I woke with a fright from some nightmare I couldn’t remember, desperately trying to piece together where I had just awoken. As I controlled my breathing and my heartbeat slowed I felt the panic leave me and cognitive thought begin to take control once more. A soft bed, sheets tossed aside from my nocturnal struggles. The warm glow of daybreak peeking through the small window set high in the wall and smell of sea water making my nose wrinkle. I was in Minfilia’s room again at the Waking Sands, and it had been three days since I returned from Little Ala Mhigo.
I lethargically got out of bed and tiptoed across the cold floor to a dresser. My clothes lay cleaned and folded neatly atop the dresser, my high leather boots nearer to the door. I should have felt bad for the special treatment I was receiving from Minfilia and the other Scions. I return to the Waking Sands, tell the Antecedent the harrowing tale of my narrow escape from death, and she puts me up in her room once again. No one else was treated this way, but then I suppose no one else is as broken as I am. I dressed slowly, unable to find the motivation to move any quicker.
I sat on the end of the bed, pulled my boots on, and stayed there for a moment. I eyed the harp I had brought back with me from Little Ala Mhigo, now sitting on opposite side of the dresser from where my clothes had been. I watched it for a moment, as though it might come alive like some cursed object, until I was brought out of my daze by a knock at the door. I made no movement to get up and open the door and after a few seconds of silence mumbled for them to come in.
Minfilia stepped into the room carrying a tray and the smell of maple syrup cut through the sea salt laden air. She sat down next to me on the end of her bed and offered me the tray.
“La Noscean Toast…?” I looked down at the fried toast drenched in syrup. It was a specialty back at the Carline Canopy in Gridania that I had many times before, one of my favorites. Walnut toast drenched in a mixture of buffalo milk and apkallu eggs, fried with creamy butter. My stomach growled audibly and I wondered when the last time I had actually eaten was. As I continued to stare at the breakfast I felt a gentle hand brush my hair from my face and behind my ear. Minfilia told me to take all the time I needed and left me alone once more.
With a full stomach I managed to find the motivation to quit sulking and start moving. I readied myself for the day and left the bedroom behind. I found Minfilia waiting for me in her office. She smiled at me when I entered and I flushed furiously. I ignored it as best as I could and we got down to business. Noraxia, the Sylph that had recently joined the ranks of the Scions, had received information from Gridania that there was a bout of murders occurring around Fallgourd Float in the North Shroud. Along with these murders came the sighting of an unsavory masked man. We had finally gotten a new lead on the Ascians.
I would need to travel to Fallgourd Float and speak to a miner named Medrod who had witnessed the masked man. With the debriefing over I turned to leave, stopping suddenly when I felt Minfilia’s fingers grasp my hand.
She looked me straight in the eyes. “Be careful.”
I was certain my face was as red as my hair, so I nodded quickly and left the Waking Sands immediately. I rode to Ul’Dah and caught the airship to Gridania. By midday I was at Fallgourd Floats. I found the miner Medrod in a small tavern sitting in a corner. The Hyur looked like he had been frightened out of his wits, the way his body shook and his eyes darted back and forth across the room. Whatever it was he had seen it couldn’t have been good. I tried speaking with him but his words came out incoherently.
I drew the attention of another miner named Aideen, one of Medrod’s friends, and she said that he had been like that ever since returning from Alder Springs south of Fallgourd Floats. I eyed Medrod for a moment, wondering just what about his behavior was bothering me. I frowned when I realized that the frightened man had been reminding me of myself. As of late I’ve spent far too many nights looking exactly like this man did. Was I really this annoying when I got upset?
I tried not to draw anymore correlations between the man and myself and decided that if I was going to get any information out of him I would need to calm him down first. I was instantly reminded of myself again, earlier that morning. Minfilia had brought me a comforting food to snap me out of my melancholy. I blushed at the thought of her touch and forced myself to focus on the task at hand. I asked Aideen if she knew whether or not Medrod had any favorites dishes, and lucked out when she told me that he often spoke of his mother’s lentils and chestnuts stew. It was a Gridanian dish and I was able to order it in the tavern.
I set the bowl of soup before the spooked Miner and he slowly began to eat. Borrowing from Minfilia’s tactics once again, I told him to take his time and I stepped outside to wait. Sure enough, within ten minutes the miner had exited the tavern to find me. Medrod told me his story of how he was out mining the cliff faces in Alder Springs when he heard a woman screaming. He went to investigate and found a man wearing a black cowl and a mask, accompanied by a creature he described as an eyeball with wings. He truly believed that the man was Death incarnate and fled the scene. Later that day, the body of a young woman had been found, her face disfigured beyond recognition. This was not the first body to be found.
Aideen mentioned that the locals at Fallgourd Float suspected Ziz, a subspecies of the cockatrice family, to be the culprit behind the murders. I staunchly disagreed, and so did Aideen. However, there was no proof that they weren’t and no one had been willing to prove otherwise. I told Aideen I’d look into the Ziz, but before I could leave she gave me some more information and a rumor. All of the murder victims thus far had been beautiful maidens, and there was a rumor going around that their angry spirits were inhabiting a rock near the location the bodies had been found. It was said that the rock flashed and moaned. I didn’t believe such stories, but she gave me a stick of firesand and suggested I destroy the rock all the same to put an end to the rumors.
I set of southwest of Fallgourd Float and entered the rocky terrain. This area of the forest had been burned away and destroyed during the Calamity, revealing the precious metals lying beneath the forest floor. Like all areas that had been hit by Bahamut’s blasts, strange crystal formations had begun to grow wildly.
