Prometheus woke up.
He was dead.
These two things could not occur concurrently, but they did. For a long, frozen moment, he stared blankly at the familiar-yet-not-familiar ceiling of his bedroom - a room - feeling his ribs expand, his lungs fill with air, his heart thump - not right. This wasn’t right. He remembered dying, he remembered the agony as his prayers manifested into a hungry beast that ate him alive from the inside while Hades watched on in horror.
Kneeling on a pure white platform, the primordial Light he had gathered fighting to break free of him, as G’raha tried to-
Prometheus’s head spun. It was like two parts of him were trying to speak over each other - disjointed - his soul felt uncomfortably cramped, and he struggled to sit up. His body felt- his limbs moved clumsily, felt, shorter? Smaller? It made it hard to sit up. Once he managed it though, he stared at the perfect replica of his bedroom at his workshop, right down to the little bird models he lined up on his shelf.
His heart started to pound, a dull roar thumping through his ears as uneasiness began to clench tight around his ribcage. Something was horrifically wrong, he knew it in his bones, and he curled up, pressing his knees tight to his chest as he focused on the odd feel of breathing when he was dead but clearly not.
Though he hadn’t died. In the confusing spin of G’raha collapsing, Emet-Selch had
The memory was there, picture perfect. A different body, but there were many physiological similarities to the man Prometheus knew - didn’t know, he was an Ascian how would he know him as anything else - an Ascian? What was an Ascian?
His head hurt. It hurt so much.
He groaned, clutching at his head - only to pause when his fingers brushed against… ears…?
Prometheus patted at his head, felt soft, velvety ears, like a cat - thought wildly, what? - and flung a hand back, feeling a - tail and.
Well, of course, he was a Miqo’te why would he be surpri-
The room was beginning to grey out, and belatedly Prometheus realised his breathing had turned loud and strained, lungs stalling and heart pounding a tattoo against his ribs. This was wrong. It was- this wasn’t his body- he knew it, this wasn’t his, it was someone else’s-
Prometheus leapt off the bed - immediately tripped over his feet and went sprawling on the floor. It was wrong, the centre of gravity the length of his limbs the - he had changed bodies before, but it had still been his. This was someone else, and Prometheus was crammed in there, the soul - theirs? His? - jarring uncomfortably, like it knew it was meant to connect but couldn’t. They were two broken off shards, the torn edges long since healed over and scarred. To fully fuse would be to rip open those wounds and shave them down, and-
No. Oh no. Oh no .
“No, no no no no,” Prometheus gasped, horrifying clarity coming to him in a rush. He died, his soul had fractured and Hades - Emet-Selch - must’ve- this body was, was a fragment of him . One that had lived and lived and lived, tumbling through different lives through the Lifestream, being purified and reborn countless times until it was unrecognisable. It wasn’t him anymore! It wasn’t, yet still the soul remembered and ached to be whole, but it was repulsive-
Hades. Hades did this. That backstabbing-
“-za? Aza! Damn it, you can’t break down here! Aza!”
Prometheus snapped to the present, feeling a separate fragment manifest beside him. In his peripheral, he saw armoured shins, furred boots, and someone bending over him-
He recoiled so hard he slammed into his dresser, the entire furniture rattling as he curled up and wanted everything to stop . It was too much in one go - sensations he hadn’t felt in- in eons, his soul broken apart, shards trying to join but too changed, too different to, this other fragment, speaking to him, his head hurt, he didn’t know what was happening, why did Hades bring him back, why like this, why like this-
“-in, out, in, out, like that,” the other fragment’s voice tuned in, exaggerating his breathing, and Prometheus mindlessly mimicked him, soft, horrified noises leaving in between short gasps, “Yes! Yes, like that! Phew, good thing I haven’t forgotten about breathing during my long stint as a shade, eh? Okay, good, Aza, in, out, in, out…”
Aza. That was this soul’s name. Prometheus felt dizzy.
But that overwhelming panic was beginning to ease, enough for him to actually look at the fragment before him. The face was familiar-yet-not-familiar, this soul recognising him - Ardbert, Warrior of Light - but Prometheus not. It was a fragment of him, though, smoothed over like a pebble from eons of living and dying and living and dying. They were separate to him now.
“Are you back?” his fragment - Ardbert said, “Gods, I thought I lost you for a second. Luckily the Light didn’t break free then-”
The what? Oh, the Light. Prometheus felt the tiny spark writhe uselessly in the depths of his soul. This soul felt weary and cracked, too small and thin to properly restrain it, but for Prometheus it was like snuffing a candle. The gap in power was… really, had his fragments washed out that much? But it was for the best, and…
“-are you listening?” Ardbert said, “Aza?”
“I’m not Aza,” Prometheus rasped, almost startling at how his voice sounded almost exactly the same.
“Not…” Ardbert’s expression closed, and he leaned back on his heels, his friendly, crouched posture turning rigid, “So. Emet-Selch succeeded then.”
Prometheus just stared at him. Something must’ve shown in his expression - his absolute bewildered horror - because Ardbert’s frosty expression thawed slightly, his mouth pulling tight as he looked away. For a terrifyingly long moment, everything was just quiet.
It left Prometheus’s mind to think, thoughts clambering in like a pack of ravenous wolves. He started speaking to fend them off, “I- I shouldn’t be alive. I shouldn’t- have come back. I… I need to leave this body. I can’t be alive again. I can’t, I can’t be here-”
“Calm down, you’re going to start panicking again,” Ardbert interrupted, looking back at him with a terrible kind of pity in his eyes, “But I understand. To find yourself back in the land of the living when… well…”
It was then that Prometheus noted the exact state of this wayward shard, its thin, bodiless form.
“You’re… a shade,” he said blankly, “Why are we all ghosts?”
Ardbert let out a short, shocked laugh, utterly devoid of amusement, “Life’s got a cruel sense of humour, that’s why.”
“Oh… fuck,” Prometheus dragged his hands down his face, digging his fingernails in… only to remember this wasn’t his body so he couldn’t damage it, and quickly stopped, staring at how his hands shook instead. He could feel his soul achingly try to reach out to this fragment, but he wasn’t going to consume it. Shade or no, it was… sentient, another person. Not him.
He was meant to be dead. This felt wrong. He was going to be sick.
“Is…” Ardbert started quietly, paused, then nodded and forged onwards, “Is Aza… gone?”
“No,” Prometheus said faintly, still trying to process this whole… insanity, “He’s here. He’s… asleep. Though, with our souls in such close proximity, it’ll only be a matter of time before a forcible reunion occurs, whether we want it or not.”
“And you don’t want it?”
“Of course not!” Prometheus snapped, “I was very much enjoying being dead!”
"Okay!” Ardbert leaned back, holding his hands up in surrender, “Then… you can just leave, right?”
It wasn’t that simple.
Ardbert sighed, preempting his answer, “Not that simple?”
Prometheus didn’t answer him. He felt a presence approach that he hadn’t felt in eons, soft and cool on the very edges of his senses. Hades was approaching, and taking his time too. Probably to allow Prometheus to sense him - there was no way he missed his fucking meltdown - and to try and gauge his reaction.
“Hades is coming,” Prometheus said, clumsily climbing to his feet. He locked down everything inside him, kept his soul as flat and cold as the frozen surface of a pond, cradling this soul - Aza - in an effort to try and… protect it? He had no idea if Hades would try to force the souls to merge if he noticed that Prometheus’s revival was… incomplete, so he had to try and mitigate that somehow.
Ardbert got up as well and immediately lingered at his shoulder. It was a protective gesture, but ultimately pointless since Prometheus doubted this thin, weak shade could do much against the likes of Hades, but he appreciated the moral support.
Or, a shard of himself.
Fuck, this was messing with his head.
The door to his bed- fake bedroom creaked open, and standing there in an unfamiliar body with an agonisingly familiar soul was Hades. It was jarring, to see his closest friend again after eons of nothingness, to feel the gentle touch of his soul carefully nudging against him. It briefly felt like stepping into a blissfully cool shade on a hot day, something in his heart crying I missed you I missed you I missed you -
It wasn’t Hades.
For winding through his friend’s perfect, lovely soul was Zodiark, like a dark, oily maggot carving holes for it to nest in. It twisted Hades, and the love and relief and exaltation he could feel from his friend was warped into possessiveness and vindication and fanatic joy. This man before him, it wasn’t the Hades he knew. He had died long ago. This was just a mockery of him, dancing on the end of Zodiark’s strings.
So, Prometheus kept his soul closed off and hard, standing perfectly still as he tried to ignore how helpless he was right now. His heart started to thump frantically in his chest.
“Prometheus,” Hades- no, Emet-Selch, purred, his golden eyes bright with satisfaction, “You’ve finally deigned to grace me with your presence.”
The cadence in his voice was all wrong. A sarcastic drawl, words dagger sharp and mocking. Hades could be sharp-tongued, but not… like that. It made Prometheus’s skin crawl, and he unconsciously took a step back.
Emet-Selch took a step forwards.
“No words for me?” Emet-Selch sighed when Prometheus stayed silent, “After I went through all the trouble of scratching together enough grains of your shattered soul to revive you? Not even a thank you?”
Prometheus managed to get his voice to work, “Normally, when someone shatters their own soul into grains, it means they don’t want to be revived.”
Emet-Selch smiled, but it was an empty one.
“Still a brat, I see,” the parody of his friend murmured, taking another step forwards. Prometheus held his ground.
“Careful,” Ardbert whispered to him.
Prometheus found it odd, that Emet-Selch didn’t notice Ardbert. Hades would’ve noticed, was always so well tuned to every aspect of his soul, knew it better than his own. But Emet-Selch’s obsession was on Prometheus, and had obviously decided to filter out or ignore anything that wasn’t his exact idea of him.
“Where am I?” Prometheus demanded, trying to get a feel for his surroundings beyond the fake bedroom. He just kept seeing Emet-Selch, his aether smothering everything - an illusion? Beyond that, it strained his weakened senses too far, but he felt he saw… water, lots of it, like an ocean? But why would they be under the ocean?
Emet-Selch paused, his mild expression tensing into a frown, “... you don’t remember? This is your room - perfectly recreated from memory, just so you know-”
“It’s not my room,” Prometheus snapped, remembering - Aymeric’s room, dark blue walls, warm, comfort - but forged past the memory without blinking, too hyperaware that the slightest lapse would doom him here.
“The memories shouldn’t have been corrupted this badly…” Emet-Selch muttered, scrutinising him, “Ah, that’s why. The Warrior of Light's soul hasn’t properly merged with yours. You’re still disjointed.”
Prometheus felt anxiety spike through him when Emet-Selch began advancing on him, reaching out as if to grab, his soul focusing with the precision of a scalpel. An uncomfortable pressure pressed down on him, and he realised, with growing alarm, that Emet-Selch was going to force a reunion-
“Let me fix that,” Emet-Selch purred, close enough to touch-
Or, tried. There was nowhere to go. He blindly fled into the corner, realised he was trapped, then tried to squeeze into it as much as he could as Emet-Selch just sighed, like he was being a difficult child, and slowly sidled up to him as if he was a wild animal liable to snap at him. Prometheus could feel panic crawling up him, could see Ardbert angrily prowling the edges of the scene, spitting curses at Emet-Selch that just fell on deaf ears.
“Leave him alone! Leave him alone, damn you-!”
“Prometheus,” Emet-Selch murmured, oblivious to Ardbert’s snarls, “This will be easier if you cooperated.”
“Don’t touch me,” Prometheus spat venomously, keeping his soul as coiled tight as he could. Emet-Selch kept skirting the edges of it, trying to find a weak point to leverage through. Forcing his way in would cause damage, so Prometheus knew he wouldn’t be so brutal, but there were ways to force entry, and he knew, with nauseous certainty, that Emet-Selch would force it.
Anything to get his Prometheus back.
“This is for your own good,” Emet-Selch snapped, his frustration finally cracking through his mild facade, “You will feel so much better once you’re closer to being whole, instead of being that- that broken, imperfect thing! Now, let me help you!”
Prometheus vainly pressed his feet against the floor, trying to push back, but there was nowhere to go as Emet-Selch reached out, his soul focusing like a spear, ready to thrust through his walls and force the issue. Prometheus’s vision was greying out, lungs spasming no no no, don’t panic, focus, what can he do, what can he do-
He had no Creation magic - this body was dry, its aetherical channels weren’t built for magic, he had no weapon no armiger, and the primordial Light inside of him was too wild a beast to utilise without blowing himself up in the process, he was trapped, he was trapped and it was as if that panic was smacking a trigger for being fucking useless because he couldn’t think, he couldn’t-
"Teleport !” Ardbert screamed at him, “Find the closest aetheryte and jump there -!”
Emet-Selch’s fingers brushed against the collar of his shirt just as Prometheus wildly latched onto an aether channel and plunged into the Lifestream.
It was a disorientating, ugly ride, the channel wild and untamed as it almost swept him completely away. Somehow, Prometheus manage to grapple with it, crying out as he was callously flung out of the channel and onto hard, unyielding stone. He rolled from the impact, scrambling wildly with still-unfamiliar limbs onto his feet as he looked desperately around to see-
An Amaurot where water rippled above it, glaring, white Light piercing through what should’ve been the gloom of an ocean floor. Skyscrapers that Prometheus remembered being reduced to half-melted slag and rubble stood tall with a quiet serenity, and he recognised the wide square he was on, oddly larger than he remembered, the aetheryte spinning lazily upon its pedestal. He was in the Macarenses Angle.
Amaurotines were also milling around, towering over him, but… they weren’t… they were simulacrums, he realised distantly, his body still shaking violently as it heaved for air. He staggered towards the closest one, feeling weirdly detached from his own body. Briefly, he wondered if Aza’s soul was starting to wake up, but no, he had simply plunged so deeply into absolute terror he’d gone numb.
“Hello…?” he croaked when he reached the simulacrum, not knowing what to expect.
The simulacrum turned to him - they towered over him, and knelt down with a soft noise, “Oh, dear, little one. Are you lost? You look awfully pale.”
“... I’m fine,” he said in a voice he barely recognised, and walked away. The simulacrum called after him, but he ignored it.
what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck, was in a continuous loop in his head, his body shaking so violently it was a miracle he was walking straight. There was a part of his brain that was screaming at him to run, that he was still within Emet-Selch’s sphere of influence and that he could catch up to him any second now, but it didn’t break through the shell of coldness that had frozen him through.
