Chapter Twelve: Precious Resources

Camp Drybone

The early morning wind blew through the area, providing a cool breeze for the people of Camp Drybone. Gathered outside its gates, a merchant caravan would soon depart from the settlement once the final inspections from the Immortal Flames were completed. Some of the Scions would be departing with this group, and those leaving made their final preparations before they left. While others used this time to procure supplies or equipment, Noctis used this time to sneak in a private moment with Luna.

The two weren't truly alone though. Joining them for company were two dogs, one black and the other white. Umbra rested his head on Noctis's lap, while Luna sat beside him and had Pryna rested on hers. The two messengers had been present at the camp ever since Noctis first arrived, and easily guided him to Luna's location in Ula's recovery room. They never went inside the room directly, out of respect for the prohibition of animals in patient rooms. Whenever Noctis or Luna were outside though, at least one of the canines would dutifully follow them.

"My Astral theology is spotty but I don't think anyone ever mentioned a 'Garuda' before." Noctis scratched the dark-furred dog's head to the astral messenger's enjoyment.

It didn't escape Noctis how comical image of a cat-person giving a dog such affection would look in his old world.

"You would be correct," Beside him, Luna was gently caressing Pryna's fur- the dog similarly pleased with the careful ministrations. "However, among the stories of the gods and their messengers, there is a story regarding the 'emissary of the wind'. An avian messenger who carried the words of astrals upon her wings, and through the winds, spread the word to all."

"Huh," grunted Noctis. "Anything else that might be useful to know?" Any detail, however unsubstantial it might be, could help them in their fight against the primal.

Luna answered with a shake of her head. "The only other information I remember- the messenger was defeated by the gods, then fell into a slumber. Even through my tenure as the Oracle, I have never encountered such a messenger- nor even a name ascribed to her."

Noctis peered down at the messenger enjoying his scratches. "You think they could tell us if she's real?"

As if in reaction to his words, Umbra raised his head from Noctis's lap and locked eyes with him. Noctis suddenly grew excited, knowing what the dark-furred messenger was about to do. He stared at Umbra intently, not breaking any eye contact, awaiting the sudden dive into a memory.

However, Umbra simply let out a big yawn at him before lazily resting his head back at Noctis's lap. The exchange elicited a small giggle from Luna.

"I fear," a smile playing on her lips. "We can only imagine. However for Garuda, we have more than enough accounts to complete a picture of this primal."

"At least we have that," sighed Noctis. "Which more than we have regarding this airship we're supposed to be looking for. You sure there's no other way?"

"As… inadequate as our information may be, this is our best mode of action in stopping Garuda."

Calling in 'best' was being generous mused Noctis. According to what they had gathered about Garuda, her domain was far up the mountainous areas of Ixali territory. Unfortunately, there wasn't a conveniently placed aetheryte they could access to shorten a terrestrial expedition. Neither could they count on waiting for Garuda to descend from the skies as she could already have wreaked havoc and disappeared by the time they received news about it. Their only recourse was to travel directly by airship.

However, that option wasn't any better. Fitting her moniker as the 'Lady of the Vortex', Garuda's domain was guarded by strong winds that would easily tear apart any currently used airship by the Eorzean City-states. A Garlean one probably could, but Noctis highly doubted there would be able to ask them for help. Even though technically such a bewildering circumstance did happen during his original travels, but it was best not to rely on such unusual possibility.

"Yo," a newly arrived Alex greeted them which the two returned. At the hyur's approach, the two dogs raised their heads in attention and surveyed Alex, causing him to pause in his step. He was momentarily taken aback but the canines' sudden action, but when they performed no further action, he continued his approach. "Overheard you guys talking about Garuda. Anything important?"

"Just making sure we don't have any better ideas that what we already planned." Noctis answered

"Why? I think we finally got the details down?" wondered Alex. "We're leaving to find the Enterprise so we can fly up to kill Garuda?"

"Except the last known sighting of this 'Enterprise' was five years ago," countered Noctis. "Even assuming the airship managed to somehow survive the Calamity and the following years, the only person who can fly said ship can't even remember his own name." he gestured to a person standing with another group apart from them, unaware of the Scion's conversation.

"Well, I can vouch the old Cid's airship was one hells of an airship," attested Alex. "Used it to take us wherever we need to go. Even to Garuda one time. I'm sure Cid'll be able to do it again like before." Alex observed Cid talk with other members of the church. "The beard's new though," He absent mindedly rubbed his own chin.

Alex's own endorsement and accounts of Cid's capabilities was mostly what convinced the Scions to even attempt this flimsy plan of theirs, despite Alphinaud's insistence that everything would work out. It was the young elezen who had revealed Cid's identity, stated the plan to retrieve the airship, then use it to reach Garuda, and eventually vanquish her. However, that was as far as his plan went. Details weren't that well thought out. One such detail was where to even find this fabled airship. None of them knew where it was currently anchored and even Alex's last memories of the airship had been from just before the Battle of Carteneau.

Thankfully, Luna had stepped in and asked their members in the field to inquire from the various Grand Companies about any reports regarding any of the airship's sightings during the fight. The details from the separate reports were sporadic but together they were enough pieces to put together a full story. After dropping Alex's group at the battlefield, the battered airship needed to dock at the nearest port. The city-states were too far to reach with the chaotic battlefield but one of the Grand Company's soldiers reported mentioning a finished, but not yet in use, airship landing to Cid. The same soldier rode on the airship to guide it to the mentioned port and escorted Cid back to Carteneau. Unfortunately the same soldier had passed away but they were able to get the exact location of the airship from the report.

At least they were able to narrow down a destination now.

"If only we could figure out how to solve the memory problem," said Alex.

"Did you have any luck with that?" Noctis referred to the planned solution Luna mentioned before she left Costa del Sol.

"Unfortunately, we had little success during the attempt. Perhaps if we had more time..." Luna trailed of. The Tayuun sisters had been unable to attempt another trial when the Garlean's attacked and Ula was in no condition to undergo an experimental mental procedure at the moment.

"Yeah, the Echo's many things but consistency isn't one of them," commented Alex. "But considering Cid can still fix stuff without even remembering exactly how, maybe his airship-piloting skills are the same?"

The group exchange silent looks at each other, clear aware none of them wanted to keep pointing out more flaws in their plan. Everyone was well aware of just how much they were leaving to chance but it didn't make it any easier to accept. Unfortunately it was really the best anyone could hope for.

"Look. I know this plan has more holes than illuminati cheese," Alex weekly started. "But at least we're doing something with a small chance of success, than not doing anything and fail completely," he sounded more confident as he went on. "As Scions, we can't just let the fear of the unknown prevent us from our goal. Safeguarding the future of Eorzea right?"

A loud bark came from Umbra, to the surprise of everyone gathered even causing some looks their way.

Noctis gave a chuckle and patted Umbra. "Looks like he agrees. Guess that means you're right." Another bark from Umbra as if to confirm it. "Not a bad speech." he light-heartedly chided Alex.

