He could hear their voices before he saw them. Stepping out of the Bureau of the Architect, the two souls he knew well blazed in the middle of all the other souls, one of which beckoning at him while the other idly went about their performance.
“– ah, he’s arrived. ‘twould do us well to see the man who graciously gave us his time, Persephone.”
How he wishes to return to the Underworld – ‘Persephone’ waves him over and he resigns himself to his fate of being accompanied by his animated friends.
Hythlodaeus, smug and cheerful as always, gave him a bow, white hair spiraling from his shoulder where it normally hid in the back of his cowl. That was the new normal greeting, for Hythlodaeus was never the one to stand and let things truly be normal.
“’tis good to see you, honourable Emet-Selch.”
“Oh,” Hades groans, reaching for his mask as they flash a smile at him. “Has he infected you with his raucous attitude?”
“You wound me, sir,” Hythlodaeus chuckles, “Hyperion and I are merely greeting you accordingly.”
Hades knew that the man could sense the mild confusion regarding their fellow Amaurotines regarding the multiple names. He was purposefully doing it in the middle of the public.
“It has been a millennium since you’ve started that,” he replies, affixing his mask to place. “Surely you’ve tired of the joke now.”
Hythlodaeus laughs, glancing at his direction and even though his eyes are hidden beneath his own mask, Hades is sure the eyes that never cease to move stop and gleam at him for the moment.
“Come now, Emet-Selch,” he says, “our dear friend is being appointed a spot on the Council! The more we keep it up, the less that know their name – they will be referred to as their title, as it should be.”
Their friend lets out a light laugh. “I believe ‘Persephone’ would be of good use today,” they say, sending a smile towards them both as they begin their walk.
“Are you sure? I’ve more to test out – Tyche, Prometheus, Gaea; I’ve barely gotten started.”
Hades flicks the back of Hythlodaeus’ head. “Save the added confusion of the citizens for another day, Hyth. We do not have the time for this.”
“I believe that was uncalled for,” Hyth mutters, “but I’ll concede.”
‘Persephone’ gestures towards the sky, glittering in the sea of colours. “Time is all we have left, my dear Hades. Hyth, might you note them down in the Cabinet? I’m sure the adjudicators would appreciate it for the next set of titles and names.”
The mention of the Cabinet brings Hades to the topic. “Speaking of, are you normally not at the Capitol, Hythlodaeus, overseeing the Cabinet of Curiosity at this time? Or is your role as the Chief of the Bureau of the Architect no longer pleasing to you?”
Hythlodaeus raises a hand and tucks it beneath his chin in a mimic of thinking. “That is true, yes, but I’ve been ushered out for the day as they complete the next sequence of creations. Igeyorhm herself personally stepped in.
Hades wonders why he even bothers. Hythlodaeus was never one to take things seriously. “I suppose if someone has to take over your duties for the rest of the sun, it would be Igeyorhm.”
“Maybe Igeyorhm should just replace Hyth,” their friend adds, ignoring Hyth’s affronted expression.
Hades barks out a rare laugh. “An excellent idea. I’ll be sure to draft a proposal to the Hall of Rhetoric.”
Some time after his anointment as the Architect, Hythlodaeus pulls him aside in a rare moment of seriousness, mask off and giving him a gentle smile as he presented a dull black box.
“Go on,” he says, pushing the box to Emet-Selch’s open palm, “there is no need to worry.”
Inside was a smooth, gleaming pearlescent stone attached to a gold clasp and when he lifted it off its position, there was a backing to the clasp he could detach with ease.
Emet-Selch exhales, shaking the item slightly as he tried to the find words to say.
Hyth took initiative instead. “Our friend has been making quite a fuss at the Pantheon – accidentally created something akin to these. ‘Earrings’, the denizens call it.
“On our last trek outside, they noticed your fascination for the stone,” Hythlodaeus lightly tapped the pearl, “so they took it upon themselves to create you a gift. Took a bit of time, as you’ve realized, with the design choice and creation method, but here it is.”
Their friend would not have been able to streamline something into such a simplistic design on their own. “You assisted.” It was not an accusation.
“I did, and though they would say it is a gift from both of us, I believe it is more a gift from them.”
