The news that Alphinaud had returned to the Waking Sands sparked an atmosphere of grim determination in the Seneschal's office. The core members of the Scions were all assembled and waiting for the war council to begin, all seeming to be holding up well despite the tension. Alphinaud entered the office with a roll of parchments in hand.
Minfilia nodded and looked to everyone in the room. "All present. Then let us begin." She nodded once more to Alphinaud, insisting he begin.
"We have received the details of the impending operation," he began. "In what promises to be the largest single counteroffensive in the realm's troubled history, the Alliance will strike at every imperial stronghold standing upon Eorzean soil." Alphinaud's announcement sent up a round of murmurs throughout the room. He waited for the concerned voices to die down before continuing. "As might be expected, the operation will be complex, but you need not commit its intricacies to memory." Alphinaud began unrolling the bundle of papers out onto the table. "It is enough that each man understands his part and plays it to the best of his ability. The finer instructions you will receive at each staging point."
The papers that Alphinaud spread across the table consisted of a map of Eorzea and many pages of written notes. "To begin, let us review the distribution of our forces. From west to east, the Maelstrom of Limsa Lominsa, the Immortal Flames of Ul'dah, and the Order of the Twin Adder of Gridania." Alphinaud pointed out each nation as he spoke. "Next, let us examine the locations of the Imperial strongholds. Near Limsa Lominsa we have Castrum Occidens, situated in eastern Vylbrand, and Castrum Marinum, which lies to the south and east, in the midst of the Rhotano Sea. Near Ul'dah we have Castrum Meridianum to the north and the coastal outpost at Cape Westwind which connects Castrum Marinum to the mainland by means of a magitek transporter. Near Gridania we have Castrum Oriens, which lies upon the eastern edge of the Twelveswood. And finally, in Mor Dhona stands Castrum Centri, a thorn in the heart of Eorzea." Alphinaud marked off the locations of each Imperial stronghold on the map. It didn't paint a pretty picture. There were so many strongholds in the deepest parts of Eorzea. How could the Alliance have let the Garleans become so entrenched? "The forthcoming operation will see Allied forces assault each of the aforementioned locations, with the ultimate objective of destroying the Empire's new weapon housed within Castrum Meridianum."
Alphinaud's finger rested at the location of Castrum Meridianum on the map. "As one might expect of the Black Wolf's seat of power, Castrum Meridianum boasts all but impenetrable defenses. If we are to breach it, we must needs isolate it from its sister strongholds. To do otherwise would be to risk being caught 'twixt hammer and anvil. The operation will comprise four distinct phases, all told."
Alphinaud moved his finger to the mark on Castrum Occidens. "The first shall see us eliminate one of the Black Wolf's most trusted lieutenants, Rhitahtyn sas Arvina." He drew his finger across the sea to the marker denoting Cape Westwind. "According to our intelligence, the praefectus is due to visit the imperial outpost at Cape Westwind for an inspection. When he arrives we shall dispatch an elite adventurer unit to eliminate him." Alphinaud looked over to me. "Rosalyn, we would have you lead this assault."
An elite unit of adventurers with myself at the helm? I'd need to find said elite team, but that would be a problem for after debriefing.
"Rhitahtyn is a peerless field tactician. Shorn of his leadership, the garrison at Castrum Occidens will be as a snake without its head. Phase two will see us sever Castrum Meridianum's primary lines of supply. As soon as Rhitahtyn's presence is confirmed at the coastal outpost, the Maelstrom will lay siege to Castrum Occidens. At that very hour, the Lominsan Armada, helmed by the Admiral herself, shall move to blockade Castrum Marinum. Meanwhile, in the Twelveswood, the Order of the Twin Adder will surround Castrum Oriens."
"And they'll have the sylphs to help them," Yda interjected. "Frixio's been waiting for a chance to avenge these ones." She mimicked the Sylph's way of speaking in her own cheery tone.
Alphinaud gave Yda a sidelong glance, clearing his throat. "Phase three shall see us neutralize Castrum Meridianum's defenses. Forming our main thrust, the Immortal Flames will march against the stronghold with all their strength. While the enemy's eyes are thus drawn outwards, another elite adventurer unit shall infiltrate the castrum. It's mission: to disable the magitek field generator which protects the Praetorium, a fortress within a fortress wherein the Ultima Weapon is believed to be housed. Rosalyn, we would have you take command once more."
