FFXIV: The Cusp of Greater Things

So this game has eaten my life for the last 4 months or so, and I only just beat the final story boss of Stormblood last weekend with my DRG main. I currently have a full 8-man party in my head causing trouble, so what else could I do but write about them?

This fanfic assumes you already know what’s going on in the game because if I write a COMPLETE fic, it will take literally FOREVER. This chapter takes us up to the brink of Sastasha.

Before we begin, a little about the first 4 characters in meta!

Tam, Achiyo, Rinala, Chuchupa

Tam: The very same Tatamkanai who mentors Flairé in the Adhemlenei! I decided to play him as my first character because what other game lets you make a SPEARMAN as a main character? (besides FE8 which has Ephraim, but this is different because you can customize your character. I don’t see Bioware putting spears in Dragon Age!) And it turns out Dragoon is super awesome and fun to play as, and I’m fond of the loldrg stereotype!
Tam is also multiclassed to DRK, CNJ (for the unicorn mount), ARM, LTW, and MIN (for feeding ARM, even though it would be more in character to be BTN. (He also has SAM so that his Flairé retainer can be SAM.)

Rinala Sweetwhisper: When I had played through the MSQ enough to get to the Scions and met Thancred, I fell in love. So of course I had to start an alt! Rinala is that alt. Maybe you’re wondering “if she’s a catgirl, how come she isn’t named R’inala?” Because Moon Keepers work differently. : P Anyway, she’s a White Mage and it’s okay so far but I’m nervous about the higher level dungeons. I still have trouble casting Esuna properly.
Rinala is also multiclassed to THM, ROG, WVR, BTN, and FSH. Some of these will actually make an appearance in the story, unlike Tam’s alt classes.

Achiyo Kensaki: I was warned Thancred wouldn’t be the last bishounen I would meet. I was still not prepared for Aymeric. (Nor was Achiyo but we’ll get there.) I was still needing an interesting main protagonist to lead (and tank) this group, so I came up with a Raen girl. I hope we find out more about Hingashi because right now her backstory is a bit nebulous. She’s a Paladin and I love being tank, I can be momma bear for my party, especially if I end up with a first-timer and then I can teach them about the dungeon!
Achiyo is also multiclassed to SCH, BSM, GSM, and SAM

Chuchupa Chupa: I found the idea of a Lalafell tank to be hilarious, so I made Chuchupa solely for that purpose. Except you can’t really have two tanks in one group, so Chuchupa’s main is now Monk (currently in training). She’s the one who picks all the dumbest dialogue options just to be a jerk. I wasn’t going to make her just yet, but then Denmo had his Lalafell Charity March on Siren so she’s here, just haven’t done much with her yet.
Chuchupa is multiclassed to WAR and MCH.

Okay okay, story time! Subject to future editing!


 

Chapter 1: The Cusp of Greater Things

The merchant eyed the unusually tall man standing beside the forested road. Elezen, to be sure, but tall even for one of them, and unusually short in the pointy ears. Not to mention the man’s chestnut brown hair was dyed a strong blue in the front, he was wearing a long rugged purple coat, and had a long white lance strapped to his back. He looked capable, even if more than a little weird and possibly suspicious. But… he didn’t have the air of a bandit about him. The carriage driver had slowed to a crawl, probably curious on his own account, giving Bremondt plenty of time to call out. “You headin’ to Gridania?”

The Elezen’s lips tightened briefly in mysterious amusement. “Sure. Where’s that?”

One of Bremondt’s eyes twitched in disbelief. “You’re smack-bang in the middle of the Black Shroud, and you don’t know where Gridania is?”

The stranger shrugged. “I’m not sure how I got here. Mind if I join you?” He had a slight accent, one Bremondt couldn’t place, but not that strong. Curious.

Well, he supposed it was easy to get lost in a forest. “If you don’t mind heading to Gridania, you’re more than welcome, lad. You’re an adventurer, aren’t you? What’s your name?”

That tight-lipped smile again, less subtle than before. A strong hand reached out and the Elezen nimbly climbed aboard the carriage, taking up a place opposite the silent young silver-haired twins who barely paid him any mind. “Name’s Tam, and I suppose I am.”

“Never heard of an Elezen with a name like that before… What made you take up adventuring?” Now that he was closer, Bremondt could see that his eyes were different colours – one green, one brown. Both watched him with an unsettling intensity.

“Eh, just for the hell of it, I guess. More fun than the alternatives.”

“Fair enough. You certainly look like you can take care of yourself. This is your first time to the Black Shroud, obviously. So where are you from?”

“I suspect the land I’m from is a very long way away, and that you’ll never have heard of it.” The Elezen was definitely laughing at him now, but it seemed to be at some mysterious private joke. Which still didn’t exactly leave Bremondt in a settled frame of mind.

He’d travelled much, and heard more. “Try me,” he said, and took a pull from his bottle.

“Ever heard of the Nunathoemlen, in the Adhemlenei?” Tam said, and Bremondt’s face went slack in nonrecognition. “Don’t feel bad. I doubt anyone has.”

“What, you made it up?” Bremondt said, irritated by his failure. It certainly sounded made up.

“Nah, it’s just not around here. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve been walking about eighteen hours, so I’m going to take a nap. Wake me when we get to this Greydana place.”

“Gridania,” Bremondt corrected him, wondering what an hour was, but the adventurer had already closed his eyes and bowed his head to his chest.

 

Chuchupa was just strolling through lower Limsa, minding her own business, as any good definitely-not-a-pirate Lalafellan citizen of the fair city should be. She would have continued minding her own business but for a brief habitual glance down an alley to her right.

