Thancred watched the Warrior of Light stride out the door, head high, steps certain, even knowing Ifrit waited at the Bowl of Embers, and far stronger than before.
Once again, Thancred would not be there to help. This time, rather deliberately.
He ground his teeth and reached for the brown bottle holding down some of the reports from the Immortal Flames. When he tipped it back, however, it was empty; only a single sluggish drop teased his tongue.
Papalymo looked up at the solid thunk the bottle made as Thancred slammed it back onto the table. “Problems?”
“Always. ‘Tis why our order exists, after all.”
Papalymo gave him a disappointed frown. “Please. I have known you far too long to fall for such a sophomoric deflection.”
Thancred winced. “...I should be there this time.” You didn’t notice my previous deflections--or when I wasn’t myself. The thought rose like a sea swell, bubbling and angry, the salty taste of it only increasing his thirst. That wasn’t fair; he had done his best to make sure the others didn’t worry too much about how hard he had worked. There had been so much to do, after all--still was. Now, though, they watched him closely.
It was sweet while at the same time, galling.
“You are still recovering,” Papalymo was saying, perfectly logically, while Thancred tried to bite down his bitterness. “We still do not know the full extent of the damage the Ascian’s presence may have caused.”
“Yes, yes, I am fully aware,” Thancred growled, waving a hand. He looked across the room to the stores. Bremond has just come through; there ought to be a new selection of wine to try.
“Thancred,” Papalymo said, voice quieter, gentler. “We don’t know of anyone else who has survived such an ordeal. If the host body is even alive to begin with, generally when an Ascian is defeated--”
“I am well aware,” Thancred repeated. He realized how harsh he sounded only after the words left his lips. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “My apologies, Papalymo; I don’t mean to take out my frustrations on you.”
“You’ve ever been a terrible patient, according to every healer we know,” Papalymo replied, a hint of amusement in his tone. “If you’re not ignoring injuries for too long, you’re being impatient in recovery--or you’re charming your caretakers into giving you leniency you should not have.” The mirth faded quickly. “You mustn’t try to push too much, too quickly, my friend; that led us down this path to begin with. You will be back to yourself in time--so long as you listen to our learned colleagues.”
Thancred only nodded as he stood. “I need a new drink. Want me to grab anything for you?”
“No, thank you.”
Thancred turned and strode across the Waking Sands common room, feeling the thaumaturge’s eyes on his back. He knew Papalymo was right about most of those things.
Except, perhaps, the part where Thancred would be “back to himself” again. That old version had caused this mess for his friends--and had nearly doomed the whole realm.
That foolish former self couldn’t hear the whispers in shadows, nor had great blank spots of time and sudden, brief flashes of terrible memory. The fool hadn’t experienced the nightmares that left his current self cold and sweating, screaming and immobile.
To become his old self would be to forget those punishments for his failure. One should not run from lessons, regardless of how harsh they were.
Then again, one needed to function despite those consequences. He found the supplies Bremond had dropped off, and rather than wine, more of those lovely brown bottles. That would dull the hissing whispers screaming in the back of his mind, so he might get his work done.
“Will you walk with me?”
She was looking at him with those bright blue-grey eyes, her smile earnest as she rocked toes to heels, hands clasped behind her back, as if she were a little girl imploring an elder brother.
Thancred tried to come up with an excuse, even as he knew it was a doomed effort. He could not say no to Minfilia when she smiled at him like that.
So he gave her his own charming smile as he pushed off the bookshelf he had been leaning on, continuing into a flourishing bow. “Of course, Antecedent. I shall be glad to escort you wheresoever you please.”
She rolled her eyes, barely suppressing a giggle. He grinned as they walked to the door, waving at Tataru as they passed her desk.
He could still make Minfilia smile, at least. That was good; some of the difficult to recall conversations from before his...trouble...cast her in a concerned, or even scolding, light. Thancred had worried her, and it had proven far too warranted. It had led to her capture by the Garleans. He was supposed to protect her, not be the vehicle by which she was tortured by their enemies…
Her hand slipped around his arm as they stepped into the bright light still bearing down on Vesper Bay. It was late in the afternoon, bringing a breeze in off the sea to mitigate some of the desert heat. It would be a very cold evening; perhaps he ought to find some company.
The idea of going to the local bar to flirt with a passing maid to spend the evening felt more tiring than anything. Mayhap he would read tonight instead.
“You seem lost in thought.”
“Apologies, my dear,” he replied. “I feel as if I have been inside too long; this walk will do me well, I think. Particularly with such lovely company.” He patted her hand and gave her another grin.
“I thought you could use the fresh air. You’ve been moping.”
“I have not. Also, I don’t know about fresh; the fishermen are bringing in their catches and that always reeks. Reminds me of my youth.”
“I cannot imagine you voluntarily spending much time amongst fishermen.”
“Mostly when trying to shake a mark, or the guards,” he admitted. She giggled again, the clasp at the end of her braid catching the light as it bobbed. “Really though, there isn’t much chance of escaping them in Limsa; if you’re not a pirate, you’re a fisherman.”
“Or a thief.”
“Well.” Thancred shrugged a shoulder and pretended to look sheepish.
“Do you ever miss that home?”
“No,” he said, honestly. “I like Limsa well enough, don’t get me wrong, but I’m happy to leave it in Y’shtola’s care. Sharlayan was more of a home than even the Guild could be.”
“But you had to leave there too, and come to Ul’dah.”
“And glad am I that I did, as it led me to you.” He looked away, toward the scantily clad girls dancing in the square for the sailors’ delight. It was the same show as ever, dulling his own enjoyment of the spectacle. “Though, I shall ever wish the circumstances of our meeting were...better,” he continued. He could never apologize enough, not for that awful day so long ago.
“I’ve long put to rest any regrets concerning that,” Minfilia said. From her tone, he knew she was being truthful. “The grief is always there, but…’tis duller, than it once was.” She looked up and smiled. “Having such dear friends does help.”
He returned the smile, but felt the point of her words pricking at his skin. “So, is this about young Alphinaud’s proposal?” Thancred asked instead, knowing it had to be part of the reason, and not wishing to delve into what she was currently hinting toward.
