The Crystal's Call - Lord of the Inferno

I awoke to the sound of water dripping to the cold stone floor underneath me. As my wits slowly came back to me I began to wonder how I always ended up in situations like this. Here I was, bound and gagged, recovering from a potent sleep spell, a number of Immortal Flames soldiers here in a similar state, all being guarded by Amal’jaa. I shimmied along the rough stone floor of the cavern we were currently being held in and managed to shift into a sitting position using the wall. Not knowing how long I had been held captive, I began to go over the events that lead me to this point.

I had met with Thancred on that morning to continue our investigation into the rash of kidnappings around the town of Drybone. Our messy trail of leads eventually confirmed our suspicions that the Amal’jaa were involved, but they had obtained outside help. Someone was masquerading as a priest of the local church and luring the commonfolk into a false sense of security, only to have them whisked away by the Amal’jaa. Thancred decided to lay a trap for the false priest by pretending to be one of the refugees. With a pair of ragged clothes and copious amounts of dirt as our disguises, we slipped into the ranks of refugees with ease.

Luckily we hadn’t been in town long enough to be recognized, and the same people that refused to speak to me the day before were now more than willing to speak to me about their problems. With some clever probing we learned that the priest in question could often be found at a pond north of Sandgate, directly east of Drybone. We set off in our refugee disguises and waited at the lake for a short time. Our luck continued to hold as the priest did show up and begin to speak to us. Thancred played the part of a commoner long enough to ensnare the priest, then accused the man.

The priest removed the hood covering his face and turned out to be none other than Ungust, the merchant from Ul’Dah and Drybone. With Thancred and I bearing down on him, he could do nothing more than admit to his crimes and turn himself in. We returned to Drybone and handed him over to the Immortal Flame soldiers stationed there and began to discuss our next course of action. The kidnapping victims would still be alive, as they were needed for the Amal’jaa’s plans, but we were unable to get their location from Ungust. With no other option we decided to use Ungust as bait in luring out the beastmen.

Ungust told us that he would take the people up to ruins to the north known as the Invisible City where the Amal’jaa met with him and took his captives off his hands. Before entering the ruins we let the man head in alone so as not to give away our position. I waited beside a Flame Sergeant and his troops until the Amal’jaa appeared. We rushed in and began our attack. As soon as we entered the ruins proper we found ourselves pinned in on all sides by the beastmen. We had sprung our trap, but another was sprung on us. A number of the Immortal Flames soldiers broke away from the Sergeant and I and joined Ungust. We had been tricked from the very beginning.

Not one to give up without a fight I lobbed the first volley of magic at the nearest Amal’jaa and all hell broke loose. There were easily a dozen of the beastmen against myself, the Flame Sergeant, and two loyal troops who had not turned on us.

The Crystal's Call - Lord of the Inferno

As the Sergeant fought toe to toe with an Amal’jaa lancer I distracted a pair of archers, ducking behind the stone pillars to avoid their arrows and throwing magic back as they reached for new ones from their quivers. I began to curse the fact that I hadn’t summoned a Carbuncle familiar before rushing into the battle. It was something that I really needed to get into the practice of doing.

It really looked like we were going to rout the Amal’jaa for a moment there. We all fought fiercely, the anger from our betrayal fueling us on. A second wave of the beastmen entered the ruins and I saw the Flame Sergeant go down underneath the press of bodies. While my attention was turned an Amal’jaa Thaumaturge got the better of me and I felt its magic making my body become sluggish. I fought the urge to lie down and sleep, but it was too much and I collapsed to the marble floor.

I rested my head back against the wall of my prison and watched the water droplets slowly form and drip from the stalactites to the ground before me. The Immortal Flames soldiers, including the Sergeant, had finally come around and taken stock of our predicament. There was no way that I could see out of this one, and so I waited. I counted off how long it took for a droplet to form and fall to the floor, then began counting off the droplets. It was crude, but the only way to determine how much time passed while in captivity. I lost it on the tenth droplet and began to thrash about pitifully. I was contemplating finding a sharp rock on the floor to cut my bindings when the Amal’jaa guards stepped away from the exit and a larger group entered. Ungust and his cronies were with the beastmen.