No one waiting to ambush her, but a sight that furrowed her brow nonetheless. Two Roegadyn sailors were standing before a young woman in armour. The woman was about as tall as a Miqo’te, and the Roes towered over her, but she was no catgirl – a pair of horns curled through her silver-green hair where ears would be on a Hyur and a white scaly tail swayed slowly behind her. Was she in danger? Was she not? She probably was, Chuchupa considered. The men didn’t look like they were up to any good, and the woman had no space to draw the sword by her side.

It really wasn’t her business, Chuchupa said to herself. Idiot greenhorns in Limsa – heh, greenhorns – c’mon, she has green hair and horns… okay, it was a bad joke – got themselves killed all the time. And this woman did seem to be in the alley of her own volition, which made her extra stupid.

Chuchupa sighed, grabbed her brassknuckles, and ran in, just as the men reached out large grasping hands towards the strange woman. Chuchupa’s first punch drove into a knee sideways, shattering it instantly; her second struck the same man in the jaw as he fell screaming. The Lalafell turned to the other, and found he was already down as well. In the blink of an eye, the woman had drawn her sword left-handed, pommel first, shooting it up and into the chin of the other assailant.

“Ooh, clever,” Chuchupa said. “Ye’re not as clueless as I thought ye were.”

“Thank you very much,” said the strange woman, with a very foreign accent and a formal bow. “I was not sure I could take them both myself.”

Chuchupa pulled an unimpressed face at her. “Ye daft sod, what’re ye even doing with a pair o’ scoundrels like that? Ye’re an adventurer, fresh in town, didn’t Baderon at the Guild warn ye any better?” She shook a scolding finger at the woman. “What manner o’ bein’ are ye, anyway?”

The woman blinked in consternation. “Ah, my apologies. I am Achiyo Kensaki, and I am an Au Ra from Hingashi.”

That explained the accent. “The Far East, eh? C’mon, if we’re goin’ to chat, we’d best be out of this alley. Let Jacke’s crew take care o’ these boys.”

“Jacke?”

“Never ye mind, lass. Call me Chuchupa. Been in town long? What brought ye?”

“No, only a day. I came for… I suppose one could say… greener pastures.”

“I can follow that,” Chuchupa said, and sighed, shaking her head at the girl. “Since ye’re so new, I’d best keep an eye on ye before ye get yerself into any more messes like that.” Truth be told, though she’d never say it aloud, she hadn’t anything better to do with her time. Kill monsters? Pfah. For what? Grand causes had never really appealed to her, so unless it was a tough fight, it would be boring. But this girl seemed idealistic enough, maybe some of her positive vibes would rub off on Chuchupa.

Achiyo bowed again. Did Far Eastern people just bow all day? “Thank you again, Chuchupa-san. You are very kind.”

“What’s ‘san’?” Chuchupa demanded. “Don’t be calling me anything daft, now. I’m plain Chuchupa Chupa, no more, no less!”

“I understand, Chuchupa-sa- er, Chuchupa.”

 

The first time she met him, she wasn’t going to forget – from extreme embarrassment. Rinala Sweetwhisper, a young blue-eyed blue-haired Moon Keeper Miqo’te, had been asked to find a Lady Lilira by Master Papashan, and she was certain that this young woman praying at the foot of the great Sultantree was the one she sought. As she approached softly, the Lalafell jumped to her feet and whirled, startled. “Who goes there!? Show yourself!”

“As you command, O Lady Lilira,” said a man’s voice behind her, and Rinala, too, jumped and spun around, tail slightly fluffed. A very handsome Hyuran man stood there, a soft smirk on his lips, his dark eyes half-hidden behind a mop of fluffy white hair. He chuckled in good-natured amusement at both of their surprise. “Forgive my selfish desire to assure your welfare,” he said sardonically, walking up to the Lalafell woman and nodding graciously to her. Rinala stared. He was just as handsome from the back as from the front. He wore a dagger at his side, and a strange goggley device strapped to his arm.

Lilira pouted and pointed vehemently at him. “I don’t recall requesting an escort! Simply pretend that we never met and continue on your way!”

He crossed his arms. “We both know I can do no such thing. It isn’t safe for you here alone.” He glanced back at Rinala. “It isn’t safe for anyone – not with this aetheric disturbance. It’s as though the dead are watching us… And I’d prefer not to join them, if it’s all the same to you.” He offered Lilira a charming grin, then turned to Rinala. “You must be the one Papashan mentioned. Congratulations on finding our elusive young charge.”

Rinala bobbed her head. “Thank you, ser.” She’d only come across Lilira seconds before the man, but she was grateful for the praise anyway.

He smiled and shrugged. “You’ll have to forgive Her Impetuousness. What she lacks in discipline, she makes up for in stubbornness.” Lilira huffed, and Rinala tried not to giggle. The man’s eyes brightened. “You should return with us! The stationmaster will be eager to thank Lady Lilira’s protector in person.”

“I would be-” Rinala began, then broke off, distracted by some flapping thing in the sky approaching them. It was a demon, a voidsent! She’d faced a couple during her conjurer training, and knew how vicious and implacable they could be. She reached for her conjurer’s cane, tail thrashing. “Ah! Look out!”

“Alas, the stationmaster will have to wait,” said the man, shaking his head as he drew his dagger. “Dear Lilira, for my sake, please stay out of harm’s way.” The Lalafell woman nodded and hurried back towards the tree, taking shelter among its roots. The man turned to Rinala, a wry grin spreading across his face. “As for you, fair maid – for Lilira’s sake – please stay in harm’s way!”

“I-I have your back!” she assured him, brandishing her cane. “I’m not afraid!” She was, but she would never admit that in front of this bewitching stranger.

