A word, to whom it may concern…
Daedalus fell closer and closer to the ground, gasping for air and on the point of total collapse. He had been flying nonstop for what seemed like an eternity. His wings had long since stopped screaming for him to rest, his stomach had long since stopped crying out for more than the meager meals he scavenged from the emptying oceans. More than once, he had considered turning back in despair, thinking that his dream would not be realized, that after so many years of his home being lost, he would have no hope of reclaiming what he sought. His family had traveled so far… so far across the Misty Mountains, so far across the Ashen Plains, so far across the Dark Waters, and the Sea of Origin. They had gone to the End of the World, and then beyond. They traveled so far, knowing they would never come back…
And yet, as the months turned into years, and the years turned into decades, there was still something worth coming back for.
I can't let my old friend's life go to waste, Daedalus had thought. It's still out there, I know it.
Daedalus' felt his feet touch solid ground, the first time in ages, it seemed. He stumbled several meters, almost rolling over several times, but with the old friend clutching feebly on his back, he stopped himself from doing so. Their journey had not gone without disasters, and the last thing he could have wished was to reach their destination only for it to be cut off by himself crushing his companion. Finally, he stopped, sinking into the dark dirt and breathing a long sigh of relief.
"Daedalus…" The weak voice called out his friend's name.
"Master…" The concern in Daedalus' was all too apparent.
"We've made land… Are we…?"
"Yes, old friend. We've made it. We're back home."
The old man holding on to Daedalus' back chuckled softly, as tears began to fall down his face. It was a heart-warming laugh, yet at the same time, Daedalus could feel the grief of The Old Master as if it was his own. It had been so long…
"Yes, Master? What it it?"
"We should, we should…" The voice trailed off into a sigh, and Daedalus felt the body on his back go limp.
"Master? Master!" Panic took over Daedalus' body. It couldn't be true, no. After all this time, he couldn't possibly… Then he felt the soft, even breathing of The Old Master's slumber. It was just exhaustion. Exhaustion and joy.
Daedalus growled softly. "Don't worry, old friend. We'll find what we're looking for. After all, this is a land of miracles. A land of Fantasy."
These words exist to help relearn…
Master says that we won't see You again. We are sad. So are the remaining Others. We once filled each other's heads with dreams and goals. It is so sad that we cannot share them any longer. Master says we have to go. He says that he will make us a new Fantasy. He says You cannot be a part of it. We are sad. We love you. We will not Forget you. We are scared. Will You Forget Us?
Yoshihiro Takenaka sat in his chair and sighed, once again finding himself staring at the now drying, delicate scroll framed on his office wall. Below it, three paper dragons sat on his metal filing drawer. Despite having been there for over three years, Takenaka had taken very good care of the last mementos of the dragon's world, dusting and cleaning them every few weeks, as well as looking out for the box itself, which was stored in a nearby vault; Takenaka had kept the box in his office for a while, but it was soon stored away for more "professional" handling. As for the rest of the letters that had been collected while the box was still alive, Takenaka had stored them right in the drawer below. The upper staff may have labeled the dragon's box as long dead, but for the man who had led the research on the fascinating creatures, there was always that small hope, that small belief that one day the container would once again show that its life was not gone entirely.
While there were still a few workers on Site 98 that snickered behind Takenaka's back for holding on to the dragons, most were at the very least sympathetic for the tall, bespectacled Japanese man. Heading the research on 1762 had been quite a fascinating experience, and since the Jabberwocky Event, he, along with many other researchers, had become a bit more mellowed in their work; it wasn't every day you could interact with dragons, much less dragons that were not only small, but overall friendly. In comparison, going back into the monotone scheduling was, simply put, uninteresting.
Takenaka started at the sound of a knock on his door. He quickly readjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. "Come in."
A shorter, sharp-eyed Chinese woman with stunningly neon-purple hair peeked in. "Hey, Yoshi. Thought I might find you in here. Lunch break, right? Got a moment?"
Takenaka frowned momentarily, noting that his former 1762 research partner looked slightly bewildered. He then shrugged. "I guess I"m free. What seems to be the problem, Zhen?"
Zhen Chan paused briefly, wondering how Takenaka would react if she outright told him what had just occurred. She wouldn't want to spoil it for him. Opening her mouth, she hesitated for the right words. "I… think you might want to see for yourself. See you at Locker Room 1E." And with that she turned and left Takenaka in confusion.
"Locker Room 1E is where…"
Five seconds later, Yoshihiro Takenaka was on the run too.
A hope, a dream, a wish, a goal…
"Yes, Master?" The old dragon rumbled with worry. Every time he heard the old man's words, they sounded like they could be his last. He had grown so weak creating the New World, and now returning to the Old one seemed to be overwhelming.
