This was not what the group expected when they traveled down into the caverns.

Now, the first few floors were what was expected. Deep caverns, with ruins from those who came before. Monsters who were riled up, including a few maddened Goblins. (Minfilia had hoped they could have calmed them, but they couldn’t.) Odd crystal deposits, which seemed to shimmer in all the colours of the rainbow - deposited into the walls, they had discovered, when Minfilia tried to mine into them.

It was hard, too hard to break though. If not for the stairs, they would have never gotten down further. But other then that, this seemed like a regular abandoned ruin.

But as they climbed down to the next floor, the stairs seemed to become lighter and lighter... and then vanished, into the sky. The group began to look around at the odd daytime, which seemed to be brighter then even the sun they knew.

For somehow, underneath this strange cavern, there was a town. With a sky, and a sun. A chill winter wind seemed to blow past them, as they landed on the soft grass. The first thing that any of them could notice that large walls surrounded the town, with no visible exit. Grass existed, but it seemed to be struggling to grow - near-white dirt covered the ground instead, a layer of dust over everything.

It was Bolormaa who spoke first - said what everybody was thinking. “Is this a real town? Or... is it part of the dungeon?” Her tail swished - knocking off some of the dirt that’d gotten on it from the floors above.

“We cannot say without seeing anybody...” Minfilia began, before something caught her eyes. A cloaked figure, in robes like the White Mages she had read about. But their face seemed shielded, hidden. The White Mage seemed to notice them, too - and raised a cane in defense.

Minfilia, however, approached - Lyse and Fordola following her. (Bolormaa knew she was frightening, deep down.) “Excuse me-- excuse me?”

The White Mage froze, and then smiled. “Oh, thank-- you’re not a monster! They often break in here.’re not a monster, are you?”

Nodding to herself, Minfilia gave a smile. “I’m no monster. Um, excuse me - where are we? We were descending down a queer dungeon, and...”

“...descending? That sounds... off. This is the city of Earthgift - though if you descended here, it’d make sense that the walls have not been broken.”

“Yeah,” Lyse said, putting her hands behind her head, “those walls ARE pretty tall. Keepin’ something out?”

The White Mage seemed to be in thought. “You’re truly clueless... pray, follow me, and I can guide you to somebody who can educate you. Ah-- be careful safe.”

Lyse and Minfilia exchanged looks, but they began to follow the White Mage. Lyse spoke up, however. “What’s with the robes?”

A chuckle, and the White Mage looked back at them - still hiding their face. “Why, it’s a choice of the Queen. She believes that if we don’t show our faces, they can’t be stolen by our enemies. So, if the walls fall... we’ll be safe.”

“Ya know,” Fordola said, poking her head out, “we could be ya enemies.”

“No, you’re not.”

“And how are you so sure?”

The White Mage stopped, going silent. “You don’t smell of spring and summer, you don’t smell of the bloom of new life.”

“Wait--!” Lyse said, rushing forward a little. “Are your enemies the Seelie?” The White Mage nodded, and Lyse gasped - letting her form falter. “So you’re an Unseelie town? Oh my gosh... I’m an Unseelie as well!”

The small Sylph hovered, and the White Mage began to examine her autumn hues. Reaching out a heavily gloved hand, they touched her - and then smiled, their voice sounding softer. “Ah - it seems you are. I wonder where you came from? We don’t have the spare energy to grow new plants - the defenses take a lot from us.”

“Then how do you eat?” Minfilia asked - and they continued to walk past the stone buildings, sturdy but uniform. The White Mage grew a little quiet, shaking their head, and they continued onwards.

Seeming to need to find the words, they eventually spoke up - stopping on a half-rotted wooden bridge. “Our Queen has her ways - she currently has agents across the Rifts, taking what little we need.

...not many of us survive.”

This town, in a cave... Minfilia was beginning to think it wasn’t quite what it seemed. She looked upwards, to a palace - though it was not large. Half of it was crumbling away, and more of it was covered in both dust and snow. The walls still towered over it, as well. Not that magnificent - but if this town of Earthgift was falling apart, little wonder they weren’t going to keep it fully repaired.

“If you came down here from a cave, the Queen will be able to get you home. Or if not her, her Magician.”

The White Mage extended an arm. “We’ll go to the guard together, okay? He’s a little scary, but he’s a good man. He helps look after the children.” And the White Mage continued to walk, up the dusty stairs. They could see everybody who’d walked up and down them - and yet, dust still settled.

The palace door was closed, and a heavily armoured knight stood there. Their armour was cracked, but the cracks were filled with an odd ice-coloured gold - it stood out compared to the deep blue the armour was forged in. Other then the armour, they wore a deep black cape.

But unlike many knights - any at all - he seemed to stumble as he saw Minfilia and Lyse. Bolormaa stood behind them, her tail swishing gently - but defensive. The White Mage bowed their head. “High Knight Selale. These people have appeared from parts unknown - but they are no Seelie. May they enter the palace?”

