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The Will of A Star

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Remember... us. Remember... that we once... lived. Familiar words in my head spoken by a familiar voice. Words to live by.

Tall buildings, beautiful spires against a brilliant sunset. The scent of blooming flowers on the wind.

A tap on my shoulder. A smile. Sparkling, golden eyes. A promise.

A flash of light.

Tall buildings, beautiful spires in a city at the end of its days. Smoke and ash hanging in the air.

A battle looming over my head. Fire, turmoil, screaming. Everything in ruin. No, no, no, no, NO!

I shot up in bed, my breath short and heart pounding. I put a hand to my head, where a sharp pain was nagging me behind the eye. It pulsed and prodded me to leave the warmth of my bed and get a goblet of water.

I slid out from under the covers and did just so. The liquid was cool and slid down my throat easily.

I heaved a sigh as I set the empty cup back onto the table. As if I didn’t already have enough guilt lying on my shoulders, now I was hearing his voice in my head.

But there was something else there, too. Something I couldn’t quite remember- right out of the realm of my consciousness, as if I could just reach my hand out and touch-

The linkpearl in my ear sounded and I frowned.

Great, another job for the Warrior of Light.

Tataru’s sweet voice filtered in when I lifted my hand to activate it. I couldn’t be mad at her. A faerie had been sent from the First to once again request my presence.

“Alright,” I said. “I’ll be on the way shortly.”

Once I was clad in my usual armor, daggers dangling from my hips, I made for the aetheryte at Mor Dhona, where Tataru was, already waiting with the chocobo that was kept stabled for me outside the Rising Stones.

With a few words of good will from her and a small pack of supplies, I headed towards Silvertear- to the portal and made my way through to the shard, letting the trained bird head back to the bar itself.

The blue, sparkling walls of the Crystal Tower’s Ocular appeared around me as I stepped through, but a flash of light and a sudden ache in my head radiated through my whole body, bringing me to a knee.

The bone knocked against the stone, but I didn’t feel it as my vision blurred and static filled my ears. I saw the Crystal Exarch’s sandaled feet in front of me, surely asking if I was alright.

Hear, feel, th-

I felt it- the Mother’s voice in my head once again, entreating me to do her bidding. But there was something else. Some kind of interference. The headache started to dissipate, but I was no longer in the tower.

I stood, a comforting darkness enveloping me.

A feeling I’d not felt before washed over me. I gasped as a stream of aether wrapped around me, as if it knew me, as if I was a beacon and it a ship trying to find its way through tempestuous waters. As if my body was, somehow, a place to call home.

It laced itself through my fingers, wound itself about my legs, gently blew strands of my hair.

It felt...

A brilliant white light floating along the flow caught my eye. I watched as it made its journey through the particles of aether surrounding me. I lifted my hand as it came around, bringing it’s warmth close to my face.

Hero…

My eyes widened and I took a step back in surprise. What-

That little word pierced my heart as if it were a metal blade. My chest ached with a feeling I didn’t understand. I opened my mouth to shout his name. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t quite seem to say-

My head pulsed again. My hands gripped the sides of my head, the pain almost unbearable, and the orb of light forgotten instantaneously.

In another flash of light, I was on the floor of the Ocular. G’raha Tia was leaning over me, one hand on his staff for support.

“Are you alright?” he asked when he saw that I’d opened my eyes. His voice was muffled, my mind still clearing. I sat up and he moved away a few fulms to give me some space.

“F-fine,” I stuttered, blinking a few times to clear the blur. “I believe.”

“Good,” he said, pushing himself to his feet, then extending his hand to me. “Ryne is waiting for you.”

He helped me up and together, we made our way towards the Dossal Gate, and onwards to the aetheryte to meet my young companion, the stream of aether still on my mind- along with that voice...the voice I recognized but couldn’t quite place.

Chapter Text

Death was warmer than I had anticipated. 

Also a fair bit brighter. And green.  

My understanding of the concept was alarmingly limited, it would seem. But then again, how often does one such as myself truly die? 

Yes, true, I allowed my mortal forms to perish when my task was complete. And there had been the time Varis, insufferable brat that he was, tried in vain to shoot me, but neither of these were really dying .

But this? Was this what death was? 

And for that matter, how long have I been sitting here--wherever here was--pondering my current situation? Try as I might to retrace recent events, there was a gap. An infuriating missing piece.

I vaguely remembered the battle. I could recall Lahabrea’s Scion puppet breaking the white auracite and their combined effort to contain me. 

But… what of the hero? The Warrior of Light. Just how had she survived? One moment, she was being overpowered by the light, turning into an abomination that would help achieve our goals… and the next…

Perhaps I had imagined it. The image of her standing where the Warrior once stood. It faded as quickly as it appeared. 

I shook my head. It had been a trick of the light, hadn’t it? 

But the hue of her soul was so clear to me, I would never have been able to forget it. And how could I, with our hearts and minds having once been so intertwined? 

I must have imagined it. She was gone, lost after the Sundering.

… Had I been contained in the end? I remember rematerializing and imploring the hero never forget our history, no matter who writes the tale. She had nodded to me.

And then… blank.

How I went from there… to here …  “A complete and total infuriating mystery,” I voiced aloud to myself, hearing my voice echo into the endless … whatever this was.

“If I didn’t know any better, I would say this is the Lifestream,” I mused as I stood. “Which is, of course, impossible and I do know better. I am not one of Her children so She would never allow me here.”

“But is it so impossible?” A familiar voice chimed in from behind me. I whirled around in surprise to see an achingly familiar smile on a face I had not seen in… eons. “I was wondering how long you would sit there brooding, Hades.”

I felt my jaw drop slightly and took a step forward as the hooded figure before me began advancing towards me, placing a hand on my shoulder. Warm, firm, and reassuring. “I’m afraid the fragment lost in your memory will never make itself clear to you, old friend. It never did for me, either. And as you know, I perished long ago.”

I frowned, clenching my fists as I looked away to survey my surroundings. “ Why are you here ? Hythlodaeus, you of all people should not be trapped in a place such as this.”

Hythlodaeus tilted his head. “A place such as what?”

“In Her domain,” I spat out, shrugging his hand off my shoulder.

“I could ask you the same question, Hades. Why are you here?” I returned my gaze to him, watching as he gestured to the expansive pale green glow all around us. “Is this not the last place you ever thought you would end up?”

I let out a huff of annoyance. The Lifestream was, in fact, the very last place. “You mentioned the gap in my memory, but I do not recall speaking of such,” I muttered, crossing my arms in suspicion.

Hythlodaeus let out a laugh and arched a brow at me. “You think I do not know you? Of course you would be trying to figure out the gap in your memory! Knowing everything you can to manipulate the scenario that best leads to your goals is what you do.

I sighed and, for the first time in millennia, felt my shoulders relax. He was right, of course. But he would be-- close as we once were, there were few souls in existence who knew me as well as Hythlodaeus had.

A table made of light suddenly appeared in front of us with two seats facing one another. He gestured that I take a seat and moved to take one as well. He waited for me to sit across from him before clearing his throat. “Best I can tell, the missing memory is when your final judgment occurs. A deal is struck, reparations are made and you end up here or Oblivion.”

I rested my elbows on the table and folded my hands in front of my face, placing my chin on my thumbs as I considered this. Minutes passed in silence between us before Hythlodaeus spoke once more. “How do you feel?”

“I feel…” I paused, really considering the question. “Exhausted, truthfully. Void of most of my energy.” Which really did not come as much of a surprise to me, considering how much of said energy I had used in the final battle against the Warrior and her companions.

He seemed to ponder on this for a moment. “How interesting. I don’t recall feeling such a way upon arriving here. Mentally, then. How do you feel?”

“My thoughts are more clear than they’ve been in quite some time,” I realized, furrowing my brow. Something was different… but I couldn’t quite… 

“You don’t seem angry for having failed Lord Zodiark,” Hythlodaeus offered, raising a cup of tea that had suddenly appeared before him. I expected myself to bristle at his tone, at the blatant disrespect but the response never came. I blinked in wonder and watched him raise the cup to take a sip. 

“I’m… not,” I started, speaking slowly as I considered the sudden clarity my mind had been afforded. There was no anger, no disappointment in failing my task. There was no overwhelming drive to fulfill it, no frantic pull guiding my thoughts towards obsessively scheming ways to accomplish the Rejoining. My reasons for wanting such an event to occur remained intact, but I felt… 

“Perhaps she broke the tempering after all,” he mused, and I felt my eyebrows shoot up. Hythlodaeus lowered the cup and stood, the table and his chair disappearing. A glow appeared beneath me and suddenly I found myself seated on a bed. “In any case, we can continue this discussion later. You said you were exhausted so for now, dear friend, please rest.”

Before I could protest, Hythlodaeus vanished. The brightness of the Lifestream seemed to dim around me and I suddenly found myself unable to keep myself awake. It was a strange sensation, feeling as if I needed to sleep in what was tantamount to the afterlife. I could only assume it was due to how much aether I had depleted at the end of my life. Or perhaps it was a result of my lifelong burdens causing a chronic lack of meaningful rest?

Before I could realize what had occurred, I found myself in Amaurot, full of life as it had been before disaster struck. There was laughter all around and music playing in the streets, decorations strung from the light posts and the buildings.

I felt a tug on my left hand and looked down to see her, my main reason for fighting for all these eons to complete the Rejoining, a bright smile on her face that made my heart threaten to burst from my chest. 

“Come on! We’ll miss the fireworks if you keep walking this slowly!” She laughed and dropped my hand, running ahead and turning to face me. “It’s a big day for you, Architect! Let’s celebrate!”

Chapter Text

I sat down with Ryne in my usual inn room. I’d brought her back to the Crystarium at the behest of Urianger and ordered to make sure she got enough rest after being out in the Empty for so long while he and Thancred finished up their work on Eden.

Before we left, the former had confided in me that he was concerned for his young charge- that she’d been having nightmares and random bouts of depression, where she’d just stare off into the unknown, lost in thought, refusing to talk to anyone. He asked me to keep a close eye on her while they were apart these next few days to see if there seemed to be anything out of the ordinary with her- or quite possibly, her abilities.

I didn’t know exactly what he wanted me to do about it, should the problem arise again, but I supposed, at the very least I could be there to comfort her.

So there we sat, at the dining table, finishing up some supper.

I had indulged her and given her a small goblet of wine when she had pouted and complained that Thancred had not allowed her any at all, not even a taste. It had made me smile, her little attitude, but it also made me quite sad, too.

It reminded me that, even though she was there for that final battle and that she’s my old friend’s successor, she’s still just a child in many ways.

The poor girl cringed when she took her first sip and I laughed softly, pushing the thought out of my head. She sheepishly set the cup down in front of me and avoided my eyes as she exchanged it for my water.

After we’d cleared the dishes, we sat side by side by the open window, admiring the stars.

“Were you able to dig up any old constellation maps?”

“Moren helped me find quite a few but I haven’t had the time to study them yet,” she answered, folding her arms on the windowsill and resting her chin upon them. I watched her as she stared up at the sky, blue eyes wide, taking everything in. “Does it look much different from where you’re from?”

I tilted my neck up. I drew my hand down a line of stars, explaining to her what the symbol meant back on the Source.

“I imagine our stars are quite similar, although they most likely have different meanings.”

“I’m going to miss you again, when you’re gone,” she sighed. I crossed my legs on the bench and reached out to run my hand through her long, red hair.

“I’m only a call away, you know.” She smiled and leaned into my side. I rested my arm across her shoulders. “What’s on your mind?”

She seemed hesitant at first, chewing on her bottom lip, eyes downcast. She started playing with the loose material of her long sleeves. I waited patiently, for I knew, as well, how hard it was to speak your mind, even to a friend.

“After the fight with Emet-Selch,” she started, finally, leaning her head on my shoulder. “And after you left. I…I started having these dreams.”

“What kind of dreams?”

“W-Well, I don’t know, exactly. He was...speaking to the Mother. To-to Hydaelyn.” I knitted my brows together. That definitely didn’t sound like the Emet-Selch I knew.

“And what were they talking about?”

“She-she wanted to strike some kind of bargain with him. A bargain...to let him into Her Lifestream.”

I started, looking down at her. Emet-Selch- no, Hades, himself- a champion of Zodiark, allowed in the Lifestream? The idea was almost laughable. She sat up again and looked at me before dipping her head down.

“You don’t believe me, either, do you?”

“Of course I believe you, Ryne. It’s just…”

“I know,” she sighed. “I saw his soul diminish. I…” I tucked her back under my arm, squeezing her shoulder.

“Maybe it doesn’t mean anything,” I suggested, although I knew I was wrong. It’s always something. “Make sure to tell me when you have the dream again, okay? I imagine...I’ll be staying here for a while longer yet.”

She nodded her assent and we sat for a while longer before deciding to head to sleep.

...fireworks….day ...Architect...celebrate!

That cheerful voice came from my mouth as I turned to face my companion, a toothy grin on my mouth. I couldn’t see his face, covered in the same mask everyone else around us was wearing, but I could see his smile.

“Well, let’s go!” I urged him.

Finally, he caught up to me and he grabbed my hand again. He held it tightly, refusing to let it go again. I laughed and looked up at him.

Even with his mask, he was glorious against the backdrop of the city. The giant, curling spires shining in the receding sunlight with him right in the middle. I sighed, happily.

“What is it?” he asked.

“You. This-,” I started, waving my free hand around me. “Perfect.”

He picked me up by the waist and spun me around. I giggled, his fingers tickling my sides. When he set me back down, I looked up into his glowing, golden eyes.

“No,” he said. “You’re perfect.”

My eyes shot open in the darkness. My chest was tight, a feeling of fondness, but also longing, laying over my body as I breathed slowly.

I thought about what Ryne had confided in me earlier in the evening, then turned my head to look at her, fast asleep in bed next to me, barely illuminated by the moonlight. Her nose twitched in her sleep, then she turned over so she was no longer facing me.

I sighed through my nose.

Something was going on and I had a feeling I’d have to get to the bottom of it whether I wanted to or not.

Emet-Selch in the Lifestream?

I closed my eyes again.

A flash of golden eyes behind my lids. So familiar yet…

Yet…

Chapter Text

I found myself awoken just as abruptly as I had fallen asleep. Sitting up in the bed, I rubbed my temples and exhaled sharply through my nose.

Her presence was there, in my ‘dream’. I was sure of it. The unique sensation of connecting her consciousness with my own was one I could never forget, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that in this dream we had reunited, if only for the moment. 

It was a connection I had been unable to make in ages, one that had been lost to me since the sundering. I reached out once more, hoping to feel something of her, but I was met with silence I had grown accustomed to.

Millenia ago, I accepted that I would never see her again, that she had been lost as a result of the battle in which Hydaelyn emerged victoriously. Those of us left behind had surmised that the only way we’d be able to ever see those we had lost again would be through the Rejoining, and with the background hum in our minds pressuring us to do more, to push harder, we had accomplished much towards our goal.

I furrowed my brow and sighed, finally taking in my surroundings since I had awoken. A shimmer to my left caught my attention and I watched as Hythlodaeus slowly appeared. I gestured to the expansive aether before me. “Still pale green and endless, I see.”

He indicated that I should rise from the bed, waving his hand in a sweeping motion once I had. The area around us began to fade into the great library within the Akadaemia. “The afterlife is what you make it,” he stated in response to my clearly surprised expression. “Once you’ve clearly accepted your death, you should be able to manipulate the aether here yourself.”

I raised a brow at his statement. “What makes you say I have not accepted it?”

He hummed in reflection for a moment before sitting at the edge of one of the many tables in the room. “This room we’re in… this holding cell of sorts… it’s yours privately.”

I watched as he crossed his arms, deep reflection evident in his brow as he spoke,  “When such a time arrives that you have truly come to terms with the actions you committed during your life, you will be able to rejoin the rest of us.” 

He stood and walked to a bookshelf, pulling a particularly tattered tome from it before continuing, “Have you not wondered why I am the only one you’ve seen since your arrival?”

I tensed slightly at the mention of the possibility of there being others here that I could see. Of course, it made sense that I would see more than Hythlodaeus in the afterlife. 

“Is she here, then? Beyond this room?” I asked as he reached his arm out to hand the tome to me. He gave me a knowing look before sighing.

I glanced down at the title, On the Properties of Aetheric Bonds for Communication, printed largely in a language long since forgotten by the current residents of the Source.

Moments passed between us in silence, save for the sound of pages turning as I flipped through the tome. Finally, he spoke. “I know you recreated Amaurot on that shard, Hades. And that you created shades of her citizens, myself included.”

I looked up at him and smiled sadly. “It’s been quite an arduous, lonely journey. Can you truly blame me?”

He looked away from me, eyes fixated far off in the distance. “I was able to sense things going on in the replication you made. Nothing clearly, but I managed to communicate with you quite a few times. Though I assumed you just felt it was part of the image you projected, based on the responses you gave.”

I closed the tome and placed it on the desk behind me, resting my elbow in my opposite hand as I considered this. “Because of our friendship and my carelessness in creating your shade,” I posited.

He nodded. “It was nice to speak with you again,” he started and looked back at me. “I was able to interact with her there as well, recently.”

I lowered my hand from my chin as my jaw dropped slightly. “So she’s…” My mind was reeling as I processed this information. “You sensed her on the First?”

He nodded stiffly. “But…,” he hesitated before continuing. “She was not whole, Hades. Her soul was pale compared to what it once was. She did not recognize me and did not speak of you in the way she should have.”

I felt the color drain from my face, disappointment flooding my expression. “How long ago?” 

“Time here does not flow as it does in the living realm, so I cannot say for certain,” he replied, apologetically.

My mouth felt dry and I clenched my hand in a fist in anger, fury, and hatred towards the sundering and Hydaelyn bubbling up inside me. How could I have not sensed her there as well? “I would like to be alone,” I rasped out, turning away from Hythlodaeus as he nodded and faded away.

I don’t know how long I spent pacing back and forth in the library, opening tomes and reading the content within them, trying to see if I could find out more information on how to reach her, but I soon found myself tired.

I rubbed the back of my neck and looked to the side when a rudimentary crystal that had been used in research caught my eye. I halted in my steps as realization flooded my mind. Of course! Why had I not considered it sooner?

The Warrior of Light. If anyone would be able to aid me in my quest, surely one such as herself would be more than equipped to do so.

But would she? I had said some regrettably distasteful things near the end… more to goad her and her companions to show me their worth more than anything, but distasteful just the same. Perhaps if I could reach out to her somehow… she seemed reasonable enough…

Now… if I could reach into the Lifestream before… was it possible that I could do the reverse? I would have to pick locations in which the Lifestream was easiest to access… 

I sat in a nearby chair and closed my eyes, taking deep breaths before concentrating intensely on trying to pinpoint her blindingly bright aether. Where could she be? Would she be back on the Source by now?

Slowly, I could see a pale outline of the architecture of the city surrounded by trees that the beloved hero of the Source frequented. An aetheric signature such as hers would be felt for malms… but I could not sense her anywhere.

The First then… I retreated from the Source and opened my eyes, shaking my head to combat the fatigue I felt and focused intently on the location in the Rak’Tika Greatwood where the Lifestream had been prolific. When the outline of the forest came into view, I looked around, feeling for her aether and…

Sleep. A resounding voice echoed in my mind and I found myself pulled out from my location. Frustration filled me as I tried to re-enter the Greatwood; I know I felt her somewhere on the shard, I just needed but one more moment to pinpoint her location.

Sleep! I shook my head sharply, trying to resist the overwhelming and nauseating feeling of exhaustion that had come over me. 

Sleep... the voice echoed once more, soothing and calm. I could feel myself nodding off, any resistance I could have given overpowered by the immense pull to close my eyes.

When I opened them, I was walking the streets of Amaurot once more.

Chapter Text

It had been nearly two weeks since Ryne had told me about her dreams of Emet-Selch and the deal he made with Hydaelyn.

Since Thancred and Urianger still had not finished their work, I had taken it upon myself to help her- train her- in their absence. She was still new into her power, afterall. She also needed to know how to protect herself, build up some muscle. Luckily, I was a master in the same type of weapon she was quite fond of.

We settled into a routine of breakfast, drills, lunch, magic theory and play, and finally dinner.

At night, he would come to me as I slept. Nearly every time I would close my eyes, I would be back in Amaurot- the real Amaurot, surrounded by beauty and comfort. He was always there, my other half, with those amber eyes that bore into me, knowingly, lovingly…

I had deigned to confess myself to my charge over breakfast one morning, where she had noticed my attention was elsewhere.

“Hmm,” she hummed, setting her goblet of juice down. She tilted her head to the side, red hair sliding over her shoulder. “You think these may be memories from your previous life?” I nodded.

“The strangest part is…” I paused, unsure of how to continue on.

“Yes?”

“I don’t even know this man, and yet I feel as if I’ve known him my entire life. I feel…” I put a hand over my beating heart, feeling it strain with longing. I let a frustrated sigh blow out of my mouth. This was ridiculous. How could I be falling for a man I’d only ever met while asleep and in such a short time? I’d never even seen his face- always covered with a mask. I shook my head and went back to my plate. “Forget I said anything.”

And yet, the pull in my soul remained.

“And you?” I asked her, looking her up and down. “Your dreams, have they dissipated?”

She frowned, and I believe she meant to confess something to me but a knock on the door sounded behind me.

“Yes?” I called, loud enough to pass through the wood.

“The Crystal Exarch would like to speak with you,” Lyna’s heavily accented voice responded. I sighed and hung my head. Our talk would have to wait, I supposed.

“Duty calls,” I said. I stood and slid my double daggers into the sheaths at my waist, then looked towards Ryne. “Would you like to come?”

“Sure!” she said, instantly brightening, a grin on her face. She hopped up quickly, suddenly excited to be included.

Once I had closed the door to our home, I pushed my hood back and slid the mask off my face. I breathed in deeply, and took a look around. He didn’t seem to be here yet.

I started towards our bedroom to change out of my robes when a flash of purple made me pause. On the dining table sat a small, budding tree, not much bigger than my hand. On its branches sat green leaves and small, delicate, purple flowers.

The beauty of it made me gasp. I’d created the designs for many flowers, but this? This was beyond anything I’d ever-

“Do you like it?” his voice asked, behind me.

“It’s amazing,” I breathed, unable to tear my eyes away from his masterpiece. I heard him move towards the large front window as I continued examining the plant.

“I want to put them all over the city. Much bigger, though, of course.” I turned to him, his back to me. Seeing his purple and black Convocation robes was still a shock to me- but a welcome one, nonetheless. I crossed my arms over my chest, a playful smile creeping onto my lips.

“Flora takes months to get approved and no one in my department has ever submitted anything like this, you know.” I watched as he lifted a hand to rub at the back of his neck and shrugged.

“Well,” he started, a slight laugh in his voice. “Maybe you just missed the paperwork.”

“Mhm,” I hummed, not believing him for a moment, and picked up the small pot. I went to him and set it down on the floor in front of the window. I wrapped one arm around his waist, slightly pressing myself against him and we both looked down at it. “I think it would be beautiful in the city.”

“Just like you, my favorite flower,” he murmured, winding his arm behind my back. With a soft smile, I turned to him, reaching up to take his mask off, to show him just how thankful I was-

My vision pulsed and my hand stayed. A mask I only knew too well-

I shot up in bed with a loud gasp. My heart beat wildly in my chest and I breathed deeply, trying to calm myself.

Were these really memories from my past? That mask. Was-was I-?

Ryne shifted next to me and sat up with a yawn.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Another dream,” I said, and continued on, explaining the details while she listened intently. By the time I had finished, she was biting her lip.

“I have been thinking for a while that we should travel back to the Tempest and visit the city.” She looked down at her lap. “I don’t think that this is nothing.” I didn’t disagree, but-

We are not going,” I announced to her. “I will go. It’s not safe. You’ll stay here and continue your-”

“What if you need backup?”

“I won’t-”

“Thancred told you not to let me out of your sight,” she interrupted me. “You have to take me.” I huffed a laugh and shook my head. Twelve, this girl was insistent.

“Alright, alright. In the morning we’ll set out, but I’m leaving word with the Exarch, should the others come back while we’re gone.” I started to get up to get a drink of water before going back to sleep, but noticed a small wooden tumbler, already full, sitting on my bedside table. My eyebrows furrowed and I picked it up. “Did-did you put this here?”

“No,” she said with a shake of her head, her forehead scrunching up. She looked just as confused as me. “How strange.”

Deciding to ignore my want for a drink, I put it back down, then settled in to go back to bed, thoughts heavy on my mind. In the morning, the cup was gone.

True to my word, after a few words with G’raha Tia, Ryne and I departed the Crystarium that morning. I took her hand and used a teleportation spell.

When we landed in the aetheryte plaza of the recreated city, I took a look around. I had avoided coming here since that final battle, unwilling to face the guilt building up in my chest. Everything here reminded me of him- the Ascian. I was sure I looked as miserable to be there as I felt.

“It’s alright to be sad,” she confirmed, as we slowly traversed the streets. “Oddly enough, I miss him too.” I didn’t respond to her, but I felt relief at her words. She took a look around at the recreation. “I feel the aether here is fading. His enchantment...it is likely to start disappearing soon.”

I looked around, as well. It was true. I could feel the strength of this place slow dissipating. Soon, it would be nothing more than sand beneath me feet. My stomach clenched at the thought.

We stopped to talk with a few of the shades, but they had no further information to give us. As we headed towards the Bureau of the Architect, though, Ryne grabbed my arm, tightly, forcing me to stop. I followed her gaze to where another shade stood.

But, it wasn’t just a shade. He seemed panicked. He seemed to be out of breath. He seemed...different than the others.

It was Hythlodaeus.

Chapter Text

I looked down to see her falter as she reached to remove my mask. Her expression was mixed with shock and fear, causing me to place my hands on her shoulders and frown. 

I reached out through our bond for her as I usually had following these abrupt disconnections and was met, as was customary, with silence.

A deviation again… Since I arrived in the Lifestream, my dreams were primarily reliving memories of the past, but it seemed as if some differed ever-so-slightly from what I had originally experienced. The differences were subtle, so much so that I could not be sure if I had just misremembered. I noticed that these deviations seemed to happen primarily when I felt our minds connected. 

Dreams in which her presence was absent had the memories left unaltered, instead seemingly playing out on their own with me reliving through my own eyes. I furrowed my brow. Now that I think about it, how long had I been sleeping? Was it possible for me to wake myself up to continue my search for the Warrior of Light? 

Just as the thought entered my mind, the memory faded abruptly and I soon found myself standing alone in my office in the Bureau of the Architect overseeing Creation of the trees I had approved to decorate the city. 

A knock on my door brought me out of my thoughts. “Enter.”

An Amaurotine who recently completed training for my department entered, shuffling his feet nervously. I turned to face him and raised a brow inquisitively, watching him shrink back at my gaze. “Emet-Selch. Your presence is requested in the courtyard.”

With a nod, I teleported myself down to the main floor of the building, stopping at the desk to speak with the Concept clerk to drop off paperwork I had completed earlier in the day before walking outside to the aforementioned courtyard.

Creators were gathered around a tree, its branches bare save for one or two leaves which had begun to wither and fall. They were murmuring amongst themselves when I approached and cleared my throat. The team leader turned to me and frowned. “Apologies for the interruption, Emet-Selch. We would not have disturbed you from your busy schedule if we did not think it urgent. Try as we might, it does not blossom to the specifications.”

I surveyed the courtyard as a whole and noted three of the trees had been completed successfully. Two other trees stood, barren of leaves and appearing dead and dry. Placing my hands on my hips with a sigh, I shook my head before gesturing towards an empty plot in front of me where a tree was meant to be Created. “And what of this one?”

“We… we were waiting to see what you thought before proceeding. Something like this has never happened before. The other teams throughout the city have reported similar such abnormalities.”

I nodded and snapped my fingers, a tree sprouting up in the empty plot. Just as they had reported, the leaves and the flowers did not bloom. “How peculiar…” I murmured, circling the tree slowly before summoning a piece of paper into my hand. 

Not taking my eyes off the tree, I jotted some findings down before I reached my arm out and gestured for someone to take the page. “Take these findings to Lahabrea, would you? Perhaps he can weigh in on this matter. Tell him it’s urgent and insist that he look at it right away before you leave. I don’t want to wait weeks for a response.”

That night, as we were preparing to sleep, I opened my mouth to speak and then closed it immediately. While I had considered discussing the trees with her, I decided against it. The implications I had considered were very serious ones, and without more information from Lahabrea and the Akadaemia, there was no reason to worry her. It was probably nothing, after all.

I could hear her heavy sigh from the bathroom and she poked her head out with feigned annoyance. “Hades, I can tell that something’s on your mind. If you don’t tell me, I’ll just go in there and find out for myself.”

Chuckling at her straightforwardness, I approached the bathroom and leaned against the doorframe with my arms crossed, watching as she prepared for bed. “Have you ever had a flower fail to bloom?”

She paused a moment from her routine to consider my question before looking at me with a playful smile, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “What’s the matter? Performance anxiety?”

I rolled my eyes, but could not fight the smile that crept on my lips. Pushing myself off the doorframe, I approached her, resting my head atop hers as I stood behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. “Persephone, I’m serious. The Creators throughout the city could not get the leaves or flowers to bloom today.” I paused. “Neither could I.”

Her smile faded almost immediately and she furrowed her brow. “Can you describe exactly what happened?”

Just as I was beginning to explain the events of the day, I could hear a frantic call echo in my mind. Hades, wake up.

The memory faded away and I was forced to open my eyes. I struggled to keep them open and groggily watched as Hythlodaeus reached for me and shook me by the shoulder. “Are you alright?”

I nodded slowly and shrugged his hand off my shoulder.

My eyes slid shut once more and my head felt too heavy for me to hold up, so I let it fall to the side to rest against the wall. I could hear Hythlodaeus’ breath catch for a moment before he placed both hands on my shoulders roughly and shook me once more causing me to groan as my head hit the wall.

“Halmarult is in Amaurot again. She approached my shade.”

I opened my eyes at the mention of Persephone’s title and shook my head to try to clear the fog the sleepiness had caused. 

“Look around. You were searching for something here, in these books. What was it?” I grunted my acknowledgment to his statement and looked around drowsily before looking up at the ceiling to try to remember. What... was it... again?

“Hades, this isn’t normal. You’ve been resting for far longer than anyone should need to after death. Try to fight it. What were you looking for?” He prompted once more, urgency laced in his tone.

I furrowed my brow and looked back towards the bookshelves. “Persephone.”

“What about Persephone?” he raised his voice slightly, and I felt his concern as he began shaking me when my eyes slid shut again. 

“My dreams. She… we connect,” I replied gruffly, reaching my hand to rub my eyes roughly to force them open. I cleared my throat, remembering what I had been trying to accomplish before I fell asleep. “The Warrior of Light.”

He frowned and looked off behind me for a moment. “Who is the Warrior of Light?” he asked, either to me or to whomever he was looking at behind me. In my sleepiness, I could not be sure.

Suddenly, I could hear an echoing melody in my ears once more, pulling me back to sleep. My eyelids felt heavier with each passing second, and I soon found I was unable to keep them open.

“Hades…!” I could hear Hythlodaeus’ panicked tone as he called my name, but it slowly faded away, replaced with the soothing voice beckoning me to sleep, to dream of the past, to relive my memories of happier, less complicated times. 

She was with me whenever I dreamt, after all, and after a thousand lifetimes of never seeing her… I found little reason to fight the call.

Chapter Text

The shade that was Hythlodaeus was acting strangely. Finicky. Frantic. I unsheathed my daggers, gripping them tightly in my hands and made sure Ryne stayed behind me, her own weapons drawn. I wasn’t too sure what I could do against someone who wasn’t really here, but there’s no shame in being cautious.

“Hythlodaeus?” I called as I approached. His attention immediately shot to me, if only for a moment.

Halmarult is an Amaurot again,” he started, head tilting back to whomever else he was talking to, which obviously was not me. His voice sounded muffled- far away. I furrowed my brow.

“What’s going on?” I asked him.

Hades, this isn’t normal…What...looking for?

I stood ready, merely a few yalms away as I watched. It was almost like his attentions were split. Was he somehow with Emet-Selch?

“What about Persephone?” This time, his voice was louder, clearer, more real.

That word, that name, it-

My eyes widened, something foreign, but strangely familiar opening up inside me. I gasped, the grip I had on my weapons loosened. They clattered to the stone beside me as I fell to one knee, a hand over my chest. Ryne called out for me and was by my side immediately. She placed her hand on my back.

“Are you alright?” she asked, though her voice rippled and echoed in my consciousness. I cringed, a tether inside of me pulled taut and a searing white light behind my eyelids.

And suddenly, as if it never happened, the feeling was gone. My heart pounded in my chest as I stared at the ground, heaving deep breaths.

“What-what was that?”

Ryne helped me stand, but I shook my head, unable to explain.

“Who is the Warrior of Light?”

We both looked up at the shade once more. He seemed to be staring at me.

“I-I’m the Warrior of Light?” I responded, but he looked away once more.

Hades!”

My charge bent back over to gather my daggers and handed them off. Immediately I dropped back into my stance, again, waiting.

“Hythlodaeus,” I said, more insistent this time. “You need to tell us what’s happening.”

Finally, he sighed, his shoulders slouching heavily, and turned to us. “Let us take a seat, shall we?” He motioned towards the tall tower in front of us.

I chewed on the inside of my mouth for a moment, but sheathed my weapons and let him lead us inside the building. Once all three of us were sat on a bench, he continued.

“Halmarult, you must help him.” I shook my head, not understanding.

“Halmarult? Help...what?”

“Ah, I see you are still yet to be awakened.” He nodded and sat forward, his arms resting on his knees. “We are in the Lifestream, so-called Warrior of Light.”

“How can you be in both places at once? How are you in the Lifestream at all? Weren’t you-”

“Ah, but I was not tempered to Zodiark. I passed before the summoning could occur. I was what they call...an innocent. As were you, during those dark, foreboding days. But that is a story for another day- and one that is not mine to tell.”

I clenched my jaw.

“When Hades created this ghost of a city, he made me the only one self-aware.” He looked towards a couple of shades standing in a corner, debating the end-of-times and the morality of summoning a God. “To do that, he pulled some of my consciousness from Her domain, giving me the ability to split my attention between the two. I do not think he realized what he was doing at the time- only that he wished to speak to his old friend again and inadvertently give me the ability to give you the truths that you so craved- ones he could not bear to utter himself.”

“And how did he end up in the Lifestream?” Hythlodaeus lifted a hand to his mouth in thought.

“That I could not say. I can only assume he struck a bargain with Hydaelyn.”

“I-I had dreams about that,” Ryne said, quietly, from my other side. This got the shade’s attention and he looked her up and down.

“A child of the Mother,” he started, astounded. “In possession of a link straight to Her. Fascinating. A rare gift, indeed. Continue.”

She hesitated, looking up at me, but I nodded in encouragement.

“I dreamt that...that Emet-Selch was being judged for his deeds and that...that Hydaelyn would let him into the Lifestream under one condition- I know not what that condition was. But there was something else, too.”

She looked at me, worry in her eyes and I got the feeling she was about to tell me what she had wanted to the morning before.

“I had another dream, recently.” Hythlodaeus leaned in further.

“Could it possibly be the answer to why Hades is currently caught in a never-ending cycle of sleep?”

Ryne nodded and took a deep breath. “I heard-I heard the Mother telling him to sleep. I didn’t-” She paused, looking for the words. “It did not strike me as malevolent so I didn’t think to say anything, but now…” She looked down towards her lap. I snaked my arm around her shoulders as a small comfort.

“It’s alright,” I nearly whispered to her. “We can’t know that it is or is not-”

“Please, Halmarult. I am begging you.” I shifted again to look at the shade. “What-what She is doing to him is not normal. Not right.”

I bit my lip, torn. Hydaelyn was my God. Everything I’ve done has been in Her name.

But Ryne’s dreams-my own dreams, too…

I closed my eyes and the image of his mask appearing once again in my mind gave me pause, my hand stretched up to slide it off his face. His golden eyes…

“But, how could I? I don’t possess that type of power.”

“Eight times rejoined,” he noted. When I opened my eyes again, he was looking at me, although I got the feeling he was really looking in me. “That piece of your soul that walked by your side the last time we met- you are joined now, yes?”

I nodded, remembering Ardbert. Remembering how he had willingly held his axe out to me when I was just on the cusp of turning into a monster.

“So close to whole now, you should-”

Break.

I knew that voice. Hydaelyn’s voice. I felt a sharp pain behind my eye, and my hand immediately went to my head. I could hear Ryne groan next to me. What-

“You should be able to-”

Break!

When the pain subsided, I looked around. The shade had disappeared.

My resolve strengthened. I needed to find out what was going on. Hydaelyn was hiding something from me and I had to know what. But first, I needed to know as much as I could about the Lifestream- and what it was to the Ascians. To do that, I decided I should start by seeking out the aid of the Elder Seedseer back on the Source- Kan-E-Senna.

Chapter Text

I could never tire of her laugh. She looked positively radiant, lost in her joy, holding her sides as she doubled over, unable to contain herself. 

I had just finished describing a Concept that had crossed my desk that morning of a creature, avian in appearance, with a giant bill that primarily would be found standing perfectly still. It would have an unwavering glare and should it decide to declare one as its master, it would follow perpetually. The proposal included a poorly executed drawing, which I had decided I would bring home to show to her.

She removed her left hand from clutching her side and lifted the page up once more to examine the drawing and was again overcome with giggles. Finally, she was able to calm down enough and took a deep breath, wiping the tears that had fallen from the overwhelming amusement. 

“But why… would you reject this… absolute masterpiece? ” she asked, handing the page back to me.

I chuckled and shrugged a shoulder. “I could always approve it and name it after you, my love,” I cooed and watched as her face was filled with horror.

“You wouldn’t dream of it,” she retorted, narrowing her eyes as she called my bluff.

I brought a hand up to my face and pretended to consider the Concept, when a flicker outside the window caught my attention. I looked outside and felt my jaw drop. The clouds were… glowing orange?

Standing, I hastily went to our balcony, throwing the doors open. I could feel Persephone reach for me with confusion and concern, but she quickly came to my side and gripped my arm tightly as she examined the sky. 

I watched as lightning struck a tree in the courtyard which, already dry and dying from the lack of aether to fully create it, instantly caught fire. Citizens walking the streets nearby gasped at the sight and began to examine it, speaking amongst themselves about the end of days in hushed, panicked voices.

We stood in silence as she watched the tree burn, my eyes trained on the clouds which had begun churning above us. The sky began to rumble and moments later, thunder roared so loudly and with so much force, windows all around began to shatter.

This time, the rumbling did not stop as the ground beneath us shook. I furrowed my brow and watched as the citizens in the streets ran into their homes, bracing themselves for the coming storm. Suddenly, a deep, sonorous noise reverberated all around, causing the air to feel as if it was trembling as well. It grew in volume until it was almost too much to bear before it suddenly ceased as if it had never even existed.

Amaurot had recently been experiencing violent weather fluctuations but… something was different with the aether this time following the strange sound. Somehow… in the pit of my stomach…

The tremors came harder now, increasing in intensity until it was difficult for us to maintain our footing. Lightning flashed again, and I watched with wide eyes as streaks of fire began to fall from the sky.

I heard screams echo out nearby, panicked yelling to run and watched as dozens of Amaurotines turned the corner. The ground beneath their feet began to sunder. I moved to stand in front of Persephone, grabbing her face between my hands and bringing my lips to hers for a moment before I pressed my forehead to hers. “I’ll be back. Please stay here.”

I teleported away before she could protest and reappeared where I had heard the screaming originate. 

In front of me, I could see the back of a monstrous, worm-like beast breathe out a burst of noxious poison onto a group of young students. They instantly fell to the floor, writhing as the poison entered their bodies for a moment before becoming perfectly still. The beast turned to approach another group of nearby students that had been trapped, huddled in a corner. It had mouths all along its sides, and I watched in horror as tendrils emerged to grab the bodies of the dead students before they were consumed.

I shot a burst of arcane energy at its back and it turned to me. It seemed to grin at me before it turned back and released another cone of poison at the students. The buildings nearby began to collapse, the fire that fell from the sky causing any nearby plant life to burn.

No. No, I didn’t want to relive this. 

An Amaurotine with a familiar mask arrived to my left and shot several bursts of lightning at the beast while firing two signals into the sky to alert the city of imminent danger at our location. 

Anything but this. I shut my eyes tightly and shook my head, knowing what came next. 

Suddenly, the world around me grew still and silent. I could hear a soft sigh coming from my right and I slowly opened my eyes. I blinked in confusion as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of my bedroom.

I looked over to the side to see Persephone reaching over to place a stack of papers on the nightstand before she rolled back over to lay her head on my bare chest, her hand placed gently on my abdomen. I moved to better accommodate her, wrapping my arm around her and pulling her body even closer to mine, our legs tangled together.

She lazily traced shapes along my torso, exhaling a sigh through her nose as I kissed the top of her head softly, my hand working through the length of her sweat-dampened hair. 

I took a deep breath, relieved that I had somehow been able to stop the previous memory from continuing. It had become apparent to me that I had some semblance of control over what I was forced to relive. How intriguing. 

I felt Persephone shift slightly to reach down towards our feet where the bedsheets had become bundled from our prior activities and she pulled them up to her shoulders before returning to the same position she had been previously.

“Are you cold?” I asked, looking down at her to watch her nod slightly. I moved to turn towards her, wrapping my arms around her as I positioned us so her head was under my chin.

She sighed happily and we lay there in silence; I was content to let this particular memory play out. I soon felt the pulsation in my mind that occurred when Persephone and I connected.

“I wish I knew what you were thinking when you’re lost in your thoughts like this,” she mumbled sleepily.

I breathed out a chuckle. “It’s nothing terribly exciting,” I lied.

“Enlighten me, then,” she responded with a yawn. “What is it that’s not terribly exciting ?”

“I… well,” I hesitated and cleared my throat. “Should you desire it, you could know what I was thinking.”

I could practically feel her confusion, but she soon tensed slightly, understanding the implications of my statement. She took a deep breath to relax but remained silent.

“I had an elaborate plan,” I started, suddenly feeling very nervous. “But it occurred to me that you are not the type to be easily impressed with grandeur. As such, I decided upon a different approach.”

She began tracing small shapes on my shoulder to let me know she was still listening and I continued, “I… never considered the possibility of partaking in such a ceremony. It seemed foolish, imposing. A burden. But the day I met you… Gods, you were…” 

I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “You were nothing short of brilliant. The way you defended the Concepts you had designed… the sheer passion you felt for them… No one saw the practicality of designing new flora--to what end? What would it accomplish?--but… you wanted to make the city live , you said.”

“And the day your first Concept was approved? The overwhelming, infectious joy I witnessed in you…”

I shook my head and tightened my hold on her slightly. “I swore to myself that day that I would do everything in my power to become the next Architect. To be able to approve every single flower you designed if it meant I could see that smile again.”

I paused, moving my head back slightly to press my lips to her forehead before I resumed, “I wonder if you realize the impact you’ve had on me, the drive you instill to do more for the improvement of Amaurot, to be better for those yet to come.

“One day… I suddenly came to realize that I did want the ceremony. That the idea of the eternal bonding was not this dreadful loss of privacy or…loss of individuality. I am better with you. So… if you wanted to...”

I worried that she had fallen asleep when I heard her heave a dramatic sigh. 

“You’re right. I do make you better. You were an insufferable bore before me.” She shoved my shoulder to push me onto my back and propped herself up on her elbows to look at me, a playful smile on her lips. She looked up at my face and the smile appeared to falter, her eyes widening only for a second before her original expression returned. 

I raised an eyebrow at her. “Oh, was I? And here I thought you found me charming.”

She leaned forward to bring her face close to mine as her eyes searched mine for a moment. “Perhaps we should have the ceremony then, so you can hear the harsh truth from my brilliant mind,” she finally said, softly.

I lifted my face slightly towards hers, our lips barely an ilm apart as I narrowed my eyes dramatically. “If you recall, you were the one who wanted to know what I was thinking.”

“That is true… well… at the very least, I’ll get to have fun tormenting the Architect with lewd thoughts throughout the day.”

She moved to position herself above me, her knees on either side of my body as she wrapped herself in the bedsheet. I rested my hands on her hips and her smile widened even further as she bent down, bringing her lips even closer than they had previously been, her hair creating a curtain around us. 

I pressed my lips against hers, one hand sliding up her side to coax the bedsheet from her grip in order to push it out of the way once more. After a moment, I pulled back slightly, smirking against her lips as she tried to follow. “That is not a game you want to play with me, my love. I would win.”

Chapter Text

The day that I left to head back to the Source was an unusual day. Thancred and Urianger had still not returned, although I wasn’t in the least surprised. Without Ryne tagging along behind them, they had probably taken the time to finish some tasks the kobolds at Mord Souq had requested of them while waiting to see if the girl we’d found on Eden would wake.

When I told her she would have to stay behind, she pouted, but I knew she understood that currently, there was no way for her to walk between worlds like I did. I assured her I would be back as soon as my business was taken care of, and I meant it, but I still felt quite bad about it. Since time runs different between the Source and the First, what was a day for me could be a week for her.

I was thinking about it as I was bathing and getting ready to leave, when I heard a squeal coming from the main room. I wrapped a towel around my body and rushed out, still dripping wet.

“What?” I asked. She pointed to the bed where a single pink flower lay. I shook my head, not understanding what she was so scared of.

“It-it just appeared there!” she cried. I furrowed my brow. “I turned my back for a moment and…”

I sat down on the mattress and carefully picked up the bloom, examining it from the tips of the petals to the end of the stem. “It seems harmless enough. Do you feel anything abnormal?” I laid it in her outstretched palm and she closed her eyes, spreading her magic over it.

“No, it...It feels normal, but it has your essence on it.”

“My what?”

“Your aetheric signature. It’s as if...you created it.” I looked at it again and frowned.

Eight times rejoined. You should be able to-

Hythlodaeus’s words echoed in my mind. What was it that Hydaelyn didn’t want me to know? I stood up, quickly.

“I need to get going. Put the flower in water and keep an eye on it until I return. I’ll meet with whom I need and come back immediately.” Ryne nodded and I went back to the bathing room to quickly dress.

Gridania was just as I remembered it, though it had been quite a long time since I’d stepped foot in it’s forests. I was met at the aetheryte plaza by a member of the Twin Adders and promptly led to the designated meeting area.

The Elder Seedseer was facing away from me, animatedly exchanging words with someone I was unable to see. When the soldier escorting me announced my arrival, she turned, a soft smile on her lips. I caught a flash of orange just past her head. Ah, of course.

“My friend,” she started as I approached, standing to greet me. “It is good to see you.” I gave her a small bow. “You have made some quite spirited friends on your recent journeys, I see.”

Feo Ul gracefully floated into view, quickly circling my head before setting herself on Kan-E-Senna’s shoulder. I laughed and shook my head.

“My [adorable sapling]!” the small faerie exclaimed, folding her hands together, excitedly. “How good it is to see you this day, and on your own world, too!”

“I have just been talking with this delightful sprite. Once she relayed to me the information about today’s meeting, she stayed behind and has been regaling me with exhilarating tales of your quest to save the First.”

“Yes,” I confirmed. “Feo Ul played no small part in my success, as well.” I nodded my head to her, the King of the Faeries. “You have my deepest thanks for coming all this way to relay my request.”

She lifted herself off of her seat and flitted over, affectionately patting my cheek with her small hand.

“What do I always say, my sapling?”

“Call if ever I am in need,” I recited, obediently. She smiled and turned away from me, bowing to Kan-E-Senna.

“And now, I shall take my leave, Elder Seedseer, and let you discuss your private matters.”

“By all means, your Majesty, come and speak with me whenever you wish.”

With naught but a nod and a wave, the faerie was gone in a sparkle of light, leaving the two of us alone. Kan-E-Senna held her hand out towards a seat at the table.

“Please, my friend. Sit, rest, and tell me what is on your mind.” I did as I was bid and folded my arms on the wooden table.

“I have come today to inquire about Ascians...and the Lifestream.” She easily slid into the seat opposite me and tilted her head.

“I was not expecting this question today, but one I will answer to the best of my ability, nonetheless.” She rested her staff against the arm of her chair and leaned forward a bit. “As you know, the Lifestream is a gift from the Mother- giving Her children’s souls the chance to be reborn again after our mortal flesh has left this realm. The Ascians, servants to Zodiark, a source of great and terrible darkness, are not of Hydaelyn’s children and are therefore apart from the Lifestream. When they pass, their souls are sent to Oblivion, where they will never again be reborn.” I nodded, looking down at my lap, and tried to best ask my next question.

“Is it...How would it be possible for an Ascian’s soul to...be granted permission to enter the stream?”

The Elder Seedseer’s brows knit together. “That is…” She seemed at a loss for words for a moment, which was extremely unusual. “That is unlike any question I have ever been asked. I am loathe to admit that I do not have an answer for you, except to say that the possibility is extremely low. If I were to venture a guess, I would say the Mother herself must have intervened, but of course, I could not know for sure.”

Another nod. I understood- this was a difficult subject and truly, how could one ever truly know what went on in the afterlife?

“A-and pulling a soul from the Lifestream. I have observed you do it before- with Y’shtola. How...how does one go about it? What kind of power would you possibly need to achieve it? During my quest to save the First, I witnessed an Ascian do it with a snap of his fingers.” I mimicked Emet-Selch and snapped. Her eyes narrowed toward me, her lips a hard, straight line, though her words stayed polite.

“That is something that I am not at liberty to discuss. I am sorry.”

“No, don’t apologize. I was merely curious,” I responded, waving my hand.

She visibly relaxed and continued talking for a moment, but I felt a sharp pain behind my eyes. I closed them, pressing my thumb and forefinger to my face.

A flash. I was standing on a balcony, gripping the railing with white knuckles, broken glass on the ground around me. I was staring down at the back of a man, screaming for him to come back to me as he faced off with a giant, monstrous...familiar...worm.

Minutes ago we had been laughing. I looked to my left to see a building, engulfed in flames, collapse, raining down pieces of rock on the citizens below.

“Are you alright?” When I opened my eyes again, Kan-E-Senna was standing from her chair, worry written on her face. I blinked a few times and looked at my surroundings.

“I…”

“I think it may be time to take our leave,” she suggested. I nodded. She had given me all the information she would for the time being- there seemed no point in badgering her further, and I didn’t want to make her more suspicious. She picked up her staff and started heading out.

“Oh, Elder Seedseer, one last question.” She paused and turned her head back to me. “Is-is there a way that...Lately, I have been having these feelings, like my mind is... connected, you could say, to someone else’s. Have you ever heard of this happening before?” She put her fingers to her lips in thought.

“I was once told of a legend about the origins of our Eorzean Bonding Ceremony, where, in ancient times, it wasn’t merely an exchange of rings- but also of hearts and minds, as well, and the bond tethered you to that person for eternity. But, I can hardly believe it is anything more than a children’s tale.” I nodded once more, and finally let her depart the area. I put my hand over my chest and sighed, the pull tightening.

Later that night, after I’d rushed back to the First, I laid in bed, listening to the rhythm of Ryne’s soft breathing beside me. My mind was spinning in circles, and I was unable to stop it. I was nowhere nearer to the answers I needed. Hydaelyn was not going to help me this time- in fact, it felt as if she was hindering me. With a sigh, I slowly, slowly, let the comfort of sleep take me, forcefully pushing the thoughts from my mind.

I was tangled in a mess of sheets and limbs, finger drawing patterns into the flesh of the man holding me. He was warm and I curled into him, my head resting on his chest. He was- he was talking about a ceremony, and how brilliant I was. A ceremony? Kan-E-Senna’s words floated in the back of my mind as the dream progressed.

“You’re right,” I said, a smirk on my face. “I do make you better. You were an insufferable bore before me.” I playfully shoved his shoulder so he laid flat on his back, then sat up to look at him. My smile dropped for a moment, my eyes wide.

His face. A face I knew all too well. I was...

But the dream played on, making me play with it.

He tore the sheet off my body, leaving me bare-

When I shot awake, my face was hot and I had an ache between my legs. The sun had just started lighting up the room when Ryne slowly, sleepily wandered back in from the bathing room.

“Are you alright?” she asked, obviously trying to stifle a yawn. She sat on the edge of the bed. “Your face is red.”

“It-it’s nothing,” I stuttered, embarrassed, even though she had not the slightest idea what I’d just dreamed about. “Go back to sleep.”

When she had laid back down, facing away from me, and I had calmed down, I stared up at the ceiling, arms behind my head.

All this time, I had known for sure that I had been an Amaurotine in the past. That I was an Ascian, in some sense. But I had no idea- never thought that I...had been his lover. I felt my insides tie in knots. I needed answers, and if the Mother was not going to help me, I was going to help myself.

Actions aside, I noticed two things in my most recent dreams. One, even if only for a single moment, I was me and not her. Even if only for a single moment, I was able to control the dream. If I concentrated enough, could I keep that hold longer? And second, somewhere deep in my chest, I could feel him. Every time I dreamt of him, that tether connecting us was there. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was dreaming with me because when I would wake, I could feel the absence deep in my soul.

Now, all I had to do was warp the dream so I could speak to him directly.

Chapter Text

I returned home from the Convocation meeting and shrugged out of my robe, calling for Persephone while I removed my mask. On the table for today’s meeting was the topic of replacing Halmarult, who was in charge of Amaurot’s botanical and agricultural needs. He had recently announced he would be stepping down, and Persephone’s name had been placed for consideration. 

As I entered the bedroom, I found her sitting on the bed staring at her hands. Which was odd… because she should have been in the bathroom if my memory served correctly. 

She looked up at me and pursed her lips before speaking. “Emet-Selch.”

I paused in the doorway and crossed my arms in suspicion. “Care to explain the formality?”

She locked eyes with me and I narrowed mine in return. Something was off. “It’s me.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to need a little more information to know who you are, seeing as how you’re inhabiting my soulmate’s body,” I clenched my jaw and took a step towards her. “In my memories, no less. Speak clearly, I’m in no mood for games.”

She raised an eyebrow at me and smirked in a familiar way. I had seen that smugness before… but… “Your hero.”

“You have some nerve, Warrior of Light.” I clenched my hands into fists at my sides. “Was it just too impossible for you to resist pestering me with your dullardry even in the afterlife?”

She stood from the bed, crossing her arms. “You mean you didn’t notice me here all those other times?”

I began collecting aether in my hand, preparing to fire at her but she shook her head at me. “I don’t think I have enough control to dodge right now, and you’d just end up hurting her.”

“By all accounts, if the memory deviates far enough it will just reset to a new one and we’ll both be rid of you, so I’m willing to take my chances on that, hero.

“Can you… just…” She moved her hands to hold them both up, to attempt to convey to me that she meant no harm, but I fired the energy at her regardless. As much as it pained me to watch my own aether directed at Persephone, the relief I felt when the surroundings shifted to another memory prior to impact was stronger.

I had acted on impulse, lashing out to protect Persephone, whose presence lingered through our bond even as the hero had taken control. I sighed and shook my head. In my complacency with living in my memories, I had lost sight of my original task. Wasn’t I the one trying to contact her in the first place? 

I exhaled and tried to orient myself. When and where did I choose in my haste to force her away? I was in the apartment, and by the looks of it, this was a day in which Persephone had not yet returned home before I had. I heard the door open and turned towards it.

“You really need to just give me a second to explain,” the hero said, using Persephone’s voice.

I groaned and threw my hands up in frustration. “Fine! What , by Zodiark, are you doing here? I was enjoying myself. Reliving happier times. Isn’t that what dead people do ? Enjoy the company of their also dead loved ones?”

“Is there any way you could… I don’t know, pause the dream or something? It’s like I’m having to fight with what you’re remembering to even speak to you.” 

I arched a brow as realization struck. “The deviations. They were you .”

“Yes. Were you not listening? I’ve been here for quite some time,” she replied and I snapped my fingers to fulfill her request. I experimented with suspending or swapping memories since my previous experience and found I could control more than I originally expected. I watched as she visibly relaxed. She nodded in gratitude and stretched her arms up before taking a deep breath. “For some reason, every time I sleep, I come into these dreams. Sometimes I feel like I have control, but it’s never for very long.”

I brought my hand up to my chin, considering this information. If she has been here, witnessing the memories… and I have been in the Lifestream… I narrowed my eyes at her. “I knew your Mother was just as scheming as the Ascians you and your Scions harbor so much resentment for. Come to gather information on us, have you? Killing me wasn’t enough?”

I stalked towards her and stood directly in front of her, glaring down at her. “What were you looking for, then? A weakness? A way to finally be rid of Elidibus so you can all live happily ever after in your fragmented pathetic lives?”

She opened her mouth to speak but I cut her off. “I’m sure you’ve been very disappointed with what little you’ve discovered. Unfortunately for your beloved Hydaelyn, I cannot bring myself to care about anything of note to her while your vessel is here. Perhaps you should have considered picking a different host, hero. If you truly wanted information out of me, Lahabrea would have been a better choice.”

She huffed angrily and crossed her arms. “By the Twelve, are you finished yet? Do you enjoy hearing yourself speak?”

She cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “I don’t know why I’ve been coming into your memories. It has nothing to do with Hydaelyn. She didn’t send me here. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what I was experiencing until that… one… memory where… um…” She looked away from me towards the bedroom, her cheeks flushed. 

“Ah, I see.” The wide eyes and faded smile, I recalled with a smirk. “Just how much did you witness then? Based on your complexion, I’d say a fair amount. Couldn’t bring yourself to wake up, hero? Not that I blame you.”

“Sh-shut up!” She turned back to me, furious but embarrassed. “Me being stuck in that dream had nothing to do with what happened. It’s like… how do I even… it feels like… the more time passed, the more dreams I had as Persephone, the stronger this link I had with you felt. I… think… is it possible that I am her?”

“No. It’s not even remotely possible that you would be her,” I retorted and rolled my eyes. “She’s either gone to oblivion or sundered and wandering the First. I thought she might be here, in the Lifestream, but aside from some brief moments in which I feel her presence in the memories, she does not respond when I try to reach out to her. If you were her, you would respond.” Honestly. Does the Warrior of Light truly think I would not have noticed that their souls were one and the same?

“Hythlodaeus seemed to notice,” she replied to my thoughts and I opened my mouth in disbelief. “He called me Halmarult.”

“You… how did you...? How could you possibly have heard that?” I looked her up and down.

She shrugged a shoulder. “It’s either an I’m-the-same-soul-as-Persephone thing, or an I’ve-got-weird-new-powers thing.”

I clenched my jaw a few times before exhaling and shaking my head. I let the tension in my shoulders slowly fade away and gestured for her to take a seat at the nearby dining table. “It has become woefully apparent to me that I am stuck with you here. I had intended to seek you out on my own terms, but I suppose this will have to suffice. As such, I will listen to what you have to say.” I sat across from her, placing my elbows on the table. “The floor is yours.”

“Honestly... I’ve seen the nice side of you. You don’t have to be so… whatever this whole thing you’ve got going on is,” she gestured at me. “Is it a defense mechanism?”

“You will forgive me for opting to ignore that question. Do try your best to stay focused, hero. Since we have already dismissed the possibility of you being Persephone… What weird new powers?”

“Well, before our battle, I had the soul of the hero of the First with me, and after absorbing him, I was able to control the light from the Lightwardens. Hythlodaeus had mentioned that since I’m eight times rejoined I may be able to do something to help you… but Hydaelyn severed the connection to his shade, so I’m not really sure what he meant.”

She furrowed her brow and continued, “Anyway, I had one of the earlier dreams and woke up suddenly… and on my night table, there was a goblet of water. And then , more recently, Ryne said this flower with my essence appeared out of nowhere.”

“Hmmm… rewind for a moment. Hythlodaeus said you could help me? With what?” I leaned in towards her. 

“Well… Ryne said she had a dream that Hydaelyn was forcing you to sleep and he confirmed that was the case. You’ve been trapped this whole time,” she replied with a frown.

“I fail to see how that would be your problem at all, Warrior of Light. If I’m trapped by your Mother , why does it offend you so? Couldn’t you have rebelled against your celestial parent before killing me?”

“I just… I can’t explain it. I can’t help but feel like there’s a reason I have this tether to you. And… to some extent, I feel like Hydaelyn is keeping something from me,” she looked down at her hands. “These powers, what if I’ve always had them? What if she locked them away like she’s locked you away? What if I was meant to be helping you, instead of destroying you?”

I stayed silent for a long time, considering what she had said. To her credit, she left me to my thoughts as I worked through what the information she had given me could mean. 

I had wanted to contact the Source’s hero for her assistance to find Persephone regardless, but if things had progressed to the point where the Champion of Hydaelyn was doubting her Mother to the extent that she would seek me out… Perhaps there was some merit in what she was saying. 

Suddenly, the image that I saw before our final battle occurred to me and I cleared my throat, pushing it from my mind. “Well, dear hero, if these powers are new, and this tether is new… perhaps your powers are Ascian in nature. If that is the case… if I were to show you how to use them, and you could, in fact, use them…”

I stood from the table and snapped, teleporting us out into the training hall at the Akadaemia. “I remain unconvinced of this claim that you share the same soul as Persephone, but if you are a sundered Ascian bound by Hydaelyn as you suspect, then...” I smirked as a plan began to form in my mind. I manipulated aether in my hand until it formed into a pair of daggers before tossing them to her. “I can think of no better way to get revenge on your dear Mother than to train you in the magicks of those who oppose her. In exchange for my services, perhaps you could free me from this prison, hm?”

Chapter Text

I caught the weapons he threw at me, easily, and took a look around his arena. It seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place why.

“No dawdling, hero,” he berated me. “In due time, you will awaken and I'd like to get this well underway before then.” He held his hands out towards me, palm up. “The first and most basic principle of Creation magic you should learn is how to easily and quickly summon your element.” I watched as small, swirling purple balls of energy grew. “I imagine it’s similar to when you channel the light from within you, but more controlled to remain in its form in your hand to be manipulated further. For now, I want you to try to imbue those daggers with your power.”

I nodded and gripped the hilts as I normally would, but instead of dropping into an attack stance, I closed my eyes and relaxed my muscles, thinking about the light inside of me. I took a deep breath, trying to gather that power and forcing it out of my hands. But, when I opened my eyes, nothing had happened.

“Really, I expected better,” he sighed. “Again.”

A while later, I found myself at an impasse. My breathing was labored and my heart was beating heavily in my chest- and still, I’d not been able to perform the simplest of tasks he’d set me on. Emet-Selch sat on a bench a few yalms away, watching me intently.

“Quite interesting how Hydaelyn’s champion cannot even summon her blessing of Light in such a way,” he noted and lifted a hand to his lips. His eyes went to my hands, as he thought. “Humor me for a moment. Try...the element of wind.”

I decided not to argue, although it seemed ridiculous to me that my main element would not be Light. I closed my eyes, once again, as he had taught me, and pulled deep within myself, searching for that small kernel of air.

But, it wasn’t small. When I touched it, the power exploded inside of me. I felt the wind come easily to my hands and I pushed it into my weapons. When I lifted my hands to look at them, I found wind energy wildly circling the blades. Beyond, I caught the Ascian staring at me with wide eyes, a mixture of shock and confusion.

“What?” He recovered quickly, and gave me a slight shake of his head.

“Nothing you should be concerned about. Come and rest for a moment.” When I joined him on the bench, he snapped his fingers and the daggers disappeared again. I looked down at my lap, hesitating to ask him what was on my mind. He sighed, hanging his head. “I told you I would answer questions pertaining to these powers, hero, so ask them.”

“The day that I started...dreaming with you, so to speak, I also had a vision of the Lifestream.”

“Yes, and?”

“Well, I...was curious how you sense it? How it makes you feel?”

I could feel a stirring in my body. Or was it outside my body? Twelve, was I waking up? Beside me, he smirked.

“It seems that is a question for another day. Run along to your Scions, hero.”

When I opened my eyes, I was covered in sweat with a slight pull in my chest. Ryne stood over me with a folded washcloth in her hand. When I sat up, she backed off, laying the towel on the side of a metal basin of water.

“Are you alright?” she asked me. I pressed the heel of my hands into my eyes for a moment, and blinked rapidly when I removed them, trying to clear the blur. “You were burning up.”

“I’m fine,” I answered with a small nod. I drew the covers back and swung my legs out of bed. “Come on, we’re starting a new type of training today.”

Over the coming days, Ryne joined me as I attempted to do what Emet-Selch had instructed me. It was not as easy as it had been in the dream, but I knew it was there. At night, while I slept, he would teach me about the Lifestream- about the little hum in the back of my mind that I heard when the connection was good. He taught me about Creation magic, how I could will things into being with enough power and concentration, just like the flower I’d unconsciously summoned for Ryne.

Some nights, though, after we had finished honing my skills and we had time to spare, we would sit in his apartment and talk. He’d managed to morph my form into how he remembered me all those months ago before I’d killed him. Less painful, he said, than hearing my words come out of her mouth. I understood, of course. Whether or not he remained unconvinced, the connection I felt to him was unmistakable to me. Perhaps he just needed time to realize it, too.

Sometimes I thought he saw it there, plain as day, in the things that I’d say or how I would react to him, but if he did, he said nothing.

He would tell me about Persephone if I asked, though. How brilliant she was, what she liked. Her favorite creations.

“What’s your favorite flower, hero? I’ll tell you if she created it.” I thought for a moment, sitting across from him at the dining room table.

“A red dahlia,” I answered. I watched as he froze, his eyes narrowing at me. I shrugged. “Don’t get mad. I answered your question. You once promised me the truth and you delivered. I only owe you the same, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” he said, his serious tone almost taking me by surprise. “She created the dahlia. It, too, was her favorite.”

I looked down at my lap. In all of the things he’d told me about her, a lot of them were true of me too. I kept it to myself, though. He didn’t seem to want to accept it, so I didn’t push.

I enjoyed being in these dreams- his dreams. It was peaceful, quiet...and there was no one else but us.

One morning, I woke with an ache in my chest, intense enough to make me lose my appetite. I waited for Ryne, ever the worrier, to ask me what was wrong, but I remembered that Thancred and Urianger had arrived back to the Crystarium the day before and she no longer had need of my room. It only made the twinge grow. Instead of getting out of bed, I sat and practiced Creating. It made the pain ease, if only a little.

In my time using Creation magic in the real world, I found snapping my fingers did not work for me as it did Emet-Selch. I tried different things, but finally, I found flicking my wrist to the side was the easiest way to channel my aether to get more accurate results. I would have to relay that information the next time we spoke.

When I hadn’t emerged from my room by lunch, I heard a knock on my door. When I bid them enter, Urianger walked inside, saying Ryne had been worried that I hadn’t shown up for training. I smiled at her concern, but told him I was just feeling under the weather and did not want to be disturbed. The Elezen took a quick look, examining me for sickness, but did not find anything on the surface.

It was deeper than that, though. When I was with him, the pain was gone and when I woke it hurt so bad I felt as if my heart was breaking. Maybe I was delusional. I thought it could have to do with these newfound abilities, or possibly all the time I’d been spending in his dreams could be having some kind of effect on me, but down in the pit of my stomach, I knew what I was really feeling, even if I didn’t want to admit it aloud.

When I went to sleep that night, I told him about it.

“I’ve been...feeling strange, during the days,” I said, holding my hand up. With a flick of my wrist, a dahlia materialized on the table between us.

“Feeling what?” he asked, his eyes never leaving my hand, face pale, looking as if he’d just seen a ghost. I’d been seeing that look a lot lately.

“Well, I-I have this aching feeling in my chest.” Finally, he looked at me, his face sliding into an easy smirk.

“An ache in your chest?” He huffed a laugh. “Could it just be that you miss me when you’re awake?”

I bristled and flicked my wrist again. The flower disappeared. “I doubt that,” I said, my lips pouting, though I wasn’t entirely sure he was wrong.

And then, in the back of my mind, I heard it again. His words filtering through my head.

I missed you too, hero.

Chapter Text

Time began to pass slowly once I had realized that the days could be measured based on when the Warrior of Light came into the memories. It was difficult to know for certain, but based on the number of deviations I could recall in conjunction with recent events, I estimated that I had been ‘trapped’ for several weeks at the very least.

I shifted a sleeping Persephone off of my arm and sat up in bed, observing as she breathed evenly as she was deep in slumber. Near the end of Amaurot, I found myself struggling to fall asleep on most nights, but I tried not to let Persephone realize what was on my mind. I thought I could solve the problem of the aetherial anomalies forming on our star and had implored the other Convocation members not to inform her of what we suspected--our star was dying, and if we did not act quickly, we would as well. 

I chose these memories of nighttime more often than not since the Warrior of Light had begun her training, mostly because it was easy to discern when she arrived: Persephone would awaken when she normally slept through the night. But it was also easier not to have to interact with the memory that had become such a source of conflict within me.

I was furious with myself for admitting it, but to some degree, I had come to accept the loss of my love during the Sundering. She became a central part of my drive to complete the Rejoining, this much was true, but how much of that incessant pull had been Zodiark’s prompting?

Reaching over to brush a lock of hair out of her face, I gently kissed Persephone’s forehead and stood, walking to the window and gazing out at Amaurot in all its glory. The city was most breathtaking at night, and watching the bustling activity in the streets below made the time between visits from the hero marginally less lonely.

I exhaled slowly and shook my head, looking back towards the bed. I could not stop the smile that formed on my lips as I looked at Persephone’s face, peacefully dreaming with her lips parted and her hair strewn messily on the pillow. It never made sense to me how she was capable of sleeping so deeply.  

Was the Warrior of Light a deep sleeper as well, I wonder? Likely not, given the level of her responsibilities. The hero of the Source, the protector of Hydaelyn’s children. What an immeasurable burden her soul has been given…

I returned to the bed and sat on the edge of it, my hand grazing Persephone’s with a gentle squeeze before I scooped her into my arms and leaned against the headboard. She moved to curl herself into my arms and I held her close to me, pressing my lips against her forehead. 

It was impossible to measure the amount I missed feeling her warmth in my arms, but now that I realized she was just a memory, it was almost as if the warmth I had remembered was diminished. It felt hollow and fabricated.

I was roused from my thoughts when Persephone began to stir in my arms and I quickly changed the image to be that of the Warrior of Light. She opened her eyes slowly and I could feel the ripple in my mind that the tether between our souls created. It had become clear to me that feeling Persephone’s presence in my mind had actually been the Source’s hero all along, and I couldn’t help but feel a slight sense of unease when I considered this.

She tensed in my arms as she adjusted to her surroundings, but I found I was not quite ready to release her from my embrace. “Good evening.”

She looked up at me and then down at herself, taking in her appearance. “You already morphed me?”

I nodded against the top of her head. “I’m nothing if not efficient, hero.” She shifted slightly to leave from my arms, but I did not feel ready to let her. “Would you mind humoring me for a few more moments? It has been a long and draining day.”

She glanced up at me and nodded, perhaps noting the sadness that was undoubtedly present in my expression. Settling back into the previous position, we sat in comfortable silence. 

I closed my eyes and rested my head against the headboard. Selfish though it may have been, and I was sure the hero was only giving in to my wishes out of pity, I relished in the feeling of the returning warmth that came with this intimate embrace once her soul had connected with my own. 

It was difficult for me to rationalize what I was feeling or why I was feeling it. On the one hand, the Great Rejoining would return all of the lost ones to us, Persephone included. Even should the Warrior of Light fail to survive until its completion, her soul would be rejoined to its original state nonetheless.

But… was that still what I truly wanted?

Persephone was gone, that was abundantly clear to me now. And in her place… with the selfsame soul… I didn’t understand how I did not realize it sooner. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure which piece of the puzzle was the final one.

So much was similar at her core; somehow she had maintained many similar traits to the originator of this particular soul. Her elemental affinity was the same, as was the way she chose to channel her aether. Even their personalities, the way she would react to me, the way she held herself and how she spoke… So very similar in so many fundamental ways. And yet... still the hero was a clearly unique individual. Her mannerisms, her sense of humor, her unwavering kindness.

The Warrior of Light was not Persephone, regardless of their shared soul. Even if she was to survive the Rejoining… would the complete restoration of her soul replace who she was in exchange for Persephone? Or would the Warrior of Light still remain? Which iteration of the soul would take precedence?

For that matter, which outcome did I even prefer? Was there a preference to be had in this situation?

‘Yes, of course’, would have been the answer without hesitation prior to my defeat, but now… having spent the time I had, unburdened and untempered, with the Warrior of Light… would the loss of a life such as hers go unmissed? The more I thought about it, the more it became apparent that I would, in fact, miss her. The idea that she would be erased from existence opened wounds within me I thought had long since healed.

I sighed and opened my eyes to find the hero looking at me with a knowing sadness. “I’ve been eight times rejoined and have remained myself,” she said reassuringly and then smirked at me with a raised eyebrow. “But… I’m not sure how you expect the Great Rejoining to happen in the first place if I’m still around to beat you Ascians every step of the way.”

I chuckled softly and relaxed my arms to free her from my embrace. “I forget that you’re capable of intruding into my thoughts. Well... no matter. Come, we’ve training to do and I’ve wasted enough of your time.” I snapped my fingers and we were transported to the Akadaemia’s training grounds once more. 

After several failed attempts at honing her Creation magic into a blade of wind, it became clear that the hero was distracted, lost in her thoughts. I sat on the bench next to her where she sat hunched over with her elbows on her knees, panting. “Something on your mind, hero? This underwhelming lack of progress is unlike you.”

She shook her head at me but sighed heavily. “It’s nothing,” she murmured and stood, resuming her attempts to create a dagger out of her aether. I stood as well, placing a hand on her shoulder and giving it a light squeeze.

“Now now, I thought we were being honest with each other. I could just reach in and pluck the thoughts out if you insist on being secretive.”

She looked down at the ground and chewed at the inside of her cheek for a moment before looking at me. “It’s just… I’m not her.”

I furrowed my brow in confusion. She averted her gaze out towards the nearby garden that Persephone had created, her expression full of an emotion I could not place, her mind filling with a sense of profound sadness.

“I can tell that you miss her every single day, and I can feel how much you loved her. But I’m not her and… because of me, you may never see her again,” she trailed off, her voice wavering slightly.

“Oh, my sweet hero,” I whispered as I reached for her chin to turn her face towards my own, my eyes searching hers for a moment, my heart aching at the sadness I saw present there. I placed my hand on her cheek to cup her face gently, smiling softly when she seemed to lean into my touch.

“I will always cherish the memories I have with Persephone, and you speak that which is true: I miss her every moment of every day and you are not her,” I started, my thumb softly brushing the skin on her face to redraw her attention when she looked away. “But the time I have spent these last weeks, getting to know you as the current iteration of a soul as pure and wonderful as hers… It is difficult for me to admit, but… I have grown rather fond of you , Warrior of Light.”

Chapter Text

Emet-Selch’s words made my stomach flip. I put my hand overtop of his, and breathed a sigh of relief, then squeezed his fingers and pulled it away from my cheek. I smiled up at him.

“We should get back to work,” I insisted, then turned my back on him when I could feel my face growing hot. I didn’t want him to see how much that simple gesture had affected me, although I was pretty sure he was able to feel the erratic beat of my heart through the bond we shared. If he did, he didn’t embarrass me further.

With a quick flick of my wrist, I summoned a blade purely made of wind.

“Much better,” he commented.

Later, we were sitting across from each other at the table, Creating little origami animals and making them move about. He Created a small peiste that slithered up my arm. It walked up to my shoulder and stuck it’s tongue out, the thin paper tickling my neck. I shrugged my shoulders out of instinct, a giggle escaping from my lips. To get back at him, I summoned a tiny coeurl that jumped up and bit him on the nose. I watched with a wide grin on my face as it happened. He huffed a small laugh when it chomped down on his face, the paper crinkling, but he suddenly paused, as if he had just thought of something.

“It occurs to me, hero, that there is one thing I should inform you of,” he started, snapping his fingers. The lizard and the coeurl disappeared. “You will awaken soon, so I suppose now is a good time.”

“What is it?” I folded my arms on the table in front of me, my grin calmed to a content smile.

“There is a book I hid in my reconstructed city.” He leaned an elbow on the table, his chin resting in his hand. “It was meant for Persephone all those years ago, but I never had the chance to give it to her. In my time alive, I filled it with different things I’ve learned. I wish for you to use it. It details how to pull a soul from the Lifestream in more detail than I could provide for you here.”

“Mm,” I hummed my agreement. “Where can I find it?” He slid out of his seat and motioned for me to follow him to the window. Everything outside was dark, but I noticed a building some ways away had a single light on.

“It was...it was Persephone’s office.” I nodded and looked down towards the floor.

“Don’t sulk, hero,” he scoffed, draping his arm across my shoulders, and pulled me into his side. “It doesn’t become you.” With a sigh, I wrapped my arm around his waist and we stood there for a few more minutes, until the daylight called me back.

I watched as Thancred did his drills on a practice dummy later that morning. Ryne and I were taking a short break to catch our breath and get a drink of water. Urianger sat in the shade not far away, his nose, as usual, in a book.

I looked down at my pair of daggers. For a while now, I found their design underwhelming, preferring those I used while I was dreaming with Emet-Selch.

What if I just…

The weapons morphed in my hands, to my exact specifications. I smiled to myself, but when I looked up, Thancred had stopped his rotations, his eyes on me as he tipped his cup of water back. I didn’t catch the expression on his face- he looked away too quickly. I bit my lip, wondering if he’d seen.

That night, after I was sure the rest of the Scions were asleep, or at least otherwise occupied for the evening, I slipped into dark clothes, covering all but my eyes, my new daggers on my hips, and left the Crystarium.

I did as instructed, and went to the building where Persephone had done her work. My stomach twisted into knots as I beheld the room, loosening my face mask so I could breathe easier. It had been covered in all types of flowers and moss- species I only assumed she had Created. The book was nestled in a desk drawer, wrapped in a soft cloth. I set it on the surface of the desk and unwrapped it. I spent the next few minutes slipping through the pages, eyes skimming the words he’d written in an elegant hand.

“Wow,” I breathed to myself, a smile on my face, the plants around me and their meanings all but forgotten. “Emet-Selch was absolutely nothing short of amazing.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you have gone mad.” I slammed the book shut and looked up, the flora around me shuddering with the sudden movement. Thancred stood there, leaning on the door frame. “I do know better, don’t I?”

“What?”

“You can’t play the fool with me and you know that very well.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re clearly hiding things.” He eyes went to the book. I blew out a breath.

“I’m not hiding anyth-

“Oh? And these newfound powers?”

I looked down to the daggers. So, he had seen.

“I don’t...know how to explain it.”

“You are first and foremost my friend, you know. I don’t like this any more than you do, but when you’re secretive it causes suspicion.” I was silent, not knowing how to answer him as he eyed me, warily. “What is that book, anyway?” I looked down at its white cover, gold symbols emblazoned on the front.

“It’s...I had a dream that showed me where this was hidden. That it was important, but I know not why.” Thancred approached me now, and looked down at it himself. I bristled a little when he opened the cover and shifted through its pages.

“We should take this to Urianger. Let him examine it.” He watched me as he gauged my reaction.

I agreed, but only because I didn’t want him suspicious of me any longer, and surely letting our friend look at it wouldn’t hurt anything. He held his hand out for me to take and teleport us back to the Crystarium.

“All you have to do is just inform us. You don’t have to do this alone.”

I believed him, to an extent, but I didn’t know if I wanted to see his reaction once I told him I was falling in love with an Ascian. Or that, quite possibly, I was an Ascian. Besides, I was almost always alone, no matter what he said, as the Warrior of Light. Bitterness coated my tongue at the thought.

Back at the Pendants, he knocked on Urianger’s door. When we were permitted, we found Ryne sitting on his bed, a game of cards strewn across the blanket. The Elezen was making his way towards us. He gave me a quizzical look, my arms wrapped around the book.

“We found this in Amaurot,” I explained, holding it out to him. Upon hearing the name of the city, Ryne stood off the bed and came to look as well, curious as ever. Urianger took it and started gently flipping through its pages. He tilted his head to the side.

“How didst thou come by such a treasure?”

“I had a dream about its location.”

“Did this belong to Emet-Selch?” Ryne interjected, looking me in the eyes. I wasn’t expecting the intensity of her gaze, and hesitated for a moment.

“I-I believe so, yes.”

“Upon first inspection, this tome appears to be the research notes made by the Ascian.”

“What type of research?”

“Well,” Urianger said, closing the book again. “A wide variety of notes on many a thing, but amongst them it doth detail the ways in which one might retrieve a living being from the Lifestream. If this truly belonged to Emet-Selch, as thou sayest, I shall keep it in mine own possession so that I may study it more.”

I frowned, but I had no argument.

But, in the middle of the night, when I was sure he was asleep, I donned my dark attire again and slipped into the shadows of his room. If I didn’t do this tonight, surely it would be hidden from view and I would not be able to take it, especially after the way Thancred had acted towards me earlier in the evening. On light feet, I lifted the book from his desk and headed for the one place I knew the Lifestream was at its strongest on the First: Rak’tika Greatwood.

After I arrived and had pinpointed the exact spot, I understood what the Ascian had meant about the hum in the back of my head. I heard it. I felt it.

I sat on the ground amongst the glowing blue flowers, the book open in my lap. I bit my lip as I read his words over quite a few times, preparing myself for what I was about to do. My stomach twisted in knots, my mind erratic, thinking of the consequences of my actions.

No. Calm down. This had to have my full attention. Deal with whatever happens after the matter later.

With a deep breath, I cleared my mind and raised my hands, gathering all of my aether inside of me.

I could see him. His soul, right in front of my face, bright and warm- just as I had seen it that day in the Ocular. I tensed and pulled with all my strength, focusing the entirety of my power on the little spec that was his among thousands.

I flicked my wrist, but nothing happened, and try as I might, I wasn’t able to hold on to it for very long.

When I released the power, I dropped my arms to my sides, breathing hard. I wasn’t strong enough. Failure and disappointment washed over me and I wiped the sweat forming on my forehead from the exertion. Weeks of training and I couldn’t do it. I cursed myself and-

“I think I can help you,” a timid, sweet voice offered from behind me.

Chapter Text

I sat at the table with an elbow on my desk, my chin resting in my palm, the other hand tapping a finger impatiently. Time was moving exceptionally slow today, and I had run out of ideas to keep myself occupied until the time the Warrior of Light would arrive.

Sighing heavily, I turned to look out the window at the setting sun, when the image distorted into bright light. I could feel a pull on my very soul and realization dawned on me. She must have been trying to extract me from the Lifestream, but it did not feel as though the force she was generating was sufficient to accomplish the task. 

Soon after, the room rematerialized in front of me and I exhaled sharply as I tried to recover from the sensation. It certainly was not a comfortable one, though how much of that was due to my relative imprisonment compared to what being pulled from the Lifestream normally feels like was a mystery.

A knock on my door interrupted my thoughts and I went to respond when I felt the sensation once more, stronger this time. I furrowed a brow as the room began to fade away and a warm light enveloped my entire body. How could she possibly have…?

Before I could finish the thought, I felt a sharp pull from deep within.

The next thing I knew, I was blinking my eyes open with a groan as I adjusted to my surroundings.

I heard a sharp gasp from my left and looked over to see the Warrior of Light with her hands covering her mouth. She appeared to be trembling as she leaned over me, her eyes filling with tears. 

I forced a small smirk at her as a breeze passed us and raised a brow. “Enjoying the view, are you?” I teased, my voice hoarse.

She slapped my shoulder at my glibness and I groaned at the sensation, my entire body sore from the experience of being pulled from the Lifestream. She threw her arms around me as I propped myself up with one arm, wrapping the other around her in return. I inhaled deeply and took in her scent, realizing how much was missing from the version of her I had created in my mind.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the young Oracle kneeling with her eyes locked on the hero, a relieved but happy expression on her face. I cleared my throat uncomfortably and pulled back slightly. “Not that I mind such a warm welcome in my current state of undress, hero… but don’t you think your companion is a little young to see such things?”

She looked at me with wide eyes and turned to her young charge. “Ryne! Don’t look!” 

I let out a laugh as the girl looked away quickly and I sat up fully, wincing at how much I ached with the slightest movement. “How your friend managed to be retrieved twice and still manage to function is astounding, to say the least… makes me feel horribly inadequate.”

She waved her hand in the way she had gotten accustomed to when using Creation magic and I felt clothing materialize on my body. I looked down to examine myself and raised a brow, admiring the black slacks and black waistcoat adorned with golden buttons. 

I moved to loosen the wrist button on the white button-up shirt she had chosen and rolled the sleeves up to my forearm, doing the same on the other side. “Most impressive, hero. I could fit right in at Eulmore. The red tie is a nice homage to my Garlean roots.”

I could practically feel her roll her eyes and I grinned as I looked up at her, reaching out to push a lock of her hair back that had fallen out of place, my expression falling to a soft smile. 

She raised her hand to catch mine as I began to lower it and searched my expression before a mischievous twinkle appeared in her eyes. “Is there aught you wish to say to me? A word of thanks, perhaps?”

I playfully narrowed my eyes at her as she used my own words against me before lifting her hand to my lips and placing a soft kiss upon her knuckles. 

“Thank you, hero,” I replied, softly. Lacing my fingers between hers, I stood, pulling her up alongside me as I looked over at the Oracle of Light, her face still turned away from us, an amusing shade of red. “You may look now, child.”

I watched her warily turn towards us before she stood as well, walking over with a curious look on her face. She seemed as if she had a million questions and was unsure which to ask first. 

