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At last, the final sight of the Tartarian Descent Team is engulfed by the interminable darkness.

The Great Seal rends the earth with a deafening quake, as it slides nearly shut, open only by a hairsbreadth. The Loyal Kerberos, ten thousand Umbral Hounds strong, holds one end of Shei's Black Thread in one of his mouths. He leers at it contemptuously, but holds it nonetheless as agreed.

Most of the others accompanying Sir Pryce cannot look anymore at the Great Seal, ready to direct their thoughts to anything other than the fates of their friends… and foes. Sir Estuary is the only one who seems composed. He looks to Pryce, and with a slight bow of his head, says, "Perhaps we should make for the surface, milord. We have no further business here."
537 posts and 1 image reply omitted. Click reply to view.


"You've made it to the house. That's proof enough you're worth talking to," Mint says. "Nobody gets to this point without the wolves' assessment. You might not have noticed, owing to the spiritual dampening on this little realm, but the wolves led you past countless hurdles and traps to get here – not just the stuff on the bridge and in the moat. So, I already know you're good people, and so will everyone else. Tell you what, why don't you check back in with your friends so they don't panic and send in a rescue party? I'll send word to Pops while you're out."


"I assumed they were pets of some kind, didn't expect they're be guardians as well."

As Mint says she'll give word while they wait, Pryce nods, standing to head out.
"Good idea. I'll be back soon," He says before making the way back to the ship.


"You're telling me you don't get the wordplay!?" Mint gasps, aghast. "Oh jeez, you'll have a hard time here…"

With that cryptic warning on your mind, you head back out, and a wolf retinue (though smaller this time) escorts you back the direction you came, until you step into the portal, and back out into the airship.

After getting your bearings in the familiar gravity of your own world, you see that the others are, contrary to Mint's prediction, not organizing a rescue party. You see them through the front windows of the airship, dozing off in the shade of a tree on the village outskirts. Most of the villagers are doing similarly, taking refuge from the summer sunlight in a wide-scale siesta. They sleep just as hard as they work, it seems.


As Pryce reenters the airship, he looks around wondering where the others are. When he finally spots them outside, he heads out, opting to nudge River awake first to inform her from the nap since it was her idea.


"Hmmph, hmm?" River stammers, peering out through narrowed eyes. "Awake. I'm awake…"

The others rise with similar reluctance, stretching and yawning.

"How was it?" Zjetya asks. "We thought about coming to get you, but decided you had it under control. Plus it's naptime."


"It went well, it was safe to enter, and I got in touch with them. I laid out the situation, and came back to check on you guys while we wait for their dad to get back to talk." Pryce says, keeping the names out to help keep to the secrecy given they're in a secure location.


Zjetya nods. "Let's not keep them waiting, then."

The others collect themselves and walk off their lingering drowsiness, making ready to accompany you to the secret castle.


Pryce leads the group over to the yarn portal to head into the secret dimension.
"Keep an eye out, we'll be getting a wolf escort. They're friendly though."


When you get back to the portal, the wolf retinue is already waiting for you. Seems they understood the brief nature of your absence, and put a guard on the portal to await you. The others are puzzled and hesitant at the sight of this escort, but when they see the lead wolf turn away and walk through the forest, they ease up somewhat.


"Its ok, they're leading us to the castle," Pryce says as he sees the others at unease at first. Once the lead wolf starts to walk ahead, Pryce gestures for the others to follow.


The others, still a bit unnerved by the situation and the uncanny light of the realm, proceed in silence. Only River seems to be a bit at ease; her time aiding Buiwong no doubt afforded her a certain familiarity with his dimensional decorations.

Soon enough you're back at the moat, and again the lead wolf barks thrice, lifting the final supernatural blockade. The others, astounded, watch the lattice lift into the air, until a familiar voice calls.

"Tea's all ready!" Mint Leaf says. "C'mon in!"


Pryce leads on, keeping the pace comfortable to help ease anypony against the eerie atmosphere they walk through.

"Sorry if we kept you waiting," Pryce calls back as they return to the bridge, leads the others across.

>"Wow, they sound friendly,"

KP comments, eager to see Mocha's family.