We were all rounded up, our gags and bindings removed, and marched under heavy guard out of the cavern system and into the plains of Thanalan above. All of the kidnapping victims were already rounded up and waiting in ranks. I growled at the beastman that shoved me to the ground alongside the rest. One of the beastmen appeared to be more important than the rest, he carried with him a large ornate staff. He raised it high into the air and the Amal’jaa began to pray to their Primal, Ifrit. They were summoning the Lord of Infernos.

Strange things happen when Primals appear. They feast upon Aether and unnatural events occur because of it, strange weather patterns being the most predominant. As the summoning ritual drew on, the air around us grew hot and humid. The vapor in the air made it appear as though the sun were being eclipsed, and soon the sky was a burning red blazing bright from the sun’s corona. There was a burst of flame in the air, small at first, but quickly growing. From the flame Ifrit emerged with a deafening roar and landed before us.

The Crystal's Call - Lord of the Inferno

The people cowered, frightened greatly by the beast. I stared straight ahead at it, desperately thinking of a way out. My fierce attention was drawn away when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked, but wasn’t quick enough to see the source.

I nearly jumped in shock when Ungust and his traitorous lackeys were thrown to the ground before me. The merchant pleaded with the Amal’jaa, but it seemed they had had enough of him and he would become another sacrifice for Ifrit. The Primal towered over us then breathed out a blue flame that washed over us. This flame didn’t burn, but it tempered. Primals thrive on Aether, and to get it they need prayer. They had devised a way to turn people into their thralls, brainwashed to give their prayers and their Aether up to Primals. As the blue flames washed over us I saw the kidnapped people and the soldiers begin to bow down and offer up their thanks to Ifrit. I stood up, clearly unaffected by the flames. Ifrit was just as surprised as I was.

“You are one of the Godless Ones the Paragons have warned me of. I cannot suffer you to live!” The Primal reared up to strike me down and let loose another gout of flame. I threw my arms up to shield myself instinctively and I felt the heat of the blaze blow past me.

The flame breath had been diverted to either side of me as it was being blocked away by Oliver Koenig. “Looks like we arrived just in time!” He shouted over the din of the blaze. “If that doesn’t make me some big damn hero, I don’t know what does.” He shot me a quick grin over his shoulder and turned his attention back to the enraged Primal.

The Amal’jaa and the enthralled people had retreated away from Ifrit’s fires and I quickly realized that Oliver wasn’t the only one to show up. Ratie Farsight and Eyriwaen Zirhmusyn had also arrived. The Roegdayn Conjurer tossed me my book and I snapped it open with a flick of my wrist, summoning a Carbuncle familiar. The four of us and my familiar were now encircled by walls of flame reaching high into the sky. Ifrit stood opposite us, bellowing out his challenge.

“Now is not exactly the time to be screwing around,” I warned Oliver. “Ifrit has the power of a god.”

The Elezen Gladiator thought for a moment. “A god huh? I’ve never slain a god before.” He grinned roguishly. “Well then, let’s do this!” Oliver ran headlong toward Ifrit, his shield held high in front of him. The Primal lashed out with an arc of fiery breath that Oliver dispersed away from him with his shield. He struck at Ifrit’s face with his sword and blocked rending claws and thrusted horns with his shield.

“Pleasure to see you again so soon, Rosalyn,” Ratie said with a sly smile. “Heard any voices lately?”

I was about to shoot back a snide comment but the Thaumaturge had already joined the fray by throwing shards of ice and bolts of lightning at the Lord of Infernos. I threw my own missiles of magic at the Primal, my Carbuncle familiar joining in close combat to scratch and pound against the massive beast’s legs. Eyriwaen stood near me, casting protective barriers on everyone and healing Oliver’s wounds as he gained them.