"Should I find a team I can work well with, and assuming no casualties, we'll leave straight from Cape Westwind." I said.
Alphinaud nodded. "Meanwhile, the Order of the Twin Adder will blockade the railway which connects Centri and Meridianum, preventing the arrival of reinforcements from Mor Dhona."
"A wise precaution," Papalymo smirked. "The monstrous locomotive which runs back and forth between the two castra is capacious enough to transport a small army, by all accounts."
"It is well the Garleans did not think to give it wings," Y'shtola mused.
"Once Meridianum's defenses have been compromised, the operation will enter its fourth and final phase." Minfilia said, attempting to get the debriefing back on track.
Alphinaud smiled lightly to her. "This will see the Immortal Flames enter the stronghold and suppress the remnants of the enemy garrison, allowing Rosalyn's unit to pass unopposed into the Praetorium where they will locate and destroy the Ultima Weapon. By this feat shall the operation be deemed a success. In addition to the Grand Companies, we can count upon the support of a variety of other parties, from the pirates of Limsa Lominsa to the Monetarists of Ul'dah. In all, the operation will involve no fewer than twelve major factions." Alphinaud grinned. "Legend holds that the Archons were twelve in one and one in twelve. It is for this reason that our grand endeavor has been dubbed 'Operation Archon'."
"Countless free companies have also pledged their swords, and more join us by the day. At long last, all of Eorzea is rising as one." Minfilia said, her voice tinged with pride.
"As before, we Scions shall work in concert with the Grand Companies," Alphinaud said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Yda, Papalymo, Y'shtola, pray accompany your respective organizations on their missions."
"Urianger, I would have you represent us in Ul'dah. eassure the financiers that they have made a sound investment," Minfilia instructed the Elezen. "When that is done, pray return here and aid in the coordination of our forces. Tataru, please assist Urianger in any way you are able, and ensure that everyone is kept abreast of the latest developments." The Lalafell gave a thumbs up and looked up to Urianger who she had just been paired with.
"Minfilia, Cid, and I shall accompany the main host in an advisory capacity," Alphinaud explained. "It will be our task to analyze intelligence as it comes into our possession, and make the necessary recommendations to command."
Minfilia looked over to me. "As Alphinaud mentioned, you are to lead the elite unit of adventurers whose task it will be to see each of Operation Archon's main objectives fulfilled. Yours is the most important role of all, and like to be the most dangerous. Pray choose your party well and stint not in your preparation."
"I will do my best," I said with a nod. All this weight on my shoulders and I hadn't cracked yet, what was a little more?
"The battle for the future of the realm is about to begin. Together, let us show the Black Wolf the power of a united Eorzea." Alphinaud announced. There was a rounding cheer and everyone began to disperse.
Minfilia stepped from around her desk and placed her hand on my shoulder. "Pray report to the Immortal Flames encampment situated to the north of here when you are ready to be briefed on your first mission." She smiled weakly. "I cannot stress this enough, but please be careful. May you walk in the light of the Crystal."
I thanked Minfilia for her concern and left her office, wondering where I'd be able to scrounge up an "elite" team of adventurers in such short notice. I paced outside in the hallway straining my brain until I was interrupted by Cid.
"I've got something for you in the storage room," he said with a grin, hooking his thumb down the hallway. I followed behind the engineer, not really feeling any anticipation for whatever surprise he had for me. When we entered the storage room I was shocked by the group that had collected in there. Cid grinned again. "Yeah, they sort of just gathered here."
"About time you showed up," an Elezen in gleaming armor said with a smirk, not even bothering to look up from the shield he was busy shining. "I was beginning to think our illustrious leader wouldn't deign us with her presence."
I blinked as I took in sight of them. "Oliver? And Rae," the short girl in red, furred armor waved from her seat beside Oliver. My gaze found a tall pair in the corner, one dressed in black leather robes and the other in a deep blue suit of armor. "Sorasha, Azarashi."
"Hey now, she was busy being debriefed," Azarashi chuckled. "We wouldn't want our leader not knowing what we're doing, right?"
"If she didn't know what was going on, I'd say this operation would be ill-advised," a Roegadyn in white robes said quietly.
