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Putting A Name to the Darkness

 Following up with their endeavors to learn more about the pioneering cause, the ardent reporters of the Adoulin Examiner, Famlienne and Skeptical Owl, seek out the mysterious Teodor. What secrets does this man, shrouded in darkness, hold for Adoulin? What interest does he have for adventurers from the Middle Lands traveling westward to aid in the pioneering movement? These two reporters are out to find out!

Read on below the break to learn all that Skeptical Owl and Famlienne have found, and let us know what you think of their endeavors over on the ZAM forums!

From Playonline.com:

Chapter Two: The Ancient Pact

 

 

Putting a Name to the Darkness

Platea Triumphus has been a place of relaxation for all of Adoulin’s citizens for centuries—and in these times, pioneers, too, have come to use it as a temporary haven from the harsh wilds of Ulbuka.

Our scene is set at three in the afternoon, when man’s pangs of hunger have been quelled. People of all means and backgrounds were spending a lazy afternoon procuring sweets and drinks from the stalls lining the promenade and feeling the soft breeze brush against their face—a welcome sensation on a day when the sun was beating harshly down on the stone walkways below.

The beads of sweat on Skeptical Owl’s forehead began to flow downward like a rushing river as drop upon drop accumulated, and the collar of his tunic was beginning to discolor. Just how long was he going to have to wait? He had just begun to mutter under his breath as Famlienne came bounding down the road.

“What on Ulbuka are you wearing?”
“You don’t think it brings out my eyes?”
“I didn’t say it looked bad, but...”

She was dressed like someone from the Middle Lands headed out for a night of debauchery. Where was her shame?
Her shoulders were as bare to the world as the bum of a newborn babe, and her skirt was hiked up to the point that Owl blushed at the mere thought of...

The source of this abominable fashion sense was almost certainly those of less encumbered foreign adventurers.
The designs were not totally without merit. When faced with the spears and fangs of the Velkk or the poisonous insects in the jungle, it is paramount that they be able to use their skills and techniques without being encumbered by heavy plate or ill-fitting chain.

Nevertheless, Famlienne was anything but an adventurer. Though she was trained in the knightly arts, being the daughter of a noble family, her stock in trade was that of journalism.

“Weren’t you going into the jungle?”
“No, silly, today I’m off to the Mummers’ Coalition.”
“What could you possibly want there?”
“I’m off to find a certain someone.”

Fam was referring to none other than the person often talked about amongst pioneer circles of late. He was always spotted amongst the coalition’s leisure facilities, approaching adventurers of all stripes with some business or other.

All of this would be of no particular concern—except no one knew exactly who he really was.

As if he weren’t mysterious enough, he had left such a vague impression on people’s memories that no one could really describe him, either.

“I can’t be the only one interested in this! Who is he? Why is he so concerned with pioneering?”
“Hm.”
“’Hm?’ ‘Hm!?’”
“You’re quite proactive for someone who fled the scene of our last interview, screeching about how she’d never let the jungle take her.”

Owl tried to keep a straight face as Famlienne narrowed her eyes in consternation.

“Zegard, what a terrible bully you are!”
“I’ve told you time and again—call me Skeptical Owl.”
“And I’ve told you, I’m sick of that flippant name! Your name is Zegard, and that’s what I’ve called you since I was little! Why would I ever call you anything else?”

Owl flushed up.
The one saving grace was that his beard covered most of face, preventing further poking and prodding at the hands of his nosy companion. There’s no way a simple technician on the lower rungs of the Inventors’ Coalition’s hierarchy could be the target of a noble’s affections.

The only way to recover, he reasoned, would be with a quick change of topic.

“Go on ahead. I won’t stop you. But you do know that it’s a place for us commoners, and not someone like you?
“That’s exactly what this getup is for!”
“It’s your decision but...at least take off that diamond-studded necklace before you go.”
“If it’ll make you feel better. Okay, off I go!”

Owl knew trying to stop her was an exercise in futility. The only way to keep an eye on the lass would be by accompanying her.

“Wait! I’ll come with you!”

*



The Mummers’ Coalition was but a short stroll south from the plaza.

Upon entering the edifice, Owl and Famlienne were greeted by rows of games and activities, as well as a variety of other facilities to meet the entertainment needs of Adoulin.

“Wow, Zegard doesn’t this look like a blast?”
“Don’t get sidetracked.”

It would come as little surprise to hear that someone of her upbringing had never visited this place of base games and parlor tricks. She was grinning from ear to ear.

“Yeah, I know. There’s no need to get on my case. But still... Wait, what’s this thing?”
“It’s one of their games. “Guess That Number,” if I recall. Just as the name implies—not that I’ve ever played it.”
“Why not!? It looks so exciting! Well, it would be exciting if I had time for it. But I’m a journalist, and there’s no way I’m leaving without some big scoop!”
“As long as you remember that, there’ll be no problems.”

Skeptical Owl took a sweeping glance of the room. He didn’t see anyone of note—

“Zegard! Over there!”
“Who—hey, wait up!”

