Chapter 21: A Realm Reborn

Claire spent the better part of the next few minutes coughing up all the ash and smoke from her lungs as she was being treated for any injuries. Y'shtola and Kan-E-Senna took over that role personally to ensure her wellbeing; though aside from some minor injuries, they reassured her that she just needed some food and rest for a few days at most.

Once they gave her water to help her coughing, they returned to helping sort out Thancred and the rest of their peoples who had been hurt fighting against the XIV legion. There were causalities, of course, but not enough as she feared that there would be. Most of their people did make it out of the collapsing castrum, and what remained of the XIV legion either was killed in the explosions or fled. They were busy trying round up as many as they could as possible.

Not that she needed to worry about being alone though, it was Cid who not only kept her company, he also updated her on most of what was going on since there was so much to do. Thanks to him, she also learned that those who had stormed the castrum with her managed to make it out just before the fireworks all started, but when they questioned them on where she was, they explained how she had chosen to stay behind because of the figure in black.

"And that was how you knew I was fighting against Lahabrea?" Claire asked him.

"More or less," Cid chuckled. "You caused quite a scare with everyone, young lady. We were beginning to think that you weren't going to make it out. Talk about cutting it close."

Claire only smiled apologetically as she heard someone's voice clear from outside the tent and they looked up to find that Minfilia was sticking her head in carefully.

"Sorry to bother you," she said, "I just wanted to check on you in person."

"No need to fear," Cid reassured her with a friendly wave and the leader of the Scions ducked under the tent flap to enter. "I was just about to go speak with the Alliance leaders' real quick to see if there was anything else they needed the Ironworks to do before I finish Maggie's repairs. Our mutual friend here has not stopped pestering me about it."

"It was thanks to Maggie that we made it out alive," Claire reminded him as he nodded.

"Right, right," he said. "And it's the least we can do to return the favor. While I doubt that she will be able to fire all her lasers on full cylinder again… damage to the core and everything, I'll get her up and running. Just you watch. You, meanwhile, need to take your time to rest and recover. You've more than earned it. And once all is said and done, remind me to buy you those drinks."

"I'll hold you to that," Claire waved as he left.

Soon it was just the two of them and Minfilia just beamed at her as if she had never done so before. As Claire was being treated, Y'shtola and Papalymo had pressed her for more information about what happened to her while inside the Castrum. Claire explained everything that she could in as much details as possible, hoping that it would be able to help Thancred in some way possible. They were treating him as they spoke, and according to Y'shtola, his injuries weren't as bad as they feared but his body was far from fighting fit. Apparently, Lahabrea didn't see the need to ensure that his borrowed body was taken care of with basics such as food and sleep.

"Otherwise his injuries are bad but not life-threatening," Y'shtola reassured them after they asked where Thancred was. "We will keep an eye on him from here, but I feel confident to say that that it is not the Ascian who is in control. It sounds like he was forced out by the Blessing of Light. How Thancred will react when he awakens is yet to be seen."

Her words were now echoing inside her head and so she had to know more of what was going on.

"How is Thancred?" Claire asked Minfilia and she actually looked a little water-eyed.

"He's awoken," she said, all but bursting with joy. "And it is him, not Lahabrea! Oh, words can't describe the joy I felt when I learned of it!"

Claire smiled back and nodded in agreement as Minfilia went on.

"Though, I fear that he remembers precious little of what happened," she said, her smile fading slightly. "He claims that he had laid down to rest and the next thing he knew he was lying on a cot here in camp. We've already described to him what happened, and the look on his face…?"

"I hope he doesn't blame himself for what happened?" Claire asked worriedly.

"We will do our best to reassure him of that," Minfilia sighed. "Though, truth be told, I see the darkness in his eyes when he heard of Lahabra's name and we are trying to help him piece more of what happened."

"What does he remember?" Claire asked curiously as Minfilia drew up next to her cot and took a seat on an upturn crate.