I took him in for a moment before realizing who he was. "Eyriwaen, you've got no…" I motioned, trying to indicate his lack of his mask. He grinned and nodded.
"Ah, I'm glad you made it," someone else said. I turned and saw another person in black leather robes, this one wearing a mask with only one eye visible and a large pointed hat. "I've been meaning to apologize for my….eccentricities.."
I staggered back for a moment and glared. "Ratie, you think you can just walk up to me and apologize for trying to kill me?"
"Kill you?" Ratie asked, shocked. He looked away. "I was...flirting. Though I may have taken it a bit too far." There was no doubt that the man was blushing behind his tall collar and mask obscuring his face.
"Don't lie," Oliver called across the room. "He heard tell you like the ladies and got upset."
I flushed and turned my glare on Oliver. "Th-that's none of your business!"
"Perhaps you all should hush, the poor girl is starting to blush." The rhyming lilt of the quiet Lalafell drew my attention and I eyed the pugilist's strange equipment. It didn't look like anything native to Eorzea.
"You guys all showed up to be my elite team?" I asked, smiling at the group assembled there. "I thought you guys were…"
"We heard what had happened and went into hiding," Sorasha explained. "But we're all here and we're all ok. Sorry we couldn't come to help you sooner." She smiled sadly.
"I'm glad you're all safe," I said and then turned to Cid. "This is the best surprise you could have given me."
The engineer chuckled. "Actually, this ragtag group wasn't really the surprise." He opened a crate and withdrew a quiver which he handed to me. "You're going to be going up against a lot of magitek weapons, so I made you some arrowheads that should be able to pierce their machines."
I smiled as I inspected one of the arrows. "These will definitely come in handy, I was worried I'd be all but useless." I slung the quiver over my shoulder and turned my attention back to the group. "Alright. We don't have a lot of time so I'll explain the plan on the way."
We left the Waking Sands and road to the canyon north of Vesper Bay with haste. Upon arriving we met up with a small force of Immortal Flames.
"So you're Rosalyn Sable, the fearless adventurer who's to lead the assault. We've been expecting you." The soldier, a man named Adalbert, said as we approached. "Our Maelstrom friends report that Rhitahtyn sas Arvina departed Castrum Occidens a bell ago. And sure enough, a convoy of Imperial airships landed here just now. The likelihood is high that our target was aboard one of the vessels. I've dispatched scouts to verify his presence before we strike."
One of the soldiers nearby had his hand to his ear in communication with the scouts. "Command to all units. Requesting status report." He nodded. "Antlion I has not seen the target, nor has Antlion II or III." The soldier looked up suddenly. "Antlion IV has confirmed visual on the target."
Adalbert placed his hand on his ear. "Attention all units. This is Cotter. The first step of Operation Archon begins with us. Should we falter here, all hope of victory will be lost. 'Tis no small burden, but know that I believe in all of you. So believe in yourselves and together we will blaze a path for our brothers and sisters of the Alliance to follow." Adalbert turned to us. "We will create multiple diversions and disperse the enemy garrison. That should give you and your people a chance to breach their defenses. Go now and bring us Rhitahtyn's head. May Rhalgr grant you strength."
As we climbed the cliff face up to to the edge of the stronghold's perimeter the sound of commotion drifted on the wind. When we neared Cape Westwind we saw the Immortal Flames soldiers engaging in skirmishes with the Garlean forces. With their men distracted by the Immortal Flames we pushed through their defenses with little trouble until we came to the large tower that was Cape Westwind's end of the magitek transportation system to Castrum Marinum.
A number of elite Garlean soldiers were gathered there, as well as our target. Rhitahtyn was large Roegadyn in heavy Garlean armor wielding a shield massive shield on each arm with cannons affixed to them. His helmet had two curved horns, giving him the appearance of a bull.
"It would appear we have unexpected guests. Now, where have I seen you before?" Rhitahtyn smirked. "Ah, but of course. The woman who felled the mighty Titan."
One of the centurions at his side looked up at him in shock. "This is the eikon-slayer!?"
Rhitahtyn ignored his companion, his gaze locked on us. "I see. The commotion without is naught but a diversion. Allow me to hazard a guess: by eliminating me, you hope to undermine the garrison at Occidens." This man truly was a tactician, he had seen right through our plans. "A bold strategy, to be sure, but have you the strength to see it to fruition?"
