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Lost and Found

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It started simple enough. A strange lancer much like myself, so very far from home, half swallowed by his cup in a bar seedier than a pomegranate. White hair, grey eyes, exhaustion of something greater than war written across his face, I had half the mind to try to get his story but what he said damped curiosity's flame.  

“You’re eyes. Familiar.” He murmured more into his ale than to me. I tensed, normally such declarations are punctuated by blades to my gut. My mask of indifference, honed from years in Ishgard and once again in use since the fall of my dearest Ala Mhigo, gave no outward sign of my fear, only raising a single eyebrow in query. When he didn’t continue, I cautiously goaded my foe.

“Oh? Strange.” I laughed, my cup to my lips, thankful my hands didn’t betray the thoughts in my mind by shaking. God’s it had been years since I had dealt with any of my families assassins, I had hoped they had finally left me to my own devices. “Most of the time I’ve been told they’re freakishly unique. Gold and Green as they are.” 

The stranger dropped his eyes from me to his glass, his fingers tightening around it, twisting it aimlessly as the bartender did everything he could to avoid both of us. For good reason, I imagine. We both look the part of the angry loner, he more than I honestly. I leaned back, my glass empty, and slide gil across the counter, hoping eventually the bartender will risk serving us for the glinting gold on the table. 

“What’s familiar about them?” I probed once again. “I don’t recall ever meeting you before ser...” I let the words hang in the air, and attempted to give a reassuring smile. He didn’t look up to see it, but he did shake his head. 

“Estinien. Estinien Wyrmblood.”  He looked back at me, finally, but pointedly avoids looking me in the eye. Uncomfortable. Cornered. A state I’ve been in before, but I needed to know where he’s seen these strange mismatched eyes before. I needed to know if this twenty year vigil was at an end, without a body to bury on the other side. Did dare I hope? Yes. Hopes all that's kept me going over the years. 

“Well then Ser Wyrmblood, I’m Orlaux. Lovely to make your acquaintances, but that still doesn’t answer my question.” I cracked a smile, the one that wins me jobs and pays my tabs, and prevents people from asking for my surname. He seemed to relax a bit. The gears in his mind turning slowly. Figuring how much he wanted to tell a stranger, smart boy really, tired and more world weary than he should be but smart all the same. I would have been lying if I said I wasn’t trying to figure out the exact amount myself. Dangerous to overshare. Dangerous to undershare. 

“I’ve seen them before, but on someone else.” Words fell from his lips like slow melting ice, setting me on edge even as I was grateful for the progress. He ran a nervous hand through his hair, and grimaced as it caught on some knot. “A friend of mine. Better than I deserve. Defended me. Saved my life.”

Saved his life ey? My mind tried to connect the last image I had of my daughter with an older, wiser, and kinder woman. Perhaps a healer, or guard, or perhaps she’d follow after her mother and pick up a rapier and venture. Someone out there helping the world.  I could not help but crack a smile, and my mask, at such a thought. “Oh? What’s her name? Perhaps I have some heroic cousin I should be bragging to my family about.” 

He tensed, and I immediately knew I’ve overstepped something, slipped up somehow. This time it was he who got defensive, snapping his eyes towards mine and squinting with all the rage he can muster, or at least that he can contain in his moderately inebriated state. I could smell the booze coming off of him even before I sat next to him and heard his murmuring about my eyes. He went to open his mouth, but was stopped by the approach of the bartender, who sweeps up my gil and goes to refill us both. 

“Or their name, or his name, though from memory most of my venturing’ cousins prefer feminine pronouns.” I covered my own ass with a half hearted lie. I doubt a sober companion would have bought them, but hopefully a drunken one did. It’s hard to tell with the permanent scowl on this Estinien’s face.  He didn’t look at me again, instead, turning his gaze to his own reflection in his cup, colored gold by the liquor inside. I could have counted this out as a failed lead, nothing more than the drunken ramblings of a lonely Dragoon, when he spoke again.

“She doesn’t have any family,” His words once more to himself more than to me, “Hasn’t for a long time.” He shakes his head hair falling in front of his eyes, blocking his own reflection, and exhales audibly. I watched him carefully, while attempting not to appear as if I was doing so. Failing terrible honestly, but thankfully he was too enthralled by his drink to notice. “Plus, you don’t strike me as a Mhigan, not with a spear like that. What took you out of Ishgard?” 

He looked up, and I caught him taking a glance at a black scarf tied around the neck of his own spear, instead of mine, as he tried to redirect the questions away from himself. A ragged little thing, more grey than truly black anymore, with a time worn symbol of the Destroyer embroidered onto it. I gritted my teeth and think, deciding to leave my answer up to fate and down my drink instead of replying.

“Ala Mhigo did.” Honesty, I always told her to be Honest, best practice what I preach. “A Wanderer in Red stole something from, not something I wanted back, but something I was willing to follow her for.” The thought of my stolen love, my dearest Maerwynn, stalls my tongue for but a second. I blinked, even though I know I’ve no more tears to hold, and feel naught but the hollow ache in my chest. 

“Wanderer in Red...” He repeated after me, sitting up right, making his own choices, hearing some familiar in my words. “They tend to do that, don’t they?”  He faced me and gave me a once over I’m too busy wishing away my memories to notice. I traced the scar on my face absently, cursing its very existence. Perhaps, perhaps if it wasn’t there and I had been at home the Garleans would have never gotten to her. To either of them. 

“Her name is Danica,” His words snap me from my self pity, and I can’t stop my eyes from going wide. I feel my heart skip a beat and hope course through my veins like oxygen. A breath of fresh air in my face after years, nay, decades of stagnation. My rational mind tried to will this away, at least to a reasonable level, but my heart is so overcome with joy I cannot help but show it on my face. I fear the smile may unsettle, but in fact it seemed to relax him. A curiosity for another day, another night of pondering. He looked away, back to his drink, sadly finding it empty. 

I need to know more. This name, this dearest matching name. Eyes like mine. A Hero, a friend. My mind moved faster than it could possibly make coherent sentences, in the end I blurted out my next question with such force Estinien jumps a bit. 

“Where is she?” 

Startled, he blinked, and I once again fear I had faltered. I glanced to the bartender, though I know fate isn’t keen on giving second chances, let alone thirds, and then to him. Finding the red face of someone who truly three sheets to the wind. “Last I saw her she was in Ishgard. Tired, Happy that the Dragonsong war didn’t claim another of her friends.” 

And what once was boiling blood, filled with hope and joy and images of being reunited with a daughter I’ve searched so damn long for freezes in my veins. 

Ishgard.

Of course she had to be in fucking Ishgard. She had to be within stabbing distance of my family, she had to be in danger. She had to be where if I was seen, I’d be chased out with pitchforks and torches bought with nobles money or worse. Branded a heretic and executed in some fun and brutal way where accepting my death would prove my innocence. A land even more dangeorus for me than fucking Garlemald. 

Yet. I would still go. 

Even for the chance, the hope, that his Danica and my Dani were one in the same. That I’d walk into the Forgotten Knight decades after I last left it and see my daughter enjoying a fine evening surrounded by friends and those who care for her and see her smile up at me again like when she was small and asking for bedtime stories about heroes and dragons. Even if she wasn’t with friends, even if she was alone, even if she didn’t recognize me in the slightest. 

Alive. Just Alive would do.

I stood from the bar and tapped the newest of Ishgards expatriots on the shoulder in thanks. Though I doubt he knew the weight his words had had on me. He barely looked over his shoulder to me as I departed without so much as a word. A rudeness, but one I felt was needed when my own words could not be trusted to hide my truths in such a state or joy and fear. 

I had much to consider and plan, in the relative safety of my inn room, but found no such purchase as I laid my head down. The wine and memories overtaking me into a realm of sleep that for once, seemed not so dark. 

Chapter Text

My eyes fluttered open, taking stock of the beautiful purples, reds, and golds of Gyr Abania's evening sky. I inhaled, and immediately regretted the act. My ribs ached, it hurt to even think about moving, my thoughts a jumbled mess of images from unknown hours before. Masked men, armor familiar, but not local. Spears and daggers thrust in my direction and in return. Splitting pain all along my side, growing fiercer and then dulling to a numbness that stopped my breath. Muffled distant distorted words, only one of which I can parse. 

Dzemael. 

I shot up, nevermind the pain, knocking the large bulldogs head off my chest in the process. The hound gazed up at me for but a second before jumping to her feet and wagging her tail so hard her entire body went with it. Henrietta! Of course! She's how I was still breathing. I laugh, and grimace at the pain it causes, before patting the old girls head. I mentally noted to give her extra treats when we got home.

"Good Dog." My voice was hoarse, my throat dry, a small gathering of leaves decorated my legs. I aired the question dancing in my mind. "Hell's, how long have I been out for?" Henri simply barked happily in reply. I went to stand, and almost regretted it as much as the laughter from before. I fell to my knees and grimaced. Henri trotted over to me, giving my face a singular lick before rolling over on her back, belly to the sky waiting for pets. 

I wished to smile at this, but the leaves had left a gnawing feeling in my stomach that worried me. I didn’t know how long I had been out. I didn’t know if those men after me knew where my family was. I didn’t know if they had found them while I sat unconscious among the trees. I didn’t know if the lights of my life were safe.

I struggled to climb to my feet again, my own rage at my injured condition building monumentally. I let out a cry as I crash into the trunk of a tree. Henri ran to my side, and let out a low whine to match my yell of frustration. I looked down at her, and sighed, using the trees to walk forward. 

“Girl, where’d you find me?” I asked, not actually expecting an answer from my dog, but getting one in a way anyway. Henri trotted forward ahead of me, rounding a selection of trees before lightly barking. Slowly, I made my way towards her, beyond the trees was a clearing I remember patrolling for our little town. A hamlet really, not more than 100 people when everyone's home. Henri walked back over to me, tail still wagging, a happy little dog.

