Castrum Meridianum, the largest Garlean stronghold in Eorzean land, was a monstrous facility. Our intel had managed to obtain a map of the compound and we committed it to memory as best we could before we stole our way inside. As large as Castrum Meridianum was, it was in truth only the baileys. The Praetorium, the massive facility at the heart of the Castrum, was our final destination. Our objective was to destroy the three towers generating the magitek field around Praetorium by any means necessary.

With the eyes of the Imperial forces on the fighting outside its walls, my small team of adventurers managed to get inside with no trouble. However, we had no real plan how to reach our goal. There was no way of telling how tight security would be within the Castrum and whether or not we'd actually be able to deactivate the magitek field generators. To that end, we had already reached our first problem.

From our vantage point behind the rough terrain we could clearly see a number of soldiers guarding a pair of spotlights. If we could shut them off we'd be able to follow the path to the Central Crossing in cover of darkness. However, if we weren't quick the soldiers would very well be able to raise the alarm and we'd blow the whole operation before it started.

"We blow them up," Oliver suggested.

"If we do that we'll draw attention," Azarashi argued.

"Shutting them down is going to draw attention anyway, they're on for a reason."

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"Then why are we even wasting time here? We should just run down that path and whoever comes out to kill us can have their go at it."

"Oi, are you two done yet?" I asked, getting between the two and ending their glaring contest. "You can decide who's better equipped where it counts when we're not saving the realm." I shot a look to each of them then pointed at the Black Mages. "Ratie, Sorasha, put the guards to sleep. We'll shut down the spotlights and beat feet down that path. If we're lucky we'll be long gone before they wake up and wonder what happened."

"That's… that's a good plan." Azarashi said with a nod.

"Yeah, well… I could have come up with that too." Oliver harrumphed.

Ratie and Sorasha moved into position and I counted it off. If they put all the guards to sleep at once they'd be none the wiser of our passing. At my signal they began casting their magicks and pair of soldiers at each spotlight terminal dropped heavily to the ground. Azarashi and Oliver leaped over our cover and ran toward the two terminals, surprisingly professional about it despite their bickering earlier. As the two spotlights darkened the rest of us abandoned our cover and together as a group we dashed down the path to the Central Crossing.

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Upon crossing through the gate we found ourselves in the Central Crossing, a small area with secure gates leading north and south. "Does anyone remember where those towers are in relationship to where we are now?" I asked, turning around and looking up toward one of the towers.

"There's one sort of in each direction," Sorasha commented.

"And one closer to the Praetorium," Eryiwaen added. "Perhaps that one would best be saved for last."

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"Which way first then?"

"North."

"South."

Azarashi and Oliver shot each other a glare as they answered together.

"Someone care to explain to me what's going on between these two?" I asked, sparing a glance toward Rae and Sorasha. Before either could answer the gate on the northern side opened up and an Imperial Centurion atop a Magitek Reaper appeared. His machine stopped mid step as he caught sight of us. I cursed, the Centurion let out a shout, and fighting ensued.

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Oliver and Rae both ran straight at the Reaper, rushing it headlong. The pilot reacted in kind and drove the machine to meet them. Oliver drew the pilot's attention with a flash of blinding light then protected himself behind his shield as he was fired upon. Meanwhile, Rae went to work heavily swinging her axe into the legs of the machine.

As I drew my bow and an arrow I saw soldiers on foot with patrol hounds rushing through the open gate before it slammed shut. "Rae! Distract the soldiers!" I shouted and loosed an arrow at the nearest one.

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"Got 'em!" The Warrior abandoned her position beside Oliver and engaged in combat with the group of soldiers.

Eryiwaen busied himself casting protective magic on us, barriers to both soften blows and negate them all together. Ratie focused his attacks on the Magitek Reaper as Sorasha dropped fire and ice in wide blasts on the reinforcements. I spotted both Mishro and Azarashi dealing with the hounds and I returned my attention back to the Reaper. I drew another one of Cid's Magitek piercing arrows and hoped I hit something important with it.

