Phase three of Operation Archon was a hard earned victory, but it wasn't over just yet. As we left Castrum Meridianum the Immortal Flames and adventurers were busy rounding up the remainder of the Garlean troops that had surrendered. Castrum Meridianum was ours. I spotted Raubahn giving orders to a number of troops and the Flame General spotted me in turn.
He approached us with a grin on his scarred face. "The final phase of Operation Archon is about to commence," he said as he fell into step. "Yours is the most dangerous mission of all, but the best must bear the heaviest burden, and you're the best we have. There's not another soul in this realm that could see this deed done, and Merlwyb and Kan-E are of the same mind as me."
"Flattery will get you nowhere," I chuckled. I was feeling good despite the tough fights we had survived and those that were sure to be ahead of us.
"We expect a party when we get back," Oliver added.
Raubahn stopped, crossing his arms over his chest. We all stopped and looked to the Flame General. "Though all hangs on your success, you must not let our plight make you desperate. Victory belongs to the bold, not the reckless. Bards are wont to sing of heroes who valued their life at naught next to honor, love, and liberty, but I tell you now: that which men value at naught, they sell cheap. Risk no more than you must, you hear me?"
We were silent for a moment, absorbing Raubahn's words. Before we could comment, whether it was words of thanks for a smart remark, the Flame General shook his head and laughed. "Now, best you were off. We have work to do, the both of us. May Rhalgr grant you strength." I nodded in thanks and we made our swift return to the Ceruleum Processing Plant.
We found Cid waiting for us with the Enterprise nearby and ready to leave. We went over our supplies and when all was ready we approached Cid. The engineer had a grim look of determination on his face. "Are we all ready?"
"As ready as we'll ever be," I offered.
"If we succeed in destroying the Ultima Weapon, it will deal a crippling blow to the Empire's hopes of conquest. After that, the XIVth Legion would not dare to move against us. Barring the discovery of further Allagan doomsday devices, that is…" Cid smirked. We all stared blankly at him and he cleared his throat, looking away abashedly. "Ah, yes, let's be on our way then."
As we all climbed aboard the Enterprise, Biggs took the helm. A morose quiet fell upon us as Biggs piloted the Enterprise away from the dock and into the cool night air. Oliver was working a shine into his shield, buffing out whatever dent he had put into it when he struck Livia in our previous battle while Rae sharpened her axehead with a whetstone. Mishro seemed to be nursing the beginnings of a hangover, though I had a feeling he'd be fine as soon as the fighting started. Sorasha and Azarashi were seated toward the rear of the ship, the Black Mage resting her head against the Dragoon's. Eryiwaen and Ratie stood by the side of the ship watching the Processing Plant grow smaller below us.
My gaze was affixed firmly on the Praetorium as we grew closer to the massive building. Cid stepped beside me and placed his hand on my shoulder, simply nodding. I nodded in return. I thought back to a similar situation five years ago where I, along with Cid and seven other adventurers, flew toward an dramatic conclusion. Nael van Darnus, the White Raven, seemed such an impossible foe to defeat then. And now here we were, facing another impossible enemy. The Ultima Weapon had the power of three Primals within it, would the eight of us be enough to even defeat it? I shook my head, shaking away the thoughts. It was no time to doubt ourselves.
Before I knew it, Biggs was bringing the Enterprise up alongside the Praetorium and we were filing off the airship.
"So here we are..." I said.
"The Ultima Weapon will almost certainly be housed in the depths of the complex," Cid said. Behind us, Biggs and Wedge were leaving. Cid nodded to his friends and the Enterprise grew smaller as it lifted off into the air. "This is it my friends."
We moved quickly through the hallway leading into the heart of the Praetorium. We had never been inside a building like this before. It was like a maze of metal that we'd have to find our way down, having arrived at the top level via airship. We found a lift at the center of the the room and piled in.
"Which floor?" Oliver asked as he eyed the panel.
"The research level," Cid said. "It's more than likely there."
Oliver nodded and pressed the button, the doors sliding shut and trapping us inside the small lift. The lift started moving and we looked to one another. No one wanted to put a voice to what we were all thinking.
"Well that was easy," Ratie said out loud, a wide smile on his face. The lift then ground to a halt, the doors opening only one floor below where we had started. Ratie was lucky he was closest to the door and that Oliver couldn't draw his sword in the cramped confines.
We piled out of the lift and looked in surprise at state of this floor which had been labeled "Sky Level" on the panel in the lift. There were small fires burning, Garlean soldiers scurrying to fight the blazes. It looked like a number of explosions had rocked through the Praetorium.
"What the hells happened here?" Azarashi asked.
"Who cares? Lets just hurry." I urged us on. I drew my bow and knocked an arrow and loosed it into the back of the nearest Garlean. Caught distracted, we made quick work of the soldiers and came upon a massive locked door. It took us a few minutes but we found an identification card and unlocked the bulkhead. On the other side of the door was our answer to just what had happened.
"By the Twelve, is that a part of the airship we shot down?" Rae cursed.
"It would seem our aim was even better than we thought." Eryiwaen chuckled.
The wreckage blazed, blocking our path forward, but a large section of the outer wall had been destroyed. It looked like the outer rim of the Praetorium wrapped around the building completely, possibly offering an alternative route. We tentatively stepped out onto the wide ledge and followed the impromptu path. A quarter of the way around the building our luck held and another hole in the side of the building offered us an entrance. Inside more fires burned out of control, pieces of the downed airship littering the floor.
It looked like a large portion of the floor had given way under the force of the blasts, and we carefully made our way down it to the floor below. As we followed the path it seemed we had found the Magitek Armor Bay, an uncountable number of Magitek Reapers lining the walls. It was a good thing the Garleans were preoccupied, if they had utilized even a fraction of these Reapers we would have been stopped dead in our tracks. We found a Magitek transporter and as dubious as it was, we had no other options and decided to use it
"Where are we now?" I asked when we appeared on the transportation device's destination.
"Well, why don't we ask that group of Garleans?" Ratie suggested with a grin, pointing to a half a dozen that Garlean were standing not far away guarding a large door at the top of a set of steps. They spotted us and drew their weapons.
"We're going to have a talk about your performance when we're done here," Oliver said to the Black Mage as he drew his weapon. He ran out to meet the approaching soldiers with Rae following close behind. Azarashi leapt forward, taking out one of the soldiers on his own with his leaping attack. I dropped two with well placed arrows and well timed blasts from Ratie and Sorasha handled the rest.
Cid applauded our skills and approached a panel by the staircase. He began clicking away at the keys and after a moment the doors slid open. We ran up into the room, hoping to get our bearings. Unfortunately, the room wasn't empty.
"Gaius!" Cid shouted when he spotted the Black Wolf standing before some massive console.
"Ah, Cid, my boy… You are late." Gaius turned to face us. "There is something I always meant to tell you, yet the time never seemed right. It concerns your father."
Just what the hells was this? Why was our enemy speaking so casually right now? I stepped closer to Cid but he held his arm up and I stopped short. "What of him?" He asked.
"In the winter of his years, Midas came to abhor his part in Meteor. He told me that he wanted nothing more than to wash his hands of the whole sordid business."
"But he did not wash his hands of it! He helmed the project until the day it killed him!" Cid spat.
