— The Wilderness —

We were running our guts out! Not willing to even look back. So we ran. We ran and ran till we finally lost our breaths. Hiding underneath the thick bushes in fear that our captors would find us. Holding onto each other. Afraid of getting caught. Frightened at every sound that came from all over the forrest.

Anything that bristled or moved made Lulu so frightened. That she caused the skies to rain harder. Along with the wind blowing through all that, that it made things more difficult for me to see. Nope. There wasn a single thing that I could clearly see. But at least it also meant that neither could our captors. That is, if they were still chasing after us.

I knew that Lulu didn want to go out to check if we were safe and neither did I. Honestly I was also afraid of getting caught. I didn want to have to go through that hell of getting stuck in a small room. Getting small bundles of microwaveable food every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Its disgusting! Neither did I want to go through the suffering of hearing those thugs threaten to touch Lulu so inappropriately. Thankfully, Mistress Pauline kept the Triplets away from Lulu. Which was one of the only things that I respect of her.

As time continued and not a single threat loomed around. I decided to go check our surroundings. It took a lot of guts and courage for me to finally get up and check. Though, after I mustered the courage. I finally got up. And once a moment had passed. I decided that it was safe to walk around.

So I went around observing the area. Determining whether we were safe to move on or not, but once I felt a little more comfortable. I sighed with relief. ”Okay Lulu! You can stop! Nobody is around. ” I reassured her. Waiting for a little moment. Lulu stuck her head out. Double checking in case I missed something.

Although, once she felt at ease. She released the storm above and it disappeared without a trace. And for the first time in a long while. Lulu gave a huge sigh of relief. It was the first and hopefully the last time that we were ever going to be free from captivity.

We both were so confused and still unsure. Believing all this to be a dream… But it wasn ! This was all real! We were free! I immediately grabbed Lulus hand. ”Cmon Lulu! Its getting dark soon. We should go find shelter while we still can. ” I said. Lulu agreed and we walked towards the mountain that was just north of us.

Hours passed and the sun was just setting once we reached the bottom of the mountain. We both hiked upward in the dark untill we found a small cave. Luckily there were no bears or other predators around. So we decided to camp inside the cave just for the night. Too tired to keep watch. Because of all the running we did. Too tired to even think about food. So we slept till the morning.

I am reminded of what happens afterwards. I still haven forgotten that day. The Day when we would find ourselves meeting the most strangest man alive.

The Masked Man.

— The Mountain: Morning —

Morning had come and we were greeted by the warm sun. Surprisingly, we were satisfied to know that there was no sign of the Triplets and Mistress Pauline anywhere. Neither could we see the abandoned mansion from above the mountain. There was nothing, but trees and meadows as far as the eye could see.

We were lost.

”Alright! Time for Family Business! ” I groaned when I noticed Lulu giving me a confused look.

Realizing what I had just said. I apologized. ”Sorry. Its just something my family does every week. To plan our activities. As for this, what Im trying to say is that we should plan before we head out. ” I suggested. Lulu agreed and we quietly made a plan. ”If we
e going to plan. We should also make a goal. As for our situation right now. Our goal should be focused on getting back home. To Astral. ” Lulu said. I nodded with approval. ”I agree. Also, as a local of Astral and by the way the landscape looks. We must be outside of Astral. Ive never been out beyond Astral so I have little to no experience of what life is like beyond my kingdom. ” I admitted.

This was regrettably true. Astral was just a country surrounded by tall impassable mountains. With only a few routes to get in and out. Which is also why we had flying ships to travel in or out.

Unlike the rest of the world. Astral only uses its aerial ships to travel unless a certain situation demands that they use a plane. Only because our people want to protect our lands from pollution. Which is also why we use electric cars. Which are generated by Aether and Abyssal shards. Pure Energy Crystals that came from a comet. Which struck the earth billions of years ago. Forming the Niflhel mountains that surrounds Astral to this very day.

Coincidentally enough, the Comets core structure still stands at the center of the Kingdom. Its a beautiful site to most people, but to me. Its just another rock for tourists to sight see. Which has become an annoyance to me. Back then before the Second Axion World War. Astral was closed off from the world. Only because they wanted to safeguard their precious resources from falling into the wrong hands. It wasn until my mother, who was the heir to the throne, realized that the world needed help. People were starving, nations warred for lands and the Outworlders needed a home to protect themselves from all the persecutions. So my mother opened the gates to the world. Allowing anybody through so long as they obeyed its laws.

Strangely enough, this helped ease tensions and also led to world peace.

For now at least.

