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Without the Light

Chapter Text

Blinding flashes of light exploded in the violet sky.

The world was teetering on the brink of destruction. Despite Eorzea’s—nay, the world’s—best and most dogged efforts, the Ascians had made it this far. The violet of the void had spread over them, engulfing the sky and everything beneath it, and now only the Warrior of Light and Hydaelyn’s chosen had the strength to fight the horrible creature they had summoned. Ser Aymeric watched helplessly, a deep terror in his gut, at the sight of Tresaie, her closest companions, and a struggling Hraesvelgr fighting doggedly against the horrific, monstrous creature that was protruding from a black rift the sky. Zodiark, Tresaie had explained to them in what seemed like a lifetime ago. The Ascians aimed to bring about the return of their deity—the counterpart of Hydaelyn, who had been banished and split. But now he was whole, or nearly so, and it was he whom the Warrior of Light and her companions were struggling desperately to push back.

They had already dispatched the remaining Ascians—a victory that they hadn’t the time to celebrate, for Zodiark’s head had emerged from whatever plane of existence he’d come from. It was surreal to look across the battlefield to see all of the Eorzean Alliance watching, motionless in their horror, as their heroes fought a battle that none but they could fight. The sheer aetherial power emanating from the battle was overwhelming, and with his proximity to Tresaie and the nightmarish head of Zodiark, it was all Aymeric could do to keep on his feet.

The battle raged on, each of Hydaelyn’s chosen fighting on with seemingly boundless energy—

Until there was an abhorrent scream that pierced through the depths of his soul.

A flash of searing light.

A wave of furious aether.

When Aymeric’s vision returned to him, he froze in mixed shock and horror. Zodiark’s melting head was retreating into the rift, and the violet of the sky was dissipating to reveal a cloudless blue. Soon the rift closed, and were it not for the crystal-scarred earth and the wounded struggling to get up, he would have wondered if a battle had taken place here at all. He cast his eyes towards Tresaie and the warriors and found them in various states of disarray—Hraesveglr lay gasping some yalms away as the White Mage and Scholar struggled to revive their fallen comrades. Vidofnir soared in to attend her sire as one by one, Tresaie’s companions got to their feet.

Except Tresaie wasn’t rising.

The White Mage, now joined by the Red Mage, was struggling—they were pumping her full of healing magicks in between desperate sobs and still she did not rise.

Aymeric’s legs moved on their own; before he knew what he’d done, he was at her side. Tresaie was covered in terrible wounds that the healing magic was struggling to close; bleeding gashes and scrapes decorated her dark, Duskwight skin, and a fragment of her left ear was missing. He reached for her hands as he cradled her head, and his stomach did a somersault at the sight of the bloody stump that was her right wrist. The White Mage stepped back, tears in his eyes as he gasped from the strain.

“Tresaie—Tresaie, no,” Aymeric said breathlessly, unable to halt the tears welling up in his eyes. Deep in his heart he knew what was coming—he’d seen it countless times amongst his comrades during the heights of the Dragonsong War. But still there was a faint glimmer of hope—

“I’m—I—” Tresaie started, before a horrible gurgle escaped her throat and she coughed, spraying him with blood. Her eyelids were heavy, and it appeared she was struggling to focus on his gaze.

Hot tears fell from his eyes.

“Well done. W-well done, Tresaie,” he said softly. He forced a smile on his face; even in the depths of her struggles, she came to him with smiles—she deserved to see one from him. She returned the smile in kind, and the sight of her...Aymeric felt his heart fracturing into pieces.

“I love you, Aymeric.”

The tears fell freely from his eyes, and he pressed his face to hers. “And I you, Tresaie,” he whispered into her ear.

She exhaled slowly.

He held her motionless body tightly.

Aymeric sat silently beside the lifeless Warrior of Light, face buried in his hands.

Lucia had pried him off her body after allowing him a few moments to grieve. What came after was a blur; in a dizzy haze, he had organized the Ishgardian forces and prepared them for the march back to camp, with Lucia faithfully keeping him in line and filling in when his mind was incapable. Tresaie’s companions—those that were able—took it in turn to carry her back to camp, with Eorzea’s forces marching solemnly behind.

Once back at camp, a tent for Tresaie’s body had been set aside; Lyse Hext had the foresight to station a guard at the entrance to prevent the entirety of Eorzea’s forces from trying to enter. Aymeric had stood numbly in a corner of the tent, receiving words of condolences or silent pats to the shoulder from Tresaie’s friends and Eorzea leadership. Even Lucia—it wasn’t often that Lucia touched him, but once they were alone in the tent, she had pulled him into a tight hug. It was then that his stoic veneer broke away: he had sobbed uncontrollably into her pauldrons, and though she said nothing—what really could be said?—her presence meant more to him than she knew. And when his tears were spent and he pulled himself from her arms, she gave him a sympathetic look, a tiny nod, and turned to leave.

“I’ll take care of things outside, my lord. Please take all the time you need,” she’d said.

He exhaled slowly.

It was common knowledge in Ishgard—perhaps less so in the rest of Eorzea—that he and the Warrior of Light were very much more than friends. Tresaie, in her infinite empathy, at one point had attempted to call it off out of concern for his position in Ishgardian society. What would the Highborn say if it got out that he was with the Warrior of Light, she had argued. She knew how some regarded her with fear—she who slew Primals and dragons and their Archbishop—and some with disdain at the grey-blue shade of her skin, and she worried her reputation would poison the Ishgardians’ opinion of him. Her fears were true to some extent but he loved her deeply enough to work through those problems, and truthfully, what could any Ishgardian have done about it? If Nidhogg himself had fallen to her hand, what hope did they have? Their only saving grace was that Tresaie would have found it distasteful to kill those who could not defend themselves.

She had visited him often, sometimes to spend a few days with him and sometimes to simply say hello on her way to some adventure, and he treasured every moment he spent with her. She was constantly in danger and it made his stomach churn each time she spoke of close calls with Primals or pirates or Garleans or the like. Most days the smile never left her face, but as time went on, it became clearer and clearer that her role as Warrior of Light was taking its toll in more ways than one. So to give her some small comforts, whether it was a warm meal or a night in his arms—it was all he could do.

He cast his eyes over her still form. The dead never looked dead , not unless they were horribly disfigured. She looked like she could be sleeping…

Pain gripped his heart.

But he couldn’t stay in here forever. His people needed him, and it wouldn’t do to leave everything to Lucia. With a deep breath, he got to his feet and pressed a trembling hand to Tresaie’s cheek. His whole being screamed at him to stay with her, but he knew he couldn’t—he slowly, painfully, pulled his hand away from her and turned to leave.

He could feel eyes upon him as he emerged from the tent. Drawing himself up and squaring his shoulders, he strode purposefully toward Lucia, who was coordinating the Knights a short distance away.

“My lord,” said Lucia in surprise when he appeared at her side. “Are you —”

“I’m fine,” he said firmly, and was eternally grateful that Lucia did not argue. Instead, she simply nodded and launched into a short summary of the recovery efforts thus far.

The casualty count was not nearly as bad as Aymeric had feared going into the battle. Fifteen dead and forty-six significantly wounded, Estinien among the wounded; though the losses were terrible, as they always were, it was a sight better than having entire squadrons of Knights decimated as in the dragon battles of the past. He felt for Ul’dah’s Flames—they had been hit hardest of all and it made his heart ache to see their dead being lined up just outside camp. Marshal Tarupin was doing an admirable job, but wore a face of war-weariness that Aymeric knew all too well.

By the time night had fallen, all forces were accounted for and organized, and were ready to begin the march to their respective homes in the morning. The terrors of their long battle were slowly getting overtaken by song and laughter at the campfires all around camp—they had won, after all, though Aymeric felt as though he’d lost a part of himself. He had made a visit to Estinien earlier and was relieved that his best friend’s wounds were not life-threatening; he felt he was like to collapse if both Tresaie and Estinien were lost to him. He’d wanted to hide in his tent, but being a leader meant keeping up certain appearances; when Lucia had hesitantly informed him that they had been invited to have a celebratory drink with the other leaders, he couldn’t refuse.

Admiral Bloefhiswyn was the first to greet him when he arrived at the tent; she gave him a brief sympathetic look and a small pat on the arm before handing him a tankard of ale. “Glad you’re here, Ser Aymeric,” she said. He nodded wordlessly—he wasn’t sure that he had the wherewithal to speak—and found a seat beside Alphinaud at the wide table, once bearing the maps and figures they had pored over incessantly in the previous days. The Leveilleur twins looked absolutely stricken, though Alisae perhaps slightly less so; this was not the first time either of them had experienced such loss, but Alphinaud hunched over his tankard as though the weight of Eorzea was pressing upon him.

“Aye, to see us all here in one piece—it’s a bloody miracle,” said General Aldynn.

“Not all of us,” Alphinaud interjected hotly. “And it wasn’t just some miracle. It was all Tresaie, and and ” Alphinaud was too overcome for words, and Aymeric thought he could see his eyes glistening with tears.

General Aldynn held up a hand. “Peace, Alphinaud. The price of victory was steep today. And we would not be here had Tresaie not paid it,” he said solemnly. He bowed his head. “It cuts deep.”

Aymeric clamped his jaw shut as his stomach threatened to empty itself, and he could feel the warmth leaving his face.

“A toast, then!” said the Admiral suddenly—perhaps she sensed Aymeric’s and Alphinaud’s increasing distress, and was mercifully moving things along. “To a new era, and the friends who gave their lives that we may see it.”

Subdued affirmations filled the heavy air, and Aymeric found himself nearly unable to lift his tankard—the wine wouldn’t go down and tasted foul in his mouth.

Lord Hien raised his tankard once more when they had all taken a sip. “And to Tresaie, the Warrior of Light—she who gave everything and more for us.”

It was too much for Aymeric—his hands were weak and he felt sick to his stomach. He handed his tankard to Lucia and nodded to everyone with his eyes to the ground. “I can’t—please forgive me,” he muttered hastily before vomit escaped his mouth, and quickly swept away into the darkness of the evening.

His feet carried him to the treeline at the edge of the camp. He sank to his knees in the shadow of a tree and leaned back against the trunk, looking up to the heavens through the canopy of the trees. Hot tears fell from his eyes when he clenched them shut, and he struggled to stifle his voice—he was acutely aware of the camp behind him and despite the pain rending his heart, he didn’t wish for anyone to bear witness to his weeping.

It wasn’t long until the familiar clanking of Lucia’s armor approached. She said nothing as she sat down next to him, her eyes forward as she almost offhandedly extended a handkerchief to him. He took it gratefully and wiped the tears from his face before letting out the breath that he had been holding in his chest.

“Thank you,” he said hoarsely.

“Think nothing of it,” she said simply without turning to him.

Thankfully Lucia wasn’t one for platitudes—they sat in a tense but welcome silence. Though the weight in Aymeric’s chest only seemed to grow heavier, the quiet of the night soon calmed the churning of his stomach.

“I think it would be best if you tried to get some rest, sir,” said Lucia finally. “If you can.”

Aymeric exhaled slowly.

“Yes, I think you’re right. Thank you.”

Though he was exhausted to his core, the only semblance of rest he got was the hour he spent half-asleep in his tent. But that had been short-lived; as soon as his mind neared the oblivion of sleep, a shade of Tresaie had appeared in his mind’s eye and immediately he had jerked awake, only for reality to quickly come crashing down. Aymeric forced himself to lay with his eyes shut despite the tears escaping them—the march home to Ishgard would be tiring, and he knew he needed every onze of rest he could get.

When the slightest hint of dawn’s approach appeared in the crack of his tent flap, he rose to get dressed. He emerged from the tent into the calm of pre-dawn and breathed deep the cool Shroud air as he took stock of the camp. This time of morning was always so tranquil, and the encampment of the battle-worn Eorzean Alliance was no exception. Those soldiers who hadn’t tents lay deep in slumber around the ashes of their campfires and didn’t stir as Aymeric passed. The faint sounds of the Alliance cooks drifted through the air, already in the midst of their preparations for feeding the Alliance before their march home.

A miqo’te was dutifully standing guard at Tresaie’s tent, and immediately snapped to attention when she caught sight of Aymeric’s approach. “Lord Commander,” she said, standing aside to let him pass.

Aymeric felt his stomach clench when he entered the tent and looked upon Tresaie. Her skin—already dark from her Duskwight heritage—appeared even more bluish than it did in life. He slowly approached and gingerly—apprehensively—put a hand to her cheek. The feel of her cold skin against his fingertips was like a punch to the chest, and a sob escaped his throat.

