The soft crunch of snow under Y’shtola’s boots were masked with the unforgiving howl of the Middle Coerthan Highlands. The feeling was quite satisfying, and she made an effort to fully lift her feet out of the snow to repeat the sensation. Though she couldn’t see the gently falling snow due to her previous swim in the lifestream, she could see the remnants of aether in each flake, and the lightshow in front of her was breathtaking. It was a cacophony of turquoise and emerald, swirling in a beautiful dance of chaos with each gust of wind. Thousands, nay, millions of tiny shards of fluorescent beads of soft light were gliding towards the ground with no purpose but to fall. Having only been in Ishgardian territory for brief intervals, she hasn’t had the time to get used to this beauty that she alone could enjoy. Well at least without the help of magitek sensors. She shivered slightly as she lifted an open palm to catch the flitting petals of light on her slim fingertips.
“I am not wearing nearly enough for this…” she muttered, sending a cold mist of breath to scatter into the air like a soul returning to the lifestream. She chuckled. “Not exactly the most pleasant of vacations I’ve had…”
She sighed, beginning to wonder what the Warrior of Light was doing out here at this hour to begin with. It was evening, and the others were getting prepared to depart for the Rising Stones. When Y’shtola inquired about her whereabouts, Alphinaud simply suggested northwest of Camp Dragonhead, but gave no further explanation as to the wherefore. However, his eyes gave away an emotion that concerned her. The aether is brightest in the eyes of almost any being, and Alphinaud’s eyes shone a deep blue. So, she trudged on, hoping to find the Warrior of Light soon so they could leave the unforgiving bite of Ishgard’s breath and she can discover what it could be that pained Alphinaud so. Her mind began to wander, however.
The Warrior of Light…Eva.
When Y’shtola first met her, she did not expect much, nor did she see much potential. At the time, Eva seemed an ordinary Miqo’te adventurer clad in shoddy leather armor. There was nothing that stood out about her other than the fact that she had an almost adorable innocence about her. It must be the tail, she thought, the fluffy ones always give off an almost childlike aura of naivety. Or maybe it was the smile. The Warrior of Light always smiled and nodded stoicly whenever she was given a task, mundane or crucial. Shtola pinched herself hard on the wrist to get her mind back on track. How Papalymo and Yda managed to see the Warrior of Light in this innocent Miqo when she could not, took not a small toll on her pride. She hated being wrong. It felt as if all the years of dedicated study and education under the most influential scholars of Sharlaya were for naught. She sighed again. However, many times she was wrong, and gods there were plenty of instances, she was never wont to admit her mistakes.
Just when she started to regret not hiring a chocobo porter, she heard a voice. Nay, it was Eva’s voice, there was no mistaking it. Is she…crying? After rushing forwards behind a worn stone structure, she shut her eyes and focused on her sense of hearing. Soft sobbing interrupted with shaky breathes emanated barely through the Coerthan winds. It was all Y’shtola could do to distinguish nature from friend. She rounded the corner past some crumbling ruins of an old Ishgardian watch tower to see her. The unmistakable shine of the Warrior’s aether made the glamour of the falling snow and the towers of Ishgard behind her dull in comparison. It was illustrious as ever but…
I’ve never seen it do that before.
The aether seemed to be pulsating out of her with each shuddering breath, a bright royal blue, deep as the sea, and she was…shaking. Y’shtola had seen people cry after she lost her sight, but she was not prepared for the pure intensity of Eva’s aether with such a strong emotion. She gasped and immediately cursed herself while covering her mouth in a futile attempt to catch the sound. One of the Warrior of Light’s ears twitched and Y’shtola watched in horror as a tuft of snow was flicked off from the movement. In one fluid motion the Warrior of Light grabbed the hilt of a sword that Shtola failed to notice, unsheathed it and spun to face her adversary only to see a friendly Scion gaping at her.
“Y-Y’shtola!” Eva sputtered, slowly sheathing her blade and dropping the scabbard with a puff into the snow. She turned away just as quickly as she came and wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeved forearm and remained looking at the towering view of Ishgard. “What are you doing here?” Her voice was coarse and Y’shtola could tell she was straining to hide it.
The straight tailed Miqo’te quickly regained her composure and took a second to analyze the situation before walking to the Warrior of Light’s side. Seeing the strongest woman, nay, strongest person she knew in a state like this was jarring. Never in an era did Y’shtola think she would discover the Warrior of Light reduced to tears.