Hythlodaeus was always like this. “Nonsense,” Emet-Selch replies, raising it to eye-level. “This is the result of both your creation magics. I’m –“ He cuts himself off, unable to say the words. Too unlike him, too personal, too intimate even for the ears of those he loved most.
But Hythlodaeus was nothing but kind. Mischievous, smug, but always kind. “You need not say anything, my friend,” he says. “Then, will you do us the honour of wearing it?”
Hyth’s eyes danced amongst the reflected stars. The burning bright eyes were almost never calm, always chasing down the fleeting souls around Amaurot. Yet here they stood, focused purely on him. Hythlodaeus only stopped for those he cared for most.
“’twould be my honour,” Hades replies.
When the Fourteenth seat was vacated and promptly filled, Hades watches Hythlodaeus weave in a feather from the plumage of the bird with the soul that he had been caring for into the new member's hair, blazing red against the cascade of white.
“I believe,” Hades begins, slowing and accentuating his words, “you look ridiculous with that colour amongst our robes and hair.”
They huff and a look of hurt crosses their expression. All three of them know it is horribly fake. “I daresay it fits me quite well.”
“You merely say that because it is from Hythlodaeus, your partner in crime,” Hades deadpans.
“I was under the impression you were my partner in crime, Emet-Selch,” Hythlodaeus replies, fingers smoothing out the locks of silver hair to weave in another feather. “We are the leading Architects, are we not?”
The new member of the Council presses a hand to the feathers, tugging gently at the locks to observe it. “In all truth, it really is magnificent. To think this was a by-product of an unintended Creation…” They grin at Hyth, the masked pushed haphazardly over their face digging into a cheek. “You never cease to amaze.”
“Nonsense,” Hyth replies, patting down their hair and turning his gaze towards Hades. “Were it not for Emet-Selch, there would be no Creation to take care for.”
Hades huffs, ignoring the warmth curling through him at Hythlodaeus’ and their friend’s peaceful smiles. “Its vessel was through your Creation, I only calmed the soul down. It would do you well to lay claim to your Creations, Hythlodaeus.”
“I think that’s quite impossible, Hades,” their friend replies, shifting and resting on their laps. “Our friend is truly idiosyncratic. Mayhaps it is why some strive to be like him.”
He watches the two let out teasing jabs, soft chuckling, and the three of them exchange mutual words of respect.
He feels all three their souls intertwine and believes there is no better way for him to show his adoration.
The Final Days were brought upon them; a solution proposed.
Thirteen of them agree.
The Fourteenth does not.
Hythlodaeus stumbles upon the aftermath of the heated argument over the latest meeting of the Convocation.
Emet-Selch pushes a strand of his hair off his face, affixing his mask back on, scowling into the ground. “I’m required at the Bureau to oversee and assist in the drafts; would you search for them in my stead?”
Silence – and then Hythlodaeus sighs. “I am not of the Convocation.”
“Consider this an exception, then. We’ve no time to tarry – the Council asked that I do the deed, but considering the earlier conversation, my appearance would be naught but a waste of time.” The lack of a response from the normally hasty man made Emet-Selch jerk upwards and look towards him. “Hythlodaeus.”
One hand was pressed to the white mask fitted on his face.
“I’ll see what I can do, Emet-Selch.” In the silence of the Hall, Hythlodaeus’ quiet response echoes in the chambers, resounding and repeating until it faded into the clamors of Amaurot’s citizens.
Emet-Selch exhales lowly.
“Thank you, my friend.”
Hades walks away.
Everything burns, falling apart piece by piece and yet there they stand, the Architects of Creation, watching the world crumble.
One of them passed a notion. The other was a bystander in a choice he could not directly contribute to.
“Have you any knowledge regarding the Fourteenth member of the council?” It is meant to be scathing, mocking, as Hythlodaeus barely turns his head to make the briefest signs of acknowledgement.
“They were not at the summoning?”
To any common Amaurotine, Hythlodaeus would have seemed innocent. Perfectly confused in the chaos of the war waging above their heads.
He has known Hythlodaeus for millenniums, his soul as familiar and intimate to him as Hades’ own. He knows better than anyone what choices he made – sans one.
