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One More Chapter We've Yet to Write

Chapter Text

Galqar stood still as the two women examined him in his new clothes. The fabric was strange and itchy and caught on his scales, which hadn’t been properly oiled after they’d bathed him. The trousers were clearly not made to accommodate even his short tail, and the shoes were hard and uncomfortable. But the old man—the khagan of these strange people who were not of the Steppe—had told him to follow the women, that they would care for him, and so he did.

He’d struggled at first, when the men in iron came ashore and scooped him up from the beach. He’d kicked and bitten and tried to gore them with his half-grown horns like he’d been taught to do if the Jhungid or Kharlu or Buduga tried to take him, but they’d laughed at his attempts to fight, and now, because of the curiosity that was his curse, he was here, far from his family and his home and his people. Not alone, though. There was the old man, whose pale gold eyes were so very familiar, and when he smiled, Galqar could have sworn he’d known the man for longer than the eight summers of his life.

He had so many questions. He couldn’t ask them yet; only the old khagan understood his speech. The more the people around him spoke, though, the more he understood their words, but he was careful not to let them know that. Knowledge, his aunt the udgan often said, was power, and sometimes it was wisest to keep that power hidden.

“There!” The shorter of the two women smiled at him, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “He looks almost…”

“Human?” the taller woman said. She had pale yellow hair, and a pearl-like gem on her forehead like the khagan and the ship captain and the people with the long white coats who’d taken him from his home.

“I was going to say, ‘civilized,’” the short brown-haired woman said. Both of them were pale like the tales the Haragin told of the Kagon; Galqar wondered if they too feared Azim’s light.

The tall woman snorted. “That’s a bit of a stretch, especially with these things.” She flicked a finger against one of the boy’s horns, and the sound echoed painfully in his skull. He glared at her, and she laughed.

“Don’t like that, little savage?” She tapped his horn again, and this time, he leaned forward and bit her arm.

“Ow! You little—”

“Fabia, don’t.” The brown-haired woman stepped in front of him. “You heard what those medics said; His Radiance himself ordered him brought here and cared for. You might not get in trouble if you hit him, but I’m not a pureblood, and I don’t have your connections. Just…let it go, please.”

The pale-haired woman lowered the hand she’d raised to strike the boy. “Fine. Let’s just get him settled—did they bring food for the brat?”

The brown-haired woman beckoned to him. “Come here, little one.” He followed her into another room—he’d never dreamed any place could have this many different rooms!—with a high table covered with strange dishes. He hadn’t eaten in days, not since his captors had held him down and force-fed him on the iron ship, and now his stomach growled.

“You can have whatever you like, as much as you like,” she told him, and then, to the pale-haired woman, “What? He’s so skinny; he probably doesn’t get much to eat wherever he’s from.”

Galqar studied the food, and finally loaded the empty plate with something from each dish: poultry and meat in a sauce, fish, bread, and a mound of something white and starchy, and fruit and fresh greens. There was no rice or tea, but a pitcher proved to contain cold milk that he carefully poured into a mug. He looked around and frowned, not sure where to sit since there were no cushions on the floor, and the two women were just watching him, making no move to eat themselves.

“Have a seat, please,” the brown-haired woman said, gesturing at one of the chairs. Galqar stared at her. He was hardly an elder; why did she want him to take a chair?

Each tribe has their own customs, his mother had told him once, and when we share their tents, we must do as they do. Now please, Galqar, put on a shirt so that we can eat with my sisters. He swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat and climbed into the chair. It was hard and uncomfortable and his feet didn't reach the floor; there were no sticks either, only a dizzying array of spoons and what looked like tiny metal versions of the trident his father used when he was going after a big catch. Galqar decided that his mother's advice didn't apply when he didn't know how to do as this tribe did, and he used his hands to break off a piece of fish.

It was flaky and rather bland, but still better than anything he’d had since he’d been taken, and he had to force himself to eat slowly, taking care not to spill anything on his new clothes. The bones had been taken out, which was good since they’d filed his claws down after he'd scratched one of his captor’s faces. This made eating the poultry a bit tricky, but he managed to get all of the meat off the bones and crack them open for the marrow. Even if he hadn’t been ravenous, he wasn’t going to be rude and waste anything.

He was using a piece of bread to sop up the sauce on the meat, concentrating on the flavors of the food and not how strange and wrong it felt to be eating all by himself, when he heard one of the women make a noise. He glanced over and saw that the brown-haired woman had a hand over her mouth like she was going to be sick, and the pale-haired woman was laughing. At him.

So he was doing something wrong. Galqar bit the inside of his cheek with his sharp back teeth until he tasted blood. He would not cry in front of these strangers, no matter how much he wanted to. The pain helped him focus his anger into a plan.

If they’re going to laugh at me anyway, I might as well be comfortable, he thought, and he picked up his plate and cup and sat cross-legged on the floor. He looked up at the horrified women and bared his teeth in something resembling a smile.

“Thank you,” he said carefully, trying to match the sounds to the words he’d heard them use. “Food is good.” He picked up a long, thin green thing—some sort of vegetable?—and took a big bite. The crunch was satisfying.

Chapter Text

Amaurot was still and quiet, the streets empty as the remaining residents sought shelter in their rebuilt homes, desperately trying to pretend that all would be back to normal soon.

Hades knew better.

“Math doesn’t lie”, Phoebus told him once during an argument, and the calculations for their current predicament held only stark truths. Fewer than half of their people had survived the Doom. Of those, half had given their life energies to bring Zodiark into existence. Half of those remaining had sacrificed themselves to grant Him the power to make the star habitable again. The current population of Amaurot was approximately ten percent of what it had been before the Doom.

That was just not enough to repopulate the star. They could relax the reproductive regulations to encourage procreation, but after thousands of years the majority of their people had developed a preference for soul-to-soul contact over physical copulation. Changing such an entrenched mindset for an already traumatized population would be slow, difficult work.

Mitron, Fandaniel, and some of the other members of the Convocation were working on developing Concepts for sentient lifeforms that could mature and reproduce quickly. Even if such beings could be used to repopulate the star, they would still need to be cultivated and taught and guided, and there were no longer enough of their people to serve as proper stewards.

Once, he would have taken the problem to Phoebus, to discuss over dinner and perhaps a bit of physical copulation. But Hades had barely spoken to his lover since Phoebus took off Hyperion’s mask and walked away from the Convocation. The last time Hades had seen him was at the Rememberance for all those lost—his twin sister among them. Phoebus had nodded briefly and then vanished into the crowd, looking like everyone else in his white mask and black robes, save for the distinctive color of his soul.

Hades closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. Even now he wondered if they—if he—had done the right thing. Phoebus had insisted that the Zodiark Concept was a mistake, that the star’s very aether was so corrupted that Creation magic on that scale would inevitably backfire…but he couldn’t explain how, or offer a feasible alternative. In the end, Lahabrea’s words and reputation convinced the rest of the Convocation that Zodiark was the only solution.

He needed to talk to someone. Despite his limitations, Hythlodaeus had a unique ability to see to the heart of a problem. He wasn’t ignoring Hades like Phoebus was, but he’d been busy with the rebuilding committee, using his shielding magics to keep damaged structures from collapsing. Lahabrea would sneer and accuse him of being compromised by his feelings for Phoebus, and Elidibus would say the same thing, only more politely.

He paused in front of the Capitol, and wandered inside to the Convocation Chamber. The hall was empty, but the violet-hued aetheryte shard spun at the base of Zodiark’s statue. Before he could change his mind, Hades reached for it.

The area they called the Chrysalis existed outside of space and time—it had to, in order to allow for Zodiark’s creation. Here he was Emet-Selch, Keeper of the Immutable Truths, the Architect of Amaurot, and invoking his sigil of power, he knelt before his god.

You are troubled, my son. Zodiark’s voice was the essence of calm, of clarity. Emet-Selch felt disconnected from his body, watching himself dispassionately. You bear the weight of your people on your shoulders. You mourn both the dead and the living the selfless and the selfish. But in your grief, know that as you created Me, so I am.

The living and the selfish was Phoebus, and for an instant, Emet-Selch resented the slander, but he set the feeling aside. “Forgive your servant, my Lord, but I do not understand.”

Zodiark’s aura pulsed, and Emet-Selch felt His amusement. As Lahabrea gave Me my form, and Elidibus my voice, you gave Me the truth of my existence: to rewrite the laws of reality. I am Darkness, and nothing—not even death—is beyond my grace. I can return those you have lost.

Emet-Selch’s heart stopped beating for a moment. “You can restore our people?”

Life sustains me. Grant me sufficient vital energy, and as I halted your Doom and remade the land, so too will I resurrect the ones who sacrificed themselves for Me.

Math doesn’t lie. But perhaps if you change the variables… “My Lord, must more of our people die to bring back the rest?”

Zodiark seemed to shrug. Life is aether is life. The source matters not, though all souls do not weigh equally. Emet-Selch felt the enormous pressure of His full attention being brought to bear. The souls of lesser beings are as ephemeral as their lives, and must needs be taken in greater numbers. Other souls weigh heavy, like the one that keeps you from granting Me the full measure of your devotion.

“My Lord, I—”

Zodiark’s wrath was like a living thing that threatened to crush him. You cannot lie to me, Emet-Selch. You know of whom I speak. I will return your fallen for an equal weight in living aether, and for Hyperion’s wisdom added to my being, for his reverence and worship. I will be whole, as will you, my beloved son. His tone gentled, and Emet-Selch couldn’t remember why he’d ever doubted Him.

It made perfect sense. The Convocation would oversee the creation of sentient, ensouled lifeforms. Once they’d seeded the star with sufficient quantities of new life, it would be offered up to Zodiark in exchange for the lives of their beloved dead. In the meantime, Hades would sit down with Phoebus and explain why he’d been wrong to walk away, to make him understand and apologize and help them restore the star to the way it had been. As a show of good faith, he’d even see to it that Artemis was among the first to be brought back.

For those I have lost, Hades promised himself, For those I can yet save.

Chapter Text

“This will be easy, you said.”

“Shut up, Julien.”

“Just a quick job clearing out some caves, you said. No need to wait for Klyn and Khorsa to recover; we can take care of it with five of us.”

“Shut up, Julien—” Galqar paused to impale a banemite on his spear. “Come on, it’s this way.”

Midnight frowned, “Are you sure? I think we’ve been here before.”

Galqar nodded. “We’re good—let’s do this.”

Five Esunas later, a glassy-eyed Galqar vomited in a corner, still suffering from taking a morbol’s breath attack directly to the face. They had backtracked and walked right into a nest of seedlings and goldvines that they’d missed on their first time through the area.

“Sorry,” Galqar muttered when he could breathe again. “Got a bit turned around. We should keep going.”

Qih’sae threw up his hands, tail lashing in irritation. “Do you have any idea where we are? Because wandering around lost in these piss-colored caves with man-eating plants is not my idea of a good time! ‘Dead adventurers—’”

“‘Spend no coin,’” everyone else chorused, except Galqar, who was busy coughing.

“We should go back, and wait for Klyn’s leg to heal up or Khorsa to get over the flu, whoever recovers first,” Julien said, grudgingly tossing another Esuna at Galqar.

Midnight folded her arms. “No way. I am not fighting my way through this place again. Let’s just finish it already.”

Ears flattening, Qih’sae glared up at the rogue. “Do you have any idea which way to go? Because fearless leader over there is clearly lost—”

“Not lost,” the Au Ra growled. “I’m just a little disoriented.” The other four party members just looked at him, until finally his broad, armored shoulders slumped.

“Okay, I’m…not sure where we are, exactly.”

Julien covered his face with one elegant, long-fingered hand. “Right. Executive decision: we’re leaving now.”

There was a rush of air, then heat, and then a pack of morbol seedlings who’d popped up out of nowhere was incinerated by a massive fireball. Four pairs of eyes looked down at the Lalafell mage, who sheathed his staff on his back and drew himself up to his full three fulms.

“Julien, I realize this is not optimal, but you agreed to it, so you’ll just have to adjust,” Zizig told the conjurer. He turned to the Au Ra. “Galqar, I love you like a brother, but you have no sense of direction, so someone else is going to have to take point—I volunteer, if there are no objections.”

Qih’sae and Midnight shook their heads, and Zizig stalked to the front of the party.