I found a pack of Ziz easily enough, they wandered the area, pecking at the ground for stray strands of grass and insects. I watched them for some time, studying how they moved and fought with one another. Their axe-like beaks left wide gouges, and I was under the impression the malicious disfigurement of the victims had been intentional, not a by-product of the attack itself. I decided that the Ziz were certainly not a viable suspect and left them to find the flashing and moaning rock. I didn’t believe that there was any rock in the area that flashed as Aideen had described and I was surprised when I came upon it. I blew it up all the same and inspected the debris. The outer layer of rock had been thin, and the insides were lightning-aspected crystal. Another simple answer.
When I returned to the tavern I told Aideen that her mysterious flashing rock was nothing more than a natural occurrence and that the Ziz were not the ones that had committed the murders. During our conversation I was approached by a third miner, an Elezen named Ivaurault. After hearing that Medrod was speaking again, he felt emboldened to speak up as well. He too had seen the floating eyeball out in Alder Springs just that morning. He told me where he had seen it and I returned once more to the rocky terrain southwest of Fallgourd Float. I spent some time searching but found no evidence of a winged eyeball. The only thing I had been finding was sticky webbing. I was musing to myself how much it reminded me of Toto-Rak when the hair on the back of my neck stood on edge.
I barely dodged a surprise attack from a Banemite. This monster was much smaller than the beast we slew in the old Gridanian gaol, but it was still larger than myself. It rushed me, moving quickly on its numerous legs. I dodged aside again, snapping open my grimoire. I slowed it with a noxious miasma and inflicted upon it a potent virus. With the creature moving sluggish under my afflictions, I stacked on two different poisonous spells and blasted away at it with magic missiles until it finally felled.
With the Banemite taken care of I decided to take a moment to think about this wild chocobo chase. I had two separate sightings of the winged eyeball. First Medrod had seen it days before and the body of the victim had been found hours later. Now Ivaurault says he saw the flying eye this morning. Did that mean that there had been another victim? It was mid afternoon already, if there was another murder I was already far too late to stop it. I decided to search the area further, hoping that my hunch was wrong.
Two hours after I began my search, I came across the body. Just like the others, it was a young woman, no older than myself. I could tell by her clothes that she had a good upbringing, perhaps some merchant’s daughter. When my gaze fell upon her mangled face I staggered back, feeling the bile rise into my throat. I had seen death before, dealt it out myself numerous times, but this was far worse. Someone had taken the time to destroy every trace of beauty from the girl’s face. I took a couple breaths, steeled my nerves, and hefted the body over my shoulder.
Someone let out a scream as I carried the corpse into Fallgourd Float and an officer of the Twin Adder came running. The Serpent Sergeant, Aethelmaer, approached me with trepidation. I was anticipating being accused of the murder, but luckily he was already familiar with who I was and that I too was an officer with the Twin Adder. We quickly took the corpse into the outpost he worked in and I told him how I became involved in the mystery. While I explained how I found the body he examined the body as though he was looking for something. He plucked something from the corpse and held it up. Between his fingers was a small ivory button marked with a symbol of a lily.
Aethelmaer informed me that a similar button had been found on every victim and that they were currently keeping that information concealed. It was clear evidence that these murders were no monster attack. I didn’t recognize the sigil on the button and suggested that perhaps someone in Gridania knew. He entrusted the button to me and I made haste to Gridania.
I began my search in the Carline Canopy, seeing if Mother Miounne recognized the sigil. She didn’t know who it belonged to but noted that it was excellent craftsmanship. With that I decided to visit the crafting guilds in Gridania. Unfortunately, the only two local guilds were the Carpenters and the Leatherworkers. Neither recognized the emblem and I resorted to asking the gate sentries and other stationed officers. One officer eventually suggested I speak to an older Wood Wailer who might recognize it. I found the man outside the Lancer’s Guild and I finally got lucky. He had seen the very same symbol on a man in town. The man was seen not far from there, passing by Apkallu Falls.
I followed the path past Apkallu Falls, remembering how Louisoix had used to stand in that very spot. It was no time for memories though, and I continued ahead. I found the man the Wood Wailer had mentioned and showed him the button. The elderly Elezen let out a weary sigh and sat on a nearby bench. He placed his face in his hands for a moment and I waited for him to regain his composure. When he finally looked up at me I saw the face of a sad and broken man. He then told me the tragic story of Lady Amandine Dartancours and Haukke Manor.
I'm really trying not to fall into some serious fanfiction taboos here, honest. I just can't help adding some sort of characterization to these NPCs who seem so lifeless when I look back at the cutscenes. They display anger or sadness but they're nothing more than fantasy character clichés. That's not to say that the original writing isn't good. It's just very hard not to fall back onto tried and true tropes. In fact, I feel it's how you use the trope that determines how well it will turn out. Did you change it up in some way? Or perhaps you inverted the trope altogether? I spend a lot of time on tvtropes and, just as the page within the site says, it ruined my life. I'm not sure if it's the hours I spent browsing page after page or the fact that I can't look at any medium, tv, movie, or book, without realizing that there are tropes in full effect.
I farmed a bunch of screenshots from the game for the last post, this one, and the following. I think the screenshots that I'm actually getting are adding a bit more life to the tale than the scenery shots I've been pulling from the internet. It's very tricky getting a shot though without other people there. That nice picture with Rosalyn sitting with the three miners? I had to wait at least fifteen minutes for people to get out of that shot. Who says I'm not suffering for my art?