In the dining room, you see the full group of seven, sitting on a ring of cushions with a tea-table between them. Though some wolves are inside, sitting guard by the family, they leave an additional cushion open, presumably for Mocha.

Just as KP saw in the portraits, it's a family of Matryoshka and her earth pony husband, and five of their six earth drider children, though they're a few years older than they were in the portrait.

"Oh, wow!" Matryoshka says. "I heard you were a big group, but I lost track of who was going where. Mint, can you get more cushions?"

"Sure can," Mint says, getting up.

The others look about with amazement at the comfy manor.


>"Hello! It's great to finally meet all you!"
KP greets after they enter the dining room, looking with awe at the drider family.

"Hope its not too much of a hassle to have everypony here," Pryce comments as the matriarch requests more cushions.


"Don't even let that thought cross your mind," Matryoshka says. "We love guests, even if we rarely get them. I was so excited when Dad asked me if we'd be okay with the idea of this realm doubling as a shelter."

"Don't get a lot of people this way, do you?" Zjetya asks as Mint comes back with more cushions.

"No," Matryoshka says. "Though, I suppose it's a sign they don't need extra shelter… hopefully."

"It's… rather dangerous out there," River says.

The husband nods with a grave grimace. "Hence, the protections on the entrance… have a seat, everyone. We've heard a lot about you, but go ahead and introduce yourselves."


"Don't imagine you'd get any guests out here," Pryce comments with the remoteness and unique entryway.

Pryce nods as they're asked to introduce themselves.
"My name is Pryce," He greets, keeping it simple given the rough history with Buiwong.

>"I'm KP! Mocha told me a bit about you guys before we split up,"

KP chimes in after.


Your other allies give their names as well, keeping it light on the details.

"There's another guy with us," Zjetya says. "But he couldn't make it. Name's Estuary."

The family, in response, gives their introductions as well: Matryoshka, the mother. Mint Leaf, the middle sister, and Metis, the youngest sister. Then there's the father, Archer, his eldest son Alloy, the middle son Acacia, and the youngest son, Almond.

"And we've heard our share about your adventures, too," Archer says. "Darn near a few books' worth, at that."

Matryoshka brings out a tray of honey and jam biscuits, and Metis follows with the tea set. "Help yourselves, everyone," Matryoshka says.


"You've all been kept up on things then?" Pryce asks.

When snacks are brought out, KP takes a biscuit eagerly.

Pryce feels a little questioning, focusing more on the task at hoof to not appear rude.


"More or less," Archer says. He doesn't sound all too thrilled about that.

"Oh, that reminds me," Matryoshka says. "Mint mentioned you had some questions for us?

In the background, the five drider youths are busy chit-chatting with your allies. Though your allies are reticent at first, the driders seem not to mind, keeping up conversation in spite of it.


"We did, yes," Pryce says, looking back from the chitchat. "We were wondering if any of you could help us with removing powers."


"Removing power?" Archer repeats.

River nods. "Here's the situation that we're in…"

She lays out the basic details of the situation affecting Vortigern's people, and your desire to mitigate any unnecessary killing.

Matryoshka nods. "I see. Well, that ability does run in our blood, from Dad. We could help…"

Mint Leaf and Alloy look to Archer with wide, "Didn't-I-tell-you-this-was-gonna-happen?" eyes.

Archer wears the frown of one very annoyed that they can see the logic in their opponent's argument. "I never should have listened to a word out of Mocha's mouth…"


"I know this is a bit much to ask given the situation, and I don't blame you if you refuse. But we don't have too much time and we don't have any other options really," Pryce follows after seeing the dislike Archer is having to this situation.


"I've already set a precedent," Archer says. "Letting Mocha sweet-talk me into letting her have an adventure. Now my daughter's somewhere in Tartarus."

"Kicking ass," Almond says.

"Language," Matryoshka says.

"Sorry," Almond chuckles.

"So, I don't have any grounds to deny the same right to the others," Archer continues.

A loud gasp of enthusiasm rises from the kids.

"If, and only if–" Archer interjects. "They can pass my trial."


