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Bringer of Nightfall

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READ HERE FIRST!

MAJOR SPOILERS FROM THE SHADOWBRINGERS MSQ!

Also, I recommend reading the prologue to this story. It’s a short re-telling of a previous raid dungeon that will later play an important role in the story. The Spiraling Crystal!

As for this story, this is the latest sequel to: Before the Rebirth of a Realm, Eyes Ever Heavensward, and Hells Open Heavens Weep. If you haven’t read them yet, you might want to before reading this.

Do not read if you are still playing through Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers or have plans to. I will be using my own character, Claire Faye, in the story to stand in as the Warrior of Light, but feel free to think of your own characters. Here is a list of things that will be in this story:

Major Game Spoilers for Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn, Heavenward, Stormblood, and Shadowbringers

Alphinaud/Warrior of Light Shipping

Minor Alisaie/Warrior of Light Shipping (Sisterly love/crush)

Minor Crystal Exarch/Warrior of Light Shipping (Hero admiration/true friends)

Minor Zenos Yae Galvs/Warrior of Light Shipping (Obsessively one sided)

Minor Solus zos Galvus | Emet-Selch/Warrior of Light Shipping (Mostly observation)

Many different POV of different characters

Death, Violence, War, Despair, Hopelessness, etc.

I do not own any copyright, am doing this purely for entertainment…

And if there are any special requests or suggestions that you would like to see happen here, please message me and let me know. Thank you all for taking the time to read this and let me know what you think. That’s it for now. Please enjoy the story.

 

Prologue: The Syrcus Trench

Destinies ordained are not man’s to change,

But history’s chain may he yet disclaim.

As scion joins with stock of withered bark,

So we, defying doom, embrace the Dark.

~From an anachronistic journal, author unknown

Oh, well that was helpful. Really… it was as clear as mud. What was wrong with her? Was this truly the best she could find? Some sort of prophecy from an outdated journal with no title or author? Come on, Krile… you’re better than this!

Krile was rubbing her eyes in exhaustion when she finally had enough and threw a nearby tome across the room; frustrated by the fact that she was no closer to finding an explanation to her friends’ mysterious illness. Despite the weeks she remained all but chained to her desk as she searched for a cure, her lack of said answers was getting to her.

Fighting the yawn, she turned her attention to another tome, only to realize she had already read it twice, and she promptly tossed it over her shoulder as well. Normally, she was so careful with precious tomes such as these, treating them as if they were made of glass. But she just could not erase the images of her friends all trapped in slumber… and nothing she learned was able to help her get any closer to a way to awaken them. Which now led to her short temper and tossing the books aside as if they were useless romance novels.

She slapped her cheeks to try to keep herself awake, mentally scolding herself for being so easily distracted. This wasn’t helping anyone… in fact, despite the help she was getting, they seemed to be stuck at a standstill.

She was aware that Master Matoya was doing her best to assist in discovering the cause of this mysterious voice. And from what Claire had told them, the last time she heard the voice was when she was pulled to the aetherial sea during her battle with the Zenos imposter and she spoke with a hooded man. She confirmed for them that it was his voice that she had been hearing… so it stands to reason that he was the one responsible for striking at the other Scions.

What he wanted from them though… was harder to pinpoint. It seemed that he wished to speak with their resident Warrior of Light about something important—and as such, had said that he left some sort of gift for her at the Crystal Tower. So the other Scions have been hard at work searching for this ‘beacon’ that he was supposed to have left for her but they have yet to find anything that was ‘beacon-like’. Tataru had people out in full force, searching for anything suspicious… though since no one knew what this thing was supposed to be… progress had been had been less than impressive.

She wondered if she could try and speak to Claire later on? Just to see if she was alright or if she had heard the voice at all since that last battle?

Claire had been around the Rising Stones a great deal over those first few weeks, helping to take turns looking after the others. But with all her duties she was having a hard time trying balance it all and it was clear to them that the strain was starting to take a toll on their Warrior of Light. In fact, it got to a point that Tataru insisted that their friend take a well-deserved vacation and that she was not to return until she was well rested.

Without Claire around, she began to realize just how much that everyone depended on her. Just her presence alone helped to raise everyone’s spirits… But still, she had to agree with Tataru in that their friend’s health and well-being was just as important as helping the others. So she fully supported the idea of letting Claire leave the Scions and her responsibilities for a time.

It wasn’t easy, their friend was as stubborn as she was strong, but eventually, the two of them managed to convince their friend to take it easy for at least the last week. Under the condition that they call her should they find anything new or if any changes have come to the others.

While it felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over their heads, Krile could not deny that there was still an air of hope about the other Scions. Once word had spread that Claire had woken up from her ‘slumber’ it was all the proof that the others needed to know that this can be beat; that the others can and will wake up one day.

This she also believed. The Scions were strong, all of them, and they couldn’t stop here. She would just have to keep going and do her part to make sure that they all found their way back home. She only wished she knew where to look now because these tomes weren’t going to cut it.

“You know, if you keep throwing those books, Urianger will give you such a telling off when he wakes up.”

Krile jumped, looking down, having not even realized that she wasn’t alone anymore. Tataru was there, with a plate full of brightly colored pastries and a rather forced smile on her face.

“Hello,” she said as she set the plate down and said, “You need to remember to eat too. We all have to keep up our strength after everything that’s happened.”

No sooner were those words out of her mouth did Krile feel a rumble in her stomach and she felt her face blushing.

“Thank you, Tataru,” she mumbled as she looked at the foreign sweets. “I guess… I didn’t realize how hungry I was until now. What are these?”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,” Tataru reassured her. “After working with the Scions for so long, I quickly found out that they can get so caught up with work that they don’t even realize how much time goes by. I sometimes had to slap them to remember to take care of themselves. I just thought that you might enjoy some dango! I learned to make them while I was in Kugane. They are just to die for!”

“I appreciate it,” Krile stretched and yawned. “Truth be told, I think that I am in desperate need of a break. My eyes are starting to go cross on me.”

“You should have gone to bed a long time ago,” Tataru scolded as Krile picked up one of the pieces of dango and tried a piece, startled at how sweet it was.

“I know,” Krile said apologetically, enjoying having something in her stomach to soothe away some of the ache. At least until she realized something strange and looked up to ask, “Tataru? Why are you up so late?”

“Late? Krile, it’s almost sunrise!” Tataru said and Krile’s jaw dropped at that news. She had been working straight through midnight and into the morning hours? No wonder she was such a mess now?!

“You been at the desk all night,” Tataru reminded her, “Now, once you’re done eating, I am going to insist that you go to bed! We can’t have you collapsing either!”

“Y-You are right, Tataru,” Krile yawned again, “I’m sorry. I’ll clean up here and then I’ll…?”

“No need to worry about that,” Tataru said as Krile jumped down from her seat. “I’ll do it for you.”

“But I have to go and return this particular tome to Rowena,” Krile sighed as she picked up a book so large, it was a wonder she was able to pick it up at all.

“No, you don’t…?”

“Yes, I do,” Krile scolded back as she leapt down from her seat, “I promised to borrow it for only a day before I had to return it. Otherwise she was going to charge the Scions a small fortune. I better do it unless you want to pay her price and…?”

Tataru paused slightly before clearing her throat.

“You know what? I think that we could both use some fresh air before you head off to bed,” Tataru decided suddenly. “And… I suppose we could return the book after a quick walk around the square…? I’ll go with you though, just to make sure that you get back in a reasonable time.”

In other words, to make sure that she didn’t stop to borrow anymore tomes on her way back and cause this again.

So the two of them set off with the heavy book in tow. In fact, it was so large that Krile was weighed down with it and struggled to walk. Not to mention how her sleep-deprived state was enough to cause her to stumble and almost drag her feet as she tried to avoid getting stepped on by the early risers of the Toll.

“You want to be careful with her,” Tataru warned her quietly ten minutes later, after dropping off the volume and were heading back to the Rising Stones. “You got off with her this time, but she will charge you an arm and a leg if you aren’t careful… and that’s if you’re lucky. You should hear some of the complaints that adventurers all over town here have about her. Claire has more than a few choice words about her too, if you can believe that.”

