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By His Grace

Chapter Text

“Do you enjoy this?”

Your query is breathy; you are close enough that you can feel the heat of your heavy exhales on his face as he holds your arms over your head, spreading your thighs with his knee.

There are no doubts Lahabrea takes great pleasure from you. Those nights when you’re below him, squirming in desire, back arched, sweating and panting so hard you’re almost begging for more, he is aroused as you are. He never acknowledges it, but you can feel when his control over his aether weakens, each touch on your flesh as erratic and electrifying as the Lord of Levin’s judgement. The power leaks over your bare skin and, if you were capable of sight in the darkness, you imagine you’d be covered in a sheet of intangible shadow.

Yes, he undeniably enjoys these encounters.

Lahabrea says nothing; you’ve come to recognize that when the Ascian deems a subject or person irrelevant he ignores it completely- a response he frequently demonstrates on mortals. It is decidedly uncomfortable that he has directed this habit toward you.

“What is it like -” You rephrase your inquiry, pulling your arms down and rolling on top of Lahabrea so that he has no option but to focus on you; this is a strategy you’ve learned from him. “ -for an Ascian?”

Lahabrea makes no effort to remove you, instead his hand runs down your body and he rests his arm on your lower back. A small smile tugs at his lips as he meets your gaze.

“Why don’t we come to an agreement?” He chuckles and trails the back of his finger down your face, unnervingly confident. You get the sense that he has waited for this trap to be sprung. “I will hold nothing back; anything you wish, my knowledge is yours.”

You’ve made progress, but after witnessing the nature of Ascian ‘agreements’ in how Lahabrea played Garlemald’s Black Wolf, you are slightly wary; there is always a motive. Even Lahabrea, who often offers information freely, makes no effort to deny this nature of give-and-take – a nature not terribly different from the exchanges of mortals, but infinitely more dangerous.

“In exchange?” You reply cautiously.

The smile widens. “Just for tonight, you serve Him.”

You withdraw immediately, rolling off Lahabrea and pushing yourself from the bed, the words instantly sending you into an adrenaline-heightened state from the sheer power of your vehemence. No matter how intense your interest in Ascian relationships is, nothing is worth what he asks.

Lahabrea knows your answer before you speak and he continues casually, as if discussing the color of the sky. “A formality, truly. Your Gift is enough. However –“ he pointedly draws his gaze over your nude body standing above him “-there are other formalities that must be attended to.”

“Sate your curiosity and learn the taste of eternity, or continue this mortal liaison and pretend our conversation never took place.” The Ascian offers his ultimatum.

You press your lips together, the adrenaline from your earlier response fading. Willingly blinding yourself and pretending you never asked is unacceptable now that you know Lahabrea actively withholds the information. Though you doubt Lahabrea cares much for formality, you recognize his request is not unfair; the Ascians do not easily share their secrets and respecting their ways while you learn is appropriate.

Moenbryda may find the knowledge of Ascian aether response useful in her studies, you rationalize, ignoring how belatedly your acknowledgement of the Scions’ needs came in the decision-making process.

“A formality?” You submit to Lahabrea, seeking confirmation; with Hydaelyn’s protection, it seems impossible for you to be taken by their God, but anything other than symbolic service remains unacceptable.

You really should not be doing this, your rational mind whispers, but you push the voice aside. There are many things you should not do; “forbidden” and “improper” have never stopped you before.

“A formality.” He agrees, familiar smugness in his voice. “You only temporarily commit to our traditions.”

You nod stiffly, acknowledging his victory. Tradition, that’s all it is.

Unsettled to your core by his subtle, evasive terms, but inappropriately excited in your quest forbidden knowledge, you release a long, controlled breath as Lahabrea stands. He circles behind your back - Lahabrea is one of very few acquaintances you’d permit behind you with such ease - his fingers playing at the nape of your neck, pulling your tangled hair from your face and holding it as if he might band or clip it back.

“We clothe ourselves.” He whispers in your ear and removes his fingers from your hair. The stray locks do not fall back forward.

It is too late when you recognize what Lahabrea implied by ‘formality’ and ‘tradition.’ You feel like a fool for not considering it earlier.

His hands drop to your thighs and you can feel his aether molding around them, slowly and deliberately, touching and teasing until you squirm. Every soft stroke solidifies soft material of your new trousers, every tease sending a wave of anxiety through you. He kneels and lifts your left foot; the aether he forms here is thicker, more durable. The boot is made for you, thick, but soft and more comfortable than any you’ve worn since you’ve started adventuring.

It is to learn more about the Ascians, you attempt to convince yourself as you lower your right foot, second boot completed. There is no deeper meaning to this theatre.

He grasps your hands, holding them as the aether moves up your arms far, far too slowly. His touch is warm, each tendril seemingly scathing your flesh and soothing it, a paradoxically gentle agony that you are unsure even exists at all. The gloves thicken; your skin remains unmarred.

He offers no apologies for your discomfort; you do not expect him to.

You breathe in sharply expecting similar pain when his aether covers your shoulders, but as it spreads down your chest, back and abdomen it is cool and soft, like a dress made of an extravagant Ul’dahn silk moving over bare flesh. As if to emphasize exactly what he’s doing, Lahabrea runs his hands over the fabric as it materializes, molding it to your form, all the way up your neck, pressing it into every crevice and over your breasts. He feels you too; his aether intimately taking in your entire body.

“You will find the robes are quite permanent and will remain when you remove them. Consider them a gift.” The memory of clutching Thancred’s immobilized body as you escape the Praetorium, still clothed in Lahabrea’s robes flashes through your mind. The absurdity of your situation is not lost upon you.

So close to completion, Lahabrea grows impatient. He does not seem as interested in teasing and touching as he covers you with a heavy outer cloak that covers your head and reaches almost to the floor. Your body is so thoroughly covered by Lahabrea’s strange, aether-formed robes, that you know you should feel him thickly enough to fall ill from aether poisoning, but they are strangely contrary, not like Lahabrea at all; the robes push out any foreign aether in an unfamiliar protective enchantment.

“Open your eyes.” He commands, having moved to face you.

No. you desperately want to say, but your body obeys him.

Red, not black; equal, not subservient. He pushes his mask on your face.

It is done.

You release a long breath; there is no dark God to touch you, no abandonment by Hydaelyn, and none of the Scions have discovered your secret. Your heart lightens and the overwhelming pressure lifts from your shoulders, liberating you. You’ve satisfied Lahabrea’s conditions and the answers will be yours; excitement and curiosity fill the holes where uncertainty and fear were moments before.

If Lahabrea knows your thoughts, he does not show it; you do not expect him to gloat openly, but you await the satisfaction and pleasure you know he must feel. You do not receive it; all the Ascian offers is an unreadable, focused stare. His gaze roams over your newly-costumed body, but he does not touch you. He moves no closer than a pace away, as if an invisible barrier forbids it.

“I have promised you knowledge; it is experience you shall receive.”

He starts without warning. Before you are able to absorb the words, familiar, intense, incapacitating dizziness overwhelms your senses, followed by a pull. It is a painful, harsh tug that you violently fight, like how you might struggle to cling to a rock in the turbulent sea, desperately resisting the undertow's drag. You push back instinctively, lashing out in any way your mind and body allow, but the pull is stronger, directed, controlled, and knows where you’re weakest. It pries you easily from your rock and you are dragged into turbulent waves.

Floating in the dark depths, there is only dazed nothingness.

You try to move, but there is no body to respond. You try to breathe, but there is no air.

The fog lifts slowly as your daze lessens. Familiar forms and shapes slowly become clearer as you touch them. The bed, the door, the table – your body, strewn across the floor like a marionette without strings. It is sight that is not sight, distant, only experienced through another sense. It is an echo.

The tug returns; it has a distinct, identifiable flavor. Its taste is not sweet, sour, or bitter, nor is it spicy, tangy, or umami. The tug is its own flavor, identifiable from all the other objects in the room with only the barest touch.

More gently than before, the tug - your logical mind belatedly recognizes it as Lahabrea - draws you closer to it, letting you mingle near its stable core, out of the chaos of tastes and echoes. He is distinctly different from everything around you; he flows, controlled, like a gentle river.

Experimentally, you try to touch the smooth flow; in a sensation very much like taking a step too far into a lake and dropping off an invisible, unknown ledge, you are immediately swept away in all that makes up Lahabrea, unable to fight the turbulence.

There is no control, there is no tug to guide you, there is no you. You are torn apart and dispersed throughout the flow. It does not hurt; there is no pain to feel.

It ends as soon as it begins, but where there was previously chaos, there is only silent stillness in the center of the whirlpool, the eye of the storm, the core of the crystal.

It is Lahabrea.

You cannot move. You cannot feel. There is nowhere to move; there is nothing to feel.

He pulses; intense heat is drawn inwards, like water inundating the sand, spreading. His core is a beating heart, with the aether that makes up your essence forming his blood.

Each pulse is invigorating, swallowing you and reforming you anew.

Each pulse is unifying; as much of Lahabrea is in you as you are in him, as much at his mercy as he is at yours.

Each pulse is exhausting; the warmth and closeness are intolerable, threatening to tear you apart.

Each pulse is relieving; as the river pushes you away softly, the heat subsides and the distance increases.

Lahabrea acts as an anchor as you somehow separate and reform, allowing you to define what makes up you. With uncharacteristic patience he guides you, helping you move through the sea of chaos and spread over your fallen form, deliberately tasting you before you are reabsorbed.

You clench your hands and blink your eyes and move your toes and breathe deeply, experiencing all the senses you were deprived of and never knew you could miss. Your body is whole and welcoming.

“That was. . .” Your tongue is dry and the words do not come easily. You do not know how to describe what you’ve experienced.

Different. Sedate. Disappointing.

Lahabrea recovers far more quickly, having the knowledge to easily reform. He stands above you, wordlessly beckoning. “Hosts are convenient for many things.”

Despite your better sense, you cannot disagree; you’ve no desire to exist permanently in that prison of chaos and intangibility. Even in the Hyur-like form you’ve come to recognize as Ascian, Lahabrea is still simply controlled, anchored, carefully molded aether. Without their Dark Crystal, they are as lost in this world as you were. You push yourself to your feet, thankful for the security of your body.

“When you’ve more control -” For the first time since clothing you, Lahabrea touches you, his hand stroking your face and thumbing the mask. He still does not touch your covered body, strangely more intimate in his reverent restraint. “- we may use the Gift in more permanently unifying ways.”

Something has changed; there is nothing casual in Lahabrea’s speech. Whatever strange relationship that is between you will never be the same. You’ve touched him; you know him.

His robes and God do not matter; the true exchange has been completed. Trust for trust.

In the darkness, you smile softly.

Chapter Text

“It’s almost time.”

Snow falls heavily outside the window, the lights throughout the city muted by its dance. The sky has faded to somewhere between white and grey, yet somehow remains almost as dark as the depths of the night, and the sounds of the busy streets are muffled to blissful silence.

You close your eyes, smiling softly as you brush your hand over the dark, weathered tabletop; through deep, slow breaths you ingrain everything in Fortemps manor into your memory. You know naught of your next return; for now all you can do is press onwards. Long-awaited serenity and peace embrace you, washing away introspection and regret, filling you with renewed confidence. “The others await. Watch over me, Haurchefant.”

You know he is behind you before he even finishes materializing, a sense that you do not know how or when you gained. His arrival is neither unwelcome nor unexpected, as he has not approached you since before the day you were attacked.

“You are unharmed.” Lahabrea’s voice is neutral and unsympathetic, a welcome break from your solitude and the unintended condescension of your companions, whom have spent the last days speaking to you as if their every word has them treading across broken glass. That the Ascian comes to you at all demonstrates the depths of his concern, even if his language does not.

You nod offhandedly, running your hand over the table once more, with gentle finality, before you turn to face Lahabrea.

“He saved my life. From your ally.” You are surprised that you can muster such bitterness in your tranquility; for once, Lahabrea has done nothing to deserve it. The remark is superfluous and you regret it as soon as it passes your lips; Thordan was supposed to be your ally as well.

“He?” You doubt Lahabrea truly cares for the answer, but you humor him, as he often does you.

“Haurchefant. He was my–“ You pause, unsure how to describe the strange Elezen. Haurchefant was an aide, ally, comrade, companion, guardian, and knight, all at once. Even though he was not chosen by Hydaelyn, in your mind he was as much of a Warrior of Light as you – and, given your current company, perhaps a truer one. You smile warmly.

The shift in Lahabrea’s body language is subtle, but through the pale light of the window you see his Hyur-form’s muscles tighten more and more the longer you hesitate. The shift in his aether is not nearly so inconspicuous and Lahabrea makes no effort to hide his disapproval in the way he knows you are most sensitive to; his normally taut control is frayed and you’re very certain that you’re precariously close to shredding it with your next words.

“- Friend.” You settle on the truth, Lahabrea’s ridiculous reaction to a simple hesitant statement be damned.

“Friend.” Lahabrea spits the word out with vehemence. “He was mortal.” Behind the sneer and utter contempt, the Ascian seems almost bewildered at your choice of words. You are unsure if bewilderment can be bitter, but Lahabrea has somehow made it so.

“I have many mortal friends.” You reply quickly, before you can stop yourself. Placidity finally broken, your annoyance rises in disbelief that he chose this time and place to press such absurd subjects. “I have only mortal friends.” You correct yourself; Ascian foolishness aside, your relationship with Lahabrea passed “friend” long ago.

“You have no mortal friends; you are nothing but a blade for your companions to wield when needed. A tool.” The Ascian stubbornly continues his unwinnable battle.

“What nonsense, you-“

Minfilia’s words as she turned from you, by the will of Hydaelyn, push themselves to the forefront of your memory before you can force them down, your mind unwittingly betraying you.

You are hope.

Would the woman who survived the Calamity, united the Circle of Knowing and Path of the Twelve, and was strong enough in the Echo to draw the attention of Elidibus, have saved you, were you simply a friend? If you were not Her chosen and instead just another Scion with skill in weaponry and aether manipulation?

At your pause, Lahabrea strikes, ever the efficient hunter.“What have you told them?” He bares down, drawing himself closely enough that all you see - all you feel - is Lahabrea. Without Her Blessing, his aether is indomitable and its pressure pushes inward through your body, impossible to suppress. He lowers his voice, speaking slowly, each word punctuated by a pulse that, while forceful, is not uncomfortable. “How much do they know?”

You look to the side, unable to meet Lahabrea’s gaze. The subject that rests most arduously on your heart is laid bare and he knows it; shame and regret fill you in equal quantities. What would they have done if they knew of this?

“Nothing.” You admit quietly. “They know nothing.”

Lahabrea immediately withdraws, giving you space to breathe as the tense energy he exudes turns into a caress of self-satisfaction. He says nothing, but further words are unnecessary; he has proven his point twice over.

“Who knows nothing?” Your head snaps back up at the unexpected voice. Your hand immediately reaches for your weapon, your body skittish and prepared for attack in an instant, instincts honed to perfection from countless battles. You were so focused on the Ascian that you paid no heed to your surroundings, but no more.

Alphinaud steps from the doorway, curious expression on his face as he glances through the room. Heart pounding from the rush of anxiety, your eyes dart to Lahabrea, who stands in silence, mood and thoughts unreadable. You have never been more thankful that, when he lacks a host, Lahabrea is only visible to those without the Echo when he chooses to be.

“I apologize for interrupting; I knocked but you did not reply. The airship is ready.” You offer him a shaky nod, but remain silent as you slow your breath and recover from the panic. “I know it’s not been long, but we must press on.” He moves just two steps closer, as if hesitant to approach, instead offering an awkward smile. “That’s all we can do for him.”

All at once, the shadows over your heart clear as the Elezen youth repeats what you’ve taught him. It feels strange, hearing words you’ve spoken being echoed back to you, but also warm and soft, as if Alphinaud has covered you with a dry woolen blanket as you lie freezing in the snow. Your heart is lightened and, no matter the truth to them, Lahabrea’s earlier words slip off you. Sword you may be, Hope you may embody, secrets you may hold, but they are still as true of friends to you as any can be.

“Ah –“ Alphinaud continues and you glance again over to Lahabrea, who remains as patiently impassive as before. The Ascian has waited millennia for his Rejoining, no doubt waiting a few moments for his lover’s business to conclude is inconsequential. “I know we don’t always understand everything you go through, but you can rely on us.”

You almost laugh out in relief; Alphinaud seemingly believes you were speaking to yourself when he arrived. “Thank you.” You smile genuinely at the young man, heart welling at his open affection and support. “I’ll be there soon, I just need a few more minutes.”

Silently thanking Alphinaud for his Hydaelyn-sent timing, you turn your back to him so you can focus on your silent companion. As the door closes, you step closely to Lahabrea, confidence renewed. Lahabrea, too, seems to have calmed due to you your earlier submission to his argument, and draws equally close. Your debate, however, remains unsolved, as you are both stubborn, unyielding creatures.

“The Archbishop awaits you at the Blue Window.” Lahabrea breaks the silence with an unexpected offer of peace. “Igeyorhm accompanies him. You are not fit to confront her.”

You blink in surprise at his admissions. Though you and your companions have suspected Thordan traveled to the Sea of Clouds, you cannot help but feel perplexed that Lahabrea makes no attempt to conceal information you are certain is detrimental to his plans. “You shouldn’t be telling me this.”

“Is the exchange of knowledge not what friends are for?” His lips curl, words filled with possessive spite. No answer you give will satisfy him, Lahabrea simply seeks to goad you; you refuse to play that game again, displeased that he continues to press the subject.

If he is disappointed at your lack of reaction, he does not show it, and continues. “Nothing I say will stop you.”

“What does he seek?” You press, trying to glean what information you can while Lahabrea freely shares knowledge out of his petty grudge.

“The same thing all powerful fools eventually come to desire.” No matter how severe his jealousy, no matter how bitter and angry he often seems at your stubborn refusal to stay with and aid him, nothing compares to the utter spite in these few words. Your earlier argument was little more than an annoyance; what the Ascian radiates now is deep-seated, unadulterated loathing, of such intensity that it penetrates the air and you must pull away from him slightly, lest you be overwhelmed.

He has no doubt encountered Thordan’s type before many times in the past. If your experiences with the politics of Ul’dah and Ishgard have made you distrusting of those in power, it comes as no surprise that after thousands of years of working with similar men and women – ‘powerful fools’ - aiding them as they attempt to satiate their lust for power, Lahabrea despises mortals.

Whatever the Archbishop desires, you decide, it is not worth this – prolonging this war by perpetuating a thousand-year manipulation for his own purposes, claiming more and more innocent lives.

They killed Haurchefant.

You clench your fists and turn your stare to the table once more, Lahabrea’s anger seemingly a contagion that seeps into you.

As quickly as the Ascian’s rage rose and as intensely as it burned, it cools with equal haste. Yours is not so easily doused

“Do not struggle against fate.” Lahabrea rests his hand atop your fist and strokes it gently. “Soon Her taint will be burned from you and we will no longer suffer the shame of this theatre.” With his soft tone, you get the sense that the Ascian is trying to be affectionate, comforting you in the only way he truly knows how.

His words are disagreeable, but they have their intended effect and your anger fades. His strange attempt is more than enough, a reminder of why you remain in this impossible relationship. You release your fist and grasp his hand, intertwining your fingers.

For Hydaelyn, for Eorzea, for your friends, for Haurchefant, you will stop Thordan - even if you must beat Lahabrea into submission and expose your secret in the process.

Sensing your lightened mood, Lahabrea closes the distance and offers you an ephemeral kiss – for your sake, more than his own. “Go, now, back to your mortal friends.”

Yes, perhaps a good beating will be good for him, you muse, turning your back on the darkness.

Chapter Text

You should be dead.

By all rights, overtaxed from internal aether use as you are, you should barely be able to move, let alone stand. Yet stand you do, balancing precariously on the chasm to the abyss on what little pride you’ve left. Tupsimati falls from your limp grasp, the resounding thud as it lands on the floor the only sound that breaks the silence.

A cry, with words you cannot understand. A shriek, whose source you cannot define.

Nabriales makes no attempt to communicate or reform; released from his prison, the Ascian is shaken and weakened, experiencing sensations he likely never considered possible. The previously large mass of dark aether stills and withdraws into itself in strange, instinctual defense. The only light in the shadow comes from a tiny, pale crystal he produces, far smaller than Moenbryda’s auracite.

Minfilia wails; Moenbryda cries in frustration, pain, and rage. You barely hear them. All that exists is the darkness.

Nabriales’ form, strewn across the floor.

You try to force the image away, but it was seared into your eyes and burned into your memory, doubtless a nightmare that will plague you for moons to come. You could not destroy him, you irrational, weak, pathetic excuse for a Warrior of Light, but you can still stop him. No matter how little energy remains in the staff, Nabriales will not obtain Tupsimati.

Your breaths are short and ragged, your hands shaky, but now that you are outside of the Rift, soaked in Mor Dhona’s concentrated aether, you still have the strength to teleport. Preventing his escape is your only priority, the only thought that remains clear in the chaos. He does not need aetheryte; you will drag him with you. The cast is longer than usual, but the Ascian, too, struggles to return to his domain. Each second feels as if it is an eternity, the spell slipping, your focus dimming; it is through sheer determination that you force yourself to complete the familiar ability, knowing only that you must get Nabriales to where you are strongest.

Your body disappears, taking only the Ascian and his Crystal with it, dragging him into the formless space alongside you. He struggles against your command, but you continue to pull, guided by the aetheryte in Camp Tranquil. Nabriales stubbornly refuses to yield; you are weakened and he has far more experience with teleportation than your instinctive, aetheryte-driven movement. The Ascian uses his little remaining strength and forces you both out of the spell in a way you were unaware was even possible.

Head pounding, dazed from the immediate loss of control, you only vaguely recognize that your body manifests safely. Your strength gone, caring only that you remain whole and safe, you allow yourself a show of weakness and collapse, body met by soft leaves and grasses and the scent of wet soil after a rain.

You intuitively reach out, letting the familiar forest aether permeate you. You’ve made it – perhaps not to where you intended, but you live and are somewhere deep in the Shroud, far from the civilization of Gridania. A short-lived, shallow euphoria revitalizes you. You are exhilarated that you still remain whole, your goal achieved despite earlier failure. Minfilia and Moenbryda are safe, Nabriales does not have the staff, and you are surrounded by aether you know intimately well to use to prevent any of Nabriales’ further foolishness, if you must.

Your eyes dart over to the Ascian.

Sensing the danger has passed, your stubborn companion, too, slowly, ever so slowly, reforms. His crystal is reabsorbed into his aether, the large mass defining itself, expanding and stretching outwards into limbs, thickening and layering into muscles and flesh.

The Ascian falls to his knees, releasing a grunt of pain. You force yourself from the welcoming, comforting soil and meet his gaze.

There is only silence, betrayal, and pain. There are too many words, you could easily fill a book; there are no words, none that truly matter. Where do you start? Where do you end? Why are you upset at an inevitability?

“Fool!” You finally snap in frustration, all of your emotions poured into the single, exhausting exclamation, unsure if you refer to yourself, Nabriales, or the both of you.

“A clever ploy.” Nabriales’ breaths are ragged and far heavier than yours; despite his seeming praise, there is only scorn in his voice, as betrayed by you as you were by him. “A shame the meddler did not anticipate our-“

You ignore the rest of his feigned bravado. You, too, did not anticipate your inability to execute the Scions’ carefully-prepared plan – one that, now that you’ve tested it, you are certain would have worked, save for the tiny setback known as human fallibility.

Nabriales has failed too; he is in no position to challenge you. Defeated by a Warrior of Light who is no longer a Warrior of Light, whose Blessing is shrouded and unusable, his soul almost torn apart in the process, it is no wonder that the Ascian is as shamed as you are, compensating with defensive hubris.

You half expect him to mock you for your weakness; he would be right to do so.

You’ve made an irredeemable mistake. Perhaps you truly are unworthy of Her blessing; Midgardsormr remains blessedly silent, if he even remains at all.

“Just be quiet.” You bite out, alarmed when the Ascian immediately complies.

You tear your eyes from Nabriales’ face at his abnormal reaction, examining him. Nabriales suffers; though his newly-formed body looks unharmed, he is clearly weakened. His jaw clenches his pain, his muscles are tense, and he exudes his dark aether, unable to keep it contained; it is a strange, floating intangible blood that should be impossible to see unaided.

You are the cause of his suffering. He is the cause of yours. A fair trade, perhaps.

Nabriales’ broken form on the floor, limbs twisted, hood fallen, robes torn from your countless spells.

You’ve lost any remaining pride when it comes to interactions the Ascian; you do not bother rising, instead you crawl over to him, placing a hand over the soft robes - robes you’ve been embraced in more times than you remember, robes you no longer fear - that cover his chest. The air, the soil, and the water are filled with aether; you have enough remaining energy for this.

Please, Elementals, offer me your strength, you habitually offer the expected formality as you draw the air and mold, the element’s touch warm and erratic even to those with the greatest ability to manipulate it.

The dancing gales burst from your fingers, begging to explore his essence at your command. Nabriales pushes you away indiscriminately, with unexpected ferocity. The reaction is unsurprising; many initially try to push a healer’s concentrated foreign aether from them. The true skill to healing is the ability to bypass the natural forms of self-defense the body employs. You frown, disapproving and uncertain, before trying again more gently, emphasizing to yourself the importance of remembering that the aether is what an Ascian is, and you are introducing foreign energy into the location most private and vulnerable.

His entire body goes rigid and his internal aetheric flow, already disturbed, becomes overwhelmingly erratic at your second probe. It gathers around the unnatural presence in repulsion, but slowly regulates itself, the wells calming, returning to a less focused, volatile flow as Nabriales wills himself calm.

Kneeling beside him, you grasp his hand, offering what little comfort you can for his pain. With your free hand, you press his chest gently, pushing him so that he rests on the Shroud’s soft leaflitter below you.

“I will never hear the end of this.” Nabriales murmurs. He stares straight up at you, mood unreadable, even with your experience.

“…Nor will I.” You are resigned to your fate; no doubt Minfilia already suspects something, what with the ease you followed Nabriales and the visceral passion of your argument in the Rift.

What a pair you make, two fools, too stubborn to yield to the responsibility demanded of them. You should have told the Scions everything you knew long ago, using it to your advantage; he should never have been with you at all, Elidibus forbidding interference.

Even after you trapped his essence and plotted to destroy his soul, Nabriales still permits you to touch him. He still trusts you, perhaps now more than ever, any doubts of the depth and sincerity of your relationship dispelled.

The pressure on your heart slightly alleviates, the knowledge of your bond solidified. You express your affection wordlessly as you press the air into him, as delicately as feather brushing flesh, using all the discipline you can muster in your weariness.

Nabriales clenches your hand at the contact with the wind, shuddering deeply, aether reacting in a way oddly reminiscent of skin forming goosepimples. The claws on his gloves dig into you, but you barely feel them, focus entirely on the strange, foreign entity submitting to you. At a cursory glance, his basic anatomy, or as much of it as an Ascian can have, consists of chaotic aether anchored around a core; if there is a pattern to the swift flow, you cannot immediately recognize it. Nabriales is as his aether: unpredictable, impulsive, and stubborn.

You expand your search, staying away his sensitive center. The aether movement of an Ascian is very similar to that of an Eorzean; expansive and thorough throughout and around the core, but protected by a flexible but impenetrable boundary layer that prevents manipulation of another’s innate energy. The Echo breaks these barriers easily and allows you to resonate with the minds and memories of others. In contrast, the Ascian’s boundary is unbelievably powerful, unlike any you’ve encountered; all others in the past fell to you, even with unintentional contact. Unless Nabriales willingly draws the barrier down, if such a thing is even possible, you recognize that it is impossible for you to pierce it. Without flesh to protect him in his true form, you are certain this barrier is all that protects the Ascian from external elements.

The barrier is the problem; it seems to have been weakened. Nabriales’ aether leaks through, porous. The leak is slow; you would not be surprised the barrier can recover, much like your skin might from a cut, given time. It seems your persistent casting on him in the battle had more of a direct effect than you initially thought; the complete destruction of that barrier would no doubt have left him incapacitated and forced into the Rift for a very long time.

You firmly press the wind onto the boundary from the outside; it does not reject you, now that you’ve left the defended center, but the external aether has no effect on the leaking, even as you change your focus, molding differently and trying more traditional cures to remove the holes in his equivalent of flesh.

With a frustrated sigh, you release the wind; you can do nothing, you are not nearly well studied enough in the concept of natural boundary layers to be able to restore or manipulate his. Nabriales must recover on his own.

Such powerlessness is unfamiliar and unwelcome.

“Elidibus will no doubt prostrate himself before the Scions.” Nabriales takes advantage of your pause and withdrawal to lash out the easiest target. Though clearly weakened, Nabriales does not seem to find the leaking you discovered terribly odd at all and, after some time resting, seems to have regained some control. You suppose, to him, that it is very much like bleeding. “That woman will stick her nose where it does not belong.”

“On and on and on she’ll go.” You repeat his familiar words, your discussion with Minfilia just as dreaded and unpleasant as Nabriales’ with Elidibus will be. Questions upon questions will be asked, the explanations demanded of you impossible.

Perhaps the Scions would not have cared about your relationship and would have left you to your own devices had it been revealed earlier and not endangered everyone’s lives, but it was not and it did. Now that the time for admission has passed and you were unable to fulfill your responsibilities, “I wanted to be with him” and “I love him” seem terribly shallow when placed beside protecting Eorzea and Hydaelyn.

“They are well suited for one another.” Nabriales cringes; you stroke his face, turning back to him; you doubt you’ll have a chance like this with a weakened Ascian again.

Professional curiosity drives you as you draw the water; it is cool, soft, calming aether not at all similar to Nabriales’. As you press the aether below his boundary, there is no shudder like there was with the wind. His reaction is far more subtle, but much stronger, like leaning into a lover as you rest together in bed. You would have barely noticed it at all if you were not looking for it, but this time he follows you, giving, submitting.

You breathe in quietly, entirely unsure at what you feel, wondering if you simply hallucinate the difference in your fatigue. Nabriales may have greater restraint now, compelling the earlier natural repulsion to the foreign presence down; if not that, the different element has a dramatically different effect on him. You try again, more quickly this time, with a simple, soft brush of air directly under his boundary, no more than a wispy kiss.

Nabriales shudders, the aether teasing at him strongly enough that his physical body releases a light tremor.

“Enough.” His demand lacks energy.The Ascian’s tone brings forth a stray memory of the flirty, breathy begging of girls in the streets of Limsa who do not want their partner to caress them in front of others, yet continue to grope and stroke said partner publicly with equal fervor.  You laugh softly, drawing the water once again, well beyond exhaustion. You are no longer sure why you do what you do and you certainly do not care, your mind taking simple pleasure at the Ascian’s response to contact.

With each single stroke of water, Nabriales’ aether gives slightly, drawn with your manipulation. He does not shudder; the water loosens the tenseness of your immediate entry, so that Nabriales need not focus so intensely to allow you entry. While the knowledge may be useful in the future, you are far more focused on the pleasant massage the aether seems to have on him, the way he follows and bends, the only way you’ve found to calm his natural flow, to smooth out the impulsiveness and calm the unpredictability.

After such a difficult battle, pressed by Nabriales, dodging and shielding yourself from spells that would have destroyed your body had they landed, draining your internal aether and defending yourself only through honed reflexes, you find it intensely satisfying to have the Ascian under your command.

Hesitantly, you withdraw and release the water. Almost immediately Nabriales tenses, the relaxing effect of your caress gone. Compared to what he can do to you, what he has done to you, your manipulation of the power of the elements must seem impersonal, perhaps even distant, but he reacts to its removal nonetheless, and seeks its return.

You are cautious when you draw the stone, the embodiment of pressure; it is hard, safe, and enveloping. Nabriales’ expertise with the element makes yours look like a child trying to mold aether in a way they do not understand. The stone seems to crumb and stick inside of Nabriales’ barrier, not traveling easily, building up and forcing a well, damming the flow where water previously eased it. It almost seems to partition and guide the path, in places, limiting the movement and preventing the cyclic transfer from one area to another.

Nabriales presses hard against you, rejecting the aether forcefully. You immediately concede, recognizing that such aether passage limitations would inevitably cause undue pain. In your attempts at teasing, you have caused more problems than you solved, but, if you can work to mold the stone and water, you may be able to -

Before you can even finish considering your next exploratory tease, Nabriales, seemingly finally irritated at your games, pulls you down atop him. Weakened and focused as you are, you fall easily and willingly to him, letting him draw his arms over you. His strange, dark, bleeding aether visibly surrounds you, dulling your senses, but he no longer seems to be in immediate pain.

You do not know how long you rest there, unmoving and reticent in his arms, your breaths heavy, your eyes closed, consciousness fading in and out to the sound of birds and insects, to the wisps of air, to the scent of moist soil. The depths of the Shroud have never been more releasing or welcoming.

“I should return.” When you finally regain your senses, night has fallen. Your first words to Nabriales after hours of peace are filled with longing and regret. Your body aches and your mind is tender; Nabriales is succor and liberation.

“Leave them to their fretting. We will return later.” He does not loosen his grip; the Ascian has no intention of releasing you. He clutches at you desperately, as if never able to embrace you again. You cling to his Hyur-form with equal strength and bury yourself as deeply into him as possible. “We’ve done our duties. If your Goddess cannot see your devotion, then she must be colder and more fickle than she appears.”

“And Elidibus?” Nabriales acted just as irresponsibly as you when he approached Tupsimati, perhaps Elidibus would be justified in punishing him - if an Ascian can even be punished.

“I’ve done nothing to endanger our plans.” You’ve no doubt that Nabriales’ plans, however, are a lost, crumbling ruin, impossible to repair no matter the time and resources. “He might have celebrated, had you succeeded.”

As it always does, your better sense presses for you to return, your conscience ready to once again scold you for your incompetence and irresponsibility. As with everything Nabriales, you drive them away, better sense and conscience surrendering to emotion. With so much expected of you, you’ve earned some time for comfort and affection.

“Later, then.” You concede, without regret. There is much to be done later, to be spoken of, but for now, there is only Nabriales.

Chapter Text

You are unsure which is more bitter, the stagnant, ill-stored wine, or you.

The room smells of furs and leathers, far stronger than any spice or perfume can cover, and moisture from the melting snowflakes on the complex garments of the nobility clings to your skin. Though it may just be from the wine, the air is far warmer and stickier than it has any right to be when a blizzard rages outside.

A party this size no doubt took moons to prepare; brightly colored decorations hang from the rafters and encircle the pillars. At the end of the vast chamber stands a statue of the Fury, a silent guardian large enough to be seen from even the farthest corners. At her base rests an assortment of plants and flowers, as well as ceremonial gifts offering thanks for her protection and guidance.

If the Fury is protecting and guiding you, she is certainly doing an abysmal job of it. You take another sip of the bitter wine, swallowing it before it touches your tongue.

Another Elezen calls you over with one of those feigned smiles plastered over his features. You offer an equally fabricated expression, introducing yourself as the Archbishop’s guest and, yes, you were the one who stopped the Heretics and Vishap at the Gates of Judgement, and indeed, you were also the one who defeated the Heaven’s Ward in combat in front of the tribunal. The same story, repeated countless times this night, no doubt to be repeated another two-score more before the festivities end.

Your eyes glance over the hands and clothing of the nobleman instinctively. His hands are soft, not calloused; if he has any weapon hidden under the thick furs, he has not spent prolonged time using it recently. He is no threat.

You refused to leave your weapon at the door, no matter how strongly the members of the Holy See pressed. It was only when Lucia spoke for you that they allowed you to pass while armed; even now their invisible eyes remain on you.

It is unlike you to be so sour, but you learned your lesson from Ul’dah. Your weapon stays with you.

The room is filled with joyful laughter and countless voices over the soft clink of glasses and the barest howl of wind from outside the thick walls. It is just quiet enough for you to ignore, if you wanted to go rest by yourself in a corner – no doubt Tataru would pull you away the moment you tried – but just loud enough that the footsteps of someone following you would be difficult to discern.

You take a long sip, trying to calm overly frayed nerves. You are going to regret these drinks soon, you know, as supper has not been served and the tiny snacks on the table look as appetizing as goobue dung.

You excuse yourself from the nobleman and escape over to the table holding bottled wine, pouring another glass and refusing to imagine Nanamo’s suffering face as you do so. It’s impossible for the wine to be poisoned, you know full well, as everyone in the room would be dead already if it was. Not even the most devoted of Heretics would be mad enough to slaughter a room full of unarmed innocents.

You take another sip; you’re being completely absurd and you’re well aware of it. There is no Syndicate here to benefit from incapacitating you; the Ascians would not move so openly in an attempt to maim you. To the Ishgardian upper class, you’re little more than a circus attraction, a powerful curiosity tamed and favored by the Archbishop, Aymeric, and Count Fortemps.

There is nothing to fear.

While you are so focused on the wine, you almost fall into the table when a powerful, unknown force rams you. You react immediately, turning to your ‘attacker,’ only to be faced with a red-faced and laughing Elezen male. He profusely apologizes for running into you, his balance off from a few too many glasses. Upon scanning the offender, your eyes are immediately drawn to his sword. Your heart pounds, adrenaline racing; you almost draw your weapon, before realizing the Elezen’s sword is completely ornamental.

You’re a paranoid fool. The wine isn’t dulling your senses like you intended, it’s making them more severe. No doubt you look like a lunatic, jumping at shadows and turning at the slightest sound.

You take another long drink and place the glass on the table.

Escape. You need air; you need freedom and space and the bitter chill of the blizzard. You excuse yourself quietly, aware that the gentry around you do not truly care, if they even hear you at all, the words are only for Tataru and Alphinaud when they no doubt come searching for you.

You’ve no idea where a balcony may be, but you’re certain there must be one somewhere. Ishgard has balconies everywhere in the most unexpected places. You push your way through the mass of bodies and enter the hallways. There are fewer people here, in these separate side rooms, their discussions muted and private. It would be easier to see an attacker and safer to defend against one.

You almost draw your weapon when he steps from the shadows, making his presence known. There is no window, and certainly no fresh air, but your mind clears nonetheless upon seeing his familiar host body. You approach Elidibus with far more haste than is proper.

You say nothing and do not bother to meet his eyes as you clutch at the Ascian, burying yourself deeply in the safety and comfort he provides, encircling him with your arms. There are no swords, no poisons, no dragons, and no nobles who fuss over you; for the first time since arriving for the event, and perhaps for the first time since your entry into Ishgard, you feel truly safe. You kiss him softly.

“Mind your surroundings.” Elidibus offers you a chaste kiss and murmurs; there are still others about who watch, but none who dare interfere. You bury your face even further, until each of your breaths are reflected and you must pull away so that the air is not so dense.

“If I minded them any further, I’d be convinced half of the nobility wants me out of the city and the other half wants me dead for some heresy or another.” You allow relief to enter your voice, letting Elidibus know just how much you’ve missed his presence. He has not visited since before your struggle with Nabriales. “I’ve missed you.”

“You’ve caused quite a bit of trouble.” Despite the scolding words, he does not seem angry. “You are not surprised that I am here.”

“Your ally parts with information quite freely.” You offer, evading the unspoken question as best you can: with the truth. Elidibus says nothing at that, but the answer seemingly satisfies him. He draws his face closer, relaxing his cheek against yours, mask pressing into your skin.

“What a pleasant surprise.” A voice breaks you out of your peaceful embrace and footsteps approach, signifying the words are intended for you. “Lucia told me of your arrival, but I didn’t expect to find you so easily.”

“Ser Aymeric.” You lift your face from Elidibus and offer the Elezen a respectful smile. The Ascian is not annoyed at the disruption and simply continues to hold you. You have never loved the Emissary’s calming, comfortable aura more.

