Chapter 1: First Steps
“Where exactly are you headed with those ?” Aidan straightened in his chair, eyeing his littlest sister over his morning mug of coffee. Avali was rarely up and about this early in the day, much less with anything like the burden she carried in her arms.
Avali wrinkled her nose at him around the stack of dusty tomes that was piled high enough she couldn’t properly look over them. “Nowhere,” she quickly barked, but eventually she folded under the weight of her brother’s knowing smirk. “Okay, fine. You know exactly where.” Her tail thrashed behind her in annoyance, and she had to quickly adjust her hold on the books to keep them from starting to topple over.
He arched a brow at her. “You know there’s more… normal ways of going about this.”
She huffed and her ears flattened. “Like you’re someone I should really take advice on such things from.” With that she spun on her heel and, not without some wobbling, and stormed out of the Rising Stones as much as her small and unimposing stature would allow.
Honoura blinked from behind a book, her quiet vigil in the corner causing her to have gone unnoticed by their sister. She waited until Avali was definitely gone before clearing her throat to get Aidan’s attention, not wanting to bring the wrath of the annoyance she’d heard before down on her head too. “I feel like I’ve missed something.”
Aidan just shook his head, waving a hand dismissively. “Its nothing,” he chuckled. He took another swig from his mug and returned to slumping lazily in his chair. “Don’t worry about it, sis.”
G’raha’s eyes grew to the size of saucers when he beheld the precious cargo Avali had come bearing from Revenant’s Toll. All manner of books decorated one of the tables outside his tent at Saint Coinach’s Find, a myriad collection of different sizes, thicknesses, and colored bindings. They were stacked haphazardly to his scholar’s sense, but obviously had been somehow arranged with a measure of love and care nonetheless on further inspection.
“What is all this?” he asked, blinking a few more times at the offering laid before him before turning his gaze to her and gesturing to the pile.
Avali fidgeted a bit, suddenly self-conscious about the spectacle of her actions. She played with a longer section of her hair as her eyes wandered away from looking at him, her tail swaying behind her in embarrassment. “Just some of the tomes you’d mentioned wanting to acquire, and a few others I was recommended on the same subjects…”
“Is that so…” He looked up at her with still wider eyes. “Where did you come by these? I’d imagine their owners were not exactly forthcoming in wanting to part with them...”
“I may have had to collect on a few favours and dues owed,” she admitted sheepishly. She worried at her lip with her teeth as her ears flattened. She’s perhaps overdone it, just a bit.
“Surely you could have made better use of that leverage,” he muttered softly, a frown gracing his features as he dragged a finger down the brittle-looking spine of one particularly worn tome that had yellowed with age. His ears drooped and the lashing of his tail emphasized the annoyance in his tone of voice. “We’ve hit a roadblock, what with the doors to the principle spire being quite firmly sealed. I’m afraid the expedition isn’t going to hit its stride again anytime soon.”
She was beaming warmly at him when his eyes returned to her. “Well I suppose you’re going to nothing better to do than to dig into these then, with all that newfound free time you suddenly have.”
His cheeks colored and an ear twitched idly. He quickly busied himself with the task of sorting the books in front of him in a poor attempt to mask the involuntary response. “You do have a point. Still, you didn’t have to go to all the trouble.”
She shrugged lightly and daintily hopped up to sit on the table beside the piles of tomes. “There hasn’t been much else demanding my attention as of late, anyroad. And I wanted to help--” Her sentence quickly faltered at the end, leaving the unspoken addition of “ you ” hanging awkwardly in the air between them.
He eventually broke the silence as he spared her a glance from his task, holding out one of the less delicate-looking volumes to her with a gentle and sincere smile. “Then you've the time to assist me with my research, if you've naught else to occupy your time?”
She took the offered book with a soft blush, but her expression fell as she cradled it in her lap, her ears and tail wilting as well. “I’d love to, but I wouldn’t be much use to you.”
The look he gave her was plainly confused, and she sighed. No use in trying to pretend.
“I can’t read,” she blurted out, the color in her cheeks deepening. “I mean... I can, sort of, but not very well. Danny and Noura tried to teach me when we were kids but it didn’t stick. There’s not been much use for it most of where I’ve been.”