“No, Hythlodaeus. They were not.” He steps forward, heeding the crumbling path. He wonders briefly how the platform the other Architect still stood. “Perhaps you’ve knowledge on why that is?”
Hythlodaeus tilts his head upward and Emet-Selch follows. In the raging skies above them, two Primals were tearing apart the world. Piece by piece, he could feel the Underworld split and the souls of Amaurot making stand against the immaculate gods.
Tricks upon tricks – he glares at the back of Hythlodaes’ hood, a warning in his soul.
He focuses, searching and grasping for the soul. Hythlodaeus does nothing but watch the Primals exchange blows, each one leaving an impact on their ruined city, tossing winds and debris.
Amongst the choking air of their home, Hades loses his breath as he pinpoints them, far far away, accompanied by a soul he recognized through intricate association.
Emet-Selch’s emotions are indescribable. “You helped them escape.”
There is no response.
He pushes forward.
“You let them escape.”
“I let them survive, Hades.” The voice was clipped, cold, and so unlike the man he knew in the echoes of his soul. “What was proposed – it is understandable, Hades –“
“So you chose to oppose us.” The Convocation. Emet-Selch hopes Hythlodaeus would falter, hesitate and see reason.
The soul in front of him flickers before it burns bright, proud of its colours and choices. The very mention of the deserter made him react, and now at the forefront there were emotions Emet-Selch never expected to be on the opposing side of.
The verbal answer is faster and firmer than Hades was ever prepared for.
“My position in our lives was to be the peacekeeper when things inevitably got heated in your debacles. But when the time came to decide how we live our lives, the answer you stood for is far out of my reach.” The next impact throws off his hood as he turns his head, silver hair splattered with red spiraling down his back as Hades realizes that Hythlodaeus’ mask was off. “The proposed solution is understandable, Hades, but it does not mean I accept it.
“And I am not the only one.” Hythlodaeus’ eyes burn alongside the landscape. The red of his eyes look far too much like blood. “They could not have summoned the other one with the help of our kin.”
Hythlodaeus’ soul was not waning. The power of Creation magicks was still as strong as the day he passed up the position of the Architect. The soul that chose to oppose them, left them, abandoned them – there was nothing but smoldering remains of a Convocation members magicks.
Waning, burning and tearing souls all around them.
“Hythlodaeus,” Emet-Selch says.
When Hythlodaeus whispers, it is loud and echoing in the broken halls, voice carried away by the chaos. “Sometimes, things will change, Hades. It is up to us whether we let go and be swept along with it, or hold strong and defy it.”
Everything aches. Hythlodaeus’ soul is so calm, so accepting of the end. “You cannot be serious,” Hades pleads. “We can survive this – we have survived the first two, it is only a matter of rebuilding, their lives will not be lost.” There is a manic in his voice and everything is wrong, so very wrong. “We will get their lives back, you and I sense that as true.”
As he speaks, he watches Hythlodaeus’ soul as the man observes the continuing ruination before Hythlodaeus turns to face him fully, his back against the carnage as Hydaelyn and Zodiark’s fight was coming to an end – one last blow.
Nothing will change his mind.
Hades must try. He must try one last time. “Hyth –“ His voice falters, cracking under pressure. “Please.”
Hyth smiles. The magnificent red of his eyes were burning like the sky.
“Fare you well, my friend.”
The Primals exchange their final strikes.
In the wake of the chaos, there are more bodies strewn around than his total individual years combined.
He does not find Hythlodaeus’ body, nor of the Forsaken one and the accursed creature Hythlodaeus tended to.
It’s for the best, Emet-Selch thinks. There is much to do; souls to return, creations to breathe life into.
Sometimes, things change.
With his fellow Ascians, they plan. The beings that mimic life have their souls cycled through their realm’s magicks, being reborn as the soul underwent the process and finding their reason to ‘live.’ The fragments only came together for the soul on the Source after a rejoining.
They call upon the souls of Igeyorhm, Loghrif, Mitron – he recognizes their souls, torn and patched and it is them but they are not who they are.
Hydaelyn stole Amaurot. Stole their lives, their identities. The life of the Underworld, the life of their existence.