“Are you enjoying our annual festivities?” Aymeric, doubtless intensely curious about the intimate situation, unlike any he has ever seen you in before, has the class to say nothing about your strange companion.

You push down the urge to answer that no, you really are not enjoying the festivities, but even partially intoxicated, paranoid, and completely bitter, you know better than to show such rudeness to your allies. “It was gracious of the Archbishop to invite us.” You avoid answering, hoping Aymeric does not push the pleasantries.

“I wish the invitation had not arose from such unpleasant circumstances.” Aymeric continues. He is kind and you sense his words are genuine. At any other time, you would have welcomed his presence, but he currently disrupts your very rare, very comforting time with your lover. “Especially after. . .” The Elezen pauses, seemingly unsure how to breach the subject of Ul’dah. Even with Elidibus’ presence sedating your nerves, your lips set themselves in a firm line. Aymeric is no fool and he demonstrates his remarkable proficiency in reading people; he undoubtedly recognizes how uncomfortable this is for you.

Before you can consider a response, another voice, far too boisterous and excited for the quiet chamber and for the headache you can feel coming on, echoes.

“Ah, my friend, there you are! Some claimed to have saw your esca-“ Haurchefant’s open excitement, typically contagious, only sets you on edge and opens a deep pit of dread in your stomach.

“Who is this?” Haurchefant stops himself and examines the man holding you. His eyes visibly draw up and down the Ascian’s host body; his earlier pleasant demeanor turns dour, the smile frequently on his lips turns to a frown. No doubt Elidibus seems strange to him, with his decorative pale robes and mask. The Emissary is obviously a foreigner at an event where very few foreigners are invited. Haurchefant looks over to Aymeric, who keeps his expression carefully neutral, and questions. “Should we detain him?”

“No!” You interrupt quickly, doubting that Aymeric will be able to calm this particular beast. “No. That’s not necessary.” Haurchefant looks clearly disbelieving. “This is. . .” You breathe deeply, unsure how to explain. You are not prone to lying, but with Elidibus clutching at your waist in a warning of caution, you go with the loosest answer you can think of. “. . .a guest of the Archbishop.”

Haurchefant’s eyes remain on Elidibus, lingering on where his arms circle around your waist. Elidibus offers the Elezen the barest of nods, little more than acknowledging his existence, but Haurchefant pays no heed. ”Guest. Indeed.” Disbelief and sarcasm taint Haurchefant’s normally-pleasant voice.

Finally tearing his eyes from the Ascian, Haurchefant focuses his attention on you, seemingly deciding the man in white is not worth his attention. “You disappeared so suddenly, I feared the worst.”

“You needn’t worry for me.” You try to console him, but you unexpectedly worsen the situation.

“Of course I do! I leave you for a moment and you’re inebriated in the arms of a strange man.” Haurchefant explodes, his voice echoing down the hall. The few guests in the small side chamber focus their eyes on you. You turn back to Elidibus, whose face betrays nothing with its permanent amiable smile; his body language remains neutral, making it impossible to discern his thoughts.

”Haurchefant, there was a matter I needed your assistance with.” Aymeric interrupts suddenly and grasps the arm of the other man. Haurchefant’s attention is drawn from you, clearly disbelieving Aymeric’s ploy.

Before Haurchefant can offer any argument, Aymeric firmly takes a hold of the pale-haired Elezen’s arm and pulls, guiding him down the hall, speaking in a low voice.

You release a breath you did not know you were holding and press your eyes closed. Sensing your distress, Elidibus moves a hand to your shoulders, stroking the back of your neck and face. You allow yourself to melt into him, silently thanking the Ascian for his intuition. Sometimes, you really just wish everything could be simple like this; with his caresses, you forget that you are the Warrior of Light and he is an Ascian. Instead you are simply two people who cherish each other’s company above all others.

“There you are!” While not quite a screech, the holler is far too loud and your muscles, just starting to relax, tense, your heart beating far more rapidly. Please, please, please Hydaelyn, you silently pray, don’t let that be -“Oooooh, who’s this?” Tataru Taru runs up to you, with far more energy than anyone has a right to have.

Tataru, seemingly excited and having forgotten why she initially sought you, looks over your partner quickly, intensely curious, having never seen an Ascian in a host. “I didn’t know you were into that type.” She declares, seemingly making a decision, before offering you a bright, genuine smile that warms your heart. “Well, we all have our absurdities! It’s certainly not my place to judge. I’m sure he’s wonderful.”

“Tataru, wait!” The warmth in your heart turns to ice. Alphinaud, out of breath from trying to deal with Tataru’s boundless energy, examines the scene before him. “What. . .?” His eyes stare blankly at first, and a soft blush forms on his cheeks when he sees what you’ve been doing, before his mind seemingly speeds up, recognizing everything wrong about the situation. “That’s -!” Alphinaud pulls his grimoire out with impressive boldness and stands in front of you and Elidibus, ready to fight.

You want nothing more than to hide your head and pretend this is a dream. You can definitely hear Elidibus chuckling now, the traitor.

“I can explain.” No, no, you really cannot. You attempt to calm yourself, but with the frantic way Alphinaud darts his eyes over the Ascian in seeming determination to attack, the earlier panic you felt from Tataru’s and Haurchefant’s presence seems like little more than a breathless jog to your burning heart.

Those earlier glasses of wine certainly are not helping you find the right words, either.

“Alphinaud!” Tataru, Hydaelyn bless her, puts her hands on her hips and stands in front of the young Elezen. “Don’t take that tone. This is wonderful! We should be happy for them.”

“Tataru, that’s –“ Alphinaud looks unsure of how to convince the misguided Lalafell that yes, you really are standing there being held and massaged by the Scions’ enemy.

“Enough!” She interrupts firmly and all but stomps over to the young man, tugging at his wrist. “Come now, Alphinaud, we’re clearly interrupting.”

You’ve heard an idiom from the poetic, perhaps it was even Thancred: if looks could kill. The phrase is surprisingly astute and you are absolutely certain you would be dead on the floor alongside Elidibus if such a thing was in the realm of possibility. You return Alphinaud’s frustrated, dangerous stare with one as flat and unreadable as you can manage.

Finally relenting, recognizing this is not a battle he can win, Alphinaud allows himself to be dragged away. The look the young Elezen gives you over his shoulder holds the silent promise that, once you return to Fortemps Manor, you’re going to explain everything.

You have never been more thankful for Tataru’s interference. You vow that you’ll aid her in any menial tasks for the next six moons as thanks for her actions.

“Your companions are lively.” Elidibus seems amused, but you get the feeling his amusement stems less from the antics of mortals and more from your reaction to them.

“Emissary - and the Warrior of Light?” You hold back the pitiful sound that threatens to spill from your throat at yet another disruption, this one far more dangerous than all others. “What a curious pair.”

“Archbishop.” Elidibus welcomes your new companion, finally breaking his silence in addressing someone other than you. As with Haurchefant, he offers the slightest of nods, just deep enough to not be disrespectful. The Ascian’s hand falls and grasps yours, tightening; you recognize it as a sign to let him solve this particular problem. After the earlier messes, you easily oblige. “We were in the midst of discussion.” Elidibus’ tone is a bit tighter than normal, the only sign that he is discontent. If you did not know him so well, you’d have read it as pleasant and warm.

The Archbishop had not hidden his dealings with the Ascians from you, but he had not clarified what those dealings entailed. He holds as much back from you as he does from them. Despite that knowledge, you hold your tongue, knowing better than to sour relations with the Holy See.

“A discussion, was it?” The gentle, kindly smile does not leave the Archbishop's face, nor does his pleasant tone change. It only makes you even more nervous; the man seems to be re-assessing his plans. “Perhaps, Ascian, you are unfamiliar with our ways. One does not usually hold such ‘discussions’ publicly,” the Archbishop motions to Elidibus’ arm around you “let alone during a Holy celebration.”

“Is it truly inappropriate for bonded partners to show intimacy?” Elidibus puts on a bored air, distinctly unamused at the formalities.

All that resonates with you, regardless of the Archbishop’s passive hostility and Elidibus’ formality, are the words you never expected to hear from his lips. For the first time, the Ascian has publicly acknowledged your relationship. Tataru’s support earlier warmed you, but in comparison, the affection and love you feel welling in you is very reminiscent of a volcano; you want to jump and dance and kiss him. Almost all of your earlier paranoia and bitterness are swept away, the wine finally having its intended effect.

Thordan’s eyes dart back and forth between you and the Ascian; he plans something. The man’s initial knowledge of your relationship with the Ascians was correct, Elidibus is simply an anomaly, but now the Archbishop has reason to distrust you. Elidibus shows no reaction, but you are certain he recognizes the change in the Elezen as well.

“Of course, but please, I ask that you respect our traditions and keep such displays private.” Again the Archbishop smiles; the expression sets you on edge more than any threats can.

“Perhaps we could have a conference without interference?” Though Thordan makes no motion towards you, it is clear exactly what he refers to by ‘interference.’

Elidibus nods, but his next words are unexpected. “Lahabrea will accommodate you. The responsibility is in his hands now.” The Emissary releases your hand and motions slightly to the far corner of the room. Thordan turns and your eyes follow; said Ascian remains in the distance, still, watching, watching, ever watching.

Thordan offers no farewell to you or Elidibus as he leaves, moving to the far corner to speak with Lahabrea.

“Is that wise?” You whisper; Elidibus has mentioned Lahabrea’s difficult and disagreeable nature in the past and you have encountered it firsthand. Leaving him in charge of relations with the Archbishop seems unprecedented.

Even as Thordan speaks, Lahabrea’s gaze does not leave you and Elidibus.

“Not at all.” The Emissary brings his mouth to yours in a kiss, drawing you close once again, pressing his hand into your back so that any distance is negated and he can easily access all of you.

When he finally releases you, you’re breathless and panting, but you recognize Elidibus’ intent. Now you’re an instrument in some impossible to understand inter-Ascian struggle. Thordan, too, continues to plot with the Ascians, but now without Elidibus’ buffer to stymie Lahabrea’s scorn. No doubt the Archbishop believes you are plotting with them as well.

What a mess.

All that remains to sour your night is an attack by the Dravanian Horde.

At the sound of a bell’s familiar toll, loud enough to be heard throughout the Vault, any remaining warmth inside you dies and your head drops, eyes boring a hole into the floor. What have you done, that Hydaelyn hates you so? You attempt to pull from Elidibus regretfully, grasping for your weapon.

The Emissary chuckles, more loudly than before, and refuses to let you go. “It seems supper has been served. Go eat and do try to enjoy yourself.” Elidibus murmurs and offers you a final kiss, nipping at your bottom lip in silent promise that you will see him soon, before he fades into the darkness.

Chapter Text

It is not a normal portal.

You wish you had known before you touched the strange thing, but Elidibus beckoned you as he disappeared through and you assumed you were intended to follow. Perhaps in the future you should endeavor to consider that not everything created for Ascian use will be safe for you – not that it has stopped you before.

The teleportation seems almost sticky, slow moving and viscous, clinging to your entire being as it ushers you along; it is very precise and controlled, but at the same time you feel like you’re being directed in the most indirect way possible. It almost reminds you of. . .

You come up with nothing. It is familiar, yet unknown, slipping away like a word at the back of your mind.

Just as slowly as it transported you, the portal restores your body, lagging enough in the reformation that you feel like you’re being retched from a giant beast’s stomach, feet first.

Instinctively, you rub your hands over your features, feeling that the process was secure and that you are unharmed. You half expect your hands to come away with a strange residue, but there is nothing other than a thin layer of dust that likely came from the abandoned temple and a slight dampness from the melted snowflakes of Coerthas.

Satisfied that you are unharmed, you look about and get a feel for your surroundings. Or you would, were there any surroundings to see; there is nothing but darkness. Even the darkest night could not be this enveloping and pure. If you were not standing on some sort of solid ground, you might have considered the teleportation a failure, or perhaps even that you were not entirely conscious at all. It may yet be a spell, you caution yourself, Elidibus’ plans unknowable.

There are no sounds in the darkness, nor is there any of the wintery scent or chill you’ve come to associate with Coerthas. If you were underground, you would at least expect to smell the tang of soil. There is no breeze across your skin; it as if the entire world has come to a halt and you are the only creature capable of movement within the lonely dimension.

You kneel, wary, and brush your fingers across the floor. Smooth, almost silky, cool, marble-like stone lays below you, flawless and without even the thinnest coat of dust. Your only conclusion is that you’re in an extension of the temple above, or, perhaps, within the true part of it.

You curse Elidibus and his games; this was why his message requested you leave your sack at Dragonhead. You obliged, believing his summons to be little more than a quiet personal outing, so all you brought was your weapon; you doubt even that will do much good in this place. At least the last time the Emissary decided to enact one of these absurd tests he provided you with tangible enemies.

“What is this place?” You question, feeling as if your voice taints the still air, knowing with absolute certainty that Elidibus watches.

Unsurprisingly, you receive no answer.

Pushing yourself up from your kneel, you walk cautiously, one arm in front of you and one to the side, tapping with your foot before putting weight onto each step in case the floor is fragile or there is a ledge or stair. To feel so helpless so soon after -

You reject the thought before it can fill you and focus on annoyance instead.   Once this is finished, you and Elidibus are going to have an emphatic discussion about how one does not ‘test’ their lover against their will, regardless of traditions.

You finally find the path out of what seems to be a small room the teleporter deposited you in. Letting the smooth wall guide you, you move, slowly and awkwardly, like a malformed, one-legged chocobo hatchling, through the strange temple. The path twists and turns, right and right and left, then right again, until your mind loses track of the labyrinthine structure and time passes both impossibly fast and slower than the tiniest slime.

Your head lightens as you move through the hall, tingling, but far from numb. Rightfully, distant logic dictates that you should want nothing more than to leave this place, yet you feel compelled to continue, almost like you’ve gained a single-minded devotion to progression. It is not as if you have another choice in the matter; the only way you’re going to find Elidibus and return is by going forward, obeying whatever it is that commands you. You imagine this is how the Tempered must feel.

After what seems to be days, or perhaps only minutes - your hands are not bleeding, raw, or even sore from touching of the walls for guidance, so it could not have been terribly long - there is finally something. You blink rapidly and rub your eyes as you continue forward, unsure it is there at all until you draw close to a light source.

A strange, deep purple light floats in the center of the hall, seemingly a sourceless mass of energy; there is no torch on the pale, grey wall, nor is there any sign of aether being used to illuminate the area, it simply is. The temple walls reach up and up and up yet more; if there is a roof, you cannot see it, the light fading well before it reaches the top.

You lower your gaze and stare through the light. Standing across from you, just outside the edge of the tapering purple, is Elidibus.

The Ascian says nothing; he does not acknowledge your presence. Your shadow, dragged out by the glow, stretches unnaturally over to him, shading his features. It continues stretching, enlarging well beyond its normal size, covering the pale-robed Emissary, shuddering, dancing and touching him with elongated, unnaturally thin fingers.

You take a step back in caution, but your shadow does not withdraw with you and instead continues its strange dance, Elidibus completely impassive in its grasp. You draw back again, lowering yourself into a defensive posture.

The shadow slowly turns its featureless head, around and around and around, well beyond completely backwards, to face you. Its grotesquely long body somehow lifts itself off Elidibus by twisting its limbs, ankles, knees and elbows bending in a way the body of no Spoken race should bend, and solidifying. You draw your weapon; your shadow mimics you and draws its dark weapon, its every step identical to yours other than its shuddering. If there was a weak fire on a windy night, the shadow would not be abnormal, dancing and moving and inconsistent, but there is no fire. The purple light does not falter, remaining constant.

You take another step back, far out of the light, and the shadow dissipates completely; it releases a low wail, panicked and agonized, identical to your own voice. Your head splits and you release a gasp in turn, letting your weapon fall to the floor. You grasp your head until your fingers pound, pressing your eyes closed, breaths heavily forced from your throat, your body trembling and shuddering almost as deeply as the shadow was moments before.

“It will be over soon; do not resist.” Elidibus finally speaks, behind you; his voice is strange, distant, and accented. He moves close, so that his chest presses against your back, his presence somehow heavy and simultaneously weightless as he runs a hand through your hair, dragging a clawed glove down the side of your neck; you barely feel it. He whispers, lips teasing at your cheek “Reject the shadow.” The pain dulls and your head slowly clears as the shadow’s screams fade. “Embrace the shadows.” You allow yourself to lean back into the Ascian as he draws his free hand down yours shoulders, abdomen, and thighs, little more than a gentle stroke or tickle before he fades, once again, into nothingness.

“Curse you, Elidibus, this is not the time for riddles.” You snap, little more than a gasp, voice broken from your earlier harsh pants. Even if he has teleported away, you are certain he can hear you.

“There is no better time.” He speaks into your mind with alarming clarity, like Hydaelyn at her full strength might; you were unaware Elidibus was even capable of such things. You are in his realm now; whatever his capabilities, they must surely be amplified. At least the solution to his puzzle is as clear as his voice in your head – stay out of the light – but the ease of which you were able to solve it makes you believe that there may be more to the Ascian’s layered words.

Before you can consider further, he touches you, the warm, familiar aether soothing and spreading from your head down, lower, lower, coursing through your heart, beating through you until your entire body warms and you shiver; you are certain this type of foreign aether manipulation is detrimental to your body’s health and you absently attempt to push it away, mind not clear or strong enough in this place to reject him with true force. Elidibus relents easily, but the tingling, commanding pressure from before returns, demanding you submit to him. The Emissary offers only vague advice: “There is but one path; do not fear. Trust.”

This is absolute absurdity. There is no reason for this nonsense. You’re well and truly mad now, giving into to Elidibus with such ease, you muse as you lift your fallen weapon from the floor and press forward into the darkness, compelled by strange, uncomfortable magic and your lover’s voice.

The silence returns, but the stillness does not. As you progress further down the path, the air seems to be saturated under a dark, unnatural fog. Unable to see in the blackness, you are unsure how you’re even aware of it, but its presence surrounds and clings to your flesh like warm, thick humidity before a summer rain, but without the warmth or the humidity. You press your hand against the wall for guidance down the passage; it remains dry, untouched by the fog.

Trust, you muse almost lazily in the pounding, tingling haze, seems to be the key to this little game of his. You trusted Elidibus enough to follow him into this temple, you’ve trusted him with your safety, and you’ve trusted him that you will not be lost for eternity in an endless labyrinth. You’ve even trusted his aether, both the soft and the harsh. What more could the Ascian want?

There are no answers to contemplate with Elidibus being so ambiguous, and thinking hurts.

The tingle in your head deepens, becoming a pulse. You stop, using the wall to balance yourself, and try again to reject the invasive aether, as you did earlier. It does not budge, each touch only making it seep more deeply into the cracks. Frustrated, you close your eyes and rest your forehead against the cool wall.

When you open your eyes after regaining your self-control, determined to progress down the path, you almost stumble when you realize, no more than two steps later, that you can see. It is not sight, not truly, but nor is it as passive as your aether sense. It is fuzzy and distant, like trying to listen to someone speaking to you, just at the very tip of your range of hearing. The words are indiscernible, but you know they are there. What little is left of your logic – if logic is even applicable in this place – whispers that it is impossible to see in complete darkness, but you somehow can recognize where the walls are and how the temple passage around you is structured.

You should be disturbed, but after your prolonged, perpetual blindness, relying solely on touch to slowly progress, you find this sight-that-is-not-sight strangely relieving, as if you’ve finally attuned properly to your surroundings. If this is a side effect of Elidibus’ pulse, then you can endure the discomfort.

With your new gift, travel through the halls eases. There is nothing to see or explore, the path simply an elaborate, twisting passage with no intersections. The pale walls are seamless and unmarred, as if the temple was carved into a single unbelievably large stone and smoothed out over millennia by the movement of water. Despite the twists and turns, there is a definite, persistent downwards slope, deeper and deeper into the depths of Coerthas. Elidibus spoke the truth: there is but one path. It is a long, featureless mass of grey marred only by the sporadic, seemingly random, presence of the sourceless purple light.

Where are you? You demand of the Ascian after the novelty of your sight and curiosity about the temple wears, irritated by this trial, the pain, and the monotonous flawless walls.

“You know where I am.” Somehow listening to your thoughts, Elidibus’ voice sounds from somewhere in front of you, loud enough that he can be no more than a few paces away, yet you see nothing with your strange vision.

Shadowless, or, perhaps, simply an embodied shadow with no form to see.

Though you cannot see Elidibus, you can sense when you’re within a step of him; the strange, humid fog you’ve accommodated yourself to that surrounds your body and the tingling pulse that violates your mind seem to clear, giving you a small window of respite. You can feel when he presses his hand to your chest, gentle, delicate, affectionate, resting it over your heart. As if commanded, you automatically lift your hand to meet his grasp as he whispers, barely loud enough to hear: “You’re almost mine.”

You have been his for quite some time, but your mind is too clouded correct him.

The Emissary lowers his arm; you can feel him turn away. Seemingly close enough to the goal, the Ascian does not teleport. Elidibus simply walks, his slow footsteps shattering the silence. The sound becomes deeper and deeper, louder and more echoing, as if becoming closer while also growing farther into the distance. The sound quickly becomes another deep, impossibly loud pulse; the steps are so powerful that your body vibrates in time with them.

Recognizing the pulse as pressure from Elidibus’ aether, commanding you, you push forward, seemingly rejuvenated from the Ascian’s acknowledgement. The Emissary seems to clear the path for you, guiding you through the darkness, removing any doubt or fear.

Your head pounds, too, but it is a different pulse, a light, yet heavy sense similar to aether sickness, one that sends you reeling and forces any unnecessary thoughts away. All thoughts that are not about your companion and goal are insignificant.

You walk, unhindered for what seems to be a thousand paces; your mind is in sync with the constant, never-ending, repeated beat, your breath constantly tasting the fog-tainted air. There is no pain or soreness or even weariness; you feel as fresh and alive as any time you can remember.

By the time you reach the fifth – or was it the fourth? – sourceless purple light, you are so light-headed and morbidly curious about this place that you step directly through it, willing to risk the sentient, solid shadows just so you can feel the pain their destruction brought on.

No shadows rise, the deep purple unmarred.

You do not know how long it takes you to reach the end; there is no sense of time in the temple. The only reason you know the trial is over is the presence of absolute, utter, and complete void. The nothingness could go on for only a few paces or a lifetime, but the emptiness is absolute.

“Do you hear it?” Elidibus speaks from behind, as impossible to discern with the sight as he was earlier. You instinctively turn to face the Ascian. The passage behind you through the temple – no, the entire temple – is gone; all that remains in the nothingness is a small platform, little more than a few yalms wide, no longer smooth and pale, but creviced, dark, and impossibly thick.

The Emissary draws close, close, too close - hot, burning, boiling; perspiration drips from your forehead and over your body, breaths ragged and mouth open as you inhale and exhale rapidly to cool yourself. The only sound to hear is your heart beating heavily, pounding still in time with the pulse that is no longer there.

“Feel. Do not think.” Elidibus whispers once again, voice almost silent, yet still clear above your heartbeats. The gentle touch of his aether returns, tingling, teasing warmth spreading, deeper, deeper, deeper over and into your flesh, until your sweaty skin is covered with goosebumps and it penetrates far more thoroughly into your mind than you’ve let anyone but Hydaelyn into. It burns, but not; it is the touch of the coldest ice or the bite of a harsh wind. It soothes; its stroke is as silken as the water in a crystalline lake or the tip of a fresh, waxy blade of grass.

“Mine.” He kisses you hard, so hard that it is painful and you try to pull back, but the pressure is so absolute and desired that you only wordlessly beg for more. You are his and he is yours.

You press your eyes closed, unable to do anything but submit to the Ascian completely, unwilling to do anything but offer your flesh to him. Minemineminemineminemine – Elidibus’ soft tone is gone, the single possessive word an echoing tendril that repeats a million times. His voice warps and alters, each repetition an overbearing, emphasizing pound in your head. You want to scream in pain, but his mouth overlaps yours and each kiss ends as a moan of simultaneous burning agony and uncontrollable fluid desire.

When the words finally fade, the heat finally cools, and the liquid stills, your head lightens and the pulse dissipates, as if released from whatever magicks bound it. You open your eyes to the same temple in Coerthas you entered with Elidibus earlier, far more weathered and rough than the one you just spent untold time in. The portal is nowhere to be seen.

“It is unwise for you to explore this place alone.” You turn your head immediately at the sound of the familiar voice; Elidibus waits in the doorway for you, the wind tugging at his white robes, the small flakes of snow in the sunlight seemingly creating an aura around him.

“Alone?” You murmur, more dazed than you realized as you lift yourself from the cool floor, stumbling uncharacteristically awkwardly. When had you fallen? You are whole and unharmed; your head still pounds slightly and you are certain you have minor aether sickness, but otherwise you’ve no evidence Elidibus’ odd trial ever occurred. “But we just. . .”

You let the words fade, allowing the sounds to overwhelm your ears, replacing silence, the cool, crisp, dry air to brush your skin, rather than placid humidity, and finally, finally you embrace the ability to see, with your eyes, not that unfamiliar sense, never more thankful for even the dimmest, greyest light.

Elidibus steps from the doorway slowly, all but unreadable as he approaches. He no longer retains his earlier coyness, as you seem to have passed his test; once close enough, however, you recognize that caution replaces his usual confidence, his body language tense and distant. He kisses you softly, a simple, gentle, mortal kiss, completely unlike the one you shared just moments ago in the nothingness. It feels strange, alien, inappropriate, and very awkward; it reminds you the first kiss you ever shared with him, but amplified, like if you were a young child experimenting with the forbidden. It is odd; you should not feel such seclusion from someone you’ve been so close to for so long.

“I see.” Is all he says as he withdraws and guides you to the door.

Chapter Text

Elidibus is a creature of patience.

Seconds, minutes, bells, suns, weeks, moons, years – meaningless. The Spoken races are unchanging, the names of their countries all that differ between generations. Fallibility in fear and overconfidence; the same faults, exhibited and reborn over and over again.

All is cyclic, the fertile ground of the Gods dynamic and comforting in its repetition.

He moves; She responds. She wanes; He waxes.

Not even the Gods are impervious to the cycle – and Elidibus is its master.

Curiosity, questions, and answers, provoked by the simplest suggestion. All children experience and wonder and so all children seek and learn. Even those chosen by the Gods must submit to the cycle’s laws.

“What I have shown you changes nothing; you have simply learned of it sooner, rather than later.”

The Champions of Light seek, but never accept, His one truth. That this Warrior is no different is unsurprising; denial remains the most consistent trait of all Her chosen. Predictability makes them, as in all creatures, manageable, and guidance towards the necessary path requires only the barest of hints.

“You are intentionally difficult, aren’t you?” Exasperation, seated deeply within the Warrior’s body language, stains the words. It is an emotion Elidibus avoids in negotiation; exasperation leads to hostility and irrationality, dangerous reactions that close off even the most open mind. “You come with the promise of answers, but only offer more questions. Ones you will not answer.”

Elidibus acknowledges only the merest tinge of annoyance; Hydaelyn tests Her servants as much as He does His, yet still the Champion expects to be immediately gifted with answers. Habits can be broken; Elidibus will see this one eliminated soon enough.

This Warrior is not entirely insipid; Elidibus judged Her chosen correctly. Parley and discussion are possible; that Her champion chooses not to attack attests to that. The Warrior is far more vivacious and persuadable than any predecessors; they are convenient traits – vulnerable traits that must be used but not corrupted.

Explanation of fundamental concepts is unavoidable, justification is necessary in guidance. “You experience knowledge; all scholars learn, but the more they observe, the more they seek and the less they know. An endless cycle.”

The Warrior expresses the slightest frown, barely enough to signal disapproval. “So you will share nothing of relevance.”

“I will and, when I do, you will claim I perpetuate more questions.” As long as the Warrior continues to search, Elidibus will continue to lead. Eventually Hydaelyn’s champion will come upon the truth, believing it their own discovery.

The expected rebuttal, after which Elidibus would have sated the Warrior’s curiosity, never comes.

The Warrior of Light only laughs in response, soft and breathy, before it deepens. It is not mocking, but pure laughter born of true amusement. To the ears of a mortal, it may be considered a pleasant sound.

Elidibus is His Emissary; it is a duty to understand and predict mortals, to learn their ways and conform to them. Her champions are never normal mortals, but they share a similar basal demeanor and, with that, there are expectations.

Resentment, anger, annoyance, frustration; these are emotions Elidibus understands, defuses, and deflects.

Laughter is unexpected. Laughter is uncommon. Laughter is unknown. He is not Lahabrea; Elidibus is not prone to amusement at the antics and failures of mortals, laughing at displays of power born of indulgent arrogance.

Such insecurity is unfamiliar; the Light is constant and distant, the Dark chaotic and intimate. Her warriors should embody the purest light, yet this one does not.

The cycle stalls, predictability and certainty gone.

A second is as a minute, a minute is as a bell, and a bell is as a sun; the few moments the Warrior laughs are the longest Elidibus has known. With each instant, as the Warrior becomes more and more breathless, Elidibus feels his control slip.

Face flushed and smiling, the Warrior seemingly calms, frustration washed away, confidence renewed. Any earlier annoyance has faded. “I suppose that’s true.”

Her child should not be agreeing or trusting his word so easily. “You will ask, regardless.” The Warrior must; the cycle will continue.

For a time, the Warrior is silent, considering. When Her chosen finally speaks again, any amusement is gone. “I am not prone to swinging my weapon against unyielding stone. Or crystal, as it were.”

Elidibus is not prideful, his pride stems only from reverence, but Elidibus tolerates few failures and even less dissension. As the Warrior of Light rejects him, what little exists of his pride burns; mistakes he often criticizes the others for fall onto him, the cycle crumbling.

“Very well.” Elidibus expresses none of his irritation. There will be other opportunities; he will create them if he must.

“Emissary.” The Warrior continues with confidence, reading Elidibus as easily as he reads Her children. The Warrior knows; Elidibus cannot stop his jaw’s clench. “Speak all the ceremony you will, of your God and mine, but your actions tell the truth of things.

You rightfully assert that I do not understand the Echo; my use is erratic and dangerous and instinctual. Know the truth; I am not ambitious. I do not know what you believe I think of the Echo or some absurd eternal conflict I’ve been drawn into, Ascian, but your demonstration with Leviathan solidified my reasoning.”

Perhaps more than any prior words or actions, what the Warrior does next alarms Elidibus most. The Champion smiles; in contrast to the firm words, the expression is soft and genuine. There is no condescension, nor is there any of the expected arrogance or satisfaction Elidibus has come to expect from mortals. All that is expressed in the smile is hope and determination.

Control. There is no control. There must be control.

“When you will offer answers, I will ask questions. Emissary, if you truly believe the Echo – the Gift – can end the conflict between our peoples, it is upon you to prove it.”

It is all lost.

The cycle has ended.

Elidibus is not a creature of hope, but even he recognizes a new cycle has begun.

Chapter Text

With proper alacrity, there is but one inevitability.

It decomposes, bleeding, weak container that it is, remaining energy impossible to grasp. Irrelevant, he will create another. Lahabrea will bring about Her end; Hydaelyn must receive proper recompense.

“Even knowing, you still. . .” He allows his disgust to be known at the Warrior’s illogical rejection; the false Goddess is the source of such obstinacy. She compels Her servants into service; under the guise of righteousness, they are coerced into a self-destructive struggle for a cause they do not understand.

The Warrior of Light makes duty of slaying false Gods, but in doing so fails to recognize Her influence is as thorough a slavery as tempering.

The Warrior’s words are little above a whisper. “The Gods are cruel.” The Blessing grants Her champion fanciful delusion; it is only Hydaelyn who keeps them in opposition. “As are the whims of their servants.”

All hostility in Her chosen’s demeanor has faded, the only perceived threat eliminated. Lahabrea rejects the arm offered in aid; he needs only his own strength. The Warrior worries for him, drawing fingers softly across his form in a foolish display of mortal intimacy. The touches are sedated, searching futilely for a source of damage.

Lahabrea lifts a hand to meet the Champion’s, cloth preventing the union of flesh; this is no whim, but an absolute reality. Mortals decay, their creations fall. Hydaelyn will be eliminated. The Rejoining will occur. They belong together.

Even with Her taint, all remains as it should be.

“One but not the other. Inability and unwillingness to fulfill your responsibilities; even the fabled Warrior of Light is bound by mortal imperfections.”

The mortal archbishop intrudes, their reunion disturbed. Her champion pulls away to face the trespasser, familiarity gone, replaced with caution. Lahabrea makes no effort to hide his irritation; his lover’s attention stolen from him, Lahabrea’s hands clench to fists. The Elezen is not to be here. This is not what was discussed; the Warrior is his.

The creature fancies himself charismatic and powerful – convenient fantasies perpetuated to further Lahabrea’s goals. He bleats; the explanation of his presence and intentions insignificant. Lahabrea understands his purpose before he proclaims himself ‘God-emperor.’

Pathetic. To claim godhood when before a servant of the one true God, believing himself to be above the chaos of mortality, requires unrestrained arrogance.

“You would raise a hand against us?” It is a waste of energy to speak; the harsh, disbelieving laughter Lahabrea bites out is cut short from weakness. There is no disappointment; faith based upon mortal action is fated for betrayal.

“I won’t allow it.” The Warrior’s tone is uncommonly used, but not unfamiliar. Ferocity is not a trait Lahabrea often attributes to the Warrior of Light; the vehemence of the declaration, far from the dull, stoic command of strength his partner is prone to, is only drawn out in his defense.

It is as it should be. Her chosen stays by his side.

“Weakened, tainted by darkness as you are, Warrior, you will never be able to withstand the power of true light.”

Lahabrea cannot but laugh again at the absurdity, forcing raspy breaths out between harsh wheezes; the creature that betrays him uses the same self-righteous justification as Hydaelyn’s chosen are apt to, claiming they rid the world of chaos and darkness and evil, believing theirs is the path of order and light and goodness. They presume themselves just, even as they continue their path of destruction, never acknowledging the damage they cause.

It is deluded mortal nonsense; no falsified claims of godhood can alter his nature.

“You must leave.” The Warrior demands wordlessly, so that only he hears; they remain bonded yet still, eternal and unyielding, capable of shared thoughts.

Lahabrea understands; he should leave them to destroy each other, to let Hydaelyn drain Her strength shielding Her chosen. The Light will implode upon itself.

He refuses to obey. He will not submit; he will not flee; he will not stop. He will not lose this chance to initiate the Rejoining.

They must remain together. As it is intended to be. As it will always be.

“You will atone. Face justice, Ascian.” The traitor would not dare-

“Fool, stubborn creature!” The Warrior snaps. True fury overwhelms the both of them, shared, intensity amplified beyond what either could attain singularly. The Warrior’s rare, raw emotional display belongs only to him.

Their unifying resonance, unbelievably strong, overwhelming, and determined forces through him.

Light. It is not Her loathsome light the Archbishop uses, but a sterile, pure energy that draws in more than it forces out.

Vivid, overpowering emotions, so many, so frequent and persistent that he defines none, their source impossible to determine. One thought dominates all others:

He will not be unmade.

Pain; enveloping, tearing, piercing, shearing what remains. Dimness so intense it burns. Fear.

Pulling; tugging; absorption; shrouding blue; encapsulating flow; all is one, time is esoteric.

Lahabea submits to the enervation, comfortable dark surrounding him as he rests within the dominant flow, intermingling.

Dimness turns to haze when the union finalizes; he draws in cool, silken aether that is not his own, obscurity cleared.

Relief and worry, forcing an erratic, turbulent flow through normally placid waves - emotions not intended to be disclosed to him. Shared within the core, all thoughts are as much his as his partner’s.

Gentle - too gentle; Lahabrea commands the shared aether, refusing to be pitied - and devoted, not at all like Igeyorhm’s appalling amalgamation.

Deeper, deeper, beyond the reach of any Light, they resonate together.

All is as it must be. All is as intended.

Chapter Text

The delay is intentional; the Warrior demonstrates no haste in accepting his invitation, doubtless fending off a barrage of the Sharlayan meddler’s questions and condemning his earlier interruption.

Let them pry; those who seek truth do not often favor the answers.

The woman blathers behind him, spewing more and more nonsense about how he will never succeed and how the Warrior of Light will stop him and whatever other drivel those prone to playing the hero spout. To have such faith in Her and Her former chosen when deeply within His domain is amusing; at least the prisoner provides him some entertainment while he waits.

Deliberately and sluggishly, the Warrior’s presence eventually becomes known. Nabriales silences the woman, obscuring her presence. There is much for her to witness, ‘twould be a shame if she interfered before they’ve begun.

His partner’s annoyance is well hidden, a tenseness below the surface invisible to none but the most perceptive. Nabriales remains still as the Warrior approaches, until the former-champion is within a pace. Before he suffers another lecture on his impulsive behavior, he grasps the Warrior’s arm, pressing their forms together, turning them both so that the former-champion is pushed against His effigy.

“If this-“ Nabriales interrupts the fussing; the Warrior’s pleasure is his pleasure. Shallow though mortal affection may be, when he touches his form’s lips to the Warrior, the energy he tastes sends shivers through him, demanding he take more. “-Is what you wanted, could you at least have waited until my business was concluded?”

No, he answers with his body; he has been very, very patient. Now it all ends. Before His Grace, under witness of the false Goddess’ representative, they will become one, and then -

Unnecessary clothing interferes; any remaining armor must be eliminated. Nabriales tugs at loose cloth, aiding in its removal so that he may savor bare flesh. Unarmored and unshielded by Light, the former-chosen is vulnerable to his control, shivers and bumps spreading at his aether’s touch. With the slightest contact to the Warrior’s core, he expands his influence, commanding emotions and desires be known.

The response is instantaneous and familiar, his essence numbing objectivity and rationality. His partner’s body falls limp, annoyance and stubbornness finally broken. Vulnerable, submitting to his aether, the Warrior molds to his will; Nabriales pushes yet more, compelling his partner to experience all that he does, so that nothing separates them.

Only through this does Nabriales live; hostless and limited in potential sensation, he will not squander the opportunity to cause and embrace the volatile unpredictability of mortal lust.

Spicy, strong; the Warrior’s essence tastes of well-hidden willfulness. Close as they are, he can taste his own essence through his partner’s sense, distinctly sour, but just as strong. Defining essence as taste is futile, one simply is, but his lover’s habits slip into him, providing words for known feelings.

Together they breathe, erratic and heavy. His fingers bite into mortal flesh as strongly as the Warrior’s dig at him.   They push themselves from the statue, struggling for control, both sharing Nabriales’ refusal to submit. Of one mind, lacking independence, they press into the other, twisting and spiraling until they fall to the ground; all that is felt of the landing is a distant throb, pain overwhelmed by dizzy tingling and hot tremors.

The Warrior’s touch is as His in subtle firmness, dominating thoughtlessly; with Nabriales’ influence, the tendency is amplified and he finds himself easily below his partner’s body. Driven by mortal passion and enhanced by aether, the Warrior tears off his mask and bites his lips, sitting atop his form, hips grinding into him. Just as Nabriales earlier, his partner is progressively more annoyed by shielding robes, limiting access to his aether-formed flesh.

Sour, so sour, spicy and bitter; it is electric, too strong, impossible to maintain, even as they peak, just starting to seek more. There is no flow, there is no consistency, there is only contrasting chaos. It is simultaneously revolting and magnetic, requiring withdrawal; it is impossible to withstand prolonged closeness to the other’s core without complete merging. Would that they could continue forever, treading endlessly, deeper and deeper in the abyss, but in no world is such a thing possible.