"Just pieces that he claims tell him precious little," she answered sadly. "He remembers being surrounded by darkness and a voice whispering into his ear. He states that he had tried to fight it… but it was as if he were trapped in some nightmare and could not find his way out. It was as if something was binding his very spirit and preventing him from finding his way home. The second that Lahabrea left, however, he could see and think clearly for the first time in a long time and knew just where to go. It was how he was when he next awoke. But still, he is safe and that is all that matters. For right now, we feel that it is for the best that he just tries to recover. While he is unable to tell us more of what the Ascians were planning, I am just grateful that he has been returned to us."

"You both are close," Claire pointed out and Minfilia blushed a slight shade of pink at those words.

"I suppose," she confessed. "I had known him since I was a little girl. He always had a kind word to say to me and had watched over me to ensure that no harm came to me. Of course there were days where he would spend all his time in the taverns drinking and flirting with the maidens of Ul'dah… but I still see him as a friend."

She looked up and smiled at her and answered, "Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that he was doing much better. And I just wanted to ensure that you were well. You are, are you not? Do you need me to get you anything…?"

Claire shook her head.

"No," she said before thinking it all over and adding, "Well, mayhaps something to change into."

She then looked down at her battered armor, knowing that Curious Gorge was going to kill her when he learned of how she damaged his ancestor's armor.

"And a new weapon?" Claire suddenly added, remembering that she had to leave her old axe behind.

"Oh, of course!" Minfilia nodded. "Once this is all over, I think that you are in for a break anyway. Wait right here."

Minfilia was about to leave when Yda suddenly came bursting into the tent with a happy smile on her face. "There you are!" Yda said loudly when she spotted Claire. "I've been looking for you! Come on!"

"Wha-?" Claire began before Yda excitedly grabbed her hand and all but dragged her out behind her and out into the rest of the camp.

"Come on! Everyone's passing around drinks and food! I know that you must be starving!" Yda chirped.

Claire made to refuse but then her stomach spoke for her by letting out a rumble of hunger and she blushed as Yda laughed. "See? There's the proof! Come on! Let's go and join everyone!"

Well, she supposed that break will have to wait a little longer.

Still, when she reappeared, everyone began to cheer her once more and were pressing food and drinks into her hands, all with the intension of her stuffing herself till she burst and drinking enough until she drowned. Claire just laughed with them as she began to enjoy the celebrations as well.

They were at the Alliance's base camp just near the shores of Lake Silvertear—in the shade of the colossal remains of the airship and the remaining bones of the skeletal dragon—when the sun was beginning to rise over the rest of Mor Dhona. It was a beautiful clear day, with the sky the brightest shade of forget-me-not blue Claire had ever seen with barely a cloud in the sky. It was as if the weather was celebrating their victory along with them. And when the sun spread, it caused the crystalized landscape about her to sparkle like diamonds and Claire couldn't help but appreciate just how beautiful the world was around her.

As she enjoyed her time with her new adventuring friends, she noticed how Thancred had been brought out of his tent and was helped into a spare chair not too far away. He was looking very pale and battered… as if he was getting over a severe sickness and was still too tired to try to stand on his own. He had already been changed out of the black robes and into white cotton ones instead, which made him looked a bit washed out and even more weary than he was before. But he was smiling faintly as he was surrounded by his fellow Scions and friends.

She wanted to join them, but she wasn't sure how he would react to seeing her. She figured that it would be rather alarming and embarrassing to be greeted by someone who just saved your life… and not have clear memories of the event that happened.

She did promise herself though that she would speak with him a little later… once everything settled down.

No sooner did she think that did the three leaders of the Alliance suddenly made their reappearance. Their very stature commanded attention and suddenly everyone was gathered around each other as they watched them take to the front, just underneath the three banners of their city-states fluttering proudly above them.

She watched on, wondering what they were going to say.

"Friends!" Raubahn boomed out to them all. "The dread night of imperial tyranny and Ascian machination is ended. A new day now begins in Eorzea."

