem on his forehead and his ears were much longer and rabbit-like. He had also gotten a little shorter. But considering how small everyone else was, and there was no more clothing to shrink out of this still went unnoticed.
“Groawrl!” The behemoth cub was lifted into the air by the winds before being dropped down. That seemed to make it angry. It stood up and stamped its foot and the entire room shook. Pieces of the roof fell down landing in their fighting arena. Then, the behemoth took on stance that every person who ever played the game recognized. He began to channel power.
“He’s casting meteor?” Kor’s eyes darted around the room looking for someplace to hide from the coming attack. Noticing the pieces of the ceiling that had fallen he realized their use. He quickly dove behind one landing on all fours. Zeelo flew behind another and Nathan hid behind the third.
Deven however was a little preoccupied still hitting the thing.
“Deven get a move on! The spell is going to finish any second now!” Zeelo shouted.
“How can you tell? It’s not like there’s a caster bar and-“ Deven felt a bright light shining from above him. He looked up to see a massive glowing rock coming down at him. “Oh, that’s how you can tell.” He made a run for it, but he wasn’t fast enough, the meteor came down, and Deven expected to at least be knocked unconscious by it. Instead, he just found himself feeling strangely warmer.
After the meteor crashed down, the behemoth seemed to lose the will to fight. It leaped back up to the higher doorway ran through and the fire walls faded away.
“Wow… That was nothing, I was sure I was a goner.” Deven let out a laugh.
“Um Deven…” Zeelo flew out from hiding. “You might want to look down at yourself.”
“Why?” Deven did and paused. His body was now covered in a coat of purple fur. And he had a tail ending in a few barbs. Small horns protruded from his head and he had the start of small mane starting to grow down his back. “What the heck! I didn’t know behemoths were contagious!”
“That meteor spell just transformed you… But you’re still walking on two legs and talking, so you’re not a full behemoth.” Zeelo tried casting Esuna as he talked. It had no effect.
“You should have run for safety as soon as he started casting.” Kor walked out from his hiding place and tried to stand up. He found he couldn’t. “Wait… What… What’s wrong with me?”
“Um… Kor… You’re a carbuncle.” Zeelo stated it flatly. The more Kor had used carbuncles spells as his own the more he had transformed, and the final cyclone he had summoned had been the tipping point. He had been to busy diving for safety to notice, but he looked like a plain ordinary carbuncle. The only thing special was he could talk.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Kor’’s forehead gem lit up while he expressed his annoyance.
“Maybe using those books after they started glowing wasn’t a good idea.” Nathan looked between Kor and Zeelo. The carbuncle and the cat fairy had been transformed by their own magic, not an enemy spell. Then there was Deven. At least he hadn’t died in the meteor, but even if he walked upright no one would know him from a common monster. Nathan was the only human left on the team. And he wasn’t even human! He was a viera! His ears twitched as he remembered that. It had been weird feeling so tall, and now that he was a kid it felt weird being so short.
“On the bright side have to be close to the end.” Zeelo grinned. “I mean, three bosses per dungeon, right?”
The four of them looked at the doorway. There was only one way forward. The door led to a staircase that wound upwards in a spiral. By the time they reached the top they were likely close to the surface again after the initial tunnel had taken them deep beneath the earth.
At the top of the staircase there was another note. Zeelo flew down to read it.
“I’m really, really sorry, but right now my friends are taking naps and won’t be hatched for a few hours.” Zeelo squinted. “What does that mean?”
“It apparently means no monsters again and straight to the final boss.” Deven replied. There was a door at the top the staircase. He held his sword and shield ready and prepared to open it then paused. He looked at his claws. It felt awkward gripping these weapons. He dropped them. Fighting with tooth and claw would be way easier. “Everyone ready?”
“Not really, but let’s get this over with anyway.” Nathan spoke and Deven started to open the door, then paused and decided to just kick it down instead. He was even stronger as a behemoth than when he first felt this place physically enhance him.
The door led to a large circular room. The ceiling was covered in paintings of stars with constellations connected. There were various machines that looked something like large telescopes around the room that had been aimed out windows. But with the school now underground they lay broken on the floor and rocks had flooded in through the windows.
“Looks like some kind of observatory.” Kor muttered as he stood between Deven’s legs. “And it’s the perfect size for a boss arena. Well, shall we get this over with?”
They stepped inside, and then in a ball of fire the Fire Opal Carbuncle appeared in the center of the room.
“That thing again?” Nathan readied his spear to attack. However, the carbuncle made no moves to attack, but instead through up a giant wall of flames separating it from the adventurers.
