The time had finally come for us to sneak into Castrum Centri and I was trying my best to steel my nerves. I watched as Biggs and Wedge performed some final checks to our newly acquired Magitek Reaper when Cid noticed my presence.
"How go your preparations, Rosalyn? We leave as soon as you're ready."
I shrugged my shoulders and offered the engineer a weak smile. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be," I admitted. As far as heroic one-liners went I was fresh out. The door to the hall where we had been storing the Magitek Reaper opened and Glaumunt entered. I didn't expect to see the Highlander here. "Oh, Glaumunt? I didn't know you were coming."
"Aye, thought I'd give you all a roarin' sendoff. 'Tis the least I can do for the fine men an' women what're about to make my life long dreams come true."
"Well, we'll do our best." Cid said, simply shaking his head at Glaumunt's words. "It occurs to me, for all the help you've afforded us, we know little and less about about you. What did the Empire do to earn your ire?" I shot Cid a look and he began to stammer. "I fear I've put curiosity before consideration, I quite understand if you'd rather not relive those memories."
Glaumunt sighed with a shrug. "No, no, I don't mind really. Truth be told a part o' me was itch'n to tell you my tale. Mind you, 'tis hardly novel. I ain't the first to suffer at Imperial hands. Like most folk, I used to have a mother. She was a sweet, carin' woman with a smile never far from her face. There was a sister too. Pretty little thing, she was - gentle as a lamb, but tough as nails. We were poor folk livin' simple lives, but we knew happiness just the same. An' then the Imperials came an' took it all away. When Ala Mhigo fell, they put my family in a camp. Bein' a lad, I was made to do hard labor, while my mother an' sister were forced to do far worse…" He was silent for a moment before continuing. "They hid their sufferin' from me as best they could, but I knew, an' the thought of it drove me mad. We had to escape, so I hatched a plan to get us out o' the city. We were pickin' our way around a gorge not far outside the walls when they caught up with us… An' rather than allow 'emselves to be taken again, my mother an' sister leaped over the edge before my very eyes. Heartbroken as I was, I didn't up up a fight when the Imperials clapped me in chains an' dragged me back. 'Twas some years after that I escaped again, an' that time I got away. I swore then that I'd get revenge on the Empire, an' became an Adventurer so as to hone my skills an' earn the coin I needed. But right on two decades've since gone by, an' what've I achieved? Bugger all, that's what. Not like you lot. You ain't been here ten minutes an' you've already done more'n I managed in ten bloody years."
Cid shook his head. "You give us too much credit, Glaumunt. We seek only to rescue our friends."
"Well, what's more important than that? An' anyroad, after you've got your friends back, you're plannin' on going' after the Empire, an' don't pretend you ain't. I've helped a few folk take on the Imperials over the years, an' every time I have, it's helped stave off my appetite for revenge. But summat tells me I won't be goin' hungry for a while with everythin' you've got planned."
"And you are sure that will satisfy you? If you wish to strike back at the Empire with your own hand, you need only say the word. We would be glad to have you with us." Cid offered.
"Temptin' though your offer is, I'm afeared I must decline. I swore I'd get revenge on the Empire, 'tis true, but I've long since realized that the front lines are no place for a man like me. Aye, there's some as would call me crave, but I prefer to think o' myself as a realist. My talents lie in schemin', ye see, not swordplay. Helpin' folk like you is how I can make the most difference. But that's quite enough storytellin' for one day. Best not keep your friends waitin' any longer. I'll be prayin' for your saftey an' success. May Rhalgr give you strength."
Glaumunt gave us a cheerful farewell despite his sad story and left us to ourselves once more. Cid seemed to be lost in thought before finally speaking what was on his mind. "Wherever the Empire goes, misery invariably follows in its wake. For the sake of all who call Eorzea home, we must put an end to Gaius's ambitions."
I couldn't agree more. My blood was boiling from Glaumunt's tale of his past and it had washed away all my nervous jitters. With anger giving me such strength we needed to get started lest I lose the drive. "First we must rescue our friends."