There was a large whine of gathering energy as the pilot braced himself. Oliver dove out of the way in time to avoid taking the full force of cannon fire from the Reaper. The explosion was massive, the heat of the blast washing over me though I was several yalms away. As the flame died away Oliver rolled back to his feet and rushed the Reaper again.

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"You introduce me to the nicest people, Ros!" The Paladin shouted above the sound of bullets bouncing off his shield. "Remind me to return the favor, should we live!"

"Yeah, not a problem!" I called back as I took aim at the pilot. My loosed my arrow and struck the pilot in the neck. With the pilot downed, the Reaper collapsed. I let out a sigh of relief and spotted Rae slamming the head of her axe into the last soldier.

"What, no more?" Azarashi asked as he leaned against his polearm, barely winded.

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear you had a personal grudge against Magitek armor," a voice called from behind us.

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We all turned quickly, still alert after the fight. Cid approached, smiling broadly and waving.

"Cid? What are you doing here?"

"What can I say? I couldn't bear to let you have all the fun."

"Yeah, I wouldn't exactly call it fun," Oliver commented.

"I would," Ratie chimed in, earning a look from just about everyone.

"Weren't you in charge of communications, Cid?" I asked.

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"Don't worry, Biggs and Wedge have everything in hand. Truth be told, I think they like having the work of three men." He chuckled. "Though, Wedge wasn't exactly pleased to be left behind and made quite sure I knew it. I must say, our recent struggles have done wonders for the lad's spirit." I couldn't help but agree, thinking of his performance in Castrum Centri.

Cid approached the downed Reaper and smiled. "Given the size of this place, I suspected there might be an armor or three to be had. And here we are." He hauled the body of the original pilot out of the cockpit and gave the machine a once over. "Hmm, not as bad as I thought. If I have half Marques's talent for mending things, I should be able to get it working again." He said to himself with a grin.

"I hope this isn't all you came for, you'll get plenty when we take control of the Castrum."

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Cid shook his head. "No. We intercepted an imperial communication indicating that the Ultima Weapon is indeed being housed within the Praetorium."

"I'd hate to be doing this all for nothing," I said sarcastically. "But we need to take down that barrier first."

"And I'm here to help you do just that." Cid looked to each of the doors. It took us only a minute to realize that they were both sealed tight. The engineer stood in thought for a moment, looking around. "Aha. See that chute?" He asked, indicating a large pipe running along a wall. "It leads to waste disposal. Somewhere nearby there will be a ceruleum facility supplying fuel to the closest of the three towers."

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"Yeah?" Oliver asked with a raised eyebrow. "And then what do we do?"

"Find the place and break things."

The Paladin barked a laugh and lead the group toward the pipe. As they went about busting a hole in it large enough for everyone to fit into I turned to Cid.

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"You going to be alright here?"

"Go on ahead, I'll be along as soon as I finish my repairs."

I nodded, not having the time to argue with him. We managed to bust into the waste disposal pipeline and began our trek along it. The less I say about the inside of the pipeline, the better. I can only thank the Twelve that it was mostly food waste that we trudged through until we finally busted out the other side.

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From what I could tell, we had come somewhere south of where we had been earlier. As we climbed the stairwell out of the waste disposal facility we could see the ceruleum facility. We regrouped behind another rocky outcropping and looked at the path ahead of us. More spotlights littered the area and security here had been stepped up. A number of Magitek Vanguards patrolled the area along with escorts of soldiers.

"Same as last time for the spotlight?" Sorasha asked.

"Yeah, put them to sleep, somebody go hit that terminal, then we continue on to the Ceruleum facility."

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"And then we break things," Sorasha nodded. She moved into position and Rae readied herself to run to the terminal. We waited and watched as one of the groups of patrols passed us, then I signaled to Sorasha. The guards at the spotlight terminal dropped and Rae bolted out from our cover to the terminal where she hurriedly tapped away at it. The roaming spotlights died and we continued along the path to the Ceruleum facility.

Their Ceruleum facility was a crude mazework of pipes and from what I could tell they were pumping directly from the lake below to two refining machines that emptied into tanks below them. We quietly dealt with the small number of guards stationed there and went about figuring how best to throw a wrench into the works. In the end, simple won out. Ratie and Sorasha focused powerful blasts to a pair of pipes, rupturing them and spilling impure Ceruleum into the tanks.

