The Stone Vigil was one of the four watch towers built around the Sea of Clouds, the massive valley made up of sheer cliff faces that Ishgard rested in the dead center of. Both the Stone Vigil and the Steel Vigil to the east had been lost to the Dravanian Horde after the Calamity, however House Durendaire would not give up their tower so easily. Several attempts had already been made to reclaim the lost fortress but all was for naught. Not a single man had returned from the raids.
You'd think that hearing that no one returned from their attempts to recover the tower would persuade me not to rush foolhardy into the fortress crawling with dragons and scalekin. I'd never really been one for reason and after Lord Drillemont confirmed that the last known whereabouts of the Enterprise was indeed the Stone Vigil I didn't even have a choice. Whether the airship was still there or even operable was anyone's guess. The only airship capable of surviving Garuda's storms was the Enterprise, and the only way to get it was through the Dravanian Horde.
I knew that I was alone in my efforts, but Lord Drillemont made it expressly clear he would not be sending any reinforcements with me. Only Cid and Alphinuad would follow me into the Stone Vigil and it was my duty to keep the scholar and the engineer safe. I didn't think much of it, feeling safer with a smaller group than with a large number of soldiers any day. All that clanking of arms and armour would only serve to disrupt my plans, and after spending an evening memorizing the map of the Stone Vigil I was certain I had a plan laid out.
We entered the cold, snowswept halls of the Stone Vigil and I immediately realized that the building was far more compromised than I could ever have thought. The final battle for the fortress had taken its toll on the building and I wondered how it had even managed to stay standing. Stone bricks and wooden beams lay strewn across the floor in many of the hallways, even some of the walls had completely fallen away. The only saving grace was that there seemed to be just a little less snow in the Stone Vigil than there was outside of it, but only a little.
I stalked forward down the first hall with my bow drawn and an arrow held lightly in my hand, ready to draw back the string at a moment's notice. As I drew closer to the first crossing I braced against the wall and checked both directions. So far the coast was clear. I looked back and saw that Cid and Alphinaud were following behind at a distance but casually. In hindsight, it could have been worse. They weren't making loud noises and drawing attention to the measly dragon snack that we were. I appraised my companions for a moment, wondering if they would be able to hold their own in a fight. Cid was armed with a small gunblade, and Alphinaud with a black grimoire. If worst came to worst, hopefully they'd manage to survive long enough to work up a plan or run.
The plan was to make it as deep into the Stone Vigil as possible without drawing attention to our presence, and barring that, fight our way to the airship and make a hasty getaway or die trying. Emphasis on the "die trying" part seeing as how the plan's success hinged on the airship actually being somewhere within the fortress. And if it was going to be anywhere, it'd be at the end of the series of hallways at the Strongroom.
We made the turn into the next hallway and ran into our first problem. The walls had collapsed blocking the path. It was no problem, we were currently in a square hallway that wrapped all the way around the barracks in the center. It just meant that we'd have to take the same hallway in the other direction to reach our destination. A short trip down the other end and we found our path blocked again. Our only remaining option was to cut through the barracks and hope that the the doors weren't obstructed as well.
Our luck only went so far. While the door on our side of the hall opened with no problem, we found the first of the scalekin. The room was filled with a number of Drakes much like the ones I had hunted in the Sagolli desert, though these were clearly more suited for the colder weather of Coerthas. I had been ready for encountering dragons though and had brought a contingency plan of sorts.
I reached into my pack and withdrew a shank of raptor meat. I pierced it with my arrow and let it fly across the room. A couple of the drakes raised their head at the noise and moved to investigate. I watched as a path began to clear across the barracks to the open door on the other side. As the two drakes discovered the meat and began fighting each other over it I motioned for Cid and Alphinaud to stay close and we moved swiftly and quietly across the ruined barracks avoiding the debris in our way as best we could.
I took a moment to let out a sigh of relief for surviving our trek and then began leading us back up the hallway. Our way was unobstructed this time and we finally reached the Barbican, the fortified gateway that lead deeper into the Stone Vigil. The Barbican was open to the air and the snow was coming down hard. With the path open ahead of us we ran across the open space toward the relative safety of the next hallway. Alphinaud and Cid had just entered the hall ahead of me when a mound of snow began to shift.
I hesitated and regretted my decision as the mound of snow erupted and a quadrupedal dragon emerged. The beast wasn't the largest dragon I had seen, which was an odd to have when something easily twice your own size and gods know how heavy begins barreling at you. If I had any luck in the matter, it was that its wings seemed a few sizes too small for it to be capable of going airborne.