He caught her masking a frown, and knew he had been correct.
“In part,” she admitted. “On the one hand, I know he is right; the Syndicate has ever tried to maneuver us in their own preferred directions.” She looked over at the central square, making a brief face at the giant, gaudy statue of Lord Lolorito standing in place of an aetheryte. An awful waste, as the currents here were perfect for a hub. “On the other...Thanalan has been home ever since I was a child. Since I met you.”
“And her,” he said quietly. Minfilia’s light touch on his arm briefly tightened. “Home is where you make it, Minfilia.”
“You could do it?” she asked. “Just leave, after fifteen years here?”
He gave himself a short time to think as they stepped through the northern gate to the little cove road that ran between town and the Flame outpost a few malms ahead. The sea breeze was cleaner here, and he could hear the gulls more clearly.
“Yes,” he finally answered, pulling away to hop onto a low ridge of rocks, offering Minfilia a hand. “I’ve done it before, I can do it again.”
“Just like that?” She accepted his hand, and he pulled her up, holding her steady until she found her balance.
“Where ever you and the other archons are is home enough for me,” Thancred said quietly. Part of him hoped the rushing tide had drowned him out. But Minfilia gave him a look, startled at first, then warming into satisfaction.
“I’ve been worried about you, you know.”
“I’ve been causing a lot ot worry lately, unfortunately. I do apologize.”
She shook her head, moving past him, arms out, as she made her way along the uneven ridge of rocks. He followed closely, with much more practiced ease, keeping an eye out for the stones that were slick with sea water and might cause her to fall.
“Your recovery is what matters now. You’ve nothing to be sorry for.”
“Our colleagues in the lichyard might disagree, were they still able to speak for themselves.”
Minfilia looked back over her shoulder. “You didn’t kill them.”
“No, ‘twas just my body, my knowledge, that allowed the Ascian and the Garleans to do so.” My weakness. He dared not say that out loud; he would never hear the end of it.
“But not you doing it.”
“I could not stop them. Not even from hurting you.” He ought to keep moving, but he could only stare down at the next stone, noting spots of moss failing to find purchase versus the brine.
Her shadow fell over the rock, and her hand reached up to squeeze his shoulder. “You are not to blame. I am happy to have you back, safe and whole.”
Thancred lifted his eyes to meet hers, and forced the corners of his mouth to lift in a response to her smile. Minfilia would know it wasn’t real, but she would also know that he tried, if only for her sake.
He wasn’t certain about the “whole” part.
Her look turned mischievous as she stepped away again, swaying more than he liked on her current perch. “Now, I bet I can make it to that little outcropping there, just by rock hopping.” She pointed at a jutting piece of stone a good six yalms away. The waves broke in between parts of the ridge in between it and their current location. It was already making him anxious to imagine all the ways one could slip along the course.
“I bet you fall on your arse,” he countered. “Or into the water.”
“Nonsense. You’re here to catch me--or fish me out if I do take a sudden bath,” she replied with a cheeky grin. He answered with an exaggerated, long-suffering sigh and hopped along after her.
Had he known? Perhaps in some part, watching the others meet F’lhaminn. She had her own secrets, her own lies. Some had to do with him because of their shared connection to Minfilia, though most did not.
He felt eighteen again, going to visit the child, but hoping that maybe this time, the lady would notice him.
She never did. Not in that way, at least. Likely never, so long as she still wore Niellefresne’s tokens.
Thancred had thought that disappointment long behind him, and solidly buried with her assumed death. Not that he had ever believed that rumor, anymore than Minfilia had. He knew F’lhaminn too well.
He smiled and greeted the songstress warmly, made his usual flirts and japes, but everything felt so distant and echoey; a mummer’s play put on for the benefit of others. Her own smile was kind as she told him how wonderful it was to see him again, how thankful she was he still looked out for her Ascilia--she had always stubbornly used the Antecedent’s birth name when in private, and seemed determined to continue the habit. She soon moved on to the next member of the Scions Alphinaud thought to introduce her to.
Even now I matter so little.
The thought tasted sour, and Thancred picked up his wine glass to wash it away as he watched her glide through the room. Still lovely, still charismatic enough to draw every eye with a single graceful gesture. Her voice was still pleasant as she spoke and laughed, though there was a thread of sadness to it, a weight that he did not quite recall from their youth.
Or perhaps he knew how to hear it, now.
Gods, that had all been so long ago. And here he was still acting like a besotted schoolboy.
Thancred downed the rest of the wine, wincing at the sharpness of the dregs, a different bitterness not of his own making. He would have to remember to avoid this label in the future.
Everything still felt too distant, too echoing. Like he was watching the scene from behind his own eyes while another moved his body.
He refilled his glass before slipping out of the common room to return to his own chamber. It was going to be a bad night, if he was already feeling like this; he would need the wine to keep the nightmares at bay.
If a concerned pair of coral eyes turned his way as he left, Thancred did not notice.
“You are such a liar,” Yda said, her back leaning against Thancred’s as they sat upon a favorite wall overlooking Vesper Bay. It had been Yda’s idea, freshly returned from Gridania and the moogles’ mess, before she and Papalymo left again--for Mor Dhona and the Scions’ new headquarters.
“You are going to have to be more specific about what this time, dear Yda,” he replied, bumping the back of his head against her turban.
“I know you’re still upset about...everything that happened. With the Ascian, I mean. You put on a brave face for everyone…”
He frowned. “But?”
“I just...I don’t mean to be worried, but I feel like if I’m not, I’ll just be letting you down again and something else bad might happen.”
Oh this sweet, silly girl. “You never let me down, my friend--rather the opposite. But I am quite at my limit for allowing terrible things to happen to me for now, do not worry.”
“See, there you go again,” she sighed. “It’s not bad you want people to think you’re fine. What’s that one saying, ‘fake it ‘til you make it?’ I just want to be sure it’s actually making you feel better, too.”
Thancred chuckled. One could say a few things about the woman sitting with him and ‘faking it’, but bringing that up would only upset her more...not to mention act as further deflection. People oft thought Yda airy-minded, but really, her intellect simply differed from their more studious colleagues, or even himself. She tended to be more in tune with emotions than their more cerebral friends.