“You are right, of course,” Krile sighed wearily. “And I’m sorry for worrying you. I was… I was just desperate. I was running out of places to look and didn’t know what to do. So I took a chance. Not that it helped… all I got was a prophecy from who-knows-when about joining with withered bark or some such. I’ll see what our other sources have and I’ll…?”

“After you get some sleep,” Tataru cut in with a scolding glare.

“R-Right, of course,” Krile coughed as they walked back together, trying to be careful not to get underfoot of some of the taller adventurers as they walked on in silence.

“Have you found anything new though?” Tataru asked, not looking surprised—if perhaps a little disappointed—when she saw Krile shake her head.

“If we could somehow get in contact with the owner of that voice once more…?” she sighed as she suddenly wished she had some more dango, “Perhaps we could get some more answers from him?”

“I spoke to Claire the last time she was here, and so far she hasn’t heard another word from that strange voice,” Tataru pouted. “I just don’t get it.”

Neither did Krile. When she learned that Claire had awoken, she went to speak with her in person, just to see with her own eyes that she was alright. When she questioned her, Claire told her everything that happened… as well as the vague words the stranger left with her.

“But the place of our meeting is of no consequence—like the war you wage. Win or lose, the path you walk leads only to oblivion. The better path leads you here. To me. I have need of your strength.”

Need of her strength?

His words were… frustratingly evasive at best. Nor did he mention the other Scions at all. It sounded to her like this hooded man, whoever he was, had been trying to reach Claire first and foremost and that the others… got caught up in it? All she knew was that this man had said he left something for her near the base of the Crystal Tower that would help her on her journey. All she needed to do, apparently, was to find it. After that, he would take care of the rest.

Rest of what?

Just who was this guy and what did he want with them? Was it possible he was holding the souls of the other Scions hostage until he got Claire? Was it possible that he was working with the Ascians and that this was all one big trap?

The path to the First would soon be open to her… as soon as they throw wide the gates? What gates was he talking about.

“I don’t suppose you ever heard the voice?” Tataru asked suddenly and Krile shook her head. And that was another thing that she was wondering about. One would think that someone with the Echo could be able to hear such a voice? Not only that, she was also a Scion… but it were only certain members of the Scions who were ‘called’ away. Why was that? And why was Claire the only one who woke up? Then again, the Warrior of Light was always pulling off miracles, so she supposed that it was to be expected that their friend would be strong enough to resist it. But that was the best explanation she had for the time being, sadly.

In all honesty, Krile felt that she had all but exhausted her resources trying to figure this out. Like she was trying to put a puzzle together when she was missing all the important pieces. So while they parts… they didn’t have enough information to string them all together.

She looked up to the sky to see that the aetheric gloom that was over the town since the night before had finally cleared up and the purple haze had left, leaving only a clear sky in these early hours.

If nothing else, the timing was both convenient and inconvenient for them. The Garleans had retreated behind their borders for the time being, and there have been no desperate calls from any of the City States on unexpected primals. Arenvald was with Fordola and his group, keeping an eye out for signs of primal summonings, and doing what they could to keep the Beast Tribes from gathering too many crystals to prevent their gods from stepping foot in Eorzea for the time being… but otherwise, everything was quiet.

“Did you find out any more information about this mysterious beacon yet?” Krile asked curiously.

“No,” Tataru said as she shook her head in frustration. “So far anyway. I know that Hoary and Coultenet have been checking on the scholars of Saint Coinach’s Find to see how progress has been going; but last I heard, Cid said that it’s difficult since we don’t even know what we’re supposed to be looking for.”

“You think that robed stranger, who seemed so keen on speaking with Claire, would have been a little clearer on what it was that she was supposed to find,” Krile said grumpily. “Seriously, just two seconds to tell us what it is that we’re supposed to be looking for? Would have been too much to ask?”

“Well, from what Claire said, apparently it was like this guy thought that we would know it when we found it?” Tataru offered.

“Well, I guess we better keep looking,” Krile stated, winching at how obvious that sounded. “I fear I have yet to find the other’s souls… but if what he said was true… she will be going to the First?”

“That’s… that is what it sounded like,” Tataru whispered so softly that Krile wasn’t sure she even heard her right. “I hate it… but…?”

“But what other choice do we have?” Krile sighed as Tataru huffed up almost cutely as she swelled with surprised frustration.

“Still, I almost rather have her go running off to another world on a rescue mission than facing that… that thing who’s walking around in Zenos’s body again,” Tataru said with a frown. “But I’m sure she’s going crazy here. Sitting around as we try to come up with a solution.”

“A solution we’re still no nearer to discovering at the moment,” Krile said grimly, “But… you know, I was thinking… once she arrives at this… other world, she’ll be needing help, won’t she? So how about if I…?”

Before she could even finish voicing her opinion, Tataru stopped dead and spun around so that there was a blazing defiance in her eyes.

“No! I won’t allow it!” Tataru barked out so suddenly that Krile jumped in surprise—even more so when the receptionist was glaring at her with her hands on her hips, as if she were a mother who caught her sneaking back home after being gone all night. “You said so yourself that you’re a scholar, not a warrior. And I’m willing to bet an entire year of jam tarts that this place is going to be incredibly dangerous!”

“But I could help her with…?”

“With what? You told me before during that whole issue with Eureka that you felt terrible about leaving all the fighting to her!” Tataru reminded her. “Not only that, you can’t all just leave me alone! Not with this mess!”

At those words, Krile could see Tataru was now struggling to hold in her tears and whimpered slightly at the thought of them all leaving her alone. Guilt now filling her heart when she saw how Tataru sniffle as her eyes grew watery, Krile quickly did what she could to spare her friend from breaking down completely.

“Oh, we can’t have that!” she said with a cheerful smile as she gently brushed her thumbs over the wetness that was leaking out of Tataru’s eyes, “We need you Tataru, after all, we all know who’s really in charge of the Scions. And… I understand, and I know that you are right.”

Krile then sighed as she let the false brave fade

“I don’t like it, but I can admit when I’m wrong,” she stated with a slightly bitter air in her voice, “I know that we can’t all just leave the Scions right now, especially with war on the horizon. I guess we can’t all be heroes.”

They smiled as they came to a silent agreement.

“We are going to have our hands full keeping everything going with the others gone,” Krile said as Tataru gave a shaky laugh.

“I’m sorry,” Tataru said softly as she wiped her eyes, “It’s just… there’s so much to do all the time now. We have to keep everything going even when we don’t know where the others are. And the idea of sending Claire to who-knows-where on her own like this? I don’t like doing that to her. I just feel so…?”

“Useless,” Krile finished, understanding completely, “Believe me, I recognize the feeling. But we all have our parts to play. And don’t forget, our friend has never failed yet. We just have to do our part and help see her on her way safely. I know she’ll pull through. And once she finds the others and drags them home, after which I plan to give them each a proper scolding, we can focus our energies on the Empire. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet. While I look forward to that day, we have a long way to go. First thing’s first, we have to find this beacon. If we want to get anywhere, we have to find that thing first.”

“Right,” Tataru beamed, “You’re absolutely right. Anyway, let’s head back and get you some…? Oh, hold on.”

She reached up to her ear when she heard the linkpearl going off.

“Yes?” she asked and was silent for a moment was she listened to the voice on the other end. “Oh, it’s you, Cid. Good, I was hoping to talk with you. I was just wondering…? Hmmm?”

She paused and listened to whatever Cid was telling her and Krile watched. Krile yawned, thinking longingly of the bed that was waiting for her when she heard Tataru gasp. She looked back to see that her friend’s eyes were was wide as plates and staring at her with shock.

“What?” Krile asked urgently, “What is it?”

*Claire*

That dream again…

Claire woke up screaming… as she normally did these days.

That haunting dream of being trapped in a light filled world while be attacked by some sort of angel-like creature before she would be engulfed in shadows… was back again.

But it was herself that caused this fear inside her…

*Dream*

She was standing upon an open, lifeless area filled with golden light emanating from the clouds above her head, with the only forms of life were from the occasional plant or sparkling crystal that jutted out like open wounds. All she knew was that she was in pain… terrible agony inside her head that made her feel as though she was being torn apart from the inside out. She staggered across this barren land, on her own, with no one else in sight for malms.

