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The Neverending Journey: A Realm Reborn

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It all begins in an endless expanse. As far as the eye can see, there is nothing. No people, no land. Only distant stars which serve to provide light and warmth in this otherwise empty place. Empty but for the presence of a young man, floating in a direction that he would likely describe as 'vaguely downwards' if he had his wits about him. As it stands, he is completely unresponsive, eyes closed until his descent slows to a gentle stop and his feet hit a flat plane. The abyss ripples beneath his feet. A voice comes from everywhere and nowhere, motherly and comforting. "Hear..."

A flash of light envelopes his vision, and the young man brings a hand to his head, fingers brushing blue hair out of his eyes. With the light came clarity, more awareness of the world around him. He gazes out into the expanse, dazedly searching for the source of the voice when it speaks again. "Hear... Feel..." Another flash of light. More clarity, more awareness. This time he noticed a much larger star, or at the very least a closer one. Sensing this was where he was meant to go, he walked towards what was not a distant star at all, but a nearby ball of light.

In front of the glowing ball, a dark portal manifests, and from inside of it emerged a man in an elaborate black robe. The ball of light flew away, and the voice spoke for the third time. "Hear... Feel... Think...." Further clarity was granted to him, and he knew the being before him to be an enemy. He could feel his body being enveloped in a bright light, but he knew what it was. It was the power he wielded.

When the light fades, he's wearing a green military officer's jacket that belongs to a nation he doesn't recognize, with medals pinned to his chest. He can't place them in his mind, but somehow he knew they were awards for tactical and strategic prowess. Atop his head is a black, flat-topped mortarboard hat with a dangling tassel, and he had a large pair of glasses on his nose he certainly didn't have before. Yet despite being conscious of the strangeness of his attire, it feels... right, somehow. Like destiny.

In his hand the light manifested again, this time to form a bright, shining book. A tome of magic. Dark energy manifests around the man in the robe, with a glowing red glyph appearing to obscure his still masked face even further, but he knew he could not give in. The light would prevail over the darkness. It had to.

The man in the robe is charging towards him, a hateful expression on his face. The young man raises the tome and channels a spell to meet him, determined. This is it. Time to-

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"...Oi! Y'all right, lad?"

Shuichi Saihara woke with a start, with an older man checking him over in concern, one hand scratching at his blonde beard. He wore rough red clothes and a bandanna to match, and carried the air of a grizzled, experienced traveler. "You were moanin' in your sleep an' sweatin' buckets besides. Rollin' of the ship got your stomach churnin', has it?"

"Ah... Not exactly. I just had a strange dream, that's all." That's right, he was in the hold of a ship. Not floating out in space.

"Hmmm... Yeah, it don't seem like seasickness, now that I look at you. It'll be the aether, then, I reckon." The grizzled passenger continued. "Some are more sensitive to the stuff than others, see, and we ain't too far from Vylbrand now, which is chock full of aetherytes. No need to fret, though. You'll soon get used to it."

Before Shuichi could respond, the ship rocked hard suddenly, which knocked Shuichi onto the couch he had been napping on. The man in red staggered from the force of the ship as well. When he was stable again, he groaned. "Eurgh. Might as well have been bloomin' seasickness. Ship's leaping around like a demented chocobo today."

Shuichi nodded. "Yeah, I'm kind of surprised I was able to get any sleep at all, with the ship rocking this intensely." He looked out the window to see if it was a weather event or anything to be worried about, but aside from some light fog, the weather seemed fine. No storms on the horizon, thank the Twelve.

"Aye. You must be one of those types that can sleep through anything." He got up off of the wall he was leaning against and gestured to the stairs with his head. "I reckon I might head out on deck. Get meself a breath of fresh air."

"That sounds like a good idea. Do you mind if I come with you?"

The grizzled man chuckled. "Not at all, lad. I was just about to ask."

With that, Shuichi got up off the couch and dusted off his pants. "Do you know how much longer it'll be before we reach Limsa Lominsa?"

"S'far as I know, it's still a ways off. Still, I reckon the time'll pass faster if we keep each other company. Them young'uns don't much care for conversation, see." Shuichi was confused, but then the red man gestured over to another couch in the ship's hold where a pair of white-haired Elezen twins both sat, sleeping and leaning on each other.

The two of them began walking up the steps to the ship's deck. "Anyroad, Brennan's the name, an' peddlin's me trade."

"I'm Shuichi Saihara. And... I guess you'd call me an apprentice inspector."

