Shift World I Book III Chapter 4
by Christopher W. Gamsby
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The trip through the Lush Forest had been unsettlingly uneventful. Despite their original optimism in finding and punishing the Furies that Nort and Timore felt while waiting in the Crossroads, they were relieved to be left alone. The pair witnessed structures falling into various stages of disrepair while venturing between empty villages. Most of the houses near the Crossroads had been stripped similarly to locusts decimating a summer harvest. As they traveled further into the forest, however, the towns stayed more intact. Most hardwood tools and all metal had been pillaged. Nort didn't know if survivors fled with what they could carry, if Furies pillaged the settlements, or some mixture of the two had occurred. Eventually, he stopped caring.
Now, he stood in The Whitecoat's Compound with the outer walls of sunken logs removed from the soil and missing. Other than that, the compound stayed intact. Nort, Timore, and Huskie strolled over a ditch and joined the main road. They passed through an open courtyard that served as a training ground. Nort felt his ribs and smiled. He thought about sparing with The Whitecoat and losing each time. A few times, he almost hit Korg, but even a momentary hesitation by his master usually turned out to be a feign to lure in his unsuspecting opponent. Then, Nort would end up on his backside. Last time Nort visited, footsteps danced around the packed dirt path, but now loose dirt drifted in a light breeze. Even the ground crunched under his boot differently than he remembered.
Past the training grounds, they arrived at a sprawling two-story warehouse. Nort gingerly pushed on the door, and the top rocked off its hinge and crashed to the dusty dirt floor. During the summertime, rains never fell that far south in the Lush Forest. The Whitecoat propped open wooden shutters that stayed ajar until the first rains of fall. However, already well into autumn, rain damage stained the inner walls and patches of mud pooled below the windows. Nort strolled into the empty building. Life, merchandise, and even intangible, pleasant feelings of helping his master run that sprawling enterprise had been carried away.
"I guess they discovered the wood depots." Probably unsure of Nort's meaning, Timore raised an eyebrow. "Well, they destroyed the outer wall, but the buildings are still mostly untouched. I'm guessing they figured out there are easier ways to pillage."
"You don't think they knew about those before? How could they not?"
Nort shrugged. "Maybe they don't have things like depots in their world."
"It just doesn't seem possible."
Nort threw up his hands and sauntered toward the exit. Back outside, the trio headed for the Pavilion of the Three Rings. A series of small houses and out-buildings connected by verandas, created the first ring. The veranda's wooden deck rested directly on soil to let Nort walk freely along the path without distorting or breaking the decking. Nort headed east to his personal building, which was, in reality, little more than a heated bedroom and closet. Nort slid open the door and stepped down onto the only stone floor in the compound. The Whitecoat made it especially for him to be comfortable in his bedroom without worrying about smashing the flooring or having to walk on dirt. His cut stone bed held a silk-covered cotton mattress. A pair of leather boots sat underneath the bed frame. Nort instinctively picked them up.
A leatherworker under Korg's employ fashioned the boots to be sturdy enough to make his rounds without falling to pieces like a traditional cloth shoe. Nort chuckled at how small the boots now seemed. He somehow grew considerably when he last came back to the world, and his toes would stick entirely out of the boot's top if he wore them now. Signs of his childhood dotted the room. Small clothing hung in the closet's out-cove. Nort rifled through stacked up cloth pants and pulled a journal from between a pair of trousers. Nort flipped through the pages and chuckled at what he used to consider important.
At some time in the distant past, it felt important to record that Korg refused him a second desert for no good reason. Somewhere near the end of the book, he noted that he thought a young woman working outside the stables had looked at him for just a second longer than a casual glance.
"I can't quite remember her name." At Nort's words, Timore glanced at him with a complete lack of comprehension. "In this journal. She worked near the stable cleaning the horses. I think I can see her face, but the name escapes me... Slart?"
Timore winced at hearing the name Slart. "I only came here a few times. I'm not sure of anyone's names."
"Oh, sorry. I was just trying to think out loud. Maybe whatever is making me forget the last few years made me forget this Slart. Was that her name?" Nort shrugged and dropped the journal back into his pile of clothing.
"Aren't you going to take that?"
"No, I don't think so. I saw the book and thought it was important, but it just contains the life of someone who's gone now, I suppose." Nort felt like he had returned home, but yet he hadn't. Being at the compound lowered Nort's guard, and that vulnerability would spread if left unchecked.
