They say war is hell, and they're right, but this isn't war. It's survival. An endless cycle of push and be pushed in turn. I thought when we defeated Gaius Van Baelsar and his Ultima Weapon that things would calm down for at least a little bit. That wasn't the case. The Primal menace continues to threaten our realm, and they're only growing stronger and stronger. Ifrit. Titan. Garuda. I've felled them many times with my fellow Scions, and each time the beastmen summon them anew, tougher than before and hungry for Aether. It's attrition at its core.
I can't say it's all for naught, though. The look on peoples' faces when we return victorious once more is worth it. Their hope renewed, for the time being. I should have had my fill playing hero, but I had responsibilities now. I was the most affluent member of the Scions, a poster-child if you would, for all the aspiring adventurers across the realm. People talked of me like I was a legend, and every day the stories grew more exaggerated. Just the other day, I heard a Bard singing of our battle against the Ultima Weapon. He made it sound more exciting than I possibly ever could, but it was mostly false.
And the Scions of the Seventh Dawn faced a greater trouble than the Primals. All this newfound notoriety had drawn the attention of the masses. The extra headaches it caused had to have been taking their toll on Minfilia, and it was for this reason that I poked my head into the Antecedent's Chamber. Minfilia was standing behind her desk staring up at the shattered staff of Archon Louisoix as she often did when she was deep in thought. I knocked as I stood in the open doorway.
"Hm?" Minfilia turned, broken away from her thoughts, and smiled when she saw me. "It pleases me to see you well."
"Well, you know, I've gotten pretty good at taking out Primals," I said with a grin. "Maybe next time Ifrit will turn up the heat a bit for me." I was prepared to do some embellishing of my own but Tataru squeezed past me through the still open door.
"Do excuse me for interrupting," she said, giving me an appraising eye. She always had a knack and knowing I was up to no good and often made her presence known. Her gaze returned to Minfilia. "My lady, the gentleman from Ashigana Exports has just left. I understand now why you didn't want to receive him." She said the last with an exasperated sigh.
"You did well, Tataru," Minfilia smiled. "Please inform the guards that we will not be receiving any further guests this evening."
"Thank you, my lady!" Tataru said in relief. It was her job to process all the recent visitors, and she had just as many headaches to deal with as Minfilia, if not more. Pleased with her reprieve for the night, Tataru left the Antecedent's chamber. I took that opportunity to close the door and stepped further into the room.
Minfilia took a seat and let out a long sigh. "Ever since we defeated Gaius van Baelsar and destroyed his ultimate weapon, the eyes of the world have followed our every move, scarce remembering to blink." She vented. "Where once we worked in secret - with precious few friends and too many enemies - we are now besieged by benefactors, each one more eager than the last to offer us his complete support."
"Well, you know, it wouldn't hurt to have these riches at our disposal. New equipment, maintenance, and the like costs money." I offered, playing devil's advocate.
"A true embarrassment of riches..." she huffed. "Of course every promise of patronage comes with a price. Some make their intentions known from the start, while others endeavor to engage us more subtly. Dress it how they will, the message is ever the same: we shall help you, but only if you help us."
I frowned and thought on it for a moment. There would always be give and take, but hadn't we given enough already? We saved the realm from the Garleans and constantly protect it from the Primals. "Shall we start sending them a bill?" I joked, voicing my opinion. Minfilia smirked briefly. "What of the man Tataru sent away?"
"He was more brazen than most. In exchange for certain supplies, he would have us resolve a business dispute." I raised an eyebrow to that. What did the man think we were, petty thugs? "Naturally, I refused him, as I have every other merchant of his ilk... Alas, the Syndicate's overtures are not so easily rejected..."
The Syndicate. That was the true ruling power of Ul'dah. Sure, there was the Sultana, but she was just a figurehead. The monetarists that were members of the Syndicate controlled the everyday aspects of Ul'dah, and had only one goal in the end. More money. I sneered at the thought of it. Sure, I often griped about my poor pay as an adventurer and member of the Scions, but I'd seen less gil underneath a dragon than a single Syndicate member has in their coffers.
"When we formed the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, it was with the goal of serving Eorzea, no the interests of individual Eorzeans. Our neutrality is fundamental to our cause." Minfilia looked back to the shattered staff on the wall. "In my heart I know this to be true, and yet... If accepting these offers of patronage could empower us to do greater good, might they not warrant greater consideration?"
"But there's the price to pay. Can we really dirty our consciences knowing that we've done something unsavory for that money? Besides, the Baldesions are still contributing funds, right?"
"Our Baldesion colleagues have been generous beyond measure," she agreed, "but we cannot expect them to-" She sighed, shaking her head. "Forgive me. I did not mean to burden you so, yet my urge to share this dilemma may not be wholly misguided. Might I impose upon you to consult the others? They are like to have their own opinions on this matter."
"Yeah, it's no problem at all," I said, dismissing it as such.
"I confess, I am... conflicted... It may be best to consult with the others..." She said again as though reassuring herself.
I gave Minfilia a reassuring smile and left my seat. "Don't worry, I'll let you know what the others think. Then we'll make these tough decisions together."