They simultaneously withdraw, slowly, painfully, the Warrior’s physical lust unfulfilled, but satiated in every other way. He pushes his partner’s will away, rejecting lingering thoughts of affection and desire, lest he be distracted. It is time; Lord Zodiark will no longer be kept from His prize.

Nabriales releases the spell keeping Her representative obscure and lets her drop to the floor.

He pushes himself from the ground. Spreading himself thinly through his partner has tired him, but the former-chosen is even more affected, body damp with sweat, head fogged. All is clear when together; all is muddled when apart. Thoroughly distracted, it takes the Warrior a moment to hear the screeching, hoarse cry of the intruder, repeating the same demand over and over, ‘What are you doing?’ she cries, as if their engagement ‘twasn’t immediately clear.

The Warrior’s comprehension is delayed, but visible; Nabriales recognizes the thoughts that form, even unable to read them, as the narrative pieces together. The former-chosen turns to face him, condemning his betrayal, refreshingly blatant emotions covering tired features. Nabriales engorges himself on them.

This is how it must be.

“What have you done?!” Again with the obvious queries; Nabriales shrugs off the Warrior’s hostility.

“You needn’t worry. I’ve not harmed her.” He motions to the woman, who still remains on the floor, clutching the staff to her breast. “I thought perhaps you could speak some sense into her.”

Nabriales rarely receives such looks of loathing; the prisoner reminds him very much of a rat, nipping at his toes in a bid for survival. The rat knows it can be destroyed at any moment and only by the whims of the greater being is its continued existence secured.

Nabriales disregards her, drawing closer to the more passive Warrior. He is not pushed away, but ignored, his partner’s attention completely on Her representative. This was his will, he reinforces. The Warrior’s attentions must be drawn from him, no matter how distasteful the temporary loss may be.

Refusing to heed the logic, Nabriales moves his hand up, stroking his partner’s face and running it through hair that is still clumped from sweat, encircling the Warrior’s waist from behind. The woman looks ill at the display and he does not bother to hide his satisfaction.

“What is going on?” His partner questions the prisoner, showing no reaction to Nabriales’ touch.

“I should be asking you the same!” An indignant response to the being she earlier advocated as her savior. After seeing them together, it is doubtful the rat wants to share any information with the former-champion. The Warrior’s body stiffens, distressed at the rejection; Nabriales judged correctly, they were close. Her representative seems as disapproving of their relationship as Elidibus would be.

Nabriales cares as little for Elidibus’ judgement as he does the woman’s.

If the prisoner will not answer, Nabriales will. “She refuses to relinquish the staff. When she does, she is free to leave.” Though he can not see his partner’s face from his position, he can almost feel displeasure radiating into him. “I’ve no interest in your companion.”

The dam bursts, the Warrior’s withheld emotions flood through vulnerable fields. He is pushed away; the former-champion confronts him, confused, angry, and hurt. “All this for a staff?”

Finally - they have dawdled long enough, pleasant and necessary distractions though they were.

The Warrior turns back to the woman; the anger exhibited seems to satisfy the intruder, drawing the former-champion back into her trust. The Warrior questions; the woman answers, telling a story no different from his.

Finally deciding on the appropriate action, in a show of uncharacteristic and utter arrogance, the former-Chosen of Light stands before him, weaponless, unclothed, and unarmored, trusting that Nabriales will not attack – Nabriales approves.

“Minfilia, you must flee.” The woman’s better sense finally seems to get the better of her and she listens to the Warrior’s command. The prisoner pushes herself from the floor, still clutching the staff as if it is more important than her life. She’s correct.

“I don’t think so.” The rat will leave only when he wills it; she is to witness the rebirth.

A simple spell and Nabriales is behind Her representative, close enough that he can feel her heat and the tenseness of her body. The rat shivers slightly as he runs a finger down her face, as he did the Warrior’s; she will remain under his control.

Muscles clenching, she forces him aside, fleeing as quickly as she can.

The woman is not fast, he must only incapacitate her. She makes no attempt to dart about or move unpredictably, it take no effort to see her goal. It requires no more than the weakest attack.

A cry, not the one expected, followed by the thud of a form falling to the floor and a pained moan.

No.

Thud. Thud. Thud. The sounds repeats from within as his lover struggles on the floor, trying to control and minimize the damage.

He was to weaken the Warrior, to maim, not kill. The Warrior was to defend, to avoid, not take an attack unprotected to guard another.

“Oh, Hydaelyn.” The rat has the audacity to speak.

“Do not dare invoke Her name!” He allows his rage to spill. “You have brought this upon your ‘Warrior of Light’. If you had but obeyed, this would never have happened!”

The woman shakes out of terror and distress. She should fear; Elidibus would dare not stop him now.

“Go.” The Warrior’s voice gurgles, lungs pierced. This is not how it was to be.

The rat flees; he does not stop her.

Unknown, unwanted, soft emotions embrace his chest as tightly as pain does his lover’s, his aether erratic and barely contained. Nabriales knew this plan would result only in the Warrior’s temporary estrangement, such reactions are expected, but the agony, the coughs and gasps and blood coursing down bare flesh, flesh he had only earlier touched and merged with, so that it was own, was never planned.

He rejects it all. It is all for Him; His goal must be the Warrior’s goal, then all will be well. The Warrior is Gifted; death is not a setback.

The pressure sets itself deeper into the chasm, expanding the fracture, refusing to be downed by logic.

Alone together, Nabriales closes the distance. He must go through with the plan, it is the only way to correct his mistake.

There is no visible wound, but sticky red streaks the Warrior’s hands and chest, leaking through closed fingers at each cough.

“Leave it be.” His partner’s voice is heavy, a mixture of weak demand and pleading; barely able to breathe, the Warrior absurdly fusses over the staff.

Only for his lover does he kneel. There is no affectionate touch, an impenetrable wall separating them, but there does not need to be. “If I was going to follow, I would have.” He places a hand firmly on the Warrior’s chest, regardless of will.

Seemingly believing his attention diverted from his goal, the Warrior ignores Nabriales and attempts to stand, a fool, stubborn motion that ends only in failure. On any other creature it would be mocked, but sweet disdain is overwritten by bitter satisfaction.

In a sense, it has been perfect, everything flawless. Unpredictability works in his favor and he need not battle. For many moons he has pushed, preparing, guiding Her former-chosen to His hand; the Warrior’s body is offered almost at will. Never before has victory tasted so sour.

He pushes aside the weak sounds his lover makes, the thud, and forces the weakened Warrior to the ground. It is so easy, requiring a simple resonance; they were closer in their union moments earlier. Elidibus was correct; the Warrior’s Gift is overwhelming, he need not even pull. In this place, He is strong and does not need aid in taking His offering.

Something foreign struggles, minimal, attached to a greater power, no doubt the last vestiges of Her control, as it has no influence over the Gift. It attempts to reject Him - not from the Warrior, but from itself. This thing will not interfere, he will not allow it to stop the uplifting. Nabriales pours energy into the space surrounding invader, eliminating the connection to his lover.

The entity withdraws, retreating almost willingly, the final barrier removed. Weakened though He is, His Grace’s protection is far more potent than anything Hydaelyn is capable of.

Placidity and silence are all that remain, thick, gurgling rasps replaced by the deep breaths of what appears to be sleep, but the Warrior does not rest. Nabriales places a hand over the former-chosen’s chest, feeling its rise and fall and the knit of core aether humming, restoring the damage he caused. It is a rare delight; mortal forms are drab, dull things, but the inverted flow of the Warrior’s aether, previously unseen, electric below his hand, is the most beautiful thing he remembers experiencing.

Nabriales remains true, unmoving until it ends and his partner stirs, hands clenching, breaths quickening. His contact is oppressive, causing overwhelming dizziness in those unused to it.

“A dream. . .” The words are slurred, not intended to be spoken. He holds his tongue, but desires nothing more than to deny the Warrior the thought; it was not a dream, it will never be a dream.   Belatedly noticing Nabriales’ presence, the Warrior continues, dazed and confused. “You’re still here?”

“I told you I would not leave.” Nabriales will never leave.

The former-Warrior knows something is off, forehead and lips creased in a frown, jaw set, but says nothing. His partner is prone to the annoying tendency of withholding troubles, defaulting into reminiscent silence, bitterness building slowly over time until the shielding wall breaks.

“Your illness will pass in time.” Nabriales pushes himself from his knee, continuing to speak, knowing that his lover will not.

“Minfilia – I’m going back.” Exhausted and unsure, the former-Warrior’s tone still bites in accusation. The anger is expected and will undoubtedly become more severe once his intentions and plans are revealed.

The first phase is finished; he makes no effort to stop his lover's departure. Soon, the staff will be His and he will no longer be required to subject himself to the fickle whims of the others.

In time, Nabriales is certain all will be well.

Chapter Text

The tales parents tell children of so-called heroes are of eternal happiness, of peace and safety, of happily ever after when the lord saves his lady. More relevant to your tale, adolescents hear extravagant fantasies of the adventurers who spend their days endlessly wandering in search of new treasure, seeing sights that none other will ever witness, sometimes even discovering the realm of the Gods themselves.

Parents are truly cruel beings; happily ever after is a fable conjured up by romantics who do not understand the consequences of two willful individuals being required to share a single soul space. It has not even been a week with your soulmate and you are thoroughly convinced that ‘happily ever after’ is terribly overrated; knowing your lover’s every thought is not a dream, but a nightmare.

Or perhaps Lahabrea’s disdain is flooding through you once again, influencing your perceptions; you can never be quite sure.

“She has you fetching materials.”

Lahabrea is sour, speaking to you silently in your mind, interjecting into your musing. He is never the most pleasant of creatures, but early in the morning, after you rise from bed and turn your attentions away from him and onto your companions, his demeanor shifts. His emotions darken from muted affection and sink deeply into perpetual annoyance, influencing you both.

“You see to menial errands that are well within the mortal’s capabilities.” Every sun it is this same argument; no matter who you aid, he is never satisfied. He would sooner have you assist no one at all, seemingly baffled by your habits. “Do you not know how to tell them off?”

“Tataru is my friend; it is of no consequence.” You reply to him with an offhand thought, focused on the merchant’s wares. It’s impossible to completely ignore Lahabrea, no more than you can ignore a persistent, nagging impulse that you’re forgetting something, but you get as close as you can, smiling to the merchant as you point to the cloth Tataru seeks.

“Should the Warrior of Light be relegated to retrieving cloth from a merchant because a ‘friend’ needs to mend her shirt?”

Lahabrea is sulking. You did not understand his strange antagonism with a subtle withdrawal when he first expressed it, but now you recognize it for what it is. Lahabrea is unused to dismissal; you hear his words but do not heed them, your attentions focused elsewhere.

“The Slayer of Gods has more important responsibilities than being a tool of convenience.”

He speaks true; perhaps you do have more important responsibilities, but when fetching something from the market is the most dangerous and remarkable task assigned to you, it is a good day.

----

“I was unaware that mortal traditions consider a stranger demanding a respected warrior accompany them into the bowels of an oversized, twisted God as they search for treasure to be acceptable behavior.”

“This is my responsibility.” You appreciate Lahabrea’s worry and strange shows of affection, no matter how vehemently he denies them, but you cannot turn away, not when so much is at stake. The mechanical primal is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, even from the Allagan.

“That is always your excuse.” Lahabrea has been particularly irritated by your actions of late, letting you know how thoroughly he disapproves of putting mortals before yourself. “Mayhaps if that girl focused less on her scars and more on the enemies before her she would not need you to swaddle her.”

He lashes out at the easiest target, knowing full well you agree with him. It is a final effort to dissuade you from what he believes to be utter foolishness.

“This is my duty.” You repeat. You are the Warrior of Light, tasked to protect Hydaelyn; there is no one else in Eorzea who can fulfill your purpose. You have long since accepted your role as their weapon.

You regret the thought as soon as it forms; it is not as if Lahabrea needs another reason to despise your Goddess.

----

“Do you not wonder –“

“No.” Whatever Lahabrea’s fascination with Nidhogg’s fusion is, his interest cannot be condoned.

“– are they of one mind or two?”

Despite your caution, his words bring you pause, your attention focused inward at the curious query; a dragon and one of the spoken races physically merging is fantastical enough, but the foreign structure of their mind and is not something you’ve considered. You are loath to admit that his musing is beneficial; the state of their soul must be learned if you’ve any hope of saving Estinien. If they are as you and Lahabrea, separating them entirely is an impossibility.

“What would happen, if we resonated with him?” Lahabrea continues once your attention is on him, testing your knowledge rather than truly pondering. Resonating with a dragon so completely absorbed by his madness that he cannot tell a millennia from a moon is not particularly appealing, even with Lahabrea anchoring and buffering you; Lahabrea’s interest in Estinien’s and Nidhogg’s mutated soul space is unhealthy enough without the dragon’s insanity.

He senses your anxiety, but it does little to deter him. “How else do you hope to free your companion? Attack the dragon until his scales are shredded, rending his flesh until the unharmed mortal is revealed within his core?”

The image Lahabrea evokes is reminiscent of a holiday sweet, as you bite through a crispy outer layer to reach a soft, sweet center.

“I’ll consider it.” You relent in amusement, and Lahabrea’s warmth spreads through you, satisfied and victorious, your mood raised vibrantly for the hours to come.

----

“Elidibus.” He says nothing else of the intruders. You could search his memories for knowledge of these ‘Warriors of Darkness’ if you were of mind to, but the distaste in his voice is telling enough.

There is only one Ascian Lahabrea permits to meddle in your affairs – and it is not Elidibus.

----

It is clear to all with eyes that Emmanellain is breaking.

Count Fortemps lavishes praise on Aymeric and the fallen Haurchefant, unintentionally belittling his trueborn sons. Lahabrea sees it as clearly as you, the awkward emotions broiling from within, the Elezen unstable and distressed. The Ascian runs your shared aether over him with the dangerous curiosity of a hawk scanning an open field, dipping into crevices, testing for weaknesses, learning the flow of his mind. You know what he intends, putting a stop to it and dragging him back by force.

“Not him.” You can ask nothing more; requesting Lahabrea limit his choice of hosts is more than what is reasonable when those suitably weak of mind are rare enough without your interference.

Lahabrea seems to be in a state of perpetual antagonism while you interact with your companions, but he is particularly agitated at your request. His irritation seeps through you, tainting your mood so completely that damming the negativity is impossible. Your responses to your friends’ queries are clipped and short, so blatant that even Alphinaud recognizes the futility of attempting conversation, keeping his distance until whatever ails you fades.

“Soon I will be strong enough to take a host and neither of us will be required to endure this farce any longer.”

He is hostile, but the emotions he provokes from you are equally powerful; you are determined to keep those who sheltered you safe. Internal debate is impossible, as both of you are aware; ideals of friendship, right, and wrong are too thoroughly ingrained within you that you will not bend, no more than the man who shares the other half of your soul will submit to you.

Eventually, deep into the night, after hours accompanied by nothing but silence worthy of an ancient corpse, Lahabrea relents. He will continue his search for a host, but not among your friends.

You love him all the more for it.

----

Empty. You are empty, cold, and quiet, an integral part of your soul missing, vanished and stolen from you in the dead of night. Even if this was your will – both of your wills – you were not expecting Lahabrea’s absence to penetrate so deeply through you.

Even unable to hear his thoughts, you know the weight, or lack thereof, rests just as heavily on Lahabrea; it is a return to incompletion, one becoming two, mutual, necessary rejection of your shared fate.

You are too different; if nothing else, your union has shown that you are both too willful and independent to permanently become one in mind and soul so soon.

Only the last vestiges of your connection remain, permanent ties that bind more tightly than all others, a simple hum rather than a demanding roar. It is not enough, after so long together it is almost impossible to be apart. He pulls you into him, all soft robe and hard muscle, both gentle and strong in his command, as if proximity will somehow deepen your connection.

You breathe in sync, near enough that anything but unity is uncomfortable, his arms encircling your back. He touches you, with his body and his aether, just barely dipping below the surface, until you can no longer distinguish between where you end and he begins, as close to another as you can be without merging, the distinct, longing emptiness finally dulled.

He has no intention of releasing you, holding tightly, seeking to possess you eternally; if you cannot be of one mind, then one linked body will suffice. If you were averse to his intense and overbearing affections, you would never have saved him, housing him within you for so long.

You are not friends, you are not allies, you can barely even call yourself companions; there are times when you truly cannot stand each other. You are not a tool of convenience, not a weapon to be wielded at the strongest foe, not to Lahabrea. He is truer to you than anyone; there are no lies, no deceptions, and no empty flattery.

This is not some idyllic fantasy with ‘happily ever after.’ Soon, Lahabrea will once again go his own way and you yours, goals and dreams impossible to align until you are both willing to bend - but not now; now is all you have and neither of you have any intention of wasting any of it.

Chapter Text

If you were in the habit of emulating Thancred, you would describe the air as magickal. It is, quite truly, magickal; Mor Dhona’s thick, violet aether layers so heavily upon the ground and through the air that it’s sticky, but in this place, on a secluded hill high above the wreckage of the Agrius, untouched by intrusive aether, it is the still, placid atmosphere, so silent that not even the sound of an insect’s cry can be heard, the gentle chill, cool but not cold enough to freeze, and the shockingly bright sky, constellations clear even to those who do not bother learning them, that make this night truly idyllic.

It comes as no surprise that Elidibus recognizes and utilizes the most appealing setting for romance, but he woos you as much with his knowledge as his actions. The Emissary shares what little he has, but you favor his most mundane treasures: private vistas of unparalleled beauty where you both can be alone, temporarily free of the restrictions and responsibilities that bind you.

No different from any other outing, Elidibus remains passive, keeping his distance even while he stands directly by your side, illuminated completely by the starlight, lacking a shadow to darken his features. There are no touches, no kisses, not so much as an accidental brush against your clothes or the feel of his breath on your neck.

These quiet excursions are never uncomfortable - there are no awkward silences and the troubles of the world seem to fade away, as small as the creatures far below you - but you’ve little to give him in return, save companionship. He cares nothing for wealth or any mortal trinkets and the secrets you know are in the hostile depths of dungeons, not immersed in the beauty of the outdoors. Yet still he remains with you, steadfast and silent, no matter your troubles, offering anything you need or desire without protest.

You cannot even return his gestures of acceptance; Elidibus rarely complains, stating that responsibility demands tolerance, and when he admits to being troubled, he is understandably limited in the knowledge he can share with you.

It is almost as if you are an idol, an object of one-sided worship. If this aloofness is one of Elidibus’ quirks, or if it a trait of Ascian relationships, you are uncertain, but the lack of balance is not what you hoped for when you both admitted your interest and committed to furthering your relationship.

“Your lavish your attentions on me and seek nothing in return.  What of your will?” You hesitantly shatter the serenity, vocalizing your quandary.

"My desires are irrelevant, I exist only to serve." You are well aware; Elidibus makes constant mention of it. The Emissary claims he embodies His flesh, exists only to serve His will, as you do to Hers, yet Elidibus often acts in seeming contradictions, independent of the God his life belongs to.

“You are still an individual.” If he was not, he would not be here; you are no different. “You asked to learn the soul beyond the flesh of the Warrior of Light -” You repeat his request; it is one of the fondest memories you share with him, the initial admission of interest, the relief that he, too, feels the same way, the mutual desire for more, with words breathy and barely above silence, as if worried another would overhear. The anxiety and shame you once felt at courting an Ascian have now faded, but Elidibus retains his foreign, overbearing formality; you’ve become accustomed to it, associating the manner of speech and actions specifically with him, rapidly learning to translate the nuances that the Echo does not aid you with. “- is it so wrong that I wish the same of you?”

Perhaps it is a bold request, but Elidibus does not seem taken aback. He barely seems to react at all. You know him better than that; his uncertainty shows, lacking an immediate response.

“If you are certain.” He finally murmurs, uncharacteristically tense now that you’ve limited his control over the excursion.

You nod firmly, his words confirming your belief that something is off. No matter his trouble, be it lack of interest, his God, or something you’ve done, you will hear it; even if only once, you want to be as good of a partner to him as he is to you.

“You constantly elude me, leaving immediately when our business has concluded.” The admission is unexpected; somehow you’ve pushed him away. Elidibus elaborates, scolding without subtlety. “I know you, but I’ve not been permitted to learn you. I would further our bond.”

He takes a step towards you, closer to you than he has ever been, and looks down, pointedly staring at your hands.

All at once you understand the alarming admission. Elidibus never touches you; you’ve gotten to know each other and nothing more. It is easy to assume disinterest with the distance he imposes upon you; he has not asked, but nor have you offered. Perhaps this entire time he has been revealing his attraction and you’ve been blind to it, the longing clear to an Ascian but obscured to you by a thick cultural barrier you’ve both worked diligently to overcome.

You smile, relieved that your fears are unfounded; now that you know, the ailment can be remedied. “You need not ask. I thought you lacked interest.” You hold your palms out to him in a symbolic offering.

Cautiously he raises a hand to meet yours, resting it passively atop the exposed palm, the soft touch releasing a vibrant, shocking, almost painful burst into you that you are unsure truly exists at all. On instinct, you pull away, rubbing the area of contact. It is not red, nor does there seem to be any pain; the neutral expression Elidibus wears tells you nothing of if he felt it as well, but your aversion speaks more to him than words ever can.

That will not do; you cannot have him believing you do not want to continue, no matter the fantasies of pain that paint themselves in your head. Before the rift can grow, you quickly grasp at him, as he did you, fully enveloping a single hand in both of yours, running your thumbs over his wrist; the energy remains, no less excited than before, but no longer painful, dancing tensely between you like your instincts the moment before a fierce battle, tingling, overwhelming, finding its way up your arm, almost as if searching for something.

It is all the acceptance Elidibus needs, the neutral expression fading as he gifts you with a slight, true smile, far rarer than yours, no longer hiding completely behind the mask of Emissary.

Finally released from his binds, Elidibus removes his hand, drawing his fingers up your arms with all the viscosity of a slime, letting his touch know as his sight does, exploring you with the last vestiges of restraint he has, before resting his arms on your shoulders and around your neck, feeling the rise and fall of your body with each breath, close, but just far enough that you cannot smell him, cannot feel him, cannot truly know him.

The Emissary’s desires are as clear as a bright, sunny morning; Elidibus wants so very badly to continue, to let his hands roam bare flesh, but he’s held back, hesitant to cast off what little of his control remains.

He is frustrating, in his overt caution; though Elidibus may criticize you for your lack of communication, he, too, falls into the same trap, sending unspoken complex, contradictory messages that are only barely interpretable. You curse him, silently, your body wanting his touch as much as Elidibus does, the refusal to take the next step almost akin to torture.

There is but a single solution – the best one.

You step close, right between his arms, so that he has no choice but to lose his restraint, to shed his caution in the wind. Enveloping him before he can think to resist, you pull his stiff body close; if he wants you to be forward, you will not disappoint him.

Elidibus is warm. No matter what he claims his flesh to be, a creation of your expectations, or a generic form of convenience made for interaction with mortals, it feels true enough, no different from any other mortal body, solid and firm in your arms. It is convenient, to be certain, giving you a place to rest your head as he finally, slowly, so very slowly, brings his arms around you as well, enveloping you in the sharp, swift energy that flows beneath the surface, as calming and composed as Elidibus himself.

He releases a long breath, but it is not one of relief.

“Allow me this selfishness, just once.” He seems almost ashamed that he enjoys holding you as much as he does. This close, the differences between you are all the more evident; Elidibus hesitates, recognizing the disparities as quickly as you do - or, perhaps, he has always known, choosing instead to ignore them until faced with their immediate presence.

“It is not selfishness to enjoy my company.” You try to console him, pointless though it may be. Until he overcomes the restrictions of his position, Elidibus will always remain doubtful and uncertain. As he has waited patiently for you to allow him this moment, so, too, will you wait, no matter how long it takes him.

“I’m not going to let go.” He murmurs quietly, as a warning. True to his word, he pulls you in tighter; he’s not as strong as you – he has no reason to be – but it’s more than enough to steal your breath away.

You don’t want him to; let the world churn in chaos around you, you will remain in the storm’s eye with Elidibus, steadfast and indomitable. There is no light or dark in this place, no Gods or Goddesses; perhaps Elidibus is correct, you surrender to the ultimate selfishness, turning your back on what should be done – but right here, like this, you are hard pressed to care beyond a stray thought.

You draw a hand in close, running a finger over his lips, soft and dry, parched from the cool wind, tracing the outline of his mask, warm and thick, flexible yet unmoving, hesitating only as you reach its corners, before leaving it in place. He has already exceeded his boundaries today, you must continue respecting his privacy, tempting as revealing his features may be.

He returns the motion, fingers stroking your face with touches far more delicate than yours, almost shy. He cannot touch you, not truly, with the cloth – material of unknown origin, not quite leather, but too strong to be any familiar cloth, inlaid with a material not-quite stone and almost crystalline - that covers his hands, but it seems to satisfy him.

Perhaps you are a romantic at heart, but as you touch his face, your eyes are drawn to his dry lips, wanting to moisten them with a first kiss on a scenic vista in the moonlight, high above the troubles and interferences of mortality, surrounded by perpetual stillness. There is no setting more worthy of one of Thancred’s legends– a secretive tale, only for you and Elidibus to share. It’s a forbidden, irresistible temptation, the final touch to secure the bond you mutually seek.

If there is any saint who can resist the allure, it is not you. There is no finesse in your action, but nor is there carnal desire. It is as controlled an action as lust can be, bringing your lips onto his.

His body stiffens instinctively, the earlier awkward rigidity returning, but it loosens as soon as understanding dawns. He was not expecting this, but he is not averse – it is something that is fully within his power to learn, to master, to control. He opens his mouth to greet yours.

It is not what you expect a perfect kiss would be; those strange, erratic, almost painful, flowing energies return, no longer pushing you away, but drawing you in, like a whirlpool, deeper and more chaotic, disorienting you, making it impossible to leave, even if you wanted to. The kiss is gentle, but not skilled, Elidibus seemingly has little experience in the arts of mortal lovemaking, testing the unknown waters with uncertainty, learning how to instigate a response, his tongue flicking over the roof of your mouth and licking your lips, tasting and learning as he emulates your guidance, seeking to please you more than looking to be pleased.

Surely, he knows how it is done. Elidibus undoubtedly has taken countless hosts over the span of millennia, able to read their memories at will, perhaps he has even used such knowledge on a lover in the past to aid his negotiations. Yet only with you is he honest, learning from experience and not foreign memories, loosening his control in order further your mutual bond, no longer some one-sided dance of unspoken desire.

You take your first shared breath when he finally lifts his mouth from yours, dizzying and relieving, unsure if you want more but desperately wishing to continue teaching. You will learn Elidibus’ ways, as well, likely equally uncomfortably, experiencing them with all the curiosity and fervor of a small child.

Elidibus does not give you a chance to consider further. This time, confidence secured, it is his kiss, his control, his taste, his lesson. He learns quickly indeed, your breaths heavy against his, heart pounding as you clutch the robes on his back; there is nothing but Elidibus, no more doubts, no more fears, your mind a blank, white canvas – everything is simple, everything is utterly, truly, overwhelmingly right.

Chapter Text

The materials took more than two turns of the moon to procure; those that had to be purchased took even longer - priceless crystalline treasures, rare imported skins from creatures that will never set foot on Eorzea, and ancient cogs, smoothed with obscure alchemical lubricant so efficient and lasting that even legendary Goldsmiths would be put to shame by the silent, natural fluidity of their rotation.

The boots are tiny enough that you can only fit a single finger into each, but you put as much care into their creation as you would any shoe fit for adventuring, the leather supple and strong. They must be sturdy if they are to be used to follow you over snow, sky, and sea, through the vast wildernesses that make up Eorzea.

The cloth was most easily sheared from Darklight, material soft, smooth, and thick enough to emulate the aether-based resilience of Lahabrea’s robes.

Fresh leather does not hold red dye well, you’ve learned, colors too bright or too dark; the dyeing was a continual process, one that necessitated you find a pigment bright yet dark and deep enough to match his mask. You settled on one shade off, fearful that more dye would have compromised the material.

A fragile heart of the murkiest, darkest crystal you could find lies in its breast – pulsing with the gentle heat of fire, not the unpredictability of the dark – strong enough to power its form for as long as necessary, supposing you can properly supply it with your aether.

The gloves were the most difficult endeavor. Let no spoiled noble speak ill of the doll makers, of the crafters who inlay the smallest details of stone and jewel in cloth, or the creators of the most exquisite and intricate buttons on elegant dresses, for even the deftest of hands make mistakes, the proper balance almost impossible to obtain despite constant practice. Even having broken countless sheets of high quality adamantite in your attempt to sand down the claws, ornaments, and rivets thinly enough, delicate and fit to scale, you remain uncertain they are correct, but you will get no better from a creation of your flawed memory.

Lahabrea scolds you for your inadequacies, accepting nothing but the best. You are the best, you tell the fading echo of his voice in your head, you are not going to summon an Ascian just so you can ascertain the pattern on their gloves and robes.

Deny him as you may, Lahabrea’s likeness persistently demands accuracy; you will doubtless encounter an Ascian soon enough, you will note any necessary changes when the opportunity presents itself.

Lahabrea is easy to control, to manipulate with even the smallest injection of your aether - so very unlike the man its likeness emulates. Its arms cross over its chest in annoyance as you barter in the market, even the gentlest winds tugging at its robe, mask obscuring its features as its shoulders shake in silent laughter, amused by pathetic displays from fragile mortals; small as it is, Lahabrea remains as immortal and eternal as any true Ascian - so long as you stay by its side.

When you’re alone, sitting on your bed in the lonely peace of your room, you pick the creation up, lowering its hood and placing its mask on the bedstand as you see to its needs, keeping its parts oiled, its aether core supplied. It is soft and warm, just like Lahabrea, with powerful energy cycling through its cogs, a vain attempt at artificial life. You lift the tiny object to your chest, burying your cheek against its soft hair, nuzzling it, letting it envelop your senses, so that it drowns out all of Hydaelyn that surrounds you.

It does not smell of Lahabrea. He is gone, the only remnants of his existence floating through you, eternally tainting your aether; no creation, no matter the time and love put into it, will return him.

The slight arms encircle your wrist, returning the embrace, holding you as closely and tightly as they can, just as Lahabrea used to. Unable to reach around you entirely, its claws dig into your flesh so hard that they draw blood, the black leather stained crimson. You barely even feel it until the stream drips down over your palms.

You are a weak fool, Lahabrea whispers, your focus on the past hinders when only the present remains relevant.

You clutch the tiny object harder, back pressing against the wall, curling around the Ascian as tightly as you can without damaging it.

“You say that so easily.” You whisper to the small Lahabrea, forever short of perfection.

He does not respond; the dried blood remains covering your hands, sticky and impossible to ignore, as eternal as your silent companion.

Chapter Text

When you are with him, you are only an adventurer.

It is your responsibility to delve into collapsed mines without a fragile songbird, heedless of the noxious fumes. You’ve been a mercenary and you’ve slain Gods; were it asked of you, you would step into a portal to the abyssal void without knowing if there is a platform to catch you on the other side.

As such, you were absolutely certain you were prepared for any response your unpredictable partner could give your confession, a risk that took more than a week of enduring Moenbryda’s impassioned speeches about why you shouldn’t hesitate when it comes to love to finally act upon.

“I’m aware.”

You were wrong.

Non-committal and nonchalant, Nabriales does not deny you, but it is a flat response, barely more than an indication of acknowledgement. Rejection is tolerable, perhaps not comfortably, but it is possible. Acceptance is a forlorn hope, a dream only the most foolish would succumb to; there are too many problems, this entire relationship is a child’s delusion, requiring you to close your eyes to the vast differences between your two peoples. It is the neutrality, silence, and lack of change in his demeanor that set you on edge.

In the tenseness that follows his simple statement, you feel a furthered kinship with Moenbryda, her vibrant, powerful affections ignored, though clearly not unreturned.

“I see.” You force your response to contain equal neutrality, feigning apathy and withdrawing into defensive stoicism. You’ve heard the tales - a star-crossed lover confesses to a close friend, but the friend does not reciprocate. The relationship is never the same.

Time passes with agonizing lethargy; the night feels too hot, you’d sweat even wearing the coolest of clothes, yet there is an unmistakable chill to the breeze, cool air stifling your lungs, rather than clearing them. Your heart pounds in your ears so heavily that your breaths can’t be heard; Nabriales’ breaths are as obvious as yours, his chest expanding and deflating under loose robes, the normally pleasant distraction turned distinctly unpleasant, a feature that will never be yours to touch or rest against.

You should not be here. Reality bares its bloody teeth in face of the fantasies you’ve conjured. You have just confessed to an Ascian, a creature not even of the Spoken races. The Paragons barely exist outside of legend; impossible for those without the Echo to see, when they do appear, it is not even in their true form, their existence as incomprehensible as the plane they reside within. Nabriales is an immortal, ageless entity that has witnessed the darkest secrets of the universe; even had he accepted you, it would end in nothing but pain, for your life is no more than a blink of an eye compared to his. You are nothing but a curious child tasting a new flavor, desiring a food that is far too alien, too strongly spiced, for you to enjoy.

You cannot even spend time with him, your only opportunities are almost juvenile, secret rendezvous in the depths of the night, in fear that you will be caught - or risk being seen as mad by an onlooker when you appear to speak to nothing but air.

The fears that you would not confess to Moenbryda return, plaguing you with greater ill than ever before. He is your enemy. Nabriales does not care about your people or your friends - he possibly does not even care for you. Judging by his reaction, you are little more than a distraction, an amusement to pass time until his goal is furthered, whatever and whenever that may be. So long as you remain under Hydaelyn, he will not even share the purpose his life is devoted to.

You’re lost, well and truly lost, that much is certain. You care far too much; you twist your mind into knots, justifying your emotions, hoping beyond all hope that there is some way to be together, paying no heed to the stars that separate you.

“You fuss too much.” He is on you before you can blink, like a Bandersnatch onto a wounded chocobo, pushing his body to yours with such ferocity that his teeth rend the flesh of your lower lip. The sharp pain makes you flinch; blood oozes over your tongue, spreading to his mouth from yours, covering your lips only for a moment before Nabriales sucks it away, the process starting anew.

The Ascian does not care for something so mundane as kissing; Nabriales does not permit movement, pulling you closer until the air is drawn from your lungs, as if he seeks to consume you, his tongue forcing itself over yours in his attempt to take you in his strange way, searching your insides with the intent to devour.

Only dreams can provide this dizzy euphoria; pain and pleasure, worry and relief, fear and confidence collide, impossible to distinguish, all a part of you in the erratic emotions that follow Nabriales’ acceptance. Your flurried thoughts are both slurred and chaotic, rapidly considering, but making no sense of the situation; in your distraction, you can only concentrate on the feelings - blissful, wonderful, feelings.

“So do you.” Breathy and irrational words form your delayed reply, the only ones you can think of. How silly that he criticizes your fussing, all he does is fuss about the limitations forced upon him and the incompetence of the others.

Nabriales eliminates all further potential speech and thought by grasping at you with strong, clingy hands – far stronger than his build implies - around your waist and pushing your face into his, almost sobering in his forcefulness, blood smearing onto his features as he bites you, pain pulsing in time with your accelerated heartbeat. He searches over your flesh, seeking only to possess, his touch like sharp pinches or a harsh massage on a tight muscle. It is a pleasant, relieving pain, a pain like the soreness after exercise or the exhaustion after a tense battle, the pain that reminds you that you’re alive, that sends hot chills of excitement coursing to the tips of your toes.

“Mortal forms remain dissatisfying.” His body speaks more than words; there is little pleasure in this for him. Nabriales’ breaths are not the rapid, shallow exhales of lust, matching your pants against him, but slow and deep, calm and rational. If there is any satisfaction or goal to his touch, it is from making a claim, not from enjoyment of kisses and the feel of bare flesh.

Despite the indifference, he clearly has no intention of releasing you. Contradicting his words, the Ascian pushes his mouth onto yours again, this time with uncharacteristic subtlety.

Your vision swims in shade, a deep purple bordering on black, blurred like Mor Dhona’s aether in the depths of the night when illuminated only by the faintest moonlight, twisting around you, dominating your aether sense, blinding in its intensity. Movement is impossible, your body numbed with a familiar-yet-foreign, incapacitating and all-encompassing sensation.

The aether penetrates your skin, clinging as tightly as Nabriales’ fingers, as if it seeks to absorb you, eliminating all outside influences, draining your ability to struggle. The invasive force digs deeply, not directly painful, but tightly and stiffly, flowing throughout, intrinsically tainting your soul, darkness shattering even the most enduring fragments of light; like ink dripped into still water, it flows, uncomfortable, disparate, distinctly wrong.

Comprehension is impossible; it is terrifying, as if your identity risks being engulfed by the stronger force. The world warps around you, twisting your innards until up is down, until inside is out, until your stomach rolls like when you look down to the ground from an airship mid-flight, until you can feel nothing at all and you are surrounded only by emptiness.

Time stops; blinded completely by the darkness, the void could last but a second or an eternity and you could not discern any difference – or perhaps there is no difference in this place, time nothing but a creation of mortal limitation. You cannot withstand this, it is too much - too little - too strong. Even the dread is numbed; you are helpless, like water too tainted with poison to purify, but try you do, futilely attempting to dam the flow, hoping the Ascian will somehow understand your discomfort.

You barely recognize when Nabriales withdraws. He seeps from you like the water from the sand until only the barest traces remain, pooling passively, waiting to be disturbed, like muck at the bottom of a pond, but otherwise exerting no influence; his presence no longer clouds your mind, allowing the basest of your senses to return, little more than an acknowledgment of your continued existence, the first rational, logical understanding of the darkness that is Nabriales.

You’ve not moved, the world never truly faded; Nabriales remains close, his forehead resting against yours, teeth still teasing at your bleeding lip, each breath warming your face. Temporarily sedated and relaxed, the Ascian, too, must recover from the draining, unifying event.

With the veil lifted, the method used in his venture becomes clear, though his purpose remains shrouded. Dizzying and incapacitating, touching your very essence to another – there is no doubt that it was a foreign form of resonation, an unfamiliar Ascian-induced command of the Echo, one that demanded you respond in kind, far stronger and more controlled than your mostly passive and incidental use of the Gift.

“Was that not your will?” Nabriales is annoyed by your rejection, he makes no effort to conceal it, but he does not move away, his breaths harsh on your face, his arms holding you painfully, fingers digging into flesh until it throbs.

The kisses, the affection, they were undeniably your will, but the darkness is abhorrent – you are of the light, you are Her servant, fighting the darkness is your purpose. You cannot open your heart and accept such a naturally antagonistic element to your existence any more than you can assimilate a virus. As you do not understand his actions, so, too, does the Ascian lack an understanding of yours, his bafflement obvious as he continues. ”We were as one.”

He is not wrong, as disconcerting as it is. Prominent throughout your senses, his aether drowned all else out until you were engulfed entirely. There is no truer sense of oneness than an intensely focused, powerful touch that eliminates all distractions; even a lover’s embrace is dull and distant in comparison, but it is too much – too strong. His presence offers nothing but a complete void, nothingness congregating into still silence of the type no mortal can comprehend. Nabriales’ very existence unknowable, yet you must try; without accepting all of him, you will never obtain the relationship you desire.

“Can you do it a bit more slowly?” If there is to be any hope of a future between you, both of you must bend. No matter how uncomfortable, you must meet in the middle.

Nabriales releases an annoyed breath; you did not expect the request to irritate him further, but it clearly does, his jaw tensing against your cheek. The Ascian is an enigma; there are times you are certain you know him, his moods predictable, and other times he is a stranger, well and truly embodying the unpredictability of the chaos he serves.

His annoyance falters as quickly as it rises, his thoughts impossible to comprehend. You do not need to - his actions speak to you more strongly than any words and the dizziness returns, the blurring of your sight, the loss of control over your body - it is the Echo you know, the one you are familiar with.

