I watched on as Cid made the final adjustments to the Enterprise, anxious to be on our way. It didn't take him as long as I thought it would for him to install the Corrupted Crystal and modify his ship but my nerves were already starting to get the better of me.
"There… she's ready." Cid said as he stood from his tinkering. Cid flipped a switch and the airship rumbled to life. It was a powerful noise compared to the whimpering of the engine when we recovered it from the Stone Vigil.
"Ah, she stirs…" Alphinaud commented.
Cid placed his hands on the wheel and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. When he opened his eyes Alphinaud had reached out and placed his hand on Cid's with a smile. Cid looked first to Alphinaud, then to me. I gave him a reassuring smile and he nodded.
"To Coerthas! And an audience with the harpy queen Garuda!" Alphinaud announced. "Enterprise… engage!" At Alphinaud's mark Cid drew the airship away from the dock and we lifted off into the azure sky.
We had been in the sky for some time before Cid finally relaxed, letting out a breath of relief. He released the wheel, his course set in on the airship. I watched as he reached up and removed his goggles from his forehead revealing a small gem on his forehead. He clutched his goggles tight in his hand and glowered.
"Damn it!" He cursed, still staring down at the goggles in his hand. "I once flew in this airship. And I was not alone." He turned his gaze to me and spoke quietly. "There were adventurers on board…. Adventurers like you."
I took a step back in surprise. Were his memories coming back finally? And was he remembering our previous adventures? Cid winced, bringing his hand to his forehead as he leaned over the wheel. I stepped forward quickly, reaching out to him. As I made to reach for him I felt the Echo take over me, my vision blurring.
The next thing I saw I could see Cid on his airship staring at his goggles, much like the scene from seconds before.
"Just how long have I worn these damn goggles?" Cid asked. My vision blurred again and suddenly I saw Cid, now only a lad, wielding a hammer. "Ah, yes, I considered myself quite the trendsetter in my younger days." I heard Cid speak, somewhere out of sight. His younger self could easily be called debonair in his fancy clothes. The image of Cid in his younger days began to run within the emptiness of his memories. "The young prodigy, admired by all…. exactly like his father." My vision was blinded by white as the image began to change.
"Born and raised in Garlemald." The images changed rapidly. Cid seated in a chair. Cid balancing on a chest of some sort like children were ought to do. Cid admiring a model of a Magitek Reaper with tools in hand. Cid sitting at a desk with a pile of books. "It was only natural that a precocious young student should become an engineer. Had his father not done the same?" The vision changed again and now I could see the sad look on young Cid's face. "Father… When did we stop seeing eye to eye?" He walked despondently into the fading black.
There was suddenly a blood red light in the darkness, glowing menacingly. It took on the clear shape of our fallen moon, Dalamud. "When did Meteor become your everything, and your loved ones ceased to matter?"
I could now see Cid as an adult, sans his goggles. A new figure appeared behind him, one that I recognized. Gaius Van Baelsar, the Garlean Legatus that was our enemy. Gaius approached Cid and placed his hand on his shoulder, Cid offering a smile to him. "You abandoned us all. But he was there for me, Father - there for me when you were not." The image of Gaius faded. "Though he proved no better in the end. Gaius was just another man with an all-consuming obsession.
The vision changed once more and we were on the airship. Cid was at the helm and I could see Biggs and Wedge seated there as well. "And so I ran - left the Empire behind and came to Eorzea where I built the Ironworks." Cid left the helm and eyed his companions who were fast asleep.
That was when something strange had happened. Though I possess the Echo I cannot begin to explain how or why it works. All I know is that I can see past events as though I had been there, the participants of it none the wiser to my prying eyes. Cid, however, suddenly looked up and stepped to the side of the ship. He was looking right at me. Did he somehow know that I was in his memories? Perhaps there was something I could do to help him? I don't know how, but I somehow reached out to Cid and pressed a light into his hands that formed into his goggles.
