Actions

Work Header

Seizing Fate

Chapter Text

"Art thou a pawn, or master of thy fate? What hast thou wrought by thine own hands mortal?" - Midgardsormr


 

The flames that shot past Amasar contrasted sharply with the biting cold of the winter winds. He could hear Nijoh’ir singing, the plucking of his bowstring a steady tempo to the battle and his song. One that called Amasar to focus, his katana sharp and true.

Nijoh’ir’s arrows and Hilda’s bullets struck the Temple Knights but The Heaven’s Ward member, Amasar hadn’t caught his name in the chaos, cackled as fire almost singed Amasar’s shirt.

He twisted around the Knight to lunge at his exposed side, his blade tearing through the fine white coat with ease, red blooming bright against it.

The Elezen snarled at him, likely with some insult about Amasar being a dravanian on his lips when Amasar became aware of the blade coming for him. Among the countless Temple Knights that seemed to follow the man one had slipped past Nijoh’ir and Hilda to come at him.

“Amasar!” Nijoh’ir shouted a warning too late, but the sword struck dark steel rather than Amasar’s flesh.

A familiar deep growl made Amasar grin as a hulking form moved to shield his side.

“Really? You picked a fight with the Temple Knights and didn’t invite me!” Sid sounded genuinely betrayed, “Amasar how could you?”

A familiar healing wave washed over him, the Knight stared warily as Amasar stood straighter, healed by Rielle and shielded by Sid.

The Dark Knight pointed his blade at the knight, green eyes blazing, “so, he’s free game?”

“They all are,” Amasar told him, his eyes narrowed, “they will suppress the truth and kill an innocent man.”

“I’m pretty sure attacking you was enough to get them on Sid’s bad side,” Nijoh’ir quipped from is place close to Alphinaud, keeping the boy out of danger.

A flame shot across the battlefield, everyone but Sid jerked back, Amasar heard the soft hiss of pain escape the other Xeala but he didn’t flinch.

“Heretics, Mongruls and Dravanians, I shall purge the sickness from Ishgard in the truest cleanse there is!” The man howled, if Amasar didn’t already know how deeply corrupt the Heaven’s Ward was he would’ve had many questions as to how someone like this got appointed to it.

“What is this?” The familiar voice pulled a cheer from Nijoh’ir as Haurchefant charged to join them, “why are you fighting?”

“Ah, the noble bastard and the mongrel bitch, I should’ve known.”

Nijoh’ir actually roared, a sound Amasar had rarely heard him make, Sid looked to Amasar with surprise as Nijoh’ir fired off a volley of arrows made of light.

“Say that about him again, I dare you!”

Hilda, for her part, was also spitting fury, “this mongrel bitch is going to put a bullet right in between your eyes!”

Haurchefant, apparently seeing that there would be no way to peacefully resolve this, decided, to no one’s surprise, to join them. Amasar noted that the Knight had put himself in such a way as to shield Nijoh’ir from as much of the flames as possible.

Sid lunged forward, Amasar could see the shadows roiling around him, and with Sid and Haurchefant holding their attention it was easier to strike his opponents true, his strokes blending into each other seamlessly as his master had instructed him, what felt like ages ago.

Together the now larger force drove him back, Sid and Haurchefant practically driving him back onto Amasar’s blade while Nijoh’ir’s songs rang against the stone over the crackling fires to hold the group together, the crack of Hilda’s gun a furious percussion to the pluck of his bow and his voice.

It was Lucia, who came from nowhere to leap at him with an incredible blow that finally drove him back. Or rather up. Amasar had not seen anyone jump like that since he had confronted Estinien on the crystals in the snow and walked away from the Dragoons and the rank of Azure Dragoon.

Nijoh’ir shot an arrow after him and Hilda fired another shot but he jumped away over the roof with his last warnings and insults.

The cold wind that tore through the Brume threw snow around them, freezing compared to the flames that just danced around them, the group moved to cluster around Lucia for news and to check each other over.

“Hey Sid,” Nijoh’ir greeted him with a grin, “knew you wouldn’t have gone far, no matter how much you were paid.”

Sid huffed and folded his arms, “I would’ve rather stayed in the Forgotten Knight, but someone had to go talk what, Heresy? In there and paid everyone to go out into the cold.” Rielle smothered a laugh behind her hand.

“I think he was just worried about the two of you.” She confessed, Nijoh’ir laughed and Amasar felt a rush of warmth for the other Xaela as he ducked his head and grumbled at his ward. Something about knights and trying to be intimidating.

Nijoh’ir’s ears flicked happily as he leaned back on his heels, clearly content to be alongside Sid and Rielle again. Amasar stepped forward to address the group, well Haurchefant, mostly.

“This is Sidurgu Orl, a friend of mine and Nijoh’ir’s.” He explained, he hesitated a moment with a glance at Lucia, he trusted her, but after all they had gone through, he felt the need to ensure Sid and Rielle’s safety, “and his ward, Rielle. They are good people.”

Nijoh’ir nodded quickly in confirmation, “they’re friends.”

Haurchefant looked Sid over but to Amasar’s relief simply nodded and sheathed his blade, “friends of Amasar and Nijoh’ir’s are friends of mine. Pleasure to meet both of you.”

Sid looked stunned that any Knight of Ishgard would ever be pleased to meet him but Amasar gave him a small nod of reassurance. Lucia looked hesitant and Alphinaud looked outright skeptical, but Hilda laughed and holstered her gun.

“And here I was thinking Dark Knights were just myths,” she shook her head, “stories we tell in the brume to hope that someone would give those higher ups a good knock about off their high chocobos.”

“Hey now,” Nijoh’ir muttered from next to Haurchefant, “they aren’t all bad.”

Hilda glanced at him, “now House Haillenarte I’ll agree with you, but your boytoy there has done nothing to earn my trust.”

Haurchefant made a noise of amusement while Nijoh’ir looked offended for a moment before he grinned and shrugged.

Alphinaud reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose, “dare I ever begin to question what a Dark Knight is?”

“A heretic,” Lucia replied firmly, her gaze locked on Sid, who shifted immediately to put himself between her and Rielle, “a blasphemy to the Temple Knights and all they stand for.”

“Really who isn’t these days,” Nijoh’ir muttered and Hilda laughed.

“Dark Knights,” Sid spoke firmly, his mouth set in a deep frown, “are upholders of justice.” His green eyes blazed as he looked at Lucia, “we move against the Clergy yes, when the Clergy is wrong.” The leather of his armor creaked as he balled his hands into fists, “or have you turned a blind eye to the crimes your dear Temple Knights eagerly commit?”

Amasar turned first, and Nijoh’ir followed his gaze, to the wooden ramp, to the place they had found Fray, dumped and deemed unfit for burial. To have his things stolen, picked at by the residents of the Brume like vultures.

“Is something over there?” Alphinaud asked, Nijoh’ir’s voice was bitter when he answered.

“Not anymore.”

The group turned to him, his ears flattened and he gave a guilty look at Sid, Amasar and Rielle, “that’s…” he jerked his head, “Temple Knights said Fray didn’t deserve a proper burial so they dumped him in the Brume. That’s where we found him.”

“His body,” Amasar’s voice was taut, “we never met Fray.” Only Anguish. He’d never known Fray, never known the man who’d fought beside Sid, who’d fought for the people of Ishgard, for Rielle, died for the belief that they deserved justice from the ones meant to protect them. A man Amasar would’ve loved to know.

The silence was tense before Alphinaud finally spoke because of course he did. The boy could never stay silent. Perhaps that was Amasar’s inner darkside lashing out in his grief of the man he’d never know. But he didn’t reign it in this time, simply kept the thought to himself.

“Who was this Fray?”

“My fellow Dark Knight,” Sid replied curtly, as bitter and sharp as Amasar felt, “the Temple Knights killed him in a trial by combat.”

Hilda sneered, “’course they did. Then felt just fine dumpin’ bodies in the Brume.” She shook her head, red eyes dark and gave Amasar a sympathetic look, “never easy finding your first one.”

Lucia’s frown deepened as she listened to Hilda talk, before she sighed, “I cannot deny the corruption in the Church. Not when Ser Aymeric has been accused of Heresy.” She glanced in the direction their opponent had left before she focused again, “Ser Grinnaux came to the headquarters and announced that the lord commander had been imprisoned under suspicion of heresy, and that the Heavens’ Ward had been granted full authority in his stead.”

Sid bit out a curse while Haurchefant mused, “then the Heavens’ Ward now commands the Temple Knights.”

Lucia nodded to him, “those still loyal to Ser Aymeric answer to me. Alas, that amounts to but half our number.”

“Then sounds like a Dark Knight or two is exactly what we need,” Hilda remarked with a grin, “I say he comes with us.”

Sid grinned and punched one hand into the other, “Nijoh’ir? Amasar? What do you say? It would certainly be fitting and I can’t say I’d be opposed to fighting alongside you both again.”

“And me.” Rielle spoke up, the group turned to her and she stepped forward, head raised, “we talked about this Sid.”

Sid was quiet a moment before he nodded, “we did. You’d come too, if that’s what you wish.”

“No,” Alphinaud cut in, Haurchefant nodded in agreement, “she is a child-”

“Says the sixteen-year-old they let run a Grand Company,” Nijoh’ir cut him off, “she’s been through worse Alphinaud.”

“Worse than an assault on the Vault?” Alphinaud turned to Nijoh’ir incredulously, “do you know what you’re asking of her?”

“I’m right here,” Rielle snapped, Amasar rested his hand on her shoulder, not to hold her back but to assure her that he was with her, “I’m a white mage and I’ve been wanted for heresy before. If Sid’s going, I’m going.”

“What could you have been wanted for heresy for?” Haurchefant asked, visible appalled, “you’re just a child.”

Rielle looked up at him, before she looked at Sid. Amasar looked to him as well, he trusted that Sid had learned how to be the adult Rielle needed, Sid was a good man under all his armor. The wind softly pulled on Sid’s hair even as the snow and ash fell over it, dusting him and his dark armor.

“It’s your secret to do with as you wish,” Sid assured her, with a heavy sigh, “just be sure you trust them.”

“Amasar?” She asked him, turning now to look up at him. He turned his focus from Sid to her, softening as he looked at her.

“They are, in this respect, trustworthy.” Amasar assured her, “they, if no one else, should not judge for the actions of your parents.” He would not trust Alphinaud with all secrets but he felt certain no one would move against Rielle for the actions her father had committed.

“Anyone does goes through me,” Nijoh’ir promised, he twirled an arrow between his fingers in a clear threat.

“Goes through us.” Amasar agreed and nodded to Sid as well.

Rielle swallowed hard and looked to where they’d pointed to earlier as the spot they’d met Fray, “please don’t die for my sake,” she said quietly before she looked up at Haurchefant, “I am Rielle de Caulignont.”

Lucia and Haurchefant jerked with surprise, Hilda and Alphinaud only looked more confused. Rielle turned to them with a smile too sad, in Amasar’s opinion, for one her age. “My mother was a woman of high standing in the church. Some years ago it came out my father was a heretic.” She looked down, “he drank enough blood that he became a dragon. And in my mother’s eyes that made me a heretic and anyone, such as Fray, that stood between her and me deserved to die as well.” Now she snapped her gaze up, holding Alphinaud’s fiercely, “the Temple Knights came for me, came for anyone who sheltered me. Fray, Sid, Amasar, Nijoh’ir, they all stood between me and them. I’m not letting the three of them risk their lives against the Temple Knights only to come back bloody and in need of healing, if they come back at all.”

“Rielle is right,” Sid spoke up, he stepped up beside Amasar, towering over Alphinaud, “she deserves the right to fight beside us now.” He looked to Lucia, “and the longer we wait, the more danger your lord commander will be in.”