"An inspector, eh? By the look of you, I'd have taken you to be an adventurer."

The deck bustled with activity, with sailors moving to and fro as the pair reached the surface. "Well, I am just starting out as an adventurer. I just happen to have had some training as an investigator with my uncle. I guess you could say I'm... freelance?"

"Ah, I knew it." The pair of them reached the railing of the ship, and Brennan took a deep, satisfying breath. "Ah, smell that salty sea breeze!" Brennan took a moment longer to appreciate the air, then turned back to Shuichi. "Still, ain't that the life? Goin' wherever the wind blows, seekin' fortune an' glory... Now that's what I call livin'!"

Brennan had a hearty laugh, but then grew serious. "So long as you can avoid dyin', I mean. Ain't no secret that adventurin's a risky business, these days especially. What was it that first attracted you to it? Wealth? Glory?"

Shuichi gave it some thought, adjusting his cap. "No, nothing like that. That's not to say that I don't want either of those things, just... I just want to put my skills to use for people, and I think that this is the best way to do that."

Brennan seemed to approve. "Aye, that's definitely a worthy cause. And I'm sure you'll be findin' plenty o'strange goin's on and mysteries that need solvin' in the adventurer's life. Once we make port, you'd best sign yourself up at the Adventurer's Guild. They'll set you on the right path." He pauses, tapping his chin. "An' it wouldn't hurt to join some other guilds, neither."

"I was planning on heading to the Adventurer's Guild first thing, as a matter of fact. But what other guilds are you talking about?"

"Well, Limsa's home to a couple o' guildhalls dedicated to furtherin' the craft of axe swingin' an' spell slingin', so if you fancy learnin' how you might go about doin' that, you might consider signin' on with one. There's also guilds for craftsmen as well, trades like blacksmithin' an' armorsmithin'. If ya' can source your own materials as an adventurer, there's a lot of profit to be made in high quality arms an' armor. Just remember, though, there're more important things than fortune or glory, an' that's breathin'. Ain't no profit in bein' dead, an' that's a fact."

Shuichi nodded somberly. It's not like he doesn't know that detective work comes with an implicit risk to one's life, after all. Before he could reply, a loud bell begins to ring throughout the ship. Brennan and Shuichi look around to find the cause of the warning bell, but unable to see much due to the thick fog. The crew began manning their emergency stations while Shuichi pondered the abrupt change in the weather. The fog was not nearly this thick but minutes ago. "What could they have seen..... ah, there!"

Shuichi pointed over the railing behind Brennan, who turns to see three ships coming out of the fog, firing cannons at the ship they're on. The shock of the cannonballs hitting so close to the ship causes Brennan to fall onto the deck. The two crawl to take some cover from the shots while a particularly stalwart member of the crew stands up to give orders, confirming that they are flying pirate colors. Brennan, for his part, seems unimpressed. "Pirates? Bloody hells..."

The sailor that was directing the crew slid into their makeshift cover using the ship's railing. "Have ye no sense?! Get below!" He ran off immediately after to coordinate the crew, and Brennan was about to run ahead himself when Shuichi grabbed his sleeve just in time for a cannon shot to fire where Brennan would have been. The two of them then hurry across the deck to get to the stairs. Shuichi's fingers brushed against the cover of the tome he was carrying with him. He could fight if necessary, his uncle made sure he knew at least the basics of how Arcanima magic worked, but he mostly hoped that they would be able to outpace the ships.

Once they were below deck with the other passengers, Brennan shook his head in disgust. "What is the world comin' to...? Pirates firin' on a ship flyin' Lominsan colors! Bastards either have a boatload of balls, or bugger all brains."

Shuichi had to wonder about that. Pirates though they may be, the ship itself doesn't carry much in the way of traditional wealth, unless one of the passengers happened to be some wealthy noble or merchant in disguise and they hoped to secure a ransom, it was unlikely that they would get much gil for their trouble. To fire on a ship of the Thalassocracy of Limsa Lominsa, even a passenger vessel, could only invite retaliation against the offending pirate crew. So what would invite them to attack anyway....?

Before Shuichi could come to a conclusion, the stalwart sailor from before came below deck to speak to the passengers. "Ye can res easy, friends! We've made it out of cannon range, an' no buccaneer's bark'll catch this flighty temptress once the wind's in her sails." The sailor left after making his announcement, leaving Shuichi struggling with half of that sentence.