Nabriales' presence is not immediately clear, but you are aware that he controls your use of the Echo, guiding with unseen hands, slowly manipulating the barriers around you to allow him entry to the most private and delicate part of your soul. It is resonation, but more; there are no visions of the past and future, no knowledge to be gleaned, it is a simple, primal touch, steadily becoming stronger, like the pressure of the water the deeper you dive, one that contracts only as Nabriales aids in lowering the shield that stabilizes you.

By all rights, you should be panicking, but curiosity overwhelms your fear, confidence instilled by trust in Nabriales, learning, seeing, feeling what you are truly capable of with this Gift. Alarming and almost abhorrent, you easily strip away your natural defenses; unintentionally you do the same to others when you view their memories, entering their minds against their will, no differently than how an Ascian invades a host.

You’ve no time to contemplate; the path is open, the dam is clear, Nabriales soaks into your soul - not just your mind, not just your aether, deeper, more basal, Even restraining himself, the dam easily breaks away and the remaining barrier around your mind shatters, exploding through in a flooding stream. There is nothing holding him back - holding you back - both of your bare and exposed, in the most simple of states.

There is only Nabriales.

It is raw and primordial. The Scions often tease you for your unrelenting stoicism, but if they could feel you now, erratic, calm, alive, unliving, confident, yet terrified, they would know otherwise. It is a free-flowing seemingly endless energy, Nabriales manipulating an internal aether reserve that is impossible to access outside of desperation. His very existence alters yours, until you are no longer you, until he is no longer Nabriales, the powerful force that was once terrifying within you now understandable, the void no longer a void, but still little more than an incomprehensible mass of energy and emotion.

This is how is should be; this is what he intended, not fear, not emptiness - you should never have doubted him.

The tiniest ray of light taints his darkness, the most minuscule, insignificant raindrop in a storm somehow manipulating the downpour around it - or perhaps it is the most fragile shadow that swallows the light. You’re not certain anymore, your boundaries undefinable. Unbidden, you draw upon fresh memories - nay, not entirely memories nor thoughts, but also knowledge, passed from one to another, chaotically blending into an endless stream until the differences are indecipherable.

Fragile, fleeting creatures that they are, he holds only indifference towards Her ephemeral, self-destructive children, a true apathy, absolute emptiness; they are meaningless, unworthy of even the basest annoyance or simplest care. All must be returned to Him; only then will there be value to their existence.

The world is dull, colorless. Empty -

Existence is irrelevant. Even his life is not his own, belonging utterly to his master, an avatar with no further purpose –

- No longer; the color is blinding.

Intense discomfort fills you - him – trailed by equally powerful hesitation and immediate repulsed rejection of the inevitable.

He denies you; even now, the depths of his mind refuse to accept this as any more than a passing interest with an amusing pet, yet fiercely contradicting the stubborn rejection, he opens himself more, allowing you to penetrate deeper and deeper, secrets bared, all memories yours, the pet equal, not subservient.

Hydaelyn's spawn are nothing - Nabriales knows nothingness better than anyone – this one is not something -

Anger, annoyance, loyalty, dedication, satisfaction, bitterness, disappointment, these are expected and known - this is unfamiliar, an alien, unwanted, mortal desire. Mutated possession, that's all it is, he knowingly deludes himself.

The segregating fissure becomes shallow, the water from your dam filling it with sediment and debris. It barely remains a chasm, as if you - and only you – have bridged the gap, the void no longer an impenetrable fortress.

There is no more emptiness, no more numbness, no more grey, no more light, and no more darkness. Nothing as ever been so clear; nothing has even been so confusing; you can hear, you can feel, you can think.

Nabriales lied. You were not as one before; he was smothering you, stifling you, absorbing you, whilst denying you equal access. There remains much he does not wish to share, but Nabriales is rash; your confession instigated a maelstrom of irrational emotion within that compelled him into immediate action. Even while he simultaneously accepts and denies you, his acceptance is controlled by calculating impulse, dominating all thoughts of rejection. No matter how fervent his denial, he would have it no other way.

You should be frightened, you should be ashamed, you should be worried – this is more than you ever dreamed – this is more than a distraction, more than casual lovemaking. This is not fleeting interest, but permanency, there will be no one else; you both risk losing yourselves, diluting your determination while pursuing a goal that can end only in tragedy.

All of it is inconsequential. With Nabriales influencing you, there is only liberation, gifting you with a freedom you had almost forgotten possible, empty, devoid of binding responsibility towards all save him and your master. Void take your fussing, this is what you want. You will manage the difficulties when they arise, as any adventurer would.

Your senses return to the taste of blood on your lips, sticky and dried, the sight of purple, black, and blond, the smell of Nabriales, and a wrongness which stings with such intensity that even the Ascian’s remaining influence cannot dispel it. You do not rest together, there is no post-coital bliss, no longing for further touch; no words or actions are necessary, as all of you has been bared for him to see. You have all you will ever need.

He leaves, as he always does, when the sun begins its cycle through the sky, the light of the dawn tinting his hair, the same as it would any mortal’s. As you always do, you will return when the moon rises, darkness shrouding your features just enough so that he may ignore your status as Warrior of Light, in order to meet with him once again.

You cannot request more, nor can he.

For now, it is just enough.

Chapter Text

A harsh and foreign beauty, hers is a gaze that steals your breath. As imperfections enhance a unique jewel, any flaws only serve to augment her presence.  The snowfall congregates around her, the remains of flakes moistening warm flesh, the chill of the elements seemingly improving her vitality rather than sapping it. Her eyes can be as severe as clouds housing a pending storm, but also as bright as inlaid gemstones manipulating the sunlight. Even tussled by the wind, her hair is as soft as silk. A fleeting touch is all that is necessary, you promise yourself.

She is as smooth as ice and as hard as a tempered blade; her flesh gives beneath you like fresh powder under your feet, her muscles taut and coiled, like a serpent ready to strike. Life dances within her, subdued but welcoming, as she grasps your hand, removing your fingers from her face with a questioning gaze.

She cannot understand what you see, for she does not recognize the same in you.

“You are beautiful.” Only the simplest explanation is required; she is an untouchable, eternal snowfield, unmarred by footfall.

“Empty flattery.” She smiles at your honesty, little more than the slightest tilt of her lips revealing her pleasure, but does not return the compliment.

You do not expect it of her.

It is superfluous vanity, little more than a shallow desire when compared to partners sharing intimate resonance, existences intertwined within an elaborate maze with no end. She will never find you distracting, experiencing the intense desire to touch your features in curiosity. You will never steal her breath with a naked glace and her gaze will never be drawn to moist lips or supple breasts. She will not seek to tangle her hands through soft hair or to embrace you until the curves of your bodies are indistinguishable.

She is a partner who accepts all of you, yet knows none of you.

“Igeyorhm.” Long after she turns from you, returning to her duty with a remorseful smile, he interrupts your introspection. “It is time.”

So, too, must you turn from her, desires simultaneously sated and unfulfilled.

“Of course.” Lahabrea will not mar your jewel; she is yours alone to hold, no matter how ephemeral that grasp may be.

 

Chapter Text

The Warrior of Light is troubled.

Predictable as they are, any attempts at concealing misgivings are meaningless; the bitter taste of failure expresses itself in Her Chosen’s dead eyes and limp form. His lover is an empty vessel, its contents spilled across the floor, akin to a broken doll, ripped asunder by mortals meant to be protected - a vessel for Elidibus to fill as he pleases, a doll to shape and guide.

"They sacrificed themselves for me – their ‘hope.’ I could do nothing." Such needless remorse - no mountain can be blamed for its inability to shelter the world. The fault rests on the perpetrator of the cycle; as a child must first touch flame before they know a burn, so too must Her taint be suffered before caution can be nurtured.

His hands bring exoneration, his fingers the oath of stability, dragging through thick hair as his partner wallows deeply in the depths of despair, his presence doing little to alleviate the vulnerability. The Warrior’s defenses are shredded; it will take time for Elidibus to replace them, reforging their chains, one by one.

The burden on those who lead the hand of the future is a heavy one; as constant as the moon’s rise, Her Champions are betrayed by Her children. This must be the last occurrence – the last pain, the last betrayal, the last cycle.

“There was nothing for you to do.” A frail consolation masking the rigid truth of necessary sacrifice; the responsibility of caring for all mortals restricts Her servants.

“You’re mistaken, I. . .” Her Chosen’s words are dust in the wind, scattered by deep inhalation revealing barely-hidden guilt that contradicts rational thought.

It will only require a small push to allow the seeds to take root. “Do not deny them their duty. They serve, as do you; ‘twas their decision to give their lives in fulfillment of Her purpose.” Elidibus offers his harsh lesson, the first taste of truth, a vile but necessary serum that aids in nourishment. Venom fills the empty vessel, festering as guilt, so that the shroud may be lifted and the truth embraced.

The warmth of mortal flesh continues to seep into him, his partner’s body as distracting of taint as Her light; he has seen to it that his form is equally pleasing to Her Chosen. Even surrendering to ephemeral utopia, the Warrior remains trapped within an endless vortex, frown deepening.

“Minfilia -” The admission exhibits the slightest hesitation, signified only by a tremor in Her Chosen’s voice. “- Hydaelyn spoke to her; it seems her duty was to –“ The Goddess reveals Her true nature without interference; his satisfaction is diluted only by the fragility in his partner’s gaze. “Will the same be asked of me? Am I to give everything for Her?” The Warrior withdraws, both mind and body, as the ramifications of being Chosen become clear. “I don’t want to lose you, too.”

Absurdity - and yet the Warrior clings to him like a lost child reunited with a parent, seeking comfort and security. This touch must never be stolen.

“We will always be together.” With the Rejoining, Elidibus will end all pain, his lover’s suffering relegated to nothing more than the remnants of a fleeting dream.

"It is not in proper form to make promises that are impossible to keep." His partner scolds, voice muffled by proximity, tinted with desperation. Even in his arms, the Warrior of Light still refuses acceptance, devotion to the Goddess an impermeable wall between them. “Why do we continue playing at this?” Her Chosen lashes out, the wall beginning its crumble with rejection.

He once pondered the same, knowing himself above such frivolities; binding himself to the Chosen of Light – asinine. Elidibus now knows otherwise, the solution clear. The Emissary will appease his master, pursuing His goals, lover at his side, bringing forth the new world together. He has taken the first step, so, too, must the Warrior take theirs. A word one day, a promise the next, a kiss to gently comfort - his is a steady path, a journey of patience, but the trail’s end is within reach. “We will remain until the end of time, should you allow it.”

“You are cruel.” Only when necessary; the cogs continue their turn, the waters of despair flowing over the wheel, churning and manipulating the river's path through its very existence.  In the depths of desperation, the Warrior barely denies his temptation. ”You know I can’t. Not yet.”

A satisfactory answer, more conductive than the adamant refusal he has come to expect, swelling a warmth that laps within like waves on a lakeshore. The seed has rooted itself within Her Chosen, its maturation imminent. “Not yet.” He agrees, celebrating success with the most selfish of rewards.

The Warrior of Light breathes heavily, swallowing his offered pleasure in effort to will the pain away, begging for the escape Elidibus is only too willing to provide. The Emissary wastes nary a moment, even if it is only to numb and aid his partner in forgetting the world Hydaelyn has chosen the Warrior to suffer on behalf of.

For his master and for his lover, he will secure this future, until all becomes nothing, no matter what is demanded of him.

Chapter Text

Sounds.

Flashing lights, bright and colorless, dance behind closed eyelids before being consumed by a crimson abyss.

A single voice, speaking without words, a stable rock within a churning, chaotic sea. There is no meaning to its communication beyond expressing its presence, calm and numbing, as if absorbing tension and fear, dispelling the darkness.

A word. The only melody in a still mind, echoing like the water’s drip on the surface of an endless pond.

You repeat it aloud, the most precious word.

“I am here.” A voice without sound, far from a creation of your imagination.

You open your eyes sluggishly, heavy in their drowsiness. There are no more sounds, but the bright lights that make up the living quarters in the Rising Stones are enough to send sharp waves of dizziness through you.

You’ve gone and done it again, unable to leave well enough alone. Already is your mind ringing with lectures condemning unnecessary risks and not a single word has left the Scions’ mouths.

Absorbed in self-pity, you do not notice him until he speaks your name, placid with more serenity than one of his appearance has any right to have. Even behind the mask, Unukalhai’s gaze is unwavering and focused, eyes refusing to leave yours.

He must have saved you, returning you to the Stones after you inevitably fell to the powerful beasts surrounding Revenant’s Toll. Time and time again you flounder, flopping about like a foolish fish that continually strands itself on land each time it is placed in the safety of the water.

He always saves you; you’re told that he was even the one who returned you when –

You brush the thought aside. No matter how insistently Urianger urges caution around the strange boy, he is the one who is always by your side, setting you at ease, acting as a poultice when you are broken.

Unukalhai does not scold or tell you off, but he does not need to. His hidden stare tells you nothing that you do not tell yourself – you’re a fool, challenging those creatures, and unprepared for their strength, no matter the fluidity of your movement or the flexibility in your muscles.

True as it may be, you refuse to lounge in this room, drowning in the waters of madness; you are not crippled or helpless, no matter what the others may believe. Anything is better than remaining passive and stationary in futile attempt at regaining what is lost.

“Good morning.” The boy speaks, breaking you from your thoughts.

“I apologize for the trouble.” The shame from your ineffectual battle burns deeply, emphasizing the pain from your wounds. Your breaths are pained and you feel as if you’ve torn half of the muscles in your body; a quick glance reveals the beginnings of heavy bruising over your chest, abdomen, thighs, and forearms.

“You’ve not troubled me, ‘twas coincidence that I happened upon you when you fell.” You smile secretly at his reassuring lie. “Your companions need not be alerted to something so mundane as a few bruises.”

The boy’s knowledge of what you wish to hear is almost unnatural. You are sick of pity; the Scions do it unintentionally, your well-being of genuine importance in their hearts, but they see you only as an empty shell, searching for the fragmented remains for someone who no longer exists. They know who you used to be, not who are; you barely know them at all.

Y’shtola is blind; from what you’ve been told, Thancred lacks aether sense – challenged as they are, they act as if you are in a worse state. Walking on glass when around you, attempting to organize the broken shards, the Scions speak of fond memories, claiming them better times. Krile has even used her strange skill – the Gift, Unukalhai calls it, when he teaches you – in attempt to dispel your amnesia, but your mind houses an impenetrable wall, the past sheared away as if it never existed.

It is blasphemous for the Scions to speak aloud, but the situation is intensely dissatisfying; they need their Warrior of Light, their Slayer of Gods, not a doll whose only skill with weaponry and aether remains in muscle memory. You know more of the Gift than you do of fighting Gods.

‘Tis hard to lament losing something that you don’t remember in the first place.

All you have is now; you must learn and experience, to see and touch the unknown. You may have known Eorzea’s secrets once, but no longer. The world is fresh and vibrant; you cannot simply sit about like a lame prize Chocobo, its legs broken from the races. You pursued the path of an adventurer, after all.

Unukalhai is different. Infinitely patient, your contradictory comrade lacks the subtle condescension of your former companions, seeking you out only for company. He is as distinct from the Scions as you are, this boy who is not a boy; his form is shrouded in a mist invisible to all but you and it is impossible to discern where he starts and were he ends, like the reflection of bright sunlight on a disturbed lake.

You brush a hand against him, reaffirming his nature. He is solid and no less present than you are, secure and comforting by his very existence.

“Knowledge and expectations clash, tinting your perception; do not ponder too deeply, all will be revealed in time.” Was the only explanation he offered when you confronted him about it, as straight of an answer as any maze.

You’ve chosen to heed him; he is simply Unukalhai, he who accepts you as you are - so, too, will you accept him, no matter his odder attributes.

Your wallowing has gone on long enough. With a muffled, breathy groan, you arrange yourself into a sitting position, your muscles burning and wounds tearing themselves anew, sharp spikes of pain from the pressure on fresh bruises sending you reeling.

“Do not push yourself; layering yet more scars upon your flesh benefits no one.” The boy’s advice is sage, though difficult to swallow. “You mustn’t concern yourself with what the Scions think; take as long as you need.”

There is nothing else in Mor Dhona – all you can do is move, to struggle vainly against enemies that continually defeat you. You considered returning to the cities, beginning your life as an adventurer anew, like you originally intended, but from your wanderings through Revenant’s Toll, you learned of your fame and exploits. The Warrior of Light’s prominence is known well beyond Eorzea; it is a heavy burden, a name that is not yours to live up to, its weight upon your shoulders crushing your bones.

“Unukalhai.” You murmur, uncertain. He is your path, the watchful star that leads you in the moonlight. If anyone can guide you around this hurdle, it is Unukalhai.

The boy responds immediately with a foreign word, the title you use only privately. To the others, you may seem distant, like a child and a parent, but the lone word indicates the closure of formalities and the beginning of an intimate, secretive conversation.

“That is your nickname.” You point out, unsure at why he addresses you as such, but it is not displeasing.

“It is yours as well.” His evasion is not uncommon, deftly shifting the topic of conversation; you’ve come to understand that he enjoys this, very much a subtle guidance, one you are not entirely averse to. It is far softer than the Scions, more of a gentle hand that leads through an open grassland than one that unwillingly tugs through thick bramble.

“The language is unfamiliar.” You accept his offer, letting him direct the conversation, for his is better than your alternative. The language impossible to place; you only remember hearing it from him.

“Ours is the most ancient of tongues. Forgotten by time, the Gift grants you understanding, but not knowledge.” Unukalhai’s descriptions are elaborate and formal, but the meaning remains clear. “If you are not averse, I would teach you.”

It is more than you expected and nod quickly, bubbling with enthusiasm you cannot remember feeling. You’ve much to learn, so that you may differentiate yourself from the shade of a fallen Warrior, the remnants of a broken tool.

His speaks slowly, repeating new words, a greeting, a phrase of farewell, and simple formalities in a tongue that is harsher than yours, not nearly so nasal, and seemingly slower, words slurred and indistinct. He teaches when to emphasize certain sounds; others are almost impossible to hear at all.

It is a pleasant distraction, a goal to work towards. A new journey.

“Thank you.” You finally whisper when you finish your session, in both your language and awkwardly in his, withholding your Gift’s translation - for everything, for supporting you, for aiding you, for seeing you as who you are, not who you used to be.

He makes no reply save to place his tiny hand over yours, the mist congregating over your flesh, making its way up your arm in a touch that is not touch, delicate and soft, protective, affectionate as no child is.

You never learned the meaning of your precious word, but you’ve something more. You may have struggled in the past, fighting for a cause, against an enemy that you mustn’t lose to with passion and incomparable fervor, but no longer.

A small an insignificant as your dream may be, you’ve taken a step, the first of many, led by a star away from a directionless existence; you will do whatever it takes to keep that star within your grasp.

Chapter Text

Much like his master, the Ascian of the Twelfth Chalice is abrasively loud.

The dance is as natural as breathing, the Egis and their attacks intimately familiar and easily evaded as you focus on the ambient aether remaining in Carteneau - it’s the Ascian and his persistent bluffs, constant mockery, and that confident, obnoxious laughter that continually disturbs your meditation, preventing you from completing your trance. If you weren’t convinced of his intention to distract you, you’d half believe him vain enough to lust after his own voice.

Almost there – your perception sharpens, the land itself reacting to your touch, gifting you its insight. With the introduction of new energies, the Ascian slips from your mind, focus firmly concentrated on your internal aether flow, the only anchor preventing you from being consumed by newfound, erratic sensations.

Chalice’s voice is the wind, the whistle of a gale rather than the shriek of the Lady of the Vortex, a harsh hum that negates all other sound, allowing for your harmonious withdrawal into the Dreadwyrm.

Flying, floating - the ground is not your place, energies levitating you above such limitations.

The euphoria of untold power is instantly overwritten. Bitter fury rolls through you in waves until you drown; trembling, drawing memories – being gifted memories – time stills. Every smell, sight, and taste are embraced in a single moment that is an eternity.

With clarity unlike any you’ve ever known, you view the devastated landscape through eyes unblinded by mortal restriction.

A voice, feminine and filled with panic, cries out in words that are meaningless. She is right to fear.

You continue your search, gaze settling on black. Paragon, a subdued memory at the back of your mind names him, but the word holds no meaning. Who and what he is are irrelevant – he stands against you. The ‘Paragon’ is the cause for this.

“Stop!” The feminine voice’s words are clear now, but they are a whisper to your roar.

A coil, taut and binding, grasps at your arm, attempting to restrict you.

No - not again. Never again. You rip yourself from its grip.

“Die.” A feral growl, barely even a spoken word, echoes through your mind; his kind are the cause of everything.

Rage, as red and blinding as a mask, the only memory that pierces the shroud. Black is not the one you seek, but it will suffice as replacement.

You dive; the Paragon cannot move quickly enough and you force your prey to the ground beneath you with ease.

Claws – fingers - tear into decaying forearm flesh, breaking it down with an unnaturally strong grasp. The robes do not tear, but the corpse does; it rends easily beneath you, satisfying in its fragility.

The feminine voice continues its attempts at interference, louder this time, but she is nothing in the face of the pain you’ve endured - or the pain this creature will continue to cause.

“So you’ve succeeded.” The Paragon beneath you laughs, squirming and uncomfortable beneath your weight, but otherwise unhindered by your presence. You barely hear him. “But the Dreadwyrm’s lifeforce is not yet within your ability to master.”

His words have the weight of a light fog, barely noticeable in the morning sun. You pass through unhindered, the energies congregating between you in preparation for elimination.

“Succumbing so easily, your nature is of true destructive duality . . .you serve your master well –“   Senseless. “- I serve mine better.” Aetheric fire, hot and raw, scorches your flesh and pushes you away until you're sprawled on the ground at his feet, allowing the Paragon to put distance between you.

Desperately mocking you in attempt to mask his inferiority, the Paragon refuses to submit; he holds no rank to the master he so loves – nameless, faceless, he is little more than a tool to manipulate and discard at will. That he would dare question you -

No, he is not the one you want - but he is the one you will have. The inferior being will learn his place, just as the master will learn his.

You dart forward again; he will not escape. If he will not be destroyed, he will be yours.

Your aether ravages at the corpse, piercing already-broken and torn flesh, but your gasp is slick, inside him a wall of flawless ice, lacking aberrations that allow your control take hold, hindering your ability to claim all of him, no matter where you search or how deeply you penetrate. Closer and closer, you force him beneath you again, aether surrounding him in waves, but your search remains futile.

His laughter is breathy on your face; you snarl at your own incompetence.

“You will never turn me from my master with such feeble control over a false God’s aether.” The words are not spoken aloud, instead vibrating through your mind as if you formed the thought yourself.

The Paragon does not bother struggling against you - he does not need to.

“Mine.” You will tear him from Lahabrea as you tore Lahabrea from Thancred; you will dominate him as they once dominated you.

Names both familiar and unfamiliar, new and older than time, flash through your mind, stalling you, slightly relieving the pressure of your grasp.

The slightest opening is all he needs.

The coil returns, snake-like and impossibly tight, encircling your wrist – an enemy to limit you. You pull your arm out with all your strength.

“Such power -” He murmurs, tone unfamiliar and thoughts impossible to read. “- But it seems that with his strength comes his weaknesses.”

Again the Paragon grasps at you, clutching your wrist with strength outside the realm of mortal possibility. You lash out, forcing him away, pushing his free arm down, limiting his movement in refusal to be bound. The mistake is immediately apparent; so close to him, the Paragon’s arm is able to encircle your back before you finish your struggle, a prison, drawing you in closely and tightly - so near that you’re pressed into the rise and fall of his chest, unable to easily struggle against his aether-enhanced binding strength.

Chuckling at your panic, he enjoys your weakness, taking pleasure in his dominance, just as you reveled in the power you held over him.

You can feel everything about him in this intimate embrace, one much better suited for a lover. His aether dances, electrifying the air between you, clashing with yours, his robes soft, lacking harsh edges and adornments, his touch firm but not violent, simply seeking to control and bind, rather than destroy.

The vivid sensations snap you from your trance, Bahamut’s remaining aether fading into passive submission as your struggles fade and exhaustion from overexertion floods through you.

Second only to surprise at the strange situation, your panic rises as the understanding of how Chalice subdues you comes to light. At your lack of struggle, his arms finally, slowly, mockingly, slither down your sides, releasing you from his hold. You push yourself off, stumbling away, allowing your foe the opportunity to withdraw to safety.

He could have easily killed you in your weakness and foolish rush to dominate him. Be it for his glory or his master’s, Chalice hesitated, his intentions as obscured as his host’s features; you cannot claim to know the mind of an Ascian.

Y’mhitra places a hand on your shoulder, aether providing succor as she heals your wounds; you had forgotten she and Dancing Wolf were present. Instinctively, you push the hand off your shoulder, the remnants of millennia of imprisonment still vivid within, but you offer her an apologetic glance a moment later, in hopes she understands your error. Even now, the Dreadwyrm’s remains do not fade so easily; newly awakened energies send anxiety and doubt through you, prepared to lash out once again at moment’s notice.

Chalice speaks, but you do not heed the words, doubtless little more empty bluffs. He has said all you wish to hear; his assigned purpose has failed and you have gained the Dreadwyrm’s power. There is no purpose in further assault. At the thought, your eyes dart to his arm, the one Bahamut – you – tore apart; he holds it limply at his side, the wound hidden well in his defensive stance, but you are a predator and he is your prey, the weakness clear to you, even now, as the dragon’s instincts fade.

This time, when Chalice flees, you make no attempt to follow.

“We did it. . .We faced a Paragon, and lived!” Y’mhitra sighs in relief, but her stance sags, more nervous and exhausted than she is wishes to admit. Her hands waver, even as she continues her soothing ministrations. “It’s thanks to you.” She offers gentle praise, even if only moments before she was calling out in terror and worry.

You shake your head; as long as Chalice and his master still live, much remains to be done.

“I’m afraid this is neither the time nor place to celebrate.” Dancing Wolf remains guarded. You cannot fault the Roegadyn for his caution; unless one is Warrior of Light, it is not every day that one challenges Gods and immortals of legend and survives. You succumbed to the power of the very Dreadwyrm you were intended to control; you cannot but applaud his devotion and resilience in the face of uncertainty.

Pushing yourself to your feet in wordless agreement, you gaze back over the flats. The Ascian of the Twelfth Chalice is truly gone; even now Chalice taints you, his essence seared like a brand into your mind after your irrational, failed attempt at tempering. As easily as recognizing a familiar face in a crowd, you’d know if he was nearby.

There’s still time; you won’t lose again - not to him, not to his master, and never again to a strategy like that, refusing to even consider it, even after his touch has faded.

Your name, spoken cautiously but firmly, draws you from your thoughts, bidding you off the platform, the words easily recognizable now that Bahamut no longer influences you; you offer a smile and nod, following your companions quickly, turning away from your weakness – and away from the strange Ascian who chose not to exploit it.

Chapter Text

You sense his presence before you see him, using an indistinct basal sense with an inexplicable existence that provokes your instinct for survival. The aether tears on the ridge high above you, air being clawed apart like a voidsent invading Hydaelyn, darkness spilling through into Her realm.

The Ascian makes no effort to hide – his nature denies him the need to – as his gaze sweeps the despoiled sanctum below, over the bodies of the unfortunate souls who believed you to be easily felled, before finally resting upon you, his lips in a neutral line as he observes the invasive curiosity.  You meet his stare without hesitation and the lips turn upward. Again the aether tears, darkness congregating in the open space no more than three yalms from you, the Hyur-like form re-establishing itself quickly. 

“I was not expecting such carnage.” The words are offhanded as he glances again over the fallen heretics, though his tone holds approval at your brutality. 

His voice is different, harder than Elidibus’ and more nasal than Lahabrea’s; it takes only a look at the stranger’s mask to confirm your suspicions.  “You’re not Lahabrea.”

He makes a guttural sound at the back of his throat in response, crass and inappropriate in unfamiliar company, annoyed and surprisingly mortal.

“A fact that assuredly brings us mutual pleasure.” He expresses no surprise that you not only see him, but recognize him for what he is.  ”You must be his ‘Bringer of Light.’”

He sneers out the title and you brace your weapon in response, no matter how uncertain victory may be.

The Ascian waves you off with a shrug, like one might an annoying bug or when dismissing a small child.  “I must express my gratitude - Lahabrea has never been humbled, ‘twas a harsh and well-deserved lesson.” You cannot but stand dumbfounded at the unexpected admission.  “But through his defeat I am relegated to the duties of a servant; perhaps ‘twould be better to curse you.”

The topic of conversation is unlike any previous the Paragons have instigated.  You recall the Emissary’s declaration of Lahabrea’s uniqueness, but his phrasing was vague and you assumed he intended to appease you in attempt to build a foundation for trust. There may have been more truth to his words than you realized.

Even more striking than his words are his demeanor and tone; relaxed, lazy, informal, he very much appears the opposite of the Emissary and is absolutely nothing like the overbearing Lahabrea.  Despite his apathy, you sense unpredictability lurking below the surface, a chaos more worrisome than the blatant aggression of Lahabrea and his servants or the sweetened, manipulative nature of Elidibus.

You grip your weapon harder, standing your ground. You step precariously near an invisible ledge when interacting with him, the slightest wind able to topple you over to your doom.

”You needn’t worry; it’s been requested that I avoid engagement and I’ve no intention of suffering an irritated Elidibus.”

Again he shrugs, half turning from you, revealing the ritualistic purple pattern on the back of his robes. He channels no swirls of dark aether, no vibrant red crest adorns his features, as he stands indifferently, demonstrating the truth of his words - he has no intention of fighting you.

The Ascian is odd. You can think of no other phrase to describe him save that he is a curiosity; his actions contradict everything you know of his people.  His words are absurdly familiar, no different from any mortal complaints; the subtle sense of danger remains even as he rants, but he lacks caution, probing, seeking, experimenting, testing unknown waters, tasting the alien dish, in his utter confidence.

That he turns his back to you shows not an unwillingness to fight, but that he believes victory is assured.  You are thankful for any restrictions the Emissary places upon his fellow; after your struggle with the heretics, you are unsure you are capable of facing such a foe.

“Why are you here?” You question; the Paragons meddle with mortals for many purposes, none of them healthy, but his mandated presence seems to displease him.

“I’ve no reason not to be.” He is evasive, but you cannot argue.  You’ve no claim over the cavern, you’re just as much of a guest he is – if not more.  Blood was spilled so that you could gain entry and venture into its depths; the heretics fiercely defended this small room with its ice-covered walls, bountiful food stores, decorated carpets doubtless stolen from Ishgardian nobility strewn across the floor, and multiple tanned hides, covered in thick, warm furs acting as beds.

Your heart pounds in your ears; the serenity of this once-peaceful locale of worship was shattered by your presence.  Enough lives have been lost today – avoiding unnecessary conflict with an Ascian can only be beneficial.

With utmost hesitance, you sheathe your weapon. The edge becomes a chasm, impossibly deep, the pressure of the wind bidding you off solid ground, sending your stomach tumbling in ecstatic thrill.

You nod in agreement, walking past him to what appears to be a pile of belongings.  You kneel, tossing the objects to the side as you begin your search for your pack.

Perhaps if you ignore him, he will leave you be.  If he wishes to stick his nose where is does not belong, let him; you’ve nothing to hide, when you find your pack, you will return to the Stones and proceed with your business as if this disaster never occurred. Playing games with a strange, bitter Ascian is not in your best interest, no matter how thoroughly your instincts tease at you, drawing out your adrenaline.

He continues watching, his gaze piercing your back, sending shivers through you, like the unfamiliar sensation of prey being observed by a predator that makes no attempt to hide its intentions of searching for its next meal.

“I suppose these mortals are necessary sacrifices.” The Ascian speaks, seemingly intent on drawing your attention back to him; you can almost imagine the shrug of his shoulders. “I cannot condemn you for defending yourself, of course, but their deaths are an inconvenience.”

You pause, but only for a moment, hoping he does not notice. So he is in league with the heretics; he speaks openly in confirmation, as if he does not care that the information is leaked – or perhaps he even wishes for you to act upon it.

You draw in a deep breath, understanding.  He’s goads you, tempering your hostility, so that he has the opportunity to defend himself, as you defended yourself from the heretics.

No, you will not give in to him.

“What do you want from me?” You turn when you finish futilely searching the pile of belongings. Clenching your jaw, your eyes dart over to the bedding, beginning your search anew.

A quick glance as you walk past the Ascian reveals the shaking shoulders of silent laughter, annoying you further.  He is amusing himself and you’re gifting him with exactly what he seeks; he enjoys aggravating you and revels in your discomfort.  You’ve been falling to his trap this entire time.

Your pack remains elusive and the hole you dig for yourself becomes deeper.

“I am but an observer.” He replies with the same bored tone.  A smile tugs at his lips, one that is not entirely pleasant, that tenses your muscles once again, annoyance again turning into the sense of danger, adrenaline’s pulse making it impossible to concentrate on anything but the robed man.

“You’re more of an irritator.” You are not fool enough to accept the pretense; there is hazard in this game you play, countering him, accepting his taunt and engaging in verbal battle.

“I do not deny it.” His amusement is unhidden now, openly satisfied at your reaction. “The role I’ve been assigned is droll and impersonal; to sit passively when acting is a possibility - you understand my frustration I’m sure, Warrior of Light.”

There is threat in his words, subtle but not hidden, tempting you to continue. It seems he has been assigned to the equivalent of Ascian guard duty, like those black-masked servants, and he searches for something – anything – to break the tedium, to be given excuse to fulfill his purpose.

The wind howls as you approach him in preparation for the upcoming storm.

This isn’t right.  It is not only your risk, the Ascian’s purpose may be jeopardized by provoking you - yet he does it all the same.   He is so unlike his peers, but so very much identical to them. The game he plays is exhilarating, the dance on the ledge very much like the moment before instigating battle with an unfamiliar Primal, the danger addicting and appealing, satisfying some part of your core nature.

“If you’re that bored, help me find my pack.” You dance the edge, accepting your foolishness, your voice breathy from your rapid heartbeats.

“I am not your servant.” There is spite in his tone; ‘tis clear as a summer day that he has no interest in remaining here. His passionate and immediate averse responses – identical to those he attempts to draw from you - would be amusing were he not shadowless. You cannot fault him for his delight in your reactions when you are no different.

“Nay, it seems you serve the heretics instead, Paragon.” You turn your back to him, leaping off the edge in free fall.

“Would that I had a choice in the matter.” He confirms your suspicions as you lift the spare bedrolls.

Before you can question further, you find it. Heavy, reliable but worn, and unbelievably resilient, your pack has been hidden deeply in the pile; it seems the one who stole it did not intend to share. Your heart beats in joy, the pulse distinct from its earlier pound, washing away any of the fatal dance you were choreographing only a moment before.

Clutching it your chest, you turn back to him, so that the Ascian recognizes his entertainment is at an end.

“You’re fascinating, Bringer of Light. An acceptable distraction.” The smirk returns to his lips, his tone no longer that of distaste. “I am Nabriales. Remember that next we meet.”

Before he even finishes, Nabriales is gone, the aether’s tear restored as soon as it forms, darkness absorbing the strange Ascian within it.

The cavern is silent and still, the rage of the blizzard outside no more than a gentle distant hum. Your heart’s race slows, your breaths normalize, and your skin covers itself in a thin, chill sheen of sweat, as if you’ve just completed a fierce trial that tested all of your capabilities, releasing the same euphoric satisfaction that has you begging for more.

You can but wonder – Twelve, what are you doing?

Chapter Text

They must think you a fool.

All of them. Elidibus. The not-boy.  Urianger. Do they believe your eyes so clouded?

An unfair condemnation, perhaps; the willing disregard for truth is a perpetual irritation for the Emissary and he is prone to the immediate correction of particular misbeliefs. The others lack such an excuse.

Would that your partner be willing to share the entirety of the truth he so frequently flaunts; he instead vexes you with the constant promise of fate’s balance, of eventualities and necessities, as distracting and fluttery as his lips on your bare neck, sucking in thin, fragile flesh - as irritating as the unwelcome tingle of a stranger’s Echo delving through your memories.

“Why would someone call themselves a Warrior of Darkness?”

Elidibus drags his mouth up your cheek; well-practiced in shielding his responses, his body language reveals nothing of his thoughts.  His kisses are the only indication he hears you at all, words spoken only when his lips are once again atop yours.

“A reflection of the lost with the burden of understanding.”

You reject his evasive dance, intolerable now that even the previously-silent Hydaelyn offers vague elaborations on the truth of your conflict. “I summoned you for answers, not pleasure.”  Though his taste is a rare delicacy, a delight never for overlooking – a trait he reminds you of at every available opportunity. “I’ll not be toyed with.”

He chuckles, pulling you closer until you can feel the gentle rumble of amusement at the back of his throat; the husky sound, barely above a whisper, is so rare that it incites shivers through your core.

“I am not so coarse that I’ll stop at toying.” One hand snakes under your clothes, the blunt side of clawed fingertips stroking your back, the other tangles itself in your hair, clinging, intertwining the locks just above your neck, teasing the base of your scalp as he lounges back on the bed, pulling you completely onto his lap, your legs spread over his waist.

“Do not think to avoid answering, Elidibus.”  Your rebuttal holds little of the intended command as you lean into the massage, giving him fuller access to your form, your arms to encircling his neck, feeling the toned flesh of aether-sustained muscles – an expectation formed of foreknowledge that has become distracting, satisfying reality. “Tell me of the masked boy.”

“There are no boys here.” His hand slithers forward, from your back to your breast, playing at your nipple, rolling it between the pale cloth of his gloves.  The delicate skin of your breasts could easily be torn by the unnaturally sharp metal adornments, but Elidibus is gentle, the claws used to stroke and tease, to trace the edge of your areola in a willing sacrifice of power.

“Why the proxy? I am always available to you.” The tingle in your stomach is undeniable, contractions tensing your abdomen as you shudder; hard nipples ache and beg, wanting Elidibus to pinch more strongly, wanting his hand that still rests on your neck to roam more intimate locales.  Your knees dig into him instinctively, hips grinding into his waist.

“Always?” A quiet, breathy whisper that blows stray hairs from your face.

He needs as little confirmation of your relationship as you do, but you nod regardless, opening yourself to him. Elidibus needs no further instigation, working your top off as he pushes you onto the bed with his weight. The stray hand finally leaves your hair, making its way down your neck, chest, and abdomen, fingers trailing with intentional viscosity until reaching your hips.

You tremble in anticipation as he removes your undergarments, teasing your thighs with three fingers, stroking with unpredictable patterns until the sensitive skin can tolerate it no more, your body releasing an almost violent tremor before his hand finally finds its destination on your moist clitoris, a single touch all he needs for your breath to escape and your words to jumble.

“Eli –“ His tongue is so very distracting, darting over your abdomen. “- Triad.”

“If that is your wish, I’ll not deny your desires.” He lifts his mouth only to speak, his devotion to your pleasure absolute.  “Who would be to your tastes?”

“What. . .” Before you can criticize his absurdity, he spreads your labia, finger sliding down into your vagina with ease. Restrictive and almost uncomfortable, Elidibus plays as gently as he can, stroking at the hard flesh of its frontal wall, seeking the most sensitive spot, probing with claws that allow him deeper access than uncovered fingers – in and out, a single finger and then two, easily penetrating as you naturally lubricate.

Without warning he releases it - cold, yet somehow alarmingly warm, impossibly hard, tight and uncomfortable, its sides sharp, pressure unbalanced and unpredictable. The tiny, foreign object pulses, vibrating with undefinable energy just near enough so that it can be removed, but deeply enough that your squirms only lodge it inside you more deeply.