My spear sat chipped and embedded in a tree at the far end. A veritable mile from where I stood, holding onto scattered greenery for dear life. I sighed, at least I wouldn’t need to pay for an entirely new spear, simply some repairs. I looked off into the distance, above the trees and into the sunset. Letting a calm wash over me for but a moment. Sure, they may have found my family, but they’d never defeat them. Maerwynn was a Red Mage with no equal, even years after putting her sword in favor of an Inn, and a stable place to raise our daughter. They were to be fine, waiting for me at home probably more than a little worried sick. 

I could just envision myself limping in on my spear, only to be knocked to the ground by a little half elezen girl mad at me for missing her bedtime stories. Where she told me about the grand adventures she went on. Where the smallest rock was the most dangerous dragon. I laughed again, the pain subsiding a bit. Henri came to sit at my feet. 

I stood there for a few moments, in fact a few moments too long. Till the smell of smoke hit my nose. Not a woodfire burning in someone's home, but the kind of smoke that foretells the wake of Halone, the smoke the begets war. Henri smelt it too, jumping to her feet and rushing into the woods ahead of me as images of a life I left behind stalled my movement. 

I could not bare the thought of my home becoming like one of the dozens of burnt out villages I saw during my tenure as a Dragoon. Corpses stuck in poses, gross mockeries of life, from when the Dragons took them. I knew, realistically, the Dravanians were not the cause of that smell, but the scent of ash and corpses, it never really leaves a man. 

Staggering through my senses, I rushed towards the tree playing sheath to my spear and yanked with all the force I could muster. Splinters flew in the clearing, and so did I, right after Henri and towards the flame. The wilds were my enemy, along with time, and my own frailties. I cursed the winds, the gods, I prayed that I was wrong, my nose simply mistaken. 

But fate, she is armed with arrows, and I’ve been naught been her pincushion these past twenty years.The forest broke into open fields, which changes to tended land. Henri ran fast, faster than I, and it was her mournful howl that brought me to my knees once again. No, I could not let myself fall there, not when perhaps the hound ran wrong, perhaps she was simply sad to have missed dinner? 

Crawling to my feet I took off running again. Spotting scattered houses consumed by a strange blaze that smelt not of dragons but of oil and rust. I rushed blind, I saw no soldiers, no bandits, I saw only deep tracks in the road and heavy footprints in the well traveled mud. I couldn’t run fast enough to the Inn, the little roadside haven we had built with our own collective four hands. 

It wasn’t burning when I got there, no the Imperials burnt it later, but it was broken. The timbers over the doors fallen, cracked in two and blocking the entrance, windows smashed, Danica’s playhouse sat crushed, silhouetted by the dusk sun. 

“Maerwynn!” I shouted my loves name. Again and again, throwing my spear to the ground and my back into clearing an entrance. “Danica!” My daughter’s full name next, a rarity out of my mouth, frightening me just as much as the silence did. My hands bled from the work, my lungs burnt, my eyes ran red with tears only to worsen when finally I reached inside my home. 

And saw my home, broken and bleeding on the floor, barely clinging to life. Maerwynn. My Love. I fell to my knees at her side, dragging her up onto my lap and clinging to her desperately. Like my embrace would heal her wounds. I began to sob into her hair, rocking her ever so gently. Whispering again again her name. 

I felt a weak hand on my cheek, and a gentle exhale of breath and with it an electric surge of hope that died almost as quickly as it manifested. I gasped, as my love smiled. Even then, at the end of things, she found it worthwhile to smile at me, even as I watched the light start to fade from her tender blue eyes. I do not know what great deed some past life of mine did to deserve her, or what great crime I must have committed to have her stolen from me. She coughed, and drew me from my thoughts, blood spattered her lips and dripped down her chin.  

“ ‘Laux, where have you been?” Her voice was weak and distant, barely above a whisper. I gently grasped her hand at my cheek with my own bigger hand, pressing it closer to me. I forced a smile to my face, though tears had ruined any illusion of happiness here. She shook her head weakly. “Don’t answer that love. Rahlgr’s Mercy, I’m just glad you’re alive.” 

I squeezed her hand, and opened my mouth to respond, but was cut short by more of her whispered words and the growing chill of her hand in mine. Though low, her words were rushed, as if she was racing to tell me her story, and I guess in a way she was. Running her words so Nald’thal couldn’t stop them. “Find her, ‘Laux, I told her to run when I heard the fighting start. Told her bad people were coming and that she needed to hide. You have to find her before he does!” She jolted up with her last words, and attempted to grab me by the shoulders and drag me closer. 

“Swear to me you’ll find Danica.” Her weak hands grasped at my shoulders with all the might she could muster, an amount akin to a newborn coeurl. I nodded, an affirmative that put a smile on her face. There hadn’t been any question to my course of action before, but now I was but an Elezen shaped bloodhound. 

“Of course, Maer. I’ll find her, I’ll  protect her. She’ll be ok, everything will be ok.”  I reassured her, this time it was she who opened her mouth and found no words to respond. Her hand grew weaker, and began to fall from my shoulder, frantically I pinned them there. “Everything will be ok,” I reassured again, lowering my head to hers, and gently kissing her forehead, like she was so delicate she might have been broken by the touch of the evening breeze. 

She closed her eyes.

She breathed her last.

 “I love you.” I spoke into the suddenly much too large world. “I love you.” again the words echoed with no reply. “Always and Forever, I love you.” I broke into sobs once more, loud crying to fill the void left now that my home was across the Aetherial Sea. Repeating a mantra that can no longer be echoed back to me in the voice of my Love. 

A bark woke me from my slumber in a Gridanian Inn. Eyes snapped open, an arm instinctively reaching for my spear, but finding only the big brown eyes of a Bulldog sitting at the foot of my bed. I sighed, and forced my body to relax, shaking my head in frustration. Dropping my spear, I rolled back over, it’s too early to leave and continue my trek to Coerthas.

“Good Dog.” I whispered, as Henri rolls back into a ball on the floor and continues in her own dreams. “Good Dog.”

Chapter Text

Rielle watched the patrons of the Forgotten Knight with a subdued interest. By now, most of them were as familiar to her by face alone as they were to the tavern itself. Regulars.  A wide featureless mass that entered, drank, ate, made merry, and then left, almost giving the place a sort of pulse really. Like it was alive.

She liked it, honestly. Even in it’s dark, shady corners that Sid liked to sequester the both of them to, barely touched by the light of the hearth she could still feel the life around her. Sometimes, if she was lucky, she would spot a new face in the blood of the tavern, and watch with interest flamed anew. 

None had done so recently. Not like when the Dragonsong War was first ending, and people from all over Eorzea stopped in Ishgard for but a spell. Curious now that the isolated realm was starting to open. Now it was back to business as usual, as the commotion in the realm shifted towards Ala Mhigo and Gridania. The thought of Ala Mhigo brought to mind a friendly face in the eyes of the young elezen girl. Danica. Sid’s friend. Her friend. Someone who hid her own sadness behind smiles. 

She remembered the Dark Knight well. Hoped she’d visit soon as she was often want to do. “Just Checking in” she’d say to her and Sid, arms overbeared with little treats she picked up on her journey that just “Reminded me of you.” Rielle smiled at the thought of reuniting with the half elezen warrior, and silently prayed that she was safe wherever she was. 

The door to the tavern swung open with an unusual thunk. Not a regular, but not a new person, and most totally not opened by the cold wind wrapping around the tavern like a blanket. Her eyes shot up the stairs to the top door, and watched from the shadows as a tall, older, Elezen man wearing a heavy cloak with the hood drawn far over his eyes entered. Rielle was honestly surprised he didn’t trip down the stairs dressed as he was. 

At the foot of the stairs, he raised his hood only a fraction to quickly scan the faceless crowd of tavern and Rielle’s mouth fell open. Not enough to garner Sid’s attention, but enough to show her shock if he hadn’t been looking elsewhere. The man frowned, and shook his head, exhaling and making his way to the bar and its keeper Gibrillont. 

Curiosity did not often get the better of her, but when a stranger walks in with the eyes of a dear friend, nay eyes of dear family, one can be forgiven for being curious. Rielle made the quick excuse that she needed to go use the restroom, and slowly crept closer to the stranger. Fully intent on eavesdropping from the safe shadows near the restroom, as not to arouse suspicion in her watchful guardian, or the men at the bar. 

Closer now, in the candle light, she could see more of this hooded man, and hear more of his mumbled words. She watched him with wide eyes and a worried stare. 

“Gibrillont, I know your customers prefer their privacy but please. This is important.” He whispered, as he leaned heavily over the bar and towards it’s owner. Who but sadly shook his head. 

“House Dzemael and the other high houses arn’t the end all be all anymore, so don’t go thinking you can wave that name around here.” Gibrillont started, only to met with a shallow laugh from the man across him. “You think that’s funny?”

“No, no that’s great. What has me laughing is the very thought of using their name again.” a venom sat in his words, that bit the air and all those around. Gibrillont raised an eyebrow, equal parts interest and fear written across his face. 

“Sit down. I’ll get you a drink. Then you can tell me what’s going on.” The stranger exhaled, and all but collapsed onto a stool. Gently checking the crowd once more, twice more, and then a final third time, he slowly removed his hood. She wondered about what gears were turning in his mind, about who he was searching for, and more so what had caused him to look so warn. 

“Bathroom ey?” Rielle jumped, as Sidurgu kneeled behind her. She let out a huff of air, indignant, but a little bit thankful. She shrugged, and then pointed to the stranger. Tilting his head, he examined the gent, trying to figure out what exactly had drawn his young charge to spy on him. The Stranger sat with his eyes closed and his head in his hands, exhausted. His wild black hair unkempt and shoddily cut. Nothing particularly noteworthy, an adventurer, there were a hundred like him. Perhaps not nearly as many experienced, he did look a bit on the older side, but still, not uncommon. 

Gibrillont returned with two cups, a stool for himself, and a bottle which he left near the stranger. Filling both of their glasses with warm mulled wine, he leaned back, and crossed his arms expectantly. 

