She Fairly Gleamed: First Remembrances

Around a year ago, I took my first foray into FFXIV fanfiction. I’d always had some ideas for follow-up to that original experiment, but I decided then that I wanted to wait for further details of the Warrior of Light’s place in Amaurot before continuing. With the release of Patch 5.3, I finally got that. I’ve employed a different mode here than I did before, keeping the Warrior of Light vague, but giving her Amaurotine self more “color” as it were. Major spoilers for the Main Scenario follow, and if you’re not into the idea of a relationship between Emet-Selch and the Warrior of Light, this probably won’t be for you (and that’s okay!). I’ll continue to post new chapters here, but they’ll always go up first on Archive of Our Own.

Beneath a sunless sky, the Warrior of Light brought her chocobo down to a high, familiar perch of ancient stone. Once the bird’s feet were stable, she carefully slipped from her saddle so that she could find sure footing of her own, then brought a gloved hand up to brush the friendly creature’s beak. She lingered thusly but for a moment before giving the bird a gentle smile.

“Go on, then. I will call for you when I am ready.”

The bird’s eyes met hers for a moment, belying an understanding beyond a chocobo’s normal ken, and let out a soft whine of disagreement. The hero shook her head. “There is no need for both of us to brood, my friend. I will be fine.” Her continued smile finally seemed to win her companion over, and with a kweh of acknowledgement, he lifted off, letting strong wings carry him into the distance.

The Warrior of Light’s eyes followed the chocobo, naturally being drawn to the skyline of recreated Amaurot as the bird’s form faded from view. With a heavy sigh, she moved to sit down on the cold stone, only to have something tumble from her belt pouch, clinking against the stone behind her. Frowning, she turned and bent down to grab it, her hand clasping over the small, gleaming stone.

“I need to better secure this. That’s twice now…” Lifting it up, she gazed down at the golden stone pensively, contemplating its nature and how little she knew of Azem, the Ancient whose memories it held—memories that were supposedly hers, as well. Though she had regarded it in such a manner countless times, the sight of it this time filled her with a familiar dizziness, leaving her vision blurred and indistinct as the Echo took the reins of her senses.

**************

With the sun beginning to rise over the skyline of home, the Shepherd Azem brought her great bird—a magnificent creature of her own making—down to a high, familiar perch of ancient stone. From her saddle, she paused to watch the sun lift from behind the towering spires of Amaurot until an excited caw from below disrupted her gaze. Suddenly, the bird began to change beneath her very seat, and soon it was a bird no more but a gwiber—still just as impressive.

Trying to hide her smile at the change’s portent, she slipped down from her saddle, lifting a gentle hand to the side of the gwiber’s face. “Do not pretend you have missed…home more than me.” Her smile became more difficult to mask with every passing moment. After after a final caress, the Shepherd turned toward the roof of the Capitol building to see her approaching visitor.

“Most honorable Emet-Selch,” she beamed, grey eyes dancing behind the black mask that obscured half her countenance, “to what do I owe such a personal welcome?”

Stretching his arms overhead and yawning like a man rudely awoken, Emet-Selch regarded her a way that suggested he was trying not to smile. “Someone must berate you for that light of yours which could wake all creation, esteemed Azem…”

“There are two people in all of Amaurot who see me thusly, and only one of you pretends to complain about it.” Her smile, in contrast, was plain and vibrant.

Emet-Selch crossed his arms with a huff, turning his gaze to the gwiber behind her. The creature shifted in excitement, but well-trained to abide his mistress, stayed put. “You ought to have given the creature a singular form, you know…”

A moment later, she was close. Her form, clad in black leathers fit for long journeys away from Amaurot, pressed in with familiarity against the warmth of his traditional black robes. “And wise it would have been for me to heed the counsel of the great Emet-Selch,” she teased. “But I like that he is free to choose. That he prefers a gwiber’s form in your presence is also so very helpful for when you try to surprise me.”

“Have I not asked you to use my true name when we are alone, Athena?” Despite his sigh, his arms slipped around her with familiarity of his own. Then he turned his head to look down at her mischievous grin, which reminded him far too much of a certain chief architect.

“Of course you have, Hades…” With hands resting on his shoulders, she rose onto her toes to leave a single kiss on the side of his neck. “But Hythlodaeus would be so disappointed in me if I did not afford you the proper respect.”

The Shepherd, who knew him so well, could all but see the roll of his eyes behind the crimson mask he wore. “I further regret introducing you to him with every turn of the Star.” With one side of his mouth lifting in a smirk, he brought his hands up to her mask, pulling it gently from her face.