It felt like hours as he stood at her side, tears slowly streaming down his cheeks.

“Lord Commander, sir, the Scions are here and wish to speak with you.”

The sound of the guard’s voice brought him back to reality. “Please enter,” he called, hastily wiping his eyes with a handkerchief.

The whole of the Scions—even the tearful Lady Tataru, who must have arrived just this morning—quietly entered the tent with Lucia in tow.

“Lord Aymeric, we thought it wise to discuss the matter of—of Tresaie now,” Y’shtola began, and Aymeric was grateful that she had the prudence to get straight to the matter. It was surely a discussion that needed to happen now before the Alliance dispersed to their homelands, though it was one that he’d been dreading all night.

“Yes,” was all he could say.

“We thought that Mor Dhona might be an appropriate resting place for her,” she continued. “Somewhere not beholden to any city-state of Eorzea. Though certainly not the most hospitable place, I suppose, nor one with the best history.”

“No, I think you have the right of it. Have you a place in mind?” Aymeric said quietly. Tataru was sobbing quietly behind Lyse by Tresaie’s head, and though he did his best to momentarily ignore it, he felt that his chest might be crushed by the weight.

“There are some cliffsides overlooking Lake Silvertear that would be quite nice,” said Y’shtola with a small smile. “Perhaps odd at first glance, what with Midgardsormr’s body in the distance. Though I’ve no doubt that the great wyrm would not object to the company.”

This was true, but Ayermic couldn’t bring himself to smile. Still, it made sense for Tresaie to be laid to rest there, rather than Ishgard or any other city-state.

“I—I must see the Knights back to Ishgard. If the Scions take her to Revenant’s Toll, I will immediately make way once everything in Ishgard is sorted,” said Aymeric.


“Alphinaud and I will pay a visit to the Eorzean beast tribes and various other people Tresaie has befriended and inform them of the news in the meantime,” Thancred said, taking a small step from behind Y’shtola. “The Dravanians as well. Alisae will handle Othard. It’s best they hear it directly from us, rather than whatever the news will morph into by the time the hearsay reaches them.”

“Take this linkpearl,” said Y’shtola, rummaging in a sack at her waist before holding out her hand. “Do contact us if you need anything. We have thaumaturges on hand, should you need the time.”

Aymeric clenched his jaw. Thaumaturges on hand for ice magicks, no doubt... “Thank you. The journey to Revenant’s Toll shouldn’t be long on a fast chocobo.”

There was an uneasy, heavy silence—all seemed reluctant to leave the tent for the work that faced them outside.

“I must make sure my Knights are ready to march,” Aymeric said hoarsely when he could no longer stand the silence. “Thank you, Scions. Come, Lucia.”

He emerged to a camp that had awoken from its slumber in the short time that he had spent in the tent. Many of the soldiers were devouring their breakfasts, while the rest were already breaking down their tents and packing up their personal supplies. “The Knights will be ready to march in an hour,” Lucia said as they weaved their way through the increasingly hectic camp. “Handeloup is organizing the wagons now. All that is left is for our cooks to pack up once everyone has been fed, and the Knights will be ready to go”

“Thank you. I don’t know what I would do without you and Handeloup,” said Aymeric, giving Lucia a grateful smile. She gave him a small nod and the slightest smile of understanding.

True to her word, upon the next bell most of the Alliance was packed up and awaiting orders. The Dragonkillers and wagons, three bearing those unable to walk and two bearing their fallen, were hitched up to their chocobos and ready to march. When Handeloup confirmed their readiness, Aymeric and Lucia found their way to the Alliance leadership tent—or rather where it once stood, as it was now packed up and nowhere in sight. Admiral Bloefhiswyn was in the midst of preparations with Lord Hien: it appeared that the Doman forces were to accompany the Lominsans back to Limsa Lominsa and allow their people a chance to rest and recover before the long voyage back to Doma.

It wasn’t long before the rest of Alliance leadership arrived. Aymeric was relieved that all were as eager to return home as he. There were no idle pleasantries—their people were too weary, hungry, and hurt to waste any more time at the camp. Due to their position along the border of the Black Shroud and Gyr Abania, the Ishgard, Ul’dah, and Gridanian forces would march toward Gridania together, while the Limsa Lominsans and Domans, whose ships were moored just off the Rothlyt Sound, accompanied the Ala Mhigans.

“‘Twas an honor to fight alongside you all!” said General Aldynn once all their affairs were in order. “May the Twelve see us all safely home.”

Aymeric had afforded the Knights a night in Gridania to rest and make merry, but he wanted nothing more than to simply melt into the ground. It was a monumental struggle to hold it together long enough to keep his people organized and out of trouble so as not to leave Gridania in ruins, and he was only just coherent during dinner with the Elder Seedseer. He was eternally grateful that Kan-E-Senna had also invited Marshal Tarupin, Y’shtola, Thancred; while he was more or less functional, it was a deep relief to have the others around to hold the conversation. And it was an even further relief that the dinner was not a drawn-out affair—Kan-E-Senna sent them back to their respective camps once they had eaten their fill, insisting that they rest to prepare for the days ahead.

As he left the bounds of Gridania, he stopped at the makeshift infirmary the chirurgeons set up just outside the Blue Badger Gate, where they and what healers the Gridanians could spare were caring for the wounded Knights. He peered inside one and found a familiar—but no less gut-wrenching—scene; Knights were moaning and whimpering in pain, some swathed in bandages and others with nasty wounds that looked partially closed via healing magicks. But Aymeric felt some small measure of relief at the subdued movements of the chirurgeons and healers. Their lack of urgency meant that most of the wounded, though they were in pain, made it through the worst of it.

He spotted Estinien towards the rear of the largest tent, along with what appeared to be the rest of the injured Dragoons. Aymeric felt a weight leave his chest when he saw Estinien awake, and he immediately made way toward him.

“Estinien,” he said, smiling when Estinien caught sight of his approach. “Full glad am I to see you awake, my friend. How do you feel?”

“Like shite,” Estinien said, though a small smile spread across his lips. He glanced to his left at a small crate next to the cot, then back to Aymeric expectantly. It took his exhausted brain a moment to realize that Estinien was telling him to sit.

“I heard the news,” Estinien said quietly. “How are you, my friend?”

“I —” Aymeric began, but he found the words caught in his throat.

“Ah. I—’twas a thoughtless question. Forgive me.”

He couldn’t bring himself to look at Estinien, least not with his eyes welling up with tears. But he felt a hand on his arm and looked to his friend in surprise through bleary eyes.

“You are not alone in this, my friend,” said Estinien. “Whatever darkness may lie ahead—I shall be there with you.”

Aymeric was overcome, and he managed a small, tearful smile.

“Thank you.”

Sleep eluded Aymeric that night as well. The exhaustion was no better than the previous night, but the events of the day prior replayed incessantly in his mind’s eye and prevented him from slipping into slumber.

The fierce battle with the Ascians’ thralls and shades.

His Knights falling to their brutality.

Zodiark’s head emerging from the rift.

Tresaie, and her last breath—

A small sob escaped his throat.

Two days of hard marching—as hard as the Knights were able—saw them back to Ishgard. The Knights were as eager to be home as Aymeric, and they had let out a cheer when the familiar Gates of Judgement came into view. He’d sent a messenger ahead to inform the city of their impending arrival, and indeed, when they reached the Steps of Faith, they found what felt like half the city eagerly awaiting their arrival.

As they entered the city proper, cheers rang out from knights and civilians alike, as they ran to embrace their families. Aymeric couldn’t help but smile at their joy, though the feeling was tempered by the sight of those who did not see their loved ones among the Knights. This was regrettably a familiar sight as well, and one that was always difficult to behold—their sobs always pierced right through his heart, and this time—this time more so…

Though his entire body was begging for rest, it took another few hours before he, Lucia, and Handeloup could finally take a seat at the large table in the Congregation. They sat in a weary silence as attendants brought out the food and drink that they had been refusing since their arrival; the three of them had desired nothing more than to finally get all their dodos in a row before finally taking a rest.

“You both have my deepest thanks,” said Aymeric, raising his goblet to them.

“No need for thanks, my lord,” said Handeloup. “Get some sleep and that will be thanks enough.”

“I’m afraid I must impose upon you both for a little while longer,” Aymeric said. “When I get the word from the Scions, I must make way to Revenant’s Toll, for—for—”

He couldn’t complete the sentence.

“I will accompany you. There’s no way you’re going alone,” Lucia interjected with a disapproving frown. Handeloup nodded in agreement.

“Don’t worry about the Knights. You leave them here in good hands,” he said with an understanding smile.

Aymeric nearly teared up at his words.

“Yes—I know. Thank you.”

Tresaie’s body was chilled in a coffin full of ice magicks in the center of the Solar.

Aymeric exhaled slowly.

He’d managed to push the feelings back in order to remain functional, but now—now he couldn’t even stand. Tears rolled down his cheeks at the sight of her and her purpled skin and his shoulders were wracked with sobs. It was real now—it was too real—Tresaie was dead and gone and cold—

He buried his face in his hands to staunch the tears.

But eventually his tears were spent, and though he felt as though a lance had run him through, he straightened up and dried his face.

He put a trembling hand to Tresaie’s cheek, drinking in the image of the peaceful, lifeless form of his love.

Aymeric pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“I love you.”

He mouthed the words against her icy skin, before exhaling slowly.

With one last, tearful look, he forced himself from the Solar.

Quite the assortment of people had congregated in the Rising Stones while he’d been inside. Hien and Yugiri, who arrived from Limsa the night before, were chatting with Lyse, who’d just arrived from Ala Mhigo via Aetheryte. The whole of Garlond Ironworks was present, Nero included. Aymeric was shocked to see the Sultana; neither Admiral Bloefhiswyn nor Kan-E-Senna were in attendance, but here was Nanamo in incognito attire at General Aldynn’s side. When Aymeric asked Alphinaud about the Sultana’s appearance, he explained that the Sultana considered herself friends with Tresaie in a way that the Admiral and Elder Seedseer didn’t, and so was attending for personal reasons rather than diplomatic ones.

There were several people that Aymeric didn’t recognize. He was familiar with her closest comrades, as they sometimes joined him and Tresaie for a meal or drink, but the others were unknown to him. Alphinaud gestured toward the musclebound Ala Mhigan standing alone in a corner; he was a monk who was Tresaie’s martial artist mentor. A young Gridanian girl who couldn’t have been more than fifteen summers old was apparently a friend from the Conjurer’s Guild. The Au Ra in sinister armor and the young Elezen with him, however, were unknown to even Alphinaud—he only knew of them because he had happened upon Tresaie speaking to them in the Forgotten Knight. Evidently, nobody had actually invited them; they had shown up at the Rising Stones claiming to be friends with her, and would have been turned away if Tresaie’s companions hadn’t recognized them and welcomed them inside.

When it came time to begin the journey to Tresaie’s resting place, a somber silence fell upon them. Four of her comrades solemnly carried the now-closed coffin from the Solar—Lalafells included, though they had to use their shoulders. Y’shtola put a hand to Aymeric’s arm as they passed and gently pushed for him to follow them from the Rising Stones. They loaded her into the empty and uncovered merchant wagon waiting outside, and when Aymeric hesitated, one of the Lalafells held out a hand.

“Come up, Ser Aymeric. And Lucia, you too,” she said, a small smile on her face. He returned the smile in kind and took her hand, clambering into the wagon.

The sun shone brightly upon them as they made their way to Lake Silvertear.

The Scions had chosen a spot some distance off the path—it was just far enough from the path that passersby wouldn’t realize it was there. Someone had already come to dig a pit, and an unassuming tombstone had been placed at the top. The view of Midgardsormr and the crashed Garlean ship from there was awe-inspiring and also somehow calming in its tranquility. Y’shtola had chosen well.

Tresaie’s friends moved to lift her coffin from the wagon. Aymeric looked to them and put a hand on the lid. “May—may I help?” he asked softly.

The Roegadyn let out a deep laugh. “Don’t need to ask us. ’Sides, would be wrong if you didn’t, wouldn’t it?”

They made room for him, and together they lifted the coffin from the wagon. He felt his heart clench as they slowly walked it toward the pit, and he was unable to keep the tears from welling up in his eyes. Her friends made no effort to stifle their tears and sniffles as they set her down at the foot of the pit, across a set of ropes that the Scions had laid on the ground.

“Thank you all for coming,” Y’shtola said to all those gathered. “Tresaie was—she was never one for reveling in accolades so I shall keep this brief.