“Where do you want me to start?” The stranger held his cup in both his hands, warming them from the frigid cold of Coerthas. Gibrillont tilted his head,

“From where ever you think is the beginning, Orlaux.” A name to the face, and one Sid had heard before. Off handedly mentioned, but heard all the same. Slowly, this Orlaux opened his eyes, and Sid’s own went wide. Looking to Rielle, she nodded, and for once the Dark Knight was faced with a problem he didn’t quite know how to handle. 

Nothing had prepared him to deal with a dead man walking, let alone a dead man that was the father of a friend. Potentially at least. Thankfully, he didn’t need to handle it just yet, poor Gibrillont did. Rielle wondered if this was the oddest thing the tavern keeper had seen recently. Orlaux spoke. “You know I left Ishgard years ago, right? Or did my family write it off as something else?” 

“They said you died to Dravanians, though the Dragoon’s never corroborated their story. Considering I’m talking to you now, I can see why.” Gibrillont downed his glass quickly, apparently feeling like this story was going to require more than a bit of his own liquid courage to take. Orlaux gave another bitter laugh, perhaps he had forgotten any other kind, and shook his head no.

“Well, I guess that’s a better story than saying one of their sons ran off with an Ala Mhigan Sellsword, to marry her and to live a life as an innkeeper with her and his half elezen daughter.”  Sid looked Rielle, Rielle looked to Sid, Gibrillont looked anywhere but Orlaux. Nothing in any of their lives gave them any tools to handle this. “At least until they could make it true to haul back a corpse.” 

Gibrillont uncorked the bottle, poured himself another glass, finished it and repeated process once more before responding. “I’m going to take it that it wasn’t your fam- House Dzemael who caused the problem that started your search. I take it was the Imperials?”

“In a way, if Dzemael’s blades hadn’t knocked me out for a day, who's to say things wouldn’t be different. Perhaps I would not have these past twenty years looking high and low in Garlean lands for my Daughter.”  Orlaux rolled his shoulders, sore from the cold probably, and sighed. “I just need to find her. I was told by someone that she’d might be here. I’ve nothing to offer in recompense for intel beyond my thanks Gibrillont.”

“And this time it will be enough. So you’re looking for Miss Savior of Ishgard because she might be your Daughter, right? Because they share a name and some Drunken Dragoon somewhere mentioned her by name.” Orlaux nodded, though from the looks of things he hadn’t know to the extent this Danica was famous. “I’m sorry to say she hasn’t been for a few months, since peace was made and the government reformed, and I didn’t think to ask where she’d head to.” 

Orlaux’s shoulders fell, his face already gaunt, seemed to lose its last spark of hope. He shook his head in sad disbelief. Sid and Rielle looked on, and then once more at each other, and then back praying Gibrillont had some intel. “Perhaps you could ask the members of House Fortemp? She and her friends were their wards for a spell? And I know she was close to one of the former count’s sons. But beyond that I really don’t have a clue.”

Sid took a deep breath, and stood to his proper height, having been crouching down to Rielle’s this entire time.  The Dark Knight knew that the Fortemps may know where she was, but he also knew the he did, and from the grimace on Orlaux face he didn’t exactly want to go parley with nobles. Sid did not blame him one bit, temple knights, nobles, even now they were up to their knees in all sorts of nonsense.

“Thank you Gibrillont I’ll... I’ll stew on that.” Orlaux looked to his cup, and emptied it. “And how much do I owe you for the drink?” He turned his eyes to the other elezen man, who simply shook his head. 

“Nothing, let me know if you need anything else.” And with that, Gibrillont returned to his other customers, and left Orlaux and the bottle to themselves. At least for a spell. Rielle watched from the shadows as Sid walked forward, his steps unsure, until he cast a shadow over the tired traveler. Awkwardly, Sid cleared his throat.

“Am I in your seat or somethin’?” Orlaux turned to face him with tired eyes, giving a once over, probably to assess any danger, before turning back to his drink. Sid floundered for a response, Rielle snuck out to stand next to him, and gently nudged him towards an open stool near Orlaux. 

“Heard you talking to Gibrillont.” Sid started, taking Rielle’s suggestion for once and seating himself next to the Elezen. Orlaux bristled, and turned to face this unfamiliar gent next to him with a snarl to his lips. “Easy now, I just happened to hear you mention a friend of mine and needing to find her. Though I might help.” 

“Why?” Orlaux asked, directly to the point, obviously suspicious of any goodwill in his direction. The Elezen crossed his arms over his chest, lowered his eyebrows and glowered at the Au Ra. Looking at him now, Rielle could see even more resemblance. Danica had his hair, his height, his eyebrows, even the way he crossed his arms over his chest was similar. 

Rielle wanted to answer him. Wanted to tell him that why was because Danica was sad and pretending not to be. That she needed family now more than ever, That even if she saved one of her fellows from death, so many had perished in the process that Rielle could see the spark behind her cheshire smile fade a little bit more every time she visited, but words would not come to her. This would have to be Sid’s doing.

“Because the lady you’re looking for is a friend of mine, like I said, and if she has living family she should know.”  Sid did not look Orlaux in the eye as he said this, instead pouring himself a drink from Orlaux’s bottle. “Last I heard, she was doing work for the Scion’s of the Seventh Dawn near Baelsar’s Wall. She should still be there, or at least in Gridania. And if she’s not there, the Scions are based out of Revenant's Toll.” 

Orlaux relaxed, and pushed the still half full bottle in the direction of his new found companion. Then, in a voice that was barely audible among the loud lively noise of the blood of the tavern, he asked his next question with barely perceptible hope tinting his words. 

“What is she like?”

Chapter Text

My name is Danica Voss. I am twenty seven years old. I’m Ala Mhigan by birth, a child of Gyr Abania, though Thanalan served more as my childhood playground thanks to the Empire. I like swords, and wood carving, and cheesy paperback romance novels, and jumping very high and bats and my friends both in the scions and out. And all of this wasteful thought is a vain attempt to stop myself from relieving my stomach of its contents before I get off this airship and away from those very same friends. 

My eyes burn from the smoke, my stomach turns from the smell, my head pounds from Papalymo’s spell and I can’t stop hearing the sound of Magitech gunfire even long after we’re out of range. My hands don’t appear to shake, though I feel like they should, and tears do not actually come to me, though I feel like sobbing. An air of heavy silence hangs over the airship long after we’ve landed in Gridania. 

Yda mourns loudly, Thancred in silence, Alphinaud stands close to me and lets gentle silent tears mark his own mourning, Hilda offers condolences and Yugiri offers prayers. I stand in silence, the pillar they expect of me in times such as these, and wish to do naught but scream. 

Those friends, they speak, they plan, they march forward on faster than I. They depart with heavy hearts as I still struggle to trudge through the slowness around me. To make sense of it all. Like my mind is swimming through molasses, while everyone else is walking on dry land. A bone deep exhaustion eats away at me, and now even the thought of screaming seems too much. 

Alphy will tell the rest of them, a gruesome and cruel task for one so young but I cannot find the energy or strength to offer to do so myself.  Not that I’ve ever been very good at it, I still have a hard time looking Count Edmont in the eye after what happened to Haurchefant, but at least I’m an adult, and not still but a child. He’d resent me thinking that, I know, but the truth of the matter stands. He shouldn’t have to do these adult things if he doesn’t feel up to it. I give a nod, and they all depeart, leaving me at the airship port with my thoughts.

I’m thankful that it’s late, and the only souls who haunt the terminal are the employees. Enough that my pride demands I keep myself together, but not enough souls to overwhelm me as places such as these often did. I walk. I do not know to where, the green of Gridania always clouded my thoughts, but I walk all the same. It’s only when Mother Miounne stands next to me that I figure I’ve made it to the adventurer’s guild. She says something, I don’t hear what, but I nod and smile like always. 

She doesn’t  seem appeased, and instead takes my arm gently and leads me deeper into the guild towards the Inn portion and opens a door I’ve used before. I think she murmurs something like “Rest” or “Take Care Dear” but the words are lost on the pounding, the constant ear splitting pounding, that has yet to leave. 

I slump against the Door as soon as I can no longer hear steps. I wish I was home. Not Ala Mhigo. Not Thanalan. Home is people and I wish I was home. I drop my head into my hands and wait for the tears to come, but find that they never do. Time’s like this before, I’d go find Haurchefant, rest awhile in the warmth of his presence and remember why I even try. I was half tempted to return to Ishgard just then and look for him but.

As warm as he was in life, his grave was a frigid reflection. 

Gods! Hydaelyn! Whomever would hear me curse and accept it! Why! Why must it be the good souls who find their way across the sea first!  I pound my fists onto the floor, angry, sad, and so very very tired. I pound again and again until my fists hurt and bruise. Then slowly, I drag my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them, condensing myself to as small a figure as possible. 

People are home. Home is people. But most of my home is hurting and I don’t dare put more worry atop them. Who wasn’t there? To see the betrayal, the bloodshed, the mockery of justice, rebellion and revolution all belonging to the mind of one man, but taking the lives of many of my countrymen. Many of my friends. Who can I go to? Who would I not pester?

Aymeric is an option. He is warm, though reserved in nature due to the air of nobility he must maintain, but I know he likes me and that we are friends. He’s invited me out. He’s asked me what I wish to do for myself, not as a scion but as me, maybe I can figure out an answer to that question with him and distract myself from this pain.

No. He’s a country to run. He’s a busy man. I won’t distract him for something so trivial as this. In the grand scheme of things it is trivial. Isn’t it? Just a few more deaths on the mountain of corpses Garlemald has made. 

My next thought would be Estinien. He’d understand, probably more than anyone. He’s seen death like this before, destruction like this before. Even if he isn’t warm, or always good with people he’d at least understand. Hells, even if we didn’t speak, sitting in silence with him was often enough to ease my heart. Especially after Nidhogg, all three times. 

If only he hadn’t wandered off into the sunset, towards Rhalgr knows were. Without a Goodbye, too. Perhaps, then, I was wrong in the assumption that he too viewed me as a friend. I do not wish to bother acquaintances. 

