Evening caught Jyera na Derdres unawares in the reddish glow of the sandstone hills she stood between. A low breeze, the whines of wild creatures, and the occasional shuddering clicks of fallen machina made up the majority of the sound in her ears, and the minutes drifted off into hypnotic hours as she watched the swirling coils of the lake in front of her. Wine-dark and serous as sugar, the unhappy mixture churned anxiously as she crouched above it, on the lip of the hill just short of its shoreline. With the heat of the Gyr Abanian sun building up in the auburn tangle of her hair, she felt nearly as miserable, herself.
Not so the cheerful figure approaching her from behind. She turned her head at the sound of heavy boots treading as softly as possible through the stiff sand. Cid smiled at her warmly, an arm raised in greeting. He strode in the path of the falling sun, his silhouette framed in its amber halo. Jyera’s eyes widened and a smile of her own opened as she pushed herself up to a stand and moved to meet him. “Cid! Thank gods, I was starting to wonder if I was going to have to spend the rest of my life watching that thing.”
She caught him in an embrace that sent a cloud of loose sand up from behind his feet, and with an amused oof! he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her to her toes. “Aye, it isn’t what I would call a relaxing sight. I hope you weren’t waiting too long.”
She squeezed. “No. An hour, no more, I think. Just a long one.”
Reluctantly, Cid set her back down on her feet and withdrew from the embrace, unsnapping the bag at his hip to fetch a small leather-bound notepad. “Ah… here. They aren’t as substantial as I’d hoped, but these are the readings from the event last night. No bloody idea what’s going on in there, but I reckon our Omega’s upset about something.”
Jyera took the notes with both hands and frowned, reading through his hurried, fatigued handwriting. “These are terrible. It’s as if there was some sort of earthquake in there. Is our camp alright?”
Cid cocked his head sideways and rested his hands on his hips. “Mmmph. I’m not sure. It isn’t exactly a luxury hideaway, but, as its current favourite plaything,” he wagered, wincing a little sympathetically in her direction, “I thought you would be a fitting accomplice in a little intrusion on the place. Just to do a few diagnostics, probably, and in a manner of speaking you know the place better than I.”
She smiled, softening the skewed expression born of the ‘plaything’ moniker. “What of our little escort? I thought without assistance, we’d start… start to fade out once we stepped foot into the Deltascape.”
He nodded sagely, bringing a hand up to his chin and rubbing at his beard a little thoughtfully. “In spite of that, it seems those of us that already paid it a visit have a stable presence there. Wander any further, though, and I can only agree we’ll be lost.”
Jyera gestured to him to take the little pad of scrawlings back. “All right! Let’s go, before we lose the rest of the daylight.” The pair glanced at the horizon, russet with age. She felt him brush the back of his broad hand on hers, then the comforting mantle of his callused palm and fingertips wrapping around hers.
“Thank you… old friend.” She felt the firm, plush surface of his coat against her forehead as she nuzzled, just before they were engulfed in the dark cloud of the aether pond.
“…Well. That doesn’t look right, does it?”
The two looked up to find the expanse in which the Ironworks had carved out a little workstation badly altered by juxtaposed elements that had nothing to do with the trials of the Deltascape. Jyera’s voice felt small and stifled. Cid leaned over the console where he had last been stationed and began to tinker with the interface.
“That explains the rhythm in the aether spikes we saw last night. The whole interior of the place is essentially…” He paused, brows tightening and darkening the worry line high over the bridge of his nose, as if searching for the proper term.
“Vandalised?”, Jyera offered, and he flashed her a warm, encouraged grin.
“Aye, that fits. Everything you’ve interacted with here has started changing its presentation. Might I ask a favour of you? It’s only a hunch, but—“
Jyera beamed. “I would be happy to! What did you have in mind, exactly?”
“Do you see the platform across from us? There are two more of those monitors on it. I need you to switch one on and try to connect to a signal from this one—it’s still working fine, apparently—ruling out that it might be an intentional change to Omega’s designs. I’ve suspicions… but they’re rather beside the point at present.”
Jyera stepped carefully to the edge of their platform until the electromagnetic tingle of the transporter played on her skin. She was over the chasm in a flash.
“…All right, it looks like it’s working just fine, too. …It doesn’t seem to like me trying to access the map of the arena you have.” She swallowed hard. Something was more amiss than a little visualization.
Cid huffed and shook his head. “I doubt it will do much to soothe your worries, but this one is doing it now, too. …By gods, actually, the map’s changed. None of the arenas we saw you enter looked like this. This is—these are the blueprints for Castrum Abania. The hells…”
“What? Hold… I’m coming back over there. Just going to try to send you a readout.” She lifted a hand to the side of the console and flicked the controls for a local transmission.
That was all it took to cleave the little monitor in two. The metal split with a groan and a spitting noise of regurgitated static, and the geometric sky above them twitched again, splicing another senseless image of Jyera’s journeys into the constellation of simulation errors that shook the platforms on which they stood.