The Warrior of Light huffed a laugh and released my hand to place it on the girl’s shoulder. “You should thank Ryne, too, you know. If it wasn’t for her help, I don’t think I would have had the aether necessary to pull you out by myself.”

“Oh?” I looked her up and down with a raised eyebrow. “I wonder what She would think knowing you aided in such a task. Thank you, nonetheless.”

She looked away for a moment before nodding in response and turned to look at the Warrior of Light. “Should we find shelter?”

I surveyed the area for the first time since my return and brought my hand to my chin in thought. This was the same place I had pulled the mage out from the Lifestream, I noted, which meant we were close to the settlement we stayed at previously. I squinted into the darkness before trying to reach out with my aether to scan the surroundings.

Nothing happened. 

And now that I was paying attention, the hum of the Lifestream was notably absent as well. I looked at the Oracle then the Warrior of Light and frowned. They certainly would have had aetheric signatures, but for the life of me, I could not see one.

The Warrior must have noticed my distress, placing a hand on my arm to draw my attention out of my thoughts. “Are you alright?” she asked, her brow furrowed in concern.

“I…” I looked behind me to where I had come out of the Lifestream intently. “I am not sure… something… is not quite right.”

“Do you feel sick… or…” 

“No, nothing like that,” I reassured her and turned to face her once more. “No need to worry just yet. Let’s find somewhere to rest, shall we?”

She nodded and began heading towards the settlement nearby. “I’m sure the Viis would be willing to let us stay a while. We just have to lay low until we figure out our next step.”

I furrowed my brow as I began to follow her. “You don’t already have the next step?”

The girl piped up from beside me. “She snuck out of the Crystarium in a hurry, I don’t think she had much of anything planned…”

“Do you feel sick, hero?” I asked, placing my hands on my hips and shaking my head with a smirk. “This disorganization is quite unlike you, normally you seem one step ahead.”

“I’m just trying to figure this whole thing out one step at a time.” The Warrior of Light stopped in her tracks and turned to face me, her arms crossed in indignation but there was a hint of playfulness dancing in her eyes to match her teasing inflections. “If you don’t want to cooperate , I can just put you back where I found you.”

I frowned and averted my gaze despite her obviously playful tone. She could, and without much trouble based on my current pathetic state. 

“Noted,” I replied dryly and continued walking towards Fanow, passing her with a heavy sigh. I caught her confused and slightly hurt expression from the corner of my eye.

“I’ll… go ahead and have them prepare us some rooms,” the young Oracle said as she leaned over to pick up the book and then jogged ahead, leaving me alone with the Warrior of Light who came to walk at my side.

“You’re keeping something from me,” she said, after a few moments, the settlement in our sights. 

“Ever perceptive, I see.” I pinched the bridge of my nose and exhaled sharply. “I am, yes. Perhaps I will be willing to discuss it in the morning, but for now, I am tired. This whole ordeal has left me drained.”

She placed a hand on my arm gently and I couldn’t help but meet her gaze. She frowned at me, her eyes searching mine for a moment before she dropped her arm and nodded. “Alright.”

We walked the rest of the way in silence, approaching a small house in the trees that the Oracle was standing outside of, awaiting our arrival. When asked, I insisted that I was fine, that I was tired and just needed rest. 

I spent most of the night staring at the wall, trying to feel for even the slightest spark of aether within me and coming up empty-handed. Eventually, overcome with exhaustion, I drifted off to sleep hoping things would improve by morning.

Chapter Text

I let the Ascian take the bed in the small house we borrowed from the Viis. Ryne and I sat on the floor as he laid down to rest, backs against the bed frame. She huddled into my side as we both looked through the book, one arm wrapped around her shoulders, my free hand turning the pages, a small, conjured ball of light illuminating naught much but the words, so that we didn’t disturb him.

I could tell for a long while that he was awake, whatever was on his mind keeping him from getting any kind of restful sleep. It nagged me, in the back of my mind, as I tried to pay attention to his writing. I was upset- hurt, even- that he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. I thought we’d moved past that stage, already. I was having trouble pulling on the tether that bound us, trying to gently prod his mind to find out what he was holding back. It was hard, now that we were in the real world. I sighed. Everything was always easier in the dream.

Eventually, his breathing did even out. By that time, Ryne, too, was fast asleep, leaning heavily on me. Quietly, I closed the book and made the orb disappear, leaving us in complete darkness. It wouldn’t last- the sun was due to rise soon, so I figured I should get some sleep while I was able. I was sure as payment for housing us, we would have to do some chores for the Viera living in this camp. I didn’t mind, of course, as long as we were able to stay hidden for a while, but it meant an early morning after a sleepless night. Hopefully the veil of stealth I put over us would shield us from Y’shtola’s constant watch over the wood for a small while.

I shifted Ryne so that I could lay her down on the makeshift bedding we’d spread out on the floor, and then stretched out next to her. By the time I was able to calm my mind and let my exhaustion claim me, I could see the hazy morning light filtering in from under the door.

When I woke up a few hours later, Ryne was no longer lying in front of me. I heard murmuring behind me and sat up. She was sitting on the bed with Emet-Selch. He was still under the blanket, looking quite disheveled from sleep. Her hand was outstretched towards him, her eyes closed.

“What’s going on?” I asked, not quite awake yet. I rubbed the sleep and blurriness out of my eyes. “Is everything alright?”

He looked down at me for a moment, distress written in his eyes. I reached out, again, for the tether but found nothing. He opened his mouth to speak, but Ryne started speaking, so he closed his mouth.

“I don’t...I’ve never seen aether like this,” she said, dropping her arm to her lap. “It’s very sluggish, barely moving at all.” He looked back at her and nodded.

“I was afraid you’d say that,” he sighed. “I suspect my being in the Lifestream for so long made it stagnant. Now that I’m away from that infernal Light, though, my powers should slowly come back.”

“You can’t use your abilities?” I asked, still confused. Ryne slid off the bed and went to the basin in the corner to get him a cup of water.

“No,” he admitted and looked down, curling one of his hands into a fist, flexing his arm. “I believe it is only because of my being in the Lifestream. Everything should be sorted soon.” I nodded as he accepted the cup and took a long drink.

“How is it you could use your power in the dreams, then?”

“Since we were in my memories, one could assume that those powers were merely a memory of my powers, as well.” I furrowed my brow, contemplating his words.

“Was this what you were so worked up over last night? Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“I thought, maybe, after some rest they would have regenerated. It seems I was wrong.” He shrugged, then looked back down to me again. I was about to shoot something snarky at him, but he looked perplexed. “What about you, hero? You’re looking awfully pale.”

I shook my head. “I’m fine.” He raised an eyebrow as if he didn’t quite believe me. I wasn’t awake enough yet to really gauge how I was feeling, though I didn’t think I felt weak.

I stood from my bed on the floor, my hip sore from sleeping heavily on the wood. “I should go see if the Viis need-”

When I’d gotten to my feet, my head swam. My entire body felt light as my vision whirled around me. I stumbled forward, putting a hand to my face, but I could feel myself pitching farther forward with no way to stop it. I heard Ryne gasp and the wooden cup in Emet-Selch’s hand clatter to the floor. He was out of bed in a moment, hoisting me up before I fell to the ground.

“You’ll not be seeing if the Viis need anything, at least for today,” he told me as he guided me to the bed. I sat on the edge, looking down at the floor and breathing slowly, trying to clear my head. He sat next to me, and took my chin in his hand, forcing me to look at him. I lifted my eyes to his and he frowned at whatever he found. “You need to rest.”

“I’m fi-”

“Pulling a living being out of the Lifestream requires no small amount of power, and I was not living. You had to, quite literally, Create a new body for me while also using your aether to extract me. I’m not even sure I could have performed such a feat without an aetheric crash. In fact…” He paused, looking at Ryne, examining her from top to bottom. She was busying herself by picking up the cup and cleaning the water that had spilled onto the floor. She paused and looked up at us when she realized she was being talked about. “I’m surprised the child isn’t in the same state.” He dropped his hand from my face. “You’re drained, my dear hero. Lie down.” I pouted at his demand, but he raised one eyebrow again at my audacity to defy him. We stared at each other for quite a while before Ryne piped up.

“You should listen to him,” her small voice squeaked. Our eye contact broke, and I looked over to her, betrayal radiating from my body. Her cheeks went red at the glare I had given her and she quickly set the cup down on the table and made for the door. “I’ll go see if the Viis need anything done.” She hurried out, barely remembering to close the door behind her. Her embarrassment made me huff a laugh, and my defiance died down.

“Fine, I’ll rest,” I acquiesced, though still quite unwilling. He reached over and lifted the blanket, then helped me as I slid in. When my head was lying on the pillow, he tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear and smiled.

“Sleep.”

When I woke again, unsure of how long I’d slept, I was cold. My body was shivering, even under the blanket. I curled into myself, trying to get warm, but the shaking was uncontrollable enough that I let out an incoherent sound.

Emet-Selch looked over from his seat next to me. His feet were propped up on the edge of the bed, sitting in a chair, his book open in his lap. “Are you alright?”

“I-I’m freezing,” I stuttered. He frowned, but set the book on the bedside table and reached over to me. He placed the back of his hand on my cheek.

“Hmm,” he hummed and in one quick motion, scooped me up in his arms. He sat back on the bed and covered the both of us. I leaned in as close to him as I could get. His body was so warm, it eased my shivering. “Your aether must be more depleted than I had originally thought. You’re fortunate you’re still alive.” I let out a breath of relief and rested my head against his chest, closing my eyes.

“That feels good,” I whispered. He pressed his cheek against my forehead. We sat in silence as he helped warm my body. I listened to his heartbeat, felt the rise and fall of his chest. It felt so...comforting. So much that I sighed again. This close to him, I could almost feel the movement in his mind. “Tell me what you’re thinking.” I knew my voice was barely audible, but I wanted him to speak to me, to feel the rumble of his chest as he talked. He chuckled.

“I was thinking,” he began, leaning back against the wall, adjusting me so I moved with him. “About a time that Persephone accidentally Created a poisonous plant. She was sick for days and I was tasked with taking care of her until she recovered.” He pulled me closer into him, his arms around me tight, possessive. “You’re a lot like her, you know. Stubborn until the very end.”

My smile faltered, a certain sadness washing over me, remembering only months prior. “I’m so happy that I didn’t disappoint you again.” But when I opened my eyes to look up at him, he had a soft smile as he examined my face. My lips parted as he leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to my forehead.

Ryne came through the door, a tray of bowls in her hand. “The Viis sent up some broth for us.”

Emet-Selch reached his hand out after she’d put the tray down on the table. She set a bowl into his palm and he moved his arm up, so it was supporting the back on my head. “You’re going to drink this, hero, and you’re not going to argue.”

I pouted again, but let him slowly tip the soup into my mouth. When I had taken all of it, I looked back to Ryne. She was sitting at the small dining table with her own food, trying hard not to stare at us, a sly smile on her lips.

Once he had handed the bowl back to the girl, he retained our previous position, letting me absorb all of his body heat.

As I drifted off to sleep again, I thought I imagined his words in my head. Even if they weren’t real, they brought me peace nonetheless.

Oh, hero. If only you knew how far from disappointing you truly are.

Chapter Text

Sighing as I adjusted the Warrior’s position on my lap, I brought her closer to my body. Carefully, I shifted the blanket that was draped atop her sleeping form. She looked so fragile, pale and shivering mere moments prior, and I found a flooding sense of relief when I began to notice some color creep back into her complexion.

Her eyes moved behind her closed lids, and I smiled softly wondering what she was dreaming about. She curled herself closer still to me, a small sigh escaping her. I examined her face closely, comparing it to the one that I had projected in my mind when we were connected through the bond, realizing how much I had gotten wrong.

Her features were softer than I remembered, my memory of her likely tainted by the tempering that pushed me to maintain my position opposite her on the battlefield. I marveled at how long her lashes were and moved a hand to gently brush her hair back out of her face. The scraping of a chair against the floor interrupted my blatant admiring and I looked up to see the Oracle eyeing us with a smile as she pushed her chair in from the table once she had completed her meal.

She said nothing, but her expression gave her thoughts away and she averted her gaze when she noticed I had caught her staring. I huffed a chuckle and beckoned her towards me. 

She approached warily, her eyes moving from my face, to the Warrior, to my book and then back to me before she sat in the chair I had placed at the bedside. “How are you feeling?” she asked softly, barely audible in an attempt to avoid waking the hero.

I shrugged my shoulder slightly. “More or less the same, child.” She nodded and bit her lip. “And you? How do you fare?”

She seemed startled at my inquiry but sat up straight in the chair with her hands curled into fists where they rested on her knees. “I’m fine, really. I don’t want either of you to worry about me.”

“I admire your desire to appear strong, but if you are unwell, honesty is a better course of action,” I chided and she slumped slightly. 

“I just feel a little tired, but I really didn’t do as much as she says I did… most of the aether was from her…” She looked down sadly. “She looked so upset when she first tried and wasn’t able to do it, so I tried to help... I just wish she had used more of my aether. Maybe she would be okay…”

I shook my head slightly and furrowed my brow. “No, you should not blame yourself. I should have made it more clear in the tome…” She raised her gaze to my own once more as I continued. “I had never considered the possibility of anyone other than an unsundered Ascian attempting such a task, and I also failed to consider my obvious lack of a living vessel.” 

She looked over at the book I had placed on the nightstand. “I had a feeling this was yours. I could sense you all over it when she first brought it back.” 

She leaned in to look closely and placed a small hand on the cover, her fingers tracing the design gently. She seemed to want to look through it but was unsure how to ask. “You may read it if you wish.”

She looked at me with wide eyes, and I nodded at her in encouragement, smiling as she reached for it and placed it on her lap. She gently opened the cover and looked at the sketch I had made on the first page, her hands brushing against the page as she examined it with a furrowed brow. I could only imagine why.

That is a sketch I made of the First Beast that had befallen Amaurot during the end of its days,” I told her, my expression turning serious. “I was the first of the Convocation to encounter it, but I had been too late to save its first victims. It…has haunted many of my dreams.”

The girl nodded, recollection painting her expression. “I remember! You showed us this when we went to Amaurot,” she said sadly and looked to the opposing page. She scanned the words in wonder and looked up at me inquisitively. 

I raised a brow at her eagerness; she reminded me of the young students in Amaurot, so ready to learn, endless questions on their minds. I shifted to pat the spot on the bed next to me. “Come, child. I’ll answer your questions more easily if I can see what it is you’re reading.”

She stood quickly from the chair, carefully climbing onto the bed, seating herself to my side with her back propped against the wall, the old tome resting open on her lap. I reached towards it and pointed to the page opposite the sketch. “This page, and a few thereafter, mostly are filled with my theories as to why Amaurot fell in the way it had. As I told you and your companions previously, it was not a disaster that solely affected our civilization, but the entire star.” 

I flipped the page a handful of times. “You can read those later if you wish, but I’m afraid none of those theories were correct.”

She looked away from the page to gaze up at the side of my face. “Did you ever figure out why? If the city was as amazing as the one you had created… what happened?”

“I cannot tell you with absolute certainty but… the star grew weak, sick.” I could feel my mouth turn to a frown and I took a deep breath. “The aether thinned to the point where the flora and fauna began to fail to survive. Even when we tried to create new ones to replace them, it was as if… almost as if we had depleted the land of its very life source.”

I shook my head slightly. “I blamed myself, for a while. To some extent, I still do. As the Architect, it was my duty to oversee which Concepts were approved or not. I noticed the change in the quality of the aether but disregarded it… Perhaps if I had implemented restrictions…” I trailed off with a furrowed brow.

“Well, no matter,” I said with finality and turned my attention to the page I had flipped to once more. I tapped on it to draw her attention to it, and let her scan the content on the next few pages.

She brought her hand to her chin as she tried to comprehend what she had read. “So… are these… an explanation and schematic on how the Aetheryte networks work?”

I looked at her from the corner of my eye, trying to mask how impressed I was by her astuteness. “ Very good, young one. Yes, that’s exactly it.”

She smiled smugly and flipped the page once more. “I study sometimes with Urianger. He says I’m very bright for my age.”

I nodded thoughtfully as I tried to recall who she was speaking of. I had not paid much attention to their names, regrettably, as my sole attention during our journey was focused on the Warrior of Light. 

“Sometimes he’s hard to understand though,” she continued with a soft giggle. Ah, the historian. 

“Yes, he does seem to have an interesting preference for his spoken tongue, doesn’t he?” I replied with a smirk. “It’s a wonder you learn anything from him.”

She smiled widely at my jab towards her friend and mentor before she turned her attention back to the page. She sat up straight as she progressed through the content of the following pages, completely engrossed in what she was reading. 

The hours passed as I continued to softly talk her through the contents of the old book, explaining in detail the trials that went into the thousands of years of research upon its pages. She marveled at how the pages never seemed to run out no matter how many times she turned them and I chuckled softly, explaining that I had created the book specifically to never run out through Creation magic, the earlier pages disappearing temporarily as newer ones were needed. 

“But the first pages are still there?” she asked and quickly flipped back to the cover page, the sketch of the First Beast present. She flipped back and forth between our current page and the first many times before looking at me with wide eyes.

I could not hold back the laugh that escaped me at the wonderment in her eyes. “Yes, if you flip backward, the pages rematerialize.”

“Is this something anyone could do in Amaurot? These types of things?” I nodded in response.

She seemed genuinely interested to learn about the history of my people and I was surprised to find I was genuinely enjoying informing her on whichever matter she inquired about. I recalled her honest interest when I told my story in the caves at the Qitana Ravel, as well. Ever curious, this child was. 

As she continued to read her way through it, I noticed her head dropping as she dozed off, before she awoke with a start and blinked rapidly to force herself to stay awake. She soon rested her head against my arm, her eyelids drooping as she tried to read yet another page and I couldn’t help but smile at her seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge.

I gently reached for the tome and placed the ornate bookmark on our current page, before slowly closing the cover. “We can continue this in the morning. You’ve learned much today.”

She nodded against my arm but made no move to leave her position, her eyes sliding shut as she quickly fell asleep. I adjusted the blanket that was draped over the Warrior of Light to cover the Oracle as well before looking at the sleeping woman I still had cradled in my arms. She started to look healthier as the hours passed and I sighed in relief.

I had worried that she had depleted too much aether, which could prove fatal in some circumstances, but she had improved enough as the day progressed that I no longer felt overly concerned. I could feel the tension in my body dissipate at the realization that she would be fine.

I yawned softly, overcome not only with residual exhaustion from my extraction from the Lifestream but also from spending so many hours recounting memories of Amaurot to the young girl, some more painful than others. Tilting my head to rest on top of the Warrior of Light’s, I shut my eyes, allowing myself to drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next time I woke, it was dark. The moon’s light filtered in through the window, but it was barely enough to be able to see. I was still curled up in the same position I had fallen asleep in, Emet-Selch still holding me, though it seemed, as he slumbered, his grip had loosened. His head was resting on top of mine, but I shifted slowly, so that I was able to look up at him.

With my movement, he rolled his head back against the wall, but did not wake. I smiled, watching his illuminated face. He looked...different. As he slept, he looked as if all the burdens of the world were no longer his to bear.

Feeling the need to stretch, I slid out of his arms and stood off the bed, shivering in the cool night after being nestled in a blanket for hours. I stretched my arms high above me. Gods, I must have been asleep for-

I paused. Ryne was fast asleep, next to him, her head leaning on his arm. The book I’d recovered from Amaurot was bookmarked, sitting in her lap. I couldn’t help but breathe a laugh at the scene before me- an eons old Ascian humoring a child with what I can only assume were stories of his past, before both of them fell asleep.

I went to the corner of the room on light feet to grab a cup of water, but when I heard movement behind me, I knew I had been too loud.

“Have a good sleep, hero?” Emet-Selch asked, his voice hushed, as to not wake our young companion. I turned to face him in time to see him gently lay the girl’s head on the pillow as he stood up from the bed. My lips tugged upward, and when he looked at me again, I nodded my head towards the door.

He followed me outside and we both sat on the edge of the wrap-around walkway. I let my legs dangle over the side and I breathed in the cool air.

“I feel much better,” I said to him, staring out into the darkness before us. “Thank you.”

“Surely there must still be something wrong,” he said. I could just hear the smirk in his voice. “You’re being nice without even being prompted.”

“I could go back to being mean if that’s what you’d like.” He laughed at that and I shoved his shoulder with mine. I passed him my half-drunk cup of water. He took it willingly, downing the rest of it, and set it off to the side.

A silence settled between us. I thought back to Ryne, still asleep inside.

“You’re very good with her, you know. Did...did you and Persephone ever have kids?”

He sighed and leaned forward.

“No, we didn’t.”

“Did you ever want them?”

“We talked about it quite a few times, yes, but we always came to the same conclusion.” He lay back on the wood, his hands behind his head. “The aether was thinning and the star was seeing violent fluctuations. We...didn’t feel we could bring a child into the world as it was.”

“I’m...sorry,” I said, surprised at how much I meant it. His words were so sincere. He’d always been truthful, but I’d never seen this side of him. This was something he kept guarded at all times and I felt honored that he’d chosen me to be that someone he tore down his walls for, even if it was going slowly.

He sighed again.

“Which is not to say I did not ever sire offspring; there have been many over the millennia but, as horrendous as this may sound...those children were merely a means to an end.” A silence passed between us as I processed his words. “What about you, hero?” He tilted his head towards me, his amber gaze startling in the moonlight. I gave him a sad smile, then looked down at my lap.

“Truthfully, I never thought about it,” I answered, my lips dropping into a frown. “As the Warrior of Light what time do I have for a child?” There was a bitterness to my voice that even I didn’t expect to hear. I was sure he heard it too, but decided not to comment. I looked back at him as he tilted his head towards the small house we were occupying.

“You seem to make plenty of time for her.”

I huffed a laugh and nodded. “I suppose I do.”

He reached up and gripped my bicep, then pulled me down next to him. I landed gently on his arm and he tucked me under his chin.

“Tell me, hero,” he began.

“Hm?” I huddled into the warmth he provided me, still cold after being covered for so long. He wrapped his arm around me, pressing me up against him. I splayed one hand over his chest, the material I’d Created for his button-down shirt soft under my fingers.

“Do you enjoy looking at the night sky as well?”

I moved my head so that I could see the stars- thousands of them out, sparkling against the darkness. We were high enough in the trees that we could see them quite clearly through the leaves.

“When I have a moment’s rest, sure.”

“Close your eyes and feel the pull deep in your soul. Connect with me.”

I did as he requested, feeling inwardly for the bond that we shared. It was hard to get a definite grip on it, but I was sure I had felt it earlier, when I was weaker. Surely now that I had some strength, it should be easier?

I relaxed into him, forcing the tension to leave my muscles, and exhaled a deep breath, finally finding that thin tether between us.

“That’s it,” he breathed. “Just like that. Can you feel it?”

I was silent for a few moments as a feeling I couldn’t identify washed over me. It was pleasant, comforting...It was...

“I feel...you.”

Keep your eyes closed, his voice said in my head.

I inhaled sharply as a vision appeared behind my eyelids. I watched as falling stars shot past me, a gasp escaping my mouth. I’d seen meteor showers before, but...this was entirely different. I’d never experienced anything like this before.

This particular phenomenon has not occurred since the days of Amaurot.

I felt a twinge of sadness on the other end of our tether. I bit my lip.

It’s...spectacular.

I felt the arm he had around my shoulders relax and he lazily ran his hand up and down my arm. When he was finished showing me his memory, I opened my eyes, scanning the sky above us again, my chest full of wonder and emotions, coming from the both of us.

It really didn’t compare, did it?

I sat up, one arm supporting me as I leaned over him. He watched me carefully, his golden eyes searching mine. He reached up, weaving his fingers into my hair, pushing it back as it fell over my shoulder. I closed my eyes, reveling in the feeling of his touch- something I’d never allowed myself before...with anyone.

But with him, it only felt right. Like a part of me that was missing was suddenly found.

When I opened my eyes again, I saw light blooming from the horizon beyond us. A new day. I felt an enormous amount of affection flow into me, cradling my soul, my mind. I looked back down at him.

Mustering all of my courage, I lowered myself onto him, and pressed my lips to his.

Chapter Text

Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming sensation that flooded my body when her lips met mine. Even with the ability to sense her intention, to mentally prepare myself for what she was considering, I still found myself caught by surprise at her boldness.

Her lips felt soft against my own, her body pressed flush against me as I slid the hand I had in her hair down to the small of her back. The kiss was slow and gentle, full of tenderness I had not been afforded in millennia. She shifted slightly, moving to position herself directly above me instead of having to twist her torso to lean over me and I slowly moved my other hand up her arm before resting it to cup the side of her face.

I could feel our souls intertwine as the kiss deepened, sitting up as I slid my hands to rest on her hips. I was filled with a feeling of comforting familiarity having her so close to me in this way and it occurred to me that it had been so very long since I had been able to experience this. The soulbond between us amplified my every sense, not quite to the point of being overwhelming, but intense and concentrated just the same. She moved her hands, one on each side of my face and I gripped her hips firmly, a small sound escaping her that only served to fuel the intensity that was building in me.

I moved us in a fluid motion, resting her on her back on the walkway as I hovered above her with my elbows on either side of her head, oblivious to the chirping birds and sounds of the surrounding forest waking with the rising sun. My thoughts honed in on the Warrior of Light, how she felt against my body and how she was making me feel desperation I had long forgotten.

To say I missed this would be an understatement, the kisses I experienced throughout my multitude of schemes amounting to nothing more than a checkbox on a long list of tasks towards a final goal. But to kiss and feel closeness and mutual affection resounding from deep within, uninhibited by a burden… 

I could feel a myriad of emotions coming from her side of our bond, and I was sure she could feel the same from my own. I knew it was futile to try to contain it, and could only hope she could understand the outpouring of affection and devotion for her I found spilling forth from within me.

I suddenly noticed her trembling and pulled back, opening my eyes to examine her face. Silent tears were streaming from her eyes and I immediately propped myself up on one arm, the other coming to gently wipe the tears away before cupping the side of her face.

She opened her eyes and I searched them, my brow furrowed in concern at the sadness I saw there. I could feel the conflict waging within her thoughts, self-doubt the strongest feeling among them. 

She took a shuddering breath and brought her hands up to cover her face. My heart broke at the motion.

What’s wrong? I prompted through our bond, knowing she would not be willing or ready to speak out loud.

She shook her head but the flood of thoughts came nonetheless. A mixture of uncertainty and happiness came through first, but beneath it… 

She had been overwhelmed by how the eternal bond felt in the real world, sleep having previously dulled the effects. The emotions I had felt rang strongly within her but she misinterpreted who they were meant for. I frowned and moved a hand to her wrists to gently prompt her to move her hands from her face. 

I pressed my forehead to hers when she had, our breathing heavy from the kiss. 

After a moment, I pulled my head back. “Don’t sulk, hero.” Her eyes flitted open slowly and I offered a soft smile as I repeated the words from the final time we had interacted in the dreams in an attempt to remind her of how it had felt in our bond during those times. "It doesn't become you."

She forced a smile and averted her gaze, taking an unsteady breath.

“Look at me,” I whispered, patiently waiting for her to compose herself. When she had, I leaned down and placed one soft kiss briefly upon her lips. “Anything you felt through the bond was meant for you, dear hero. No one else.”

Her lower lip quivered and I placed a finger upon them, shaking my head with a reassuring smile. “I’ll have no more tears from you today, Warrior of Light.”

She gave me a small nod and I leaned down to kiss her forehead before moving to sit as we had been before the kiss. I turned to her and offered her my hand, pulling her close to me so I could wrap my arm around her when she accepted it. She reached for my other hand and wove her fingers with mine. We sat in comfortable silence, our bond dormant now that we had calmed down, though the feeling of our souls tethered to each other remained.

“How are you feeling?” she asked me after some time had passed, the Viis of the settlement beginning to go about their morning duties around us. 

I gave her hand a soft squeeze and looked at her with a smirk. “Quite proud of you , actually.”

She looked up at me, perplexed and I leaned in to whisper in her ear.

“I never imagined you would be so good at kissing, hero.” I could see her face flush with color and I nipped at her earlobe before pulling back, speaking at normal volume when I turned back to watch the natives nearby. “Consider me impressed.”

She shoved her shoulder into me and huffed in mock annoyance. “Too bad it’ll never happen again.”

“Oh? We’ll have to see about that,” I replied with a confident smirk and turned when I heard the door behind us open, the Oracle walking out, sleepily rubbing her eyes with one hand. In the other, she carried the tome.

I sighed and stood, offering my hand to the Warrior of Light to help her stand as well. “I suppose now is as good a time as any for breakfast.”

During our meal, the Warrior had mentioned that she was feeling well enough to resume her daily training and after a scan of her aether by the Oracle, we found a clearing nearby which was far enough from prying eyes. I sat on the ground with my back against a tree. The Oracle hesitated for a moment, but soon sat down herself nearby, opening the tome up to the bookmark from the previous night. She looked at me with her expression full of expectation and I nodded with a sigh.

“I’m true to my word, child. We can continue from last night, but my attention will be divided.” She nodded in understanding and turned to read the contents of the tome intently once more.

I turned my attention to the Warrior of Light, who had finished her stretching. “Are you sure you’re feeling well enough for this, hero? You can rest more if you need,” I prompted, my brow furrowed in concern.

“You heard Ryne give my aether a clean bill of health,” she responded with a nod.

“Very well,” I sighed, standing to walk over to her. I stood behind her, one of my hands sliding down the length of her arm before grabbing her hand and holding it out in front of her. 

“Today, try to summon a controlled burst of energy from your palm. If you manage to create a gust precise enough to cut a single leaf off its branch, I’ll give you a gift.” I stepped back from her before taking my seat back next to the Oracle.

The Warrior of Light looked at me with confusion, the task seemingly easy but I smirked at her and waved for her to turn away to the task at hand. She rolled her eyes and looked away from me, generating the wind aether in her palm before firing it straight ahead, the gust displacing several leaves.

I watched her in silence, occasionally offering up words of encouragement as she continued to improve. Every so often, the Oracle would look up at me and ask a question, or clarify her understanding of a concept, and I was happy to explain what I could. Some of the material I had written did not hold true any longer, the conditions for their viability based on the way the world once was. I did what I could to explain, and, to her credit, she seemed to grasp the abstract concepts relatively well.

“Did you document these things so you don’t forget?” She asked and I nodded stiffly. 

“Not just so that I wouldn’t, but so I could pass these things along to the next generation once the Great Rejoining was complete as well,” I replied and she looked at me thoughtfully. To my surprise, she didn’t rebuke me at the mention of the Rejoining. 

“Do you like to teach?” She inquired, and I nodded at her. “Could you…” Her eyes drifted to the Warrior of Light and then back at me. “I… um… I had a feeling that you were teaching her how to use her powers while she slept, but she never confirmed it.”

I nodded once more my eyes flicking to the hero who stood nearby, unsure where she was going with this particular line of questioning. “I was, yes.”

She looked back down at the book, thumbing through its pages. “Could you… teach me things? You seem like a good teacher,” she mumbled bashfully.

I was perplexed by her sudden shyness. “I used to teach at the Akadaemia. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I gave guest lectures. Regarding teaching you… I’m not sure if... I faltered as her expression fell. 

I pinched the bridge of my nose as I considered her request. By all rights, she was the Oracle aligned with Hydaelyn. As a disciple of Zodiark… could I, in good faith, truly offer her anything? I suppose it depended on what she wanted to learn, didn’t it...?

I exhaled through my nose and looked down at the girl. She was looking down at the tome in her lap, her hands fiddling with a lock of her hair. 

“I draw the line at teaching you anything to do with the Light. The exception being if you wish to learn how repulsive it is,” I muttered. 

She looked up at me quickly, and I blinked in surprise at how her expression brightened into a toothy smile. She nodded with vigor and turned back to the tome, immediately engrossed by an image I had enchanted onto its pages. 

I looked back to the Warrior of Light, noticing that her precision was improving. I smirked and sent a flash of the kiss from this morning to her mind through our bond and watched as she misfired. She whirled to face me, her eyes narrowed.

I shrugged a shoulder and grinned wickedly as I called out to her, “Well go on then, hero. You were so close to succeeding.”

 

Chapter Text

I turned my back on Emet-Selch as he continued to talk to Ryne about the contents of his book. I could feel the heat radiating off my cheeks and summoned a gentle breeze of cool air to throw into my own face, then shook my head, trying to clear my mind.

That’s not fair, I shot back to him, but I received no response.

I tried concentrating again, but every subsequent burst of energy I shot at the trees, trying to accomplish his task, missed by a large margin. Frustrated, I dropped my hands to my sides and closed my eyes.

To get back at him, I pictured myself in nothing but my smallclothes and filtered it into his mind. I was still having some trouble with the connection, myself, but ever since this morning, it had started coming easier. It seemed to do its job this time.

I heard the words he was saying to Ryne trail off. She questioned him, asking if he was okay. He was silent for a few long seconds and I could feel his eyes on my back, as if he wanted me to turn around and face him, but I refused and placed my hands on my hips. Eventually, he cleared his throat and went back to his lecture. I smiled and lifted my hands again, my head much clearer.

I’d almost had it again when I felt a ripple of emotion shoot down the tether. It made my abdomen catch fire and I almost stumbled, my wind shooting in a wayward direction. I heard him snicker behind me.

Ugh, that was it. To Hells with his damned gift. I crossed my arms in front of me and leaned heavily on one leg. If he was going to intentionally sabotage my magic training, well, then I wouldn’t train my magic.

“Ryne!” I called.

“Yes?” I heard movement in the grass as she stood and ran over to me.

“Grab your knives. We’re going to do our drills.” I raised one hand in the air and flicked my wrist. Two striking dummies appeared a little ways away from us and I looked back over my shoulder, a smirk on my face that rivaled even his, as I guided her across the field. I couldn’t see his expression, but I felt a twinge of humor stroking my mind, and another instant jab in my lower half that disoriented me so badly, I grabbed on to Ryne for support. She stumbled to the side and we both almost went down.

“Gods dammit,” I cursed under my breath as I righted myself, and then the poor girl I’d almost knocked over, but I could hear his laughter in the back of my mind.

“What is going on with you two?” she asked. “You’re both acting unusual.” I coughed.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” I responded, smiling down at her, trying my very hardest to ignore the prodding about he was doing in my head, trying to elicit a response from me.

A while later, as I was instructing Ryne on proper footing for her movements, I felt the bond between Emet-Selch and I fall silent. I peered across the field. He was sitting against his tree, fast asleep. I breathed a laugh and my charge paused as well, following my gaze.

“He needs the rest,” she mused as she sheathed her daggers on her hips. “His terrible burdens weigh heavily on him, even still, not to mention the fact that, right now, he has no power.”

“Is this something you and he talked about?” I turned back to her and motioned for her to sit on the ground. I joined her, groaning slightly at my aching muscles. Maybe I overworked myself, afterall.

“Not very much,” she responded, looking at her lap. “He was finished talking on the subject the moment he started.”

“Mm.” I laid back in the grass, stretching my arms behind my head and crossing my legs. I stared up at the canopy of trees. Ryne plucked a blade from the ground, pretending to examine it.

“He still feels very guilty,” she started, her voice sad. “About the fall of Amaurot.”

I peered at her. Her eyes were downcast. I exhaled a long breath before speaking again. “His life has been so long and so tiresome.”

“I know,” she sighed. “I just…” She paused, unsure whether she should continue.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid. Tell me.”

“I just hope we didn’t do a horrible thing by pulling him from the Lifestream and away from a possible peaceful rest.”

“I had my doubts about that, at first, you know.” She looked at me, surprised.

“You, of all people?”

“Of course.” I laughed a humorless laugh. “I may be the hero but I’m still a person.”

“R-right! Of course you are!” Ryne’s face started turning red. I closed my eyes, my lips tugging upward at her reaction.

“I doubted, but he asked me himself. He was rather insistent about it, too.” I put my hand over my heart. “No matter this bond between us...if he had wanted to stay in the Lifestream, I would have let him.”

“That’s very noble of you,” she said, quietly.

“Isn’t that what heroes are supposed to be?” Before she could answer that question, I got up, then reached down to pull her up as well. “Enough rest. Start again.”

When we had finished, and I felt Ryne had sufficiently progressed in her combat training, I sent her off in search of food and whatever chores the Viis had set aside for her. I promised her I would be in perfect working order tomorrow to help her with those tasks. She nodded and took off towards Fanow.

Once she was out of sight, I made my way back over to the Ascian, still asleep under the tree. I knelt next to him and watched the sunlight filtering in through the leaves move about his face, the girl’s words echoing in my mind.

I could not believe a face as peaceful as his hid so much pain under the surface. Sadness welled in my chest. I could only hope that, maybe one day, he’d deign to share it with me, too. I wanted him to know that he didn’t have to make this journey by himself. I wanted him to know that all he had to do was take hold of my hand and bring me right along with him. I’d go, willingly.

I sat down next to him with a sigh.

What a strange feeling it was, to have another half, after being alone for so long. I supposed it had been much longer for him. There was another ache in my chest as I thought about Persephone. I’d seen her many times in my dreams. I’d been her.

He said that anything he felt now was for me and me alone, but I still had a nagging in the back of my mind that told me it was her and it would always be her.

...Did I care?

I rubbed my eyes with two fingers as I wallowed in my uncertainty.

“Must you think so loudly, hero?” the Ascian’s sleepy voice mumbled. I jumped, his voice, however low and tired it was, ripped me right out of my own mind. Without opening his eyes, he reached out and grabbed ahold of my wrist. He tugged lightly, but I didn’t move, so he pulled on the bond between us, insistently. “Come on, lie down.”

I did as he said and gently laid my head in his lap, stretching the rest of my body out on the soft ground. Finally, he opened his eyes to peer down at me.

“I have been nothing but truthful with you all this time, my dear hero. I’m not going to stop now.” He laid his arm across my stomach, and tilted his head back against the bark of the tree. “Rest. Ease your mind and your body.”

His words always did have an effect on me, even before I’d killed him. They always made me want to do what he said.

So, I did. I relaxed my body as he went back to sleep. I did not nap, but I would not deny him what he needed. Instead, I stared up at the trees again and watched the leaves moving in the steady breeze. I knew our little recluse wouldn’t last forever. I needed to enjoy every second of it while I could.

Chapter Text

I awoke as the sun was setting. Stretching my arms above my head, I took in my surroundings. The Warrior of Light was notably absent, I realized with a frown. As I went to stand, I noticed the Oracle laying on her stomach in the grass nearby, the old tome open in front of her. She was kicking her feet in the air and humming softly to herself.

I cleared my throat softly to draw her attention to me, and she looked over, immediately greeting me with her bright smile. “Did you have a good nap?”

I raised a brow but nodded. “It was quite refreshing, yes.”

She changed her position to sit up and adjusted her hair for a moment before she looked over at me. “Do you want me to recheck your aether? Do you think it’s any better?”

I frowned and shook my head. “It feels very much the same, child. You can check if you wish, but I don’t believe you’ll find anything.”

She looked down at her lap and sighed. After a moment, she looked back at me. “It must be very upsetting for you. I remember how it felt before Minfilia gave me her powers.”

She was right, of course; my current situation was undoubtedly ‘upsetting,’ but I shrugged in response. “Par for the course, it seems. Hopefully, it improves, but I very well could end up like your hot-tempered companion and lose the ability to use aether altogether.”

She tilted her head at me, and then realization dawned in her eyes. “Oh… Thancred? No, your aether didn’t feel the same as his. Yours felt…” She raised her hand to her chin in thought, trying to find the right word to describe it. “It felt… obstructed rather than disconnected.”

I considered this in silence as I surveyed the field in which she and the Warrior had previously used for their training. “Off being heroic, I suppose?”

“She’s doing some things for the Viis that I wasn’t able to finish,” she replied. “She should be back soon.”

“How very diligent of her.”

I stood slowly and took a slow breath before I looked back at the Oracle who was fiddling with her fingers in her lap. “Come, child. You have evening drills, and if she doesn't let you dawdle, neither will I.”

Standing quickly with a nod, she ran over to where she had left her blades before heading to the previously Created striking dummies as I followed lazily. I truthfully had limited knowledge on this particular form of combat, but based on what I did know, it seemed the Oracle had a reasonably decent grasp on it. Her motions were similar to those I had seen the Warrior of Light use, and it was made apparent just how much time she had invested in her young protege. 

We took a break after a few sets of the drills and I watched as she looked down and inspected her blades. She looked up at me with a furrowed brow. “She learned how to make better ones… is that Creation magic, or could I do something similar?”

“I don’t believe you could fashion custom blades out of your aether, no, but you possibly could imbue the blades with your elemental affinity,” I responded slowly, immediately feeling regretful when she looked at me with wide, excited eyes.

“I would assume your affinity must be Light,” I continued dryly.

Her expression fell, and she looked down at the daggers in her hands. “Which means it’s not something you’d be willing to teach me.”

“Not at present, at the very least,” I murmured. “I will consider it when my powers are returned.”

“And if they never return?” she asked, with a frown.

“Well, then I suppose I will never deign to teach it to you. The Warrior of Light knows well enough, and I’m sure she could teach you in my stead.”

She sighed sadly but nodded her understanding. “Can I ask you another question?”

I raised an eyebrow in response. She hesitated for a moment before pursing her lips. “Well… the two of you have been acting… strangely.”

“Oh? And how’s that?”

“You both seem to have conversations with each other without actually speaking words sometimes. Am I crazy or…?” 

I smirked slightly and then broke out into laughter, both amused and amazed at how observant she had been. She raised her eyebrows in surprise, a pout on her lips. “You’ll have to forgive me, child. I did not realize you noticed we were. I’ll try to be more mindful of you and voice conversations going forward.”

“So you are ?” she asked, her brow furrowed in confusion. “How?”

“Hm…” I pondered how it would be best to respond to her inquiry. “Well… I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘soulmates’ before?” She nodded enthusiastically.

I sat on the ground and gestured for her to do the same. When she had, I leaned back to rest on my elbows as I watched the leaves above us move with the breeze.

“The origin of the word comes from a custom lost in the flow of time. In the days of Amaurot, when the world was whole, everyone lived nearly eternally as I’ve told you previously,” I began. “Sometimes, you would be lucky enough to find a single person, a single soul, who was your equal in every way, truly compatible in every aspect. If you were fortunate enough to find such a soul, you could partake in the ceremony of Eternal Bonding.”

She perked up at the mention of the ceremony. “Urianger says they have those in Eorzea. We have something similar here in the Norvrandt too!”

I chuckled softly and nodded. “Yes, it’s similar to those in a sense. If you had the ceremony performed, your souls were bonded for eternity. Mind and spirit, forever linked together. Soulmates.” I looked over at her with a soft smile. “I believe the custom now is an exchanging of rings, which is significantly less permanent.”

She seemed to process the information and then furrowed her brow. “So… the two of you…?”

I gave her a small nod. “Well, not the Warrior of Light exactly, but the originator of her soul and I had the ceremony, yes.”

She paused for a moment. “Is it strange for you? She’s not the same person that you bonded to... is she still your soulmate?”

I lifted my brows at the question in surprise. To be entirely honest, I had not even given it much thought. Was the Warrior of Light still considered my soulmate? Are we wholly compatible in the same way? Did she elicit the same response in me that Persephone had, all those years ago?

“That is a very astute question. If I had to give you an answer right this very moment...” I trailed off.

Though they shared the same soul, I could not bring myself to truly compare the two. They were not the same person, just as the Oracle had said. The Warrior of Light was different, but I still found myself drawn to her just the same. For different reasons, perhaps, but I longed endlessly for her company, her voice, her smile. The more I considered it....

I heard footsteps approaching and turned to see the hero approaching, wiping the sweat off her brow. I found I could not resist the smile that formed on my face at the sight of her.

“I would have to say yes. She very much still is.”

Chapter Text

We stayed out in the clearing for a while longer. Ryne had informed me, with a pout, that Emet-Selch had made her do part of her evening drills, but admitted they had not finished. I laughed at her honesty, still innocent even through the things that she’s seen in her short life.

When she was ready to begin again, I stood, arms crossed, watching her. With the fading light, I summoned large orbs to illuminate the area.

“Hold on,” I said. She paused and dropped her form. “No, no.” I waved my hand, motioning for her to assume her stance again. I went up behind her and nudged her legs further apart with my feet, as well as changed her arm positioning. “This way.”

She nodded in understanding. I stepped away and she was about to go resume her drill under my watchful eyes when I heard the grass shift behind me. I tilted my head in confusion. Based on the direction the noise was coming from, I could tell it wasn’t the Ascian.

“Well, well,” a familiar voice called. I spun on my heels. The Hrothgar from Slitherbough’s Night’s Blessed came out from the brush he and his scouts had been hiding in. “If it isn’t the Warrior of Darkness.”

My lips tugged upward when he stepped out of the shadow. He crossed his arms, a smile appearing on his face too.

“Runar!” I said with no small amount of happiness. “It’s good to see you! You’re looking well.”

“And you,” he said, tilting his head in my direction as a greeting. “Didn’t think we’d be seeing you again so soon. Master Matoya mentioned that you had gone back to your home.” Ryne came up next to me, sliding her daggers into their sheathes.

“Aye,” I agreed. “But I had some business here that needed attending to.” He nodded. I shook my head at him in feigned confusion, although I already knew the answer to my next question. “What brings you all the way out here?”

“Ah,” he started. “Master Matoya sensed an...irregularity in the aether around this area and asked us to survey it in her stead. Who would’ve thought it’d be you we stumbled upon?”

Of course. I knew it was only a matter of time before we were found, no matter how powerful a veil I put over us. I sighed.

“Yes,” I said. I looked over my shoulder, Emet-Selch’s form moving towards us from the shade of the tree he’d been napping under earlier that day. I looked back, quickly. “So, Runar,” I started, clearing my throat and raising one arm to rub at the back of my neck. “There’s something you should probably know.”

“And what is that, Warrior of Darkness?” I inhaled a deep breath, giving him a pained smile and opened my mouth to speak but-

“Company?”

I sighed, my head and shoulders dropping in dismay. When Emet-Selch walked out of the darkness, Runar’s scouts were immediately on high alert, quickly knocking arrows into their bows.

“You!” the Hrothgar growled, low and feral. My arm flew out as the Ascian approached me, making sure neither of them had a go at each other.

“Alright,” I said, trying to calm the situation before it got out of hand. Emet-Selch crossed his arms over his chest, waiting. Runar looked at me with wide eyes, teeth bared.

“Why are you with the likes of him?” he asked me.

“Is that really any of your business, cat?”

I rolled my eyes. Dear Gods, help me. “Both of you-”

“You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Ah, but it would appear that I am still very much alive, does it not?”

Ryne looked up at me, her eyes wide, full of fright. I shook my head at her and held a finger up to my lips, telling her to keep quiet.

“I could fix that for you.” Runar’s claws burst from his hands.

“Enough!” I yelled at the two of them, my words jarring and loud enough that they paused to look at me. My eyes narrowed in on Emet-Selch first, my mind telling him to back down. We stared at each other for a few long moments, exchanging mental words. Finally, he relented and I turned back to my friend. “Let us quit this place for the night, yes? We’ll return to Slitherbough with you in the morning and everything will be explained. Suffice it to say that, for tonight at the very least, he is not a threat.”

Runar stood tensed for a while longer before he stepped back, huffing a frustrated sigh. “Fine. I will believe it, Warrior of Darkness, only because it has come from your mouth alone.”

I inclined my head towards him in gratitude and started to head back to Fanow to inform the Viis we would be leaving with the sunrise, flicking my wrist so the orbs of light and striking dummies disappeared as we walked.

Once morning came, Ryne latched herself on to the book, insisting that she carry it, and we made our way outside to meet with Runar. He tossed a glare in Emet-Selch’s direction, but started leading us back to his camp without a comment.

It took half the day, occasionally stopping to rest and get a drink of water. I was worried that, after our ordeals over the last few days, one of our trio would have trouble making the journey, but every once in a while I felt a reassuring ripple in my chest and a brush of his hand against mine, fingers dwelling amongst mine for only a moment before pulling away.

My heart fluttered at those little touches.

When we piled into the camp, hot and tired, Y’shtola was already waiting for us. No doubt she had sensed our approach. She did not seem surprised to see the Ascian among us, and smiled, imploring us to join her around her table to talk and eat.

When we sat down around the large table in her rooms, she eyed Emet-Selch for a moment before taking her own seat.

“This is an unexpected development, even with the disturbance I felt three nights ago.” She leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. “Quite interesting indeed.”

I thought she might be waiting for a response, but before I could explain, she continued.

“Urianger sent word the next morning, informing me that our own Warrior of Light made off in the night with a book written by an Ascian and Ryne had disappeared as well.” The miqo’te looked towards the girl, the book still hugged to her body. She looked down at her lap, embarrassed.

“And you,” Y’shtola started again, looking towards Emet-Selch once more. “Your aether…”

He tensed in the seat next to me, his frustration welling in my own chest.

“I am well aware,” he responded, evenly.

“We think, maybe, it has to do with the fact that he was in the Lifestream for an extended period of time,” Ryne offered, quietly.

“Hmm,” the conjurer hummed with a nod, tapping her index finger against her lips. “That is a good theory, I will admit. But, how is it that you’ve re-”

There was a knock on the door, cutting off her question. I sagged, slightly, unsure of how I would have explained.

“Ah,” Y’shtola said, quickly. “Our food has arrived. We will speak of this matter at length another time. For now, my friends…” She paused, glancing once more at him, a one-sided smile on her lips as she included him. “Please eat and rest. I’ll show you to your rooms after our meal.”

Chapter Text

I looked around the small room the Night’s Blessed had arranged for me. Try as I might to convince them that I would truly not mind sharing the room with the Warrior of Light to prevent inconveniencing them, they stated it was under orders of their Master Matoya that we have our separate spaces.

I sighed and went to the window, peering up at the night sky. I found myself longing for her company, and I reached out to her. Amusement flooded in from her side, and she teased me for my apparent softness. We went about preparing for sleep in our separate chambers in relative silence before I heard her lament on how it wasn’t the same sleeping alone.

I threw the covers off of myself and grabbed my shirt, hastily redressing myself as I left my room. Moments later, I was outside of the Warrior’s room and I could hear the Oracle complaining through the door about the trees ruining the view of the sky.

I smirked as a plan began to form in my head and knocked on the door. The girl came quickly to answer it, her expression laced with a hint of confusion when she saw me standing there. “Emet-Selch? Didn’t they give you your own room?” she asked.

I nodded and scanned the room behind her, noting the tome placed on the windowsill. “Stargazing, were you?”

She appeared to deflate and looked down with a heavy sigh. “No, I can’t see anything from our window.”

“Oh, what a shame. I thought perhaps you had found the skymap within the tome. I’ve made it quite detailed over time.” 

Her gaze snapped to the book on the windowsill and she hurried to grab it. She returned to me swiftly, handing it to me eagerly. “Could you show it to me?”

“Hmm…” I opened the book and flipped directly to where I had enchanted the maps of the night skies in various shards. “No, that’s the Third…” 

Back two pages. “Here we are, child. The night sky of the First. I made sure to document it before all that nonsense with the Light transpired. It should adjust based on which stars are visible from your current location.”

She looked down at the page as I handed it to her with wide eyes. “Are the skies different on the shards?”

“No, they’re very much the same. The main difference is what the constellations are called, the meanings being unique to each shard.”

She nodded thoughtfully and looked at the hero, who was looking at me with a raised eyebrow from her place on the bed. “It’s just like you said back at the Crystarium.” The Warrior of Light nodded.

“You know...” I began, softly. “The view from my window is quite clear. If you wished… we could swap for the night, you and I. Our little secret.”

She gasped and looked at me with an excited twinkle in her eyes. 

“My one condition being… if someone were to come looking for the Warrior of Light, you must stop them. Are we in agreement?”

With an enthusiastic nod, the Oracle was slipping on her shoes before she hastily left the room, forgetting to shut the door behind her. I looked at the Warrior of Light from the corner of my eye with a smug smile as I shut the door and flipped the lock.

She sighed heavily and shook her head, crossing her arms across her chest. “You are unbelievable.”

My smile widened and I bowed dramatically. “Why thank you, dear hero.”

“I didn’t mean it in a good way. You manipulated Ryne to get what you wanted.”

I shrugged unapologetically. “Old habits die hard, I suppose. If it makes you feel any better, I do feel the slightest bit guilty.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said as she pushed the covers off of her legs and stood from the bed, moving over the window to close the shutters. 

“Well… perhaps it was but a fleeting guilt. You’re right, I did manipulate her to get what I wanted.”

I watched as she sat back on the bed, her eyes locked on my own. “Which was?”

“Yesterday morning,” I started as I approached the bed, my eyes roaming down her body momentarily before I returned my gaze to hers. I stopped to stand in front of her. “The image of you in your smallclothes…” I placed my hands on her shoulders, my thumbs tracing small circles on the bare skin I found there. 

She shrugged a shoulder nonchalantly, but I could feel the anticipation welling up within her. “What about it?” 

“I can’t get it out of my head,” I murmured softly. I searched her eyes for a moment before I leaned down to hover my lips closer to hers, huffing a laugh through my nose when she inhaled sharply, her hands moving to grip the fabric of my shirt. 

“Maybe that was the point,” she whispered, exhaling a shaking breath. 

In an instant, I closed the distance between us, my lips pressing firmly against hers. I kissed her with all of the ravenous hunger I had been holding back since our exchange in the clearing yesterday, encouraged by the outpouring of longing I could feel from her in return. She slid her hands up to the collar of my shirt, pulling me in closer.

She moved her hands down to the buttons of my shirt, opening them with a hint of urgency in her movements. When she had finished, she roughly pushed the shirt down my shoulders and I shrugged out of it, shuddering at the feeling of her hands on the bare skin of my back. She then moved her hands to the hem of her nightshirt and pulled it up, breaking the kiss briefly to remove it before she threw it to the side, leaving herself in naught but her smallclothes.

Placing her hands on the back of my neck, she pulled me down as she lay down on the bed, returning her lips to mine with a soft moan when the skin of our bodies met. I felt overwhelmed by sensation, blindly following her lead as she wrapped her arms around me. 

I broke the kiss, my lips traveling to kiss along her jawline and down her neck, gently nipping at the skin at the crook of her neck. She shuddered against me, her hips moving against my own and I couldn’t contain the sound that escaped my lips with the movement. I returned my lips to hers, her hands moving down my torso to the waist of my pants, fingers fumbling on the button.

Realization flooded into my mind and I pulled back from the kiss, my hand moving down to hers to still her fingers. She looked up at me, her gaze, previously heavy with lust now laced with confusion.

“Wait, wait,” I said, through heavy breaths. “Not yet.” 

I knew it, I heard, the hurt and confusion flooding through our bond and she looked away from me. I placed a lingering kiss on her cheek, trying to reassure her.

“Don’t misunderstand, my dear hero. It’s not that I don’t want to,” I explained, and she returned her gaze to mine. I leaned down to place a tender kiss on her lips before I pressed my forehead against hers. “You’re just not ready.” 

“The eternal bond makes all emotions and sensations so much more intense, and this is especially the case when things are… intimate in nature. It would just be uncomfortable, for the both of us,” I continued and relaxed when she nodded in understanding. We lay with our foreheads pressed together as we caught our breaths.

After some time, I pulled back to look at her. “Trust me, when the time comes, I will not stop you. For now, let’s just sleep, hm?” She nodded and gave me a small smile.

I moved us to position us on the bed so I was laying behind her, my arm wrapped around her midsection. Pulling her close to me, I placed a soft kiss on her shoulder. Rest well, my dear hero.

Chapter Text

When I woke up the next morning, I was incredibly comfortable. My backside was still flush against Emet-Selch’s body, his arm still wound tightly around my waist, hugging me to him. I could feel his warm, even breathing lightly tickling the back of my neck and the rise and fall of his chest against me.

I thought back to the night before, reimagining how his wild, needy kisses felt against my lips. My face heated up. Gods, what I would give to feel that again.

I was still somewhat disappointed we hadn’t gone further, but I knew he was right. If anything, I was mad at myself. I’d taken it too far without even thinking back just two mornings before when I’d been so overwhelmed by the emotions that had been pumped into me from just one kiss that I had wept. I needed to be careful until I was used to this bond.

I laid my hand over his, lacing my fingers between his. I felt him stir against my back.

“Mm,” his voice hummed, sleepily. “What would you give, hm?” He lifted his head from the pillow and nuzzled my ear with his nose before leaving a gentle kiss on the shell, then continued trailing his lips down the back of my neck and on to my shoulder. An exhilarated chill ran up my spine, bumps rising on my skin at the feel of his lips dragging over me.

Nearly anything, I thought as I sighed and pressed myself harder against him, wanting to feel the unique sensation of his skin against mine. I’d never felt it before in my life and I was adamant on relishing it as long as I could.

“Don’t be too disappointed, my hero.” He pulled me onto my back and moved until he was hovering directly over me, one arm and leg on either side of my body. I stared up at him, taking in his languid eyes and sleep-mussed hair, the soft, lazy smile on his mouth. He lowered his face down to mine until we were nose to nose. “We can still do this part.”

I breathed in his scent deeply when his lips met mine, raising my arms to run my fingers through his hair and eagerly returned his affections, opening my soul to him in a way I’d always refused to do for anyone else.

To my dismay, it didn’t last long. Mere minutes after we’d woken up, we heard two voices shouting just outside the door to our room. He lifted his head from mine and we both sat very still, listening to the conversation taking place.

“You can’t go in there!” Ryne’s voice cried. “She’s-she’s sick!”

“Well it serves her right after what she’s done, but all the more reason for me to check-”

Twelve. Thancred was here already. Y’shtola really wasted no time. Frustration bubbled up inside me.

“N-no, I just remembered! She said she had some business and is otherwise-”

“Your young Oracle really is a horrible liar, hero,” he said to me, quietly, breathing a small laugh as the argument continued. The annoyance dissipated at his words and I smiled. She was trying so hard. My chest shook with laughter and I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to keep myself quiet.

“Ryne, if that Ascian is in there with her I need to-”

“No! She’s...She’s naked!”

Emet-Selch looked back down to me, taking in my barely-clad body for a moment, amusement in his eyes. “Well, at least that one wasn’t entirely a lie.”

A giggle almost escaped my mouth when the door handle jiggled. Instantly, my merriment faded.

“Oh, Hells,” I said, quietly. “He’s really going to try to get in here.”

“Emet-Selch, are you in there?” He knocked--pounded, really--on the door. “Open up, damn you.”

Quickly, I pushed the Ascian off of me and sat up. I flicked my wrist and fresh clothes appeared on my body. He watched me frantically try to erase any evidence of what we had been doing the night before from the room with a raised brow, not lifting a finger to fetch his shirt that was still lying on the floor. I looked at him with pleading eyes. I had no idea how I would explain this to the Scions- not yet. I just needed...

He must have felt the desperation through the bond, because he sighed and shrugged his shoulders, even though I felt a tinge of annoyance coming through. It made me feel horrible but... Fine, not yet.

I was about to head for the door to unlock it when the lock snapped from Thancred’s incessant beating and it burst open. I jumped back, narrowly missing getting smacked by the slab of wood. He didn’t need long to survey the room- me and the half-dressed Ascian sitting on my bed. Immediately, the Scion was at the table where I’d left my weapons. In a fluid motion, he had picked up one of my shurikens and thrown it at Emet-Selch, who moved quickly to avoid it, but he was not fast enough. The throwing star sunk into his shoulder. Ryne came into the room after him, looking quite frantic.

“I’m sorry, I-” She gasped when she saw what had transpired and whirled on her guardian. “Thancred!” He threw his arm out in front of her, protecting her, in his own way, from who he thought was the enemy in the room.

“What in the seven hells are you doing locked in a room with the Warrior of Light?”

“I can see now why Lahabrea chose you as his host.” A smirk, arrogance rolling off of him in waves. I sighed. “The both of you are volatile in nature. Kill first, ask questions later, hm?”

In lieu of responding, Thancred slid one of my daggers into his hand. Without missing a beat, Emet-Selch dropped into a fighting stance, pulling his hands into fists. I’d seen the monks at Ala Mhigo use similar poses in their training- I had even tried to pick some of it up once, though it was quite different from my normal style. I tilted my head to the side, confused for a moment. I had no idea he-wait. I froze. His powers- My heartbeat picked up as panic set in. He’d get-

“Calm down,” he said to me, never taking his gaze off his opponent. Thancred narrowed his eyes at the comment and rushed forward, my Created knife out in front of him, poised to strike. Emet-Selch moved to the side, playing the defensive. He blocked a few more attacks, easily spinning around as Thancred moved, trying to get the upper hand.

Ryne slipped past the two, giving them a wide berth as they danced, and came to join me on the other side of the room, but I only had eyes for the fight. I watched as the muscles in the Ascian’s back tensed and released with his movements, the hard muscles on his abdomen more prominent with his shirt off. I sucked in a breath and chewed on the inside of my mouth, trying to hide the fact that I was more focused on how attractive I found him rather than the safety of my friend.

“Don’t worry,” Ryne said, softly. “Just let them get it out.” I almost laughed at her words, the poor, innocent child. Emet-Selch’s eyes met mine for a single moment and he smirked, knowingly, before grabbing ahold of the Scion’s wrist as he charged and twisted his arm back. The knife fell out of Thancred’s hand. The Ascian caught it, by the blade, in his free hand and flipped it so the hilt was in his palm instead. He held it to his opponent’s throat.

“Are you finished?” Thancred fumed, breathing heavily through his nose, but nodded, cautiously so as to not cut his neck. Emet-Selch released him, dropping the knife back on to the table. He took hold of the shuriken still embedded in his shoulder and tore it out with naught but a sharp intake of breath and my eyes widened as Ryne gasped again. He let it fall from his fingers, clanging against the dagger, droplets of blood splashing on the wood surface.

“I suppose I ought to thank you, Scion. It’s been quite a few decades since I’ve had to dust that particular branch of martial arts off and this was a very nice refresher.”

“What-what is going on here?” Alisaie’s voice implored from the doorway.

I glanced over to see we had acquired an audience. It seemed the entirety of the Scions had arrived with Thancred that morning. I suppose I did steal a rather important book, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

The twins stood in the front, hands poised over their weapons, ready to draw should the need arise, Urianger behind them, observing quietly, as he usually did. Y’shtola was leaning against the wall, arms crossed over her chest, her eyes closed, a frown on her lips.

I opened my mouth to say...I didn’t know what, exactly, but Ryne rushed forward towards Emet-Selch to examine his shoulder. He tried to pull out of the grasp of her hands, hissing when she touched the area.

“At least let me-”

“I’m fine, child.”

“But-”

“I assure you, I don’t need-”

“Emet-Selch, you’re going to let me heal you!” I blinked, looking at the girl. I’d never seen her be so assertive- I was almost proud. It went quiet, all of the other faces in the room were watching with mouths hanging open. He stared down at her, eyebrows so high on his head I thought they’d detach themselves entirely, but she didn’t back down, insistent that he agreed. Y’shtola stood off the wall suddenly, eyes narrowing towards them.

“Fine,” he finally agreed, shrugging his good shoulder.

“Good,” she said. “Stand still.”

A healing light shone from her hand, warm and bright. She lifted her hand towards his shoulder, and I watched the wound start knitting itself together.

Y’shtola was shouldering past our friends in a second, almost frantic as she tried to make it to the front.

“Wait, Ryne, don’t-”

There was a bright light- a light that wasn’t the Oracle’s magic. Immediately, she dropped to the ground like a stone. Emet-Selch groaned and I sucked in a sharp breath as he fell to one knee, head in his hands.

Chapter Text

I flinched at the feeling of the Oracle’s healing magic contact my skin, both wary of and revolted by the Light. I could feel the warmth spread through my shoulder and looked down to watch the wound repair itself under her careful control of her magic.

Suddenly, my vision blurred. A searing heat pierced my mind, bright light filling my vision and my body felt engulfed in flames. I could vaguely make out the sound of chaos break out around me as I collapsed to my knees, the Warrior of Light trying to prod my mind, but I found myself unable to respond.

And then I was standing in front of a giant crystal that pulsed with aetherial Light. Its presence was warm, inviting and calm. I surveyed my surroundings for a moment before a voice spoke out.

“Child of Zodiark,” it said, though I felt as if it was deep in my mind rather than spoken aloud. “You have fought hard, and for noble reasons. Your time has come to rest.”

“I want none of your rest,” my voice replied bitterly to the Mothercrystal, and it took me a moment to realize that I had truly been the one to speak it.

“My champion has cleansed you from your binding to Zodiark, and as such, I offer you passage to the Lifestream,” the Mothercrystal replied, seemingly unphased. 

I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “As opposed to what?”

“Oblivion. Your actions are not those that I can easily condone. But you have friends who have vouched for you, and so I offer you an opportunity to make reparations for your crimes.”

I was silent for a moment. “There is but one soul who matters to me, if she is not present in your Lifestream, I would rather be banished to Oblivion.”

The Mothercrystal’s glow increased in intensity. “The soul of which you speak was innocent and as such would be allowed entry here.”

I looked down and clenched my fists. When I looked back at the Mothercrystal, She continued, “My terms are thus: You will be permitted to eventually stay among your friends and loved ones, but I will bind your powers of Darkness.”

“If I agree to your terms, this binding of my aether, I will see Persephone again?” I asked, clearly, unsure if I was willing to believe Hydaelyn without clarification.

The Mothercrystal dimmed slightly. “Those are the terms.”

Before I could respond, I was on one knee in the room at the camp of the Night’s Blessed, a blinding light surrounding myself and the Oracle, who groaned as her eyes fluttered open. I furrowed my brow at her as the light around us dimmed.

My mind was reeling from what I had just seen. I felt the missing piece of my memory seemingly click into place and I realized that I had witnessed the deal Hytholdaeus told me of. I tried to control the fury that bubbled up within me, realizing the lies and manipulation Hydaelyn had used to bind me. But this was neither the time nor place for me to consider the gravity of such a memory, and I took a deep breath as I pushed it from my mind.

I decided, instead, to focus on confirming the Oracle’s wellbeing and offered my hand to help her sit up when I heard the shifting of feet around me. I glanced up to see the Scions had unsheathed their weapons, each of them with eyes locked on me, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. 

“Are you alright?” I asked, softly as I looked to her with a frown, ignoring the obviously murderous aura in the room. I could only assume they believed I had harmed her in some way.

She blinked at me and accepted my hand, sitting up but maintaining her hold on me. The room went very still. “What happened…?” she asked, glancing at my shoulder.

“I could ask you the same thing,” I responded, the bite in my tone uncontainable.

“I saw… you. I was speaking to you…” she trailed off and looked down at her hand that she had been using to heal me. “Well, not me … the Mother…”

I shook my head slowly, unwilling to let her continue, a part of me suspecting she had seen the same vision I had. “A conversation for another time, perhaps. Can you stand?” She looked back at me with sad eyes but nodded.

I stood slowly, pulling her up along with me. Her aether seemed stable-- my eyes widened and I looked down at my free hand, flexing my fingers. I could feel the aether flowing through my body freely, unencumbered as some traces of the Light began to dissipate. The faint hum of the Lifestream sung in the back of my mind, and I shut my eyes, tilting my head back with a long shuddering sigh. I let myself relish the feeling of my power as it returned, my skin tingling with its currents, my mind finally sensing the feeling of all the aetheric life present in the room.

The miqo’te spoke then, carefully. “Ryne. Step away from Emet-Selch.” I snapped my gaze to hers and raised a brow. Of course she could tell. Her eyes were trained on me, her staff at the ready, and I could see the aether she had accumulated within it in preparation for a powerful incantation.

Her Scion companions looked to her for more information, but she offered none forth. I smirked at her obvious attempt to keep things from escalating.

“By your Twelve, Scions… I daresay one of the greatest feelings is knowing that you are once more one of the most powerful people in the room.” I raised my hand and snapped my fingers. All of their weapons disappeared, reappearing neatly aligned on the table with the hero's weapon.

I looked down at the child, who was looking at me with wide eyes. “You have been most helpful, Oracle. Thank you.”

I finally noticed a rush of worry filling my mind and I moved my gaze to slowly meet the Warrior's eyes. She took a step towards us, hesitating for only a moment before she moved to swiftly place herself between myself and the Scions, kneeling in front of the Oracle. “Are you okay, Ryne?” she asked, but her mind prompted the same question to me.

I released the Oracle’s hand just as the hero moved hers up to her young charge’s shoulder, allowing our fingers to brush against each other and linger for a brief moment. She glanced up at me from the corner of her eye and I gave her a small reassuring nod. The worry immediately shifted to relief and I stretched my arms above my head with an intentionally dramatic yawn.

“Well!” I began, placing my hands on my hips. “This has been an exciting morning. Is it always like this with you lot?” I glanced around the room and noticed my shirt still discarded on the floor. With a snap of my fingers, it and the waistcoat I had left in the other room rematerialized on my body.

The female twin frowned at me, her tone heavy with sarcasm. “Would you believe that it’s only when Ascians are involved?”

The corners of my lips curled into a sly grin. “So, always then?” If only they knew, I mused at the Warrior and she immediately tensed. My lips are sealed, for the time being. Don’t fret, hero.

The girl rolled her eyes and shook her head, but the interaction seemed to lessen the tension of the room, if only by a fraction.

“Ah, I had nearly forgotten.” I brought my attention back to the Oracle, who had been quietly discussing how she felt with the hero. “I promised you I’d consider providing you with some training when my powers returned, did I not? Since you have aided in the recovery of mine, it would be remiss of me to not return the favor in some way.”

She looked at me and then back at the Warrior of Light with pleading eyes. “I want to learn how to imbue my weapons as you do. Do you think I’d be able to? I promise I won’t push myself,” she begged and the Warrior sighed heavily before she looked at me sternly.

“Emet-Selch, I swear if you don’t make sure she stops before she hurts herself…” she trailed off.

“Yes, yes , you’ll put me back where you found me. Noted, hero. You have my word.”

Chapter Text

“Now hold on a Gods damned minute!” Thancred shouted. Alisaie’s mouth dropped open at our interaction. Alphinaud, still tense, knitted his eyebrows together and Urianger lifted one eyebrow. Y’shtola pinched the bridge of her nose with two fingers. All of the tension that had started fading from the room was now back.

“Thancred, must you always be so hot tempered?”

He spun on the miqo’te, fuming. “I’m her guardian, if you’ve forgotten. I should be the one to decide such things and I will not have an Ascian training her in anything!” I sighed and shook my head. About the only thing he hadn’t done at this point was spit in Emet-Selch’s face, and I wasn’t sure he still wouldn’t.

Nice going, Harbringer of Chaos, I said to him with a roll of my eyes. I could feel a tightness through the tether between us. When I looked at him, the worry that I’d been feeling just minutes before returned. He wasn’t paying attention to the matter at hand, his eyes unfocused and far away, his mouth a thin, hard line, unable to keep whatever it was from his mind, no matter how hard he had tried.

“Yes, but could we not speak of this in a calm, composed manner?” she asked, holding a hand out towards the door. “In my chambers, perhaps?”

“We’re just going to leave him here to do Twelve knows what? We should be locking him up!”

“As if we could hold an Ascian anywhere?” The Scion stewed over our companion's words before shooting a hateful glance at him before leaving the room in large, quick strides, more than likely wanting to be as far away from him as possible. The others followed suit, picking up their weapons from the table and quietly shuffled out of the room. Y’shtola was the last to depart, hesitation in her stance as she watched us. She must have deduced that he was not an immediate threat to our safety and inclined her head towards me, granting us the privacy for a conversation with each other before joining them in their meeting.

When she was out of the room, I slumped down onto my bed, dropping my head into my hands. “Well, that went well,” I remarked, rubbing my face. “What happened?”

“Well, I…” I lifted my head again. Ryne hesitated, looking over at Emet-Selch. “I...It was like I was there, again, in the dream during his sentencing. But this time…”

I waved my hand so she would stop and stood up again. I approached the Ascian with some caution, he still seemed to be on another world. I placed my hand on his arm and he blinked, focusing on me again.

“What is it?”

He chewed on the inside of his mouth for a few moments, trying to find the words. I could feel the turmoil roiling around inside of him. My stomach clenched, worried and nervous for what he was about to tell me.

“My being in the Lifestream for an extended period of time was not the problem,” he started. His words were poison as he spoke, thick with distaste. “Your blessed Mother purposefully bound my powers. That was the agreement.” I furrowed my brow.

“That...that doesn’t seem so bad in comparison,” I said, carefully, running my hand down the length of his arm.

“In comparison to what, exactly?” I paused, the anger in his voice directed at me, and looked down, eyes locked on the black of his pants.

“You could be…” I dropped my hand to my side. In Oblivion. I could feel some of his anger start to evaporate as he absorbed the truth of my words. At least he was here with me.

“But that’s not it,” Ryne said, her voice soft and sad. “She-”

“Oracle.” The tension was back in an instant. His voice was short and commanding, enough that she stopped talking. I looked at the girl, my expression telling her to finish. She looked between the both of us for a moment, her eyes finally stopping on me.

“She lied-”

“Silence, child. I do not wish to speak about this now.” Ryne’s mouth snapped shut, frightened of his tone.

Without another word, Emet-Selch spun on his heels, heading for the room he’d abandoned the night before in favor of my bed. I sucked in a breath and chased after him, but the door was slammed in my face. I lifted my arm to knock, to implore him to talk to me, but I felt the bond go silent between us.

Hurt washed over me and I instead laid my hand on the door, gently. My chest ached- for him, for me, for everything. He was keeping things from me, I was keeping things from my friends… I detested this feeling with my entire being. I pressed my forehead against the wood and took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to hold back the sob that was clawing its way up my throat.

“Fine,” I whispered, more to myself than anything. “I’ll...go.”

I pushed myself off the door and wandered back to my room. I instructed Ryne to stay put- to sit quietly and read while I went to talk with the Scions, with the promise that we would continue this conversation later.

I sighed, not knowing how I was going to explain this those I considered friends. I didn’t know...anything... Except that...maybe they deserved to hear the little I could tell them.

I could hear Thancred’s shouting before I even approached the door. I took a deep breath, mustering all of my courage to go in and face them.

“Could you calm down for one moment?” Alisaie’s voice said, frustrated. I stopped for a moment to listen.

“I agree,” Alphinaud chimed in, after his sister. “This is hardly productive.”

“Master Matoya, what sayest thou? Pray, what hast thou observed during their time here?” I froze. I was being watched?

“They have been here less than a day, Urianger,” Y’shtola started. “It’s hardly enough time to observe much of anything.”

“Don’t give me that,” Thancred said, anger still lacing his words. “We all know you’re watching every second of every day.” She huffed a laugh.

“Of course, you’re right, my friend.” She paused for a moment, but for what I wasn’t sure. “I was not particularly worried at first, since his aether seemed as if it were sealed... I chose, instead, to be a silent observer and watched from afar. But…”

“But?”

“Well, they’ve...become close. I have never encountered anything like this before.”

“Close? In what sense?” Alisaie asked.

“It’s difficult to explain. When they are not together, it is very easy to tell them apart,” the mage started again. “But when they’re merely next to each other- their aether changes. It’s almost like...they’re the same person.”

“What does that mean?”

“I...can honestly say I am not sure.” She sighed loud enough for me to hear through the door.

A quiet descended upon them as they absorbed Y’shtola’s words.

“Well,” Thancred’s voice broke the silence. “We need to keep an eye on her. On both of them.”

I bristled and narrowed my eyes at the wood. My teeth clenched.

“I don’t like this,” Alphinaud said.

“Neither do I.” A heavy sigh. “But since she seems to want to be secretive, we have no choice. She’s aligned herself to someone who just weeks ago tried to kill all of us. I all but told her she was acting suspect and she decided not to heed my words. What if she’s planning-”

“Don’t you finish that sentence,” Alphinaud interjected, cutting him off. “You know the implications of what you’re about to say.”

“What of it? She’s keeping us in the dark. Why would she do such a thing if she weren’t about to betray us? She’s been a ghost ever since we defeated him, and now, suddenly, the moment he’s returned, she’s at his side and refuses to tell us anything?”

How? How was I supposed to...tell them this? How was I supposed to explain to them something I didn’t even understand? I had almost all the power in the world now and in this moment, I felt absolutely powerless. And they...they had turned on me in an instant. I had thought… Was I...idiotic for not expecting this to happen? My jaw cramped as I ground my teeth together. They’d made me feel so stupid...

I curled my hands into fists as rage replaced the sadness rising in my chest and I decided against joining them, against telling them. I would not be able to hold my temper if I were to try to speak to them. If they couldn’t trust me for one moment, they didn’t deserve the truth. Instead, I spun on my heels and went back to my room. Ryne had vacated it and taken the book with her.

Good, she didn’t need to see me like this.

I slammed the door behind me, hard enough that my daggers, still sitting on the table, shuddered from the force.

Chapter Text

I could see the shadow cast from where the Warrior of Light stood outside the door. She lingered for a moment and I considered opening it for her, but the sound of her departing footsteps stopped me.

Standing in the center of the room, I tried with all my might to maintain the temporary block on the bond while also battling the overwhelming fury that was building inside me. I clenched my hands into fists and realized that I was unable to stop the uncontrollable shaking of my hands. My breathing was coming out in heavy pants. 

I felt stupid for allowing myself to be tricked. I should have known. I was a fool who let my emotions cloud my judgment. 

And even now, I knew my powers still were not completely what they once were. I could not summon a void portal, try as I might. I felt as if I was half of what I once was. Perhaps the Mother had sundered me as well with her binding. I wouldn’t be surprised.

I wanted to leave. I wanted to get as far away from these followers of Hydaelyn. From those blessed by the disgusting, infuriating Light. I could simply harm anyone who tried to stop me, but what would that accomplish? 

Nothing, besides perhaps forcing the Warrior of Light to, once more, stand on the opposite side of the battlefield from me. As soon as I considered that possibility, I knew with every fiber of my being that I did not wish for that to happen.

But honestly, who was to say that wouldn’t be the end result anyway? How did I know things would be different this time? I didn’t. I was being naive, foolish and completely…

I grabbed the vase from the table next to me and threw it against the wall. Just as it made an impact, I heard the familiar hum of a void portal.

“I was wondering how long it would take for you to show up,” I bit out, turning to face the shade of Elidibus that stood before me. “To what do I owe the great displeasure of your visit, Emissary?”

“I only just felt your return,” he replied, his tone bored. “I’m curious how you managed to do so.”

I laughed humorlessly. “My powers were locked for some time by Hydaelyn, which is perhaps why you did not notice me. As far as how, I have Her champion to thank.”

He raised his hand to his face in thought. “The Warrior of Light aided in your return? Fascinating.”

“Make of that what you will, Elidibus. I’m in no mood for conversation.”

“I do hope you are not allowing your fondness for that particular soul cloud your judgment and stop you from your tasks. Hydaelyn will take advantage of such weakness.”

I scoffed and crossed my arms. “She already has.”

“Yes, I can see that your powers have not been completely restored. I will see if I can find a solution. In the meantime, I assume you have no need for me to tell you what must be done, Emet-Selch,” he turned to the portal that he created, walking into it and looking over his shoulder before he disappeared. “Try not to fail this time.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose and exhaled sharply before snapping my fingers to restore the broken vase to its place on the table. I just wanted to sleep until the anger was gone, but even as I threw myself onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling, sleep never came.

My fury slowly ebbed into mild aggravation. As more time passed, I just felt trapped. Alone. The more my mind danced around the implications of everything that had occured the more I felt helpless, cornered by my responsibilities as a Paragon of the Source to bring about the Ardor. 

I looked in the direction of the Warrior of Light, the tether linking our souls providing a faint yet distinct tug in her direction despite the mental block I had initiated on the bond, and sighed heavily. Her absence only worsened how I felt, try as I might to deny it.

With a grunt, I raised myself off the bed and made my way over to her room. I hesitated at the door before I took a slow breath and knocked. There was the sound of movement on the other side and eventually, the door creaked open. She looked at me for a moment, her expression carefully crafted, before sighing and gesturing that I come inside, wordlessly.

Closing the door behind me, she stood with her arms crossed. I could not make out what emotions were hiding behind her meticulously placed facial expression. We locked eyes and stood in silence for several seconds before she cleared her throat. “Are you alright?”

I opened my mouth to respond but found the words would not come. I clenched my fists and looked down, shutting my eyes tightly. With that one question, I felt the walls I had created to hold everything I was feeling begin to crumble. The reality that our respite had possibly come to an end, that I would soon be considered her enemy once more, struck me with a force I had not been prepared for. Perhaps Elidibus was right, perhaps my attachment to her had become a weakness.

I could feel a horrible tightness in my throat and I took several deep breaths, trying to calm myself. She was immediately at my side, her hand on my back, her tone full of concern. “What happened?”

I shook my head, finding that I was unable to speak even if I wanted to. What would I say? How could I tell her the reality of the situation? That my mission remained the same, regardless of all we had shared recently? That Hydaelyn had deceived me, further cementing my position as a champion of Zodiark? That I would likely have to face her again, that we would battle once more? The idea of having to combat her, my Darkness against her Light, brought about an unfathomable dread that tore through me. 

And yet… I just wanted to feel close to her, to feel her arms around me, to feel her warmth. I couldn’t explain it--it wasn’t rational. As if she heard my thoughts, she moved to stand in front of me and embraced me, her hands rubbing up and down my back in a soothing way.

“If you would just… let me in. Maybe I could help? I just need to understand what happened to make you this upset.”

I hesitated, unsure if I could bring myself to reveal everything to her, but eventually I nodded against her shoulder as I wrapped my arms around her as well. As soon as I let the channel between us open, however, I was flooded with an overpowering variety of emotions from her

She took a deep breath and tightened her arms around me, trying to comfort me despite the hurt, confusion and anger she herself was feeling. I tensed against her and put my hands to her shoulders to gently push her back. Searching her eyes, I found she was still trying to mask how she truly felt in favor of making sure I was alright. Ever the selfless hero.

I stepped back from her and snapped my fingers. A shimmering bubble appeared along the perimeter of the room and she looked around, tilting her head.

“Soundproof,” I bit out, crossing my arms, the annoyance resurfacing within me. I felt her confusion increase and permeate through the tether and she looked at me with a furrowed brow.

“Do not play this game with me, Warrior of Light,” I started, trying to keep my voice level and calm. “I cannot promise I will be able to contain my anger if you don’t start being honest with me.”

“I… I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

My temper flared at her predictably heroic answer and I threw my arms up, the anger at our circumstances bubbling up once more. “No, I’m not one of your weak in need of succor, hero. If you’re upset with me for my actions--and you should be-- be upset with me .

I turned away from her, pacing a few steps away before I turned back around, pointing an accusatory finger at her as I raised my voice. She shrunk back. 

“Don’t handle me with these gloves that you handle everyone else with, worried that I’ll break. For thousands of years I’ve been broken, so I don’t need you to coddle me! What I need is for you, with all of that infernal Light of yours, to just be honest with me!”

I paused and took a deep breath. Averting my gaze from hers, I spoke softer now. “I’ve had enough of these lies caused by you wanting to respond how you believe you are expected to. Just this once, don’t be the hero. Just this once , be true to yourself.”

She seemed to collect her thoughts and took a deep breath.

“I’m terrified,” she started, barely audible. 

She cleared her throat and resumed, louder this time as she locked her eyes with mine. “I’m terrified because I have these feelings that I don’t fully understand for a man who just a few weeks ago was willing--and maybe even plotting--to turn me into a sin eater.”

I frowned, opening my mouth to respond but she cut me off by lifting her hand up.

“I’m scared to tell my friends the truth of what’s going on between us. They’re already being judgemental,” she faltered, her voice cracking and she took a shaking breath, tears welling up in her eyes. “They don’t trust me. I heard them say as much.”

She wrapped her arms around herself as the tears began to spill from her eyes and looked away from me. “I’m confused, because I don’t know how or why I got here. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this.”

I walked up to her slowly and placed a hand on her shoulder, prompting her to look up at me once more. She took a deep breath to try to calm herself down before she continued. “I’m worried, for your safety, for your wellbeing, for your sanity. Every second of every day since I started having these dreams and feeling the way I’ve started to feel about you.” 

“But the most terrifying thing for me is… I was fine on my own, before you. And now, I feel lonely and sad all the time , except when you’re here. When you shut me out before I just…” She buried her face into her hands with a sob and I moved immediately to wrap my arms tightly around her. She gripped the cloth of my shirt and I ran my fingers through her hair as she let herself release all the emotions she had bottled up.

We stood there for several minutes as I rocked us in place to try to soothe her before she finally began to calm down. She looked up at me and I moved one of my hands to wipe away the trails that the tears had left behind. “You wanted honesty, Emet-Selch. You have it."

I forced a small smile. “Well, my problems are terribly benign compared to all that, I’m afraid.”

She laughed in spite of herself and rolled her eyes with a sniffle. I leaned down to press a gentle kiss against her forehead. “I apologize…for raising my voice. And for shutting you out. If I do it again, just know it’s for a good reason.”

She nodded slowly and I continued, “And I will answer any of your questions honestly when I am ready. I just… have a lot of nonsensical thoughts to sort through. But you will be the first to know.”

She took a deep breath and slowly wrapped her arms around me, resting her cheek against my chest. I kissed the top of her head and continued running my fingers through her hair, before a realization struck. 

“Wait… you said the Scions don’t trust you?” 

She nodded against my chest and tightened her grip around me. 

“And you heard them say this?” 

Another nod. 

“Would you show me?” 

