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Always more interesting to put the fires out when they are, in fact, actual fires. At least those are mostly extinguished by the time Vayne’s managed to clear out the palace guests, alternately accepting apologies and making reassurances and scheduling meetings five deep for the next three weeks. What he’s saying isn’t all that important, just that he is there, calm and in control for all to see. The more swiftly the world is put in order, the better it will be to forget it ever happened. He’s already ordered for repair crews, and whatever the gardeners need to start filling in the holes in the landscape left by cannon fire.

No retaliation from Rabanastre, from its citizens, and even if they hadn’t doubled the guard Vayne is sure would still be barren in front of the palace, hardly anyone in the streets. He had taken a bit of time to examine the bodies of those killed in the initial assault - fine steel to a man, better weapons than any cobbled-together rebellion could have managed on their own. Not impossible, that Ondore might be assisting, though it seems unlikely he would have wasted resources on such foolishness. So the princess acts alone, with those nobles left in Dalmasca she could rally to the cause - but this is not truly a rebellion of the people, or surely she would have called for their aid even before his arrival? Certainly, they would be at the gates, in the streets even now?

The girl fancies herself a revolutionary, yet she does not look to her people, and there are none among her followers willing or able to stand in council of when and how to strike - or perhaps they are as bent to revenge as she, and blind to all else. It is not the comfort it ought to be, that she is so untrained, unskilled - she is ready to die for her cause, Vayne has seen that well enough, and when there is nothing to lose all becomes possible. Ashelia of Dalmasca, ruled by only the demands of her heart, with every vow of justice and honor, every hero’s ballad to urge her on. Even if she were not Raithwall’s heir, it would be foolish to discount her - lesser men have murdered greater kings.

“Get back here, you stupid bird!”

“Wark!”

Finally, a momentary lull, no immediately pressing task, and so Vayne has stepped out into the grounds for a breath of fresh air. A full day now on his feet, and who knows how many more hours until there is news. He is not quite able to compete with those among Cid’s staff who live off coffee and calculations, but Vayne does what he can. The day will catch up with him, if he allows it, but there can be no rest until Ghis has made his next move, for good or ill. The Judge Magister will take full advantage of any inattention, just as Vayne is taking advantage of Judge Telkiris, who has unthinkingly acted as a sensible man would and retired for the day, shifting his obligations to the morning guard. Anyone in Archades could have warned him against such a move, the Emperor long known for pushing certain motions through at late hours, when the Senate is not watching. Creatures that live under rocks do their best work in the dark, and Vayne has found it useful to adopt the practice. It takes perhaps half an hour to undo the stupidest of the orders the Judge has made over the past few months, swiftly undercutting much of his authority without raising any fuss. After what has happened, Vayne can likely cut him free within a fortnight, and he will be glad to go.

“… stuff you in a pillow if it were up to me.”

“Wark wark!”

Here he stands, then, watching a soldier - perhaps a bit overconfident in the sturdiness of his armor - attempt to negotiate with a rather irritated bird. It seems most of the chocobos escaped during the assault, and have been escaping ever since. Rather unhappy to be disturbed from their slumber by cannon fire, doing what they can to insure all are aware of it. The bird has its tail up, wings fully out and every feather fluffed, and Vayne is impressed that anyone would still consider a frontal assault. The man is quick to lunge for the beast’s neck, but his arms snap closed on empty air as it dodges, lashing out with a foot before darting off into the dawn. The soldier swears sharply as he picks himself up off the ground, gingerly limping off in pursuit.

A dark green shadow detaches itself from the trees, moving in the other direction, and Vayne pauses just long enough to snatch a handful of greens from an upturned bucket left in the dirt - some unsuccessful prior effort - before following. There is a treat they prefer, even more than greens - his brother has said so, but Vayne can’t quite recall what it is.

It doesn’t take long to find his quarry, the emerald-colored bird drinking from one of the wide reflecting pools that surround the palace. Vayne makes no move to stay hidden or silent, and the chocobo quickly lifts its head, hissing an ill-tempered warning. It’s Larsa who can do this properly, of course, but Vayne has paid attention to what his brother says and does with the beasts often enough. The most difficult part is being completely calm, as he moves within range of a beak and claws that could easily tear him inside out if it panics - and it will panic, unless he stays completely calm.

“Easy there, easy.” The bird makes a soft trill at the sound of his voice, head tilted to the side but still rigid with tension. Armor or no, he is a still a stranger, and will be given no quarter - though that is hardly news. Green feathers snap apart beneath his boot heels, scattered all over the grounds, every bird including this one half-molted from the strain of their sudden awakening. It takes a well-trained warbird to handle cannon fire at close range, which seems to include not a single one of those in the palace.

“Well, you are a lovely creature, aren’t you?”

Terribly smart, and he’s never known one that didn’t love being praised. Vayne keeps his hand extended, well in view, moving slowly closer, the chocobo motionless in that way that either is encouraging or means he’s about to have his lungs kicked out. The bird lets out a low, disgruntled ‘wark’ of warning, almost a challenge, and Vayne stops where he is, hand still outstretched, though he can’t help but smirk. Now this he knows, the issue no longer a matter of panic or fear but disgruntled weariness, a bruised ego. It knows he is trying to apologize, the motion up for consideration but by no means certain to be accepted.

“Rest assured, I will not be wearing this night as a badge of honor.”

Especially if Gabranth does not manage to gain the princess. If she retreats and is lost, there is no telling when he’ll be able to free himself of Ghis. The Judge Magister is no doubt ready to take advantage of any opportunity to keep in Rabanastre, to look for the Shard, report on all of Vayne’s affairs and generally make himself as much of a hindrance as is possible. It took considerable discussion just to get the Ifrit repositioned outside the walls of Rabanastre instead of hovering directly over the palace, and though a city in the desert is, perhaps, the proper place to build foundations on sand, Vayne had hoped for at least the chance to build before it could all be pulled to pieces.

“At the moment, I fear I am rather low on diplomacy. However, in the spirit of great Archades, I am obligated to offer a bribe.”

Unsurprisingly, the greens in his hand present the more compelling argument, the bird’s head tipping in a manner that is far more curious than upset, letting out a few pleased little warks and chirps, taking one step closer, and then another.

Vayne has considered, long before arriving, the possible ways of bringing Dalmasca around - he does not need them patriotic, only stable. Profitable, a tactical asset to the Empire. A matter of bread and circuses, truly - not enough to be overt or insulting, but an opportunity for some small enjoyment, to give the people back their hope, even before Rabanastre might find its feet again. It matters, food and shelter, but men survive on the strength of their dreams, as much here as anywhere. A few races, or sporting matches, and due attention to the proper festival days - even a satire or two, a safety valve he will pretend to outlaw, that he might control even the measure of their dissension.

