It was something out of Alphinaud’s nightmares, watching Maeve walk across the cavern floor to the pool of water, only to walk across that as well with only slight ripples disturbing the surface to showcase her passage. Eyes which he had once thought in a moment of whimsy as being like the ocean were no more. Bright blue, lit with the light of the crystal which hung in the air above them. As she walked, her soul stones flew from her pockets and into the air, orbiting the large crystal like silent guardians.
There was someone screaming her name and it took him a moment to realize that it was him screaming. Running forward, he tried to reach for Maeve’s hand but was rebuffed by the very light which was drawing her in. Helpless, he watched as the curls and braid she kept her hair tightly bound in came undone, silver hair flowing around her, whipped back and forth by the wind created by all the power being released.
For one heartfelt moment, he saw Ysayle with silver hair streaming behind her as she shattered into Aether. He had lost her. Estinien had gone his own way, lowering his lance as the Azure Dragoon without so much as a word of goodbye. He couldn’t lose her. Couldn’t lose his best friend. But how could he fight something like this?
“Do not bother, child. For Hydalen has come to claim her champion.”
Whipping his head around, Alphinaud saw the deceptively diminutive form of Midgardsormr. But the dragon didn’t look at him, simply observed the form of the mortal woman he had bound himself to as she walked to what could only be her doom.
“What do you mean, Hydalen is claiming her? What is happening?” He was desperate, desperate enough to even talk to the father of dragons.
“Hydalen hath grown weak. Already she has claimed one daughter, has she not?” Minfilia, he could only be talking about her. “But she was weak, for all the the crystal favored her. All her energy spent, she now needs someone else to walk into her arms, to protect her.”
“Hydalen means her to become the new Voice of the Mother?” For a moment, he imagined Maeve, hollow except for the crystal’s will, as she had described Minfilia to him one night and horror didn’t even begin to describe what he felt.
“No. The child is no speaker, she is a warrior. And so she will fight, Hydalen’s will empowering her to fight a never ending war. For she is the strongest of her children and it is that fact alone which will keep her from fading.”
But Alphinaud had stopped listening. Maeve was underneath the crystal now and the soul stones stopped their orbit before lifting up, reminding him vaguely of the petals of a flower unfurling. There was light bleeding out from under her skin now and one by one, the crystals of light appeared and began their own orbit around Maeve and slowly, she began to rise into the air with her body bent back like a limp doll. There were tears falling down his face as she slowly disappeared into the crystal. And once she was gone, the soul stones lowered once more, acting as shield’s to the crystal which had just stolen his best friend.
And then the stones began to speed up, going so fast that to his untrained eyes they seemed to blend together. The light of the crystal grew so bright, that Alphinaud had no choice but to close his eyes or be blinded. But within a moment it was over, and when he opened his eyes, the crystal was as it had been, soul stones slowing down to their lazy orbit. But Maeve was still gone and he couldn’t help but let out a sob.
“Cease your tears child, for the Warrior hath given you a priceless gift.”
Looking once more to the diminutive dragon, Alphinaud was shocked to see where he was once the size of a cat, Midgardsormr was now even larger than he had been in the moments when Maeve would ride upon his back. But then he grew angry.
“Gift? What gift could possibly be worth more than her life?!” He couldn’t think of anything that could come anywhere close.
But for the first time, the ancient Wyrm looked him in the eyes.
“The warrior hath given you time, boy. Time to grow stronger. To begin filling the vacuum of power which her absence will cause.”
And his fragile anger shattered, just leaving him hollow. But the Wyrm continued on.
“The shade of my vengeful child is gone, the Dragonsong War hath ended for the first time in a thousand years. And now, with this gift, the Ascians too will not be able to bear upon this world. Primals will not rise. A Calm hath settled. But after a Calm, cometh a storm and you must be ready.” Or she would be disappointed, went unsaid.
And he was right. To not prepare would be making her sacrifice, willing or unwilling (And the uncertainty of not knowing if she had once more been forced into something without her consent was a knife to his heart), would go against everything she would want.
“You speak as though this has happened before. Does that mean she can come back?”
The great wyrm was silent for a moment.
“That I do not know. But she still lives, that I can say with certainty. And she will live so long as she does not falter in her fight and you will know if that should happen, for the entire world will feel the results should she fail in this.”
The words were menacing, the stakes and weight on Maeve’s shoulders greater than ever. But she lived, and she was in control. That was enough. They had ripped Estinien from Nidhogg’s grasp and saved his life. Hydalen was a much kinder mistress than they wyrm would ever be. She could be saved. For the first time, he could save his friend. Maybe it would even bring Estinien home.
Everything would be alright. It had to be.