By now, Dr. Monberaux was both fully engrossed in the story and his work. The deft doctor’s nurse, Rosalyn, had come from her quarters and was assisting in the treatment and healing of the small mage’s abused body. Frankly, the other three were in bad shape as well and it was only by Altana’s Grace that they seemed to be determined to see their friend’s recovery through to the end.
“Rosalyn, my forehead please.” The elvaan’s hume nurse dabbed the sweat from Dr. Monberaux’s brow. He was currently knitting a vicious gash across the chest of his patient. Fortunately for the tarutaru, he had used his most powerful protection spells in defense of whatever laid him so low. “So,” he was addressing anyone willing to respond in the trio, “What is ‘sky’ like? Tu’Lia you called it? I have only heard rumors as I am friends with Wolfgang whom I am sure you know by now.”
It was Xan who spoke up next, urging Popof to sit with his dear Tshayichu. If it wasn’t before, the fact that the hulking galka was a bard became clear. Unlike “King” Popof, his descriptions were like verbal tapestries painted and not a short list of events.
“Never again in life will I see such a place as Tu’Lia. We called it sky because we were immersed in nothing but. It was as if we were stranded on a deserted island, but instead of expansive blue waters, there was expansive azure sky. Clouds rippled as waves. It seemed as if the very Gates of Paradise were opened to we four. Even my words fail when I think of that place.
But,” his face grew grim, “it was as deadly as it was beautiful.”
Wintaru moaned in pain. The sound was both discomforting to hear but reassuring to the three still intact that their friend was still alive. Xan continued…
“Welcome to ‘sky’,” said Tshayichu as she smiled and held her arms outstretched. The party eased when they recognized the trickster.
“Come on,” Popof said holding his hand out to the mithra to escort her from her shrub, “we can’t be slacks any longer. We only have six hours or so before it grows dark and I’d rather not stick around to find out what surprises this place holds when we can’t see, let alone when we can.” Together, the four strode forward onto a structure they knew from experience to be a teleport pad.
“Do you remember what we were told…about the old gods being able to run free on Vana’diel?” Wintaru was nervous.
“Yeah, I do,” replied Xan.
“I’m not scarrred,” purred Tshayichu, “I’ll steal their offerings and they won’t even know what happened to them. She chuckled, her shoulders bouncing up and down.
“King” Popof, a title he earned because of his multinational heroism, calmed them down. Together they pressed forward. The garden was pretty, but full of danger. Magical pots and guard dolls filled the palatial estate. It was almost as if this place were frozen in time. Everything was maintained and preserved as it must have looked oh so long ago. Wintaru recognized the arcane threats and warned that no magic should be used lest they aggravate the groundskeepers to a fatal degree.
“Xan,” interrupted the doctor, no applying a salve to the chest wound, “was this place at all like the holy Crags?”
“In majesty yes, in scope, they paled in comparison.”
“I see…” The doctor seemed as if he knew something and the adventurers were filling in the gaps along the way. “Please continue, won’t you? Oh, and Rosalyn…”
“Yes Dr. Monberaux?”
“Please fetch some fresh water.”
“Yes doctor, right away sir.” She started out the door. Before she left, the hume put her hand on the sobbing mithra’s shoulder and whispered, “Come dear, you don’t need to be here right now. Let me help clean you up.” Tshayichu agreed and went with the nurse. Popof smiled knowing that the cat woman would be in better hands with a fellow female.
The grim story continued.
The quartet managed their way inside the central palace via a tunnel they discovered along the way. Inside lay more dolls as well as the savage-looking creatures known as weapons. Being careful not to use magic unless it was completely safe, each member rubbed their armor down with silent oil. This way they could sneak around undetected by any and all palace sentry.
While the twists and turns of the area were new to the adventurers, “dungeon crawling” wasn’t. It took only a little effort to figure their way around. For their curiosity, eventually they stumbled across a coffer. Tshayichu used her expert skills to pick the lock (without asking first, of course) and discovered a magical map inside. This showed the party exactly what they were looking for…the chamber wherein the Ark Angels resided.