“Aye, he’s still rotting in his cell and the Temple Knights are like to be here soon enough,” Hilda agreed, she lifted her chin to meet Lucia’s gaze, “the young master was just persuading’ me to join this lost cause.” She grinned, she may not have had fangs like Nijoh’ir but there was something sharp in her grin, “convincin’ little beggar isn’t he?”

Nijoh’ir shot a look at Amasar who met it with equal exasperation. That was certainly one way to describe Alphinaud.

“But then, if this one’s right and there’s three Dark Knights involved, might not be such a lost cause after all.”

Haurchefant looked at Nijoh’ir, “I cannot imagine you a dark knight, my friend you will have to tell me how that came-“ He cut of as Nijoh’ir’s outfit changed, becoming dark armor like Sid’s with a heavy claymore strapped to his back.

“By the fury, he spoke the truth,” Lucia stepped back, Nijoh’ir shrugged his shoulders and switched his soulstone, his outfit switching back to the rusty orange bard garb he more typically wore.

“How do you think I feel, Amasar’s got a thrice-damned katana,” Sid looked at it as though Amasar had pulled out a snake or something.

“Look, once we get Aymeric back we can explain the Dark Knight thing,” Nijoh’ir said with a wave of his hand, “save us time too since we’d probably just have to tell him and- where the hells is Estinien anyway?”

“Likely finding red crystals to lecture the Heavens’ Ward from,” Amasar replied, pleased to hear Nijoh’ir’s bark of laughter. “So then, do we go as dark knights?”

“Be fitting,” Nijoh’ir’s ears twitched and he glanced at Sid, “I think I’ll stick to Bard for now, while we’re on the move and might need range, but once we get closer.” He sucked in a breath through his teeth, “the combat trial earlier taught me that they won’t give me the range I need to fight as a bard. Plus I’ve got some rage to work through.”

Amasar nodded understandingly, “because he called Haurchefant a bastard?”

“Thanks, you’re making it real easy to switch to Dark Knight again.” Nijoh’ir unslung his bow, “let’s talk on the move, before all the Temple Knights not on our side get here.”

Lucia shook her head, “that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about, those not loyal have gathered at the Vault, as instructed.”

“If I didn’t know any better I’d say you’re expected.” Hilda folded her arms over her chest, “but if you’ve a mind to change things around here like that one claims, then we’ve a mind to join you.”

“Sid?” Amasar turned to him, the other Xaela met his gaze unflinchingly, “you and Rielle don’t have to come.”

“This is what it means to be a Dark Knight Amasar,” he paused and then added, “and I owe you, after you helped with Rielle and her mother.”

Amasar ignored the looks Rielle and Nijoh’ir were sharing, “we did not do that to earn a favor Sid.”

“No but I will see it repaid.”

“Oh my gods,” Nijoh’ir muttered, Rielle had her face in her hands, “I- you two are helpless.”

“What?” Sid and Amasar demanded at the same time but Nijoh’ir started walking. Haurchefant looked amused before it settled into determination and moved to follow him.

“Time is off the essence my friends! We must move quickly, before they discern our intent!”

-

They’d figured out their strategy and split into their teams quickly and efficiently. Sid had refused to not go with Amasar and Nijoh’ir, saying their path had the most Temple Knights while Nijoh’ir and Rielle muttered something to each other and looked at Amasar. Amasar who was hesitant to get his hopes up again after last time. But Sid had stuck to their sides, while Lucia had taken Haurchefant and Alphinaud to meet with Estinien and free Aymeric. Hilda had gone to cause a distraction.

And the four of them had made their way through the Vault, through countless Temple Knights, and though Sid had grumbled he had admitted that Nijoh’ir coming as a bard had its benefits.

Least of which Nijoh’ir’s magical ability to make them run faster through the halls.

“Is it wrong to piss on a statue of one of them?” Sid muttered to Amasar, who smothered a laugh.

“Just don’t let Rielle see you,” he replied with the straightest face he could muster, Sid grinned back at him.

Amasar left him to it, he didn’t know if Sid actually would stop to do it, given that would risk Rielle and Nijoh’it getting too far ahead, “Sid…”

“Yeah, yeah, maybe some other time,” he muttered and followed after Amasar, “where did Nijoh’ir and Rielle go?”

“I don’t hear singing,” Amasar actually stepped closer to Sid, the silence in the halls was pressing, deafening, like a stone on his chest, like armor too heavy for him to wear and only pulled him down, there was something deeply eerie about the Vault for all its beauty.

Perhaps it was the knowledge of just how much corruption lurked here, stalking through the halls after them, weaving through the shadows with blood trailing behind it. The blood of countless innocents, of Fray, of Aymeric, of too many soldiers dragged into a war they fueled and made fester until all of Ishgard was tainted by the infection.

All for their own power.

If Sid also felt the presence of such darkness, he did not acknowledge it, but he did step closer to Amasar. “Nijoh’ir.” He did not shout, but he did let his voice carry a short distance.

Nijoh’ir popped out from behind a statue, his head poking out as he peered down the hall, “hey. Sorry realized we got ahead of you two and moved out of sight until you caught back up.” He and Rielle stepped back out into the open, Nijoh’ir’s silent steps somehow worse than the echo of Rielle’s feet against the smooth floor.

“We’re almost to the top,” Nijoh’ir turned his head to look out one of the windows with a frown, “we need to keep pressing ahead, the others…” His tail flicked behind him, not the joyful wiggle Amasar knew but a worried twitch of the tip of his tail.

“They will join us,” Amasar assured him firmly, “they have likely simply had to maneuver this place as well.”

“And they had to go to the basement,” Sid pointed out, Nijoh’ir’s ears flicked and he gave them both a look of relief, “meaning they not only have to follow the way we came they have to go down and double back first.” He huffed, “thank the gods they tossed us with you.”

“Not a fan of that many stairs?” Nijoh’ir teased and gestured for Sid to take the lead, he looked at Rielle, “I thought you might like exercise after standing at the Forgotten Knight all day.”

Sid huffed but Amasar thought he saw a faint flicker of amusement, ever since they’d gone to the moogles, since they’d dealt with Rielle’s mother, he’d seen a brighter, happier Sid. One that had found his flame once more, no longer lost in the abyss of his own grief and anger.

They stepped outside, into the fading light of the setting sun, Nijoh’ir paused with a low growl.

“He’s here.” He titled his head back and opened his mouth to scent the air, he paused with what looked like a face of disgust, tongue sticking out slightly and lips curled back.

“I can smell the ash and smoke on the wind.”

Sid and Rielle shared a look of confusion, Amasar made a note to himself to explain or remind Nijoh’ir to explain how Miqo’te’s sense of smell? Taste? Whatever it was that let Nijoh’ir smell things on the wind really well, but right now his focus was taken by the flash of white cloth standing in the middle of path before them.

Sure enough, there he stood. Nijoh’ir snarled, and his armor shifted to that of Dark Knight, his claymore held in his hand. Sid drew his own weapon and finally, to Amasar’s relief, named their foe.

“Ser Charibert, one of the cruelest knights to ever grace the Heavens’ Ward.” Sid frowned and his eyes narrowed, “Fray and I used to talk about how badly we wanted this guy’s head, he’s a sick bastard.”

As they stepped forward with weapons ready, Ser Charibert raised his weapon, which glowed a deep blue before he too transformed into a much larger knight, Amasar felt the rush over his skin, like wind in reverse, an Aether flow.

Somehow, this was tied to primals, because when wasn’t it?

“Let’s cut him down to size.” Nijoh’ir hefted his large sword and turned to Amasar and Sid, “ready when you are.”

“Ready,” Amasar replied steadily, his hand resting on the hilt of his katana. He would purge the evil from the Vault, defeat the beast that had stalked them through its halls from the moment they set foot in the door. For a better Ishgard. For his master. For Fray. For Sid and Rielle. For justice.

“Rielle?” Sid asked, she stepped up to stand behind them, between Sid and Amasar, her staff held eye and back straight and voice firm when she spoke.

“Ready.”

“Then let’s get him.” Sid lunged forward, Nijoh’ir came around alongside him, occasionally drawing his attention to let Sid catch his breath. Amasar steeled his blade and his resolve and followed after them.

The fight that followed was a mix of dance and desperate bid for survival. Flames wreathed the dias they had chosen for this battle, Rielle keeping them fighting and their flesh together to the best of her abilities. Amasar had to say it was clear from her technique she was a powerful white mage and that alone might’ve been what was keeping them alive.

Sid and Nijoh’ir were lashing out with every trick they knew, the darkness clashed with the flames with every strike of their blades. Amasar’s own cuts were designed to hinder, to strike down, to cleave the evil from Charibert and the vault. Together they slowly widdled him down, even as they twisted to avoid the strange figures he summoned to the battlefield to aid him.

An orb of fire flew at Amasar and on instinct he cleaved it, dispelling it from the air though the heat washed over his face.

Sid twisted and in a truly impressive show of strength made a three-part blow on Ser Charibert that took Amasar’s breath away, the mixture of finesse and strength was truly impressive. The cool touch of Rielle’s magic on his skin pulled his focus from Sid back to the battle at hand, he struck down another of the orbs, he could not be so careless. Not again.

Again and again they rained blows on Charibert, Amasar feared if they took much longer they would be forced to fight him the dark, however a particularly nasty blow from Nijoh’ir sent him stumbling back, shrinking down to his usual height to fall to his knees before them.

“Our power…” he glared up at them, “how could this be?”

Sid and Nijoh’ir were both catching their breath or Amasar had no doubt one of them one would’ve struck him down.

“Come, it is time for us to leave!” One of the other Heavens’ Ward bid him, and with a final glare Ser Charibert departed after him.

Amasar moved first, following after, Nijoh’ir and Sid on his heels and Rielle just behind.

Together the four of them burst through the doors, to come to an airship dock where the last of the Heavens’ Ward and the Archbishop were boarding. Amasar paused, Sid and Nijoh’ir halted beside him, more footsteps coming behind them as Aymeric, Estininen, Lucia and Haurchefant joined them.

Aymeric looked worse for wear but stepped forward regardless, “Father, please!”

The Archbishop showed no signs of acknowledging his son, something Amasar was given to believe was a habit of his.

Haurchefant though, gave them a faint smile, “we were not too late, my friends!” He spoke to them all but his eyes were for Nijoh’ir alone, Amasar watched them quickly look the other over for signs of injury before satisfied the other was alright, focused on Aymeric once again.

Amasar could sympathize, on some level, with Aymeric but he was not sure why he seemed to believe now, when the Archbishop had gone this far, he would acknowledge Aymeric as anything be it right or his son.

Sure enough the archbishop did not even turn to face Aymeric as he spoke, “and tear down the very pillars of our society-our history, our values- everything we have built over a thousand years?”

Amasar saw rather than heard the Archbishop’s sigh the same way he felt Sid twitch beside him as the man defended lying for the sake of values that had gotten everyone Sid had loved killed, he could not grab Sid’s hand but he caught his elbow, the best he could do to let the other Xaela know he was here. That Sid was not alone in this suffering.

“A fool to the last.”

The slump to Aymeric’s shoulders was not from exhaustion and whatever rough treatment he had received in the past few hours. Amasar saw the look Nijoh’ir and Haurchefant shared, one of determination which was all the warning he had before his friends charged forward, side by side.

Amasar was honestly curious to see what would happen when they reached the Heavens’ Ward, they were both incredibly skilled knights and having fought beside them when Nijoh’ir was a bard, they often moved easily in tempo with the other. Nijoh’ir as a Dark Knight alongside Haurchefant would be a sight to behold.

Except Haurchefant stopped, fell out of his perfect unison with Nijoh’ir, and turned with a scowl to something above them Amasar couldn’t see.

The spear of light that flew, aimed directly at Nijoh’ir though, that Amasar saw just fine.