Vayne will have to work those plans in tandem now, with all that has happened at the fete - and should he take hold of the princess, what then?

Always the simple solution, to kill her as a nameless usurper. A girl and nothing more, and swiftly crush the backlash - but nothing would be accomplished then, the seeds of enmity sown far too deep for Rabanastre to be anything but a tinderbox waiting for the match. He might keep her under house arrest, locked in the palace, though that would make her more of a symbol than ever, a rallying point, and Ondore and Rozarria would be sure to take full advantage. Vayne holds out some slim chance - overlooking no possibility, no matter how small - that her hatred might not be so cast in stone, that there might at least be some negotiation. If there is a civil war in Rabanastre, it will be one of attrition, and Archadia has far more men to spare. Ashelia of Dalmasca may be convinced to sheathe her useless sword - he would want her away from any weapon regardless, when he proposes the possibility of marriage.

A matter purely of state, to link Dalmasca to Archadia - to protect her land from both Rozarrian incursion and Archadian response. It would satisfy the people of Rabanastre to have her among them once more, there would be no need for further rebellion. She would be their Queen and ruler, and save for a few public appearances, she would never have to be in the same room with him. A bit troublesome, if he truly does insist on dying, but certainly nothing to worry her. If only Vayne could mention it - that she could watch him choke on his last breath might very well sweeten the deal.

One last chirp brings him out of his thoughts, as the chocobo shifts its wings, ruffling its feathers, and tips its head, nipping the greens out of his hand with an almost absurd delicacy, letting out what sounds amusingly similar to a human sigh_. Vayne reaches up with his other hand, scratching beneath the beak, running his hand along the long neck, fingertips finding purchase in the paler green down beneath the feathers. The bird leans a bit into his hand, letting out a contented trill.

“ You see? Perhaps it is not all as bad as it seems.”

The beast wears a simple bridle, perhaps from some past effort to keep it contained, but it is content enough to walk at Vayne’s side. Unfortunately, of the two of them, it likely has the better notion of where the stables might be.

“Lord Consul, sir?”

“Yes?” Behind him, the chocobo lets out a low, warning sound, the soldier stopping short - such odd, amusing tempers in the beasts. It seems Vayne has gone from undesirable to accepted in a matter of moments and a handful of greens. If only the rest of Rabanastre might prove so easy. “Is there news from Judge Magister Ghis?”

Gabranth isn’t one for status reports, with any luck he will return with the princess in hand and Ghis none the wiser. Even if she knows nothing of the Sun-Cryst, who is to say she will not be the key to its retrieval?

“No, sir. We’ve nothing from the catacombs. The gates have been clear so far, we’re searching everything that goes in or out as a precaution, and the streets are quiet. It seems… someone did unlock one of the treasury rooms, though, sir. We’re not sure exactly how much was taken.”

“Quite enterprising.” Most likely one of the palace staff, taking advantage of the sudden chaos to gain themselves an early retirement. “It matters little, in the end. Keep me informed of any further discoveries, or if Rabanastre should grow… impatient. I expect no action to be taken without my direct order.”

“Of course, Lord Consul. I am sent as well, to summon you to the Ifrit. His Excellency the Emperor has called - he wishes for a report.”

“I shall be there presently.” A nudge against his back, a beak resting for a moment at his shoulder, hoping for the possibility of further treats. Vayne considers letting it go up to talk to his father instead. Certainly, as much would be accomplished. “I would like this bird for my own. Have it seen to the stables for me.”

“Of course, sir.”

It finally comes to him, as he reaches for the bridle, handing it off to the soldier to avoid the certainty of having his fingers snapped at. “Pilchards.”

“Sir?”

“Sardines. Chocobos prefer them even over greens, and the oils are good for their feathers. See if you can find some in the storerooms, and the birds should give you fewer problems.”

“Right away, Lord Consul.”

He is perhaps a dozen paces away when he hears a hiss, a curse and the sound of a chocobo running quickly away, the clanking of a man in armor chasing after. Lucky bird.

——————————

“The Imperial Commander has the bridge!”

The air on board the Ifrit has a similar metallic tang to that of the labs, a comfortable familiarity. Doubtful if any of Cid’s are here, and they would be near the engines if they were, keeping an eye on the critical systems. The care and operation of the larger ships is a truly immense undertaking - once they are in the air, nothing less than a catastrophe will bring them back to earth. Few of the larger ships are sent up all in a piece, more often the mist engines and the primary glossair rings the first to go up, stabilizing the main hull as the rest is built up around it, smaller ships moving from ground to ship like a swarm of industrious bees. A challenge then, when any major component wears through or needs replacing, a careful balancing act of support rings and secondary engines. For the most part the Judge Magisters like to keep any hint of Draklor far from their concerns, but there are times the ships demand naught but the best of hands to keep them running.

The radio room is empty on his arrival, the posted guard drawing the door closed once Vayne is past the threshold. He wonders if Ghis bothered relaying the first message on a private channel, alerting the Emperor to the attack on the palace, to the possibility of his demise, or had he broadcast it plain? Likely the sort of thing everyone would want to know about, though his subsequent survival had no doubt led to some disappointed breakfast conversation.

“Good morning, your Excellence. I trust that all is well in Archades.”

“… Vayne. What has happened?” Distance and static make it difficult to determine the man’s mood, but there are all the usual assumptions.

“A rather pleasant evening, all things considered. It seems there are many who are quite interested in allegiance with Archadia, and we should be able to do some good business here.”

The pause is not due to any issues with the equipment. He can almost see his father fighting to keep his calm, just as Vayne has his shoulders set, his expression fixed, revealing nothing though he stands alone in the room. Old habits. Who would have thought he could survive long enough for old habits?

“What of the girl?”

“The insurrection force was small, and easily quelled. I am sure Ghis has already told you of the Ifrit’s assistance in the battle. We have some of their number being shipped to Nalbina - the Judge Magister has gone into the passages below the palace, in the hope of chasing down its leaders.”

“What of the girl, Vayne.” Amusing, not to call her by name, as if anyone listening in would think they could mean some other formerly deceased princess. Vayne had been mostly alone in the presumption Ashelia yet lived - Ondore knew, no doubt, even as Vayne had pushed him to confirm her dead, the treaty signed, the tragic passing of the king on the eve of what had seemed a certain peace - yet most had considered her suicide as fact. Growing up in the court, Vayne would take no less than a corpse as proof enough - and even then, it might be useful to poke it with a stick.