I left the Antecedent's chamber and walked out into the Waking Sands. Where to start? I wandered for a bit until I came upon Thancred lounging in the storage room. He was no doubt shirking responsibilities of his own. I approached the minstrel and asked him what he thought of our current situation.
"Fortune begets power, and power fortune. That we - and especially you - have power is beyond doubt. The question is what to do with it..." He hummed for a second, scratching at his chin. "You may be interested to know that there is a growing belief amongst the refugees that Ala Mhigo could be liberated... if only the Scions would commit their strength to the cause." That was of no surprise. The loss of Ala Mhigo had been a crippling blow and the instrument to Garlamald's foothold in Eorzea. If we could recover it we'd be one step closer to routing them out of the realm for good. "Yet theirs is but one of many causes. We stand at a crossroads. Each path is paved with good intentions, but where they lead is far from clear..."
Thancred's worries were the same as mine. There was no telling what would happen if we chose the wrong course of actions, or fell in with the wrong allies. I walked through the Waking Sands once more until I came across Y'shtola. She was busying herself with some research, but I promised her I'd be brief.
"Recall you our meeting with the Admiral, shortly after the Lominsans sent word of the summoning of Titan?" She asked. I nodded slowly. "Then mayhap you also recall my words to our host. I said unto Merlwyb that her people had broken their treaty with the kobolds, and that the beastmen had justly responded - that we had been called to intervene in a conflict which she herself had invited. I spoke, in short, the truth." She had a point, and I was about to concede when she continued. "And wherefore did I speak it? Because, owing no allegiance to Limsa, I felt no compulsion to allow the Lominsans to distort the facts to fit a narrative which justified their actions and absolved them of guilt. Upon this subject, Minfilia can expect a similar reply. Our many dalliances with the city-states have already weakened our claim to neutrality, but the path she contemplates would see us relinquish it entirely."
So Y'shtola was of same mind. She was right, we had already helped out each city-state to the point that you could say we were no longer a neutral entity. If we began taking money for services rendered, we'd be no better than a band of mercenaries. Shortly after speaking to the conjurer, I found Papalymo and Yda together as usual.
"None can deny that we would benefit from more support, but if it comes at the cost of our principles? Neutrality was ever a delicate matter. I've lost count of the times I've had to explain to people that our allegiances need not necessarily lie in the same place as our headquarters." Now Papalymo brought up an interesting point. The Waking Sands was in Thanalan. Did people think we were under Ul'dahn influence? "Mind you, if we are to sell our services for gil, we might as well declare our fealty to Ul'dah now and have done with it. I'm quite sure Yda would enjoy the bribes..."
Yda shrugged her shoulders at me. "I've been receiving a lot of gifts lately, but Papalymo keeps making me send them back." She grinned. "It wouldn't be so bad, but some of them are really nice! I mean, very nearly abandon-your-principles nice, you know?"
I held back my sigh at Yda's bubbly personality. She too had a point. There were a lot of things money could offer. The equipment needed for these continuous attacks against Primals, food, maybe a new harp... Thoughts of extravagance aside, I found Urianger and pried for his opinion on the matter as well.
" 'Tis the lot of the powerful to attract the covetous as well as the needy. Thus doth prudence dictate that those with power proffer aid with one hand whilst the other resteth ever on their hilt. Alas, we have not the luxury of time to decipher our petitioners' machinations - nay, not while the beast tribes do labor unseen, defiant in defeat, to raise up their fallen Primals once more. Doubt not that they shall return - stronger and bolder both - nor that we shall be the ones to meet them. This sacred charge shall ever be ours. 'Tis but a pity we are so few, and our fortune so finite..."
That was Urianger, so fluent with words that it took me a moment to realize what it was he was saying, and that I agreed with him. That pretty much settled it then, the members of the Scions were wary of accepting any money for favors. With the other Scions questioned, I returned back to Minfilia's office. It was on the way there that I ran into Alphinaud. I wasn't aware he was even at the Waking Sands at the moment, so questioned him as we walked.
"Hm.. This situation is not wholly unexpected.." He said, his hand to his chin in thought. "I too have given much thought to our organization's future, though it would seem I have reached a different conclusion." He nodded to himself. "Mayhap it is time I made my feelings known to the Antecedent. Come along, Rosalyn."
I had been leading the way until that point but Alphinaud beat me to the door. He strolled into Minfilia's office like he owned the place with me in tow.
"Alphinaud, Rosalyn? Is aught amiss?" Minfilia looked to each of us, confusion slightly showing on her face at our sudden entrance.
"You desired counsel, and so you shall have it. Minfilia - the Scions of the Seventh Dawn must leave Ul'dah." Alphinaud announced. There was moment of silence and I had to force myself to not leave my mouth hanging open.
"We must do what?" Minfilia finally asked. Her brow furrowed and she rested her hands on her hips.
"So long as we remain within Ul'dah territory, we will never be free to act with impunity," Alphinaud explained. "Moving our headquarters to Vesper Bay only delayed the inevitable. We have demonstrated our capabilities, and the Syndicate has taken note. They will not suffer our organization to remain independent now. We are far too dangerous for that." Alphinaud gestured around him. "Surely you realize they are the reason Vesper Bay still lacks an Aetheryte? They know full well how beneficial one would be to our cause."
