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The Ascian, Azem

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You did everything right. You did everything that was asked of you. And it still came to this.

 

Years spent saving the world. Spent going on errands for countless people. Spent smiling and nodding and playing your part. Turning the world towards what you had thought was a better purpose. Towards shared hope and prosperity. Towards cooperation.

You gave them all you had and more and they continued to take. And take. And take. To fail and fail and fail. To betray you. To use you. And make you bleed for their necessity. Denying you rest, even while questioning if you ever even slept at all.

For a peace that was all too fleeting and flawed. Undone by their ignorance. They could not help but rely on you. They lacked the means themselves.

It had never bothered you much before now, especially when the world felt so new. Long before recent events and now this brush with death brought into your mind a question.

Had all of this been worth it?

Innocence falling to dust before your very eyes as the Light gripped itself tightly and painfully around your insides. Coiling around your soul like a vicious, blinding serpent. That fool’s aether the tipping point on the journey of your ravaged thread of fate.

How many years had it been? To suffer so? Certainly too long. Writhing on the ground briefly, struggling to breathe and contain this beast.

Any longer and your life would end, one way or another.

Your fate was sealed. Or, so it seemed, in any case…

But sometimes, the path of righteousness takes strange turns. And on this path, you would not walk alone.

Ardbert, that hero of this world and erstwhile ghostly companion of yours, brought the balance. To save your soul, he sacrificed himself. Flung his spirit into your midst as soon as he saw you crumple over. Acting more out of intuition and sheer compassionate desire to see you survive then any inkling of your shared reality. A reality that revealed itself in crystal clear clarity as his essence poured itself into you, and sealed the Light with it.

His path was over. His role a minor one in yours. He would see you live, even if he no longer could. This he knew even before, in that final moment of awareness, he saw the truth of things.

And so did you.

The power of the Wardens and the Warrior of Darkness both, infusing you in a complex interplay of soul searching made possible by your bond. Of a weaving pattern of sacrifice steeped on sacrifice. Something akin to a tourniquet made of creeping vines and biting thorns, biting a deep pain in your core that was anything but debilitating. Light contained, if not wholly departed from you.

It was comforting. This memory of home you couldn’t see. Those final moments long ago felt in the heart, if not quite remembered yet. Of a shattering of reality. Felt keenly now as if it had just happened again, but in reverse.

You were alive. That mattered most of all.

It was enough.

You rose to your feet, seemingly hale and whole. Hands as they should be. Stomach contents secure. A soul even brighter than before. The tension of a second before gone in an instant.

You smiled, and so did Emet-Selch.

It was all he needed to see. A great surprise indeed. Auspicious. A new and very exciting variable to play with.

Could they finally be saved? At long last? Plucked out from Her service?

From behind your Scion friends as they rose along the stairs to the platform where you stood atop Mount Gulg, he came, his familiar gait seemingly lighter now, fuller of himself. He fairly ran up to meet you, holding back from an embrace but patting you on the shoulder with congratulation.

"Very well done, hero! For a moment there I almost believed you had been undone by the Warden's power. It would seem you have seen fit to impress me again." His smile. Familiar. Moreso then before.

He was beaming. Smiling like he had in the Ocular not long ago. Expectation confirmed at last. Moving his hand within his Garlean attire in search for something.

"You have proven worthy indeed of what comes next."

A strange orange crystal. Like a job stone. A white circle in another, larger white circle. He placed it in your hand. It was warm to the touch.

"Even your soul seems heavier, despite the grueling nature of this trial. The Light a fading backdrop upon its renewed vigour! You are truly worthy of this knowledge. And a great deal else besides... such as this gift."

You struggled to find words to speak, overcome by a sudden rush of emotions. Disjointed memories. Unclear and hazy but important somehow.

The stone felt akin to a hot coal in your hand. But even as it seemed to sear your flesh, you found you could not part with it. Did not want to.

Another comforting pain. Another burden, but one that was more like an old friend. Just like him.

But that couldn’t be right, could it? A lingering doubt.

You shook your head. He offered something, something important. You would learn of it, and judge its merits.