She hesitated, but recalled the memory and allowed it to channel through our bond, recounting the events earlier in the day in which she overheard the Scions speaking about her. I narrowed my eyes as it played out.

In that moment, I made the decision to prioritize settling what had occurred between her and her friends instead of burdening her what was upsetting me, hypocritical though it may be. 

“Would you be opposed if I stayed with you tonight?” She shook her head against my body and I snapped my fingers, bringing us under the covers of her bed, our arms still wrapped tightly around each other. I exhaled slowly. “We can discuss how to handle this in the morning. Once we’ve rectified this situation, we can proceed with the trivial matter that was bothering me. Yours is simply much more pressing than mine.”

Chapter Text

I sighed when I felt him move us to the bed. The warmth of his body against me was supplemented by my blanket, and suddenly I was surrounded by nothing but comfort after he let me cry myself raw. I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead to his chest.

I never wanted to move again. I never wanted to walk through this life without his arms around me, especially in this moment. If I could have stayed right here for the rest of my life, I would have, never having to speak to anyone else. Never having to play hero for the very people who...

“Calm your mind, hero, “ he said as he lifted his hand and snapped once more. The lights above us went out, leaving us in total darkness. He moved so he was lying on his back and pulled me into his side. I rested my head against his chest and stretched my arm across his stomach as I settled into him for the night. “We’ll settle this matter and things will go back to normal.”

I felt a little guilty. I had only meant to comfort him, but instead, he was here comforting me. How did I deserve this? I felt selfish- he had his problems too. In response to my thoughts, he squeezed me tight and I breathed a laugh.

“Okay,” I acquiesced. He didn’t even have to say a word. “Okay, I’ll go to sleep.”

I exhaled a long breath and relaxed my body. When I did, he released his tension. He sighed as well, lightly running his fingers up and down the arm that was lain across his torso. “Sleep well, hero, for I am not going anywhere. Get as much rest as you need. It has been a hard day for the both of us.”

And I did. Despite everything that happened that day, that night, in his arms, I slept better than I had since I was a child with no worldly burdens to bear.

When I woke in the morning, I was feeling much better, though I wasn’t sure I was ready to face the others quite yet.

I sat up a little, looking at my Ascian’s peaceful face. His lips had parted as he slept, the lines etched on his face smoothed out. His arm, still around me, slowly made its way down to my backside as I gazed down at him. I huffed a laugh and leaned forward, burying my face in his neck, nuzzling the skin I found there with my nose.

“What?” he asked, low and groggy, still thick with sleep. His voice rumbled in his chest and I felt the vibration against my arm. “Can’t I look and touch?”

I lifted my head again and left a small kiss on his jawbone, just below his ear. “Oh,” I said, feigning annoyance. “I suppose.”

He paused, then removed his hands from my body, holding them up in the air in surrender, leaving me cold again, even under the blanket. I felt a playful stroke down the tether. “Well, in that case, I just won’t touch you at-”

I leaned in, pressing my lips against his, cutting off the rest of his sentence. He arms went around me again, crushing me against him as he kissed me back, a small hum leaving his body when he exhaled through his nose.

“Don’t,” I whispered when I’d pulled away, keeping my eyes closed and my face near his. “Don’t ever stop.” I laid my head down again on his chest, listening to the beat of his heart. He ran his fingers down the length of my back, the lightness of his movement tickling my skin.

I’m not sure how long we laid like that, wordlessy, just soaking in each other’s company, before there was a knock on the door.

“Y’shtola told me to tell you to come to breakfast,” Ryne’s sweet voice filtered in through the wood. She sounded sad, but hopeful that we’d be present. Emet-Selch lifted his head.

“Thank you, Oracle,” he called back to her. When she had departed, he slid his arm out from under me as he sat up to get ready to get some food. I made no attempt to move, except to lay on my back, pouting. He leaned over me, brushing some hair out of my face. “Aren’t you hungry?”

I looked towards the door, a frown on my face. Sure, I wanted something to eat. I hadn’t left my room most of yesterday nor all night but the thought of seeing the Scions after the things they’d said made my stomach twist.

The Ascian leaned down and placed a small kiss on my cheek. “Don’t worry. I’ll bring you something back.”

Over the next few days, I hardly surfaced from my room. Emet-Selch indulged me, but I could feel that he didn’t like it. I could feel his anger at the Scions steadily rising for making me feel the way I did.

One morning, he forced me to go outside. I didn’t mind, just as long as I didn’t have to talk to anyone, with the exception of Ryne.

So, there I sat, in the grass, in the middle of a clearing, my legs crossed, barely watching as she did her drills. I leaned back on my hands, gently digging my fingers into the soft earth beneath me. She noticed my listlessness and I almost hadn’t realized she’d sat beside me before speaking.

“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?”

I sighed through my nose, my shoulders slumping slightly. I looked down at my lap. “There’s always something wrong, Ryne.”

“No, but…” She fiddled with her sleeve. “I’ve never seen you like this.”

“I’m just tired.” She nodded, but her eyes were still downcast. “What’s on your mind?”

“That vision that Emet-Selch and I shared…,” she started after a few long seconds of silence between us. “It’s really weighing heavily on me, is all.” I sat up straight again, and reached a hand out to run my fingers through her long hair.

“You can always talk to me, you know.”

“I don’t want to burden you.”

I smiled, softly, and it felt like the first time in days. “My problems will be dealt with in time. Yours are important, too. You’ll never be a burden, Ryne.”

Her blue eyes searched mine for a few moments before she nodded and looked down at her lap.

“It’s just that...Hydaelyn lied to him. I’m sure that this isn’t the only reason he’s upset, but…” She sighed. “The Mother told him that the soul of his Persephone was in the Lifestream to get him to agree. She...she tricked him.”

Her words laid over me like a thick haze of pollen and for a moment, I couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t want to believe it was malicious,” she continued. “I want to believe that She did it for a reason…”

“It’s hard,” I started once I caught my breath, moving her so that her back was facing me. I brushed the long strands of her hair out with my fingers and started braiding it back. “It’s hard to truly understand this game the Gods play with us.”

“Mm…”

“Why don’t you come to my room today?” I pulled the tie out of my own hair so I could wrap it around the bottom of the braid I’d just fashioned into hers. My locks fell over my shoulders. “And bring the book, if you can. Emet-Selch is there. We could sit and read it together. It would help me feel better.”

She turned, finally a smile on her face. She nodded enthusiastically. “That sounds great! Truly, I’ve missed his lessons. I’m sure Urianger won’t deny me a request to take it for a few hours.”

“Just make sure to ask him first. We don’t need Thancred bursting into my room again, throwing my shurikens at others all because a Gods damned book is missing.”

Ryne giggled at my comment. I nodded my head towards the striking dummies I’d Created for her.

“Okay, back to work.”

Chapter Text

It had taken me nearly a week to convince the Warrior of Light to leave the stuffy confines of her room. She hadn’t wanted to see any of the Scions, understandably so, and with each day I found the pain she was feeling begin to feed the anger that was bubbling beneath my exterior. I watched from a distance, trying to see if any of them would approach her to discover why she had withdrawn from them, but aside from the Oracle, no one tried. 

I acted cordially enough with them at breakfast, though I admit I was attending at first with the intent of making them uncomfortable out of spite. But now, feeling her sadness and sense of isolation increase with each passing day, I had reached my boiling point. Before we went to sleep for the night, I resolved that I would say something the next day to the Scions, though I was certain she didn’t want me to.

When we awoke the next morning, it was before the sun. I exhaled sharply through my nose and pulled her close to me, laying on my back with her head against my chest.

“Tell me, hero.” I started, my hand running up and down the length of her side slowly. She tilted her head to look up at me. “Do you think my staying with you during the night is making things worse?”

She shrugged slightly, but the racing of her thoughts gave her away. She had considered it. I nodded and stayed silent for a moment before asking, “Do you care what they think?”

“To some degree. They’re my friends. We’ve been through everything together,” she started, speaking softly. “But I think they just don’t understand what’s happening and they won’t give you the chance.”

“Hmm… but can you truly blame them? We have not been entirely forthcoming about the nature of what it is we share. And they aren’t afforded the same bond with me that you are, so to them, I am what I always was.” I squeezed her tightly and whispered dramatically, “Evil darkness incarnate.”

She laughed softly, her mind at ease once more. “Darkness isn’t all that bad,” she mused and I breathed a chuckle.

“Careful, Warrior of Light. I daresay you’re treading upon blasphemous ground,” I teased and pressed my lips to her forehead. She propped herself up, her eyes searching mine for a moment and I raised a brow. 

“If you’re darkness incarnate, it can’t be that bad,” she whispered after a few seconds as she leaned in, bringing her face closer to mine. I could feel an influx of emotion from her through the tether between us, the genuine affection she had begun to feel for me. 

I leaned up and pressed my lips to hers, slowly moving to position us so I hovered above her as the kiss began building in intensity. She brought her hands up to thread her fingers through my hair and I slid a hand down along her curves, halting at the hem of her nightshirt. She lifted herself up slightly, already understanding my intent and I slid my hand under the cloth, slowly inching it upwards. 

We broke the kiss for a moment to remove the nightshirt, and I slowly looked along the length of her body, watching as she flushed from the lust in my gaze. She reached her hands up for the back of my neck once more and tried to pull me down to her, her mind racing with an urgent need to feel my lips on hers.

I chuckled and shook my head, moving a hand to extract hers from my neck before pinning them above her head by her wrists. “This time… I just want you to focus on what you feel.”

I snapped the fingers of my free hand, creating a sound barrier around us as I had before. She furrowed her brow at me in confusion, her breathing heavy. I brought my lips to hers tenderly, eliciting a small sound of protest when I broke off too soon for her liking, trailing slow kisses down her jawline. 

“You still feel things just as any mortal does,” I explained between kisses. “But you are not just  any  mortal. Do you remember our first kiss? The intensity of it?” 

She nodded and took a deep breath. “Just feel me, hero.” I could feel her reach to actively connect her mind to mine the way she had the first morning, the conduit between our souls running freely, allowing me to more easily share what I was feeling. 

When she had, I ran the tip of my nose along the length of her neck, exhaling softly as I slowly let her feel the strength of my desire for her. She shuddered and a soft whimper escaped her lips. I nipped at the skin of her neck, before kissing downwards, my hand releasing her wrists and she moved her hands to grip the pillow above her head. 

I kissed along her collarbone, and then down the middle of her chest towards her breasts, pausing for a moment between them before I moved my lips to trace the upper border of her smallclothes with soft, lingering kisses. I gently nudged the fabric aside with the tip of my nose, continuing to press my lips to every ilm of the newly exposed skin. She moaned softly, gripping more tightly at the pillow as I continued trailing kisses along her skin, eventually working my way down her body, pouring the affection I felt for her into her mind with each time my lips contacted her flesh.

When my lips reached her navel, I traced the waistband of her underwear with the tip of my tongue before blowing a soft breath on her skin, eliciting a shiver that ran through her entire body. I placed my hands on her hips, hooking my thumbs into the waistband as I looked up at her, conveying my intention to her wordlessly. 

She took an unsteady breath and nodded as she bit her lower lip, her nervousness from her inexperience reaching my mind. I slowly slid the garment down her legs, my hands brushing along the skin of her thighs as I lowered the cloth down to her knees. She brought her legs together tightly in her timidness and I glanced up at her to find her face flushed a deep shade of red. 

Huffing a chuckle, I began tenderly kissing my way back up her body, hovering my lips above hers as I let my hands slowly run up and down her thighs in a gentle caress to reassure her, patiently waiting for her to be ready for me to proceed. She exhaled shakily and released her lip from her teeth, craning her neck to press her lips to mine as she finally relaxed her legs.

I moved one of my hands then to trail slowly from the inner surface at her knee, up along her inner thigh, moving my lips against hers with increasing intensity and she finally released her grip on the pillow to wrap her arms around me. When I finally moved my hand between her legs, teasing with gentle pressure, I was rewarded with a gasp followed by a throaty moan and I grinned against her lips at the enthusiasm of her response.

I continued my ministrations, slowly increasing the intensity of my movements in tandem with increasing the desire I let her feel. Her hands trailed upwards to tangle her fingers in my hair, tugging at it firmly as her hips moved with the desperation building in her mind, the tension mounting throughout her body. I could feel her breathing grow more frantic against my lips and she cried out as she arched her back, letting herself be overcome with sensation as she reached her climax, amplified by the hunger for her that I had been projecting. 

Soon afterward, she began trembling and I could feel that she had been overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotions I had projected to her in conjunction with her own. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes and I pulled back to watch her intently as she tried to overcome the sensory overload she had experienced, her breathing coming out in pants as she tightly shut her eyes. 

“It’s alright, my dear hero,” I whispered to her in an attempt to provide her with some small measure of comfort. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes to meet my gaze, and I couldn’t stop the shiver that shook through my body at the raw emotion I saw there. She was stunning, uninhibited as she had been while she gave in to what she was feeling, and I was sure she knew the profound effect she had on me. 

I leaned down to place a soft kiss on her forehead before moving to lay on my back next to her, extending an arm out as she adjusted herself to press herself flush against my side. I wrapped my arm around her and reached with my other hand to find one of hers, twining our fingers together. She slowly began to catch her breath as we lay in silence.

I could feel the turmoil in her mind as she realized that she had not been able to handle the full brunt of the experience and I shook my head, squeezing her tightly to reassure her. “You did well,” I murmured. “Half the fun is getting used to it.”

She sighed, looking up at me with a soft smile. “Too bad it’ll never happen again,” she said, playfully reusing her own words following our first kiss.

I chuckled and rolled my eyes, pulling her closer to me as we lay in silence, simply enjoying the feeling of our arms around each other. After a few minutes, I suddenly remembered something that could help. “Hero… there may be something we could do. A ritual, of sorts, to help unlock your powers. It may help you acclimate to the eternal bond,” I offered, but before she could answer, there was a muffled knock on the door.

I snapped to take the sound barrier down in time to hear the Oracle’s voice calling us to breakfast and could tell from how the Warrior tensed that she would not be in attendance once more. Sitting up, I kissed her forehead. “Something to consider while I’m at breakfast. I will bring you a plate.”

When I entered the dining room, things grew silent as they normally did with my entry, but only for a second. The Oracle smiled at me and gestured at my usual seat next to her, and I listened as the conversation around me continued. They laughed amongst themselves, planning their upcoming return to their exploration and restoration of the Empty and I clenched my jaw. Not one of them seemed to realize that their Warrior of Light had not come down to breakfast yet again, or at the very least, no one seemed to care.

“No Warrior of Light  again ?” I asked loudly, feigning ignorance. “I do hope she’s feeling alright.”

The miqo’te mage narrowed her eyes at me with a scoff. “As if you don’t know  exactly  where she is and how she’s doing.”

I raised a brow as I went to my seat, the Oracle placing a variety of foods on my dish. “Spying on us, were you? How  very  inappropriate.”

The gunbreaker spoke up then, crossing his arms. “Only as inappropriate as whatever it is you two are doing together.”

I smirked confidently as I leaned back in my seat, picking up a piece of fruit and popping it into my mouth. “Ah, but I never kiss and tell.”

He swore under his breath and stood from his seat abruptly, the force of the movement knocking the chair over and the female twin placed her hand on his arm to try to calm him.

“But that reminds me, friends,” I started, looking around the room as I ignored his outburst. “Being as you’ve opened your table to me, I feel we’ve become close enough to compel me to confide something from deep within my very soul.”

The male twin had busied himself with righting the chair and muttering to his ill-tempered friend to sit back down, and he begrudgingly agreed. “Well? Out with it then, Ascian,” he spat out with contempt.

“Do you wish to know one of the absolute worst feelings in the world?” I paused, scanning their expressions. “Feeling as if your friends are no longer concerned for your well-being. Not that any of you would have anything to worry about, would you? Being as  close  as you all are.”

“How does the Warrior of Light feel on the matter, I wonder?” I continued and watched as they put their eating utensils down. The twins both looked down at their plates. “With the exception of the Oracle, not one of you has checked on  her.  You watch her, yes. You all watch her closely, with fear and suspicion in your eyes. But did you check to see if she was well? How do you think she feels, her old enemy seemingly caring more for her than those she considers family?”

The male twin began to speak, but I held my hand up, clicking my tongue at him with distaste. “Mind your manners, boy. I was not finished and you’ll find I have no patience for your excuses. Was it not you who wanted me to measure your worth on words and deeds?”

He furrowed his brow and I saw him clench his hands into fists.

“Your words, quite frankly, have been repulsive. And your deeds, no better.” 

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. I took a deep breath. “My return here was no accident, that much is true. You are all correct to assume the tome she found in Amaurot has something to do with it. But my potentially new motives and intentions are yet to be revealed to you, and rather than trusting your friend who has stood by you through  everything , risking her life for you… the moment she aligns herself with someone for reasons unknown, you assume the worst and turn on her.”

I looked at the astrologian who was frowning deeply. “How many times did you deceive your friends, hiding the details from them in order to make sure things transpired how  you  thought was best, I wonder? Much more than the Ascian sitting before you, I am sure. But no one has doubted you to the same extent that you doubt her.” 

I glanced around the room once more, crossing my arms across my chest. “How exceedingly reckless of you all, to isolate your hero when she is growing comfortable with someone who, in your eyes, embodies everything you oppose.”

He spoke up then, his voice soft and sad. “How didst thou hear what was said?”

I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “Did you ever stop to consider that I could  still  always be watching?”

The female twin looked up at me. “So… your intentions have changed?”

I shook my head. “They are the same, and I’m sure they will continue to be until completion. My  motives  have shifted, and thus I will endeavor to find another way. If I am unable... well, I will pray to your Twelve that you make it through to the other side.”

I stood and snapped my fingers, a plate of food appearing on my outstretched hand. “On that note, I take my leave, friends. It falls to me to make sure that your Warrior of Light eats since none of you seem to concern yourself with such things.”

I began to leave the room but stopped in my tracks, looking at the miqo’te once more. “Oh, one last thing. Aetheric signatures from one individual to another do not  mix , mage. No matter how  close  the individuals may seem.” 

I paused for a moment before my lips curled up in a sly grin. 

“Perhaps you should get your vision checked.”

Chapter Text

As I waited for Emet-Selch to come back from breakfast, I set myself in the bathtub in the adjoining bathing room. The hot water was soothing on my muscles. I laid my head back in the water, wetting my hair, and sighed.

I thought about what he had offered me: an easy acclimation to my new powers and to the bond we shared. I didn’t know what this ritual entailed, exactly, but I was willing to trust him if he thought it would help me. In spite of myself, I thought about what it would be like to not be overwhelmed- to be able to go further without being inhibited by my own emotions. The thought alone made me grin.

While I lathered soap into my hair, I thought back to earlier this morning. My face heated up, remembering the feel of his hand between my legs as I writhed under him. The arch of my back as I let everything out, baring everything I was to him in that single, strangled cry, muffled against his lips.

He was the first person I had ever opened up to like that. The only person I’d ever let my walls down for. I never wanted to give that up. Happiness… it was a foreign feeling to me. Usually I would have pushed against it with all my might in favor of my friends, the world. I was fine being miserable if it meant they were okay...but not anymore. Now all I wanted was to be able to embrace it.

I dunked my head back in the water, washing the soap from my hair when I felt a spike of anger and annoyance through the bond. I paused and frowned. What had the Scions said now, I wondered? A few minutes later, I heard the door to the bedroom open and close, then the clang of the plate he’d brought me as he set it down on the table.

Once I was done, I dried off and wrapped the towel around myself, then headed out. He was lounging on the bed, hands behind his head. He looked at me when I entered the room and I heard his breath catch as I was pulling my sodden hair over my shoulder, combing through it with my fingers. I felt my cheeks grow hot again as his eyes dragged down the length of my body, as if he hadn’t seen me in less clothing before. I walked over to the bed and leaned over him. The anger I felt from him earlier seemed to have dissipated into something resembling smug arrogance. He reached up, winding a wet lock of hair loosely around his finger. I furrowed my brow.

“I’m sure you’ll find out soon enough, hero. Go eat your breakfast.”

Before I did as he said, I left a lingering kiss on his lips. When I pulled away, he gently bit my bottom lip, letting it slowly slide out from between his teeth. I grinned and went to sit at the table. As I was eating, he stood off the bed and came up behind me. He leaned down and trailed his lips down the slope of my shoulder as I chewed on the pieces of fruit he’d gotten for me. He rested his chin in the crook of my neck, his fingers gently tugging on my hair.

“Did you think on my proposal while I was gone?”

“I think... it’s probably a good idea,” I said after I’d swallowed. Before he could respond, though, there was a knock on the door.

I stood to answer it, but the Ascian snapped his fingers and opened it instead, pushing me back down into the chair. Ryne stood just outside, hand poised to knock again.

“Come in, Oracle,” he commanded, moving away from me and sitting on the edge of the bed. “And close the door behind you.”

She did as she was bid, and when she turned back around to face us, she looked timid, today, for some reason, unsure of how to ask her question.

“W-would you, um…” She clasped her arms behind her back, looking towards the floor. “That is, Urianger said it’d be okay if you would…”

I knew what she was asking before she was able to spit it out. I glanced sideways at him. He smirked. Oh, Twelve. What had he done now?

“I would be delighted.”

A while later, I stood across an open field from Emet-Selch and Ryne as he taught her how to channel her aether. I was leaning against a tree with my arms crossed over my chest and watched, making sure he didn’t push her too hard.

I heard footsteps in the grass behind me and I looked over my shoulder to see Thancred approaching me. It took everything in me to not walk away, my stomach tying into nervous knots at his presence just thinking about what he’d said only days ago. I sighed through my nose and turned my head back towards the other two. The Ascian paused, looking back at me for a moment, making sure I was okay. I inclined my head towards him and he focused his attention back on his student.

Thancred stopped next to me and we stood in silence for a few minutes. I got the feeling that his thoughts were rolling around in his head and he was trying to sort them to carefully craft the words he wanted to say to me. I waited as patiently as I could.

“I believe,” he started, finally. “That the lot of us owe you an apology.”

“I only see you here,” I said as I glanced backwards, over my shoulder.

“Well, quite frankly, I think the others are too ashamed to face you.” I huffed a humorless laugh. “It also...may have been my idea to begin with. The others were quite skeptical about it.”

“You always were the straight-forward one.” I watched Ryne make an attempt at whatever Emet-Selch was teaching her. “He said something, didn’t he?”

“Said?” Thancred chuckled. “He gave us a right good earful, I’d say.” The corners of my lips tugged upward. I was going to kill him. Put him right back into the Lifestream. And I meant that with love.

I saw him stiffen for a moment at my thoughts from way up in front of me and I was pretty sure it wasn’t because he was scared of my killing him.

“As much as it pains me to admit, he was right. We haven’t treated you fairly,” Thancred continued. “He reminded us that you’ve stood up for us, protected us, and laid your life down for us in our most desperate hour. We should have…”

His words trailed off and I looked at him.

“We should have trusted you.” I averted my eyes and nodded. “You have your reasons for doing what you do.”

“Thank you,” I said and sighed. I looked back, once more, at the Ascian and the Oracle practicing their magic. “I know this isn’t easy. I know that you...have your misgivings about him. But, he isn’t tempered by Zodiark anymore.” I felt a gentle stroke down the tether and the tension in my muscles died away.

“I want to believe that, this time, it will be different. If a time comes in the future, when it turns out the same, then I will not hold it against you if you never trust me again. But until that time...I would appreciate it if you would just give me a chance. There is not a lot I can explain right now because I don’t know, either. All I know is that whatever this is...it’s different than the last time and I want to follow it through to the end.” He nodded, exhaling a deep breath.

“I suppose I owe you an apology, as well, Thancred.” I looked down at my crossed arms. “It’s not that I didn’t want to tell you. I just...didn’t know how to tell you something I don’t truly know for myself. And when you said those things...” I closed my eyes. “It hurt me very much.”

“I may not like it, Warrior of Light,” he noted started and I opened my eyes, lifted my head. He turned towards me, giving me a small bow. “But we’ll follow you.”

Neither of us spoke another word. We simply stood in companionable silence until the two across the field finished their lesson.

Later that night, at Emet-Selch’s behest, I joined the Scions for dinner. We had spoken briefly about the ritual he wanted to perform, and while I didn’t understand everything about it, I trusted him. And to my considerable surprise, he wanted the Scions there.

When I sat down next to him at the table, I received wide-eyed stares from nearly everyone in attendance. It made me nervous, all of their eyes focused on me, but the Ascian nudged me with his elbow and I took a deep breath.

“There is...something I must ask of you, my friends.”

A silence descended upon the room and they settled in, waiting for me to continue.

“In order to help my newfound abilities, there is a ritual that can be performed to further unlock them. I…” I looked at Emet-Selch, who nodded. “I am going to have it done and we agree that you should be there in case anything should go wrong.”

“A ritual?” Urianger asked, his eyes narrowing. With a snap of his fingers, the book appeared in front of the Ascian, who flipped through it until he’d found the page he was looking for. He pushed it towards the elezen, who leaned over to read, intently. “A ritual in which infusing the aether of an Unsundered soul into a fragmented one would make their abilities more readily accessible.”

Emet-Selch put a hand to his chin in thought. “Not an infusion, so much as...How exactly does one phrase this?” He pulled the book back to himself, looking over his own words. “As of right now, she can train some of her abilities, yes, but there is a limit on how far she can go with a mere latent power. If I were to maneuver through the maze of her aetheric network and find the lock placed upon her, I could break it, and thus her true power would be awoken.” There was a silence as he closed the book again. “In an effort to remain relatively transparent with you, this is essentially similar to the ritual used by a Paragon to awaken lesser Ascians, except I won’t be turning her into a lesser Ascian.” He sighed and sat back in his chair.

“The reason I want you lot there is because, loathe as I am to admit it, I am unsure how her soul would react to my arcane powers channeled into her with the Blessing of Light. I confess that my knowledge of Light is limited and as such, should I fail, it could rebound and wound us both.”

I looked around the table, all of my friends in thought about how to proceed. Alisaie was the first to speak up, her wild, fiery nature getting the best of her. She narrowed her eyes at him.

“And how do we know this is in her best interests?”

“I don’t think that’s really up to you, is it, girl?”

She clenched her jaw. “You’re scheming again.”

“Truly, I simply only want to he-”

She slammed her fist on the table, cutting off his words. “I don’t believe you.”

“Alisaie,” her brother said, quietly.

“No! All he wants to do is be rid of the Warrior of Light for good so that he can continue with his asinine plan of Rejoining! How can you not see-” Emet-Selch stood quickly from his chair, his body language imposing and threatening.

“You have no idea how far from the truth you are, girl. Do not presume to know my motives.” I felt the anger in him well up in my own chest as his voice rose. Alisaie backed down, quickly, at his tone. “I care more about her than any of you ever would.”

In an attempt to calm him down, I placed my hand on his arm. The Scions watched us carefully as we exchanged a few, mental words. Finally, he blew out a sigh and slumped back into his chair again.

I turned back to my friends, their mouths hanging open, with the exception of Ryne, who was sitting off to the side, trying to hide a smile.

“Well, what say you?”

Chapter Text

I glanced around at the Scions as they silently considered the proposal following the heated exchange the twin and I had. Sighing heavily, I pursed my lips.

After a few moments, I blew out a breath, speaking as calmly as I could manage. “Quite frankly, she has already agreed to it; it’s not your permission I’m here for, Scions. I’m only here to request those of you who can sense aether present to monitor her status the whole time for her safety. Her well-being is my priority, not your acceptance. The Oracle would be willing, I’m sure, so if nothing else, this entire exchange has only proven to me that trying to coexist peacefully with you lot is futile.”

Standing from my seat, I placed a hand on the Warrior of Light’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I’ve preparations to make. I’ll reach out for you when I’m ready, my dear,” I told her, speaking softly.

She nodded slowly and took a deep breath. I could feel her intention to leave the room, unsure if she could handle discussing such matters with them alone, but I implored her to stay. “Okay,” she whispered. 

As I turned the corner to the hallway, I heard the scraping of the feet of a chair from the room and the rapid approach of someone behind me when the miqo’te called out to me. I could hear a muted conversation break out amongst the Scions, but judging from the tone, it was not an angry one. I sensed no significant distress from the Warrior of Light, either, which I took as a good sign and I turned to face the mage.

“I have some reservations. If you truly wish for us to assist with such a ritual, I would hope you would be willing to answer some questions,” she stated. 

I raised a brow but nodded, gesturing that she walk with me. “So long as you don’t interfere in my preparations.” She hesitated but followed as I exited the building and approached the clearing that had been used for the Oracle’s training.

I surveyed the clearing intently, walking the perimeter slowly. With the snap of my fingers, my Convocation robes appeared on my body and I summoned forth a red crystalline staff in my hand. The mage observed me silently for a moment before speaking up.

“I paid close attention today, to your aether,” she started and I stopped my pacing to look in her direction. “You were right, your aetheric signatures are unique.”

“I have a tendency to be correct on a great number of things, you’ll find,” I retorted, and tapped my staff on the ground. A giant circular stone platform appeared, a rune carved onto its surface. "Comes with the territory of being immortal."

“Did you do something to her?” She asked, her arms crossed. 

“Nothing against her will, no,” I responded, with a shake of my head as I pointed the staff at the rune on the ground, channeling aether into it to cause it to glow a deep blue. Small glowing glyphs appeared along the perimeter of the platform. “Why do you ask?”

She narrowed her eyes and looked back in the direction of the encampment. “There’s… almost a fine line of aether connecting the two of you. I did not notice it before. The closer you are to each other the brighter and stronger it gets, which is why I thought your aether had fused.”

“You’re remarkably observant,” I muttered, my eyes fixed on the rune. I dragged the staff along the stone to adjust the glyphs along its path. “Have you reported this new observation to your friends?”

She returned her gaze to me. “Should I? Is this something I should be worried about?”

I met her gaze and shrugged. “If I were to answer you honestly, would you truly believe me?”

She sighed and shook her head. “No, I would not. I have not told them yet, because I don’t know enough about its nature and I’m sure you understand my hesitance, given Thancred and Alisaie’s tendency for outbursts.”

I nodded thoughtfully, my mind reaching out for the Warrior of Light to inform her that the preparations were complete. “You may want to step back, by the way. We’ll be starting soon.”

She furrowed her brow in confusion. “Don’t you need her to come? How will she know you’re ready?”

“I’ve already informed her.” She narrowed her eyes at me once more in suspicion, but I continued with no further explanation. “I’m assuming you’ve decided to stay?”

“For the safety of my friend, yes.” She turned when she heard approaching footsteps. The Warrior of Light approached, her eyes searching the area in front of her. The Scions followed close behind, coming to join the miqo’te, standing on either side of her a few yalms from the edge of the platform. 

I could feel apprehension coming from the Warrior and she took a deep breath as she stepped up onto the stone. I gestured for her to stand in the middle of the platform and she steeled herself as she complied. 

The gunbreaker crossed his arms. “We’re watching you closely, Ascian. If you try anything…”

“Come now,” I rebuked, my eyes never leaving the hero. “Have you known me to tell an outright lie? Half-truths, perhaps, but we’re here to unlock her dormant powers.”

I walked over to stand in front of her, tapping the staff on the stone once more and it slowly descended into the platform, merging with the aether of the rune, its hue morphing to be a deep purple. I waved my hand in front of my face to conjure my glyphic mask.

“I’ll try to walk you through what you’ll see before you see it, but before long I will need to concentrate to prevent destroying both of our aetheric networks. If I stop talking… I likely hit a complication that I’m trying to sort out. Try to stay calm. I don’t want to restrain you, but I will if you begin to panic,” I told her and she nodded slowly. 

“And it goes without saying that I’ll need you lot to keep your outbursts and outrage to a minimum,” I glanced out of the corner of my eye to the Scions. “Oracle, monitor her aether closely, would you? If you notice anything strange, inform me. Immediately.”

The Oracle nodded, closing her eyes and reaching her hand out as she began to observe the Warrior’s aether. I returned my attention to the hero and held my hand out with the palm up in front of me.

“I have a confession, hero.” She tilted her head at me and quirked an inquisitive brow. “I may have already begun preparing you for this. Imagine my relief when you agreed to it.”

She rolled her eyes at me and I could feel the tension from her mind in our bond dissipate. “You’re lucky this is a mutually beneficial relationship, Emet-Selch,” she quipped and I chuckled.

“One could argue I’ve gotten the better end of the deal, Warrior of Light.” I took a deep breath. “I need you to channel your aether into an orb in your palm.”

I watched as she copied my stance and closed her eyes, focusing on channeling the wind aether from deep within. A small orb of wind began to form in her hand and she fluttered her eyes open. “I’m going to mix my arcane aether with yours, and then I’ll walk you through how to absorb the fused aether into yourself,” I explained, as I created my own orb, the dark energy swirling in my palm.

I directed my aether towards her hand, watching as the wind and arcane magic began to intermingle in her palm. “Do you remember how it felt to absorb the aether from the Lightwardens?” She hesitated, a small wave of anxiety reaching me as she recalled what I can only imagine were unpleasant memories, but she nodded and I noticed some of the Scions tense and cross their arms in my peripheral vision. 

“Try to replicate that sensation, pull the aether into yourself. When you have… your vision may go dark. This is because my elemental aspect is so heavily based in Darkness, but your vision will return when the ritual is complete.” 

She took a deep breath and focused her attention on the orb of aether in her palm. It floated up into the air and then made its way towards her chest before being absorbed completely. She tensed, blinking rapidly as her eyes searched frantically for a moment, adjusting to the sudden darkness. I reached my hand to place on top of hers to reassure her and she slowly calmed down, allowing her eyes to close as she took a deep breath.

Pointing my other index finger at her, I turned my hand over palm-up and curled my finger in towards myself, a line of arcane energy emerging from where the orb had initially dissipated. It connected with my hand. “This is where I’ll need to concentrate. Squeeze my hand if you need me to stop if you feel anything strange.” 

She nodded her head in understanding, and I slowly began to guide my aether into her through the channel I had created between us. I closed my eyes and began to maneuver through the maze that was her aether, stopping when I reached a gap. Just beyond it I could feel the reservoir of her wind aspect and took a deep breath. If I were to connect the two channels of her aether, her powers would be released but…

I retreated slightly and looked through another path until I came to a wall of Light, erected by Hydaelyn during the Sundering in all members of the Convocation to block their innate abilities, to protect herself from those who had been tempered by Zodiark. Or so I had originally thought… I paused, examining the wall carefully. How curious that this particular soul had the same countermeasures in place. 

What if I just… 

“Do you trust me?” I asked her, suddenly, as I looked to the side to gauge the distance between us and the Scions. They immediately stiffened, on high alert. 

“Yes,” she replied without hesitation. The Scions began murmuring intensely amongst themselves. I smirked at them confidently before turning my attention back to the Warrior. 

“I’m warning you, dear hero, your friends will not be happy with this, but I promise this will be better for you.” I could hear the Scions reach for their weapons, the gunbreaker swearing as he broke out in a run towards us.

“I trust you,” she reiterated with a nod and I dropped her hand, snapping my fingers to create a barrier around us before the spell one of the twins had conjured could make an impact. The hyur's gunblade made contact with the barrier and he was instantly repelled, hitting the ground with a thud. The Warrior of Light tensed at the commotion that she could hear but not see.

“Stay calm. Focus on me,” I murmured, erecting a sound barrier around us as well in an attempt to provide a small measure of comfort to her mind. I placed my hand on hers once more, squeezing it gently. She took several deep breaths and eventually came to relax. Arcane energy began to swirl around us as I gathered the power needed to complete my task, obscuring us from the Scions’ view. Focusing my energy on the wall of Light, I forced my way through it, shattering the lock Hydaelyn had placed within her. At the same time, I began weaving a bridge with her own aether to connect the channels on either side of the first gap. 

Once complete, I slowly opened my eyes, carefully pulling my aether out of her. Wind energy burst forth from all around her once I had, wrapping around her body in a gentle caress. Her eyes fluttered open slowly and I recalled my excess aether, allowing the Scions vision of us once more.

The wind increased in intensity, then enveloped her for a moment before it dissipated, revealing the Warrior of Light clothed in Convocation robes and mask.

Chapter Text

When Emet-Selch broke the bind on my powers, it was like taking a breath of fresh air. I felt the wind engulf me, claim me. It felt new and old at the same time. I sighed, letting the feeling overtake me, refresh me.

I felt him begin to pull his aether out of me. I didn’t want him to- feeling him like this was...more intimate that anything we’d done, anything I’d ever felt.

But when I opened my eyes, the feeling faded. Everything was in chaos. And I was wearing… What was I wearing?

I examined myself, eyes wide. What-?

Panic welled in my chest as I looked around- Ryne was helping Thancred to his feet, the others looking at me with horrified expressions, their weapons drawn. I whirled back towards the Ascian, who was smiling smugly, arms crossed in front of him. My good mood turned itself around in a second.

“What did you-”

He motioned towards my face before I could finish my sentence, ignoring my growing panic. I furrowed my brow and put a hand to my head. The clawed ends of my gloves scratched against a wooden mask. I sucked in a sharp breath at the sound and slowly detached it from my face. I turned it over to look at its design and dropped it to the ground. It clattered against the stone at my feet. I’d seen this mask before.

An image of that final battle forced its way into my head for a single moment. One of the masks he’d kept close, on his body...calling for the souls of his people.

With a glare in his direction, I tore the hood off my head with one hand while flicking my wrist with the other, dissolving the barriers that separated me from my friends. I felt a tinge of pride trickle down the bond, but I ignored it.

“Are-are you alright?” Alphinaud asked, eyeing me warily, as I stomped down from the pedestal.

“Fine,” I bit out, clenching my jaw.

“Oh come now, hero,” Emet-Selch taunted. I halted, my whole body tense. I heard a snap of his fingers and felt the Convocation robes twist and tighten until I was wearing the clothes I had started the day in.

“You lied to us,” Alisaie snapped. I turned back towards him. In his arms, he held the folded robes, the gloves and mask lying on top. He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

“It was merely an added flourish,” he mused. “Perhaps an unnecessary one, but you should have seen the looks on your faces. Quite worth it, in my opinion.” He slowly stepped down to meet me and held the clothing out to me. “In case you want to play dress-up later.”

I bristled and flicked my wrist again, willing them away. The smirk was still on his face grew as my face heated in anger. What I would give to just smack that smug smile off his-

He leaned down, close to my face as I felt a stroke down the bond, cutting off my thoughts. I narrowed my eyes at him.

Play with me, he sent to my mind. Then out loud, he said, “What say you, hero? Would you humor me with a little duel?”

I glanced to my companions, still lingering with their drawn weapons, ready to attack should I have need of it. Instead, I spun on my heel. “I’d rather not.”

I heard his histrionic sigh behind me. “There you go again. Holding yourself back to maintain this heroic image of yours. Live a little, my dear.”

Before I could help myself, my rage flared and I turned, shooting a shuriken made of wind at him. “You don’t get to call me that.” The Ascian easily sidestepped my power, his excitement flowing into me.

“Come now. You can do better than that, my dear.”

I clenched my jaw. I knew he was provoking me. For what I did not know, but I would take his bait. If he would stoop, then so would I. With a flick of my wrist, I wrapped the Scions in a barrier, then unsheathed the daggers from my hips. I heard them pounding against the impenetrable shell, shouting their dismay. I ignored them all, my power roiling around in my veins, finally uninhibited by the lock placed upon me.

“Fine. You want to fight? Let’s fight.”

I lunged toward him without warning, quickly imbuing the knives with my element, a gust of wind kicking up a cloud of dirt around my feet as I took off. I watched his eyes as I approached, catching a near-maniacal glint. Just as my blade was about to pierce his skin, he grinned, lifting one hand and shot an arcane burst of energy at my chest.

When I put my arm up to block it, the force pushed me back several fulms, burning a hole into the cloth. I landed on the ground, grass pulling up from the dirt as I skidded backwards.

“No, no, hero. Why must you continue to restrain yourself?” He jumped up into the air, floating back a ways, putting distance between us. He shook his head, clicking his tongue in disappointment. “Tsk, you now have all the magic in the world at your fingertips and you choose metal? How unimaginative.”

I fell back at his taunt, throwing my daggers to the dirt. Fine, if this is how he wanted to play, I’d stop disappointing.

He summoned his staff to his hand, and pulled it back, summoning an immense power to it, ready to cast it down on me, forcing me to dodge. I dropped into a stance, ready to move, feeling for the strength he’d thrown into his attack.

Twelve, with this amount of strength, he must have gone easy on me in our previous battle. Even without access to all of his energy, he was able to hone this immense force...

He thrust his staff forward, hundreds of balls of energy hurling themselves at me. I tensed and sucked in a breath at the enormity of his attack. I cast Huton and quick as lightning, dodged what I could, though one clipped me on the cheek, and another seared a hole into the fabric of my pants, leaving behind large, throbbing welts.

I dropped to a knee, hissing from the pain. I brought my arms up, hoping the others wouldn’t catch my face. The power that had awoken inside of me seemed attuned to my needs, however, and summoned a shield of wind over my forearms, effectively shooting the Ascian’s attack wayward. I examined the swirling energy covering my arms, breathing hard.

“Good,” he commended.

But, he didn’t let me rest for long.

As soon as I was up, he wailed on me again.

Come on, show them that power of yours.

I Shifted, casting shadows on myself to absorb the damage. I reached inside of myself for my newfound powers. I pulled and pulled and pulled.

I had to make it count, if for no other reason than to shut him up.

I lunged forward again, through his attack. When I emerged on the other side of the darkness, I tapped into my Light. The Light that he hated so very, very much. I pulled my arm back, concentrating my aether to my hand, mixing the air and the bright, white energy.

I watched as he paused at my fast approach, eyes wide, a look of genuine surprise casting away his smug grin. I thrust my hand forward, the weight of the power heavy in my hand, and with a guttural groan, threw it at him with everything I had. I was blinded, momentarily.

I landed on my feet in the grass, waiting for the brightness to dissipate. When it had, I saw that he was on one knee, chest heaving and I had won our little match. I flicked my wrist, releasing my friends from their barrier, then without another word, turned on my heels and walked away, flipping my ponytail over my shoulder, leaving him to deal with the fall-out.

Emet-Selch left me alone for the rest of the evening, more than likely knowing through our bond that I didn’t want to see him. I couldn’t imagine what he was up to now- possibly talking the Scions down, or simply spending his time with Ryne while recuperating from my aetheric blow, avoiding the others as best he could. I could tell my companions had not simply done away with him in his weakened state-- I could still feel the small pull in my chest that I’d felt ever since we had pulled him from the Stream. Nor did I hear any yelling echoing around Slitherbough. Perhaps my duel with him was enough to sate their anger.

But, when night came on fully and I was alone in my room, even being mad at him couldn’t keep the new feeling of loneliness away.

I knew he’d come, biding his time elsewhere until I was ready, and so I laid in bed, facing the wall, waiting. When he finally did show up, coming in without so much as a knock, he chuckled at my mood. I heard the rustling of clothes as he started undressing, getting ready to join me under the covers.

“Stop pouting,” he said, playfully.

“Go away,” I mumbled. He lifted the sheet and slid into bed behind me.

“I would if that’s what you really wanted.”

“It is,” I said, but we both knew it was a lie. “What you did today was cruel.”

“Hmm,” he started. “Your friends are so boring, you know. Did you not expect me to have at least a little fun at their expense? Especially after the way they’ve treated you as of late.”

“You could’ve told me.”

“I did tell you they wouldn’t like what was about to happen and you said you trusted me.” I sighed, loudly, determined to be stubborn until the end, although I knew he was right. “Besides, your Scions need to understand that you are not to be trifled with. You are a powerful ally to have and lately they have been acting as if you are easy to throw away.” I was silent, stewing on his words, realizing he’d riled me up on purpose.

“Come here,” he ordered putting a hand around my waist and tugging.

“No,” I pouted, curling myself closer to the wall. He breathed a laugh and forcefully pulled me to him, curling his arm around me tightly. My body was flooded with warmth and I knew he could feel my anger towards him evaporating.

He buried his face into the crook of my neck, nipping lightly at the skin. A shiver ran up my spine and I couldn’t help the giggle that escaped my lips.

“Is all forgiven?” he asked as he pulled away, sensing the tension leaving my body. I rolled my eyes, unable to stop the smile from spreading across my mouth.

“I suppose.”

I turned over so that I could see him. He examined my face, carefully, a soft smile on his. He reached up to cup my cheek in his palm and leaned in to place a gentle kiss on my lips. He lightly ran his thumb over the welt on the bone.

“You were magnificent today, my dear,” he whispered after he pulled away, brushing a few stray strands of hair out of my face. “Just as I thought you’d be.”

I closed my eyes and breathed a laugh as he pressed his forehead against mine. He ran his hand through my hair before wrapping it around my waist again and pulling me flush against him.

“Let’s get some sleep. I could feel your exhaustion before I even set foot inside the room.”

“I’m not that tired,” I argued, but he huffed a laugh, his chest rising against my cheek. I shifted, making myself comfortable in his arms, relaxing my body into his.

“Yes, you are.”

He was right, of course. He was almost always right. It didn’t take long for the cool dark of sleep to beckon me, but as I drifted off, I could have sworn I heard the sound of a void portal opening...in my...room...

Chapter Text

I rolled my eyes at the telltale sound of a void portal. With everything that had been occurring as of late, I had almost forgotten about the Emissary. Raising my hand and snapping my fingers, I erected a sound barrier around the Warrior of Light, my arms never leaving where they lay around her waist. 

“You’ll have to pardon my rudeness, Elidibus, but I’m far too comfortable to turn around to face you,” I murmured.

"I thought I felt..." He trailed off before he heaved a sigh and I was sure he was likely shaking his head. “It matters not what I felt because I can see there has been no improvement in your… condition.”

“Ever the worrier, aren’t you?”

He stood in silence for a moment before walking up to the edge of the bed to observe her sleeping. 

“We could be rid of the thorn in our side without much effort,” he mused, his hand reaching out towards her. 

He stopped mid-air when I tightened my grip around her slightly, instinctively. Dropping his hand to his side once more, he chuckled humorlessly. We remained in silence, the only sound in the room the ticking of the clock on the wall, as he continued to either observe us or was simply deep in thought, for several minutes. 

“At any rate,” he continued abruptly. “I will assume this courtship of yours has a reason behind it, and will not ask you to explain yourself.”

“Thousands of years of trust is not so easily broken, I see. How fortuitous. Any ideas on how to release my powers?” I asked, turning my head to look up at him as he summoned a portal behind himself.

“Nothing concrete thus far, though I do have some unrefined theories. I will return in the coming nights to try to manually unbind them. Do try to make yourself more readily available going forward.” He left without another word. 

I lay awake for the majority of the night, trying to think through how to explain Elidibus’ visits to her. Were they something I should keep to myself? I told her I would tell her what was on my mind once I had finished my own ruminating on the matter but...

Truthfully, I had not yet even begun to consider what my plan was after his previous visit. The Great Rejoining was something I was intending to continue to work towards, as I had admitted to the Scions previously, but the methods were still uncertain. Elidibus was right: I had failed my task previously, and that plan had been concise and well thought out. But the Warrior of Light had seen to dismantling everything I had painstakingly placed, and I was sure she would do it again. There was no possibility of her agreeing to the Ardor as it currently was being achieved. None.

Was there even another way? Wouldn’t it have been found after these twelve thousand years of Calamities? Once we found our tried and true methodology, there was no reason to explore other avenues, that it was easier to just continue with the same. How long would it take to find another way? As close as Elidibus, Lahabrea and I had come to succeeding, was it something we could even consider?

I sighed heavily.  Would it be better to be clear with her? It was hard to say how she would react; her response to the Convocation robes had been so viscerally negative. Perhaps keeping it from her, for the time being, would be the only way to avoid unnecessary conflict. Which is, of course, to be expected, since we Ascians had been longstanding enemies of her and her companions. Though she had started to trust me , the same could not be said of my compeer. 

I found myself unsure if I would be able to tell her the truth of the situation if she were to ask me, and the last thing I wanted to do was be blatantly dishonest with her. But could I be dishonest with her in this way? 

As she began to rouse from her sleep with the sunrise, I made my decision to steer my thoughts clear of the visits from Elidibus while she was awake, at least until I was more certain of our future and that of my plans regarding the Ardor. 

Ever true to his word, Elidibus returned for three nights thereafter after the Warrior of Light had fallen asleep. We tried a number of things to try to release Light’s restriction on my abilities, some more painful than others, to no avail. 

On the third night, as we sat pondering any other possible means, I looked over at the hero’s sleeping form and sighed. I had not been sleeping during the night as a result of these communications with Elidibus, and she had grown concerned for me, my exhaustion growing more apparent with each passing day. Try as I might act as if I slept the entire night, she had caught me dozing off on more than one occasion, my mortal vessel trying to recover its energy. 

“Perhaps we should cease these late-night secret rendezvous,” I said, as I returned my gaze to the Emissary. “Nothing has worked and neither of us has any additional ideas.”

He quirked a brow. “Are you so fond of this soul that you’re blinded by her influence over you?” 

He paused, approaching the bed and staring down at her with indifference. “She isn’t Persephone, Emet-Selch. Wishing that she was will not make it so.” 

I clenched my jaw with a frown, but shrugged, choosing to ignore his comment. As if I did not already know that she wasn’t Persephone. “The Light unbound my powers initially, perhaps the key is with the Scions of the Seventh Dawn.”

He brought his hand to his chin in thought. “To think the Architect would be so unsure of a solution that he would rely on these particular sundered souls… Lahabrea must be beside himself in Oblivion.”

“Think what you will, Elidibus. I have reasons for my actions, and if we continue any further the suspicion created will leave me with naught for my efforts.”

“Very well. I will leave you to your own devices for the time being. But remember this: the only way we will see our home, friends, families and loved ones is through the Great Rejoining. In allowing yourself these selfish moments, you delay that which we have waited for thousands of years to accomplish. I would hope that you, of all people, would not allow yourself to forget Amaurot, and all that was lost.”

And then he was gone, through his portal, leaving me alone once more with my thoughts and the hero of the Source.

I looked back at the Warrior of Light, her sleep thankfully undisturbed. Exhaling slowly, I shook my head. Deception had not been a significant source of unease for me in quite some time, but I found myself feeling… guilty? 

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was, at the end of the day, being dishonest with her. I had not lied to her outright, but… 

Was this not considered a lie by omission?

Or was I feeling guilty for allowing him to be in such close proximity to her while she was none the wiser? In sleeping as deeply as she had been, she was entrusting me to keep her safe, wasn’t she? While I had not directly put her in harm’s way, as far as she and her companions were concerned, Ascians are decidedly not allies to them or their cause.

Why not just tell her the truth then? Perhaps discussing the matter with her could shed some new light on other avenues we could explore to accomplish the same goal. And… Elidibus did not come to harm her, after all. His intention was to help me. Surely she would understand.

… Wouldn’t she? 

Was I worried that she would push me away? That she would impulsively assume the worst, that I was scheming behind her back, that this had all been a plot? I wouldn’t blame her if she did, given everything I had done and said to her with half-truths in the past. How would I convince her otherwise? 

She opened her eyes slowly, her brows furrowed and I could feel her confusion at my absence ripple through me. I sat at the edge of the bed, pushing the thoughts out of my mind to avoid any accidental channeling to her and leaned down to press a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Good morning,” I murmured with a forced smile.

She frowned for a moment, searching my expression. “Morning,” she replied, her voice still thick with sleep, but her mind was racing with questions. Questions that I prayed she would not ask me, for I did not know how to answer them.

There was a knock on the door, sudden and sharp. Without waiting for a response, the door opened, and the fair-haired hyur stood in the doorway. His mouth fell to a thin line at the sight of us sitting so closely to one another, but he simply sighed as the Warrior of Light sat up, immediately concerned.

“Is everything alright, Thancred?” she asked him, her mind running through possible events that could have transpired. 

“We’ve been summoned back to the Crystarium,” he started. “The Exarch sent word that girl we found in Eden is awake.”

She moved quickly then, sliding out of the bed as she went to sort through her belongings and I furrowed my brow. A girl in Eden? The large Lightwarden on the First? What girl?

They exchanged quick words about collecting their things and teleporting back after breakfast, and he turned to look at me. “Ryne is waiting for you, Ascian. She says you owe her some training.”

I nodded slowly as I stopped my pondering on the matter. “Yes, I did promise her we would complete some today.”

After he had left, I stood from the bed, watching the Warrior of Light as she moved quickly to change out of her nightclothes. “I’ll see you at breakfast, my dear. I’ll be in the clearing with the Oracle.”

She looked at me with a warm smile and nodded. “Alright. Don’t push her too hard.”

When I arrived at the clearing, I struggled to stifle a yawn. The Oracle looked over at me and practically skipped towards me, her excitement radiating off her. 

“I think I figured it out!” she exclaimed and held out her daggers in front of her. She closed her eyes and concentrated, her brow furrowing from the intensity of her focus. Slowly, the daggers began to glow, the Light being imbued into the blades.

“So you have,” I muttered, yawning once more as I stretched my arms over my head. “Well done, Oracle.”

She opened her eyes with a bright smile, which faltered when she finally took in my appearance. The Light imbuement faded. “Are you alright?”

“I have not been sleeping very much lately,” I replied as honestly as I could. “Worry not, after a nap I’ll be fine.”

She brought her hand up to her lips, looking down for a moment as she usually did before she asked a particularly shrewd question. When she finally looked up at me, she glanced in the direction of the settlement. 

“Does she hear whatever it is you’re worried about? Do they keep her awake too?”

I exhaled slowly. “No, she does not.” Though that was intentionally on my part.

“But I thought your minds and souls were connected through the bond?” She looked back at me, confusion clear on her face.

“They are. She is not as experienced with it as I am, and as such, the influx from her is greater than the efflux from me.”

“So… you can hear her thoughts and emotions all the time?”

“No, not always, just when she’s feeling intense emotions or if her mind is racing, or if she’s intending to communicate with me,” I started, looking back towards the settlement. “But I’m able to choose what I transmit… most of the time. Particularly strong emotions do let themselves out from me as well, whether I want them to or not unless I intently focus on withholding them.”

“Do… do you hide things from her?” I returned my gaze to the Oracle.

“I…” I blew out a breath, impressed that she had managed to glean this amount of information out of me with a few simple questions. “Only the serious things, things that may upset her.”

She frowned deeply. “But shouldn’t you tell her? If she’s your soulmate…” She paused for a moment. “What I mean is… if these thoughts are keeping you awake, shouldn’t she know? She would tell you everything, I think...”

"I know it may not make much sense to you, young one, but sometimes..." I averted my gaze from hers, her words striking something deep within me. “Sometimes it’s better to keep things from those you love, to protect them.”

I looked back at her and she looked at me sadly with a small nod of understanding. Clearing my throat, I gestured at her daggers. “Come, let us return to your training.”

Before long, we were called back for breakfast. The Scions talked intensely amongst themselves about the coming return to the Crystarium, the Warrior of Light joining in on the discussion and I sat in silence, barely present as I slowly ate my food. The Oracle’s words rang in my head once more and I struggled to keep my composure at the realization that she had been right: the hero would tell me everything. 

But how does one bring so many secrets to light without arousing suspicion? I felt confined by my deceptions, trapped by my responsibilities to my people whose lives had been lost. Now, more than ever, the restrictions imposed by Hydaelyn served to intensify how isolated I was. I felt my heart rate accelerate and I stood abruptly, excusing myself from the table and making my way outside. The worry from the Warrior of Light surged through me and I urged her to stay with her friends, to finish their preparations. I needed some fresh air and sleep, I told her, which was only half of the truth.

As I sat on the ground with my back against a tree, I shut my eyes, taking deep breaths to try to slow the whirling thoughts in my head. Before I knew it, I drifted off to sleep, my last thought a realization that I had been down this road before, secrecy guiding my actions, and previously…

The door to the apartment opened roughly, slamming against the wall with force. Persephone stormed in, panic flitting through the bond as she searched for me. I turned to face her from where I had been standing at our window and she approached me quickly, in her hand a sheet of paper.

“Did you see this?” she asked, speaking quickly and urgently.

I reached out and took the page, reading it quickly.

“A phytobiological monster attacked one of the cities outside Amaurot,” she started. “The report just reached my desk this afternoon.”

I shifted uneasily, averting my gaze from hers. 

I could feel understanding creep into her mind as she gauged my reaction. “You knew about this,” she whispered.

Looking back at her, I hesitated before I nodded slowly.

“For how long?” 

I looked down at the ground now, unable to meet her gaze.

“How long have you known about this monster attacking the other city, Hades?”

I looked back up at her with a frown. “It… it isn’t the first.”

Her eyes widened and she fell backward into the seat that was behind her. “There have been others?”

I nodded, turning to look out the window once more. “Two more, in different cities. I received word last month when the first was reported. I’ve… been looking into it. The few of us who know have kept it a secret.”

“Is this where you’ve been going? When you leave for days on end, is this where you go? To look into these monsters?”

I nodded once more. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked, anger bubbling up in her. “Why did you keep this from me? Do you think I don’t notice the changes in the aether? The changes in you ? You’ve been distant! You don’t talk to me about anything anymore! You block me out of our bond more often than you let me in!”

I tensed for a moment, but shrugged, speaking softly when I replied. “I thought… perhaps I could solve it. Without having to worry you.”

The scene shifted before my eyes slightly and when I turned back around, the Warrior of Light was standing before me, her eyes full of hurt and anger. My heart ached, and I reached out to her, placing my hand on her shoulder. She shrugged my hand off of her shoulder and took a step back.

“You think I didn’t worry? I worry for you all the time,” she said, her voice soft and sad as she wrapped her arms around herself. “Why did you hide this from me? I thought… I thought we trusted each other.”

Chapter Text

When we had finished breakfast and preparations, I ventured out to find my missing Ascian. I looked in various places, but finally found him napping under a tree outside the confines of the camp. I smiled as I approached, relief spreading over me because he was finally able to get some rest. Seeing his peaceful-

My face fell, instantly. His face wasn’t calm and relaxed. His brow was furrowed. He looked troubled. I chewed on the inside of my mouth, unsure of whether I should wake him, and knelt down in the grass beside him. His jaw clenched as he dreamed and I felt a jolt of panic down our tether. I placed my hand on his shoulder to gently shake him awake.

“Emet-S-”

His eyes flew open, taking only a moment to fixate on me. His chest heaved as he latched on to me and crushed me into him. I gasped in surprise and he wound his arms around my back, holding me in a tight, immovable embrace. I sat in shock for a few moments as he breathed hard, his heart pounding in his chest. He buried his head in the crook of my neck.

I wrapped my arms around him, one hand stroking his hair, and let him hold me until he was ready to let go. “Won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

I felt him sigh, deeply, his breath warm against my skin as he did, the incessant beating of his heart finally slowing as he calmed down. He shook his head and pulled away, a sad smile on his face.

“Nothing to worry about, my dear. A memory from the old days.” I looked down and nodded, though I was not entirely convinced it was nothing. If only he’d just...open up to me… I imagined it must be hard. Eons of having absolutely no one to confide in...

“Well,” I started. “The Scions are ready to leave. They’re just waiting on us.” He nodded and stood, then reached down to help me up as well.

“I suppose we shouldn’t keep them waiting then, hm?”

Only minutes later, we were standing next to the aetheryte in the Crystarium. I saw Thancred bristle when he saw Emet-Selch’s hand wrapped around mine, even after we’d materialized, but he didn’t say anything. I gave the Ascian’s hand a small squeeze before loosening my grip. He squeezed back, but when I looked up at him, he seemed forlorn as he stared down at our separated hands.

Something was...odd...between us. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but something had changed. My heart continued to ache for him, but I could sense that he still didn’t want to tell me, so I didn’t press.

I followed my friends to the Ocular. As soon as we entered, I saw the girl, bound and sat in a chair, Lyna at her side and the Crystal Exarch at the door to greet us. Emet-Selch stiffened next to me and G’raha Tia’s smile faded.

“Ah,” he started. “They did warn me of your arrival. I never thought I’d have to suffer your presence again.” The Ascian waved his hand in dismissal.

“I find it difficult to care what you think, seeing a young girl in shackles this way.” The Exarch glanced back at the girl.

“She has yet to respond to any of our inquiries. We thought it prudent to err on the side of caution.” Emet-Selch scoffed.

“Yes, well, I wouldn’t answer you either, if I was being treated like a prisoner. As I recall, you were rather unwilling to talk, yourself, having been in her situation in the not-so-distant past. Have you turned the Crystarium into Eulmore?”

My shoulders slumped. Was this how it was always going to be? G’raha Tia was silent for a few moments and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Y’shtola narrow her eyes at the girl and reach for her staff. The Ascian suddenly pushed past me to unbind the her, a hint of anxiety finding its way to me, his mind racing with thoughts I couldn’t quite read. Lyna tensed, but with a shake of the Exarch’s head, she moved away.

When he had finished, the girl looked up at him, surprise in her eyes. The bond between us slowly started going silent. I frowned, watching them intently.

“Thank...you,” she said, softly, then examined him as he stayed bent over, doing much the same. My eyes narrowed. “I can sense the Light’s binding in you.”

I saw from the corner of my eyes as everyone else in the room went for their weapons as well. I hesitated, my hands hovering over the metal at my hips for a moment before I dropped them to my sides. I trusted him, right?

“Yes, I suspected you would be able to. I do hope you’ll forgive the abhorrent lack of hospitality you’ve experienced thus far. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Emet-Selch.” He knelt down in front of her, his words soft. “I’d be honored to learn your name, as well.”

She looked at all of us in turn, hesitant, but he nodded to her. My breath caught. Since when was he interested in anyone’s name? He didn’t even call me by name...and I was his...his...

“...Gaia.”

“Gaia,” he repeated as he reached up to her, tucking a piece of loose hair behind her ear. My stomach twisted and a feeling washed over me that I wasn’t accustomed to- I didn’t even have a name for it.

“What in the Seven Hells is going on here?” Thancred asked. His hand tightened around the hilt of his gunblade, ready to unsheath it in an instant.

“There’s an abundance of Light in this room,” Gaia said, ignoring everyone else but the Ascian. She sighed, a small smile appearing on her face. “It’s a relief to me, that your Darkness is here to counteract it.” He chuckled, light and airy.

“Do not speak of the Light as if it’s a disease,” he said. “They’re quite fond of it here, you see.”

“It’s...the Light isn’t bad, per se. It’s just...everywhere.”

“Well, an abundance of Light sounds absolutely dreadful to me, at the very least.” Gaia laughed softly at his remark, the sound almost melodious, and Emet-Selch smiled warmly at her.

I could feel the tension in the room. The electricity. I felt the anger bubble up inside me, my jaw clenched. The Crystal Exarch cleared his throat. Emet-Selch blinked and looked back at us as if he had just remembered we were there. His eyes locked with mine for a moment, a quizzical look on his face.

When he broke contact with me, his eyes pointedly travelled down to my hands, wrapped tightly around my daggers. I looked as well. When had I-? I hadn’t even noticed I…

I furrowed my brow and released the hilts, my hands aching from how tight I’d been holding them. I was feeling...strange. Heat washed over me as I felt embarrassed- like crying, yelling, turning on my heels and just walking away, all at the same time because of everything that had happened over the last few days and this seemed to be the tipping point. I clamped my mouth shut, though, as the Exarch began speaking again, trying to ease the tension.

Later that evening, I was alone in my inn room, shrugging out of my shirt, when I heard the door open. I didn’t turn to look at him as I untied my hair, letting it fall over my shoulders, but I sighed loud enough for him to hear.

“You’re angry with me,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

“I’m not…,” I started, my words trailing off. Wasn’t I, though? “I’m not angry. I just wish you would tell me what’s going on. You acted as if you knew her.” I slipped my shoes off, kicking them to the corner of the room. “You’re worrying me.”

“That girl is…” I turned to look at him as he was trying to find the words. “I’m not absolutely certain what her role is, yet. I intend to find out, and I will most certainly tell you once I know, but...she’s significant to my side...in some way.”

I chewed on the inside of my mouth for a moment, watching him. His side. I see. My eyes flicked towards the floor and I nodded.

“Okay.” As he unbuttoned his waistcoat, I thought back to earlier and my daggers. “I’m sorry about earlier. I don’t know...what happened.” He dropped his clothing onto the table and made his way over to me. He placed his hand on my cheek, running his thumb over the bone. I closed my eyes, relief spreading over me in that one, small touch. I leaned further into his palm, but he moved away and continued to the bed.

I followed him with my head, something opening up in my chest- a need to touch him, for him to touch me. If he was going to shut me out then, at least...

“Please don’t-,” I begged, trying with all my might to keep the desperation out of my voice. He was worried enough. I didn’t want him worrying about me too but… he had told me to be true to myself, hadn’t he? “I need you.”

He turned to face me and I quickly moved to him, grabbing his face with my hands, pulling his head down to mine. I heard him inhale as he leaned down to meet my lips. He wrapped an arm around my waist, pressing into me. I let out a muffled moan against his mouth. He weaved the fingers of his other hand in my hair as I opened my mouth to him, letting his tongue in if he wanted.

God, after these last few days all I wanted was this small reassurance that it was going to be-

But, something seemed to strike him and he stopped, pulling himself away, quickly. No, please, don’t-

“Apologies, hero. Not tonight.” He looked towards the floor for a moment before heaving a sigh. “Let’s just sleep.”

Hero? I blinked as he turned away from me, eyes burning. I...He… I felt the tears well in my eyes, panic climbing up my throat. He wanted honesty and the second I gave it to him on my own volition he- I couldn’t breathe- I couldn’t… He lifted the blanket and sheets, pushing them back.

Realization dawned on me. I knew he was keeping me out. He’d told me before if he ever did it again, it’d be for a good reason. My chin trembled and I fought to keep my composure. What, exactly, was this good reason? He knew more than he was letting on. I trusted him. I had thought maybe...that he’d trusted me too, and the second I opened up and told him that I needed him, he refused me. Wasn’t this exactly why I’d never let myself have this kind of happiness? Wasn’t I...scared that it would turn out like this? My heart was breaking and he was pushing me away-

Finally, he turned back to me, a smile on his face that didn't reach his eyes, dark circles I hadn’t noticed before bruising the skin underneath. “Well, hero, aren’t you coming?”

I took a deep breath, trying to calm my shaking body, though my mind raged on, and climbed in next to him. A stray thought wondered if he’d even noticed my body language. In his apparent exhaustion, I figured he hadn’t. Somewhere in my mind, through the turmoil, I still hoped that given some time to sort through his mind, he’d tell me what was troubling him.

He faced away from me and even knowing what I knew, it took everything in me not to reach out and comfort him. I felt selfish for feeling this way. For wanting him so badly when he obviously needed some space and time. Did he need my comfort? Did he even want it? I stared down at my lap for a moment, wanting to give him whatever he needed, though he didn’t seem to want anything from me tonight. Ever the hero I was, putting others’ needs ahead of my own… A bitterness welled up inside of me, a hate for the word blooming inside of me that I couldn’t explain.

I had been fine before he entered my life, my world.

I laid down, turning my back to his, a few ilms between us, and closed my eyes, simmering in my anger for a long while before letting sleep finally take me.

The Mothercrystal hovered in front of me as I floated in a twilight sky. I blinked a few times, trying to clear the blurriness of my vision.

“My daughter,” Hydaelyn said, affection in her voice. “How hard you have fought in my name.”

I inclined my head towards her in reverence. I was still unsure of my feelings toward her, conflicted by her recent involvement, but she was still the Mother, and I her follower.

“Valiant you have been in your deeds and I know how immensely you desire rest,” she started again. “But I am afraid that your fight is not near its end just yet.”

I nodded with a sigh. It never was, was it?

“Be wary, daughter. Be wary of your feelings, for they are not what they seem.”

I narrowed my eyes at the crystal in front of me. They?

I shot up in bed, my heart beating fast. I looked down at the Ascian at my side, fast asleep after nights of sleeplessness. As he slept, his hold on the bond seemed lax and I could feel a mix of sadness, loneliness, and desperation trickle down to me in small amounts, but enough to make my heart squeeze. I reached for him, but stayed my hand before I touched him. He needed the rest and I was unsure if I should wake him, even for the comfort I so desperately wanted. Would he, even if I wanted, after the night we’d had? I thought back to my dream.

I chewed on the inside of my mouth, my stomach twisting into nervous knots. Was Hydaelyn telling me to be wary of Emet-Selch?

Chapter Text

I awoke with a start, sitting up in bed abruptly and taking deep breaths as I looked around to take in my surroundings. Despite my exhaustion, the burden in my mind had manifested itself into nightmares once more. How long had it been since I’d dreamt about that day, full of death and anguish? I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts and the smell of the burning city that was ingrained in my memory as my heart rate gradually slowed.

I exhaled slowly and looked to my side to see the Warrior of Light asleep, her back turned to me. Sadness, laced with guilt, filled me and I looked out the window, noting the rising sun creeping in through the curtains.

I reached my hand out for her shoulder, but stopped short, letting it drop back onto my lap. To wake her now would be but for my own benefit, and I did not deserve the comfort she would undoubtedly provide. I ached for things to return to how they had been prior to Elidibus’ visits but after yesterday… I knew it would not be possible. 

The presence of that girl, Gaia, was indication enough to me that my mission would continue to be the same, that the fate of the Source’s hero and my own were predetermined and there was no way around it. While I had no way of knowing for certain if Gaia was who I suspected she was, but her aether pulsed with Darkness in the same way that the Oracle of Light’s pulsed with the opposite. 

But Gaia was much stronger than the young Oracle of Light, and she was more dangerous than the Scions had given her credit for. The shackles did not truly bind her, she only allowed them to believe they did. Despite her bindings, she had accumulated a significant amount of her aether, ready to attack if needed when we entered the Ocular. I knew the miqo’te had noticed it as well, based on her reaction.

I had cut off the bond to the hero to prevent her from reading the borderline panic welling within me at the possibility that Gaia could very well mortally injure her and her friends. I didn’t want her to react to what I felt, worried it may set the girl off. 

And so I spoke to her, softly, respectfully, to prevent her from doing so, to calm her, to reassure her that she had an ally even surrounded by all the Light.

The thought in the back of my mind tugged incessantly that I should just talk to the hero, to tell her what I was thinking, confide in her, confess to her… 

I shook my head, my eyes drifting to her sleeping form once more. To what end? What would talking to her accomplish? It would merely act as a catalyst, cause yet another conflict between her and her companions, who clearly want her to have nothing to do with me.

Not that I could blame them. I truthfully deserved at least some of their ire. 

She shifted in her sleep, turning to face me and my breath caught as I took in her peaceful appearance with a soft smile. I searched every ilm of her face, memorizing it as it was. The way her lips parted while she slept, the small wrinkle between her brows that formed occasionally as she dreamt. Deep down, some part of me realized that this may be the final time I could behold her this way. In spite of myself, I reached my hand out to brush a lock of hair from her face, careful not to rouse her from her sleep.

My smile faltered as I considered the gravity of our circumstances, as I reflected on my decisions. As the Warrior of Light, the Champion of Hydaelyn… how could I continue to blur the lines for her, knowing now with certainty that we would face each other on the battlefield, perhaps sooner than later? So, once I had all but confirmed Gaia’s role through her statements, I decided it would be best for the hero if I continued to block her out.

She was far too selfless to do what she needed for herself. I knew that if I were to talk to her about what I was thinking, she would prioritize my happiness and wellbeing rather than her own. And in doing so, she would ostracize herself from her friends, who were all but family to her. I did not want that. What I wanted, more than anything, was to see her laugh and smile again, and she had done so before I convinced her to pull me from the Lifestream. Surely, with time, she would move on to find happiness without me. With time, she would find comfort with her companions.

But perhaps there existed a way in which I could complete Rejoinings without causing Calamities. Perhaps Gaia had the answer. If she could provide me an alternative, a way to accomplish the Great Rejoining without directly having to battle the Champion of Hydaelyn.... 

I sighed, frowning as I carefully slid out of the bed, trying not to wake the Warrior of Light. Hope is a dangerous thing, I reminded myself. But that small hope was all I could hold onto as I stood, looking down at the hero. I took a deep breath, shaking my head. Would we not have found an easier way already, my compeers and I? 

The minutes passed as I stewed in my thoughts, and soon the sound of chirping birds roused me from my mind. I frowned, heaving a sigh as I leaned down closer to the Warrior of Light. In all likelihood, this was the final time I would be this close to her, the final opportunity I had to say my goodbyes to my soulmate. Carefully, gently, I placed a soft kiss upon her forehead before standing and quietly making my way towards the holding cell I had seen them take Gaia to the previous night.

When I approached, the guard at the door stood on high alert and I huffed a chuckle. “Oh, don’t be foolish. I could destroy you before you could call for help. I only wish to speak to her.”

He tensed and gripped his weapon tighter and I sighed, rolling my eyes. I snapped my fingers and a chair appeared behind him. Walking up to him as he drew his sword, I placed my hand on his shoulder firmly to force him to sit before snapping once more. Ropes appeared around him and his weapon clanged as it fell to the ground. 

“Sit tight, don’t scream. Or I’ll kill you. Have you grasped the severity of the situation you’re in?” He nodded and I grinned, clapping my hand on his shoulder. “Good man.”

“I’ll never understand why you mortals insist on leaving the key with the lone guard at the gate. It seems terribly irresponsible, don’t you think? Had I been a group of thugs, I could have easily overpowered you and freed your prisoner,” I muttered, as I reached for the key on his belt, removing it and moving to unlock the door. “I suppose I could have just opened the door myself, but this made it so much more interactive, wouldn’t you agree?”

Gaia looked up as she heard me push the door open and she smiled softly. “I had a feeling I would see you again soon, Emet-Selch.”

I nodded and pushed the door closed behind me, leaning against it with my arms crossed across my chest. “Is there a reason you’re leading them to believe you’re truly a captive here?”

She tilted her head to the side, feigning confusion and I chuckled. “You know very well I can sense your aether.”

She laughed melodically but nodded, kicking her feet as they dangled from the edge of the bed. “I was waiting for you.”

“But how could you be sure that I would come?” I inquired, furrowing my brow.

“Elidibus told me,” she replied, matter-of-factly and my eyebrows shot up. “He also told me that your powers are still bound by the Light, which I have observed for myself.”

“Been in contact with the Emissary, have you?” I frowned. “What other glorious details has he misconstrued to you?”

“Hmmm...” She crossed one leg over the other and brought her finger to her lips, deep in thought. “Something about being controlled by the Champion of Light, but I have no way of confirming that.”

“He’s quite the dramatic,” I said, as I rolled my eyes. “So I was correct, I suppose, in my assumption that you must be an Oracle of Darkness.” She nodded. “I could tell the moment I saw you.”

Her eyes twinkled and she smiled once more. “Was it my outfit that gave me away?”

I raised a brow at her. “I must say, it is a relief that you seem to have a sense of humor. I was worried you’d be dry and boring like Elidibus.”

“I could be if you wanted me to be,” she teased, and I shook my head. “But I can only assume you came here to talk to me about something more pressing.”

I exhaled a breath. “Truthfully, there is much on my mind,” I started and she gestured to the chair they had provided for her in her cell. I moved to sit as I continued. “First, I wondered if you would be able to release this blockade on the remainder of my powers.”

She pursed her lips as she examined me. Minutes passed in silence before she finally responded. “I don’t believe I have the strength to reverse the hold at this current time.”

I sighed heavily, nodding as I clenched my hands into fists. “That’s only mildly infuriating.”

“While it may be necessary to keep her close, for the time being, I would be wary of the one they call the Warrior of Light until we can truly gauge her motives. Her companions, in particular, hold significant sway over her, whether she realizes it or not,” she said after a few moments, her eyes locked on mine. “She was the one who defeated me while I was trying to complete my task in Eden. She and her companions are the reason I was captured in the first place and why I am not at my full strength. When I saw her enter yesterday, I impulsively gathered aether to defend myself, but I’m glad you noticed and stopped me.”

I looked up at the small window in her cell, unsure how to respond to or interpret this information. It was brighter now; the sun had fully risen. 

“I would recommend unbinding the guard and leaving, Emet-Selch,” she said suddenly. “The shift change happens soon, and I assume you don’t wish to arouse much suspicion from your new allies.”

I nodded and stood. “I’ll return later, if that’s fine with you, Oracle.”

As I placed my hand on the door handle, she called my name. I turned to face her once more.

“Though it may be troublesome, perhaps the answer to your problems lies in the one you are linked to,” she offered, and I quirked a brow. 

“I could see the faint line connecting you and the hero of the Source,” she explained and I nodded. “What an unfortunate turn of events. I’m sorry that it will not end happier for you this time,” she concluded but offered no further explanation.

As I exited and locked the cell, I snapped and the guard was on his feet once more, his sword back in its scabbard, the key replaced on his belt. 

“I suppose it goes without saying that you report a woefully boring and uneventful evening,” I said, looking at him from the corner of my eye. He nodded without a word and I began walking away, putting my hands in my pockets. “See you tonight then, friend.”

I made my way to the dining hall, the sound of laughter and chatter flitting through the hall as I neared. When I entered, I noted many Crystarium guards sitting amongst the Scions, the Exarch sitting at the head of the table with the Warrior of Light seated to his right. He cleared his throat when I entered and I raised a brow as the room grew relatively silent. There was a seat available between the hero and the Oracle of Light and I tensed slightly as I approached.

The gunbreaker must have noticed that she did not turn to look at me and he grinned, folding his hands behind his head. “Had a falling out, have you?”

The Oracle of Light frowned at his comment her eyes going to the Warrior of Light, who was looking down at her lap. “Thancred…”

I chuckled and reached around the chair for the plate, snapping to fill it with food as I shrugged my shoulders. “Even if I wanted to tell you, you self-absorbed fool, I wouldn’t out of respect for her. Perhaps you should worry less about my status in her good graces and more about her .”

Turning around, I left the dining hall without another word. I spent the majority of the day wandering the Crystarium, lost in my thoughts. My conversation with Gaia played in my mind, as I tried to understand her words. I sighed. Was secrecy and deception the only way? The last time I tried to hide things of this magnitude ended poorly, after all. 

Perhaps… perhaps it did not matter what I did. Maybe our fate was, in fact, predetermined as I suspected. She had specifically said that it would not end happily for us, after all.

But how did she know ? Would it hurt to try? Could we find a solution together? Was it futile?

As night fell, I found myself standing outside the hero’s door. I knew it was selfish and it was not fair to her but… I admittedly missed her and her ever-comforting presence. I wanted to see her, and while I was not ready to tell her everything, I wanted to talk to her at the very least, to tell her some things. Despite the Oracle’s words, I wanted to at least see if there was something the Warrior of Light’s unique perspective could provide us. Even the Scions of the Seventh Dawn could have useful insight.

I opened the bond between us, ready to ask if she would be willing to discuss whatever was on our minds when I heard the soft voice of the Oracle of Light through the door . She sounded comforting and reassuring, and after a moment, the voice of the historian flitted through. I could not make out what was being said but decided I didn’t want to disturb them, so I leaned against the wall next to the door, crossing my arms as I waited for their conversation to come to an end. 

Suddenly, I heard the Warrior of Light’s thoughts enter my mind. She was worried about me but was unsure what to believe based on recent events.

Maybe I should talk to Urianger about it like they asked me the other day… I don’t know how to feel anymore. I want to trust him but… I frowned, unable to stop the sting caused by her apparent wavering trust from making it through to her before I shut the bond once more.

Pushing myself off the wall, I impulsively began heading towards Gaia’s holding cell. The guard from this morning struggled with the key and quickly unlocked the door as I approached, holding it open for me. I held my hand out for him to drop the key into my palm and walked in as he did, closing the door behind myself and leaning against it.

I shut my eyes and took a deep breath before sliding down its surface to sit on the floor, my face buried in my hands as I found myself overcome with a myriad of emotions. 

What did I expect? Her change of heart was an understandable one, was it not? And I suppose, at my core, my nature had become one of deceit after millennia of fulfilling my twisted role as Zodiark’s architect, manipulating others to bring about grand designs. It seemed Gaia had been right, after all: it would not end happily this time either.

“Did something happen?” Gaia asked, coming to crouch in front of me. I shook my head, neither willing nor ready to talk about it.

We sat in silence for several minutes, but I found her presence to be a comforting one. I felt reassured that she would offer me nothing but unwavering support. As the Oracle of Darkness, she understood and shared my burdens, without judgment, without a doubt in the necessity of the actions of myself and my compeers. Eventually, I looked up at her, my mind set on distracting myself with a task rather than facing the overwhelming despair that had begun to spiral within me as I came to understand and accept the reality of my circumstances. 

“What would you have me do?”

She looked at me, sadness and understanding in her eyes, but stood and walked to sit on her bed. “The same thing you’ve been doing this whole time, champion of Zodiark: usher in the next Calamity.”

“Is there no other way to accomplish our goal?” I asked as I clenched my jaw, steeling myself for the events that were on the horizon. I felt a deep ache in my chest, but I pushed it to the side, distancing myself from my emotions as I stood from the ground. 

Elidibus, frustrating though he may be, had been correct. The Warrior of Light had become a confounding factor the moment I gave into what I had felt for her, and such frivolous and selfish emotions would not bring back all that was lost. The time for the weakness such affections had caused in me was over.

She frowned but shook her head. “Not to my knowledge. In order to restore the balance between Darkness and Light, Zodiark must be restored. The Great Rejoining must come to pass.”

Chapter Text

Later that day, I was sitting in my bed, trying to concentrate on a book I’d swiped from the Cabinet of Curiosity- trying to keep my mind off of Emet-Selch. It was frustratingly hard to do so. All I wanted was to talk to him, but he seemed to want to be left alone, and so I acquiesced to his wishes, no matter how much it hurt me.

I heard a knock on my door and looked up from the pages. When they waited for my bid to enter, I knew it wasn’t the Ascian, as I’d hoped. With a disappointed sigh out of my nose, my shoulders slumped but I went to let them in. Ryne and Urianger stood outside the door. I nearly rolled my eyes, wanting to immediately shut the door in their faces.

“We’re worried,” the girl started as soon as she saw me, putting her hand on the door to hold it open, as if sensing my intentions. “Please let Urianger examine you.”

Against my own wishes, I nodded and opened the door further, letting them freely walk in. If I hadn’t, I knew she would keep hounding me until I did. I sat on the bed again, letting the elezen use his aether to explore mine, though I knew whatever Ryne was insistent on looking for couldn’t be fixed, or even found, so easily. I vaguely wondered, too, if his want to survey me served a second purpose: to make sure my mind had not, in fact, been tampered with a few days prior.

In my anger, I wasn’t sure if it hadn’t been. Immediately, I wanted to punch myself for thinking such a thing.

When I looked to the Oracle again, she looked as if she wanted to tell me something, but was hesitant. I found it hard to care at the moment, which just made me feel worse. This wasn’t me. Who was I becoming?

I had thought of confiding in Urianger, if I was being honest. Thancred had pulled me aside and quietly implored me to watch the Ascian after the nonsense with the Convocation robes- to report on him. I had initially refused but... Urainger was the most rational of them all and would listen intently to my concerns and without much judgement. I wanted to trust Emet-Selch. I really did, but...Things had changed between us in so short a time, especially after seeing that girl. What was I supposed to-

I felt a shock of hurt come through the bond, though it was gone in a moment. I felt him. He was here-

No, I said through the bond, hoping he’d left it open long enough. Horror filled me. I didn’t mean- I wouldn’t-

I threw myself off the bed while Urianger was talking and ran to the door, but by the time I’d had it open, the Ascian was nowhere to be found and I was once again met with silence. My chest welled with sadness, crushing my heart. What had I done?

I trudged back into the room, eyes downcast as I tried to hold back the tears that had sprung to my eyes. I deserved this, didn’t I? This was my own doing. I put a hand to my face.

“Please,” I begged my friends. “If you’ve found nothing wrong, just go.” When I dropped my arm, Ryne was looking at me, her eyes sad, her desperation to help me radiating off of her, though she had no idea what to do.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to-”

“Ryne.” My voice was commanding, harsh. I sighed, not intending to sound so mean, but I just wanted to be left alone. She bit her lip for a moment, taken aback at my tone, but dropped her head and followed the elezen out, closing the door softly behind her.

I waited for the rest of the night, trying to reach out through the bond, imploring him to come to my room, to talk to me. To let me make it up to him... I didn't think he heard me, though, and if he did, he ignored my thoughts and didn’t come back.

In the morning, when Lyna was sent to summon me to the Ocular, I was still awake. The Exarch wanted the Scions present again to try to find more out about Gaia and Eden.

When I arrived, exhausted, depressed, and still in yesterday’s clothes, almost everyone else was there already, but Emet-Selch came in behind me. When he stopped, fulms away from me, I looked over at him. He stood apart from the Scions- apart from me. I could tell from where I stood that he was tense, angry about how things had transpired. I looked towards the ground, wanting to apologize, wanting to fix this, trying to come up with the right words to prove to him how sorry I was… But before I could open my mouth to speak, the girl was brought in. Her eyes immediately went to him and I felt the words disappear from my tongue, my resolve to fix things leaving me. My mood turned sour.

“Emet-Selch,” she greeted him. He inclined his head towards her.

“Gaia.” I bristled at the use of her name. I saw him watching me out of the corner of his eye, but he pretended not to notice. She headed to stand next to him, the tension in the room rising exponentially as she did.

The girl’s attention focused on me for a moment when she passed, looking through me with her piercing eyes.

“It is as I suspected,” she started, quietly, with a shake of her head, but not to me. “Hydaelyn has used your loved ones as Her own personal weapons to combat the evil Ascians. She’s evidence of that. Why is it, I wonder? A punishment for following Zodiark?”

