Prologue: A Meeting, not by Chance
She was dreaming; weightlessly dreaming. And as always, that voice, Her voice, whispered in her ears. Before her shone a single azure crystal. If she tried to take hold of it, it would hover just above her hands, resonating with a power that echoed in her soul.
She turned, the crystal between her hands, and watched the myriad stars spiral around her, the wonder of the universe strewn before her reverie. She drew the crystal close to her bosom, and it glimmered radiantly before entering her body.
Linaria opened her eyes.
Ordinarily, she would never start her day as late as noontime, but her recent travels gave her cause for an exception. By no means did she regret agreeing to travel to the hub leaders of Limsa Lominsa and Gridania to pass on Raubahn’s missive, but being put in the position of the primary envoy of Ul’dah still felt like an honor that she didn’t quite deserve; and hence, her trek around Eorzea with naught but her uncertainty to keep her company was far less pleasant than the sight-seeing tour it could’ve been. And at the same time, the effort to be mindful and grateful of her position was very much an active effort, especially in conflict with her dogmatic outlook of self-forgetting — she truly believed that her successes were the results of lucky circumstance more than personal aptitude. Anyone with her level of talents could have accomplished the same feats, but she was often the one in the right place, at the right time.
Some might call that fate. Linaria found it a reason to hunker down in the adventurer’s guild and detox herself in the company of the Hourglass’s proprietor, Mistress Momodi. The ever-forceful Lalafel was an accomplice to be reckoned with; when it came to divulging stories of wayward adventures, she could always be relied upon to assist one in drowning their woes in a flagon of ale and conversation.
And thus, she found herself sitting at the centre counter within the Quicksand, watching Momodi tut at various patrons and adventurers from behind the bar, perched on a stool to stand at the height of the average Hyur. Nursing her hangover with a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice from the more temperate climates of La Noscea, chasing away Ul’dah’s arid desert air, she was content to watch the clock tick past noon, without the worry of any commitments for the day. She shifted a bit in her seat, adjusting the skirts of her tabard more comfortably, and took another long draught.
“Here’s your rabbit pie, madam.” One of the familiar barkeeps came by and slid a dish in front of Linaria. She nodded her thanks, her neutral expression ghosting into a smile for a brief moment. Fishing into the satchel at her side, she fetched a piece of gil to tip the waiter, and he bowed courteously before disappearing into the back once again.
“It’s just called ‘rabbit’ pie because it looks like a bunny,” Momodi’s voice came from behind the bar. She had somehow dispelled the group of adventurers, and was dragging her stool over to stand in front of Linaria. “I don’t think it’s anything more than mutton an’ veggies in there, though. Not to disappoint.”
Linaria dug her fork into the rabbit-shaped pastry, and the scent of fresh, hot stew wafted up to greet her. “I wasn’t raised to be picky, Momodi,” she scooped a corner into her mouth, unflinching as it singed her tongue a bit. “The food here is consistently decent — and that’s more than can be said for some other establishments.”
“Ye don’t say,” Momodi grinned. “Eh, I like to make sure the folks I take some responsibility for go out there with a full belly; if they’re never leaving with the guarantee of a safe return, I’d hate for their spiteful ghosts to come back and haunt these kitchens for spitefulness over a foul last supper.” Linaria laughed at that, covering her mouth. Momodi smirked. “You oughta laugh more often, Linaria. It’s a good look for you.”
She met Momodi’s amused ribbing with a wry, distant smile. Her hair fell over her odd-colored eye, and she sighed. “A man back home used to say the same. Not that I ever thought to listen to him.”
“‘Eh, an ex?” Momodi spluttered. “You never told me anything about a beau of your own.”
“Not much to tell there,” Linaria shrugged, bemused. She contemplated whether the sweetness of the orange juice would complement or clash with the savory pie, and took the risk with a swig. It wasn’t unpleasant. “Just another person left behind when I came here. It was… nothing special. Life on the road seemed more appealing than settling down, even though I had rapport with so many people in the region back home.”
“You’re doin’ quite well for yourself here, though,” Momodi rested her elbows on the bar, having taken Linaria’s lead in losing interest on the subject of her former love life. “Even you can’t deny that. You’re a bit of a star — an adventurer’s adventurer!”
“I wouldn’t go that far.” Above the sounds of conversation and people coming and going, they heard wing-beats approaching. Linaria looked up as her hunting hawk landed on her shoulder. “Good morning, Zephyr.” The bird hrr’ed, tipping her head to the side accusingly. “Yes, I know it’s nearly the afternoon.” Linaria offered her a sliver of pie, and Zephyr accepted the offering.