The Scions congratulated you in turn, all smiles and cheers, even the Exarch who seemed decidedly unsure of himself, even as he offered deepest thanks for your efforts. The sky already turning towards something resembling what it should, with wispy clouds and sunlit skies. No blinding golden glow.

The Exarch, after a moment of thought, bid you all return to the Crystarium and the Tower, therein to meet in the Ocular and discuss this outcome. You nodded and turned to go, only to have Emet-Selch place a hand on your shoulder.

When you have finished with them, please, come find me in the Exedra tonight. We will have much to discuss.”

Though yet wary of him, in their seeming success the Scions shrugged and continued on their way, certain you would know what to do and how to handle the Ascian. You’d foiled their plans. There was no more cause to fear. Let him continue to enlighten them, if it pleased him.

 

***

 

Several bells passed, and your friends ran tests on you, furrowing brows and discussing theories. They had no inkling of Ardbert or his sacrifice. No idea as to how the Light had been contained so easily and unthreateningly within your soul. The Exarch seemed especially confused, occasionally even stammering in a manner he had not before, when describing the phenomenon. But Ryne and Y’shtola could see and confirm; you held fast and were no longer crumbling from within. Completely safe. It was baffling.

To the orange stone, which now sat in one of your pockets, they had no answer. It appeared as akin to a job stone, as you had surmised, but beyond that they could not say. A gift from Emet, but otherwise innocuous. You ran your fingers over it several times as they talked, lost in thought.

Growing more eager to speak with him with every passing minute.

At long last, with naught else to trade words over, they bid you retire for the evening to a well earned rest; tomorrow they would celebrate in earnest, then turn their attentions to how to return the Scions home. Whatever else happened, the First had been saved and the Source preserved from another Calamity. The Ascians, whatever their goal was, seemed to have been denied. If the Light became an issue later, it would be dealt with then. That was good enough for them.

They parted ways after a final round of thanks and patted backs. The city was unusually quiet, save for the sound of night’s music in the form of crickets chirping and distant winds blowing over Lakeland, running through the purple leaves.

You sighed, a deep exhale. Pressure relenting at last in solitude as you motioned into the great central square to find where your erstwhile companion had deposited himself.

Right behind you, hero.” His smirking face greeted you as you turned in surprise, the man towering but an ilm from your backside, eyes bright yellow in the burgeoning light of the stars peeking out above for the first time in a century.

How do you feel?” Genuine concern? From an Ascian?

Regaining composure, you finally found your words.

“Better than I have in a long time. Was this you’re doing?”

Not at all. I cannot fault you for thinking so, or for not truly understanding how it is you came to this seemingly unblemished outcome. The Light remains locked within, but no longer harms or threatens you. A trick beyond even your Blessing alone. Curious…

He sized you up, looking with a sight beyond you, though perhaps also with an eye to study you for different purposes. Your physical form and soul both.

T’would seem you are ready, in full, as ready as you possibly can be. As I surmised upon the mountain. Aside from lingering Light, you are ready. But you alone must be made aware of what it is I offer you now. Your friends can wait, and moreover would believe these truths more readily from your own lips, not mine.”

A snap of the fingers. A black portal beside you both. A gesturing hand.

Come, and I will show you, if you wish. I promise you will not come to harm, hero, but you must be willing.”

A precipice. You sensed what he offered, not unlike the stone you now carried, staring at you from within that gaping void. A point of no return. Something you’d seen before, somehow. Long ago. Just a feeling, but no idea as to what.

It had felt wrong before. Now, with experience and hard lessons, it seemed much less so.

You looked over to him. He waited expectantly, his eyes betraying the dimmest hint of eagerness but also worry. That you would deny him and cling once more to Mother’s lies. Slip through his fingers again.

Something deep within you seemed to break, as you looked at him, your stone in hand. Wherever you were going, whatever you were about to do, you’d live with it. Maybe it would prove preferable to what you had experienced today, and so many other days in your long life as the Warrior of Light.

Maybe you could even take a nap. You felt a bit tired, after all that had happened. The others would hold the fort down until you returned, in any case.

You entered the portal.

 

***

 

Welcome home, hero.”