"Well, I had to learn to give them eventually- instead of just receiving them right?" Alex humoredly answered even eliciting a giggle from Luna. "Thanks for the vote of support Umbra."

Alex moved to pet the dark-furred canine but Umbra ducked underneath his hand and jumped down from his resting spot. Pryna quickly followed her counterpart and the two dogs walked away from the group, oblivious to the puzzled expression of the Scions.

"They always like that?" Alex recalled his outstretched hand.

Noctis simply answered with a shrug.

As if to substitute for the departing dogs, Alphinaud made his way to the group with an eager spring in his step.

"Finally they have finished the inspections," explained the young elezen. "We'll soon be leaving, Lady L'una," he addressed the senior-most member of the group.

"Looks like this finally happening," remarked Alex. "We'll make sure Cid's ready," he placed a hand on Alphinaud's shoulder but addressed Noctis. "Meet you at the carriage."

"Why don't we just all go now?" questioned Alphinaud.

"Come now, Alphinaud," Alex ignored the question and lead Alphinaud away from Noctis and Luna.

"He keeps on doing that."

"It's rather gentlemanly of him," commented Luna.

"... I can be gentlemanly too," Noctis said under his breath.

Luna seemed to have heard it either way as she giggled at Noctis's pouty expression. She took his hand in hers and gave Noctis a comforting squeeze. He shifted his hand and intertwined his fingers with hers.

"You be careful alright?"

"Those should be my words," Luna said playfully.

"Considering what happened last time…" Noctis trailed off. "It'll just be you two until Yda and the others arrive."

"You need not worry," comforted Luna. "It would not do well to be distracted on such an already perilous journey. Just focus on the task at hand, and come back safely."

"I plan to. Promised you a night out right?" he reminded her.

Luna's smile made Noctis heart skip multiple beats. "I eagerly await your return then."

Inspired by her earlier words, Noctis untangled his fingers from Luna's, but still held her hand, and stood up in front of her, ready to help her rise to her feet. Playing along, Luna followed the etiquette and stood up in sync with Noctis much like the royalty the two used to be. Going with the flow, Noctis raised Luna's hand to his lips and gave a quick kiss before finally letting go. He was rewarded with a blushing Luna.

After their sickening sweet display, as Alex would later chide Noctis, the two walked towards the rest of the departing Scions.

"I would suggest stocking up on warmer clothing when you get to Gridania," Luna gave some last minute advice. "Coerthas climate has been cold as of late."

"In more ways than one," Noctis heard Alex mutter, and seemed to be the only one who did.

"In the words of our Antecedent," Luna paused as they remembered Minfilia and the rest of their missing comrades. Wherever and whatever situation they were in right now, they knew their fellow Scions would want them to carry on their mission- for the safety of Eorzea. "Safe travels, and may you walk in the light of the Crystal."

As they left, Noctis sat at the back of their carriage and looked to the direction of Camp Drybone, until he could no longer see Luna from the distance.

Coerthas Central Highlands

Cold air blasted through the open doorway of Camp Dragonhead's mess hall as Noctis entered to escape the freezing weather. He brushed off the snow that had clung to him, thankful that his clothes were insulated enough to prevent him from feeling the low temperatures. At least for most of his extremities- his new appendage, even in this world, was offered no additional protection from the cold aside from its own fur. Thankfully, a good flick of his tail was enough to get rid of any leftover snow, though he got indignant stares from the Coerthan folk in the room.

Not that the locals even needed a reason to show their contempt towards outsiders. The Coerthans behaved as cold as the weather they lived in. The only consolation was that their hostility was merely on the level of ignoring you like some insignificant wildlife. It could be worse, they could be actively expelling foreigners from their territory. They were an unhelpful bunch, and any assistance sought from them always elicited the same response- to stop distracting them from whatever tasks they had to do. Their admirable work ethic was probably the only positive description Noctis could assign to them for now.

Using his perfected royal skill of 'not caring what people thought about you', Noctis walked past the knights and headed to a table occupied by friendlier faces.

"Finally, you've returned," greeted Alphinaud. Cid sat at the same table but remained silent, as amnesiac had mostly been for the whole trip. "I take it your quest to suspend Sir Francel's trial proved successful?"

"That and more," Noctis smirked. "We even proved Sir Francel's innocence and found the guy who framed him. Or at least one of them."

"An unexpected surprise, but a fortunate one I suppose," commented Alphinaud after getting over his surprise. "With this, the remaining obstacles in our quest to retrieve Cid's airship should be eliminated. I take it we can continue unhindered now?"

"Eh," shrugged Noctis. "We'll see once we talk to Sir Haurchefaunt again. I'm here to fetch you so we can get that meeting started."

Noctis led the two out of the mess hall and towards the main hall of Camp Dragonhead. As the two halls weren't directly connected, it meant having to travel through the cold snowy weather once again. The already unpleasant weather seemed to intensify during their short walk, which made entering the warm heat of the interior of the main hall a welcome reprieve again. Noctis did grumble about the new layer of snow that had clung onto him before brushing it off.

The group headed straight towards the large desk at the back of the room, appropriate for the commander of the garrison. Said commander wasn't seated behind the desk as expected but currently stood in front of it, excitedly in a conversation with the already present Alex and Francel.

"Ah, everyone's here!" Haurchefaunt enthusiastically greeted them as they approached. The silver-haired elezen was an exception to the normally uptight attitudes of his fellow Coerthans. Not only was he polite and cheerful, he especially welcomed adventurers to the degree Noctis could only playfully describe him as a fan meeting his favorite mascot. "You look well, Sir Noctis. I take it the chirurgeons found no injuries from your fall?"

"Didn't find any," lied Noctis. Not about not having any injuries, he was pretty sure he didn't have any. He just didn't bother making a detour to have himself pointlessly examined and delay this meeting. They were supposedly on a time-crunch with the Garuda threat.

"A relief," said Francel. "My conscience could not bear it if anyone was permanently harmed on my behalf. You all have already risked much to save my reputation."

Haurcefaunt laughed cheerfully before he gave a rather strong slap on the back of Francel, and caused the Haillenarte elezen to stumble forward before he caught himself. "Even now you're worried about your reputation more than your life!"

A small cough cut through the festivities.

Alphinaud shrank a bit at the sudden attention but eventually straightened up and cleared his throat. "As relieved as we all are with Sir Francel acquitted of his charges, I believe there are time-sensitive matters on our hands?"

"Ah yes," Haurchefaunt adopted a more formal stance. "Let us return to the matter of your missing Enterprise. I believe you have a specific destination in mind- Stone Vigil if I remember correctly?" The Scions nodded in confirmation. "The outpost has been held by the dragons for years, and all access is restricted by decree of House Durendaire."

"It shames me to say that it too was once an outpost held by House Haillenarte," Francel said regretfully. "In the chaos that followed the Calamity, the Dravanian Horde caught us unawares. The fiends have held the outpost ever since. As we lack the strength of arms to retake the Stone Vigil, House Durendaire instead has been charged with the duty."