"Like not having to hoof it from Camp Horizon..." I muttered under my breath.
"Which is why it and other favors will be denied to us unless we cooperate." Alphinaud finished.
Minfilia was still staring Alphinaud down. "If Ul'dah is no longer suitable, where would you have us go?"
"Experience has taught us that the appearance of neutrality is as important as the reality. Accordingly, we must keep each of the great nations at arm's length, and plant our banner in a place which all agree to be beyond their borders. Mor Dhona."
A shiver ran down my spine. Mor Dhona, the home to the Cartaneau Flats where just five short, very short for me, years ago... No, there was no sense going down that train of thought.
"Revenant's Toll, to be precise," the young Elezen clarified. "It lies within neutral territory, and offers all the essential facilities we require. By way of an additional benefit, it is also frequented by a veritable legion of adventurers who may serve to supplement our ranks. I am, of course, conscious of the fact that we have developed a certain bond with Ul'dah and her people over the years..." Alphinaud gave Minfilia a significant glance at this moment. "But I truly believe this to be the best course of action."
Minfilia had taken note of the boy's look and glared. "As you yourself observe, we have invaluable ties to the local community, forged through years of concerted effort. Ul'dah... Ul'dah is our home, Alphinaud! To cast aside everything we have built and start anew in that desolate wasteland would be beyond reckless!"
Alphinaud bowed his head in acquiescence. "The decision is yours to make, Antecedent. I ask only that you recall the shared purpose which first moved us to found the Scions of the Seventh Dawn - and which moved you to found the Path of the Twelve ere that. We aspire to an ideal, you and I. Just as my grandfather did. That makes us more than mere comrades-in-arms." Alphinaud looked up. "We are as much your family as-"
"That will be all, Alphinaud." Minfilia said sharply and turned away. "I am sure you have some familial affairs of your own to attend to."
"Your concern is most generous, but no - I have left them in the hands of men better suited to the task than I. I could not very well allow my personal affairs to come before the needs of the order, after all." With his one last verbal assault fired at Minfilia, Alphinaud turned sharply on his heels and left the office.
I remained in Minfilia's office, completely confused by what had just transpired. I had witnessed the whole thing, yet I had a feeling there were underlying currents that couldn't be seen from the surface. I looked to the still open door and Alphinaud's retreating form, then to Minfilia who was still looking away.
"Leave Ul'dah... Has it truly come to this?" She asked herself with a sigh. I cleared my throat, breaking her away from her thoughts. "Hm? Oh, Rosalyn.." She smiled sadly. "Pray, attend to Alphinaud, I have much to think about." I nodded and started to make my own retreat. "Oh, and..." her voice stopped me. "Tell him he shall have my answer in due time."
"Of course," I said, and made haste to catch up with my friend. I caught up to him as his stalked into the storage room.
"Confound it!" He spat, slamming his fist into a crate. "She knows what must be done, and still she hesitates. All because of these fanciful rumors.."
"Oi, what was that all about?" I demanded. "I didn't realize I was starting a coup by asking for your opinion."
Alphinaud looked back to me. We had been through a lot together, and though I didn't always see eye to eye with him I had grown fond of him. Though, at the moment he was reminding me of the arrogant arse he originally came off to be. "Hm." He huffed. "I should explain. Minfilia's mother - adoptive mother - was among the great many who perished during the Calamity." With so few words I already felt my heart aching for Minfilia. She meant a lot to me and, though a part of me knew I'd never be regarded the same way to her, it hurt me to know that she experienced such loss. "F'lhaminn was her name, though you may know her better as the 'Songstress of Ul'dah'. She was a performer of singular talent, and much beloved by the people of Eorzea - not to mention a certain Sharlayan minstrel."
I smirked. There wasn't a woman Thancred didn't love or want to love.
"As you may imagine, the news of her passing was greeted with shock and disbelief by her adoring followers, many of whom refused to acknowledge what had happened. That her body was never found only served to encourage speculation. Minfilia, too, struggled at first to accept the truth, but as F'lhaminn's absence stretched from months into years, she saw that there could be no other explanation." Five years was a very long time indeed. Had we Warriors of Light not been whisked away and forgotten, would anyone have thought me dead and gone? Would anyone have missed me? "Until recently, at any rate. For whatever reason, rumors have once again begun to circulate that F'lhaminn is alive and well."
"There has to be a reason for rumors to start up again after so long. Is there something wrong with having hope?"
"Alas, they have served to rekindle an irrational hope in Minfilia which now clouds her judgement. This talk of Ul'dah as our home, and of the insurmountable difficulties of moving to Mor Dhona - it is no more than an expression of her unwillingness to let go. Nonsense, in a word. But until the tales of F'lhaminn's miraculous preservation have been categorically disproved, I fear she will remain lost to reason. That being the case, I propose we set about disproving them post haste. Let's see how these fanciful claims stand up to investigation."