"True to their name, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, along with our champion, have delivered us from darkness," the Admiral added and she felt eyes suddenly upon her once more. She didn't dare look away though, in fear of turning red if she focused too much upon it.

"Let their shared victory serve to remind us of our shared history," Kan-E-Senna added, her soft voice carrying over them with an air of confidence that was different to her counterparts but just as commanding. "And let their bravery in the face of adversity inspire future generations."

"Doubt not the realm will need bravery in the days to come," Raubahn added, his voice suddenly becoming a touch more serious. "Old rifts threaten to divide us within our walls, while hordes of beastmen claw at our gates."

Claire supposed that it was too much to hope for that their problems with the primals were no over?

"And though the Black Wolf be slain, the rest of the pack remains," General Raubahn went on proudly, "Yet no foe need we fear, so long as we stand as one…"

"So long as the Scions stand for peace," Merlwyb added in.

"So long as our champion stands fast," Kan-E-Senna added, smiling at Claire, who smiled back. "For there exists no adversity over which we may not jointly prevail."

There were shouts of approval from everyone, and Claire could just feel the excitement radiating off them like heat from a roaring fire.

"No longer can we turn a blind eye to the suffering of our allies," the Admiral commanded out and Claire could hear a few former pirates shouting out near the back of the crowd.

"No nation stands alone," Kan-E-Senna added. "If one should fall, so shall we all. Eorzea is our shared home. For any one of us to know peace, so too must our neighbor."

It was as if they all prepared this speech with how well they were working off each other. And then Raubahn spoke up again by declaring, "Just as we join in solidarity before you this day… So too shall our Grand Companies be joined henceforth, to strive not only for the good of mere nations…but for the good of all the realm."

Good of the realm… it sounded good and yet a part of her heart felt a twinge of worry. Still, Kan-E-Senna addressed almost what she was thinking.

"Change will not come overnight," called the Elder Seedseer. "Yet I forsee a day, not so very far from now, when the lines that divide our lands fade… and all of Eorzea is one."

"It has been but five short years since the Battle of Carteneau. Five years since the advent of the Seventh Umbral Era," Admiral Merlwyb added as well for good measure. "No victory, however sweet, can wash away our bitter sorrows. No triumph can reclaim those we lost. Yet do not presume you honor them by dwelling on the past. It was not the past they fought for. You would repay their sacrifice by looking to the future."

"A future united, as the Warriors of Light united in the champion," Raubahn called and she could feel his eyes looking on at her with fierce pride.

They were enjoying embarrassing her like this, she was sure of it.

"Now is the time for us to rise as one, bearing all of Eorzea on our shoulders!" Merlwyb exclaimed.

Kan-E-Senna nodded in agreement with that, her smile radiant even from here. "Five years ago, Eorzea bore witness to the end of the Sixth Astral Era. Now the Seventh Umbral Era draws to a close. Yet we come together not to glory in its end, but to mark a new beginning."

The three of them then drew their weapons and held them up high as they joined together, symbolizing their unity as they cried out, as one: "Let it be writ that on this day…by the light of the Crystal…Eorzea ushered in a NEW era! The Seventh Astral Era is come! And thus is ours a realm reborn!"

The crowd around them cheered and applauded at this moment occasion. There were cries of joy as everyone was hugging the closest person to them. She just stood there with a relieved smile as she watched the scene… the image of the Alliance leaders standing under their respective banners, coming together like this…? This was a moment that she knew she would never forget.

It was all over.

Everyone was dispersing, speaking with their new friends and brothers-in-arms while she joined the other Scions to finally greet Thancred. He smiled wearily at them all, but when his eyes fell upon her his eyes seemed to glitter with gratitude and affection.

"Well," he said as she approached, "Look who decided to join me at my sick bed? Though, given your recent efforts on my behalf… I can forgive you for that. Thank you."

She smiled back at him as talking seemed to be wearing him out.

"How do you feel?" she asked and he laughed.

"I've heard that line so often that I'm starting to think that no one believes me when I tell them I'm feeling alright," he confessed, though the exhaustion in his voice was giving away how tired he was. "At least… far better now than… well… previously."