“Don’t feed your pet on my bar,” Momodi scowled. “I deal with enough riffraff coming in and out with their little companions as is, the last thing I need is bird bombs on my—
“Aieeeeeeee!” A high-pitched wail came from outside, ruffling Zephyr’s feathers and causing Momodi to nearly fall off her stool. “Someone, please! Help!”
Peace and quiet was always too good of a notion to be true. Linaria’s glass and fork were swiftly replaced by the cold metal of her magitek bow, accompanied by the rattling of her quiver as she flew out the door.
A short while later.
The locals were clapping. Linaria always thought that was in poor taste; for a battle-dancer, perhaps applause would have been relevant, but this? She eyed the bodyguards cowering on the street. In a situation like this, of course she would never shoot to kill, but a well-placed shot to the leg had them out of commission.
“I’m… I’m not getting paid enough for this!” The groveling man reeked of alcohol. “And… and I shoulda stopped at the ninth flagon. Urk…”
“Verily,” Linaria grimaced. She turned her attention to the merchant, backpedaling behind his bodyguards. “I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again — what you’re accusing this woman of is nothing but profiteering disinformation. I saw her purchase that meat from you. There was no thievery involved.”
The merchant sneered. “What do you mean, ‘I saw her?’ You weren’t even there!” Linaria’s head throbbed. Would that she hadn’t seen it. The strange visions of others’ pasts always came with a dizzy spell — or, at worst, a fainting episode.
“I was there!” An arbitrary pedestrian shouted from the sidelines. “And I saw it too! So stop pestering the poor woman!”
“I… I swear it,” the woman in question peered over Linaria’s shoulder, teary-eyed. “I wanted only to buy a nice meal for my children… with the coin I had saved up.”
“I believe you,” Linaria soothed. “And you have no cause to let this man’s fabrications tarnish your well wishes. Go on; you can head home. I’ll finish dealing with this mess here.”
“Aye,” the woman sniffled. “Thank you, milady… truly, truly— thank you!” Clutching her parcel to her chest, the woman took off down the street, towards the slums.
Linaria turned her attention back to the merchant. He leered back at her. “You folk are always meddling in affairs that are not your own… and you are the most disgusting sort; the kind that certainly has more grand ventures afield, but lingers in the city to practically whore themselves out in the name of doing ‘good’ for the—”
She lifted her bow, and it whirred back to life as she leveled an arrow at the man. “Judging someone by the condition of their bearing or possessions is what’s despicable. What I choose to preoccupy myself with is my business, not yours.”
“I don’t buy your bluff. As if you’d really shoot me in the street, right here?” He scoffed. She loosed the arrow, careful to bury it past him in a bed of flowers, but taking a chunk off of his ear as it flew. “Aaagh!” He slammed a hand to the side of his head, stemming the bleeding. “How dare you!?” An apple core flew from the wings and struck the merchant on the other side of his head.
“Get lost, scum!”
“Yeah, if you know what’s good for ya!”
Linaria stared the merchant down steadily as the locals jeered at him. Finally, it was enough.
“Whatever,” he spat on the ground. “I truly despise unfinished business, but there’s nothing more to be gained from trading words here.” Kicking one of his bodyguards, he turned heel. “Come, you worthless sell-swords. Get up, we’re going home.”
The crowd laughed him off, and then began to slowly disperse as the merchant and his wounded escorts shuffled away. Linaria relaxed her shoulders, letting out a long puff of air. Her bow powered down as her hand dropped to her side, the stabilizers sliding smoothly back into place against the main limbs. She returned it into place across her back without much thought.
When she had first arrived in Eorzea proper, there were times where she’d seriously considered trading her bow for a more discreet weapon. Magitek technology was very, very uncommon around those parts, and though the bow had been a gift from her late father’s Free Company, to the casual observer it marked her as some rich foreigner. But as she indoctrinated herself more and more to Eorzea’s rhythm of tending to the locals’ issues and contributing to greater squabbles alongside other adventurers, both new and experienced, her worries gradually melted away. Amidst the ornately-armored Dragoons of Coerthas and the ever-extravagant red mages, a fancy weapon would not draw an excessive degree of contemplation.
And that was exactly how she liked it. To Linaria Stormchaser, daughter to a renowned adventurer and an equally acclaimed armorer and seamstress, all adventurers were just partitions of a much larger system. When you’re a single drop in a massive ocean, it matters not if you’re rainwater, or the finest liquor… or La Noscean orange juice. There were others like her – other crystal-bearers, others gifted with strange, ethereal powers – and though they may be few and far between, each of them was wont to choose their own paths. Some had become grand leaders of companies and guilds, or climbed their way to a position of power through meritocracy. But Linaria was content without all that. If she could serve a simple cause, to a first-rate degree, that was far more satisfying than the glory of fame or fortune.