Then it backed away, and the behemoth cub appeared again. He stood on his hind legs and stomped his feet as hard as he could much like he had in the previous area. Pieces of the ceiling begin to fall in.
“Take cover!” Deven pulled everyone out of the doorway as most of the ceiling collapsed revealing a second level to the observatory. This one also had stars on it, but the constellations were different. They weren’t the constellations of Eorzea mapped out. They were the constellations from Earth.
There wasn’t time to think on this much though. Once it was safe everyone stepped inside, but there was no sign of the carbuncle or behemoth. The fire had also vanished. But they heard the flapping of powerful wings as dragon descended down from the area that had just been revealed.
“Roooooawr!” The dragon roared. It was a squeaky roar, in large part because the drag was just a tiny whelp. However, small as it might have been its body shape was similar to another dragon. This wasn’t a quadruped dragon, it was a dread wyrm, though a very young and small one. If this had been a video game this was the point where the creature’s name and title appeared. It would have probably been called something like Dread Hatchling. But, this not being a video game there was no way for any of the adventurers to know the creature’s name.
But they all recognized it as essentially being an orange mini juvenile version of Bahamut.
“Is every monster in this place just a cub?” Zeelo asked. “I feel kind of bad now, scaring them out.
“Rooawwwr!” The dread hatchling let out another squeaky roar as a wall of fire erupted behind the four adventurers blocking off the exit.
“Well… Regardless of how you feel, looks like this thing doesn’t intend to let us walk away without a fight.”
“Good.” Deven grinned. For some reason looking like this just makes me want to fight more.” Deven charged in first. He was the tank after all, even if he had no weapons or armor. But he had claws. He leaped into the air trying to slash at the dragon, but it flew out of his reach. “No fair! You have wings! Come down here already!”
“It’s not out of our reach.” Nathan shouted as he leaped into the air. His jump probably would have dealt more damage were the dread hatchling closer to the ground, but he still struck the orange dragon with his spear before bouncing off it and landing. “You two are up next!”
“BROIL!” Zeelo shouted as he fired off his only offensive spell.
“Aerial Blast!” Kor unleashed a twister of winds up high where the dragon was hanging out. The combined efforts were enough to convince the dragon to dive down to their level to escape the winds tearing at it, and no sooner than it had than Deven leaped onto it.
“RAWR!” Deven shouted as he pounced the dragon and tried to pin it to the ground.
“RAWR!” The dragon shouted right back at him.
“They’re stuck in a loop.” Nathan facepalmed. But, he could take advantage of it, he ran forward brandishing his spear ready to strike a the dragon. He made a direct hit, and this was enough to break the cycle. The dragon suddenly used its hind legs to kick Deven off of him, flip over and reverse the pin. Then it bopped Deven on the face, or at least on the nose and flapped into the air, but only by about five feet.
“Wait… That’s the same thing…” Deven recalled experiencing something very similar recently.
“Just like the behemoth force it to stay on the defensive!” Kor shouted. “Just one more enemy and we’re done!” As he shouted this, the orange dragon suddenly fixed its green eyes onto Kor, flapped a little higher into the air and began to inhale. A stack marker appeared directly beneath Kor. “Of course, he has something like that.”
Kor ran to the center of the room to make it easier for everyone to get near him. Then the dragon exhaled and unleashed a massive flare of light striking all of them. And each of them got exactly one year younger upon being hit. Then a second flare came down, followed by a third, and a fourth. After this the dragon landed on the ground as if the effort had tired it somewhat.
But… Now the entire party was little more than a group of toddlers. For Deven and Kor who were more animalistic it wasn’t as big a deal, even as toddlers they could move around quickly and aggressively. And while Zeelo might have trouble walking there was nothing to interfere with him flying.
Nathan on the other hand… He was trying to balance on unsteady legs while holding a spear that was way too big. But, the dragon was weakened. He less charged and more stumbled forward dragon the spear with him and swinging it around to hit the dragon. Deven joined in biting at the dragon, and Kor and Zeelo maintained their distance backing them up with magic. After a few seconds of this, the dragon let out a squeak roar and spread its wings unleashing a shockwave that knocked Deven and Nathan away from him. Then the dragon flew up higher again, where it was safe with Kor’s earlier spells having worn off. The dragon flew in a circle and would occasionally stop and makes strange gestures with its paws as if it was drawing shapes in the air.
“What’s it doing?” Kor asked. Then his eyes widened as he saw an object materialize in one place the dragon had stopped. It looked like a giant squeaky hammer and it fell down from the sky. “Try to avoid the areas where he stopped!” Kor broke into a sprint.