Pryce feels some guilt at having pushed the idea, despite the drider kids being excited for the idea.
"A trial?" Pryce repeats, curious to how this is unfolding.


"In order to leave on a prolonged adventure," Archer begins. "They must land eight consecutive strikes on me, before I can land three strikes on them, in a one-on-one duel."

"So far, only Mocha accomplished that," Metis says. "Even though we all tried."

"That's how you need to be able to fight demons," Archer says. "If you can't manage that on even a mortal, you won't have any chance out there."

"Ehhh," Almond says. "You got some of Ma's power, I wouldn't call you 'mortal' anymore."

"But even BEFORE I got that, I finished a much more grueling challenge, to which this trial doesn't even hold a candle," Archer says. "Against Buiwong… I landed eight hundred strikes."

"Teeeechnically he only had to land eighty consecutive strikes," Matryoshka says. "But between all his different attempts, he racked up about 814."

"I'm humble, so I round down," Archer says with a snort.


"…How close have any of you gotten?" Pryce asks the others with concern.

"You had to fight Buiwong?" Pryce asks after Archer says he had to do similar before.


"To take Matryoshka out on a date," Archer answers with a nod. "He was going to make me fight him again for each successive date but considering I got eight hundred just for the first one, we called it even."

"Most of that first date was me treating his injuries," Matryoshka shares with a laugh.

Alloy raises his hoof. "I'm the closest, with five. But, Pop, don't you think the current circumstances merit waiving the test?"

"You heard the recap," Archer says. "These Dracoknights sound like they're on-par with demon tamers. And since tamers rarely fight with just one demon, I'd consider a Dracoknight a stronger opponent. You're lucky I don't bump it up to sixteen strikes."


>"What was the most hits in a row you got against him?"
KP asks Archer.

"Can we help them?" Pryce questions. "We only have four days, and we all work as a team already. The chances of anypony being by themselves is slim to none."


"Well, eighty," Archer says to KP. "But counting unsuccessful attempts… seventy-nine. I had nightmares for a month about coming that close and then dropping the combo. It was downright embarrassing."

He shakes his head at you. "Not in the actual duel. Even if you have a team, you need to be able to hold your own in case the worst happens. But, you're welcome to train with them. Some new combat experience might be just what they need."

The drider kids discuss the prospect with excitement.


>"Oh wow, you must've fought him a lot then. How long did it take you to finally beat that challenge?"

"I wouldn't step the line on a family duel," Pryce assures. "But thank you for allowing us to help train."
Pryce then looks over to the kids as they are all excited over this new opening.
"Will all of you be trying?"


"I think it was… a little over a year, right?" Archer asks.

"Just about, yeah," Matryoshka says.

"How many of you can train us?" Mint Leaf asks.

"I'm open to helpin'," Onion says.

"As am I," River says. "As someone who once worked for Buiwong, I have lots of combat experience."

"This ain't really my forte," Zjetya says. "But if you need a cheerleader, call me."

Alloy nods. "So, three possible trainers. I believe those of us with the highest previous scores should take priority."

"Us three, then," Metis says, gesturing to Mint and Alloy.

"Tch," Acacia grumbles.

"Think of it as a chance to learn through study," Alloy says. "We're getting thrown right in to the gauntlet directly."

"He's got a point," Almond concedes.


>"A whole year? You must've been pretty determined."
KP says with awe.

"Is Estuary was here, he could train all you without issue," Pryce comments as they decide who will train. "Studying can still teach you a lot. But if we have extra time we can give you some focus too," Pryce offers to Acacia and Almond.
"So, when would you like to start?" He asks the rest.


"Sounds like you're on a tight deadline, so you can start now," Archer says.

The kids are about to cheer.

"After chores," Matryoshka corrects.

"Ah, right, after chores," Archer agrees.

The kids softly sigh.

>Training montage available whenever


"Well, we can help were we can to help things along," Pryce offers to help them through their chores to set on to the training quicker.


Your allies join in with polishing off the tea and the biscuits, after which the kids show you about the manor as you take care of the myriad chores. Even demi-demigods must keep a clean bathroom and a tidy bedroom, it seems.