It took me a moment to control my rage. I couldn't believe what he wanted to do. To just stomp on Minfilia's hopes so that he might get his way. It was apprehensible. I was ready to tell him so much when I was suddenly struck with another thought. What if Alphinaud was right, though? What if Minfilia's mother was long gone and she was holding onto a false hope, one that was only a burden. Alphinaud himself had cut ties with his sister Alisae for what he believed was right, yet I didn't think him such a cold hearted man to do so without regret. Responsibility, too, was a weight we all had to bare. There was only so much we could carry before we became crushed under the weight.
I sighed. "Where would you have us start?"
"One of the most recent of this latest crop of rumors comes to us by way of Father Iliud. Question him for me. I shall look into another alleged sighting and follow anon."
I nodded and left the Waking Sands for the Church of Saint Adama Landama. It was a long ride from from Vesper Bay all the way to the Church in Eastern Thanalan, the dusty plains all a blur to me. I could have taken the Aetheryte at Camp Horizon, but I didn't need the resulting sickness it always left me with. What I did need was time to think.
I could see where Minfilia was coming from, holding on to hope and letting her emotions sway her judgement. Did I not let my emotions get in the way as well? I held my allegiance to the Twin Adder because of my attraction to Kan-E-Senna, and my loyalty to Minfilia because I felt a connection to her. All these strong women in my life that I didn't have a snowball's chance in all the seven hells with and yet I followed wherever they lead. I would always think with my heart before I listened to my head.
So what if Alphinaud wanted to squash Minfilia's hopes? I'll just play along with his games and see if I can't find some truth in these rumors. Wouldn't I look to be the hero, reuniting Minfilia with her lost mother? I let the scene play out in my head for a bit and I nearly rode my Chocobo off a cliff. Those thoughts put aside, I sighed and wished Cid had been around. He'd have known what to do, and would have been able to see reason through the murk of emotions.
I arrived at the Church and found Father Iliud inside pouring over scriptures. He noticed my entrance and rose to meet me. "Good afternoon to you, Rosalyn. Alphinaud told me to expect you." I nodded was about to speak, but the kindly old man cut me off. "Now, you are doubtless eager to ask me certain questions, but before you do, I must stress that I myself did not see F'lhaminn - though I very much wish I had. I merely hearkened unto the tale of a mourner who came to stay with us." He gestured outside. "He is still here, if you wish to hear it yourself. You will find him in the lichyard, I should think."
I gave my thanks to the Father and left out to the lichyard. It wasn't a busy day at the Church, it seemed, and I found the man I was looking for knelt before a grave.
"Are you the man who claims to have seen the Songstress of Ul'dah?"
"...Aye, I saw Flhaminn," the man said as he slowly got to his feet. "Just as clearly as I see you now. And yes, I'm sure it was her, before you ask. I could never forget a woman like that." He sounded as though his story had been disregarded quite vehemently, like a man who just wished to believed once in his life. " 'Twas nigh on seven summers ago I first set eyes on her, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday." The man grinned now. "I'm happy to report that the years have only made her more beautiful." He stared off into space, stuck in thought.
I cleared my throat. "Yes, I'm sure. Where did you see her?"
"Where did I-? Oh, Costa del Sol. She was giving lessons to Gegeruju's women, and her voice - gods, her voice... That soft tinkling of bells resonated in my very soul... I dare not say how her songs touched me..." He knelt back down in front of the grave, and when he spoke again I knew he wasn't addressing me. "I didn't think I'd ever feel this way again - not when I lost you, my dear... And it's not the same, it really isn't... But it's been over a year now, and I've been so lonely..."
I left the grieving man to his privacy and returned to Father Iliud. I sat in a pew next to him with a huff. "What do you think?" I asked.
"Do I believe the man's tale? Well... I believe that he believes it. Though, I do wonder..." I cast a glance at the Father. "I doubt I would recognize someone I barely know whom I hadn't seen in seven years." I shook my head. "But if there's even the slightest possibility that F'lhaminn yet lives, do we not owe it to Minfilia to pursue it?"
"Aye, now that's what I wanted to hear." I grinned.
The Father smiled to me conspiratorially. "If this woman resembling F'lhaminn was employed at Costa del Sol, then that is where you must go!"
"But Alphinaud was going to meet me-"
"I will inform Alphinaud of these latest developments. You need only concern yourself with the search." The grin still spread across my face I stood with new resolve. "Master Gegeruju should remember you from your past engagements, so I suggest you waste no time and approach him directly."
"I'm in your debt," I said, to which Father Iliud simply shook his head and smiled wider. I was hot on the trail, but the trail was growing cold. I had no choice but to resort to using the Aetheryte at Camp Drybone to teleport to Costa del Sol. I did so reluctantly, and upon arrival in the Lominsan pleasure facility I gritted my teeth and thanked the gods I had a light lunch.
I strode up and down the elevated boardwalks in search of Gegeruju, the master of Costa del Sol who lived a life of luxury, forever in the company of lovely ladies. True to form, I found him basking in the sunlight, two scantily clad Miqo'te attending to him with palms to keep him cool. I wondered what one had to do to end up in a position such as his. Though he should have been enjoying the attention, something seemed to be bothering the Lalafell.