She could feel the weight of a bow in her hands, her fingers feeling strangely numb, before gazing up at clouds above her that was were thick she could not see a trace of the sky. Her feet marched onwards out of habit more than anything… not because she had somewhere she needed to go. But she stumbled, wanting to just drop here and rest… rest until she was nothing more than a forgotten memory.

But she couldn’t… no… not yet… she had to keep going. She could not stop because… because why? She couldn’t remember. It was important and it frustrated her not being able to recall why she had to go.

Suddenly, memories attacked her mind and she gasped as she stumbled forward. The images of the past playing through her head, each one bringing painful feelings and thoughts as they played in a grim procession across her mind’s eye.

As she tried to focus on where she was, she was suddenly somewhere else. She was back upon the battlefield where there was death and ruin… fire falling from the sky as the sky turned pitch black. She knew not where she was or how she got here, only that she saw destroyed machines and the bodies of soldiers scattered about her.

In fury, she held up her blade as she charged ahead, not able to step anywhere without standing upon the remains of a soldier who had given his life for this war. She could feel the blood splattering across her skin as she cut down a foe… barely aware of the banners that fluttered about her. Behind her were six banners of different colors and symbols that represented their nations… flying bravely even while the fires burned around them… unable to even mourn those that died for their sakes.

Meanwhile a bright silver standard flew wildly in front of them as another stepped out of the shadows towards her.

She could feel the pain of her injuries and the weariness was so great that it felt as if her very bones were melting. She could only remember tearing off a pieces of her torn and filthy sleeve while the death that surrounded her made her feel as if she was drowning in an ocean of sorrow.

But even as Fray’s dark chuckle could be heard in the back of her mind, she spun about to face her next foe… who had only finished cutting down another solider. Zenos turned to face her, where she could see his cold blue eye through the partially destroyed helm.

To her surprise, she heard a whisper… but it wasn’t Fray’s voice this time. She knew that voice from somewhere…? But from where?

“How many years have come and gone since that day?”

Since what day? Which day? Who are you speaking?

But she didn’t have time to ask as she saw Zenos’s eye narrow when he recognized her and she turned sideways, sheathing her blade and preparing to draw it once more. She watched as he turned to his massive sheath, preparing to do the same thing… the crimson blade suiting him more than ever.

“How many years have I waited?” the voice asked again in her ear.

Waited?

Who was speaking to her? Why did she know that voice?

No, she could not listen to this now… she had another battle to win… and then another… and another… and most likely… another…

“For the one who stood against the storm?”

A nearby burning banner fell into a puddle and they charged at the same time. She and Zenos all but flew to the other and faster than blinking… they charged past the other after having made contact. They stood with their backs to each other—waiting to see who won; yet their blows so great that the clouds in the heaven parted and revealed a night sky with a crescent moon and stars. While below them at their feet… all rock, shrapnel, and even the water were all knocked away with the sheer power of this blast… so that they were standing in the middle of a perfect circle free of death…

“For the one they called… the Warrior of Light?” the voice asked her and everything faded.

“DON’T YOU CALL ME THAT!” she all but screamed out into the void of death and destruction.

Why that title suddenly brought this rage to her, she did not know nor did she care to understand it. All she knew was that accursed name was now more a part of her than her own name. And she hated that fact more than anything else at that moment.

With a great effort, she pulled herself away from the battlefield so that she was back standing alone in this empty region. She was trembling, her entire body wracked with pain so that she felt she would shatter apart any moment.

Why? Why was she forced to walk this path? Where did it all go wrong for her?

“Weary wanderer…” hiss a disturbing voice close to her ear—though not the same voice she had heard before. She stared about wildly, her head still pounding, before she saw who it was who spoke. At her feet was a little gremlin with white fur and large, pointed ears. He had the face of a monkey, with long feet and arms that were striped while a long, striped tail with pointed end looked up at her. He laughed at the sight of her, revealing sharp teeth and red eyes as he taunted, “No fight left to fight!”

He cackled some more and added, “No life left to live…”

At those words, all of her pain faded as she was filled with fury and a savage urge to cut this creature down for his cruel words.

That was when everything was bathed around them in a golden glow and she stared up at the clouds to see light shining through while white feathers fell about her.

“Ho, it comes!” the gremlin cried eagerly as it backed away, still laughing at her, “The end—your end!”

End… yeah… someone was going to end… but it wasn’t going to be her. She spun about and watched as, through the clouds and heavenly light, appeared a majestic winged figure. She watched with wide eyes as the heavenly figure flew down towards her, revealing a great size with a feminine face, long white hair, glittering armor, and a shining sword.

Claire knew what was coming and she reacted in time, holding up her bow as she blocked the blast of light. But it was still enough to send her flying backwards. Dust and dirt flew up as she felt her bow and quiver of arrows went flying about her and laid forgotten upon the destroyed land.

But that was when she brought her hand down, and she felt the weight of the greataxe appear as her clothes were suddenly replaced by armor, leather, and furs. She flipped over and dug her weapon to the ground until she was able to stop herself. She could feel the weight of the scar she had just dealt upon the ground before she charged ahead once more.

“Fool,” she heard the gremlin cry from somewhere else, “Who are you? No one. Nothing.”

And when she was done with this thing, she would take care of that gremlin!

But then the image faded so that there was nothing but fire burning. She was soaring upwards and landing on top of a wooden tower of what looked to be an old fort as she stared at the blazing forest around her. She coughed and gasped, the heat burning her lungs as she flew about the trees as fire rained down from around her. The fireballs struck at the trees and burned at the wooden settlement that hid beneath the boughs. Every building was on fire… no one could possibly wish to remain in all of that… all but one. On the top of a tower that she stood, she could see that there was someone still here… overlooking the rain of fire stood a figure that was robbed and hooded, their back to her as they held a twisted and curved staff in one hand.

The figure was observing the fire below them, not bothering to move even as the flames were beginning to lick the floorboards beneath their feet.

She opened her mouth to call out a warning to this mage when another voice spoke up… this one she knew all too well.

“What sayest thou, Master Matoya?”

She blinked and tried to see through the smoke when Urianger, of all people, standing there in a long robe that was decorated with delicate chains and trinkets. He then held up some cards and fanned them out—cards she recognized at once as those that Astrologians use in battle. She stared at him, almost unable to recognize her friend dressed as this. He then went on speaking, as if not even realizing the fire around them as he asked, “We may accept this fate, or defy it. But we cannot deny it.”

“Deny?” said the hooded figure, whose voice she also recognized. “I am not one to run from my troubles.”

There was only one person she could think of who the name Matoya would have important meaning but also sound so disinterested in the hellfire that burned around them. The fires caused a massive tree to fall over and the gust of hot air blew the mage’s hood right off to reveal short white hair and two pointed cat ears sticking out.

“Until our friend returns,” Y’shtola vowed as she held up her staff, as if ready to battle the fires themselves, “I shall hold the line!”

Before Claire could see more, the fires faded around her, leaving her in the darkness as she began to soar underground. It felt very thick and musty, revealing that this place had not seen fresh air for some time. It was very dark as well, and aside from a roaring blue fire that was set up in a pit below her, she doubted that she would have been able to see anything.

That was when she heard the sounds of pounding footsteps and she turned to see a figure dressed in long white coat running up the steps as he pulled the arm of a young child behind him. Claire could not see the stranger’s face clearly in this low light, but she could see the shine of a gunblade upon his back, and the child was dressed in a light blue cloak and hood that covered her whole head as she stumbled to try and keep up with her protector. Claire followed after the pair as they reached a long hallway that held chains on the wall and lit by faint flaming torches and cast a little more light about them. The two did not stop though as they bolted down the hall, heading to another set of stairs and doors that looked to be the way out.

Yet once they were halfway across the room, something came bursting out through the ceiling above their heads. She gasped as the two skidded to a stop and watched as something white, winged, and enormous fell from the floor above and landed on the ground so hard that the walls shook. She watched as through the rubble and dust, another creature as white as marble rose up—a massive winged lion with a crown upon it’s head.

The winged lion bared down on the two figures, the one out front holding out his arm to prevent the child from taking another step, as well as to shield her from the beast that now bore its teeth at them.

“This town certainly has changed,” said a third voice she knew well and she spun around to see that it was Thancred guarding the child. He then reached behind him as he gripped the blade all the while forcing the child to stand behind him, “And not at all for the better.”