“Come, let’s attend to our uninvited guest!” he called, darting forward with dagger in hand. The voidsent shrieked a battlecry and swooped on him, and he dodged effortlessly. Oh, his agility! She had to focus on closing her mouth and casting her first stone spell.

Several new sets of flapping wings took her attention away from the monster. The man laughed shortly. “Lovely, it brought friends! Stay close to me so I can heal you!”

“I’m a conjurer, ser! You should stay close to me so I can heal you!” But she stepped forward – he was the one in close combat with the beast. It wouldn’t be fair to ask him to move.

He gave a breathless laugh, ducking under a swipe of razor sharp claws; she pelted one of the smaller ones with a rock, knocking it dead from the sky. “An excellent point, my lady. I hear and obey.” He spun, his dagger carving a silver wheel in the air, and the voidsent shrieked as he drew black blood from its thigh. The noise made her fur stand on end.

Rinala had just finished the last of the smaller monsters with an Aero when a chorus of screeches from the sky assured her that her work was not over. The man gave an exaggerated sigh. “More of them!? Really now, there are limits to our hospitality!”

She had to giggle even as she blasted Fluid Aura at a monster that got too close. She wanted to say something clever in response to his wit, but nothing came to mind. Would that she was cleverer!

The man gave a low gasp and jumped back, bleeding in the arm from a pair of deep cuts. She raised her cane to heal it, even as he raised his hand to heal it himself. She was faster, and he was distracted by parrying the monster as it came at him again. “My thanks. Almost there…”

“The other ones are all dead,” she assured him, and cast a Stone at the large voidsent.

“Then let’s finish this!” he cried, spinning on his toes, knife blade flashing in the twilight. The voidsent snarled and dove at him, but he jumped back in time, dancing around it.

She steeled herself, drawing on the aether of the land around her, casting her largest stone yet. It struck the voidsent in the head, sending it crashing to the ground, where it burst into a cloud of black aether.

“Phew,” said the man, breathing hard. “Well done, my lady.” He sheathed his dagger and walked past her towards Lilira’s hiding place. Rinala would have followed, but something twinkling on the ground caught her eye.

It was a water blue crystal shard, lying as if it had rolled slightly down the slope from where the voidsent had fallen. She approached it, and then her eyes widened as it floated up from the ground and towards her.

She blinked and when her eyes opened she was no longer in the waking world but in a void, standing in a glowing blue ring of intricate design. The crystal looked different, as if what she had discovered was only a piece of a whole, and it took its place in the design, a blue light from it shooting upwards to strike a bright light above her.

“Hear… Feel… Think…” A gentle voice resonated through the space around her, but she couldn’t tell where it came from.

The void around her changed, no longer empty, but filled with slowly shifting colour, green and blue. Bright lights in the far distance twinkled and flitted around, yet she knew they were not stars.

The slow, gentle, disembodied female voice spoke to her again – at least, she thought it was to her. “Crystal bearer… I am Hydaelyn. All made one. A Light there once was the shone throughout this realm… yet it hath since grown dim. And as it hath faltered, so hath Darkness risen up in its stead, presaging and end to Life. For the sake of all, I beseech thee: deliver us from this fate!” She turned her face away from the vision of fiery destruction and felt herself drifting in the void, turning, and her eyes widened at the mountain-sized crystal that had been behind her this whole time. Oh. Oh!

She knew of Hydaelyn, of course, who didn’t? But to meet her in person was unheard of! And what was more, that she would ask little Rinala to save the world? Rinala could barely save herself, let alone the world. She hadn’t the least idea where to start…

As if in answer to her thought, Hydaelyn spoke. “The power to banish the Darkness dwelleth in the Crystals of Light. Journey forth and lay claim to them. By thy deeds shall the Crystals reveal themselves to thee. Only believe, for the Light liveth in thy heart.”

She looked around and saw a few of those twinkling lights had drawn closer, and they resolved into people – an Elezen with a purple coat, a girl with a white scaly tail, an angry-looking Lalafell with pink hair. There were others, but they were farther away and she couldn’t make them out so well. She smiled brightly at the ones she could see and waved, and the Elezen grinned and waved back. The others didn’t seem to see her.

One by one, the other light-people took flight, moving up and away from the crystal. She felt the urge to do the same, and found her body responded to her thought.

Hydaelyn’s words echoed with her. “Go now, my child, and shine thy Light on all creation.”

 

She inhaled sharply as she realized she was lying on the bare dirt under the Sultantree. What had happened?

“Ah, coming around now,” said a male voice, and she looked around to see the man looking at her while he tended to the Lalafell.

“Would you mind telling me what that was?” demanded Lilira, pretending she wasn’t trembling. So Rinala hadn’t been out of it for too long! Thank goodness.

The man shrugged. “If only I knew. A denizen of the void, at any rate.”

“The voidsent? Here? But how?”

“The question isn’t ‘how’, but ‘who’ – we’re not dealing with bookless bandits.” He turned to Rinala. “Don’t suppose the answer came to you in a dream?” His voice was slightly mocking, and she flushed bright red, tail tip twitching.

“I- I didn’t dream about voidsent! I’m not sure what happened… What did happen?”

“No sooner did you fell the beast than you fell asleep. Too much aether, no doubt.”

“I’m not certain of that,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’ve had too much aether… No, ser, I dreamed of Hydaelyn. She spoke to me, told me that the power to banish Darkness is in the Crystals of Light.”

“Interesting… I hadn’t considered the Crystal.” His gaze brightened suddenly with a sharp smile. “But of course… This changes everything.”

“Eh? What does it change?” Rinala inquired.

