You fly up to the top of the Dawn Throne’s castle, your Yol beneath you chirping. It has been an especially long day; not only did you fight and win the Naadam, but the Imperial attack immediately after added to your exhaustion. The battle high during the two fights kept you afloat, no doubts, but upon returning to the Mol encampment and informing Temulun Khatun of your victory, you had nary a moment to relax before having to hunt, culling a pack of morbols that grew too close to the Mol village. Cirina had assured you that their vines will be put to good use and that their deaths were not in vain. Despite the happiness you feel at being able to provide and help where you can, you are still tired. You snuck off while the celebrations occurred and your comrades were busy drinking and enjoying themselves.
You reach the top of the castle, hopping off your Yol on the roof. He nuzzles your hand as you reach out, smiling, and then flies over to the pack of Oroniri Yol. The sky is bright and clear, the moon full. You spy a few constellations, the Bole most of all, shining down on you. It is a gentle reminder that you are being protected so you yourself may protect the world. It is a heavy thought despite the comfort it does bring.
You sit down on the roof, the soft sounds from the Yol behind you a comforting background noise. Staring off into the far reaches of the Steppe, the soft lights from Reunion flickering to the right grounds you. Sometimes being the Warrior of Light is too taxing, too much. You need the comfort of solitude; you and the calls of the beasts and the open expanse of world you have yet to explore.
How much you have changed, you reflect, from when you first found that carriage and first met Alphinaud and Alisaie, unknowing just how close they would become to you. How Alphinaud had changed so much, going from a boy believing he could save the world single handedly to the young man capable of leading an army and making the necessary decisions needed for their greatest chance of succeeding; of Alisaie, from so full of resentment toward Eorzea for taking her grandfather away, unbelieving in its worth, to one still not wont to handle the delicate political talks needed to survive in this world, but so fierce and true and honest in her convictions nonetheless and willing to fight for them all; of meeting Lyse, then Yda, and watching her come out of her shell, remembering how she stepped up and was the first to offer a distraction for you and your fellow Scions to get away from the corrupt Crystal Braves, continuing to try to be true to herself and walk her path.
You remember your own bright eyed thoughts of adventuring, helping people, and making a difference; how you started by those simple tasks: cull these fiends, rescue this farmer’s crops, prevent an enraged gobbue from entering the city. You think of yourself now, the great Warrior of Light: an influential friend to the head of all four city-states in Eorzea (piercing blue eyes that won’t open any longer and a chalice of poison and an interrupted dinner), an unmatched primal slayer with too many kills to count (but you do, and you remember, and you hold on to the pain and death, of Ga Bu’s despairing eyes, and let it strengthen you), a Scion of the Seventh Dawn, dragonkiller (your mind whispers, but was it you, or was it Estinien’s willpower and strength?), dragonfriend, kahgan, a fierce warrior with no match (a despondent Lyse, Y’shtola on the brink of death, Pipin and Alisaie unconscious on the ground near you, certain death looming in front of you only to be spared, pathetic, pathetic —).
You startle as a hand is placed on your shoulder, reaching for your weapon and scrambling to your feet, your mind plagued with the unbearable thought of not being able to defeat a man when you were so strong and killed Bahamut , killed Alexander, killed Titan and Leviathan and Garuda and a mere man is certainly not going to get the best of you now.
“Peace, my friend! I did not mean to startle you so. I thought you heard the beating of my Yol’s wings as I searched for you.”
It is Lord Hien.
You take a slight step back, wary of the edge, and breathe in shakily, replacing your weapon. You had grown so into your thoughts you hadn’t realized the cold that had begun to crawl up your back, or the slightest clouds in the far distance approaching the Dawn Throne, or the Lord settling next to you. You look up into kind eyes and smile feebly, attempting to assure him you are fine. He appears concerned, a small frown creasing his face.
“Are you quite alright?” he asks, hesitantly reaching a hand back out to your shoulder. “You left the celebrations with nary a word to anyone; many, myself included, grew anxious.” You nod, dark thoughts twisting around in the back of your mind, but know you cannot express yourself. Not yet. You need to return to Kugane or the House of the Fierce soon: get some alone time with Tataru or Alphinaud or both of them, and talk about your journey in the Far East so far. You haven’t been able to decompress in a while and it is showing. The liberation front has been so fast paced, so similar to traversing Dravania, that, while it is welcome for a workaholic such as yourself, reminds you of past adventures and past hurt from which you have yet to fully heal.