"Aye. Biggs, Wedge, and I will lie in wait east of Castrum Centri, just outside the stronghold's patrol perimeter. Join us when you're ready. Oh, and don't forget to wear your disguise or this will be the shortest rescue mission in history." Cid smirked, clearly trying to lighten the mood. I would have none of it though, and left the hall without so much as a farewell. I'd see them again soon.
I arrived at the designated rendezvous an hour later and spotted Cid along with Biggs, Wedge, and our Magitek Reaper. Biggs and Wedge were dressed in the other uniforms I had stolen for our plan, and I myself was back in the smelly uniform as well, helmet and all. Cid spotted my approach and waved.
"Forgive me for saying so, but you look rather fine in imperial black and crimson! Definitely your colors." I shot the engineer a look that he clearly managed to see through the visor of the helmet and he gulped. "Ah, but now is not the time for jests… Let's review the infiltration plan. Castrum Centri lies just beyond." Cid turned and motioned off in the distance to the gates of Castrum Centri. "A short while ago, an Imperial patrol left to do its rounds. Alphinaud and I will create a diversion out here and keep them occupied for as long as we are able."
I looked about. Where was Alphinaud anyway? Perhaps he was still making his own preparations. It really did figure that the boy wasn't here. He really did get on my nerves…
"Meanwhile, the three of you will enter the stronghold posing as the patrol returning from duty. Should Alphinaud and I prove less distracting than hoped, I will contact you via linkpearl. Be ready to beat a hasty retreat."
On his signal, Biggs picked Wedge up and tossed him up and into the seat of the Magitek Reaper. It looked like it was time to get this show on the road.
"Wedge will lead the way in the reaper. Stay close to him. And I hardly need to tell you this, but don't do anything suspicious."
"Thanks Cid, I'll keep that under consideration. Don't tip off the enemy soldiers that we don't belong in their base." I looked about once more. It really looked like it would just be myself and the engineers in this endeavor.
"Oh, and lest you wonder, Yda and Y'shtola left shortly before you arrived. We had planned that they should linger in the vicinity to cover our retreat in the event that Alphinaud and I attracted too much attention, but the approach of an Imperial vehicle forced us to improvise."
I frowned. "That gives me a large boost of confidence that we're already making improvisations to this plan of ours."
"Don't be too disappointed," Cid chuckled. "They did at least leave a message for you. Something along the lines of 'don't do anything reckless' if memory serves."
"Wise words," I snorted derisively.
"All right, the Imperial patrol should be returning any moment now, you best be off. Good luck, Rosalyn. May the Twelve keep you."
With that we left the swamp, Wedge leading the way in the Reaper, and appraoched Castrum Centri. For all the hatred and anger that I tried my best to remain focused on, I was starting to grow worried again. There were many ways our plan could fail and as we neared the first gate so to did the first opportunity of failure. The guards at the gate barely batted an eye as we approached, so far so good. They stepped and brought their right fist to their left chest in Imperial Salute and Biggs and I greeted them in kind. By some miracle, the guards opened the gate and granted us entry to Castrum Centri.
Phase One of our rescue mission was a success, which meant we were moving forward with the plan. It was up to me to find out where Minfilia and the others were being held and that meant snooping around and weaseling the information from whoever was stupid enough to talk. I approached a few soldiers, introducing myself as a transferred engineer from Castrum Occidens, and engaged in some useless banter before asking about the prisoners. They were quite ready to brag that they were being held in the storage tower while they were being readied for transport. It seemed we had arrived just in time, any longer and they already would have been on their way to Castrim Meridianum.
I found Biggs and together we sought out the storage tower. The door to the storage area was locked, of course, and Biggs ripped off the security panel and began tinkering with it as though it had already been busted. I'd need to obtain an identification key from someone of high enough rank to gain access. I tried my best to move at a steady, not suspicious at all, pace as I looked about for a higher ranking soldier. I found an Imperial Centurion and fed him some story about needing access to the storage tower under orders of the Tribunus. Not wanting to get into any heat with an officer of higher rank than him, the man gave me his identification key.