"Come now, Cid… you must know that he did not have the luxury of choice. By the time he realized his error, it was too late. Meteor had him completely in its thrall. Shortly before his… transformation, mayhap sensing that something was amiss, your father confided in me all the regrets of his life." Gaius paused briefly. "Most of them concerned you."
Cid looked like he wanted to speak but he remained silent.
"Early in your career, he realized that while you had a talent for devising armaments, it would never fulfill you. Long before you knew your own mind, he saw that you would be far happier using your knowledge for peaceful purposes, and the thought touched him. He was a changed man for it, though he could not let it show."
"What is it you want to say, Gaius?" Cid finally asked.
"I want you at my side, Cid. Take up your father's mantle and become the Empire's lead engineer. It is your destiny." Gaius offered out his hand to Cid as he spoke.
"My father had a change of heart, you said so yourself. Besides, I have long known my destiny, and I assure you, it lies not with the Empire." Cid replied with a glare.
"A pity," Gaius said simply. "And what of you, adventurer?" He turned his gaze on me. "Will you not consider making common cause with me?" I took a shocked step back. "With your powers joined to mine, we might do much for this realm. Together we could bring order to Eorzea and usher in a lasting peace."
"Yours is a false peace, Black Wolf! One locked in shackles of oppression and bound with chains of servitude! I refuse!"
"No? I should not be surprised by such a response. So be it. It was your strength that made me proffer my hand in friendship, and it is your strength that makes me proffer now my blade. Save as an ally, you are too dangerous to be let to remain." Gaius turned his back on us just as the doors behind us opened up. We all turned in time to see a Magitek Colossus much like the one that gave us so much trouble in the Castrum in the doorway. This one's armor was a deep blue, it's blade glowing with blue light.
"Run, Cid." Gaius said solemnly. "Or stay. It makes no matter. You cannot escape the past." I looked back over my shoulder and saw that Gaius had been standing on a lift the entire time, the floor underneath him lowering as he escaped us.
"Gaius, wait!" Cid shouted. "Damnit!"
"We'll worry about Gaius later! Let's deal with this thing first!"
"This is the same thing we had a problem with last time," Oliver said as he drew his sword. "How exactly are we going to 'deal with it'?"
"It's not the same, this one is blue."
"Oh, well that makes all the difference in the world!" The Paladin shouted as he ran to meet the Colossus. The giant swung its sword and Oliver braced himself, his shield ready to block the blow. There was no way he'd be able to stand up against it but he held fast. Just as the blade descended upon him, Rae and Azarashi joined him with their weapons held tightly in front of them. The giant's blade came to a grinding halt as it struck the hafts of Azarashi and Rae's weapons and Oliver's shield. If it was possible for the giant to look confused, it would have.
With the Colossus' guard down Mishro dashed forward, jumped atop the sword and ran up it. Moving at his regular speed, he was forced to jump from the sword up to the giant's shoulder where he then delivered a savage kick to its head before leaping off. The giant took a staggered step backward and moved to raise its sword once more.
Sorasha and Ratie raised their staves high and focused their concussive blasts of flame on the giant's sword arm. The sword dropped to the ground with a clatter and the giant reached to retrieve it, only to draw its hand back as Azarashi stabbed its palm.
I drew an arrow back as far as I could, waiting for an opening. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cid join me at my side, leveling his gunblade at the giant. I nodded lightly to him and he returned the affection. Cid's gunblade barked as unloaded his ammunition on the Colossus. Not wanting to be outdone, I released arrow after arrow. Our barrage struck the Colossus, arrows and bullets piercing it over and over. Cid's gunblade fired one last time and the Colossus went limp, dropped to its knees, then crumpled to the floor.
"Looks like the engineer can fight," Azarashi said amongst the round of cheers.
Cid scratched the back of his head, smiling.
"Don't get cocky," Oliver said, offering his hand to Cid with a grin on his face. Cid shook it, gripping tightly. "That still only counts as one." Oliver patted the engineer's back.
As we regrouped Cid stepped over to one of the panels and began pressing keys. In short order, the lift that Gaius had escaped down returned. "Knowing Gaius, he is headed for the Ultima Weapon. If we find him, so too will we find our quarry."
"What is this room anyway?" Sorasha asked.
Cid gestured to the many panels and dials and screens across the length of the wall. "With these instruments, we can monitor every nook and cranny in the Castrum. I think it's time we divided our forces. Pray, go on and give chase. I'll track your movements from here and guide you through the complex."
"Beats running around blind," Eryiwaen offered with a shrug.
"We'll stay in contact via linkpearl," I said to Cid. "Be careful, alright?" Cid nodded and ushered us onto the lift and sent us on our way. The lift stopped one floor below the control center and we began looking around for a way to progress.
"Where are we, Cid?" I asked out loud.
"You're on the ground level," Cid replied over the linkpearl. "There should be a way down to the research level there."
We circled around the central fixture that seemed to be common amongst all the levels of the Praetorium. On the opposite side of the lift we found a slanted floor leading to a massive door like none we had ever seen before. It looked like the door was made out of some strange organic metal.
"There's a door in the way, Cid. How do we get through?"
"That bulkhead is made out of Cerment. You'll need proper firepower to blast through that door. Try to find another path to the armor bay." We proceeded through two large doors, past a large training area, and into a small room. "There ought to be an identification key reader nearby. You need to complete pilot registration before you can activate an armor." Cid explained. We each approached a panel in the room and took our turns being registered by the system through Cid's aid. "Well, well, would you look at this! I've found just the unit for you, Rosalyn." Cid chuckled. "I'll send the identification data to the terminal. You can use that to activate her."
We piled onto another lift that raised us up into the Magitek Armor Bay, this time ending up in the large room with all the Reapers lining the walls. Everyone split up, running to the nearest Reaper and climbing aboard. I spotted one that seemed slightly different from the rest and approached it. There, emblazoned on the side of it as if in defiance, was the emblem of the Garlond Ironworks. The Reaper lit up and moved on its own.
"Ah, there she is!" Cid said excitedly in my ear. "I trust you recognize our old friend. 'Maggie' was it? They must have shipped her here from Centri. Considering all she's been through, it's a wonder she's still operational! Tough old girl."
I grinned and climbed up into the pilot seat of the armor and looked at the row of controls blankly. I should be able to figure it out, despite my limited amount of training with it. The thing was going to pilot itself anyway, wasn't it?
"Now that you're suitably armed, you can blast open that bulkhead. The external walkway will take you back there. Follow it until you come upon a way down to the lower level."
It took everyone a couple minutes to figure out the controls but soon enough we were all outfitted with our very own Magitek Reapers. Together, we blasted a hole into the outer wall and dropped down to the outside walkway below. The eight of us together in the Repears was a force to be reckoned with, and it was absolutely fun to be completely honest. Even the stoic Eryiwaen was having fun piloting his armor.
The outer walkway wrapped around the Praetorium and we found a way back to the ground floor. We lined up before the cerment bulkhead and focused our attacks on it until it was blown away. Beyond the door was a massive lift that we took down into the research level.
