She Fairly Gleamed: Brooding Silence

This is Chapter Two of my ongoing Emet-Selch/Azem fanfiction, now featuring Hythlodaeus in addition to spoilers for Patch 5.3. You can find the first part here. More chapters are in the works, since this whole thing has ballooned into a lot more in my head than I originally intended! As I mentioned previously, future installments will be going up at Archive of Our Own before I post them on Fashion Ninjutsu.

Sometime later and with eyes finally dried, the Warrior of Light came to the entrance of Amaurot’s Capitol building—the Convocation’s seat of power, where she had once been made to prove herself to both Emet-Selch and Elidibus on separate occasions. From below, the towering structure seemed like it might have touched the heavens in the time-lost world her soul once called home. The sight was at once overwhelming but also intimately familiar—as Azem and Athena both, she must have come this way more times than she could ever know.

Once inside, the great golden hall somehow made her feel smaller, with the metaphorical weight of Emet-Selch’s conjured simulacrum bearing down on her from every direction. On this visit, the grand chamber was empty, save for her. There was no Emet-Selch, his grief turned so sharply to anger, no Elidibus, so dutybound as to have lost his sense of self to the eons. So far as she knew, the remaining sundered of the Convocation had been scattered to the winds, and the legacy of Amaurot had become a burden she alone could truly bear.

Her gaze traveled around the gargantuan chamber, lingering on each of the massive doors leading away from the central hall. Could she even be sure that they led to places beyond, or would they be naught but smoke and mirrors? Almost without thinking, she reached into her coat’s inside breast pocket, retrieving the stone of Azem from its new, more secure place of storage.

It felt warm even through her glove, reminding her of the gentle heat of a calm summer day. Her fingers closed around it, as if to draw strength from reserves she felt sure it possessed, and she took a deep breath before striding to the first of the many doors around her. Before it, her feelings of insignificance seemed magnified, but still she lifted her free hand, setting it against the ancient artifice. After another deep breath, she pushed, but the towering portal did not bend to her will, as though it were part of the wall itself.

She gave the door another frustrated, fruitless shove. “What happened to getting carried away, Emet?” she wondered aloud, and then she moved on to the next door. When that one refused to budge as well, it was on to the next, but for each door she approached, the result was the same.

“Illusions all, then?” Her head turned toward the final door, through which Emet-Selch had once beckoned her to witness Amaurot’s final days. “But then again…you did have a penchant for the dramatic…”

With renewed conviction, the Warrior of Light strode across the hall toward the great double doors. Her certainty grew with every step, just as her grip on the stone of Azem tightened. When the way came within reach, she lifted her other hand, calmly placing her fingertips against the door. The conjured metal and wood felt somehow warm, like the gentle heat of a calm summer day, and the stone seemed almost to tremble in her other hand.

The great doors swung open effortlessly at her touch, revealing a plain corridor in the Amaurotine style and none of the illusory flames that had once raged within as part of Emet-Selch’s penultimate trial. The hallway beckoned her inward, and—with heart racing—the Warrior of Light felt compelled to oblige.

And yet, as the doors closed gently behind her, she felt that familiar pull once more. Her ears rang, her vision blurred, and her balanced faltered. Slumping down against the nearest wall, she clung tightly to the stone of Azem—its heat now radiating like the sun at its zenith—as the Echo overtook her once more.

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

Within a bedecked conference hall nestled in the upper reaches of Amaurot’s Capitol building, the Convocation of Fourteen had gathered to commemorate another successful turn of the star. While most of them intermingled, Azem, the Shepherd, had escaped to a secluded window, her grey eyes fixed on what she could see of the horizon beyond the city’s towering skyline.

Throughout the room, she could hear her colleagues engaged in conversations, debates, and demonstrations, and Emissary Elidibus’s fingers dancing on the chamber’s grand piano, filling the air with personal renditions of recently popular compositions. But as the Shepherd, she was both Convocation member and outcast, never quite as at home as her comrades in these formal gatherings.

Thus, it was often her way to slip away once she had delivered her reports on the wider world to the rest of the Convocation, to reflect on her travels—the places seen, the people met, and threats encountered—often to the detriment of her senses. Such reverie left her unaware of Emet-Selch’s presence until his arms had already wrapped around her from behind. Knowing his touch instinctively, however, she leaned back against him with a sigh.