The ocean floor. A bubble of his devising weaved around a city grander than any you had ever seen. Lights in countless spires glimmering against a blue and churning sky. The sound of passing shades, their height towering even over your companion in this place, this place…

The Amaurot, I spoke of at the Ladder. This is a memory of it. A memory I made just for you.”

He took your hand. Like he had done so many times before. To lead you towards the Capitol.

Towards the place where they had sat, the hall where they had met. Where you had met.

How much do you remember?” Questions. Gauging aether. Hands placed upon your body to check for wounds or signs of deeper traumas. He would be certain. He must be certain. He could not afford to fail in this endeavour. As much for you and for himself as for the Ardor.

Her Blessing yet lingered, as did the Light, but something about both seemed different now. Surprisingly so, even for him. It was as if you yourself had flipped a switch, and turned them off by your own will. Something that should be impossible for one so Sundered as you.

But, of course, Azem would always find ways to surprise him. Why would it be so different, with their soul shard? Even after all this time and in this lessened state, they remained the one who had captivated him so.

After at least a full bell he smiled. Embraced you fully, his guard falling away. Tears in his eyes. You were already beginning to understand anew, just by being here with him. Just by hearing his words. By feeling his skin.

He told you everything. No more games, no more truths held back or lies of omission. No more endless questions and no more dodging of your own. You were his peer, after all. His dearest friend. His lover.

He told you everything, and you nodded along. Taking it in. Gradually coming to smile, as he did. Remembering more with each passing moment. By the end of it, however long it had been, you were seated in his lap, cradled in his arms, having wept with the weight of millennia.

You’d thought to kill him, at one point. Given his kind’s past actions. His kind. What a foolish thing to think, now that you could see with eyes unclouded.

You wept for Nabriales, Igeyorhm and Lahabrea. He assured you, they too would be saved in time. That your past errors could be repaid and eventually undone. The Light excised, and your future freed from Mother’s manipulations. After all, even for their loss, a Traveler had been reborn. Or, rather, was about to be. Your stone of office was the key. His gift to you.

His shadow cast upon you, warm and inviting even in the cold abyss. His eyes seemed endless as you gazed up at him, adoring you.

Hold up the stone, and allow my hands to guide you.”

In the middle of the room, among the podiums where once you and your peers had stood in debate, you stood alone, his form to one side. A spell weaved beneath you, glowing golden runes, wrapping themselves about you. Growing over your body. A work of your own devising now providing the path of your salvation.

They carried the inflection of His will, implanted by His servant upon the stone’s recreation in secret. It was all that was needed now, in your conflicted loyalty, to sever the connection. Her voice was gone.

You could hear Him, but also yourself. How you had been. Echoes of your words, your deeds, your life. Long in service to the Star. A happier age. An age that would come again, if only you had the strength to see it through.

After another seeming eternity you collapsed to the floor. Upon your awakening you found him looking down at you again, tearstained cheeks. His attire changed to that of his Ascian robes. A red mask, half oval on his face, white curved lines. The picture of sadness, and yet, also of great joy.

A reunion. He kissed you on the forehead. The way he regarded you sending a chill of excitement down your spine.

Welcome home, my dear.”

Your clothes gone, replaced by robes like his. A mask, not unlike the one Tataru had given you before you left on this strange journey to the First. This one felt more complete though. More as it had been.

“Where… what have I been doing?” Mild disorientation.

Shhh… it no longer matters my dear. What is important is we are finally together again.”

Another embrace, stifling back renewed tears rising from you both. You understood this too. He’d held onto this for so long. For your sake more than any others. You felt it now too.

You held him close in turn. He’d been alone too long.

You spoke together for a long time after, as he explained all that had occurred. An Ascension, to renew your soul and memory both. Your name, and then your office. Azem. The Traveler.

He spoke of your duty, and what you had done. What you had failed to do. What you had been. What you had been to him.

You wept more tears then you knew you even possessed, always with his clawed gloves at your cheeks to brush them away. Attentive in all things.

She has manipulated you. As have they, since the first. Be it in ignorance or arrogance or avarice or simply a desire to avoid their own responsibility. You have tried desperately, as I once did, to see their worth.”

“And yet, they continue to make the same mistakes, over and over. Like I did.”

And now you understand why we do what we do.”