Or himself, again. Rationalizing and running scenarios over in his mind was easier than mulling too deeply on how he was feeling.
Her shoulder bumped his.
“I am...getting there,” Thancred answered. “Some days are better than others. I don’t want you all to worry, though I am...grateful, for the concern.”
He laughed. “Hardly! It has been nice to get in the field with Y’shtola again, however; while research and report wrangling are necessary, I yearned for action.”
“That’s good. Especially since you’re not getting any other kind of action.”
“Yda.” Her turn to laugh; gods, she could be a brat sometimes.
“Hey, not my fault you make it obvious when you’re charming ladies--and when you’re not. ...So, why not?”
He shrugged. “Between recovery, dealing with primal summonings, and preparing for the move, there really hasn’t been time.”
“When has that ever stopped you before?”
“...All right, fair point. Mayhap I’m just getting old.”
She snorted and bumped his head once more. “There you go again. Maybe--Gods, I cannot believe I am suggesting this, and Y’shtola and Papalymo would have fits if they heard, but--maybe...you ought to? At least get back to flirting. Sure, you’ll probably have to pretend for a bit, but who knows, you might find it familiar and fun and it could...help? I don’t know, it sounds stupid now that I’m saying it out loud--”
“No, it doesn’t,” he replied, leaning away so he could turn and face her. She half-turned as well, peering at him through that mask, only hints of her pretty blue eyes visible. Maybe someday he would be allowed to see them properly again. “It’s...actually a fairly decent suggestion.”
“...Now you’re just humoring me.”
“That’s Papalymo’s job,” he answered, making her snort with laughter. “I’m trying so hard to get back into my work, I’m liable to land myself right back where I started. And a certain elezen perhaps suggested I’m wallowing--that, or he was reciting an old Thavnairian poem; it’s hard to tell through the pretension some days.”
“I should tell him you said that.”
“Don’t you dare. Point is, I haven’t...felt like myself, in a rather long time. Perhaps falling back into a few old habits isn’t such a bad idea.”
“Better than some new ones you’re picking up,” she said.
Thancred caught the wince; she hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “And what’s that mean?”
“Nevermind, just more random thoughts that should have stayed in my head.”
“If something is bothering you, Yda--”
“No! I mean, well--not yet, I think. More, other people saying things, but I don’t know, myself. So, don’t worry about it.”
“Other people, hrm? One of them small, blond, and knows more than either of us, in his own opinion?”
“Ha! No, it’s just--if I think there’s actually a problem, I’ll tell you, all right? I just...don’t know if there is yet. But maybe if you get back to those, um, ‘old habits’ it won’t be and this whole conversation--er, well, this part, anyroad--will be moot! Right?”
Thancred ran a hand over his face. “...Sure.”
“Great!” She leapt to her feet and offered him a hand up. “We probably ought to be getting back inside. Last night in the Waking Sands! Tomorrow we’ll be in Mor Dhona, can you believe it?”
He took her hand, letting her haul him to his feet. “That was why we came out here, if I recall; one more good sit and talk on this old wall, before we have to find a new spot in Revenant’s Toll.”
“If there’s even a chance, in a new frontier town with so much work to do. I bet we get asked to run patrols often--Ooh! I want to fight a gigas!”
Thancred laughed. “I wager you shall, my dear--perhaps a whole herd of them.”
He was stumbling through a sandstorm, legs pushing through grains reaching to his knees, pulse thudding against his ears. He could feel the sand wearing away his flesh, hear echoes of voices on the wind, as he tried to see anything in the night. He had to keep moving, keep holding on long enough, just until he could…
He was in the Solar with the other Scions, and the Ironworks men that their new star primal slayer had rescued from the Garleans. The cold undercurrent of irritation ran along his limbs as he listened to himself reply in all the right ways.
Or did Papalymo’s slight frown mean he hadn’t quite said or done the correct thing?
No matter; a joke, a charming smile, and get out of the room before the Antecedent caught on. Before the Light from her and that meddling adventurer turned to reveal…
He fumbled through darkness and sand piled to his waist, feeling the churn of a storm that refused to break and the annoyed wonder at how that stumbling child managed to gain yet another Crystal of Light.
He lounged in the halls, avoiding the common room and conversations therein, smiling and giving brief responses to queries as to his activities.
How did no one notice?
It’s simple, a cold voice said as it shoved him under once more.
You don’t matter that much.
He opened his mouth to protest, drowning again in the blood of the Waking Sands and the Praetorium, the smell of fire searing his nose and throat.
Thancred sat up, gasping for air, the memories still more tangible than the cold, clear air of...where?
Ah, yes; Mor Dhona. The Rising Stones. Their new home.
He took a few shuddering breaths as he rubbed his eyes and wiped his face. After a moment he threw back the sheets and turned, bracing himself on the edge of the bed. He drummed his fingers against the mattress and wiggled his toes against the cool stone floor.
His own motions, enacted by his own thoughts. Not by another’s.
Thancred stood, wavering only slightly, and crossed to the little bath, sectioned off from the rest of his room. Alphinaud and Urianger had been quite thorough in their designs for the Scions’ new headquarters, and Thancred found himself grateful for an arcanist’s attention to details such as giving all of the senior members of the order small private baths as he splashed water on his face and ran his fingers through his now-damp hair.
He did not look too closely at the mirror before turning back to the main chamber and finding a pair of pants. He needed a drink before attempting to go back to sleep, and had nothing on hand.
He had thought everything was better. He was in the field again, he was flirting--though often unsuccessful, it was thankfully still fun--and he was spending time with his friends where his recovery was not the primary topic of conversation.
The Stones were silent as he walked down the hall, the floor smooth and cold against his bare feet. He meandered to the common area, wondering if there was something unpacked at the bar that F’lhaminn had claimed as her new domain. Perhaps in the kitchen young Alphinaud had designed according to her exacting specifications…
“Another late night wanderer,” a rough, quiet voice said.