"It would seem we would have to earn the favor of another one of the High Houses," Alphinaud commented in exasperation. Neither were the rest of the Scions keen about jumping through more hoops.

"Not to worry Young Master Alphinaud. I will write a letter to Lord Drillemont of Whitebrim Front and request that he grant you permission to enter," offered Haurchefaunt.

"And I will write one as well," added Francel. "While I doubt that my words will carry much weight with Lord Drillemont, letters from two of the High Houses should at least grant you an audience with him."

"Thank you. Your endorsements would be much appreciated," Alphinaud spoke for the Scions. "We will depart as soon as we receive the letters."

"While I share your hope in finding your Enterprise as soon as possible," stated Haurchefaunt.
"I fear the weather has other intentions."

As if on cue, one side of the double doors of the entrance slammed open and caused a small commotion among the stationed knights. They soon relaxed when it became clear it was simply caused by a strong gust of wind and simply reclosed the door.

"As you can see the storm has picked up rather quickly," The short glimpse outside showed the almost white landscape. "And these kinds of storms can last throughout the day. Why don't you rest here in the meantime?"

"Might be for the best," Alex suggested to his fellow Scions. "We'll just get lost not knowing where to go. And I don't think all of us can travel properly in this blizzard."

Everyone unconsciously turned to Alphinaud who huffed in indignation.

"Excellent! Allow us to thank you, my friends, for your help once more by showing off our hospitality," Haurchefaunt called over one of the knights and gave her some words. "I believe there's a small unoccupied room nearby that you can use. Please, warm yourself by our hearth, take a rest from your journeys. I promise you'll have your letters ready and waiting once you depart."

"We thank you once more for your generosity," Alphinaud gave a polite bow.

"Thanks, Haurchefaunt!" Alex gave a more casual reply, while Noctis and Cid gave silent nods instead.

The knight led the Scions to the mentioned room just outside the main hall underneath the steps leading to the camp's Aetheryte crystal. The room bore signs of disuse and the air inside was stale but it was dust free at least. The place was practically bare, lit by a few crystal lamps and contained a large table and some few chairs around it. Not the best accommodations but at least it would keep them out of the storm. The Scions thanked the knight and were soon left to their own devices.

As a self-admitted expert in getting campfires going, but mainly because the kindling was stored in his inventory, Noctis homed in on the unused fireplace and worked to get a fire going. After a cursory inspection of the exhaust, Noctis brought out the materials needed to start their fire and it wasn't long till a decent enough flame crackled inside the fireplace.

"Thank the twelve," a shivering Alphinaud crouched in front of the fire trying to warm himself.

It wasn't surprising that the young elezen felt cold with his attire. Noctis, Alex and even Cid had suggested Alphinaud obtain winter clothing when they passed through Gridania, but the young elezen dismissed the detour eager to retrieve the airship. In the end, they just decided to let Alphinaud deal with the consequences and learn from it. Noctis himself had long learned that lesson during the train ride past Shiva's corpse.

Still, Noctis pitied the youngest of the group and brought out a flask from his inventory. "Here. This should warm you up."

Alphinaud inspected at the flask before staring blankly at him. "I don't want any spirits thank you very much."

"What?" Noctis was slightly taken aback by the accusation. "It's non-alcoholic. And I'm not giving a kid liquor."

"For your information, I am already of age," argued Alphinaud.

Noctis was about to rebut but remembered Eorzea had widely different considerations as to what was considered 'of age'. When Noctis was Alphinaud's age, he doubted even he would even consider himself of age. He was barely learning how to feed himself back then.

"If Alphinaud doesn't want it I'll take it," Alex finished setting four chairs close to the campfire and sat in one to bask in the heat. He caught the flask Noctis tossed with ease and took a tentative sip. "Ah, that hits the spot." he sighed in relief.

The rest of the group copied Alex and each took a seat to bask in the heat of the fire. Having finally settled in a comfortable and private location, Alphinaud requested a report regarding the events of Francel's rescue. Alex, as the impetus of the events themselves, recounted the day's events- the rush to interrupt the inquisitor's trial, summoning of the draconian enemy, up until the reveal of the knight guilty of framing Francel and his house. Noctis offered some details of his own, such as having to shove Francel away from the charging draconian least the highborn elezen be actually thrown down the very same ravine they were saving him from. While Noctis had gone thrown off instead, it was nothing a simple warp couldn't solve.

Cid remained quiet, content to simply listen to their story. The supposed engineer's amnesia kept him reticent most of the time even with Alphinaud's efforts to rehabilitate him and recover his memories.

"Though if I remember correctly, were you not insistent that the Inquisitor would be responsible for the false accusations?" Alphinaud smugly pointed out to Noctis.

"They usually are-" granted Noctis based his assumptions from countless video games that didn't exist in Eorzea. "And the guy's attitude wasn't helping. Turns out he was just an ass."

"He did give off a 'bad-guy' vibe," added Alex.

"I will have to take your word on it," Alphinaud cupped his chin in thought. "Though their trial method sounds rather illogical and easily abusable. It would be more accurate to call it an execution rather than any trial to determine guilt or innocence."

"Hopefully they'll be more careful in the future," Alex said optimistically. However, considering the dismissive attitude of the Inquisitor even after the truth came out, it was a long shot at best.

"Nonetheless, this rather convoluted affair turned out to our advantage. It seems tales of your previous adventures weren't exaggerated. A shame I was unable to witness your exploits firsthand." Alphinaud said wistfully.

"Well, if you could stand the weather for more than five minutes…" Noctis trailed off.

Alphinaud blushed red in embarrassment. "I did not think finding the airship would take so long!"

"At least someone stayed behind to accompany Cid," Alex said diplomatically but sported a smug grin as well. "But maybe between this and that, you'll listen to us more now?"

"Yes, yes," sighed Alphinuad. "Despite my knowledge on the Echo's capabilities, I was quite skeptical when you insisted on approaching the then ill-reputed Haillenarte heir all of a sudden. We were quite lucky your Echo triggered when it did."

"Still don't know what triggers it, but when it does it usually pays off big," Alex boasted.

"You don't say. Finding a conspiracy to overthrow a high house- I bet the next Coerthan you'll echo will have us ending their war," joked Noctis earning a chuckle from the Echo-wielder.

The rest of the night passed by as the Scions discussed more of the day's events. Eventually, some of the Scions started turning in for the night. Surprisingly, the first to fall asleep were Cid and Alphinaud, the two with the least excitement for the day.

"I think someone was watching us today," Alex brought up once their two other comrades were asleep.

"You mean aside from the inquisitor?" Alex nodded in response. Noctis fed a small piece of wood into the fire. "Thought so too."

"I thought it might be one of those heretics trying to stop us, but they didn't even interfere during the trial," Alex took another sip from his drink. "Add I think I saw a shadow disappear into the background even after the fight. I was thinking of telling them," he tilted his head at the two asleep. "But I don't notice anything while we're inside the camp. Think it might be Garlean? Or Ascian?"