“There isn’t a safe spot to avoid them all!” Zeelo replied frantically. “Ugh I hate mechanics like this. Have to fly into one after it goes off to be safe while the others are still going off. Anyone remember the order he did it in?”
“Not really but…” Nathan had run to where the very first hammer had dropped. “We only need to know which one was first.”
“Oh right…” Kor quickly joined Nathan’s side followed by Zeelo. However, as Deven tried to join them a hammer dropped down directly beteween the rest of the party and Deven. The behemoth cub was forced to jump backwards to avoid that hammer; and landed right in the spot the next one came down.
There was a squeaky noise as the hammer struck Deven, and then a puff of smoke, and then at first it seemed Deven had vanished. But it wasn’t quite that. He had merely shrunk, now no bigger than a mouse after being hit by the hammer.
“That… Might hinder his ability to keep the dragon distracted.” Kor muttered.
“Uhhhhh.” Deven froze where he was and waited for all the hammers to fall lest he risk walking into another one. As the dragon flew back down to their level he had to ask himself. Was he really crazy to continue to try to fight this thing when he was small enough to fit in one of its paws?
Of course he was!
Deven charged the orange dragon, and leaped for it biting. Unable to reach the dragon’s height, he was only able to grab its tail instead as it flew close to the floor. But Deven bit down as hard as he could on that tail and clawed and scratched at it.
“Yeah I don’t think he has aggro.” Nathan leaped high into the air again. He tried not to think about the fact that he could easily leap leagues into he air and dive down with his spear, but walking was awkward. Trying to understand it would give him a headache. But this let him close the distance and give the dragon another good smacking. Just like the previous monsters, the spear wasn’t able to penetrate the dragon’s hide. But Nathan had expected that. They were going to have to wear it down.
“ROOAWR!” Not paying attention to the tiny behemoth on its tail, the dragon turned and smacked Nathan with its claws, knocking him down for a few moments. Nathan was on his knees struggling to get up, but for now he was down for the count.
The dragon unleashed a shockwave that sent Zeelo and Kor flying across the room. Nathan was rooted in place and Deven managed to hang on to the dragon’s tail. Then, a stack marker appeared on Nathan.
“Oh… Oh no.” Nathan couldn’t get up yet. But the others just had to run to the stack marker. It was easy. Except, the dragon let out another roar, flew high into the air and shot fireballs down creating enormous walls of fire. There was now a maze of fire blocking Kor and Zeelo’s path to Nathan.
“Can you try flying higher to give me directions?” Kor ran into the maze trying to find his way to Nathan before the attack went off.
“Uh sure…” Zeelo flew up, only to get blown right back down by the downdrafts of the dragon’s wings. “Or apparently not. I think we better run. Well, you run, I fly.” They started trying to make their way through the fire maze.
Meanwhile, Deven realized his strategy wasn’t working. He had to bite the dragon somewhere less armored. He slowly began to climb up the dragon’s tail hooking his own claws into the dragon’s scales as he went.
“Shoot left or right?” Kor asked as him and Zeelo reached a fork.
“Left! Left!” Zeelo shouted. “When in doubt go left!” The two started down that path and immediately came face to face with another massive wall of fire. “I mean right!” They were trying to get through the maze as fast as possible. During this time, the dragon had started inhaling preparing the same attack that had turned them into toddlers.
And no one was going to make it in time to stack up with Nathan.
The dragon unleashed the four flares of light again right as Zeelo and Kor reached the end of the maze seconds too late. Each one struck down on Nathan drastically reducing him in age. When all four flares were done, Nathan was gone, and a black and white egg lay in his place with his discarded spear next to it.
“So not stacking equals egg…” Zeelo muttered. “We better end this quickly.
However, now Zeelo and Kor were two casters with no one between them and the dragon. It was hard to finish casting a spell when the dragon continued to charge at you, bite at you and claw at you. At least none of the attacks seriously hurt. Much like the earlier fights it was as if they were play bites.
Meanwhile, Deven continued his climb now on the dragon’s back. He was working his way up to the head.
The orange dragon flew up high and spread his wings again. He was getting ready to use the flare attack again. The stack marker appeared beneath Zeelo. Kor could stand next to them, but they were already four years old. No doubt they’d be reduced to infants by the attack, but it was that or eggs. They braced themselves as the first flare of light came down reducing them to two years old.
Then the second never came. Instead the orange dragon let out a roar of pain. Deven had finally made it up to the dragon’s head, jumped down onto his snoot and bit the dragon right on the nose. The dragon spiraled out of the sky crashing to the ground, drained again. At the same time, it had been roughly 1 minute since Nathan had turned into an egg, the exact duration of his current status effect. The egg shattered apart revealing Nathan to now be a baby black and white dragon.