“Nijoh’ir!” He yelled, he and Sid jerked forward, Estinien crouched as though readying a jump but no one would reach him in time except-

Haurchefant, who threw himself between it and Nijoh’ir, his shield raised to the sky, the light as it struck almost blinded Amasar. For a moment he dared hope that the shield would be enough, that it would hold.

But when had fate ever shown either of the warrior of light such favor? He could hear the metal splitting, a sharp vibration through his horns that pierced at his mind, even as Haurchefant refused to yield.

His shield gave before he did, and the spear sank clean through. Clear through, like one had once lain Moenbryda low. Amasar knew, as Haurchefant fell to the ground, as a pained cry broke from Nijoh’ir, that it was not the kind of wound one recovered from.

“No,” he breathed and shot forward, airship, bishop, knights all forgotten in favor of his downed friend and Nijoh’ir. Nijoh’ir who had fallen to his knees beside Haurchefant, a look of horror and shock on his face.

They clustered around Haurchefant, Aymeric gently cradling him so that he could look at Nijoh’ir, even as blood dripped from his lips, he seemed to take relief in the fact Nijoh’ir was there.

“You.. you are unharmed? F-forgive me… I could not bear the thought of… of…”

The feeling of Sid’s hand on his back steadied Amasar as he watched Nijoh’ir fight back tears when Haruchefant reached for him. Amasar leaned into him for comfort, unable to tear his eyes away as one of his closest friends lay bleeding out before him. This was going to destroy Nijoh’ir and Amasar wasn’t sure even his support would be enough to hold him together.

Nijoh’ir reached for Haurchefant’s hand before a weird look overtook him, one of desperation, “no.” He lunged forward, his gauntlets pressed against the wound in haurchefant’s chest, ignoring the blue flames that still flickered etween his fingers, “no.”

“Nijoh’ir,” Haurchefant’s voice was weak, but then Amasar felt it. It rattled his teeth and hummed in his horns, as Nijoh’ir did something.

“By the Fury,” he heard Estinien swear, Rielle gasped loudly, in recognition or shock he didn’t know. But white light pulsed from Nijoh’ir’s hands, more blinding than the spear, Amasar couldn’t see anything but the light as Nijoh’ir’s snarl morphed into a roar, light and aether pouring from him in a flood.

Slowly Amasar’s vision returned, Aymeric blinked rapidly as the light faded, Nijoh’ir’s hands still on Haurchefant’s stomach, panting loudly, his armor heaved as he seemed to fight to breath.

Haurchefant, who just moments ago had been doing exactly what Nijoh’ir was doing now, slowly sat up, Nijoh’ir’s hands slid to reveal the wound was closed. The armor wasn’t and there was still blood pooled around where it had been but the flames and wound were gone.

“What- what in the seven hells did you just do?” Estinien asked, Amasar was certain it was concern that made his voice so rough.

Nijoh’ir though, said nothing, swaying where he knelt.

“So,” a familiar voice rumbled from the back of Amasar’s mind, deep and curious, as though roused by what he had just witnessed, Midgardsormr spoke, “he has seized mastery of his fate after all.”

Nijoh’ir made a small noise, Amasar reached for him as his fellow Warrior of Light and best friend collapsed to the ground, eyes rolled back in his head, his hand sliding limply off Haurchefant’s armor.

Chapter Text

“But don’t worry—we will meet again. When the time is right, I’ll be waiting right where we first met.” – Fray


 The wind in Gridania was one Nijoh’ir knew well. He’d grown up with the breeze that weaved through the trees tugging on his hair and ears, with the smell of the woods in his nose and the feel of the dirt beneath his feet.

So he was not surprised to wake up with the grass under him, the wind running over him, wrapping around him like a cool blanket welcoming him home. The waterwheel churned, his ear angled to listen to it spin, Figaga’s Gift creaked steadily, and the water gurgled soothingly in an endless cycle and he felt-

Nijoh’ir sat up, his ears pricked as he looked around New Gridania. The fur on his tail began to prickle with alarm as he took in the silence. Only the sounds of the forest, no people, no laughter from the Carline Canopy as people settled in for drinks, food and the occasional triple triad game.

Nijoh’ir’s eyes darted around, confirming what his ears were telling him. There was no one here. Slowly he got to his feet and made his way towards the Carline Canopy. Close enough to see it eerily empty, no Mother Miounne welcoming new adventurers and lighting up to see him return safe once again, no Wood Wailers enjoying their time off with cups of cider and mead. It was but a hollow shell, like the cicada skins they would find on the trees in late summer. An empty imitation left behind.

Nijoh’ir stepped back, away from the deserted building, it held nothing for him. He knew that, but his heart made his eyes linger, desperate from some sign of life before he turned from it and stumbled up the hill to the aetheryte plaza, eyes locked on the glowing blue stone. The most bustling place in Gridania was deserted. No carpenters bustling out of Beatin’s Guild, none of the children that frolicked around it, the children he loved so dearly. Nijoh’ir stopped before the aetheryte stone to stare up at it in confusion.

Some part of him wanted to tear through Gridania, shouting for Leih, Silvairre, Guydelot and Sanson, for his friends. For the people he always thought would be here in Gridania to welcome him. The people he considered part of his family, part of his home.

But he was afraid to break the silence. He was unsure what would be worse. If only more silence answered his calls, his friends gone without a trace, if it was only him here now.

Or if whatever had caused this answered him.

A cold wind caught him off guard and sent him stumbling back, his ears flattened and he blinked as snow flakes fluttered around him. “W-what?”

They did not cling to him, the wind faltered, but Nijoh’ir recognized the scent. The smell of stone, of ash, of fires desperately burning for warmth.

He moved around the aetheryte, the wooden planks and grass blended seamlessly into stone and snow, Gridania’s warm summer shifted to Ishgard’s eternal winter. The tower trees replaced by looming statues and ancient buildings, open to the sky without the canopy of branches overhead. Nijoh’ir’s breath billowed in a cloud around him as he continued forward, the waterwheel and larks turned to the rumble of machines and the whistle of winter winds through broken windows.

From the heart of New Gridania Nijoh’ir had walked directly into the Brume, with no clear understanding of how he had gotten there.

He made his way through scaffolding, but he no longer had to pick through the fallen rubble, it was as though Ishgard had never weathered the assault by the hoard that had ruined the city. Sharp and imposing and utterly untouched it rose around him.

Untouched but for the occasional patch of grass, as though Gridania was bleeding into its neighboring country. Nijoh’ir followed the alleys towards the scaffolding, hoping to make it higher up and have some explanation for what was going on.

The wood creaked under foot as he made his way up the scaffolding, he reached to tug his clothes to cover himself more only to grab armor rather than the bard cloak that he expected to find. Nijoh’ir looked down at himself in surprise, how had he been laying comfortably in Gridania, he never felt comfortable sleeping in his dark knight armor?

He faltered, the wood creaked under his weight, the part of him that knew carpentry was not pleased with the work that had gone into building these, they clearly had not chosen wood suited to Ishgardian elements.

Nijoh’ir took a deep breath and stared at the tree rising from the Brume, its branches forming a shelter from the snow lightly drifting down. Nijoh’it stepped towards it, it looked like the oaks that towered around Gridania. The snow crunched underfoot as he hurried forward steps sharp on the stone. He reached for the tree, longing to feel the rough bark under his palm, to steady himself there, something familiar in this strange and twisting mix of Ishgard and Gridania.

Nijoh’ir touched it with a sigh of relief, something about the tree warmed him, like late afternoon sun on his shoulders as he hid in the shade in Gridania.

“Once, Coerthas was warm and knew summer,” the voice that spoke from behind Nijoh’ir made him freeze, his tail fluffed out in alarm and eyes wide, ears angling frantically as the smooth voice continued, punctuated by the soft clatter of armor.

Fray walked up beside Nijoh’ir to look up at the tree, his golden eyes as visible and bright in the darkness of his helmet as Nijoh’ir remembered. Nijoh’ir’s breath stilled in his throat, not even the chill could’ve frozen him in place like this.

“It’s hard to think of Ishgard like that though, ever since the Calamity and this eternal winter.” He mused as he watched the tree, “so many of the plants died that first year. There was famine, and we couldn’t even ask the Alliance for help when we had turned out back on them.” Fray laughed bitterly, “could we? Such justice, that for our leader’s mistakes people starved and froze in the streets.”

“Est-Esteem? Nijoh’ir didn’t think so though, his dark twin had been mostly quiet since Whitebrim, and when it spoke it used his voice.

Fray turned to look at him with narrowed eyes, “no. Try again.”

“Nijoh’ir?”

Now the shade looked baffled, “no, that is- did you hit your head when you collapsed?”

Nijoh’ir flattened his ears, “hey now! Wait, I collapsed?” He narrowed his eyes and looked around, “how did-”

“One question at a time and I asked mine first,” Fray was just as curt as Nijoh’ir remembered but had that been his and Amasar’s…

“Fray?”

“It would seem third time is the charm.”

Nijoh’ir set his mouth in a frown, “alright smartass,” he heard Fray give an amused scoff at that, “where are we and how did we get here?”

“That’s an excellent question,” Fray replied he crossed his arms and his gaze burned into Nijoh’ir, “given the last thing I remember is…” he tilted his head to consider it, “ah yes, two warriors too curious for their own good prowling around my corpse and picking up strange soul stones.”

Nijoh’ir blinked in surprise, “you- but you were dead.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t believe in ghosts,” Fray replied with an amused flicker of his eyes, “after all you thought one was teaching you to be a dark knight.”

“Okay but that turned out to be my anger and Amasar’s uh anguish? Pain?” Nijoh’ir shrugged his shoulders, “you weren’t real. You might not be real. You might be Esteem trying to trick me so he can seize control.”

“I am not your dark side,” Fray replied firmly with a shake of his head, “nor are you mine though it would… hmmm… what have you done Nijoh’ir?”

“What do you mean,” Nijoh’ir’s ears flattened down into his hair and his tail twitched anxiously behind him, unable to stay still with his nervous energy.

“It would seem, that in your desperation to save Haurchefant you’ve summoned a ghost,” Fray replied with a trace of amusement in his voice, “and I’m eager to figure out exactly what you’ve done, because it would seem that our aether has become intertwined.”

Nijoh’ir tried to process that, he could remember what Moenbryda had told him about aether and how it worked, “so, you’re… the spirit of Fray that hadn’t moved on just yet?”

“I was tied to the soul stones you picked up,” Fray’s eyes softened, “there was so much left undone.”

“A Dark Knight isn’t supposed to have regrets,” Nijoh’ir replied, reciting what Sid had told him once, Fray dipped his head.

“But you’re one to talk, aren’t you?”

Nijoh’ir stared at him in confusion, Fray shook his head, “don’t you remember how you got into this state?”

“Am I dying?” Nijoh’ir cast his thoughts back to, “I remember the Vault, we had to save Aymeric, and we got to the top, the Temple Knights… One of them threw a spear and-” he cut off and jerked his head up, his eyes catching Fray’s with fear, “Haurchefant!”

“And that is how we got here,” Fray folded his arms over his chest, “what I have gathered, based on what I saw through the soul stone as your aether reached for mine is you somehow combined white magic with our ability to force our aether past our mortal limit in a desperate attempt to heal him.”

“But I don’t know any white magic?” Nijoh’ir looked at him in bafflement, “well a little for Red Mage but nothing that would’ve saved…” His eyes widened as he remembered what he’d understood in his moment of desperation at The Vault, as he’d desperately run through options to save Haurchefant, “but you did.”

“I was quite the conjurer,” Fray agreed with a nod of his head, “though I guess you didn’t find that soul stone.”

Nijoh’ir shook his head, they had found two stones, one for him and one for Amasar, “just Dark Knight soul stones.”