Hien hums, scanning your face. You haven’t known him long, but you remember the reserved happiness Yugiri spoke with and the joyous laughter Gosetsu freely shared. You understand he is important; a victim of the Garlean Empire the same way the Ala Mhigan people are, but soon you know he will be head of the Domans. He fought valiantly in the Naadam, ferociously protecting the Mol and indiscriminately defeating those opposing him, earning the victory aside you. He is a brave man, willing to give his head to protect his people if that is what they ask. You think of his words, of his solemn reminder to you, ‘but the first of many such debts.’
You settle back down on the roof next to him, staring out at the night sky twinkling above the lands. A shiver goes up your spine, but you ignore it. It is normal this high up with the wind breezing past your body, the Sun hidden. You are so lost in your thoughts, of remembering those you have lost and those you have failed, that you almost forget he is there until he speaks again.
“I remember when I was a child,” he says quietly after those several moments of silence, “a young merchant, brazen and believing himself immune to the Empire’s hate, approached my father and our fellow Domans, wishing to trade. My father had nothing to trade, given we were taxed so heavily at the time by the Empire, and the merchant grew angry. I could tell he was tired and hungry, wanting coin to take back home, most likely to prove his worth wherever he was from. A guard walked by and noticed the commotion, coming over to see what had happened and why we weren’t simpering in fear. My father played the diplomat, trying to calm the enraged merchant and the unfeeling guard, but it was futile. The merchant challenged the authority of the guard, and that was it. The guard struck down the merchant and claimed his goods for the Empire, saying young men should not be so bold as to challenge their might.”
Hien’s eyes are downcast, staring glassily off into the distance. You can tell he is lost in his thoughts, but as of yet you haven’t been able to discern why he is telling you this story from his youth. You understand his frustration with the Empire as you yourself wish them removed from these lands. You sit quietly next to him, though, your head resting on your knees as you watch the expressions flicker across his face.
“That was the first time I saw someone die in front of me. It changed who I was. It dampened the brightness in my childish eyes, showing me the sheer might of the Empire. Here was this one man, holding all these amazing people hostage with nothing more than his words and his clothes. We could have easily overpowered him, but we didn’t. I didn’t understand fully why not, but I have grown to where I understand now. Your battles must be chosen carefully lest you have the death of dozens or hundreds of your people resting on your shoulders, growing heavier every moment.”
He pauses. He seems to shake himself out of the memories, looking over at you again. Your eyes meet his and you wonder for a moment if this is the look that changed Yugiri and drove her to stand by his side.
“You have fought creatures I have no desire to ever face, though I shall gladly do so for my people. You have seen horrors beyond imagination. When Gosetsu and you visited the Dothral, one of the subjects Lyse spoke to me was of you—of your unflinching loyalty to the light and the good of this world.” He smiles at you, your eye contact never breaking. Your hands grasp your legs tighter, wondering if ever you’ll have the chance to just be you first, and not always the Warrior of Light. “But you don’t really do it unflinchingly, do you?”
It is a slight shock to hear him say this so bluntly to you; to imply you aren’t willing to put your life on the line for others. It brings back a flash, of running on a bridge and being pushed out of the way and you could have handled it yourself, you always can, but he couldn’t bear the thought—
Before you can do more than gap at him and extract yourself from your mind, he continues.
“I think you’re like me,” he whispers, his eyes downcast momentarily as if remembering a memory before seeking yours again. “I think you’re scared, and the deaths you’ve seen and experienced are more than you want to handle. I think you take each loss too hard; take each win too lightly. You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop here, aren’t you? You’re waiting for something to happen to ruin your happiness, to ruin your effort.” Here, his eyes grow cold and his voice hard, “Lyse told me of Rhalgr’s ruin, of that damnable monster Zenos, of your inability to even come close to defeating him. But I want to remind you of something, and please forgive me my unsolicited advice: you’re still alive. You still made it to fight another day. You are a beacon of hope for countless people, just like I am for my people. It is a difficult mantle to be on, but you have done it so admirably so far. It is not wrong to seek friendship and help when you need it. Those surrounding you want to protect you and love you same as my people do me. It is okay to show weakness and ask for someone to help lift you back up.”