I jumped out of the way just in time and the dragon slammed into the wall behind me. I used the short opportunity to stick the dragon with two arrows while on the run. It shook its massive head, gouts of flames pouring from its mouth, and turned toward me again. I repositioned myself near a wall again and released more arrows. The dragon charged again and for a second time it head butted the wall as I ducked out of the way. This one clearly wasn't too smart, and I rewarded its stupidity by continuing my efforts in turning it into a scaley pincushion.
Hunting dragons with a bow is a difficult task, mostly because there are only so many places an arrow will stick without glancing off scales. The underbelly is the biggest target, perhaps the only downside to flight being the incredibly exposed weak spot. The thin, veined wings are a good target as well if you need to bring the beast down and let gravity help you in the fight. With this one already earthbound I was forced to take careful aim while its guard was down and wait for blood loss to do its thing.
The dragon came around for a third charge and just before I could jump away it skidded to a halt in front of me. I was so surprised that it had managed to learn that I stood still. "Clever girl…" Perhaps it wasn't so dumb after all. I drew back an arrow as far as I could and at the few feet distance between us I cleanly pierced it through the eye. "But still not clever enough." I dove out of the way as the dragon began bucking like crazy in its death throes. When it finally collapsed the air went still with eery silence. I surveyed the blood stains across the snow before quickly rejoining Cid and Alphinaud.
The left brattice, one of the cannon rooms, was nearby and seemed like a good place to take a breather. After recovering and taking stock of the rest of my inventory we continued further into the fortress. Our path was limited by the number of collapsed passages and walls that had been taken out by the battles against the Dravanian Horde. By the time we passed the right brattice I had run out of raptor meat and we were still a good distance from the Strongroom.
Our progress was halted as we approached the Security Command room. I peered inside and saw a number of drakes and other scalekin. These dragons appeared restless, as though they were aching for a fight. The door was just too large, there'd be no way to get past it without drawing the attention of the dragons. I searched through my pack until I found something that could possibly help. I had been carrying the Goblin-crafted bomb since my exploits in Braflox's Longstep and it seemed as good as any time to use it. I lighted the fuse and rolled it into the room.
When the bomb exploded we ran as quickly as we could down the hallway. The Strongroom was just up ahead, and a number of dragons that had survived the blast were closing in on us from behind. We crossed the threshold into the Strongroom closed the doors, barring it shut with a large plank of wood. We all breathed heavy and thanked the Twelve that we had made it.
"Look, it's the Enterprise." Alphinaud said pointing. Sure enough, there it was all in one piece, as far as I could tell. It was too bad I couldn't say the same thing for the Strongroom. It should have been a large ceiling room containing any valuables and weapons within the Stone Vigil, it was meant to be the most defensible point. But the entire ceiling had somehow been destroyed and it was now open to the air. The Enterprise said resting just outside one of those destroyed walls.
"Yes…" said Cid. "Just beyond that enormous sleeping dragon…"
My gaze shifted downward and I took in the size of the dragon curled up sleeping in the center of the room. It was easily as big as the one that it had taken myself and three others to defeat at Brayflox's Longstop, this one a deep shade of blue. Despite the fact that it was sleeping it still looked menacing. It's human nature to be afraid of things bigger and meaner than you, and as far as dragons were concerned things didn't get any bigger and meaner.
"The dragon is not our concern. We have come for the airship and the airship alone." Alphinaud said matter of factly, as though denying the creature's existence would actually make it disappear. "Cid, you and I will sneak aboard the Enterprise and prepare it for launch. Rosalyn, you stay here and keep an eye on the beast."
"Sure, I'll just sit here and play dragonsitter," I said sarcastically.
"If it wakes we may need you to provide a distraction until we are ready to depart. You can manage that, can't you?" How could he manage to be so condescending with such a straight face?
"Of course. I'll sing it songs and tell it jokes. We'll have a blast."
"That settles it. Shall we, Cid?" Alphinaud ignored my jab and started walking around the dragon, giving it a wide berth.
"As you command…." Cid said, giving me an apologetic look before he followed behind the Elezen.
I watched tensely as they snuck past, expecting the dragon to awake at any moment. Only when they were on the far side of the room and closer to the Enterprise did I feel some relief. It wasn't long lasted though. I began to feel nauseated, a feeling that I fought down and replaced with anger when I looked up at one of the destroyed walls. There he was, waiting for me. Lahabrea.