Standing from the floor, I all but threw myself into the bed. Armor and all. Laying to face the ceiling, I let my thoughts continue to  swirl like the deadly maelstrom they are. Fray’s offer sits at the forefront of my mind once again. Whispers of “Well, If Estinien can walk into the sunset, so too can you.” and “No one would blame you, at least anyone who mattered.” Just, run off, find some village that doesn’t know my name, do light jobs and pretend this old life doesn’t exist.

But no, I can’t do that either. 

That would put more work on the others. It would burden them. And I just can’t do that.

I sigh. 

Tracing images onto the wood grain on the ceiling with my eyes as if it were clouds. 

And simply waiting for morning. 

 


 

 

My Journey to the Wall was thankfully uneventful. None of my families blades at my back, cursing me for daring to step in Coerthas again, nor any independent brigands to harry my step. Just a Chocobo, the road, and the chilling snow up to the border with Gridania. It gave me plenty of time to think on things. 

I lost count of how many times I flicked open the old locket with Maerwynn’s family portrait of us all in it. Just to gaze into the happy past for the millionth time this decade. My Love, Danica, the Black Chocobo plush I had gotten her for her fifth birthday, myself, all immortalized and rendered with care in pastels Maerwynn had been saving. I still had the bird. I promised I’d bring Dani something back of home even if she wasn’t there to hear the promise. It had grown worn from the road, long hours being jostled by my pack apparently is just as rough on a plush animal as children are. 

Would she even want it now? If this Danica was my Danica. So long removed from any trace of her childhood, stolen away by the Imperial Bastards and their march of conquest. A relic really, not unlike myself, of a time lost forever. 

Perhaps I should have given it to the young girl in the tavern, who looked at it with big eyes as her guardian spoke of Danica. I didn’t catch her name, either of their names actually. A shame. 

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and pressed onward towards Baelsar’s Wall. I hadn’t slept well, but that wasn’t unusual, I havn’t slept well since I was a child.  Determined as ever to end this search, however, a lack of sleep wouldn’t stop me.

 Hoping to see maybe a small group or two of Adders and Adventurers, My tired eyes were shocked to see the hub of activity the Wall had become. All the Grand Companies, and Ishgard loitered around. Smoke floated in the air, tasting acrid and metallic. Tents filled with wounded sat scattered among the shroud. Let alone the rows and rows of bodies, being prepared for transportation and burial. I grimaced, looking away from the grisly known to the strange unknown, to gaze instead upon the strange orb hanging in the sky, not unlike a tiny Dalamud. 

Hell had happened here. I just didn’t know what variety. My eyes darted among the crowd, looking for a face that appeared to be in the know. Calm, collected, perhaps even scholarly and astute in countenance. Anyone who may have a single clue as to what happened here. A Miqo'te woman with white hair and equally as white eyes stood with some sort of visor like apparatus hanging off her arm. She seemed to match what I was looking for well enough, and I found most Scholars outside of Ishgard loved sharing their work so, why not start with her? 

I dropped from my Chocobo, Gently lifted Henri off as well, and headed in this strange scholars general direction. She turned towards me as I approached, apparently hearing me over the loud drum of activity all around. Her silver eyes watch me with a raised eyebrow, and gentle eyes, 

“May I help you, Ser?” I must have looked much out of place. All worn clothing and shining weapons.  “Are you looking for something? someone?” My eyes widened and I nearly jumped from my skin, the second voice did not belong to the Miqo’te woman but to a Lalafel with an equally scholarly demeanor and a similar apparatus on her arm who must have been behind her.  Obscured from my view. 

“Yes, yes! I’m looking for someone!”  I managed to stammer out, startled still. Henri let out a happy bark, which did nothing to help, though she tried her best. The Lalafel woman smiled at me, as the Miqo’te woman crossed her arms and watched me warily. Understandable, with such oddities as that tiny moon hanging in the sky, I’d be more careful of strangers too “But more specifically I’m looking for what the Hell’s is going on here, really.” 

“That makes three of us, I’m afraid. Y’sthola, myself, and you Stranger.” The Lalafel woman extended to me her hand, which I gladly took. A friendly greeting was always much preferred to a dour one, or even worse a hostile one. “Though I take it from your attire you’re not here to study the prison.”

“The Prison? Is that what that is?” I asked, leaning forward, a pale stretching across my face. God’s it really was like a tiny Dalamud, with some hellish thing or things inside. I shake my head to answer her question, then fixed my eyes on the orb once more. I had to squint to look at it really, as bright as it was. No amount of words could describe the fear that sat in my heart. Something powerful enough to require a prison akin to that that held Bahamut. And she might have been here? It takes most of my resolve not to shudder. 

“Yes. A prison for the primal summoned by the Griffon, created by the rage and anger and lasting taste for vengeance and justice all those he swayed to his side with visions of a free Ala Mhigo had the moment he cut them down.” This Y’sthola, as the Lalafel woman had called her, stated with a matter of fact tone that set me more than a bit on edge. I closed my eyes, and sent a silent prayer to Halone that my sunshine was not one who wished so valiantly to have her home be free. At least not here.

“How could one be so....”  My words hung in the air, I could not find the proper one to describe the level of bile filled hatred that man must have had to sacrifice his own to damn people and  potentially the whole world just on the off chance it took Garlemald too. The Lalafel woman nodded, sorrow coloring her features.

“I take it that you were not a late comer to his call either then ser.”  I nodded, still shocked at the very thought of what had transpired here. “That’s good. Did you know someone who was? Is that who you are looking for?” I nodded again. My throat was dry, and my eyes watering - though thankfully I could blame the smoke for that one. 

“My Daughter. I am looking for my Daughter” I barely recognized the voice that left my mouth as my own. Henri whines sadly, wrapping herself around my legs in a vain attempt to comfort me. “I was told she was here.” Might have been here. Might be the same person. Might not be. Might still be out there just. Waiting for me. I close my eyes, and am thankful my tears no longer seem to run.

“There were survivors! Most of them headed inland I believe! She might be among them!” The Lalafel woman added, attempting to give me hope that my heart would no longer accept. “What was her name? We could ask some of the guards to look Ser...”
“My name is Orlaux, thank you.” I turn, opening my eyes and looking at them both properly now, not just from under the hood of my cloak. Y’sthola nodded with a sympathetic smile, and the Lalafel woman who had yet to introduce herself had this surprise on her face. Followed by pain, as if struck by a sudden headache.  If I had been in my right mind, not swallowed by the ravenous beast that is despair, I might have asked if something was the matter. 

 “But I believe this might be something I must do myself.” I exhaled, allowing grief to take me properly from my senses as I started to walk away from them and into the bloody open Castrum. 

It had been a long time since I had been in Gyr Abania. 

I hoped someone there would remember who I was. 

 

Chapter Text

Bittermill. An odd name for a village, honestly, always have thought so. No mill to speak of, and before the imperials burnt it to the ground and repurposed it to their own ends not a single truly bitter soul inhabited the place. Now, however, as I sat among the burnt timbers of the old inn, I could say at least one did. It’s new only inhabitant. Rename it Bitterman and call it law.

At one point, I might have laughed at the thought, but with the thought, the belief, that my hope had left this world even sour laughter was too much. Henri trotted around the burnt out buildings mournfully, digging around and occasionally trotting back over to me to show me some new artifact of the past she’d discovered. Twigs. Toys. Bones. Didn’t matter to her they were all gifts to me. In hope that I might smile again.

 A week had passed since the massacre at the wall. At least I think it was a week, days and nights blended together for a while after that. No need to keep track of time when you had no one to meet. At least not on this world. Maerwynn. Danica. Both so distant and out of reach...

I believe I may have just been waiting to die. Waiting for some imperial patrol to find me, see my lance and shoot me for some perceived connection to the resistance. Or perhaps a bear. Or some rogue Dravanian not wanting the war to end far far from home, I’m sure Dzemael would have liked that option. I was just waiting for the end to find me, unwilling or perhaps too proud to go find it myself.

Instead, however, an old friend did. 

It early one morning, I sat poking at my rations hoping to make them disappear before my very eyes, when Henri started barking like mad. Not an angry, territorial bark, but something akin to a welcome. Slowly, I looked to the treeline, and saw, just barely, a pair of black Miqo’te ears poking from the brush. I raised an eyebrow, sure that perhaps that illmade wish of mine was to be granted. 

“I can see you, you know.” I said, flatly, my voice almost unrecognizable to my own ears. Apparently, that was not the case to the stranger behind the bushes. His head joined his ears above the bush, and the older Miqo’te smiled brilliantly at me. My eyes widened, and perhaps another me would have smiled right back. The familiar sight in front of me was none other than an old adventuring friend of Maerwynn and I’s who I long thought dead. He looked older, of course, twenty years will do that to a man. His black hair was streaked with grey, one of his ears was missing a chunk of some size, though he wiggled them at me all the same, and the burn scars on his arm had replaced his once brilliant colorful tattoos. 

Doern Jawantal. 

The Man who stood before me was Doern Jawantal. The peerless rogue who once traveled with Maerwynn and I before we retired. He’d moved to the capital himself not long after, continuing to fight for fun, profit, or actual justice after that. Before Garlemald came, he fought against the Mad King, after Garlemald came he fought against a Cruel Emperor. A Revolutionary. A Resistance Leader. A friend. 

“Aye! That’s the point ‘Laux! Where the hells have you been hiding all these years?” He bounded down from the bush to greet me, hugging me close with enough force that my ribs ached. I coughed, dropped my morning rations and staggered under the weight of one Keeper of the Moon. “We thought you were dead!” 

He stepped back, and clapped me on the arms a few times, as if to see if the ghost before him was real. I must have looked haggard, and half dead myself, adding to the illusion. Henri bounced around Doern with a pep in her step I hadn’t seen since she last saw Dani.  My old friends smile dropped from his face as he slowly looked me over. From my tired, empty eyes, to my old worn armor, to the small black chocobo plush hanging from my belt. The face of a dead man walking, bereft of any meaning to live. 