He looked away at those words and her heart went out to him. This must be so hard for him to learn everything that happened… including his role in it. As unwilling as it was.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about him bouncing back," Y'shtola's voice said teasingly and Claire looked up to see that their scholarly friend had joined them. "He's the stubborn sort who has never let a little setback stop him. Why the number of times he had been rejected by a number of women for one…?"

"You wound me, 'Shtola!" Thancred countered with as much faux hurt that he could muster in his tired voice. "I'll have you know that my name is sighed longingly by countless fair maidens."

"Yes, wishing that you would leave them alone," she countered with a grin.

Thancred shook his head and turned back to Claire as he asked, "You see what I gotta put up with? One would think that after my experience, she would be more sympathetic. But no…"

"Of course not," she countered evenly as the other Scions joined them. "You have a lot of work to do to get back into our good graces after everything that happened."

"A challenge that I shall accept with open arms," he declared but Claire could sense that there was no mocking there. He really meant that though she hoped that he wouldn't be overdoing it again… that was what led them to this situation to begin with.

They all laughed as the subject was quickly changed and soon they were all excitedly began to talk about the days to come and how it looks like Eorzea is finally uniting after everything that had happened. For a moment, it truly looked like a bright future was waiting for them… and for that brief respite, Claire felt truly at peace.

Just as she let her guard down and began to relax however… pain suddenly struck at her head again and hear ears were filled with a strange buzzing. She placed her hand to her head as her vision began to blur about her. Everything was spinning and she didn't know how she was still standing but everyone was fading away from around her. She stared about fearfully as the images of her friends all disappeared until she was standing there all alone…?

What in the world…?

Not another vision! Not now! But… no wait… this wasn't the same. It wasn't the Echo… it was something different. The ringing began to grow louder and louder and she almost fell over before everything blinked out… and then it as if watching through a static screen when she saw it… darkness.

Her eyes were wide with shock as she stared at the crystal shape in front of her. It was an enormous crystal, identical in shape and even in size to Hydaelyn… only… it was glowing with a darkening light. It was as if someone had pulled together pure darkness and was left with this crystal at its core…? It was a sickly purple color along the crystalline surface while a dozen or so smaller crystal fragments drifted about it in orbit… all the while a glowing red seemed to pulsate from within the largest one as if it were the beating heat of a living being.

She stared at it, not sure what she was seeing or what was happening. It wasn't Hydaelyn… of that she was certain… yet… at the same time she felt that this crystal didn't mean to do her harm. She quickly realized though that while she was staring at it, the crystal seemed to stare back directly at her.

She didn't hear a voice speak like she did with Hydaelyn… still, she could have sworn that she heard a voice in the back of her head whisper: "You… again…"

Again?

Whose voice was that? Her own… or the crystal?

She reached out, desperate for answers, but as she blinked… she was suddenly gone. As quickly as it had come, she had been pushed back and she was surrounded by a crowd once more. Claire was panting hard as she looked about, trying to find a trace of the darkened crystal. But all she could hear was the excited trill of all the people around her.

No one else seemed to have noticed the change.

Her heart was slowly setting back to normal… but her mind was racing. What was that? Was it the Echo again? Seemed a safe bet, but what was that image? It wasn't like when she was looking into the past or anything like that. Instead, it was just like when Hydaelyn reached out to speak with her. Yet… it wasn't her. That most certainly wasn't her. But if it wasn't Hydaelyn then how many other giant crystals could there possibly be?

The aura that seemed to radiate off that crystal though… while dark… didn't seem harmful? She wasn't sure what it all meant. However, she was certain of two things. One: That crystal figure wasn't the Mothercrystal… and Two: it didn't mean her any harm in that moment.

Someone was trying to reach her.

"What is it?"

Claire blinked and looked up to find that Minfilia was looking directly at her with concern. It seemed that her 'vision' if that was what it was, didn't go unnoticed after all.

