1.4: The Rift
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ATUHOR'S NOSE: Here, have a chapter. This is the conclusion of the intro arc, so the next chapter will go up when the second arc is completely written and ready. Actually made surprisingly good progress on that while posting this intro arc, but even if we somehow do finish it right away, we'll still be holding off on posting it for a few weeks minimum while we move across the country. 

... I did specify that "chapter" is a term that doesn't include non-canon interludes? (Or "omake" if that's what you wanna call them.) Those will go up when we feel like it. ... We've already got one ready, so expect to see it next Tuesday. Unless I feel attention-hungry and post it faster.

If interest is expressed, we'll consider letting patrons see upcoming chapters before the rest of the world. (For the avoidance of doubt, no part of this story is planned to be made permanently patron-only at this time. This plan is not immutable but we see no particular reason to change it.)

The three wandered around the town, seemingly aimlessly at first until Pandora suddenly turned a corner and made a beeline for a particular building.

The building had big rolls of fabric on all the walls, several racks on the floor holding various clothing items, and from the back Eiri could hear several unseen machines running.

Pandora walked up to the person at the front desk, dropped a handful of coins in front of them, and gestured broadly at the children. Some time later, the twins followed Pandora out, carrying shiny new rucksacks full of shiny new outfits. Eiri didn't know what any of the things were called — and wasn't entirely sure how to wear a few of them — but Pandora had said "just about anything would be better than that tattered-ass shift thing", and Eiri figured she was probably right about that.

The trio briefly swooced through the market square to pick up some bread, cheese, and produce for their next meal, before returning to the hotel room.

"So," Pandora said, pulling a knife from somewhere and slicing the bread, "after what's-his-face from last night, I was thinking..." she started stacking cheese and vegetables on the bread, "... and to be clear, I'm open to your input on this, though under the circumstances I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't have any..." and finishing the stacks off with another slice of bread, "... but what I was thinking was, with him around and ticked off at us, we should probably get back on the road sooner rather than later." And she handed a stack to each of the twins.

Eiri frowned very loudly. "Um... maybe." She glanced at Yui.

Pandora tilted her head at the confused girl. "... I know you were locked up in there for a long time but surely you can at least guess how a sandwich works." 

"I know what a sandwich is," Yui muttered, picking his up and taking a bite out of it, and Eiri shortly followed suit.

"Ah, good. Still not quite clear what super-basic stuff you do and don't know about." And with that, Pandora set upon her lunch.


Not much more was said until all three had finished their meal, whereupon Pandora glanced at Eiri and gave her a sympathetic smile. "You're out of your depth here, aren't you?"

Eiri nodded. "Sorry..."

"Eh, don't worry about it." Pandora shrugged. "If you don't know, you don't know. You're a kid, it's not your job to be able to make this kind of plan. Just wanted to check whether you had a preference, cause I'm still kinda on the fence myself." She stood up and started packing away the half loaf of bread and everything else that was left.

While Pandora was occupied with that, Eiri glanced once more at her brother. Yui had been looking increasingly unsettled over the course of the conversation and she wanted to know why, but he wasn't speaking up... Pandora didn't seem to be paying attention to him at all, so she scooched over next to him. "Yui, is something wrong?" she muttered, just loud enough that he could hear and hopefully Pandora couldn't.

"We need to get out of here," Yui mumbled. "All of us — it's going to get bad, and we need to leave."

Eiri frowned loudly. She had been planning to just repeat whatever Yui had said to Pandora. However, the older woman would surely want to know why they thought there was danger, and that would mean explaining that Yui could see things... Yui had said Pandora was trustworthy, but... he couldn't see everything all the time forever. What if she was more like the men in the coats than he thought...?

A situation this precarious would surely take all of Eiri's cunning to handle safely.

"I... I don't like this place," she said.

"Yeah, me neither," Pandora said. "Makin' me antsy knowing there could be more Lebrooks out there just waiting for me to turn my back on you. All right, let's pack up and get on the road."

... Yep. Every last drop of cunning.

Another amount of time later (during which Eiri once again lamented not knowing how to tell time) the trio was packed up and walking down the road to... the next town, Eiri imagined. Pandora had looked at some signs on the way, but Eiri also couldn't read, so she had no clue what they said, other than that they must have been relevant to Pandora's plans.

Pandora was humming some tune idly as she walked, usually slightly faster than the twins, but slowing down suddenly whenever she got more than a few paces ahead. After a while, Eiri realized that the song repeated back on itself, which seemed unusual — she glanced at Yui questioningly, and he shrugged.