Just as I returned to Biggs I spotted Wedge making his way toward us in the Magitek Reaper. I suppose riding the machines around was a common sight because no one seemed to bat an eye at it. I handed the key over to Biggs and we entered the storage area. This section of the Castrum had a number of large containers strewn about, probably containing equipment and supplies if I had to guess. Straight ahead of us was the tower. We approached quickly and opened the doors.
Just inside the tower I could see Minifilia and the others being jostled about by a number of Garleans.
"Thank goodness they're safe!" Biggs said in relief.
"Not if we don't hurry, they're not." I growled.
"I am the one you want! Leave the others be!" Minfilia pleaded with the soldiers drawing about them. I got see Tataru hiding behind her legs, Urianger and Papalymo standing nearby. They all had their hands bound behind their backs. "If you harm my friends, I swear, I shall take my own life and you shall answer to your mistress!"
The soldiers looked to one another and seemed to come to the agreement that stronger force was required to handle their prisoners. Just at that moment, Tataru peered out from behind Minfilia's legs and spotted us hanging outside the doorway. She gaped in recognition then hid behind Minfilia once more.
"We must do something!" Wedge hissed.
"We risk letting the entire castrum know we're here." Biggs replied.
"To hells with that, they're right here! We'll figure out what to do next after we get them out." I argued.
"Aye, you're right, we may not get another chance."
One of the soldiers inside the tower looked away from the prisoners, bringing his hand to his ear. He must have been receiving communication via linkpearl. "This is the third squadron, what is it? ...A Reaper? Seized? When? ...And this came to light only now?" He was quickly becoming agitated with the person on the other side of the linkpearl. "The culprits will have left a trail. Take as many men as you need and scour the area! I want that Reaper found!"
"Now's our chance," I said with a grin. I stepped forward into the tower with Biggs and Wedge in the Reaper to my sides. "Sir! I've found that stolen Reaper." I reached up and pulled off the helmet, tossing it aside to reveal my mad grin.
The soldier's eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. He seemed to have quickly realized what was going on. "E-eliminate the intruders!"
Wedge slammed his fist into his palm and laughed as he dove down on the Reaper controls. The machine bucked wildly and ran straight into the fray. The soldiers may have already had their weapons drawn but they hesitated with the Magitek Reaper bearing down on them. The machine spat bullets and kept the five soldiers running for cover. With them out of the way I ran over to Minfilia.
"Rosalyn, you came!" Minfilia said, astonished.
"Of course I did, why wouldn't I?" I smirked as I started working on the ropes keeping Minfilia tied.
"Unbind us. Together we may yet win free," Urianger urged.
"Hold your chocobo, I'm working as fast as I can." I said through gritted teeth. Minfilia finally came free and I then moved over to assist Urianger, Papalymo, and Tataru. By the time I had freed them all the battle had already been won. The Garleans had been no match for Wedge in the Reaper. With the immediate threat taken care of we took a moment to be rid of our disguises. Surely the rest of the Castrum knew by now we were here.
"Rosalyn! I was so scared…" Tataru whimpered. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Wedge watching the girl closely. Was he upset that she had come running to me and not to him?
"It was foolish of you to come here. You might have been killed!" Minfilia admonished lightly. "But, I thank you all the same. I shudder to think what might have happened had you not arrived when you did." On closer inspection I could see that a bruise was developing on her cheek. Someone had struck her recently and I clenched my fists to restrain myself.
"I say, did you not see Thancred anywhere?" Papalymo chimed in. "I'm beginning to fear for the fellow…"
Now that he mentioned it, I hadn't seen Thancred in a long while. Was he too captured? Thinking back, I didn't see him during my Echo vision of Waking Sands being taken. If he had not been there when it happened, where could he have been and why had he not rejoined us? Or, if that's not the case, was he already dead somewhere? I could only frown in answer and Papalymo hung his head in worry.