Fray nodded as though expected Nijoh’ir to understand. Slowly Nijoh’ir was putting the pieces together and hesitantly he put forth his theory. He thought it sounded ridiculous, but Fray seemed to be waiting for him to guess at how he’d gotten himself into this mess. As though Nijoh’ir didn’t find himself in at least five messes a week most of which he was dragged into with little to no say on his part. But he’d at least try.

“So, I used the Dark Knight soul stone to cast white magic? Didn’t know you could do that.”

“I don’t think most people can, you burned through a lot of aether to do so.”

“Alright so then he’s okay?” Nijoh’ir remembered him sitting up, he desperately clung to that though, that he’d managed to save them, that he hadn’t left Haurchefant to die at the Vault. He remembered the feeling of his hand in his, week as he desperately clung to life to tell Nijoh’ir good-bye. Gods be merciful, he didn’t know what he’d do if he lost him.

“Yes, but you collapsed from exhaustion,” Fray didn’t seem sure whether he was annoyed or amused, “and here we are Trapped in your head. Our heads I suppose.”

“What do you mean?” Nijoh’ir flattened his ears and growled, “if you make me run over some memory of Eorzea so I can attune to my dark side or-”

“That was you trying to teach yourself Dark Knight based off my memories, not me personally,” Fray cut him off with an unamused look, “are you being purposely dense?”

“No!” Nijoh’ir growled at him, Fray held up his hand which made Nijoh’ir only snarl further at him. “You know for not being my dark side you’re sure acting a lot like it.”

“I am stressed as well Nijoh’ir,” Fray’s voice was sharp, not raised like Nijoh’ir had heard before but cold and harsh like a steel blade left in the Coerthean blizzards. “Do not snap at me if you do not wish for me to respond in kind.”

Nijoh’ir’s lips were still curled but he forced himself to relax and took a deep breath, “I’m sorry.” He muttered, he knew he didn’t sound sorry but he was. At least a little. He didn’t like being cruel to be people. “Just kind of used to being treated like I know everything and it’s frustrating ‘cause I don’t and then you think I’m being stupid to mess with you or something.”

Fray was silent, letting Nijoh’ir feel the mix of cold Coerthean winds and warm Gridanian sun. Idly Nijoh’ir reflected that Fray was right. Ever since the Calamity Gridania had been colder, even in the warmest summer months. Now that they were mingled together, side by side, he could really feel the change. He couldn’t remember how warm Gridania had been when he was growing up.

“Ah yes, how could I forget.” Fray mused softly, his voice smooth as the pebbles at the bottom of a river, “the anger that drove you to dark knight and strengthened your blows comes from your frustration from your treatment from the scions.” His gold eyes flickered up to the tree overhead. “My apologies.” He let out a deep breath. “You tied our aether together. That is where we are now. In a mix of your memories and mine as our consciousnesses attempt to sort ourselves out.”

Nijoh’ir stared at him in utter confusion, “so… what does that mean?”

Fray looked at him now and Nijoh’ir was unsure if he saw a flicker of fear in Fray’s eyes but he felt it in his stomach and chest.

“I don’t know. But I suspect we will be like this for a while.”

Chapter Text

"There's a darkness within us all -- nothing dangerous mind. In fact, it's quite healthy. But the crystal changes you -- gives you the power to channel it. Do it without proper training, however, and... well... it might hurt." - Fray


 

“I'm ruined...utterly ruined.”

Nijoh’ir blinked at the merchant in confusion, they had gotten the merchandise, Fray has even collapsed from the effort. Sure he and Amasar might’ve gotten a bit excited but surely there wasn’t that much blood.

“Sir, I demand recompense for your reckless destruction of my property!” Nijoh’ir felt a growl building in his chest, slowly his lips curled. How dare he. How dare- Was he trying to scam them? Or worse, he thought this a genuinely good response to what had happened.

“I am a reasonable man, so I will acknowledge that you are not wholly responsible. Fifty percent of the value should suffice.”

It was not Nijoh’ir’s snarl but Fray’s voice that silenced the man, as the Dark Knight, now recovered, stormed up. Amasar looked relieved and Nijoh’ir felt only validation as Fray put into words exactly what he’d been thinking.

“Fifty percent? FIFTY PERCENT!? I slaughter a gang of Qiqirn bandits for your precious goods and this is the thanks I receive!?” Fray stepped forward, Nijoh’ir barely looked at him, the merchant was staring at him, as though Nijoh’ir had any control over Fray. As though Nijoh’ir would stop him from speaking the truth. He sneered at him as Fray continued to speak.

“You spineless sack of shite. I kill your enemies. I fetch your things. I do what you people can't or won't do yourselves. You're helpless. Weak. All you do is want and need.” Nijoh’ir was so tired, so furious of people acting like they were entitled to his effort, his time, to him. “I should've left you all to drown in Leviathan's tidal wave. At least then I would've been spared your constant bloody whining.”

Amasar looked started but Nijoh’ir felt the ferocity with which Fray had snarled those words. All Limsa ever did was take and kill and demand he do the same. They’d have been better off letting it sink.

“Do not speak to me of this ever again.” Fray turned on his heel as though to walk away, the trader stammering out an apology, eyes bulging with fear.

Styrnlona started at them, aghast, Nijoh’ir was ready to tear into her, this never should have been their problem in the first place if she had just done her damn job.

“Lieutenant Bulqudar, Lieutenant Jesyho sir, I... You have every right to be upset, but...”

“That is not my name,” Fray cut her off with a short curt sentence, "that is NOT MY NAME . He's dead let him rest . I made a mistake and I have been forced to carry it with me throughout this godsforsaken land and no matter how I say it NO ONE LISTENS . Call me by this rank all you like, but I am Amasar not.... not him."

The Malestrom officer stumbled back, almost off the peer, as Fray finished, softly now, but with a simmering pained rage, “he's not me, and I will never be him."

Nijoh’ir bared his fangs and snarled at her, couldn’t anyone let Amasar bury his brother? He bounded after Fray without another word, Amasar slowly trailed behind.

Nijoh’ir halted near Fray to wait for him, only to hear Fray speak.

Fray sounded as exhausted as Nijoh’ir felt, cold where the anger had just scorched through his veins, “We can't keep doing this, Nijoh’ir. You must see now what it's doing to us... What they're doing to us... These...these people...”

Nijoh’ir’s tail lashed like a whip behind him before he spoke, voice taut. “He deserved it. Every word.”

Fray paused, before a laugh bubbled out of his chest, one Nijoh’ir joined in. “Right you are, Nijoh’ir! Right you are! Felt good, didn't it? Seeing that sniveling wretch tremble. I think he nearly pissed himself!” Nijoh’ir’s ears wiggled as he laughed with Fray, it had been so utterly freeing to see someone look at him like that, to call him out for everything he’d done to Nijoh’ir. “You're finally starting to see them for what they are now, aren't you? Good, good.”

“Amasar,” his voice, so smooth, sounded warmer upon seeing the Xaela, Nijoh’ir was relieved to see the exhaustion lift from his friend’s shoulders as he spotted Fray.

Amasar looked over his shoulder to where they’d left the two standing before he looked at Fray again. “We don't need them to become a dark knight.”

Fray raised his hand to helmet as though considering it, “Not entirely true, Amasar. They have helped you to cultivate the darkness within, in a way. But their help is no longer needed.” Nijoh’ir gently bumped into Amasar to reassure him. “All that remains is to hearken to the voice─to grasp its words and discover your true calling. I wish I could tell you. I wish I could make you see. But all I can do is guide you on your journey...”

The sound of Fray’s voice lulled Nijoh’ir into an almost trance, a pull like the Siren’s song, but not one that promised the devastation that had ruined Zenith once.

Some part of him wanted to feel angry at Sanson for that but the Lancer had meant well. Not to mention he’d been willing to sacrifice himself to fix his own mistake. Nijoh’ir’s chest twisted with an ache of longing for his friends at the archer’s guild. They had never cried for him to be a hero, begging for him to save him. Expected him to silently save them from their own problems.

It was like hands clinging to him, pulling him underwater, drowning him in a river of problems not his own, his protests and pleas to be treated like a person, like himself and not a legendary warrior washed away by everyone’s need.

“...Nijoh’ir Jesyho.” Like a hand plunging into the river to pull him out to breath once more, Fray’s voice cut through his thoughts and pulled him to focus once more. “...You stand at the precipice, but do not fear the fall. Cast yourself into the abyss, and you shall soar above, free at last.”

Nijoh’ir staggered and blinked as once more he breathed in the salty Limsan air, Fray was speaking, his words largely directed to Amasar.

“There are other lands than these, Amasar─lands where we are not known. Ask, and we shall quit this place forever. Somewhere that no one knows your name.”

Nijoh’ir blinked, afraid to ask to come with them, afraid Amasar might leave him for Fray, he was happy for his best friend to have found someone he was interested in. Someone who treated him like a person, like he was Amasar, not the Warrior of Light and finally free of his brother’s ghost.

“Only when you have renounced everything are you free to do anything.” Fray’s golden eyes seared into Nijoh’ir’s soul as he spoke, “When we meet again, you will give us your answer.”

They stood in the comfortable silence of the other’s company for several moments, the only sound the waves lapping at the stone docks.

Finally Nijoh’ir broke the silence, hesitant as he stared off at the sea, off to where there must be lands that did not need him constantly, “I want to leave, they don't see me as a person here, I'm just a weapon to them." His tail flicked nervously, “I hate that I know that I’m gonna die to a primal, one’s gonna get lucky or I’m gonna be tired from running three hundred errands for Alphinaud and I’m gonna be too slow- I hate being an infalliable weapon to them, I’m sick and I’m tired of it. Never a break, always something else needs to be fixed.”

Amasar made a noise of agreement, "going somewhere that they don't know our names... that sounds good." Whereas Nijoh’ir’s anger blazed through him like a wildfire he always thought Amasar’s sound so tired, like the only thing keeping him from collapsing was his anger. A tight controlled fury though, one that promised swift and targeted retribution.

The anger born of loss.

Together they left Limsa behind them, each fully intending it to be the last time they saw the godsdamned region.

-

“He said the Gates of Judgement right?” Nijoh’ir grumbled from where he crouched on one of the stones, occasionally eyeing the guards standing by said Gates. Despite himself though his eyes drifted. He could see the smoke from the fires of Camp Dragonhead from here. Where a hearth blazed in Haurchefant’s office, a spot ready for him and hot cocoa and Haurchefant...

“Nijoh’ir?” Amasar had followed his gaze, “we could say good-bye if you want.”

“I already did,” Nijoh’ir said softly, “I didn’t tell him that’s what it was, but I think… I think he sensed something was wrong. He kept trying to make me stay.” He swallowed and shook his head.

“Fray!” He called loudly, “let’s go!” Before the one thing that could keep him in Eorzea won out.

Amasar looked out over the landscape, "Let's go Fray." His voice carried over the snow, "a home of our choice."

Nijoh’ir’s chest burned but he looked around for Fray, if he didn’t respond to that Nijoh’ir was honor bound to kick his ass.

“I thought I recognized those voices!”

“Oh no,” Nijoh’ir turned to see not Fray, but two knights running up. Not Haurchefant’s though, Nijoh’ir faintly remembered them but not enough to place them.

Once they said they were from Whitebrim Nijoh’ir placed them, hazy memories of seeing them on patrol, glares sent his way. What did they want? Ishgard had never demanded things of him to the level the others had he certainly didn’t forget how easily they’d turned against him and Amasar on the word of a man who they’d stood by and watched kill countless innocent people. Even as they’d rallied around him for defeating Shiva he couldn’t help but wonder what it would take for them to turn against the two of them again.

No, he held no great love for Whitebrim.