But yet, her life lacked something. The harder she thought to pursue that missing piece, the farther out of reach it seemed. She had left behind her family, her hometown, her laid-out future with a quite well-to-do man, all without much regret: it was her duty, as with any other individual possessing her calibre of aptitude in war or magic, to serve the greater good, not settle down to a cozy life. In her upbringing, her mother and father were never overly emotionally involved, and that translated to her own out-of-touch emotions. She was self-assured in her place in the world; but yet, there was always that nagging feeling of seeking something.
Time and time again, she dismissed it. What use was it pursuing an empty thought, without concrete direction — especially when there were so many issues before her that she did know how to fix?
“All’s well that ends well!” A male voice, one she’d heard on many occasions by then. Linaria turned, blinking stoically as the speaker sauntered up.
He flashed his charming grin, tossing a lock of his ash-colored hair out of his face. “We meet again! Come now, one bard to another — you can’t be the least bit happy to see me again?”
Upon their first meeting, Linaria had been caught off-guard by the handsome stranger’s coquettish demeanor and charm. But subsequently – and through her inexplicable visions of insight to the man’s past – his personality rather quickly unraveled into a rather predictable pattern of profuse flirtation… With anything female and within a hundred yalms’ radius.
“Pray do not mistake my intent,” he continued. “for it is always honorable—but I have been watching you ever since you departed Ul’dah. You were an envoy of perfection: a confident diplomat, yet unfailingly courteous to your betters.” Thancred paced before her as he spoke, waving his hand dramatically. “And when your travels lead you time and time again into the midst of danger, you faced it without so much as a flinch. You are quite a marvel, my lady, and I confess to being quite taken with you! A striking blossom amidst the endless flower-fields, a…”
Grounded as ever in her bearing, Linaria sighed. “Much as I appreciate your lavish praise, Thancred,” she said graciously, giving him a polite bow. “…what is it I can do for you?”
Thancred winced. “Ever to the point. What this leads me to conclude is that you are indeed the woman I have been looking for.”
A stranger whom she had encountered time and time again, with an ulterior motive? She was unsurprised. “Pray, do explain.”
“As unbelievable as it may seem, I am not your everyday wandering, scholarly soul researching aether – contrary to my previous disclosure of my occupation.” Thancred tapped the side of his nose, a twinkle in his brown eyes. “I am part of an organization dedicated to aetherical abnormalities, but more specifically, those pertaining to individuals such as yourself, my lady, who possess a very particular gift. If my observations are accurate, I speak of your visions.”
There was little point in feigning ignorance. She folded her arms. “Tell me more.”
He grinned again, pleased to have her attention. “Further explanation would be delivered better by the head of my order. I would extend to you an invitation to meet with us at our headquarters – but for security reasons, Mistress Momodi must be the one to divulge its secret location to you. Just let her know that the Scions have found their woman.”
So Momodi is in on this clandestine organization, then. Linaria paused for a moment, pondering on his words and proposition. Truthfully, she would know more of the visions that frequented her mind at both convenient and inconvenient times. And if there was someone out there who could provide answers, perhaps it was worth the endeavor.
“I’ll discuss it with Momodi,” she decided. “But if anything she discloses doesn’t add up with what you’ve spoken of, do not expect me to come wandering in to a very possible… mugging.”
Thancred laid a hand over his heart. “M-my lady, you do wound me so. On my word, my kind and I always and ever act in the best interest of all; and for Eorzea as a whole.” He cleared his throat. “All this being said, there are errands that I must needs finish in this lovely city ere the day reaches its conclusion. I do hope that we shall speak again soon, Linaria.”
He winked, and she responded with a resigned nod. Unfazed, he sauntered off down the street, whistling to himself.
If nothing else, she had to credit him for being able to hold a tune.
She waited until the evening to press Momodi for information. There was plenty of business to attend to in the city — when not otherwise occupied by adventuring work, Linaria did well to keep busy in her tradecraft, and had become an invaluable colleague to Ul’dah’s local weaver’s guild. She knew that her mother would be aghast if she knew that her daughter was taking commissions to clothe noblemen and women in silk gowns rather than creating adventurer’s gear of the ilk that her family was so famous for, but for Linaria’s own part, productivity that brought in coin was all the same. As she made her way into the Quicksand that evening, she noted a few loose threads on her own tabard, and made mental note to run some repairs in her room before departing anywhere the next day.