“The Warrior of Light and her friends stood between us and certain doom that day. She gave herself for us, without a moment’s hesitation, as she did countless times before. I hope that she may rest knowing that her sacrifice saved us all…” Y’shtola turned to look at the coffin, her expression softening and her ears lowering ever so slightly. “I know I speak for everyone when I say that we will miss you, Tresaie. Full glad am I to have known you in this life.”

There was a murmur of agreement—and a hearty “Aye” from General Aldynn and Tresaie’s Roegadyn friend. Y’shtola nodded to the Scions, who took hold of the ropes and lifted the coffin toward the pit. Aymeric and Tresaie’s friends each stood behind a Scion and took hold of their ropes to steady them, and together they slowly lowered her into the pit.

Aymeric felt his breath leaving him as the coffin descended deeper and deeper.

He let out a silent sob when he felt it reach bottom.

An Elezen thaumaturge stepped up to the pit and dispelled the ice magicks.

A Scion stood ready with a shovel.

Y’shtola nodded.

The soil hit the lid.

Aymeric let out a sob.

Chapter Text

In the Seat of the Lord Commander, Aymeric regarded Tresaie’s friends before him.

“Many thanks for seeing us so suddenly, Ser Aymeric,” said the Lalafell.

Aymeric smiled. “Not at all, Leleru. What can I do for you?”

She placed a small sack and a journal upon his desk. “We were taking stock of Tresaie’s belongings back at the free company house, and happened upon her journal,” said Leleru. “We—ah—we read it.”

The Highlander—Solmund—let out a laugh. “You speak as though it was an accident, Leleru,” he said with a grin. “ You were the one who suggested it!”

Soft Earth, the Roegadyn, let out a deep, barking laugh that seemed to fill the room. “Troublemaker, that one,” he laughed, grinning.

The fact is ,” Leleru said in a huff, and Aymeric took care to stifle his laugh, “is that we read it, and found that she—well—left some instructions.”

That was news to Aymeric. “What kind of instructions?” he asked, leaning forward in his seat.

“What to do with her gil, and her armor and weapons and the like,” Leleru explained. “We thought it appropriate to let you know what we found, and to show you the journal. But also to ask your opinion.”

“Of course. What is it?”

“There’s the matter of her soul crystals,” said Leleru, pushing the sack toward him. “She didn’t write anything about them. We thought it best to return them to her mentors...And thought maybe you would like to come along?”

It took a moment for him to realize that this was a request. “You’d like for me to accompany you?” Aymeric asked in slight surprise.

“We know you’re quite a busy man as the Lord Commander. But we also know how much you meant to her, we thought we’d ask.”

“It wouldn’t be a long trip, provided you’re attuned to Ala Gannha. But any Gyr Abania aetheryte will do,” explained Enkoko Enko, the other Lalafell. “Fortunately, Sidurgu should be here in Ishgard, which makes that one a non-issue.”

Aymeric looked down to his desk, considering this proposition. Enkoko spoke the truth when she said it wouldn’t be long, but with the state of the Temple Knights following the battle with Zodiark, it would be difficult to simply step away. But still, it was for Tresaie…

“If I may be forward, I think it’s a good idea.”

He looked over his shoulder at the sound of Lucia’s unexpected voice. She gave a small smile. “Handeloup and I are more than capable of handling the Knights in your stead.”

“Yes—but that is quite a lot to ask after the both of you have already done so much—” he began.

“Not at all, my lord,” Lucia interrupted. It gave Aymeric pause; it wasn’t often that she felt the need to interrupt him—her feelings on the matter must be strong indeed.

“Lucia, would you like to come too?” Enkoko asked brightly. “It’ll be fun!”

Lucia gave a small laugh. “Thank you, but no, I think it’s best that I remain here.”

Aymeric was torn; it felt wrong to just leave Lucia and Handeloup, but they were more than capable—and truthfully, he felt he could do with some time away to clear his mind. He felt fortunate to have this luxury, and the more he thought about it, the more he felt that he should not squander the chance. It would be nice to put his duties aside and act an adventurer, if only for a few days.

“Very well,” he said finally, smiling when Enkoko and Soft Earth let out whoops of excitement.

“So, we brought you some things in the off chance that you would accept,” Enkoko said, pulling a bundle from her bag and placing it on his desk. “Soft Earth made them! I think he got the sizing right, he’s great at that.”

He opened the bundle to find that it was clothing—a very stylish coat that nonetheless looked made for adventure, and, true to Enkoko’s words, appeared to be just the right size for him. “You made this for me?” Aymeric said in awe. “The craftsmanship is excellent, it must have taken days. I can’t accept this, it’s much too much.”

“Bah, it’s naught to worry yer pretty little head over, Lord Commander, it’s just somethin’ I put together when I had a spare moment is all,” said Soft Earth with a wave of his hand. “Anyroad, we figured ye could use somethin’ more comfortable than your usual fancy robes if yer comin’ with us.”

“Thank you, truly. I would be honored to wear it,” said Aymeric, and he thought he caught the slightest of blushes on Soft Earth’s face.

“I imagine you’ll need the day to prepare,” Leleru said. “We can find Sidurgu tonight, then away to Ala Mhigo tomorrow at dawn if that’s acceptable to you? We’ve seen him in the Forgotten Knight at ungodly hours of the night, so it should be fine.”

“Yes, that works perfectly. You are all free to come to my home, should you require a meal or a place to sleep. I shall inform my manservant to attend you if I’ve not yet finished here,” Aymeric said, glancing at his small but not insubstantial stack of paperwork with slight distaste.

“That’s very generous of you, Ser Aymeric, but Count Edmont has invited us to have dinner with him this evening,” Leleru said apologetically. “But we shall find you afterwards, so we can find Sidurgu?”

Aymeric smiled. “I look forward to it. Please give the Count my regards.”

It was nearly a bell past sunset when Lucia ejected Aymeric from the Congregation. He had been doing his best to leave the work in a good state for his admittedly brief time away, and Lucia had herded him out the door when he’d started going over incident reports from the Observatorium. “You’ve a trip to prepare for,” Lucia said shortly, though she had the smallest hint of cheek in her smile. “I shall see you off at dawn.”

When he arrived at home, his manservant informed him that Tresaie’s friends hadn’t yet made an appearance at de Borel manor. Aymeric smiled to himself; those adventurers were a chatty bunch when they were comfortable, so he imagined they were talking up a storm with the members of House Fortemps. And indeed, while he was having his supper, Honoroit turned up at the door with a message that his masters and guests had overindulged in wine and spirits, and that Count Edmont insisted they sleep it off in Fortemps manor.

With Tresaie’s friends indisposed, he found himself relaxing in the sitting room with a glass of wine. It didn’t feel right to find Sidurgu without them, and so there he sat, turning over the sack of soul crystals in his hand. There was a familiar aura about them, and he would have thought it comforting had it not been for the slightest twinge of— something . It certainly wasn’t pleasant, of that he could be sure, though he hadn’t the words to describe the feeling.

Perhaps in an unconscious attempt by his mind to stop thinking about the vaguely unpleasant aura, his eyes fell upon Tresaie’s journal, a tattered, leatherbound book that she kept with her always. He took it in his hands, leaving the soul crystals and their associated unpleasantness on the table. It felt almost... improper to read it, but the longer he held it, the stronger his curiosity became. Tresaie was forever gone, but here was a small part of her, right in his hands.

It didn’t take long for curiosity and an aching heart to win. Gently he unraveled the thin cord holding the journal shut and found that despite its tattered appearance, it was in no danger of falling apart. A careful look at the binding revealed that the thread and the first ten or so pages were new; Tresaie must have had the journal rebound recently.

When he read the first page, he felt his heart clench.

     If I’m gone, you’ll find helpful information on the next few pages.

     Thank you.

She likely had the book rebound to add pages in the front. For instructions.

Instructions to follow in the event of her death.

Aymeric took a deep breath.

Tresaie’s untidy handwriting greeted him on the next page, and his breath hitched in his chest.

     Gods, this is morbid. It’s a terrible thing to be thinking about…
     But here we are. The more I fight, the more I’m convinced that I
     survive on sheer luck alone. I’m probably going to get killed.
     I don’t know by what. I imagine something large will do it.
     Hopefully it won’t be wine. I’ve nearly been ruined by wine
     twice now, and I’d not be surprised if it comes back to finish
     the job.

     Anyroad, I just want to make dealing with my shite easy for
     whoever is dealing with it. Sorry. And thank you.

A sob escaped Aymeric’s throat, and he buried his head in his hands.

Tresaie had been prepared to die.

It took him a few deep breaths to regain his composure enough to read on.

The next few pages bore instructions for what to do with the gil and items she’d left with her retainers. She had surprisingly specific instructions to deliver certain items and a percentage of her gil to an orphanage in Idyllshire, and other items and another percentage of gil to the Doman Enclave. And “the rest,” as she put it, was to go to Ishgard, specifically for reconstruction of the Brume and for social programs to assist its lowborn residents. His eyes nearly popped out of his face at the sheer amount of gil she had; was she financing the orphanage and the Doman Enclave restoration singlehandedly? He knew she never wanted for money, but he never expected that . Was adventuring that lucrative? Or the crafting, perhaps?

     Please deliver the Ishgardian muffins to Handeloup.
     Say it’s a snack from me. He will understand.

He let out a snort of amusement and turned the page.

It was addressed to him.

     Aymeric —

     The armor in my private chamber is for you.
     Maybe by now I’ll have finished the set. I hope you like it.

     I suppose if I haven’t torn this page out, we are still together.
     For now—and hopefully always—I love you.

Hot tears rolled from his cheeks and dotted the page, and his shoulders were wracked with sobs. It felt as though his chest was caving in upon itself in his sorrow, and though loss was an unavoidable fact of life, in this moment he felt it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that the entirety of Hydaelyn’s fate rested upon the shoulders of those who had no choice but to give everything within themselves, lest all of Hydaelyn fall to Zodiark. It wasn’t fair that Tresaie hadn’t any choice but to bear this burden. It wasn’t fair that she was gone now...

When his tears were spent, he clutched the journal tightly to his chest and let out a rattling sigh, curling up on the settee and shutting his eyes. He couldn’t bear to go to his bed now.

If the Void swallowed him up, he’d not mind at all.

A gentle touch to the shoulder.

“My lord, it’s nearly dawn.”

Aymeric opened a bleary eye to his manservant Jeunnelet standing over him with a concerned but slightly reproachful look. “Lady Lucia has arrived to see you off on your journey,” Jeunnelet said.

“Ah. Thank you, Jeunnelet. I shall make ready,” said Aymeric, sitting up on the couch and letting out a groan at the state of his aching back. Starting the journey off right , he thought, grimacing as he stretched and cracked what felt like half the bones in his spine. He made way to his chambers, pausing briefly to greet Lucia in the dining room whilst she helped herself to the modest spread of food that Jeunnelet had prepared for them and Tresaie’s companions.

Fortunately he hadn’t much to pack; he’d only be gone a few days at most, and so all he really needed was a pack of food, a change of smallclothes, and the titanium bastard sword he kept in his personal armory for those times where bringing Naegling didn’t feel appropriate. Tresaie had forged it herself—she’d been in a rare mood that day, muttering in frustration about how the swords (several of them) weren’t good enough, and that she (Aymeric didn’t know who “she” was) would get hurt if the sword wasn’t perfect. By the end of that day, Tresaie was sweaty, dirty, tired, and also in possession of five titanium bastard swords fresh from the anvil, one of which she gave to the mysterious She and another of which which she gifted to him. He never did get around to asking who the sword was for, but it must have been for quite the warrior indeed.

With his small travel pack ready and Tresaie’s soul crystals and journal tucked safely within, he turned his attention to the deep blue coat that Soft Earth had made him, which Jeunnelet had graciously pressed and hung in his wardrobe. It fit him perfectly, and as he stretched his arms out and rolled his shoulders, he found it afforded him an impressive range of motion. He didn’t expect to do battle during the short trip, but he’d have no trouble at all swinging a sword in this coat if it came down to it. It even had well-reinforced loops to attach pauldrons, should he so desire. Even with his old and time-worn sollerets, he felt he looked quite fashionable, and made a mental note to get Soft Earth a gift as thanks.

When he entered the dining room, pack slung over his shoulder, Lucia glanced up from her muffin and raised her eyebrows. “The coat suits you,” she said plainly. It was clear, though, that she was quite impressed.

“Ah, you think so?” said Aymeric, a slight blush creeping into his cheeks as he shuffled awkwardly in place.