"Daedalus, do you have any idea… where we have landed?"
The red dragon looked around, trying to find a trace of a landmark that could be remembered, but it was hard, so hard… He had barely hatched from the egg when he had left…
The sky was dark. There were no stars in the sky, there were no Moons to light their way. At, least, not the Moons Daedalus remembered. High in the night, no… high in the empty sky, the shattered remains of the First Fantasy's two moons still circled, like a floating memorial, glowing softly as the embers of war refused to completely go out. Daedalus cringed as he remembered The Shattering.
Though there had been fighting long before, The Shattering would truly mark the beginning of the end. It began with the Monoliths to Heaven. Shot skyward against their will by magic, the first moon fell apart as it was bombarded by the Monoliths, like a shield falling before giant stone arrows. The second moon met the same fate two weeks later, when the Yanyiirus tore the Lightningstruck Titan apart after a ferocious battle, and hurled its remains like comets. As the moons crumbled, The Watchers of the Waning Moon screamed before fading into purple mist like a dream. The Charm Changers of the Lunar Calendar fell dead on the spot.
As debris from the moons fell to Fantasy, they blocked the Sun, and the Shining Seas turned cloudy with rock. The Drop-Off Dwellers starved as their food supplies withered, and the Gyrogliders fell one by one as their seaside cliffs crumbled into the waters below. And while the seas turned black, the forests turned white with ash. The Aliphoxes choked and were smothered trying to keep their eggs warm. The entirety of the Eskelberg Forest gave one last mournful cry before crumbling altogether. The only things to live on normally were the dark creatures of the Blackrock Forests in the North, and the hardy, stubborn life in the Kuupri Icelands.
The Old Master's voice once again snapped the dragon out of his trance. "Forgive me, Master. I… I do not know where we are. My guess is that we are somewhere in Carolyn's Cascades. You said we came back across the Western Sea, but… I cannot tell for sure. There are no falls to speak of, and no springs to see either. If they were here… they are long since gone."
"I see… Daedalus…"
"You remember, don't you? You were so hopeful, even when leaving. You tried to send one last message to the Other Side here, didn't you?"
A life, a death, a birth, a soul…
…written in ink on a papyrus scroll, and also depicted a scene of a painted, mountainous landscape filled with large trees and waterfalls. A single winged dragon can be seen in the background; it appears to be flying away…
Yoshihiro raced across the hall, his head buzzing with true excitement for the first time in ages.
"Locker Room 1E," he said to himself as he continued to run. "The only reason Zhen would be so anxious for us to come over would be…"
Not wanting to waste his breath any more, Takenaka continued to run, his heart full of hope.
You hold in your hands, the paper keys…
"If we are in the Cascades, Daedalus, then… then we must keep traveling east. The thing we are looking for, we must go to… go to… we must go to the Marble Archives."
"The Marble Archives? Master… you mean…?"
"Yes, I do, Daedalus. Fantasy's final treasure is buried somewhere in the Paeos' Great Library. In the city of Ziira."
"But, Master… don't you…?"
The old man chuckled. "Daedalus, Daedalus. I may be getting old, but I still remember enough."
"I know what rests in Ziira, old friend, please, trust me."
"Master, I… I cannot go back there. That place… that place is nothing but a tomb. That is the place of The Severing!"
The Old Master's eyes filled with pain, and he doubled over in a coughing fit. His dragon friend stepped forward, but the elder held his hand up. "I know, Daedalus, I know… It was the last light in Fantasy to go out. The last place everyone clung to before The Maker began spiriting them away to the New World. But I know, I know, the thing we came for, the thing that cannot be replaced, it still lies there, buried in the Archives. We must get it back."
Daedalus closed his eyes, as the memories of the towering white walls of Ziira came back. So crowded, so full, and Fantasy's population was down to a mere quarter… He remembered looking up to see the Ziira'lasp towering above him, standing on the walls of the city like guardian angels as the world fell apart around them. It was something he had tried so hard to forget. But the pleading in his friend and teacher's voice spoke louder. If they did not go now, Fantasy's last possession would be lost forever. "I… understand, Master. And… I will fly as fast as my wings can carry us."
The old man smiled. "Thank you, Daedalus… thank you…"
The Keys that will unlock Fantasy…
Yoshihiro Takenaka burst through Locker Room 1E's door, only to find the room clouded with… stone dust? He coughed as he inhaled the powdery air, rubbing his eyes as they watered from the sudden blast of dust.
"Takenaka!" Zhen rushed over, handing him a pair of goggles and a face mask. "Sorry, I didn't tell you that—"
"It's all right," Takenaka said, strapping the items to his face. His eyes widened, seeing the sight before him. Zhen, and the rest of his research crew were already all gathered, facegaurds and all. They looked at him, as if silently waiting for him to give them the go-ahead to keep walking. Takenaka looked past them, only to see more dust slowly floating towards them.