Thancred managed not to jump, though he was annoyed with himself for not noticing the old man sitting at a table, a small candle for company. “Homei, isn’t it?” Thancred asked, bowing slightly in deference to the elder.
He nodded. “And you are Archon Thancred.”
“Just Thancred is fine,” he answered. “What has you up so late?”
Homei chuckled. “I’m old. And still acclimating to this new land.” He sipped from a small cup, eyes still on Thancred. “What is your excuse, young man?”
“Got thirsty,” Thancred replied. He meant it to sound like a joke, but the words seemed to have an edge of the desperate to his own ears.
“Ah, yes,” Homei said. “I know that well enough.” He gestured to one of the other chairs at the table. “Please, sit. I have something for that thirst.”
Curious, Thancred obeyed and took a seat, hands lightly clasped on the tabletop as he watched Homei pour liquid from a narrow stoneware jug into a second small cup.
“Perhaps I ought to save this for a special occasion, at least until we can make more here--if we can,” the old man said, setting a cup before Thancred. “But this is a night for lonely memories and melancholy dreams, and one should share sake with such consistent friends.”
“Sake?” Thancred asked, picking up the cup, taking a sniff. Cool, and definitely fermented by some method.
“Rice wine. I was thinking of Doma tonight.” Homei sipped from his cup. “It seems to me you were thinking of past things, too.”
Thancred considered the taste and the pleasant burn of the beverage. “I had...difficulties before your peoples’ arrival to our shores. I have recovered, however.”
“Physically. The rest is always harder,” Homei said, gesturing to the bottle. “You pour for me, now. We do this properly.”
Thancred poured more sake into the old man’s cup. “You brought this with you all the way from Doma?”
“The last bottle an old friend of mine had brewed. He did not join us.” There was a matter-of-fact finality to the words as Homei poured for Thancred. “Despite the speed of our departure, and lack of space, I found a bit of room.” He raised his cup, and Thancred did the same, before they both drank. “I see my friend, sometimes, when I try to sleep. Alongside others I knew, worked and fought beside. Left behind.”
“I feel I remember more in my dreams than I do when awake,” Thancred admitted. Then he sighed. “It’s...complicated, and I’d rather not try to explain.”
Homei shrugged. “I shan’t pry. We have heard a few stories, in any case, though they sound confusing and fantastical. But then, Eorzea is a strange realm, with a great deal of strange magic.”
Thancred laughed weakly. “Aye, ‘tis one way to describe it,” he said. Even to his own ears he sounded bitter. “I haven’t actually used much magic since recovering,” he admitted, taking another drink. “I have never relied on it much—more my colleagues’ bailiwick—but it feels so...off, since that night.”
The power of Ultima coursed through his limbs, channeled from the thrumming heart of the beastly machine while the Ascian used Thancred’s throat to laugh wildly…
He finished the cup.
“Our shinobi employ a form of magic in combat arts—though much is also simple misdirection. My son took that path. Perhaps you will see soon; I understand Lady Yugiri will be accompanying you to another part of the realm on the morrow.”
Thancred nodded, and considered the sake bottle. “We go to stop the summoning of the primal Leviathan. With any luck, I shall regain a bit of my lost honor.”
“And if you must use magic?”
Thancred shook his head as Homei offered to pour more. While tempting, Thancred was starting to feel the effects of the wine, combined with the late hour. “I shall do what I must to keep the Antecedent and the others safe. I cannot fail them again.”
“‘Tis my understanding that you never did,” Homei said quietly. “That you were as much a victim as your fallen comrades, and the others feared for you—if you think they curse you or call you weak, you could not be more wrong.”
Thancred felt his face heat and twist into a scowl. “I...I know. But I do not wish to speak of it. I should be getting back to bed. You as well, I think.”
“Forgive me, the sake has loosened my old tongue,” Homei said. “And a bottle should be finished when it is opened.” He reached for the jug, but Thancred snagged it first and poured for him.
“Well, if that is the case, I suppose we shall have to quaff the remainder.” He passed the bottle back to Homei.
Homei chuckled and poured Thancred another glass. “Indeed, my friend.” They raised their glasses to one another and drank more.
Two cups later, the bottle was almost empty, and Thancred realized that he was drunk. The night air didn’t seem so cold despite his lack of tunic and shoes, and the table was far more comfortable than he had first thought as he rested his head on his arms.
“I am not certain you do know,” Homei said as he finished the final cup and leaned back in his chair. “Perhaps soon they will show you. Perhaps someday you will believe it.”
Thancred wasn’t sure what the old man was talking about. He was simply resting here at the table before going back to his room. Homei began to snore softly, sleep finally winning out. Thancred ought to see the old fellow to his own chamber first, surely his son would be worried…
“Gods, seriously? We have to go to La Noscea!” Y’shtola was saying as she jabbed Thancred’s bare shoulder with a sharp fingernail.
Thancred grunted awake, batting at the offending hand. “I couldn’t let Homei drink alone,” he replied, voice slurred more from sleep now. His head was full of stuffing and everything was a bit too loud and bright. He needed a tall glass of ice water and breakfast. Homei was still sound asleep in his own chair, though slumped forward now too.
“Well I suppose I cannot fault your hospitality,” Y’shtola sniffed. “Please go get dressed.”
“Are you sure? Because I must say, your nails on my ski--”
He laughed as he stood, while Y’shtola had her hands on her hips, her green eyes rolling to the heavens. From the way her tail swayed, however, he knew she was at least slightly more amused than angry. Good thing for him; she could be vicious before she had her breakfast.
“Come on, old timer.” Thancred shook Homei and helped the sleepy, grumbling elder back to his room along the way to his own.
Thancred’s head hit the floor with a crack, his vision blinking and bursting with stars for a tick as he took in the unfamiliar sight of the Sisters’ ceiling. The gathered rogues gasped and laughed, chatter starting up quickly as money changed hands.
Bochard leaned into view, an amused look on his craggy face. “Well. Only took what--seventeen years?--To find someone who could knock ye on yer arse.”
“Plenty have before, even if you haven’t seen it,” Thancred answered. “And there shall be others in the future to keep me humble, I am certain.”