"To linger here shall yield us no answer. Let us away, ere the window to our liberty close shut." Urianger said quietly. I could only agree.
We made haste out of the tower and started toward a gate into the depths of the Castrum. There was no way we'd make it back out the front with all the soldiers there, our only hope would be to find another way out.
"There they are! Fan out! Surround them!" A large number of soldiers came running in our direction from the storage area.
I heard Wedge mumbling something to himself. "Biggs! I'm going in! See everyone to safety!" Atop the Reaper, Wedge must have been feeling invincible. He piloted the machine to meet the soldiers head on and the gate slammed shut behind him.
"Wedge! No, don't!" Biggs yelled after him, but it was too late. Besides, we had our own problems bearing down on us. Another group of soldiers were quickly approaching from our route of escape with a Vanguard in tow. Biggs frowned grimly. "Rosalyn, hold them off. I'll look after Minfilia and Tataru."
I drew my bow and together Urianger, Papalymo and I stood before the approaching enemy. Sirens were beginning to go off in the compound and a voice rang out. "All units to emergency stations! Do not let the prisoners escape!"
Urianger summoned a Topaz Carbuncle and sent it after the Vanguard to distract it while he flung magic. Papalymo busied himself throwing balls of flame and chunks of ice at a number of the soldiers, while I sought out their healers and dealt with them.
"This infernal creation is shielded by energies not its own." Urianger called out over the din of battle.
"Whatever is generating its shield must be near! Find it, Rosalyn!" Papalymo yelled.
I glanced over and sure enough, the magic that Urianger was throwing at the Vanguard was hitting some kind of barrier before it landed against the machine. I felt bad leaving them to do the hard work but if I didn't find whatever they were using to create the barrier we would never escape. With bow in hand and arrow readied I ran about the area looking for the source of the shield. I spotted a soldier tending to a machine underneath a large drainage pipe and struck him down with an arrow. Not sure how to operate the device I did what anyone in my situation would do, I destroyed it by bashing it with a rock.
With the device destroyed I ran back to the fray and we put all of our effort into destroying the Vanguard. Just as the machine was about to fall reinforcements arrived.
"What in the hells is that!?" Biggs shouted. Following just behind the soldiers was something I had never seen before. It was shaped like an armored man and stood as tall as the Magitek Vanguard, carrying a massive sword. The Magitek Colossus swung the blade and we all retreated to avoid being struck down by it.
Papalymo and Urianger threw their magic at the Colossus while I plucked off the soldiers who came running in with it. Compared to their machines, the Garleans were only human and my arrows did well to fell them. Under the onslaught of their magic the Magitek Colossus finally fell to the ground with a mighty crash.
We continued our retreat with more reinforcements on our heels until we came upon a cliff face. We had clearly made a wrong turn somewhere and had no where left to turn. I stood in front of our friends, shielding them from the soldiers.
"Take the leader, kill the rest." A Centurion commanded. These soldiers, a cut above the fodder that we had been dealing with earlier, leveled their gunblades at us. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and just as they fired Y'sthola slipped past them and in front of us, throwing a barrier around us all. The bullets ricocheted off the barrier, completely useless.
"Pray forgive us our delay!" The Miqo'te said as her barrier fell.
An Imperial let out a yell and rushed forward with his gunblade at the ready. He was suddenly knocked aside, thrown away like a ragdoll by Yda's punch. More soldiers rushed her and she deftly avoided their blows, delivering her own attacks until the soldiers grew hesitant to approach her.
"Papalymo! Minfilia!" She greeted her friends happily, as though we weren't in the midst of enemy territory. That's Yda for you.
"What took you so long?" Papalymo asked with harrumph.
"Well, it's nice to see you too!" She said cheerfully. A soldier came rushing up behind her as her back was turned to them, only to be blasted down by a gout of flame from Papalymo.
"This reunion must wait." Y'shtola said.
"Right, first things first." Yda chimed in.