Claire made to call out to him, but the winged lion had already flown at them. The child broke free and ran to hide behind a pillar as Thancred began to battle with the creature. She watched on, worry gripping her heart as she saw Thancred charge in without a hint of fear. He leapt and spun about, dealing blow after blow against the creature—who was as unmoving as a statue.

At last, he landed and spun back to face the threat before calling to the girl.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he vowed to the girl, “I promise you, Minfilia.”

“Minfilia?” Claire gasped as she looked to the young child to see a familiar color of blonde hair… but those eyes…?”

Before she could stop herself, she blinked… and the image was gone. Instead, she was back on the battlefield. Bringing her axe to bear… she watched in horror as it shattered upon contact with the glowing shield. While the pieces flew about her, she was knocked back with a shield bash. She shifted and was suddenly in her Dragoon armor once again—meeting her foe in the sky.

But it dodged her attack, swinging around and swung its sword… it moved so fast that it was all that she could do to block it… and she could only watch as her lance shattered apart at the contact.

With her weapon destroyed, the next thing she was aware of was that she was then sent falling to the earth. Just before she hit the ground however, she shifted over to monk and flipped over and landed gracefully in the dirt even before the broken edge of her lance hit the ground right behind her.

The voice that she heard from before suddenly spoke again in her ear, telling her, This tragedy, greater even than the 7th umbral calamity…”

She did not understand… the calamity had almost destroyed everyone… how could anything be worse than that? What was it that was coming for them? But her mind was still focused upon battling her foe as she spun about, her fists glowing as she tried to solve it with her fists.

“…must be undone.”

The blast was so powerful that she felt as if her entire arm was shattering apart. Pain wracked her body once more as she fell… having been brought to her knees and she could taste the blood in her mouth. She was so tired… her strength had all but faded at this point as she felt a katana in her hands once more. She knew her foe was still there… still ready to end her. Her body shook as she gripped the handle… knowing that it was all she could do. Her enemy calmly walked towards her, the blade glowing brightly as it prepared to deal the final bow.

Claire put all the strength she had left into her attack, spinning about and slashing at it with her sword…

“If history must be unwritten…” the voice went on, more persistent than ever, now almost ringing in her head.

But her attack had failed. It barely scratched her foe before the large, stone foot came in through the dust and down upon her. She was flattened against the ground, now so tired that she couldn’t throw it off her.

“…let it be unwritten.”

Her foe loomed over her, it’s foot still keeping her pinned to the earth as it held up its sword… ready to put an end to her. And in that moment, Claire didn’t care any longer. She watched as the gleaming blade reflected the light and only focused on the wonderful thought that it would all be over soon.

But at that moment, she felt something rise up within her… a surge of power that she never felt before rose up like a geyser… magically erupting as her strength grew to a point she found the energy to stand once again. She stood and watched as her power burst out almost violently and she watched with amazed as the winged angel’s arm was instantly obliterated from the blast that broke free. She could see how her foes widen in shock at its destroyed limb, staring down at her as Claire heaved the heavy blade over her shoulders.

She wasn’t known for speaking… in fact, most of the time it seemed that her demeanor was locked in one positon. Yet she felt as if her very spirit was being pulled in a new direction… one which unleashed a power that she wasn’t aware she even had. She stood tall… proud… unlike anything she ever experienced before.

“Become what you must…” the voice said to her, now speaking so that she could have sworn that they were standing right there beside her. Rather than answer, she unleashed a wave of darkness from within and everything bright that was caught up in the wave was eradicated… including her enemy who was instantly blasted apart into not even dust remained.

She was now standing there with the heavy sword over her shoulder… suddenly cloaked in black, spiked armor.

“…become the Warrior of Darkness,” the voice finished.

“Who…” she whispered softly, opening her eyes and she could have sworn she could see a figure standing there in front of her. “Who are you?”

Darkness only clouded her vision so she couldn’t see this person’s face… the owner of the voice?

But she felt no danger from them and so she didn’t move when they drew closer. Suddenly, she felt the figure place their hand upon her face and she suddenly understood who it was the moment she felt the hand touch her cheek. Feeling the cold from the crystal that encased his hand and entire arm.

The wind that blew about them both caused the man’s hood to soar off and she saw what was beneath… His eyes… she could see their face through the dark cloud and eyes she recognized at once.

“…You…?” she whispered, his name on her lips.

Yet before she could speak it, she heard another voice speak. A different one… but one that caused a wave of terror to wash through her as Fray whispered:

“The only question now is… what will you say?”

*End of Dream*

Claire’s eyes burst open and she at bolt-upright, pumping so much adrenaline she didn’t even notice that she had gotten to her feet. As she stared around wildly for answers. For a moment, she was confused to why she was in a tent-like structure surrounded by furs and warm blankets, at least until she remembered where she was.

She had journeyed all the way to the Far East and had walked to as far as Seriyu’s Wall at the borders of the Burn before she felt she could go no further. With a welcomed tiredness, she went back the way she came, planning to head towards Doma for the night. But as she crossed over the Steppe, she ran into Cirina once again, who couldn’t have looked more thrilled to see her there.

The two began talking and before she knew it, she was being taken back to the Mol’s small camp, where her friends were insisting that she rest here for the night.

“I cannot say how much longer it will remain here,” Cirina explained as they sat at the campfire where she was cooking up some meat and fat upon the fire. “For soon we will continue our own journey.”

“You are leaving the Steppe?” she asked in surprise.

“Scouts have already gone on to a new location a little further south,” Cirina confessed. “It will be some time before we are ready when the time comes. But there is no need to worry for us. For this is our way. We go where we are needed.”

Claire thought that all over for a moment before nodding in understanding.

“We all must go where we are needed most,” she said softly.

“Hmm?”

“Oh, nothing,” Claire reassured her, still forcing a smile as she helped herself to some of Cirina’s wonderful cooking.

She had been given a sleeping mat for the night, thanking the Mol once more for all the kindness they have shown her and hoped that they would be able to visit them again in the future. She had gone to be in good spirits that night… though she found herself awakening before the sun even rose from that dream.

Once she realized that she was safe, she sat back down on the mat as she hugged herself, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them as she tried to control the shaking.

She thought more about the dream… or rather how she felt while in the dream.

Her darker side flourished within conflict and she had no shortage of that. One battle, one war, after another without pausing for breath. She had been pushed to her limits and beyond, as if she was about to shatter apart. She struggled to get back up to her feet, too tired and filled with so much pain that it was as if boulders were strapped to her skin. Through the haze of pain, this new sensation breaks from within herself… a feeling she could not describe, but it was enough to get her back to her feet, unsteady and unwavering.

She would not bow… she would not break. Not here. Perhaps one day she will meet her end at the hands of one stronger than herself, but it would not be this day. Her hands are upon her heavy sword, suddenly as light as a kitchen knife, as she allows her opponent to be obliterated by the darkness. Her darkness… a darkness all her own that is as alive as the beat of her heart, having been built up for so long that she could not contain it any longer and it broke free like a dam.

Become what you must… that voice whispered to her.

She was just a means to an end… and so she found the strength she needed. She was a beckon and would never deny the call to battle… her role in the world, no matter how cruel it was. That was when she arrived, without question, without hesitation, when she heard her call for aid. She was upon her foe before she was even aware of what was going on.

They stood side by side and fought as if in a dance, a dance that may just continue endlessly. For no matter how many that fall before them, another rises.

Should you tire, I will ever be here. You need only ask…’

Before her stood her mirror image… identical… in the same dark armor and weapon in hand… the only difference was that her opposite was smiling.

Our compromise… an arrangement… our own defenses to the horrors within our minds. Our heartbeats were one in the same as they looked on at each other… weariness settling in before the darkness cloaks her.

It would seem that the person she feared the most in that moment… was herself.

She was haunted by these thoughts and would do her best to continue on through the rest of the day, but her mind was continuing to be haunted by these strange dreams of light. Light had always been a source of comfort to her, something safe and pure to protect from the shadows that seemed to be creeping in on every corner of her life. But the light in these dreams wasn’t like that… it was much… more aggressive. She knew no other way to address it.

