• Volume 4: Proving Grounds12:59

Word Count = 128,500

Proving Grounds

We begin the fourth volume of the series just after the Mutineers' eventful night with their new lady friends. As you are quite well aware, while everyone else in the cavern is engaged in romance, the Elders are hard at work in their lab tinkering with Darios' and Vegard's Algiz Blades. As well as putting the finishing touches on the Mutineers' Telluric Amplifying Boots (TABs.) Tensions are high as the Elders race to finish their designs. But not because they are pressed for time. Oh no, time has very little to do with the storm of thoughts thundering through Barnabus' and Noslen's minds.

You see, the duo is perturbed about their daughters losing their virginity merely a day after meeting the legendary Chosen. Even though the Sagacians have told them time and time again throughout the years that it must happen before the Chosen embark on their journey (which is hastily approaching), neither Barnabus or Noslen can come to terms with what they have done. That being preaching to their daughters essentially their entire lives about their fates of birthing legendary babies to the Chosen. Doing away with any sort of freewill they themselves had the ability to practice. Albeit said babies will one day grow up to be the leaders of the New World, the thought of taking away such basic rights from their own kin does not bode well with them.

But, what else can be done? The legends must be fulfilled in order to restore order to the Universe. It basically comes down to what is more important: A parent's pride, or the fate of all beings (both present and future) in the Universe. The latter of course having much more significance than the former. At least one would hope.

Even though two thirds of the Elders are in a sour mood, Hervald cannot be happier. To keep it that way, he sends the others off to the Storage Lab to get more modules for the printer while he perfects his 3D designs. Upon their return, Hervald hastily prints up the boots and blades. For daylight is quickly approaching and the Mutineers are surely to be on their doorstep soon to begin their day of training and other miscellaneous festivities.

The Elders tinker through the wee morning hours. Upon finishing up their workload, the trio steps out of Hervald's cabin. Noslen and Barnabus are in instant rage mode as they witness their daughters (Katharina & Madeline) embracing Azimov and Roland (respectively.) Because they walk out just as the couples finish locking lips, which effectively brings up the bile from the backs of their throats.

Suffice it to say, Noslen's and Barnabus' faces reflect such deeply ingrained rage. A reality that becomes apparent when Noslen hurls a pair of TABs right at Roland's face. Even though Roland catches the boots without issue, the deed has been done and cannot be undone.

After passing out the others' boots respectfully, Hervald retreats back into his cabin and scolds the others. Doing so while the Mutineers say their farewells to their lady friends. Such tense exchanges go right over the Mutineers' heads though. For they are simply too drunk on love to care in the slightest of the Elders' grievances. 

However, their love drunkenness comes to an abrupt halt after they get into the elevator and are transported to a new hollow. Upon coming to a stop, the elevator levels itself out before an ornate archway with the words exercebuntur durum aut moria meticulously scrawled out within the masterfully crafted arabesques. Their curiosity is even more heightened upon passing through the archway, which is where they gaze down to see an enclosed ramp leading down to a four-quadrant arena. 

They are soon to discover that such a contraption is the Elders' very own Mutant Interpolated Training and Environment Simulator (MITES.) Now the MITES trainer has varying levels of difficulty. All of which can be triggered upon the pronunciation of a simple four-digit code. A feat the Elders reveal before proceeding down to the mystical contraption. Muttering out the Demonstration Mode codes that implant various species into each of the four separate quadrants.

The Mutineers are taken aback by such revolutionary technology. But even though they cannot seem to wrap their heads around the intricacies of the device, the young warriors cannot help but stare down in awe. Making a mental selection of which environment they would prefer to test their mettle in while taking in the ethereal sights. 

After a quick crash course, along with a dire warning, the Mutineers are ready to begin. That is everyone but Azimov, who is pulled aside by Hervald to have a good 'talking to'. During such talks, one thing leads to another. After an earth-shattering revelation, an emotionally-charged Azimov sprints up the ramp to the elevator and punches in several numbers.

Hervald rushes after Azimov. Hollering to Barnabus and Noslen while running to prevent his escape, but neither of them will have anything to do with their affairs. So just as the other Mutineers are beginning their training simulations, Azimov is getting whiplash in the elevator as it throws him from side to side while traveling at unsettling velocities. Only to suddenly come to a stop upon reaching a hologram door with a video of a sandy beach. Complete with the sounds of ocean waves crashing and seagulls squawking away without disdain.

Upon stepping foot onto the walkway leading to the 'beach', the hologram begins to pixelate and the sight passed it causes Azimov to falter back and nearly fall down in the elevator. But that is due to the fact that before him lays one of the few freshwater cenotes in the caverns.

At Azimov’s feet is an ornate stone pathway that leads down to the water from the entryway. Said pathway is composed of brilliantly colored pebbles and is roughly two-meters wide. It tightly coils itself around the cavern wall all the way down to the edge of the water. There are bright lights the entire way down seemingly mimicking the Sun’s rays. For it is far brighter than any sunny day Azimov has ever experienced.