"O sweet siren of the sands, my Miqo'te muse! Why must you have forsaken me...?" He lamented with a long sigh as he watched the surf roll against the sands below.
I stood directly in front of him, my hands on my hips and looked down on him.
"T-Titan's Bane! I mean, Rosalyn! What brings you to my humble resort?" He stammered. 'Titan's Bane', eh? That's a new one. Did my victory over the Primal leave such an impression on this man?
"You recently employed a woman to instruct your... performers, in the way of song. She was the Songstress of Ul'dah, F'lhaminn, and I am in search of her."
"F'lhaminn!? You mean to tell me the goddess-made-flesh who dwelt among us until so very recently was the Songstress of Ul'dah!?" The Lalafell stood up suddenly, looking about madly. "If I had known that, I would've chained her to my bedpost and never let her leave!" Gegeruju shriveled under my intense glare. "Ahem... An...exaggeration... for, ah.. dramatic effect... As to her current whereabouts, I recall she mentioned Wineport." The Lalafell looked away. "Ah, but there is no need to pursue her, my friend! When she tires of her rough way of living, she will make straight for Costa del Sol, and fling herself into my waiting arms, flushed and breathless..."
"I hope this guy pays you girls well," I said to the palm-bearers and left Gegeruju to his lecherous thoughts.
I could have taken the Aetheryte to Wineport from Costa del Sol, but why put myself through another dizzy spell if I didn't have to. Instead, I took a ferry that would follow the river around the mountains and deposit me just south of Wineport on the edge of Raincatcher Gully. Upon arriving there I asked the ferryman if he had seen the Miqo'te I sought.
"..Eh? You want to know if I've seen a Miqo'te lass by the name of F'lhaminn? I wish! I haven't seen a lass of any description in far too long... Er, excepting yourself, of course..."
I was really doing a lot of glaring today. I left the ferryman his coin and made straight away for Wineport. Upon arriving I searched for any clues as to F'lhaminn's presence. I found a familiar face in Byrglaent, the Roegadyn vintner with a bad attitude.
"Why, if it isn't Rosalyn, the savior of Wineport!" Apparently, rediscovering a lost wine made me a savior in the Roegadyn's eyes. "To what do we owe the pleasure?" I gave the man a quick synopsis of my travels and he nodded the whole time. "Ah, yes, we did receive a customer matching that description. She was a delight to behold, to give the woman her due, but her perfume was ghastly. I had no choice but to eject her from the premises. Interfering with tastings, you understand." I rolled my eyes. Apparently the man hadn't changed that much since I last saw him. "If she is your quarry, why not consult with your blind associate? His olfactory perception is without peer. Given that I could smell the woman from a malm away, I daresay he could smell her from ten."
I thanked the man and went to visit my acquaintance Shamani Lohmani, the one-time member of the Company of Heroes who now lived his life a blind vignter. "I see you have had many grand adventures since last we spoke, Rosalyn," he grinned. "You must share them with me sometime."
"I see what you did there," I replied with a smirk, then told him why I was in Wineport.
"The girl from a little while ago? One does not forget a perfume like that. So robust and intoxicating... yet simultaneously familiar. Reminiscent of a bloom native to these parts, in fact. I said as much when we spoke. She complimented my powers of observation," another grin, "and asked me where she might find some of the flowers. So I told her to follow the road south into Raincatcher Gully and then head east after crossing the second bridge. The flowers which grow in the shade of the cliff have the strongest scent, you see. If you make haste, you may yet find her there."
I thanked Shamani Lohmani and cursed my luck. If she had been here just that short while ago, I must have just missed her before I arrived by ferry. I hurried south toward the cliff face the blind Lalafell had described and found a woman there, busily plucking flowers. That wasn't all I had found, though. A large Goobbue was rushing toward the woman, possibly enraged by her gathering of flowers. There wasn't much time to think, only react.
I drew my bow and, just like I always did, marveled at its mastery of design. Once considered a relic, this bow had been reforged by one of the greatest craftsmen in the realm, and was weapon most befitting a Bard of my stature. The upper arm, complete with a harp built into it, locked into place, drawing the bowstring taut. I drew an arrow from the quiver designed to look like a woodwind instrument and knocked it with ease. No sooner did the bowstring reach maximum draw did I release the arrow. It flew true and pierced the Goobbue in its side.
The large plantoid monster turned its attention on me and bellowed, revealing its rows upon rows of sharp teeth. Why did something that subsisted on plant matter need all of those sharp teeth anyway? With no time to worry about it, I drew another arrow and released it. Struck once more, the Goobbue retreated rather than face me. It was for the better, as I felt no need to kill a creature just trying to defend its territory.
The woman that had been gathering flowers had caught on to the commotion and was now standing and had witnessed the results. She was, indeed, a Miqo'te and a beautiful one at that for her age. Her hair was straight and silver and fell to her shoulders, large round glasses upon her face that bore wrinkles of age that couldn't be hidden. She had a motherly smile that reached her eyes.