Timore must not have been used to the philosophical side of The Paladin. "I think you are like my brother. He always picked up books, read them, and threw them away. I bet if he found that one, he'd have loved to read it too."
Nort gave careful consideration to Timore's words, but since he felt he had nothing meaningful to contribute, they quietly departed. The kitchen sat in the next building, and the pair stopped in as they passed by on the way to the path that led into the second ring's starry night bushes. Nort stepped on to the building's wooden floor with significant discomfort as he paused to ensure the flooring didn't crack under his weight. The boards sat on the ground, and he didn't have to fear falling through. Timore moved to the room's center as Nort's eyes darted about the interior, trying to understand why the room felt off.
Timore peered into a stone cauldron sitting on a pile of fresh ashes. He reached into the pot and swept his hand across the interior. A greasy slime covered the tips of his gauntlet. His fingers ground the gunk together.
"Someone's used this recently."
Nort scowled and drew a bear claw dagger from his side. "How many do you think?"
"Enough. Probably not a whole army, but enough." Timore glanced at Nort as though his friend should have realized he couldn't possibly have answered that question.
"We better hurry then." Nort filed out of the door.
Timore and Nort cut through the grass that intersected a path halfway down its length. They continued until reaching overgrown bushes. The previously well-groomed shrubbery overhung the road as no one trimmed back the growth all summer. The green leaves shriveled into a cavalcade of orange, yellow, and brown.
Starry night bushes created the second ring, entombing the central pavilion. During the spring and summer, the bushes' leaves formed a solid green wall with black bulbs that opened with glowing red stamen after sunset.
Nort and Timore continued into the inner sanctum, and Nort cringed at the final ring. While The Whitecoat lived, glowing crystalline sand painted pictures into a well-manicured mural. The groundskeepers prided themselves on molding art into the garden, which changed colors and layout as the day progressed. Timore had only ever seen the art in the Shift World when he delivered news to Korg, who would casually sip tea in the central pavilion. In this garden, however, a disgusting mud covered the pristine sand. Brown streaks mixed with pebbles, and roots sprawled about the ground mixing with the rare crystals. Divots cut crisscrosses through the garden, and the path stones stood on their edges as if thrown with great force.
Nort cut through the final ring and arrived at the pavilion carved from a single continuous stone quarried straight from the mountains in the Crossroads and laboriously dragged down the main trade route. He couldn't find his master, though. Now, the pavilion's roof laid cracked off the base's support beams and shattered in four pieces. The roof had smashed the table and benches when it fell. Steps from the pavilion, another altar desecrated The Whitecoat's inner sanctum. Smoke smoldered from the topmost of three basins. Stagnant water filled with dying leaves molded in a brown pool in another basin. Dust lined an empty bowl, probably blown in from the mound of loose dirt sitting at the sculpture's base.
Nort leaned in to examine decomposing leaves in the water basin, and a stone struck the bowl's side. A crack spread from the impact site. Water dribbled from the seam, carrying away chips. The break grew as water drained, and the hole blew out, spilling out wet debris. Nort jumped back just in time for the pungent liquid to miss his boots. Nort and Timore watched the bushes lining the field's edge.
A second rock flew from a gap between the hedges. Nort ducked to avoid being struck in the head. The stone connected with the smoldering altar. Fire shot up from an influx of air and blew out a tumult of smokey dust that wafted away.
Flames arced between jugglers tossing torches. They wore matching red tights that swished as an arm shot forward and flung a torch to their friend. Wooden masks covered the top of their faces. The mask's blue pointed horns matched the painted area under the eyeholes. Painted red skin from their cheekbones to the chin contrasted with lips colored to match the blue of their horns and eyes. The performance sped toward a finale. The jugglers tumbled as they threw in longer arcing loops and finished the performance, each clutching a handle in their mouth. The crowd cheered and flung coins at the performers' feet. Lords threw whole purses that clanked and scraped across the grass as they rolled. Workers, farmers, and merchants threw individual coins. Children wearing leathers and pointed red hats quickly scooped them up and raced back to jars resting on a supply cart.
The patrons standing on the Traitor's Tavern's front porch dove back into their drinks and conversations. A smaller crowd buzzed around a wagon selling off a cask of ale. A familiar-looking woman dressed in steel chainmail armor downed the last of her beer and handed the empty mug to a nearby worker and headed toward the general store.
