The Lore Train: Heavensward (Part 2)
A new story arc is upon us, and with it comes a new installment of The Lore Train’s episodic summary of the main scenario, focusing on the story so far… between Patches 3.1 (As Goes Light, So Goes Darkness) and 3.3 (Revenge of the Horde). Skipped your cutscenes? Barely remember the binge a few months back? As always – we’ve got you covered.
First time Story so far… reader? Forgotten what came before this, as well?
Check out A Realm Reborn, Part 1 & Part 2, and Heavensward Part 1!
AS GOES LIGHT, SO GOES DARKNESS
No longer fugitives of the Eorzean Alliance, the Scions move to prioritize the pursuit for their missing allies as Ishgard’s leaders prepare for a precarious but inevitable transition. Tataru eagerly relays news from the Rising Stones, from which Riol had been coordinating the search since the Scions’ names were cleared. His investigation had tracked F’lhaminn to the Thavnairian capital of Radz-at-Han, where she had fled by ship after securing Tataru’s escape from Limsa Lominsa. And although Yda and Papalymo had not been found, the discovery of their discarded linkpearls in the streets of Ul’dah was a welcome source of hope. Unable to divine any trace of Minfilia or Thancred, however, the Scions eagerly await the arrival of a surviving member of the Students of Baldesion en route to aid them. Nevertheless, Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light find their own departure delayed by an untimely, though urgent, request from Ser Aymeric.
As per tradition, the fall of an Archbishop had seen his duties pass to the Lord Commander of the Temple Knights. Aiming to mitigate rising tension, Ser Aymeric had laid the truth bare for all of Ishgard to see; indeed, that the Warrior of Light had slain the Archbishop and returned on the back of the Father of Dragons had left him few alternatives. The lord commander’s hopes, however, were proving misplaced. Unable to maintain faith and truth as synonymous, the people struggled to make sense of their sacrifice. Some denied the revelations outright, while others decried the severity of the response as an attempted coup of the Holy See. Even amongst those prepared to accept the truth were those eager to turn the city’s fury inward upon their deceivers, while the rest were content to do naught but wait for a brighter future. Ishgard had for too long relied on a common enemy to ensure their unity.
To wake his countrymen to the reality that their first chance for peace in a millennium might be carelessly discarded would require a grand gesture. Aymeric would dispatch Lucia as his envoy to the dragons of Anyx Trine with an invitation to establish diplomatic relations and bring the Dragonsong War to a definitive end. With Ysale fallen, however, this would only be possible if Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light would agree provide her with both an escort and an introduction. Knowing that the pair would not refuse him weighs heavily on Aymeric’s conscience, but he accepts their aid with humble thanks.
The long trek through Dravania left the party with much time to reflect. Lucia had prepared herself to enter these lands as a conqueror, never as a diplomat. But if even Lady Iceheart dared to dream of redemption, so too must Ishgard. It would be left to future generations to measure their success – and Ysayle’s, for that matter.
At Anyx Trine, even Vidofnir is wary of the stranger in Ishgardian plate, but upon an introduction from ally and friend, Lucia is indulged to speak. With a dragon-like pith of her own, the knight states that the treachery of King Thordan I and his Knights Twelve upon the great wyrm Ratatoskr has been revealed, and the shameful reality of Ishgard’s blame for a thousand years of bloodshed made known. The nation’s leaders would see the deceptions of their predecessors cast aside, offering reconciliation and friendship in hope that their acceptance might convince the people to accept the truth and embrace peace, as Ysayle would have wanted.
Vidofnir declares that her response must be delayed; she cannot commit to such a course without the consent of Hraesvelgr, and can no more leave to entreat him so long as the Gnath threaten Anyx Trine. Yet somewhere beneath the mask of indifference, it is clear that she, too, yet clings to Ysayle’s dream. Disheartened by the uncertainty of her mission, but determined to see it through, Lucia stays behind to speak with other dragons of Anyx Trine. Having done their part, Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light continue onward towards Idyllshire to welcome their Baldesion ally.
The pair arrive to find that Y’shtola has already received the Sharlayan scholar, who has eagerly taken their delay as an opportunity to explore the Dravanian hinterlands. Reconvening at the Frontbridge a short time later, Y’shtola introduces the party to a Lalafell by a familiar name: Krile, the friend and confidant that Minfilia had called upon so many times before.
Alphinaud’s decorum visibly shatters; the Baldesian scholar is a senior classmate of the Studium, whose wit and grace would pose him a challenge even were she not privy to his less-than-refined academic history. Krile cannot resist taking a moment to tease Alphinaud further off his guard, but soon gets to the point: she’s confident she can follow the aetherial trail left in Thancred’s wake to wherever Flow had deposited him. To do so, however, she would require the use of relic known as the Crystal Eye, rumored to be one of Matoya’s most cherished possessions. Alphinaud and Y’shtola bristle at the idea of making such a request, but what needs be done must needs be done.