Another nod.

“I’m so sorry for putting you through this. For putting our friends through this. All on my account.”

There is no need for apology. Even after so long, I am simply grateful for your return. I have missed you so much…

Another kiss, this time on the lips. The truth of his words revealed in a building heat.

Exhausted of tears and energy you spent a while longer sleeping, cradled again in lover’s arms, gently caressing your hair under your hood. The mask providing a shroud under which you could finally rest. At long last.

Eventually, you awoke renewed. He had drawn the Light, in a cocoon, from within you while you slept. Ardbert’s unwitting handiwork which had saved you. You spoke his name in gratitude, even as Emet-Selch took the blinding mass elsewhere.

You knew what he intended to do with it. To conclude this latest Rejoining. The Source was primed, and though you had undone much, this single ball of energy he now delivered unto the Crystarium was all that was needed to undo it.

You smiled. None of that mattered any longer. The Light would bring them peace, as the Darkness had given you rest. And, one day, they too would be saved. Be made whole again. You would see to that. Your enemies didn’t seem quite so different anymore, after all…

He returned in time for you both to bid this world, and this memory of your ancient home, goodbye before stepping through a portal and entering the Chrysalis together. The First, alongside your friends and everyone else you had met here, would be dead within moments.

The Warrior of Light and Darkness too, died on Norvrandt that day. In their place stood Azem. Ascian.

 

***

 

The Thirteenth, a realm of contrasts and choking emptiness. Shriven of life aside from the mockery of it you had once called voidsent, leftovers of this shard’s failed inhabitants. Herein had dwelled for ages the Ascians, your longtime foes and oldest friends. Men and women of great power, and greater responsibility. To guide the Star upon it’s proper course, even as it had been sundered into a mishappen mess by your former deity.

You’d been here before, a few times. When you had fought Nabriales, it had been here. And you had ventured here before to save Nero and the Allag clones, as well, in another part of this shifting realm. Now it seemed much more inviting. A cold air that seemed to chill your fading guilt over the deaths you had just caused in acquiesce to His will.

As I mentioned not long ago, there is a… situation I must first address with Elidibus, when you are presented. But feel no fear. His grace is within you now, and your power returns. With time, more of it will return. Circumstances aside, you will be welcomed, of this I am sure.”

A bow.

“Whatever is necessary, I will do, esteemed Emet-Selch.” There was much for you to atone for. You’d best start quickly.

His grin was as wide as the night sky was long, with bright eyes a contrast to your darkened environment. Another embrace. He could not help but feel great levity in this reunion, coming also on the heels of the Eighth Rejoining.

He motioned for you to follow him to the statue of Zodiark, and there asked for you to wait a moment for him to locate the Emissary. He disappeared into a portal, and you were left alone. You gazed up at the statue.

His Lordship, arms crossed, an entity you knew now you had denied. But in His endless compassion, He had seen fit to reclaim you, knowing true the nature of Emet-Selch’s devotion for you. That in preserving one, He would gain another long lost lamb.

And now, here you were. Robes black and crested in His markings. Your mask light upon your face, crimson red. Blades dancing atop the frame.

They shined in the half light of the void as you turned to see Elidibus and Emet-Selch return, each of you removing your hoods. He took several minutes before he spoke, gazing at you and over you in disbelief at this truth.

“I thought I would never see you again, even at duty’s end… Azem.”

He turned to Emet-Selch.

“You defied the will of the Convocation for their sake.”

And you can see the result. Our final peer, returned at long last. And the latest Rejoining completed.”

Elidibus placed his hand on your shoulder, eyes studying you further from beneath his red mask.

“And what of you? You seem as you were, but I sense questions.”

“I know not what I have been doing. I ask only for your forgiveness, and a chance to make things right.”

“You remember then. What you’ve done.”

“Enough to know I have a great deal of work ahead of me, despite my fatigue.”

He nodded knowingly. “The road home is a long one. I am glad that you can walk it with us again, even so…”

He turned to Emet-Selch.

“A censure will be forthcoming. We will adjourn a meeting anon of the remaining members. To discuss next steps. But… as your friend. I must admit some small measure of gratitude at this gift. An unexpected boon in the midst of our great work.”