“Right,” he said, “Let’s get this nonsense over with.”

Chapter Text

Sokhatai blamed herself. Oh, she blamed her brother too: he should have known better than to go off on his own. But he’d been doing that since he could crawl, constantly chasing after shiny crystals or pretty fish or even rocks that he thought looked interesting. As the elder by five years, she’d accepted that it was her responsibility to watch him, and she’d failed at that.

Galqar had been the first to spot the ship, big and dark with no sails, trailing smoke as it approached Haragin Iloh, traveling fast and against the wind. The two of them had run to tell their parents, who looked alarmed, and quickly packed up their fishing gear and went to the encampment’s central yurt, calling out to others as they went. Her brother dragged his feet, and Sokhatai could have hung a bucket off his bottom lip. His favorite stories had always been the ones about distant lands and strange people, and he clearly resented not being able to indulge his gods-cursed curiosity.

As soon as everyone had gathered in the great tent, the elders, including Sokhatai and Galqar’s parents, huddled at one end and whispered among themselves. Even with her excellent hearing, Sokhatai could only make out the occasional word: “Doma” and “Yanxia” and “ironmen” most frequent among them. Then Ghunan insisted loudly that he wasn’t afraid of any strange outlanders, and if he hadn’t sliced open his hand while gutting his catch just before he was to face Bardam’s Mettle, he’d take his yol out right now to see what’s what. Unimpressed, Sokhatai glanced over at her brother—who wasn’t there.

Then, outside, she heard the sounds of clanking metal, and a child’s high-pitched wailing. Sokhatai rose, but Ogul, her friend and mentor, blocked her way. Her father had his arms around her mother, who had a hand over her mouth, black and silver eyes—Galqar’s eyes—wide with horror. Most of the other tribe members looked grim, though Sokhatai noted a few who seemed a bit smug, the ones who thought they coddled and indulged her brother too much.

Her brother’s voice rose to a shriek before being cut off abruptly. The clanking metal noises receded, and then there was silence, outside and inside the yurt.

Finally Yesuntei udgan, her father’s sister, rose from her carved wooden chair and walked out of the yurt, followed by Sokhatai’s parents and the rest of the Haragin. Sokhatai ran after her aunt as she made her way down the beach. The tide hadn’t come in, so the small footprints at the water’s edge were easy to see. Not far from the encampment, the sand had been churned up by something large and flat—or several somethings—coming ashore.

Something sparkled, catching Sokhatai’s attention. She reached down and plucked the bauble from the wet sand, and her heart sank. It was a green stone on a broken black leather cord; the gem was engraved with a symbol that looked like a walking stick. The Doman trader who sold it said it came from the far-distant lands of the west. Her father had allowed Galqar to pick something for himself on his first trip to Reunion a few moons ago, just after his eighth nameday, and he’d chosen this. Sokhatai had asked why, and he’d shrugged and said, “It felt right.”

She held it out to her mother. Altani fell to her knees, sobbing; Jedei embraced her again, face buried in his wife’s hair as he, too, wept for his son. Sokhatai stared down at the sand and fought back tears of her own.

“This is not your burden to bear, child,” her aunt said, putting a hand on Sokhatai’s shoulder. Yesuntei looked like she was twenty years older than her brother, instead of two years younger, the powerful magic she wielded aging her before her time. Sokhatai had often wondered if the same would happen to Galqar when it came time for him to succeed her as boö; now she’d never know.

Yesuntei leaned close and rubbed a horn against Sokhatai’s. “You will see him again, I promise. When your brother was born, I looked at the stars and spoke to the sea, and I saw that the fire of his soul would burn brightly, a light to guide others in dark times. I also saw the hunger for knowledge and secrets, the curiosity that burns in him like a dark flame, leading him to both despair and glory. You are not to blame for your brother’s choices, least of all his choice to follow the course Nhaama has charted for him to follow.”

For the next eighteen years, Sokhatai held her aunt’s words close to her heart, until one day in Reunion when she spotted a tall young man with her father’s brown skin and dark red hair, and her mother’s silver-ringed black eyes.

“Sokti?” he whispered, using the pet name from their childhood, when he couldn’t say her name properly.

She didn’t mean to punch him quite as hard as she did, but he deserved it.

Chapter Text

Aymeric took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. He still wasn’t sure if the entire building shouldn’t be torn brick from brick and the remnants used to build housing. Even if it had been solely his choice, he knew that wasn’t feasible. Lucia had pointed out that while the Allagan relics the Empire sought had never existed, the deepest levels of the Vault still held secrets that should not be hastily revealed.

It was just that he remembered walking through those gates to confront his father, calling him that for the first time only to have his worlds flung back at him mockingly. He remembered the contempt in Zepherin’s eyes and the unholy hunger in Charibert’s, the pain and the smell of burning flesh, remembered Lucia, Estinien, and Haurchefant fighting their way down to the dungeons to save him. He remembered pleading with Thordan, and seeing something flash out of the corner of his eye.

He remembered the sound the Warrior of Light made when the light faded from Haurchefant’s eyes.

Aymeric had dreaded telling Galqar the news, fearing that the reminder of what had happened there would damage their new, fragile rapport. He’d just nodded, as he so often did, and said, “You’re still Lord Commander, right? If I need to find you, I’ll stop by your office at the Congregation.” Polite as usual, and none the less unyielding for it.

It was just a building, after all. Like their faith, and the entire history of their nation, what had been should never be forgotton, but could be reclaimed.

Lord Speaker Aymeric de Borel continued up the long staircase to what had once been the archbishop’s throne room, now the Halls of Parliament for the Republic of Ishgard.

Chapter Text

He had ordered the aetherytes destroyed when the city was evacuated, so when Aymeric returned to Ishgard he entered on foot from Falcon’s Nest, climbing over the piles of rubble in front of the gate. The streets in Foundation were empty, all the inhabitants fled or turned. As he climbed to the Pillars, he spotted one or two white figures who observed his passing, but they made no move to interfere.

“He’s searching for you,” Lucia had told him before she could no longer speak, black eyes staring through him. “When I fought him, he kept asking where you were.”

In the end, Aymeric had run her through. Poisoned food was fine for some, but she deserved a soldier’s death. Vidofnir herself lit her pyre. When Lucia’s ashes were scattered on the winds of the Churning Mists, Aymeric risked using the Zenith aetheryte to travel to the Winding Stones and inform the last of the Scions of his plan.

“It’s too risky,” Krile argued. “If anything goes wrong, and we lose you…”

Aymeric gave her a thin smile. “I have tried to lead what remains of our people, and any others who are willing to shelter beneath Hraesvelgr’s wings, but the current stalemate will not—cannot—last. Only his death can stop our star from being lost to the Light like the First.”

“Can you do it, though?” Krile said. “Can you really bring yourself to kill him?”

Aymeric was silent for a long time. Finally he said, “I once loosed an arrow at the heart of my dearest friend and lover. If I must do the same to end Galqar’s suffering, I will do so.”

There were more sin eaters in the Pillars, small groups congregating front of the ruined noble manors. Aymeric paused near the crumbling façade of House Fortemps, breath catching in his chest as a sin eater with Artoriel’s face cast in marble turned to look at him.

I will free you, Aymeric promised silently. I will free you all.

At last he stood at the entrance to the Vault. The gates were open; to his horror, Aymeric saw that they were guarded by a pair of all-too-familiar sin eaters. One curved her lips in a ghastly parody of a smile.

“At last, Brother,” the creature that had once been Alisaie said.

“He will be pleased.” The thing that was once Alphinaud bowed. Aymeric was tempted to strike them down and release them from this horror, but they’d learned early on that if the former Scions were slain, the Lightwarden would simply raise them again. Biting his lip until he tasted blood, Aymeric continued his ascent.

He met what remained of Urianger and Y’shtola on the next level; they nodded in acknowledgement but thankfully didn’t speak. At the pinnacle of the Vault, still as a statue, Thancred stood guard, a sin eater in the form of a young girl Aymeric didn’t recognize at his side. The mockery of Thancred smiled slightly and gestured with his gunblade to the platform where once, long ago, an airship had docked.

As Aymeric approached, he heard a girl’s voice in his head: Save us, please.

“Aymeric, finally you’re here!”

He stumbled then, staring, mind unable to process what he saw. A tall Elezen man beamed at him, arms outstretched, his black mail armor whole and unmarred.

“Haurchefant?” he whispered.

“I missed him, so I brought him back.” The deep voice resonated throughout the Vault, making the floor shake under Aymeric’s feet. He stared up, and up, and up at the monstrosity that he’d once loved.

Elpis, people had named him; it meant “Hope” in one of the ancient tongues. It was bitterest irony, for the man who had been a savior and a liberator now epitomized despair. No one could stand against him and the sin eaters he commanded, former friends and comrades turned into minions. After unleashing the Flood of Light on the First, he’d returned to the Source, where he’d razed Garlemald before turning west.

“I’ve been waiting for you, my love,” Elpis said. He wore gold armor that matched his horns, large and curling. The once warm brown skin was white, and while his eyes were still black, the silver limbal rings had turned gold. The four wings extending behind him were made of swords instead of feathers. As Aymeric drew closer, the Lightwarden’s form shifted, shrinking until he was close to Galqar’s size again.

“I missed you so much,” he said, the beloved, familiar voice sounding so wrong. “You ran away from me, but I forgive you. I’ll always forgive you. My Aymeric.”

He held out his arms, and Aymeric went to him, Naegling falling from nerveless fingers. He felt ice-cold lips on his own, and bladed wings sliced him open as they folded around him, holding him close. He didn’t notice when the blood that dripped on the floor turned from red to white.

Chapter Text

It was either a tradition or a habit that once a week, Galqar would visit House Borel for dinner. Occasionally he brought gifts, often in the form of cakes or pies, since in addition to being a master culinarian, he shared Aymeric’s fondness for sweets. When he visited during the Rising, he brought a bottle of Realm Reborn Red, a personal gift from master vintner Byrglaent that he insisted on sharing with Aymeric and pouring himself. Another time he prepared tea in the traditional Steppe fashion, with yak milk, butter, and salt; thankfully he wasn’t offended when Aymeric could only manage a few sips.

Galqar told stories of life on the Steppe and in Limsa Lominsa, which seemed equally strange and exotic to Aymeric. In turn, he described growing up in Ishgard, tales that Galqar listened raptly to, even though Aymeric thought them dreadfully dull in comparison. It became comfortable and familiar and incredibly awkward, as the weight of things neither of them was willing to speak of grew heavy between them: Thordan, dead in an ancient research facility. Dozens of Temple Knights slaughtered by an unseen hand amidst rumors of a dark-armored avenger stalking the Brume. Estinien and his secrets, and his history with Galqar long before he was known as the Warrior of Light. Galqar himself, the long braids he’d worn when he first came to Ishgard cut off, curving black lines tattooed on his face after Haurchefant’s death. The way his silver limbal rings almost glowed in the firelight, wondering what it would feel like to touch the places where black scales met brown skin. What it would be like to kiss him.

Aymeric found himself unable to banish that last that thought one night, when they’d fallen silent in front of the fire. Galqar was biting his bottom lip and apparently finding his own hands fascinating. He looked impossibly young; with everything that he’d experienced and accomplished, it was easy to forget that he was a full eight years Aymeric’s junior.

“Aymeric, I...” Galqar’s voice was hesitant, unsure, a far cry from the man who’d dared challenge Hraesvelgr on his own ground. “I...have a confession to make.”

“You can tell me anything, my friend--you know that.” Aymeric smiled, his heart beating a double-time waltz in his chest.

“It’s…Twelve, this is hard. Look, I lo—I’ll never forget Haurchefant. He meant the world to me, and sometimes I think—never mind. The point is that he’s gone, and I know I’ve done some…um…anyway, I feel like I would rather be here than—I mean, with you—”

“May I kiss you?” Aymeric asks. It’s blunt and artless, but things were rapidly moving from awkward to a new standard for embarassment. And he very much did want to kiss him.

Galqar blinked, then chuckled, though there was little humor in it. “It’s not easy, but if you really want…” He looked up, eyes wide and hopeful.”

Aymeric replied without hesitating. “I really want.”