Anyways, The only other time that I ever got to go out of Astral was when I got to meet my relatives for the first time. Its a complicated story, but it made me happy to know that I wasn alone. I mean. I have an aunt on my dads side, but shes always on some kind of adventure. So I rarely get to see her. My mom on the other hand, had a younger brother, but he died before I was even born. As for my grandparents. They had already passed away long before my time.

As for our situation, on determining our location, the only thing that Lulu could guess was that we were either in Umbria or Aurora. However, we weren gonna know for sure until we found civilization. So, understanding that Astral was the Northern country of the East continent. We decided to gamble our luck traveling northward.

And with that luck. Hopefully there would come food.

— The Wilderness: Afternoon —

We had been walking for hours on end. Taking a few breaks. Searching for food along the way. Unlike me, Lulu was an astounding young woman! She could tell what plants were edible and which ones were poisonous. It was nice to have someone more knowledgeable with the outdoors. The only thing I could do was tell which direction we were traveling to.

Frankly, along our journey. There was a time when we ran into a bear, but it turned and ran the other direction. Though we were startled at first, we were quite lucky enough that the bear left us in peace. Another matter that we had to endure was worrying about starvation. Because even though we had some edible fruits to eat. It just wasn enough. Hunger was beginning to occupy our minds.

[Stomach Growls] ”[Sigh] Boy what I would give to finally eat something! ” I prayed when I smelt something in the air. Lulu could smell something as well. We both took a moment till we realized it to be the only one thing that we needed.

FOOD!!!

We both ran. Following that flavorful smell of food. Rushing onward till we found ourselves on a dirt trail. And just down the path, a small lonely tavern stood. ”This is it! Our chance to find civilization! ” Lulu cheered. I smiled as I followed her inside.

Upon our entry, we were greeted by an elderly couple. ”Welcome to Kapooya Province! ” They greeted. Welcoming us with open arms. We quickly explained our situation and offered to work for food which they happily obliged. Allowing us to stay for the night. However, little did we know. Was that trouble would followed behind.

— Later on that Evening —

They handed us some aprons and we immediately went to work. Honestly, if I could say, Lulu was absolutely stunning! Her platinum hair shined whenever she stood in the sun and her ocean blue eyes was just breathtaking! On top of that, the Black and white apron made her look like a gorgeous waitress.

Um! Anyways, back to the story at hand!

We had just learned that we were in Luminaria. A small town somewhere west of Umbria. A few hundred miles east of Umbrias Capital. Genesistopia. It was crazy for us to learn of how far away from home we were. Not only did this make things worse, but it meant that we would have to travel eastward towards Aurora. Because the only way into Astral was through a certain pass from Aurora. Unless the Mistress knew another path that nobody did. Which there have been a rare few who have, but they secretly keep such information to themselves. One way or another, we were going to have to find a way home on our own. Because nobody seemed interested in helping anyways.

Everything seemed to be fine. A few travelers came and gone, but the tavern was still filled with customers when three bumbling idiots barged into the tavern. Me and Lulu were just on break enjoying our dinner when we noticed Phil, Phineas and Pho entering the tavern. By the time they entered. Zhou the elderly tavern keeper approached us. And behind him, holding a large plate of food. Stood him.

The Masked Man.

”Pardon me children, but would you mind if this kind gentlemen sat with you for dinner? ” Zhou kindly asked. ”We don mind at all! Please feel free to sit with us! ” Lulu smiled. The Man behind him bowed to the Tavern Keeper. Then he turned facing towards us. ”Thank you guys so much! Though to be honest, I would have taken my own table. But seeing that, that is not possible! I was brought here! So I really appreciate you guys allowing me to sit with you! Ahhaha! ” The Man cheerfully thanked us as he placed his plate down. Meanwhile Jia, Zhous wife, came over with a large cart full of food. Carefully placing the hot trays of food onto the table, she winks at us. ”Ahhaha! Oh! Such a wonderful smell of flavors! Ohho! I just can wait! Thank you once again Mrs. Chen! Your food is magnificent as always! ” The Man bowed many times with glee. Jia kindly returned the bow. It was then that we recognized that the man had a mask on. It was strangely black, just like his coat, with a white symbol on the middle. Whether it was a symbol of a star or not. We couldn tell. But what we did know, was that there was a lot of food on the table for more than what one man could handle.

Tilting his head, the Masked Man chuckles. ”Hehe! Well in case you both were wondering. Yes! I noticed your tattered old clothes that you
e wearing underneath those aprons. As well as the small bowls of ramen you both have on the table and realized you were poor! So I decided to get you all a better meal! Aren I amazing or what? So hooray! Dinner is on me! ” The Masked Man exclaimed. We didn know how to thank him, but we greedily ate like there was no tomorrow. When we overheard Zhou trying to kick the Triplets out of the tavern. ”Ruffians like you don deserve to eat at my tavern! Now leave! ” Zhou demanded when Phineas suddenly pushed Zhou back. It was then that Pho spotted us eating at the corner. I immediately face planted into my food when Lulu realized that they were staring at us. Pho tapped Phil and pointed straight at us. We knew it then that we were screwed. There was a definite frown written on all of their faces while they made there way towards us.