“If she knew what we wished her to know, there would be a crater where Rabanastre now stands. Raminas confided nothing, I am certain of that.”

“I will have her, and find out for myself. You are always far too sure, and on very little evidence.”

“As the Emperor wills it.”

“The people?”

“Wish to know if she proves true, though they may not be so eager for her order. It has been a long time without a proper peace, they are tired - they wish for stability, simply to know where they stand.”

“Are you all right, Vayne?”

It never stops surprising him. Never without the pang of conscience - of wanting to believe it - though he has long since stopped expecting the gesture, or knowing it can be other than a lie. Nothing after he’d turned fifteen was ever really true, and all before might as well be cast into equal suspicion. He stands in familiar surroundings, but it was and is a battlefield and he is no longer the child to be stupid and vulnerable, to give up ground without even knowing it. The ignorance of youth, and Gramis had pressed full advantage, sent him scrambling to recover, that it is only now that he has his place, that he can look back - Vayne is not the son his father wished to survive. He would be willing to set a heavy wager on it.

“I am unharmed. It was… instructive.”

His middle brother had long been destined for an ignoble end, with or without assistance, only a surprise that it had not been even more bloody, with further collateral damage. The eldest, though? Vayne’s older brother - Gramis’ first son and heir? First sons were special, those after might inherit everything else but never the name - the first child stood forever apart, and perhaps - just perhaps - the leash Vayne believed was meant for him had ever been aimed for another.

No way to ever be sure of it, if he had been intended, perhaps, as punishment, the unskilled assassin in the form of a younger brother - to kill or be killed - for some slight Vayne had never even known of. Or as a test, to see if the first son was indeed ready to rule, to make cold choices - and faced with Vayne’s death or his own, his brother had taken the option Gramis in all his selfishness had not considered possible, had allowed him the final victory.

Vayne hopes not. How much easier, to be the eager cutthroat, than to imagine he had been loved most at the very moment he had taken it away.

“Larsa knows I am all right? I would not wish to worry him.”

“He asked permission to visit Bhujerba, just after seeing you off. I saw no reason to deny it.”

Stupid, to feel even the slightest clutch of concern. The Marquis is many things but he has never been one to place spite over strategy. He knows very well where the line is drawn, and what it means. Even if the princess escapes, even should she fly straight to him, it is unlikely their paths could ever cross, that she could ever come close enough to Larsa to…

Vayne would take her apart. Slowly. Bhujerba would follow, if only out of spite, and then Rozarria for the lack of aught else to do. He might even be able to delude himself, for a time, that it was all of any importance whatsoever.

“You may wish to reconsider at present, with things as they stand.”

The day his father uses Larsa as pawn is the day his father dies. Of that, there has never been a question. Vayne feels his pulse thudding at his temples, forces himself to take a quiet, slow breath. He is tired. He gets distinctly more homicidal when he is tired.

“If the capture of a single girl presents such a difficulty for you, perhaps I ought to send further assistance?”

Keeping Ghis in check is one matter - and it would be Bergan, certainly, to arrive on his heels. The damage he could do in Rabanastre before Vayne might check him would leave little chance of returning to anyone’s good graces.

A knock at the door, and he is grateful for the sudden interruption, the soldier bowing when Vayne bids him enter.

“Sir, there is word from the Judge Magister.”

Vayne feels the moment’s surge of triumph, erasing the whole of the evening’s debacle - Gabranth has come through, the girl is found and there will be a solution in his favor, whatever his father’s plans.

“I believe I shall not need to trouble you further, your Grace.”

———————————————

The notion has never quite left him, that he is not the one who is meant to be here. At times, Vayne cannot help but imagine what it would be if the first son of House Solidor had lived, and wonders how his brother might have done against the same opposition. Managing his father, defending against the Senate. The things he knew from age and experience that Vayne had to fumble through blindly, and how he might have managed far better than the Solidor that had been left behind.

And then there is the moment he steps into the antechamber to see Judge Magister Ghis with the princess of Dalmasca in one hand and the Dusk Shard in the other, and Vayne thinks that no one in any world could blame him if he just started firebombing.

He arrives, as he has been doing for hours now, at the aftermath of some small conflict. A soldier escorting a young Rabanastran girl away, and she doesn’t even seem to see him as she goes by. He has not a half-second to mark her before Ghis takes up all his attention, or more importantly the Shard in his hand, every skill Vayne has ever possessed working to keep his expression neutral. One can only imagine the gods are well entertained.

“Lord Consul, may I present to you the leader of the insurrection. The lady… Amalia, though I hear she wears a rather familiar face.”

“We’ve met.” Of course, the princess spits at his feet. Ghis lets out a little chuckle, lifting the bauble in his other hand - and Vayne feels the slightest, sympathetic twinge from his wounded shoulder - power calling to power. It is not the most beautiful gem in the world to be sure, the color beneath its surface not unlike that of a murky pond despite the sharpness of its facets. The Midlight Shard had been prettier, albeit briefly.

“Deifacted Nethicite? So this is it, at last. I must say, I am not so impressed. Rather a small thing, for-”

Ghis trails off, as the stone begins to glow, a soft light - and Ashelia looks to it and then to Vayne. If she did not know what it was at the start, it seemed she has learned in the interim. If her hands were not bound behind her back - and even then she is considering it, and truly Vayne wonders why she hasn’t yet, just taken it up and wished the world away.

“All of Rabanastre, for my sake?” Vayne says, watching the muscle work in her jaw, as she pretends not to understand him. “I doubt I am worth the price.”

Ghis hands the Shard away to one soldier, the princess to another, less interested in either at the moment, now that he has presented Vayne with the totality of his success. “… and you to keep your little kingdom. The Emperor will be well pleased, I should think.”

“You have done quite well as always, Judge Magister. When I have thought up the proper commendation as Lord Consul, you shall be the first to receive it.” Silver-tongued, it is his gift, yet this is all there is to it, that he may speak pleasantly even when the words curdle in his mouth. First Nabradia’s king gone, then Raminas fallen, Vayne’s chances at the Sun-Cryst all whittled down until he stands here with the Shard and the princess and neither of them in his grasp. She will be tortured, to reveal information she does not have, and left to rot in some Archadian cell, while the Shard - well, if it ends up in Cid’s hands it will only be after they’ve managed to blow up half of Archades first.