He hummed a soft melody to himself as he continued to sort through the spoils she’d presented him with, clearly lost in thought for a few moments before he finally responded. “Mayhap I could be of some assistance in that regard. I’d be a poor archon if I couldn’t teach another at least that much.”
His cheeks flushed again and and ear absentmindedly twitched when she giggled in response.
When he looked back at her she smiled, blue eyes glittering like the crystalline landscape in the sunlight. “I think I’d like that.”
Chapter 2: Recall
Entirely new to Ao3 content this time!
Set in the time period between 4.56 and the beginning of Shadowbringers proper across a few different moments. Some subtle, but big SHB spoilers.
It wasn't a fun time for Avali.
The moment Honoura began to relay the message contained in the latest vision to her siblings, the Echo saw fit to take the opportunity to seize Avali in its uncaring grasp. Hearing the story second-hand would have been well enough on its own to convey the message surely, but for whatever reason the mothercrystal saw fit to unwillingly thrust the miqo’te directly into her elder sister’s shoes so that the event could be imparted to her as though she were seeing it with her own eyes.
“At last, I’ve found you…”
The moment the figure’s voice hit her ears was like a bolt of ice directly to her insides. Her empathetic connection to her sister’s emotions, thoughts, and perspective from the memory facilitated through the vision was snapped and shattered entirely, leaving her with only her own thoughts racing through her mind as she tried to process what was happening. The sight the Echo was showing her was so clear and undistorted this time, so unlike all the other attempts the man had made to reach out to Honoura, Aidan, to the Scions, to all of them in the past few moons.
Had tried to reach out to her , too.
I--... I know that voice.
Her mind reeled, screaming inside itself, wishing she had any other form control over the scene before her eyes than retaining her own mind. However, despite desires to the contrary, she always lacked that control, forced to play the role of a silent audience to the events as they played out before her. And as ever, the Echo plodded on at its own pace as sure as the sun moved through the sky each and every sun.
Slowly she --or Honoura had, rather-- turned and her eyes settled on the robed figure, her sister’s emotions once again being pressed upon her through her blessing and the man’s ceaseless words of explanation slowly blended together. They lost all meaning, becoming nothing but a drone in the back of her skull as Avali’s mind fixated only on the man, despite herself, as if nothing else in all the world and beyond existed. Careful, sharp eyes watched his shifting and fidgeting, the way his head tilted and his hands moved as he spoke, the curve of his mouth and the way his nose crinkled over a particular sentiment as it passed his lips.
I... can’t be sure, it's... been ages, it feels like… but...
As abruptly as the Echo had taken her, it equally as suddenly and jarringly ejected her from its grasp without warning. She tried feebly to cling to it, pleading as the image of the hooded figure slipped through her --through Honoura’s --- outstretched fingers.
No! Please… I-- I have to know!
Her eyes fluttered open, the first sight that greeted her was of both of her siblings staring down at her with wild-eyed concern. She quickly gathered that her point of view was that from the flat of her back upon the floor of the Forgotten Knight, in Ishgard, and the knowledge of her previous surroundings before she’d been interrupted by the Echo came back to her.
They were in Ishgard… why ? Because Honoura had been brought here . Why Ishgard ? They’d just been in Gyr Aba-- because Honoura had nearly been killed by the untimely visitation of the vision she herself had just re-witnessed. Why hadn’t sh-- because Estinien , of all people, had literally swooped in and saved the day while, she and Aidan had been unable to reach their older sister in time to do so themselves.
Avali shook her head as her mind finally fully settled back into the present instead of being lost in the past, and met her siblings’ gazes. The only reassurance she could offer them was a pained smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, but the Echo and the words of the man in the vision rang loudly in not just her mind, but her ears, and her heart as well as though a barrage of cannons had been fired immediately beside her not but a moment previous.
“Don’t suppose you’d mind sharing what that was all about?” Aidan asked, and leaned down to offer his assistance to help her sit up. An arm snaked around the back of her shoulders to keep her still shaking body steady. “If it weren’t for that one being just you…” He let the thought trail off, they all knew what the rest of the thought was and implied. He wouldn’t be asking if it’d hit them both, or all three.