Hades wonders what else Hydaelyn will steal from him.
Their first Rejoining occurs. Their second, the Thirteenth, in a folly, is nothing more than a realm destined to continue in ruin.
In the interim, he comes across a soul, bright and burning, and he ignores the scald it creates when the body presses against him. The body apologizes and runs off into the nearest city.
Emet-Selch meets her again and again as she ages.
On a whim, he grants her the secrets of magicks. Of Creation so strong only those of the Convocation could wield it properly.
It results into an empire, of towns and cities claimed under the flag of Allag.
When the tower arises, Hades knows that the soul is gone, whisked back into the Lifestream as the bloodline continues.
He gave the girl – a broken copy of a soul – the ability of Creation magicks on a whim.
He wishes to believe it was on a whim.
The empire collapses by the third Rejoining.
Sometimes, Hythlodaeus’ voice echoes, things will change.
Only those of the Convocation and similarly-ranking posited Amaurotines held a mask unique to their soul. All others carried the blank mask of Creation, filled with the power of their soul as a conduit.
Emet-Selch razes the city that first presents masks. They were as blank as Hythlodaeus’ mask, as dull as the Forsaken’s old façade.
Lahabrea, for his temper and pragmatism, joins him on the next one.
They do not stop until Elidibus brings back a boy from the Thirteenth, ‘traumatized’ and ‘afraid’. Emet-Selch ignores the boy, soul unfamiliar as the remnants of Amaurot until its collapse.
By the time he calms regarding the humans’ desecration of their masks, he is making plans to usher to Rejoining’s with the unwitting assistance of the Source’s inhabitants.
On a spiteful whim, he visits a celebration taking place. He lets them have their moment of glory as he steps up to a stand-up store, items crafted from the most brilliant of Amaurotines lining the selection.
Hades steps up and picks up a mask of shape identical to an old, forsaken friend.
If they would take the world they once knew as home apart, then Emet-Selch would damn the world Hydaelyn shattered by making a mockery of the goddess’ summoner.
It would start with Hydaelyn’s own pitiful creations.
“Sir? Might I assist you?”
He dons the mask and a part of him starts to breathe once more. and turns to the vendor.
“My name is Solus zos Galvus. It would do you well not to forget.”
As they prepare for the seventh Rejoining, a soul is thrown from the Underworld into the Source.
Emet-Selch seethes. The soul had its fragments scattered about the stars, and each time the body that held it challenged him, challenged the Ascians – just as the soul destroyed their home, it sought to stop them at every corner as well.
This was the first time he had sensed the fragment of the Source. Six times rejoined, on the way for the seventh.
A brief, faraway glimpse makes him ache.
Too much like the Forsaken One, a perfect replica of their face and body and yet completely different – an identity was composed of characteristics and a personality and the memories that made them who they are.
They lacked the memories.
Of course they did. It wasn’t them. It was a flimsy puppet being carted around by Hydaelyn’s blasted will.
Hades wonders why he even thought otherwise in the first place.
He leaves the Rejoining to Lahabrea and Elidibus; there are better stars that require his attention.
The Source was irrelevant to his interests until it was whole.
Amongst the darkness veiling the Source, there was a soul that gleams so strongly that it nearly makes him fall to his knees.
Hythlodaeus’ soul burns –
– and he rushes, off to find the fragment of a soul he had not seen since the beginning throes of the Allagan Empire, and soon he can sense another; the hero, the Champion, the two souls he knows more intimately than his own –
Hythlodaeus’ soul burns and disappears as quickly as it appeared.
The Champion’s own soul tears itself apart, screaming into the Lifestream.
Hades leaves once more, and Emet-Selch turns his gaze towards the First.
Hades breathes again when a tide of immense magicks washes itself onto the First, so alike to Creation magick and so different, cloaked in foreign technology of a time and world he knew not.
And a soul steps out of the Allagan tower.
A soul he knew far too well – knew as well as his own, yet had not seen except for a moment since Lahabrea’s first folly.
He knows it to be impossible – he watched the being that Hythlodaeus’ soul was nestled in crumble to dust, it was he that ended that pitiful attempt of life that the fragment of Hythlodaeus had because it had no right to pretend what it was not.