It wasn’t the most graceful, most elegant, or most romantic kiss of all time. Four ilms’ difference in height might not seem like much under ordinary circumstances, but Aymeric couldn’t just tilt his head to the side without losing an eye. The bony plating under Galqar’s chin poked into Aymeric’s jaw, and it wasn’t entirely comfortable. They had to carefully maneuver to avoid painfully crushing Aymeric’s ears against Galqar’s horns. But when they finally found the right angle, so close that Aymeric could feel the brush of eyelashes against skin, they pressed their mouths together and then nothing else mattered.

Chapter Text

The voyage east had been a waste by almost any measure. The Confederacy was willing to provide a discount on the Ruby Tithe to vessels flying Limsan colors as a “professional courtesy”, but they had no interest in a formal alliance. Then they’d run across a stalled Garlean ship and boarded her with little resistance, only for the captain to inform them that she would destroy her ship rather than let it fall into the hands of “savages”.

Sthalfalk stared down at the boy curled up in the hammock, asleep. It was thanks to him that the Wyvern and her crew had lived to sail home. The Garlean captain had offered him a deal: take the child they’d imprisoned in the hold—and nothing else—and she’d allow the boarding party to leave safely. When Sthalfalk asked why, she’d said, “My crew and I swore an oath. The boy didn’t. I should have left him where we found him; I’ll not go to whatever awaits me with his death weighing on my soul.”

He was a scrawny little thing, Sthalfalk thought. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, naked as his nameday when his partner brought him out of the hold. Copper Blade looked ready to spare the Garleans the trouble of killing themselves by eviscerating the lot of them, and when they got the boy back to the Wyvern, Sthalfalk understood why. He’d been beaten—the ship’s conjurer thought they’d used a lightning-infused rod—leaving precise, even marks that cut across brown skin and black scales. The end of his short tail was bandaged; he’d explained in halting Common that the Imperial bastards had cut part of it off to see if it would grow back.

“So what are we going to do with him?”

Sthalfalk didn’t jump out of his skin, but it was a near thing. Copper could move in absolute silence when he wanted to, and he usually wanted to, just to mess with his partner. Sthalfalk pretended he hadn’t been startled at all, and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Don’t know. You’re sure none of his people are anywhere near us?”

Copper shook his head. “Black scales and horns mean Xaela—nomads from the Azim Steppe to the north of Doma. Twelve only know what the Garleans were doing there.”

Sthalfalk frowned. “Maybe I could ask Styrmswysta…”

“I like your balls attached to your body—where they won’t be if you try to foist a kid off on your sister,” Copper said.

Sthalfalk reached down and very gently touched a small black horn. The boy twitched a little but didn’t wake.

“Petra hit him with a Repose to make sure he stays asleep,” Copper told him. “He fought like hell when I took him out of that fucking cage—he’s fearless. Xaela are like that.” He paused, then added, “Nobody at home—hells, anywhere in Eorzea I can think of—is going to know what to do with him.”

In the scramble to put as much distance between the Wyvern and the Garlean ship as possible, Sthalfalk hadn’t realized at first that the boy was still on deck. He’d started to yell at someone to take him below when the Garlean ship exploded. The boy stood and watched, not gleeful or satisfied that his tormenters were dead, just…solemn.

He was an odd kid, not even counting the scales, horns, and tail. Tough and brave, he seemed like a fighter; Sthalfalk could respect that.

“You know…” Copper said, examining his fingernails, “When I spoke with Merlwyb right before we left, she talked about her plans if she wins the Trident. About how things will have to change, since we can’t fight the Empire on our own. How she’ll need those she can trust around her, in the city.”

Sthalfalk huffed a laugh. “Did she, now.”

“And, well…we’re neither of us getting any younger, and piracy’s not a game for old men.”

“Speak for yourself there, Grandsire.”

Copper punched him in the arm. He was five years older than Sthalfalk, and occasionally sensitive about it. “I’m just saying that if you had an interest in settling down a bit, maybe raising a family…I might think about saying yes next time you asked to make it formal.”

“Come here, you.” Sthalfalk reached out and pulled Copper in close. “Going to finally let me make an honest man of you? Two retired pirates and our foreign son?”

Copper grinned and leaned his head against Sthalfalk’s shoulder. “Yeah. That works.”

Chapter Text

Before the Sundering, Hyperion had been arrogant and pretentious, flaunting his individuality in a way that was entirely unbecoming of a Convocation member. His so-called brilliance was confined to abstract theoretical nattering that had no practical applications and did nothing to benefit Amaurot as a whole. His only true gift was the extraordinary aetheric capacity that allowed him—when he could be bothered to exert himself—to channel prodigious quantities of aether, a talent he’d used, in the end, to destroy everything.

Lahabrea was grimly pleased to see him reduced to a collection of shattered soul fragments in a fragile mortal shell, pathetically limited and unaware of everything he’d lost. He would have been more pleased to see Hyperion dead and returned to the Lifestream to start over yet again as a useless child, unable to interfere while others worked to restore the world to it’s rightful state. It would be simple enough; he was barely more than half of what he’d once been. Lahabrea could end his ephemeral existence with a snap of his fingers, snuffing out the flickering candle of his mortal life and removing Hydaelyn’s champion and creator as an obstacle to Zodiark’s resurrection.

Emet-Selch would be furious.

Lahabrea had never understood their relationship. Emet-Selch was a genius, respected throughout Amaurot and the lands beyond for his skill and diligence. He could have bonded with anyone in the city, but he chose Hyperion and held fast to him, even when he betrayed them all, when he betrayed Hades, breaking their bond when he broke the world. For thousands of years Emet-Selch had sought out the shards of his faithless lover’s soul, only to fall into despair when Her grip on him proved too strong to fight.

And now, Emet-Selch had convinced himself that this boy was whole enough to be raised to his former office. Worse yet was the way he doted on him, treating him like he wasn’t a shattered husk but an actual person, even taking him to his bed. The thought made Lahabrea shudder; Emet-Selch’s habit of doing that with mortals was, in Lahabrea’s opinion, one of his few real flaws.

He watched from the shadows as the boy sparred with one of his fellow Tribuni—the blond idiot who fancied himself a scientist. Even dimmed as it was, Hyperion’s soul still shone brighter than any of the mortals around him, flaring when he shaped his aether into a spell and knocked the blond off his feet. He laughed, then, and reached out a hand to the other boy, pulling him up and into a rough embrace.

There was no end to Hyperion’s capacity for betrayal, it seemed. The affections—the love—of one of the greatest souls on this fractured star was his, and yet he chose to dally with another half-broken thing.

Lahabrea smiled. Emet-Selch should know of this, and Lahabrea would see to it that he did. He watched as the two mortals clumsily tossed aside their weapons and armor, Hyperion’s vessel shoving the blond against a wall. He would observe everything, and he would remember, and he would share that memory with Hades. Perhaps he would finally realize the truth.

Chapter Text

“Everyone knows where they’re going, right? Plot 22’s our first choice, so I’ll head there. Sechen, you’re on 9. If we can’t get either of those, Galqar, you do whatever it takes to secure 14. The rest of you lot hang back, but keep your linkpearls on in case something goes pear-shaped.” Qih’sae glanced around at the rest of the Crimson Coeurls to confirm they were all on the same page.

Klyn scowled. “You’d think they’d make it easier for us to get a plot, given that we’ve got the Godsblessed Warrior of Fucking Light here.”

“It’s Kugane,” Midnight pointed out, “That’s all Western nonsense as far as they’re concerned; Gal’s just another adventurer—no offense.”

Galqar shrugged. “None taken.” He frequently missed the days when he was just another adventurer, and wasn’t carrying the entire weight of Hydaelyn on his shoulders. He stood and stretched, checking to make sure his lance was in easy reach. “Looks like they’re about to open the gates; we should get in place."

A veritable mob of adventurers was pressed against the gates. The atmosphere was a bizarre cross between a festival and a military encampment, with vendors selling food, gear repairs, and furnishings for houses people might or might not get. Several minions wandered around aimlessly while their owners competed in an impromptu Triple Triad tournament between three different free companies.

A shrill whistle blew, and a small Hingan woman bellowed in a voice that could have belonged to a grown Roegadyn, “Honored adventurers! The new residential district of Shirogane will open shortly for the purchase of housing lots. We appreciate your investment in our fair city, but please be aware that the bakufu and the port of Kugane are not responsible for any injuries or deaths resulting from the sale of any plot. Thank you for your consideration.”

“Okay, fingers crossed, and think positive thoughts.” Qih’sae strummed a chord on his harp. A few moments later the low tones of a horn sounded, and the gates of Shirogane opened. Adventurers surged forward like a pack of racing chocobos.

“I see it; got a clear path and—Matron’s Tits, where’d you come from? You little shit—” Qih’sae’s voice came over the linkpearl. “I didn’t even see her, dammit!”

“I’m good!” No sooner had Sechen said it than the sounds of scuffling could be heard, followed by an indignant yelp. “Let go of my tail you whoreson bastard!

Galqar sighed. It was up to him, like always. He could see their second backup plot not far away. A smirking Miqo’te ran past him, heading in the same direction.

He wasn’t the fastest in the free company; quite the opposite. But he was born on the Steppe and raised by pirates, and he wasn’t afraid to cheat. Galqar unslung his lance, planted his feet, and called on his inner dragon to leap over the stunned Miqo’te. He landed in front of the purchase sign, slammed his fist on the button to open the payment box, and dropped the heavy pouch of gil inside. Seconds later, the white orb hovering over the sign changed to red, indicating that the purchase had been registered.

“Got it,” he told the others. “Plot Fourteen, Shirakumo Hot Springs is the new home of the Crimson Coeurls.”

Chapter Text

Galqar stared nervously at the wax tablet in front of him.

Yesuntei udgan once told him he would learn the secret language when he was older and could tell the tribe’s stories from memory. Stories were everything to the Haragin, and the shaman’s charge was to know them all, including the ones that were never told. Those were inscribed on scrolls and stored in bone tubes, passed on from each shaman to their apprentice. Among their tribe, only those blessed by the Dusk Mother with the gift of magic were taught to read and write.

Here, things were different. Galqar wanted to understand his new home, so one evening he asked his new fathers if they would shared stories of their people with him. After looking a bit bemused, the red one, Copper Blade, pulled something off a shelf: leaves of paper, stacked and bound in leather. When he opened it, Galqar could see the marks of writing, neat and even. He listened raptly as Copper told him a story from the book about Llymlaen, goddess of the winds and guardian of the great city on the sea that was his new home.

The next night before bed his blue father, Sthalfalk, read him a different story from the book, this one with drawings to go along with the words. It became a ritual; each night, his fathers would take turns reading to him. Sometimes they’d read together, with Sthalfalk and Copper using different voices. Occasionally Galqar would look over their shoulders and try to make out the words. When Sthalfalk noticed him peeking, he frowned. “ You don’t know your letters, lad?”

Galqar shook his head. “Only udgan knows secret language. She says—said—I learn when I become older and better at magic.”

Hi fathers stared at each other, and then at him. “You can do magic?” Copper asked gently.

Galqar nodded. “A little. Not much now; Yesuntei udgan said I shouldn’t unless I have to.” He bit his lip and looked down. “I tried when the iron—when the Imperials came, but I could only make a little spark.”

Sthalfalk crouched down so he could look Galqar in the eye. “No shame in losing that battle, lad; what matters is that you have the b—the courage to fight them. And we can see that you have proper weapons for when you face those Imperial dogs again, right?”

Galqar looked confused, and Copper rolled his eyes. “What your less handsome and intelligent father means is that there are people here who can teach you to use your magic, when you’re a bit older. You’ll need to learn to read and write before then, though, if it’s really something that you want.”

“Yes, please.” Galqar didn’t have to think twice. It wouldn’t be the same as learning his tribe’s secret language, but he would know more things, and that was always exciting.

He’d picked up spoken Eorzean quickly; reading was simply a matter of memorizing the symbols that went with each sound. Once he understood the alphabet, Copper brought him a wax tablet and stylus so he could practice writing.

Copper wrote something on a piece of paper, then showed it to Galqar, who picked up his stylus. It felt awkward in his right hand, so he switched to his left when Copper nodded in approval. Carefully he pressed the stylus into the wax, trying his best to copy the letters in front of him. When he’d finished, he showed it to his fathers.

“Very good, lad. Now, what does it say?”

Carefully he sounded out the letters. “Galqar. It’s my name.”