“‘Laux, ‘Laux, talk to me here please.” He tapped my arms again, worry coloring his expressive features. Slowly, I tried to worm my way from his grasp and back to the charred wood I’d made my rest. “‘Laux...?” My old friend said again, letting me walk and sit as I pleased, watching as I lost my attention to the embers that had cooked my supper. 

“She’s gone Doern.” I said, removing the plush from my belt and holding it as if the wind might break it. Doern sat next to me, his ears raised in alarm and worry. I caressed the plush’s one loose button eye. “I might as well be a deadman, for Garlemald has finally killed my hope.”

A silence fell over us as my old friend heard, and then comprehended my words. My silent wish for death and acceptance of my own failure. He bristled, the hair on his tail standing straight up and waving frantically. Angerly. It twapped the ground, and my back, repeatedly. His ears flattened to his head as it snapped in my direction and he finally spoke. 

“And what? You’re just going to let them get away with it? Is that it Orlaux?” Doern had always been fiery, brilliant, like a firework who just wouldn’t burn out. I’ve always respected him for that. He stood with a huff, and began to pace in front of the fire growling and glaring and creating a cloud of dust in his rage. I coughed, but otherwise said nothing. “You’re going to sit here and let them get away with what they took from you, what they took from so many!” 

He turned on a dime, and spat into the fire. His rage was admirable, in a way, but it hadn’t touched my dead heart. I was too enraptured by the hopelessness and despair I felt gazing at my daughters most prized possession, struggling to remember what her face truly looked like or her laughter sounded like. Slowly, I could feel my carefully cultivated mask of stoic sorrow begin to crack, as two decades worth of tears slowly began to run down my face. Carefully, I pressed the doll to my chest, and began to sob.

“Orlaux. Listen to me.” Doern’s voice grew softer, though still with his characteristic fiery edgy, he knelt in front of me, and placed his strong hands onto my shoulders as yet another loud sob wracked my body. I shuddered, and he sighed. “Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they’re gone. We carry our loved ones with us. In here.” 

He poked my chest hard, a clawed finger scratching at the leather. “And I doubt Danica or Maerwynn would want you to be sitting out here, letting the earth reclaim you slowly when you could be out there preventing the imperials from making anyone else feel this way ever again.” 

Part of me wanted to scream at him. Declare that he knew naught of my wife or my daughter, of what they could have possibly wanted. That they would have wanted us together. Alive. Of how I’d give anything to be back with them. To be able to hold Maer in my arms. To be able to take Danica “Flying” again. A small girl held in my arms as I do naught but jump, for once with only joy in mind, not deadly lance work. She always dreamed of flying. Like a bird. 

But, I know he’s correct. Deep down. The logical, reasonable part of me knows that he’s right. They’d look at me from wherever the rest, and be ashamed. Perhaps not Dani, she might just be sad. I believe that would be much worse than the shame. 

I inhaled, and blinked my tears away, shuddering one last time with one final sob. Doern cracked a small, sympathetic smile. Danica always told me I was a hero. Her hero. Her big strong Spider Dragon Slaying Hero. Gods she was terrified of spiders. The imperials had spiders. Terrible horrific metal ones thats movement always grated on my ears. I’d get rid of them for her. All of them. 

“What do you suggest I do instead, Doern?” My voice was weak, broken, and the look upon my old friends face told me it was more than just my imagination thinking that. He grasped my hands with his. Squeezing them tight, and reassuringly, before pulling me into another far too tight hug of his. 

“I can’t say for certain, but I do think I know some people who might.” He stepped back, and looked around at the burnt out husk of my town. A broken shell, much like myself, of what once was a beautiful bustling place. His eyes then turned toward the horizon, towards the brutal steel monuments of war built by our conquerors, and then further still, to places unknown to me. “How about you and I go for a walk?”

I gave a solemn nod. Doern was known for talking around the core of a subject most of the time. To the point where if he was being direct Maerwynn and I would grow worried; It meant that something had gone wrong, or was going to. So his unwillingness to tell me exactly who would have an idea, or where we were going was honestly reassuring; especially when I was smart enough to figure it out myself. 

I stood, grabbed my spear and my bag and rehooked the plush to my belt. I sighed, wipes my eyes, and nodded. “Lead the way then.” My words more sure than the last set. Doern flashed another smile, this one much more genuine and brilliant than the last one, not filled with pity or sympathy. 

And we began our trek to Rahlgr’s Reach. 


Y'shtola knelt next to Krile, giving the Lalafel scholar a reassuring, and grounding hand on her shoulder as she left the clutches of an echo vision behind.A shuddering breath left the woman, she shook her head, and then blinked repeatedly, clearing any residual visions from her view. For good measure, she took a few more deep breaths before looking at her friend, and then looking for Ser Orlaux. 

Or where he had been. A second ago. When he spoke his name and the sounds sent her flying through his past like an arrow aimed at his memories juiciest portions. Frantic, she looked around the crowds, then to Y’shtola. Who looked more than a bit perplexed at her comrade.

“Where did he go?” she asked, a panic in her voice. “We need to find him.” A statement followed, as did stomping towards the tower the Adders had put up ages ago to keep an eye on the wall, not even waiting for her compatriot to respond. Flashes of another's memory now ingrained in her own urged her forward. 

“Krile Wait!” Y'shtola called after her after falling behind. The Lalafel scholar had a deceptively fast walking speed. Confusion colored the Miqo'te’s voice, but curiosity as well. The double sided knife of scholarship. “What did you see? Why do we need him? Who Was that Man?”

Krile stopped at the stairs, and looked back at Shtola with eyes that spoke of determination, and more than a bit of pity. “We don’t need him. He needs us and Danica needs him.” she swallowed hard and continued up the stairs. “I think they’re related, I think he’s her Father.” 

“Krile, that can’t possibly be true.” though the words themselves said otherwise, Y’shtola’s voice was less convinced. Crossing her arms over her chest, the diminutive white mage glowered, and shook her head. 

“It can be, ‘Shtola, we just need to make it so.”  Climbing a bit further, atop some provisional boxes, the Lalafel looked out over the crowd of dead, dying, and those too injured to know the difference in hopes of catching sight of either that dog or that man’s strange mullet walking in some sort of direction. He couldn’t have possibly moved that fast?

“No matter, Krile, he entered Gyr Abania. He’s lost to us now.” 

“Not If I have anything to say about it. “ 


Estinien Wyrmblood gazed from his inn bed up at the crisscrossing ceiling boards. Trying to make images among the swirling grains of wood, a habit he picked up from a friend when she told him it had helped her sleep once or twice. He wished he had her luck with that. All the action seemed to do now was make his mind wander just as much as his eyes did. Back to her, and all he left behind when he started this journey on his own.

He rolled over to face the cold stone wall, polished enough that he could see his reflection in the poor light of the embers. He wondered, perhaps, what this journey would be like if he had brought her with him. Asked her to walk with him again, like in Dravania, or even before, with Alberic. He sighed. She’d have said no, of course, she had far too many obligations far too many things to do. She was this grand hero and her time was forever taken by others. An endless list of quests to go on, things to do, always with that brilliant smile upon her face. 

He wondered if it stayed when he left without saying goodbye, like the coward he was. He hoped so. He didn’t wish to think of her crying, not like what he saw on the bridge when he could do naught but scream in his mind. Or of any of the what if’s the dreadwyrm had decided to play for him during their time together. 

He’d been afraid of her asking him to stay, or worse, her letting him go. Thus he avoided her entirely. Once he’d thought of leaving her a letter, hell’s he still had the draft in his bag. Written over again and again and again with words he’d never have the strength to say and could barely put to paper and could never show her. 

He shut his eyes tight and willed the images of her away as well as he could. Which wasn’t very well at all. He thought of the aery, how she was so willing to defend him with her life if need be. He thought to before that, when they first met and he held her at spear point and she did naught but ask his name. 

Frustrated, he turned away from the wall and towards the fire. His spear glittered next to his armor on a chair the crackling embers. The scarf tied around its neck turning almost amber in the low light. The silver embroidery of the symbol of Rhalgr, the destroyer, stood out so well even now late into the night. 

“Here, for you.” She had told him, wrapping the then pitch black bit of fabric around his wrist. He raised an eyebrow, but not his arm, still sore and slowly recovering from the touch of Nidhogg. It was soft, warn, but well taken care of, with a bit of a strange lump in one corner. “For good luck.” 

“Could have used this earlier.”  he bit back, as good natured as one such as he could be. For her part, she laughed lightly and but tied it a bit tighter. He thinks he must have smiled, at least he hoped he did, he felt like it then. “But I presume late is better than never. What is it?”

“A scarf, silly. Decorative but with a blood pearl sewn into it, for protection you know.” For protection. He chuckled lightly, looking up at the ceiling and away from her touch on his hands. “I maybe kind of sort of forgot to give it to you earlier.” 

He knows what he had wished he had done. He wished he had fought for the strength to squeeze her hand gently. In silent recognition and admiration. Alas, he didn’t. He simply nodded and sighed. “Warrior, you truly have the worst timing.”

“Tell me something I don’t know Estinien.” 

A coward, he was, then, now and perhaps forever.

Chapter Text

There is something awe inspiring about giant statues, no matter the subject,  just as there is something interesting in seeing how different people go about depicting these larger than life entities.  In Ishgard, I remember them being cold as the stone they were made from. Brutal, distant, and patronizing of their viewers and descendants. Even Halone, in all her majesty, looked upon her subjects in statue form with naught but what appeared to me as disdain. Fitting for Ishgard, but would be totally out of place among the large statues we saw of Nald’thal when Maerwynn and I were in Thanalan.

Not to say that Ul’dah crafted warmth into the eyes of their dual aspect patron, but they never seemed as cold to me. Makes sense, really, the more I think about it. Halone is war. Ishgard is cold and xenophobic. They are brutal, unwelcoming things. Nald’thal is Death. Nald’thal is trade. Two topics where welcomes were intricate, almost necessary things. Death is the great equalizer. What will come to us all sooner or later. Why not have it welcome us to some degree. As Merchants welcome their customers so too are we customers of death. Leaving his store to cross back over the Aetherial Sea into life once we are done perusing his wears.