“Soft Earth has good taste,” she said almost offhandedly. Her smile betrayed her amusement at his discomfort; within the confines of de Borel manor, he felt free to be as awkward as he pleased, and so too did Lucia feel free to show her amusement.

“I don’t thank you enough for all that you do, Lucia,” Aymeric said softly, giving her a sidelong glance as he cut himself a slice of cheese.

“There’s no need,” she said. “Also, I’m quite sure that you do thank me. All the time, in fact.”

The sky was just brightening with the sunrise when a small knock could be heard from the front door. Jeunnelet must have been waiting in the foyer, because Aymeric heard the door open almost immediately and soon he found Tresaie’s friends filing into the dining room.

“Good morning, Ser Aymeric, Lucia,” Leleru said wearily. It was clear from their faces that they had had quite the night drinking at Fortemps manor.

“Good morning. Please help yourselves,” said Aymeric, gesturing toward the spread on the table. Solmund and Soft Earth could barely let their thanks tumble from their mouths before they immediately reached for the water pitcher. Aymeric gave a small laugh. “It was a good evening with Count Edmont then, I presume?”

Leleru cheeks flushed as she waved her hands in embarrassment. “I’m so sorry! We never intended to stay so long, but we got to telling stories and Count Edmont kept bringing out more wine and —”

Aymeric held up a hand to stem her words. “It’s quite all right, Leleru, no harm done,” he said with a gentle smile. “Better that you slept it off at Fortemps manor than try to make your way here in poor condition.”

At his urging, the hungover adventurers demolished the food on the table. He had thought it odd that they weren’t eating, but quickly realized that they were trying to be polite when he caught sight of Soft Earth surreptitiously nudging Solmund when he tried to cut himself a large slice of cheese. At his assurance that the food was meant for them, the voracious adventurers he knew emerged and it wasn’t long before nearly all the food was gone. Though it had been rare for them to come by with Tresaie, it was often enough that Jeunnelet had a good feel for what an appropriate amount of food entailed for these people.

“You’re the best, thanks for the food,” said Solmund gratefully.

“Think nothing of it,” Aymeric said. “Shall we?”

“Let’s!” Enkoko said brightly, hopping off her chair and shouldering her backpack. “Sidurgu first?”

“Sidurgu isn’t usually there in the morning, he’s always up late into the night,” Leleru said, frowning slightly. “Let’s find him when we get back. Are you attuned to Ala Gannha?” She cocked her head slightly, but didn’t wait for an answer. “I suspect that you’re not, it doesn’t seem the sort of place you’d go.”

She nodded and clapped her hands together decisively before Aymeric could get a word in. “Then we’ll teleport to the Ala Mhigan Quarter and ride to Ala Gannha. Let’s be off, then!”

Aymeric turned to thank Jeunnelet and Lucia, but hadn’t even begun to speak when he realized that Leleru was glowing with the familiar violet aura of teleportation magicks— she was honest to Halone teleporting directly out of his dining room . He felt the tug of Leleru’s aether and hastily attuned his own to it before the path was lost to him. “ Thank you Lucia and Jeunnelet I’ll see you soon —! ” was all he managed to say before he was plunged into the Lifestream.

There was the overwhelming rush of aether, and he found himself on his knees in the morning sun of Ala Mhigo. He felt faint and breathless from the journey; he wasn’t accustomed to teleporting such vast distances because he frankly hadn’t the mind-boggling aether reserves of an adventurer. “You all right there, Ser Aymeric?” Solmund asked, hooking an arm under him and helping him to the steps leading down from the aetheryte.

“Yes, I’m—my apologies, I just don’t teleport often. I’ll be fine in a moment,” Aymeric said, managing a weak smile as Solmund and Enkoko sat down on either side of him. It was a long way from Ishgard to the Lochs. Thinking on the Lochs, though, a thought occurred to him. “Wouldn’t it have been closer to teleport to Porta Praetoria?” he asked.

Leleru looked mortified when realization struck her. “You’re right, I’m sorry! Although now that we’re here, we shouldn’t teleport you anywhere for a while as you need to recover,” she murmured, her face tinged pink with embarrassment.

“Leleru strikes again!” Solmund laughed, his smile spreading into a cheeky grin when Leleru shot him an irritated glare. “Not to worry, we can take the scenic route. Ser Aymeric can ride with me and rest up.”

“Yes! Solmund’s mount is very friendly, I do love him,” Enkoko said brightly, hopping to her feet. At this, Aymeric found himself perplexed—was Enkoko referring to Solmund or the mount? The mount, more likely, but what manner of mount could excite her so?

Solmund didn’t wait for his answer. He got to his feet and pulled a small horn from his pack and, taking a deep breath, he sounded a long, powerful note up toward the sky. As he lowered the horn, he stood silently, his eyes searching the sky—when nothing happened, Aymeric glanced around in search of anything that appeared rideable, but found only cart chocobos milling about in the distance. He wondered if they were toying with him and was about to ask when they were engulfed in the shadow of something large approaching from above.

Aymeric’s heart nearly leapt out his throat when an enormous whale descended from the sky and floated obediently before them.

“Umfrey, good to see you!” Solmund exclaimed, vigorously scratching the whale’s chin, or at least the parts of it that he could reach. This Umfrey seemed to like that quite a bit, and drifted closer to the ground to allow Solmund better reach. Aymeric sat wide-eyed and utterly bewildered at the sight before him; Tresaie had made no mention of whales in their time together, least of all whales that could fly . Was this so mundane for adventurers that it merited no comment to the likes of him?

“All right, up you go, Ser,” Soft Earth said, grinning and extending a hand to him.

“I’m—you mean, I’m to ride that?” Aymeric sputtered.

“No need to be scared, Umfrey is very gentle!” Enkoko said, giving Aymeric an encouraging smile that made him realize she completely misunderstood his misgivings about riding a whale. As he looked up at the creature towering above them, he wondered how they expected him to get on when he was still weak from the teleportation magicks. By the Fury—he wasn’t Estinien , there was no way he could jump that high, even at full strength. Climb perhaps, but certainly not in his current condition.

Soft Earth stepped forward and bent his knees to lower himself. “Come on, Ser, I’ll give ye a boost up,” he said, beckoning Aymeric to come closer.

“Ah—very well, thank you.”

What Aymeric considered a boost and what Soft Earth considered a boost turned out to be two wildly different things. Where Aymeric had expected to step into Soft Earth’s hands and get pushed high enough to clamber onto Umfrey, he found instead that Soft Earth did not expect him to step on anything at all and rather, he took Aymeric by the waist and hurled him upwards into the air. A yelp of surprise escaped Aymeric’s throat, and he couldn’t stop himself from screaming as he sailed up onto Umfrey’s back. The air was forced from his lungs when he landed atop the whale, and as he lay in a daze he thought about how no decent soul in Ishgard would dare throw the Lord Commander like a ragdoll.

“All right there, Ser Aymeric?” asked Solmund once he’d climbed onto Umfrey’s back. “Sorry ‘bout Soft Earth there, he throws adventurers and should probably not throw Lord Commanders.”

“I’m not so fragile so as to break from that. Not just yet, anyway,” Aymeric chuckled, his cheeks flushing slightly.

“Solmund, Ser Aymeric, are you ready?”

Aymeric was only just able to keep himself from jumping in surprise when Leleru popped into view astride the biggest korpokkur that he had seen in his life. He couldn’t, however, hide his shock when his eyes fell upon a pair of enormous cloud mallows slowly rising into the air, with Enkoko and Soft Earth atop one each.

He wondered if Tresaie was cackling from whichever realm of the Twelve saw fit to claim her.

“Let’s be off then!” said Leleru, nodding in approval and patting her korpokkur to direct it forward.

In his mind, he’d always thought of adventurers traipsing about the world astride chocobos. He knew that Tresaie sometimes traveled on magitek contraptions or tamed beasts, but for the most part she was almost always in the company of her chocobo; if he thought about it, she quite possibly spent more time with it than with Aymeric himself. But did she ride her chocobo in the company of her friends, or did she perhaps also float about on giant cloud mallows or other manner of extraordinary creatures?

The journey through the Lochs from the Ala Mhigan Quarter was a surprisingly pleasant one. Aymeric had seen the Lochs before, of course, but that was in the midst of war with Zenos and the XIIth Legion—certainly not the most opportune time to be taking in the local sights. He was glad to be allowed silence; there was no need to speak when Enkoko was busy excitedly reminiscing about their adventures in the Lochs and how they had searched for treasure in an underwater palace. Aymeric remembered that particular story, as Tresaie had returned to Ishgard all smiles because she and her friends had emerged victorious over Alphinaud in the race to the treasure.

His heart ached, and his breath stopped in his throat. What he would give to have Tresaie at his side, to admire the Lochs with him...

They had just reached Porta Praetoria when nightfall was upon them. The weather was fair and so it was to be a night under the stars in the area at the foot of the steps leading up to the aetheryte. There were quite a few structures in the area that hadn’t existed the last time Aymeric had been there, but most the area remained undeveloped which afforded them the space to set up camp.

Food was not a concern for the night, as Soft Earth had brought enough dzo sausages to feed ten men—Aymeric hadn’t the slightest idea what a dzo looked like, but it was delicious with a taste reminiscent of aldgoat. They spent the evening telling tales and roasting sausages over the fire, though Aymeric did nearly no telling and mostly listened, which was much preferable to him as he couldn’t muster the mental strength to participate. The antics of the adventurers or the seemingly endless sausages weren’t enough to distract him from the ache in his chest, but at least they were untroubled by his silence.

When the fire had died down and they lay down for the night, he looked up to the night sky and exhaled slowly. The tranquility of the outdoors was something he’d not experienced in years and he was grateful that Tresaie’s friends saw fit to include him. Would that he were here with them under far better circumstances…

As he fell into the uneasy half-sleep that had plagued him in the nights following that day , the softest whisper of a voice drifted through the back of his mind.

     ... Have you the strength..?

Chapter Text

All too soon, it felt that Aymeric’s short jaunt as an adventurer was coming to a close.

They arrived in Ala Gannha about mid-afternoon, though if not for their flying mounts, they would have arrived even later. As they approached the town proper, Aymeric rummaged around in his travel pack for the sack of soul crystals. His fingers recoiled slightly when they touched the sack, but the feeling was foreign and confusing—he ignored it and slipped the sack into a coat pocket.

It wasn’t difficult to find Widargelt: he was just in the outskirts of the town with a sizeable group of people he was training in the ways of the Fist of Rhalgr, and they only had to follow the sounds of exertions and battle cries. They were evidently doing some sort of intense speed drill, as when he noticed their approach and called for a break, his weary students sank to the ground and let out huge sighs of relief.

“To what do I owe this pleasure, friends?” Widargelt asked, crossing his arms. If not for his welcoming smile and the two young and eager Miqo'te standing on either side of him, his large figure would have been quite intimidating indeed. It seemed that Leleru and friends had no such reservations—why would they?—and after greeting the Miqo'te with a wave, Leleru stepped forward and went straight to business.

“We wanted to bring you Tresaie’s soul crystal. It didn’t seem right to keep it,” Leleru explained.

Aymeric pulled the sack of crystals out and loosened the drawstring in order to get the Soul of the Monk out. He reached for the yellow crystal and only just brushed his fingers against the other—and again he recoiled slightly at the feeling, but hadn’t the time to consider it as he pulled the yellow crystal out. The Soul of the Monk felt warm and encouraging; he couldn’t help but smile as he held it, all the while pushing thoughts of the other crystal’s unpleasant sensation further down into his mind.

“Ah. Thank you for this kindness. I thought the soul crystal buried with our sister,” Widargelt said, his face softening slightly as he took the crystal from Aymeric’s outstretched hand. He closed his fist around it and held it to his chest. “We would be glad to pass it on to a monk ready to walk our path. It is what she would have wanted, I am certain. What say you, O’tchakha? D’zentsa?”

The tanner Miqo'te grinned. “Of course! Don’t think anyone is quite ready yet, but I reckon someday soon!” she said, pumping a fist into the air.

They spent the evening with Widargelt and the two Miqo'te, sharing a meal with them in Widargelt’s home. He was every bit the taciturn Highlander Hyur that he looked, but O’tchakha and D’zentsa were energetic enough to make up for him tenfold. Aymeric found himself smiling at their synergy; it was quite clear that they spent a lot of time together, and that Widargelt very much enjoyed having them around. Aymeric always imagined monks to be the very serious sort who only begrudgingly showed their feelings, but the two Miqo'te and even Widargelt and the muted smile on his face were proving that to be a misconception. All the better; the world needed all the happiness it could get in the wake of the darkness that had shrouded the realm.