"...So you mean to slay Garuda next? Interesting… Most interesting." Darkness weaved around Lahabrea and he vanished. I looked around quickly to find where he disappeared to and found him standing before the slumbering dragon. "And you are aware that her strength greatly exceeds that of your previous Primal conquest? A testament to the fanatical devotion of her followers. The Ixal are nothing if not zealous."
"Are you here to give me a lecture on the traits of Primals?" I asked as I drew my bow.
Lahabrea smirked. "In spite of your past achievements I labor to believe that you will best this foe. Yet only a fool would underestimate the great Bringer of Light, Slayer of Ifrit, Bane of Titan…"
"If I get any more titles they'll need to write longer songs of me," I interjected.
"If any mortal is capable of defeating Garuda, it is you." Lahabrea proceeded despite my remarks.
"I'm touched, that almost seemed like a compliment."
"Win or lose, the battle should at least make for an entertaining spectacle… Assuming, of course, you live that long." Lahabrea reached his hand back, darkness swirling around it, and lashed out at the dragon. The massive beast began to rouse, raised its maw to the sky and let out a roar.
"Alphinaud! The dragon!" Cid yelled.
"Confound it all!" I heard Alphinaud reply. I caught a brief glimpse of them on board the Enterprise before the dragon stood to its full height and spread its wings. That ethereal symbol appeared before Lahabrea's mask as he raised his hand into the air, darkness swirling all across the area.
"Lets see how well your blasphemous gifts serve you this time, Crystal Bearer!" Lahabrea shouted before disappearing into the cloud of darkness. The dragon roared again and the battle began.
The dragon flapped its wings hard and lifted off into the air. I used the dragon's liftoff as an opportunity to loose a number of arrows into its exposed underbelly. The arrows stuck into the massive beast but didn't seem to have much of an effect. I withdrew a poisoned tipped arrow and shot the dragon again, hoping the poison would help wear it down.
Though I was caught within the confines of the bubble of darkness the dragon didn't seem to be slowed at all as it took wing and flew across the sky. It swooped low, breathing an icy breath across the field. I moved quickly to avoid the dragon's breath and took another couple shots at it as it flew by. It swooped once more and I ran back to the opposite side of the room to avoid its breath again.
The dragon touched down and I retreated as far away as I could, aiming now for the beast's wings. My arrows pierced into the leathery skin of the dragon's wings and I felt like I was beginning to get somewhere. It wasn't anywhere fast though, that was for sure. The dragon approached me, snapping its teeth and spitting frost. I stayed mobile, avoiding maw, claw, and tail as best as I could.
The room was small compared to the dragon, if I had to guess it at the time I'd say it was only three dragons by three dragons which meant the beast had to double back on itself every time I used the large amount of space to my advantage. Range was my greatest advantage and I couldn't let it go to waste. Unfortunately this dragon didn't grow to be so large by being stupid like its brethren that I dispatched earlier. The beast coughed up a blast of ice that shattered on the ground leaving sharp chunks everywhere.
I cursed as my escape route was cut off and swiftly turned on my heels to run in the opposite direction. As I ran I pulled drew another arrow from my quiver and infused it with fire aspected aether. I released the arrow and it landed in the center of the ice and flame leapt across the ground. If I was to stay alive I needed my all options available to me. I struck the dragon with two more poisoned arrows and it took to the air once more.
The dragon swooped low three times, trying to catch me in its claws as it flew past. I barely escaped each time, ducking and diving out of the way at the last second. I was growing exhausted from my constant movement and my reactions were slowing down. The dragon on the other hand seemed to be in prime condition still. This war of attrition was going to end soon and I was going to be dragon food.
As the dragon touched down it spat two more chunks of ice to the ground, severely limiting where I could go. I was cut off by the jagged shards of ice to my sides, the wall behind me, and the dragon in front. The beast let out another deafening roar and charged me. I ran turned and ran toward the wall. Perhaps I'd be able to scale it before the dragon ate my legs? The wall came ever closer and the dragon's pursuit made the ground shake.
I put all the energy I had left into running right at the wall. I planted one foot on the wall, then another, and by some miracle my break-neck speed allowed me to get a third before I pushed off with all my might and back flipped into the air. Time seemed to slow as the dragon's head collided into the wall with a mighty crash. I reached the peak of my leap and landed right atop the beast's head.