And yet they continued to insist on his help. He and Amasar shared a look, it would be quicker to help them and then leave. And then they wouldn’t have to worry about being followed.

“Very well,” Amasar’s shoulders slumped, “where are these… giants?”

-

Nijoh’ir sheathed his sword and considered walking back to the gates of judgement and just not stopping but then they’d follow him and then he’d have to answer questions so if he and Amasar just stayed and let them- thank them?

“It was an honor to fight with you, sir! You really are everything the bards say.” He seemed so sincere that Nijoh’ir felt his anger flicker, like a flame when one is first beginning to douse it.

The knight grinned at them, adrenaline a cruel voice whispered, but Nijoh’ir found himself listening. “Truth be told...I've been following your deeds for some time now...ever since you two first came to Whitebrim Front. Your martial prowess is widely known, of course, but what I found truly inspirational was your compassion for the common man.”

Nijoh’ir’s ears slowly flattened and he looked at Amasar who seemed to be equally effected. “How you would risk your lives without thought for fame or fortune, how the lowest among us could find a friend in both of you...” he shook his head and Nijoh’ir, for a moment dared consider that maybe he had misjudged the people of Whitebrim.

But there was always something else. There would always be something else. Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... that would always be his fate. Who cared if they’d been talking to a corpse in the Brume! Fuck off! Nijoh’ir had half a mind to just start running on the way to Whitebrim and not stop. The knight kept insisting that it must be a misunderstanding.

“Like Tataru and Alphinaud were misunderstandings?” Nijoh’ir snarled to Amasar when he thought their companion couldn’t hear. Amasar huffed and reached back to touch the pommel of the claymore as though to ensure it was still there.

“Fray?” Amasar could see further than Nijoh’ir with his height, Nijoh’ir tried to see anyway.

“Oh gods,” Amasar started to run, Nijoh’ir on his heels, the knight followed after them, all three coming to a halt as they took in the scene at Whitebrim.

Injured knights sprawled everywhere.

And standing in the middle, eyes blazing with fury was Fray.

“Hah hah...’surrender your weapon’? After what happened in Ul'dah? They must be mad.” The worst part was Nijoh’ir couldn’t even argue with that. The thought of having to be stripped of his weapons, that feeling the night of the banquet as Ilberd had thrown him on the floor, revealing to all that Nijoh’ir and Amasar had been right, that Nijoh’ir had been right to be bitter, to silently resent Alphinaud for all he’d demanded with little reward scared him. Never again would he be that helpless. That powerless against everything he’d seen coming.

“Pay attention, Nijoh’ir, Amasar. This could be the greatest moment of our life... That is, if you could stop denying the truth that's been staring you in the face since the moment we met.” Fray looked at them and his eyes seemed to glow, Nijoh’ir felt his stomach sink. “Say my name. Say it. My real name. Our real name!”

Nijoh’ir couldn’t speak, he couldn’t look at Amasar, No. Fray was a ghost, that was- “come now, you knew Fray was dead from the beginning, but you didn't care! You had a sword and a soul crystal. But what you wanted was a mentor.” His eyes drifted to Amasar. “Or a lover.”

What they had needed.

“A mentor with the gifts and the knowledge. A dark knight who could guide you on the path─who you could aspire to become. A man who was free to say and do the things you would not. Someone who would fight for you for once!”

“...Even now, you continue to deny it. Well. Deny me all you want. You cannot deny what we have done.” He snarled at Nijoh’ir and shot a filthy look at the knights who flinched away from him. Fray whirled away from him, leaving Nijoh’ir staring at the knights in horror.

He appealed to Amasar now, “Have I not been good to you? Have I not given you everything I promised?” He stepped forward as though to touch Amasar, Nijoh’ir twisted to snarl at him, but Fray easily shoved past him. “Did I not help you to hear the whispers of our very soul!?”

He stopped short of Amasar, shadows rolling off him, “open your eyes. Look. Do you see now? Do you see?” With that he stumbled, like he had been but instead collapsed to leave his corpse behind. Nijoh’ir jerked back but Amasar reached forward, a look of pain across his face as the illusion fell apart in front of them.

Nijoh’ir swallowed and stared into the roiling shadows. “Your name… is Nijoh’ir Jesyho.”

Amasar’s gaze lingered on the fallen body, he swallowed hard before he named the specter. “Amasar Himaa.”

There was no time to deal with the confused mutterings of the knights, as two figures stepped from the shadows, one a perfect replica of Nijoh’ir the other… Amasar made a noise of grief as he beheld his identical figure.

“Everything up to now has been your story...” The other Nijoh’ir leapt at him, Nijoh’ir pulled his claymore to block the blow, barely he avoided sliding across the slick, snow-covered, stones. He looked into the smirking face of his twin with bewilderment and a feeling of deep loss, “...And everything after now will be mine!”

Drillemont stumbled to his feet and caught Nijoh’ir’s gaze, “Fight, damn you! Fight!”

The other Nijoh’ir laughed bitterly, “what is there to fight? You wanted this! You wanted me! You wanted to lash out and destroy what you’d fought to protect just so everyone would finally see you hurting!” He pushed against Nijoh’ir’s blade and he had to wave his tail to keep his balance, “You can't really kill me, you know. Oh, you'll try. But you'll fail.”

“Esteem,” Nijoh’ir named it, the echo or something, told him the figure’s name. It laughed at him, bitter and cruel, everything Nijoh’ir had dreaded becoming. Everything he’d longed to be if it meant that even for just a few moments the world let him rest.

“What of you Amasar?” his double asked, it circled him slowly, “can you raise your blade against me? Raise your blade again? Time and time again they ask you to fight. Time and time again they make you carry the dead.” It shook its head in mock sadness, “even now you look at me and see Bulqadar don’t you? The twin they’ve never let you mourn because you’ll never outrun a simple mistake. His name as your last name forever. But then, a simple little mistake is how you lost him isn’t it?”

He lifted his sword to point it at Amasar, who kept looking between him and Nijoh’ir where he struggled against the strength of Esteem. “You can’t handle the Anguish can you? The pain of loss after loss slowly driving you into a rage.”

Drillemont held his hands up to call to them, “Pull yourself together, Amasar! You are stronger than this!”

Anguish didn’t even spare him a glance. “Friends? Really? This is a private affair, and you know it.”

Nijoh’ir snarled and pushed back against Esteem, forcing him back for a moment, “fuck you.” He spat out, his anger suddenly snapped back into focus, and all of it directed at Esteem.

“Eloquent as always,” Esteem’s sentence was punctuated by the sound of Amasar’s blade clashing with Anguish’s, “but that’s what’s separated you from the Scions isn’t it? Just the country bumpkin they hauled out of the woods to run their errands and kill primals.”

Nijoh’ir practically roared with fury as he swung at Esteem. Fine, so the Scions had treated him like shit. Ul’dah had treated him like shit.  

“Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look? Flailing about like a wild beast in a battle against yourself!?” Esteem taunted, Nijoh’ir’s blood roared in his ears, this was his. His life, his friends, his family, he’d let Esteem and his rage blind him to his friends. To the Archer’s Guild, to Haurchefant. To his kittens, to Amasar.

“Nijoh’ir! Nijoh’ir! Listen to us!”

And Esteem though he could take that all that? Nijoh’ir wouldn’t let him. They traded blows, Nijoh’ir’s armor taking the brunt of it though he knew there would be bruises for the healers to see to.

“We will never forsake you! No matter what!”

This was his.

“A house divided cannot stand, Amasar!” Anguish shouted, Nijoh’ir had to trust his friend had things in hand, he could barely spare any attention from Esteem.

“We know who you are, Amasar! We know─and so do you!”

“They’ll be the death of you, you know,” Esteem hissed at him, “your so-called friends?”

“Then so be it,” Nijoh’ir bared his teeth and tried to spit in Esteem’s eye, which his duplicate dodged, “you know how many primals I’ve fought? I’m not giving in to you.”

Amasar struck Anguish to knock him to the ground, Nijoh’ir gave Esteem a strong kick to the chest and his blade clashed against and tore through the armor over Esteem’s chest.

The knights, beaten, bruised and bloody by, in some ways, Nijoh’ir and Amasar’s own hands, cheered loudly.

“A fantastic display of willful ignorance...” Esteem spat at them but the fight seemed to be mostly out of him, his voice raised to address the crowd, “Wipe the slate clean. Forgive and forget! Convince yourselves that he can be controlled...” He held Nijoh’ir’s eyes, “The Warrior of Light! Our Weapon of Light!”

There was some truth to Esteem’s claims. Nijoh’ir took a deep breath and let the anger flow out of him. Accept it. Work to change what he could. Haurchefant, Amasar, they would help him. He would help them. Find a better balance than this.

“It isn't too late, Amasar. We...we can still be free...” Anguish begged. Nijoh’ir looked at his friend, both of them sore and tired, and aching in body and spirit but ready to face the truth.

“Nijoh’ir?”

“Amasar?”

They stepped forward side by side, hands outstretched to attune to their dark sides one last time.

Esteem smiled at him, sad but accepting, “So this is your answer...” he shook his head and together he and Anguish spoke the familiar words, “Listen to my voice. Listen to our heartbeat. Listen...”

Nijoh’ir closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, feeling the familiar pull of the void.

Esteem’s voice whispered in his head, “...If this is how it must be, then so be it. But know that when you tire of this charade, I shall be here...waiting to take the reins...”

Nijoh’ir dipped his head, and Esteem leaned against him, back to back.

“You need only ask...”

Chapter Text

"Seek the Keeper of the Lake. See with eyes unclouded. Do... do not squander Mother's gift." - Ysayle


 

Amasar felt as though the world had dropped out from underneath him as he stared at Nijoh’ir’s limp form. Deep in his chest he felt Anguish howl as he reached for his best friend, barely aware of the small whimpers that escaped him as he prayed he had not lost him.

Amasar had always been able to easily lift Nijoh’ir, they’d wrestled before, but this time Nijoh’ir made no attempt to slip his grasp, his eyes closed and lips parted slightly. However, to Amasar’s relief he could see the rise and fall of his chest.

“Amasar,” Sid gently pulled him away, “let Rielle look at him.” Sid looked worried as well, which oddly helped reassure Amasar as he let the other Xaela guide him to his feet away from Nijoh’ir. Haurchefant was steadying himself on Aymeric who, despite looking ready to collapse from his injuries, was also holding the Knight back.

Estinien had his gaze trained on something in the distance, likely the airship, the Dragoon reached over and gently squeezed Amasar’s shoulder without looking at him. Amasar stood between Estinien and Sid, unable to tear his eyes off Nijoh’ir.

Rielle knelt over him, her fingers moving over his chest, throat and face until she nodded and got to her feet.

“The only injuries seem to be from his fight with Ser Chardibert,” she declared, but her mouth was set in a frown, Amasar swallowed hard.

“His aether though…”

“What in the seven hells was that?” Estinien looked away from the sky now to look to the only one of them that knew anything about white magic, “I would’ve sworn Lord Haurchefant for a dead man but…”

Rielle glanced over at Haurchefant and then Estinien and shook her head, “he’s fine.” She looked down at the gaping hole in Haurchefant’s armor and swallowed, “I’m not sure how, I’ve… he combined dark and white magic to do that.”

“Like red mages?” Amasar knew Nijoh’ir had briefly tried his hand at such a skill before finding it not for him. Rielle shook her head with a look of fear that terrified Amasar. He’d felt the aether flow around them when Nijoh’ir had done that, like standing in the center of Garuda’s whirlwinds.

“No, he-” Rielle bit her tongue and looked to Sid and then looked down. Amasar hated seeing Rielle lie but he trusted that it was for the best, “I’m not sure what he did. But his aether is weakened, I don’t know if he cast from his life force or not or just the amount of aether that passed through him but he needs rest and someone else to look at him. He’ll be okay for now though. I think.” Fear had begun to creep into her voice and Sid gently patted Amasar’s chest before he moved over to Rielle. He gently guided her away from Nijoh’ir, a few steps back to where Amasar stood.