“The others and I finished our final dealings in Ishgard and were searching for you ere we depart.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Y’shtola cursed herself for giving such a cold, practical answer. That could not be what the Warrior of Light needed to hear in this moment.
“Ah. I s-see.” Eva sat down with a puff next to her weapon.
“Forgive me my curtness, but pray tell; what are you doing out here all alone?” Y’shtola followed suit and sat next to her. Her tail curled around her leg in a futile attempt to preserve body heat.
Eva looked at an object on the ground in front of her and smiled weakly, “I’m not alone.”
Y’shtola followed her gaze and saw a weak outline of aether flowing through what must be…is that an Ishgardian shield…? It had a curious hole seemingly burned through the center as if melted with a spear of pure aether, judging by the remnants of a different source still lingering around the impact mark. Oh. Her epiphany came much too late. This was no random vista. It was a grave.
“Ser Haurchefant would have been proud of what you’ve accomplished,” she said softly. She chose her words carefully. She knew that they were close.
Eva turned to face her fully. Up close, Y’shtola could see everything. Though the Warrior of Light just wiped away her tears, not even she could hide her aether. Wide paths of sparkling blue, stark against the bright whiteness that lay beneath. Hydaelyn’s blessing was quite overwhelming at this distance, but…there was something different. She hadn’t noticed it until now since they reunited, but there was something…off…about the Warrior of Light’s aura that she couldn’t place.
“I know…I just wish he was here to see it. He’d have hot cocoa for all three of us.” She sighed before managing a small smile. “Before he passed, he told me that a ‘smile better suits a hero.’” The smile left her as quickly as it came. “But I don’t feel like a hero.”
Y’shtola was silent for a moment and she pursed her lips. “But you are a hero. You’ve saved countless lives while risking your own. You’ve felled half a dozen primals with hardly a scratch. You’ve inspired thousands of Eorzeans without them having as much of a glimpse of you. Your deeds alone carried that weight. You are the Warrior of Light”
“I never asked to be the Warrior of Light!! I just want to be Eva!” She blurted out. “And what about all the people I couldn’t save!? Good, innocent men and women, taken away from their families because I wasn’t strong enough! It hurts so much when I think of them. I remember them all, you know. Their faces. Their dreams. Their goals, aspirations, desires. It isn’t fair…” Eva’s voice trailed off and her sniffling returned.
Y’shtola suddenly realized that she always thought of her as the Warrior of Light and never by her name.
Irritation flashed through Y'shtola's clouded eyes for a brief moment. Eva's rationale was flawed, and she thought her will stronger than that but...no, I'm being heartless. Survivor's Guilt was something she encountered often during the many hours spent in infirmaries as a healer. “You are not responsible for every soul in Eorzea, Eva…” she reached for her shoulder but hesitated before letting it drop weakly in her own lap. Consoling a friend was never her strong suit. Though she read several tomes about it, execution is a whole different beast.
“He was the first person in Ishgard to welcome us. To help us. Alphinaud and me,” Eva continued, resting her gaze on the broken shield. “It was…hard. So, so hard. Alphi had all but lost hope. I’ve never seen him so defeated. I can still see him sitting in that chair all slumped over…And I—” her voice cracked. “…I thought you were gone.”
Y’shtola’s empathetic look turned into that of surprise.
She gave her a thin smile. “Well, now you know how we feel every time we send you to lay low a primal.”
Eva elbowed her, “Well I always came back after a few hours!” she protested. “I was waiting for weeks and when we finally pulled you out of the godsforsaken lifestream I thought you were dead or in a coma and worst of all the Seedseer’s personal guard wouldn’t even let me close to see if you were breathing!”
Y’shtola couldn’t help but giggle. “By the twelve, you were that concerned for me? You know I am quite capable of lying unconscious myself.”
Eva all but deflated, exhaling as much air as physically possible, pouting.
“Okay! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Y’shtola smiled bashfully. Though the display was quite over the top, it was endearing, nonetheless.
“Well just don’t do it again and maybe I’ll forgi- agh—!” Eva suddenly cried out in pain and clutched her forehead.
Y’shtola’s eyes widened. It must be the Echo. She had seen this very scene before several times now but…what was that? Her eyes were drawn to something within the Warrior of Light’s aether. It was the peculiarity she noticed before, but now that Eva was not consciously suppressing it, what was once hidden is revealed. There was a simmering darkness behind the light. A stain surrounded by purity.
A tiny, festering cloud of pure emotion, trying to claw its way to the surface…