"Ah yes! It was then that I first donned these goggles!" Cid seemed to have forgotten about my presence as he put on the goggles, covering the gem on his forehead. He turned to the now woken Biggs and Wedge and they gave their approval of his new accessory. Cid then gazed up at the moon overhead. "Eorzea opened my eyes. It was home to so many manner of people, each with their own hopes and dreams. People worth saving. And so I fought beside them. I wanted to prove that my knowledge could prove a nobler purpose. I wanted to prove that there was another way. And it all began that day when I found my new home."
I staggered as the Echo abruptly left me and I was staring up at Cid. He was standing straighter, his shoulders up higher. He let out a sigh. "I had forgotten how wonderful it was. The wind in your hair, the endless sky…" He turned to me with a smile on his face. "That light, it was you wasn't it?" I blinked, unable to respond. "It's surprising how few people know this, but all pureblood Garleans have a third eye." He smirked. "Perhaps mine helped me recognize you - or perhaps it was a lucky guess."
Cid reaffixed his goggles on his head and pumped his fist into his hand, his grin growing broader. "The Enterprise was made for this! To carry Eorzea's protectors into battle! I am proud to be able to call her my own."
Alphinaud approached with a look of astonishment on his face. "Cid - what exactly do you remember?"
"Alphinaud, my boy!" He said as though he had just see him for the first time. "Sorry to have been such a burden." Alphinaud shook his head and Cid smiled as he took the helm once more. "I remember everything. My name, my people, and my purpose. Everything. Come! It would be rude to keep Garuda waiting!"
Cid pulled hard on the wheel and the Enterprise banked downward toward a large swirling storm below us. I hadn't realized that we had come to the Howling Eye so quickly. As we descended toward the vortex Cid smiled at me. "It took me a while for my memory to return, but I remember you. The floating isle, van Darnus. We ended it that day, or so we thought." My eyes widened and I opened my mouth to speak but Cid shook his head. "Listen, let's keep this between the two of us for the time being. If word got out that one of the Warriors of Light returned the eyes of the world would be upon us - our enemies' included. And that's the kind of attention we could do well without."
I could only smile at him, he was right of course. The last thing we needed was the wrong kind of attention while we were busy dealing with Primals and Ascians.
Cid smirked. "What? Isn't it enough that I know the truth? Don't worry, a woman of your talents won't go unnoticed for long. Someday, they will remember you - and you'll never know another moment's peace!"
I grinned. "You call this peaceful?"
Cid chuckled. "There, up ahead. Ready, old friend?"
"Never been readier in my life."
"Hah! Some things never change!"
Cid's modifications to the Enterprise worked wonderfully and the harsh storms fell apart as we made our descent. Before long we had landed in the center of the storm. We left the airship behind and stepped into the clearing. As we approached I could see a figure in the storm.
"Who dares intrude upon my sanctuary?" A harsh voice asked over the howling storm. "Your insolence will not go unpunished landwalkers!" The storm cleared enough for us to clearly see Garuda before us.
"Twelve's preserve!" Alphinaud cursed. "She's… huge!"
"As I live and breath…" Cid said in disbelief. There wasn't much time to stare in awe at Garuda. Already a number of Ixal were beginning to surround us. "Over there, look." I took note that the Ixal had brought forth a number of Kobold and Amal'jaa prisoners. "Kobold and Amal'jaa prisoners? But why would they bring them here?"
Garuda let out an ear-piercing cackle. "Wherefore come you hither, foolish mortals!?"
"Garuda! We are come to put an end to your reign of terror!" Alphinaud answered.
"Hear you this blasphemy, my children? These landwalkers would bring me low! You who are bound to crawl upon the earth should rever me - FOR I AM THE WIND!" The storm around us raged harder as Garuda screamed.
"Did we not take to the skies and slip your defenses!?" Cid taunted. "We are bound by nothing, Garuda!"
"You think your playthings give you strength? They will not help you here, landwalker! This my realm, where none can challenge my supremacy! Struggle though you may - I shall slake the roots with your blood and festoon the canopy with your ENTRAILS!" Her crazed cackle filled the air once more.