“How’d you find me?” I asked between a round of magic.

“The Scions,” he answered from behind his mask. “They sent us out looking for you. You’ve been missing for three days.”

“Gods, three days!?” I gritted my teeth and launched another salvo of magic at Ifrit. I was about to ask Eryiwaen another question when the ground beneath our feet began to rumble and crack. Steam burst from the cracks and we moved without hesitation. No sooner had we escaped the steam fire erupted upward where we had stood. Ifrit stood his ground against Oliver, trading blow for blow. The rest of us continued to move about the confined battlefield as the ground continued to erupt upward in geysers of flame.

“Your souls shall burn for all eternity!” Ifrit bellowed and a spear of solidified Aether slammed into the ground. I felt a power emanating from that spear, it was resonating with Ifrit’s strength. I had a gut feeling that bad things would happen if we didn’t destroy it immediately. I turned my attention from Ifrit to the spear of Aether and I saw Ratie doing the same. Eyriwaen continued to focus on keeping Oliver up and fighting.

The spear shattered under our magical strikes with not a moment to lose. Ifrit leapt into the center of the battlefield and rose into the air, fire enveloping him. We gathered back together, bracing for what was to come.

The Crystal's Call - Lord of the Inferno

Ifrit let out a mighty roar and the air around us turned to flame. We should have been burned alive but there we stood amidst the flames. When the flames cleared I could see Oliver holding aloft his shield which still shone with a brilliant light. The light faded and he rushed back in to face Ifrit once more. The Primal, however, wouldn’t be defeated so easily.

The ground below our feet began to melt into magma and we rushed to safer ground. The melted sections of the ground exploded into flames only for more of the ground to melt around us. We were being drawn in closer and closer to where Ifrit was doing battle with Oliver. We threw everything we had at the beast, Eyriwean even going so far as to launch stones and buffet it with wind, until finally the beast let out one last roar and collapsed. His corpse burst into flame which quickly shrank until it became extinguished.

With the Primal gone the immediate area around us had been restored to normal. The ring of fire no longer blocked our escape and the air no longer shimmered from the heat. I dropped to the ground where I stood and looked up to the group of adventurers that had saved my life. “That was rough…”

“You’re telling me,” Oliver grinned. “That thing needs to lay off the spicy food.”

“It was the Echo that kept me from becoming a thrall like the others, wasn’t it?”

Eyriwaen nodded. “Minfilia assured us you’d be alright, and instructed us that it would be the perfect time to strike. We’ve been camped out here waiting for the Amal’jaa to summon Ifrit this whole time.”

“I can’t thank you all enough.” I looked out around us, taking note that the Amal’jaa and the enthralled victims had escaped. “We should probably get out of here though.” The others agreed and started making preparations to go. While they were busy I noticed a red crystal where laying where Ifrit had collapsed. One of the Crystals of Light? I quickly picked it up and hid it in my pack.

We left by means of teleporting to Camp Horizon. We were expected to report to the Waking Sand immediately after the successful extraction and I wasn’t going to argue against any place that wasn’t a cave. My rescuers were welcomed in as heroes and I made a hasty retreat to one of the less occupied rooms of the Scion headquarters.

I sat for some time alone until Thancred joined me. The minstrel praised me for another job well done. But I had failed, been captured, and endangered others in an attempt to rescue me, how could he possibly count it as a success? Thancred spoke to me of the Echo and the power it holds against the Primals, allowing those who possess it to resist a Primal’s will. He spoke bitterly and I realized that he was just as upset as I had been. I asked him what was bothering him and he informed me that Ifrit’s thralls, the people we had failed to save, were put to death to stymie Ifrit’s strength. That was the problem with Primals. So long as there were people to pray to them they’d keep coming back, and there was no way to rescue someone once enthralled.