"I am in your debt, stranger. I did not realize my activities had aroused the goobbue's ire until it was too late." Her voice was beautiful, far more than her physical appearance. It had a lilting quality to it, one that I couldn't help but feel jealous of. Never in my lifetime would I sing as wonderfully as this woman simply spoke. She held up her basket full of flowers. "Their oils can be used to make a perfume, you see, and I-"
"I'm sorry to interrupt," and I couldn't stress how much I truly was, "but I've come a long way to find you. Are you F'lhaminn?"
"F'lhaminn? I'm... I don't..." She looked at me warily now and her voice took on a threatening, but no less beautiful, tone. "Who are you? Whom do you serve?"
I realized I was still holding my bow in my hands. I fumbled, trying to set it away and explain who I was at the same time, but was interrupted by a derisive snort.
"Typical. Of all the many leads, yours obviously had to be the one which bore fruit. I don't know why I even bother..." Alphinaud said as he approached. He shot me a grin before turning his attention on the woman. "The Songstress of Ul'dah, I presume? Minfilia - or should I say, Ascillia - is looking for you."
"Ascillia!?" The Miqo'te dropped her guard at that name. She looked to us with sadness in her eyes.
"You are the very picture of health, milady - yet the world thinks you dead. I can only conclude that this was by design. The question is: why?"
F'lhaminn closed her eyes for a moment, a pained expression etched on her face. "Not everyone who endeavors to find me does so with the best intentions, child." She replied coolly. That sort of reasoning didn't exactly explain her five year absence, but it was not my place to pass judgement. "You will be pleased to know that I fully intended to reveal myself to Minfilia - when the time is right."
"Oh! Well... that does please me. More than you know." Was Alphinaud telling the truth there? I did say so myself that I did not find him to be the cold-hearted sort... "But tell me: sojourns in the forests of La Noscea aside, when exactly will the time be right?" There we go, same Alphinaud I always knew.
F'lhaminn snorted only the way a person of age can. "When I deem it so. Do you imagine I traveled all this way on a whim? As I was telling your associate prior to your intrusion, I came here to harvest these flowers for use in a perfume. Does that satisfy your curiosity, or would you interrogate me further?"
Alphinaud looked a little unsettled. Had we finally found his better? "M-my apologies for the interruption. Anyway - now that we all have that which we came for, might we continue the conversation in a safer locale? Wineport, say?"
We made a quick return to Wineport just as the setting sun turned the sky a blazing orange. Alphinaud and F'lhaminn spoke in hushed tones the entire way and I kept watch for any more hungry Goobbues. F'lhaminn took up a seat near the Aetheryte to rest a moment and Alphinaud drew me aside.
"This... this is not at all how I had envisioned it.. "He admitted, shaking his head. I raised an eyebrow at his statement but he dismissed it. "Ahem.. Having been apprised of our situation, Lady F'lhaminn has consented to plead our case to Minfilia regarding the proposed move to Mor Dhona. However, she will only do so once her perfume is complete. Moreover, she insists that we aid her in obtaining the final ingredient."
I glanced over at the older Miqo'te as she went through her basket of flowers.
"She will not be swayed, I assure you, I tried," Alphinaud sighed, sounding more defeated than I had ever heard him before. "Let's just... get this over with shall we?"
We approached F'lhaminn and she smiled to us. "Believe me when I tell you that I am every bit as eager to return to Vesper Bay as you are. There is work to be done ere that, however, so listen well." The kindly old Miqo'te fixed us with a serious look. "I require pristine salamander oil to complete my perfume. Oil this pure can only be obtained from the belly of a Gurangatch, a notoriously elusive species of wavekin native to Bronze Lake."
"How elusive are you talking, here?" I asked.
"Elusive, I say, yet no less sensible to the allure of the right bait. In this instance, that would be freshly slain mud pugils. Three placed at the water's edge should be sufficient to tempt any Gurangatch lurking nearby."
I shrugged my shoulders. "Sounds easy enough."
F'lhaminn nodded. "They are aggressive when startled, and will attack on sight. Yet given the ease with which you dispatched that goobbue, I doubt they will trouble you unduly."
Alphinaud and I departed for Camp Bronze Lake in Upper La Noscea, hoping to be done with the deed before the sun had fully set beyond the horizon. When we were out of earshot, Alphinaud turned to me.
"Despite her years of nomadism, it would seem lady F'lhaminn has kept a close eye on the affairs of our order. Surprisingly close, in fact. Suffice to say, she is nothing if not resourceful." I cast a glance back in the direction of Wineport, thinking on his words. "One does not develop such skills without effort, or without reason."
Alphinaud was correct, after all. What reason would an older woman have to keep such a flow of information going? And the look she had given me when she thought me an adversary. Was this woman being hunted by someone up to no good? Perhaps she had been away for so long in order to protect Minfilia from harm. Whatever the reason, and despite my gut feeling, I'd just have to wait and see if there was an appropriate reasoning.
Our task was a simple one, the slaying of three mud pugils no grand feat for one who had slain Primals. The waiting, however, was agonizing. We had placed the three carcasses at the water's edge just as we had been instructed, and set about waiting for the Gurangatch to appear for its meal. As we waited, the sun grew ever closer to its exit for the day. I had just about given up hope when the water stirred and a large salamander waded out of the water.