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"How long is that going to take to knock out that tower then?" Eryiwaen asked.

"Cid would probably know," I said. "I think I saw a way to get back to where we were earlier." We left the ruined Ceruleum facility and I lead the group back northward. Just as we were about to enter a section of the Castrum that I vaguely remembered as being labeled "Area V" on our map we heard a small explosion. We all looked up at the nearest field generator tower and saw lances of electricity sparking about it. The beam of light it had been directing at the field around the Praetorium died and we all glanced toward the facility towering above us. Sure enough, it looked like the Magitek Field had weakened.

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"That's a good job. Let's keep it up," I said, spurring my team on.

"What in the seven hells? Look out!" Azarashi suddenly leapt toward me with great speed, grabbed me around the waist and the next thing I knew the sudden rush of wind blew my hat off my head before we landed some dozen fulms away from where I had just been a second ago. Before I could ask what had gotten into the Dragoon a Magitek Vanguard hit the ground right where I had been standing. I looked up and saw a Dreadnought class ship overhead that must have deployed the machine.

This Vanguard seemed to be sporting a hefty amount of reinforcement on and as I drew my bow and readied an arrow I wondered if they'd be enough to pierce it. Much like with the Reaper, Oliver and Rae ran forward to draw attention of the machine and the rest of us followed behind them. Unfortunately for us, the Magitek Vanguard had no pilot to kill to stop it, we'd have to do it the old fashioned way.

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I waited for an opening and fired an arrow at the weak point that Biggs had taught me before, but the arrow plinked off the reinforced plating. So much for that working. I was readying another arrow and trying to figure out where to aim when reinforcements arrived.

"I got them this time," Oliver said, leaving Rae to dodge the massive drills of the Vanguard. He ran to meet the nearest soldier and slammed his shield into the Garlean, the combined force of their speed causing the Garlean to drop instantly. Oliver drew the reinforcements' attention with another blinding flash of light and met their attention with his sword and shield. I ran into position to flank them, grabbing my hat from the ground as I ran, and began loosing arrows. Mishro ran into the fray, punching and kicking his way through the Garleans with ease.

There was a shout as the Vanguard leveled its cannons at Rae. Azarashi landed atop the machine and skewered it with his polearm, pulling back with all his might. The cannons aimed skyward at the last second and the cannon fire shot harmlessly away. Rae swung her axe so hard she spun twice before the head of the axe slammed into the Vanguard. She tore it out, leaving a gash in the metal. She swung again and again, clearly infuriated by the machine. She swung once more, a heavy upward swing that knocked the machine clear off its feet.

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I completely forgot about the remaining Garlean soldiers as I watched Rae breathing heavily, slowly calming herself out of her rage. I made a mental note not to get on her wrong side anytime soon, then put an arrow in the back of the last soldier.

There was a sudden explosion and the security gate blew to pieces. We readied our weapons once more and watched as a Magitek Reaper walked through the smoke into Area V. I almost released an arrow at the pilot, realizing it was Cid in time to divert my aim and let the arrow harmlessly hit the ground.

"There you are!" He said, waving nonchalantly.

"What the hells, Cid? I almost killed you!"

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"I didn't have the patience to take the long way around." He answered with a shrug. "I see you've disabled the first generator." Before he could say anymore a siren began to ring all across the compound. Cid looked up and frowned. "Ah, bugger. That was me, wasn't it?"

"So much for the stealth operation," Ratie said with a laugh.

"Well, there's nothing for it but to press on. We must see to the remaining generators before the enemy has a chance to regroup." Cid grinned, giving us the thumbs up. He turned right back around and piloted the Reaper across the Central Crossing to the northern gate, the rest of us following behind. "Stand clear! I'm going to blow the bulkhead!" He charged up the cannon and blasted the gate down.