“Gabranth is also due his honors. It was with his assistance that we were able to capture the pack of thieves accompanying her.” Surprisingly magnanimous, though perhaps in light of his victory Ghis wishes to take every advantage in lording it over as many others as possible.

“Release them, they have done nothing!” Ashelia protests, with all the unquestioned authority of a queen in exile but Vayne is not listening, his attention focused not on Gabranth but the prisoners with him. One of them already down, a young Dalmascan boy, probably sent to the floor by a guard who would soon regret having to drag his dead weight away. The second a Viera, which would give him no short pause save that the third - standing in a disinterested slouch and looking anywhere but back at him - is Balthier.

One thing, to have allies - but a good enemy, in the right place? By the gods, he will salvage victory from this yet.

Amusing, that the sky pirate thinks he has any chance of hiding, nigh impossible to mistake him for any other man.

The very image of your father, whether you take pride in it or not.

Vayne finds himself taking note on Cid’s behalf - he looks good, considering the present circumstances. Hale and hearty - the years have wrought no ill effect - it seems the strictures of his moral immorality suit him well. At once it is all too obvious that Balthier, of anyone, would be here now. A perfect tale of grand adventure, is it not? The mystic relic, a beautiful princess in need of aid, and Vayne himself the black-hearted villain. Balthier has no choice now, but to save the girl in some stupidly extravagant way, and the Shard along with her. The boy must have been his way into the palace vaults, though from what Vayne has read Balthier is not usually so sloppy, to avoid dragging his accomplices into trouble.

“Well done, Gabranth. If you will see your prisoners to Nalbina with Ghis, and proceed then to Bhujerba.”

“My liege.”

A procession then, the princess hiding fear with scorn and pride, Ghis smug and Gabranth silent, and there is one moment when they pass, when Balthier looks him in the eye and knows that he knows, and Vayne lowers his voice, just enough to be heard -

“If it takes you a full hour to get out of there, I will be deeply disappointed.”

- and then he is alone in an empty room, with the bell tower that Rabanastre marks its day by chiming half-past one in the afternoon. Vayne is well aware that it is nothing like a plan, that he is not thinking far enough ahead, for how the situation has changed. He is also aware, though, that if all he can do is ponder ways to sabotage the Ifrit, he’s gone well past being able to tell the good ideas from the bad. It would please Ghis to no end for him to make some grand mistake now, the final coupe de grace, that the Judge Magister could return to Archades with the princess and the Shard and the head of the Emperor’s treasonous son on a pike.

Sleep first, then plan. By the time he wakes, the Ifrit may be at Nalbina, and even that might be enough time for Balthier to gain the Shard, and then... and then negotiate. Entirely possible that the sky pirate will take it simply to keep it out of Vayne’s hands, and at least that means he will know where it is, and if Balthier’s loyalty is no longer to the Empire he is at least loyal to his own code, and no dashing sky pirate would give over such a weapon to anyone, for any reason. Strange to know it will be safer in the hands of a traitor than those of a Judge Magister, yet these are such interesting times.

“Milord? May I… may I be of service?”

Standing in the front hall, half lost in thought, Vayne realizes he is staring into space - and also that he has made it from ship to celebration to aftermath without ever bothering to determine the location of anything but his office.

“I don’t suppose you know where I might find my quarters?”

“Your Grace?” A moment, to realize he is indeed serious, and the girl blushes and immediately lowers her eyes, that she would ever think his question as stupid as it obviously is. “If it pleases, Lord Consul, you may follow me.”

Vayne imagines that he could live the life of a common man without much in the way of complaint, but there is something rather wonderful about being able to stop caring, pulling off boots and coat and knowing someone else will get them polished and cleaned, or perhaps simply replaced. Nothing he needs attend to at the moment but a shockingly hot bath in a mercifully quiet room.

“I am not to be disturbed.” He warns, enough ice in his tone to make the soldier at the door shift where he stands.

“Of course, milord.”

Overdramatic, perhaps, but to a purpose. No way to tell if his father has noticed, or thought anything of the new habit of banishing his valet while still wearing most of his clothes. A necessity, with the marks of the Midlight Shard across his shoulder, scattered like a constellation of dying stars along his side. Vayne strips down, kneeling at the side of the tub, dipping his right arm in to the shoulder. Hissing against the sharp pain, like frozen flesh slowly thawing, but it doesn’t last long, and once it has receded to a dull throb he sighs, and slips gratefully into the hot water. If this were all the reward of being the emperor of all creation, it would be more than enough.

The world goes blank, and dark before he can even remind himself not to fall asleep.

———————————————————————-

Vayne Solidor is dead.

He lifts a hand up slowly, staring at the sky between his fingers, and wonders just how it happened. The near-translucent clouds pass slowly overhead. High above, to be as thin as they are, and all is quiet and still and peaceful.

It is some quality of the light, perhaps, that tells him this is other than dreaming. He does not dream often, and little of that worth remembering - no, this is different, this is new. Vayne presses his hand over the silence where his heart ought be, and the pulse at his throat for good measure - nothing. So here he is in the grass with the sky above and he wonders which god let his attention wander, that a Solidor would ever find himself in paradise.

Pressing himself to think back, to remember what must have been the knife at his throat, perhaps a fortunate pistol shot or some lucky arrow - no, the rebel and his thrice-damned spell. Surely that must have been it, the damage greater than he had anticipated. His recovery but a temporary victory, fate catching up with him when Vayne had finally allowed himself to feel the full of it.

Merciful gods, he’s gone and died in a bathtub. Vayne groans slightly, grinding his palms into his eyes - no great battle or stubborn last stand, no gravitas or glory or the hint of dignity to be had in it. Not even the time to secure himself, that they might see fit to bury him in Rabanastre, if only for the better chance to dance on his grave. He could have at least had the sense to let the princess cut him down, she would have tossed him into the sands for the beasts, and that would have been the end of it. Instead, they’ll - well, first they’ll likely laugh about it - then dry him off, wrap him up and ship him home. A full state funeral with all honors, and then installed in the family crypt, with his father likely soon to follow.

The two of them, side-by-side. Forever.

This is why, Doctor, and with all my effort, I could change nothing in the end. Cid always wondering at the risks he took. Forever refusing to hesitate, ready to step into the worst of what might come, for the quiet hope of avoiding just this fate. If he’d died in a proper airship crash, or as a bystander in some lab accident - nothing left to put in a coffin if he were reduced to less than Mist and air.