“Rawr?” Nathan looked at the eggshells he had just come out of and his now gigantic spear in confusion. Then he saw the dragon down on the ground again exhausted. “Rawwr!” He stumbled forward best he could and latched onto the dragon’s side.
Zeelo and Kor joined in. Toddlers though they may be Zeelo was still able to fly and Kor could run on four legs. Firing gusts of wind and broil spells they hit the dragon with everything they had.
And then, the dragon glowed with a bright light and unleashed another shockwave that knocked everyone across the room. However, instead of following it up with an attack it collapsed onto the ground. The light glowed brighter, and suddenly the dragon vanished replaced by the Fire Opal Carbuncle.
“Okay… You win…” The carbuncle spoke. “I’m too exhausted to keep going.”
“You can talk?” Kor shouted in surprise. “And… You’re the same carbuncle from the earlier! You were the dragon and…” Kor paused as he remembered the behemoth also had orange fur and green eyes. “And the behemoth!”
“Yeah… Filling in for all three fights is really draining, even for me.” The carbuncle laid on the floor lazily. He looked less wounded, and more just tired. “I think I’m gonnna take a nap now. We can play again later if you want.”
“Rawr!” Nathan demanded.
“So they were play bites…” Deven muttered. “Now I feel bad for biting for real.”
“Wait… Have you thought everyone that came here was trying to play?” Kor asked.
“Yeah! I mean, why else would they come in and brandish their weapons as soon as they saw me if they didn’t want to wrestle!” The carbuncle had recovered a bit of its pep and sat up on its hind legs. “I’m honestly really thankful. I’ve been cooped up in this school for so long with no one to play with, so I was so happy to make some new friends and invent some new games!” The carbuncle grinned, showing off a fang that a carbuncle really shouldn’t have had.
“What about all the people who went missing?” Zeelo asked.
“People went missing?” The carbuncle seemed confused. “I know some of them chose to stay with me, but I have no idea what happened to the ones who ran off. Do you know if they’re okay? Do they need rescuing? I can leave right away.” The carbuncle cub shook off all exhaustion and stood up.
“No! It’s the ones who didn’t run off that were missing!” Kor would have face palmed were he not a quadruped. He made an effort anyway.
“What? No, they’re not missing. You played with some of them on the way in. The others are asleep right now, decided they wanted to be dragons. With so many new people showing up we can play a lot of games. I mean, I love wrestle but need some variety. So, we’re working on a flying athletic sport.”
“Wait…” Zeelo looked at himself, then at his transformed comrades. “All those random monster cubs we fought who ran off… Those are the missing people! You turned them into monsters.”
“I only turned like five or six of them into monsters.” The carbuncle sounded cross. “I mean, when they attacked me it didn’t seem fair. I would have wiped the floor with them no issue so I gave them an advantage. The others did it to themselves. Aside from having over a thousand different books here that can change you just by reading them. Then of course some are like you two.” He gestured a paw at Zeelo and Kor. “Your powers get enhanced here, and you change yourself as you grow more powerful.”
“Raaawwr.” Nathan who was too young to talk now expressed his annoyance that this was all a game.
“So all of this was pointless.” Kor sighed. “The people weren’t coming here to play with you, they want access to the library.”
“They do?” The carbuncle seemed confused. “Then why do they always try to throw a sword or spear at me. Like, pretty sure they wanted to play. And the ones who stayed behind really got in on it. Like, they told me about how there are these dungeons adventurers explore! And how they fight epic battles and accomplish great deeds! And well, just normal wrestling was getting boring, even if the other people were cheating by using weapons. But, the idea off these dungeons really excited me, so I thought we could play dungeon. We were dividing the place up into areas, but we hadn’t picked people to be the guard in each area yet so I’m kind of doing all three.” The carbuncle wagged his tails. “And it was a blast. When we get this game fully set up you should come again and we can give it another go.”
“No!” Kor said. “That’s… Not necessary.”
“I’m kind of tempted.” Deven spoke up. “I want another go at him.”
“You’re basically a mouse.” Kor chided the tiny behemoth.
“That just makes him a bigger target.” Deven insisted.
“Raaaaawr!” Natan shouted.
“I can’t… No, I can’t deal with this. Zeelo, can you talk some sense into these people.” Kor begged.
“I… Don’t think we need to.” Zeelo muttered. “This was all kind of a big misunderstanding.” Then he dropped his voice to a whisper. “And from the sounds of it the people who came in just saw monsters and immediately attacked. We’re probably lucky he thought they were just playing. If he had fought for real well…”
“Right…” Kor realized how badly things could have gone if the carbuncle were a little more perceptive. “Look, some people just want to come here to study. Can you let them do that in peace if they don’t want to play.”