"Buccaneer's...bark?"

Brennan chuckled. "If ya mean to stay in Limsa, you'll be needin' to get used to that kind o' pirate talk." He collapsed back onto one of the seats for the passengers, clearly relieved. "That was bleedin' close. Glad you kept your head on your shoulders, I reckon I'd have lost mine, otherwise."

"You're just saying that, Brennan. I didn't do anything to help." Shuichi could only stare at the floor, embarrassed at the praise.

"Don't be so modest! If you hadn't pulled me back, I'd have been smeared across the deck by now. You got good instincts, boy."

Shuichi blushed a bit more and pulled the brim of his hat over his eyes, with Brennan laughing even more, patting him on the shoulder. "Well, if them pirates gave up the chase, we must be close to port. Let's head up on deck an' have us a look, shall we?"

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"So, is this your first trip to Limsa Lominsa?"

Shuichi and Brennan watched for the city on the horizon, and Brennan posed the question to the aspiring inspector. "No, but I haven't been there in a long time. Before the Calamity, even."

"Ah, then there are some changes you should know about since your last visit. Allow a journeyed itinerant to apprise you of the current state of affairs." Shuichi nodded and leaned against the rail of the ship, taking out a small notebook to write in.

"Limsa Lominsa prides itself on bein' Eorzea's foremost naval power. That's why it's called the Thalassocracy. Means that it's a seaborne state, you see? Weren't too long ago that the place was ruled by pirates, but thanks to the current Admiral's civilizin' influence, the city-state could almost pass for a respectable nation. You'd never guess she was once a rum-swillin' buccaneer herself! Heh heh!"

Shuichi was honestly surprised to hear that. Years ago, Limsa Lominsa was not only filled with pirates, piracy itself was a major factor of the city state's economy, and it was sanctioned by the Admiralty for centuries. "I can't imagine that went over well."

"Like a lead balloon. Most folk ain't so quick to change, an' with a town full of liberty-lovin' ruffians, you can imagine how many naysayers an' troublemakers she's got to deal with. Like them pirates who took a fancy to us just now. An' if that weren't bad enough, I've heard the Sahagin are raidin' the coast just as bold as you please. Them're the sea-dwellin' beastmen the locals call 'fishbacks' 'case you didn't know."

He did, and he grimaced at the thought. The Sahagin were responsible for a number of atrocities his uncle had investigated. Kidnapping, murder, and the most brutal acts of piracy were among the crimes of the tribe. To think that they were that active a mere five years after a world changing an event like the Calamity... He realized that Brennan hadn't mentioned the Kobolds, but before Shuichi could ask about the inland beast tribe, the bell signalling that the ship was coming into port began to ring.

The two made their way to the bow of the ship, gazing upon the maritime city in all its splendor. "Behold," said Brennan, "Limsa Lominsa, a nation blessed by the ocean's bounty an' beloved of Llymaen, goddess of navigation."

The city of Limsa Lominsa was in full view, and itself looked like a grand white ship docked at some gargantuan port rather than a city in the traditional sense. Or rather, like that grand white ship had run aground and was made into a city, which was almost as impressive. With multiple towering structures connected by interlocking bridges forming two distinct layers to the city, one above and one below, navigating Limsa Lominsa looked impossible from the outside. Yet if you looked closely, you could see there was a clear and precise order to everything here. In many ways, it was a visual representation of Limsa Lominsa itself: Chaotic and unstructured from the outside, but everything placed with a clear and certain purpose.

Once the ship was at port, the passengers disembarked. Shuichi looked with wonder at the current state of the city until Brennan tapped him on the shoulder. "I'm afraid here's where we part ways, lad. I'm off to the markets to deliver me wares, then it's on the highroad for me."

"Well, it was nice to meet you, Brennan. I hope we meet again."

"Aye, you too. Hey, do me a favor?" Shuichi stopped and turned back to Brennan. "Become the sort of storied personage I can brag about havin' met, eh? I wanna be able to tell people I was saved by the Shuichi Saihara, an' have people know who I mean. How's that sound?"

Shuichi stammered for a bit, looking around uncertainly before getting himself under control. He took a deep breath, then looked Brennan in the eye. "Absolutely. I'll be sure to become someone worth bragging about having met."

Brennan smiled warmly. "Good lad." With that, they parted ways, Brennan disappearing into the crowd and leaving Shuichi alone. He took a deep breath, and with determination on his face, he heads into town to begin his adventure.