"Can't say until we actually catch them," Noctis shrugged. "We'll just have to keep an eye out for the rest of the journey. And probably have to inform them just in case."

Fatigue finally caught up to them and similarly retired for the night.

The next morning, the storm had finally died out and the sun was illuminating the snowy landscape. The group bid their final farewells to the residents of Camp Drybone before continuing their search for their fabled airship.

"Come, my fellow Scions," encouraged Alphinaud while ignoring the cold, eager and excited to continue their expedition. "It is but a clear path to Stone Vigil and our airship."

Whitebrim Front

"No one is permitted to enter Stone Vigil."

"We are the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, Lord Drillemont. You know our name, and you know our deeds," argued Alphinaud as the Scions' representative. "We are come to Coerthas to slay Garuda, Lady of the Vortex. To that end, we seek the Enterprise, the airship of Master Cid nan Garlond, who stands before you now."

The knight narrowed his eyes as he scrutinized the rest of the group standing behind Alphinaud. "The Inquisitor warned me a group like yours might arrive. Cid Garlond─missing and presumed dead since before the Calamity, and members Scions of the Seventh Dawn─a defunct band of misfits recently exterminated by the Empire. Grandiose lies that may fool the lesser houses but not House Durendaire."

"Are you blind?" Alex's tone contained a small amount of anger. "Those letters are from House Fortemps and House Haillenarte. Two. Higher. Houses."

"Words from a hopeless romantic and a naive lordling," dismissed Drillemont. "House Durendaire would not even be in this position had not House Haillenarte failed to hold the Stone Vigil! You four will not enter the outpost until we have reclaimed it─and until you declare your true intentions as well."

"It could be moons before House Durendaire purges the dragons from the Stone Vigil. We cannot afford to wait that long!" Alphinaud tried to reason once more.

"Easy now," Noctis placed a hand on Alphinaud's shoulder. He noticed the young elezen's pleas were falling on deaf ears and they were starting to attract unwanted attention. "C'mon, let's regroup somewhere else."

Noctis formally thanked Drillemont, for propriety's sake, before shepherding the rest of Scions out of the meeting room. Not a moment too soon as Alex looked ready to pick a fight and Alphinaud was still fuming at their dismissal. Cid was the only one else who managed to keep his calm, though that was more of his listlessness than any level-headedness.

"Time is a resource we can ill afford to squander. We must gain entrance to the Stone Vigil without further delay," Alphinaud declared in frustration once they found a private enough area. "We must do whatever it takes to earn Lord Drillemont's trust. Understood?"

"Hold up there, buckaroo," Noctis ignored the confused looks as he offered his opinion. "I don't think a bunch of random quest's going to get us in the lord's good graces."

"It worked with Haurchefaunt and Francel," countered Alex.

"It did," conceded Noctis. "But they were willing to accept help from foreigners because we were the only ones crazy enough to go against their own. Someone high on their totem pole."

"Their what?"

"Their hierarchy," explained Noctis.

"You speak of the inquisitor," Alphinaud caught on. "And it is this same inquisitor who 'warned' Lord Drillemont of our arrival."

"I bet he's still holding a grudge for what we did during his trial. He should be thanking us for that," Alex crossed his arms in frustration. "We were the ones who found an actual enemy of Ishgard and even took care of it for them. He was literally right beside him!"

"Bet you he feels more insulted we revealed his mistake than wrongly accusing Francel," sighed Noctis. "But I have a feeling we'll have better luck getting to Stone Vigil with him than the commander of this garrison."

"Based on how much Lord Drillemont rejected us on mere words, Inquisitors do seem to have a lot of influence among the Coerthans," agreed Alphinaud, finally calmed down. "We must instead convince this inquisitor that we are no enemies of Ishgard, previous events notwithstanding. Yet if we are to convince him, it might be best to learn more about such a prominent figure in Coerthas. Speaking with the people of Whitebrim Front might offer us some insights into the good inquisitor," he suggested.

"As good an idea as any," sighed Noctis realizing they really had no other options short of sneaking in the fort itself. Unfortunately, it wasn't worth the risk of causing an international incident after earning some goodwill from some of the Higher Houses of Ishgard. "But approaching them as a group might just scare them off or increase their guard around us."

"Well…" Alex gave a snorted laugh. "Guess it's time to split-up, gang?"

As much as Noctis loved to rag on Alphinaud for his choice of winter wear, his own clothing was barely any better at keeping himself warm as much as he would have liked. Great at keeping him dry from the snow, but he felt the cold just the same eventually. Especially with the skies outcast, there was little sunlight to keep one warm even in the middle of the day. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be an impending blizzard such as yesterday's, but it was almost as bad as his one and only trip to Niflheim. This greatly motivated Noctis to get his task finished as soon as possible.

Their recent inquiry about the inquisitor yielded some suspicious and conflicting information that caught the Scions' attention. Eager to play as detective, Alphinaud assigned to each of them certain details to confirm as to hopefully form enough evidence to corroborate his current theories. Noctis was assigned with confirming the general layout of the fort, its entrances, and orientation with respect to other notable landmarks. His special set of skills would allow him to easily reach a decent vantage point on the mountain overlooking Whitebrim Front.

Unfortunately, it meant climbing up, and the higher up he reached, the colder it got. Even just at a height three to four stories above the settlement found sharper winds that aggravated the uncomfortable atmosphere. At least the view was unobstructed as Noctis had a clear overhead view of Whitebrim Front, the impressive visage of the city-state of Ishgard, and even spotted their objective, Stone Vigil, in the distance.

"Let's see. Whitebrim's there. East gate's there. Ishgard is north of it and the arrival path is south." Noctis pointed to each location out loud since he was alone. "Can barely see the chasm but looks like it's there. Seems like the theory looks correct," It was a shame Noctis didn't have his phone anymore. He could have just snapped a picture of this view if they needed it again for reference later on. "Think that's all I can get from here."

Eager to escape the cold, Noctis threw a sword at the trunk of a tree below and warped towards it as soon as possible. Pleased with the absence of the biting wind, Noctis brought his hands close to his face and blew onto them to try and warm them up- only to be showered by a mound of snow.

"Shit!" cursed Noctis as he looked upwards and mentally cursed again as he saw the bare branches of the tree beside him. The snowy environment was starting to get on his nerves. "What I wouldn't give for Shiva's blessing right about now," Noctis grumbled as he resigned himself to shaking off snow for the nth time since they arrived in this forsaken environment.

Noctis suddenly heard a crash, sounded like something hitting a tree, followed by the impact of falling snow. A similar cry of surprise indicated some other individual was just as unfortunate as him. Slightly curious and a little concerned who could be out of the way of the main path as him, Noctis walked towards the direction of the commotion. His early guess was correct as he found a female elezen brushing snow off her blue jacket as bits of snow still clung to her gray hair.