"Squaaawk! Slay the unfeathered ones, we shall! As an offering to Garuda, they shall serve!" One Ixali shouted. The group of beastmen readied their arms and I turned to my companions.
"Leave the Ixali to us," Cid said with a nod. "We will keep them distracted while you deal with her." He nodded his head toward Garuda.
"Do not fail, Rosalyn. Remeber - you fight for the Scions! For Eorzea!"
There was a lot riding on the outcome of this battle. I couldn't let them down. As Cid and Alphinaud ran to meet the Ixali in combat I drew my bow stood before Garuda. She truly was massive now that I stood alone against her. I'd fought bigger though.
"This worm would die by my own hand!" Garuda proclaimed. "Come then, I shall grant you that which you seek!" Garuda let out a shriek and a tornado formed around her, razor sharp pinions launching outward in all directions. Above the sound of the storm her crazed laugh could be heard ringing out. The vortex around her broke and she smiled a grin that made me shiver. "Now fall."
I ducked behind a pillar of rocks as Garuda dashed forward toward me, the wind behind her cutting ferrules into rock. As Garuda turned I knocked an arrow and loosed it at her. I watched as the arrow was blown off course, merely grazing the Primal. My only chance would be to gauge the wind and try my best to compensate for it. I drew forth another arrow and dodged another dash from the Primal.
I quickly moved around the other side of the pillar of rocks and took an extra moment to compensate for the wind. I watched the arrow fly true, only to be blown off course as the wind suddenly shifted. I cursed and realized all I could do was move in closer. Garuda was more than ready to oblige as she rushed me and performed a vicious kick that destroyed the rock pillar I was using as shelter. I stumbled away and managed to shoot on the run, the arrow lodging into Garuda's wing.
The Primal let out a howl and lashed with her large claws. I felt them cutting across my side, leaving bloody gashes in skin and cloth alike. I gritted my teeth and ran to refuge behind another pillar of rocks. Garuda was persistent and followed on my heels. As she rounded the corner I struck again, this time piercing into her leg. I ducked another kick and the topmost rock on the pillar went flying off into the storm around us. Things were quickly getting out of hand. Garuda was clearly stronger than I could ever be.
The cat and mouse game couldn't last much longer. I was losing blood and my reactions were becoming sluggish. I was barely dodging Garuda's attacks now and was unable to retaliate in kind. The storm we were enclosed in began to rage even harder and Garuda let out her harsh cackle. "THE RECKONING COMES!" She shouted as tornados touched down around us and a force of wind like I had never felt before tore across me. The wind cut and tore at me leaving razor thin cuts across my entire body. I dropped my bow and fell to my knees. I looked up at Garuda as the storm slowly calmed.
I felt an arm around me as I was pulled to my feet. "How in the hells…" Cid cursed as he dragged me away.
Garuda laughed loudly. "This. Is. MY REALM! You have no hope here! None! NONE! Did you truly believe you could defy a GOD, landwalkers!?" Garuda screamed and we were knocked back by another blast of wind. Through fading vision I could see Aether being drawn toward Garuda. All around us the Ixali were praying to her, granting her their strength. The Aether glowed heavy around her. "My power is limitless! My children, legion! And they have rendered unto me a wealth of crystals! Their gifts sustain me, their faith empowers me! None save my children will escape my reckoning, mortals! And those who would use my crystals to waken the rest shall realize the folly of their faith! Then all shall worship none but me! The one true god!" Garuda laughed.
"Of course! Worship! So long as the Ixali keep praying Garuda will never fall," Alphinaud said as he set to work curing my wounds.
"Then let's stop them!" Cid shouted. He ran toward the Ixali but didn't make it more than a scant few fulms before he was blasted off his feet by Garuda.
"No harm will come to you, my children!" She announced. "This is only the beginning, landwalker. All who oppose me shall suffer for their defiance! Soon the worms of the forest shall receive my judgement! The desert vermin next - their walls of stone will not shield them from the tempest! And then I will take vengeance on the sea lice! Their wooden boats cannot outrun the wind! Tremble mortals, for I shall visit you all in time! And all shall be mine. ALL MINE!"