Jorn the Sunflower's eye drew to a water steel dagger on the woman's hip, and the task at hand snapped him from muses on where someone in such weak armor obtained such a powerful weapon. Jorn wore sunshine steel armor under an inverted riding cloak, which displayed its green lining. "Look at everything that's just ripe for the picking..."
Birn, Jara, Timore, and Biporn waited with Jorn as the nearby crowds dispersed. Birn and Jara wore outfits typical to merchants in the Shift World. They donned white pants and shirts with thin iron stripes running along the outer seams. Biporn wore the standard leathers of the Lush Forest, which helped him remain inconspicuous as he traveled through the various camps and stalls set up around the area. Timore wore leathers similar to his brother's, but fidgeted as he thought about leaving The Manta's armor unattended in his inn room. While so many people moved around the tavern, it could only be a matter of time until someone stole it.
Jara stepped forward to address Jorn. "That doesn't seem like the best course of action right now."
"What do you mean? It's this world or ours. Why would you care about the people here?" An exasperated Jorn scoffed at the contradiction.
"Let's talk to The Whitecoat and..."
"That traitor? Let him burn! Our world is ravaged by these monsters, and he does nothing. NOTHING! He could bring The Paladin and fight by our side. His resources? His power? His allies? Even with everything he has, he hides in our world. Disappeared right after the Furies attacked your compound. We had to set up the defenses on our own, and you know how that's going..." Jorn hadn't even waited for her to finish responding. Jara bit her lip and tried to remain calm.
Jorn's outpouring of emotion didn't surprise Jara. He always had a temper and often threw around his feelings like a petulant child. She mustered all of her maternal instinct to sway his mind. "But I'm sure he'll listen to you. Why wouldn't he, everyone knows he respects you." The shallow attempt at flattery lessened Jorn's anger a little.
"I know, but you know him... never listens. No matter how good the advice, or whoever it's from."
Birn struggled to keep his eyes from rolling. "We don't know what happened to The Whitecoat in our world. He helped with the Village of the Bog Djinn, he might help now too. I believe him when he says he doesn't know why we can't find him in our world."
"I have an idea." Timore could tell that his father's idea didn't wholly sway his master. The quarreling adults stopped bickering and looked toward him. "Well, why can't we do both?"
"Both what?" Jorn raised an eyebrow.
"We can both try and convince The Whitecoat to help and steal what we need."
"Baby, what are you talking about?" Jara placed her hand on her hip and cocked her head.
"Why don't we try and talk to The Whitecoat, and, if he doesn't listen, we take all the valuables from his compound? I mean, if this is really just a misunderstanding, he will help, won't he?" They eyed him incredulously.
"Ok. So, how about this? Jorn and dad will talk to The Whitecoat when he's done with his fighting thing. Mom and Biporn head to his compound. Biporn, if you don't hear back from Dad, you stir up some trouble. Just get everyone all worked up. Mom, you take everyone else and take everything you can from the warehouse while the workers are distracted. I'll get on my armor and meet Dad and Jorn. I'll run and stop the plan if Korg agrees to help us."
"I think that might actually be best." Jara had broken the silence, but everyone else nodded in agreement. Jara and Biporn drifted toward The Whitecoat's compound. Birn marched off to the village hall to secure an area to speak. Timore turned to retreat to the Traitor's Tavern Inn, but Jorn intercepted him.
"I think you are a much better tactician than I had imagined. There is one thing I wanted to point out, though. You must hide that Manta armor. If anyone sees you, we are going to have trouble. Do you understand?"
"Of course, I'll remember; I'm not stupid!" Timore beamed at getting compliments from both his mother and master.
A woman in leather armor with seashell steel plates ringed with blue embedded in her biceps, chest, and thighs dashed from the bushes where the rocks had flown from. She barreled toward Nort and Timore, and Nort braced to face her and reached for a bear-claw knife. Timore eased as she approached and that caused a confused Nort to take a stance somewhere between defensive and relaxed. A few moments later, the woman reached the pair, and an excited Timore addressed her, "BAN?!?"
Ban looked around the pavilion and stared at the water draining from the altar. "Shhh. They might be around."