She distracted herself with her journey to retrace her steps across Limsa, Gridania, Ul’dah, Ishgard, Ala Mhigo, and was finishing up her steps here in the Far East, which she found herself easily able to lose herself in more peaceful dreams of some of the happier memories. But last night, the nightmare was back.

Of herself being swallowed up by this light of destruction… or the shadows of war…

When she awoke from these dreams, she would remain awake for bells afterwards until she felt exhaustion carry her back off to sleep before awakening when the sun did while finding herself unable to remember much of the dreams before—only the sensation that they frightened her to no end.

But this night… the dream had been the most intense so far… for that brief while she actually felt as if her body had been transported to another place and time entirely.

She didn’t like it.

She yearned only for these dreams to stop.

It was how she found herself standing outside the yurt and staring at the gentle sunrise from the mountain ranges that stretched on even further east. She watched it in silence, drawing a kind of silent comfort from it before she sighed, preparing to head out. But no sooner did she take her first step did a voice speak up from behind her.

“Are you leaving us already?”

She looked back in time to see Temulun Khatun having just exited her own yurt, with a warm looking cloak wrapped around her shoulders as she approached her—clearly looking to see her off. Claire could not help but smile back as she bowed her head.

“Forgive me for not saying anything, Temulun Khatun,” she said respectfully. “But…?”

“But you are needed elsewhere, I understand,” Temulun reassured her kindly. “I thought as much. May I please be allowed to see you safely on your journey, however?”

Claire laughed slightly as she blushed at being taken care of in such a way. She was so used to helping others, that having so many suddenly at her side, wanting to take care of her, was a foreign feeling to her.

Temulun, however, seemed to understand that as the two of them walked together just to the very outskirts of where the Mol had set up camp; while watching the sun continue to poke the rest of its head from behind the mountains.

For one brief moment, Claire felt completely at ease with the world. But the second she blinked, those darker feelings of dread and confusion were back and she sighed, trying to convince her body to take another step forward.

That was when she felt Temulun take her hand and set something in her palm. She looked back in surprise to see a small wrapped package and the Khatun was smiling warmly at her.

“Crinia made it for you,” she said as Claire opened the top of the bundle and stared inside to see a beautifully cooked piece of Buuz nestled inside and a couple of fire shards for warmth. “For the road. You must remember to eat to keep your strength up. Ah, this is for you as well.”

She then pulled another small bundle from under the cloak and when Claire took that one, she found a couple plump persimmons wrapped inside.

“An old friend of yours was travelling through here last night after you retired for the evening,” Temulun smiled knowingly. “He wanted to let you know that he was doing well and that he thanks you for looking after young Hien for him.”

“Gosetsu,” she guessed with a smile with a chuckle as she looked at the fruit… feeling oddly choked up. She then looked back at Temulun and bowed to her as she said, unsure of what else she could say, “Thank you… for everything you’ve done for me. You’ve been so kind.”

“For every good deed it will come back to us,” Temulun reassured her with a wave of her hand, “And you have long since earned kindness in return for all that you have shown to others. This is the least we can offer you.”

She then looked her carefully in the face as she asked, “You are leaving now?”

Claire nodded, explaining that her friends back in Eorzea were… ill. And she wished to see how they were doing. But this last week of not having any other cares or duties meant more to her than she could say as she finished, “I only hope that Tataru will allow me to help more by the time I return.”

“I see,” Temulun chuckled, “Well, in that case, we shall pray for your comrade’s swift recovery. If there is aught that we can do to aid you, please… do not be afraid to ask.”

Claire nodded and thanked her once again before she paused and asked, “Do the gods have anything that I need to know?”

In all honesty, she could not help but continue to question the gods in their grand plans… she could not help but wish she could speak to the Mothercrystal once more and get some answers. And she was all but pleading for an answer. She was not sure if Temulun could truly hear the voices of the gods, or kami… but hearing her speak of them was… as comforting to her as well as the sunrise had been.

Temulun smiled as she shut her eyes and breathed deeply. Claire remained silent for a time before Temulun looked back up and answered softly, “They wish you well upon your journey. And they ask that you remember to always be kind. For that is your greatest strength.”

Well, nothing that she didn’t already know, though still helped to ease some of the dread. But as she turned to leave, Temulun stopped her once more.

“Take this with you as well,” she said as she pulled the dark red cloak from around her shoulders and wrapped it around Claire’s instead. “To help keep you warm and safe.”

“You are too kind,” Claire said, trying to refuse, but Temulun would not be denied as she finished fashioning it around her shoulders and hooked it under her neck until she was satisfied.

“You be safe out there,” she said and Claire could not help but hug the older woman back tightly, thanking her once more for all the kindness she had given her, promising she would take good care of it.

By the time she finally left, with Temulun waving her off, Claire was smiling brightly again, feeling strangely hopeful this new day. What she did not notice was how as Temulun watched her leave, the older woman was unable to hide the tears that fell silently down her cheeks. She could not bear to speak the truth. While she did not understand most of it… the old woman knew that this journey was going to be far more difficult than anyone else could have predicted.

The gods adore this young woman and all that she had done… but that was where her suffering came from. Whether she willed it or no… the fact remains is that she is a beloved daughter of the gods and that could only bring about even more pain and suffering.

“Please…” the older woman pleaded to the gods in a quiet prayer. “Aid her when you can.”

*Later*

Claire appeared at the doorstep, almost sighing in relief to see the familiar home and stepped up inside. She made sure to make as little noise as possible as to not have to worry awakening any of the servants or the rest of the household as she crept upstairs to her bed chamber. She collapsed onto the bed as her mind began to wander over the last few weeks… though it felt as if months had passed since the last battle at the borders.

Granted, she did find some ways to relax. The ‘Make It Rain’ event was currently going on at the Gold Saucer and she was able to find some fun-filled hours by spending and earning during the event. Also there were some moogles seen lurking about the cities who were willing to pay all sorts of treasures and rewards in exchange for some irregular tomestones that she managed to find during some of her many runs through old dungeons. She laughed at the memories before her cheer faded ever so slightly at the reminder that she could not tell Alphinaud or the others.

At the thought of her friends, she decided that today she would pay a visit to the Rising Stones… just to check up and see how everyone was faring. But more than anything else, she longed to see Alphinaud’s face again… even if he was dreaming at the moment.

More for a want of something to do until then, she began to clear out her bag of anything she no longer needed. She went through not only her bag, but her chocobo saddlebag, and the inventory that her retainers were holding onto and cleared out much so that when she finished, she had a large pile of clothes, materials, and old weapons she no longer needed.

“I can’t believe how much I had,” she could not help but mutter to herself as she looked at some broken pieces of metal that once belonged to an old sword.

She would let the stewardess know that she could throw it out later before she retreated to the bathroom where she was able to enjoy a soothing bath. Another thing she had missed in the last few weeks… having to make due with cold water from rivers and creeks. As she washed, she could see sunlight through the windows, bringing a smile to her face and full of new energy.

It was once she getting out of the tub and fully dressed did the household realize that their mistress was back.

They were more than happy to greet her, apologizing for not being awake to see her return, and wished to start making breakfast for her. Claire waved their apologizes away as she informed them that she did not return until early this morning and she would have been worried if they had still been up by that point.

At that moment, her stomach betrayed her and several servants laughed, remarking that even a vaunted hero such as she still needed to eat, and would not take no for an answer that she should sit down and enjoy a meal with them. Knowing that Tataru would probably force-feed her in person if she came over without having anything to eat, she agreed, telling the cook to prepare whatever she wished.

As the servants hurried off, Claire explained to her stewardess that she would be leaving once again for a few days at the least, but she still expected her home to be in good condition when she came back. But she and the others were free to do what they wish so long as everything was in its place when she returned.

“Of course, madam,” the stewardess answered with a bow. “Though, if I must be frank, my lady, I can’t help but wish that you be allowed to return home more often than you do.”

Claire could only smile back, promising that she would try to do so from now on, but could not guarantee that she would be allowed to with all that was happening at the borders.

As she gave her orders to look after everyone, the cook called that the food was ready and to come while it was hot.

“I asked for a meal… not a banquet,” she said as her jaw fell open at the sight. Indeed, there were plates upon plates full of food waiting for her. “I would need an army to get through this. And with portions large enough to fill 10 people each?”