The First’s shard of Hythlodaeus was dead, tossed back into the Lifestream, and yet there was a being with the very soul now residing on the star.
Two fragments – one burning against the crack of Creation magicks, the other going through the process of rebirth.
The burning soul was eight times rejoined.
He speaks like him. He sounds like him.
It is not him.
Hades visits him like old times regardless.
Emet-Selch finds it pitiful.
The Crystal Exarch was a wildcard even he did not expect.
The soul, eight times rejoined, created a haven for the unfortunate souls caught up in the aftermath of the attempted Rejoining. It delayed their efforts, but it would not hold forever.
Then the ripples in the aether began.
Summoning the Source’s damned Scions was a feat not even all three of the unsundered Ascian’s were capable of combined.
Yes, the Crystal Exarch had assistance. Whatever makeshift Garlean technology had been nestled into the crystalline tower, it only assisted. Any magick cast by the soul in the of the crystallizing body understood how to tear the rifts between worlds apart and bring the soul fragment of one world to another.
Souls were delicate – one shake of the hand and a soul could be disintegrated and thrown back into the Underworld, and the Lifestream was far more complicated due to Hydaelyn’s intervention and the splitting into pitiful fragments.
Emet-Selch had only managed to pull a portion of the soul of the Warriors of ‘Light’ onto the Source, the pieces left behind by their bodies warping and destroying itself.
The Crystal Exarch left husks behind, yes, but it was whole.
The far-away cry of an avian drew him out of his thoughts. With a flick of a hand, it was struck down, a diving descent onto the light-stricken lands.
A soul eight times rejoined from the Source that had been seven-times rejoined, one with a firmer grasp on souls Hades ever could ever anticipate.
He leaned back, letting the body teeter dangerously close off the edge he sat on.
It burned the same colour as the flicker he saw in the Source before it blipped out of existence once more.
He pushes himself off the ledge and stands.
Hythlodaeus was never one for sitting still, especially once the world teetered on its axis.
Hades supposes that the trait followed onto his mask.
Emet-Selch gives the hero a mocking smile when they pass by him under the shades of Rak'tika, watching them place a smoldering feather into their supplies.
“My, that’s quite an artifact you have there, hero. Where in all the shards did you get such a thing?”
The hero gives him a flat look and he never did quite understand why they simply wouldn’t play along. “I’m sure in your eternal life you’ve knowledge on what phoenix downs are, Ascian.”
Their tone is scathing.
He can be as equally scathing, learned from the best. “Oh, please, educate me, dear hero.” Infernal phoenixes – the name the pitiful creatures gave upon the flaming avian. He wonders when Hythlodaeus will stop haunting him.
“I’m afraid,” the hero says, words dripping with annoyance, “I’ve business to attend to. Unlike you, my family and I do not have the luxury of time.”
“Oh, my dear hero.” He thrives under their withering look. “Time is all we have left.”
He senses the mishap happening in the dungeons deep below his feet far earlier than anything else. The essence of life flickering for a brief moment as the Lightwarden made its move.
The soul of the hero being snuffed out in an instant –
– and before Emet-Selch can even move a hand, the soul surges back to life once more. Dangerously close to falling apart and being swept up in the Lifestream, but surging with energy that refused to go down.
Hades remembers watching Hythlodaeus weave in phoenix down’s into their hair in a past life.
When the Scions retreat to the haven of the Crystarium, he does not follow.
Time is all they have left and as the fools plan their next course of action, he ponders.
Hythlodaeus’ goodbye echoes in his mind. Emet-Selch proposes a question he’s had for so many years.
There is no answer.
He pretends that the visit to the Exarch is on a whim to wait for the slaying of the Lightwarden.
The Exarch, much like his forebear, does not answer his questions.
Against the cascading tide of Light overwhelming Hydaelyn’s accursed Champion that spread across the region, Emet-Selch could pinpoint the soul of the Forsaken.
And by the Forsaken’s side, the Source’s fragment of Hythlodaeus stood for his curtain call.
Hades thinks that the pieces on the board make a bit more sense as he makes his move.