He was surrounded by an ocean, he could see that much. Without access to his magic, he couldn’t escape. He was trapped here, only able to run in a tight circle until eventually he ran himself into exhaustion. He was trapped.
Abruptly, Ardbert suddenly appeared at his side like a rubber band snapping into place. Prometheus flinched.
“Ugh, that was unpleasant,” Ardbert grunted, turning to him, “I think our bond got tangled up somewhere, I felt like I was stuck drifting in the Lifestream for…” he trailed off when he caught his expression.
Prometheus stared blankly at him.
“... you’re not alright, are you?” Ardbert said quietly, his expression sobering.
“No,” Prometheus said, feeling like his heart was stuck in his throat, “I don’t know what to do.”
“Okay,” Ardbert nodded slowly, his gaze casting about their surroundings. He didn’t seem surprised, so he must’ve witnessed this fake Amaurot when Prometheus - or Aza, or whoever he’d been at the time - had been transported through here by Emet-Selch, “Can you swim?”
Prometheus looked up at the ceiling of water, and said, “I can… but I can’t breathe underwater.”
“Ah, but Aza can,” Ardbert said, something bright entering his eyes. It was like… hope, like the burning realisation of spotting a saving light in the dark distance, “If you can swim and Aza can breathe underwater, you can escape before Emet-Selch-”
“There you are,” Emet-Selch’s voice snapped behind him.
Prometheus went stiff as Ardbert scowled, pivoting on his heel to see Emet-Selch standing a few yalms away from him, looking thoroughly unimpressed.
“Do you know how reckless launching yourself into the Lifestream was?” Emet-Selch sneered, “With your soul in that broken state, you could have sundered yourself… again.”
“I'd rather be sundered than be here with you,” Prometheus spat, knowing he had struck a nerve when Emet-Selch’s expression turned thunderous.
“You ungrateful- ” Emet-Selch started, before reining himself in with a low hiss, his eyes flashing with poorly concealed frustration. This reunion probably wasn’t going how he imagined it, Prometheus thought vindictively. What, did he think Prometheus would have swooned into his arms, everything forgiven and back to how it used to be? Not bloody likely! Not while Zodiark’s disgusting fingerprints were all over the insides of Hades’s soul.
“I never asked you to revive me!” Prometheus snarled at him, desperately grasping internally for armiger. Nothing echoed back, his soul a dried pit of pathetically low aether, the primordial Light snapping at his mental fingertips hard enough to draw blood, “I wanted to stay dead!”
“That isn’t true!” Emet-Selch hissed, “You are- confused. You are still incomplete, but that’s fine. Once this world falls to a calamity-”
What? Prometheus thought in bewilderment, lost, but a memory of someone discussing - fractured worlds? The Source? He irritably shoved the unwanted information away, just knowing whatever it was was bad.
“I don’t want -” Prometheus stopped, realising he might as well try to knock down a wall with his forehead. He tried a different track, “Hades, you need to let go. It’s been eons, I… this world doesn’t belong to us anymore. Just… let go and come with me to the Lifestream. We’ll die together, and it’ll be painless, I promise. There’s nothing to be frightened of.”
Emet-Selch faltered, and for a moment, a moment, Prometheus thought he might’ve gotten through to him. For a moment, Zodiark’s grip seemed to slacken, Emet-Selch glancing away, shoulders slumping as he sighed-
-only for an invisible force to abruptly grab Prometheus tight around the throat and yank him forwards into Emet-Selch’s outstretched hand.
“Aza!” Ardbert yelled.
“Urk !” Prometheus couldn’t even fight it, instinctively grasping for Creation magic that wasn’t even there. Emet-Selch’s fingers fisted into the front of his shirt, holding him tight as his eyes burned, Zodiark’s presence purring with satisfaction. Beside them, a portal of darkness yawned open, and Prometheus knew if they went through that, it was over.
Zodiark awaited him there, and he was ever so eager to meet him.
“H-Hades!” Prometheus tried, digging in his heels as Emet-Selch gently pulled him towards the portal, “Don’t- don’t do this! You don’t want to do this!”
“Oh, but I do,” Emet-Selch said cheerily, “In fact, you don’t know how long I’ve waited for this.”
In the split second before Emet-Selch could push him into that portal, Prometheus frantically reached out to the closest aether channel. He had no idea where it would take him, how far he would go, if it would drop him into the heart of a volcano or into a monster’s gullet, but whatever fate awaited him, awaited this body, it was far better than being trapped as Zodiark’s eternal, corrupted servant.
(even if it would mean an eternity by Hades’s side, it wasn’t worth it)
Prometheus wildly dived into the Lifestream, just before he was thrown into the ever-hungry abyss.
He hit scorching hot sand.
For a long moment, Prometheus didn’t move, wheezing as he tried to shake off the dizzying nausea. The Lifestream had swept him up, carried him far with the same, tumbling, frenzied energy of being trapped in a racing avalanche. His soul felt bruised, but he had cushioned the worst of it. Aza’s soul was still intact and well.
He heard the flutter of wings, multiple wings, and the throaty croaks of vultures. He exhaled slowly.
As a curious beak nipped at his finger, he forced himself up. The birds scattered, cawing irritably, but Prometheus ignored them as he looked about himself, seeing nothing but golden sands interspersed with broken stone towers. In the very far horizon, to the north, he could see the wavering silhouette of a city.
Prometheus waited, but Ardbert didn’t appear. Maybe he travelled too far?
Whatever the reason, he couldn’t stay here. The heat was making him feel dizzy - when was the last time this body ate and drank? - and the vultures were eyeing him hungrily, sensing he was on his last legs.
Not today, vultures. Prometheus didn’t plan on being such a reckless caretaker to this body. He was going to hand it back in perfect condition at the very least.
So, with a groan, he forced himself to his feet, and started his staggering, long journey towards Mord Souq.
Prometheus was hopelessly lost.
What he had assumed to be a town in the far distance ended up being a clump of rocks, warped by the distorting heatwaves rising off sand, and wandering beyond that had taken him to a place unrecognisable even to Aza’s soul. It was sand, and more sand, with dark stone jutting out - ruins, or normal rocks, or a very hungry antlion - and in the very far distance, like a discoloured glacier, the remnants of the Flood stood.
Prometheus didn’t understand any of it. This desert, the Flood, the world being Sundered - all this information bubbled up like tar between cracks, adding to a stressful weight trying its damnest to crush his heart in his chest. He couldn’t even comprehend the sheer scale of what had happened after Hydaelyn’s summoning - out of all the scenarios he had predicted, the world splitting into fourteen pieces, hadn’t been one of them!
His thoughts snapped and snarled around his head, tangled up with Aza’s leaked memories, their souls jarring against each other. Disjointed, Emet-Selch had been correct to describe it as disjointed . Where Prometheus’s soul met a gap in itself - memory, emotion, function, anything - Aza’s bridged it with its own experiences. But the experience of a thirty seven year old mortal, propping up that of an ancient immortal, was… it wasn’t working. The mental whiplash it was giving Prometheus was going to make him vomit.
But, he understood enough to know that he had destroyed the world when he had intended to save it. He had saved it, but, did so by wrecking it, and, he failed… Hydaelyn didn’t claim Hades like he had intended. Why was that? She was to purify Zodiark’s taint from everything, so why did she spare Emet-Selch? Were the others still here?
(Aza’s soul showed him: Lahabrea, Igeyorhm, Nabriales, now dead by his hand, Zodiark’s slaves until their very last moments.
He wobbled to a stop in the shade of a tall rock. He leant against it and slid down clumsily, his legs folding underneath him as weak as paper. He split the world. The fragmented shards of his soul had killed almost all of the last remaining Amaurotines, ignorant of their worth and meaning, Amaurotines that were ruthlessly instigating the death of billions for a home that will never return.
(Aza’s soul showed him: Emet-Selch, dismissively lookig at them, ‘It won’t be murder because I don’t even consider you to be alive’)
How had this gone so wrong?
There was a part of him, a very selfish part cold with grief, that simply wanted to lie down here until this body perished. It would kill Aza, but Prometheus could sink back into the blissful nothingness of oblivion. He would feel nothing, know nothing, and not even dwell on how Emet-Selch had been twisted into a monster, how his people existed as nothing but broken ghosts, how Prometheus had failed so utterly. He could sleep forever, and be at peace.
...no, not at peace. Out of sheer, cowardly denial, he would sleep there.
(Aza’s soul showed him: the pulse-pounding hope and fear of failure, as the giant Talos rose from the earth and gripped the heavens, a culmination of an entire world’s efforts to fight a hopeless fate. Against all odds, it worked, it worked )
“Hah…” Prometheus laughed weakly, “Are you trying to tell me something, Aza?”
There was no answer, just the dry rasp of wind whipping up sand. Prometheus slowly shifted until his back was resting against the rock, his head tilted back to the warped sky above. Light shimmered, reflecting the beacon of primordial Light that sat in the very depths of his soul, and Prometheus wondered.
“I still don’t fully comprehend this situation,” Prometheus said, unsure if Aza’s sleeping soul could hear him or not, “But know that I will try my best to rectify it. All this stems from my mistakes, my inability to…”
(Prometheus’s soul remembered: the hours before Hydaelyn’s summoning, when Prometheus had the chance to put his old comrades out of their misery - Hades, out of his misery. He could have killed him. Easily.
He had hesitated, had hoped his desperate, insane plan would work, that Hades could be purified and still live instead but)
“If I had been able to kill the last remnants of my heart,” Prometheus murmured, “Perhaps things would have ended up differently. There’s no point dwelling on ‘what ifs’, though. I can’t change the past.”
There was a part of him that still wanted to simply lie here and die. It was the same part of him, during the fraught days between Zodiark’s Conception and Hydaelyn’s birth, that wondered if maybe he should just stop fighting, that perhaps serving Zodiark wouldn’t be so awful, if he could be with his other half for blissful eternity. A tiny, cowardly part of him, that Prometheus ruthlessly smothered.
“I’ll give this body back to you, when I find a way that won’t kill you,” Prometheus promised to the wavering sky above, “There will be a solution to this. There always is one, even if it’s… not the one you hoped.”
One solution was already forming in his mind, thinking of Ardbert the shade, Aza, his soul fragmenting from the primordial Light within, and Prometheus, who knew what to do. Ardbert and Aza, their souls were already resonating, a natural, slow, and potentially consensual merging. It would be enough to hold back the Light, but not indefinitely. Prometheus however…
The solution formed, solidified. Prometheus breathed out slowly.
Emet-Selch also needed to be saved. Death was his only option now, so Prometheus could use him as a handy conduit to violently discharge the primordial Light into. The only issue was that he doubted Emet-Selch would politely stand still and let himself be shattered - no, would fight back viciously, and with Prometheus so weak, unable to access his Creation magic or his armiger, he wasn’t sure if he could win alone.
(Aza’s soul showed him: the Scions, fighting alongside him, staunch allies, help-)
“Will they be so receptive if I turn up your body, though?” Prometheus muttered, and sighed when only silence answered him.
Prometheus wasn’t going to pretend he was Aza. It made his skin crawl imagining it, and he doubted he would be able to pull it off. He had Aza’s soul to use as reference, yes, but drawing on it too much to mimic him would encourage their souls to merge closer than they already were. No, Prometheus would have to approach honestly and openly…
(Aza’s soul showed him: Lahabrea, in one of the Scions’s skin, then Thancred, suspicious and agitated at the presence of an Ascian, not trusting in the slightest)
“I’ll have to find them first, though,” Prometheus said, forcing himself back onto his feet. He still had no idea where he was, but rather than dazed horror dragging his limbs down, renewed purpose rose him up. He looked at the Wall of Light, shimmering in the distance, and struck out for it. There was an old ruin at the base of it, and from there, a path to a place called ‘The Inn’ - according to Aza’s soul, anyway.
Prometheus wished Ardbert was here. He could do with a companion to bounce ideas off of - or ask advice on how to introduce yourself to a group of strangers whilst possessing their close friend’s body and not get stabbed. Or yelled at. Or just… shunned.
Perhaps he should start off summoning his Sigil of Power, to obscure his face and therefore remove the unsettling aspect of speaking to your friend’s face whilst knowing they weren’t your friend? Or would that just make things more tense? Should he conceal his identity, and then when close to the climax of his plan, he could reveal himself and then flee Aza’s body before they realised what had happened?
Or should he just be straight up honest, stoically taking whatever hostility and suspicion they threw his way until his duty was done?
Prometheus sighed. It sounded pathetic, but he was so tired of people being harsh or cruel to him, wasn’t looking forward to these Scions’ (understandable) inevitable hostility. In the lead up to his death, Prometheus had been derided and tormented by his comrades, and before that, became a pariah when he limped his way back to Amaurot, having witnessed the Doom and been shaken from it. He was tired. He was so tired. He wanted… to just sleep, or have someone be kind to him.
Hah, he was older than the very star he was standing on… and he was wishing for kindness like he was some lonely child.
(But he was a lonely child, had been the day Zodiark rose in the shadow of the Doom and torn away everything Prometheus had loved and known)
But, Prometheus didn’t get to where he was by shying from difficult things. Just bite the bullet, get it done, and one way or another it’ll be over.
While the sky remained bright, Prometheus’s internal clock told him it was night by the time he found some kind of civilisation. It had been a long, arduous journey, one where he started to slowly succumb to dehydration, briefly fended off only by drinking juice from some weird cactus. It had mild hallucinogenic effects, but Prometheus had enough magic in him to counteract that at least. It did make his vision a little wobbly around the edges though.
It was a tiny settlement inside a hollow circle of towering rocks. He only found it because of a well worn trail leading from a rickety watchtower towards it - plenty of people had been wandering back and forth between it today, for some reason, and when Prometheus delved into the ambient aether, past the blinding glare of Light, there was a buzz of anticipation thick in the air.
He trudged towards it, his head pounding hard enough for him to squint and sway. Dehydration, he found, was a bitch. It was never a concern back in his Amaurotine body, but in this one… it was so fragile. A day of aimless wandering in a scorching hot desert with no access to food or water was apparently a very hard limit for it. How… restricting...
So focused was he on keeping one foot in front of the other, he barely noticed the group’s approach until they were practically upon him.