Underneath the Praetorium, the Magitek Research facility was a collection of large pods glowing bright blue of Ceruleum lining the walkway leading deeper into the laboratory. We piloted our armors along the path, not sure what to expect. Just as we were following our only path, a mechanical arm of some sort busted out of one of the pods. More than one of us let out a scream of surprise, only to press our attack on the monstrous arm until it fell limp.
"The hells was that?" Rae asked.
"If I had to wager a guess I'd say they're building something down here," I said, shaking my head. "All the more reason to put a stop to their plans."
With the arm well behind us we continued until we came upon another cerment blast door. This one seemed to be sturdier than the previous one, holding up against our combined assault.
"This bulkhead is composed of a special alloy. Extremely tough." Cid chimed in my ear. "Ordinary fire won't leave a mark, I'm afraid. You'll need to divert all power to the magitek cannon, as I did so memorably once before. As you may recall, the armor's core is like to expire from the strain, but there's no help for it if we want to press on."
"How do we do it?"
"Now, listen well. Press-" there was suddenly an increased amount of static over the linkpearl. "-the control, engage ancillary-" I winced at another blast of static. "Then fire away. Don't mind the warning lights."
We lined up in front of the blast door and gave one another a look of worry. "Just press whatever I suppose…" I said with a shrug. We fumbled for a moment, then first Sorasha's Reaper opened its maw adornment wide and began focusing energy at its cannon. One by one we worked it out and we all fired our powerful attacks at the door. When the smoke cleared, the door was obliterated. However, our progression came at the loss of our Reapers. We climbed out of the Magitek armors and drove forward down the path. I couldn't help but look back over my shoulder at Maggie, feeling bad about leaving it behind.
We entered a large round room with high walls and the first thing I noticed was that we were not alone.
"You have been leaving a fine mess in your wake, adventurer." The man standing before us was wearing red armor, an almost draconic looking helmet on his head.
"Is someone there!?" Cid asked over the linkpearl.
The armored man raised his arm, a device on his forearm blinking to life. "Garlond, old friend. How it warms the heart to hear your voice again after all these years." He said with a smirk in his voice. It seemed everyone knew Cid Garlond. And whatever device the man had on his arm, it was clearly capable of detecting our communications.
"..Nero? Is that you?" Cid asked incredulously.
"You sound well. It would seem this savage land agrees with you."
"The highest ranking tribunus of the XIVth. It was you all this time?"
"Tell me, Garlond. How long do you intend to keep all the glory for yourself?"
"You've lost me." Cid replied.
"Glad I'm not the only one," I muttered.
"Don't play the fool with me. Ever since the Academy, I have been condemned to live in your shadow. By all objective measure, I was the more talented of the two of us, yet that fact counted for naught beside your privileged birth." The man named Nero sneered. "You were admired as the young prodigy simply because your father was the great Midas nan Garlond! When you defected, I was sure my star would finally rise, but by disappearing you acquired the status of a legend! Your reputed genius gaining credence merely by dint of your absence! Instead of cursing you for a traitor, the people actually came to think of you more fondly! To this day, you are still the young prodigy of Magitek!
"I, meanwhile, have ever been made to feel second-rate, I who have continued to serve our nation faithfully! Whenever I fail to excel, why, it is only to be expected! Yet when I exceed all reasonable expectations, people proclaim that I am walking in the footsteps of the great Cid nan bloody Garlond!"
"Nero… I don't know what to say…" Cid said quietly.
"I do," Oliver interjected and I shot him a look.
"It matters not a whit what I achieve. Your existence has rendered mine worthless. Even Lord van Baelsar saw fit to offer you a place at his side, and in spite of your betrayal! Did he extend any such offer to me, the man who had remained loyal to him for all these years? Why, no. He did not." Nero looked up, his shoulders slumping. "Long have I endured this injustice…. but no more." Nero turned his attention back to us. "Lord van Baelsar is in the midst of activating the fully powered Ultima Weapon. It is my magnum opus, the creation that will win me the recognition I am due. I will not let anyone interfere."
"Nero! What are you-" Cid shouted, only to be cut off as Nero struck the device on his arm. The linkpearl in my ear went silent.
"Ever since I first set foot in this benighted land, I have watched you." Nero said, his gaze landing on me. I shivered involuntarily. "Every move you made, every step you have taken. You have felled eikons, a feat made possible by the Echo, a peculiar power which shields you from their corrupting influence. It is of little wonder that my lord has taken an interest in you. As have I, if truth be told. It is my desire to harness your power for use in the Ultima Weapon." Nero raised his hand to the air and there was a glint of light. A massive weapon landed in front of him with a crash, a menacing weapon that resembled the combination of a spiked warhammer and a cannon. What was up with Garlemald and their cannons, indeed? "Should I succeed, Lord van Baelsar will surely take notice! Beside this, Garlond's achievements will be as child's play! Come, adventurer! Yield to me the secrets of your power!"
"You think he's making up for something?" Oliver snickered as he readied his shield. Would it even be able to withstand that massive hammer of Nero's? He ran toward the tribunus all the same and was rewarded with a devastating swing that he barely brought his shield up to block in time. Oliver rolled and skidded to a stop several fulms away.
"I have taken the liberty of preparing an electrifying stage for you!" Nero laughed. He pressed a button on his device and electricity began sparking along the floor on the outer edge of the room, forcing us all to draw closer to him. I spotted Eryiwaen dragging Oliver into relative safety at the last second.
Rae, Azarashi, and Mishro ran forward to engage in combat with Nero while Eryiwaen healed Oliver. Sorsaha, Ratie, and I stood precariously close to the electrified floor, caught between that hazard and the thought of being struck by Nero's hammer.
Rae parrying one of Nero's attacks, the haft of her axe catching the hammer between its spikes. The two pressed hard against each other's weapons, trying to gain the higher ground. It was then that there was a sudden explosion out the cannon end of the hammer, the force of it knocking Rae clear off her feet. Ratie vanished, appearing behind Rae in time to catch her before she was tossed into the electricity.
Azarashi jumped forward and stabbed at at Nero, his polearm grazing the Tribunus' leg. Nero wound up a swing, the gunhammer firing of another shot and the swing of his weapon spun him around completely. Azarashi was forced to retreat from the wild swing, but Mishro ducked under it as he rushed Nero. He landed a jumping kick to his chest, using the force to repel himself away and land safely away from Nero's next swing.
I grabbed a number of arrows from my quiver and released them swiftly, the alacrity of my barrage sacrificing accuracy. A couple of my arrows grazed Nero, Cid's arrowheads cutting into his armor. Nero turned his attention to me and charged, but fire erupted at his feet as Ratie and Sorasha began bombarding him with magic.
The Tribunus staggered back under the magical assault and Rae ran forward again, slamming her axe into his chest. Nero's armor crumpled and he took another step back, only to be kicked in the back by Mishro. Mishro's attack knocked Nero forward and into Oliver's shield. Nero fell backward and the eight of us surrounded him, our weapons held ready.
"This changes….nothing…" Nero said as he climbed to his knee, supporting his weight on his weapon. The room suddenly went dark, the lights and electricity coursing along the floor going dead. When the lights reactivated, Nero was nowhere to be seen. His laughter echoed throughout the room. "The Ultima Weapon is activated, and it brims with the power of eikons! Nothing can withstand its might!" We looked around cautiously, expecting a surprise attack from anywhere.