“Yes, I’d like to know too,” Lilira said.

He smiled disarmingly and shook his head. “Oh, just thinking aloud. At any rate, we haven’t a moment to spare. I must return and report this at once.”

“You enjoy being cryptic, don’t you?” Rinala muttered, and he chuckled.

“I leave Lady Lilira in your capable hands!”

Lilira glowered. “How dare you pass me about like a swaddled babe! I shall return and tell them myself!

“As you wish, Your Impetuousness.” That smile directed at Lilira, mocking yet fond… Rinala’s heart went thump in her chest… Oh! He was talking to her again! “I suspect we shall meet again before long. Until then, do try and stay awake!” He walked past her, back in the direction of Ul’dah, with a casual wave.

She yelped in indignation and her tail stood up, completely fluffed, as if stung by a waspe. His nerve! It wasn’t as if- It wasn’t her fault! He was laughing as he walked away, too! Oh-! He was handsome, but a jerk too. “B-baka!” He only laughed louder. Behind her, Lilira gave an exasperated snort.

 

The next time she saw him was much less embarrassing. She’d almost been crushed by a golem while she was trying to aid a young man named Wystan in a confusing situation. But when it had finally fallen to her keen Aero spells, she thought she caught a glimpse of a black robe around the corner of the Sil’dihn ruins…

Hasty footsteps crunched on the gravel behind her, and she turned to see the handsome man – Thancred, she now knew his name – approaching them rapidly. He surveyed the remains of the golem, and looked to see that Wysten and she were unhurt. “Damn, seems I’ve missed all the fun.” He turned to her with a twinkle in his eyes, though his expression remained serious. “I see you didn’t need my help this time.”

Her first instinct was to be defensive, but… “My teachers taught me well…” Ah! She was dizzy… She was going to faint again…

A strange dream, of Thancred – in Ul’dah, flirting with women – multiple women – at the same time!? Ooh, she already knew he was a jerk and that she shouldn’t have a crush on him… But then she saw other glimpses, a more serious side… He spoke to himself aloud constantly when he was alone, of Dalamud, of the poverty of the people of Ul’dah, of Archon Louisoix… And what seemed like a self-pep talk? He lacked for inner confidence? She would never have guessed, and felt her heart soften again.

And to be sure, she thought as she woke and found herself lying by the Ruins of Sil’dih in the light of the setting sun, it might all be just a dream… But somehow, she knew it was more than that. It was a vision of things past…

Thancred was attending to Wystan and his fellows, helping them to stand after their ordeal at the hands of the Brass Blades, and taking a call on his linkpearl at the same time. “The General? …Very well. I shall be there anon.” He ended the call and turned to her with another teasing smile. “My colleagues went to great lengths to provide me with the means to detect aetheric disturbances, but every time I find one, you seem to be in the middle of it. I’m starting to wonder if it might not be simpler just to follow you around. Sadly I have business elsewhere.” As she blinked in surprise and blushed, he grew serious again. “Tread softly, my friend. The carefully laid trap you dismantled was clearly sanctioned by Lord Lolorito. I heard the Blades mention him as they fled.”

“Oh dear,” she said. She knew of Lord Lolorito. “Does he not own the Brass Blades anyway?” She had been too sheltered in her hometown, too distant in Gridania, to notice much in the way of politics – but Lord Lolorito’s reputation was whispered of even in the Silver Bazaar.

“In essence, yes. The sultana’s enemies grow bolder by the day, and I suspect they have the support of outside forces.” He appeared to recollect something suddenly. “Ah, but where are my manners? I have yet to properly introduce myself.” The full blinding force of his charming smile was suddenly turned on her, and her heart went thump again, several times. “I am Thancred, a humble scholar surveying the flow of aether in Thanalan.”

She had enough of her wits about her to doubt that was the entire truth, what with what she’d seen in her vision and observed directly. But this wasn’t the time to ask about it. “I am Rinala, from the Silver Bazaar. Pleased to meet you. Er, properly.”

He bowed slightly, graciously. That smile was going to be the death of her. “It is an honour and a privilege to make your acquaintance. I hope when next we meet it is under more auspicious circumstances. Farewell!” He waved and began to make the climb out of the valley towards the main road. She stayed with Wystan, who was still recovering himself.

Thancred hadn’t gone far when he paused and turned. “Ah. Wait a moment. It occurs to me that we may have…”

“Hm?” She looked up at him curiously, hopefully.

He apparently thought better of it and shook his head. “Never mind. Fare thee well!”

 

The third time she saw him, she was very, very glad to see him. She’d been assisting the Sultansworn in recovering the Sultana’s crown, stolen by bandits, but the elite guard had all run off in pursuit of the crown and the bandits, telling her to remain behind and rest. She could have gone with them and continued to help, but she didn’t want to gainsay Papashan.

And so it was she was completely alone in the dark of night when the black-robed, black-masked mage confronted her and hurled a voidsent against her. It towered over her, black sword blades gleaming and leathery wings outstretched; she hastily threw up a Protect spell around herself. She wasn’t as graceful as Thancred; she couldn’t avoid a direct attack for long, and all she had was her cane. She blasted the monster with water and air, forcing it a little away from her, but it came charging at her again. She knocked it with a stone in the chest, backing away nervously, and it faltered. Heartened, she smacked it again and again, trying desperately to keep it away from her.

But it came closer and closer every moment, and those blades were as long as she was tall. She was going to die here, alone, her dreams unfulfilled, her parents’ sacrifice wasted… She saw the sword coming at her and flung herself backwards, falling on her tail, dodging the strike for the time being, but the next one was already swinging. She was going to die-

“You certainly have a knack for getting into trouble!” a familiar and oh-so-warmly welcome voice called, and Thancred sprang over her, parrying the strike with his comparatively tiny dagger. Only enough to redirect the blow, and then he was springing away, taking the voidsent’s rage with him.