Aymeric exhaled slowly to ease the ache in his chest. He was happy to be there amongst these wonderful people, but it was all he could do to focus on them and not the conspicuous void left in his heart.

Though he enjoyed the company of the monks, he felt some measure of relief when he and the adventurers took their leave to make camp just outside the town. He had a passing thought to ask Leleru why they didn’t just teleport back to Ishgard, but managed to stop himself in time. Truly, he was loath to go back—at least for another night, he’d like to be Aymeric the Adventurer, and not Aymeric the Lord Commander and Speaker of the House of Lords. The short but carefree time away had really given him a chance to see how much rested upon his shoulders, and though he gladly bore the burden, it was nice to have this time to lift the weight, if only for a moment.

He and the adventurers sat round the campfire in an unusually weary silence, as though exhaustion was weighing down upon them. It was rare for Aymeric to see the haunted looks that were so often carefully hidden under a rambunctious veneer; Tresaie’s death had devastated him, but the adventurers had been so outwardly energetic that he—quite shamefully—had all but forgotten that they too had lost a dear friend.

“Hey, Lord Commander,” Solmund said suddenly, with the air of someone who could take the silence no longer. “Thanks for coming with us, it’s been a lot of fun.”

“No, no, thank you all for inviting me,” said Aymeric with a small smile. “I think I needed to be away from Ishgard, and wouldn’t have had the chance if not for all of you.”

“Mayhaps yer better off adventuring with us,” Soft Earth added, grinning. “Give Handeloup or Lucia a promotion or somethin’, they’re more’n capable.”

“We can give you a room in the house!” Enkoko chimed in. “There’s plenty of—of room...”

She fell silent, her eyes pointed toward the fire but her gaze a thousand malms away. “But you know,” she added, snapping out of her daze and giving him a wide smile, “you should visit the house anyways. We can cook for you!”

Aymeric couldn’t help but make a tiny snort of amusement as Enkoko’s earnest words eased the heartache in his chest ever so slightly.

“I’d love to, thank you.”

The morning was a slow one. Aymeric had woken from his half-sleep at first light, though he had quietly lain there for nearly a bell before anyone else stirred. He was reluctant to return to Ishgard, and it seemed the adventurers were as well; they were quite prompt the previous morning when they had set out for Ala Gannha, but today they were very much taking their time. Not that he minded, of course—he would have woken them if he had needed to return, and he suspected they knew that.

“Morning, Se—Ser,” Solmund yawned as he attempted to start a fire, though his body was clearly not quite awake enough to do so.

“We’ve got bread and one sausage each for breakfast,” Leleru said as she pulled a stack of flatbread and the remainder of the dzo sausages from a backpack.

Aymeric was astonished that there were any dzo sausages left. They—mostly Solmund and Soft Earth—had eaten a startling number of them the other evening, and still there were more? Was that backpack all sausages? Still, he was not one to refuse food that they offered him, and so he sat, roasting a sausage on the end of an arrow as he idly watched Soft Earth and Enkoko packing up their bed rolls. He glanced to his pack—he’d already packed it up a bell ago—to double-check that he’d not missed anything important, especially Tresaie’s journal and remaining soul crystal.

The memory of his fingers recoiling from the crystal sprang to mind.

“Leleru, the other soul crystal—the one we’re to give to Sidurgu—what is it?” he asked lightly.

He didn’t expect a wide-eyed look of surprise to appear on Leleru’s face, nor the silent and tense glances she and the others exchanged.

“Ah, she—she didn’t—” Leleru sputtered, though she quickly composed herself. “It’s a knight soul crystal.”

After that display, Aymeric wasn’t convinced in the least. “A knight soul crystal,” he said flatly. Leleru looked stricken—he could almost see the mental churn in her head.

“Well, haven’t ye seen her carryin’ that greatsword around?” Soft Earth asked in an obvious effort to rescue Leleru. “Big sword and knightly armor and all that.”

“Sidurgu will be able to explain best,” she said hastily when Aymeric remained unconvinced by Soft Earth’s words. “I’m—I’m sure Tresaie has talked to you about it. Without saying what it was, I suppose.”

The happy, warm feelings of his short jaunt in Ala Mhigo faded as dread filled the pit of his stomach. What in the world had Tresaie hidden from him?

“I—very well. I shall ask Sidurgu.”

The tension in the air was almost palpable as they ate their breakfast and finished packing up camp. Enkoko and Solmund chattered about their plans for the next day in an obvious effort to lighten the mood, but Aymeric was too deep in thought to pay their conversation any mind. He and Tresaie had been together long enough for him to know that whatever this secret was—this soul crystal that even her friends hesitated to talk about—wasn’t going to be good. Tresaie was always under such incredible pressure that he had found it better to allow her speak about her troubles at her own pace, for her sanity and his, though she was always good about talking out her troubles once she was ready. He recalled talking her through the aftermath of some sort of knight altercations that had touched on some of her deepest insecurities, but she didn’t speak of the soul crystal even once…

“Are you ready to teleport home, Ser Aymeric?” Leleru ventured, her voice uncharacteristically timid. He nodded.

“I’m ready.”

Leleru nodded and, after looking to her companions for similar confirmation, she glowed violet with teleportation magicks. Soon she vanished, and Aymeric felt the pull of her aether—he attuned to it and one ever-harrowing trip through the Lifestream later, he found himself standing in the Foundation Aetheryte Plaza. He wobbled slightly on his feet, and if not for Soft Earth gently catching his arm, he would have fallen in full view of the morning Foundation crowd. Aymeric gave him a grateful smile, and inwardly he wished that teleportation wasn’t quite so exhausting for him.

“I need to sit down a moment,” Aymeric said, sinking down to sit and rest on the aetheryte’s plinth. “Please, don’t feel like you all need to wait for me here. Sidurgu won’t be around until the evening, correct?”

“Well, yes, but we can’t just abandon you here. It wouldn’t do at all,” Leleru said with a small laugh.

“Leleru, we may be needed,” Solmund said sharply, a hand to his ear. “Clan Centurio is broadcasting for help—a hunt in Yanxia is going very badly.”

“How bad does it sound?” Leleru asked, frowning.

Solmund gave her a grave look. “You know they never do this unless things have gone from bad to worse and they haven’t the help.”

Leleru looked from Solmund to Aymeric, and all but hopped in place as she struggled to decide.

“If you have friends that need help, please go and do what you can,” Aymeric said firmly. “I shall await your return. You know where to find me.”

“I—” Leleru started.

“You heard him, Leleru!” Enkoko interrupted, her eyes blazing. “Let’s go, they need help!”

Solmund shot Aymeric an apologetic look as he began glowing with the familiar violet aura. “Sorry, Ser. We’ll be back soon enough!”

“Good luck, friends. Stay safe!” Aymeric called out as the adventurers blinked off into the Lifestream. He felt Solmund’s magicks pulling at him, but he carefully ignored it; if he accidentally tagged along with them, he wasn’t sure he’d arrive in Yanxia conscious or even in one piece.

He sat there alone in the plaza for a few moments to consider his options for the day. He didn’t feel quite ready to return home, and the absence of the adventurers only amplified the unease he felt about the last soul crystal. Lest the Ishgardians near the aetheryte begin to take notice of him sitting there by himself, he got to his feet and began making his way toward the Pillars.

Behind Fortemps Manor was a large terrace with a magnificent view where he often went when he needed time to think, and it was there that he went now. There weren’t often people back there—other than members of House Fortemps, of course—and so it was a nice place to stand and think in relative solitude. Fortunately for him, there wasn’t anyone in sight apart from some House Haillenarte ladies deep in conversation on the other end of the terrace; they didn’t take any notice of him when he arrived and found his spot behind Fortemps Manor.

Aymeric leaned against the parapet, resting on his elbows as he breathed in the crisp morning air and cast his gaze out toward the mountains surrounding Ishgard proper. He hoped whatever mess that Tresaie’s friends were going to help with, they came out of it unharmed. With a wry smile, he thought on the problems he was to solve in Ishgard, and wished that dealing in sociopolitics was as straightforward as vanquishing monsters.

    In the end, only problems remain.

He blinked and straightened up, glancing around for the source of the voice whispering into his ear. There was nobody in sight—even the House Haillenarte ladies were gone.

An ominous tingle played on his fingertips. His mind instinctively went to the soul crystal in his pack—but there was no way the crystal could be calling to him.

Could it?

    If not you, then who else?

His heart beat wildly in his chest.

Could it…?

Aymeric plunged his hand into his pack and rummaged furiously for the soul crystal sack. As his fingers found the sack and he pulled it free, a shooting pain shot through his head—but he couldn’t stop now, he had to see the soul crystal—

He grasped it with his fingers and cried out in pain as his knee gave way and he stumbled to the side—his vision began fading—


Slowly, he opened his eyes and used the edge of the parapet to pull himself to his feet. As his vision began returning to him, he glanced back toward House Haillenarte exhaled in relief when he found nobody to bear witness to his momentary weakness. Perhaps the long teleport from Ala Gannha took more out of him than he thought…

“Are you all right, Aymeric?”

He froze in horror at the sound of the voice behind him. So someone had seen him.

“Ah yes, I’m fine,” he laughed nervously as he turned to address the poor soul who’d had the misfortune of seeing his sorry display. “It’s nothing, I just—”

His heart all but leapt out his throat and he staggered backward in shock.

A smiling Tresaie stood before him.

“I—wh—Tr—Tre—” he sputtered. He couldn’t form words—Tresaie was dead—she was dead and cold and buried—

She put a finger to her lips.

“Shh. Meet me in the Churning Mists.”

Her voice was light, almost playful. Just how it always was…

“Who—w-what—” Aymeric still couldn’t speak—his whole body was trembling now.

Tresaie—or the shade of her, he couldn’t tell—gave him a roguish look as she began glowing violet, and before he could get another sound out of his throat, she vanished. He had a moment of panic: where in the Churning Mists did she want to meet him? But he felt aether pushing him; without another thought, he pocketed the soul crystal and grabbed hold.

In the blink of an eye, he found himself looking out over a landscape of floating islands, with the ancient and breathtaking monument at Zenith rising up in the distance. He was briefly disoriented by the sight, but when he looked around and found cloud mallows and the moogle structures, he realized he’d arrived just outside of Moghome. He frantically searched the landscape for any sign of her—his heart was sure to burst out of his chest at any moment—and quickly found a familiar silhouette walking down the path toward the entrance to Sohm Al. Aymeric ran as fast as his legs would carry him; this Tresaie could be anything from a hallucination brought on by grief to an evil shade intending to murder him, but in this moment he just had to know

She had stopped by the edge where the cliff met the sky and was waiting patiently for him, though she did not speak. The last time he had seen Tresaie—her body—she had been covered in terrible wounds and was missing her right hand. But this Tresaie...this Tresaie was whole and healthy and in possession of all her limbs.

Aymeric swallowed; he wished the pounding of his heart would stop.

“Wh-who are you?” he asked breathlessly.

Tresaie—or the shade of her—looked amused. “I’d hoped that you wouldn’t forget me so easily, my love,” she said lightly.

“N-no! Who are you?” Aymeric demanded. Tears were beginning to well up in his eyes as he unsheathed his sword. His heart cried out in anguish, but he forced himself to ready his blade. “Tresaie is dead—she is dead and I’ll not suffer a shade of her roaming here or anywhere else!”

His sword hand was quivering, and it was all he could to to hold it up.

Tresaie pointed at his waist. “I’m here because of the crystal in your pocket,” she said, her smile not faltering for even a moment. “It must have hurt when you touched it. It did for me.”

“Wh—what? This knight crystal did this?” Aymeric sputtered, glancing briefly down toward his pocket. Tresaie arched an eyebrow.

“Knight crystal? Where did you hear that?” she asked, a hint of a laugh in her voice. “Although I suppose that’s not wrong. Just...not specific enough.”

She took a step toward him, hand outstretched, but he redoubled his grip on his sword and took an equal step back. “You still haven’t answered. Who are you? ” he demanded once more. She looked almost hurt by his words, and slowly approached him with both hands out.

“N-no, don’t come any closer—” he said, backing away as she neared. But his legs weren’t obeying him; he stumbled backwards in a weak attempt at keeping up his guard but Tresaie was soon upon him.

He felt her arms snake under his and wrap themselves around his torso, squeezing him gently as she pressed her face into his neck. The sword fell from his grasp at her touch—he couldn’t move, not when her arms and her smell and her everything felt so right—

“I’ve missed you,” Tresaie murmured.