“What in hells is it doing?!”, Cid cried. “These look like—“
“They are,” Jyera called out in baleful surprise. “I don’t know why—I don’t know why--!” She staggered as one of the diamond-plated islands above her shuddered and sank, sending waves of force through the metal on which she stood. Her hands flapped uselessly at the air until they found another metal grip. She clutched at it, pulling herself back up, and had just enough time to right her posture before an inexplicable wind pummeled her in the shoulders. “What is happening?”
Cid fared only a little better, so tightly he held on to the remaining monitor. “Godsdamnit, this is far worse than the pattern last night… Jyera! Keep an eye on that bloody thing! I think it’s responding to you!” Jyera pried her eyes open, and they stung in the continuous blasts from falling islands. The astral map projected in spinning circles through the Deltascape skyline shivered, and still more stolen images of her travels glitched into its windows. To her horror, she could now see why.
“Cid—gods—it’s going in order. It’s a record—it’s going back through everything I’ve done, everywhere I-I’ve—“ She stopped dead in the middle of that thought for the scream of a dozen of the arena’s monitors swarming in front of her. They were replaying a frame-by-frame scene somewhere in central Thanalan, and she thought she recognized the slow-moving carriage plodding down its main dust road.
“Dammit. What I would not give to have something recording this from outside—Jyera!” Cid lurched to the side and down onto one foot; the sky that had seemed endless before was releasing whole fault lines’ worth of its contents as walls of crystal and steel that crashed into the islands and causeways in front of them. He had ducked his head in just enough time not to take a long sheet of crystallised images straight to the skull. They were, he realized as he saw one shatter, pieces somehow of Jyera’s first meeting with him. He felt ill watching the cracks form in the frozen matrix that projected her face. “Can you still reach the platform I’m on? As I don’t doubt you’re aware, we have to leave, now!”, he called, his voice straining to project past the screech of tearing metal and breaking glass.
Jyera answered him by breaking into a terrified run as she released her grip, and made the blind leap toward their base camp. The island on which she’d been standing floated at a contorted angle beside her, and then further, further away from her. She landed with an ungraceful slap against the metal platform that sent shocks through her temples. “I haven’t the faintest idea why, but without putting words into its proverbial mouth, the damned place seems to be scouring its scans of you for a complete record of your life history. Are you all right?” Cid’s voice was hoarse, his angled blue eyes uncharacteristically fearful.
“Y-yes,” Jyera mumbled in reply, her vision doubling mildly as she tried to focus on him. “Why does it have my memories--?” Her question died on her tongue when she placed a fumbling palm on the platform’s surface to try coming to a stand. The metal against her flesh was beginning to warp and hiss, turning into another scene. The flow of some aetherial ocean—the slumber before an Echoing dream—and as she locked eyes with Cid, who leaned out into the growing chaos to help her to her feet, it dawned on them both.
“Your origin. It’s looking for you in time—gods, Jyera, tell me--” She found her wits and pushed through the thickening air to take his hands. Cid pulled her behind the eroding tower of stacked terminals that remained of their monitoring station, his arms coiled tightly around her shoulders. “It’s a hells-sent excuse for a guess, but on the chance this is just our Omega throwing a tantrum for more data—I need you to tell me.” Jyera squeezed at his elbows as he loosened only enough for them to make eye contact again.
“Tell me—where did you come from? Before Eorzea? Before you were an adventurer here, anywhere in Aldenard—gods, that I haven’t asked yet—where you were born, even?” Regret glistened in his eyes as if to say ‘this was not how I imagined asking you’. Jyera thought for absolute certain that her heart had just stopped beating in her chest. She was stunned as the bands of simulated constellations in the Rift themselves began to unstick from the heavens and plunge into the depths of whatever the Deltascape was becoming. One long moment passed as they tried to overcome speechlessness, the mortal seconds of which forced her out of purgatorial silence.
“I don’t know.”
Cid’s eyes became as two wide, disbelieving oceans set into a sculpture of crestfallen awe. He leaned toward her forehead, his lips forming the words for something gentle, if desperately afraid. He would not be able to finish them, for the roar of the reeling daguerreotyped timelines surrounding them both exploded into a draft that left numbing silence in its wake, and the plane on which he and his Warrior of Light were standing erupted into dovecot cracks that wrenched her out of his arms.
He made to move forward to catch her, shouting against the null-decibel haze, and as she cast out her arms to reach him, the plane on which he still stood cracked behind him. The stack of ruined monitors peeled away, sent adrift, and Cid’s expression was one of terrorized denial. He strained to keep his arm outstretched to her.
The ambivalent yawn of ruptured space and time pulled him out of her sight faster than any world in decay should have been able to. Jyera screamed, unbelieving, unable to believe. She closed, reopened, closed and reopened her eyes, and he was still gone. Cid Garlond was gone.
She screamed louder and louder, as if it would somehow dispel what was surely no more than a cruel illusion, thrumming the suffocating null space with her cries. She did not notice when the distorted metal on which she had stood slid away from her, lilting to the side of her, until it, too, sank into the flooding plane.
The aetherial sea rushed into her ears, slamming against her sobbing eyes, silencing her howling mouth, and the non-world went dark all around her.