“The Mother would never do that,” Ryne interjected into their conversation, turning to face them.

“If you think that, girl, you’re blind,” Emet-Selch shot back at her, then looked at Gaia, who had opened her mouth to respond, once again. “You don’t need to justify yourself to them, Oracle. These tempered followers of Light will never listen to reason.”

“Oracle?” Alisaie asked, reaching for her rapier.

“Ah, yes,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “How rude of me. I forgot to mention that Gaia is the Oracle of Darkness. What a shame it is that we could not continue to trust each other. Wouldn’t you agree, hero?”

My stomach dropped. This was what he’d been keeping from me.

“I knew you were still our enemy.” Alisaie drew her weapon, her brother doing the same beside her. She tilted her head towards me. “He told us he was still working towards the Rejoining while we were still in Rak’tika, but he didn’t tell you that, did he?” There was a certain bitterness to her voice. I looked to him again, unable to keep the sadness from my eyes. No...he hadn’t told me. Why…?

The Ascian put himself between the twins and the girl. He scoffed, shrugging his shoulders.

“Well, of course I still want the Rejoining. Did you really expect me to give up thousands of years of work so easily? Did you really expect me to just throw it all away?” He looked towards me again, but I closed my eyes, my sadness overcoming me. “I did agree to try to find another way but, it appears that won’t be possible.” His tone changed then, full of sorrow and regret. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry, hero.”

I furrowed my brow and opened my eyes again, looking him in the eyes, a new feeling spreading through my body at his apology to me, like a key fitting itself into a lock made of Light I didn’t even know existed, one more barrier open between me and him. His name. Had I really been calling him by his title this whole time?

“No amount of rejoining will bring everyone back. Zodiark is greedy and will just demand more and more and it will never be enough, Hades.” He narrowed his eyes towards me, but the moment I said his name- his true name- he dropped to a knee, groaning in pain.

Immediately, without thinking of the sides we were putting ourselves on, I went to his side, kneeling on the floor in front of him, my hand grasping his shoulder. “Are you alright?”

“Just leave him to suffer,” Thancred said with a smirk. I whirled on him, quickly, a sudden rage rising in my chest, his hurtful quip a breaking point.

“I know you don’t care for him, Thancred,” I snarled. “But I do. In his time back in this world we’ve become friends and I won’t have you-”

Emet-Selch stood again before I could finish admonishing my friend, the pain apparently subsided. It reminded me of the time Hythlodaeus had said...

He looked down at me, his eyes tired and sorrowful. Instantly, I knew I had said the wrong thing. We...had been more than friends, hadn’t we? Gaia, on his other side, examined him carefully. She laid her hand flat against his arm and his clothes shifted to his Convocation robes. She held up his mask to him and he affixed it to his face.

“Your powers are fully unlocked, Champion. You know what you must do.”

He looked at her once more and nodded, holding his hand out to her. When she took it, he opened a void portal and helped her through. Before he disappeared, however, he paused and looked back at me, expression full of despair. It looked like he wanted to say something to me, and I sat straight, but in the end, he shook his head and the next moment he was gone.

Everyone in the room stood frozen as tears welled in my eyes, a sob crawling up my throat and I deflated on the ground. I took a few deep breaths, trying to calm myself.

My friends had been right all along. And the Mother- she’d tried to warn me. I hadn’t listened. I felt like such a fool for ever believing things could be different.

“I’m not surprised in the slightest,” Alisaie said, sheathing her sword. “I knew this would happen.”

“This isn’t right,” Ryne said. I looked over to her. She was biting her lip, lost in thought, until she focused on me. “He admitted to me that...that he had hidden things from you. But he said it was-”

I felt a sudden, sharp pain behind my eyes. I put my head in my hands, groaning, and suddenly, I was Persephone again. I was angry. I was yelling. I was...betrayed.

“Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you keep this from me?”

“I thought...I thought we trusted each other.”

“Please, Hades. Please, don’t do this.”

“I can’t...I can’t do this anymore.”

Guilt washed over me, filled all of my senses. Whose guilt was it? His? Hers?

When I opened my eyes, I was back in the Ocular, the Scions gathered around me. My anger overwhelmed the guilt.

He’d hidden things from her. He’d hidden things from me. For his own selfish reasons, he’d kept us both in the dark.

“Are you alright?”

I felt one of my friends grab my arm to help me up, but once I was on my feet, I forcefully shoved them off me, fuming, not caring who I’d likely just shoved to the ground.

A portal opened before me, similar to the Ascian’s. I didn’t have time to be surprised. I felt a tug and I knew where it would lead me. So, with the Scions shouting at my back, I stepped through and disappeared from the Crystal Tower.

Chapter Text

When we appeared on the other side of the portal in the recreated Amaurot, I released the Oracle of Darkness’ hand. She looked around for a moment before peering up at me, her finger pointing down a walkway. “The temple is…?”

“That way, yes,” I replied softly, the despair I felt amplified as the tug between my soul and the Warrior of Light’s was increased with the distance between us. What was originally meant to make it easier for us to find one another now would serve as a constant reminder of everything I had lost yet again. I would have to learn to tolerate yet another source of anguish, it seemed. 

Gaia glanced up at me, her brow furrowed as she took in my expression. “You seem… sad.”

I huffed a humorless laugh, shrugging my shoulders as she continued. “What I mean is, you seem as if this course of action will cause you more pain than it may be worth.”

“The same price was paid in the past, was it not? Losing her was the cost to save our star. I… lost sight of my mission once I had her in my arms once more,” I paused, exhaling through my nose as I shook my head, my eyes drifting to the fading skyline before me. “Perhaps it was Hydaelyn’s intent to distract me, to coax me to abandon my tasks by allowing me the opportunity to mend the rift the Summoning had caused. But I cannot allow myself such selfishness, not when so many souls were lost by my hand.”

“So you’re sure, then. This is what you wish to do? To fight against her once more? Could you, when the moment comes?”

I returned my gaze to Gaia’s face, frowning. “Could I… what, exactly? Strike her down?”

She nodded, pursing her lips. “If it became necessary, if she hindered our progress… could you?”

I hesitated, looking down at the ground, clenching my hands into fists. “It is… unlikely. Not at present, at least.”

“So… if she is as meddlesome as Elidibus made her seem, she will likely try to stop you. What will you do?”

“I’d likely have to start on a different shard, one she cannot easily access and hope her Exarch friend does not find a way to bring her there. Triggering a Calamity on the Source is another matter entirely, but I’m sure with Elidibus’ help, it would be managed easily enough.”

“And if she does find a way to that shard, then what?”

“I’ll have to figure that out when I get to it, Oracle,” I muttered bitterly, looking back at her once more. “The very idea of having to fight against her as we once had is causing me physical pain so if it’s all the same, could we change the subject? Perhaps the statue of Zodiark has enough power to temper my mind to His will once more and I will be more ready to battle her then. Something for me to discuss with Elidibus, it seems.”

She frowned deeply, opening her mouth to respond but stopped herself and simply nodded, making her way down the walkway towards the temple, waving her hand over her shoulder. “I’ll be measuring how much work we have ahead of us, then. You know where to find me.”

I exhaled sharply, concentrating to restore the replica of the city that had begun to fade since my death. I examined the skyline, watching it shimmer back into a solid form with a snap of my fingers, before I teleported myself to the Capitol building once more, peering up at the giant double doors. Beyond lay the recreation of the fall of Amaurot I had created for the Warrior and her companions. I looked down at the ground, clenching my hands into fists before raising my hands to my mask and removing it from my face.

I flipped it over in my hand, staring at it for a long moment. I briefly remembered how I felt when I first was bestowed this mask, this symbol of the Architect, and I tightened my grip on it before I threw it to the side, roughly. I heard it clatter against the floor before it slid to a stop. That world was gone, destroyed by Hydaelyn, and now the mask only served as a reminder of everything that was lost. Lowering my hood, I gazed back up, willing the doors to open and I stared into the wall of flames.

I needed to remind myself of the reasons the three of us started this whole journey, those thousands of years ago. Elidibus, Lahabrea, and I, the last of our people. The reasons Lahabrea had given up his life for. I had willingly given mine as well, not long ago. Somewhere along the way, my conviction had wavered, and for a brief moment, I found myself missing the incessant urging the tempering had afforded me.

I had let myself get caught up in my emotions, and Elidibus had been right. She did have control over me, one that I did not realize she possessed until I had taken a step back. What a fool I had been. I tried to justify my actions to myself, that it had been her soul, but… was that a good reason? Not when I suspected what I had about her. I let myself forget my suspicions, let myself get caught up in the happier memories and feelings for her.

But in the end… soulmates or not.... Persephone and I were not on the same side. She made it clear when she stepped down from the Convocation, when she left our home, when she stopped speaking to me.

“But that was my fault, wasn’t it?” I voiced out loud, listening to my voice echo from the walls of the empty, abandoned building that had once been bustling with government officials and students. 

I took a few steps towards the ruins of Amaurot I could see on the opposite side of the flames, locking my jaw and staring straight ahead. I would not let myself forget them this time. 

I clenched my fists as I walked through the uneven streets, the sky raining fire and ash. The earth buckled beneath me and I watched as the Therion flew overhead, sounds of combat all around me. The air was thick with the smell of death and I took in every detail as I approached the courtyard in which I had confronted the First Beast.

The sound of running feet behind me gave me pause and I looked over my shoulder, narrowing my eyes at the sight of the Warrior of Light sprinting towards me. I turned to face her as she came to a stop in front of me, her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

“My my, look at you,” I said, dryly as I crossed my arms across my chest. “The anger is practically rolling off you in waves. What lies has Hydaelyn fed you this time, I wonder?”

She narrowed her eyes, and I watched as her aether began to swirl around her feet, kicking up the small bits of rubble to circle with the wind. I arched a brow.

“Come to kill me again, have you?” I summoned my staff to my hand. “Such a fool I was, wouldn’t you agree, hero? Giving you the tools you needed to unlock all that you have. I trained you in my own magicks, shared my deepest secrets with you…”

I chuckled and shook my head, channeling my own aether to swirl around me as well. “I created a weapon for Hydaelyn stronger than She ever could have, and here you stand. What a diligent little puppet you are.” 

She summoned several shurikens to her fingers, imbuing them with her essence as her aether increased in intensity around her, the wind and light beginning to mix. “Is that what you really want? To fight as enemies to the death again?” she asked.

“It appears it’s what you want, or you would not have come here.” I slammed my staff on the ground, my aether bursting forth around me as the Warrior of Light changed her stance, readying her projectiles. “Come then, show me how strong your Light truly is. I will not go easy on you this time.” 

The Oracle of Light burst through the flames suddenly, her hand going to the Warrior of Light’s arm. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and I saw the Warrior of Light’s aether soften at her appearance. “Please stop,” the girl said, softly before looking at me. “Both of you! It doesn’t have to be this way! Emet-Selch, please . This isn’t who you are anymore!"

For reasons I could not explain, I found myself lowering my weapon slightly at her plea, but scoffed when I looked over her shoulder to see the Scions and Crystal Exarch run in to stand behind the pair. “How unfortunate that I let your dear Exarch live. It was through his power you’ve brought reinforcements, have you? It is what it is. Life is full of such regrets.”

The Warrior of Light looked back at me, willing the shurikens to disappear as she recalled her aether. She locked her eyes with my own, the sadness and anger in them causing a dull ache in my chest. She chewed the inside of her cheek for a moment, searching for the words, before she finally said, “I just wanted you to let me in.”

I narrowed my eyes, tightening my grip on my staff, continuing to accumulate my aether. “Do not lie to me. You were keeping an eye on me at the behest of your Scions. I heard you consider telling them everything, just as I intended to come speak to you about everything that had transpired. I suppose it’s my own fault, though, for placing my trust in one of Hers .”

“If I may interject, Emet-Selch.” The astrologian took a step forward and the hero turned to look at him with slight surprise on her expression. “She did not tell us anything about thee. We did implore her to after your ritual, ‘tis true, but she refused our proposal immediately.”

I clenched my jaw, finding the claim difficult to believe. The Warrior of Light looked back at me then, taking a deep breath before she continued, “Do you have any idea how hurt she was, realizing that you lied to her, Hades?”

I felt the fury that had been building in me bubble over and I collected my aether into my palm, aiming it at the Warrior of Light. My heart clenched, the idea of hurting her making me pause and I watched as she quickly wrapped her arms around the young Oracle, ready to shield her with her own body. Her companions immediately unsheathed their weapons, the astrologian conjuring a shield around them in an attempt to protect her. I narrowed my eyes as I hesitated, cursing under my breath that my affections not only for the hero but for the young girl as well, had caused such a softness in me.

“You have no right using my true name, Warrior of Light!” I shouted, the anger overflowing as I fired the shot at a building to my side, reducing it to rubble. “Not when you seem to insist on siding with these lesser beings , refusing to accept who you really are, lying to yourself and to them about the nature of who we are to each other. You’re just protecting yourself from the aftermath of revealing the truth of your identity.”

“Perhaps if you had allowed the reality of our circumstances to come to light, things would not have escalated as they had,” I continued, the bitterness in my tone barely contained. “Perhaps if I felt I could share the truth with you without you bristling at even the idea of the Ascians, things could have progressed differently. But we are what we always were, even to you, it seems. Your reaction to the robes on your own body is proof enough of that.”

She looked down at the ground at my words, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. “If history is to repeat itself in this way, I will simply have to be the villain once more, regardless of how strongly I feel for you,” I muttered sadly, more to myself than to her, though she looked up at me when she heard me.

“And you!” I turned my gaze on the Scions. “Have you no sympathy for your poor hero? For generations, her soul has been fighting your fights, when she should have been fighting ours! Having been afforded no chance to rest, she even came here to the recreation of her own home to confront the evil Ascian when she was falling apart, breaking at the seams with Light. And for whose benefit? Not hers, certainly.”

I locked my eyes with the Warrior of Light. “She was once one of us, you know. Or did she forget to inform you all of that fact? One of the very same loved ones that I intended to return and thus would have been spared. If anyone benefits from the Rejoining… it would be your dear, beloved hero."

The Scions tightened their grips on their weapons and took a step toward me but she held her arm out to stop them. 

“Hydaelyn showed me,” she said, her eyes never leaving mine. “She showed me the argument you had with Persephone before the summoning when she begged you not to. You promised you wouldn’t… and then you did it anyway. You hid the monsters from her and you lied to her. Can you even begin to imagine how hard it was for her?”

Her gaze softened and I tensed. “Twelve thousand years, and you haven’t learned, have you?” She looked down at the ground, speaking softly. “How hurtful your secrets can be?”

“You can’t even begin to imagine the guilt I live with every single day for my actions back then,” I said softly, as I averted my gaze and lowered my weapon.

I exhaled slowly and shook my head, steeling myself as I looked back at her. “It falls to me and me alone to restore our people and our home. I won’t let you distract me from the task I have been given any longer. You should have known it would end this way. You and your Oracle of Light should have considered this possibility before you pulled me from the Lifestream.”

I turned away from them then, unsummoning my staff as I looked up at the fiery remains of Amaurot. I looked down at the ground and took a deep breath before I started walking further into the ruins.

Chapter Text

At his words, the remaining aether I’d built up in preparation for a fight dissipated. What was I doing? Even if I’d wanted, I wouldn’t have been able to strike him down. I could sense his hesitation as well. This isn’t what either of us wanted, so why were we doing it?

His words weighed on me heavily, crushing me down further than I already was. He was absolutely right. I had hidden the nature of our relationship from my friends as best and as long as I could, scared of how they would react once they found out. And look at what happened. Their trust in me was hanging by a thread simply because he was alive again. Why did it matter so much to me? Why did I let them hold such a significant sway over me? So much, in fact, that I let it come between myself and the one person in this universe that understood me.

Was it worth it? I asked myself. I clenched my hands into fists as he continued, honing in his attention on the Scions, admonishing them for pushing me so hard when I had nearly no strength left to fight. Was everything that led up to this confrontation worth it?

I had thought that if he just talked to me, it would have fixed everything, but was I that naive? Of course it wouldn’t have. I like to think I would have believed him- that he wasn’t scheming again- but would I have? Wouldn’t I truly have been suspicious? I had pushed him away in my own reaction to the Convocation robes, making him think I would respond similarly were he to tell me what was really going on with him. I had said I trusted him, but I had lied to him, in the end, hadn’t I? I had disappointed him again. The despair tore through me at the thought.

And here I was, talking about how hurtful keeping secrets was. Hadn’t I done the same? I could almost laugh at the hypocrisy of it all, and all of it my own doing.

I didn’t...want any of this, the way it was. I wanted to trust him. I wanted to be with him, despite what anyone else thought. I wanted to try harder, for him if no one else. We had still shared so much together in this short time and my resolve to fix this without the need to fight strengthened.

As our conversation continued, realization struck me like a knife to the heart. The guilt I had felt while still back at the Ocular had been his. My bottom lip trembled, recalling the intense feeling I’d felt during the memory. The Scions murmured amongst themselves behind me, questioning the validity of his words, but I ignored them.

“I don’t- I don’t want to be against you,” I called to his back as he walked away from me, trying to keep my voice steady, though even I could hear the desperation that made its way through. I took a few steps towards him, my knees shaking, threatening to tip me forward to the ground. The wind blew wild, pulling strands of hair from my ponytail. “After all we’ve shared...can’t we resolve to be on the same side?”

He paused then, and looked at me over his shoulder.

“Oh, Warrior of Light,” he started, the anger in his voice replaced with sadness. “Is it not your job to repel the Darkness with every fiber of your being? We have been destined to face each other on this battlefield of Light and Dark ever since this conflict began.”

“Why?” I took a few more steps closer to him, ash blowing into my face, my eyes, but I didn’t bother wiping it away. “Why does it have to be like that?” He looked back towards the city again, fire engulfing everything.

“If my suspicions are correct, hero, Persephone knew exactly what she was doing when she summoned Hydaelyn. She was no fool.”

I sucked in a sharp breath. What? Persephone had… I clenched my jaw. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“It was never confirmed. But seeing you, the newest iteration of her soul, bound to Hydaelyn…” His voice trailed off. “The Convocation of Thirteen were the ones to summon Zodiark, as you well know. And the fourteenth member? Well, I’m sure you understand.”

But I’m not Persephone.

“Do you trust me so little that you can’t even tell me your concerns, even if they turn out to be false? And even if she did these things, what does it matter now? The past doesn’t matter anymore, Hades. We can only move forward- towards a future where there are no sides, just us.”

“As wonderful as that sounds, hero, I’m afraid this is nothing but wishful thinking.” His shoulders slumped, slightly. All this time and I hadn’t even realized that his posture had been much improved since we’d pulled him from the Stream. Now, the burdens returned, the heavy weight looming over him was starting to slowly eat away at him again. “All I’ve known is this never-ending prison, bound by duty to my people. To end their suffering brought forth by my own hand. To restore them to what they once were.”

“It doesn’t have to be a prison, Hades. If you would just talk to me and help me understand, we could change everything. You don’t have to carry this weight by yourself. If...if I joined you, we could break free of our bindings, couldn’t we? Dont...don’t you want that too? To have the freedom to be together without being inhibited by duty?”

He turned to face me once again. I felt water welling in my eyes, everything I’d been holding back over these few days finally rising to the surface.

“You want me to know the anguish you feel?” My voice threatened to crack. “You want me to know the plight of our people?” I held my hand out to him. The tears rolled freely down my cheeks, and yet, I smiled. “Don’t shut me out. Share it with me. Help me understand. I don’t want to deny it any longer.”

His lips parted and his eyes widened as he stared out my outstretched arm.

“Please,” I begged. “You don’t have to do this alone. We can find a way. We can bring our people home again. I don’t want to stop you. I don’t want to fight you. I want to work with you, Hades. Together. Didn’t you say you had enough of the lies? This is my truth. I can handle sharing this burden of truth you carry. Trust me. I won’t disappoint you again.”

A silence stretched between us that felt as if lasted an eternity. I wasn’t sure he’d accept my offer, and I steeled myself for the inevitable.

But slowly- ever so slowly- I felt the bond linking us start to open up again.

I felt pain in my chest. Pain, guilt, regret. Slowly, he laid everything on me, just as I’d requested. It felt terrible, but I would gladly accept it if it meant that I was one step closer to understanding, to breaking down these walls between us. I huffed a laugh as relief washed over me and I started wiping my face, though the tears didn’t stop.

“Thank you,” I said, my voice cracking as a sob climbed up my throat. Still, I smiled, knowing that maybe, just maybe, we could come back from this. That it was possible for us to do this, together. It would be hard, but we could do it. I knew it with every fiber of my being.

Hades approached me, slowly, cautiously, unsure of how the Scions would react to him coming close. He flicked his eyes towards them before locking his eyes with mine again. When he was close enough, I wrapped my arms around him, fisting my fingers in his dark robe, and hugged him with all my strength, crying...and laughing, into his chest.

I felt him relax as he wound an arm around me, returning my sentiment. I felt the claws of his glove weave into my hair as he pressed his other hand to the back of my head, cradling it gently. “I’ll have no more tears from you, my dear.”

I took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to calm myself, and let out a long sigh. “Don’t ever do this to me again,” I mumbled into the cloth of his robe.

He breathed a laugh and I pulled away to look up at him. He examined my face, a soft smile spreading over his lips.

“What a sight you are. Ash smeared all over your face.” I huffed a laugh through my crying and went to wipe the tears from my cheeks, more than likely smearing the soot even more. He tilted his head, then, confusion crossing his features. “You arrived here well before your friends. How did you accomplish such a feat? Did you not arrive here with the Scions and the Exarch?”

My face fell for a moment, thinking back. In my anger, I hadn’t really… I furrowed my brow, but when I remembered, my eyes widened.

“I think… I think I summoned a portal. I was in the Ocular one moment...and the next I was outside the Capitol building.” I looked back at him again, his expression replaced with a smug grin.

“You’re getting stronger.” One side of my mouth tilted upwards and I pulled away from him. I felt his claws scratch lightly against my arm, a feeling of longing for me travelling down the bond.

“We had better tell the Scions what’s going on before they decide to kill us both,” I quipped. He sighed and nodded, then we both turned back to my friends.

As we approached, I noticed they were still on high alert, weapons drawn, eyes narrowed at the Ascian.

“Are you alright?” Alphinaud asked me, looking me up and down. “Did he do anything to you?”

I looked back at Hades for a moment, smiling softly. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”

“But,” Alisaie protested. “Only a moment ago he wanted to-”

He waved his hand with a roll of his eyes, forcing her to stop mid-sentence, back to his normal self. “Enough, girl. I’m well aware of what I intended mere minutes ago, but it seems your dear Warrior has convinced me otherwise.”

I rolled my eyes. Some of my friends seemed to back down at his words, but Thancred didn’t seem convinced.

“How do we know you aren’t lying?” he asked, grip tightening on his gunblade. Hades shook his head.

“How many times must I tell you that I have no reason to lie to you for it to be ingrained in that thick skull of yours?”

Just then, Ryne laughed, loudly. Her guardian’s eyes shot to her as she bent over, a fit of giggles overtaking her, and he dropped his stance. I grinned, too, at her merriment.

“I’m-I’m sorry,” she said, between laughs. “I just...couldn’t…” She couldn’t finish her sentence. Behind Thancred, Y’shtola let out a short laugh of her own and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Well, I suppose we are forced to suffer his company for a while longer. Put away your weapon, my friend.”

“Exarch,” Urianger inquired, turning to face him. “Now that these matters seem to have been resolved, art thou well enough, perhaps, to transport us back?”

“I’m afraid not, my friend,” G’raha Tia answered, a sad smile on his face. “Apologies, but teleporting you all here ate up quite a bit of my power. I would have mentioned it earlier but...the situation seemed quite dire at the time.” Alphinaud deflated.

“I am not swimming all the way back again.”

Ryne, calming from her fit, stood up straight, looking towards the door. “Why don’t we just stay here for the night?”

“What, in the city?” Alisaie asked, sliding her rapier back into its sheath.

“Well, yes,” the Oracle answered. She looked towards Hades. “Surely there are rooms here in which the Exarch could rest?”

He crossed his arms over his chest and lifted an eyebrow. “Perceptive as ever, aren’t you? You are not wrong, child. I suppose I could allow you all a reprieve for one night in my creation.” I felt a playful tug on the tether.

Thancred frowned, but didn’t comment and lifted his blade to, once again, strap it to his back. Hades waved his hand, ordering my friends to head for the entrance.

They stopped, though, when they noticed Gaia, leaning against the open door, arms crossed in front of her, eyes closed.

“Well, what a heartwarming reunion this has been,” she said, opening her eyes, a smile on her lips.

Chapter Text

“Oh for the love of-” I sighed with annoyance and pushed passed the tense Scions to the front. Gaia pushed off the door then, unfolding her arms. In her hand, she held my discarded mask. She held it out to me once more and I approached her, snatching it from her. 

“You really ought to learn to control your temper, Emet-Selch,” she mused, arching a brow. 

“And you have to work on your perpetually poor timing,” I retorted, rolling my eyes, and she laughed softly, bending to the side to peer at the Scions and the Warrior of Light behind me. 

“Are you all on friendly terms again?” she asked, and I glanced over my shoulder to see the Warrior of Light nod slowly, confusion trickling through the bond. “Good! The more the merrier, I always say. Maybe now I won’t have to suffer the company of a brooding Emet-Selch.” 

She turned on her heels and walked through the flames in the doorway before she turned back to face us as she walked backward, her arms folded behind her back, leaning forward with a playful twinkle in her eyes. “They seem to be a more entertaining lot than Elidibus, at the very least.”

I chuckled but shrugged as we walked into the lobby of the Capitol, the doors slamming shut behind the group. “Some of them, perhaps.”

She nodded, frowning slightly. “I should probably apologize to them,” she started and I raised a brow. “I did not intend for things to spiral out of control as they did. I did not anticipate how my words could be misconstrued and cause such an escalation and so much pain.” She bowed deeply. “I’m sorry, everyone. For the misunderstanding and for catalyzing so much tension.”

Gaia straightened to stand once more, peering around at the group, stopping when she hit the young Oracle. “The Oracle of Light, I presume?”

The girl’s eyes widened, but she nodded. “I look forward to working together with you,” Gaia said with a soft smile.

Some of the Scions furrowed their brows, the distrust and perplexion palpable in the air. Finally, the male twin spoke. “Aren’t you supposed to work in opposition?”

Gaia hummed as she shook her head, but she offered no further explanation. I arched a brow, unsure myself with how she intended to work together with the Oracle of Light. “Maybe you should explain yourself, Oracle. The lack of an adequate explanation for your words is what put us in this mess, so it may alleviate some of the tension.”

She took note of the mixture of baffled and tense expressions on most of the individuals in the room.

“Perhaps a demonstration is in order,” she mused and rubbed her palms together for a moment before she held them open like a book, an arch of light appearing in her hands. The colors adjusted, with a small portion of the arch being dark arcane, the majority being made of bright light. 

“Our universe is very imbalanced at the moment, and this is because Hydaelyn is free and Zodiark is not,” she explained. The light shifted to be an even split between the two. “Back before the summoning was performed by the Convocation of Amaurot, the entities of Hydaelyn and Zodiark existed in relatively peaceful co-existence, and their energies were even. In balance.”

The twins brought their hands up to their faces as they listened to her, the astrologian furrowing his brow. I could feel realization dawning in the mind of the Warrior of Light as she recalled something from her own memories, her brow furrowed while she looked intently at Gaia’s demonstration. She blinked with surprise when Gaia clapped her hands together suddenly to end the projection. 

“The Oracles of Light and Darkness used to work together many thousands of years ago, to help maintain the balance, which is what I’ve been trying to do… but my first step is to restore Zodiark so the trapped Darkness can be released.”

“Where hast thou been all this time then?” the elezen asked.

“I’ve been trying to continue my predecessors’ work to find a way to restore the Thirteenth from the Void that Igeyorhm caused so that it may be Rejoined,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Which is what brought me to the First, to try to harness the power of Eden for its restoration.”

The gunbreaker sighed and shook his head. “I’m not sure I follow. How exactly does restoring Zodiark through Rejoinings equate to anything other than bad news?”

She brought her finger to her lips as she tilted her head to the side, deep in thought. “Well… your idea of Zodiark is that He’s this malicious entity… and that may be true now , but it was not always the case. We Oracles of Darkness have come to believe over many generations that something twisted His essence, turning Him into the Zodiark you know of.” 

“In any case, I hope you’ve noticed the thinning of aether on the Source not too long ago…” She watched as the miqo’te and the elezen nodded, and began to pace back and forth as she continued her explanation. 

“That’s because of the abundance of stagnant Light. Though some of that may have been due to the Ascians’ meddling with Light here on the First,” she shot me a glare and I shrugged unrepentantly. “It manifested as it did because of the sheer imbalance in the universe. Too much of it is not ideal, but the opposite is true as well: too much Darkness and we’d end up in a Void. There needs to be an even balance between the two.”

Realization dawned upon me and I nodded in understanding. “So your goal is not necessarily the restoration of Zodiark, but the liberation of the Darkness that has been trapped when He was.” 

She nodded. “Which is why I recently allied myself with the Ascians, because our goals were relatively compatible. Your methods have been working, the atrocious loss of life aside. But… as it seems the Calamities are a less than ideal way to complete a Rejoining to most of you, I would be amenable to finding another way.”

She sighed and shook her head, placing her hands on her hips. “I had assumed Elidibus would be ideal to have as a point of communication since he has been monitoring the balance between Light and Dark, but… it seems the tempering gets in the way of rational thought sometimes.”

The Oracle of Light nodded thoughtfully. “So the reason you sought Emet-Selch is that he’s no longer tempered?” 

Gaia nodded enthusiastically, before blowing out a dramatic breath. “It’s fortunate that your Warrior of Light was able to talk some sense into him, too, because he was considering going back to get tempered once more, which is horribly counterproductive.”

I snorted at her comment, rolling my eyes. “Counterproductive to you maybe, but I’m sure Elidibus would have been absolutely thrilled to welcome me back into the fold.” 

“You say that as if you are no longer his ally,” she quipped and I narrowed my eyes at her, causing her posture to shift as she shrunk back at the intensity of my glare. “Just a joke, sorry. You’re the absolute best of friends. The idealization of what friendship should be.”

I looked around at the Scions as some of them watched our interaction with mild amusement, noting that the tension had mostly dissipated from the air. 

“Come, let’s set up some sleeping arrangements,” I said, as I headed towards the exit of the Capitol building. “Do try to play along with any conversations a shade may initiate, some aren’t perfect recreations anymore since my death and I can’t promise they won’t spontaneously combust if you confuse them.”

Gaia hurried to walk next to me, lacing her hands behind the back of her head as she peered up at me with a knowing smile. “Consider what Elidibus said confirmed, Emet-Selch. She has you wrapped around her finger,” she teased and I coughed in my surprise at her bluntness. Amusement floated in through the bond and I knew the Warrior of Light had heard the exchange.

I said nothing in response, instead opting to move to place my mask on my face as we approached a shade of an Amaurotine. He turned to face me, bowing slightly. “Good evening, Architect! I see we have many visitors today! And you are in your traveling robes. Have you been on official business to another city?”

I nodded slightly with a sad smile and gestured at the group behind me. “Yes, my friend. I am always traveling these days. It has been quite some time since I’ve truly been home in Amaurot, but we will remain here in her care for the night. Would you mind escorting our visitors to guest housing?”

The shade nodded and looked at the Scions and then back at me before turning and gesturing that they follow. They hesitated for a moment, but Gaia went to follow him and the Oracle of Light quickly followed behind, prompting the rest of them to do so as well. The Warrior of Light walked passed me, her hand brushing against mine. She lingered for a moment, a wave of contentment spreading between us before she continued on to walk with her companions.

I stayed a few steps behind, taking in the recreation of the city with a hint of sadness. It paled in comparison to what it had once been, and try as I might to adjust the details, I could never get it quite right. 

The shade looked back and suddenly stopped short, bringing his hand up to his face in thought. “Halmarult?” he asked as the Warrior of Light walked closer.

“Yes, she has returned to Amaurot for the evening,” I replied from the back of the group before anyone else could respond.  

The shade gestured back towards me, addressing the Warrior of Light with a respectful bow. “It is so good to see you again! Your new housing arrangements with the Architect have been completed, Halmarult. There is no need for you to come this way.”

The gunbreaker visibly tensed, and I couldn’t suppress my smirk. “Now, why is it that she would be staying with the Architect again? Instead of, let’s say, her friends who didn’t just try to kill her?" he bit out and the shade tilted his head.

“All eternally bonded soulmates cohabitate, young one! I remember their ceremony like it was yesterday,” the shade said, sighing wistfully. “It brings a tear to the eye.” 

I watched as the Warrior of Light’s face flushed, and she shot me a glare as my overwhelming amusement reached her through our bond. The Scions shifted uncomfortably. 

“Come, my dear, the Convocation suites are this way,” I said to her, laughter in my voice at the expressions of her companions. I looked back at the shade. “Show our visitors to their accommodations with no further interruptions, would you? They are exhausted from their journey.”

The Warrior of Light stood taller as she composed herself and nodded at the shade. “Yes, please do. These are dear friends of mine.”

The shade nodded quickly. “Of course! If they are guests of both you and the Architect, I shall see to it that they are housed comfortably.” The shade continued on towards the apartment building in the distance and the hero lingered behind as her friends followed him, turning to face me with a raised brow.

I shrugged as she walked up to me with a soft smile on her expression. “Why do I feel like you set that shade up like that on purpose to get me alone?”

I reached up to remove my mask and shook my head. “I did nothing of the sort, my dear. Now, did I exaggerate what happens when you confuse a shade to force your friends to play along knowing that you would be recognized as my soulmate? That’s a different matter entirely.”

She narrowed her eyes, pretending to be skeptical of my explanation, but I could feel her acceptance of my words. “Well… where’s this apartment then? Is it the same from the dreams?”

I pointed up at the building we were standing next to, summoning a portal next to us. I offered her my hand, smiling as she took it. “No, we never had the opportunity to move into this particular apartment.”

She furrowed her brow with a frown and I pulled her close to me as I walked through the portal. We exited on the top level of the building, on the balcony overseeing the city. “Before you assume something horribly tragic, we were simply too busy to relocate. And then… well… the rest happened.”

She looked at me sadly and I shrugged a shoulder. “So I suppose in a sense, it is slightly tragic,” I murmured, reaching to place my gloved hand on the side of her face, cupping her cheek. She leaned into my touch, placing her hand on top of mine as her eyes fluttered shut. Relief flowed through me at the contact, from both her and myself. We stood in silence for a few minutes before her eyes opened and she smiled softly at me.

“These robes you wear,” she started, her eyes trailing downwards as she considered the conversation I had with the shade minutes prior. “I always wondered why in the dreams I was wearing plain ones even after being part of the Convocation. They’re the robes that were worn when traveling?”

I nodded, moving my hands to rest on her hips. “For the inhabitants of the other cities to know where we came from, yes. While Amaurot may have had the strongest citizens in terms of aetheric abilities, other cities did have their own leadership and wore distinct robes and colors,” I explained softly. “We… decided we would use these until our task was complete and the star was restored because-”

“You’re always away from home,” she concluded sadly and I hummed in agreement as she took a step closer to me, her hands coming to rest on my chest over the Convocation robes, her fingers tracing the design slowly. 

I took a step towards her, leaning down to press my forehead against hers. “I owe you an apology, my dearest hero,” I said, softly. She shook her head slightly.

“You don’t,” she replied, her voice barely louder than a whisper. “I can tell how sorry you are.”

I exhaled slowly and moved my head back, searching her eyes when she opened them. “I am sorry, nonetheless. I was trying to protect you from the truth at first, and when things escalated, I was not sure how to proceed. I realize now that I was wrong, I should have been forthcoming from the beginning.”

She smiled playfully at me. “You? Wrong ? Impossible. I must be dreaming.”

I rolled my eyes dramatically and she trailed her hands down to take mine, lifting them up to examine the gloves. She exhaled a slow breath before she began gently removing them from my hands, placing them on the railing of the balcony before she returned her gaze to mine. 

I sucked in a breath at the sudden electricity I could feel building between us. Placing my hands back on her hips, I took another step towards her and she looked up at me, her hands trailing upwards before they settled on the back of my neck, her fingers lacing together there.

I searched her expression slowly, feeling the tension building between us as we each let the other feel our desires through the bond. I felt the overwhelming need to feel her lips on mine, my eyes flicking down to them for a moment before returning to her eyes. A feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty surged through me; I found myself unsure if it would be alright for me to proceed after recent events.

In response to my hesitance, she lifted herself up on her toes slightly, bringing her face closer to mine. Her thoughts raced with how much she wanted me to kiss her, how badly she ached for my touch and I exhaled unsteadily.

“Kiss me, Hades,” she whispered after a moment, prompting a shiver to run through my body at her use of my name. I could feel the anticipation welling up in her and she slid her hands up higher still to tangle her fingers in my hair. 

This would be the first time we did anything truly intimate since I had awoken her powers, I realized, and I tightened my grip on her hips. I leaned down closer to her, my lips a hair’s breadth from hers as I hesitated for a moment before I softly pressed my lips to hers. 

Chapter Text

I breathed in, sharply, when his lips met mine. Everything was different- felt...different. I felt his affection and desire surge into me, but this time it didn’t overwhelm my senses as it had before the ritual. It felt...good...instead of raw. I assumed I could attribute it to the fact that he had unlocked more of my powers.

I closed my eyes, pressing myself harder against him. I received a hum of pleasure against my mouth and he deepened the kiss. I opened my mouth to him, and this time he didn’t refuse my offer.

When he pulled away from me, I felt longing coming from the both of us. He dragged one of his hands down my body as he stared down at me, his want to continue almost overpowering all of his senses, but he held himself back- if we had gone further, I’m not sure he’d have been able to stop this time and I could sense that he didn’t want that for me. I understood why, and I didn’t argue. After nights of little rest, we were both drained. He wanted it to be...perfect.

“Would you be horribly opposed to just…,” he started, quietly, his head dipping between us, looking at the ground. I put my hand on his arm, smiling.

“No, we can just cuddle.” He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank Zodiark for small miracles.” A breathy laugh escaped me as he laced his fingers between mine and led me to the bedroom.

Minutes later, we both laid in bed, facing each other, outer clothing discarded on the floor. My arms were wrapped around his back, holding him tightly, as if he’d disappear again if I let go. I pressed my forehead to his and closed my eyes, sighing happily. He ran his thumb over my cheek. How did I deserve to feel this? To have someone who held me like this...someone who...

I felt a breath of a laugh from him as he listened in on my thoughts. “I wish you could see yourself as I see you. Even incomplete, your soul shines so brightly,” he said, tilting his chin up towards me so he kissed me again, lips lingering on mine for only a moment. “So beautifully. Like a star in the night sky.”

I felt heat spread across my cheeks at his compliment and pressed my face against his chest to hide the color. His chest shook with a chuckle at my shyness and he put his hand under my chin, lifting my head to look at him. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he breathed when my eyes met his. He released my chin and enveloped me in his warm embrace, tucking my head under his chin.

“I was a fool for even thinking I would have ever been able to fight you again.” I frowned, tightening my arms around him.

“I...couldn’t have done it, either. It would have destroyed me.” I felt him nod his agreement.

We laid like that in silence for a few minutes, relishing each other's company, before he spoke again.

“I’m curious, my dear.” I felt the rumbling of his voice vibrate against me. “Why did you start calling me Hades?”

“Hmm,” I hummed, thinking back. “I’m not sure. I recall feeling as if a lock had been opened...that I needed to use that name, but I don’t know why.” He was quiet for a few moments, my words sinking in, mind turning over the possibilities and meanings.

“Well,” he started again. “In any case, I think I prefer to hear Hades coming out of your lips rather than Emet-Selch. So formal.” A giggle found its way out of my mouth. “However, in the days of Amaurot, names were reserved for private gatherings. In public, I’d still prefer to be referred to as my title.” When I nodded my understanding, he ran his hands up and down my back as he held me. “Now, I want you to get some rest.” I stiffened slightly, not wanting to give this night up yet. “I can sense your exhaustion, my dear. Sleep. I promise I’ll be here when you wake.”

And of course, I did as he said. He was right. Even now, I could feel the heaviness in my body, the stress and lack of sleep...I felt him drifting off next to me, in much the same condition, so I relaxed into him, letting his comforting presence lull me into dreams.

When I woke again, we were still in the same position, my front pressed up against him, our arms wound around each other. I smiled at his peaceful face, then as carefully as I could, I slid out of his embrace and went to the large front window.

It was still dark, though I supposed it was always dark as far under the ocean as we were, and I had no real sense of time. My body felt refreshed, though, so I assumed I had gotten enough restful sleep.

I looked out at the city, only a shadow of its former glory. Small rays of light shone down through the waves above, casting the buildings in an eerie, green glow.

I felt Hades start waking before I heard him move, my absence in his arms noticed. I looked over my shoulder to him as he got out of bed and came to join me. He laid an arm across my shoulders and pulled me into him.

“I want to see it,” I said, quietly, eyes once again taking in the tall towers and swirling spires. “With my own eyes.”

“You will,” he assured me, squeezing me tightly. I crossed my hands over my chest and rested my head against his shoulder, watching the streams of light move above. He looked down towards the ground. “Ah, it seems your young Oracle is wandering about the city. She is looking incredibly inquisitive this morning. Perhaps we should humor her questions?”

I followed his gaze, watching Ryne stop by a tree, looking up at its bare branches. I tilted my head.

“Leave her be, for now. I want a bath.”

“Anything you desire in this city shall be yours, my dear.” He released me and started heading for the kitchen. “While you bathe, I’ll prepare some breakfast for us.”

An amused smile crossed my lips, but I didn’t dare laugh. I felt an affectionate stroke down the tether and made my way to the bathing room.

When I was finished, feeling refreshed and clean, I wrapped a towel around my body and went to the mirror to brush out my hair. I looked at my body as I did, one side of my mouth lifting in a mischievous smile, remembering how he’d stopped in his tracks the last time he saw me like this...

I sent an image of myself as I was down the bond and was met with a jolt of surprise and excitement at my playfulness. I continued running the brush through my wet locks and waited. Finally, I heard him outside the door on quick feet. I expected him to stop at the door, but as I flipped my hair over my shoulder, free of its tangles, the door opened and he stepped in. He crossed his arms over his chest, looking me up and down.

“How incredibly cruel you are, you little minx.”

I turned my nose up at him, shrugging my shoulders as I fought the laughter rising in my chest. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hades lifted and eyebrow. “Oh, is that so?” He advanced on me, quickly. “Perhaps this will jog your memory?”

“What-” I started backing away, the look in his eyes intensely amused. When he caught me, he easily swept me up, one hand at my back and the other under my knees, then moved back to the still-full bathtub. I understood his intentions too late. “Wait-No!”

I squealed as he dropped me back into the cooling water. The towel wrapped around my body loosened and floated to the top, a sopping mess. I gripped the edges of the tub and surfaced, taking in a deep breath, my sodden hair clinging to my face. I pushed it away and blinked the water from my eyes. I shivered from the cold. Sure, I could breathe underwater, but I wasn’t expecting-

Hades reached into the tub for the towel and wrung it over my head, an arrogant smirk on his face. I gasped, surprise spreading over me.

“Now, how’s your mem-” I stood up, quickly, bringing an armful of water with me, throwing it on him, cutting off his taunt. As he was recovering from his own shock, I stepped out onto the floor again, reaching for another towel.

I wrapped it around myself again, dripping water onto the tile, and looked back at him. His eyes were wide as he stared at me, but when I lifted my eyebrow, he cleared his throat and lifted his hand. With a snap, I was dry and clothed again, my hair tied up in its usual style.

“You have powers now, my dear. Use them.” He turned back towards the door, snapping again to dry his own clothes. “Come and eat.”

Shaking my head, I followed him out to the kitchen, where a spread of dishes sat on the counters. My eyes widened. “Is-Why did you make so much?”

He picked an empty plate up and turned back to hand it to me. “I-” He paused a moment, nearly perplexed. “I wasn’t sure what you liked.”

I smiled. I’d not seen this side of him before, either, and I was enjoying getting to know everything I could about him. I accepted the plate and started helping myself.

When we had both filled our plates, I let him lead me to the dining table, where’d he’d already set out silverware and cups.

When I took my first bite, I looked up at him in surprise.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said. “I’m thousands of years old, my dear. I’ve learned many things on my long journey.” I continued eating, trying to hide the smile I had for him, though I’m sure the happiness I was feeling was finding its way down the tether. I picked up my glass to take a sip. “I also took a class in my youth on the foundations of culinary-based Creation magic.”

I choked on my water, nearly spitting it out in favor of the laughter I could no longer hold back. “Did it impress many girls?” I quipped, wiping my mouth with a napkin.

His eyes narrowed in on me, though I could feel the chuckle he was holding back. “As a matter of fact, it did. Including you, evidently.”

My mouth dropped open and I had no witty comeback for him. He wasn’t entirely wrong after all, was he? I snapped my mouth shut and swallowed, then cleared my throat. “We should probably go check on Ryne and the Scions.”

As I passed him heading back into the kitchen, I heard him breathe a laugh.

Chapter Text

With a snap of my fingers, several sets of dishes and silverware appeared, neatly arranged on the dining table, the food I had made for breakfast distributed along the center. I stood, taking a deep breath before I approached the intercom to the side of the doorway, pressing the button to activate it.

“Halmarult and I have guests in the visitors’ housing. Would you send for them? There is also a young child named Ryne venturing the courtyards, bring her as well.”

“At once, Emet-Selch,” the voice on the other side replied as I released the button.

I turned then, gazing into the kitchen to watch the Warrior of Light… washing dishes? I tilted my head to the side. She turned her face toward me, undoubtedly feeling my gaze on her.

“How very domestic of you,” I teased as I approached. I stood behind her, placing my chin atop her head with my hands on either side of her on the countertop. I watched with mild amusement as she conjured water to rinse her plate. “You do know that as a member of the Convocation of the Fourteen, laborious things such as this are beneath you. You can just Create a clean one, or through your will simply cause the filth to disappear.”

She scoffed, and flicked her wrist with a jolt of playful spite through our bond, summoning a drying rack to place the dish in. She began to turn slowly, and I took a step back to give her adequate space, my hands remaining on the countertop. She looked up at me with a small smile on her face as she raised her arms to wrap around the back of my neck.

“I heard you were inviting the Scions over,” she said, softly. 

“It would be remiss of me to fail to feed your companions, my dearest,” I started, before raising a brow. “Unless you would rather they starved?”

She giggled, and I smiled at the soft and melodious sound, the warmth it brought to me spreading from my chest throughout my body. “But what if I wanted us to have some more time for just the two of us?”

“Whatever for?” 

She raised her brow at me and I raised mine in return, neither of us moving for several moments. Finally, she sighed and frustration laced with desire flitted through our tether. 

“Touch me,” she breathed, a slight flush appearing on her face as I exhaled sharply through my nose, a surge of my own desire reaching her at the request.

“So demanding,” I murmured with a chuckle, my hands moving from their place on the counter to rest on her hips before sliding down to the back of her thighs to lift her onto the countertop. She parted her legs and I moved to stand between them, one hand coming to rest on the small of her back. Slowly, I brought my face closer to hers and she tilted her face up towards me expectantly. I hovered my lips just over hers. 

“Your friends will be here soon, you know,” I whispered, as my own desire mixed with hers in our minds. She exhaled shakily, her fingers gripping the hair at the nape of my neck.

“I know,” she whispered back and she lifted herself up to close the distance. I pulled her closer to me, bringing my free hand up to the back of her head, my fingers lacing through her soft hair. She hummed against my lips, gripping my hair more tightly as she brought her legs up to wrap around my waist.

The kiss grew slowly, both of us cognizant of the fact that we could be interrupted at any moment. But soon, as the moments passed, and my lips moved against hers, she parted her lips with a soft whimper. I felt my resolve buckle at the sound and she shuddered with anticipation when she realized it had. My tongue sinuously danced against hers as I hungrily deepened the kiss, pressing her more flush against my body. She moved her hips ever-so-slightly to press firmly against me, eliciting a sound from deep in my throat, my determination to hold back coming undone even more.

I tore my lips from hers, trailing desperate kisses down her jawline, down her neck, nipping at the flesh softly. Breathing heavily, she tilted her head to the side to give me more access with a soft moan as she continued to move against me, each movement fueling my arousal. Her hands slid down to grip the fabric of my shirt tightly and I nudged the cloth of hers aside with my nose as I pressed kisses along her collarbone to her shoulder.

A soft bell sounded through the room, and with it, the spell had been broken. She groaned in frustration and I breathed a chuckle against her skin. 

“We could leave them waiting, if you wanted,” I offered, running the tip of my nose along her skin. “As much as I detest rushing such things, if you wanted me to, I would be more than happy to give you the release that you desire… it doesn’t necessarily have to take very long.”

She exhaled shakily, for a moment genuinely considering my proposition, before she shook her head. “No, it’s alright. Next time,” she said, her tone laced with regret at her decision and I grinned.

“You’re a much better friend than I,” I remarked, placing a kiss on her shoulder. With the snap of my fingers, an intercom appeared behind her on the wall and I reached for it to press the button, my lips still on her skin. 

“Your guests are outside the door, Emet-Selch,” the attendant said. “Shall I let them in?”

“Just a minute,” The Warrior of Light chimed in shakily, her breathing still labored. 

“As you wish, Halmarult,” the voice replied. With a sly grin, I nipped at the flesh at the crook of her neck and she tightened her grip on my shirt with a sharp intake of breath.

“No… bring them in,” I said as I lifted my head, my lips hovering over hers once more. “But have them wait in the main living room for approximately five minutes before bringing them back to the dining area. There’s something I must attend to.” 

As I released the button, I could hear the front door open, the commotion from the other side of the apartment and confusion flitted through the bond as I pressed my lips to hers roughly, my hands reaching back to remove her legs from around my waist. She put her hands on my shoulders and pushed back, her breathing heavy as her eyes searched mine and I smirked.

“What are you-” 

“The clock’s ticking, hero,” I purred and she furrowed her brow, unsure of my meaning. Without warning, I slipped my hand into the waistband of her pants and under her smallclothes, earning a loud gasp from the Warrior of Light. Her body tensed as she pushed against my shoulders once more, her mind racing with panic at the idea that her friends were so very closeby, that they could hear, that they could see if they wandered too close. I shushed her reassuringly as I pressed my lips to hers once more, my fingers moving against the growing wetness between her legs with calculated precision and she shuddered, the tension in her wavering as she wrapped her arms around me once more, her fingers back in my hair as she gave in.

I grinned against her lips before pulling back, continuing my ministrations with a faster pace and she let out a soft whimper, causing my grin to widen as I whispered to her, “You’ll have to be quiet if you don’t want them to hear you, my dear.”

Her cheeks flushed and she tightened her grip on my hair, her breathing coming out in pants as she began to move her hips in time with the movements of my hand. I shifted my hand slightly, rubbing and pinching her sensitive bundle of nerves in just the right way to bring her the stimulation she needed. She threw her head back with a shuddering exhale, soft moans escaping her that began to slowly increase in volume and I breathed a chuckle at the realization that she would, in fact, not be able to stay quiet. I brought my other hand up quickly as she began to tremble against my touch, clamping it over her mouth just in time for her to cry out, her hips bucking against me as she rode out the waves of her climax, her body shaking, a thin layer of sweat on her brow.

When she had calmed, I removed my hand from her mouth and slipped the other out of her clothes, pressing my lips to hers hungrily, a low growl rumbling through my chest. She pulled herself flush against me, returning the kiss with fervor before she finally pulled back, her cheeks flushed, chest heaving. 

“I think you were quiet enough for them to be none-the-wiser, but I suppose time will tell,” I teased as I snapped my fingers, leaving her looking refreshed, save for the redness in her cheeks. 

She shrugged a shoulder as nonchalantly as she could manage and I placed a tender kiss on her forehead before stepping back to allow her to hop off the counter. She ran her hand through my hair, straightening the strands she had displaced with her fingers as I readjusted the strap of her top into place.

I looked her up and down, adjusting a wayward strand of hair. “There, it’s like it never happened,” I mused, as I gestured for the Warrior of Light to head towards the dining room, following close behind her. “You’ll find we have impeccable timing, dearest hero.”

An Amaurotine turned the corner from the hallway then and stood to the side, allowing the hero’s companions to filter into the dining area before he looked at me and bowed his head slightly. 

“Is there anything else you need, Emet-Selch? Halmarult?” he asked, and I shook my head. 

“We’re fine, thank you,” the Warrior of Light replied, smiling kindly as she exhaled a deep breath, her complexion back to normal. He nodded and turned to leave without another word.

The gunbreaker rolled his eyes. “Do they treat you like a king because you recreated them or…?”

Gaia sighed heavily, her expression laced with barely concealed annoyance. “No, they treat them both with respect because that is what their positions in their civilization deserve. I know you’re not fond of him, and I’m sure you have your reasons, but he was considered a genius even amongst his brilliant peers and is quite adept at anything he does,” she explained, mild irritation in her tone. 

She crossed her arms and frowned as she continued. “And if there’s anything historians make sure to hand down, it’s tales of legendary powers, and as far as mages go there are few greater than Hades and his masterful command over the power of the Underworld. For some reason, that very same mage allows you to live when he could otherwise remove you from existence simply because he felt like it.”

“That may be a slight exaggeration. It takes a significant amount of effort, perhaps more than it’s worth, to expunge the stain someone’s soul brings to the tapestry of reality and I am not wont to rouse myself to doing something that strenuous very often at all. It would take someone horrendously offensive to be worth such attention,” I mused as I raised an eyebrow. “But really, I’m flattered, Gaia. I had no idea you thought so highly of me.”

She scoffed. “I know the history at the very least, to understand what having the title of Emet-Selch entails. Only the best and brightest among them could be nominated for and voted into the Convocation, let alone a role as pivotal to the city as the Architect. And quite honestly, he’s bothersome. All I’ve heard out of his mouth is how he doesn’t trust you and you’ve corrupted their hero.”

I could feel a slight irritation building in my chest that was not my own and looked over at the Warrior of Light, who had narrowed her eyes at her friend. I placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a light squeeze, reassuring her through our tether. She sighed and relaxed, looking up at me with a soft smile. “They’re lucky you drastically improved my mood before they got here,” she quipped and I smirked, nodding in response.

The miqo’te mage looked between us, her brow quirked as she observed us, but she said nothing on the matter. Instead, she cleared her throat. “I believe we came here for a breakfast invitation from Emet-Selch and Halmarult, esteemed members of the Convocation of Fourteen,” she said, heading towards the table.

The Oracle of Light bounded forward, eagerly pulling a seat out and sitting. She grabbed her napkin to put on her lap and looked over at her friends. “Come on, then. It’ll get cold.”

Slowly, begrudgingly, the Scions and Crystal Exarch began to take their seats. I sat at the head of the table, Gaia taking the seat to my right. She began picking different foods from the platters in front of her, rolling her eyes as she watched the Scions eye the food suspiciously. 

The Warrior of Light sighed as she sat across from me, crossing her arms over her chest as she watched her friends with a stern expression. After a moment, she reached in front of her and grabbed a small piece of bread, taking a bite of it, chewing and swallowing. “There. See? Not poisoned. Stop being rude.”

The elezen cleared his throat and shifted in his seat with embarrassment before he too began loading food onto his plate and soon, the rest followed suit. I arched a brow at the interaction, before leaning over towards the Oracle of Light, who had already begun eating happily. 

“Did you even consider that I could have poisoned the food before you started eating?” I asked, conspiratorially. “You are much braver than your friends, young one.”

Her eyes widened and she looked down at the half-eaten dish in front of her before looking back up at me and I broke out in a laugh at her expression, shaking my head. “No, child. It’s safe, I assure you.”

“Did you make all this?” she asked as she visibly relaxed, reaching for another sweet roll and I nodded.

The male twin cleared his throat, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “It’s quite good, Emet-Selch,” he said with a slight hesitation, the surprise in his tone matching his expression.

I shrugged my shoulders nonchalantly in response and watched as the hyur gingerly took another bite of a piece of toast. He looked up at me with a frown. “I suppose you have a reason for calling us here then?”

“Straight to business, I see,” I sighed but nodded. “I have come to realize that I owe you an explanation,” I started and was met with several surprised expressions. I frowned and averted my gaze for a moment before I looked back, locking my eyes with the Warrior of Light. Her brow was furrowed and I could feel her confusion. “There are many things I need to disclose, and I would like to start with these, at the very least.”

“First, Elidibus came to visit me the night the Oracle of Light first unlocked my powers, in the Rak’tika Greatwood,” I paused as the air became tense in the room. I watched the Warrior of Light’s expression as she took in this information, and her expression slowly shifted as she connected dots in her mind.

“It was not my intention to reach out to him, but he sensed my restoration. For several nights thereafter, he returned. My full powers were still restricted, and if nothing else, he was--well, I suppose still is--one of my oldest and most trusted friends. Tempered though he may be, his primary objective was to free me from whatever was binding them.” 

I looked at the hero sadly. “I should have told you, and please believe that I wanted to. But in the back of my mind, I convinced myself that if I had, you would have thought everything was a scheme.” She frowned and looked down at her lap. 

I blew out a breath slowly as I continued. “At any rate… Elidibus’ return and then the introduction to Gaia led me to believe that there was no other path for me to walk beside that which I had been given since the Sundering. When I spoke to Gaia, she had advised me that you Scions held significant sway over your Warrior of Light, and I soon erroneously came to believe that she had been confiding in you regarding her doubts in me.”

I frowned, looking down at the table as I remembered how it had stung, the shock of pain followed by the deep, persistent ache that accompanied it before I raised my gaze once more. “It was… alarmingly difficult for me to process the emotions that came with this. Hearing that I had lost her trust made me feel as if I truly was the evil monster you considered we Ascians to be. And so, because I truly believed the only course of action for us was to face each other on the battlefield once more… I pushed her away. ‘So be it’, I thought, if that’s all I would ever be, then I would become the villain to your hero once more.” 

I lowered my gaze down to my hands, sighing heavily as I lowered my voice. “As Gaia mentioned, I was fully intent on getting re-tempered, if only to make it easier to face her if it came down to it. To some degree, perhaps I wanted her to grow to detest me, so it would be easier for her to face me as well when the time came.”

The female twin brought her hand to her chin in thought before she frowned. “So you’re saying you did all that with good intentions? How do you expect us to accept that, after everything you’ve done?”

I shook my head. “When you are tempered, and I do not mean mindlessly enthralled, there’s this… constant pull. A nagging sensation. If I rest, Lord Zodiark won’t return. If I stop, Lord Zodiark will perish. If I sleep, if I eat… it is much easier, in that mindset, to make decisions because I know exactly the fastest way to accomplish my task to make the incessant drive pause, if only for a moment. I do not expect any of you to truly understand, and I do not wish it upon any of you.”

I clenched my hands into fists in my lap. “But now, with a clear mind, able to decide for myself… it muddies the water, doesn’t it? I can’t do this, because it will upset someone I care for. If I say what’s on my mind, I could lose everything I hold dear. If I admit what I have done, someone invariably important to me will lose their faith in me…” I trailed off, my gaze lingering on the Warrior of Light.

“To add to this, every step, every word, every action was being so harshly scrutinized and doubted by the dear friends of the one soul I had longed to share each waking moment with again, after having spent so many eons apart. So, rather than cause her unnecessary grief and tension in her life, I decided to make decisions as I had previously: Complete the Rejoining. Push emotions and affections aside. Focus on the mission. If nothing else, I would have proven you all right and you would have stopped subconsciously doubting her, focusing your ire on me instead, honing in on how I had tricked her into trusting me.”

I sighed, scanning around the room, my eyes lingering on each of the Scions and the Exarch for a moment before I looked to the next, before finally settling on the Warrior of Light. “I will not make excuses for my actions. I should not have hidden things the way that I did from the Warrior of Light, and I should have tried to be transparent with the rest of you as well. I know it will take a long time and a great deal of effort on my part for any semblance of trust to be formed between us, given our history. But at the very least, I would like to apologize to all of you--the Exarch included--not just for my recent transgressions, but for those which led us here as well.”

Chapter Text

A silence descended upon the entire room as the Ascian in front of us apologized for his behavior. If I was being honest, even I was surprised. Thancred had stopped eating, confusion crossing his face. Urianger and Y’shtola exchanged a glance with the twins across the table from them, no one knowing what to say.

I stared down at my lap, at my hands that rested there. I curled my fingers into fists as I listened to his words. How had we let things go so far? I felt the sadness he was feeling as he talked about how he had wanted to tell me what was on his mind, but he was worried I wouldn’t believe him. My heart threatened to break along with his when he said he thought he’d lost my trust. My eyes stung as water rose to them and I closed my eyes in an attempt to keep them back. He had for a while, hadn’t he? I’d had a moment of weakness at the very same moment he was willing to trust me with his problems… I was just as guilty as he, wasn’t I?

“I understand, of course, if you would like to discuss this amongst yourself without my presence. I have to replenish the thinning aether around the city regardless, so I will take my leave.”

I felt a small tug on the bond, prompting me to look up. I couldn’t keep the crestfallen expression off of my face when I did, no matter how hard I tried. Hades locked eyes with me, and tilted his head when he saw my face. He sent a comforting stroke down the bond and implored me to stay put. I nodded slightly and he opened a void portal.

Once he was gone, Alisaie exhaled a deep breath and slumped back in her chair. “Did an Ascian just apologize to us? I’m afraid you might have to pinch me. I believe I’m still asleep.”

“I still don’t trust him,” Thancred announced, leaning forward, elbows on the table. I sighed.

“Really, Thancred, could you please-”

“I’m not sure I believe him, either,” Y’shtola said quickly. “I trust you, but regardless of what’s between the two of you, he’s always claimed to have good intentions when in fact, he wanted to murder millions for his precious plan.”

“He was tempered then,” I insisted, crossing my arms over my chest. “You can’t compare-”

“Warrior,” Gaia cut me off, sweetly. “Perhaps I could be of assistance?” I looked across the table at her and raised an eyebrow, curious. “As an Oracle, I am in tune with the memories of the past. I would like to show you and your friends something.” I tilted my head to the side, understanding still escaping me, but I nodded nonetheless. “Clear the table, would you?”

“Sure,” I agreed, flicking my wrist to the side in an easy motion. The food disappeared, plates and all. Ryne, half-eaten sweet roll in hand, pouted as she saw it dematerialize. I breathed a small laugh and willed another plate in front of her with two more rolls, sugary icing and all. She looked at me, eyes wide at first, but her face broke out into a grin.

Gaia sat forward, stretching her arm over the surface of the wood. I watched as she channeled her aether into her hand and spread it over the table, then sat back, letting a memory play out.

Thirteen figures appeared above us, sitting in a circle of chairs, Persephone standing in the middle, the clarity and sound as if it was happening in the moment.

“And so, the Convocation moves to induct Persephone into the seat of Halmarult.”

“That voice-,” Thancred said. “That’s-”

“Yes,” Gaia interjected. “Lahabrea was in the Convocation. The Speaker.” She looked towards me. “As was your hero, if you’ve forgotten.” She sighed, sitting back, looking back towards her projection.

Once the meeting had ended and the date for promotion set, the other members filtered out of the room. Hades rushed towards Persephone, a wide grin on his mouth. He picked her up by her waist, spinning her around in his arms. She laughed as he did, and when he put her back on the floor, she rested her hands on his shoulders. They both closed their eyes as he pressed his forehead against hers, the smile never leaving his face.

“I’m so proud of you, my love,” he whispered to her. He looked happy, free of his burdens.

The projection paused.

“I wanted to show you this to shed some light on the man he had been before the tempering, the man he is once more now that said tempering is broken. But, fear...is a great and powerful motivator. It can make even the most powerful of men do things they wouldn’t normally do out of desperation, and fear of losing those that you love, well…” She waved her hand, the memory in front of us fading. “I am not saying that he is innocent by any means, but please try to understand. He didn’t wake up one morning with the random thought of summoning a god. He didn’t do any of this because he wanted to.”

“Could...Could I someday recall similar memories?” Ryne asked the other girl, enthusiastically, still nibbling on her food.

“Of course,” Gaia said. “With the proper training. You’re still quite new into your power, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Ryne answered, looking down at her lap. “To be honest, I do not know much about them.”

“Don’t be upset,” the other girl said, encouragingly. “I had the opportunity to train most of my life to accept this role, whereas you did not. I can help you.” The red-head perked up for a moment.

“As heartwarming as this moment is,” Thancred began again. “How exactly was that supposed to change our minds?”

“So impatient, this one,” she remarked, looking at Ryne, one side of her mouth lifting. The Oracle of Light giggled, lightly. Gaia waved her hand.

Another appeared memory. Persephone and Hades were yelling at each other.

“Hades, there must be another way. You just need more time.”

“There is no more time! Everyday a new monster is born. Everyday, more and more of our people are killed!”

“And sacrificing them is any better?”

“Do you not understand the weight on my shoulders? Their Architect, meant to oversee Creation magic? My carelessness depleted the aether. It was my fault! Let me do what I can to restore it!”

“Please, Hades.” Persephone was crying now, begging. “Please don’t do this. When we vote later, please don’t agree. Everyone will follow you. They trust you! If you say no, surely they will too!”

“You would sentence Amaurot to destruction, Persephone. No, not just Amaurot. The entire star.”

“And you would doom yourself and the rest of us to millennia of guilt? I hope you can sleep at night after this. Those souls you sacrifice are on your hands. I will have no part in this.”

He seemed to deflate at her words. He dropped to his knees, grief overtaking him. He covered his face with his hand, shoulders shaking.

“You’re right,” he said, his voice threatening to crack. “I don’t want-” He sighed. “I desperately want there to be another way, but no one has brought forth a viable option and none of my theories have worked.” She knelt down in front of him, putting her hands on his shoulders.

“We can find one. We will find one. Together.” He looked at her, his eyes rimmed in red. She smiled at him. Hopeful. Pure.

“Okay,” he whispered. “I’ll vote no.”

My breath caught at Persephone’s words. I had said nearly the same thing to him the day before… The last time he hadn’t heeded them. Had he finally learned from his mistakes?

“As you can see,” Gaia began again. “Emet-Selch wanted to find another way from the very beginning.” Yet another memory appeared in front of us. “But the pressure from his peers and the weight of guilt hung over him, heavily.”

“The Convocation moves for a vote on the summoning of Zodiark to implore Him to save our world,” Lahabrea said. “All in favor?”

Persephone sat in her chair, frowning, gripping the arms with white knuckles. Hades was watching her closely. A few hands started raising on either side of each of them, everyone’s eyes on him, waiting, expectantly. When he didn’t raise his, Nabriales leaned over his own chair.

“You’re the reason we’re in the mess, Emet-Selch,” he whispered, harshly. “Do you want to see the fall of Amaurot on your watch?” Hades clenched his jaw, hand begrudgingly rising from his lap. Persephone stared at him, disbelief in her eyes. Slowly, the rest of the hands around the room rose as well.

“Thirteen in favor, one opposed. Motion carried.” Her chin trembled for a moment, but she released a stabilizing breath and stood from her chair.

“As of this moment, I will be stepping down from my seat and relinquishing the title of Halmarult,” she said. She lifted the mask from her face and set it into the seat of the chair. “I am sorry, friends,” she said, nodding sadly, then locked eyes with Hades. “I can’t… I can’t do this anymore.”

The vision shifted. Hades stood alone in his apartment, despair on his face and any trace of Persephone gone from what had once been their home. My heart ached.

“Emet-Selch may not always make the best decisions.” The projection in front of us faded once again. “But these decisions were not made lightly, and there was no ill intent behind them. Knowing he would lose his soulmate was, in his eyes, a price to pay to save the star.” Gaia looked down at the table, finger tracing the patterns in the wood. “Such was the same, yesterday. He thought he was doing it for the greater good, and I am sorry to admit I had a hand in his decision-making. Elidibus had my ear, whispering that you all were poisoning him, and I wrongly believed him. Emet-Selch came to me, seeking another way. I told him I did not think there was another way, but it seems these are his true feelings...not just because of you and your Warrior of Light. If I had thought to look into the past before, most of this could have been avoided...”

The room fell still and silent. I watched the Scions for long moments, watched as all of this new information laid overtop of them, watched as they absorbed the truth. I saw on their faces that they were still hesitant.

“How do we know that these projections aren’t some kind of trick?” Alisaie asked. For the first time, she looked as if she wasn’t angry. She looked as if she wanted to believe what she’d seen was true.

I took a deep breath, organizing my own thoughts into words to help convince them.

“I know that none of this is easy,” I started. “I know that maybe this isn’t what you wanted to hear- that you’d be happy to be able to continue to despise him.” I watched as their attention focused in on me. “As he told you yesterday, in the past, I was a part of his world. And as you have seen, the originator of my soul was part of the Convocation.”

“And his soulmate,” Y’shtola concluded. “The link I see between the two of you…And yesterday, the shade that led us to our rooms all but confirmed it.” I nodded, exhaling slowly.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “The two of us are bound together by more than just a shared past, but a tether that links us together for eternity. Until recently, it laid dormant.” I looked down at my lap once again, hands nervously wringing together, finally telling them the truth about what’s been going on. “I’ve been afforded an insight into his mind...into his heart. I’ve felt his genuine emotions- his confusion, his sadness, his...want for a better life.” I chewed on the inside of my mouth for a moment, trying to form the words. “What Gaia showed us is true. I can...I can feel it. He’s willing to give up his thousands of years old plan...to help me find another way.”

Another silence filled the room as my friends stared at me. If they were still hesitant, I didn’t know what I’d-

“Well,” G’raha Tia started, a soft smile on his lips. “Even though he did shoot me in the back, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones, my friend, if you would speak so highly of him.”

Before I could help it, my face lit up. The Scions, one by one, started nodding their assent, even if Thancred looked incredibly unhappy about it.

They are not as they seem…,” Ryne said suddenly, quietly, lifting her hand to her mouth in thought. My eyes snapped to her. She looked over to me as well.

“I’m sorry?” her guardian asked.

“Three nights ago I had a dream,” she explained. “I was the Mother, talking to the Warrior of Light. As Hydaelyn, I told her to...be wary of her feelings because they are not what they seem. I had thought she meant that...we should be suspicious of them, but...”

Realization struck me. “That was the night I started doubting him…” The Oracle nodded, slowly. “Do you think She meant…”

“I think She was warning you that you were getting too upset. That...the situation looked bad, but we didn’t have the whole story.” I breathed a laugh, looking down at the pattern in the table. Why couldn’t She have just been upfront? Why can’t She ever be?

But if this was true...I furrowed my brow. Was...all of this all part of Her plan?

When our meeting had ended, most of us in a better mood, I reached out to Hades through the tether. It only took him a moment to open his portal and step back into the room. He looked at each of us in turn, the tension and hatred all but evaporated.

“Well,” he started, putting his hands on his hips, one side of his mouth tilted upwards. “This brings back fond memories. Look at you all, a Convocation in your own right.”

I huffed a laugh and rolled my eyes, then looked towards my friends again. “Shall we prepare to head back to the Crystarium?”

Chapter Text

The inhabitants of the Crystarium bustled around the aetheryte plaza without sparing more than a moment to wave at their Crystal Exarch and their Warrior of Darkness.

The Oracles of Light and Darkness stood to the side, Gaia with her hands on her hips. “Technically, Emet-Selch would be closer to a Warrior of Darkness ,” she muttered and I scoffed.

“Please, spare me. I have enough titles as it is,” I remarked, looking towards the Warrior of Light with a smirk. “Besides, the stories spoke of a legendary hero who would restore the night to the First. I played no part in such a feat.”

She rolled her eyes with a heavy sigh, a bitter feeling of distaste reaching me and I raised a brow at her reaction but said nothing more. The Oracle of Light frowned slightly and furrowed her brow but before she could speak, Gaia took her hand and began walking away, pulling the young girl in tow. “Come on, let’s get working on those powers of yours.”

Soon after, the Exarch began heading in the direction of the Tower, a majority of the Scions following close behind as they discussed animatedly amongst themselves his new theory to restore them to the Source that occurred to him as he was resting in Amaurot.

I crossed my arms over my chest, looking at the hero carefully. “I do hope that bitterness in you isn’t a result of associating with me ,” I teased and she turned to grin at me.

“Oh, it definitely is,” she replied, turning on her heel to walk out of the plaza. She waved over her shoulder without looking back, just as I had done to her on countless occasions. “I’m off to do my daily drills.”

I shook my head as I watched her leave before calling out, “For someone who knows how to make portals now, you do an extraordinary amount of walking.”

She came to an abrupt stop, amusement filling her mind and she put her hands on her hips, heaving a dramatic sigh with a shake of her head before she summoned a void portal and walked through it.

A corner of my mouth lifted at the sight and I felt genuinely proud of her, watching her embrace what she had learned of her true abilities. There was a heavy sigh to my left. 

“I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to seeing her walk through those portals, given who I've grown to associate them with.” I looked over to see the gunbreaker frowning with his arms crossed.

I sighed and looked back to see the portal disappear. “She is the same person she always was. She simply remembers a little more of who she used to be. Amaurotine or not, at her core, your friend still remains.”

I glanced back at him and watched as he considered my statement, the tension in his stance lessened just the slightest amount with my words. There was a silence between us for a few moments before he cleared his throat and nodded at me, walking towards the Crystal Tower without another word. 

I reached out to the Warrior of Light then, inquiring whether she minded if I came to keep her company. After a moment, I heard the hum of a portal opening to my side, her arm reaching through and grabbing my hand. She pulled gently, and I walked through, my brow raised when I emerged on the other side. 

“It would have been easier for you to just tell me I could come, my dear hero.”

“I thought you wanted me to use my portals?” she retorted with a smirk, letting my hand go before she unsheathed her daggers once more and turned back towards the striking dummy she had Created in Lakeland.

Several rounds of movements later, she turned back towards me, sheathing her daggers once more to reach up to fix her hair. “Time for a break, is it?” I asked and she shook her head.

“I was just checking to make sure you weren’t bored,” she started, narrowing her eyes playfully. “Wouldn’t want to commit a cardinal sin.”

There must have been something in my reaction that she found amusing, because she soon doubled over in uninhibited laughter, holding her sides. It occurred to me that I had never seen her truly laugh this way and I found myself unable to contain the smile her happiness gave me. She took a deep breath as she calmed, wiping the corners of her eyes and smiling widely at me. “Sorry… I just…”

“Impossible to pass up the opportunity to have a little fun at my expense… I see how it is,” I remarked, feigning hurt. “I’ll be sure to remember that next time I hold my tongue.”

She raised a brow, amusement and affection filling our tether, and I scoffed as I crossed my arms over my chest. “Let me guess. ‘You don’t know how to hold your tongue, Hades.’ Back to your drills then, hero, you’ve had your fun teasing me.” 

With the roll of her eyes, she walked over to where she had put her water flask, bending down to pick it up before sitting under one of the trees. As she lifted and tilted it back to take a drink, she pat the grass next to her. I made my way to her and sat down, leaning back on my elbows to gaze up at the purple and pink leaves above us. 

After a few moments, she put her flask down, leaning it against the trunk of the tree before she brought her legs together and bent forward, grasping at her ankles to stretch. “Can I ask you something?” she asked, keeping her head bent down.

“You just did,” I replied dryly as I peered down at her, and she shot me a glare from the corner of her eye. “But I suppose I’ll indulge another inquiry, in light of my affection for you.”

She sat up once more before scooting herself over to sit closer to me. “I was meaning to ask you before all that… stuff happened.” She looked over at me, pursing her lips as I met her gaze and I adjusted myself onto my back, holding the arm that was near her out in an unspoken invitation.

A smile spread across her lips and she shifted next to me, placing her head on my chest, her hand resting on my abdomen. I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her flush against me. “Go on then. I’m all ears. The question from before the stuff happened.”

“It’s… about Gaia,” she started, her fingers tracing nonsensical patterns into the fabric of the shirt I was wearing. “You seemed to recognize her when you first met her, and you made a comment about how you had a feeling you knew who she was…” she trailed off.

“Are you asking how I knew?” I asked as I ran my hand up and down her arm lazily. She nodded. “Her soul. The color of it, it matched someone I once knew. I… suppose I have never explained my Sight to you, have I? Not really , at least.”

She shook her head, lifting her head up to look up at me when she sensed my hesitation and I took a deep breath. “It’s quite a boring explanation, dear hero.” She shrugged a shoulder before settling back against me and I chuckled.

“Perhaps another day. I’ll answer your question for now. Aside from the obvious Darkness to her aether--just as the Oracle of Light’s is this blinding Light-based aether--Gaia’s soul is the same as the woman who was the Oracle of Darkness in Amaurot.”

“So what Gaia said, about the Oracles being around for thousands of years… she was telling the truth?” she asked, her mind racing as she took in the information. I nodded slightly.

“There was even a temple for them in those days, though their true role was a mystery even among the Fourteen. But the Oracles sat as silent observers during the meetings, nonetheless. They would, at times, come bearing news of a prophecy regarding a vacating Convocation seat, and without fail, in the coming months someone would step down. Loss of passion, exhaustion, whatever the reason. I had always attributed that up to coincidence, though.” 

I furrowed my brow as I continued, “Knowing what I do now from Gaia’s account, I believe they were monitoring the Fourteen’s decisions and checking them against their prophecies to maintain the balance on the star. Which, now that I think about it, it makes sense because there were two on the Convocation who were points of contact for the Oracles, meant to relay any information of imbalances or prophetic nonsense to neighboring cities… Elidibus was one. And the other...” I trailed off as I looked down at her, clearing my throat. “Well, that’s not relevant at the moment.”

“So why is it that you seemed so fond of Gaia, then? If the Oracles were silent observers with nonsensical prophecies?” A corner of my mouth tilted up at her tone.

“Jealous, were you?” I teased and she jabbed the finger she had been tracing shapes with into a rib with enough force to make me groan. “The Oracles are present in Eternal Bonding ceremonies, my dearest. I recognized her soul and for a moment, I was reminded of back then , that’s all. At any rate, don’t you think you’ve rested long enough?”

She sighed but pushed herself up out of my arms with a nod. Unsheathing her daggers, she turned back to the striking dummy, getting back in her stance. I tapped my index finger on my chin as I observed her, tilting my head. “Who taught you this form of combat?” I suddenly asked, and she looked over her shoulder. “It looks Doman, but mixed with something else.”

She nodded with a furrowed brow, confusion in her mind as to how I could know that from her stance alone. “Have you forgotten who I am? The ninja of Doma were forced to flee while I was emperor.”

“You sound pretty proud of yourself,” she commented as I sat up, shrugging my shoulders.

“I am, as a matter of fact. It may not compare to my great work with Allag, but Garlemald was a result of a significant amount of work on my part. Decades of painstakingly planned details.” I stood and approached her slowly, placing my hand on her left elbow and lowering it slightly before doing the same to her right. “They tended to stand like this if my memory serves correctly.”

“Did you fight on the frontlines against them?” she asked as she swapped her stance between the one I had shown her and her own repeatedly and I nodded slowly.

“I was a fair bit older physically than I am now, but yes. The combat technique I used against your Scion friend was particularly effective, though I used a bladed weapon in conjunction with it.”

She looked away thoughtfully for a moment before realization crossed her expression and she looked back at me, excitement dancing in her eyes. “Spar with me.”

“To what end?” I arched a brow at her and she looked down at her daggers, morphing them into training blades before she returned to her stance. 

“Let’s see how effective it was,” she taunted and I smirked at the challenge in her voice as I began unbuttoning my waistcoat, shrugging out of it and letting it drop to the ground. “I also just want the chance to spar with someone who isn’t a pupil.”

I nodded in understanding as my fingers worked through the buttons of my shirt slowly before I discarded it on the ground behind me as well. “Very well, let’s make a deal. If you’re victorious, I’ll reward you. But if I am, I get to torment your friends with a little prank, with no warning and you will have no say in the matter as to whether or not it’s too much. And since you didn’t succeed the last time I challenged you… things look bleak for the Scions, don’t they?”

She took a deep breath, her brow furrowing with focus as I shifted my legs, bringing one back while I lifted my arms up. I nodded at her to let her know I was ready and she propelled herself towards me with no further warning.

For several minutes, we moved around the field, dodging and blocking each other’s attacks with relative ease. She soon disappeared in a puff of smoke, reappearing several yalms away from me, her breathing heavy. I watched her carefully as she did the same, her eyes traveling through various points in my stance. I could feel her mind processing the information our previous bout had provided her. She was looking for an opening, a weakness, and the furrow of her brow deepened.

My eyes locked onto the small wrinkle at the center of her forehead made by the expression and a small smile crept across my lips. She was intently focused, her eyes lit with an intensity I had not yet seen in her, or at least that I had not cared to notice before now. I thought back to our battle all those months ago, trying to remember if she had worn a similar expression.

She took advantage of my obvious distraction without hesitation, a confident smirk forming on her lips as she disappeared once more into a cloud of smoke, reappearing in front of me. At that moment, as she lowered herself to sweep a leg under me to knock me off my feet, the triumph in her mind was palpable. I landed on my back with a thud, the wind knocked out of me for a moment and she appeared on top of me, her knees on either side of my body as she straddled me, one of her training blades pressed against my throat.

“Not effective enough, I guess?” she said softly, both of us panting to catch our breath.

“Apparently not,” I replied. “If Doma only had you on the frontlines maybe things would have ended differently for them.” 

“And I guess that means now you don’t get to prank the Scions,” she mused, a confident smirk on her lips.

“No, I’m going to do so regardless, but you can be in on it now, I suppose,” I replied, grinning up at her. 

“You said you would prank if you won ,” she insisted, pressing the wooden blade against my throat for emphasis. “You lost.”

“I said no such thing,” I retorted, my grin widening. “I said you would have no say in the matter if I won. Since you won, I will allow you to weigh in on it.” She rolled her eyes at me but breathed a chuckle.

“I should have known there was more to your words than face value. What’s the prank then?” 

“I was going to have them all in robes and masks when they woke up at some point,” I mused and her eyes widened. “Since they genuinely did not like seeing you in those robes.”

She narrowed her eyes then, leaning in. “It’s too much. You’re trying to win them over, not turn them against you, remember?”

I gave her a dramatic frown. “Just masks then?” 

She sighed but nodded, some of the disheveled hair from the previous rigorous activity finally falling out from its ribbon. I marveled at how it neatly framed her face, out of place though it was. I reached up slowly, brushing the hair back to tuck it behind her ear. “You are absolutely stunning,” I whispered. “I hope you know that.”

She furrowed her brow. “Where did that come from?”

I smiled softly, cupping her cheek. “Every single day, I observe new things about you and I find myself more fond of you with each new discovery. I know you do not need my protection, but know that I will do everything in my power to keep you safe if only to be able to see your smile.”

Color flooded her cheeks and she narrowed her eyes at me. “You’re trying to distract me. You still owe me a reward.”

I slowly moved my hands to hers, coaxing her to release her training blades before I sat up, guiding her hands onto my shoulders as one of mine came to rest on the small of her back, the other cupping her face gently once more. “I do, yes.”

“It had better be a good one since you tricked me regarding the terms of your defeat,” she muttered as I brought my face close to hers. She exhaled an uneven breath, gripping my shoulders as I made my intention clear to her through our bond. 

“Would that be a sufficient reward?” I whispered once my lips were close enough to hers that she could feel them lightly brushing against hers with each word. She tightened her grip on my shoulders, but otherwise did not verbally respond. I could hear her mind racing in my own, her body practically vibrating from the anticipation. I raised a brow at her, my eyes searching hers. “Well?”

She moved her hands then, bringing them to the back of my head, winding her fingers through my hair before she crushed our lips together. I breathed a laugh through my nose and pulled her body towards mine, pressing into the kiss with the unrestrained hunger I was feeling. She returned the intensity of the kiss enthusiastically, moving her lips against mine roughly as she parted her lips for my tongue. I slowly slid my hand from her cheek up towards the ribbon that held her hair up, pulling on it to allow her locks to cascade down onto her shoulders, weaving my fingers into her hair. 

I hummed against her lips as she deepened the kiss even more, moving the hand that was on the small of her back to her hip, guiding her to sit on my lap before I pulled back for a moment, my hands slipping under the hem of her shirt to pull it up and over her head in a fluid motion, dropping it to the side. She pulled herself closer still to me as she pressed her lips to mine once more, a soft whimper escaping her when our souls were brought closer still by our bodies being flush against each other, skin contacting skin. I shuddered at the sensation of feeling her so very close to me in all aspects, being able to feel every ilm of her chest against my own, her skin firm from years of training but still so very soft.

Squeezing her hip softly, I moved her slightly to press down against me, eliciting a soft moan from her. She moved her hips repetitively then, grinding against me gently, soft whimpers escaping her with each pass. I kissed her with increased desperation, her movements sending waves of pleasure through my body, which only added to the flood of sensation we had been channeling to each other through our tether. 

She tore her lips from mine, kissing feverishly along my jawline to nip at my earlobe, wrapping her arms tightly around me. I could feel her breathing against the skin of my neck, her soft whimpers urging me on as she began to move her hips with more confidence, pressing firmly against my increasing arousal. She arched her back, reaching behind herself to unclasp the top of her smallclothes, her bare breasts pressed against my chest causing a shiver to run through my body as a soft groan escaped my lips from the influx of sensation she was pouring into me. Her mind was racing with excitement, her body reacting to my touch and my body to hers. Discarding the garment to the side, she moved her hands to wrap around me once more, her fingers trailing down my back softly.