“Aza!” a familiar-yet-not-familiar voice cried, and he staggered to a halt, looking up to see-
-racing towards him. He could barely make out their faces, even as Aza’s soul reacted with positive recognition to them, his body literally running on fumes. He pitched slightly to one side, struggling to rebalance-
When someone grabbed him by the arm, steadying him, and the group was there , speaking to him rapidly - Prometheus’s head started to hurt, and not only from dehydration. That ugly, nauseous disjointed sensation reared up again, their presence stirring up Aza’s soul only for it to collide roughly with his. It hurt, a lot, and he wheezed quietly as he bent over around the grip on his arm, his stomach spasming from it all.
He shouldn’t have drank that cactus juice.
“-e can interrogate his miraculous escape later. Right now, we should take him to the Inn,” a deep voice said - Thancred - as Prometheus listed aimlessly in his grip, “Ryne, he isn’t about to turn, is he?”
“Um, I don’t think so. The Light is...” A softer, younger voice began, “I-I don’t know. It looks strange. Um, Aza, can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” Prometheus mumbled, briefly unsure on what to say first - that he wasn’t Aza, that he was an Amaurotine - Ascian? - or that he was going to throw up. Ah, he should go with the more pressing thing, “S’ry, gonna, ill.”
And so, Prometheus first impression was him bending over and heaving all over Thancred’s boots, just before he fainted into his arms.
Sort of. He was lucid enough to know that what he was seeing was a dream, but hazy enough to simply drift through it. The dream took form of a memory, washed out and grey, sound muffled like it was drifting through a thick wall. Prometheus recognised it as the day before he travelled to Xerora, where he made up with Hades because they had a silly fight over something he had forgotten by now.
They were seated in Hades’s home, him, Hades and Hythlodaeus, and while the conversation was muffled, Prometheus’s dream self speaking without thinking, following the script of the memory, he remembered what was said. A trivial argument over gothic architecture, that transitioned into whether or not a gargoyle could be a good base concept for a legitimate creature, to theorising over what these ‘monsters’ encroaching in Xerora could look like and…
Trivial topics. Prometheus hadn’t known what was coming then. Hadn’t realised that this night was the last night he would spend in carefree bliss with his closest friends, that after this he and Hades would never…
Hythlodaeus left first in the dream-memory, citing an early morning, so it was just Prometheus and Hades left. He remembered what came next, how the friendly mood became warmer and intimate, gentler and-
No. No, no, he cannot remember this now. His heart can’t take it. It can’t.
So he woke up.
Prometheus’s heart still hurt when he opened his eyes, the grief following him from his dream like a fish hook trapped under his skin. He stared up at the rough, rocky ceiling, the air dry and smelling faintly of antiseptic, just focusing on the feel of breathing past the hard, burning lump in his throat.
Ardbert. Prometheus’s gaze shifted to the side, to see Ardbert’s faint form leaning over him.
“You gave everyone a bit of a scare,” Ardbert said, his voice oddly gentle, “They thought you’d been about to turn, throwing up over your friend’s boots like that.”
“... you saw that?” Prometheus rasped, the wobbly, fuzzy memory of doing just that bobbing to the murky surface. He must’ve passed out immediately after that. Sort of explained why he had an awful taste in his mouth, “You were there?”
“In a way,” Ardbert said vaguely, straightening up, “You were dangerously dehydrated, by the way. You should drink some of that, if you can sit up.”
Prometheus followed where Ardbert pointed to the clear jug of water perched on the squat, blocky bedside table. It had a cup filled with water beside it.
“...” Prometheus’s limbs felt like lead, but he forced himself to sit up anyways, his head thumping ferociously at the shift in gravity. He took the glass and sipped it cautiously - the fresh, sharp taste, the burst of aether, betrayed its origins from a water crystal, and Prometheus, thirsty for both water and aether, promptly chugged the whole thing in one go.
“ Hey, be careful!” Ardbert scolded, “You’ll make yourself sick if you drink too fast.”
“Don’t care,” Prometheus coughed, wiping his mouth as he set the now empty cup down. The water sloshed uncomfortably in his belly, but he ignored it, “Where am I?”
“At the Inn,” Ardbert said, frowning at him, “Your companions-” he stopped, “Aza’s companions brought you here, to let you recover before taking you back to the Crystarium. One of them will be coming back soon, so you’ll need to figure out what you’re doing regarding, uh, you.”
“I’m not lying to them. I’ll tell them who I am,” Prometheus said, pouring himself another glass of water. He started circulating his aether through his sore body, now that he had some, pleased to see that his reserves were very slowly refilling. Subjugating the Light was taking more effort than he realised, but for an Amaurotine - broken as he was - it was child’s play to keep it suppressed as he regenerated his aether.
And once his aether was at a suitable level, he could summon his armiger, hopefully.
“If you’re certain that’s the way you want to go,” Ardbert said, but he sounded approving, “They… might not be receptive, just so you’re warned.”
“I’m aware,” Prometheus looked down at the glass in his hand, and sipped it at a calmer pace. Aza’s soul was quiet, slumbering deeply, while the Light restlessly prowled the borders of his soul like a caged animal. Almost teasingly, Prometheus gave it the spiritual equivalent of a smack, and the Light went skittering back into a more docile state with a snarl.
He set his glass aside and threw his legs over the side of the bed. He was still dressed in the clothes he had been wandering about in, sweat-stained and sandy, and he plucked at the collar of the odd shirt he was wearing. Aza had very odd tastes, he mused, eyeing the tight leather trousers and thin, dark shirt. The black leather jacket was hanging off the back of a nearby chair.
“Where are you going?” Ardbert asked when Prometheus slowly, unsteadily, stood up.
“If I’m going to inform them of my true identity, I’m not doing it in an enclosed room with no clear escape,” Prometheus said, unable to stop himself remembering the panicked fear of being backed into a corner, Emet-Selch advancing on him with the intent to hurt. He shivered, rubbing at his arms.
Ardbert’s lips thinned, his expression grim. No doubt he was thinking of the same thing.
“The door there will take you out to the main area, where all the patients are,” Ardbert said, pointing, “If you’re fast enough, you could probably make a break for freedom by running across it to the main gate.”
Prometheus snorted at the thought of running. He was barely able to coordinate himself to walk straight. He was still unused to how short and tiny this body was, and the tail was throwing his centre of gravity way off. The nauseous jolts of wrongness kept smacking him in the face every time he moved, a disgusting, repulsive feeling of ‘this isn’t my body’ slithering across his mind. He was getting sick of it.
“I’m curious,” Prometheus said, as he slowly walked to the floor. He still felt woozy and ill, but he wasn’t going to throw up and faint again at least, “You don’t seem overly concerned about this situation. About me possessing Aza.”
Ardbert didn’t immediately answer.
“... in some weird way I don’t fully understand,” Ardbert murmured, “We’re all tied together somehow. Also, Aza would be dead or worse by now, if it weren’t for you, so I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Huh,” Prometheus thought that was remarkably naive of the man, but when he probed that thin, washed out shade’s soul, he could sense the turmoil hidden inside of him. It seemed he wasn’t as at peace with the situation as his outward emotions said, but… Prometheus left it alone for now. He couldn’t afford to alienate any allies - even if said ally was an ineffectual ghost.
The door was remarkably heavy when he got to it - made from thick, solid oak with a massive lock on the door, like they were expecting to lock in a wild animal than a sickly patient - and after some fiddling, managed to pry it open and peek out.
The ‘Inn’ was more like a large, empty space in the middle of a hollow circle of rocks. While Prometheus lucked out in having one of the very few rooms carved out of the rock walls, everyone else were crammed onto bunkbeds stacked close to one another, a heavy, sickly weight clinging to the aether around them like a miasma. Prometheus slowly sidled out of the room, to frown at the open space in confusion.
It looked like a primitive camp. What was this?
(Aza’s mind showed him: people who came here to die in peace, before they became-)
“Oh,” Prometheus murmured, understanding immediately. These people were suffering from a heavy imbalance from their aether’s elements. This was an ailment rarely afflicted on an Amaurotine, but Prometheus had seen the effects often enough in test subjects in the Akadaemia, to see if lifeforms could be improved when shifting its aether too far in one direction. The end result was normally unpredictable, and agonising for the subject, so Prometheus avoided the inhumane practice but-
He knew how to fix it.
“Az- ah,” Ardbert stumbled over the name, “What’re you…?”
“It’s Prometheus,” he murmured absently, finding himself slowly gravitating towards that knot of bloated Light aether. His internal clock said it was night time, so the patients were in their beds, some groaning and whimpering in pain, and there was no one else around. His mind was already drawing up the calculations, his soul identifying how much he could absorb before he overstimulated the primordial Light within. He could probably take in enough to set back their transformation a couple of weeks...
He stopped just before he reached the clusters of bed, where the stone transitioned into polished wood, carefully laid down and covered with rugs, to offer some semblance of comfort in this forgotten little hole, where the ill were condemned to die out of sight, out of mind.
These fragmented lives were very quiet, when it came to their souls. They did not respond when Prometheus reached out, and their emotions were like very faint whispers, quiet ripples over an otherwise still and almost empty pond. These, however… the Light was like a vicious bowl of bubbling mud, spilling out and into the ambient aether, and carrying along with it was a deep pain and a deep despair, and Prometheus realised; these people felt as deeply and intensely as any Amaurotine. It was simply restrained deep inside their souls, unable to be conveyed except by words and expressions, which were never enough. They were isolated from each other, much like how Prometheus had been from his peers back when Amaurot still stood.
It was a lonely way to live.
“Aza,” a young voice (Alisaie, his mind supplied ) snapped, “What are you doing wandering about?”
He turned to see Alisaie marching up to him, her face set in a scowl that gave him a very disorientating flashback to whenever Hades would look at him in the same way - usually when he did something stupid and reckless. The world seemed to wobble a little around him as his soul stalled over that - memory.
“I’m,” Prometheus started, a bit faintly, but Alisaie verbally steamrolled over him.
“You look ready to keel over again,” Alisaie scolded, hushing her voice as she drew close, glancing at the sleeping patients. He could see the question form in her mind, why Prometheus was standing here staring at them (probably like a creep, he realised retrospectively), but she didn’t voice it.
“I’m fine,” he said quietly, wincing when Alisaie shot him a look, “Ah, compared to before, I mean.”
“What, where you decided to roam the desert whilst severely dehydrated?” Alisaie muttered, then winced, looking down at her feet as she exhaled slowly, “I apologise. You… probably didn’t have a choice, regarding that.”
Prometheus stayed quiet. In the background, Ardbert was watching the entire scene play out without comment. He wasn’t sure how to handle this - should he say now, that he wasn’t Aza? It didn’t feel appropriate to point it out - but he knew the longer he put it off, the worse the damage when the truth came out. It didn’t help that he could feel Alisaie’s turmoil, the bubble of frustration and helplessness. Why did she feel so sad?
“How…” Alisaie cleared her throat, looking up, “We should talk elsewhere. I don’t want us to wake them up.”
Prometheus hesitated, but none of the patients were in danger of transforming within the next few hours, so he supposed he could put it off for now. He nodded, following Alisaie as she led him to the main gate. If she noted his unsteady way of walking, she kindly did not point it out - even as she burned a hole in the side of his head, staring at him intensely.
They stopped just beyond it, where the desert stretched out towards the wall of Light, the sky glaringly bright enough to hurt the eyes. Prometheus kept his gaze low, his heart thumping against his ribs as he realised he didn’t know how this conversation was going to go. He had to tell Alisaie, he wasn’t going to pretend in the slightest.
“Ryne says that something strange has happened to the Light in you,” Alisaie said into the tense quiet between them, “And Y’shtola says she sees something amiss too. What did… what did Emet-Selch do to you, Aza? Are you…”
Prometheus looked up at her. She was afraid of the answer, but he could see the clench in her jaw, the determined set to her expression. She was bracing herself for the worst, though what was the worst to her? Did they already think of him as a Sin Eater? Or already guessed he wasn’t who he said he was? Or that he was simply going to die?
“Where are the others?” he asked quietly. He may as well try to have this conversation once.
“Asleep. Or, trying to,” Alisaie muttered, “We… Ryne sensed when you appeared in Amh Araeng without warning early this morning. We didn’t rest until we found you, and then Urianger and Alphinaud worried themselves sick over how you were-”
“Alisaie,” Prometheus interrupted, lowering his gaze when she looked at him, “I… there is something you should know.”
“If it’s some rubbish about how we should leave you alone because you’re a danger to us-” Alisaie began hotly.
“No,” Prometheus rubbed his wrist nervously, closing his eyes. He had no idea how to phrase it. How to make it sound… not absolutely terrible. He didn’t even want to inhabit this body, but…
Alisaie waited - impatiently, he could sense. She kept shifting her weight, her hand gripping the hilt of her rapier, the leather of its grip creaking, before she let go and dropped it, wiping her hand against her tunic.
Bite the bullet. Come on.
“I’m not Aza,” he said, looking up at her, seeing her expression turn carefully blank.
There was a very long moment of silence.
“...I see,” Alisaie said in a tightly controlled voice, and she leaned back on her heels, her fingers squeezing over the hilt of her rapier. Not in intent, but merely habit, “Then, who am I speaking to right now?”
She didn’t believe him, he realised tiredly. Or, rather, she probably thought he was confused, or Emet-Selch had muddled his mind. It was in the way she watched him warily, not as a stranger or potential enemy, but like she wasn’t sure if she should leave him alone in case he hurt himself. Prometheus had an abrupt, overwhelming urge to just lie down on the ground and give up.
Prometheus sighed, “You think I’m crazy.”
“No! No, just…” Alisaie made a very complicated expression, “After Emet-Selch took you, we didn’t know what… why he did. You were becoming a Sin Eater, and you were gone for days, Ryne couldn’t sense you-”
“Days?” Prometheus blurted, surprised. Did it really take days for Emet-Selch to revive him through Aza’s soul?
“You don’t even know that?” Alisaie said worriedly, “How long has it been for you?”
An eternity, “Ah… I thought a day since…”
“It’s been three days,” Alisaie murmured, “And you come back saying you’re no longer Aza.”
Prometheus sighed. From that perspective, it really did sound suspect.