Copper and Sthalfalk both grinned. “That it is, lad,” Sthalfalk said, “That it is. We’ve got a proper scholar on our hands.”

That night Galqar dreamed of going home to the Steppe, of finding Haragin Iloh and learning all the stories he hadn’t heard and writing them down in the language of his people, and in Eorzean, so he could share them with the men who’d saved him.

Chapter Text

Galqar swore he was never going to drink again. His head was pounding and everything ached from his horns to the tip of his tail. He was still in his clothes from last night; when he finally extricated himself from bed he had to dig through his dresser for a pair of clean trousers. He ran his claws through his tangled hair—he’d been too tired to braid it—and padded into the main room.

Copper Blade—no, Ken’ichi; he’d told Galqar his birth name the night before—was asleep on the sofa. Galqar had attempted to drag him to the bedroom, but he’d quickly abandoned the effort and settled for tucking a blanket around him. He was still asleep and snoring, so Galqar tiptoed past him and into the kitchen, which was a complete disaster. It seemed like they’d used evey pot and pan they had making all of Sthalfalk’s favorite dishes. He picked up a casserole dish with a mess of burnt caramel stuck to the bottom and made a face, wondering if a direct application of fire would be more effective than scouring. He held his breath, focused his energy, and…

…nothing. Well, not exactly nothing; he might have been able to light a candle with the flame he conjured, but not much more. As cathartic as last night’s talk had been, it hadn’t miraculously unlocked his magic. Sighing heavily, Galqar reached for the steel wool and began scrubbing.

He’d managed to make a bit of a dent in the chaos, put on the kettle, and even found a half-loaf of bread and some eggs that hadn’t gone into last night’s dessert and started on breakfast by the time Ken’ichi staggered in.

“Thal’s bloody balls,” he muttered, running his fingers through his black hair and making it stand on end. “Looks like we made a right mess last night, eh?”

“Yeah, we kind of did.” Galqar’s smile was a little hesitant, broadening when his father returned it. “Breakfast will be up soon.”

Even with only the two of them, the kitchen was a bit small for a full-grown male Roegadyn and a mostly-grown male Au Ra. It was less crowded than it had been, but today, at least, Galqar could sit with that thought and gently set it aside while he washed the rest of last night’s dishes. Ken’ichi dried and put everything away; by the time the kettle whistled and the eggs and toast were ready, the kitchen looked like it belonged in a civilized household. They ate in silence, but for the first time in the year since Carteneau, the silence wasn’t crushingly heavy with things neither of them could say.

When they’d finished eating, Ken’ichi refilled their mugs. After taking a sip of his tea—Eastern-style green, which should have been a clue—he gave Galqar a long, level look. “I spoke with Carvallain yesterday.”

Galqar almost spit out his tea. Ken’ichi laughed in a way Galqar hadn’t heard since Sthalfalk left and didn’t come home.

“Relax, Galqar. I didn’t threaten him—well, maybe a little. He pointed out that you’re a man grown now, and you can choose who you want in your bed. Which is true…but he also mentioned that you had plans for yourself, and you were old enough to choose your own path without worrying about my approval.” Ken’ichi studied his son. “Is he right?”

Galqar’s tail twitched. “Um…yeah. I actually managed to speak with K'rhid Tia, and he suggested that I try to focus on a different school of magic—thaumaturgy or conjury—in order to unblock my aetheric channels. I’ve always had an affinity for fire and lightning, so I thought I’d start there. In Ul’dah, I mean.”

Ken’ichi exhaled slowly. “Makes sense. I won’t lie; I’m not that keen on you being alone in that snakepit, but from what I’ve heard, the Thaumaturges’ Guildmasters know their craft. And…well, you’re going to stand out no matter where you go, but Gridanians and their elementals can be touchy. Ul’dah is probably best. I’ll write to my brother; at the very least, he should be able to see to it that you have a place to stay.”

In all the time Galqar had known him, Ken’ichi had rarely spoken of his family. That he was willing to do so now spoke volumes. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Absolutely. Look, if the Arcanist’s Guildmaster surfaced long enough to point you in a particular direction, then obviously that’s where you’re meant to go. I may not know much about magic, but I know that you’re shite with an axe—”

“Thanks!” Galqar said, laughing, though it was absolutely true. His first visit to the Maurauder’s Guild had ended abruptly after he knocked the tip off of one of his own horns on his backswing.

Ken’ichi shrugged, unrepentent. “You’re too slow to be a proper rogue, let alone a shinobi even if I knew enough to teach you. You are a fair hand in the galley, but…” he shook his head. “Everyone’s always said you’ve got both the talent and the aptitude for the arcanist’s art. Sthalfalk would come back and haunt me forever if I kept you from realizing your potential. Go to Ul’dah, lad, and learn what you need to. Just don’t forget your old Da back in Limsa.”

Galqar got up and wrapped his arms around his father in a quick, tight hug. “Never.”

Chapter Text

“I cannot believe we have to participate in this farce,” Livia snarled.

Rhitahtyn shook his head. “His Radiance has chosen to assign his son to the XIVth; we should be honored.”

“Exactly!” Nero said. “Especially since we’re getting the savage rather than the madman.”

“Quiet, you idiot,” Rhitahtyn growled. “Lord van Baelsar will set you to cleaning latrines if he hears you, and he’d be right to do so.”

Safely hidden behind his helm, Nero rolled his eyes. Gaius could dance naked on top of the Royal Menagerie and Rhitahtyn would say he was right. “Fine, but you know it’s true.” The rumors about the crown prince had made their way through the Imperial legions all the way from Doma. “Unpredictable,” “unstable,” and “fucking batshit,” were among the nicer terms used to refer to the Emperor’s trueborn son.

His adopted son was much more interesting as far as Nero was concerned. The official story was that his father had saved the then-crown prince’s life at the cost of his own, and as thanks, the young aan was adopted into the Imperial family. Nero was hardly the only one to notice how the Emperor rarely seemed to acknowledge the boy, and how in the the official portraits of the family, he always stood apart. Recently, though, according to Nero’s informants in the capital, that had begun to change. At least once a week the licensed press ran another flattering article about the young prince’s skill with magic, his love of the theater, or his fondness for cats. While he wasn’t officially associated with a Senate party, he’d been seen speaking with members of the ascendant Populares factions, and there were rumors that the Emperor was trying to arrange a marriage for him, something he had yet to do for the crown prince.

As far as Nero was concerned, it all added up to an opportunity. The savage prince’s star was rising, and if he played things right, Nero could join him for the ride.

They assembled along with the rank-and-file in the inner palace courtyard, the three tribuni joined by van Baelsar. They stood at parade rest until the small shuttle landed and the escort of four legionaires exited, followed by the prince.

He was tall—taller than Nero—and instead of full helm and armor, he wore a long black coat of reinforced carbonweave, trimmed with red, and a silver half-mask that left his lower face bare and revealed blue-grey skin and a full mouth. The hilt of a gunblade stuck up over his right shouder. He stopped several paces in front of van Baelsar and saluted.

“Tribunus Laticlavius Glauca wir Galvus reporting for duty,” he said in the crisp accents of the capital.

Van Baelsar returned the salute. “The XIVth is honored by your service, my lord,” he said, before adding in much warmer tones. “Good to see you my boy; it’s been far too long.”

The prince smiled. “It has indeed.”

Nero scowled behind his mask. Of course the savage prince was another one of van Baelsar’s favorites—it was just his rotten luck.

< <> >

Nero hadn’t given up on his plan to win the young prince’s favor, but he seemed doomed to never catch him alone. In the end, Glauca came to him.

“I’ve heard about you, Scaeva—one of the top students at the Academy, and the best weapons designer in the Empire with Garlond gone.” Without the mask, he looked startlingly young, the silver ring around his midnight blue eyes making them look huge. White hair was tied back in a ponytail, and he carried a large, leather-bound book in one hand.

Nero bowed, clenching his teeth hard enough to crack them. “I do my poor best, my lord,” he began, but Glauca waved him off.

“Let’s skip the formalities; we’re the same rank, and I have no interest in false modesty. I need a favor, and you’re the only person I can think of who might be able to help.” He opened his book and pointed at an illustration of a man dressed all in red with a plumed hat, carrying a rapier in one hand and a glowing crystal in the other. “This is a red mage, one of the Crimson Duelists of Gyr Abania. They fight with blade and magic. I’ve been studying them for years, trying to work out how to adapt their techniques, and I think I have an idea.”

He looked at Nero and grinned. His front teeth looked normal, but the back ones were too sharp to be human. “I want you to make me a gunrapier.” Before Nero could say anything, Glauca waved a hand. “Not exactly, mind you—it wouldn’t balance properly, and I get that. I want something light, with a way to draw on my own aether to enhance my spellwork. Is that something you can do?”

Nero studied the drawing. A rapier would be too lightweight to balance the firing mechanism, and he’d have to do a ton of research to figure out how to design the crystal focus to amplify magic. It wouldn’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it would be an interesting challenge.

“It will take some time, and materials of course,” he said, “I believe I can design a prototype that will work.”

“Great!” Glauca bounced on his heels, looking excited at the prospect. “Get whatever materials you need, and I’ll pay for it. Get me a weapon I can use in the field and I will see to it that you’ll get the recognition you deserve.”

He gave Nero a long, measuring look that wasn’t at all subtle. Not that Nero minded; the sheer size of the man was impressive, and absolutely nothing about him brought up memories of Garlond.

There was more than one type of royal favor, and Nero certainly wasn’t averse to exploring all of his options.

Chapter Text

Galqar couldn’t sleep.

He had learned to sleep through his Roegadyn fathers having enthusiastic sex in the next room, so Gosetsu’s snoring didn’t bother him. He was used to sleeping on the ground, and unlike the trek across Dravania, the weather was pleasant and involved no Moogles so far. He considered the possibility of pre-battle jitters, and dismissed that as well. The stakes of tomorrow’s Naadam were high, yes, but unless Zenos suddenly showed up, he felt confident in his skill and that of his allies.

He turned his head from side to side, trying to get comfortable. The neck rests the Mol used were stuffed with wool and Steppe grasses; he missed the one he’d made from linen and rainbow cotton, dusted with lavender and gray fur from Aymeric’s cat.

Twelve Gods, he missed Aymeric.

He glanced over to where Hien lay still. The end to their sparring session the night before had been enjoyable enough, but Galqar wasn’t sure if he wanted to repeat it. He wasn’t jealous of all the attention Hien had garnered from the Buduga. And he certainly wasn’t spending any time thinking about that arrogant, obnoxious Oronir, or the way he’d felt strangely light-headed when they met, like an Echo vision was imminent. He wasn’t thinking about him at all.

Galqar got up, moving carefully to avoid stepping on any of his comrades, and slipped out of the yurt. Nhaama was full and smiling down on her children; by her light he could see a woman perched on a large rock near Mol Iloh, staring up at the sky.

“You’re up late, Sokti,” he told his sister. He could see her mouth curve in a smile, even though she didn’t look at him.

“And you’re still a night fish. Nervous about tomorrow?”

Galqar hopped up onto the rock beside her. “Not really, though…” he trailed off as he realized that wasn’t strictly true. “It is a little odd. I can’t remember any stories about a Haragin in the Naadam, except for the one about Geser and the fish.”

Sokhatai glanced at him. “You remember that one?”

“Of course. He only fought because an Oronir challenged him. Then he won with Nhaama’s aid, and as soon as the year was up, he went home, because he missed the sea.” Galqar picked at a scale on the back of his hand. “That’s not exactly a happy ending.”

“And what will you do, if you prevail?” Sokhatai asked. “Will you claim the Dawn Throne and stay on the Steppe, to rule as khagan?”

Galqar was silent for a long moment. “No,” he said finally, “If we win, then we have to liberate Doma. Once that’s done—however long it takes—we return west, to free Ala Mhigo from the Empire.”

“You will win,” Sokhatai said firmly, “And you will live, because I won’t go back to Haragin Iloh and tell our father and mother that I found you after all these years only for you to die in the Naadam. And you will come with me, because I also won’t tell them that you came all the way from the west but couldn’t be bothered to make a day’s flight to see them after they’ve mourned you for the last eighteen years!” She reached up to jab a clawed finger into his chest. It hurt.