At Matoya’s cave, Krile deftly maneuvers through the crone’s famously cantankerous disposition, forsaking Sharlayan politesse while still maintaining a respect for her (otherwise unoccupied) time. Though the hermit initially recognizes the name – Baldesion – Krile regretfully gives an account of the Isle of Val’s destruction, a fate she would have shared were it not for the blessing of Light. Alphinaud is taken aback by the sudden realization that Krile, too, is possessed of the Echo. The Students of Baldesion were no more, she continued, but with Matoya’s good will, perhaps the Scions of the Seventh Dawn might be restored. Satisfied – or perhaps just taking a liking to her – Matoya fetches the Crystal Eye.
In the twilight of an Astral Era, Krile explains, Hydaelyn begins to awaken chosen souls to the power of the Echo, and to those who take up Her cause She grants a sliver of Her own strength. The artifact before them was such a shard, born of an ancient time before Her Light had grown so dim. Even Y’shtola had failed to recognize that the curious sphere had all along been a Crystal of Light. Focusing her unique manifestation of the Echo upon the power of the Crystal Eye, Krile divines Thancred’s course through the aetherial streams through the Black Shroud and to its terminus … at the foot of Sohm Al.
On the journey to the Dravanian forelands, Alphinaud composes a number of portraits of Thancred. Y’shtola’s compliments his skill at rendering a likeness from memory, and though he claims to have forgotten why he began sketching, Krile helpfully recalls something about an attempt to impress the young ladies of the Studium. The hunters of Tailfeather are at first of little help but for scattered anecdotes about a Hyuran axeman with a clear want for talent as far as hunting was concerned. However, when Krile hears tale of a Vath merchant seeking “garments fit for a man of refinement”, all who know the rogue know that they are on his trail. Alphinaud realizes that Thancred would have been expelled unclothed from the Lifestream, as he vividly recalls was the case with Y’shtola. With a fiery gaze cast in his direction, the young Elezen struggles to rephrase, but Krile helpfully leads the party west before he can come to harm.
The Vath Storyteller is reluctant to speak of the Hyur until Alphinaud declares him friend. The “fleshling clothed in skins” had come from the direction of Sohm Al, seeking to exchange meat and hides for care and cloth. Lost ast Vath, too, now called him friend. Unfortunately, he had departed for Lost ast Gnath a short time past, having rushed from the camp upon hearing that Ravana had been summoned anew. Realizing that Thancred would be helpless to face a primal alone, the Alphinaud urges the group to hurry to his aid.
The Gnath colony is consumed by the sounds of battle, but it is not Thancred that stands against Ravana. A Hyuran axeman leads a party of adventurers garbed in black artifact armor against the Lord of the Hive, making impressively short work of the primal threat. However, when the warrior in black turns to face the Warrior of Light, both clutch their heads in pain as consciousness retreats into an Echo of the past. The party who had defeated Ravana stands before an Ascian overlord, descending upon him with a blade of light as he prophesied their failure to save their world. The scene was all too familiar; the adventurer had expelled Lahabrea in all but identical fashion.
As the vision recedes, Y’shtola warns the Warrior of Light to have care – the aether moves strangely about them. When Alphinaud inquires to their identities, however, the party launches their assault. Y’shtola is able to block the bard’s rain of arrows before being flanked by the paladin’s shield bash. Alphinaud and Krile are thrown to the ground by the black mage’s flare as the warrior charges the adventurer… but he is intercepted. An unkempt, long-haired figure descends dexterously from above, drawing twin blades and driving the axeman back. The Lalafellin white mage sprints forward, urging their retreat; the warrior rolls his eyes, but consents. With contempt for the Savior of Eorzea seething through every word, he introduces his party as the teleportation magicks take effect: they are walkers of a different path, the Warriors of Darkness.
Krile momentarily considers the seriousness of the claim, but the return of Thancred has distracted her comrades entirely. The rogue suppresses a flicker of anxious relief before painting weaving a confident and dramatic tale of his survival, dismissing concerns about his wellbeing or the cloth across his left eye. Lost and vulnerable in the Dravanian wilds, he had befriended the Vath through trade and learned of the selfless warrior who had slain Ravana. Assuming that he could reunite with the Scions if he kept watch over the primal’s movements, he had simply stayed put. However, ‘twas not the Warrior of Light who had arrived to face the Lord of the Hive’s return…
And so conversation returned to the supposed Warriors of Darkness. Krile, too, had seen the vision of the fallen Ascian. Between that and the ease with which they defeated the primal, there could be no question – they, too, were empowered by the Echo, or something like it. Why, then, did they stand at odds with the Warrior of Light? How had they escaped the Scions’ attention until now? And what had their visions shown them?
Alphinaud suggests that Vidofnir would gladly receive the news of Ravana’s fall, and that it may aid the negotiations with Ishgard. Krile, however, begins her journey back to Matoya’s cave to begin the search for Minfilia. Thancred’s composure cracks as he realizes that she had not escaped Ul’dah, after all, but he holds his tongue as Alphinaud explains the details on the road to Anyx Trine.