The adventurer’s guild was busy as ever in the early night hours, but a seat for one was not hard to come by. And as soon as Momodi caught sight of Linaria sidling into a barstool, she shoo’ed way the other customers pestering her with questions that could be answered otherwise by the Quicksand’s other employees, and proceeded to drag her stool back over to Linaria’s spot.
“What can I help ya with, m’dear?”
“Tell me more about Thancred Waters,” Linaria cradled her fresh mug of orange juice, “and these ’Scions’ of his.” From somewhere up in the rafters, Zephyr fluttered down to perch on the tip of Linaria’s bow, which was resting by her side. The bird chirr’ed expectantly. “Sorry, girl – nothing to share here.”
Momodi scowled at the hawk. “Thancred, eh? I knew it was only a matter of time before this came up, since the two of ya were acquainted. Aside from the long trail of pining maidens he leaves in his wake, he’s the Scions’ point-man in Ul’dah.”
“But what does that mean?” Linaria took a long sip.
“The Scions of the Seventh Dawn are an unaffiliated organisation, that serves Eorzea as a whole,” Momodi began to explain. “Though there certainly ain’t too many of them, it’s because they’re very selective of whom they allow within their ranks. In particular, I mean, it’s singularly those with particularly special gifts, such as yourself, who also happen to prove ‘emselves to not be just another crackpot adventurer.”
“There are plenty of other heroes out there with abnormal abilities.”
“Dismissive as ever,” Momodi scoffed. “I’m tellin’ ya, you’re far more special than you give yourself credit for, my girl. Or perhaps old Thancred has taken a particular shine to ya and it’s just his ulterior motives at work.” The Lalafel smirked, but was disheartened at Linaria’s unamused expression. “I’m just kidding with ya. Truly. I’ve been waitin’ for him to send someone my way with his brand of approval. And for what it’s worth, you’ve got my ringing endorsement as well.
“Think of it this way, Linaria.” Momodi leaned forwards on her elbows. “I know you’re the sort to pick up errands and opportunities to solve problems indiscriminately, but at the enda the day, you still show up here lookin’ like a lost kite figuring out where to drift next. The Scions can offer you the direction and purpose that your lackin’ right now in your career. Give ‘em a shot.”
An organization that serves Eorzea as a whole. Linaria pondered on Momodi’s description. “Perhaps you’re right.”
“I’m always right,” Momodi puffed out her cheeks. “I’ll take that as your acquiescence. You’ll find the lot of them in a place called the Waking Sands. It’s out in Vesper Bay, past Horizon — I believe you’re familiar with old Fufulupa over there, aren’tcha?”
“Quite.” She had run many an errand for the Brass Blades in Western Thanalan. “Very well then. Since you’re insistent as ever.”
“If you don’t sleep in as ungracefully late as ya did today, I’ll let ‘em know to expect you tomorrow.”
“…Pray do so.”
The proprietor laughed heartily. “You’re too easy to pick on, ya know that? Anyroad, make sure you get a good meal in. You’ll have a hard time findin’ cooks out there as good as the ones we got here. Another rabbit pie, perhaps? On the house, since ya had to run off on your last one for do-goodin’ and whatnot.”
“I suppose it would be impolite to turn down your generosity,” Linaria smiled. “Especially if I am not to return to Ul’dah for a few days.”
Momodi smirked as she hopped off her stool to badger her cooks. “If all goes well, here’s hopin’ they’ll keep ya.”
Mistress Momodi’s Accounts
Stormchaser, Linaria. Midlander Hyur, female, mid-twenties. Notably accomplished with the bow and associated bard’s battle-magicks, as well as a good touch o’ craftsmanship in the likes of gear-making. Might know that surname by her father; Thordr Stormchaser—Thal rest his soul—a most wonderful warrior of his own name.
I’d think his daughter moseyed up to Eorzea proper to follow in her father’s footsteps, but this girl seems to lack that self-righteous air that so many adventurers tout about – then again, they’re the sort of folk who come by to live a reckless life and then march off and die the next day. We get a lout every now and then “blessed” with the Echo, but most of them use it as a road to fame. This miss wouldn’t know hubris if it smacked ‘er in the face. Hells, if it had been anyone else, I wouldn’ta believed that she didn’t know was the Sultana she rescued that one day; old Papashan’s aliases of discretion are hardly ever effective.
Seems that Her Grace and her court set Linaria a bit on edge, though. Who can blame her? In a city like this, it’s one end of the economic spectrum or the other, and the disparity can be a bit jarrin’, to say the least.
All the same, can’t say I’m surprised Minfilia’s got an eye on her.