Both men instinctively hunched over at the whispering voice, and apprehension fell over them again. Timore's curiosity seemingly couldn't be quelled. "Where is Triled? Is he here?"
"No. He's moving between the Crossroads, Creeping Ice, Lush Forest, and Arid Desert to keep the Furies distracted. It's working, but I don't think he can keep it up. I came here to find out how the Furies are killing people."
"It's working? He's figuring out how to stop them?"
"Well, no. But when they move as a group like that, the Furies don't attack. People haven't been dying. there at least. People have been dying here, and it's something to do with those shrines." Ban pointed to the leaking basin, and Timore took a few cautious steps from a puddle growing at his feet.
"The shrines? What do the shrines have to do with anything?"
Ban paced nervously, and Huskie walked at her heels. "Let's get out of here first. I don't want to be near these things, and we are sitting out in the open. Let's just see if a Fury comes."
Ban stormed off to the hedges without waiting for a reply, and Nort, Timore, and Huskie followed. Ban sprawled out on the ground at the hedge's base. Nort and Timore laid in a row next to her. Huskie laid across Timore's back and licked his neck in the gap under his helm. Timore squirmed until Huskie gave up and laid across his breastplate. Nort inched away from Timore, afraid that an accidental touch might crumble the armor under the dog's weight.
Nort turned to Ban. "So, what do those things do?"
"I don't know. They are connected with the Furies' attacks somehow."
"Most of the Furies' attacks happen at the wrong times."
"Is there a right time to get attacked."
Ban glared at Nort for giving such a flippant response. "I mean villages are getting flooded during dry months, tornadoes destroy houses on clear days, sinkholes open over bedrock, and keeps burn in the middle of a rainstorm. It doesn't make any sense. That's why we think the Furies are using these altar's somehow to control the weather, but no one has ever seen one do it."
"I guess it's possible, but it seems strange."
"There are a few survivors who confirmed that the elements are involved. Like Timore's family, who saw a fire burning through the stone keep. Some in the desert have seen houses flooded."
"Do you think they will come back with the shattered altar?"
Ban rolled her eyes. "Uhh... I didn't want you to touch it and panicked. I guess we won't see them use it now. Let's just go." A frustrated Ban pushed off the ground with a grunt and just barely missed standing into the bush. Nort quickly followed, but Timore struggled to get Huskie off and then flailed about like a beached turtle. He only stood up after Huskie took pity and helped him. Timore ran to Nort in a deluge of clanking armor and walked behind him, panting in exhaustion. The trio walked to a small forest on the edge of the plain where The Whitecoat built his compound.
Just into the forest, they joined with a dirt path beat into the ground from years of travelers bypassing the main road. The path wound through mounds of excess dirt. The travelers climbed over tangled tree roots. The whole track had been bone dry, which made navigating the endless ridges and bumps treacherous. After slipping down a steep dropoff, Nort addressed Ban from a dusty resting point. "Where are we going?"
"Back to my base camp."
Nort stood and brushed himself off the best he could. "Why not take the main road?"
"People started disappearing from the main road, so we took the back paths. That helped at first, but then..."
Huskie growled, back arched and fangs bared. He sniffed and backpedaled. The trail weaved past trees and shrubs which let the hikers only view a few yards past a muddy puddle. Ban and Timore visually searched for signs of danger. Timore drew his barbed dragon fire sword, and Ban unsheathed a knife with a water drake pressed into the handle. Nort drew a bear-claw dagger and paced toward the trouble. He watched the forest for a sign of impending danger.
The further Nort walked, the more intensely Huskie growled. Huskie lurched forward and kicked up dust. Ban saw it and looked back to Nort, who almost arrived at the puddle. Nort eased as he looked through the woods.
"There's nothing there! I think your dog's gone crazy, Timore." Nort approached the bend in the road, trying to ensure everyone's safety. Ban slid her foot across the path, and small pebbles scraped through the dirt, and dust covered her boot.
"Don't step in that puddle!" Ban shouted with an inexplicable unease.
Nort caught her meaning a moment too late, and his foot splashed into the muddy water. An air bubble rose to the surface and popped with what almost sounded like a scream. Blood shot from the puddle, mixing with the mud covering Nort's legs and chest. Nort looked into the quagmire dumbfounded when he couldn't see his legs anymore. In shock, he fell onto his backside and sat with his legs missing in the murky, bloody water.