KP has a myriad of questions as they go throughout the manor doing chores, mostly with every photo they see. Pryce helps out dutifully, still surprised at the contrast of the manor to what he knows of Buiwong.

Once chores are done and its ready for training to begin, Pryce leaves the area to do so up to the kids to decide.
"So, what are you trained in so far? Any specialties you've focused on?"


The drider siblings take turn answering KP's questions. Sounds like domestic life is peaceful here, if isolated. Every one of the siblings wants to see the outside world, but Archer has been steadfast on his policy, and though Matryoshka is more sympathetic, she agrees with Archer's rules.

KP also sees many images of an elder zebra mare among the family portraits, though she herself doesn't seem to be around the house.

In the training yard out back, the siblings all go over their powers, Attributes, as well as their best scores against Archer.

>Alloy: Dark Knight; Melee; 5 strikes

>Mint Leaf: Toxicologist; Poison; 4 strikes
>Metis: Deathmaster; Illusion 4 strikes
>Acacia: Ninja; Smoke; 3 strikes
>Almond: Charlatan; Light; 3 strikes

>Each of them are considered Minibosses per the expanded ruleset


>"Is that your grandma?"
KP asks after seeing the elder zebra mare in many of the photos.
>"Is she out somewhere else?"

"Sounds like you're all pretty close in the challenge. All have a similar base of training too…" Pryce mulls over, looking to River and Onion. "What do you think, should we train them one on one, or train them as a class?"


"Last I heard, she was looking after what remains of Buiwong's cultus," Alloy explains. "Buiwong wanted her to remain where it's safe, but hiding from danger has never been her style."

"A classroom approach's the best," Onion says. "Direct experience is good and all, but observation's half the battle. All you siblings keep an eye on each other, you may be able to identify what's holdin' your siblings back."

River nods. "I agree."

The siblings nod, and their foreheads shift, producing several more sets of eyes for maximum observational studying.


>"Aw. Does she ever stop by? I'd be fun to meet the whole family."

"Sounds like a plan, get as much in as possible," Pryce agrees.
When the kids produce more spider eyes, Pryce is ever so slightly unnerved.
"Before we start, what is your father's fighting style?"


"He's kind of like a scorpion," Metis says. "You couldn't really see when he was sitting down earlier, but his long tail gives him good reach. He favors axes and clubs when he fights. And he's always just a bit faster than you expect. He likes to bluff with delayed movements, but don't count on being able to out-speed him."


"Long reach, heavy weapons, and pretty fast. He's pretty skilled then. Alright, we'll focus more on training up your skills and improving your combat prowess. You've fought him plenty enough that training to counter that style probably won't help much. A fresh, outside look might just be what gives the edge," Pryce details.
"Alright, since you have the most hits in Alloy, we'll start with you."

> Engage training montage


You train with the drider siblings over the next three days, each getting a turn to spar with you, Onion and River. Meanwhile, Matryoshka enlists Spitshine and Sugar to help take care of the chores in and around the house. Though the two are disappointed to miss out on watching the fights, they're more than eager to pay back Matryoshka's boundless kindness – which entails being treated to lunch and afternoon tea when you take respites from training.

In the evenings, you return to the airship to tend to your own domestic duties, and the nights are full of strategizing for future trainings.

The main obstacles to the driders is their impatience. This, as you learn, stems from their situation at home. In fact, this only recently became their home, near seven months ago. They used to live in the outside world, in the outskirts of Accorsia's former western colonies, since liberated by Buiwong's cultus. On the eve of what came to be known as the One Night War and the Rapture, Buiwong ushered his family into the shelter, if the worst should happen – and it did. They have been allowed outside only precious few times since then, scouting with Archer. The destitution of mortalkind, and the ravages of demonkind, have only affirmed Archer and Buiwong's policies of keeping the family hidden away in their shelter… much to the displeasure of the driders.


Pryce recalls on some of his knight training to pass to help bolster up the driders, along with some of the training Sir Estuary has put them through so far. As it comes across that they're a it impatient, Pryce then tries to showcase the effectiveness of waiting, using some techniques of stage magic and some of his own fighting styles to show that the payoff is worth the time.