Bochard snorted out a laugh in reply.
Yugiri held out a gloved hand, which Thancred accepted as she helped him to his feet. “To be fair,” the Doman woman said to Bochard. “Master Thancred is but recently recovered, and we have had an interesting few days since arriving in La Noscea.”
“No need to make excuses on my account, Lady Yugiri,” Thancred said, rubbing the back of his head and giving her a grin. “You won fair and square.”
She shook her head, the mask and hood hiding her expression. “That could have gone either way; there were at least two occasions when luck was simply with me.”
“She’s right,” Jacke said from where he lounged against a wall. “Ye coulda cloyed a win outta that anytime ye wanted, Thancred.”
“Why Captain, are you implying I let her win? That would impugn not only my honor, but Lady Yugiri’s as well. Surely you wouldn’t want to insult our guest quite that quickly.”
Jacke smirked and shook his head. “‘Course not. And I gotta say, I am impressed by the demonstration. I see what ye mean in how it’s alike to our own work.”
“The Admiral thought so as well,” Yugiri said. “We owe much to the Scions, and others such as she who have aided us; sharing some of our own techniques helps repay those debts, and perhaps shall keep Limsa Lominsa safe from terrors like those we have seen but recently.”
Jacke didn’t even try to suppress his shiver. “Ye helped fight off the fishbacks and their primal, I dunno what more ye could do to repay any debts,” the guildmaster said. “But aye, I’d be a fool to turn down the offer, if any of our coves want to learn yer--what was it, shinobi?--ways.”
Yugiri nodded. Thancred let out a breath. “Splendid; if that is settled, I shall leave Lady Yugiri in your capable care, and return to Mor Dhona.”
“Or ye take a few days to breathe the Vylbrand air,” Jacke said, as Bochard spoke with Yugiri. “Ain’t much better at settin’ a listin’ ship to right than a familiar port and all the comforts it brings.”
Thancred shook his head. “Limsa stopped being home long ago; I am more familiar with Ul’dah these days. Even so, I’ve work to return to in Revenant’s Toll.”
“Whatever happened with the Garleans really did spin ye ‘bout, didn’t it? V’kebbe’s already poutin’, as ye ain’t spared a whid fer her or the other girls. That alone’s odd fer ye.”
Thancred laughed. “You may assure V’kebbe she is still the loveliest hellcat this side of U'Ghamaro, and that I shall do my best to make up for the lack of songs telling her so when next I am in town. As Lady Yugiri said, however, it has been a few interesting days.”
“Seems ye get those often.”
“‘Tis our lot as Scions.”
“Whatcha get fer takin’ responsibility fer the whole bloody realm,” Jacke said. “Anyroad, ye still got a berth here if ye ever need it, ye know. Me predecessors were clear on that.” He glanced over at Bochard, the guild’s eldest member and last of what Thancred considered the old guard.
“I know. I do appreciate it,” Thancred said. “I must be off, now that I have introduced our shinobi friend.”
Jacke nodded and tossed off a mock salute as Thancred walked out of the old convent and into the bright sunlight. Rain might have suited his mood better, but then, after the last several days, not terribly appropriate. He ought to be grateful for the clear skies, at least, even if the light did reflect back into his eyes from the water.
Thancred paused, watching said reflections glint and dance in the silvery-blue waves that played along the dock. There was a metaphor here somewhere, he felt. At the very least, perhaps the start of the poems he owed the ladies of the guild, for not being as effusive in his praise of their varied charms as usual.
His feet turned toward Hawker’s Alley, to a small shop ran by a pretty young woman he had spent time with before. Yda’s advice might be worth finally trying out; it couldn’t hurt, anyroad, and after dealing with Leviathan’s Drowned, he could certainly stand to set aside his troubles for a few bells in a lady’s bed.
An empty, yawning cold swirled around him, though he could not see. Could not feel, nor hear what the others were saying. It was if his ears were stuffed with cotton. His nose, too, though at least the robes, gloves, and mask kept the hungry cold away from his skin.
Was it his skin?
His mouth was free to speak, but though it was his tongue, his throat, the voice was another’s, the words someone else’s. He couldn’t quite hear them, nor quite understand.
The world shifted and pulled.
The cold was replaced with the heaviness of heat and humidity, the dusty scent of mold coming through the mask. Glimpses of shadowy tunnels, overgrown and overrun. A plant floated before him--no; a sylph. It was startled by the shadow, unable to escape.
The Bringer of Light was coming. There wasn’t much time to set the trap.
The sylph struggled. Somewhere in the distance, even through the layers the Paragon kept him under, Thancred felt the rumble of angry thunder.
“You’re up rather late,” Y’shtola said from where she sat reading.
Thancred paused on his way to the bar. “I could say the same for you,” he responded, continuing on his mission.
“I was speaking to Minfilia about recent events in Ul’dah; she is concerned for Alphinaud, though I doubt he has come to real harm. Else we would have had more than what word we did receive.”
“That still had to have been bells ago,” Thancred said, finding the brown bottle he sought. He drew it out, as well as glasses, and meandered over to the table where his fellow Archon sat.
“True,” Y’shtola said, her eyes fixing on the bottle briefly, before returning to Thancred’s face. “Once the Antecedent retired, I returned to my own reading.”
“And forgot the time,” he finished, smiling. It was not an unusual habit amongst scholars.
She returned the smile, somewhat sheepish, and shrugged. “That is my answer. Now what of your own? I see no book in hand, nor even a pen.”
He considered as he poured a glass, raising a brow as he offered her some of the wine. She shook her head. He lifted his cup and glanced at her over the rim. “Bad dreams.”
He might as well be honest. Thancred had not been able to keep secrets from Y’shtola for a good ten years now--not about himself, at any rate. She had the disconcerting habit of seeing through his obfuscation; thankfully, she simply didn’t pry all that often.
“You seem to have a lot of those lately. Does not even...keeping company hold them at bay?”
He barked out a laugh. “Funny thing is, Yda thought I ought to try spending time with my lady friends again. I...gave it an attempt, in Limsa.” He shrugged and finished the glass. “There were no dreams, but it wasn’t…” Thancred paused. “I made sure she enjoyed the evening.”