Hythlodaeus is silent in the wake of his recreation of Amaurot. Disappointing, but unsurprising. The vessel for his fragment could only hold up against so much abuse.
Time passes by far too quickly for him – he does not bother to count as he awaits the strongest Lightwarden to charge at his domain; the Exarch is here to entertain him.
Just like old times, where Hades only wished to be left alone.
“I’ve no time for games, Ascian,” the mimic spits out. So far against the mischievous and kind man he once knew, but the very same anger and bite when it came to those he loathed.
So many things lost. Time was all they had left.
The soul the Exarch bares is calm despite its environment and the danger he faces – too much like Hythlodaeus, too much like the final Reckoning.
Hythlodaeus was dead.
His ‘saving’ of the Exarch was of best interest as to force the Rejoining. The soul, no matter its familiarity, meant nothing in the form of the race who dared to believe they were alive.
“I would not call these ‘games’, per say. In fact, we’ve much to do once we’ve finished clearing up the First. Are you not excited?”
The low growl amuses him and Emet-Selch bides his time, taunting and hurting the vessel that dared host a fragment of someone far too important.
Until the barrier of magick he cast ripples. The accursed Light is far too strong to be anything else.
“Your precious hero is here, Exarch. I wonder – what is their reason for coming?” He nudges the Mystel’s chin up, peering into the Allagan red eyes. “I believe they’ve succumbed to their fate. About time we let them rest, yes?”
Emet-Selch jerks backward in surprise as his vessel’s muscles bruise against the force of the Exarch’s headbutt. “You do not know them as well as I, Ascian,” the Exarch seethes. “They have survived and will continue to survive, even if I must intervene to make it happen.”
The Ascian moves and harshly presses a hand against the dying vessel’s head, pushing him to the wall of his confines and eliciting a pained grunt. “We can’t have that now, can we, Exarch?” He presses his lips near an ear, hissing softly. “I assure you, they will survive, and so shall you. I promised, after all.”
He releases the man then, watching the body slump and exhale sharply.
“You were never one to choose a side, Hythlodaeus,” he says. The Exarch does not turn to look at him, yet the soul pays him attention until he disappears from his sight. “Up until the end.”
In every rebirth, Hythlodaeus’ fragment stood idly by, watching the peace until the world threatened to split itself apart.
The fragment always chose the Forsaken One in the end.
Perhaps he was right. Perhaps Hythlodaeus did know their friend far better than he thought he did.
Perhaps Hades never truly knew the people he loved at all.
Once it is clear the pest has no intention of simply lying down and accepting the inevitable, he asks them to state their business.
The mention of the Exarch makes their soul flare up. The emotions are laced with the fieriest colours he has seen in millenniums.
Just as Hythlodaeus sought to protect the Forsaken One, the hero sought to rescue their Exarch.
Hades will keep his promise, then.
They will get their lives back, no matter how the battle ends.
His body breaks down, and yet his soul lingers a moment longer.
He watches the Warrior greet the Exarch, their souls flaring in reverence before intertwining, covering and protecting the other until the exhaustion gnawed at their being and one of them flickers, being covered by the one that still stood.
How his soul yearned in response against the affections of the two he missed.
He is tired.
He is so very tired. His body aches, his mind throbs, his soul asunder.
There is so much to do – he cannot rest. He will not rest.
He cannot do a damnable thing, even at the very end.
Emet-Selch opens his eyes to a world he does not know. He lacks the energy to stand, and even as he tries, a hand gently pushes him back down and it is then he realizes he is lying on someone’s lap.
Hythlodaeus, red eyes calm against the lull of the dark, smiles.
“It’s time to rest,” he says softly.
Emet-Selch raises a hand up, lightly pressing onto Hythlodaeus’ cheek. One hand reaches for the palm by his side, and another hand, foreign yet familiar, wraps itself onto the wrist of his raised hand.
The Forsaken One gently tugs his mask off, setting it on the ground. Hades stares into the chromatic eyes that greet him, startling hues against the lull of white. “We will be here when you awaken, Hades.”
Beside him, the mask unique to his soul and identity began to soak in the colour of the world.
Hades relaxes, breathes, and starts to exist once more.