"Yes, let's get back to being heavily outnumbered…" Papalymo added sarcastically.
I stepped forward with the three of them and readied my bow. I looked up at the sound of a scream and saw Wedge running in our direction, being chased by a number of soldiers. He slipped past our line of defense and joined us once more.
"You ditched your magitek armor? You fool of a Lalafell." Biggs chided. Sure enough, just in the distance there was our hard earned Magitek Reaper being reclaimed by the Garleans.
"Well excuse me! She's all yours if you think you can do any better!" Wedge shouted back after catching his breath.
"Can we get back to more pressing matters?" I asked. "Like the horde of Imperials ready to cut us down?"
We were certainly in dire straits. Despite the soldiers that Yda had downed when she joined us a dozen more had easily replaced them, though it only took a half a dozen to corner us at this cliff. It looked like this was the end of our rescue plan. And I suppose I really only had myself to blame. We had deviated from the plan and alerted the Garleans to our presence. We should have just pretended to be the guards transporting them to Castrum Meridianum and escaped with them in transit. Hindsight's a bitch.
There was a commotion coming from the group of soldiers near the Reaper and I looked over. The Reaper had come to life with no pilot, its lights flashing and engine roaring. Was this because of the Mammet Heart we had installed in it? The Reaper began to buck wildly, flailing its mouth-like adornment and aiming its massive cannon at anyone that drew near. The soldiers, even the ones that had been inching us closer to the cliff, turned to watch what the possessed machine would do. No one wanted to approach it.
There was suddenly the sound of static in my ear. "This is Cid! Can you hear me!?" He called out over the linkpearl.
I brought my hand to my ear and replied. "Loud and clear."
"I need you to count to five, then jump! Understood?"
Everyone looked to me then we all at once looked out over the cliff.
"One…" Y'shtola began.
"Two!" Yda, cheery as ever at the prospect of throwing ourselves to our death.
"Three." Papalymo with a grim look of determination on his face.
"Four." Minfilia, her jaw set.
"Five!" I shouted and we all jumped into the abyss… Only to land hard onto the deck of the Enterprise as it rose up to meet up.
As we flew up and over Castrum Centri I looked down to see that the soldiers has subdued our Magitek Reaper. It had distracted them long enough to give Cid time to arrive, saving our lives.
The airship pitched to the right suddenly as a brilliant beam of green light blasted past us into the sky. We had barely managed to avoid it and the lot of us stumbled across the deck.
"What in the seven hells!?" Cid cursed. We looked down and there was Gaius and his Allagan machine.
"Oh no… It's here.." Alphinaud said quietly.
"Twelve preserve us… They finished it. Ultima Weapon."
"That thing has a name!?" I nearly shouted.
"It is a relic of ancient Allag, excavated from its resting place deep beneath Ala Mhigo." Minfilia explained. "The Allagans used it to crush Primal and foe alike, and now the Garleans mean to do the same."
"Damn you Gaius!" Cid shouted.
"Look, there beside the Black Wolf!" Alphinaud pointed. "An Ascian!" I looked down and glared at the sight below us. That crimson symbol glowed in front of his mask. Lahabrea stood beside Gaius, watching us. "An overlord, no less. His garb attests to that."
"Lahabrea!" I shouted. He looked up directly at me and I saw the smirk on his lips. He reached up slowly with one hand, through that glowing symbol, and with his other reached for his hood. With no grand movements, no evil laughter, he removed his mask and hood and revealed his face to us.
I gripped the rail tightly, and not just because it wasn't who I thought it was all along.
"Thancred!" Minfilia gasped. Thancred, a member of our own Scions, was Lahabrea. His eyes narrowed and he grinned as that crimson symbol appeared before his face once more. "He was Lahabrea..? No, no this cannot be!" The look on Minfilia's face was that of outright shock and betrayal.
Before we could get any more answers, Ultima Weapon raised its arm and shot another blast that seemed to set the sky ablaze.
