The sun set over Madain Sari, flooding the sky with rich hues of red and purple. Twilight slowly descended onto the Eidolon Wall, staining the pale stone gold.
Garnet clutched her hands together in her lap. Nights in the coastal desert were cold, and already there was a chill in the air. She knew it was time to rejoin her companions in the kitchen of Eiko's dwelling, but she didn't want to leave the circle of this sacred space quite yet.
As Garnet meditated on the figures carved into the wall, she searched her heart for a proper sense of reverence and gratitude. Her eidolons had allowed her to travel to places that she never would have been able to see as a princess, and they had helped her to aid her people in ways that she never could have imagined. In the morning she and her friends would return to the Iifa Tree; and, with the support of the eidolons, she might be able to save her entire world.
There was no doubt in Garnet's mind that she would emerge triumphant from the coming battle. She had trained with her comrades as a team, and together they had overcome any number of challenges. If she were being honest with herself, this final obstacle on the road to lasting peace felt like little more than a formality, and she was growing anxious to return to Alexandria and resume what she was coming to understand as her true work – rebuilding her city and ensuring its prosperity.
Garnet sighed and lit another stick of incense. As its woody fragrance rose into the air along with a thin wisp of smoke, she once again attempted to concentrate on a prayer to the eidolons of her ancestors, but her mind found few footholds in the shadowy texture of the mostly unknown history of her people. It was difficult to focus on ancestors that she could neither properly visualize nor even remember in the slightest. Perhaps, if she still had her horn, she might have been able to get a better sense of the eidolons as individual beings with their own voices and personalities, and perhaps the stories that had been lost when this city was destroyed would have felt more personal to her.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Garnet looked up to see Freya standing just inside the circle of stone, an earthenware mug in each of her hands. She was not wearing her usual wide-brimmed hat, and the setting sun had dyed her white hair a deep auburn.
"Freya!" Garnet exclaimed, pleased by the interruption. "Come sit down with me," she said, moving to the side of the bench in order to offer a seat.
"There are too many cooks in the kitchen," Freya explained as she crossed the sandy ground in her loping stride, "so I thought I'd give them some space. The moogles asked me to bring an extra cup of tea out to you."
"Be careful, it's still hot," she added as she extended her arm to give one of the mugs to Garnet, who accepted it gratefully.
Garnet blew steam away from the surface of the tea as Freya settled herself down next to her.
"It will be good to sleep on solid ground for once," Freya murmured, stretching her legs.
Garnet took a sip of tea. It tasted of mint and an exotic spice that she couldn't identify. "Can you believe," she said, "that I almost never rode in an airship during all the time I lived in Alexandria? They weren't quite as safe when I was a child as they are now, and I suppose my mother didn't want me getting any ideas..."
She allowed her words to trail off, a bit embarrassed to have referred to the former queen as "mother" in the place that should have been her home. It felt rude somehow, as if she were dishonoring the memory of the woman who had sacrificed her life to deliver her to safety, but Brahne was still the person who had raised her, and she still mourned her foster mother even despite everything that had happened since the king passed away.
"You know," Freya said, "when I was younger, I used to love stories about princesses running away from home. I never thought that I would actually meet one."
"I must have read the same stories," Garnet responded, laughing. "And I never thought that I would actually become one. My favorite was an old romance about a white mage named Rosa who leaves her castle to rescue a dark knight who'd been sent on a terrible mission by an evil king. I loved reading about her adventures, but I never dreamed that I could ever become someone like that myself."
Freya smiled and nodded. "There's something to be said for leaving home, isn't there?"
Garnet took another sip of tea, allowing a comfortable silence to spin out as the golden twilight deepened into evening over the Eidolon Wall. The drawings of the eidolons etched onto its rock face were simplistic, even a bit crude, but the strong and suggestive lines of the art were meant to survive the erosion of time. It was almost as though the ancient summoners understood that their race would be short-lived, and that these carvings in stone would survive any books that could be burned or any human voices that could be coerced into forgetfulness.
"What will you do when we return from the Iifa Tree?" Garnet asked, breaking the silence.
Freya laughed again. "You're awfully confident, aren't you? You've changed so much since we first met."
Garnet grinned in response. "You know, people keep saying that to me, but I honestly don't think I've changed at all. I think that I was always who I am now, but I was just waiting for the right opportunity to become myself."
"I feel the same way," Freya remarked, leaning back to watch the sun set over the stone rim of the wall. "All the time I spent chasing after Sir Fratley, I was just looking for an excuse to come home again."
"Do you think that's what you'll do, when all of this is over?"
"Return to Burmecia? I've been thinking about it almost every day. I haven't wanted to make any promises to anyone, since I'm not certain I'll be able to come back from this fight in one piece, but I'd be lying if I said that I don't share a measure of your confidence. For all the trouble he's caused, at this point confronting Kuja feels like nothing more than one final hurdle I have to jump over before I can get down to business."
Garnet was surprised to hear Freya echo her own thoughts so clearly. She nodded vigorously in agreement. "I've been training my body and spirit, all the while polishing my spells in my mind," she said. "But at night, right before I fall asleep, I make long lists of everything I need to do when I return to Alexandria, like rebuilding the city walls, and repairing the roads..."
"...and compensating the families of the soldiers, and relocating the refugees," Freya added, finishing her sentence.
"And of course we need to clean up all the rubble – "
"And refurbish the residential districts – "
"And I've even been thinking of relocating the merchant district – "
"And perhaps even widening the main avenues running through it."
Garnet and Freya smiled at each other in perfect mutual understanding.
As they finished the last of their tea, enjoying the remaining soft sliver of daylight in a companionable silence, a moogle shuffled through the gateway. To her consternation, Garnet still had trouble telling the moogles of Madain Sari apart, so she simply bowed her head in acknowledgement of his presence. He announced that dinner was ready before hastily trundling back the way he had come, presumably so that his share would not be consumed in his absence.
"One thing I'll miss about being on the road is the variety of the cuisine," Freya said, dusting the seat of her pants as she stood.
"You're always welcome to come to Alexandria to sample any of our dishes," Garnet replied, extending her arms above her head as she straightened her back.
"As you will always be welcome in Burmecia. It was a lovely city when I left it."
"And I'm sure it will become a lovely city once again when you return. Before then, all we have to do is this one last thing."
"As a runaway princess, you have a tall legacy to live up to," Freya remarked. Every bit the chivalrous knight, she offered her hand to Garnet to help her up. "Before we return home, let's make this an adventure to remember, shall we?"
"By all means, let's," Garnet answered, taking Freya's hand as she rose to her feet. Although the evening air had grown even colder, she felt warm from the tea and conversation. No matter how long she remained bound to Alexandria while attending to her duties as the queen of a recovering kingdom, there would always be part of her that would be at home in her memories of traveling with her friends.