There is a heavy silence between you two. You are uncertain as to how to respond to him; no one has addressed you this way before. You are a quiet one, and like to keep yourself private, and this man you haven’t even properly known for a fortnight simply barged in and explained you to a T.
“Why are you telling me this?” you ask, your voice scratchy from disuse.
“Because I think we’re quite alike, and I know the pains I go through to be a pillar of strength. I strive to be as positive as is possible, to find joy in the small things—like a simple challenge between two friends,” he winked. “I know the difficulties you are facing and the path you walk, however different they may feel. I want you to know I am here if you need a moment and want to talk to someone who understands.”
You chuckle lightly, breaking the eye contact to stretch your muscles. You glance at the group of Yol behind you, seeing your own drooping slightly. You imagine that he will sleep cuddled next to them until you call for him. It comforts you to know he will not sleep alone. For a moment, you wish the same for yourself.
“Thank you,” you say at last. “I... have friends that listen and understand. We shall be seeing them again soon, I hope.” You have more to say, but can’t seem to gather the energy to do so. Your body is fully shivering now. You think of how you have grown distant from Y’shtola and Thancred since their returns from the lifestream and wilderness respectively; how Ysayle had sacrificed herself to stop the Dragonsong War; how Estinien had left without even a note of farewell…
You curse Teledji and Lolorito. The banquet had changed you much too strongly for you to ever return from; no longer do you openly trust nor confide. Your chosen circle is much smaller than it was once, and while you have a pang of regret for losing those previously strong friendships, you cannot change your mind. Tataru and Alphinaud have never wavered from your side, no matter your choices, and they are undoubtedly your closest friends, due in part to your Ishgardian adventures and weeks at Camp Dragonhead. You remember helping Alisaie with Bahamut’s resurrection so long ago, of her poisoning at the hands of the Warriors of Darkness; seeing how close she is to her twin and her sheer force of personality has dug a hole in your heart right next to Tataru and Alphinaud.
An image of the Lord Commander pops in your head, of sitting across from him and trying again, happy, but holding yourself back from another heartbreak. A confidant, indeed, but one with painful memories attached, although not his own fault.
You refocus on Hien. He nods, staring at you for a moment more, before standing. He holds a hand out for you, and you take a beat longer to reach up and allow him to help you stand. You nod your thanks, wrapping your arms around yourself.
“Come, my friend. Let us join the fire and celebrations below. I have naught to offer you up here except my own body heat.”
You nod again. Thoughts of a distant land swirl in your mind with every sway of the wind against your skin, wishing for the body heat of another to comfort you.
You crave hot cocoa and a hearth of stone fiercely.
Hien jumps down to the roof below and you follow, quickly reaching the ground of the Dawn Throne. Your Yol can have a moment to himself tonight with his own kind. You will take this moment given to you, to reflect, and you feel an urge growing in you as you walk beside this man who sought you out and offered a story and comfort only. It causes your brain to pause, and as you reach the gatekeep to the ground below, you eye Hien. He seems content to walk back to the Mol site with you at this late hour, as he too has not called his Yol back to his side.
“I was a simple adventurer,” you begin on a whim. He glances at you and a giant smile breaks out on his face. It is infectious, and you smile too. “I had not experienced pain, betrayal, or death; I only knew helping people and how to make a difference...”
While he will never be the same as those before, you think maybe he can be a friend worthy of some of your trust. You hope your impulse does not backfire.
You walk side by side all the way back to the Mol encampment, slaying a stray fiend here and there, the dark thoughts in your mind trickling away with each gasp or laugh you evoke from Hien. You understand now why Yugiri felt such hope with him. He is a strong man, in tune with the needs of others. You decide on this trip to open yourself up more, to trust more than just Tataru and the twins. The deaths of those you’ve allowed close to you still ring strong in your heart (and you’ve always tried smiling, it’s what was asked of you, and you cannot deny that wish), but you know they would be proud.
It is a simple night, a beautiful night, and you smile in the wind as you see Lyse waiting for you by the fire, eager to be by your side. She may not be the one you would go to, just as Hien isn’t, but you give yourself over anyway, allowing yourself this comfort and happiness.
You are alive and changing the world, and for that, you allow yourself to remember that it’s okay to change yourself, too.