This was their ultimate task. Having come this far, they had to fight on, they had to finish the battle that began so many thousands of years ago. Weaving still deeper into the floating island, Xan caught a radiant light out of the corner of his eye. It captivated him and he signaled the others to it.
“This just might be what we came looking for, everyone. This is a burning circle unlike any other I have seen. Tshayichu, what does the map say?”
“We aren’t even on it any more…we haven’t been for a little while.” She grimaced and twitched her ear.
Popof grunted, sounding his frustration. “This isn’t a game!” He yelled loudly, echoing anger down the halls, “This is serious! We could very well die tonight if we don’t prepare and use the skills we have acquired thus far!”
Xan reached out to comfort the fuming elvaan but his sausage like fingers were batted away. “Don’t any of you understand?!” Before the paladin could continue they heard odd grunts coming from down the hall, around the corner.
“It’s the weapons! They must have heard us!” the white mage cautioned. From both sides of the tunnel streamed the red and black hopping homunculi. Left with nowhere else to run, Popof made a snap decision.
“Everyone, into the circle. Move it! Fastah, fastah!”
Tshayichu led the way followed by the lumbering Xan and teetering Wintaru. Behind them, Popof took up the rear in defense. Already he had deflected an animated rapier which was thrust at his chest. “Pick it up! No slacks!”
As the elvaan joined his friend in transporting away, a metallic point skewered his calf muscle. On the other side, the paladin took a knee and winced in pain, sucking air through his teeth.
“Popof!” Tshayichu was concerned.
“I’m alright, don’t worry.” Lavender magic flowed over his leg and the healing spell cast by the leader mended the wound, though it still stung. “I’m sorry everyone, that was my fault. I shouldn’t have snapped like that.”
Wintaru looked his friend over. Xan ended up wandering down the tunnel a ways.
“Guys,” he said. Nobody seemed to respond. “Uh, guys?” Still nothing. The galka reached down, picked a pebble of crumbling cermet and chucked it at the tarutaru.
“Owwie! What was that f-” Wintaru’s own question was answered as he rounded the corner where the galka stood and pelted him. Right behind him in an odd dichotomy of sneaky silence and clanking metal plates came Popof and Tshayichu. There in the center of what looked like a glowing arena were the Ark Angels themselves!
Rosalyn had since delivered the water to the doctor. He told her that right now she was of more use tending to the mithra. Before ascending the stairs, she made sure to catch pieces of the conversation. Back in her room, she checked over the cat woman and found a smaller gash below her ribs. It didn’t take much to bandage. The physical healing helped, but when the hume mentioned the adventurers seeing the Ark Angels for the first time, Tshayichu lifted her head, composed herself, and shared her perspective.
“I really don’t remember too much. We had just jumped from the frying pan and into the fire. The only way out of this place seemed to be by defeating the Angels. The tunnel where we warped was sealed. While Popof had a small injury, he was otherwise alright. All five of them were there, Rosalyn. White skin. Vacant, black eyes.
We schemed up a plan that would seem to work. Sure it was five against four, but we had the element of surprise. I was to sneak up on the tarutaru angel. He looked like the weakest physically. I was to sneak attack him. I did it with no problem. From there,” she trailed, “it gets fuzzy.”
“Xan lulled some to sleep with a lullaby, but the mithra and her tiger lunged in. Popof fended off the angel and I took down the animal. Wint’s protective spells were working and things seemed to be in our favor. I was having trouble with the hollow hume and it scored some hits along my-”
“Yeah…that. I was knocked out by the galka. I got him good in the arm but after that…”
“…I called on Altana and was imbued with invincible might.”
Dr. Monberaux was happy that the paladin could avoid such injury. He doubted that he could have handled two cases like this.
“What of Tshayichu?”