“Thancred!” she cried, jumping up in joy and terror. “Oh, thank the Twelve! Thank you!

“Don’t mention it,” he said lightly. “T’would be a shame to leave such a valiant lass to fight all alone.”

“An unwelcome guest…” said the mage. “No matter, all shall fall before me!”

Rinala marshalled her breathing and cast another Aero, more Stone spells. The monster was being battered to death, all while Thancred led it on a merry dance away from her.

The robed mage hissed when his pet fell. “No mortal should possess such strength!”

“And now it’s your turn!” Thancred cried, charging towards the mage. Rinala cast a Protect spell on him too, then readied her Stone. “Keep it up, Rinala! We almost have him!”

Heartened, she hurled a veritable hail of stones at the mage, who flung dark magics back at them both. Thancred’s energy was infectious, and she drew on as much aether as she could handle. She would do her best for him! That mage was going down! A dark magic spell engulfed her companion briefly, but she sent a healing spell his way, and when he emerged again, he looked little worse for wear. Dark magics blasted at her, too, and she choked, feeling fiery pain lance through her veins, but she had withstood similar while fighting the voidsent at Sylphie’s side, and healed through it.

Thancred’s blade tore through the mage’s robes and defensive magics, and her Stone spell struck the mage in the chest. The mage grunted and coughed wetly. “That the wisdom of the Paragons should be brought low… by mere mortals…” He collapsed to the wet sand, and Thancred didn’t even have to check the body – it poofed into a cloud of dark oily smoke. Rinala drew back in alarm, tail standing up behind her.

“This is indeed a disturbing revelation…” Thancred said. “We long suspected the involvement of the Bringers of Chaos – Ascians, to give them their true name. But we could not be sure they were responsible for the recent disturbances until now. As if the sultanate needed any more enemies…”

The enormity of what she had just done finally sank in and she hugged herself, trying to remain calm. Thancred noticed. “Rinala? Something wrong?”

“I… I never killed anyone before,” she said shakily. “Voidsent, monsters, vicious animals, imbalanced spirits… Not a person. I b-became a healer to help people, not kill them… I g-gave up my thaumaturge training…”

“Rinala.” He placed a firm hand on her shoulder, calling her back to the moment. “You were marvellous. Ascians… from what little we know of them, they are not truly mortal men, not like you or I. They’re as much monsters as the voidsent he summoned. You have nothing to feel guilty for.”

She still avoided his eyes. “I know he would have killed us, and other people, if we hadn’t killed him, it’s just…”

“I understand.” He put a finger under her chin and tilted her head up so she had no choice but to meet his gaze. Even shadowed by white hair as they were, his earnest eyes still gave her heart palpitations. “You did splendidly. You’re a fine teammate and a fine healer, a strong person. Have faith in what we did here.”

Guilt, was that was this was? She couldn’t wallow in it now. She needed to keep moving and sort through it later. So she sniffed back her emotions and straightened her back. “I’m all right now. I’ll be all right.”

He stepped back, lightening the mood with a bright teasing smile. “You know, this marks the third time I’ve found you in the midst of trouble. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re a lodestone for it! I’m glad I started following you around. Who knows what grand conspiracy you’ll stumble upon next?”

She stared at him in blank shock for a moment before falling into a giggle, and he laughed. “I jest, I jest… Had I truly been watching your every move, I wouldn’t have taken so long to intervene in your latest altercation. But all’s well that ends well, eh? We have some respite now, hopefully from trouble in general as well as Ascians specifically. And on that note, I must away. Until next time, Rinala.” He gave a jaunty wave and strode away to the west.

Much heartened, she gathered herself and was about to set off for Ul’dah when she heard a hail from behind her and saw Papashan and the Sultansworn returning.

 

The Sultansworn had escorted her back to the Royal Palace, apparently unaware of the attack upon her, but willing to give her a huge share in the credit to their successful mission. They proceeded to an antechamber, where after only five minutes or so a lady-in-waiting announced: “Exalted vessel of Nald’thal, guardian of Thanalan, seventeenth ascendant to the throne of Ul’dah, Her Royal Majesty Nanamo Ul Namo presides!”

Rinala barely had time to compose herself and hide her awed and overwhelmed feelings before the great double doors swung open and Sultana Nanamo Ul Namo herself proceeded through, her General Raubahn Aldynn at her side as ever. The Sultansworn knelt as one, and Rinala quickly copied them, blushing. She admired the Sultana and the General greatly, but to think that she would ever meet them-! Nanamo was the most gentle, conscientious ruler possible, and Raubahn looked scary, terrifying, even, but had a reputation for being just and fair.

Her head was bowed, so she didn’t see exactly what Her Grace was doing, but it seemed that she had trotted hastily forward the last little bit to stop in front of Rinala? She lifted her head to see the Sultana beaming at her with delight. “They regaled me with tales of a champion amongst champions, one whose tireless service to the crown merited the highest honour we might bestow. Never did it occur to me that it might be you.” She gestured for Rinala to rise.

“Eh…? Oh!” Rinala gasped, eyes and mouth round with realization. She almost missed that she was supposed to stand, and near fell over upon doing so, tail-tip flicking in agitation. “Wait- Your Grace- you were…!?!?” Lilira!? She had thought the young woman the daughter of someone on the Syndicate, perhaps someone close to Nanamo, not Nanamo herself! She truly hadn’t recognized her in her common get-up, with the turban covering her pink-gold hair.