After the third day, Pryce looks over the driders, thinking on their progress.
"…I think its time to challenge your father," He says to them after a moment of thought.


A nervous silence falls over the five, but after a beat, they nod.


Alloy approaches the back door, and knocks upon it. A few moments later, the door opens. At the threshold stands Archer, his armor and wooden training weapons already equipped.

Without a word, he leads them out to the training yard you've become so familiar with in the past three days. Matryoshka, Spitshine and Sugar follow as well, with the snacks for the audience.

Archer takes his place at one end of the training yard, and the driders face him from the other.

"You'll each get a shot at a duel," Archer says. "I'm already warmed up, so don't count on getting an advantage or disadvantage on that front. If more than one of you succeeds on landing eight consecutive hits… the winners will duel it out for the right to accompany these 'Saviors.'"

A stir flashes through the driders.

"Hey, we'll still have passed the trial," Metis says. "So, we should be free to return to the outside world. Wasn't that the deal Mocha made?"

"The difference is that she had a group to go with," Archer says. "A group led by none other than Buiwong himself. Like him, this group's going to be facing a force capable of holding their own against demons. So, only the best of you can join them."

The frustrations grow… but none raise an objection.


Pryce almost speaks up on the new restriction that only one of them can leave, even if multiple pass the trial, but he doesn't. While they need the help, and they've put in plenty of training, he can't step into family matters.

"Just remember, if you can beat it now, you can beat it again in the future," He says to add a brighter side of encouragement to the driders.



Five explosive bouts follow.

Neither side shows even a drop of mercy, pulling out every technique and trick they have up their ponchos. Magic, weapons and divine powers fly forth, and are answered with counters, parries and dodges.

Each concludes in less than thirty seconds.

After they do–

Somewhat unsurprisingly–

Alloy, Mint Leaf and Metis breathe sighs of relief and disbelief on the sidelines… while Acacia and Almond sit aside in disappointment. Alloy and his sisters all got eight strikes, while Acacia and Almond came just shy, with six each.

Archer sits with Matryoshka, wiping himself with a towel as he sips his tea.


KP stomps his hooves in applause after the fights.
>"Whoa, that was intense!"
He cheers.

Pryce gives a more modest applause, knowing there's still more to go.
"Good job, all of you," He says, then looks to Acacia and Almond. "You doubled your last record after only three days of training. I'm sure you'll have it after a little more."


The three victors say nothing to you. Your allies look on with concern, but something in the eyes of the three urges them to remain silent.

Alloy, Metis and Mint Leaf take their positions in the training yard again.

"The first to win eight strikes on any opponent or combination of opponents takes it," Archer says.

He raises his hoof, the the three raise their weapons.



The six drider siblings had all been something of minor celebrities among Buiwong's cultus in its heydey, but they denied any worship proffered them, preferring instead to be treated as peers… friends, even.

The death reports had come in soon after the Rapture's conclusion.

As such.

Every drider recognized dozens of names on the register.

Mocha, the most of all.

She was, for months, completely inconsolable.

"Friends?" I thought I was a "friend?"
Friends help one another.
But I just hid. It's what I was told to do– but I took that, glad for a convenient excuse. I was terrified of what would happen if I followed granddad.
I failed my friends.

Until, on the very first day of the fourth month, she launched an all-out campaign to pester her father. Challenging him, day and night, until he relented either by her victory in combat, or in sheer annoyance. Archer went to Buiwong– but he had no luck in deterring her either.

Just as Archer pursued Buiwong until he landed eight hundred strikes.

So too did Mocha pursue Archer until she landed eighty.

And on the day of her departure, those siblings of hers gave chase to their father as well.

A kind of revenge, perhaps, for being hid away from the horrors of the world. And, revenge against the horrors of the world that led to so many deaths.

Mmm… no. Mocha's just not the vengeful type.

So her friends in the cultus would say.

She just really likes being out and about and having fun. Not much more to life, is there? In the end, that's what we're fighting for.



It concludes in less than thirty seconds.

Alloy stands the victor. Metis and Mint Leaf have laid down their weapons in acknowledgement of his win… with downcast eyes.

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