Ban dropped her dagger and sprinted to Nort, grabbing his arm and dragging him back. To her amazement, Nort's uninjured legs followed him onto the dry path, and he struggled to free himself from her. "Knock it off! What are you doing?"
Ban tripped over tree roots crossing the path and fell onto her hip. The now silent Huskie walked up to her and started licking her face. She looked up to Nort and turned incredulous after looking over his condition.
"How are you OK? Why didn't you listen?"
A confused Nort couldn't understand her reaction. "I don't know what happened. I stepped in the water, and the earth moved around my foot. An air bubble came up and shot water everywhere. I tripped on a root or something. Next thing I know, you are dragging me through this dirt."
Timore stood at the edge of the crater which had been a puddle a few minutes earlier and stared into the hole. "Stop fighting and come here."
The calm tone of Timore's voice off-put Nort and Ban, and they sulked over. Inside the crater, a naked woman's body laid embedded into crusty dirt. Rocks, pebbles, and soil embedded into the woman's skin with some of the stones penetrating deeply through her flesh. Her hand laid spread open as if she attempted to clasp at Nort's leg as he walked. Except for her body's malnourished look caused by spiked teeth filling a mouth etched into a gaunt frame with a frail body, she resembled an ordinary human.
Huskie gently barked at the roadside to signal a discovery. Nort pulled himself from the bloody spectacle and met Huskie. Bodies had been piled beneath the bushes. Ban joined her companions but had to turn at the sight of her friends' drowned and bloated corpses. Timore stared at the woman's body, remembering what his father told him about the Rocky Valley.
Birn, Jara, Timore, and Biporn finished setting up a base camp just inside the Rocky Valley's entrance. The tent's leather sheets naturally camouflaged against the valley's clay walls, so they built it after the first major turn in the road. They hoped to ensure Karp the Scorpion and her companions couldn't see them from the cave they hid in for the night.
Birn stood next to Timore wearing his typical merchant armor. White cloth accented his sleeves and pant legs, which blended into a seashell steel cuirass. His face sat exposed except where his seashell steel helm came down over his ears, and a sliver dipped over his nose. Timore wore The Mandrake armor hidden under a tan travel cloak. Biporn dressed in leathers common to the Lush Forest people, which helped him scout the road less conspicuously than the rest of his family who drew too much attention.
The tent's flap jostled with a swooshing rustle as Jara pushed her way through. Jara traded the training leathers and sunshine steel chainmail she wore all day for a breezy white cloth blouse and pants. The top didn't have sleeves, and the pant's material hung just below her knees the same as if she wore leathers.
"How can you stand to wear such heavy clothing all the time?" Jara asked while stretching her back by raising her hands well above her head and twisting her upper body. Birn faced his wife as she pulled her arms across her body.
"Well, you have the heaviest set. It's a shame we couldn't find you anything better than that sunshine steel."
"I think you take everything that happened too lightly. It's a shame we had to take anything at all." Jara grimaced. Birn's eyes rolled as he thought of a way to appease his wife, but she knew her husband and relented. "I just mean, I can't stand wearing armor everywhere. I wish it didn't come to that. I miss being able to go to our world and relax in cloth. Just stay in the breeze in a silk dress or cotton shirt, you know?"
"Right now, it's too dangerous. We waited to see what would happen, but The Scorpion is already on the move. We need protection."
"I have an idea of what to do about that." At hearing Jara's words, Birn's face tightened, and he bit his lower lip, sure he wouldn't want to listen to her idea. Jara didn't wait for his retort, "I think we need to try diplomacy."
Birn rolled his eyes. "It's too late for that. After what happened with The Sunflower? She won't be willing to hear us out. The moment you tell her who you are, she will attack."
"I don't think so. She will probably listen to reason. If she doesn't, surely The Whitecoat's daughter will; if half of what I've heard about her is true, she'll see the benefits, and with Jorn dead, there's no need for revenge. We've both suffered."
"I'm not saying it wouldn't be the right thing to do, but I don't think they will go for it. Most people don't act on thought, they act on impulse. If they find out you are the mother of 'The Mandrake...' I just don't see it ending well."
"We have the advantage in this world, right? In our world, Biporn outruns anyone he wants. Here, he's probably the fastest young man alive. He'll stand in the cliffs above and let us know in advance if they look aggressive. He could also distract them while I run away. It won't come to that, though."