Nanamo laughed merrily. “You didn’t guess!? Glad am I to have fooled one person, at least! Ahem. Betokening our gratitude and esteem, I, Nanamo Ul Namo, Sultana of Ul’dah, confer upon you this gift.” She clapped her hands, and a Sultansworn stepped forward with a little box for Rinala. The Sultana turned to her general, who was kneeling like all the rest. “Raubahn.”

“Your Grace.”

“See to it that our champion is my personal guest at the banquet.”

“As you command, Your Grace.” He rose and approached Rinala, towering over her. “If what they say is true, Ul’dah owes you a great debt.”

She dropped her gaze and mumbled. “I really didn’t do that much, General Aldynn…”

“Nonsense,” Papashan spoke up. “She was tremendously brave, General, and skilled to boot.”

“Brave souls are few and far between in these times,” Raubahn said, smiling at her. “I count my blessings when I find one. Her Grace invites you to join her at the coming banquet. I trust I will see you there. Until then. For the sake of Her Grace, and the glory of the sultanate, may you walk in the light of the Crystal.”

 

Momodi had woken her after she’d passed out at the banquet – how embarrassing! It had been lovely up until that point – seeing Raubahn bear Nanamo upon his arm, sturdy as a rock, as was their custom, being thanked for service to the crown in front of the Syndicate and the elite of Ul’dah and foreign dignitaries, and then Raubahn himself coming to talk to her. He had been very kind, and she had begun to be less afraid of him, especially when he began to talk of the Warriors of Light who had been at Carteneau, and that she reminded him of them. Surely not… but then she’d passed out and had another vision, this one of Carteneau and the last desperate struggle there.

And now Momodi was fussing around her bedside, setting out breakfast and straightening covers. “They said you fainted in the middle of one of the General’s stories. I had to have you carried back to the Hourglass. I reckon you made quite an impression on your fellow guests – though probably not the sort you intended.”

“Oh nooo,” Rinala moaned, hiding her face. In front of all those people – in front of General Aldynn!

Momodi paused for a brief moment and gave her a kindly look. “You sure you’re gettin’ enough rest, Rinala? The life of an adventurer can be pretty taxin’.”

“I thought I was, I really don’t know why… I’ve been doing it ever since I came back from Gridania, and I don’t know why!”

“Hmm, well, take care o’ yourself, you hear me? Anyroad, I’m glad to see you’re back to normal. No offense, but lookin’ after you was gettin’ a bit tiresome.” Momodi pulled a face at her, but the twinkle in her eye betrayed that she meant not a word of it. “Oh, ‘fore I forget, the General left a message for you. Said that when you’re feelin’ up to it, you should come and see him at the Hall of Flames. Probably wants to finish the story he was tellin’ you when you fell asleep.” She chuckled at her own joke and strutted from the room. Rinala shivered for a moment, wondering how angry the General was.

She got up as directed anyway, and ate the breakfast Momodi had left for her before venturing out. She waved to Momodi and then ran for the Hall of Flames – it wouldn’t do to keep him waiting, even or especially if he was angry with her!

The General was speaking with someone when she arrived, an Elezen man who looked like he must be from Gridania, with a long purple coat and a white lance. His face was hard and stern, even when he was smiling, as he was now, but there was something about him that would have made her completely unsurprised to see moss on his boots or leaves in his hair, not that there was any there now. He seemed wholly at ease in Raubahn’s presence, a trait she envied.

Then she blinked and stiffened in surprise. He was so familiar… he was the Elezen she’d seen in that dream! That dream she’d had when she first met Thancred, and saw Hydaelyn. Did he recognize her at all?

The General caught sight of her waiting and beckoned her over with a smile. So he wasn’t angry with her! Much relieved, she trotted over. “Ah, just the person I was hoping to see. Tam, this is Rinala Sweetwater.” The Elezen, Tam, looked at her calmly; she couldn’t tell if he recognized her or not.

“Sweetwhisper,” she corrected gently. Perhaps using her nickname as her surname wasn’t as good an idea as she had thought. Why, the other day someone had called her Streetwhisker! If this kept up she was going back to her actual family name.

“Sweetwhisper, my apologies. Rinala, this is Tam… how did you say your last name was?”

“Sal-ma-ii-re,” said the Elezen. “I know, it’s exceedingly foreign. Just call me Tam. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Sweetwhisper.”

She bobbed her head politely, though her tail twitched nervously. “And you too, ser.”

“Tam has come with a interesting proposal from the Elder Seedseer,” Raubahn said. “She suggests we should hold a remembrance ceremony in memory of those we lost in the Calamity.”

“Oh! I think that is a good idea,” Rinala said.

“As do I. The Garleans still encroach upon our lands. The Calamity brought the lot of us to our knees, and we’ve yet to get up. We barely have the strength to stand against the beast tribes, never mind the primals they mean to summon. And they pale in comparison to the Empire.”

“Oh dear, I didn’t know it was that bad!” Rinala exclaimed. “How can I help?”

Raubahn smiled at her. “I would like you to go with Tam and be a representative of Ul’dah on this mission, as he is the representative of Gridania. Kan-E-Senna will have her memorial. We will honour the memory of the fallen. We will remind the people what their brothers and sisters fought and died for.” He nodded seriously to her. “You have done much to help the people of Ul’dah in the last month, and now I would ask if you will help the people of Eorzea in the same way. Your deeds mark you out as the nearest thing I have to a Warrior of Light. I can think of none more worthy to be Ul’dah’s envoy. The question is, will you accept it?”

“Oh!” She covered her mouth with one hand. “That is a great responsibility.” She took a deep breath. Who was she to say no? “I accept, General.”