With the Gnath in retreat, Vidofnir relates Hraesvelgr’s sentiments: to follow one’s heart and have faith in one’s convictions is the folly and glory of man and of dragon. To that end, the decision has been left to Vidofnir herself, and she has chosen to keep faith with those that walk in the Light. Elated, Alphinaud announces that he will gladly see this message to Ishgard in person.
On the journey back to Ishgard, however, Thancred struggles with the reality that he is far from the last of their allies to be found. For all of his successes and sacrifices, for all the times he had been overwhelmed and yet endured, he was ever helpless when it truly mattered. Y’shtola reassures him that all will be made right in time, but sees that something else is amiss within him.
The party arrives in Foundation to find that tensions in Ishgard have hit their peak. An assassination attempt has been made on Ser Aymeric; “honorable” men would see a “tyrant” and “usurper” pay for his crimes. Yet as he recovers, thanks in no small part to the actions of Count Edmont and Lord Artoirel, the city has been beset by arsonists. The assassin’s cause was clearly but one act in a nascent revolution.
Through the combined efforts of the Temple Knights, Scions, and Hilda’s watch, a pattern of suspicious coincidences becomes apparent. Otherwise ruthlessly efficient firestarters consistently fail to cause appreciable damage to institutions affiliated with the orthodoxy, and all the while the disaffected are welcomed under the generous protection of the Vault. When a suspected arsonist is finally apprehended, Thancred shrewdly claims that his pious patrons have already sacrificed their pawn and given testimony of his guilt. The desperate commoner lashes out, beguiled into revealing that the reins of the revolt are firmly in the hands of a clergy faction.
Relaying the brief confession to Lucia, the allies reconvene and contemplate their next course of action. Which of the many conservative and religious factions in Ishgard was so desperate to preserve a swaying status quo? Aymeric enters, having hastily forsaken his recuperation to return to his duties. Nevertheless, Count Edmont and Lord Artoirel de Fortemps stand at his side, ready to support him in spite of their own precarious position, having suffered no small amount of tragedy and slander.
Their schemes on the verge of discovery, however, the rebellious faction has already played its hand; a distressed temple knight returns to the Congregation bearing news that an order calling themselves the True Brothers of the Faith have taken the refugees hostage and barricaded themselves within the Holy Vault. In exchange for their safety, the clergy demands immediate holding of a conclave to select the next archbishop and the surrender of Ser Aymeric for patricide and treason.
Count Edmont advises Aymeric against trusting the order with the fate of the refugees; their demands alone betray their recklessness. Aymeric has already come to the same conclusion; he orders Lucia to secure a perimeter around the Vault and requests that Hilda’s watch spread word of the situation to discourage relatives of hostages from undertaking hasty retaliation. He reveals that his plan is to personally lead an assault on the True Brothers of the Faith immediately, and that he hopes he can count on the Scions’ support. Eager to redeem the honor of House Fortemps, Lord Artoirel, too volunteers.
The surprise incursion forces Ser Simeonard’s forces to abandon most of their hostages, falling back to the upper floors and threatening to execute the remainder. With the militants put to the sword, however, the priest at the head of the order retreats to the roof of the Vault with a single child as his hostage. His own godliness questioned by a man he considered traitor and heathen, the incensed clergyman throws her over the edge. As Aymeric closes in on the priest and the girl falls helplessly towards the horrified masses in the plaza, Vidofnir descends from the clouds and intercepts her with implausibly fortuitous timing.
Though the True Brothers of the Faith are defeated and the young Elezen saved, how would the events be seen, in the end? Would they serve as a sign of friendship, as Aymeric hoped? Or would they only reinforce the suspicions of those wont to stand against the winds of change, as Edmont feared? And despite the fleeting moment of camaraderie, Vidofnir bears a troubling warning from Hraesvelgr himself: the shade of Nidhogg yet sings for war, and his brood yet heed its call.
As the Scions return to Fortemps Manor, Y’shtola delays the Warrior of Light, having put off her concerns about Thancred for too long. Though she had yet to discern how, she was now sure that his journey through the Lifestream, like her own, had left him somehow altered. She suspected that he was no longer able to wield even simple magicks, which would do much to explain his stubborn methods of survival in Dravania; he never was one to ask for help he had not earned or admit when he was overwhelmed. With naught for actual evidence, however, the pair quietly agree to keep watch of his wellbeing.
Lord Artoirel greets the Scions return, presenting the Warrior of Light with a shield bearing the sigil of a knight of House Fortemps. But with this gesture, he pairs a more serious disclosure: Count Edmont would soon step aside, passing the leadership of his house into the hands of his eldest son. Lord Artoirel had once dreamed of the position, but in light of recent revelations of Isgard’s past, he had struggled to define its value until reflecting on Haurchefant and the shield he bore; House Fortemps would ever serve to aid those in need.