Listen to me go on about such grand things. Maerwynn always told me I got lofty and poetic when seated so far up in the sky. Don’t think she’d ever imagine me sitting upon the hand of her god so deep in thought, but that is where I sat not many days past when Doern first brought me to Rhalgr’s Reach. Just, thinking about statues and depictions and the reflections they truly are of their creators. Halone, Nald’thal, the Founders and so on. Idle thoughts of an idle mind.

All of those statues I’d seen before, however, would be extremely out of place and down right dwarfed here in the Reach. Under the watchful eyes of the destroyer, hewn from the very cliff face to watch over his faithful monks once, and now gazed over his faithful warriors of resistance. Those who refuse to bow to their conquerors. Fitting for the Breaker of Worlds to be carved from the world itself. Just as fitting that his people are so disinclined to break themselves. Fighting now, still, twenty years after the fact. 

It is from Rhalgr’s extended hand, looming over the valley, that I watch out over my new comrades in arms. Sentry duty isn’t glamorous, or as front line as I would like but Conrad, the leader of the folks here, needs someone with good eyes and quick feet to keep an eye on the place. Turns out Dragoon jumping to the head of a statue is exactly what he was imagining, but not what he was expecting to actually get.  

I think they might want more uh, how did Doern put it, “People whose jumping puts frogs to shame” in their ranks I believe. More Dragoons. I doubt Ishgard is going to drop what they’re doing and send over a battalion even with the war over, so I believe they may have been waiting for me to find some willing Ala Mhigan soldiers and the desire to teach.

They never got that, sadly. Fate conspired against them, and for once in my favor. A cruel mistress she is with her weaving, but this time she patched a hole I thought had rent my fabric forever.  

A group of adventurers were escorted into the Reach by M'naago, another member of this branches efforts. Recruits were my first guess. Then I saw their walk, experienced, determined, and more than bit dour. Six in number, two obviously related. Elezen Children, twin perhaps, a familiar pair Miqo’te and Lalafel women and two highlanders. One blonde, one with black hair. I took it that the blonde was perhaps a pugilist or monk, no weapons in sight. The other was a lancer of some kind, had a strange blackened pike on her back. I’d would have said Gridanian, but I didn’t like making those kind of assumptions. 

I pulled my helm back on, Doern had suggested covering my eyes again like when I was young in case my family decided to come knocking, and descended from the hand. Eager to watch these strangers closer, see if they actually were expected. I paused atop of Rhalgr’s foot, and felt as if the world stopped spinning for a moment. As if time itself came to a standstill. 

Black hair, streaked with the faintest dark blue highlights. 

A sharp face. Strong Jaw. Expressive Eyebrows.

One eye of Green the other of Gold, like her eyes held both the forest and the light that danced among the leaves.

Tall even for a highlander, and with just the slightest point to her ears.

“Danica” One of the children addressed her as, “Danica are you listening?”  

 Suddenly the world was instead moving far too fast. The weight of twenty years came piling upon me, holding me fast to where I stood as everyone and everything moved forward at a breakneck speed. 

Danica. 

My Danica.

She had to be. 

I felt tears welling behind my helm, brilliant and full and thankfully silent. I felt my knees weaken, and staggered a top my spear unable to speak, to think, beyond my daughters most beautiful name. Whispered to myself, gently, reassuringly, as I watched her approach Conrad and his lieutenants. Seems they were expected, recruits? My mind was swirling too fast to think tactically. All I could see was the brilliant young woman whose life I had missed.

By the Fury I had missed so damn much. All because I feared she’d been trapped, and stolen inside the conquered lands, and acted on that fear. If I had just used my brain, had thought, looked outside of Garlemald ONCE. I could have been with her sooner. So much sooner. 

My mind attacked me, berated me, and considering the happiness on my doorstep I hadn’t the slightest idea why. Twenty years were not as stones upon my shoulders but daggers in my back. Tears of joy turned to anguish. I had no right now, no right to reinsert myself into her life after having missed so much. 

She must have been so scared. So alone. Her face looked as tired as mine, and it had no right to be. She was twenty seven summers, she should have had the light of youth upon her brown and a smile that befit it’s joys. 

They spoke with Conrad, with words my brain refused to comprehend. Business, it seemed, one of the younger Elezen seemed quite the politician. What madness controlled the world that children need be diplomats. Meffrid greeted the woman I thought my daughter with a wide smile and open arms. Like family. I had to look away. 

I felt a strong hand on my arm, and crashed back down  to the moment to reality. Doern stood next to me, a worried look on his eyes. “Something wrong ‘Laux.” 

My eyes returned to my potential Danica, who had turned to face the statue, and in turn me. She looked so much like Maerwynn, save with my eyes. I smiled wide, through my anguished tears, to the point my cheeks hurt. 

One of the young Elezen grabbed her arm gently, redirecting her attention to some map laid before them. She tilted her head, spoke in a low tone, smiled. Doern grabbed my arm again. Finally, I found the strength to speak. 

“Nothing, Nothing’s wrong.” I lied. Doern’s tail bristled, but he didn’t press the matter. “Tell Conrad I have an idea. Tell him I’m going to watch the strangers, make sure they’re not trying to take us to the cleaners for the empire.” 

Doern raised an eyebrow, suspicious, but thankfully not enough to question me. Perhaps if he had seen my face he would have, but the glory of full face helmets once more saved the day. I stepped from the foot of the statue, praying that I looked as sure of my step as I wanted to be, and trailed behind the group as they began their tour of the Reach. My path set before me, I just hoped I had the iron will to follow it.

I had to make sure it was actually her.

I had to make sure she was safe.

I had to protect my Daughter.

Chapter Text

Orders were given, battle plans drawn, and over the next few weeks I found myself the willing shadow of Danica Voss. A woman who I believed, beyond even the faintest shadow of doubt, was my daughter. Apparently she was a Dragoon of some renown, but didn’t start that way. Wild, charismatic, and larger than life, a woman who had made a name for herself in stories that would come to be legends back in Eorzea. 

The Ultima Weapon, The Dragonsong War, Primals and Voidsent alike met ends upon her pike. Apparently, the blacked monster of a weapon was even something she claimed after the defeat of Nidhogg himself.  To think that my daughter was not just strong enough, but willing enough to throw herself against such foes and come out the victor filled me with limitless pride. As well as limitless fear. 

So willing was she to walk into danger, without knowing if she’d ever walk out. So selfless she was that she was willing to die if the cause so called for it. She was a woman of extremes. She laughed louder, fought harder, perhaps even cried harder than anyone else I’d ever known in my entire life. Larger than life she was, and I feared that life could not hold her. 

As I watched her go about her missions with M’naago and  Meffrid I saw her in action. Watched distantly as she cut down monsters and men with equal precision. I watched as she questioned civilians, soothed their woes, and let the anger over the state of her home consume her. She did not see Bittermill as it is now, thankfully, but Gyr Abania was as much home as the town itself. 

She asked Meffrid, once, while I sat amongst some trees, why they were being followed. Apparently I was not as stealthy as I once thought I was. Meffrid, bless him, managed to paint this lovely little picture of extra eyes watching their backs, in case the imperials attempted to sneak up on them. A lie, but one it at least looked like she believed. Well, Lyse did, I believe I may have second guessed myself far too much to have any accurate reading on my Daughter. 

I watched them as they recruited among the villages, and met resistance from a tired and war worn populace. I watched them as they spotted the children Gyr Abania had lost to the imperials. The Skulls. Meffrid was one for restraint, Lyse for heartfelt action. Danica seemed to fall in between. Willing to watch from the shadows, but balling her fists to the point I watched the drops of blood hit the dirt near her feet as they all saw the cruelty of the occupiers. 

M’naago mission was of similar importance, though I loathed to follow them so close to the Wall and Bittermill. Strike a blow. Reignite the fires of hope in the resistance, and the people of Ala Mhigo’s heart. Depriving the Empire of new weaponry all the while. A cunning, and brilliant plan that went a smooth as silk. I must say I was impressed, watching her and the Immortal Flames dance the bloody dance of War. She danced it too well for any ease in my heart, but she danced skillfully all the same. 

All of this was moving beautifully swift. Even with the Griffons terrible betrayal and brutal murder of many of his countrymen, it seemed the hour of our victory was at hand. At least, to someone whose gut did not tell him things were going far   too smoothly like my own was. 

Their next target was Castellum Velodyna. A bold brutal move.

And this time, instead of watching from the Shadows I sat with them during their own scouting. “One of the best we have.” M’naago had said as I approached them among the alliances camp “Grumpy, but who among us isn’t at times.” I said nothing. This close to my Daughter and I said nothing, for a watchdog I may be, but what use is a cowardly watchdog. Danica’s eyes lingered on my old spear, raised an eyebrow, but said nothing on the matter.

We sat among the brush. Silent. One of the young Elezen children, a Lalafel commander of the Immortal Flames, Danica and I gazing over the river onto Castellum Velodyna. I was thankful for the mask of my helm, else they might have been able to see my eyes switch back to Danica for far longer than I ever spent watching the Castellum. 

Our heavy silence was broken by the sound of cannon fire to the east. Towards Rhalgr’s Reach. We may have caused the diversion the first time, but this time? It was we who had been tricked. 

Quick and heavy footfalls drove us back to the hub of our entire movement, only to watch in blood soaked horror at the survivors who limped out. The Lalafel woman, Krile, from earlier was leading the charge as well as a youth I did not recognize. She told us of more back in the Reach needing aid. Of the brutal effectiveness of the attack. Intimate knowledge, someone had Intimate knowledge of us and used it to bleed us dry. Danica rushed forward, as so did the rest of her companions - myself included - with the hope of stopping this senseless bloodshed.

We would not have such luck.