The beast was large in comparison to others in the eft family I had seen before, and I had no doubt this was the creature whose belly oil we needed. I waited until it had devoured one of the slain mud pugils before springing my trap. I jumped out of hiding and released an arrow, piercing the Gurangatch in its rubbery hide. The beast let out a roar and slapped its feet against the mud, gaining little real traction as it moved toward me.
I retreated and loosed arrow after arrow, pin-cushioning the massive salamander. It thrashed and groped for me with its clumsy claws but the beast was far too large to be land bound for so long. Eventually, it collapsed, unable to continue the chase I had forced it on. I had wounded it, though it still lived. As I approached the creature I wove some of my Aether into an arrow and released it, piercing the creature's shadow and binding it in place. Knowing my shadowbind would only last for so long, I quickly withdrew an empty vial from my pouch and drew another arrow.
I scraped the arrowhead along the belly of the creature, careful not to cut it. The disgusting, mucus like secretions dripped into the vial and soon enough it was filled to overflowing. I couldn't begin to wonder why such a nasty fluid was a key ingredient in perfume, and reminded myself to never wear any so long as I lived.
Alphinaud and I made a hasty retreat back to Wineport and arrived just as the last few rays of sunlight faded away to darkness. We found F'lhaminn where we left her, seated in the glow of the Aetheryte crystal. She smiled upon seeing us and took the vial of salamander oil from me. Truth be told, I was glad to be rid of it.
"I distilled the flowers' oil in your absence," she explained as she uncorked the vial. She poured the contents into a bowl of some sort of mixture and began stirring. "So all that remains is to..." She stirred for a few minutes more, and much to my surprise the noxious smell of the salamander oil disappeared, replaced with an exquisite aroma. "There," F'lhaminn said with a nod. She poured the contents of the bowl into a new glass container and stopped it tight with a cork. "It is ready, and so am I. It is time we went to see my daughter."
We used the Aetheryte to return to Camp Horizon, then made the hike to Vesper Bay in anxious silence. It was well and truly exciting what we were about to witness. Upon our arrival at the Waking Sands, F'lhaminn's presence turned heads and caused whispers. By the time we reached the doors to Minfilia's office, we had gathered a crowd.
Alphinaud opened the doors solemnly. "Antecedent - you have a guest."
I couldn't see the look on Minfilia's face clearly when F'lhaminn stepped into the room behind Alphinaud, but I heard the gasp and the sound of whatever she was working on quickly discarded. I entered the room just in time to see Minfilia quickly closing the distance and embracing her mother tightly. Her eyes were shut, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Ascillia..." F'lhaminn spoke Minfilia's real name lovingly.
"I...I never truly believed it when they told me you were dead.." she choked out. She slowly released her grip on her mother and stepped back, wiping her eyes clear. "But... what took you away for so long?"
This was it, the moment we had all been waiting for. What drove a mother away from her child for five years, allowing her to believe her dead? F'lhaminn looked guiltily to her daughter. "The Imperials came for me, as I always knew they would. And so I resolved to stay as far away from you as I could, lest their pursuit of me endanger you and our cause." The old Miqo'te smiled sadly. "I could think of no better way to grant you the freedom to continue our work." She turned slowly to take in the sights of the office, though her gaze mostly fell on the crowd of Scions outside in the hall looking in. "And continue it you did, achieving things I would not have imagined possible. I followed your every success and celebrated in secret." F'lhaminn smiled warmly. "I'm so proud of you, Ascillia."
Minfillia blinked away the ensuing tears and smiled in return. "I learned from the best," she said with a modest shrug.
F'lhaminn held out the bottle of perfume and grinned. "I have a gift for you."
"Celsettia perfume!" Minfilia cried when she opened the bottle and took a whiff of the perfume. "You remembered."
"How could I ever forget? You wore it all the time. If ever I lost sight of you, I could find you again, just by following my nose." She grinned, tapping her nose.
"I did not think it was made anymore... You must have gone to so much trouble..."
"It was no trouble to me, my darling. I fear I cannot say the same for Rosalyn, however. I could not have made it without her."
Minfilia turned to me and her eyes locked with mine. "Thank you, Rosalyn." My heart skipped a beat and my cheeks flushed. She had never spoken to me with such a tone of voice before, it made me feel faint. I faltered, thinking of something witty to say but her attention had already returned to her mother. "Thank you both."
"There's something else..." F'lhaminn said as she fished into one of her pockets. She withdrew a stone and placed it into Minfilia's hands.
"This... this is the cat's-eye I found! All these years you kept it..." Minfilia smiled fondly at the little black and gold colored stone. "My father was a member of the Ala Mhigan Resistance. When I was yet a child, he brought me here to Ul'dah..." She began, reminiscing. "The accident which claimed his life happened shortly after our arrival." She frowned slightly. "It was Lhaminn who took care of me then. She raised me as her own - taught me everything I needed to know to survive."
"Hmmm... I am no stranger to the facts of your history, yet I fear I have failed to grasp their implications. It is clear there is much I do not know - about you and your mother both." Alphinaud interjected. I shot him a dirty look for being snarky.