Selale was quiet - regaining his composure, he gave a soft grunt. “They may. Thank you for bringing them here. You may return to your defenses.” The White Mage gave a thankful bow, before finally running away. Bolormaa tried to speak up, to calm them, but she then looked back to Selale. He opened the door, and gave a nod. “Come. I have questions - as do you, I imagine?”

Inside the palace was no better then outside - while torches lined the inside, most of them remained unlit. However, the knight - Selale - moved swiftly to a well-preserved meeting room. His steps slowed as he moved from stone brick to carpet. “I shall call for some food anon,” Selale said, voice calm under his armour - before letting out a whistle. An oddly owl-like beind sweeped in - landing on him. He gave his orders in a whisper, and the owl flew off.

“Please, share your story. And do not worry - I will not steal any of your sense of self,” he said with a soft, awkward smile. But before any of the others could speak up, Lyse floated up to him.

She hadn’t bothered putting her glamour back on. “Is this the only place Unseelie live? Or are there others?”

Selale sat down at the table - gesturing the others to do the same. Of course, he had the more commanding chair - draped in dark blues and icy blues. Leaning forward, he looked to Lyse. “I’m afraid I can’t answer that - I’ve never met any others.” As he spoke, he moved to remove his helmet. “But I’m certain they exist. After all, you do, do you not?”

Under his helmet was a Hyur - but his face was scarred with the same icy-gold marks as his armour. They covered his eyes, but he could still seemingly see. But something felt familiar about him, a familiar feeling that Minfilia couldn’t quite parse. Lyse, meanwhile, wasn’t as confused - she began to play with his long white-blonde hair, out of habit. She was lucky he didn’t slap her away. “I did. But, um, I wasn’t born one?”

Selale gave a little chuckle. “Neither was I, my new friend. Though, if I might say so, you make a beautiful Sylph. That is what your kind are called, yes?” Lyse nodded, giving a little twirl - leaves falling off. But before she could introduce herself, Selale continued. “Be careful. Do not give me more then you’re ready to lose - while the Queen is kind, she is still one of us. I gifted her my name as a young child - and, well, look at me.”

Minfilia raised a hand to her chest. “I suppose that is why that person outside did not gift us their name.”

Selale nodded, hesitating as he looked to her. “Selale… I don’t recall if it was my birth name, or one she gave me. But it’s not the name I use elsewhere.”

Food arrived, carried by the owl-like beings - while it wasn’t much, the group began to eat - even Fordola, who was remaining quiet. Selale continued. “I don’t know if you heard this, but we get many of our supplies from… ah… other realities. How to explain…” Selale leaned back, giving a little chuckle.

And that’s when Lyse noticed it, on his neck. “Why do you have an Archon mark?” she asked, a little too loud. Selale grew deathly quiet, looking away. Minfilia stood, to investigate - but then… stood back a little.

“I shall not ask.”

Lyse, Fordola, and Selale all stared at her. Minfilia gave Selale a strong look. “Not only did you just say we should keep all we can close to our chests, but… I imagine that you have your reasons. It could be simply a similar mark, or perhaps you are one of us.

I shall not ask, for I believe it is not befitting me.”

Selale gave her a thankful smile, before letting himself relax once more - Minfilia returning to her seat. “However, I do not know of these… other realities. What do you mean by such?”

“…It is a theory I believe is a fringe one where you come from,” Selale said, “that the Star is not just one, but many. One for each of the Twelve, alongside the Mothercrystal. Is that true?” Not waiting for a reply, he continued quietly, “It’s not quite right. There’s more like… hundreds of them.”

“Like the splintering Ramuh mentioned…” Minfilina muttered - before turning to the others. “Oh, right. When I sealed Ramuh, he told me a story - and since he’s an Elder Primal, one from many era passed, I wish to believe him.”

Selale seemed to smile to himself, amused at something. “I’ve seen… a little of it. We recently moved into this palace, this warzone. Because the Queens’ old home ended up… dying. It happens a lot, I’ve heard. But not to this extent.”

Silence - except for the sound of eating - filled the halls. Selale continued, quietly. “I was only recruited after we came to Earthgift. I don’t know if that was its’ original name. It’s what the Queen named it.

You shouldn’t be here,” he said to the group. “I do believe you slipped though reality, however. And I can send you back. But—”

“But—?” Minfilia asked - as she felt herself stand, as she felt herself get closer to the scarred knight. She watched his expression, before holding him.

Minfilia didn’t know why she wanted to hold him. Why she wanted to comfort him. But it felt familiar, the sort of familiar that was a comfort. Selale gave a little whine, a little comforted sound as he looked at her from his position. “I—”

“…I’m sorry that her world died,” Minfilia whispered, “though I cannot spare any of my efforts, currently. Would that I could.”