She smiled at him again, but more wryly so this time, as she replied. “Oh, just Mother dearest seeing to it that I make sure Noura left nothing out when recounting her version of events, as she does.” The humor conveyed in her wording didn’t match entirely to her tone of voice and her ears flattened despite herself, betraying the storm of inner turmoil she felt but refused to actually put a name to. Her siblings shared a knowing look between themselves that spoke volumes in just the span of a tick, and after some sort of silent agreement was forged between them in that moment neither saw fit to question the glaringly obvious disparity. They knew better, finally, for once in all of their lives.
Once Avali was seen settled in a chair and a thick blanket had been draped around her shoulders for comfort, the trio’s previous conversation of ‘ well what do we do now’ picked back up where it had left off. However, the miqo’te quickly found herself buried deep in her own mind and couldn’t bring herself to contribute, and her siblings’ voices became a meaningless background of ambient noise behind her train of thought. Her mind mulled back over what she had seen, the words she’d heard when forced into her sister’s shoes. The man and that painfully familiar voice, the last thing he’d said coming back to ring in her ears like static.
“Go to the Crystal Tower, I have left something for you at its base.”
Returning to Mor Dhona and the Scion’s headquarters had been something Avali had been putting off for a very, very long time, and something she would have been more than content to continue to avoid. But the hooded man’s voice kept ringing in her ears, outlasting not only her siblings’ discussion but continuing long after they had all three departed through the Gates of Judgement. Much as she might try to deny it, she could not lie to herself of all people, and knew deep in her heart it running from her past and the ghosts locked behind doors of rising stone could no longer be put off indefinitely.
The time to confront what she had lost, the elusive happiness that had been stripped from her by her vaunted title and status that came with it had arrived, and it had done so regardless of whether she would be able to face it with her head held high or not.
Her return to Mor Dhona and the first entry into the Scions’ base of operations went about as she had anticipated it would when she knew it could be put off no longer. She’d not avoided returning all these years unless it absolutely couldn't be helped for nothing , after all.
Seemingly no sooner had she gotten a single step across the threshold into the Scion’s headquarters than her knees immediately began to buckle and give out as her consciousness started to fray around the edges. Distantly, she felt Aidan’s arms as they scooped her up and cradled her against his chest, a rescue that saved her from crumpling into a heap on the cold stone floor as the Echo snatched her from herself, timely as it had ever been since their younger years. It was a rare occurrence when his own blessing failed to beat its own warning in his mind about his younger sister’s impending episodes, as it had failed to do so in Ishgard a few suns prior.
“Don’t worry sis, I’ve got her. You go on ahead.” The words that rumbled low from her brother’s chest were the last bit of her present surroundings that registered properly before she found her mind deposited somewhere, some when else
The lit of the pair’s laughter echoes off the stone walls, the main hall of the floor empty save for the two of them. A perfect convenience, given the look in their eyes as they regard one another.
Her mind shrieked in protest of the scene, her own memory seen through her eyes clear as the day she had lived it , as it was forced upon her, but against the power of the blessing there was no recourse but to remain victim to it. There had ever, and likely would never be any other way. The only action ever allotted to her was but to watch the events as they played out before her as if they were the present, undulled by the many summer that separated the then and the now.
Two young miqo’te; a woman with hair spun seemingly from starlight and eyes mirroring the crystals that cover the landscape outside, a man with hair like autumn leaves and mismatched eyes that speak to a heritage centuries old and all but forgotten. A younger, happier Warrior of Light and her eccentric Sharlayan historian, the pair obviously and completely smitten with each other even at a passing glance. He pins her against a secluded wall and uses the advantage to catch her in a passionate but tender kiss. She melts under his touch but manages to prise herself away long enough to plead with him in whispers.
“No, wait. Not here,” she giggles and her tail wiggles behind her in reflection of the mirth in her voice. “I will die of embarrassment if we get caught again .”
He offers no protest, and allows himself to be led away by the hand, a cool smirk plastered upon his face but nothing but warmth in his ruby and emerald eyes as he gazes upon his partner before him. Once the two are finally sequestered in the privacy of their own room, nothing can keep her from him. She knocks him over onto the bed with a single shove and clambers on top of him to straddle his waist with a smirk.
“Now, where were we again?”
NO. PLEASE , STOP .