“Sokti, I—”

“No. No excuses, Galqar. Yesuntei udgan told me that you had to face your zayaa, your fate, and that one day you would return. I’ve forgiven you for running off, but I will not forgive you if you do so again, without at least saying goodbye properly.”

Galqar realized suddenly why he felt jangled and on edge. For eighteen years he’d forced himself to think of Eorzea as home, and of his former life as the past, locked away and never revisited. Now—thanks to yet another breathtakingly stupid decision on his part—he had a second chance to see his first family again.

“You’re right,” he told his sister, “I’ll talk to the others and let them know I’ll need to go to the coast after the Naadam, win or lose.”

Sokhatai stared at him like he’d suddenly grown a second head. “Are you ill? Because I could swear you just admitted I was right about something without even arguing about it.”

“It is possible for people to grow up. Some more than others,” he said, resting his elbow on the top of her head.

This time when she punched him, at least it was in the arm.

Chapter Text

Glauca examined the prototype, sighting along the thin blade and holding the crystalline hilt up to the light. “Looks good,” he said, giving Nero a slight smile. “Shall we try it out?”

The small training room in the former Ala Mhigan royal palace was empty. Nero leaned against the wall and watched as Glauca stripped off his coat and tossed it on a nearby chair before giving the gunblade a few practice swings to test its balance. He stood stock still in front of a training dummy, but after observing him fight for the past several weeks, Nero knew to keep an eye on his tail. When it stopped moving, he struck.

He was far more graceful than his size suggested, darting in close to slash with the blade and stepping back to toss lightning and fire at the dummy. The fluid rhythm was like a dance, and despite himself, Nero was fascinated.

Glauca paused, his right arm outstretched with the gunblade parallel to the floor and his left raised. For a moment Nero thought he could see a faint glimmer as Glauca gathered his aether to cast. He heard a sound, a high-pitched humming that gradually grew louder, the hilt of the gunblade shading from clear to pink to red, and he realized with mounting horror what was about to happen.

“Drop it!” he screamed, just as Glauca released his spell. A massive fireball obliterated the training dummy.

“Fuck!” Glauca bellowed as he dropped the smoking gunblade an instant before the crystal in the hilt exploded. Nero fell—no, he was shoved, with seven fulms of Imperial prince landing on top of him.

I’m going to die, Nero thought, well past the edge of hysteria. I blew up the bloody prince, and if there’s anything left after Gaius is done with me, the Emperor will have my head on general principle.

“Ow.” Glauca rolled off Nero and sat up. “Shit. That’s going to hurt in a minute.” He peeled off the remnants of the carbonweave glove and examined his palm. After a moment he closed his eyes.

Nero knelt, head pressed almost to the floor. “My lord, I beg your forgiveness—”

“Shut up.” Nero did. Finally, he couldn’t stand it any more and he looked up. Glauca had his left hand clasped over the burned right, and this time Nero was sure: he saw a pale green glow as Glauca healed his injury.

Obeisance forgotten, Nero shook his head in disbelief. “Why do you even need a gunblade when you can do that?”

Glauca stood, swaying a little. “Takes a lot out of me. Especially healing.” He looked around the training room, at the ashes of the dummy, the large scorch mark on the stone wall, and the twisted metal remains of the gunblade. “Get that cleaned up, and salvage whatever you think you’ll need,” he ordered. “Meet me in my quarters when you’re done so we can discuss the next steps.”

Hands shaking ever so slightly, for once Nero did as he was told.

Chapter Text

Zizig closed the linkpearl connection and immediately went to find Midnight Heron. The Roegadyn was in the common room, curled up on the sofa wth a bowl of rice and a book.

“Galqar’s back from the east,” he told her. “He said he’s got some stuff to finish up in Limsa, and then he’ll stop here before heading to Ala Mhigo.”

“Finally,” she said, “I was afraid I was going to die of boredom or old age before he got back. We finishing this, then?”

Zizig shrugged. “Apparently a lot happened, but he kicked the Imperials out of Doma, so yeah, I guess we’re going to try again. Before he gets here, though, I need you to break into his room.”

There was a clatter as Midnight dropped her chopsticks into her empty bowl. “Excuse me?”

“I know you can do it, and there’s something I need to check on before he comes back.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You know how he gets—he’ll be pissed if we go in there. We might breathe on his shrine to his dead—oh.”

He nodded. “He’d been gone for months. I just don’t want him to come back and see it all neglected.”

Zizig hadn’t grown up with Galqar like Klynthota, and he hadn’t slept with him like Khorsa, Julien, and Qih’sae. But when he’d arrived in Ul’dah, fresh from the Steppe, and spotted a tall figure with black horns and scales, he’d felt a little less alone. Until Sechen joined the Crimson Coeurls, Galqar had been the only one who could speak Xaela with him, who drank proper tsai even if he made it with salt water and didn’t add enough sugar. And unlike even some of his foster father’s people, Galqar accepted him as Mol without question.

Zizig was alive because Caragai Mol didn’t overlook little things, and when he’d left home, he’d promised himself that he would walk in his foster father’s footsteps as best as he was able.

“Right, give me a minute to get my tools,” Midnight said, “I’ll meet you at his room.”

As Midnight applied her lockpicks, Klyn joined them. “Do you all have a death wish or somethin?”

“Hush, I need to concentrate—oh, there we go.” Midnight eased the door open.

Galqar’s room was furnished in a style that could only be described as “aggressively Maelstrom,” as though he felt he had to compensate for the Free Company house being in Lavender Beds. Almost everything was red with the notable exception of the glowing pink Moogle-shaped couch and the large portrait of a pensive-looking Haurchefant in one corner. A small lamp carved out of blue crystal rested on a table beneath the painting, and on either side of the lamp, vases held the sad remains of bouquets of blue oldroses. That particular variety was remarkably hardy; while they hadn’t completely died, the flowers were faded and wilted.

“On it,” Klyn said, and dashed out of the room, returning a few moments later with an armful of fresh blue oldroses. Midnight shoved her aside as she was sticking them into the vases.

“Budge over. I don’t remember much my mother taught me, but I can do a better job than this.” She arranged the flowers are carefully as she’d picked the lock, while Zizig and Klyn spent a few moments tidying up the rest of the room; Galqar had been in a hurry when he’d last been here, before taking ship to Kugane.

When they’d finished, Midnight closed the door behind them and to Zizig’s surprise, applied her picks to the lock a second time. She grinned.

“It’ll be like we were never there.”

A bell later, the house aetheryte chimed, and Galqar appeared, wearing a Yanxian-style dogi, a new rapier at his side. He smiled and waved on his way to his room. “Hey! Just let me drop some stuff off, and we should head to Rhalgr’s Reach. I have so much to tell you all, but—”

Zizig, Klyn, and Midnight gathered in the doorway as Galqar stared at the portrait and then at the flowers below.

“I know I locked the door…you lot broke into my room so you could replace the flowers…” Galqar turned and wrapped his arms around Midnight and then Klyn before kneeling to embrace Zizig. The brightness in his eyes wasn’t just light reflecting off his limbal rings. “Thank you for remembering.”

Chapter Text

Out of the corner of his eye, Hades glimpsed a shade, a failed fragment that he’d thought long vanished.

“Honestly, you just don’t know when to give up, do you?” He snapped his fingers, and the figure dissipated into nothingness. “Now then, as for you—”

Hear

The Warrior of Light and Darkness screamed, and the sound echoed through this place that was a memory outside of time, and it tore through the Underworld and the Source and its Thirteen Reflections. On the moon, Zodiark trembled; in the depths of the Aetherial Sea, Hydaelyn wept.

Far too late, Hades realized that he’d made a terrible mistake.

Feel

He rises in radiant splendor, brown skin turned white marble, black scales and horns now glistening gold. Wings of golden blades unfurl from his back, shining and deadly.

He hurts, and he hungers.

Before him is a fountain of darkness, cool and inviting. Its vessel is powerful, but he is the flame, and he devours the abyss.

Think

He sees a spark, and it’s familiar, somehow. He remembers that he doesn’t want to be alone. He approaches, and it flickers but doesn’t flinch from his touch, though it should. Color drains from red hair and fur and eyes, and now there is another, and he knows what he needs to do.

He finds the small broken bodies and pours Light into them, and they rise and cling to him. Deep in the shattered remnants of his soul, an ember of awareness cries out a warning that this is wrong, this is all wrong, but the single note is drowned in the cacophony of Light.

Come, my friends, he tells them without words, this world is dead, and we must needs go elsewhere to feed. His sword opens a gate to the Source, and they leave, flying home.

Chapter Text

Phoebus looked over Hades’ shoulder at his assignment. “That’s not going to work,” he said, pointing at the tablet.

“What?” Hades glared at the younger boy. “What’s wrong with it? It looks fine.”

“For a Light-aspected sigil, the first stroke must bisect the circle at an angle of exactly thirty-two degrees,” Phoebus intoned in a bad imitation of Instructor Koios. “You started on the wrong side. Plus you’re half a degree off on your angle.”

Hades studied his work, then sighed. Phoebus was right. He waved a hand over his tablet, erasing his attempted sigil, and started over.

Halone bent over her tablet, long blue hair spread out in front of her, and groaned loudly. “This is so pointless!”

Nophica, staring down at her own work, muttered something that might have been, “You’re pointless.” Halone threw a handful of grass at her; with a gesture, Nophica wove it into her green braids. The girls got along about as well as Phoebus and Dionysus, but it didn’t concern Hades, so he mostly ignored their fighting.

“We need to understand the basic principles if we’re to develop our own concepts one day,” Hythlodaeus said mildly.

“Exactly!” Phoebus nodded, his fluffy cloud of silver hair bouncing a little. “You have to have a solid foundation before you can build something. Right, Architect?” He poked Hades’ shoulder.

“I told you to stop calling me that,” Hades said, irritated. He hadn’t meant to tell Phoebus about his secret dream, but it had slipped out one day while they were talking. Hades found most people except Hythlodaeus bothersome—and he could be incredibly annoying sometimes—but Phoebus had a way of sitting and listening that made it far to easy to get comfortable around him.

Phoebus just shrugged. “And I told you it’s good to know what you want to do. You’ll make it, and you’ll be the best Emet-Selch ever.”

“I’m going to be sick,” Dionysus growled. Phoebus clenched his fists, but before things could escalate, Hythlodaeus stepped in, as usual.

“How are you coming with the assignment, Phoebus?” he asked.

“Oh…I’m done.” All five stared at him, and he ducked his head and shrugged.

Dionysus folded his arms across his skinny chest. “That’s impossible. We just started working on this—there’s no way you could have finished that fast.”

One of Phoebus’ gloved hands curled into a fist. “Well, I did. I’ve done them before, with my mother—”

Dionysus’ mouth curved into a particularly nasty smile. “Oh, well then. If your mother taught you…”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Phoebus shot back, his voice breaking on the last word.

Hades knew. Practically everyone in Amaurot knew about Leto, who had been refused a reproductive license by a disgruntled Administration clerk, and had left Amaurot, returning more than forty years later with twins, a boy and a girl. The boy had a remarkably high aetheric capacity, and had been assigned to a cohort two decades ahead of where he should have been at his age. The girl, on the other hand, was what polite people referred to as “aetherically compromised.”

“Your mother ran off and broke the law, and you both came out wrong. You have too much aether and your sister’s broken!” Dionysus snarled.

By the time Instructor Koios came and separated them, Dionysus had a black eye, Phoebus had lost a tooth that had to be reattached, and both girls had scrapes and bruises from their own scuffle. Hythlodaeus, Halone, Nophica, and Hades all had to write an essay on the importance of mediation and approved de-escalation techniques, Dionysus had to write a research paper on respecting ones peers in an educational setting, and Phoebus had to write a thesis with appropriate citations on the topic of violence as an outdated mode of conflict resolution.

Thousands of years later, Emet-Selch would wonder if things might not have been different had Lahabrea and Hyperion ever managed to get along for more than five minutes at a stretch.

Chapter Text

Copper Blade added another carrot to the stew and thought about the boy.

He had no experience with children; his brother was the elder by a full fifteen years. Sthalfalk’s sister was only younger by three or four. They’d both spent their lives traveling, and as neither was inclined towards bedding women, the prospect of children wasn’t something they’d considered.