The Elezen chuckled, deep and low. “Fine, I suppose I don’t mind a little catgirl tagging along. I’ll keep you safe, kitten.”

She clenched her hands and her tail stiffened, offended. “I’m a first rate conjurer, ser! I spent two years studying in Gridania! I will keep you hale and whole, should anything happen!”

“Sounds splendid,” he drawled. “Shall we be off to Limsa Lominsa, then?”

“Hold but a moment,” Raubahn said. “I have an airship permit for Rinala.”

“Right, that might be useful,” Tam said. “Thanks, General.”

“Be safe,” Raubahn bade her, and she bowed deeply before hurrying off in Tam’s wake.

The long-legged Elezen strode briskly, and didn’t seem inclined to slow down for her at all. But she didn’t mind, not yet – she had slept well after her vision and was full of energy, and she was excited to go on an airship. An airship! She’d seen them, but travel had been vastly restricted since the Calamity. She wondered whether she’d be frightened to be so high up.

She wasn’t terribly frightened, as it turned out. The railings were so sturdy and the flight so smooth she could simply enjoy the view, or the strange cool sensation of flying into poofy, fluffy clouds. They were even rained on before they descended into Limsa Lominsa, the white city on the azure sea. As they docked, Tam strode off as if he knew where he was going, and she followed. Limsa was the one capital she’d never visited, and she couldn’t help but crane her neck in all directions.

Tam laughed at her. “Are you a Miqo’te or are you a heron?”

She pouted at him. “I’m a Miqo’te! You have a longer neck than I do, it’s not fair!”

“Well, well, we can go sightseeing after – if you truly wish to. Can’t say this place holds much appeal for me. I’d rather go back to Thanalan.”

“Why not?” she asked. “Limsa is lovely! I’ve never been here before.”

“It’s… damp,” he ventured, and she had the idea that wasn’t really the reason, and she also had the idea he wasn’t going to say anything else on it. “Ah, here we are.”

The second lift brought them to the Admiral’s office, high above the rest of the city. Admiral Merlwyb was there with some Maelstrom officers and with another woman, seemingly waiting for them. But what a strange woman the third person was! She was only a little taller than Rinala, but she had a lithe white scaly tail, and – and white horns curving around her cheeks, and white scales around her neck and down her nose! She looked truly outlandish. Otherwise, her appearance was very pretty, with long straight silver-green hair down her back, and pale aquamarine eyes, and silver armour that, despite its well-kept shine, bore witness to much use.

Rinala realized she was staring, and quickly looked away, though the other was looking at both of them curiously still.

“I did not expect the envoys of Gridania and Ul’dah to be adventurers,” said the Admiral, sizing them up. “It speaks highly of your characters that outsiders would be chosen to represent your nations. But then again, I don’t suppose I should be altogether surprised.” She glanced towards the strange woman, who smiled. “I bid you welcome, adventurers. I am Merwyb Bloefhiswyn, Admiral of Limsa Lominsa, and commander of the Maelstrom.”

Tam had already strode forward, apparently completely unphased by the strange woman, and handed the Elder Seedseer’s letter to Admiral Merlwyb. “I’m Tam Salmaiire, on behalf of the Elder Seedseer, and this is Rinala Sweetwhisper on behalf of General Raubahn.” He remembered her name properly! What a relief.

“’Tis good to meet you,” the Admiral said. “And this is Achiyo Kensaki, lately of Hingashi. A memorial service to honour the fallen, is it?” She looked up at the two of them. “I trust you know what happened at Carteneau?”

“Well enough,” Tam said, and Rinala nodded. By fortune or the gods’ will, her family had been visiting Ul’dah at that day, and so she had been spared the worst of the destruction. But she still remembered how the skies had glowed bright as day with the never-ending wrathful fire of Bahamut. It had been awful, being certain that the land outside was destroyed utterly… It turned out that it wasn’t, and yet it had been awful afterwards just the same.

“Hmm. Aye, Kan-E-Senna has the right of it. I accept her proposal.” She wrote down something and handed the paper to her second in command, who saluted and left. “It seems plain I should send my own representative with you. Achiyo, you have been as strong a warrior as any could ask for. Might I ask this of you?”

The dragon-girl smiled. “I would be honoured, Admiral. Although I have a request.”

“And that is?”

“I’d like Chuchupa to come as well. We have been through much together, and I think it would be unfair to leave her behind.”

Rinala had looked up again, and suddenly – of course, the white scaly tail, the pale eyes, she recognized this woman too! Was this fate? Had Hydaelyn arranged all this, that they should be brought together? Then the Lalafell she’d glimpsed – was that the one Achiyo spoke of?

“Request granted,” the Admiral said magnanimously. “I suspect you’ll face many challenges in the days to come, and the four of you should be able to keep each other alive.” Tam’s head was tilted just slightly to one side, eyebrow raised. “Do you have some objection, Master Salmaiire?”

“I normally travel alone,” Tam said. But he hadn’t made any objections about her? “I didn’t mind Rinala, she’s only one more to look after, and she won’t get in my way. But two more warriors…” He cracked a smile. “Well, it’ll be a new experience.” Rinala pouted at him, that was so rude!

Achiyo drew herself up gracefully. “I assure you we will be no burden, Salmaiire-san.”

Tam nodded politely to the dragon-girl. “Good to have you along, then, Kensaki. Shall we?”

Achiyo looked surprised at the surname, then seemed to realize something. “Please, just Achiyo. And if it please you, I shall call you Tam and Rinala. Forgive me, I am still… acclimatizing to Eorzea.