“It’s clear Emet-Selch has… done something,” Alisaie continued, “You remember us, so he hasn’t tampered completely with your memory. We can-”
“Alisaie,” Prometheus said, deciding to just be blunt, “I’m not Aza, because Aza’s soul is asleep right now. I’m possessing his body.”
Alisaie paused, and… grew wary.
Ah, that was more like he expected.
He continued before she rationalised it as ‘Aza’ being confused or mentally compromised, “I am Prometheus, an Amaurotine. Though, I think your kind have a different word for it now…”
Prometheus lifted his hand, fingertips resting above his brow. He saw the horrified realisation begin to dawn on Alisaie’s face, the way she silently whispered ‘no’ as he brought his hand down, his Sigil blooming to bright, red life upon his face. Something pulled inside his soul, something that ached, something that echoed with loss and grief, for the last time he had this, was when he faced down Hades and failed to muster the courage to kill him.
“... Ascian,” Alisaie finished, her voice cracking through the middle, “You… you’re…”
“Trust me when I say I’m just as unhappy as you are about this,” Prometheus said, dismissing his Sigil. It warped and stuttered like bad static as it did, and that throbbing ache in him grew. It must be pulling on an empty gap in his incomplete soul to summon it, “I was content in staying dead.”
Alisaie just breathed for a long moment, staring at him as her stricken expression slowly hardened. She was thinking, processing the situation, and Prometheus waited, trying to seem as harmless as possible. He had no idea how she’d react, and with how tightly she was gripping her rapier he was genuinely worried she might stab him - or, might not, as she must know that she would be hurting Aza in the process.
Finally, Alisaie regained her composure, her jaw tightly clenched as she gritted out between her teeth, “If that’s the case, that you’re unhappy possessing him, why don’t you leave his body?”
“Because he’ll die,” Prometheus said flatly, watching her flinch back, “His soul’s practically in pieces from failing to contain the Light. If I leave… he’ll instantly shatter apart.”
Alisaie closed her eyes, grief twisting her expression briefly, before she took in a deep, bracing breath, “Why do you care?”
“Why do you care?” she repeated, her voice shaking with helpless anger, glaring viciously at him, “If you let Aza die, you’ve won. This world will fall to a calamity, and facilitate your precious rejoining.”
Prometheus stared at her. She glared back.
“What?” he repeated blankly.
“Don’t what me, you know what I mean!” Alisaie snapped back.
“No, I fucking don’t!” Prometheus snapped back, his temper finally fraying.
Alisaie jolted, looking oddly bewildered at his cursing.
“I do not condone the deaths of billions for the sake of a species that’s already extinct,” Prometheus began, feeling an anger he had sat on for eons start to rise, feeling it burn hot and blistering up his sternum as his Sigil flickered, off and on, over his face, “Especially when that same species sacrificed almost all of our people to a fucking parasite. I never agreed to it, and I especially don’t now! What they plan - the death of all these stars? For what? We’re dead! We all died! But we can’t move on, we can’t, we’re stuck and I can’t help them-”
Prometheus caught himself, releasing an incoherent, raw noise as he looked down at his feet. It hurt. It surprised him how much it hurt, to remember that. To remember the horror of learning how almost all of the survivors from the Doom were fed to Zodiark, how those who remained became warped, twisted shades of themselves, living only to exalt Zodiark and carry out his ever hungry, poisonous will…
“I care,” he whispered into the cold silence between them, Alisaie stiff and unmoving, “Because this is the only way I can save my people. By… by ensuring you can… put them to rest. Aza has proven himself to be a very adept Ascian killer, so… so I...”
Alisaie didn’t speak for a very long moment.
“...okay,” she said, “Okay.”
Prometheus looked up at her, his Sigil still blazing, distorting into static around the edges. It hurt, but the pain kept him focused, kept Aza’s soul quiet and soft inside of him. It also hid the tears he could feel burning his eyes, the grief that he could feel winding its choking way up his throat. Eons… it had been eons, and this burning agony in his chest refused to ease, thinking on the fate dealt to him and the rest of Amaurot.
It was unfair. It was so, utterly unfair.
But there was no changing the past. Amaurot was gone. Their people were gone. Prometheus had accepted that long ago, no matter how much it hurt.
“I… you’re either a very convincing actor,” Alisaie began, her voice managing to stay firm, “Or you’re telling the truth. The fact you were honest means… nothing. Emet-Selch, to an extent, was honest.”
“What do you want me to do?” Prometheus asked tiredly, his anger spluttering out into an emotion that was too hollow and empty to be called anything, “I’m trying here…”
“This isn’t a decision I can make on my own,” Alisaie said, flexing her fingers over the hilt of her rapier before finally letting it go, “We’ll… tell the others. We’ll figure this out. But…”
Alisaie looked at him, hard, her mouth set into a thin, grim line.
“You’ll have to tell us everything,” she said, “And, and you better promise that you will save Aza, if that’s truly your intention.”
“It is,” Prometheus said, “I can save him. I can remove this overabundance of Light too, given… time.”
Alisaie nodded jerkily, giving him one last hard stare.
“I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt,” she said, “Not that I have a choice, since you have Aza’s soul as a hostage.”
Prometheus winced, but didn’t protest it. She was right, in a way.
“And know that if this is a trick,” Alisaie continued in a low, dangerous tone, “You’ll learn that it’s not only Aza who knows how to kill an Ascian.”
Threat precisely delivered, she stepped to the side, gesturing for Prometheus to move ahead of her. He stifled a sigh and dismissed his Sigil as he stepped past her. He expected this hostility, this suspicion, but it still stung.
Walking in step with him, invisible to Alisaie, Ardbert murmured; “You did the right thing. Well done.”
It didn’t make Prometheus feel any better.
He still had to convince five more Scions, after all.
next chapter: i have to write urianger dialogue fuCK
When Prometheus had been a very young child, still under the watchful eye of his mentor, he had accidentally set fire to her garden.
He’d been experimenting with manipulation of elements - advanced Creation magic for one so young, and a branch of magic he had been firmly told not to do without adult supervision. Still, he had been an adventurous, bold and wilful child, and in an attempt to show off in front of Hades and Hythlodaeus, had Created an animated fire sprite. He lost control of it, unsurprisingly, still too young to really understand how to exert one’s will over something with a mind to think, and the sprite ended up burning down most of the garden.
Mentor Metis had been furious. After she had saved the three of them from the rampaging sprite, she had verbally flayed Prometheus within an inch of his life for his recklessness and arrogance. She had made him march right in the middle of the ashy, charred remains of her garden and look at all the consequences of the destruction: the dead plants, the burnt corpses of animals that had lived in the shrubs and bushes, the baby birds that had been in the large tree that sheltered almost half the garden...
(“You killed them in a slow, cruel way. Do you understand what that means?”
It had been a harsh lesson, but a necessary one. Prometheus never really forgot it, even as his career turned towards crafting destructive, lethal spells. In fact, it shaped how he made those spells. He ensured they killed instantly, without pain. He made them merciful.
The Amaurotines found his way of thinking disturbing.
That, old, old, old, old lesson lingered oddly close to the forefront of Prometheus’s mind as Alisaie finished making his case to the gathered, suspicious Scions. She had repeated his promise.
To kill Emet-Selch.
I need to make it painless, he thought emptily, looking somewhere past Y'shtola's shoulder as a tense silence fell, the Scions staring at him with open suspicion and uncertainty. Prometheus was planning on burning up the Light - a sufficient counter to the primordial Dark thumping through Emet-Selch’s soul - but it would be untamed, uncontrolled. A high possibility of delivering a fatal blow that would kill his old friend with cruel, agonising slowness.
No, no. He needed to make it painless. So...
"I don't… understand," Alphinaud finally broke the silence, "Why would Emet-Selch summon you through Aza if you are not even his ally?"
"And why Aza specifically?" Thancred said darkly. His distrust hung about him like a cloud, the cracks on his soul from Lahabrea’s rough handling an ugly, eye-drawing sight. Prometheus tried not to stare, "Just who are you exactly, 'Prometheus'?"
Oh, what a loaded question.
"It's complicated," he began, hurrying to add when a few faces frowned darkly at the perceived evasion, "But of course I will answer! I'm just not sure where to start…"
"The beginning would be best," Y'shtola said in a very neutral tone, her pale eyes staring right at his chest. She was rudely ogling his soul, probably wasn't entirely sure what she was looking at, but Prometheus let it slide. She was too young to know better.
"Hah, then you're asking for a lengthy history lesson," Prometheus huffed out in brittle humour. He lowered his gaze to the floor, "The beginning dates back to… well, before this star was born, I suppose."
Everyone remained quiet as Prometheus collected his thoughts. The room was bare of anything Prometheus could use to assist in his explanations, and he didn't want to burn what aether he had recovered on an illusion. So, he would have to ensure to be as eloquent as he could.
"Ah, I know where to begin,” he said, “Emet-Selch told you the history behind the Sundering, right?”
“How do you know that?” Alisaie asked him warily.
Prometheus grimaced, lifting his hand to fidget with his mask- before realising, ah, yes, that wasn’t a thing in this body. He awkwardly rested his hand on the nape of his neck instead, glancing away.
“Well, there’s some bleedover between Aza and myself regarding memories, due to compatibility…” he said carefully, “But that’s skipping ahead a little. In any case, what Emet-Selch told you about the Sundering is actually true. When Zodiark was summoned, He tempered almost all of the survivors from the Doom, leaving a scant few who were opposed to swearing fanatic, undying loyalty to Him.”
“‘The Doom’?” Y’shtola frowned, “Was that the tragedy that befell your world? There was a mural that showed it in Rakt’ika, a sky filled with fire above a burning city.”
If only it had been a mere star-shower. Prometheus could think of several Concepts from the top of his head that would’ve diverted that low-level calamity. No. No, he remembered the heat and the ash, and the screams as countless monsters devoured their way through the crumbling streets of Amaurot. Prometheus remembered, in excruciating detail , the sensation of feeling millions of lives scream their pain and fear throughout the city, before being snuffed out forever. Silent. The terrible darkness that rose up from the skeleton of the city, as Zodiark…
(Aza’s soul showed him: the Crystarium, bright and hopeful and full of life)
Prometheus felt his heart settle, before it truly began to race.
“...yes,” he said, aware he had been quiet for too long, “Yes, that. We called it the Doom, for that was what it was. The star was dying beneath our feet, and there was little to be done about it.”
“Except summon a Primal…” Alphinaud murmured, “But, if the star was dying, where would you have gathered the aether to…?”
“... the price of a single star is exactly one million souls,” Prometheus said tonelessly, “To imbue that star with a will, that’s another one million. To grant it the ability to terraform its ravaged surface, another one million.”
The Scions were staring at him in open horror. Prometheus wondered if they had built their cities to hold that many souls yet. Probably not.
“There weren’t many of us left, after that,” Prometheus said, idly rubbing at his wrists, lowering his gaze, “And even less who weren’t under the thrall of Zodiark. The star was recovering, though, and the younger races began to discover civilisation, becoming more complex and learning to access aether. It looked as if the Amaurotines would be replaced, as there were too few of us left to efficiently repopulate the planet. Yet, Zodiark didn’t like that. He began whispering lies of how He could revive our people if we, ah, cultivated your ancestors to be offered to Him. A fair exchange, right?”
“That sounds in line with Ascian logic,” Thancred said coolly, “As we don’t even count as ‘being alive’, according to some.”
That was because they were so short lived and small and weak. To some Amaurotines, it would be like considering a mayfly as a person. Prometheus himself was guilty of being rather dismissive towards them - they were so young and ignorant of everything, but they were Amaurot’s inheritors, whether they liked it or not. These broken worlds were theirs now, and the lingering ghosts of Amaurot had no place in them.
“Some of us disagreed with that logic, of course,” he said, quickly rushing over the next part; “That was what led to Hydaelyn’s eventual summoning and I was Sundered in the aftermath. Then I woke up in Aza’s body. The end.”
“Well, that’s not suspicious,” Alisaie muttered under her breath.
“If thou art trying to convince us of thine sincerity,” Urianger finally spoke up from his spot in the back of the group, “Be not so obvious in thine omissions of truth.”
“Ah ha… yes…” Prometheus said awkwardly, his shoulders slumping slightly, “Sorry. It’s just… Hydaelyn’s summoning was a very traumatic experience. I’m not eager to discuss it.”
“Yet, I feel this would answer Thancred’s question, if you did discuss it,” Y’shtola said shrewdly, “Just who are you? Were you one of Hydaelyn’s summoners? And if that is the case, why would Emet-Selch return you to your original state?”
“I wouldn’t say original state…” Prometheus muttered. Honestly, even with Aza acting as a very shaky, cracked foundation, his soul could barely quantify as half of what it once was. There were pits and holes and gaps that hadn’t been filled, and the longer he shambled along, the more unstable this mess of a soul would become. Zodiark, no doubt, could fill those gaps with Himself, but Prometheus would sooner tear himself apart again than suffer that.
“You promised you would tell us everything,” Alisaie reminded him pointedly, when he let the silence drag on between them.
“...I did,” Prometheus said quietly, rubbing at the bridge of his nose, his fingers itching to fidget with his mask that was no longer there, “But that ‘everything’ includes extremely upsetting memories that I find difficult to talk about.”
“Oh,” Alisaie looked a little conflicted at Prometheus’s frank admission, “I see.”
“I summoned Hydaelyn,” Prometheus admitted, feeling a ghostly echo of gut-wrenching agony as his memories… skirted. That. Moment. He very carefully Did Not Remember that memory, focused on the crystal sharp recollection of the Crystarium Aza’s soul had sent him subconsciously. He stared at the wall. Do not remember.
he remembered screaming-
he remembered screaming as Hydaelyn rose from his breaking heart-
he remembered screaming-)
“Because of that,” he continued, feeling detached and distant from himself, “I died. My soul broke apart from the strain. Those fragments scattered into the Lifestream until… well, until now.”
His heart hurt. A dull echo when that bright light of hope he kindled there grew hot and blazing, as he prayed and wished and poured every last ounce of himself into it. A Light of terrible hope that broke his heart and then broke the world.
Prometheus felt tired. He wanted to sleep again.
“...so, with that, you know who I am,” Prometheus said, “Hydaelyn’s summoner. Is that enough to convince you that I am not an enemy at least?”