The cook only laughed, explaining that she had been experimenting with Far Eastern foods, and it seemed to have gotten out of hand.

Claire just shook her head and laughed as she began to enjoy it. Everything was delicious, and by the time she ate and could eat no more, she invited the rest of the household to join her. When they were all finished, she felt as ready as she ever would as she waved to everyone, promising to be back as soon as she could, but not to wait up for her.

“Take care, mistress!” the stewardess called as she, her servants, and retainers all stood and waved her off, with similar words of fondness and advice of caution.

By the time that she arrived at the Rising Stones, Claire was in good spirits. When she stepped into the stone building, she looked around to see the others all very much like how she left them. She approached Tataru, who was at her usual place besides her desk, ready to ask how Alphinaud, Alisaie, and the others were doing. But Tataru beat her to it by speaking first.

“Good news, Claire!” Tataru said brightly, “We’ve had a stroke of luck in our search for that beacon!”

“What?” Claire spluttered out, startled by this news before she even had a chance to ask her how she was doing.

“Apparently, our colleges have stumbled across a hidden path leading down into the hollows around the base of the Crystal Tower,” Tataru explained, not bothering to give her a moment to process what she just said, “…A path I doubt we’d ever have found had the Ironworks and the Sons not added their numbers to the party.” She could see the relief on the receptionist’s face as she added, “Thanks to them, we have eager eyes aplenty down there, checking under rocks and peering into every nook and cranny. Still, it sounds like there’s a lot of ground to cover…”

“Then we’d better go and give them a hand!” Claire said, now all but aching to run off and help.

“My thoughts exactly!” she agreed brightly, “So I was thinking we should go and lend a hand. The sooner we find this beacon, the sooner you can travel to wherever it is this mysterious voice is coming from. And the sooner we can work out how to help our friends. We have to find a way to wake them up—and before the Empire comes calling again! Meaning we have no time to lose!”

“So then…?” Claire questioned, wondering where they were supposed to go.

“There’s a boat in north Silvertear willing to ferry people to the site, so let’s be on our way!” Tataru declared, and before she knew it, the Lalafell was all but pushing her towards the doors.

“Now, don’t you go rushing on ahead and leaving me to fight monsters on my own,” Tataru warned as they heading down the road and towards the Crystal Tower’s direction.

“Oh? But don’t you remember how you helped me to fight back with Soroban when he turned into an auspice?” Claire reminded her with a grin and Tataru sighed.

“I did not fight, and you know it,” she scolded. “You did all the fighting and I tried not to get underfoot! Sure, I was able to use some healing spells, but that’s about it!”

“Healing is a way of fighting as well,” Claire offered, “Perhaps you could have some training in the healing arts?”

“Well I… I…? Huh… that’s not such a bad idea,” Tataru mumbled as she thought that over for a moment before shaking her head. “No, no! Not now! We can entertain ourselves with such thoughts after the others are back. Now keep it moving!”

They continued down along the way, crossing over the next malm of rock and crystal as they made their way past Saint Coinach’s Find, and right to the shores of Silvertears. In fact, as Claire looked around, she could see the boat that she once took to reach the Agrius and speak with the Keeper of the Lake. She smiled slightly as she placed a hand over her heart, wondering if the Father of Dragons still slept peacefully. She honestly missed having his presence around her ever since he fell silent during that trouble with Omega.

But Tataru was already waving over the Ferryman, who she recognized as one of the Sons from the Find.

“Heading to the survey sight, madam?” he asked with a bow, “It’s on the eastern shore of the lake, and the swiftest way to get there is by boat.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Tataru asked as she climbed up into the boat and took a seat as Claire climbed in after her.

“How is everything going so far with the search?” Claire could not help but ask as the ferryman pushed away from the shores and began to ferry them across the lake that was as smooth as glass.

“Well, nothing bad if that’s what you’re asking,” the ferryman confessed as he began to guide them across the water. “Aside from a few unfriendly wildlife sniffing about, everything is going well. More or less.”

“Did you find anything yet?” Tataru asked eagerly.

“Well, we’re just trying to make sure that the area is completely safe before bringing in more researchers,” he answered back, “We only just found the Trench and so it’s taking up a lot of time trying to get everything sorted out. But any helping hands are welcomed.”

Well, some good news anyway. Claire gazed up to the Crystal Tower, smiling faintly at the memories that always come back to her whenever she saw that glittering spire. She remembered how there was a time when all she wanted was to explore that tower and see what was at the top… she almost regretted ever asking what was in there when she did finally find out.

She pushed that ancient history out of her mind though as the ferryman continued on ahead. They sailed across the water for about a quarter of an hour before following the water straight to the edge of a rocky cove, where a rope ladder was waiting for them. Tataru had trouble trying to grab hold of it with her small size, so Claire had to carry her on her back as she began to scale the outer rock.

“Just let them know when you’re ready to leave! I’ll take you back across!” the ferryman waved as they left him behind. Tataru whimpered slightly and Claire felt her pressing her face into her back the higher they climbed. Thankfully, they reached the top in no time at all, and they were all at the base of the Crystal Tower, which was glowing so brightly from the early rays of the sun, that it was almost too bright to look at anymore.

“Now there should be another ladder around here somewhere,” Tataru said, poking her head up and around Claire’s shoulders as she gazed around, “Careful where you step.”

She didn’t need to be told twice. For directly in front of her was a deep trench, stretching so far down that she almost couldn’t see the bottom. She had never ventured into the very shadowy base of the tower, but even from here, she could all but taste the aether in the air. She could not explain what it was, but there was something about this place that felt… almost… everlasting. Perhaps that was just due to her own memories of when she explored the tower, however… and she marveled at how innocent—well, naïve—that everything felt in those days.

“The Ironworks spotted it while they were flying overhead the other day,” Tataru explained as Claire carefully began to walk along the ledge as they searched for another way down, “They almost didn’t notice it at first, but after running out of places to look, they figured this was the next best place. Apparently the Trench is part of the outer wall of the Crystal Tower’s foundation. I think Cid called it… the Labyrinth of the Ancients?”

“Oh, I know the place well,” Claire reassured her before she spotted it. Tied by many different ropes to several different rocks and pegs was another long rope ladder that would take them down to the bottom… hopefully. “Here it is. Hang on.”

And so after swinging around, with Tataru’s grip around her neck now so tight that she was having trouble breathing, she made their way down into the pit and touched down softly.

“Phew!” Tataru sighed in relief as she slipped down and leapt off Claire’s back, “That was thrilling. But I’ll have to have a word with them about finding an easier way to get down here. That was nerve wracking.”

“You did well,” Claire told her as they began to walk on, and she stared up at the beautiful carved stone structure next to them. This was the first time that she had ever seen the outside of the Labyrinth, though despite the enormous size… she could not help but think that it was still bigger on the inside.

Wonder if that was another Allagan trick?

They walked on for only five minutes before she heard voices and a few seconds later, they found the group waiting for them. All around there were members of the Garlond Ironworks, Scions of the Seventh Dawn, and researchers of the Sons of Saint Coinach all roaming about as they examined the Labyrinth’s wall, and all manner of devices.

“The Ironworks is out in force!” she heard an Ironworks Technologist said as he was examining a few pieces of machinery with great interest, “Master Garlond’s orders!”

“I’ve detected no slavering beasts in the vicinity,” Clemence, of the Scions, said in reply, reassuring him that they were safe to continue their investigation, “Well… my sister excepted.”

Her sister Aenor, another Scion, shot her an annoyed look as she gave her a punch to the arm and retorted, “The Archons need our help! Next to that, even matters of the heart don’t seem to matter!”

The two sisters were childishly sticking their tongues out at the other as Claire looked around to see more familiar faces. She spotted Coultenet almost right away as he was talking to another researcher, who was taking notes.

“That towering edifice is the outer wall of the Crystal Tower’s foundation—the Labyrinth of the Ancients to be precise,” the researcher informed him.

“The air here weighs heavily upon me,” the mage said, “’Tis little wonder, I suppose, when standing in the shadow of such an imposing structure.”

The first person to spot her though was Hoary Boulder, who was going through a pile of rubble with a couple of other Ironworks hands. He waved merrily as he saw her and called, “Claire! The search continues, but I have no doubt we shall find this beacon of yours!”