Perhaps Edmont would stand aside for more than to placate the accusations of houses Dzemael and Durendaire as to his role in the archbishop’s fall. Perhaps he, unlike Aymeric, Artoirel, and Haurchefant – unlike all of those he thought of as his sons – had simply lost the will to hope. And yet those who wanted for optimism were not without good cause. Nidhogg’s shade yet lived, eager to take his revenge. Somewhere in the deserts of Thanalan, Yda and Papalymo hid themselves amongst the Ala Mhigan resistance, preparing for an operation that could only initiate a brutal and lengthy campaign. And in the depths of the Great Gubal Library, Alisaie quietly watched from the shadows as the Ascian in white recounted his interpretation of history for Urianger, urging him to accept that the fate of the star has long since been decided.
THE GEARS OF CHANGE
If the party would submit to despair, however, it would be another day. Tataru and Krile await outside of House Fortemps, eager to relay news that the Rising Stones had made contact with F’lhaminn, Hoary Boulder, and Coultenet, who were at this moment en route from the Thavnairian capital. Furthermore, Krile believes that Minfilia’s location might be divined, after all. That Hydaelyn had directly interceded during the escape from Ul’dah should have left some small trace in the aether, but to identify it would require a reading from another known event of Hydaelyn’s intervention. Thancred seizes the possibility, suggesting that while the others prepare the Scions’ homecoming, he and Krile make immediately for the Praetorium – where the Blessing of Light had shielded the adventurer from Ultima. He had failed Minfilia once, and he would never do so again.
In Limsa Lominsa, the trio of returning Scions are overjoyed to find the Warrior of Light themselves awaiting them, despairing that they had not known whom to trust in Raz-at-Han. Like Thancred, however, F’lhaminn’s composure breaks when she learns that Minfilia is missing. Yet she immediately realizes that the rogue himself must have taken the news the hardest; he had been watching over her since the incident at the parade fifteen years before – an incident for which F’lhaminn dared not forget that she, too, was partly to blame.
For the first time in what feels like ages, the hall of the Rising Stones is filled with celebration as old friends are reunited and new friends are introduced. How long had it been? How long would it last? Alphinaud and Tataru look on quietly, never more determined to see every last one of their missing friends back home.
Having achieved their goal in Castrum Meridianum, Thancred and Krile urge for the party to reconvene in Idyllshire. Two waveform signatures had been detected in the aether, one from an event not unlike the destruction of Val – Ultima – and one that indeed matched the traces found in the Sil’dih Aqueducts. Krile hypothesizes that Hydaelyn had guided Minfilia into the casting of Flow, and then summoned her body and soul into the aetherial realm for reasons unknown. Y’shtola reveals that the Sharlayans once sought to build their own corporeal doorway into the aetherial sea, though it has long since stood abandoned and incomplete. Fortuitously, the appointed custodian of its only remaining entrance was known to them…
Matoya undoes the wards protecting the door to the Antitower, conveniently located within the hermit’s cave, with nary a word – having long held the Forum in contempt for “ordering” her to guard it, anyway. She does, however, hold most of the party behind to work off the favor while the Warrior of Light makes their way past the tower’s magicked guardians. Thancred’s determination to see the task through to the end is quelled only by Y’shtola insistence that – so compromised by Flow, and his possession by Lahabrea besides – he would surely die exposed to the aetherial streams directly.
Beyond the simple wooden door, the adventurer’s entry to the Antitower is protested by the countless charmed familiars and soulkin guardians left in wake of the Sharlayan exodus. Fighting through the stone hallways of the inverted spires, familiar words dance faintly upon the aether, beckoning them towards the tower’s foundations. “Hear… Feel… Think…”
Drawn into the empyrean world, the Warrior of Light finds themselves before Hydaelyn once more. Though it is Minfilia’s form that floats before the great crystal, however, their voices are intertwined, their wills made one. Minfilia had given herself to the silent Mothercrystal – to act as her voice – to bear her word – to save those who might yet be saved. She reveals a long-obscured truth: before there was life, before there was time, Light and Dark had dwelled here as one. But in the Dark’s lust for power was the balance broken, and for this transgression did Hydaelyn cast Zodiark into the heavens. The division of the Source into planet and moon had stressed the boundaries of reality to the point of fracture. Thirteen reflections of the original world fanned out in all directions, carrying with them shards of the Light and the Dark. The Ascians have long labored to see these shards reunited, to make Zodiark whole that He might revenge Himself upon Hydaelyn with his ill-gotten strength. Seven times have the barriers between worlds been broken. Seven times have the shards been rejoined to great calamity. They Ascians cannot be suffered to succeed again. The Word of the Mother falters in the midst of her farewell, her strength depleted, and Minfilia’s form shatters. The Warrior of Light reaches out helplessly as they are cast from the sea.
The Scions of the Seventh Dawn labor against the reality that Minfilia may truly be gone, but hope counts for little against the pain. Matoya lashes out at their despondence, stating flatly that this is a war and that any righteous path to victory is paved with fallen allies; lucky are those who get to choose how and when they die. Y’shtola is the first to stand up to her mentor, but unkind through her words may be, the crone speaks the truth. Redirecting her anger, Y’shtola reaffirms their cause – the Ascians, and their machinations, will be defeated utterly. She leaves with Krile and Thancred in silent pursuit, but Alphinaud lingers behind. For now, they would keep these events from all but Tataru and Urianger, who may provide some insight into the Mother’s tale.