“It’s not a problem,” Rinala assured her. “Achiyo’s a pretty name!”

“Thank you,” Achiyo said, bowing. “I shall find Chuchupa, and then we shall go together.” She bowed to the Admiral. “Thank you for your kindness, Admiral. I shall represent you with honour and integrity as I travel Eorzea.”

“I know you will,” Merlwyb said. “Here are airship passes for you and Chuchupa. And if you’re looking for a place to begin, I have a suggestion.”

“I’m listening,” Tam said.

“There has been some trouble near Sastasha Seagrot, trouble related to that which you were dealing with earlier in the week, Achiyo. The Serpent Reavers have been spotted in the vicinity and the Yellowjackets are spread too thin to properly investigate. Baderon can fill you in on the details.”

“Then we shall make inquiry of him at once,” Achiyo said, smiling confidently.

“And Master Salmaiire…” said the Admiral.

“Yes?”

“Pray give my regards to the Elder Seedseer when next you see her. Oh, and tell her the wolf has been sniffing around the stables. A private jest – and one in poor taste – but I would have you tell it all the same.”

“Those are the best kind,” Tam said, and bowed slightly. “I shall.”

 

In the lift, Rinala was all curious about their Lalafell companion. “Your friend – where will we find her?”

Achiyo coughed. “The Drowning Wench, like as not. She couldn’t be bothered to meet with the Admiral when there was little prospect of a mission… I’m afraid she has little interest in diplomacy, and I must admit she’s quite abrasive, actually. But she is a staunch companion, and I’ll vouch for her in a battle.”

“Abrasive won’t bother me,” Tam drawled. “The kitten, however…”

“My name is Rinala!” Rinala told him, blushing. Did he really have to tease her in front of other people so much? He was worse than Thancred! “I’ll be fine!”

Tam’s stern face creased in a smug grin, and Rinala huffed. He’d been manipulating her, to prepare her for this meeting, hadn’t he? What a jerk. She muttered a “baka” under her breath in his direction and saw his grin widen. Achiyo blinked at her.

They exited the lift into the Drowning Wench to the tune of splintering wood. Achiyo sighed and put a hand to her head. “Yes, that’s her.”

“And stay out!” bellowed the pink-haired Lalafell. “Go drink at the Missing Member if it’s a fight ye want! Ye’ll end up missing something if ye keep that up here!”

Rinala hid slightly behind Tam. The tiny woman was terrifying! Fuschia eyes blazing, fists clenched for a brawl – she’d just thrown out a Roegadyn on his bottom, and she had no wish for such to happen to her. Even if she definitely was the other person she’d seen in her dream.

“What’s up, Princess?” the Lalafell asked Achiyo, expression abruptly changing from furious to bored. “Who’s yer new friends?”

“This is Tam, and this is Rinala. They’ve come from Gridania and Ul’dah, and we are to accompany them.”

“And I’m Chuchupa, ex-pirate, glorified babysitter, and Baderon’s best bouncer.” Chuchupa squinted at them both. “A cloud-sniffer and a fluff-butt, eh? Ye look competent,” she said, pointing at Tam. Then she turned to Rinala. “Ye, ye’re more gormless than Princess here when she first got off the boat. Ye sure ye’re in for hangin’ around us?”

Rinala stepped out from behind Tam. “Absolutely! I’m a good conjurer! I’m not afraid.” Which wasn’t exactly true, but if she told herself it was true, then it would become so, right?

“We’ll see,” Chuchupa said, smirking. “Another one for me to babysit, for all I can see. Was that all ye got out of the Admiral, Princess?”

“Besides plans for a memorial service regarding the Calamity, we’re to ask Baderon of the Serpent Reavers supposedly sighted near Sastasha Seagrot.”

Chuchupa’s eyes lit up and her grin became maniacal. “Serpent Reavers? Another chance to hit those bastards? If I’d-a known ol’ Merlwyb was going to drop a tidbit like that…”

“Your invitation to accompany me always stands,” Achiyo said, smiling. “Perhaps it isn’t all boring politics, no?”

The Lalafell snorted, then suddenly gasped. “Shit!” exclaimed Chuchupa. “Ye’re the ones in that weird dream after we fought the voidsent! Gods, this ain’t a coincidence!”

“No, I think not,” Tam said. “But what we have been brought together for, I’m sure I don’t know. Any takers?”

“There is this,” Achiyo said, reaching into her pocket and producing a water blue crystal shard that looked remarkably similar…

“Oh!” Rinala produced hers as well, and Tam held one out in his hand as well.

The crystal shards rose from their hands of their own volition, floated together, and fused into one whole with a brief flash of light, as it had appeared in the dream when she first acquired her piece. Somehow, Rinala felt connected to her new friends, even Chuchupa.

“What just happened?” Chuchupa demanded.

“No idea,” Tam said. “I think we just magically bonded as a team. How inconvenient.”

“Ye’re tellin’ me.”

“Who’s going to carry it now?”

Achiyo looked at Rinala. “You are a healer, are you not? It will be safe with you.”

“V-very well,” Rinala said, and accepted the no-longer-floating crystal. She had a pouch she could keep it in, a nice soft one her father had made for her.

Achiyo shook her head. “I have the feeling that Miqo’te woman, Y’shtola, could tell us more if she wished to, but I don’t think she does.”

“I think Thancred knows, as well,” Rinala volunteered. “But it’s hard to find him when he doesn’t wish to be found.”

“Well,” Tam said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to puzzle it out standing here. Let’s ask Baderon about Sastasha, and then see where the wind takes us from there.”

“I like that idea,” Chuchupa said. “Beats sitting here. Bloody tall slow people. Move it!”

 

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