Yet did she wait? He should be so lucky. When he spied Famlienne’s mark, however, he knew instantly why she went rushing toward him.

He was staring forward, eyes both glazed and intense.

Though the rest of the patrons were dressed in simple clothing—short sleeved shirts, shorts, and soft-soled shoes, his attire was formal and freshly pressed, a look more befitting a gentleman summoned to the castle than one out for a game of chance. With the slight wrinkles on his face and straight, upright posture, he was more than dignified enough to pull it off.

“You’re a noble?”

Tact was not one of Owl’s strong suits.

“Eeek!”

Owl’s hair stood on edge as the man’s gaze turned toward him.

He wasn’t threatened, per se, merely taken aback by the imposing stare. He let out a short gasp as his arms and back tensed up.

“What’s with this guy’s eyes?”

Despite the man’s slightly wrinkled skin, it would be unfair to call him old. His back was unbent, stretching toward the heavens like a flower crying out for sunlight. His shoulders were broad, and his beefy frame was sturdy rather than chubby.
But those eyes were blue as the Senroh Sea, and Owl found himself barely treading water.

“Excuse me, Sir, can I have a moment of your time?”

How could she keep her wits about her? Was she immune to his imposing stature? Famlienne, who never so much winced at facing the most fearsome of beasts, had similar success in approaching this equally dangerous figure.

“Oh? A pretty little girl come to ask me questions? Yes, I shall humor you.”
“Hear that, Zegard? He called me “pretty,” unlike a certain lunkhead who shall remain nameless.”
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll say it.”
“Too late. The moment’s ruined.”

Sure, compliments may not be becoming of him, but her words hurt nonetheless.

“Well, that’s neither here nor there. Good sir, you’re the “nighttime noble” so often referred to by the fresh-faced pioneers, are you not?”
“’Nighttime noble?’” He smirked. “Is that how they refer to me?”
“Yes.”
“Oh ho, isn’t that an amusing affair.”

Owl furrowed his brow incredulously. Maybe Famlienne was just more in the know...

“Well, maybe not everyone. But that’s what I call you!”
“Famlienne, for the love of—“
“Oh, come on. Just take a look at him! Covered in black from head to toe!”
“Just because you call him that doesn’t mean everyone else does!”
”Why wouldn’t it?”
“You’re completely out of your mind.”

It was as if old times had returned, as the social glacier between the two melted once more.

The man chortled at the petty exchange between the two, turning the situation on its heels from amusing to awkward.

“How charming, seeing the two of you going at it. Little girl, you remind me of a certain prin—bah, never mind. You are certainly unique.”
“Why thank you, nighttime noble.”

“’Thank you’? I don’t think he was complimenting—“
“Well, that’s how it sounded to me!”
“You only hear what you want to.”

“Hoho, perhaps ‘unique’ was not the best choice of words. But, a request—please dispense with the ‘nighttime noble’ nonsense. Such a high brow title is wholly unbecoming.”
“Well...if you insist. But I need to call you something. How shall I refer to you? As for me, I’m Famlienne, and more than pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Famlienne curtsied gracefully, her back bending so low that her head nearly touched her knees.
Always the daughter of nobility, Owl thought.

“My dearest Famlienne, this place is a parlor. A place where the weary and the despondent go to forget what ails them, even for the briefest of moments. No matter their station in life, all are faceless and equal here. Why let illusion dissolve into reality with corporeal monikers?”
“Forgive me for asking.”

Famlienne? Giving in so easily?

“Then “notable nighttime noble” it is.

Things were starting to spiral out of control.

“I don’t really think...”
“No? How about ‘Duke of Darkness’? Or maybe ‘Black Baron’?”
“Cease! Cease, I say!”

His aloof façade showed the first signs of cracking, and Owl, for once, felt pangs of sympathy. “Black Baron” certainly sounded a more ominous appellation than the man warranted, and with the way her voice reverberated throughout the rafters...
“This is a place of pleasure, my sweet Famlienne, so let us play a little game. If you can solve the riddle I pose you, then I shall answer a question of your choosing.”
“A riddle? Wonderful! I love riddles! You might think me to be dimwitted, but I’ve heard all kinds of tales told by the adventurers of the Middle Lands, and have read the Vana’diel Tribune since its inaugural issue!”

“Great. Here she goes again,” Owl muttered under his breath.

Even though Famlienne was screaming like a Moblin on fire, no one seemed to even bat an eye at their presence.

A sly smile graced the man’s face.

“Ready? ...I walk together with light, but never become one with it. What is my name?”

“Wh-what?”

Famlienne’s voice raised an octave in surprise.

“Walk together with light...hmm... Maybe something that comes with the sun? Like the blue sky?”
“You have hit upon an interesting point. When the sun rises, it illuminates the sky. Certainly the sky accompanies the sun, but does not disappear with it. The blue sky...a well-reasoned answer, but an incorrect one—after all, you can see the sun on even a slightly cloudy day.”

“Oh...right. Of course. Well, then... Ah ha! I’ve got it! Warmth! The sun is warm!”
“Oh ho, I see where you’re coming from. But don’t you think that the two of them come together as one?”