There was a very pregnant pause. Prometheus still looked at the wall, holding himself very still. Every inch of him felt tightly coiled, like one wrong shift of his weight would have him springing apart, his heart a heavy, painful thump against his sternum. He didn’t expect remembering to hurt this much.
“It’s easy enough to claim that,” Thancred finally said, and Prometheus saw Alisaie turn to give him a look, unreadable, “That-”
“I believe him,” Ryne spoke up quietly, making almost everyone jump. She had been so quiet and unobtrusive, it had been easy to overlook her.
“I can sense…” she hesitated, now the focus of the group, but boldly forged on, “I think it’s the ‘Blessing’? No, I know it’s the Blessing. I saw it in Aza before, just beneath the Light, and in him it’s… it’s blinding. It’s almost like Minfillia...”
Prometheus slowly looked at her, confused. The Blessing?
“Well, that settles it, doesn’t it?” Alisaie said, “If he has the Blessing of Light…”
“Then, he may actually be telling the truth,” Alphinaud finished. His expression was difficult to decipher, and Prometheus found it difficult to grasp at the faded, quiet emotions that sprung forth from these people’s souls.
It left him feeling wrongfooted, honestly. In Amaurot, he could always tell what people were thinking, feeling. Even when they walled themselves off, you could still tell. These small, isolated souls, though - so quiet, so still. The uncertainty was simply…
He felt tired. It was too quiet here.
There was an odd sensation of feeling spread thin, like he was grasping powdery sand that slid between his fingers. Quiet, and tired. Yes...
He needed to… sleep for a bit...
“Huh?” Prometheus snapped to abrupt attention. His thoughts felt foggy, and Aza’s soul felt oddly leaden inside of him. The Light scrabbled at his core, gnawing impatiently, and it felt harder than before to send it scuttling back into his quiet depths. His heart ached.
The Scions were all looking at him. Alisaie and Ryne seemed concerned.
“Are you alright?” Alisaie asked him carefully, “You seemed to… zone out for a moment there.”
“Did I?” he gave himself a mental shake, somehow managing to dreg up a smile, “Ah, I’m sorry. To be honest, I’m exhausted, so I must have drifted off on my feet there.”
“Hmm…” Alisaie sounded very doubtful.
“Yes, it is still late,” Y’shtola said, “We can continue this conversation later, after some rest. Though… there is the question of what to do with you…”
“With me?” Prometheus repeated dumbly, before he realised the meaning, “Wait, you think I’ll do something while your backs are turned?”
“Forgive us our paranoia, but every Ascian we have met thus far has intended, or done us harm,” Y’shtola said, “While you have been incredibly honest and diplomatic, it’s best we err on the side of caution. Do you agree?”
“I suppose…” Prometheus mumbled. Ugh, he was too tired to argue it, “Very well, I agree. Though, please don’t have him watch me sleep. I think he might stab me.”
He pointed at Thancred, who frowned at him.
“I wouldn’t stab you, considering you’re holding Aza’s body and soul hostage,” Thancred said, giving him a rather impressive stinkeye. Prometheus didn’t have to be telepathic to hear the unspoken, ‘I would totally stab you if you weren’t in Aza’s body, though’, but that might just be Prometheus’s paranoia speaking.
“I’ll stand guard,” Alisaie sighed irritably, “I doubt I’ll be able to sleep as it is, anyways.”
And with that, Prometheus had secured an alliance with the Scions. Well, fine, not an alliance, but an understanding that he wasn’t here for malicious reasons, and he wasn’t an enemy. For the initial meeting, Prometheus thought that to be quite promising!
As Alisaie marched him to bed, Prometheus’s gaze snagged on the cluster of Light-afflicted patients as they passed. He would need to deal with them in the morning. Hopefully the Scions wouldn’t think he was doing anything weird to them. It was difficult to rebalance a living creature’s aether as it was without someone interrupting the process.
Ah, he was already getting a pile of to-dos. He needed to kill Emet-Selch painlessly, he needed to heal Aza’s soul, he needed to burn up this primordial Light before it burst free and tipped this world over into a calamity, he needed to gain the Scions’ trust to help him with the above and now he needed to cure those Light-afflicted because… well, because he could. An Amaurotine was a caretaker, first and foremost, even if at the end the majority of them forgot that.
But first he needed to sleep. He really needed to sleep. His soul felt so fuzzy around the edges, and this pain in his heart was becoming unbearable…
Prometheus’s head didn’t even touch his pillow. He dropped instantly into a deep, dreamless sleep the moment he reached his bed, and did not wake until morning.
urianger was too hard so i gave him like a line im too dumb ok (i'll try harder next time), also writing group conversations is so frustrating sometimes, bc some people naturally sit in the background bc... ugh, group conversations...
in any case, I like to think Prometheus is incredibly unsettling for the Scions to deal with. Aside from the fact that he's possessing their friend, he's the complete opposite of any Ascian they've interacted with and if he has a convoluted scheme to fuck them over, they really can't figure out what it is (since killing aza by fleeing his body and dooming him to the light is the 'easy win' for the ascians).
also prometheus is so fucking traumatised that if he ever actually encounters hydaelyn in any way i think he would just die on the spot or smth. while he willingly summoned hydaelyn, the process of it absolutely broke him :')
Prometheus woke up feeling like he was on the cusp of death.
It wasn’t the agonising emotional anguish making him feel this - no, he was slowly becoming numb to that. It was the sluggish, nauseous feeling of physical weakness, his throat needle-sharp dry, his lips chapped, his head pounding, muscles aching, a discomforting, feverish warmth making him sticky with sweat and hunger… he was absolutely starving.
Blearily, Prometheus realised Hades probably hadn’t fed or watered this body in the three days it took to transfer his broken soul into it.
Logically it made sense. Hades- no, Emet-Selch would have wanted to keep Prometheus on the backfoot, confused and weak. If it hadn’t been for Ardbert calming him down when he woke up, there was no doubt in Prometheus’s mind that Emet-Selch would’ve taken advantage of his maddened distress. He might’ve missed Zodiark’s tight grip on him, might have followed him into Zodiark’s grasping claws, unaware of the fate that waited for him…
The thought made him feel sick. He needed to thank Ardbert later.
His cramping stomach brought him out of his depressing musings of ‘what-if’, and with a grunt he slowly leveraged himself up. He had been sprawled face-down on the bed, still dressed and atop of the covers, like he had just passed out right on top of it. He probably did. His memory of going to bed was… non-existent.
“Good morning,” a young voice said beside him, making Prometheus almost jump out of his skin, “Did you sleep well?”
“Uh,” Prometheus hurriedly sat up the rest of the way, squinting in pain when the inside of his skull felt like something was trying its damndest to punch its way out through the back of his eyes, “No.”
“Oh, I see. That’s a shame,” the young voice belonged to Alphinaud, who must have taken over from Alisaie sometime during the night - morning? He was sat in the chair, practically perched on the very edge of it with his book on his lap. Nervous? His soul was too small and quiet for Prometheus to glean any information from it.
“I just need some water. I ill-advisedly went to sleep dehydrated,” Prometheus said, not wanting to admit that this body was running on nothing but fumes. The jug of water was still on the bedside table, so he reached for it, pouring himself a glass with surprisingly steady hands. Even though he felt awful, Aza’s body didn’t reflect it.
In fact, this body was startlingly resilient, almost inhumanely so. Prometheus made a note to investigate once his brain stopped feeling like it was trying to shrivel up into a raisin inside his skull.
“... I always thought diplomacy would be impossible between our people,” Alphinaud said after a very uncomfortable moment of silence, where Prometheus practically inhaled three glasses worth of water, “Our goals always seemed incompatible.”
Prometheus lowered his now empty glass into his lap, eyeing Alphinaud warily, “Though I’m the same race as Emet-Selch, it doesn’t mean we have the same goal.”
“Yes, I’m… trying to realise that,” Alphinaud admitted, “For the longest time, we thought the Ascians united towards a single purpose, and through Emet-Selch, we began to understand it. To try to save your world, even though the Ascians go about it in a monstrous manner, it… it is understandable. So, it’s strange to me that you wouldn’t support that.”
Was this a test? A trick to try and catch Prometheus out? Nah, Alphinaud was sly, but he wasn’t that… sneaky. There was an earnest desire to understand as he looked at him, and Prometheus wondered if he was hoping there was finally a chance to ‘negotiate with the enemy’, or rather, get some perspective from an Ascian that didn’t want to kill him at some point.
“I don’t support it, because it’s pointless,” Prometheus said very quietly, “It’s easier to accept the loss and move on.”
Alphinaud frowned, “Is that why you summoned Hydaelyn? To… to force your people to accept?”
Prometheus turned the glass over in his hands, watching its smooth surface reflect the dull orange glow of the oil lamp.
“Do you know the difference between Hydaelyn and Zodiark’s summoning?” he asked after a pause. He didn’t wait for an answer, “It’s the subconscious desires behind it. Zodiark was summoned during a state of absolute desperation. One million lives sacrificed crying for help, the rest begging for salvation, to shelter in a dark, hidden shadow so the Doom wouldn’t find them, for someone to take control of the situation and tell them how to survive. They begged for this, so of course, that’s what shaped Zodiark.”
“... and Hydaelyn?” Alphinaud asked softly.
“I gave Her mortal love and desire for freedom, because that’s what I selfishly desired above all else,” Prometheus said, “It was difficult, since She was summoned in stages by multiple people, finalised by myself, rather than one massive burst of faith and belief like Zodiark but…”
He set the glass on the bedside table, “She was summoned as Zodiark’s antithesis. Where He demanded absolute control and obedience, and thus Tempered his followers, She loved and sought to keep us free. I didn’t anticipate Her shattering the world though, that was a nasty surprise to wake up to…”
Alphinaud mulled over that in silence. Prometheus took that moment to keep his emotions settled. Remembering Hydaelyn… even the thought of Her name brought back the ghost of Her birth, of Her cracking right through his heart. He didn’t regret it, how he summoned Her, but he did regret that he remembered . He was supposed to forget it all, so this grief and pain wouldn’t follow him into death.
“Her purpose,” Prometheus continued softly, “was to free everyone from Zodiark’s control and return the star to its original state. Something obviously went wrong. I must’ve underestimated how strong of a grip Zodiark had on the star itself, so when She enervated Him, it caused a physical split in reality, instead of just on the Primal…”
“And the Ascians- some of the Ascians are still under Zodiark’s control,” Alphinaud pointed out, eyeing him warily for his reaction.
“...yeah,” Prometheus had to strangest urge to laugh - or cry, he wasn’t sure yet, “She turned out to be a massive failure in the one thing I made Her for, but a success in something unexpected. Ah, well, radical experiments never turn out the way you expect them to.”
Alphinaud was quiet for a moment.
“Then, it is you we have to thank, for saving us,” he finally said.
“...” Prometheus lifted his head, staring at him, “What?”
“If you hadn’t summoned Hydaelyn, what do you think life would be like?” Alphinaud said, “Zodiark would control everything, would order your enslaved brethren to cultivate life on the star to simply feed him. Your world would have been whole, but it would have been a shallow life and, well, I admit bias here, but we probably wouldn’t exist. We Spoken, I mean.”
“If you did, it would’ve been as cattle,” Prometheus muttered, “A renewable source of aether and life for Zodiark.”
“Exactly,” Alphinaud nodded, “Things may not have turned out like you had hoped, and this situation with the shards and the Source aren’t ideal, but… from what I understand, it could have been a lot worse.”
Prometheus tried to imagine it, a life where he didn’t summon Hydaelyn. A life where he became a devout follower of Zodiark, together with Hades for the long, endless stretch of eternity, harvesting the star over and over to give unto Him. No, no, the mere thought of it made him feel ill. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t… the same as before.
“I suppose so,” he muttered, “Still, I feel awful how things turned out. I never expected the others to…”
Prometheus was still trying to wrap his brain around it. Hades, intentionally and maliciously causing the deaths of millions of innocent lives on each of these shards, to force a rejoining. It just didn’t match up with what he knew of the man he knew and loved before. Hades wasn’t the warmest of individuals, especially towards the ‘lesser races’, but he never came across as the sort to condone mass genocide , or actively participate in it!
At least, that was what Prometheus had believed. How much of this was Zodiark’s doing, and how much was it Hades? Had Prometheus simply been blind to his friend’s capacity for cruelty before? Had Hades always been capable of this?
“Well, nevermind,” Prometheus finished, wanting to just… not think about this for a while. It was too depressing and made him painfully exhausted, “Sorry to change the subject, but can we continue this later? I’m hungry.”
“Hungry?” Alphinaud blurted, then seemed to remember that they had dragged him in from the desert on the cusp of death earlier and hadn’t fed him since then, “Oh! Forgive me! I forgot you haven’t eaten in a while.”
“Four days,” Prometheus confirmed.
Alphinaud definitely looked alarmed how, “Emet-Selch didn’t feed you- ah, wait, of course he wouldn’t.”
Prometheus frowned when Alphinaud seemed to fret over something. Surely, four days of starvation wasn’t something to be so concerned over?
“The Exarch might be…” Alphinaud stopped, noticing Prometheus’s curious look, and coughed, “I mean, follow me. I’ll see about us scrounging some leftovers from breakfast.”
Alphinaud was hiding something, obviously, but Prometheus held his tongue. He wasn’t in any position to demand answers, since the Scions, so far, had left some of their questions slide by unanswered. Also, he really was starving. His questions could wait after food.
Prometheus carefully stood up - fighting through the wave of dizziness that overcame him - and awkwardly limped after Alphinaud. Somehow, moving about made him abruptly, and painfully, aware of how disgusting he felt. A mix of four days worth of sweat, leather and metal hit his nose, and he could feel salt encrusted on the inside of his stained shirt, especially where it was tucked into the waistband of his leather breeches where sweat had collected.
Gross. He felt so gross. He needed to find a deep pond and drown himself in it.
Alphinaud seemed to think the same, but was polite about it, “I think we can arrange for a bucket of water as well, to, uh, clean yourself up a bit.”
“Because I stink,” Prometheus said dully.
“...” Alphinaud didn’t verbally agree, but his grimace said it all.
Prometheus missed his Amaurotine body already. While it was considered lazy and not very hygienic in the long run, you could still do ‘emergency flash cleans’ with a snap of your fingers. Same thing with hunger and thirst - you could simply substitute with aether for a short while… but in Aza’s body, he couldn’t do any of that.