“His greatest gift.” He elaborates before you can gasp out further unintelligible babble. “My greatest gift.”

It hums, almost directing the pound of your lust; Elidibus’ finger again returns to your clitoris, now slick and welcoming, pressing down from above to meet the crystal within you below, he rubs in rapid circles in time with the release of its invasive aether. His mouth distracts itself with you nipple once again, finally with the strength you need, teeth tugging just hard enough that the heat deepens, a pleasant pain that amplifies an already violent fire in your abdomen, muscles constricting.

“Eli-Eli - s-stop. Ah-answers.” You arch your back into your partner until your hips almost reach his chest, unfinished words broken by harsh pants, thoughts overwritten by lust until they are barely more than a dream. All else is secondary to your body’s demands.

“Stop?” He lifts his mouth from your breast to look into your eyes; the crystal, once tight inside you, dissolves instantaneously, disappearing so utterly that its dissipating aether is the only evidence of its former presence.  His hands passively return to their place on his lap, leaving you burning in unsatisfied dissatisfaction.

Your vagina tenses, pounding heavily, burning, desperately seeking what once was. Still-heavy pants dry your tongue, words difficult form in your dizziness. “Don’t stop.”

A secretive smile forms on his lips in response – lips that are still slicked with the sheen of saliva - that your breasts still long for the touch of.

“How am I to know what you wish of me when you persist in being contradictory?” He mocks you, the cruel creature, stroking your stomach below your navel with the chill, pale metal on his knuckles, sensation reminiscent of a cool, delicate chain on hot skin; he trails the lazy touch over your collarbone and neck, intentionally avoiding hard nipples and sore breasts, over the areas where flesh is thinnest and goosepimples form at the simplest touch.

Your shivers are uncontrollable; unable to resist, your hand slides over your begging, slick clitoris so that you can finish what Elidibus has started. With alarming speed, he catches your wrist before your hand reaches its goal, his position above you advantageous.  He grasps both arms, pushing them to the bed, resting his weight on his knee between your thighs, preventing any satisfying grinding, the mischievous smile never leaving his lips.

With a gentle pressure, he places one finger back over your clit and penetrates you with another, releasing only a fragment of the aether he previous shared, the pressure just enough to keep your arousal from dampening.

The only answer you offer is an incoherent snarl of frustration.

“You mustn’t be so difficult.” He scolds with a kiss, biting your bottom lip before his mouth returns to your left breast, the tip of your erect nipple manipulated by his tongue.

Painful, sore, and tight, all you can focus on is the intense pounding, your thighs crushing into Elidibus until he finally begins anew, pressing hard into your clit, rubbing quickly up and down, aether congregating in your vagina once again at its entrance, the crystal pressed inside you, the pinch of its sharp sides barely noticeable. The aether it exudes numbs as it flows through your body, released with the dam of desire, intense and focused, hot and explosive.  You cannot stifle the soft moan and gasp as your hips rise and euphoria blinds you to all the world, tremors of bliss spreading from your tongue to the tips of your toes.

“You’re not going to answer.” Are the first words from your mouth when the waves of heat recede, a whispery, defeated pant.

“I act in our best interests - as I always will.”

What Elidibus believes to be your best interests and what you believe them to be vastly differ.  With the fog receding from your mind, you understand his intentions; in sharing his dark crystal, he has shared his existence, the greatest gift he has.  It is impossible to disbelieve him when he does such things.

Cursed Ascian.

As does he, so too must you act as you always have, searching for the paradise where you must no longer partake in secretive, hasty, one-sided delights, but instead freely indulge in prolonged, unhidden mutual satisfaction.  If such a promised land does not exist, you will create it.

But for now the coil of your legs around your partner’s, the heave of his chest in time with yours, and the stroke of his fingers through your hair remains satisfactory.

Chapter Text

If nothing else, they are determined - as are you; your lovers must be weakened so that the star remains whole.

Though Lahabrea oft whispers of the Echo’s secrets and Igeyorhm teases of unions you’ve yet to experience, the truth defies comprehension, their limitations as shattered as your expectations.

The sacrifice of their aether-formed flesh is both boon and curse. They’ve bared their essence in attempt to stop you; all that shields them is the remaining barrier around their shared soulspace – if Lahabrea’s continued lessons have taught you anything, the Echo is nothing if not the ability to overcome such barriers.

Victory is within reach; their attacks cease, the momentary lapse giving you the needed time to catch your breath before beginning your assault anew.

The aether about your stirs, mutating the air as if changing the facility’s very nature.  Seemingly intent on a new strategy, your partners channel immense power, confident that whatever the result, its effect will be worth the sacrifice and temporary vulnerability.

Existence warps, the power seemingly manipulating the universe itself, tearing the fabric of reality with pulses so strong that Hydaelyn cannot contain it, holes of darkness seeping through into Her realm.

They won’t let you die, as you will not destroy them, but their will to succeed, to proceed with their goal unhindered, is equal to yours.  Whatever this attack’s effect, you know it to be unpleasant.

Those portals are key; you either risk incapacitation by the tremendous power the Ascians draw and the inability to stop their planned Rejoining, or the portal to darkness unknown.

Neither option appeals.

A portal tears in the aether behind you, the choice made for you, strength of the rift drawing you in like a vortex, feet lifting from the floor and stomach tumbling in the momentary chaos; the rift is shallow but strong, entrapping you, but not absorbing you completely.  You can see little outside the darkness, your head forced into an upward tilt, your arms held close to your sides as if bound, your legs flailing as futilely, your very core restricted until you are unable to struggle against the binding fetters.

As if time stills and the universe collapses on itself, their spell completes; detached from Hydaelyn, the rift shields you, but even the distant touch of their aether overwhelms, the release outside the rift so strong that it floods over every corner of your flesh, shredding loose cloth as easily as a knife slices butter.

With the pressure on the plane alleviated, you expect the darkness to release you, but you remain in its clutches, its restraints absolute.  You work to channel aether, but it dissipates into the rift as soon as it’s within your grasp, seemingly strengthening the bonds; the situation becomes more unfavorable with each instant that passes. 

“To think you would attempt to escape into our realm.” They revel in satisfaction for the shortest moment; the darkness is no longer feared, but representative of safety. “Do not deny fate; the Rejoining is an inevitability.”  Frustration taints their words, your refusal to accept their methods the root of conflict – a dilemma that will not be resolved easily.

The fetters deny you the ability to reply and they must know it; their hands, emphasized into skeletal claws roam your arms, the dark aether that makes up their body invisible, even to you, as it clings to your flesh, merging with yours, seemingly in attempt to invade, to make you one with them, their robes covering your flesh like a protective sheet. Perhaps this is the closest to their true forms that you’ve yet encountered, but even in your intimacy they remain veiled, twisted, two contained as one – a true amalgamation of the Echo.

They toss your weapon aside and loose your armor, believing the battle to be over. Frustration and humiliation fill you as deeply as the excitement of their touch, your inability to fight them shaming and appealing both.

It is a rarity that you are so vulnerable, the weakness as magnetizing to your partners as a chest of gold to a thief, their bare aether dancing over you, amplifying their emotions; as raw and primordial as the Whorl’s tides, the shadows that compose their body whisper unspoken promises of what you will later share, as thorough of distraction as the fetters themselves. Their anticipation of full control spills into you, rousing your breaths and sending shivers over sweat-slicked flesh.

So close to you, the traits of the individuals are emphasized; Igeyorhm seeks to hold that which her hand does not normally grasp, the ice of her claw running down over the most delicate parts of your body, over the thin flesh of your neck and the sensitive realm below your navel, teasing at the skin between your thighs with an unspoken promise. She removes the rest of your clothes, exposing your form to the world, her presence both soothing the shame of your defeat and amplifying it, seeking to control with a reliance for protection and emphasized desire.

If Igeyorhm’s is the subtle bite of winter’s wind bidding you find shelter, Lahabrea’s is the breath of the Lord of the Inferno, commanding your obedience; his hand grasps tightly over your wrist and forearms, mockingly playing at the invisible fetters that bind you in the darkness. Lahabrea’s satisfaction is emphasized by your weakness and rare submission to his will; with carnal intensity he probes, seeking to eliminate the remaining inhibiting boundaries that prevent you from acting by his side.

The contradictions overwhelm, making you want to hide your face at the shame of your weakness just as strongly as you wish for their touch to deepen and aether to delve more strongly, to taste you as is inappropriate to ever be tasted when outside the privacy of your room.

You cannot deny them; you’ve no wish to deny them. Your body is theirs. The claws continue their strokes, the remnants of their touch an electric trail over your shoulders, your neck, through your hair, and down your face, until you cannot determine where their hands are and where their hands have been, the passage of time diluted, and all you know is your partner.

Far too soon the fetters weaken and the darkness subsides, pushing you from the shallow rift well before you have any intention of leaving. Dazed from overexposure to pure aether, your body still tingles from your lover’s touch. Pulsing in desire for more, unfulfilled and begging, you are disgusted at how easily they have distracted you from your purpose.

“How long will you endure?” Their voice rings from behind you, a purr of promise rather than a sneer of confidence.

Commanded back to hard reality by their words, the remaining warmth within turns to the burn of adrenaline as you grope for your fallen weapon.

“There will be Rejoining.” They again declare, intent on continuing battle, the immense power being drawn once again, plane tearing, unable to resist their command.

Darkness spills into Her realm once more, empty rifts the only available protection from the spell.

The Rejoining cannot occur. You must endure.

You dive into the fetters of darkness.

Chapter Text

The Divine Chronicles speak of unimaginable destruction.

Bound to inescapable destiny, its shackles demand annihilation.  Even your hand inadvertently succumbs to fate’s decree.

Such fate is within your ability to prevent - or so you’re told; Elidibus’ vague whispers promise a more desirable future, a time when you will no longer be in conflict, where such destruction need not occur.  Trusting that he speaks the truth, you cannot but believe your goal is neither dream nor delusion - that your purpose is more than empty fantasy.

You roll the tiny crystal between your fingers, pale and delicate, devoid of energy, it is almost ephemeral, as if ready to shatter at any moment.

“Unanchored, external sources will influence its development.” Elidibus explains, your throat soured with the first taste of bitter doubt. This is the reality of the path you’ve chosen - Spoken need no crystals, flesh bears their souls.

“Are you certain this will work? That our bodies are –“ You hesitate, immediately and futilely hoping it evades Elidibus’ notice. “ - compatible?” Perhaps you should have asked when he first proposed his solution.  Though you too house crystals - reservoirs of power connecting you to your master that differ little from an Ascian’s - your existence in Her realm is not dependent on them.

“You distinguish between that which should be indistinguishable.” If Elidibus is cautious, he hides it well; beyond the expected satisfaction and confidence is serenity and peace, as if the turbulence that whorls within you slides off him. “What is the soul if not the purest aether? What is the Gift, if not the ability to overcome Her barriers?” He lifts your hand to his mouth in a soothing, formal kiss before meeting your lips; his taste, his feel, clean and smooth, refreshing and subdued, are no different from any night previous. “Our child will embody the rightful order.”

By Hydaelyn’s admission you cannot deny this truth - Dark and Light are intended to be as one.

“As it was, so shall it be again.” You repeat the words he so often speaks, a frail consolation in the face of uncertainty. His body, hard under soft robes, his kisses, light and fluttery over your neck, his hands massaging your scalp, tangling within your hair – recognizable pleasures that would not be out of place on any other evening – they are all a mask, no different from the one that conceals his features, to distract you from your worries.

He pushes you down beneath him, bidding you relax, to calm and concentrate.  Regardless of the way his touch over your forearms sends warm, contradictory shivers to the tips of your toes, of the familiar, welcome way he sucks your lower lip, you tense defensively in nervousness.

The reaction displeases both of you; far from averse to his touch, your anxiety simultaneously repels your partner and pleads for him to continue, conflicting reactions impossible to contain, confounding even to the one experiencing them.

Elidibus does not falter; as if expecting your worry, he offers a final, prolonged kiss before he removes his mouth from yours, confident in his unspoken solution.

Kneeling before you, hand supporting the back of your knee, his lips move down your calf in quick fluttery kisses. Slowing at the base of your foot, he draws his tongue over your arch before approaching the end, sucking at your toes. His tongue plays at each, encircling the tips; one at a time as he sucks, hot and slick, sending shivers up your leg.

You recognize Elidibus’ intentions immediately and welcome him to do as he pleases.  His hand plays at your thigh, the edge of his ornamental claws stroking the sensitive flesh at the back of your knee, warming your abdomen and increasing your pulse. Your muscles constrict as moist, saliva-coated lips make their way back up your calf, skin being drawn between his lips, sucking and lightly nibbling, as if he seeks to absorb and devour.

His warm mask nuzzles against your leg as his mouth makes its way to more receptive areas; the edges of his hood, of neither cotton nor woolen nor silk, offer additional tease, their soft strokes like a stray finger dancing on the sensitive flesh between open thighs.

Elidibus devotes himself wholly to his purpose – even if that purpose is pleasing you, to release your tension and quell budding hesitation. His breath is heavy between your legs when he finally finds the raw, pounding, arousal-swollen flesh; slick and wet, tight and clenched, you lean into him, encircling your legs around his neck, wordlessly begging for him to continue – to do more than tease with empty promises.

Obliging, he spreads the flesh of your labia, his tongue flicking out, darting between layers of flesh, licking in directionless whorls and unknown symbols, over and under, as if seeking to coat all of you, to taste and remove all of your natural lubricant, replacing it with saliva.  The hot tingle turns into a pound of torturous rapture as his tongue peeks below under sensitive flaps; his lips repeatedly suck at your clit, tongue playing just below, cause violent tremors to course throughout your body until you cannot stifle your quiet moan, free hand clenching as your innards constrict, your heartbeats heavy, heat spreading and deepening.

“I’m going to begin.” Jarring and unwelcome, he forces you back to reality.  You’ve not finished and you irrationally wish to deny him, to demand he continue and lead you to climax, but his purpose is achieved, your tenseness dissipated and replaced with the necessary state of heightened arousal. 

Lowering your legs from his shoulders, you nod, panting in frustration, symbolizing your readiness as the intense pulse of lust slowly diminishes. The warmth in your belly remains painful and unsatisfied as its fire fades from inferno to glowing embers.

“I offer everything I am, so that my purpose is fulfilled.” He murmurs a quiet prayer, one you are not entirely sure is intended to be heard. Whether his devotion belongs to you or his master is unclear - it matters little to you in your lust-heightened, hyper-aware state.  The Emissary has his beliefs and you’ve yours, but the purpose is one and the same – to reject fate, to restore balance.

He grasps your hand, replacing the dull, empty crystal you’ve held so close with his dark crystal; equally small, his crystal pulses with energy so intense it numbs your fingers. You hold the precious object to your breast, determined to keep it safe during his journey. All further thoughts of continued pleasure are dispelled as Elidibus’ aether-formed flesh is unmade, dark aether fading  and smothering your entire body so that it is easily absorbed through your skin and orifices, taking with him the new, stabilizing crystal you will soon nurture within.

For a moment, his presence is completely indiscernible, as if he has truly disappeared, but it quickly reforms, concentrated within your warm abdomen, pooling up to your breast and resting within your core; tight and focused, it is not the tease of aether he uses for pleasure, nor an arousing pulse intended for amplification, but a flood behind a dam, filled with burning cramping and painfully intense invisible weight, as if being crushed from the inside out.

Unable to hold such a centralized quantity of pure aether, your body constricts. Elidibus demands your full attention to not reject entirely; his foreign life force appalls your basal instincts, despite its unexpected familiarity – aether is the same, no matter the source, his core no different than yours, no matter his master or how alien his existence.

Instinctively you defend yourself, shielding yourself from the invasive, raw pressure. Much like your body would protect itself from a virus, your aether surrounds him, mingling. Even intruding and painful, his existence is sedate and calming, his touch through your abdomen like dipping your foot into a pristine, undisturbed freshwater pool. Unshielded, Elidibus is equally vulnerable to your influence; like dye spreading through clear, dark waters, your aether taints him, until the calming, controlled sense envelops all of you as much as you envelop all of him, until the rest of the world bleeds away, your sensations absorbed by serene power.

Numbing and hallucinatory, merged aether flows like ripples from him, inward rather than out, precise and calculated. It tingles – or perhaps not – a clouding fog dominating your mind; everything that is not Elidibus is a haze and yet you barely know him to be within you at all. He neither starts nor ends; Elidibus is as much you as you are him, everything shared in intense concentration on a single, pointed location.

You know you’ve succeeded when you feel its distinct flow. Like the chill of ice water or the heat of a scalding soup down your throat, it courses through your body; foreign and so very delicate, the merged, yet independent aether is barely more than a wisp in the midst of a hurricane, one that cannot even finish a single cycle through your core before retreating passively, disappearing from your senses, unable to sustain itself.

Elidibus recognizes it as well, detangling himself and pulling away slowly, leaving a twisting, expanding crevice within you. His presence is missed before you even recognize it as gone.

“I don’t think it worked.” You’re reluctant to feel for the fragile life after Elidibus’ warnings, seemingly unable to sense its presence any more than you can recognize the function of a hidden organ or tissue.

“It must come into its own, as with any other child.” He shows rare weakness as he lounges beside you; the energy expected of him was far more than that required of you, his entire existence risked by the endeavor. His words are quiet and breathy, no longer exhibiting his earlier confidence.

As if hesitant, worried that he might somehow influence the child, Elidibus does not hold you. He barely touches you at all, the tips of his fingers roaming over your shoulders and back, each stroke electric and filled with energy. His touch completes the abyssal void his exit left no more than a moment before as he unintentionally drags your aether beside his.

His fingers avoid the most sensitive places - your aching breasts, your burning abdomen, your slick, sticky thighs.  Even with strokes of love and devotion, he is distant, seemingly almost revering your body in an intentional denial of his desires.  You roll over to face him, rejecting his imposed distance. Taking his hand, you return his invaluable dark crystal - his very life - as you bury your face in his neck, allowing his smell and essence to wash over you - and yours to wash over him.  Finally relenting, his arms encircle you, weight heavy, welcome, and decidedly tangible - no longer the distant, hallucinatory touch of aether.

You cannot know what to say – if there is anything to say at all. Elidibus is as stiff and tense as you were before beginning your intimate union, even as you offer what little comfort you have to give.  You have only a single answer, an understanding of the most important revelation of all: this is how all should be – how it will always remain.

Chapter Text

The first time you faced Lahabrea with neutrality in place of enmity revealed disconcerting similarities.  Elidibus names Lahabrea a warrior - and rightly so; his focus is unwavering, demonstrating willingness to overcome all hurdles and fulfill his goals. Through combat or sweetened promises – often the very same oaths you make, whispers of safety and stability – he moves synchronously as if opposite you on a two-faced coin.

He is not unique - there are many on Hydaelyn like him - you once failed to convince yourself as the first cracks softened your heart.

The next revelations were far less unnerving: for one so prone to intense satisfaction at mortal folly, Lahabrea decidedly lacks humor, especially when he is its target. Without familiarity, the effects of your tease were imperceptible, but you now know otherwise; his shoulders prickle, his jaw clenches ever so slightly, and he turns his attention away from any further discussion, seething almost juvenilely until apology is rendered.

You know little more of his true thoughts, besides the depths of pride and loyalty, how he fails to withhold annoyed rebuffs that reveal his worry, and his acceptance of your gentle touch over his forearms or back, not reciprocating, but not refusing – as much acknowledgement of your relationship as you will get from him.

Though shame limits his willingness to admit it, you are partners now; a foreign curiosity within your grasp, ignoring the potential to further explore Lahabrea is no different from putting Gil in the hand of a beggar and commanding he not spend it.  “I’d like to learn you.”

He deems reply unnecessary, yet his focus remains intensely on you, burning a hole through your soul, searching for obscured intentions. You cannot read him well enough to know his thoughts, but when Lahabrea finally crosses his arms over his chest, you know he acquiesces to your request.

“How old are you?” Lahabrea is no hopeless romantic; to open this book, you must first wear away its harsh edges.

“Old enough.”  His stare remains fixed, words flat and bored, but he is - most importantly – willing to humor you.

“Where do you enjoy spending your time?” You push lightly but assuredly; certainly, even Lahabrea must have a place he favors, be it for meditation, relaxation, or simple pleasures. Such locales often reveal idiosyncrasies.

“At His side.” His evasion disappoints; a single harmless answer will suffice and the prideful man refuses even that.

“Do you favor any foods?”

“Salt.” Is his dry response, your ears surely deceiving you; if his tone was not so blasé, you would be certain he teases you.

Boldness birthed from newfound confidence at the revelation of his amusement, you continue your questioning before you can second guess the foolishness of the endeavor.

“Is there anything you desire?” Before he gives the answer you know is on his lips, you continue. “Say nothing about the return of your God.”

What can be seen of his face remains impassive at the bold query, but Lahabrea provides no immediate answer. No obvious signs of anger or resentment present themselves; his jaw remains loose, his shoulders slack - any changes are imperceptible, but even the blind and deaf would recognize the tension.

The foundation of your confidence already wavers, an ailment Lahabrea is wont to cause, and you divert the topic before Lahabrea’s mood sours.

“Are you fond of your allies?”

“Mere conveniences.” The answer is as flat as all the others, as if the awkward question was never asked.

“You’re close to no one?”

“Only you.” There is no regret in his revelation, the statement as informal and bland as all the others, yet your stomach reels in pit of erratic, exited warmth and terrifying, churning, all-consuming void.

You are the first break in his focus, even if you are fated to become a distraction that lasts but a miniscule fragment of his unnatural lifespan. Only after unprecedented humiliation does Lahabrea accept another into his life; be it out of frustrated desire to affirm his strength, a convoluted wish for devotion equal to his own - no matter the source and target - or perhaps even a desperate, failed bid for vengeance that catastrophically inverted upon itself, mutating the flames of rage to the heat of lust, there is more depth to his attachment than you initially believed.

Whether the revelation is intentional or not is irrelevant, further words are elusive and Lahabrea makes no attempt to elaborate or continue conversation.  His nature is not one to express such affection and yet you still succumb to the temptation to twine your fingers between his, uncaring that he will not do the same. 

Without warning, Lahabrea's controlled, precise dark aether absorbs your legs and arms, swallowing you like an unseen leviathan, drawing you into a teleportation that you do not recognize until it is too late to prevent.  With no aetheryte you are at his mercy, but Lahabrea does not abuse your trust. He guides your reformation quickly and easily, revealing your destination to be a place you cannot possibly know.

There is nothing; from all directions, infinite blackness crushes you, while also liberating you from restriction, incomparable even to the sensation of resonating with Hydaelyn in the aetherial sea.

Silence somehow echoes; each of your breaths disrupts the plane, expanding like the waves of a droplet in a still sea.  As your eyes further adjust, you see them - shards, of all shades of blue and purple, pale to deep, clear to murky, line the darkness, like a broken mirror, fragments of a greater whole too broken to restore.  Above and below, to all sides, somehow close enough to pulse with the faintest energies, yet far enough away that you could never touch any in a lifetime, as if you sit within the endless depths of the sea of stars itself.

You do not loose your grasp on his hand. Lahabrea offers no explanation for his actions, but for once it is unneeded; mystery he may remain, Lahabrea gifts the only answers you need - and they are beautiful.

Chapter Text

You should have known better.

The wistful conclusion lodges itself firmly at the forefront of your mind as Lahabrea lifts his finger from your dry lips, radiating a satisfaction so intense that if he was a normal man you are certain he would be humming the merry tune of a well-sated minstrel on a bustling holiday street.

Anything the victor desires, was his proposal - a temptation too enticing to forgo.  There are a great many gifts Lahabrea offers and you accepted with barely a second thought, during a convenient lapse of memory that should have cautioned you that Lahabrea’s ruthlessness ascertains that he obtains precisely what he seeks, even during the least offensive of competitions.

You need not tell yourself it was a foolish decision; Lahabrea’s pride refuses to allow him to be bested again, his arrogance supported by millennia of experience that turns his ambitions into reality.

Civilizations fall to mistakes such as yours.

“What are you planning?” You finally speak as the tips of his fingers move down to caress the bare flesh of your throat, the cool tease of dark claws spreading prickles over your exposed flesh, words breathy.

A rumbling chuckle is his only response, subdued, dark, and chilling to your core, promising more than words ever can.

Lahabrea bleeds, aether surrounding false flesh like a heavy fog, until his appearance distorts and melts away like a dawn mist, the remnants of his chuckle still echoing through your veins.  As if making some primal, feral claim, Lahabrea coats your skin, bathing you in the formless shadow that is his essence, somehow darker and thicker than the blackness that permeates the plain room he has chosen for your experimental endeavor.

His touch is intimately, frustratingly familiar, tingling and electric, drawing invisible digits over every part of your body simultaneously, your heart beating quickly at the thorough way he spoils you. Slow, lazy, predictable, he tastes your entire body, as if his existence’s purpose is to please – as if your entire form exists to satisfy him.  Lahabrea’s caress feels little different from the massage of his strong hands, sending sensual, painful shivers from the tips of your fingers down to the ends of your toes, leaving you breathless and unsatisfied, begging for depths that he refuses to provide.

This surely cannot be all he plans, the tiny, rational voice back of your mind warns, but it is the faintest whisper amongst the beginnings of a storm. The tenseness of danger only makes your heart beat faster in anticipation of Lahabrea’s favored methods for extending the burning torture of denied pleasure.

Your worries prove to be justified; Lahabrea manipulates his form, congregating into countless thin tendrils, like a river branching off into streams that flow all over your body. Constricting and grasping, his aether hardens into a sticky sap that draws you along with it before solidifying into something. Large, thick, heavy and smooth, Lahabrea’s new weight limits your movement more than any binds, encircling your arms, legs and waist. He is tight against your thighs, like stockings one size too small, and even more commanding of your wrists, pulling your arms above your head, held together and aloft by the invisible force of a rope-like tendril that does not budge, no matter how you squirm against it.

The darkness obscures the form Lahabrea chooses to take, but with the way the tips of the aether-formed tendrils roam your flesh, playing at the sensitive region below your navel, it is easy enough to guess.

With dexterity no Spoken’s limb is capable of, each tentacle roams independently, savoring your body with just the tips; teasing and flicking, there seems to be no pattern to his touch - over your neck and across your back, down your thighs and calves, before finally taking hold your ankles like a resilient vine, leaving a thin trail of tingling, viscous, aether behind that soon slicks your entire body.

Binding you fully in the air with directed intention, the mutated Lahabrea supports your weight through unnatural strength, limiting your motion so that he can satisfy the most carnal of his cravings. Thick, powerful tentacles embrace your thighs, commanding your legs to spread for him, allowing Lahabrea access to your most sensitive locales – but only after he deems it appropriate, leaving your wet vagina aching and crying out for his touch.

He knows you as well as you know yourself, knows the regions over your thighs, belly, hips and neck that appeal to you most, doing little more than teasing at thin skin all the while denying you what you wish most.

With surprising patience, Lahabrea instead toys at your nipples, manipulating hard nubs with a thick tendril just as easily as he could his thumb, flicking, encircling, tracing around your areolas until you breasts ache and the barest touches do nothing to sate you. You almost demand he press harder, hesitating only because it is exactly what he wishes for you to do.

Lahabrea keeps you at his mercy; eliciting rare moans but giving little else, his sole purpose to make you beg for him.

You’ve neither the desire nor the ability to resist him. Gasping as you clench your fists above your head, the spreading tingling warmth causes your abdomen to repeatedly constrict, pulsing and wordlessly pleading for everything Lahabrea denies you, succumbing easily to his whims.

Reveling in his victory, Lahabrea probes, shallowly at first, with just the tendril’s end, tracing shapes over the slick folds of your clit, refusing to penetrate, instead exploring and tasting you in a way he refuses to do in his Hyur-like form, letting your flavor envelop him completely.  Your wetness betrays you, aiding the tip of the large tentacle in its repeating playful teases, the hard tip barely entering you before flickering in exit.

Lahabrea’s coils grasp your nipples tighter, until you can no longer silence your moans.  Another tremor of dizzying heat wracks your body, your breaths heavy and pleasant enough to temporarily distract the wandering tendrils from their tease.

Without warning, the large tentacle holding your neck sneaks up, darting between full, half-open lips; coated in aether and saliva, its tip plays at the roof of your mouth in a tickling light pressure before twisting its way to the back of your hot throat, as deeply as Lahabrea dares go. You swallow instinctively, the pressure only makes you suck the all-encompassing mass of flesh harder. Your moans are stifled, but your lips still purse over the end of the tentacle as he thrusts in and out, running it over your tongue teasing at you with its tip repeatedly until again penetrating your throat.

“Submit.”  You do not even notice the presence of his Hyur-form until he compels you with his low, husky growl. Lahabrea’s broad chest presses against your back, his deep, heavy pants warming your cheek as he explores with his hands as supplement to his tentacles. His claws roam down to press at your sore, pounding clit as he grinds your bottom with his hips, deriving as much pleasure from you as you do him.

He murmurs something unintelligible to you in the Ascian tongue, deep, slow, guttural, like the beast form he emulates, commanding you with every inch of his chosen bodies, each word electric over and within your flesh.  The grunts are little more than babble to your ears, his very presence blinding your Echo, overloading your already ecstasy-dazed senses.

Full – too full – thick and large, the tentacle that has been the source of your agony finally worms between your slick, hot thighs. Lahabrea’s tendril impales you more deeply than any mortal man can, pulsing, filling you with raw, burning aether that amplifies your already-raging lust.  Writhing within your body, the tentacle strokes the sensitive region on your front wall and your hips contract instinctively; you futilely try to press your thighs together, but he’s too thick, too strong. Your pleasure remains at Lahabrea’s whim.

You pant heavily, the foreign aether within you barely registering as Lahabrea at all, even as he stands closely enough to intimately feel every toned muscle under his robes.

In and out, the large tentacles repeatedly pierce you. Lahabrea’s fingers rub fiercely at your clit, until you know nothing but him, his essence penetrating your entire body until he gasps in pleasure, unable to hold back any longer. At his release, the world burns around you, so full of Lahabrea that you feel as if your abdomen and stomach swell. The last of your rationality dissipates as Lahabrea grunts harshly against you, his weight falling onto your back and your mind fades into heightened euphoria.

With delicacy he demonstrates only when satisfied, Lahabrea slides his tentacles from your mouth and vagina, momentarily freeing you from his dominating presence. Even sated, Lahabrea’s aether remains within and around, binding your body to his will, holding you aloft. His fingers lazily roam the path previously trodden by the solidified tendrils of aether, reveling in your rare, exposed vulnerability and the temporary submission brought on by your afterglow.

“Crystal Bearer.” With Lahabrea so close, his overbearing presence absorbs your full attention. He meets your eyes, a confident smile playing at his lips.  “I’ve a proposal.”

The new arrangement is as tempting as the last. Denial never crosses your mind with the way his chest heaves against yours with each inhale or how his breaths blow loose strands of hair from your face with each exhale, the taste of his aether still fresh on your tongue. You simply nod, easily accepting the terms of the new bet, the promise of complete victory over him unbearably enticing.

This time you won’t lose.

Chapter Text

Midgardsormr knows Her ephemeral children - their curiosities and lusts, their potential for both apathy and kindness, their desire to conquer and their hope for love, fickle emotions as conflicting as the Gods themselves.  It is unsurprising that the Gifted One shares such idiocrasies – those Chosen are intended to be paragons of Her children. Without flaws, Warriors cannot represent their people in the eyes of the Goddess.

Curious anxiety expresses itself in the Gifted’s demeanor; alone in the security of their nest, there is no need for vigilance, yet the peculiar tension only deepens with the passage of time.

Midgardsormr watches and waits, impassively perching on a dusty shelf, knowing all will be revealed when it must.

The unprecedented source of unease reveals itself sooner than he expects in the form of one of Zodiark’s servants; alarmingly, the Gifted anticipates the strange intruder’s arrival, and relief replaces trepidation.

The confident Shadowless immediately recognizes the Chosen’s newfound vulnerability, Her Blessing no longer present to hinder His ilk. Midgardsormr removes the intruder from their shared soulspace as soon as he begins his invasive probing, denying the servant of Darkness the revelations he clearly seeks.

Rather than acknowledge Midgardsormr, the man’s lips turn up in a smile, murmuring quietly as he corrals Her Chosen to a large desk, lifting their rump onto it.

“We’ll be seen.” The Chosen worriedly glances over to him, finally heeding his presence.

Following the Chosen’s gaze, the Shadowless meets Midgardsormr’s eyes briefly before returning his focus to the Gifted One; the smile playing at his lips deepens as he leans down, face far closer than is appropriate, twitching like a hatchling anticipating a long-awaited meal.

“Indeed.  Let Silvertear’s Guardian witness the truth - ”  The servant of Darkness’s voice drips of condescension he is unworthy of displaying. While his arrogance is amusingly trite, Midgardsormr’s musings still instantly at the thorough way the stranger devours the Gifted One. “– how you plead for me - ”

The clatter of stray crockery and parchment-filled portfolios spilling onto the floor are the only sounds Midgardsormr hears, unable to turn from the sight.

Hands roam under loose clothing, tugging them off between harsh breaths and tossing them to the floor thoughtlessly. “- how deeply the Chosen of Light is tainted -” Weight held by the desk, the servant of Darkness uses ornamental claws to stroke the sensitive flesh between the Chosen’s legs, teasingly refusing to remove their undergarments as they squirm under his devoted ministrations.

“- and how truly beyond saving you are.” The Gifted’s legs spread, wordlessly begging for the Shadowless; heavy pants fill the room as the man’s fingers finally play at raw, sensitive genitals, his victory small but assured.

Midgardsormr cannot turn from horror before him; claws used in such a way would tear a dragon apart.

Futilely attempting to subdue lust-addled moans, Her Chosen again glances over to Midgardsormr, cheeks pink, lips swollen and slicked with saliva, eyes glossed; the Gifted misses a breath at the realization that he continues his silent observation.

The Shadowless expresses annoyance at the brief distraction through a harsh, nasal sound, tilting his partner’s face back to him, murmuring something that immediately commands the Chosen’s full attention; Midgardsormr does not need knowledge of the ancient tongue to understand the suggestion in his words.

Kneeling before his lover, it is not until Midgardsormr sees the way his tongue flicks out in a tease of his partner’s arousal that he understands exactly what the man intends.

Fangs do not belong anywhere near there - and yet still Midgardsormr watches as the Darkness consumes the Light, the Gifted’s legs curling around the Shadowless’s shoulders, back arching, hands clutching at the desk until knuckles turn white, and pleading moans crying out the name of their lover fill the room until they finally cease under the bliss of release.

Midgardsormr forces himself to release his harsh grip on the shelf before he splinters the wood; yes, Midgardsormr knows Her children, but he doubts he will ever understand them.

Chapter Text

“Eager. Vibrant.”

“What?” Ysayle is as surprised as you are at the servant of Darkness’s presence in the Hive’s depths and steals the very words from your tongue.

The unfamiliar Ascian – a woman, by her voice - keeps her distance, but with the intensity in her focus on you, Ysayle might well be a roach.  “Yet only when drenched in the essence of downed Gods do you so shine.”

Your weapon at ready, the woman continues her silent observation, the most delicate of smiles the only evidence of her thoughts. “You speak in riddles.”

Ever fond of their one-sided conversations, this Ascian neglects even an introduction.

“Continue struggling, Bringer of Light; the longer the swell is dammed the stronger it becomes.”

--

“Honesty.” Overlooking the empty city, she breaks snow-muffled silence. “That is what they lack -” She is but a pace from you, presence chiller than any blizzard. “- What all mortals lack.”

You like to believe you’re honest with yourself.

“Are you satisfied, Bringer of Light?”

Were you unfamiliar with the strange woman’s frequent appearances and inane questions, you’d question her purpose – but you know better: an answer for an answer.  All trades have cost and her price is fair, for an Ascian.

You are safe and you are warm, even when the war-torn Ishgard falls around you; there is only one reponse. “Yes.”

She closes the final distance and rests a hand on your face.

Your heart pounds furiously at the thrill of the unknown. The sensation of being very much alive, absent only a moment before, fills you as you revel in the risk of allowing one so powerful so near; rapid breaths course adrenaline through your veins and your muscles tense, as if the very act of being touched by an Ascian is forbidden.

Yet hers is a normal hand, the leather of dark gloves warm, decorative metal frost-chilled, indistinguishable from any other Hyur.

She whispers her reward at the answer you did not intend to give, as if sharing an intimate secret. “I am Igeyorhm.”

--

The aged wood of the manor’s table refuses to rend under your hands, no matter how deeply you wish to feel it bend and splinter.

“Do you despise your responsibilities?”  Incapable and disinterested in humoring Igeyorhm, you remain silent.  “Do you loathe the frail individuals you serve – or even those that necessitate your existence through their continued cries for divine succor?”

“Or perhaps is it the master commanding it all, denying you prolonged happiness, that you despise most.”

It is not a question.

No – you wish to serve, to save others, to protect Hydaelyn and Her inhabitants –

Your fingers will break if your grasp on the side of the table tightens further.

Honesty.

Favored by the Goddess, your life above all others, you will never stop the sacrifices; so long as you are their Warrior of Light, you are death as much as you are life – as much chaos as placidity.

You do not gift her with the answer she seeks, lest the predator learn how deeply her words pierce the heart of her prey.

Igeyorhm places her warm hand over yours on the table, loosing your grip.

She knows.

--

Stray strands of hair as blue as the limitless sky blow in the wind from under her cowl.

“I am dissatisfied, Slayer of Gods.” Igeyorhm stands closer than she ever has, her hand held to your chest. “This game – this distasteful duty – were it within my power, I would end it all now.”

As would you – though perhaps not for the same reasons.

The pressure is too heavy, it takes all of your effort to breathe – and it’s not only her dark magicks that bind you.

“Yet I cannot, for I am but a servant and even the endless strive for that which is impossible to grasp.”

She toys not with you, her duty swiftly completed; no matter the burning shame of failure, you are thankful for her haste, lest Igeyorhm’s disconcerting admission continue its corrosion.

--

“You stand before me at the head of a trail of corpses, on a path smeared with blood.” The facility’s artificial light is absorbed by swirling robes.  “And you are satisfied.”

The Ascians seek Calamity and Igeyorhm berates you for the blood you must shed – nonsensical.

“You’re wrong.” An instinctual rejection, though you’re unsure why; there is nothing to deny.

“I’m not.” Igeyorhm speaks not in condemnation, but regret.  “But you are yet mortal and mortals know little of honesty.”

She forfeits your title, speaking your name in its place; you are surprised she even knows it.

“If you heed no more of my words, know this: a tool is blameless.”

You know where the fault lies – she has made certain of that.

The shadows embrace her; Igeyorhm disappears from your side for what must be the final time, but her words remain, filling the small cracks in your heart with traitorous doubt.

--

The fragmented echoes of her voice never wash away “. . .For who else can empathize, save those equally bound to their God?”

The auracite shatters, leaving you without the only individual who understood– the one you will never know – and without the satisfaction of answers.

Chapter Text

Though often apathetic to mortal plight, this night the Gods are merciful – the crystal doesn’t react until the dignitaries disperse, formalities completed, leaving you to your business.

“Moen, come look!” Yda’s call sounds through the room as shockingly persistent, tantalizingly familiar, and entirely unwelcome warmth spreads through your abdomen from gentle vibration.

Your stomach flutters strongly enough that the pressure from your heart’s excited beats cannot push it down; now is most certainly not the time for this.

“Let me see that.” Not even Moenbryda’s endearing, passionate curiosity blinds you to the direness of situation.