“I see. So you turn to drinking instead.”
“‘Tis simply medicinal. I shall have a glass and return to my chamber.”
“You are already pouring your second glass, and ‘medicine’ should not have you passed out at one of these tables.”
He narrowed his eyes and put his glass down without taking a sip. “What was it you said you and Minfilia spoke of?”
“Alphinaud,” Y’shtola replied glibly. Then she sighed; the seeing through lies went both ways in their relationship. “...And you. She is concerned. As am I.”
“Now you are concerned.”
She winced a little at his venomous tone, and he couldn’t quite suppress the smug little voice in his mind that said ‘good’ at the sight of it, even if he had not meant to sound that angry.
“You know I shall never forgive myself for not noticing something amiss much sooner,” she said in a low, quiet voice. “We shall all always regret it, I think.”
Thancred did not answer. He leaned back in his chair instead, arms crossed, determined now to prove a point--even if it was a waste of decent wine.
“But the facts remain; while you are physically recovered, the magical damage yet lingers, as does the emotional. I hear your japes, and now your flirtations with Higiri, but I know not all is right, Thancred.”
“Higiri is actually interesting,” he countered. “I get the feeling we don’t quite understand one another, however.”
“Please don’t attempt to change the subject.”
“You brought her up!”
“My point,” Y’shtola said. “Is that we are noticing now. And you ought to know you needn’t turn to a bottle for comfort when we are here to listen.”
“I do not need to be patronized. I am fine.”
“Oh you stubborn arse,” she said, exasperation getting the better of her. “We are your friends, and are here f--”
He stood, the chair scraping loudly against the stone floor and nearly tipping over in his haste. “And I appreciate that,” he said, voice hard even to his own ears. “And now that I have had my one glass, I am returning to bed. You ought to do the same.”
Her ears lay flat against her head as she glowered, green eyes narrow. On a sane day, he would be more concerned for his immediate health, but it was late, he was tired, and rather sick of being treated delicately by his closest comrades.
“You’re right,” Y’shtola replied, her own voice as cold as the winds from Coerthas. She continued to look him in the eyes as she picked up the glass and tossed it back herself, before recorking the bottle. “Good night, Thancred.”
“Good night, Y’shtola.” He marched back to his room, aware she was still standing by the table, watching, until he turned the corner.
Once in his own chambers he flopped back onto his bed and stared at the shadows for a time, trying to quiet his mind.
If Thancred dreamed again that night, he did not remember it later.
“Hey! Not even a ‘pardon me’?” Thancred called after Alisaie as the girl barrelled past him, leaving the Waking Sands as he was entering.
“Sorry, Thancred, we’ll speak later!” She called back as she wove and dodged through Vesper Bay’s square, nearly getting run over by a cart but managing only to startle the poor chocobo pulling it while the driver swore after the elezen maid.
“Well she’s rather in a hurry.”
“There hath been discoveries made in her investigations she wished to see for herself,” Urianger said from inside, standing by the table where Tataru used to greet any who entered their former headquarters.
“I’ve heard some of it from our esteemed colleague you roped into helping.”
Urianger shrugged. “With Mistress Alisaie’s safety in question, Master Alphinaud and I could think of no better escort.”
“True,” Thancred admitted. “But I doubt you called me down here to discuss Alisaie’s current obsession. Unless, of course, you intend to also cajole me into aiding her--or simply chasing her down. At the pace she was going, she’s likely halfway to Ul’dah by now.”
Urianger shook his head. “I wished thy opinion on a new creation. I have been experimenting, when there is time.”
“Very well,” Thancred said as he followed Urianger to the stairs leading to the Waking Sands’ halls. “Show me.”
The halls seemed larger than he recalled; perhaps because they were emptier, though he caught sight of Slafswys and Arenvald talking and laughing as they carried crates into a storeroom. As Thancred passed one of the lamp alcoves, he noted once again the stains on the metal; small, faded, but present.
He appeared in the corridor, Livia sas Junius at his side, a platoon of Garlean soldiers at their backs. The troops’ disorientation at the teleport mattered little, as the few Scions in the hallway were too stunned to react immediately. The paused moment passed quickly. As the Garleans attacked, the fellow from the Isle of Val began shouting. A gunshot silenced the scholar, his blood splattering across a nearby sconce as he fell. Other Scions and their allies followed, the soldiers indiscriminate with the chaff, seeking certain targets he himself had described, and now pointed out with his gloved fingers...
“So what is this about?” Thancred asked as they made their way down to the hall.
“I had a thought,” Urianger said. “It strikes me that thou art sleeping poorly.”
Thancred frowned. “And what, pray tell, gives you that impression?”
Urianger looked down; it was difficult to gauge his expression with those damnable goggles on. Thancred was certain that was a primary reason his colleague wore the things. “The circles under thine eyes, thy irritable behavior which is most unbecoming and outside thy usual temperament. There have also been...concerns thou art overindulging in the consumption of alcohol,” he said quietly, evenly.
Thancred pinched the bridge of his nose. “Gods, I am tired of everyone being in my business. I’m a man grown, I am allowed to have a drink now and again.”
“Indeed,” Urianger said, stepping through the door to the common room and holding it open for Thancred. “And I have argued the same; too much attention doth not make up for our lack of notice in the past, and may yet breed resentment. So let us allay our colleagues’ concerns--and find a means to allow thee restful slumber.”
Thancred sighed, more for the effect and to see Urianger’s thin lips bend into a stern frown than any real sense of frustration. “Very well. And what have you come up with?”
The elezen crossed to his work desk, kept with exacting neatness and detail amidst the less tidy stacks of books, scrolls, and loose pages of notes. He picked up a small bottle and presented it to Thancred. “A sleeping draught that should induce a deeper slumber, and lack of dreams--or, at the very least, the memory of dreams. A thimbleful before slumber should do.”
Thancred took the bottle and studied the contents. The thick liquid was an interesting shade of violet, and seemed quite viscous as he rolled the vial about under the light. “What is made from?”
“...Nothing thou art allergic to, so far as I am aware.”