I moved my left hand slowly up from its position on her hip along the curve of her body before coming to cup her breast, watching her face carefully for her reaction. Her eyes fluttered shut and she arched her back into my touch as I brought my lips to kiss along her neck. I gently nipped at the skin at the crook of her neck, my mind reaching out to ask her if she wanted me to continue. She nodded with vigor, tightening her hold around my body and I smirked against her skin as I trailed my lips slowly down her body once more, her breathing coming in small pants, a soft gasp escaping her each time I nipped at her skin. 

As I continued to kiss downwards, she leaned away from me slightly, arching her back to allow easier access to her body for my lips, her hands laced on the back of my neck. When I reached her breast that I had been teasing with my hand, I stilled my movements, kissing just above where my fingers lay on her skin. I looked up at her as I removed my hand, slowly kissing downwards before placing a single kiss on her nipple. She bit her bottom lip to stifle the sound that came from her, causing me to chuckle against her skin. I parted my lips to blow a breath where my lips had previously kissed before I took the firm peak into my mouth, causing her to release her lip with a moan, her hands sliding up to grip my hair, as she pressed me against her.

She continued to rock her hips against mine, eliciting sounds from me with each pass as her breathing grew heavier, her soft whimpers turning into breathy moans. I slid the hand that was previously on her breast down her body slowly, the room she had given me by leaning her torso away from me allowing me to slide my fingers into her waistband while I placed my free hand between her shoulder blades to hold her up. Her body trembled in response to the excited anticipation that was racing through my mind and I found myself thankful for the ritual that had allowed her to adjust to the intense sensory impact of the bond so easily. 

My hand slid slowly further down into her pants, causing a shudder to run through her body, but I suddenly came to a stop, removing my lips from her breast. I grinned up at her as her eyes fluttered open, her mind flooding mine with questions as to why I had decided to cease my attentions on both fronts. 

I arched a brow at her. “Are you sure?” I asked teasingly, lowering my head back down to trail wet kisses towards her other breast.

“Hades, please, ” she whimpered as she moved her hips roughly against my own, the force of her movement causing me to exhale sharply against her skin, the exasperation clear in her mind and voice.

“How could I refuse when you’ve asked so nicely, my beloved?” I chuckled before finally moving my hand to stroke between her legs, my lips enveloping her nipple, causing her to cry out at the sensation. 

Chapter Text

My abdomen was on fire from the moment he had made his intentions clear to me.

When he stopped, even for that brief moment, I felt as if I would die without the feel of his fingers on me again. In that moment, I knew nothing except that fact that I needed him as close to me as possible. I ground my hips against his hand, the press of his fingers between my legs making me shudder.

My beloved he’d called me. Those two words fueled something in me that I didn’t even know was there.

I could feel my climax building as his fingers worked me. I gripped his shoulders, nails digging into the skin. I felt a groan vibrate against my breast as he continued running his tongue around it and a small, strangled cry escaped my lips. My back arched further into him, my breaths coming fast, the feeling deep inside of me quickly coming to the surface and-

There was a rustling of grass nearby, just past the large rock formation that cloaked us from view of the guard station. Hades stopped immediately at the noise, the anticipation that had been building inside me leaving instantly, frustration taking its place.

“Why is it I always pull the short straw?” a male voice said.

Oh, Gods. It didn’t even cross my mind that we were outside.

“It ain’t so bad,” his companion responded. “All ya gotta do it walk the premises and make sure there ain’t any trouble.” A sigh.

“It’s still boring.”

I locked eyes with Hades as he straightened. They were close-

With a snap of his fingers, my shirt and smallclothes appeared on my body again. He was about to snap again to replace his own when two Crystarium guards turned the corner, freezing mid-step when they saw us, hands hovering over their weapons.

Hades looked over at them for a moment, lifting an eyebrow, before sighing, irritation flitting down the bond. He grasped my hips and tugged upwards. When I was on my feet again, I leaned down to help him up. I turned towards the two men, straightening my shirt. One of them stepped back in surprise, the other crossed his arms, a look of distaste on his face. I narrowed my eyes at him. Was that look for me or for who I was with, I wondered?

“My-my lady!” the surprised soldier gasped, tearing my attention away from his companion. I waved one hand at the pair to quiet them, then flicked my wrist so my hair pulled itself back with a new tie, the previous ribbon probably lost in the grass. Shame, I liked that one.

I felt a certain smugness down the line and turned to see my other half, a smirk on his face, holding up the long piece of fabric loosely curled around his finger. “If you wanted it back, my dear, all you had to do was ask.”

One side of my lips tugged upwards as I made my way towards him. “Oh, I suppose you may keep it,” I started, standing on my toes, bringing my face close to his. “For now.” He leaned forward, expecting a kiss, but with a sly smile, I pulled back from him. I flicked my wrist again and his shirt and waistcoat reappeared on his body.

He huffed a laugh as I lowered myself away from him without another word and started heading back towards the Crystarium, favoring the guards with a glare as I passed. Hades moved to follow me, but paused when he reached the two men.

“Remember our last encounter?” he asked one of them, voice low and gravelly. I looked over my shoulder to watch them.

“Y-yes, sir.” Hades nodded and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Good man.” He looked up at me with an arrogant smile that made me roll me eyes. He made his way to me, weaving his fingers between mine and together we walked back to the city.

Later that night, I stood before the mirror in my bathing room, brushing my hair and fishing out any pieces of dirt leftover from our activities earlier in the day. When I was finished, I headed back into the main room, opening my mouth to speak, but paused. Hades was already asleep, curled up on his side. His face was relaxed, skin smooth and unburdened.

I smiled and sat on the edge of the mattress, reaching to brush the shock of white hair out of his face, then slid under the covers with him. With a quick flick of my wrist, the lights extinguished, and I settled in next to him, carefully exploring his moonlit face, trying to memorize all of his features.

I don’t know how long I watched him in silence, but eventually I was struggling to keep my eyes open and I let the cool dark of sleep have me.

Some time later, as the sun started rising, the hum of a void portal drew me back to consciousness. I opened my eyes, sleep still blurring my vision, but I could see Hades still fast asleep next to me. Furrowing my brow, I sat up and took a look around the room, blinking the fuzziness away.

My gaze landed on a white-clad figure standing at the foot of my bed, his arms crossed over his chest. An Ascian.

Elidibus.

He was smiling at me, cold and calculated.

Instantly alert, I went to reach back for Hades, but the other man moved in an instant, next to me in the blink of an eye, leaning over me to gently take hold of my wrist in his clawed glove. A shiver ran down my spine at the contact, an inkling of something almost familiar passing between us. He must have seen something in my expression as he tilted his head, then quickly dropped my arm, a warning in his eyes, telling me I’d best stay quiet.

The Emissary held one hand out in front of him and in a cloud of dark power similar to his portal, a book materialized. I narrowed my eyes as he tossed it onto the blanket in front of me.

Without a single word, he opened a portal and stepped back through, smirking over his shoulder at me as he disappeared.

When he was gone, I looked down at the gift he’d left. With a flick of my wrist, a small orb appeared, illuminating the cover and I inspected it, suspicion rising in my mind. I glanced back at the Ascian in my bed, making sure the light didn’t disturb him. With an exhale, I turned back and picked the book up by the spine, but immediately dropped it into my lap.

A sharp pain throbbed behind my eyes and I closed them, pressing the heels of my hands into them. When I opened my eyes again, I was standing in front of a man I’d never seen before, wearing an Amaurotine robe and mask.

“Halmarult,” he said to me. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

“Cronus,” I implored, casting aside pleasantries, not bothering to inform him that I’d stepped down from the Fourteen. “Surely, you must know something.” He feigned confusion. I pursed my lips and shook my head, able to see through his ruse. “Hythlodaeus had said as much, though I did not want to believe him.” I took a deep breath and looked at the man with a renewed intensity. I had to fix this, and to fix this, I needed answers.

“The Convocation has decided to summon Zodiark to save the star, as I’m sure you know. I implored Hades to wait, to help me find another solution, but he refused.” He sighed, looking down at his lap, a sad smile spreading across is lips as I continued. “We’re missing something. A piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been found. As the previous Architect, I thought maybe you could shed some light on the predicament,” I continued, unable to keep the desperation from my voice.

“Oh, my dear Persephone.” He shook his head. “I have lived a long life. If I would tell anyone, I suppose it should be you, here at the end of times.”

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said. “You know as well as I do that it’s true.” When I didn’t argue, he motioned for me to come closer. “Come here, child, and I will tell you a secret.”

I stepped up to him, moving my head down so that he could whisper his confession in my ear.

“I knew of the depletion of aether before I stepped down as Architect.”

With a gasp, I was pulled back to the present, my breath short. I blinked a few times, clearing my vision. I looked back at Hades again to make sure he was still asleep, not wanting to disturb his rest with this matter just yet, then slipped out of bed, heading for my small desk, the book Elidibus had brought in my arms.

I set it down, hand sliding down the design on the cover. When I went to open it, my fingers found a bookmark and so I flipped to the page it was holding. I took a deep breath and leaned over to read.

Much against the wishes of myself and many others, the Convocation has summoned Zodiark.

Persephone’s words, perhaps?

Instead of taking the allotted life forms that had been slated for sacrifice, Zodiark took what he wanted, at random. In the end, we had no say.

I warned Hades that this would happen and he refused to listen.

Now, the star has stopped while we continue. Nothing is growing, the water is poisoned.

They want to summon Him again- to sacrifice more to restart the world. I must find a way to stop this.

I snapped the book shut, a feeling of guilt laying over me. These were her words. Did I have any right reading them? My mind mulled over the reason as to why Elidibus would bring this now.

Hades shifted in the bed behind me. I looked over my shoulder as he sat up. He watched me for a few silent moments as my mind worked itself in circles.

“What’s wrong?” he inquired, concern easily sliding down the tether to me. I looked back at the book, unsure of how to answer him. When I didn’t respond, he made his way over to me, looking over my shoulder. Instantly, he was tense and I immediately understood that he knew what this book was. “Where did you get that?”

“Elidibus."

"Elidibus was here?"

"Yes," I sighed. "He stopped by while you were sleeping."

He opened his mouth to respond, anger building through the bond, but there was a knock at the door.

“Breakfast is ready!” Ryne’s voice called from the other side.

“Okay!” I called back, then focused my attention once again on the book. “Who was...Cronus?” He scoffed and I looked up at him.

Cronus,” he started with no small amount of distaste and rolled his eyes. “Was nothing more than a mad old man and his opinions do not matter in the least since he is long dead.” I could tell his mood had soured. If the simple mention of this name could elicit such a reaction… I decided not to tell him about the memory. For now, at least. He snapped and was instantly refreshed for the day with new clothes and hair in place, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “Let’s just go to breakfast.”

Chapter Text

I watched as the Warrior of Light looked down at the book once more, pursing her lips. She reached for it slowly and stood, her hand extended as she offered it to me. I looked down at the book in her hand and then back up at her. “Did Elidibus explicitly tell you to give this to me?”

She shook her head. “Then why give it to me? If he gave it to you, it was meant for you.”

She took a deep breath, her eyes avoiding mine. “It feels like an intrusion. Please take it. I don’t want it.”

“It’s just as much yours as it was hers,” I said to her, the bitterness in my tone even surprising me, but she held her arm out steadily, insisting that I take it. After a moment, I clenched my jaw and reached out, practically snatching it from her grasp. Dropping my hand back to my side, I turned towards the door, walking towards it and throwing it open without another word.

As we entered the dining hall, I sat down without so much as looking at anyone. The Warrior of Light was reaching out to me through our bond, curious as to what had upset me so. I clenched my jaw as I reached for a piece of bread, sighing heavily, but made no effort to respond to her.

The Scions looked between us for a moment before Gaia cleared her throat as she continued the conversation that had been interrupted with our arrival. I took a bite of food, chewing mindlessly as I stewed in my anger, my other hand clenching around the spine of the book.

The hero placed her hand on my arm, breaking me from my thoughts and I looked down at her. “You’re blocking me out again,” she said quietly and I frowned, taking a deep breath, looking away from her.

“Apologies. I did not intend to. It’s probably for the best, I don’t want you to feel the anger I’m feeling, especially if you’re not at fault,” I replied, barely loud enough for anyone else to hear.

The miqo’te watched us carefully before speaking up. “The two of you have been very tense and quiet since you’ve arrived. Did something happen?”

The Warrior of Light sighed as she looked at her friends, frowning. “Elidibus came this morning, while we were sleeping.” She paused as her friends stopped eating their food and began to listen intently. “He… he gave me that book. It belonged to Persephone.”

“And then he just left?” the female twin asked, her eyes wide. “He didn’t do anything else?”

I scowled at her remark, my tone harsh as I bit out my response and she shrunk back in her chair. “Elidibus is the Emissary. To do anything else would go against the very nature of his role. He is not to be harmed, and he does not harm others unless provoked.”

The miqo’te tapped her fist against her chin, deep in thought when the gunbreaker crossed his arms and nodded. “He speaks the truth. Minfilia mentioned something of that nature. When Elidibus had come to visit her at the Waking Sands, he did not attack her until she raised a weapon to him. It’s safe to assume this visit was not one intended to harm.”

I looked away for a moment with a frown. “It truly is baffling that the one single night I relax and allow myself to sleep deeply, I awake to this .” I held the book up and slammed it on the table before I looked at the hero. “What if it wasn’t Elidibus? What if it had been someone else, someone actually intending to harm you?”

“Is that why you’re upset?” she asked softly and I averted my gaze.

“Partially, yes. I’m angry that I didn’t wake,” I admitted. “But mostly I cannot imagine what his purpose would be in providing you with this aside from upsetting me. As if it this book would provide me with any insight that I did not already have.”

“Have you read it?” Gaia asked, her chin resting on her palms as she placed her elbows on the table. “Is this a book you know the contents of?” I shook my head. “Then perhaps you should read it, Emet-Selch. If nothing else, it could help you let go of this sadness and guilt you cling to that causes this rage to manifest at the mere mention of Persephone. If not for yourself, then at least for the Warrior of Light.”

I scoffed, meeting my gaze to hers. “I don’t care much to learn the thought processes that accompany the abandonment of vows and the summoning of the goddess who destroyed our home. Regardless of my actions, no amount of words in her hand will rectify that.” I crossed my arms. 

“And I don’t care much for the notion that anything to do with her correlates to the Warrior of Light,” I snapped at the Oracle, who raised a brow.

“Doesn’t it though?” she retorted, matching my stance. “Can you truly give your heart to another, when it still clings bitterly to the memories of the one who came before? Just because they have the same soul does not mean you can just pretend what happened with one will not impact the other. In doing so, you're being self-centered and selfish.”

“It honestly sounds like you’re not ready to face the reality of what transpired between the two of you, Emet-Selch. You suspect things of her but have never confirmed them, and now given a chance to understand her actions after your falling out, you’re refusing to do so,” the male twin said, softly. I snapped my gaze to him, narrowing my eyes at him and he shrugged. “What Gaia says is true, you say you’ve moved on but her actions still hurt you, even now. And in denying it, you will only end up hurting my friend in the long run, so I find it necessary to speak up.”

I exhaled sharply but did not respond, instead looking down at the book and lifting it once more. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, and the Warrior of Light sighed before reaching to place her hand atop mine as a means to comfort me.

“If I was given the chance to really understand how or why Minfilia was gone, why she did what she did…” the gunbreaker started after a moment, looking down at the table. “I would take it without hesitation.”

The Crystal Exarch shifted in his seat, bringing his hand to his chin. “If I might suggest… perhaps if you do read it, it may be best to do so in private. If this is a book with memories of your past, worrying about how you react in the presence of others should be the least of your concerns. Especially given how possibly sensitive its contents may be.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose for a moment before looking down at the book in my hand. Were they right? Would it be best for me to understand what had happened? I had thought I already processed my feelings on the matter eons ago, that it no longer was a source of turmoil. But as I stared down at the cover, unable to bring myself to open to the first page, it became clear to me that was not the case.

I stood from my seat, summoning a portal to Amaurot with a sigh. I placed a hand on the Warrior of Light’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze before I walked towards the portal, looking down at the book as I flipped it open slowly to hold it open in one hand. My eyes skimmed the words on the page, my breath catching in my throat as I took in her delicate handwriting. Without thinking, my fingers drifted onto the page, touching its surface with a sadness that I had buried millennia ago. How long had it been since I’d seen something she had made, something she had touched…? I shook my head and exhaled unsteadily before I stepped through the portal, hearing it shut behind me.

I spent the next several hours flipping through the book, carefully taking in her every word within her journal. The entries started from when I had first started trying to hide the state of the aether on the star from her. She had noticed, of course, and had even asked Hythlodaeus about it. Anything she found, any conversations she had, any observations she made… she documented them meticulously so she could piece the puzzle together.

She explained her understandable hesitance regarding summoning Zodiark, the terms of the summoning not laid out in clear enough detail to really make sure the god did not take advantage of the situation. Something she had warned me about, but I had not heeded the warning. Then the summoning occurred and, as she had written, our preset sacrifices were not what was taken. She had been right about many things and, if I could, I would go back to take her words more seriously. She had always been wise and possessed a keen sense of foresight.

I came to understand that she had been collaborating with Cronus even before reading it in the book. Word had reached me following the summoning that she had been seen leaving Cronus’ abode more often. I thought nothing of it at first, my mind more preoccupied with more pressing matters. The star had been saved, that much had been true, but life would not be sustainable.

I remembered how I heard reports of how she had been seen yet again leaving his home, which had given someone on the Convocation plenty of ammunition to mock me whenever he felt he was bored. Try as I might to act as if I was indifferent, under the surface it caused jealousy and uneasiness within me, that she would seek the company of someone like him . Though the tempering served to weaken the heartache, the magnitude of what I felt for her remained, fuel for Zodiark to use to push me harder, to drive my plans forward towards His goals. 

She wrote in great detail what had transpired in her meetings with him, that they discussed alternative ways to try to stop the destruction of the star at first. And then, following the summoning, they tried to discover a means to restore life and the flow of aether to the land. As I continued to read, I found myself growing frustrated at the continuous mention of Cronus’ secret, something she had not written about in explicit detail anywhere prior.

I wonder if perhaps I should tell Hades what I know. He deserves to know the truth. But would he listen to me now?

I furrowed my brow at her words, flipping back a page for context. What exactly had she been told that was so important for me to know, I wondered… I could only assume he had told her and she thought it best not to document. It must have been incriminating or inflammatory, something so sensitive that writing it down would cause her more harm simply by confirming she knew. Which meant, of course, that I would never find out just what my old fool of a mentor had been hiding. Both she and Cronus were gone, and with them, whatever secrets he had.

I clenched my hand into a fist as I remembered the day he had stepped down from his position as Architect. He had grown nervous and paranoid at the end of his term, always asking me if I had heard anything from anyone about him. It was the first time I had witnessed something so negative grow within a person, the constant fear of something that no one else knew. Even in my youth when he chose me as his pupil to take under his wing, to train me along with Hythlodaeus to be great assets to the Bureau of the Architect, he acted warily. 

He, too, had been blessed with the same Gift the two of us had been given, though not nearly as sensitive. I had assumed that the be the reason the two of us were chosen by him. I recalled when Hythlodaeus asked me if I thought it strange how interested he was in knowing what we saw, asking for detailed descriptions of the aether at any given time. It did not strike me as odd then, but looking back, knowing what I know now… Perhaps he had noticed that which I came to confirm years later. Hythlodaeus was always more perceptive than I was with such things. 

I remembered his crazed expression when I had approached him about the increasingly thinning aether, shortly after I had started my duties as the Architect. How he warned me not to speak of such things, that the rest of Amaurot would think I was incompetent, that I had failed them so soon into my position in office. He said he would help me fix it, that I had been overzealous in my projects to expand the infrastructures of Amaurot… Looking back, perhaps if I had said something instead of heeding his words, things could have proceeded differently.

Cronus believes that Hades is not the man he once was. He has warned me to be careful.

I frowned at the words as I read them, but with nothing to clarify the reasons for such a statement, I could only guess based on the surrounding entries what could have transpired to justify such a sentiment. But try as I might, I could not explain it. What had I done to make her believe such a thing? She and I barely interacted after she left the Convocation. There had been one interaction that I could recall, the bitterness it brought as I remembered nearly provoking bile up to my throat. Cronus had come with her, when she should have been able to speak with me privately. She had fallen for his tricks, had come to trust him more than she trusted me, and he had her ear as he led the rebellion, undoubtedly with her at his side.

Following this, her entries soon took a different turn and I found myself rereading pages several times. It happened abruptly. One page she was writing about how she was worried for the people of Amaurot, for the fate of the star, for the wellbeing of her friends and for me… 

The next she was agreeing with Cronus’ idea to summon another god to counter Zodiark. She grew fanatical, praising the ideals of Hydaelyn and how She and Her followers would bring peace to the star by shattering Zodiark and bringing an end to His tyranny.

I flipped the page to read the final entry. There were only four sentences on the page. I paused as I read the lines once, twice, three times more.

Cronus is right. Hydaelyn is the only way. By Her grace, we may be saved. We gather to summon at the next sunrise.

I narrowed my eyes at the words. These were not words she would have ever written.

I flipped back to the beginning of the book, trying to pinpoint where she suddenly shifted her mentality, rereading it slowly. It was all written in her delicate hand, that much was true… but…

The first pages of this book were written by her, there was no doubt in my mind. But the end? The pages confessing to the summoning of Hydaelyn… Persephone could not have written these. Not the Persephone I knew so well, the woman who primarily focused on making sure every detail lined up, meticulously planning everything to a point where she put me to shame.

I brought my hand to my chin as I furrowed my brow, flipping to the next page. Somewhere in these last few pages, she had stopped considering the consequences of her plan, something she would have never done. Persephone considered every single angle of a plan prior to agreeing. She did this with every aspect of her life. That part of her was the reason she so vehemently opposed the summoning of Zodiark.

Something as major as this would be no different. I looked up from the book, gazing out at the horizon. If she had not written them… then who did? Cronus perhaps…? But for what purpose? To change the recounting of history? To cover his tracks? I turned my attention back to the pages once more, adamant on soaking in every last detail to uncover any clues.

Chapter Text

After Hades had disappeared in a cloud of purple smoke, I tried to keep myself occupied. I took Ryne out to Lakeland to train. Gaia tagged along, the two of them fast friends, and even did a few drills of her own, but I was having a terribly hard time concentrating.

The Oracle of Light, noticing the turmoil that bubbled inside me, stopped and came to sit in the grass next to me.

“He’ll come back,” she said with a soft smile. “You should see the way he looks at you when he thinks no one will notice.” I looked down at my lap, chewing on the inside of my mouth, my stomach twisting in knots. 

“I know,” I responded, but did I really? The way he looked at her writing when he’d opened the book… Ryne’s words may be right, but was it me he saw, or Persephone? I sighed. I hadn’t thought about it in a long while, but the way he’d acted this morning had made my insecurities force their way to the surface again. It made me feel horribly inadequate. Gaia turned to me, arms crossed.

“You could always go visit him,” she offered. “It has been several hours now. Perhaps he’s hungry.” She shrugged as I stared up at her in silence. “Just a thought.”

And so, here I stood, in the kitchens with a tray of food grasped in my fingers as I tugged on the quiet tether, and let it lead me to where he was.

When I surfaced on the other side of the portal, I looked around. The uneven rock under my feet. The dying planet below me. The place where I had spent my overwhelming excess of Light, fashioned into the form of Ardbert’s weapon, straight through the chest of the Ascian once again standing in front of me. I took a deep breath and made my way to him.

I summoned a small table to set the tray down, then looked up at him. He was deep in thought, eyes scanning Persephone’s words, brow furrowed. My stomach clenched for a moment, but I smiled. “Find anything?”

He tore his eyes away from the book and blinked down at me in surprise. I motioned to the food I’d brought. “You’ve...been gone a while, I thought maybe you’d be hungry.” His eyes went to the food for a moment, before back to me, though he didn’t say a word. He seemed...perplexed. I cleared my throat and looked at the star below us, overrun by darkness and fire. “Why here?”

He followed my gaze, lowering the book for a few moments. “This is where my time stopped,” he started. “It felt appropriate that I read her final words here, in this place.” I nodded and a silence descended upon us. I knew what he was going to ask before he asked it, so I steeled myself. 

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather be alone.” I pursed my lips for a moment, but forced a small smile when I turned back to him and folded my arms behind my back.

“Of course,” I said and opened a portal behind me, walking backwards into it. “I’ll be waiting back at the Crystarium.” He nodded to me as I stepped into the Void and immediately went back to his reading. 

I stepped into my inn room with a sigh and looked down at the ground, my smile fading.

“You know,” a voice said from one corner. “He could never really love you.” My daggers were in my hands in an instant. Elidibus stood there, leaning against the door, his arms crossed. He smirked as he watched me, then motioned towards my body with one hand. “Not this...broken soul of yours. You could never be what he truly wants.”

I narrowed my eyes and slid my daggers back into their sheathes. I didn’t know why he was here, but I did know he was trying to provoke me. I calmed my pounding heart, then went to sit at my desk, turning my back on him, and rubbed my face with my hands.

“So quick to trust Ascians now that you’d face away from me?” I rolled my eyes.

“You won’t attack me unless I attack you first, so I’m going to sit here and ignore you until either Hades returns to deal with you, or you give up and leave me alone.”

“Hmm,” he hummed, amused. “I don’t think it’ll be that easy for you, Warrior.” 

“You can try to give it your best shot, then.” He chuckled and I heard his steady footfalls until he was directly behind me. He reached down, placing one clawed hand on my shoulder as he leaned down towards my ear. I felt the same familiar tingle from the last time we touched, something calling me from the back of my mind, but something I could not reach just yet. 

“Poor Warrior,” he cooed. “You don’t even know that you’re just a temporary replacement,” he continued from his earlier statements. “He’s just biding his time until the Rejoining happens. He’ll be much happier when the originator of your soul returns.” I clenched my jaw. It was as if he knew exactly what I was feeling.

No. I couldn’t let him do this to me, especially not after what I’d just said. He stood straight again, removing his hand from my shoulder, points of his gloves sliding over my skin, making bumps rise up my arms.

“What a scheme he has created,” he said with a chuckle. “He has you eating right out of the palm of his hand.” I balled my hands into fists as he went on. I tried to calm myself, to not be manipulated into doing whatever it was that he wanted, but the more he played to my insecurities, the more the rage started to build inside me. “You think he tells you everything through that bond of yours? You may not be able to control it easily, but he is certainly capable. So naive, Warrior of Light, to think he does not let you hear more than what he wants you to hear.”

I took a deep breath, closing my eyes. I could hear the merriment in his voice rise at my reaction to his words.

“What was it he said before he had you melt like butter under his hands? That he’d protect you at all costs, yes?” He scoffed. “And where is he now, I wonder? Off reading her book, I take it? Hm, he said exactly what you wanted to hear to let him do whatever he wanted with you. Mortal bodies are so very needy in that regard, wouldn’t you agree?”

I froze. How would he have known-? He laughed.

“Oh, don’t you know, poor warrior, that I have eyes and ears everywhere?” The soldiers from the day before flashed in my mind. The look one of them had given me. “What a shame he didn’t have the foresight to dispose of you while you were otherwise engaged. It would have been so easy.”

“Enough!” I shouted, unable to hold myself back anymore. A claw of wind appeared over my hand and in a fluid motion, I was out of my chair, swiping it towards him. One side of his mouth tilted upward, amusement in his eyes, as he easily reached past my arm, quickly flinging something heavy around my neck. I knew immediately I had just done exactly as he’d wanted, giving him an excuse to subdue me. Even knowing he was extremely well-versed in the art of manipulation, I let him provoke me all the same. I was truly foolish, wasn’t I?

I felt my powers dissipate, my limbs suddenly heavy, and I dropped to the ground, darkness engulfing me and taking my consciousness with it.

When I awoke again, I was seated upon a floating stone platform. My mind was fuzzy and my body weak. I could barely lift myself up to set my back against the pedestal behind me.

“Ah, finally awake, I see.” I peered out ahead of me, Elidibus lounging on the large central platform in front of me. “I see now what that extraordinary efflux of aether was while the two of you were hiding away in the Greatwood. I suppose congratulations are in order for you, Warrior, though I daresay, you are not at all dressed for the occasion.”

The Ascian waved his hand towards me and I felt the clothes I was wearing shift and change. When I looked down, I was wearing the same robe I had the day Hades unlocked my powers. I slowly reached up with a shaking hand, gloves clicking against the mask on my face, then slid down to the heavy choker still around my neck. My heart started pounding in my chest.

“How different this view must be for you while on the other side of the pedestal,” he taunted and I clenched my jaw.

“What did you do?” I rasped, trying to sit up further, though the energy was not there.

“White auracite, I’m afraid,” he answered with a small cringe. “As much as I detest using it on one of my own, it seemed to be the only way to ensure that you would not fight me while I lured him here.” He crossed his arms over his chest. 

“You see, everything was going perfectly until you just had to sink your claws into him. The moment he recognized your soul, I knew . How fortunate for him, I thought, that he was able to escape the clutches of your soul when you killed him, his only weakness these long years. But, you just had to go and bring him back, didn't you? Meddling where you needn't be, again and again.”

“Y-you recognized me before he did?”

“Oh yes, dear Warrior, ” he scoffed. “How could I not, when you were such a large part of our lives back then? The originator of your soul was a beacon in our society, and differences aside, she has been greatly missed.” I clenched my jaw as he sighed, fondly. “All of us in the Convocation would be glad to welcome her back to the fold with open arms. She was so much more than you.” He paused for a moment, letting his words sink in. “Of course, as expected, he eventually recognized you as well, though I believe he was in denial for a long while. When he did, I knew it would be a source of trouble for the cause and no matter how hard I tried to separate the two of you, you both just refused .”

“And then,” he continued, unfolding his arms and leaning back on them. “The Oracle of Darkness, who I was so close to convincing that you were poisoning him, decided to seek him out herself while on the First trying to control Eden, to see for herself , and quickly fell from my grasp. Her predecessors taught her well.” He sighed through his nose. “What other choice do I have now, than to entice him with the return of the originator of your soul so that he might realize what he’s missing? Somehow, you managed to separate him from Lord Zodiark's embrace, but it matters not. We will rectify this, here and now, and together he and I will continue to fix what Hydaelyn has broken. You know as well as I that this is where he rightly belongs, so don’t bother fighting it.” 

I clenched my jaw, but closed my eyes, trying to reach out to him. Trying to tell him not to come, to stay away. I was met with a soul-crushing silence, as if the bond did not exist anymore. Elidibus laughed.

“I have set him free of the shackle that was his bond to you, Warrior,” he taunted. “You may as well not even bother. Sit quietly and wait, would you?”

It pained me to do as he asked, but I simply had no choice. Without the strength to even move, what could I do? The longer the silence stretched, the heavier the despair laid over me, so thick I thought I might suffocate, my mind sifting through his words, trying to find... any lie. But the more I thought, the more I realized everything he said was true, even about Hades loving me. I watched in my mind’s eye as his fingers slid down Persephone’s writing, the smile on his face as he spoke about her in the dreams we shared... How could I ever compare to her, with my pathetic, fragmented soul? My chest ached intensely, a sob caught in my throat. But I swallowed it down, refusing to let myself break in front of him.

“Oh, don’t be so glum, Warrior of Light,” Elidibus said to me with a shake of his head. “Is this really how you want to spend your final moments?” The best I could do was shoot him a glare, to which he laughed, but went silent shortly after, letting me continue to stew in my sorrow.

I wasn’t sure how long we sat in that miserable, hateful silence before Hades finally appeared on a platform across from me. My eyes filled with tears, relief but also sadness welling in my chest. He-He’d...come for me? To what end? Was it for me or was it merely to preserve the soul I carried?

“Ah, finally,” Elidibus said, rising to his feet. Hades took a step forward on his platform and disappeared, then suddenly was looming over me, placing himself between me and his comrade. He knelt down in front of me and lifted the mask off my face, eyes scanning my own until his gaze slid down to the binding around my throat. I could feel the anger radiating off of him, even without the bond. “Curious enough, isn’t it, Emet-Selch, how your Warrior now sits in Altima’s place, instead of Halmarult’s?”

He stood again, facing the other Ascian. He crossed his arms in front of him. “Do what you’ve brought me here to do, Emissary, so that I may return to the task at hand.”

Elidibus shrugged and raised a clawed hand towards a statue of Zodiark that sat on its own pedestal at the front of the room. The crystal glowed at his command, a stream of purple light flowing towards Hades. Realization flooded me as he moved to block my view of the statue.

“No!” I shouted, unable to hold my tears back anymore, using all of my remaining strength to sit up, to reach for him. Even if he didn’t love me, I couldn’t hold myself back. I gripped the bottom of his robe with one weak hand.

Hades turned towards me again, his eyes glowing with that same dark light. His robe slipped easily from my trembling hand, the claws snagging on the fabric. He looked down at me and the sob finally forced its way out of my throat at the look I saw there. He-he was...being tempered again. This was my breaking point. My heart shattered in my chest. 

“Not this,” I cried, my voice unsteady. “Not after everything…”

He sighed, looking over his shoulder at Elidibus, who stood tense on his platform, waiting. I lowered my head, my shoulders shaking as my weeping took over my entire being.

“I assume, now, that since your goal has been accomplished, you no longer have a need for this pathetic, wailing warrior?”

I looked up again. Elidibus waved his hand in a lazy dismissal, his tension fading as he realized he was successful.

“Lord Zodiark has found your loyalty unwavering and as such, has decided not to interfere. Go forth and sow the seeds of chaos. Dispose of her however you see fit.”

Hades knelt in front of me again on one knee, a smirk on his lips. He reached out, the claws of his gloves tenderly sliding down my wet cheek. I withdrew from him, cowering at the look in his eyes. In that moment, I knew that I’d never be what he wanted. That cold look on his face...

“Hades, please-” He scoffed.

“What audacity you have, using my true name in this place.” His smile was cruel as he pushed a lock of hair out of my eyes. “Whatever shall we do with you, my dear hero?”

Chapter Text

The more I read, the less I believed what I was reading. Nothing in the latter half of the book was true to who I knew her to be. And if there was any one soul I knew better than my own, it had been hers. This book… had definitely been altered in some way.

I flipped it shut, gazing at the cover intensely, trying to discern any enchantments or meddling by outside hands. I turned it over a few times, but aside from the colors of my own essence, Persephone’s bright hue mixed with the muted Warrior of Light’s, there was the faintest trace of Cronus’, faint and fleeting, and not much else. 

Which, in and of itself, was suspicious. 

I narrowed my eyes at the notable absence of my compeer upon its surface. Elidibus’ trace should be on this book if he had given it to the hero. Which meant he was up to something when he gave this book to her, though I could not hazard a guess to what it may have been. There was nothing within the pages that would have roused anything in the Warrior of Light.

I looked to the side at the food that the hero had brought me, a small smile creeping across my lips despite the events of the day. Regardless of my reaction to the book, she had taken the time to make sure that I had eaten, worrying about my wellbeing in spite of how she was probably feeling. I wonder how she had perceived my reaction? I would imagine she would be upset with me dwelling on memories as I have, though she likely would not readily admit it unless I asked her about it. 

Even still, despite how it had made her feel, she had given me the space I needed to sort through my thoughts, to get through my feelings and come to realize how I really felt. She was… truly magnificent. And I was a complete and total fool. 

I knew I was growing fond of her; I admitted as much to her yesterday. I realized it with each passing day that the feelings that were developing for the Warrior of Light grew in intensity. Her smile, her laughter, her touch… to feel her in my arms, the warmth she brought to my soul with a mere glance in my direction was insurmountable that it was almost laughable that I did not come to realize the extent of how far I had fallen. 

I suppose it was to be expected, though; when you disallow yourself the joys of true romance for thousands of years because the pain of repetitive loss at the end of their fleeting lives was too great, it’s all too easy to forget the signs. But somehow or another I broke my own rule, I let down my defenses, even knowing in the back of my mind that her life was just as fleeting as the rest. That she would grow old, grow ill, and one day she would fade into the Lifestream to be reborn once more. Unless, of course, the Great Rejoining were to be accomplished before then, however unrealistic of a goal that may be.

I frowned as I looked down at the scene of the fiery planet beneath me. Even if the book had been altered, why was I so fixated upon it to the point where I had asked her to leave? What did it matter, anyway? Even if the book was full of nothing but the truth, it would not affect me or change anything. So why was I so intent on clinging onto the past, even now? It was just as Gaia had said, selfish and self-centered. How can I truly give my heart to another, indeed.

Persephone was gone. While it was true that I would always care for her--how could I not with how close we had been--the Warrior of Light had her own place, one so overflowing with abundant devotion for her that she was at the forefront of my mind more often than not. Did she know how I felt about her? Had I made it clear that she had steadily worked her way to being everything to me without much effort on her part? I frowned. Decidedly not, in my opinion. Something that needed to be rectified sooner rather than later.

I instantly opened a portal back to the Crystarium, stepping out into her room. Looking around at the empty room with a frown, I sighed at the disappointment that she was not there. The chair was pushed away from the table as if she had been here. I looked towards the door, it had been locked from the inside. Which, of course, meant little if she had left the room with a portal but… she most certainly preferred walking. A feeling of uneasiness crept into my mind.

I glanced up at the clock. The Scions would be at dinner by now, perhaps she would be there as well. I stepped through the portal that I had left open, stepping out to the dining area. I looked around quickly, my frown deepening at her empty chair.

“Where is she?” I asked, the urgency in my voice barely contained. The Scions, Exarch, and Oracles stopped their meal to look up at me.

“We thought she was with you,” the female twin responded and I felt my stomach drop. “She’s been gone for the better part of two hours.”

I attempted to reach out to her through our bond and was met with an eerie silence. Had she learned how to block me out? I narrowed my eyes and shook my head both to myself and to the twin, my lips a tense line. Even if she had done such a thing, the pull between our souls would still be present. How had I not noticed it's absence sooner? 

I took a deep breath, trying to calm the building panic within me. She had been to see me nearly two hours ago, which means she never made it back to see her companions. The Scions, perceptive as always, read my body language and were instantly on high alert, standing from their seats.

My mind was racing with possibilities as to what could have caused a severance in our tether when realization dawned on me. Elidibus’ essence wasn’t on the book. Had he wanted to get me away from her? I clenched my jaw, my hands forming into fists at my sides. No doubt he had noticed that she had been brought into office by my ritual. Did he want to recruit her? But what would happen to her if he activated the statue of Zodiark with her Blessing of Light to interfere? Would she have been tempered? That would certainly explain the silence in our bond, but I feared that the conflict between Hydaelyn and Zodiark in her mind would not leave her unscathed. Would she even survive such a thing? I snapped my fingers, instantly in my Convocation robes.

“Elidibus,” I said out loud as I connected the dots but offered no further elaboration as I created a portal and walking through to the Chrysalis without another word. I appeared on my designated platform and looked across towards Altima’s pedestal to see her seated, her body appearing limp as she leaned against the stone.

“Ah, finally.” Teleporting towards her platform, I stood in front of her, before kneeling down to examine her. 

Her aether and our bond had been sealed, but by what? I removed her mask, my eyes searching hers before they landed on the white auracite on her neck. I narrowed my eyes as the anger surged in me that such a thing would be used against her and stood, barely registering the question Elidibus had asked while I had checked on the Warrior of Light. The auracite could explain the silence in the bond, and I found myself praying that was the case. In restricting the Echo, it would definitely snuff out the Eternal Bond, which essentially was our two Echoes intertwining.

“Do what you’ve brought me here to do, Emissary, so that I may return to the task at hand,” I bit out and watched as he raised his hand. 

All at once, his plan was made clear to me. He had not taken her to temper her, he had taken her to lure me here. He had likely grown frustrated with me, grown tired of my lack of any notable progress towards the Ardor. I was too busy with my own happiness, just as he had said, and right when I was about to return to my tasks, I let myself get swept away in my emotions once again. And now, he was only doing what was rational, bringing me back into the ranks of the tempered, reinstating a way to make sure I would not get derailed again.

I watched as the statue began to glow, and the purple light spread through the room in a wave. Taking a deep breath, I adjusted my body slightly, trying to make sure to block the Warrior of Light’s vision from the spreading aura that would have unknown effects to her. But I knew what to expect, and I knew I would make it through unharmed. Distant and cold, perhaps. Numb to my feelings for her, which would likely be a shade of what they once were. But perhaps they would remain as a motivator, just as they had the last time. 

When it finally reached me, I was filled with a familiar warmth as the will of Zodiark whispered to me, caressing my mind as it embraced me once more, surrounding me as though I was a long-lost friend. I faintly registered the sound of the hero calling out to me and I looked down at her. My heart clenched with the gut-wrenching realization that I would never be able to tell her how I truly feel now. The tempering meant she would never be able to see into my mind ever again, the Eternal Bond being forced shut and replaced by an unwavering devotion to Lord Zodiark. 

What an idiot I was. I should have told her while I had the chance. I should have shown her. 

What I would give for just one more day.

With any luck, some of it would be spared so I could still try to express it to her with words, however lacking they may be. But to share it through the unique connection afforded by the Eternal Bond was something I had sorely missed, something I wished I had been allowed the opportunity to experience once more. The notion that she would never be able to experience what another’s true affections felt like… to feel the devotion, adoration, and love from another fill her... What a heartbreaking shame. And it was all my own doing.

There was a strong pulsating in my mind with a bright flash before Zodiark’s voice echoed in my ears, just once more, and then fell silent. 

“I must say I’m relieved that things have turned out this way, Emet-Selch. It was troublesome enough that she defeated you, but since you had recognized her I worried that it would cause us more problems upon your return. It appears I was correct since you almost strayed from the one true path,” he said and I looked back at him with a scoff.

“How offensive. I never strayed,” I replied honestly, looking back down at the hero, who continued to cry uncontrollably as she looked up at me with disbelief. “Regardless of how soft I was or how slowly I was progressing, even allying with the Warrior of Light was a step in my plan. No matter how it seems, my primary objective will always be the restoration of Amaurot. Everything I have done was for the Great Rejoining, to have our friends and home returned to us.”

He hummed in reflection for a moment before nodding. “Perhaps I should have had more faith in you then. As I said before, I will not interfere for the time being. At Lord Zodiark’s command, I will trust in your decisions as the Architect. Now do us both a favor and remove her from this place. She has started getting on my nerves, and I do not wish to detest her soul any more than I must.”

I nodded and opened a portal, reaching my hand to grip the hero’s wrist and she weakly tried to pull her hand away. “You would rather stay here then?” I asked, with a roll of my eyes.

I stood, pulling her up by her wrist before I tugged her through the portal. We stepped out into the dining room of the Crystarium. She pulled her hand weakly out of my grasp, tears streaming down her cheeks as she sobbed and took a step back away from me. She clearly was having a difficult time even remaining standing, her stance unsteady. Her friends instantly moved around the table towards us, all speaking at once to ask if she was alright, inquiring as to what had transpired. The miqo’te made a quiet comment about her aether, holding her arm out with narrowed eyes to keep her friends back from approaching when I shot a glare at them to stay back.

I sighed with barely concealed frustration, reaching my hand out in her direction. With a sob, she placed her hands on my chest and shoved me with what little strength she had, shaking her head quickly as she fell to her knees. The room fell silent, tension building in the air as the Scions drew their weapons in response to her actions. I let my arm fall and after a moment I took another slow step towards her, watching as she leaned away from me. Her eyes went to her friends and she continued to shake her head, closing her eyes tightly as tears continued to flow from her eyes.

“Just stay back, everyone. Please,” she pleaded and I exhaled sharply, prompting her to open her eyes and look up at me, her expression full of sadness and fear as her hand went up to the auracite choker. “Don’t hurt them. Please, Emet-Selch. I’ll go with you, you can do whatever you want with me. Just spare them.”

My eyes slid down to the choker and I knelt on one knee in front of her. “Stay still, would you?” I said as I reached my hand for her once more and she tensed, her eyes widening as she tried to slide herself away from me. Her reaction caused me to hesitate with a sigh before I raised my hand in preparation for a snap. She winced as the sound echoed in the room, looking around frantically to see what I had done. 

The binding around her neck dissipated, her strength marginally returning to her as her hand flew to her neck. Immediately, I could feel the myriad of emotions she was feeling flood in through our bond, relief filling me the moment we had been reconnected. I looked into her mind through all the sadness, heartbreak and panic, searching for any sign of tempering. Despite knowing it unlikely since the tether of Eternal Bond remained between us, I still relaxed when I found none. 

She scrambled to her feet in an instant, and I stood slowly, watching as she looked at her friends once more, steeling herself. In her desperation to keep her friends safe, she did not feel the reassurances I was trying to provide her and her mind raced with panicked thoughts as she tried to plan how to protect them with her power drained as much as it had been.

“You are safe, Warrior of Light,” I said to her then, trying to keep my voice calm. She looked back at me, confusion in her expression and mind. “Your friends will not be harmed.”

“No. You’re--I saw you get tempered,” she stammered, her eyes wide as she reached to grip the cloth of my robes tightly despite the uncertainty she was feeling once she finally paused to feel the emotions I was feeling through our bond. “You… you were so…”

A corner of my mouth tilted up. “If I managed to fool you, then Elidibus was definitely convinced.”

“I thought…” Her eyes searched mine, tears welling up in them once more, and a sob escaped her lips at whatever she saw. “I thought I had lost-”

Without thinking, I closed the space between us and pressed my lips firmly against hers before pressing my forehead to hers. Relief flooded our tether as tears continued to spill from her eyes, running down her cheeks.

“Shhh, my beloved. It’s alright,” I whispered, my hands sliding up and down her sides in an attempt to comfort her. “I can’t say I understand how, but I am fine.”

She threw her arms around me and pulled herself flush against me, sobbing into my robes and I slowly wrapped my arms around her in return, one coming to rest on the back of her head, gently running my fingers through her hair.

“I guess… I did need your protection after all,” she mumbled as she pulled back, having calmed down slightly. Her eyes began searching my face and I smiled softly at her. I moved a hand up to my mouth to use my teeth to remove my glove, unwilling to release my hold on her, and let it fall to the ground before reaching up to wipe the trail the tears had left on her face. Cupping the side of her face with my hand, I furrowed my brow, taking in the coldness of her skin. Her body continued to tremble slightly and I frowned, as I looked to the table to see if there was any food left from their dinner.

“You should eat, my dearest,” I murmured. “Your aether has been depleted by that horrible contraption.”

The sound of a blade being sheathed brought my attention back to the Scions and I turned my head towards them slowly, clearing my throat. Some of them had looked away uncomfortably at our exchange. “I make no apologies for that display.”

Gaia rolled her eyes but smiled and the gunbreaker exhaled slowly, averting his gaze once more.

The female twin frowned. “Could… could you change her outfit? It’s… unsettling,” she said, quietly.

I raised my brow at the request. “I’d rather not,” I retorted and I weaved the fingers of my gloved hand between the Warrior of Light’s, pulling her gently to the table. With a snap of my fingers, a plate of food appeared and she sat, her hand never leaving mine as I pulled my seat closer to hers.

Her friends returned to their seats in relative silence, the tension in the air all but gone. Their expressions were still clouded with concern and curiosity, but they seemed to understand that she needed time to recover first. I handed her the utensils. After a slight hesitation, she began to eat, though it seemed she was forcing herself to do so. She pierced a piece of food with her fork and lifted it towards her mouth when I reached over, snatching it from between her fingers. I took the piece of food in my mouth with a smirk and she rolled her eyes at me before I handed the fork back to her.

“You couldn’t have just made your own plate?”

“I could have, yes, but where’s the fun in that?” I teased. “I just wanted to confirm that particular new culinary Creation was acceptable for you to eat. It’s adequate enough.”

She arched her brow at me and I shrugged a shoulder. “You deserved more than leftovers after that ordeal.”

She hummed happily as she continued to eat the meal I had Created for her, before she put the fork down when she finished, leaning back in the seat. She exhaled slowly, looking down at her gloved hand and flexing her fingers.

“They’re surprisingly comfortable,” she commented softly, looking at me. “You wouldn’t think it, looking at them from the outside. The robes as well.”

I nodded, a soft smile on my lips. “They may not be practical for you, though, given your chosen combat form. We could probably modify them for you somehow.”

The astrologian’s eyebrows shot up at our exchange and the male twin spoke up, carefully. “Surely you can’t mean to adopt this as your… default attire?”

“Why are you even wearing them in the first place?” his sister asked, slight irritation in her tone that I had come to expect from her.

“She has the right to wear them if she wishes to,” Gaia said quietly as she leaned back in her seat, her arms crossed. “As a current member of the Convocation of Fourteen, she has every right to wear the travel robes the Ascians have adopted as their garb.”

My eyes snapped to hers. “How long have you known?”

“The day I met her I knew, as did Elidibus,” she replied evenly. “Altima, the Emissary of Light.”

The Warrior of Light tensed next to me, turning to face me. “I wanted to ask you what Elidibus meant by congratulating me.”

I exhaled slowly. “I suppose there’s no use trying to hide it any longer. But that reminds me...” I trailed off, sighing heavily. “These are not your true robes. When we became Zodiark's Convocation there was no need for the Emissary of Light any longer, so Altima's robes became just as the rest of us wore. I suppose the girl will be happy since I’ll be changing your outfit to something perhaps less offensive.”

I snapped and watched as the robes she wore faded into white ones matching those Eldibus wore. She furrowed her brow and looked away, back at her gloved hand, now clad in white with golden tips. “So you brought me into office as a member of the Convocation?”

“Yes,” I replied with a frown. “Into the seat of Altima. Of the vacated positions, Altima was the one I felt suited you best, as the Emissary of Light opposite of Elidibus’ Emissary of Darkness, hence the white robes.”

She bristled and looked at me, a mix of emotions in her eyes. Her tone was harsh when she spoke. “How… how do you expect me to be a member of the Convocation when I’m meant to be Hydaelyn’s champion?”

I shook my head. “All I did was break the bind on your powers and gave you the ability to become who you truly are, however slow the process may be. Being part of the Fourteen does not immediately make you a servant of Darkness, and even in the days of Amaurot those among us were free to choose if they believed in Zodiark or Hydaelyn.”

I paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “Some of my decision may have been to spite your blessed Mother, but it was not with ill intent. I understand I was not explicit in the details that I gave you, but bringing you into office was the quickest and easiest way to unlock your potential.”

She crossed her arms, not totally convinced by my explanation and I frowned. “If you remember, I did ask you and I even told all of you that the ritual was similar to the creation of lesser Ascians. I did not lie to any of you, though I will admit to skirting around the truth. But just because you’ve been released from your bindings by this ritual does not mean you would suddenly be forced to do what Zodiark commands. The Blessing of Light still radiates within you, blindingly so.”

Her elezen friend spoke up then, his tone stern. “The issue here, Emet-Selch, is thou didst not make thy true intentions clear to her. I have no doubt that she would have agreed to thy ritual had she been afforded transparency because it is clear now even to us that thy intentions for her are good ones. But half-truths are no better than lies.”

I paused and brought my hand to my chin for a moment as I considered this before I nodded. “I can respect that. I am sorry, then, for my lack of transparency. But I do not apologize for my actions.”

I sighed and looked around the room. “And while I have you all here, I also wish to apologize for the distasteful things I have said about you all in the past. I understand that may very well be the understatement of all creation, but this brush with being retempered has made me realize that there are so many things left unsaid, and I would prefer to avoid living with the regret of never making amends for such things,” I said, speaking softly, averting my gaze to examine the pattern of the wooden table.

The gunbreaker breathed a laugh. “So you’re saying what, exactly? That you now longer view us as lesser beings?”

I looked up, shrugging my shoulders. “ Fragmented imperfections though you may be, you and your Warrior of Light have shown me how very wrong I was to judge you as I did. Spending time with you all as I have, I have witnessed comradery and genuine good in all of you, and I'm afraid I had lost sight of how significant such traits can be over the millennia. Loathe as I am to admit it, you were right to stand up for your own lives and those of your loved ones, and full well am I glad that you succeeded in stopping me those months ago.”

The Warrior of Light released a deep breath she had been holding, her tension dissipating slightly at my apology. “Why Altima and not Halmarult?”

“I… wanted you to have your own title, unique to you rather than a shared one with Persephone. Despite the added effort it takes to bring a soul into an office it was not previously assigned, it seemed worth it in this case. You are a different person regardless of having the same soul, with different convictions and a different view of the world. I wanted to respect that and give you a title more in line with who you are while still showing you that, in my mind, you and I are equals. Soulmates.”

 

Chapter Text

I looked around the table to catch my friends’ reactions as Hades, yet again, apologized to them. Each of them looked surprised- from Alisaie’s mouth hanging open, to Thancred’s raised eyebrows. I could feel the tension leaving the room, and as such, I let my own shoulders relax. I leaned forward, hands clasped in my lap.

“Why Altima and not Halmarult?”

When he easily answered my question, my stomach twisted and my mouth parted.

Soulmates . Equals.

The words rang freely through my body and I felt the remaining anger I held for him fading. I’d heard it used before, but this time, coming out of his mouth, the effect it had on me was different. I exhaled a long breath and uncrossed my arms, giving him a small smile. I felt an affectionate stroke down the bond. I relished the feeling, relieved that Elidibus had not actually been able to permanently sever it.

“You’re in love with their precious hero,” Gaia said from across the table, huffing a laugh. “You wouldn’t be saying any of this otherwise. Look how far you’ve fallen.” He gave her a pointed look and shook his head.

“What an underwhelming word that is. Love.”

“Would you use a different one, then?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. He waved his hand in dismissal.

“There isn’t one in this tongue to describe what I feel without inherently reducing its significance.”

I felt my face heat up when I saw everyone’s eyes focus on me. Oh, what I would give to be able to hide behind my mask. The room was quiet for a few long moments as they looked between the two of us.

“So, would you care to enlighten us as to what happened?” Thancred asked, finally, breaking the awkwardness around the room.

“Well,” I began, my eyes examining all of my friends, who began listening intently. “I took Emet-Selch some food while he was reading Persephone’s book. When I got back to my room a few minutes later, Elidibus was waiting for me.”

I felt him tense next to me, but I continued. “He was there to provoke me into attacking him, and I am ashamed to admit, he did his part well. In my anger, I had a go at him and he easily stopped me with a binding made of white auracite.” I lifted my hand to touch my neck for a moment, the ghost of a feeling still there. I swallowed as my fingers touched my skin.

As I talked, Hades held his ungloved hand out on the table, palm up. Understanding his silent request, I moved my hand from my neck and removed one of my own gloves, then set my hand in his so I could show him the memory. I saw everyone’s eyes as they watched, but I kept speaking.

“When I woke up, I was in the Chrysalis...the same place I fought Nabriales.” He bristled next to me, Elidibus’ words to me playing through his mind. I looked at him with a sidelong glance. “He was using me as bait to lure Emet-Selch there, to be tempered once again. But…”

The memory ended and his eyes refocused on the room and the company around us.

“I don’t know what happened after that. I thought Zodiark had gotten to him, but evidently, I was wrong.”

Gaia, across the table, held her hand out towards him, her eyes closed in concentration. Quiet descended upon the rest of us as we waited.

“Hmm,” she hummed, opening her eyes. “It’s true that you have not been tempered again but, I also sense a thin veil of Light around you....” She furrowed her brow. I felt Hades shift uncomfortably next to me. “How odd.” I chewed on the inside of my mouth for a moment.

“Do you think it could have anything to do with the deal you make with Hydaelyn upon entering the Lifestream?” I asked, looking up at him again. He frowned.

“Unlikely,” Gaia interjected before he could answer. “Ryne told me the details of the vision you both had. From what I understand, the only thing She agreed to do to you was to bind your powers. There was no agreement struck in which She would provide you with a Blessing.”

“Then, if Zodiark didn’t get what he wanted, how is it that we were able to leave?” I asked her. “Elidibus seemed to believe Emet-Selch had been tempered. Doesn’t the Emissary speak to Him directly?”

“That I am unsure of. Though,” she said, lifting her hand to her mouth in thought. “I imagine Zodiark knew well enough Elidibus would not be able to defeat you both, but I cannot say with absolute certainty what their plan is.” I felt a spike of emotion down the tether and I looked up at the Ascian at my side.

“What is it?”

“Before we left, Elidibus said that Lord Zodiark had decided not to interfere .” His brow furrowed. “I’d sooner gut myself than give up what I’ve worked twelve thousand years to achieve, and I’ve no sympathy for Hydaelyn. I’m almost offended that He’d think my goals so easily changed.”

“If I may, Emet-Selch,” Urianger said, and Hades looked across the table at him with a raised brow. “One could assume that the all-consuming hatred thou feels towards the Mother was proof enough to allow thee to continue on without becoming a mindless thrall.”

“Yes,” Hades bit out, frowning deeply. “That is a possibility. Perhaps I need to reevaluate my allegiances.” Silence descended upon the room again as all of us took in his words and what they could possibly mean. 

Finally, Hades cleared with throat again.

“With that, I believe I should see that your hero gets some rest.” He looked down at me again. “She is quite exhausted after her ordeals today.”

When none of the Scions argued, he reached down into my chair and picked me up.

“Wait, I can-”

Before I could protest further, he opened a portal and walked us through.

When we were in my room again, he gently set me down on the bed and moved away from me to pull the robe over his head. I thought back to Elidibus’ words.

“Did you...find some closure by reading her book?” He carefully laid the robe across the back of the chair at my desk.

“The book was a ruse,” he started. “It had some of her words, yes, but...it had been tampered with and I can only assume it was simply to distract me. It took your visit to me to make me realize what a fool I was for putting so much stock into the past, and for that too, I am sorry.”

I was quiet as I slid the other glove off my hand and set it on the bed next to me. I went to stand, but Hades knelt in front of me, taking my hands in his, the claws on his remaining glove lightly scratching me.

“I felt your feelings through your memory. Your despair. Your broken heart. I hope you know,” he said, softly. “That everything Elidibus said was a lie.” I looked down at him, the genuine expression on his face causing my lips to part, and I curled my fingers around his.

“I…” I closed my eyes and sighed. The turmoil I had felt realizing that I would never compare to Persephone still lingered, ice in my stomach. But in the end, when he realized something was wrong, he’d come for me instead of focusing on the book. He...was willing to take the tempering again for me, to protect me. A peaceful feeling spread, melting the ice in my stomach and he squeezed my hands tightly as I let the feeling cross the bond. “I know that now.”

“And truly, I am sorry for keeping the truth from you.” I hung my head, slightly, opening my eyes to stare at my lap, thinking of the memory I’d experienced early this morning when Elidibus brought the book.

“I have...something to tell you, as a matter of fact. I think it's important you see it. Maybe...it will help ease the burden of guilt that weighs on you so heavily.”

He nodded, and I let him into my mind once again, letting the memory from earlier that morning play. When it ended, he stared down at our joined hands. “He knew all along…” He paused, the cogs in his mind turning as he realized. “You kept this from me,” he said, barely audible.

“I didn’t mean to,” I explained. “When I asked you about Cronus this morning, the name seemed to make you angry and so...I thought it best to not say anything. I’m sorry.” He sighed, leaning forward to press his forehead against mine.

“How can I be angry when your reasoning was so similar to mine?” I breathed a small laugh. He moved, sitting on the bed next to me. He wrapped his arm around me and I leaned into him.

“Who was he to you?” I asked as I laid my head on his shoulder. 

“Hmm,” he hummed, his thoughts going back to the time before. “Cronus was my mentor. Both Hythlodaeus and I showed the most potential to become the next Architect, and so he took us under his wing to prepare us for the eventual day that one of us would be chosen.” He chuckled. “And wouldn’t you believe, I wasn’t the first choice.” My head shot up at his words, brow furrowed, and I turned to him.

“What? Really?” One side of his mouth lifted upwards, slightly. 

“Yes,” he started. “Hythlodaeus was the first choice, but he turned it down.” The smile on his mouth faded, then. “I continued going to Cronus for advice. I confided in him first that I discovered the significant drop in aether. He…” Hades furrowed his brow. “He told me that I would be considered insane if I ever shared my findings with anyone else. He had me convinced that my place on the Convocation was already unsteady as I was the second choice.” He sighed through his nose. “He was a strange old man from the moment I met him. Paranoid and fearful. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, in those days when there was no conflict. I suppose I was quite the fool for ever placing my trust in him, and especially for letting him keep my ear for so long after.”

I chewed on the inside of my mouth as I thought on his words. “And the depletion of aether was the cause of his behavior?”

“I can only assume so, yes.” He shook his head, his own disbelief making its way down the tether to me. “He must have known for many years before stepping down.” I tilted my head in confusion and he continued. “Both Hythlodaeus and I were gifted with the Sight, which was common, even back then. But, we were unique in that our gifts were extremely sensitive and Cronus used us to check the aether at any given moment.” He looked down at his lap. “We were so young then. We had no idea what it meant, nor did we ever begin to think that miniscule drops in aether were anything to worry about. As we grew older, I believed Hythlodaeus had grown suspicious of him, though I never got the chance to ask why. Even when I discovered the thinning life force around us, I never thought… If I had just said something , I wonder if this all could have been avoided.” I placed my hand over one of his and squeezed. 

“It’s not your fault,” I assured him and he sagged slightly, relief filling him. “You placed your trust in him and he betrayed you. He easily could’ve said something...who knows how many years before you took office. He didn’t.”

“And then continued on to lead the dissent that summoned Hydaelyn and split the world.” I gave him a small nod of understanding, wondering if Persephone had truly been a part of the rebellion.

“How did...Hythlodaeus die?” I asked. I thought back to the memory and the previous conversations I’d had with his shade. “Persephone...talked about him as if he was no longer there, and...he told me himself that he was an innocent .” 

“Hythlodaeus,” he began with a sigh. “No matter how equal to me he was in intelligence and power, was not spared by the beasts that appeared in and around Amaurot before the summoning.” The sorrow in his voice threatened to break my heart. I nodded again and looked down at my lap, at our intertwined hands. “We were fighting together when the first beast spawned in the city, but my duties as a Convocation member called me away.” He squeezed my hands again, sadness filling him. “If I had just stayed…”

I leaned forward and pressed my forehead against his, sending him a comforting stroke down the bond. “It’s not your fault,” I reiterated. “You couldn’t have known what was going to happen.” 

He closed his eyes as we sat in silence, unmoving, for a long while. I could feel the words building in his mind as he tried to sort out his feelings, what he wanted to say- to confess- to me.

“I thought I had lost you,” he started. “When I realized the bond was silent, all I could think about was all of the things I hadn’t told you yet- all the things I hadn’t shared with you. You know, before, I was worried that you would think I was scheming again, that you wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.” He sucked in a deep breath before going on.

“I didn’t know how I’d gotten so lucky, to hold on to your affections after the atrocities that I’ve committed in my long life. All I knew was that I didn’t want to lose you. I was…” He paused long enough that I opened my eyes and raised my head. He examined my face, searched my eyes. I nodded, encouraging him to continue.

“I was afraid .” He averted his eyes from mine, his admission of fear something I imagined he’d never revealed to anyone. “I was afraid that you’d push me away. In the end, my actions made you do just that, anyway. I understand now how my secrets, no matter how benign to me they seem, can be hurtful to those close to me. I’ll...try my very best to be more open with you, but do be patient with me, my dearest. Old habits die hard.”

I breathed a laugh and reached out to him then, placing my hand on the side of his head. His eyes slid back to me and he put his hand overtop mine. 

“I’m going to start with this: even though we have only spent a short time together, it’s become clear to me that I...simply cannot live without you.” I inhaled sharply and his fingers curled around mine. He searched my face for a moment. “You’ve become everything to me.” He huffed a laugh and looked down again. “I don’t know what I would have done if you had more seriously hurt, or worse. I think I fleetingly considered the possibility of having to kill Elidibus.”

I closed my eyes again, exhaling a steady breath, a soft smile forming on my lips, all of my unease dissipating with his words.

“It’s...okay to be afraid, you know. I get scared all the time and I’m…” I paused with a sigh. “I’m the hero, aren’t I? But, I want to share everything with you, Hades. Our hopes. Our fears.” He sucked in a surprised breath as his eyes found mine again. “The good. The bad. All of it. You don’t ever have to do this alone.” I leaned my face in, closer to his. 

“Just trust in me. I believe in you. In-in us. ” I pressed my forehead against his and closed my eyes, my smile widening as tears threatened to surface. I exhaled unsteadily. “You’re everything I could have hoped for- everything I never thought I’d...receive or deserve in this lifetime. I never want to be without you again. I know that the word pales in comparison, Hades, but, truly, I love y-.”

He closed the little distance between us quickly, pressing his lips against mine before I could even finish my own confession.

Chapter Text

“It’s not your fault.”

There were no words to describe the flood of emotions that filled me hearing those words come from her lips. 

“It’s not your fault,” she repeated.

To hear the genuine belief that I was not to blame for the destruction of the star from someone who meant more than all the stars in the night sky. That I was not at fault for the death of my dearest friend so many thousands of years ago.

“I believe in you. In us.

I hadn’t known how badly I needed to hear such words until I had heard them. I did not realize how profoundly they would impact me until they already had. My heart swelled and it was all I could do not to kiss her right then. To show her how strongly I felt. To hold her against me and never let go.

“I love y-”

With that, I was overcome. I could not control myself any longer. 

I feel everything there is to feel when it comes to you, my mind all but screamed as I pressed my lips to hers.

Devotion. Adoration. Respect. Admiration. Love. Every ounce of it, I poured into our kiss, sharing as much as I could with her through our tether. 

I never want to be without you ever again. I would cease to function without you.

As the kiss grew in intensity, she moved her hand to my shoulder, gently pushing to coax me to lay on my back. She pulled back from the kiss for a moment, sitting up to pull her robe up over her head and threw it to the side, letting it fall on the ground. As she leaned forward, she moved her hand to remove the ribbon, her hair falling over her shoulder as she hovered her lips over my own.

I reached up with my hand, barely registering the glove that remained, and brushed the hair back, the tips of the claws brushing her shoulder gently. She shivered at the sensation, sending a wave of enjoyment down the tether and I arched a brow at her response, trailing my index finger gently down the bare skin of her arm.

A soft whimper escaped her lips and I breathed a chuckle, moving the hand to the small of her back, slowly and gently moving upwards, allowing the clawed tips to just barely contact her skin. Her cheeks flushed as she locked eyes with me, a shudder running through her body and I could not contain the slow grin that crept across my lips at my discovery.

" Well then, I intended for us to sleep after our eventful evening but this revelation is too fascinating to let slide," I mused as I propped myself up with my other hand to bring myself back up to a seated position, her backside coming to rest in my lap with the motion. Bringing my lips close to hers, I moved my gloved hand to slowly caress her skin and she exhaled unsteadily against my lips, her hands moving up to drape her arms over my shoulders.

Narrowing my eyes, I experimentally pressed a little harder against her skin and was rewarded with a soft moan. My grin widened and I leaned in closer, my ungloved hand coming to rest on her waist. I could feel her frustration flit through the bond and she moved her hands to my hair, pulling at it gently to retaliate for my teasing.

“Should I stop then?” I mused, my hand trailing back down her body, varying the pressure I applied. The blush deepened and she bit her lip to try to contain the small sound that escaped her. “I don’t think you want me to, do you?” I whispered and she buried her face in my neck. I chuckled at her timidness, shaking my head.

“There’s no need to be embarrassed, my beloved,” I said softly. I tightened my grip on her waist to move my hips against hers, letting her feel my arousal, to know without a doubt in her mind the effect she had on me, and she tightened her grip on my hair. “I’m enjoying this as much as you are.”

She brought her lips back to mine in response, kissing me with sudden desperation and hunger. The minutes passed, her soft whimpers against my lips urging me on as I continued to tease her skin with the glove, moving my hips against hers in a steady rhythm. She pulled herself flush against me, matching her hips with my movements, our breathing growing heavier as the kiss grew to match the uninhibited desire that had been building.

Soon, her mind began racing with a need to feel closer , to feel more . She removed one of her hands from my hair then, trailing her fingers down my torso to the waist of my pants and she pushed it down slightly before removing her hand, flicking her wrist. The pants of her Convocation outfit dissipated, leaving her in her smallclothes and I smirked as I snapped my fingers, my own pants disappearing. A shiver ran through her body at the realization that I had understood her request, and when the movement of her hips matched mine once more, I pressed my arousal harder against her. She broke the kiss as she threw her head back with a gasp, soft breathy moans escaping her lips each time she pressed herself against me.

Her movements soon grew more frantic and I placed a lingering kiss on her shoulder as I let her set the pace, let her dictate what she wanted and how she wanted it, the claws on my glove scratching at her skin, my other hand gripping her harder as I reacted to her thoughts, responding to her unspoken desires. She grew more desperate each time she rocked herself against me, moving her hands to grip my shoulders. She positioned herself then with the intention to fully take the lead of the situation, her hips gyrating against mine to hit just the right spot again and again, her breathy whimpers turning into cries of pleasure, her volume increasing with each pass as she brought herself closer to the edge.

“Don’t hold back,” I whispered to her, exhilaration filling me as she took control of her own pleasure, as she focused on herself and how she was feeling and what she needed. Her body was covered in a thin layer of sweat and I trailed my tongue along the slope of her neck slowly, earning a throaty moan from her and a jolt of pleasure through our tether. I could feel the urgency building within her and I kissed my way up her neck to place a kiss just under her ear.

“That’s it, my dearest, let go,” I panted against her skin as the sounds she was making grew louder still, her movements and breathing erratic. One of her hands moved to the back of my head as she threaded her fingers in my hair, pulling me flush against her.

Nipping at her earlobe, I whispered her name into her ear as I urged her on. She cried out with a surge of elation through our tether, tightening her hold on my hair as she moved with wanton desperation now, the impassioned sounds she made as she let her inhibitions go bringing me closer to the edge. 

The continuous sound of my name on her lips threw me over and I gripped her tightly, the tips of the claws digging into her skin, her name spilling from my lips once more as I let myself come undone. I felt a spike down the bond, and at the feeling of my own release against her, she was quickly overcome. I moved to kiss her once more, her body trembling as she cried out against my lips.

I pressed my mouth to hers softly, a gentle kiss in contrast to the urgency from mere moments prior, as we sat wrapped around each other, breathing heavily, our bodies sheen from sweat. Once the two of us had caught our breath, I raised my hand to snap my fingers, and the distant sound of the bathtub filling filtered into the room. I placed a soft kiss on her shoulder and she removed her hands from my hair, wrapping her arms around me. I could feel her affection and contentment flowing into me and I moved my ungloved hand to finally remove my glove, both hands moving to check where I had squeezed to make sure I had not caused her any harm.

I could feel her lips lift into a small smile against my skin, and I stood, scooping her into my arms in a fluid motion. She pulled her head back to look at me, her face still flushed from our activities. “I can walk, you know,” she said softly.

“I know,” I replied as I carried her into the bathing room.

She raised her brow at me and I pressed my lips to hers briefly. “I just want to hold you,” I explained. “Is that alright?”

She hummed with mock consideration. “I suppose I’ll allow it.”

I huffed a laugh as I sat on the edge of the tub, placing my fingers in the water to check the temperature. “Thank your Twelve for that.”

“You seem to consider my Twelve a lot, you know.”

“Yes, well, I would thank Zodiark, but I am unsure how I feel on that front,” I quipped teasingly, trying to conceal the hint of sadness I felt at the thought. “And I don’t think I could thank Hydaelyn with a straight face.”

She was quiet for a moment and I snapped my fingers, the remaining clothing on our bodies disappearing before I stood once more to climb into the tub. I adjusted her so she could sit in the water in front of me, with her back pressed against my chest and I leaned back with a comfortable sigh.

Reaching her hand for my own, she laced her fingers between mine and leaned her head back against my shoulder. “Gaia said He’d been corrupted. I don’t think you should be so quick to let your faith in Him go,” she said suddenly.

I craned my neck to look at the side of her face clearly and she turned slightly to look at me, shrugging a shoulder.

“You’ve been a follower of Zodiark for so long, haven’t you? I wouldn’t… well, even with all the questions I have on Hydaelyn’s motives… I wouldn’t give up my faith in Her so easily. I may doubt the reasons sometimes, but She’s seemed to have my best interests in mind until now,” she explained.

I frowned and leaned my head back against the wall, closing my eyes. “She does not. She has Her best interests in mind.”

“Says Zodiark,” she replied, but there was no confrontation to her tone.

I nodded, exhaling slowly through my nose. “Yes, says Zodiark.”

We fell into a comfortable silence once more, and I lifted my head to kiss the top of her head after a moment, placing my chin atop her shoulder. “I can feel your mind turning with whatever it is you’re thinking, but I don’t want to pry,” I said quietly and she took a deep breath.

“A long time ago, the Word of the Mother told me the story of Zodiark. She told me that Light and Dark used to live as one, but He had grown to covet power, and the balance between Light and Darkness was broken, forcing her to banish Him, bound to the moon. She told me that the process of banishing Him was what caused the Sundering, that it hurt Her as much as it hurt Him.”

I listened to her story carefully, pausing before I responded. “And you believed this story She told you?” She nodded slightly and I sighed.

“If you consider your version, with Hers, and the information Gaia has provided us… maybe Zodiark didn’t grow to covet power, maybe he was made to. By the summoning.”

I exhaled sharply, irritated at the implication that we had caused this alleged corruption in Zodiark, and she gave my hand a soft squeeze. “I’m not trying to upset you,” she insisted and lifted our joined hands to kiss the back of my hand. “I’m just trying to be honest with you. Isn’t that what we agreed on?”

Minutes passed in relative silence, the occasional ripple of the water in the tub with any movements we made the only sound between us.

“Let us pretend that Hydaelyn’s account is the real one,” I said, breaking the silence, and she turned her head slightly to look up at me. “If I were to disregard what I witnessed when the star was Sundered, which I know was a result of a battle between the two, having been there. Let’s say the battle happened because Hydaelyn was trying to fix Zodiark, preposterous as that may be…”

I sighed, my mind going in circles as I try to come to terms with what she had said, and eventually, I shook my head. “I try to rationalize Her words and check them against what I know to be true, but there’s no way for me to accept Her account and blindly trust-”

“It’s not blindly trusting,” she interjected. “You’re trusting me , my judgment.”

“So you would follow me then? If I were to tell you without a shadow of a doubt that Zodiark was right and Hydaelyn was not.”

“Yes,” she said without hesitation. “I may not have all the explanations for Her actions, Hades, but She has been known to intervene if things aren’t going Her way.”

I huffed a laugh in agreement. Hydaelyn was nothing if not a frustrating meddler in all of my plans. “So you believe this all happened by Her design then? Truly?”

She nodded, taking a deep breath. “She let me pull you from Her Lifestream. And… you should have been tempered--even you didn’t understand why you weren’t. Gaia said there was a veil of Light.”

I leaned my head back against the wall once more, exhaling a slow breath. “Very well. I may not like it, but I will take this leap of faith for you. I will give your blessed Mother a chance--for you, and you alone--but if it ever becomes clear that She is not this selfless deity with the best interests of Her children in mind…”

“I’ll admit I was wrong, and we can both restore Zodiark through the Ardor.”

I nudged her leg with mine with a breathy chuckle, the motion causing waves in the still water of the tub. “No, I would never ask that of you. You don’t deserve that blood on your hands.”

She squeezed my hand, a surge of sadness coming through the bond. “Neither do you.”

I leaned forward into her, coaxing her to stand. Wrapping her in a towel, she turned to face me, and I brushed my fingers through her hair with a sad smile. “You may be the only one who thinks so.”

When we finally made it to the bed, we were both exhausted, the events of the day weighing heavily on our minds. I lay on my side, pulling her back flush against my body, nuzzling my nose in the crook of her neck. She giggled and the corners of my mouth pulled upwards at the sound, a warmth filling me with the joy it brought.

“[I love you too],” I whispered in the ancient language of Amaurot and her breath caught, the Echo allowing her to understand my words, though the true meaning escaped her even still. “Even though the translation pales in comparison,” I added, affectionately reusing her words before we both drifted into a deep sleep.

“Child of Zodiark,” a voice floated into my mind and I turned slowly to find myself standing in front of the Mothercrystal once more. It pulsed with a soft light.

“You have come a long way since the last time we have spoken,” She said and I crossed my arms across my chest. “You have admitted to your crimes, and have shown genuine interest in making amends.”

“Interesting how I tell your champion that I am willing to give you a chance and you appear before me that very same night,” I mused with no attempt to hide the sarcasm in my tone.

“I can only appear before those who are willing, if only for a moment, to seek the Light,” She replied and I scoffed. “I come before you with instructions, child of Zodiark.”

“Oh? Well go on then, let us hear these instructions the blessed Mother has decided to bestow upon this child of Zodiark.”

“On the remaining shards, there remains the fragments of my champion’s soul. Seek them out and rejoin the pieces that remain.”

“Are these soul shards readily available or do I have permission to extract them from living beings?” I asked for clarification.

“If they are currently in a living vessel, they are not to be harmed. Some of the shards I have held from entering the Lifestream and may be found and rejoined just as the shard of the First, but not all.”

“And the purpose of this is what, exactly? Not that I’m opposed to making her whole once more.”

“This is the first step towards an alternative to your Ardor. A way to rejoin the shards to the Source and reunite with your lost brethren. Fulfill your end of the bargain, and I will fulfill mine. When she is whole, I will return.”

My eyes flew open and I sat up slowly, shaking my head to clear the sleep-induced fog. I glanced down at the Warrior of Light, exhaling a slow breath as I began to climb out of the bed. I could feel her mind rousing from sleep and felt the bed shift behind me as she propped herself up with one arm.

“You okay?” she asked sleepily and I looked back over my shoulder to see her struggling to keep her eyes open, her hair a mess from sleep. I smiled softly and turned to press my lips to hers.

“I’ll be right back, my dearest. Go back to sleep,” I replied, sending a reassuring wave to her through our bond and she nodded slowly, laying her head back down on the pillow.

“I’ll go looking for you if you don’t come back,” she mumbled and I huffed a chuckle, leaning down to place a tender kiss on her shoulder.

“I know. I’ll return soon, I promise.” She nodded once more, her eyes drifting shut and I climbed out of the bed, making my way towards the room that had been assigned to Gaia and the Oracle of Light.

I raised my hand to knock on the door and could hear the two girls speaking. Gaia’s voice floated through the door. “I’ll be right back, Ryne. Emet-Selch is here as well, likely for the same reason.”

When she opened the door, she sighed knowingly. “A dream?” I nodded, my gaze wandering towards the Oracle of Light, who had moved to stand from her bed.

“I assume you had the same one then?” I asked her and she nodded.

Gaia crossed her arms, looking at the ground. “Ryne has elucidated the details of the dream to me already. It’s an interesting prospect.”

I took a deep breath. “Interesting is an understatement, Oracle. If she were to be rejoined completely-”

“Before you allow yourself too much more excitement for the night,” she looked back at me with a raised brow and I narrowed my eyes in response. She smirked and tapped at her ear and I shifted uncomfortably, realizing her meaning. “There’s no telling what Hydaelyn’s plan is after her rejoining. She notably left that detail out.”

“As is her wont,” I replied bitterly and Gaia nodded. “So what do you suggest?”

“Well,” she started, bringing her hand to her chin. “There’s no harm in completing this task, I believe. Once we know more, we can decide how to proceed, but if for no other reason than the restoration of your beloved ’s soul, I would say the decision is clear.”

I nodded slowly. “But why is it that I would receive such a dream? Why not just deliver the message to the Warrior of Light herself?”

The Oracle of Light spoke up now. “She said you had shown that you want to make amends. Maybe the Mother wanted you to know that She realizes you’re trying to find another way.”

I brought my own hand up to my chin now, Hythlodaeus’ words from one of our first interactions in the Lifestream playing in my mind. “‘When such a time arrives that you have truly come to terms with the actions you committed during your life, you will be able to rejoin the rest of us’,” I muttered, repeating his words out loud.

I huffed a laugh, my eyes looking in the direction of the Warrior of Light, the pull of her soul on my own a comforting sensation given the turmoil I felt with the dream.

“She may very well be right,” I said softly and Gaia raised a brow when I looked back at her. “The hero said she believes Hydaelyn has a reason for all this nonsense, that this had been by design. Hythlodaeus mentioned ‘rejoining’ them, and I had originally taken it to mean in the Lifestream, but I wonder now if he meant to Rejoin them.”

I sighed. “Well, something to discuss further at breakfast with the Scions and the Exarch, I imagine. For transparency.” I turned to leave the room. “Thank you, Oracles, for allowing me to speak with you and ease my mind. I’ll see you both in the morning.”

Chapter Text

When I woke again, it was to my name whispered in my ear. A shiver ran up my spine despite being enveloped in warmth. I couldn’t hold back the smile that spread across my mouth at hearing the word on his tongue, in his voice.

“If I’d known the effect hearing your name had on you, I would’ve started using it a lot sooner,” he mused and a giggle escaped my mouth.

“For a long while, I wasn’t even sure you knew my name,” I teased.

I felt the soft breath of his laugh tickle my ear, causing bumps to rise on my skin. He pressed a kiss to the shell of my ear and nuzzled me with his nose.

“It’s time to get up, my beloved,” Hades said, softly, trying to coax me out of bed.

“Mm,” I hummed, curling in on myself. “Can’t we just stay in today?”

After yesterday’s events, I still felt as if I could sleep the whole day. And last night-

I buried my face in my pillow, heat creeping along my cheeks. The feeling of him against me like that, the reverent way he had said my name as he let his walls down and did as he bid me to do- let go.

I was brought back to reality by a sharp bite to my earlobe and an immediate kiss over the sting.

I squealed in surprise and cracked one eye open, turning my head to look at the Ascian hovering over me, a smirk spreading across his lips at my reaction, the bright morning light from the window behind him making me squint.

“I’m sorry, my dear, but today you’ll want to get up.” I pouted my lips and started to roll away from him.

“Or you could just come back to bed and we can be late,” I said, quietly, closing my eyes again. I reached out my hand for him, but a few moments later, something soft hit me in the face. My eyes flew open again.

Hades stood at the side of the bed, his arm up. He looked down at me with his smug, mischievous grin and snapped his fingers. A pillow appeared in his hand. I narrowed my eyes at him.

“You wouldn’t d-”

He threw it at me, and I turned quickly so it hit my back, instead. I looked over my shoulder, and with another snap, a barrage of pillows appeared floating in the air around him. My eyes widened and I covered myself fully with my blanket as they pummelled me. 

“Wouldn’t I?” he asked me, arrogance dripping from his voice. I heard another click of his fingers.

I clenched my jaw and whirled around, taking my own pillow in my hand and standing on the mattress in one fluid motion, poised to throw it at his face. He raised his brow at me, one side of his mouth pulling upwards. 

Just as I was about to throw the pillow with all the strength I could muster so early in the morning, he raised his hands, the remaining pillows falling to the ground. 

“I surrender.” I paused, brow furrowing.

“W-what? But you just-” He huffed a laugh. “You started it!”

“I did,” he responded, putting his hands on his hips. “And now you’re out of bed.”

With a huff, I threw the pillow at him, anyway, though he easily caught it and dropped it back onto the bed. I had half a mind to go back to bed just to spite him, but he held his hand out to me. I took it and stepped off the mattress, on to the cold floor beneath.

“What’s so important anyway?” I asked, stretching my arms up above me, covering my mouth when a yawn surfaced. He leaned forward, a smile on his lips, and brushed a few stray strands of hair out of my face. “You’re...in a good mood this morning.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Once you and your friends have gathered, I’ll inform the lot of you at once.”

I tilted my head to the side, my confusion flitting down the tether, but he didn’t elaborate. With a sigh, I flicked my wrist, fresh clothes appearing on my body, hair brushed and pulled back.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go, then.”

He chuckled. “Impatient, are we?” He stood from the bed, holding his hand out to me once again. “Very well, let’s go.”

I let him lead me to the dining hall. The Scions, Exarch, and both Oracles were already seated. Gaia looked up from her plate as we entered and nodded towards Hades. He guided me to a seat, then stood at the opposite end of the table from G’raha Tia. When he cleared his throat, all conversation stopped, my friends’ attentions focusing on the Ascian. I leaned my chin in my hand as I waited for him to begin.

“Last night,” he began. “The Mother came to me in a dream. To your Oracle of Light, as well.” He looked to Ryne, who nodded her agreement.

I straightened, instantly on alert. There was a chorus of questions from those gathered behind me, but he held out his hand to silence them.

“All in due time, Scions. Believe me when I say that there is no one more surprised than I that She would present me with such a dream.” He lowered his hand back to the table and looked down at me for a moment, then back up at the rest of them. “As the first step towards fixing the world without creating Calamities, She came to me with specific instructions on how to completely Rejoin the Warrior of Light’s soul.”

My mouth fell open, same as my companions’. My stomach twisted and my mind raced. Rejoin...my soul? I knew, deep down, that it would likely come eventually, but the thought made me nervous nonetheless. I had assured him in the past that I would still be me should I become complete...but was I really sure about that? Faced with this now, my certainty wavered. As my conflict warred inside of me, the conversation around me continued, though Hades tried to send me assurances over the bond. 

“Without bloodshed, I hope,” Y’shtola inquired, her brow furrowed in confusion.

“Yes, of course,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “That was a specific stipulation.”