I pushed Alphinaud aside and pulled myself back onto my feet, shakily leveling my bow at her once more. "Not if I have anything to say about that." I said, ignoring the pain.
"You, landwalker - you who dared to raise your hand against me - you shall be the first to pay for your sins. Not with your death - but with your LIFE! You will serve me, landwalker, to your last breath!" Garuda tossed her wings open wide and a storm descended upon me. Unlike her previous gales this one swirled around me but left no cuts. I stood within the center of the vortex feeling the Echo protect me from her tempering. I could hear Garuda's laughter slowly die out. "No! NO! I claimed you! You should be MINE!"
As the wind swirling around me broke I glared up at her in defiance. A bright light began to coalesce around me before launching outward, striking the Lady of the Vortex and disrupting the Aether flowing into her. Whether it was the Echo or the Hydaelan's power, I could not begin to guess.
With Garuda stricken so, the eternal winds of the Howling Eye stilled. A light shined from Garuda's chest and a green crystal rose from the light, drifting slowly to my hand. The Wind Crystal of Light. At last, I had them all.
"What… What are you? What have you done to me!?" Garuda asked, stunned. She was staggering mid-air as though she was having trouble staying aloft. "No mortal should possess such power! This… This is impossible!" Garuda was quickly becoming unhinged. "Why do you not tremble at my might? Why do you not beg for mercy? Why do you not DIE!?"
"Is that all?" A voice asked. I looked for the source of the voice and saw someone I was not quite expecting. There, just across the way, stood Gaius van Baelsar. "O Lady of the Vortex! O mighty Garuda! Of all the Primals, the most terrible, I say again. IS. THAT. ALL!?"
"Gaius?" Cid said in confusion. I didn't notice when he had joined me but it appeared he was ok after having the wind knocked out of him.
"Ah, Cid my boy, you look well for one who has forsaken kin and country. I wonder, what else will you forsake before the day is done?"
"What exactly did you hope to accomplish here this day?" Gaius asked.
"I…" Cid faltered.
"Well, I shall accomplish far more!"
The Ixali charged toward Gaius, their weapons held high. He simply raised one hand and began firing from some arm-mounted weapon, shooting the Ixali dead.
"Is that all?" Garuda asked slowly. "IS THAT ALL!? Insolent mortal, I shall make you suffer!" She didn't look at all like she would be able to make anyone suffer anything. Garuda turned her attention back to me. "That foul stench, I see now. She has touched you! Very well…" Garuda closed her eyes and raised her arms to the sky.
"Seven hells, does she still mean to fight?" Cid asked in surprise.
Garuda drew forth her strength and assaulted the bound Amal'jaa and Kobold with blasts of wind. The captives began to scream in pain.
"O Lord of the Inferno! Almighty Ifrit! Grant us succor in our hour of need!"
"Save us Titan, Lord of Crags! It hurts us so, the pain, the pain!"
"What is she…? Twelve preserve, she cannot mean to…" Alphinaud was quickly putting the pieces together.
The prisoners fell over, dead, and their Aether gathered together until out of their final prayers Ifrit and Titan appeared, letting out roars of challenge. We were suddenly surrounded by three Primals.
"No, no… This is all wrong!" Alphinaud whimpered as he staggered back. He had taken the words right out of my mouth.
"Stop gawping, boy! We must run!" Cid shouted.
The Twelve must have been protecting us because we somehow managed to slip from the grasp of the three Primals and make our way back to the Enterprise. Behind us, the three Primals stared each other down and Gaius stood watching it all.
"Surrender yourselves to me! I would feast upon your aether! NONE SHALL STAND AGAINST THE WIND!"
"Bear witness to the glory of the Empire!" Gaius shouted as three Garlean airships drew close overhead. They carried with them some strange machine that they dropped. As it fell it came to life, landing on four feet and gripping Ifrit within its hands. It crushed Ifrit's skull until the Lord of the Inferno burst into Aether which it absorbed. Parts of the machine lit up with a red glow.