Static sparked in my ear and I looked up. "Are you alright!?" came Cid's voice, clearly worried.
"Yeah, we're just peachy."
"What of Nero?"
"He got away."
"Damnit!" I heard a thud, presumably Cid slamming his fist into a panel. "In the instant prior to the blackout, the instruments detected a massive power surge from the deepest chamber. Gaius is certain to be there! We have no time to waste!"
"Right. What of the troops outside?"
"Word arrived from the Alliance a short while ago. It seems the Order of the Twin Adder has completed its blockade of Castrum Centri. What hands they can spare are hastening this way even as we speak, and likewise for the Maelstrom. All that's left is to destroy the Ultima Weapon."
"You can count on us," I said, looking to my comrades.
"I should warn you: the chamber which houses the target appears to be saturated with aetheric energies. There's bound to be heavy interference. But even if we lose contact, you must got on. Just don't do anything I wouldn't do, alright?"
"Right." I gave my friends a determined glance and we left out the opposite side of the room we were just fighting in. We found a large shaft leading down into darkness, a massive platform situated at the top. It was another lift, this one leading to our final encounter.
"Look for the lift's control panel, it'll be somewhere nearby." Cid instructed. "Take the lift down and you should find yourself in the chamber of the Ultima Weapon."
I pressed a button and the lift began to move, slowly rolling down the slanted shaft. "Alright guys, keep your eyes peeled. Gaius is probably waiting for us down there." I said.
"One last thing," Cid said. "Don't even think of dying. You're too bloody useful." That was Cid, always joking at the worst time. However, despite the terrible timing, I couldn't help but smile. "The interference is getting worse. I don't think the connection will last much-" Cid's voice cut out.
I sighed. "Looks like it's just us now."
A resounding thud behind us caused us to all turn quickly. Gaius van Baelsar stood slowly and gave us all an appraising look. "Tell me… for whom do you fight?"
I glared hard at Gaius. It was a surprising question, but one that I instantly knew the answer to. "I fight for Eorzea, my friends, and for myself."
"How very glib. And do you believe in Eorzea? Do you believe in your friends? Do you even believe in yourself?"
"What is this, twenty questions?"
Gaius smirked. "Eorzea's unity is forged of falsehoods. Its city-states are built on deceit. And it's faith is an instrument of deception. It is naught but a cobweb of lies. To believe in Eorzea is to believe in nothing. In Eorzea, the beast tribes often summon gods to fight in their stead, though your comrades only rarely respond in kind. Which is strange, is it not? Are the 'Twelve' otherwise engaged? I was given to understand they were your protectors. If you truly believe them your guardians, why do you not repeat the trick that served you so well at Carteneau and call them down?" Gaius shook his head. I was unable to answer his question. "They will answer, so long as you lavish them with crystals and gorge them on Aether. Your gods are no different from those of the beasts, eikons every one. Accept but this, and you will see how Eorzea's faith is bleeding the land dry. Nor is this unknown to your masters. Which prompts the question: why do they cling to these false deities? What drives even men of learning, even the great Louisoix, to grovel at their feet?"
"Y-you leave Louisoix out of this!" I snapped, my resolve straining.
"The answer? Your masters lack the strength to do otherwise! For the world of man to mean anything, man must own the world!" Gaius drew his long gunblade and Aether began sparking along his body. "To this end, he hath fought ever to raise himself through conflict, to grow rich through conquest. And when the dust of battle settles, it is ever the strong who dictate the fate of the weak." Gaius raised his weapon into the air and the energy coalescing about him flashed outward in a blast of light. When the light cleared, his once black armor and become a brilliant gold. "Knowing this, but a single path is open to the impotent ruler, that of false worship! A path which leads to enervation and death!" Gaius leveled his weapon at us. "Only a man of power can rightly steer the course of civilization. And in this land of creeping mendacity, that one truth will prove its salvation. Come, champion of Eorzea, face me! Your defeat shall serve as proof of my readiness to rule! It is only right that I should take your realm, for none among you has the power to stop me!"
Gaius rushed forward, coming straight at me with his weapon raised. "Let us dance, champion of Eorzea!"
"Sorry, looks like I'm your dance partner tonight!" Oliver shouted as he came between us, catching Gaius's blade on his and pushing back. The two traded blows, parrying and counter attacking with great dexterity.
Caution was thrown to the wind as everyone rushed in to overpower the Black Wolf. Despite the odds being against him, Gaius was more than capable of avoiding the attacks that came at him. He lashed out at Mishro, forcing the Monk to fall back away from the gunblade. Azarashi and Rae's attacks were parried just as easy as Oliver's, the Black Wolf clearly our strongest opponent yet. He was even capable of disrupting Ratie and Sorasha's magic with well timed blasts from his gunblade.
I stood, my feet seemingly stuck to the ground. My hand on my bow trembled and I suddenly found myself unable to act. What was this feeling? This dread that was rising from the pit of my stomach? I couldn't remember the last time I had frozen in such a manner. If Gaius's words hadn't completely shaken me to the core, seeing him fend off the best we had certainly did.
Gaius suddenly disappeared and Oliver had to quickly withdraw his attack to keep from hitting Rae who had been attacking from the other side. There was a panicked moment of confusion as we looked about for the Black Wolf.
"Behind you!" someone shouted and I was suddenly tackled to the ground by Ratie. A blast of energy flew by overhead across the length of the lift. "What's the matter with you!?" Ratie nearly screamed in my face. "Don't just stand there with that look on your face! Fight!"
I blinked and shoved the Black Mage off of me. What the hells was I doing? This was no time for self-doubt. I climbed back to my feet, hauling Ratie up alongside me. The front line attackers had returned to fighting Gaius, redoubling their effort to break through his defence. Some attacks were beginning to hit home, it seemed the Black Wolf wasn't invincible after all. I drew an arrow and released it, sticking Gaius in the shoulder.
Down the lift went, seemingly forever as we fought hard against Gaius. The eight of us, together, found a rhythm. There is no better way to describe it than to say we were like a well oiled machine, one picking up the slack where the other fell off. It seemed that we were turning the tide of battle.
"I had not thought to be so hard-pressed," Gaius announced as he fell back to the edge of the lift. "Your strength is most impressive. Such power befits a ruler! Yet you lack the resolve to put it to proper use. A waste."
"This is our combined power, Gaius! Only together are we capable of such feats! You'll never understand."
The lift finally ground to a halt as we reached the lowest level. Gaius simply laughed and walked away. He clearly felt confident in himself, putting his back to us. He walked through a door and on the other side we could see the reason we were here, the Ultima Weapon. We followed Gaius quickly through the door and entered a large room. There before us, the Ultima Weapon loomed.
"Now what?" Oliver asked.
"I.. hadn't thought that far." I said. Looking up at the machine above us, I noticed that Gaius was standing on its shoulder.
"Allow me, then, hero, to do that which you will not!" He pointed his weapon at us once more threateningly. I watched on as Ultima Weapon's head lowered. It sounded like something was opening. Gaius smirked, sheathed his weapon, and stepped inside the machine's head. Gaius was piloting the Ultima Weapon.
As the Ultima Weapon came to life the room began to shake. I looked up and the ceiling above us opened, revealing a tall vertical shaft. The floor below us began to rise. We had just stepped off one lift onto another, though this one was going up.