Emet nodded in turn, the smile never leaving his face even as he regarded a seeming rebuke for his disobeying of the Convocation. He had known then as now that, for your sake, any punishment was acceptable. He could see his trust would be repaid. And already was being repaid, as you kneeled before Elidibus.

“By His will, I am yours to command.”

“Rise, Azem. You are among friends. There will be adjustments, and time needed for you to understand your role in full once more. But you are welcome all the same. And I am glad for it.” He embraced you, white robes to your black, a faint smile creasing his otherwise dour lips.

“Thank you for returning to us after so long a journey.”

“Thank you for allowing this return… I only wish it could have been sooner, or never at all.”

“It was ever your way to wander. But you always came home eventually. In that sense I should have expected this.”

With a wave of his hand you found yourself seated at the fourteenth seat.

“Wait here. We shall return again soon, with your brothers and sisters.”

They both disappeared again into a portal. Time passed, and you stood unmoving upon the platform, eyes closed, even breathing. Relaxing yourself. You mustn’t worry. They would all be forgiving. It was in their nature.

A flurry of portals on each seat, save for three. Igeyorhm, Nabriales, Lahabrea, copious in their absence, a stinging sensation in your heart. Your comfort only in his earlier words, that they would be saved in time.

All the other familiar faces appeared. Faces you hadn’t seen in an age but now regarded as if you’d only seen them last the day before.

Emmerololth. Deudalaphon. Fandaniel. Altima. Pashtarot. Loghrif and Mitron, who your shard and his companions had seemingly failed to completely kill. Not unexpected, in retrospect. They had lacked the cursed auracite.

Each in turn looked with great surprise at your presence. Each outstretched their aether to mingle with yours, at first inquisitively, then with burgeoning joy, a joy you exuded in turn as you stretched once forgotten muscles and spread open your wings for them to see.

Fandaniel, out of all assembled, seemed the most perplexed, and the most eager to challenge your presence.

“Azem, of all people, returned? I thought we’d never see you again. Especially after all you’ve been up to lately.”

He had always been arrogant, even in the past. You answer him, speaking in your old voice anew. Confident.

"Far be it for me to question your perspective, Protector, but a lion shouldn't roar unless called on to do so."

He fumes in his spot, while a few murmuring chuckles are elicited from those nearest to him, opposite your own podium.

A hand from Elidibus, raised in accession. “Silence.”

“They are but one of many matters to discuss this day.”

He gestured for all assembled to turn towards the statue of Zodiark, in supplication.

“For their return, and the Rejoining we have completed hence, we offer thanks and praise to you, the one true god.”

“Hail Zodiark!” All spoke in unison, Emet-Selch on the seat nearest yours, your own near to Zodiark’s statue. A place long empty, now fulfilled. The words came from your lips with ease.

All bowed their heads in prayer, lingering a moment in silence, before Elidibus bid with aether outstretched for all to rise and turn to the matters at hand.

“Our efforts on the First, despite the many failures and twists of fate, have finally borne fruit. The shard is no more, now Rejoined to the Source. Even now our home heaves with renewed energy, and its denizens turn upon themselves in chaos. All lands bleed ripe for further efforts, which we will attend to soon enough with the benefit of our other gift of late…” He turned to you.

“Azem the Traveler. Not for thousands of years have you sat among us. Now, through the unexpected interventions of fate and Emet-Selch both, you are returned to us at last.”

All faces turned to you.

“Address the Convocation. Speak of your role.”

“To travel. To observe the Star in all its many aspects. To observe the works of our members and our kin. To seek out unexpected phenomena and correct them. To bind the people together in common cause, wheresoever they may be found. And to bring all knowledge found abroad home to Amaurot.” Spoken rote, but not without passion, a description short and simple to grasp. You’d said it many times in ancient days.

“Address our Lord. Speak of your contrition.”

You turned without a pause towards the statue. The leering visage of the Star’s saviour. You kneeled before it and bowed your head.

“In deepest gratitude I give thanks to He who sought to allow my return and Ascension. To gift to me the burden of knowledge. Of the true path, and my name and legacy. For these gifts and his forgiveness, and for all of yours in turn, shall I labour anew and know at last the bliss of His grace.”