Claire wanted to explain what she saw, but she didn't know how to put it into words that would make sense, even to her. But just as she tried to open her mouth, there was another loud sound that caused her head to spin again.

But this time it was an outside force that everyone else could hear. An ear-splitting roar that was so loud that it felt like her eardrums would burst and the ground beneath their feet began to shake. Many others fell about them, either to the ground or just cowering with their hands firmly over their ears but everyone was staring around to try and find the source.

When the noise died down, everyone was looking frightened and on high alert… just when an Immortal Flame soldier arrived.

"Dread tidings! Chaos and carnage…"

Everyone turned to see the solider come bursting into the clearing, looking like the keeper of the Seventh Gate was on his heels.

His eyes were wide with terror and he was gasping as if he had just run a marathon as he cried out, "It is an abomination! A… primal! A primal has awakened!"

Claire's own heart sank like a stone in a lake as the roar echoed about them again, but she didn't even bother to cover them as dread filled her heart.

She supposed she should have seen this coming… even though the Ultima Weapon was destroyed… her adventures in these lands were far from over.

*Elsewhere*

Malms and countless malms away from the newly named Warrior of Light there were a group of people hiding in the shadows.

They were all but lurking about in a strange, prison-like hole filled with cells. There was no light that could pierce this suffocating darkness as several figures remained hidden in the shadowy corners. Excitement and disappointment seemed to radiate off them all in equal measure at that moment when they sensed the awakening of the primal.

But the second that the roar was heard, these figures were all but coming out of the nooks and crannies of this space. They all heard it… felt it… and they knew at once what it meant. The tallest figure amongst them stood in the center of the room as he smirked at what everyone was thinking. One by one, they all began to join him. His fellows… his comrades all in the struggle to restore this world to how it once was… how it should have always have been… and while they were few in number, he was not at all afraid of what must be done nor of how long it would take.

While those like Elidibus must concern themselves with the balance of the world's stability… or of those like Emet-Selch who seemed more curious about these insignificant insects that passed for people… he knew that he would be ready and willing to do whatever it took to ensure that their desires restored the world to as it was.

"Bahamut stirs," the one named Pashtarot whispered as the figures all began to gather.

Then another, in the form of a woman, appeared and Igeyorhm whispered, "As will the others ere long."

A third then joined him, Nabriales, as he added, "Tis not a question of whether Eorzea's champion shall yield, but of when."

That was true. Though she had won this time, she was still just a regular mortal; no different than the majority of their kind. It would only be a matter of time before she was finished and they would again be free to cause another Rejoining.

"And with each passing moment we draw closer to the Reckoning," Lahabrea added as the rest of them joined in.

"To the one true god!" they changed. "To Zodiark!"

They could wait… they had all the time in the world, after all. Something that these simple Eorzeans could not claim to be able to do. Time was all that was needed for their next plan to take root and spread the seeds of chaos once more.

His eyes were already focused upon the northern lands… filled with ice and snow and the heat of dragonfire. Yes, that is where he will begin his next plan to hastening the Rejoining. There were seven already and only a few more to go before the rest of the world slowly but surely takes the form that it had so long ago.

And all will be as it once was.

(Needed something to do until 5.5 part 2! Am hoping to complete this story before Endwalker comes out though I do plan on making the chapters shorter and really focusing more on the important parts. So leaving out smaller side quests and shortening the battle scenes to get to the juicy stuff. Do plan on only finishing up through Before the Dawn. Again, this is all just a prelude to my Eyes Ever Heavensward series. Am thinking about doing the same for the rest of Shadowbringers, at least until making sure that everyone returns from the first. If there will be any future to this series after that, I guess that it will all depend on what happens in Endwalker. Though I will not be doing another long story like I have with the previous ones. Really just focusing more on the shorter stories at this point but I can't wait to see how the rest of Shadowbringers ends. Anyway, hope you all like this semi-conclusion to this story. I will get the next chapter up as soon as possible which will including moving HQ to Mor Dhona as well as the fight with Good King Moogle Mog! Until next time)