"We need to destroy that thing before we reach the top!" I shouted.
"I hope you have a plan," Eryiwaen said beside me.
"We hit it with everything we got and then some!" I drew my bow and pulled an arrow back as hard as I could, releasing it. The arrow stuck, but I had no way of telling if it dealt any real damage.
"The Ultima Weapon has partaken of the power of eikons! None can stand against it!"
Azarashi lead the charge by leaping and striking the machine in the arm, rebounding away and back to the ground. Oliver and Rae began hacking at the machine's legs while Mishro punched one. Sorasha and Ratie threw bolt, flames, and shards of ice while I unloaded arrows at it. It didn't seem to matter what we did, the machine wasn't taking damage.
A high-pitched whining was our only warning before a bright green beam lanced across the ground, causing us to scatter. We regrouped and looked at the machine above us.
"There's no way, we can't take it out!" Oliver yelled.
"We have to try!" I pleaded. "We can't let it end like this!"
There was a bright flash of white light and suddenly a voice could be heard all around us.
Hearken unto me, Crystal Bearers. Thy foe is darkness clad in steel. If thou wouldst triumph, thou must look to the Light.
It was the voice of Hydaelyn.
I turned to Oliver, the look on my face enough for him to know my question. He had heard it too. And so had the others.
"We won't give up." I said determined anew and loosed another arrow at the machine. Everyone charged forward again, attacking the Ultima Weapon despite not gaining any ground. The air around us began to churn with fire aspected Aether, a feeling that was all too familiar. "Fall back!" I shouted and we all retreated in time to avoid an outward blast of fire. I could almost see an ethereal Ifrit in the air. The Aether in the air changed, becoming like wind. "Move in!" I commanded again and we closed the distance just as slicing wind tore around the outer edges of the lift, the sound of Garuda's harsh laughter in the air. "Brace for impact!" The Aether became like earth and a shockwave launched outward like Titan crashed down in the center of the lift.
Eyriwaen casted his healing magic, draping us with regenerative Aether. This fight was far from won. We continued throwing everything we had at the Ultima Weapon, not backing down.
"Yield to the storm!" Gaius shouted, his voice amplified by the Ultima Weapon somehow. Above us an ethereal Garuda appeared and the lift shaft filled with cutting wind. It was like the attack that she had nearly finished me off with in the Howling Eye. Somehow we had prevailed and Eyriwean healed our wounds once more. There was another flash of light and I could feel Hydeaelyn's presence with us. The ethereal Garuda vanished. "What!? Garuda's essence… torn from the Ultima Weapon!?"
The Ultima Weapon changed before our very eyes, its wings that it had gained from absorbing Garuda vanishing. Before we could speculate what the cause of this was, pools of fire appeared on the outer edge of the lift and we were forced to move in closer once more. Just as the fire erupted on the outside edge, ethereal cracks formed underneath our feet in the center of the lift. We dashed toward the dying flames in time to avoid the eruptions of rock and sand. The Ultima Weapon still had the powers of Ifrit and Titan.
"Kneel to the might below!" Gaius shouted as an ethereal Titan appeared before us. The earth aspected aether in the air reached a critical point and an explosion of rock and rose up all around us. Just as before, as Eyriwaen healed our wounds I could sense Hydaelan with us. The visage of Titan vanished into the air.
"Titan's as well!?" Gaius shouted in disbelief. "Impossible!"
As we pressed the attack ethereal cracks bleeding red appeared along the floor. We moved swiftly, avoid the eruptions of flames that blasted upward behind us. The fire aspected Aether was saturating the air, Ifrit's power the only Primal left within the Ultima Weapon. Though the machine took nary a scratch, its beams seemed to be growing weaker.
"Succumb to the flames!" Gaius cried, Ifrit appearing before us. Ifrit rose off the ground, gathering the fire aspected Aether about him. The hellfire erupted outward and though it burned the air about us we stood strong against the blaze. Ifrit too vanished after using his massive attack.
"Nooo!" Gaius bellowed. "How are you doing this!?" The Ultima Weapon was now reverted to its basest form, the way I had first seen it before it ate the power of the Primals. "But the Ultima Weapon is all-powerful! Why does my enemy still stand!?" Gaius lamented. "Can her strength truly be so great?"
"It is the blessing of the Light that confounds you." A voice said. I turned to look for the source, and there in the air was the mastermind behind all of this.
"Lahabrea…" I growled.
"Your foes act under the protection of the Crystals they bear." The Ascian said.
"So this is what empowers her?"
"Beyond mortal limits. If you are to prevail, the hammer of Darkness must needs be brought to bear upon the shield of Light. And so it shall, for the Ultima Weapon is host to a power of which you are as yet ignorant."
"Speak plainly, Ascian," Gaius spat.
"The Heart of Sabik. It is the Weapon's core, an enigma whose surface even the vaunted scholars of ancient Allag failed to scratch. The magick within has lain dormant for eons."
"Of what magick do you speak!?"
"A spell without parallel. Ultima. I sought the life force of the Primals for no other reason but to quicken the core. For the true power of the Ultima Weapon lies within its now beating Heart!"
"Lahabrea! What have you done?" Gaius questioned, waving the arm of the machine at the Ascian, but he simply vanished in a wave of darkness.
"No more than was necessary for my god to be reborn," Lahabrea answered as he appeared on the other side of the Weapon.
"Damn you, Ascian!"
That crimson symbol appeared in front of Lahabrea's stolen face. "The hour is at hand! Behold but a sliver of my god's power!"
The Ultima Weapon raised up onto its hind legs, bringing its arms to its chest. I had a dreadful feeling that Gaius was not doing this inside the machine. A massive light began to grow above the Weapon, growing larger and large as Aether began to static all around us. The weight of that power was so heavy, it felt like I was being crushed by it.
"And from the deepest pit of the Seven Hells to the very pinnacle of the Heavens, the world shall tremble!" Lahabrea yelled. "Unleash Ultima!"
Suddenly everything went white…
When I could see again, I was surprised that we were even still alive. All around us was destruction. Fires raged, debris had been tossed all around us. It looked like the entire Praetorium had been destroyed in the blast around us.The only place that was safe from the destruction was the ground we stood upon, and that was all because of the barrier of light that had appeared around us.
Lahabrea began laughing. "Such devastation! This was not my intention…" Lahabrea turned his gaze to us. "Oh, Hydaelyn, it seems the task of keeping your champions alive has exhausted what strength you had left. Van Baelsar, your enemy's shield is broken. The rest I leave to you."
"We will speak later, Ascian," Gaius said as Lahabrea disappeared into darkness. "But first I must deal with you!" The Ultima Weapon turned to face us. "The question of who is mightier remains! Come, adventurer, let us find the answer together!"
Our battlefield was still the lift, though a ring of fire prevented us from escape. The Ultima Weapon stood before us, though it was in a weaker state than it had ever been in.
We ran forward just as a dozen lasers fired from the back of the machine, arching out and toward our previous position. We continued fighting the machine as though Ultima had never gone off, the front line attackers hacking away at the machine's legs while they dodged its stomping feet and swinging arms. The green lasers it shot from its hands took a moment to charge, a clear tell giving us opportunity to dodge out of the way.