Zenos. The Imperial Viceroy. Stalked the battlefield like a sadistic cat, toying with his prey. Though, that might not be an apt descriptor, as to my knowledge animals are not known to harm when they’re not hungry.  His cruelty was uniquely that of Man. 

I took stock of the battlefield, though slaughter grounds would have been just as fitting of a name. I saw the bloodied and broken bodies of many a friend. Danica however, her eyes zero’d in on the particulars. Meffrid lay still on the ground, as did Y’shtola, though from Krile’s reactions it seems at least life was still flowing from her. Lyse, sat bound, and frantic, near her friends.

Rage is a powerful motivator, a strong driving force, though one risk’s being blinded by it if they’re not careful. Danica was careful, and used that rage to rush forward, Pike drawn. Pippin, as I later learned the Immortal Flame commander’s name was, another of the young elezen children and I joined her right after.

Zenos might have the cruelty of man, but his strength and skill are far from the man’s limits, as much as I am loath to admit it. We dance, like puppets on strings only he can see the smallest movement of, and fall as he sees fit. 

First it is the Elezen child. Danica calls out to her, Alisaié is her name apparently. She is struck from the field, flying towards her twin and landing with such a thunk I feared she may never stand. I held my lance tight, though my eyes were on the child. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw her stir, injured though she may be. The battlefield is no place for anyone, let alone children.

Then it is Marshall Pippin who is stolen from the field. Knocked back with such force that his helm fell into the waters at Rhalgr’s feet. He ran back towards us, but could not keep himself standing long enough to rejoin the fray. He fell to his knees, his sword dug into the ground. Leaving the three of us to the hands of fate.

Danica. Zenos. Myself. 

I prayed that if fate was to ever favor me. It be then.

Danica gripped her lance till her knuckles were white took a deep breath, eyes focused, pupils naught but pinpoints. On her exhale, they were more akin to slits. The Dragon part of dragoon, at the forefront. A spirit like dragon engulfed her, starting from the arm I had caught a glimpse of a similarly shaped tattoo on, and soon consuming her entire body. Zenos quirked an eyebrow. Somehow, my desire to deck him only skyrocketed. 

Allowing her to take the lead, both Zenos and I watched as she jumped high into the air, a shadow against the silent moon. I do not believe Zenos was expecting a second shadow to join her, but not to be outdone, I took to the skys as well. It did us little good. 

She came crashing down atop him, pike and body alight with fire, only to be flicked off like an ant upon his blade. Rolling back to her feet, she attempted once more, this time aiming her pike from below as I came crashing down atop him. She managed to connect. 

He only laughed. 

I went flying, rolling with much less grace. My years suddenly reminding me they were there. With a groan, I stood to my knees, hands frantically searching the ground for my lance. While I struggled, she stood there, Pike sparking off his sword with each connect, her anger and speed akin to the Fury herself. At least until her weapon was knocked from her hands, shattered in two, its beautiful slick black finish glittering on the ground. 

She was on her knees, eyes frantically searching the ground for something to use as a weapon. He, smirking raised his sword above his head. A show. A show of her death. One I would not allow.

 Forgetting my lance, I rushed to my feet and towards the viceroy. I had no plan. Only a goal I would do anything to achieve. Maerwynn always said I was shit at planning ahead. So when I pushed Danica away, near throwing her across the ground, I couldn’t help but smile. My love had always been so right. 

The sound of metal hitting metal is distinct. 

As is the sound of rending flesh, though the smooth movement and sharpness of the blade Zenos wielded dampened that one. Danica looked up at me in horror as I fell to my knees. I dragged a hand to my chest, only for the gauntlet to return sticky with my own blood. If I spread my fingers it even webbed between them. Sound grew distant. I looked up from my hands back towards her, and though I knew she couldn’t see it.

I smiled. 

The last sound I remember hearing was a scream of rage, with a dark laugh behind it. Limitless and unending. 

The last thing I saw was a rapier in my Daughters hand, magic of brilliant whites and blacks and reds swirling around her. Just like her mother. 

So much like her mother.

Chapter Text

When I once more blink myself to consciousness, twas’ not in the embrace of a loved one on the other side of the Aetherial Sea. It was on a hard, blanketed cot in a room with a warm stone roof carved into the very stone it was made of. Light murmurs and loud groans of pain echoed around me. The red light of the setting sun broke through the curtains sectioning my bed from others. This place was familiar to me, yes, this place was the infirmary in Rhalgr’s Reach.

Had we won? Had against all odds we chased off the Viceroy and his legion? Muffled distant crying, and the cawing of carrion birds suggested otherwise. The ache in my bones was familiar, a grievous injury on the mend, I dared not move or laugh and I barely even breathed. I simply listened. For any sign of what had occurred after I passed out. I heard many things; murmured prayers to Rhalgr, and many of the other gods, loud weeping and angry cries of frustration, at one point I even heard some glass break.

 It wasn’t till I heard quick, light footsteps in the direction of my bed however, that I once again closed my eyes and pretend to be in the arms of sleep. I heard the sound of curtains being pushed away, and a loud huff.

“You know I know you’re awake. Right?” Ah, the Lalafel Scholar from before. Krile. I grimaced, and opened one eye. Tempted to make a witty remark of “are you sure” but by the look on her face and the way her arms were crossed over her chest even I was not so foolish. I let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding and opened the other eye. Saying nothing.

“Mr. Orlaux. You are the most foolish, bullheaded, dolt I’ve ever met in my entire life.” She exhaled hard, putting one hand to her face and slowly starts again. “Y’shtola had her doubts about you two being related but after a ploy like that there is no doubt in my mind about what I saw.” 

I raised an eyebrow, attempting to keep a mask of indifference at her harsh words. She shook her head at me like a disappointed grade school teacher and once more started again. This time from the beginning. “Sir, do you really think the best way to go about reconnecting with a daughter you’ve spent the better part of twenty years looking for is by stalking her from the shadows?” 

I opened my mouth. I closed my mouth. When put that way, it wasn’t a bright idea in the slightest. It wasn’t even a dim idea. It was absolutely foolish, but did I really have any right to reinsert myself into her life after missing so much? I didn’t voice those thoughts, at least not immediately. 

I averted my eyes, as much as I could without moving. Krile was cunning, cornering me like that. Unable to move, unable to jump away. Bound. She walked around to the other side of the bed still with her arms crossed, and a look filled with equal parts anger and pity on her face. Slowly, she extended her hand towards my face, tracing a gentle path over the air where only a bit lower sat a scar only twenty summers old itself. 

“The Echo, do you know what it is?” She asked, her voice miles gentler than it had been before. I attempted to nod no, and immediately regret it. A shock of pain shooting through my body emanating from my chest up to my shoulders. Deep. How close had I been to Nald’thals door. Why did I not cross over it?

She threw herself down at the edge of my bed. The force of her landing bouncing me a bit. I yelped. A wave of apologies left her, though honestly I deserved it. 

“The Echo is a gift. A special talent. One that both your daughter and I have been blessed with. Though to hear her speak of it sometimes it’s more akin to chains or a curse for her. It’s one of the things we often disagree on.” She started, the voice of a teacher, explaining things at it’s very basic. With bits of story woven in to keep my interest. 

“Then again I happen to be a scholar of it, while Danica just had it thrown upon her when trying to pay rent.” She laughed, shaking her head to get herself back on topic. “It allows the individual to resonate with others souls. See there past, though not interact with it or change it. Along with a selection of other things that vary per person. I believe Danica has always said hers felt a bit like minor precognition. Flashes of where strikes will land before they do. Mine is more akin to well tuned Empathy.” 

I nodded. That explained the headache. At least I thought. I didn’t, and I don’t plan on asking. Gently, I tried to push myself up to a sitting position. The pain made me grit my teeth but, my resolve was stronger. 

“When I first met you. When you told me your name. I, against my own will mind you, was shown the recesses of your memory. I saw all of you. Together. There were candles, and a cake, and a stuffed chocobo plush that looked hand made that made her eyes light up when it was handed to her. She call you Dragon Dad because she had a hard time saying Dragoon as a five year old.” I looked away from her then, towards my sadly empty palms, scared and worn from years of use.

“I saw you cradle your wife's body, I heard your promise. I know that you’ve searched every inch of Garlemald for her. So why don’t you go to her?” I closed my hands into loose fists. I felt tears brimming in my eyes. My voice broke as I spoke finally. Answering a question my mind had decided for me the moment I saw her.

“I have no right to.” And with that, the tears fell free. “ I’ve not right, not anymore, not after all those years I’ve missed. All that time she’s been alone. Or afraid and I wasn’t there to help her.” My hands shook. I closed my eyes in an attempt to maintain face, for even here my pride ached. Krile reached out and gently put her hand atop mine. She seemed to pause a moment, considering her words, but eventually exhaled, sure of her choice of action.

“You are not the only member of your family I’ve seen the past of.”  Her words cause my eyes to open. “Danica doesn’t speak of herself willingly. At least not of things that might bring up sympathy. She’s proud. Much like you.” I swallowed hard. I had hoped not. I’m a mess of a man. 

“She lived in Ul’dah. She wasn’t alone so much. The elders in Little Ala Mhigo kept an eye on her and other children. What I saw was one time when she was in the city itself. Walking with some of the older children looking for odd jobs. She was speaking with one. I think perhaps Meffrid. He had asked her what she dreamt about that made her so slow to wake in the morning.”  She raised her other hand, as if to paint me a picture. Did she feel as if she was breaking some sacred trust, by telling me this? I would. What place is more sacred that one’s memory. 

“Do you know what she said?” She asked, snapping me from my thoughts. “She said she dreamed of being found. That someone was looking for her out there. To take her home. Where it was warm, and soft and safe and everything was ok.” Kriles own voice hitched. Pain, perhaps, at seeing a young child - even if she knew her now as a powerful warrior - so touched by war. “You have to go make that dream a reality. Even if it is a bit late.” She faced me, determination in her brow and sadness in her eyes. “You have to.” 