In the meantime, the group returns to Ishgard, where Aymeric intends to further one symbol of hope with another – a conference of peace between man and dragon. The presence of the Warrior of Light would only be only fitting, given all that the Scions had done, he admits; it would put his mind at ease. This ceremony was sure to draw the ire of the minions of Nidhogg. Relieved that the adventurer agrees to attend, Aymeric suggests that they meet for a drink one day soon – to seize one moment as friends rather than allies. The thought of celebrating weighs heavily on the Warrior of Light, but they accept nonetheless.
At Falcon’s Nest, Lucia oversees the raising of a relief to be unveiled at the ceremony, pondering what the end of a war that she made her own could mean for her own future. Aymeric’s optimism was far too contagious, but not just for her; nigh the whole of Falcon’s Nest seemed to be preparing to give peace its chance.
Yet the sentiment was far from unanimous; word reaches Lucia that the Convictors, stationed in the Western Highlands, were refusing to stand down and presumed to engage any Dravanian bound for Falcon’s Nest. Knowing she stands a better chance with a high noble by her side, she entreats Lord Artoirel to accompany her to the camp in person to press Aymeric’s command to stand down. The elder son of Count Fortemps quietly requests that the Warrior of Light keep an eye on his younger brother in case he means to shirk his responsibilities.
Once again, the suggestion that Emmanellain might not live up to expectations pricks his pride. Predictably, he presses the Warrior of Light into his service, requesting that they help keep the road clear of wolves before vanishing into the crowds of the Falcon’s Nest on patrol. When the adventurer returns to find that Thancred has been dispatched on a similarly menial task, however, they race off in pursuit. Frustrated though Thancred is, once located, he did manage to save some heretics aspiring to see the conference between man and dragon from the ravages of the pack, so at least his time was not entirely wasted. Still, the younger Fortemps’ want for respect dances on the rogue’s few remaining nerves.
Released from Emmanellain’s service, the Warrior of Light heads into a tavern to await Thancred and warm up over a glass of mulled wine. A young waitress strikes up a conversation as the adventurer drinks, about how so many have such cause to celebrate, about how she knew she had to do her part, about how man and dragon would make peace after her husband had already died for this war… The Warrior of Light moves to stand, but the soporific has already taken effect. “This was never your fight,” she whispers as the light fades.
Thancred shakes the adventurer out of a deep slumber, still spinning with memories revealed by the Echo, still repeating the words of mothers, wives, and brothers who refused to ever forgive or forget. Rushing outside, the Warrior of Light finds the crisis already unfolding. Some of the architects of the disorder have already been killed, and some of the knights with them. But the maid stands tall and cries for vengeance against the Dravanians, urging the crowd to remember the dead and strike back before they meet the same fate. Emmanellain panics, ordering a knight to silence her, but to see her cut down by arrows only increases the impact of her words. All eyes fall upon the nobleman who gave the order; Emmanellain retreats into the barracks, terrified… but the seeds of doubt have been sown. Is this how the highborn would enforce their peace? Was the choice death by fang and claw, or death by noble command? After all that they had lost? Though the words of the maid had plainly not resonated with all, they had resonated with enough.
Artoirel and Lucia return too late for aught but damage control. The surviving protesters have been taken alive, and – for one small blessing – none of the civilian deaths were at the hands of the guard. Remarkably, the maid yet lives…for the time being. Convinced that he had been deliberately lured away by the Convictors, however, Artoirel sees them detained for questioning. Lucia prepares herself to take responsibility for the event, not knowing how she can face Aymeric now that so many are disillusioned to his goal. Nevertheless, she prepares for the indefinite delay of the conference. Artoirel orders Emmanellain, still despondent in the barracks, to accompany the Warrior of Light’s return to the Congregation so that he may answer to Aymeric directly. Only then does the young Foretemps realize that Honoroit, his dutiful servant, is missing.
After a panicked search, Emmanellain finds the young Elezen wounded and abandoned in the airship landing. In trying to prevent the mass exodus of commoners from the Falcons’ Nest, Honoroit had made himself an easy outlet for the crowd’s resentment – a convenient surrogate for his master. The one time he had taken direct action, made himself responsible for a situation, it had fallen to pieces just the same. Emmanellain bemoaned the circumstances aligned against him; the people didn’t want peace, what more could he have done? The Warrior of Light clenches their fist and takes a step forward, but Thancred intervenes, telling the lordling to cease the projection his failings and to deal with the consequences of his actions. And what did the suave rogue with the silver tongue know of consequences, spat Fortemps. The subsequent blow left Emmanellain on his back, a mirror of his manservant. Thancred could wear the façade no longer; if anyone knew what it was to give everything one has to give and still fail, it was he.
Rumor and speculation once again outpace the Warrior of Light’s return to Ishgard. Aymeric and the Count de Foretemps are already ruminating on the events at Falcon’s Nest. In hoping that peace alone might stay the passions of his countrymen, the lord commander had let his idealism get the better of him, he would not deny it. Ishgard was a culture of Halone, the Fury’s children through and through. How, then, to honor that culture without glorifying its excess?