What he’d told Sthalfalk at the time was the extent of his knowledge of the Xaela. He’d only seen one twice, and he knew that the men were all much larger than the women, as was the case with the Raen. The Raen’s black-horned cousins were said to be distrustful of outsiders, rarely leaving the Azim Steppe, and by all accounts they were fearless in battle, aggressive, and violent.

Copper knew that Eorzeans feared and disdained those who they lumped into the category of “beast tribes”. Galqar was clearly human as far as he was concerned, but too many people would see the horns, tail, and scales and come to dangerous conclusions. They couldn’t very well take him back, so it made the most sense for him and Sthalfalk to take the boy in. He just wasn’t entirely sure what to do with him.

Their house was small—the tradeoff for being on Vylbrand—but it had a bit of space outside where the boy could run around. He loved being on the beach and in the water, and once he realized that his new fathers would watch him closely, he was willing to venture a little way from their sides. The first few nights he’d come in and slept on the floor in their room, which was not optimal, but when they put up a hammock in his room he thought it was the best thing ever and was happy to sleep there as long as the door was open. They read to him and were teaching him his Eorzean letters, and in a week or two they were going to take him to the Arcanists’ Guild to see what K'rhid Tia thought of his potential magic.

Just as Copper was thinking he should probably go check in, a head with dark red curls and black horns poked into the kitchen, followed by the rest of Galqar.

“‘lo.” Copper smiled at him and got a flat, slightly suspicious look in return. “Were you looking for me?”

Galqar nodded. Copper pulled out the stool under the counter and patted it; the boy hopped up and looked at the vegetables in various stages of preparation. “What’re you doing?”

“Making supper—it’ll be auroch stew tonight.”

Galqar folded his arms, silver-ringed eyes narrowing. “Where’s the fire?”

Copper put down his knife and pointed at the stove. “I’ll put the pot on the top, and then use a flint to light the fire inside there.” The boy jumped off the stool and went to investigate. When he seemed satisfied that he understood, he nodded and perched on the stool again.

“What’s that?” he asked, touching one of the apples Copper was planning to use in dessert.

“An apple. It’s a fruit; Sthalfalk likes them a lot. I was going to make a sweet pie, but I can spare one if you’d like to try it.”

Galqar considered the matter and then nodded. “Yes please.” Copper handed him the apple, which he examined closely.

“Just hold it and bite into it,” he said. Galqar opened his mouth wide enough for Copper to see the pointed, sharp ones in the back, and bit into the apple with a loud crunch. He chewed and swallowed, then gave his father a hesitant smile.

Copper decided to take that as a win.

Chapter Text

It was hard for Glauca to remember anything before coming to Garlemald, and before the man who called himself his great-grandfather. Some nights he dreamed about running along a beach, feeling sand between his bare toes, and being scooped up by a big man with skin and horns like his own. Other times he thought he heard voices calling him by another name. Sometimes he remembered people crying over still figures, wrapped in precious cloth soaked in oil before being placed in the water and set alight, souls freed from their bodies to make their final journey to the Eternal Sea.

Here in this cold land with its cold people, the dead were imprisoned in boxes of metal and stone. The old Emperor’s subjects had paid their respects, and now it was just Glauca and his stepbrother and stepfather, alone with the mortal remains of Solus zos Galvus.

Glauca had been at his great-grandfather’s side when he passed. Varis and Zenos and a host of useless medics and healers had been in the room, but Solus spoke only to him, in a strange sonorous language that he felt rather than heard, talking of a great city that Glauca didn’t think was Garlemald. Finally, voice weakened to a harsh whisper, Solus murmured, I shall see you again soon, my friend, and then he said no more. Varis demanded to know what his grandfather's last words were; when Glauca told him, he dismissed it as a senile old man’s wandering mind.

As the three of them stood in the chamber where the new emperor’s mother, father, uncle, and wife had been laid to rest long before, Glauca watched Varis purse his lips and spit upon the Garlean flag draped over his grandfather’s coffin. Zenos smiled, biting his lips to keep back a laugh, and Varis just looked at his unwanted stepson. Glauca met his stepfather’s eyes, his face the unreadable mask he had learned to show to these people who hated him, and who he hated in return. He concentrated on keeping his tail still to avoid betraying his anger. Only his hands hinted at his rage, his fists clenched so tightly that his claws pierced his silk gloves and dug into his palms.

At last Varis turned on his heel and made his slow, clanking way out of the burial chamber, Zenos close behind him. Glauca took one last look at the coffin, and raised fist to shoulder in an Imperial salute.

”Vale, proavus,” he said, in the old language Solus had taught him. “I will not forget you.”

Chapter Text

Galqar wasn’t sure whether he was relieved or disappointed that there were no shirtless knights exercising in front of Haurchefant’s desk. He was definitely disapointed that Haurchefant wasn’t behind his desk, at least until one of his adjuncts approached with a surprisingly friendly wave for an Ishgardian, and told him that the commander was sparring with some of his knights, and that he’d be pleased if his distinguished visitor would meet him in the salle.

He only got lost once in the maze of Camp Dragonhead before finding the training hall. Unlike everything else in Coerthas, it was warm, partly due to the number of people packed into the room and partly due to the large stoves that kept the temperature comfortable enough that Haurchefant had stripped down to a sleeveless shirt and a pair of tight breeches.

Indecently tight, Galqar thought, and that from someone who’d spent most of his life in the pirate city. Perhaps because he was aware that he was lacking in that area, Galqar was something of a connoisseur of posteriors. In his admittedly limited direct experience (sample size: three) the tall, slender Elezen frame didn’t lend itself to especially generous rumps. Haurchefant was an apparent exception, possessing a nicely rounded rear that looked like it would fit perfectly in Galqar’s large hands. Combined with well-muscled arms, and a long, elegant neck that was practically begging to be bitten, it was almost enough to make Galqar forget about G’raha Tia’s voice and the things he could do with his claws.

Haurchefant spotted him and paused mid-fight to wave. Galqar’s warning died in his throat as Haurchefant’s young sparring partner failed to stop his momentum and slammed his wooden shield into his commander’s chest, knocking him on his perfect arse. Haurchefant got up laughing and waved off the knight’s apologies.

“’Twas my own fault for not paying attention, though in my defense, I was distracted by my friend’s presence,” he said, giving Galqar a wink. He accepted a cup of water from a squire; Galqar watched the motion of his throat and tried to still the frantic waving of his tail.

Haurchefant smiled and clapped the boy’s shoulder. “Here, fetch some water for Master Haragin, there’s a good lad. You look like you’re a bit thirsty, my friend.”

Galqar’s mouth had gone drier than eastern Thanalan. “Parched,” he finally managed to croak.

Haurchefant’s smile turned wicked.

Chapter Text

Glauca rather liked Fordola.

He was used to dealing with Garleans who approached him with a combination of unctuous flattery due to his rank, thinly-veiled contempt for his horns and scales, and barely-hidden fear of the powerful magic he wielded. The few Dalmascan loyalists he’d met didn’t seem to know what to make of him; they skipped past the flattery and the contempt and went straight for the fear.

Fordola, on the other hand, wasn’t like anyone he’d ever met before. Her bluntness didn't just border on rude; it crossed over and treated rude as occupied territory. She was abrasive and about as subtle as Nero's gunhammer, and unlike the polite, blank mask he wore in public, she left her feelings visible for all to see. After spending most of his life within the hothouse of the Imperial court, her honesty was refreshing.

After they were introduced she mostly just watched him, scowling. He attempted to engage her in conversation, only to be rebuffed with monosyllabic responses. Rhitahtyn seemed wary of her, and would only say that she was “a fierce fighter.” Livia clearly despised her, which was a definite point in her favor as far as Glauca was concerned. At last he resorted to asking Nero for information.

“Her? Another one of Gaius’ pet projects. He thinks he can civilize her, I suppose.” He shrugged at Glauca’s raised eyebrow. “Oh come on—it’s different. You’re perfectly civilized, except when you’re not.” He smirked, and Glauca gave up on asking about Fordola, grabbing the back of Nero’s neck and allowing himself to be distracted.

Several months after he’d come to Ala Mhigo, Fordola watched him beating up a training dummy while waiting to try out Nero’s latest prototype. When he stopped for a break and some water, she approached him.

“They say that His Radiance adopted you because your father died saving his life,” she said.

He shrugged. “That’s what I’m told. I don’t remember much.” It wasn’t exactly a lie; it was what he’d been told to say, and even now he only recalled bits and pieces of his previous life, seen in the waking visions that overtook him more and more often since Dalamud’s fall.

“My father was killed by a mob of what were supposed to be our own people, while Imperial soldiers stood by and did nothing,” she hissed. “And yet you—why you?”

Glauca set down his water and called lightning to his fingertips. Fordola’s eyes narrowed.

“Because I’m useful to them,” he said, with perhaps more bitterness in his tone than he intended. He dismissed the spell and watched as she started to walk away, then paused.

“Scaeva’s using you.”

Glauca blinked. “Well of course he is. I’m not stupid, you know. He seems to think he can advance more quickly through my patronage than through Gaius. He may be right, though I doubt it. Meanwhile, if he succeeds in this project, I’ll have a weapon that no one else in the Empire can make, for my hand alone. Plus, he’s a good fuck.”

Fordola scowled, slamming the door on her way out of the training room.

[< <> >]

“I thought you said you weren’t stupid?”

“I beg your pardon, Pilus?” Glauca’s tone was mild, but his tail lashed sharply before he brought it under control.

Fordola folded her arms. “You just said you wanted to talk to the bloody Resistance. Either you’re stupid, or you’re mad. They’re naught but a bunch of pig-headed, ignorant—”

“Savages?”

“Yes, damn you!” Her face was red, her fists clenched tightly. “I was twelve and they threw stones at me, called me a bitch and a traitor because my parents wanted to survive, to keep me safe. They killed him when he tried to protect me—“

“As Imperial soldiers watched and did nothing; you’ve said.” Glauca steepled his fingers, the tips of his claws just touching one another. “Yet you enlisted, though you already had citizenship. You put up with the insults and taunts from the purebloods and from your own people—why?” Fordola remained silent, and Glauca sighed.

“My magister—my tutor—he told me once that conquest was the easy part, and that the true challenge of empire was in maintaining the peace. The conqueror must learn to treat the conquered with dignity, and the conquered let the past stay in the past, so that both can build for the future.”

She glared at him, not conceding an ilm. “Why are you telling me, anyway? It’s not like you need my permission.”

Glauca smiled. “Because out of everyone here, you’re the only one I can trust to give me your honest opinion.”

“My honest opinion is that you’re a bloody fool if you think this is going to work, my lord.” Fordola saluted and turned to leave.

“Pil—Fordola, please.” She paused, but didn’t look at him. “Gaius conquered Ala Mhigo almost twenty years ago, and still, there is no peace. Nothing has changed except more dead on both sides.”

“And you think you can do what Lord van Baelsar can’t?” she said, not bothering to hide her scorn.

“I’m not Garlean, or Ala Mhigan,” he pointed out, “Who better to reach out?”

“As you like,” she said, voice cool and even, “But if I were you, I’d make sure you’ve got those claws ready, just in case.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure?” Aymeric said when Galqar first asked him to help with his molt.

“Yes. I—” He was looking away and rubbing his right horn, which was his version of a blush. “It’s something you do with family. My parents and my sister and I all worked on each other, and then my fathers helped when I came to Limsa—Ken’ichi mostly. Zizig’s really good at it, but Sechen gets impatient—she says I just have too many scales—so I don’t like to ask her. It’s not usually about sex, for me. It’s just…intimate.” He looked up at Aymeric. “I trust you.”

Aymeric tried to look appropriately solemn despite feeling downright giddy. “I would be honored,” he said.

Three bells later, Aymeric’s bed—their bed, now?—was covered in clean towels and just over seven fulms of naked, slightly damp Xaela. Galqar was lying on his stomach, watching Aymeric examine the small, thin knife.

“You’ll want to oil the blade, then work the edge under the scale; they should just lift off like I showed you,” he explained. “The water should have loosened the top layer, so it should be pretty easy.”

“And you’ll say something if I hurt you?” Aymeric asked again.

Galqar smiled. “I don’t think you will, but yes, definitely.” He exhaled slowly and settled himself on the bed. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Aymeric decided to start on the left side. He rested a hand on the skin of Galqar’s back, quickly dipped the knife into the shallow bowl of mineral oil on the night table, and eased the blade under a black scale that seemed a bit dull. It came away easily, as Galqar had predicted.