“Must you always retreat for this brooding silence, my dear?” He gazed down at her head against his chest with a private, affectionate smile. “I much prefer your brilliance from the morn…”

“Hades…” The name was whispered, such an address inappropriate in the company of the esteemed Convocation. “Do you wish to make for them a spectacle?” Behind the ornate mask he had gifted her upon her return, Azem’s eyes gleamed.

Emet-Selch grinned uncharacteristically—but only for a moment. “No more than Igeyorhm and Lahabrea already do, not to mention Loghrif and Mitron—but you would not have seen their displays of affection, with your steely gaze so fixed on the horizon. What troubles my wanderer so?”

Sinking further into his embrace, Azem leaned against her companion, taking comfort in his strength as her own seemed to falter. “It was…different this time. Out there. Something feels wrong, Hades. Beasts the likes of which I’ve never seen. A whole settlement reduced to nothing but ruin. I wasn’t able to save them all…but it’s what I’m here for…”

“A grave and serious matter, one that you were right to bring to our attention as soon as you did. But you may rest assured, my dear, that the souls of those lost will return to the star in due time, after the requisite sojourn in the Underworld.” For a moment, he rested his lips against the top of her cowl. “In the meantime, the rest of the Convocation will work tirelessly in search of a solution—aided, as ever, by your efforts abroad.”

His touch did far more to soothe the turmoil in her spirit than his words ever could, but she took them to heart nonetheless. After a few more moments’ silence, Azem twisted around in Emet-Selch’s arms, then cast a quick glance out into the hall. Satisfied that all other attention was elsewhere, she quickly rose to press her mouth against his, just firmly enough to vaguely fluster.

Emet-Selch’s hold on the Shepherd tightened but for a moment—he knew she would be off and moving in her typical manner, whether he wanted to keep her or not. “What was it you had to say about spectacle again?” he wondered dryly, stepping aside to clear her way into the rest of the great hall.

“I was discreet,” came her soft protest, making to slip past him and play her own part in mingling. “Emet-Selch,” she continued, her voice rising to a more audible pitch, “your counsel was invaluable as ever. You have my gratitude.”

Turning his back to Azem, he waved her on in his usual dismissive manner, content to let her wander the gathering as she was meant to. His eyes, out of habit, began to follow the passage of souls outside the window—a welcome distraction while he sought to regain his composure from her attempt to throw him off balance.

Throughout the chamber, the rest of the Convocation made ready to receive the Shepherd in turn, not a one of them unaware of her stolen kiss.

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

The Warrior of Light came back to her senses slowly, finding her back still pressed against the cold stone of the Amaurotine corridor. After a few shakes of her head in an attempt to more quickly clear her vision, she lifted her gaze for a momentary shock: knelt before her was the still towering form of one of Emet-Selch’s many citizen shades. Well-accustomed to their kindness, however, her shock faded quickly.

In a soothing and familiar voice, the shade mused, “Memories of the stars, I presume?”

“Hythlodaeus? How long have you been here? How did you find me?” Her eyes fell on the stone of Azem once more, still cradled tightly in hand after her Echo-driven reverie.

“Not long, old friend. It is a simple thing to pick out the only soul who wanders these halls, most especially a soul such as yours.” Hythlodaeus extended a large hand that she might make use of it to stand.

The Warrior of Light carefully stowed the stone inside her coat once more and pulled herself up with his aid. “Right…memories, though, yes. The stone…it seems to trigger them, but so far, only when it wants to.”

Hythlodaeus lifted a hand to his face thoughtfully. “Ah… The sundered members of the Convocation would have had the guidance of the unsundered in assuming their mantles. Emet-Selch must have hoped to do the same for you—shepherding the Shepherd.” The thought turned his thoughtful expression toward gentle laughter.

“But he is here no longer,” she sighed, gazing further down the corridor. “In my vision, there was…a room for meetings, bedecked as if for a celebration. An annual one…Emet-Selch and I…that is, Azem—”

“Met there often, in our time. And upon rooftops, in gardens, in chambers for debate, and—on occasion—beyond the walls of Amaurot.” Rising to his feet, Hythlodaeus beckoned toward the door. “But you need not find the chamber if you have already remembered. Would you humor an old friend and walk with me for a time? Perhaps I can help you to better understand these memories of the soul, in place of our departed friend.”

The offer seemed to surprise her, but she nodded up at the ancient shade with a smile of relief. “That…would please me greatly, Hythlodaeus.”

“Then let us walk. It would be wise to clear your head before we speak of memories in earnest.” With a wag of a finger, Hythlodaeus opened the great double doors, and the two walked side by side out toward the phantom streets of Amaurot.

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