Elidibus was visibly smiling now. Some others were as well. Emet himself seemed positively ecstatic, as if he had envisioned this perfect moment many a time over the ages. Now it was real, at long last.

“My thanks, to you, Azem. Your role is restored, and your place in this council conserved. We are grateful for your return. Let the mistakes of the past, barring one, be left in the past.”

He turned to Emet-Selch.

“By your efforts does Azem return, and for this the Convocation is grateful. However, it cannot be ignored that you, in ages past, preserved their nature in the stone they now carry in contradiction to the will of this council. Have you anything to say for yourself?”

I do not.” Having long since accepted this outcome and been paid in full for its purpose now standing beside him, Emet-Selch was resolved to accept his punishment. It would be transient.

Elidibus mused on the matter a moment, certain to make the most of this opportunity to humble the Angel of Truth and ensure that, even with his long lost love restored, that neither one of them, him or you, forgot your place again.

“Azem, your first act in return to this body is to formally rebuke Emet-Selch for his actions.”

“As you wish. What is required?”

Elidibus waved his hands, and in a blink of the eye Emet-Selch was prostrate before you, face in the ground, only slightly surprised by this sudden shift of perspective.

“Place your foot upon his back, and press him down.”

You do this, still attempting to understand the full purpose of a censure, something you had experienced yourself but not in many ages.

“Repeat after me.”

He cleared his throat.

“The Convocation of Fourteen deems thee in breach of ruling, and sacred trust. We united condemn your actions, regardless of their outcome.”

You repeat the words, somewhat monotone.

“The Convocation of Fourteen deems thee in breach of ruling, and sacred trust. We united condemn your actions, regardless of their outcome.”

He continues.

“The Convocation will see thee punished, in such a fashion befitting of your action, to ensure it will not be repeated.”

You repeat.

“The Convocation will see thee punished, in such a fashion befitting of your action, to ensure it will not be repeated.”

“Place your stone upon his neck.”

You place your Azem stone upon the back of his neck. Upon contact with his flesh, smoke rises, and he cries out in pain. You do not flinch or react, though in your heart it is a difficult sight.

You understand now, however, the necessity. As does he. As do they all. His will, and theirs, cannot be denied even in happy consequence. Tradition and procedure must ever be upheld, especially in trying times.

After a few moments of listening to him whimper below you, Elidibus gestures for you to stop. As you remove the stone, you can see its shape and pallor indented into Emet-Selch’s neck, as well as deeper into his soul, a branding iron indent.

You return the stone to your robes, close to your heart, and feel its warmth anew.

“Thank you.” Another wave, and Emet-Selch is back at his podium besides you, standing straight but somewhat shaking, eyes closed. After a moment he glances briefly at you, reassuringly.

More time passes, and words are exchanged. Each member in turn made to address you in respect, Emet-Selch included, in the formal manner. Minutes are recorded, and then, recent events and the progress of plots relayed. Each piece of knowledge illuminating for you as to the wide ranging breadth of the Ascians plans. Events on the Source you now dimly remember from your prior life newly left seen in a new light.

You in turn have events to relay, and dutifully do so, speaking of the demise of the Scions who had been summoned to the First along with all the rest of that world. The Exarch and his identity, pieced together from your and Emet’s observations. The study of his magic. Of his origin. A momentary curiosity and concern, but one which is now undone in any case, his death having also been accomplished in short order.

To assuage the last lingering loyalties of your prior life, Elidibus bids you travel to Revenant’s Toll and see to the destruction or perversion of the remaining Scions, to expunge any threat they may yet pose, shorn as they are of their best and brightest. You nod without a thought, understanding necessity.

“To assist you and guide you in this, your renewed role, I will commit henceforth from this moment for you and Emet-Selch to work in concert and pair your skills. I suspect it will be efficacious for you both, and a boon to your labours.”

You face one another again briefly, smiling. Another gift.

“After all, one so eager to risk our wrath for your sake must be placed in good company.”

“As you say, Emissary. I am grateful.”

He nodded.

“This meeting is adjourned. I will be in the usual place if needed, preparing something for the Eighth. For Azem’s sake, Emet can relay the nature of that space anon. We will speak again soon.”