She laughed and waved back as Tataru beamed at the sight of so many people hard at work.

“Look how many people there are!” Tataru said happily before cracking her knuckles together, ready to get to work herself, “Should we get to it, then? Pick up anything that seems the least bit ‘device’ like, and we’ll make ourselves a pile.”

Sounded like a plan. She was already trying to decide where best she could start looking when another voice called out to her.

“Well if it isn’t the hero of the hour! Maybe you’ll change our luck—we’ve found bugger all without you.”

She grinned as the sight of Biggs and Wedge appeared, as if out of nowhere, and were coming over to greet them.

“Biggs! Wedge!” Tataru said happily and Claire could see how Wedge seemed to light up when Tataru said his name.

“How are you two doing?” Claire asked politely after Biggs gave her a clap on the shoulder in greeting.

“Aye, aye, well we could hardly say no to a call for aid from the Scions,” Biggs said, as if wondering if she was going to ask about Cid, he added, “Jessie collared the chief for some other business, so we’re be working twice as hard to make up for his not being here.”

“Thrice as hard, even!” Wedge added excitedly.

“Thank you—both of you,” Tataru said gratefully, smiling brighter than she had in a long time, “I’m sure we’ll find that beacon in no time!”

“Speaking of which, ah… do you even know what we’re supposed to be looking for?” Wedge could not help but ask. “I mean… I know it’s supposed to be a beacon… but do you know how big it is…? What color…? Anything?”

“Ah… no,” Tataru said slowly as she cleared her throat, “But, I’m sure that we’ll know it when we see it. So, let’s get to it then!”

And so they set off to work. As Biggs explained, that they were still exploring the Labyrinth and finding out all new kinds of helpful devices that the people of Allag left behind.

“After you cleared it out, we haven’t had anything to worry about,” he explained to her. “The tower’s sealed off, but it didn’t stretch all the way out here, so we were free to continue our research into it. But, this seemed the most promising place to look so far, so we may as well get started, right? There’s a few weak parts in the wall that we might want to try…?”

And so Claire joined them as they began to explore some of the holes in the wall that had started to crumble away. But more or less, the wall was in one solid structure and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Aside from a few bits and bobs that they managed to savage from the rubble, nothing looked to be promising. They were already searching for about half an hour before she noticed that there was slight disappointment that they had yet to find anything of real use. Not that it stopped their determination as they began to examine even the very bricks from the labyrinth just to make sure that they didn’t miss something.

“Hm,” Biggs said as he poked at a whole in the wall, “I’m not seeing anything out here.” He removed a small loose brick and tried to peek in before asking, “D’you reckon you could squeeze in there, Wedge?”

“And get stuck halfway?!” Wedge demanded hotly, “No thank you.”

“I could try if you like!” Tataru offered brightly, which seemed to horrify Wedge even more than the idea of going through an unknown part of the Labyrinth.

“Tataru, no!” Wedge said quickly, as Claire began to wander away, “We couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” she heard Tataru answer back, “This receptionist is not afraid to get her hand dirty.”

Claire chuckled slightly as she continued a little further ahead, leaving the others behind. She felt oddly serene while here near the tower, thinking back to when she last ventured through this spiral of crystal. She had a feeling that she really shouldn’t be leaving the group like this, but something was telling her that they were getting close. She wasn’t sure what it was, perhaps she was just deluding herself into believing that they were on the brink of finding something… but it was as if every instinct was telling her that this was the right place. It was close… she was all but certain of it.

That was when a strange glint caught her eye. She looked ahead to find that there were more crumbling parts of the tower… as well as what looked like a chunk of crystal fell from a great height, blocking most of the way.

As she stepped to it, she could see the unmistakable hue of the crystal shining faintly in the dark and realized that this was a piece of the tower, probably broken off in the years since the Calamity. She was just wondering if she could clamber over the rubble when that glint caught her eye again. She looked down to see that something was lying on top of the rubble and that the glint was coming off the light reflecting from the crystal upon the smooth metal. She picked it up and began to dust it off as she looked over it curiously.

It was in the form of a small gear, she had seen many of them before, as she turned it over in her hands, her fingers brushing off the dirt from it. It looked like a piece to something, perhaps part of the labyrinth or even part of the tower that broke off when the crystal fell… at least until she turned it over to see a small emblem stamped on the side.

An emblem she recognized at once as the symbol for the Garlond Ironworks… well… it wasn’t exactly like the emblem she knew today, but she was just wondering if she should go back to inform they dropped something of theirs when she heard the others calling out to her.

“Sorry, I-I meant to say—the scholars haven’t finished their preliminary assessment of the site yet, so we’re not supposed to venture too far in,” Biggs called and she heard him come up from behind her. But she didn’t so much as look at him as she continued to observe the strange gear. No one had been this far yet? Then how did…?

“…Hm, what’s that you got there?” Biggs questioned as she continued staring at it, finally noticing she found something.

She turned around and showed them the small gear and they looked over it with interest.

“Now that looks promising!” Biggs said slowly.

“Uhh… isn’t that the Ironworks’ symbol?” Wedge questioned, also spotting the familiar emblem, “…Counterfeiters?”

They others looked ready to take it back with them to show the other researchers as she focused on the strange, slightly familiar, gear that rested comfortably in her hands. She could not claim how she knew… she just knew one thing about it. Kinda like how her instincts were telling her before that this was the right place to look… those same feelings were now telling her that this strange gear… was meant for her.

Just then, she felt as if someone had plunged a sword through her head, splitting her skull, and she gasped, fighting to stay on her feet. Then she heard it. The voice now so loud that it was as if her eardrums were about to pop, and the terrible pain was so bad that she almost dropped to her knees.

“Now… Now I have you!” the voice cried out.

She cried out, staggering about as pain wracked her brain, truly making her wonder as if her skull was about to split in two. She could see Tataru’s and the others faces through the pain though as they looked on in fear.

“You alright?” Biggs gasped, his voice sounding so faint to her know that it was as if he was trying to speak to her from underwater.

She was just barely conscious enough to see that the others were all looking frightened, as if on the verge of panicking.

“What’s happening?!” Wedge cried out as they were trying to reach out and support her but she was thrashing about so much that they seemed afraid to make things worse if they touched her. But the voice was speaking again, refusing to let go this time.

“Stay with me!” the voice pleaded, “Focus on my voice!”

And before she knew it, she felt her mouth move in agony as she spoke along with the voice: “Let expanse contract, eon become instant…”

She didn’t know how she knew what to say… perhaps it was from the times that she heard the voice before… or perhaps the device in her hands was somehow transmitting the words straight into her mind that was now screaming with pain. All she knew was that she could just make out the words coming out of her own mouth as well as inside her head.

“…Wait, this must be it!” she heard Tataru gasped suddenly, “The device! This is supposed to happen!”

Truly? Oh, how she wished it didn’t. Still, if this was her only chance to get some answers, she would take it. So for the first time, she stopped resisting the fight. She allowed herself to relax just enough for her spirit to feel as if she were being pulled away. She opened her eyes just as she heard herself and the stranger’s voice speak together: “Throw wide the gates that we may pass!”

She could not lie about the fact that she was frightened. She had no idea what was happening or where she would go… every part of her was screaming for her to fight it and pull away. But the images of her friends… Alisaie’s scared face… the feel of Alphinaud’s lips upon hers… reminded her to calm herself down. It was no easy feat, having to take all of her willpower to relax and focus on the voice. She felt some of the pain fade as an odd light-headedness began to settle in… as if she were fighting the urge to fall asleep.

But though this strange sensation of aether cradling her was frightening… it didn’t feel harmful. She felt as if someone had pulled her into their arms and was holding her tightly to protect her. As the voice spoke, she could feel something else with the words… anxiety and excitement mixed in.

Everything began to fade at this point as she recklessly trusted the voice to carry her away.

The last thing she saw through the haze and pain was Tataru’s anxious face as she said, as if speaking from farther and farther away, “Safe journey, Warrior of Light. Find our friends, and bring them home!”

And before she knew it, everything around her was bathed in light… and she shut her eyes once more as it died to darkness.