"You alright there?" Noctis announced his presence only to elicit a guarded response from her. An expected reaction given the circumstances. "Easy there," he calmly raised his hands to show they were empty. "Heard a yell and thought someone could use some help."

"I'm fine," she tersely answered. The pale-skinned elezen scrutinized him with her icy blue eyes, seemingly wary of his approach. Not really any different from the usual greeting in Coerthas.

Seeing as it didn't look like she was going to say anything more and didn't have any visible injury, Noctis turned to leave and planned to brush off this incident as just a random encounter in the woods.


Noctis halted midstep, curious as to what the gray-haired elezen wanted. She clearly didn't want for help.

"Why did you say her name?"

"What?" Noctis didn't know who she was referring to.

"Why did you call upon Saint Shiva's blessing?"

Saint Shiva? That was new. Noctis and Luna had discussed before other possible astrals that could share characteristics with other primals, but there had been no mentions of a counterpart to Shiva, even with the Sharlayan connections of the Scions. Though if there would be any mention of Shiva in this world, of course it would be in this kind of icy environment.

"I don't know about any 'Saint' Shiva, but a Goddess of Ice's blessing would be useful in the cold," Noctis fabricated an excuse to probe what kind of information he could get.

"'Goddess'?" the elezen repeated in confusion.

"Glacian? Frostbearer? Astral?" Noctis listed other epithets but only received the same confused expression. "Gentiana?" Not even her High Messenger name sparked any familiarity. "We might not be talking about the same Shiva. Can you describe your 'Saint'?"

The elezen seemed surprised by his request. "Saint Shiva was an elezen woman who sacrificed herself to mend the bonds between dragon and man."

"Doesn't seem like it's the same Shiva," concluded Noctis. There could be similarities if you stretched it out, but it did seem like she wasn't talking about the same person or astral.

"It would seem so." The elezen woman seemed disappointed by the fact.

An uncomfortable silence stretched between them, mostly because standing in the middle of a freezing forest was a really uncomfortable place to loiter.

"I'll be heading back now," Noctis eventual spoke-up. "You going the same direction?" he asked out of courtesy.

Surprisingly, the elezen nodded after silently contemplating the matter. Thus, Noctis ended-up leaving the woods with extra company. Though the elezen tended to walk a distance behind him.

"So… what brought you to this neck of the woods?" Noctis awkwardly asked trying to break the silence. It was starting to unnerve him as he could practically feel the elezen's gaze studying him as they walked through the trees.

"I was… called here by a higher power."

Noctis deciphered what she said, "You received a vision?"

A quick glimpse at the female elezen showed she was momentarily taken aback by his response until she came to a realization. "Of course you Scions would know about such matters."

"Never said I was a Scion."

The elezen woman scoffed. "Everyone in Coerthas knows of your confrontation at Witchdrop."

Most likely the inquisitor's fault Noctis surmised.

"That you would willingly help those who initially shunned you, why bother helping such stubborn souls?"

"No love for your fellow countrymen?" Noctis received a flat look from the elezen. "Guess not. I suppose you can say it was a 'calling' for us as well. Somehow helping them ended up helping us too," Though Noctis doubted that when Alex initially echoed Francel's plight, the hyur never considered how it could have benefitted the Scions then. He just saw someone that needed some help.

"And now the selfsame 'help' you have provided is the very thing the bars your journey."

"No good deed goes unpunished," quoted Noctis.

"Hmm…" the elezen woman murmured.

The two eventually broke past the treeline and saw the path toward Whitebrim Front below. Noctis paused to check on the elezen behind him. She continued her walk until she stood beside him. Her gaze, however, was fixed forward.

"Those arrogant fools should have been left to their downfall."

"Probably," Noctis shrugged, earning a surprised look from the female elezen. "I have no idea what the big picture is- if they're the good guys or bad guys. But-" he interrupted her upcoming question. "I've helped people who would eventually be my enemies, and old enemies help me out later on. Things seem to turn out better if you're helpful. Even if we can't see it yet."

The woman stared baffled at him. "That sounds hopelessly naive."

Noctis simply shrugged again.

She watched the raven-haired miqo'te walk away, well aware that she had no plans of approaching a stronghold of those ignorant masses. No words of farewell were exchanged between her and the Scion. She never had any intention of talking to him. It was the red-headed hyur who had caught her intention initially. He had something to do with the dreams she had, words from the Mothercrystal. There was something she could sense from him- a kinship perhaps?

Unfortunately, the miqo'te was the only Scion who had left the confines of the stronghold. Seeking more information about the Scions, she followed him discreetly. He would have stayed ignorant of her presence- until he mentioned that name.


Her surprise caused her to accidentally reveal herself, and her own curiosity called him back. Why would anyone outside of Ishgard know that name, or even dare invoke her blessing? To her disappointment, it seemed his Shive and hers were not the same entity. Though if they had been on friendlier terms, she might have liked to talk more to the Scion and discuss more about these similarly named entities. Maybe they were closer related after all?

Unfortunately, they stayed strangers, unlikely to meet again. It was only a stroke of fate they had even met.

She stayed at that spot for a while- waiting if any other Scion would leave the stronghold. A soft chime interrupted her vigil. The chime was not heard, more felt in her aether. Knowing the source, she reached into her bag and pulled out a crystal.

Despite barely fitting in her hand, the crystal felt light. Small. A tiny echo. It shone bright blue, like the purest of waters turned to ice.

This was the reason she had made her trek to these lands and she would bet the redheaded Scion was related to it somehow. However, her dreams had not shown her ever approaching the hyur to present the crystal. There was another place she was supposed to deliver it. She turned her attention from the crystal to the stronghold below, then looked passed it towards the abandoned fortress in the distance. Not abandon per se, but one unoccupied by man. There she would leave the crystal with one of its occupants.

A strange set of instructions to follow, but it was guidance from Hydaelyn. The same mothercrystal who had blessed her with this crystal as well as her other gifts. There had to be a reason this was requested of her. She brought the crystal to eye-level to study it, even squeezing it with all her might before slowly opening her hand- hoping some further guidance would materialize. When none came, she sighed and pocketed it back.

She turned her gaze to the heavens, then continued on her journey.

Duty Commenced: Stone Vigil

With one final thrust of a spear, the scalekin cried out in death throes until it collapsed into a lifeless heap. Noctis let his weapon dematerialize back into his inventory as he completed his kill. Nearby, Alex sheathed his scepter as his magicks finished the remaining mobs.

"All clear," Alex called out to Alphinaud and Cid. The two non-combatants stepped out of the corner where they stayed a safe distance from the fight.

As soon as the Scions gained access to Stone Vigil, they wasted little time entering the dragon-infested keep. Access to fortress had been achieved once the Scions managed to solve their issue with the Inquisitor. Mainly the fact the Inquisitor was an imposter- the title used by very same 'heretics' the coerthans hated so much. Exposing the imposter wasn't even difficult, the false Inquisitor admitted to the falsehood at the first accusation. If the confession wasn't enough evidence, transforming into a dragon in front of many witnesses, including Drillemont himself, was the final nail in the coffin. After they struck down the transformed heretic, Drillemont's opinion of them had done a complete one-eighty.