“Ah…” He held up the scale, not sure what to do with it. Galqar pointed to another, larger bowl.

“In there. I’ll dump them in the water next time I’m in Limsa. Aymeric’s surprise must have shown on his face, because Galqar told him, “Every tribe does it differently. Some burn them; the Kha—Sechen’s tribe—bury them. We throw them into the ocean for the fish.”

He was silent for a moment, then he added, “We are the Haragin, the children of the Dusk Mother and the Sea. From the Sea we are born, it is the Sea that sustains us, and to the Sea will we return in the end.”

On impulse, Aymeric leaned in and pressed a kiss to the place where skin met scales. Galqar chuckled and squirmed a little.

Aymeric soon fell into a rhythm, though he could certainly understand why someone might find it tedious, even with proper claws: Galqar was a big man, and there were a lot of scales. He didn’t mind though, not when it gave him a chance to freely explore the canvas of Galqar’s skin. He ran his fingers over the scars left by Shinryu’s claws, touched the place where one of Ravana’s blades pierced his shoulder, and traced the raised skin and oddly smooth scales from his beating at the hands of the Garleans long ago. As he worked his way across those broad shoulders and down Galqar’s spine, Aymeric was struck by how still and quiet he was, his even breathing…

“Are you awake?” he asked, amused.”

“Huh?” Galqar started. “Oh, yeah no, I’m awake. Just, y’know, relaxed.”

“All right. You just keep relaxing.” Aymeric patted his him and continued his task. For the famously paranoid Warrior of Light—the man who almost never drank so much as water in public, and then only when he’d poured for himself—to fall asleep while someone else had a knife near him meant even more than his words earlier, and it made Aymeric feel warm all over.

When he’d finished both of Galqar’s long, muscular legs, Aymeric paused. “Should I…er…what about your tail?”

“Start just below the base and work your way down,” Galqar told him. “And, um…try not to squeeze too much.”

Aymeric felt his face grow warm. He’d become very familiar with a certain spot just under Galqar’s tail that was quite sensitive. He carefully avoided that spot, but apparently, Galqar’s tail was a ticklish spot, judging from the way he was squirming…or perhaps, Aymeric realized, it was something else entirely?

“Galqar? Is everything alright?”

“Fine. Everything’s fine here. Why do you ask?” His voice sounded noticeably higher than usual. Also…

“I was just wondering, since you seem to be humping the bed.”

Galqar went still. “So…yeah, you know how I said this isn’t usually sexual? That’s when I don’t have my insanely hot lover putting his hands all over me.”

Aymeric forced himself to concentrate on the whole sentence. When he felt like he could form words again, he said, “Galqar? Would you turn over for me?”

“Are you sure?”

He grinned. “Trust me.”

“Oh,” Galqar breathed. “Believe me, I do.”

Chapter Text

Aymeric stood on the sand, baby in his arms as Galqar discussed something with the mothers of the Haragin. They were far enough away that he could only make out some of Galqar’s words and a great deal of the Xaela tongue spoken too rapidly for him to follow, but there seemed to be much gesturing and tail-waving going on.

Someone chuckled nearby; Aymeric turned and saw Jedei, Galqar’s father, standing beside him. Looking at him, Aymeric could see what Galqar would be in a few more decades, his dark brown skin still smooth and unlined, but red hair faded to gray, and horns thickened with age. He smiled at Aymeric.

“Everything must be just right,” he said, then added softly, “I never thought I would live to see this.” He looked down at his grandson and touched a fingertip to one of the soft nubs on the side of the baby’s head. “Such a tiny thing, like his father was.”

A part of him still couldn’t believe it. They had known Sadu carried twins, but it had been a shock when Magnai of all people showed up unnanounced in Ishgard to inform them that Sadu only saw a Dotharl soul in one of the newborn Xaela. Galqar had looked utterly terrified in a way that Aymeric had never expected to see. In the end, it was easy to give the only answer he could when his husband asked him if he was willing to be a father.

Said husband had finished his discussion with the women, and was walking back to the shore, water sloshing around his ankles. The smile he gave Aymeric looked a bit shaky, but his expression when he glanced at his son was awestruck.

“Hey there, little guy,” he said, “Ready for your big moment?” He held out his arms and Aymeric handed their son over. Together they walked deeper into the water, just past the assembled mothers—including Galqar’s mother and sister—and the udgan, Maral. Fortunately, Galqar had warned him, so Aymeric was wearing lightweight clothes that would dry quickly, since he was standing in water well past his knees.

The rest of the Haragin were gathered in a rough semicircle, everyone except for the infants ensuring that their feet were wet. The full moon had risen, the stars bright like the jewels in Nhaama’s hair, and Maral udgan raised her hands to the heavens.

“We are the Haragin,” she began, the rest of the tribe—women, men, and children alike—joining in solemn chorus, “the children of the Dusk Mother and the Sea. From the Sea we are born, it is the Sea that sustains us, and to the Sea will we return in the end.”

Galqar looked at Aymeric and nodded. Carefully and so gently, Aymeric placed a hand over their son’s nose and mouth as Galqar lowered him into the water. He was immersed for only a brief moment before Galqar lifted him out, but he made his opinion of the whole process known with a loud wail that made everyone laugh.

Over the years since Aymeric had met his husband’s family on the Steppe, the Haragin had accepted him as one of their own, Altani and Jedei’s scaleless son. He had learned much of their ways, but even though Galqar had assured him that they could overrule the shaman, the custom that a child’s name was not chosen by the parents still seemed strange. As the rest of the tribe returned to the beach for feasting, drinking, and the obligatory storytelling, Aymeric and Galqar hung back with Maral. The udgan held the boy, who fussed a little but didn’t complain too much. She studied him carefully, then gazed up and the sky and down into the ocean depths.

“It is no wonder Sadu khatun saw no Dotharl soul in him,” she said finally in her heavily accented Common, “for though she bore him, he is truly his fathers’ son, both scaled and scaleless.” She smiled at them both. “He will travel far, and sail distant seas in search of knowledge, yet ever will his soul’s light be clear and constant, that others may follow where he leads. Dalaingarag I would name him, star of the sea.”

Aymeric glanced at Galqar and was surprised to see him pinching the bridge of his nose, like he did when the Echo struck unexpectedly. Aymeric nudged him gently and he started, bowing deeply to Maral.

“Our thanks, Maral udgan,” he said, “we will consider your words and think on what you have seen.”

Later that night, when most of the tribe had retired to their yurts, Aymeric stretched out beside his husband on chairs Galqar had found tucked into that space where he stored his weapons, armor, food, crafting materials, materia, crystals, assorted miscellany, and a truly staggering amount of supplies for a newborn. The newborn himself had been fed and was now sleeping on Galqar’s lap. They would spend a few more days with the Haragin before flying west to visit Magnai, who as Galqar’s lover was apparently the equivalent of little Dalaingarag’s godsfather. Traveling by aetheryte with an infant was inadvisable, so they would have to make their way to Kugane and take ship for Limsa before flying home to Ishgard.

“You saw something, when Maral spoke to us,” Aymeric asked.

“Mm.” Galqar stroked their son’s downy white hair. “Nothing specific—just a quick sort of flash. Not that I can see the future, but I have a feeling that she was right. And…” He sighed. “I’d sort of hoped for his sake that he’d be a normal boy, you know? Not burdened by some great destiny.”

“Honestly love, I’d be more surprised if she foresaw that our son would be completely ordinary,” Aymeric said with a rueful laugh. “It’s no great stretch to think that he’ll travel to far-off lands, with the lives we’ve led.” He shifted onto his side. “I do like the name, though it’s rather long. I predict we’ll end up calling him Dalain.”

Galqar laughed softly. “Or Dal, because two syllables are one too many.”

“Indeed.” He paused, then added, “I had another idea about his name. It’s not uncommon among the highborn to give children more than one name, so that none of the grandparents feel slighted, or to invoke the protection of a particular saint—though obviously that happens less these days.”

“What did you have in mind?” Galqar asked, his voice carefully neutral.

Aymeric took a deep breath. He’d been considering this every since Magnai arrived with the news, and…it felt right. “I would like to name him for Haurchefant.”

Galqar was silent for so long that Aymeric feared he and the baby might have both fallen asleep until he whispered, “Dalaingarag Haurchefant Haragin de Borel. It’s longer than he is.”

“Shouldn’t it be the other way around? de Borel Haragin?”

“I think it sounds better that way,” Galqar said. He shifted little Dalain to one arm and reached for Aymeric with the other, lacing their fingers together. “It’s perfect.”

Chapter Text

Galqar had promised himself that he would stay quiet and listen during the conference, if for no other reason than to gain some inkling of why his foster father had requested his presence. But as Varis dared to claim that he sought peace, and chose to berate the Alliance representatives, Galqar found his grip on his temper fraying badly. When Varis spit his venomous words at Kan-E-Senna, however, Galqar found it impossible to hold his tongue.

“You would dare compare us to the birdmen? You who thought to invoke the Twelve and threaten all of creation?”

Galqar tipped his chair back and regarded his father. “And remind us who was it that made such an action necessary by bringing the red moon down and freeing the Dreadwyrm? Oh, right—that was the Empire, under your reign. You speak of peace and order, but your peace razed Dalamsca to the ground, and your order was to set my mad brother to rule Doma and Ala Mhigo. I know what peace and order mean to the Empire, because I helped enforce it with fire and blade.”

Varis gave him a thin smile. “And you were most effective, my wayward son. I confess that I was surprised when I learned that the Eorzeans had welcomed you into their ranks, despite being—what was it they called you? ‘The Dragon of Ala Mhigo?’ I was half expecting to see you claim the throne.”

“Come now, father, that was your fairy tale for the masses in Garlemald to explain my exile and the price on my head; surely you didn’t believe it yourself.” The front legs of his chair thumped on the floor and Galqar leaned forward, hands flat on the conference table. “But enough of this. We’re not here to rehash old family squabbles. I did warn the Scions and the Alliance leaders that this would be a pointless palaver, all empty theatrics and…” He pressed a knuckle to his lips.

“Oh, I think I see now. I was wondering who was pulling your strings, if it was Elidibus or Emet-Selch, but the drama of it all—Elidibus is borrowing my dear brother’s body, and Emet-Selch is writing the script for you.”

Varis’ already gray face paled, and Galqar smiled. “Yes, Your Radiance, I shared the secret of the Garlean Empire with my allies: it is the creation of Ascians, the immortal sowers of chaos, nothing more than a tool in their attempt to achive the Great Rejoining of the Source and her sundered shards.”

“And did you also tell them how you came by this knowledge?” Varis snarled. “Did you tell them how Emet-Selch trained you in magic, and then took you to his bed? Do your precious allies know that you are naught but an Ascian’s whore?”

Silence fell in the room, but only briefly, as it was broken by Galqar’s laughter.

“Really, father—is that the best you can do? Yes, I confessed that I fell in love with my teacher before I knew that he was an immortal who changed bodies like clothes. I was fooled, but I know better now, and unlike you, I choose to fight the Ascians rather than bow to their will that would see the end of all life on thie star.” He tilted his head and regarded Varis, trying to see beyond the physical as Emet-Selch had taught him, but all he could discern was a faint gray shadow threaded through with darkness. “You must know what they intend, so why do you still let them lead you?”

Varis exhaled, and to everyone’s surprise, looked pleased. “Finally, you ask the right question. I can but hope you heed mine answer and at last accept the righteousness of our cause. My goal is this: to return the world to the way it once was. The way it was always meant to be.”

Alisaie and the Alliance leaders listened with mounting horror as Varis described his vision of humankind united, a single race under the Garlean standard. Galqar pressed his hands to his temples as he was assaulted by memories: arguing with Lahabrea about the meaning of stewardship, trying to persuade Artemis of her own worth even though she couldn’t Create, the last time he spoke with Emet-Selch before—

“You’re wrong,” he said hoarsely, fighting back the pain of an impending Echo vision, “it wasn’t like that. He doesn’t lie—he can’t so I know he didn’t tell you that. You have it all wrong.”

