“That’s right kupo,” the moogle answered, standing beside the arena crystal.
Rain wasn’t sure that he was ready to meet a “Version of themselves from another reality, kupo”. The Farplane itself was already a lot to take in, and this was something more out there than a “space that exists between worlds, kupo”.
“I am not certain that we have time for such dalliances,” Lasswell predictably interrupted his considerations, “This sounds like the kind of thing that could take up a considerable amount of our time, were we to let ourselves be distracted so.”
“Actually,” the little moogle chimed in response, “You couldn’t, even if you wanted to, kupo!”
“Please explain,” Lasswell replied, drawing a small smile from Rain.
He knew that Lass had the right of things, they were investigating what could potentially be a danger of catastrophic proportions... but this sounded like a training opportunity if nothing else. And surely they should keep their skills sharp for the dangers that may lie ahead. Also, he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t interested in at least trying this “Arena” out.
“Here, let me show you instead, kupo,” the moogle answered, drawing a smooth grey stone, seemingly from somewhere in its fur, “This,” it continued, “is an Arena Orb.”
The orb was rather unremarkable for the importance with which the moogle named it. The only oddness to it, at a glance, was the unnaturally perfect curvature to the stone. It was as perfect as sphere as Rain had ever seen, and made of something he couldn’t put a name to. Reaching out, he took the orb from the moogle, and it immediately began pulsing with a soft silvery light.
“The glow,” the moogle informed him, “lets you know that you can enter the arena, kupo. The orb will stop glowing after you have entered too many times.”
Watching the orb, Rain noted that it pulsed five times in quick succession, before dimming for a moment and starting up again.
“Five times?” Rain asked.
“Correct Kupo!” the moogle answered sounding pleased, “And with each entry, the orb will pulse once less!”
“What happens,” Lasswell asked, his curiosity now getting the better of him, “When the orb’s pulsing ends?”
“Then you have to wait, kupo!” the moogle replied, “The orb regains one entry every hour, and stops at five.”
“Is there a significance to the limit?” Lasswell asked.
“Beats me kupo!” the moogle chuckled in response, “That’s just when it stops. There’s a lot of mogs that would like to see the orbs go to ten Kupo! But five is all you get.”
“So now that we have this orb,” Rain steered the conversation back before Lasswell got to into the mechanics of the stone, “how do we enter the Arena?”
“Follow me Kupo!” the little moogle replied before touching the arena crystal and vanishing in a flash of light.
“Wait!” Lasswell shouted as Rain immediately followed suit. He knew he should probably be more careful, but he didn’t think the moogle was out to hurt them. And if he let Lass, hurry or not, he’d spend all day discussing the risks and dangers of jumping into this thing.
Rain found himself in a... hazy was the best way he could describe it, a hazy darkness where dim shapes loomed from the distance. Standing not too far away from where he found himself was the moogle he’d just been speaking with. Immediately behind him was simply more darkness. He could not see the point at which he’d entered this dark place.
Lasswell stepped out of that darkness, as if he we stepping out of a thick fog bank into the haze. Rain realized that though he could see his companion and the moogle clearly, he was unsure about where any light may have been coming from. They just stood out against the darkness. Not with a glow. They just... were.
Dodging the glower his friend was giving him, Rain turned back to the moogle and asked, “So now what?”
“Now, you approach the Arena, and ask for the rules Kupo!”
“Rules?” Lasswell asked stepping beside Rain, his lack of amusement heavy in his tone.
“Every week kupo,” the moogle answered, “the rules of the arena are changed.”
“Who dictates these rules?” Lasswell asked.
“Great question Kupo!” the moogle answered, its little face smiling a contrast to Lasswell’s dour expression, but providing no more insight than that.
“Who do we ask?” Rain asked instead.
“This way Kupo!” the little moogle hovered off towards the structure.
Lasswell caught Rain’s arm before he could follow and muttered, “I do not have to tell you-”
“Nope,” Rain chuckled, breaking away to follow, “you sure don’t,” he said over the long suffering sigh of his friend.