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On the other side of the smoke a number of confused Garleans waited. "Let's raise some hell!" Cid shouted and unloaded another blast into the group. With Cid with us we made short work of the Garleans and began heading north toward the Phantom Train depot. As we rounded the corner we spotted a number of Magitek Colossi standing guard.

"They're stepping up security, I see…" I said with a frown.

"Hey, check out these cannons!" Ratie said, a smile in his voice.

"How about we use their own weapons against them, then?" Cid suggested.

"You must be a genius or something," Ratie deadpanned as he eyed Cid.

As Ratie, Sorasha, Azarashi, and Mishro situated themselves at the four cannons lined along the wall the rest of us ran ahead to draw the Colossi. Oliver and Rae both employed their flashes of magic and I took potshots, Eryiwaen accompanying us to keep us protected with his magic as we ran and dodged the Colossi's massive swords. The trickiest part was doubling back once we reached the Phantom Train Depot, but we managed and drew the Magitek Colossi into a hail of cannon fire.

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With the Colossi taken care of we returned back north past the Phantom Train Depot and past a large landing pad to a small area below the second tower. Cid took up position beneath the tower and started shooting at it with the small arms on his Magitek Reaper. We watched on, wondering if Cid would even be able to damage the tower with the guns.

"You know, if I were the Garleans I'd take us standing here as an opportunity to attack," Ratie said out loud. Practically on cue the ground began to shake. A massive Magitek Colossi much different than the ones we had taken out by cannon approached, wielding a glowing blade that made its blood red armor gleam.

"Why do you hate us, Ratie?" Oliver sighed. He readied his sword and shield and rushed the giant, Rae hot on his heels with her axe ready.

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"How long, Cid!?" I shouted as I retreated and took a shot at the Colossus. I breathed a sigh of relief when my arrow penetrated its armor. At least I wasn't completely out of this fight.

"It might take a while!" He shouted back.

Ratie and Sorasha stood at my sides throwing magic as I loosed arrow after arrow. Azarashi leapt about the area, striking the Colossus as he performed his acrobatics. Eryiwaen was working overtime casting healing magic on Oliver and Rae who had the most dangerous position on the field. Aside from the massive sword it carried, the Colossus was more than willing to stomp and grasp for the two. I felt the most sorry for Mishro, however, who seemed to be having trouble getting in close. Would his punches even be able to do any damage to the Colossus?

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It was a fight of attrition, and the Colossus was winning. No matter how much we hit it though it seemed to not be doing much at all. Whatever new model this was, I truly hoped it was the only one the Garleans had. We were all running out of steam, the front line's movements growing sluggish, the mage's Aether running on empty just as quickly as my quiver. I drew my last arrow from my quiver and hesitated. Did this thing have a weak spot that I could hit and miraculously end it?

The Colossus' sword slammed into Oliver and Rae, knocking them into the far wall and I froze. Eryiwaen ran to the two and began healing them as quickly as he could. The Colossus towered over them, raising its weapon. Azarashi made another leap and slammed his spear into the Colossus' arm, only to be swatted away. Was this as far as we were going to make it?

"I have a plan, but first make a final stand." Mishro said, suddenly beside me. "If we want to see tomorrow, I need your last arrow." I looked down at the Lalafell Monk and just nodded. I handed him the arrow and he ripped a piece of his clothes and tied the arrow atop his arm, the arrowhead protruding just beyond his fist. He quickly checked his work and nodded. "Now sing for me, and bring him to his knees."

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Just what was the Lalafell planning? Whatever it was, this was our last chance. I drew my harp and strummed the chords. I began singing, weaving my Aether into the words and the notes.

"The Avenger is roaming through the land,

Ready for the clash, for the lasting gash."

Sorasha's next blast of fire seemed to hit stronger than it had before. My song was beginning to work, but it wasn't enough yet. I reached deep and put everything I had into it.

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"Mothers kissing sons,

with staff in hand.

The bride is shining,

when the groom is gold."

Ratie's gout of flame raged higher and the Colossus took a staggering step back. This was it, it was working. Just a little more, and hopefully whatever Mishro was planning came together.

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"The spirit is over town,

waiting for me to hit the floor.

Blooming white sky for the voice of one calling tonight.