"We're going to put an end to all of this, starting right here." I said with a glare.
Rhitahtyn looked to the centurions accompanying him. "Leave us. None of you are a match for them. Send word to Castrum Occidens. Tell them the Lominsans are coming."
"At once, my lord!" The centurions saluted and made to run away. Rae, Ratie, and Mishro broke away to block their path.
"Fifteen years have come and gone since Lord van Baelsar first set foot in Eorzea, yet his ambition for the realm burns as strong as ever it did. Know you what fuels it, adventurers? The desire to deliver the people from their suffering."
"Baelsar only wishes to enslave us," I growled.
"The lands he has conquered were all beset with problems - poverty, starvation, lawlessness. My homeland was no exception. Had my lord not reached out and claimed it for the Empire, it would eventually have destroyed itself. But under his sage leadership, my people enjoyed such peace and stability as we had never known. And he only desires the selfsame for the people of this realm. Under his rule, Eorzea would be free from the shackles which bind it. The shackles of false faith. There would be no feeble leaders to misguide the masses, no eikons to bleed the realm dry. True peace would reign and the people would be free to live their lives without fear of persecution or oppression."
"Yeah, because we'd already be oppressed by Garlemald!" Oliver sneered.
"Should you doubt the truth of my words, I bid you look upon me. I am no son of Garlemald, yet Lord van Baelsar saw fit to raise me to a station of great honor. He measures a man not by his birth, but by his worth. Such is his sense of justice. By the grace of His Excellency, I am where I was born to be - upon the field of battle. He has given me a noble cause to fight for and worthy adversaries to smite." Rhitahtyn stomped, kicking up a cloud of dust about him as he leaned forward into a fighting stance. It only served to reinforce the image of a bull. "I am not wont to bare my steel needlessly. But if you are deaf to reason, in the name of Lord van Baelsar, I, Rhitahtyn sas Arvina, do swear to strike you down!"
"Let's shut this guy up already!" Oliver dashed past me and opened up by slamming his shield against Rhitahtyn, but the Roegadyn blocked with his own pair of shields.
"My shields are impregnable! Join the countless challengers who have dashed themselves against them!" He boasted as Oliver clashed against them once more.
With Rae, Ratie, and Mishro busy fighting the centurions it left Sorasha, Azarashi, and myself to aid Oliver in fighting the Tribunus. Eyriwaen busied himself casting protective magic on everyone and curing our wounds so we could continue fighting.
There was a sudden explosion and the ground erupted in flames. Rhitahtyn, though busy fighting Oliver, was more than capable of firing upon us as well. I cursed under my breath and drew one of my new arrows. I let it fly and it stuck into one of the Roegadyn's shields. It would seem that Cid was true to his word.
A blur passed by me as Azarashi leapt high into the air, descending on Rhitahtyn, his spear meeting shield. He deftly repelled himself away from a shot and approached again from behind. Rhitahtyn wasn't simply boasting, he was a beast of a fighter, blocking both Oliver and Azarashi's attacks at once. There was another explosion and the ground around us ignited once more.
As I ran to safer ground I took a look back at the others. Rae had grown exceptionally since I last saw her. She was swinging her axe like a madwoman, slinging it around in whirling circles and taking on at least three centurions head on. Mishro was just as precise with his movements a I had ever seen him, dodging attacks and flowing from form to form as he delivered devastating punches to his foes. Even Ratie seemed to have become stronger, spheres of magic dancing about him as he rained fire, ice, and lightning about the soldiers. Whenever one drew too near to him he seemed to vanish, appearing elsewhere.
Sorasha was a near mirror-image of Ratie's skills. She too flung the elements at Rhitahtyn as his guard was turned toward the melee combatants. I drew another of Cid's arrows and this time it found Rhitahtyn's shoulder as his back was turned. He let out a howl and knocked both Oliver and Azarashi away. He leveled his shields at Oliver to fire upon him, only for his aim to be knocked away by Rae's axe.
"Stay away from him!" She shouted, swinging her axe heavily and knocking Rhitahtyn's shields away again. She ducked suddenly, Mishro leaping clear over her and slamming his fist into the Roegadyn's chest. He staggered backward and two simultaneous blasts of fire exploded upon him, their source Ratie and Sorasha's outstretched staves as they stood back to back. As the flames died away a chunk of earth rose up to meet Rhitahtyn's helmeted face, Eyriwaen taking advantage of the opening.