Haurchefant reached to Nijoh’ir, gently he brushed his fingers over Nijoh’ir’s face, “my dear love, what have you done to yourself?”

Lucia offered her hand to Aymeric, “we should leave. Several of us need treatment and while the Archbishop is gone it would not do to linger.”

Aymeric accepted her hand with the arm that did not seem to be broken, and got to his feet, “how shall we…” He stumbled and immediately Estinien and Lucia moved to help steady him.

Haurchefant went to pick up Nijoh’ir, Sid stepped forward to scoop him up in his arms, idly Amasar noted how small Nijoh’ir seemed as he lay limp in Sid’s arms.

“You were just dying,” Sid huffed, “don’t be stupid.” He handed Nijoh’ir over to Amasar, “you can carry him, right?”

Amasar had taken Nijoh’ir instinctively, he had been more than happy to let someone else make the decisions, “of course.”

“Good.” Sid offered his hand to Haurchefant, “if you can walk then you’ll walk.” Haurchefant glanced after Nijoh’ir even as he accepted Sid’s hand and stumbled to his feet, stumbling for a moment at first.

“You were correct, I believe, that I could not have carried Nijoh’ir.” Haurchefant steadied himself on a not spiky part of Sid’s armor, after a few moments he walked evenly.

Sid nodded and looked to Lucia, “where did you leave the boy?”

“We left Alphinaud to meet us at the entrance, resolved though he was against the idea.” Estinien shook his head as he helped to steady Aymeric, “he’s likely not pleased but I felt better that than fighting such a force.”

Sid grunted in response, “right then. We’ll go meet up with him and send him to get a chirurgeon.”

“And have them meet us at Fortemps manor,” Haurchefant had not taken his eyes off Nijoh’ir as though he would disappear from Amasar’s arms if he looked away. Nijoh’ir’s limp weight barely registered for Amasar, he felt disconnected from the world around him, as though he’d shoved his head in a cloud. Or one of those hats Nijoh’ir grumbled about, where the wool covered the ears.

Sid and Lucia shared a look, Amasar shifted Nijoh’ir slightly to try to make sure his friend was more comfortable. Nijoh’ir’s head lolled and Amasar almost expected him to crack his eyes open and look up at him. But no such luck.

Amasar let Sid guide him through the Vault, he barely registered Alphinaud’s cry of alarm as he took in Nijoh’ir. Estinien said something and Alphinaud took off, obeying him in a way he’d never listened to Amasar or Nijoh’ir. The group huddled together, with Amasar and Aymeric in the middle as though they could protect Nijoh’ir and Aymeric from further harm, clustered around Amasar close enough that he could feel warmth from Haurchefant’s body when he bumped into Amasar as he glanced worriedly down at Nijoh’ir, frowning as a faint cloud billowed from his nose.

In a different life, a different path, a different choice Amasar knew it would be Haurchefant’s body that was limp in his arms. Haurchefant glanced at him as though the same thought had crossed his mind. Amasar was almost more concerned by the look of fear and dread on Haurchefant’s face, he was so used to the man’s bright optimism and excitement that to see him worried like this scared Amasar. How badly off did he think Nijoh’ir was if even he could not find a sliver of hope?

To Fortemps manor, out of the snow and with only prayers and hope they came. Amasar was pulled in, voices rising around him as people began to question, began to pry, to yell and react. He pulled Nijoh’ir closer to his chest, eyes darting around frantically as the words began to blend together.

Sid’s voice, low and steady grounded Amasar, he focused on Sid’s face, his green eyes piercing as he stared at Amasar.

“It’s alright. They need to look at Nijoh’ir.”

Slowly Amasar nodded, he stepped towards Sid who cleared his throat and bellowed loud enough to silence the manor.

“Alright enough!” He scanned the group and pointed at the chirurgeon, “you. What’s wrong with him?”

The man looked bewildered and stepped towards Amasar to look at Nijoh’ir, “I would need to examine him first…”

Count Edmont beckoned to a servant, “show him to Nijoh’ir’s room so that he might examine him in privacy.” The lord gave Amasar a sorrowful look, “know that as a ward of my house he shall be cared for with the best treatment.”

Artoirel gave a jerky nod in agreement with his father while Emmanellian continued to stare at his brother in horror, his eyes stuck on the hole in Haurchefant’s mail. Amasar had no energy to comfort him even if he had the words.

Estinien caught Haurchefant before he could follow them, the dragoon murmured something softly that made Haurchefant sink into a chair, his eyes locked on Amasar until he finally moved out of sight.

Nijoh’ir’s room looked much like Amasar’s, not just in décor but that it had clearly seen little use. Fi and Michief, curled up on the bed both lifted their head as people entered, Mischief let out a chirp of greeting. The servant gently shooed them off the bed so that Amasar might lay Nijoh’ir down.

The moment he set Nijoh’ir down Amasar at once felt too cold, his arms too light. He bent down to scoop up Nijoh’ir’s couerl kittens, both of whom mewed in protest, wiggling in his hands as he held them to his chest, Fi trying desperately to get to her master.

He stumbled away, leaving the man to his work, carrying the kittens back to the main hall, which was once more in chaos, multiple people talking over each other to such a cacophony that Amasar could not even begin to parse through it. Instead he found a chair and fell into it. Rielle made her way over to him and held out her hands; he passed her Mischief. The black kitten snuggled into her arms, but his green eyes darted around as though he could tell something was wrong.

Count Edmont raised his hand and silenced the gaggle of adventurers, knights (dark or otherwise), scions and nobility, much to Amasar’s relief.

“Lord Aymeric, I am relieved to see you again though in worse health than when I saw you last,” Count Edmont’s eyes softened as he took in the Lord Commander. Rielle squeezed Mischief gently and looked guilty.

“I didn’t want to heal him before someone put his arm back into place,” she ducked her head to bury her face into Mischief’s fur, “I didn’t want it to heal wrong.”

Lord Edmont’s eyes drifted to her, “I’m sure he thanks you for your concern and foresight ma’am.” His voice was soft and kind, “may I ask your name? It seems there are two of you I don’t recognize.”

Sid grunted and took a seat next to Amasar, “we’re friends of Amasar and Nijoh’ir’s.” Amasar leaned against him, not to prove him right but because he needed the strength of his fellow Dark Knight. Sid’s breath caught before he gently reached over to rest his hand on Amasar’s leg. Count Edmont raised his eyebrows but simply nodded.

“Still, I do wish to know the names of those who stop in my house.”

Amasar shifted slightly, his horns brushed against Sid’s, both Xaela stiffened a moment before moving to do it again, taking comfort in the small gesture. “Count Edmont, this is Sidurgu Orl and his ward Rielle.” He would let Rielle tell that story herself is she wished, and now wasn’t the time anyway. She nodded and gave a small curtsy as best she could holding a kitten.

Count Edmont dipped his head to them, “and I welcome you both to my home.” He gestured for the rest of the assembled people to take seats as well. Rielle sank to the floor near Sid and Amasar, her back against their legs, regardless of the armor. Estinien and Lucia took the seats next to Aymeric, Alphinaud sat down next to Estinien, while Tataru took the chair next to him. Count Edmont took a seat so that he could face most of the room, but his attention was clearly on Amasar. His sons settled around him, except for Haurchefant who stood off to the side. Whether because he felt he didn’t belong or because he was distracted by watching the hallway Amasar was unsure.

“Haurchefant,” his father spoke gently, “please sit down.” His eyes drifted to the damage to his son’s armor and Amasar knew the fear that flickered across his face, one he had seen on his mother’s face before she sent him and Bulqudar off to find their aunt.

Fear that had been sadly realized.

Haurchefant looked around the room for a chair, Amasar shifted closer to Sid on the bench to make room. Sid huffed and shook his head, his horn pressed lightly into Amasar’s hair as he moved.

“He’s not going to fit with both of us, no matter how skinny you think I am.”

“Not skinny. Underweight. And I do not think I know .”

Sid sighed heavily and Amasar suspected rolled his eyes, but he said nothing. Haurchefant finally settled on the couch next to them, Fi wiggled out of Amasar’s arms to bound across his lap, Sid’s lap, leap over both arm rests, and land in Haurchefant’s lap.

“And Nijoh’ir says she does not play favorites,” Amasar muttered, a ghost of a smile flickered across Haurchefant’s face, one that Amasar was pleased to have pulled out of his friend.

With Count Edmont’s encouragement and guidance the story was told, the journey to find Hilda, the venture to Vault and their plan, Lucia took over to tell how they found Aymeric and when they had separated from Alphinaud, while Sid gently squeezed Amasar’s thigh and briskly but thoroughly covered their trip until they reached the airship dock.

And there they all faltered; haunted glances shared as they seemed unsure who should speak next. Amasar took a breath, as usual such duty would fall to him, when of all people, Estinien spoke.

“Aymeric made an appeal to the Archbishop who refused to see reason,” the little of his face Amasar could see was lined with worry and anger, “and then began to leave. Nijoh’ir and Lord Haurchefant charged forward to stop him. However, they’d been lured into an ambush.” Estinien’s head turned to Haurchefant and Amasar wondered passingly if he had any peripheral vision with that helmet on, “well spotted by the way.”

“Ser Zephrin, of all people, simply should have been on that airship with them,” Haurchefant replied, his voice oddly subdued to an unsettling degree, like the wrong note in a familiar song. “I did not know what he planned but-”

“Your humility serves you well, but you found him before any of us knew to look for him,” Estinien cut him off firmly, “give yourself some credit Lord Haurchefant. And if not for that than for the utterly foolish stunt you did next.”

“A knight’s calling is to serve-”

Amasar made a noise at that, “Nijoh’ir would not have appreciated you dying for him.” As he had demonstrated. Haurchefant’s blue eyes burned the way the coldest ice against skin did as he met Amasar’s gaze.

“I did not intend to die for him, however I could not stand to see harm come to him.”

“I suppose we didn’t have half a dozen men to hold you back this time,” Aymeric, despite how pained he looked, mused from his spot at the table, Estinien snorted.

Count Edmont looked around the room before his gaze settled on his son, “and what did you do?”

Haurchefant lifted his head and spoke firmly, “Ser Zephrin hurled a spear of light, aimed clearly for Nijoh’ir. I had promised him my shield and thus did put myself between him and harm’s way. My shield however could not stand the blow.”

Amasar made a small noise, Sid however muttered into the stilted silence.

“If I hadn’t seen it, I would’ve thought Amasar stole it from a romance book.”

“Sid!” Rielle gently smacked his leg, which caused his armor to clang and that was likely all it did.

Sid shifted that leg slightly, “also the parts that came after it.” He frowned slightly and looked down at his hand on Amasar’s thigh.

“Are you alright?” Aymeric cut in, his words directed to Haurchefant, “I know you walked here but such an encounter must have been…” he trailed off and lowered his head, “I am sorry.”

Haurchefant shook his head and offered a stronger smile, “I seem to be alright. There has been no pain, nothing more than a few rough moments. My concern is more for Nijoh’ir, as of us all he seems to have fared the worst.”

“Haurchefant, you were dying.” Amasar spoke up, finally he felt up to speaking, and felt obligated to do so. He saw Artoirel recoil and felt Anguish’s pleasure in the action after his callous actions towards him.

“The spear broke through his shield and went through him,” he explained to Count Edmont, though he leaned forward to peer around Sid at Haurchefant, “you would’ve died had Nijoh’ir not done whatever it was he did to save you.”

Haurchefant hesitated and Sid looked over him. The Dark Knight was silent a moment before he spoke.