Tonight fate is the red crown,

the red crown around your door.

Time is shattering the seeds of the morning daylight."

Sorasha and Ratie raised their staves high and attacked together, a massive explosion of flames that knocked the Colossus back against a wall. It seemed to be in a daze after the attack.

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The air around us began to spark and crackle, Aether being drawn inward toward something. I looked back and saw Mishro in a familiar stance, his right hand held back as though he were about to throw a punch. Aether was swirling around him, coalescing on his fist and glowing with light. There was a flash and Mishro dashed forward at incredibly speed toward the Magitek Colossus. He ran up the flat of the machine's massive sword and jumped, coming face to face with it.

As Mishro's fist connected with the Colossus' face, the force of his punch drove the arrowhead in deep. Time seemed to slow as Mishro hung in the air, Aether sparking around him. I knew what was coming next but was still too slow to look away as a column of light erupted upward, engulfing the Colossus and Mishro both.

When I could see again, the Colossus had fallen and didn't move. Mishro staggered back toward us and sat heavily. I looked over and could see that Oliver and Rae were beginning to come to under Eryiwaen's administrations.

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"That was rough…" Sorasha sighed.

"You're telling me," Azarashi said as he limped over, leaning on his polearm.

"That was some fine work," Cid said as he piloted the Reaper over.

"Yeah, thanks for the help…" I frowned. We took a few minutes to regroup, recover, and restock. Lucky for me, Cid had enough forethought to bring along another quiver of his special arrows. Restocked and healed of our injuries, we turned back to the issue of the second tower. Cid had barely put a scratch in it.

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"Stand clear. I have a mind to loose some fireworks of my own." Cid announced. "Diverting all power to the cannon!" He aimed the Reaper toward the tower once more and the maw-like adornment of the Reaper opened to reveal the cannon. It charged, then released a massive blast of energy. We watched as it soared toward the field generator, struck, and exploded in a spectacular blast. The field around the Praetorium weakened again, glowing dimmer.

Cid let out a cheer even as his stolen Reaper slowly died. "Damn it, there goes the core." He crossed his arms over his chest. "I fear I may have overestimated its maximum operating capacity… by a few orders of magnitude." He shot me a grin. "I blame Marques." I just stared at him. "Ah, yeah… We'll need to find another way to bring down the third generator."

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"We'll figure something out once we get to it," I said. "Are you coming with us?"

"You go on ahead, I need to get to the bottom of something."

"Be careful, then."

We left the Armamentarium and headed for the Parade Grounds in front of the Praetorium. From there we would be able to get to the last tower. We came to the large door leading to the Parade Grounds and Oliver started fighting with a control panel to get the door open.

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"Hey guys, not to be the bearer of bad news," Ratie began, earning a round of sighs. "But that Dreadnought is back." He pointed up into the sky and sure enough, the Dreadnought from earlier was flying overhead.

"Does it look like it's about to fire on us?" Sorasha asked.

"How about getting that door open?"

"I'm working on it as fast as I can!" Oliver shouted.

Rae buried the head of her axe in the panel and the door slide open. "Work smarter, not harder." She said with grim smile and we dashed into the Parade Grounds. The Dreadnought began firing on us as we ran, explosions rocking all around us.

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Static chirped in my ear, followed by Cid's voice. "It's me! Are you alright!?"

"Does it look like we're alright!?" I yelled as I brought my hand to my ear.

"That's an assault craft you're up against! You don't stand a chance with conventional weapons! You need a mortar or a cannon or something! Just hold on, I'm on my way!"

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"Yeah, where are we going to find something like that?" I groaned.

"Over there!" Azarashi pointed at a large cannon situated in the parade ground.

"What the hells is up with Garlemald and conveniently placed cannons?" Oliver asked.

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"Shut up and fire the damn cannon!"

We reached the cannon and quickly aimed it up at the Dreadnought overhead. I prayed that the Twelve guide the the missile as we fired. They must have been listening because the missile struck true and the airship began to lose altitude. We watched as it crashed through the final field generator tower and into the depths of the Castrum. The barrier around Praetorium fell.