Titan charged the machine and swung one massive fist at it, only to be caught in the machine's grip. It lifted Titan up and slammed its other fist into and through Titan's chest. Titan dispersed into Aether and the machine absorbed the Lord of Crags. It turned to face Garuda and the Lady of the Vortex trembled.
"It is you who will suffer, Garuda." Gaius said, a smirk in his voice. "Ancient Allag had ways of dealing with your kind! Now, look upon their ultimate weapon, eikon, and despair!"
The machine lashed out at Garuda but she was swift and took to the air. Unfortunately, she was not fast enough. It reached up and grabbed her by the ankle, pulling her back down. It held Garuda tight and she squirmed, trying desperately to escape. "No! Nooo! NOOOOO!" She screamed as the machine drew her closer, screaming up until the very last moment when it bit into her head. Garuda erupted into Aether and the machine drew her in, growing wings in the process.
"Magnificent! It exceeds all expectations! Such is the fate of those who oppose the Empire!" Gaius declared as the machine lifted him up in one of its claws. "There will be no Warriors of Light to save you this time… If your leaders are as wise as they are reported, they will surrender."
I glared down at Gaius and the Black Wolf stared back at me through his helmet.
"Your skills are impressive, but they will not be enough." Much to my surprise, the machine began flapping its wings and lifted into the air. It must have been using Garuda's powers to even possibly begin to fly. With no more need for words, Gaius and the machine flew away.
"Twelve have mercy, what chance have we against such an ungodly creation!" Alphinaud cried. "And who was that armored devil?"
"That was Gaius van Baelsar, Legatus of the XIVth Imperial Legion, and supreme commander of the Garlean invasion force in Eorzea." Cid explained.
"Of course, the Black Wolf. How could I not realize? Grandfather mentioned him in his journal."
"I was never so naive to believe the man would abandon his ambitions, but these developments are beyond my worst expectations. What have you been doing these past five years? How could something of this magnitude have escaped the Alliance's attention?"
"I wouldn't mind knowing that myself," I interjected.
"We heard no whispers, saw no signs. In the wake of the Calamity, the Empire seized land, built outposts, but that was the extent of their aggression." Alphinaud said, clearly trying to defend himself against Cid's question.
"Damnit, Gaius… where in the seven hells did you find that thing?"
Silence reigned for a moment.
"It has been a day of unexpected developments, but the fact remains: Garuda is no longer a threat. While I take no comfort in the manner of her downfall, it does mean that we may safely put the matter of the Primals aside - for the time being, at least."
"Which just leaves the matter of Gaius' new toy," I muttered.
"Indeed, that weapon poses a great threat to Eorzea." Alphinaud replied. Curse his Elezen hearing. "It must be destroyed. But first we must needs find out all we can. Let us head for Vesper Bay. We shall rebuild the Scions." I shot a frown at Alphinaud but he in turn gave me a weathered smile. "All is not yet lost, my friend - for we bear the light and shall surely lead our people from the darkness."
I silently regarded Alphinaud's statement. I was in possession of all the Crystals of Light, though I did not know to what end they were for. Would they give me the strength I needed to be able to defeat that machine? Or would that thing simply eat me like it had the Primals? It truly felt like this was our darkest hour yet, and Alphinaud expected us to be the ones to lead the others back to the light. Was it really up to just the three of us, and would we be enough? I sorely hoped so…
Holy hell, that was long.
Seriously, guys. I must be really dedicated. The Lady of the Vortex mission comprises of nearly a half hour of dialogue, and with transcribing that and adding in actions it took me nearly three hours to complete this segment. More if you include having to go back and get screenshots.
I hope all my efforts weren't all for naught and that you guys enjoyed this one. It's an extended installment too, clocking in at seven pages long. You're really getting spoiled here lately, aren't you? Maybe it'll make up for my hiatus...
Two story arcs left and the number of running around doing stupid things is lowering drastically. Pretty soon it's going to be missions like this one after the other with a boat load of dialogue. I will preserver though, all for the reader's sake! We've made it this far, there's no way I'm backing down now! Casing the Castrum starts next week. Please look forward to it!