A burst of interference from the linkpearl preceded Celie's strained voice coming through. "... having some trouble finding the key..."
Mimi touched two fingers to the pearl dangling at her ear. "Celie? Where are you?"
Celie's nasal accent combined with the staticky connection made Mimi miss the next few words.
"Aw... Nothing this way, anyway," Sami called from another hallway. Nearby, Reina stood with her eyes glassy, seemingly not taking any notice of the voice in her ear.
"Celie, say it again, I need to know where you are," Mimi called, beckoning urgently to Sami and Reina. Reina's eyes focused, and she lifted her gaze.
The interference was stronger this time. "... back hallway... can handle a dragon, non?"
"A dragon?" Mimi's ears went low, and her shoulders hunched. "Celie, we're coming. Just hang in there, okay?" She took off running in the direction Celie had gone, the other two trailing behind her.
Celie planted her staff in the ground, dragging herself up to her feet before raising her staff and focusing aether into a wall in front of her. The staff hummed under her fingertips as the aether flowed through it. The interference here was so strong... The connection had cut out before she'd heard Mimi's incredulous response, and she wasn't sure if help was coming. The wound in her side burned miserably. She probably couldn't take another hit like that...
The dragon advanced on her slowly, its massive claws crunching into the pebbles underfoot with every step. "You shouldn't have come here, child of Eorzea. You will perish like every one of the raiders before you."
Celie ignored it, holding her staff steady, shutting her eyes, and waiting for the blow she knew was coming. And come it did, the force of her manaward breaking throwing her backwards into the wall. A bright flash lit up her mind as her head made contact with the fine masonwork.
The masons back home would be impressed, Celie thought deliriously, her head drooping. Her head throbbed, and her vision blurred dangerously. She couldn't summon the strength to get up this time. The dragon's massive head approached her, and she could only just manage to lift her head and look it in the eye with all the defiance she could muster.
"The help you so desperately called for did not come in time," the dragon said, its voice a purr that rumbled through Celie's entire body. Static electricity crackled in the air around Celie and made all her hairs stand on end, threatening the lightning it had breathed earlier. "But when your friends arrive, I will send them swiftly to meet you."
Celie tried to lift her arms, pick up her staff, spit in its eye... anything. She couldn't do a thing. She was so exhausted. So exhausted...
The dragon lifted a claw. "I'd prefer a live meal, but... If the second course is on its way, I can't take the chance. Farewell, then."
Celie just watched as, in slow motion, the claw descended on her, its motions elegantly lethal.
Claw met flesh with a harsh grating sound... but Celie didn't feel a thing.
A voice that wasn't Celie's cried out through gritted teeth. "Unnnggghh...! You're going to have to do better than that, lizard breath!"
Celie's eyes focused. There was a figure standing over her, shield raised toward the dragon and sword at the ready. A blonde head whipped around, braided pigtails flapping. "Celie! Are you okay?"
"... Mimi?" Celie asked, not entirely sure the catgirl was real.
"We found you!" Sami called triumphantly from somewhere behind the dragon, shortly before two deadly blades plunged through its scales and provoked a scream of rage and agony from the dragon. "Told you she was this way. I could smell her a malm off!"
At Celie's side, small hands gripped her arm and lifted it out of the way. Cool, cleansing starlight flowed over the gash in her side, sealing it over and draining some of the pain out of her.
"I told you all before we started that the stars implored you not to go alone," Reina said from close by, clicking her tongue.
"Ah... But it is quicker to each explore separately, non?" Celie murmured. "And, time is of the essence..."
Mimi backhanded the dragon across the face with her shield, then took advantage of its confusion and anger at the insult to offer a chain-gloved hand to Celie. "It's okay. We found you in the end, right?"
Celie took Mimi's hand, getting to her feet and towering over the shorter catgirl. "This is true, oui... You have my gratitude."
Reina held up Celie's staff to her. "Mimi, you might want to focus."
"Focus on wh-" Another claw swipe sent Mimi flying into a small pile of rubble in the ruins. Pebbles and bits of stonework skittered everywhere underneath her, and her sword clattered onto the ground beside her. "Ow..."
"The dragon," Reina said helpfully, if a bit belatedly.
"Glad we found you in time... We could use your help with this thing!" Mimi said, snatching up her sword, bounding to her feet, and rushing the dragon, heedless of her wounds. She glared cockily up at the dragon, seeming if anything only energized by her tumble. "You're a big girl, aren't you? You could probably eat one of us whole!"
"Indeed, I could," Celie said with a teasing smile to Mimi's back. She spread her stance and tucked her staff's tip back under her arm, channeling flame-aspected aetheric energy into it. A high-pitched whine filled the air as the spell surged through her and into her conduit, the staff twitching as the energy begged to be released.
"I will devour EVERY ONE of you whole and alive!" the dragon roared, enraged.
"We'll see about that," Mimi shouted back, her sword flashing. "You should have finished Celie when you had the chance! It's toasted dragon for dinner tonight!"
With practiced ease, Celie lashed her staff forward, pointing it at the dragon. Flames rushed through the tip of Celie's staff and out, a gout of flame engulfing the dragon. Her playful smile turned to a confident stare. This would not be where her adventures on the surface would end. She was still standing, and surrounded by her friends... they would be just fine.