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Well, the party has gotten worn down from a lot of random exploring, so I'm going to give them a bit of a break. We head back to Thranici to check out the geysers, which have easy battles in them, so we can switch in a bunch of substitute members, and see what some of our newbies look like.



Leo and Thiago are here to make sure we have some kind of strength in the party, Lamar wasn't hurt, and we get to try out our new mustaches, Griffin and... Ignisyus. I don't know. The guide only has official romanizations for the unique story characters who have Kobayashi art.

Leo has access to a nice Counter, Thiago has an Interrupt, and Lamar has both a Protect and an Interrupt depending on his weapon, so we use the Counter Hazard formation to get a big BP discount on all Reserve Arts.



Leo just spammed his counter while I tried out various stuff with the other characters to see what the new guys were like and hopefully to glimmer or rank up some stuff for the other two.

I got the trophy for using Counter Arts 50 times.



Ignisyus is pretty hot. I'm definitely going to have to use him on a future playthrough.

What's amazing about this game is that you can literally compose and entire party of hot mustache dads. Name another RPG where you can do that...



Though Rico may be pretty young, IDK. He's hot either way. When I swapped him back in for the Hard fight, he glimmered a cool Interrupt Art for katana called Swallow Counter, which pretty much amounts to him being murderously sexy and dealing tons of damage against anyone using an art that does slashing damage.



And by glimmering it, he also learned a new Role that raises his Skill and Endurance both!



Fighting at the geysers just made them erupt, but this didn't seem to do anything. So we headed north past the northeast border, to that place where Ai Hanumu is supposed to be.



We head a bit west of the Village of No Presence to find that shrine that we heard about before. There's a cave there, but no shrine. Fighting the monsters in the cave makes the cave turn into a shrine. No explanation 8)

It seems like it's a shrine to Adamas, and Leo suggests that we try offering something. But I guess we have nothing to offer. So we head back to VONP to see if the girl there has anything more to tell us about it.



Instead, we're greeted by someone else. Instead of asking about shards or Ai Hanumu, Leo just marches up to her and says, "It's cold."

Her name is like... Tissue Sack. I don't know. Actually, she looks like she's probably a unique character, so let me see if she's in the book.

... Tissisaaq. I don't know if that's any better...

Anyway, noticing that we're travelers, she offers us some of the village's food. Liz compliments the warm reception and asks if it's a custom here to greet people with a meal.

Tissue Sack responds that it's not, but the hunting life is the same anywhere. There's always game anywhere, so this type of greeting should always be used.

Leo asks her what she hunts around here, and she answers just about everything. Beasts, birds, fish, anything. She even forages for fruit and herbs, and now and then even eats bugs.

Leo asks if there's a lot of things to hunt around here, and she says there are, but recently there are a lot of monsters, and you can't eat monsters, because they defile the body.



Leo says that we are looking for a guide (... are we?) and asks her if she'd like to help. She introduces herself and joins the party. She also comes with a formation called Stray Sheep, which has the unique property that BP resets to the starting amount of 5 every time there is a rengeki in battle. But starting with 5 BP and having a maximum of 11 is really amazing!



With a new box of Tissues, who at no point ever actually acts a guide, we wander around the area and look at all the various things. There's... really not a lot here. Most of the places Leo wonders if they are Ai Hanumu, decides they are not, and we are free to get into battles there. There's kind of a neat little scene of petals falling when you examine ~CHERRY BLOSSOM THE INFINITE~.



But eventually, we find this place: Spirit Lake. It's... a big lake... in the place where Ai Hanumu is said to be... Is this really it?!



As we arrive, Liz and Leo decide this must be it. So Leo gets ready to chuck his Scarlet Shards in, as that is what we came here to do.

We get a few options here. We can choose to toss in the one we got from Mystery Fainting Girl, the one Leo was born with in his hand, some other one that we have found, or just toss 'em all at once.

Tossing them all at once seems a bit reckless, and I don't want to lose the two originals, so I decide to toss in one of the random ones we found on our journey.



Then some kind of... translucent Leo appears and asks if we're the ones who threw the shards. Leo demands to know who he is, but he just says that this place is not Ai Hanumu, and returns the shard that we threw.

Leo says that we learned that Ai Hanumu was in a cold place outside the Empire's borders to the Northeast. If it's not here, then where is it?

The other Leo says that Ai Hanumu is the center of the world, so it's going to be in the center, like always.

Leo says that the center of the world is where Azhuacan is, right at the heart of the empire. Even someone like Leo knows something like that.

Shadow Leo answers that Azhuacan is only on the surface of the world. We need to look deeper than that. Leo asks if he's implying that Ai Hanumu is underneath Azhuacan.



He tells Leo that his trip here has not been in vain, and that he needs to continue traveling to return the shards to Ai Hanumu. He can't leave this quest half finished. Leo asks exactly who this guy even is, and he replies, "I'm you."

He disappears, and Leo strikes a model pose (I think he's supposed to be feeling faint lol) and Liz asks if he's okay. He says he's just worn out from being messed with like this. Liz says she thinks he might be overdoing it.

Leo says that the shadow dude had no reason to lie (how would he know his motivations lol) so we should return to Azhuacan. Liz says there may be shards here, too, so it might be good to look around before returning.



So, we do just that. Leo stops posing and everything seems fine. We head up to talk to the guy that's ice fishing in the northwest corner of the region. Leo asks him what he's doing and he says he's fishing, just like it looks. Leo is curious if there's even fish around here, and what kinds of fish he's catching.