“Hey!” Yda’s dejection mimics yours.  As if time slows, Moenbryda lifts the dark, glowing crystal, its aether reacting with the identical one inside you, sending pangs of heat coursing through your abdomen and making you tremble in weakness.

Impossible; you’re certain you left it in your chambers.

“Incredible; ‘tis a crystal, yet the readings are unlike anything I’ve seen.” It’s undeniable; they’ve the other crystal.

Moenbryda curiously plays with the strange crystal – rightfully interested in the unique object; there is none other like it on Hydaelyn. “Aye, it seems to be reacting. . .”

“Let me see - wow!“

You know what the artefact does even without seeing the source of Yda’s surprise; Nabriales created the toy from concentrated aether, so that your pleasure could be shared.  ‘Tis the first time the crystal’s unique, vivid glow and subtle hum of power, mutable through simple touches and amplified over the equivalent flesh, send as much dread as excitement through you.

Yda must have taken it from Moenbryda; at each of her greedy, curious grasps you feel hands rapidly travel over your body; at the top of the crystal, an alluring massage over your shoulders and breasts, invisible hands cupping and toying at your nipples before her fingers move down the crystal, the sensation spreading in sensitive trails like teasing, delicate fingers, over your hips and waist, before groping your bottom. Instinctively you lean your head back as the tingles shudder through your abdomen, moistening your undergarments –

Your brief moment of indulgence ends as soon as it begins as your lidded gaze catches a guest staring.  Theirs is not a face you recognize, but his presence is enough and your arousal immediately and temporarily dims in shock, heart pounding furiously in your ears, your face burning and jaw clenching in shame.

If Moenbryda and Yda have the crystal the situation will worsen before it improves – they mustn’t learn the toy is yours, let alone what it does or how you came to possess it.  Unable to even muster a smile as you gently push your way through the civilians, you desperately attempt to remain inconspicuous as you put distance between yourself and the two Scions. Each step is uncomfortable and awkward from the crystal’s vibration within, thighs grinding against each other tightening the muscles in your abdomen.

You get no farther than a thick pillar before he finds you, sweat slicking your form head to toe from embarrassment and desire both.  Nabriales pushes you with practiced ease against the large structure, the reality of what the Ascian has done becoming clear.

He is the only one who knows.

Already-sensitive flesh cries out as you’re pulled into his robes – soft and silken, just the feeling your body has been longing for – his very existence making you shiver repeatedly as large hands greedily roam your flesh, reacquainting themselves with what they already know intimately.

“What’ve you done?” Your attempt at condemnation falls flat, hiss shaky and breathless, muffled by proximity.

A deep laugh you can feel every rumble of courses through Nabriales as he points a single finger towards the pair of Scions you fled from mere moments before. The duo continue their argument a few steps away on the other side of the pillar, fiercely curious about their new treasure, blind to the stares around them.

“Be cautious, we know naught of its potential.” Despite Moenbryda’s collected declaration, she strokes your crystal as fervently as Yda, the natural aether of her body in tune with the artefact.

Oh, Twelve.

You must needs retrieve it, already Nabriales’ presence enhances -

Unable to hold back the shudder from the toy’s vibrations, Nabriales’ quiet, mocking laughter blocks out all other sound.

With all the arrogance of an Emperor, his smirk blinds your vision as he pushes your back against the pillar, his body pressing into yours with unspoken promises, his knee between your thighs, allowing him easy access to the pulsing crystal deep within you . “You won’t get away from me this time.”

“Not here.” You’ll be seen – you almost say, but all words die on your tongue – the partygoers might see you, but Nabriales, hostless as he is, remains invisible to those without the Echo.

His broad chest and cowl block your sight, making it impossible to know who sees you and who does not; the entire room could well be witnessing your begging and harsh pants, legs spread around empty air, and you’d know no better.

You curse the Ascian and his rational irrationality; Nabriales’ desire to be with you might be endearing were he not intent on sabotaging your evening for denying him attention.

 “It’s definitely reacting when we interact with it.” Moenbryda forces you back to harsh reality as she continues examining the crystal from her place on the other side of the pillar, voice betraying stubborn determination.

“You want to be seen.” Nabriales accuses, his lips against yours, refusing any more than a wispy tease; Moenbryda channels her aether through the artefact – through Nabriales and you – the aether spreading out from your vagina, its warm tendrils teasing like fingers, between your thighs, over your clit – Nabriales knows it as well as you, his fingers following the path – up your abdomen and stomach, again playing at your nipples, just enough of a tease to make your muscles clench repeatedly, fingers grasping hard at Nabriales’ wrists. “Why else would you wear our toys in public?”

“’Twas your idea!” You pant against his lips, not truly heeding him, logic secondary to well-honed instincts – instincts that are telling every fiber of your flesh to rub your finger over your clit and finish yourself now, witnesses be sent to the Lord of the Inferno.

“That it was.”  He is gratingly overconfident, even as he relents; as if rewarding you, his hands grope at the garments covering your breasts.  Even if your audience cannot see Nabriales, they can certainly see everything he does to your body, the way you squirm under his every ministration, crushed between his weight and the pillar.  Holding Nabriales’ attentions so thoroughly, even the horrifying thought of capture isn’t enough to dull the passion your arousal – nay, your heart beats faster, slave to your lover’s whim. “I needn’t even act and still I’m gifted with your flesh.”

The irritating Ascian is right – you melt under Nabriales as surely as Saint Shiva under Southern Thanalan’s sun, the final green laming the chocobo. You cannot but give in, not even your utmost control staving off harsh breaths; your pants are muffled as best you can, but the strangled sound clearly betrays them for any near to hear.

“Pleading for me when we’re separated but a sun - you’re fortunate for my devotion; others would not so thoroughly bow to your whims.”  His hands roam down from your breasts to your hips, resting on your undergarments, lips frowning in disapproval as he looks at them, unable to pull them down without removing the outer layer of your clothing; not even Nabriales is foolish enough to lift your raiment before of the world. “Next time I must needs do away with these.  They’re naught but a nuisance.”

“You wouldn’t.” He would; Nabriales makes no casual threatsand that’s what excites you most.

Never mind that he promises a next time.

Gritting your teeth to stop your moans, you are unable to stop squirming as his fingers play at your clit, grinding forward into his hips.  He’s not going to stop, the Scions are not going to stop, you can only give in; Nabriales has won your complete attention.

“The aether flows to somewhere nearby; ‘tis faint, but just strong enough that I can determine its path.” Moenbryda’s voice pierces you, the manipulation in the flow of your toy’s aether disruptive and shocking, as if dousing a campfire with ice water.

“Hydaelyn help me.” You plead and curse – Nabriales foremost, but also Yda and Moenbyda for their persistent curiosity and desire to decipher that which should remain unknown.

“She abandons Her sinful child this night. ‘Tis just as well; She has no place between us.”

Nabriales talks too much; you’d sooner his overly active mouth be doing other things – you fiercely push the stray, unwanted thought down, the last vestiges of lust continuing to shroud logic.

“Ah, we’re close!” No, no, no – you can hear Yda’s scrambling footsteps, pulling Moenbryda along with her.

“I’ll see you soon.” He whispers in promise, darkness surrounding him before the Scions round the pillar.  His weight no longer present to support you, you fall to the ground in a weakened, unsatisfied heap, longing for his touch even as the remnants of his aether still remains pulsing between your legs.

“Oh?” Moenbryda and Yda rush to your side, calling your name worriedly.  Moenbryda pulls you from your slump, shouldering your weight as she looks over you quickly, immediately recognizing your condition. “Oh.”

You thank Hydaelyn for Her small blessings; Yda hasn’t noticed, her focus on your health rather than the affliction’s cause, lest the entire hall know from her boisterous declarations.

Without another word, you snatch the object from Moenbryda, manipulating its aether in the way only you and Nabriales know, so that the tingling vibrations over your flesh finally fade.

“Not a word.” Burning and denied, breathless from heavy heartbeats, your tone falls somewhere between a groan and frustrated hiss.

The only words you’ll be having this night are with Nabriales.

Chapter Text

You’ve many memories of the solar – in both Sands and Stones – and rumors speak of nostalgia that fuels frequent visits, of the stoic Warrior of Light’s somber reminiscences inside.

They’re not wrong – you are prone to such things – but your visits to the solar are neither for reminiscence nor somber tidings.

“Unukalhai?” Receiving no answer, you hesitantly push the door to the silent room open. He must be there, if nothing else about Unukalhai is predictable, his constant presence at the desk remains welcoming - as are his warm greetings; that Unukalhai remains silent forebodes only ill.

Seemingly enthralled by the pile of parchment on the desk, Unukalhai writes with fervor. He claims to record your deeds against the Triad, but with the intensity of his focus and no member of the remaining Triad yet stirring, you cannot but ponder his true purpose.

Shrouded even in his transparency - ‘twould not be Unukalhai otherwise.

The sound of the door closing finally rouses him; Unukalhai belatedly lifts his head, greeting you with the same serenity he always bears. You curse his mask for the protection it affords him, hiding the truth of his distractions and endeavors. Knowing well enough the challenge of burying emotions in the midst of responsibility, you will have none of his feigned bravado. “What troubles you?”

“I am not unwell.” Is his immediate and smooth response. ‘Tis not a lie, exactly, but small half-truths are Unukalhai’s evasions, his avoidance eased by offering only morsels of his knowledge – just enough to sate your curiosity, but little more than tease at the insight his enigmatic and versed master imparts unto him.

You know him well enough now – and he you - that you will not be so easy distracted by his games. You instead say nothing, offering only a firmly disapproving frown.

The result is satisfactory; Unukalhai sighs and relents, recognizing your determination and knowing to pick his battles.

“I lament our parting.” His unexpected declaration contains well-hidden emotion; the mutually unexpected feelings of longing and comfort, seeking the sense of ease after a trying battle, of a warm hearth in the storming Coerthas, are within him as much as they are you.  Unukalhai holds his conflicts close to heart; he never expected to share his secrets and you never expected the intensity of your desire to soothe.

“You’re one of us now.” They words have none of their intended effect and his shoulders tense with practiced subtlety, flinching away from you as if burned.  He may trust and care for you, but he fears believing in you – a justified fear.  “I won’t let it happen again.” You lost your companions and friends at Ul’Dah – he lost his land, everything dear to him, and almost his life.  “I’ll protect you.”  - and Hydaelyn both, so that Unukalhai need not suffer again, so that all will be saved.

“Would that – “  He falls senselessly silent. Refusing to put words to his dilemma, Unukalhai’s fragility reveals itself, breaking his unnatural calmness.

“You’ll always be with me –“ You interrupt, refusing to succumb to pessimism; if he will not trust in himself, he must believe in you. You must remain steady for his sake; you will not permit his delicate heart to break again. “- my star.” He dares not disagree, not when you so earnestly plead with the murmur of his pet name.

Unukalhai always has the right words, smooth gentle whispers weaving fanciful tales you might not believe otherwise; your skills are elsewhere. As Her chosen, your Light offers strength and shielding security; you will gift him everything within your power, as you know he would for you, no matter his claims otherwise.

Unukalhai’s hands fall onto his lap, head lowered in thought - more vulnerable than moments before, but also more malleable. Your words pierce age-worn armor, devotion undeniable.

It takes him uncommonly long to regain his composure, but when he does, his voice is just as soft and pleasant as always, his shields restored. “I cannot always be at your side.”  His tone is firm, lacking all earlier regret, having seemingly made a decision. “For the times I am unable, I still wish to aid you - ”

Before you can interrupt with another scolding, Unukalhai leans down, fiddling with the floor under the desk like a bored child attending an undesirable lecture. What he brings forth from its hiding spot is even more surprising, revealing further unexplored depths.

Unukalhai is small, but the object he holds is far tinier; he lifts it across the table in both hands, motioning for you to take it.

‘Tis a tiny mammet, lacking adornment and garbed in plan white, easily recognizable for the one it is intended to emulate.  Unukalhai offers you a nod, doubtless smiling shyly behind the mask he continues to don.  Its tiny head tilts as it examines you, imprinting your visage onto its mammet heart as much as Unukalhai has imprinted onto yours.

It quickly satisfies itself and grasps at your arm in gentle embrace, holding tightly, refusing to be parted from its new master, expressing with its artificial body all of the emotions that Unukalhai desperately wishes to hide. 

He must have made the soft thing himself; wise beyond his apparent years, Unukalhai writes, is skilled in the magicks, knows more of history than anyone you know – including the Scions – is Gifted, and now he reveals himself to be a skilled craftsman as well.

The little creature pulses with energy – not the faint aetheric aura from a normal mammet or its heart, but that of a powerful crystal, much like Hydaelyn’s crystals of Light, revealing the sense in his words. Too fragile to grant aid directly, the mammet can still regenerate your strength, Unukalhai aiding you even when you are apart.

For something so precious, it is a remarkably pragmatic gift.

Very much like Unukalhai himself.

You clutch the treasure to your chest softly, not caring to hide the smile that tugs at your lips; you will keep your word – Unukalhai will always remain by your side, both partner and mammet companion. 

“- So that fate can be defied.” Unukalhai finally finishes his declaration when he sees your comforting smile. 

“Fate will be defied.” You correct under your breath as your finger the precious gift’s plain, yet exquisitely modeled mask.

You will protect this – protect him.

You must.

Chapter Text

“The dawn rises in your stead, Bringer of Light.” A harsh, unexpected voice shatters the serene placidity of sleep, interrupting rare moments of self-indulgence in the warm confines of your chambers, sheltered from the night’s wailing blizzard.

Alert from the disruption, your heart races, body instinctively tense in preparation for a desperate struggle – but slows equally quickly as rationality subdues irrational instincts.

She sits at your side in the dark room; the only hint of dawn peeking in from under the curtain does nothing to reveal the stranger’s features, yet ‘tis Igeyorhm with certainty. The caress of her hand over your scalp, tangling through your hair – a normal, if possessive, gesture of calming affection - slows your breaths and confirms your suspicions.

“How long have you been watching me?” You force yourself into wakefulness, the pounding in your head refusing to recede until you lay back down at her side, giving into her gentle ministrations, allowing distraction by the pleasant shivers that course your flesh. Hers is not an unwelcome presence, but she rarely intrudes upon your private quarters without invitation, let alone so early in the day – if her kind even are even bound to the concepts of early and late, the Aetherial Rift and Void seemingly timeless.

Not unexpectedly, she avoids answering; Ascians are nothing if not predictable, in their own way, ambiguity and evasion habitually dictating their behavior, even whilst demonstrating intimate familiarity.

Igeyorhm has no intention of allowing your return to sleep, her hands drifting to your shoulders, preventing you from rising or turning away.

“Good morrow.” Breathy and flirty, her lips upturn, visible behind her mask’s tip even when illuminated by only a sliver of the palest dawn light.

Instinctively tense at Igeyorhm’s worrisome smirk, your fears prove well founded when she leans over you, further reveling in her success:  your complete attention and focus on her whims.  ‘Tis clear Igeyorhm enjoys the power she wields; she removes her mask with deliberate nonchalance, placing it on the bed beside you and making certain you know of its presence, as if claiming the chamber for herself.

Her intent is as obscured as her features in the early morning’s blackness, even as she lowers her face to yours. Igeyorhm’s tongue flicks over your lips before meeting them, teasing the roof of your mouth with a feathery tickle until her kisses turn into slow sucks that make their way lazily down your neck, tiny shivery bumps forming over bare flesh in their wake.  She tastes of Galago mint, the smell overpowering as thick oil covers your lips in numbing chill, scent residual on your flesh, remnants of Igeyorhm as much as the thin coat of saliva from her tongue’s trail.

“Lipstick?” Distracted by soft lips, you question the revelation with a confused murmur.

For a brief moment, Igeyorhm hesitates, her mouth lingering over your collarbone before lifting her head to meet your gaze. “Is that so unexpected?”

Yes – you wisely hold your peace.  She’s Ascian; such a menial behavior seems below the undying ones. They are so foreign, bearing identical raiments with equally identical forms – even their servants wear the patterns of their master – ‘tis surreal that Igeyorhm pays heed to something so mundane as beauty. The rationale is impossible to put to words; she has never seemed to care how she appeared to you.

“I see.” Igeyorhm seems surprised at your impression of her, lips pursing.  At her hesitation, you push yourself up, sitting beside her; Igeyorhm’s arms encircle your back, playing softly at its lower crook with her fingertips as she holds you close, face so near yours that the mint of her lipstick almost overwhelms. “Lahabrea commands your perception. I must needs free you from his influence.”

Igeyorhm speaks cryptic nonsense, as Ascians are wont to do, but there is assuredness in her words, the absolute arrogance you’ve come to expect from her kind – she plans, constricting you ever deeper within her coils.

Briefly pausing to rest a hand on your cheek, she continues. “Learn all of me, with eyes unclouded.”

Igeyorhm lowers your eyelids with delicate fingers before running the tips down your face and over your lips, stroking the nape of your neck and forearms until electric shivery tingles pool within, body already pleading for hastened touch. “Allow not the simulacrum to deceive; I am as woman as you.”

She guides your hands over the curve of her thighs and hips, covered doubly in thin trousers and her robe, but still pronounced enough to recognize. Not so toned as an adventurer, Igeyorhm shows only agelessness, body supple and pleasant to the touch; your hands roam her stomach and up to unbound breasts – easily large enough to be seen under her robes, yet somehow remain hidden from sight – cupping them in massage, kneading and playing at her nipples until they harden under shared ministrations, gifting subdued, rapid breaths and a slight shiver as her hands clench yours, hips pressing into you.

Igeyorhm lowers your weight back to the bed, tugging off your nightclothes with ease, her mouth again finding your neck; what remains of the oil from her lipstick trails over your chest as she turns her attention to your nipples, soft, warm tongue rolling its tip around them as she sucks, her hand working the waistband of your undergarments. The morning-chilled metal of her gloves play at your abdomen and spreads warm pangs of yearning delight through you, wetness no longer constrained by disruptive clothing.

With closed lids, you know not where or how to start removing her layers of adornments, but when she releases you temporarily and a quiet shuffle sounds from above, you assume she removes them on her own.

The back of your mind briefly ponders on if Igeyorhm’s robes are as much aether as she is, but the thought is quickly cast aside as one of her hands – the softness of flesh rather than the harsher material of her glove - returns to you and she slips a finger between your thighs into warm, slick folds, drawing slow, nonsensical patterns between them as it slides easily through you. The pulsing glow in your abdomen constricts your hips into her, clit’s pound pleading for her to rub harder; she continues her light toying until your heart’s beat is all that sounds in your ears and you’re left breathless.

Unbidden, your eyes open to look to your partner – to be greeted only by darkness, be it the room’s or the shade of Igeyorhm, or perhaps both.

“Succumb not to unruly haste.” Her seemingly sourceless voice scolds, breathy and close to your lips, yet quiet enough that she might well whisper into your ear. The icy scent of smeared lipstick fills your nostrils, becoming synonymous with Igeyorhm.

Partly from curiosity and entirely out of desire for her to continue, you oblige Igeyorhm’s whim, closing your eyes again and losing yourself in how invisible hands roam back up to your breasts, tracing your areolas one by one, rolling the tips of your nipples between her fingers until heat floods down your chest to your core at their bud.

Continuing exploration, her fingers roam over toned shoulders, fluttering against thin flesh of your inner arm and thighs, only increasing your heart’s pound and amplifying the persistent warmth in your abdomen.

“Such power - ” Igeyorhm reverts to her native language, making no effort to speak your Eorzean tongue, intent received more than the words themselves – intent that reveals how she revels in the control she possesses. Her breaths are heavy in lust-filled satisfaction and unrestrained hunger as she lowers the full of her weight to you; her hands lead yours down and down until you’ve access to her most sensitive regions, running digits over her clit through wet folds as she did yours, massaging its bud in a circular motion, fingers slicked from her juices. Small tremors wrack her form at your ministrations, pants becoming breathy moans as your rubbing becoming more fervent – a reaction so very Spoken, despite Igeyorhm being so very alien, response as alluring as it is surprising “- blossoming independent its master.  My Bringer of Light.”

Igeyorhm toys with your title, short and flirty words interrupted by harsh breaths and her tongue’s flit at the roof of your mouth, somehow a mix between satisfied, possessive lust and disdain that she cannot claim the whole of you. 

Her touch seeks all the more as Igeyorhm presses soft breasts against yours; her body rolls up and down like a wave, your pleasure with it, budding from your belly to the tips of your fingers and toes, peaking at the tips of your nipples and swelling through your breasts.  The thin hairs on her mound meet yours, her slickness spreading as she rocks atop you, focusing on the shared heat of your clits, grinding into it with all her weight. Tingles deepen further towards your core as her hands massage both your breasts and hers simultaneously, hard buds meeting and working mutual pleasure as much as any fingers roaming an areola might, slickness turning to hot, pulsing wetness, your mouth opening in heavy panting at your heart’s erratic beats.

Instinctively, aroused by Igeyorhm’s satisfied moans, your eyes snap open, meeting deep blue, almost impossible to perceive in the barest morning light; exposed and vulnerable for the first time, as if she sheds her remaining armor alongside her robes, the individual, Igeyorhm, no longer Ascian, faces you.  Dark, tussled and falls over you like a sheet, the remains of pink lipstick tinting kiss-swollen lips, and a pale blush of arousal the only mark on unblemished cheeks.

“You penetrate the veil with such ease.” She murmurs more Ascian nonsense against your lips between kisses, not hesitating for a moment, her voice harsh but a pleasing and sensual purr in its praise. “I will be by your side as you grow all the more in your Gift.”

She smiles – an anticipatory smirk, more truly – in elusive promise and with unexpected strength rolls you both to the side.  Holding your hands in hers, Igeyorhm again leads you to her clit; soaking your middle finger as you push into it and through the folds, you massage the hot, swollen bud. She does the same to you, your slickness allowing ease of movement, burning, pounding at her touch, sharp pangs of pleasure sending electric waves of constriction through your form; legs coil, grinding against her fingers as she presses more fervently – and you against her, the swell of her clit under your ministrations gifting you pants that block out all other sound, until you both know nothing save the euphoria of pleasure. The world spins about as pulsing waves flood from your abdomen to every crevice of your body; arching your back with a final gasp, you collapse mindlessly on the bed as Igeyorhm finishes beside you, her breaths equally frantic before falling into subdued satisfaction.

“My Slayer of Gods - ” She gasps lightly into your ear, but stops herself before she continues the husky, affectionate claim, choosing instead to pull you close.

Igeyorhm is bliss, the feel of the warmth of her body, soft breasts against yours, tangled hair intermingling, the scent of mint in your nostrils, offers serenity that even sleep cannot bring.  As the morning light finally passes the horizon, illuminating your resting forms, it becomes clear that even the Shadowless are blessed by the beauty of the dawn.

Chapter Text

“We want another!”

The impassioned pleas are barely audible behind gasps of shock and excited screeches at your declaration of final victory over the foul beast, the children’s vibrant imaginations bringing your tale to life.

Enduring their more persistent demands remains yet worth your while, the reward of bright smiles and warm laughter dispelling the shadows that rest upon your shoulders, an unconditional affection that is a welcome reprieve from the burdens of responsibility.

Naturally, your extended time with an unknown party draws curious visitors. Seeking you out in worry more than suspicion, the persistent tug of familiar aether just outside the room is impossible to ignore.

Though Elidibus’ arrival is unexpected, simple consideration reveals your folly; his desire to promptly begin your private affairs on this most special of nights draws him out when at any other time he would exhibit the most tolerant of patience.

Elidibus’ foreign presence might well be a spell for all the ease it silences the children; a mysterious man clad in red and white, appearing seemingly miraculously in the doorway as silent as the snowfall throughout Ul’Dah’s abandoned night streets, in their imaginative minds ‘tis one of your tales come to life. In almost choreographed unison the children rush over to the newcomer, pleading with questions best left unanswered.

“Who are you?!”

“How did you come in without anyone seeing?”

“Are you one of the Saint’s Helpers?”

“I am Elidibus.” At a glance he seems amused, but you know otherwise. Elidibus remains yet unreadable, the passive pleasantness his default state with strangers, so that they lower their guard and reveal that which is unintended to be shared. Thank all the Gods he chooses not to elaborate.

“What a strange name.” A particularly bold child declares, heading a new flurry of questions about his identity.

“Children.” You futilely try for distraction, Elidibus’ tolerance of mortal children entirely unknown. “Why don’t I tell you about –“

“We want a story from him!” They interrupt; the decision is made, heads bobbing in unanimous agreement. How quickly the tides turn when someone seemingly more interesting comes along, a child’s attention as fickle as the wind.

You close your eyes, pleading to Hydaelyn for whatever mercy She might offer.

 “Very well.” Elidibus agrees with unexpected ease; your gaze snaps to him, but all Elidibus reveals is the slightest smile as he motions the children to silence.

With bated breath they wait, rocking back and forth on their heels, Elidibus thoroughly magnetic in the power he bears with his placid demeanor, strange mannerisms, and skills as Emissary.

When Elidibus finally speaks, his voice barely over the hearth’s crackle, it is in a strange melody, as if the lyrics were never intended for Eorzean.

“'Ware not the Void of night,

Your Mother shines yet so bright;

Fuss not over the Father's absence,

Soon is the time for advents;

Light and Dark do guardians stir,

In Blessed unity do boundaries blur.”

“Elidibus. . .” The poem seems innocent enough; in an alluring cadence that puts minstrels to shame, to the Eorzean commoner it might well represent some form of comfort, perhaps even a romantic tale to the more imaginative.

 You know better.

“Guardians!” Expectedly, that line excites them most.  “You’re the Guardian of Light!”

Unfortunately, children will be children; with the naïveté of youth comes inappropriate observations.

“What’s a Void?”

“What is ad-vence?”

Unity? Are you going to be Eternally Bonded?”

Elidibus’ composure never once falters, even as the pit of your stomach drops, and he serenely absorbs the questions.

“What does this mean?” A particularly small boy asks, tracing the decorative pattern adorning pale robes, oblivious to the true nature of the individual before him.

“Mine are the robes of an Emissary.” He explains, as he once did to Minfilia, seemingly amused at the boy’s boldness.

“Emm-issary?”

“It means –“ Your attempts at distraction go ignored, the children continuing their barrage of questions in an explosion of curiosity. So rapid are their demands that you are no longer certain of the topic – Where is Elidibus from? What’s it like working for the Saint? Is he a Guardian of Light?

Elidibus offers only the most tempting of silence, a promise of secrets that he is yet unwilling to relinquish.

“You’ve already disrupted his work enough, don’t you think?” You interject during a brief lull in the excitement, their enthusiasm dulled nary a bit by Elidibus’ reticence. Contrarily, it only enhances their willful desire to learn more about the mysterious individual and the tales he weaves.

“But if he keeps his face covered, he must be hiding something.” A particularly rambunctious girl disagrees from the center of the crowd, her peers nodding sagely in agreement.

She’s not wrong.

“I bet he’s the Saint of Nymeia himself!”

Further mediation falls upon deaf ears, the children having made their decision about the stranger, anticipatory excitement of the night clouding their already-youthful judgement.

Elidibus is unreadable as he meets your gaze, masked features and gentle smile as enigmatic as ever. Even has he gently pushes his way through the clinging children, he shows no disapproval, warm candlelight softening his features and smoothing his robes until they all but glow.

‘Twould be unsurprising if he took your hand at any other time, but before these children and the other Helpers, the display causes an embarrassed flutter in your stomach sends a rush of warmth from your face to the tips of your toes.

The surrounding children only screech louder in excitement, pointing excitedly and clapping in glee.

The open affection does not seem to have such an effect on Elidibus as he pulls you close, gently guiding you towards the exit and the freedom of Hustings Strip.

“That’s enough teasing the Saint’s Helpers, children.” Mercifully, one attendant interrupts the children swarming you, corralling them with the ease a wolf might a herd of aldgoats. “’Tis time for supper. Leave them to their duties, they’ve others to share gifts with.”

You offer a comforting smile at their collective groan, an unspoken promise to return with more tales on the morrow, and silently thank the attendant for her aid as you sneak into the peace of snow-chilled streets.

“You seemed to be enjoying yourself.” If Elidibus is irritated by the temporary distraction, he doesn’t show it.

“It’s easy to lose track of time when your listeners are so passionate about your tales.” He nods knowingly, his tales of the fantastic feats of the past often extending deep into the night. “Come, we’ve a supper to attend.”

Fingers twined, cool metal warming at your prolonged touch, you make your way through the Strip together. Fresh snow falls from the sky in a gentle dance, the lights of seasonal décor all that illuminate the Milvaneth Sacrarium so deep into the evening, and the fountain’s gentle drip and the crunch of your footsteps on fallen snow the only sounds that taint cloud-muffled silence.

Breaths emphasized by the season’s chill bite, you pull Elidibus forward so that you might sooner reach shelter.

After traveling the battlements of Dragonhead, you should know better, but when you realize the mistake of your haste, ‘tis far too late, the ice-slicked streets have already have you in their grasp.

Eorzea spins about you, weight shifting out of control until you instinctively grasp out at the nearest object in attempt to prevent your fall -

Which happens to be Elidibus.

Even his weight does little to stop you, the momentum from your fall too great and you instead drag him along with you, landing unceremoniously under him with a muffled thud in the depths of a fresh snow pile.

“Elidibus. . .” The rest of Hydaelyn might well be nonexistent for all he commands your attention, the warmth of his robes nullifying any thoughts of the snow’s chill, his mask all but grazing your cheek, his lips nary and ilm above yours, cowl blocking out what little light the moon might yet provide.

The rumble of Elidibus’ chuckle is the last thing you hear as he eliminates what little space exists between you, a sprig of stray mistletoe visible for the briefest of moments hanging on the fountain beside you.

Chapter Text

You know where she is.

Even feigning ignorance of Igeyorhm’s habits, a simple query through the Pillars is more than enough to overhear whispers of her presence. Man in black, Ishgardians murmur under hushed breaths, as if they might be observed by some greater force, but know little else save where the mysterious individual was last seen. 

A familiar tale – one that has previously led you on many a futile search.  This time, however, you recognize the truth in their words.

The bell grows late; nobility trickles through the halls of Saint Reymanaud’s cathedral, hastily returning through Ishgard’s biting winds and icy stone to their homes for an evening of celebration and introspection.  In their wake, members of the clergy file through passages with practiced ease, lighting candelabra so that the Fury might be illuminated throughout the night.

Attempts at subtlety prove futile as the ancient doors mark your entry, screeching against cold marble floors. Footfall echoes through the empty chapel, drowning out distant, reverent hymns and the growing wind’s wail. If there are any remaining doubts that the room’s occupants know of your presence, they would surely be assuaged at the door’s slam, seemingly leaving you alone in the chamber where the man in black was last seen.

Circling around Her Fury’s statue, just beyond the view of the pews, you find her. Barely illuminated by the pale blue of ancient stained glass, head lowered and hands grasped before her, Igeyorhm faces away from Halone’s visage with startlingly blatant disregard.

As if locked within a world of her own making, if Igeyorhm heeds your approach she shows no sign of it, her gaze fixed upon the floor.

‘Tis a strangely private moment, Igeyorhm displaying a vulnerability never meant to be witnessed.

You call softly, as if raising your voice would shatter her unnatural serenity. “No fondness for festivities?”

Igeyorhm finally raises her gaze – to the stars, rather than to you; shielded as she is behind her mask, her emotions are unreadable, but there is tenseness in her bearing and she makes no attempt to grasp your hand in the shy, welcoming touch she enjoys most.  Uncertainty flickers through your breast at her apathy and you cannot but smile in hopes of shrouding your worry.

“This ‘celebration’ disguises itself as day of memories – of spreading joy to others so that they might forget sin and suffering; ‘tis naught but petty delusions intended to minimize guilt.”  Rarely is Igeyorhm so bitter, though her tone shifts rapidly to regret.  “Not all folly is meant to be forgotten; not all suffering has an end.”

“That’s not all the Starlight Celebration about.” Taken aback, you instinctively deny her; the Starlight Celebration represents ephemerality in a way that is antithetical to the eternity of Ascian existence, yet still you attempt elaboration, the warm swell of memories born of children's smiles and laughter your guide. “It celebrates present and future both, embracing what we have and are yet to obtain.”

“And makes mockery of those with nothing.” Her gaze does not stray, her manner unflinching.

“Then we must help those believing they have nothing discover what is important.” You shake your head, recognizing the futility of such arguments.  Darkness spills from Igeyorhm in this place; a change of scenery would do well to soothe her anguish. ‘Tis just as well; you’ve yet to divulge the purpose for which you came. “Are there places you’re fond of?”

In Igeyorhm’s silence, the choral hymn reaches its crescendo, yet it might well be the buzzing of a vilekin.  “Gone. If not by my hand than by my deeds. On this day, so very long ago. . .”

Lips tight, revealing the slightest weakness only to the most trained eye, Igeyorhm's vulnerability is exposed; in willfulness granted from agelessness, she shows no intention of straying from her dour course, fully intent on continuing to wallow in her darkness and shame.

Hope of comforting pain borne so deeply with words is naught but delusion.

Yet, there is senselessness in her brooding; Igeyorhm would not hesitate to initiate the Rejoining, why bear such regret?

In the distance, the formal song stills and night falls leaving only flickering, candlelit darkness; all that is within your power is the offer of succor, moving closer to Igeyorhm and grasping her hand so that you might soothe her with your presence. 

Only you can demonstrate Igeyorhm’s folly; no longer must she bear her burdens alone.

Releasing her limp grasp, you run a hand up the silken black of her robes and rest it upon her forearm. Igeyorhm makes no effort to dismiss your touch, acceptance as much of an invitation to continue as she’ll give.

With care befitting her role, you push down her hood and remove her mask, holding it to your breast. Her features reveal themselves; lips unpainted and eyes downcast, Igeyorhm is absent of familiar curiosity and confidence.

No matter how odd it might be to present a gift in this place, you know not how else to soothe her, save care and affection. This Starlight, Igeyorhm, too, will celebrate present and future-

- And accept that she possesses far more than nothing.

Keeping her mask close, you lift the tiny box from your sack, gesturing for Igeyorhm to claim it.

“I brought you a gift.”  Barely readable beyond her cool exterior, something unknowable flits across her features as she finally turns to you and lifts the high quality hardsilver earrings from their place on black velveteen. “The Star Sapphire matches your hair.  I wasn’t sure what you might see fit to use but…”

Trailing off in awkwardness, you press your lips together as her piercing stare turns its attentions towards your gift.

Seconds and bells indistinguishable, heavy heartbeats drown out the world; stress’s burden presses heavily upon your shoulders as the tips of her fingers play at custom-crafted metal, delicate and precise.  When she finally meets your eyes, the first traces of a smile grace Igeyorhm’s features.

“’Bringer of Light,’ indeed.”

Chapter Text

Naught but the faintest illumination sneaks through heavy curtains, the slightest of the new moon’s rays seemingly hesitant to encroach the window’s frame.

‘Tis a dream, your mind thrums warnings in time with your heart’s beat, denying the shrouded visage as another despairing delusion.

A wicked fantasy summoning the shade fate allowed you to mourn only in the darkest depths of solitude – a shadow you dared not hope to see again.

Not even Gods themselves have the strength to answer this prayer.

As if he might disappear like an ephemeral ghost, you hesitate to even blink, vision blurring with each passing moment, purple melding into black, stained with red as deep as blood.

Will can only keep your gaze focused for so long, your body’s betrayal an inevitability.

Yet even as your sight flashes black –

Once, twice, thrice –

- Death’s shade remains at your side, masked gaze unwavering.

“La -” Hesitant to breathe his name for fear that he’ll not respond, you rise.

Devoid of your reticence, he speaks in your place, the briefest wisp of amusement underlying harsh mannerisms.  Lacking gentleness, a stranger might think him crude; that he uses neither title nor slur is proof enough of his affections.

Your name on his tongue is enough to spur you into action, feet moving without your consent, guiding you to his side.

With trembling fingers you reach out, half expecting that they’ll pass through naught but aetherical remnants.

Silken robes cover a thoroughly solid form; breath hitches in your lungs as cautious fingers roam up, exploring familiar aether-made-flesh.

The fates decreed his end at Thordan’s hand, yet, somehow, after a silent, impossible recovery, for the first time in moons Lahabrea stands before you, whole.

Gods, how you’ve dreamt of this moment, even if only while indulging brief flickers of fantastical hope born of desperation.

Nay – no Gods would dare offer this gift; there is no hope to be found in an Ascian.

His flesh bears no scars, Lahabrea’s soul as familiar as the day he fell to your hand; the feel of him reignites the seemingly lost remains of essence permanently etched within you, soaring through your veins, singing in ephemeral, euphoric satisfaction.

So near, you know him – as he knows you.  Through the Gift do barriers fall, minds bound and memories conflated.

Lahabrea’s rage as he fell, betrayed by his ally, your despair as he faded to nothingness.

There’s much you’d like to say – nay, there’s much that must needs to be said after – after -

- you had been so angry at him, then, but ‘twas a fleeting rage, long faded to ash.  Yours were the unreasonable expectations, Lahabrea spoke no lies and made no promises.

But answers are not what he searches for.  The aether coursing Lahabrea’s flesh swirls in impatience, awaiting something he refuses to put to words.

How very like him.

A smile unconsciously graces your lips, the weight of reunion’s happiness finally, painfully falling onto your shoulders.  Closing the remaining distance, you clutch at him, burying your face in all that is Lahabrea.

Solid and warm.  Passionate and Dark.  Smooth and Chaotic.  A presence you’d recognize from the far end of the star.

So near to you, contact sends warm tingles down your arm, spreading from your breast to your toes like ink spilled over parchment.   Memories sealed away in despair return immediately as fingers brush cool metallic adornments, your abdomen rolling and heart pounding as he permits you to learn him once more.

His warmth fills you, mending a ruined heart.  With Lahabrea returned to your side, you know not how you’ve tolerated his distance for so long.

Mayhap you’ve not; a Warrior, naught more than a half-living husk, bound only by duty, passions refusing to stir within your breast.

“You yet live.  I’ve missed you.” You finally murmur against him; there need be no such words between you, yet the desire to once more hear his voice – in truth, as more than memory – overwhelms rationality.

“I’ll not meet my end by mere mortal betrayal.” He bears his loathing so deeply, even in moments of peace. 

You hated Thordan equally in that moment; mayhap you cursed him even more than Lahabrea during the moons following his fall.

As if a catalyst, the words spur him to action; for the first time since his return, his arms surround you, returning your embrace.  Roaming your back in languid trails, it finally comes to rest on your neck, shielding bare flesh from the night’s chill.

“Ne’er will it happen again.”

You’ve no opportunity to grasp the words; red drowns your vision, body failing and refusing to heed your bidding. Panic swells, your heart racing as confusion overcomes rationality; yet with each rapid thump, your lungs more quickly fill with liquid and your organs burn, deprived of life-giving strength.

Unable to bear your weight, you collapse onto warmth, each breath a retching spasm in your chest. More gurgle than gasp, your mouth fills, but you’ve not the strength to spit the fluid out, leaving it to instead dribble down your chin and onto Lahabrea’s black robes.

 “What. . .?” You attempt question, but you’ve no air to put voice to the words; unintelligible, half-swallowed hacks are produced in their place.

Limply gasping in warm embrace, lured by the siren's call of blackness by deft fingers running over your scalp, the only sound that penetrates the pulse echoing through your body is his soft voice.  Far less harsh than you’ve ever known, words are lost upon you, his meaning and intent well beyond your comprehension.

Lahabrea is the last you know as the final flickers of light fade to endless darkness.

-

A trickle languidly stirs you from peaceful respite in a backwards reality where dreams are whole and memories fragment upon awakening.  Like grains of sand washing back and forth with the tide, images of your essence come and go, eluding your grasp unless focused on.  Who you are comes first, at its side a name just as important as yours – Lahabrea.