A strangled sob escaped his throat. His mind and heart felt as though they were near to bursting and he could hardly breathe; Aymeric didn’t— couldn’t —understand what was happening, it was all so wrong but some part of him wished that this was all real—

Tresaie released him and took a step back to regard his face. “You’ve heard the voice, haven’t you?”

“Y-yes,” he managed to eke out of his throat. “When I touched the crystal.”

Her smile faded slightly for the first time since he’d laid eyes on her. “There are things I never told you, my love,” she said softly. “Out of fear. Cowardice. If I’d just told you, perhaps you wouldn’t be here.”

“I wouldn’t be where? ” he asked, his voice strained. Hot tears were beginning to well up in his eyes.

“Give the crystal back to Sidurgu, it is not a thing for the Lord Commander of the Temple Knights,” Tresaie said. She looked sad, and amid the storm of emotions in Aymeric, he felt his heart fracture at the sight.

“N-no! I can’t! Not until I understand what’s happening here, at least. I—I can’t lose—” He stopped himself. In his heart, he didn’t want to lose her again, but he hadn’t any idea who or even what she truly was.

She pressed a finger to his chest and he furrowed his brow slightly in confusion. “There is a darkness inside of you. There’s darkness in all of us, really. It’s normal, and unavoidable,” she said. “You knew the darkness in the Warrior of Light, Aymeric. But not all of it. Not if we’re here having this conversation.”

“Then...then what now?”

Tresaie glanced down at his pocket again. “That crystal—it changes you, as it changed me. It gives you the power to channel the darkness within.”

Aymeric couldn’t speak, his mind was paralyzed by shock and confusion.

“Without the right training, it’s...well, it’s painful,” she continued. “But it’s no power for the Lord Commander. The Temple Knights would brand you a heretic for having a power they don’t understand.”

He took a step back in mingled surprise and indignation. “I—I would never!” he sputtered. Tresaie smiled.

“No, you wouldn’t, you are a kind soul. But there are Knights who would take it upon themselves to rid Ishgard of heresy. Some tried to kill me when they found I had this power, when all I wanted was to help. It was the same for my teacher.”

Aymeric felt as though he’d been punched in the gut. He knew full well that there were many unsavory types in the Temple Knights, but Knights under his command, trying to murder the Warrior of Light? The foolishness and hubris were astounding.

“It’s a power not meant for you. It’s best if you give it back to Sidurgu,” she said with a sad smile. “You don’t need it besides. You’ve proven ten times over that you’ve the strength to lead all of Ishgard without it.”

The voice— the voice —whispered in the back of his mind.

    But do you...?

Tresaie gave him a searching, somehow knowing look. Had she heard the voice as well?

“You don’t want to give it back,” she said.

It wasn’t a question.


Aymeric wasn’t sure just what he wanted, but he knew if he gave the crystal back to Sidurgu, this would be the last time he ever saw her. Whatever she was. And he couldn’t let her go, not yet.

She exhaled, as though steeling herself, and nodded with a smile.

“I can teach you how to use this power. Are you, the Lord Commander of the Temple Knights, prepared to learn the ways of the Dark Knight?”

The rational part of his brain was screaming at him to stop, but the whispers of the voice were overpowering, almost alluring.


Tresaie nodded, and the roguish, cheeky smile reappeared on her face.

“I left a greatsword in your armory,” she said as she began the teleportation spell. “Get it and meet me north of Camp Dragonhead. And a full-face helm as well. Safety and discretion!”

She disappeared, leaving Aymeric alone and painfully confused.

He choked out a sob and fell to his knees.

Leleru and company arrived at the Last Vigil weary, each nursing an assortment of small wounds courtesy of the vanara in Yanxia. Clan Centurio rarely broadcasted for help via linkshell—the hunts were an “at your own peril” arrangement with them—but the beasts were some of the many creatures driven mad by the tainted aether in recent times, and they and their alpha had been lurking closer and closer to the settlements. All the help had been quite necessary, and they were fortunate that a good number of conjurers had answered the summons.

“Hopefully Ser Aymeric won’t be cross with us,” Leleru said worriedly.

“He’ll understand! Don’t be silly, Leleru,” Enkoko scoffed. Enkoko was shameless but probably right, though Leleru couldn’t help but worry regardless. The Lord Commander was like to be in the middle of his evening meal and she hated to interrupt him.

When they reached Borel Manor, she straightened out a few wrinkles in her coat and knocked on the door. They didn’t have to wait long before they heard the sounds of unlocking locks; the door swung open to reveal Jeunnelet’s ever-impassive face. He didn’t, however, step aside to allow them in.

“Ah, welcome. I’m afraid my lord is not here at the moment,” said Jeunnelet.

“Oh! Our apologies, Jeunnelet,” Leleru said, her eyes widening in surprise.

“My lord was briefly home earlier, but he appeared to be in quite the hurry,” Jeunnelet continued. “Perhaps something urgent has come up at the Congregation.”

“Ah, I see. Thank you very much!”

“My pleasure. Please have a pleasant evening.” With that, Jeunnelet bowed politely and shut the door.

Leleru turned to her comrades, and she was relieved that she was not the only one who was confused. “Perhaps we should try again tomorrow?” she ventured, biting her lip. Something felt wrong.

“Why don’t we just check if he’s at Congregation?” Enkoko asked, perplexed. Leleru inwardly sighed.


“I’m with Enkoko,” Soft Earth said suddenly, a grim look on his face. “Somethin’ ain’t right.”

Leleru wasn’t sure if it was the Echo or plain old instinct, but no sooner did Soft Earth’s words leave his mouth did she immediately agree.

“All right, let’s go,” she said, hopping off the doorsteps.

The lack of activity in Congregation did not bode well. Lucia and Handeloup were at the table, and neither looked particularly busy in the least. When they drew closer, Lucia looked up from a report of some sort and arched her eyebrows in surprise.

“Where is Ser Aymeric?” she asked.

The dread in Leleru’s stomach began creeping upwards.

“We had to leave for the afternoon to help Clan Centurio. We were already in Ishgard when we got the notice,” Leleru explained. “Is he not here…?”

“No, I haven’t seen him since he left with you. Handeloup?” Lucia asked, glancing to Handeloup, who shook his head.

“No, I haven’t seen him either.”

“Do you think he went to find Sidurgu?” Solmund asked, glancing from Leleru to Lucia with worry in his eyes.

“R-right, maybe he went to talk to Sidurgu,” Leleru said hesitantly. “Let’s go to the Forgotten Knight.”

Lucia caught on to their unease—really, anyone could have by now—and rose from her seat. “I’ll join you. I’ll let you know once we find him,” she added, nodding to Handeloup.

Leleru wished desperately to the Twelve that they would find Ser Aymeric down there with Sidurgu, having a long, tearful conversation about Tresaie. But something told her that the thought was foolish…

When they entered the Forgotten Knight and glanced down at its lower level from the main landing, Leleru felt as though a leaden weight had dropped into her stomach. Sidurgu was having a meal with Rielle at his customary table, but Ser Aymeric was nowhere to be found.

She suppressed the urge to jump over the railing down to them—Lucia was here and they had already lost the Lord Commander, Leleru didn’t need to give more cause for disapproval—and hopped down the stairs two at a time in her haste. Sidurgu had caught sight of her descent and had a sort of irritated frown on his face when she arrived at his table.

“Sidurgu!” Leleru said breathlessly. “Has the Lord Commander been to see you?”

Sidurgu’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Why would the Lord Commander come to see me?”

Leleru wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

“I—well,” she started, shuffling awkwardly on her feet.

“What?” Sidurgu snapped impatiently. Leleru closed her eyes and grit her teeth, before giving him the most apologetic look she could muster.

“He has Tresaie’s soul crystal and we can’t find him.” The words all but tumbled out of her mouth.

What?! ” Sidurgu’s barked, getting to his feet so fast that he bumped the table and almost tipped his tankard of water over. The Forgotten Knight briefly fell silent as the patrons looked at them in mingled confusion and fear.

Sidurgu! ” Rielle hissed, shooting him a warning glance. A brief flash of embarrassment crossed his face as he sat back down and leaned in to fix Leleru a furious glare.

Why did you give him the soul crystal? ” Sidurgu growled under his breath. His horned face was mere ilms from her own, and it felt as though his eyes were boring through her.

“I—I didn’t think anything bad would happen!” she sputtered in a panic.

Sidurgu leaned back and pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing in aggravation. “This is great...Any idea where he could have gone?”

“N-no, his servant just said he went out in a hurry,” Leleru said with a grimace.

Sidurgu’s glare pierced straight through her soul.

“If what I think has happened has happened , he’s like to be fighting beasts. But where?

“Teleporting wears him out, so he can’t be too far, right?” Solmund said hopefully.

“Dragonhead then. It’s closest,” Lucia interjected. Leleru glanced over her shoulder and found Lucia impassive save for the slightest furrow in her brow that betrayed her worry.

“Right—that’s a good place to start. Sidurgu, Rielle, will you join us?”

Rielle immediately leapt from her seat, but Sidurgu looked like he wanted to do anything but join them; nonetheless he got to his feet and threw a small handful of gil on the table before shouldering his greatsword and nodding to Leleru.

They hastily made their way for the Steps of Faith as fast as they could without outright running—they didn’t need any rumors popping up about why Lucia was sprinting away with adventurers. Fortunately the guards stationed at either end of the Steps didn’t question Lucia’s presence, but un fortunately none remembered any adventurers passing through. Leleru chewed her lip anxiously as they headed for Camp Dragonhead from the Gates of Judgement. If the guards didn’t remember any adventurers passing through, then it was likely that Ser Aymeric teleported to wherever it was that he’d gone which this was definitely worrying; if something had happened to him and he was too weary to teleport back...She pushed the thought from her mind.

It wasn’t long before Camp Dragonhead’s west gate loomed in the distance.

“We should see if the aetheryte guard noticed anyone come in,” Leleru said once they’d entered the camp proper, glancing back at her companions.

“We’ll wait down here—might turn heads if the lot of us all go up there,” said Solmund, gesturing to himself, Enkoko, and Soft Earth.

Leleru nodded. “Right. We’ll be quick.”

“Don’t let on that we’re looking for the Lord Commander,” Sidurgu muttered to Leleru as made their way up the steps to the aetheryte. She wanted to be annoyed that he thought her that foolish, but here they were, looking for a missing Lord Commander all because of her. So she really hadn’t any reason to be annoyed at anyone.

“Ser knight, has anyone passed through Dragonhead recently?” Leleru asked the lone knight standing by the aetheryte. “Perhaps this afternoon?”

The knight looked from Leleru to Sidurgu with a hint of annoyance, though when he noticed Lucia he immediately stood up a little straighter. Leleru silently thanked the Twelve that Lucia had come along.

“A few, but no more than what’s usual,” he said.

“Can you describe them?” Lucia asked, stepping forward when it became clear the knight was addressing her.

“Hmm, a shipment of supplies for Whitebrim came through, three men and a wagon,” said the knight. “And some adventurer used the aetheryte about two bells ago. But that was all for this afternoon, ma’am.”

Leleru almost lunged forward at the mention of the adventurer, but was able to quell the urge. Lucia teetered ever so slightly; it seemed that she’d nearly jumped at his words as well.

“The adventurer—could you see who it was?” she asked.

“No, ma’am, they were wearing a full helm. Was tall though, probably an Elezen. Had a big sword strapped to his back. Dark coat, I think.”

Sidurgu made a noise but managed to stifle it.

“Do you remember which way he went?” Lucia asked, a hint of urgency in her voice. The knight thought for a moment, then turned his gaze northward.

“He left through the northern gate if I’m remembering right,” said the knight.

Lucia thanked the guard before turning to Leleru and giving her a meaningful glance.

“Let’s go.”

Fortunately for them, the snow was thick enough on the ground that they could just make out the footprints of the recent passersby in the moonlight. Leleru caught sight of a pair of prints on the path leading northward past the Witchdrop and breathed a sigh of relief; if Ser Aymeric had decided to go into the Witchdrop and subsequently had something terrible happen to him…

Still, further north was assuredly not good either, what with all the Dravanians that still lingered around the Steel Vigil. She beckoned them to follow as she hurried up the path, biting her lip as she cast her eyes about for any sign of the Lord Commander.

As they approached the main gate of the Steel Vigil, they found a dead downy aevis lying in the snow, great slashes stretching across its body and its blood glistening in the moonlight. Leleru cast her eyes about for any sign of the dead aevis’s assailant, and let out a small gasp when she found a bloody trail of dead aevises leading up the hill toward Lord Haurchefant’s grave.