"One of her first lessons to me concerned mining - and I was a very dedicated student. This cat's-eye was the first stone I unearthed. It wasn't much, of course, but I was exceedingly proud to have found it nonetheless. So I gave it to Lhaminn as a gift. She said it was beautiful.. But there I am at a loss." She looked to her mother. "Why are you returning this to me? Is something amiss?"
"No, Ascillia, nothing is amiss!" F'lhaminn said with a smile. "Quite the opposite! I need you to realize how far you've come, and how much further you may still - must still go." She motioned to the room at large. "You and your allies have accomplished more than I could ever have hoped. You have succeeded where I failed, and made me proud that..." Her words caught in her throat. "...that words fail me. But even as I marvel at the woman you've become, and at all the many things you've done, I cannot help but think of that which you have yet to do, and of what it may entail. Ascillia... daughter - you cannot stay here anymore. You and the Scions must leave Ul'dah."
"You built it once, Ascillia. You can build it again. And this time, we'll do it together."
"Truly?" Minfilia looked to her mother, a fire burning in her eyes. She wiped away the last of her tears and nodded. "Alphinaud. The time has come for the Scions to leave Vesper Bay." She announced loudly, so all those out in the hallway could hear. "We shall establish a new headquarters in Revenant's Toll, as you proposed. Much work lies ahead of us. Inform our fellow Scions and send word to the Students of Baldesion: preparations begin at once!"
The people filling up the halls scattered immediately, leaving the four of us alone in Minfilia's office.
"Well, I'm sure you two have some catching up to do. I'll be taking my leave," I bowed my head lightly and stepped toward the door, grabbing Alphinaud by the arm on the way. "And I'll take him out of your hair while I'm at it." Like a strongarm evicting a drunkard from a bar, I dragged Alphinaud out of the Antecedent's office and shut the doors behind us. I only released him when we were a ways down the hall.
"Looks like you got what you wanted," I said to him.
"It was not the outcome I had predicted, but the ends justify the means."
I fixed the Elezen with a look. I didn't know just what kind of game he was playing here. Sure, the day had turned out a good one and we returned with Minfilia's mother rather than a confirmation of her death. But I couldn't help but feel like Alphinaud was attempting to overstep his bounds as a member of the Scions. Minfilia was our leader, had been ever since we were the Path of the Twelve. Archon Louisoix was a key member in our organization, the leader of the other half that came together to become the Scions after the Calamity, and Alphinaud his grandson. But did that give him the right to start vying for more power within our ranks?
I shook my head and parted ways with Alphinaud, heading for my room. If we were to be leaving for Revenant's Toll as soon as possible, I'd need to gather my belongings. It seemed everyone in the Waking Sands had the same thoughts as, despite the hour, everyone was moving to and fro collecting and carrying things. I peered back over my shoulder to see that Alphinaud too had taken his leave. I sighed and shook my head once more. "The price of principles indeed..."
Here we are, the first part of... three, maybe four? of The Crystal's Call - A Realm Awoken. I had another good time going through these cutscenes and finding places to add in some characterization that didn't exist. The whole thing going on, or not going on, between Rosalyn and Minfilia. Man, I made myself feel so bad at the end of this scenario. You'll just have to wait and see why.
So, there's something strange going on here. Alphinaud really looks like he's playing a power-game with Minfilia, and my suspicions are only deepened come the events of 2.3. We'll get there, so don't worry.
The worst part of the incremental story that's been added since 2.1 is the fact that it is so short, and there's nothing really interesting going on save for a few big fights. There's a dungeon run during 2.1's story, which I omitted, because it was a level 35-ish dungeon that we were pretty much being forced to go back and do. It wasn't fun. Neither was having to do guildhests, another low level activity, to continue with level 50 content. I think Square Enix realized we didn't like it, because there was no more going back since 2.2.
A little bit of time has passed since the end of the events in 2.0, and I showed this with gear progression and a new hairstyle. Rosalyn completed the 2.0 content wearing her Bard Artifact Armor and a standard bow. Now she's in her i90 mythology gear, a stronger recolor of the Bard's attire and her Relic weapon, the Artemis Bow. Her hair is also longer, as it would naturally be after a couple months of being back in the flow of time. Side tidbit? I spent 48,000 gil buying a non-upgraded version of the Artemis Bow for these screenshots. Not cheap for something that's pretty much getting tossed once I'm done with it. Also side note: I'm done with it. Come 2.2 and the next time jump, Rosalyn's hair will be longer again and she'll be in some different gear. I haven't decided weather to go with the Elfin Bow (a weapon based on the one of the same name from Final Fantasy III) or the Allagan Composite Bow (which would indicate that the story pertaining to the first part of the Binding Coils of Bahamut had happened). I'll figure it out by the time I finish writing and need to start getting screenshots.
I hope you guys enjoyed this return to Eorzea. There's still more on the way, and I have that one-off dungeon run I wrote as well (even though it takes place during 2.3 time). I'm not sure when I'll be posting the rest, been trying to decide if you'll get it all this week or perhaps in shorter bursts (since there's so little to actually give out at the moment). However it comes, I hope you please look forward to it.