He says there are definitely fish under the ice, but he hasn't caught a single one, and wonders what he should do. We're able to suggest to him to either try a shallow spot, or cast as deep as he can. We tell him to try casting deep, and he worries that his line might get snagged on something, but tries it anyway.

He ends up finding... not a fish, but he gives us what he reels in. It's a giant key. We talk to him again, and this time he says he was just praying that he catch something, and ask if we'd like to try praying, too. I choose to join him in his prayer, and he catches a fish! He's grateful for our help, and gives the fish to us.

We take the fish back to the shrine and offer it, but nothing seems to happen. It seems like we need to offer something more or something else.

We head back to the Village of No Presence to see if that girl who told us about the shrine is there and if she has any advice.

Instead, we find this girl talking about how she wants to revive the fallen Empire, and asks if we want to help out. Leo says it sounds like a pipedream, and asks if she has any money.

She replies that she indeed does not, but she does have some hay. It's actually the only thing she owns at all.

Leo says if you can revive the Empire with hay, then he's the Holy Emperor himself.



She tells us not to knock it before we try it, and gives us the hay. There's like... 99 stacks.

And now in every town in the game, this "industrial development" option comes up.

Inside, there are all kinds of like... recipes for "special products." Like, tons and tons, with hints of what items you need to create them, and which regions you can find them in...

It seems like this is some kind of sidequest that you were intended to start early in the game and work on throughout the entirety of the playthrough... But I'm getting to it just now, this close to the end.

OK, I was pretty mad. At this point, I thought I might go try to finish the game now. I already love the game enough that I plan on playing through all four scenarios, and would love to play through Leo's scenario again, too. I've already messed up many subquests and did all kinds of weird things, and I feel like I've finally gotten the hang of how to do things, that I'm REALLY eager to start a new game, and getting this industry minigame at this point made me REALLY discouraged about continuing the current file much longer.

It seems like you're intended to get this far and THEN start wandering around with Leo, which is weird, because you have to pretty much bypass everything and then choose to start doing other stuff when you finally learn where Ai Hanumu is.



When we get back to Thranici, Liz explains the fastest way to get back to Azhuacan, but she suggests that we might want to look for other Scarlet Shards instead of heading straight there. Leo wonders if it might not be better to get this over with and head back home. But Liz says there may still be shards we haven't found, and that's part of the purpose of our journey, to dump those in Ai Hanumu. Leo agrees that maybe we should look around a bit more.



SO WE RUN STRAIGHT TO AZHUACAN WITHOUT A GLANCE FOR A SHARD.

We're actually able to get back in now (we've been kind of locked out for most of the game, after we got here the first time). We figure that the big pyramid thing in the center of the fallen capital must be the entrance to get down to Ai Hanumu. But there's no real way to get there -- it seems way too difficult and dangerous to try to jump into the moat and climb back up the other side of it, and there are no bridges or anything.

So, we head off to the library to see if our old friend Library has anything to say to help us.



She recognizes us from the time we were here before and asks us if we were able to find Ai Hanumu. Leo just says that he knows it's here and knows that she knows something. Her attitude changes and she tells us she'll give us some "special" information -- people like us can't go to Ai Hanumu. Since the founding of the Empire, many Fake Emperors tried to go to Ai Hanumu to take the power of the gods for themselves, but they were destroyed. The only one who succeeded became the Holy Emperor.

So she won't let people like us go to Ai Hanumu. We'll only try to be Fake Emperors.

Leo says he doesn't care about emperors and gods and shit, he just has to go toss the shards in.

She says it's the first time she's heard that one, and then says she won't hold back.



Then we have to fight a whole squad of Librarians. Francis is there, too! Francis is probably the biggest threat over all, but he's also very slow at casting, and the three Library Girl recolors are surprisingly strong, using sword arts against the party.



Though this only makes me want to have a Librarian in the party more, the fact that they are this like... super strong defense force of the Empire.

It took me a couple tries, but I finally managed to get the hang of the battle and learn where I should focus my attacks.



Francis still couldn't be paralyzed or anything like when we fought him before, but the Librarian Girls are like any other normal human opponent (though much stronger and with access to scarier sword arts), so it was possible to paralyze them and take out Francis while we were free to attack, then work on knocking off each Librarian Girl one by one.

After defeating them, we're teleported to the pyramid in the center of Azhuacan.



Entering, we're greeted with some kind of weird explosion of crystals or something, and a teleporter appears in the center of this... strange area that we're in.



There are a couple hatches to get back to the Library, or to the Maligan temple, so we're not stuck in here. But instead of heading for those, we go to the teleporter in the center.



The teleporter seems to be what will take us to where we can meet the gods -- the real Ai Hanumu.



Upon entering, Liz and Leo see images of all the things they did together on their journey. Most major subquests seemed to appear here, and Liz and Leo commented on them (nothing particularly interesting, more just describing what had happened).



And then we enter a room that is ... pretty empty. Liz wonders if it's Ai Hanumu, but then we're greeted by... that guy who was maybe Sigfrei from Kei Province?

8)

Leo asks what he's doing here, and he says he's here to help us.



Then we fight him.

8))))

It's a really easy battle -- way harder than the Librarian Force.

After defeating Siegfrei for... whatever reason, we find ourselves still in the little room. Leo grumbles that that guy thinks he knows everything or something, but he's really just a huge pain in the ass. Liz complains that he may have been about to tell us something useful.

But suddenly, the room goes dark and shakes. Seems like it's some kind of creepy elevator cage... oops?



And then we find ourselves in some kind of strange, dark area, after riding the elevator to the true center of the world. We've arrived at Ai Hanumu.

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