“She went down. I rushed over to protect her. I had felled the mithra and she had subdued the tarutaru. The galka almost skewered Wint but Xan sent it back to a magical sleep while bolstering us. It was hard. At least Tshayichu was alive…barely. We managed to fell the others and we were tapped. I used the last of my magic to bring her around. We gathered what we needed from the bodies. Though, not all of them were dead you see…”
“Popof, I can teleport us out of here, hang on.” A bloodied Wintaru fumbled for the ether he bought. Xan helped Popof with Tshayichu, all the while the reenergized tarutaru began casting a spell to whisk them away from this heavenly hell. His eyes were closed so he never saw the black mage recover consciousness. He heard a shout behind him and Wintaru opened his eyes. There at eye level he stared into the twin swirls of abyss the Ark Angel had for eyes. At point blank range, the evil black mage unleashed its full fury on the white mage.
Spillover roiled over the other compatriots. With his casting interrupted, Wintaru drew upon his own powers as an acolyte of Altana. He said a prayer of benediction and all wounds closed in a shower of holy light. The small white mage began casting again. “Cover me!”
“I’m on it!” Popof sprang from Tshayichu’s side with Xan in tow. It was almost too late. Another wave of raw magic spilled over the group. Popof took the brunt, though Wintaru was badly burned. His pure concentration allowed his teleportation spell to continue. The mithran thief landed another trick attack.
While severly injured, the evil tarutaru knew he needed to stop them from leaving. He made a swipe with his scythe that gashed open the white mage’s chest. Xan and Popof stabbed the angel at the same time, rending its insides. It collapsed dead as they disappeared from sight.
Four figures appeared in the dark and rainy Crag of Holla. One of them slumped over after shimmering into being.
“Wintaru!” Tshayichu shouted. She was joined by the others. Quickly Xan scooped him up in his arms, singing a small song to him. His breathing eased and he stopped bleeding as badly.
They conscripted chocobos from the third shift vendor and ran for the clinic. It rained and boomed overhead the whole way. It was very dreary. They should have been happy. They just saved Vana’diel. They went out on their last mission in a blaze of glory. Together they accomplished the impossible! But at what cost? Wintaru?
Passing by Eldieme Necropolis only made the band more morose. At least they were close to Jeuno and the clinic. Quickly they dismounted. Xan cradled his friend and they ran with all their might towards…
“…my clinic. I see. That explains a lot.”
Rosalyn had come back down at the elvaan doctor’s musing. The cat woman was behind her and looking better.
“How is he, Dr. Monberaux,” asked Tshayichu.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ve done all I can. We will see what morning brings. Please, you need rest, too. As do both of you. Let me tend to your wounds as well.”
Both storm and night passed. The quartet of veterans slept. Wintaru whimpered softly in his induced sleep. Xan would wake up every time and made sure to hold his hand or put a cool cloth on his forehead.
“Hang in there, Wint. Hang in there.” He smiled and sang a small song to lull the tarutaru back to sleep.
Morning came. Early light rays played off the puddles in the brick street. Merchants were opening shop and the Auction House had already made some transactions. Inside the quiet clinic, a tiny tarutaru’s eyes fluttered open. He was too sore to move but he was alive…and thankful. Beside him he could see his hulking, white-furred friend. On the floor across the way lay the mithra Tshayichu in her love’s arms. They all looked peaceful and tired.
Small tears welled in small eyes. They had done a lot in their long and fortunate lives. They had faced down danger and rescued citizenry from evil schemes. Years of service had culminated to this penultimate adventure. Because of their strong bonds and relationships they pulled through.
“What a way to go,” thought Wintaru, “what a way to go down in the history books.” He sniffled loudly but everyone was still asleep. “Popof, Xan, Tshayichu…thank you. Thank you for everything we have done.” A smile crept on his pained and tearful face. “I couldn’t have asked for a fonder farewell, my friends.”
His eyes closed and once more the tarutaru fell asleep, dreaming of his past and his future.
Almost as if an unseen empathetic wave connected the lot of them, the other three responded back, “Farewell, friends.”