Not long ago, Ser Aymeric had tabled a proposal by the Eorzean Alliance to engage in joint military exercises, but perhaps this was the right time. For Ishgard to see their nation united against a coalition of Eorzea’s finest warriors and emerge victorious and yet stand proud amongst allies, what better to raise their morale? Count Edmont weighs the risks of defeat, but concludes that the risk is worth the reward. The count further suggests that Emmanellain represent his house in the grand melee, to bring his nation honor and mitigate the shame he has brought upon House Fortemps. Aymeric agrees, but suggests that the young lord be given the chance to volunteer of his own free will.
As the meeting adjourns, Thancred mulls the idea of a grand melee with some amusement. Surely the great Warrior of Light would be called upon once more to stand for Ishgard – would be taken granted yet again. Yet it would be a shame to come this far and not see it through; after all, the adventurer had always stood for friends rather than nations. And the Ascians would be glad to profit from Ishgard’s woes. There were less worthy causes, and there would be better days for cynicism.
To invoke a united Ishgard would require warriors from every walk of life in Ishgard, from the Temple Knights to Hilda’s watch. Emmanellain correctly predicts that he, too, will be volunteered. The son of a High House of Isghard, every decision that might have defined him was already made. How could he ever have faith in his own convictions? And so he’d kept his head low, waited for instruction, and foisted his duties onto others. But as the only structure he had ever known crumbled before him, he had seen the consequences of his own weakness. No more; he would make this decision before it could be made for him. Like Aymeric, he would put his faith in Ishgard’s future and stay the course even as others question it, even sabotage it in their fear of change. Count Edmont watches in silence as Emmanellain presents himself before the lord commander and requests to make amends for his carelessness. Perhaps the old man yet had cause to hope.
As Thancred had fortold, attention now turned to the adventurer. Yet Aymerics request is as simple as it is sincere: would the Warrior of Light, who had accepted a share of Isghard’s suffering and championed a cause that was not their own, do his friend the honor of sharing in a moment of glory, instead? The adventurer had scarcely nodded before Aymeric burst into an unreserved expression of joy and relief. Even Thancred finds himself compelled to join the fray, but thinks better of it before volunteering.
Within days, a select Eorzean Alliance army marches on the Gates of Judgement to meet a united Ishgardian force where the whole of the city can bear witness. Emmanellain is almost too anxious to speak, but the thought of regaling Honoroit with tales of victory upon his recovery helps him find his courage … as does seeing the Warrior of Light don the colors of House Fortemps.
Aymeric and Lucia personally lead the Ishgardian force into the fray, and the battle-hardened knights eventually manage to turn the tide against the seasoned tactics of the Alliance. Before victory can be secured, however, Flame General Raubahn Aldynn himself takes to the field. Combatant after combatant is tossed aside as he hones in on his prize; Ishgard will savor no triumph until the Bull of Ala Mhigo has locked horns with the Warrior of Light. Aymeric wonders if perhaps he should have been more prudent in his aim to create a spectacle for the ages as he, too, is brushed aside. In the end, the adventurer stands alone in a ring of flame to face the Alliance general in singles combat. Yet when but one silhouette stands tall through the clearing smoke, Ser Aymeric’s voice rings in Ishgard’s victory. Nanamo Ul Namo concedes the Alliance’s defeat and declares that they will be proud to stand beside Ishgard in the battles to come. The Flame General can scarcely summon the same decorum as he basks in the thrill of combat and assures the Warrior of Light that they will have their rematch one day.
For a first, Ser Aymeric’s plans are an undisputable success; Ishgard is consumed by gossip, pride, and hope. Intending to strike while the iron his hot, the lord commander moves to see the peace conference brought to fruition and the Dragonsong War brought to its long-overdue end. Having had time to reflect since learning of Minfilia’s fate, Alphinaud returns to the adventurer’s side as preparations are made for Vidofnir’s arrival.
Seizing its second chance, Falcon’s Nest is a furor of optimism once more. The war would end, Ishgard would find honor in a different sort of strength, and perhaps future generations would know a life without fear of the skies. A wave of awe and excitement washes over the crowd as the white dragon descends and lands in the plaza. Ser Aymeric and Vidofnir exchange salutations and affirm for all present a mutual desire for peace and a shared future. Addressing his people directly, the lord commander declares that some wounds do not heal, and the dead cannot be returned, yet the living can choose to cast aside the burdens of anger and vengeance. He unveils the stone relief hung high above the plaza – a restored statue of Hraesvelgr and Shiva’s embrace. Vidofnir beams with pride to see the symbol of their shared dream shown proudly once more.
