When we landed in Ul'dah I awoke to grim faces. Though we had just managed to escape from the Garlean stronghold of Castrum Centri and despite Alphinaud's rousing speech, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn were morose once more. I stepped off the Enterprise, leaving behind Biggs and Wedge who were busying themselves with repairs and maintenance to the airship. I found Minfilia and Alphinaud in deep discussion, a look of concern on their faces.
"Hey, why's everyone look so down?" I asked when I approached.
"Grim tidings, Rosalyn. It seems that word of the Ultima Weapon's existence has already reached the Alliance leaders in the form of an ultimatum. They have gathered in the Fragrant Chamber and are deliberating their answer even as we speak."
I blinked for a moment, surprised at the news. "An ultimatum? Gaius is demanding the Alliance's surrender? Like that's going to happen."
"Beleaguered as they are, I fear they may well elect to lay down their arms in the belief that surrender will spare their people untold suffering. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. That which the Black Wolf offers will doom Eorzea, not deliver it, and the leaders must be made aware of this."
I couldn't believe what Minfilia was telling me. There was no way the leaders of the Eorzean Alliance would give up so easily. Though, as I thought about it I was beginning to have some doubts. It had been five years since the Calamity and the people of Eorzea were only beginning to rebuild their lives. And not only were they beset by the Garlean invaders, but there were the Primals to take into account. Every time they were put down they were only summoned again by their beastmen followers, stronger and stronger each time as their faith was tested. How would the Alliance be able to send their peoples into battle against an enemy force that was already so entrenched in our lands?
There was The Scions of the Seventh Dawn. We were that final line of defense between Eorzea and its threats. Even before the Calamity when they were the Path of the Twelve, it fell to them to deal with the Primals and the Garleans both. If not for the them, the Eorzean Alliance wouldn't have existed. And here, thinking we were out of the picture, they were ready to hand Eorzea over to Garlemald.
"Well, I think we have a council to crash." I said to them with a nod. With Alphinaud and Minfilia hot on my heels we made our way to the Royal Promenade. Along the way we found Cid and he fell into step with us. When we finally reached the Royal Promenade we found a number of guards blocking our path at the door. Seeing us approaching the guards looked as though they had seen ghosts.
As we neared the large doors I could hear voices inside speaking. "Aye, which is why we looked to others to safeguard our future -" I recognized the voice as Admiral Merlwyb of Limsa Lominsa, the tough pirate turned leader of the naval city-state. "The Scions of the Seventh Dawn. Alas, they are gone and the Black Wolf is at our door."
That seemed to be our cue. "Admiral, I fear you are mistaken!" I announced after throwing open the doors and stepping into the large room. The Alliance leaders looked up in shock as we made our entrance.
"Alphinaud? Minfilia? And - seven hells - Master Garlond!?" Merlwyb eyed us in disbelief.
"And you, dear friend…" Kan-E-Senna smiled at me.
"Oh, well, I mean, they're the important people here…" I stammered, flushed at Kan-E-Senna's recognition of me.
"By Rhalgr, you're alive! All of you!" Raubhan, the scarred commander of the Immortal Flames let out a hearty laugh.
Alphinaud and Minfilia stepped closer to the conference table. "As we approached, I would swear I heard talk of surrender. But I know that cannot be. It is not the Eorzean way." Alphinaud said, taking in the four members there. For once I was glad to hear his condescending tone of voice, as it was not directed at me mostly.
"Hear me, my friends." Minfilia began. "Accepting the Garleans' offer to vanguish the Primals would be folly. Folly, I say, for might is not the answer to the Primal threat. Indeed, the more the Empire exerts its strength, the worse the matters will become. Primals enter this world when mortals call upon them, and mortals are wont to appeal to a higher power when they are desperate. Nothing is more certain to breed desperation in the beast tribes than the Garleans' proposed solution."
"The true answer lies in a lasting peace, but the Garleans only know war and conquest," Alphinaud picked up. "Should Eorzea fall to their hands, there will be such suffering as none can imagine."