As they approached the structure, it seemed to become more defined from the rest of the haze. With no other visual cues to note their passage, not even the solidness they stood on having any definition, it almost seemed as if the structure was simply coming into focus of its own as it slowly loomed over them.
Beside a large archway in what looked like maybe an immense stone wall, was a small window that the moogle had led them to, with another little moogle sitting inside. There was nothing behind it, simply more of that hazy darkness, so the effect was a little unsettling.
“This week,” the little moogle chirped without preamble, “There is no Fire, and no Status Effects allowed. Also, combatants from the Blue Planet will be enhanced for the duration of the battle.”
“Kupo?” Rain offered, surprised at its omission.
“Kupo.” the little moogle chirped back with a chuckle.
“For participating today-” the little moogle continued before the moogle that had led them there cut it off.
“Don’t worry about all that kupo,” it said, “we’ll be here all day if we start getting into prizes.”
“Prizes?” Rain asked, his interest piqued.
“Sure,” their guide answered, “but let me show you how to choose an opponent kupo, and you can come back to all that later.”
“Sure...” Rain replied, deciding that he’d better get on with the combat before Lasswell tried to drag him out of here.
“Follow me kupo,” the moogle shouted, before taking off through the archway, leading the two of them through into a thicker haze.
Lasswell did not continue to protest and followed the moogle without argument, leaving Rain to take up the rear this time. Watching the two of them enter the archway was like watching Lasswell step out of the haze. Immediately past the threshold they seemed to fade into something like an impossible thick foggy darkness, though as soon as he stepped through himself, he could see seem them clearly once more. Only, it wasn’t just them that he saw.
The appeared to be standing once more in a large open space of hazy darkness with no lighting to be seen, but none necessary to see the people scattered before him. It was like nothing he’d ever seen, and whenever he went to describe it, words did a poor job of covering it.
The room was both full of small groups walking through the darkness together, and massively spacious between them at once. Any time he fixed his gaze on a group, he could only make out one of them, and even then, he could not have assessed their armaments for all that he could seemingly see them clearly. More unsettling than that, many of the groups seemed to be led by either him, or Lasswell. He attempted to approach one of the doppelgängers and was interrupted by the moogle’s shout of, “Wait Kupo!”
“Once you have selected an opponent, you can no longer prepare for battle kupo, so you should summon your battle party before engaging” their guide informed him, “Also, one use of your orb will be exhausted.”
“Just by approaching them?” Rain asked.
“You’ll see once you’ve had your first fight kupo,” the moogle answered, “but it’s more than just approaching them. Opponents more likely to challenge you will generally be the first that you encounter. If you wish to fight less powerful opponents kupo, you should push on towards the back of the arena,” it waved its hand to point deeper into the haze, “though you’ll get better prizes for fighting stronger opponents.”
“So how then,” Lasswell asked, “are we to prepare to face an opponent we know nothing about?” he continued, gesturing to the silent crowd of travelers. Some of which, now that Rain took a second glance, were familiar as Visions of warriors he’d summoned in battle.
“The same way you’d prepare for any dangerous situation kupo,” the moogle answered.
Lasswell’s eyes narrowed to a threatening cut, “You now say we are in danger, where before-“
“Every battle carries the risk of failure kupo,” the moogle cut him off, “though as I said before, nothing that happens here is permanent outside of the arena.”
“So,” Rain jumped in, “we still have to fight as if our lives depend on it, but we’ll recover after the dust settles,” he remarked with a grin, “I like the sound of that.”
“Precisely kupo!” the moogle replied, “And this is as far as I will accompany you. We moogles are not made for fighting kupo. And any other questions can be answered by the moogle at the gate.”
“Thank you,” Rain responded, “And is that where I return the orb when we’re done?”
“More importantly,” Lasswell interjected, “How do we return to Lapis once we are finished here?”