“...If I decide to try it, and if it works, I may decide to obtain or make more, and would hate to bother you for such.”
“A new concern, as thou hast come to me for aid oft enough these last five years.”
“Yes, but I wasn’t living in Mor Dhona at the time,” Thancred said. “And Y’shtola will want to know, and she shall not be deterred, so we may as well anticipate that conversation.”
“And art thou still upset with that esteemed lady?”
“Told you about that, did she?”
Urianger shrugged, his mouth curled into a sheepish smile. “She doth not like to admit how true arguments with friends upset her.”
“Heaven forbid her image as her master’s truest apprentice be tarnished.”
“Thou knowest such comparisons also annoy her.”
“Which is why it is funny to make them. I have explained this before.”
“I still do not agree. And thou hast distracted from mine intended topic.”
Thancred sighed again, genuinely this time. “I can’t even banter with a friend it seems.”
Urianger shook his head. “There is banter, and there is deflection, and I am wary of how much of one or the other to engage in; thou hast ever been more practiced in such than I.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t have let Moenbryda do all the talking when you were children.”
“Hast thou ever tried to stop Moenbryda from...anything?” Urianger asked dryly. There was that little upturn of a smile though, that he made whenever she was mentioned. He had no idea he was so obvious despite his mask. Thancred always thought it sweet.
“Can’t say that I have; come to think of it, I haven’t seen her in ages. At least since everyone left for the Motherland. At the time, I’m fair certain you were shorter than Alisaie is now...”
“In any event,” Urianger interrupted, a hint of irritation evident in his tone. “I shall be sure to supply Y’shtola with the ingredients listing for this sleeping draught as precaution, though I do not foresee a time I cannot supply thee.”
Thancred grinned; it was so easy to needle the younger archon, yet it never ceased to amuse. He nodded and pocketed the vial. “...Thank you, Urianger,” he said, his smile fading. “I know I have seemed...ungrateful in some ways, but I do appreciate all you and the others have done for me.”
“We are thy colleagues, and thy friends,” Urianger answered. “And though I am not so skilled with words of advice, and thou so oft frustrate me--mine ears are available if naught else.”
Thancred nodded. “That means much. Truly. Things are getting better...slowly, but if need be, ‘tis good to know I have an open invitation to pester you as needed.”
It was Urianger’s turn to sigh in an exaggerated manner. “”Twas not my meaning, but thou art the ‘bard.’” He shook his head, unable to resist a smile.
“I am,” Thancred asserted. “At least an amateur one. Now, I should be getting back. We have preparations to make, if issues in the Twelveswood are degenerating again.” He considered for a moment. “I perhaps ought to apologize to Y’shtola before heading to Little Solace.”
“If I may, a trader recently entered port, sailing from Radz-at-Han,” Urianger said. “His primary wares are apparel.”
“And does that happen to include footwear?”
“I believe so, when I passed by the stall earlier in the day.”
“Excellent; provided the price isn’t too steep, a new pair of shoes is certain to please Y’shtola.”
“I am certain thou canst negotiate a favorable bargain,” Urianger replied.
One moment they were walking, talking, prepping their goggles for readings. The clouds hung low and dark, long rolls of lightning flickering across their puffy bellies to the occasional drumbeat of distant thunder. The air crackled with anticipation, enough energy in the woodland air to make one’s hair stand on end.
Perhaps that was why Thancred was quick to notice the darkened sylphs along the path’s edge, and realized their intent even before they lobbed their weapons.
“Scatter!” He called as the first little bastard flung...something at the group. It hit the Serpent escort, the soldiers crying out as smoke hissed and billowed around them. Another bomb dropped at the spot Thancred had been, but he was dashing in a zig zag away from the ambush site, catching a glimpse of Yda’s white shirt off to his left, Papalymo’s yellow robes to his right.
Another bomb dropped, and Thancred zagged instead of zigged, hitting the edge of a shallow ravine. He turned the fall into a roll, splashing in the cold waters meandering at the bottom of the narrow space. He kept running, his feet churning the runoff and the mouldering plant detritus, a cloud of mildew blossoming around him.
He wasn’t sure if it was better or worse than the scalebombs.
Thancred stopped, realizing he could no longer see nor hear anyone else. He gulped for air, his heart pounding in his ears. He was quite a bit faster than most; Yda could keep up with him in a footrace, but he had not seen her in some time. She would not, he thought, want to leave Papalymo behind.
Aside from the singing of insects, the woods were quiet. Almost too quiet for his liking--then another long roll of thunder set his bones to vibrating as the sky flashed. Perhaps all the sensible beasts were hiding in their burrows, rather than dashing about in the unnatural weather and abandoning all their friends.
That thought made Thancred sigh and pinch the bridge of his nose.
“No use feeling too sorry for myself yet. Y’shtola is going to have sharp enough words--once I find her and the others,” he mused as he began looking for way back out of the ravine.
“Were you speaking to me?” A deep voice asked from his right.
Thancred jumped, daggers ready. “Who--?”
An old man stood in the shadows of a tree, a thick beard covering much of his chest. He peered at Thancred. “Do you always seek to attack first then?” The old man raised a staff.
“No! Apologies,” Thancred said quickly, lowering his guard. “You simply startled me, and I was already attacked once today.” Nevermind that it had been by small flying vegetables wielding smoke bombs.
“This is not a fit place for one such as you,” the old man said.
“Nor you, sir; if I may say, ‘tis not safe to stand under a tree when a lightning storm is brewing.”
“Is that so?” The old man replied, amusement softening his gruff tone. “I shall keep it in mind. The way out of these woods is in that direction.” He pointed with his simple staff.
Thancred nodded. “My thanks, but I must go deeper into the woods, I’m afraid; if only to find my comrades.”
“And what are your plans for these woodlands?”
Thancred hesitated, but there was no harm in being honest; after all, the Scions were officially public now. “Hopefully, save them; the sylphs have summoned their primal. Hence the storms--and if it’s allowed to continue, it shall bleed the land of aether.”
The old man peered at him for a long moment. “Is that what you believe?”