“What in the seven hells—?” Soft Earth muttered, his eyes wide.

“This is it, this has to be him!” Sidurgu said urgently as he took off at a sprint before Leleru or anyone could say a word.

They raced after him, Leleru desperately hoping that they would find a whole and unharmed Ser Aymeric at the end of this horror trail of death.

Sidurgu had stopped at the top of the hill and as they reached him, Leleru wondered if they were too late and the dragon killer had taken their leave. But when they crested the hill, her legs unconsciously came to a halt and she felt her blood run cold.

A helmeted figure with a familiar coat and an enormous greatsword was battling an aevis, he and his sword covered in a splattering of blood.

An ominous red aura surrounded him.

When the dragon let out a final screech of death, deep red wisps left the dragon and were absorbed by the figure’s body. The dragon collapsed into a bloody heap in the snow, and the helmeted figure stood motionless save for the heavy movements of his chest as he regained his breath.

Sidurgu took a cautious step forward.

“Lord Commander,” he ventured.

The man, still in a battle stance, turned his head to look at them. Leleru—nor anyone else—dared to move as straightened up and stowed the sword on his back, regarding them in silence.

“Lord Commander,” Sidurgu repeated, more forcefully this time.

He didn’t answer. He didn’t move.

“Ser Aymeric, please!” Leleru cried, stepping forward a few paces. “Please, we were worried about you.”

He bowed his head and Leleru could see the exhale in his shoulders, and slowly he pulled the helm from his head.

Leleru let out her breath in relief at the sight of Ser Aymeric’s face looking back at them. There was blood around his eyes from where it had come through the helmet’s eye slit, and some of his disheveled hair clung to his sweaty face.

The red aura yet swirled around him.

“You have the soul crystal of the Dark Knight. Tresaie’s crystal,” Sidurgu said, striding forward when it became clear that Aymeric was neither going to run nor attack them.

“I do,” Aymeric replied simply. He wasn’t smiling.

“The dark arts are not for a man of your station, Lord Commander. Give it to me.” Sidurgu’s tone was almost gentle—relative to his usual tone, in any case.

“That’s not for you to decide.”

“The arts are misunderstood, dangerous in Ishgard. That crystal will only cause you trouble,” Sidurgu persisted, though it was clear he was struggling to keep his composure. “There are better things to remember Tresaie by than a crystal that could get you branded a heretic.”

When Aymeric did not answer, Sidurgu clenched his fist. “Your own knights would kill you if they found out!” he snapped. “They tried to kill Tresaie and she was the Warrior of Light. They’d have no qualms killing you if it meant killing a heretic!”

“She told me about that, yes. I’m going to handle it. They’re my responsibility,” said Aymeric. There was a determined, almost furious glint in his eyes and it was one that sent a chill down Leleru’s spine.

Sidurgu exhaled in frustration. “Ishgard needs you! You won’t be able to do shite for them if you’ve been murdered for heresy!”

Aymeric was silent for a moment—perhaps Sidurgu’s words had finally gotten through to him. But the dangerous glint in his eye told them otherwise.

“They can try.”

The dark aura seemed to pulse at his words.

It was clear that Sidurgu was reaching his limit; Leleru didn’t know what more he could say to convince Ser Aymeric to give up the crystal.

“How did you learn those techniques? Who taught you?” Sidurgu asked, and he was quite obviously grasping at straws for alternatives to fighting the Lord Commander.

For the first time since he revealed his face, Ser Aymeric’s stoic veneer cracked—as though for a brief moment, he wasn’t sure how to answer. But as soon as Leleru noticed it, it was gone.

He shifted his feet slightly and squared his shoulders.

“Fray taught me.”

Chapter Text

Ser Aymeric de Borel breathed heavily into his helm when he blinked out of the Lifestream at the Camp Dragonhead aetheryte.

In spite of the helm concealing his face, he glanced about furtively for anyone who might have seen him. The helm was warm from his breath—uncomfortably so—but he couldn’t remove it for fear of revealing himself. The Lord Commander, skulking about alone in Coerthas? A single offhanded comment by a knight could spark a firestorm of rumors. It was hard enough for him to do his job in Ishgard, he didn’t need his allegiance or sanity questioned besides.

When the knight guarding the aetheryte gave him a mere passing glance, he swallowed and made his way down the steps toward the northern gate.

Whispers in the back of his mind pressed him onwards. His heart thundered in his chest; it felt wrong to be here, following the cryptic instructions of a shade of his beloved when he knew not her—its—true motivation.

He had to know what she and that soul crystal were.

Aymeric could make out the silhouette of a tall figure behind some trees a little ways up the hill from the gate, just out of view of the guard. He held his breath as he approached—the anxiety and apprehension near unbearable in his chest—and let out a quivering breath when she turned her piercing gray eyes toward him.

“I’m happy you came. I’ve been waiting,” Tresaie said, smiling. “Are you ready?”

“What am meant to be ready for?” he asked, wincing at how his voice reverberated within the helm.

“To meet the darkness, and commune with it. Now is your chance to turn back, should you wish. There is no shame in it, and I’ll not hold it against you.” She bore an almost impassive smile, and it was then that Aymeric realized he couldn’t look to her to make his decision; it was all up to him to choose.

Despite all the warnings from the rational part of his mind, he knew he couldn’t turn back—he’d spend the rest of his life consumed by all the questions that he’d never get answered.

He needed to know what all of this was.

“I’m ready.”

Tresaie nodded and began making her way up the hill toward the Steel Vigil, beckoning for him to follow.

“Meting out justice in the face of villainy works best to draw out the darkness for those like us, but asking the Lord Commander to search for trouble in the Brume is maybe not the smartest thing to do,” Tresaie said lightly as he fell in step with her. “Here we find a different sort of villainy. It will be a struggle, but I know we can do it together.”

Something within him clenched at the word “together.”

She slowed as they neared the Steel Vigil and turned to him, and for the first time since he’d laid eyes on her, she looked serious. “Did you know that Francel Haillenarte was injured in an attack here?” she said gravely. Aymeric’s eyes widened in shock.

“No, I wasn’t aware. When did this happen?”

“About six moons before our final battle with Zodiark,” Tresaie explained, turning to look up at the watchtower in the distance. “I don’t fault you for not knowing; at the time, we were all in the midst of preparations…”

“What was he doing here?” he asked, furrowing his brow.

“He...Francel comes to visit Haurchefant’s memorial,” Tresaie said, her voice heavy. “I—I met him quite often.”

A measure of guilt and sorrow clenched in Aymeric’s chest.


“A small remainder of Nidhogg’s brood yet prowls the area around Steel Vigil, and the tainted aether of late drove them into a frenzy,” she continued. “It’s fortunate that the scheduled patrol came by, or Francel might have been lost. One of the Fortemps guards was killed.”

A whisper, a voice—it cried out within him.

“How did you come to know this?” Aymeric asked. It felt like something was creeping from the depths of his mind.

“Count Edmont sent me a letter. I meant to deal with the dragons myself, but…”

...But now you’re dead.

There was a brief, heavy silence before she hastily turned back to him, and for the first time since he’d met this Tresaie, she seemed uneasy and almost...regretful.

“The frenzied dragons will push you to your limit,” she said. “The House Fortemps knights are only able to cull enough of them to keep them at bay—it’s all they can do because of how powerful they’ve become, and how thinly the Ishgardian forces are stretched.”

He allowed himself a wry smile underneath the helm. “This I know quite well.”

The corner of Tresaie’s lips turned up in a smile. “I know you do. Let’s go.”

Aymeric pulled the sword from his back and readied himself. Tresaie did not instruct him to but they were here for one thing, and one thing only, and he tightened his grip around the haft as they slowly began the approach toward the entrance of the Steel Vigil. A downy aevis could be seen prowling the area before the main gate, and as they neared he could see spiked growths and streaks of violet and orange amongst its feathers. He glanced back at Tresaie, who was following behind him, conjurer’s wand in hand.

They locked eyes. She nodded.

He leapt forward at the aevis, heart pounding and fingers trembling around the haft of the sword, and sliced into the beast. It let out a shriek of pain and quickly twisted around and snapped at his neck; Aymeric’s eye caught the movement of its head and he quickly turned to protect his neck. The aevis’s jaw closed over his pauldron where his neck was just a split-second before, and in the moment it took for the aevis to realize it had a mouthful of metal, Aymeric pulled his sword back and swung once more. His greatsword sank into the aevis’s flesh and the momentum of his swing sent the aevis down, a fatal gash in its neck spilling blood onto the moonlit ground.

A quivering breath left his mouth at the sight of the dead aevis, and he turned back to look at Tresaie. She approached him, her eyes blazing. “Look within for the darkness,” she said, her intense but somehow approving gaze boring into him. “Search your soul for it. Embrace it.”

His mind didn’t have to go far to find it; Haurchefant had been hovering on the surface of his mind since his arrival in Camp Dragonhead, and soon his feelings of guilt and shame at the failures that led to the tragedy at the Vault clawed its way to the forefront of his consciousness. Tresaie gave a small nod and glanced past him, up the hill to Haurchefant’s memorial.

Aymeric turned to follow her gaze and inhaled sharply—great plumes of dark purple flames adorned the path up the hill, and he felt himself somehow drawn to them. He turned back to Tresaie to question her and found her watching him, eyes once more piercing into his own.

“The flames beckon, Aymeric,” she said. Her words came out low and ominous, and it sent a tingle of anxious energy down his spine.

She was quite right, however, and when he turned back toward the flames he felt the pull growing ever stronger. He needed no further prompting; he approached the nearest plume and gazed for a moment into the undulating flames, before plunging himself—body and mind—into the blaze. Something powerful swelled within him: a feeling of intense anxiety colored with grief and guilt was the only thing that could come close to describing it. The flames blazed around him and within him, unfathomably hot but burning not his body but his very soul.

“That’s it,” came Tresaie’s voice, somehow both malms away and right in his ear. “Do you feel the flames? Do you feel them igniting your inner strength?”

The feeling teetered on the thin line between painful and not, and yet he still found himself being drawn to the other plumes of flame. Without looking back at her, Aymeric ventured further up the hill to another plume—the draw was stronger now, and without hesitation he threw himself into it. The flames engulfed him, and he welcomed the blaze. The power didn’t feel good but it wasn’t entirely bad—it was as though he could channel all the guilt and grief and despair within him, and though this did not ease the pain, it eased the feeling of abject helplessness.

But the flames burned hotter and hotter, and he dropped to one knee, gasping as the dark flames threatened to consume him from inside out.

“Be careful, Aymeric. Don’t overdo it, or the flames will take you.” Tresaie’s voice was as a whisper in his ear, a whisper that reached through the flames and anchored him—he centered himself, and the flames calmed.

“Good, good,” Tresaie continued. “You feel it, right? Draw on your darkside, and drive the dragons away!”

My darkside, is it? he thought, exhaling slowly.

So be it.

With his darkside leading him, he threw himself at the aevises that were now thundering down the path toward him. He was soon surrounded, but this didn’t bother him—he pushed through the pain of teeth and claws and struck the maddened dragons down, their shrieks rending the night silence as he was splattered by their blood with each swing of his sword. He thought of Haurchefant, fallen in the Vault because of his weakness, and the darkness burned hotter and hotter with each swing of his sword.

Soon the path up to Haurchefant’s memorial was littered with dead aevises. Aymeric paused a moment to catch his breath, but before he could continue the slaughter up the hill, he felt Tresaie’s hand wrap around his wrist. He turned to her, eyes wide, questioning—she met his gaze with darkness looming in her eyes, and the firm pull of her hand kept him rooted in place.

“Sidurgu will try to take the crystal from you,” she said gravely. “I don’t know when they’ll know, but they will eventually. And he won’t want you to have it. As I did.”

“So...what then?” he asked as he breathed heavily into his helm. “Am I to fight him?”

“No, you won’t win against Sidurgu right now,” she said with a small smile. “But he will be interested in how you’ve come to learn these techniques.”

“Is—is this a problem?” The confusion was evident in Aymeric’s breathless voice.

“You mustn’t let them know that I’m teaching you.” She looked deathly serious now. “If they find out that it’s me, they’ll try their damnedest to take the crystal from you. They’ll think it unhealthy, that your grief has overcome you.”

Amid the blaze of the darkside and the increasing confusion in his mind, Aymeric wondered if perhaps his grief had overcome him.

But after another moment’s thought and he decided didn’t care. He couldn’t let them take the crystal. Not yet.