“She was so right. I looked. Every day.” my breath shuddered, the weight of the years only growing heavier knowing she had been waiting for me too. “But never did I know I was such a coward.” 

Because even knowing that, then, was I afraid to speak to her. What if she hated me for how long I took? What if she never wanted to see me again? What if she blamed me for all the hardships life threw at her? A thousand thoughts like that and more flew through my mind as bitter broken sobs rocked through my body. Exasperated by the pain of my viceroy gained injury.

Krile looked at me with sympathy, not pity like I might once have thought, and reached to touch my shoulder. A smile gently touched her features. “You know, Dragoons might be a lonely edgy lot preferring solitude, but you needn’t be alone in this.”  

And with that, the years felt a bit lighter.


 

Death had become part of her life. 

She had to accept that now. 

People she loved would die. Terrible horrible deaths. 

She was starting to think it was a curse, made especially for her, for some crime some past life of her committed. So many people now. Minfilla. Papalymo. Her parents. Ysayle. 

Haurchefant. 

Knowing her made the reaper move faster, so it seemed. 

She was silently glad that someone else had closed Meffrids eyes. She didn’t know if she could bring herself to do it. Hells, kneeling next to him now, or next to his body at least, she could barely get herself to move. Let alone cry. 

Even those death did not take were maimed instead. Y’shtola. Thancred. The strange man in the full face mask who followed them as a back up even he had thrown himself in the way of a blade meant for her. 

It was like the Gods didn’t care who they took, and who they left behind to deal with the marks of their brush with death. Who they stole from her. 

Danica had thought that, with Estinien, deciding that they wouldn’t have him. That she wouldn’t allow it. That no one else was going to die or be hurt for her. That she had cracked the code. He was safe. Injured yes, and recovering but he could finally rest. That was all she ever wanted for her friend. Even before they were friends. 

But then. She knew that false security was a lie even then. When Alisaie was brought in poisoned, and life threw her into the action again. 

Voss swallowed hard. Angry at the world for taking more from her. Angry at herself for not even being able to cry here. Cry properly. Mourn even. She looked up at the face of the Destroyer. Rhalgr looking down upon her. And she was angry. 

She closed her eyes, and instead of screaming, cursing out the heavens. She said simply prayer for a man she would have loved to called brother again. 

It wasn’t until she heard a very loud sniffling that she opened her eyes again. Expecting to see another mourner, instead she was surprised by the happy and excited wagging body of a Bulldog. Danica Voss tilted her head, oh did she not know the joy running through that animals mind. Of finally seeing Her Girl again? 

Henri sat, her tail still wagging so hard sitting might not have been the best word. More frantically creating a dust pile. Danica raised an eyebrow, but slowly, surely, reached out to pet the dog. The frown on Her girl’s face slowly eased as she continued to pet her. Tears flowed, but Henri was always sure getting them out was better than holding them in. Stagnant water is no fun. 

Soon, the sun set. And Danica stood as they took away the familiar boys body. Henri followed Danica to a tent, where she curled up among a tattered blanket and simply lay. Henri sat herself down near Her Girls Face. Who continued to pet her gently until slowly, her eyes closed and sleep took her away. 

And Again Henri was happy.

And someday, Her Girl would be too.

Chapter Text

Castrum Oriens had a grim, solemn air about it then. Not the sort of, synthetic, sterile grim that Castrums often have, but a bloody, far too mortal air of pain. The people of the Grand Companies, and Ishgard, watched as we survivors of the massacre, nay the slaughter, at Rhalgr’s Reach filed in. Trumpeted by the moans of our injured and dying.

 I limped, free of the confines of my sick bed, across open dead grass, and dark metal pathways, doing anything to appear busy, and keep myself from thinking too hard. I wish I could say I had luck, but most of the work in the castrum was for those who could move without grimacing every step, and what little work remained was barred from me by the meddlings of one singular Lalafel Scholar. Or so I presume. 

She hadn’t been kidding about getting me to talk to Dani, one way or another. She was determined, relentless even, and I could respect that. I just wish I could push fear enough away to be able to walk up to her myself. Comfort her, give her some amount of good news, anything for the chance to brighten her face. She looked so tired. Her brilliant eyes downcast, her arms crossed, her entire being rang of exhaustion and sadness. 

Apparently, both her Rapier and Pike shattered during her encounter with the Crown Prince. Even her armor, or at least her old set, apparently was ruined beyond repair. She fought with everything she had, and still apparently left only a dent in the sword of Zenos. Hushed murmurs around the camp spoke of the fear this inspired. I’m sure it inspired nothing but anger in my daughter however.

She stood away from her friends. Watching them, letting them plan, in silence. The pure muscle perhaps they expected her to be. An unmoving pillar. If I was slow enough, shadowy enough, I might be able to approach her then without anyone noticing. I took a deep breath, took a step forward, and wheezed in pain.

Ok maybe stealth wasn’t in my future.

Eyes snapped over to me, though not hers, and I waved slowly to the Elezen children and Krile. Krile, for her part, bid her compatriots farewell and marched over to me. A sympathetic smile on her face. 

“Have you decided then?” she asked, her hands on her hips. “Are you going to speak with her here? May I once again put my support of that plan in big bold letters, considering she’s bound for Doma on the morrow.” 

“Doma!?” My eyes went wide. A place so far away, a place I hadn’t gotten to check yet. A place reachable by boat and boat alone most likely given the current political climate. God I hate boats.

“Yes. Doma. The tactic was Danica’s idea actually. Diverting the Imperials to two fronts.” A brilliant plan, one I had to get in on, even if it involved my worst nemesis. Krile smiled, apparently I wore my apprehension on my sleeve.  “I believe you should tell her before you stalk her onto a boat. Meffrid isn’t around to deflect for you any longer and I’m one hundred percent sure that Neran is getting close to stabbing you.” 

I inhaled. I wheezed. I nodded. 

“I’d... I’d like to but it’s so open. Public. I doubt she’d want some grand show of this.”  I didn’t want some grand show of it. Really. But no one needed to know that did they? Afterwards, Krile told me it was dreadfully obvious and I was a terrible liar, but hey, mayhap only she noticed? 

“Then let me bring her to you, in one of the rooms around the Castrum.” She offered. “Away from prying eyes and your own fear.”  I swallowed hard, hard enough to hear, and nodded. 

Said room in the castrum was really a glorified broom closet devoid of its old brooms. Realistically, it probably once held some of those mechanical spiders, but having been smashed weeks before at the Wall. The Imperials’ hadn’t the time to fill it with more mechanical nightmares, thankfully. Danica didn’t need to deal with those, the noise they made grated on my ears, I don’t want to imagine how she felt about them with her old fear of spiders. 

I stood there, absently fiddling with the metal arms of some strange magitech device, which I later found out was some kind of weird trash can, when I heard them approach. Two sets of footsteps. Kriles, quick, soft ones and Danica’s slower, more deliberate stomps. She wanted it to be known she was coming. They were chatting, or more, Krile was chatting at Danica. Apparently, she hadn’t said much of anything since Zeno’s attacked us. Barely a single word really. To say that worried me would be an understatement but, then again, everything about this set up worried me.

“Come right this way, I tell you your going to love this Danica. Really.”  He heard a sharp exhale of breath. The sound of leather crunching hit my ears, perhaps she had crossed her arms and ground her finger into her new armor. She was wary, rightfully so, but her steps did not stop. “Came all this way to see you really.” Another sharp exhale. 

“Why must we meet in a closet, Krile?” She asked, her voice low, I could barely hear it. Krile didn’t respond. Perhaps she was banking on their friendship to keep her going. A gambit that thankfully paid off.

I heard the doorknob move.  For a split second, I considered running again, but the only exit lay at my back, and was fraught with the dangers of one whole Scholar. I was thankful, instead, that my back was to it. Perhaps by not immediately seeing her, I could steel my resolve. When I heard it slide open, I closed my eyes, and I prayed. One set of footsteps, Kriles, entered. Danica remained at the doorway. I could feel her eyes upon me as keenly as I felt the Crown Prince’s blade. Krile pulled at the sleeve of my coat, as if to grab me from my thoughts.

Slowly I turned, looked her in the eyes for as long as I could, in the beautiful reflections of my own, and could do naught but sit there, slack jawed. Words far far from my grasp. I must have opened and closed my mouth upward of twenty times, attempting to force something, anything into the air. 

Her face was at first indifferent. Then, as she looked me over slowly, carefully, cautiously, her eyes went wide. She took a step in the room, and then another, and another, growing closer by the second. Her approach startling me, just as I was about to find my voice.

“Miss Voss, I’m sorry for taking your time but I’m-”

“Dad?” Her voice, but a whisper, broke into a cry as she continued forward, faster, abandoning all pretense of walking. 

“Yes!” I smiled. I smiled till my face hurt. I smiled until she reached me, as I pulled my daughter into the first hug I had been able to give her in twenty years. I smiled and tears fell from my eyes as I held her close to me and once more repeated that loud, exuberant, yes.

She cried into my chest, holding me in a death grip so tight my sides ached. Tears soaking my shirt and my bandages as a floodgate she did not know she had been holding burst open. I gently pet her hair, kissing her forhead, reminding myself that yes, she was really here! 

“There wasn’t a day I didn’t spend looking for you, Dani.” I whispered. “Not a night I did not wish to be there for you.”  I gently removed one arm from her, to go to my belt. The weathered old Chocobo Plush never had looked so perfect, even when I first made it for her. She did not let me finish fully extending it to her before she swiped it up, holding it tight to her chest. The smile that spread upon her face was enough to make the sun envious of its brilliance. I laughed, a gentle, relieved laugh.

“I thought you may have wanted that back. It is your favorite after all.” She looked up at me with those tearful, sparkling eyes, and laughed with me. 

As I reached out and gently wiped the tears from her eyes, I realized something. In that magitech broom closet. In that terrible Castrum. For the first time in twenty years. I felt at peace. For twenty years may have separated us, but those twenty years were no more. Only the mysterious expanse of the future sat ahead of us, but at least now we may face it together. As a family.