"We are not blind to the many challenges that each of your nations face. Yet you must not give in."
I stepped forward, spurred on by their words. "That's right. Remember five years ago, when you all wagered for the sake of the realm. Remember what you fought for, what you were willing to die for!" I knew full well what we fought for. I was there. Even if the dreams of that crimson moon crashing overhead haunted me for the rest of my life, I knew that what I did, what we as the peoples of Eorzea did, was right. "Let the memories rekindle the fire in your heart, for Eorzea has need of it again!" Even if those memories were absent myself and many others.
Minfilia spared me a smile and turned her attention back to the Alliance leaders. "Come what may, we Scions will never give up the fight. And so I bid you stand with us, and together we shall safeguard the future of the realm."
The leaders appraised our words with looks of concern on their face. They still hadn't bought it.
"A great man once said that a shrewd merchant grasps not for the quick profit, but invests in the future. Wise words, eh Raubahn?" Cid said with a grin.
The large man took in Cid's words speechless.
"Your words stir… and shame me in equal measure…" Kan-E-Senna said, looking down at her hands upon her lap. "How could I contemplate surrender? I know full well that all we have, we owe to the sacrifices of those who went before us. Yet the seeming hopelessness of our plight robbed me of my insight." She rose suddenly, stomping the ground and slamming her staff to emphasize her words.
"We Gridanians have no love for war, yet we still less for those who would threaten our homeland. Ever have we fought to protect those things we hold dear, and this shall never change." Everyone eyed the Padjal in awe. She raised her staff up high above the table. "Gridania will go to war." She declared. "We will fight the Empire, for the sake of the realm and all who abide here!"
The silence that followed was suddenly broken by a round of laughter. Nanamo Ul Namo, the Sultana of Ul'Dah, was laughing happily. "Hear, hear!" She said through her laughter. As if spurred on by the sound of it, Merlwyb and Raubahn began to laugh as well. Kan-E-Senna only smiled as she returned to her seat. "At long last, I hear words worthy of a founder of the Alliance!" Nanamo said happily. She looked up to her large General with a mischievous smile not befitting a ruler. "Raubahn! Are we to be outdone!?"
"I lost one homeland. The thought of losing another had blunted my resolve." He grinned. "But no man knows better than I that if you want aught, you'd best be ready to die for it. With great danger comes the chance for great glory, and great profit - we Ul'dahns, who have turned sand into gold, know this well." He turn his gaze to us. "How many times have we fallen into the pit of despair, only to have you pluck us out? I've fair lost count."
Merlwyb snorted as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Reckless, the lot of you - like bloody pirates! Well, I won't was my breath trying to talk you round… On account of being a pirate myself." She chuckled. "And the pirate who shrinks from a challenge is no pirate at all!" She stood from her seat, spurred into action. "Those who would pick a quarrel with us must choose: back down, or go down with all hands! Let the Garleans come. The united strength of Limsa Lominsa will be waiting for them!"
Nanamo nodded in agreement. "If our realm is to be free of this pall of darkness, let it be by our own hands!"
"For Eorzea!" The cheer went up and Raubahn struck a flame on a silver plate, tossing his copy of Gaius' ultimatum into the blaze. Merlwyb and Kan-E-Senna followed suit. The three leaders then stepped aside to begin deliberating over a map of Eorzea.
Nanamo Ul Namo approached us with a smile on her face. "Be at ease, my friends. You have banished our doubts. Pray leave the military matters to us, and retire to the Waking Sands. We will send word anon."
With our pleas heard, we left the Royal Promenade and put Ul'dah behind us as we returned to the Waking Sands. It was good to be home again as a group. Though, we weren't all there of course. There was still Thancred, the traitor. We sat in Minfilia's office, waiting on word from the Eorzean Alliance.
"I cannot well express my relief," Minfilia said aloud, smiling to herself. "And to think the Alliance came so close to surrender…"
"But they didn't," I said. "And they're ready to put up a fight until the end."