Platinum locks fell to frame her countenance, and her grey eyes sparkled up at him. She brought her hands to his mask in turn, thumbs tracing its outline affectionately. “You are a terrible liar, as befitting our Angel of Truth—and far too clever not to have known he would tell me of your heart’s desire at the first opportunity.” His mask fell easily into her hands, and her gleaming greys properly met his goldens—now catching the glint of the sunrise—for the first time in too many cycles of the moon.

Nearby, her gwiber made a sound that seemed almost like laughter, having settled down along the perch’s edge. “Tsk, no one asked for the creature’s opinion. Should I cast the blame for that on Hythlodaeus, too?” Her mask resting in one hand, he let the other rest gently against the side of her face, betraying the lie of his sardonic tone.

Azem simply smiled, rising once again to this time pull his mouth down to meet hers with an intensity normally fit only for the private debate rooms at the Hall of Rhetoric. Her fingers tangled through his white hair, clutching tightly until the lock between their lips broke. Then, she spun away, grinning at the knowledge that behind her, the great Emet-Selch’s face would be as red as a sunset. “You should say ‘hello.’ He misses you almost as much as I do, you know.”

With another sigh, Emet-Selch followed the Shepherd to her trusty steed. Kneeling beside it while she began to ruffle through her saddlebags, he placed a friendly hand on the gwiber’s head. With a soft and contented rumble, the mount pressed up into his touch, demanding more attention, which Hades gave with feigned reluctance while his paramour gathered her things.

Once Azem had finished, she put her hand over his to subtly redirect his attention—which she knew would be far more focused on her steed than he would ever care to admit. “Shall we, then, Hades?” As ever, her smile was at its brightest for him.

His eyes nearly lingered but ultimately flickered away from her smile to the bundle of black cloth in the crook of her arm, and his amber orbs widened in realization. “You will need this…for tonight’s banquet.” Slipping one hand into the wide recess of his other sleeve, Emet-Selch produced a black mask far more ornate than the one he had taken so tenderly from her face before.

Her expression quizzical, Azem exchanged his mask for the dark pair on offer, setting the plain one in her lap to better appreciate the new. The mask’s owl-like features were more pronounced, and its edges were lined with sculpted feathers, each one tipped with a shimmer of gold, like a hint of sunlight from behind a cloud. “Hades,” she began, her curious gaze lifting to search his now averted face, “surely you remember that I already possess the mask belonging to my Seat.”

Before answering, Hades made a point of replacing his own mask, obscuring at least some of his features from the Shepherd once more. “But it is to be a night of celebration, is it not?” He gestured wide in demonstration. “You ought to wear a symbol befitting the Convocation’s commemoration of another year guiding the Star along its proper course. Don’t you agree, Athena?”

While he spoke in answer, her hands traced the shape of the mask carefully. The mark of his aether upon it was unmistakable, and she could clearly see the characteristic snap of his fingers that brought it into being in her mind’s eye. “Spoken just like the Angel of Truth,” she mused, carefully slipping the mask into a pouch at her side, so that she could don her more casual one. “I will wear it this evening, as you suggest, dearest Hades.”

“Do not mistake my intentions, Athena,” he insisted, rising to his feet and offering her his hand, which she took gladly, leaning just slightly—if unnecessarily—on his support to stand. “But I am sure you have much to attend to before the night’s festivities. I should not keep you.”

“Rest assured, I do not mistake them in the least.” Azem flashed him another of her vibrant smiles. “You are right, though. There is much to be done, and I must humbly request the assistance of the honorable Emet-Selch in my preparations,” she continued, keeping a firm hold on his hand, as if to drag him along with her.

“What? I see no need—” But the traveler had already begun to move, pulling him close behind and derailing his opposition.

“Among other things,” she began, opening a window into places between ahead of them, so that they might quickly adjourn to her quarters, “I cannot possibly hope to manage all of these leathers alone after such a tiring journey…”

Any resistance Emet-Selch might have offered vanished, and her will became his. “Ever my weary wanderer…” With an affectionate half-smile reserved only for her gleaming eyes, the Lord of the Underworld trailed after the Shepherd to the Stars.

**************

High above Emet-Selch’s memory of Amaurot, the Echo gradually released the Warrior of Light from the reverie provoked by the constellation stone of Azem. When her vision had cleared, a single image remained in her mind’s eye: that same, somber smile on the face of Emet-Selch, high above the true ruins of Amaurot. She blinked, hastily shaking her aching head to banish the thought from her mind.

But as she clutched the stone in her hand, a lump rose in her throat, and tears began to well under her eyes, anyway. A profound sorrow welled in her breast, deepened by the phantom city all around her—a reminder of monumental scale.

Before the tears overwhelmed her, all she could manage was a single, whispered question to no one:

“Why did he never tell me?”

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