She wrenched herself from the vision by nothing other than sheer force of will before it could continue any further. She knew exactly where it led, and somehow by no more than desperation she had managed to sever the blessing’s connection to the memory, sparing herself even more pain over the reminder of what she’d had, and what she’d lost could be visited upon her already struggling mind.
Tears streamed down her cheeks unbidden as she finally fully returned to herself and to the present, and she hastily wiped them away as soon as the wet feeling upon her cheeks properly registered in her brain that she had been and still was crying. Her lost love’s scent and the taste of his lips still lingered in her senses; it was all a little too much to bear at once, but there was no other option. Once upon a time she had wandered these halls chasing such fleeting visions, nothing but a husk of grief and regret, but after years of separation from having to relive the memories in such a vivid manner, having it suddenly revisited upon her left her struggling to cope all over again.
Aidan gingerly shifted Avali from where he’d cradled her in his lap and deposited her onto the bench beside him with the utmost care, but left an arm lingering around her shoulders to steady her as she continued to regain herself. “You alright, sis?”
“No.” She shook her head quietly, ears flattened against her head and the heels of her palms pressed almost painfully tight against her eyes to help stem the flow of tears. “Maybe... eventually...” she managed to croak out after a few moments, but the words came out as unsteady as her balance as she rested under Adain’s arm, nestled against her brother’s side.
He fixed her with a flat stare that communicated a complete lack of belief in her words, and she could not blame him for it because he’d been there. He had seen first-hand what it had all done to her, made of her, in the past. But even though he fixed her under that piercing gaze, he didn’t dare to openly verbalize his dissent, and she was grateful for the small kindness he silently and freely gave to her in doing so.
They would talk later, but he would not hold her need for time against her.
Unfortunately, that the Garlean Empire had begun withdrawing their forces from Gyr Abania coupled with the utter lack of a clear or direct route to the base of the Crystal Tower meant there wasn’t much of meaning to be done in the world for someone such as a Warrior of Light, and left Avali with next to nothing as an excuse to get her out of the Rising Stones other than a desire for fresh air. Against the instinct of every bone and fiber in her body, every spark of aether in her soul, she even eventually found herself outright lamenting the sudden and complete deficit of people asking her and her kin to run completely inane errands for them, a sentiment she’d never entertained before in her entire life. Well, not since she and her siblings had traded in their profession and trade of adventurers for the mantle of saviours and the responsibilities that came with a promotion of that magnitude.
The quiet calm with no promise of how long it would continue was anything and everything but peaceful to her. It was downright eerie and left her restless and anxious, much like when they’d been children and a gentle wind that did not stay that way for long came rustling through the canopies in the Shroud only moments before an unseen storm decided to crack itself upon their heads without so much as a warning. It felt like a breath held indefinitely until your lungs were fit to burst for want of oxygen, but you had to hold on as long as you could even if it meant suffocating yourself in the process. She could hardly stand it, and she wasn’t about to spend this already fitful time in the Rising Stones, content to remain a thrall to her blessing. She refused to linger any longer than necessary in that place, which to her amounted to nothing but a lichyard of a part of her life long behind her, each brick that built the walls a headstone to a different moment of happiness she would in all likelihood never be fortunate enough to experience again.
The moment that the Ironworks hands and the researchers from the find mentioned the joint expedition to investigate the surroundings of the Crystal Tower for whatever mysterious gift their equally mysterious hooded man had supposedly left for Honura to find, Avali had immediately volunteered her assistance to the cause. If she was going to be plagued by visions of her past, she thought with no small amount of bitterness, she might as well seek some variety for her misery. And, if nothing else, the Crystal Tower and its surroundings in the far reaches of Mor Dhona could offer her just that, though if she had been forced to be honest she would have admitted that the choice to leave was all but solely to free herself of the reminder of the more intimate and personal moments she and G’raha had shared in the far too short time they had spent with one another.
Another thing she’d be hard-pressed to admit to out loud was that the thought of being closer to where he still slumbered, even if only for a short time and still at a great physical distance, also gave her some small measure of comfort to combat the war her blessing and mind both had waging against her through the past few sennights.