The machine ejected smaller machines that took up position around the battlefield that began firing their own lasers. I took them out as they cropped up, my arrows piercing through them and destroying them. No matter what Gaius threw at us, we held strong and together fought against his Ultima Weapon.
"This is most… unexpected. You are possessed of great might, I will allow. Yet yours is not the might of a ruler! Such is the difference between us, a difference that will assure my victory!" Gaius taunted. He fired a blast into the air and I began to wonder just what good that would do. The explosion in the sky caught our attention and a Garlean airship began plummeting toward us. Gaius was using his own allies as weapons. It was a gamble, but we ran to the other side of the Ultima Weapon and the explosion as the aircraft struck was enough to make the lift rock and sway.
"I need not the power of eikons to defeat you!" Gaius shouted again. Even more of the smaller machines littered the area and even Sorasha and Ratie had to assist me in destroying them. Gaius was beginning to attack faster, firing off his weapons haphazardly. I had no idea if we gaining the upper ground though. Just like before, no matter how hard we hit the Weapon it didn't seem to grow weaker. Things were looking bad.
The Ultima Weapon reared back up on its hind legs and Gaius shouted. "Ultima!? Curse you, Ascian! How much destruction must be wreaked before you are sated!?" The machine was clearly out of Gaius' control again, and it was beginning to charge another blast.
I have not the strength…. to shield thee again… Hydaelyn's weary voice echoed around us.
I looked to Oliver who seemed to be the closet at the time. "That's not good."
"No, it sure as hells isn't. How do we stop it?"
"I don't know! I don't know! I'm out of ideas!" I shouted back, panicked.
"If I may interrupt, I have a suggestion," Ratie said as he rushed to our side. I shot the Black Mage a look and he just shook his head. "We'll focus the last of our Aether into a final attack."
"It's better than nothing! Let's do it!"
We grouped together below the Ultima Weapon and I began focusing on the Aether inside me. I knew that everyone else was doing the same. This had to work. I dug deep, scraping at my last reserves of strength for whatever power I had left and pictured it as a light. I molded and shaped it, fortifying it with my emotions. Anger, pain, fear, love, happiness. Everything that made me me I put into it. When it felt that I could contain it no longer, I released it.
My light shot into the sky, followed by seven more lights. The sky opened up high above us, clouds swirling to create a portal. Within that portal of darkest pitch I could see brilliant points of light. It was a sky I had never seen before, the stars unknown to me. The portal opened wider and a massive chunk of rock hurtled through the portal downward toward the Ultima Weapon. Our power combined had brought forth a fist from the Heavens to quell the darkness. The meteor slammed into the Ultima Weapon and exploded with a force strong enough to knock us off our feet.
The entire machine began to explode, blasts of flame erupting from it. "No! No! Noooo!" Gaius shouted. There was another explosion and the Black Wolf was violently ejected from the machine, landing hard on the ground with a thud. "Heed me…. The subjects of a weak ruler must needs look to a higher power for providence… and their dependence comes at a cost to the realm.." He said weakly, trying to preach his beliefs even now. He was getting up slowly. "The misguided elevate the frail. And the frail lead the people astray. Unless a man of power wrests control… the cycle will never be broken. You.. you of all people must see the truth in this. You who have the strength to rule.." Gaius then slumped over and lay still.
The Ultima Weapon was still exploding, and it didn't look like it was going to stop any time soon.
"Let's get out of here!" I shouted. We were too late. There was a massive explosion that rocked the area. When the dust cleared I was alone, wreckage all around me. I coughed the smoke from my lungs and staggered to my feet. My whole body ached.
"Rosalyn!" I heard someone shout.
"I'm here! I'm fine! Is everyone alright?" I shouted back.
"All accounted for! Some cuts and bruises and Azarashi is unconscious." the reply came. It sounded like Oliver. I looked and could see that large pieces of metal had fallen, creating a wall between us. "We're coming to get you!"
"No, get out of here! This place could collapse at any minute!"
"We're not leaving without you!"
"Go! I'll find a way out! I promise!"
"Oliver, please!" Sorasha's pleading voice. She was no doubt concerned for her lover.
I could almost feel the tension coming from the other side of the wreckage. "Fine! We'll send help as soon as we can! Don't you dare die on us!"
"I wouldn't dream of it…" I said quietly, looking down at the length of metal that had pierced through my side. I sat down against the wall of debris and watched the fires rage around me. I waited just long enough to be sure my friends had retreated before gripping the metal in both hands and ripping it free. I cried sharply, the pain shooting through my body.
My body shook, most likely in shock, and I hugged myself tight until I was finally able to control the shakes. I pressed a hand against the wound, hoping to staunch the flow. Sitting there, waiting for the inevitable, I couldn't help but laugh a little. This wasn't how I expected it to end at all, but I might as well go out on my own terms. My bow had ended up gods know where, but at least my harp had survived for the most part. I didn't need that last string anyway.
"I close my eyes, tell us why must we suffer.
Release your hands, for your will drags us under.
My legs grow tired, tell us where must we wander.
How can we carry on if redemption's beyond us?"
I began strumming the harp with my free hand, playing a simple tune.
"To all of my children in whom Life flows abundant.
To all of my children to whom Death hath passed his judgement.
The soul yearns for honor, and the flesh the hereafter.
Look to those who walked before to lead those who walk after.
Shining is the Land's light of justice.
Ever flows the Land's well of purpose.
Walk free, walk free, walk free, believe...
The Land is alive, so believe…"
My voice wavered on the last note and hot tears rolled freely down my face.
"Pathetic." A voice sneered, causing me to halt my hand. I looked up and saw Lahabrea looking down at me with his stolen face. He vanished and reappeared on the ground. "The growing imbalance afflicting the planet must be redressed."
"What are you talking about?" I asked weakly.
"If it is permitted to worsen, the very laws of existence, both Aetheric and physical will be warped beyond all recognition. Know you the root of this corruption? Hydaelyn! Like a parasite, she must be burned out if the planet is to recover. And naught but the return of the one true god will ensure her complete excision."
I pushed hard against the wall of debris behind me, slowly gaining my feet. "You're mad…" I gasped through gritted teeth.
"Yet to pave the way for the Master's return, a chaotic confluence of untold proportions must needs be brought about. And that will necessitate the presence of the Primals. Needless to say, both you and your Scion accomplices can not be suffered to interfere in this endeavor! You will not leave this place alive!"
I grinned through the pain. "I had no intentions of doing such a thing. But if it will ruin your day, I just might."
"It is past time your flame was extinguished, 'Bringer of Light'!" Lahabrea raised his arm to the sky, darkness wreathing around him as that red symbol appeared in front of his face. He lashed his arm outward and a blast of dark magic struck me, knocking me into the air. I hit the ground hard, somehow still managing to hold one hand to my wound. I was slowly climbing to my hand and knees when a savage kick to my already injured side sent me sprawling. I cried out in pain and curled up into a ball on the ground.
"What's wrong? Can you not stand against me? Know you that should I perish, so too will the mortal within whose flesh I reside?" Lahabrea let out a mocking laugh and kicked me again. The pain was unbearable. I was reaching the end of my reserves, feeling a different darkness envelop me.