The lights lead the entire way down the cavern wall and even lead down into the water. Effectively revealing what lays hidden in the black abyss below. After exploring the mystical room, Azimov heads down to the water where he encounters a strange looking device called an UBAWBE (Underwater Breathing Apparatus and Whole-Body Equalizer.) Upon his initial inspection of the pictogram instructions on the box containing the apparatus, Azimov proceeds to place the mask-looking device on his face.

Panic quickly sets in as the mask begins melding with Azimov's being. Trillions of nanotubes perforate his pores as they seek a way into his body. There is nothing he can do but come to terms with his fate. But it does not matter much. For after the mask finishes taking over his body, a Heads-Up Display is projected before Azimov's eyes. Showing all of his vitals along with the ambient temperature and pressure surrounding him.

With such useful statistics before his eyes, Azimov dives into the abyss below. Ready and willing to test out the device’s ability. While Azimov is out investigating the cenotes, the other Mutineers are well into their battle in the MITES trainer. Testing their skills as well as their newfound weaponry in the process.

Roland chooses the Winter Simulator, where he and his Sowilo Spear face mutated bunnies, foxes, and moose in a bone-numbing cold simulation that comes complete with white-out blizzards and icy mountains. Adelia chooses the Springtime Simulator, which presents her with various mutated rodents, deer, and even a hulking bear. Effectively presenting her with challenges she has never yet faced before (those being provocative live targets.) Yet, with her brand-new Tyr Bow in hand, she makes mincemeat of all of her adversaries in the Springtime Simulator, whose temperate climate and awe-inspiring landscape leave her breathless throughout the course over its grandeur beauty.

As Roland is freezing his behind off and Adelia is enjoying her pleasant view, Merlin is in the Desert Simulation facing all sorts of mutated vultures, snakes, and scorpions. Inside of the hellish simulation, where there is nowhere to hide from the unrelenting rays of an artificial Sun that scorch the ground beneath him, Merlin is in his heyday. Sick and tired of the cold mountains he has been forced to grow accustomed to, Merlin chooses the complete opposite to train in. But even though his is not used to such environments, he obliterates each and every foe that presents itself with his Coronage Mace in hand.

Aside from Merlin, who is slowly charging his mace to test out its full capabilities, his brother, Zakaria, is off in the Urban Simulator. A simulator that consists of an ancient city overtaken by Mother Nature. Well, a mutated Mother Nature that is. For you see, in the Urban Simulator Zakaria is facing off against ginormous flying insects, spiders, and snakes. All of whom have made homes inside of the abandoned buildings, as well as under the immense vines that cover them. With his illuminating Dag Blades firmly attached to his forearms, Zakaria is more than sufficiently prepared for such an undertaking (even though his shuddering body can clearly prove the opposite.)

Throughout the time the others are completing their first MITES experience, Hervald is talking to Azimov inside of his personal cenote study room. Inside the room are walls full of videos monitoring Fiddlers Lake, as well as a few other things one cannot divulge into on here. Anyhow, upon coming to an agreement, Hervald contacts the other Elders with his wristband and confirms their next course of action: Get the victorious adolescents some grub.

Barnabus and Noslen give the Mutineers little time to celebrate their victory before taking them to reconvene in the main cavern at the Elders' daughters' Sandwich Shop. A time when the most outlandish, yet ominous development unfolds. One in which the Sagacians perform their mind amalgamation on Zakaria. Speaking their message of praise and dire warning to the Elders through him. Only to take it a step further and freeze spacetime for Zakaria.

That is right, Zakaria gets the pleasure of being the first human to see a Sagacian up close. Even if it does begin speaking in Latin and lose his attention, it still manages to completely blow his mind before suddenly disappearing and unfreezing time. Implanting chunks of its alien knowledge in his hippocampus for retrieval at his own discretion.

Alien intel about the Malentians and their current happenings are just some of the implanted datum. So is the fate of the Universe, which Zakaria is able to see play out upon closing his eyes after the ethereal experience. Causing a flood of anxiety to overcome his being. Especially after divulging into such information with the Elders, who devour the new knowledge and beg for more.

Upon coming to the conclusion that they must follow the Sagacians’ intel and embark on their journey tomorrow, the Chosen rush to complete the final stage of the simulator. One in which they must face the Ultimae Demon and prove themselves worthy of access to the Sagacians’ fabled Master Sphere. Although, they must face a mélange of opponents prior to the demon. Adding a whole nother level of difficulty to the simulation. Because even though they get to go in as a whole team, the beasties inside the final simulation prove to be more than formidable.

After the Mutineers complete their training, it is go time for the Elders’ other plans. Of which Hervald kickstarts by introducing nanobots from the Biosphere into the main cavern. An action that permanently alters the ecosystem in the caves. Bringing forth a new era of hopeful renewal amongst the cavern’s citizens.

While the others are enjoying their new environment in the safety of the caverns, the six guards are spending the night distracting the Ordermen on Mt. Arter and Mt. Chevo with their EAR piece radios and invisibility cloaks. The Kilmar brothers head out at midnight toward Fiddlers Lake to guide the refugees back to salvation. Meanwhile, the Elders simply stay up and party. Simply waiting for the signal to head out to Life Valley and face their nemeses. More than ready to end their decades-long feud and get on with the Final Day’s goretivities.