Your age, your history, your occupation, your family, your essence itself slowly, ever so slowly, fits together as pieces in a distant painting.

Only once your mind is set to rights are the depths of your plight unburied; your surroundings are unlike any you’ve never known.

Stillness. Nothingness.

Cold, invulnerable safety entombs you.

Distant awareness dictates the birth of fear, but 'tis easily pushed away, replaced instead with comfort; you could ask for naught more as weariness overcomes newfound completion and you again succumb to slumber.

With warmth, comes awakening; instinctively you tear yourself from your prison into freedom.

The heat tugs at you, speeding your thoughts. No longer floaty, with alertness comes the clearing of hazy drowsiness; the impatience of life only amplifies growing disgust at the appallingly unnatural stillness of your surroundings.

‘Tis nothing.

Yet such nothingness contains everything, a completeness absent even when facing Hydaelyn Herself in the aethereal sea.

The strange grey plane is so whole, a true union of Light and Dark, that as a living soul you might well be foreign entity – a drop of miscolored dye on a pale dress, a stain in otherwise flawless tapestry.  An intruder to be eliminated. There exists no Lifestream to dance about you, nor is there the nothingness of the void, an absence of aether so utter that every breath is ragged and your strength fades from your grasp almost as soon as you build it.

You do not belong; at your acknowledgement of simple truth, the oppressive plane swirls at your feet, its burning, infinite prickle crawling your legs and thighs, slicking your belly and arms.  Without menace does the plane attempt to devour its threat. A sourceless wind tumbles your hair, searching flesh and soul for vulnerability.  With each inhale, unseen claws rend your flesh, preventing your movement; with each exhale their weight presses into fragile, reconstructed essence in attempt to burn infection away.

“It’s time.” A voice – his voice, you know it as well as your own – turns your attention from the growing peril. 'Tis impossible to do otherwise; his dark aether curls around you like a salve, confounding the dissipation and warding off the plane’s oppressive corrosion.  Lahabrea is assured, no matter the forces challenging him, even if he must oppose reality itself; ‘tis easy to understand how he inspires confidence in his followers when it flourishes in you all the same.

“Where. . .?” The succor he grants allows panicked breath to right itself in your lungs once more.  What happened?

Lahabrea's dying roar – moons of despair and depression – and then the briefest elation washing it all away.  After that, nothing.

“I’ve set things to rights.”  His dire explanation – how long have you remained in a subdued state of nonexistence? – proves displeasing.  As is often the case when he chooses to revel in mystery, confusion settles in place of understanding.  After so long, you’re certain he favors it this way.  “Do not look so aghast, I’ve not interfered the mortals you hold so dear.  I speak of us.”

That is the Lahabrea you know – explaining away misconceptions, especially when you've no wish to hear his truths; his dismissal of your worries blossoms warmth at the familiarity.

“All souls are born of the same source, no matter their star or purpose.” Lahabrea weaves his tale; with each word he steps nearer, and with each step the storm of grey not only stills, but loosens its grasp, falling away upon its own will, as if recognizing you're no threat with the darkness at your side.

“Do our natures continue to trouble you?” After all this time he still fusses over your differences?

“As much as they trouble you.” Irritated at the interruption, he snaps in defiant and undeniable condemnation.   But so satisfied is Lahabrea that he immediately fades back to neutrality, standing near enough that his warmth melts away the last tingling remnants of the plane's defense and commands your full attention.  “My duty is to eliminate the wrongness infecting the current order. And I have done so, that we might remain together.”

That explains nothing and you cannot but tense at the implications.  Lahabrea claims Hydaelyn is the source of wrongness; if he has proceeded with Calamity while you were unable to interfere - “You –“

Unfazed by budding anger, Lahabrea grasps your hand. “Let us return.  The preparations are finally complete.”

At immortal’s whim, the blackness replaces grey, clawing into your body and rending it unto aether, devouring you before you can question him further.

--

Expecting the unexpected proved an inevitable lesson as you grew into your role as Scion, but, in a rare display of fortune, the Gods are kind; this time, yours is a normal awakening.

Or mayhap such peace is unexpected in itself.

Devoid of fragments and prisons, warmth and humidity greet you, a faint glow illuminating the darkness in place of the cold moon’s rays. Rather than the sour bite of dirt or evergreens, the scent of incense fills the air.

A cursory glance at your surroundings offers little elaboration; sepia stone and candlelight are the only evidence of your location.

You head pounds as you search your memories. Lahabrea returned to you and then – and then

Endless grey.

Further attempts prove as fruitless as the first; only Lahabrea knows how you ended up in this place.  Instead of forcing yourself into the impossible, you opt for action, pushing yourself up from your resting position. Slow and cautious as you might be, you barely hold onto fragile balance, head spinning and stomach flipping as your hands securely meet the soft carpet covering the floor before coming to rest upon silken finery of the purest white.

You’ve never owned clothes like these, they’re almost like –

Your name, spoken firmly and brooking no nonsense, interrupts rumination. Lahabrea’s presence comes as little surprise; beside foolishly subtle promises with unknown implications, ‘twas he who uncharacteristically declared his intent to remain together.  Yet you were wrong to doubt; Hydaelyn exhibits no aetherical instability. No Calamity occurred during your amnesic period, Eorzea remains whole.

He stands above you, features unreadable, shrouded as they are; mayhap because it’s been so long, but his demeanor is equally cryptic – lighter, perhaps, than you’ve known previous, as if relieved of a burden long weighing upon him.

Steeling yourself for the inevitable dizziness, you will stiff muscles into action, lifting yourself from the floor so that you might stand once again at his side.

Slowly your wobbles steady, focusing your attention on your surroundings as you reacquaint yourself with motion.

Darkness is tinted red from candlelight's flicker against stone walls, fresh flowers and unworn tallow decorating a lone tomb, its new occupant resting eternally in the sacrarium’s depths.

Turning to Lahabrea for answers, the depths of your disorientation become clear. Even at a normal speed, Lahabrea acts far more quickly than you can keep up with; vision swimming and head spinning, you try to move in time with him, but drowsy and unresponsive muscles refuse to heed your commands. Lahabrea finds your back easily, holding your shoulder as his hands slip around your neck in a precise, fluid motion – only to leave an instant later. Instinctively, your fingers reach towards your neck, revealing the truth of his intentions; a light cool weight rests against bare flesh. A strange gift; in his wake Lahabrea leaves simple, clear gem, bound by an unadorned chain smithed of unknown metals.

Before you can question him further, Lahabrea turns to leave, motioning for you to follow.

Again you glance around, but the chamber, recently used as evidenced by the regal decor and gifts surrounding the tomb, offers no further explanation to your presence.  You can but trust; after a brief prayer for the unknown departed, you follow a shadow into the night.

Ever do Ascians provide more questions than answers.

Chapter Text

Gridania seems an odd place to hold such a festival.

Bright greens and oranges replace the neutral blues and browns of Mih Khetto’s amphitheatre, gaudy, glowing décor adorning wood and banners, nigh fully concealing their ceremonial designs.  A rising chorus of excited voices overcomes the eve’s chirp of insects and the creek’s trickle, disturbing the night’s harmony.

The conjurers surely take no pleasure in the disruptive nature of All Saints’ Wake, but with eager crowds overflowing in anticipation for the Continental Circus’ newest attraction, stopping such a beloved event might prove more disastrous than permitting the initial wave of excitement so that it might diminish over time.

Word of mouth spreads rapidly, lavishing praise on the manor’s horrors, and All Saints’ Wake is the busiest in recent memory, easily overwhelming the managing Adventurer’s guild.  As is often the case with such seasonal celebrations, your aid was requested to moderate the swelling tide as it reaches its crest.  

As with all light, there exists shadow; morbid whispers spread, decrying the circus’ legitimacy and, despite the repeated foiling of their plans, troublemaking or ‘accidental’ disappearances prove worrisome. In the chaotic festivities, ‘tis clear why the circus’ mischief is successful; the excited onlookers crowd so tightly that you can barely breathe, playful spooks from the guild or circus and seasonal specialty shops providing the ideal opportunity for whisking away an unsuspecting child with the promise of treats and adventure.

Persistent, firm pushes and nimble evasions at last allow you to break free from the swamp of guests, but, dishearteningly, an external view proves just as ineffectual as being trapped inside, with an unbroken mass of backs forming a nigh impenetrable wall around the festivities.

A quick sweep of the area reveals some few weary stragglers on the seats, resting their feet as they sup on their treats . . . and a curious intruder in the far corner of the amphitheatre. From behind a booth, a shadow observes, making no attempt to shroud herself.

Such an endeavor would be pointless; all but the most learned of fairegoers are blind to her presence.

Ringing above even chaos, your heart pounds in your ears; companion though she might be, Igeyorhm’s presence bespeaks Ascian involvement and, no matter your unspoken agreement of neutrality, ruining a holiday celebration cannot be tolerated.

Igeyorhm’s stance reveals a deeply borne disapproval that only slightly diminishes at your approach, her stare fixated on some point in the distance.

“I did not take you for one so easily displeased by festivities.” You tease softly, taking her hand in yours. At a glance, little penetrates Igeyorhm’s intense focus, the slightest tilt of her head being her sole acknowledgement of your arrival, though the return of your grasp proves a satisfying warmth against her indomitable chill.

“My summons went unanswered.  I thought to discover the reason, only to find my servants engaging in some manner of mortal mischief.” Pointedly ignoring the derogatory condemnations of mortality – as if you’ve some choice in the matter! – you follow Igeyorhm’s gaze toward the target of her displeasure: the Impresario of the Continental Circus.  A wordless query for elaboration goes unanswered and she instead releases your hand, lips at last tilting upward.  “’Ware. Outsiders observe, their eyes yet clouded.”

A brief glance at the surrounding fairegoers proves the unfavorable truth of her words, shocked onlookers edging away from the mumbling adventurer seemingly playing with invisible decorations.  

The comfort of her touch is missed as soon as ‘tis gone; with awkwardly wringing hands now firmly resting in your lap, you speak low, hoping the blooming warmth on your cheeks isn’t clear in the night’s shadows. “It was requested that I ensure the Continental Circus causes no harm. They’ll get bored of their games soon enough, just leave it to me.”

There’s some relief in the knowledge that there’s naught truly malicious in the circus’ mischief; you’d sooner not come into conflict with her.  Staying true to your part of the promise, you nod, releasing her hand with a smile, approaching the crowd once more. . .

Only to find Igeyorhm at your back.

“This is my responsibility.” This time she deigns respond to your wordless confusion, knowing you cannot well deny her sympathetic intent, but rare is the event that Ascian involvement eases the burden of your duties.

Normally a calm individual, the Impresario’s demeanor subtly shifts at your approach, uncomfortably focusing on you alone, feigning ignorance of Igeyorhm’s presence.

“I’m told you run the Haunted manor.  We’d like to join the festivities.”

“We?” His disingenuous inquiry proves ineffectual; Igeyorhm crosses her arms over her chest, the weight of her continued glare at last breaking his will, his shoulders visibly slumping.  “Very well.”

A showman through and through, even when the target of his master’s full displeasure the Impresario mumbles an extravagant, highly exaggerated incantation. If naught else, his devotion to his role is commendable.

Without further inconvenience, a specialized portal opens, whisking you and Igeyorhm away through the darkness.  Though seemingly little different from aetheryte-guided teleportation, there are likely fundamental differences caused by the troupe’s fiendish origins that mayhap should be worrisome.  Regardless, those fears are better suited for a later time – or mayhap are best not considered at all.

The haunted manor opens before you; bright décor similar to that found in Gridania hangs from every possible wall in the entryway, the echoing wail of mischievous ghosts enhanced by multiple sets of rapid wingbeats coursing through otherwise-empty halls. Moogles, pumpkins, and bats - they’re all strangely cute for an event intended to incite terror.

Speaking from the shadows and sharing none of the Impresario’s hesitation, the hidden gamemaster boredly recites the rules: you are to discover hints hidden around the manor so that you might learn and input the secret code into a device.

As easy as the assignment is, Igeyorhm already displays little tolerance for such mummery. Soothing an Ascian’s wounded pride remains a rather low priority when there are potential victims that need rescuing; ‘twas her will to follow, after all.

“Please examine the rooms on the ground floor and see what information you can find. I’ll check the upper level and the basement. We’ll meet at the foyer when we’re done to share our discoveries.”

Without awaiting her acquiescence, you make your way up the stairs and into the hall, only to be stopped immediately by Igeyorhm’s snap of disagreement.  

“I’ll not –“ Glancing over the rail, your attention turns to her as she slowly ascends to the foyer, unwilling to raise her voice.

Interrupting what will inevitably be stubborn refusal, a wandering ahriman all but screeches in excitement at the visitors’ lapse in attentiveness; too late do you realize your fool’s mistake, its eager magicks striking true.

“What are you doing?” How you can hear without ears is answerable only by the Gods; reply proves an equal impossibility, for you’ve no tongue to speak.  All attempts at motion without muscles produce naught but the tiniest squirm.  “Is it common for you to laze about when you’ve duties to attend?”

“’Twas an enchantment.” When the magicks finally wear, your tongue is dry and limbs sluggish, but even behind blurred vision and Igeyorhm’s mask you can feel the sharp irritation in her gaze.

“A glamour. One you’d be able to easily resist if you wished to.”

You meet her criticism with equal exasperation; Igeyorhm simply makes no attempt to enjoy the holiday season. “If we want to make it through the haunted manor, we must needs obey their rules.”

“We’ve no need to play their games. We make the rules.”

“Then I should leave it to you to claim the victims?” Igeyorhm’s lips press tightly together; you’ll take such as victory, irrelevantly insignificant as it is.

‘Tis hard to tell how amenable Igeyorhm is to the arrangement with her terse, barely distinct nod, but she has as little choice in the matter as you do if she wishes to foil her servants’ plans so that they might return to her control.

Fully heeding your surroundings – Igeyorhm’s nagging condemnation rings far too truly for comfort -  you explore the rest of the manor without incident, examining the rooms and organizing any hints.  Three are discovered easily, but there’s no sign of the fourth; it must be on the ground floor.

Emptiness greets your uneventful return to the foyer, the manor proving alarmingly absent of visitors despite Gridania’s crowds. Igeyorhm must still be exploring.

Flap, flap, the repetition of wingbeats is nigh in time with your heart; leaning against the stair’s rail, you close your eyes, using the sound as a focus for calming meditation as you await your companion’s return.

The minutes tick by, progressing into half of a bell, Igeyorhm’s absence painfully clear.

Naught in the manor can challenge her might, so something else must hold Igeyorhm’s attentions.  With a sigh you rouse yourself, heading down the corridor in search of your wayward companion.

In a far room you find her, silent and elusive as the shadow she is, making no attempt to shield her presence.

What greets your arrival is far from the expected sight.

With a strange and delicate grace absent in her other mannerisms, Igeyorhm cautiously rights a tilted wall decoration – nay, a quick glance through the room shows she’s righted all of them, the brightly colored seasonal décor all properly placed, rather than haphazardly strewn about.  Satisfied with her success, Igeyorhm moves on to the next and, with equal care, rights it.

How curious.  “Did you find the last code?” Startled at your call, the paper moogle slips from Igeyorhm’s grasp and floats to the floor.

“There’s an inputting device in here.”  She motions to an oversized pumpkin resting between an elegant horn and timpani with carefully controlled neutrality, bafflingly intending to pursue the theatre of ignorance.  She’ll not flee so easily.

“Do you like the decorations?”  You lift the fallen moogle, holding it out in offering.

“Nonsense.”

“Then why were you in the corner?”  

“I’ve naught better to do.” Though she easily dismisses the offering with a swipe of her hand, Igeyorhm refuses to look at you.

Naught better - like, mayhap, checking the remaining rooms for the codes?

You wisely hold your tongue, blooming warmth at her blatant evasion making it impossible to withhold a smile. “Very well.  I’ll be back after finding the last code.”

And so it falls to you alone to complete the duty; somehow, ‘tis not fully surprising.

Two rooms away, the code rests, barely hidden behind between two wine racks.  Igeyorhm must not have left the orchestra once she discovered it.  No matter, the game is over. 

When you return to the musical room, you find Igeyorhm as you left her, having moved naught a few paces towards a chair, resting a stray hand upon its backing as she curiously observes the ghost orchestra.

This is all too odd.

Stranger and stranger, the faintest hints of fluttery nostalgia tint her voice, Igeyorhm murmuring an explanation without provocation. “Do they even know the celebration they hope to revive. . .?” She reaches out to touch the harpsichord, but draws her hand back, as if realizing her mistake.

“The ‘Night of Devilry?’” So rarely do Ascians freely share their extraordinary knowledge that you cannot but focus your full attentions on Igeyorhm’s queer reminiscence.

“Mayhap the memory is muddled by tale and time, as twisted as their flesh.” Barely visible behind her concealing mask, she smiles softly.  ”Of all the traditions adopted in Eorzea, I did not expect to encounter this.”

There is softness in the roam of her decorative claws over the circus’ decor, as if lamenting the unreachable.  So foreign is Igeyorhm’s behavior that any anger that might have bubbled within at her negligence fades, though perhaps ‘tis better to keep knowledge of her lapse in professional appearance to yourself.

Though not in the intended manner, it seems the circus indeed fulfills its role in entertaining its guests and, beyond all expectation, it seems they’ve truly done nothing troublesome – yet.  The Adventurer’s Guild must needs remain vigilant, for though Igeyorhm’s presence should suffice as a temporary deterrent, they might yet grow too bold.

Having inputted the code and received your reward, you roam the manor once more in search of anomalies, but again discover naught of interest.  With barely a backwards glance, you at last submit to Igeyorhm’s impatience – though her mood is brightened, she still refuses to ‘play at being hero,’ leaving the duty solely to you.

You cannot fault her for her honesty, at least.

Igeyorhm returns to her business with nary a ‘goodbye,’  pausing only to spare a hard glare for the Impresario that sends him scurrying towards his fellows.  Farewells are unneeded, save the briefest grasp of her hand, an unspoken oath that you’ll be together again in time.

With a final backwards glance, you turn to deliver your report to the guild – but not before witnessing the briefest flash of yellow floating into familiar Ascian-swallowing blackness.

Averse to playing the hero as Igeyorhm might be, you cannot but hope she’ll handle her new ghostly companion with more care than she does her voidsent.  

Chapter Text

In the distance, he is a beacon – the Dark amongst darkness.

The essence is not a sense, not like sight, sound, nor even aether. There is naught to touch or feel, his presence simply is.

Rightness settles through your skin, like the satisfaction of awakening to a dutiless morning after a well-rested night, a completeness long absent at last returning. Gone it has been, for moons, for so long that you’d thought, mayhaps, its existence naught but a symptom of optimistic fancies oft-spoken to be borne of blossoming relationships.

And like a warm blanket on the same chill morning, you’d not known you’d miss his essence until its departure.

No longer.

He surely feels it too, more strongly than you, and his return births the fleeting, futile warmth of hope: that words can solve this, that he still embraces the emotions you once felt -

– that you are more than an ephemeral distraction and a tool of light to manipulate for his purposes.

For a time, the chaos recedes, but destruction lingers. Looming heavily like fog in a valley and invisible against the darkness, it readies to strike at a moment’s notice; in its wake – or perhaps chaos is his wake - he comes, alone, the heavy, armored footfall against soil not a sound you’ll soon forget.

So ‘tis true.

A repressed shudder courses tremors down your arms and back; twining with anticipatory pulses from being so near, fluttery tingles quickly mutate into flopping nostalgia.

Gone are the silken robes once soft against your face, his wispy, light attire that produces no sound, instead replaced with harsh, dark armor and flesh that, when last seen, was irreparably broken.

Elidibus surely knows your history with him; mayhaps he believes there’s kindness in truth.

Mayhaps there is.

My love.”  A greeting in an alien tongue, translated by the Gift not wholly correctly.

Not that aid is necessary in deciphering such familiar endearments.

So strong is the urge to reach out to touch him that you look away just so that you might cling to memory a moment longer, knowing that with each glance the illusion further shatters.

The only white he bears is on his helmet, replacing vibrant reds - reds you’d once been warned of, warnings long since heeded and discarded.

Below the cold, confident Garlean, you hear him; there is softness in Elidibus’ tone and mannerisms.  Only a fool would mistake this man for the Garlean Prince.

And yet -

Unease wells at the wrongness of that tongue coming from that voice.

Lahabrea and Igeyorhm projected their voices separately from their hosts; Elidibus distances himself by choice.

‘Tis not yet time for our meeting.” Fitting for an Ascian, his is a suitably vague prophecy, be it promise or inevitability.

You’ve no obligation to humor him; with a quizzical head tilt, you feign inability to understand, flimsy though it might be.

This meeting is a fool’s errand, yet you make no attempt to leave.

“After so long, that’s what you’ve to say?”

Rare is an event the Emissary comes unprepared to answer, but in this briefest moment, he hesitates; even in mortal guise Elidibus’ mannerisms remain identifiable.

Would that you could not recognize them at all – not from that body.

You avert your gaze once more.

“Long. . .” A subtle shift in weight, accompanied by the clink of armor in place of silence, reveals naught of his thoughts save a confusion that leaves you feeling the fool.  His is a people without end; for him, your time apart might have been but an instant.

After moons of silence, Elidibus answers your summons, appearing before you bearing loathed flesh, as if all remains as it once was and you cannot fully blame him for his misconception when you hope for the same.

“You’ve been busy.” Even knowing full well ‘tis unfair to condemn him his duty and nature, you make no effort to restrain irritability brought upon by embarrassment. 

There was surely some time he spent recovering his host that, if he cared to, he could have communicated with you in some way.

At long last he heeds your evasion, the cold armor of his gauntlets lifting your chin gently so that you might look upon him with a ‘tut’ of scolding. Nigh instinctively you shake his hand away, but quickly think better of it; Elidibus at least deserves acknowledgement.  You turn back, if only for a moment. “I’ve no desire to look upon that face.”

His is the visage of an apathetic man, one who meaninglessly indulges in destruction and suffering in endless pursuit of quarry.

Possessor and host cannot differ more than Emissary and Crown Prince.

Too late is your initial misjudgment clear; there is no kindness in this truth.  His absence was a mercy, but Ascians are ever wont to indulge the whims of fool mortals.

“Whatever flesh I might wear, I remain unchanged.” Underlying Elidibus’ tone is an accusatory sharpness that you’ve ne’er heard directed towards you.  No longer embodying untouchable serenity, at long last the Emissary breaks at your rejection.

Nay, ‘tis his misunderstanding; when accepting his companionship, you accepted his nature, but you are under no obligation to accept the individual whose form he bears.

Mayhaps it was even chosen because of you.

You discard the notion immediately; Zenos was a politically influential individual with freedom to act without bounds, heir to the might of the Empire. At a glance, it seems the wisest choice and yet the Emperor easily admitted his association with Ascians – and his desire to be free of their influence.

Lahabrea met his doom to such treachery.

“Until we are unmade.” He breaks uncertain silence. “I swore this to you.”

Too clear is the fantasy of white robes dissolving into nothing and, with it, promises a return to unsettling emptiness, ne’er to be fulfilled.  Inevitably, you'll be overcome by eternally gnawing doubt that ‘twas within your ability to prevent, an overbearing regret lingering beyond death into whatever afterlife the Chosen of Hydaelyn are sent to. If Her Chosen are even granted such freedoms. The former Warriors of Light you’ve chanced upon had no ends to meet, what remains of their spirits trapped endlessly by their cause.

Sealed away at duty’s end, reliving the emptiness and regret -

Your fists clench.

“Until salvation.” You repeat your promise, softer.

Elidibus warns of danger in the path you tread – of conflict.  Yours, too, is a battle without end; such minor aversions are insignificant when faced with eternity.

At last you meet the soulless gaze of his helmet.  “I prefer the red.”

Raising your fingers to the familiar, full-concealing helm, Elidibus holds his silence as you trace the outline of where his mask should be, with its gentle serpentine curves and pleased expression. 

‘tis easier to face him, pretending as such.

Once more the cold armor runs down your cheek – not fully different from the claws on his emissary’s attire.

Your companions might be gone, but Elidibus remains, a steadfast pillar against the confluence of chaos that is Eorzea.

“Soon -” His voice fades and the star with it, the darkness of Ghimlyt swallowed by black.  The shadows echo without voice, calling, pleading -

Little more than a blink in duration and the vision ends, Elidibus your sole companion in the darkness once more; if he notices aught amiss, he keeps his peace.

That persistent call interferes at all the wrong times; in a struggle for your life, a moment’s hesitation is fatal.

If something were to happen to you, there’s nowhere safer than by his side. Or, there wouldn’t be, were Elidibus not heading an antagonistic Legion.

His hand roams down, vividly electric tinges of aether trailing behind his every touch, at last coming to rest upon your waist.  “Leave this place – this battle. You know not the encroaching danger.”

He holds you tightly but distantly;

Afraid to fully grasp you -

Afraid to let go.

Such is your endless impasse. Ever will you both do as you must.

“Don’t be so confident.” An unexpected low sound of irritation rises in his throat; such annoyance is so uncommon that you cannot but wonder what factors you remain ignorant of. “You might not be accustomed to battle, but I am.  You needn’t fuss on my account.”

“I am not fussing. If you persist – “

As quickly as his denial rises, it falls with equal haste.  Elidibus knows the futility of argument with you, as you do with him, but a fear you are unaccustomed to underlies his tone and catches your breath, sending bleak, limb-weakening tremors to your extremities.

He does not seem to realize his actions as he draws you nearer; not as close as you’d like, an impossibility in those armors, but the warmth of aether beneath his hand reveals his shared desire for nearness – and frustration at his inability to make it so.

“Until we are unmade.” A desperate repetition of invaluable promise; claiming his free hand between yours, you press into the hard, isolating metal in temporary indulgence.

With Elidibus at your side, such promises remain sufficient reminder that salvation is no dream.

Chapter Text

The small beast lifts its paws awkwardly, individually testing unsure steps. 

The black wolf pup – you’ve no name for him yet, though assuredly the perfect one will come with time - seems untouched by the weather, but ‘Warriors’ finest companion’ or no, 'tis cruel to demand such a small creature weather the harsh Coerthan clime unprotected. So, with utmost care, you’d covered your new companion’s paws in tiny handcrafted boots of high quality dhalmel leather. 

With a single hand you lift him from the snow and slip a boot off; it slides easily, with no place that might rub, but you'll need to rework them frequently as he grows.  Squirming a bit, the small wolf tugs at his still-warm, protected feet as you return the unfamiliar attire; he’ll acquaint himself with his new boots in time.

Plopping the pup back onto the West Highlands' unbroken powder and taking scythe in hand, your gaze roams the patches of stray grass. Dull green tips barely peek from the snow, desperately searching for sunlight; highly desirable yet challenging to harvest due to warped environmental conditions and Dravanian presence, a coat of rainbow cotton will ensure a companion’s warmth, no matter where he might follow.

Journeying from patch to patch, the wolf pup curiously sniffs at each plant before returning to his steadfast and loyal patrol around your feet.

A chill wind blows, stinging bare cheeks.  With the stray gust, the puppy’s interest piques and he stills, sniffing at the unknown in Coerthas’ biting gales.  His decision is made nigh instantly and before you can move to stop him, the wolf pup darts off to the distance, as quickly as his stubby legs can take him; it might have been an impressive spectacle of determination had his boots not turned his sprint into awkward, overemphasized gait no faster than a slight trot.

Contrasting against the shrouding white of Coerthas, the pup’s black fur quickly becomes little more than a speck in the distance. Shoving your scythe quickly into your pack, you pursue the determined little beast in effort to prevent whatever misadventures he will inevitably encounter.

At the far side of a large, jutting boulder he stills, seemingly reaching his destination. Staring beyond the rock’s edge at an area not yet visible, the wolf pup boldly announces his arrival with a few high-pitched barks.

Rounding the corner at a light jog, at last the subject of his distraction reveals itself; in the shadows, an opponent lurks.

A small, lean blue and black hound, nigh thrice your wolf pup's size, rapidly sniffs untouched snow, engrossed in its environment. The suspicious lack of pawprints evidences its recent arrival.

You’ve no opportunity for further analysis, as the strange dog’s attentions are drawn to the bark, returning his greeting with an equally squeaky, highly pitched howl.  Trotting near, they mutually sniff with cautious eagerness; the strange new puppy seems bred to appear intimidating, but at its size, its jaws are small enough that it can do little harm, even to a smaller companion like your wolf pup.

Seemingly satisfied with each other, the sleek black puppy’s hindquarters rise, its tail whipping back and forth, suspiciously similar to the pleased wiggle of your wolf pup’s rear.

“You!” Harsh and unwelcoming, a woman's voice rings across the snow-muted highland.  Heart immediately pounding, your gaze catches a swirling orb of blackness disappearing from atop the boulder before reappearing between you and the puppies.  “Have you not taught that beast manners?” The stranger, clad in familiar antagonistic black and purple, bears a curiously accusatory demeanor as frigid as the peaks. “I'm told 'tis not uncommon for the Bringer of Light to arrive unprepared and lacking knowledge, but I did not expect to witness the reality with mine eyes so soon.”

Lacking hood, mask, and swirls of black aether you’ve come to associate with hostility, it seems the unknown Ascian did not come expecting conflict, but nonetheless your hand instinctively reaches for your weapon – only to find it dreadfully misplaced. The hilts of hatchet and scythe are all that greet your frantically grasping fingers.

Fully disinterested in your failed defense, the woman turns, kneeling slightly to greet the approaching black hound. Temporarily focusing on the Ascian instead of its new companion, it lifts itself on its hind legs, so that tiny paws rest the woman’s knees as it pleads for affection.

Once, twice, thrice, rapid blinks attempt to clear the haze clouding your rationality.

“Ascians have puppies?” Of all the questions and accusations you might pose to an Ascian, only the most foolish tumbles from your lips.

Bored of waiting, your wolf pup jumps onto its larger friend, sending them both sprawling into the untouched powder, snow covering their fur. Squeaky, playful growls accompany heavy, awkward silence, the Ascian woman’s intentions and thoughts impossible to predict. 

“She is not a puppyShadow is a hound of the void.”

For a moment you’re certain your Echo misinterpreted her.  Shadow. For an individual without one.  Let it ne'er be said Ascians are bastions of creativity.

Continuing her monologue, as Ascians are wont to do, necessity demands she speaks uncomfortably loudly in order to be heard over the increasing volume of playful barks.

Shadow will grow to rule her pack, submitting only to the strongest.  Your mutt is naught but a stepping stone on her path to greatness.”

At the finale of her confident declaration, Shadow falls to the side, exposing her belly to the wolf pup in playful submission, her body sinking until nigh fully engulfed in soft snow.

The Ascian’s face blooms uncharacteristically pink; surely the aether below Ascian flesh isn’t influenced by the chill, but you think better of mentioning it. Against your will, amusement continues its traitorous rise and half-concealed giggles earn you a withering glare that proves ineffective from her embarrassment-flushed features.

Distracted by your laughter, the puppies immediately halt their tumbling, turning their attentions to the strange Spoken sounds and noting your happiness.

In the research you’ve done on pet ownership, experts report that pets look to their owners’ reactions as behavioral cues.  Your pleased reaction might have unintentionally solidified some unexpected behavior, for the puppies approach eagerly, sitting at your feet and pleading for affection with highly pitched whines.

Who are you to deny them? Kneeling, you run your fingers over the soft puppies; below the leathery black plate that acts as armor, Shadow’s strange blue skin is not nigh as harsh as it appears, easily giving beneath your hand and forming tiny wrinkles; rolling onto her back once more, she exposes her warm, soft stomach. The flesh on her underside is as delicate and unprotected as the wolf pup’s.

No matter the origin and owner, a pup loves its belly rubs, it seems.

Shadow, come!”  Irritation reveals itself in the Ascian’s call, but engaged as said puppy is in her strange new friend, the ‘beast of the void’ pays no heed to her master’s summons. But the wolf pup does.  Waddling over, its tiny tail wagging so hard its rear unbalances itself, he falls over onto the Ascian’s boot, quickly righting himself and staring up at her with his big, beady eyes.

How typical of the stubborn pup to listen to a command, even one he does not understand, from someone else when he so rarely does so with you.

Irritated that you pay heed to the other puppy instead of her, the voidpup hops onto your chest, sending you sprawling into the snow. Uncaring of your plight, Shadow commands your attentions with a rapid whip of her thin tail, nuzzling into your neck and chest and all but blinding you  to your surroundings.

Not full ignorant of the danger the Ascian poses, your eyes repeatedly dart from Shadow to Shadowless, noting the Hyur-formed woman's strange behavior.

The Ascian kneels, the hard silver of her gloves flashing. Heartbeats and time still; even were you on a class intended for offense, you’re too distant to interfere, no matter how quickly you might leap into the fray.

You cannot but watch as the Ascian’s claws grow nearer and nearer to the wolf pup, the small beast clearly ignorant of the Ascian’s intent to . . .

- Gently stroke his soft puppy fur.  Hesitant and delicate, the Ascian’s fingers trail over his back, experimenting until she finds the wolf pup’s favored areas for scratching with an ideal strength; so easily he submits, stretching and opening himself to her pets, all but melting under the woman's command.

Naught but absurdity; even Shadow’s warm licks are unable to focus your stare.

Such blatant gawks draw the Ascian’s ire quickly and nigh instinctively she draws her hand away. Just as quickly, she returns her fingers to the wolf pup, surely too prideful to submit to a Chosen of Light’s judgement.

Shadow, at last noticing the source of your distraction, hops off and darts over to her master and new rival, pushing into the Ascian’s hand in demand for equal treatment. 

“That will be all.” She coos almost gently, so low that 'tis nigh beyond your hearing, as she lifts the puppy into her arms. The Ascian turns to you, all earlier hints of softness gone.  “Keep control of your mutt, you know not the lurking dangers.”

“Like you?” Your smile remains unseen, as the Ascian and her voidpup disappear into the darkness. The wolf pup sniffs curiously at her empty bootprints, his tail stilled, already losing his earlier enthusiasm with his new friends absent.

The Coerthan wind again billows, rousing a chill that pierces your very bones in a premonition of the storm to come.  The pup doesn’t heed it; his pants are softer now, lacking earlier exuberance and he plods slowly about your feet.

Righting his decorative bandana, you lift the tiny wolf into your arms and are awarded with a squeaky yawn.  

There will be time to craft his coat later. For now, the pup needs his rest.

Chapter Text

The concept is to be shared.

Try as you might to convince him that the desire was simply teasing whim, Lahabrea hears naught of it.  For so long did you push each other’s limits that he refuses to approach your challenges with aught but severity, even after affection blossomed from mutual passion.

“If I’m to expend such effort, it will be done properly.”

For a brief instant, to know the structure of each feather – each muscle – each tooth –

There is beauty in Creation born of collective imagination: a beauty that Lahabrea ensures will e’er remain preserved.

The pen scrawls rapidly across the paper; deeply in focus, Lahabrea pays no heed to the fading golden daylight.

Black Pegasus – a peek over his shoulder as you circle the couch reveals the clearest line on the application; the rest contains nigh illegible, hasty scribbles commonly found on the notes of scholars.

Not a particularly original name, but such plans are titled as descriptors for ease of retrieval.

He shifts stray papers at your approach, placing them on the side table.

“Do not stop on my account.” Nearness softens Lahabrea’s perpetual formality, the familiarity of home soothing after suffering the stresses of your professions.

“It seemed a simple request.” He murmurs, free hand straying around your back and pulling you near.  “I should know better than to underestimate your challenges.”

A repeatable, viable result that overcomes fundamental incompatibility and proves its value in furthering collective creativity or the star’s balance; such are the restrictions Lahabrea places on success.

None can claim a horse ‘darker than the deepest night with feathery wings that glow as red as the brand he bears,’ might be an effective member of the star’s natural community for any form of resource management, so Lahabrea’s standards dictate that it must further conceptual creation, even amongst the vast collection of entities formed from the most wildly talented minds.

“The incompatibility of memory proved more troublesome than previous experiments.” He continues; though he hides it well, Lahabrea is eager to discuss his success.

You are not wont to deny him. 

“’twas not a conceptual union.”  Such was the intent; Creations of the like require an outstanding breadth of knowledge and creativity – any child might imagine a pony with wings that runs the skies, but ‘tis a wholly separate undertaking to Create it with both purpose and longevity.

“The horse has no instinctual understanding of flight, nor has it any reason to discover such when it easily escapes using superior speed. Furthermore, the burden on its wings would be immense, far greater than is sustainable through simple nourishment and breath.  How might the wings bear its weight? The appropriate location and angle bend? The length of its primaries? ‘twould not do to have it fly into a building.”

This you know – and he knows you know – but you absorb his lesson regardless, leaning into Lahabrea as he rambles on his passions, his fingers lightly roaming up and down, lazily, distracted – a touch naught more than indulgence. You’ve debated and you’ve attended his lectures; he is a public face, oration is his role and duty, but there is a soft, vulnerable informality in his excited elaboration of details involved in individual projects.

Though he will ne’er admit it, as master of the arts, so rarely does Lahabrea have the opportunity to engage in the creativity of whimsy Creation that he eagerly grasps any opportunity.

To gift him such, too, is your wont.

His hand comes to rest near your face, running a thumb over your cheek.

“And the color.” His condemnation births bubbling amusement that rouses pleased trembles.  “What prey beast has colors of the sort? Did you have in mind a parrot with this request?”

“Parrots do not glow.” You rest your hand atop his, leaning in and closing your eyes, gifting one final instant of peace before revealing further mischievous intent. “But, if you offer –“

“I do not.”

“-Mayhaps a falcon that soars the skies on wings that sing with elements.”

He looks down, meeting your gaze in indulgent amusement.

“You’re more than capable yourself.”

“But you enjoy the challenge.”

The warmth of pure affection that radiates from him is nigh enough to sate for millennia.

Chapter Text

Depressing


 

Mayhaps Hydaelyn intentionally impedes Her Hero's growth.

Even now does she, so bound to the past, have trouble putting word to thought.  The Gift, having once permitted such communication, is now absent in all but the Chosen and some few anomalies and so she instead remains silent. Such long-held instincts render her nigh impenetrable - a force, rather than an individual - to the ungifted.

It takes but a teasing tug at her soul with the strayest wisp of aether and she stills, hearing summons on the wind her mortal companions yet remain deaf to.

-And no more.

No matter the hints of growth from soul's union, the blossoming of strength once lost, and of the Gift's return, she neither knows the meaning of the touch nor understands how to respond.

But Emet-Selch is not a man to let potential lie if it might yet grow.

With simple summons, he leads.  How her twisted soul perceives it, he knows not, but at the whisper of her name, her attentions focus and her eyes narrow.

Through the trees and away from the others, he guides, in desperate confirmation that 'tis more than simple coincidence.

And at last she enters the hidden glade, facing him with confusion mired in irritation at his satisfaction.

"What an unexpected surprise." Nor is Emet-Selch wont to let opportunity pass him by. "Seeking me out, are you?"

Her features reveal an emotional flurry that her closed-off mind does not; surprise, nigh immediately obscured with tight-lipped anger, overlays the passion bared on her soul and held in the deepest depths of her breast: some measure of pleasure at his presence.

She chooses her words with care.  "My pardons.  I wasn't expecting you."

"And what were you expecting?" Her brow furrows, as much answer as expected. "There's naught wrong with admitting your ignorance."

"You -"

Such exasperation, familiar enough that he could trace the lines from memory.  How many times he has seen it -

-how many times he would like to again.

This is why he fights.

 Pitiful


Even from his distant perch he senses her displeasure.

A century of imbalance takes its toll on the flora. Only the hardiest plants survive in the light and, without persistent tending through magicks, none thrive.