Those put in charge of heading the research expedition recognized her on first sight, and there was a clearly visible sadness in their eyes directed toward her, even as they greeted her with a warm smile and familiar hellos. She’d spent enough time around them all that there was no fooling any of them what G’raha had been, had really meant to her, even if she herself had refused to call it what it was at the time. And as such, they all had some idea of what it was she had lost that day now so long ago, and they grieved for their saviour in kind despite the fact that hadn’t been privy to the entire story and all its finer details.
Perhaps the pity they tool upon her was why when she’d requested to wander the Eight Sentinels alone in search of any clues, her request was seemingly granted immediately by those in charge, without so much as a second thought to any threat to her well-being. Surely they knew that even a Warrior of Light was mortal as the rest of them, and felt pain in all its forms with the same fervor.
Even so, she would have been a fool to complain about getting what she wanted without even having to argue to it at all.
Permission granted, Avali took full advantage of it and wandered the stones, fingertips brushing across the tops of the statues they’d crumbled into naught more than rubble and dust as their entourage had beat their way to the Crystal Tower’s doors. She, Honura, Aidan, G’raha, Cid, Biggs, and Wedge. An unlikely band of heroes finding a way to take down everything that the grand civilization of the Allagan Empire and all its technology three at them even then from more than three centuries past.
Though her blessing had plagued her so painfully and insistently in Revenant’s Toll proper, here it remained deathly silent and left her with only her own mind and the thoughts scattered within. The memories that replayed in her head were only those of her own choosing, distant and faded from all the time and happenings the then and the now. It was a cruel twist of irony, then more than ever before, being unable to choose when her gift would and wouldn’t overtake her. What chose to show her and what it deigned to withhold.
She stared up at the glittering spire that towered before her, and let her mind conjure up the image of her love asleep in some crystal throne sequestered inside the deepest reaches of its chambers and halls. Imagined as much as remembered the deep breathing patterns she’d grown accustomed to hearing as he’d slept alongside her those stolen moments, alone save for each other’s company.
The thought brought a soft smile to her lips, and beat back the reality that she’d likely never see him again if only for that moment.
She chanced a glance back over her shoulder, away from the tower toward the settlements in the distance, when the now familiar pain overtook her.
“Let expanse contract. Eon become instant.”
She fell to her knees, and her arms clutched at herself as it felt like every fiber of her body was being torn and ripped from itself, that she might somehow possibly be able to hold together and anchor herself by will alone.
No, not now. Noura… Danny… They’re expecting me to come back…
She let out a shriek, pain and anguish given vocal form in defiance of the calling, but it was a futile effort. There wasn’t a soul for nearly a malm in any direction to hear her cries, she could only hope that someone from the expedition would find her and return her body to the Rising Stones were she to fall now. She was aware that it was not within her power to stop what had been set in motion if it saw fit to taker her, she could control it no more than any of the other Scions that had left before now were able to. She’d watched them all leave, one by one, their souls ripped to some distant and unknowable destination -- for they had put forth every effort they could to discern the location of their souls and come up empty for all their work -- presumably so by the self-same voice that rang in her ears now.
Given all that had happened, she knew . This was it. It was now was her own turn to make whatever journey had awaited the others as they had fallen one by one before her.
“Throw wide the gates that we may pass!”
She glanced up at the tower one last time while the chance remained to her, Syrcus gleaming and glistening in the sunlight in that moment like the beacon of hope G’raha had expressed his desire for it to become, a whispered apology escaping her lips. It was the last she managed before her world went dark, and it became certain she would not be making the journey home to her siblings that eve of her own volition.
Not her soul at any rate.
When the call from the Find came over the linkpearl, Honoura was too wrapped up in her own grief of the moment to be able to process the message. Bent over Aidan’s lifeless body lying in the infirmary alongside Thancred, Y’shtola, and all the other, her mind could not cope with the idea that she’d lost not just one but both her siblings at once to the same mystery ailment that yet plagued the Scions.
It was Hoary who answered the call of the Sons in her stead, and he who and brought Avali’s body back from where she’d fallen. The petite miqo’te woman somehow looked even smaller when cradled against the roegadyn’s broad chest, like a child being carted off to bed by their parent after staying up past bedtime.
The only comfort that could be drawn from the whole thing, if anything at all, Honoura thought, was that in her dreamless, soulless sleep, her younger sister looked the most at peace that she could honestly ever remember seeing in a very, very long time.