After a few more repetitions of the song, Pandora halted in her tracks. "Uh, it belatedly occurs to me that you two might not be physically capable of walking the distance from here to Greenfield in one go, so just FYI, do speak up if you want to take a break."

"How... do we know when we need to stop?" Eiri asked.

Pandora laughed. "Good question. I know what it's like to be hale and hearty, and I know what it's like to be on the verge of collapse, but I never paid much attention to the part in between." She tilted her head in thought. "Usually starts with your feet hurting, I think, and then your muscles start aching, and in general the idea of keeping going just feels bad." She shrugged. "Just tell me if you want to stop. We're not gonna get there in one go anyway."

"You mangy beasts won't be getting anywhere."

Instantly Pandora was on the alert, hammer in hand. The source of the voice stepped out from the forest and onto the trail — and at the same time so did five other guys.

Pandora scowled as she recognized the axe-wielding racist from the hotel. "You again? And you stalked us? Don't you have anything better to do, mister guy-who-never-actually-said-his-name?"

"Richmond Lebrook," Lebrook said, somehow managing to make it sound like an insult. "I'd tell you to commit it to memory, if I expected you to live long enough to use it."

"The hell you even want, anyway? Cause like, I get that you're here to kill me, but what for?"

Lebrook tsked haughtily. "It is a nobleman's duty to keep his streets clean of rabid mutts."

"Mutts?!" Pandora exclaimed, affronted. "Do you see me chewing a bone? I am a moggy, thank you very much!" ... maybe not that affronted. "The kids might or might not have a pedigree, I wouldn't know, but whatever their ancestry they're definitely not mutts." ... okay yeah she was just messing with him.

"Whatever type of beast you are, there'll be three fewer of you by the end of the day."

Pandora's grip on her hammer tightened and her eyes narrowed. "That's Bophades to you," she said, much to Eiri's confusion.

"... Bophades?" Lebrook repeated incredulously.

"BOPHADES NUTS!" she roared, and in a blink, her hammer was at Lebrook's throat — 

no, one of his lackeys blocked it with his spear — Pandora went for his knees, but he dodged —

Lebrook's axe was lodged in the ground where Pandora had been a second ago —

her hammer cratered the ground where he had been a second ago —

Eiri felt a hand on her shoulder and saw Pandora's eyes flood with rage — 

someone had tried to grab her, but a blinding wind and Pandora had knocked the guy clear across the road —

Eiri rushed over to Yui and clung to him. "You said it'd get bad if we stayed!"

"Yes. It would've been worse than this. It is worse than this."

Eiri flinched as Pandora rushed past her again. The brawl was going so fast, she barely knew what was happening, but she could tell something was wrong. Pandora should've been able to wipe the floor with these guys.

"... It's us," she realized. "She's distracted protecting us."

Eiri looked down at her hands. She had to remove herself from the equation. She could, if she could just focus...

... little sparks jumped out of her hand, and a swirling black rift slowly came into being.

"What the hell — gak!" One of Lebrook's lackeys gawked at the portal, and Pandora took his moment of distraction to get a critical hit in.

Eiri wrenched her focus away from the fight and back to the rift. In a few more seconds it'd be big enough for her and Yui to slip through... but it'd need some more time after that before Pandora could, and Eiri didn't know if she'd be able to hold her focus on the other side, so she kept pushing...

"Now, Eiri!" Yui said, grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her into the rift.

Crack! Judging by that sound, someone's weapon had just embedded itself in the ground where Eiri had been a second ago, but she couldn't look back to see anything more — 

A wave of chill ran through Eiri as she stepped out of the rift and into a snowy forest.

She looked back at the rift — it was visibly losing coherence, so she focused her will on maintaining it just a second longer — til Pandora dove through and she let the rift collapse into sparks.

Eiri clung to Yui, leaning almost all her weight on him. 

Pandora, on the other hand, barely looked like she had broken a sweat. She stood up, brushing snow off herself. "Lebrook scarpered when I wasn't looking. Right around when you opened that portal thing, I think. The rest are somewhere between 'bruised' and 'broken'. They'll probably live, but I won't be bothered if they don't."

"P... Pandora?" Eiri said shakingly. "I... think I need a break."

Pandora laughed weakly. "Yes, yes you do. You look like you just ran a marathon... Let's set up camp for the night. Bundle up, build a fire, hunker down... figure out where we are." She looked around. "Cause, like, I have absolutely no idea where this is."

Did you see it coming?
  • Yes, all of it was completely precisely foreshadowed and nothing surprised me. Votes: 1 50.0%
  • Well some of it, sure... Votes: 0 0.0%
  • No, it was all a complete shock to me! Votes: 1 50.0%
Total voters: 2