“‘Tis a matter of fact,” Thancred said, holding up the goggles he had been about to put on, before the man had startled him. “Primals require copious amounts of aether, hence the crystals used in their summonings. When that has been exhausted, they begin pulling in the ambient aether.” He sighed and shrugged. “It’s not as if they can help it; ‘tis simply their nature.”
“And you would interfere with said nature?”
Thancred frowned. “When it comes at the cost of all other natural life, yes. The forest, the animals, the people--even the sylphs who summon him, all are in danger if the primal is allowed to exist too long upon this plane.”
“Your concern extends to those who caused such potential calamity, then?”
“Well, yes of course. They are mostly just frightened, and I can’t say I blame them. I...know too well what the Garleans and their Ascian allies did to them. But there are other ways to protect themselves, and the Gridanians would help them.”
The old man scoffed. “Will they? We shall see. I don’t trust in the supposed goodness of man.”
“I don’t know; whilst the mob may be given to panic and base nature, individuals can be quite reasonable, and can help others to see the same reason,” Thancred mused.
“You believe individuals can make such a difference?”
Thancred fiddled with the settings on his goggles as he contemplated his answer. “I have to.”
Thunder cracked, much closer this time. The air carried the sharp burned scent of electricity. “Why?” The old man demanded.
“I have seen the difference the one they now call the Warrior of Light has made, continues to make, across the realm. For everyone.”
Thancred looked at the old man, puzzled. The other seemed to have stepped further back into the shadowy treeline, his eyes bright and staring into Thancred. What an odd old fellow, and just what was he doing all the way out here? “And?”
“There is something else; you seem to avoid saying it.” The sky rumbled again. A few hesitant drops of rain pattered around them; not enough yet to call a real rain, not even a drizzle.
“Someone believed in my ability to make a difference, once, when all others saw naught but a thieving wharf rat,” Thancred finally answered quietly. “Were he still here, I fear he might feel I let him down, due to recent events. I have much to make up for.”
“Would your comrades say the same?”
Thancred barked out a short laugh. “Mostly, they have spent much time trying to assure me I have naught to feel guilty over. As if they could know--”
“Mayhap they do,” the old man said. “Mayhap you should listen.” The old man pointed a gnarled finger. Thancred turned his gaze that way. “A hundred yalms that way, you shall find the way out of this ravine, and the path back to the heart of these woods, should you choose to pursue your course.”
“I haven’t much other choice. Thank you, I apprec--” He blinked at the empty spot amidst the trees where the old man had been. He was alone.
Thancred let out a long breath. The day just kept getting odder. He pulled on the goggles and took a few readings; the direction the man had pointed did seem more promising than his immediate vicinity, and that would be where his colleagues would go.
He jogged up the ravine, hoping his fellow Scions would be easy to find.
“But seriously, what did you mean, ‘a suitable replacement’?” Thancred pouted at Y’shtola as they waited on a quaint little porch in Little Solace. A real rain now pattered around them, but the woven leaf canopy overhead held fast, keeping the Scions dry.
Y’shtola smirked. “A sylph wearing your mien could be quite entertaining for a time,” she answered glibly, lazily kicking her feet. They sat upon a wide swinging bench, and while he could easily reach the ground, Y’shtola was too short.
She was, however, wearing the shoes he had gifted her the other day, so that was something.
“Hrmph. I shall remember that, you know.” He feigned hurt. He was not expecting her hand to cover his and give a gentle squeeze. He looked at her.
“‘Twas but a jest--a poor one, made in irritation,” she said. She offered an apologetic smile. “I believe we have had quite enough of false Thancreds to last us a lifetime. The real man is preferable.”
“Why Y’shtola, are you flirting with me?”
“In your wildest fancies only,” she replied dryly, taking her hand back to rest on her own lap. “Still, I fear I have been hard on you recently, when you’ve really been doing quite well. You certainly proved you’re back to form against the sahagin.”
“Yet was thwarted by the sylphs,” he replied with a sigh. “Today was not one of my better ones.”
She shrugged. “We obtained the necessary readings to find Lord Ramuh. Perhaps you shouldn’t run so much faster that even Yda can’t keep up.” She was teasing him again.
Thancred gave her a sheepish grin. “At least I had a nice walk and did not get scalebombed.” He pretended to dust off her shoulder.
When he had rejoined them, Thancred had not had the chance to tell his companions about the old man in the woods; as they had narrowed down their search for the primal, and then parlayed with it, that meeting had not seemed important. Yet something tickled the back of Thancred’s mind. Sitting in Little Solace with Y’shtola, waiting for their champion to return from the battle of judgment Ramuh had declared, Thancred wasn’t sure now the encounter in the forest had even been real and not something out of his imagination--or more sylph trickery. That seemed far more likely, especially given the man’s odd passing resemblance to the Lord of Levin.
Perhaps that had just been the beard.
“Hey!” Yda called. “There’s Urianger!”
Thancred stood, offering a hand to Y’shtola to help her hop down from the swing. “What news, old friend?” He called to their fellow Archon.
Urianger raised a hand in greeting. “The Lord of Levin doth fall by the Bringer of Light’s hand. I recorded all, and believe in mine observation, have discerned a potential weakness of the Paragons. I shall return to the Rising Stones to ready my findings. Our triumphant companion, meanwhile, rests before making for Gridania.”
“Which is where we ought to go,” Y’shtola said. “We must join Papalymo and report to the Elder Seedseer.”
Yda nodded. Thancred followed as they left Little Solace behind, not adding much to the banter between the women as he contemplated Urianger’s words.
A weakness in the Ascians; perhaps a means to end their threat once and for all. A way for the nightmares to end.
He hadn’t had quite as many of those recently--even without the sleeping draught, or other means of numbing himself. The dreams still occurred, as well as the occasional disrupting visions and hazy memories, and Thancred suspected they always would, in some form or another. Slowly, and with the help of his friends, he was at least learning how to live with them.
A means to end Lahabrea...
Above the Shroud’s thick canopy, the clouds were breaking up. Ahead, through the tangle of trees and brush, Thancred caught sight of the road toward the Hawthorne Hut, patches of sunlight illuminating the path.
“I see the way out,” he called.