Being mortal wasn’t fun.
The sky outside was the same as usual when they stepped outside - pure white and shimmering with Light - but Prometheus’s internal clock told him it was sometime mid-morning. The camp was a little busier this time, the Light-afflicted patients sitting up in their beds, very still and quiet, while their caretakers solemnly cared for them.
Prometheus found his steps slowing as he watched.
It was sad and heartwarming. These people who are doomed to die a slow, torturous death - or become ravenous monsters mindless to everything - shunned into this dusty, forgotten corner of the world. It was beyond cruel, yet , despite this, these caretakers followed them. For no real gain that Prometheus could see or understand-
(Aza’s soul showed him: Tesleen)
-they cared for these near-strangers, just because they were suffering and needed kindness, because everyone else willingly forgot about them. What strange creatures, these Spoken, who exhibited both monstrous cruelty and selfless kindness in equal measure.
“Prometheus?” Alphinaud’s voice broke him out of his thoughts, “Is something the matter?”
“... I find their fate rather sad,” Prometheus said, looking away from the patients. Alphinaud was giving him a very unreadable look, “Abandoned here to die.”
“Yes, it is… sad,” Alphinaud glanced down at his feet, “But this is the best that can be done. We had hoped with the Light gone, their condition would improve, but…”
Alphinaud said no more, but the brief glance towards the sky said it all. When Aza’s soul failed to contain the Light, they were now back to square one. Prometheus could probably suffocate the Light enough to let the night’s sky return, but he didn’t for various reasons. Firstly it would bring his and Aza’s souls closer together, encouraging an unwanted reunion between them both, and secondly…
Keeping the sky like this would keep Emet-Selch at bay.
His powers would be greatly diminished beneath so much raw, primordial Light, and while Emet-Selch could be a little reckless when angry, he wasn’t stupid. Weak or not, the handicap the Light would bring might be enough to tip things in Prometheus’s favour, and Emet-Selch rarely started a fight he wasn’t certain he could win. Something will eventually give: Emet-Selch’s patience, Prometheus’s soul, whatever, but for now, he was safe with the sky like that.
“I can heal them,” Prometheus said without really thinking about it, “It’s very basic aetherochemical rebalancing, after all. Can be done with a snap of my fingers.”
Alphinaud stared at him.
“…if that is a joke, it’s not a funny one,” he said very, very quietly.
“I’m not joking. The offer is genuine,” Prometheus said. There was no backing out now, and besides… he wanted to help them, the more he thought about it. They were so loud, their souls screaming as the Light just ate everything inside of them, but also… also, here was a chance for Prometheus to finally fix something with these awful, destructive hands of his. It might help him start to shake off this nauseous feeling of… of failure.
All selfish reasons. He was not doing it out of kindness, but, if the Scions saw it that way, well… it was beneficial.
Prometheus could feel Alphinaud’s confliction as he glanced from the Light-afflicted and back to him. He had a surprisingly effective poker face - he wasn’t as easy to read as Alisaie - but Prometheus could see the moment Alphinaud came to a firm decision.
“After breakfast, I think. You did say you haven’t eaten in four days,” Alphinaud said, “And, it might be best to have Y’shtola in attendance to… watch.”
To make sure he wasn’t doing anything nefarious with their aether, most likely. The distrust rankled, but Prometheus accepted it. Fine. He was lucky they were affording him this much leeway in the first place.
“As you wish,” Prometheus said mildly.
Alphinaud gave him a piercing look, like he was a puzzle he just wasn’t really getting, before he turned on his heel and continued walking towards where some caretakers and mercenaries were sat around a large cookfire. Prometheus followed docilely.
It was odd, but he was actually starting to feel better. Already, concrete goals were forming, helping him to focus on those rather than this endless, burning grief that was eating his heart out from the inside. They were little inconsequential goals, avoiding the main purpose of his current, shambolic half-life, but they were a good beginning for this journey towards a true end.
Truth was, he couldn’t fight Emet-Selch until the Scions trusted him. Only then would Prometheus willingly delve into the dark depths, in Emet-Selch’s domain, to kill him. Once he had their support, he will do as he promised, leave behind Aza to continue on living as his true successor and… sleep.
Sleep for another eternity, hopefully alongside Hades. That was paradise to Prometheus, who was so tired of life that he despised it with every fibre of his being. The mere thought of being revived, either as Zodiark’s puppet or to a remade Amaurot built on the bones of billions of innocent lives made him sick to his stomach.
Soon, soon, soon, he told himself wearily, one way or another, it will end soon.
i just like imagining the scions all on edge, waiting for prometheus to show 'ascian behaviour' and continuously being befuddled and suspicious when he offers to be helpful or kind instead. it's a very interesting thing to explore since they acknowledge that, yeah, okay, maybe he was one of hydaelyn's summoners, but he's also an ascian, so they just can't find it in themselves to lower their guard. good old alphie is trying his best to understand prometheus, though.
(atm they're all adhering to the good old adage of 'keep your enemies close'. if they allow prometheus to hang out with them, at least they know where aza's body is and they can keep an eye on him...)
also, as someone who has been stomping about camping during hot weather with limited access to washing facilities... hoo boy do you STINK after a few days, esp if you're not able to regularly switch your clothes. so yeah, poor alphie's nose when talking to prometheus...
Before Prometheus went saving those Light-afflicted souls, though, he really did need to clean up.
After eating what felt like his body weight in sand mole stew (despite Alphinaud warning him that it was very tough and bland, to Prometheus who hadn’t eaten in basically eons, it was the best fucking thing he had ever eaten in his life ), Y’shtola had directed him to the ‘wash up area’, a small hollow in the stone wall that gave some semblence of privacy.
His shower? A bucket of cold water and some rags.
“Ah, how the mighty have fallen,” Prometheus muttered with wry amusement, “From having my own personal hotspring to this.”
Not that it really bothered him. In fact, this was a good opportunity to really get acquainted with the body he was safeguarding. So, once he was left to his own devices (after handing over his dirty clothes to Y’shtola who took them like they were a living biohazard (he honestly didn’t blame her, they were pretty gross)), Prometheus got to work scrubbing Aza’s body clean while taking stock.
There were both similarities and differences between Aza and his old body, though it was mostly different. Aza was stockier, more compact and muscular than Prometheus had ever been, and his skin was just a few shades darker than his own. It was also scarred to hell and back, with several lingering injuries that would never recover: scarred tendons and ligaments in the knees from what must’ve been a very cruelly precise torture session, old breaks in the pelvis and lower spine, the left ankle was snapped at one point and didn’t heal completely straight, onset of osteoarthritis in his joints…
Hoo boy, Aza really did a number on his body, didn’t he? Certainly explained why Prometheus was in so much pain…
In another life, he probably would’ve healed him - properly. He would have smoothed away the scars, the little cracks in the bones and the knots of scar tissue in his ligaments, and rebuilt the worn cartilage in his joints… but he couldn’t. He would need Lazarus for that, and no matter how much Prometheus grasped at the hollow spots where his armigers were stored, he came up with nothing but the lingering ache of the primordial Light within snapping at his reach.
Ugh, that Light was a feisty little monster. It was neatly filling in all the gaps and cracks between him and Aza, really making itself at home. Well, it better enjoy its comfort while it could, because Prometheus was going to sear it out of existence soon.
By the time his wash up and examination was finished, the rag was filthy and the water slightly discoloured. Prometheus felt better, though. Amazing what a wet rag could do for you.
Prometheus jumped, his tail’s fur fluffing out slightly at Thancred’s voice coming from directly behind him. Stars, he was like a ghost! Barely so much as a whisper of aether heralding his arrival with that one!
“Ah- yes,” he turned around to see Thancred standing in the ‘doorway’ to the shower alcove, holding a change of clothes. It wasn’t what Aza’s body had been wearing earlier, but instead resembled much like what the mercenary guards wore loitering around camp: light, dusty-coloured leather armour.
Thancred was eyeing him, his expression neutral but his soul a bubbling cauldron of unease, suspicion and determination. Lahabrea’s scars ran deep in him, and Prometheus tried not to look at them, keeping his gaze firmly on the human’s face.
“...these should suffice until Aza’s armour is cleaned,” Thancred said stiffly, holding the clothes out.
Prometheus carefully took them, trying not to spook the man by moving too fast, and took several steps back. It was kind of ridiculous, how they were eyeing each other like rival predators, gauging each other up. Well, Thancred was gauging him, Prometheus was trying to seem as harmless as possible. He was completely naked and still feeling weak on his feet, so starting a fight would not be in his favour right now.
“Thanks,” he said, pausing for a moment. But, when Thancred didn’t move, Prometheus mentally shrugged and started getting dressed. It was… weird, actually getting dressed. Before, he would just snap his fingers and his clothes would disappear, or change to how he wanted. Actually taking it off and putting it on… so strange…
“I don’t trust you at all,” Thancred said bluntly as Prometheus awkwardly pulled up his leather breeches, “I know how rough your kind can be with your vessels .”
Prometheus was quiet, clicking his belt into place, “...yes. I’ve noticed Lahabrea has crippled you.”
A flare of anger - quickly stifled. Prometheus watched him from beneath his eyelashes.
Thancred crossed his arms, his gaze shifting to the wall, “You may be what’s keeping Aza alive for now, and for that I’m… grateful,” he said the word like it caused him physical pain, “But afterwards, if I find that you have hurt him during your occupation…”
Prometheus couldn’t help it. He smiled, the gesture not even faltering when Thancred noticed and pinned him down with a hard stare.
“Ah, you all care for him very much, don’t you?” Prometheus murmured. How nice to see that a fragment of himself obtained what Prometheus had yearned for so deeply in life: acceptance. He saw it in the glimpses of his memories, in the love and protectiveness of these Scions… so many people appreciated and loved Aza. It made him jealous, but it also made him incredibly happy.
Well, now Prometheus definitely had to keep Aza alive. If only so he could die knowing at least a piece of him was worthy of love.
“Well, no need to worry,” Prometheus said lightly, “I have no intention of harming Aza in any way, shape, or form. Both of us didn’t consent to this, after all, and it’d be incredibly rude to cause a mess in a house that wasn’t mine, so to speak.”
Thancred studied him closely, as if trying to detect a lie.
“... you’re different to Lahabrea and Emet-Selch,” he muttered, sounding uneasy.
Prometheus’s smile faded at that, and he picked up his shirt to tug it on. He didn’t know what to say to that. Well, first of all, he certainly hoped he was different to Lahabrea, but the implication behind those words…
“I think it’s because I’m not a brainwashed puppet of some ancient, artificial god gone wrong,” Prometheus said with forced lightness, focusing very hard on buttoning up his shirt, “The Lahabrea and Emet-Selch you know are… vastly different to how I remember them.”
“Well,” Prometheus smoothed down his shirt and picked up the breastplate. How the hell did you put this thing on? “Lahabrea was an arrogant little blowhard, back in the day. He was very clever, but he lacked quite a bit of common sense, and overestimated himself a lot…”
“That sounds like Lahabrea,” Thancred muttered sourly.
“But,” Prometheus added softly, fidgeting with a metal buckle, “He was also kind, in his own way. He worked very hard to discover new and wonderful ways to ease any difficulties our people had. Like I said, he was clever, and he produced a lot of beneficial works. He also dabbled in medicine too. There was an illness once, and he worked tirelessly to discover a cure for it before it became fatal…”
“That creature who possessed you,” Prometheus said, “I don’t know who that was. It wasn’t the Lahabrea I knew.”
Silence fell between them. It wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either. Prometheus rubbed his thumb over the buckle, felt the bite of its edge dig into his skin. He disliked Lahabrea in life, but in retrospect, their rivalry seemed so petty and childish now. It all started over something ridiculous too. Prometheus had been a fool, and so had Lahabrea.
They had all been fools. So much wasted, all because...
“...do you need help with that?” Thancred broke the silence a bit awkwardly, gesturing to the breastplate in Prometheus’s hands.
A not so subtle change in subject. He took it, “Yes, please.”
He doubted he had managed to bridge that gap of suspicion with Thancred, but he felt he made some progress all the same. Thancred helped him put the breastplate on, then told him how the vambraces and greaves safely attached (all while sporting a discomforted expression). With that completed, Prometheus was now allowed to rejoin society without offending anyone’s nose.
“Y’shtola says you may be able to cure the Light-afflicted,” Thancred said as they stepped out of the alcove, Prometheus carrying the bucket of dirty water. There was a ‘drain’ (really just a hole in the ground) next to the alcove that he emptied it in, “If that’s the case, can’t you do the same with Aza?”
“That’s like saying because I can empty a cup, I can drain an ocean,” Prometheus said, setting the bucket down, “The Light those patients have is a drop compared to what Aza possesses. Honestly, I’m amazed he survived this long. Any ordinary person would have shattered with the first Lightwarden.”
“I assume it has something to do with the Blessing of Light,” Thancred said, “That and Aza just does the impossible.”
“Blessing of Light…” Twice now Prometheus had heard that term, and he still didn’t know what that was, “What is-”
“There you are!” Alisaie barged into their conversation, practically jumping out of nowhere and scaring the shit out of him (again). Ignoring his brief startle where he literally jumped a foot in the air, she pinned him down with a look, “Is it true?”
“Er, yes?” Prometheus blurted instinctively, struggling to shove his heart back into his chest from where it lodged into his throat.
Alisaie eyed him expectantly, then seemed to realise he was confused after a long moment where they just stared at each other for a bit, “You can cure the Light-afflicted?”
“Oh. Yeah, I can,” Prometheus said, relaxing a little, “It should be an easy enough task. The imbalance isn’t too severe, especially if its infection is advancing at such a slow speed. If the ambient aether weren’t so drenched with Light, their bodies could have corrected the imbalance themselves…”
Alisaie’s expression tightened, “Yes. When we banished the Light here, their condition stopped getting worse. But now…”
Now Aza’s soul was reflecting the Light out like a supernova, far stronger than the split Lightwardens ever did. If anything, Prometheus suspected his close proximity to them was accelerating the process, which meant he definitely had to do something. He’d feel bad if they transformed because of his mere presence.
“So, how will you ‘cure’ them?” Thancred asked him shrewdly, “The Light has to go somewhere.”
“Correct,” Prometheus patted his breastplate, “I’ll eat it.”