“What exactly must be done?” Alphinaud asked as he reached for his goblet of water. With his announcement made, Hades sat in the chair behind him. With a snap of his fingers, two full plates appeared in front of both of us, though as I stared down at the food, I found myself unable to take a bite, the very thought making me feel sick.

“Hydaelyn said we are to travel the remaining shards and seek out the missing pieces of soul. Some, She said, would be wandering the realms as spirits, while others would still be attached to living beings. I suppose we will have to wait until they pass and the Warrior of Light will be able to absorb them into herself.” Alisaie sat forward in her chair, folding her arms on the table in front of her.

“But how is she to travel the shards? She can barely travel to the First and back.”

He snapped again, his book dropping on to the table with a thud . He nodded towards the Exarch. “I’d be willing to give my expertise and help to not only restore you lot to your bodies, but also try to discover a way to connect all the shards through the Crystal Tower.”

“Say this is possible,” Thancred started, narrowing his eyes. “What happens after her soul is complete?”

“That remains to be seen,” Hades answered, though he looked rather unhappy about it. “Hydaelyn said She would return with more instructions once this task was complete.” A quiet spread over the room, the Scions still looking wary. I looked down at my still-full plate, my brows furrowed.

“Trust, remember?” I looked up, quickly. He was watching me, a small smile on his face. “If She truly has your best interests in mind, there is nothing to worry about.” He motioned towards my food. “Eat. You need it.” I averted my eyes but was unable to stop one side of my mouth from tilting upwards. At his behest, I picked up a piece of fruit and popped it in my mouth. When his attention went back to my friends, they were still quiet, eyeing him carefully.

“Oracle,” he called to the other end of the table with another roll of his eyes.

“Yes?” they both answered, then looked at each other in mild surprise.

“Ryne,” Hades said with a sigh. The young girl’s breath caught. “To avoid further confusion, I suppose I will just have to call you by name as well.”

“I… You’re going to use my name?”

“Unless you would prefer I didn’t?” He raised a brow at her.

“No! I mean, yes! That’s fine! Ryne is fine.”

“Wow,” Alisaie muttered from across the table. “I wonder how long before we all get promoted to names.” Beside her, her brother chuckled.

“You’re likely going to be ‘girl’ for a while yet, with how disrespectful you’ve been.” She sat up straight, her jaw clenched, eyeing Alphinaud menacingly. He shook his head, a triumphant smile forming on his face, and she thought better of it, deflating back into her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.

“Oh, shut up,” she responded with a deep frown.

“Ryne,” Hades said again, louder, trying to command the room again. She sat straighter at his use of her name, a hint of pink tinged her cheeks “You also experienced this dream, did you not?”

“Y-yes, I did.”

“Have I relayed accurate information?”

“Yes,” she responded, more confidently. “Everything Emet-Selch has said is the truth.”

He nodded and sat back in his own chair as they continued to discuss the matter over the rest of the meal. I ate the rest of my food in silence, listening to the chatter, but I noticed from the other end of the table that Gaia sat with her brow furrowed, deep in thought, fingers drumming against her lips.

After a few long minutes, her eyes widened and she looked over at me. We locked eyes for a moment before she broke contact and standing up.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I just had a thought.”

The room quieted again. “Emet-Selch, stand. Warrior of Light as well.” Hades scoffed, but did as she ordered. Once I had as well, she tugged on Ryne’s arm. “Examine them with me, if you would be so kind. Both of them, together,” she requested. They held out their hands, eyes closed.

I looked over to my other half, one brow raised. He shrugged, just as confused as I was.

“Do you see that?” Gaia asked, finally. Ryne’s eyes opened, her brow furrowed.

“That’s- What is that?”

“That’s the Blessing of Light, I believe,” she responded, dropping her own arm and opening her eyes.

“Care to enlighten the rest of us?” Hades asked, crossing his arms in front of him. She motioned for us to sit again. When we had, she explained.

“I’ve been wracking my brain since yesterday, trying to figure out how you could have possibly gotten such a Blessing bestowed upon you,” she started, taking her own seat. “Ryne relayed to me everything that was said in the dream you shared, and through Her words, I have come to believe that the Mother did not intervene in your re-tempering, as you had not yet admitted your faults at such a time, nor, as we previously discussed, did She ever promise protection for you when you struck your bargain.”

“Then what?” I asked, sitting forward. “What else could it have been?” Gaia’s eyes shot to me, looking me up and down.

“I think it was you, hero.”

“I-What?”

“When Ryne and I examined you just now, the both of us saw not only the soul bond, but also a reinforcement of bright, white Light encasing it. Yesterday, I only examined him.” She looked towards the Oracle of Light, who nodded in confirmation.

“But how is that possible?” I asked. “I was bound in white auracite. I didn’t have access to my powers.” Gaia tapped her hand against her mouth again.

“Perhaps,” she began after long moments of thought. “The Blessing of Light transcends even the properties of auracite. Perhaps...in your moment of pure panic, you cast your Light upon him...to shield him from the call of Zodiark’s will and protect the bond you share.” She blew out a breath. “I will endeavor to look into this further.”

I sat back in my chair, mind racing, and chewed on the inside of my mouth. Could this be true? Was I able to somehow...expand my Light to protect others? I’d...never tried, never had a reason to. I could easily call it to my hand in battle, but I’d never thought to...

Feeling my uncertainty about everything learned and shared this morning, Hades implored me to look at him through the bond. I lifted my head to see the amused smile on his face. “It seems, my dearest, that you were the one to protect me, afterall.”

The uneasy twist in the pit of my stomach still remained, and I struggled to overcome the feeling, even with his joke. He sent a comforting stroke down the tether and laid his hand out on the table.

 “Would you like to see? It might make you feel better.”

The feeling eased, if only a little. With a smile, I slid my hand into his and squeezed but shook my head. “I trust you.”

Chapter Text

“So…” I turned my head to look at Ryne, who had her hand up to her chin. “Emet-Selch has the Blessing of Light now? That’s what that veil is?”

Gaia nodded her head and crossed her arms over her chest. “It appears so.”

The gunbreaker scoffed, giving me a sidelong look. “An Ascian with the Blessing of Light.”

“You’re just as uncomfortable as I am with the concept, believe me,” I muttered and sighed as I leaned back in my seat. “But it does make sense if I think back.”

The Warrior of Light moved her thumb along the back of my hand and I continued, looking at her. “When Zodiark’s will entered my mind, I heard you calling for me, and shortly thereafter… a flash of Light. I thought nothing of it at first, thinking it perhaps to have been something new that occurred when being tempered once more, but when I found the Eternal Bond to be intact, I realized I had not been tempered after all.”

Gaia hummed from across the table, nodding slowly. “I wonder if your state of mind had something to do with it, perhaps,” she offered. “Out of curiosity, did you realize what was occurring?”

I nodded with a frown as I looked back across the table at the Oracle. “I thought Elidibus had taken her there to temper the Warrior of Light, but it became clear to me very quickly that he had used her to lure me there, as she has confirmed. As to my state of mind…” I trailed off, looking down to the side once more at the Warrior of Light. “Despair would be an understatement. While shielding her from the glow of the statue of Zodiark, I genuinely thought I would be retempered in that moment. I had resigned myself to another several millennium with that maddening whispering in the back of my mind, though my mind was full of all the things I wish I had said and done before that moment.”

“And then a flash of Light?” the Oracle inquired and I nodded and she pursed her lips. 

“Aside from the whispering, you seemed to function just fine while tempered before, Emet-Selch,” the male twin said with a shrug. “Not that I wish you had been, but I’m curious why the prospect upset you.”

I exhaled slowly, tightening my grip on the Warrior of Light’s hand slightly, lifting my other hand to snap my fingers. Bright ribbon-like lines appeared, connecting random people in the room to each other, one connecting myself and the hero, another connecting the gunbreaker to the Oracle of Light. Several lines connected the hero to all of her companions to each other. The twins looked between themselves to see a line connecting them as well, and the female twin rolled her eyes. 

“Tempering replaces any devotion you have to another. So that you may never stray, any ties you have to any other souls are choked shut. Whether it be a link to a sibling, as you and your sister share whether you realize it or not, or a link to a dear friend or lover.” With another snap, the link between the twins went dark, followed by the link between the hero and all of her friends going dark from her side. 

“It gets snuffed out. Which is why… even when Lahabrea was killed, all I could feel was anger and annoyance--Zodiark’s anger and annoyance more specifically--at his failures. Despite his being a dear friend of mine, I felt none of the sadness that his death brings me now,” I said softly, looking down at the table for a moment before I collected myself and looked back at the twin. 

“Strong affection may remain, muted, diluted to a pale imitation of what it once was, but it serves only one purpose: furthering the goal of the being that has tempered you. It will never truly be your own emotion any longer,” I concluded.

He nodded in understanding as I snapped once more, and the lines in the room disappeared. “So the Eternal Bond would...?” he asked and I nodded solemnly. 

The elezen nodded then. “‘Twould be a horrible thing to see such a connection destroyed once more. Losing it once must have been painful enough.”

I shrugged a shoulder. “I hadn’t realized what I lost the first time. I had not expected a tempering and once I was tempered I did not remember or care for what life was before Zodiark. He was all that really mattered. The urge to complete the Rejoining to restore our friends and loved ones was a secondary reason, no matter what we believed. I may have felt as if they were the prime motivator for my actions, but upon more careful reflection, I've come to realize He wanted me to believe they were.”

“It’s fortunate, then, that the Blessing of Light was able to protect you this time,” the twin said with a genuine smile and I gave a stiff nod, still unsure how I felt about being bestowed such protection.

“I wonder if there’s a… range in which this Blessing would fail to reach you, or if it’s simply become part of the Eternal Bond,” Gaia said, her brow furrowed as she thought. “Do you feel as if it’s affecting you in any way to share it, Warrior of Light?”

The hero shook her head next to me. “I… didn’t even realize I was doing it. I don’t feel any differently.”

Gaia tilted her head as she drummed her fingers against her lips once more. “It does not appear to be weakened or diluted either. Fascinating.”

I heaved a dramatic sigh before I stood. “Well, all this talk of the Light and its Blessing has left me feeling quite uneasy. I’ll leave this topic to those of you who don’t find the idea of it on your person as…  repugnant.”

“Repugnant, is it? It seems to me that you enjoy having it on your person quite a bit,” Gaia said, her tone suggestive as she raised a brow and I rolled my eyes. I could feel confusion coming from the Warrior of Light and I lifted our joined hands to kiss the back of her hand.

“Nothing for you to be terribly concerned about, my dear hero. Care to join me? I’m going to investigate the portal the Exarch had made for you.”

When she nodded, I tugged on her hand and began leading her towards the hallway. She furrowed her brow, summoning a portal to the side of us. “Don’t you want to take the shortcut?”

I stopped in my tracks, turning to look at the portal for a moment and then glanced back at her and shook my head, lacing our fingers together. “Take the scenic route with me?”

She narrowed her eyes at me, suspicion clear in her stance and her gaze. “You hate walking. You did nothing but complain about walking.”

“I hate walking alone, ” I replied, the corners of my mouth tilting up.

Her face broke into a smile and she sighed, shaking her head as she desummoned the portal, coming to stand next to me. “Fine. The scenic route.”

“Don’t take too many detours into secluded dark alleyways, lovebirds!” Gaia called as we left the room and I waved over my shoulder, shaking my head.

When we finally were out of earshot, the Warrior of Light looked up at me with a raised brow. “What’s gotten into her?”

I averted my gaze with a frown. “She seems to have a keen sense of hearing.” I could feel the embarrassment flood in through the bond once she understood my meaning. “Worry not, I’m sure she’s gotten her fill of her teasing by now.”

When we finally arrived at the Ocular, the Crystal Exarch and some of the Scions had already arrived. I approached the giant portal the Exarch was standing in front of slowly and tilted my head.

“Is this not the looking glass you used to monitor the hero and her companions during their journey?”

He nodded at me, tapping his staff on the ground, and I watched as the image warped to show the landscape of the Source and I nodded in understanding. “I see… but if you were to change the image, would access to the Source remain?”

From the Source, yes. To the Source, no,” he explained and I hummed as I brought my hand to my chin.

“So the image projected is the target location of teleportation. How is it, then, that one can travel here from the Source without fail?”

“As far as we know,” the miqo’te started, arms crossed across her chest. “The only one to travel from the Source ‘without fail’ is the Warrior of Light.”

The Exarch sighed. “It is imperfect magic, to be sure. There is an item enchanted on the Source which serves as an anchor between the First and the Source. It is attuned for her use, and hers alone.”

“How interesting,” I mused as I climbed the stairs, reaching my hand out towards the portal. When my fingertips crossed the threshold, I could feel my soul begin to separate from my body and I pulled my hand back, looking down at my palm. “Imperfect magic, indeed.”

“How is it that you travel from shard to shard, Emet-Selch?” the male twin asked and I glanced back over my shoulder at him.

“I require a vessel on each shard,” I explained. “Only my soul passes through the rift. I wonder, how is it that the Scions’ physical bodies remain on the Source but here on the First they have bodies of their own? Would they leave these bodies behind if they were summoned back to the Source? While I have a seemingly physical form even without a vessel, only those with the Echo can see me, but that does not appear to apply to them.”

I looked over at the Warrior of Light. “Could you go through for me? Wait there for a moment before coming back.”

She nodded slowly, climbing the stairs and walking through the portal without hesitation. I reached out through our tether, searching for the directional pull that would lead me to her, and found that it did indeed pass through the portal. When she re-emerged moments later, I raised my hand to my chin.

“It may not be as imperfect as originally believed,” I murmured and extended my index finger to tap it against my lips as I began to pace in front of the portal. “The issue may very well be the anchor. If we could find a way to create an anchor for each of the Scions, one could reason that they would be able to travel between the two worlds.”

“I had considered that,” the Exarch said and I moved my gaze to him. “But when I tried to replicate that which I had done for the Warrior of Light, it was unsuccessful.”

“She was the last you brought here, correct?” The Exarch nodded. “So I assume you did not try the anchor until after it had succeeded for the hero?” Another nod. “Hm…”

I turned my gaze back to the portal and narrowed my eyes at it while I thought. After a few moments, I looked at the Warrior of Light. “I need to see their bodies for myself. Will you take me to them?”

“I… yes, of course, but Tataru will likely be wary of any strangers,” she replied.

“Does she possess the Echo?” The Warrior of Light shook her head. “Then she will not be able to see me. Meet me on the other side.” I sat down on the ground and leaned against the frame of the portal, exhaling slowly before I glanced at the Exarch. “Watch my body for me, will you?”

Before he could respond, I snapped my fingers and felt my soul leave the vessel on the First. Stepping out of a void portal, I rematerialized on the Source, at the location that I saw through the portal. The Warrior of Light quickly appeared before me, eyes wide and panic flitting through the bond. She looked around for a moment before her eyes finally landed on me and she visibly deflated with relief.

“You could have warned me!” she exclaimed and I placed my finger over my lips as onlookers in the area turned to look at her.

“They can’t see me, my beloved. Try not to make the locals think you’ve lost your mind, if at all possible?”

She huffed in annoyance and began walking back towards the nearby settlement. It’s this way then, she said through our bond and I chuckled as I followed behind. When we were away from any onlookers, she whirled on me, looking me up and down.

I blinked in surprise when she marched back up to me, her eyes narrowed. She gestured at my hood and I raised my hands to push it down. “What is it?”

“... you look … different ,” she muttered as she reached her hand up hesitantly as if she wasn’t sure I would be solid and I grinned.

“You’ll find I’m quite corporeal, my dear,” I teased, and she huffed as she moved with more certainty to grab a lock of my hair, lifting it into my eyesight.

I raised a brow. “What of it?”

“Since when do you have long hair?” she asked, genuine perplexion in her mind as she tried to think back.

“This is my true appearance, my beloved. This is how I appeared in the dreams as well.”

She narrowed her eyes, her mind racing as she tried to remember. “No, you didn’t. You looked like Solus.”

“No, you thought I looked like Solus. Though, to be fair, I did change Solus’ appearance to look like my own to some degree,” I paused, smirking at her expression. “To make it less jarring when I looked in the mirror, you see.”

“Except the hair, I take it,” she said, releasing the white lock of shoulder-length she had been inspecting.

“Do you dislike it? I can change it back if it makes you uncomfortable,” I said as I lifted my hand to prepare to snap. She reached her hand out quickly, grabbing my wrist and shaking her head.

“No,” she said quickly. “No, I like it. Keep it.”

“But my body on the First looks like Solus,” I mused and she rolled her eyes.

“So change it back to how you’re meant to look, I guess. We both know you can change the appearance of your body at any time.”

“Hmm,” I hummed for a moment as I considered it. “No, I think I’ll stay with Solus’ appearance until Garlemald’s chapter is complete. If that’s all, my dearest hero, let us be on our way.”

We soon arrived at a tavern and she knocked on a door at the back. A peephole slid open, the eyes on the other side eyeing the Warrior of Light for not more than a second before it slid shut and the door opened. A lalafell with pink hair threw her arms around the hero’s legs.

“Welcome back!” she said happily before releasing her and looking up at her with a smile. “Did you finish your tasks?”

“Not yet, Tataru,” the hero replied with a smile. “I’m here to see our friends. Can you take me to them?”

The lalafell nodded enthusiastically, heading back through the door. The Warrior looked at me and gestured that I follow so she could close the door behind us. We were led to a make-shift infirmary and the lalafell looked at the hero with hopeful eyes. “Do you have news on how to restore them?”

“That’s what we’re hoping to figure out, actually,” the Warrior of Light replied as she approached one of the beds. “Would you mind getting me a drink, Tataru?”

With a nod, she left the room and the hero looked at me over her shoulder. “So… what do you think?

I approached the body of the hyur and knelt down next to the bed. “A soulless husk, but the body is well taken care of,” I murmured. “He was the first to be extracted, was he not? The life that pulses in him is weaker than the rest.”

I stood with a frown. “As if we didn’t have enough trouble on our hands. It appears we need to solve this problem more quickly than I had originally anticipated, my beloved. We are fortunate time on the Source moves at a more languid pace than on the First. Inform their caretaker that your friends will need some extra attention from the healers, the hyur in particular.”

I raise my hand to snap to leave and stopped short, my eyes searching the body of the mage that was laying in the next bed. I leaned over and removed an earring, reaching towards the Warrior to hand it to her. “Collect a trinket from each of them and bring them back, if you could, my dearest. I’ll meet you back on the First.”

Chapter Text

I watched as Hades disappeared from the room, then moved to do as he asked, leaning over my friends’ bodies and taking a piece of jewelry off each of them. Tataru arrived with a drink, and I humored her for a few more minutes, regaling her of my adventures as of late- describing Eden and how different the fights had turned out compared to the Source.

“You look...happy,” she said to me and I blinked in surprise. She smiled, slyly, then. “Are you hiding something from me? Or someone ?” I huffed a laugh, curling my fingers around my cup.

“Well…”

“I knew it!” she exclaimed and jumped up in her seat. “Tell me about them!”

“He’s…,” I said, a fond smile spreading over my face. “He’s amazing, Tataru.” I ran my fingers around the rim of my cup as I spoke. “He’s powerful and extremely knowledgeable, to be sure, but gentle and kind to me. When I’m with him, it’s like we’ve known each other for ages. I’ve found out things about myself I never knew were there because of him...and the comfort and warmth he gives me when he’s near is insurmountable.”

“So,” the lalafel said, sitting back down, a soft smile on her face. “Who is this amazing person?” I paused in hesitation, some of my smile fading.

“Well, he’s…”

 Before I was able to answer her, I felt a tug down the bond. Se huffed when I informed her I needed to head back. She was disappointed, assuming I was avoiding her question, but I assured her that it was important to our friends awakening soon, and she let me go without much fuss.

 When I arrived back in the Ocular, they had been at work for a few hours already, both Exarch and Ascian leaning over the book on a Created table in the middle of the room, quietly discussing the purpose of the jewelry and the properties of the magic they were about to use. Neither of them seemed to notice when I walked through the portal and kept staring at the book. I leaned against the wall next to the portal and watched for long moments before clearing my throat.

“I do hope I’m not interrupting anything,” I said, a feigned haughty tone in my voice. The both looked up, quickly. Hades smiled at me and straightened.

“Ah, there you are, my dear. Did you bring what I asked?”

“Of course,” I said, holding up one of the twins’ dangling white earrings.

“The Scions should be finishing their lunch,” G’raha Tia said as he stood straight as well. “I’ll go fetch them and we can continue.” I nodded to him and I walked down the steps that led to the portal as he left the tower to meet my friends. I set the pieces on the table next to the book and sighed.

Hades moved to my side, wrapping one arm around my shoulders. He leaned down and pressed a short kiss to my temple.

“What’s wrong, my dearest?”

I pursed my lips together and shook my head. The rejoining of my soul seemed to be a silly thing to be nervous about when there were so many larger things at play here. Really, I had nine of the fourteen fragments already and I was still myself. I should be happy to be whole again, shouldn’t I? I would be at my strongest- no one would be able to overpower me… But at the same time, for what does the Mother need this type of strength for?

No, I shouldn’t be worried. Everyone had enough of their plate and I didn’t want to worry them further by telling them my concerns.

I chewed the inside of my mouth and felt Hades’ eyes on me as he let me sort my thoughts for a few moments, but when he realized I had every intention of keeping it to myself, he pushed.

“You know, I could just go in and find out for myself,” he informed me, as if I didn’t already know.

“It’s not important,” I insisted and went to move away from him. He gripped my arm, firmly, and spun me back to him. He released my arm and leaned down to examine my eyes. “Anxious about being rejoined? Is that what this is about?”

I averted my eyes from his intense gaze and looked down at the bright blue crystal under my feet. He straightened again. “A little,” I confessed, finally. “I knew it would happen eventually but…”

“What is it that you’re worried about?”

“Not worried, really. Nervous.”

“What is there to be nervous about, my beloved?” 

“I just…” I blew out a long breath. “I don’t know.” 

He walked me in silence for a moment watching me before moving to stand in front of me again, placing a finger under my chin and lifting my eyes to his. “Come, now. Trust in me as I have trusted in you.” One side of his mouth tugged upwards, his tone of voice teasing. “I’m following orders from Hydaelyn because of you, after all.”

A giggle escaped my lips and he moved his hand to brush a lock of hair behind my ear. He knew as well as I did that I did know why I was anxious, but he was willing to let it slide, for now at least. I wrapped my arms around his middle, pulling myself close to him, and closed my eyes as I rested my ear over his heart. He ran his hands up and down my arms and pressed a soft kiss to the top of my head. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

The door opened behind us and the others piled into the room. Hades moved away from me and turned to face them, putting his hands on his hips.

“Finally,” he said. “We may have discovered a way to restore you lot to your bodies.” He motioned to the table. The Scions gathered around. “These trinkets came off of your bodies on the Source. I’m sure you’ll recognize them.”

Alphinaud picked up one of the earrings. Alisaie leaned in, examining it.

“That’s mine,” she informed him, reaching to take it from his hand.

“No, it isn’t,” he shot back at her, holding it out at arm’s length so she couldn’t reach it.

“Yes it is!” she insisted with a huff. “It has a knick on it from a time I participated in a training exercise and got clipped on the ear.”

“Does it really matter?” he sighed, exasperated.

“Yes,” Hades answered him, crossing his arms over his chest, an eyebrow raised. “It does matter, in fact. You must make sure to have the correct trinket or you could end up in the wrong body.” Alphinaud’s eyes widened and he immediately handed the earring over to his sister. I smiled at the interaction, not entirely sure it was the truth, or if he was saying that to scare them. 

Once the rest of the pieces had been given to their owners, the Ascian continued. “Now, I would like for you all imbue some of your aether into your items.”

There were nods all around the room, but when my eyes landed on Thancred, he looked perplexed. “There might be a small problem with that,” he said, holding the ring from his body in his palm.

“Ah, yes,” Hades said, coming up in front of him. He plucked the ring out of Thancred’s hand and examined it. “I suppose I will have to do it myself, in your case.” The gunbreaker looked like he wanted to argue, but must have realized there was no point in doing so. Hades set the ring back down, then turned to face me. “I want you to watch what I do. I want you to see how you can discern the color of a person’s soul.”

I tilted my head to the side, but when he held his hand out to me, I slid my fingers into his palm and closed my eyes, letting him show me what he was seeing.

“The color of a soul is deeper than aether, so in order to see it, you have to push past the maze. My gift is stronger, so it’s easier for me, but you will likely need to concentrate more to be able to see.” I nodded and watched through his eyes as he slowly did as he said, feeling what he felt as he worked, making sure I understood what was happening. Thancred’s aether, since he was unable to use it, looked rather easy to move through, unmoving unlike the rest of my companions’, but not so much that it was a stifling, thick stream. Once it was parted, the color shown in his chest, though dim, was red. “The color is likely due to your friend’s temper.”

I huffed a laugh at his quip, but continued watching. Thancred bristled at his comment, but stayed silent. Hades pulled back into the maze of aether and forcefully pulled an orb out of the Scion’s network. He pushed it into the ring, then blew out a breath, relaxing his shoulders, the process somewhat taxing.

I opened my eyes and looked around the room. Now that I knew how-

“Green,” I said after a few moments of staring through Y’shtola.

“Correct.” Next, I narrowed my eyes towards the twins.

“The color of your souls are the same,” I said to them, furrowing my brow in confusion. He turned to face them as well, placing his hands on my shoulders.

“Look closer,” he instructed. “The undertones are different. Consider their personalities.” I did as he said and my eyes widened in surprise.

“You’re right!” I admitted, astonished. “They’re both purple, but his is cooler, while hers is warm.” I felt a stroke of pride travel down tether.

“That’s right,” he commended. “Persephone had some abilities, but she had to work quite hard to see them, whereas I am gifted enough to see the colors at all times. It seems yours is stronger than hers, but that’s the reason it was difficult for you, at first, to discern between the two of them.” I put a hand to my mouth in thought at his words, but nodded and looked towards my other friends.

“Urianger,” I said, one side of my mouth lifting in amusement. “Your soul is yellow .” He raised a brow at me.

“That is hardly a surprise,” he said, but didn’t elaborate. I turned back to the Ascian, who was once again, hovering over his book and tilted my head as I tried to discern the color of his soul. I frowned, trying to push through the incredible amount of aether he had.

“You’ll find,” he started, without looking up. “That as an unsundered soul, it will be difficult for you to see my soul, fragmented as you are. But, if you look hard enough, you should be able to see a faint glimmer of it.” I narrowed my eyes, trying to focus. 

“It’s…” He looked up at me again, waiting. “Gold?” I pulled back, blinking a few times. One side of his mouth pulled up in a smile.

“That’s right,” he said. “But, just wait to see the magnificence of it when you’re fully rejoined. A complete soul...is really breathtaking to look at.” I brought a finger to my lips.

“Can you see the color of your own soul?”

“No, but Hythlodaeus told me once,” he answered, eyes defocusing as he thought back. He chuckled quietly, fondly remembering whatever interaction they’d had, then shook his head.

“What about mine?” I asked him. He hesitated for a moment.

“It’s...a pale blue at the moment, but it’s missing all of its shimmer and sheen. I’d...rather not describe yours as it is now.”

“Okay, what was it like, then?” He looked up towards the ceiling, reminiscing.

“If I could pick a singular soul that was my favorite to behold, it would definitely have been yours.” He looked at me again with a sigh, sadness clear on his face at brokenness of my soul, but continued. “Perhaps there’s some bias there from affection, but it was...almost wintry silver, but with this blue undertone that shimmered with Light, iridescent with the faintest sparkle that I had never seen in anyone else.” I watched for a few moments as he closed his eyes, a smile on his mouth now that’d I’d never seen before, and some of the turmoil I’d felt earlier eased. 

If anything, I’d do this for him. If only to see him happy. If only to see him smile like that again.

Before long, he focused his attention back on the book and I joined him, looking down at the page. Drawn on the paper was a picture of the earring he had worn before I’d killed him.

“I realized,” he began, laying an arm lazily across my shoulders as my eyes roved over the page, taking in the diagram and writing around it. “That I’d been imbuing my own aether into the earring and placing them on my host bodies, basically using them as an anchor so that I would have an easier time finding the body again. Before I left the Source initially, I Created earrings for all of the clones Varis had made, in the case that I would have need of them later. I’m hoping the same will work for the Scions, as well.”

I lifted a finger to my lips, furrowing my brow. “But…” I looked back at the portal for a moment, then back at him. “You don’t have an earring now. How did you find your way back this time?”

Your essence is on my body, dearest,” he said, without missing a beat, a smug grin overtaking his face, causing my cheeks to flood with heat. “It was an easy find.”

When he turned back to my friends, they had all accomplished his task. He instructed me to collect their trinkets again and go back to the Source to place them back on their bodies, and wait for him to join me once his preparations were done.

When I’d finished, I sat at a table in the Rising Stones, eating some lunch Tataru had made for me, explaining between bites what was likely about to happen.

As I was about to tell her the person helping us was an Ascian , though, a portal appeared behind her and he stepped inside, brow furrowed, his outfit the one he had previously used before I’d killed him. One of his clones, then. The lalafell turned at the sound and jumped out of her chair in alarm when she realized what was happening.

“Oh, Gods!” she shouted.

Quickly, I placed myself between the two and knelt in front of her.

“It’s alright,” I assured her. I could see the panic in her eyes as she continued staring past me. “Tataru, look at me.” Finally, she blinked, her gaze slowly sliding towards me. “He’s the one I told you about, okay? He’s here to help. Would I lie to you?”

She bit her lip as she worked my words through her mind, then shook her head. “Of course, if you say it’s true, it must be.” She still sounded skeptical, but I was confident she wouldn’t argue more for the time being, so I nodded and stood again, turning towards Hades.

“Is something wrong?” I asked, quietly.

“My infuriating grandson is dead,” he began. I blinked in surprise. “ His son has gone missing and Garlemald is dealing with another succession struggle.” He huffed a laugh. “I thought, perhaps, I would need to intervene, but I imagine they’ll be busy for a while yet.” I frowned. 

“Zenos is missing? He'll be looking for me, I imagine.”

“We’ll deal with it when the time comes. For now, let us restore the Scions.” He raised his hand, poised to snap. “I may need your help guiding their souls here.” He held his other hand out to me. “Just as your Oracle did for you, my dearest, let me borrow a bit of your aether.”

I placed my hand in his and he squeezed it. I watched as Tataru opened her mouth to say something, but quickly shut it, her brow furrowed. “Take as much as you need.” I closed my eyes and relaxed, letting my energy flow into him.

After a few moments, the aether we had built between the two of us an immeasurable amount, he snapped his fingers.

The room was silent for long minutes. I felt as if I had barely breathed. Hades sagged against the nearby wall, weak from the power he’d exerted. I frowned, but helped him into a chair and we waited as Tataru watched us out of the corner of her eye, the confusion and suspicion still palpable on her face, though she continued to say nothing.

But finally, finally , a door behind us opened. When I turned, Thancred took a step out into the hallway, examining himself. When he was content that he was really back in his own body, he looked up at me and grinned.

Chapter Text

Slowly, the Scions began to file into the main room of their headquarters, smiles on their faces. I leaned my head back against the wall, the adrenaline from waiting to see if it had worked wearing off, leaving me feeling more drained than I had originally expected. The lalafell had tears in her eyes as she ran to embrace each of them, sharing heartfelt words that I barely registered, my hearing muffled.

I took a few slow breaths as I waited for the spinning in the room to stop, feeling the Warrior of Light’s concern float into my mind as she held my hand tightly. It had been too much aether used and too quickly, something I’m sure she would notice and decidedly not be pleased with me. I let my eyes slide shut, waiting for the sensation to pass as I tried to recover, if only the slightest bit to stand. The lalafell approached her then, voice unsteady from the tears.

“Oh, I knew you could do it! I told the others! If anyone could have done it, it was going to be the Warrior of Light! You are the most amazing person I have ever met!” she said with enthusiasm and I could feel the hero bristle at her words. 

Her mind raced with things she wanted to say: how she wasn’t the one who had done it, how she did not enjoy being showered with words like this, that she wished she would be regarded just as anyone else was. I forced an eye open to look at her expression and raised my brow despite being as worn thin as I was.

The lalafell continued spilling compliments on the Warrior and she nodded, forcing a smile, though her thoughts raged on with clear distaste for the worshipful nature she was being regarded in. Why won’t she say something? Why not speak up? My lips turned down into a frown as I watched the scene continue to unfold. Even among those she considered friends, they revered her, and yet she didn’t say a word to express her discomfort and isolation that came with being treated this way.

“Oh for the love of Zodiark,” I muttered and went to stand. I must have moved too quickly, because I stumbled slightly, my arm shooting out to brace myself against the wall. The Warrior released my hand to place hers on my chest in an effort to stabilize me, her brow furrowed. I watched as the pink-haired worshipper of the hero stopped mid-sentence, her eyes narrowing at us.

“You didn’t use enough of my aether, did you?” the Warrior asked as she turned her attention away from her friend, the accusation clear in her tone, her mouth in a firm line as she looked me up and down.

“Are you actually about to try to scold me on how to use my own aether when you won’t even speak up for yourself?” I retorted with a raised brow, and she narrowed her eyes at me.

“We aren’t talking about me,” she nearly bit out, much to my surprise and I stood, placing my hands on her shoulders to take a step away from her.

“Such bitterness,” I murmured as I searched her expression with a frown. “I do believe I’m not overly fond of feeling such an emotion in you. Perhaps you should tell them how you really feel? Unless you would prefer I fought such a battle in your stead?”

She exhaled sharply, avoiding my gaze. We stood in silence for a moment before she finally looked back at me. “After what happened to me in Rak’tika, you did the exact same thing,” she muttered tensely and took a deep breath.

“Changing the subject, I see. Very well, I’ll drop it for the time being,” I replied, shooting her a cursory glance to let her know the conversation on that matter was far from over. “The difference, my dear hero, is that I know my limits. You did not. I will be fine , given the chance to rest, whereas you are fortunate to still be walking among us.”

She clenched her jaw, her eyes locked with mine and I kept eye contact with her for a few minutes before I sighed. I found no use arguing with her in what should be a joyous occasion. With an unapologetic shrug of my shoulders, I grinned at her and she raised her brow at my sudden change in mood. 

“What is it?” she asked, the tether between us taut with the frustration we felt, she with my irresponsibility which led to draining of most of my aether, and I with her insistence on protecting the feelings of everyone around her but herself.

“Nothing. I was just marveling at how beautiful you are, even when you’re disappointed with me,” I teased and she rolled her eyes.

“Smooth-talking won’t get you out of this one. We’ll discuss it again later,” she muttered, but the tension between us dissipated, the happiness that her friends were successfully restored outweighing whatever frustrations she felt toward me. She shook her head as my smugness reached her, my task complete in diffusing the tension between us to focus on her friends.

The lalafell looked between us for a moment, her brow furrowed when she finally settled on me. “I… feel like I recognize you from somewhere.”

“A history book, no doubt,” I mused, watching as I could practically see the gears in her mind turning.

“But… you came out of a portal,” she continued. “An Ascian portal.”

“I did, yes.”

“You said your grandson was dead and there’s a succession crisis in Garlemald?” Her eyes began darting between me and the Warrior of Light quickly.

“I think she may be onto something, hero,” I said in response, unable to keep my amusement out of my tone. The lalafell was clearly uncomfortable not only with my presence, but grew increasingly alarmed as she began to connect the dots in her mind. “Yes, I did mention something of the sort: my grandson, Varis zos Galvus, is dead.”

The gunbreaker sighed heavily, coming up to us and gesturing towards me. “Tataru, may I introduce to you Emet-Selch, an Ascian who is also the founder of the Garlean Empire, Solus zos Galvus.”

The female twin chimed in from the back. “Don’t forget that he’s also the architect of a myriad of other imperially inclined nations.”

I turned my head towards her and raised my brow. “Your brother was right, you know. Alphinaud, was it?”

He shot his sister a sidelong look with a confident smirk, nodding his head. She groaned in response, putting her hands on her hips and shaking her head.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” a small voice started, and I glanced down at the lalafell once more, “But I do believe you said something about feeling her emotions?”

I nodded, arching a brow at her. “Yes, what of it?”

She made a nervous sound and I could barely mask my amusement as I watched her glancing around the room at everyone before locking eyes with the hero. “I don’t understand. Is this really who you told me about? He’s an Ascian.

“I detest the implication Ascians are so repulsive to warrant such venom in your voice,” I mused as I tried to keep my tone light, her suspicious and dislike for me expected, but unwelcome.

Despite my attempt to lighten the mood, something about her tone made the Warrior of Light tense once more and she crossed her arms over her chest as she moved to stand between myself and her friend. “I told you he was here to help,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm.

“But what could we possibly need help from the likes of him for? And for that matter, why would you even…” She sighed with exasperation, shaking her head. “ This is the powerful and knowledgeable person you were gushing over before? How could you? You’re the Warrior of Light. Did you ever stop to think-”

She stopped mid-sentence when she saw me place a comforting hand on the hero’s shoulder, trying to quell the building anger that was welling up inside her. I leaned forward to bring my lips close to the Warrior’s ear. “It’s alright, my dearest,” I murmured softly. “I expected such a response.”

“Did he do something to all of you? Some sort of Ascian magic to control you? How are you trusting him so easily? His kind have cost us so many-”

“Tataru,” the Warrior of Light interrupted her, a sharp bite in her tone that I was not expecting.

“I just… he must have done something. All this time…” she trailed off, looking down at the ground for a moment before she snapped her gaze back up to me, looking over the hero’s shoulder. “You must have tricked them in some way.”

I raised a brow at the accusation. “Not recently, as a matter of fact,” I replied dryly and she narrowed her eyes at me, disbelief clear in her expression.

“If you’ve tricked them before, it’s hard to believe you would not have done it again,” she crossed her arms over her chest, standing tall in her misguided confidence. “I do not believe a single word that comes from the lips of someone like you.”

“Why is it that the assumption is always that an Ascian is a liar? My compeers have done you all a great disservice if they’ve made their deceptions so obvious.” I dropped my hand from the hero’s shoulder and looked towards the Scions, trying to wrap things up and leave before I truly lost my patience with her.

“There was chaos in Garlemald regarding the succession to the throne,” I started, failing to conceal the annoyance that had built at the interaction within my tone, despite my mental preparations to expect such hostility. “While I’m on the First trying to solve how to allow you to freely travel between the two worlds, would it be possible for some of you to investigate the status of the empire for me? I would hate for all my hard work to disappear over something as petty as who sits in a chair.”

Alphinaud nodded. “Thancred and I can look into it. I’ll see if any of the Eorzean Alliance has information and he’s adept at going in behind enemy lines. Though… I guess enemy is not necessarily an accurate term any longer.”

I shrugged a shoulder. “The empire is anything but stable at the moment, and you and your friends in Eorzea are still their enemies until they are told otherwise. Should things escalate, send for me and I will handle it.”

I returned my gaze to the Warrior of Light, who had begun to calm down and I gave her a small reassuring smile. “Did you want to stay here for a while with your friends, my dearest? Or are we returning to the First together?”

Before she could respond, the lalafell interjected. “What makes you think you can call her that?” she asked, incredulously. “Despite what you’ve manipulated her into feeling, you have no right, Ascian. And why are you sending them to investigate your problems in Garlemald? The Scions of the Seventh Dawn don’t owe you anything.”

I clenched my jaw and exhaled sharply, shaking my head as the anger in my chest from the hero surged once more, fueling my own frustrations. “For someone with no power, you care very little for your wellbeing. Running your mouth like that when you clearly have no idea who you are speaking to. I’d be more careful if I were you, you could upset the wrong person with less patience than I have afforded you and find yourself in a significant amount of trouble.”

“Threatening me, are you? Just what I would expect from one of your kind. Power or not, you being an ally doesn’t sit well with me. I won’t let you deceive my friends any longer,” she said confidently and I chuckled humorlessly, summoning a portal next to me.

“Here’s the irony, oh powerless one,” I began, my tone dripping with condescendence, clearly showing that I had lost my patience with her. “If I was deceiving your friends, I doubt you could do anything about it. They would be lost to you forever, eternal pawns to my evil Ascian schemes. But despite what you believe, I am not and we are all grateful for that.” 

I glanced over at the rest of the Scions with a heavy sigh. “I’ve grown tired of trying to defend myself to your friend, Scions. I am glad that we succeeded in restoring you to your home, but I must quit this place before I lose my temper and end up harming her.” Turning, I stepped into the portal to Garlemald to return my vessel to where I had retrieved it from.

When I returned to the First, the Exarch was the lone figure in the Ocular. He glanced up from his reading when he heard the ruffling of my clothing as I stood, stretching my hands over my head. I looked around curiously as he walked up to me.

“Ryne and Gaia have gone to see if they can find trinkets of their own, so we can create anchors for them to travel to the Source as well. Do you think it possible? I did not see any reason why not.”

I nodded slowly, sighing as I tried to shake off the residual annoyance I felt from the altercation on the Source. “There should be no significant issue with creating anchors for them. Though I am curious which shard Gaia is from herself, originally. Based on her soul, she has more fragments within her than most inhabitants of a given shard, but not enough to be considered a rejoined denizen of the Source.”

“She’s quite a mysterious one, I’d agree. Based on how she spoke of her predecessors, I wondered if part of being an Oracle of Darkness is the recruitment and training of another of your own shards for eventual reabsorption, similarly to what you Ascians do with the sundered souls being brought into office.”

I hummed as I considered this theory, my eyes wandering to the portal once more. “It’s not outside the realm of possibility. I had no idea you put so much thought into her, Exarch.”

“You’ll find I put a lot of thought into many things that could impact that Warrior of Light and her wellbeing, Emet-Selch,” he said with conviction and I looked at him once more with a raised brow.

“Ah, yes, I do recall you being rather fond of her,” I mused. “Have I stepped on toes? Did I swoop in and steal her away? I make no apologies.”

“As much as I believe she would be happier if she had chosen a different path, you are the one she wishes to keep by her side. I will respect her wishes, and I will not interfere. But know that I am watching you closely. If you fail to keep her happy, if you hurt her again as you did at Mount Gulg, or if you lie to her and upset her as you did in Amaurot…” He trailed off, his eyes locked with mine with an intensity I had yet to see in him and I nodded with understanding.

“Well then,” I said, after moments passed in silence. “Noted, Exarch. I shall endeavor to do my very best.”

Chapter Text

I watched as Hades left in a huff and sighed, a headache brewing behind my eyes.

“And we were just starting to get along, too,” Alphinaud said. My shoulders slumped and I turned back to Tataru. She was still quite adamant-looking. I shook my head. Finally, she faltered as she looked around, a silence growing between all of us.

“He...he has done something to you all, hasn’t he?” she asked, uncrossing her arms, suddenly unsure of her words.

“Tataru,” I said with a sigh, dropping down into the chair the Ascian had previously been sitting in. “He’s the one who restored our friends to their bodies. Why would he do that if he wasn’t trying to help? If he was tricking us, wouldn’t it be to his advantage to leave them on the First and let their bodies here perish?”

She frowned. “But why would you...I don’t understand.” I pressed the heel of my hand into my eyes, the ache turning into a dull throb.

“It’s a long story,” I began. “But I will tell it if you wish.” I removed my hands and looked down at her. She watched me for a few quiet moments, and finally nodded, but Alphinaud cleared his throat. We both looked at him and he held his hand out towards the conference room of the Rising Stones.

“Why don’t I inform you so we can let our Warrior of Light get back to work. There is still quite a lot she needs to get done.”

The lalafell looked skeptical for a moment, but decided to follow the twin, who looked back at me with naught but a wink before he disappeared down the hall. I huffed a laugh and stood, then started making my way back to the portal.

I felt for the tether, asking him if he’d returned already. He tugged back, saying that since time runs differently between worlds, he and the Exarch had been working in the tower for an hour or two now, trying to stabilize the portal so the Scions could easily come back through and he’d had time to calm himself. 

Are you heading back soon, my dearest? There was a spark of playfulness that made its way down the tether to me. I am already missing you quite terribly.

Always one for the dramatic flair. I smiled and let him know that I was already on my way.

By the time I stepped through the portal, though, the Ocular was deserted. I headed out, just to see Hades and the Exarch heading towards me, both Oracles trailing behind them. The sun had started sinking below the backdrop of the city, casting it in brilliant oranges and purples and pinks. My breath caught when I saw him against the fading light and I watched as he took longer strides to reach me faster.

“Took you long enough,” he quipped, a smile on his face, before leaning down to press a quick kiss to my lips. I smiled against his mouth.

“Yes, and I’m sure Tataru is very sorry right about now,” I informed him when he pulled away.

“I expected it, honestly. Though I regret letting her get to me,” he said, shrugging one shoulder. 

“Well,” I began, looking to the side for a moment. “I was guilty of that, too, as you well know.” I heard a breath of a laugh from him. When I looked back at him again, he was shaking his head, a fond smile on his face as he remembered our interaction back at the Rising Stones. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms over my chest. 

“Did you happen to uncover any leads?”

“We did, in fact,” G’raha Tia interjected as he approached, coming to a stop next to us. “I had a thought over dinner and we came back to test it before quitting for the day.” 

Hades lifted his hand to my cheek for a moment, but then dropped it and headed back into the Crystal Tower. I leaned towards the Exarch, eyes never leaving the Ascian’s back. 

“Don’t let him work too hard,” I instructed, frowning. The miqo’te following my gaze and sighed through his nose.

“Yes, I have been watching him closely. The aether he expended to pull the Scions through the rift must have been…” I nodded, understanding his meaning. He inclined his head to me and started following Hades into the Ocular. 

Ryne stopped next to me. When I looked at her, she had a smile on her face as she folded her arms behind her back. “He sure has come a long way, hasn’t he? The Mother said that he doesn’t deny his guilt anymore. He seems...less burdened, don’t you think? Happy, even.” With a smile, I laid one arm across her shoulders and she leaned into my side.

“Well,” Gaia began. “Everything he’s wanted for eons is now attainable, even if it’s not quite in the way he expected. Some things he’s already-”

When she paused, both of us looked over to her. The Oracle of Darkness stood still, eyes unfocused, staring off into the distance. “ One brings shadow, one brings light ,” the girl started again, her voice not quite her own. “ Two-toned echoes tumbling through time. Want for nothing, nothing denied.”

“Gaia?” Ryne asked, furrowing her brow. She took a step towards her, but I squeezed her shoulders to stop her.

“Wandering ended... futures aligned. ” Suddenly, she blinked rapidly and shook her head. “Did I just...say something?”

I raised a brow and nodded. “Hm,” she hummed, then reached out to grab Ryne’s arm. “Commit those words to memory and come with me, we have research to do.” I watched them leave with a frown, questions spinning in my mind.

“A prophecy,” Hades’ voice said from behind me, making me jump in surprise. I turned to face him as he walked down the steps that led to the Ocular, tapping a hand to his head. I chewed on the inside of my mouth, taking in the pallor of his skin, but I was unsure if it was due to the poor lighting or if he had indeed used too much aether. Deciding to take a better look at him once we got back to our room, I pushed it from my mind for the time being.

“Do you know what it’s about?”

“‘One brings shadow, one brings light.’,” he quoted. “Me and you, one could assume. Or Hydaelyn and Zodiark.” He placed his hand on the small of my back and nudged me forward, toward the Pendants. “Don’t think on it too much, my beloved. I never put much stock into prophecies...but, either way, she’ll tell us when she has more information.”

“Mm,” came my non-committal response as I let him lead me back to our room, but decided, as usual, that he was probably right. “Did your theory work?”

“No,” he sighed. “Unfortunately not.”

“Tomorrow’s a new day, right?” I looked up at him, a small smile on my face. He laid his arm across my shoulders as we walked and looked up at the night sky above us, taking a deep breath of the cool air.

“That’s right,” he answered, watching me. 

When we arrived back to the room, I glanced at him sidelong, trying to hide the fact that I was worried. But, he looked exhausted, dark circles forming under his eyes, his skin pale. I frowned as I slid my shirt over my head. I heard him huff a laugh from the other side of the room as I brooded and knew immediately that I was doing a terrible job at keeping my feelings a secret.

“Are you going to scold me again, my dear?”

“I want to,” I answered, pursing my lips and slipping out of my pants. He came up behind me, quickly, and picked me up. Despite my scowl, I let out a surprised squeal that made his chest shake with a chuckle. I crossed my arms over my chest as he carried me to the bed, a pout on my lips, not bothering to fight him. “You should have used more.”

He set me down on the mattress and leaned down until we were nose to nose, a smirk on his face, but I refused to budge.

“You could have hurt yourself. And then who would be stuck taking care of you?”

Hades reached up to tuck a lock of hair behind my ear, a coolness to his fingers that was not usually there. 

“I bet you would love to take care of me if I were to fall ill.” I narrowed my eyes at him.

“That doesn’t mean I want you to, and at the rate you’re going you will . You’re not playing fair.”

“Do I ever?” he asked me, his arrogance radiating off him. He leaned forward farther, trying to catch my lips in his, but I tipped myself backwards, turning my face away from him. One side of his mouth tilted upwards, but the closer he got, the further back I went.

His smile turned smug as I eventually lost my balance, falling onto the mattress. He hovered over me, my arms still crossed, a scowl still on my face. He laid his hands on the bed on either side of my head to support himself. As I examined his face, it was all I could do to not smile. 

“You’ve made this only too easy for me, my dearest,” he informed me, and I knew he could feel my frustration at him begin to evaporate. I uncrossed my arms and reached up, placing my hands on both sides of his face, pulling his face down to mine.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful from now on,” I said, quietly, my eyes searching his until he closed them and pressed his lips against mine in a slow, sweet kiss. I inhaled his scent as I gave into him.

“I promise,” he whispered when he’d barely pulled away, his words warm against my mouth. I ran one hand through his hair.

“Let’s go to sleep. You’re exhausted.” He nodded and climbed over me, settling himself into bed. I placed my backside against him, letting his warmth spread over me. He wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me flush against him. He nuzzled the crook of my neck with his nose.

“Sleep well, my beloved,” he said, his voice already tired and thick. I smiled softly and flicked my wrist so the lights extinguished.

“You too.”

When I woke in the morning, Hades was already gone. I sat up in bed, a tug on the tether telling me to look at my bedside table, where a plate of food was sitting, waiting for me. With a smile, I ate what he’d prepared for me, got ready for the day, and headed towards the Crystal Tower.

There was a certain electricity in the room when I entered the Ocular. The Ascian and the Exarch stood side by side in front of the portal, talking quietly to each other.

“We’ve almost got it. But if it’s like this, then what if we just-,” G’raha Tia started.

“Connected the rest?”

“You were thinking the same thing?”

“It should be feasible, yes.” Hades crossed his arms, still examining the portal.

“It wouldn’t take too much would it?”

“No, it should be fine, I believe.”

“Okay let me change this-”

“Did you figure something out?” I asked, stretching my arms behind my back as I walked towards them. They both turned, smiles on their faces.

“We very well might have,” the Exarch said as the other came to meet me.

“I see what you meant now about like-minded individuals in a room together. The energy in the air…,” I said to Hades as he approached. He leaned down to kiss my forehead.

“Did you eat your breakfast?”

“Maybe,” I said, one side of my mouth tugging upward. “Did you?”

“I’d better get back to work,” he said, avoiding the question and I lifted one eyebrow, my small smile drooping. I dug deeper into the tether as he walked away, uncovering the exhaustion that lay underneath his happiness and my face fell. He was still pushing himself so hard-

I watched as he walked straight through the portal. My mouth fell open and I took a step forward when I felt something was wrong, but the food in my stomach roiled around, making me nauseous.

He stepped back into the Ocular, his face was as white as a sheet, his eyes wide. I felt the sickness rising up his throat, threatening to rise up my own, too. I placed a hand over my mouth as he summoned a bucket, vomiting the contents of his stomach into it. When he was finished and I’d succeeded in holding down my own breakfast, relief washed over me as he recovered. He snapped and the bucket vanished. He looked to me.

“I’m sorry, my dearest. I suppose it’s not quite stable yet.”

“You don’t say?” I shot back at him with an astounded shake of my head and dropped down into a nearby chair to calm my shaking knees.

For most of the day, I sat in the Ocular and watched as they tweaked the portal. I watched Hades carefully as I pretended to read a book, his exhaustion becoming much more apparent as the hours passed. I caught the Crystal Exarch’s eyes when evening hit, Hades’ tiredness spreading to me, and knew instantly that he understood as well.

“Why don’t you go take a rest, my friend?” he asked the Ascian, clapping him lightly on the shoulder. “I believe I can handle the rest from here.” Hades paused for a moment, silent, before finding his words again.

“I think I should stay, just in case-”

“Go,” G’raha Tia insisted. “All will be well and you need a break.” I stood from my chair when I sensed his hesitation. I wrapped my fingers around his arm and tugged.

“Let’s go,” I ordered. He raised his brow, looking like he wanted to argue, but I mimicked one of his own expressions. With a chuckle and a roll of his eyes, he walked back to our inn room, slightly leaning on me.

When we were in the room, he sat on the bed with a small groan. “You lot were right, I suppose. I am quite tired.”

“That’s an understatement,” I said with a scoff. “You should sleep. I don’t know why you’re pushing yourself so hard. We have time.” I sat next to him, reaching down to take my shoes off as he started unbuttoning his waistcoat and shirt.

“You’re nervous,” he said. “About rejoining your soul.” I turned to face him.

“Yes, and?” He smiled, wistfully.

“I thought, perhaps, if we worked quickly...that if we accomplished this task faster, you wouldn’t have to be anxious for very long.” His words made a smile force its way out for a moment, but I looked down to my lap clasping my hands together. He reached over, placing one hand under my chin and forced me to look at him, the cold of his hands mildly shocking me. He searched my eyes for quite a while before speaking again. “Won’t you tell me what is it that you’re so afraid of, my beloved?”

I sighed and laid back on the mattress, staring up at the ceiling, trying to form my feelings into words. He joined me and I could feel his exhaustion taking hold of his consciousness. I turned onto my side to face him as he continued examining my face.

“No secrets, remember?” he asked, quietly. I sighed through my nose and nodded. I did promise, afterall.

“I know in the dreams that I sounded pretty confident that I would still be me when my soul was completed but...I’m not. I’m afraid that everything I am will get snuffed out in favor of Persephone. That I’ll...be lost with no way of finding my way home. That I won’t be able to find my way...back to you.”

I averted my gaze from his, instead staring a hole into his chest. He reached over to me, running his thumb along my cheek, then twined the fingers of his hand between one of mine. I frowned at how much his aether depletion had chilled his skin. It made me shiver, but I looked back at him again, and I could tell he was fighting just to keep his eyes open, but he had a soft smile on his face.

As he drifted away, the words he said to me made my eyes well with water, my chest filling with love.

“I’d never let you get lost,” he started, words trailing off. “But if you did...I’d never stop looking...for you…”

I laid in silence for several minutes as his breathing evened out, trying to hold back my tears as I stared at his face. What...had I done to deserve someone who would...sacrifice everything he’d always known...for me? The realization hit me hard, my heart squeezing with a myriad of emotions. In that moment, I knew that I’d do anything for him, as well, no matter what the cost.

Some of my apprehension eased at his words and I sat up, careful not to wake him. I rubbed the water from my eyes and laid a hand on his bare shoulder, letting some of my aether flow into him in an attempt to help regenerate some of his energy. When his skin started to warm up again, I laid down next to him again, my own depletion making me want to sleep as well.

Chapter Text

When I finally woke up, the sun was high in the sky. I could feel the warm light brightly shining onto my face and I tightened my arms around the Warrior of Light. She was laying on her back with her arms wrapped around me, trailing her fingers up and down my back slowly as soon as she felt me begin to rouse from sleep.

I pressed my face into the crook of her neck to shield my eyes from the sun and I could feel her amusement through our bond. With a flick of her wrist, the shutters closed and I hummed with appreciation, placing a soft kiss onto her skin.

“What time is it?” I asked, my voice still thick with sleep. It felt as if I had slept for an age, and I felt slightly rejuvenated from the previous day, though I could tell my aether reserves had still been significantly depleted. I had been irresponsible, but there was still work to be done.

She pressed her lips to the top of my head. “Nearly lunchtime,” she replied and I opened my eyes slowly. “Are you hungry?”

I shrugged slightly, lifting my head to look up at her. “Are you?”

She shrugged in response with a small smile and I rolled my eyes.

“I could eat, yes,” I acquiesced with a yawn. “Have you been awake long, my dearest?”

She hummed as she glanced at the clock. “A little while. I was worried about you,” she admitted and I frowned, lifting myself up slightly to press my lips to hers.

“I pushed myself a little too far yesterday,” I said softly as I pulled back, searching her expression. “I’m sorry to have caused you concern.”

“You could barely keep your eyes open; you were cold to the touch. A little ,” she said mockingly with a raised brow and I smirked.

“You should be used to me downplaying things by now, my dear.” Removing my arm from beneath the pillow, I sat up slowly, stretching my arms above my head before I looked back at her. “Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?” she asked, as she sat up as well and I wrapped an arm around her, pressing my lips to her forehead.

“For sharing your aether with me last night. I have no doubt it aided in my recovery. I feel better today.”

She tilted her head up to look at me. “You could tell?”

I nodded with a soft smile. “An infusion of aether is… a very unique sensation. It’s not the same as healing magic. It’s similar, in a sense, to the way it felt during our ritual in Rak’tika but more intimate,” I explained. “As exhausted as I may have been, I could still feel you while I slept.”

She nodded, her mind going back to how it felt as I had laced my aether with hers when I brought her into a seat of the Convocation. 

I took a deep breath. “In the end, I ended up using your aether regardless, so perhaps I should have just done as I initially intended and split the burden with you relatively proportionately.”

She slid off the bed, weaving her fingers between mine. “Perhaps you should have,” she quipped and I chuckled as I also moved off the bed, glancing at the clock.

“Come, let’s have some lunch and then I’ll head back to the Ocular to pick up where we left off. I imagine there’s still work to be done, despite the Exarch’s claims,” I said as I tried to ignore the pounding behind my eyes. 

“But do you feel well enough to get back to working on the portal?” she asked as she looked me over, her expression giving away the uncertainty she felt. "You could give yourself another day. No rush."

I nodded slightly, forcing a small smile. “I’m tired, but no more than I was when I returned from the Source,” I admitted and she raised a brow, crossing her arms over her chest. “Don’t worry, my beloved. I’ll be fine, we’re almost finished and the aether I recovered last night should be more than sufficient for any fine-tuning. Let’s go.”

As we continued our work on the stabilization of the portal, I could tell the Exarch was growing frustrated with the fleeting nature of the connection to the Source. We stood at the base of the steps with our eyes trained on the image of Mor Dhona, and I inhaled deeply, exhaling slowly through my nose, bringing my hand up to pinch the bridge of my nose an in attempt to quell the mounting headache.

I could feel the Warrior of Light tugging with concern on the bond, urging me to look at her and I breathed a laugh. When she became more insistent, I lowered my hand and glanced over my shoulder at her.

“Do you mind going through, my dearest hero?” I asked her, and she furrowed her brow, opening her mouth to respond, but I continued. “We’re going to need your friends to try to traverse the rift. I’ll let you know when.”

She pursed her lips, exhaling sharply before walking up the stairs and heading through to the Source. Once she had passed, I held my hand outstretched towards the portal.

“I could stabilize it,” I offered, looking sidelong at the Exarch. “It would take some effort, but it would likely last long enough for you to figure out what you need to adjust to keep it stable.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “And if I’m unable to?”

“Best-case scenario, I succumb to what is tantamount to an illness caused by the rapid depletion of aether. The Scions will make it through, but we’d have to pull them back to the Source as we did before, so I’d need time to regenerate my energy stores.” 

“I can’t help but notice you did not mention the worst-case scenario, which I imagine is less than ideal,” he posited as he shifted nervously, exhaling slowly and I chuckled.

“Worst-case scenario is an aetheric crash caused by a complete depletion, one I likely won’t survive, but I know my limits so we don't have to consider the worst-case. If you doubt yourself, you’ll never accomplish it,” I mused, holding my hand outstretched in front of me. “And then channeling this aether and putting my life at risk, much to the dismay of the Warrior of Light might I add, will have been utterly pointless.”

“I told her I would keep an eye on you,” he said as he narrowed his eyes with a frown. “I suspect you suggested this because she isn’t here to stop you.”

“I hardly need a guardian to watch me and tell me what I can and cannot do as if I’m a child,” I rebuked as I began to channel my aether into the portal. “You’d best get to work if you don’t want to disappoint her.”

He pursed his lips, nodding tensely as he approached the portal, pointing his staff at it as he began to channel is own aether into it, reconfiguring the enchantment steadily. 

“Is there a reason you’re pushing yourself so hard?” he asked softly, lowering his staff once the first step was complete and I paused my own channeling to wipe the sweat off my brow. 

“She’s anxious,” I started, taking a deep breath, pressing the heels of my palms into my eyes. “The sooner we stabilize this, the sooner we can apply the same strategy to the other shards, and she will be able to realize there’s nothing to worry about.”

“What is it that makes her anxious?”

I lowered my hands as I looked at the portal with a frown, hesitating with my uncertainty if I should tell the Exarch the reality of what the hero was feeling. Looking over at him, I sighed. If there was anyone who should be permitted such insight into her feelings, it would be him. 

“We’re… not sure if Persephone would take precedence or the Warrior of Light would upon a complete Rejoining,” I explained. “I suspect it would be the hero, but there’s no way to truly know until the end.”

“So she’s worried that she could be gone, just as Minfilia is,” he said slowly and I responded with an equally slow nod. “And what if she is? It seems to be a positive outcome for you no matter what.”

“If you’re insinuating that I’m rushing the process for my own benefit-”

“Not at all, I’m merely making an observation,” he interjected. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who worries that there’s a possibility that your motives may be for the benefit of your original soulmate.”

“It’s a shame, then, that I don’t care what any of you think of my motives , though I daresay none of you except her know the truth of them,” I bit out, trying to restrain the anger I felt at the underlying accusation that was made by his statement.

“So long as she trusts you, I will as well,” he said after a slight hesitation. “Just know that you may meet resistance from some of her other companions if it comes to light that she has these fears.”

I raised my hand once more, preparing to restabilize the portal once more when he cleared his throat and I looked back at him.

“I trust the same honesty you afforded us previously still stands?” I nodded, raising a brow and he continued. “If you had to pick, which would you prefer to have?”

“The Warrior of Light,” I replied without hesitation and his eyebrows shot up, eliciting a smirk from me. “You seem surprised,” I mused with no attempt to mask the sarcasm of my tone.

“Truthfully, I expected the opposite.” I shrugged a shoulder, turning back to the portal.

“She’s far too remarkable,” I said, barely audible though I was sure he had heard. 

“Not that Persephone was not remarkable but, the hero is… well, you’re the last person I have to explain myself to in that regard,” I concluded, speaking at normal volume as I began to channel aether into the portal once more. He made a soft sound with his understanding before he raised his staff to go back to work to stabilize it.

Several minutes later, I found the edges of my vision beginning to blur and I lowered my hand slowly. The Exarch looked over at me cautiously and I shut my eyes, tilting my head back with a shuddering exhale.

“It should just about be ready,” he said and I nodded, opening my eyes slowly as I shifted my feet slightly to stabilize the slight unsteadiness I felt. “Just a bit more, can you manage it or should we take a break?”

I shook my head, raising my hand once more as I reached out to the hero, asking her to remain on the Source until we confirmed we were successful. “I should be fine. I’ll have her send them through. We’ll finalize it when we can test a round trip.”

He hesitated for a moment, taking in my appearance with a frown before he nodded, focusing his attention back on the portal once more when he realized I would not back down from the task despite my steadily withering aether supply. Soon, the female twin, miqo’te, and astrologian passed through. The twin looked down at herself, patting down her torso with disbelief before she looked up once more.

“Oh Gods, you look horrible ,” she said as her eyes widened when she looked at me. I rolled my eyes as I continued my channeling, and I could feel my body growing cold, my shirt growing damp from the cold sweat that had spread across my entire body.

“For that, girl, you get to be the test subject. Go back through and return,” I muttered, noting the slight hoarseness of my voice. 

She opened her mouth to protest but the miqo’te shot her a glare. “Alisiae, go. Bring the Warrior of Light,” her tone was laced with urgency as she took a step towards me and the twin furrowed her brow but she quickly stepped through as she was bid. 

“Urianger, his aether-”

The astrologian nodded, quickly making his way to my side, he raised his hand to place it on my shoulder as the Exarch lowered his staff.

“It’s done,” he announced as he quickly handed his staff to the mage, the sound of his voice muffled, and I released the breath I had been holding, lowering my hand and looking down at it. In the corner of my eye, I could see him moving swiftly to my side, and I looked up to see his lips moving, concern on his face but I shook my head, the only sound I could hear was the fast pounding of my heart.

Moments later, the hero stepped through the portal, her worry reaching me instantly when she took in my appearance. I clenched my hand into a fist in an attempt to stop its shaking, my head pounding as a high-pitched ringing filled my ears. I was vaguely cognizant of my heavy breathing, my entire body shivering from the sudden inability to get warm. 

I had pushed myself too far despite claims that I would be fine, that I knew my limits. I hadn’t heeded the warnings that my body had given me that I was running dangerously low on energy and it had caught up with me. But I was still standing, which was a good sign and I could feel the faint churning of the remainder of my aether through my body. Just aether sickness, then. I’d be fine with some rest. 

I swore under my breath, my knees buckling and I could feel hands reach for me as the room grew silent, my vision blurring once more. I knew from my experience seeing this illness in others in Amaurot that shortly, this would pass. The remaining aether in me would compensate and I would feel well enough to explain to the hero that there was no need to worry, though it would not last long. But at the very least, I would survive. Tonight would be miserable, but I would live.

I felt a familiar warmth spreading throughout my body from my shoulder. Despite the fact that an infusion from her alone would not help tremendously, slowly, my vision cleared. My heart rate steadily returned to normal, and I exhaled a slow breath, lifting my head as I steadied myself on my feet. 

All eyes in the room were trained on me, concern clear on everyone’s faces. I took note of the fact that both the Exarch and the elezen had stabilized me from falling and I tensed, my mind irrationally racing with the thought that in my current state, I was vastly outnumbered by those who not long ago would have taken advantage of my weakness. I cleared my throat as I lifted my hands to brush theirs off of my torso.

“I’m fine, thank you. I just need some room to breathe,” I muttered harshly and I could feel the hero bristle from her position behind me as she took in the defensiveness of my tone and the uneasiness running through my mind. She lifted her hand from where she had been infusing aether into me and moved to stand in front of me at the base of the stairs when her friends had stepped back.

The Exarch eyed me warily as he followed me while I walked down the steps from the portal, his hand positioned to support me once more when he noted the residual unsteadiness in my gait. “Are you sure?”

I rolled my eyes but nodded. “By Zodiark, yes ,” I replied with an exasperated sigh. “If I had known being friends with Hydaelyn’s children would be so painfully suffocating, I likely would have kept my distance.”

The Warrior of Light narrowed her eyes, her concern for my well-being quickly being replaced by frustration at my mood swing once she believed I would be fine. “You don’t have to be so rude,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “They were helping you. You were reckless and almost collapsed.”

Yes , I understand,” I muttered, averting my gaze. “You can scold me at length later. I need to rest and I regrettably don’t have the aether necessary to make a portal. Now, if you would be so kind?”

When we arrived on the other side of the portal in the bedroom, I could feel the aggravation rolling off of her in waves. I made my way to the bed slowly, sitting on the edge of it, facing her.

“You promised you’d be careful,” she said, frowning deeply. “I told you this would happen.”

“I’m well aware of my poor decisions that led to my current repulsively vulnerable state,” I replied, frowning as well and she exhaled sharply.

“Is that why you were being so defensive? You felt vulnerable?”

I nodded stiffly as I moved to remove the sweat-dampened shirt and waistcoat from my body. “I know it was unlikely, but being unable to defend myself when I’m quite literally surrounded on all sides…” I trailed off, sighing.

“They wouldn’t hurt you,” she muttered as she sat at the table, folding her arms in front of her on its surface. I shrugged in response.

“Be that as it may, it was a reflexive, self-preservative reaction. I’m not accustomed to running so low while also being outnumbered.”

She hummed in response, raising her brow and I groaned. “ Yes , fine, I wasn’t careful and I brought this upon myself,” I admitted as I stood and lifted the blanket. “I was rash and negligent. Impulsive and hasty, irresponsible and foolish, imbecilic and thoughtless. Happy?”

“I wouldn’t have gone that far. You seem to have more energy than yesterday, at least,” she offered and I looked at her from the corner of my eye.

“It may upset you to learn that I do not have more energy than yesterday,” I murmured as I got into the bed, remaining seated as I leaned against the headboard. “It’s essentially a second wind, my body's way of compensating for the rapid depletion. It will wear off shortly and I will fall debilitatingly ill. Feverish and cold. Just by the resolute nature of my soul, I should be well enough to function by the morning, but I will remain tired and cold for quite some time.”

She furrowed her brow, confusion trickling through the tether to me. “Can’t I just… give you aether to make you feel better?” 

I shook my head, smiling sadly at her. “You don’t have enough, I’m afraid.”

Her slightly improved mood instantly soured and she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest as she leaned back in the chair and I chuckled.

“Don’t be like that, it’s not my fault you’re Sundered and lack the aether reserves necessary. I'll be fine by morning,” I mused and she narrowed her eyes. Immediately, I realized I had said the wrong thing.

“Well, maybe if you had kept your promise, neither of us would have to be in this mess,” she snapped. 

I opened my mouth to respond but she continued, her tone laced with displeasure and disappointment. “You did the same thing when you first restored them to their bodies too. You should have taken more of my aether, regardless of how lacking my reserves may be.”

“Well then, while we’re dragging the past up and rekindling old vexations with one another,” I started, crossing my own arms over my chest. “Do you really let that powerless little creature walk all over you?”

“Don’t you dare speak about Tataru like that,” she nearly hissed and I raised a brow.

“Oh, so she’s got you trained so well that you’ll even defend her? It’s laughable, really.” 

She bristled, turning her face away from me to look at the wall. 

“You should learn to speak up,” I continued while I shifted to lay down as my body began to tremble slightly, the effects of the second wind beginning to wear off. “Something bothers you and rather than saying something for yourself, you allow it to continue. You’re the Warrior of Light . Act like it. I believed you to have greater strength of mind than this.”

“I liked you better when you were too tired and weak to fight with me,” she muttered after a moment. “You were actually sweet to me then.”

I blew out a sharp breath. “It wounds me that your affections even waver at all for you to measure that you ‘liked me better’ one way or another. Mine certainly do not fluctuate, no matter how annoyed with you I may be.”

She turned to look at me again, her exasperation palpable through the bond and she stood. “You know I didn’t mean it that way,” she said, her voice rising slightly.

“Well, perhaps you should choose your words more carefully then,” I shot back harshly.

She huffed once more and sat back down roughly into the seat, turning it to face away from me and we sat in bitter silence for a few long minutes. I took a deep breath, exhaling shakily as I felt myself break into a cold sweat once more, pulling the blankets up to cover myself in a futile attempt to keep warm.

“Do you actually consider this fighting?” I finally asked, breaking the silence as I reached out through our tether to her affectionately, no longer wishing to argue with her when I felt as poor as I did.

I could feel her mind roiling with irritation that she continued to feel towards me and she hesitated before she finally answered. “Be quiet, Hades,” she murmured. “I’m trying to be upset with you.”

“Come here,” I whispered and she shook her head, humming her dissent. “I’m getting cold.”

“Good,” she huffed, though she looked over at me, sadness in her eyes, her voice lacking the bite she intended it to have. “You deserve to be.”

I breathed a laugh. “Oh, please,” I replied, my voice growing hoarse. “I held you when you were in much the same state.”

“No, I was worse off and it was for a very different reason. You didn’t have to make yourself sick. I thought you said the difference was that you ‘knew your limits’?”

I sighed, frowning. “I do, and I mistakenly pushed them further than I should have. But now I feel ill and I need you. Do I have to beg for you to come instead of sulking at the table?”

“Just summon yourself some extra blankets,” she muttered with a pout and I smiled weakly at her stubbornness.

“I would… if I had the aether for it.”

 

Chapter Text

I clicked my tongue, the frustration I had for him slowly dissipating. With a sigh, I thought back to the Greatwood and how good it felt to have him hold me while I was in much the same state. With a roll of my eyes, I uncrossed my arms and stood from my chair, making my way over to him.

“Fine,” I huffed, coming to a stop next to the bed. “But I’m only doing this because you need it, not because I want to.” I started climbing into bed, lifting the covers to slide under them. I watched as he visibly shivered and I frowned. Nonetheless, a smirk spread across his mouth.

“What a liar you are,” he began with a soft chuckle. “I know for a fact that you’re perfectly content to take care of me.”

I shook my head, but gathered him in my arms and pressed my warm body against his cool skin. He exhaled a deep breath of relief at the contact and I began to run my hands up and down the length of his back, hoping the friction would warm him a little. He buried his face in the crook of my neck and I sighed, one hand threading into his hair as I held him in place.

“Please,” I begged as I laid my head back on the pillow. “Please don’t do this again, Hades.”

“I won’t, my beloved,” he murmured, the sound muffled against my skin. “I’m sorry for causing you to worry.” I relaxed as he wrapped his arms around me in a loose embrace. I could feel his mind fading. 

“Just get some rest,” I ordered. He nodded weakly.

When he had fallen asleep, I conjured a book to above me, flicking my wrist to turn the pages as I read, but after a long while, there was a knock at the door. I lifted my head, slightly, and waved my hand so the door opened. 

Y’shtola came around the corner, a brow raised as she took us in. I sat up, making the book disappear, his head sliding down into my lap. I watched his face for a moment as he slept, pursing my lips at the sweat that had broken out on his forehead.

The Scion sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at him as well for a moment before speaking. I watched as her eyes examined his aether, her brow furrowing.

“What’s wrong?”

“I came to see how he was faring,” she started. “But I can see that he has used near all of the aether he has. Due to  the sheer volume of it, it will be a slow process, and more than likely, painful as well.” She sighed and looked up at me again, her mouth a thin line. “He was rather reckless, wasn’t he?”

I nodded, rubbing my face with one hand.

“He could have died,” she commented. Another nod. 

“Believe me, I gave him a solid scolding before he fell asleep.” She tilted her head to the side, a small smile appearing on her face.

“Can I bring you anything?” she asked, looking at him again. “You’ll likely have to watch him into the night.”

“Hmm,” I hummed, putting a finger to my mouth. “Dinner would be nice, if you don’t mind.” Y’shtola moved to stand.

“Not at all, my friend. I shall return shortly.” She turned to leave, but paused, looking over her shoulder. “I’ll bring some soup for him, as well, in the likelihood that he’ll wake in the middle of the night.” I nodded and watched as she left, then stretched the material of my sleeve over my hand and wiped the sweat from his brow.

My eyes drifted down towards his chest, an idea striking me. If his aether was this depleted, would it be easier for me to see the color of his soul? 

I narrowed my eyes in concentration, working my way through his maze of energy, so far gone now that it was like looking at one of my friends’ souls. When I had passed his aetheric network, I blinked a few times, the sheer brightness of his soul making me squint.

Once I’d gotten used to the intensity, I stared down at him with wide eyes, my breath catching. The golden color of his soul was vibrant with a luminescent sheen I’d not seen on any of the others. 

I was unsure of how long I sat like that, entirely bewitched. Suddenly, I heard Y’shtola say my name and I jumped, blinking rapidly as my vision returned to normal. She set a tray of food down on the table beside my bed and looked at me curiously. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, of course,” I answered, looking down at the Ascian in my arms. “I was just…” I cleared my throat and looked to her again, a small smile on my face. “It was nothing important. Thank you for the food.” She raised an eyebrow at me, but huffed a small laugh at the clear dismissal in my voice. 

After I ate, I laid back down, pulling him into my arms once again and read until I could no longer see the words on the pages as the light disappeared with the sun. 

In the quiet twilight, I felt his mind start rousing. I pressed a quick kiss to the top of his head, running my hands slowly up and down his back. 

“I see you’re in a better mood,” he observed, quietly, tightening his hold on me, pressing his cheek into my chest, listening to the steady beat of my heart. 

“Would you like something to eat?” I asked, craning my neck to the side so I could see his face. He exhaled slowly and nodded, then, with my help, started to sit up, wincing as he moved. “Are you alright?” 

“Regenerating this amount of aether is a painful process,” he rasped. I made sure he was stable, leaning against the headboard, before turning to retrieve the bowl the Scion had left for him.

“Y’shtola said as much,” I mused as I handed it over to him. He looked down at the liquid inside the bowl for a moment and I watched his aether move around him as he used it to heat the soup. My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open.

“What are you thinking?” I cried. He waved one hand at me.

“It’s not that big a deal, my dearest, please calm down.” I clenched my hands into fists.

“You just told me you wouldn’t do this again, and here you are.”

“Simply heating a bowl doesn’t take-”

“I don’t care, Hades,” I said, lowering my voice, trying to contain my rapidly growing rage. “You’re supposed to be here recovering. If you keep using your aether, how are you ever supposed to get better?” When he didn’t argue, I sighed, dropping my face in my hands, my anger quickly turning to sadness. 

“I know, okay? I know you’re...pushing yourself this hard because you think it’ll ease my anxiety, but could you stop for a moment and think about how much worse it makes me feel, seeing you like this?”

When I lifted my head, he was staring at me with a frown on his mouth. He averted his eyes from mine after a moment and looked down at his lap, and the bowl, again. “I’m sorry,” he said, softly. “I didn’t think-”

“No, you didn’t,” I shot at him and threw myself onto the pillow with a frustrated huff. “Eat,” I ordered, crossing my arms over my chest, watching him closely as he tipped the bowl back, swallowing the soup. When he was finished, I sat up to take the bowl from him, but he cringed suddenly, putting a hand over his chest. I pursed my lips as I let my concern find its way to him.

“Why wasn’t it like this for me?” I laid the bowl on the tray on the bedside table, then helped ease him into a laying position. 

“You don’t possess anywhere near the sheer amount of aether I do,” he answered as I settled myself in next to him again. “Think of it as...regrowing a limb, I suppose.” I hummed my understanding and with a sigh, folded him back into my arms in hopes that his skin would warm up, even if only a little. 

I stayed up most of the night, conjuring a small, dim ball of light so that I could read and not let my mind run rampant in the quiet of my room. Occasionally, I would catch his brow furrowing as he released a small, breathy groan of pain. Each time, it made my heart ache, though there was nothing I could do about it except hold him. When I could see the sky start to lighten in color, I finally let myself drift off, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep.

When I woke again, Hades had slid out of my grasp and was sitting up in bed, pulling his hand into a fist. I peered up at him, barely awake, and he smiled down to me, lowering his hand to brush a lock of hair from my eyes. He leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to my forehead.

“Thank you, my beloved,” he said. “I’m feeling much better this morning.” I nodded, slowly, my mind still trying to rouse itself. He shook his head. “Go back to sleep. I’ll wake you for lunch.” With another nod, I closed my eyes again.

What felt like mere minutes later, I heard a sharp knock on the door. Y’shtola stood outside, inquiring if we were coming to lunch or if we needed lunch brought to us. I opened my eyes and watched as Hades met her at the door. They exchanged a few quiet words and she departed. I sat up and rubbed my eyes of sleep and flicked my wrist, new clothes appearing on the both of us. 

When we entered the room, Gaia looked up at him, her brow furrowed. He lifted a hand to cover his mouth as he yawned, his residual sleepiness passing through to me, making me want to drop back into bed. Ryne was on her feet in a moment, hurrying over to him, quickly examining him.

“We heard that you pushed yourself. The Exarch told us you made yourself ill. Are you alright?’ she asked, her eyes scanning him. He nodded, slowly.

“I’m merely trying to recover all the aether I expended,” he explained and reached his hand to her shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. “I appreciate your concern, Ryne. With another couple nights’ rest, I should be back to normal.” She smiled in response and he started towards his usual chair. I followed him, closely, and sat in the seat next to him.

The Exarch glanced in his direction for a moment and nodded towards him before turning back to the Scions. “As I was saying, Emet-Selch tested the portal himself several times, which I can only imagine was slightly uncomfortable for him.”

“What an understatement that was. Have I rubbed off on you in such a short amount of time, Exarch?” Hades asked with a scoff.

G’raha Tia chuckled and shrugged slightly. “It would appear so, my friend.”

Y’shtola brought her hand to her chin in reflection. “Why test the portal yourself, though?” He shrugged nonchalantly.

“You’ve grown on me, I suppose.”

“Enough to be addressed by name like Alphinaud and Ryne?” Alisaie asked, excitement building inside her.

“Not quite, no,” he said, one side of his lips pulling upward.

“Oh, come on ,” she said, deflating, leaning her head back on the chair she was sitting in, earning laughs from the rest of us around the table.

“At any rate,” the Exarch started again as the merriment died down. “While you were recuperating, I’ve also managed to attune the portal for travel to and from the Fourth, but only for you and the Warrior of Light. Attuning the rest of the Scions will take more time.”

“So using the tower instead of the Source as the main relay station between the shards worked, then,” Hades inquired and G’raha Tia nodded. “How is the stability? Should I suffuse more of my aether through the portal to maintain the connections?”

I tensed next to him at the mention of expending more of his aether, but the Exarch shook his head. I huffed a breath and relaxed.  “That will not be necessary at this current juncture, and I doubt she’ll let you even if it was. But perhaps later if we need multiple shards to remain connected I may have to call upon you at that time.”

Hades nodded and brought a hand to his chin, tapping a finger against his lips. “It may not be necessary to attune the Scions for travel to other shards if our primary purpose there is simply to collect soul fragments. Although…,” he trailed off, his gaze landing on the other side of the table where Gaia was sitting. “Travel for multiple people to the Thirteenth may be needed.”

She nodded to him, the tension still in her body, her expression serious. “You were reckless, Emet-Selch.”

 I looked at him again as he raised a brow. “The amount of aether you expended yesterday was careless,” she continued, quietly. “I understand the sheer magnitude of energy needed to restore the Scions to their home, but you should have allowed yourself more time to recover before you expended more. And what for? There’s no rush.” She sighed and made eye contact with me. 

“You’re lucky that she knows how to share her aether with you and that she was willing to care for you through the night. Otherwise, you would be in worse shape than you are right now.” Thank the Gods someone besides me was scolding him.

He frowned and averted his eyes from her. “Yes, Gaia, I am well aware of how fortunate I am.”

“Do you not understand how important the two of you are?” We both looked at her as she crossed her arms over her chest. 

“Has this anything to do with the prophecy?” he asked, amusement in his voice. She clenched her jaw, unamused.

“This journey you are on, though the paths may diverge in the near future, requires that you are both present at the end. Your two futures must remain aligned.” My brow furrowed.

“Why wouldn’t we both be present?” My anxiety spiked for a moment, and I knew it had reached him when he looked down at me. He reached for my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Gaia narrowed her eyes at him and shook her head.

“Rash and impulsive decisions will beget nothing but chaos, and in this instance, it is not the ideal course of action. If he acts as foolish as he has been, he very well may not make it to the end. But he must, and so must you. For all of our sakes.”

The room fell silent for a few moments before Hades sighed loudly. “Must you be so dramatic, Gaia? We haven’t even had our lunch yet. A single prophecy does not suddenly spell the doom of a world.” The Oracle huffed in annoyance and rolled her eyes.

“A single prophecy did foretell the Doom of Amaurot, if you’ve forgotten.” I sat up straight at her words, but I felt him tense next to me. “But your Convocation did not heed the warnings, not from the Oracles, nor from the soul whom the prophecy spoke of. Be more careful this time,” she said with finality. Hades looked down at me for a moment, but sighed.

“Yes, yes. Can we eat now?” he asked, annoyance tinging his tone and mood. “There is work to be done on the Fourth and I’d like to get that underway.” Gaia shook her head again, but motioned to the plate in front of him.

After we ate, Hades insisted that we begin to prepare to head to the shard. We headed back to our room with a quick request to the Exarch to have some supplies delivered to my room so that we could leave as soon as possible. G’raha Tia nodded, and left immediately to have his soldiers gather what I needed.

“Are you sure you’re well enough to travel?” I asked him as we slowly made our way through the Crystarium. He laid his arm across my shoulders and I looked up at him, my concern and uncertainty palpable.

“I am fine to travel, my dearest. My aether has stabilized and I am able to use it easily,” he assured me. “I am still tired, yes, but as long as I don’t use that amount of my energy again, all will be well.” I pursed my lips as I watched him, but decided to let it slide.

The food and other items I’d asked for were already sitting on the large dining table in the room when we arrived. I went to sort through them, though my mind had shifted to Gaia’s words at lunch. The Ascian sat down in the chair next to me, watching me carefully.

“You want to know what she was talking about, don’t you?” I chewed on the inside of my mouth, placing my hands on the surface of the table.

“Yes,” I started after a few moments. “What...prophecy that foretold the end of Amaurot?” He sighed and leaned his chin in one hand.

“Until recently, I didn’t quite understand, myself, my dear, but when you showed me the memory you had, it all...clicked into place.” He motioned to me to sit, as well, and so I did. “The prophecy spoke of two lovers with intertwined souls that would keep the land and heavens together. In the waxing gloom, did wane the lovers' moon, watching as their worlds drift apart. One soul's cry, a passion welling within. A sacrifice, a final plea to her kin. It continued to say that their bond was broken by treachery, and as a result, the seas ran with blood, and death became an afterthought to those who refused to listen to her."

I tilted my head to the side, thinking on the words. “And you didn’t heed Persephone’s words.”