It would be a lie to say Noctis didn't derive some small pleasure from the coerthan's furious apologies with their early mistreatment and denial. Alex looked to have more righteous fury simmering beneath the surface but luckily for everyone, mostly Drillemont's, Alphinuad was quick to capitalize on the contrite knight and secure the access they had been denied early on. While granting access had been no problem for Drillemont, the Scions still wouldn't receive any further aid and would have to brave the keep's hostile occupants by themselves.

The coerthans' loss really, as even with only two combatants, the Scions had little difficulty overcoming their obstacles through Stone Vigil. Mostly by killing anything that attacked them. Various scalekin and the occasional wild elementals tried, with varying success, to hinder their expedition. Noctis and Alex's combined skills easily felled the monsters guarding the keep, while Alphinaud remained behind to protect Cid as the last line of defense. Even with his amnesia, everything would be for naught if anything happened to their only airship engineer.

Thankfully it would seem they were near their target destination- where the airship was supposedly anchored on the day of the calamity. They traveled towards an outdoor portion of the castle and found themselves on the ramparts above an open field.

Despite his skepticism on the matter, Noctis could clearly see the airship just where the reports indicated it would be, seemingly unaffected by the elements over the years. Unfortunately, the airship wasn't the only occupant of the place.

"Look! It's the Enterprise!" Three simultaneous hushes were immediately directed at Alphinaud.

"Did you miss the enormous dragon right in front of us?" reprimanded Noctis in a lower voice.
The excited elezen had the decency to look embarrassed by his outburst.

"At least it's still asleep," observed Alex. The dragon was unconscious at the moment but it was still right between them and the airship. "But it won't stay that way once we get the airship running."

"There doesn't seem to be a way above," Cid referred to the collapsed walkways that would have allowed them to stay on the ramparts to reach the airship.

"It seems our only option is to sneak around the slumbering creature," Alphinaud concluded.

If they were lucky, they could avoid having to fight the creature altogether.

"I could probably teleport directly to airship, but I'm not going to be much use getting it up and running," said Noctis.

"No choice then," Alex stated their plan. "Noctis, you lead Cid and Alphinaud around the dragon. I'll stay back and keep an eye on it in case it wakes up."

"Cid and I can sneak past it by ourselves."

"At least if it turns to you faster than expected, one of you can grab its attention while the rest get away," Alex pointed out. "If it does turn to me, I have a sleep spell that might work. If not, Noctis can quickly back me up anyroads."

Noctis thumbed-up in agreement.

The group carefully dropped down from the ramparts then split up into their groups. Alex positioned himself in front of the sleeping dragon while the rest snuck around it. Noctis motioned for the group to crouch down to easier control their footsteps and watch what they might step on. He kept an eye on the dragon to make sure they weren't disturbing its sleep. The three managed to make it below airship, where there seemed to be the ruins of what was once steps leading back up the ramparts. Frowning at the lost pathway, Noctis moved towards the wall and silently motioned his plan to get them above.

Noctis braced himself against the wall and cupped his hands together. Cid was the first to step up. Noctis had to remember to keep his grunt from escaping his lips as he boosted Cid up the wall. Once Cid was safely above, Noctis paused for a moment to check if the dragon was still asleep, then signaled Alphinaud to proceed next. Platform shoes in hand, Noctis had an easier time boosting the smaller Alphinaud up with the added help from Cid pulling the shorter elezen.

He was about to pull out a weapon to simply teleport himself up when the ground shook and a roar filled the air.

"Shit," swore Noctis as he felt the cold weather somehow drop even lower. He could even see his breath with every small exhale.

"Noctis!" Cid reached out to him but was met with a barrier. An alarming event as the last creature who could erect a similar barrier was an astralforsaken primal. "Blast it, the dragon!"

The dragon just jumped up several degrees of dangerous.

"Go! Get to the airship!" Noctis called out as he turned back to face the dragon. Alex was already raining lightning on the creature. "We'll handle this dragon." Sword summoned to hand, Noctis charged at the dragon and joined the fray.

Despite his earlier alarm caused by the barrier's implications, the dragon nowhere reached the threat of a primal. The ice attacks, while powerful, were easy to dodge. The only truly difficult portion were the times the dragon flew out of reach of even Alex's magicks. He could risk warping to it but Noctis had a better idea.

Once the dragon finished spewing its icy dragon breath across the battlefield, it would home in to one of them to crush them with its landing. This time, the dragon aimed for Noctis. He summoned one of his flasks and waited at the last possible second. Just when the dragon right above him, Noctis blinked away but not before leaving the flask behind. The dragon's weight triggered an explosion of ice, enhanced by the cold environment, and imprisoned the dragon's bottom half. Its legs sealed and the dragon now rooted to the ground, Alex finished his cast and shot an impressively strong fireball at the creature. The spell hit both the dragon, eliciting a howl of pain, and its icy prison, temporarily obscuring their view of the dragon as the ice evaporated.

When the mist cleared, the dragon had fallen over and remained motionless.

"Isgebind's dead," Alex declared after a while when the dragon made no motion to get back up. He even sheathed his scepter in confidence.

"When'd you have time to get its name?" Noctis shot him a skeptical look. He idly noted the temperature seemed to have finally dropped from the freezing cold… to still uncomfortably cold.

Alex shrugged back. "I think the Echo gives it to me. Sometimes," he searched the surrounding area. "Ascian's gone. As usual."

"They the reason why the dragon woke-up?"

Alex nodded. "The usual, wanted to test our strength- wait, Alphinaud and Cid!" He suddenly remembered.

Noctis inwardly cursed as well as he forgot about the two possibly exposed to the Ascian danger while they were distracted by the dragon. Thankfully, Noctis spotted Alphinaud and Cid waving to them, relief visible on their faces. Noctis gave them a sign everything was okay before turning back to Alex.

"Looks like they're fine-" Noctis stopped short when he noticed Alex staring at the fallen dragons corpse, or the be exact, the crystal floating above it.

Odd as the dragon was clearly no primal, but then again Alex had supposedly received one of those things from the Sylphs instead. Just to be sure, Noctis kept an eye out for any swirling aether while the crystal floated towards Alex. Nothing happened though as Alex went through his trance and even after he came out from it.

"You get anything?" Alex pocketed his own prize.

"Wasn't a primal."

"Ah," understood Alex. "There's still Garuda."

Noctis snorted. "Doubt that's a good enough reason to look forward to a primal."

Immediate danger eliminated, the two proceeded towards the airship to rendezvous with the rest of their party. With the barrier gone, Alex and Noctis were able to climb up with ease. On top, they were greeted by the sight of the airship they had been searching for days now.

"Twelve be praised, I feared the beast had injured you," Alphinaud welcomed the two as they set foot on the moored airship. Behind the elezen, Cid fiddled with what Noctis could only assume was the engine. "I see now why the others rated you so highly. When you were caught in the midst of that aetheric bubble with the dragon, I was all but certain my next mission would be to find new champions."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Noctis said flatly.