Selale smiled. “You are too kind. May I give you some advice, before we seek your way to, ahem… what were you doing?”

“Clearing out these strange caverns so that some Elezen Duskwights could continue to examine close-by ruins. I promise that they will not fall into Earthgift - it was hard enough to get here.”

Crossing his arms, Selale then seemed to fall into thought. “First of all, you should be a little more careful. You four seem capable, but…”

Bolormaa finally spoke up, food still in her mouth. “You’re fussing over her like family. It’s cute.”

Both Minfilia and Selale looked to each other, before giving a soft laugh. Selale was soft, though, as he looked right at Minfilia. “If you don’t listen to anything else I say, then, please. Listen to this.

Keep an eye on those you cherish. If they’re acting odd, then— please do not assume it’s normal. Please, do what you must to aid them. While I cannot claim to know much about your reality, I know that there is danger from possession.”

Soon, they had moved to an intact basement - a cat-like being curled around a… set of stairs. It stood, and it was clearly no cat. No, it had the face of a Hrothgar, and small bird-like wings tucked away. A Sphinx…? Well, this was not their reality. Selale gave the sphinx a little head scratch, and a little kiss on the forehead. “Wake up, love. We’ve got an answer to the stairs.”

The sphinx stretched, giving a little purr. “You know how much I love answers, dear. So what is it?”

Selale chuckled. “Oh, Nabal. It seems we got caught up in a Mystery Dungeon. With some rather good ladies.” As he gestured to them, Nabel seemed to curl up a little more, defensive.

Nabel, as he was called, looked between Lyse, Minfilia, and their bag. Oh, and Bolormaa - his gaze focusing on the last of them, before he began to push into his dear friends’ hand. “These four… they carry the soul of those who’d cause trouble, don’t you think?” Nabel gave a chuckle, before looking up to the gentle Selale. “Are we certain they should leave so soon?”

Nodding, Selale looked serious - even as his hand moved, to stroke the cat-like man. “You of all people should know it’s not good to be trapped here, in this dreamland…”

“I was making a joke, love.” Even as Nabel talked, he stood up - his body tall and intimidating. A little taller then Bolormaa, he shook a little - and grasped a grimoire that was covered in a familiar gold dust. It looked just like Minfilias’ daggers - and the dust she used to…

“Pardon me - Nabel, was it?” Minfilia asked, as he began to flip though his book. “That dust— where did you get it?”

Nabel looked back to her, smiling at her with his golden eyes, under blue-silver fur. “A gift from Queen Mishiva. It is one of the few things we gather from outside the walls - while it is dangerous, it is also a potent source of magic.” Queen Mishiva, hm… a title similar to Saint Shiva of Ishgard. Perhaps, these different realities did not differ too much. Still, Nabel was beginning to enchant the staircase. “…I can allow some of you to leave the caverns you were in, it seems. Or you can continue—”

“I wanna go back up.”

The group turned to Lyse, who had put her glamour back on. “Somebody has to keep an eye on the caravan, right? And besides - I’m feeling sleepy from the lack of real sunlight. Because, I dunno if you noticed? But the sun here isn’t good.”

Minfilia put a soft hand to Lyse, and nodded - noticing that Fordola had climbed onto Lyse quietly. She didn’t want to talk, though - and she understood. Fordola didn’t need to give a reason. “Very well. Nabel, please do not risk my friend.”

The sphinx gave a chuckle, as the magic illuminated them both. First, Lyse and Fordola went… up, it seemed? And then, the magic flickered and changed. Minfilia looked to the two, and gave a soft smile. “I hope you and your… Queen remain safe. We shall meet again.”

Minfilia stepped though, and descended into the dungeon. The room was silent, as the magic faded… and Selale slumped, sitting on the ground. “How did she end up here?”

Nabel purred, curling around Selale. “Come now, we know her path is one that is full of chaos. That is the burden of the Warrior of Light. Still - does it calm thee? Knowing that she is still safe, even though what happened to your flesh on that realm?”

Selale shook his head. “I want to wake up. I— I’m scared, Urianger.” His voice dropped to the quietest he could. So that Mishiva would not hear them. His eyes closed, and he hugged the sphinx close.

The sphinx gave a soft sigh. “Oh, Thancred… I’m working on it, when I wake. And you know this. Until then, we must continue to fight the Seelie. Besides. Do you not cherish Mishiva as you would your dear daughter? …your sister, sometimes?”

Selale - no, Thancred - gave a soft nod. “I hope she takes my advice. We need to find out who or what has taken my body… in a way that doesn’t hurt any of us.

I trust you.”

The two sat in the cold room, cuddled up close. Thancred now believed in faerie tales. He had dreamed of it for so long - since he was a child, who gave his true name to what seemed like a sweet child who asked if he wished for a family. Perhaps this now protected him from whatever had stolen his flesh. Protected his soul from whatever wished to control his life…