She felt herself black out for just a brief moment, dozing off someplace warm and comfortable… only to awaken without warning. By the time she next opened her eyes, the pain had died down completely and everything was silent around her.

And when her eyes focused… she gasped at the sight of what was in front of her. One moment she was standing on solid ground in the Syrcus Trench… to standing amidst the darkness. Not just empty darkness though, for all around her she could see traces of aether spiraling endlessly in a stunningly haunting way. Countless diamonds sparkling as they spun past… falling like rain… it was as if she was suddenly standing in the night sky. It was beautiful… this pure darkness that was both warm and soothing to her, while she realized that these diamonds weren’t diamonds like she first thought… but couldn’t really see what they were. But she could not help but stare on ahead, as if she was looking at countless sparkling lights that were soaring above her head.

It was so blindingly gorgeous she knew she could never find the words… the closest being that she felt standing in what she could only describe as a sea of stars.

But she didn’t have much more time to admire it for at that moment it felt as though an invisible hand had reached out and was now pulling her forward and gaining speed at a rapid pace. What had just felt like a hand pulling her, it now felt as if she was suddenly being pulled along a river and had no choice but to follow it to its end. She could feel herself falling and the wind picking up around her as she covered her face to try and see where she was going. As she continued downwards, she suddenly saw larger stars flying up towards her along with a string of whispered voices.

Wait, she knew those voices. But with so many it was hard to make out exactly what each one was saying.

That was when she was able to get a closer look at the stars, only to realize that they were actually crystals and stared at them in bewilderment. For inside each one, was the image of a face that she knew. She saw Nanamo and Alisaie flying past her among the countless others, whose images were a blur for the most part. In one that went flying past her head, actually made her recoil for it was the image of Zenos’s face grinning hungrily at her from the top of the Ala Mhigan palace where they battled…

But the one after that held the form of Papalymo as they stood upon the Wall just before he ordered them to flee while he bought them time to stop Shinyru. The next one was her first meeting with the Admiral… and the one after that held Alphinaud’s gently smiling face which caused her heart to ache.

The next one, however, nearly made her heart stop, for in that crystal she could see Lord Haurchefant’s final moments. How he stared up at her with such an adoring smile as she heard his words whisper, ‘Oh, do not look at me so.’

And that voice wasn’t in her head either. For that brief moment, she heard him speak once more… a sound she never once thought that she would hear again. But by the time she reached out to try and touch it, it was already long gone. After that, more faces appeared in the crystals as she continued to fall forward:

Gaius, Urianger, Y’shtola… Ser Aymeric, Hien, Yotsuyu, Raubahn, Lyse…?

And with each one she saw, she heard their voices speaking to her. Though with so many voices, it was almost impossible to make out their words. It was as if she was in a giant room and everyone was speaking at once. The few that she did hear however things she could remember hearing each one of them say during her journey…?

‘You’re slaves to a tyrant! There’s no freedom in that!’

‘This is one battle you cannot fight!’

‘I must say your spirited accounts always come as a welcome change…’

She wanted to cover her ears for the noise was now so loud she could not think straight. But she could not bring herself to stop staring as so many familiar faces appeared before her. Including one whose voice was so loud that it drowned out all the others. It was the image of a face she did not think she would ever see again.

‘We did everything right! Everything that was asked of us! And still, still it came to this!’

She reached out, trying to grab the crystal that held the image of the Warrior of Darkness. But it slipped past her fingertips and went flying by like all the others. She spun around, wondering where they were all going, but now she was falling backwards through space as more images from the past continued to play around her.

That was when she felt the familiar pull of the Echo tugging at her mind and she all but twisted her head around to see what was going on, see who was causing it. And there… inside another crystal… slightly larger than all the others… with a familiar figure bathed in pure light. Claire squinted her eyes, desperately trying to see through the impossible brightness even though her vision burned and she could not make anything out.

She covered her face to try and protect herself from the blinding light when she was pulled away… both here and there at the same time. She did not know what this was or what was causing it… only that she was standing upon the top of stone buildings as a vast wave was coming towards her. But this did not seem to be a wave of water… but something else… something brighter and more terrifying than the ocean… but with how bright it was, she honestly could not make out what it could be.

Yet as she tried to stare through the light, she did see that familiar figure drifting there, her hands held out as if trying to halt the tides. The image of this person blurred and shook, as if not really there herself, but was fully aware that she was being watched.

She was ready to give her all… this was what she wanted… to sacrifice herself and take her eternal rest in the knowledge that she at least tried to make things right. They caused this nightmare… it was only right that she give everything she had left.

But the figure had stopped her… why?

The light was now so blinding she could not see… but the figure in front of her turned her head very softly and whispered:

“Your time has not yet come.”

“Minfilia!” she cried, reaching out as the light intensified and she let out a scream of pain. She was tumbling through space now, feeling caught in a whirlpool and had no idea which way was up or down anymore as the light grew painful. She was lost here, drowning in this ocean of light, hurting as she shut her eyes as it became blinding in its radiance… and then the darkness claimed her and everything faded around her.

She finally awoke some time later though she had no idea how it had been… only that some unmeasurable amount of time later, she just knew that it was light that woke her up. She could see it through her eyelids, dispelling the darkness that had reached out to her. Her vision was so blurry that she could barely make anything out when she forced the heavy lids open. But after a few seconds, it began to clear as she saw flowering trees above her. Confused, she stared up at them for some time as her vision continued to clear little by little. That was when she finally realized something else… she was no longer falling… instead, she was now lying on her back as she stared up at a brilliantly bright sky.

*Another figure malms away*

Countless malms, endless steps… having long since lost keeping track of where they were going or for how long they have already been walking. Their memories nothing more than whispers at the back of the mind that was coming apart at the seams… his body there but not truly there. A shade cursed merely to wander…

A figure who had seen countless of battles while his mind and soul carried countless scars that were deep and jagged as they crossed over one on top of each other like a web of cracks that were just barely keeping themselves together.

How long had he been forced to walk? How many years have come and gone? He could no longer tell the difference of time—for one moment could feel as long as an age… but then he blinked and was astonished to see how much had changed around him in the amount of a breath?

It didn’t matter either way. Because it did not matter how much he tried, how much he pleaded, no one would look his way. No one could see and hear him… and so he was nothing. In the end, there was no hope for him or this world he once called home.

How many times had he wept and cursed the heavens for this personal hell? Why? Why was he spared and left alone? Was this his punishment for the sins he committed when he was alive? He had once thought that there had to be a reason and if he wandered long enough, he would find the answers. But after so long, after so many lifetimes… he had abandoned hope of being saved.

It was upon some ruins that laid scattered across Lakeland did he finally stopped walking. It happened so suddenly that it took several minutes for him to realize that he was no longer moving. This surprised him so suddenly that he looked around, wondering what was going on. For so many years now, it felt as if he were trapped in a dream… lost in a daze. But somehow… for just that moment, he felt as if he awoke from a deep sleep. He blinked, feeling his form—which was hardly more than a dark haze up until then—slowly start to take on its original state while his senses were also waking up.

His mind was no longer a deep fog either, he could see everything so clearly now and the pieces were fitting back together. What was going on?

He looked to the brilliant sky, trying to figure out the cause of this strange sensation. What was calling out to him? The figure could only continue to gaze around desperately, trying to find what it was that called to him. He had to find it.

“From endless dreams, I awake… something vague… yet urgent… calls me to action once more,” he whispered to himself, startled to discover that he could still hear his voice. After all these years, he had thought that he had lost that ability, having no reason to speak. When he first realized that no one could see or hear him… he had spoken to himself quite often since he began his wanderings, desperately trying to keep some semblance of sanity, but it had been years since he last felt the urge to utter a sound.

Still, there was a change in the air around him… something—or someone—was causing this and he had to know who it was. That was when he felt his gaze being drawn towards the towering spire of crystal in the distance.

“To dizzying heights it rises, the gleaming spire, its tip threatening to pierce the blinding canopy. There it will all begin anew. Between Dark and Light, the pure and the corrupt—the one true struggle…” he whispered, not sure why he was speaking right now, but it just felt right as he felt the pull taking him towards that spire.

And so he turned around and began to walk again, but this was different to the years before… for the first time in decades he had a purpose… he had a destination… He had to find it… they were close.