"Thank the gods we spared you from the inconvenience," chided Alex.

Alphinaud blushed at their words. "I believe Cid is making some progress on the Enterprise as we speak. Um… let us go and see what he has to say," he tried to change the subject. "What say you, Cid? Will she fly?"

"Yes… though it will not be a pleasant ride," confessed Cid.

The fact it was even moveable was better than what Noctis expected.

"Need help repairing it?" offered Alex, the gleam in his eyes showed his eagerness at the oppurtunity.

"No," Cid bluntly stated causing Alex to slightly deflate. "Nothing more can be done here without the proper tools."

"If she will allow us to quit this place, I shall not complain. I daresay we are all eager to return to more agreeable climate. Gridania perhaps?"

For once no one had a retort for Alphinaud.

"Fire away, Cid." said Alex.

The engine fired up causing the whole ship to vibrate violently much like a car in serious need of repairs. Which it technically was. Thankfully, the airship managed to hold itself together as it slowly rose from the keep and surely, if not slowly, climbed higher into the sky.

"This is all so familiar. I...I know this airship. If I could just…" Noctis heard Cid mutter over the shaking. "Bah, it's no use… let's go." He turned the airship on course towards the Black Shroud.

When the vibrations got stronger, Noctis held onto the railings of the ship and hoped it would help with the bumpy ride. As they flew away from Stone Vigil, Noctis caught a glimpse of a familiar blue-robed figure standing just outside its walls. She was following the airship's flight, unaware Noctis had spotted her. He was about to call out to the others when the airship hit a turbulence and caused all the passengers to cry out as they lost their balance. Noctis held in tight to the railing and managed to save himself from falling over. A quick check with everyone else saw no one seriously injured.

When Noctis turned back to the scenery below, the person had disappeared from sight.

A/N: In keeping with 'trimming the fat' of ARR, most of the Coerthas scenes have been glossed over. While important in Heavensward, Coerthas has a minor role for now and anything needed for future threads have been mentioned. And new things have been added as Noctis encounters a stranger holding a familiar crystal of light.

Up next we finally get to Garuda, but first...

New Gridania

As she bid farewell to the departing Enterprise, Luna felt trepidation at the events to come. It had little to do with the departing party about to face a primal yet again. They had already proven themselves capable by even the most experienced primal fighting parties. She had confidence they would return triumphant and she would be ready to congratulate them upon their return.

It was what wasn't happening that worried her more. While the others had been busy in Coerthas, the rest of the Scions continued their surveillance of the realm. Especially for Garlean activity. Worryingly, things were relatively quiet. Based on the intelligence gathered from the other city-states, there had been no prominent actions from the Garleans of late. They hadn't taken any major actions since their attack on the Scions, but neither had they completely halted their harassment of the city-states to indicate preparations for a major campaign. Information about their captured comrades was even more scarce.

It felt like the calm before the storm, and they didn't know what kind the Garleans would bring down upon them.

However, worrying about an event that hadn't happened would have to be pushed aside for now. Luna had to focus on present matters that needed to be done. Reports and updates needed to be handed out to their agents stationed left in Gridania.

Luna climbed the stairs back to the Adventurer's Guild lobby, bid a passing greeting to Mother Mionne, and was to about to head to Archer's Guild to meet Liavinne when-

"Lady Fleuret?" Luna turned to the person who called out to her, a young female midlander hyur with blonde-hair and dressed in the light-green robes of a conjurer. "Lady Fleuret of the Scions?"

"Yes, that is I." answered Luna, curious as to why the young girl was looking for her.

"Thank the twelve I actually found you. I'm Sylphie from the Conjurer's guild," the conjurer politely introduced herself. "I was told I'd find you here."

"Do you require something from me?"

"Not me," corrected Sylphie. "I'm just passing a message from the Conjurer's Guild. They heard that you're in Gridania and are asking if you can pass by the guild."

"I see," it would seem the request was for her specifically, not the Scions as they would have been informed earlier through their liaison if so. "Did they specify as to why?"

"Not really," the conjurer shrugged. "They did say that you don't have to go now if you didn't want to. I just needed to tell you that they're looking for you."

Fitting for her current race, Luna's ears twitched in curiosity as she wondered as to the goal of the Conjurer's Guild. While she was technically registered with the guild, she had long been an inactive member ever since she left with the then Path of the Twelve. Neither had the guild purposely sought her return since she left, not even when she would pass by Gridania for assignments in the Twelveswood. Granted she would at most teleport to the central Aetheryte, stop by the Adventurer's Guild, then quickly proceed to the nearest exit. If they had happened to learn of her arrival, Luna would have been long gone by then.

"I shall proceed to the Conjurer's Guild." Luna decided after some thought.

Best to get it over with. The reports weren't urgent at the moment and she didn't have to immediately return to Camp Drybone. Maybe it would also keep her from worrying over the primal Noctis and the rest were about to face.

"Great!" Sylphie said in relief. "Um… I was told to escort you to the guild if you said yes."

"Lead the way," Luna gave the young girl an encouraging smile.

"If you don't mind me asking," broached Sylphie while they walked. "I heard about what happened to the Scions-" she hesitated but Luna wordlessly gave her permission to ask. "I know a fellow conjurer named Alex who said he was part of the Scions. I was wondering if he was…"

"Alex was not present during the attack," comforted Luna when Sylphie stumbled over the topic. "In fact he was here not too long ago. You just missed his departure by airship."

"Oh!" Sylphie managed to somehow express both relief and disappointment. "That's fine. As long as he's safe."

Luna internally winced at her words. "In a way…"

The young conjurer giggled. "I get it. He's one of those adventurers." As they walked towards the Conjurer's Guild, Luna avidly listened to Sylphie narrate her encounters with Alex and how the Scion assisted her with her own growth as conjurer.

Luna also shared her own stories of their mutual friend and the young conjurer was eager to listen to them. They had just finished their discussion about Alex's interest in a certain someone, when Luna and Sylphie arrived at their destination.

Surprisingly, the conjurer's guild was rather empty. Usually there would be a senior conjurer giving a lecture in the dias or a hearer meditating in one of the open areas. The guild receptionist wasn't even present.

Sylphie politely excused herself, as she had to relay Luna's arrival, which left the Scion alone in the Stillglade Fane. As she waited, memories welled-up in Luna as she reminisced on her early days in Gridania. A chaotic, yet somehow simpler time compared to now. It was hard to believe she had spent almost a third of her life in Eorzea already.

"You seem to be in deep thought," a voice broke Luna from her recollections.

Luna turned around to the new arrival, and had to look down to see a different young-looking blonde female looking up towards her. Like Sylphie, she looked of the same age as the preteen hyur, but unlike Sylphie, this individual wasn't truly a hyur perse. The thin horns above the person's head identified her as a Padjal.