The single word stuns the crowd into silence, and Aymeric’s heart leaps into his throat. The shade of Nidhogg, still possessing the body of the Azure Dragoon, leaps from the spires of Falcon’s Nest and plunges his Gae Bolg into Vidofnir’s back. The dragon collapses in pain as Aymeric calls for a bow. Without thought beyond duty, he looses an arrow at his dearest friend, but the power of the eyes – now melded into the drachen armor – disintegrates the arrow in flight. Estinien’s voice carries Nidhogg’s warning on the wind, a warning to Dravanian and Ishgardian alike: the final chorus is nigh; all will be held to account, all will burn. Forsaking the Azure Dragoon’s visage for his own, Nidhogg shifts back into his familiar form and vanishes into the skies. Vidofnir would live to serve as a message to her own kind – those who did not stand with Nidhogg stood for his enemies. The silence of the crowd gives way to calls for blood.
Reconvening at Dragonhead, at the place once known as the Falling Snows, Alphinaud makes a declaration that couldn’t come at a more unrealistic time: he intends to save Estinien. Whatever the risk of failure, he will no longer accept the loss of allies so long as a shred of hope remains that there another way.
REVENGE OF THE HORDE
That Nidhogg can take human form at all suggests something of the Azure Dragoon must remain. To Alphinaud’s surprise, Krile and Y’shtola do not dismiss his hopes entirely; both sense something of the man buried deep beneath the wyrm’s rage. Though neither is optimistic that their essences can ever be separated, and less so that the dragoon would even survive, Alphinaud’s mind is made up; he will reclaim Estinien’s life even if it means risking his own.
Yet for all the boy’s hopes, Ser Aymeric provides a sobering reminder: For the first time in the history of the Dragonsong War, Nidhogg is possessed of both two eyes. What mortal force could muster any meaningful opposition? Without drastic action, Ishgard would burn. To that end, Aymeric would impose on the Scions for one last request: an introduction to the great wyrm Hraesvelgr. Under no delusion that the wyrm might easily be swayed to their cause, he cannot bear to forsake the attempt. And though Alphinaud labors to envision the lord commander’s success, was the goal any less lofty than his own? And were Aymeric successful, would it not help save Estinien? Whatever the risk of failure… Whatever the cost…
Alphinaud provides only one condition – that the journey begin at Anyx Trine. If they were lucky, Vidofnir would have insight into Hraesvelgr’s state of mind, but if they gained no benefit but assurance of her recovery, the trip would yet be worthwhile. Aymeric would not argue either point.
Indeed, Vidofnir relates what could have been guessed; though she is in no mortal danger, Hraesvelgr’s heart remains as it has for centuries. Yet Aymeric remains resolute; what is a wasted trip when inaction is a guarantee of failure all the same?
Arriving at the summit of Sohm Al, Aymeric is at a loss for words as he finally sees the floating continent with his own eyes; not one report had done it justice. Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light give the lord commander a few moments to collect his thoughts, when suddenly the pair chance upon Moghan, the moogle who had first guided them to Zenith. Apprised of their goal, he joyfully informs them that the winds are perfect for carrying the horn’s call to the great wyrm. As the group departs, however, the tale quickly finds its way to Chieftain Moglin…
As all omens had foretold, Hraesvelgr greets the horn with disdain. Aymeric scarcely utters an introduction before the wyrm has divined his intent and affirmed the futility of his request. Did he think that Nidhogg was alone in his despair? A lingering memory of Shiva’s dream was all that stood between a want for solitude and his own place in the Horde. Alphinaud goads the wyrm to say it plainly if he holds not to the faintest flicker of hope, but the denial does not come. He continues to press the accusation; that Hraesvelgr had borne Ysayle to Azys Lla at all had shown him capable of entertaining their kind capable of redemption.
Aymeric finds his opening, declaring that all evil deeds must be condemned, no matter the transgressor. When his father had presumed to summon a primal, he entreated the Warrior of Light to see him slain before his wars claimed countless lives; indeed, he had aided in the task. To stop Nidhogg’s onslaught would require the death of a man he called brother, and if it fell upon him to perform the task, he would not forsake his duty. Was it so arrogant to hope for the same from others?
When the wyrm is yet unconvinced, Midgardsormr suddenly manifests before him, chiding him for behaving as though Nidhogg’s vengeful shade is somehow his brood-brother returned. Would his sentimentality not lead only to greater suffering? Forced to concede at least the righteousness of their cause, Hraesvelgr invites them to prove their conviction in the ruins that Ratatorskr once called home. If they could not withstand this trial, they would perish before Nidhogg regardless.
Through the ruins of Sohr Khai, all the creatures of Hraesvelgr’s domain fall upon the party without reservation; even the moogles answer the call to assail the Warrior of Light. The wyrm’s brood also joins the fray; the ancient wyvern Vedrfolnir engages Aymeric while Vidofnir herself challenges Alphnaud, leaving the Warrior of Light to face Hraesvelgr without their support. Yet assailed by a king of wyrms and his eldest children, the party does not falter. Stubborn to the last, Hraesvelgr declares that what hope yet harbors will be rekindled or extinguished by the deeds of the Warrior of Light, alone. However, too much time had already been lost; all the sounds of the Churning Mists retreat before Nidhogg’s call – the Dravanian Horde has begun their descent.