"Won't he be kind of a give-away?" Birn motioned to Timore.
Jara thought for a moment. "He will just have to be somewhere else far away so no one can recognize him."
Timore uncrossed his arms and joined the conversation. "Do you think we'll learn more about that Nort kid?"
"He's with them. Are you sure he's the same one? The Paladin, I mean."
"Maybe. Nort was talking to The Strange Man who laughs all the time. He's The Whitecoat's grandson. He aged like 10 years in that fight. He couldn't possibly have survived that long in this world's Shift World. That means he must have been in our world, right? When I saw him before, he didn't look that much like The Paladin, but maybe as he got older?"
Jara sighed. "We know why The Whitecoat disappeared, but still have no clue what happened to The Paladin. Maybe he went into hiding after Korg died. Maybe if we explain everything, he'll tell us where he is hiding in our world."
Birn shook his head. "Those are a lot of maybes. I don't think it will help us beat something like the Furies even if it's the same Nort. Is this all really worth the risk?"
Jara gently placed her hand on Birn's shoulder and smiled.
"If only we had listened to you in the first place. If only Jorn had heard your wisdom, everything would work out. Maybe this Slart can get us in front of The Bog Djin. Everything can fall into place with just this one meeting. I have my powers, Biporn will be watching me, what could go wrong? This time next week, we can be fighting the Furies back! It will all be thanks to your plan!"
Birn reluctantly relented, and the plan went forward.
Nort, Timore, and Ban's mood broke into mirth as they approached the rebels' base camp. Serious men and women mulled around the entrances of linen tents built on crusty dirt patches. Paths of browning grass withered around each tent. A sullen man looked up from a stump he perched on and seemed confused by the trio's lack of gloomy features. He stood from his guard post and meandered to the camp's entry and addressed Ban. "Did something happen on your way back?"
Ban gazed into his sunken eyes surrounded by black, puffy sockets. The gravity of their discovery laid on her shoulders, and she released a sigh. "Gather everyone here. We have important news."
A nearby woman nodded and skulked to the temporary village's center. The man called to all those around him. "The Water Drake has returned with two strangers! She bares news! Come, everyone! Come!"
Men and women dressed in woolen gambeson carried hammers, swords, axes, and any weapon mobile enough to use while fleeing from the Furies. The crowd stacked around the trio, and Huskie jumped between onlookers and chased bored children on the outskirt. A woman in the group gasped. "The Paladin? Nort's alive? Where's The Whitecoat?"
Energy flowed through the crowd and excitement buzzed. Others shouted without regard for answers. One shouted, "Where's Korg?" Another shouted, "Where have you been?"
Ban motioned for the crowd to quiet, and even though the noise stopped, people still swayed and jockeyed for a view of the trio. Ban addressed the crowd. "We have exciting news! One of the Furies died!"
The crowd burst into disbelieving chatter, and no matter how much she motioned, the group didn't react. So, she shouted, hoping they would quiet.
"We learned how they are attacking us!" The crowd hushed and stood on edge, waiting for the answers they sacrificed much to discover. "They don't control the elements." A confused murmur took hold. "They are the elements. They become the elements they use to attack."
The faces of those who understood the gravitas of her declaration twisted to horrified expressions, but those who couldn't understand remained expressionless.
"Their powers meld them to the elements. That's why we could never find them!"
An impatient man shouted. "How did it die?"
Ban pointed to Nort. "The Paladin undoes shifters' powers. He touched a Fury who hid in the ground, and when mud and rocks mixed with her flesh, she died."
The crowd marveled at Nort, who stood embarrassed at the unwanted attention. Another man from the group failed to restrain his incredulity. "How's that possible?"
Ban seemed to struggle to come up with an explanation they would understand. "Much like Korg was a special shifter that never aged, Nort is a special shifter that lives outside the rules of nature." Not a single face registered as though they understood, but the people didn't seem to want to argue. Ban continued. "The enemy must know our position or at least suspect we are nearby. When they find their dead friend, they will come this way. We must move on. The Paladin may help protect us, but he's alone, and we are in their element. Triled and the others have been preparing the Crossroads to turn the tide. We must go back with our knowledge and our weapon to face those things. Now, we have the means to fight back!"
The crowd cheered for the first time in years.