We sat in silence for some time, neither one daring to be the person to break our sullen state. Sometimes it was just easier to sit and hide for once. Thancred stood up without a word. I could see in his eyes a renewed energy and he left me on my own. He certainly looked determined. Had he found some sort of will to go on? Evening drew on and still I sat in the Waking Sands even while the Scions of the Seventh Dawn were winding down their activities. I left my sulking corner and wandered aimlessly through the halls until I found myself standing in front of The Solar. I hadn’t even reported to Minfilia myself since I had returned.

I knocked on the door and there was no answer, but I entered anyway. The room was empty, she must have gone out. I stood before Minfilia’s large desk and for the first time really noticed what she had hanging on the wall. Broken into numerous fragments by Bahamut’s powerful rage, the remains of Louisoix’s staff had been turned into a sort of memorial that hung upon the wall. I stared at the staff for some time, unaware of the footsteps behind me. Minfilia rested her hand on my shoulder without saying a word. Did her Echo work on me, one of the Warriors of Light who had been lost and forgotten? Or was she just able to tell that I had been through so much and cherished hiding in the silence? I tried not to carry my emotional scars as visibly as the one on my face. Was I always this weak, this broken? No. I had once been strong, strong enough that a man believed in me and others so much that he sacrificed his life for us. That strong girl, with feather in her hat and bow in hand, she wouldn’t be hiding in the dark.

I finally turned away from the memorial and gave Minfilia a weak smile. She offered me a place to stay for the night which I accepted gratefully. I tried to back out of it when she insisted on giving me her chambers for the night but there was no arguing with her. Minfilia left me for the night, but not before making a remark concerning the Wild Rose. I won’t repeat her words here, even some things are too private to be written.

—-

Is it just me or does it feel like the room just got a couple hundred degrees warmer? Oh man was writing that one tough. I wanted the fight to be epic but I didn't want to drag it out any longer than it had to be. And then of course I couldn't finish it properly until I could get home to watch the cutscenes again. With youtube blocked at work I was unable to check out Ifrit's dialogue before the fight. It really wasn't anything all that special, unfortunately, but you get the gist of it. I had considered writing his few pieces of dialogue in all caps as a way of showing how loud/powerful he is, but I felt it might have been a bit obnoxious.

So here we are at what was the end of the Open Beta content. We're three weeks past the official release now and 25,000 words into the thick of it. It's no 3.6 million word Smash Bros. fanfiction but it's not too shabby. I was wondering if I should take a break from the main storyline now and do some side stories, like perhaps the Arcanist quests. I'll eventually be hitting the point where my character switches from Arcanist to Scholar and I can only do it smoothly by skipping a chunk of time between entries. Perhaps a side-story is in order soon.

The next to story-arcs within the main story concern the Primal Ramuh, then the Primal Titan. The arc concerning Ramuh and the Sylph is quite silly and should be fun to write. The arc concerning Titan and the Company of Heroes, however, I have a feeling is going to be a slog-fest. While it does contain a fun dungeon in Haukke Manor, it's also one very very long fetch quest that is reminiscent in length to "Three Paths" from Final Fantasy XI's Chains of Promathia expansion. If you played through it, you know that that single part of the story took at least a week to work through. The tasks given to the player by the Company of Heroes may not take a week to finish, but it sure as hell felt like it.

I think I've managed to turn even the most boring quests into something enjoyable though. Everything does eventually fit together, even little fetch quests, when you look at it in the grand scheme of things. Everything needs to be taken as small self-contained story arcs within a massive story. The events of Summerford Farm leading up to the encounter with the Serpent Reavers and the Ascian. The kidnappings and robbery around camp Drybone leading the fight against Ifrit. These tasks seem minuscule and annoying when you want to just rush through them, but they're not without their reason. I'm sure that when I do get to the fetch-a-thon, I'll be able to do something with it to make it feel smoother. Please look forward to it.