Everyone was staring at him now. He focused on Varis, and his eyes—Emet-Selch’s eyes—seeing glimpses of a long-forgotten past. “The world was…it’s gone. You can’t bring it back anymore than they can.” He clenched his fists, claws digging into his palms until they bled. “Following their path will lead only to the same Doom, the same oblivion. Please, father—” His head hit the table, and he heard Alisaie and Aymeric calling his name before everything went black.

Chapter Text

It was automatic by now: see an aetheryte; attune to it. Galqar didn’t stop to consider that this was all an elaborate magical contruction, and that perhaps attuning to an aetheryte that was the product of an Ascian’s memory might not be a good idea. He simply reached out to the base of the glowing crystal in the Macarenses Angle—the only part of it he could reach—and touched his hand to it, as he had so many times before.

Instantly the buzzing drone of the Light quieted, replaced by the gentle hum of the aetheryte. This time, though, he heard another sound overlaying it, a strange, melancholy melody that was familiar even though Galqar could have sworn he was hearing it for the first time. His vision clouded and for a moment he was sure the Light was about to overtake him. Instead, the currents of the Echo pulled him back in time, and he remembered:



Phoebus watched, providing directions as Hades and Hythlodaeus moved the massive crystal into place. It had been his idea to create an anchor point, a beacon to use when teleporting that would limit or even eliminate accidental discorporations, as well as allowing for quick travel while reducing aether costs. Hythlodaeus had helped him develop the idea into a valid Concept, and Hades, naturally, had designed it.

When the entire thing was settled in place, Hades invoked his Sigil of Office and examined it as Emet-Selch, the Architect. After walking around a few times, he grunted. “Looks stable enough. If you would…”

Phoebus drew a hand over his face, calling his own Sigil into existence; for this he would need to be Hyperion, the Scholar. He shifted his sight so that the world around him was visible as myriad interlocking equations representing the movement of aether. A tweak here, a nudge there, and when he was satisfied that the elemental variances were appropriately balanced, he nodded. “Let’s begin.”

The three of them reached out and poured their own aether into the construct. Hyperion provided the bulk of it, both because he had more to spare than either of the others, and because it was primarily Light-aspected. Emet-Selch added Darkness, with Hythlodaeus’ neutrally-aspected aether balancing the other two. A resonant chime sounded, and the crystal began to rotate slowly on its base. It shone with a faintly blue light, but up close Hyperion could see the deep violet and bright red of his friends’ souls reflected in their creation.

“I still think the outer structure should have been silver,” Hythlodaeus said. Phoebus could practically hear Hades rolling his eyes behind his mask.

“As I’ve told you multiple times, silver would clash with everything else in this part of the city.”

“You could change it,” Phoebus pointed out. “Snap your fingers and done—instant urban renewal!”

“You’re an idiot—both of you,” Hades grumbled, but there was no heat to it.

Phoebus bent down to examine the base of the crystal. The bronze detailing on two of the four sides resembled a stylized version of Emet-Selch’s Sigil; on the opposing sides, the detailing looked like Hyperion’s sigil. The marble beneath bore the design of the Bureau of the Architect.

“I thought, since it was a joint project…” Hades mumbled, the bottom half of his face turning slightly pink.

“That is the sweetest thing!” Phoebus tried to hug him, but Hades fended him off.

“We’re in public, you git.”

“Well, it certainly warms my heart to see two of the Fourteen collaborating harmoniously on a civic project,” Hythlodaeus said in his blandest tone. “But perhaps we should continue this conversation over dinner. I’ll cook, though we’ll have to go to my apartment. Nothing personal, Phoebus, but I never know where the kitchen or anything in it will be.”

Phoebus laughed, “Point taken. Meet you there—”



The vision was broken by the shattering glass sound of the Light trying to break free. When he could breathe again, Galqar rubbed the base of his horns. Unlike all of his other experiences with the Echo, he’d found it difficult to hear the past residents of this city; it had sounded like having a linkpearl conversation with someone in Ala Mhigo when you were in Limsa.

The aetheryte really was striking, beautiful in a way that seemed to call to him. Something seemed different, He leaned down and studied the brass detailing around the base.

The Echo had shown two patterns on opposite sides, but here, recreated from Emet-Selch’s memories, there was only one pattern repeated four times. Feeling a sudden chill, Galqar huddled into his coat and continued on his search of Amaurot.

Chapter Text

The missing courier’s trail led to the village where Glauca had gone to attempt the peaceful overture that had been so rudely rebuffed. The villagers gave him their flat stares as he approached, flanked by Fordola and the rest of the Crania Lupi. The elder approached, and having learned from last time, Glauca seized the initiative and spoke first.

“An imperial courier was dispatched to this village yesterday to collect the tributum. He has not returned. What do you know of his whereabouts?”

The elder was silent. Glauca stepped forward, into his space. It was a trick that didn’t work with most Garleans, but he had well over a fulm on the stooped old Hyur. He lowered his chin so he could look him in the face, giving him a good view of the sharp silver-capped tips of his horns.

“I will ask again: when did you last see the imperial courier? Do not make me ask a third time.”

The old man spat in the dirt. “He took his fifth and left. Don’t know what happened next. Maybe he ran off with it, figured he’d get a new start somewhere.”

“Standard issue imperial infantry armor includes tracking devices. Had the courier deserted, he would have discarded his armor so that it would transmit an invalid location, sending us on a wild goose chase. Instead, the tracker ceased transmitting as of dawn today.”

Glauca sighed; this was all remarkably tedious, and such a wast of everyone’s time. “My search continues. I would suggest you pray to your god that I do not find anything to implicate you and yours in this matter. If I do, the consequences will be on your head.”

He turned and walked away, the Crania Lupi falling in alongside him.

After searching for the better part of the afternoon, they found the courier and his Resistance captors in a cave a few hundred yalms from the village. Glauca let Fordola and her friends handle the questioning while he tended to the courier’s injuries as best as he could using aqua vitae potions and his own healing magic. The Resistance had evidently meant to send a message rather than use the courier as part of a potential hostage exchange. After they’d stripped him of his armor and destroyed the tracker, they’d smashed both of his kneecaps, broken the fingers of one hand, and gouged out his third eye. Glauca called in for a cohort to take him back to Castrum Abania, and to escort the surviving Resistance members to Specula Imperatoris for further interrogation.

While they waited, Glauca wolfed down the rations he’d brought with him. The healing had drained his mana, and food always helped. It also kept him from thinking about returning to the village.

“What are you going to do?” Fordola asked him.

He didn’t look at her. “What I must.”

Chapter Text

Hear

The darkness was peaceful.

Hades drifted in the endless nothingness. For the first time in eons, he had no idea what would happen next. He’d thought once or twice before about letting go, dying along with his mortal vessel, but he had a duty to make things right again, so he clung to his soul, using Zodiark’s gift to return again and again.

He wondered idly if he had been severed from the circle of life by his service to Zodiark. Perhaps his soul would dissipate entirely, unable to return to the Underworld. It should have bothered him more, but he felt nothing.

Hear

…almost nothing.

“I did, thank you, now please leave me alone,” he snapped at Hydaelyn.

Feel

“I am feeling extreme irritation. I am dead; Your champion has won. Please leave me alone.”

There was silence then, as if She was simply waiting. Finally, Hades couldn’t stand it any more. “Is it my imagination, or did Phoebus actually give You his mother’s voice? That seems a little perverse, even for him.”

If silence could convey a sulk, then Hydaelyn was definitely sulking. Hades was torn between enjoying the moment, and genuinely wanting answers to some fundamental questions, such as—

“Why am I still whole, anyway? Shouldn’t I be fractured like everything else You touch?”

Think

That sounded downright annoyed, and was followed by a surprisingly clear memory: an arcane construct in the shape of a bird, mistakenly granted a soul, endlessly destroying itself only to reform and die again. He heard his voice say: Consumed by the fear of death, it thrashes blindly about. It will know only pain and suffering and inflict the same upon others. A pitiful existence.

“Ah, so this is the part where you think You’re clever, throwing my own words back in my face. I didn’t realize how much Hythlodaeus contributed to Your Concept.”

There was a ripple through the Lifestream as an exasperated goddess reached the limits of Her considerable patience. Hades found himself floating in the depths of the Aetherial Sea in front of a massive crystal that shone in the myriad shades of blue that reflected Her creator’s soul.

Servant of Darkness, knowest thou why I have brought thee hence, unsundered?

“No, but I’m absolutely dying to—”

He was assaulted by a vision as powerful and painful as when he’d lived it. Darkness gathered around him like a shroud, dimming Phoebus’ light. He’d won, he thought, until that cursed fragment, so much stronger than he should have been, called Phoenix forth from his soul, flinging his hope in the face of Hades’ despair.

He who shaped My making desired freedom above all, the freedom of all lives, no matter how small and fleeting, to choose their own destinies. And more than any other, he desired this for thee: to be free of thy god’s dark desires.

“And what if my desire is to serve Zodiark?” he snapped.

To his surprise, Hydaelyn was silent for what seemed like years. At last She said, I cannot say…but as his heart made me, I believe he would accept and mourn, as I do for each of My children lost to the shadows. Even thee.

“And I’m ever so grateful, but is there a point to this? Not that I have anywhere to be, but I’m sure I could come up with something marginally less boring—”

Surely thou hast discerned that thou art no longer enslaved to Zodiark’s will.

Hades turned his vision inward, and indeed, the deep violet of his soul was no longer shot through with threads of matte black and magenta. “Well, well. Who knew that all it took to reverse tempering was to rip a hole in my essence with a great bloody axe?

Hydaelyn actually sighed. Unseen One, out of the love My creator bore for thee, I offer unto thee a choice. Thou may choose oblivion, as did thine Unsundered comrade before thee, removed from the cycle of life and death, never to return as if thou hadst never been.

His body was an illusion, but Hades still felt cold, not least because Hydaelyn had invoked the power of his true name. “Or?” he said, sounding horribly uncertain, even to his own non-existent ears.

Or thou canst return to the living world, whole and still unsundered, and renew thy bond with thy beloved Bright One.

“What, just like that?” Hades regarded Hydaelyn with deep suspicion.

Thou wouldst return as a newborn babe, the bond ‘twixt My champion and thee one of father and child, not of lovers. The price would be thy memories of what thou once were, for the years of thy mortal lifespan.

Hades snorted. “I lose my memories in order to be reborn as a mewling infant. I would get to go through puberty again.” He paused, struck by the image of Phoebus’ fragment attempting to change a squalling baby. Would he have horns and a tail, or would he end up with his other father’s pointed ears—

“Ah, correct me if I’m wrong, Your Lightliness, but that particular bit of Phoebus is remarkably lacking in the parts needed to give birth, and is equally lacking any interest in those who do have such parts.”

He had a sudden image of Galqar lying on his back, a small woman with gray skin, white hair, and bright blue eyes riding him enthusiastically. Galqar actually seemed to be enjoying himself.

“I had no idea Thou—You were such a voyeur. For shame!”

A child was promised; two shall be born. One will house a soul of his mother’s people. The other may yet be thine, if thou dost will it.

It shouldn’t have been that appealing an offer. But being removed from the cycle for good, cut out of history’s weave wasn’t anything he’d ever wanted. Still….“Why would You offer me this? I have no interest in exchanging one divine master for another.”

Hydaelyn went silent again; Hades began to wonder if She’d fallen asleep. When She finally spoke, he felt rather than heard the words. My power is all but spent. I can do little to aid My champion, weak as I am, yet he must yet face the Emissary, who will surely bring all to bear against him. With your strength added to his—and yes, Architect, I know thou wouldst be but a child, but it may yet be enough to tip the balance.

“So just to review: You want me to be reborn as my old lover’s child so I can help him battle the comrade I fought beside for thousands of years, in order to defeat my former god once and for all?”

As thou sayest.

Hades grinned. “Well, when you put it like that, it would be churlish to say no. And I do so want to know how this all plays out…very well, Your Mothercrystal of Great Lightliness. I, Hades the Unseen One, formerly known as Emet-Selch, the Architect, Keeper of the Immutable Truths, will be reborn as the tiny Xaela child of the Warrior of Variable Luminosity, and—

Everything went dark.



“Dalaingarag Haurchefant Haragin de Borel. It’s longer than he is.”

“Shouldn’t it be the other way around? de Borel Haragin?”

“I think it sounds better that way…It’s perfect.”

Wrapped in blankets and nestled in a woven basket, an ancient soul in a brand-new body slept peacefully.