As the sun sets on the Steps of Faith, the ranks have broken. Walls of flame keep the knights divided as ancient dragons charge the lengths of the bridge bearing fang and claw. Wyverns dive from above and lift soldiers from the stones to be tossed into the canyons below. Lucia and Artoirel hold fast against the assault, inspiring the Temple Knight and High House forces to do the same. But the momentum had already turned against them, and when still greater shadows emerge from higher skies, Artoirel despairs. Any further reinforcement of the Horde would see the frontlines collapse. Yet his despair gives way to awe as the figures break the clouds and descend upon the Steps of Faith. White scales.
Hraesvelgr, Vidofnir, and Vedrfolnir create a wall between the knights and the advancing horde, allowing Aymeric, Alphinaud, and the Warrior of Light to dismount. The dragons of the Horde scatter as Nidhogg descends to face his brood-brother. In a way, the dread wyrm had triumphed where Aymeric had failed time and time again: Ishgard stood united, prepared to fight side by side with the Dravanians to earn their trust, to deserve their friendship, and to claim their right to peace.
Hraesvelgr gives Nidhogg one chance to abandon his cause, but naught remains of his brother save for his wrath. Malice dripping from his words, the black wyrm accuses the white of having been robbed of his wits by an Elezen maid, beguiled into forgetting his sister’s murder. An ancient somberness is washed from Hraesvelgr in an instant, the insult of Shiva an indignity he would not suffer. The great wyrms lash out with their strengths – fire for ice, darkness for light – but Nidhogg gains the advantage and severs a portion of Hraesvelgr’s wing. But as the dread wyrm ridicules his defeated brother, he realizes that he has been deceived. His brother possessed but half of his power, but one of his eyes.
Wielding half of Hraesvelgr’s strength and the Crystals of Light, the adventurer and their allies launch their assault on Nidhogg. The wyrm shifts between his own form and that of the Azure Dragoon as a reminder of their entwined fates, but his vigor fails, and Nidhogg senses his end. In that moment of weakness, Estinien fights to reclaim control, begging the party to land the killing blow. But it is a futile request; Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light seize the eyes and struggle to prize them from his mail. The eyes retaliate; tainted aether and searing pain surge through them. Yet somewhere in agony, something familiar – the silhouettes of Haurchefant and Ysayle against the arcing magicks. The eyes come loose, and a blinding radiance engulfs the Steps of Faith. After a thousand years of torment, Nidhogg’s soul relinquishes its hold on the mortal plane and fades into the Lifestream. At Aymeric’s panicked behest, Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light cast the wyrm’s eyes together into the canyons below.
Leaderless, the Horde scatters. Hraesvelgr reflects on the outcome of the battle, and at Estinien’s salvation, before returning to the skies with a rekindled faith in Shiva’s dream. Aymeric personally carries the fading Estinien into the healers within the city-state proper, leaving Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light to contemplate in solitude. What had they seen in the haze of aether and pain? Were the eyes of Nidhogg truly gone, then?
Having been Nidhogg’s prisoner for many days, it is yet more before Estinien regains consciousness. Alphinaud forsakes the hero’s welcome and offers of hospitality to stay at the Azure Dragoon’s bedside.
Aymeric shares a tale with the Warrior of Light about how the two had met. Ten years past, Aymeric and Estinien were assigned to the same company of Temple Knights, but the position was but a stepping stone to the latter. He made few friends, concerned only with his eventual revenge; ten years further into the past, the village of Ferndale became the target of Nidhogg’s wrath. His parents and younger brother had burned with it. And in so doing had Nidhogg created a soul not unlike his own, consumed by vengeance. But as fate would have it, their company was best upon by a dragon in the field, and only the two would survive; the two had shared a certain bond ever since. The dragoon had few friends, so Alphinaud might naturally assume that he was alone in thinking of the man as the brother he’d never had. In truth, the feeling was likely mutual.
Much to the relief of all concerned, Estinien awakens, and with command of his own mind and body restored. Already teasing Alphinaud for his concern, the man holds to little emotion. He would be the Azure Dragoon no more. Nidhogg had passed on and so would he, grateful that – with allies to comfort him, and mentors to admonish him – they would not share in the same fate. He requests some time to rest, but vanishes from his sickbed ere anyone can check on him again. Perhaps the Warrior of Light, too, would find time to wander and reflect.
Aymeric’s final act as head of state would be a structured and peaceful separation of church from state; the thousand-year reign of the archbishops was at an end. However, no sooner had he laid the foundations of a new republic – the House of Commons and the House of Lords – than did he find himself elected as head of the latter, his attempts to refuse the honor unexpectedly denied by the Count de Durendaire himself.
Alphinaud seems eager to move on. Ascian machinations and primal threats defeated in Coerthas and Dravania, the Ishgardian chapter of the Scions’ journey had come to a close. And soon would another begin; for at that moment did Alphinaud’s twin sister keep watch over the Ascian in White and the Warriors of Darkness, their plans ever in motion. And somewhere in the shadows of Thanalan, a forsaken son of Ala Mhigo prepared to finally step into the light…
You must be logged in to post a comment.