"We meant to do that, right?" Azarashi asked in disbelief.

There was a mighty crash and we turned our attention to the source of the noise. There in the Parade Grounds was a white Magitek Reaper, the pilot a Garlean in white armor. I blinked, recognizing her. She was the woman who had lead the attack on the Waking Sands. I clenched my fists and scowled.

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"Fools! If you are resolved to die here, you might at least have done so without first making a mess of the place!" She yelled.

"Who's this bitch? The maid?" Oliver asked, earning snickers from Ratie and Azarashi.

"I see that Garlond is not with you. More's the pity, I had hoped to slay him myself. But never mind the traitor for now." She stood up in the cockpit and pointed at me. "I have so looked forward to this meeting, Rosalyn Sable." I glared harder in reply. "Yes, I know much and more about you. About your strength.. and your hidden talents. I would sample them firsthand, and you will indulge me."

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"I think the maid is flirting with you, Ros."

"Can it, Oliver." I growled. "Livia sas Junius," I shook with rage as I said the woman's name. " 'Twas you who led the raid on the Waking Sands. You who butchered unarmed men and women for the crime of being unworthy of capture! You killed our friends! We'll never forgive you! Nor shall we suffer you to plague Eorzea a day longer." If looks could kill, I would have ended her life on the spot. I didn't have that power, but I had the next best thing. "Oliver. Fire."

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The cannon spat flame and the missile slammed into Livia sas Junius' Reaper. The explosion was massive but the woman leapt out of the flames, landing deftly before us. Destroying her Magitek Armor didn't even phase her. She crossed her arms over her chest and smirked audibly.

"My lord was quite taken with you and the power you possess, the 'Echo'. Naturally, I could not help but wonder whom this princess among women might be, only to discover that you are but another adventurer. No better than the multitude. Yet in spite of this, the masses hold you their champion and shower honors upon your head. It defies all reason." Her voice was slowly growing more manic. "How is that you could be such a thorn in our side? Wherever you appear, you leave havoc in your wake. You even slew Rhitahtyn, one of our very finest. I will not speculate. Truth be told, I couldn't care less how you have done these things. What matters to me is the fact that you have done them. If you are allowed to continue, you will eventually deprive me of all that I have toiled for! All that is mine by right! My minions, my comrades, even my Lord Gaius!"

I blinked, completely thrown off. Just what the hells did this woman think was going on?

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"Well, you cannot have him!" Livia nearly shrieked. "His dreams and ambitions, his body and soul! They are mine, do you hear me!? All mine! I lost everything once before! I will not suffer it to happen again!" Livia knelt down into a fighting stance. "I will kill you, adventurer! Only your death can bring me peace!"

Livia moved in a flash, her fist raised and coming straight at me. Oliver quickly stepped in the way, blocking the woman's punch with his shield. As her fist made contact, there was an explosion that was powerful enough to knock Oliver off his feet and into me. The gun mounted to her arm smoked as she advanced. Rae slammed her axe into Livia's side with enough force to knock the Garlean away.

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"Get off me already!" I shouted at Oliver as he staggered back to his feet. I regained mine as well and quickly drew my bow and readied an arrow. It was hard getting a clear shot on Livia. She moved quickly, kicking and slashing with the blades on her forearms. She was gaining the upper hand on Rae, forcing the Warrior back under the onslaught of swift attacks.

Oliver ran back in and fighting side by side with Rae, each blocking the attacks that the other couldn't, they started gaining ground. Sorasha and Ratie slung their magic, blasts of fire and shards of ice raining around the quickly moving combatants. Whenever there was an opening, Azarashi soared down to strike at Livia with his polearm, only to leap away again from the woman's counterattack.

"The pain I have suffered! I shall visit it upon you one hundredfold!" Livia shouted. She jumped and slammed her fist into the ground, creating a blast of explosions that rocketed ahead of her. We scattered, trying to get out of the way. "You lot! Make yourselves useful!"