“Well kupo,” the moogle started, “the stone is yours to keep. As to going home, you can always just head for the arch,” it gestured towards the ever-looming archway behind them, “and then walk away from the arena. After a few steps you’ll find yourself back in the farplane kupo, where you can take the monument back to Lapis.”
“Thank you again,” Rain said as the moogle waved to them on its way out.
Rain summoned Anzelm, Rydia, and the Magitek Armored Terra to assist them in the battle to come. No matter how often he witnessed it, Lasswell could not get over the effect of watching people fade into the world as they did when called by Rain’s newfound gift. Even in a place such as this, it was a thing beyond mortal ken.
“So what are we up against today?” Rydia asked as she solidified. Never one to let a small thing like popping into existence phase her while the others got their bearings.
“Your guess is as good as ours,” Rain answered, “though I think I want to fight myself.”
“Well, don’t let me stop you,” she answered with a smile as she stepped away from him to look for the first time at their surroundings with a low whistle, “so you do have a Feymarch in Lapis...” she murmured low enough that Lasswell wasn’t confident he’d heard correctly.
“What was that?” Rain asked.
“Nothing,” Rydia responded, “let’s see how this plays out first.”
“Might I choose our first opponent?” Lasswell asked.
Shaking his head with a sigh, Rain decided not to argue, “Sure, but I’ve got the next one.”
“Lead on careful swordsman,” Anzelm chimed in as the flames of his blade began to dance in preparation for the battle ahead. The armored woman, as was her way, said nothing and merely followed along.
Lasswell knew that were he to choose an opponent too far from the front, Rain would resist, regardless of his concession. Looking at the figures in the haze, he indeed noted that there were many that appeared to be led by Rain or himself. Deciding that for their first battle, he’d rather not add facing a doppelgänger to the list of new elements they would be dealing with, he instead guided their party to a group that appeared to be led by a young woman carrying what appeared to be an enormous cannon. Perhaps they would have a mobility advantage there at least.
As the party moved beyond the archway, the whispers began. Low at first, but building in intensity as they went deeper into the room. After only a few steps, the air was full of half understood words and bits of gibberish. Every new whisper reached them midsentence, and even focusing on them did nothing to aid comprehension. Beyond that, moving within the arena was similar to moving towards it had been. Without any detail on the floor, with the air filled with the immaterial hazy darkness, it seemed more like the other party was drifting their way than it appeared they were walking towards them. And the closer they were to the party, the further away the rest of the wandering parties appeared.
Coming upon the younger woman’s party, Rain muttered a “Whoa there,” and held the arena orb aloft. As they had moved towards the other team, the pulsing had intensified, and now each pulse could be felt as a vibration through the stone. It was as if it were ready to leap from his grasp at their approach, and once they were a bow’s length away, the stone resisted any attempt at moving closer… as if it were pressing up against an invisible bubble.
“I think it’s decision time,” Rain said aloud. “I’m pretty sure if we push forward, the stone’s going to do its thing.”
“Let us fight,” Lasswell answered.
As they pressed forward into the invisible bubble, the stone burst from Rain’s hand and exploded in a flash of lightning above them that illuminated the bubble now surrounding both them and the other party. In that burst of light, all the other parties vanished, and an intricate glowing series of runes grew out across the floor between the two groups, ending at the edge of the bubble, and igniting a loose ring of torches that was now along the perimeter. The bubble broke open at the top, coming down to form a low glowing wall that illuminated both the battle field, and the area surrounding them for the first time.
The floor beneath them was an ancient looking stone that stretched out beyond them a far shorter distance than made any sense for the space they’d just walked across. The runes surrounding them terminated not only into the glowing wall, but also a ring of glowing stones just beyond the torches, that certainly could not have been there before. Beyond that, they could see the towers they’d encountered in the farplane, spaced out in a way that did not match their memory, and surrounded by floating platforms.
This space, was perfectly spaced between them and the other party, the members of which were visible now for the first time. It was a team composed of five visions of the same young woman holding the cannon that was far too large to be practical. As they prepared to fight, they could hear a voice echo across the arena say “Welcome to the Olive Garden”.