“Ahhh—of course. Silly me. The sun itself is really warm. I mean, if you were to touch it it’d probably be warm, right?”
“Warm? More like flesh-searingly hot.”

Owl couldn’t help but interject. Her answer had hit a bit too close to home, as he recalled the drips that still remained on his tunic.

“Zegard, don’t butt in like that. Can’t you see that I’m giving this my all? Now, let me think...”

Famlienne pulled up a chair, hunched forward, and steepled her fingers. She’ll never get it, Owl thought. Not with the way this was unfolding.

“Giving up so soon? Then I am afraid I will be answering no questions today. I bid you farewell.”

He looked down at Famlienne with a smug smile and headed for the door when Owl spoke out.

“Hold on.”
“Yes?”
“You didn’t say that she had to be the one who answered the question.”
“Oh ho—you mean that you have the answer?”

His attitude shone through in his tone. Owl would have to make him stay his tongue and stop playing games.

“It’s simple. The answer is either a sundial or the sundial’s shadow.”

The smile vanished from the man’s faster than the wrapping paper on a child’s toy during the Starlight Celebration.

“The shadow from a sundial moves along with the sun, so it ‘walks with light.’ However, it never becomes one with the light, because as soon as the sun reaches it, the shadow vanishes.

Famlienne’s face brightened.

“Yes! That’s exactly right! Why didn’t I see it earlier?”
“Because his answers were leading you astray.”
“Astray?”
“Fam...”
“Oooh, you’re going to start calling me ‘Fam’ finally?”
“Wh-what? No! Let me finish. Listen, every time he gave you an answer he lead you back to the very first question.”

Famlienne narrowed her eyes, as Owl heaved a heavy sigh.

“Ok, Fam, here it is. The first part of the riddle is ‘walking together with the sun’. But think back—you interpreted the riddle as something located alongside the sun, and kept going along those lines. And that guy never once stopped you.”
“Oh...yeah!”
“You never questioned your assumption, and limited yourself to only thinking about ‘something located alongside the sun.’ You were only looking for things physically close to the sun.”
“Hey, I was!”
“And that’s why he kept leading you down that road. That’s why you never found a response to this child’s riddle. This man is a shameless trickster.”

The man remained motionless as a sly smile returned to his face, impressed at the Galka’s acumen.
“We’ve played your game and won. Now it’s our turn to ask a question and figure out who you are.”
“Haha, things certainly have taken a turn for the intriguing. I thought the adventurers from the Middle Lands were the only ones around here with some life to them, but seeing you gives me hope for Adoulin yet,” he smiled.

“There’s something wrong with my eyes,” Famlienne hesitantly offered.

Owl knew exactly what she was thinking. The man’s form began to fade as if disappearing into the shadows—yet there was no shade to be seen. His outline grew hazy, leaving only his white face behind.

A voice rose from the darkness.

“Tohoho. My young Galka friend, you surely are an interesting one—yet your answer was incorrect.”

“Don’t be a fool. I know my answer was right!”

Owl shouted at the air in front of him, yet his cry did not reach its intended recipient. The man’s laughter grew increasingly shrill, and an oppressive air of anxiety descended upon the two companions.

“Gwehehe! No, no, you could not be more wrong. The answer...

“...is me.”

One who walks together with light yet never becomes one with it.


“Hey—Enough of your ga—“

But Owl’s words, though they reverberated within his skull, did not escape his lips. He grew faint, his vision beginning to waver. His memories, like the man, faded into obscurity.

Intrigue Abounds! A Close-up Look at a Dignified Gentleman


We went off to the Mummers’ Coalition to find out who the older gentlemen often seen talking to pioneers really is.

We succeeded in find him there, and passed the trial he placed before us without fail. Having successfully bested him in a battle of wits, we pressed him for details about his life and purpose.

But that’s where our memories begin to falter.

It wasn’t until one of the coalition’s concierges shook us on the shoulder that we finally came to.

We had evidently been dozing off on the velvet chairs that lined the wall...but neither of us remembers ever sitting down.

“Zegard, what’s this?”

My partner spied a small card lying face down on the table in front of us. She hesitantly picked it up, flipped it over, and read the crisp characters engraved in black ink.

“My future famous journalists,
I look forward to meeting you again should the pendulum of fate swing in my direction.
Teodor”

Our meeting was not a mere fantasy—and at least we know his name!

However, we knew better than to be happy with this tidbit. Those sheltering dark secrets always give the most trivial of information to maintain the veil surrounding them.

It is here that we would like to enlist the aid of our pioneer allies. Should you happen to come across a gentleman dressed from head to toe in black, inform us at your earliest convenience.

We do not know why this “Teodor” is so interested in you, yet will continue to watch out for him in our (hopefully not vain) quest to unravel this tangled web.

Pleading to you for your aid,

Fam and Owl, special Eastern Ulbuka field reporters

 

Story : Miyabi Hasegawa
Illustration : Mitsuhiro Arita

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