"I would like to know, what was that power at work there?" Alphinaud asked, thinking to himself.
"Nothing of the sort," Minfilia shook her head at the idea of some trickery being employed. "The leaders of Eorzea had lost their way - I merely helped them to find it again." She looked away suddenly, bringing her hand to her ear. "Oh, hello!" She spoke into the linkpearl. "Yes, our party returned some time ago. How close are you?" There came a knocking at the door as though in response to her question and she left from behind her desk to answer it.
"We must needs plan our next move. Pray, continue liaising with your respective nations." Alphinaud said to the assembled Scions. "Cid, would you be our man in Ul'dah?"
"I'll be whatever and wherever you need me to be," he said in reply.
Minfilia returned from her business at the door and approached me. "Thancred's fate weighs heavy on my mind. I cannot bear to think of him in thrall to an Ascian."
"W-wait? What?" I looked at her in surprise. "He's not… You mean he's not one of them?"
"I thought you knew, but the Ascians are immortal beings without physical form. Since time immemorial they have fanned the flames of chaos from the shadows. That they may work unseen, the Ascians entrap and possess mortal men by means of malign artifacts known as Crystals of Darkness. One such Crystal may yet be the key to saving Thancred." I thought for a moment. Hadn't Thancred been wearing a crystal on a necklace? When did he begin wearing it? Surely some time after the incident with Ifrit… Minfilia reached into one of her pouches and pulled out a black crystal.
"This is a Crystal of Darkness?" Alphinaud asked.
"A mere replica, created using data obtained from anomalous crystals across Eorzea." Y'shtola explained.
"It comes to us courtesy of the Students of Baldesion, our distant allies." Minfilia put the crystal away and sighed softly. "Even for an Archon, Thancred's talents are exceptional. We all had complete confidence in him. It was for this reason that none among us foresaw the danger in sending him to investigate the Ascians alone."
"Thancred had been striving to fill the void left by Louisoix," Papalymo chimed in. "Yet it was plain that he was overtaxing himself."
"Yeah, he would volunteer for everything and work till he was dizzy." Yda added.
"And the toll taken by his exertions made him vulnerable to Ascian influence…" Alphinaud contemplated.
"The Crystal that binds Thancred must be somewhere on his person. If we could but destroy it, his Ascian possessor would be compelled to relinquish control over him." Minfilia suggested.
"Easier said than done, I'd wager." I remarked with a frown.
"You have proven the stoutest of allies, standing with us through thick and thin." Minfilia said, placing her hand on my shoulder. "Yet the most perilous struggle is still to come. For the sake of the realm, and Thancred, I ask that you lend us your strength once more."
I could feel my cheeks flushing as Minfilia beseeched me for aid. "I've come this far, I couldn't live with myself if I ran now." I offered a weak smile.
Minfilia beamed at me and I nearly swooned. "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart." She smiled at me a moment longer then began to speak once more. "As I am sure you are aware, the realm was saved from certain doom five years ago by heroes known as the Warriors of Light." Out of the corner of my eye I could see Cid beginning to smirk. I wished I could have scowled at him but Minfilia had my full attention. "What you may not be aware of is that your many feats in service to the Scions have prompted folk to make certain...comparisons." My heart skipped a beat. "One can only wonder at their insight… Perhaps a touch of the Echo resides in everyone. Yet remember this: however glorious the past, it is the hero's lot to be judged on the deeds of the present. A new darkness threatens the realm, and the people cry out for a savior. I believe that you are she - a Warrior of Light, here in the present, guided by the Crystal's will."
"Minfilia…" I smiled abashedly. I looked away and my eyes found Cid who seemed to be trying his best contain his mirth. It would be safe to say that Alphinaud would be safe from my glares for a time being. "L-look, I really appreciate the vote of confidence, but I'm no savior, really. I'm just…" I floundered, at a loss for words. "Who's hungry? I could sure go for something to eat right about now." I extricated myself from the increasingly awkward situation and retreated to the storage room where no one could bother me.