"We have to go now! Hang on!" Cid shouted above the cacophony as he took evasive maneuvers and piloted us higher into the sky and away from Castrum Centri. I'll never forget how, even above the sound of explosions, I could hear Minfilia's anguished cry and Lahabrea's manic laughter.
Some time later, we were high in the sky far and away from Castrum Centri. We had all been silent since we made our escape, too caught up in our own thoughts to celebrate our victory. No one wanted to broach the sore subject, finding comfort in the silence and the sorrow.
"All that time, the enemy was beside me…. And I never even suspected…" Alphinaud said, breaking the reverie. His voice was tinged with sadness and self-loathing, a tone that I was all too familiar with at the moment. "And to think that it was I who suggested that Thancred investigate the Ascians! How could I have been so blind?" He slammed his fist into a support beam and let out a noise of irritation. Seeing him now, like this, I could completely put aside all of his sharp comments he'd aimed at me in these last few days. I knew exactly how he felt, we all did. "Small wonder the enemy knew our every move and where to find us." He sneered sarcastically, only adding to the misery. "Confound it all!"
"That's enough!" The slap rang out over the sound of the rushing wind. I hadn't even realized I had done it until I was standing before Alphinaud with my hand still in the air. I lowered my hand slowly, my anger slowly fading away. "That's enough…" I repeated, unable to find any more words.
"No, no, you're right… This is not the time for self-doubt. The Alliance leaders staked their hopes on the Scions, but now they believe us all dead or missing. When they learn of the Empire's new weapon, we cannot be certain what they will do. We must go and offer them what assurances we can that defeat is not inevitable."
I looked out over the group, the remainder of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, and saw that they all were watching us. One by one they were all snapping out of their sorrow and looking to us with hope. My eyes landed on Minfilia, who had turned away with her hand to her ear. She was talking to someone via linkpearl, trying to get an update on our current situation no doubt.
"The situation may have taken an ill turn, but the battle is far from over. And so long as we stand together, there shall ever be hope of victory."
"You change your tune so quickly," I began with a small smile. "It's a good thing you're not a Bard."
Alphinaud nodded and turned to face the others. "The people of Eorzea falter for want of such hope. Let us provide it. Let us bear to them the tidings that the Scions of the Seventh Dawn are returned." There was a rousing round of agreement from the others and Alphinaud looked to me, more determined than ever. "Matters are coming to a head. I hope I can count on you."
"You've trusted me this far, haven't you? What's a few more hopeless battles between friends?" I let out a little laugh and was surprised that it was sincere. "I'm sorry about hitting you."
Alphinaud shook his head, smiling.
"Yes, thank you, and give my regards to Grandfather," I heard Minfilia saying, the tail end of her conversation via linkpearl. She looked to me then out at her companions. "I am ready. Let us pay a visit to the council of the Alliance leadership."
Cid set course for Ul'dah, urging the Enterprise to fly as fast as it could. Little did I know that at that moment, the council of the Alliance was busily discussing the terms of Eorzea's surrender. If I had the even the slightest of hints, I wouldn't have been able to catch what sleep I could on the flight. It's for the better that I did, however, because I wouldn't be sleeping much in the days to come.
Here we are, we are now entering the final act of the main scenario . This one was fun to write because we got to some pretty cool stuff. However, the worst part of writing in first person means that you miss the cool things that happen when you're not around, like Y'shtola and Yda fighting Livia sas Junius. I may revisit that cutscene later and borrow some of the dialogue to place into the fight against her later.
How about that twist? Didn't see that coming, did you? Or maybe you did. I've already had the discussion on whether or not it was a surprise.
There are only eight missions left, a couple running around quests, a boss fight, and then two dungeons that are a series of boss fights pretty much. With the dungeons come the return of the supporting cast. Hopefully, if I can make it happen, I'll be dragging the lot of them through the dungeons to actually get screenshots with all of them included. I can't make any promises.
So, as I said, we're nearing the end. I hope that everyone who has stuck around this long continues to read long. It only gets better from here. Please look forward to it.