Another hand motion, slightly unfamiliar but speaking of dismissal. Each member bent their heads briefly in accession, yourself included.

Then, one by one, each member disappeared into a portal, there to return to their labours amidst the shards and Source. Though not all the Convocation was yet present, the Ardor proceeded apace, and was now renewed. The future looked brighter now for the return then it had in thousands of years.

Emet-Selch and Elidibus lingered for a moment longer, exchanging knowing glances, before turning to you.

“Now that procedure is attended to, we may speak freely. Come.”

You step through a portal of your own devising, having deduced during the meeting the process of their teleportation magicks once so familiar to you. They seemed so again. They both stand to greet you on the central dais, surrounded now by empty podiums.

A group hug now, catching you off guard. Elidibus letting his mask down, though not in the literal sense.

“It is good to see you again my friend.”

“It is good to see you again as well, old friend.”

“I lack the time at present to properly reminisce but please, come to see me soon within my sanctum on the Source. Emet-Selch will show you the way. We will speak more there, of happier times, and what is to come.”

A hand cupping your cheek, his red beaked mask an ilm from yours.

“Now go, and do His will.”

“It will be done.” Another nod.

In an instant, he fades from sight, lost in yet another portal. You now find yourself left alone with Emet-Selch. Released from pretense, you both embrace and kiss and caress the mark you left upon him.

Seems he saw fit to punish me with something more akin to a blessing. I belong to you now, hero. Or should I say-” His sneering tone, mischievous. You catch him before he has a chance to say your name, regardless of which one he chooses.

A finger to his lips, playful.

“I think it time we got better reacquainted, before we set our minds to the task at hand. After all, I should like to see what your longing looks like in full…” A shared grin. An offer accepted eagerly.

You part from the void, to a hidden sanctum of his own, adorned in the ways of home, in the ways of Amaurot, there to spend a great deal of time reminiscing, and learning, and exploring. Of the body and the soul.

In time, you remember more and more, and find yourself gazing with indifference at the smoking ruins of the Toll, a place you’d once called home. Its denizens dead or scattered as Eorzea descends into chaos, much as the rest of the world. An age of endless bloodshed has begun, but it troubles you little to see the shards scurry about in terror. Lover’s hand and kiss are never far to console, and you’ve long since given up on them in any case. They will be made to see the truth of things in time.

No more Scions, only sinners. You place your faith in a higher power now. The one you should have accepted to begin with.

In His service, you find yourself with time to spare to sleep away the ages. You also find the time to tease and be teased by those among your Sundered brethren who, alike to you, struggle with the demands of their roles from within fractured lives but who, unlike you, find their Unsundered peers distant overseers to their deeds rather then warm friends. Their jealousy amuses you, and you take all chances offered to remind them of the fact. Fandaniel especially. He reminds you of how he was, and how Nabriales had been. Sometimes you wish you could do to him what you had done to the Majestic one.

You find greater joy, however, in that most delicious of ironies. To pose as one of the shards, as Emet has and does anew, but not as a lord over empires but as a lowly adventurer, akin to the woman Cyella, shard of the Thirteenth, who had guided Ardbert and his companions on the First to their seeming doom as Shadowkeeper. To travel as is your role, but now to find those who served Her as once you did. Who walk weary roads as once you had. To offer them words of comfort, encouragement, wisdom. Not without a hint of genuine compassion, as was ever the Angel’s nature in turn with you. But you understand your purpose among them, even as they fall in grievous surprise at your betrayals time and again. Their armor slick with blood. Your smirking visage the last thing they see.

They do as you did, and you show them the only mercy you can offer them. You do them a service, cutting them down before they suffer overlong. But it has its small enjoyments too.

And afterwards do you always retire, to his abode, there to share his familiar company, as you had done in the days of your city. That dear and distant horizon.

His skin a blessing far more nurturing then any gift of Hydaelyn. A guttering spark, growing weaker by the year, thanks to you.

You’ll never understand how you ever went so long without him. Without them. But it no longer matters, you muse to yourself as you lie naked in his arms after another long night. After another long Rejoining.

You’ve come home at last.