“I recently came to the realization that what Knights, at the very least Dark Knights, fight for is to protect the ones we hold dear.” Sid’s voice wavered slightly and Amasar and Rielle immediately both leaned into him in support.

“It strengthens our blows and gives us something to fight for.” Sid continued, he looked down at Rielle and then to Amasar, “however it is best to be honest with yourself and those you fight for.” A small smile twitched at his lips, “because just as we fight for the ones we love, the ones we love worry and care for us. That is what it means to be a Knight.”

Haurchefant studied Sid silently for several moments before he dipped his head, “I will consider your words; however, the story is not quite finished.” He glanced down at the hole that remained in his armor before he lifted his eyes to meet his father’s gaze.

Amasar hoped he never had to see the look on Count Edmont’s face ever again. The older elezen wore a horror-stricken grief openly as he stared at his son. Emmanellain’s eyes were huge with horror, he and Artoirel shared a look behind their father’s head.

“And what did he do?” Count Edmont’s voice shook as he asked, as the group considered the debt he had incurred from Nijoh’ir for what he had done to bring Haurchefant home.

“We’re not sure,” Amasar admitted, he looked down at Sid’s hand and rested his own on it, “given Nijoh’ir doesn’t know healing magic I’m truly not sure what he did.” He let out a rough breath. Aymeric wouldn’t meet Amasar’s gaze as it drifted absently around the room, he let out a heavy sigh and leaned against Sid. The only thing there was to do was wait.

Alphinaud shifted absently in his chair, while Tataru wrung her hands, peering over the table at them, Sid rested his head against Amasar’s to murmur for only the two of them to hear.

“You can fall asleep if you need to, I’ll wake you when they bring news.”

Amasar shook his head, “couldn’t sleep if I tried.”

The sound of a throat clearing made everyone jerk upright, Sid and Amasar just barely avoided their horns getting locked together.

The chirurgeon stepped into the room, he hesitated before he turned to Count Edmont, “I have done what I can for him, but if he wakes up… that’s up to him.” The man shook his head, “there’s nothing I can do to help that as there’s no sign of what caused him to collapse.” He looked around the room, gaze lingering on the multiple political figures, “though given the bags under his eyes and that he showed signs of dehydration I would suspect it was some form of exhaustion.” He coughed into his hand, “he has been stripped of his armor for a more thorough examination, other than minor cuts and signs of fighting I could find no injuries.”

Amasar shrugged his shoulders, “Nijoh’ir tries to sleep when he can.” They both did, “ever since that time his brother found him hallucinating in woods from sleep deprivation.”

The chirurgeon looked alarmed at that and turned to Amasar now, “is that something that happens regularly?”

Amasar shook his head quickly, “one time. Brother was insistent that he sleep more after that. We took shifts to make sure we each got breaks.”

Haurchefant nodded once, Amasar was unsurprised that he was aware of everything he’d just said, Alphinaud and Tataru gawked at Amasar in shock while Aymeric looked mildly ill.

“I hope I have not…” Aymeric trailed off and sighed, “at least before now, put undue strain on the two of you.”

Anguish might’ve had choice words for him, but Amasar simply shook his head and replied tiredly, “no more than the rest of Eorzea.” Anguish seethed slightly at the half truth but Amasar did not feel up to explaining to everyone exactly how the Scions had run him and Nijoh’ir into the ground.

Alphinaud spoke up hesitantly, “why did you and Nijoh’ir not say something?”

Now Anguish spoke before Amasar could, “and when were we given the chance to say something was wrong? What sign were we given that you cared?”

“Of course, we cared!” Tataru burst out, frowning angrily, “Amasar, you and Nijoh’ir should’ve said something sooner!”

“In their defense,” Haurchefant spoke up now, “I watched Alphinaud react with annoyance to my concern that Nijoh’ir and Amasar might’ve been hurt rushing in after Shiva.” He glanced at Alphinaud apologetically, “I understand, of course, the admiration for our splendid Warriors of Light but they are not invincible.” He looked in the direction of Nijoh’ir’s room and shook his head. “I do not wish to speak for Amasar but Nijoh’ir made it clear to me that he felt…” he trailed off and seemed to be looking for a diplomatic approach for what all of Whitebrim knew.

“That he was a weapon not a person,” Amasar spoke Esteem’s words, he remembered the way that had been thrown against Nijoh’ir. He paused as the chirurgeon approached him to examine him carefully. “Yes?”

The chirurgeon nodded, “I would say you seem to be in a similar state to your friend, simply conscious. When you can, get some rest. For more than a few bells.” He turned to Aymeric and moved to the Lord Commander, “now then, if you come with me, we’ll reset that arm. If I’m correct it is just dislocated.”

Count Edmont looked to him, exhaustion lining his face but his voice steady as he spoke, “there will be additional pay sir, if you remember some discretion as to what you have heard.”

The chirurgeon shook his head, “there is no need for that my lord. My wife is one of the Temple Knights.” He nodded to Aymeric, “she told me, how the Warriors of Light worked to end the riots, to kill Nidhogg and end the war.” He glanced at Amasar and shook his head, “if anything, I believe we owe them a debt this day.”

Count Edmont got to his feet as Lucia and Estinien helped Aymeric to his, “thank you ser. I can say not all will believe as you do but it reassures me to hear that there are those who will stand beside us.”

Amasar leaned into Sid, who wrapped his arm around him to pull him closer, the plates of his armor dug into Amasar at first but with a small bit of shifting he found himself comfortable against him.

Aymeric yelped with pain as his arm was put back into place and then looked embarrassed at the undignified noise he’d made, but Amasar was too tired to care. Rielle didn’t even stand as she cast a healing spell on him, the cuts and scrapes over his skin smoothing and vanishing in moments.

“Thank you, both of you.” He walked far more easily back to his seat, obviously in a great deal of less pain. The chirurgeon examined the rest of them, save Estinien, Sid and Rielle, (Estinien and Sid both glare at the man, an impressive feat when one cannot even see Estinien’s eyes) and though he lingered on Haurchefant before declaring him to be the pinnacle of health he eventually took his leave with recommendations to rest and to summon him should anyone suddenly develop pain or wounds reopen.

There was a long pause before Amasar began to stand. “Someone should tell Nijoh’ir’s brother.” He didn’t know how to contact the rest of them, but he knew that Toje would, and that he would not be grateful to not know.

“I didn’t even know Nijoh’ir had a brother,” Alphinaud remarked absently, Amasar frowned at him. He and Haurchefant spoke at the same time though what they said was just slightly different.

“Five.”

“He has four.”

Amasar paused to turn to Haurchefant in confusion, he blinked at him and then seemed to understand.

“Sorry, four living brothers.”

“I feel Nijoh’a still counts,” Amasar suggested gently, Alphinaud looked ever more alarmed and Tataru’s hand wringing had only grown more agitated.

“Nijoh’ir had a brother that died?

“In the calamity,” Amasar nodded, it was old news to him, “still a brother though.” The same way Bulqadar would always be his twin, even as he grew far older than his brother ever would. Haurchefant nodded tiredly rather than argue, for which Amasar was grateful. He seemed more focused on Alphinaud.

“How did you not know? He mentioned it to me within bells of meeting me, simply discussing what his name means.”

Alphinaud opened his mouth, and for once seemed to recognize that he was digging his own grave and set the shovel down rather than continue to dig. He turned to Amasar instead and asked curiously, “do you know how to get in touch with him?”

“Yes, he’s Nijoh’ir’s retainer.” Amasar could feel Sid stand up, he caught his shoulder and shook his head.

“You should rest, I can-”

“You have all had a long, tiring day,” Count Edmont cut in over Sid with a polite nod, “I can have my servants run messages to those that need to be informed.”

“They can’t tell the Echtal or the Mogmenders,” Amasar mumbled, both beast tribes would be eager to hear what had become of Nijoh’ir, the Ixal and the Sylphs were used to Nijoh’ir straying from them as they no longer needed his aid as much but the Mogmenders were directly under his supervision and Amasar was given, based on his friend’s excited and proud ramblings, that they would be a bit lost without him to continue their instruction.

“The who?” Alphinaud looked confused, Amasar turned to Haurchefant as someone he trusted to side with him on this.

“Nijoh’ir’s close friends with several Beast Tribes, they deserve to-”

“Hold on,” Alphinaud cut in, once more attempting to seize control of the conversation, “We cannot tell all of Eorzea that one of the Warriors of Light has collapsed, it would cause widespread chaos.”

“The Mogmenders are expecting him,” Amasar frowned heavily, “if he doesn’t show up one day then maybe they’d write it off but not if continues to stay away.”

Sid made a noise and rubbed the scales on the bridge of his nose, “of course Nijoh’ir has been spending his days with Moogles.”

“He’s teaching them how to fix things!” Amasar rose to his best friend’s defense, he remembered how excited Nijoh’ir had been to have a crafting project again, while he’d worked with the Echtal and still helped out from time he no longer was really needed. Wanted but not needed. The Moogles though, needed guidance in what they were doing. “They’re working hard-”

“Hard working moogles?” Estinien cut in disbelievingly, Amasar turned to Aymeric with a frown.

Aymeric seemed to be considering Amasar’s words and asked slowly, “Handeloup mentioned a project recently, of some temple knights, to escort builders to a part of Zenith and assist with a project there, one under Moogle supervision, would this be that same project?”

Amasar nodded quickly, “Nijoh’ir said they wanted to rebuild Zenith but they’re starting small.”

“Then Nijoh’ir’s claims are supported by multiple temple knights.” Aymeric reported, “they had mentioned in their reports an adventurer was assisting with the project as something of a second in command but not his name. They also report steady progress.”

Alphinaud sighed heavily, “that is all well and good but why does Nijoh’ir feel the need to sign on to every passing Beast Tribe?”

Amasar made a low rumble in his throat and held Alphinaud’s gaze until the boy squirmed uncomfortably. “As member of Brotherhood of Ash, watch your words.” He remembered Novv with affection as well, the Sahagin considered him one of his clutch, “perhaps because they make us welcome among them.”

An awkward silence followed that, Amasar sat back down and pulled Sid down with him, “Sid already knows what has happened to Nijoh’ir but the Archer’s Guild-”

“I just said we cannot inform all of Eorzea!” Alphinaud seemed to realize he whined and coughed once, “Amasar please, be reasonable.”

“I’d rather be compassionate,” he replied firmly, “the archer’s guild adores Nijoh’ir and would undoubtedly like to know.” Nijoh’ir would want them to know.

Alphinaud sat back in his chair and let out a rough sigh, “I understand you wish to inform those close to Nijoh’ir but surely those closest to him are already here?”

Artoriel spoke for the first time since they’d returned, “Amasar, you mentioned a brother?” Alphinaud had the decency to grimace at the reminder, Amasar nodded slowly, he was still unsure whether or not he trusted Haurchefant’s brother.

“Older or younger?”

“Nijoh’ir’s the youngest,” Haurchefant answered for him, “that’s what his name means, that he’s the sixth son.”

Artoriel nodded slowly, his eyes flickering to his half-brother cautiously, “then I would suggest we start with him, and work from there.”

Alphinaud nodded eagerly, Amasar didn’t even bother to glare at him, instead he leaned against Sid for a moment. He watched as Edmont gave his servants their orders, he needed them to be gone before he could perform one last desperate bid for answers.

He got to his feet, careful not to jostle Rielle before he headed to Nijoh’ir’s room. He stopped in the doorway as he took in how small Nijoh’ir looked under the blankets, he’d almost think his best friend was getting some much-needed sleep if it wasn’t for how pale he looked.

Haurchefant, for who else would’ve followed him here, moved around him to pull up a chair beside his bed, Amasar nodded to him and the vigil he would likely begin before he began to riffle through Nijoh’ir’s bag. He could feel Haurchefant’s gaze on him, but he offered no explanation. He had no idea if this would even work but it was the most reliable method he could think of.