“No, I didn’t. We didn’t.” He looked down at his lap. “At the time, Cronus was still whispering in my ear. He told me Eternal Bonding was fairly commonplace in those days- intertwined souls could have meant anyone.” 

“And you still believe Persephone was part of the summoning?”

“Hmm,” he hummed, lifting a hand to his lips in thought. “I’m not so sure anymore.” I perked up, sitting straight.

“You aren’t?”

“It’s true that quite a lot of that book Elidibus delivered to you were her actual words, but near the end, there were...inconsistencies. The language she used changed- it was as if she had turned into a...well, a mindless thrall of Hydaelyn. That’s not how her mind worked. She always examined the problem from every angle, needing to know everything about it before making a decision. She wouldn’t have just...abandoned all of her suspicions for no reason.” He sat back in his chair, tapping his fingers on the wood of the table.

“Before her wording changed, it sounded almost as if...she was hesitating, and suddenly, she was agreeing.” I nodded. “I’m beginning to believe someone tampered with the words. Since Elidibus delivered the book as a distraction, I suspected it was him but…” He paused for a moment, exhaling a long breath as his mind turned. “I have been wondering if there is a way to retrieve her original writing- to know exactly what happened, though if you are to be Rejoined soon...I suppose there is no real point to it.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to own her true last words?”

Hades shrugged one shoulder. “All I desire is to know the truth, and then to leave the past in the past.”

I looked away, examining the pattern in the wood on the surface of the table, then nodded once more and stood up, starting to put the supplies in my bag. I felt amusement down the bond as I did. I looked over to him, watching me with a one-sided smile.

“Yes?” I asked, raising a brow.

“Don’t you know how to pack a bag of supplies by now, my dear hero?” I looked down at what I was doing with a frown.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“You’re stuffing everything in there willy-nilly. Absolutely disorganized.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but there was a knock on the door. Ryne’s voice filtered in from the other side, asking for admittance. I shook my head at Hades, then flicked my wrist, opening the door for her. I turned towards her as she entered, a smile on her face.

“I just wanted to come and wish you a safe journey,” she said, softly. I smiled as well, moving to stand in front of her.

“What will you be up to while I’m gone?”

“We’re headed back to the Empty. Gaia wants to start working on harnessing Eden’s power, again...to restore the Thirteenth. She thinks that, perhaps, both of us together will make it easier. Alisaie, Urianger, and Y’shtola will be accompanying us.” I reached out to her, running my hands through a strand of her hair lying over her shoulder.

“Be careful, okay?” I instructed, musing to myself over how much she’s grown in just these last few weeks. Suddenly, she wrapped her arms around my middle and pressed herself against me. I huffed a laugh, hugging her back.

“I’m going to miss you,” she admitted. I stroked the back of her head.

“You’ll be so preoccupied with Eden that you won’t have a spare thought for me,” I told her. When she pulled away, Hades stepped up to us and she turned to him.

“I’m going to miss you too, you know,” she said. He chuckled, then lifted his hand. When he snapped, the ribbon he’d taken from me in the fields of Lakeland appeared in his hand.

“Take this,” he said as he stepped up to her and quickly braided it into her hair. She froze and my eyes widened- the both of us surprised he had deigned to do it manually. She examined it. “As a gift from both of us.” He laid his arm across my shoulders and pulled me into his side. “Ah, this as well. Hold out your arms.”

Immediately, she dropped her braid and held her arms out in front of her. He snapped again, and his white-covered book dropped into her hands. She ran her fingers over the gold emblazoned on the front before looking up at him again.

“Are you sure?” she asked, skeptical.

“I have a feeling you’ll need it more than we will.” With a grin, she hugged it to her chest. “Just take care of it.” She nodded with enthusiasm.

“I will!”

When she left the room after saying her goodbyes and well-wishes, I looked up at him, curious.

“I imbued the ribbon with a spell of protection.” I gave him a sly smile. “Oh, don’t look at me like that,” he said, but laughed, then cleared his throat and looked back at my half-packed bag of supplies. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready to leave, my dearest?”

My smile grew and I shook my head at him, turning away to finish packing.

Not long later, Hades and I stood side-by-side in front of the portal. The Exarch stood behind us, waiting to make sure we arrived on the Fourth in one piece.

My Ascian took a step toward up to the dais, and turned to look back at me.

“Are you ready?” he asked, a small smile on his face. I took a deep breath, tightening my hold on the bag slung over my shoulder. My stomach twisted into nervous knots, but I nodded and he held his hand out to me.

I slid my hand into his and he pulled me up to him. He raised my knuckles to his mouth and he kissed them softly. I smiled, my nerves settling at the feeling of his fingers around mine.

We went through the portal together, and when we appeared on the other side, I had to hold my hand up to shield my eyes, the sun bright and warm on my skin.

Hades took stock of the both of us, making sure we weren’t missing any limbs, then looked around at our surroundings.

“Let’s get started, then.”

Chapter Text

With the snap of my fingers, the two of us were changed into our Convocation robes. I held her mask in my hand, offering it to her as I placed mine on my face. She hesitated for a moment and then reached out to take it, staring at it for a moment before looking at me with curiosity in her eyes.

“It may be better for us to be as conspicuous as possible. Dark robes and masks are most certainly ominous and a dutiful hero would undoubtedly come to investigate us,” I offered and she nodded, putting the mask on her face with a long exhale.

“But we’re not supposed to harm the hero,” she said and I chuckled.

“I have no intention of harming , I simply wish to draw said hero out. We need more information before we proceed, my dear.”

I took another look around at our surroundings, taking in the expansive grasslands we had arrived in following our interdimensional transport. The air was suffused with traces of wind energy and I shook my head.

“We may encounter another Ascian,” I muttered and she glanced up at me, instantly alert. “The air here, it’s tainted with wind aspected aether. This is good for you, because it means you will be amplified in your powers, but it also means… someone is here preparing this shard for the Ardor.”

I began walking through the tallgrass and could hear her walking behind me. “So that means that… there’s a Warrior of Light on this shard, actively fighting?” she asked, sadness lingering in her voice.

I nodded and reached out with my aether to scan for the nearest settlement. “The main way to create the imbalance necessary for a Rejoining is to essentially convince heroes and locals of the shard that the elements in direct opposition are detrimental to their wellbeing, allowing for one aspect to gain supremacy upon the shard. With even the slightest imbalance, the wind-based creatures will grow in strength and… eventually...” I trailed off.

“They overrun everything else,” she finished and I nodded once more. “I can feel the wind in the air, but it seems faint in some places compared to others.”

“Yes, it seems either the heroes of this shard are doing a good job seeing through the manipulations, or things are simply progressing slowly for some reason.”

“Do you know who was assigned to work on this shard?” she asked as she moved more swiftly to catch up to me, coming to walk beside me.

I shook my head. “No, I can’t say I cared to pay attention during the last meeting. I was… angry that my nap had been interrupted by Lahabrea being an absolute idiot.”

She paused for a second and then broke into a laugh prompting me to look at her, raising my brow. “Sorry, I can just… imagine you standing there sulking while Elidibus drones on.”

“A fairly accurate depiction, I’d say,” I remarked with mirth, grinning at her. “In any case, the Ascian here must not be an extremely significant one. There… aren’t many of us left, after all, and Elidibus does not usually bother with restoring shards to office, so it must be one of the few lesser Ascians remaining from when Lahabrea was still alive.”

We continued to make our way towards the settlement, taking in our surroundings and surveying the landscape for potential monster hiding grounds. When we came across a ravine, I peered over the edge and raised a brow. “This looks promising,” I muttered before continuing on without another word.

She hummed with reflection as she also looked over the edge before she came to walk beside me once more. “Promising how?”

“Ravines run deep with energy to be manipulated, my dearest. Away from prying eyes, away from meddlesome heroes. If I were assigned to this shard, I would most certainly start there.”

“I’ve been thinking…” she started, reaching her hand to grasp mine.

“How dangerous,” I teased and she shoved me with her shoulder slightly, causing me to chuckle. “Go on, you were thinking.”

“Wasn’t there already a wind-based calamity? The First Umbral Calamity?”

“Yes, and? The element itself does not matter so long as each element contributes at least once to the Ardor,” I replied and I could feel her mind process this information.

“Then is there a reason it was in that specific order?” she asked then and I glanced down at her from the corner of my eye, watching as she furrowed her brow. “I always assumed it was because the element before feeds into the next one, like on an elemental wheel…”

“The order was a result of…” I paused and sighed. “A game of sorts.”

She halted in her steps abruptly and I turned to face her. Even through her mask, I could see the incredulity of her expression. “You picked the order of the calamities based on a game ?”

“Well, a dare. If you want a more accurate depiction of the scenario.”

“That’s… horrendous,” she said with a heavy sigh. “And whose brilliant idea was it? To murder millions in that specific order for a dare?

I cleared my throat and averted my gaze. “Mine. I believe.” She dropped my hand instantly and I sighed at the traces of disappointment I could feel coming through our tether.

She crossed her arms over her chest, the annoyance radiating off of her and I frowned.

“Does it make it any less abhorrent if it was a shared idea? Lahabrea didn’t think it would be possible to create a plan for each element in sequential order and I wanted to prove him wrong. I figured, if I were to succeed, then the inhabitants of the Source would come to believe exactly what you believed. That these calamitous events were occurring in a specific order and once we arrived at the end of the wheel…”

“We would panic. Thinking it was the end of days,” she bit out. “Well, you were right. During the Seventh Umbral Calamity, everyone figured the world was doomed since there were no more elements left. It does not make it less abhorrent.”

“Yes. I see that now , my dearest hero. At the time, though, it was… entertaining?”

She brought her hands up to cover her mask and groaned before she exhaled slowly and lowered her hands. “He was tempered,” she muttered quietly, as if trying to convince herself before she returned her gaze to mine. “You were tempered, and it’s in the past and everything is different now.”

I nodded slowly, trying to conceal the slight amusement I felt at her reaction. “Shall we continue then?”

When we finally reached the settlement, it became clear to me that this shard was unique compared to the others. The Warrior of Light must have noticed it as well, based on the racing of her mind. I led her into a nearby tavern, which grew silent as soon as we entered, the air full of nervous energy.

“Two of them this time,” one of the patrons whispered and I looked in their direction to see the speaker shrink back and quickly avert her gaze. The hero sighed, lifting her hand to remove her mask and lower her hood, urging me to do the same.

I raised a brow but followed her lead and she looked at me. “They’re terrified of us. The least we can do is reveal our faces to show we’re not monsters,” she commented, and I nodded with a faint smile. For someone who detested being revered as a hero, acting like one came so naturally to her.

I looked around at each of the faces slowly. “I understand one of our companions has come through here lately,” I said to everyone in the room. “We’re interested in knowing where we can find them.”

The man behind the bar spoke up, speaking cautiously. “He said he would be waiting for the hero among us to meet him where the land is sundered. We’ve sent for them already.”

“The ravine, just as you suspected,” the hero murmured looking back at me for a moment before she looked back at the bartender. “Did he do something to frighten you?”

“He… he used sorcery when we refused to answer his questions,” a woman nearby spoke up, the terror clear in her voice. “The guards couldn’t stop him and then he just… vanished.

I nodded thoughtfully and brought my hand to my chin. It’s as I suspected. They do not use magic here, I said to the hero through our bond and she gave me a barely perceptive nod in response. I wonder if it’s isolated to this settlement or...

I had a feeling, she replied. Everything throughout the town was being done manually.

“Thank you for your time. Did he hurt anyone or damage anything?” she asked the bartender and he nodded, gesturing towards a pile of broken wood that had been swept into the corner of the tavern. “But no injuries?” He shook his head and the hero exhaled with relief.

I raised my hand and snapped, the tables, chairs, and barrels of ale that had been destroyed disappearing, inciting a chorus of gasps throughout the room. With a flick of her wrist, the Warrior of Light replaced them and the patrons murmured amongst themselves with disbelief.

“Let’s go,” she said with conviction, turning on her heel and leaving as she lifted her hood once more, her mask disappearing from her hand with another flick of her wrist.

When we entered the town square, I reached for her shoulder to stop her. She stopped with a sigh, turning to face me, her mind frantic after learning the inhabitants of this shard could not manipulate aether. The inhabitants of the town watched us warily, keeping their distance, and I sighed, snapping my fingers to create a barrier around us, keeping us away from prying ears.

“With no magic, it will be difficult to know if this singular hero the bartender spoke of is the one with your soul fragment,” I started. “But I would imagine that if the Ascian has issued a challenge to the hero of this particular settlement, they are looking for the Warrior of Light, just as we are.”

I hesitated for a moment and she looked down, undoubtedly reaching the same conclusion I had. “Which means, of course, that the hero with your shard is alive. I can seek her out without you if you would rather not be present for the inevitable defeat required for you to absorb the fragment.”

She looked up at me and shook her head, steeling herself. “I should be there.”

I sighed and reached my hand up to cup the side of her face. “Why must you insist on keeping up this brave front, my beloved? There’s nothing wrong with protecting yourself from something as painful as this. She likely cannot use magic, and we Ascians can. She does not stand a chance.”

She pursed her lips before forcing a small smile. “If the roles were reversed… I would want her there for me too.”

I searched her eyes for a moment before nodding. “Alright. To the ravine then.”

Once we arrived at the ravine through a void portal, we could hear the sound of combat in the distance. The Warrior of Light tensed beside me and took a step forward towards it before I reached my arm out to stop her. “I’ll go on ahead, my dear. Wait here for a moment.”

She frowned and I turned my head to look at her. “The other Ascian is here. He will recognize me, but not you,” I explained. “We don’t want things to escalate to the point where the soul fragment is no longer retrievable.” She hesitated but nodded slightly and I leaned down to press a kiss on her forehead before I walked ahead. I had a sinking feeling that the hero of this shard would not survive this battle, given the amount of aether accumulated in the area ahead, and I truthfully did not want the Warrior of Light to watch the death of a hero with a role so similar to her own on the Fourth.

As I approached, I could make out the sounds of multiple combatants, but their voices were panicked, and finally, there was a scream from one of them urging the others to run. It echoed through the ravine and I looked back to see the hero tense and take a step forward. Two pained yells reverberated along the walls and she shook her head, her hands clenched into fists at her sides, trying to resist her drive to come and save them. I furrowed my brow as I examined their pale and diluted souls, shaking my head. 

I turned the corner then and watched as a wind-based fiend finished off the final combatant that had come to try to defend the town. I glanced around at the carnage with a heavy sigh as the monster that had impaled the leader in light armor withdrew its blade, dropping the body among those of his three companions.

A void portal opened in the distance and I called out to the figure that stepped out. “The Warrior of Light is not among these combatants, I hope you’re aware. A waste of time and energy.”

He balked at the bite in my tone and turned to look at me, taking in my Convocation robes and dropping to one knee, realizing my position as a Paragon. I could hear the swift footfalls of the Warrior of Light approaching and I looked over my shoulder to see her turn the corner, unable to stop herself after hearing the sounds of the battle come to an end. She gasped and brought her hands to cover her mouth, and I could feel the pain her chest as if it were my own as she took in the scene before her.

I looked back at the Ascian and walked over, standing over him with a frown. I raised my hand, summoning floating arcane blades with a snap and sent them flying into the monsters that had overwhelmed the fallen heroes of the nearby town. 

“What was your name?” I asked and he opened his mouth to respond before I held a hand up to stop him. “Nevermind, I actually don’t care. You’re one of Lahabrea’s little creations I take it, based on your lack of tact and intelligence.” I snapped my fingers and the blades, having defeated the monsters that swarmed the ravine, disappeared as I pinched the bridge of my nose. 

“Leave this place before I change my mind,” I bit out and he scrambled to his feet. “But in light of your master’s absence, you’ll be reporting to me from now on. Anything you find, any news of the Warrior of Light… passes through me.”

With a nod and a deep bow, the lesser Ascian passed through a void portal and was gone.

The Warrior of Light frowned as she took in the carnage in front of her, kneeling next to the bodies one at a time and I sighed when she looked up at me. “None of these are…” she trailed off and I nodded, confirming her suspicions.

“Pointless deaths, but at the very least we know the Warrior of Light is not in this area,” I muttered. “Hopefully that fool will find some information that we do not and report it to me, and we can find your fragment before he does. Although… I suppose his finding the hero before us may not be the worst thing to happen,” I concluded with a frown. “Since we need the soul fragment.”

She averted her gaze and looked down with a nod, taking in the bodies of the fallen defenders of the nearby town. “What do we do about them?”

“As much as I detest leaving them here-”

“We can’t,” she said, looking back at me with conviction in her tone and expression. “They deserve to go home to their families.”

I hesitated, taking in her expression with a frown, but nodded and raised my hand, snapping my fingers and the bodies disappeared. “They’ll be discovered by morning then. It will give us time to put distance between ourselves and their town.”

When we made our way back to the settlement, and with a flick of her wrist, she changed our outfits to match those she had seen in our first pass through the town. When we arrived outside the gates, she took a deep breath. 

“I wonder how long it will take for word to spread about the magic-wielding visitors who came and now their heroes are dead,” she whispered, her profound sadness reaching me, and I glanced down at her from the corner of my eye for a moment before surveying the area in front of us once more.

I pointed at a building with an envelope on its sign. “As quickly as it takes their couriers to travel with the news,” I offered. “We could ask them, and while we’re there, perhaps we can find ourselves a map.”

She nodded solemnly and I reached my hand for hers as I began to walk towards the building. “Is this how you did things when you were trying to gain information on wherever you were trying to bring about an imbalance?” she asked bitterly as she considered the Ascian’s actions and my own thought processes. I paused mid-stride, looking over my shoulder at her with a raised brow.

“No, as a matter of fact,” I said, turning to face her once more. “I watched from the shadows to get my information, not unlike how I watched you on the First.”

She huffed, her gaze avoiding mine and I raised my free hand to her chin, coaxing her to look at me. When she did, I cupped the side of her face. 

“I know this is not easy for you, and believe me, it is difficult for me as well. But we will try our best to find your fragment and hopefully, she is an elderly woman on the verge of perishing to natural causes. The last thing I want is to watch you suffer over the death of this shard’s Warrior of Light, so if I can avoid it, I will.”

Pressing my lips softly to her forehead, I squeezed her hand with a reassuring wave through our bond before I turned once more, continuing towards our previous destination. A quick conversation with the woman at the desk yielded substantial information about the shard, in particular about the territory we were currently in, and after a glance around the room, I picked up a folded map, holding it up to her. “Is this up to date?” I inquired and she tilted her head.

“Yes, it has all the travel routes to and from the nearby towns,” she explained and I unfolded it, laying it on the counter in front of her. 

“So the largest city nearby is…?” I pointed at a sketch of a castle labeled Silverkeep that was relatively central on the map and I could see the woman nod. “And we are where, exactly?”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” she asked and I hummed as I shook my head.

“I am not, that is correct,” I said, offering her a charming smile and I could practically feel the Warrior of Light’s eyes roll when the woman blushed. “Perhaps I can tell you all about where I’m from when I return, but to do that, I must know where to return to.”

She nodded, looking down at the map and pointing at a small town far from the capital. “This is Millstone, named because-”

“Of the lumbar mill and the mine,” I interjected and she nodded with enthusiasm. “Yes, I noticed them on my way in. Could you tell me a bit about Silverkeep?”

As she explained that Silverkeep was the castle for the lord of this territory, the Warrior of Light looked through the books on the nearby shelf, trying to find any information that could help us on our journey. The woman regaled me with tales of their lord and how fair and just he was, that he had a militia of the best fighters that he would send to defend the towns under his banner if they were ever attacked by bandits or by other lords from other castles and I nodded, as I unfolded the map once more, scanning the perimeter to find information on these other castles and noted it to be faded out intentionally, to keep the lord’s subjects in the dark about the world outside of their borders.

“I wonder if you could, perhaps, enlighten me on one last thing,” I said when she finished her explanation and she looked up at me. “Why is there so much fear of mages here?”

Her eyes widened and she looked around quickly as if I had said a forbidden word. “The Lord forbids magic,” she explained in a hushed tone. “Anyone found to yield it is put to death.”

“Yet he is just and fair,” I mused. “Mages would aid in his battles against the neighboring lords, so why forbid it?”

She averted her gaze, shaking her head. “I’m afraid I cannot tell you such things,” she said, quietly and I nodded, placing a satchel of coins I had Created prior to entering on the counter. 

“Thank you, nonetheless, for the map and for the lesson.”

When we left the building, I took the hero’s hand and pulled her into an alleyway, creating a portal. “Silverkeep is where we’ll begin our search,” I started with a playful smirk. “Your kind tends to gravitate to the largest cities to find adventure and glory.”

When we arrived on the other side of the portal, it was in an equally secluded alleyway and she raised a brow at me. “How did you… how could you possibly have set an exit point so precisely if you’ve never been here?”

I chuckled, lacing my fingers between hers as we made our way into the heart of Silverkeep, the inhabitants going about their day, soldiers patrolling the city. “I’ve been alive for thousands of years. That’s a long time to hone a skill, my dearest.”

“Apparently you’ve honed the skill of flirting too,” she quipped and I breathed a laugh, shaking my head.

“Do you think you could have done better? The moment we walked in the door her eyes went to me, and so I took advantage of her obvious interest to get information out of her. If it bothers you, I won’t do it again.”

She shrugged a shoulder with a slight pout.

“I’m sure it goes without saying,” I murmured as I ran my thumb along her knuckles reassuringly while we walked through the streets of the city, “that any flirtation was purely strategic.”

The following days were spent trying to uncover information about the way this shard worked, and it became clear to both of us that there was something suspicious about the lord of Silverkeep. When we retired for the night, having gone separate ways throughout the day to try to find out as much as we could to try to find a way to pinpoint the location of the shard’s hero, we sat at the table discussing the information we uncovered.

“There’s a militia headquarters, essentially an adventurer’s guild,” the hero started. “It seems that the lord of the city, who no adventurer seems to know the name of, has a hand in assigning rank and profession to anyone who enters the city.”

I nodded thoughtfully. “That explains why those who were working in the lumbar yard were from Millstone,” I said, bringing my hand to my chin. “If they’ve done it all their lives, they’d be adept at it as a profession. The majority of the troops training archery were from Wolfpine, which I’ve come to understand is a hunting village.”

“From what I can tell,” she started, pulling out a page from her pocket in which she had sketched a map of the city, pointing at a building. “When you first enter Silverkeep, you’re supposed to go here, to fill out your paperwork with your identification prior to visiting the headquarters.”

“What is the purpose of the headquarters? Could you tell from your scouting?” She shook her head.

“You’re not permitted entry without proper identification,” she murmured and I nodded. “I’ve yet to see what the identification looks like, so we can’t even Create them.”

“The lord of the city seems to have things well controlled,” I mused. “It’s almost as if… he’s creating an army for a very specific purpose.”

“Is he working with the Ascian, do you think? For the Ardor?” I nodded at her, pursing my lips as I crossed my arms over my chest, leaning back in the seat.

“I went straight to leadership on the First once it became evident that the plans for the shard were falling apart, as I’m sure you can recall. The greediest among them being Vauthry’s father. The lord of Silverkeep must have something about him that is easy to manipulate. Fear, greed…”

“So he’s not as dumb as you originally thought, the lesser Ascian that Lahabrea created.”

“No, I’m sure he’s just as unintelligent as originally evaluated to be, but he likely has guidance from someone who is not . Elidibus, perhaps.”

“Do you think, if he’s reported to Elidibus, that he’s been told not to report to you?”

I hummed as I considered this with a slow nod. “It’s possible since we’ve yet to hear anything from him and it’s been a couple of days. He should have found something by now, but he could also be grossly incompetent.”

The following day, we set out to the militia headquarters together, standing to the side behind some stacked crates, out of sight of the population. I narrowed my eyes as I examined the building, trying to pinpoint a location that was relatively abandoned. “There’s a stock room of some kind,” I muttered. “Based on how someone appears to keep coming in and out of the room at regular intervals. We could portal in there. Incapacitate the witness if needed.” I looked down at the Warrior of Light and she nodded, taking my hand as I offered it and created a portal. When we exited, there thankfully was no one else in the room. “We should move quickly. The hallway is empty for the time being,” I muttered and she nodded, going to the door and opening it slowly, and slipping out as I followed close behind.

As we wandered the hallways cautiously, we could hear a commotion start above us and the sound of guards rushing down the hall behind us. I looked up, examining the souls above us and breathed a laugh, taking in the distinct color I saw being surrounded by a myriad of other colors.

“Make way! There’s been a report of a mage within the headquarters!” one of the men behind us exclaimed and I looked at the Warrior with a raised brow as they rushed passed.

“Would you opposed to saving said mage?” I said and she sighed with a soft smile. “I believe you’ll find her interesting to meet.”

“Now who’s being heroic?” she teased and I shrugged a shoulder as I opened a portal for us, bringing us just outside the door of the room opposite the door in which the soldiers were filing in. I watched as the single soul flickered with the collection of aether before an explosion rang out on the other side of the door, accompanied by a cacophony caused by the armored soldiers falling to the ground. 

“I suppose she doesn’t need saving,” I mused and the hero looked up at me with confusion flitting through our tether. Moments later, the door in front of us opened and a young woman, similar enough in appearance to the Warrior of Light burst through, covered in soot from her spell. She collided with the hero, a flash of light filling the room at their union and gasps filled the air as the onlookers took in the sight.  

A laugh bubbled within me at the sight of the two struggling to stand and I reached down to help the Source’s hero to her feet while her fragment stood as well before I could hear the sound of weapons being drawn. Looking to the side, I sighed, the chuckle making its way through my lips before I looked down at the pair beside me.

“No matter the shard, you always seem to do something that troubles the natives, my dearest. Consider me impressed.”

With the snap of my fingers, the door slammed shut in front of us, allowing the Warrior of Light to create a portal to the inn room we had been staying in, pulling her fragment through despite her protests and I followed close behind.

Chapter Text

When the portal closed, the hero that was a piece of me looked around at her surroundings, eyes wide, reaching back to grip her bow.

“We were just-” Her head whipped around as she talked, as if she couldn’t believe we were in a totally different place. I held my hands up to show her that we meant no harm. “But-”

“It’s alright,” I said. “The guards would have arrested us on the spot and we would’ve been sentenced to death.” She looked me up and down. “We didn’t mean to scare you but we had to move quickly.”

The room grew quiet  as she took the both of us in, her heavy breathing the only sound. She chewed on the inside of her mouth, but finally relaxed and released her weapon. She crossed her arms over her chest.

“What’s going on?” My eyes went to Hades. “What...was that bright light?”

What...do we tell her? I asked him over the bond. He lifted a hand to his mouth in thought. 

I imagine, my dearest, the truth?  

“Yes, I would appreciate the truth.” Both of our eyes shot to her. 

“You heard that?” She looked at me as if I had gone insane.

“Of course I heard it,” she answered, looking between us, then pointed at the Ascian. “He said it, didn’t he?” Hades huffed a laugh and shook his head. She frowned at his reaction.

“Please,” he started. “Calm down. I can feel your-”

“Then tell me what in the Hells is going on!” she ordered, loudly. I sighed and dropped onto the bed. 

“We’re...not from around here.” The hero scoffed and shook her head. I motioned to the desk chair behind her.

“As if I couldn’t tell?” she quipped as she pulled it out and sat, crossing one leg over the other. “Using magic as if you didn’t know it was illegal. As if you weren’t from the planet at all, as if that was possible.” I averted my gaze from her for a moment and cleared my throat. She narrowed her eyes at me. “There’s no way-”

“I know the Mother speaks to you,” I said, quickly, cutting her off. She paused, eyebrows shooting up. “She speaks to me, too. We’re here because of Her. The light you saw...is because you and I are connected.” I held out my hand to her, palm up. She looked down at it for a moment, skeptical, but with a sigh, laid her hand in mine. The bright light shone again and she quickly pulled her hand back.

“And what is it you want with me?” she asked after taking a deep breath. 

“Well, we…” I looked at Hades for a moment, who nodded. “We know the lord of this city is being manipulated. The reason magic is-”

“The Wardens said as much,” the hero interjected. I tilted my head, an unasked question in my mind. “My companions. They said they’d felt the presence of this...we call them Shadow Walkers. That’s why we came here, to this town.”

“How very inaccurate,” Hades spoke up. Her attention shot to him for a moment and he shrugged. “It’s called the Void. They walk through the Void- though an even more correct term would be Interdimensional Rift.” She furrowed her brow.

“How do you-”

“We have them where we come from, as well,” I explained. “Just… be careful.”

“You came all the way here just to tell me to be careful?” she asked, incredulously, raising one brow at us. 

“It’s difficult to-” 

Suddenly, she held up a finger and placed her other hand over her ear. She nodded a few times. A linkshell of sorts, perhaps?

“I’ll be there.” The hero stood up. “I need to go,” she announced and started for the door. “I’ll do as you ask and be wary, but I will not forsake my duty in favor of safety.” I nodded to her, my understanding better than she would ever know. 

“I hope...we meet again.” She gave me a curt nod and was gone. 

“If we are to collect her soul, we cannot intervene,” he said, sternly, as he stared at the chair she had vacated.

“I know,” I said with a sigh. “She could hear you through the bond.”

“Yes,” he agreed with a nod and sat down next to me. “The close proximity, likely.” I made a noncommittal noise and laid back onto the mattress. “I almost wonder if we should head to another shard for the time being. Perhaps time passes faster on one of them than it does here.” He leaned over me and placed a soft kiss on my lips. I placed my hands on both sides of his face and inhaled his scent. “But for tonight, we should rest.”

Later that night, I was awoken suddenly to Hades saying my name in the pitch black of our room. I could feel his tension and instantly, I knew there was something wrong with the Warrior of Light.

“She’s with the Ascian,” he said and snapped his fingers, both of us instantly clothed in our Convocation robes. 

“We can’t intervene,” I protested, though I wanted to with my entire being. He took a deep breath.

“He will kill her tonight.” 

I chewed on the inside of my mouth for a moment, turning his words over in my head. Hydaelyn had said we couldn’t harm them, not that we couldn’t help them. But on the other hand, how long would it take for another opportunity to arise? Could we save her tonight and travel to another shard in hopes that time ran more swiftly? When my indecisiveness reached him, he reached down to take my hand. 

“Stalling will spell her fate,” he said. I nodded, and when he opened the portal, we walked through together. 

When we appeared on the other side, the hero of the Fourth was the only one left standing, her friends’ bodies lying in the dirt around her, the lesser Ascian hovering in the air in front of her. He turned his head when he saw us and tensed. She furrowed her brow and turned toward us as well. The Ascian saw his opening and lifted his hand, building up his power. 

I tore my mask off my face, and shouted for her to pay attention, but betrayal crossed her face when she recognized me. 

“You-”

“No!” 

I stepped forward, meaning to go to her, but Hades moved next to me, gripping my arm and pushing me behind him as he shot a blade of arcane energy towards his floating comrade. Before it reached him, he released a bolt of purple lightning into the back of the Warrior. She gasped as it hit her, eyes wide. We stared at each other, frozen for a few long seconds before the bow slipped from her hand and she collapsed.

The blade sunk into his chest and he dropped to the ground. I could feel Hades’ anger rolling off of him in waves as he made his way over to the lesser Ascian. He seethed for a few moments, trying to form words as he stared down at the man. I watched his aether violently swirl around him, picking up speed as he gathered it to his hand. 

“Do you know the difference between you and I?” he began as he bent down to lift his comrade by the cowl of his robe. “I can remove your pathetic existence from ever returning to the mortal realm with the aether I hold in my hand.” He lifted his arm, showing off the swirling power in his palm. “You had two jobs. Not kill the Warrior of Light and to report to me when you’d found her. You failed at both. You seem to lack the power and intelligence to do anything but attack a helpless child. I would not normally get involved with the workings of those so far beneath me, but in this case,  I will make an exception.”

I turned my head towards the fallen hero as he poured his darkness into the man and slowly made my way to her, tears welling in my eyes. I knelt next to her, water spilling down my cheeks as I saw her chest weakly rising and falling. I looked up at Hades, quickly, to find him watching me as the other Ascian disappeared on the wind in dark particles.

“She-she’s still alive,” I stuttered. He nodded and walked over to us, kneeling across from me, on the other side of the girl between us. He looked down at her, the bond swelling with sadness as he took in her face, so very similar to mine. He reached down and brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face.

“The Blessing of Light makes her stronger than the rest,” he said, softly. “But of course, you know that.” I watched as he leaned down and scooped her into his arms. Her eyes opened and she tensed as she took in his mask and robes. He removed his mask and shushed her as she tried to struggle with the little strength she had left.

“It’s alright,” he whispered to her, and I could feel him trying to comfort her over the bond. “I know all you’ve known from these robes is pain and hardship, but just know there is so much you don’t know or understand, my dear hero. So much we were not able to tell you.” I watched as tears formed in the corner of her eyes and suddenly, I was unable to handle it. I closed my eyes and turned away, a sob quickly clawing its way up my throat. 

“You and your friends have fought well,” he continued, gently, a slight waver in his voice. She reminded him so much of me- “I apologize that we could not save you, but I promise that your death will not be in vain.” 

I stood. I had to move, get out of earshot. I couldn’t listen- I couldn’t-

“Close your eyes,” he said to her. I watched in my minds’ eye as he showed her the same meteor shower he’d shown me. She released a shaky breath of relief. “Let me take it from here, brave Warrior. Your world is safe now.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, her voice fading. “Hades…”

My shoulders shook as the hero of the Fourth took her last breath. Now that she was gone, I was mortified, knowing she was a part of me, and that I had not been strong enough to be there for her. To hold her hand and comfort her. The shame I felt overwhelmed all of my senses and the sob escaped from my mouth as I broke down.

My knees grew weak under me and I dropped to the ground, fisting my hands into the dirt as tears streamed uncontrollably down my cheeks, dripping off my chin.

I hadn’t been strong enough. I wasn’t-

I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see Hades kneeling next to me, his expression worried and sad.

“Oh, my dearest hero,” he said, quietly, raising his hand to wipe away a stream of tears with his thumb. He took my face in his hands and looked me square in the eyes. “You are strong enough.” He wrapped his arms around my shoulders, pulling me against him in a tight, comforting embrace. “This is not something you should have ever been faced with. You can’t blame yourself. Try as I might, I was unable to stop it. I’m sorry.”

I buried my face in the crook of his neck and shook my head, but the tears didnt stop. I latched on to him, my fingers digging into his back as I hugged him. I knew this was not going to be easy, and I knew he had no reason to be sorry. In her moment of need, I had abandoned her, and now here he was, comforting me after laying her to rest, his sadness so profound…

I felt like such a failure.

He stroked my hair with one hand, laying small kisses on the shell of my ear and whispering reassuring words until my shaking had stopped and I no longer had anything left in me to cry.

When he felt I was ready, he pulled away and held me at arm’s length, searching my eyes, an unasked question in his own. I nodded and he helped me up to my feet again, leading me over to where he had laid the fallen hero. I knelt over her, and with a shaky breath, put my hand over her chest.

A bright light shone underneath my palm and I lifted my hand again, the orb that was her soul rising with it. I let it hover for a moment, watching the brilliant rays of its lights shine over her cooling body before leading it to my own chest. I closed my eyes as my body absorbed it, the warmth of my own soul flowing through me, accepting the shard as an old friend returned home. I sighed, relief filling me at the feeling.

A melody played in my head, notes of a piano played with such clarity that it could have been right next to me, though something was...missing. 

The words of a language, lost to time ran through my head... It was all so familiar to me, but also foreign.

Then, all at once, I was thrust back into reality, the sadness I’d felt for the death of the warrior under me hitting me again with force. I slumped, exhaling a long breath. If I’d had anymore tears to cry, they would be threatening to return.

I heard a sigh behind me as Hades walked up to me. He held out his hand to me and I slid my fingers into his so that he could help me to my feet. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into him.

“Why don’t we stay here for a few more days and...explore?” he asked, a small, reassuring smile appearing on his face, and I knew it was solely meant to help me feel better. I frowned in response, though.

“Can’t we just head back to the First?” I looked away from him and down to the ground.

“If we stay and get to know the area,” he started, squeezing me. “You might feel closer to her.” I chewed on the inside of my mouth for a long moment and looked toward the horizon. The dark of the sky had started lightening to purple as the sun rose.  

“Okay,” I assented, quietly and sighed. “But you expended an immense amount of aether tonight and I’m tired.” He nodded and opened a portal back to our room, where I gladly let the pull of sleep take me away from reality.

We woke in the early afternoon. I could feel that my eyes were still swollen from crying the night before, but with a snap, Hades had us dressed and he dragged me out the door. When we arrived in the shopping district of the city, he twined his fingers with mine and pulled me along from shop to shop, trying to make me laugh by whispering jokes into my ear about the ridiculous styles of clothing they had on this shard. 

He was able to draw a small smile out of me over a particularly brightly colored pair of pants that seemed to puff out at the top of the legs and looked wholly useless and pompous. 

“They’re generally reserved for the members of the aristocracy,” he informed me. I breathed a laugh, the corners of my lips tugging upward.

“I feel sorry for them,” I said. “That they dress in this absurd fashion.”

When we settled into our inn room again that night, however, my mood quickly shifted without the bustling movement of the town around me. The quiet gave me time to think, and my mind instantly wandered to the hero...and how she would never be able to enjoy her world again. Guilt easily laid over me- that I was here, learning about her home, when she should never again step foot inside of it. How did I deserve to still be here when she was not?

I sat down on the bed and peeled my shirt off of my back, a sudden wave of exhaustion hitting me. I knew Hades could feel my brooding, but didn’t say anything as I slid under the covers and curled up on my side, back facing him. I felt his eyes examining me for a few moments before he joined me, extinguishing the lights with a snap, and wrapping his arms around my waist. He pulled me into him and leaned over to press a soft kiss to my cheek, sending me a wave of comfort through the bond before laying his head on the pillow behind me to go to sleep. 

In the morning, we walked through a portal that took us to a port city called Moonbright. As I took in my surroundings, I realized just how similar to Limsa Lominsa it was. 

Hades took my hand again and led me through town, stopping in the food quarter to find us something to eat for breakfast. He came to a stop in front of a stall and examined what they were preparing before turning to me.

“Is this okay?” I watched for a few moments, but scrunched up my nose, something inside me telling me that this particular stall wouldn’t be to my liking.

“No, I…,” I started. I furrowed my brow. “I think this shard of my soul hated this food.” I looked up to him and he raised a brow.

“Interesting,” he mused, lifting his free hand to his chin as he stared down at me. I looked back down at the counter. If it was true that her likes and dislikes had become a part of me, then...Persephone…

I felt a tug on my hand as he dragged me to the next stall.

“Don’t think about it,” he said as I followed along. He flashed me a playful grin. “Just find us something decent to eat.” I rolled my eyes but was unable to stop the smile that spread across my mouth, the uncertainty not gone, but buried for the time being. 

We spent the day wandering. When the sun started to go down and I was ready to find lodging for the evening, Hades came to a stop, eyes trained towards the beach. 

“What is it?” I asked him, looking as well, though all I could see were houses.

“I’m unsure,” he answered, eyes trying to focus. “A large congregation of souls down by the water. A festival, perhaps?” My shoulders slumped slightly at the thought of attending, but he turned back to me, raising my hand to his mouth and brushed his lips against my knuckles. “Humor me?” I sighed through my nose and nodded.

The shore was alight with paper lanterns strung down aisles and aisles of booths and kiosks full of games and food and crafts. It reminded me of the Moonfire Faire back on the Source and my heart swelled with joy. I’d always loved the Faire.

Pleased by my change in attitude, Hades tucked my arm through his and we walked down each aisle, pausing to watch children play games for prizes. I smiled as I watched a small girl pluck a small wooden duck from a pool of water and turn it over to reveal her prize. She squealed as the attendant handed her a stuffed spriggan toy. She hugged it tightly and turned back to her parents to show it off to them. 

When I turned back to my Ascian, he had a wistful smile on his face as he watched as well. When he noticed me staring, he cleared his throat and held out a cup of shaved ice covered in a fruit-flavored syrup. I took it from him and lifted the spoon to my mouth, savoring the sweet taste on my tongue until the ice melted. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. 

“Do you like it?” he asked, tucking a lock of my hair behind my ear. I sighed and nodded.

“It reminds me…,” I started, but a jolt of sadness suddenly shocked me, my smile faltering. “Of home.” I looked down at the cup in my hand. Guilt coursed through me again as I realized that I’d been having fun while...this hero, this fragment of my soul...would never be able to set foot in her home again. Did she also enjoy festivals and sweet snacks?

Hades watched me carefully as my mood shifted quickly. I looked into his eyes, unable to keep the sorrow from my expression. He nodded his understanding and put a hand on my cheek, his thumb running over the bone.

“Would you like to know what helps me grieve, my beloved?” I looked down at the dirt and nodded. “Music. Come,” he began again, leaning down to my level, holding his hand towards me. “I remember passing a music store earlier and shops stay open later during festivals, right?”

I hesitated for a moment. I had never...really been proficient in music and didn’t understand how it could possibly help me , but I felt a tug on the bond. When I looked up at him, he smiled warmly.

I nodded, slowly, and he wrapped an arm around me as we walked back towards the city.

When we stumbled upon a small, humble music shop, I took a look around. The instruments were rough-hewn, not a drop of varnish, but Hades approached each, a hand on his chin as he examined them all. He ran his other hand down the side of a stringed instrument and turned to the shopkeep, who looked to be working to close up for the night.

“These are expertly made,” he praised, and my eyes widened at his words.

“T-thank you, sir!” the man stuttered, putting his cloth down and coming around from behind the counter. He smiled, brightly. They continued exchanging words as I wandered the store, my interest quickly waning. I’d never taken up an instrument...never had the time. But when I came across a piano in the corner, I paused. It was painted black, probably the best looking piece in the whole store.

I lifted my hand to the lid and hesitated for a moment, but I felt like it was calling to me, somehow. I furrowed my brow and listened to my body, sliding on to the bench. I ran my fingers over the white keys, the melody playing through my mind again. I closed my eyes and allowed my hands to hover over the board, taking a deep breath. When I pressed down on the keys, I suddenly wasn’t able to stop.

Hades stopped his conversation when he heard my song, surprise and confusion flitting down the bond, but I ignored the questions his mind sent to me.

My song continued, rough and unpolished like many of the instruments in this shop. I made mistakes, fingers stumbling over the keys, but my hands kept moving nonetheless.

Something was missing...another sound, another melody…

When I stopped, the Ascian was standing next to me, looking at me curiously.

“I...didn’t know you could play the piano.” I looked down at the keyboard again.

“I can’t,” I said, furrowing my brow. “I’ve never touched…” He placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, then turned back to the other man.

“We’ll take the cello,” he said with finality. The shopkeep quickly went to work packaging up the instrument.

A while later, Hades led me into an inn room we’d rented for the night. He sat the cello case on the floor at the foot of the bed and I dropped myself onto the mattress. All I wanted to do was go to sleep.

“It’s still early, my dearest. I’m not allowing you to sleep yet,” he said as he snapped, the dresser and desk disappearing from the room, creating a large, open area.

“Why did you buy this?” I asked, looking down at the case. “You could’ve just Created one.”

“I’ve always invested in those that contribute to the arts.” He moved the remaining chair to the side and put his hands on his hips. “You know that I don’t lie. His instruments are very well made. If we were back in the Empire, I would have certainly been his benefactor.”

“I’ve been curious. Why is it that you don’t lie?” He sighed.

“I knew you would ask, eventually.” He looked at me, a sad smile on his face. “As you well know now, I lied to Persephone and…” He looked down at the floor. “It was the biggest mistake I’ve made in my entire, long life. I prefer to stick to the truth, even if I often tend to skirt around it.” I nodded and looked down at my lap. He blew out a breath and looked around at the space he’d created.  “This should be enough room.” One more snap later and a piano similar to the one I’d played earlier stood in our room.

I opened my mouth to argue, but he gave me a look.

“Humor me for a while, would you?” I pouted my lips and he made his way over to me. He’d asked me that same thing earlier, knowing I didn’t really have it in me to fight him. “I promise it will help.” He leaned down, bringing his face down to mine. My breath caught as he did, but he continued down and grabbed the handle of the cello case. When he pulled back, he had a smirk on his lips and I clenched my jaw.

“Be nice,” I ordered, crossing my arms over my chest.

He moved to the chair and sat down, opening the case and carefully lifting the instrument out, then set it between his legs. He leaned back over, taking the bow in his hand and setting it against the strings.

I inhaled a sharp breath when he started playing, the song low and sad, my heart squeezing in my chest. It reverberated in my very soul and my lips parted, the tempo picking up as his fingers expertly moved from one position to another. My heart beat faster, water stinging my eyes once again, but eventually the storm of music that was brewing under his hands made way out of tempestuous waters, calming and slow. Hopeful.

I gripped the blanket I was sitting on.

I looked at his face as he played. His eyes were closed- so masterful in his art he didn’t even need to see the strings as his fingers expertly hit each note. His lips were a thin, hard line as he concentrated, giving himself over to the music. I’d never seen him so passionate about anything, except possibly the Rejoining.

But no matter how beautiful his song was...I still felt something was missing.

My fingers itched to move along to the music...I couldn’t explain the feeling, much like the one I had felt earlier in the shop.

When the song ended, he opened his eyes and looked over to me. I watched him in silence, my breathing quick, my fingers still fisted in the blanket. His eyes drifted to the piano he’d Created, a silent request for me to join him.

I chewed on the inside of my mouth, uncertainty filling me. He smiled at me.

“No need to be scared, my dearest. Just play the song you played earlier,” he said, encouragingly enough that I stood, slowly, and did as he’d asked. I looked down at the keys, feeling daunted by how well he’d played.

I took a deep breath and raised my hands.

Ready? He asked in my head. I blew out my breath and nodded.

When the song began, my hands started flying over the keyboard again, better this time, but still not perfect.

The melody I played was a match to his and realization struck me. He’d known what I was playing in the shop. With another piece of my soul a part of the whole...Did Persephone play the piano with him, I wondered?

I closed my eyes, putting everything I was feeling into the movement and little by little, I felt my mood improving.

And finally, the song felt complete.

Chapter Text

How long had it been?

How many thousands of years had passed since I had been able to revel in this particular feeling?

The feeling of the synchronized pulsation between my soul and that of my soulmate while music floated into the air from our fingertips?

When I heard the distinct tinkering of the piano at the back of the shop, playing the piece that we had composed together, my heart filled with a longing I had long since pushed aside. It caught me by surprise that she appeared to know how to play, but when the Warrior of Light admitted that she had never played the piano before, I immediately understood.

The soul fragment she had absorbed from the fallen hero of this shard had contained the passion for music, something that had run so profoundly through the originator of her soul that I was not sure how I didn’t expect such a thing to eventually transpire. I had assumed this aspect of our connection would be lost forever, that perhaps, with time, I could rekindle her ability and interest in music for my own selfish desires.

But it appeared that would not be necessary. 

As my fingers moved along the strings, responding to the melody coming from the hero’s piano playing as if we were dancing, my heart swelled with a joy that only performing music with her could elicit. I bounced my bow with a light and playful spiccato, smiling as I watched the Warrior of Light close her eyes and allow herself to remember the music without the doubt watching her fingers on the keys had caused her.

The melody of the piece shifted, her fingers lightly teasing at the keys to imitate the plucking of the cello strings I had just completed at the transition, and I could not stop the sigh that escaped me as I placed my bow to the string once more to match my notes with hers. 

As full of longing as the piece was meant to be, there was a tenderness behind the Warrior of Light’s playing that surrounded me, enveloping me in the warm embrace of her affection.

I slowly stopped my playing as the piece proceeded through a particularly melodic piano solo, able to standalone, and urged my beloved to continue her playing through our bond. Placing the cello down on its side, I gently placed the bow atop it, standing from the chair to stand behind her as she continued. 

I felt her mood improving throughout our duet, but when she continued on her own, she truly welcomed her newly restored abilities and simply… played. She imbued the piece with every emotion she had been feeling, pouring her sadness into the keys. I gently placed my hands on her shoulders, and she leaned her head to the side to lay against my arm, the tone of her performance changing at the contact.

A corner of my mouth tilted up as she began to color her playing with hope, joy, and appreciation. Within mere moments of discovering the music within her soul, she had changed what had previously been written to be her own. She slowly came to conclude her performance, her hands lingering on the keys as she exhaled slowly.

“You were right. Music did help,” she said softly. “Did you and Persephone play that together?”

“We composed a piece, similar to that one,” I replied gently. “But the one you just played was your own.”

“Thank you, my beloved, for allowing me to share this moment with you,” I whispered and she slowly moved to turn around on the bench as I lifted my hands from her shoulders, placing them on either side of her on top of the piano.

She smiled up at me and shook her head. “I don’t think I did anything that amazing, Hades. You’re just… biased.”

I huffed a laugh, leaning down slightly to bring my face closer to hers, my eyes flicking down to her lips when she sucked in a breath, her lips parting slightly. “You never cease to amaze me.”

Her cheeks flushed and she moved her hands to rest to her sides on the piano bench, leaning back slightly to look up at me more clearly. I leaned in closer still as she leaned further back, her elbows coming to press the keys behind her, the discordant sound the instrument made echoing through the room. 

I exhaled slowly, allowing her a glimpse of how she had affected me with her playing through our bond, the sheer unadulterated joy she had rekindled within me that performing music together with her had brought me. Her eyes fluttered shut as a soft smile crossed her lips.

I leaned in to close the distance between our lips then, and she inhaled sharply, bringing one of her hands up to the back of my head, her fingers weaving in my hair. I kissed her slowly, tenderly, allowing an outpouring of love and affection to reach her through our tether. I could feel the same sentiment reach out from her, meeting with my own and I hummed against her lips. 

As I slid my hands from their position on the piano to her back to support her, she moved her other hand to the side of my face. I bent down then, my hands coming to rest on her backside as I lifted her from the bench, bringing her flush against my body, her legs sliding up to wrap around my waist.

With a snap of my fingers, the lid of the grand piano shut, and I carried her over to seat her on top of it. She broke the kiss then, her eyes searching mine and I smiled with more happiness than I had felt in what felt like eons. To reconnect with her in this way had sparked something deep within me and I pressed my forehead to hers, my breathing just as heavy as hers from the kiss.

“How are you feeling?” I asked though I could tell through our connection that her mood had improved compared to earlier in the day. But there was the slightest hint of guilt, the barely discernible sorrow on the edges of her mind, and while I understood why they were there, I could not help but want to try to alleviate her mind of such negative emotions.

“I feel… better,” she admitted after a slight hesitation. “I think I’m ready to… talk about it now. About how I feel, about the hero of this shard.”

I nodded slightly, my hands traveling up and down her sides slowly as I waited for her to process her thoughts.

“The food at the fair,” she started and I hummed in acknowledgment as I thought back. 

“The eggs smothered in sauce with some sort of fish?” I offered and she nodded. 

“I don’t think I would have disliked it that much prior to absorbing the fragment,” she said, softly. “I wondered if… it was her tastes that I had absorbed or…” she trailed off, looking down at her lap.

“Persephone’s?” I blew out a breath, thinking back to the dish when she nodded, pursing my lips as I looked to the side. After a moment, I looked back at the Warrior of Light when a memory from Amaurot filled my mind. “It was probably the sauce.”

She looked back at me, surprise in her expression and I offered her a small smile. 

“Persephone hated the predominant spice used in the sauce. It has a very pungent aroma, which may be what repulses you regardless of what she felt towards it. She honestly thought the first Halmarult did the world a huge disservice Creating it. ‘A total waste of space on the spice rack and an offense to the palate’, she had said,” I explained softly with a chuckle and a shake of my head.

“So…” she started, taking a deep breath. “So it was Persephone’s food aversion, then?”

“It could be yours, or the hero of this shard’s, or Persephone’s,” I stated reassuringly, though I was not sure I believed the words myself. “It’s not a plant found readily in Eorzea and Garlemald did not export much of it, if any. You likely would have hated it anyway, because it truly is disgusting, but it’s hard to tell where the distaste came from.”

She nodded slowly. “I wonder what I got from Ardbert,” she murmured, furrowing her brow. “I don’t think… I’ve noticed anything.”

I shrugged a shoulder, pressing my lips to her forehead. “The encounter with the food could be a coincidence, my dearest. I wouldn’t think too much about it.”

She sighed but nodded once more. “The hero,” she said as she continued through the things that were on her mind, her voice wavering slightly. “She recognized you.”

“In her final moments, it seems so,” I replied, my voice growing soft as well. “In my mind, she said she remembered me from dreams she’d been having.”

“I just…” She exhaled a shaky breath. “Where was Hydaelyn? She… She normally would have protected me, so why not protect her?”

I shook my head with a slight shrug. “I wish I had an answer for you, my beloved.”

“I mean, you know exactly what I’m talking about,” she continued, more conviction in her tone, slight anger brewing as she continued to think through the implications. “The Blessing of Light, you said yourself that it’s troublesome and that She interferes-”

“When things are not going Her way,” I interjected quietly. “Those were your words, and they could not be more accurate. I still maintain that She has Her best interests in mind. Not yours and certainly not that poor young hero.”

“But how is letting her die-I just don’t understand.” I could feel the frustration in her mind, the heartbreak as she came to realize what I would say before I said it.

“Your Rejoining is the priority now,” I vocalized, despite hearing her mind come to the same conclusion. “She has no reason to interfere to save fragments who need to die for you to reabsorb them. Her motives remain to be seen, and since this is beneficial for us as well, for the time being, I believe we should continue to march to the beat of Her drums.”

We sat in silence for several moments as her mind stewed, the anger slowly ebbing once more to an undercurrent of sadness.

“She was so young,” she finally said, looking down at her lap once more as she twisted her fingers together. “It’s not fair. Why did she have to be so young ?”

I moved my hand to tilt her chin up once more, frowning at the guilt brewing in her mind once more. “You’re right,” I said quietly. “It is not fair. But it was not your fault.”

Her lower lip trembled and I moved my thumb to run along its surface, shaking my head. “We will see this through to the end,” I continued as she lifted her hands up to grip the fabric of my shirt. “Together.”

I whispered her name and she tightened her grip. “The last thing I wish is for you to feel guilty for something that you have no control over,” I started as I moved my hand to brush a lock of hair from her face and tuck it behind her ear. 

“You mean so very much to me and for you to feel this way when this is not something you could have prevented or something you should have ever experienced… it brings me such profound sadness and I wish I could take it from you. I wish I could bear it for you,” I continued with a sigh. I tried with all my might to reassure her, pressing my lips to her forehead where her brow was furrowed with the stress of her burdens placed upon her by Hydaelyn, with the tension in her mind. 

“You have restored life in me in more ways than you can even begin to imagine, and I will do everything in my power to keep you from feeling such sadness again,” I said to her, and I could see tears forming in the corner of her eyes as she felt the outpouring of everything I felt for her: the adoration, the genuine desire to take away her pain, the wholehearted devotion. 

She lifted herself up in response, pressing her lips softly against mine as she returned my sentiment, trying to take my sadness away, to reassure me as I tried to do the same for her. Minutes passed as her lips moved against mine, our breathing growing heavy as the kiss increased in intensity as our souls intermingled and moved together, one trying to soothe the other. 

Her lips parted, and as our tongues danced against each other’s, I shuddered against her, realizing that the sensations she was sharing with me were clearer now with the added fragment, that the rejoining had afforded her new insights on how to communicate with me that she had not even realized she learned. 

Soon her hands were sliding down my back to pull my shirt out from where it had been tucked into my pants. I pulled back slightly from the kiss and she followed, pressing her lips to mine with desperation. Reaching my hands up, I placed them on either side of her face as I pulled back, searching her eyes while her mind raced with the unspoken request for a distraction, that her thoughts wouldn’t dwell on that which was hurting her if I would just hold her, touch her.

“Please,” she whispered as she released her hold on my shirt. “I just don’t want to think about it anymore.”

“I…” I hesitated, exhaling a slow breath as I moved my hands to rest on her shoulders. “Are you sure?”

She nodded, bringing her hands to the back of my neck to pull my face down to hers, pressing her lips firmly against mine before she slid her hands under the cloth of my shirt, inching it upwards as her fingers trailed up my abdomen, eliciting a shiver from me. 

She pulled her lips back from mine to pull my shirt over my head, before moving to the hem of her own shirt, pulling it up and over her head in a swift motion, discarding it to the side. Her hands went back to my torso, sliding up my body slowly before finding purchase on my shoulders, her eyes searching my expression. 

“It won’t fix it,” I whispered sadly.

“I know. Help me forget, if only for the moment,” she implored as she moved her hands up further still, her fingers weaving into my hair at the nape of my neck. 

With a slow nod, I brought my body closer to hers, my lips hovering over hers for a moment before she pulled me down to her once more, her impatience winning out. I pressed myself against her, coaxing her to lay back onto the piano and she shivered at the contact of the cold black lacquer against her skin.

Breaking my lips from hers, I kissed my way down her jawline, nipping at her earlobe before I made my way down her neck, along the slope of her shoulder, and then back across her collarbone towards the middle of her chest. I kissed down, lingering above her heart, allowing myself to feel her heartbeat with my lips before I placed a single reverent kiss there. A soft whimper escaped her when she felt the uninhibited devotion I felt for her, and I continued to kiss down her body, my hands coming up to the waist of her underwear.

As I began to lower the cloth down her body, she lifted her hips and removed her legs from around my waist to facilitate its removal, a wave of anxious anticipation hitting me through our bond. I brought one hand up to tenderly caress her stomach, trying to relax the tension that had formed there as my lips continued to trail down her body, following the thin fabric of her smallclothes down her thigh before I slid it down the rest of her legs, allowing it to drop on the floor.

I glanced up at her, a flush present on her cheeks that was spreading down her upper chest as I looked at her with wanton lust in my gaze. She bit her lower lip as I slid my hand that had come to rest on her knee along her inner thigh, my lips kissing along the path it took before I paused between her legs, exhaling a shaky breath as I locked eyes with her, an unspoken question in the air.

Her hands came to rest on my shoulders and she nodded at me with a slow exhale. I lowered my head down slowly, my eyes never leaving hers as I exhaled unsteadily.

“I’m so very sorry to interrupt, my [adorable sapling]!” a sing-song voice chimed into the air and the electricity that had built in the air immediately dissipated. With an exasperated sigh, the Warrior of Light lay back on the piano again, her arms moving to be spread flat against its surface. “I promise I did not see anything you would not want me to see! I’ll allow you a moment to… right yourselves.”

I exhaled sharply through my nose, snapping my fingers and all of our clothes were returned to our bodies. Once I had, I leaned over the hero, pressing my lips to hers once more with the deep hunger I felt for her, an unspoken promise to pick up where we had left off the moment we were alone once more passing between us and she hummed against my lips with a nod.

With a shimmer a faerie appeared before us, her eyebrows raised as I pulled the Warrior of Light up to a seated position.

“Oh dear. Is this what mortals do when music is involved?” the faerie asked and I clenched my jaw as she fluttered around us and the instruments excitedly. “The energy in here was absolutely stifling!”

“Can we help you?” I bit out, following her movements with my gaze and she came to a stop next to us.

“Ah, right! Yes. The one named Emet-Selch is requested upon the Source. Something about Black Rose and the empire...” she trailed off and I blew out a breath.

“How eloquent,” I replied dryly. “It could be any number of things, some more dire than others.”

The Warrior of Light nodded slowly. “I guess… you should check it out,” she said softly, a hint of sadness in her voice. “I’ll just keep working on finding the next fragment.”

I returned my gaze to hers, smiling softly at her. “You can always reach out to me when you feel the need to speak with me, my dearest. And if you ever need my assistance, you know I will come at a moment’s notice.”

The faerie crossed her arms, coming to fly in front of my face. “It almost sounds like you’re trying to replace me as the loveliest branch,” she remarked with no small amount of bitterness in her tone.

“I don’t even know what that means, I retorted as I swatted at her, causing her to flutter back towards the Warrior of Light.

“This friend of yours trying to be your new branch is rude , my [ sapling ] . I would never allow someone so brutish to take my place,” she muttered and I rolled my eyes.

Chapter Text

“Feo Ul,” I began and reached out to her, a small smile on my face, a laugh threatening to break free as I beheld Hades’ face. Distraction indeed. “No one will replace you. I don’t think anyone ever could.” She gracefully floated to my hand, sitting down in my palm, her arms still crossed. I brought her close to my face. “Next time, though, could you wait until we’ve finished?”

The faerie huffed. “Your Scions did say it was urgent.” Hades put a hand to his chin.

“Urgent?” he asked. Feo Ul nodded vigorously and he sighed. “Well, then, I had best not waste time.”

As we gathered our things, the King of Faeries bid her farewell and the two of us travelled back to the Crystarium. Hades left for the Source immediately, leaving me with nothing but a tingling kiss on my lips and a promise that he’d try to wrap up quickly so he could rejoin me on my hunt.

I was forced to wait nearly an entire day for G’raha Tia to connect the portal to the Eighth, which proved rather boring as the others had already departed for the Empty in the time that Hades and I had spent on the Fourth, no matter how short it seemed to me.

I sat in a chair in the Exarch’s office inside of the tower, my legs kicked up on a desk, thumbing through one of the many books stashed in the room and trying to keep my mind off the hero of the Fourth, when he finally came in to tell me that preparations were complete.

Through the portal I went again, to find another world quite similar to mine, magic and all. I wasn’t sure how I would find this shard of my soul- I admittedly disliked showing up in Convocation robes and scaring the locals into telling us where the hero was, and without Hades to help me, the likelihood of my being able to sense another Ascian close by was low.

I obtained a map of the world with money I’d Created and sat in an inn room, looking it over. I brought a hand to my mouth in thought. When I’d touched Ardbert and the hero of the Fourth, a bright light had shone where our bodies had connected. 

But how could I go around the entire world, touching people at random? I furrowed my brow.

I supposed I could try to see the color of their souls, but it would likely be difficult with my lack of practice and the fact that, while I knew in words what color my soul was, how would I discern it from the others who possessed similar colors?

The answer hit me a few days later after travelling to my third town in less than a week. As I stepped out of my own portal, I felt a faint pull in my chest that I had not felt in the other two settlements. I thought, for a moment, that perhaps Hades had been trying to contact me through the bond, but it was evident to me after a pause that this was a different kind of pull.

I followed the tug throughout the town, and steadily it grew stronger.

When I felt the connection was at its peak, I stumbled upon a group of people sitting outside a restaurant, enjoying a meal. At one of the womans’ feet sat a small child, playing with a ball.

I looked at each of them, trying to discern which one it could possibly be, but I was distracted by something hitting my boot. I looked down, the toy coming to a stop between my feet. I knelt down to pick it up and the toddler came running over to me on unsteady feet.

As she grew closer, the bond in my chest lit. I smiled at her as she approached, a sense of familiarity washing over me. I held the ball out to her, and when her small hand touched mine, I saw small sparks as her soul crackled against mine, as if a current of electricity flowed from me into her. She blinked up at me, confused, before babbling a word that sounded an awful lot like my name. My eyes widened in surprise.

Suddenly, her mother called for her, quickly rushing up to me. The girl turned her head at her mother’s voice.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, quickly, moving to usher the child back to the restaurant.

“It was no trouble,” I assured her, one side of my mouth tugging upward, then inclined my head and went to find a room to rest for the night.

I felt the pull the entire evening and decided to contact Hades to update him.

I found my soul today , I sent down the bond. I...think I can feel the connection between them now. It was almost as if it was calling to me.

Interesting discovery, he shot back to me. But I am not surprised. The closer your soul is to full, I imagine the easier it will be to sense them. Have you collected it yet?

No. I sighed, sliding my shirt over my head, preparing to go to sleep. The bearer of my shard is a child still. It will have to wait. I’ll travel back to the First in the morning, and then on to the Ninth.

I felt his approval make its way to me. Be careful on that Shard, dearest, he implored. It’s...quite different from the other worlds you’ve already encountered. I wish I could join you.

I hummed and laid back on my bed, my hands stretched behind my head.

How are things on the Source?

I’ve met with Gaius, who was doing some reconnaissance in Garlemald prior to my asking the Scions to investigate. Supposedly he teamed up with a Dragoon that I believe you are familiar with? White hair, haughty expression.  

I shook my head, a smile forming on my face. Tataru had excitedly mentioned recruiting an old friend, but would not tell me who it was.

Yes, Estinien.

Gaius was not at all happy to see me, though I cannot imagine why. Said he wanted to add my mask to his collection. Amusement filtered in, making me smile as well. When I told him I was here at your behest, he was speechless. It seems my great grandson thrust a sword through his fathers’ middle, but before his untimely death, Varis’ last order was the release Black Rose upon completion, which was the reason the Scions said it was urgent. It was very near being completed.

Were you able to stop the poison before…?

Yes, my beloved, don’t fret. Relief washed over me and I relaxed.

We spoke for a few more minutes before I yawned, my tiredness floating over the bond. He insisted I head to bed so I would be refreshed to deal with a new shard in the morning.

When I made it back to the Crystarium, the Exarch was ready to switch the portals and this time, it only took him a few hours.

When I appeared on the Ninth, though, I understood immediately why Hades had warned me about the shard.

I materialized in the middle of...was it a road of some kind? It seemed to be paved in some sort of black substance, hard as rock under my feet. I heard a loud, high-pitched squeal to my right and turned to see a vehicle, similar in looks to the Regalia Noctis had brought with him when he stumbled upon the Source, come to a fast stop next to me. Another one passed in front of me, fast enough that strands of my hair were pulled from their place and followed in its wake.

“What the Hells do ya think you’re doin’?” a man shouted at me from inside. I blinked, my confusion evident. “Get outta the road!”

I furrowed my brow, but felt myself lifted from behind, aether flowing over me, and yanked back, out of the street. When I was securely on my feet again, I turned to see a mage, standing at my back, her staff out.

“T-thanks,” I stammered, and got the sense that she had just somehow rescued me, although I wasn’t sure from what, exactly. She waved her hand at me as she replaced the staff on her back.

“It ain’t nothin’, honey,” she responded, then went back to the conversation she was having with her friend.

I travelled down the street, picking up words as I listened in on passing conversations and took in the enormous city with its tall buildings. It reminded me of Hades’ recreation of Amaurot and my heart squeezed.

Something wrong? I was prompted almost immediately. I huffed a laugh and shook my head, though I knew he couldn’t see me. I looked up again at the city and sent him what I was seeing. It reminds you of Amaurot, doesn’t it?

Yes.

It is quite similar, yes, though while they have magic, they must traverse by foot. They created a vehicle to make travelling faster. I believe they call it a car.

Mmm. I laughed. One almost hit me as soon as I got here. He was silent for a few moments, annoyance making its way down.

Do I need to have a chat with the Exarch about your safety?

Oh, don’t be so hard on him. It’s hard enough connecting each world to the First.

With a smile, I continued on.

The next three weeks were hard, each day passing slower than the previous, my frustration growing. Compared to the other shards, there were so many people here and in close quarters to each other. Enormous, sprawling cities, one after another crammed full of living beings. I’d Created new clothes so that I might fit in better as I searched, and I allowed myself the comfort of a nice, large inn room each night, though here, they were called hotels .

My heart missed my other half terribly, the distance between us making the pull I felt to him more intense. Soon, talking over the bond didn’t help ebb the tightness I felt in my chest. I assumed that time here passed much quicker than on the Source, and I did not want to bother him every night I had, though I was sure he would’ve been glad for it, even if he was busy. I sometimes wondered if he could feel my hesitation in bothering him.

When I was feeling particularly lonely, I would Create a piano similar to the one I’d played on the Fourth and pour my soul into it, making the notes up as I went along. It wasn’t perfect, but it was mine. Sometimes, I felt as though I could hear him playing with me on the other side of the bond, though I just assumed it was my imagination.

One night, however, as I was preparing to fall into bed, I tugged on the tether to see if he was available. When he answered me, I released a relieved breath. The day had been long and lonely and all I wanted was to feel his arms around me, though hearing his voice in my mind would have to suffice.

What are you up to? I asked, sitting on the edge of my mattress

I’m about to go to sleep, my dearest. Is something on your mind?

Mmm, I hummed, both in my mind and in real life. No, I was also getting ready for bed. I just missed hearing your voice. I felt a comforting sensation trickle down the tether and breathed a laugh. 

We could try something, he started. We don’t get to sleep at the same time often but…

What is it?

Are you lying down yet? I looked at the pillow over my shoulder, then scooted back and laid down.

Yes.

I want you to go to sleep-

What?! I sat up, quickly. But-

It’s alright, my dearest. I promise it’ll be worth it. I pursed my lips and hesitated for a moment, but at his urging, I made myself comfortable. He told me that when I felt myself drifting off, to tug on the bond. I didn’t understand, but as I felt the bond go dormant, I did as he asked. 

When I opened my eyes again, I was in the apartment we shared for our one night in the recreation of Amaurot. I furrowed my eyes, taking in my surroundings, until my gaze landed on the doorway. Hades stood there, leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed.

“See?” he asked, one side of his mouth tugging upward. “Nothing to worry about.” With a wide grin, I rushed to him, wrapping my arms around his waist and pulling him against me. With a chuckle, he returned my sentiment, one arm going around my back while the other threaded through my hair to cradle the back of my head. 

I breathed in his scent and reveled in his warmth, dulled with the effects of the dream, but still strong enough to bring me the immense comfort that only speaking with him did not grant me. I breathed a sigh of relief at his touch as he held me close to him, the only thing I’d been wanting in these past weeks.

“Do you know when you’ll be able to come back to me?” I asked, burying my face in his chest. He heaved a sigh.

“As you know, Zenos abandoned the Empire and left it in chaos. I...was forced to wrest control again to stop the panic, though they seemed quite eager to welcome me back. Their beloved emperor, back from the dead.” 

I pursed my lips as my shoulders slumped. He took the empire back? I chewed on the inside of my mouth. How was he supposed to rejoin me if he was the ruling body again?

“I know what you’re thinking, you know.” I smiled despite my unease. “Don’t worry. It won’t interfere. Once I am able, I will pass the duty to someone else and join you again.” I nodded and sighed again. 

We stood in a comfortable silence for long moments until a realization struck me, and I pulled back slightly, frowning up at his face. He quirked an eyebrow at me.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, the smugness nearly dripping from his voice. I narrowed my eyes.

“You knew that we could dream together all along,” I said. It wasn’t a question. When he huffed a laugh and rolled his eyes, I had all the answer I needed. With a pout, I released him and crossed my arms in front of me.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I whined. He shook his head, his playful exasperation reaching me through the bond. I turned my back to him, trying to hide the smile that I would undoubtedly be unable to keep off my face.

“You weren’t contacting me often, my dearest. I simply thought you were too busy,” he explained and I huffed, trying to remain stubborn despite his teasing. “Also, you have to take into consideration the fact that we don’t often get to sleep at the same time.” My lips pursed and he came up behind me, sliding his hands around my waist. He leaned down, brushing his nose against the shell of my ear, then moved his mouth next to my head.

“Is this really how you want to spend the limited time we have?” he whispered, the breath of his words causing a shiver to run up my spine. I bit my lip, trying to contain my giggle as my lips tugged upward. “Stop being stubborn, won’t you?”

“Only if you admit you missed me just as much,” I challenged, a smirk forming on my mouth. He gripped my waist with his hands and spun me, quickly. In a fluid motion, he took my face in his hands as he pressed his mouth to mine. A surprised gasp escaped me, but my arms went around his neck, pressing myself flush against him as he deepened the kiss, all the hunger and desire he’d been feeling for me in our time apart flowing freely through the bond. I hummed against his lips and I felt him smile against mine. He pulled away, but only just far enough to be able to speak.

“I missed you, my beloved,” he breathed, his breath hot against my face. I could almost feel my knees going weak and he leaned down to gather me in his arms, carrying me to the bedroom where we held each other until morning drew us both away.

A few nights later, when I stepped foot into a city across an entire ocean from where I’d first landed, I felt the pull.

I came across my soul, easily. He was as Ardbert had been- nothing more than a ghost wandering about the world, unable to join the Lifestream due to Hydaelyn locking him here in an attempt to make my search easier.

“It’s you,” he said with finality, not bothering to turn and face me.

“You know me?” He leaned his back against the brick building next to him in this dark alleyway. He was dressed quite similarly to those here on this shard, which surprised me for reasons I couldn’t explain. He was born here, so of course he would, though it didn’t strike me as the kind of outfit a hero of a shard would wear.

“The Mother told me of you. She said that my part in this tale was not yet over. That I would remain on this star until you would come to collect me and bring me peace.” I nodded, exhaling a long breath. “She told me I would need to give myself to you willingly, but did not tell me when you would arrive.” He looked up at me then, a sad smile on his face.

“And are you ready?” I watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, uncertainty written all over him. His gaze shot back to what he was looking at prior to my arrival. I walked up to the chain-link fence and peered through it to see some older children playing on a sidewalk. I watched one of them in particular, who looked exactly like the soul next to me. “Your son?”

He nodded, then looked down at the ground. “I was hoping that I would have more time to watch him grow, but I know your need is more dire than mine. I gave my life willingly, knowing what I would leave behind and I would do it again for the sake of our worlds.” We both watched for a few quiet moments, hearing nothing but the giggling of the children in front of us.

“How did you...manage to find the time?” I asked, something almost like jealousy coating my voice. He breathed a laugh and looked down. 

“It wasn’t easy,” he admitted. “I fear I neglected him far more often than I should have.” Silence descended upon us again as I absorbed his words. I nodded my understanding. Wasn’t that the reason I had never tried to have a family? 

“He will want for nothing,” I told him, finally. It seemed to be the least I could do for his sacrifice. “I promise.” The hero of the Ninth turned his head to take my measure, but nodded, and held out his hand to me.

When I curled my fingers around his, a light shone in our conjoined hands. “Thank you,” I said to him as he started fading before my eyes. He gripped my hand tightly with a nod.

“Good luck,” he said, his voice slowly diminishing on the breeze.

And then he was gone, absorbed into me just as the previous. A warm fragment of my soul, finally returning home.

This time, though, the fence melted in front of me, making way to flood of memories, though one more powerful than the rest.

A memory I’ve seen before, but with it a hole torn in my chest, alight with new feelings. Anger. Disappointment.

Shouting. Begging. 

The fight between Persephone and Hades before the vote to summon Zodiark. The one Gaia had showed us while we were gathered in the apartment in Amaurot.

When my vision returned, I pouted, the anger Persephone had felt overwhelming all of my other senses. A wave of it found its way down the tether.

Is something wrong, my dearest?

I was almost seething and I couldn't stop it. I just absorbed a piece of my soul and received a memory in return.

Oh? Is that what’s upsetting you?

Seeing the memory is one thing, Hades, but feeling it is completely different.

I’m… He paused, and I could feel his hesitation. I believe I’ll just stay on the Source until you’ve calmed down, my beloved.

I sucked in a sharp, angry breath through my nose. If he was here, I would no doubt have thrown something at him. I felt a fleeting chuckle which only served to fuel the intensity of my rage.

It took quite a while to compose myself in that back alley, hidden from view, but once I had, I blew out a breath and approached the child the hero had been watching over, who was now heading back to his home. With a flick of my wrist, I summoned a bag full of the currency of the shard. He watched with wide eyes and I bent down, whispering specific instructions into his ear, then sent him on his way.

Later, I stood in front of my mirror, staring at myself. I felt as if something was not quite right about my appearance, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. I bit my lip, then pulled the tie out of my hair, letting it fall over my shoulders. I tilted my head to the side, then furrowed my brow.

This...looked right. Felt right. But I’d always worn my hair up. Did...Persephone often wear her hair down? 

My stomach twisted as a jolt of panic hit me. I could feel my heartbeat pickup and I was immediately prompted by Hades, despite my anger at him earlier.

Did something happen? I blinked a few times, staring at myself in the mirror.

No, I’m… I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. Trying to mask the panic. I didn’t want to worry him when he seemed to have many other things on his plate as well. I closed my eyes and turned from the mirror. I’m fine.

My soulmate was silent for a few moments, but finally assented. A wave of exhaustion hit me, suddenly, and I couldn’t tell if it was mine or his, but I was suddenly ready to drop into my bed.

I released my bottom lip from the hold my teeth had on it and pushed it from my mind for the moment as I made my way back into the bedroom and let myself fall into the plush mattress and pillows waiting for me.

Chapter Text

The sharp sound of a knock on my door pulled me out of the connection between my mind and the Warrior of Light. I sighed and stopped my bow from moving over the cello strings, frustrated at the interruption to this duet I was able to enjoy with the Warrior of Light despite our distance.

“Enter,” I responded as I let my hand that was holding the bow up relax, allowing it to rest on my knee, the tip of the bow pointed down at the ground.

A servant opened the door slowly, with a salute followed by a deep bow. “Apologies for the interruption, Your Radiance. Gaius van Baelsar has arrived and is awaiting you in the throne room, as requested.”

With a sigh, I lowered the instrument onto its side and stood. “Put the instrument away for me.”

“At once, Your Radiance,” the servant replied, approaching the cello and gently lifting it from the floor. “If I might be so bold, it gives us in the palace great joy to hear your music once more.”

I raised a brow but shrugged. “How unfortunate that Varis nor Zenos had not shown any interest in the arts,” I replied. “I assume the symphony, ballet, and theatre companies have been neglected since my death?”

The servant chuckled nervously but nodded. “The funding was... “ he trailed off and cleared his throat, averting his gaze for a moment. “It was rerouted to the military, Your Radiance.”

“How wasteful,” I lamented. “Call for the director of imperial finances. I’ll speak to him after I’m finished with van Baelsar. Seeing as how I intend to put an end to this pointless war, I see no need for the funding to be routed to the military much longer.”

When I entered the throne room, the guards on either side of the stairs immediately stood at attention and I chuckled when Gaius did not, instead crossing his arms over his chest.

“Leave us,” I said towards the guards as I climbed the stairs to the throne and listened to their footsteps as they left the room before I took a seat.

“How you managed to trick them will forever be a mystery, Ascian,” Gaius bit out and I placed a hand on my chest dramatically.

“Am I no longer worthy of being addressed as Your Radiance, Gaius? You wound me. You used to love me so.” He turned his lips downwards at my comment, frowning deeply and I smirked. “Well, no matter. I could just tell you how I managed to ‘trick’ them.”

“I’d be interested to know how you explained your way out of sorcery.”

“Resonance. Allagan cloning research. The might of the glorious empire,” I droned on, leaning back in the throne, crossing my legs as I placed my hands on the armrests. “Take your pick. It’s quite simple to convince the masses when they are weak and weary from civil war, aching for the days when things were simpler under the rule of their beloved founder.”

He sighed at my explanation and I continued, “Solus zos Galvus has a very unique fighting technique as I’m sure you can recall, having been taught some by yours truly in your youth. Those who did not trust my words were easily convinced by my blade.”

He remained silent as he considered my words before nodding stiffly. “Is there a reason you’ve summoned me here then, Your Radiance? ” he asked with no attempt to mask the sarcastic bitterness of his tone.

“As we discussed previously,” I started, standing from the throne and making my way down the stairs towards him. “I am here primarily at the behest of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. I’m sure the validity of these words is difficult for you to accept, but I have no intention of staying here any longer than needed. My heart’s true calling is elsewhere, I’m afraid.”

“And what becomes of Garlemald when you’ve tired of this farce?”

I grinned as I came to a stop in front of him, clapping my hand on his shoulder. “That’s where you come in, my old friend.” He bristled at my contact and my grin widened. “I will do what I must to make this transition as smooth as possible, handling all the diplomatic nonsense with the assistance of the boy named Alphinaud… but upon its completion, I will be naming you as heir to the throne to rule in my stead.”

His eyes widened, his stance changing to reflect how my words had startled him and I removed my hand from his shoulder. “And what of Zenos?” he asked, once he had recovered.

“Zenos had never shown interest in ruling and has abandoned his post. He lost the privilege of being named emperor the moment he decided hunting the Warrior of Light was more important. As a result, I will have the necessary documentation completed to adopt you as my son, and when the time comes, we will announce that you will henceforth be known as Gaius yae Galvus.”

He frowned deeply and looked away from me and I sighed. “Unless you’d rather keep your name? I have no qualms with Baelsar being named the new imperial line. It’s a trivial detail.”

He shook his head and returned his gaze to mine. “There was a time in which I would have wept for such an honor,” he admitted softly.

“Come now, Gaius. You can still enjoy this despite your deep-seated hatred for Ascians. Besides, did I not treat you well during my time as emperor? I am the same man, just as much an Ascian then as I am now.”

He nodded slowly, his expression softening slightly.

“I suppose though, having to call me father might be a little more uncomfortable than Your Radiance, wouldn’t you agree? Do me a favor, my son , and try not to weep from the joy of being bestowed this honor,” I said with a smirk and I broke into a laugh as his expression immediately turned sour.

The remainder of the day went by without significant incident, filled to the brim with mundane tasks. It seemed all of the administrators within the empire were clamoring for an opportunity to speak with me, to try to make their division more prominent. The news that I was ending the war spread like a virus throughout the palace and then throughout the city itself. When I returned to my chambers for the evening, exhausted and bored beyond comprehension, I reached out through the bond to check on the Warrior of Light.

She informed me of the child upon the Eighth. As interesting as her discoveries were, it pained me that she was having to go on this journey alone. I knew she likely realized it, but that young child would probably grow to become the hero of her world and in order to be absorbed, she would either have to perish from natural causes or meet an untimely end. Based on our time on the Fourth, I found myself hoping that she would not have to bear witness to another of her fragments’ deaths, especially by herself.

When the days passed without another check-in from her, the only thing keeping me from feeling overly concerned was the small tug on my soul indicating that our connection remained stable and she was well. Despite the overwhelming desire to hear her voice, I held back. She had much to worry about; the last thing I wanted to do was distract her and prolong our separation.

As I lay on the plush bed in the imperial palace, I stared up at the canopy and sighed, my body aching to feel hers next to mine. I missed how she curled herself into my arms, how her lips parted when she was deeply asleep. I missed how her hair always seemed to be a mess when she awoke, no matter how little she moved. When it became too much to bear, I reached out to her once more. We spoke for quite some time, exhaustion slowly overcoming me as her presence brought me great comfort and I could feel her smile through the tether.

You should sleep, she implored me and I rolled my eyes.

I would be more willing to do so if you would contact me more than once or twice a week, I retorted and I could feel her confusion trickle through.

How long has it been since we last spoke? she asked.

Over a week, my beloved. If you’re horribly busy, I can manage just fine by drowning in mundane and monotonous political meetings, though I do worry for my sanity.

Her laughter rang in my mind and I smiled at the sound. I didn’t realize time was faster on the Source than here. It hasn’t even been three days here on the Ninth, she explained and I nodded, despite the fact that she couldn’t see it.

The weeks passed at an excruciatingly slow pace. I tried to fill my day with everything I could possibly think of to expedite the process of overturning the structure of the nation to end the war and create enough stability so I could hand the torch to Gaius and return to my beloved.  When even discussing new policies was not enough to keep me from losing my mind from how badly I missed her, I started overseeing reconstructions and rehearsals, spending more time than I ever had among the populace. 

Just when I thought I had reached my breaking point, genuinely considering vanishing for a week on some random diplomatic meeting to venture to the Ninth for even one day despite the obvious chaos that would ensue, she pulled on the tether just as I was laying in bed and she was doing the same. Realization flooded me that I could see her, I could hold her, and I would not have to leave Garlemald to do so. It would not be the same warmth or intensity, but holding her in my arms, even if in a dream,  would be sufficient to quell the dull ache that built within me from our separation.

One day, in the middle of a meeting with some advisors and the leaders of the Garlean military, I could feel her anger seep through. Upon her seething explanation, I coughed to cover my laughter, wondering what memory could produce such ire and one of the legati at the table looked over at me.

“Are you unwell, Your Radiance?” he asked and I shook my head as I took a deep breath to clear my expression to a more neutral one.

Gaius raised his brow at me before clearing his throat and continuing the meeting. “If we are to continue forth with the peace treaty with the Eorzean Alliance, it may be necessary to invite them and those of the Doman and Ala Mhigan Resistance to Garlemald.”

“And the Scions of the Seventh Dawn,” I added and watched as the military leaders of Garlemald shifted uneasily.

“If I may, Your Radiance,” the legatus of the IXth legion spoke up, cautiously. “Why are we seemingly suing for peace when we were winning the war?”

I crossed my arms over my chest, with a raised brow. “Were we now? Several of your soldiers were decimated at the hands of a sole combatant. A woman who outsmarted you using the shadows.”

He frowned, muttering an obscenity under his breath about the hero and I narrowed my eyes.

“Show His Radiance the respect he deserves,” the XIVth legion legatus said, smugness in her voice. “What was it you called her? A meddlesome bitch? I couldn't agree more, but how rude of you to use such vulgarity in his presence.”

“What I meant was, she has been problematic -”

“I don’t care to hear your explanation nor your excuses,” I interjected with no attempt to mask my displeasure with the comments being made. “You’d do well to avoid making such comments about her in the future; I won’t be as forgiving next time. The truth remains that she could single-handedly destroy an entire legion if she set her mind to it. Especially now, having grown in strength as she has.”

“But surely with Your Radiance’s return we could gain the upper hand once more?” he implored and I scoffed.

“No, she is not an adversary who would be bested simply because a change of leadership has taken place; before the Battle of Carteneau, my presence as emperor did nothing to stop the Warrior of Light from interfering in every way she could to thwart Project Meteor, and we lost nearly the entire VIIth legion in the following battle.” 