"Ungh…" Rhitahtyn staggered again and bellowed. "Though it cost me my life… I will strike you down!" He raised his arms to the sky and launched a number of missiles from the large cannons on his shields.
I'm not even sure who yelled the warning as the missiles rained down all around us. I found myself some ten fulms away from where I had been standing when the explosions went off. I groaned as I slowly made it to my feet.
"Oww… My head…" I said, or at least I think I said. There was still a harsh ringing in my ears. "Everyone alright?"
"I'm still in one piece," I heard someone, maybe Ratie?, moan.
I took stock of the situation and saw that we were all still alive, thank the Twelve.
"No way…" Oliver gasped. I turned to look and saw that Rhitahtyn was still standing in the center of the devastation.
I drew one of Cid's arrows and loosed it. The arrow pierced through the Roegadyn's chestplate and he staggered backward, slamming into the large transportation device. He panted heavily. "Forgive me… I have failed you… Lord van Baelsar!"
The Roegadyn raised his arms to the sky as he yelled, then fell forward, dead. The large, circular device began to spark and spit flame. Surely his bumping into it didn't cause this. Perhaps in the rain of missiles? The machine then shot a beam of red light into the air.
"Is… is it supposed to do that?" I asked.
"How the hells am I supposed to know?" Oliver shrugged.
"Do you even know anything?" Azarashi teased, though his heart wasn't in it. He was too busy helping Sorasha stay standing as Eyriwaen went about healing her injuries.
I heard static in my ear and looked up. "Rosalyn, are you there? What news of Rhitahtyn?" Alphinaud asked over the linkpearl.
"It's done, he's fallen." I replied, my hand to my ear.
"With this deed, you have sown the seeds of our ultimate victory."
I was about to reply when another voice chimed in in my ear.
"Tis I," Cid said. "It seems you've done it again, Ros. I'd raise a tankard to you, but I'm afraid we've no time to savor the victory. There's still the small matter of infiltrating Castrum Meridianum and destroying the Ultima Weapon."
"Yeah, that's just a small task." I smirked.
"I know, I know, no rest for the preternaturally gifted. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself and make your way back to the Immortal Flames' encampment. The communications officer will issue you your orders. I'll be waiting for you with the main host."
"Alright, I'll see you there." I broke communication and turned to my assembled group of elite adventurers. "Alright guys, job well done."
"We almost died," Oliver said somberly.
"Almost," Rae emphasized as she joined his side, slipping Oliver's arm around her shoulders.
"I'm going to agree, that was a close one." Eyriwaen said as he finished up administering his healing magic on Sorasha. "Who would have thought he'd employ such a desperate tactic?"
"Yeah, some tactician," Ratie smirked.
"He probably knew his armor would protect him from the blast," Sorasha guessed.
"Whatever the reason, the outcome is what matters. We're all alive and phase one of Operation Archon is a success." I said, eyeing everyone there. "Now if we need to discuss this further I say we do it somewhere safer."
We left Cape Westwind victorious. Singed, but victorious. I knew for certain that as soon as word of Rhitahtyn's death made it to Gaius van Baelsar that our plans would be met with emboldened resistance. Even with that in mind, as we left Cape Westwind, the beam of red light finally fading, I also knew that we wouldn't just roll over at the first sign of a fight. After all, we were the ones bringing the fight to them.
It's a damn shame I can't seem to find any of my friends online to at least grab some screenshots of their own characters from them... I mean, it's not like I don't have any of my own that I've grabbed, they just all look something like this:
Ratie wears that snowman head just about everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. I've got a screenshot of him somewhere, sitting in a hot tub in his bathing suit... and the snowman head. My friends are goofs.
I'm guesstimating that there will be three more posts until we're done, the last two being pretty long unless I break them in half and then we'll be at this for another week or so.
I was really happy to have some additional characters to bounce dialogue around with and spread out the awesome stuff between. Everyone's grown exceptionally stronger since we've last seen them, all of them sporting their respective jobs. This means the fight scenes should hopefully be getting more entertaining, if a little more difficult to write. It's hard making a fight with eight people against one look fair in any remote way. These are supposed to be strong opponents, but no matter how you look at it it's going to be a curb stomp. I think I can manage it though.