The full weight of the thought falls on him then, and he shuts his eyes, a solid blow - Cid - and yes, of course, the far worse - Larsa. Only those, in the whole of the world, who might care that he is gone, or would even choose to remember him.

Would it were within his power, Vayne would have stayed behind, a silent warden at his brother’s shoulder, a willing ghost. He had done his best, all that he could manage, but will it be enough? Now, with the princess and her Shards in play, that could spell such disaster for so many? Will it be enough for her now, that he is dead? Will his father relent, and bestow all necessary blessing on his only remaining son, now that the threat Vayne posed is gone?

It seems the dead can still feel fear, for he can imagine all too well, how Gramis’ relief could fade into some new, bitter delusion - it never lasts, never enough for him - and Larsa alone, with no one to even tell him that he stands at the precipice. Raised up only that he could be torn down again, just as his brothers before him.

Tell him, Cid. I would not ask it of you, but there is no one else who will.

Let him at least have the chance to do so. Draklor has been lifted up to some tenable position, but what of its future? Can it endure without his protection? In even that, the best of worlds, will the good doctor have anyone left to bother drawing him from his work? Remind him that there is a world worth taking a turn in from time to time, outside of his charts and figures and endless dreams?

It will be lonely here, with no Cid to lecture him on things Vayne never knew he was ignorant of. He had not even considered it until now, that he will never get to see the man Larsa is only just becoming, that Vayne never doubted he would be. It seems that he truly will miss his life, far more than he ever thought possible.

He sighs, opens his eyes again, the sky still blue, the clouds barely shifted. No sign of his brothers, or King Raminas of Dalmasca, or all the lost souls of Nabudis and gods know how many others are due their tithe of him. Certainly, this is some divine oversight, soon to be cleared up, so he may as well get a full view of things, in whatever parcel of eternity has been allotted for him to take it in.

It is not a poor attempt at paradise, by any means. A wide green garden, dotted here and there with small white flowers, a few willow trees sweeping low to the ground. The burbling of water through carefully cut channels, spilling down a terraced path. Stone walls obscure his view of much else, and Vayne chooses his direction on the first break in the wall he can see.

Dead in a bathtub. Gods above, and every clever scholar will make sure to note that amusing detail, he is certain, for as long as they care to remember him. Vayne Solidor, skilled politician, cunning manipulator and fratricide twice over, stupidly dead before the sun could set on his second day in Rabanastre.

No one else to be seen, nothing to hear but a soft ripple of water on stone and the occasional bit of birdsong, the stone-walled paths not quite a maze. The further he walks, the more he thinks it may be a ruin of some kind, repurposed into a garden - but what has heaven the need for former tenants?

He has his answer, and the first thought that this might be other than his own personal afterlife, as the stone walls suddenly part, giving way to the view of a city unlike any in Ivalice, though Vayne thinks it might be a close match, were Archades half-sunk into the sea.

Half a breath to wonder at it, the cluster of tall, bright spires glinting like blades in the sun, before the deep, keening cry pours down through him. He’s been in Draklor, when they’ve put the larger engines through their paces - a dreadnought class at full power owns every inch of the room, a resonant howl that dominates both breath and heartbeat and this is little different, though Vayne is unprepared to lift his eyes to the sky and actually see it in flight. Nothing like a ship of Archades, nor those of Rozarria’s make - this is all smooth curves and smoother motion. It doesn’t look like metal, doesn’t move like metal, the hull blue-green and even that changing, deeper shades shifting beneath the surface and if Vayne knew such things were not impossible, he would swear it lived. Practically the size of the Shiva, such a thing certainly not-

“Magnificent, isn’t it?”

The man has come from nowhere, though there is no particular reason to expect logic here. A lifetime in Archades leaves him tense and wary, though Vayne just as swiftly tosses it aside - rather foolish to bother with caution here, in the land of the dead. It must truly be, for such a companion. The man is not quite transparent, though there is an odd insubstantiality to him, as if he might yet flicker at the edges at any moment. He does not look as he ought, not the way history has chosen to enshrine him. Younger than he has ever been portrayed, the cut of his clothes oddly… modern, nothing that Vayne has seen of the history he has studied - but there is no doubt at all as to his identity.

“You are King Raithwall.”

The man smiles back. It is gentle, and distant, and wistful, as if he is not here but already looking back, nostalgic for what he has yet to say. Perhaps he is - Vayne has little precedence in the ways of ghosts, or how the hours might choose to turn when all ties to the world have been cut away.

“I am what remains.” He turns slowly, the easy grace of a long, unquestioned rule in every step. “Will you walk with me? It has been some time since I have entertained visitors.”

Vayne does, glancing from the man to the sky and back again, though the ship has moved on now, toward the city on the horizon, buildings half on and half in the ocean in a way that seems entirely deliberate, though that makes little sense. It is not in his nature to press the issue - Vayne has a lifetime of being patient, waiting for the answers to present themselves, and now that he has nothing but time, it seems a waste to do otherwise. Raithwall is quiet for a moment, hands clasped behind his back, as calm and ineffable as the trees, or the wind.

“What may I call you?”

“Vayne Carudas Solidor. Lord Consul of Rabanastre. Imperial Commander of the Western Armada. Third son and heir of our House.” Raithwall is amused already, and Vayne shrugs, well aware nothing of what he is will impress the man who once ruled over all of Ivalice - yet he did ask, and if this is not the time to drag out all titles for a proper inspection, then when? “Son of his Imperial Majesty Gramis Gana Solidor, ruler of the Archadian Empire.”

“You will take the throne, then?”

“We elect.”

“Of course you do.” Raithwall says, and laughs. It is a warm, inviting sound, and Vayne can very much imagine him sitting serene and wise on his throne, guiding all of Ivalice through its long, golden age. “It is still Archadia and… Rozarria, then, is it not? My troublesome children.”

“You know of us?”

“Now and then.” Looking at him, and it is rare for Vayne to be met with such a direct gaze, but if there is any who stand on higher authority it is this man, certainly within his rights to do so. Raithwall reaches out, taps lightly against his shoulder, where he bears the mark of his arrogance, that may or may not have meant his death - Vayne is less certain of it by the moment.

“You have changed more than you know, by that. They will not be pleased that you still live.”

“Few ever are.” Solidors are remarkable survivors, nearly all successful assassinations kept within the House. It is not entirely unique, and they are certainly not the only House to take pride in their… durability. If the spirit speaks truly - not dead. At least, not yet. “You speak of the Occuria.”