Gaius nodded his assent. “His Radiance is correct, the Eorzean Alliance has a powerful asset at their disposal, one that we cannot match. I have faced her as well, and she is not one to be taken lightly. Would it not be favorable to end the war and stop bleeding resources and soldiers as if we have an unlimited supply?”

“But if we resumed production to strike with Black Rose-”

Gaius slammed his hand on the table to silence the tribunus who had begun to speak. “Black Rose would kill our own soldiers. The indiscriminate slaughter of our men and women is not how I would want to win any war,” he bit out and the tribunus shrunk back in his seat.

“Your emperor has made his decision,” I said with finality. “Call the leaders of the Eorzean Alliance and its allies to discuss the terms of the treaty. Should they agree, we will put an end to this war.”

I stood from my seat and the rest of those in attendance stood as well before they saluted as I turned to leave. Stretching my hands over my head, I turned the corner and slowly made my way to my rooms.

The servant looked at me as I approached and I sighed. “Send for Alphinaud Leveilleur of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn,” I said as he opened the door to my chambers.

“A Scion of the Seventh Dawn, Your Radiance?”

I looked at him with a raised brow and nodded. “Gaius should have some idea where to find him. And upon his arrival, see to it that he is comfortable.”

“Understood, Your Radiance. Galen mal Placitus should be arriving soon for your weekly appointment as well.”

My valet came into the room with me and helped me out of the several layers of my imperial garb before I dismissed him to complete his task, just as the medical praefectus walked into the room with a deep bow.

“I maintain that weekly visits are extremely excessive,” I muttered as the physician waved his staff into the room with their medical equipment. 

"I apologize for the inconvenience, Your Radiance, but I believe this to be necessary,” he explained with a frown. “I went back through the old files, and there was documentation as far back as thirty-five years that you were showing signs of the illness that ultimately led to your death." 

I scoffed, rolling my eyes. As if I hadn’t chosen to succumb to the illness this frail body had developed. I sighed, exhaling through my nose. "By that logic, that should be approximately 10 years from now."

He nodded as the medical assistants began to take my vitals, one drawing a vial of blood from my arm. “It was likely dormant by now,” he said lifted a folder he had brought with him, opening it and beginning to flip through its pages slowly. “A cloned body is genetically the same body. The illness could be working already." 

"Unless it’s an illness I caught somewhere rather than simply developing it. But let me die, I find two lifetimes is one too many," I replied with a nonchalant shrug. 

"With all due respect, Your Radiance, I was there in your final days and it was not pleasant as I'm sure you can recall." 

I sighed heavily, frowning as I gave in to whatever tests they had wanted to run. " Fine , do what you must, but do it quickly so that I may take a nap.”

When the medical team finally left the room, I lay in bed with my hands folded behind my head. It was still early enough in the day that I would likely be interrupted by some mundane task or another, but for the time being, I wanted to relax and wait for the Warrior of Light to reach out to me when it was time for her to sleep. Perhaps if we were lucky enough, I would be able to nap long enough without unnecessary pestering.

Long day already, huh? The hero’s voice finally flitted into my mind and I smiled warmly.

How could you tell, my dearest?

You seem exhausted. I could feel it from here.

It has been taxing thus far, yes. But the day is young yet, I’m sure there’s more in store for me. I thought I might take a nap. You know how fond I am of them, I mused and I heard her giggle ring through my mind. 

A nap? Could it have anything to do with the fact that it’s time for me to rest as well? she teased and I felt the corner of my mouth quirk up. She had seen right through me.

I’m glad you seem to be speaking with me, at the very least. Your ire didn’t seem to last long.

A wave of mild annoyance hit me and I breathed a laugh as I settled into the bed.

[ I miss you. ] Her voice responded after a moment in a language that I thought had long since been forgotten and I sat up suddenly, my heart rate increasing at the sound of it coming from her. She undoubtedly could feel my surprise and responded with confusion flooding my mind in turn.

Could you… repeat what you just said?

Chapter Text

I tilted my head to the side when he asked me to repeat what I’d said. Was the connection somehow bad? I set my brush down on the counter in my bathing room.

What? All I said was that [I miss you.]

It was almost as if he’d exhaled right next to me a breath of surprise, his thoughts straying, whispering over and over in the back of my mind that he couldn’t believe what I’d just said. I furrowed my brow.

What’s wrong?

He breathed a laugh down the bond. Nothing, [my heart’s gleam.]

I paused, my heart skipping a beat at his words, realization dawning on me. They weren’t in the common tongue that I was accustomed to. I recognized this language. Amaurot- Hythlodaeus and the other shades had-

Yes, Hades said excitedly, his thoughts filled with happiness. You spoke Amaurotian. I once spoke it to you, as well, but you didn’t seem to catch it. It must be because your soul is nearer to completion.

What did you say? There was a long pause before he answered, followed by an influx of the emotions he felt for me.

[I love you.]

My breath caught and a shiver ran down my spine, his words making my eyes flutter shut, warmth spreading through my body. I exhaled a slow, wavering sigh, my lips tugging upward. 

He was right. There really was no comparison in the common tongue.

I didn’t...even realize. I made my way back to the main area of my inn room. I sat down on the bed, a stray thought yearning for the plush beds of the Ninth and a time-passing device they called a television . I looked down at my lap. I just...didn’t feel like ‘I miss you’ was a strong enough statement for how I feel without you next to me.

I feel similarly, my beloved. A sigh filtered its way to me. I’ve forgotten how tedious being emperor is.

I was quiet for a long while, my soft smile drooping as I looked towards the window, the night sky beyond it.

How long until you’re finished?

I don’t know for sure. I’m sorry. I nodded, though I knew he couldn’t see it. I swiped some unbidden water from my eyes and took a deep breath.

Okay, I sent back to him, unable to keep the disappointment from my thoughts.  

Don’t cry, [my heart’s gleam]. We’ll be together again soon. 

With an unsteady laugh, I inquired whether or not he was still able to nap. When he agreed, I laid back on my bed, my hand laying over my heart as I stared up at the ceiling.

When I felt the bond starting to go lax, I finally let sleep take me as well, tugging on the tether before I was out completely.

A few days later, I found myself stepping into a town in mourning. Black ribbons, streamers, and cloth hung from windows and doors and lampposts, blowing in the breeze, a storm brewing in the sky. 

When I felt the tug on my soul, I immediately understood. It was there- faint and fading.

A silence had descended upon the entire area as the town’s inhabitants held their breath, waiting for the inevitable news.

I walked the dusty streets, letting the tether lead me. When I happened upon the large estate, many of the townspeople were gathered outside the iron gates. And when the bell in the tall tower at my back sounded, I felt the soul fizzle out in my own chest.

I sucked in a breath at the feeling, my stomach twisting in knots.

The hero of the Eleventh shard was dead.

Various members of the crowd started sobbing, children tugging on the material of their long skirts and pants, asking why they were crying. A few people walked away once the ringing started, eyes on the ground, shoulders slumped.

No one paid me any mind as I observed them, their thoughts on the brave, loved warrior who had just passed.

“She lived a good and fruitful life,” a passerby said, clapping his young companion on the back. I watched over my shoulder until the two of them were out of sight, then looked up at the house. It was large, well-taken care of. The curtains were drawn in the windows. 

So, this fragment had lived to old age. My eyes roamed over the manicured lawn and I bit my lip.

Was this how my own death would look? Would I even make it this far?

Did she...have someone there to hold her hand until the very end? Or was she so revered that...

Tears sprung to my eyes as my mind continued to race. The thought of a piece of me going alone into the abyss brought about a flood of emotions that made me tremble.

“Did you know her?”

I blinked, the kind voice tearing me away from my own thoughts. A few fulms ahead of me stood a young woman, hair plaited back, a basket resting on her hip.

“I’m sorry,” she said, smiling softly. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” I shook my head.

“No, it’s fine,” I assured her, smiling sadly. “I’m...afraid I didn’t know her.”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” I tilted my head to the side and she breathed a laugh. “This is a small town. Many years ago, when I was but a child and she just out of her prime, she settled here to live out the rest of her life in peace. And though there is youngblood who took her place, she is still quite celebrated.”

“You knew her well, then?” I looked back at the house again, but saw the woman nod out of the corner of my eye.

“Yes, I…” She paused long enough that I looked at her again. “I’m her daughter, I suppose. She took me in when she moved here, an orphan raising an orphan.”

“Aren’t you...sad?”

“I will miss her, of course,” she said. “But she would not want me to be sad.”

I looked at the ground, unable to hold myself back from feeling a sort of envy towards this soul shard of mine. She’d lived long, able to give up the responsibility of the world on her shoulders, and even raised a child.

“I suppose,” the woman began again. “That I should show you in.”

My head flew up, eyes wide.

“She told me a traveller would come on the day of her death. Someone I would not recognize, yet know immediately.”

I bit my lip, but nodded and followed her around to the back of the house, where it was less populated. She took me through to the kitchen, where she offered me a cup of tea and sat with me at the table.

I bid her to tell me of the hero’s adventures in her youth, so that I may get to know her, if only just a little, and remember her. After our tea cups were long empty, the woman led me up the stairs to a bedroom, where the deceased warrior lay, hands folded over her stomach, her face peaceful.

I examined her face as her daughter left the room, closing the door behind her to give me some privacy. My heart eased at the knowledge that she had someone she considered family here with her as she slipped from this mortal realm.

I leaned over her and placed my hand on top of hers, and as I had with the others, took the fragment of my soul into myself.

As with the previous, my vision faded into a memory from my past life. And as with the memory I had before, it was not happy.

“Half of them are gone, Hades,” I said, my voice unsteady but insistent that he listen to me, anyway.

“And?” he asked, not even bothering to look at me. His voice had turned cold, even towards me. “By His grace, our star was saved.”

“Saved?” I scoffed, crossing my arms over my chest. “The star isn’t even inhabitable in many places!”

“When we provide sufficient aether to Lord Zodiark, He will restore it.” My brows furrowed, unable to believe what was coming out of my soulmate’s mouth.

“You can’t mean…,” I started, my chin trembling. “You can’t mean to sacrifice more?”

“It’s not really my priority to confide the inner workings of the Convocation with you anymore.” I blew a breath out of my nose, trying to steady myself, but the water welled in my eyes nonetheless. This wasn’t the man I fell in love with. This wasn’t Hades… How could he be saying these things to me?

“Don’t you...care about my opinions anymore?” My voice was threatening to break as I watched him stare out the window, refusing to turn towards me. “Do you feel nothing for me anymore?”

Finally, he looked over his shoulder. “Quite the contrary. I feel everything for you, even now. But, Persephone, you left and so I have endeavored to move on.” I looked down at the wooden floor below my feet, unable to stop the tears from falling from my eyes. I felt a hand on my shoulder and Cronus’ voice in my ear.

“Come, my dear,” he started, sadly. “I know you had hoped that a trace of the man you once knew still remained but...Hades is gone. This corrupted monster has taken his place.” I closed my eyes, my grief overwhelming. “He uses the lives of his friends to save his own skin. No matter what he says, he only cares about himself now.”

Something seemed to spark in the man ahead of me, and he whipped around, eyes feral, teeth bared.

“Do not presume to understand the inner workings of my mind, old man. The only one who was ever privy to such information should know me better than that.” His fierce gaze landed on me and softened, if only a fraction as he sighed, sadness now etched into his face. “If the ramblings of a mad old fool was all it took to convince her otherwise, then I suppose it’s for the best that we went our separate ways.”

When I returned to the present, trails of tears were streaming down my cheeks and I had slumped back in my chair. My chest ached in a way it hadn’t before. I sat quietly for a few minutes more, trying to compose myself. The memory, feeling Persephone’s sadness and heartbreak, only exacerbated the need to be near him- to hold him in my arms, for him to hold me…

I wanted to see him, so badly that it physically hurt to be apart from him this long. I clenched my hands into fists in my lap. My mission was more important right now- I had to put my own desires aside for the sake of my hunt, however long it would take.

When my heart had calmed, I went looking for the woman who had brought me here, to let her know I had what I’d come for, to thank her for her kindness and to wish her well. The house was deserted, so I stopped in the kitchen, waving my hand to Create a piece of paper and a pen.

I set them both on the counter to write a note and leaned over it, my long hair falling over my shoulder. As I was writing, though, I noticed something wasn’t quite right. I paused and looked down at my hand. Dread washed over me and I dropped the pen, backing away a step.

Why was I writing with my left hand? Was Persephone left-handed? First my hair...now this…

I clenched my jaw. Fear spiked in me, and I did my best at trying to conceal it from him as I tried to get my breathing under control. Was I going to lose myself? Hades had said…

To Hells with the mission. I needed a break. I needed reassurance. I needed... him.

I sighed, my resolve to head back to the Source quickly solidifying.

I opened a portal, heading back towards the area where I’d first appeared on this shard. When I made it back to the Ocular, I barely informed G’raha Tia where I was heading before I walked right back through to my home.

I closed my eyes when I had materialized in Mor Dhona and breathed in the air, trying to slow myself- to calm down, no matter how impatient I was to see him. Getting worked up over something that might be nothing no matter the evidence stacked against it would do me no good. 

After a few long moments, I opened a portal straight to the palace in Garlemald. I’d meant to arrive quietly, in an abandoned hallway, but when there were gasps all around me, I found that I had been...quite far off. My shoulders slumped. I really needed more practice.

When my portal closed, I was standing in the middle of the barracks, full of Garlean soldiers. When I heard the sound of swords being drawn, I sighed, rubbing my face with my hands.

“It would be in your best interests to put your weapons away,” I said. “As I am the Warrior of Light.” A murmur made its way around the room, though no one moved. I rolled my eyes. “I’d really rather not have to hurt any of you.”

I focused my attention on one particular soul in front of me. His eyes widened. “You,” I said, pointing. “Ha-uh… Solus is expecting me. Take me to him.”

There were gasps all around and I smiled smugly at the use of the name he’d taken when he entered Garlemald.

“How does the Warrior of Light get to call His Radiance by name?” I heard whispered behind me and I huffed a laugh. The poor man I’d singled out stuttered a few words, uncertain of whether he should listen to me. When I raised a brow at him, trying to imitate Hades, he hurried for his helmet and led me to the innards of the castle.

We walked in silence, though nervous energy was rolling off the soldier in waves- so much that I almost felt bad. He stopped a few times to inquire about the location of His Radiance , and we finally paused outside the door of our destination. He knocked, relaying through the wood that he had an important message for the emperor.

When he was admitted, I caught a glimpse of Hades, seated at the head of a large table. My stomach flipped, all of my fears evaporating for a moment, just by seeing his face. A few moments later, the soldier leaned down to whisper in his ear. He looked up, quickly, doing a double-take when he saw me before locking eyes with me, unsuccessfully trying to conceal his surprise. He excused the man, who hurried out of the room, then turned back towards the other participants of his meeting.

“It seems,” he started. “That there is something that requires my attention far more than this meeting. Gaius, Alphinaud, iron out the details and find me later.” An amused smile appeared on my lips at the use of the twin’s name.

Hades took his leave after the other two agreed. When the door was closed behind him, he was instantly on me, pouring his emotions into the bond.

He pushed me up against the stone behind me, pressing himself into me as his lips found mine, hungry and insistent. He took my hands in his, holding them up against the wall and inserted his knee in between my legs as he kissed me with everything he’d been holding back since we’d been separated, until we were both short of breath.

Nothing could have prepared me for it and I sucked in a surprised breath. 

I stood against the wall, frozen, overcome with shock as he pulled away from me, both of our chests heaving. He examined my face with an intensity that made my whole body heat up. He smirked, releasing my hands, and affectionately ran his fingers over my red cheek. He pushed off of me, suddenly, and started heading down the hallway.

“Welcome home, [my heart’s gleam].”

I blinked in surprise, still glued to the wall, and watched until he was out of sight. Did he have any idea how those words made me feel? A few moments later, I felt a ripple in my mind.

Aren’t you coming, dearest?

I tried to form words, but even if my mind, they were a muddled mess and I stumbled over them, trying to come up with a response. It had been a long while since he had affected me so, and I couldn’t concentrate over the fire that had lit between my legs. I heard a laugh and a snap of his fingers from just around the corner.

And then, I was falling. I let out a gasp, but I fell softly into his waiting arms. He held on to me, tightly, that smug grin still on his face, as he carried me off towards his rooms.

Chapter Text

As we approached my chambers, the guard stationed outside the door yawned but was immediately at attention upon hearing my footsteps.

“Y-your Radiance!” he said, quickly going to open the door before we reached it. “We-we were not expecting you back to your chambers so early.”

I waved a hand over my shoulder as I entered the room. “Leave us.”

“But they have yet to clean your chambers, Your Radiance,” he insisted and I looked over my shoulder sternly.

“I will repeat myself but one more time. Leave us, and if anyone so much as knocks on the door, there will be severe consequences. Unless there is a Calamity on our doorstep--which I know to be impossible--it can and will wait.”

“Understood, Your Radiance. I will… personally see to it that you are undisturbed.” He left without another word, closing the door as he bowed deeply and I returned my gaze to the Warrior of Light, who was looking at me with a raised brow.

I placed her down on her feet slowly, bringing my hand up to cup her cheek as I looked her up and down, marveling at how bright and clear the hue of her soul had become with the addition of the new fragments. As she leaned into my hand, I could feel her relax at my touch and she brought her hands up, gripping the fur lining of the coat that was part of the outfit I had worn during our previous encounters. She moved her fingers along the soft material slowly.

“[I missed you],” she whispered and I was not prepared for the shudder that tore through me to hear those words reach my ears from her lips.

“[And I missed you, my heart’s gleam],” I responded, my thumb brushing against her cheekbone, her eyes fluttering shut.

I took in her appearance, a soft smile on my lips as I moved my free hand to tug gently on her loose locks of hair. “What prompted this style change? Fashion trends of one of the other shards?”

Her eyes opened slowly and she frowned, and suddenly the anxiety in her mind from earlier had returned. “I… I just felt like it after absorbing one of the fragments,” she admitted quietly, but I could tell from the internal turmoil that was brewing that there was much more to it.

I moved my hand that was on her cheek to her shoulder, gently rubbing her skin in an attempt to soothe her, trying to make her feel even the slightest bit at ease. “What’s on your mind?”

She sighed, furrowing her brow, her gaze leaving mine. “I’ve changed,” she replied, her voice soft and unsteady. “I’ve changed and it… scares me.”

“Changed how?” I prompted, my fingers moving to her chin to coax her to look at me once more, searching her expression slowly, a slight frown crossing my lips as well.

“Did… did Persephone write left-handed?” she asked and I furrowed my brow.

“Yes,” I recalled with a playful roll of my eyes, remembering the strange idiosyncrasy she had pertaining to her preferred hand for different tasks. “But she painted with her right hand, which never made sense to me. She was ambidextrous, for all intents and purposes, she just opted to be… unique .” 

She nodded thoughtfully, her mind thinking back to an event that had occurred on the shard, though she did not linger long enough for me to discern any details. “And I guess… she wore her hair down.”

“Every day, yes. But hers was longer than yours, as I’m sure you can recall… About the same length as Ryne’s.”

She bit at the skin of her lower lip and my eyes zeroed in on the motion. It was what Persephone used to do when she was deep in thought or anxious, as well. I moved my thumb to brush it against her lip, drawing her attention away from it with a soft kiss on her forehead.

“What if…” she trailed off, looking down at the ground, completing her sentence through our bond, her voice ringing with apprehension and sorrow in my mind. What if I get lost? 

“You won’t, we’ve had this discussion already,” I said with certainty.

"How can you be sure? That I won't be lost?"

"Because you are uniquely you , my beloved," I replied, trying to reassure her by sharing the confidence I felt through our bond.

"But these things... that have changed in me," she said softly, tears forming in the corner of her eyes.

"They are inconsequential to who you are as a whole," I insisted, trying to figure out how to make her understand. I had not considered how such things would impact her, how her lack of an understanding of how a soul works would result in this uncertainty. “They are aspects of the soul itself, so ingrained into its existence from the strong emotions associated with them that they forced their way to the forefront when you first absorbed the fragments.”

I snapped my fingers, a ribbon appearing in my hand, and I swept her hair up into my hands, fastening it up as she normally wore it, a small reassuring smile on my face as I continued, “But your right-handedness and your favoring your hair up still remain, you’ll see they’ll return with time as long as you don’t let them fade away.”

"But how are you so sure , Hades?" Her tone was desperate now, the tears threatening to spill over and I cradled her head between my hands gently.

"[Because I love you ]. For everything that makes you who you are,” I whispered with conviction, placing a soft kiss on each of her cheeks, my thumbs moving to wipe the tears in her eyes gently before they fell.

“Because while at first, all I noticed was your similarities in the dreams, the differences between you and her that I’ve come to love are so numerous that if it was not for the color of your soul matching hers, I would not have believed you shared it,” I said, placing one tender kiss on the tip of her nose. She breathed a small laugh, the tension in her mind slowly dissipating as she took in my words.

“Because you have breathed life into me that I did not know I was missing. Not even in the days of Amaurot have I felt this way," I continued, pressing my lips to hers for a moment. "You are so much stronger than you realize; I wish you could see yourself through my eyes. You will not get lost because there is so much to you and you would never allow yourself to fade away. Where would it all go? A new vessel perhaps, if anything."

She smiled softly for a moment before pursing her lips, her mind hectic once more. “But… if Persephone returns, she’s your soulmate. What good would I be, even in a new vessel?”

I shook my head slightly, pressing my forehead to hers. “She was my soulmate, yes. In a different world, in a different time.”

I pulled back to search her eyes, smiling at her and allowing her to feel every emotion I felt for her through our bond. “[ You are my soulmate now. I would never stop looking for you. ]”

She exhaled shakily, her mind pulsing with uninhibited joy and relief at my words, before pulling at the fur of my coat to bring me closer to her. I leaned down slightly, my lips hovering above hers for a fraction of a second before I closed the distance with a soft and tender kiss. She sighed against my lips, pressing herself flush against me and one of my hands slid to rest on the small of her back, pulling her closer still as our lips moved slowly and tenderly against each other.

As the kiss gradually intensified, I slid my hands down her sides to the back of her legs, lifting her up off the ground. She wrapped her legs around my body, her lips pressing against mine with vigor. I slowly made my way into the bedchamber, closing the door behind us, her fingers gripping my hair tightly and I moved to lay her down on the plush bed. Hovering above her, I placed my hands on either side of her head as I pulled back from the kiss, panting heavily.

With a pang of desire from her mind, she pulled my head back down to hers firmly and I breathed a chuckle against her lips as she kissed me once more, her hands moving to push the fur-lined overcoat off my shoulders. I shrugged out of it, allowing it to fall to the ground before pulling back from her lips. I raised a hand and with a snap of my fingers, I was left in just the undershirt and trousers of my imperial garb. I smirked down at her when she raised a brow at me, her thoughts wondering why I had not simply removed everything from my body.

“Won’t you allow me this small pleasure now that we finally have no chance of being interrupted by any of your friends? I quite enjoy the frenzied removal of clothing,” I teased and she rolled her eyes, her hands slipping under the cloth of my shirt and removing it with a swift movement. I chuckled before pressing my lips to hers once more, her hands coming to rest on my shoulders. If you insist, my dearest.

Snapping once more, I grinned against her lips when she inhaled sharply at the realization that I had not just removed all of my clothing, but hers as well leaving both of us in our smallclothes. She slid her hands down my arms before sliding her hands underneath mine where they were placed on either side of her head, lacing our fingers together as our lips and tongues danced against each other’s, our breathing growing heavier.

I propped myself up on one arm, the other releasing her hand before sliding down the length of her body slowly, coming to rest on her hip. She whimpered against my lips, her hips moving slightly against mine with her desperation to feel closer, her longing for my touch, her wanton lust--all reached me in waves through our tether and I could not contain the full-body shiver that coursed through me. I kissed her harder still in response with my insatiable hunger for her, tightening the grip on her hip as I ground my increasing hardness against her, a soft moan escaping her lips.

She tightened her fingers around mine, her free hand coming up to grip my shoulder firmly, her nails digging into my skin. As we moved against each other slowly, the room was filled with soft breathy moans and unsteady breathing, our lips locked together as our hands explored each other’s bodies, unhurriedly and deliberately, the remaining pieces of clothing being peeled off our bodies.

Finally, I pulled back, my eyes roaming her body slowly, her skin flushed with the mix of shyness and desire that she was feeling. I took a moment to observe the unique color of her soul, shining so much brighter than it ever had since the Sundering, and the urgency to feel her, to connect with her truly increased a thousandfold. It had been millennia since I had been able to see her gleam so intensely, so close to complete now with the absorption of the fragments. She took a deep, shuddering breath at the pure and unadulterated need she could feel from my mind, the intensity of my gaze causing her cheeks to flood with color.

“What is it about me that’s making you look at me this way?” she murmured, her breathing still heavy.

“Your soul, my beloved, it’s…” I paused, searching for the words. “Nearly whole, the color, the brightness, the intensity is almost as it should be. I have not had the opportunity to behold a soul so vibrant in thousands of years outside of the three of us who initially remained and... I wish I could explain how it makes me feel to see yours shine in this way.”

[Show me then], she said to my mind and a shiver ran through my body from the sheer joy and exhilaration seeing her nearly complete had sparked within me.

I descended on her hungrily, my desperation overflowing as I began kissing along the bare skin of her neck and down her chest to kiss every ilm of her skin, trailing my tongue along the slope of her breast. She arched up against me with a whimper as my hand trailed down her stomach before finding its mark between her legs, my lips wrapping around a taut nipple, as she gasped with the sudden rush of stimulation she had received.

She moaned softly and writhed against my hand, whimpering my name again and again as my fingers brushed against her wetness in just the way I had learned she enjoyed. My fingers brushed against her flesh repetitively, moving down to her opening before trailing upwards to circle the bud at her apex, eliciting a soft cry with each exhale. 

I smirked against her skin, her inexperience causing an eagerness for more which raced through her mind over and over again, her hand gripping mine tightly as she gave in to what she was feeling and what I was sharing with her through our shared connection. I continued to tease her, just barely giving her the touch she craved before moving my attention elsewhere as my lips trailed wet kisses to her other breast, my tongue swirling around the stiff peak. I prepared her slowly, patiently bringing her to the edge before backing off to prolong the experience, to increase her enjoyment.

She soon began to tremble as the waves of sensation began to summate within her and I slowly slipped a finger inside her, causing her to gasp sharply when I moved my hand in a steady rhythm. She whimpered with each movement as I kissed my way back up her body to claim her lips with my own once more, eventually introducing another finger to join the first. Before long, she began to shudder, tightening around my fingers and crying out, her hips bucking up against my hand with reckless abandon as she rode the crashing waves of her climax. 

When she had calmed, I pulled back from her lips as I removed my fingers, my eyes searching hers as my mind asked her if she was willing and ready to continue. She nodded slowly, and when I placed my hands on either side of her body, she placed hers on each of my shoulders. I brought my lips to hers gently as I moved one of my hands down her body before positioning myself. Inhaling deeply, I steadily moved my hips towards hers. 

As I entered her gradually, I was overwhelmed by just how tight she was, my mind barely able to maintain cognizance of the fact that I needed to allow her time to tell me if she needed me to stop. Her warmth, her wetness, the feeling of her surrounding me, both body and soul--it was all nearly too much to bear as I finally came to a stop, fully seated inside her. It took everything in me not to let out a pleasured groan at the intense influx of sensation I was experiencing for the first time in thousands of years.

Her brow furrowed from the discomfort, drawing my attention back to her as her hands gripped at my shoulders tightly. I moved my face close to her ear, whispering soft reassurances while I held my hips still, now pressed flush against hers. The pain she felt was palpable through our bond and I kissed the shell of her ear gently to comfort her as she adjusted to the new physical and mental sensations she was experiencing.

But ever-so-slowly, the pain began to ebb away, leaving nothing but the pulsations of the undercurrent of affection and desire that was flowing through our connection. When she moved her hips experimentally against mine, I was unable to restrain the sound that escaped my lips, pressing my face against her neck before I steadily, gently, began to rock my hips against hers. She whimpered and moaned softly with each motion, her body and mind responding to every thought and movement of my own.

I could hear her mind racing with thoughts clearly in my head just as she could hear my own, the channel between us unencumbered by the nature of our intimacy, our souls connecting once more as they had in a time before time. The sheer magnitude of the realization that I had been allowed this opportunity to connect once more with the one soul which completed my own, that I had been afforded her trust and affection to be permitted to share this with her brought wetness to my eyes that I was not prepared for and I pressed my forehead against her neck, panting against her as I let myself get carried away by the ebb and flow of the currents of our aether synchronizing, our heartbeats coming to beat to the same rhythm.

“How did you last for so long without feeling this?” she asked softly between breathy moans, her soul resonating with my own in an achingly familiar way and I found myself unable to respond, overwhelmed by the mixture of my own emotions and hers. “How is it possible that I missed feeling you this way so much ? Why do I feel as if I remember this so vividly without ever experiencing it before?”

I could feel her heart swell with the sadness that came with the realization that I had been missing this connection for thousands of years, that I had been so patient with her, that I had allowed her to be ready in her own time.

Her mind filled suddenly with unbridled joy as I continued to pour my own love and affections for her into every breath, every movement, and I was struck with how strong her feelings were for me. She had longed to find someone who truly understood her, someone who looked at her as more than a hero, who considered her as more than someone to revere and worship. I shook my head, bringing my lips to hers firmly before I pulled back, speaking between heavy breaths as I began to move with more urgency, my mounting desperation to show her how much she meant to me driving me forward.

“Do you not realize how willing I would be to worship the very ground you walk on? Do you not feel just how devoted I am to you?”

She cried out as she allowed herself to feel beyond the physical aspect of our connection even more, her eyes rolling back at the sensation of our bodies and souls intertwining, the unrestrained love, adoration, devotion, admiration, and commitment I felt for her reaching her in ways it had not been able to previously.

Tears of joy welled up in her eyes and I pressed my lips to hers once more, picking up the pace of my movements once again, her hips moving to meet mine now. She arched her back, her nails dragging down my back and I shuddered, moaning her name against her lips, our breathing growing heavier, my every feeling for her spilling from my lips with each thrust.

With each movement of my body, I inched closer to the edge, and I could feel her not far behind, and we were soon both overcome by the sheer amount of emotion and sensation shared between us in both mind and body. She trembled against me as we approached the threshold together, wrapping her arms tightly around me, moaning my name in my ear over and over again as she climaxed and the feeling of her tightening around me made me come undone.

I held her still-trembling body close to me, our breathing labored as we both took a moment to soak in the other’s presence before I slowly moved away from her, rolling onto my back and pulling her into my side with a reverent kiss on her forehead. She draped her arm across my stomach, tangling our legs together.

As our connection returned to normal with the separation of our bodies, the room fell silent without the constant influx of her thoughts flooding my mind. “[I love you],” I murmured as I moved my hand along the arm she placed across my abdomen, our breathing heavy but steadily returning to normal as well.

She tilted her head slightly to press a soft kiss against my neck, before curling herself closer still against me. “[I love you too, Hades].”

Chapter Text

We laid in bed for the rest of the day, Hades putting off his imperial responsibilities to spend time with me. We did nothing but soak up each other’s company after being separated for so long, talking about the different aspects of our journeys, excitedly discussing the different shards.

After a while, though, our talking died down and I laid against his chest in silence, lazily running my index finger in mindless patterns over his stomach. He suddenly breathed a laugh and lifted his head slightly, to kiss the top of my head. With a content sigh, he dropped his head back down on the pillow. I tilted my head up to look at him.

“Never in my life did I even imagine that the Champions of Light and Dark would share a bed together, and I’ve lived a long life.”

I sat up, propping myself up on my elbows. He watched me in silence for a few moments as I leaned my chin in one hand and tried to put my words together.

“I’m…” I paused with a sigh, a smile creeping onto my face, and he lifted a hand to run his thumb across my cheek. I closed my eyes and leaned into his hand. “I never expected to be the hero of the story, you know. But as I continued on my journey, I thought I was fine with being alone. As long as it meant the people were alive and safe, I was willing to put everything I wanted aside. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, right?” I opened my eyes again, gazing down at him, memorizing his face. “And then, you just had to come along and change everything .”

I huffed a laugh. “Even...even after our battle and you were gone, I felt your absence deep within my soul. Knowing you now, feeling your feelings...I realized that I never wanted to be without you again. I feel...selfish, I suppose, for wanting these things when there are still so many problems in the world. But, I find...I don’t care if I’m being selfish. If you’re here with your arms around me, everything feels...right..”

He sat up slightly, quickly, firmly taking my face in his hands. He leaned in close, pressing his forehead against mine.

“It’s not selfish,” he assured me. “To want something for yourself after living a life of selflessness.” I exhaled another laugh as he moved one hand under my chin, forcing it up so my lips met his.

I sat up on my knees, the sheet from his bed sliding off of my body. He followed me, never breaking contact and I wrapped my arms around his neck, threading my fingers in his hair. I pressed myself fully against his body. His arms wound around my back as he held me tightly, latching on to me as if I would disappear if he let go, as if he couldn’t believe that I was here, in his arms. I inhaled deeply, taking in his scent as he released his affection for me into the bond.

Slowly, his hands started exploring my body again. As his fingers ran up and down the length of my bare back, I shivered, his touch leaving a tingling trail of sensation on my skin. Feeling bold, I removed my arms from around his neck and gently pushed on his shoulder, prompting him to lie back down.

He pulled away from my mouth and raised a brow, so I sent my intentions down the tether. The smile he gave me in response made my face heat up, but he did as I bid, then guided me over him so that I straddled his abdomen.

He set his hands on my hips, slowly pushing me down onto him, letting me adjust to the feeling. A whimper escaped my mouth with the small amount of pain this new sort of stretch brought, and I gripped his arms tight. He sat still when I was fully situated, patiently waiting, running his hands up and down my thighs, assuring me I didn’t have to continue until I was ready.

Slowly, I started moving against him, eliciting soft moans from his mouth as I did. I bit my lip and watched his face as he closed his eyes, his back arching, pressing his hips harder against mine, pushing himself deeper into me. I released my lip and a small cry of my own escaped. The sound I made caused him to tighten his hold on my legs, fingers digging into my skin.

“Just like that,” he whispered.

He released my legs and took hold of one of my wrists as I continued, my movements gaining speed. He tugged me down, and I leaned over, supporting myself with one hand on each side of his head. He craned his neck up to catch my lips in his, placing one hand on the side of my head, the other finding my breast, kneading the flesh he found there.

Eventually, he wrapped both of his arms around my back, pressing my shoulders down until I was flush against him, then broke his lips away from my mine to trail small, featherlight kisses down my jaw, reveling in the feel of my heaving chest against his and the sound of the small whimpers that made their way out of my mouth. He buried his head into my neck, panting heavy breaths onto my skin as I ground harder against his hips. He bit the crook of my neck, and in conjunction with the rocking of my hips, a loud moan rose up my throat.

“Not yet, my beloved,” he panted against my skin, causing a shiver to run through me, bumps rising on my skin. Not wanting to finish yet, not ready to give up this special kind of closeness we were able to share, he moved his hands to my hips once more, forcing me to slow my movements.

I wound my arms under him as he dragged his mouth back to mine and kissed me deeply, with all the passion he felt for me. I dug deep for our bond, wanting to show him how I felt, wanting to know what he was feeling.

The unrestrained joy I sensed from him filled my heart- the happiness he felt knowing that I loved him as much as he did me spread throughout my body, slowly pushing me closer to the edge.

I sat up, wanting to feel him deeper again. I gripped the headboard ahead of me, pushing myself down against him. He inhaled sharply and I felt him throbbing inside of me. My nails dug into the wood as I moved my hips in circular motions, hitting just the right spot over and over. He closed his eyes, hands moving to grip my thighs again.

At his behest, I moved slowly at first, but soon it wasn’t enough for either of us and I felt him lifting his hips to meet mine. When he felt I was close, he pulled me back down to him, one arm wrapped around my back, one pressing on the back of my head. I cried out, the sound muffled as he found my mouth again.

The feeling of my own climax around him brought him his release, a loud moan vibrating against my lips, hand fisted in my hair, his soul laid bare to me.

With a soft whimper, I collapsed against him, breathing hard, my entire body trembling. With a content sigh, I closed my eyes, slowly sifting through the emotions he’d pumped into me.

Amidst his happiness, his contentment, I felt a certain sadness I had missed before. Regret, even.

I went to pull away from him, to find out what was wrong, but he continued holding me in an unmovable embrace against his chest, hiding his face in my neck once again. His shoulders started shaking and I tilted my head towards him.

“What’s-”

“I’m...sorry,” he whispered into my skin. I furrowed my brow, imploring him to look at me through the bond, but he continued. “I almost willingly turned you into a Lightwarden… a monster. And I…”

His voice was threatening to break and I pushed away from him, forcefully, sitting up fully. I looked down at him and he averted his gaze, eyes lined with red. Tears sprung to my own eyes as I watched him, as I felt him. In my efforts to be candid with him, I’d reminded him of the things he’d done and…

“It’s…,” I started and blew out a long breath, leaning over him, placing one of my hands flat against his cheek, forcing him to look at me. “It’s in the past now. We’re moving forward, remember?” I pressed my forehead against his. “It doesn’t matter.” 

I assured him that I wasn’t angry- I never had been. I had been sad, sure, but he...he’d been tempered and not himself back then, and while I understood that was not an excuse for the things that he’d done, the steps forward that he’d taken so far to make up for his past mistakes made me truly believe that he could be better in the future. Even Hydaelyn believed in him, a child of Zodiark... Believed that he was ready to atone for his misdeeds. Who he was now was who he was truly meant to be, and the knowledge of that filled me with more happiness than even I could have imagined, drowning out my sorrow over the sins he’d committed previously.

He breathed a relieved sigh when my thoughts reached his mind and placed a hand over mine for a few short moments. I moved off of him and laid on my side, facing him. He reached to stroke my cheek, eyes exploring my face, a soft expression in them.

Before he was able to say anything, though, there was a knock on the door in the main room. He frowned, but sat up. With a frustrated sigh, he was out of bed and headed for the door. Not bothering to put his clothes back on. I wrapped the sheet around my own body as I drew the curtain to the canopy back, watching, with a raised brow, his bare backside as he walked away.

“Enter!” he yelled as he left the bedchambers, and I slid out of the bed to follow, the sheet dragging on the floor behind me, but stopped behind the doorway, peeking out to see the visitor. The front door opened and a soldier appeared, trying to avert his eyes when he realized his emperor was not dressed. Hades tilted his head at the soldier’s audacity and I could only imagine his expression. He crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for his subordinate to show him the proper respect. Finally, the man looked at Hades again, though it obviously made him uncomfortable. “Bahamut had better have risen from the ashes for you to be interrupting me at this moment.”

The soldier cleared his throat. “W-well,” he began, his nervous and uneven. “Lord Gaius said I should deliver this-”

“Did I not explicitly say that I was not to be disturbed unless there was a Calamity on our doorstep?”

“I-I- He was very insistent-”

“Since when does the word of the heir apparent supercede that of the emperor? Shall I make an example of you to those who also wish to defy my wishes?”

The man dropped to one knee, head bowed deeply, whole body trembling in fear. “Your Radiance, I have angered you.”

I quickly stepped out from the shadows, holding the sheet closed around me, and put my hand on Hades’ arm. “That’s not a very good reason to execute someone, Solus,” I interjected. He blew a breath out of his nose and looked down at me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the poor soldier look up, his eyes wide at the sight of me, clad in nothing but a sheet, in the emperor’s personal suite, using his given name.

“Always the hero, aren’t you, my dearest?” He shook his head. “Fine, fine. Anything for you.” He waved his hand towards the soldier. “You may go. Don’t let me see your face again.”

“Y-yes, Your Radiance,” he stuttered, bowing fully to the floor to the both of us before standing and taking off down the hallway. I looked at Hades again with a raised brow. A smug grin appeared on his face and I rolled my eyes, but he quickly swept me off the floor and into his arms, then headed for the bedroom again, snapping his fingers so the door shut behind us.

Over the next few days, between his meetings with officials, he took me around the city of Garlemald. I could tell, despite the fact that the creation of the empire was a means to an end, that he was quite proud of his work. As we travelled around, the layout of the city felt familiar.

Sensing my thoughts, he nodded. “Yes, I based the place on Amaurot. Not so much the designs of the buildings, but the paths you walk to get from place to place.”

I smiled and he tucked my arm through his as he pulled me along, ignoring the gaping from his subjects that they didn’t bother to disguise. Over those days, we passed many people who would drop to their knees in a bow the moment they saw us, and refused to move until we were out of sight again. I bit my lip, their actions making me feel mildly uncomfortable. When I’d started growing annoyed, I asked him about it.

“Isn’t it...irritating to be worshipped like this all the time?” I motioned towards a group of citydwellers, still a ways off, but already on their knees nonetheless. I looked up at him, a sad smile on his lips.

“No, but I must admit, it does get lonely. They worship me because of all I’ve done for them. I understand why , but meaningful connections are nearly impossible.” I frowned and looked to the ground, collecting my words, finally ready to confess to him.

“Ever since I became a hero, I’ve...felt the same. The people...they gasp when they see me. Sometimes they even bow.” I sighed. “You’ve seen my own friends put me on a pedestal above everybody else and I...” My words trailed off, my feelings down the bond finishing the statement for me. Hades slowed us to a stop and turned to put his hands on my shoulders, leaning down to my level.

“As they should, my beloved. The things you’ve done for them are worthy of reverence. I know it isn’t easy to feel this way, but I hope it is a small comfort to know that I understand.”

I nodded, but still frowned. “I didn’t...do those things so that I would be worshipped. I did them because I thought they were right. It’s been such a relief to me to be able to connect with someone who treats me like a person instead of a God. I’m...happy you understand how I feel. I think you’re the only one, though the admiration I receive still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, as you’ve noticed.” A smirk appeared on his face.

“There’s where we differ. I did do them knowing I would be worshipped by the pawns.” A laugh escaped me at his words and without thinking, I shoved him, playfully. There were gasps from the residents all around us as I had dared put my hands on their emperor. He took a quick look around and straightened again. “It seems you still have that knack for inflaming the natives, my dearest. I think it best we depart this area before they start throwing tomatoes at you.”

A few nights later, I found myself sitting in a reserved box at the theatre Hades had built in Solus’ youth. He’d personally gone through the royal wardrobe and selected a dress for the occasion, then forced me into it, claiming I couldn’t show up to the city’s official symphony on his arm and not look the part.

It seemed excessive to me, but with a pout, I agreed and let the palace handmaidens work their metaphorical magic on me. In the end, I had to say that I looked rather stunning, an admission that only served to fuel his arrogance. The blue hue of the fabric was vibrant, unlike anything I’d seen so far in Garlemald, the style seemingly a bit risque as well, with an off-shoulder bodice made of lace, the skirt hemmed high above my knees in the front, but trailing on the ground behind me in the back.

I had shrunk under the stares of the other officials also attending the performance, the rumor mill spinning around the room as Hades led me to our seats, where he regaled me with the tale of how this building came to exist- an accomplishment he held close to his heart. I couldn’t help but smile.

When the symphony began, he dismissed all of his attendants and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. I settled into his side as we watched, reveling in each other’s company.

When we got back to his rooms that night, he slowly peeled me out of the dress he’d chosen, leaving behind small, reverent kisses all over my skin as he slid the material off my body. He left it in a crumpled pile on the floor and picked me up so that he could carry me to bed.

Days later, the Eorzean Alliance arrived with the Doman and Ala Mhigan Resistances for the official treaty signing and accompanying ball. I decided that I didn’t want a part of it. Hades was disappointed I would not  be attending the celebration with him, but while I was a citizen of Eorzea and had participated in various meetings of the same nature, this wasn’t my responsibility nor did I feel I was needed to help keep the peace with the Scions in attendance. He supported me in my decision nonetheless, happy that I was finally doing something for myself.

 Alphinaud suggested that I stay in the emperor’s rooms while they conducted their official business, and assured me that since I would not be participating, there would not be a mention of my presence in Garlemald.

In the early afternoon, I lounged on the bed and watched as the emperor’s personal valet fitted him into his imperial armor- cumbersome as he thought it was, his advisors had insisted, as was Garlean custom. A few minutes after they had finished, Hades left a soft kiss on my lips and departed for the meeting. I smiled at his back, but went back to bed to read a book I’d swiped from the palace library.

After only a few chapters, I heard the door open in the main room. I sat up in bed, quietly shutting the book in my hands. There was no way he was already done...

When I heard the loud clanking of his armor as he made his way through the suite, the tension in my muscles started to ease, though my mind raced with questions. Had something gone wrong? What-

Wait.

I furrowed my brow, listening closely as I quieted my mind. The gait of whoever was in the main room didn’t match Hades’. I tugged lightly on the tether between us, the link pointing me in another direction.

I froze as Zenos yae Galvus came to a stop in the doorway to the bedchamber. He stood in silence, observing me, that familiar, murderous glint appearing in his eyes.

Finally ,” he sighed after a few long moments and I tensed again, eyeing him carefully. 

I should have suspected this day would come eventually, especially being where I was. It was his home, afterall. How had I let him catch me with my guard down in such a place? How had I become so complacent?

My heartbeat picked up as he started walking closer to the bed, hand hovering over the various swords at his hip, poised to attack me.

He may have surprised me, but I would not let him get the upper hand again.

Before he could lunge for me, I summoned my daggers to my hands. In a fluid motion, I stood on the mattress and leaped forward. His sword flew from his sheath, clashing with the metal of my knives, stopping me in midair. 

I used his sword as an anchor and pushed myself off, his strength never wavering. I landed a few yalms away, on the other side of the room. We stood in silence for a few moments, watching each other. One side of his mouth tugged upward and I dropped back into my stance.

I readied my Ninjitsu and propelled myself forward as I cast it, a shock of purple lightning raining down over him. He raised his sword, the smile never leaving his face, as the metal absorbed the energy and quickly turned back to me, flinging my own ability back at me as I advanced.

My eyes widened and I pulled back, dropping into a crouch as the power flew over me, impacting the wall behind me.

“What a disappointment you have become, my dearest friend,” he taunted, the mad gleam in his eyes growing. “So easy to read. Here I was, sorely hoping for a real fight, but it seems you have let yourself go.” He clicked his tongue at me, then crouched into his stance. When he feigned a lunge, I fell for it, but realized my mistake soon enough and sprung forward to attack him, daggers gripped tightly in my hands.

Before reaching him, I used Shukuchi and disappeared in a puff of smoke, meaning to surprise him by rematerializing at his back.

He sensed my location before I made it there, however, and in one, sweeping move, grabbed me out of the air by my neck, rushing forward into the wall with enough force that I was embedded into the rock, the impact knocking the breath out of me. The wall shook and started crumbling around me. With a cry, my head bounced off the stone and my vision went fuzzy. My weapons dropped from my hands, clattering when they hit the ground. A wave of panic hit me as I sucked in as deep a breath as I could manage and grasped his gauntlet, trying to pry it from my neck, but my fingers fumbled as my mind clouded over.

"Hmm," Zenos hummed as he held me against the wall, armored hand tight around my throat, examining my face. "At least the Ascian did not lie to me." I tried to narrow my eyes at him, but I couldn’t focus for long. Frustration and confusion built in me as my eyelids drooped, the pain in my skull causing tears to stream down my cheeks unbidden. My arms grew heavy and slid down to my sides. "Elidibus may have taken over my body for a time, but it seems the enemy of my enemy is my friend, afterall."

Elidibus…? What…?

I pushed against his massive form with all the strength I had left, but the spinning in my head made my limbs weak, and he held firm. My head swam and I could feel something warm dripping down the back of neck, seeping in the collar of my shirt. I blinked several times, trying to keep myself conscious. His smile grew as he watched my distress and my heart pounded wildly in my chest as the panic took hold of me. He was certainly going to kill me this time.

"The miraculous return of Solus zos Galvus did not make me bat an eye, knowing what I know, though I admit I was quite perturbed when he decided to seize control and name Gaius van Baelsar heir to throne, of all people...but what really drew my eye was when the Emissary came to tell me that our dear founding father was bedding you . I could scarce believe it."

He chuckled, lifting his free hand to drag his fingers along my cheekbone, his gauntlets sharp and cold against my skin. I tried to jerk my head away from him, but he leaned in, deeply breathing in my scent. He released a relieved breath against my face. "Yet here you are."

My magic...Why hadn’t I... used it to begin with? I tried lifting my hand, but it refused to move.

"Is the Warrior of Light now such a bitch in heat that she would give her body to one of her greatest enemies?” he continued, drawing out his words. “Here I was, thinking you were above such banal things." He sighed through his nose. “No matter. I will enjoy this nonetheless.”

My vision started fading again. It was all I could do to reach out through the bond, to call for him...for help…

Hades...

Chapter Text

“One last time, Emet-Selch. No mention of the Warrior of Light, and no mention of your status as an Ascian,” Alphinaud stated firmly, his mouth a thin line.

“Yes, yes , I understand, Alphinaud,” I sighed, crossing my arms as I leaned back in my seat at the head of the table. “I am not to reveal I am an immortal Ascian to the small-minded leaders of the Eorzean Alliance. I am merely an immortal Garlean, which apparently is somehow less offensive. I am also not to reveal that the Warrior of Light is currently resting within my chambers.”

Gaius rolled his eyes but stood. “I’ll see our guests in.”

As the leaders of the other nations filed in, Alphinaud acted as a mediator on behalf of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, introducing them to me one by one. I nodded along, vaguely catching the names and titles enough to partake in the conversation that would follow, and tried not to appear distracted.

Which was difficult, knowing that my beloved was a few hallways away from me. The brightness of her soul radiated in the corner of my eye if I turned my head just the slightest amount and it brought an inexplicable joy that welled in my chest. Now more than ever, I ached to be with her, to hold her in my arms, to show her just how strongly she affected me. 

The Elder Seedseer of Gridania eyed me warily as she sat down next to her companions from Ul’ dah and Limsa Lominsa. Once they had all taken their seats, Gaius stood and signaled for one of the attendants to begin handing out the documentation that outlined the plan for the peace treaty between Garlemald and their nations. Once everyone had the paperwork, Gaius dismissed all unnecessary personnel from the room.

After a moment, the Gridanian cleared her throat. “I am curious about one thing before we begin reading through this document, Your Radiance. While I appreciate the presence of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, I cannot help but wonder where the Warrior of Light is. She has been ever-present throughout the recent conflict between our nations. It is slightly out of character for her not to be here for an event such as this.”

I nodded slowly. “We did not think it necessary to extend the invitation to the Warrior of Light, but it is my understanding that she is otherwise engaged,” I replied, looking over at Alphinaud with a raised brow.

He cleared his throat. “Yes. She was not available, unfortunately,” he confirmed stiffly and the Elder Seedseer nodded her head, her eyes narrowing slightly at me.

The Admiral from Limsa Lominsa lifted the packet then, turning the pages slowly and the rest of the leaders in the room followed suit, but I watched the Lord Commander from Ishgard glance sidelong at me before he lifted the cover.

Without warning, a wave of panic hit me through the bond and I tensed with a sharp intake of breath, clenching my jaw slightly. Alphinaud and Gaius both eyed me sidelong and I exhaled slowly, trying to reach out to the Warrior of Light without rousing much more suspicion.

The Padjal looked up at me once more, her gaze stern.

“It is interesting, Your Radiance,” she started, her tone serious. “For a Garlean with no access to magic, your aether flows with abundant Darkness.”

“How observant of you,” I replied bitterly, looking over at Alphinaud. “Failed to inform me of her aether-sensitivity, I take it?” He frowned with a furrowed brow, crossing his arms over his chest.

“What sort of games are you playing, Garlean?” the leader of Ala Mhigo spoke up with no attempt to control the anger in her voice, standing from her chair, her gaze on Alphinaud, eyes full of worry. “Are you both being held here? Is she safe?”

“I suspect,” the Elder Seedseer spoke once more, calmly. “That the reason the Warrior of Light was not invited is that she poses the greatest threat to one such as you if you are what I believe you may be. But we are aware that she is here, in Garlemald.”

I suddenly heard the hero’s voice in my head, soft and frightened, the tether between us pulsing with panic and I stood abruptly, turning my head towards the pull from her soul and I narrowed my eyes as I took note of who the intruder was. The others around the table followed suit as they stood, instantly tense.

I took a deep breath, my mind reaching out to her with desperation, my own distress setting in when she was not responding any longer. “You are correct, Elder Seedseer, in your assessment that there is more to me than meets the eye. As Garleans are not able to use sorcery, I’m afraid I will have to reveal something to you now that could possibly cause me problems in the near future despite any precautions I have set in place.”

I sighed as a portal appeared behind me. “This is not the best timing for this grand reveal, but I am an Ascian. Your Warrior of Light is here in Garlemald and she is in imminent danger.”

I looked at Alphinaud, quickly placing one foot in the portal. “I apologize for this, Alphinaud, but there is no other way. Something must be terribly wrong.”

When I exited the portal in my bedchamber, it was in time to watch the Warrior of Light’s body impact a nearby wall with a pained cry. I clenched my jaw, exhaling sharply as the anger began to build as searing heat in my chest. But as I watched her try to sit up, her hand reaching behind her head with a wince to reveal it covered in blood, the fury waned in favor of immediate concern. 

Not a second later, I stepped through the same portal to come to kneel by her side, my arm snaking behind her to help her sit up. She looked up at the urgency that was filling my mind, her breathing shallow as she glanced over my shoulder, eyes wide with alarm, mind racing with panic. I looked her over slowly, a frown crossing my lips as I watched her soul flicker erratically with the beating of her heart, the weakness caused by the injuries she had sustained clear in the way that which was ordinarily blinding barely emitted any luminosity at all. 

“How nice of you to join us, Your Radiance.

My gaze snapped to where the sinister voice came from, and I narrowed my eyes. In my concern for the Warrior’s well-being, I had honestly forgotten he was here.

“You didn’t send for me,” he continued, feigning sadness. “And we have such an important guest. Seeing as how she’s so significant to the both of us, would you not consider this a family affair?”

I watched as he took a step towards us and I raised my free hand, firing an arcane blade to impact the wall in front of where he would have taken his next step. His expression shifted immediately, grinning maniacally.

“I thought I would do you a favor, Ascian,” he started, gesturing towards the indent in the wall next to him and I narrowed my eyes. “I do know how troublesome the Warrior of Light has been for you and yours. Though I cannot imagine why, as weak and pathetic as she’s become.”

“You would be wise to hold your tongue, you insolent whelp,” I bit out, failing to contain the rage that was building within me, my aether beginning to swirl around me with the mounting anger.

“My, how emotional you’ve become,” he teased. “I remember you being so cold and detached when I was a child.”

“It was easy to be cold and detached when you were such a repulsive brat,” I replied coldly, trying to rein in the emotions that were clouding my judgment. “It seems not much has changed.”

“Hm… I wonder if my father perhaps inherited his softness from you,” he began, unaffected by my words, shrugging his shoulders. “I seem to have been spared such a gene, at least.”

I felt the hero shift her weight slightly, a small sound of pain escaping her and I looked back at her once more, trying to discern how serious the injuries were. She seemed relatively stable, her Blessing of Light likely preventing any mortal injuries from occurring and I found myself momentarily thankful for Hydaelyn. I could take her to the infirmary by portal but-

“Did you want the honors?” he asked me mockingly as he observed us, interrupting my thoughts. “I’ve left her alive, but only just.”

“How generous of you,” I retorted as I removed my hand from where it was holding the hero up, leaning her gently against the wall before I stood slowly. “But I’m afraid your hunt ends here.”

As much of a disadvantage I was in fighting in close combat, it was the necessity to maintain my image as a Garlean that backed into this corner. The frustration at this realization filled me, no doubt reaching the Warrior of Light. The commotion from using magic in combat would have undoubtedly drawn the attention of the guards nearby, and Gaius had surely already mobilized troops to the royal corridor.

I glanced over his shoulder, searching for the faint souls of the infantry and I frowned as I watched them climb the stairs leading to the corridor. No matter how sure I was in my strength, I was just as assured of hers, and she had been overpowered without him even breaking a sweat. 

Perhaps it would be ideal to use my strength in magic nonetheless? Could I defeat him before they arrived? Unlikely, seeing as I was unable to get a read on how strong the Resonance had made my opponent, there simply may not be enough time to risk starting a battle with magic before the legion arrived. I sighed, my decision made, and snapped, a sword appearing in my hand as I raised the blade slowly.

I watched as his grin widened, his hand going to his own blade and he unsheathed it slowly. “Don’t you think you’re out of practice, old man?”

“It should be easy, then, for you to cut me down and complete your hunt. Wouldn’t you agree, boy?”

In a flash, he propelled himself towards me and I dashed forward to meet him. Our blades clashed with significant force, sparks flying and the energy we had both channeled into our attack creating a burst of air that sent the papers on the nearby desk scattering every which way around the room, the sheer energy that went into the blow shifting the nearby chair backward several ilms.

We backed off from each other, assessing each other carefully before we moved to attack each other once more, our weapons meeting again and again as we took turns on the offensive, blocking the other’s attacks cleanly as we read each other’s movements with nearly perfect precision.

After some time, he flew back, grinning wildly. “I had forgotten just how good you were.”

We continued to match our blows until he dodged an attack and realized too late that he had misread my movements. I raised my weapon, prepared to deal the finishing blow, when his expression shifted once more, confidence radiating off of him. He flipped the blade in his hand and with an exacting swing, his sword caught the flesh of my leg between the plates in my armor and I fell to one knee, panting heavily with a soft groan when he pulled his blade through, taking his time to draw it out with a malice-filled grin on his face.

“Were you not the one to teach me, great-grandfather, that your enemy is the weakest right when they believe they’re victorious?” he taunted and I grimaced as the blade finally was removed from my leg.

The door flew open then, troops filing into the main room under the command of Gaius who had them come to an abrupt halt as he took in the scene in front of him. My opponent looked down at me, his expression full of unrestrained excitement his apparent victory had brought him. “As much as I would love to have you meet your temporary end with your puppets to watch…” His eyes drifted to the Warrior of Light. She was struggling to maintain her consciousness, her eyes widening with the realization that I had been wounded.

He looked back at me and plunged his blade into my shoulder, causing me to drop my weapon and I inhaled sharply as he drove it further. “I think I’d much rather incapacitate you, and make you watch as I finish your lover off. Do you think she’d scream for me? She can’t body jump like we can, can she?” 

He looked back at her for a moment with a hint of longing in his expression. I clenched my jaw as I watched him look at her, my blood boiling and I narrowed my eyes.

“No,” I responded through heavy breaths. “She can’t.”

He looked back at me and I grinned up at him, prompting him to raise his brow at me. I exhaled sharply, a gust of air welling up in the room. With a pointed look from the corner of my eyes at the door, the wind slammed it shut, allowing me time to snap my fingers to summon the auracite binding Elidibus had used on the Warrior of Light. It appeared around his neck and he dropped to his knees, releasing his weapon as the power the Resonance gave him waned, the door forced open once more by the troops at the command of Gaius.

“What-”

I stood slowly, grabbing the blade that was embedded in my shoulder with my gauntlet and hissing as I slowly pulled it out before I looked down at him.

“It seems the auracite affects the Resonance as well,” I started, dropping the blade to the ground, speaking slowly. “How fortuitous. It’s ironic, don’t you think? Just when you thought you’d won… I wonder, though, whatever am I to do with you?”

I bent down to bring my eyes level with his, my hand coming to grip his chin tightly as I had when I would scold him as a child. “Do I kill you? Do I take you prisoner? Is there any use for you in the future if I do decide to let you live?”

He jerked his chin away from me, exhaling sharply through his nose. “She’s made you soft,” he said, with no shortage of amusement in his tone. “The Solus zos Galvus I knew would have executed me already.”

I arched a brow as I stood once more. “Yes, that’s very true, isn’t it? The more I consider it, the more I feel seeing the life leave your eyes will be the more satisfying course of action. Especially after how you have treated our guest. I don’t think I’ll regret it.” 

“Plus, the risks of allowing you to live far outweigh any benefit you would possibly provide,” I concluded with a nod as I took a step back. “Death it is, then. Give my regards to your father.”

I reached down for another sword he had at his hip and unsheathed it. I swung the blade quickly, and when it passed cleanly through the thickness of his neck above the collar, I dropped the sword to the ground, turning towards the Warrior of Light. The thud of his body behind me was followed by a soft click as the auracite choker fell to the ground and I glanced to the side at one of the soldiers as I made my way towards her, ignoring the pain in my leg as best as I could.

“Call for the medical team. And someone clean up the mess this traitor has left on my floor,” I ordered coldly.

“A-at once, Your Radiance.”

When I reached her, I knelt down in front of her and she brought her hands to grasp at the pauldrons on my shoulders. “You’re hurt,” she rasped out and I breathed a chuckle as I scooped her into my arms.

I brought my hand to the back of her head and she flinched at my touch, trying to pull her head away. The leaders of the Eorzean Alliance pushed passed the Garlean soldiers then, gasping and murmuring amongst themselves at the scene in front of them. 

“Get your hands off of her!” the Admiral shouted when she noticed the Warrior of Light in my arms. I ignored the outburst and moved my hand once more to the back of her head. I could hear the click of a gun being cocked followed quickly the sounds of a struggle and I glanced to the side to see some soldiers disarm the Eorzean Alliance once the Limsa Lominsan had pointed her gun at me. She fired her shot before they could wrest the weapon from her hands and I raised my hand to erect a barrier, deflecting the bullet to the side before turning my attention back to the hero.

“You have a tendency to surround yourself with people who are easily outraged, my dearest. [Stay still],” I murmured, slowly trying to channel some aether into her wound discreetly to bind it just enough to stop the bleeding.

“[Hades, I’m fine],” she responded, her hand moving to my bleeding shoulder, placing some pressure on it and I winced. “[You need healing more than I do.]”

“[You are not fine],” I insisted. “[Stop struggling. I’ll bind the wound until I can get you to a healer].”

She exhaled sharply but nodded, begrudgingly allowing me to continue my work on her wound. When I finished, I removed my hand from the back of her head in time for the medical team to rush forward past the Eorzean Alliance and their allies.

“Your Radiance,” one of them said, signaling some medical assistants forward with a stretcher. “We will take the Warrior of Light to the infirmary.”

I nodded slowly before placing a tender kiss on her forehead. “I won’t be far behind, my dearest,” I said softly as I allowed the medical team to help her onto the stretcher, her fingers twining with mine as I glanced over at the soldiers that were detaining her friends with their hands bound behind their backs. “You may release them. They’ve calmed now that they’ve appraised the reality of the situation.”

She gave my hand a soft squeeze and I looked back at her to see her smile slightly despite the pain she was clearly in. “You must care quite a bit for me,” she teased and I raised a brow. “To throw away a diplomatic meeting like that.”

I breathed a laugh and shook my head, raising our joined hands to place a lingering kiss on her knuckles. “Don’t be silly, my beloved hero. I simply was trying to prevent any more damage to my palace.”

Chapter Text

I breathed a laugh at his statement, but immediately winced, the pain in my head throbbing. My vision had, thankfully, stopped fading, but the ache where my head hit the stone remained, growing steadily worse now that my mind wasn’t swimming. My eyes flicked to the wall for a moment before back to Hades, the realization striking me that if not for the Blessing of Light, I would likely have died.

“Okay,” he said softly when he noticed my distress, and removed his fingers from between mine so he could guide me to lie down on the stretcher, one hand on my head, gently easing it down on to the canvas. I felt exhaustion lay over me as I relaxed at his touch. “Easy.”

He looked towards the doctor and his assistants and nodded. They lifted me and I watched as he motioned for Gaius to help him, who frowned, but immediately moved to support his emperor. I took a look around the room, taking in my friends’ shocked and confused expressions as they carried me past. I reached my arm out to them and Raubahn stepped forward, grasping it gently as he examined my face, concern written in his expression. My fingers slipped from his as they continued carrying me on and I smiled reassuringly. 

“I’m sorry, Alphinaud,” the Ascian said as I heard the clanking of his armor as he started to move. I looked towards the corner, where the twin stood, head buried in one hand. “But, I’ll be leaving you with the fallout.” The boy dragged his hand down his face and nodded with a sigh. Quickly, with a frown and a concerned look down to me as I passed, Aymeric moved towards the twin, Hien close on his heels.

As we exited the room, I could hear Lyse’s shrill voice, loudly imploring the poor boy to explain what the Hells was going on and what they’d just witnessed. Pippin piped up shortly after, trying to calm her.

When we arrived in the infirmary, I was taken to a private room and the medical assistants helped move me to the bed, my limbs still weak, my mind telling me to sleep. One of the healers set to work cleaning the large gash on the back of my head, the pain making me unsteady as I sat, forcing one of them to support me as they worked. They worked as gently and slowly as they could, but I clenched my jaw to hold back my hiss of discomfort, tears welling in my eyes.

When I heard the movement of his armor, I looked to the doorway as Hades limped past to another room, leaning heavily on Gaius’ shoulder. He looked at me as they went by, trying to stop, but was ushered on by another doctor, insisting he needed to be treated and then he could see me. My heartbeat picked up for a moment, but he sent me a reassuring stroke down the bond and I relaxed a little.

“I’m sorry, Warrior,” the healer said to me. “As we do not possess the magic I’m sure you’re used to, we can only clean your wound and bandage it.” He paused, eyes roving over me before giving me a knowing look. “It’s lucky that you don’t need stitches.” I furrowed my brow a moment, but another spike of pain had me wincing, his expression instantly forgotten. “We’ll have you stay the night so that we can observe you and make sure there is no internal damage. We’ll give you a tonic for the pain. It may make you drowsy.”

My heart plummeted in my chest at the thought of being away from Hades for the night, but I was in no position to refuse, so I nodded my understanding as those working on my injury washed the blood out of my hair and I closed my eyes, feeling the cool water on my scalp against the raging heat in my head. I released a breath of relief.

When they were finished, I opened my eyes to find Aymeric leaning against the doorframe, watching me with his arms crossed over his chest.

“May I?” he asked, looking towards the empty chair close to the bed. The healer handed me a small vial of the painkiller I’d been promised. I took it as I motioned for him to enter. I downed the liquid, cringing at the bitter taste and the accompanying pain in my throat. One of the assistants leaned over my shoulder and took the glass from my hand.

“We're going to need to take your shirt off and check for other injuries.” I nodded again. Aymeric, ever the knight, averted his eyes from me as they carefully pulled the soiled shirt over my head. Behind me, the assistant made some remarks about the finger marks encircling my neck.

“It’s okay,” I assured him, my voice quiet and hoarse. I tried to clear my throat, which only served to prompt more pain. “I have an undershirt on.”

He smiled, softly, and looked back towards me. Not long ago, we were sitting in this same position after a previous battle with Zenos had left me incapacitated. I sighed, internally. It seemed there was a pattern.

“Are you alright?” he asked me as the healers continued their work around us. I felt the tonic start to take effect and exhaled a breath of relief.

“I think so,” I answered. “I can’t believe I let him get the better of me again.” I sighed, knowing what was coming next. “I assume Alphinaud told you?”

“He gave us a vague run-down, yes, between Lyse’s yelling.” He sat back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other. “Though, we had reports that you’d been seen in Garlemald with the emperor prior to our arrival. We were quite suspicious when you were not present at the meeting and assumed the worst. It seems...we were hasty in our judgement, weren’t we?”

I looked down at my lap, unsure how to respond to him. Aside from the Scions, he was one of my most trusted friends, and of course they would think it strange that I was not there. How I’d managed to overlook that, I had no idea. 

“I’m sorry… I just didn’t feel I was needed, so I decided to abstain. I had no idea the rumors had spread all the way to Eorzea.”

“You have no need to explain yourself to me,” he continued, quickly, sitting up and placing a hand over one of mine. “Knowing now that…,” He paused, taking in the others in the room. “Knowing what he is makes me uneasy due to our dealings in the past, but of course, I trust your judgement. You have never steered us wrong in the past. I just wanted to make sure that...you’re here of your own will. And that you’re being treated well.”

I looked up at him again. He was still smiling at me. He’d always had one of the kindest smiles I had ever witnessed in my life, one that truly made me comfortable. I turned my hand over and squeezed his fingers.

“Yes, Ser Aymeric,” I said, playfully. “I am here of my own volition and... I’m happy.” He nodded to me and huffed a laugh.

“I’m afraid Lyse and Merlwyb may require some further convincing.” One side of my mouth tugged upward and I rolled my eyes. “They are still unhappy with how the events of the day have played out.” I shook my head. Always quick to anger, those two.

“Of course.”

“Lift your chin,” the healer ordered, appearing next to me. “I want to examine your throat.” I did as I was told and he set to work inspecting the forming bruises around my neck. “Swallow.” The action made me wince as it had before. He moved away to make some notes. Aymeric pulled his hand away and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. Now that the awkward conversation was out of the way, he looked at my with a question on his face.

“Tell me, my friend,” he inquired. “What was that language you spoke?”

“Hmm,” I hummed, a small smile forming on my face. “It’s a lost language.” His eyebrows shot up.

“However did you learn it?”

I opened my mouth to tell him what a long story that was- but Hades pushed his way into the room, his armor and shirt removed, a bandage wrapped around his shoulder. He leaned on a crutch and I assumed his leg had been treated as well. I brightened immediately at his presence, a stray thought had me wondering if Urianger would be so kind as to heal our wounds when he arrived in the oncoming days. I thought about asking the Elder Seedseer, but after the events of the day...

“There you are, my dearest,” he said, then looked down at Aymeric with a raised brow. “Keeping my hero company, were you, Lord Commander?”

“Yes, Your Radiance. We have long been friends,” the knight responded, but stood from the chair. He bowed, courteously, to the Ascian. “But since you’re here, I will take my leave.” He turned back to me with an incline of his head. “Would you be opposed to a visit later to finish this conversation? You know I always enjoy hearing of your adventures.” I huffed a laugh.

“No, of course not.” 

The Lord Commander started to make his way out of the room then, but paused for a moment and turned back before exiting the room. “I assume now that your presence here is no longer a secret, we’ll be seeing you at the ball after the official signing in a few days?”

“Yes,” Hades answered when I opened my mouth to respond with an emphatic no . “She’ll be in attendance, provided she is well enough by then.”

My brow furrowed as Aymeric disappeared from the room with a nod, closing the door behind him. My other half shrugged his good shoulder at my expression and approached my bed. “You’ll be expected now. Besides,” he explained, leaning down, close to my face, making my heart rate spike again and my breath hitch. “It gives me an excuse to show you off to the court. I have the perfect dress in mind.”

“But-”

“Your Radiance,” the doctor reprimanded from behind me. The Ascian smirked at me, but pulled away, and with a with a small groan, slumped backwards into the chair Aymeric had just vacated.

“How does it look?” Hades asked the other man, who dismissed his assistants and came around so I could see him as he addressed us both.

“The wound was not so bad as to require stitches. It’s fortunate you were able to stop the bleeding and temporarily bind it prior to her arrival here, but she was still quite unsteady when we brought her in. We’ve given her a tonic and I recommend she stay the night for observation to see if she is able to rest and regain her strength in peace, as well as rule out any lasting damage,” he said. I furrowed my brow again. Did he know that-? 

The Ascian’s demeanor changed, quickly, unhappy with this turn of events.

“I can watch her in my chambers for the night,” he insisted, sitting forward. “She’ll be more comfortable there.”

“That’s true, Your Radiance, but I believe-”

Hades lifted his brows, the words dying one his tongue. “You’re going to defy your emperor?” The doctor inclined his head, though he looked annoyed.

“Of course not, Your Radiance. Of course, you can watch her for the night, but I will be sending one of my assistants to attend you both to change bandages as necessary and help you around.”

With a roll of his eyes, he reclined in the chair, but conceded with a sigh. The healer turned to me again, his voice strict, stern. “No strenuous activities, Warrior of Light. At all.” He gave me a knowing look and my face heated up. He looked sidelong at his emperor. “Do you understand, Your Radiance? None.”

“I’m not the one being discharged,” he said with a huff.

“No, but she strikes me as the more...responsible patient.”

A laugh escaped my lips at his words and both turned to look at me. “See? She’s feeling better already.”

The man rolled his eyes before dropping a small cloth bag in my lap. “If you have any more pain take another vial.” He looked back up at Hades again. “And should anything out of the ordinary happen, bring her back, immediately.”

“Yes, yes.”

“One last thing, Your Radiance ,” the healer started again. “The next time you have a sword through your shoulder, for the love of Garlemald, do not pull it out.” 

“Of course, Galen.”

“You may go,” he said, waving his hand in dismissal. “My assistant will be along shortly. I’ll tell her to let herself in.” He gave the Ascian a look over his glasses, then turned his back to us. Hades lifted me from the bed, a pained expression on his face from the exertion, and opened a portal.

I opened my mouth to protest, but he shook his head. “He knows,” he said, simply, and stepped through to his bedchamber. When he set me down on the bed, he elaborated further. “When I first came back to Garlemald, I couldn’t very well just show up and be accepted back with open arms.” He sat down next to me, the plush mattress bouncing. “I told them I’d just woken up in the cloning facility. I called for the palace healers, requesting him personally, to be examined. In an attempt to have some freedom with my powers, I confided in him that I’d woken up with magical abilities similar to Zenos- the Resonance.”

I nodded, a sudden tiredness taking hold of my consciousness, the tonics other effects claiming me. My eyes drooped closed on their own for a moment, but I opened them quickly and shook my head slightly, attempting to wake myself up. I felt him watching me, then he took the bag of medicine from my lap and reached over to place it on the bedside table. “Now,” he continued. “We should probably get some rest.”

Despite his own injuries and my protests, he helped me lie down on the bed. As he made himself comfortable, I looked past him at the indent my body had made in the wall of his chambers and the small smile I’d had started to fade. Sensing my distress, he snapped and the curtain to the canopy closed around us, making me focus on him again. I looked at him once again to find him examining my face. He reached to me, running his fingers gently over my cheek and leaned forward to press his forehead against mine.

My eyes fluttered shut, relishing the feeling as the edges of my mind started going fuzzy. I finally let the tension in my muscles go and relaxed. He lifted his chin so his lips met mine in a sweet, lingering kiss.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he whispered against my mouth, then pressed his lips against mine, harder, more insistent, unable to hold his relief back. I breathed in sharply, through my nose, and in a drowsy haze, wrapped my arms around him, barely trying to avoid his wounded shoulder. He pulled me into him, breathing me in, my soul pulsing against his. When he finally pulled away, my breath was coming out in short puffs against his face. I leaned in, wanting to taste his lips again, but be pulled his head back and smiled wickedly. “No strenuous activity, my dearest. You heard the doctor. Besides, look at you.” He chuckled, quietly, brushing a lock of hair out of my face. “You can’t even keep your eyes open.”

I pouted, but let him tuck me under his chin. I placed my ear against his chest, feeling the comfort the sound of his beating heart brought to me, and let myself fade off into sleep.

Over the next few days, we were forced to stay in the emperor’s chambers as we recovered. True to his word, the healer had sent over one of his junior assistants to care for us- changing bandages, administering any pain medication we needed, and helped me move about the rooms and bathe as I regained my strength. With her help, I was sat on the large couch in the main room of the emperor’s suite, reading a book, when Kan-E-Senna came to request an audience. I dismissed the girl attending me to get some lunch as the Elder Seedseer eyed Hades, sitting at a desk in the corner of the room, and then sat down on a cushioned chair next to me.

“I see now why you came to visit me,” she said, carefully. The scratching of Hades’ pen came to a stop as he watched her out of the corner of his eye. “However did you manage it?”

I huffed a sigh, looking down at my lap. “Would you like some tea, Elder Seedseer?”

“I suppose a cup would be nice, yes.” I flicked my wrist and a tea set appeared on the short table in front of us. She watched, her eyes widening for a mere moment at the show of power. She nodded her head, an almost imperceptible exhale of breath escaping her. “I see.” She looked to the Ascian in the corner once more. “Your powers are now quite similar to his, are they not?”

“Yes,” I confessed. “I’m...In my past life, I was what we now call an Ascian .” I sighed again and reached for a steaming cup of tea. I started explaining to her how recent events had played out. “Now that I am nearing the completion of my soul, these powers are stronger. I’m...remembering more about who I used to be.”

Kan-E-Senna sat with her hand to her mouth as I confided my story to her. She nodded to me. “I will admit, my friend, that I was rather worried for you.” She smiled. “But it seems that...this is the Mother’s will.”

“That remains to be seen,” Hades mumbled from the corner, causing a breath of a laugh to come from the Elder Seedseer.

“I will take my leave, then.” She stood, but before she left, she reached down to my neck, where a dark purple bruise had formed. Instantly, I felt relief as her hand lit with a bright light that spread to the back of my head before fading. My normal strength started returning. When she was finished with me, she stood straight and playfully flicked a drop of her magic towards the Ascian. He flinched for a moment as her healing spell spread over him, but he accepted it, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Thank you,” I said, looking up at her with a smile. She inclined her head to us both and left the suite.

A while later, when Hades had finished his official paperwork, he sent for his cello. When it was delivered to his hand, I looked up from my book and lowered my teacup from my lips.

“Are you feeling up to humoring me for a while?” he asked. My stomach flipped and I set my things down with a smile, then almost skipped for the grand piano in another corner of the room, my poor attendant gasping as she watched, her eyes wide with fear that I’d fall. Ignoring her, I slid onto the bench, my hands running over the marvelously crafted keys.

“What would you like to play?”

“Play the song you wrote while on the Ninth.” Surprise sparked inside me and I turned to face him.

“I...didn’t imagine it then? You were really playing with me?” One side of his mouth pulled upward.

“While you were playing, you were thinking about how you wanted my part to go, and so, I practiced with you when I was able.”

“It wasn’t...anything amazing,” I said. “Just something to pass the time.”

“On the contrary, my beloved,” he began, setting his instrument between his legs. “It was perfect.” He set the bow on the strings, positioning his other hand over the neck. “And I’ve had an idea…”

Chapter Text

On the morning of the treaty signing and celebratory ball, a servant knocked on the door. She carried a large bag, within was the dress I had chosen from the royal wardrobe for the Warrior of Light to wear for the ball.

“Your Radiance,” the handmaiden said with a small curtsy as she placed the dress on the nearby bench. “It has been modified to your specifications.’

I nodded and stood from the desk, glancing at the hero who was looking at the garment bag with a deep frown, her distaste for the implication of how poofy it must be ringing in my mind and I chuckled.

“It had better not be as dramatic as that bag makes it seem,” she muttered, crossing her arms over her chest after she put the book she was reading down next to her on the couch.

“It isn’t dramatic at all, my dearest,” I reassured her. “It’s quite tame compared to what other royal women have worn. Have some faith.”

I looked back at the handmaiden who had been watching our exchange with trepidation before nodding and gesturing at the mannequin that had been placed in the center of the room. She slowly lowered the zipper on the garment bag before lifting the dress from the bag, and I approached to examine it closely while she went to work to place it on the mannequin.

I placed my hand on my chin, taking in the fine ivory fabric that made up the large, voluminous skirt of the gown, observing as the handmaiden adjusted the dress to face me. Jeweled golden embroidery was interspersed along the fabric, following the pattern of the delicate lace that made up the top layer of the dress. I nodded in approval before my eyes moved up to the off-the-shoulder corseted bodice, which was heavily covered in the same golden gemstones.

“I am not wearing that,” the Warrior of Light said suddenly as she came to stand next to me, her arms still crossed over her chest. Her eyes wandered up and down the dress. “Absolutely not.”

“Is there something wrong with it?” the handmaiden asked, her eyes downcast. “We worked tirelessly to modify it to your size based on His Radiance’s specifications, my lady.”

His Radiance,” she started, looking at me sidelong with a jolt of irritation reaching me through our tether. “Did not tell me that I would be wearing something like this.”

“That’s because His Radiance does whatever he wants, you’ll find,” I quipped with a smug grin. “Part of the job, I’m afraid.”

“Well, part of being the Warrior of Light means I get to do whatever I want, so I guess I won’t be attending the ball.” She turned on her heel and sat back down on the couch, picking up the book once more and flipping it open to the page she was previously reading.

The handmaiden looked between the two of us with wide eyes, and I sighed, gesturing towards the door. “Leave us. I would speak to our guest in private. I will send for you when she’s ready.”

“Yes, Your Radiance,” she replied before hurrying out of the room, closing the door behind herself.

I moved to sit next to the hero, my hand going to the book to slowly take it from her. She sighed heavily, biting at the skin of her lower lip as she looked back at the dress.

“Admit it, you think it’s beautiful,” I murmured, following her gaze.

“It is , but it’s too much, Hades. I’m not a Garlean noble, so why should I dress like one?”

“Because you’ll be entering on the arm of the emperor , my beloved. Just as with the symphony, you must look the part,” I said, watching as she stood and approached the gown. I went to stand behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist, my chin coming to rest on her shoulder.

“Besides, you are so much more than a mere Garlean noble,” I said, placing a soft kiss on the side of her neck. She turned her head slightly, craning her head back to look at me and I smiled softly at her.

“I’m not going to the ball, not wearing that ,” she reiterated and I chuckled, lifting my chin from her shoulder.

“I’ll make it up to you if you wear this for me to the ball,” I offered quietly, my tone slightly suggestive as I moved my hands to rest on her hips, pulling her flush against me. I traced the tip of my nose from beneath her ear down along her neck before placing a lingering kiss on her shoulder.

“And if I don’t go?” she whispered.

“It’s been quite some time since we’ve had the chance to partake in strenuous activities,” I mused as I removed my hands from her hips and took a step back. “I intended to throw the doctor’s caution to the wind, but it seems you’ve inspired me to be a more compliant patient, my beloved, so if he recommends bedrest then...”

She turned to face me then, eyes narrowed. “Fine. I’ll wear it, but you’ll have to work pretty damn hard to make it up to me.”

“Oh, I’m counting on it,” I breathed as I leaned down, my lips hovering over hers.

Later that morning, the leaders of the nations of the Source gathered around the table in the conference room once more. The Warrior of Light walked in before me, nodding her head with a warm smile at her long-time friends and I surveyed the room before standing at my seat at the head of the table.

The Scions of the Seventh Dawn in their entirety were present this time, and I nodded at Gaius, who dismissed the guards from the room. With a snap of my fingers, new copies of the treaty appeared in front of the Scions and the Warrior of Light, who took the seat to my right.

“Life is so much simpler now that everyone knows the truth,” I mused at the surprised expressions of those around the table who had not had sufficient experience with my powers. “But where are my manners? I have yet to properly introduce myself.”

I cleared my throat, bowing at the waist, one hand behind my back, the other waving in front of my face to reveal my glyph as I had when I introduced myself to the Warrior and her friends all those months ago. “I am Emet-Selch, the Ascian who founded the Garlean Empire.”

I stood upright once more before taking a seat. “Now that we should ideally have no further incident or interruptions from my ill-mannered descendants--seeing as how none are left--perhaps an open discussion on the terms of this treaty will be possible.”

Gaius sighed and rolled his eyes. “You Ascians certainly have a tendency to lean towards the dramatic.”

“Yes, I suppose we do. But we have to entertain ourselves somehow, being immortal as we are,” I replied with a shrug.

“Theatrics to leave an impression on those with an ‘ephemeral existence’, I suppose,” the hero remarked with mild amusement in her tone.

I grinned smugly at her. “You finally understand. Their lives would be so dull without it, wouldn’t you agree?”

She shook her head, breathing a laugh. “You are… terrible. Horrendous.”

“[And yet, you find me painfully charming],” I teased, leaning back in my seat.

“[For some reason or another, yes.] But do try to stay focused, Your Radiance ,” she retorted, playfully nudging my mind through our tether as she lifted the packet in front of her and leaned back in her chair, flipping the cover open.

The others around the table followed suit after exchanging some cursory glances amongst themselves at our exchange, and the room settled into a comfortable silence with naught but the sound of the slow turning of pages.

Eventually, the hero looked up at me, slightly alarmed, confusion clear in her mind. “Garlemald gets nothing out of this treaty.”

The dignitary of Doma nodded his head slowly, putting the papers laying the terms of the treaty down.

“Yes, I noticed that as well,” he expressed with no shortage of suspicion in his tone. “The immediate withdrawal of offensive Garlean troops from Doma, Ala Mhigo and Eorzea. Dismantlement of the multiple Castrums unless explicitly approved by the sovereign nations whose territories they are built upon.” He brought his hand to his chin in reflection.

“It is hard to believe, I agree,” an Ala Mhigan representative chimed in, his brow furrowed with a deep frown. “This is in stark contrast to that which we have grown to expect of the Garlean Empire.”

I shrugged. “The sole purpose of these actions on behalf of Garlemald was to fuel the flames of conflict. For the Ardor. I have no need for such things any longer, thus Garlemald will return that which it took.”

Multiple people shifted in their seats uncomfortably at the nonchalance in my tone and I continued, “I know it does not return your dead to you, but it is all I can offer besides monetary compensation. Which seemed... tasteless and disrespectful to include in writing, but I am amenable to negotiating.”

The Lord Commander of Ishgard frowned. “I believe the source of hesitance amongst us is rooted in the fact that Garlemald appeared to have the upper hand, so this sudden change of tune is…”

“Unexpected and difficult to trust in its validity,” the Admiral of Limsa Lominsa finished, her arms crossing over her chest.

“If I may,” the gunbreaker spoke, his eyes closed with a frown. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but you can trust this man. If he says he is offering these things on behalf of Garlemald… he means it.”

I felt my e