“You’ll… eat it?” Alisaie echoed, looking alarmed, “But, won’t that make the Light worse inside Aza?”
“Not really,” Prometheus said, “Besides, I said I’ll eat it, not add it to the pile Aza has accumulated. We’re still two separate souls, so what I do shouldn’t affect Aza in the slightest.”
“I thought the Light was painful to you Ascians?” Thancred muttered.
“Ugh, no, it’s painful to Zodiark’s disciples,” Prometheus said, “My aether tends to lean towards Light naturally anyways, due to my affinity to stasis and sublimation spells. So, devouring the Light in them benefits me quite a bit. I’ll be stronger, for one.”
“Oh?” Thancred’s suspicion was back, “Stronger in what way?”
“In a way that I won’t be utterly useless in battle?” Prometheus said dryly, “We are planning on slaying Emet-Selch, right? I kind of need power for that.”
“Hmm…” Alisaie looked like she was mulling over something, “Eat. You said ‘eat’, not ‘absorb’.”
Oh, she caught that, huh?
“Amaur- Ascians can gain sustenance in different ways,” Prometheus explained, sliding his hands into his breeches’ pockets and slouching slightly, “Aether is one of them, though we still ate food because… well, evolutionary holdover, I guess? Our digestive system was still active, and living entirely off aether would cause it to atrophy, which caused all kinds of problems…”
“So, you don’t need to eat food?”
“Oh, I definitely do,” Prometheus chuckled, “Or, at least, Aza’s body needs food. I plan to maintain it perfectly, so I can hand it back over in perfect condition!”
Alisaie and Thancred fixed him with twin, dissecting stares, making him feel like an alien insect under a microscope. He shifted his weight from side to side, trying not to show his obvious discomfort.
“This is so bizarre,” Alisaie muttered.
“Really bizarre,” Thancred agreed.
Prometheus sighed, “I’m trying very hard here…”
Alisaie coughed, “Sorry, but you act so differently to Aza, it… it keeps throwing me off.”
Thancred shook his head, “Let’s see to the Light-afflicted. Y’shtola and Urianger are practically vibrating with impatience to see how you ‘cure it’.”
“Hm,” Prometheus scuffed the heels of his boots against the floor as they walked, still trying to get used to these shorter legs. He could walk now without looking like a complete weirdo, but it still felt unnatural. The lower centre of gravity, the way his tail would instinctively swing and lift and arch to maintain his gait… something about it all made his skin crawl.
Not mine, not mine, not mine, something in the back of his mind chanted.
He pushed the discomfort away, focusing on the now.
When they approached the patients’ area, Y’shtola, Urianger and some unknown people were loitering there in deep discussion. Aza’s memories brought up foggy, hazy recollections of these being Tesleen’s fellow caretakers. It made sense to ask for their permission, he supposed, before he started rummaging about in their souls, excising the Light’s taint.
“Here he is,” Y’shtola said, turning from a Hrothgar caretaker to face him, “Are you ready to ‘heal’ these people?”
She doubted him, Prometheus sensed immediately, but she was also hopeful. Hm, expect the worst, hope for the best? He understood that thinking.
“Yes, if that’s fine by…?” Prometheus trailed off, glancing at the two caretakers. The Hrothgar was sizing him up, while the human woman was anxiously looking at an Au-ra boy seated on the bed closest to them. His condition was critical, Prometheus sensed at a glance.
“If you can cure these people, then do so,” the Hrothgar said, “But know we’ve had many people peddling ‘cures’ here before…”
So any trickery will not be tolerated. Prometheus hummed, hooking his thumbs into the belt loops of his breeches, casting a sweeping look over the gathered patients. There were eleven in total, each in various stages of Light affliction. He had an odd, disorientating moment of deja vu , remembering when he had to inspect a Xylologist’s work on flame dryads. He had his dryads lined up like this too, each in various stages of Fire affliction.
Prometheus had him terminate all of them. They had been in too much pain to justify the experiment. Of course, he couldn't do that here.
His gaze settled on the boy, sitting so quiet and still, his chest barely moving. The Light’s stasis had sunk its claws deep into his aether channels, slowing its flow to a sluggish current that was causing clots and bottlenecks. If the transformation didn’t take him soon, then an aether clot would kill him at this rate. There was a big one already forming at the main channel leading to his heart.
“I’ll start with him,” he said, pointing at the boy, “His condition is the most critical.”
There was some tension in the group at that, but Prometheus ignored it, focusing entirely on his method of attack as he stepped up to the boy. The child didn’t stir, still staring blankly ahead as Prometheus’s soul reached out carefully, prodding and poking at the delicate, half-dead thing that was this boy’s soul.
He could feel Y’shtola watching him like a hawk - she could probably ‘see’ what was happening, but whether she understood, he didn’t know. Didn’t actually care, honestly. He reached out.
First thing’s first, he couldn’t deal with the Light with all his aether channels bottlenecked like this. Prometheus settled his hand atop of the boy’s head, because connecting his aether to his was easier with physical contact, and closed his eyes, focusing. He was being very trusting, letting his focus swing from his physical body and entirely onto the spiritual, but he trusted the Scions enough that they wouldn’t stab him in the back.
How much time passed, he didn’t know. Perception of time went wonky when you focus inwards, and Prometheus was too busy to take note anyways. Fixing this boy… stars, he was an absolute mess and should have died a long, long time ago. Yet, somehow, miraculously, he clung on. The Light in him was doggedly, desperately trying to snap up that last little bit of him, but somehow the boy resisted and resisted and resisted.
These little, young souls. So much smaller than an Amaurotine’s, so much weaker, yet… stronger. They weren’t as brittle. They flexed and bent accordingly, but it helped them survive. If Amaurotine souls have been like this…
Well, it didn’t matter.
Prometheus unblocked the boy’s aether channels by pushing his own through, gently, so not to blast them open and irreparably damage his ability to manipulate it, like what he suspected happened to Thancred. Once the flow was cleared, he ate the Light, feeding his own aether into the boy to replace what was lost. It took a lot of concentration and energy - he couldn’t just dump elementally neutral aether in there whilst devouring the Light, no, that would just outright kill the boy. No, he had to note what was imbalanced, what was lacking, synthesise his aether into the element needed, adjust, implant, devour the Light, and…
It was exhausting.
When he lifted his hand from the boy, accomplished and satisfied, he slowly blinked the grey out of his vision, his hand prickling from the aether that had been flowing through it. At some point during his work, everyone had crowded round him, and they all stared with baited breath as the boy blinked once, twice…
“Wh…” the boy croaked, life slowly returning his eyes. His voice was barely audible, cracked and raspy from disuse, “Wh… at… hap… pened…?”
“Wicked White…” The human caretaker breathed, almost elbowing Prometheus aside as she knelt before the boy, “Halric? Are you… how do you feel?”
The boy, Halric, blinked groggily at her, “Um… ki… k-kinda… hungry.”
There was a moment of silence, a strange kind of silence that had Prometheus briefly wondering if he’d done something wrong, before the human caretaker burst into tears and hugged a very confused Halric. He felt it then, absolute jubilation, a sunburst of joy that eclipsed past the dull, dragging pain from the rest of the Light afflicted. When Prometheus looked, the other patients were staring at him with unrestrained hope.
He did something right then.
“I can’t believe it…” Alisaie whispered. She looked stunned, “You did it?”
“He did,” Y’shtola said softly, “I don’t quite understand how but… you removed the Light and rebalanced his aether. How did you…?”
“It was tricky, since he was so far gone,” Prometheus said, blinking very slowly as he felt the dizziness slowly pass. The other patients weren’t as bad, so hopefully they won’t be as intensive as that had been, “He’ll have some physical ailments from his near transformation but, well, he won’t turn into a Sin Eater anymore.”
“What thou hast done, ‘tis a miracle,” Urianger murmured.
“Not… not a miracle,” Prometheus refuted awkwardly, “It’s simple science. If you know how it’s done, it’s not a miracle at all.”
“But we don’t know how it’s done,” Alisaie pointed out, a determined glint in her eyes, “And if it is just a ‘simple science’… are you able to teach us?”
“Uh,” Prometheus paused, suddenly aware that the more magically inclined Scions were now pinning him down with hungry, eager to know stares, “I… I suppose I could try…”
“Good. I’ll grab Alphinaud then,” Alisaie said, and ran off before Prometheus could stop her.
“Ah, but… urgh,” Prometheus’s shoulders slumped, “It’ll be hard to teach all of you at once…”
“Then whilst she finds Master Alphinaud,” Urianger said, “Perhaps thou canst teach us.”
Prometheus glanced tiredly at Urianger and Y’shtola, then slowly at Thancred, who was watching the whole thing with a wry twist to his lips.
“This is your fault for telling them it can be taught,” Thancred pointed out, “You made your bed, now lie in it.”
Prometheus heaved a deep, deep sigh, wondering what a disaster this could be. Y’shtola, he could see grasping it due to her experience in aether-sight, no matter how… inexperienced compared to himself. Alisaie would struggle, Alphinaud… maybe? Urianger might understand the academics of it…
Still, he couldn’t refuse. He would be here to supervise, and by the end of it, everyone here will be cured and happy. He will have done a good deed, strengthened himself and built up more rapport and trust with the Scions. Then, he can try to retrace his steps to Emet-Selch, plan a method of attack and…
He’ll think on that later. For now, he had some Scions to teach and some lives to save.
(and, selfishly, it felt… kind of nice, doing this harmless bit of kindness. Deep inside himself, Aza’s soul warmly agreed)
this is a very slow burning plot, i know, but i want to focus more on Prometheus building genuine rapport with the Scions... Emet-Selch and Exarch will be making an appearance soon >w>
also, in case people are confused, the timeline of events are so far:
day 0: Aza and gang fight Vauthry. Aza starts turning into a Sin Eater. Emet-Selch intervenes and spirits Aza away.
day 3: Prometheus wakes up in Aza's body. Escapes into Amh Araeng and wanders about until nightfall until the Scions find him.
day 4: this chapter
so it's been 4 days since Vauthry fight uwu
Prometheus’s internal clock told him it was close to late afternoon when all the Light-afflicted were cured.
Well. ‘Cured’. While they were no longer at risk of becoming Sin Eaters, the Light still did some internal and external damage to their bodies. Little Halric, for example, would forever suffer from hard, plastery skin and stiff joints, but careful application of healing magic and potions over time might ease those ailments. It wasn’t a complete, total happy ending to their woes but… well, it was a start.
The Scions, as well, devoured what knowledge Prometheus imparted to them about aetherochemical balances, elemental synthesising, and medical application of aether transfusions, but he felt like a lot of it went over their heads. Quite a lot of it relied on being able to sense and interact with another person’s aether channels or souls, which these little children could barely do.
But, well, it was a start, and they were eager to develop what basic knowledge he gave them and make something out of it.
It left Prometheus feeling… satisfied, in a weird way. Proud, almost. The air was buzzing with shocked relief and joy, and the Scions were all congregated around the campfire with everyone else while one of the caretakers made a ‘celebratory stew’ (he was eagerly awaiting to see what it was), and he had been thanked by so many people, who genuinely looked at him and were happy, and it was… he was…
… he was happy.
But treading fast on the heels of that was guilt. Why was he happy? He shouldn’t be. So what, he saved some fleeting little lives that will die in a few decades anyway. It was all procrastination. Putting off his real task of finding Emet-Selch and putting him out of his misery, of leading the Scions to that horrifying doll house Emet-Selch made the ruins of Amaurot, of confronting the consequences of his weakness all those eons ago. Why were you happy? You shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t.
A poisonous little voice that snapped and hissed on the edges of his thoughts, circling like a hungry vulture. Prometheus, with some difficulty, tried to ignore it.
How dare you be happy, when all of this is your fault-
He was knocked out of his gloomy thoughts by a friendly elbow to the ribs. He grunted.
“You tend to zone out a lot,” Alisaie told him as he turned to her, “Is something the matter?”
“Oh, uh, no,” Prometheus hitched up a false smile, “I was just thinking of what happens next.”
“What happens next…?” Alisaie frowned and settled a hand on her hip, “Well, finding out where you came from, obviously. You did say you escaped from Emet-Selch, so he might still be there.”
Oh, he definitely would be there, “Mm, yeah.”
Alisaie eyed him shrewdly, and for a moment, Prometheus felt like she could see straight through him.
“You never did answer our question on why he would revive you,” Alisaie said bluntly, “Considering you’re his enemy.”
Ah, this question. Honestly, Prometheus was surprised they let it slide past unanswered for so long. Did they trust him enough to get a straight answer out of him now? Or did they not really care about the answer, as it wouldn’t change their strategy on how to deal with him?
“... we weren’t always enemies,” Prometheus began carefully, “Before Zodiark, we were actually very close friends.”
“Close friends,” Alisaie said flatly, wrinkling her nose, “That man can have friends?”
Despite the topic, Prometheus couldn’t help it. He laughed, a short, breathy little giggle that had Alisaie looking at him in surprise.
“I-I’m sorry, that’s just… funny,” he coughed to a stop, looking away with his hand pressed over his mouth, to hide his grin. It was funny, because Hades had actually been quite popular in life, due to his many positive contributions to society and his good work ethic. A lot of people looked up to him, and desired to be his friend, but Hades only really made time for him and Hythlodaeus…
Prometheus’s amusement dried up instantly.
He lowered his hand, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops as he looked back at Alisaie, “He was a little more tolerable back then. After being tempered, though… well, he’s not the friend I knew anymore. Emet-Selch, to me, died when Zodiark was born.”
Alisaie’s expression shifted into something more empathetic, more understanding. Prometheus looked away, unable to stand it.
“...what was he like?” Alisaie asked quietly, like she wanted to know but also didn’t want to know.
“Hmm, well…” Prometheus hesitated, unsure if this would be helpful or painful. He didn’t want to think of Hades, of how he used to be, who he was , because he’d never get that person back. Something deep, deep inside of him ached like a fatal wound-
(Aza’s soul showed him: Haurchefant, gentle, warm, happy memories. It hurts to remember but it hurts to forget too-)
“Well,” Prometheus looked up at the brightly shining sky above, “He was an asshole. A smug little bastard who always tried to get on my nerves, and would intentionally start stupid arguments over petty subjects because he liked getting a rise out of me. I think we once argued over if the sky was blue, or technically transparent, and it went on for like a week! I was right, by the way, even if he refused to admit it. Stubborn prick.”