If thou wouldst triumph, thou must look to the Light… Hydaelyn's voice echoed in my ears. Was she truly there, or was it just my imagination?
"That's it! Close your eyes and sleep forever!" Lahabrea raised his hand high, darkness swirling about it as he prepared the strike that would do me in. Just as he lashed out, I found the strength to rise.
"No!" There was a brilliant flash of light and Lahabrea grunted in pain,staggering backward.
I looked on as my Crystals of Light appeared in the air about me, shining brightly. A new wave of energy washed through my body giving me new found strength. I squared my shoulders, looking to Lahabrea defiantly. He threw another blast of dark magic and I swatted it away with my hand. That power within me welled up and I could feel it burning inside, so I let it out.
"Now open your eyes while our plight is repeated.
Still deaf to our cries, lost in hope we lie defeated.
Our souls have been torn, and our bodies forsaken.
Bearing sins of the past, for our future is taken."
I strode toward Lahabrea and the Ascian stepped backward in a panic. He lobbed another sphere of dark magic at me and I just moved aside slightly, the blast going awry and missing. I didn't miss a single beat.
"Stop it!" Lahabrea shouted. "Stop singing!" As I took another step the world around us faded away to black and stars. Lahabrea floated in the void before me as I stepped forward. My feet touched the non existent solid ground and a pattern of light grew outward below me. The six Crystals of Light appeared all around me once more, their energy bursting upward and coalescing within me.
"War born of strife, these trials persuade us not.
Words without sound, these lies betray our thoughts.
Mired by a plague of doubt, the Land, she mourns.
Judgement binds all we hold to a memory of scorn.
Tell us why, given Life, we are meant to die, helpless in our cries?"
As I finished the last line, I raised my hand into the air. A bow of pure light appeared within my hand and I drew the string back taught. The arrow of light I unleashed rocketed forward and pierced through Lahabrea, no, through Thancred. The shadow that was Lahabrea was expelled from Thancred and resumed the shape of a cowled and masked man.
"What!?" Lahabrea shouted in shock. He looked up, his mouth slowly hanging agape. I didn't have to look back to know what he was looking at. I could feel Hydaelyn's presence behind me. There was no doubt he was gazing upon the crystal.
I looked down at Lahabrea and thought of all the Ascian had put me through. All the fighting and hardships that I had endured while facing off against his darkness. But it wasn't just me, I had never been alone even since my return to Eorzea. I had friends at my side through it all, the good and the bad times. Minfilia, Y'shtola, Papalymo, Yda, Alphinaud, Cid and the other Scions. Raubahn, Kan-E-Senna and the countless troops of the Grand Companies. Oliver, Ratie, Rae, Azarashi, Sorasha, Eryiwaen, and Mishro too. I could feel their presence all around me, glowing brightly with the same light that enveloped me.
Together we propelled forward as beams of light toward Lahabrea.
"The Light! It binds them! They are too many!" The Ascian shouted, shielding himself with his arms. It would do him no good. Lahabrea cried out in pain as we pierced through him over and over, the light drowning out his darkness.
I was suddenly back in the wreckage of the Praetorium, standing above the unconscious form of Thancred. I fell to my knees, exhaustion hitting me like a weight on my chest. I pressed my hand back into my injured side though it was far too late to stop it now. I looked down at Thancred's still form. He was still dressed in the robes of the Ascian, a Dark Crystal on a leather thong about his neck. I slowly reached for it and the gem shattered into dust. Well, that was good, wasn't it? Thancred was free from Ascian influence completely, but we'd still both die here.
The explosions in the wreckage all around us was beginning to grow worse. The lift that had survived up until now was swaying precariously. I was bleeding out and Thancred hadn't woken up. Things looked rather grim. I might as well finish that song…
"Thy Life is a riddle, to bear rapture and sorrow.
To listen, to suffer, to entrust unto tomorrow.
In one fleeting moment, from the Land doth life flow.
Yet in one fleeting moment, for anew it doth grow.
In the same fleeting moment thou must live, die and know..."
I looked up, a sad smile on my face. I blinked. Once. Twice. I could hardly believe the sight I was seeing. There seemed to be a massive drainage pipe across from the lift. And standing there was the last thing I expected to see.
Maggie, our animate Magitek Reaper, leaped easily across the void and landed hard in front of me. It stepped a few times, lights flashing as though it were happy to see me. And hells was I happy to see her. I mustered the last of my strength and lifted Thancred's still body up into the Reaper then somehow managed to drag myself in as well.
Maggie, moving on her own, ran and jumped back to the large pipe it had come from. As Maggie ran explosions rocked behind us, the pipe collapsing. The fire rushing to catch me, I was slowly quickly blacking out. It seemed that no matter how quickly Maggie moved, if the flames didn't kill me the blood loss would. I tried to hold on, urging the machine to move faster. I just couldn't do it… I felt myself… slipping…. away...
Hear… Feel… Think…
I opened my eyes slowly. I was surprised that I was even able to do that much. Was I finally dead? Hydaelyn, the Crystal, floated in the vastness of space before me.
Warrior of Light. Beloved daughter. The Darkness hath fled before the unclosed brilliance of thy spirit. Yet it lingereth still beyond the sight of men, in forgotten corners of the world. In the depths of the abyss yet resideth the Dark One, watchful ever. Till this evil be cast out, never shall the world know aught but a passing peace. Yet for the present, a gentle light shineth o'er the realm of Eorzea. With thee at its heart. From sparkling mote shall it swell to glorious sun, and all the world shall bask in its warmth.
The crystal that was Hydaelyn began drifting away from me, growing smaller as the distance between us grew greater. This was it. I was moving on to the afterlife. I reached out in vain, but Hydaelyn still retreated.
Blessings and joy be upon thee. Go forth, my child, and be as a beacon of hope for Eorzea and the lands beyond, through all the days of thy life.
My vision grew bright white and I continued to float. I don't know how long I was floating in the light, outside of my body. Hydaelyn said I was to be a hero to Eorzea for the rest of my life. Surely that must mean this wasn't the end. As I floated, I began to hear voices.
"She's still in there…" the first voice said from far away, worry tinging her usual rough tone. Somewhere in the back of my mind I recognized it as Merlwyb.
"Cid, has there been no word?" a gruff voice asked. Raubahn.
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Cid replied. I'd recognize his voice anywhere. He'd been at my side for so long.
"Damnation!" Was that Papalymo?
"She's going to make it! I know she is!" That irritatingly optimistic voice, that was surely Yda.
"Yda is right. We must have faith." Y'shtola, the first Scion I had ever met.
"Cid, can they not be evacuated aboard the Enterprise?" Kan-E-Senna's voice now. I'd follow her command anywhere. "That adventurer and the Scions are as the Warriors of Light reborn. We cannot abandon them to their fate! Not again!"
"I wholeheartedly agree! But flying into the midst of that would only add to the fireworks!" I can hear the pain in Cid's voice. He so much wants to come to my rescue…
"There must be something we can do!" Alphinaud said. How grating his voice had been to me before, though in truth the kid was slowly growing on me.
"Please, Mother Hydaelyn. Please light her way through the darkness…" Minfilia… She was praying for me.
Look into the Light, my child. If thou wouldst see thy companions returned safe to thee, reach out to them now. Hydaelyn's voice, then a long moment of silence.