"My apologies for not noticing sooner," Luna politely curtseyed. Padjals, while looking like preteens, held high positions in the echelons in Gridania's government. Their current leader, Kan-E-Senna, was one such Padjal.

"No need for formalities," the female Padjal smiled comfortingly at her. "In fact, why don't we take a seat?" Without even waiting for a reply, the female Padjal sat down on the wooden podium.

Not wanting to seem rude by towering over the female Padjal, Luna followed suit and sat down as well. The floor was slightly cool but not uncomfortable, just as she remembered.

"Ahh, thank you for acquiescing to my request," the female Padjal sat comfortably. "I rarely crane my neck these days and you are one very tall person, Lady Lunafreya."

"It's of no inconvenience?" Luna didn't know how to properly conduct herself in front of this person. Mainly because she didn't know who this person exactly was. "Were you the one who asked for me Lady…"

"Oh right! You need a name," the female Padjal caught on and broke out into a grin. "You may use Isep-O-Senna."

Odd, but she introduced herself of the Senna family and possible relation to the Elder Seedseer. If Luna remembered correctly, didn't Alex mention meeting a sister of the Elder Seedseer?

"And yes, 'twas I who asked you to come here," clarified Isep-O-Senna. "Though in truth I have been meaning to talk to you for some time now. But unfortunately, other matters have required my attention over the years."

"Years?" Luna wondered what matter would concern the female Padjal for that long.

"Yes. I believe since before the Calamity. Since Odin's last defeat."

Luna involuntarily tensed at the mention of that incident.

"Now, now. There's no need to worry about that. I'm not here to reprimand one who prevented another potential catastrophe... despite the unfortunate circumstances of Odin's bane," Isep-O-Senna bowed her head in respect to the lalafell Luna tried and failed to cure. "In truth I'm here to give you the gratitude you rightfully deserved- and the amends I owe you."

"Amends?" Luna's ears and brows rose in surprise. "I do not understand why you would need to."

Isep-O-Senna smiled forlornly. "'Twas I who said you be given the White Mage soul crystal."

If Luna was simply confused earlier, she was utterly gobsmacked now. At least her jaw hadn't unceremoniously dropped.

"When I first heard the voices of the Elementals speak to me in regard to this matter," Isep-O-Senna began to explain. "I had interpreted it as you being chosen to hold one of our soul crystals. While not unheard of, entrusting such invaluable yet precarious soul crystal to unorthodox candidates requires scrutiny. But reports from Conjurer's Guild and your fellow colleagues indicated no reason why you shouldn't be allowed to wield one. Thus, I asked Brother E-Sumi-Yan to handle this matter and be the one to give you the stone instead."

Luna vaguely remembered that meeting. E-Sumi-Yan had been the elder seedseer before the war with XIVth Imperial Legion escalated to the point Kan-E-Senna was needed to take over. He had been in the middle of explaining what becoming a White Mage entailed until they were interrupted by emergency calls regarding the primal. She was told her orientation would continue afterwards.

"I confess the reason I did so was because I had judged my other responsibilities more important then," Isep-O-Senna said solemnly. "If I had met you personally, I would have known what a mistake it was."

Words were already at the tip of Luna's tongue when Isep-O-Senna held up a hand in front of her to cut her off. The young Padjal even shook her head, silently rejecting Luna's planned apologies.

"Not because you shouldn't have received a soul crystal. In fact, after you returned the old soul crystal, I received a-" Isep-O-Senna winced as if remembering something unpleasant. "Reprimand from the Elementals."

As someone who lived in Gridania for a while, Luna knew how bad it was to anger the Elementals residing in the Twelveswood. For a Padjal, chosen by the Elementals themselves, to receive their fury- it could have brought the wrath of the forest on the whole city-state. It could have been the end of Gridania.

"It's of no secret that communicating with the Elementals is as much an art than simply a translation of words. Nevertheless, it is still a great failing of mine to misinterpret their will. My mistake was giving you the wrong soul crystal." Isep-O-Senna reached into a pocket of her robes and laid a white spheroid object between them. "I would be very much relieved if you did take this one."

There was an almost pleading look in the female Padjal's eyes which made Luna unable to refuse her request. When Luna did pick-up the soul crystal, she could have sworn she heard a sigh of relief.

The soul crystal in her hand looked very similar to the first soul crystal Luna once held. This one felt a bit different. Almost lighter.

"You feel the difference?" Isep-O-Senna eagerly asked.

"It feels empty," Luna flipped the stone in her hand and felt the aether within it. "Blank."

Isep-O-Senna nodded, satisfied with Luna's observation. "Indeed it is. A soul crystal with no previous master, ready to learn and record."

"Am I to impart knowledge unto it?" wondered Luna.

"That I cannot say," the female Padjal simply shrugged at her. "Even when I listened attentively to the Elementals this time. Perhaps you will teach it what you know, or you may just simply be another messenger and give it to someone else. Just remember to keep it on your person's at all times"

So she was just supposed to go about her life while wearing it? Luna closer examined the soul crystal to divine some revelation. Unfortunately, the soul crystal remained quiet in her hand.

"I still do not understand why such a small mistake would cause such a response from the Elementals." pointed out Luna.

"They gave no word either," admitted Isep-E-Senna. "But what if I told you what happened during your healing of Odin's Bane was because the White Mage soul crystal interfered with your healing?"

Luna's breath momentarily hitched but steadied once she calmed down. "You cannot be sure it did."

Isep-E-Senna gave her a grateful smile. "You're too kind. But we cannot say it didn't either. Who knows? Maybe the Calamity might have been averted if you had gotten the right soul crystal in the beginning." she said playfully.

Luna blushed at the praise, however jokingly it was made. "A bit of a reach?"

The female padjal let out a small laugh but turned solemn once more. "At the very least, my mistake placed an nonexistent burden on your mind where there was none. You were one of our conjurers and your welfare was our responsibility. For that I must apologize."

To Luna's surprise, Isep-E-Senna bowed her head while putting a hand over her chest where her heart would be. Of course Luna returned the heartfelt gesture, indicating she had accepted the female Padjal's apology. Isep-E-Senna looked like a heavy burden was removed from her shoulders.

Their reconciliation finished, both women stood up from their position.

"If it brings you any solace," Luna leaned down to the Padjal. "The 'mistake' led me towards a family I truly cherish. I would not wish to change anything if I could."

Isep-E-Senna beamed up at her. "You truly are too kind, Sister L'unafreya. Yes 'Sister'," the female Padjal saw how taken aback Luna was with the epitaph. "That soul crystal may not be a White Mage soul crystal, but they are of the same origins. As far as I'm concerned, that makes you a Sister to us."

"I-I see," a rarely flustered Luna stuttered. "Thank you, a- Sister Isep-E-Senna?"

The female Padjal cheekily grinned at her. "Don't worry, you don't have to call us Sister or Brother if you aren't used to it."

Luna simply blushed.

"Now I believe you have important Scion business to take care of? Do give my regards to Brother Alexander. I hear he has taken over some of my duties of late."