"Did that…?" he started.
"Yes. Alan was on-duty when he heard something inside the vault. When he went over to investigate…"
A time anew, a time so old…
Dragonspeed, an ancient magical practice, developed thousands of years ago for quick messaging, and quick relaying of information. When a dragon must be somewhere fast, when a dragon is in dire need of help, they can call upon the power of the Wind itself and move as fast and strong as a raging storm…
"You're reciting text from Draconis Enchantis, Daedalus?" The Old Master shouted as he gripped the crimson dragon's back. He could barely hear himself as the air whipped past his face. Though, truth be told, he had never felt more exhilarated in his life than now. Daedalus, his drive re-ignited, had called upon one of the Dragon's most ancient arts. They would now be so close..
Daedalus turned his head momentarily before looking straight ahead; he couldn't afford a crash now. "How did you—"
"I'm not reading your mind, Daedalus, you're speaking clear as day!" The old man guffawed loudly as Daedalus soared through the sky, a scarlet streak against a sea of black. "I haven't seen you this lively in years!"
Daedalus laughed, whooping as he felt the wind rushing past his body. "I remembered, Master! This was one of the first books I ever read in Ziira under your teaching! But — but it's been ages since I last used this! Don't worry, we'll reach Ziira in no time now! We'll find what we're looking for!"
The Old Master joined in on Daedalus' laughter. "Well, I might as well get us there a bit faster! It's been three hundred years after all!"
Clapping his hands, the Old Master's fingertips began to surge with purple light as he called upon his own branch of magic. The light burned brighter and brighter, until he brought it down on the dragon's back.
Daedalus roared in triumph as he felt his body move even faster. Ziira could have been a hundred miles away. A thousand. A million. But he would reach his goal in time.
For the first time in years, a shine lit up the skies of Fantasy…
Daedalus felt the air around him slow as his body began to lose its purple-red glow. Even in the dark, he could see the walls of Ziira looming into view. For the most part, despite centuries of abandonment, it still stood so grand…
"Master, we've made it!" Daedalus cried. "We're here!"
"At last…" The Old Master whispered.
"I'll land right outside the entrance to the Archives!" Daedalus shouted. "Brace yourself!" And with that, the dragon began his descent, his heart soaring, his mind racing. Success at last…
But hope can be so cruel…
"Daedalus! DAEDALUS! Slow down! Slow down!"
"Below you, below you!"
The dragon looked down, his eyes still not re-adjusted to the dark from the light of Dragonspeed. Something was down there but he couldn't make it out yet…
"The Ziira'lasp, Daedalus, the Ziira'lasp!"
Daedalus' eyes widened, realization hitting him too late.
…As the surviving others filed out of the Fantastic Lands, the Ziira'lasp stayed behind silent as the stones of their cities. And within these ruins they remain, turned to stone as the suns set for the final time and the world turned cold…
Daedalus didn't remember which one he hit first, or which one delivered the impact that would send him spiraling into unconsciousness. All he remembered was that a field of Ziira'lasp awaited him below, stone heads turned high like guardian angels, stone heads turned high like a pit of spikes.
He tumbled through them, wings tucked and clutching his friend for dear life, sending showers of stone flying all the way into the door of the Marble Archive. And that too, gave way when Daedalus hit it head-on, collapsing like a tower of children's blocks.
Yoshihiro coughed once again, as did the rest of the team. Even with the face masks, they couldn't block out all the dust that came tumbling out of 1762's vault. And not only dust. It looked liked a rock slide had happened inside.
"Damn, how much is there in here?" Yoshihiro said as he dug his way around, trying to find the box.
"Sir, here." The blonde woman on his left passed him a flashlight.
"Thank you, Sarah," Takenaka said, shining the beam into the locker.
"Sir, what is all this?" A stocky Korean man examined a chunk of the stone that had poured out onto the floor.
"I think it might be limestone," Zhen's brow furrowed as she looked another sample. "Looks like there's something inside — Jesus."
"What?" Yoshihiro's head snapped around. His eyes widened as he saw what had triggered Chan's outburst.
An ornate skull could be seen perfectly encrusted in the rock. Almost avian, but it was so much more… more… there was no way to distinguish it.
"Where the heck did that thing —"
Whatever Takenaka was about to say next was cut off by another voice. But it didn't come from anyone on his team. It sounded muffled, as if the source was buried underneath the stone. But even through the muffling, Takenaka, Zhen, and everyone else could hear the tone.
The voice was in pain. Disbelieving, despairing, defeated pain.