I rummaged through our supplies that had survived the Garlean assault and managed to find a surplus of Knight's Bread. The hard, leavened rye bread was so aptly named because it was made to survive for long periods of time while the knights of Ishgard were out on their long dragon slaying campaigns. With some effort I broke it apart and chewed on the strong, tough bread. So engrossed in chewing the hard bread, I completely missed the fact that someone had joined me until they sat beside me on the crate I had chosen as my seat and an outstretched arm offered me a small jar of honey.
My gaze followed up the arm, my eyes journey ending at Cid's bearded face. I grunted and returned my attention to my bread.
"Come now, old friend, no need to choke it down." He said lightly, shaking the jar before me. I grumbled and took the jar, pouring a glob of the amber honey onto both halves of the bread. I set the jar down beside me and handed the unbitten half to the engineer who took it with a grin. "There, finding that a bit easier to swallow now?"
"Master Garlond, mean you the bread or the praise?" I asked with a sly smile.
Cid chuckled and took a bite of his bread. He chewed, swallowed, and gave me an appraising look. "You shouldn't let their words get to you like that. We're supposed to be keeping your identity a secret, at this rate your performance will give it all away."
"There's a lot riding on my shoulders right now, to say it's a little stressful would be like saying a Behemoth is a little big." I sighed and rested my head back against the wall. "I'll be glad when this is all over."
"It will be soon, my friend."
I looked over to Cid and gave him a weary smile. I appreciated what he was doing for me at that moment. He was the only one who knew who I had been, the only one who remembered our past. But Minfilia was right. It didn't matter who I was, but who I am in the present. Eorzea needed a hero, and it looked like it would be me. In both my glory, and my failures. Half the time I felt like I was broken, barely holding myself together. "I'm not the hero Eorzea deserves."
"No, but you're the hero it needs."
I tried to shoot the engineer a glower but only managed a wry smile. I stood from my seat on the crate, my bread in hand and made for the exit. I stopped at the door to the storage room and turned back. "You've got honeyed crumbs in your beard, old man." I left to the sound of Cid's laughter and made my way back to the Seneschal's office. There seemed to be some commotion going on inside. From the sound of it, the Alliance leaders had finalized their plan of attack and Alphinaud had left to Ul'dah to retrieve it. It would only be a matter of time before he returned and our war on the Garlean invaders began. With nothing to do but wait, I set about preparing my equipment for war.
A lot of motivational speaking going on in this one. A good chunk of the cutscene with the Alliance leaders is absent since I've been writing this in first person rather than almighty and omniscient. It's not hard to figure out that they were ready to give up though. I tried to convey the same things they covered in their meetings in Ros' thoughts though.
We got another long cutscene coming at you guys next week and with it the return of the supporting cast. Oliver Koenig, Sorasha Ashi, Azarashi Asha, Ratie Farsight, Rae Lanaerys, Eryiwean Zirhmusyn, and Mishro Morishro. I am especially anxious to get my friends back into the mix of things because it grants me the opportunity to write witty banter that I can't exactly have with the NPC cast, though that doesn't mean I won't try.
That little bit there at the end, the padding I added because I didn't like where the actual quest ended to begin with, is what I hope ended up an awkwardly endearing scene between Ros and Cid. I may have borrowed a line from The Dark Knight, but by the Twelve, it fits the scene. There's definitely a camaraderie between the player character and Cid but I don't think it's explored very well in the original content.
I'm thinking we'll end up at the end of the main scenario in two... two and a half weeks at the most. Just about in time for 2.2, Into the Maelstrom, to drop. I've been contemplating doing a few short one-offs, some "gaidens" if you would, before moving on to the 2.1 "A Realm Awoken" missions. There's only about... twelve of them, if I recall correctly, and they wouldn't take very long to burn through. Whatever I decide to do in the future, I hope you will always look forward to it.