“Ah, yes. We are… old friends.” Still gentle, still amused, but there is a hollowness in his tone that is anything but comforting. “You are Lord Consul of Rabanastre now, Archadian? Tell me then, of my Dalmasca, and what has become of her.”

Vayne doesn’t wince, though he can see the appeal of it. “Dalmasca and Nabradia have fallen to Archadia. Nabudis was… lost, to the Midlight Shard. King Raminas is dead these two years, and though his daughter fights to reclaim her throne, she seems to know little of you, or the Shards, or the Sun-Cryst.”

“He wished to protect her.” Raithwall says softly. “I cannot fault him that. The house of Dalmasca has borne up my sins so patiently, for so long. I had not the right to ask even for that which they gave.” He shakes his head slightly. “The deeds you will find yourself doing, because deeds must be done. Do they think of me, still, in your grand age?”

“You are, as ever, the last noble king of Ivalice.”

The laugh is too loud, joyless and empty and jarring enough for Vayne’s hand to slip for a sword he isn’t wearing. What good could it possibly do, even so?

“So that is what they say.” Raithwall smiles to himself, a crippled thing. Nothing in him not touched by grief, it is easy enough to see it now. “I was not much to speak of, as a boy, do you know? Lazy, and easily distractible. I dreamed too much. If you had asked then, upon my first victory in battle, it was said that I turned out better than expected - and that a high compliment. I could not even compose a speech to save my life.” Vayne remembers what Cid said, about Venat, about the cruel gift of eternity, and there is an echo of it in Raithwall’s gaze. “We are never who we are, even when we are remembered. Especially then.”

Still with no idea where they are, the city nothing Vayne recognizes though the land seems familiar, perhaps only in that way the sea defines any space it borders. It has not been a slow, steady progression of time around them, though Vayne cannot quite tell where the gaps begin or end, only that the city looms ever larger, closer than it should be for how far they have proceeded - and all at once they are surrounded by its towers, walking down a narrow street, similar to Archades by its dimensions but nothing else. The foundations of the buildings start as stone, but shift and weave into another form, glowing within the darkness as they curve upward into the sun, the buildings no more made of steel and glass than the ships are.

“In the older areas, the poorer districts, they simply worked over the buildings, installed fresh roots within the old foundations - the newer ones are simply grown from scratch.” Raithwall gestures up, and Vayne can see how the highest edges of the buildings seem to sway, diaphanous and transparent, with more of those ships filling the skies like schools of multicolored fish. He wishes he knew what he was looking at, the way Cid would understand.

“I am not the one who should be seeing this.” Vayne murmurs, and then, realizing what has been said, “… grown?”

“All alive. The buildings, and the airships as well. We never quite learned how they managed such wonders - it was both spellcraft, and not, and even when we tried to steal their secrets - perhaps humes simply lacked the knack for it. The ships are born, far more than made. I saw it once, before the war - they come right up out of the sea. It is a marvel.” Raithwall is looking up, a kind of heartbroken wonder on his face, as if he is the one who has never been here before. “Do they have airships still, where you are?”

“Many.” Vayne does not bother keeping the pride from his voice. “Archadia is in its renaissance.”

Raithwall smiles, almost mischievous. “Have you made it to the moon, then?”

“You are joking.” Vayne says, half-laughing along with him, and thinks that it is a shame there will never be the chance to truly face him, to try at politics with this man, dead now for a thousand years. “What did we miss? I admit, I do not know all my history, but this-” He gestures out, up. “This is not any world I have heard of, and seems far more the future than the past.”

Raithwall goes suddenly silent, and still. If Vayne had wished to do less harm, he might have considered a knife through the heart.

“It should have been. Gods have mercy. I didn’t know… I didn’t…”

He murmurs brokenly, shuffling away like an old, old man. Vayne curses himself silently, following down the street, to where the buildings fall away from a wide center plaza, and above them airships and in front of them, stretching out, a glowing city beneath the waves, its buildings just peeking out as the tide moves in and out. Around him, a people unlike anything Vayne has ever seen.

Similar, in some way, to the bangaa, but taller. Slender and graceful, tails swaying elegantly behind them as they move swiftly on three-clawed feet. A delirium of shades that would impress any painter, pebbled skin in blue and green, shifting to the reds and oranges of a sunrise, others the color of dappled clay. The plaza is tiled in small white stones, like some sort of shell, in intricate patterns around several fountains - water everywhere, spilling over the edges of buildings, snaking through channels where more of the creatures sit sunbathing, feet dangling into the cool stream that flows to the open ocean. The creatures move in and out of the sea carelessly, hardly seeming to notice the difference between water and air.

What Vayne thinks must be a girl brushes by him, and her laughter sounds like a flute, vibrantly played - obviously a language as her companion responds in kind, though no hume tongue could ever hope to match the sounds. Wearing white at the waist, the green skin of a smooth chest exposed down to a golden belt, a skirt that splits high. She has bells on her tail, jingling as it twitches back and forth with her mood.

“The wealthiest live beneath the waves, and some never bother to come to the surface at all. I had heard that the problem started there… those who never saw the sky felt no need to treat with us, who could not even go down to petition them properly. When the war began in earnest, we were forced away from the coastlines - they took our shipping routes as one would snatch a child’s toy, and those were… never recovered. It was rare, after that first year, that we bothered setting foot more than fifty miles from the shore.”
He can hear music coming from a window, intermingling with the sounds of the crowd. A few children play near the central fountain, while mothers or nursemaids chat idly by and it is entirely peaceful, and just from that, Vayne can imagine how badly things are going for the other side.

“You weren’t winning.”

“We were holding our own.” Raithwall says, as a tumble of melodious voices rise and fall over the price of a pear, the market stretching out down the alley near where they stand. “I know that now. At the time, it seemed… it is funny, isn’t it? One moment you have your allies, or at the least there is no quarrel between you - and then there is a disagreement. A fight for territory. A resource, a need, and they push and you must push back, or else appear weak - and suddenly you have always hated them. Always feared them, and it must be war, and once your men start dying, what is there to do but push ahead? What solace for their families, for your country but retaliation, to show that they did not die in vain? Before long, it justifies itself, as relentless as the ocean against the shore.”

“-and there is no glory like that of battle.” Vayne says. No need to expound on war for an Archadian’s sake. A slow, cold awareness is creeping upon him - it is what he does, what he is for. Finding the patterns, charting the likely future from endless possibilities, or in this case, the past. A grieving shade. An enemy he has never seen, has never even heard of. The will of the gods. “What did you do?”

