Their first two meetings are tense, awkward things. The Scions do not trust him - as well they shouldn’t - and he does not want to waste time with them. She is the only one who considers his olive branch, the only one who looks the least intrigued by what he offers - she is the only one who interests him. The Warrior of Light, traveler between shards, Ascian-killer, dragon rider, feller of Nidhogg, Alexander, and Omega, bane of primals and Garleans alike -
She is much shorter than he pictured.
They never give her a chance to speak, never give her the space to move forward. He watches her, torn between amusement that one so powerful on a battlefield is lost in a group gathering, and disappointment that she will not speak over the others.
There will be time.
He will catch this daughter of Hydaelyn later.
He puts on a show in Rak’tika, throws his arms wide and gives himself over to memories of his most recent empire. The brutish Hyur is crude, as always, but Emet-Selch will not be goaded into an argument.
She remains quiet until the others walk ahead. “You irk them on purpose.”
“I suppose you would prefer I keep to the shadows, lurking about as quiet as a mouse. It’s a rather boring alternative, truth be told - it has been ever so long since I had the chance to play with mortals such as yourselves.” He pauses as he belatedly catches an implication in her words. “Do I not annoy you, hero?”
For the first time he sees the hint of a smile around her eyes. “Not yet.” She gazes up at the boughs above them, at the vibrant green canopy and the rays of blinding Light that pierce it, and he realizes he is watching her, smiling at her. There is something familiar to her - not her appearance, no, but a deeper part of her, as though he has known her before…
“You are leering, Ascian.”
His eyes snap back to hers. There - just below the surface. An echo - a piece - a tiny spark he recognizes. Fragmented though her soul might be, just enough remains for him to discern a hint of someone he must once have known.
He renders his face blank, wipes any trace of familiarity from it before she sees, but there is a strange feeling in his chest, an odd coiling in his stomach. He watches her follow the Scions, her head held high even in as strange a place as this - as though the path is familiar, as though the world is just as welcoming as the one she calls home. Overconfidence, perhaps, but he thinks it rather well-earned. After all she has survived he doubts there is much that scares her.
Focusing more on her than the road ahead, he follows her deeper into Rak’tika.
He is not prepared for the misery that greets him in Fanow. Anger, sorrow, desperation, guilt - he reads all of it and more on the faces of those gathered around the poisoned Hrothgar. Admittedly he does not react well upon learning one of their number has perished - he has been lacking in sympathy ever since the Sundering - and it is the anger in the Warrior of Light’s dark eyes that motivates him to help.
He knows this is not a rational decision. The Miqo’te he sets out to save is powerful, canny, wise - should he leave her behind his chances would be greatly increased.
It goes off without a hitch, because of course it does - this is child’s play, a parlour trick; a snap of his fingers and the Miqo’te is saved, plucked from the Lifestream as easily as a grape from the vine.
He made the Warrior of Light smile. Why does that matter to him?
He does not follow them back to Fanow, instead choosing to wander the nearby forest. It is a beautiful place, a strange land with cliffs, ravines, and trees large enough to be mountains. Having spent so many decades on the Source he has forgotten much of the beauty that exists on the Shards. He should do his best to see more of it - there is no telling how long each might have left.
A branch snaps behind him and he halts. What an unexpected development.
“I wanted to thank you.”
Just when he thought he’d had enough surprises for one day, the Warrior of Light has followed him into the wilds! That she should seek him out is strange; that she should do so alone makes him wonder.
“It was not a difficult task,” he replies slowly, turning to face her. “A trifling bit of magic.”
“To you, perhaps, but to us - we would be much hindered without Y’shtola.”
He narrows his eyes. Though he recognizes this fact, it is odd for her to acknowledge it. “Are you not the Warrior of Light? Does this not depend entirely on you?”
“I am a small piece,” she says with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I am the hammer that hits the nail.”