“What must I do?” he asked.

“Tell them Fray taught you, that you heard his voice and that he appeared to you. Fray taught me, so it should be somewhat convincing.”

Tresaie had told him the story of Fray before, of how she had met him in the Brume and how he had taught her the techniques that Aymeric supposed Tresaie was teaching him now. But that was all he knew. Had the Fray she’d spoken of been a shade, appearing before her just as she appeared before him now?

“I understand.”

The smile reappeared on her face, and she released her grip on his wrist.

“Good. Now go—the darkness calls, Aymeric!”

“Ishgard needs you!” Sidurgu exclaimed in frustration. “You won’t be able to do shite for them if you’ve been murdered for heresy!”

Thoughts of the pain and misery caused by the crusade against heretics flitted through Aymeric’s mind. Some felt foreign to him—relatable but somehow new—but he couldn’t keep hold of them and so he pushed the thoughts aside. What he did know, however, was that the Temple Knights would no longer hurt innocent so-called “heretics.” Not if he had anything to do with it.

Not with the dark fire burning within him.

“They can try.”

The darkness leaking from within curled around him in approval.

Sidurgu looked as though he was ready to draw his sword and was only just holding himself back; his jaw visibly clenched and unclenched as a tense silence came over the scene. Lucia’s ever-impassive face betrayed a measure of alarm and concern, and Aymeric could see she was ready to leap into action.

“How did you learn those techniques?” he finally asked. “Who taught you?”

Aymeric’s voice caught in his throat. For a moment he worried that they might have found Tresaie, wherever she had hidden—but if she had been visible, it would have undoubtedly caused an uproar. She was nowhere to be found, and all eyes were fixed on him.

He squared his shoulders to recompose himself.

“Fray taught me.”

At the mention of Fray’s name, Sidurgu’s eyes widened in shock and he cast his eyes about in a sort of subdued panic, searching for this Fray as though he might be hidden somewhere in the shadows. He looked stricken when he found no sign of him and turned his gaze back to Aymeric, the shadow of disappointment in his eyes.

“With that soul crystal, I can’t say I’m surprised,” said Sidurgu begrudgingly. He held out his hand. “But I stand by what I said. Give the soul crystal to me.”

      Can you let it go, now that you’ve had a taste?

“I can’t.”

A flash of frustration crossed Sidurgu’s face and without a word further, he reached for the sword on his back—Aymeric caught sight of the movement of his arm and reached for his own—

“Stop, stop!”

Lucia’s voice cut through the night air as she dashed between them, looking from Aymeric to Sidurgu and back with her arms outstretched. They froze in place, each with a hand on their respective swords as Lucia looked from Sidurgu to Aymeric with mingled disapproval and trepidation.

“Let us take the conversation back to Ishgard,” Lucia said firmly, with particular emphasis on conversation. “I don’t mean to take the crystal from you, Lord Commander, but I should like to hear how this situation came to pass.”

There was true concern in Lucia’s words, and Aymeric felt a small pang of guilt over the worry he had caused her and Tresaie’s companions—Leleru looked to be on the verge of tears, whilst Enkoko and Solmund looked ready to draw their weapons to fight either him, or Sidurgu, or both. Slowly he lowered his hand from his sword and pushed his helm back over his head.

“Very well.”

The journey back to Ishgard was fraught with tension. Lucia set the pace, her long strides leading them to Ishgard well before even the first hints of dawn. Not a one dared to speak as they made their way—Aymeric walked in front of the others and followed closely on Lucia’s heels, and he could feel Sidurgu’s intense gaze burning into the back of his head. The whispers of the darkside were faint but still present, pulsing with a sort of muted anger in the back of his mind.

Though the guards at the Steps of Faith regarded them in silent confusion, Ishgard proper was asleep and there was not a soul to be found out on the streets. It was all the better; heads would have surely turned at the sight of Lucia leading a band of adventurers—one of which still damp with blood—through the city. It didn’t take long for Aymeric to realize she was leading them to the Pillars, and he almost protested but thought better of it. It was for the best that they made for his home, as only there could he be confident that none could eavesdrop on them.

When they reached the front door of Borel Manor, Lucia gave them a short meaningful look over her shoulder, before giving the door a few quick knocks. A minute or so passed with no signs of life—she knocked again, this time louder. It seemed that this knock roused one of the servants from slumber, and they soon heard the approach of footsteps and the sounds the locks being undone.

“Lady Lucia!” Jeunnelet said in surprise when his bleary eyes fixed on Lucia. He blinked the sleep from his eyes and took a moment to consider just who Lucia had brought to Borel Manor, straightening up immediately when he noticed Aymeric standing behind her. “Ah, my lord has returned!” he exclaimed—softly, as it was the early morning—and hastily opened the door to allow them in. Lucia stood aside to allow Aymeric to enter first, and for a moment he felt as though he was being marched into his chambers by a reproachful mother.

Once everyone had filed inside, Jeunnelet shut the door and turned to Aymeric—who still bore his full helm. “Shall I prepare breakfast for your guests, my lord?” he asked. His voice was level, but his eyes betrayed concern for the Lord Commander and his current bloodied state.

“Please do. Thank you,” said Aymeric. He pulled the helm from his head, brushing his sweaty bangs from his eyes as he gestured for everyone to follow him to the dining room.

The air was heavy as his guests found places around the table, and the scrapes of the chair feet on the floor felt unnaturally loud in the otherwise silent room. When they were all seated—save Sidurgu, who had made to put his sword down but seemed to think better of it and instead remained standing behind the young Elezen woman—Aymeric felt his leadership instincts take hold, a sort of calm creeping through him as he regarded them expectantly.

“First, let me welcome you into my home, Sidurgu and—?” He paused and gave an inquiring look to the young Elezen.

“Rielle, sir.”

He was struck by the steadfast and fearless air about her, and wondered just what her relationship with Sidurgu was.

“Welcome, Rielle,” he said with a small smile, before turning his gaze back to the others at the table. “Now. What did you wish to ask me?”

Lucia wasted no time in speaking up. “What happened with Tresaie’s soul crystal? How did you come to be fighting dragons at the Steel Vigil?” she asked. It was obvious she was struggling to hide her concern beneath her usual calm exterior.

Aymeric took a moment to consider his answer—he’d nearly tripped over his own tongue at the Steel Vigil, and it wouldn’t do to falter again lest he make his lie obvious.

“Of course. It began after Leleru and her friends took their leave to assist Clan Centurio,” he began, resting his arms on the table and lacing his fingers together. “I decided to take some time to rest at the House Fortemps terrace, and—well—heard a voice. Fray’s voice.”

The lie felt bitter in his mouth.

“He told me of the darkness inside me,” he continued. His eyes were on the verge of tearing up at the memory of his encounter with Tresaie in the Churning Mists, and he swallowed hard in an attempt to force the feeling down. “He...he told me to give the crystal to Sidurgu.”

Then why didn’t you?” Sidurgu interrupted. Rielle shot him a warning look over her shoulder.

“I refused. I wanted to learn more,” Aymeric continued calmly. “He offered to teach me the ways of the Dark Knight. I accepted.”

“This is ridiculous!” Sidurgu blurted out. “You’re the Lord Commander. It’s one thing for the Warrior of Light to learn the dark arts, but you? If it got out, you’d be ruined!”

Aymeric was unimpressed by Sidurgu’s words; he’d lived through enough war and conflict for three lifetimes, and he was quite sure he could live through this. “I’m not giving the crystal up,” he said flatly. Sidurgu exhaled in frustration before shooting Lucia an agitated but imploring look.

“Lord Commander, might we at least see the crystal?” asked Lucia. He looked from Lucia to Sidurgu, his muscles tensing as he considered her motives; Lucia likely wouldn’t try to take it, but he suspected Sidurgu might be desperate enough to try. But he supposed he ought to at least show it to them, if only to impress upon them that he was in possession of the crystal, and he had no intention of giving it up.

“Very well.”

Slowly, with his muscles tensing to prepare for any would-be aggressors, he slipped his hand into his pocket and—


His pocket felt quite a bit emptier than it should have; he remembered the crystal having a heft which was now conspicuously absent.

“What’s wrong?” Lucia asked, but he barely heard her words; the crystal’s absence was at the forefront of his mind as he felt about his pocket, a panic beginning to bubble up in his stomach when he felt nothing there. In an attempt to find any trace at all of the crystal, he hastily pulled his gauntlet off and thrust a bare hand into his pocket—

Something thin brushed his fingers.


Aymeric pulled his hand out and found that he held a dark red sliver of a crystal in his fingertips.

It had the same texture and color as Tresaie’s soul crystal, and the familiar, vaguely unpleasant sensation was faint but present.

Sidurgu looked to the sliver in mingled horror and disbelief.

“No…” was all he could say.

“Is this—is this a piece of the crystal?” Aymeric murmured, furrowing his brow. He plunged his hand into his pocket once more, to make doubly sure that he hadn’t missed any other fragments. When he found nothing, not even lint, he looked to Sidurgu in confusion.

For once, Sidurgu seemed reluctant to speak; he stood with his jaw clenched and arms crossed tightly, as though attempting to shrink away from this apparent problem. Even the previously firm Rielle was faltering at the sight of the sliver.

“What is this?” Aymeric asked, holding the sliver up toward Sidurgu. “You know something.”

Sidurgu’s jaw clenched and unclenched. A hint of melancholy crossed his face.

“This happened before. To Tresaie.”

Aymeric’s eyes widened in shock as Tresaie’s companions murmured amongst themselves in confusion. “What do you mean? What happened?” Aymeric said sharply.

“It happened some time after she vanquished Nidhogg on the Steps of Faith,” Sidurgu began. Though he bore a scowl, the bite in his words was gone. “She stopped at the Forgotten Knight one day to visit us. We decided to patrol the city, and whilst we talked at the Last Vigil, I heard her crystal break. It split in two, and half was missing.

“A boy appeared to us, claiming to have inadvertently stolen her aether. He had a power that required tremendous amounts of aether, or so he said. I thought it was naught but a load of nonsense, but of course Tresaie wasn’t about to take up her sword against a child. She played along, as she is wont to do…

“We find that the boy has the power to summon simulacra of the dead. To help people, so he claimed. And so he summoned a shade of Ser Ignasse to give closure to Ignasse’s despairing cousin. A Heavens’ Ward knight, right there in the Pillars.”

The mention of Ser Ignasse—a name he’d not heard in a long time now—felt like a punch to the gut.

“We took this shade to Falcon’s Nest and he soon dissolved into the abyss. Tresaie took back her aether, but only that which summoned Ignasse—the boy held the remaining aether so that he might use his power a few more times. Rielle and I watched the boy while Tresaie left to do whatever it is that Warriors of Light do.”

“What does this boy have to do with anything?” Enkoko chimed in, mingled confusion and annoyance in her voice. Leleru made a quiet shushing sound at her, only to receive a pouting frown in return.

Sidurgu put up a hand toward Enkoko. “I’m getting there. So the boy uses his power a few more times—” He paused momentarily, as though stopping himself from giving more detail. “He uses his power a few more times with less pleasant results, and eventually he runs off to Rhalgr’s Reach. Chocobos turned up dead in his wake, and we gave chase to the Peaks where we found more dead beasts, with nary a wound to be seen.

“We find the boy, and using the aether he took from the chocobos and the beasts, he summoned—” Another pause. A quick glance to Rielle, who seemed withdrawn. “He summoned another simulacrum to fight us. He went on about sins and murder, about filling the world with shades of the dead as though somehow living with illusions would make the world a better place.”

He looked bitter now. “He summoned more and more simulacra—Temple Knights, the Heavens’ Ward, the Warriors of Darkness...Later she told me of those I didn’t recognize—Ilberd and Livia. All horrible reflections of her past, and all trying to kill her in the name of this boy’s false world. Rielle and I were nearly dead by then...Until Fray appeared, and together they struck down all the boy could pull from her terrible memories. In the end, all the boy desired was forgiveness. So it was granted, and he and Fray returned to the abyss. Tresaie’s crystal was made whole.”

Realization dawned on Aymeric; he looked down at the sliver in his fingers and felt the tingle of dread moving down his spine.

“You see where this has gone?” Sidurgu asked, his expression grim. “The Warrior of Light shined brighter than any, but had the darkest shadows in turn. If her aether—her darkness—caused all that, then what of it now , after everything that happened? Does her pain and suffering yet live in the crystal, with all the aether she’s gathered since? What does it mean for your darkness?”

Sidurgu’s eyes pierced into his soul.

“What has it taken from you?”