“None of them think about the war, here. We never came within sight of this place. Or perhaps they are well aware, and only wish their sons, their fathers home again.” His voice trembles, eyes fixed to the horizon. “I cannot even remember the name of their god.”

“Your Majesty,” Vayne says, carefully, “what did you do?”

“I sat in council. I listened to my generals tell me that we had no time, that they would see the end of us. We might have diminished, surely, might not have been what we were - but they spoke only of annihilation. Kill them, or they would destroy us. Such foolishness. Our allies, they had their own business - the moogles stuck to their guilds, the Seeq made their own treaties. I was not… with every soldier lost, my people looked to me, and I felt their doubt, their shame. The growing suspicion of those around me, that I was not fit to protect my country. I watched our cities burn - and one night, while I paced the halls and prayed for wisdom… no, for deliverance, coward that I am…”

“The Occuria.”

“Would that I had never been born, and the war had never ended.” He is pale, no - Vayne can nearly see through him now. “I knew… to defeat them, that there would be a price, no matter what they promised me. If it was to be my life, my soul - if I could save my kingdom, I would endure. I thought I knew, I thought I knew…”

Raithwall makes a soft, terrible sound and Vayne follows his gaze, such a subtle oddity that at first he misses it entirely. A strange flicker in the air, nothing more, perhaps a few feet raised from the stones near the center of the square. No one has noticed it - there is hardly anything to see, a tiny disturbance, slowly curving outward - a sphere-shaped reflection, suspended in the air.

“The Sun-Cryst is the axis on which all the world spins. I do not know how the Occuria created it, or for what purpose. Only that, once born, it was no longer interested in listening.”

A flash of yellow catches Vayne’s eye. A ball, tossed into the air and falling back down into the clawed hands of a child, with a tail all but too big for his body, lashing sharply as he focuses on his game, bouncing and chasing his prize across the stones.

“Our world stretches like a thread between them, waiting to snap.”

All around them, the sounds of the city, the sun shining down. Raithwall is frozen, one hand outstretched, flexed in helpless misery, and the yellow ball bounces once, twice - and disappears without a ripple into the orb that has continued to widen, reflecting the tall, thin lines of the buildings into curves that nearly touch at the top, and the limitless sky.

“The Cryst reads the heart, and remakes the world in that desire.” The king’s voice a whisper, if that. He is crying, though he does not seem to notice, and the tears fall into the beard of an old, old man, the image Vayne has always known as the great ruler of Ivalice.

“I wished for peace. An absolute peace.”

The child creeps up to the edge of the strange, reflective emptiness, obviously less interested in it than the loss of its toy, tail curved like a sideways question mark. Glancing away, for any sign of possible interference from a mother or maid, before turning back to the task at hand.

“Do you know what it means, Archadian? The cost of such a peace?”

The child stretches out a hand, disappearing into the mirrored void, searching for its toy - and draws back, staring in confusion at the space where his hand had been. No blood, not cut away - just an empty space. Vayne hears a scream, that melodic sound wrenched tight and high in panic, and there are arms around the child, pulling it away. It is too late, the Cryst’s power past its event horizon, swallowing them both in an instant.

“A perfect world - only when there is no one left to oppose you.”

It ought not to be so quiet, Vayne thinks. Silent, and the sky is so blue and they do not see their doom upon them. A few faces from the market, looking in the direction of the sudden scream but not understanding, even as it grows, as the wave washes over the stones and moves more swiftly with each moment, sweeping into the crowd. Cascading over the buildings, all fading to fog burned off by the sun, and then even less than that.

Vayne sees what might be a burst of magic, some desperate attempt to contain it but there is no stopping this - and he can listen to the silence sweep through the city without ever turning around, hear the panicked cries of those who have just enough time to see their fate, before it consumes them, as the buildings are swept up like stray cobwebs, those beautiful airships spun apart and fading as the stone beneath his feet turns to grass and sand.

Vayne has stood in the center of a city smashed to ruin by Archadian fire. The smell of charred bodies, with blackened ash rising into the sky. Walked along the stretch of a battlefield, with the cries of the wounded still rising. He has been to Nabudis. An entirely different world, for such a thing as this, to stand on a green hill, overlooking the steady waves. Listening only to the wind blow against the tall grasses -and there is maybe one final, fluted cry, or perhaps it is simply a gull, and they are alone.

“Do you truly believe the Occuria wished to be phantoms? Gods who could do no more than bear witness to the world?”

Of course he had wondered. Vayne tries to speak, but finds he can only swallow instead. Gazing down into the ocean waves, as if there is anything left to see.

Raithwall’s voice is hoarse and low. “The Occuria believe they can regain what was lost to them, that our world is their key. Feed enough power back into the Cryst, all those who never were - who were undone.”

“You… but you are the reason we know of it at all. You cut the Shards, to ensure your legacy.”

“My legacy?” The sound Raithwall makes is not, perhaps, entirely sane. “It made them laugh. I thought to shatter the Sun-Cryst, but I… I failed. I tried and I failed. I was gifted the Shards, and sent on my way. I could not find it again, that tower - the Occuria had rescinded their blessing. I had done as they wished. I was of no further use to them.”

“Gifted.”

“Of course.” The smile, brittle and bright. “As you say, what would be their purpose, in allowing such a legend to die? The great Dynast-King of Ivalice and his golden age. The Shards, carved from the Cryst, relics that any great man of… peace… would desire. And I, to reign in glory to the end of my days, the only one to remember what I had done, or that we had once touched the very stars.”

“But how would-” Vayne trails off. Understands, even before Raithwall speaks.

“If our enemies had never been, there could be no shared knowledge between us. No stolen secrets, no discoveries we claimed as our own to build on. Each country thinks itself independent, contained within its own victories. Defined by their successes, never seeing what has been taken from another. It was their knowledge, not ours, that helped send the first Moogle ships aloft in our lands. Ideas we never knew we had shared, that moved us down the path to greatness. We forgot, in the midst of war, that we were allies before we were enemies. Without them, we lost a thousand years. A thousand years of who we were, who we could have become - and my people loved me, loved me when they should have torn me to pieces.”

“You didn’t know.”

“How could that ever matter, in light of what I did? At the end of my days, I could only pass the Shards down to those who I thought would be powerful in the ages to come, able to protect them, though it seems in that I was also mistaken. I do not… I do not believe the Occuria can choose another, as long as the line of Dalmasca yet lives. Or surely they would have done so by now.”

So careful, Raithwall’s heirs, never to let the bloodline go out too far. Vayne had studied the lineages, even before he’d received the consulship, surprised by their almost obsessive nature, the careful accounting of every heir. It seems but sensible now - and Vayne realizes why he has been brought here to see this, what all of it is truly for.