She focuses on her tilling, ignorant of the star around her - of him - and he sees no need to interrupt.

This, too, was their duty. 

Kneeling, she runs her hand lightly over the soil, a small smile growing, breaking free from her brood, as she sorts out some small objects in her palm: long-dormant seeds, judging by the little life remaining inside them. Brushing the dirt from her hands, she places the precious gift into a tiny pouch.

With the rebalance of aether, mayhaps we'll see the return of more varied flora and fauna.

She does not seem to realize her mistake; channeling her thoughts with the Gift to any who might have the knowledge to listen, his senses are swallowed by her satisfied hums. 

Before the season turns and the rains start, the grasses might need clearing so there's room for growth.

Hopefully, by then, the birds will return to spread the seed and -

He takes a half step in approach, preparing to command that she stop thinking so loudly, but halts.

Against the clear sky, the blue of her soul is nigh indistinguishable - just as it was once.

If he didn't know better, if the land was not so broken, if she was not so broken, then -

This would be no memory.

Emet-Selch cannot turn his eyes away, indulging an ephemeral dream that proves only just enough.

 Disturbing


She walks the broken shard, lamenting its frailty.

How futilely she tries to fix it, overtaken by desire to repair that which is immediately in front of her.

As is ever her wont - a curse of fate, mayhaps: to bear a passion such that she became the first, and perhaps only, to have been unwilling to compromise.

Such is the truth of the one ordained Hero.

A trait that has, lamentably, been inherited by her successors: a short-sightedness that is yet another of Her curses.

So, 'twas much to his surprise when, for the first time since the sundering, she displayed a wary curiosity, an interest based in acceptance -

- In their kind.

- In him.

"No matter the necessity, to be condemned to the sundering against their will . . ."

'tis impossible to cling so tightly to bitterness and anger when she makes a face such as that.

"How far, then, would you go to save your people?"

A challenge; a debate. Once, she would have eagerly accepted.

"Not as far as you."

But she is not who she once was, such pleasures are beyond her, and she defaults to condemnation.

Though, he is not beyond admitting the enjoyment is long lost to him as well.

"Are you quite certain?"

She does not understand - of course she does not. 

She keeps her silence, unable to express her thoughts in the way she once might have, and his is a dissatisfying victory, like stubbornly fighting a willful child.

There's no point in this; he's had more than his fill of conflict.

"If that is all. . .?"

"Wait."  There's naught more to discuss, but he nonetheless humors her.  "Tell me of them. Your friends, your family.  Tell me who you fight for."

In her ignorance, she dares regret.

"Of all the questions you might ask - and I have admittedly given you the freedom for any - that is your choice?" As ever, the Hero proves stubbornly unmoving; the man now known as Emet-Selch sighs.

"Are you quite sure you want that answer?"

Instead of choosing preservation, instead of choosing restoration, she chose - chooses - destruction.

"I would keep them in my heart, too."

But -

Even closed to him as she is, he yet sees her there - sees her in those last days, deeply troubled by the weight of their decisions.

How she wished to do more; she would challenge an intangible nightmare for her loved ones, bearing its weight upon her breast so that others need not.

No matter the cost.

Even now, they are not wholly incomparable.

"Spare your pity.  They are not yet lost."

He casually waves off further questions.

So neatly the pieces fit together, that memory approaches reality.

They are so close.

Chapter Text

It did not take long to choose the park.

All throughout the gardens toddlers giggle, the hems of their overlong robes skirting the moist grass as they rush about their games, dragging harried parents about Halmarut's Spring display, savoring each unique bloom like only a child might. 

There is nowhere better to welcome a new life to the household than a place that it will love. 

O'er moons you cycled through historical knowledge, choosing which traits best suit your needs before settling on a moderately sized breed known for calmness and companionship. With no singular concept embodying such ideal traits and with breeding long deemed unnecessary, it was quickly decided that Hades will create the unique addition to your family, one that might accompany you on the professional outings demanded by your position. 

Far enough from the masses that you're not like to be seen by any save the most determined stragglers, you take a seat at your partner's side.

"Are you sure the festival won't be too distracting?" Hades' hand is warm yours, prepatory magicks welling in an anticipation his demeanor reveals naught of.

"’twill be if you get any closer." Swatting his hand away with a laugh, your attentions return to the enthusiastic celebrants, stifling a giggle as some pups fall over each other in an overly fervent attempt at fetching a ball, their small human companions falling on top of the pile, screeching in laughter.

"What if we’ve three?" You muse absently; you’ll not have your new pet want for companionship during the seasonal councils.

Hades tenses beside you and only too late do you realize your mistake.

The energies of Creation coalesce in Hades' hands. When the blinding light at last fades it reveals. . .

A small, fluffy white ball with not one, but three heads, observing its new world with curiosity. Placing the tiny puppy - puppies - at the ground at your feet, each unique head sniffs the fresh air, heads moving independently, seemingly intent on pursuing subjects of interest in opposite directions; to their misfortune, shared, stubby little legs allow for no progress and the creations stumbles over their own feet in indecisiveness.

Hades sighs deeply and rubs his forehead. “. . .Three?”

“I thought our puppy might want a companion, but the issue seems to have resolved itself.” Resonation reveals Hades’ incredulity. “What did you think I meant?”

He sighs again, shaking his head.

“Nothing. Have you an idea for a name?”

“Only one?” You smile; they’ll learn to balance their judgement in time, but they’ll always be unique. ‘twould be unfair to address them singularly.  “They will be Cer, Ber, and Us.”

Chapter Text

"Hush."  You tap lightly on the borrowed player's top in scolding.

The recording stubbornly persists its scratching; intended for students instead of professional use, both record and player are one of many copies made in haste rather than quality.

With students and faculty so immersed in exam preparation, your dark corner of the library, with black walls that emphasize the low, comforting lighting, is blissfully silent save your rebellious recording and you'd sooner have it remain that way.

After far too long, the player grows tired of your tampering and finally heeds commands.  Through tiny speakers, the bureau narrator recites a bored, neutral introduction, explaining the date and background of this "grand debate," the result of which rewrote policy held for millennia and will continue doing so until its logic is found lacking.  All citizens, down to the youngest child, recognize the importance of such an event and the introductory pomp is more formality than necessity. 

Awaiting the debate, your gaze traces the golden etchings lining the floor's marble as you idly finger the historical record. This was the current Lahabrea's first, the blurb states, from a time when he was more prominent as a professor than in bureaucratic circles.

Lahabrea's inexperience compared to his peers at the time led to the Provisioner gently recommending a recording from more recent debates for educational use, but in truth you've little interest - or future - in the field and chose based upon the professor's recommendations. 

At last it begins, as all debates do: with a brief, congenial introduction and a declaration of stance, the speakers habitually recite the formalities all are expected to adhere to.

As a lecturer, Lahabrea is well-versed in public speaking, but the manner of speech he displays in the recording belies a human familiarity, revealing unpracticed hesitation as he muses on efficiency in phrasing. 

Littering the record are slight chuckles, an unexpected informality present in an event history titles as "grand debate."  It makes enough sense that you feel the fool for not considering it: no Amaurotine is comfortable on public display and Lahabrea is naught if not the ideal for any citizen. This debate likely began as any other: a scholarly discussion between friends or rivals, without intent of making history, recorded only because the esteemed Lahabrea took part.

Fate twines e'er curiously.

Scribbled notes fill the page quickly, no matter how questionable their use.  When you'd decided on researching Lahabrea's grand debate, you'd certainly not expected -

"If you seek a lesson, there are much better samples."

From behind, no more than a pace or two distant, indistinguishable from the pleasant drone on your recorder, he speaks.

Tense as a startled feline, fingers clumsily fumble at the recorder's buttons and dials, losing all dexterity in panic. Spiking to volumes painfully high to hyper aware senses, Lahabrea's recording chuckles again as the player falls to the floor.

Leaning over, limbs at last heed command, shutting the power down as you return the deceptively heavy recorder to its place.

Lahabrea's soft laughter continues even after the recording falls silent and your cheeks must surely be stained as deeply red as his mask.

"Esteemed Lahabrea." You stand, lowering your head as you turn to meet him, as gesture of respect and shame at your display both.  "What brings you here?"

At last his laughter calms, but not even the low light can hide the slight smirk playing at his lips.

"These are the Halls of my forebearers, I believe I've as much right as any to browse their research." 

The black tiling and golden etchings - you'd chosen the depths of the library for their comforts but they must be -

Naught would be more satisfying than to bury your face in your hands.

"Are you studying?"  Lahabrea muses as he browses the bookshelves, long fingers tracing the spines with purpose.

"Not anymore."

He half turns, smirk lightening into a gentle smile.  "If you wish to make a career of debate, you'll need not allow yourself to be so easily flustered."

He tugs a tome from the shelf.

'Easily flustered?' Such a condemnation would incapacitate Hythlodaeus, overcome with intense laughter as he’d be.

"May I?" His request is but formality. 'tis Lahabrea's library, you are the unfamiliar element.

"I'll -"

"Do not leave on my account." He waves you back down as he takes his seat across from you, scanning and flipping through the pages as you quietly obey.  "You study debate?"

As we better ourselves and promote growth in others, we better the whole; aye, 'tis a lesson taught to the youngest babes, but -

Lahabrea, himself, seeks to teach?

Through, thankfully hidden, widened eyes, you observe.

In private, Lahabrea bears much of the same severity as he does in public, but the weight of his role wears more heavily on him.  One does not reach his heights without drive, and such passion inevitably leads to exhaustion.

How can you tell him otherwise - that your studies are mere curiosity at best, a responsibility necessary for penning final reports?

But Lahabrea is a professor, and your hesitation surely reveals as much as words to one of his experience.

"I did not think much of it, either." Having located whatever he searches for, Lahabrea marks his place in the text with a ribbon and returns his full attentions to you, motioning to his surroundings. "But our paths often take unexpected turns.  Phantoms?  What child dreams of spending their life in shadowy halls when there's so much to explore."

That even most respected individuals were children, young and inexperienced, once is not surprising, but Lahabrea's willingness to discuss his uncertainty is an altogether different matter.

So ingrained is Lahabrea, esteemed member of the convocation and guardian of the star, in culture, that you'd ne'er considered the man he was before adopting his title.

Continuing easily and confidently, Lahabrea enjoys the casual, one-sided discussion with a stranger he’s not like to encounter again. "Being an avid listener is commendable, but so rarely do I get the sense I’m rambling. Quite the feat. Very well. You are studying debate and the first step in any proper debate is declaration of intent."

His dumbfounding, confident declaration leaves you scrambling through frustratingly labyrinthine logic for a response - any would suffice - but faced with Lahabrea's certainty, inexperience knots your tongue. 

"And if you decline to state, I will make the decision for us."

He wouldn't, certainly -

Again he chuckles; this accursed man teases you.  "It might be surprising, but debates need not be professional.  If the Hall of Rhetoric is not to your liking, you'd best explore familiar topics informally with your friends." What he gleans from observation, you know not, but Lahabrea continues, more gently. "But, if you want for serious practice, 'tis often easier with those you are not acquainted with."

"Even for you?" At last your tongue heeds you, even if the words that form are most foolish.

"Especially me." Your stomach drops; reactions such as yours must be commonplace.  For any elected to the convocation, an equal in debate must be a rarity - a precious gift. Acknowledging neither your regret nor wordless apology, Lahabrea rises, text in hand.  You mimic the motion, returning the gesture in turn. "Until we meet again."

With Lahabrea's footfall fading into the distance, you return to the recording. Putting face and essence to a voice far more human than before, you conjure fantasies of his mannerisms, recognizing his passions and frustrations both.

How easy it is to forget that these leaders on high are individuals beyond the titles they bear.

". . .Lahabrea."

Oh no.

With far less haste than is warranted by Hythlodaeus' arrival, you feign apathy, switching off the player as if unperturbed by the premonition of upcoming disaster.

"So that's your type."  Keeper, he was watching. "No matter how we might try, we can barely get a fluster from you, but you fall all over yourself fawning over that old man."

Old man? You close your notebook; you'll get no more studying done if Hythlodaeus has his way.

And he always has his way.

"And that dreamy look on your features as you listen to the record -"

"I don't know what you're talking about." As e'er, Hythlodaeus dispenses his nonsense.

He laughs.

"Of course not.  Come, let's return and we'll help with your studies.  Hades was worried."

"And you weren't?"

"Not in the least."

Chapter Text

In the depths of Thanalan, quietly buried within the ruins littering Ul’dah’s bowels, lies a simple room. On most days, the abandoned passages are shrouded in a lonely silence, but this night they are broken by the light patter of footfall and clunk of well-oiled wheels, echoing until thunderous as they progress through the seemingly endless darkness, alternate sconces lit in their wake.

Only under extraneous circumstances might the oppressive sandstone cloister bear more than a sole occupant and their patient, existing exclusively to provide the extensive preparation necessary for ritual interment of wealthiest families - merchant, nobility and foreigner alike, it matters not save that they pay - as they pass into Thal’s embrace.

As a novice, you’ve less right to enter than most servants in the Ossuary, but playing your role all the same, the wagon and its occupant trail easily in your wake.

A plain wooden door marks your destination, swinging open easily into the darkness.

Briefly feeling over the nearby wall, you easily locate and light ancient sconces, dousing your torch in a nearby barrel of water; in an unfortunate pragmatism, to prevent early decomposition, the flickering warmth provides no heat, the subterranean chamber chill enough that you huddle deeply into the ossuary’s traditional robes.  If the body is to be viewed before its final rest, it must be preserved, and such a climate aids the assigned thaumaturge.

Fingers play at the pockets resting in the depths of your robes, digging out the treasures within. Tiny whole leaves rest in an open palm; in their full form, the plant is harmless, but –

Your fists close, crushing the delicate leaves and releasing oil and aether just over the body.

The corpse rises.

Cloudsbreath, even in trace amounts, proves incredibly potent and when highly concentrated its effect is nigh permanent, but your purposes require it for but a moment. 

With great care, you guide the floating body to its place on the unadorned stone in the center of the chamber, lowering the corpse until it comes to rest. A quick twist and you dip your hands into the nearby basin, water dissipating the remaining wind aether.

A brief flick of your wrist removes the burial shroud, thin cloth floating lazily into the wagon, revealing your first patient.

The pocks of disease are impossible to hide; such a corpse is as much a threat to the city’s well-being as any beast.   Not even the heavy scent of herbs ritually placed inside the empty vessel, the loosely-corked alchemical concoctions on the wall, nor the slight remnants of Cloudsbreath oil coating your robes prevent illness’s rancid scent; the servants tried their best to care for the corpse, but commonly available medicines can only do so much to hide the signs of decomposition.

The individual was well-loved and no expense was spared in hasty transport to the ossuary – nor the immediate decision on which servant was best suited to enact Thal’s rites.

E’en now it seems a jest. ‘Warrior of Light’ - renown does come from bearing such a title and when you were seen studying in the ossuary’s halls, word spread as wildfire through dry brush. Naught more than a sun later a request came: for the Warrior of Light, specifically, to oversee a loved one’s interment, with promise of ‘pay worthy of your station.’

If naught else, gil drives Ul’dah, the Order of Nald’Thal more than most, for before the order of Nald’Thal, the guild is the Order of Nald.

Inexperience is irrelevant when enticed with such rewards and the guildmasters easily agreed to the client’s proposition, no matter how firmly you denied your readiness –

-and pleaded that you’ve an important appointment this evening that you really should not miss.  

You know the spells, the rites, they are the first thing learned, before even the ability to use such magicks offensively are taught. But they are all you know and surely the guildmasters know better than anyone.

Knowledge and practice differ; destruction is simple, preservation and restoration are the true challenge, especially with the corpse in such a condition.  But you’ve no intention of disappointing.

Fire to cleanse the body and thunder the soul, ice to still and preserve. Aye, you know it well.

Warmth rises at your palm, a heat intense enough to sear the air, seeking desperately to escape your control and dance freely. In battle, such explosive strength makes a thaumaturge formidable, but your foe now is death, and more precision is necessary.

Tentative hands come to rest upon the body’s abdomen, fluttery touch weighted by anxious, heavy breaths as the heat bursts from your fingers, warming the eternally cold, spreading like fire might melt thin ice. The red of warmth nigh returns the glow of the living to the flesh as it spreads, cleansing disease and scouring filth, etching the scented herbs into easily penetrable innards; naught but illusion, one meant to soothe the weakened body and preserve it for a few extra suns.

Deeper and deeper warmth spreads. Impatience is easily willed aside; all that obstructs cleansing flame must be incinerated for the ritual to complete.

The heat passes more easily with time, evidence of successful progress in your endeavor, and breaths calm in confidence.  To ease the transfer of aether, your hands rest more easily on swelling flesh.

-Swelling flesh that gives too readily, the most delicate touch permitting your fingers to slip between rapidly expanding and overflowing boils.

Aether immediately falters, dissipating as you withdraw and turn from the sight of thick ooze and fragile, torn skin, of red turned yellow, and of unhealthy wetness seeping from extremities you’d been too focused to notice; if the phrase ‘rancid’ was created to describe aught, ‘tis the overwhelming, leaking abhorrence before you.

Turning away, frantic hands splash into the shallow basin. Your stomach rises in your throat, heavy forced breaths attempting to overcome the threat of heaves as you lose yourself in the shadows – looking anywhere that is not the corpse.

An unfortunate mistake, for the shadow whose presence you denied so that might aid the guild stands at your back in silent, condescending observation.

Nabriales’ lips curl; though such disgust frequently graces his features, ne’er does he direct it towards you.

He must have seen everything.

The heat that rises to your cheeks only barely overcomes your flopping stomach.  Looking back at the body, your mistake, you refuse to permit Nabriales your weakness.  Vulture that he is, he’ll inevitably tease at your inexperience.

There’s no need to question his presence; the mistake is in not expecting his arrival.  Such an eagerly anticipated outing was canceled with naught but a hastily scrawled note; you’d be equally upset.

At this point, all that remains alarming is the ease at which Nabriales locates you.

“Shunning my presence for that of a corpse.” Calm footsteps shroud intent. He reaches your side, the black leather of his glove roaming down your arm and over your hip, leaving a trail of electric tingles that spread to warmth you’d sooner not see end – nor start, you’ve a disaster of your making to attend and an Ascian is a distraction you can ill afford. “A shame you think so little of me.”

His promise naught more than a tease, Nabriales circles opposite of you at the table, all but demanding you look upon him, distaste replaced with a knowing smirk.

How strange, to favor the disgust.

“I’ve a duty.” As futile as words are in rectifying the situation, they’re truth – though the broken corpse’s presence evidences the underlying weakness in your argument.

“Clearly an unfamiliar one.” With an overly dramatic sigh, his attentions turn to the victim, examining it with a cool distance akin to professionalism.  “If subsequent attempts are as effective as the first, you’ll remain all night.”

“I’ll finish more quickly without distraction.”  Time is of the essence and you’ve none for his games. 

He crosses his arms over his chest, having no intention of leaving.

Mighty though the sting to your ego might be, you’ll not ask his aid for a matter of professional pride.  Your error was a novice one, as simple as mistaking the order of spells – and that makes it all the worse.

Ice to preserve.
Fire to cleanse.
Thunder to purify.

A misconception set to rights through experience.

Enacting lessons repeated until habitual, you gather soiled rags, tossing them into the corner to be burned; tainted water is dumped from the filthy basin into the ancient, long-dried waterway, refilling it with a quick dip into a barrel prepared specifically for the purpose. With the most delicate touch, you press the clean linens to yellowed flesh for cleansing.

You’ll not disappoint again, not yourself, not your guild – and certainly not Nabriales.

Aught but the lightest pressure proves too heavy, stretching and dragging, further worsening the wounds until your stomach can handle it no longer and you turn in disgust, sight and scent appalling.  Any such efforts are acts of futility; the flesh requires preservation before you can further act on it.

You ignore Nabriales’ exaggerated sigh; would that you could do the same of his commentary.  “One should think that ‘tis past time for a new strategy.”

Unreactive, still ice meets even stiller, colder flesh. There is no dance to the ice, its centralized spread far more welcome on the dead than any living; coursing the corpse slowly, e’er so slowly, umbral magicks require a precise, guiding hand.  To prevent buildup and stain, for cold burns as deeply as any heat, your hands roam the torso so that ice might properly preserve -

Fingers slip through weakened, frail skin, soaked immediately in the wound’s oozing liquid and control slips from your grasp, the cold mutating into volatile, shredding shards.

With a curse, you quickly withdraw, rubbing dirtied digits onto one of the few spare rags and pouring cleansing wine to prevent illness’ spread.

Nabriales’ hand goes to his forehead as he shakes his head.

Only a result most dire can provoke such a reaction and, with hesitation so great that you might well face a Primal, you toss the rag aside to examine your handiwork.

A readily apparent, and terrible truth greets you: such mistakes cannot be fixed. Lines of black and blue spread down your patient’s limbs; wounds previously opened from fire widen further, what little covering skin remaining shredded away.

Shame wells deeply at your inexperienced disgust, but more shameful still is that your moment of weakness harms the fallen – damaging the very individual you’ve been assigned to intern so that they might safely and wholly greet the afterlife.  No apology can make up for such irreparable failure.

So deeply do you wallow that you barely acknowledge another exaggerated sigh. “Shameful negligence, leaving a novice such tasks. Very well. Observe.”

From his robe – though where he stores it, you cannot fathom - Nabriales takes a tiny hourglass, placing it on the table.

Unlike the sorceries you’ve witnessed from Ascians previously, Nabriales summons an aether that can be described only as different. Less vivid black and visible only through its red and purple tinges, it rises from wells deep within rather than misting outside his flesh, enveloping the corpse like a thin, nigh invisible sheet. Futile; no matter his strange magicks, not even the most skilled of healers could fix your . . .

The ice fades first, twisting tendrils reversing their flow, snaking back towards the patient’s core.

The sands of the hourglass slip upward.

. . .Mistakes.

Seeping wounds opened through the melt of rampant fire close.

“How. . .?” Breathy and little above a whisper, you examine flesh that returns to the state it was mere moments before; pocks and scars present upon death remain, but all effects of your magicks are repaired in truth.

The glass reverts, grains of sand falling one by one, slipping down their pile until at last balanced.

Nabriales does the impossible and the accursed Ascian has naught to say for himself save the tease of a smirk, recircling the table soundlessly like the shadow he is, that he might stand at your back.

He chuckles and again summons his aether – this time of a different type, a far more recognizable mist rather than the curious, living sensation from before, and in much greater quantity. As the purple mists of Mor Dhona color the land itself at their height, so does the darkness that is Nabriales alter the very air you breathe, rending it of its natural balance.

Flames still, their flicker turning into a persistent glow – aether stills, as if viewing a dream.  Nay, not still, it flows so sluggishly that perception of movement is impossible.

The aether tingles over your flesh but does not constrain you in the same way.  Does the fire still burn, still as its energies are? 

Before you can explore further, Nabriales pulls you into warm, soft robes surrounding you even more thickly than his aether does the air.

“Do not stray, the range of such a weak magick is limited.”

Only an Ascian would consider the stilling of aether ‘weak.’ “This is time?”

He reversed time for the corpse? And not just the flesh, but a limited range of the star itself?

This is the power of Ascians?

“You’ll encounter naught else of the like from worldly sources.”  An arm circles your waist, ascertaining you know every ilm of muscle under his attire, the sharp tip of claw playing at your lips “Nor from any of the others.”

Light pants do little to stifle the sweltering heat that rises not from his aether; a spreading, heaty tingle unaffected by attire, his touch is more promise than burden: a claim.  

Drawing near, so that his mask rests on your forehead, his tongue darts out, trailing over your lips like his finger.

“‘tis mine alone.” Slow and deliberate, each movement of his lips is felt against yours.

Before he makes good on the promise, Nabriales releases you.

“Ah, but I forget.  You’ve a duty.” Warm, aching and unfulfilled, Nabriales sneers and steps away. Already longing for the touch of his aether on your flesh, magicks fade from the air, flames returning to their flickering, dancing shadows against golden walls.

Controlling breaths do little to calm the inferno of temptation and the smirk on Nabriales’ lips reveals satisfaction at his victory.

Such is his bitter revenge.

Very well. Ignoring his tantrum, you return to your work, pointedly ignoring the residual taste of Ascian on your tongue.

Nabriales is not going to keep restoring the body as you fumble around, the ritual must be completed properly this time.

Fingers meet flesh as cold as the ice rising at your command.

Once more he’s behind you, chest against your back, his hand resting over yours so that the shadow making up his aether mingles into your thaumaturgy.

All over again his touch incites heat and you’re not sure if his pants are whispery or if ‘tis delusion brought upon by desire.

“Let us address this properly.” He draws deeply of your reserves, with such strength that even Umbral’s cyclic recovery cannot equal him; without Nabriales’ presence holding the spell together, your channeling would fail from exertion alone.  

He leads the repetitions of ice to fire through exhaustion and beyond, until subconscious knows the process as much as active mind and you’ll repeat the process in the depths of slumber.  Relentless and impatient, his skillful weaving proves more effective guidance than long-winded lectures on the importance of the rites and their intended purpose.

“I can’t –“  Gasping and only partly incoherent, you stop him; such effort is impossible to maintain for any great length.

“Not yet.” He concedes, unaffected by the same exertion that leaves you trembling and leaning onto him for support. “You should not have been left alone on this assignment.”

His condemnation is less irritable, placing blame on Ul’dahn greed rather than a novice practitioner.

A few more instants and the process is properly completed.  For one without knowledge of such rites, he clearly understands their intent. There is a brilliance in Nabriales’ knowledge and skill; displaying far more than brute force, he guides his weaves with greater control than any of the Order.

“Your lessons have been invaluable.” You regret the compliment as soon as it leaves your lips; such earnest praise should be withheld from one whose ego towers Ishgard’s walls. For now he snorts in feigned disdain, but undoubtably the preening will come at a later time.

With the body properly preserved, you’ve only a single step remaining.  Thunder’s ambient aether flows far more easily at your command, focusing solely on the limited region where remains of the soul might reside: the last step of purification.

“Is the process not complete?” A dismissive wave of Nabriales’ hand reveals disinterest in further aid. “That’s unnecessary, the soul –“

“I’m sure majestic magicks are better suited to a sorcerer of your caliber, but tradition runs deeply through Ul’dah.  No matter the soul’s fate, I’ll do as I’m bade.  I’ll need just another moment to complete the rite.”

He’ll not correct any further mistakes, but for this, you don’t need it.  Ambient aether flows easily – far too easily, your reserves nigh dry and unable to interfere – searching for, and fortunately not catching upon, any ‘wayward fragments of soul.’

With purification, the ritual completes. Which is well enough, since the drain of your internal aether debilitates far deeper than battle; it takes all your strength to keep your legs from giving out and collapsing against the wall – or into the Ascian.  “I was promised supper.”

“And here I thought you’d forgotten.  Very well, we can’t have the Bringer of Light losing luster, can we?” Though Nabriales makes no attempt to hide continued irritation at events not progressing to his pleasure, he at least respects necessity, tempering his response accordingly.

Your stubborn partner had best become accustomed to failure, for you’ve many more plans to foil.

Chapter Text

On the back of a beast as broken as she is, the 'Warrior of Darkness' wobbles, carried by wingbeats more frantic than elegant. Falling more than landing, the oversized bird narrowly avoids crashing into one of Rak'tika's many branches, saving rider and mount both an unpleasant and permanently incapacitating fall to the forest floor.

What a shame. 

Slipping off the back of the panicked bird, the chocobo's owner pats its neck gently, its soft feathers parting between fingers like strands of hair. 

Not that he'd know. 

Emet-Selch closes his eyes, denying nostalgia its hold; a shattered mirror is doomed only to reflect twisted fragments of truth.  Yet he'll find no sleep this day, not with the all too familiar cries and shuffle of footfall stubbornly persisting below his tree.

Emet-Selch makes no attempt to stifle an irritable sigh as he observes his unwanted guests.

The chocobo’s nonsensical bridle and elaborate trappings are as much a display of the Warrior's individuality as all the gaudy attire the fragments have taken to wearing.  Such costumes are more fitting for festivities; during the winter festival she had once adorned a bird-

A sound, deep and low, chills warm memory, returning his attentions to the present just in time to witness the bird flee through the trees, disappearing from immediate sight in the direction of Lakeland.

In its stead, a heavier patter approaches; the new beast's footfall is more trample than run, silencing the forest natives as they scurry, scattering into their dens in effort to escape the approaching predator.

When at last the foreign, reptilian beast shows itself, it slows only as it approaches its master.

The Warrior of Darkness crossed the Rift with all of these companions?

"How many must you have?" Once, he had asked that person, too.

"They are not all mine." Lahabrea's notoriously disagreeable black pegasus had nuzzled against her affectionately, putting lie to her words.

"Pardon?" Her tone reveals more shock than carefully neutral features.

Had he spoken aloud?

Tch.

"Never mind." He’d sooner not have revealed himself, but having no other choice in the matter, Emet-Selch slides down from his perch, stretching lazily, ignoring the Drake's irritable snort.

"It seems to have gotten the better of you." A flimsy evasion, even if the observation holds true: the Drake is decidedly displeased.  It seems the Warrior of Darkness lacks the same hand with the star's children as the individual he once knew. 

"Mayhaps 'tis you she doesn't like."

"The feeling is assuredly mutual." Through amusingly pointless banter she resumes her futile, soothing pats. They are beasts of burden, tools – not friends, no matter how many horns she might hold.

Influenced by her calm confidence, the Drake stills, melting under her touch, just as once – 

Impossible. Emet-Selch dispels the delusion, well past being haunted by ghosts residing within each fragment.

"She's not fond of the clime.  I'm sure you understand." She interrupts and the spell is broken.

Into silence they fall, the Warrior's attentions more focused on her companion than him as she slips onto the back of the beast. Offering him an uncertain look, she’s clearly at a loss as to how to proceed.

Very well, if that's how she's going to be.

Emet-Selch raises a hand, dismissing her with a stray wave, a gesture she returns with relief, tenseness leaving her shoulders as she motions her Drake forward under the canopy. Slipping through light and shade both, the Warrior of Darkness darts between trees, bouncing from the Drake’s heavy, awkward gait, her thighs no doubt chafing against hard scales, disappearing into the caverns housing the Night's Blessed.

Unable to fly and garbed in but the simplest saddle, it's little use to anyone outside its element.

She had loved them all the same, no matter their impracticality.

He sighs.

The Drake would be more suitable soaring the skies, wings aglow with aether, protected from attack by stray foes – she’d have never allowed it otherwise.  She’d always desired one as a companion, smiling when she described holding their vestigial little arms as it curled around her.

They had been disagreeable creatures, refusing to be easily tamed, but “someday,” she had promised the disinterested beast with a scold.

None could have guessed that day would ne’er come. 

The concept is clear. Magicks form the creation's base, swirling as organs, limbs, and flesh solidify; its wings burst forth, alight with the touch of Zodiark Himself, armor as black as night protecting is rough hide. 

A gwiber draws its first breath.

At his side, the shadowy creation learns its world. It tastes the wind's currents so that it might take flight and listens to each birdcall, twig’s snap, or leaf’s crunch for potential threats: a newborn life, fresh with possibility, observes its unknown surroundings.

And in his hand, a horn, much like the one used to summon the Drake.

"What is this?" Emet-Selch blinks at the intrusion; the Warrior of Darkness returns earlier than expected, continuing to run mortal errands.

And in doing so, witnesses that which was ne’er intended to be seen.

"Naught but a whim." 

With a dismissive wave of his hand, the gwiber leaps into the skies, testing its wings and soaring through the canopy until nigh invisible, even under the midday light.

He slips the horn in his pocket.

Someday, he'll have the opportunity to give it to that person, but until then, he will keep the gift safe.

Chapter Text

A hair is out of place.

Barely visible over the hologram, such lapses are overlooked by the eager citizenry awaiting the Speaker's impending announcement, still believing that hope is to be found – that the Fourteen – Thirteen - will discover both succor and solution.

You know better.

Had you been present the small broadcasting chamber, you might have pushed the stay lock back, traced the exhausted lines on his features and scolded him for working so tirelessly.

You must pay more heed to your health -

A warning inevitably ignored, no matter its repetition.

"We will grant will to the star -"

In the days since your departure – since the conclusive vote - he has aged millennia, his soft voice reciting the speech mechanically.

Not even the famed orator can make such a request seem soothing.  

"We – the Star- pleads for your assistance."

The individual who, to you, now bears only the title of Lahabrea bows his head, breaking at the weight of his request.

Slipping fully from its confines in his deference, your hand instinctively reaches for the loose lock -

Only to meet air, the hair fore’er outside your grasp.

Whether 'tis trick of the light or individual delusion, a single teardrop escapes his mask, its residual trail reflecting off his check.

You close your eyes, switching off the hologram, but the echo of Lahabrea’s soft, pained breaths does not stop – nor do yours.

This is the path you've chosen, even if you must progress alone.

As must he.

Chapter Text

The tea is too strong.

Halmarut's experimental attempts at altering the chilled warmth of mint brew to enhance its nutritional value prove unpleasantly harsh for an adult, let alone babes small enough to hide within their parents' robes - and such events are naught without smiling babes.

Tradition has not much changed since your youth; e'ery winter families come to hear the tales - lessons, in truth - by the warmth of the fire, partaking of traditional meals and treats with the Fourteen.  A source of both pride and humility, the children attend a brief lesson in the histories and the sciences from those most knowledgeable.  Though the smallest will not understand, the crackle of the hearth, the scent of spice, and taste of the treats will remain a memory close to their hearts throughout their lifetimes, as it does yours and all those who came before.

A hastily scrawled note later and you lift the tray of freshly baked goods from the counter, returning to the library's corner where the low, steady rumble of Lahabrea's voice, firelight's golden glow, and growing excited giggles of delight await.

With each step nearer, giggles become chatter; the children gather around the windows, excitedly pointing and tapping at the sky beyond.

Of course.

Lahabrea rises from his seat, futilely attempting to herd his willful students.

"What's going on?" Placing the tray down on the table, you approach the gaggle, whispering query more out of curiosity than necessity as you squeeze Lahabrea’s hand.

"They'll not focus."  He returns your grasp, but Lahabrea's attentions remain primarily on his charges, consumed by assignment as he oft is.

You'd have it no other way.

No more than a brief glance is necessary to reveal the culprit: large, heavy flakes dance under the streetlights and settle onto bare, decorative flora and walkways; powdering the city like flour, Amaurot experiences the cycle's first snow.

"Of course, they've been cooped up all day. Surely you were the same, once." Theirs is a most reasonable frustration, though doubtful Lahabrea will see such when it interferes with his work.

"I don't recall." You lightly push Lahabrea's hand away in incredulity, but smile's treacherous spread persists.  "They'll bore of the scene soon enough."

"And when they do, there will be no time to finish the lesson."

Lahabrea surely recognizes such truth without your interference; if the children are to return to the topic at hand, their lessons must be more interesting than any distractions. Lahabrea is unmatched in retaining the attention of adults, but managing children requires a defter hand.

But what are partners, if not complementary?

"Have you noticed?" You interrupt an impressively ambitious plan to build a forest of snow creatures by lightly pushing between the students.

"Wow! You're -" Shushing the child with a finger to their lips proves ineffectual; the group’s excited buzz grows once more, having no choice but to acknowledge your presence. 

". . .With the arrival of winter, change overcomes the star." If naught else, the ease in which they are distracted will prove beneficial.

"What does that have to do with snow?" One particularly stubborn individual proves single-mindedly determined in the pursuit of play.  If he proves restless, you'll see to his lessons individually outside at a later time, but for now -

"To understand winter, you must first understand its cause. As the underworld stirs, its souls reach out and blot the sun."  You motion to the sky, the sun's absence behind thick, milky clouds evidence enough of your tale. "Shuddering at their touch, the light seeks refuge on the horizon, shortening days and chilling the winds."

You swear a low whisper at your side condemns your tale - we're not here to put nonsense in their heads - but dismiss it with the wind under the children’s rapid questions. 

Having observed Lahabrea’s methods for long enough to recognize and employ his strategies, you fall to silence; hands serenely held on your lap, you accept their passion, but offer no response until at last their anticipatory curiosity returns wholly to you.

"Our attire warms us, but not all lives are so well protected from the spirits. That is why the Shepherds oversee their slumber. One Shepherd lulls the plants and trees, that they might awaken when the days lengthen." Again you motion, this time to the bare trees lining the passages throughout the city.  "Another comforts the fish in the frozen lakes, guiding them to their depths so they are untouched by frost or turbulent tide."

"Who are the Shepherds?" The stubborn boy at last succumbs, as intensely inquisitive about your tales as he was mere moments before about the snow.  His is a beautiful passion.

"The esteemed Speaker was getting to that, before you fled his tale to see the snow.  Now come, shall we hear what he has to say?"

They fidget uncomfortably, clearly embarrassed by their thoughtlessness, and dutifully follow Lahabrea back to the seating area. Returning to their place on the soft cushions strewn across the floor at his feet, the Speaker weaves his tale in the golden glow of firelight.  Permitted rare indulgence in their favorite festive treats, impassioned discussion echoes through hallowed halls.

You'll weather Lahabrea's inevitable scolding later, but for now, you, too, are wont to partake of the season's simplest joys.


Naught hinders the flow of coin in Ul'dah.

Even afflicted by the desert's relentless heat for the rest of the year, Ul'dah's citizenry proves unaffected by Starlight's arrival, going about their business as the snow falls around them as they might any other moon. 

Making your way through gaudy seasonal decor to the aetheryte plaza, the merchants’ cries and minstrels' seasonal songs succumb to winter’s blanketing silence and the crunch of footfall on hard, dirty snow.

He is just outside the Grand Company when you come upon him; assigned to gathering information in the city, Thancred instead finds himself besieged by four babes so well-bundled they might well be ovals. Even from a distance their pleading for Starlight tales - accompanied by persistent tugs at his sleeves and trousers - is audible, but their presence makes stealth an impossibility and Thancred continues futile attempts at ignoring them in favor of his duty to the Scions.

Be it by fate or chance, he looks up.

Eyes meet eyes for no longer than two beats of your heart before Thancred raises his gaze to the grey-painted Heavens, searching for an unknown beyond the clouds.  Light flakes fall onto Thancred's cheeks, lashes and lips, melting on his warmth, but he barely seems to notice.

“Mr. Bard. . .?”

With a long blink, the brief stillness shatters and Thancred releases a breath, returning his attention to the present.

You'd not planned on interfering, but your arrival stills his determined march.  With a clench of his jaw and a defeated sigh, Thancred at last acknowledges the children.  

"Very well.  If 'tis tale you desire, I know one fitting for the season."

Not often does situation allow for a demonstration of Thancred’s skills as a bard, and you observe from a distance, curiosity unrestrained.

"When restless souls stir, change overcomes the star." He lifts a hand, letting the flakes settle onto his black leathers. "Upon their advent, winter's touch graces the land."

"Snow!" The children's giggling begins anew and Thancred shakes his head; bearing a distant demeanor, he proves abnormally challenging to read, intent impossible to place.

"Not only the snow, e'ery life is influenced. Flowers no longer blossom, trees lose their leaves, animals flee to the warmth of their dens to rest."

Thancred's poetic oration attracts more than words; meaning might elude them, but nonetheless the children sway, ensnared within his narrative spell. Even you cannot deny anticipating the continuation of his strange tale, one that inexplicably rouses warmth in your bosom.

"Without a guiding hand, the seasons might unbalance the land. In Coerthas, winter rages unending. In order to prevent such misfortune, there exist those who oversee the change, guiding lives and aether that they might continue their cycle -

"These individuals are known as the Shepherds."