I knocked an arrow and pointed it straight down at crown of the dragon's head. Channeling all the Aether I could into the arrow I pulled the bowstring back sharply and released the arrow. The arrow pierced a few ilms into the top of the dragon's head and the beast let out a terrible roar. As it began to rage I stumbled off its head and rolled onto the ground. It looked like the head was just too strong to pierce, even with everything I had to throw at it. The dragon turned quickly on me, opening its mouth wide to gobble me up.
"I'll put you out of your misery." I drew back one last arrow and let it fly, piercing the dragon's fleshy palate. The beast fell forward, and for a moment I was sure my last ditch effort had failed. When the dragon's head slammed into the ground just in front of me, shortly followed by the rest of the beast's body collapsing, I couldn't help but be stunned.
The dragon's mouth snapped open once more and I jumped. A light blue crystal had fallen out of the beast's maw and I knew immediately that it was was the Ice Crystal of Light. I picked up the crystal and felt its light embrace me.
"Rosalyn! Rosalyn! Are you alright!? Speak to me!" Alphinaud ran toward me and stopped short when he saw me look his way. "Twelve be praised, I feared the beast injured you. I see now why the others rated you so highly. When you were caught in the midst of the aetheric bubble with the dragon I was all but certain my next mission would be to find a new champion. Thank the gods for sparing me that inconvenience, I have quite enough to do already."
"Yeah, that's the last thing I would want to do by dying, inconvenience you." I said dryly as I stored the Crystal of Light away in my pack.
"Which reminds me - Cid is working on the Enterprise as we speak. Let us go and see what he has to say." Alphinaud ignored me again and walked over to rejoin Cid aboard the Enterprise. "What say you, Cid? Will she fly?"
"Yes… Though it will not be a pleasant ride." He said with a grimace.
"Well, I daresay it will be no more unpleasant than staying here. 'Tis a pity the Enterprise is not in better shape, but if she will allow us to quit this place, I shall not complain. If all are in agreement, let us return to Gridania. Though I would like nothing more than to set course for the Howling Eye, it is plain the Enterprise is in no condition to weather the storm. She must needs be repaired if we are to proceed with our mission."
I was in no mood to go rushing headlong into another tough fight so I didn't contest Alphinaud's suggestion. It was easy for him to say how much he wanted to continue the fight since he hadn't done any up to this point. But the fact of the matter was that it was my arse on the line and my arse needed a warm bath and a good night's sleep for once, Garuda be damned.
I watched Cid take the controls of the airship and the look that crossed his face looked just like the one back in the Church when it was first revealed to us that he was Cid.
"This is all so familiar…. I know this airship… If I could just…" He winced for a moment, the rest of his memories must have still been just beyond his reach. I frowned, watching him struggle to remember. There must be something I could do to help him. "Bah, it's no use! Let's go…"
Despite his memories still being elusive, Cid lifted the airship off the ground with no problems and set us a course back to Gridania.
I love you guys so much that you got a double post this week. I couldn't really justify waiting until next week to finish this story arc. And maybe I can manage to get into a steady Wednesday/Friday posting schedule. I realized that there's going to be new content out before I finish the original main scenario at one post a week. I'm estimating at the most ten more to complete, maybe less.
I had a tough go at turning the Stone Vigil, a four man dungeon, into a single sneaky-sneaky Metal Gear Solid-esque thing. Don't even get me started on trying to figure out how to slay a dragon single handedly. I'll have you know I consulted a dragon slaying expert (not really) for insight on how to do it legitimately. Our debates ranged from bone density of a dragon (hollow boned to allow flight) to scale sturdiness and breached such subjects as "how to permanently paralyze a dragon by severing its spinal cord". I think I went with a more believable "shoot it where it's soft and fleshy".
Did you guys like the use of Bard's "Misery's End" ability? It's a challenge to incorporate as many skills as possible into writing. It was much easier when Ros was Scholar and all I had to say was "magic". Now the special skills are "aether-infused" techniques or, in the case of Venomous Bite in this installment, a straight up poisoned arrow.
Next week will be the start of the "Corrupted Crystal" story arc ending with Lady of the Vortex. After that is the "Assault on Castrum Centri" story arc, and finishing the main scenario with "Operation Archon". I'm really getting excited. We've got some amazing material we're about to get into. Fight against Garuda, a bold infiltration, and an all out war ending in two 8-man dungeons in a row and a slew of epic boss battles one after the other. We're rounding the final turn here for The Crystal's Call. Please look forward to it.