“… Ashelia of Dalmasca will seek out the Sun-Cryst.”

“The Occuria have had naught but time: to wait, to think of ways to rally her to their cause. Persuade and seduce and lie in the name of honor, and vengeance and salvation. My final act in life, to enscroll the Dawn Shard - they may be able to reach her, but she will learn of this day, should she take it up as her ancestors have done before her. The unforgivable sin that I committed here. It was all I could do, that the kings of Dalmasca would keep safe the secret, would never allow the Cryst to be so used. I do not know if it will be enough.”

“Archadia killed her husband. We have murdered her father, and stolen her kingdom. I think she could learn to live with her regrets, to be rid of us all forever.”

“Oh, if only it were so.” A chuckle that burrows under Vayne’s skin and stays there, raising every hair on the back of his neck.

“It will be the Occuria’s greatest victory, should they win the day. If it does not return to them what they wish to be, then nothing will.” Vayne meets eyes like blazing ice, the man a ruin, a worn stone. “Don’t you see? All that was lost here, all of Ivalice diminished - when we were not even of the same kind?”

Two separate peoples, no children that could cross those lines - no families, generation after generation building on that past. One people lost forever, but not the way it would be if they had been able to… oh, dear gods.

Raithwall nods slowly. “Every member of your Empire, gone. Every man, woman and child. Every citizen of Bhujerba, of Rozarria, with but a drop of Archadian blood in their veins, and all that they had done, and all that they had created, vanished ever from the world - and Ashelia of Dalmasca the only one, to know of the nightmare she had wrought upon all Ivalice.”

The Dynast-Queen of some thatched-roof hut. Archadia has its roots deep - Raithwall knows as much, from his Alliance sprang the common core of all civilization. How far could it go? How many could she destroy?

Vayne would startle, as the world shifts around him once again, but after such a revelation he cannot imagine there is any worse that could come. A vague, senseless surprise, to realize the city is reforming itself, stones lifting up out of the dunes as the buildings rise around them, airships once more in the skies. Knowing what is to come, it all seems no more solid or real than a stage setting, some cruel joke. Citizens of a country that never will be, returned mid-step to busy lives that never were. If he but bides his time, Vayne is sure will see the child with his yellow ball.

Raithwall looks young again, face tipped to the sun, his eyes closed. Certainly, he already knows all that there is to see, an eternity here more than time enough to name each stone. Trapped within this endless cycle, to live the evidence of his terrible mistake again and again, existing within this moment as the eons fade into eternity.

“It would be better for every brick and stone in Dalmasca to be scattered to the winds, than to walk this path again. Do not let her do this, Archadian. Do not let my sin become hers. It will destroy her, as it has ended me.”

“You… surely, you need not stay here.”

“Who is left, that could grant me absolution?” Raithwall looks at him, and smiles, and Vayne thinks here is such a king and he will never be so brave, there is no one that will ever match this Dynast-King. “I am less than a thought, yet I am all they have. The only one left, to remember them.”

“I will remember this.” Vayne says, and holds out his hand, gripping the other man mid-forearm. It is not a kingly gesture but one of friendship, kinship, and so little, and nothing else he can do. “I will remember you.”

——————————————————————————

Vayne wakes up. Alive. Mostly.

Splashing and gasping past a mouthful of water, his hand grasping tightly at nothing but the edge of the bath. He drags himself out before he can remember where he is or why, hitting the ground with a hard, wet slap. It is enough to send a jarring pain down through his bones, and at least that shocks him back to some sort of awareness, palms flat against the cold floor. Dragging in air as - yet again - his heart attempts to find a proper beat, pounding so hard it’s making his vision blur, with a sour taste in the back of his mouth and Vayne remembers everything.

If only he could believe, even for a moment, that it had been a dream. What had been done - what is yet to come. Ashelia of Dalmasca and the Sun-Cryst, and the air is chill enough to make him shiver, what there is - all he is, here. Blood and muscle and bone against the end of all things - he is but one man.

You are a Solidor.

Is there anything more insufferable than a fool who believes his own lies?

Tepid water pools on the floor around him, and other than that Vayne can’t tell if it’s been an hour or striking midnight, or if he is alone in his own purgatory.

A slight rap at the door. “Are you all right, Lord Consul?”

“Fine. I’m fine.” Overloud, and less steady than he would like it, even with the door between them, but at least this truly is the world as he knows it.

A sad myth so many wish to believe, that enough money or power or glory can make a man untouchable, that there is a way to perfect equanimity - trouble always sizes up. A poor man might lose his holding, a merchant his ships, a lord his daughter to some unsuitable beau. In a way, it is almost a compliment that Vayne faces such opposition, that there is nothing that might test his skills but the destruction of all he knows.

Surely, he will die. Vayne will fail and he will die, they will win and Archadia will vanish from all memory save that of a girl who will live to pick through the remains. Or Ashelia will die, and the Occuria will be free to choose a new successor - a hundred, more. He has the suspicion that the wish won’t matter much, in the end. Whatever and whoever touches the Sun-Cryst, it will likely crack the world in two.

He lets out a breath, not all that surprised to find himself grinning down at the marble floor. For a fleeting moment Vayne wishes he were a lesser man, to roll over and let fortune fall where it will. Certainly the easier fate than to fight, to struggle against such odds. But the fear does not matter, it has never mattered save as a lash to drive him onward. It is of no importance if he can do this, only that he must and so he will.

… and if you do fail, at least there won’t be anyone left to write it down.

It is enough to get him off the floor, at least, and shrugging on his clothes. The first order of business, to get Cid here as soon as he can, and at least the doctor is quite familiar with having the world turn upside down on a whim, or this would prove slightly difficult to explain. It will be amusing to see his expression, regardless. The second order, once he has been notified of their escape, is to find Balthier, find the princess, and tell her that her father was right.

He pauses at the door, the room still quiet around him. The image of Raithwall in his mind’s eye, and it will be long to fade. The Occuria play kings as pawns, and believe far too comfortably in their prowess at the game. Vayne will teach them the danger of backing a Solidor into a corner and expecting no retaliation. Of threatening a prince of the realm, and all who look to him for their protection, and thinking he will not act.

Set the stakes so high, and a man might very well do anything at all.

Glory, glory great Archades. The first bars of the anthem flit through his thoughts, unbidden but hardly unwelcome. What one pledges to, when it is time for war. Long may you shine…