“Sure.” The carbuncle laid down. “I mean, I never started any of the games anyway. You guys always make the first move. Sometimes while I’m sleeping. That’s poor sportsmanship.”
“Okay, fine, whatever.” Kor shook his head. “The case is closed. We’ll explain things to the Twin Adder and then put all this behind us except…” He paused. “Now that we’ve played with you how do we change back to normal?”
“I’m actually okay like this.” Zeelo replied. “But if you guys want to.”
“Oh, I don’t really know myself. Never thought that far ahead.” The orange carbuncle winced. “Sorry. But one of the books here would have the answer.”
“Didn’t you say the majority of the people who came here were transformed by reading the books?” Kor asked.
“Yeah…”The carbuncle grinned. “It’s kind of fun cause you never know what you’re going to find when you open the cover of a new book.”
“I’ll pass on checking the new books out…” Kor sighed. “Just debating what to do now.”
“You know, I was thinking I’d stick to this whole adventure thing.” Zeelo flapped inn the air. “It was fun… But I’m a little small and squishy to go on my own.”
“I suppose a carbuncle adventurer makes as much sense as a fairy.” Kor shrugged. “I can stick with you for now.”
“I think I want to stay here.” Deven spoke up. “Playing dungeon sounds fun… And I’m gonna beat that carbuncle in a wrestling match someday.”
“You did beat me today.” The orange carbuncle replied.
“That was a group effort! I’m gonna take you one on one!” the tiny behemoth puffed out his chest.
“So that just leaves Nathan.” Kor walked over to the baby dragon.
“Roaowr?” Nathan asked.
“I don’t think he’s old enough to make a decision on his own.” Zeelo replied. “Think there’s some place we can take him that he can grow up safely.”
“Zenith?” Kor suggested. “With the dragonsong over that should be pretty safe. Though that’s going to be a bit of journey from here.”
“In that case it sounds to me like we already have our second adventure.” Zeelo grinned.
“Rawr!” Nathan contributed. He was honestly still confused about the situation, but given his current form, Zenith felt like the best place for him to be right now.
“So… I guess we’re done.” Kor paused. “Wait… If we’re playing dungeon why didn’t we get any treasure from the second or third fight with you?”
“I told you we’re not fully set up yet!” The orange carbuncle whined. “I was only able to set up the first chest cause that sword and shield used to be mine. But I don’t really need them anymore. But don’t worry, when the game is fully set up we’ll have proper treasure. I’m thinking people who win the entire game get ice cream sundaes.”
“Yeah we’re done here.” Kor replied. “Let’s go Zeelo. We’ll explain things in Gridania, then head for Zenith. You come along to Nathan.”
“Raaaawr!” Nathan replied and ran up to walk next to Kor. Meanwhile Zeelo flew down and landed on Kor’s head.
“You know, traveling by carbuncle might be even better than chocobo. Your fur is so soft.” Zeelo grinned.
“Guess this is where we part.” The tiny behemoth waved a paw in the air. “Come back some time to visit ok!”
“Sure, eventually, why not?” Kor replied. Now that he knew what to expect he could deal with things properly. For now, he started down the stairs. Him and Zeelo had to get Nathan to Zenith. Then after that who knew what adventure awaited.
“You have some really strong friends.” The orange carbuncle spoke up once it was just him and Deven. “Though they seem really competitive, like they forget it’s just a game sometimes.”
“Well you see you kind of….” Deven started to explain then stopped. He had a feeling the carbuncle just wasn’t going to get it. Then again, until the earthquake he had apparently been in here by himself. So, maybe it was to be expected for him not to be right in the head. “Well what do we do now?”
“Well I’m going to take a nice long nap. You guys really wore me out.” The carbuncle let out a yawn. “But then one of the people who came before you told me about these things called traps, and I was thinking about seeing what I could make with my own magic the right book. It’s not a proper dungeon without traps.”
“Hmmmm, that could be fun.” Deven grinned. “I’ll help out. Maybe I can even take over one of the boss roles.” He paused. “And when I beat you in a solo wrestling match I get to be the last boss.”
“Dream on.” The carbuncle dismissed the tiny behemoth as he curled up to sleep.
“Oh it’s coming! Roawr!” Deven was full of pride, and ever since being turned into a monster had kind of just enjoyed giving in to his instincts. However, as much as he wanted to bluster more, climbing up this place had him exhausted too. And so while Kor, Zeelo and Nathan left for Zenith, Deven curled up to sleep next to the orange carbuncle cub.