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The parade grounds were quickly filling with soldiers, the Garleans clearly attempting to put a stop to our attack right there. I wasn't getting any shots on Livia any time soon, so I turned and began taking shots at the incoming soldiers. One by one they began to fall but for every one I took down, it seemed like two more came to take their place. I looked over my shoulder to see how the fight against Livia was going, and it seemed like a stalemate. Together, the Warrior and the Paladin were enough to keep her distracted and the White Mage kept them healed, but Livia was a strong opponent. It seemed like she'd be able to fight for some time. Was this the calibre of enemies we now faced?

"Leave them to me," Mishro spoke up beside me. He untied the rope belt around his waist and withdrew the jug he had been carrying. He popped the cork and even about the smell of smoke that was heavy in the air I could smell the potent contents of his jug. He threw back his head, bringing the jug to his mouth and began chugging. I watched as he emptied the jug and tossed it aside. "I will handle…" He stepped forward and stopped suddenly, hiccuping. "I will handle them… you'll… Ah, hells with it." The Lalafell staggered into the crowd of soldiers, somehow managing to trip and tumble out of the way of every attack aimed at him. I almost didn't want to turn away from the sight of it, but there were more pressing matters.

I turned back just in time to see Livia deliver a savage kick to Oliver's gut that knocked him back, swiftly followed by a punch that sent Rae sprawling. Azarashi landed in front of her, stabbing with his polearm. Livia dodged and grabbed his weapon with both hands, lifting him clear off the ground and throwing him away.

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I drew back an arrow and let it fly. The arrow pierced Livia's leg and she staggered. Oliver rushed forward in that exact moment and slammed his shield into her face. Livia stumbled backward in a daze and Rae swung her axe hard, catching Livia in her midriff. Rae spun, swinging the Tribunus around on the end of her axe in the process, then halted as she swung up, tossing her high. Azarashi jumped into the air to meet her and slammed her with the haft of his spear, sending her crashing back to the ground.

With their leader fallen, the soldiers stopped and looked on in either horror or surprise. Cut off the head, so they say. It was quiet in the parade grounds, save for a weak sob.

"No…" Livia whimpered. "It's happening… all over again… Please… I cannot bear it… Don't take him… away from me…" Livia reached her hand up slowly. "My lord Gaius…" Her arm fell limp and Livia moved no more.

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The fight taken out of the Garleans, they surrendered. We found Mishro, nary a scratch on him. He was grinning like a madman, his face flushed. Here we were in the middle of this operation and the damned fool went and got drunk.

While the other recuperated I stood near Livia's body, looking down at her corpse. I had been so angry at her, she had killed so many of my friends, and yet I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Her rage toward me was unfounded, and she was blinded by it. I was suddenly sick of all this fighting, all this killing.

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"Another poor fool who craved Gaius's affection over all else," Cid said quietly. I didn't even know he had joined me. "May her soul know rest." I had no comment to give to the engineer. He turned to me and smiled sadly. "'Tis a miracle no harm has come to you, my friend. One for which I will happily give thanks. And the wonders do not end there. Truthfully now," he leaned in a little conspiratorially. "Did you really mean to send that assault craft crashing into the generator tower? If you did, you're a bloody liar. If you didn't, well, you're too modest!"

I knew he was just trying to cheer me up and I offered him a weak smile. "Well, you know…"

"Well, whichever you are, you've managed to open the way to the Praetorium. The only problem is we can't reach it on foot."

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"Wait, are you serious?" I groaned.

"Aye, we'll need to take the Enterprise. I left her at the Ceruleum Processing Plant, so let's regroup there."

I looked back to the others. "Yeah, we're going to need a bucket of cold water too. I've got a Monk that needs to be sobered up before we save the realm."

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Cid laughed and then gave me an appraising look. "Oh, you're serious?"

I began laughing at the look on Cid's face. Somehow, the engineer had been able to lift my spirits. It was no time to be feeling down anyway. Victory lay within the Praetorium, we only had to reach out and take it. "Come on, Cid. The final confrontation awaits."

—-

This post took me an entire day to write, I'm not even kidding. And I'm still working on the last one. Which is why I'm not spending much time writing any comments down here. I hope you all enjoyed this one, and please look forward to the final post. I'll have more to say then, for sure.