“Right,” Alisaie said, giving him an odd look, “You did say you were friends, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but we were friends who butted heads a lot,” Prometheus rocked back on his heels, “As much as he got under my skin, he helped me a lot too. We worked together, practically lived out of each other’s pockets. Ah, heh, Hythlodaeus said we were basically one soul in two bodies, we were that ridiculous…”
“One soul in two bodies?” Alisaie was definitely giving him a strange look, “You did say friends, right?”
“Yes?” Prometheus blinked at her, puzzled, “Does that not sound like friends?”
“Er,” Alisaie made a very complicated expression, her eyebrows raised high, “Normally, if someone says ‘one soul in two bodies’, they mean it in the… romantic sense…”
“Oh,” Prometheus tilted his head, “Well, I suppose we were-”
“What are you two gossiping about?” Thancred interrupted, wandering over with a bowl of stew in each hand, “Food is served, by the way.”
“Ah, thank you!” Prometheus’s attention immediately swerved from the previous topic at the promise of food (he was starving!), missing the frown Alisaie was sending his way, “What is this? More sand mole?”
“I think you’re the only person I’ve met who actually likes sand mole,” Thancred muttered, handing the bowl of stew over to him, and the other to Alisaie, “No, they broke out ‘the good stuff’ for this. Some mystery meat of some kind.”
“Mystery meat…” Prometheus muttered, curiously sniffing the stew. It looked hearty, with a lot of vegetables thrown in, and some spicy smell lingering about it. It would be good nutrients for Aza’s body, who was still feeling a little weak from its three day fast, so he fished out the spoon from the bowl and started eating it.
Alisaie sighed, “No hesitation at all…”
Thancred made a reluctantly amused noise, but Prometheus wasn’t paying attention because somehow, someway, this stew was… fantastic. A lot better than the sand mole! It was amazing! The best thing he had ever eaten, ever! Absolute ambrosia!
It also vanished way too fast. Before he realised, his bowl was empty. He frowned at it in utter betrayal, then looked up to see Thancred and Alisaie watching him with oddly indulgent smiles.
“I like this,” he told them solemnly.
“Better than sand mole?” Thancred drawled.
“A lot better! I need to know what this mystery meat is!”
“You act like a child, sometimes, it’s weird,” Alisaie commented, eating her own stew with a lot more restraint.
“Well, everything is new to me at the moment, so technically I guess I am like a child,” Prometheus said easily, “Also, if we take into account that my revival is more like a rebirth than a straightforward resurrection, then I’m only about a day old…”
Alisaie wrinkled her nose, “Now that’s just even weirder.”
“Prometheus, the Ascian baby,” Thancred said flatly, “Somehow not the oddest thing I’ve encountered.”
“Do your kind even have babies?” Alisaie asked, then winced when she realised how rude she sounded, “I mean…”
“Yeah, we had babies,” Prometheus said, “But differently to you.”
He definitely had their attention at that. They eyed him with morbid fascination, wanting to know but no doubt wary of discovering that Ascians reproduced in some horrific manner. Considering their only frame of reference was their people preying on them like parasites, he wouldn’t blame them for that.
“Differently… how?” Alisaie asked slowly.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but your species reproduces like any typical mammal,” Prometheus said, “Fertilisation can occur during ovulation, in which case an embryo gestates and is eventually born after several months, right?”
“Er, right,” Alisaie mumbled, her face a little red while Thancred looked like he didn’t know if he wanted to stay or leave.
“Our species used to do that, before we gained the powers of Creation,” Prometheus continued, unconsciously sliding back into lecture mode, “With our near immortality and astronomically low death rate, it required our birth rate to be strictly moderated, to avoid overpopulation. After a few thousand years, we found a more efficient way to have children, and from then on, everyone was sterilised-”
Thancred coughed, “What?”
“Sterilised,” Prometheus repeated, “Unable to reproduce sexually. To prevent happy accidents, y’know.”
“Ascians are… sterilised.”
“Well, we were,” Prometheus muttered, “But with all this creepy body hopping going on, not anymore I guess…”
“Then, how did you have children?” Alisaie asked slowly, looking confused.
“We Created them,” Prometheus said, “Two Amaur- Ascians would combine their powers to craft a new soul. It couldn’t just be the one, since the Ascian would end up making a ‘copy’ of their own soul, so in the name of diversity, two would join their powers together to create a ‘mix’ between them. The soul is made, a body is crafted, and viola! You now have a baby.”
“You were made?” Alisaie exclaimed.
“Born,” Prometheus corrected, “Just in a different way.”
Thancred made a quiet ‘huh’ noise, “To be honest, I don’t know what else I expected.”
“So, your parents ‘made’- um, gave birth to you like that,” Alisaie said, obviously trying to wrap her brain around it, “So, you had families... “
“...yes,” Prometheus said slowly, realising he was probably going to enter very awkward territory now, “Except, not really. Children are made in batches of about fifteen, you know, to ensure proper socialisation and a mixture of personalities. We’re given to a creche master to be raised until we were old enough to match up in threes and handed to our mentor, who would then raise us into adulthood. We didn’t… really have ‘parents’, like you do.”
“But two people joined their powers together to make you,” Alisaie argued, “They’re still your parents- or, were, I suppose. Weren’t you curious to know them?”
“Nah, they were just fulfilling their obligation to the collective,” Prometheus said dismissively, “There’s no emotional attachment in it. Just duty. Really, my ‘real’ family was my mentor and the two other agemates who were paired with me. Hades and Hythlodaeus, they were called.”
“Hades and Hythlodaeus… ah, you mentioned Hythlodaeus before,” Alisaie said quickly, “They were like your siblings, then?”
“Uh,” Prometheus paused, realising admitting Hythlodaeus was like his brother would mean saying Hades was his brother which… was probably a social taboo with these people? Perhaps? Honestly, their familial structure puzzled him sometimes, “Kind of?”
Alisaie looked at the bowl in her hands, seemingly deep in thought, “I see…”
Thancred sighed, “That was more than I wanted to know about an Ascian’s reproductive cycle, honestly.”
“You brought it up,” Prometheus said flatly.
“And I regret it.”
“It’s hard to imagine,” Alisaie admitted quietly, “That Emet-Selch was telling the truth about his people being… well, people.”
“What else would they be?” Prometheus asked, “Just because he’s apparently pure evil now, doesn’t mean the rest of us were.”
“Yes, of course,” Alisaie said quickly, “I’m sorry. After so long fighting Ascians as some- some all-knowing mysterious evil, it’s difficult to realise they’re more than that.”
What a horrible legacy for their people to be remembered as: mass-murdering fanatics to some God. The mere thought of it made something ugly bubble low in his gut, because while he had been disillusioned with Amaurot in life, it had been more than that! So much more! They were foolish people, short-sighted despite their long lives, but they had been peaceful and eager to learn and improve and-
And now they were known as an all-knowing mysterious evil. Even the name, Amaurot,, had been corrupted into Ascian . They might as well have not existed, according to history.
“I meant no offence,” Alisaie added quietly, and Prometheus realised he had been standing there in a cold silence for too long.
“I’m not offended,” Prometheus said, turning the empty bowl in his hands round and round, lowering his gaze from Thancred’s piercing stare, “Excuse me for a moment.”
They let him go, thankfully, perhaps sensing his ugly turn in mood. It was frustrating. Even the light, happy air was irritating him, when before he had basked in it proudly. It was all too much, suddenly, talking about what had been, remembering what he had lost, what he’ll never have, ever again , how unfairly it was all torn away from them and how they were forgotten-
Because of you, the poisonous voice muttered, you shattered the world and everyone else, and now it’s like this.
But if he hadn’t shattered the world, what would it have become? Zodiark’s kingdom, where… where no one would have feared anything ever again, sheltered under the shade of his dark wings, content and happy. It just cost them a few million lives every era or so. A price that even Prometheus would have become desensitised to, after a few cycles. Thinking of it in a detached manner, without emotion, it seemed like a logical, acceptable price, in return for a utopia.
Prometheus’s feet took him beyond the gate of the camp, and he stopped to look out at the great, glittering white wall that stretched across the horizon. Light radiated from it in a blinding dazzle, making his eyes hurt.
Prometheus startled, dropping the bowl with a curse. It sank into the sand at his feet, and he turned to see Ardbert wincing apologetically.
“Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Ardbert said awkwardly.
“... it’s fine,” Prometheus muttered, crouching down to pick up the bowl, then decided he’d rather sit so just flopped gracelessly onto his ass, his tail curling over his feet as he crossed his legs.
“You seem upset,” Ardbert said after a brief pause.
“I’m not upset,” Prometheus muttered, “I’m angry.”
“Angry at so many stupid things,” Prometheus punched the floor. His fist just sunk harmlessly into the sand, “At me, at Zodiark, at Hades, at… at everyone being happy.”
“How pathetic is that? I’m angry that they’re happy. I’m angry that they can be happy, while I… while I’m…”
“It’s not pathetic.”
“It is,” Prometheus wiped at his face, feeling the grit of sand clinging to his cheeks, “I should be proud of them for, for succeeding where we failed. They had their Doom and, and instead of curling up in defeat like we did, they just kept fighting, even though they’re smaller and weaker and… less. They… they’re so much better than we were, and I resent them for it.”
Ardbert said nothing, just stood over him as Prometheus wrestled with those ugly, ugly, ugly feelings seething in the pit of his stomach. He knew they were ugly, he also knew that they were wrong. It wasn’t these people’s fault they were stronger than Amaurot had been. His jealousy was petty and proof of a weak heart, yet…
He still felt it.
“You don’t resent them. Not really,” Ardbert murmured, “You wouldn’t have helped them, otherwise.”
“You didn’t have to cure those Light-afflicted,” Ardbert continued, “You didn’t have to say a damn thing about it, and no one would’ve known you could have healed them. But, you said something, you did something. You made up that bullshit excuse about it making you stronger, but it didn’t, did it? It tired you out. It weakened you. You wasted energy on a pointless bit of kindness on a group of people you supposedly resent.”
“Shut up,” Prometheus muttered, “Stop talking.”
“I don’t think I will,” Ardbert said, “Look, I’ve been in your position-”
Prometheus laughed. It was a wretched, awful noise, “Oh, really.”
“ Yes ,” Ardbert snapped, “Look around you. This? All this? My fault. I wallowed over it for a century, and you know what? It happened, and sitting here in self-pity isn’t getting me any closer to trying to make up for my mistake. Aza… Aza taught me that.”
Prometheus lowered his gaze.
“... from what I understand, you broke the world,” Ardbert said in a softer tone, “But you did it because you wanted to save everyone, didn’t you? You still want to save everyone, I can see it. That’s why you helped them, even if it made you angry.”
Prometheus shakily exhaled, kneading his forehead with his knuckles, “I don’t want to be angry.”
“I don’t think anyone does,” Ardbert said wryly, “It’s how you act on that emotion that’s important, though. You didn’t lash out at any of them. You came out here to sulk instead, which is… okay.”
“You’re horrible at this,” Prometheus grumbled, “Sulk. That’s what you call me grappling with the trauma of waking up to all my people dead or brainwashed by a Primal, huh?”
“Oh, er,” Ardbert floundered a bit, “I-”
“Heh,” Prometheus uttered a short laugh, kind of breathy, kind of sad, but… genuine, “I’m pulling your leg. Thanks, Ardbert.”
“...” Ardbert sighed, “No problem. It’s all I can do right now, talk, I guess.”
“It helps,” Prometheus said, “And, if it wasn’t for you helping me stay calm when I woke up, I’d probably be Tempered to Zodiark right now so… you’re doing good, even as a ghost.”
“Well, that’s good to hear,” Ardbert whispered, his soul trembling with emotion.
Prometheus closed his eyes against the glare of the Light, and slowly exhaled. Those ugly feelings remained, but they were buried deep, the poisonous voice quiet. Ardbert was right, how he acted on his emotions was the important thing here. Prometheus couldn’t help but feel resentful and betrayed by what happened to his people, what happened to him, but he wasn’t going to let it twist him.
Sure, things might have been easier if he had submitted to Zodiark, back in the day. He might have been happy. Things might have turned out fine.
But dwelling on that was pointless. It never happened. Prometheus broke the world. Hades had been twisted into some genocidal monster he no longer recognised. The people trapped in the middle were innocent, dragged into a conflict born from Prometheus’s mistakes. He had to make it right.
This was his fault. So, he needed to fix it somehow.
He needed to stop letting his thoughts shirk away from what needed to be done. He needed to look at the path before him and walk it with absolute, unwavering defiance and determination, like when he summoned Hydaelyn. He needed to stop being a resentful coward, and actually finish what he started, and damn his heart.
He needed to kill Hades.
He will kill Hades.
Prometheus opened his eyes, letting that thought linger. He will kill Hades, and if possible kill Elidibus too. With that, all the Unbroken would be gone, and no more Ascians could be created, their souls sundered to the point of being neutralised. How the shards and the Source will continue without their vengeful ghosts shaping their history… Prometheus had no idea. He didn’t even know how stable the current system was.
There was also the matter of Zodiark. That creature still lived, in pieces, but it still needed to die.
Prometheus picked up the bowl and stood up, brushing the sand off his rump.
“Okay, I feel better now,” he said, “I should go back before they think I’ve done a runner.”
Ardbert eyed him for a moment, but slowly nodded, “Just remember, I’ve still got your back, yeah? However this ends, we’ll get it to work.”
“Yes,” Prometheus smiled, something in him settled as he firmly thought, kill my heart, kill Hades, kill Elidibus, kill Zodiark, “Don’t worry. We’re going to win.”
Even if he had to slay the last of his kind to do it.
some worldbuilding, some hc on amaurot and ofc some mood whiplash.
prom's interesting to write, because he simultaneously wants to help these people, but he's also extremely jealous and resentful of them. he acknowledges those feelings are petty and that it would be wrong of him to use them as an excuse to lash out, but he still feels them and is struggling to accept them, because he feels like it's proof he's a horrible person that instead of being absolutely happy and proud their successors are strong, adaptable people, he's envious of them. saying that though, is *is* proud of them, and wants to help them, but he also feels those negative emotions, so he's very conflicted and confused...
ah emotions. can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.