"It's her! I feel her presence!" Y'shtola said in surprise.
"Can it be? Is it really her!?" Yda asked.
"I knew it! I knew it all along!" Papalymo shouted.
"Who speaks…?" Kan-E-Senna asked. "The Crystal! She calls to us!"
"I hear Her! The voice of Hydaelyn Herself!" Merlwyb announced.
"She speaks of.." Raubahn began. "Strike me down! No wonder she seemed familiar! She's one of the Warriors of Light! What are you smirking at Cid!? You knew, didn't you!?"
"Oh, you mean our adventurer friend? Did I forget to mention she was one of the Warriors of Light?" I could hear the smirk on Cid's face. "Saved Eorzea, you know. Twice."
"The shroud is lifted… They remember you.." Minfilia said sadly. Then suddenly she shouted. "There!"
Wait, I actually heard that. I looked up to see that I was airborne. Maggie had made one last leap, fire erupting all around us as we escaped the destruction of Praetorium. I looked down at myself in baffled confusion. I was alive, my wounds healed. A number of cheers went up.
"Look! Thancred is with her!" Yda yelled.
"Thank the Twelve!" Papalymo cried, leaping as his companion knelt down and they gave eachother a high five.
Minfilia approached, wiping tears from her eyes. "Welcome home."
"Th-thanks…" I said, looking down at my companions. "It's good to be home…"
It was the next day, or should I say the same day as I had made my escape in the early hours of the morning after the last phase of Operation Archon? We had set up camp on the edge of Silvertear Lake in Mor Dhona, the Keeper of the Lake high above us. There was much that needed to be done and speeches would be said that day.
"Though the Crystal that bound Thancred is no more, I doubt we can say the same of Lahabrea," Alphinaud said out loud. "And even if we could, we know that he is not alone. Confounded Ascians…"
"We'll take them all out when they come," I said to the boy, giving him a smile.
He thought for a moment. "Their god may be unknown to us, but their zeal is unquestionable. Suffice to say, it would be folly to assume that they no longer pose a threat." He sighed. "Nevertheless…" His gaze drifted over to where Thancred was seated with the other Ascians. No doubt they were telling him of all the events that occurred since his possession. Despite everything that had happened, he was still able to laugh at some joke one of them made.
"For now, we must savor what peace we have won. However ephemeral." Alphinaud finished. I nodded and patted him on the back. As I stepped away I could hear him talking still. "Do you see, Grandfather? Our first step towards realizing the dream for which you gave your life."
I joined the rest of the Scions and Alphinaud followed. We gathered beneath the flying standards of the Grand Companies, the leaders of the Allied Forces assembled there. The combined Allied Forces with us, we were quite the crowd. Before the speech began I spotted my friends nearby. They had made it out of the destruction of the Praetorium safely, the bandage around Azarashi's head the only indication there had been any problems.
"Friends!" Raubahn shouted. "The dread night of Imperial tyranny and Ascian machination is ended!" A cheer went up and he waited. "A new day now begins in Eorzea!"
"True to their name, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, along with our champion, have delivers us from darkness!" Merlwyb spoke up before the cheers started again.
"Let their shared victory serve to remind us of our shared history." Kan-E-Senna said. "And let their bravery in the face of adversity inspire future generations. Doubt not the realm will need bravery in the days to come. Old rifts threaten to divide us within our walls, while hordes of beastmen draw at our gates."
"And though the Black Wolf be slain, the rest of the pack remains." Raubahn added. "Yet no foe need we fear, so long as we stand as one!"
"So long as the Scions stand for peace!" Merlwyb chimed in.
"So long as our heroes stand fast." Kan-E-Senna said with a nod. "For there exists no adversity over which we may not jointly prevail."
"No longer can we turn a blind eye to the suffering of our allies," Merlwyb started after another round of cheering.
"No nation stands alone. If we should fall, so shall we all." Kan-E-Senna continued. "Eorzea is our shared home. For any one of us to know peace, so too must our neighbors."
"Just as we join in solidarity before you this day, so too shall our Grand Companies be joined henceforth, to strive not only for the good of mere nations, but for the good of all the realm!" Raubahn finished, throwing his arms wide.
"Change will not come overnight," Kan-E-Senna conceded. "Yet I foresee a day, not so very far from now, when the lines that divide our lands fade and Eorzea is one."
"It has been but five short years since the Battle of Carteneau. Five years since the advent of the Seventh Umbral Era," Merlwyb said solemnly. "No victory, however sweet, can wash away our bitter sorrows. No triumph can reclaim those we lost. Yet do not presume you honor them by dwelling on the past. It was not the past they fought for. You would repay their sacrifice by looking to the future!"
"A future united, as the Warriors of Light united in the champion! Now is the time for us to rise as one, bearing all of Eorzea on our shoulders!" Raubahn shouted.
"Five years ago, Eorzea bore witness to the end of the Sixth Astral Era," Kan-E-Senna picked up the speech. "Now the Seventh Umbral Era draws to a close. Yet we come together not to glory in its end, but to mark a new beginning."
Kan-E-Senna raised her staff to the sky, Raubahn drew his sword, and Merlwyb her pistol. They placed their arms together and spoke as one.
"Let it be writ that on this day, by light of the Crystal, Eorzea ushered in a new era! The Seventh Astral Era is come! And thus is ours a realm reborn!"
The army broke out in wild cheers and I smiled happily. It was finally over. We had saved the realm against all the odds. I let it all go and joined in the jubilation, letting out a cry of jubilation. I looked from friend to friend, watching them revel. I winced suddenly, a sharp pain in my head. I looked around in panic, one by one everyone around me disappearing. I looked up, finding myself in a realm of darkness. Before me floated a massive crystal, glowing a deep purple and crimson. Just...just what was this crystal…? It wasn't Hydaelyn… This one pulsed with darkness, a sickening sensation that rocked me to the core.
"Rosalyn, what is it?"
I looked up, suddenly back in Mor Dhona. Minfilia looked to me, worry across her face.
"It's… nothing, I'm fi-"
My words were cut off at the sound of a massive roar that shook the earth. It was so loud all we could do was press our hands to our ears until it passed. The crowd murmured, panic quickly spreading through the Allied Forces. A soldier came running up to where the Allied Forces leaders stood.
"Dread tidings! Chaos and carnage! It is an abomination! A Primal! A Primal has awakened!"
We all looked off into the distance, to the source of the deafening roar. It seemed our peace was short lived. I looked to my companions and shot them a grin.
"A hero's job is never done."
Somewhere in a dark room, a shadow wreathed figure clad in cloak and hood stepped forward. Behind him, another figure dressed in the same garb followed.
"Bahamut stirs…" the second man, his hood down revealing his short cut blonde hair, said in a dark language.
"As will the others, 'ere long." A third figure, a woman with long dark hair said as she joined her companions.
" 'Tis not a question of whether Eorzea's champion shall yield, but of when." A fourth, another man, offered.
The first figure, face hidden by cloak and mask spoke. "And with each passing moment we draw closer to the Reckoning. As he spoke, a countless number of robed figures joined him.
"To the one true god!" They all shouted together.
"To Zodiark!" Lahabrea shouted.
And thus did light shine on a realm reborn.
But where there is light, there is always shadow.