Finally, he pulled out the triple triad deck, he’d seen a board for playing stashed hurriedly in a drawer by a servant once and had full intentions to use it.

“Amasar?” Haurchefant sounded concerned, not an unreasonable response to any part of this plan. Amasar turned towards him and offered a reassuring smile.

“I will return it soon.” That seemed to only concern Haurchefant more, if the fact he followed Amasar out of the room back to where everyone was gathered. He headed directly for the table with the drawer, sure enough a triple triad board was hidden away there. Amasar set it and Nijoh’ir’s deck on the main table, before he pulled out his own deck.

“Amasar?” Tataru asked gently, Amasar took a deep breath and began the game. A simple All Open game.

The others looked around at each other, as though wondering if one of them should accept Amasar’s challenge.

“I suppose I shall go first,” he addressed his non-existent opponent and with a Noctis card all but secured the top left corner.

Amasar didn’t know what it was like to have your ears pop but he suspected it was much like the unpleasant sensation he had as Midgardsormr popped into existence a ilm above the table. He fluttered in the air a moment before he landed in front of Nijoh’ir’s deck.

“Thou wished to speak to me, Warrior of Light?” he asked, he placed Nijoh’ir’s Squall Leonheart (whoever that was) next to Amasar’s Noctis card. Amasar frowned, he knew well that Nijoh’ir’s deck was much stronger than his but that wasn’t the point.

“I heard you at The Vault,” Amasar insisted as he placed his card down, Midgardsormr studied the remaining four cards before him for several seconds before he spoke.

“Was something I said unclear to thou?” He placed down a card with Ysayle on it, which flipped Amasar’s card. “He chose a different destiny for himself, an impressive feat. Not one without consequences.”

Amasar placed another card, only half paying attention to the game. “What are those consequences?”

Midgardsormr laughed darkly and placed another card that flipped Amasar’s card yet again. “Thou remain so unaware of the game thou plays, even as thou drastically change the outcome.” His eyes focused on the cards before him, “a failure of Hydalyn’s I suppose.”

“What did he do?” Amasar placed a card and managed to flip Midgardsormr’s, the dragon made a noise of surprise.

“The spell itself? A mixture of the dark magic Dark Knights are capable of and white magic from a borrowed memory.” Midgardsormr looked up at Amasar before setting down the card with Haurchefant’s likeness on it, flipping his card back. “And borrowed power.”

Amasar played his final card, a clear loss for him, “borrowed from where?”

“A soul that is not his.” Midgardsormr’s tail tapped against the table, “and what he has borrowed must be paid back.” He flapped his wings to hover in the air before Amasar, “the aether to power it was the most impressive feat. In his desperation he broke through my seal and cast directly from Hydaelyn’s blessing itself.”

“He what?!?” Amasar’s head rang with Alphinaud’s outburst, Midgardsormr paid him no mind, waiting for Amasar to process, to react. Amasar was scrambling to understand.

“Nijoh’ir has the blessing of light again?”

A weakened form as he drained much of it to power the spell. ” Midgardsormr bobbed up and down.

“That much aether,” Alphinaud mused, resting his hand against his chin, “no wonder Nijoh’ir collapsed if he used that much to fuel his spell.”

Amasar reached down to switch the rules to Reverse and All Open and started the game again. Midgardsormr looked down and laughed softly.

“Thou have begun to grasp the idea,” he remarked, fluttering over to land on Amasar’s shoulder, a familiar weight. “however, his actions have long reaching consequences. Unexpected changes.”

Amasar turned to look at him, Midgardsormr gracefully ducked underneath his horn as he turned his head, “can you give us something more than that?”

Thou hast yet to earn it.” Midgardsormr’s crests flicked as he spoke, “one warrior with his blessing still sealed, the other drained it for personal gain. You have yet to prove yourself Hydalyn’s champions. By the covenant I shall continue to watch.”

Amasar’s horns shuddered, if bone was possible of such a thing, as Midgardsormr once again vanished from existence.

Amasar looked down at the board, which informed that his turn had timed out and thus he had lost. “That was more information that I was expecting from him.”

The entire assembled group stared at Amasar. He waved his hand lightly.

“When we examined the Keeper of the Lake, we met Midgardsormr’s spirit. He attempted to kill us only to find us shielded by Hydalyn.” He paused, Minfillia had specifically told them not to tell people what had happened. And yet… The situation had changed. “He then sealed our Blessings of Light, in exchange he came with us, in that form.”

“I-“ Aymeric sounded guilty again, though it was not his fault for what had happened at the crashed airship, even if he had been the one to ask they explore it.

Haurchefant though, looked rather unsurprised. Amasar glanced at him curiously.

“Why didn’t you and Nijoh’ir tell us?” Alphinaud asked, he looked up at Amasar with open horror, “I- I thought you both still had it, you’ve been fighting primals without Hydalyn’s Blessing?”

Amasar looked down at him, one brow raised, “Minfillia told us not to say anything. It would cause ‘panic’ among the Scions.”

Alphinaud grimaced at that, Amasar looked to Aymeric, “we were told not to tell you about this for fear of accusations of Heresy.”

Aymeric’s smile was bitter, “it’s done so much to help you.” He let out a sigh, “what is his opinion on all this?”

“He’s been simply watching,” Amasar replied, “though he seems to sympathize with Nidhogg’s rage, he did not express disapproval of our choices.”

Aymeric nodded before he slumped in exhaustion, “I understand your concerns but rest assured, this will not change our opinions of you.” His gaze drifted over to Haurchefant, “or rather, has not.”

Haurchefant smiled slightly, “ah, I have been found out.”

“Nijoh’ir told you?” Alphinaud sounded hurt, Amasar was only surprised that Nijoh’ir hadn’t told him that Haurchefant knew.

“Shortly after the banquet Nijoh’ir explained to me the full story,” Haurchefant nodded and left it at that. Amasar glanced at Sid and Rielle, Sid simply shrugged.

Count Edmont got to his feet, “if you do not mind, I would like to speak to my son in private.” Haurchefant got to his feet as well, setting Fi on the seat he had left. Count Edmont turned to the rest of them, “by all means, if there is something I can do though pray ask.”

Aymeric stood, Lucia and Estinine joining him, “we should see to what remains of the Temple Knights and the Dragoons. Ishgard needs a leader and with… my father’s departure that falls to me.” He let out a rough sigh, “thank you Count Edmont, for you have done far beyond what could be asked of you.” He gave a bow before the trio headed out, Amasar gave a small nod to them, Estinien paused long enough to catch Amasar’s attention.

“I’ll be along occasionally should there be any changes, or you need me.” He promised, Amasar gave him a small nod in thanks.

Aymeric glanced over his shoulder at Amasar, “do get some rest my friend, we can hold Ishgard together without you, I assure you.”

Anguish had his doubts but Amasar nodded, “I have little plans to leave.” Nijoh’ir was here and short of all the primals in Eorzea being summoned simultaneously Amasar was not leaving.

Sid got to his feet next, “I suppose Rielle and I should head back to the Forgotten Knight.” His eyes lingered on Amasar though.

“We have another guest room should you wish to stay,” Count Edmont offered, Sid looked to him in surprise, “you are friends and now deeply involved in this.”

Rielle hugged Mischief closer to her chest and looked up at Sid silently. He looked at her, and then at Amasar and gave a short nod.

“Thank you.” He looked to Amasar with a wry grin, “well then, could you show us to this room?”

Amasar reached for the triple triad board, but Emmanellian snagged it first with a grin, “I’ve got it, old boy, off with you.”

Amasar couldn’t argue with that, he gave Haurchefant friendly nod and got a quick smile in return, Alphinaud and Tataru seemed to be debating whether she should go back to the Forgotten Knight or not and Amasar was happy to leave them to it.

“Your room would be the one next to mine,” Amasar opened the door to his room and immediately Mauci shot out. Mischief wiggled out of Rielle’s arms to drop to the floor and bat at Mauci’s waving tail. The two Couerl kittens sniffed at each other before Mauci bowled Mischief over, the two began play fighting in the doorway.

Amasar gently nudged them into his room with one foot. Sid nodded and ruffled Rielle’s hair.

"Rielle is a young woman, she gets a room to herself."

"I agree." Amasar nodded, Rielle was old enough to need her own space though she’d be welcome in his room if she didn’t like being alone or nightmares.

"So, I'll sleep on the floor-"

" Absolutely not- "

"You cannot mean for me to sleep at the Forgotten Knight!"

"I would not, not in times like this!"

"Then where? As much as I'm sure the help would love it, I don't think my sleeping on any of the furniture in a sitting room would go over well."

"So take my room, it's next to Rielle's. If anything should happen, you'd be the first to know, and they'd have to pass your door first." It made perfect sense to Amasar.

"I'm not kicking the warrior of light out of his bloody room!"

"I don't think I'll be using it much-"

"I won't be responsible for you losing what little sleep you manage to get-"

"You two could share, you know."

" Rielle! "

" Sid! "

She stared up at him, her arms folded across her chest. For several moments they stared each other down and then she stuck her tongue out at Sid, grabbed Mischief and headed off to her room. Sid and Amasar stood side by side for a moment, Mauci weaving between Amasar’s legs to rub up against him.

Sid turned to Amasar, “surely you’re not going to try to fit both of us on one bed?” Normally, Amasar would agree, beds were rarely large enough for one Au Ra man let alone two.

However, in this case, Amasar simply signaled for Sid to follow him. Sid squinted at him but followed, always willing to trust Amasar’s judgement, to walk beside him as Amasar led them.

And it was worth it, In Amasar’s opinion, to see Sid’s face as he took in the large bed that Count Edmont had lent Amasar.

“This is a guest bed?” Sid stepped towards it, Amasar caught him to remind him to take his shoes and armor off, Sid shook his head but began to strip, Amasar turned to give him some privacy.

“I have some shirts should you need something to change into,” he offered, setting his katana carefully to the side before he began to undress himself, exchanging his bloody and singed clothes for cleaner garments.

“That would be helpful as I don’t exactly carry my wardrobe with me,” Sid grumbled, Amasar rolled his eyes and turned to hand Sid a shirt. The other Xaela stilled for a moment, before he continued to remove his armor, watching Amasar out of the corner of his eyes.

Sid’s dark scales were a sharp contrast to his pale skin, sprawling up his spine to expand over his shoulders. He was underweight, enough to be noticeable but not enough that he was emaciated. Scars were scattered over his skin, in some places even his scales seemed to be scarred, pale gray streaks continuing the pale scars on his skin.

Amasar said nothing, mostly because he did not trust what might come out of his mouth right now, he simply offered Sid his undershirt. Sid took it with a nod, grumbling about how no one in Eorzea knew how design clothes as he fought to get it on, Amasar bit his lip to stop himself from laughing and helped get it over his horns.

Sid’s grumbling cut off as Amasar’s hands settled on his chest, adjusting the shirt so it sat on Sid more comfortably and hadn’t caught on any scales.

“Thanks,” his voice was softer, the rough edge it usually carried gone for just this moment. Amasar nodded and while he knew he should step back, give Sid his space again, he lingered. He played with the shirt, that definitely did not need fixing, a bit longer, careful to keep his hands from straying too low even as he did.

Finally, he pulled away, to make his way to the bed, he lay down on his side as his horns would go through, the pillows and mattress otherwise.

Sid seemed hesitant, Amasar shifted back to make more room for him, there was enough space they didn’t have to touch in the bed. Sid’s face hardened and Amasar’s chest ached to see it. The other Xaela climbed into the bed with his back to Amasar.

After several moments of laying there stiff as a pair of trees when Sid sighed and asked.

“Amasar, is that your pet bat hanging from the chandelier?”

“Oh I was wondering where she went.”