Lulu held me tightly as she hid behind me. Cowering in fear. ”There you are! You spoiled little brats! ” Phil growled when a black kunai was thrown passed his head. Hitting the wall across the room. Dead straight onto a bears head that was mounted on the wall. Nobody moved a muscle as all eyes turned towards the men. ”Thats as far as you go! Take another step and you might end up dead! ” The Masked Man warned. Surprisingly his tone of voice was lower and more serious than before.

Phil defiantly glares at the Masked Man. ”Who do you think you are? Their daddy? Look! I don care who you think you are, but those kids are coming with us! ” Phil grins while pulling out a gun. Aiming it straight at the Masked Man while Pho pulled out daggers on each hand. Phineas on the other hand grabbed a nearby chair.

The Masked Man laughs. ”Ha! Did I even say that I was their daddy? No… Why should we care if they belong to you or not? These kids obviously don even look related to you! Besides, your in hot water here. And this isn just some ordinary town full of ordinary people. No. This town was built by bandits! Anyone here would do anything to get there hands on a big sack of gold coins. Just like the ones in that pretty big bag your carrying. ” The Masked Man retorts. The Triplets looked around as they noticed everybodys eyes gazing at the bag on Phils waist. Eyeing with envy.

Me and Lulu watched as the Masked Man pointed at them. ”If theres one thing this town values. Its treasure! So do be mindful! If you really want these kids so much… Then you
e gonna have to get through us first! ” The Masked Man devilishly laughs. It was then that we saw the people beginning to rise from their seats. Brandishing out their weapons against the Triplets. The Triplets understood that they were outnumbered so they decided to put their weapons away. We all then quietly watched as Phil, Pho and Phineas cautiously made their way out the door. Their eyes glaring at us. ”Well be back! ” Phil hissed while the Masked Man helped Zhou up. ”And well be waiting! ” The Masked Man shouts back.

Once the Triplets disappeared from sight. The Masked Man grabs his mug from the table. ”Alright ladies and gentlemen! Drinks on me! ” He announced. The entire tavern cheered. Happily taking a drink from the Tavern Keepers. Meanwhile, me and Lulu gave a huge sigh of relief. Watching as the Masked Man helped pass the drinks. Greeting the people left and right.

Once everything was settled down. The Masked Man returned to the table. His lower and serious tone now replaced with that happy and cheerful expression. ”My sincerest apologies guys! I don believe I understand exactly whats going on, but I had to do something. Its a strange habit of mine to get involved with peoples affairs. ” He apologized. ”No! I- We- Um… ” I stuttered when Lulu spoke the words out of my mouth. ”Thank you. ” She said. The Masked Man bowed. ”No problem! ” He shrugged. ”Pardon us, but I don believe we ever asked for your name. ” Lulu realized. The Masked Man timidly nods. ”R- Right! Hehehe! Well you see. Im just a Masked Man with Many Names! But a usual name I go by nowadays is Koa. Nice to meet you! ” Koa bowed. Lulu and I returned the bow when we introduced ourselves. ”Im Lulu and my friend here is Zodiark. Prince of Astral! ” Lulu introduced. When we noticed the Masked Man snoring on the table.

”WHAT!? HES ALREADY ASLEEP!? ” We both screamed with astonishment. When Koa suddenly got up. ”Oh! Excuse me Lula and Zoda! But I believe I have a special calling to answer. WHICH IS THE CALL OF NATURE! ” Koa exclaims as he immediately rushed to the bathroom. ”NINJA DASH! AWAY! ” He shouted while halfway towards the bathroom.

Lulu and I glanced at each other. Wondering if this guy was serious or a complete lunatic. It wasn moments later that we heard Koa scream from the bathroom. ”NINJA ART! KAPOOYA BOMB EXPRESS! ” He shouted when an explosion could be heard inside. Zhou bangs the bathroom door. ”KOA! You better not be using those bath bombs inside my toilets again! ” Zhou warned. ”Then why does it reek with disgust? ” Koa drunkenly asked. Zhou face palms once he realized that he was too late to stop him. ”Dammit Koa! You
e drunk on Blueberry Lemonade again! ” Zhou growled. ”Just put it all on my tab! Ill pay for it next time! ” Koa promised.

Lulu and I sighed. This was indeed a strange night, but we were definitely grateful that somebody stood up for us. Even if he was some weird Masked Two Face.

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