“You sell yourself short.” Why is he defending her? “Does this analogy render me and mine the nail?”
“You haven’t given me a reason to hit you.”
Conversation should not be this easy. The words are on his tongue and he should not say them, he should say anything else, he should turn and leave, he should -
“I shall have to try harder.”
She raises her eyebrows and he looks away, mentally cursing himself. He does not want to talk to her, to spend time with her, to flirt with her. He should have self-control enough for that!
“I’ll be making my way back,” she says, a look in her eyes he cannot decipher. “I suppose we’ll see you after we destroy the Lightwarden.”
“I’ll find you.” It sounds like a promise, like something he’s committed to - and it is a surprise to discover he wants to find her, to meet with her, to talk with her.
Is he so starved for companionship that he turns to Hydaelyn’s chosen? Is he truly so great a fool?
Thinking of the words Elidibus would have for him were he here, Emet-Selch remains among the trees long after she departs.
The shock in her eyes when he admits he is tempered hits him harder than he’d expected it to. He’d believed they would have come to such a conclusion much earlier.
Does he think too highly of them?
Does he think too highly of her?
She finds him after, in the winding pathways and caverns of the Qitana Ravel. He has retreated to a dead-end, a dark cave branching off the main path, with the hopes of collecting his thoughts. Seeing those old murals has awoken memories he buried deep; though he had recalled them for the Scions as diligently as a schoolmaster dictates their lessons he would be lying if he said they did not have an affect on him.
The nostalgia and sorrow weigh heavy.
He watches her rush to him, watches the expression on her face. She is angry, yes, but there is disappointment there too, and knowing that he has managed to let her down rattles him.
When had he started trying to please her?
Words do not come easily to her. She glares at him, fists opening and closing, and he can only stare back. The fault lies with him - why does it always lie with him - and he has nothing to add, no defense to make. He spoke the truth - what more does she want?
“I am not tempered.”
Giddy relief washes through him. Her disappointment lies not with him.
“Would it be such a bad thing?” Seeing the rage in her eyes, he quickly changes tactics. “Zodiark and Hydaelyn do not temper their followers as lesser primals are wont to do. We act in their stead, yes, but we are fully capable of rational thought. I imagine there are boundaries your Mother has set upon you, restrictions or guidelines you cannot work beyond, but all your actions are entirely your own.”
Her eyes widen. Some of the anger leaves her; she mouths three words that he cannot decipher, but when she looks to him again he can tell something has changed.
“If you are tempered by Him - and I tempered by Her - then us working together…” She shakes her head. “Our goals are not the same. Any aid you provide furthers His cause.”
“Who is to say? My restrictions are somewhat loose.” He tilts his head. “I’ve upset you.”
“One always hopes to parley,” she replies quietly, her dark eyes distant. “To convince the other to turn aside. To achieve peace without resorting to conflict.” Her focus snaps to him. “It seems I’ve held on to false hope longer than was warranted.”
“You hoped for me to - what? Change my mind?”
“Evil men are not born so. It stands to reason they may not die so, either.”
His smile is lopsided, though the feeling in his chest is beyond compare. “Ah, redemption. You have chosen a difficult path, hero. May I ask why?” At her silence he shrugs his shoulders. “Two worlds stand on the brink of calamity. Enemies chase you on all sides. Why does my salvation play even a small part in the theatre of your mind?”
“We are alike, are we not? Both with great power, great responsibility - both somewhat apart from our peers.” She looks away, suddenly uncomfortable. “No matter. I have wasted enough of your time.”
“I would not call it a waste.”
The smile she gives him...! He turns his head so she cannot see the humour in his eyes.
Voices suddenly echo through the caves; the Scions are seeking her. Their eyes meet and there is understanding there, the unspoken agreement that the others need not know of this conversation.
He watches her leave, the strange feeling in his chest seeming almost to bubble below the surface - like laughter contained, like a scream swallowed, like keening silenced.
What is this?